The Guardian reports: Cybersecurity and digital privacy experts are questioning the need for Barack Obama’s latest bureaucratic initiative, a new agency spurred by the massive Sony hack that critics fear will expand the government’s role into monitoring online data networks on security grounds.
White House security adviser Lisa Monaco planned to unveil on Tuesday the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center, the name of which speaks to its position within a US intelligence community whose ongoing, surreptitious reach over the internet has attracted global skepticism.
The remit of the new center, subordinate to the office of the director of national intelligence and modelled on the National Counterterrorism Center, is said to be the combination of the various intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies’ understanding and analysis of new or emerging malicious cyber-attacks.
Over the past five years, the administration has stood up new entities, such as the National Security Agency’s military twin US Cyber Command, or expanded the remit of others, like the Department of Homeland Security, to safeguard government – and increasingly civilian – networks.
“Given the number of other agencies that have cybersecurity threat integration responsibilities, it’s not clear that a new agency is needed,” said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology. [Continue reading…]
Mike German reports: The annual intelligence budget exceeds $70 billion per year, but that figure represents just a small portion of what the U.S. spends on national defense and homeland security. In a recent interview, Ben Friedman of the Cato Institute does the math:
The nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight and the Columbia Journalism Review back up Friedman’s estimate that the U.S. now spends roughly $1 trillion a year for national security. This figure dwarfs the combined defense budgets of all possible contenders, combined.
Friedman argues that the threats we face today don’t justify such profligate spending. Protected by oceans and bordered by friendly nations, there’s little risk of a foreign invasion. Deaths from wars and other political violence abroad have sharply decreased as well. Terrorism and violent crime in the U.S. are at historically low levels.
Yet despite the relative safety our nation enjoys and the enormous effort and expense dedicated toward strengthening U.S. security, Americans feel less safe than any time since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So the question isn’t just whether our national security measures are necessary, but whether they work. Do our intelligence agencies actually improve U.S. security and give policy makers the best available information to make wise policy decisions?
Unfortunately, the excessive secrecy shrouding intelligence activities means Americans have little public information from which to evaluate whether the intelligence enterprise is worth the investment. Friedman explains how too much secrecy undermines effective policy making, and makes government “stupid:” [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration requested $53.9 billion for its spy agencies in the year beginning Oct. 1, up sharply from its request of $45.6 billion last year.
The money would be used to fund operations spread across six federal departments, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
While the budget proposal is sharply higher than the request last year, it would reflect a more measured increase over actual spending on these programs. That is because Congress recently has appropriated more money for spy agencies than the White House has requested.
Spending levels for the current fiscal year haven’t been disclosed.
The spy agency budgets are approved in secret during congressional deliberations, and the White House and congressional leaders often have different views about necessary budget levels for different programs. Congress and the White House are locked in a fight now about the scope of surveillance programs, with some warning that intelligence agencies need more funding to combat terrorist threats and others warning that certain data collection practices have grown too large and lack scrutiny.
The White House provided scant additional information about the budget request and didn’t give a detailed descriptions about how the money will be spent. [Continue reading…]
Failure is success: How American intelligence works in the twenty-first century
By Tom Engelhardt
What are the odds? You put about $68 billion annually into a maze of 17 major intelligence outfits. You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for… well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the system you’ve created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of “spycraft” gains its own name: LOVEINT.
You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet. You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order. You break into the “backdoors” of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them — and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.
You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn’t make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can’t say that their mouths have been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you’re doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck their lives and — should one escape your grasp — you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth.
As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex.
Quinn Norton: “It’s called ‘the crackpot realism of the present’” someone said to me, and handed me a note. I folded up the note, and stuffed it in my purse. This was a phrase used to explain, much more clearly than I was doing at the time, the bias of thinking that now is right, forgetting that the future will look back on our ideas with the same curious and horrified amusement we watch the human past with. It’s believing, without any good reason, that right now makes sense.
The present I was in right then didn’t make a lot of sense.
I was sitting in a cleared facility near Tyson’s Corner in Virginia, the beating heart of the industrial-military-intelligence-policing complex, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. I was there to help the government. Of the places I did not expect to ever go, at least not of my free will, the ODNI would be up there.
A few weeks ago, a friend from the Institute for the Future [IFTF] asked me if I would fly to DC for a one day workshop on the future of identity with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “What?” I sputtered, “Did they google me?” and then, mentally: Duh. The ODNI can do a lot more than google me.
I knew IFTF had intel clients, with whom I have occasionally chatted at events in the past. My policy when confronted with spooks asking questions about how the world works is to give them as much information as I can — one of my biggest problems with how security services work is their lack of wisdom. If I can reach people in positions of power and persuade them to critically examine that power, I consider that a win. I also consider it a long shot.
An invite from the ODNI is a strange thing. I’ve been publicly critical of them, sometimes viciously so. A few days earlier I tweeted that their director should be publicly tried for lying to Congress. I’ve written about the toxicity of the NSA spying (under ODNI direction), the corrupt fictions of Anonymous staged by the FBI (FBI/NSB is within ODNI’s area) and spoken out countless times in the last eight years against warrantless spying. I have even less love for the FBI and DOJ.
I turned the offer over in my head. I was influenced by a few things –yes it was paid, but not well paid. It was what I normally get from IFTF for a day of my time, and given the travel commitment, a bit low. I weighed the official imprimatur of involvement, and that was a factor. I am afraid of being pursued and harassed by my government. This has never happened to me in relation to my work, though I have been turned down for housing by people who feared I might bring police attention. It has to my friends, sources and associates. I know what it feels like, what they do when you’re a target, because I have been subject to terrorizing tactics and harassment because of whom I chose to love. I have publicly acknowledged that I self-censor because of this fear. I have a child to raise, and you can’t do that while you fight for your life and freedom in court. Raising my profile with the government as an expert probably makes me harder to harass.
I told my IFTF contact I don’t sign NDAs (which he already knew) and that I’d have to be public about my attendance and write about it. He told me they were publicly publishing their work for the ODNI too. “Huh,” I said to my screen. The organizers were on board with all of it. They wanted me in particular.
Finally, I thought about the hell I would get from the internet — like government harassment, internet harassment is part of the difficult and hated process of self-censorship for me.
In the end, I said yes, because you only get so far talking to your friends. [Continue reading…]
The rise to power of the national security state
By Tom Engelhardt
As every schoolchild knows, there are three check-and-balance branches of the U.S. government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary. That’s bedrock Americanism and the most basic high school civics material. Only one problem: it’s just not so.
During the Cold War years and far more strikingly in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government has evolved. It sprouted a fourth branch: the national security state, whose main characteristic may be an unquenchable urge to expand its power and reach. Admittedly, it still lacks certain formal prerogatives of governmental power. Nonetheless, at a time when Congress and the presidency are in a check-and-balance ballet of inactivity that would have been unimaginable to Americans of earlier eras, the Fourth Branch is an ever more unchecked and unbalanced power center in Washington. Curtained off from accountability by a penumbra of secrecy, its leaders increasingly are making nitty-gritty policy decisions and largely doing what they want, a situation illuminated by a recent controversy over the possible release of a Senate report on CIA rendition and torture practices.
All of this is or should be obvious, but remains surprisingly unacknowledged in our American world. The rise of the Fourth Branch began at a moment of mobilization for a global conflict, World War II. It gained heft and staying power in the Cold War of the second half of the twentieth century, when that other superpower, the Soviet Union, provided the excuse for expansion of every sort.
Its officials bided their time in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when “terrorism” had yet to claim the landscape and enemies were in short supply. In the post-9/11 era, in a phony “wartime” atmosphere, fed by trillions of taxpayer dollars, and under the banner of American “safety,” it has grown to unparalleled size and power. So much so that it sparked a building boom in and around the national capital (as well as elsewhere in the country). In their 2010 Washington Post series “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William Arkin offered this thumbnail summary of the extent of that boom for the U.S. Intelligence Community: “In Washington and the surrounding area,” they wrote, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.” And in 2014, the expansion is ongoing.
In this century, a full-scale second “Defense Department,” the Department of Homeland Security, was created. Around it has grown up a mini-version of the military-industrial complex, with the usual set of consultants, K Street lobbyists, political contributions, and power relations: just the sort of edifice that President Eisenhower warned Americans about in his famed farewell address in 1961. In the meantime, the original military-industrial complex has only gained strength and influence.
A New York Times editorial says: “If you want to keep a secret,” George Orwell advised in “1984,” “you must also hide it from yourself.” So the latest stricture seems to demand from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the federal uber-agency of all things secret. The office, which oversees 16 government intelligence agencies, issued a new policy in April that will seriously constrain the existing practice by which officials comment informally to the press and public when obvious issues are stirred by leaked information and unauthorized disclosures.
We consider this process an unavoidable but decidedly healthy way of life in Washington. But the updated policy sternly requires that an informed official who’s been regulating his own give-and-take in this important area now submit for advance approval an outline of the topics expected to arise in “unstructured or free-form discussions.” Otherwise, the policy memo states with a certain alarm, an official’s utterances could be construed as a validation of leaked information and “cause further harm to national security.”
The new prepublication review policy provides that the office’s current and former employees and contractors may not cite news reports based on leaks in their speeches, opinion articles, books, term papers or other unofficial writing, according to a report by Charlie Savage of The Times. Semaphore seems to have been overlooked as a medium, but we get the point.
The reassuring fact is that all manner of officials, from the president on down, occasionally speak authoritatively about an issue that might be informed by some bit of leaked information. It’s the mother’s milk of capital conversation. But don’t tell that to the director of national intelligence, James Clapper Jr., whose passion for keeping secrets at any cost — even his own reputation for honesty — has become legendary. It was Mr. Clapper who was asked at a Senate hearing last year whether the National Security Agency collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”
“No, sir,” responded Mr. Clapper, adding, “Not wittingly.” Soon came the disclosures — leaks by the torrent — about the N.S.A.’s vast data-mining program.
The new crackdown policy caused enough confusion and derision that the national security office subsequently denied there was anything new about it; just a reminder of past policy. But anyone could see this wasn’t so — once the new policy memo was leaked, of course.
Josh Kerbel writes: In 2012, the once-mighty Eastman-Kodak company declared bankruptcy. It was an event that should have reverberated strongly with the United States Intelligence Community (IC) — and not just due to the obvious connection between imaging and spying. Rather, it should have resonated because in Kodak the IC could have glimpsed a reflection of itself: an organization so captivated by its past that it was too slow in changing along with its environment.
To understand the IC’s similar captivation and lethargy — to remain focused on classified collection in an era of increasingly ubiquitous, useful and unclassified data — one must first understand the type of problem around which the modern IC business model remains designed: the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was fundamentally a collection problem. That is to say, it was a closed system (i.e., a discrete entity) with clear edges and a hierarchical governance structure. Given that nature, knowing what was happening in the Soviet Union required the use of classified means of collection — most of which the IC alone possessed.
Today, however, the IC no longer has the luxury of watching a single discrete entity that demands classified collection in order to obtain relevant data. There is a much more expansive range of interconnected and complex challenges. These challenges — economic contagion, viral political and social instability, resource competition, migration, climate change, transnational organized crime, pandemics, proliferation, cyber security, terrorism, etc. — are interdependent phenomena, not discrete ”things.” As such, they are less collection issues than cognitive ones. To put it differently: relevant data about all these issues is widely available—the real challenge is to make sense of it.
This, of course, is a very different world for the IC, one in which it has little experience. Consequently, the IC — unfortunately, but not surprisingly — does what it knows; it grafts its own legacy experience and expertise — classified collection — onto the new challenges that loom. Accordingly, terrorism (a broad phenomenon that needs to be thought about contextually) becomes — mistakenly — about terrorists (distinct things that need to be targeted for collection). Indeed, the whole slew of complex issues mentioned above get artificially and erroneously reduced to discrete chunks. Not only is this dangerously simplistic, it effectively puts the IC on a divergent path from the increasingly complex world it is tasked to understand. [Continue reading…]
Steve Aftergood writes: “Recent media reports have misconstrued ODNI’s policy for pre-publication of information to be publicly released,” according to a May 9 statement that was issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The ODNI policy had been described in articles published in Secrecy News (ODNI Requires Pre-Publication Review of All Public Information, May 8) and in the New York Times (Intelligence Policy Bans Citation of Leaked Material by Charlie Savage, May 8).
ODNI said that the new pre-publication review policy was basically a consolidation of two previous policies (ODNI Instruction 80.14/2007-6, July 25, 2007, and ODNI Instruction 80.04, August 5, 2009) and that it represented nothing very new.
“The revised policy is not significantly different from the two previous policies,” the new ODNI statement asserted.
But that assertion is hard to understand, since the text of the revised policy appears significantly different from its predecessors in several respects.
First and foremost, the previous policies focused on protection of classified information, while the revised policy casts a much broader net. [Continue reading…]
Jack Shafer writes: The nation’s top spy has prohibited all of his spies from talking with reporters about “intelligence-related information” unless officially authorized to speak. Intelligence Community Directive 119, signed by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper last month and made public Monday in a report by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, threatens to reduce the flow of information from the national security establishment to the press — and hence the public.
As Aftergood notes, Directive 119 does not merely bar intelligence community employees from sharing classified intelligence information with reporters. It also bars the discussion with the media of unclassified intelligence information “related” to intelligence. Under Directive 119, any and all conversations between spooks and reporters not explicitly authorized by top officials will be criminalized at the worst or potentially put intelligence employees out of a job at the least. The same discussion of unclassified matters between an intelligence community employee and a non-reporter would be allowed, Aftergood further notes.
Directive 119 increases the insularity of the national security state, making the public less safe, not more. Until this directive was issued, intelligence community employees could provide subtext and context for the stories produced by the national security press without breaking the law. Starting now, every news story about the national security establishment that rates disfavor with the national security establishment — no matter how innocuous — will rate a full-bore investigation of sources by authorities. [Continue reading…]
Steven Aftergood writes: By leaking classified intelligence documents, Edward Snowden transformed public awareness of the scale and scope of U.S. intelligence surveillance programs. But his actions are proving to be no less consequential for national security secrecy policy.
“These leaks have forced the Intelligence Community to rethink our approach to transparency and secrecy,” said Robert S. Litt, General Counsel at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He spoke at a March 18 Freedom of Information Day program sponsored by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University Washington College of Law.
Mr. Litt made it clear that he did not approve of the Snowden leaks, which he said were unlawful and had “seriously damaged our national security.” Yet he stressed that the leaks have also prompted a reconsideration of previously accepted patterns of secrecy.
“We have had to reassess how we strike the balance between the need to keep secret the sensitive sources, methods and targets of our intelligence activities, and the goal of transparency with the American people about the rules and policies governing those activities.” [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: U.S. intelligence officials are planning a sweeping system of electronic monitoring that would tap into government, financial and other databases to scan the behavior of many of the 5 million federal employees with secret clearances, current and former officials told The Associated Press.
The system is intended to identify rogue agents, corrupt officials and leakers, and draws on a Defense Department model under development for more than a decade, according to officials and documents reviewed by the AP.
Intelligence officials have long wanted a computerized system that could continuously monitor employees, in part to prevent cases similar to former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden. His disclosures bared secretive U.S. surveillance operations.
An administration review of the government’s security clearance process due this month is expected to support continuous monitoring as part of a package of comprehensive changes. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: On Thursday night, the best assessment from the U.S. intelligence community — and for that matter most experts observing events in Ukraine — was that Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine. Less than 24 hours later, however, there are reports from the ground of Russian troops pushing into the Ukrainian province of Crimea; the newly-installed Crimean prime minister has appealed to Putin to help him secure the country; Putin, in turn, is officially asking for parliament’s permission to send Russian forces into Ukraine. It’s not a full-blown invasion—at least, not yet. But it’s not the picture U.S. analysts were painting just a day before, either.
There was good reason to think Putin wouldn’t do it. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia respected the territorial integrity of the Ukraine. U.S. intelligence assessments concluded that the 150,000-man Russian military exercises announced by Putin on Wednesday were not preparations for an invasion of Ukraine because no medical units accompanied the troops. And Russian and U.S. diplomats were still working on Iran and Syrian diplomacy. All of this followed a successful Winter Olympic games for Putin’s Russia.
Yet private security contractors, working for the Russian military, seized control of two airports in Crimea on Friday. And Ukrainian border officials said that Russian cargo planes had landed inside the province, and that 10 military helicopters flew into Ukrainian airspace.
U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence on the fast moving situation in Ukraine tell The Daily Beast that analytic products from the intelligence community this week did not discount the prospect of Russian provocations and even light incursions in the Russian majority province of Crimea, the home of Russia’s fleet in the Black Sea.
Nonetheless, until Friday, no one anticipated a Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory. [Continue reading…]
Michael Cohen writes: James Clapper is very worried. It’s not the first time.
Last week the man who serves as America’s Director of National Intelligence trudged up to Capitol Hill to tell the assembled members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee (pdf) that the annual worldwide threat assessment, put together by the intelligence community, has filled him with dread. He told the room:
Looking back over my more than half a century in intelligence, I have not experienced a time when we have been beset by more crises and threats around the globe.
That is some scary stuff.
However, if you think you’ve heard this before from Clapper … well you have.
Last year he appeared before Congress for a similar purpose and, lo and behold, he was very, very concerned then too (pdf):
I will say that my almost 50 years in intelligence, I do not recall a period in which we confront a more diverse array of threats, crises and challenges around the world. This year’s threat assessment illustrates how dramatically the world and our threat environment are changing.
And here he was in 2012 testifying (pdf) on that year’s threat assessment report, “Never has there been, in my almost 49-year career in intelligence, a more complex and interdependent array of challenges than that we face today.”
Of course, one must consider the possibility that over the past five decades the world has never been as dangerous, complex and challenging as it’s been over the past three years (putting aside for a moment that whole “threat of nuclear holocaust” that defined much of the 60s, 70s and 80s.) If, however, you’re skeptical about this, well you have good reason because Clapper’s alarmist tone is hardly matched by the threats he cites. [Continue reading…]
Politico: A member of President Barack Obama’s hand-picked surveillance review group said Friday the White House was swayed by U.S. intelligence officials sympathetic to the National Security Agency and ultimately viewed the group’s findings “as a liberal report.”
University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone said that, after receiving the surveillance group’s report, Obama spent a month meeting “with many of the same people we had met with at great length, members of the intelligence community, members of the intelligence committees from Congress largely on one side of the picture.”
“And instead of our report being truly understood as a middle ground, based upon taking into account all of those perspectives on both sides of the spectrum, I think the White House got moved by thinking of our report as a liberal report,” Stone said.
Stone, speaking during a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, said intelligence officials were “pushing [Obama] and the White House generally more to what we can call the right.”
M.E. Bowman writes: Jonathan Jay Pollard liked to imagine his life was greater than it was. He told fanciful tales to peers while at Stanford in the 1970s, including that he was a Mossad officer and that he had once been captured and tortured by Arabs.
After graduation, he lied to superiors and friends about his exploits and his qualifications. By the mid-1980s, he had used his position as a civilian naval intelligence analyst to become an enthusiastic and willing spy for profit by passing state secrets to Israel.
The Department of Justice was prepared to file a variety of charges against him, but in a plea agreement all except the most serious were dropped. Mr. Pollard pleaded guilty to espionage in 1987.
At the time of his arrest and trial, I was the liaison officer for the Department of Defense to the Department of Justice, and the coordinator of an investigation into the damage Mr. Pollard’s treachery had done to the American intelligence community.
Every few years, there is an orchestrated attempt to forge popular support for Mr. Pollard’s release. It is now happening again. In addition to calls for clemency coming from across the Israeli political spectrum, Lawrence J. Korb, the assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon at the time of Mr. Polland’s arrest, has said that his punishment was disproportionate to his offense. R. James Woolsey, a former director of central intelligence echoed that sentiment at a security conference in November. Last month, when Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel, there was a rash of hopeful reports in the Israeli press that he was considering releasing Mr. Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions.
Mr. Pollard’s apologists portray him as a sort of dual patriot: loyal to the United States, but also motivated to help Israel. In fact, he was primarily a venal and selfish person who sought to get rich. [Continue reading…]
The Los Angeles Times reports: After news reports that the National Security Agency had secretly monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone calls, America’s top intelligence official was asked why congressional oversight committees were kept in the dark.
Shouldn’t Congress have been briefed, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) asked James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, about a spying operation that would embarrass the U.S. government if exposed?
“Well, sir, there are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback,” Clapper replied at a House Intelligence Committee hearing in October. “The conduct of intelligence is premised on the notion that we can do it secretly, and we don’t count on it being revealed in the newspaper.”
Not these days. [Continue reading…]