Showing posts with label CIA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CIA. Show all posts

14 March 2019

Conspiracy Theory 102: Hot Housed

by Eve Fisher

Shtisel - Courtesy IMDB 
We've been watching Shtisel on Netflix - and if you haven't, I highly recommend it.  See the IMDB Link HERE.  One of the top rated shows in Israel, currently in its third season (2 are available on Netflix), it's about a Haredi family in Geula, Jerusalem.  For the most part it ignores politics, just follows life in a religious, internet-free, television-free, almost radio-free neighborhood. The community follows strict haredi customs and the youngest son (and our hero) Akiva (on the left in the photo), is an artist, which means he's considered a "screw-up" by most, including his father.  We love it.

The haredi world is a closed world, and closed worlds fascinate me.  I've written before about cults, of which I saw so many back in my California youth.  But there are lots of closed worlds.  The Amish.  The current Facebook / internet world where the algorithms are designed to lock in to your politics, tastes, fears, and [obsessive] interests and give you nothing but more of the same.  Prisons.  The streets.  Some neighborhoods.  Clubs.  Anywhere that people are so isolated (by chance / choice / force) that they really have no contact with the outside.  This leads to some very interesting - and often very wrong - ideas of what's going on in the rest of the world.

An example:  A few years ago, I heard from someone who'd been living on the streets for a decade or so that Texas was a much better place for the homeless than Georgia, because the cops treated people a hell of a lot better in Texas.  As long as you were white, you were welcome.  I'm sure you can unpack all the fallacies that went into the making of that little dream yourself.

Another example:  One of the guys at the pen had to go to the hospital the other day.  The next day, everyone was spreading the word that he was dead.  He wasn't.  He was returned alive and tired.

A rioting-in-the-streets example: Just a few months ago, someone posted on-line about how young Somali men ran amok at a ValleyFair in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 22, 2018, hundreds of them, and the police had to be called, and it turned into a dangerous riot. And the main stream news media wasn't even covering it! (Their emphasis, not mine.) So I checked it out. First, their source: USA Really - one of the more unreliable sources in newsmedia - "According to eyewitnesses who were at the park that night to celebrate Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, “a group of nearly 100 Somali men mob rushed past security and amusement park staffers at the front entrance and proceeded to run through the park and instigate fights among themselves and with guests.  Cliff Hallberg, who was inside the park with his children at the time the fights broke out said it was very frightening for his children. 'I saw about 60 Somali teenagers push their way through lines and scream at guests.  This looked like a targeted attack on law enforcement,' Hallberg added."

What USA Really neglected to mention: It was ValleyFair's "Valleyscare" "Halloween-Haunt" night for adults and teens, so there shouldn't have been any children there, and that while multiple fights did break out, that happened at 11:00 PM, with scheduled closing time at 12:00 Midnight anyway, and the police mopped it all up pretty quickly.  No injuries, no property damage, and only 3 people arrested for minor offenses.  (MPR, CBS, and multiple other news outlets.)   Personally, I suspect that alcohol was involved more than race...


Anyway, I posted the news reports, and was told that I'd just proven their point - the news media was covering it up!  They'd even changed the time!  They had eye-witnesses!  Look at the video!  I pointed out that there was no video, and I was told, semi-ominously, "It's coming!"  It never did.

No, I'll take that back.  It did.  For those of you who like exaggeration and labeling, here it is.  All I can say is, if you think this is a riot, you've never been in a riot.  (I have, in L.A.  A riot is an unmistakable occurrence, and it's not a thing where someone says, in a rather bored voice, "we're never gonna get out of here.")  Again, the videographer never mentions "ValleyScare", "Halloween-Haunt", or that this is all happening after eleven at night.  But of course, the videographer is Laura Loomer, a notorious Internet conspiracy theorist.

(BTW - this does not mean there's no gang violence in Minneapolis. See the National Gang Center, where you can also look up your home town and see how you're doing. White, Somali, Hmong, Native American - there's a lot of gangs. Same as in L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and every other big city.)

Back to prison for a get-rich-quick-scheme example: "An inmate hands me what looks like a 15th-generation photocopy, asking about the Social Security benefits available to him when he gets out. The piece of paper promises years of free financial benefits from the government.  This is another prison folktale: the myth of a lucrative handout, post-incarceration. The Social Security Administration is aware of such misinformation and has published brochures explaining how Social Security really works for inmates returning to society.  “But the paper says you will deny this program exists,” the inmate says, after I hand him one of those very brochures.  I am at a loss for words. He leaves my (accurate) brochure behind when he exits the library, a cruel reminder that people hear what they want to hear." 
(Conspiracy Theories in Prison)

A fatal example:  The Heaven's Gate cult, which firmly believed that the Comet Hale-Bopp was the mother ship coming to take them home - after they'd killed themselves.  So they killed themselves.

A harmless (?) example:  When I was teaching history up at SDSU, a student came up to me and asked, "Is it true that your parents were CIA agents who got killed in a car wreck in Europe?"  Well, who am I to stand in the way of a good dorm legend.  So I asked, deadpan, "Who said it was a car wreck?"

Extremely dangerous examples:  Pizzagate, White Supremacy (including all its variations from Aryan Nation to KKK), The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a/k/a anti-Semitism), Reptilian humanoids, the Flat Earth Society, George Soros, the assassination of everyone from Geoffrey Chaucer to Diana, Princess of Wales, the Illuminati, Chemtrails, Black Helicopters & UN concentration camps & the barcodes on the backs of traffic signs, Birthers, QAnon, and, of course, the "Truthers" who declare that various things (from the Holocaust to Sandy Hook) never actually happened.  (Thank you WIRED for a list and a portal.)

My favorite BS financial example: "Sovereign citizens" don't have to pay taxes because of the “straw man” theory. According to Richard McDonald, a sovereign-citizen leader, "there are two classes of citizens in America: the "original citizens of the states" (or "States citizens") and "U.S. citizens". 
McDonald asserts that U.S. citizens or "Fourteenth Amendment" "citizens have civil rights, legislated to give the freed black slaves after the Civil War rights comparable to the unalienable constitutional rights of white state citizens. The benefits of U.S. citizenship are received by consent in exchange for freedom. State citizens consequently take steps to revoke and rescind their U.S. citizenship and reassert their de jure (something that exists in reality, even if not legally recognized) common-law state citizen status. This involves removing one's self from federal jurisdiction and relinquishing any evidence of consent to U.S. citizenship, such as a Social Security number, driver's license, car registration, use of zip codes, marriage license, voter registration, and birth certificates. Also included is refusal to pay state and federal income taxes because citizens not under U.S. jurisdiction are not required to pay them."  (Wikipedia)  
I've run into them on a regular basis up here - in the court system and outside the court system - and every one of them has not only been convicted and imprisoned, but no one from the Sovereign Citizen movement (which charges considerably for their Sovereign Citizen ID cards) has ever shown up to support them in any way, shape or form.  

Almost (?) harmless examplesThe Berensteins, the non-existence of Finland and Australia, and Shazaam the Movie (not to mention other movie conspiracy theories - see HERE).

Daily examples:  They're different.  They're weird.  They do things wrong.  They are wrong.  "Thank you, Lord, for making me the right _____  !"  Fill in the blank for yourself.

All of these - and many more - are examples of hot housing / echo chambers / isolation.  But the world is greater than that.  For that matter, the entire human body is greater than that.
"Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.  Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” - 1 Cor. 12:14-21


We inhabit a universe that is characterized by diversity. - Desmond Tutu


Enjoy it.  

09 January 2019

A Killing in Wartime

David Edgerley Gates


A decorated soldier, a former Special Forces captain in Afghanistan, is being charged with murder by the U.S. Army - not a domestic, or Crazy Guy Shoots Up Walmart, but combat-related, a violation of the Rules of Engagement. Matthew Golsteyn was deployed to Marjah, in Helmand Province, in 2010. The area is a major producer of poppy and a primary revenue source for the Taliban. Two of Golsteyn's troops were blown up by booby-traps, on patrol, and not long after, Golsteyn got custody of a suspected Afghan bomb-maker. The guy didn't talk, and Golsteyn was required to release him. In a CIA job interview a year later, however, Golsteyn said he knew that if he let the guy go, it was a death warrant for Afghans working with U.S. forces, and for other GI's. Golsteyn took the guy out past the wire and shot him.

That's one version, anyway. The initial investigation came up, if not empty, inconclusive. But in 2016, Golsteyn did something deeply stupid. He shot his mouth off to Fox News, and said he killed the guy. At which point, the Army reopens the case. This time, they bring capital charges.

Regardless of the merits, the case has now caught the attention of Our National Joke. Trump thinks an injustice is being perpetrated, and he's promised to look into it. "I will be reviewing the case of a U.S. military hero.... He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted killing a terrorist bomb maker while overseas." Trump, of course, doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground around the UCMJ - the Universal Code of Military Justice - and he's blithely unaware that what he's doing could compromise the case, one way or the other.

It's called Unlawful Command Influence. For example, Pres. Obama said heatedly that sex offenders in the military should be "prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged." This was later interpreted as prejudicial, and there was in fact one Navy judge who ruled out a punitive discharge at court-martial because of Obama's statement. (Trump said inflammatory things during the campaign about Bowe Bergdahl, and although the judge in that case acknowledged Trump's remarks were inappropriate, he gave Bergdahl a DD anyway.) In the Golsteyn case, we're talking about influencing a favorable verdict, or asking for dismissal. It ain't gonna happen, but we'll see if the fat lady can carry a tune.

*

Return with us now, through the mists of time, to that unlovely year 1969. Nha Trang. A suspected Vietnamese informer named Thai Khac Chuyen is taken on a boat ride out into the South China Sea, shot twice in the back of the head, and dumped over the side. Project GAMMA was a spook show, run out of 5th Special Forces under CIA discipline, and CIA signed off on Chuyen's termination  (although they'd pretend otherwise, when the shit hit the fan.) Six of the Green Berets in the unit, along with 5th SPG's commanding officer, Col. Robert Rheault, wind up in the stockade, waiting on an Article 32, preliminary hearing for a general court-martial, charged with murder.

You have to understand the politics, here. Abe Abrams had taken over from Westmoreland the year before. Abrams was a tank guy. He didn't have any patience with Spec Ops, and he especially didn't want his boys, GI's, carrying water for CIA. It was all about accountability. Abrams also thought Col. Rheault had lied to him, but this is a little tricky, because Rheault was new on the job, and may not have been fully briefed. GAMMA was restricted access, Need-to-Know. Rheault could have easily repeated the CIA cover story to Abrams, without realizing it was fabricated. Either way, the damage was done. Abrams was in a fury.

Abrams is in no way mollified by the press coverage, which reports the Green Berets are being scapegoated, first to take the heat off CIA, and secondly, when evidence surfaces that Chuyen was in fact a spy, to ask why they were charged in the first place. Killing the enemy is a soldier's first order of business. The defense asks to depose both Abrams himself, and the CIA station chief in Saigon. This hot potato goes all the way up the chain of command. Nixon instructs Haldeman to put the kibosh on the whole thing, and CIA falls in line, refusing on national security grounds to cooperate with the court-martial authorities at all. The secretary of the Army vacates the charges. Rheault asks for reinstatement. Abrams turns him down. Rheault resigns his commission and quits the Army.

Now that's what you call Unlawful Command Influence. And that's why the protocols and procedures are in place, to guard against malice, against too-easy resolutions, and against simple-minded blowhards with too much time on their hands. More honored in the breach than in the observance.

*

I've written myself about GI's, and spooks, who puts the fix in and who gets squeezed in the middle, and I'm now happy to report I've discovered somebody else working that turf, a sort of DMZ, between the wild and the sown. Martin Limón is new to me, but that's soon remedied.

Thirteen novels and counting, beginning with Jade Lady Burning and Slicky Boys, and a story collection, Nightmare Range. So far as I know, his first published appearance was in Hitchcock, in 1991. He's mixed it up a little, but for our purposes, it's the George Sueño and Ernie Bascom series that's center ring. George and Ernie are U.S. Army CID investigators in Korea, in the 1970's. They work the street, on the edge of the rackets and the black market, at the exotic and familiar overlap of Korean and American GI culture. Not so much American, mind, as American military, itself both an exotic and familiar creature.

These are terrific books, not least because the environment is a bubble off of plumb. And they're dark, no getting around it. I'm reminded not a little of Sarah Bird's wonderful novel about a career U.S. Air Force family in Japan, The Yokota Officers Club. Her book isn't a crime story, even if in part it's about secrets, but it inhabits a sort of Twilight Zone, because the world she describes is foreign, with its cadences and rigidity, and its very own vocabulary. Martin Limón gets this cold, and he does it in a similar way, by treating it as matter-of-fact.

There's a lot to be said for turning the conventions backwards. If you accept a structure, a template, the characteristics of a Western, or a Gothic, the elements of noir, it doesn't tie your hands. It can be invigorating. Martin Limón takes the police procedural and folds it in on itself, and hands it back to you with the pin pulled out.


22 August 2018

Losing It

David Edgerley Gates


Trump's recent revocation of former DCI John Brennan's security clearance has generated a lot of heat and not much light. Let's see if we can read the entrails.

To begin with, access to confidential information is authorized on a Need-to-Know basis. You need to know this stuff to do your job. Moving into the upper atmosphere, information gets classified at higher levels, Sensitive and Compartmentalized. In my own case, as an analyst working with intercepted military communications, my clearance level was Top Secret/Crypto [CODEWORD Material] Handle Via COMINT Channels Only. The primary purpose, here, was to protect sources and methods. As the intelligence was passed on to consumers, those specific sources and methods were edited out, and only referenced to indicate provenance and reliability - even then, in sanitized euphemisms.

At policy level, the upper reaches of the chain of command, the National Security Council, say, the inner circle, CIA and NSA, State, the Pentagon, these people are breathing thinner air. Compartmentalization isn't an issue, access is across the board. Still, the habit of secrecy, the gnostic power, that Special Knowledge, held in trust by the initiate, is a drug. It's the crystal meth of statecraft. Losing the privilege, going cold turkey, is being cast into the outer darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I remember being processed out of Berlin. They terminated my clearance, and red-badged me. I was redundant. It was both exhilarating and depressing. Release is second cousin to exile. But at the same time, it was clearly explained that I was to take their secrets to the grave with me, and the alternative was Leavenworth. There was also a two-year travel restriction. I was prohibited from going to Eastern Europe, for example - which made perfect sense, since our resources targeted Group Soviet Forces and the Warsaw Pact. They might have liked to pick my brain.

More to the point, if you spend a significant period in your life locked into a mission, you can't shift gears as easily as you change your socks. We were on the edge of the Cold War. It's not an exaggeration to suggest we played some small part in preventing it from turning hot. And almost everybody I know from back then kept their hand in. How not? You read between the lines, you hear an echo where other people hear empty air. You miss the high.

It's long-standing convention, going back to Eisenhower, that senior figures keep their secure access through successive administrations. The tradition of the Wise Men, somehow above the fray. Think of Dean Acheson, or Clark Clifford, or James Baker. You can call on these guys in a crisis. And they, of course, are all too ready. What, you think Henry Kissinger's shy?

In the case of Brennan, specifically, I'm hearing that a fair number of people in the intelligence community, both former and currently serving, don't care for the guy. They regard him as self-serving, and his version of his own bio leaves out the unwary he's thrown under the bus. Be that as it may. It's all the more interesting, then, that seven former DCI's and six former Deputy Directors, along with two former Directors of National Intelligence, have put their names to a letter supporting Brennan and challenging Trump. Not challenging Trump's authority to refuse Brennan access to secure materials, but the grounds for it.

Brennan is clearly being punished for shooting his mouth off. He's made no secret of his disdain for Trump, and Trump has seemingly conflated Brennan's animosity with the Mueller investigation. (This is just one of those odd distortions that appear at random in the Trump alternate ecosystem.) What the signatories to the protest letter take issue with is the chilling effect. It's probably safe to say they don't all agree with Brennan, and if they do, they think it's better to keep it to themselves. Gen. Michael Hayden has not, he's been extremely critical of Trump, but Hayden has an honorable track record, in my opinion - a lot better than Brennan's. Bob Gates, Porter Goss, and Leon Panetta. They've kept their own counsel, and I think they must feel duty-bound to speak up. Tenet and Petraeus, on the other hand? Tenet went in the bag for WMD's. Petraeus, damn it, put Little Elvis at the wheel. 

It's naive, or willful ignorance, to think intelligence isn't politicized. We have only to go back as far as the late 1960's, when it was pretty widely known in certain closed circles that the field reporting out of Viet Nam was being massaged as it went up the food chain, to present an acceptable wisdom. But by and large, intelligence professionals try to present a realistic approximation of a shifting and ambiguous world. The run-up to Iraq is in fact a pretty good example. Feith and Wolfowitz tried to use their weasel shop at the Pentagon to discredit the CIA reporting, and Nigerian yellowcake made it into the State of the Union, but the Agency kept pushing the least dishonest assessments they could, even though Tenet was afraid he'd lose both the argument and the confidence of the only client who mattered. This is of course the actual bottom line. You want the president's ear, and his trust. If he stops listening, you've lost the fight. You still do your best to give good weight.

What we're seeing here isn't disloyalty, or a mutiny by the palace eunuchs. It's not the Deep State, either, although you might call it the deep bench. I don't imagine these guys have any hope of changing Trump. Maybe this is no more than a symbolic gesture, a decent respect. I have to wonder if they're not looking past public opinion, which seems pretty rigid, either way, and the bluster and cowardice of Congress, and speaking to their still-serving peers. It's not about the man, whether Brennan or Trump. That's small potatoes. It's about the mission. It's about something larger than parochial self-interest.

Trump already has an adversarial relationship with his national security staff. He's got the attention span of a fruit-fly, for one, which means his briefers have learned to use block lettering and bright colors. Secondly, he refuses to admit Russian disinformation efforts in the election, and the possible benefit to him. And of course third, he uses every opportunity to malign the integrity of his own agencies, particularly CIA and the Feebs.

You have to wonder how this plays as a team-building effort and management message. Obviously, the personnel still in place aren't sharing. But in the 48 hours after the big guns went public, another sixty former CIA senior staff added their names, and now an additional seventy-five have signed on. That's a fair amount of disgruntlement, and we're not talking about a bunch of starry-eyed innocents, either. These are career intelligence officers. They know where the bodies are buried. They've buried a few.

I can only hazard a guess, but this appears to be an engaged support group. Professional courtesy. Commitment. I think it's a show of hands.  


12 April 2017

Keystone Cops - the Trump-Russia Connection

by David Edgerley Gates

Once again, a disclaimer. This post isn't political comment, but thinking out loud about the spycraft involved. Nor do I claim special knowledge. It's pure speculation.



If you're one of the people following what Rick Wilson of The Daily Beast has characterized as "the Trump-Russia intelligence and influence scandal," you can be forgiven for experiencing a certain bemusement. The story keeps wandering off-narrative, the cast doesn't know their lines, the whole thing is like a dress rehearsal for the school play. Lucian K. Truscott IV, writing for SALON, sounds a note of gleeful despair, trying to strike a balance between the giddy anarchy of a Three Stooges routine and the jaws of darkness yawning open beneath our feet. You don't have to take sides to take it seriously, but it has an unreal quality. Farce, caricature, exaggeration of effect, clown noses and oversized shoes. 

What would a working intelligence professional make of all this? If we discount the attitude, and the partisanship, and the Whose-Ox-Is-Being-Gored, and focus on the basic operational dynamics - the tradecraft of recruitment, the servicing of resources, the value of the product - does it show any return on the investment? What's our cost-benefit ratio?

Security operations are often graded on the curve. You might have a downside risk, but if you're blown, the exposure is quantifiable. It's worth losing X to acquire Y. Penetrations are always high-value. Getting someone inside. Philby and Blake. Gunter Guillaume. Alger Hiss. Penkovsky. It's a tightrope act for the spy, of course. For his handlers, not so much. Embarrassment, contrition, crocodile tears. Deep-cover assets understand their vulnerability. It's a buyer's market. You're only as good as your last picture. So forth and so on. The point here being that a penetration is usually considered well worth the money, the extra effort, the aggravation. Any rewards justify the sweat equity. But defectors are known to inflate their resumes. They give themselves better credentials, they claim better access. Another thing to remember is that the more difficult the courtship, and the more it costs, the more highly you value the object of your desire. In other words, we both want to close the sale. It's to our mutual advantage. And who's to say there isn't as much wishful thinking on the one side as on the other?

Intelligence consumers want what's known in the trade as collateral, telling detail that gives your product a material weight, the force of gravity. What we've got here is disconnect. Peripheral vision, low light. Manafort is compromised because he was a bagman for Yanukovych. Kushner met with VneshEconomBank chair Gorkov, and VEB launders dirty money for the Kremlin. Flynn broke bread with Putin at a meet-and-greet sponsored by RT. Page and Stone were coat-trailed by SVR. All of it suggestive, none of it at all imperative.

There's a moment in Smiley's People, about a third of the way through, when George learns that Karla is "looking for a legend, for a girl."  This is the place where the story - the story within, the hidden narrative - begins to shape itself. George first hears that voice, and we're taken into his confidence, and feel its muscularity, and the book turns a corner (its secret just around the next one). 

How do we apply the comforts of a fiction? We suppose not, but hold the phone. The absence of structure tells us something. We're used to the idea of conspiracy, plots laid, inductions devious. I'd suggest this wasn't a concerted effort. Not at either end. I think the Russian services went after targets of opportunity. Putin's an old KGB guy of course, but he seems to have buried the hatchet with GRU. He's made extensive use of both, in Crimea and the Donbass. Russian information warfare strategy has also been formalized. Kaspersky Lab, which on paper is private sector, works in cybersecurity. Once upon a time, this was all under the authority of the Organs, the state apparat, but the chain of command is more flexible. I'm guessing an approach to an American or European businessman could be made by anybody, sanctioned or not. Is it corporate espionage, or government? What's the difference? you might ask. If you're shaking hands with the siloviki, the oligarchs, you're already in bed with the Mafia and state security. It's not at all difficult to imagine a guy like Paul Manafort being recruited, because he'd be recruiting talent himself, working both sides of the street. He's cultivating influence, that's his currency. So let's say we see this happen with other examples. No grand design or discipline, just low-hanging fruit.

Moving ahead, we get to the past summer of an election year, 2016, and evidence of Russian e-mail hacking. We know the FBI opened their investigation in July, and it's now being reported that CIA began briefing the Gang of Eight - the senior majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate, and on the intelligence committees - in mid-August. Slight cognitive dissonance, as the Bureau believed the Russian threat was meant only to disrupt the political process in general, CIA believed it was specifically focused on sabotaging the Clinton campaign and electing Trump. CIA suspects active collusion.

What are the basics? We know any intelligence community is top-heavy with turf warriors. MI5 and MI6. FBI and CIA. SVR and FSB and GRU. But there was a trigger mechanism. My guess is that a ranking somebody in the Russian spy orbits took notice and pulled the various threads together. We imagine frustrations expressed at the top of the food chain, "Who will rid me of this tempestuous priest?" And the barons mount up. I'm also thinking this was as much accident as anything else. The necessary tools were ready to hand. All it required was an organizing principle. The rest is housekeeping, who carried the water.

One last observation. The feckless and the foolish are easily led. You play to their vanities, their limitless self-regard. it's never truer than in the spook trade that you can't cheat an honest man.

Recommended:
Lucian K. Truscott IV in SALON
http://www.salon.com/writer/lucian_k_truscott_iv/

09 March 2016

Gen. Hayden Comes Out

David Edgerley Gates

A lot of stuff happened on Michael Hayden's watch - or watches. 40-year career military, he retired with four stars. He served as Director of the National Security Agency (DIRNSA) from 1999 to 2005, Deputy Director of National Intelligence (DDNI), 2005 to 2006, and Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), 2006 to 2009.


The last ten years of Hayden's career are, um, interesting, a period that was a particular challenge for the American intelligence community - and for Hayden personally, a time when he became a senior placeholder and the brand label for an emerging subset of spycraft, the Information Domain.

Hayden commanded the Air Intelligence Agency before moving up to NSA. This is one of the three military cryptologic units (each of the major branches have one), and in fact it's my old outfit, the USAF Security Service, dressed up in new clothes and renamed. the basic mission is much the same, but as the electronic battlefield has gotten more sophisticated and elusive, the targeting and analysis strategies have kept pace. Hayden's assignment to AIA was a bellwether of his later tenure as DIRNSA. Although he seems to have miraculously few serious enemies in and around the Beltway, he's known to take no prisoners.

Air Intelligence apparently became something of a test case, both for Hayden and the secret world at large. It's a commonplace that generals fight the last war, and it's just as true of the secret intelligence community. Hayden brought a different mindset to AIA. The enemy was no longer state-sponsored. The environment was target-rich, but suddenly diffuse, amorphous and unfocused. Hayden didn't invent the concept of metadata, but he understood how it could be a useful tool. The problem wasn't too little intercept, it was too muchYou needed a way to shape the raw material, to give it context and collateral, and put the dirty bits in boldface.

Otherwise, your 'product,' in the jargon, turned lumpy and indigestible, like a cake that's fallen in the oven, and your consumers would spit it out. You're only as good as your box office. Hayden understood the relationship was market-driven.

Let's cut to the chase. There's a cloud over Hayden's job performance as DIRNSA, and then as DCI. The complaint is that he was, in effect, a Good German - that he turned a blind eye to excesses. Now that Hayden's published a  memoir, PLAYING TO THE EDGE: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, he gets to tell his side of the story, or at least blow some smoke our way.

Let me 'splain something here, Lucy. Spook memoirs are a mixed bag, a specialized genre like the campaign biography, with peculiar ground rules. There are the outright fabrications, like Kim Philby's MY SILENT WAR, which was ghostwritten by his KGB handlers. On the other hand, some are entirely reticent. Dick Helms' A LOOK OVER MY SHOULDER is so dry you wonder if the guy even has a pulse, until he gets to Nixon and Watergate, and his fury boils over. They usually split the difference, between a poison-pen letter and a sanitized employment application. It helps if you're familiar with the background landscape, and the supporting cast, which of the stories have been told before, from which perspective, and who's gone into Witness Protection. Valerie Plame Wilson and Scooter Libby are going to have two very different recollections of similar events, let's face it, and the possibility of active disinformation is never far from mind. You have to sort it out, and separate the self-serving from the malicious, or purely deceptive.

'Frank' isn't a word that trips immediately off the tongue when you consider Michael Hayden, but the book is revealing in ways he maybe isn't aware of. It surely displays the quality of his mind, and it also betrays an impatience with fools, which is no bad thing. I was put off, though, by a certain rigidity of temperament, or even spirit. Hayden doesn't seem to entertain much self-doubt. He's not a second-guesser. He weighs the arguments, he calls heads or tails, and then the tablets are written in stone.

A case in point is PRISM, the eavesdropping program I've described previously. Hayden refers to it as STELLARWIND, which is how the product was labeled, and although he admits there were some privacy concerns, it was simple necessity to use it. Okay, take his word for it. Then let's talk about Enhanced Interrogation. Opinions vary, but a lot of professional interrogators say torture doesn't get the needed results. Hayden says different. Again, is this philosophical, or metaphysical? Depends whose ox is being gored. If you're the guy on the operating table with water running out your nose, you're in no position to argue. We could also get into the nuts and bolts of the drone program and how targets for elimination are selected.


The larger question here, aside from specific issues, is transparency. Hayden's read on this is spectacularly tone deaf. When he took the helm at NSA, he made an effort to drag them kicking and screaming into the daylight. This was simply good public relations, to position the agency as a visible presence, and sitting with the grown-ups. He'd also inherited a recalcitrant and ungainly command and reporting structure, so Hayden's reorganization went some way toward establishing his own independent power base. What didn't happen, though, was any change in his baseline metabolism. The habit of security, circling the wagons, is ingrained, it becomes second nature.

Hayden falls back on the Honorable Men defense. This is the title of William Colby's memoir of his years as DCI - and comes, in fact, from his testimony in front of the Senate Select Committee. We work in secret, Colby's train of thought goes, and the American public has to trust us to be honorable men, that we know right from wrong. Or, as Mike Hayden puts it, quoting an unexpected source, "To live outside the law, you must be honest."

Stop me if you've heard this. It sounds much the same, set to new music, and sung in the key of Tuned Out.

24 February 2016

Sauce for the Goose

David Edgerley Gates

Meanwhile, back on the spook front, a couple or three developments. Maybe not all of a piece. They just bunched up on the radar around the same time.

To begin with, NSA has announced the establishment of a new Directorate of Operations, to oversee two previously separate missions - known as Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance - the first their offensive eavesdropping capacity, and the second their security firewalls. This is kind of a big deal, although it might not seem like it to an outside. The intelligence agencies prefer not to cross-pollinate.


Although inter-agency and intra-agency transparency looks good on paper, there are inherent risks, and they don't necessarily have a lot to do with jurisdiction or budget fights. Yes, you always have to live with dedicated turf warriors, but this is actually about keeping your assets secure and compartmentalized. For many years, CIA has maintained an institutional divide between Intelligence and Operations, and resisted calls to integrate. You could argue one mission is passive and the other active, but more to the point, a compromise on one side of the shop doesn't jeopardize the other. You limit your exposure. You're not giving up a roadmap to sources and methods.

So it's a trade-off. NSA may well enhance its analytical skills, of intercepted traffic and in defense against cyber attack. They may also be opening the watertight doors.

The next thing that caught my attention probably falls under the heading of Old Wine, New Bottles. Some while ago, DARPA came up with a program, or a menu of programs, called Total Information Awareness. This was shelved, for a time, and then implemented by fits and starts, not as a fully coherent approach. Then come the Snowden leaks, and data-mining is on everybody's lips. Nancy Pelosi and the House Intelligence Committee are shocked, shocked, but eventually the smoke blows away. Now a new tool has surfaced, called Information Volume and Velocity. (Don't you love these names?) This is designed to model trends on social media, among other platforms.


The most obvious application is counterterrorism. ISIS, for one, and the insurgents in the North Caucasus, for another, are more than familiar with Twitter and Facebook. They use them for recruitment, and public relations, and for command-and-control in the field - although lately the more popular vehicle has been on-line simulator games. You can see the appeal of a first-person shooter.

The problem, from NSA's point of view (or CIA, or the FBI, or Homeland Security), isn't data collection. The issue is how to process the material, and spin gold out of straw. The volume, not to mention the velocity, is impossible to keep up with. What they've got is an embarrassment of riches. The information environment is overwhelming. They need a filtering mechanism, to define the threat posture.


Last but not least, we have the recent Apple dust-up. This isn't a theoretical, or preventative policing. It's a question that came up after the San Bernadino shootings last December. Farook, one of the shooters, had an iPhone. FBI investigators would like to unlock it, and Apple says they won't provide a way to defeat the encryption. What we got here is real quicksand.

These issues are nowhere near clear-cut, although Apple CEO Tim Cook seems determined to frame it in apocalyptic terms and FBI Director James Comey is taking a predictably hard line. The law-and-order argument is uncomplicated. Comey says, we need to pursue every lead, in case other people are involved. We have a duly-issued search warrant for the digital contents of the phone, and the manufacturer has a legal and moral obligation to comply. Apple has in fact given the FBI everything it could download from the Cloud, but it refuses to write code that would reverse-engineer the encrypted data that's on the phone itself. Apple maintains that this would of necessity amount to a master key, that would unlock any iPhone. In other words, they could no longer market a secure product. They may cloak it in civil liberties, but it's a business decision.


The disingenuousness, or hypocrisy, on both sides, doesn't take away from either position. Comey's point is perfectly well taken, and so is Cook's. And for once, although I'm sure there are people who probably think I never met a surveillance program I didn't like, I'm with Apple on this one. Whether you trust U.S. federal agencies to take the high road is irrelevant. There are other countries in the world. There are more than a few that bully their own citizens, and whose management of information technology is anything but benign. We'd be handing them a loaded gun.

Is there a common thread? I dunno. There's no hard and fast. Maybe it signifies, maybe not. Stuff drifts past in my peripheral vision, and sometimes it catches the light.

08 July 2015

Scattered Castles

David Edgerley Gates


There's been a lot of smoke and mirrors lately about the Chinese hacking into computer networks all over the place, and of course it isn't just the Chinese. Cyberattacks have become a lot more common. Anybody remember STUXNET, the virus that targeted the Iranian nuke R&D? Nobody's copped to it, but we can imagine it was probably a joint effort by the U.S. and the Israelis.

My own website was hacked by some Russian trolls. I don't know what the object was. Bank fraud, or Meet Hot Slavs?  It wouldn't be to use any of the actual information from my site, but to compromise the server pathways. FatCow, the server, hosts a buttload of websites, and once in the back door, you could cherry-pick all the caramels, and leave the liquid centers behind.

The point of the Chinese hacks is that they're not amateur or random, by and large, but directed by the Ministry of Defense, against specific hard targets. The big one, most recently (or at least most recently discovered), is the security breach of the Office of Personnel Management. I know this doesn't sound all that glamorous or hot-ticket - OPM is basically the U.S. government's Human Resources department, the central clearinghouse - but in fact it's a big deal. Best guess to date is that 18 million files have been penetrated, and that's a lowball figure. 

Here's what makes it important. OPM is responsible for security clearances, access to classified material. Back in the day, this was the FBI's job, but it's presently estimated that 5 million people, including both government employees and contractors, hold clearances, and the FBI's current staffing is 35,000. You do the math. The numbers are overwhelming. OPM, in turn, farms this out to FIS, the Federal Investigative Services, and the private sector.

But wait, there's more. The intelligence agencies, CIA, NSA, the National Reconnaissance Office (the spy satellite guys), have their own firewalled system, know as Scattered Castles. For whatever reason, budgetary constraints, too much backlog, or pressure from the Director of National Intelligence, the spook shops were instructed to merge their data with OPM's. So was the Defense Department. A certain amount of foot-dragging ensued, not just territory, either, but concerns about OPM's safeguards. In the end, they caved. Not to oversimplify, because the databases are in theory separate, but it created an information chain.

Suppose, and it's a big suppose, that Scattered Castles is accessible through the OPM gatekeeper. Nobody in the intelligence community, or OPM, or the FBI (which is the lead investigator of the OPM break), will go on the record one way or the other. Understandably, because they'd be giving whoever hacked OPM a further opportunity to exploit, if they haven't already. This is a case of locking the barn door after the horse is gone. The worst-case scenario is that active-duty covert agents could be exposed. And bear in mind, that when you're investigated for a security clearance, you give up a lot of sensitive personal data - divorce, bankruptcy, past drug use, your sexual preference - the list goes on. Which opens you up to blackmail, or pressure on your family. This is an enormous can of worms, the consequences yet to be addressed.

OPM uses a Web-based platform called eQip to submit background information. You might in all seriousness ask whether it's any more secure than Facebook. The issue here, long-run, isn't simply the hack, but the collective reactive posture. These guys are playing defense, not offense. The way to address this is to uncover your weaknesses before the other guy does, and identify the threat, not wait for it to happen. Take the fight to them. Otherwise we're sitting ducks.  

It's amazing to me that these people left us open to this, quite honestly. They don't go to the movies, their kids don't play video games, they're totally out to lunch? It ain't science fiction. It's the real world. Cyber warfare is in the here and now.

Heads are gonna roll, no question. OPM's director is for the high jump, and her senior management is probably going to walk the plank, too. This doesn't fix it. What needs fixing is the mindset. We're looking at inertia, plain and simple, a body at rest. We need to own some momentum. 

http://www.DavidEdgerleyGates.com/


06 July 2015

Why Don't You Write Like A Girl?


Mystery Author Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

Gayle Lynds has done it to me again. Her new thriller, The Assassins, a July release from St. Martin's Press, opened, grabbed me by the throat and kept me up late two nights in a row. As much as I love sleep, this is a superb read and one missing a few hours of sleep over.

The story opens in 2003 with the assassins, who each had done jobs for Saddam Hussein and none had received their final payment before Saddam was ousted. That's just not the way to do business with these guys.The usual operating procedure for an assassins contract is to be given half of the agreed monies with acceptance of the contract and the remainder when the job is finished. Seems Hussein liked to stiff on a contract or he had too many problems to take care of business.  Eventually, they are contacted by one of their number who has located a General, who had been in the Special Republican Guard under Saddam. The General says he can get them into the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, before the Americans arrive and where they can steal a priceless antiquity which then may be sold for billions of dollars.They can divide the money and go happily on their way.

The assassins don't know each other personally, but they are acquainted with each other's work. None would trust the others with the theft so the plan dictated all would be in on the heist. Every thing was working fine until...okay, I won't spoil here.

Next, enter CI agent, Judd Ryder, last seen in The Book of Spies.  And Eva Blake, who was a book curator in Book of Spies who is now training to be a CIA operative. Together with Judd's old boss and mentor Tucker Andersen and various CIA pals there is a concerted effort to discover what the assassins have been up to all these years later. Judd and Eva had dealt with one assassin The Carnivore once before and nothing was exactly fun and games. But they are soon drawn into the fray even without trying.

From Washington, DC to Paris, to Baghdad to Marrakesh the assassins are pitted against each other because everyone wants a piece of the missing billion dollar fortune. With Eva and Judd trying to unravel the plots and counter-plots while caught in the crossfire of men who think nothing of killing for money, you are swept along and reading pages as quickly as you can.

Gayle Lynds is one female thriller writer who had the background and knowledge to write a spy thriller as good as anyone. Don't ever tell me women can't write thrillers. I would love to write one myself, but I honestly have no education, training or knowledge for espionage.

Gayle Lynds worked for a think tank in Washington and is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. She was married to the late Dennis Lynds who wrote wonderful spy and mystery stories and books. She worked with Robert Ludlum. Gail and David Morrell co-founded International Thriller Writers. So it's no wonder she doesn't write LIKE a girl. Which is a dumb way to speak of any writer, I've read many thriller books by women.  Look it up if you don't believe me.

Two years ago, Gayle met and married John Shelton and moved from CA to Maine. John is a former prosecutor, defense attorney and judge, and writes articles for Law Journals. She says John is her first reader and helps with certain legal fact and brain storming.. Oh yeah, she and John have collaborated on three short stories. She has traveled overseas to research the great locations in her books. I learned much about cities and countries I've never been able to see. She captures all the sights, sounds and feelings of those cities.

If you've never read Gayle Lynds before, try The Assassins, The Book of Spies, The Last Spymaster, The Coil, Mesmerized, Mosaic, or Masquerade.  With Robert Ludlum: The Hades Factor, The Paris Option, The Altman Code.  If you like spy thrillers like I do, you'll definitely enjoy everything by this talented writer.

A little personal note: Tomorrow returning from a Grape Family Reunion. Yes, I know, a bunch of Grapes, descended on Memphis, TN I'll have to tell you about it next time and maybe I'll have pictures, too.

26 March 2014

The Man Who Kept The Secrets

by David Edgerley Gates


Richard Helms was the Director of Central Intelligence from 1966 to 1973, which makes him the longest-serving DCI in CIA history. He was also the first DCI to be appointed from the ranks, a career intelligence professional. Previous DCI's had been, in effect, political appointees, recruited from outside the Agency. Helms was DCI for Viet Nam, the Six-Day War, the overthrow of Salvador Allende, and Watergate---which is just the highlight reel. In other words, he knew where the bodies were buried.



He joined OSS during the war, and when CIA was established, in 1947, Helms came on board, one of the generation that included Larry Houston and James Angleton. These three guys, over the next twenty-five years, might be said to be CIA's institutional memory. They certainly shepherded, and shaped, the Agency and its legacy.

Helms is the only one who wrote a memoir, though, published after his death. It's too bad Houston and Angleton chose not to, it would have been interesting to contrast and compare, but keeping confidences was a habit of mind. They were secret men.

Memoirs of the spy community are a peculiar genre, and not always to be trusted. The most famous example is Kim Philby's MY SILENT WAR, written under KGB discipline, if not actually dictated by them. Philby settles a lot of scores, and spreads active disinformation. His book might best be seen as one last deception. Then, for instance, there's former CIA director William Colby's HONORABLE MEN, which is self-serving in the extreme, if not outright fabrication. The thing about the Helms book is that although he leaves much unsaid, what he does say is frank and transparent. (It helps, of course, to know the background, to fill in the blanks.) Helms doesn't give up operational details, or sources and methods, but he gives a solid flavor to the life, and his sense of duty.

One of the more disputed tangles in CIA's archive is the Golitsin-Nosenko controversy, which embroiled James Angleton's shop, the office of
JAMES ANGLETON
Counterintelligence, in the hunt for a double agent---shades of Kim Philby. The best explanation of this very convoluted story is Thomas Powers' excellent book, THE MAN WHO KEPT THE SECRETS. It's also the subject of Edward Jay Epstein's LEGEND, and David Martin's WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS (an expression attributed to Angleton). Helms covers Operation FOXTROT, the codename for Nosenko's defection, in just under seven pages, and doesn't assign it that much importance, his main point being that FOXTROT didn't tear the Agency apart, which is the premise of the Martin book. Helms goes out of his way to rehabilitate Angleton, whose forced resignation by Colby created a few lifetimes of bad blood.



It's a good demonstration of Helms' method. Don't gossip. Don't show off at somebody else's expense. Basically, be a gent. He obviously doesn't respect Colby much, but he stops of actually calling him a liar. The same is true of Nixon, even though Helms acknowledges Nixon's paranoia, and Nixon more or less stabbed Helms in the back, but Helms doesn't grudge Nixon his successes. This is, however, a place in the story where it turns dark. Nixon instructs Helms, in no uncertain terms, to get rid of Allende in Chile, and keep a lid on it. This leads to big trouble for Helms, later on, because his testimony in front of the Senate, touching on Allende and Chile, is clearly shown to be untrue. He was keeping the president's confidence, but under pressure, Helms pled to a misdemeanor charge in federal court, of being careless with the facts.

This speaks to one of the major themes in both the Powers and in Helms' own story, silence and duty, namely that the DCI only has one consumer, the
DICK HELMS 
president, and you only serve one president at a time. Helms isn't circumspect about this at all, and makes no apology for it. He has no reason to. We can argue about the function of the intelligence community, and whether or not the national security apparatus had overreached itself, but Larry Houston once remarked, in private conversation, that he never thought their intentions were dishonest. Helms was a principled guy. He kept faith. It cost him.


17 October 2012

Spy Lie

by Robert Lopresti

I just saw the movie Argo and I feel like I should say something about it because I wrote about it several years before it was made.  Well, not exactly.  But I wrote a piece on Criminal Brief called A Real-Life Genuine Phony Hollywood Spy Story,which was about the bizarre true event that served as a basis for Argo.  If you aren't familiar with it here's the one-sentence synopsis: during the Iranian hostage crisis the CIA got six hostages out by pretending they were a Canadian film crew.

So here's my review: it's a good movie.  You'll like it.  But you'll like it better if you don't read my earlier piece first, because the more you know about what really happened the more likely you are to be annoyed by the parts the movie gins up.  Apparently a spy sneaking into an insane theocracy to slip out six civilians, knowing that a single mistake could get them all beheaded was not suspenseful enough for Hollywood without a few added gimmicks.  Sigh.

I blame it on Irving Thalberg.  I believe he was the producer in the 1930s who dictated that every movie had to end with a 99 yard dash for a touchdown.  Apparently Ben Affleck and friends decided that the ball wasn't quite far enough back for the climax so they had to libel the Carter administration (who apparently did not look quite bad enough in real life) and bring in a lot of machine guns.  Plus they invented an airline  pilot so oblivious to the world around him that he made those two clowns who flew a state or two past their destination a few years ago look like paragons of alertness.

Honestly what annoyed me most was not the lies they put in so much as the facts they left out to make room (or because they didn't fit the story they were telling).  Here are a few true incidents that did not make the movie (which remember, is both funny and suspenseful):
  • The forgers put the wrong date on some of the passports, indicating that the carriers were travelers from the future. 
  • The Canadian cabinet had to meet in secret to authorize false passports.  Then the authorities refused one to the CIA agent, because he had not been included in the vote.
  • When the hero visited the Iranian consulate, he left his portfolio in the taxi cab.
  • The CIA agents’ map of Tehran led them to the Swedish embassy instead of the Canadian one. 
  • On the morning of the actual escape, our hero slept through his alarm. 
Wouldn't you think some of those items were worth including?  And then there was the equally suspenseful escape of the Canadian embassy staff which had to be perfectly timed, but didn't fit in with the phony scene the producers put in Argo.  Honestly, I liked the movie, but the more I think about it the more irritated I get.

And let me say that one reason I liked is that any flick which gives a juicy comic part to Alan Arkin does a service for mankind.  (And the fact that Arkin's character is a composite didn't bother me at all..)

Here's the irony, by the way.  I was at a songwriting group this week and  a woman had written a song about a real person.  I told her "you have to decide whether you're serving the person or the song."  In other words, she was cleaving too closely to the truth.  So call me a hypocrite, I guess.

Tangential episode: Speaking of the CIA, more than a decade ago I was at a dinner party and was seated near the new boyfriend of a woman I know.  I asked him what he did for a living and he said he was an engineer.  Well, practically everyone in my wife's family is an engineer so I asked what kind.  "Systems engineer," he said, and put so much unspeakable boredom into those two words that I changed the subject.

Later my friend told me that the guy was actually an analyst for the CIA.  And after he found out that I am a government documents librarian he was kind enough to send me a few books published by the CIA for my collection - nothing classified, I assure you.

Back when the CIA used to send a lot of paper documents to federal depository libraries like mine (now they don't because "everything is on the web," which it isn't but don't get me started on that), we used to receive pocket atlases of major cities in communist countries.  These  map books were highly prized because they were much more accurate and complete than maps of Peking and Moscow that you could actually buy there.  But nowhere on the entire publication would you find the publisher's name.  For some reason, people didn't wander around those cities carrying something that said CIA on it.  Go figure.

And go see the movie.  Just remember one thing that the film makes a point about: spies and movie moguls never let the truth get in the way of a good story.