Intelligence

Happy Festivus And 2013 Year In Review

Happy Festivus And 2013 Year In Review

Happy Festivus, Dear Reader

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We ponder 2013′s biggest story:

  • Boston’s terror attack
  • Rightist congressional theatrics
  • Syria and Obama’s stumbling
  • Miley Cyrus twerking
  • Egypt and Arab Spring’s collapse
  • Obama’s passivity
  • Iran’s opening
  • L’Affaire Snowden
  • Snowden Wins No Surprise

    Neocons and their R2P fellow travelers get runner up for their urgent efforts to jump start yet another American Middle East war. Bandar’s bizarre lashing out at American last minute resistance to Sunni manipulation a Golden Globe-worthy turn.

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    NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

    NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

    One of NSA Director Keith Alexander’s cruelest feats? Forcing some of his fiercest critics (us) again to defend American self-interest and the role and purpose of intelligence. Despite NSA’s (and the Community’s) wanton, flagrant contempt for both. If Neocons were America’s malignant Id at her moment of apogee, then as Nemesis follows Hubris, they ushered in her over soon decline. NSA and the Community, engorged on national security self-entitlement, scuttled behind as ever-present shadow.

    We get no pleasure writing that. Nor seeing so much needless and perhaps irretrievable ruin in Snowden’s aftermath. Much of it gleefully celebrated by those who care nothing for American interests, privacy or otherwise. It takes a big man to bring down an epoch in American and global history, they say. So why are Alexander and Snowden perfectly, coevally so small?

    Crushed Like A Spent Can Of Diet Coke

    The seemingly ancient preceding post here about Obama’s first NSA-focused press conference reads quaintly now. We see in stark relief the cost of this Administration’s (typical) passivity. That’s not to excuse or diminish NSA’s stunning, profoundly stupid (and so totally unnecessary) transgressive acts. But we all should be clear about one distinction – intolerance for NSA’s transgressions is not embracing others’ attempt to exploit political fallout to see America diminished.

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    Obama On Intelligence Reform: Same As It Ever Was

    Obama On Intelligence Reform: Same As It Ever Was

    We’re not smart enough to appreciate Barrack Obama. To cut the story short, that’s his press conference on intelligence oversight this past Friday. He proposes no changes really to current intelligence practices.

    For those crediting Snowden and his odd travelogue for initiating this conversation? Here’s Obama’s ante so far: (a) a new Community website explaining that everything is constitutional; (b) a new someone called a ‘privacy officer’ at NSA with the immense power of an empty in box; (c) co-opting the Blumenthal-Udall-Wyden procedural bill proposing a special advocate to participate in select FISA proceedings to contest government representations; and (d) yet another outside group (joining President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and its Intelligence Oversight Board) to meet and do what?

    A bit underwhelming. Even as opening gambit.

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    A Day In Edward Snowden’s Moscow Life – The Secret History

    Cut to scene: Ed Snowden flees to Hong Kong, spending his 30th birthday there at the Russian consulate. Yet we are told his immediate run to Moscow was both unplanned and caught the Russian government completely by surprise. Some tabulate the cascading coincidences intertwining Snowden and Russian operatives or their known consorts. The sheer weight of incidents is non-trivial.

    As with all things, data by itself is not information. The key questions remain unanswered: (i) when did Snowden decide to be an adversary of the U.S. government?; (ii) how did he reach that decision – by himself or did Others recruit or encourage him?; (iii) carrying out his actions, did he have help and from whom?

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    Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

    Snowden’s Pyrrhic Victory? *

    Episode Recap

    State of play so far since our last episode. Putin bemoans now being stuck with an unwelcome Christmas present (Snowden). Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offer Snowden asylum but can’t get him there. The man of the hour meanwhile finally seeks asylum in Russia yet’s vague about ceasing public ‘anti-U.S. activities’, a pre-condition set by Putin.

    Greenwald in turn threatens the U.S. with the worst disaster in history should anything ever happen to Snowden – while decrying that people pay too much attention to Snowden. And the U.S. hints about canceling a tete-a-tete with Putin after the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

    So we ask you to join in our poll:

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    The Amnesiatic Society And Institutions Of Permanent Memory

    L’Affaire Snowden is pretty much a Rorschach test. Except with consequences.

    We haven’t weighed in almost at all so far. Frankly, most of the froth — from allegedly scandalized American sans cullottes to the security Nomenklatura — have been acting according to pre-determined, pre-ordained scripts. It’s been a bore. And doesn’t change the status quo.

    Former NSA Director Michael Hayden conceded after Snowden’s debut that the Verizon order and the PRISM slides contained almost nothing not already in the public domain. NSA’s major concern? The release tidied everything up in one morsel for grokking by a Twitter-debauched, nanosecond mentality. Snowden’s initial leaks were that most dangerous of things: meme friendly.

    If there’s one thing America in the Age of Obama can do well, it’s consuming memes. Still, why would a society obsessed with forgetting yesterday in return for a transient dopamine fix today take a stand on privacy now? Some of it’s politics to be sure. A white God Emperor King presiding over socialist authoritarianism from 2001-2008 is an all too different kettle of fish to someone, er, half white. So the Movement’s reaction is pre-cooked. Then there’s the motley crew (note the e and w) of long time privacy activists, Mac Book Air anarchists, Twitter self promoters, Net Roots types and everyone else who long since sold their souls to Google, Amazon and Facebook. Who here thinks this assortment can create durable politics when the memes grow stale? To take on and prevail against Nomneklatura planning on global, decades-long scales? These are institutions of permanent memory.

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    Riding The General Staff

    Tawdry inconsequentiality sums up the Petraeus matter. Petraeus and Allen, two Imperial Viceroys from CENCTOM, strode across the globe with more direct and indirect power regionally than any U.S. diplomat or civilian, outstripping in many ways their Roman forebears. Yet the Pro Consuls are socially seduced by shameless con artists. How does this happen?

    Jill Kelley, the Philadelphia native, is apparently a ruthless social climber only five years in Tampa. Her apparent wealth masking profound insolvency, alleged IRS fraud, and a litany of creditor lawsuits for staggering sums. Her potentially sociopathic sister knows both generals well enough to finagle two ineffective letters of character support in her child custody war. A judge saw more clearly than the two Titans of CENTCOM. He rejected them, noting her mendacity and untrustworthiness are well known to the court.

    ‘Camp whores’ (of both genders) are a well known sociological phenomenon. Yet these two did little more than play hostess at various functions. None are obviously stunningly attractive outside the Jersey Shore framework. But flaunt a lifestyle vastly beyond their means. Something else must explain their extraordinary access. It’s not about Petraeus or Allen individually, but a systemic phenomenon.

    Reports now indicate that Petraeus used to arrive at Kelley’s parties in military motorcade with 28 Tampa police as escorts. Kelley in return offered expensive cigars, bottle service and musical serenades. It’s corrupt from both sides. Why does CENTCOM condone this?

    Kelley tried to get her house declared the other day a diplomatic mission because of a flimsy volunteer certificate bestowing the awesome title of ‘Honorary Ambassader’ [for cheese whiz, or the like]. This is the person who trades personal emails with the Titans of CENTCOM? She has those bona fides. Besides 30,000 pages of emails with General Allen. Her intimacy with Allen involves flying up from Tampa to see him in Washington, D.C. Evidence suggests she had some similar access to Petraeus.

    A foreign intelligence service couldn’t design a more useful penetration of Imperial Viceroys. Especially when Jill Kelley is millions in debt and fighting foreclosure and her sister, she of the court order, just declared $3.5 MM bankruptcy. There are a dozen intelligence services that would toss some coin for their access and then guided/targeted collection efforts.

    Apparently, to penetrate an American Viceroy you just need some decent tits a good profile, cigars, a foreclosed Mercedes, ruthless self-promotion and South Philly/Jersey shore moxi. The Chinese might well be dumbfounded at the ease and minimal funds involved.

    The Affair and Petraeus

    Quick thoughts. We’re somewhat sympathetic to both original ‘sinners.’ Everyone probably knows an ex that did not take a breakup well (or been that ex). Sure, she pursued him. He was the alpha male in a system based on latent crypto-homoerotic glorification of the top dog. He made the mistake. To sociological analysis noting the affair began 2 months at CIA without his accustomed staff, etc. we repeat the above: he made the mistake. Full stop.

    re Petraeus’ departure and reducing CIA paramilitary interest, history teaches it’s the President, not the Director that determines this. CIA built up its capacities in every major military conflict to compete with and complement the Pentagon. Stan Turner’s famous 1978 ‘Halloween Massacre’ under Carter was in part (though not entirely) a house cleaning of paramilitary personnel from Vietnam. Few can say that his refocus on technical collection by itself improved things.

    Current CIA paramilitary interest began in the Fall of 2001 and grew in a steady line. If you’re here you likely agree the drone program is out of control. What calls itself CIA these days still responds to White House interest, priorities and wishes (spoken or unspoken). Obama must be the one to set new priorities, not a Director.

    We agree the FBI’s role is both ominous and pathetic. We also agree the underlying emails should not be sufficient for an FBI investigation. One silver lining: people see that the Bureau does not need a court to access all of their email and Cloud data from 6 months ago. The Bare-Chested Dude (take that, Cigarette Smoking Man!) adds to the entire South Philly/Jersey Shore-in-Tampa motif. His circumventing Bureau Protocol to ignite Congress directly a further warning that the FBI can not be trusted to control information.

    Should Petraeus have resigned? Yes. Not because of all the pontification of blackmail, etc. That same 1959 mindset has always been used to enforce needlessly orthodox lifestyle preferences. It’s been rolled back in many areas. Had he chosen to remain, he would of necessity be defending his actions and be perceived as bureaucratically weakened, internally and externally.

    Misc.

    These past days may be the only time ever among grown men, we’ve heard someone actually say “Look at those arms, pretty hot, eh?” So there’s that.

    FISA And The FAA Of 2008

    DNI’s recent letter (the “Letter”) to Feingold regarding FISA and in particular Section 702 (PDF here) underscores three things:

    1. Many in the blog and twittersphere are unable to read a letter longer than 140 characters;
    2. Feingold’s opposition to the FAA (FISA Amendments Act) is even more marginal politically today than during his quixotic stand in 2008; and
    3. The National Security Nomenklatura are secure enough to toss Feingold a marginal bone, showing no concerns about repercussion.

    Feingold sought DNI permission to discuss three statements about the FAA. He wanted political cover to avoid claims of violating security and to lock DNI into a position.

    Feingold’s most notable statement of the three submitted was that after 2008 FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) ruled that the government acted unreasonably retaining information on AMCITs (American Citizens) in one instance. The Letter noted that FISC ruling but underscored remedial steps were since taken. Hardly the major admission characterized by breathless blog posts and tweets.

    Feingold, FISA, DNI, FAA

    Long time readers know our background and experience with FISA and intelligence oversight going back decades. Here’s our verdict on this little dust up.

    In boxing terms, Feingold didn’t even land a glove. If that’s all Feingold has to work with since 2008, stick a fork in it. DNI knows it, too. A FISC determination was made, and allegedly their concerns were followed. Rather than a black eye, this episode becomes a poster child for ‘rule of law.’ The Letter is typical Nomenklatura bureaucratese, feigning interest in cooperation with Feingold, civil rights, etc. But there’s also a barely concealed gloating underlying tone in the formality. They know Feingold’s got nothing to work on. And he’s probably even more alone in the Senate than in 2008.

    A long time ago we wrote about how unlikely Congress could prevail in re-asserting meaningful intelligence oversight. And that assumed Congress as a separate and co-equal branch of government re-discovered itself.

    Congress failed all of us at the beginning. With PATRIOT ACT (and blowing past its sunsets), with each subsequent compromise and a decade of Duma-like timidity. One or even a handful of Senators can’t revive an entire institution, let alone the other body.

    We are all of us like the people in our short story in the link above, prey for what was once supposed to guard. Now that Obama normalized and put his bi-partisan (albeit of the Kenyan, socialist, KGB mole variety) imprimatur on Cheney’s excesses, we don’t foresee rollback in our lifetime.

    Stasi Surveillance State’s Local Deal Of The Day

    And you thought Groupon, Living Social and Google stalked you.

    Local, state and federal entities in 2011 served wireless carriers over 1.3 million demands for subscriber information. Note “over” 1.3 million. No one has accurate records. Or can explain how the information was used.

    The 1.3 million number is farcically low. Sprint alone said it responded to 500,000 subpoenas in 2011, and each subpoena typically demanded information on more than one subscriber. Do the math. Want more? Governments demand (and get) *total* data dumps from entire cell towers for a period of time. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of subscribers’ information swept into government hands *each time*.

    FBI, Surveillance, Warrantless Surveillance, cellular data, geo location

    Is it legal? No one’s really sure. Carriers often require warrants. Or subpoenas. Or they comply without formalities, agreeing to governments’ burgeoning declarations of emergency. Digital information doesn’t easily fit in old analog legal frameworks. Thus, carriers are coming forward asking Congress to clarify the rules. And cover their expenses.

    We’ve discussed here our experiences representing carriers during CALEA negotiations and implementation. Then as now carriers in public go through the motions respecting customer privacy. During CALEA, there was a tribal defense of the ‘cage’ from FBI intrusion. Still, carriers and equipment vendors’ real concern was — and is now – controlling their costs and getting reimbursement.

    Increased government reliance on surveilling wireless data is not merely to exploit murky legality. Government and carriers both know that mobile users increasingly use their phones just for data, email, SMS, web, etc. Actual voice traffic is decreasing or is part of a digital app (Google Talk, etc.). Carriers say they soon will offer data only plans.

    Seen in this light, Congress’ geo-location bills – the Geolocation, Privacy and Surveillance Act – are merely a start. (They provide useful limits on data use and require probable cause). These bills also focus on a tree and miss the forest.

    What are digital realities in a mobile computing universe? Our data increasingly is in the cloud, stored precisely where? Phones are computers, now with quad cores and 1 and 2 gigabytes of RAM. For example, over a decade ago the Bureau began using roving bugs, cell phone microphones as remote wiretaps. Those implications — of old technology and notions of ‘wiretapping’, when people thought of cell phones as analog phones — are still not widely understood by the public. Activating cameras and recording? Already done, by government and even contractors. Cameras are now ubiquitous in your home, from tablets to PCs/Macs to er, mobile phones.

    Fast forward to today. Much of the information government seeks from cellular carriers also exists elsewhere in the cloud – including old fashioned voice conversations. Our information is no longer in one place or even stored on your mobile computer-phone. What rules govern government access to our third party-held cloud data?

    Geo-location abuses above are galling but no surprise. It’s depressing that Markey claims he is ‘stunned’. Geo-location legislation would be welcome even if incomplete and missing the point. The advent of mobile cloud based computing means we must re-structre completely law enforcement and National Security Nomenklatura’s role. It’d be nice if Congress found the will to use geo-location to begin the long walk out of the Bush/Obama surveillance night.

    Can the Duma be counted on? Doubtful. Minorities, especially in the House, have almost zero agenda-setting power. Even as Chair Markey’s track record in the House is uneven, although his knack for publicity is undeniable.

    Is it even Congress’ fault? Facebook and thousands of others teach us privacy is a transactional commodity. Americans daily click away their GPS data without thinking for restaurant deals and spa discounts. Nomenklatura abuses are abstract and complicated. Easier to tune out and return to Angry Birds (which also surveils us screen swipe by swipe).

    Does location tracking really bother you? Tell the truth.

    The Baroque Incentives Of A President Addicted To Dealing Death

    Overtly covert wars and drone assassinations happen because Obama and his unremarkable White House national security staff want them. Obama’s fulsome embrace of tactical expediency only accelerates degeneration of American strategic thinking into compartmentalized, impulsive, unconnected random spasms of violence.

    Ignatius repackages known struggles within the U.S. Islamabad embassy over who controls U.S. drone war in Pakistan, the ambassador or CIA? (Ignatius adds a morsel that St. David Petraeus is cross).

    Drone War, Obama
    Bureaucratically, ambassadorial struggles for policy control are not unprecedented. State overall has been fending off encroachment on ambassadorial authority for a long time. Rummy pushed DoD assassination teams into embassies who expressly were exempt from ambassadorial oversight. Earlier, even Commerce and FBI drove wedges. Managing an embassy now is far more demanding for any ambassador than just 20 years ago. Without the drones.

    In Pakistan’s case, the ambassador’s attempt to control policy predestined to fail. He didn’t understand Obama court political realities. Obama faces domestic gridlock. (Much of it his own doing). Foreign policy and especially ‘covert’ action are his release. The ambassador really contested Obama’s authority and the one sphere of presidential positive feedback.

    Foreign policy as mentioned here recently is the preferred refuge for domestically stymied presidents. CIA, CTC and DoD covert militarism cater to Obama’s frustration and proclivity for judging others. They tease and often deliver instant gratification: ‘results’ (aka death), action, baseball cards, full motion video and alleged secrecy. Approving who lives or dies? Doesn’t get any judgier.

    Per the NYT it requires a veritable death bureaucracy, faceless GS and super grades, to feed the Addict-In-Chief. The death apparatchiks routinely offer candidates like discussing draft picks in ‘Moneyball’. The rot is deep. Think about this the next time someone suggests watching ‘Conspiracy’. Obama insists on bringing the Cesarian thumbs up/down into the Oval Office. Is it really noble sacrifice to control the otherwise out-of-control system? Then why the leaks bragging about it all?

    It’s a compartmentalized program, except spread very far and with direct presidential patronage. The secrecy, insularity and reward mechanisms (presidential approval, a ‘good kill’) create an alternate reality, smug, aloof and at odds with those not read in (let alone ‘Consensual Reality’).

    Into this disposal, the ambassador in Pakistan stuck his hand. Others control the switch. Only a poor poker player challenges Obama to abandon his one area of seeming control and instant kicks for what? Prolix cables back to Foggy Bottom? More complexity and frustration with brown people far away?

    State’s failure in Pakistan is part of a wider pattern. Lack of strategic coherence is in some ways unavoidable. Institutions of all types erode and dissolve into digital ADD across American society. Tactical impulsiveness commands media, corporations and individuals. Why should foreign policy be any different? Compartmentalized thinking and operations are perfectly suited for a fractured age.

    Crafting and implementing enduring, strategically rational architectures perhaps was easier under the old monoculture. No one can deny contemporary American inability to govern domestically. Still, it’s not that we are powerless even so. The root enabler of American imbalance abroad — and Obama’s personal mechanism of death — are the budgets we craft here at home. DoD and the Community must be pared down from their wartime extravagances. Eliminating the gross resource imbalance at least makes a more coordinated, recalibrated strategic posture likely. And State restored to a modestly functioning role.

    One unanswered question is would Weberian bureaucratic logic compel any president in these circumstances to pursue similar activities — regardless of character?

    All we know is this president isn’t interested in trying to find out.