“Just because information is stolen, that doesn’t make it more useful.” – Mike Hayden
The National Security Agency (NSA) is the child of Pearl Harbor, the worst warning disaster, until recently, in American history. The World Trade Center was the first homeland test of NSA. The Fort Meade complex and General Mike Hayden, USAF, failed that test.
Hayden discovered the terror threat on daytime television, as Saudi/Arab/Muslim terrorists crashed into Manhattan, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. After the worst strategic failure in American history, Hayden was promoted to the inner circle at the White House. Funding at NSA exploded exponentially. Catastrophe is opportunity.
Thus does operational failure become a fiscal stimulus! Withal; religious wars still rage, bombs still explode in too many public places, girls are kidnapped by the hundreds, and airliners disappear without a trace. Nonetheless, Maryland and Utah and a few other states wallow midst the biggest Communications Intelligence (COMINT) funding windfall in American history.
After the Arab attack, Hayden was summoned to the White House and asked what NSA might need to prevent another surprise attack. Apparently, NSA replied: “everything,” including universal surveillance of all the social media and the telecom monopolies (AT&T and Verizon). Initially, the gnomes at NSA engineered a program that incorporated privacy safeguards. Those safeguards were discarded, but not without a cat fight at the Puzzle Palace and the Justice Department.
Recalcitrant senior NSA technicians were read out of “the program,” some became leakers, but all were neutralized with retirement and several years of retaliatory FBI intimidation. Raise a problem in the IC and apparently you become the problem.
Edward Snowden would later school himself on the post-9/11 NSA whistleblowers. Snowden recognized that commercial data miners and government snoops were after the same personal data; playing fast and loose with privacy, albeit for different reasons.
The Justice Department wasn’t as easy to intimidate or roll at first. Nonetheless, the Oval Office circumvented the Attorney General by writing a new TOP SECRET CODEWORD presidential directive for NSA operations. Apparently, the major social networks, with one exception, and telecom monopolies collaborated with NSA without a public murmur.
Think of NSA as a stovepipe, a conduit to very special audiences like the White House. Other Intelligence agencies create their own limited access programs too, smaller pipes within the IC stovepipes. Most traffic is vertical not horizontal, the left hand of the IC often does not know what the right is doing – by design. When an agency like Justice refuses to play ball, as was the case with warrantless wiretapping, NSA pulls program access from critics, as they did with post- 9/11 internal dissenters.
Apparently, the purpose of most classification in the IC is to cover somebody’s ass, not to protect “sources and methods.” A ‘world of mirrors’ is the way James Angleton characterized the Intelligence universe, now a digital jungle where friend and enemy wear the same saccharine smiles.
Glen Greenwald now calls the Intelligence and law enforcement communities “one-way mirrors.” They know all about us and we know little of them. Manipulation, not integrity, is the high card in a United States of Secrets.
Mike Hayden, while at NSA, ran Intelligence collection in a moral vacuum shadowed by legal twilight. And Mike Morell, while at CIA, altered Intelligence analyses (see Benghazi talking points) like the political flavor of the day. With the new FBI director, the IC consensus on the literal end of privacy is a done deal.
Recall that under George Bush, when James B. Comey was the deputy at Justice, he offered to resign over warrantless surveillance. Now as top cop at the FBI under a Democrat, Comey seems to have leased his integrity to the politics of the moment.
We are assured by all parties that individual privacy rights are protected by the mysterious FISCR court. If we believe recent revelations On Frontline and in Nowhere to Hide, the IC’s “secret court” will indict a bad burrito and issue a warrant for the predictable results. A “secret” (sic) court, for secret warrants, where only the government’s secret argument is heard is a little like installing one of Greenwald’s mirrors in a public toilet.
Say what you will about rogues like Edward Snowden, the high-school dropout who blew the whistle on the NSA/social Media/ telecom surveillance peep show. Snowden exhibits more skill, judgment, and ethical grit than Hayden, Morell, and Comey or the dot.com oligarchs. NSA and the greedy internet elite created the problem that the Snowden revelations might have to solve.
Indeed, Snowden, with an ‘all access’ ticket seems to know more about NSA surveillance than Jim Clapper, Barack Obama, or Congress. Withal, one thing is clear; clueless sycophants like Mike Hayden, make skeptical apostates like Snowden possible.
Truth is, NSA, like the rest of the ironically named ‘Defense’ Department, invests most assets in offense, indiscriminate collection for example; an indigestible glut it seems. This Hoover tactic may explain why a malcontent like Snowden can steal the family jewels with a few discrete keystrokes. If NSA strategic defense failed before 9/11 and then internal defenses failed to prevent the Snowden heist, why believe Hayden’s assurances about the future? Three catastrophic surprises will not be a charm.
Governments that can give you everything, say universal health care, can take anything; to wit, civil rights or personal privacy. The ACA was a party line vote. Nobody got to vote on the NSA expansion and surely not the PRISM computer and universal federal/commercial snooping.
The great irony of collection excess is that there is no evidence that more data, more processing, or more funding has improved Intelligence analysis. The same people who redefine phone calls, Tweets, photographs, and emails as “metadata” can’t name our strategic enemies. State Department sissies refuse to designate Boko Haram as a Muslim terrorist group. IC estimates gag on words like “terrorist.” Terms like Islam, Muslim, Islamist, or religious fascism have been stricken from the strategic vocabulary by fiat.
What doesn’t happen – is now an achievement!
Trying to understand terror and all those Muslim wars, without Islamism, is a little like ignoring pork at a sausage seminar. Within the Intelligence Community, Muslim sensitivities seem to trump common sense and national security.
If warning or candid analysis is the strategic dividend, then the Intelligence investment should be downgraded to junk bond status. Like advertising, the purpose of the end product, analysis, now seems to be influence or social sensitivity, not information or warning. Orwell’s pig lives!
Democratic socialists didn’t win the Cold War; they merely cloned Animal Farm. In the arithmetic of communes, compound failure equals excess. Cultural wars are illustrative, where nation or alliance building is now code for false flags, coups, regime changes, or ‘democratic’ imperialism.
Despotism has three requirements: control, compliance, and secrecy. The ethos of social and political absolutism is alive and well in the West, where failure is never pretty. But it still pays pretty well.
Money and institutional self-interest eats hope and good intentions for lunch. The intersection of government voyeurs and a so-called “open” Internet is the kind of unnatural act that can only be explained by a critical mass of official and commercial trolls. Crime pays indeed – and well too!
The author is the former chief of the USAF Intelligence Research Division, NSA Friendship Annex, Fort Meade, Maryland
This essay was previously published by the American Thinker and the Iconoclast.