Cooking the Intelligence Books

March 23, 2015

“Love is whatever you can still betray.” – John Le Carre

There was a time that intelligence estimates were cloaked in secrecy. Peer review, such that it was, was limited to a few analysts with security clearances, analysts that were not necessarily substantive experts. The iconic Intelligence report is the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a document that is supposed to represent an Intelligence Community consensus. In practice, a recurring NIE might be dusted off once a year and circulated to up to 17 agencies for “coordination” where “happy” might be changed to “glad.” With the exception of statistics, estimates were seldom changed substantially before being filed away for another year.

Any agency within the IC that might have a factual or analytical disagreement is allowed to take a “footnote” to an NIE which will contain the specifics of any disagreement.

An NIE footnote is as likely to be read as the body of an NIE itself is read. Recurring intelligence reports are read with the same relish as congressional bills are read by congressmen. As long as estimates contain enough threat data to justify departmental budgets, as with domestic spending bills, few politicians care much about analytical effectiveness or any correspondence with the real world. Spending, not truth, reflection or restraint, is the sine qua non of American politics and governance.

The link between Intelligence and defense spending is fairly explicit. The circuit between Intelligence and Intelligence spending is even more direct. With the IC, the folks who define the threat get to write their own meal tickets. Take the Islamist threat since 9/11. Any agency that can work “terror” into their mission statement is likely to enjoy a funding windfall.

Alas, were funding tied to performance, the IC and the DOD might have to have to raise funds like Public Television or the Girl Scouts.

Nonetheless, the national security business has changed in significant ways since the advent of an Intelligence czar in 2004, the so-called Director of National Intelligence. Heretofore, Intelligence estimates were classified. Now big reports also have a redacted version available to the Press. All the while, the specifics of threat might be obfuscated.

Unlike German Nazis, Japanese Imperialists, and Russian Communists of yore, the Arab/Persian/Muslim threat does not have any official cognates where the shooters, bombers, or throat cutters might be named or tied to race, religion, country, or ideology. Words like Arab, Persian, terrorist, Islam, Islamism, Muhammadanism, Islamofascism or the like are prohibited by fiat.

Unlike previous global threats, contemporary Intelligence reports would have you believe that the last fifty years of terror and small wars are without a common thread, without an ideology. Ninety or more nations might be sending religiously motivated jihadists to Sunni Arab ISIS, yet that statistic is of little consequence. Terror victim statistics might have reached an apogee but that fact is of little moment either. You might speak of radicals, militants, extremists, and criminals, but none of these are to be paired with religion, ideology, or Islamic culture.

Thus a national security assessment today is at once officially transparent and functionally opaque at the same time – for the political hustler, the best of both worlds. Alas, transparency, or should we say propaganda, cuts two ways. The 2015 DNI Worldwide Threat Assessment for Congress compared to the 2014 edition is an example. The deus ex machina has now been added to the DNI’s bag of tricks.

Shia Hezb’allah, and Shia Iran disappeared from the threat index in 2015. This is the same Hezb’allah that is the Shia equivalent of Sunni ISIS. Clearly, the latest DNI unclassified threat assessment was written with Shia readers in mind.

The elevation of Cuba to BFF is negligible because Havana hasn’t been a threat to Miami Beach since Khrushchev went shoeless at the United Nations. Any diminution of the Hezb’allah (literally, the party of God) and the Nuclear Persian threats is another matter. A nuclear/terrorist Shia theocracy in the Middle East changes every strategic dynamic; with Israel, with Arabia, with the larger Sunni world, and with NATO.

The motives for cooking the Shia threat are a grab bag of possibilities. Foremost is the specter of concessions to Iran designed to prime the pump for team Obama legacy, in short, a nuclear deal with Tehran at any price. A weak and/or failing American President is an easy mark for Shia ayatollahs with unlimited tenure.

Like the Cuba rapprochement, a lame duck American administration would like to put a Persian “peace” paper in the plus column. Never mind that the Persian priests are unlikely to sacrifice their parity ace to the numerically superior Sunni. At the moment, the Islam bomb is a Sunni monopoly. Only a Shia bomb balances the Sunni/Shia sectarian equation. Nuclear parity for apocalyptic Muslim sectarians would be the strategic equivalent of certain Armageddon for Israel.

Then there is the Syria/Iraq conundrum, two pariah regimes, fast friends of Shia Tehran. Sunni ISIS has made a caliphate of Syria and Iran, a budding empire that aspires to devour what remains of two failing pro-Iranian basket cases. ISIS is also making more than a bit of a splash in Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya.

Washington and Brussels are unwilling to confront Iran or ISIS in the flesh. Such dilemmas make for strange bedfellows. Thus America and Europe now find themselves shagging Syrian Assad, the Iranian ayatollahs, Hezb’allah, and a veritable host of unsavory anti-Sunni mercenaries and miscreants. The Levant is starting to look like a necrotic Abbott and Costello routine. Who’s on first?

And last, but not least, there is the possibility that the dangerous liaison with Shia priests is designed to punish or poke Israel, especially Bibi Netanyahu. In every Arab or Persian political stew, anti-Semitism is sure to be one of the ingredients.

Given the number of times that America has changed sides in the Middle East, only one thing is certain. Neither Sunni nor Shia can trust Washington today, especially an erratic if not incoherent team Obama. Israel especially, with existential skin in the game, has every reason to be wary of motives in Brussels and Washington too, lest Israel become so much collateral damage like the women, children, and Christians of North Africa the Levant.

Withal, one other conclusion is now possible. The American Intelligence Community just might be another Beltway hooker, similar in many respects to the academic and think tank camp followers that surround Washington.  As long as the funding is unlimited, the Intelligence Community seems willing to provide any service or any answer that pays.

Alas, truth is a candid bitch, she can’t be bought. The American Intelligence Community, in contrast, has become just another Washington DC streetwalker.

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This essay appeared in the 3/23/2015 edition of American Thinker.

 


Edward Snowden; Digital Don Quixote

June 5, 2014

“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.

Key Judgments

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!

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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.

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