Comments Posted By Pissed Off Spook
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You’re right, of course, but I question whether Congress can be trusted as the overseer. I find Congressional corruption to be heads and shoulders over anything coming out of the Executive branch. We need (if it’s even possible anymore) non-partisan oversight.

You're right of course, but who else can do it? The executive has done a good job of keeping the judicial branch away from these things by using classification and other techniques to keep them out of the courts. Like it or not, Congress is the only hope we have for oversight.

Comment Posted By Pissed Off Spook On 11.05.2006 @ 14:15


There are a couple of issues here. First the legality of the program. It's obviously a gray area. It looks like the NSA is making a legal distinction between collecting and storing information and actually using it. For example, the NSA vacuums up all this data on phone traffic in the US and stores it. No one actually sees or uses 99% of the data, and probably no one ever will. Therefore, the NSA people are saying it’s not a search, it’s just stored data. Accessing the data is another question. Does that then become a search? It’s hard to tell. The legal system has not kept-up with the capabilities of our intelligence collection systems, especially with regard to communications. We will see similar problems in the next few decades with imaging satellites as they gain resolution and coverage increases. If a spy satellite happens to capture a crime, will that evidence be allowed in court? It’s just one of many interesting questions brought on by our growing technology.

First off, I have no knowledge or access to this program. But let me tell you what I think they’re doing with it based on my experience in the IC. It’s what we would call traffic analysis. First we start with a huge and comprehensive database of all the calls in the USA for the last 5 years. I don’t know for sure, but this database probably only contains the meta-data on the calls – things like the number called, duration of call, time, etc. I doubt, and certainly hope, that the actual contents of the calls are not collected, though that capability is certainly available and feasible. To me, that would be a gross violation of the Constitution.

Now, the NSA gets the phone number of some terrorist operating in the USA. They can then search this database and retrieve the information on every single phone call placed by that number. Any phone numbers the terrorist called will also have their numbers searched, and pretty soon you’ll have a big historical network of phone and data traffic that revolves around one particular phone number. After analyzing that network, requests for wiretaps, searches, and other procedures can be conducted against the phone numbers and their owners who are associated with the terrorist phone number.

Obviously, this can be an extremely valuable tool. This also isn’t new. The NSA has been doing similar stuff for years. Just read James Bamford’s book (published in 1983) called the “Inside the Puzzle Palace.” It’s the first book written on the NSA and it’s an amazing piece of investigative journalism, especially considering when it was written. ATT was colluding with the NSA for decades on similar projects, though much more limited in scope, as the technology for the current program only came available in the late 90’s.

Although I think this database is a great tool for terrorism, much care must be taken to keep its use legal. There is always a strong attraction to take tools like this and start applying them to many other areas for which they’re not intended. Oversight is the key. These types of programs must have oversight from Congress to ensure they stay legal and don’t stray from their legal, intended mission.

Comment Posted By Pissed Off Spook On 11.05.2006 @ 12:21



Thank you for clarifying some of your points. If some of what I wrote wasn’t quite cogent then chalk it up to me writing it at 3am during a long working weekend. I want to clarify that I don’t intend to defend these leakers – especially the blatantly partisan leaks – from any criticism. In some cases I can see their point of view but abhor their tactics. Even so, it’s not clear all those leaks came from the CIA since the leaked intel was so widely available in the community for the most part. I have no problem with people who disagree and choose to retire or leave the intelligence field and then criticize the Administration. They have that fundamental right. While I don’t agree with everything Paul Pillar says, he’s a respected analyst and at least he left the agency before discussing problems with the pre-war Intel. Finally, I must admit that I personally don’t like the CIA very much. I hate their haughty attitude and tendency to overclassify, among other things, but when I need some specific byzantine piece of information, some brainy geek there will have it for me if I can spend a day justifying my “need.”

In large part I feel the Bush administration brought this upon itself. I don’t think they’ve ever fully understood the way the intel-policy relationship is supposed to work, which is really surprising considering the experienced team he had assembled. The Administration believed, and still believes, that Intel is there to absolutely support policy in every respect. In fact, only in certain cases should intel directly support a policy position, and the way that support is given is important to prevent both intentional and unintentional bias from occurring in analysis. Bias is more than people’s personal prejudices too – they include such things like bias introduced by intelligence collection. For example, let’s say the IC decides to point the spotlight of intelligence collection assets toward a specific area. Reporting on that area naturally increases because of the augmented collection coverage. The increased frequency of reporting can begin to look like that area is more important than it really is if the amount of collection relative to other areas is not taken into account. Analysts are taught to make these adjustments, but often policy-makers look at the “raw” intelligence and make erroneous judgments based on their ignorance and inexperience. This is precisely one factor that lead to the wild claims by Administration policy-makers on Iraq’s nuclear program before the war. That is the one area where I think the Administration lightly dipped it’s foot into the ugly cesspool of intel cherry-picking. They got their toes wet, but didn’t jump in as the lefties claim.

This brings me to the crux of the problem in this situation. Unlike most wars, this war in Iraq was started and justified and sold to the American people (and the world) almost solely with intelligence. There wasn’t a cataclysmic event, like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, or Tonkin. It all came down to what the Intel said. The foundation and a justification for war were already laid from decades of reporting prior to 2002, but more was needed for solid public, and, hopefully, UN approval. After 2002, the task given to the intelligence community was no longer to report the fundamental questions on the existence of WMD’s, which is a traditional intel mission, but to produce additional intelligence on WMD’s that would be used to buttress the case for invasion.

How is it possible to limit bias in that kind of environment? Obviously it’s not. The Administration NEEDED convincing intelligence evidence because the public and world were not easily sold. That is simply a fact. My personal feeling is that for the most part, the Administration did not purposely intend to inject bias into the process, but the fact of the matter is, bias from that kind of pressure will get through whether intended or not. The mistake they made was not one of bad policy; in fact the intelligence and evidence we had was generally supportive of a some kind of war policy. The mistake came when they turned around and used the intelligence to sell the policy. After 2002, every analyst, and, more importantly, the political appointees administering and overseeing those analysts, knew that their analysis was no longer shaping policy, but was selling it. That’s not a position any honest intelligence analyst wants to be placed in, because that’s a position of advocating policy.

At the time, like many in the IC, I wasn’t as troubled by this as I should have been. I didn’t see the conflicts of interest that are obvious to me now. This is why I tend to give the Administration and most of the IC the benefit of the doubt in this regard. What did trouble me at the time was the most obvious and legal cause for war – the 1991 ceasefire. Iraq violated every provision of it, not just the WMD disclosure, yet the administration hardly touched on this. Why? Violating a cease-fire means the cease-fire is off and we commence to re-kicking their asses forthwith – at least in my book. Also comparatively downplayed were the near-constant threats to our forces in the area, especially aircraft in the no-fly zones. They tried to shoot them down virtually every single day we flew. My only guess is that the Administration did not feel these valid reasons were saleable enough to put more emphasis on. I sometimes wish the Administration had deliberately provoked a casus belli response from Iraq that would have avoided the situation altogether, but such gambits are dark, scheming, and un-American. I give the Bush team credit for not taking that obviously tempting route.

Finally, the saddest thing is, I see the administration starting down that same road with Iran, on this time the IC is in turmoil and its credibility weakened. Our decision on if we go to war with Iran will likely rest on what intelligence is presented to the public and how it is presented. Analysts cannot do their job in that kind of environment! Which estimate for Iranian nuclear capability will the Administration use to win public support if it decides force is necessary? Is that a political policy decision or an intelligence decision? The whole enterprise is fraught with danger.

Anyway, thanks again for another long comment.

Comment Posted By Pissed Off Spook On 7.05.2006 @ 16:57

It's funny how the actions of a few, or few dozen, employees of the CIA - an agency with thousands of employees, makes the whole institution "partisan" in the eyes of some. What a crock of s**t. Instead of fixing the problem, Goss fixed the blame and conducted a Stalinist purge of officials which caught both guilty and innocent. As a result, the CIA is weak, discredited and demoralized, and worst of all, ineffective. Our security is weaker thanks to Porter Goss and his so-called war against CIA “insurrection.” His clumsy attempt to root out a small partisan cancer might end up killing the agency altogether. It looks like the worst of all worlds to me – the partisans are probably not gone (chances are they are smarter than Goss), and many good and valuable people who’ve dedicated their lives to securing this country have been pushed out of the agency into retirement or intel contracting (You’d be surprised at the brain drain going on in the IC in general as the best and brightest quit the government bulls**t they have to deal with to be analysts for corporations who sell their services right back to the government.).

Is it any wonder these guys missed 9/11? Or the India and Pakistan nuke tests of 1998? Or any one of a number of other intelligence flops, failures, and missteps along the road to war with Iraq?

Rick, I love you, your writing and your blog, but you don't have a clue about the Intelligence Community. The CIA for decades has had it's power, prestige (within the IC), and funding comparatively reduced to other intelligence agencies in the US Government. The CIA is supposedly the "Central" agency that coordinates all intelligence activities and is the top of the intel food chain. Well, it isn't, and it hasn't been since at least the 1970's. Let's examine why. The vast majority of IC money goes to the DoD. The CIA has zero say in how this is spent. Programs started under the CIA umbrella are no longer under it's direct control. Take NRO for example. The only areas the CIA have expertise in that other agencies don't is clandestine HUMINT, economic intel, some political intel, and covert action. Even those are being nibbled away at by DoD agencies and others in the IC. The only thing CIA had left going for it was that it was the gateway to getting intel on the President's desk, which is now gone with the stupid reorganization and the DHS. Beyond it’s niche specialties and the publicity it receives by virtue of a being so close to the President, the CIA in the IC is largely a figurehead that provides some great intelligence in certain niche areas. So please stop limiting criticism or praise for the IC to the CIA. The IC is obviously much more complex than you realize.

The fact is, the CIA does not foster a results oriented culture.

What do you consider “results oriented” intelligence? Please define that for me, I’d really like to know. I’ve been in the IC for many years and that kind of comment tells me you don’t know what the f**k you are talking about. The vast majority of intelligence has zero or minimal “results” at all, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary or invaluable to the security of the United States. The very nature of the intelligence business dictates that we often don’t know ahead of time if intelligence will produce “results” or not. You need to put away your Tom Clancy DVD’s and really learn what you’re talking about.

Despite the huge amount of money we spend on intel in this country, we simply do not have the assets, analysts, time, expertise, and foreknowledge to watch everything. We have the resources to look behind 50 out of 100 possible doors, and which doors we choose to look behind are largely shaped by policy-makers, not intelligence professionals. Oh, and we won’t have the capability to look behind 30 of those doors until 5 years from now, and that’s only if the funding and authorizations come through on time from those same policymakers. And guess who gets to appoint and approve our leadership? Bingo! Those same political policy-makers. And people still wonder why intelligence and intelligence professionals get politicized. Intelligence can’t be divorce from politics, plain and simple. The IC obviously provides guidance to policy-makers, but that doesn’t mean that advice is taken. If the IC ultimately opens the wrong doors, then who’s fault is it?

Let me give you a concrete example. Most people on the right put the blame for the rise of radical islam into the terrorist threat we face today on the feet of Bill Clinton. He surely deserves blame, but the root of the problem goes back to Reagan and even earlier. We all know that many of the leading Jihadi’s got their start in Afghanistan fighting the Soviets. We were pouring money and weapons into Pakistani intelligence which turned it around and give it to who they wanted – mainly the radical Jihadists. At several times during the 1980’s the CIA would relay back up the chain of command that many of these groups hated America just as much as the Russians and if it weren’t for the Russians, they’d probably be killing Americans instead. At the time, the POLICY decision was made that defeating the Soviet Union took priority over all else, and future risks were ignored or downplayed, despite warnings from the agents in the field. This was Reagan’s one great strength and one great failure. He was so focused on defeating Communism that he didn’t much care who the US supported as long as they hated Commies. Even policy-makers toward the end of the Soviet intervention worried about where the Pakistan ISI was putting all the money and weapons we and the Saudi’s were sending them. Near the end we covertly (from the Pakistani’s) developed our own networks among more moderate Afghan elements to try to influence Afghanistan in the post-soviet era.

Once Bush the elder came into office, Afghanistan was largely abandoned and many of those hard-won, invaluable human contacts were either lost in the ongoing civil war, or turned against us for dumping them. The abandoning of Afghanistan was a POLICY decision driven by policy objectives – not by intelligence analysis, or the many warnings previously sent. People were too busy celebrating the end of the USSR. How might the war on terror be different if we still had that network built in the early 80’s? Probably a lot different.

So, you say, Rick, “Is it any wonder these guys missed 9/11?” Well, if the Reagan, Bush, and even Clinton Administrations hadn’t f**ked us out of our humint sources and other influence in Afghanistan, we probably wouldn’t have missed 9/11. Piss poor policy decisions and lack of vision by Presidents and Congress got us into this mess in the first place, but I don’t hear a word from you or anyone else about it. The simple fact is, the CIA had it right through the 80’s and early 90’s – they sounded the first warnings, and no one listened. So you feel free to criticize them now. Unsound policy trumps good intelligence, yet when things go wrong, it’s the IC to blame.

Ok, I’m f**king done now.

Comment Posted By Pissed Off Spook On 7.05.2006 @ 02:53



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