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Friday, October 10, 2008

Who will monitor the monitors?

As many of you know, I spent most of my life in military intelligence.

Generally, I specialized in electronic intelligence and specifically in the highly specialized sub-category of information warfare. I spent most of my military career in and around the National Security Agency, and in fact used to have an office in the OPS III building at the main facility at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Nearly everything I dealt with was highly classified, and I can't and won't discuss it.

However, there are things I can talk about - and one of those things is privacy and the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution.

There are many, many misconceptions regarding the exact role of NSA in the US Intelligence structure (I almost said "organization", but the US Intelligence Community is anything but organized), and most people, American or otherwise, have little knowledge of what, exactly, NSA does. Popular misconception sees NSA and the people who work there as another version of the CIA, a Cold War relic, only more so - sort of a CIA on steroids and Viagra. The media portrays NSA as manned by steely eyed men in dark suits who command secret and murderous technologies, patrolling the shadowy periphery of civilization with icy determination. NSA "Agents" are invariably portrayed as stone cold killing machines and psychopathic super humans.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While I'm often reluctant to use the Wikipedia as a reference, in this case the Wiki description of NSA is accurate. For those of you not familiar with the terminology used in the description, I've left the hyperlinks intact:

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the United States government, administered as part of the United States Department of Defense. Created on November 4, 1952, it is responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, which involves a significant amount of cryptanalysis. It is also responsible for protecting U.S. government communications and information systems from similar agencies elsewhere, which involves a significant amount of cryptography. The NSA has recently been directed to help monitor U.S. federal agency computer networks to protect them against attacks.

The NSA is directed by a lieutenant general or vice admiral. The NSA is a key component of the U.S. Intelligence Community, which is headed by the Director of National Intelligence. The Central Security Service is a co-located agency created to coordinate intelligence activities and co-operation between the NSA and U.S. military cryptanalysis agencies. Contrary to popular impression, the NSA's work is limited to communications intelligence and not field or human intelligence activities. By law the NSA's intelligence gathering is limited to foreign communications, but its work includes some domestic surveillance.

Note the last sentence in the quote above. Also note that NSA is part and parcel of the Department of Defense, not the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security - which means that by Constitutional Law, NSA is bound by the concept of Posse Comitatus.

Posse Comitatus is an integral part of US Law, specifically Title 18 of United States Code, Part I, Chapter 67 - which explicitly prohibits federal military forces (which includes all entities under the purview of the US Department of Defense) from domestic law enforcement, unless specifically authorized by the Constitution and the US Congress.

Posse Comitatus is specifically why federal police and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and US Marshal service fall under the Department of Justice, and why the US Coast Guard (the US maritime law enforcement agency) falls under the Department of Homeland Security (Prior to the creation of HomSec, the USGC fell under the Department of Transportation). Except under very, very specific circumstance, the Department of Defense has no authority over US citizens whatsoever.

When I first joined the US Intelligence community, from the very first day, we had the concept of Posse Comitatus pounded into our heads. We were given examples from history, the Reconstruction in the South following the Civil War, the Red Scare, the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate. We were trained in the law and the Constitution, and we were reminded of our sworn oath to the Constitution at every turn. We were given periodic refresher training and required to take professional development courses, and required to sign documents attesting to our understanding of the same. We in the military and within the US Intelligence Community command vast and terrifyingly powerful technologies - and the potential for abuse is simply staggering. But we knew where the line was, and we dared not cross it, ever. This was our sworn duty and our obligation and we took it very, very seriously indeed.

This is not to say that abuses did not occur. But when they did, rarely, they were dealt with swiftly and with the utmost firmness, and those who were convicted of such abuse went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas or the Navy Brig in Philadelphia and we looked upon those people with absolute contempt. Those failures were widely circulated within our community as abject examples of what happens when you forget your oath and your duty to the Constitution and the citizens of the United States.

And so, I was appalled, utterly appalled when those strict controls were relaxed out of fear and hysteria in the dark days following 9/11. I was appalled by the short sightedness of Congress, the White House, and the Judiciary when the Patriot Act, the Protect America Act, and the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act were passed and signed into law. Because I know, better than most, what happens when those controls are removed even slightly.

In addition to the changes in law, and at the same time, there were widespread changes occurring within the US Intelligence Community - and one of the most troubling was the sudden and massive influx of new personnel, personnel who were not trained as we were, personnel who had never labored under the restrictions we willingly placed on ourselves, personnel who did not understand what happens when power is unleashed without strict control and oversight, and personnel who do not understand duty and honor and commitment to high ideals. This, combined with the changes in law which allowed the US intelligence apparatus to be directed towards US citizens under the control of one man and one man only, sounded a strident warning bell within the minds of many of us.

Many of us within the community spoke out, but we were assured that adequate controls were in place and that the power of our organizations would never be abused.

I didn't believe it then, and I believe it even less today.

And I'm right.

Yesterday, it has emerged that electronic intelligence operators at NSA have been routinely eavesdropping on overseas communications between American service members, journalists, contractors, aid workers, and various other American citizens in direct violation of their duty, oath, law, and the mission of the National Security Agency. Operators and analysts (there's no such thing as an NSA "Agent") recorded personal conversations between Americans overseas and their families here in the states. They then played these often intimate conversations back for the amusement and titillating entertainment of others within the organization.

Note: the original story was published yesterday by ABC News as an exclusive based on the testimony of two former military cryptologists - people similar in background and training to myself. However, despite ABC's claims of a scoop, the actual allegations have been circulating widely for several years. However, despite knowledge of the problem, Congress failed to become outraged or even interested until ABC made the matter public.

Be that as it may, here's the thing: a number of those conversations were recorded from government maintained or contracted phone lines or satellite and cellular phones links. All government communications systems are flagged with the caveat "Subject to Monitoring" and those of us who use them are aware that our conversations can and are monitored for the purpose of national security. HOWEVER, the recorded conversations in question were not recorded because the monitoring operators felt that operational security had been violated, or because they had indications of a breach in national security - they were recorded and played back because they were entertaining, embarrassing, titillating, dirty, scandalous and because the Jerry Springer Show isn't available within NSA Intercept and Analysis spaces. Even under the relaxed guidelines NSA personnel operate within nowadays, this abuse is a federal crime and a direct violation of the 4th Amendment.

Understand something here, it is imperative that we monitor our own communications circuits as well as other forms of communication. However these vital functions must be under the strictest of controls, with the strictest of oversight, and subject to the highest level of integrity, duty, and honor. Period and no exceptions under any circumstances. Those who cannot immediately see why those controls are necessary simply do not understand either human nature or the vast and terrifying power of the National Security Agency.

I have no doubt, now that this abuse has been exposed, that something will be done. Those operators responsible for the gross violation of civil rights will be found, low level scapegoats named and punished, and we will be given the standard and worthless governmental assurance that it won't happen again.

But it will.

It will.

And it will continue to happen until those responsible for allowing it to happen are held strictly accountable for their utter failure of leadership and duty. It will continue to happen until the foolish, short-sighted, misguided, and unconstitutional nonsense of the Patriot Act and the Protect America act is repealed. The Warner Act was repealed in 2008, HOWEVER, President Bush attached a signing statement which said plainly that he did not feel the Executive Branch was bound by the changes enacted by the repeal. That's right - the President of the United States said, in writing and signed by his own hand, that he was not constrained by the law of the United States of America. And both Congress and the America people let him get away with it.

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is precisely the problem. Right there and in no uncertain terms. When the Commander In Chief says clearly that he is not bound by law, that sends a very clear message to those who are required to follow his leadership.

Abuses such as those perpetrated by NSA will continue to happen until and unless those who are ultimately responsible are forcibly reminded in no uncertain terms of their duty, oath, and obligation. When a ship founders, not only is the man on the wheel held accountable, but the Captain is always ultimately responsible for the actions of his crew. The President, the Secretary of Defense, and Director of Central Intelligence, and the Director of the National Security Agency need to be held accountable for this abuse.

This is their fault and their failure of duty and their ultimate failure of leadership and oversight.

They set the example - NSA only followed.

12 comments:

  1. Jim,

    Thanks for this post. I sincerely hope it gets a wider circulation.

    After hearing that ABC story, I had to go find the basic document we trained from back in "the day." I'm sure you remember it - USSID 18. I know the USSID changed since the FOIA released version, but DAMN, has it really changed that much?? Sadly, it seems it has.

    And all those assurances that "adequate controls" were in place? Yeah, they were alright - in a compartmented program so restricted that even the NSA's own IG could not read the legal justifications. (A compartment that the Attorney General couldn't keep secure when transferring documents from his West Wing office to his new digs at the Dept of Justice.) Indeed, once the NSA IG's read the legal certification underpinning the loosened collections (written by John Yoo), they refused to sign up again - and so did Acting Attorney General Comey. This is what led to the famous late-night Mexican standoff in the John Ashcroft's hospital room. A standoff that was apparently resolved by simply having the President rely "on his own authority to certify the program as lawful. Bush expressly overrode the Justice Department and any act of Congress or judicial decision that purported to constrain his power as commander in chief." Later, when faced with a full out mutiny by the DoJ, Bush modified whatever the NSA had been doing and it did other things differently. What those things are and to what extent they still violate the 4th Amendment, We The People still don't know.

    My hope is that in the next administration, we'll restore some real oversight of the monitors. Lord knows, I think these operators (despite the level of experience) do truly want to live by the rules. With new rulers, we can get new (or perhaps, old) rules that restore 4th Amendment protections.

    SP

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  2. SP, I didn't mention USSID 18 in the post because for all practical purposes it, and much of the rest of the USSID system, no long applies. And USSID 18 was specifically suspended via message.

    The USSID system was declared out dated around 2005, and was supposed to be replaced and/or updated. It was not. Operators, both the SCE's and the civilian analysts continue to use it, because they have nothing else to work from - but it is now considered guideline vice directive more or less.

    I agree that it was outdated, but new guidelines should have vetted and promulgated prior to suspension of the old system. Additionally, extensive training in posse comitatus and the former USSID 18 provision needs to be conducted with strict penalties for non-compliance.
    --------------------------
    For the rest of you, as SP alluded to, United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 was the single most important and inviolate regulation for those of us in the community. Violation of that directive in any way was an assured one way ticket to courts martial and probably prison time. There was not one single soul within the electronics intelligence community who wasn't completely familiar with it.

    Sadly it no longer applies.

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  3. Jim, I found it super creepy that these folks were listening to private calls for entertainment. That is precisely what we trust the monitors not to do when we allow surveillance to occur.

    And in the time of the Patriot act - where our domestic communications can be monitored as well - I guess face to face is probably the only safe place for a private conversation.

    Thanks for analyzing it - your perspective is particularly authoritative here.

    Big Brother has arrived. :(

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  4. Jim,

    Thanks for clarifying the USSID 18's status.

    I guess now we know why it has not been replaced/updated or otherwise brought back to life. To do so would be an admission that much of what our own people have been doing since 2005 (or 2001?) was inappropriate. One wonders what/how the recently passed FISA update will affect this purpose-built, unregulated grey zone. I think there can be no meaningful change and restoration of rightful 4th Amendment protections until the entire Bush Administration and their appointees (read, 3Stars-SESes and above), cronies and philosophies are completely purged from the government (with accountability).

    Funny how the voters' accountability moment in Nov 2004 was undermined by the so-called MSM. The NYT and Wash Post had nearly all the facts of the early 2004 FISA-NSA-Comey-White House standoff in the spring-summer-fall of 2004. But, the papers made decisions NOT TO PUBLISH what they knew at the time, "under pressure from the administration" and ultimately sat on the story for more than a year.

    Oh, what a history book it will be when the full scope of this Administration's activities can be studied.

    SP

    PS - and don't even get me going on what we knew as another clear abuse of NSA surveillance, to wit, John Bolton's illegal acquisition of raw intercepts against U.S. citizens.

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  5. Barn doors open, horses everywhere, chickens running the roost.

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  6. "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

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  7. (sorry to be anonymous, but its necessary)October 14, 2008 at 8:25 PM

    Jim:
    Because of your experience, I'm surprised at a lot of what you had to say in this post. Are you really saying that you don't think anyone at NSA ever violated the privacy of innocent Americans until after 9/11? Or if they did they were always caught and held accountable?

    Also your reading of Posse Comitatus (which I do know is consistent with what is taught in the community) is not what the law actually says. 18 USC 1385 specifically applies to the Army, Air Force, and National Guard when assigned to the Army, not the Navy and Marine Corps, and not to the intelligence community, other than those members of the community who are also members of the Army, Air Force, or Guard assigned to big Army. It is applied to Navy and Marine Corps by DOD policy, not law. There is not even a policy applying posse comitatus to the intelligence community. Community regulation and policy derives from EO12333, not posse comitatus.

    It has always frustrated me that the folks (in DOD and the community) who make what passes for policy on collection and oversight don't get the law right in the first place. And NONE of them really have much of any idea how things really work. The system is so big and complicated, almost no one ever fully understands it - certainly not the senior level bureaucrats and brass and lawyers. For ANY rule I can show you both exceptions and examples of how it is broken and ignored - and more so before 9/11 than after.

    I'm as interested in protecting the privacy rights of innocent Americans as anyone out there, but DOD and the community consistently get it wrong in both directions. They make up rules to prohibit honest people from doing their legitimate jobs in compliance with the actual law and policy, then break the real rules to cover up their hubris, corruption, and incompetence. That didn't start in 2001, and if it has gotten worse since then, its not in the way people think (or are told by the media).

    The legitimate goal of the changes to oversight policy was to avoid the failures and breakdowns that led to 9/11, such as Jamie Gorelick's famous "wall". But the reality is that the wall is higher than ever today, and abuses continue, and continue to be overlooked, covered up, or systematically accepted, just as they were before 2001.

    Unfortunately almost no one can have a fully informed discussion about this subject (certainly not on the internet) because of the classification and some legitimate sensitivity of the specifics. So because you can't be specific, lots of bogus stories and bogus arguments get circulated, codified, and absorbed into public opinion as facts. But it is also a fact that Congress has consistently approved renewal of the FISA, in every administration, when presented with some of those non-public facts.

    Also: USSID 18 suspended by message?? Got a DTG? I'd like to look that one up tomorrow. Regardless, USSID 18 is just the NSA implementation of EO12333, which has most definitely not been recinded, or even revised. Additionally, NSA, as a DOD component, is still bound by the DOD implementing regulation (5240.1R), which still says all the same things that it did before, regardless of the status of USSID 18.

    The goal is to allow the intelligence community to collect information that help us avoid terrorist attacks in the future, so we don't have another 9/11. If the current administration has another motive for their policies, I certainly haven't heard about it, either from their supporters or critics.

    To do that, the community should be allowed to collect whatever information it can, as long as that collection doesn't violate the law or executive order, and doesn't violate the privacy of actual US citizens, which is protected by the constitution.

    Unfortunately what we're doing is neither - innocent peoples' privacy gets violated (sometimes) while the guilty (or non-US-persons) are all too often protected.

    We are not safer, and our privacy is not as secure, but it is due to incompetence and malfeasance at the middle levels, not some nefarious totalitarian plot originating at the political level.

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  8. Are you really saying that you don't think anyone at NSA ever violated the privacy of innocent Americans until after 9/11? Or if they did they were always caught and held accountable?

    No. Obviously that’s not the case. However, I will say that it did not happen on my watch, nor on the watches of the people that I know. And that it was damned rare, at least in my experience. Obviously I do not know who you are, or what your background is (but I can infer it somewhat from the nature of your comment), and your experience may be different than mine. If you know me, then you obviously know what specific assignments I worked in, and it may be that my people were a cut above the rest idealism wise – however, I know many mainstream watch supervisors, Chiefs, and Division Officers and damned few of them would have ever let any type of violation of Constitutional rights occur.

    I will say that prior to 9/11, and for most of my career and experience, the thought of violating Constitutional rights or privacy was anathema for the vast majority of us (at least those of us in uniform, I encountered a somewhat different mindset among civilian analysts). Further, the fact that violations did occur in no way justifies subsequent abuse or disregard of regulation and policy.

    Also your reading of Posse Comitatus (which I do know is consistent with what is taught in the community) is not what the law actually says. 18 USC 1385 specifically applies to the Army, Air Force, and National Guard when assigned to the Army, not the Navy and Marine Corps, and not to the intelligence community, other than those members of the community who are also members of the Army, Air Force, or Guard assigned to big Army. It is applied to Navy and Marine Corps by DOD policy, not law. There is not even a policy applying posse comitatus to the intelligence community. Community regulation and policy derives from EO12333, not posse comitatus.

    You are correct, my statements in the post are wrong. As soon as I get a moment in the next day, I will add an update to the bottom of the post correcting it. My misstatement stems from mashing together EO12333 with Posse Comitatus requirements during one of my last deployments in counter narcotics operations – which is a separate application and has no bearing on the post above. Again, I’m wrong, you’re right and I’ll fix it. Thanks for pointing it out.

    It has always frustrated me that the folks (in DOD and the community) who make what passes for policy on collection and oversight don't get the law right in the first place. And NONE of them really have much of any idea how things really work. The system is so big and complicated, almost no one ever fully understands it - certainly not the senior level bureaucrats and brass and lawyers. For ANY rule I can show you both exceptions and examples of how it is broken and ignored - and more so before 9/11 than after.

    Agreed to a certain extent – with the exception of your last statement. There are less violations now, because the rules have been modified and/or lifted. Whether or not those modifications are Constitutional is another matter entirely.

    I'm as interested in protecting the privacy rights of innocent Americans as anyone out there, but DOD and the community consistently get it wrong in both directions. They make up rules to prohibit honest people from doing their legitimate jobs in compliance with the actual law and policy, then break the real rules to cover up their hubris, corruption, and incompetence. That didn't start in 2001, and if it has gotten worse since then, its not in the way people think (or are told by the media).

    I certainly agree.

    The legitimate goal of the changes to oversight policy was to avoid the failures and breakdowns that led to 9/11, such as Jamie Gorelick's famous "wall". But the reality is that the wall is higher than ever today, and abuses continue, and continue to be overlooked, covered up, or systematically accepted, just as they were before 2001.

    And again, I agree. However, a number of changes, specifically those dealing with FISA oversight were lifted not because they streamlined the process, but because it is always easier when you don’t have to go get permission. The process of getting permission and complying with the regulations not only serves the state purpose of protecting Constitutional rights – but, and maybe even more importantly, makes the requesting entity do the proper groundwork, background, analysis, and filtering. Removal of those restrictions may get you may raw data, but doesn’t necessarily get you more valid data. And if what I suspect about you is true, then you certainly understand that the current problem, and the problems that led to the 9/11 failures, is not a lack of data or intelligence but entrenched bureaucracy, piss poor filtering, and a failure to see the forest for the trees. How removing or relaxing the controls governing acquisition, fusion, analysis, and dissemination fixes that I have yet to have adequately explained.

    Unfortunately almost no one can have a fully informed discussion about this subject (certainly not on the internet) because of the classification and some legitimate sensitivity of the specifics. So because you can't be specific, lots of bogus stories and bogus arguments get circulated, codified, and absorbed into public opinion as facts. But it is also a fact that Congress has consistently approved renewal of the FISA, in every administration, when presented with some of those non-public facts.

    Agreed.

    Also: USSID 18 suspended by message?? Got a DTG? I'd like to look that one up tomorrow. Regardless, USSID 18 is just the NSA implementation of EO12333, which has most definitely not been recinded, or even revised. Additionally, NSA, as a DOD component, is still bound by the DOD implementing regulation (5240.1R), which still says all the same things that it did before, regardless of the status of USSID 18.

    In 2005, I want to say late summer, as XO of NOID Anchorage, I saw a message issued by CNSG that specifically suspended certain USSID training requirements pending revision and reissue, USSID 18 was specifically sighted in addendum. I recall the incident specifically because the CO, myself and the Chiefs were required to review and revise training policy. However, I spoke to one of my former Chiefs yesterday after I read your comments, and neither of us can now recall whether or not that message actually suspended compliance with the system, or just training. I suspect that, based on your comment and my Chief’s that it was just training. Understand, and I have to be careful here, we were not a regular asset and normally only interfaced with the system for general Navy training purposes. Additionally I never saw either a review or reissue, and my unit decommed shortly thereafter, and I retired. I should have couched my reply to SP above as “As I remember it…” and not in certain terms. Apologies to you and to SP.

    The goal is to allow the intelligence community to collect information that help us avoid terrorist attacks in the future, so we don't have another 9/11. If the current administration has another motive for their policies, I certainly haven't heard about it, either from their supporters or critics.
    To do that, the community should be allowed to collect whatever information it can, as long as that collection doesn't violate the law or executive order, and doesn't violate the privacy of actual US citizens, which is protected by the constitution.

    Unfortunately what we're doing is neither - innocent peoples' privacy gets violated (sometimes) while the guilty (or non-US-persons) are all too often protected.

    We are not safer, and our privacy is not as secure, but it is due to incompetence and malfeasance at the middle levels, not some nefarious totalitarian plot originating at the political level.


    Agreed. And for the record, I don’t buy into conspiracy theories surrounding the current administration – never attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence. What I object to, both now and when I was in uniform, is laziness, unprofessionalism, and short cuts. And what I specifically object to is the repeated statements by the community that complying with Constitutional requirements is too hard, too time consuming, too limiting. That’s bullshit, that’s what the lazy and stupid use for justification of unprofessionalism and poor leadership. The simple truth of the matter is that the community is a soup sandwich, there are far too many folks with neither the vision, current technical competency, or experience outside of an office – and far too many of those folks are still fighting the Cold War. The vast majority of the garbage that happens with in the community can be directly attributed to Directors, Department Heads, Supervisors etc et al who never get out of their office, who do not listen, who do not share information, who spent their entire lives in selfish little rice bowls, and who do not understand current technology to the degree necessary to make informed leadership decisions.

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  9. Unfortunately AnonymousOctober 15, 2008 at 6:31 PM

    Jim:

    Unsurprisingly it looks like we're in violent agreement...

    Almost everyone I ever worked with wanted to follow the rules and protect the Constitution as well. But I say "almost", because I've seen it shredded for no good reason. Strangely, perhaps, the Army always seemed much more willing to break the rules (for incomprehensible reasons) than the Navy. I don't quite understand why this is so, other than culture.

    I know what you're talking about with the changes in oversight training, but as far as I know, the underlying policy did not change. This is a typical problem. Typically it sounds like CNSG was out in space.

    Before 9/11 I sat through several hours of "training" by a Justice Department lawyer on Jamie's Wall. She had - I shit you not - 346 Powerpoint slides. I gave up and left after about slide 200. My thinking at the time was "there is no way anyone could make any logical sense out of all of this, including the lawyer giving the brief, or anyone else involved in producing it". The effect was that ordinary troops thought "I'd better not do anything, because as far as I can tell from this briefing, I broke the law by getting out of bed this morning." That crap led DIRECTLY to 9/11. I REALLY know that from firsthand experience.

    There was a desire (I know because I was in the room when it was discussed at the Pentagon, and read the minutes of the meeting at the White House with the President) to unscrew some of the excessive bureaucratic obfuscation in the name of oversight. Of course that is a dangerous and complicated ambition, because the bureaucracy will, by nature, pervert anything you ask of it. That ambition led to the scandal and controversy that ensued, which was completely at odds with the facts from the outset, as far as I could tell. I WISH I could say more, in ANY forum, about the specifics of that situation, but of course that will never happen.

    I just wish we could have more informed, sensible discussions about what we want to do, as a country, to protect ourselves.

    Most Americans, I think, would readily support collecting the communications of any non-citizens, regardless of their geographic location, to prevent terrorism. Most Americans would be astounded to learn that we extend the protections of citizenship, for purposes of intelligence oversight, to illegal aliens and inanimate objects owned by non-Americans.

    I would, perhaps controversially or untypically, accept some failures to protect civil liberties. But 9/11 was preventable, within the law on the books at the time, if the rules were followed, instead of expanded beyond comprehension by incompetent bureaucrats.

    My point is that breaking the rules in both directions - violating the privacy of innocent citizens while protecting the non-citizen terrorists - is the defacto norm in the community, and that is unacceptable. But there is no way to fix it, because (a) the system is so complicated that no one understands it, and (b) the bureaucracy doesn't give a crap about doing what's right in any case.

    What can we do? I don't know. But the first place to start is by not making things worse by contributing to the disinformation.

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  10. Violent Agreement: Ha, I haven’t heard that term in a while.

    And agreed.

    I’m not opposed to monitoring per se, providing that traditional (post Watergate FISA) controls are in place, and that there is sufficient third party oversight – The FISA court and Congressional scrutiny. If the community is to monitor Americans, specific and clearly defined justification, justification that can stand up to FISA court review, must be in place. If the Agency cannot clearly justify the mission, the mission should not occur – either the requesting entity has not done the proper groundwork, or the justification is based on faulty, poor, incomplete, incorrect, outdated, untimely, or irrelevant intelligence.

    Bypassing proper review procedure allows chaff (i.e. un-validated, undetermined confidence information) to flood the system. Basic information acquisition requirements (from US Military C2 Doctrine, based on the Boyd Cycle) states that every single piece of information should be examined repeatedly and continuously for six criteria: Relevance and Accuracy, Timeliness and Usability, Completeness and Precision. I wrote advanced IO/IW tactics at both the Strategic and Tactical levels, and directed their implementation in combat – and then lectured extensively on this subject following my return from Iraq. I used to emphasize the above six criteria repeatedly throughout my courses and it never failed to amaze me how few people (both Junior and very, very Senior), who should have known this, simply did not, and did not understand in detail what each of those criteria implied and why bypassing the traditional information controls (not just the changes to FISA et al, but also in tactical spaces that were directly connected at the junior technician level to the rest of the community via things like real-time Zircon chat for example – which allowed information exchange without any filtering whatsoever) was a very bad idea, and one that leads directly to mission failure.

    During my time in theater, I saw repeatedly over and over and over ‘confirmed’ intelligence that simply wasn’t correct, taken as fact. 90% of that bad information came directly from D.C. And it happened for the same exact reasons that led directly to 9/11: Failure to properly examine information in hand, using the above defined criteria. Failure to exchange information (and NSA being the number one information hoarding entity – data goes in, nothing of use comes out). A belief that intelligence gathering is the end product, rather than a support function. A love affair with advanced technology, rather than use of actual human intelligence, experience, and common sense – i.e. the belief that tactical intelligence work can be done solely from computer consoles and collection spaces, instead on the ground in the LZ. A belief at the highest levels that quantity of data, over quality of data is what matters. Massive, massive over classification – so much so that even though information and equipment that could save lives and guarantee mission successes was in hand, they could NOT be used – the irony of expending massive effort to acquire useless information, equipment, and systems completely escaping the community altogether. A complete disconnect between mission objectives as stated in the battle plan and national intelligence objectives, i.e. intelligence entities who believe that their mission is the mission and not in support of the warfighter, and a complete and total failure to understand what exactly the warfighter needs in order to accomplish his mission – in other words a complete failure of the traditional intelligence cycle based on requirements, or to state it even more succinctly, NSA has become a self-licking ice-cream cone. And more than anything an entrenched apologist mindset – i.e. excuses instead of results, excuses instead of actionable intelligence, excuses and requests for new equipment instead of innovative use of existing systems and personnel, excuses and blame laying instead of taking responsibility, excuses instead of leadership, and overall a belief that the community’s mission is to fight the next war and not this one.

    Frankly, my men and I were repeatedly put into harm’s way, in an effort to valid the crap coming out of the Power Point Jockey’s in DC. I can’t tell you how many ships I boarded, based on “confirmed data” calling them combatants, only to find that those vessels were nothing but smugglers or fishing boats, barely holding water, and in many cases not even Iraqi vessels at all. Despite the fact that they had been tracked for years, every single thing about those reports was wrong. Easily proved wrong. And the information we actually needed, once combat operations began, simply wasn’t available. I needed data from NSA in direct support of Specops missions in the off-shore oil terminals – and was denied access repeatedly. I had to take a boat and go look for myself, then used that visual information to direct my own SSES search effort – pulling them off idiotic national requirements in the process and risking court martial. Fuck ‘em, I got the job done, but it was no thanks to anybody else in the community.

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  11. unfortunately anonymousOctober 16, 2008 at 6:41 PM

    Jim:

    I guess I'm glad I narrowly dodged those oil terminal missions. I wanted to go, and the story of why we (my unit) didn't go is incomprehensible even by USN standards.

    I wasn't worried too much about intel. I know how to get it despite the system, under almost all circumstances. Of course how accurate it might be is another matter, but that never much worried me either because I've generally found you can figure out what's really going on if you know what you're doing.

    And that's the crux of the problem: the community doesn't know what its doing, so most finished intelligence is garbage. And we remain in agreement that the big problem is DC.

    We have been really big in recent years (thanks to Goldwater-Nichols) on the Strategic-Operational-Tactical division of labor. Before Iraq, the pendulum was swinging hard towards all-strategic before Iraq, and since it has swung towards all-tactical.

    Meanwhile the operational level is a giant intellectual vacuum. Anything but a reasonable balance...

    From what I've seen, the ultimate problem is human: bad leadership and management, which begets more bad leadership and management. Being right on the facts in the community is almost worse than being a foreign spy. I compare how the community treated and regarded actual traitors vs. mavericks who were proven right, and the mavericks got it worse than the traitors. The ONLY thing that is tolerated in the community is "go along to get along". Follow the herd at all costs and you'll be rewarded. Make waves (by being right), and you're dead meat.

    Consequently, almost all the processed intelligence is wrong, but there's no system (other than experience) to evaluate the finished product. There's not even any way for the nuggets to know what's filtered, DC-spun intel vs. raw, objective information.

    Ultimately I compare our recent performance to historical precedents. The failures that led to 9/11 are strikingly similar to Pearl Harbor. In both cases, there was plenty of warning intelligence, emphasized by precient and insightful intelligence officers, which was aggressively ignored, then punished.

    Something very few people know: since 9/11, several major AQ plots against CONUS have been thwarted by brilliant intelligence work - and those responsible (for disrupting the al Qaeda plots) have been viciously punished and eliminated. I've seen it happen at least 4 times.

    How long do you think we'll continue to be lucky - where dedicated patriots continue to sacrifice themselves to protect the country, when they know they're sacrificing themselves to their own chain of command?

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  12. Actually, the Oil Terminal missions went off without a hitch, one of the very few operations that went exactly according to plan – classic specops small unit textbook. If you look around on SIPR you should be all to find my mission reports and my IW annex to the 1003V plan. Some of the video from that operation has been broadcast on the history and military cable channels, I took that video. You should also be able to find the Navy Tactical IW manual I wrote, which is also available on SIPRnet as an NTP (make sure you call up the one with my name on the cover page, not the utter shit coming out of other places).

    My problem with the intel was that I shouldn’t have had to do it. The problem was that the community has become, as I said previously, a self-licking ice cream cone. Instead of identifying the OPLAN objectives prior to combat operations and identifying the supporting intel requirements, they continued to work their own national agenda – leaving the warfighter at the operational and tactical levels swinging in the breeze. Because I was a Warrant Intel officer in the Northern Gulf at the time, and the only one willing to risk my ass outside of intel spaces, and the only intel officer qualified as a warfighter and boarding officer, I ended up with the job of acquiring tactical intel. I spent two months scouting those platforms prior to the war, working with navy specops and running boat missions using armed ship’s auxiliaries in order to acquire the information that the SEALS required. I was repeatedly attacked by my own community for this, but being a Warrant gave me certain latitude and independence, having the full support of the warfighters and the SEALs didn’t hurt either, and I got results. Of course, when it was over and successful, my community claimed credit for my actions and claimed they were behind me all along – this of course while they spent the entire time rolling leaflet bombs instead of doing their fucking jobs.

    Which all takes us back to your comment regarding leadership and management. The community leadership problems stem from one major issue – they are not warfighters. Period. They have absolutely no idea of what being a warfighter entails, and they have no interest in finding out. I can walk around NSA right now, and I guarantee you that 95% of the senior Navy leadership there does not have warfare pins – and no tactical or operational field experience at all. (Same with the AF times ten, Army I don’t know about, Marines are whole different ballgame - every one of those leathernecks understands doctrine). Overall community leadership absolutely does not understand the fundamentals of war fighting doctrine. Because of this, no one in the community, especially at the leadership levels, understands Courses of Actions, Tactics, methods, and techniques. They have decoupled the intel cycle from its operational support role, and as a result cannot understand the fundamentals that any warfighter knows in detail, for example the difference between MOE and BDA, or the extraction of mission objectives from the OPLAN and how to use those to drive intel requirements. They utterly do not understand the basics of US warfighting doctrine, i.e. the concept of maneuver warfare, i.e. the OODA loop (the Boyd Cycle). They do not understand the basic difference between qualitative and quantitative information and results. And they have absolutely lost sight of their position in the force structure and as a result have, since the end of the Cold War, begun to generate their own requirements and come to believe that we do intel for the sake of intel. They absolutely cannot see that intel, if it cannot be used, is utterly worthless and a total waste of assets – i.e. they no longer produce actionable intelligence. I cannot tell you how many power point intel briefs I had to sit through that had no bearing whatsoever on anything that mattered to the mission at hand. I cannot tell you how many times I had NSA or the fucking CIA attempt to take over my operation (in fact I nearly got court martialed for bouncing a CIA goof off the bulkhead one night when he tried to give my men orders, fuck him I don’t work for the CIA and he’s damned lucky I didn’t shoot him right there – I had my pistol out of the holster and I would have killed that asshole right there if my chief hadn’t stepped in).

    How long do I think we’ll continue to be lucky? I don’t think we’re lucky now. We’ve succeeded because of overwhelming force and technology. But that’s made us lazy and sloppy. And it shows at the small unit level where things are far more equal. And a couple of raggedy-assed sheep herders with box cutters and determination took down 3000 Americans on our own soil.

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