The Snowden Operation: Assessing the Damage

July 19, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

Anyone who thinks Snowden did the cause of liberty a favor should read this. That guy belongs in jail for the rest of his life.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

It’s now been over a year since Edward Snowden, the most famous IT contractor in intelligence history, defected to Moscow. This blog has followed the twists and turns of this remarkable case in detail, particularly in its counterintelligence aspects, but one of the most vexing and important issues remains undefined. Namely, how much damage to U.S. and Allied intelligence and security did Snowden’s unprecedented theft of classified materials actually do?

The National Security Agency and others have been involved in developing a damage assessment virtually from the moment the story broke; it’s what intelligence services do when they have a defector or compromise, since it’s vital to understand what programs have been damaged or lost. Snowden’s theft was so vast — perhaps “only” 1.5 million purloined documents rather than the 1.7 million previously suggested — that it will take years for the Intelligence Community (IC) to assess what…

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The Three C’s of U.S. Espionage in Germany

July 14, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

This is a very interesting discussion of why we might want to conduct intelligence operations inside the territory of our ally.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

New details continue to emerge about the brewing SpyWar between Berlin and Washington, DC, over alleged U.S. espionage directed at the German government. While significant questions remain, it’s becoming clear that Markus R., the thirty-one year-old employee of the Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst — BND) who was spying for the CIA, fell well short of James Bond, having been caught by German counterintelligence when trying to sell classified materials to the Russians too. The second espionage suspect, a Defense Ministry official, although under suspicion, remains free, and that case may be misunderstood: time will tell.

What’s not in doubt is that Germany is a full-fledged panic about American spying that has already resulted in the departure of the CIA’s station chief in Berlin and will surely bring extra scrutiny to a lot of U.S. activities in Central Europe. Coming on top of the Snowden Operation, with its…

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The Snowden Operation Falls Apart

June 5, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

20 Committee asks a damned fine question: If Snowden really is a “whistleblower,” why doesn’t he produce the letters of complaint to superiors he surely has? If he’s telling the truth, that is.

Originally posted on The XX Committee:

Edward Snowden had his Big Interview on NBC this week, and it was something of a pace-setter for poor TV journalism, since Brian Williams (who was previously denounced by Glenn Greenwald for being a servile boot-licker of the surveillance state), decided to soft-ball the questions and not follow up many weird, disingenuous statements by Ed. His almost-year in Russia under FSB care has not promoted clear thinking, while Ed’s body language indicated serious deception to the trained eye. NSA’s IT contractor on permanent vacation in Russia gave his usual platitudes about how he’s really a patriot and “had” to steal all those classified IC and DoD documents. He’s almost thirty-one years old but apparently he had no agency in any of this. We’ve heard it all before.

But The Narrative has begun to fall apart in a manner not even the MSM can avoid noticing (though the failure…

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Did Obama know the CIA was spying on the Senate Intel Committee?

March 5, 2014
"Listening in"

“Listening in”

I’m with Bryan Preston on this one. If this is true, then… Wow:

A leading US senator has said that President Obama knew of an “unprecedented action” taken by the CIA against the Senate intelligence committee, which has apparently prompted an inspector general’s inquiry at Langley.

The subtle reference in a Tuesday letter from Senator Mark Udall to Obama, seeking to enlist the president’s help in declassifying a 6,300-page inquiry by the committee into torture carried out by CIA interrogators after 9/11, threatens to plunge the White House into a battle between the agency and its Senate overseers.

McClatchy and the New York Times reported Wednesday that the CIA had secretly monitored computers used by committee staffers preparing the inquiry report, which is said to be scathing not only about the brutality and ineffectiveness of the agency’s interrogation techniques but deception by the CIA to Congress and policymakers about it. The CIA sharply disputes the committee’s findings.

Udall, a Colorado Democrat and one of the CIA’s leading pursuers on the committee, appeared to reference that surreptitious spying on Congress, which Udall said undermined democratic principles.

“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight powers and for our democracy,” Udall wrote to Obama on Tuesday.

Preston expects Udall to walk the bold part back soon, perhaps saying he was misinterpreted or taken out of context. But, I wonder. Udall is in an increasingly difficult reelection bid in Colorado, and “standing tall” against abuses of power by an unpopular president might be what his campaign needs.

That aside, if Obama really knew about –and thus at least tacitly approved– espionage by the CIA against a co-equal branch of the government, that raises huge issues, not just of statutory violations, but a constitutional crisis, too.

If it’s as bad as it looks at first glance –If– the House would have to consider impeachment.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Good News: parts of healthcare.gov designed by Putin allies

February 4, 2014
Alexander Lukashenko

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko

Security holes? What are those? And did you hear about Chris Christie closing a bridge in New Jersey??

U.S. intelligence agencies last week urged the Obama administration to check its new healthcare network for malicious software after learning that developers linked to the Belarus government helped produce the website, raising fresh concerns that private data posted by millions of Americans will be compromised.

The intelligence agencies notified the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the Healthcare.gov network, about their concerns last week. Specifically, officials warned that programmers in Belarus, a former Soviet republic closely allied with Russia, were suspected of inserting malicious code that could be used for cyber attacks, according to U.S. officials familiar with the concerns.

The software links the millions of Americans who signed up for Obamacare to the federal government and more than 300 medical institutions and healthcare providers.

“The U.S. Affordable Care Act software was written in part in Belarus by software developers under state control, and that makes the software a potential target for cyber attacks,” one official said.

Belarus has been described as Europe’s last Stalinist country, and apparently they work very hard to prove themselves worthy allies of Moscow. According to Gertz’s article, in addition portions of healthcare.gov’s software being designed by an entity controlled by the Belarussian government, last year that same government successfully hijacked massive amounts of US Internet traffic for nearly a month:

According to the New Hampshire-based security firm Renesys, which discovered the data diversion, throughout February 2013, Internet traffic from the United States was sent to Belarus. The purpose likely was to allow hackers or government agencies to sift for data for financial, economic, or government intelligence.

The data also may have been modified for other purposes before being returned to the original U.S. and other foreign destinations.

The bulk diversion technique is called border gateway protocol hijacking. It involves using a series of network addresses to mask the data diversion through numerous Internet hubs around the world.

Renesys traced the data diversion from Washington to New York and Moscow and finally to Minsk, the Belarusian capital. It was returned to the United States via connections in Moscow, Frankfurt, and New York.

Combine the two and you have a very, very big potential problem. Administration officials of course claimed the site was secure and pooh-pooed the idea that nation-states would want to steal personal information, but that’s disingenuous at best.

First, foreign intelligence agencies would very much like to get their hands on conveniently collected personal information, since it would make the creation of solid cover identities for agents much easier. Second, as the article mentions, both the use of a foreign contractor and the internet hijacking make it very easy to implant altered data and even  malicious code to do… lots of stuff. Remember Stuxnet?

The elephant in the room that the administration isn’t talking about is the real danger in this: the PPACA created a wealth of interconnected networks with the Federal Data Services Hub at the center of the spider’s web. This hub is connected to agencies such as the IRS and Homeland Security. Even if Lukashenko isn’t interested in chatting with Putin about Joe Six-Pack’s cholesterol, you can darn well bet they’re both very interested in any security holes that allow their spies access to these other networks and to others connected to them.

And with the ability to divert traffic and implant clandestine code… Critics are right: the whole site needs to be shut down and vetted from top to bottom. Even if Obamacare is eventually repealed and the system dismantled, it’s a huge risk while it’s still operational.

As Instapundit likes to say, we’re in the best of hands.

Moscow’s.

PS: By the way, the now-fired healthcare.gov site builder, CGI Federal, assured the US government that only US contractors were used. Where was the HHS oversight of this?

PPS: Read the whole thing.

RELATED: Between this and Edward Snowden’s invaluable service to Russian intelligence, do we have any secrets from our enemies at all? Also, on a lighter note, Belarus’ Lukashenko is totally not a paranoid nut. Earlier articles about healthcare.gov security vulnerabilities.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


The Snowden Scandal: Blazing Incompetence

October 11, 2013
Obama foreign policy advisers

Our national security watchdogs

This reminds me frighteningly of the communications breakdowns that enabled the 9/11 attacks. Has no one learned anything?

Apparently not:

Just as Edward J. Snowden was preparing to leave Geneva and a job as a C.I.A. technician in 2009, his supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.

The C.I.A. suspected that Mr. Snowden was trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access, and decided to send him home, according to two senior American officials.

But the red flags went unheeded. Mr. Snowden left the C.I.A. to become a contractor for the National Security Agency, and four years later he leaked thousands of classified documents. The supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors, and surfaced only after federal investigators began scrutinizing Mr. Snowden’s record once the documents began spilling out, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.

“It slipped through the cracks,” one veteran law enforcement official said of the report.

No sh… er… kidding, genius.

Forget firings. Someone needs to be shot over this. And I don’t mean just Mr. Snowden.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


“Heroic” Edward Snowden applies for membership in KGB veterans group

July 24, 2013

This just gets better and better:

Renegade National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has applied to join a group of former Russian intelligence and security officials, according to the group’s director.

Participation in a union of former KGB security, intelligence, and police officials, would likely change Snowden’s status from that of a whistleblower seeking to expose wrongdoing, to an intelligence defector who has changed sides.

Alexei Lobarev, chairman of the group called “Veterans of the Siloviki”—literally “men of power”—told a Russian news outlet on Monday that Snowden, who has been staying in a Moscow airport transit lounge for a month, applied for membership in the group.

(…)

Ariel Cohen, a Russia specialist with the Heritage Foundation, said joining the former KGB officers’ group would be a significant development in the Snowden affair.

“It could be a spoof or a deliberate attempt to tarry the former NSA contractor,” Cohen said in an email. “However, if proven true, this puts Snowden squarely into the defector category. Whatever the whistleblower rhetoric—if indeed it is Snowden—the man is seeking to join a group whose livelihood was to spy on and harm, the United States. There is hardly a more anti-American group in Russia than ex-security officials. They would want nothing more than to coddle Snowden.”

Other experts think Snowden is being played by the Russians, rather than being a “traitor aforethought.” And there could be another reason for this farce. Who knows? What we do know is that he’s done tremendous damage to our national interests, the Obama administration looks like fools, and Putin is laughing his head off at us.

Great work by the man some call a hero, no?

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


#NSA Interesting observation about the Edward Snowden timeline

June 13, 2013

Neo-Neocon notes the date Edward Snowden left his job at NSA-contractor Booz-Allen, combines that with the assertion that he had been working for them for less than three months, and has an interesting possibility come to mind:

That means that if you count backwards, he had to have started work for Booz no earlier than February 20 and probably significantly later. So, if he was already speaking to [journalist Glenn] Greenwald in February, does this mean he took the Booz job with the purpose of gaining access to the documents and leaking them?

If that’s true, does that change anything in the equation?

I’d say it likely does. I speculated earlier on the possibility (faint, I’ll grant) that Snowden was being used by China or was flat-out their agent. The timing Neo noticed makes it look like there was premeditation involved, even though, as I understand it, Snowden didn’t learn of the NSA data-mining project until he started working on the project for Booz-Allen, which was after he began talking to reporters.

As the great Artie Johnson would have said, “verrrryyyy interesting.”

via Jim Geraghty

PS: Regardless of whether one thinks Snowden is a hero or a villain or a bit of both for what he did, it’s clear to me laws may well have been broken. I think he should face trial and let a jury decide whether he’s guilty of a crime or not.


Yet another scandal: A US ambassador soliciting underage prostitutes?

June 12, 2013

It started with the dial already set to “Bad:” accusations of sexual assault, illegal drug rings, and members of former Secretary of State Clinton’s security detail hiring call girls. On top of that were charges in an Inspector General’s report that high-ranking officials at State had interfered with investigations by the Diplomatic Security Service’s (DSS) criminal division and the Inspector General’s office. The charges were so serious that, as my blog-buddy ST reported yesterday, Clinton’s apologists broke out the ultimate Obama administration defense: “We knew nothing until we heard about it on the news!”

And yet now, what started out as “bad” has gone to “God awful:”

A DS agent was called off a case against US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman over claims that he solicited prostitutes, including minors.

“The agent began his investigation and had determined that the ambassador routinely ditched his protective security detail in order to solicit sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” says the memo.

“The ambassador’s protective detail and the embassy’s surveillance detection team . . . were well aware of the behavior.”

Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy ordered the investigation ceased, and the ambassador remains in place, according to the memo.

Gutman was a big Democratic donor before taking the post, having raised $500,000 for President Obama’s 2008 campaign and helping finance his inaugural.

Emphases added.

Jim Geraghty quotes Foreign Policy’s report of the Ambassador’s denial (1):

In a fast-developing story, U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman has been named as the diplomat accused of soliciting “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children,” according to State Department documents obtained by NBC News. Gutman denied the allegations, in a statement to The Cable and other outlets.

“I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” he said. “At no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity.”

But notes that the Ambassador took no questions, either. Hmm…

If true, this is sickening on several levels. Not only was a US ambassador, who not only represents the United States but is also the personal representative of the president, trolling for hookers, but he may well be a pedophile, too.

On top of that, and if true, Ambassador Gutman created a huge security risk by exposing himself (ahem…) to multiple dangers. What if that Lolita under the street lamp had been a Russian or Chinese agent? Spring the honey trap and hello, blackmail! Or what if, while his security detail was wondering where in the heck he had gone (2), the woman-for-rent had been working with our jihadi enemies, and we suddenly found ourselves with an ambassador kidnapped and held hostage by al Qaeda?

The mind boggles at the stupidity. Does no one under this administration take their job seriously? Does no one have a sense of honor and duty?

Okay, we all know there are good men and women all throughout the US government who do. Four of them died doing their duty in Benghazi.

And the people named in these reports acting like drug-crazed satyrs are a disgrace to them all.

PS: If you read the linked CBS and NY Post articles, two names might easily jump out at you: Cheryl Mills, who was Secretary Clinton’s Chief of Staff, and Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, both of whom reported directly to Hillary Clinton. Their names should be familiar to you because of the questionable roles they played in the Benghazi massacre and its aftermath: Mills, apparently known as Clinton’s fixer, had a fit when DCM Hicks talked alone and against instructions with Congressman Chaffetz, there to investigate what had happened. On the night of the Benghazi attack, Kennedy (or someone in his office) prevented an interagency team designed for just such an emergency from taking flight to Libya. If you see a pattern here, you’re not alone.

Footnote:
(1) Great title for a thriller, no?
(2) Or were out looking for their own, apparently.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Paging John LeCarre! #NSA leaker a Chinese agent?

June 10, 2013
"Would you believe..."

“Would you believe…?”

This is getting weirder and weirder, but, at the same time, tantalizingly plausible:

Former CIA case officer Bob Baer revealed on CNN Sunday evening that intelligence officials were possibly considering Edward Snowden’s case as Chinese espionage, after Snowden came forward this afternoon from an undisclosed Hong Kong location.

“Hong Kong is controlled by Chinese intelligence,” Baer said. “It’s not an independent part of China at all. I’ve talked to a bunch of people in Washington today, in official positions, and they are looking at this as a potential Chinese espionage case.”

“On the face of it, it looks like it is under some sort of Chinese control, especially with the president meeting the premier today,” Baer said. “You have to ask what’s going on. China is not a friendly country and every aspect of that country is controlled. So why Hong Kong? Why didn’t he go to Sweden? Or, if he really wanted to make a statement, he should have done it on Capitol Hill.”

When you think about it, the possibility of Snowden being used by Chinese intelligence is not at all unreasonable: the US news had been filled for months with items about Chinese hacker attacks and complaints about stolen data, and Obama was expected to bring this up at their summit here in California. Could he have been used by a Chinese “handler” to release this information when it would be both embarrassing to Obama and useful to China by cutting O’s legs out from under him at the summit? “Shut up, you guys are spying, too?” I’ve got no firm opinion about Snowden, himself, though, from what I’ve read, he does strike me as a immature narcissist who could be played by skilled operators. And what free-speech and civil liberties advocate who donates to Ron Paul would take refuge in China, of all places? (1)

There’s something really, really odd about this.

via Legal Insurrection

PS: I haven’t written much about these NSA revelations, the phone metadata collection and the information culling from Internet providers (PRISM), because there is so much to absorb and it has such profound implications for a free society that I think silence, on my part and for now, is better. I’ve seen too many outraged knees jerking, too much heat and not enough light, too much reaction and not enough reading; it makes me worry that, traumatized as we are by the IRS and Rosen scandals, etc., we may throw the “national security baby” out with the bathwater. For now, though, let me leave you with an article by Jonah Goldberg that best captures my thinking at the moment: healthy skepticism.

Footnote:
(1) Yeah, I know he is/was in Hong Kong, which is very free market and capitalist, but if you don’t believe Beijing pulls the strings of what goes on there, especially in an intelligence matter, I have a bridge for you.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Honey trap: US missile defense contractor sold secrets to the Chinese for sex

March 20, 2013
"Would you believe..."

“Would you believe…”

It’s amazing how stupid we get when our hormones and feelings are involved: a 59 years old former Army officer, who now works on missile defense, has thrown his career, his honor, and his life away for a woman half his age… who also happened to be a Chinese spy.

“According to the affidavit, the national defense information that [Benjamin Pierce] Bishop passed to [the woman] included information relating to nuclear weapons; information on planned deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear systems; information on the ability of the United States to detect low- and medium-range ballistic missiles of foreign governments; and information on the deployment of U.S. early warning radar systems in the Pacific Rim,” the Justice Department announced yesterday.

The alleged leaks took place between May of 2011 and December 2012, according to DOJ, while the “romantic relationship” supposedly began in June 2011.

Interesting that this comes soon after the Obama administration reversed plans to end Bush-era missile-defense deployments.

Bishop faces up to 20 years for his treason; I think it’s a shame he’s not liable for hanging.

So-called “honey traps” are not at all uncommon in espionage, though I think the Soviets/Russians and other Communist agencies used them far more than we did or do. And men are not the only ones to fall for them: though it’s fiction, the excellent “The Americans” TV show on FX shows an FBI confidential secretary being seduced by an undercover KGB agent.

Stupidity is a universal constant.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Did an Iranian nuke facility go boom? I think so…

January 29, 2013
"Seen over Fordow?"

Seen over Fordow?

The key is found not in what governments are saying, so much, but in what they are doing, which in turn lends perspective to their words.

Background: A few days ago, a report appeared on World Net Daily that there had been a massive explosion at Fordow, one of Iran’s major nuclear facilities, where centrifuges enrich uranium to a level at which it could be used as a warhead on a missile. I ignored the story, largely because WND has as much credibility for news as Timothy Geithner does for economics.

Then again…

Lee Smith has weighed in on Israeli actions around the time of this possible event, and his analysis has me saying “Hmmm…”:

Over the weekend there was news of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet’s “intense” consultations. According to reports, Jerusalem has deployed two Iron Dome missile defense batteries to the north—one near the port city of Haifa, and another in the Galilee region—a move that Israeli spokesmen explain is only part of a regular, scheduled rotation all over the country. However, taken in tandem with Jerusalem’s public concerns that Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered regime may itself use chemical weapons against Israel or transfer them to Hezbollah or that the arsenal may fall into the hands of Islamist rebels, the speculation is that the Iron Dome batteries have been moved to intercept Syrian missiles carrying chemical weapons.

However, there is no obvious reason why Assad is more likely to use or transfer those weapons now more than any other time during the last two years since the uprising began; or why the rebels are more likely now to appropriate them and divert resources from their existential war with the regime to tangle with Israel. Perhaps more to the point, the Iron Dome is not designed to intercept the kind of missiles that can carry chemical weapons payloads. The likelier scenario is that Israel is girding itself in the event that Hezbollah is called upon to retaliate for the Fordow operation, using the Iranian-supplied rockets and missiles that Iron Dome is designed to stop.

Add to this Iranian denials that anything happened (1), American doubts that anything happened (2), and the Israelis mostly keeping quiet (3), and the astute reader is left with one conclusion:

Something happened. Something big. And a good thing it is, too, for the Iranian leadership is far too dangerous to ever let have nuclear weapons.

And lest you think this is too big and too far away for the Israelis, bear in mind that they and we were also behind  Stuxnet.

As I like to say in situations like these: “Oh, those wacky Jews!” (4)

via Power Line

Footnotes:
(1) Of course they would. If you were them, would you admit your archenemy had just broken one of your favorite toys?
(2) Of course we would. Publicly. If we were involved, or if the Israelis warned us. If they didn’t involve us, which may be wise, then our doubts would serve to confuse Tehran.
(3) Of course they would. Not only does Israel rarely talk about intelligence operations, but, if this really happened, the last thing they want to do is rub Tehran’s nose in it and force them to retaliate.
(4) It’s the First Rule of Mideast Politics: “Do not [mess] with the Israelis!”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Israeli Intelligence to Obama: Quit stealing the credit!

June 11, 2012

Remember when I blew my stack over “someone” (*cough* White House *cough*) leaking classified information about the development of the Stuxnet virus, aimed at Iran’s nuclear weapons program, to the New York Times? It was evident that these and other leaks were being made to boost Obama’s reputation in a difficult reelection race.

Well, well. Surprise, surprise. It seems President Look-At-Me has been caught claiming credit that wasn’t his to claim:

In his book [NYT reporter David] Sanger argues that it was an American idea to attack Iranian nuclear installations with sophisticated and clandestine cyberspace warfare – planting viruses and worms in Iran’s computers.  According to the writer, the operation — code-named ”Olympic Games” — was initiated in 2007 by the Bush administration and sped up under President Obama. In an excerpt adapted from his book by the Times, Sanger wrote that only at a later stage were Israeli intelligence experts and computer wizards were brought in and joined forces.

The Israeli officials actually told me a different version. They said that it was Israeli intelligence that began, a few years earlier, a cyberspace campaign to damage and slow down Iran’s nuclear intentions. And only later they managed to convince the USA to consider a joint operation — which, at the time, was unheard of.

The author of the article, former Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman, also quotes these officials as saying they were reluctant to get involved because they realized the US is deep into its election season. But… come on. Melman would never have been told this information if someone high up didn’t want it to get out. The message is clear: “We did the hard work; stop being a schmuck!”

So now we know(1) not only the president is self-centered enough to leak classified information to make himself look good, but he has to exaggerate his role, too.

But, then again, this is a man who (or whose flunkies) thought it a good idea to insert himself into the official biographies of his recent predecessors, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

We should just roll our eyes, instead.

via Joel Pollak

Footnote:
(1) Sure, I recognize the Israelis could be telling their own fibs for their own purposes. Maybe. Given recent history of leaks all designed to make the boss look good, however, I’m inclined to credit Melman’s reporting more than the White House.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Yemen underwear-bomb plot: I was right

May 13, 2012

A few days ago, when writing about the revelation of a Al Qaeda plot to blow up a commercial flight with a new and improved underwear bomb and our penetration of said plot, I speculated as to why we were hearing about what should have been a top-secret operation:

With the economy in the crapper and the public mood so bad that even a convicted felon gives Obama a run for his money in a Democratic primary, Obama needs all the good news he can get.

You can bet on it: The One and his team couldn’t wait to brag about this. And all it cost was letting AQAP know just how much we had penetrated them.

I’m sorry to say I was right:

Detailed leaks of operational information about the foiled underwear bomb plot are causing growing anger in the US intelligence community, with former agents blaming the Obama administration for undermining national security and compromising the British services, MI6 and MI5.

The Guardian has learned from Saudi sources that the agent was not a Saudi national as was widely reported, but a Yemeni. He was born in Saudi Arabia, in the port city of Jeddah, and then studied and worked in the UK, where he acquired a British passport.

Mike Scheur, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit, said the leaking about the nuts and bolts of British involvement was despicable and would make a repeat of the operation difficult. “MI6 should be as angry as hell. This is something that the prime minister should raise with the president, if he has the balls. This is really tragic,” Scheur said.

He added: “Any information disclosed is too much information. This does seem to be a tawdry political thing.”

He noted that the leak came on the heels of a series of disclosures over the last 10 days, beginning with a report that the CIA wanted to expand its drone attacks in Yemen, Barack Obama making a surprise trip to Afghanistan around the time of the Bin Laden anniversary and “then this inexplicable leak”.

The agent was apparently a Yemeni studying in Britain who was recruited by MI6 and spent over a year in Yemen covincing Al Qaeda that he was ready and willing to be a suicide bomber. When he got his hands on the bomb, he was spririted out of the country. Now Al Qaeda can be certain who the mole was; this guy is going to spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, wondering when the revenge hit will strike.

And it’s bad enough that we blew our own secrets, but we compromised British and Saudi intelligence, too. As the article goes on to point out, the British may well think twice and then think again before sharing with us. The danger, of course, is not just a loss of trust between intelligence services that have a long tradition of close cooperation, but that, for failure to share information, we might miss a terrorist plot in the making and wind up with a lot of corpses and a lot of grieving families wondering how it could have happened.

All because either Obama himself or someone on his team wanted to make him look tough for his reelection campaign.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is not happy and he’s asking questions:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) blamed administration “chest-thumbing” for the leak of information over an intelligence operation which thwarted a plot to bomb an America-bound airliner.

“I think there was a little premature chest-thumbing,” said Rogers on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “I’ve ordered a preliminary review. And I’ll tell you something, this has been a damaging leak. We shouldn’t underestimate what really happened here.”

(…)

Rogers was asked by host Bob Schieffer if he believed information about the operation was leaked to the press by administration officials “to take credit for it.”

“I said chest-thumping, but it clearly raises some serious questions that we are going to have to ask,” responded Rogers. “We do know that the CIA was trying to stop the story and we know that there was a scheduled White House or at least planned press conference on the particular event. Those two disparate positions lead one to believe that someone was at odds over how much they should or shouldn’t talk about it.

“It’s clear that the information was leaked. That information as presented at some point to the CIA,” added Rogers. “The CIA at that point tried to put the story back in the can for security reasons. People’s lives were at stake during this operation. And that’s where it gets a little murky, which is why I ordered the review. “

To top it all off, while the administration was apparently anxious to blab to all and sundry about the operation, they neglected to tell the ranking members of the Intelligence Committee, even though they’re required to do by statute. Probably shouldn’t be surprised, though; it’s not as if they’ve shown any respect for Congress’ oversight function in the past.

I’m tempted to quote again Bill Clinton on the amateurs in the White House, but that would be too flip. These amateurs aren’t just earnest bumblers; they’re doing real harm.

And it’s worrying.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


The foiled bomb plot: great news, but…

May 9, 2012

On the one hand, this is great news: We infiltrated Al Qaeda’s Arabian subsidiary [AQAP] and kept a lot of people from being killed, while at the same time delivering flaming justice to one of the masterminds of the attack on the USS Cole:

The CIA takedown of an Al Qaeda plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner involved an international sting operation with a double agent tricking terrorists into handing over a prized possession: a new bomb purportedly designed to slip through airport security.

U.S. officials Tuesday described an operation in which Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, working closely with the CIA, used an informant to pose as a would-be suicide bomber. His job was to persuade Al Qaeda bomb makers in Yemen to give him the bomb.

After weeks operating undercover in Yemen, the double agent arranged to deliver the device and a trove of vital intelligence to U.S. and other authorities waiting in another country, officials said. He is now safely out of Yemen.

Experts are analyzing the device at the FBI’s bomb laboratory at Quantico, Va., to determine whether it could evade current security systems. Officials said it appears to have a more advanced triggering device than that of the so-called underwear bomb that fizzled instead of exploding aboard a packed passenger jet over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

U.S. officials said President Obama was informed of the bomb in early April and was assured that it did not pose a threat to the public. Officials emphasized that the terrorists had not chosen a target or purchased air tickets, and that the plot to blow up an airliner never reached the operational stage.

And, according to the Washington Post:

The most recent strike killed an alleged operations planner wanted in connection with the attack on the USS Cole warship in Yemen in 2000. U.S. officials said that Fahd al-Quso was probably involved in directing the plot but that the drone strike was ordered because of his larger role in AQAP.

So, latest underwear bomb plot foiled, double-agent safe, we got our hands on Al Qaeda’s latest toys, and a terrorist murderer brave jihadi got the payback he so richly deserved. What’s not to like, right?

Well, there’s what’s on that other hand…

Don’t get me wrong; this is great news, and the CIA and Saudi intelligence service deserve pats on the back. But…

Why are we hearing about this at all??

One of the greatest secrets you can have in intelligence work –especially when dealing with a deadly enemy– is that you’ve compromised their security. That you’ve cracked their codes, found their safe houses, planted a bug in their meetings, slipped a mole deep inside… so many things. You want them kept secret because you can exploit the advantage again and again, disrupting and demoralizing your enemy because they can’t figure out how you’re always one step ahead. These are secrets you go to your grave with, because, once blown, they’re useless.

So, I ask again: Why are we being told this? The LA Times article provides a hint:

U.S. intelligence officials had planned to keep the bomb sting secret, a senior official said, but the Associated Press learned of the operation last week. The AP delayed posting the story at the request of the Obama administration, but then broke the news Monday.

“When the AP got it and started talking about it, it caused all kinds of problems with the operation,” said a U.S. official who would not be quoted by name discussing the classified operation. “The investigation never went to its full conclusion.”

AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news agency held off publishing until U.S. officials told the AP that security concerns were allayed.

“We were told on Monday that the operation was complete and that the White House was planning to announce it Tuesday,” he said.

So we have two different stories. In one, the AP learns about the operation and, with security compromised, the government felt it might as well tell, since the information was going to come out, anyway. It’s a common story.

In the other, AP waited, found out the administration was going to open up on Tuesday, and so decided to get its story out, first.

Call me a cynic, but the second seems much more plausible. Remember that this is the same administration that, after killing bin Laden, didn’t want to be seen “spiking the ball.” Now, a year later and with a difficult reelection campaign underway, the president and his minions are running around doing the  “Gutsy Call” end-zone dance like a NFL rookie scoring his first touchdown. With the economy in the crapper and the public mood so bad that even a convicted felon gives Obama a run for his money in a Democratic primary, Obama needs all the good news he can get.

You can bet on it: The One and his team couldn’t wait to brag about this. And all it cost was letting AQAP know just how much we had penetrated them.

Final thought: What was the “opportunity cost” of this latest bit of chest-thumping? Are there any more of these newest bombs out there? Other plots in the offing? How much are we now not going to learn of because AQAP will surely change their security measures?

Sometimes, silence really is golden.

PS: And lest we forget, they’re still trying to kill us.

LINKS: More from Hot Air.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


How we tracked Awlaki

October 1, 2011

At Big Peace, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (1) provides the inside story of how we tracked down Al Qaeda’s rising star, Anwar al-Awlaki:

Awlaki lived in the southern Yemen province of Shabwa, an area beyond the reach of Yemen’s military and central government. Much of Yemen is like the Wild West, with no central governing authority. The numerous tribes settle disputes among themselves. Awlaki came from the Awalik tribe.

Intelligence gathered last year from Yemeni authorities and from debriefings with several American converts who returned to the United States after training with Awlaki, helped narrow Awlaki’s location to a 100 square mile area. He moved at night, often in convoys of armored SUVs in order to prevent U.S. drones and surveillance from determining which vehicle he was in. But the drones, which have advanced in the ability to recognize faces on the ground, hovered above the area where Awlaki was believed to be. Electronic intelligence – including telephone intercepts –also were used, although Awlaki was said to be careful in limiting his use of electronic communication, aware that he could be tracked that way.

In the past several months, American drone operators were confident they had identified Awlaki as he moved from among a series of underground bunkers. An initial drone missile targeting him was fired at an al-Qaida training camp but missed him.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agents collected as much personal data about Awlaki as they could from his extended family living in western countries. For example, he had an ex-wife living in Ireland that no one knew about until a close relative living in the United States identified the family tree for agents in early January. The relative proved to be a goldmine of information about Awlaki’s siblings, parents, wives, and children.

Intelligence officials learned about the American relative in January through other Yemeni expatriates living here who knew her. She agreed to cooperate and provided extensive information about close relatives living either with him, elsewhere in Yemen, or in different parts of the world. Telephone numbers belonging to a close relative living in Yemen’s capital Sanaa that the American relative provided to U.S. intelligence officials proved the most critical.

The relative knew that Awlaki called that number. The National Security Agency (NSA) quickly was able to triangulate the phone numbers and determine almost exactly where Awlaki was when he called the Sanaa number. The American relative also provided information on other Awlaki relatives who apparently had direct contact with Awlaki, either through email or other electronic means. That knowledge helped track other communication and confirm Awlaki’s whereabouts.

I’m not surprised the ex-wife was willing to talk, given this deeply spiritual man’s preferred hobbies.

It really is a fascinating story: once they had a good idea of the area Awlaki was hiding in, they flooded the skies with drones and kept watching. We also had informants on the ground posing as his students. (2) Finally they got word he was moving in a convoy during the day from one bunker to another. The CIA had passed on earlier shots before, out of fear of too many civilian casualties, but this one looked good and so…

Bye-bye, Anwar. (3)

I draw a few lessons from this:

  • I’ve read elsewhere that the investigative work was carried out by the same group that tracked down bin Laden. These guys are good.
  • If you make a name for yourself among jihadists and you take us on, we will find you and you will either take a bullet to the head or go boom. Our choice, not yours.
  • If you’re going to live the life of a terrorist on the run, stop calling family! On second thought, scratch that. Make all the calls you want.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

Footnotes:
(1) The IPT is Steve Emerson‘s outfit. They do great work.
(2) In other words, we have spies in their midst. Your first thought may be to ask why we’re revealing this, but consider: whether fact or disinformation, it plays with AQAP’s minds and throws a heaping helping of doubt and suspicion into their internal operations. Whom can they trust, even among their “brothers?”
(3) Bite me, Glenn Greenwald. (Among others.)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Missed opportunities: tapping the Taliban’s lines before 9/11

August 8, 2011

Here’s a bombshell from late last week that was lost in all the brouhaha over the debt agreement and S&P’s downgrade of US debt. In the last years of the Clinton administration and the early months of Bush’s, we had a golden chance to tap Afghanistan’s cell-phone networks, probably including their communications with their al Qaeda guests, because we would have built it for them:

Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose reveals for the first time that in 1999 the Taliban had granted license to an American company, Afghan Wireless Communications, to construct a cell-phone, and, Internet system in Afghanistan. Had the secret deal, named Operation Foxden, been completed, the U.S. would have had complete access to al-Qaeda and Taliban calls and e-mails in a matter of months. “The capability we would have had would have been very good,” a former N.S.A. official tells Rose. “Had this network been built with the technology that existed in 2000, it would have been a priceless intelligence asset.” But, as Rose reports, “at the critical moment, the Clinton administration put the project on hold, while rival U.S. agencies—the F.B.I., the N.S.A., and the C.I.A.—bickered over who should control it.” This “was one tool we could have put in Afghanistan that could have made a difference,” says a former C.I.A. official. “Why didn’t we put it in? 

Click through for the rather “colorful” answer.

The upshot is that a businessman who both had excellent relations with the Taliban and was an FBI source had secured a contract to build a wireless network for Afghanistan, and with the components added by US intelligence, we would have had unparalleled access to their cellular and satellite calls, with the operations run out of Fort Meade. Sweet, right? With this kind of access, we might well have leaned about 9/11 in time to stop it.

So what went wrong?

As the article makes clear, the program fell victim to both inter- and intra-agency bureaucratic chest-thumping, including an effort to squeeze out the British (Some British investors were involved, and they presumably had MI-6 backing.) because everyone was fighting over who would control it.

On top of that, the Clinton administration had issued an executive order prohibiting Americans from doing business in Afghanistan, a development that affected the FBI “asset” who had signed the contract. I find it mind-boggling that, as far as I can tell, Clinton a) apparently had no idea of a major intelligence operation against our avowed enemies and that b) no one went to him to argue or could convince him that a quiet exception needed to be made in this case.

Seriously. Did no one tell the President of the United States? 

This reminds me of the various bureaucratic frictions so amply documented in the 9/11 commission’s report, including the infamous Gorelick wall against intelligence sharing. Hidebound bureaucracy was one of our weakest links leading up to 9/11, and this news is another big example.

via Eli Lake

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Did the Obama administration deliberately wreck an Israeli intel operation?

June 8, 2011

Israeli journalist Caroline Glick thinks they did:

Since last week’s announcement by the State Department that it was sanctioning the Israeli firm Ofer Brothers’ Shipping for reportedly violating US law by trading with Iran, there has been a deluge of news reports alleging that the Ofer Brother’s ships were used by the Mossad and perhaps the IDF to infiltrate and exfiltrate agents into and out of Iran.

There are number of troubling aspects to the story. First, it strikes me as odd that the announcement about the sanctions was made by the State Department. If I am not mistaken, these decisions and announcements are usually made by the Treasury Department. Why would the State Department have taken the unusual step of announcing the sanctions and take the step against an Israeli shipping company?

Second, it strikes me as odd that former Mossad chief Meir Dagan felt compelled to issue an impassioned defense of the Ofer Brothers Shipping company. Dagan is in the midst of an unprecedented, arguably illegal and certainly unseemly campaign to delegitimize Prime Minister Binyamin Netayahu. It seems strange that, in the midst of this offensive, Dagan would divert his attention to the Ofer Brothers Shipping woes. He must have been deeply shocked by the US move to do so.

(…)

The third reason this is so shocking is that the timing of the announcement cannot be viewed as coincidental. The rare State Department announcement came just after Netanyahu wiped the floor with Obama in the Congress and as the Republicans are wisely using Obama’s hatred of Israel and his love for anti-American political forces in the region as a campaign issue for 2012.  It is hard not to reach the conclusion that the announcement was deliberately released at this juncture to weaken US public support for Israel.

In other words, in a fit of pique because Netanyahu dared to stand up for his country’s interests (1), Obama (2) burned an important Israeli intelligence asset, one valuable to our security, too, given our interests in foiling the mullah’s plans to develop and deploy nuclear weapons.

If Glick is right, this is an absolutely appalling exercise in self-defeating pettiness on the part of the Obama administration. There is no greater nor more urgent issue facing American national security than keeping a bunch of religious fanatics who want to bring about the Shiite apocalypse from getting their hands on nukes. This matter is so serious that, in my opinion, Tehran’s imminent possession of nuclear weapons justifies war.

But, instead, we pimp-slap our closest allies in the region, the people who probably planted the Stuxnet virus that slowed down Iran’s program and who likely have assets in place we would need in a showdown. As Glick asks, how on Earth are the Israelis supposed to trust us after something like this?

All because Obama made a fool of himself and Netanyahu wouldn’t back down.

I really hope Glick is wrong about this, because it otherwise says some dark and scary things about the maturity and seriousness of the people running our foreign policy in a very dangerous world.

And I sure hope 2013 sees the adults back in charge.

(1) Evidently an alien concept to certain presidents.

(2) Because you know he either originated this or approved the idea. This wouldn’t happen without him.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Anthony Weiner: serious question

June 2, 2011

Okay, yesterday I was laughing, but something occurred to me this morning: Congressman “I’m a big deal” Weiner sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That committee includes the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, the jurisdiction of which is:

National energy policy generally; Fossil energy, renewable energy resources and synthetic fuels, energy conservation, energy information; Energy regulation and utilization; Utility issues and regulation of nuclear facilities; Interstate energy compacts; Nuclear energy; The Clean Air Act and air emissions; and, All laws, programs, and government activities affecting such matters.

(Emphases added)

Weiner does not sit on that subcommittee. But, since the full committee’s purview includes areas considered by the subcommittee, that means Representative Weiner almost certainly has a “top secret” security clearance so he can be properly informed when considering issues dealing with our nuclear power plants, not just technological secrets but also their physical security in an age of mass terrorism.

Think about that.

Anthony Weiner has just shown the world how irresponsible and careless he is. Forgetting for a moment his apparent inclinations toward infidelity, his childish “sexting” makes him vulnerable to blackmail (1). The Soviets used to do it all the time, and you can bet our enemies would be happy to do it today:

“So, Tony. What’s it going to be? Do we get details of the security at San Onofre, or does your wife get to see those other pictures, the ones that you thought were safe, when she opens tomorrow’s ‘Post?'”

Sure, the dialogue is corny, but the situation is potentially quite real.

So, let me ask: Is there any reason why this juvenile dope shouldn’t lose his security clearance and be consigned to the Committee on the House Cafeteria?

(1) Anyone willing to bet that this is the first time he’s done this, and there aren’t more photos out there? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Will someone please unleash Stuxnet on Wikileaks?

April 18, 2011

Thanks to the sanctimonious, self-righteous hacker-children of Wikileaks, we now have possible answer to why the Obama administration has been so gentle, even pusillanimous, toward the popular revolt against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad: We’ve been secretly backing the opposition:

The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.

The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”

Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. In January, the White House posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.

The cables, provided by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Damascus at risk.

And not just that shortsighted, naive rapprochement would be at risk. There’s a reason programs like these are kept secret: their revelation could not only wreck the operation, but also get people killed.

The US has very good reasons for supporting the Syrian opposition, far stronger and more relevant that whatever rationale was used to justify the attack on Libya: Syria is a terrorist sponsor that has the blood of Americans, Lebanese, Iraqis, and Israelis on its hands. During the insurgency in Iraq, it actively supported jihadists and Baathist remnants in their guerrilla war against the Coalition and the new Iraqi state. It is a key client and ally of Iran, our deadly enemy, which itself is in pursuit of nuclear weapons  and has promised to use them.  Taking down the Assad regime would would greatly weaken Iran’s hand in the region.

For these and many other reasons, we have a strong national interest in seeing regime change in Damascus, and I’m glad to see the Obama administration continued Bush’s efforts to support and aid the opposition.

But that may all come crashing down now at the cost of many brave Syrian lives.

So, why’d you do it, Wikileaks? Not getting enough media attention lately? Or are you so lost in a childish moral equivalence that you think you’re helping poor little third-world Syria against the evil capitalist bully? Don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back and don’t worry about the Syrians now exposed to torture and death just so you could be big-shots again.

I’d call you “jackasses,” but I’d have to find a mule to apologize to.

And I wasn’t kidding in the subject: if someone could devise a virus to foul up the Iranian nuclear program, surely something similar could be cooked up to fry the servers hosting Wikileaks. They’re clearly acting as enemies of the US and her allies, now.

RELATED: This isn’t the first time Wikileaks has exposed a covert American ally working to end a brutal dictatorship. And they may well have Afghan blood on their hands, too.

via Legal Insurrection

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


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