The Intelligence Lessons of San Bernardino

December 16, 2015

These are lessons our leaders desperately need to (re)learn. Trouble is, I have little faith the current bunch will come anywhere close.

The XX Committee

It’s been nearly two weeks since Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple, murdered fourteen innocent people and wounded twenty-two more in their terrorist attack on a mental health facility in San Bernardino, California. Once the initial shock of that terrible event, the worst jihadist terror attack on American soil since 9/11, began to wane, awkward questions have been raised about just how effective our government’s efforts to combat violent extremism inside our country actually are.

Americans were shocked by the San Bernardino crime, and no wonder: Farook, a native-born citizen, coldly gunned down co-workers who were assembled at an office party, with help from his immigrant wife, both of whom had left their six month-old baby at home when they left for their suicide mission. While female participation in jihadist terrorism is nothing new, this was an unusually brazen and horrifying attack, particularly since given the size of…

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How much damage has @HillaryClinton done to our national security?

September 10, 2015
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Hillary’s legacy

While everyone focuses on just what Hillary did when she routed all her (classified, top secret) work emails through an unsecure private email server, the question left hanging is just how much damage was done to our national security by having our secrets left in the open like laundry on the line.

I’ve assumed any intelligence service worth its pay –especially, but not exclusively, those of our enemies– was of course reading these communications. But Stanley Kurtz points out the harm done even if no one did:

“There’s a widely held belief among American counterspies that foreign intelligence agencies had to be reading the e-mails on Hillary’s private server, particularly since it was wholly unencrypted for months….senior counterintelligence officials are assuming the worst about what the Russians and Chinese know.”

So America’s intelligence agencies are assuming that every communication of America’s Secretary of State for months or more was read by our adversaries. Isn’t that likely to amount to one of the worst intelligence breaches in American history? And here’s the kicker. Even if we got lucky and the Russians and Chinese didn’t actually intercept some or all of Hillary’s e-mails, our intelligence agencies now have to behave as if they did.

Doesn’t that mean that we are now making massive changes to the sources and methods of our intelligence? Are we now withdrawing valuable agents? Are we trying to replace methods that cannot be easily replicated? Are we now forced to rebuild a good deal of our intelligence capabilities from the ground up? Are we not suffering tremendous intelligence damage right now, regardless of what foreign intelligence services did or did not manage to snatch from Hillary’s server—simply because we are forced to assume that they got it all?

The extent of this train wreck will itself be secret: that’s the nature of intelligence work — you don’t want your enemy to know you know how much they know.

But the fact itself that we have to go through all this because of her sense of entitlement and her miserable judgment should be enough for any reasonable person to disqualify her from ever holding another office, let alone the presidency.

It should also land her before a judge and jury.


The Painful Truth About Snowden

July 19, 2015

Did Moscow sacrifice Edward Snowden to protect their moles within the NSA and other agencies? Fascinating history and speculation from Mr. Schindler.

The XX Committee

Since the saga of Edward Snowden went public just over two years ago, I’ve had a lot to say in the media about this sensational case. That’s gotten me loads of push-back, not to mention trolling, but my take on the case — particularly that it’s a planned foreign intelligence operation that operates behind the cover of “freedom” and “civil liberties” — has increasingly become accepted by normals.

In the first place, that Snowden shows no sign of leaving Putin’s Russia, not exactly a bastion of liberty, has made all but his most uncritical defenders wonder what’s going on here. The clear damage that Snowden’s vast revelations have done to Western counterterrorism and security likewise has raised doubts about motives. And that’s not been helped by the fact that very few of Snowden’s purloined secrets have to do with NSA domestic operations. The overwhelming majority expose foreign intelligence activities that…

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The OPM Hacking Scandal Just Got Worse

June 12, 2015

Jim Geraghty described this news a a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.” I’d quibble over the “Pearl Harbor” description, but that this is an almost-certain intelligence disaster (and I use that word deliberately) is doubtless. Think I’m wrong? Just read Mr. Schindler’s post analyzing the latest news.

The XX Committee

The other day I explained in detail how the mega-hack of the Office of Personnel Management’s internal servers looks like a genuine disaster for the U.S. Government, a setback that will have long-lasting and painful counterintelligence consequences. In particular I explained what the four million Americans whose records have been purloined may be in for:

Whoever now holds OPM’s records possesses something like the Holy Grail from a CI perspective.  They can target Americans in their database for recruitment or influence. After all, they know their vices, every last one — the gambling habit, the inability to pay bills on time, the spats with former spouses, the taste for something sexual on the side (perhaps with someone of a different gender than your normal partner) — since all that is recorded in security clearance paperwork (to get an idea of how detailed this gets, you can see the form, called…

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Lingering OKBOMB Questions

November 17, 2014

The 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing is coming up next year, and Mr. Schindler takes a look at some interesting unanswered questions, including wondering why the FBI and the DoJ seemingly stonewall any attempt at further investigation.

The XX Committee

One of the more curious aspects of our postmodern information age is how stories that are actually known — meaning they have already been reported and can easily be found online — nevertheless fail to develop traction in the public consciousness, until sometimes they do, without apparent warning.

A classic case is the recent blow-up of Bill Cosby’s public reputation. Although allegations of rape against the actor-comedian, by more than a dozen women, have been reported for over a decade, including a 2006 out-of-court settlement, it was only recently — specifically last month, when comedian Hannibal Burress stated matter-of-factly of “America’s Dad”: “Yeah, but you’re a rapist” — that the story finally got legs. Suddenly, it has become a sensation, not helped by Cosby’s ham-handed efforts at online reputation management and his bizarre on-air silence about the allegations. It’s difficult to see how Cosby’s reputation can recover from this…

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Jihad and immigration

December 14, 2010

Sweden recently found itself a target for Islam’s jihad against the West everyone else, but, before that, it had become a locus for jihad recruitment among emigrant Muslims. At Big Peace, Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism looks at terrorist connections in Sweden, particularly among immigrant  Somalis:

Somali’s al-Shabaab recently issued a new recruitment video, targeting international jihadists and particularly Somali youth living abroad. In a Swedish-language section, former Swedish resident Abu Zaid called on his audience to “make Hijra,” to immigrate to Somalia. Drawing his finger across his throat, Abu Zaid also threatened cartoonist Lars Vilks, whose drawings of the Prophet Muhammad have led to death threats that now keep Vilks living in seclusion. “Know what awaits you, as it will be nothing but this, slaughter,” Zaid told the Swedish listeners, “If you can, kill this dog Lars Vilks. Then you will receive a great reward from Allah.”

Some of the approximately 25,000 Somalis living in Sweden have responded to al-Shabaab’s call. Police and residents report that roughly 20 youth left to join the terrorist group, particularly from the heart of the Swedish Somali community, Stockholm’s suburb of Rinkeby. The Swedish state security police, SAPO, stated that five of them have been killed and 10 are still at large in Somalia. Al-Shabaab recruitment was also linked by Swedish authorities to a Somali youth center in Rinkeby, which had been receiving funds from the Swedish government. In addition, two Somali immigrants, one from Stockholm and another from Gothenburg, recently received 4 year sentences for planning to go and fight with al-Shabab.

Somalia is in danger of turning into a new Afghanistan: a failed state that is fertile ground for al Qaeda and other Salafist groups. Indeed, one of Somalia’s major jihad groups, al Shabab, has aligned with al Qaeda and is recruiting among Somalis in the United States. The recruitment has been focused on bringing people back to fight in Somalia, but it would be naive to discount the possibility of Somali recruits waging jihad here in America at some point in the future.

Articles like these bring home the dangers of radicalism in immigrant Muslim communities: many of the 9/11 hijackers were students in Germany. The tube bombers in Britain and the jihadists who attacked the Glasgow airport were British Muslims, either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. The suicide bomber in the Stockholm attack was apparently radicalized in the British town of Luton, a known hotbed of extremism.  Here in the US, the Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was a naturalized citizen from Pakistan.

All this reminds us of the need for effective counterintelligence. While it would be wrong and unjust to make a blanket assumption that all Muslim immigrants are terrorists or likely recruits for jihad, it would be an act of deep denial and politically correct blindness to refuse to see the potential for radicalization of at least some among those immigrants and watching for the signs. That means both developing contacts and informants among the Muslim community and planting undercover operatives at known radical mosques. Yes, that’s distasteful –as it should be– but it’s also necessary for our own defense in an age of terrorism and war.

Otherwise we’re going to be left asking the same stupid questions about what happened and why, when the answers are right before us, if we would only look.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Sacrificial lamb?

December 30, 2009

Michael Goldfarb thinks Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair may be the fall-guy for the failure to stop the Pantybomber before he got on Flight 253, but as much for not playing well with others in the White House as for not connecting the dots from Nigeria to Yemen to Amsterdam.

Perhaps, and it certainly sounds like he deserves a sacking, but I can think of someone who should get the boot with him.

Really, though, this near-fiasco shows that all the urgency to do something, anything, right after 9/11 accomplished was to create another level of bureaucracy, with all the inherent frictions of a bureaucracy. Rearranging the national security org chart did little other than to provide more turf to fight over. For all its flaws, the 9/11 Commission Report got this much right: the need was (and is) to tear down the barriers to communication and cooperation between various agencies so that when a father in Nigeria goes to our embassy and says “My son wants to wage jihad against you,” we can tell the State Department, who will then revoke the son’s visa and put him on a no-fly list before he can blow up a plane over Detroit.

Just as an example.

Sadly, I don’t have much faith that the bureaucracy will learn from this near-miss.

RELATED: And speaking of connecting the dots, the Ft. Hood jihadi and the Pantybomber share the same spiritual adviser. Yet, every time something like this happens, the government assures us they acted alone. There are none so blind…