Worst. Election. Ever.

May 5, 2016

satire head desk

Yuval Levin provides yet another example of why:

For many years now, it has been the practice of the intelligence community to start providing classified intelligence briefings to the presidential nominees of the two major parties (those who aren’t incumbents, who get them anyway) soon after the party conventions. This year, that will mean giving these very sensitive briefings to a woman who is clearly guilty of gross failures to protect classified information and a man who seems less trustworthy and disciplined about what he allows out of his mouth than almost everyone in America. Just a snapshot of this less than glorious election year.

I’m going to wake up and realize this was all a bad dream, right?

Right??


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)


Libya: the art of war, Smart Power-style

April 1, 2011

If anything illustrates the half-baked manner in which the administration took us into war kinetic military action in Libya, it’s this quote from Politico’s Roger Simon:

We are currently doing everything we can to bomb, strafe and use missiles to carry the rebels into power in Libya. We want them to win. We just don’t know who they are.

This is not merely my opinion. It is the statement of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, our point person in meeting with the rebels.

Emphases added.

But, don’t  worry; we’ve finally –weeks after the Libyan revolt began and days after we went to war on the rebels’ behalf– told the CIA “Hey, maybe it’s a good idea we find out who these guys are!

The Obama administration has sent teams of CIA operatives into Libya in a rush to gather intelligence on the identities and capabilities of rebel forces opposed to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, according to U.S. officials.

The information has become more crucial as the administration and its coalition partners move closer to providing direct military aid or guidance to the disorganized and beleaguered rebel army.

Although the administration has pledged that no U.S. ground troops will be deployed to Libya, officials said Wednesday that President Obama has issued a secret finding that would authorize the CIA to carry out a clandestine effort to provide arms and other support to Libyan opposition groups.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, insisted that no decision has been made.

Because, Lord knows, there’s no way you need this information before taking sides in a civil war, deciding to drop (so far!) a billion dollars  of ordnance on a country, and putting our pilots at risk. I wonder how our flyboys like knowing they weren’t worth the effort of a little advance work?

Maybe I’m overreacting. We do know some things about our new Libyan BFFs. For example, apparently some of them are al Qaeda. That shouldn’t be surprising since eastern Libya provides, per our Secretary of State, a large number of al Qaeda’s recruits. But, are they are a serious threat, or a minor nuisance? We just don’t know, since we’ve only started looking into it.

In other words, does this mean we’re fighting for al Qaeda in Libya and fighting against them around the rest of the world? Now that’s flexible, smart power!

Oh, one other thing Secretary “I know nothing! Nothing!” Clinton and her boss, the Smartest President with the Best Judgment Ever, might liked to have known or at least had a good estimate of before starting this little adventure: there are only around 1,000 of these rebels. No wonder they can’t hold any territory unless we bomb the tar out of Qaddafi’s army — this isn’t a revolution: it’s a tribal uprising!

If there’s any bitter satisfaction to be taken from this, it’s that the Democrats and the Left (but I repeat myself) are stumbling and rushing blindly into war in just the way they falsely accused George W. Bush of doing in Iraq.

It’s not that they were wrong so much as they were predicting their own future.

RELATED: If Secretary Clinton would like to know more about these people for whom we’ve gone to war, she couldn’t do much better than starting with Michael Totten: Who are the Libyan Rebels? If, as Totten’s colleague suggests, the majority of rebels are “…mainly young, educated, middle class, urban people with a powerful wish for democracy…”, then maybe we should be taking steps to make sure they come out on top in a post-Qaddafi government, rather than the aggressive, experienced al Qaeda cadres. I’d like to think that’s what we’re doing, but with this bunch in charge… .

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Could we look dumber? Mmm… No.

November 24, 2010

This has to be a leading candidate for the Intelligence Screw-Up Hall of Fame: NATO, US, and Afghan officials thought they were negotiating with one of the Taliban’s top leaders and were making progress toward a settlement… Until it turned how he was a fake:

Coalition and Afghan officials have believed for months that they have been in direct talks with Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, one of Mullah Omar’s top two deputies, but have discovered that the person they have been in talks with faked his identity, The New York Times reported.

Mansour and Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former detainee who became the Taliban’s top military commander in the south after his release in December 2007, were appointed by Mullah Omar to lead the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s executive council, in March of this year. Mansour took over the administrative role, and Zakir became the Taliban’s top military leader.

Zakir and Mansour replaced Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was taken into custody by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate earlier this year after he supposedly tried to conduct negotiations with the Afghan government. The terms of Baradar’s detention are unclear; some officials say he was not arrested but merely placed into protective custody.

Mansour was the Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation during the Taliban’s rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. He also served as the shadow governor of Kandahar province after the Taliban were ejected from power during the US invasion in 2001.

The fake Mansour approached NATO and Afghan officials months ago, and “was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks — and to help persuade him to return,” The New York Times reported. Officials became suspicious about the identity of the man only after the third meeting. The man’s identity could not be confirmed; he was unable to return to the meeting with other Taliban leaders, and his demands were radically different from the Taliban’s stated negotiating position.

No one seems to know who this faker was, but, man, get him a spot on cable selling blenders! He could be the new Billy Mays! “But wait! For only $19.95 million, not only will you get peace in Afghanistan, but we’ll all become Mennonites, too! Call now!”

Face, meet egg. In fact, meet a full dozen of them.

My friend Jimmy Bise has a great rant on this, but I have to quibble with his blanket assertion that this shows our intelligence in Afghanistan is lousy overall. We do have excellent “human intelligence” penetration of the Taliban and the Waziristan region of Pakistan; that’s how we’ve been able to get information on the movement of Taliban leaders for our increased campaign of Predator strikes – it’s not all coming from communications intercepts.

But, clearly, we didn’t know enough about Mullah Mansour to even know what he looked like before the meeting, indicating a serious gap in our knowledge of the Taliban leadership. Worse, in my opinion, this incident smells like something that happened because of pressure from political leaders back home (including our own) to pursue “all avenues for peace” and an exit from Afghanistan. By leaning on the generals and intelligence officers in the region, pressure was created to find someone to negotiate with, so, when this con artist waltzed in, he was accepted by someone who said his bona fides were “good enough” and decided to take a risk.

And thus was a humiliating fiasco born.

This is just a guess on my part, of course, but it seems a reasonable one.

There’s no doubt this hurts our reputation, especially in the Af-Pak region, where the regional culture is based strongly on concepts of shame and honor. We just shamed ourselves with this act of buffoonery, and thus fewer legitimate sources will be willing to work with us, because we look incompetent.

And, in this case, we were.

ADDENDUM: this isn’t the only time we’ve been played for suckers in an intelligence operation, of course. One incident I recall reading about years ago involved sending a lot of gold to what we thought were anti-Communist subversives in Poland right after World War II… Only it turned out the whole thing was con by Polish intelligence and we’d been giving gold to the Polish government. In other words, we’ve been fooled before and will be again, someday; the job now is to find out why in this case and make sure it never happens again.

UPDATE: Luckily, Iowahawk has found another mullah for us to negotiate with.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Color me shocked: Feds to prosecute NSA staffer

April 15, 2010

I’ll be honest, the government always says it’s going to hunt down people who leak classified material, but for them to actually follow through is almost unheard of. And for the Justice Department under Eric Holder to do this? Satan’s donning a parka even now:

A senior executive with the National Security Agency faces 10 felony charges of leaking classified information to a national newspaper in 2006 and 2007, the Justice Department announced Thursday morning. Thomas A. Drake, 52, allegedly exchanged hundreds of e-mails with an unnamed reporter in a national newspaper that published stories about Bush administration intelligence policies between February 2006 and November 2007.

The article doesn’t specify that these leaks had to do with counterterrorism efforts, but I’ll bet that’s it. Leaks from bureaucrats opposed to Bush administration policies in Iraq and the Long War overall have done tremendous damage, such as revealing the NSA terrorist communications intercept program and Treasury’s secret program to track terrorist finances. Guys like Drake, assuming he’s guilty, deserve to have the book thrown at them; they sanctimoniously put their own egos ahead of their duty to the nation in time of war.

I never thought I’d write this, but, good for Eric Holder.

(via NRO)

LINK: More at Hot Air.

UPDATE: I take back my praise for AG Holder. According to Power Line, Drake was not the one who revealed the terrorist surveillance program. Instead, he’s accused of embarrassing NSA management. Glad to see Justice has its priorities straight.

UPDATE II: Background from journalist Eli Lake.


Al Qaeda can watch our military video feeds?

December 17, 2009

This is a mind-boggling breach of security:

Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.

Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.

And it’s not as if this is some new, unexpected development; the Pentagon has known of this problem since the 1990s, but did nothing about it because they didn’t think the local yo-yos were smart enough to find out about it.

Pardon me, but, um… WTF??

Maybe Abdul in a cave wouldn’t figure it out, but what about their patrons in Iran (who’ve shown themselves to be pretty creative), or their patrons in Moscow and Beijing? Do we really have such stupid and arrogant schmucks in military who thought that no rival could discover this and then pass on the information? Really?

Excuse me while I go find the nearest brick wall to bang my head against.

Threat Matrix gives us the cheery news that the problem isn’t just affecting Iraq, but Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well. And not just our drone feeds, but all air-to-ground transmissions. They outline a worst-case scenario:

…our rivals such as Russia and China, our adversaries such as Iran, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, the Taliban, etc., and our erstwhile allies such as Pakistan have been monitoring our feeds for years, and thus have learned plenty about how the US plans and conducts attacks, as well as the capabilities and limitations of the weapons and observation platforms. The DoD officials downplayed the leaked information and said no US troops were harmed due to the breach. That may be true today, but may not be the case in future conflicts.

The following is purely speculation on my part. Don’t be surprised if you read a story in the next few days or weeks that elements within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has been monitoring US Predator and Reaper feeds, and relaying targeting information to al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. I have heard far too many stories about how senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders miraculously avoided attacks and left the target sites just minutes before the strikes. The officials repeatedly told me that they believed the anti-US elements in the ISI would tip off the terrorist commanders before the strikes.

This news isn’t just disturbing: that we knew about it for years and did nothing to fix it tells of a nauseating level of incompetence. Several heads need to roll, and then whatever money it takes to fix the problem needs to be spent now. This is just as bad as having a mole in the planning rooms; the repercussions of what our potential and actual enemies may have learned about how we operate could be felt for years from now.

Seriously, why weren’t these transmissions encrypted? Surely there weren’t insuperable obstacles to that.

I’ve often said that no one can beat us if we don’t beat ourselves, and it’s at moments like this I think we’re trying to prove it.

LINKS: More at Hot Air.