Saturday, November 1, 2014.

September 9, 2012

Government Spying on Americans

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

September 6, 2012

Risk Analysis in Airline Security

Posted by Tom at 12:11 AM | Comments (0) |

August 5, 2012

The Israeli-Iranian Covert War

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

July 24, 2012

Open Source Security

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

July 16, 2012

The Locavore's Dilemma

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April 16, 2012

Bruce Schneier on the real security threats

Posted by Tom at 6:25 AM | Comments (0) |

December 23, 2011

"So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost"

tsa-sarcastic-logoCharles C. Mann meets security expert Bruce Schneier to assess the state of the Transportation Security Administration's security theater at U.S. airports:

Since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what Schneier mocks as "security theater": actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the United States less safe. [.  .  .]

To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost. And directed against a threat that, by any objective standard, is quite modest. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have killed just 17 people on American soil, all but four of them victims of an army major turned fanatic who shot fellow soldiers in a rampage at Fort Hood. (The other four were killed by lone-wolf assassins.) During that same period, 200 times as many Americans drowned in their bathtubs. Still more were killed by driving their cars into deer. . . .

Read the entire article. It is a sad reflection of the increasing non-responsiveness of government that this utter nonsense continues to be foisted upon U.S. citizens.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

April 27, 2011

Bruce Schneier on security theater

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

April 20, 2011

National Security Wisdom from the Joker

Security TheaterCato's Julian Sanchez brilliantly sums up the logic behind the national security policy that leads our government to impose this kind of absurd abuse on its citizens:

Batman's archnemesis the Joker--played memorably by Heath Ledger in 2008′s blockbuster The Dark Knight--might seem like an improbable font of political wisdom, but it's lately occurred to me that one of his more memorable lines from the film is surprisingly relevant to our national security policy:

"You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go 'according to plan.' Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all 'part of the plan.'"

There are, one hopes, limits. The latest in a string of videos from airport security to provoke online outrage shows a six-year-old girl being subjected to an invasive Transportation Security Administration pat down--including an agent feeling around in the waistband of the girl's pants. I'm somewhat reassured that people don't appear to be greatly mollified by TSA's response:

"A video taken of one of our officers patting down a six year-old has attracted quite a bit of attention. Some folks are asking if the proper procedures were followed. Yes. TSA has reviewed the incident and the security officer in the video followed the current standard operating procedures."

While I suppose it would be disturbing if individual agents were just improvising groping protocol on the fly (so to speak), the response suggests that TSA thinks our concerns should be assuaged once we've been reassured that everything is being done by the book--even if the book is horrifying. But in a sense, that's the underlying idea behind all security theater: Show people that there's a Plan, that procedures are in place, whether or not there's any good evidence that the Plan actually makes us safer.

And this is not all about civil liberties, either. As David Henderson points out, citizens who throw up their hands in disgust with the TSA's security theater and elect to drive rather than take a short-haul flight risk a fatality rate that is 80 times higher per mile than travelers on a commercial airliner face.

In short, the TSA is killing people.

As with the overcriminalization of American life, the TSA is an ominous reflection of a federal government and major political parties that are increasingly remote and unresponsive to citizens.

Is it too late to change? That would be a good question for someone to ask President Obama, who was famously elected on the slogan of "change we can believe in."

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (3) |

December 2, 2010

How WikiLeaks is like the office holiday party

wikileaksInasmuch as I believe the hoopla over the WikiLeaks disclosures is mostly overblown, I'm not going to post much on it. Except to point out again that the FT's Gideon Rachman really has the right perspective toward it all:

It's amusing for the rest of us to read US diplomats' frank and sometimes unflattering verdicts on foreign leaders, and it's obviously embarrassing for the Americans.

It's a bit like somebody getting drunk at a party and making bitchy comments in too loud a voice. Nobody is incredibly shocked that such things happen. But it's still awkward to be overheard by the person you are talking about.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

November 30, 2010

Defending WikiLeaks

wikileaksAlthough my view of the latest WikiLeaks disclosures is much the same as FT's Gideon Rachman (I mean, really, who would have thought that Silvio Berlusconi is feckless and vain?), my sense is that Will Wilkinson's initial analysis correctly identifies the importance of these disclosures:

To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it's important to distinguish between the government-the temporary, elected authors of national policy-and the state-the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America's intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America's unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it. [.  .  .]

If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents. I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee.

Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy. Some folks ask, "Who elected Julian Assange?" The answer is nobody did, which is, ironically, why WikiLeaks is able to improve the quality of our democracy.

Of course, those jealously protective of the privileges of unaccountable state power will tell us that people will die if we can read their email, but so what? Different people, maybe more people, will die if we can't.

Reminds me of the debate that occurred as a result of similar disclosures over a generation ago.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

November 29, 2010

The Real Threat of Security Theater

snltsaWriting in the NY Times over the holiday weekend, Roger Cohen lucidly identifies the true threat of the elaborate security theater that the Transportation Security Administration has foisted upon us in our nation's airports:

I don't doubt the patriotism of the Americans involved in keeping the country safe, nor do I discount the threat, but I am sure of this: The unfettered growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A. represent a greater long-term threat to the prosperity, character and wellbeing of the United States than a few madmen in the valleys of Waziristan or the voids of Yemen.

America is a nation of openness, boldness and risk-taking. Close this nation, cow it, constrict it and you unravel its magic. [.  .  .]

.  .  . During the Bosnian war, besieged Sarajevans had a word - "inat" - for the contempt-cum-spite they showed barbarous gunners on the hills by dressing and carrying on as normal. Inat is what Americans should show the jihadist cave-dwellers.

So I give thanks this week for the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

I give thanks for Benjamin Franklin's words after the 1787 Constitutional Convention describing the results of its deliberations: "A Republic, if you can keep it."

To keep it, push back against enhanced patting, Chertoff's naked-screening and the sinister drumbeat of fear.

Amen.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

October 30, 2010

Security theater run amok

AirportScan Security theater --  that is, the largely worthless waste of time that the federal government imposes on us in the security lines at our nation's airports - has been a frequent topic on this blog. Arguably, no other current governmental action represents better just how out of control our government has become from the true desires of its citizens.

Given what appears initially to be some unsophisticated attempts at terrorist attacks on Thursday, we will likely in the coming days be regaled with the additional measures that the TSA will propose to impose on us as a result of this latest security threat.

Meanwhile, as this Jeffrey Goldberg/The Atlantic article notes, the federal government will continue to ignore the much more serious violations of civil liberties and basic human decency that already take place daily in our airports.

When will this madness end?

In this recent TEDxPSU talk, security expert Bruce Schneier provides an overview on how we should reconceptualize security so as to address the true security threats in an effective and reasonable manner. More constructive thought goes into this 18-minute lecture than what went into constructing the entire federal government elaborate security theater apparatus.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

July 20, 2010

And you thought the TSA was bad?

intelligence agenciesThe silliness of the federal government’s security theater policy has long been a common topic on this blog. But if you thought that the government’s security theater jobs program is bad, check out this first installment of the Dana Priest-William Arkin/Washington Post series on the explosion in the hiring of government contractors and employees doing top-secret work for the government’s intelligence agencies and programs:

After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.  .   .   . Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.  .  .  . Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.

The first Post installment goes to detail the utter failure of the matrix of government intelligence resources to generate the quantity or quality of intelligence that would justify the billions of dollars being spent on them, while telling the all-too-familiar tale of Congress failing to require any meaningful accountability from the intelligence agencies.

All of which prompts one to wonder. We already know what happens when Wall Street crashes.

But with the explosive growth in the intelligence and security theater bureaucracies, as well as the growth in government that is just beginning in regard to Obamacare and the 2,000-plus page Dodd-Frank financial regulation reform legislation -- and not to overlook the bloated bureaucracy that already exists to enforce the federal government’s absurdly-complex tax laws – what happens when out-of-control government growth crashes?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

July 11, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in America

From First Run Features (H/T Rhetorics and Heretics).

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

May 4, 2010

Gladwell on Operation Mincemeat and the vagaries of espionage

operation mincemeat Don’t miss this clever Malcolm Gladwell/New Yorker review of “British journalist Ben Macintyre’s brilliant and almost absurdly entertaining Operation Mincemeat, the espionage caper that threw the Nazis off of the Allied invasion of Sicily:

On April 30, 1943, a fisherman came across a badly decomposed corpse floating in the water off the coast of Huelva, in southwestern Spain. The body was of an adult male dressed in a trenchcoat, a uniform, and boots, with a black attaché case chained to his waist. His wallet identified him as Major William Martin, of the Royal Marines. [.  .  .]

It did not take long for word of the downed officer to make its way to German intelligence agents in the region. Spain was a neutral country, but much of its military was pro-German, and the Nazis found an officer in the Spanish general staff who was willing to help. A thin metal rod was inserted into the envelope; the documents were then wound around it and slid out through a gap, without disturbing the envelope’s seals. What the officer discovered was astounding.

Major Martin was a courier, carrying a personal letter from Lieutenant General Archibald Nye, the vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff, in London, to General Harold Alexander, the senior British officer under Eisenhower in Tunisia. Nye’s letter spelled out what Allied intentions were in southern Europe. American and British forces planned to cross the Mediterranean from their positions in North Africa, and launch an attack on German-held Greece and Sardinia. Hitler transferred a Panzer division from France to the Peloponnese, in Greece, and the German military command sent an urgent message to the head of its forces in the region: “The measures to be taken in Sardinia and the Peloponnese have priority over any others.”

The Germans did not realize—until it was too late—that “William Martin” was a fiction. The man they took to be a high-level courier was a mentally ill vagrant who had eaten rat poison; his body had been liberated from a London morgue and dressed up in officer’s clothing. The letter was a fake, and the frantic messages between London and Madrid a carefully choreographed act. When a hundred and sixty thousand Allied troops invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943, it became clear that the Germans had fallen victim to one of the most remarkable deceptions in modern military history.

Gladwell goes on to summarize the tale of how the Nazis fell for the caper, but then ponders whether espionage is really worth the trouble:

In the case of Operation Mincemeat, Germany’s spies told their superiors that something false was actually true (even though, secretly, some of those spies might have known better), and Germany acted on it. In the case of Cicero, Germany’s spies told their superiors that something was true that may indeed have been true, though maybe wasn’t, or maybe was true for a while and not true for a while, depending on whether you believe the word of someone two decades after the war was over—and in this case Germany didn’t really act on it at all. Looking at that track record, you have to wonder if Germany would have been better off not having any spies at all.

And the money quote:

Translation: the proper function of spies is to remind those who rely on spies that the kinds of thing found out by spies can't be trusted.

Read the entire review.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

April 29, 2010

Why do we do this to ourselves?

tsa_profiling As we ponder how one governmental agency -- which couldn't uncover Bernie Madoff or Stanford Financial's sketchy affairs despite being told about them -- is going to make a fraud case against Goldman Sachs on a transaction between sophisticated investors who knew what was going on, let's check out another government agency's bumbling decision-making:

More than thirty organizations across the political spectrum have filed a formal petition with the Department of Homeland Security, urging the federal agency to suspend the airport body scanner program.

Leading security expert Bruce Schneier stated, "Body scanners are one more example of security theater.

Last year, the organizations asked Secretary Janet Napolitano to give the public an opportunity to comment on the proposal to expand the body scanner program. Secretary Napolitano rejected the request. Since that time, evidence has emerged that the privacy safeguards do not work and that the devices are not very effective.

"At this point, there is no question that the body scanner program should be shut down. This is the worst type of government boondoggle -- expensive, ineffective, and offensive to Constitutional rights and deeply held religious beliefs," said Marc Rotenberg, President of EPIC.

And if Bruce Schneier's opinion isn't good enough for you, take heed of what a leading security expert who is constantly on the front lines says about the scanners:

A leading Israeli airport security expert says the Canadian government has wasted millions of dollars to install "useless" imaging machines at airports across the country.

"I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747," Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

"That's why we haven't put them in our airport," Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

Sela, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority and a 30-year veteran in airport security and defence technology, helped design the security at Ben Gurion.

Despite what the experts say, he wasteful airport security process that we have allowed the Transportation Security Administration to impose on us continues unabated at a substantial direct cost and an even greater indirect one.

It's bad enough that the TSA's procedures do virtually nothing to discourage serious terrorist threats. What's worse is that the inspection process is really just "security theater" that makes only a few naive travelers feel safer about airline travel.

And if all that weren't bad enough, the worst news is that once a governmental "safeguard" such as the TSA procedures are adopted, Congress has no interest in dismantling it even when it's clear that process is ineffective, expensive and obtrusive to citizens. Stated simply, the TSA has become a jobs program for thousands of registered voters.

James Fallows sums up the absurdity of the situation well:

TSA + defense contractor + security theater vs Israeli expert + Schneier + common sense.

Hmmm, I don't know what to believe.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (4) |

February 5, 2009

Thinking about Cheney's remarks

dick-cheney Many Americans were repulsed by the methods former Vice-President Dick Cheney used to consolidate and exercise war powers in the Executive Branch during the administration of George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, that controversy clouds many people's judgment on Cheney's many noteworthy accomplishments during his 30-year career in public service. He has been an extraordinary public servant.

My sense is that Cheney based his aggressive exercise of war powers during the Bush Administration in large part on classified information regarding the risk of more attacks on U.S. citizens after the attacks of September 11, 2001, a point that Barton Gellman notes in his seminal but generally critical book on the Cheney vice-presidency, Angler: The Cheney Vice-Presidency (Penguin 2008).

Cheney's public comments from earlier this week appear to be consistent with my impression regarding his assessment of the risk of further attacks.

Given that, when you have 25 minutes or so, take the time to watch the video below of Irwin Redlener's recent TED lecture on how the nature of a nuclear attack threat on the United States has changed, but our generally deficient approach to preparing for one has not.

As Dick Cheney says, fighting those who would levy such an attack on the U.S. is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business.”

Here's hoping that the Obama Administration is up to the task.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (5) |

October 21, 2008

Security theater

tsa While considering the abject vacuity of the presidential candidates' positions on the major issues this election season, I started thinking about some minor issues that might make a difference in my vote.

For example, if either major candidate came out in favor of dismantling the "security" apparatus that the federal government has foisted upon us to make airline travel an aggravation, at best, and an ordeal most of the time, then that candidate would probably get my vote.

Alas, neither candidate has proposed such a dismantling.

Nevertheless, don't miss this clever-but-serious Jeffrey Goldberg/Atlantic.com article on the utter uselessness of the Transportation Safety Administration's airport security procedures (prior post here).

Inasmuch as the only two airport-security measures that really matter -- fortified cockpit doors and the awareness of the flying public as to what a hijacking can mean -- have been in place virtually since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Goldberg zeroes in on the wasteful airport security process that we have allowed the TSA to impose on us at a substantial direct cost and an even greater indirect one.

Moreover, that process does virtually nothing to discourage serious terrorist threats. Rather, the inspection process is "security theater" that simply makes a few naive travelers feel safer about airline travel.

Finally, if all that weren't bad enough, the worst news is that once a governmental "safeguard" such as the TSA apparatus is adopted, few politicians are interested in dismantling it even when it's clear that process is ineffective, expensive and obtrusive.

That's food for thought as we get ready to endure implementation of the next round of governmental regulation of business.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

July 13, 2007

Myths of the war

dhs_threat_new-tbn_1.jpgMy nephew Richard and I had a good laugh about the new Homeland Security Threat Level on the left that resulted from Michael Chertoff's ill-advised warning regarding the terror threat from earlier in the week. But kidding aside, following on this earlier post regarding James Fallows' Atlantic Monthly piece, this Steve Chapman RCP op-ed provides a level-headed analysis of the actual threat of an attack from Islamic fascists and the counterproductive nature of the Bush Administration's characterization of the conflict as a global "war on terror." Check it out.

Posted by Tom at 12:19 AM | Comments (1) |

April 25, 2007

Tax simplification made simple

flat%20tax.jpgOne of the more distressing aspects of the Bush Administration's distractions is the abandonment of the movement toward income tax simplification. In this lucid EconTalk session, Alvin Rabushka of Stanford University's Hoover Institution lays out the case for the flat tax, which he has been advocating with colleague Robert Hall since 1981. Rabuska's plan would reform the current system that is based on the 66,000 page U.S. Tax Code with a single rate and no deductions other than personal exemptions, and each individual tax return would be the size of a postcard. This is a common sense reform that is long overdue for many reasons, including one that Russ Roberts makes: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the talented people who currently help rich people avoid taxes were instead encouraged to something productive?" Check out Rabushka's talk.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (3) |

March 20, 2007

Judge Posner: The FBI should not be in
the counterterrorism business

fbisealwmed.jpgProlific Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner has become one of the nation's leading experts on domestic intelligence issues (see previous posts here, here and here) and is the author of Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform ( Rowman & Littlefield 2006). In this Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed, Judge Posner says that it's time to quit placing the round peg of the Federal Bureau of Investigation into the square hole of counterterrorism:

Is it the case that the FBI is "incapable of effective counterterrorism," as an editorial in this newspaper wondered? Does the country need "to debate again whether domestic antiterror functions should be taken from the FBI and given to a new agency modeled after Britain's MI5"?

The answer to both questions is yes. [. . .]

For prosecutors and detectives, success is measured by arrests, convictions and sentences. That is fine when the object is merely to keep the crime rate within tolerable limits. But the object of counterterrorism is prevention. Terrorist attacks are too calamitous for the punishment of the terrorists who survive the attack to be an adequate substitute for prevention.

Detecting terrorist plots in advance so that they can be thwarted is the business of intelligence agencies. The FBI is not an intelligence agency, and has a truncated conception of intelligence: gathering information that can be used to obtain a conviction. A crime is committed, having a definite time and place and usually witnesses and often physical evidence and even suspects. This enables a criminal investigation to be tightly focused. Prevention, in contrast, requires casting a very wide investigative net, chasing down ambiguous clues, and assembling tiny bits of information (hence the importance of information technology, which plays a limited role in criminal investigations).

The bureau lacks the tradition, the skills, the patience, the incentive structures, the recruitment criteria, the training methods, the languages, the cultural sensitivities and the career paths that national-security intelligence requires. All the bureau's intelligence operations officers undergo the full special-agent training. That training emphasizes firearms skills, arrest techniques and self-defense, and the legal rules governing criminal investigations. None of these proficiencies are germane to national-security intelligence. What could be more perverse than to train new employees for one kind of work and assign them to another for which they have not been trained?

Read the entire op-ed. Despite my reservations about creating another governmental agency with the power to spy on citizens, what Judge Posner advocates makes a lot of sense.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

May 15, 2006

Posner on domestic intelligence

posner6.jpgSeventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner has carved out a niche as an expert on intelligence issues (see previous posts here and here), and his new book on intelligence issues -- Uncertain Shield: The U.S. Intelligence System in the Throes of Reform ( Rowman & Littlefield 2006) -- will be published next week.

In this Opinion Journal op-ed, Judge Posner notes that the Bush Administration continues to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic by burying domestic intelligence operations in the FBI, which is a criminal-investigation agency, rather than a domestic intelligence agency that is focused on intelligence gathering:

[B]urying our principal assets for detecting terrorist plots that unfold within the U.S. in a criminal-investigation agency--the FBI--is unsound. We are the only major country that does this. The U.K.'s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, works closely with Scotland Yard, Britain's counterpart to the FBI. But it is not part of Scotland Yard.
The British understand that a criminal-investigation culture and an intelligence culture don't mix. A crime occurs at a definite time and place, enabling a focused investigation likely to culminate in an arrest and conviction. Intelligence seeks to identify enemies and their plans before any crime occurs. It searches for terrorist sleeper cells in the U.S. with no assurance of finding any. Hunting needles in a haystack is uncongenial work for FBI special agents. . . FBI special agents--the bureau's only operations officers--want to make arrests, and so they zero in on animal-rights terrorists and ecoterrorists--people known to be committing crimes and therefore relatively easy to nail. These people are criminals and should be prosecuted, but as they do not endanger national security, prosecuting them should not be an intelligence priority.

Changing an institutional culture is difficult at best; in this case it may be impossible. Almost five years after 9/11, the horses of change at the FBI have left the paddock but are still short of the starting gate. At least $100 million spent on trying to equip the bureau with modern information technology adequate to its intelligence tasks has been squandered. Just eight months after the president forced a fiercely recalcitrant bureau to combine its intelligence-related divisions into a single unit (the "National Security Branch"), the unit's first and only director has resigned to become the security director of a cruise-ship line. The FBI's primary mission is and will remain fighting crime; and just as crime-fighters don't make good intelligence operatives, intelligence operatives don't make good crime-fighters. The FBI fears compromising its main mission by embracing its secondary one.

The objections to creating a U.S. counterpart to MI5 are shallow. . . Some fear that a domestic intelligence agency would be a secret police, spying on Americans. But like MI5 (and its Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service), such an agency would have no powers of arrest, and no greater authority to "spy on Americans" than the FBI now does.

Domestic intelligence is vital because of the danger of terrorist attacks from inside the U.S., such as the 9/11 attacks, and controversial because it entails surveillance of Americans, and not just of foreigners abroad--hence the current controversies over domestic surveillance by the NSA and over the Defense Department's expanding role in domestic intelligence. Before the fifth anniversary of 9/11 rolls around, we need an agency (which the president could create by executive order, as he did the National Counterterrorism Center in August 2004) that, unhampered by either military or law-enforcement responsibilities, can begin to plug a gaping hole in our defense against terrorism.

Check out the entire op-ed.

Posted by Tom at 4:32 AM | Comments (0) |

November 22, 2005

Attempting to pin down Atta in Prague

Mohamed_Atta.jpgEdward Jay Epstein (previous post here) is the author of a new book on Hollywood, The Big Picture (Random House, 2005), and is in the process of writing a book on the 9/11 Commission. In this fascinating Opinion Journal piece, Mr. Epstein explains the maddening difficulties of tracking down the truth of whether 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague during April, 2001. Particularly interesting is the following excerpt, which describes Czech intelligence agent Jiri Ruzek's troubling experience in dealing with the American intelligence community:

On Sept. 11, Mohamed Atta's picture was shown on Czech television, and the next day the BIS's [the Czech intelligence agency] source in the Iraqi Embassy dropped a bombshell. He told his BIS case officer that he recognized Atta as the Arab who got in the car with [Iraqi intelligence agent] al-Ani on April 9. Mr. Ruzek immediately relayed the secret information to Washington through the CIA liaison. The FBI sent an interrogation team to Prague, which, after questioning and testing the source, concluded that there was a 70% likelihood that he was not intentionally lying and sincerely believed that he saw Atta with al-Ani. The issue remained whether he had mistaken someone who resembled Atta for the 9/11 hijacker. Meanwhile, records were found showing that Atta had applied for a Czech visa in Germany in 2000, and made at least one previous trip to Prague (from Bonn, by bus, on June 2, 2000, flying to Newark, N.J., the next day).

Less than a week after Mr. Ruzek shared the BIS's confidential information with American intelligence, it was leaked. The Associated Press reported, "A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has received information from a foreign intelligence service that Mohamed Atta, a hijacker aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center, met earlier this year in Europe with an Iraqi intelligence agent." CBS named al-Ani as the person meeting with Atta in Prague.

Mr. Ruzek was furious. He considered what he had passed on to the FBI to be unevaluated raw intelligence, and its disclosure not only risked compromising the BIS's penetration in the Iraqi Embassy but also greatly reduced the chances of confirming the intelligence in the first place.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 5:22 AM | Comments (0) |

October 29, 2005

Is this all you've got?

fitzgerald.jpgThis OpinionJournal editorial does an excellent job of sizing up Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment (pdf here) yesterday of Vice-President Cheney's Chief of Staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby:

Sometime in May 2003, or slightly before, Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, was informed of Joe Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy yellowcake there. Mr. Kristof wrote a column, and Mr. Libby began to ask around, to determine why a Democratic partisan had been sent on such a sensitive mission in the run-up to the Iraq war. He allegedly learned in the course of his inquiries that Mr. Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.
Mr. Fitzgerald alleges that Mr. Libby informed Judith Miller of the New York Times about Mr. Wilson's wife in June, but she never wrote it up. In the meantime, Mr. Wilson went public with his own account of his mission and its outcome, without reference to his wife's employment or possible involvement in his trip.

Mr. Libby also spoke to Mr. Cooper of Time about it, who did write it up, but only after Mr. Novak's column had run. In this same time period, he had a conversation with Mr. Russert, which may or may not have covered Mr. Wilson and his wife, depending on whom you believe.

So, we are left with this. Did Mr. Libby offer the truth about Mr. Wilson to Mr. Cooper "without qualifications," as Mr. Fitzgerald alleges, or did he merely confirm what Mr. Cooper had heard elsewhere? Did he, or did he not, discuss Mr. Wilson with Tim Russert at all?

So, let's review what we have here. Charges based on then innocuous discussions that occurred two years ago. Now, prosecutor Fitzgerald is pursuing a 30-year jail term and $1.25 million in fines against Mr. Libby based upon alleged inconsistencies between Mr. Libby's recollection of those discussions and those of the other participants in them.

Suffice it to say that I've seen stronger cases.

Finally, Ellen Podgor provides this good technical analysis of the perjury charges in the indictment.

Posted by Tom at 8:15 AM | Comments (8) |

October 7, 2005

The latest suicide bomber?

Hinrichsbrd.jpgMaybe it's due to the distraction of Texas-OU week or perhaps it's just a sign of the times, but the fact that a suicide bomber nearly entered the University of Oklahoma's football stadium last Saturday night while 84,000 people were watching OU thrash Kansas State sure seems to be flying a bit under the main radar screens, at least outside of Oklahoma. The bomber -- Joel Hinrichs III -- detonated an explosive device while sitting on a bench about 100 yards from the stadium after he apparently rushed off upon being required to have his backpack searched at the gate. This Counterterrorism blog post does a good job of summarizing the background and implications of the event, as does the TigerHawk in this post.

Posted by Tom at 9:10 AM | Comments (1) |

February 10, 2005

Posner on the new "Intelligence Czar" position

Several months ago, this post addressed Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner's criticism of the recommendations contained in the final report of the 9/11 Commission. In doing research on the 9/11 Commission report, Judge Posner decided to write a new book on intelligence reform, on which he is currently working.

In this NY Times op-ed, Judge Posner points out that the reason the Bush Administration is having trouble finding someone to fill the "Intelligence Czar" position that the Commission recommended is that the proposed position is ill-conceived and makes impossible demands:

The beguiling premise of the commission's report was that the 9/11 attacks occurred because there wasn't enough sharing of intelligence data among America's 15 or so federal intelligence agencies. The report's reassuring conclusion is that we can solve the problem by centralizing the control of the intelligence system. The premise is doubtful; only in hindsight do the scattered clues gathered in the summer of 2001 point to the attacks that took place.

And slotting in a new bureaucracy (the director is authorized a staff of 500) above the existing agencies will not increase information sharing. Instead, by adding a layer to the intelligence hierarchy, it will delay and diminish the flow of information to the president.

Read the entire op-ed. Key thought here -- more centralization of information analysis does not equate with better analysis.

Posted by Tom at 6:14 AM | Comments (0) |

January 14, 2005

Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, can you please help?

This NY Times article reports on the FBI's longstanding and intractabe computer network problems. Amidst the dismay over the national security concerns that this problem presents, there is a good thesis topic here for some public policy grad student somewhere.

Posted by Tom at 7:58 AM | Comments (0) |

December 30, 2004

Pros versus Amateurs?

In this Opinion Journal piece, Edward Jay Epstein reviews former KGB Col. Victor Cherkashin's new book, Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer (Basic Books, January 1, 2005). Although there is no assurance that the ongoing reform movement in the Central Intelligence Organization is going to remedy the longstanding problems that have evolved in that agency over the past generation, Col. Cherkashin's book makes clear that the U.S. has little to lose by seeking to correct the CIA's deficiencies. In short, the KGB played the CIA like a fiddle during the Cold War.

Mr. Cherkashin had a distinguished 40 year career in the KGB that began in 1952 under Stalin, included a hitch as deputy KGB chief at the Soviet Embassy in Washington from 1979 to 1985, and ended when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. During that period, Col. Cherkashin primary mission was to organize KGB operations aimed at undermining the CIA's integrity, confidence and morale, and he was pretty darn good at his job:

Mr. Cherkashin describes in detail how he helped convert two American counterintelligence officers--one well-placed in the CIA's Soviet Russia Division, the other in the FBI--into moles. Their names are notorious now, but over the course of a decade Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen operated with anonymous stealth, compromising most of the CIA's and FBI's espionage efforts in the Soviet Union.

But Mr. Cherkashin does not attribute his success solely to his personal cleverness:

Mr. Cherkashin skillfully torments his former adversary, the CIA, by attributing a large part of the KGB's success to the incompetence of the CIA leadership, or its madness. He asserts, in particular, that the CIA had been "all but paralyzed" by the "paranoia" of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's longtime counterintelligence chief, who suspected that the KGB had planted a mole in the CIA's Soviet Russia division.
Mr. Cherkashin is right that Mr. Angleton's concern retarded, if not "paralyzed," CIA operations in Russia. After all, if the CIA was indeed vulnerable to KGB penetration, as Mr. Angleton believed, it had to assume that its agents in Russia would be compromised and used for disinformation. This suspicion would recommend a certain caution or tentativeness, to say the least. Mr. Cherkashin's taunt about Mr. Angleton's "paranoia" echoed what was said by Mr. Angleton's critics in the CIA, who resented his influence, believing that polygraph tests and other security measures immunized the CIA against such long-term penetration.
But of course Mr. Angleton was right, too. On Feb. 21, 1994, Mr. Ames, the CIA officer who had served in the Soviet Russia division, was arrested by the FBI. He confessed that he had been a KGB mole for almost a decade and had provided the KGB with secrets that compromised more than 100 CIA operations in Russia. Mr. Hanssen was caught seven years later.
Since Mr. Cherkashin had managed the recruitment of Mr. Ames and helped with that of Mr. Hanssen, his accusation that Mr. Angleton was paranoid for suspecting the possibility of a mole has the exquisite irony of a stalker following his victim in order to tell him that he is not being followed. Mr. Cherkashin adds a further twist by suggesting that Mr. Angleton's "paranoia" made it easier for the KGB to recruit demoralized CIA officers as moles. According to this tortured logic, if the CIA -- and its counterintelligence staff -- had acted more ostrich-like, by denying the existence of moles in its ranks, the KGB would never have found Aldrich Ames or penetrated the agency in other ways.

Read the entire review.

Posted by Tom at 7:29 AM | Comments (0) |

November 12, 2004

CIA's "Anonymous" author hits the talk shows

This prior post reviewed one of the books by the CIA counterterrorism agent who authored two books under the alias "Anonymous" that were highly critical of the Bush Administration's approach to battling the radical Islamic fascists.

Now, Michael Scheuer, who turns out to be Anonymous, has decided to resign from the CIA and violate the trench-coat oath by going public with his criticism of the government?s war against the radical Islamic fascists. His views are interesting, but made less credible by his decision to cash in on them at the expense of the trench-coat oath.

Posted by Tom at 7:49 AM | Comments (0) |

September 16, 2004

The view from inside the CIA

The Houston World Affairs Council was formed about 15 years ago to provide a forum for all sides of current global issues, to promote better understanding of international relations and to contribute to national and international policy debates. The Houston World Affairs Council is an affiliate of the World Affairs Councils of America and is the now fifth largest such organization with over 4,000 citizen, corporation and foundation memberships.

Ted Barlow over at Crooked Timber reports on a recent HWFC forum in which Marty Peterson, deputy executive director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was the guest speaker. Mr. Barlow's entire post is a must read, and the following are a few of the observations that Mr. Peterson made at the forum, beginning with the CIA's record regarding the situation in Iraq leading up to the U.S.-led invasion:

He was also defensive about the CIA record regarding missing WMDs in Iraq (Note: Mr. Barlow notes in his post that the word ?defensive? has a negative connotation that he did not mean to convey here). In his recounting, the CIA underestimated Saddam?s missile programs, which were more advanced than anyone realized; they overestimated his biological and chemical weapons programs, which he described as ?more capabilities than functioning programs?; and they were approximately right regarding his nuclear weapons programs, which hadn?t restarted. In response to a question, he said that he doubted that Saddam had smuggled out WMDs to other countries before the war.

He made the point that the CIA wasn?t involved in the policy decision to invade Iraq, without expressing an opinion about whether it was the right decison. In general, I felt that he was making a good-faith effort to be non-partisan.

And do not expect quick returns on greater governmental investment in intelligence gathering:

He felt that excessive peace dividend cuts in the 90s had starved the CIA of resources. (Interestingly, he said that the underfunding reversed in 1998.) He also said that it takes him a year to hire an agent, and six or seven years to train and season him or her to the point that they can be trusted to try to recruit a foreign intelligence source. So the hiring boom that?s currently underway won?t pay off for years to come.

And what about the CIA's being held responsible for its misinterpretations of intelligence data:

He resented being asked to answer for policies that the CIA didn?t create, and being judged for past actions based on the standards of the day. At one point, he said that he only asked for two things- sufficient resources to do his job, and a clear set of rules that he could expect to be judged by. ?In thirty years, I?ve never had either of those.?

As with Judge Posner, Mr. Peterson is not a supporter of the proposed election year reforms being bandied about regarding intelligence gathering and analysis:

He?s not a fan of the proposed reorganization of the nation?s intelligence services. He mentioned a point when another higher-up at the CIA (I don?t remember who) was discussing the issue with Congress. The CIA guy asked, if there was another catastrophe, who would be held accountable? None of the Congressmen could answer the question. (A cynic might ask who was being held accountable for September 11th, but I suppose that that?s why the reorganization is necessary.)

A detailed discussion of his preferences in intelligence reform was probably not in the cards, as he wasn?t even allowed to say how many employees the CIA has. As general principles, he favored (a) short lines of communication and (b) taking our time to think about things. He clearly was concerned that intelligence reform was being rushed to fit an election-year schedule.

Finally, Mr. Peterson's views on the current "hottest spots:"

He?s very concerned about China and Taiwan. He says that China is investing heavily in their military, and that we can tell that they?re doing drills that show that they?re learning how to use their new hardware. He thinks that the end result of this activity is likely to be a crisis over Taiwan.
North Korea (he says that he believes that they have at least one nuclear weapon), Pakistan (he praised Musharraf?s participation in the war on terror, but is concerned that he might be assassinated) and Saudi Arabia (he?s concerned about a coup there, too.)

Read the entire post and, if you are a Houstonian, support the The Houston World Affairs Council

Posted by Tom at 5:53 AM | Comments (1) |

September 14, 2004

The pork barrel of "homeland security"

UCLA School of Public Policy professor Amy Zegart is the author of "Flawed by Design" that examines the flawed national security process in the United States government. This earlier post on the 9/11 Commission hearings provided her astute insights into the problems that arise from failing to establish clear priorities in the intelligence gathering process.

In this Newsday op-ed, Professor Zegart -- who had Condi Rice as her thesis adviser -- examines how far we have come in terms fo homeland security since September 11, 2001, and she does not find the results encouraging:

Homeland security funds are flowing, but not to the right places. Since 9/11, Congress has distributed $13 billion to state governments with a formula only Washington could concoct: 40 percent was split evenly, regardless of a state's population, targets or vulnerability to terrorist attack. The result: Safe places got safer. Rural states with fewer potential targets and low populations, such as Alaska and Wyoming, received more than $55 per resident. Target-rich and densely populated states like New York and California received $25 and $14 per person respectively. Osama bin Laden, beware: Wyoming is well fortified.

It gets worse. Over the past three years, the federal government has spent 20 times more on aviation security than on protecting America's seaports, even though more than 90 percent of U.S. foreign trade moves by ship, but less than 5 percent of all shipping containers entering the country are inspected. One recent study showed the odds of detecting a nuclear bomb inside a heavy machinery container were close to zero. As the 9/11 Commission concluded, such a lopsided transportation strategy makes sense only if you intend to fight the last war.

And on the intelligence front -- which is Professor Zegart's area of expertise -- the lack of progress is equally appalling:

Then there is our intelligence system, a dysfunctional family of agencies that have proven uniquely adept at resisting reform, getting the wrong information into the right hands and the right information into the wrong hands. The past three years have witnessed the two greatest intelligence failures since Pearl Harbor. Yet Bush has held no one accountable for these results, and has avoided leading the charge for reform.

The president grudgingly embraced one of the 9/11 Commission's key recommendations - creating a national intelligence director with "full budgetary authority" - only under strong pressure and finally, last Wednesday, after opposing the idea for weeks. There is urgency and boldness for you.

Not only has Bush shown tepid support for the 9/11 Commission's ideas, he seems to have none of his own. For instance: How can we fix the cultural pathologies that cripple our intelligence system? Bush has said nothing about this and the Commission identified the problem but left it to the national intelligence director to solve.
While Bush has placed the biggest burden on his own record in the campaign, it's important to note that Kerry has offered only a lackluster alternative that can be summed up as, "I'm for whatever the 9/11 Commission says." This is like a diner who orders the entire menu because there's nothing he really wants except to avoid making a choice. The commission's recommendations are good, but far from perfect.

And Ms. Zegart is not one to criticize without providing constructive proposals on how to improve intelligence gathering in the federal government:

Building new organizational arrangements with more people and more power will not make us safer if intelligence officials still view the world through the same old lenses and hoard information in the same old stovepipes.

The FBI, for example, faces a daunting cultural challenge: transforming a crime-fighting culture that prizes slow and careful evidence gathering after-the-fact into an intelligence culture that takes fast action to prevent future tragedies. Training programs are crucial to this effort. Today, however, counter-terrorism training constitutes only two weeks out of the 17-week required course for all new agents. That's less time than agents get for vacation.

Then there is the unspoken 11th Commandment operating inside the CIA, FBI and the other 13 intelligence agencies: Thou Shalt Not Share. Here, too, the core problem is cultural - the reluctance to pass information across agency lines is deeply engrained, based more on habit and values than policy or organization charts. And here, too, training is key.

Creating a "one-team" approach to intelligence requires developing trust and building informal networks between officials in different agencies. This is best done by requiring cross-agency training programs early in officials' careers. By current policies, however, most intelligence professionals can spend 20 years or more without a single community-wide training experience. Dots will always be hard to connect when intelligence agencies do not trust or understand each other.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 9:01 AM | Comments (3) |

August 30, 2004

Judge Posner on the 9/11 Commission Report

Richard A. Posner is a highly-regarded judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, a prolific author, and should be one of the leading candidates to become the next Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (which probably means that he is not).

In this brilliant New York Times book review, Judge Posner reviews the 9/11 Commission's report and he is not particularly impressed, particularly with the Commission's recommendation for centralizing intelligence gathering:

[T]the commission's analysis and recommendations are unimpressive. . . Much more troublesome are the inclusion in the report of recommendations (rather than just investigative findings) and the commissioners' misplaced, though successful, quest for unanimity. Combining an investigation of the attacks with proposals for preventing future attacks is the same mistake as combining intelligence with policy. The way a problem is described is bound to influence the choice of how to solve it. The commission's contention that our intelligence structure is unsound predisposed it to blame the structure for the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, whether it did or not. And pressure for unanimity encourages just the kind of herd thinking now being blamed for that other recent intelligence failure -- the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

At least the commission was consistent. It believes in centralizing intelligence, and people who prefer centralized, pyramidal governance structures to diversity and competition deprecate dissent. But insistence on unanimity, like central planning, deprives decision makers of a full range of alternatives. For all one knows, the price of unanimity was adopting recommendations that were the second choice of many of the commission's members or were consequences of horse trading. The premium placed on unanimity undermines the commission's conclusion that everybody in sight was to blame for the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Given its political composition (and it is evident from the questioning of witnesses by the members that they had not forgotten which political party they belong to), the commission could not have achieved unanimity without apportioning equal blame to the Clinton and Bush administrations, whatever the members actually believe.

As an appellate jurist, Judge Posner is well-prepared to identify the flaw in the 9/11 Commission's presentation -- a fundamentally flawed premise:

The tale of how we were surprised by the 9/11 attacks is a product of hindsight; it could not be otherwise. And with the aid of hindsight it is easy to identify missed opportunities (though fewer than had been suspected) to have prevented the attacks, and tempting to leap from that observation to the conclusion that the failure to prevent them was the result not of bad luck, the enemy's skill and ingenuity or the difficulty of defending against suicide attacks or protecting an almost infinite array of potential targets, but of systemic failures in the nation's intelligence and security apparatus that can be corrected by changing the apparatus.
That is the leap the commission makes, and it is not sustained by the report's narrative. The narrative points to something different, banal and deeply disturbing: that it is almost impossible to take effective action to prevent something that hasn't occurred previously. Once the 9/11 attacks did occur, measures were taken that have reduced the likelihood of a recurrence. But before the attacks, it was psychologically and politically impossible to take those measures. The government knew that Al Qaeda had attacked United States facilities and would do so again. But the idea that it would do so by infiltrating operatives into this country to learn to fly commercial aircraft and then crash such aircraft into buildings was so grotesque that anyone who had proposed that we take costly measures to prevent such an event would have been considered a candidate for commitment.
The problem isn't just that people find it extraordinarily difficult to take novel risks seriously; it is also that there is no way the government can survey the entire range of possible disasters and act to prevent each and every one of them. As the commission observes, ''Historically, decisive security action took place only after a disaster had occurred or a specific plot had been discovered.'' It has always been thus, and probably always will be. For example, as the report explains, the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center led to extensive safety improvements that markedly reduced the toll from the 9/11 attacks; in other words, only to the slight extent that the 9/11 attacks had a precedent were significant defensive steps taken in advance.

Based on the 9/11 Commission's proposals, Judge Posner is skeptical that the foregoing pattern will change:

Anyone who thinks this pattern can be changed should read those 90 pages of analysis and recommendations that conclude the commission's report; they come to very little. Even the prose sags, as the reader is treated to a barrage of bromides: ''the American people are entitled to expect their government to do its very best,'' or ''we should reach out, listen to and work with other countries that can help'' and ''be generous and caring to our neighbors,'' or we should supply the Middle East with ''programs to bridge the digital divide and increase Internet access'' -- the last an ironic suggestion, given that encrypted e-mail is an effective medium of clandestine communication. The ''hearts and minds'' campaign urged by the commission is no more likely to succeed in the vast Muslim world today than its prototype was in South Vietnam in the 1960's.

The commission wants criteria to be developed for picking out which American cities are at greatest risk of terrorist attack, and defensive resources allocated accordingly -- this to prevent every city from claiming a proportional share of those resources when it is apparent that New York and Washington are most at risk. Not only do we lack the information needed to establish such criteria, but to make Washington and New York impregnable so that terrorists can blow up Los Angeles or, for that matter, Kalamazoo with impunity wouldn't do us any good.

The report states that the focus of our antiterrorist strategy should not be ''just 'terrorism,' some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism.'' Is it? Who knows? The menace of bin Laden was not widely recognized until just a few years before the 9/11 attacks. For all anyone knows, a terrorist threat unrelated to Islam is brewing somewhere (maybe right here at home -- remember the Oklahoma City bombers and the Unabomber and the anthrax attack of October 2001) that, given the breathtakingly rapid advances in the technology of destruction, will a few years hence pose a greater danger than Islamic extremism. But if we listen to the 9/11 commission, we won't be looking out for it because we've been told that Islamist terrorism is the thing to concentrate on.

Illustrating the psychological and political difficulty of taking novel threats seriously, the commission's recommendations are implicitly concerned with preventing a more or less exact replay of 9/11. Apart from a few sentences on the possibility of nuclear terrorism, and of threats to other modes of transportation besides airplanes, the broader range of potential threats, notably those of bioterrorism and cyberterrorism, is ignored.

And Judge Posner is singularly unimpressed with the Commission's foremost recommendation -- the appointment of a new intelligence agency "czar:"

The report's main proposal -- the one that has received the most emphasis from the commissioners and has already been endorsed in some version by both presidential candidates -- is for the appointment of a national intelligence director who would knock heads together in an effort to overcome the reluctance of the various intelligence agencies to share information.
The commission thinks the reason the bits of information that might have been assembled into a mosaic spelling 9/11 never came together in one place is that no one person was in charge of intelligence. That is not the reason. The reason or, rather, the reasons are, first, that the volume of information is so vast that even with the continued rapid advances in data processing it cannot be collected, stored, retrieved and analyzed in a single database or even network of linked databases. Second, legitimate security concerns limit the degree to which confidential information can safely be shared, especially given the ever-present threat of moles like the infamous Aldrich Ames. And third, the different intelligence services and the subunits of each service tend, because information is power, to hoard it. Efforts to centralize the intelligence function are likely to lengthen the time it takes for intelligence analyses to reach the president, reduce diversity and competition in the gathering and analysis of intelligence data, limit the number of threats given serious consideration and deprive the president of a range of alternative interpretations of ambiguous and incomplete data -- and intelligence data will usually be ambiguous and incomplete.
What is true is that 15 agencies engaged in intelligence activities require coordination, notably in budgetary allocations, to make sure that all bases are covered. Since the Defense Department accounts for more than 80 percent of the nation's overall intelligence budget, the C.I.A., with its relatively small budget (12 percent of the total), cannot be expected to control the entire national intelligence budget. But to layer another official on top of the director of central intelligence, one who would be in a constant turf war with the secretary of defense, is not an appealing solution. Since all executive power emanates from the White House, the national security adviser and his or her staff should be able to do the necessary coordinating of the intelligence agencies. That is the traditional pattern, and it is unlikely to be bettered by a radically new table of organization.

Judge Posner concludes by noting the normal American reaction to an attack, and notes that wide-ranging reforms in response to such reactions are ill-advised:

So the report ends on a flat note. But one can sympathize with the commission's problem. To conclude after a protracted, expensive and much ballyhooed investigation that there is really rather little that can be done to reduce the likelihood of future terrorist attacks beyond what is being done already, at least if the focus is on the sort of terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past rather than on the newer threats of bioterrorism and cyberterrorism, would be a real downer -- even a tad un-American. Americans are not fatalists. When a person dies at the age of 95, his family is apt to ascribe his death to a medical failure. When the nation experiences a surprise attack, our instinctive reaction is not that we were surprised by a clever adversary but that we had the wrong strategies or structure and let's change them and then we'll be safe. Actually, the strategies and structure weren't so bad; they've been improved; further improvements are likely to have only a marginal effect; and greater dangers may be gathering of which we are unaware and haven't a clue as to how to prevent.

Read the entire review. Judge Posner is an unusally clear thinker, and his analysis of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations is far more insightful than the recommendations themselves.

By the way, Judge Posner is guest blogging over at Larry Lessig's blog, and here is his blog post on his NY Times review of the 9/11 Commission.


Posted by Tom at 6:30 AM | Comments (0) |

August 11, 2004

The Market for Insuring Terrorism

The Wall Street Journal's ($) Holman Jenkins' Business World column today reviews the market for insuring against terrorist attacks, and what Mr. Jenkins finds is quite revealing:

The insurance industry's job is to quantify risk, and more and more evidence suggests that, in fact, we've pretty thoroughly smothered al Qaeda's ability to bring laborious, slow-moving plots on the scale of Sept. 11 to fruition. If so, actuaries will only be catching up with the insurance market, where terrorism coverage has been a hard sell, even with a dollop of taxpayer subsidy, because most property owners judge the risk to be negligible. But don't expect industry lobbyists to highlight this fact. Why give up a federal subsidy?

Both Republicans and Democrats on the influential House Financial Services Committee have already written to the White House urging renewal, though the law, known as the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, doesn't expire for 15 months. John Snow at Treasury isn't likely to stand in the way. In fact, aside from the Consumer Federation of America (motto: "If insurance companies are for it, we're against it"), nobody has an obvious interest in lobbying on the other side -- unless, by some miracle, a dissenter should happen to emerge from the insurance industry itself.

Our nominee for this role: Warren Buffett.

Now, why would Mr. Buffett be an advocate for removing the federal subsidy on terrorism insurance? Read on:

The Berkshire Hathaway chief's most famous pronouncement concerned the inevitability of nuclear terrorism someday. Yet his firm actually has been one of the few large reinsurers willing to make big bets on target buildings like the Sears Tower. We suspect Mr. Buffett will end up laughing all the way to the bank on a careful judgment that the megaterrorist threat to the insurance industry's capital base is exaggerated.

Mr. Jenkins then points out that even the largest potential targets of terror attacks are held by companies that can absorb the risk of such an attack:

As former Treasury official and Wharton economist Kent Smetters points out in an excellent paper, many megatargets are owned by publicly traded companies, and it's not clear that insurance has much value for them: Their shareholders are already well diversified. Even the loss of a World Trade Center, at $40 billion, is hardly sneeze-worthy compared to the $100 billion fluctuations that such shareholders put up with in the equity markets every ho-hum day.

What about a nondiversified property owner with all his eggs in one target? That was the case with the Port Authority, owner of the World Trade Center. But even here "cat" bonds and other innovative instruments create ways to share the risk with willing investors in the global capital markets.

Read the whole piece. Another gem by one of the WSJ's best thinkers.

Posted by Tom at 6:03 AM | Comments (0) |

June 14, 2004

The intersection of intelligence and politics

Herbert E. Meyer served during the Reagan administration as special assistant to the director of Central Intelligence and vice chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council. In this Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mr. Meyer points out that intelligence is a nation's radar in time of war. America's radar is currently broken and Mr. Meyer observes that President Bush's prospects for re-election may depend on how fast he moves to repair it. In noting President Bush's failure to replace George Tenet and infuse fresh blood into the CIA during the first four years of his administration, Mr. Meyer quotes former Reagan Administration CIA chief, William Casey:

"When you get elected president, you must move fast to put your own people at Justice and CIA. In different ways, these are the two bureaucracies that can destroy a presidency."

Mr. Meyer then summarizes well the intelligence failures of the CIA during the Bush Administration:

The 9/11 attacks were themselves the worst intelligence failure in our country's history, caused largely by the CIA's inability to penetrate al Qaeda, to track the 9/11 terrorists themselves as they traveled the world to plan their deadly mission, and then to share whatever information the agency did collect with the FBI. And whatever may turn out to be the truth about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction -- whether they were destroyed or moved to Syria or Iran before Saddam Hussein's overthrow -- it's obvious that the CIA failed to provide an accurate assessment of what U.S. forces would find in Iraq when they got there.

In addition, the CIA failed to project Saddam Hussein's war strategy -- to melt into the population and then launch guerilla attacks rather than fight our army head-on in the field -- failed to project the sorry state of Iraq's physical infrastructure including its oil pipelines and electric grids, and failed to accurately project the edgy, not-very-grateful attitude of Iraq's political factions. And whatever may be going on with Ahmed Chalabi, the CIA's clumsy efforts to discredit him through leaks to selected news organizations have made the president himself collateral damage.

One other intelligence failure, which has received less attention than these but which may turn out to be the most serious of all, has been the CIA's failure to draw an accurate picture of the prewar links between Iraq and al Qaeda. While the CIA claims that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden had no more than an arms-length relationship, journalists including Stephen Hayes and Laurie Mylroie have uncovered an overwhelming volume of information which, when you pull the pieces together into a pattern, make a persuasive case that Iraq and al Qaeda worked closely together in the months and years leading up to 9/11. And as the information confirming this linkage has piled up, the CIA has obstinately refused to reconsider its judgment, preferring instead to trash the journalists who have so obviously run circles around its own collectors and analysts.

Mr. Meyer notes that this institutional CIA obstinancy is reminiscent of an earlier episode during the early stages of the Reagan Administration:

This is an eerie replay of what happened in the early 1980s, when the CIA bureaucracy insisted -- in the face of all experience and common sense -- that the Soviet Union had nothing to do with the attempted assassination of the Pope. When journalists including Claire Sterling and Paul Henze uncovered powerful evidence of Soviet involvement, the CIA tried to discredit the journalists rather than consider their information and its horrifying implication. It took a special ad hoc team of agency officials pulled together by Casey over the "intelligence professionals" objections -- a word that doesn't begin to describe the Operations Directorate's behavior; this was the nastiest, most vicious episode of CIA infighting I've ever seen -- to finally figure out what really happened.

What exactly is the CIA's problem? Mr. Meyer provides this insight:

During the Clinton administration, both parts of the CIA (collecting information and interpreting that information into patterns) were allowed to degrade. George Tenet has worked hard to improve the agency's collection capabilities; if our espionage service is in good shape a decade from now (it takes a long time to rebuild a spy service) he will deserve much of the credit.

The big failure -- and the real source of all the failures in these last few years -- lies in the agency's abysmal analytic skills. What's happened, very simply, is this: The dot-connectors got shoved aside and were replaced by bureaucrats, such as Mr. Tenet himself and his key deputies. Think for a moment of our country's great scientific research labs, such as the Salk Institute, Cold Springs Harbor Labs or Rockefeller University. Each one, and others like them, are headed by world-class scientists with proven track records of success (often with Nobel prizes to prove it) and who have now reached that stage in their careers when they can put aside their own research to manage teams of scientists who will make the next breakthroughs. Because these leaders have themselves succeeded so brilliantly, they have superb judgment on whom to hire, which projects to back and which to set aside -- that priceless, unquantifiable gut feel for where the big payoff lies -- what equipment to purchase and how to structure the organization itself.

It's the same with intelligence. You cannot have a first-class intelligence service unless you put at the very top of it men and women with proven records of success at spotting patterns, at seeing where the world is going and what the next threats are likely to be long before they become visible. Intelligence isn't org charts; it's people. Get the right ones in place and all the organizational problems somehow get resolved. Indeed, the one quality all our great CIA directors have shared -- Allen Dulles, John McCone, Bill Casey among others -- is this remarkable talent for spotting patterns and connecting the dots.

Mr. Meyer's recommendation for Mr. Bush?:

In light of today's terrorist threat, President Bush might want to take a page from President Reagan's playbook. When he named Bill Casey to head the CIA, his orders were to get control of the agency -- fast -- and to turn it from a lumbering bureaucracy whose judgments and predictions often were flawed into a razor-sharp operation that was playing offense.

Read the entire op-ed. Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming Presidential election, a long-term bipartisan plan to improve America's intelligence gathering and analysis needs to be devised and implemented.

Posted by Tom at 7:51 AM | Comments (0) |

April 27, 2004

Analyzing mediocre intelligence

Robert Baer is a former CIA intelligence field officer who has written extensively ("Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude"; "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism") about how political wrangling in Washington over the past 30 years has badly damaged the ability of the CIA and other intelligence gathering agencies to generate an effective product for our nation's leaders for use in evaluating and implementing foreign policy.

In this Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed, Mr. Baer uses his extensive experience in intelligence matters to evaluate the recently declassified and now famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing ("PDB") that President Bush and his advisors reviewed a little more than a month before the attacks of September 11, 2001. Mr. Baer begins by explaining the nature of a PDB:

. . . PDBs are the crown jewels. They meld the best information from the CIA's clandestine sources, our embassies all over the world, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and every other federal agency with a possible input. Like crown jewels, too, they are protected to within an inch of their lives. In all my years in the CIA, I never once was given access to a PDB, and I was by far the rule, not the exception. Compartmentation rules forbid it. Sources and methods are too valuable.

The Aug. 6, 2001, PDB, in short, represents the very best intelligence we then had on Osama bin Laden and his plans.

So, Mr. Baer asks, how good was the August 6, 2001 PDB?:

In fact, pretty awful. The first item in the PDB refers the president to two interviews that Osama bin Laden gave to American TV in 1997 and 1998. In the interviews, bin Laden promises to "bring the fighting to America," following "the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef." As it turns out, bin Laden was telling the truth, but that's not the point. In intelligence documents as in corporate reports and the evening news, the best stuff goes up top, and in this case the best was cribbed straight from the boob tube.

How about items two and three? The information in both relates to bin Laden's intention to attack the U.S., but it is from "liaison services" -- i.e. foreign governments. We now know from leaks what those liaison services were, but we don't know the provenance of the information. Was our friendly liaison reading it in the local paper? Was it fabricating, as happened with the Italians and the Niger yellow cake that was supposedly going to Saddam Hussein? The CIA rule used to be that you never ever trust liaison reporting unless you can confirm it with your own sources. Imagine The Wall Street Journal relying on Mad magazine for its investigative sourcing, and you'll see just where such sloppy vetting can lead.

And what of the PDB's disclosure of a bin Laden cell in New York recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks? Mr. Baer is not impressed:

Not until three-quarters of the way through the PDB do we finally get to our own intelligence: a clandestine source who reported directly to a U.S. official that "a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks." Why bury this seemingly valuable nugget? Perhaps because our own source was dead wrong. Sept. 11 was planned and organized in Afghanistan and Germany. The 19 hijackers found their own way here and relied on their own funds. Support inside the U.S. came from unwitting contacts. No American Muslim was recruited to help the hijackers.

What's in the PDB is damning enough, but to me, maybe the most alarming part is what's not there. In the entire document -- this crown jewel of intelligence -- there isn't a single mention of Saudi Arabia, the real Ground Zero of 9/11. Apparently, we had no idea suicide bombers were being recruited there or that cash was being raised for an attack on America.

Mr. Baer closes with a cautious observation regarding the future of American intelligence gathering:

In his testimony before the 9/11 Commission, CIA director George Tenet -- the most candid of any of the witnesses, by the way -- said we need five more years to catch up. I think he's optimistic. It takes a generation to build an effective clandestine service. In the meantime, we have no choice but to rely on the Saudis to tell us whether we need to worry about all the killing going on in the Kingdom, whether it really has the petroleum reserves it claims to have, and a lot of other issues vital to our national security.

Personally, I would like to have my own source to tell me what's happening inside the Kingdom's fire-breathing mosques. That's the only way we're going to find out if more young Saudis are being recruited and money raised for another 9/11. Until then, we're flying blind not just on Osama bin Laden but on Islamic extremism throughout the Arab world and our own. That's the opposite of intelligence.

Over the past generation, each Democratic and Republican administration has contributed in varying degrees to the progressive evisceration of the American government's intelligence gathering capability. The government's failure to anticipate the 9/11 attacks was in large part the result of that gradual weakening of intelligence over the past 30 years. Consequently, during this political season, make sure that any politician who criticizes the present administration's production or use of intelligence is not one of the politicians who was contributed to the demise of such intelligence in the first place.

Posted by Tom at 7:40 AM | Comments (0) |

April 3, 2004

Laurie Mylroie on Richard Clarke

Readers of this blog know of my high regard for Laurie Mylroie, an advisor on Iraq to the 1992 Clinton campaign, and author of "The War Against America" (HarperCollins, 2001). Her views are noted in two of my previous posts on the Richard Clarke affair, here and here.

In this Opinion Journal op-ed, Ms. Mylroie takes Mr. Clarke to the woodshed for his refusal to acknowledge clear signs of Iraqi support and involvement in terrorism against the United States:

Mr. Clarke is a man famously intolerant of those who disagree with him. When he cannot win the argument, he cheats. And that is what he has done again in the pages of his book. In order to explain why he opposed the war with Iraq, Mr. Clarke mischaracterizes the arguments of those of us who favored it. The key mischaracterization turns on an important intelligence debate about the identity of the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. This mastermind goes by the name of "Ramzi Yousef." But who was "Ramzi Yousef"?

As she does persuasively in her book, Ms. Mylroie sets forth a strong factual basis for the position that Ms. Yousef uses a false identify and that, whoever he really is, he has close connections with Iraq's security services under Saddam Hussein. She then concludes by bringing home why these issues are important:

The fingerprint card in Mr. Karim's file had to have been switched. The original card bearing his prints was replaced with one bearing Yousef's. The only party that reasonably could have done so is Iraq, while it occupied Kuwait, for the evident purpose of creating a "legend" for one of its terrorist agents.

The debate over Yousef's identity has enormous implications for the 9/11 strikes. U.S. authorities now understand that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed masterminded those attacks. But Mohammed's identity, too, is based on Kuwaiti documents that predate Kuwait's liberation from Iraq. According to these documents, Mohammed is Ramzi Yousef's "uncle," and two other al Qaeda masterminds are Yousef's "brothers."

A former deputy chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, Amos Gilboa, has observed that "it's obvious" that these identities are fabricated. A family is not at the core of the most ambitious, most lethal series of terrorist assaults in U.S. history. These are Iraqi agents, given "legends," on the basis of Kuwait's files, while Iraq occupied the country.

When Mr. Clarke reported, six days after the 9/11 strikes, that no evidence existed linking them to Iraq, or Iraq to al Qaeda, he was reiterating the position he and others had taken throughout the Clinton years. They systematically turned a blind eye to such evidence and failed to pursue leads that might result in a conclusion of Iraqi culpability. These officials were charged with defending us "against all enemies." Their own prejudices blinded them to at least one of our enemies and left the nation vulnerable.

Posted by Tom at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) |

February 14, 2004

Explosive allegations about alleged infiltration of the FBI

Paul Sperry of the Frontpage Magazine reports that a former FBI linguist has made potentially explosive allegations to the 9/11 Commission regarding the subversive actions of a key FBI Middle Eastern agent. Read the entire article, but here is tidbit:

When linguist Sibel Dinez Edmonds showed up for her first day of work at the FBI, a week after the 9-11 attacks, she expected to find a somber atmosphere. Instead, she was offered cookies filled with dates from party bowls set out in the room where other Middle Eastern linguists with top-secret security clearance translate terror-related communications.

She knew the dessert is customarily served in the Middle East at weddings, births and other celebrations, and asked what the happy occasion was. To her shock, she was told the Arab linguists were celebrating the terrorist attacks on America, as if they were some joyous event. Right in front of her supervisor, one translator cheered:

"It's about time they got a taste of what they've been giving the Middle East."

She found out later that it was her supervisor's wife who helped organize the office party there at the bureau's Washington field office, just four blocks from the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

The credibility of these allegations coming from a former (and presumably disgruntled) employee is still untested. However, given the U.S. intelligence failures documented in Gerald Posner's "Why America Slept," Laurie Mylroie's "The War Against America" and "Bush vs. the Beltway," and Robert Baer's "See No Evil," these allegations need to be investigated carefully.

Meanwhile, in Policy Review, Richard L. Russell, professor of national security affairs at the National Defense University?s Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, provides an insightful analysis of the intrinsic problems in the U.S. intelligence apparatus and proposals for remedying them.

Posted by Tom at 11:49 AM | Comments (0) |

February 6, 2004

Read it for Yourself

The following link will take you to the transcript of CIA Director George Tenet's address on U.S. prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Posted by Tom at 8:12 AM | Comments (0) |

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