Sunday 2014-02-09

Deep State by Marc Ambinder

Ambinder points out that it seems impossible for the US gov't to keep unpopular secrets. A few months after this book was published, we heard from Edward Snowden.

From a user perspective, a big problem with ubiquitous surveillance + policing is that once an identity has been categorized as "BAD", the attached person has to contend with a slew of automated systems and humans suffering from reinforcing psychology.

In 2003, El-Masri—a citizen of Germany—was snatched as a suspected terrorist while vacation- ing in Skopje, Macedonia. (He was, in fact, confused with actual terrorist Khalid al -Masri.) A division chief at CIA headquarters in Langley approved extraordinary rendition for El-Masri. The innocent German greengrocer was beaten, bagged, and brought to the notorious Salt Pit just north of Kabul, Afghanistan. While at the “black prison” ostensibly operated by the CIA but kept off the books so as to allow for the most abusive of interrogations, El-Masri was tortured for information he did not and could not possess. Most damning, after CIA officers realized they had the wrong man, the spooks were spooked and kept El-Masri incarcer- ated. When George Tenet, director of the CIA, learned of this, he ordered an immediate release. Still, El-Masri remained at the Salt Pit. It took two further demands by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for agents (includ- ing a German intelligence officer, it should be noted) to finally acquiesce. The CIA deposited the emaciated man on the Albanian border, five months after kidnapping him, without so much as an apology, to say nothing of remuneration.

Not fun.

Ultimately, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—no stranger to the importance of state secrecy, having served as both the leader of a military at war and as former director of central intelligence— pointedly questioned the alarmists in Washington: Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who ’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. Now, I ’ve heard the impact of these releases on our for- eign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think—I think those descriptions are fairly sig- nificantly overwrought. The fact is: governments deal with the United States because it ’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.
However, we can judge the quality of a democracy by the kinds of secrets it keeps.
President Herbert Hoover was no fan of clandestine operations. Henry Stimson, the incoming secretary of state, defunded and disavowed all actions of the Black Chamber.
The period between the time that a secret is established and the time that it is disclosed has narrowed sig- nificantly, and those running operations of any sort can ’t depend on a thoughtful history judging them, but a heated and partisan present.
The U.S. Air Force ’s obsessive secrecy ensures that Americans remain confused about the site. Its program managers learned long ago, too, that mystique and money are related concepts. The more vital to national security Area 51 seems to be, the less vulnerable to the budget ax it will become.
Admiral William McRaven has spoken openly about the increased need for transparency regarding the nation ’s counterterrorism forces. McRaven, according to people who have spoken with him, would rather JSOC spend less time creating layers of myth around itself and more time thinking about how to protect its core assets at a time when, as one senior administration official who works with McRaven said, “every time there is an explosion in the world, everyone knows about it within minutes.”
“The pre-mission Operational Security was superb, but the postmission OPSEC stinks,” he said. “When all the hullabaloo settles down, JSOC and [the SEALs] will have to get back to business as usual, keeping the troops operationally ready and getting set for the next mission; the visibility the administration has allowed to be focused on JSOC and [the SEALs] will make their job now more difficult.” 5 Guidry said that the “administration ’s bragging” about details such as the existence of the bin Laden courier network and efforts to eavesdrop on cell phones would encourage the enemy to adapt by changing their cell phones, email addresses, websites, safe houses, and couriers. He also thinks the administration should not have disclosed precisely what types of equipment it found in bin Laden ’s compound, such as the terrorist ’s use of thumb drives to communicate. “Why did the administration not respond like we were trained to do thirty years ago in early JSOC by uttering two simple words: ‘no comment’?” he asked.
Whoever leaked the names might have taken a lesson from the SEALs themselves: when Obama met with them several days after the raid, he was told not to ask the men who actually killed bin Laden because they wouldn ’t tell even the com- mander in chief. Bill Daley, Obama ’s chief of staff, asked anyway and was told by the squadron leader, “Sir, we all did.”
Following the disaster, Colonel Charlie Beckwith would imme- diately press for the formation of a new kind of “joint” command that he ’d long proposed, which could train for and execute special operations requiring the best of each branch of the U.S. military.
Sean Naylor ’s Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda tells it best—so rich in detail, in fact, that Naylor was declared persona non grata by some JSOC commanders for revealing too much about their operations.
The model went by the initials FFFEAD, or F3EAD—find, fix, finish (that is, the getting of the bad guys), exploit, analyze, and disseminate (that is, using the first get to get other bad guys). The “finish” of F3EAD— the kill—is certainly the most dangerous part of any operation. “But exploitation is where you truly made your money and enabled you to go after a network, [as opposed to] a single target, once we all embraced F3EAD, which was relatively quickly,” said a U.S. Army Ranger who served in Iraq. “This was the strength of McChrystal and Flynn. They believed in the process and then set out to resource it.” As simple and intuitive as it sounds, F3EAD was terrifically dif- ficult to actually do. Most soldiers—even the elite special operations forces—were trained on a much less elegant model that privileged firepower and hardware over thinking and strategizing. For Flynn, the key word in the model is “disseminate.” Information, he told one colleague, “was fucking less than worthless” if it couldn ’t be widely distributed.
Flynn thought this was stupid. Instead, he gave the shooters—think of this—the Delta guys, mini cameras, and schooled them in some basic detective techniques. When you capture someone, take a picture of them exactly where you captured them. Take detailed notes of who was doing what with what. Don ’t merge all the pocket litter. Then, the shooters were supposed to e-mail back an image of the person they captured to Balad [JSOC ’s intelli- gence headquarters], where analysts would run it through every facial recognition database we have, or fingerprints or names, or what have you. We ’d get hits immediately. And so our intel guys would radio back to the team in the field, “Hey, you ’ve got Abu-so-and-so, or someone who looks like them. See if he knows where Abu–other-person is.” And that ’s what the shooters would do. They ’d tell their captured insurgents that for a price, they could help them. A senior JSOC intelligence commander said, “They ’d say, I know you, you ’re so-and- so. And if you want us to help you, you need to tell us where this other person is. And it would work. And then, when we got a new address, sometimes within twenty minutes of the first boot on the door, we ’d have another team of shooters going to another location.”
a copy of The Starfish and the Spider , a book about organizational theory that suc- cessful contemporary military and intelligence officers have come to see as a bible.
Stuart Symington, senator from Missouri, was especially forceful in his denun- ciations. “A very substantial missile gap does exist and the Eisenhower Administration apparently is going to permit this gap to increase.” In his first State of the Union address, he remarked, “To amass military power without regard to our economic capacity would be to defend ourselves against one kind of disaster by inviting another.” 8 And leaving office, shaken by this debate that he had clearly lost, he gave his famous speech warning, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted infl uence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” 9 When President Kennedy assumed office, his rhetoric collided with a solid, apolitical intelligence assessment. Eisenhower ’s men had been telling the truth. There was no missile gap. The president greeted the news with a single dismayed expletive.
At Cryptome, a website run by retired architects named John Young and Deborah Natsios, users delight in “reversing the panopti- con,” as Natsios once put it. They ’ve compiled a cache of data about the secret geography and archaeology of national security,
In only three years, the Obama administration has charged six whistleblowers—not spies, but people interested in good government—with violating the Espionage Act.)
Obama ’s first three months were spent dealing almost exclu- sively with pressing cases inherited from the Bush administration. “Almost every day, [White House counsel] Greg Craig would pop into the Oval Office with a sheet of paper and say, ‘Oh, the Justice Department has a filing deadline tomorrow in this Bush-era case. We need to know whether we should continue the opinion or reverse it,’” a former senior administration official recalls “The president would roll his eyes at first, but this stuff really agitated him. He had a lot less discretion than he thought he would.”
One reason the government has tended so poorly to the culture of secrecy is that the executive branch refuses to concede that any other branch of government (and certainly not the press) has the right or the duty to question classification decisions, to help determine what qualifies as national security information and how that information should be protected.