DiFi Admits She Okayed Unleashing 21st Century WMD with Inadequate Details

The reason Dianne Feinstein is so torqued about the StuxNet story, according to this SFChron piece, is because she learned things from it that she didn’t know as a Gang of Four member.

Feinstein declared, “This has to stop. When people say they don’t want to work with the United States because they can’t trust us to keep a secret, that’s serious.”

A week later, Feinstein is more than halfway through New York Times reporter David E. Sanger’s book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power.” She told me Wednesday, “You learn more from the book than I did as chairman of the intelligence committee, and that’s very disturbing to me.”

Now, as a threshold matter, I think DiFi and others are underestimating how much our foreign partners are leaking on these stories; not only did foreign sources serve as early confirmation on UndieBomb 2.0, but the Saudis and Yemenis exposed the last infiltrator the Saudis put into AQAP.  And as for StuxNet, the Israelis are now complaining that Sanger didn’t give them enough credit.

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

Plus, if and when Israel bombs Iran and has to deal with the retaliation, I can assure you the Israelis will be happy to work with us.

And there’s a far bigger problem here. DiFi was not a Gang of Four member when this program started under Bush (Jay Rockefeller would have been the Democrat from the Senate Intelligence Committee). But she seems to say she got what passed for briefing on StuxNet.

Yet she’s learning new details from Sanger.

StuxNet is, both because it can be reused by non-state actors and because of the ubiquity of the PLCs they affected, the 21st Century version of a WMD. And all that’s before we learned Flame was using Microsoft’s update function.

Now from the sounds of things, DiFi never had the opportunity to authorize letting StuxNet free; the Israelis don’t have to brief the Gang of Four. But the possibility StuxNet would break free on its own always existed. One reason we have Congressional overseers is to counterbalance spooks whose enthusiasm for an op might cloud any judgment about the wisdom of pursuing that op.

The US, in partnership with Israel, released a WMD to anyone who could make use of it. And the people in charge of overseeing such activities got fewer details about the WMD than you could put in a long-form newspaper article.

And DiFi thinks there’s too little secrecy?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Btw, I used that word “torqued” in a piece about blowing up centrifuges before my first cup of coffee. It just came to me, like a malware in my jump drive.

  2. Rayne says:

    Futureshock.

    That’s what DiFi is telling us she’s suffering from, along with her staff; goodness knows how much else of both electeds and intelligence community are afflicted.

    She did not understand technology well enough to ask the right questions, nor did any staff helping her. Hell, staff hasn’t known enough in their own right to tell her to stop yapping until she’s better educated.

    I cannot even begin to imagine how our electeds will respond when they are presented with even more technically-complicated material than Microsoft vulnerabilities now decade-plus old.

    Can you imagine DiFi’s response to nanotech weapons? Bad enough the public is already using nanotech in crap like makeup without any serious evaluation as to safety and efficacy of the products.

    Given DiFi’s apparent lack of understanding, I don’t know how she can claim anything related to Stuxnet and its software-cousins has been leaked.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    One reason we have Congressional overseers is to counterbalance spooks whose enthusiasm for an op might cloud any judgment about the wisdom of pursuing that op.

    Interesting posting on Stuxnet, but my comment is in reference to the statement above. Your are correct that the existence of Congressional oversight (“overseers”) is to exert control over the spooks (and indirectly, the executive branch that ostensibly controls them). But the overlap between the two has been troubling over the years. One only has to think of George Tenet, who before he was CIA Director was Staff Director of the Senate Intelligence Committee (85-93). Or, of course, Porter Goss, who was even CIA Director briefly, and certainly had a much earlier career in the CIA.

    (I’m reminded, too, of the actions of the CIA in relation to the 1970s Congressional investigations, when, for one thing, the CIA assigned George Joannides to be the liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Only much later was it discovered that Joannides had been chief of the Psychological Warfare branch of the CIA’s JM/WAVE station in Miami. In that role he worked closely with the Cuban exile Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE), who had been instrumental early on in implicating Oswald as a pro-Castro Marxist (which he actually was not).

    The revelation concerning Joannides’s background, withheld from the HSCA riled G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. “He issued a statement where he said: ‘I am no longer confident that the Central Intelligence Agency co-operated with the committee…. I was not told of Joannides’ background with the DRE, a focal point of the investigation. Had I known who he was, he would have been a witness who would have been interrogated under oath by the staff or by the committee. He would never have been acceptable as a point of contact with us to retrieve documents. In fact, I have now learned, as I note above, that Joannides was the point of contact between the Agency and DRE during the period Oswald was in contact with DRE. That the Agency would put a ‘material witness’ in as a ‘filter’ between the committee and its quests for documents was a flat out breach of the understanding the committee had with the Agency that it would co-operate with the investigation.'” [link])

    And then there is the fact, which you have copiously documented, that in many ways the intelligence committees are vulnerable to the fact that they only know what the different IC agencies tell them. They can not oversee things they do not know.

    In sum, the reforms of the Church-Pike era, solidified by the 1978 EO of President Carter that obligated intelligence agencies to keep the intel committees “fully and currently informed” of their activities (later this became law), were too little and too late. They never addressed the main problem, which was having such a powerful covert agency as the CIA (and the other covert agencies) in the first place. These were bureaucracies formed in the crucible of the world war, and they continued to grow throughout the Cold War, until they became the parasitic castes they have become today. Today, the existence of the IC has become its own raison d’etre, and the need to manufacture more threats and more “terrorists” assures that the logic of perpetuating the agencies will only continue their manifest growth.

    In a sense, we are all now living in the nightmare that is the Manichean viewpoint of the intelligence world, where drones and WMD and terror are constantly threatening the forces of truth and light. Oversight agencies are merely an obstacle to be managed. And managed they are. Far down the food chain are you and me and the others who would comment on this spectacle.

    But the logic of the nightmare is carrying us far, far beyond the flood, into a realm of horror. Other countries have and are experiencing this horror already. 9/11 was only a taste of what that might look and feel like, wherein the dream of total omnipotence meets the reality of the actual world.

  4. thatvisionthing says:

    @Jeff Kaye: Thank you, Jeff!

    I was going to pick out the same line you did:

    One reason we have Congressional overseers is to counterbalance spooks whose enthusiasm for an op might cloud any judgment about the wisdom of pursuing that op.

    and say

    One reason we have citizen overseers (voters, jurors) is to counterbalance the congressional-judicial-executive-financial complex whose enthusiasm for authority (win-lose rules and outcomes) might cloud any judgment about the wisdom of pursuing that.

    because without citizen oversight and participation — common sense check and balancing — democracy has been babbled to pieces:

    E Pleb Neesta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipe5EjcchvY — the words must apply to everyone or they mean nothing

    h/t Captain Kirk

  5. Rayne says:

    @thatvisionthing:

    Key problem even if we the people as citizen overseers could actually exercise a vote: we still only know what our current representatives tell us, and they clearly don’t know what’s going on for a number of reasons. They’re either uninformed, misinformed, disinterested, just plain ignorant, or some of each.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @Jeff Kaye: If one imagines omnipotence, one need never confront real world of frailty, ineptness, incompleteness, and conflicting claims of comparable value. If one claims to be all-knowing and omnipotent, if one is rudely egotistical or simply sociopathic, one’s self-interest always overvalues any other interest.

  7. thatvisionthing says:

    @Rayne: Right. Secrecy kills democracy. Jeff Kaye is right. It also kills intelligence and makes morons out of those “in the know.” Daniel Ellsberg is right:

    Ellsberg, to Henry Kissinger in 1968, as he was briefing Kissinger specifically on the topic at hand of secret clearances he was about to get:

    Most Dangerous Man in America documentary: I took that opportunity to tell him something that I’d long thought of telling somebody who was about to enter the world of really high secrecy. And I said, “Henry, you’re about to get a lot of clearances higher than Top Secret that you did not know existed. That’s going to have a sequence of effects on you. First, a great exhilaration, that you’re getting all this amazing information that you didn’t know even existed. And the next phase is, you’ll feel like a fool for not having known of any of this. But that won’t last long. Very soon you’ll come to think that everyone else is foolish. What would this expert be telling me if he knew what I knew? So in the end you stop listening to them.”

    continuing on in Ellsberg’s book Secrets, p. 238-9: “You will deal with a person who doesn’t have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You’ll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you’ll become something like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular area that may be much greater than yours.”

    It was a speech I had thought through before, one I’d wished someone had once given me, and I’d long hoped to be able to give to someone who was just about to enter the world of “real” executive secrecy. I ended by saying that I’d long thought of this kind of secret information as something like the potion Circe gave to the wanderers and shipwrecked men who happened on her island, which turned them into swine. They became incapable of human speech and couldn’t help one another to find their way home.

    And Congress allows this. Suicide, homicide, omnicide I guess — I don’t see any limits to the damage.

  8. Rayne says:

    @thatvisionthing:

    Ach. This. Spot-the-fuck-on:

    …The danger is, you’ll become something like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular area that may be much greater than yours.”

    Thanks. Handily summed up the problem: something like a moron.

  9. thatvisionthing says:

    @Rayne: Not just moronic, and not just undemocratic — but corrupted, insane, conscienceless. See #12 (in case url goes wonky): http://www.emptywheel.net/2012/05/07/nyt-covers-the-war-on-terror-drugs-with-no-mention-of-larger-context/#comment-347826

    This part is about what makes otherwise decent people do preposterous, indecent things — how moral compasses fail when they’re compartmentalized off from reality and conscience:

    [long — and worthy — quote from Craig Murray radio interview transcript, ends with…

    “Never trust a man who claims to be acting for a higher purpose,” because that means, you know, you’re basically saying, “I will accept this damage to achieve this.” You know, it’s a means and ends argument, isn’t it?]

  10. Kathleen says:

    “Plus, if and when Israel bombs Iran and has to deal with the retaliation, I can assure you the Israelis will be happy to work with us.”

    44 Senators, including many Democrats, sign AIPAC letter to Obama against Iran negotiations
    http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/44-senators-including-many-democrats-sign-aipac-letter-to-obama-against-iran-negotiations.html

    Israel ended up on the top 10 least peaceful countries in the world. oh yeah and remember everything is a ok in Iraq. You know that country that your military invaded almost 10 years ago
    link to 247wallst.com
    1) Somalia
    2) Afghanistan
    3) Sudan
    4) Iraq
    > GPI: 3.192
    > Political terror scale: 4.5
    > Access to small arms: 5
    > Relations with neighboring countries: 2
    > Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 4

    In 2012, Iraq became the least peaceful country in the Middle East, the IEP’s least peaceful region. With the body count at 4,087 civilian deaths this past year, the Iraqi people are subject to high levels of political terror and atrocities from organized internal conflict. Iraq also has one of the most dysfunctional governments in the world and has a high level of perceived corruption. Last December, Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s vice president and most senior Sunni Arab politician, was arrested for allegedly funding attacks against the government. Opponents of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused him of using the judicial process against al-Hashemi to consolidate power. As a positive, many Iraqis were able to return home in 2011, reducing the number of refugees and internally displaced people to 9.4% of the population.

    5) Democratic Republic of the Congo
    6) Russia
    7) North Korea
    8) Central African Republic
    9. Israel
    > GPI: 2.842
    > Political terror scale: 4
    > Access to small arms: 3
    > Relations with neighboring countries: 4
    > Likelihood of violent demonstrations: 3

    Peace continues to be a problem in Israel, even though its ranking has decreased in the past three years. The most pressing issues are its political terror scale and relations with neighboring countries, both of which have a 4 out of 5, nearly the worst possible score. That means that a large part of the population experiences political violence and that Israel has open conflicts with neighboring countries. According to the IEP, “Israel remains in a formal ‘state of war’ with its northern neighbours, Syria and Lebanon, and relations with much of the Arab world and Iran remained highly strained.” Paired with this conflict, Israel has the least peaceful score for heavy weapons and military capability

    10. Pakistan

  11. Kathleen says:

    http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2012/06/did-the-obama-wh-declassify-olympic-games.html
    “WALLACE: But I do want to ask you, because you didn’t answer
    my direction question. Did the president or any other top official declassify
    any of the information that appeared in these articles?

    PLOUFFE: No, the president and his national security team —
    first of all, these are the folks who waged just a relentless and effective
    effort against al Qaeda and its leadership. We decimated most of the top
    leadership including bin Laden. This national security information is so
    critical for the president and his administration to make the right decision.
    Nobody takes it more seriously than the president of the United States.

    WALLACE: Forgive me, sir. It’s a yes or no. Did the
    president declassify any of this information?

    PLOUFFE: No, of course, he didn’t. Of course, he didn’t.

    WALLACE: He did not?

    PLOUFFE: No.” FNS Transcript

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/fox-news-sunday/2012/06/17/david-plouffe-sen-joe-lieberman-and-gen-michael-hayden-talk-national-security-leaks?page=1#ixzz1y4XaQSF4

    The president and his designated henchmen have the legal authority to do this but did they do it? pl

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