Pro-Drone Leaks from the Leak Witch Hunt Committees

There are several interesting details in this story describing the claimed attention with which the Intelligence Committees oversee drone killing.

But let’s start with the fact that it largely relies on anonymous staffers from the Intelligence Committees (as well as on-the-record comments Dianne Feinstein has made in other contexts, and two on-the-record quotes from Democratic Congressmen).

“You can see exactly what is going on,” said a senior congressional aide, who, like other officials, spoke about the highly classified program on the condition he not be identified.

[snip]

“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen anything that we thought was inappropriate,” one senior staff member said.

Still, the drone program is under far more scrutiny than in the past, congressional officials say.

[snip]

Members of the oversight committees are limited in their ability to challenge the CIA’s conclusions, a senior staff member cautioned. “I can watch video all day long — I’m not an imagery analyst,” he said. “I can only look to see if the description reasonably concurs with what my untrained eyes are seeing.”

This, in spite of the facts in the article–to say nothing of recent government court filings–making it clear that the program is compartmented.

The lawmakers and aides with the intelligence oversight committees have a level of access shared only by President Obama, his top aides and a small number of CIA officials.

Of particular note, while the article makes clear that HPSCI senior policy advisor and Naval Reserve intelligence officer Tom Corcoran (who it describes as someone with real expertise in reviewing intelligence) did not comment for the article, it does not say whether two former Ag Committee staffers working for Saxby Chambliss on SSCI commented or not.

There’s a lot else in this article deserving of attention: its silence about the oversight of JSOC strikes (which derives from the different oversight rules for the military), conflicting details about the Abu Yahya al Libi strike, the assumptions expressed about visual evidence and real knowledge.

But most of all, I find it notable that just weeks after these staffers’ bosses have declared war on leaks, they’re out there, leaking to spin their bosses’ desired narrative that the bosses exercise adequate oversight over a controversial program.

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.

9 replies
  1. MadDog says:

    In a related news piece, though it comes from Faux News (for Dummies), still credit to John Roberts where credit is due:

    EXCLUSIVE: Drones vulnerable to terrorist hijacking, researchers say

    “…Professor Todd Humphreys and his team at the University of Texas at Austin’s Radionavigation Laboratory have just completed a successful experiment: illuminating a gaping hole in the government’s plan to open US airspace to thousands of drones.

    They could be turned into weapons.

    “Spoofing a GPS receiver on a UAV is just another way of hijacking a plane,” Humphreys told Fox News.

    In other words, with the right equipment, anyone can take control of a GPS-guided drone and make it do anything they want it to.

    [snip]

    …It’s something the government is acutely aware of. Last Tuesday, in the barren desert of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, officials from the FAA and Department of Homeland Security watched as Humphrey’s team repeatedly took control of a drone from a remote hilltop. The results were every bit as dramatic as the test at the UT stadium a few days earlier.

    DHS is attempting to identify and mitigate GPS interference through its new “Patriot Watch” and “Patriot Shield” programs, but the effort is poorly funded, still in its infancy, and is mostly geared toward finding people using jammers, not spoofers…”

    Can’t wait until the Congressional Intelligence committee drone cheerleaders staffers try to explain this.

  2. MadDog says:

    Perhaps it was because it was a JSOC drone strike and outside of their committee scope, but I find the Congressional Intelligence committee drone cheerleaders staffers’ lack of any apparent concern regarding the US drone strike that killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, as irrefutable evidence that the anonymous staffers’ positive representations about US drone strike targeting processes as plainly unhinged from any normal person’s understanding.

  3. MadDog says:

    @MadDog: And if US drone strikes are so hot (not!), why then are the CIA, JSOC and the commander of US forces in Afghanistan so plainly dissatisfied with the US drone strike results? Via Kim Dozier of the AP:

    AP sources: US mulls new covert raids in Pakistan

    U.S. military and intelligence officials are so frustrated with Pakistan’s failure to stop local militant groups from attacking Americans in neighboring Afghanistan that they have considered launching secret joint U.S.-Afghan commando raids into Pakistan to hunt them down, officials told The Associated Press…

    [snip]

    …The officials who were briefed told the AP that recent discussions of clandestine ground attacks have included Gen. John Allen, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as well as top CIA and special operations officials…

    [snip]

    …The officials say options that have been prepared for President Barack Obama’s review included raids that could be carried out by U.S. special operations forces together with Afghan commandos, ranging from air assaults that drop raiders deep inside tribal areas to hit top leaders to shorter dashes only a few miles into Pakistan territory.

    The shorter raids would not necessarily be covert, as they could be carried out following the U.S. military principle known as “hot pursuit” that military officials say entitles their forces to pursue a target that attacks them in Afghanistan up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) inside a neighboring country’s territory…”

    Though Fair Use prevented me from excerpting further, there were additional interesting details at the end of Dozier’s piece describing a Navy Seal raid into Pakistan that turned into a real clusterfuck.

  4. What Constitution? says:

    @MadDog — What? It might be possible to send some kind of … “signal” … using some kind of “electronic device” which might enable somebody to somehow “divert” or “remotely control” our electronic, remotely-controlled drone devices? Who woulda thunk it? But we’re now trying to reduce the likelihood of that happening … but need new/more funding? Headslap!

    Who could have anticipated this? I mean, who other than the geniuses who put Stuxnet out there with an “anti-hacking system” tied to the computer clock which — what? — falls under “Hacker Rule #1: Disable or Reset Clock”? Or anyone else in the gubmint who has heard that story (which damn well better be all of them)?

    What we need is a Federal Department of “Get Me a Four Year Old Child” to do at least a cursory “reality check” before we allow our tunnel-vision bureaucratic military minds to unleash things they don’t understand and haven’t thought through to a world that has at least a couple of thinking bad guys in it.

    It wasn’t so bad when the Abrams tank was found to have no facility for operating in sand and dust a couple of decades ago — it was, after all, hard to hide a 40 ton tank that stalled out so the risk could be kind of “limited” to the poor guys inside the tank. But maybe putting hackable remote-controlled airplane-like thingies into US airspace when we’re fighting Terraists who seem to understand that airplane-like thingies might make pretty good weapons inside the US isn’t on quite the same level of a “Doh!” moment.

  5. jerryy says:

    @What Constitution?:& @MadDog: It would be natural to think that DHS which claims the US-CERT Department (US Computer Emergency Readiness Team) as part of its retinue of security appartus would have heard of the infamous ‘man in the middle’ attack by now. After all, folks on the internet tubes have been trying since the internet began to stop it…

  6. What Constitution? says:

    @jerryy: Who’s going to propose putting live humans in the drones to monitor for hackers in the guidance system? We could call them “aviators”.

  7. P J Evans says:

    just weeks after these staffers’ bosses have declared war on leaks, they’re out there, leaking to spin their bosses’ desired narrative

    That’s because in their universe, it’s good when they do it, but bad when anyone else does it.
    I’d like to see all the leakers investigated, especially the ones in government.

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