Failed Overseers Prepare to Legislate Away Successful Oversight

Before I talk about the Gang of Four’s proposed ideas to crack down on leaks, let’s review what a crop of oversight failures these folks are.

The only one of the Gang of Four who has stayed out of the media of late–Dutch Ruppersberger–has instead been helping Mike Rogers push reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act through the House Intelligence Committee with no improvements and no dissents. In other words, Ruppersberger has delivered for his constituent–the NSA–in spite of the evidence the government is wiretapping those pesky little American citizens Ruppersberger should be serving.

Then there’s Rogers himself, who has been blathering to the press about how these leaks are the most damaging in history. He supported such a claim, among other ways, by suggesting people (presumably AQAP) would assume for the first time we (or the Saudis or the Brits) have infiltrators in their network.

Some articles within this “parade” of leaks, Rogers said late last week, “included at least the speculation of human source networks that now — just out of good counterintelligence activities — they’ll believe is real, even if its not real. It causes huge problems.”

Which would assume Rogers is unaware that the last time a Saudi infiltrator tipped us off to a plot, that got exposed too (as did at least one more of their assets). And it would equally assume Rogers is unaware that Mustafa Alani and other “diplomatic sources” are out there claiming the Saudis have one agent or informant infiltrated into AQAP regions for every 850 Yemeni citizens.

In short, Rogers’ claim is not credible in the least.

Though Rogers seems most worried that the confirmation–or rather, reconfirmation–that the US and Israel are behind StuxNet might lead hackers to try similar tricks on us and/or that the code–which already escaped–might escape.

Rogers, who would not confirm any specific reports, said that mere speculation about a U.S. cyberattack against Iran has enabled bad actors. The attack would apparently be the first time the U.S. used cyberweapons in a sustained effort to damage another country’s infrastructure. Other nations, or even terrorists or hackers, might now believe they have justification for their own cyberattacks, Rogers said.

This could have devastating effects, Rogers warned. For instance, he said, a cyberattack could unintentionally spread beyond its intended target and get out of control because the Web is so interconnected. “It is very difficult to contain your attack,” he said. “It takes on a very high degree of sophistication to reach out and touch one thing…. That’s why this stuff is so concerning to me.”

Really, though, Rogers is blaming the wrong people. He should be blaming the geniuses who embraced such a tactic and–if it is true the Israelis loosed the beast intentionally–the Israelis most of all.

And while Rogers was not a Gang of Four member when things started going haywire, his colleague in witch hunts–Dianne Feinstein–was. As I’ve already noted, one of the problems with StuxNet is that those, like DiFi, who had an opportunity to caution the spooks either didn’t have enough information to do so–or had enough information but did not do their job.The problem, then, is not leaks; it’s inadequacy of oversight.

In short, Rogers and Ruppersberger and Chambliss ought to be complaining about DiFi, not collaborating with her in thwarting oversight.

Finally, Chambliss, the boss of the likely sources out there bragging about how unqualified they are to conduct intelligence oversight, even while boasting about the cool videogames they get to watch in SCIFs, appears to want to toot his horn rather the conduct oversight.

Which brings me back to the point of this post, before I got distracted talking about how badly the folks offering these “solutions” to leaks are at oversight.

Their solutions:

Discussions are ongoing over just how stringent new provisions should be as the Senate targets leakers in its upcoming Intelligence Authorization bill, according to a government source.

Many of the options up for consideration put far stricter limits on communications between intelligence officials and reporters, according to the source, who told CNN that early proposals included requiring government employees who provide background briefings to reporters to notify members of Congress ahead of time.

Such background meetings are not widely seen as opportunities to discuss classified programs. Reporters routinely use background briefings to gather contextual information on stories they are covering.

According to the government source, there were also discussions about consolidating some of the press offices within the intelligence community, limiting the number of people who are available to answer common media inquiries. [my emphasis]

Aside from making it harder for reporters to get government input on stories, the members of Congress who have failed at oversight want to require Executive Branch officials check with them before they communicate with reporters.

Because people like DiFi have shown such great judgment–not–and discretion–not about these things.

In short, the solution from a bunch of people who have failed at oversight is to grant themselves a bigger role in preventing any oversight. Which sounds more like CYA than a solution that will improve America’s national security.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. thatvisionthing says:

    For instance, he said, a cyberattack could unintentionally spread beyond its intended target and get out of control because the Web is so interconnected. “It is very difficult to contain your attack,” he said. “It takes on a very high degree of sophistication to reach out and touch one thing… That’s why this stuff is so concerning to me.”

    Well this just makes me laugh. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Don’t piss in the pool. What goes round comes round. They never heard of it?

    What a game of fail, this hubris that they think they can control consequences, that they have a right to harm others, and that their violence will stop violence against us instead of begetting it.

    Stop, just stop. Idiots. They’re not protecting America, they’re killing it.

  2. MadDog says:

    “…early proposals included requiring government employees who provide background briefings to reporters to notify members of Congress ahead of time…”

    Blabbermouth Brennan, they’re talking about you! If you’re going to continue to spill the beans to Frannie Townsend and Richard “Hair on fire” Clarke, DiFi wants you to get her permission first.

    Of course, nowhere in this proposed legislation is there a requirement that Congresscritters notify anybody before they spill the beans. We’re talking about you DiFi.

  3. P J Evans says:

    Over at the SF Chronicle, they’re talking about DiFi having a 19% lead over the other candidate. Several people brought up her record (or lack thereof) on national security, and I mentioned this stuff – and that the actual leakers tend to be agency heads and members of Congress, not the people the proposal is actually aimed at.

  4. EH says:

    @thatvisionthing: It’s also misinformation. There already exist common programming practices (techniques) that restrict the ability of a piece of software to go hog-wild on the greater Internet. The thing is, it serves the interests of aggression not to include these practices. But make no mistake: a piece of software can be written in a way where it knows when its gone too far. Of course, this requires a sense of “too far.”

  5. emptywheel says:

    @EH: According to Richard Clarke, we’ve always written our cybercode to have a self-kill function built in.

  6. PeasantParty says:

    Now exactly how is DiFi or anyone else planning to police code when the actual work of security and spying on citizens is outsourced? I mean, she should know this first hand since her husband is one of the big beneficiaries of government contracts.

  7. thatvisionthing says:

    @emptywheel: Why does that sound like something someone tells himself before he pees in the pool?

    What could possibly go wrong?

  8. thatvisionthing says:

    I’m quoting/transcribing a Daniel Ellsberg 2002 talk in the previous diary, but some of it applies here too. About “oversight” and Congress and presidents and staff and the whole big fail of secrecy and aye-aye hierarchical decisionmaking.

    Ellsberg’s first day of work in Washington, as special assistant to Secretary of Defense McNamara’s assistant John McNaughon, was the day of the Gulf of Tonkin (non)incident in August 1964. He describes how hundreds of people in Johnson’s administration soon knew it was a nonexistent attack, yet no one told Congress, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed on that basis, giving Johnson a free hand to “retaliate” against North Vietnamese aggression.

    So then McNaughton and others were tasked to plan provocations by the North Vietnamese to get them to attack US troops, so Johnson could act “to protect US troops.” In parallel, Ellsberg reads the Doonesbury cartoon to the audience where reporters at a White House press conference are helpfully offering the press secretary ideas on how to get Saddam to attack us, maybe by having our planes fly slower so Saddam can shoot one down, because it reminds Ellsberg of his days in the Pentagon when one of the ideas was to have US planes fly not slower, but lower over North Vietnam and make a big sonic boom that would break every window in Hanoi — maybe that’d do it.

    Ellsberg says if you go through the papers, McNaughton’s the biggest hawk, yet privately had wanted the US out of Vietnam even more than Ellsberg did, was totally against the war, and Ellsberg had been to Vietnam in 1961 and had seen it was a losing situation even then. But McNaughton did his job for McNamara, and Ellsberg did his job for McNaughton.

    From the other side, Ellsberg describes secrets he knew nothing about at the time. He highly recommended Fred Logevoll’s book Choosing War, because it taught him things he hadn’t known about Vietnam decision making. He learned that Johnson’s top advisers in his administration and in the Senate were against plans for war, told him it would be catastrophic, yet Johnson kept that advice secret, and secret from each other:

    Daniel Ellsberg: I was a special assistant to the assistant secretary, I didn’t know that Senators Russell, chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Lyndon Johnson’s mentor who had made him majority leader in the Senate; Senator Fulbright, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; Senator Mansfield, Senate Majority Leader; were all telling — I learned this from Fred’s book, Choosing War — were all telling Johnson, “Don’t do this. It will be disastrous in foreign affairs. It will be disastrous domestically, for the Democratic Party.” His vice president, Humphrey, was telling him the same. The head of intelligence in the State Depatment, Tom Hughes, who I met more recently, was telling him that. I knew none of this at the time because it was so secret it wasn’t in McNaughton’s files, that I had access to, and I thought I had access to practically everything, and it’s not in the Pentagon Papers. It wasn’t in McNamara’s files. Those pieces of paper saying that this is disastrous, this is reckless, don’t do it, were so secret, because the president wanted to do it, to avoid losing, and did not want it known that he was going against the advice and he was misrepresenting the advice he was getting. Those papers weren’t circulated to those people within themselves, or to my boss … it took 30 years in many cases for those papers to come out. That was the longest kept secret of the Vietnam War.

    Plus I remember from watching Most Dangerous Man in America that the big secrecy of the Pentagon Papers, the 7,000-page 47-volume study of the history of US involvement with Vietnam that McNamara had commissioned, was to keep it secret from LBJ, who would view it as disloyal/subversive to his war plans.

    So… oversight? In a system built on secrecy, how can that word be meaningful? It can’t. It’s a coverup word. It’s nonsense.

  9. thatvisionthing says:

    A little more.

    At that point, October 2002, Ellsberg was seeing parallels to today. He describes how every potential candidate for president in 2004 voted for the AUMF, which he describes as Tonkin Gulf II, even though they knew it was wrong. He has harsh words for the press that isn’t following up on leaks, and for Dianne Feinstein:

    Daniel Ellsberg: Now it’s so clear that that is true of probably the great majority of senators in the Senate right now, Democrat and Republican, about this war. And in this case, unlike Vietnam, it’s clear that the Joint Chiefs and their military people do not want to take these risks, regard them as unnecessary, as wrongful — they don’t want it. They are doing something which was not done during the Vietnam War, let me point — they are leaking their dissent. They are leaking their — it’s coming out in places. I read it yesterday in USA Today, by James Bamford. He quotes a lot of others, newspaper sources. For once they are telling people anonymously, not with documents. The press aren’t following it up, on the whole.

    But, for example, Barbara Boxer has been saying, “I sit on the Intelligence Committee.” She doesn’t give away any secrets, but she says what she hasn’t heard on the Intelligence Committee. She says, “I have not heard any evidence which persuades me of the truth of what the president is saying, that we have a threat from Saddam” — who’s a monster, who’s a tyrant, a great threat to his own people, but not, as far as CIA can tell at this time, to us, unless he is attacked. So that is coming out. So Boxer says, “Okay, I haven’t seen any –” She votes against the act, the Tonkin Gulf II.

    Now does Dianne Feinstein, who voted yes in the end, know something that Barbara Boxer, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, doesn’t know? No. She is, perhaps, running for something else besides Senate — maybe vice president, maybe for president some day. Every one of the potential senatorial and representative candidates to be president in 2004 voted yes. Although most if not all of them knew perfectly well this was wrong of them to do, they shouldn’t be doing it, they felt they had to do it. Gephardt, Daschle, Biden, John Edwards, John Kerry, Lieberman.

    No confidence.

  10. lefty665 says:

    @P J Evans: “I wish that DiFi’s opponent in November wasn’t a worse option than DiFi.”

    What is “worse”? Is freedom twice lost any further gone? “…Nothing ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free.”

    We have an administration dedicated to the proposition that the key to re-election is to be perceived as the “lesser evil”. It has been chasing the rightmost dingbat, carefully staying a half step to the left. Except, of course, when it is leading the charge to worse and criminalizing disclosure.

    It is no surprise to find spineless congressional dems like DiFi emulating that tactic.

    The posts on Daniel Ellsberg illustrate that taking the “lesser evil” bait is the proverbial road to Hell. His courage, both past and present, is profound.

    Dunno what the answer is. It sure ain’t Mittens. Are Manacles (feManacles with DiFi) really a better fit?

  11. miguel cervantes says:

    Well Ellsberg is leaving out OPLAN 34 A, which was a covert operation conducted in that area, near Hainan Island, which may have provoked the initial response, they weren’t really eager for war, Now that has nothing to do with the fact that Brennan was the source, who blew the GSM op, based on the information Prince Nayef jr, had given him pretended it had been a CIA operation, It was a short leap by Clarke and Townsend to the particulars.

  12. thatvisionthing says:

    @miguel cervantes: Ellsberg mentioned 34A operations:

    Daniel Ellsberg: But now we have the problem that I’ve described. So my boss John McNaughton was talking then about planning, quote (reading from the book), “provocation to be in a good position to provoke a military response from Hanoi and to be in a good position to seize on that response. Examples of actions to be considered” — and this was signed, this proposal drafted by McNaughton, was signed by the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, president’s National Security Agency. (reading from the book again) “Examples of actions to be considered would be running U.S. naval patrols increasingly close to the North Vietnamese coast” — they were getting ready to beach them, virtually, on the coast if necessary to get them shot at — “and/or associating them with covert operations,” 34A operations…

    It’s on page 65 of Secrets.

  13. thatvisionthing says:

    @thatvisionthing: Trying to repost this comment; it failed twice yesterday, unless it’s stuck in moderation. Is there a limit on links? I’ll take some out and break this up.

    There’s a P.S.

    In 2002, Ellsberg’s ultimate why buck stopped at LBJ’s desk. But in 2009, when Robert McNamara died, Gareth Porter wrote a post on Raw Story: “McNamara deceived LBJ on Gulf of Tonkin” — which was news to Ellsberg, a secret he still hadn’t known.

    Now as I try to find that original Raw Story post, it’s disappeared.

    – This page ( seems to be the fullest collection of posts on the story then, quotes from it partially and gives its URL, now a dead link.

    – The Wayback Machine says the page was crawled three times since March 2010, but I only see one link and it’s dead.

    – And though geopoliticalmonitor apparently reposts the full text, it ends with: “On the following audio file from The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Johnson can be heard telling McNamara that he had misinformed him about the alleged attack:” — but there’s no audio file.

    Goodbye history, we hardly knew ye. Hello fog of war.

  14. thatvisionthing says:


    So I think about this.

    What was McNamara up to? You can’t know.

    A commenter on HuffPo ( says: “I have heard McNamara telling JFK to get out of Vietnam on the tapes in the archives. ‘We only have a thousand guys and can still get out, John.'” So for JFK McNamara says get out, but for LBJ he lies him in? And he orders the Pentagon Papers study but keeps it secret from LBJ, why? Wikipedia says:

    Neither President Lyndon Johnson nor Secretary of State Dean Rusk knew about the study until its publication; they believed McNamara might have planned to give the work to his friend Robert F. Kennedy, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.

    And that was before 9/11, the mother of all duplicity and black holes.

  15. thatvisionthing says:


    You cannot encompass how secrecy fucks up our country and everyone we touch. There are no trustworthy checks and balances at all, it’s all poisoned. We the People, no longer equal and no longer self governors, are shut out of it, audience/fodder. Somewhere I guess there’s a king now, but who is it really? Hannah Arendt called it Rule by Nobody. The buck stops nowhere. There’s not even majesty, just mutual distrust, and what goes round comes round is lies and idiocy and dog eat dog. Reality is treason. Aye aye.

    Thinking of the story about the underling that Michael Hayden used like a sock doll to demonstrate our torture techniques on for then-president-elect Obama. Hayden slaps him, shakes him, then since there are chairs in his way and he can’t actually throw him against a wall, he just describes what he would be doing if he could. Obama lets him. The sock doll lets him. It’s a failure of humanity all around. Everyone is marked. I imagine each of them walked away from that room with motive, and perhaps someday means and opportunity, for doing something that I wouldn’t exactly describe as “a decent respect for the opinion of mankind.”

    What did David Petraeus say about the Iraq war in 2003?

    “Tell me how this ends.”

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