What Michael Flynn’s DIA Imputes to Facts We Know

Before I point to reasons why we should exercise some caution before we believe a DIA report claiming that Edward Snowden’s entire leak was orchestrated by the Russians, let me lay out the following.

First. until such time as we see evidence that the reported documents somehow inordinately benefit Russia (and/or see evidence that our cooperation with Russia isn’t increasing during the period of Snowden’s asylum there), I’m not much interested in the question. I’m still so busy — both between Snowden document reports and documents declassified in response to FOIAs in a false show of transparency — reading about programs Americans should have known, that I don’t have time or interest in this manufactured sideshow.

Second, I don’t know what Snowden’s relationship with Russia is (and suspect 99% of the people commenting don’t either). The claims Mike Rogers, in particular, made on Sunday are full of Clown Show logic problems, some of which Snowden debunked in a limited rebuttal in an interview with Jane Mayer. Some accusers and defenders are conflating what happened while Snowden was working at NSA and what happened after Snowden got stuck in Moscow. All that said, while we have no evidence of cooperation now, I fully expect Vlaidimir Putin tried all he could to get as much out of Snowden as he could.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that DIA under General Michael Flynn’s leadership seems to be developing a pattern of leaking sensational intelligence conclusions based on apparently bad logic at politically opportune moments.

The accusations against Snowden are from a DIA report that DIA’s Director, Michael Flynn, organized.

The Defense Department report was conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency in coordination with other intelligence agencies across the government, according to two sources familiar with its findings. A spokesperson for the DIA said Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the agency’s director, organized a task force “to assess the potential impact to the Department of Defense from the compromise of this information.” But the spokesman did not say what, if any, conclusions the task force had reached about actual damage caused by documents Snowden took, regardless of whether they’ve been disclosed or not.

Admittedly, the conclusions of it got leaked with apparent White House permission. But it got leaked in the worst manner of Obama Administration asymmetric leaking, which have a history of being rather partial and politically self-serving.

Moreover, the entire orchestrated leak feels a lot like the “leak” last year — during heightened tensions between North and South Korea — of DIA’s conclusion that North Korea had the capability of launching a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile. Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn, protected by Speech and Debate, revealed a detail that “accidentally” wasn’t redacted in a larger declassified finding. The “leak” fed a lot of fearmongering even as the Obama Administration was trying to temper responses.

A week after the initial leak, James Clapper and Flynn happened to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee (the entire clip is worthwhile, but the particularly important parts start after 4:00). And in response to some Ted Cruz questions about North Korea, both Clapper and Flynn made it clear that the reason DIA had come to different conclusions than the rest of the Intelligence Community was because of the assumptions it had made. This inflammatory finding arose because of “a difference in how we judge assumptions,” Flynn explained. Clapper (who had spent a week trying to batten down the alarmism) said the debate arose from the “facts we know versus what we impute to those facts.”

That is, DIA had imputed conclusions to facts other agencies hadn’t.

According to its Director, DIA has a difference in how it judges assumptions from other intelligence agencies. And in this case, those who have read the DIA report appear to be repeating allegations remarkably divorced from any evidence, relying on wacky theories rather than real evidence.

Michael Flynn seems to be making a habit of this kind of analysis.

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.

16 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    “findings” like this will no doubt be very useful to a prosecutor lf snowden ever comes to trial.

    be that as it may, flynn’s m.o. as reported here reminds me of the cia’s tendency toward conclusions that were useful in justifying the invasion of iraq.

  2. joanneleon says:

    I don’t think Putin bothered much with Snowden. I think he’d rather Snowden wasn’t in Russia, except for the amusement he gets out of pwning the US.

    How many people have top secret clearance? A million? How many contractors do we have working for intel agencies, law enforcement and military/military intelligence who have top secret clearances? Huge number. How many foreign intelligence agencies know most or all of what was in the Snowden documents? At least four countries work closely with NSA. Some number of other countries do too. Manning demonstrated how sloppy the classified info his handled in war zones too.

    China and other countries have hacked into defense and other govt networks. If Snowden and Manning got those documents so easily, foreign agents presumably could too. There’s no way that there was only one Snowden. Others undoubtedly are selling information either to Putin or on the black market.

    My guess is that the people most in the dark about our surveillance state are the American people.

    All guesswork, of course. I think Putin is mainly concerned with Snowden not getting killed in his country and maybe for kicks, making it difficult for US agents in Russia to get close to him. And in the end, he probably hopes Snowden gets asylum somewhere else ASAP. I saw a press conference early on where Putin was asked about Snowden. The expression on his face when he answered was one of exasperation. It really did look like he didn’t want the hassle of dealing with the Snowden situation. He’s got enough problems at home, had the Olympics coming up, and is in the process of building this benevolent world leader image thing.

  3. C says:

    Two points:

    (1) Given DIA’s disastrous politicized performance during the Iraq war their credibility is so low as to make and claims of theirs suspect on arrival.

    (2) It is important to note that under all of the headlines saying “Clutch your pearls! Snowden worked with Russia!” DiFi, Rogers, and the NSA are saying “We are not sure if he did or not but we need to know.” That is even the most highly motivated Snowden-haters are only willing to claim that they think it might be possible but have no evidence of it. If they are unwilling to go further than that then they have nothing and all of this reporting is just click-chasing.

  4. orionATL says:

    if you do a google search for “general michael flynn” you will quickly discover one thing about flynn:

    he’s a magnet for media attention. he’s rather like gen petraeus in that regard.

    another salient: like keith alexander, he’s a military intelligence bureaucrat with iraq and afghanistan as his major frame of reference.

  5. thelastnamechosen says:

    The Obama administration is using the intelligence community to manufacture “evidence” against a US citizen who has been declared an enemy of the state.

    We are in very dangerous territory.

    The best argument against our total surveillance society is the administration’s actions against Snowden.

    Who will be next?

  6. Dredd says:

    The states can stop all of this waste of ink and money, as the State of Tennessee legislature shows:

    The state-level effort to turn off water and electricity to the National Security Agency (NSA) got a major boost today as legislators in Tennessee introduced a bill to ban the state from providing material support to the federal agency.

    A long-standing secretive NSA computing facility calls Oak Ridge home. According to NSA researcher James Bamford, the NSA runs most data it gathers “from code breaking to word captures,” through computers at Oak Ridge and NSA headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md.

    The Tennessee Fourth Amendment Protection Act was introduced by State Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) late Tuesday evening. Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) will file the companion bill in the House.

    Based on model legislation drafted by the OffNow coalition, SB1849 would prohibit the state of Tennessee from “providing material support to…any federal agency claiming the power to authorize the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant” as required by the Fourth Amendment.

    “We have an out of control federal agency spying on pretty much everybody in the world. I don’t think the state of Tennessee should be helping the NSA violate the Constitution and the basic privacy rights of its citizens – and we don’t have to,” Campfield said. “This bill may not completely stop the NSA, but it will darn sure stop Tennessee from participating in unjustified and illegal activities.”

    From a practical standpoint, the legislation covers four major areas.

    (10th Amendment Center). What the bill forbids state agencies to do is:

    *Prohibits state and local agencies from providing any material support to the NSA within their jurisdiction. Includes barring government-owned utilities from providing water and electricity.

    *Makes information gathered without a warrant by the NSA and shared with law enforcement inadmissible in state court.

    *Blocks public universities from serving as NSA research facilities or recruiting grounds.

    *Disincentivizes corporations attempting to fill needs not met in the absence of state cooperation.

    (ibid). Let’s all call our state legislatures and get this thing going.

    NSA will back off with the BS forthwith should we succeed.

  7. omphaloscepsis says:

    Once more we see the stage magician’s art of misdirection — “Look over there.”

    No matter how the leaks came about, they show that the NSA is and has been doing things that they shouldn’t be doing.

    Period.

    Perhaps Michael Flynn would like to discuss that subject.

  8. WayOffBase says:

    Crappy post.

    Way past time to inform yourself about Sub_Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle, who queried the main FVEY database for 4.5 years on behalf of the Russians, providing them with a gigabye per day of primarily American intel (for $3k a month). The whole enchilada is on Wikipedia; the full confession transcript is linked from there.

    The Russians had no interest in Snowden. Delisle had already given them *everything* they wanted, up to Jan 2012. Snowden leaks are focused on US Constitution violations — do people really think those are a concern to Russians?

    http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/480853/rcmp-interview-with-navy-spy.pdf

    M: Like what? When you have access there, to MANDRAKE and stuff like that?
    JPD: I have MANDRAKE, SPARTAN. I have STONEGHOST… I have everything I need to do my job…MANDRAKE is only Canadian.
    JM: And the others?
    JPD: American, Five Eyes.

    JM: Did you transfer like … US stuff?
    JPD: The systems are shared. There was American stuff, there was some British stuff, Australian stuff. It was everybody’s stuff.
    JM: Ok, so you transferred the Five Eyes stuff, basically
    JPD: Pfft… Except for New Zealand, doesn’t really count.

    JPD: Phone numbers. Phone lists… Of Chief Defensive Intelligence in the States. The phone contact list with the intelligence players.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @WayOffBase: Why do you feel the need to inform me of things I know?
    I’m aware of Delisle’s case. That does not actually mean Putin wouldn’t have an interest in Snowden — or demand something just because he’s an old KGB schmuck (though I’m also willing to entertain the possibility that Putin thinks Snowden’s causing enough difficulties as it is).

    Also, I noted that I think this is a sideshow so long as I’m busy pointing out the things we should have known. SO why are you lecturing me about the value of Snowden’s leaks?

  10. lefty665 says:

    DIA’s gotten way above its raising. We’d all be better off if they went back to doing things they were good at like beach analysis for amphib landings.

  11. BlueDevilFan says:

    *If* Snowden gave them anything, I believe it would have to have been from memory.

    **Note** I don’t believe he gave them anything.

    This guy is no dummy. He *knows* encryption and computer anti-forensics. The tone of the anti-Snowden folks is that he handed over computers, flash drives, etc…

    BS. IMO, as soon as he met with Greenwald and Poitras, and either handed over hardware devices, or had them copy off of his, he forensically wiped everything before leaving Hong Kong. I sure as heck wouldn’t want to be travelling with that data after having ‘outed’ myself. Contrary to the movies and FUD, even a 1 pass over-write on modern hardware, renders the data un-recoverable…add a few passes if you’re paranoid.

    There are so many technological ways for him to have given the data to GG & LP and then leave with absolutely none of it. It was 2013 – for all we know he could have SSH/VPN’d into a server he had set up somewhere on the internet (planet), and downloaded an encrypted archive right to GG’s computer. It was possible to travel without anything, if he wanted and it fit his threat model. So many ways.

  12. BlueDevilFan says:

    To add:

    And if the assumption is he wanted to give it to Russia from the start, why not just quietly do it and continue soaking up the Hawaiian sun?

    I hope they at least think that wasn’t his original goal, and they just ‘beat’ it out of him when he got stranded there – that at least has *some* believability to it.

    But like I said, no way I believe he left HK with anything on any storage media. So it would have to have been from memory under duress – if it happened at all. And when? IIRC there were people with him constantly. After he was granted asylum? Only time I can see.

  13. emptywheel says:

    @BlueDevilFan: That’s one of the biggest clown show problems with their claim. There’s no profit in sharing your ill-gotten spy gain with the Guardian’s and the NYT’s and the WaPo’s and Speigel’s readers.

  14. Nightstalker says:

    @omphaloscepsis: Please also note #TeamNSA’s touchy response today to Snowden’s claim that the NSA knows what you had for dinner on 2009 — if you paid for it with a Visa or Mastercard:

    https://twitter.com/20committee/status/426470410087976960

    Both John R. Schindler @20Commmittee and his buddy Tom Nichols at the U.S. Naval [Twitter] War College (Schindler’s now under investigation by both DOJ OSC for violations of the Hatch Act) denied it, saying there’s no way NSA would have the storage capacity to store every debit or credit card transaction of every citizen. Actually they didn’t directly say that but implied that the data storage problems would be immense — despite the Utah Data Center being built to have that capability.

    So…why are the supposed moderate to right of center guys working for #TeamNSA at NWC so worried about the Agency getting outed as having scooped up the credit/debit card transactions of MILLIONS of Americans, besides more PR headaches? Even if it’s ‘just metadata’ and the NSA can pinky swear it doesn’t match the card numbers with names without a warrant, it’s only looking for ‘suspicious’ transactions the bank might not have flagged?

    Answer: GUNS. GUNS. GUNS. If NSA is found to have compiled lists of Americans lawful firearms purchases in any quantity without having destroyed them almost immediately after a determination that they weren’t relevant to an honest to God investigation with a real warrant, they could be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. § 921 et seq. for creating an ILLEGAL nationwide gun registry the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act was passed to ban. Even the BATF has insisted time after time under direct Congressional questioning that they don’t perma-keep the background check records, those are also meant to be discarded under the 1993 Brady act.

    And don’t think even if Eric Holder would try to stiff arm prosecution under the 86′ act that certain states (Texas!) wouldn’t have county or state attorney generals itching to prosecute the NSA San Antonio or Bluffdale’s 18 U.S.C. § 921 perps and put out warrants for their arrest.

    And storing Americans’ lawful firearms and ammunition purchase data under the 5Eyes agreements would make any GCHQ or CSE personnel involved in laundering the NSA’s illegal gun registry accessories to a U.S. felony and subject to Interpol warrants. That includes YOU Sir Ian Lobban and your Canuck counterpart. And saying ‘eh we didn’t know that was illegal’ won’t be a defence.

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