Contractors

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A Key Part of RuppRoge’s Fake Dragnet Fix Reform: Pay the Telecoms

Here’s an interesting “reform” in the RuppRoge’s Fake Dragnet Fix. It pays the telecoms.

COMPENSATION AND ASSISTANCE.–The Government shall compensate, at the prevailing rate, an electronic communications service provider for providing records in accordance with directives issued pursuant to [their bill].

Section 215 does not include such a payment provision. And while the first two phone dragnet orders included provision for such payments, that was probably illegal.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the government has found some way to pay the telecoms, either through added payments for AT&T’s Hemisphere program or gifts in kind. (Though given the timing of DOJ’s suit against Sprint for over-billing, I do wonder whether the government is retaliating for something.) Telecoms don’t spy for free, so I’m sure they’ve been getting paid, illegally, for the last 8 years of dragnet spying they’ve been doing.

But the lack of such provision in Section 215 should have limited the scope of the dragnet. It should have required that requests be so narrow no telecom was going to send big bills to the government every month. And it presumably made the telecoms (well, except for AT&T, which never met a spying request it didn’t love) less willing to interpret orders from the government expansively.

The inclusion of such a compensation clause in the RuppRoge “reform” makes it even more likely this dragnet will expand with the now well-oiled willingness of the telecoms to go above and beyond the letter of the request.

Which is presumably just how the NSA wants it to be.

America’s $1 Trillion Target Barge

The NYT has a story about a mock US aircraft carrier Iran is building, its sources say, so Iran can blow it up for the propaganda value.

Iran is building a nonworking mock-up of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that United States officials say may be intended to be blown up for propaganda value.

This has set off chatter about how weird and dumb Iran is for building this giant toy boat, which US sources call the Target Barge.

But pretty soon after I started reading the article I found myself applying the phrases in it to America’s F-35 program which, in many ways, is an even bigger propaganda prop. See how it looks when you swap out Iran’s barge for the F-35?

Intelligence officials do not believe that the US is capable of building an actual F-35.

“Based on our observations, this is not a functioning plane; it’s a large spending program built to look like an plane,” said Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, across the Persian Gulf from Lockheed. “We’re not sure what the US hopes to gain by building this. If it is a big propaganda piece, to what end?”

[snip]

“It is not surprising that American military forces might use a variety of tactics — including military deception tactics — to strategically communicate and possibly demonstrate their resolve in air power,” said a Chinese official who has closely followed the construction of the F-35.

[snip]

[T]he Pentagon has taken no steps to cloak from prying Chinese hackers what it is building in pork-laden building sites across several countries. “The system is often too opaque to understand who hatched this idea, and whether it was endorsed at the highest levels,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an American expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

See what I mean?

Opacity of purpose.

Failure to provide adequate security.

Probable impossibility to bring to completion.

Abundant propaganda.

I’m not all that sure what distinguishes the F-35 except the cost: Surely Iran hasn’t spent the equivalent of a trillion dollars — which is what we’ll spend on the F-35 when it’s all said and done — to build its fake boat.

So which country is crazier: Iran, for building a fake boat, or the US for funding a never-ending jet program?

Contractors Already Have Access to the Phone Dragnet

In today’s HJC hearing on the NSA, there was extensive discussion about the risks of outsourcing the dragnet to the telecoms or — especially, to a third party holding all the data. It’s a concern I share.

That said, not a single person at the hearing seemed to be aware of this footnote, which has been in the phone dragnet primary orders since at least last April.

5 For purposes of this Order, “National Security Agency” and “NSA personnel” are defined as any employees of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service (“NSA/CSS” or “NSA”) and any other personnel engaged in Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) operations authorized pursuant to FISA if such operations are executed under the direction, authority, or control of the Director, NSA/Chief, CSS (DIRNSA).

If this language left any doubt that it permits contractors to directly query the database of every single phone-based relationship in the US, this language from Dianne Feinstein’s Fake FISA Fix bill report (which aims to codify the status quo) should eliminate them.

The Committee believes that, to the greatest extent practicable, all queries conducted to the authorities established under this section should be performed by Federal employees. Nonetheless, the Committee acknowledges that it may be necessary in some cases to use contractors to perform such queries. By using the term “government personnel” the Committee does not intend to prohibit such contractor use.

Contractors already have access to the dragnet.

If it presents a security threat to have contractors from Booz Allen Hamilton or some other intelligence contractor to have direct access to the dragnet, then we need to shut the dragnet down.

Because they’ve already got it.

Weep for the Spurned Billion Dollar Mercenary!

In what is sure to be some interesting book publicity, Erik Prince has gone sobbing to the WSJ about the shoddy treatment the government that paid him billions treated him. In the piece, he continues to reveal new details about some of the operations CIA paid him to do, including the kill team training first revealed in 2009.

A chief target of Mr. Prince’s ire is Mr. Panetta, who in 2009 shut down the covert training operation for CIA “hit teams” that former Blackwater officials said took place on Mr. Prince’s Virginia property.

The CIA had been sending officers for training at Blackwater’s North Carolina training facility. But it wanted something closer to its Langley, Va., headquarters, former company officials said. So they asked Mr. Prince to build a small shooting range on his rural Virginia land.

“They needed a place that was only 35 minutes away from work,” said Gary Jackson, the former Blackwater president. “Erik was OK with that, and he has the property, and we had the money.” The trainings, including live-fire exercises, drew some complaints over the years from neighbors, Mr. Jackson said.

[snip]

When that information became public in 2009, right after Mr. Panetta canceled the Blackwater hit-team training, the CIA director ended the company’s role in maintaining the drones.

Mr. Prince said he is convinced that Mr. Panetta outed him as a CIA “asset” at a closed congressional hearing that year, adding that it was unthinkable for a CIA director to reveal the real name of a covert operative to lawmakers.

[snip]

“No one was out to scapegoat anyone in the relationship with Blackwater, but there were some issues that arose that prompted a serious look at contracts with the company,” said one former CIA official involved in the discussions. “There was a perception that they were trying to run some of their own operations untethered from agency oversight.” [my emphasis]

Only the last bit is really new (though it is suggested in a profile of the mafia hitman involved in the program).

But remember this real point is not that Panetta outed Prince to the House Intelligence Committee, it’s that he briefed these “programs” at all. According to Jan Schakowsky, under Cheney Blackwater had been working directly with the White House on counterterrorism policy (which makes sense since Cofer Black came up with that policy in the first place).

I reminded, by the way, that Barb Milkulski told John Brennan that Panetta was the only CIA Director who didn’t “jerk around” the intelligence committees.

Imagine how sad Prince must be that his mercenary company beginning to do its own operations got cut off when Congress actually learned about it!

DiFi Fake FISA Fix Explicitly Allows Contractors to Conduct Suspicionless Searches on US Person Data

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released its report on DiFi’s Fake FISA Fix. The report makes it clearer than ever that this is not at all an improvement, but rather an attempt to use the Snowden leaks as an opportunity to make the spying programs explicitly worse, which I’ll explain at more length later.

Just as an example, however, take a look at what they do with back door searches. As I explained here, the bill describes new reporting for a tiny fraction of back door searches, those that search on a US identifier as content, presumably to trick people in thinking that does anything for the vast majority of back door searches on US identifiers as metadata (DiFi’s staffers all but admitted that, anonymously, here). Thus, it provides new reports for a tiny fraction of this practice, while endorsing the vast majority of such searches — and the far more intrusive ones — to go on with no reporting requirements. And since I laid that out, NSA General Counsel Raj De and DNI General Counsel Robert Litt made it clear that NSA does not currently require even Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to search any content collected incidentally.

Here’s what the report adds to that, explicitly.

The Committee believes that, to the greatest extent practicable, all queries conducted to the authorities established under this section should be performed by Federal employees. Nonetheless, the Committee acknowledges that it may be necessary in some cases to use contractors to perform such queries. By using the term “government personnel” the Committee does not intend to prohibit such contractor use.

The NSA just had a contractor walk off with unbelievable amounts of data.

And the Senate Intelligence Committee’s response to that is to explicitly give contractors the authority to conduct suspicionless searches through vast quantity of data to access and read the content of US person data, with no reporting requirements.

I guess when they named this the “intelligence” committee they were just making an elaborate joke.

(Note: Snoopdidoo had some more observations on the report in comments to this thread.)

The USAID vs SIGAR Pissing Contest

Reuters has a riveting exclusive today in which they have been given a treasure trove of documents from which they have reported on documentation that a contractor involved in USAID highway construction in Afghanistan is employing a subcontractor who is a member of the Haqqani network:

Much of the evidence against Zadran is classified, but the cache of documents given to Reuters by U.S. officials on condition of anonymity show that he has close business ties with the Haqqani network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The Haqqanis, Islamist insurgents who operate on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are believed to have introduced suicide bombing into Afghanistan.

The links between Zadran and the insurgency include him teaming up with Saadullah Khan and Brothers Engineering and Construction Company (SKB), believed to be one of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s companies.

Together they won a $15 million contract to help build a road between the towns of Gardez and Khost in Afghanistan’s east for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2011.

“The owners of these companies are facilitators and commanders of the Haqqani Network,” one U.S. government memorandum says.

This problem fits into the overall work that SIGAR has been doing recently in which they comment on the lack of control and auditing on funds once they are turned over from USAID and other agencies to the Afghan government for disbursement. And huge amounts of money are involved:

The inability over many years to stop firms believed to be supporting the insurgency from winning multi-million-dollar contracts exposes the lack of control that donors have over cash once it is handed over to the Afghan government.

Those transfers make up an increasing proportion of aid. U.S. federal agencies want more than $10.7 billion for reconstruction programs in 2014, SIGAR says, and the government has promised at least half will be granted directly to Afghan institutions to spend as they see fit.

SIGAR has clearly upset a number of folks with their work on this front. Back on October 10, the Atlantic carried a hit piece against SIGAR (I owe Marcy a huge thank you for alerting me to the article) in which we are supposed to believe that USAID has built a public health system in Afghanistan that in just a few years has added 20 years to life expectancy while dropping child mortality by half. And the article would have us believe that this wonderful new system is at risk of being shut down because of SIGAR’s campaign against funds being disbursed by the Afghan government without an audit trail:

John Sopko is the U.S. government’s chief auditor for Afghanistan and a former prosecutor with years of experience on Capitol Hill. In September, Sopko’s office—the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR—issued a report calling for the suspension of USAID’s $236 million in aid for basic health care in Afghanistan.

Why shut down such a successful program? The short answer is that SIGAR’s is a peculiar concept of caution.

Strikingly, the auditors’ report calling for the funding freeze for the health program doesn’t claim any evidence of serious fraud or waste. Instead, it raises hypothetical concerns about the Afghan government’s ability to manage aid money well, including evidence that some salaries were paid in cash, as well as the absence of double entry bookkeeping.

There is a huge problem with the underlying premise of “such a successful program”, though. It is fabricated bullshit. Here is how the hit piece frames their argument on the successes: Continue reading

The Irony of Booz Vice Chair Mike McConnell’s Timing

Please support this kind of weedy journalism

I’m in the process of going really deep in the weeds on this Section 215 stuff, just adjusting my earlier timelines.

Several of us have noted the curious timing of the discovery of the problems with Section 215 dragnet. November 2, 2008 was the stated high number of identifiers which the NSA could contact chain, at 27,090 (though when NSA started cleaning this stuff up they only audited back through November 1, 2008).

On December 10, 2008, two analysts (whom I wildarseguess suspect were actually FBI Agents) start doing searches on unapproved identifiers, doing 280 over the next month and a half.

On December 11 and 12, 2008, Reggie Walton wrote the first systematic opinion on this program and approved a new Primary Order.

On December 15, 2008, the NSA stopped one of its abusive alert system processes.

On January 9, 2009, NSA told folks at DOJ’s National Security Division about them.

By January 15, 2009, NSA had seemingly purged thousands of identifiers from its alert list, because on that day (five days before the inauguration) it had only 17,835, down from 27,090 two days before Obama was elected.

January 20, 2009: Obama took the oath as President, replacing George Bush.

That, of course, led to change at key positions. One which I find remarkably interesting, however was that of Mike McConnell, who had spent two years as Director of National Intelligence (just long enough to get immunity for those who did all this illegally under Cheney’s program). McConnell left on January 27, 2009, leading to a delay on (reported) DNI involvement in this until his replacement Dennis Blair came in on January 29. Blair was briefed on this on his second day in office, January 30, 2009.

I don’t know — because the documents don’t say (see, especially, Keith Alexander’s chart on page 25 of his declaration that is totally non-responsive about anyone in DNI who would have known about these problems)– how much the revolving Intelligence Contractor Exec McConnell knew about NSA’s extension of the illegal Cheney program, illegally, under the FISC sanctioned Section 215 order.

But remember: as Vice Chair of Booz, Mike McConnell was (sort of) Edward Snowden’s boss until the latter absconded with proof of these gross violations under McConnell’s tenure at DNI.

Among other things, this rough outline suggests this wasn’t so much a “discovery” of violations, it was an attempt to hide what at least some people knew were systematic and gross violations of the Section 215 program, just before Obama came in and replaced some of the top players.

But I do find it ironic that McConnell’s company, Booz, played its small part in making all this clear.

SIGAR’s Sopko re $50 Million Sole Source Rule of Law Contract: “You Can’t Make This Up”

John Sopko

John Sopko

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has discovered that the State Department has awarded a sole source contract for nearly $50 million to provide training on the rule of law in Afghanistan. Remarkably, the State Department ignored its own rules for contracting and provided no mechanism for verifying spending under the contract. SIGAR also has found that the International Development Law Organization, which was awarded the contract, is particularly ill-equipped to manage such a large contract and is refusing to cooperate with SIGAR’s investigation.

From the alert letter (pdf) sent to Secretary of State John Kerry from Special Inspector General John Sopko:

I write to alert you to serious deficiencies related to the Afghanistan Justice Training Transition Program administered by the Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). In the course of performing an audit of rule of law programs managed by INL, SIGAR became aware of INL’s sole source award to the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) for Afghan justice sector training services. This award does not appear to contain basic provisions that would allow INL to ensure proper monitoring and evaluation of a project expected to cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $50 million.

On December 27, 2012, INL offered IDLO $47,759,796 in exchange for work on a project titled, “Completing the Transition in Afghanistan: Justice Training Transition Program (JTTP)” (see attached). On January 2, 2013, IDLO accepted INL’s offer by initialing a two-and-a-half page Letter of Agreement. According to INL, this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on and the United States has already obligated $20 million towards its completion.

It is very easy to see that this is the largest project IDLO has ever worked on. Their website is pathetic. The “people” section lists only one person, Irene Khan, noting that she served as Director General of Amnesty International from 2001-2009. The page fails to mention that she was removed from that post and caused quite a scandal with the huge payout she forced Amnesty International to give her in order to leave.

Returning to Sopko’s letter, we see that IDLO was chosen to replace another organization, PAE (whose new Executive Chairman just came from CACI, scary folks there…) and that SIGAR had “significant concerns raised regarding award and management of the PAE contract”. It appears that the State Department can’t quite figure out how to observe the law in giving out grants to train Afghans on the administration of justice. Further, SIGAR found that the State Department ignored its own rule in awarding this contract in a manner that makes oversight almost non-existent, even though it did require oversight on the portion of the program that is contracted to the Afghan government.

Regarding IDLO itself, the letter is devastating (emphasis added): Continue reading

Government Spying: Why You Can’t ‘Just Trust Us’

imagesOkay you Wheelhouse mopes, Marcy, Jim and I are all in San Jose at Netroots. Not sure the jail in this here town is big enough to hold us all. Marcy already put up two posts earlier today, but posting may be a bit spotty, we shall see. I have an important one that will probably go up tomorrow morning on the Aaron Swartz case.

At any rate, to give some extra fodder here, and because Ms. Wheeler is terminally lame at noticing our own blog when she writes articles elsewhere, I am hereby placing you on notice that she has a great article that went up late yesterday at The Nation titled:

Government Spying: Why You Can’t ‘Just Trust Us’

Go read it, you will be glad you did! Other than that, use this as an open thread for Trash Talk (GO SPURS!), and anything and everything else you want to yammer about.

Commissary Cheap

Most of the veterans I follow on Twitter are pointing to this WaPo story on DOD’s failure to eliminate commissaries on bases as an example of the worst of DOD bureaucracy.

Three summers ago, Richard V. Spencer, a retired investment banker who serves on a Pentagon advisory board, proposed shutting down the commissary at Camp Lejeune and every other domestic military base, a step that would save taxpayers about $1 billion a year.

He called several large retailers to see if they would be willing to take over the markets. None were, but Wal-Mart, which has stores within 10 miles of most U.S. bases, proposed offering equivalent discounts to troops, their spouses and their retired brethren. He figured other national chains would follow suit.

When the Defense Department bureaucracy that runs the commissaries learned of Spencer’s plan, it sounded an alarm among allies in industry and in Congress. A trade group whose mission is to represent companies that sell goods in military stores fired off a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, warning him it would be “ill-advised” to make major changes. Senators and representatives dispatched similar missives. So did veterans groups. As the correspondence stacked up in his inbox, Gates summoned Spencer and other members of the Defense Business Board.

“Richard, my fax machine is vomiting letters of complaint,” Spencer recalled Gates telling him. Worried that congressional anger would doom other Pentagon cost-cutting initiatives, Gates told Spencer to drop his commissary plan.

Maybe it is, but there are several things not being discussed.

First, the article points out that the commissary benefit is worth $4,400 a year to every military family. Most of those families are getting paid pretty low wages for a job that can kill you — $28,000 for a Corporal or Specialist with 4 years of experience. Is it any wonder that some in the military are defending this benefit?

Then there’s the shock that retired investment banker Richard Spencer (who probably hasn’t had to live on $28,000 a year for a very very long time, if ever) had when he discovered the commissary’s books can’t be audited.

What little that arrived stunned him. The agency’s antiquated financial systems, he learned, are not compliant with the federal government’s accounting standards.

That is a problem. But you know what? I’m far, far more concerned that NSA’s antiquated financial systems are also not compliant with the federal government’s accounting standards (apparently neither are a number of other intelligence community components), and not just because the dollars involved are far larger. I don’t have to worry about unaccounted Cheerios on a commissary shelf starting a new war or reading my email via some off the books program that evades Congressional scrutiny because its budget does.

Then there’s the assessment that retired investment banker Richard Spencer made that DOD isn’t very good at running supermarkets.

Its workforce was bloated compared with other retailers.

[snip]

Spencer also discovered that the agency’s annual subsidy did not include other hidden costs. Commissaries don’t have to pay rent. Security services, when needed, are provided by military police.

It didn’t take Spencer long to come to a basic conclusion: “Running a chain of grocery stores is not a core competency of the Defense Department.”

He thought about proposing that a private company be hired to run the stores. But when he called up several large national retailers, including Wal-Mart, Costco and three grocery chains, he got the same response. “We don’t want this,” he recalled being told. Too many employees, they said, and they would be unable to lure non-military customers onto access-controlled bases.

He’s comparing commissaries, of course, with WalMart. Which has been getting a lot of press this year for its difficulties stocking shelves, in part because it has cut staff so thin that there aren’t enough people to get all the merchandise onto shelves.

Maybe, when consumers have the leverage to make demands, they prefer shopping in place with better service than WalMart? Maybe that, like better healthcare, is one of the reasons people will risk their life to join the military?

But here’s the funniest part of this story. The Administration is, as we speak, making a sustained argument that commissary employees are “sensitive” employees. It argued–really!–that because a commissary Assistant Manager knew how much Gatorade and sunglasses commissary customers were buying (potentially reflecting knowledge of upcoming deployments)–he should lose all Merit Board protection as a sensitive employee.

Now I, of course, thinks that’s a load of horse dung. Nevertheless, it is the horse dung the Executive is peddling. And so long as it is peddling that horse dung, it seems incumbent upon the Executive to keep this nice perk around.

It may be that the billion we’d save by shutting down commissaries would be a net savings once you adjust for the higher wages you’d have to pay lower-ranking service members in exchange. It may be the commissaries are hopelessly unwieldy.

But I’m very skeptical that this perk — and not the much bigger ticket waste — is the first thing that should be cut to save money.

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