Have you noticed that every time someone covers all the patents Keith Alexander is getting for his cybersecurity boondoggle, the number of patents grows?
In this installment, it is 10.
IronNet is working with lawyers to draft as many as 10 patent applications in which the NSA would have no stake. Alexander said the “real key” to the patents was a person who never worked for the agency.
In addition to dispensing advice, IronNet is working with lawyers to draft as many as 10 patent applications that will include Alexander as co-inventor on one and “maybe a few others,” he said.
Of course, no matter how many patents it will be, Alexander is still left with the problem of explaining either why this isn’t stuff taxpayers paid for at NSA, or why Alexander didn’t implement these whiz-bang solutions while in charge of NSA.
So he’s inching closer and closer to one that might work: he’s going to patent having no knowledge.
Current cybersecurity strategies assume the defender knows what threats are present, and can quickly identify them by their digital profile, known as their signature. Alexander said IronNet’s approach is to counter those attacks as quickly as possible, without that prior knowledge.
“All the patents and stuff that people work on today assume knowledge of the threat,” he said. “What it means is a new approach. Something that’s never been used.”
It’s surely a novel approach — attacking perceived threats before you’re sure what that threat is. I’m just not sure how well it’s going to work.
While Alexander is busy shoring up his 10, 11, 12 patents, I think I’ll rush to copyright my new novel, in which a hubristic cybersecurity profiteer takes down the entire banking system by attacking core finance functions he identifies as attacks.
On Sunday I asked who was crying wolf — JP Morgan itself, or Mike Rogers — about the claimed JP Morgan attack that might not be a serious attack at all and had been attributed to Russia without yet proof of that.
So who should crawl out of his sinecure but Keith Alexander?
Keith Alexander, the NSA director from 2005 until last March, said he had no direct knowledge of the attack though it could have been backed by the Russian government in response to sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU over the crisis in Ukraine.
“How would you shake the United States back? Attack a bank in cyberspace,” said Alexander, a retired U.S. Army general who has started his own cybersecurity company to sell services to U.S. banks. “If it was them, they just sent a real message: ‘You’re vulnerable.’”
The hackers who attacked JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, were “a group with exceptional skills or a nation-state backed group,” Alexander said in an interview yesterday at Bloomberg’s Washington bureau.
“If you wanted to send a message, do you think that was significant enough for the U.S. government to say one of the best banks that we have from a cybersecurity perspective was infiltrated by somebody?” Alexander asked. “And if they could get in to do that, even if they never use it, they could get in and collapse it. Does that cause you concern?”
Note how Alexander admits he has no personal knowledge of the attack but then opines about the skills of the hackers and goes from there to hypothesize how this was a response from Russia?
So maybe it wasn’t JP Morgan or Mike Rogers crying wolf. It sure looks like Alexander is willingly feeding the poorly evidenced claims about this hack.
But don’t worry, Keith Alexander doesn’t have a conflict of interest at all.
In the middle of a discussion of how the NSA let FBI, CIA, and NCTC directly access the database of Internet query results in the report accompanying the Internet dragnet End-to-End report, a footnote describes searches NSA’s litigation support team conducts. (See page 12)
In addition to the above practices, NSA’s litigation support team conducts prudential searches in response to requests from Department of Justice or Department of Defense personnel in connection with criminal or detainee proceedings. The team does not perform queries of the PR/TT metadata. This practice of sharing information derived from PR/TT metadata was later specifically authorized. See Primary Order, Docket Number PR/TT [redacted] at 12-13. The Government respectfully submits that NSA’s historic practice of sharing of U.S. person identifying information in this manner before it was specifically authorized does not constitute non-compliance with the PR/TT Orders.
Keith Alexander’s declaration accompanying the E2E adds more detail. (See page 16)
The designated approving official does not make a determination to release information in response to requests by Department of Justice or Department of Defense personnel in connection with criminal or detainee proceedings. In the case of such requests, NSA’s Litigation Support Team conducts prudential, specific searches of databases that contain both previously disseminated reporting and related analyst notes. The team does not perform queries of the PR/TT metadata. NSA then provides that research to Department of Justice or Department of Defense personnel for their review in connection with criminal or detainee proceedings. This practice of sharing information derived from the PR/TT metadata is now specifically authorized. See Primary Order, Docket Number PR/TT [redacted] at 12-13.
Language approving searches of the corporate store conducted on behalf of DOJ and DOD does not appear (at least not at 12-13) in the early 2009 — probably March 2, 2009 — Internet dragnet primary order. But related language was included in the September 3, 2009 phone dragnet order (it does not appear in the July 8, 2009 phone dragnet order, so that appears to have been the first approval for it). Given the timing, the language might stem either from another notice of violation to the FISC (one the government has redacted thus far); or, it might be a response to recommendations made in the Joint IG Report on the illegal dragnet, which was released July 10, 2009, and which did discuss discovery problems.
But the language describing the Litigation Support Team searches is far less descriptive in the September 3, 2009 phone dragnet order.
Notwithstanding the above requirements, NSA may share information derived from the BR metadata, including U.S. person identifying information, with Executive Branch personnel in order to enable them to determine whether the information contains exculpatory or impeachment information or is otherwise discoverable in legal proceedings.
The E2E and Alexander’s declaration make two things more clear.
First, NSA can disseminate this information without declaring the information is related to counterterrorism (that’s the primary dissemination limitation discussed in this section), and of course, without masking US person information. That would at least permit the possibility this data gets used for non-counterterrorism purposes, but only when it should least be permitted to, for criminal prosecutions of Americans!
Remember, too, the government has explicitly said it uses the phone dragnet to identify potential informants. Having non-counterterrorism data available to coerce cooperation would make that easier.
The E2E and Alexander declaration also reveal that the Litigation Support Team conducts these searches not just for DOJ, but also for DOD on detainee matters.
That troubles me.
According to the NYT’s timeline, only 20 detainees arrived at Gitmo after these dragnets got started, and 14 of those were High Value Detainees who had been stashed elsewhere for years (as were the last batch arrived in 2004). None of the men still detained at Gitmo, at least, had been communicating with anyone outside of very closely monitored situations for years. None of the Internet dragnet data could capture them (because no historical data gets collected). And what phone data might include them — and remember, the phone dragnet was only supposed to include calls with one end in the US — would be very dated.
So what would DOD be using these dragnets for?
Perhaps the detainees in question weren’t Gitmo detainees but Bagram detainees. Plenty of them had been out communicating more recently in 2004 and 2006 and even 2009, and their conversations might have been picked up on an Internet dragnet (though I find it unlikely any were making phone calls to the US).
It’s possible the dragnet was used, in part, to track released detainees. Is dragnet contact chaining one of the things that goes into claims about “recidivist” detainees?
Finally, a more troubling possibility is that detainee attorneys’ contacts with possible witnesses got tracked. Is it possible, for example, that DOD tracked attorneys’ contacts with detainee family members in places like Yemen? Given allegations the government spied on detainees’ lawyers, that’s certainly plausible. Moreover, since NSA does not minimize contacts between attorneys and their client until the client has been indicted, and so few of the Gitmo detainees have been charged, it would be utterly consistent to use the dragnet to track lawyers’ efforts to defend Gitmo detainees. Have the dragnets been focused on attorneys all this time?
One thing is clear. There is not a single known case where DOJ or DOD have used the dragnets to provide exculpatory information to someone; Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was unable to obtain discovery on dragnet information even after the government bragged about using the dragnet in his case.
Nevertheless, NSA has been sharing US person information without even having to attest it is counterterrorism related, outside of all the minimization procedures the government boasts about.
At some point (perhaps at the end of 2009, but sometime before this application), the government tried to reapply, but withdrew their application. The three letters below were sent in response to that. But they were submitted with the reapplication.
(15/27) In addition to tagging data itself, the source now gets noted in reports.
(16/27) NSA wanted all analysts to be able to query.
(16/27) COntrary to what redaction seemed to indicate elsewhere, only contact chaining will be permitted.
(17/27) This implies that even technical access creates a record, though not about what they access, just when and who did it.
(17/27) NSA asked for the same RAS timelines as in BRFISA — I think this ends up keeping RAS longer than an initial PRTT order.
(18/27) “Virtually every PR/TT record contains some metadata that was authorized for collection, and some metadata that was not authorized for collection … virtually every PR/TT record contains some data that was not authorized by prior orders and some that was not.”
(21/27) No additional training for internal sharing of emails.
(21/27) Proof they argue everything that comes out of a query is relevant to terrorism:
Results of queries of PR/TT-sourced metadata are inherently germane to the analysis of counterterrorism-related foreign intelligence targets. This is because of NSA’s adherence to the RAS standard as a standard prerequisite for querying PR/TT metadata.
(22/27) Note “relevance” creep used to justify sharing everywhere. I really suspect this was built to authorize the SPCMA dragnet as well.
(23/27) Curious language about the 2nd stage marking: I think it’s meant to suggest that there will be no additional protection once it circulates within the NSA.
(24/27) NSA has claimed they changed to the 5 year age-off in December 2009. Given the question about it I wonder if that’s when these letters were sent?
(24/27) Their logic for switching to USSID-18:
these procedures form the very backbone for virtually all of NSA’s dissemination practices. For this reason, NSA believes a weekly dissemination report is no longer necessary.
(24-5/27) The explanation for getting rid of compliance meetings is not really compelling. Also note that they don’t mention ODNI’s involvement here.
(25/27) “effective compliance and oversight are not performed simply through meetings or spot checks.”
(27/27) “See the attached word and pdf documents provided by OIG on an intended audit of PR/TT prior to the last Order expiring as an example.” Guess this means the audit documents are from that shutdown period.
(2) DNI adopted new serial numbers for reports, so as to be able to recall requests.
(3) THey’re tracking the query reports to see if they can withdraw everything.
(3) THis is another of the places they make it clear they can disseminate law enforcement information without the USSID requirements.
(4) It appears the initial application was longer than the July 2010, given the reference to pages 78-79.
There are some very interesting comparisons with the early 2009 application, document AA.
(1) Holder applied directly this time rather than a designee (Holder may not have been confirmed yet for the early 2009 one).
(2) The redacted definition of foreign power in AA was longer.
(3) “collect” w/footnote 3 was redacted in AA.
(3) Takes out reference to “email” metadata.
(3) FN 4 both focuses on “Internet communication” rather than “email [redacted]” as AA did, but it also scopes out content in a nifty way.
I said yesterday that the plan, going as far back as 2002, was to let CIA and FBI tap right into NSA’s data. I base that on this explanation from Keith Alexander, which he included in his declaration accompanying the End to End Report that was submitted sometime after October 30, 2009.
By the fall of 2002, the Intelligence Community had grown increasingly concerned about the potential for further attacks on the United States. For example, during 10 to 24 September 2002, the Government raised the homeland security threat condition to “orange,” indicating a high likelihood of attack. In this context, in October 2002 the Directors of NSA, CIA, and FBI established an Inter-Agency Review Group to examine information sharing [redacted] The group’s top recommendation was that NSA create a common target knowledge database to allow joint research and information exchanges [redacted].
Of course, we now know that the threat level was high in September 2002 because the government was chasing down a bunch of false leads from Abu Zubaydah’s torture.
Abu Zubaida’s revelations triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms. The interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the man Abu Zubaida identified as heading an effort to explode a radiological “dirty bomb” in an American city. Padilla was held in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years on the allegation but was never charged in any such plot. Every other lead ultimately dissolved into smoke and shadow, according to high-ranking former U.S. officials with access to classified reports.
“We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,” one former intelligence official said.
In other words, the justification for creating a database where CIA and FBI could directly access much of NSA’s data was a mirage, one created by CIA’s own torture.
All that’s separate from the question of whether CIA and FBI should have access directly to NSA’s data. Perhaps it makes us more responsive. Perhaps it perpetuates this process of chasing ghosts. That’s a debate we should have based on actual results, not the tortured false confessions of a decade past.
But it’s a testament to two things: the way in which torture created the illusion of danger, and the degree to which torture — and threat claims based on it — have secretly served as the basis the Executive uses to demand the FISA Court permit it to extend the dragnet.
Even the current CIA Director has admitted this to be true — though without explicitly laying out the import of it. Isn’t it time we start acknowledging this — and reassessing the civil liberties damage done because of it — rather than keeping it hidden under redactions?
The early focus on the dragnet violations was on the phone dragnet. At the end of March, however, DOJ started preparing to look more closely at the PRTT program in late April 2009, which may be why some of the following violations got disclosed to Reggie Walton in conjunction with a May reauthorization application. The CIA, FBI, and NCTC access to the PRTT seems to have been a bigger issue than the BR FISA data.
All that said, when the NSA completed its End-to-End report sometime in fall 2009, they didn’t report all that much beyond the violations noted in May (though they did note the NSA did not shut down some automatic process when it said it did), mostly by claiming they didn’t realize the original dragnet order meant what it said (in spite of the violation in the first dragnet order).
It was only after that that they noticed FISC NSA had been collecting content from the start of the program (see document O). Once they admitted that, NSA decided not to reapply for a Primary Order, and Reggie Walton issued a supplemental order (document E) ordering them not to collect any more, but also not to access the data they did have. Only after that did DOJ submit the End-to-End report, accompanied by DOJ and Keith Alexander reports that admitted the content violation.
I Con the Record just released some ridiculously overclassified Internet dragnet documents it claims shows oversight but which actually shows how they evaded oversight. I’ve added letters to ID each document (I’ll do a post rearranging them into a timeline tomorrow or soon thereafter).
For a timeline I did earlier of the Internet dragnet program see this post.
This will be the first of several working threads, starting with descriptions of what we’ve got.
8/12: Note I will be updating this as I can clarify dates and content.
B. FISC Primary Order: This is an Internet dragnet order signed by Reggie Walton, probably in 2008 or very early 2009. It shows that the Internet dragnet program, which was almost certainly illegal in any case, had less oversight than the phone dragnet program (though at this point also collected fewer records). It was turned over pursuant to FAA requirements on March 13, 2009.
C. FISC Primary Order: This is an Internet dragnet order probably from May 29, 2009 (as identified in document D), signed by Reggie Walton. It shows the beginning of his efforts to work through the Internet violations. It appears to have been provided to Congress on August 31, 2009.
D. FISC Order and Supplemental Order: This is a version of the joint June 22, 2009 order released on several occasions before. It shows Reggie Walton’s efforts to work through the Internet dragnet violations. Here’s one version.
E. FISC Supplemental Order: This appears to be the dragnet order shutting down dragnet production. It would date to fall 2009 (production was likely shut down in October 2009, though this might reflect the initial shut-down).
F. FISC Primary Order: I’m fairly sure this is an order from after Bates turned the Internet dragnet back on in 2010 (and is signed by him), though I will need to verify that. It does require reports on how the NSA will segregate previously violative records, which is consistent with it dating to 2011 sometime (as is the requirement that the data be XML tagged).
G. FISC Memorandum Opinion Granting in Part and Denying in Part Application to Reinitiate, in Expanded Form, Pen Register/Trap and Trace Authorization: This is the order, from sometime between July and October 2010, where John Bates turned back on and expanded the Internet dragnet. Here’s the earlier released version (though I think it is identical).
H. Declaration of NSA Chief, Special FISA Oversight and Processing, Oversight and Compliance, Signals Intelligence Directorate, the National Security Agency: This was a report Walton required in document C, above, and so would be in the May-June 2009 timeframe. Update: Likely date June 18, 2009.
I. Government’s Response to the FISC’s Supplemental Order: This is the government’s response to an order from Walton, probably in his May 29, 2009 opinion (see this order for background), or even earlier in May.Update: This response dates to June 18, 2009 or slightly before.
J. Declaration of NSA Chief, Special FISA Oversight and Processing, Oversight and Compliance, Signals Intelligence Directorate, the National Security Agency: This appears to be the declaration submitted in support of Response I and cited in several places. Update: likely date June 18, 2009.
K. Supplemental Declaration of Chief, Special FISA Oversight and Processing, Oversight and Compliance, Signals Intelligence Directorate, the National Security Agency: This appears to be the declaration that led to document C above.
L. Government’s Response to the FISC’s Supplemental Order Requesting a Corrective Declaration: This is a declaration admitting dissemination outside the rules responding to 5/29 order.
M. Government’s Response to a FISC Order: This is the government’s notice that it was using automatic queries on Internet metadata, just as it also was with the phone dragnet. This notice was provided to Congress in March 2009.
N. Declaration of Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander, U.S. Army, Director, NSA, Concerning NSA’s Compliance with a FISC Order: After Walton demanded declarations in response to the initial phone dragnet violation, he ordered NSA to tell him whether the Internet dragnet also had the same problems. This is Keith Alexander’s declaration describing the auto scan for that program too. It was provided to Congress in March 2009.
O. Preliminary Notice of Potential Compliance Incident: This is the first notice of the categorical violations that ultimately led to the temporary shutdown of the dragnet, in advance of order E.
P. Notice of Filing: This is notice of a filing in response to inquiry from Judge Walton. It could be from any time during David Kris’ 2009 to early 2011 tenure.
Q: Government’s Application for Use of Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices for Foreign Intelligence Purposes:
This appears to be the application following Order E, above. I don’t think it’s the 2010 application that led to the reauthorization of the dragnet, because it refers to facilities whereas the 2010 order authorized even broader collection. (Remember Bates’ 2010 order said the government applied, but then withdrew, an application.) Update and correction: this application must post-date December 2009, because that’s when NSA changed retention dates from 4.5 years to 5. Also note reference to change in program and request to access illegally collected data from before 10/09.
R. Memorandum of Law and Fact in Support of Application for Pen Registers and Trap and Trace Devices for Foreign Intelligence Purposes: This appears to be the memorandum of law accompanying application Q.
S. Declaration of General Keith B. Alexander, U.S. Army, Director, NSA, in Support of Pen Register/Trap and Trace Application: This is Alexander’s declaration accompanying Q.
T. Exhibit D in Support of Pen Register/Trap and Trace Application: This is a cover letter. I’m not sure whether it references prior communications or new ones.
U. First Letter in Response to FISC Questions Concerning NSA bulk Metadata Collection Using Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices: This is the first of several letters in support of reinitiation of the program. The tone has changed dramatically here. For that reason, and because so much of it is redacted, I think this was part of the lead-up to the 2010 reauthorization.
V. Second Letter in Response to FISC Questions concerning NSA bulk Metadata Collection Using Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices: This second letter is entirely redacted except for the sucking up to Bates stuff.
W. Third Letter in Response to FISC Questions Concerning NSA Bulk Metadata Collection Using Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices: More sucking up. Some language about trying to keep access to the existing illegally collected data.
X. Application for Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices for Foreign Intelligence Purposes: This is the first application for the Internet dragnet, from 2004. Very interesting. Note it wasn’t turned over until July 2009, after Congress was already learning of the new problems with it.
Y. Memorandum of Law and Fact in Support of Application for Pen Registers and Trap and Trace Devices for Foreign Intelligence Purposes: The memorandum of law accompanying X. Also turned over to Congress in 2009.
Z. Declaration of General Michael V. Hayden, U.S Air Force, Director, NSA, in Support of Pen Register/Trap and Trace Application: This goes with the initial application. NSA has left stuff unredacted that suggests they were access less bandwith than they, in the end, were. Also remember NSA violated this from the very beginning.
AA. Application for Use of Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices for Foreign Intelligence Purposes:
This appears to be the application for the second PRTT order. I’ll return to this tomorrow, but I don’t think it reflects the violation notice it should.
BB. Declaration of NSA Chief, Special FISA Oversight and Processing, Oversight and Compliance, Signals Intelligence Directorate:
This is NSA’s declaration in conjunction with the first reapplication for the dragnet. This should have declared violations. It was turned over to Congress in March 2009. [update: these appear to be early 2009 application]
CC. Declaration Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander, U.S. Army, Director, NSA, Concerning NSA’s Implementation of Authority to Collect Certain Metadata: This is Alexander’s declaration accompanying the End-to-End report, from sometime in fall 2009.
DD: NSA’s Pen Register Trap and Trace FISA Review Report: The end-to-end report itself. it was provided to Congress in January 2010.
EE: DOJ Report to the FISC NSA’s Program to Collect Metadata: DOJ’s accompaniment to the end-to-end report.
FF: Government’s First Letter to Judge Bates to Confirm Understanding of Issues Relating to the FISC’s Authorization to Collect Metadata: After Bates raauthorized the Internet dragnet, DOJ realized they might not be on the same page as him. Not sure if this was in the 2009 attempt or the 2010 reauthorization.
HH: Tab 1 Declaration of NSA Chief, Special Oversight and Processing, Oversight and Compliance, Signals Intelligence: This appears to be the 90-day report referenced in document C. Update: Actually it is referenced in Document A: note the paragraphs describing the chaining that were discontinued before the dragnet approval.
II: Verified Memorandum of Law in Response to FISC Supplemental Order: This is one of the most fascinating documents of all. It’s a 2009-2011 (I think August 17, 2009, though the date stamp is unclear) document pertaining to 3 PRTT targets, relying on criminal PRTT law and a 2006 memo that might be NSA’s RAS memo (though the order itself is FBI, which makes me wonder whether it seeds the FBI program). It may have been what they used to claim that Internet content counted as metadata.
JJ: Memorandum of Law in Response to FISC Order: A September 25, 2006 response to questions from the FISC, apparently regarding whether rules from criminal pen registers apply to PATRIOT PRTT. While I think this addresses the application to Internet, I also think this language may be being used for location.
KK: Government’s Motion to Unseal FISC Documents in Order to Brief Congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees: This is a request to unseal an order — I suspect document E — so it could be briefed to Congress.
LL: Order Granting the Government’s Motion to Unseal FISC Documents in Order to Brief Congressional Intelligence and Judiciary Committees: Walton’s order to unseal KK for briefing purposes.
MM: April 27, 2005 Testimony of the Attorney General and Director, FBI Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: This is the 2005 testimony in which – I pointed out before — Alberto Gonzales did not brief Congress about the Internet dragnet.
NN: NSA IG Memo Announcing its Audit of NSA’s Controls to Comply with the FISA Court’s Order Regarding Pen Register/Trap and Trace Devices: This lays out an audit with PRTT compliance, noting that the audit also pertains to BR FISA (phone dragnet). It admits the audit was shut down when the order was not renewed. It’s unclear whether this was the 2009 or the 2011 shutdown, but the implication is it got shut down because it would not pass audit.
OO: NSA IG Memo Suspending its Audit of NSA after the NSA’s PRTT Metadata Program Expired: the formal announcement they were shutting down the IG report. Again, it’s not clear whether this was the 2009 or the 2011 shutdown.
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“They were pretty much obliterated,” said one Capitol Hill staffer who attended the exercise. “The active-duty team didn’t even know how they’d been attacked.”
Nevertheless, here is one of the things he told Ken Dilanian in his second “exclusive” interview attempting to explain why he should get rich in the private sector capitalizing on 9 years of fear-mongering about cyber.
“If I retired from the Army as a brain surgeon, wouldn’t it be OK for me to go into private practice and make money doing brain surgery?” he asked. “I’m a cyber guy. Can’t I go to work and do cyber stuff?”
Alexander’s story has changed a bit since his last attempt to explain himself, to Shane Harris. The number of patents he’ll get expanded from 9 to 10.
His firm is developing as many as 10 patents, he said, and has secured contracts with three clients he declines to name.
And he claims — after apparently not challenging the underlying $1 million a month claim to Harris — that his rates were always overblown.
Reports of his firm charging $1 million a month for consulting services are not accurate, he said, though he declined to disclose his firm’s fees.
“That number was inflated from the beginning,” he said.
But that’s not the best bit. In addition to revolving door shadow regulator Promontory Financial Group (which goes unmentioned in both stories) and the Chertoff Group, Dilanian reveals who gave Alexander the advise he could get rich off serving the last 9 years in a top national security position: Someone who spent those same years in a top national security position.
Lawyers at NSA and his private lawyers— including former FBI Director Robert Mueller, now with the Wilmer Hale law firm in Washington — have told him he is on firm legal footing, Alexander said.
These exclusives are all well and nice, but both of them ignore the reports about Alexander serving as the lead to set up a public-private partnership between the banksters and the national security state to infringe our privacy in order to keep the banks safe (heck neither mentions his known contract with SIFMA).
Until exclusives actually ask Alexander about the known thrust of this program, they’re going to help his credibility no more than the exclusives with the same journalists explaining NSA spying did.
As I have repeatedly noted, I think President Obama will protect John Brennan — and the CIA more generally — because of the mutual complicity built in between CIA and the White House over covert ops.
It’s not just that CIA knows the full details of the drone killings Obama authorized on his sole authority. It’s also that the CIA is still protecting the Office of the Presidency’s role in torture by withholding from the Senate documents over which the White House might — but did not formally — claim Executive Privilege. Obama did the same thing when he went to some lengths to prevent a very short phrase making it clear torture was Presidentially-authorized from being released in 2009; it wasn’t just the Finding that still authorized his drone strikes the President was protecting, but the Office that George Bush sullied by approving torture.
I also think Obama will stand by Brennan because they have worked closely so long Brennan is one of Obama’s guys.
Bloomberg View’s Jonathan Bernstein doesn’t agree, however. After dismissing Conor Friedersdorf’s version of the mutual incrimination argument, he suggests Obama is simply demonstrating to the national security bureaucracy he’s on their side.
Obama is concerned -– in my view, overly so -– with demonstrating to the intelligence bureaucracy, the broader national security bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy in general, that he is on their side. The basic impulse to stand up for the people he appointed isn’t a bad one; nor is the impulse to demonstrate to the intelligence community that he is no wild-eyed peacenik softie who opposes the work they do. For one thing, he’s more likely to effect change in national security areas if experts in the government believe he’s at least sympathetic to them as individuals and to their basic goals, even if he questions some of the George W.Bush-era (or earlier) methods. For another, the ability of bureaucrats to hurt the president with leaks doesn’t depend on the existence of deep dark secrets. Every president is vulnerable to selective leaks and a drumbeat of steady negative interpretations from the bureaucracy.
And yet, overdoing support for the bureaucracy can have severe costs. On torture, for example, emphasizing the good intentions of those faced with difficult choices during the last decade makes sense. But failing to take action, and leaving bureaucrats with serious liabilities because the status of their past actions is unresolved, only may have made reassuring them of presidential support increasingly necessary. That’s not a healthy situation.
Again: some of the incentive to (at least at first) stand up for presidential appointees is inherent in the presidency, and a healthy thing to do even when the president believes people have misbehaved and should go. But throughout his presidency, Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to potentially crossing his national security bureaucracy, and I strongly suspect that torture and other Bush-era abuses are both part of the original cause and will cause more of that timidity down the road.
Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to crossing his NatSec bureaucracy?
First, as I have already noted, Obama was perfectly happy demanding David Petraeus’ resignation for fucking his biographer. While I have my doubts whether that was really the reason — and while by firing him, Obama undercut a potential 2012 rival — he didn’t shy away from firing a man with some of the best PR in DC.
You might also ask the 19 top Generals and Admirals Obama has fired (most with the help of Bob Gates; also note the 20th on this list is Petraeus) — so many that conservatives accuse him of “purging” — whether he’s squeamish about crossing the NatSec bureaucracy. And while Micah Zenko’s comment on Twitter is correct that intelligence officials have largely escaped this treatment, Obama seemed happy to use Michael Leiter’s National Counterterrorism Center’s failure to stop the UndieBomb attack to fire then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.
President Obama is not a man afraid to fire members of the national security bureaucracy.
The starkest contrast with Brennan’s treatment comes from the case of Stanley McChrystal.
Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation not because his night raids were exacerbating extremism in Afghanistan. Not because many service members felt he had left them exposed. Not because, even then, it was clear the surge in Afghanistan was going to fail.
Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because Michael Hastings exposed McChrystal and his top aides (including Michael Flynn, who quit in April because of differences on policy) being insubordinate. Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because doing so was necessary to maintain the primacy of civilian control — like separation of powers, one of the bedrocks ensuring national security doesn’t trump democracy.
That, to me, is the important takeaway from comparing McChrystal’s fate with Brennan’s.
When a top member of the national security bureaucracy challenged the control of the civilian executive, he got canned, appropriately, in my opinion.
But when the Director of the CIA permitted his Agency to strike at the core of the separation of powers by investigating its overseers, Obama offered his support. Obama may have fired a top general for threatening Executive authority, but he has supported a top aide after he threatened Legislative authority.
You can come up with any number of explanations why Obama did that. But being afraid of taking on his National Security bureaucracy — as distinct from taking on the intelligence agencies, as Obama chose not to do when Clapper lied or when Keith Alexander oversaw the leaking of the family jewels even while getting pwned in his core cyberdefense capacity — is not the explanation.
Obama has proven to have no qualms about upsetting his national security bureaucracy. Just that part of it run covertly.
ArmyTimes has a story about how CyberCommand service members took on a team of civilian reservists in a cyber war game last year, the civilians handed the active duty team their ass.
When the military’s top cyberwarriors gathered last year inside a secretive compound at Fort Meade, Maryland, for a classified war game exercise, a team of active-duty troops faced off against several teams of reservists.
And the active-duty team apparently took a beating.
“They were pretty much obliterated,” said one Capitol Hill staffer who attended the exercise. “The active-duty team didn’t even know how they’d been attacked.”
ArmyTimes uses the shellacking to raise questions about the mix between active duty and reservists CyberCommand should be using.
But it seems the exercise ought to also undermine one justification for keeping NSA’s Information Assurance Division, its spying, and CyberCommand unified.
One argument behind doing so is that’s the only way to make the appropriate measure of which vulnerabilities the government should sit on and exploit for their own spying and offensive capabilities, and which they should disclose and patch. The unified CyberCommander — first Keith Alexander and now Admiral Mike Rogers — are the only ones who can appropriately measure the trade-offs.
If the military hierarchy — and the article suggests the hierarchy is part of the problem — doesn’t serve the understanding of cyberwar very well, then how is the guy at the top of the hierarchy going to be best able to understand the trade-offs? If his subordinates don’t “even know they’d been attacked,” then how are they able to judge what exploits might be attackable?
Everything about this article, particularly the complementarity of the civilian and military skills it describes, suggests we’d be better served by having some who recognizes an attack as an attack in charge of keeping our networks safe.