The Issues Thomas Drake and Others Whistleblew On Remain Urgent

I’ve been looking at one of the Siobhan Gorman articles that accused whistleblower Thomas Drake served as a source for. I’ll have more later, but I wanted to point out one main thrust of the story: the NSA had no way of measuring efficacy and controlling costs.

At the NSA, and throughout the government, the Sept. 11 attacks created a crisis atmosphere. Congress responded by pouring money into anti-terrorism efforts, while intelligence agencies scrambled to put new programs in place – often without the planning and oversight needed to succeed, intelligence professionals said.

At an agency-wide meeting at the NSA not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, Michael V. Hayden, then the NSA director, announced a $1 billion budget increase.

But the top-secret agency, based at Fort Meade between Baltimore and Washington, has no mechanism to systematically assess whether it is spending its money effectively and getting what it has paid for, NSA veterans said. One former employee likened it to a neighborhood with no police to enforce the traffic laws.

While this is not necessarily the core of what–per Jane Mayer–the government is prosecuting Drake for, it’s important for this reason. The NSA has been claiming–falsely–to have fixed its clusterfuck accounting system.

In June 2009, the Director of NSA wrote to the Chairman and Vice Chairman, claiming that the NSA was now ―fully compliant with the laws, regulations, and manuals referenced in the U.S. Army Finance Command report and the Federal Financial Managers Integrity Act. The NSA Director‘s letter also stated that the NSA had been able to reconcile its fiscal year 2008 financial records. In July 2009, the Chairman and Vice Chairman wrote to the Secretary of Defense concerning the NSA Director‘s letter. They stated that in light of the NSA‘s past difficulties in producing auditable financial statements, the Committee believed the progress claimed by the NSA should be independently confirmed by the DoD Inspector General. Specifically, the letter requested that the DoD IG conduct a form and content review of the NSA‘s fiscal year 2009 financial statements to determine whether they were supported by reliable and accounting data and supporting information.

The Committee received the results of the DoD IG‘s review in November 2009, which was very critical of NSA‘s claims. Overall, the IG found that the NSA‘s financial statements were not adequately supported by reliable accounting data and supporting information. An even more disturbing finding was that the NSA‘s ―remediation plans do not fully address audit impediments. Specific findings included an inability to reconcile critical general ledger balances, failure to perform required accounting processes, and inconsistencies between the information contained in the notes to the financial statements and the information provided to the IG. The IG‘s findings raised serious questions about the assertions made by the NSA Director in his June 2009 letter and the support he is receiving from the administrative staff involved. [my emphasis]

This is just one reason why the government’s prosecution of Thomas Drake is so outrageous. While his charges pertain to the way in which contracts get picked (rather than to the accounting clusterfuck itself), the prosecution of him–effectively, if Mayer is right, because he refused to falsely claim close allies sourced the illegal wiretap story–serves primarily to intimidate whistleblowers.

It took intelligence oversight committees seven years to prove that NSA wasn’t fixing problems first exposed eight years ago. Yet people were trying–in 2006–to expose the ongoing problems.

And yet the most transparent President seems to be doing everything he can to make sure no one makes similar efforts in the future.

  1. marksb says:

    It seems to me that as you dig deeper into the internal workings of certain security and justice agencies, you are uncovering aspects that indicate clear system-wide disfunctionality, where bad decisions and corruption are leveraged to a much higher level.

    For me it’s quite overwhelming, seeing the evident lack of organizational intelligence enabling ass covering and political-oriented decisions and spin.

    While it’s certainly possible that the whole system is just plain fucked up, it’s also possible that having a system in a constant chaotic (unmanaged) state serves the goals of people interested in undermining transparency and honesty.

    Perhaps your comment,

    And yet the most transparent President seems to be doing everything he can to make sure no one makes similar efforts in the future.

    Is more accurate than not.

    Once again, Marcy, thank you for your work. (When my ship comes in later this summer, I’ll buy a membership.)

  2. lysias says:

    Drake threatened the gravy train.

    What was Trailblazer all about?

    In 2002 a consortium led by Science Applications International Corporation [SAIC] was chosen by the NSA to produce a technology demonstration platform in a contract worth $280 million. Project participants included Boeing, Computer Sciences Corporation, and Booz Allen Hamilton. The project was overseen by NSA Deputy Director William B. Black, Jr., an NSA worker who had gone to SAIC, and then been re-hired back to NSA by NSA director Michael Hayden in 2000. [5][6][7] SAIC had also hired a former NSA director to its management; Bobby Inman.[8] SAIC also participated in the concept definition phase of Trailblazer.[9][10]

    What was (and is) lead contractor SAIC all about?

    The company has had as part of its management, and on its Board of Directors, many well known ex-government personnel including Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense in the Nixon administration; William Perry, Secretary of Defense for Bill Clinton; John M. Deutch, President Clinton’s CIA Director; Admiral Bobby Ray Inman who served in various capacities in the NSA and CIA for the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations; and David Kay who led the search for weapons of mass destruction for the U.N. following the 1991 Gulf War and for the Bush Administration following the 2003 Iraq invasion.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Per the Jane Mayer story, the NSA ignored the simple, fast, easy to understand, in-house solution. It opted to go outside and duplicated the typical FBI IT clusterfuck by spending $1.2 billion on garbage. That set us back years and wasted a lot of money, even by NSA standards. It will have enriched one or more suppliers, now more joined at the government hip than before. Failure seems to be a reward, not cause to rethink or find other players. Nice work if you can get it.

    That’s part of what Drake spilled by the beans on, if naively done for a guy with so many years in the business. That his and Binney’s work was corrupted so as to enable domestic spying, now that’s an even bigger story. No wonder the govt wants to bury the whistleblowers and discredit them as enemies of the state.

    As for the NSA’s accounting, as is true of the several sets of books an enterprise normally keeps in Italy or France (one for the tax man, one for customs, one for the enterprise itself, etc.), keeping its accounting opaque would seem to be one of NSA’s successes.

    Congress never seems to mind, so why have transparent accounting that would inevitably invite scrutiny? That taxpayers and citizens expect it in exhange for the money they worked hard to provide seems beside the point.

  4. Quatro40 says:

    Some whistle-blowers end up being disgruntled employees that were taking kick backs, when the kickbacks stop they blow the whistle to cover their backs. That is why after you start your business you have to keep a good eye on, yours accounts payable department as it can lend itself to fraud. I came across an article that talks about the vulnerability of that department and how it can be exploited into fraud: