Bradley Manning Defense: Good Data Miners Are Data Hogs

I happened to need to consult the PressFreedom transcript of today’s Bradley Manning trial. And came across this exchange, which goes to the heart of the debate on NSA’s dragnet of Americans.

In it, Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, questioned Chief Warrant Officeer Joshua Ehresman, the ranking officer in the SCIF Manning worked in. Ehresman describes how analysts in Manning’s role were encouraged to consult whatever sources they could get their hands on.

Q And you had earlier said the term data mining, what is data mining?

A That’s pulling everything you can from every bit of intelligence assets you’ve got to help build your products.

Q Would you expect (INAUDIBLE) list of data mining?

A Yes, sir.

Q Why is that?

A Because you can’t go off one source of intelligence to predict something to happen. You have to have other stuff that indicate that it’s going to happen. You can’t just guess.

Q Where do analysts obtain their information that they’re data mining?

A Everywhere, sir. We got them on the SIPR, we got them from the T-Drive. We got them from wherever we could, open source, anything.

Q And correct me if I’m wrong, when I think of the term data mining, what you just described, is basically an analyst looking at everything and anything that they can, at any location just to kind of figure out would this perhaps be relevant to what I’m doing, is that correct, or would you provide a different definition for it?

A Yes, sir.

Q Yes, sir, that’s —

A That’s correct. You’re trying to find out yes or no this is going to happen, and, yes, this is how it’s happened and this is why it’s happening. So you have to confirm or deny your assessment.

Q Now, with regards to I guess when you’re doing this was the any guidance put out that if your you’re data mining you can do everything but go to this particular area on SIPRnet?

A No, sir.

Q So were there any restrictions on what you would data mine on SIPRnet?

A No, sir.

Q Was it common for a soldiers or analysts to data mine?

A Yes, sir.

Q Did analysts also use open source information?

A Yes, sir.

Q And what is open source information?

A That’s regular Internet, sir.

Q How would an analyst use an open source?

A We would get on and check out the web pages or you can check out local newspaper or it’s anything that doesn’t come through our secret or higher confidential webs.

Q And, again, in kind of a general description, how would open source information help your work products?

A Sometimes some of the media had information that we didn’t find out through our patrols or something. We could get patrol report and they would have outside information or a different point of view from what happens. So we would use that in our assessment, sir.

Q And were analysts encouraged to use open source information for their work products?

A Yes, sir.

Q Was there any sort of restriction placed out by the S2 section of you can go to every place besides these sites on open source?

A There was no restriction, sir.

Ehresman would go on to testify that Manning was, “our best analyst by far when it came to developing products.” Manning was, Ehresman testified, “our go-to guy for a lot of our shops, sir.”

This has little to do, directly, with the question of whether Manning will be found guilty or innocent of the charges against him.

But it does demonstrate how impossible the goal of protecting both data mining analysis and privacy is. If you want the (then) Specialist Mannings of the world to do their job well, you need to give them as much information, in relatively unfettered form, as you can.

There’s little way to achieve this goal and, at the same time, protect the data you’re piping out, aside from the honor system. And the honor system relies, in turn, on you — the United States — matching your promises and claims.

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.

5 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    from the c. pierce et al., article cited in prior comments below and in greenwald:

    “… Expanding the frame in a different way, the McClatchy Washington bureau reported on the Obama Administration’s extremely aggressive crackdown on leaks: (June 20)

    President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide.

    “This has gotten scant public attention; let’s remedy that.” So goes the Snowden effect…”

  2. orionATL says:

    @orionATL:

    isn’t it about time to conclude our prez, for the second time in a row,

    is merely a figurehead on the ship of state.

  3. JThomason says:

    @orionATL: This is really the rub. The disconnect between the political trappings of the state and the emergent Federal police power are increasingly discontinuous. The infection of the executive branch with corporate initiative enhances the anonymity of the transfer of sovereignty away from the people. When in the last decade have we seen any effective check on this de facto disenfranchisement.

    Which really leads me to the point I have wanted to make for a couple of weeks around the NSA infringements against the Constitution. On a basic level one dimension of the Constitutional check against tyranny is the fundamental recognition of the autonomy of the individual and the acknowledgement of the inherent necessity of maintaining the material effects of citizenry. It is this distinction between the regulatory necessities of public life in comparison to the inviolable privacy necessary for true individual security which the Constitutional response to the threats of tyranny embody from one general perspective. Without this bulwark against tyranny or some other embodiment of the principles of self-government in the most specific and personal sense totalitarianism is inevitable. The Constitutional approach is perhaps an idealistic way of dealing with the problem of arbitrary authority and it is no trifling matter that true Constitutionalism is only possible in the context of education or enlightenment.

    The violation of this principle of individual autonomy however does not arise solely in the context of the police power. Inevitably an economic totalitarianism must drive this intrusion into the material provenance of the citizen. This is the reality of the genesis of tyranny. The Patriots of the American Revolution were required to slough off the burden of British colonial economic exploitation. While there may be academic distinctions in the colonial impulse compared the imperial impulse, the defining feature of each is that they are feeding mechanisms for a tyrannical hunger that devours the dignity of those that would stand in the way of resources perceived as irreplaceable including ideological or religious resources. The problem is not simplified when one considers the personal and social imperatives of defense against the inevitable focus of another’s emergent tyrannical glare. The demeaning effect of the dismantlement of the tradition of personal limitation through self-consciousness and enlightened and open social discourse resulting of calculating cruel violence of the tyrannical delusion destroys an irreplaceable legacy in the human experience.

    Edit: I suppose I have yet to reachthe deeper point I wanted to make about war and commerce and how totalitarian war necessarily dismantles the commercial autonomy of the entities is subsumes. In the end this dismantlement is a sterile gesture because commerce is essentially a mystery of civil speculation that emerges as an alternative to war. The violation of the commercial autonomy inherent in the nature of the Fourth Amendment signals an abandonment of the commercial mysteries. It is a capitulation to barbarities. Anyone that understands the imperative that one who ventures into the jungle best carry something mysterious to trade for one’s own good surely can understand how the intrusion into the cauldron of individual mystery is a craven error. Kicking down the door and ransacking the possessions of innocents is nothing to build a prosperous society upon. Instead it is a bankrupt act of desperation.

  4. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    “And the honor system relies, in turn, on you — the United States — matching your promises and claims.”

    Capitalism is based on integrity. It’s not an absolute but must be reliable enough to permit trade.

    When one entity undermines this basic yardstick the whole commercial world is put at risk.

    Here’s a valid and factual example:

    I have a brilliant idea, a new software app that is a killer. Bigger than Facebook. How do I discuss it with possible technical or financial investors and be sure the surveillance I’m under by the US is not going to recognize its brilliance and steal it, farm it out to Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc and be first to take it to market.

    Who wants to invest in this brilliant idea knowing that your investment could be worthless because the idea will be stolen?

    Really, it is a killer app, any takers?

    Picture this situation and ask yourself how capitalism can succeed with this pervasive surveillance, and then ask yourself if anything the US has done undermines capitalism as substantially as this surveillance.

    The US Government is the US’s worst enemy.

    HD Thoreau’s, “On Civil Disobedience” is worth rereading; not many US philosophers inspired Gandhi.

    http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html

  5. der says:

    – “Q And, again, in kind of a general description, how would open source information help your work products?

    A Sometimes some of the media had information that we didn’t find out through our patrols or something. We could get patrol report and they would have outside information or a different point of view from what happens. So we would use that in our assessment, sir.”

    Puts a different perspective on the reporters and editors “aiding the enemy” argument the government tries to make.

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