The Clapper Review: How to Fire 90% of SysAdmins?

Yesterday, I noted it took just 72 hours from Obama to turn an “independent” “outside” review of the government’s SIGINT programs into the James Clapper Review of James Clapper’s SIGINT Programs.

But many other commenters have focused on the changed description of the review’s mandate. In his speech on Friday, Obama said the review would study, “how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts our foreign policy.”

On Monday, his instruction to James Clapper said the review would, “whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.”

Both addressed public trust. But Monday’s statement replaced a focus on “absolutely no abuse” with “risk of unauthorized disclosure.”

Now, I’m not certain, but I’m guessing we all totally misunderstood (by design) Obama’s promises on Friday.

The day before the President made those promises, after all, Keith Alexander made a different set of promises.

“What we’re in the process of doing – not fast enough – is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” he said.

The remarks came as the agency is facing scrutiny after Snowden, who had been one of about 1,000 system administrators who help run the agency’s networks, leaked classified details about surveillance programs to the press.

Before the change, “what we’ve done is we’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing,” Alexander said.

We already know that NSA’s plan to minimize the risk of unauthorized disclosure involves firing 900 SysAdmins (Bruce Schneier provides some necessary skepticism about the move). They probably believe that automating everything (including, presumably, the audit-free massaging of the metadata dragnet data before analysts get to it) will ensure there “absolutely is no abuse.”

And by turning the review intended to placate the civil libertarians into the review that will come up with the brilliant idea of putting HAL in charge of spying, the fired SysAdmins might just blame the civil libertarians.

So this review we all thought might improve privacy? Seems, instead, designed to find ways to fire more people faster.

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23 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    the president has no problem with deviousness. he is after all a chicago machine politician.

    reprised:

    20
    orionATL on August 9, 2013 at 9:22 pm said:

    “…this is what the white house transcript says:

    “..So all these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values…”

    the washington post quote left out some words, but frankly i think the double meaning can still be found there with no difficulty. specifically, whether “the american people” were intended by prez as identical to the “our” (efforts, interests, values) he uses. i don’t think he considered the two to be equivalent at all. the “our” i take to be the administration.

    here for comparison is the wapo cite i noted:

    “..“All these steps are designed to ensure that the American people are in line with our interests and our values,” Obama said. …” …”

    – See more at: https://www.emptywheel.net/2013/08/09/breaking-information-is-collected-on-millions-of-americans/#comments

  2. max says:

    They probably believe that automating everything (including, presumably, the audit-free massaging of the metadata dragnet data before analysts get to it) will ensure there “absolutely is no abuse.”

    No, they probably believe that getting rid of the sysadmins (and may I say: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA) will prevent future leaks.

    The ‘absolutely no abuse’ part had to go because ‘abuse’ is the entire point of the program. They’re saying they’re working hard to prevent anybody in the future from finding out about the abuse*.

    max
    [‘They are in wholesale full-tilt ‘protect the program’ mode. Given that it basically sucks swampwater at dealing with terrorism (and they know it), the other reasons they like the program must be the controlling factor here.’]

    * The 4th Amendment looks like someone murdered by their ex-boyfriend

  3. C says:

    Having worked in IT I’ll just say two things: (1) Firing the sysadmins always seems to make sense to management whether it be to save money or, in this case, to save face; (2) Firing the sysadmins and replacing them with machines (read fewer overworked sysadmins) never ever works. Ultimately things just break faster. Taken at face value, this is a stupid plan cooked up by a man accustomed to giving orders but not grounded in reality.

    Perhaps they plan to outsource?

  4. EH says:

    Is it possible that “firing sysadmins” is a codeswitch for changing their titles/employment terms such that the people with their responsibilities/privileges are brought under a different set of rules/laws?

  5. Arbusto says:

    [W]hether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.

    As Marcy alluded to, it’s interesting and sad Obama puts intel technology and collection in support of foreign policy (corporations) above the 1st, 4th and 14th amendment, deleting any reference from his Friday propaganda in his Monday declaration while anointing the fox to secure the hen house.

  6. Stella says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you regarding Clapper.

    However, let’s say we had a truly independent technical review group, who would you recommend head this group & who would make up the members of this board?

  7. der says:

    I hope Jennifer Hoelzer’s covered her bases, I have no doubt a “trusted retained sys admin” has been looking through her stuff after she published that bit of Obama sunlighting. Also too, hope she doesn’t live in Carmen Ortiz’ district.

  8. orionATL says:

    aha! i’ve had a vision. the metatruth about the obama admin and national security –

    the president and his agents have proactively and strenuously sought to keep any part of the american citizenry from having any information about national security programs other than information it doles out thru leaks and official ststements.

    the president and his men have targeted three groups of american citizens who have special experience and skill to educate the rest of us and to challenge the president and the programs and actions he supports.

    the three groups targeted are:

    – the judges, thru the use of “state’s secrets, stonewalling, witholding of facts, and calculated misrepresentations of the law

    – the reporters, both print and internet, thru its five-year program of out-of-proportion prosecution of whistleblowers and its calculated intimidation and prosecution of journalists, combined with the co-optation of dozens of willing television journalists and commentators

    – the congressfolk, thru the whitehouse and doj’s truly massive five-year effort to withold all relevant information on national security programs while asserting its transparency and willingness to have an open debate. at the same time, the obama admin has persistently cozyed up to senators and reps of either party who would lend support the president’s actions and legislation.

    this war against the courts, the print reporters, and our elected representatives and senators has been sustained for the entirety of obama’s five-year tenure.

    why was it ever necessary? i don’t think so.

    why was it deemed necessary?

    i don’t know.

    i do know that it seems distinctly authoritarian in its manifestations, e.g., the withholding or twisting of information the state’s secrets arguments, the mistreatment of whistleblowers, the use of language that earily echoes government language used by officials and supporters of the soviet union.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @C: They already outsource. To Snowden’s employer, Booz.

    But yeah, I don’t think it can work either.

  10. TomVet says:

    @reliably: Thanks for the link. From the article:

    “The Review Group will be made up of independent outside experts. The DNI’s role is one of facilitation, and the Group is not under the direction of or led by the DNI,” Hayden said. “The members require security clearances and access to classified information so they need to be administratively connected to the government, and the DNI’s office is the right place to provide that. The review process and findings will be the Group’s.”
    (my emphasis)

    Non sequitur or oxymoron?

  11. P J Evans says:

    @TomVet:
    Non-sequitur for $200, Tom.

    (Actually, it reminds me of the Los Angeles water & power employee who told me in all seriousness that he didn’t work for the city. Yeah, right.)

  12. M.Black says:

    From President Obama’s August 12, 2013 Memorandum to the Director of National Intelligence:

    To this end, by the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I am directing you to establish a Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies(Review Group). The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust. Within 60 days of its establishment, the Review Group will brief their interim findings to me through the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the Review Group will provide a final report and recommendations to me through the DNI no later than December 15, 2013.

    http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2013/08/after-lying-to-congress-dni-clapper-will-head-independent-nsa-review-group-2736198.html

    (Emphasis added)

    I’m inclined to believe the recent denial of this rather unequivocal directive to Clapper is the rankest kind of backpedaling in the face of the general outrage expressed at the contempt for the American people displayed by Obama’s action. But it’s always possible that the White House is truly more fucked-up-incompetent than anyone could imagine.

    I look forward to seeing Marcy try to wrangle some consistent meaning out of the words “establish” and “through.” In the latest news story the White House appears to be parsing as fast as it can.

  13. orionATL says:

    @M.Black:

    “..But it’s always possible that the White House is truly more fucked-up-incompetent than anyone could imagine…”

    has been for five+ years.

    the guy in charge had no experience in political administration before ascending, thru clouds of rhetoric and kleig lights, into the oval office.

    8 lost years of bush; 8 lost years of obama; and the 8 more lost years of another dumb-ass republican.

    24 lost years, whilst other major nations are surging forward.

    this long abscence of competent leadership could be an anchor too heavy for even the mighty american economy to drag.

  14. lefty665 says:

    @m.black “But it’s always possible that the White House is truly more fucked-up-incompetent than anyone could imagine.” FUBAR lives!

    @orionATL Don’t forget the 8 years of Bill. Most of them were lost too, and those were the good ones. The bad ones repealed Glass-Steagal and deregulated derivatives. It was only Monica that saved us from his deal with Newtie to screw Social Security. There was that tech stock bubble thing, and health care NOT, and, and, and…

  15. TarheelDem says:

    @C: “Taken at face value, this is a stupid plan cooked up by a man accustomed to giving orders but not grounded in reality.” – Sounds like the classic definition of a military general.

  16. Patrick Watson says:

    Alexander’s plan to replaces human admins will no doubt involve huge secret contracts negotiated by highly-paid ex-generals, whose companies Alexander will join soon.

    I wish someone would ask Alexander what kind of signing bonus he expects. $5 million? $20 million? He’s easily worth it to them.

  17. klynn says:

    Public trust is not a policy. It is suppose to be built on law. Makes sense that if everyone looks at public trust as policy only, we are where we are today.

    Public trust is NOT policy.

  18. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Me, I’d be more concerned with how uncontrolled surveillance affects domestic life, not foreign policy. As even a freshman student of national politics is taught, “foreign” policy and politics is domestic politics and policy using borrowed name tags.

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