James Clapper’s Twisted Definition of an Insider Threat

Back when I reviewed the goodies the House Intelligence Committee had given James Clapper in this year’s Intelligence Authorization, I noted the bill eliminated this report on potential conflicts in outside employment (see clause u).

The Director of National Intelligence shall annually submit to the congressional intelligence committees a report describing all outside employment for officers and employees of elements of the intelligence community that was authorized by the head of an element of the intelligence community during the preceding calendar year.

That change — which will make it harder for people to track the kinds of conflicts of interest a number of top NSA officials recently got caught with — survived in the Omnibus into which the Intelligence Authorization got integrated. Which probably means we’ll be seeing more spooks getting paid by contractors on the side.

Yesterday, WaPo described a reporting requirement that had been in the Senate Intelligence Authorization, but got watered down in the Omnibus: a report on promotions revealing whether those being promoted were “unfit or unqualified.”

Under a provision drafted by the Senate Intelligence Committee this year, intelligence agencies would have been required to regularly provide names of those being promoted to top positions and disclose any “significant and credible information to suggest that the individual is unfit or unqualified.”

As WaPo explained, the measure was an effort by Dianne Feinstein to prevent the kinds of things reported in the SSCI Torture Report, where people with a history of abuse were put in charge of interrogation programs, or the example of Alfreda Bikowsky (whom WaPo describes but doesn’t name), whose series of failures qualified her for increasingly senior positions at CIA. WaPo makes clear this kind of failing upwards continues at CIA.
More recently, a top CIA manager who had been removed from his job for abusive treatment of subordinates was reinstated this year as deputy chief for counterintelligence at the Counterterrorism Center.
In short, the measure was meant to ensure that CIA (and other agencies) weren’t led by a bunch of abusive incompetents. But James Clapper couldn’t allow that apparently, because abusive incompetents would apparently decline promotion if they would be revealed to oversight committees as abusive incompetents.

U.S. officials offered multiple explanations for Clapper’s objections. Several said that his main concern was the bureaucratic workload that would be generated by legislation requiring so much detail about potentially hundreds of senior employees across the U.S. intelligence community.

But others said that U.S. spy chiefs chafed at the idea of subjecting their top officials to such congressional scrutiny and went so far as to warn that candidates for certain jobs would probably withdraw.

Lawmakers were told that “some intelligence personnel would be reluctant to seek promotions out of concern that information about them would be presented to the Hill,” said a U.S. official involved in the discussions.

So he balked and Congress watered down the requirement. Here’s what remains of the measure:

(a) DIRECTIVE REQUIRED.—The Director of National Intelligence shall issue a directive containing a written policy for the timely notification to the congressional intelligence committees of the identities of individuals occupying senior level positions within the intelligence community.

The fine print on the requirement probably provides ways for Clapper to squish out of it in many cases by invoking covert status (which, in turn, likely means CIA will expand its current practice of pretending top managers are covert to protect them from scrutiny) or otherwise claiming senior people are not sufficiently senior to require notice.

So rather than preventing the CIA and other agencies from promoting abusive incompetents, the measure will likely lead to them being hidden further behind CIA’s secrecy.

Which is interesting, especially given another Intel Authorization measure that survived in the Omnibus, that I earlier described as an effort to make sure spooks and those in sensitive positions aren’t joining EFF or similar organizations.

The committee description of this section explains it will require DNI to do more checks on spooks (actually spooks and “sensitive” positions, which isn’t full clearance).

Section 306 directs the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to develop and implement a plan for eliminating the backlog of overdue periodic investigations, and further requires the DNI to direct each agency to implement a program to provide enhanced security review to individuals determined eligible for access to classified information or eligible to hold a sensitive position.

These enhanced personnel security programs will integrate information relevant and appropriate for determining an individual’s suitability for access to classified information; be conducted at least 2 times every 5 years; and commence not later than 5 years after the date of enactment of the Fiscal Year 2016 Intelligence Authorization Act, or the elimination of the backlog of overdue periodic investigations, whichever occurs first.

Among the things ODNI will use to investigate its spooks are social media, commercial data sources, and credit reports. Among the things it is supposed to track is “change in ideology.” I’m guessing they’ll do special checks for EFF stickers and hoodies, which Snowden is known to have worn without much notice from NSA.

Remember, one complaint Clapper had about the gutted requirement he identify the abusive incompetents being promoted at intelligence agencies is the added bureaucracy of tracking just those being promoted in management ranks. But he apparently had no problem with a requirement that ODNI track the social media of everyone at all agencies to make sure they’re going to keep secrets and don’t harbor any “ideology” changes like support for the Bill of Rights.

That is, Clapper’s perfectly willing to expand his bureaucracy to look for leakers, but not to weed out the dangerously incompetent people ordering potential leakers around.

Apparently, to James Clapper, people who might leak about those unfit for management are more dangerous insider threats than having entire centers run by people unfit for management.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

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 the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, 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 and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

40 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    We really need “The CIA Papers” instead of “The Pentagon Papers” or “The NSA Papers”. The CIA is the most arrogant, secretive, amoral, murderous part of our government. Think of all the mean, nasty, sonofabitch people you have known in your life, all in one place, multiplied a hundredfold, and that’s the CIA. Did’ja see the season finale of Homeland? Saul, oh our lovely Mr. Saul, coldly executing Alison and her two keepers. Classic. Watching the last couple episodes, I was hoping against hope that Berlin would be hit and it would be exposed as another CIA failure.

    • emptywheel says:

      Oh, I dunno. I’d put as much value on the “FBI papers,” but I agree the CIA ones would be filled with dirt and outrageous stuff.

      • martin says:

        quote”but I agree the CIA ones would be filled with dirt and outrageous stuff.”unquote

        Col. Prouty will not disappoint you. Outrageous is a massive understatement. Especially the documents regarding Edward Landsdale and the Secret Team.

  2. haarmeyer says:

    Hmmm. Clause “(u)” could go either way. On the one hand, the CIA presumably would have a problem with reporting outside employment that was being used as a cover, and that would be a legitimate concern sometimes — intelligence agencies do try to limit who knows about such things.

    On the other, there is a far better reason for knowing about outside startups like Teresa Shea’s. When the TIA program was ended in the government after congressional scrutiny, it never ended, it moved out of the government into a necklace of some 59 interlinked startups who reconverged with a working system for the Singaporean government several years later, and held a conference there some of which was devoted to how to get back into the U.S. intelligence community.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    Interesting little article about how the post World War I divisions of Arab lands have played out today. (I’m not looking to start any wars or such.) Reading it, I realize that I am substantially ignorant about such things. Can anyone link me to a factual, non-partisan history of the last 100 years of those lands?
    .
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/on-the-middle-east/2015/dec/30/middle-east-still-rocking-from-first-world-war-pacts-made-100-years-ago

    • haarmeyer says:

      My experience is that you need to read a lot of articles and sources and triangulate for the Middle East (and for quite a few other regions). You can find a lot of factual material, even just starting with Wikipedia, but nobody comes to histories of controversial regions without some kind of bias. To get a better picture, in addition to looking up Arab history, and Muslim history, and history of the Levant/Middle East/”Holy Land” etc., look up Ottoman history, Turkish history, and then start looking up the histories of the individual principalities within the Ottoman realm before the fall: Damascus, Aleppo, Kurdistan, Iraq, Mosul, e.g.

      Also, follow the “trades”. The spice trade (India to Somalia and Yemen to Arabia/Ottoman to Europe was important to the wealth of the sultans in Somalia and Yemen for instance before the Suez Canal of the British). The slave trade. The ivory trade. The gold trade. The trade in craftsmanship: Damascene, dyes, precious stones, etc. And study the history of all of the caliphates and their relation to the Bedouin tribes.

      Second piece of advice: Land and water areas which form major boundaries in people’s minds like the Red Sea between Africa and Asia, the Hellespont between Europe and Asia, even the Mediterranean Sea between Africa and Europe are extremely porous and nations and empires can and do span them, as do ethnic groups, races, religions and everything else.

      Don’t limit yourself to an area and ignore an adjacent area because of a name. It’s 20 miles from Djibouti to Yemen, even though one is considered Africa and the other Asia. Oman is so close to Ghadar that the two areas (currently Oman and Pakistan) have frequently been part of the same state. And don’t believe that everything starts when the Europeans arrive or has been the way the Europeans found it when they got there. E.g. the first “Suez Canal” dug was dug by the Pharoahs, B.C.E. and took a significantly different route due to a significantly different Nilotic delta at the time.

      Sorry, this isn’t a URL or a quick reference. But I don’t think there truly is one.

      • orionATL says:

        oh for christ’s sake haarmeyer. bloopie2 was commenting on an interesting article he had read, one which i found interesting too.

        he was asking for a good referal, not for someone to plan his ph. d. thesis for him.

        can you specify one or maybe two good books or articles?

      • martin says:

        quote”Sorry, this isn’t a URL or a quick reference. But I don’t think there truly is one.”unquote

        Thanks haarmeyer. Sounds like you’ve done your homework, as opposed to some here who haven’t but think your apology for lack of ONE URL wasn’t good enough.

          • martin says:

            quote”since when does simple regurgitation count as homework?”unquote

            Says one who offered nothing to bloopies request.

            • orionATL says:

              you’re ducking the issue. that issue was your comment @16, specifically, your gratuitous praise of haarmeyer’s longwinded and unhelpful memory dump – he had done his homework you said. he had manifestly done no such thing.

              • haarmeyer says:

                Actually, I had. I did tell him that Wikipedia was as good a place to start as any, all I was trying to do was to emphasize that there were a lot of intertwined issues and threads.

                I have two choices: I can try to believe that all the stuff I mentioned is so old hat to you that you don’t believe it constitutes information, which is kind of what you said, or I can easily believe you don’t know much about the history of the region and just like criticizing anyone who does. Shall we apply Ockham’s razor?

                The Ottoman Empire was a complex thing that lasted for hundreds of years during which a lot changed. It had very complicated relations with every other power and group with which it interacted. It had a very complex decline and fall. And the world in which it fell was quite different from the current one. The spice and slave trades were also incredibly complex, and had quite a bit to do with loyalties in the region, as did the conflicts of religion.

                There isn’t a shortwinded way to say that, nor is there a single reference for the history, unless you want to shove everything in little boxes and find simple answers to complex questions — answers that will be wrong but many are popular.

                I have a very specific way of approaching history and culture because of what I do for my day job. I have sometimes only two days (albeit every waking hour for two days) to learn a lot about some culture and have to do an impartial and very empathetic job on it. So I approach it the way I said, look at all the threads, frequently start with Wikipedia, and find in the process the key words and authors and sources I need to do that in less than half a day. That gives me the maximal time to absorb all I can of what I found and to follow the leads. Any other approach gives me somebody else’s point of view.

                BTW, what do you actually know about Ph.D. theses?

                • bmaz says:

                  Yeah, you had “two choices” alright:
                  .
                  1) Be a decent and helpful contributor here; or
                  2) Be a longwinded narcissistic asshole spewing self ingratiating bullshit just to hear yourself talk.
                  .
                  From your first comment on this site, it has been clear that the latter path is the only play you have in your book.

              • martin says:

                quote”that issue was your comment @16, specifically, your gratuitous praise of haarmeyer’s longwinded and unhelpful memory dump – he had done his homework you said.”unquote

                Maybe in your universe. His post helped ME, as opposed to your non-existent help. At least he tried to explain where to look as in his opinion, there existed no single URL. So, no thanks to you, I found information where to research the very question bloopie asked. Meanwhile, I’ll say it again…thanks haarmeyer!

                • orionATL says:

                  #30
                  “.. His post helped ME, as opposed to your non-existent help. At least he tried to explain where to look as in his opinion, there existed no single URL. So, no thanks to you, I found information where to research the very question bloopie asked…”
                  .
                  .
                  this little narrative of yours is quite clearly manufactured, martin. manufactured to fit the outcome you desired. that’s fiction writing, martin, to put it politely.

                  so martin, you expect us to believe a guy who knows all the stuff you cited in #3 and #4,

                  then complains in #26 that i didn’t help bloopie2, not you, but bloopie2,

                  that same guy then moves on in #30 to claim haarmeyer helped you find something bloopie2 had asked about, but you’d never shown a prior interest in knowing about?

                  is not making shit up?

                  that’s what you did martin, made shit up.

                  this little narrative of yours is quite clearly manufactured to fit the outcome you desired. that’s fiction writing, to put it politely.

  4. P J Evans says:

    Apparently, to James Clapper, people who might leak about those unfit for management are more dangerous insider threats than having entire centers run by people unfit for management.

    That would fit with the general trend in the US government to assume that whistle-blowers are more dangerous in government than actual foreign agents.

  5. CTuttle says:

    In regards to the major WSJ scoop, I think Mondoweiss nailed it…

    “You’d think it would be a scandal that the Israeli PM was intriguing with Republicans — and surely some Democrats– in the way the WSJ has documented; but instead the official reaction is likely to be how outrageous it was for Obama and the NSA to be listening in on the supposed only democracy in the Middle East.”

    Israel and its lobby lose the Iran Deal all over again, in news of damning wiretaps

  6. orionATL says:

    note for jim white –

    i know your interest in the iran negotiations.

    given ctuttles #s10 and 11 above:

    remember the curious matter of an ap news story appearing in say august/sept, 2015 (maybe have been jahn but dont recall) which purported to show as part of a negotiation document “proof” and justification for some of the criticisms that republican critics had made EARLIER (in july) in the congress ?

    quantum entanglement? or collusion between congressmen, israel, and the ap?

      • Jim White says:

        .
        Thanks. It has long been clear that Jahn has been used by a number of parties to funnel accusations against Iran into the media. Chief among those parties are Israel and the MEK, although reactionary parts of the US government often seem to play along.

        • orionATL says:

          thanks. i’m wondering if there might not be a document trail from nsa spying directly linking those specific congressional critical claims to israel or israeli agent and thence to their appearance as specific items in jahn’s last gasp. seems i recall ap behaved quite peculiarly when challenged on their original article.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Apparently, to James Clapper, people who might leak about those unfit for management are more dangerous insider threats than having entire centers run by people unfit for management.”

    That’s how bureaucracy’s routinely protect themselves. The CIA seems better at it than even the FBI under Hoover or the Treasury in White Hall. Pity about democracy though.

  8. dutch says:

    Clapper’s fear of leakers over incompetent managers is perfectly consistent with the majority of corporate CEOs world-over. The free flow of information is regarded as toxic to the executive classes in all environments. Knowledge being the source of power, it must be restricted to authorized channels within the executives’ control. Leaks threaten to drain the life blood out of the organization – at least as viewed from the executive suite. From his perspective the organization’s function is to maintain the prestige and power of the executive. If the organization’s secrets become known to everyone, his power relative to others is diminished.

    • bloopie2 says:

      Right. I would note also that the free flow of information is toxic elsewhere. Marriage (spouse to spouse) is not always the most open of relationships (the origin of “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it”). Child to parent — how often is that open and honest? Employee to boss — same. Your point carries across well.
      .
      Nevertheless, it’s clear what Clapper is doing, and it certainly does not help promote public confidence in the intelligence community.
      .
      And I’m sorry I started a food fight about books and url’s, but it sure is fun watching! Happy New Year to all!

    • orionATL says:

      your’s is one hell of a comment.

      it gets to the heart of the motive for excessively classifying documents in governments, for non-disclosure hiring agreements, and for sealed records in court settlements.

      it explains why edward snowden is considered a traitor equal to the fbi’s robert hanssen though hansen repeatedly betrayed u. s. operatives to the russians and spied undetected for 15 years.

      snowden’s great “treachery” involved none of this. snowden’s great treachery was that he gave the world undisputable evidence of what the nsa and its political overlords were doing and had been doing for a long time.

      snowden pulled aside the wizards’ sheets.

  9. bmaz says:

    Hi “Martin”, how ya doing?
    .
    Try not to be an idiot.
    .
    Which is going to be hard for you, since you are nothing more than a worthless sock puppet for a long known impertinent asswipe, “Wallace”
    .
    It would figure that YOU of all possible jackholes, are the one person to waltz in and support a malignant asshole like “Haarmeyer”.
    .
    Golly gee, it is almost like it is not coincidence.

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