22 April, 2006

Today's trivia question

Question: How many people work in the American intelligence community?

Answer: Nearly 100,000 work in 16 federal departments and agencies.

Source: John Negroponte, DNI (at the National Press Club)

21 April, 2006

CIA in crisis; IC in disarray

Max Holland, in The American Spectator, is providing a glimpse of the bureaucratic fighting and mismanagement to be found one year after the formal reorganization of the American intelligence community. The good news, if you can call it that, is that so many resources are being turned to stopping another 9/11 that even the current state of disaray probably won't obstruct a warning abut that particular kind of threat.

(Of course, part of the price of shining a spotlight against one location is that everything else is in relative darkness. America has more enemies than Al Qaeda, and they are adaptable enough to use the dark. Whatever we do, there will always be the questions "where aren't we looking?" and "what aren't we recognizing?")

The bad news is the construction of yet another bloated bureaucracy around the Director for National Intelligence to sit above and attempt to manage the disfunctional bureaucracies that already exist.

Further bad news is that a lot of good people are being screwed for reasons that have more to do with politics than performance. For someone like me, an academic with an outsider's interest in intelligence, the fighting has (lesser) personal results: new categories of classification (as in "Unclassified but restricted"), the re-classification of formerly available materials, and the shipwreck at Studies in Intelligence, an in-house journal (classified and unclassified) with an excellent reputation. What is happening in and around that journal is instructive:

When Studies was initiated in 1955, the literature on intelligence was almost nonexistent. It was thought that the intelligence profession would not become a real discipline without a literature that could be shared and accumulated. Over the decades, several of the CIA's most esteemed minds served on the editorial board of Studies, which became a venue for wide-ranging and often self-critical articles. The only criterion for publication was whether the article made a "contribution to the literature of intelligence," in the editorial board's opinion (disclosure: this writer has had two articles published in Studies).

But at Goss's CIA, free expression and thoughtful criticism have been trumped by political correctness. The problem erupted in the fall of 2005, when Studies published an excerpt from a post-mortem on the intelligence community's failure to assess accurately Iraq's WMD capabilities. The post-mortem had been ordered by former DCI George Tenet, who wanted at least one inquest done by experienced officers, without a special ax to grind, and beyond the glare of publicity. Tenet contracted a group of outside consultants headed by Richard Kerr, a much decorated former deputy director of the agency, to conduct the review.

It is not apparent why Kerr's post-mortem incited Goss and the gosslings, since the published portion was far more critical of the intelligence community for feeding policy-makers erroneous estimates than it was of the policy-makers for allegedly cherry-picking the intelligence or pressuring analysts. Perhaps Kerr's major transgression was to point out that the other intelligence assessments about Iraq have proven to be right on the mark; the most important being the forecast of sectarian violence after Saddam Hussein's overthrow. Under the Goss regime it is apparently forbidden to depict the intelligence community as being anything other than in lockstep with the administration's rosy scenarios.

Seven months later, the offending issue still has not been posted on-line, even though unclassified articles in Studies are normally put up within weeks of publication. Paul Johnson, the director of the office that publishes Studies and chairman of the editorial board, has resigned, along with the editor, Barbara Pace. The most chilling aspect is that there are newly established editorial hurdles at the journal. Merit is no longer the sole criterion governing publication.

Yes, American intelligence had needed to change for years before 9/11. But these "reforms" have done little but create new problems.

19 April, 2006

The Balkan crossroads

If anyone has an original of this report. I'd love to see it. From the Eurasian Services Daily Review:

Islamic militants with ties to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations have been crisscrossing the Balkans for more than 15 years, according to an intelligence report focusing on their activities in Bosnia. The 252-page analysis, compiled jointly by US and Croatian intelligence and obtained by The Associated Press, said extremists financed in part with cash from narcotics smuggling operations were trying to infiltrate Western Europe from Afghanistan and points further east via a corridor running through Turkey, Kosovo and Albania. The report offers new evidence to support what authorities long have suspected: that terrorists have taken advantage of the Balkans' porous borders and relatively lax security to meet, train and possibly plot attacks elsewhere in Europe. "Either they come here seeking logistical support, financial support or to contact certain individuals to get instructions, or to hide for a moment from those who are following them", Dragan Lukac, deputy director of SIPA, Bosnia's equivalent to the FBI, told the AP in an interview.
Thousands of Islamic fighters, or mujahedeen, came to Bosnia to fight on the Muslim side during the country's 1992-95 war. But militants, including some with suspected ties to Al-Qaeda, were active in the region even before it dissolved into ethnic conflict, the intelligence report says. They included Kamr Ad Din Khirbani, a member of Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, who moved to Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991 to set up a humanitarian aid organization at the direct request of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the report says. It says Khirbani used the organization, Al-Kifah, "to infiltrate Group's members into Bosnia", and contends that Iran and other unnamed Arab countries bankrolled the operation through cash transfers. The Group was behind a series of terrorist bombings that targeted the Paris subway system in 1995, killing eight people and wounding hundreds of others.

Nothing especially new, but the report seems to provide more recent evidence.

18 April, 2006

Scary stuff

I think I scared the hell out of most of my students today. I know I scared some of them. This happens a lot when the subject turns to global terrorism.

I try to keep in mind that there's a line that I need to observe. I want the class to understand that the problem is real and serious. This isn't movies and TV. Real people die, and the bad guys often get away with it. I don't want students to panic, and I certainly don't want the kind of "hopeless" anxiety that leads to passive acceptance.

The way in which the topic is portrayed by the government (and in the mass media, too) doesn't help. We're led to look outside of ourselves--to the president, the Office of Homeland Security, or Jack Bauer the all-American hero--to save us. Fear is used as a lever to shape votes, limit debate, and encourage us to look away. And its not just terrorism. For decades people have been told to follow instructions and rely on government. To be small and scared and dependent. More and more people need to admit that government can't do it. Neither can heros--real or imagined. When things come down to the crunch, it's up to each of us to do the best we can--to cooperate, when cooperation makes sense, or to stand alone.

Serial movie villians would invariably shout something like "Who will save you now?!" the moment before the hero arrived to make things right. But guess what: nobody's coming. Nobody can. It's up to us, each of us. We can't afford the luxury of paralysis. Or ignorance.

12 April, 2006

Global Strike

The Global Strike mission continues to occupy the minds of American defense planners. For those who haven't heard about it, the main idea is that the US should be able to hit high-priority mobile targets fast, before they have a chance to move. The goal is that within an hour of learning the location of a target anywhere in the world it should be possible to drop explosives on it. Unless you have something stationed in orbit, this requires something like an intercontinental ballistic missile. Until now, American ICBMs have had nuclear warheads, but the may be too much of a bang--and too dangerous politically. So the Navy is working on modifying the Trident D5 to carry a conventional warhead. This raises the issue of launching a missile that might be nuclear or conventional--and leaving the target to decide if it will wait for confirmation before assuming the worst. The Air Force (never one to be left out) is proposing a new missile. Meanwhile, the argument rages on over whether the mission makes sense.

10 April, 2006

Color me stupid

From a former student:

And greetings from South Korea.
I've been reading your blog pretty regularly, it's actually one of the more interesting ones I know of. I just wondered if you have comments disabled on purpose, or if you didn't realize that comments are disabled?
Best regards,

Oops. That should teach me to play with a template. I hope it works now. If not, there's always email.

09 April, 2006

Nuclear bunker-buster

From the Independent of London, a sketch of the sort of weapons we might see in a strike on Iran.

06 April, 2006

Can you trust your ISP?

Which Internet Service providers are passing along information to the NSA? There's no way to be sure, but CNET asked the question of several and got the following official answers:

We asked them: "Have you turned over information or opened up your networks to the NSA without being compelled by law?"

Company Response
Adelphia Communications Declined comment
AOL Time Warner No [1]
AT&T Declined comment
BellSouth Communications No
Cable & Wireless* No response
Cablevision Systems No
CenturyTel No
Charter Communications No [1]
Cingular Wireless No [2]
Citizens Communications No response
Cogent Communications* No [1]
Comcast No
Cox Communications No
EarthLink No
Global Crossing* Inconclusive
Google Declined comment
Level 3* No response
Microsoft No [3]
NTT Communications* Inconclusive [4]
Qwest Communications No [2]
SAVVIS Communications* No response
Sprint Nextel No [2]
T-Mobile USA No [2]
United Online No response
Verizon Communications Inconclusive [5]
XO Communications* No [1]
Yahoo Declined comment

* = Not a company contacted by Rep. John Conyers.
[1] The answer did not explicitly address NSA but said that compliance happens only if required by law.
[2] Provided by a source with knowledge of what this company is telling Conyers. In the case of Sprint Nextel, the source was familiar with Nextel's operations.
[3] As part of an answer to a closely related question for a different survey.
[4] The response was "NTT Communications respects the privacy rights of our customers and complies fully with law enforcement requests as permitted and required by law."
[5] The response was "Verizon complies with applicable laws and does not comment on law enforcement or national security matters."

Note--this is only responding to voluntary compliance. It says nothing about requests made under the provisions of law and/or executive order.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has sued AT&T and provided evidence that the telecom has provided its customer records to the NSA:

EFF claims that it has a sworn statement by Mark Klein, a retired AT&T telecommunications technician -- and several internal AT&T documents -- that show a "dragnet surveillance" has been put into place to facilitate the NSA's controversial surveillance scheme. (Here's our survey of telecom companies regarding NSA cooperation.)

Alas, we likely won't know details until the judge decides to release them.

Even if the documents prove everything that EFF claims, it's not a slam dunk for the group.

The state secrets privilege, outlined by the Supreme Court in a 1953 case, permits the government to derail a lawsuit that might otherwise lead to the disclosure of military secrets.

In 1998, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals elaborated on the state secret privilege in a case where former workers at the Air Force's classified Groom Lake, Nev., facility alleged hazardous waste violations. When requested by the workers' lawyers to turn over information, the Air Force refused.

The 9th Circuit upheld a summary judgment on behalf of the Air Force, saying that once the state secrets "privilege is properly invoked and the court is satisfied as to the danger of divulging state secrets, the privilege is absolute" and the case will generally be dismissed.

That "absolute privilege" case is still good law and is binding on the judge that will hear EFF's case.

Privacy? We don' need no stinkin' privacy!

03 April, 2006

Training the Al-Qaida soldier

The jamestown Foundation (reprinted by ISN) has a very interesting piece on the training of the al-Qaida operative and what it tells us about motives and assumptions. For example:


When training each mujahid, al-Qaida's doctrine declares that the first priority must be "spiritual preparation […] because it is necessary to attain victory". The key to this preparation is two-fold, al-Qaida's Ma'adh al-Mansur explained. First, each fighter must completely accept the fact that God has promised victory to the Muslims if they obey His word. Second, the fighter must recognize that victory has not yet come because most Muslims love life and hate death, and thus have strayed from God's path, most specifically from the path of jihad. As a result, al-Mansur directs that each trainee be taught that "God has set the infidel nations against them [the Muslims] to inflict on them humiliation and lowly status. This is an inevitable and ordained punishment that befalls those who abandon jihad". For this degraded status, each Muslim man should be deeply ashamed, and should "die of grief if he does not ward off the calamities inflicted on his fellow Muslims and Kinsmen".

In other words, al-Qaida doctrine does not argue that the current predicament of Muslims is the fault of what Al-Faruq al-Amiri calls "the campaign and reality of the crusader enemy". Rather, that predicament flows from the refusal of Muslims to resist the infidels' attack. The commonly held Western view that al-Qaida and its followers blame the West for all of Islam's woes - an understanding most stridently advocated by Bernard Lewis - thus falls by the wayside. Al-Qaida trainees are taught that the humiliation God has inflicted on Muslims for their failure to obey Him can only be lifted by Muslims accepting God's word and "returning to jihad". If they do so, they will win victories like those the Prophet Muhammad and his companions won in the battles of Badr and The Trench in Islam's first years of existence. "Although the Muslims [with Muhammad] were few and had scanty military means, and the infidels were many and well-equipped," al-Mansur reminds today's mujahedin, "victory was in the hands of God."

Well worth a look.

Who's the enemy?

A report (heavily redacted, of course) finds that the inter-agency squabbles between the FBI and the Coast Guard threatens to reduce the effectiveness of an American response to a terrorist threat from the sea. Not surprising, just disappointing.

Revising the Geneva Conventions

Still another call--this time from the British defense secretary--for a revision of the Geneva Conventions to deal with non-state combatants. It's a good idea as far as it goes, but it doesn't address the basic problem: how can one create and maintain a regime to limit violence if one side has no particular interest in doing so? It is notoriously difficult to deter suicide bombers...