Tag Archives: Intelligence

Tip top secret

When the Washington Post released their Top Secret America in July it was met with almost universal yawns.  They released another part in their series yesterday and while not exactly packed with new information (particularly for readers of this humble endeavor) it’s worth a look.

This article focused on the proliferation of state and local agencies in the intelligence business.

Among their findings:

  • Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.
    • Perhaps expecting the same, cracker-jack results?  Read Sven’s post on this for more.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.
    • Are you kidding me?  How hard can it be to count all those flat screen TVs?
  • Napolitano has taken her “See Something, Say Something” campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation’s capital for “Terror Tips” and to “Report Suspicious Activity.”…In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.
    • Uh…you mean the system where we threatened to blacklist people unless they started naming other ‘sympathizers’?
  • there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.
    • And the results?  Five arrests and NO convictions.

    “Ninety-nine percent doesn’t pan out or lead to anything” said Richard Lambert Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville office. “But we’re happy to wade through these things.”

    • No, it’s not 99% doesn’t pan out…It’s 99.99997% that doesn’t pan out

There’s also a discussion on the rather poor state of analysis at that level with the tendency to throw the term around like it’s going out of style.

“The CIA used to train analysts forever before they graduated to be a real analyst,” said Allen, the former top CIA and DHS official. “Today we take former law enforcement officers and we call them intelligence officers, and that’s not right, because they have not received any training on intelligence analysis.”

This is the result of an assumption (despite what you hear about how important analysts and analysis is) that intelligence work generally and analysis specifically is something any reasonably bright (or not so bright) person can do.

Actually qualified personnel to do analysis?  Bah!  That’s for sissies!

Training gets a long overdue hit as well.

In their desire to learn more about terrorism, many departments are hiring their own trainers. Some are self-described experts whose extremist views are considered inaccurate and harmful by the FBI and others in the intelligence community

Yeah, let’s be clear.  This isn’t only true of terrorism.  Way, way back I did training that I was unqualified to do.  I didn’t know I was unqualified.  I thought I knew what I was talking about but now I shudder when I think about some of the things I said.  Fortunately, the consequences of my actions were minimal.

And there’s plenty of space left for my old bugbear, fusion centers.

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

‘Analytical hubs’ seems a bit generous but the jist of the statement is about right.  Many centers prioritize their capabilities and work to the availability of funds rather than any assessment of threat.  That’s why we’ve ended up with the concept of ‘all crimes, all hazards’ which really is just the fusion center equivalent of that dopey color coded threat level thing.

The DHS also provides local agencies a daily flow of information bulletins.These reports are meant to inform agencies about possible terror threats. But some officials say they deliver a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless.

And, local agencies, suffering from IC envy produce their own useless junk.  But, when your metric for success is how big your mailing list is and how many bulletins you distribute you really don’t care if it’s useless.  Which leads to another problem…no system for evaluating the usefulness and accuracy of published products.  Instead, you see a ‘fire and forget’ mentality in which review and reflection play no role in the intelligence process.

And let’s bring it all home with the inevitable warning that it’s not if another attack happens…but when:

“We have our own terrorists, and they are taking lives every day,” Godwin said. “No, we don’t have suicide bombers – not yet. But you need to remain vigilant and realize how vulnerable you can be if you let up.”

I’ve been listening to people tell me that we’re six months away from a wave of suicide bombers in the U.S. for at least six years now.  While I’m sure we’ll see them some day, as they say:  even a broken clock is right twice a day.

 

What does Wikileaks have to say about the Swedes?

(Note:  No Wikileaks cables were actually viewed in the writing of this post.  Rather all of the information came from media sources describing the data which, if I understand things correctly, makes them -the stories-fair game to comment on.)

Cablegate (sigh…I guess we’re stuck with that name) has some interesting things to say about the Swedes and Finns.

Not particularly surprising yet nice to be explicitly discussed was the American assessment that Swedish neutrality continues to exist in name only.

Wood furthermore wrote that information from Sweden’s military and civil security services is an important source of information for the USA for Russian military conditions and for knowledge of Iran’s nuclear programme.

I did think it unusual that the Social Democrats were so forthcoming about internal political issues to the American ambassador.

The Social Democrats‘ foreign policy spokesperson Urban Ahlin criticised his party’s lack of ideas in meetings with officials from the US embassy, according to US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

The other item worthy of note is the Swedish commitment to the Afghan mission.  Allegedly (because the minister in question is denying the conversation took place) asked for help in getting an Afghan minister to visit the Riksdag in the hopes that the resulting discussion would bolster support for the Swedish mission in Afghanistan.

The CIA did yet another bang-up job.  While flying their prisoners to various black sites around the world, the Swedish government “made it clear that it wanted to know if the United States was transporting prisoners and indicated that future flights would be given closer scrutiny” after receiving reports that planes listed as ‘private’ were in fact chartered by the U.S. and suspected of carrying prisoners.  To verify such things were, in fact occurring:

Confirmation that the planes were transporting prisoners came in April 2006 after a daring “surveillance operation” was ordered by Swedish security service Säpo and carried out without the knowledge of the Americans.

On Säpo’s orders, Swedish military intelligence agents dressed up as airport service personnel and boarded the plane. The agents reported back that the plane was carrying prisoners.

Hey guys.  If you’re moving prisoners around the world and want to keep it secret it’s probably not a good idea to let the catering guy have free run of the aircraft to resupply your stash of peanuts.

Kvick Tänkare

There’s some hypothesizing that one reason dolphins have such big brains is because they have to keep track of a large number of really complex relationships.  More complex than any animal other than humans.

Male bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) form tight bonds with friends and allies that are as intricate and devious as those of humans. Researchers already know, for example, that males team up as duos or trios—known as first-level alliances—so that they can mate with a female without her swimming away… But rival males will often try to steal the female, causing the duo or trio to join forces with other duos and trios in what’s known as a second-level alliance.

Now Connor and colleagues have found an even higher level of alliance. In the biggest fights, the team found, the second-level alliance may receive help from another group of male dolphins, forming what the researchers call a “third-level” alliance. Even among chimpanzees, scientists have not witnessed such sophisticated partnerships, where one group of animals receives help from another group in a fight.

Brian over at Gamecrafter’s Guild has taken the legend of the tomte and adapted it for 4th edition D&D rules.  First rule to remember…don’t piss off the tomte.

Great story from Sweden:

Swedish porn mogul Berth Milton has come up with an unusual business proposition for his next project: five-star hotels where guests can stay for free in exchange for having their indiscretions filmed and broadcast over the internet.

But hey, Mr. Milton wants you to know that if he builds one of these in your neighborhood, you needn’t worry about your property values falling.

“It has to be a hotel for non-swingers as well — not super-explicit where everybody’s running around naked. That takes the style and class out of it,” he said.

Oh…as long as they keep the style and class.

The balance of this post is NSFW

Even better story from West Virginia.  Police reports tend to be pretty dry and boring affairs.  Still, when there’s a good story it can shine through even the most boring official lingo.  And anytime a police report includes a quote like this you know there’s a doozy of a story attached:

“Somebody is going to eat my pussy or I’m going to cut your fucking throat.”

Oh, and it gets even better.  This story has everything…a marriage on the rocks, a motor lodge, two half naked buddies, and a crazy lady with a knife.  (h/t Balko)

If you’re in the Princeton area today…Updated!

There’s a lecture at the Woodrow Wilson school that sounds pretty good:

“The Politics and Psychology of Intelligence: Iraq and Other Wars”

October 07, 2010 4:30 p.m. 6:00 p.m.

Location: Robertson Hall Bowl 016
If I can make it there, find me and I’ll buy you a beer.  The code phrase is:  ‘Shiloh sent me’
UPDATE:  Yeah, it might help if I could tell the 6th from the 7th.  Not sure if I can make it tomorrow but if I can, the deal is still on.

Kvick Tänkare

Great headline:  Monkeys hate flying squirrels, report monkey-annoyance experts. (h/t Boingboing)

IBM has created a web-based version of the CIA factbook.  There’s enough variables to filter, views to alter and colors to see that even the most jaded of you will start to drool. (h/t sources and methods)

Sitherine is coming out with a new game that looks fun.  Battlefield Academy is based on a free BBC game of the same name.  You can still play the BBC versions with allow you to fight the Battle of Trafalgar or the original games which takes you through Rome, the Middle Ages, Napoleon’s time and WWII.

Peter talks about the Soviet withdrawal from his country (Hungary).

FBI epic fail.  Wikimedia epic win!  Hopefully the FBI realizes they are in a hole and will stop digging.

Lung Hu has two great posts worthy of your attention both revolving around that Iranian scientist defector/abductee/whatever Sharram Amiri. If you like your international relations with a lot of alternate hypothesis you probably haven’t heard before, check it out.

Pentagon orders barn door closed…

I KNOW there are smart people working at the Pentagon.  How, then, can one explain this massive failure to understand modern technology and culture?

The Pentagon on Thursday urged whistleblower website WikiLeaks to “do the right thing,” calling on the site to hand over thousands of leaked US military documents and halt future public releases.

Ok, let’s leave aside for the moment that this is a ridiculous request.  Wikileaks is clearly opposed to the war in Afghanistan and the idea that they’d now go ‘Oh…I’m sorry.  You wanted those?  My bad here they are.’ just defies reality.

But let’s assume they did that.  Guys, the stuff has been online, available for a download for a week now.  You can download it on bit torrent websites like Pirate Bay which means, it’s out there and it’s never coming back.

The people at the Pentagon must know this which means this must be theater. For what reason remains to be seen.  It better be a good plan, however.  It’s bad enough we haven’t been able to catch a guy who reportedly needs dialysis in the Northwest Frontier Province for 9 years.  Hopefully, the DoD hasn’t just set itself up to get its ass kicked by scrawny, pale Australian.

In other Wikileaks news:  Obviously all the talk about taking out Mr. Assange has gotten him concerned and he appears to have taken countermeasures.

Online whistle-blower WikiLeaks has posted a huge encrypted file named “Insurance” to its website, sparking speculation that those behind the organization may be prepared to release more classified information if authorities interfere with them.At 1.4 gigabytes, the file is 20 times larger than the batch of 77,000 secret U.S. military documents about Afghanistan that WikiLeaks dumped onto the Web last month, and cryptographers say that the file is virtually impossible to crack — unless WikiLeaks releases the key used to encode the material.

That file has been available for download and we can safely assume it’s on thousands, if not millions, of machines now.

Kocher, of Cryptography Research, agreed, saying that the only conceivable way anyone outside of WikiLeaks could decode “Insurance” was if Assange and his colleagues had used a blatantly obvious password or experienced some kind of “catastrophic algorithm error.”

“We’re not going to find out what’s in that file unless somebody reveals the key,” Kocher said.

Looks like we might have a classic Mexican standoff.  But, I just don’t see how the DoD wins this one.  By engaging with Wikileaks and not reaching a favorable conclusion (which I can’t even imagine) which would not only recover all the documents but discourage everyone else from copying the Wikileaks model it makes the national security complex look more and more impotent.

And if the U.S. Government overplays its hand?  Maybe by snatching up Wikileaks personnel.  All you’ll do then is rally thousands of advocates around the world who’ll spread the docs further and turn prying secrets from the U.S. Gov’t into an even bigger prize.

The milk has spilled, gentlemen.  Stop crying and move on.

Oh…and check out this interview of Daniel Ellsberg (the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers) about the WikiLeaks issue.

More WikiLeaks fallout

Dan Gilmor (isn’t he in Pink Floyd? Oh, no, that’s Dave Gilmour) had an article up earlier this week regarding the WikiLeaks data dump that was quite good.  I have nothing to say about their historical (or lack thereof) significance but he does make a valid point when he says:

Whatever our keepers of intelligence secrets do know, and whatever abuses they’ve done to our civil liberties to learn them, they must feel less sure today about keeping it all contained. When that many people have access to information, however compartmentalized their bosses may think they’ve made the system, some of it will get out, which leads to something else we should worry about.

The WikiLeaks war diary will absolutely spur our powerful institutions to look for increasingly draconian ways to clamp down on how we share information. What WikiLeaks represents is what governments and corporations fear: a threat to their cultures of secrecy and dominance in their domains.

And here’s the point.  It’s going to get harder and harder to keep stuff classified in the future.  The only thing we get by over-classifying information is a dilution of the idea of the need to keep some information secret.  That, in turn, leads to people handling such information sloppily or intentionally leaking it.  You can raise the penalties all you want for unauthorized disclosure but with so many people having access to such vast quantities of classified information you’re really engaging in a futile exercise.

So, I suspect we will see new laws and perhaps new procedures which further hamper the ability of people in the field to work efficiently (see: the DoD ban on flash drives which had to be relaxed) but it won’t fundimentally change things.  Better classification AND declassification procedures would be a big help.