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Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has taken a lot of heat for his performance and statements in the last few months, much of it deserved. His ignorance regarding a substantial terrorist plot an entire day after arrests were made in London is inexcusable and his claim that the Muslim Brotherhood was a ‘largely secular’ group was laughable. However, the latest flap regarding comments made by Mr. Clapper have been wrongly criticized by members of Congress and the media. Cue the newstory:

During an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., asked Clapper which country posed the greatest threat to the United States.

“Certainly, the Russians still have a very formidable nuclear arsenal, which does pose potentially a mortal threat to us,” Clapper said. “I don’t think they have the intent to do that.”

He added that China “is growing in its military capabilities. It has a full array of, whether conventional or strategic forces, that they are building. So they too do pose, potentially from a capabilities standpoint, a threat to us as a mortal threat.”

Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Clapper he was surprised by his answer that Russia and China posed the greatest mortal threat and gave him an opportunity to clarify whether Iran or North Korea might be more of a threat.

Clapper said he based his assessment strictly on the strategic nuclear capabilities of nation-states that have the potential to be mortal dangers to the U.S. and, “the two that come to mind because of their capabilities are Russia and China.”

Though Iran and North Korea were “of great concern,” he said, they do not pose a threat to the continental United States.

Senator Manchin rephrased his question to ask which country had the intent to be our greatest adversary.

Clapper replied, “Probably China.”

The Senators mentioned along with others spoke up to the media after the hearing again to voice their disagreement with Clapper’s claim that Russia and China are more of a ‘mortal threat’ to US national security than say, Iran or North Korea. I think Clapper is totally accurate with his assertions. Indeed, China and Russia are indeed more existentially threatening to US national security and our American way of life. I back this up clearly in my Great Power Rankings.

Surely, a nuclear North Korea and aspiring nuclear power Iran, are menacing and a great nuisance to their neighbors, US allies, and the US interests, but they cannot mortally harm the United States. They should be classified as ‘enemies’ of our country, but not ‘mortal threats’. China on the other hand is a bona fide great power that is still growing. It’s economy is not 2nd to the United States, it’s military is growing rapidly (especially its Navy), and it has substantial regional, if not international, aspirations to be a revisionist power. Russia has a thousands of nuclear warheads, holds many conflicting areas of interest with the US, and has been antagonistic toward America numerous times.

Does this mean that China and Russia are enemies or that North Korea and Iran do not pose a threat to our interests? Of course not, Mr. Rhetorical. We just need to be aware that there are difference level of threats out there. Mr. Clapper may not be fit to hold his position atop our nation’s intelligence network, but he is right in this assessment.

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The decision by the Obama Administration’s Justice Department to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the interrogation of prisoners of the Central Intelligence Agency and to release yet another formerly classified report documenting such matters is wrong and threatening to American national security.  There were obvious overreaches by individual CIA officials and by Bush lawyers, but the evidence shows they were a small aspect of an otherwise tightly-run anti-terror campaign, that reasoning was sound, and cause, keeping Americans safe, worthy.  What Attorney Journal Eric Holder and President Obama have unleashed will be much worse than actual ‘torture’ by CIA operatives.  No matter what the Obama administration says, these moves will have a concrete chilling effect on US intelligence officials, making them second guess every move, not knowing what the next administration might decide.

There are many besides those in the Obama administration who think this is a good idea.  In fact, the New York Times and the Huffington Post are angry that these moves do not go far enough!  In one scary Huffington Post article, former Washington Post blogger Dan Froomkin calls the past administration a ‘Bush torture regime’ and compares this prosecution process to the Nazi Nuremburg trials!  Last time I checked waterboarding two known terrorists and verbally threatening a few others does not equal a Holocaust, but maybe I’m wrong.  I think Mr. Froomkin should start shopping at the perspective store.  Froomkin argues that Obama should go much further, worrying:

“The message for future federal employees faced with morally suspect orders will be clear: Do what you’re told to do, and we’ll cover your ass. And the message for future policymakers will be: If you can find someone at the Department of Justice to say it’s OK, then anything goes – literally, anything.”

Reread the last part.  ‘Anything goes’.  99% of CIA, military, FBI, and government officials acted appropriately and extremely diligently to protect US civilians, but apparently the Bush administration had an ‘anything goes’ policy that only Froomkin knew about.  Though not nearly preposterous as Froomkin’s ramblings was a New York Times editorial praising the Obama administration’s recent CIA exposure moves.  The editorial spends quite a bit of space talking about the Bush administration’s ‘moral repugnance’ and pushing for more investigations, but at no time, not one word, mentions how these CIA investigations and releases affects US national security.  It is easy to criticize an agency tasked with national security without mentioning why it did what it did in order to provide protection and whether or not its methods were effective or not.  If you want to advocate a high level investigation of CIA officials and former administration members, you at least must acknowledge the national security, agency morale, and future administration ramifications.

These CIA soldiers were told what they were doing was lawful and needed to protect the United States and now they fear for their livelihood. It would be wrong to pretend that this investigation will not have its negative impact, as according to some, it already has; as one anonymous CIA official concluded about his fellow agents:

“Their view is, they policed themselves and they turned themselves in.  Now they have to fight al Qaeda and the U.S. government at the same time.”

A little over dramatic, but true nonetheless. Current CIA Director Leon Panetta had this to say about the recent bad news: “This is in many ways an old story. … The use of enhanced interrogation techniques, begun when our country was responding to the horrors of Sept. 11, ended in January.  For the CIA now, the challenge is not the battles of yesterday, but those of today and tomorrow. It is there that we must work to enhance the safety of our country. That is the job the American people want us to do.”  The job of the CIA is to keep American citizens and interests safe, sometimes I think this is forgotten, especially if you read the aforementioned opinion pieces.

In this post, I have constantly referred to ‘President Obama’ and the ‘Obama administration’, not AG Eric Holder or the Justice Department, and I did so purposely.  Though the President has tried to distance himself from these recent policy decisions, he is ‘where the buck stops’ and a decision by Eric Holder is for all purposes a decision by the President, who appointed him and could fire him at any moment.  If Obama thinks this is best for our country he needs to stand up and explain why.  Where’s the leadership?  Where’s the Commander and Chief?  Imagine if you worked for the CIA and after releasing damaging, formerly classified documents a few months ago, the President came and made a big speech about how the CIA’s integrity was vital to our national security, but just a couple months later his administration is all over you again?  Would you feel safe?  Trusted?  An editorial by the Chicago Tribune ended poignantly:

One day, heaven forbid, there may be another attack on American soil. Once again, we will ask CIA and other agents to find out whatever they can, as quickly as possible, to defend this nation. How will they respond?

Heaven Forbid.

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Torture In the Name Of…

   Posted by: Pat    in Uncategorized   Print Print

Ever since Obama released the CIA ‘torture memos’ and then announced he would also release pictures of the torture incidents, the nation has had a heated debate about whether this was an overall positive or negative move for the US. I have found the debate lively and encouraging and want to share a few pieces taking various perspectives on the issue. GPP colleague is currently writing an analysis of how he sees the move by the Obama administration and that will appear shortly as well.

  • Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, though agrees that the US should never torture, questions Obama’s assertion that the releasing of these memos gives the US ‘moral authority’ that can actually have an impact on the war on terror.
  • Mark Danner and Naomi Wolf each are critical of all those who are speaking out against torture now that the political winds have changed. Included in this criticism are average American citizens who knew torture was occurring during the last several years (of course, I believe the last time water boarding was used was 2003) and basically gave it their quiet approval.
  • Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and major Bush critic, discusses the scenario of Osama being in captivity and refusing to talk, what then? Scheuer scathingly describes Obama’s denouncement of all types of torture as ‘naive’ and as ‘dangerous’ for US safety.
  • Mark J. McKeon, a former war crimes prosecutor, argues for prosecuting high level Bush administration officials for their ‘crimes.’ His basic argument is for the US maintain its ‘moral authority’ and ‘show the way’ for other actors. The problem is in relativity, as in McKeon compares the US post-9/11 policies to Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic’s war crimes in the 1990′s. It’s hard for me to fully buy this argument. Yes, the United States should be a world moral leader, but torturing three people, who were all very, very guilty of horrible crimes, is not the same as ethnic cleansing.
  • Lastly, an analysis that goes beyond domestic politics to the world ‘high politics’, is Stratfor’s George Friedman’s ‘Torture and the US Intelligence Failure‘. As always, Friedman does an excellent job analyzing the myriad of political and strategic factors surrounding an issue.

Thoughts? Hey, and what about those 2nd Great Power Rankings?

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Economic Crisis and US Security

   Posted by: Pat    in Uncategorized   Print Print

In the Obama administration’s first public portrayals of the security risks facing the United States, Intelligence Chief Dennis Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the global economic downturn and its fallout were the “the primary near-term security concern” for the country. This comes as no real surprise, but we should all take notice when a US official as high up as Blair speaks. This new ‘economic crisis + global instability = bad news for US security’ paradigm will likely shape Obama’s foreign policy for years to come.

For instance, Blair also discussed the deteriorating political and social situations of Pakistan and Afghanistan and how the global financial crisis was only feeding the fire. Obama, who speaks and acts like an IR realist, already seems to be leaning toward a less ambitious, aka less democracy, policy push in Afghanistan, with stability trumping all other issues. This policy shift from strongly backing Karzai’s incipient, weak democratic government is facing some criticism at home.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are not the only states going through stability hiccups as Blair asserted that ‘roughly a quarter of the world’s nations have experienced “low-level instability such as government changes” in the past year. It is likely the Russian push out of US forces from Kyrgyzstan’s Manas air base, which involved a large loan and aid from Moscow, was precipitated by a Kyrgyz government struggling to stay afloat and fearing a possible uprising.

There is concern that US domestic problems will force major foreign affairs issues to the background, especially regarding funding for foreign aid and the military. Of course, there are many in this country and abroad that do not feel that this should be such a ‘concern’ as the US should just try to keep its own house in order and let others fix their own problems. I of course disagree with this isolationist bent here and abroad, though it is an important viewpoint to consider and acknowledge, as I see the US as a necessary security blanket for much of the world. Equally as important as security is US economic and political leadership and ideals. These cannot be abandoned, even for a short time period.

In Blair’s Senate brief he talked about the “increased questioning of U.S. stewardship of the global economy.” The US has definitely grown a black eye in this regard, but Obama and our Congress need to make sure to not only try to right the ship along free market and sensible measures, (as they are what got us and the world to this scary, but still prosperous state), but also to remind the world that we need not change course too dramatically to get the economy back in motion.

I guess I went on a little tangent there, but the main thing I want to get across is that Blair is right, the economic crisis is causing global instability and that this is a major US security concern. My second point related to realism and isolationism, I believe Obama is on board with me and has shown that he will be anything but an isolationist, though his focus is definitely on the US economy, and rightfully so. In regards to realism, I think the financial crisis will make a realist-leaning Obama even more so. What do you see?

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Who’s in Charge in Pakistan?

   Posted by: Pat    in Middle East   Print Print

Recent Developments in the Mumbai Massacre effect on Pakistani-Indian relations:

Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group suspected of conducting the Mumbai attacks, has quietly gained strength in recent years with the help of Pakistan’s main spy service, assistance that has allowed the group to train and raise money while other militants have been under siege, American intelligence and counterterrorism officials say.  American officials say there is no hard evidence to link the spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, to the Mumbai attacks. But the ISI has shared intelligence with Lashkar and provided protection for it, the officials said, and investigators are focusing on one Lashkar leader they believe is a main liaison with the spy service and a mastermind of the attacks.


The authorities in Pakistan have raided a camp run by the Pakistani-based militant group suspected by Indian and American officials of conducting the Mumbai attacks, a Pakistani official and an American military official said.  

In the first hours after news of the raid emerged on Pakistani television and in news agencies, a senior Pakistani security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that a man suspected of being the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks had been arrested. But the same official later said that even though about a dozen people had been arrested in the raid at the camp, the suspect, Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, had not been arrested.

First off, this is the second major claim by a US intelligence official connecting Pakistan’s ISI with Lashkar militants being blamed by India and the US for the Mumbai Massacre, and this claim makes the relationship between the entities seem a little closer.  Assisting the Lashkar militants in training and funding does not directly implicate Pakistani officials in the Mumbai attack (An American counterterrorism official said: “It’s one thing to say the ISI is tied to Lashkar and quite another to say the ISI was behind the Mumbai attacks. The evidence at this point doesn’t get you there.”), but it is too darn close.  

States are supposed to be responsible for what goes on in their borders and when elements from within their borders causes security issues for other countries, it is an international security problem.  The ISI helped to create Lashkar-e-Taiba to fight for Pakistani’s rights in the Kashmir region and it appears the government, or at least the ISI and military, have continued to align themselves with the group.  I have been covering Pakistan’s military actions in regards to supporting/battling insurgent groups in and around Afghanistan and they are a maddening to follow, as at times it seems that they are fighting the insurgents bravely and with much sacrifice, but at so many other times, they have been found to be not only in bed with the militants, but seemingly proposing marriage as well!

Pakistan at peace

How is one (say the US, India, Afghanistan) supposed to deal with such an unstable, disjointed, and schizophrenic state.  In one way, the state is aiding and abetting terrorists, and at the same time arresting and raiding them.  The Pakistani government is difficult to analyze because it is hard to know who is actually in charge at any one moment.  Is it the Army Chief Kayani?  The new civilian government lead by President Zardari?  Is the ISI running the whole show, or just itself?  

The US and India, and most likely a majority of Pakistani’s want a strong, stable government that can speak in one voice, but how does one help bring this about?  India may want to retaliate for the Mumbai attack, but doing so would probably further destabilize a Pakistani state, which though deeply, deeply flawed is still better than the complete chaos of a failed one.

Pakistan at war

The rising conflict has already put US interests in Afghanistan on high alert as Pakistan has threatened to move nearly of its 100,000 Afghan border troops to its Indian border if the conflict grows.  And just yesterday, in Peshawar, militants destroyed 160 vehicles meant to be deployed to  support US/Allied forces in Afghanistan.  Once again, Pakistani police and government officials were MIA.

Here is one of best pieces I have read about the conflict: Robert D. Kaplan’s ‘Trouble for the Other Middle East

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NSA Declassifies Cold War Materials

   Posted by: Pat    in Russia   Print Print

Though I know the big news today is Obama’s announcement and introduction of his national security team, I would like to first discuss a story that’s been sitting in my ‘post queue’ for quite some time, the releasing of US National Security Agency (NSA) archives, and I will get to the new Obama team either later today or tomorrow.

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort George Meade, Maryland

In response to a declassification request by the National Security Archive, the NSA has declassified large portions of a four-part, top secret study, American Cryptology during the Cold War.  The declassified information was put in the hands of NSA historian Thomas Johnson, who then researched and published a large report of his findings.  According to Matthew Aid, a National Security Archive visiting fellow and author of the forthcoming The Secret Sentry: The Top Secret History of the National Security Agency, the three parts released so far provide a ‘frank assessment of the history of the Agency and its forerunners, warts-and-all.’  

The released documents discuss the beginning signal intelligence (SIGNIT) and communications intelligence (COMINT) challenges for the organizations, especially in regard to breaking Soviet codes.  Johnson’s report goes over the Agency’s greatest successes (predicting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and some of its key failures (the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba).  Here is a list of some of the more interesting findings released:


  • After the end of World War II, with Soviet codes still unbreakable, the U.S. Army and Navy SIGINT organizations had relatively little to listen to. Johnson’s history reveals that as of mid-1946, the most productive source available to the U.S. Army SIGINT organization was French communications, which accounted for half of the finished reporting going to intelligence consumers in Washington.
  • SIGINT coverage of the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China by the Air Force Security Agency (an NSA predecessor) during the early 1950s was so bad that a senior CIA official referred to this period as “the dark ages for communications intelligence.”
  • The discovery of high-level Soviet spies operating inside the Australian government in 1947 led the U.S. to cut off Australian access to classified U.S. government information, which was not resumed until two years later in 1949. Full SIGINT cooperation with Australia did not resume until 1953.
  • Relations between senior officials at the CIA and NSA were at times so bad that they impeded cooperation between the two agencies. The CIA deliberately cut NSA out of the famous Berlin Tunnel operation (1954-1956), with NSA’s director, General Ralph Canine, finding out about the operation from the New York Times after the Soviets discovered the Tunnel in April 1956.
  • By the early 1960s, the NSA was beginning to encounter information overload as more and more intercepted messages were stored in huge warehouses of magnetic tapes. According to Johnson, “the volume of unprocessed … tape was becoming difficult to manage technically and was embarrassing politically.”

Though I know many will still desire a greater amount of transparency from American intelligence groups like the NSA and the CIA, there are obvious reasons why certain items need to be kept hidden for lengthy periods of time.  I am encouraged at this seemingly unfiltered release of previously classified Cold War material and look forward to more in the future.  Many will also be interested to know more about the NSA’s current role in domestic wire tapping, but I doubt any information about this will be released anytime soon.  For those interested in reading more about the history and current work of the NSA, I recommend James Bamford’s ‘The Puzzle Palace,’ ‘A Pretext for War’, and his forthcoming ‘The Shadow Factory.’ 

(Photo Source: The National Security Archive)

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