Instance of use and abuse of the Patriot Act and State Secrets Laws Generally
Instances of use and abuse of the Patriot Act and State Secrets Laws Generally
DOJ report finds Patriot Act ripe for abuse
By Timothy B. Lee | Published 4 years ago
A Department of Justice report made public Friday highlights numerous problems with FBI's use of national security letters (NSL), a controversial legal device whose use was greatly expanded by the 2001 Patriot Act. NSLs allow the FBI to demand customer records from credit bureaus, banks, phone companies, ISPs, and other organizations without judicial review.
The report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), led by Glenn Fine, found that due to inadequate tracking and reporting systems, the FBI had significantly understated its use of NSLs in previous reports to Congress. After auditing a small fraction of the NSLs issued, Fine's staff found 22 irregularities, some of them quite serious. That suggests that hundreds of NSLs have been issued in violation of the law. Perhaps worst of all, the report finds that the FBI sent over 700 "exigent letters" to three unidentified telephone companies requesting them to expedite the process by voluntarily handing over customer data without waiting for a formal subpoena or NSL.
Superficially, the response to the report was unanimous: everyone from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy agreed that the report revealed serious problems at the FBI that needed to be addressed. But there were a range of views about the broader implications of the report, with the White House stressing the importance of NSLs for its anti-terrorism efforts while civil-liberties groups called for sharply curtailing the use of NSLs. Leahy promised to hold extensive hearings on the subject, and his Republican counterpart, Sen. Arlen Specter, said that the FBI had apparently "badly misused national security letters."
National security letters explode
The FBI has had the power to issue national security letters since 1986, but their use was originally limited to collecting information about individuals who were believed to be agents of a foreign power. That changed with the 2001 Patriot Act, which required only that NSLs be "relevant to an authorized investigation" of international terrorism or foreign intelligence and that it not burden activities protected by the First Amendment.
National security letters require no judicial oversight. High-ranking FBI officials have the authority to sign off on NSLs drafted by their subordinates, entirely bypassing the judicial branch. Moreover, the original Patriot Act provision prohibited recipients from ever disclosing their receipt of an NSL to anyone (under the 2005 reauthorization, the gag lasts for a year, but it can be renewed indefinitely at the federal government's request).
Judicial oversight and free speech are fundamental to our system of government, so these provisions have generated quite a bit of controversy. In 2004, we reported on the ACLU's successful effort to defeat an NSL issued to a New York ISP. We've also reported on an NSL challenge by Connecticut librarians, which ended last year when the government dropped the case.
But those cases are the exceptions. The report found that the use of national security letters has exploded in recent years. The FBI issued about 8,500 NSLs in 2000, the last full year before the Patriot Act was passed. Four years later, the reported use of NSLs peaked at 56,000. It appears that the vast majority of recipients turned over the records sought and kept quiet about it. If recipients can't even talk about the letters they've received, it makes it virtually impossible for watchdog groups or ordinary Americans to monitor the program for abuses.
Abuses of power?
Luckily, Congress included a provision in the 2005 Patriot Act reauthorization directing the OIG to study the use of NSLs. That report was released on Friday. Taken individually, none of the problems the OIG found are grave threats to civil liberties. But taken together, they paint a picture of an agency with poor record-keeping, inadequate safeguards, and a cavalier attitude toward the rights of ordinary Americans. In short, the FBI does not seem to be the sort of agency we ought to be entrusting with unchecked authority to seize the records of American citizens.
Congress had previously required the FBI to submit classified reports to Congress every six months disclosing the number of NSLs issued. But an audit of 77 case files showed that a significant number of NSLs never made it into the FBI's centralized database, and others were not entered quickly enough to make it into the semi-annual report to Congress. As a result, the OIG found that thousands of NSLs had gone unreported to Congress. Overall, the report found that 143,000 NSL requests had been issued between 2003 and 2005.
More troubling, the OIG found numerous examples of irregularities in the process of approving, issuing, and complying with NSLs. The law requires that an NSL be "relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities," but in some cases, the FBI issued NSLs not tied to any ongoing investigation. In other cases, NSLs sought information that exceeded the FBI's authority under the law. And there were a large number of cases in which the recipient of the NSL provided the wrong information either based on typographical errors by the FBI or misunderstandings by the recipient.
The FBI had reported 26 such incidents to the Intelligence Oversight Board, which is charged with reviewing cases of possible violations of the law by intelligence agencies. But in the course of examining the 77 case files mentioned previously, they discovered 22 more irregularities among 293 NSLs, none of which had been previously reported. Extrapolating to the tens of thousands of NSLs issued over the last few years, this suggests that there have been hundreds of irregularities that have not been properly reported or investigated.
Perhaps most disturbing, OIG found that
On over 700 occasions the FBI obtained telephone billing records or subscriber information from 3 telephone companies without first issuing NSLs or grand jury subpoenas. Instead, the FBI issued so-called "exigent letters" signed by FBI Headquarters Counterterrorism Division personnel who were not authorized to sign NSLs. The letters stated that the records were requested due to "exigent circumstances" and that subpoenas requesting the information had been submitted.
In many cases, the telephone companies handed over customer records without waiting for the associated subpoena or NSL to be approved. Moreover, some "exigent letters" were issued in circumstances that would not have permitted the use of national security letters. And due to inadequate record-keeping, the FBI was "unable to provide reliable evidence to substantiate that NSLs or other legal process was issued to cover the FBI's receipt of records requested in sample exigent letters." The FBI now acknowledges that these letters were improper, and has pledged never to use them again.
Mere administrative problems?
The defenders of the Patriot Act have been quick to emphasize that the report found no evidence of malice or intentional lawbreaking in the use of NSLs. This is true. By all accounts, the problems OIG found were the result of honest mistakes on the part of FBI officials. No examples were found of FBI agents using NSLs to spy on their ex-girlfriends or blackmail their enemies.
However, OIG teams only audited 293 letters out of tens of thousands that have been issued since the Patriot Act has become law. It's quite possible that a complete audit of NSLs would uncover deliberate lawbreaking. And given the inadequate record-keeping procedures, it's far from certain that even a comprehensive audit would uncover unlawful behavior.
Moreover, the argument for judicial review does not hinge on the assumption that government officials are corrupt. Aggressive widespread use of coercive powers by well-meaning but overzealous officials can undermine American privacy rights just as effectively as actual corruption. Law enforcement agencies can make honest mistakes. Judicial review ensures that they do their homework before seeking to invade Americans' privacy.
And even if today's FBI is honest—and the OIG report gives no reason to doubt that it is—that does not prove that a future administration couldn't use its powers under the Patriot Act for nefarious purposes. One only has to remember the FBI's abuses of power under J. Edgar Hoover in the 1960s to realize that this is more than a theoretical possibility.
A system that gives good FBI agents enough latitude to accidentally issue hundreds of NSLs that violate the law certainly gives overzealous or corrupt FBI agents the ability to flout the law deliberately. It would be a mistake to wait until more serious abuses actually happen before requiring that NSLs be subject to judicial review.
TOP SECRET AMERICA
Excerpted From: The Washington Post
By Dana Priest and William M. Arkin
A hidden world, growing beyond control
Monday, July 19, 2010; 4:50 PM
The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation's other findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.
* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the top-secret world created to respond to the terrorist attacks has grown into an unwieldy enterprise spread over 10,000 U.S. locations. Launch Photo Gallery »
These are not academic issues; lack of focus, not lack of resources, was at the heart of the Fort Hood shooting that left 13 dead, as well as the Christmas Day bomb attempt thwarted not by the thousands of analysts employed to find lone terrorists but by an alert airline passenger who saw smoke coming from his seatmate.
They are also issues that greatly concern some of the people in charge of the nation's security.
"There has been so much growth since 9/11 that getting your arms around that - not just for the CIA, for the secretary of defense - is a challenge," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview with The Post last week.
In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials - called Super Users - have the ability to even know about all the department's activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation's most sensitive work.
"I'm not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything" was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn't take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ''Stop!" in frustration.
"I wasn't remembering any of it," he said.
Underscoring the seriousness of these issues are the conclusions of retired Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who was asked last year to review the method for tracking the Defense Department's most sensitive programs. Vines, who once commanded 145,000 troops in Iraq and is familiar with complex problems, was stunned by what he discovered.
"I'm not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate all these interagency and commercial activities," he said in an interview. "The complexity of this system defies description."
The result, he added, is that it's impossible to tell whether the country is safer because of all this spending and all these activities. "Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste," Vines said. "We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe."
The Post's investigation is based on government documents and contracts, job descriptions, property records, corporate and social networking Web sites, additional records, and hundreds of interviews with intelligence, military and corporate officials and former officials. Most requested anonymity either because they are prohibited from speaking publicly or because, they said, they feared retaliation at work for describing their concerns.
The Post's online database of government organizations and private companies was built entirely on public records. The investigation focused on top-secret work because the amount classified at the secret level is too large to accurately track.
Today's article describes the government's role in this expanding enterprise. Tuesday's article describes the government's dependence on private contractors. Wednesday's is a portrait of one Top Secret America community. On the Web, an extensive, searchable database built by The Post about Top Secret America is available at washingtonpost.com/topsecretamerica.
Defense Secretary Gates, in his interview with The Post, said that he does not believe the system has become too big to manage but that getting precise data is sometimes difficult. Singling out the growth of intelligence units in the Defense Department, he said he intends to review those programs for waste. "Nine years after 9/11, it makes a lot of sense to sort of take a look at this and say, 'Okay, we've built tremendous capability, but do we have more than we need?' " he said.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was also interviewed by The Post last week, said he's begun mapping out a five-year plan for his agency because the levels of spending since 9/11 are not sustainable. "Particularly with these deficits, we're going to hit the wall. I want to be prepared for that," he said. "Frankly, I think everyone in intelligence ought to be doing that."
In an interview before he resigned as the director of national intelligence in May, retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair said he did not believe there was overlap and redundancy in the intelligence world. "Much of what appears to be redundancy is, in fact, providing tailored intelligence for many different customers," he said.
Blair also expressed confidence that subordinates told him what he needed to know. "I have visibility on all the important intelligence programs across the community, and there are processes in place to ensure the different intelligence capabilities are working together where they need to," he said.
Weeks later, as he sat in the corner of a ballroom at the Willard Hotel waiting to give a speech, he mused about The Post's findings. "After 9/11, when we decided to attack violent extremism, we did as we so often do in this country," he said. "The attitude was, if it's worth doing, it's probably worth overdoing."
Outside a gated subdivision of mansions in McLean, a line of cars idles every weekday morning as a new day in Top Secret America gets underway. The drivers wait patiently to turn left, then crawl up a hill and around a bend to a destination that is not on any public map and not announced by any street sign.
Liberty Crossing tries hard to hide from view. But in the winter, leafless trees can't conceal a mountain of cement and windows the size of five Wal-Mart stores stacked on top of one another rising behind a grassy berm. One step too close without the right badge, and men in black jump out of nowhere, guns at the ready.
Past the armed guards and the hydraulic steel barriers, at least 1,700 federal employees and 1,200 private contractors work at Liberty Crossing, the nickname for the two headquarters of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and its National Counterterrorism Center. The two share a police force, a canine unit and thousands of parking spaces.
Liberty Crossing is at the center of the collection of U.S. government agencies and corporate contractors that mushroomed after the 2001 attacks. But it is not nearly the biggest, the most costly or even the most secretive part of the 9/11 enterprise.
In an Arlington County office building, the lobby directory doesn't include the Air Force's mysteriously named XOIWS unit, but there's a big "Welcome!" sign in the hallway greeting visitors who know to step off the elevator on the third floor. In Elkridge, Md., a clandestine program hides in a tall concrete structure fitted with false windows to look like a normal office building. In Arnold, Mo., the location is across the street from a Target and a Home Depot. In St. Petersburg, Fla., it's in a modest brick bungalow in a run-down business park.
Each day at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, workers review at least 5,000 pieces of terrorist-related data from intelligence agencies and keep an eye on world events. (Photo by: Melina Mara / The Washington Post)
Every day across the United States, 854,000 civil servants, military personnel and private contractors with top-secret security clearances are scanned into offices protected by electromagnetic locks, retinal cameras and fortified walls that eavesdropping equipment cannot penetrate.
This is not exactly President Dwight D. Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex," which emerged with the Cold War and centered on building nuclear weapons to deter the Soviet Union. This is a national security enterprise with a more amorphous mission: defeating transnational violent extremists.
Much of the information about this mission is classified. That is the reason it is so difficult to gauge the success and identify the problems of Top Secret America, including whether money is being spent wisely. The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 21/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn't include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs.
At least 20 percent of the government organizations that exist to fend off terrorist threats were established or refashioned in the wake of 9/11. Many that existed before the attacks grew to historic proportions as the Bush administration and Congress gave agencies more money than they were capable of responsibly spending.
The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, for example, has gone from 7,500 employees in 2002 to 16,500 today. The budget of the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic eavesdropping, doubled. Thirty-five FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces became 106. It was phenomenal growth that began almost as soon as the Sept. 11 attacks ended.
Nine days after the attacks, Congress committed $40 billion beyond what was in the federal budget to fortify domestic defenses and to launch a global offensive against al-Qaeda. It followed that up with an additional $36.5 billion in 2002 and $44 billion in 2003. That was only a beginning.
With the quick infusion of money, military and intelligence agencies multiplied. Twenty-four organizations were created by the end of 2001, including the Office of Homeland Security and the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Task Force. In 2002, 37 more were created to track weapons of mass destruction, collect threat tips and coordinate the new focus on counterterrorism. That was followed the next year by 36 new organizations; and 26 after that; and 31 more; and 32 more; and 20 or more each in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
In all, at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11. Each has required more people, and those people have required more administrative and logistic support: phone operators, secretaries, librarians, architects, carpenters, construction workers, air-conditioning mechanics and, because of where they work, even janitors with top-secret clearances.
With so many more employees, units and organizations, the lines of responsibility began to blur. To remedy this, at the recommendation of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, the George W. Bush administration and Congress decided to create an agency in 2004 with overarching responsibilities called the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to bring the colossal effort under control.
While that was the idea, Washington has its own ways.
The first problem was that the law passed by Congress did not give the director clear legal or budgetary authority over intelligence matters, which meant he wouldn't have power over the individual agencies he was supposed to control.
The second problem: Even before the first director, Ambassador John D. Negroponte, was on the job, the turf battles began. The Defense Department shifted billions of dollars out of one budget and into another so that the ODNI could not touch it, according to two senior officials who watched the process. The CIA reclassified some of its most sensitive information at a higher level so the National Counterterrorism Center staff, part of the ODNI, would not be allowed to see it, said former intelligence officers involved.
And then came a problem that continues to this day, which has to do with the ODNI's rapid expansion.
When it opened in the spring of 2005, Negroponte's office was all of 11 people stuffed into a secure vault with closet-size rooms a block from the White House. A year later, the budding agency moved to two floors of another building. In April 2008, it moved into its huge permanent home, Liberty Crossing.
Today, many officials who work in the intelligence agencies say they remain unclear about what the ODNI is in charge of. To be sure, the ODNI has made some progress, especially in intelligence-sharing, information technology and budget reform. The DNI and his managers hold interagency meetings every day to promote collaboration. The last director, Blair, doggedly pursued such nitty-gritty issues as procurement reform, compatible computer networks, tradecraft standards and collegiality.
But improvements have been overtaken by volume at the ODNI, as the increased flow of intelligence data overwhelms the system's ability to analyze and use it. Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.
The practical effect of this unwieldiness is visible, on a much smaller scale, in the office of Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. Leiter spends much of his day flipping among four computer monitors lined up on his desk. Six hard drives sit at his feet. The data flow is enormous, with dozens of databases feeding separate computer networks that cannot interact with one another.
There is a long explanation for why these databases are still not connected, and it amounts to this: It's too hard, and some agency heads don't really want to give up the systems they have. But there's some progress: "All my e-mail on one computer now," Leiter says. "That's a big deal."
To get another view of how sprawling Top Secret America has become, just head west on the toll road toward Dulles International Airport.
As a Michaels craft store and a Books-A-Million give way to the military intelligence giants Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, find the off-ramp and turn left. Those two shimmering-blue five-story ice cubes belong to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes images and mapping data of the Earth's geography. A small sign obscured by a boxwood hedge says so.
Across the street, in the chocolate-brown blocks, is Carahsoft, an intelligence agency contractor specializing in mapping, speech analysis and data harvesting. Nearby is the government's Underground Facility Analysis Center. It identifies overseas underground command centers associated with weapons of mass destruction and terrorist groups, and advises the military on how to destroy them.
Clusters of top-secret work exist throughout the country, but the Washington region is the capital of Top Secret America.
About half of the post-9/11 enterprise is anchored in an arc stretching from Leesburg south to Quantico, back north through Washington and curving northeast to Linthicum, just north of the Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. Many buildings sit within off-limits government compounds or military bases.
Others occupy business parks or are intermingled with neighborhoods, schools and shopping centers and go unnoticed by most people who live or play nearby.
Many of the newest buildings are not just utilitarian offices but also edifices "on the order of the pyramids," in the words of one senior military intelligence officer.
Not far from the Dulles Toll Road, the CIA has expanded into two buildings that will increase the agency's office space by one-third. To the south, Springfield is becoming home to the new $1.8 billion National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency headquarters, which will be the fourth-largest federal building in the area and home to 8,500 employees. Economic stimulus money is paying hundreds of millions of dollars for this kind of federal construction across the region.
Construction for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Springfield (Photo by: Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post)
It's not only the number of buildings that suggests the size and cost of this expansion, it's also what is inside: banks of television monitors. "Escort-required" badges. X-ray machines and lockers to store cellphones and pagers. Keypad door locks that open special rooms encased in metal or permanent dry wall, impenetrable to eavesdropping tools and protected by alarms and a security force capable of responding within 15 minutes. Every one of these buildings has at least one of these rooms, known as a SCIF, for sensitive compartmented information facility. Some are as small as a closet; others are four times the size of a football field.
SCIF size has become a measure of status in Top Secret America, or at least in the Washington region of it. "In D.C., everyone talks SCIF, SCIF, SCIF," said Bruce Paquin, who moved to Florida from the Washington region several years ago to start a SCIF construction business. "They've got the penis envy thing going. You can't be a big boy unless you're a three-letter agency and you have a big SCIF."
SCIFs are not the only must-have items people pay attention to. Command centers, internal television networks, video walls, armored SUVs and personal security guards have also become the bling of national security.
"You can't find a four-star general without a security detail," said one three-star general now posted in Washington after years abroad. "Fear has caused everyone to have stuff. Then comes, 'If he has one, then I have to have one.' It's become a status symbol."
Among the most important people inside the SCIFs are the low-paid employees carrying their lunches to work to save money. They are the analysts, the 20- and 30-year-olds making $41,000 to $65,000 a year, whose job is at the core of everything Top Secret America tries to do.
At its best, analysis melds cultural understanding with snippets of conversations, coded dialogue, anonymous tips, even scraps of trash, turning them into clues that lead to individuals and groups trying to harm the United States.
Their work is greatly enhanced by computers that sort through and categorize data. But in the end, analysis requires human judgment, and half the analysts are relatively inexperienced, having been hired in the past several years, said a senior ODNI official. Contract analysts are often straight out of college and trained at corporate headquarters.
When hired, a typical analyst knows very little about the priority countries - Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan - and is not fluent in their languages. Still, the number of intelligence reports they produce on these key countries is overwhelming, say current and former intelligence officials who try to cull them every day. The ODNI doesn't know exactly how many reports are issued each year, but in the process of trying to find out, the chief of analysis discovered 60 classified analytic Web sites still in operation that were supposed to have been closed down for lack of usefulness. "Like a zombie, it keeps on living" is how one official describes the sites.
The problem with many intelligence reports, say officers who read them, is that they simply re-slice the same facts already in circulation. "It's the soccer ball syndrome. Something happens, and they want to rush to cover it," said Richard H. Immerman, who was the ODNI's assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards until early 2009. "I saw tremendous overlap."
Even the analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which is supposed to be where the most sensitive, most difficult-to-obtain nuggets of information are fused together, get low marks from intelligence officials for not producing reports that are original, or at least better than the reports already written by the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency or Defense Intelligence Agency.
When Maj. Gen. John M. Custer was the director of intelligence at U.S. Central Command, he grew angry at how little helpful information came out of the NCTC. In 2007, he visited its director at the time, retired Vice Adm. John Scott Redd, to tell him so. "I told him that after 41/2 years, this organization had never produced one shred of information that helped me prosecute three wars!" he said loudly, leaning over the table during an interview.
Two years later, Custer, now head of the Army's intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., still gets red-faced recalling that day, which reminds him of his frustration with Washington's bureaucracy. "Who has the mission of reducing redundancy and ensuring everybody doesn't gravitate to the lowest-hanging fruit?" he said. "Who orchestrates what is produced so that everybody doesn't produce the same thing?"
He's hardly the only one irritated. In a secure office in Washington, a senior intelligence officer was dealing with his own frustration. Seated at his computer, he began scrolling through some of the classified information he is expected to read every day: CIA World Intelligence Review, WIRe-CIA, Spot Intelligence Report, Daily Intelligence Summary, Weekly Intelligence Forecast, Weekly Warning Forecast, IC Terrorist Threat Assessments, NCTC Terrorism Dispatch, NCTC Spotlight . . .
It's too much, he complained. The inbox on his desk was full, too. He threw up his arms, picked up a thick, glossy intelligence report and waved it around, yelling.
"Jesus! Why does it take so long to produce?"
"Why does it have to be so bulky?"
"Why isn't it online?"
The overload of hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and annual reports is actually counterproductive, say people who receive them. Some policymakers and senior officials don't dare delve into the backup clogging their computers. They rely instead on personal briefers, and those briefers usually rely on their own agency's analysis, re-creating the very problem identified as a main cause of the failure to thwart the attacks: a lack of information-sharing.
A new Defense Department office complex goes up in Alexandria. (Photo by: Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post)
The ODNI's analysis office knows this is a problem. Yet its solution was another publication, this one a daily online newspaper, Intelligence Today. Every day, a staff of 22 culls more than two dozen agencies' reports and 63 Web sites, selects the best information and packages it by originality, topic and region.
Analysis is not the only area where serious overlap appears to be gumming up the national security machinery and blurring the lines of responsibility.
Within the Defense Department alone, 18 commands and agencies conduct information operations, which aspire to manage foreign audiences’ perceptions of U.S. policy and military activities overseas.
And all the major intelligence agencies and at least two major military commands claim a major role in cyber-warfare, the newest and least-defined frontier.
"Frankly, it hasn't been brought together in a unified approach," CIA Director Panetta said of the many agencies now involved in cyber-warfare.
"Cyber is tremendously difficult" to coordinate, said Benjamin A. Powell, who served as general counsel for three directors of national intelligence until he left the government last year. "Sometimes there was an unfortunate attitude of bring your knives, your guns, your fists and be fully prepared to defend your turf." Why? "Because it's funded, it's hot and it's sexy."
Last fall, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly opened fire at Fort Hood, Tex., killing 13 people and wounding 30. In the days after the shootings, information emerged about Hasan's increasingly strange behavior at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he had trained as a psychiatrist and warned commanders that they should allow Muslims to leave the Army or risk "adverse events." He had also exchanged e-mails with a well-known radical cleric in Yemen being monitored by U.S. intelligence.
From avatars and lasers to thermal cameras and fidget meters, this multimedia gallery takes a look at some of the latest technologies being developed by the government and private companies to thwart terrorists. Launch Gallery »
But none of this reached the one organization charged with handling counterintelligence investigations within the Army. Just 25 miles up the road from Walter Reed, the Army's 902nd Military Intelligence Group had been doing little to search the ranks for potential threats. Instead, the 902's commander had decided to turn the unit's attention to assessing general terrorist affiliations in the United States, even though the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI's 106 Joint Terrorism Task Forces were already doing this work in great depth.
The 902nd, working on a program the commander named RITA, for Radical Islamic Threat to the Army, had quietly been gathering information on Hezbollah, Iranian Republican Guard and al-Qaeda student organizations in the United States. The assessment "didn't tell us anything we didn't know already," said the Army's senior counterintelligence officer at the Pentagon.
Secrecy and lack of coordination have allowed organizations, such as the 902nd in this case, to work on issues others were already tackling rather than take on the much more challenging job of trying to identify potential jihadist sympathizers within the Army itself.
Beyond redundancy, secrecy within the intelligence world hampers effectiveness in other ways, say defense and intelligence officers. For the Defense Department, the root of this problem goes back to an ultra-secret group of programs for which access is extremely limited and monitored by specially trained security officers.
These are called Special Access Programs - or SAPs - and the Pentagon's list of code names for them runs 300 pages. The intelligence community has hundreds more of its own, and those hundreds have thousands of sub-programs with their own limits on the number of people authorized to know anything about them. All this means that very few people have a complete sense of what's going on.
"There's only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs - that's God," said James R. Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the Obama administration's nominee to be the next director of national intelligence.
Such secrecy can undermine the normal chain of command when senior officials use it to cut out rivals or when subordinates are ordered to keep secrets from their commanders.
One military officer involved in one such program said he was ordered to sign a document prohibiting him from disclosing it to his four-star commander, with whom he worked closely every day, because the commander was not authorized to know about it. Another senior defense official recalls the day he tried to find out about a program in his budget, only to be rebuffed by a peer. "What do you mean you can't tell me? I pay for the program," he recalled saying in a heated exchange.
Another senior intelligence official with wide access to many programs said that secrecy is sometimes used to protect ineffective projects. "I think the secretary of defense ought to direct a look at every single thing to see if it still has value," he said. "The DNI ought to do something similar."
The ODNI hasn't done that yet. The best it can do at the moment is maintain a database of the names of the most sensitive programs in the intelligence community. But the database does not include many important and relevant Pentagon projects.
Because so much is classified, illustrations of what goes on every day in Top Secret America can be hard to ferret out. But every so often, examples emerge. A recent one shows the post-9/11 system at its best and its worst.
Last fall, after eight years of growth and hirings, the enterprise was at full throttle when word emerged that something was seriously amiss inside Yemen. In response, President Obama signed an order sending dozens of secret commandos to that country to target and kill the leaders of an al-Qaeda affiliate.
In Yemen, the commandos set up a joint operations center packed with hard drives, forensic kits and communications gear. They exchanged thousands of intercepts, agent reports, photographic evidence and real-time video surveillance with dozens of top-secret organizations in the United States.
That was the system as it was intended. But when the information reached the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington for analysis, it arrived buried within the 5,000 pieces of general terrorist-related data that are reviewed each day. Analysts had to switch from database to database, from hard drive to hard drive, from screen to screen, just to locate what might be interesting to study further.
As military operations in Yemen intensified and the chatter about a possible terrorist strike increased, the intelligence agencies ramped up their effort. The flood of information into the NCTC became a torrent.
Somewhere in that deluge was even more vital data. Partial names of someone in Yemen. A reference to a Nigerian radical who had gone to Yemen. A report of a father in Nigeria worried about a son who had become interested in radical teachings and had disappeared inside Yemen.
These were all clues to what would happen when a Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab left Yemen and eventually boarded a plane in Amsterdam bound for Detroit. But nobody put them together because, as officials would testify later, the system had gotten so big that the lines of responsibility had become hopelessly blurred.
"There are so many people involved here," NCTC Director Leiter told Congress.
"Everyone had the dots to connect," DNI Blair explained to the lawmakers. "But I hadn't made it clear exactly who had primary responsibility."
And so Abdulmutallab was able to step aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253. As it descended toward Detroit, he allegedly tried to ignite explosives hidden in his underwear. It wasn't the very expensive, very large 9/11 enterprise that prevented disaster. It was a passenger who saw what he was doing and tackled him. "We didn't follow up and prioritize the stream of intelligence," White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan explained afterward. "Because no one intelligence entity, or team or task force was assigned responsibility for doing that follow-up investigation."
Blair acknowledged the problem. His solution: Create yet another team to run down every important lead. But he also told Congress he needed more money and more analysts to prevent another mistake.
More is often the solution proposed by the leaders of the 9/11 enterprise. After the Christmas Day bombing attempt, Leiter also pleaded for more - more analysts to join the 300 or so he already had.
The Department of Homeland Security asked for more air marshals, more body scanners and more analysts, too, even though it can't find nearly enough qualified people to fill its intelligence unit now. Obama has said he will not freeze spending on national security, making it likely that those requests will be funded.
More building, more expansion of offices continues across the country. A $1.7 billion NSA data-processing center will be under construction soon near Salt Lake City. In Tampa, the U.S. Central Command’s new 270,000-square-foot intelligence office will be matched next year by an equally large headquarters building, and then, the year after that, by a 51,000-square-foot office just for its special operations section.
Just north of Charlottesville, the new Joint-Use Intelligence Analysis Facility will consolidate 1,000 defense intelligence analysts on a secure campus.
Meanwhile, five miles southeast of the White House, the DHS has broken ground for its new headquarters, to be shared with the Coast Guard. DHS, in existence for only seven years, already has its own Special Access Programs, its own research arm, its own command center, its own fleet of armored cars and its own 230,000-person workforce, the third-largest after the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
Soon, on the grounds of the former St. Elizabeths mental hospital in Anacostia, a $3.4 billion showcase of security will rise from the crumbling brick wards. The new headquarters will be the largest government complex built since the Pentagon, a major landmark in the alternative geography of Top Secret America and four times as big as Liberty Crossing.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.
The National Security State:
Is the pattern of reduced prosperity and education and the growth of national security from military to intelligence to border security to corrections. Massive bureaucracies, part of a plan or a side effect of political and financial players pursuing their self interests?
By W. Alexander Hagen
A democracy is as effective as its citizens are educated and engaged.
Poverty, Crime and falling cognitive capabilities seem to be tolerated as the military and police and prisons are given every priority.
The two parties seem to be incapable of either reversing these trends.
The Military Security State is driven at full momentum without even an enemy, justifying its existence in combating a few international non state ideological zealots, fueled by the actions of the security state itself.
The second element of a democracy is engagement. The Patriot Act definitely acts as a restraint to political mobilization by advocates of controversial causes. Workshops are given by Civil Disobedience activists to avoid arrest under the Patriot Act.
Political dissent as terrorism: “Minnesota Patriot Act” charges filed against RNC Eight
By Tom Eley
11 September 2008
The charges of terrorism leveled against the eight youth who had sought to organize protests and civil disobedience against the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Minnesota last week sound an alarm that political opposition in the US is on its way toward being criminalized.
In what may be the first case of its kind, American citizens have been arrested and charged as terrorists for no other act than planning to protest and obstruct a political event. In this case the occasion was the nominating convention of a party chiefly responsible for policies detested by the majority of Americans, including the war in Iraq and the enrichment of a tiny layer of the enormously wealthy.
Even a casual review of the case reveals that the charges are a baseless frame-up, carried out in the name of constitutionally dubious “anti-terrorist” legislation enacted since 2002.
More alarming than the case itself, however, is the fact that it has gone virtually unnoted by the national news media. This reporter could also find no mention of the case on the web sites of left-liberal publications such as theNation, the Progressive, or In These Times. No major politician from either party has commented on the case, including Minnesota’s Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. Attempts to contact the campaign and Senate office of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama revealed that the nominee has no media contact phone number and that he had not released a statement on the arrests.
This silence on the case is no indication of its lack of importance. In essence, the terrorism charges against the RNC 8 show what the World Socialist Web Site has long warned: that anti-terrorism laws like the Patriot Act—enthusiastically supported by both major parties—have never been about protecting the American people from terrorism. They were put into place to create the legal framework for the suppression of basic constitutional and democratic rights of the population.
The eight members of the anarchist group Republican National Convention Welcoming Committee (RNCWC) were arrested the weekend before the RNC began and charged with the felony “conspiracy to commit riot in the second degree in furtherance of terrorism.” They have since been released on $10,000 bail. If convicted at trial, the RNC Eight could each face five years in prison plus a $10,000 fine. A ninth individual has been named in the police complaint, but has yet to be charged.
Bruce Nestor, president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and attorney for Monica Bicking, one of the eight defendants, told theWorld Socialist Web Site that the authorities have shown no indication that the charges will be dropped.
The charges are predicated on an a priori assumption of guilt; not on what actually happened, but what might have happened had no arrest been made.
Furthermore, the charges are almost entirely based upon the evidence of two confidential paid informants.
Nestor pointed out in an earlier interview with the Minnesota Independent that “the most outrageous allegations made by the authorities are not supported by any evidence other than the statement of the confidential informants. They’re not supported by the evidence seized.”
The physical evidence gathered by law enforcement was even more threadbare than the purchased testimony of informants. “We have the sheriff displaying a single plastic item that he claims was a shield,” Nestor said, “as if one shield was going to protect demonstrators from 3,500 armed riot police who have projectile-tear-gas weapons.” In addition, police seized a rusty hatchet, nails, lighters and other common household items as evidence, and rather ludicrously reported discovering “weaponized urine.”
This is the same method the Federal Bureau of Investigation has used in its attacks on Muslim organizations and other “terrorism” suspects. In such scenarios, anonymous police infiltrators enter an organization, create a provocation or even a crime itself, and then turn over uncorroborated testimony, thereby implicating an entire group of people
Lawyers for the RNCWC members have also pointed to the climate of fear created surrounding their clients by the very charge of terrorism. “All they do is they label people as terrorists and anarchists, and at that point what people are actually saying and the content of their views has no meaning anymore,” said attorney Jordan Kushner.
Nestor told the WSWS that the arrests are “part of an overall law enforcement strategy to intimidate people from exercising political rights in the streets and to intimidate people from political organizations, to put citizens outside of the realm of acceptable behavior, to limit acceptable protest to voting and writing letters, and anything else is dangerous and potentially criminal.”
The arrests are based on a 2002 law enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support in response to 9/11 and the adoption of the national USA Patriot Act. According to Nestor the Minnesota law is a version of the latter. According to the law, “a crime is committed to ‘further terrorism’ if the crime is a felony and is a premeditated act involving violence to persons or property that is intended to: (1) terrorize, intimidate, or coerce a considerable number of members of the public in addition to the direct victims of the act; and (2) significantly disrupt or interfere with the lawful exercise, operation, or conduct of government, lawful commerce, or the right of lawful assembly” (emphasis added).
In other words, the statute lays out a legal framework for the categorization of protest as “furthering terrorism.” Police could quite easily determine that a protest aims to “coerce” “members of the public” or “interfere with” the operations of government, industry and meetings. In a broad sense, that is precisely what public demonstrations have always aimed to do.
The passing of the 2002 legislation was not the only, or most recent, preparation made by the government for the repression that has unfolded in St. Paul.
It has been revealed that the city government of St. Paul and the Host Committee of the Republican National Convention—which organized the event and solicited corporate donors—worked out a bargain whereby the Host Committee would assume the first $10 million in liability resulting from lawsuits civilians might launch against the city’s police. This agreement gave a signal to police that financial liability need not serve as a deterrent to police repression of protests.
Police preparation in the Twin Cities was elaborate. Because the RNC, like the Democratic National Convention, was declared a “National Security Event,” the local police were placed under the supervision of the federal government through the Secret Service and combined with numerous other state and federal police and military agencies.
It has also become clear that the media, especially independent media, were targeted for harassment and arrest during the convention. This included the unlawful search and seizure of filming equipment, computers, and cell phones.
As the scope of the arrests and police brutality has begun to take shape—multiple reports have emerged of police beatings, gassings, denial of medical treatment, and use of mace and taser guns on protesters and those already detained or arrested—it appears increasingly unlikely that this was simply an overreaction, as some liberal commentators have claimed.
The goal of this repression—which most assuredly would be a central preoccupation of the mainstream media had it taken place in, for instance, Russia—was only secondarily aimed at intimidating or squelching the RNC protests. Instead these measures were cut from the same cloth as the sort of massive repression carried out in third world police states. The massive police operation’s primary aim was to benumb, intimidate and silence the population as a whole.
It also provided the opportunity for a trial run of large-scale repression against the mass opposition to war and social immiseration that will inevitably emerge in the coming months and years.