Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Pillar Effect

By Melissa Boyle Mahle

Former National Intelligence Officer Paul Pillar has really stirred the pot. After retiring from the CIA, he has entered academia and public life. He is contributing his vast knowledge and experience to educating the next generation of Americans. For some, Pillar has committed an inexcusable crime of breach of client confidence—the President in this case. I think this debate cuts at the core of what is wrong in Washington these days.

Pillar has written an essay in Foreign Affairs on the intelligence process, more specifically on how the intelligence process becomes politicized and the consequences thereof. He writes neither of secret operations related to intelligence collection in Iraq, nor of potential illegal wiretaps. He writes about process. Pillar would have had to clear his essay through the CIA’s Publication Review Board to verify that it contained no classified information.

Pillar finds fault with how the Bush Administration used or misused intelligence by repeatedly seeking only information to support the case to go to war. Furthermore, the Bush Administration was negligent in examining the full range of consequences of the war, i.e. the post-invasion insurgence. Pillar does focus on the shortcomings of the politicians, neglecting to mention that it takes two to tango. CIA leadership was equally at fault by not forcefully delivering the bad with the good. Pillar talks about sugarcoating; the problem was much deeper than this. DCI Tenet undermined his own analysts in meetings when they tried to present the intelligence not to the Administration liking. But I digress.

Critics of Pillar, such as Guillermo Christensen writing in the Wall Street Journal, believe Pillar should keep his mouth shut. Pillar has no right to weigh in on the issue because as a former intelligence official he has an oath to neutrality. Writing this essay is viewed as a political act to slam the Bush Administration for its decision to go to war in Iraq.

Wall Street Journal
February 17, 2006; Page A12

CIA officers on the cusp of retirement often enroll in a seminar that is supposed to help them adjust to life after the agency -- teaching them, for example, how to write a resume. I've begun to wonder if part of that program now includes a writing seminar on how to beat up on the Bush administration. The latest such blast comes from Paul Pillar, who, over the course of his long career, was arguably a central player in the CIA's analysis of the Middle East, in particular Iraq. But now Mr. Pillar has decided to disclose to the world, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, that he thought all along that the war was a bad idea, and that the president and his advisers ignored his intelligence.

Why Mr. Pillar would even attempt to argue that the White House ignored the CIA's intelligence is beyond me -- as innumerable investigations have demonstrated, all of the "intelligence" within his responsibility was 100% in agreement that Iraq posed a serious danger and that it had an active program for acquiring WMD. Over the course of a decade and a half, and thousands of pages of intelligence analysis, it is hard to think of anyone in the government who was more directly involved in reaching the wrong conclusions about what was going on in Iraq than Mr. Pillar himself.

But let's put all that aside for the moment and conjecture that Mr. Pillar actually did change his mind about all that work he'd done, and that he really did think the intelligence didn't support the case for war. If that was truly so, no one was better positioned to make the case against war within the government than Mr. Pillar himself. He could have personally drafted a National Intelligence Estimate, or any number of other types of memoranda, for senior readers in government, recording for all in black and white what was really going on in Iraq. He could, furthermore, have shared that analysis with every single member of Congress by writing less-classified summaries of the conclusions, as is often done.

So why did Mr. Pillar fail to take these steps? Again, as the person in charge of assessing Iraq, if he really believed that Iraq posed no threat to the U.S., we're owed an explanation of why none of the consequences of going to war -- economic costs, military and civilian casualties -- were important enough for him to do something about it when it mattered. According to Mr. Pillar, it was only a year into the war that such an analysis was even undertaken, and then only at the request of the administration. The other major intelligence estimate performed before the war was the 2002 NIE on WMD, "infamous," as Mr. Pillar calls it, because it was so wrong.

The fact is, no other issue in the history of the CIA is as deserving of the title "Mother of all Intelligence Failures" as the debacle over the CIA's analysis of Iraq. Take your pick of the many studies that have tried to understand why the intelligence was so inaccurate, but the basic conclusion underlying all of them is the same: The CIA's analysis and collection on Iraq was flat-out wrong over the course of many years -- first in missing the fact that Iraq had WMD before the Gulf War, and then, well, you know the rest.

Paul Pillar was right in the thick of the process and substance that reached those conclusions. Had he actually written a warning to the administration against going to war before the war, his conclusions could not have rested on any of the CIA's intelligence analysis, but instead on his own political views against the administration -- something which he has made no bones about in discussions with think-tank audiences long before he left the agency. This, incidentally, is prohibited behavior according to the professional practices of the CIA, the equivalent of betraying attorney-client confidentiality.

Not merely content to have played a leading role in the Iraq intelligence failure, Mr. Pillar is now following in the footsteps of others like Michael Scheuer, in undermining whatever credibility and access the CIA still may have with policymakers. By violating his confidences, Mr. Pillar is ensuring that those who succeed him -- those who are, I hope, trying to fix the many problems facing the CIA -- will be even less likely to see any real impact from their work because the president and his advisers will be loath to trust them.

For decades, there has been a common understanding that CIA analysts play a role roughly analogous, for policymakers, to experts whose opinions are sought in confidence, such as lawyers or accountants. Presidents and their advisers have felt comfortable in relying on analysts, in theory at least, for unbiased information and conclusions -- and for keeping their mouths shut about what they learn. Presidents, secretaries of state, and others have given the CIA access into the inner sanctum of policymaking in the belief that the CIA would not use the media or leaks to influence the outcome.

For a CIA officer to discard this neutral role and to inject himself in the political realm is plain wrong. It will end up making the CIA even less relevant than it is today -- if that is possible.

Mr. Christensen, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, served for 15 years as a CIA intelligence officer.

Is airing the truth, or the perception of truth based on experience, a political act or an act of a neutral professional? As an intelligence official, I firmly believe in the principle of calling it as you see it. An intelligence official should do this whether writing an assessment classified secret or an essay in a foreign policy journal. Others might view it from a political optic but that should not give them the veto right of silencing the debate. Pillar is saying something important in his essay that should not be lost in the political game-playing in Washington: the intelligence-policy relationship process is broken and it needs to be fixed.

It is very difficult to fix the intelligence community from the inside without outside support. First, the community is extremely resistant to major change. Second, it accepts change usually only after facing dire consequences. Third, it implements change only after having taken ownership of ideas forged elsewhere and repackaging them into something that can be claimed to be made internally. Within this construct, it is very useful to have someone of Pillar’s experience and stature to make the case in public, galvanizing other players to take action.

It does not mean that Pillar’s solution—move the IC further away from the policymaker to insolate it from political pressure—is the correct one and should be followed. I think that this is exactly the wrong solution to take away from Iraq war case. But it does mean taking an introspective look at the process and how it works today, how it worked in the past and who is should ideally work in the future in a world of different national security challenges.

Secrecy Gone Amok

For those paying attention to government policies on secrecy, the Washington Post Editorial on reclassification was not to be missed. The US government is fighting back against the 25 year automatic declassification program put in place during the Clinton Administration. Documents declassified under that program are now being pulled from the public domain and reclassified. The idea that a secret released and published can revert back to a secret through a bureaucratic act would be laughable if it wasn’t true.

I take a personal interest in this as I watch the CIA grapple with a conference paper I wrote in which I refer to information on the CIA website and the United Nations website. The censors have decided this information is classified and cut it out of my draft paper. I am contesting the decision. Will the CIA stand its ground? Will it pull the information off the CIA website, out of the Congressional record and the 9/11 Commission Report because it is classified? Or will they make the argument that it is classified depending on who writes it? I don’t know how they will explain the decision to make a UN document classified, but I am waiting with interest.

We seem to be having a tough time lately defining what a secret is and the consequences for receiving and publishing classified information. The lawsuit against the AIPAC employees bears watching. The heart of the issue is the question whether it is illegal for non-government employees (folks without security clearances) to orally receive and disseminate information that is classified? The AIPAC guys, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, apparently knew the information was secret and still told their contacts in the Israeli embassy. The US government is trying to make this into an espionage case.

The defendants are arguing that they did what reporters, think-tank experts and members of congressional staffs do hundreds of times every day, leak classified information and pass it along. This is true. Does it make it right and/or legal? Probably not, but it does tell you the law is honored in the breach. There must be something wrong with the law. This takes me back to my first point that we are having difficulty in defining what a secret is.

Clearly, we have a problem of over classification and an inability to declassify on a timely basis, the net affect is to hinder our government workers, thinking establishment and media from doing their jobs of informing, educating and analyzing.

But here I am pointing out that something is broken. Will I be Pillared?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Unilateral Declassification?

By Melissa Boyle Mahle

The debate over the merits or demerits of leaks continued this week, but in an odd direction. I. “Scooter” Lewis Libby, former Chief of Staff to VP Cheney, who has been indicted for perjury, is claiming that he was authorized to give parts of the National Intelligence Estimate to the press. Cheney publicly backed him up, saying that as VP he has Executive Authority to declassify information. In other words, this was not a leak. Portions of the National Intelligence Estimate had been declassified.

Here is what Cheney said:

Interview of the Vice President by Brit Hume, FOX News
Vice President's Ceremonial Office
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
2:01 P.M. EST

Q Let me ask you another question. Is it your view that a Vice President has the authority to declassify information?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: There is an executive order to that effect.

Q There is.


Q Have you done it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions. The executive order –

Q You ever done it unilaterally?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to get into that. There is an executive order that specifies who has classification authority, and obviously focuses first and foremost on the President, but also includes the Vice President.

What is the difference between declassification and a leak? The first denotes the use of an established procedure and the second is a unilateral action. Declassification requests can originate from anywhere, from the President’s office, Congress or the public (FOIA). The request goes to the originator of the classification; i.e. the agency that classified the information in the first place. They decide what if any can be declassified. Under the Bush Administration, the White House apparently demanded a reviewing role of the declassification decisions if there was a political angle. A leak bypasses this process entirely and the information is made public.

The question is did VP Cheney go through the declassification process or did he do it legally unilaterally. There is no evidence that the CIA received and declassified the portions of the NIE—or for that matter the identity of Valerie Plame—before the information was passed to the press. If it is has been declassified by the CIA, there will be a paper trail with the request, action date and decision. A simple FOIA request would clear this up if it exists.

Did Cheney unilaterally, legally declassify portions of the NIE. Executive Order 12958 on “Classified National Security Information” provides the core rules on handling the classification and declassification of national security information. The role of the VP is mentioned only once and this was in terms of preempting the 25-year automatic declassification rule if declassification would “impair the ability of responsible United States Government officials to protect the President, the Vice President, and other individuals.”

It is important to remember the context of the Clinton EO on declassification. This was part of Gore’s Reinventing Government. There was the belief that the US government was too secret and was over classifying information. The goal was to introduce a process of automatic declassification and to make classification process more accountable—there had to be a valid reason behind the decision to classify in the first place. The Clinton EO did not provide anyone with the unilateral decision-making authority to declassify information, but the automatic declassification after 25 years—with notable exceptions.

The Bush Administration issued revisions to the Clinton EO on 25 March 2003, Executive Order No. 13292. In the amendments, the Vice President plays a major role. The VP-related sections deal with classification, access to classified information and declassification. The access and declassification parts are as follows:

• The automatic, 25-year declassification of national security information can be preempted if it would impair the ability to "protect" the Vice President from physical harm;

• Mandatory declassification review is required of information originating from the Vice President (i.e. of stuff the VP personally classifies);

• Mandatory declassification review is required from the Vice President's staff (i.e. of the stuff the VP staff classifies)’

• Access to certain national security information can be provided to individuals who occupied policy-making positions appointed by the Vice President (such as the VP’s staff, commissions members appointed by the VP, but the press would not fall into this category); and

• Waivers to rules of access to classified national security information will only apply to Vice Presidential appointees in areas of their policy work while working as an Executive Branch appointee.

I do not see anything here that indicates the VP has a legal, unilateral authority to declassify national security information classified by another individual and/or agency. Furthermore, if the leak was not a leak, but a declassification, why did Libby ask reporters to not identify him as the source of the information. Was the White House using the aura of a leak to give more credibility to the message? Now that is definitely a “wilderness of mirrors” thought.

The other point I’d like to make is the context of the Bush EO. It was drafted purposely to tighten up control over classified information. The White House and the intelligence community were roiling from leaks, on one hand, and Cheney’s anger about his staff being denied access to certain kinds of classified information.

Daniel Schorr, a long time political and intelligence watcher, astutely notes why leaks are an enduring problem in Washington. As long as there are partisan politics, there will be political leaks. Most leaks come from the politicos; not the spies. But that does not stop Goss’ witch hut at the CIA.

Christian Science Monitor
The dichotomy of intelligence leaks
There are leaks that serve an administration's purpose - and those that do not.
February 17, 2005
By Daniel Schorr

WASHINGTON - All leakdom could be said to be divided into two parts: the top-level leak serving some administration purpose, and the unauthorized subterranean, whistle-blowing leak that tends to defeat the administration's purpose.

President Reagan once complained of being, "up to my keister in leaks." He deeply resented leaks because they suggested some loyalty other than to him.

The current prime example of a damaging leak is The New York Times story of Dec. 15, 2005, about government eavesdropping without a warrant, which plunged the administration into something of a crisis. The Times' only attribution in the story was, "According to government officials." The president has ordered an investigation to discover the leaker. As far as I know, no whistle-blower leak investigation has ever led to successful prosecution.

Perhaps the unauthorized leaker of the century was the FBI's Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat. President Nixon, in time, came to suspect Mr. Felt but took no action against him. Nixon told his subordinates he feared Felt might make revelations about him that would prove even more damaging.

The other famous leaker of the 20th century was the RAND Corporation's Daniel Ellsberg, who delivered to The New York Times and The Washington Post the 7,000 page history of American involvement in the Vietnam War that came to be known as the "Pentagon Papers."

Deeply resentful of unauthorized and especially anonymous leaks, the White House nevertheless likes leaks that it can control. One such leak that spun out of control was the unveiling of the covert CIA identity of Valerie Plame, whose husband had cast doubt on the existence of an Iraqi nuclear program. If a leak can be said to have boomeranged, this one did. It is now the subject of a two-year special investigation. Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, has been indicted for perjury.

Mr. Libby has testified that his superiors also instructed him to leak information from a secret intelligence report about supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The investigation is still in progress.

Leaks can be a dangerous game, but danger is not likely to discourage them - either from the top, or from deep inside the government. As I have written before in these pages, the ship of State is the only kind of ship that leaks mainly from the top.

• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Leakers, Whistle-Blowers and Real Threats

By Melissa Boyle Mahle

I took a vacation last week from writing. The vacation reflected my desire to focus on other endeavors, not a lack of developments in the intelligence world. The following is a quick review of developments that should not go unnoticed.

War against Leakers

Director of Central Intelligence Agency Porter Goss took an unusual step (for him) to write an op-ed in the New York Times on 10 February 2006. In it, he takes aim at “unnamed intelligence officials” and “whistleblowers” for damaging US national security. On the former, he makes some solid points. On the latter, he just paints over the larger problem. The whistleblower legislation is written in a way that it makes it virtually impossible for those with knowledge of misdeeds to raise the issue outside their chain of command.

I speak with some personal experience on this front. I once tried to raise a concern with an intelligence oversight committee. The CIA Inspector General had refused to look at the issue. When I went to the committee and staffer cut me off before I could say one word on the topic. He passed me a sheet of paper, written in legalese that basically said that if I exposed to him classified information (he had a security clearance because he was an intelligence staffer) I could be prosecuted for breaking the law. He informed me that if I did not wish to go to jail, I had to deal with the matter through the CIA Inspector General. I left without accomplishing what I set out to do. The consequences are that the particular practice continues unchecked. This is not how I envisioned oversight to work.

New York Times
February 10, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Loose Lips Sink Spies

AT the Central Intelligence Agency, we are more than holding our own in the global war on terrorism, but we are at risk of losing a key battle: the battle to protect our classified information.

Judge Laurence Silberman, a chairman of President Bush's commission on weapons of mass destruction, said he was "stunned" by the damage done to our critical intelligence assets by leaked information. The commission reported last March that in monetary terms, unauthorized disclosures have cost America hundreds of millions of dollars; in security terms, of course, the cost has been much higher. Part of the problem is that the term "whistleblower" has been misappropriated. The sharp distinction between a whistleblower and someone who breaks the law by willfully compromising classified information has been muddied.

As a member of Congress in 1998, I sponsored the Intelligence Community
Whistleblower Protection Act to ensure that current or former employees could petition Congress, after raising concerns within their respective agency, consistent with the need to protect classified information.

Exercising one's rights under this act is an appropriate and responsible way to bring questionable practices to the attention of those in Congress charged with oversight of intelligence agencies. And it works. Government employees have used statutory procedures — including internal channels at their agencies — on countless occasions to correct abuses without risk of retribution and while protecting information critical to our national defense.

On the other hand, those who choose to bypass the law and go straight to the press are not noble, honorable or patriotic. Nor are they whistleblowers. Instead they are committing a criminal act that potentially places American lives at risk. It is unconscionable to compromise national security information and then seek protection as a whistleblower to forestall punishment.

Today America is confronting an enemy intent on brutal murder. Without the capacity to gain intelligence on terrorist organizations through clandestine sources and methods, we and our allies are left vulnerable to the horrors of homicidal fanaticism. The C.I.A. has put many terrorists out of action since 9/11. In our pursuit of the enemy, we accept the unique responsibility we bear as officers of a clandestine service serving an open, constitutional society. But we also know that unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence inhibits our ability to carry out our mission and protect the nation. Revelations of intelligence successes or failures, whether accurate or not, can aid Al Qaeda and its global affiliates in many ways. A leak is invaluable to them, even if it only, say, prematurely confirms whether one of their associates is dead or alive. They can gain much more: these disclosures can tip the terrorists to new technologies we use, our operational tactics, and the identities of brave men and women who risk their lives to assist us.

Such leaks also cause our intelligence partners around the globe to question our professionalism and credibility. Too many of my counterparts from other countries have told me, "You Americans can't keep a secret." And because of the number of recent news reports discussing our relationships with other intelligence services, some of these critical partners have even informed the C.I.A. that they are reconsidering their participation in some of our most important antiterrorism ventures. They fear that exposure of their cooperation could subject their citizens to terrorist retaliation. Last month, a news article in this newspaper described a "secret meeting" to discuss "highly classified" techniques to detect efforts by other countries to build nuclear weapons. This information was attributed to unnamed intelligence officials who "spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the effort's secrecy." Whether accurate or not, this is a direct acknowledgment that these unnamed officials apparently know the importance of secrecy.

Recently, I noticed renewed debate in the news media over press reports in 1998 that Osama bin Laden's satellite phone was being tracked by United States intelligence officials. In the recent debate, it was taken for granted that the original reports did not hurt our national security efforts, and any suggestions that they did cause damage were dismissed as urban myth. But the reality is that the revelation of the phone tracking was, without question, one of the most egregious examples of an unauthorized criminal disclosure of classified national defense information in recent years. It served no public interest. Ultimately, the bin Laden phone went silent.

I take seriously my agency's responsibility to protect our national security. Unauthorized disclosures undermine our efforts and abuse the trust of the people we are sworn to protect. Since becoming director, I have filed criminal reports with the Department of Justice because of such compromises. That department is committed to working with us to investigate these cases aggressively. In addition, I have instituted measures within the agency to further safeguard the integrity of classified data.

Our enemies cannot match the creativity, expertise, technical genius and tradecraft that the C.I.A. brings to bear in this war. Criminal disclosures of national security information, however, can erase much of that advantage. The terrorists gain an edge when they keep their secrets and we don't keep ours.

Porter Goss is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Whistler-blowers Fight Back

This week Congress will hear directly from intelligence community whistler-blowers. Rather than talk about what they want to talk about—wrong doing—they will talk about what happens when they talk—retribution. Jeff Stein, the national security editor at Congressional Quarterly, has written an excellent article on this in his intel blog.

Feb. 10, 2006 – 8:47 p.m.
In From the Cold: Shays to Give NSA Whistleblower a Hearing
By Jeff Stein, National Security Editor

Had all this happened in the 1970s, Russell Tice would have been on the run and secret White House burglars would be rifling through his psychiatrist’s files in search of dirt they could use against him.

Instead, the former National Security Agency (NSA) manager is giving interviews on the inside world of the forbidding, code-breaking labyrinth whose warrantless domestic telephone and e-mail intercepts have suddenly convulsed congressional Republicans.

Tice is hardly alone. On Tuesday, he’ll be one of a half-dozen intelligence workers emerging from the shadows to testify at a House hearing chaired by Connecticut Republican Rep. Christopher Shays on legislation to protect national security whistleblowers from retaliation.

It’s as if Deep Throat had outed himself and signed up as a television analyst while Woodward and Bernstein were still churning out Watergate stories.

Tice played no such central role in The New York Times’ revelations of the NSA’s domestic spying, says another national security whistleblower who knows him well. He’s not this generation’s Daniel Ellsberg, the Defense Department dissenter who leaked the secret Vietnam War documents that became known as the Pentagon Papers.

But what does seem unprecedented here is the role that Tice has been handed: to play Virgil to Congress for a tour of the intelligence underworld, where powerful bureaucrats make life and death decisions without much oversight or even supervision.

Wilderness of Mirrors

Tice gave an extraordinary interview recently to the libertarian magazine Reason in which he hinted at the depths to which the NSA story may eventually drill.

“I’ve known this for a long time and I’ve kept my mouth shut,” he said.

“You’re referring,” the interviewer asked, “to what [New York Times reporter] James Risen calls ‘The Program,’ the NSA wiretaps that have been reported on?”

“No,” Tice answered. “I’m referring to what I need to tell Congress that no one knows yet, which is only tertiarily connected to what you know about now.”

“[T]hese things are so deep black,” Tice said, “the extremely sensitive programs that I was a specialist in, these things are so deep black that only a minute few people are cleared for these things.”

He risked losing his security clearance, he said, even by merely questioning a program’s legality inside the building. “So you have literally nowhere to go.”

Except to the press, and now, Congress, which until recently has shown little inclination to drill into his dark world.

Tice says he was “the worker bee who does the work, writes the reports, goes into the field, does the liaison work, makes the phone calls.” Being “the nitty-gritty detail guy,” he says, made him a lethal threat to NSA bosses.

Tice is not likely to spill everything he saw and heard at the NSA in open testimony. The Shays committee’s focus is retaliation against national security dissidents, who are exempted from the protections afforded federal whistleblowers in non-classified jobs.

Tice will tell a hellish tale. His black-chamber bosses ordered him to undergo a psychiatric exam, pronounced him unfit for duty and stripped him of his security clearance.

It “destroys your career in the intel field, makes you unemployable forever,” he says.

Except, perhaps, as an expert analyst on MSNBC.

Secret Lovers

Another scheduled witness, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) operative Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, will tell the committee about what happened after he went public with his insistence that U.S. intelligence knew about the impending Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and could have prevented them. He entered what’s often called a “wilderness of mirrors” — a phrase spies use to describe a paranoid world where their life of deception turns back on them.

Shaffer, who spent years as a super-secret DIA agent handler, surfaced last year in stories about a deeply clandestine DIA data-mining unit code-named “Able Danger,” which he says latched onto the movements of Mohammed Atta and other al Qaeda hijackers weeks before the Sept. 11 attack. Another leader of the units says the same.

Shaffer will tell Shays’ Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations how his career was sidetracked and his reputation trashed when he challenged the official version of events handed down by the Sept. 11 commission, a source familiar with his 66-page prepared statement says.

But the next day, Feb. 15, Shaffer will get a chance to tell the whole Able Danger story under oath to a closed-door, joint hearing of two House Armed Services subcommittees.

The fact that Shaffer, now on paid leave from the DIA, is finally getting such a forum to tell his story is testimony to the weakened power of the White House to control events related to intelligence abuses on Capitol Hill. More than 200 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have signed on to a demand that the Defense Department investigate Shaffer’s claims.

For months Shaffer’s version of events has not only been dismissed by Sept. 11 commission Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, but tarnished through his close association with Republican Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. Weldon has a reputation among intelligence journalists, fairly or not, as someone whose allegations aren’t always backed up by the facts.

As Shaffer’s scheduled testimony drew near, there were whispers that the White House had engineered the lifting of Shaffer’s gag order in exchange for a promise that he would focus on Clinton administration intelligence failures, not their own.

Contacted by telephone late Friday, Shaffer emphatically rejected that notion. He repeated his previous desire only to testify on important matters he says the Sept. 11 commission left out, and — citing the same gag order — declined to discuss the issue further.

Whistleblower Windfall

Washington is suddenly awash in people like Shaffer, according to Sibel Edmonds, an ex-FBI translator and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, which gets “five to 10 calls every day” from disenchanted intelligence and homeland security employees, she says. The group now has 75 members.

Besides Shaffer, the committee will also hear from 16-year FBI special agent Mike German, who will describe how his career went south after he complained about irregularities in a Florida terrorism investigation.

Shays has also summoned the Justice Department inspector general to explain why his report on German’s complaint of official misconduct has not been made public.

And the committee will hear from Richard Levernier, a former senior Department of Energy security specialist, whose reward for complaining about the vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants earned him mostly opprobrium and ridicule from his superiors.

Former U.S. Army Intelligence Sgt. Samuel J. Provance III, who in 2004 disobeyed an order not to discuss the abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib jail, is also on the witness list.

Provance will tell the committee how he was stripped of his security clearance, pursued by Army detectives and threatened with court martial.

After he told his story to ABC News, he was deluged by e-mails, he said last year.

“The first one I got was from a retired military police officer. He wrote, ‘Thanks for doing the right thing.’ About an hour later I got another one that said, ‘You’re a sorry soldier.’”

People said as much about Daniel Ellsberg.

Backchannel Chatter

Code Red: Clark Kent Ervin, the acting Department of Homeland Security inspector general who was unceremoniously cut loose before the second Bush term, “candidly discusses the circumstances of his departure” in a book scheduled for April, according to his publisher. “He ... shows how his team’s prescriptions for urgent change were ignored — leaving the U.S. vulnerable to another terrorist attack,” says St. Martin’s Press ... Risky Business: Overclassification of documents is putting the nation’s intelligence system at “risk,” says no less than a top FBI lawyer. Writing in the current edition of the American Intelligence Journal, published by the National Military Intelligence Association, FBI counsel M.E. “Spike” Bowen points out that “the person most likely to encounter a person who means to do harm is the local law enforcement agent.” But because cops don’t have high security clearances, “Information that might be used to identify a potential terrorist is ... not in the hands of those in a position to act on it.”

Jeff Stein can be reached at jstein@cq.com.
Source: CQ Homeland Security
© 2006 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Real Threats

DNI John Negroponte testified before Congress on February 2, giving the Annual Threat Assessment briefing. To point out the obvious, the fact that the DNI delivered the assessment and that it is posted on the DNI website, not the CIA website, shows intelligence community reform in action. The other interesting aspect was who testified. Seated next to Negroponte were the faces of the intelligence community, from the CIA, INR, DHS and DIA. If you will recall past briefings, the DCI would brief on foreign intelligence and the head of the FBI would brief on domestic intelligence: a community of two.

The substance of the report also shows the intelligence community is alive and well. For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union has the annual threat assessment takes on a global perspective. Sure it is heavy on terrorism and Iraq, but we are a nation at war. Notably, the assessment focuses far more on the Iraq-specific issues, quite separate from the GWOT—a reflection that the intel community understands that while there are implications for the GWOT in Iraq, Iraq is an animal entirely to itself. If Iraq falls apart, the territorial integrity of the entire region will be under threat. There was a hint of turf battles in the Iraq section indicated by the inclusion of the statement that intelligence has a “key role” to play in combating threats to pipelines, electric power grids and personal safety. Gee, is someone trying to keep the spooks out of the PRTs?

The following assessment of the intra-Islamic debate is spot on, but unfortunately three years too late. If this had been understood at the outset—and many people outside the intel world did make the connections—then the prosecution of the GWOT would have looked entirely different.

“Impact of the Islamic Debate. The debate between Muslim extremists and moderates also will influence the future terrorist environment, the domestic stability of key US partners, and the foreign policies of governments throughout the Muslim world. The violent actions of global jihadists are adding urgency to the debate within Islam over how religion should shape government. Growing internal demands for reform in many Muslim countries further stimulate this debate. In general, Muslims are becoming more aware of their Islamic identity, leading to growing political activism; but this does not necessarily signal a trend toward radicalization. Most Muslims reject the extremist message and violent agendas of the global jihadists. Indeed, as Muslims endorse democratic principles of freedom, equality, and the rule of law and a role for their religious beliefs in building better futures for their communities, there will be growing opportunities for countering a jihadist movement that only promises more authoritarianism, isolation, and economic stagnation.”

Afghanistan, as last year, barely gets a footnote, an indication of the depth of our involvement there.

WMD gets a lot of space, as it has during the last ten years. When are we going to stop whining about North Korea and Iran and do something about it?

The most interesting section in my view was the democracy agenda captured in the “Governance, Political Instability and Democratization” section. When the National Democratic Institute-types (who do very valuable work) heard the intel community would be getting involved in promoting democracy abroad, they went crazy. They felt it would undermine the legitimacy and credibility in working on the ground. What this new generation of democracy advocates forgot or never learned is that the CIA is an old hand at playing politics in the foreign spear, for good or for bad. Since democracy promotion is one of President Bush’s key foreign policies, it is understandable that the intel community will be tasked to do its share in understanding the local and regional dynamics, challenges and assets for democracy building. The strength of this section of the threat report is its regional and global approach. There is no hint that the intel community is viewing these issues through a counterterrorism optic—which would be a terrible mistake. (During the Cold War, we made the mistake of view all local and regional develops through the Soviet optic.)

All in all, the threat assessment made me feel that the intel community was working from a good matrix and was not permitting US political issues frame its scope of work. Good job guys!