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!


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