Hello & Welcome

Welcome to my Blog! Thanks for stopping by. I'll be posting from time to time my adventures in writing and my trials and tribulations in the publishing world, along with anything relevant in regards to current events, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Intelligence community that appears in the press. Please note that anything I post is not reflective or representative of any official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force; only my views and opinions as a private citizen.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

NSA's Lawful Operations & Mr. Snowden

If you are skeptical about NSA operations and activities reported over the recent weeks, that's certainly understandable, particularly since most Americans do not work within the intelligence community or understand the rigorous training, oversight (from the courts and Congress), and professionalism the men and women of the intelligence community bring to their work every day.

I'll ask that you keep in mind a few things as you read news reporting from journalists that may have only incomplete or partial facts drawn from briefings or other documents outside of their proper context, and/or an incomplete understanding of the law, rules, and oversight in place.  Every civilian employee and military member in the U.S. Intelligence Community (I.C.), including those at NSA, are U.S. Citizens, just like you are.  They are highly trained professionals that take an oath to defend our nation and uphold the Constitution; not to any executive branch organization or institution.  In fact, many have spent their entire professional lives quietly and unobtrusively working without fanfare or acknowledgement outside of the close knit intelligence community to defend our nation, provide our policymakers with the information needed to make informed decisions, and protect our troops in battle when needs be.  To be allowed to serve, they have allowed themselves to be subjected to repeated background investigations, financial reviews, and polygraph examinations every few years to prove that they are responsible men and women of good character, worthy of being trusted with their nation's most highly valued secrets.  These investigations, when done properly and thoroughly (as most are), are an invasive process that many of their fellow citizens might find unacceptable or intolerable with regards to their personal privacy.  These men and women are given their nation's (actually every American citizen's) trust, and are no more interested in violating the privacy or other constitutional rights of U.S. citizens than you are.  Remember, these men and women are citizens of this nation, just like YOU are.

Undoubtedly, more news reports about the size, scope, and capabilities of NSA's activities will be appearing in print and electronic news sources, given Mr. Snowden's admitted removal and provision of classified material to an activist/journalist like Mr. Greenwald, and Mr. Greenwald's recent statements that 'new revelations' are coming.  As you read these future stories, bear in mind that NSA's activities are governed by Executive Order 12333, and constrained by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as well as regular oversight by Congress.  Moreover, publishing of more 'sources and methods' information by Mr. Greenwald and his contemporaries will serve primarily to give away any advantage we may have over our adversaries and result in exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security.
We citizens are reliant upon our members of Congress to provide proper and regular oversight of the I.C. elements.  To date, Congress has held three hearings (House Intel  Senate Judiciary  House Judiciary ) addressing the legitimate concerns voiced by the public and some members of Congress about the programs and activities Mr. Snowden and his enabler Mr. Greenwald have shared.  The law often fails to keep up with the rapid pace technology changes, and some members of Congress are not likely giving the activities of the intelligence community regular scrutiny due to time constraints, current committee assignments, or just simply because their activities aren't the 'hot button' issue of the day.  I do believe that the majority of members on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have it right.  The programs exposed thus far are legal, in that they are operating under the FISA law as enacted, and they are Constitutional, given the strict oversight and compliance requirements outlined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and the process and procedures NSA put in place to adhere to those requirements, as outlined in the public testimony and statements (Mr. Litt from ODNI).  Having said that, given that Congress is paying more attention now, certain senior members like Senators Chambliss and Feinstein, and Congressmen Rogers and Ruppersberger have offered not only endorsement but in some cases reasonable improvements to the programs and oversight regime (note that they do not advocate stopping it, nor does the administration).  Should Congress change the law or oversight requirements, I am certain that the Attorney General, FBI, and the NSA will abide by those changes.

Encourage your member of Congress and Senators to pay closer attention if you have concerns, and choose to take their word or not when they tell you an agency is doing what is supposed to under the law and Constitution.  Fortunately, it's YOUR choice, because we live in America; not Russia or China; but get all the facts, not just the ones a particular journalist may offer as you evaluate what you've been told.

As to whether Mr. Snowden is a 'whistle blower' / leaker, or a traitor, I'll say this.  In my view, a whistle blower sees illegality or unconstitutional acts and reports them to competent legal (the FBI or Attorney General) or agency authorities (a supervisor, a senior manager, an inspector general, an internal counsel) first, then to Congress and the media if the existing process fails.  Along the way that person may suffer the loss of a job, the travails of our legal process including: possible pre-trial confinement, and a trial for his or her belief in the truth or 'rightness' of their actions, consistent with our Constitution and laws.  In the end, they will either be vindicated, not only in court, but in the court of public opinion, or convicted under the law.  Moreover, if this whistle blower is working in a classified information environment, that person uses the processes established to 'blow the whistle' in a way that does not expose the sources and methods of intelligence operations to our nation's adversaries, endangering the lives of our men and women in uniform, our diplomats overseas, and our citizens (and those of our allies and friends) at home and abroad.  

A traitor takes whatever classified information he can, boards a plane to a foreign country beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement, and barters that information for notoriety, monetary gain, or presumed safety in the hands of one or more foreign governments.  Mr. Snowden is not a whistle blower.  People like Bunnatine 'Bunny' Greenhouse are whistle blowers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cyberweapon Usage in Libya & Elsewhere

The New York Times reported today that the Obama administration, as part of the military options presented for the initial U.S. action in Libya, considered conducting a cyber attack against the air defense systems in order to protect U.S. and allied war planes. The administration and the Pentagon chose not to exercise that option.

According to the article, "....administration officials and even some military officers balked, citing the precedent it might set for other nations, in particular Russia or China, to carry out cyber raids of their own, and questioning whether the attack could be mounted on such short notice. They were also unable to resolve whether the president had the power to proceed with such an attack without informing Congress."

It's gratifying to see well intended people at senior levels in government debating these kinds of issues; the military readiness and ability to conduct such an attack, the legal issues involved, the potential actions of other nations, and the need to coordinate with and keep Congress properly informed.

I only hope nations like Russia and China would actually debate and discuss these issues as thoroughly.  I strongly suspect they won't.  Russia and China very likely have cyber attack capabilities that are comparable to whatever the U.S. may have developed, and I strongly suspect we would not see a lively debate within the Russian or Chinese command structures about using such capabilities.  They will use them as needed to protect their soldiers and their nation's interests, and so should we to protect our military forces and our interests.

Cyber warfare is one of the new weapon sets of the 21st Century.  We are hardly the only nation on the planet that possesses them, and we should not be hesitant in using them.  Our adversaries will not hesitate, and we need not suffer an electronic Pearl Harbor or 9/11 before electing to use the force multiplying advantage that they can afford us when we send our servicemen and women into battle anywhere on the globe, for any reason.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We've Been Lucky, and the Iranians Have Been Caught Red-Handed.

The Department of Justice announced today the charging of two men in an alleged Iranian backed plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the UnitedStates, and in the process potentially kill a hundred or more civilians and potentially congressional members with an explosive device.

First off, let me be very clear in saying that the men and women of the FBI, the attorneys in the justice department, and apparently the DEA as well, have done an outstanding job in foiling this plot.  Their professionalism and competence in working to investigate, and begin the process of prosecuting the precursor crimes to this attempted assassination has been in the best traditions of law enforcement.

Based on the complaint and the Department of Justice’s press release, we’ve been incredibly lucky to find out about this plot and disrupt it.  Why were we lucky?  Because the first break in this case apparently came when Manssor Arbabsiar chose to meet with someone he thought was a member of a ‘…violent international drug trafficking cartel’ to get this cartel to carry out the bombing.  Fortunately for us, the person Arbabsiar met was what the compliant describes as a DEA Confidential Source (CS).

Without attempting to denigrate the hard work of the FBI and the risks taken by the DEA’s CS, it does help when the assassins or terrorists literally come right to law enforcement undercover operatives for help in carrying out the assassination or terrorist act.

Fortunately, the DEA and the FBI moved swiftly to insinuate themselves into this plot, and learn enough about the conspirators to make an arrest and break up the plot, while also using Arbabsiar to verify the Iranian military connection.

While this case is certainly of great concern to the United States, strongly verifies the Iranian military and government’s desire, intent, and capacity to conduct these kind of attacks within the U.S., it also proves that terrorists and assassins need to be lucky just once, and we need to be right all the time.

Imagine what would have happened if Arbabsiar had approached a real member of a violent Mexican drug cartel. We could very well be viewing scenes of carnage at a D.C. restaurant and reports of the deaths of the Saudi Ambassador and many innocent civilians, rather than today’s press conference at the Justice Department.