Posts Tagged ‘Intelligence agencies’

Why would you believe John Brennan or the CIA?

May 31, 2019

The intelligence community – after two solid decades of PR disasters, from 9/11 to Iraq to Abu Ghriab to Gitmo – has rebounded in the public’s eye since 2016, cleverly re-packaging itself as serving on the front lines of the anti-Trump resistance.

It’s even managed to turn the invention of the term “deep state” to its advantage, having media pals use it to make any accusation of investigatory overreach, leaking, and/or meddling in domestic politics sound like Trumpian conspiracy theory.

But these people are not saviors of democracy. They’re the same scoundrels we rightfully learned to despise in the Bush and Obama years for lying about everything from torture to rendition to drone assassination to warrantless surveillance.


The intelligence community needs a house-cleaning by Matt Taibbi for Untitledgate.

Spies, Wikileaks and the DNC hacks.

August 1, 2016

I haven’t seen anything in the news accounts of the Democratic National Committee e-mails that is either new or shocking.

We the public knew before the DNC hacks that the committee members and staff were supporters of Hillary Clinton.  That’s what smart and successful politicians do—put their supporters in positions of influence.

The e-mails reveal how much the DNC people disliked Sanders and favored Clinton, but I haven’t seen anything that shows the e-mails showed they actually did—as distinguished from talking about—anything unethical.

What wrongdoing I do know about comes from publicly available information, not e-mail hacks.  The Hillary Victory Fund, for example, raised money ostensibly for state Democratic Party organizations, but then funneled the money back to Clinton.  That’s dishonest and probably illegal, but those facts had already been revealed.

As to the source of the information, intelligence agencies of various governments have a long history of revealing information that is embarrassing to their adversaries.

What’s new about the publishing of confidential Democratic National Committee e-mails is that it was done through Wikileaks, which provides a platform by which whistle-blowers and hackers of any affiliation can reveal secret documents without being traced.  is not affiliated with any government and for that very reason provides a perfect cover.  This is ideal cover for secret intelligence agencies.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, says his only responsibility is to verify the authenticity of the information, not to judge the motives of those providing it.   The problem is that the CIA, FSB and their counterparts in other countries are probably much more expert in faking the source of information than Assange and his friends are in detecting forgeries.

There’s a moral here.  The moral is that secret information is not necessarily more significant than public information that has been overlooked.


On the Need for Official Attribution of Russia’s DNC Hack by Matt Tait for the Brookinsgs Institution’s Lawfare blog.

Yet More Thoughts on the DNC Hack: Attribution and Precedent by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.

Thoughts about Top Secret America

July 20, 2010

Some thoughts about the Washington Post’s great series, Top Secret America, which came out this week, about the uncontrolled proliferation of secret intelligence and surveillance agencies.

1.  The series shows the value of traditional newspapers dedicated to journalism as a public service, and of the Washington Post specifically.  There is good journalism on Internet web logs, but none of them have the resources to conduct a two-year effort such as this.  At the same time the Post’s web site provides information that its print edition could not include.

I don’t know whether printing this series contributed to the newspaper’s profitability, compared to alternative uses of its resources.  I suspect that it did not, and I feel sure this was not a consideration going forward.  I don’t know whether you can have good journalism on a pure business model.

2. Back in 2004, there was concern about duplication and lack of coordination in intelligence activities, and Congress created the office of Director of National Intelligence under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.  But because of objections of existing intelligence agencies, the DNI was not given any actual authority to hire and fire or give orders – just to coordinate.  This is another example of how not quite doing the job is equivalent to not doing the job.

On the other hand, a certain amount of redundancy and duplication is a good thing.  Otherwise there is no margin for error and no exploration of alternatives.  It is a question of “how much” and not “whether.”

3.  The question of civil liberties is more important than the question of waste and inefficiency.  Would it be better if intelligence agencies really could keep track of the phone calls and e-mails of every American citizen? The government has virtually unlimited powers of surveillance, plus powers to imprison people without criminal charges, to torture, to assassinate and to silence whistle-blowers to reveal abuses of power.  It is a leap of faith to think that such powers were never be abused either by President Obama or by any President ever to hold office in the future.


Washington Post series on Top Secret America

July 19, 2010

The Washington Post is publishing an important investigative series on U.S. secret intelligence activities which are so vast and so out of control that nobody knows how much money is being spent, what it is going for or what use it is.

There are 854,000 people – nearly a million – with top secret clearance. Every day the National Security Agency intercepts and stores records of 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other communications which are separated into 70 different data bases. There is no effective oversight, no effective limitation on power, no effective limitation on spending.  It is, as Dana Priest and William Arkin say, a fourth branch of government.