Posts Tagged ‘Top Secret’

Why the US risks outsourcing secret intelligence

July 8, 2013

If there were Top Secrets whose disclosure would endanger the nation, wouldn’t you restrict knowledge of those secrets to as few people as possible?  Wouldn’t the last thing you would do is to share them with private contractors over which you do not exercise direct control?

Booz_Allen_logo_strat_tag_blackYet an estimated 400,000 employees of private contractors are cleared for Top Secret information, the highest level of security clearance, including 10,000 at Booz Allen Hamilton, the former employer both of Edward Snowden, the fugitive whistleblower, and James Clapper, the current director of national intelligence.  Even the process of granting Top Secret clearances has been outsourced to a private company.

Why would you do such a thing?  Here’s what I think.

Outsourcing creates the possibility of a revolving door for lucrative jobs in the private sector for intelligence officials who want more than the limited pay of a federal civil servant.  Many former CIA and NSA officials work for Booz Hamilton, including the former director of national intelligence under the Bush administration.

The cutoff between the federal government and the private company allows the government to plausibly deny responsibility for bad behavior of the private company, and makes it harder for Congress and the press to keep track of secret intelligence work.

Corporate employees, unlike civil servants, are allowed to participate in politics and hire lobbyists to represent their interests.  Booz Allen is a Fortune 500 company, with more than $5 billion in annual revenue, almost all with the government and about a third with secret intelligence work.  That is a powerful vested economic interest.

We are developing a security-industrial complex more dangerous than the military-industrial complex against which President Eisenhower warned, because it operates in secret and without accountability.


Suppose Manning and Snowden really were spies

July 1, 2013

Suppose Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden really had been spies.

spy-vs-spy-without-bombs-775529Suppose they had taken their information to the Russian, Chinese or Iranian embassies instead of Wikileaks or The Guardian.

Would we even know about them?

Dana Priest and William M. Arkin reported in the Washington Post three years ago that more than 850,000 people, working for at least 1,271 agencies and 1,931 contractors at 10,000 locations, had not just clearances, but top secret clearances.   They said no single person in government knows the names of all the secret agencies involved in intelligence, national security and counter-terrorism work.

The other day Ronan Farrow, a former Obama administration official with top secret clearance, wrote than 4.8 million people have clearances to read classified information, and trillions of new documents are classified every year.

How would it even be possible to keep track of secret information, especially when so much work is done by subcontractors outside the direct control of the government?  The Obama administration last year launched a new policy of requiring government employees to report suspicious behavior on the part of fellow employees.  This policy, besides being creepy, seems like an admission of failure of security.

Click on Top Secret America for the Washington Post’s 2010 report.  It’s reasonable to assume that everything that was true then is worse now.   I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a million people with U.S. top secret clearances.

Click on Why are so many US government documents classified? by Ronan Farrow in The Guardian for his full article.

Click on Let’s Not Pretend the Government’s Mass Spying Is an Effective and Efficient Way to Keep Us Safe  for examples of why indiscriminate collection of data has not prevented intelligence failures.  This is from Washington’s Blog, which does a great job of keeping on top of this issue.

Is mass surveillance even legal?  Click on The Criminal N.S.A. for reasons why it isn’t.

If you want to keep something secret … …

June 10, 2013

If you want to keep a secret, you shouldn’t tell anybody.   The more people you tell a secret “in confidence,” the greater the certainty that it will cease to be a secret.  Everybody knows this.

Everybody, it seems, except the Homeland Security agencies.  Dana Priest and William R. Arkin reported three years ago that there were at least 854,000 Americans with top-secret clearances—not just access to classified information, but access to top secrets.   It wouldn’t be surprising if the number now exceeded 1 million.  If the top secrets are known to hundreds of thousands of people, how secret can they be?

top.secretDaniel Ellsberg, who made public the Pentagon Papers, which outlined the secret history of the Vietnam war, was a member of the inner circle of government.  He was a consultant to Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger, and helped write the Pentagon Papers.   A low-ranking person like Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden would not have had access to that information.

In the novels of John Le Carre, the fictional spy George Smiley never writes down any of his big secrets.   In the National Security Agency, the supposedly big secrets are put on slides for Power Point presentations.   It seems to me that when you disseminate information this widely, it is bound to leak out to the general public.

The alleged crime of Edward Snowden is to alert foreign terrorists to the fact that their electronic communications are being monitored.  But they already know that.  Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants stopped using e-mail or cell phones years ago, and communicated only by courier.   What Snowden did in releasing the PRISM slides is to provide proof to the public of what most well-informed people had believed all along.

The real way to keep secrets is:  (1)  Minimize the number of top secrets.  (2) Minimize the number of people who know the top secrets.


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.