On April 4, 2012, I spoke on a panel discussion on National Security, Secrecy and Surveillance in New York City. The event was sponsored by the Open Society Foundations and the Government Accountability Project, and moderated by Steven Aftergood, the renowned editor of Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists. Besides myself, the speakers were Thomas Drake, the courageous former intelligence officer who blew the whistle on National Security Agency/contractor corruption during the Bush administration and was wrongly prosecuted by the Obama administration as a result; his equally courageous attorney, Jessylyn Radek , who is a whistle-blower herself for exposing the barbaric treatment of the so-called “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh in the days after 9/11; and Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU, who has participated in some of the most important national security litigation of the past ten years.
The format was informal; Aftergood posed a series of questions to each panelist, giving us a few minutes to respond, and then posed a series of follow-up queries. After that, the audience got to ask its own questions, and at the end we all gave some final thoughts. The entire event will soon be available on video at the OSF and GAP websites, and I will post it here as soon as I get it.
For me, it was a tremendous honor to speak about my special area of expertise, intelligence contracting, with people who have spent much of the last decade fighting the threat to democracy posed by our national surveillance state. I had prepared a five-minute talk, but what I had written didn’t fit into the Q&A format. So I thought readers of my book SPIES FOR HIRE and my many followers on Twitter would be interested in the notes I made in preparation, and I present them below. I started by talking about the NSA’s Trailblazer program, a $4 billion corporate boondoggle that Tom Drake, as an NSA whistle-blower, had sought to expose as a massive waste of resources and a threat to our democratic rights. Here’s what I said:
Trailblazer is highly symbolic of the folly of contracting. It was an enormous, wasteful project that made a lot of people rich while doing nothing to protect Americans and actually helping them lose a little more of their freedom. The culprit was SAIC, one of the nation’s largest defense and intelligence contractors. New Yorkers may know SAIC because it just pled guilty to massive fraud involving the city’s payroll systems and paid a $500 million fine to basically avoid being blacklisted by the government.
In the case of Trailblazer, the company paid zero fines and kept winning new contracts. But it wasn’t only SAIC – the Trailblazer “team” included Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton, both longtime NSA contractors, and literally dozens of subcontractors. The entire project was symptomatic of the way the privatized intelligence community operates, without oversight or accountability, and basically in the shadows.
As Tom and Jesslyn have argued, Tom didn’t leak anything secret about Trailblazer: he was merely passing on unclassified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter about one of the worst contract failures – and scandals – in US intelligence history.
So it was interesting to read in Jane Mayer’s excellent New Yorker piece on Tom a quote about this from Jack Goldsmith, one of the Justice Department lawyers who justified Bush’s programs. Instead of prosecuting Tom Drake, he said, the government should have gone after the leakers who talked to Bob Woodward for his four books on Bush’s wars, which he said were “filled with classified information that he could only have received from the top of government.”
That’s true: Woodward, in fact, did rely on top-level leaking – including from George W. Bush himself. One of the most startling parts of his last book THE WAR WITHIN concerns the intelligence technologies used to capture and kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. In the book, Woodward argues that these technologies were the secret weapons that turned the Iraq War around for Bush.
They were “some of the most highly classified techniques and information in the US government,” he wrote. A Defense Intelligence Agency official who was a top aide at the time to General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), told Woodward that the high-tech operations were so effective they gave him “orgasms.” All Bush would say, when asked about them, was: “JSOC is awesome.” The White House asked Woodward not to publish any details because that “might lead to unraveling of state secrets.” This really blew Woodward’s mind.
In interviews on 60 Minutes, CNN, NBC and other networks in the days after the book was published, he repeatedly said that he’d stumbled on the greatest national security secret since World War II and the Manhattan Project. When he talked to a 4-star general about his findings, he told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “the blood literally drained from his face;” “he said ‘you cannot write about this.’” By not disclosing the information, Woodward acted like he was somehow saving the Republic.
Well, this really struck me as odd because Woodward’s information was so familiar to me.
In fact, I’d learned about it as a lowly book writer and reporter two years before! Specifically, I learned about these Manhattan Project-like secrets at GEOINT, the annual conference and exhibition sponsored by the contractor-organized US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. For intelligence players and aficionados, GEOINT is kind of the holy place where contractors and intelligence officials meet. So what was Woodward’s big secret?
Were these contractors checking out Woodward’s “secret weapon”?
Well, as anybody writing about intelligence at the time was aware, he was talking about how terrorists were found, tracked and targeted by the NSA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, which is responsible for imagery and mapping intelligence. Basically, these two agencies have learned how to create hybrid intelligence tools that – in official parlance – create “horizontal integration” between the two agencies, defined as “working together from start to finish, using NGA’s ‘eyes’ and NSA ‘ears’” (that’s actually from an NGA press release). They combine intercepts of cellphone calls with overhead imagery gathered by Predators and drones and use this data to track suspected terrorists in real time (for the latest on the NGA’s role in what it calls “intelligence fusion,” read this).
At the GEOINT meeting in 2006, the NGA director at the time, Adm. Robert B. Murrett, disclosed that it was through such technology that the U.S. military was able to locate and bomb the safe house where Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, was staying in June 2006. “Eventually, it all comes down to physical location,” he told reporters. When NSA and NGA data are combined, he added, “the multiplier effect is dramatic.” I knew this was big and wrote about it in an article for Salon – “America Under Surveillance” on Aug. 9, 2007 – a least one year before Woodward’s book came out. Details also appeared in my book, which was also released before Woodward’s.
Read the rest Via:timshorrock