Secret Courts Guarantee Abuse

Michael Ledeen is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

I testified against the Patriot Act because I feared the abuse of secret tribunals.  I’m usually far off in my predictions, but it was obvious from the get-go that the FISA courts would be abused by the Intelligence Community, and indeed those secret courts have almost always done what the FBI and CIA asked, even when—as in the case of General Michael Flynn—the IC had to ask several times, and even when the “evidence” consisted of an unverified “dossier” produced by a political campaign.

The Intelligence Community has long considered itself a state within the American state, dating from its creation just after World War II.  Most of the time, the IC has used its power to support presidential policies—the CIA snooped on the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014, and on the McGovern campaign, and the FBI spied on the Goldwater campaign– but when a president acted against the IC’s convictions, the spooks advanced their own interests and beliefs.

No sooner had President Truman recognized the state of Israel, than the CIA swung into (illegal) action, secretly creating the American Friends of the Middle East, which brought Middle Easterners to America, published their views, and lobbied Congress, all against Israel.  In the words of Hudson’s Michael Doran, 

AFME was a remarkable instance of a CIA-confected front organization designed to counter official government policy, in this case by seeking to delegitimize Zionism in domestic American politics.

Truman quickly understood what was at stake.  “It’s become a government all of its own and all secret.  They don’t have to account to anybody.”.

It was, Truman recognized, part of a broader problem: bureaucrats who saw themselves, not mere elected officials, as the only legitimate policy makers.  “The civil servant, the general or admiral, the foreign service officer,” Truman insisted, “has no authority to make policy. They act only as servants of the government, and therefore they must remain in line with the government policy that is established by those who have been chosen by the people to set that policy.”

This enraged the president, who was also furious at the State Department’s opposition to his Middle East policies.  Yet bureaucratic action against presidential policies remained common.  As Truman discovered, the IC used “intelligence” to undermine presidential policies and advance its own.  This was demonstrated in the 1970s, when a private-sector group of analysts known as “Team B”—led by the recently-departed Professor Richard Pipes of Harvard–successfully challenged the CIA’s view of Soviet military strength, and the CIA’s conviction that we had very little to fear from the Kremlin.

Back in the Truman years, the president was able to appreciate Soviet intentions better than the IC, ironically thanks in no small part to his own intelligence operation in cahoots with Israel.  Ironically, Truman opened a secret back channel to Tel Aviv at the same time the CIA was sabotaging American cooperation with the Jewish state, via the legendary spook James Jesus Angleton, whose point of contact in Israel was Ben-Gurion’s personal secretary, Teddy Kolleck.  The two worked closely with Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, debriefing Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Empire.  Angleton, like most CIA officials, suspected the Israelis of collusion with the Soviet Union, but in time he realized this was not true.  Angleton subsequently received the text of Khrushchev’s speech about Stalin’s crimes…from the Israelis.  He was subsequently outed by CIA chief William Colby, with whom he had had many disagreements.

Bureaucratic arrogance is an ongoing problem, nowhere more than the Intelligence Community.  The problem is more grave today, with the advances in electronic snooping, the courts’ willingness to let the intelligence agencies pry into all manner of communications, and the zeal with which the media report improper leaks.  As Lee Smith recently tweeted:

They (the IC) ran a counterintelligence investigation of a former rival spy chief, Mike Flynn, a retired 3-star General. Abuse. Then they leaked intercept of his conversation with Russian ambassador. Crime. Now our 3d world press hires our 3d world spy chiefs.

Secret tribunals guarantee this sort of corruption.  Yes, there are cases where decisions on spying on Americans must be secret, but we pay a terrible price for them.  And as things stand, the snoopers have all the cards.  The game is totally rigged.

Read more from Front Page Magazine…

Is the FBI Trying to Bolster Its War on Cryptography?

Christopher WrayIf you were to take law enforcement at its word, you would believe that the encryption techniques that secure our data actually end up serving criminals who would do us harm. For the past few years, the FBI and other authorities have revived the “War on Crypto” because they say it prevents them from accessing devices that they need to bring killers and terrorists to justice.

FBI director Christopher Wray has been fond of claiming that the Bureau was locked out of some 7,775 devices last year. In January, he argued that “being unable to access nearly 7,800 devices in a single year is a major public safety issue.”

It turns out that the FBI wildly inflated those figures, according to the Washington Post. The Bureau still doesn’t know the exact number of devices that have apparently been so central in the miscarriage of justice. If previous numbers are to be believed—which have hovered around 700 to 800 devices—the true number is probably closer to 1,000.

The FBI told the Post that “programming errors” were responsible for the over-counting, since they were apparently pulling their numbers from three separate databases. But that excuse seems awfully convenient, given the agency’s recent antagonism towards security technologies.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued a scathing letter to the FBI in response to their admission of error, chiding that because the FBI is “struggling with basic arithmetic” it should “not be in the business of dictating the design of advanced cryptographic algorithms.” He pointedly noted that such a major miscalculation could either be the product of “sloppy work” or something more nefarious: “pushing a legislative agenda.”

Could this “accidental miscounting” have been a purposeful ploy to undermine strong encryption? A review of the FBI’s recent public and behind-the-scenes activities certainly makes it look that way. The agency has been engaged in an all-out public war on encryption using emotional rhetoric to push for the access into our devices they have long sought.

Encryption technologies have been a chief bugaboo of America’s top feds for about as long as these security technologies have been available to the public, which is to say for most of you and I’s experiences on the internet. In the 90’s, authorities argued that strong encryption techniques were a kind of munition, and tried to prevent computer scientists from deploying security measures. Thankfully, the computer scientists won the previous battles over public-key encryption.

But the question of device encryption has taken on a new political urgency following the high-profile attacks in San Bernardino in December of 2015. With the so-called “Going Dark” problem, authorities argue that the measures that keep our phones secure can prevent them from accessing critical data in an investigation. Thus, they want technology companies to build special government access into our phones, called a “backdoor.”

It is easy to sympathize with investigators who work to bring criminals to justice. But unfortunately, with the San Bernardino incident, it looks like FBI leadership was more motivated by a general antipathy to encryption than a specific need to access particular data.

Consider the specifics of the case. Authorities could have discreetly and respectfully approached engineers for solutions to access suspected terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook’s locked iPhone. After all, the FBI was eventually able to access the phone through a technical tool purchased by a private vendor. No across-the-board security-limiting technology changes needed.

But that’s not what the FBI did. Instead, it engaged in a public-relations blitz against Apple to argue that government operatives needed a backdoor into all of our devices so that they could access data at their leisure. The feds pushed this issue all the way through the courts, attempting to litigate a backdoor, until it eventually turned tail when it was able to access the data without it.

An inspector general’s report from March finds that the FBI “may not have been interested in researching all possible solutions” and “[delayed seeking] and obtaining vendor assistance that ultimately proved fruitful.” One Bureau employee told the IG that the San Bernardino case was viewed as a “poster child” for the Going Dark crusade. As Sen. Wyden’s letter points out, the report suggests that “the FBI was more interested in establishing a powerful legal precedent than gaining access to the terrorist’s iPhone.”

Other evidence corroborates the theory that the intelligence community used Apple as a convenient foil to promote their crusade against encryption as well. In August of 2015, a top lawyer for US intelligence urged authorities to wait for “a terrorist attack of criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.” Officials could then take advantage of that tragedy to pull on America’s heart strings and put pressure on legislators to finally mandate the backdoors for which they have long salivated. Just a few months later, San Bernardino presented a perfect opportunity.

Thankfully, there has not been another “San Bernardino” that authorities could exploit to promote their political ends. Perhaps this is why the FBI turned to numbers, instead. Without a newsworthy event to point to, FBI director Wray may have found the sky-high number of reported locked phones to be a convenient rhetorical fallback.

But even the lower figure deserves our scrutiny. The mere presence of a locked device in some investigation on its own is not very compelling. Perhaps there is no relevant information on the device. Maybe the device belonged to some suspect who was later cleared. And how many devices are associated with a single case? The lower figure that the FBI provided likely contains many such instances.

What we need to know is how many investigations were significantly hindered because authorities could not access specific data on a specific device. It’s relatively rare for people to solely store data on their phone, given the rise of cloud computing. Much inference can be gleaned from metadata, which is often unencrypted. And perhaps the evidence on any particular device is redundant with other evidence, anyway.

Wyden demanded answers to these and related questions in his blistering rebuke to the FBI. Until we have more information on how many cases fall into this narrower and relevant bucket, we should take the FBI’s figures with a grain a salt.

The FBI should not have inflated the number of devices that they say they cannot access. This egregious error would be especially contemptible if it was a naked lie in pursuit of a policy goal. But even if those figures were true, it wouldn’t really change the Going Dark debate. Undermining encryption would make us all less secure, no matter what the justification for doing this. The FBI’s recent “miscalculations” and behind-the-scenes antagonism toward security technologies suggest that the agency is unfortunately far from internalizing these truths.

Read more from Reason.com…

Microsoft Wins A Big Cloud Deal With America’s Intelligence Community

The cloud agreement gives Microsoft more power to make its case to the Pentagon as it goes up against competitors like International Business Machines Corp., Oracle Corp. and Amazon for the agency’s winner-take-all cloud computing contract for up to 10 years. That contract is expected to be worth billions of dollars, according to the article, adding that “the Defense Department has said it intends to move the department’s technology needs — 3.4 million users and 4 million devices — to the cloud to give it a tactical edge on the battlefield and strengthen its use of emerging technologies.”

Read more from Intelligence Community…

Russia’s new ‘unlimited range’ missile flew only 22 miles before crashing, report says

Russia’s newest nuclear-power missile – touted as having “unlimited range” by President Vladimir Putin earlier this year – flew just 22 miles before crashing during its most successful test.

The failed test aligns with the view of many in the intelligence community who doubt Russia’s current military capabilities, CNBC reported this week.

According to sources familiar with a U.S. intelligence report on Russia’s weapons program, the supposedly state-of-the-art cruise missile has been tested four times between November 2017 and February of this year.

Each test has resulted in a crash.

Its longest test flight lasted more than two minutes and covered 22 miles before losing control and impacting the ground. The shortest of the test flights lasted four seconds with a total flight path of five miles.

Russia has reportedly been developing the weapon since the early 2000s. The missile is believed to be gasoline-powered for take-off before switching to nuclear power for flight.

The tests show that the nuclear power fails to initiate, which causes the missile to achieve a flight path that falls short of Putin’s estimates.

Sources told CNBC that the tests were ordered by senior Kremlin officials and went against the suggestion of the program’s engineers who voiced concerns about the system. One of the biggest issues in failed nuclear missile tests is the environmental and health impact of radiation following a major crash.

The report outlining Russia’s failed missile tests showcases a weapons program that does not match up to the words spoken by Putin during his state of the union address earlier this year.

Putin bragged that Russia had missiles capable of delivering warheads to any location in the world while evading defense systems.

He even played a mock video of a Russian missile striking Florida.

Putin went as far as to say that Russia’s new arsenal of hypersonic weapons was “invincible.”

Russia has successfully tested a myriad of other weapons technology.

This month, Russia unveiled a new hypersonic glide missile that is rumored to be ready for war by 2020. The hypersonic missile was developed to conquer air defense and anti-ballistic missile defense systems, and is designed to be launched by a MiG-31. It is a type of weapon the U.S. cannot currently defend against.

“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat,” Gen. John Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

 

Read more from American Military News…

Senate committee agrees with intelligence community assessment of election meddling

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s leaders said Wednesday they believe that the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment of election meddling is correct, breaking with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee who questioned the conclusion that the …

Read more from Intelligence Community…

Intelligence Community Gets New Inspector General

CTH- Perfect timing today as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats celebrates last Thursday’s swearing in ceremony of Michael Atkinson as Inspector General of the Intelligence Community. Coincidentally, or not, [Read More]

Read more from IOTW Report…

Microsoft inks cloud deal with Intelligence Community ahead of decision on huge Pentagon cloud contract

The headquarters of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md. (NSA Photo) While the largest cloud computing contract in the history of the industry waits in the wings, Microsoft was awarded a deal with several U.S. government agencies for its Azure …

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Senate committee agrees with intelligence community on election meddling

(CNN) – The Senate Intelligence Committee’s leaders said Wednesday they believed that the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment of election meddling was correct, breaking with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee who questioned the conclusion …

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Microsoft says it wins lucrative cloud deal with intelligence community

Microsoft said it has secured a lucrative cloud deal with the intelligence community that marks a rapid expansion by the software giant into a market led by Amazon. The deal, which the company said Wednesday is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allows …

Read more from Intelligence Community…