Tag Archives: espionage

Death of a Cold War spy/”journalist”

By Christopher B. Daly 

As if we needed any reminders that it is not a good idea to mingle spying and journalism, the recent death of Austin Goodrich is a good example. It was true during the Cold War that the U.S. spy agencies and American foreign correspondents often cooperated.

The spies offered briefings to U.S. foreign correspondents as they headed abroad — all very chummy and gratis — and they expected to “debrief” those journalists when they returned home.

At the same time, real spies sometimes used a journalistic position as “cover” for

U.S. spy masquerading as a journalist.

U.S. spy masquerading as a journalist.

their espionage. That appears to have been the case with Goodrich.

Either way, these are bad practices, which the journalistic establishment eventually came to recognize. For one thing, it is dangerous to the health of journalists if other peoples have reason that we are all spies and should be treated as such.

During the 1970s, thanks to the Senate special committee known as the “Church Committee” (for its chair, Frank Church), a lot of secrets about American spy agencies came to light. Among them was the cozy relationship between some journalists and some spies.

The Church Committee’s findings deserve to be reviewed today. I assume that over the course of the intervening decades all of the abuses exposed by the committee have been resumed, along with new ones. I would say it’s time for a new Church Committee to try once again to get to the bottom of the spy game.

 

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It’s raining leaks!

By Christopher B. Daly 

imgres3Today’s news brings a very curious twist on the theme of national-security leaks. This time, the suspected leaker is not a low-level functionary like Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden but a high-ranking military official — in fact, the former No. 2 in the entire military command structure. According to a report first broken by NBC News, retired Marine Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright is under investigation in connection with the leak of classified information about American cyberattacks against Iran, intended to disable or slow down Iran’s program to build a nuclear weapon. (The coverage in today’s NYTimes is rather circumspect, which makes sense, considering that the Times was the recipient of the leak. The paper quotes NYT executive editor Jill Abramson saying she doesn’t discuss such things.)

I wonder if Cartwright’s rank will make any difference here. After all, he’s not some some “29-year-old hacker,” — as President Obama pooh-poohed Snowden on Thursday, while adroitly trying to keep the Snowden/NSA leak from screwing up great-power relations with China and Russia. (Funny thing: at other times, Obama is quite willing to characterize Snowden as a threat to our very existence. Also, an update: Snowden turned 30 last week.)

Back to Cartwright. Far from being a hacker, Cartwright, who was named vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs by President28stuxnet1-img-articleInline Bush and who served under Obama as well, was at the epicenter of the military/national security power structure. I wonder how the top brass and the national-security establishment feel about leaks now, when one apparently came from one of their own. Where’s the outrage? Will we be seeing Sens. McCain and Graham or former veep Cheney going on Sunday TV talk shows demanding his head?

We might also ask: Why would Hoss Cartwright do such a thing? He’s not commenting, but we can just imagine. Maybe he wanted to see the U.S. get credit for “doing something” about the Iranian threat. Maybe he wanted to let Americans know that we had the technical means to mess up their weapons program without having to attack or invade Iran by conventional means. Maybe he was ordered to make the leak by someone who out-ranked him (perhaps the Chair of the Joint Chiefs, or the National Security Adviser, or the Secretary of Defense, or the President himself?)

The Washington Post, after pointing out that the cyberattack on Iran included a computer virus named Stuxnet and was part of a broader program code-named “Olympic Games,” adds this tantalizing hint:

Cartwright, who helped launch that campaign under President Bush and pushed for its escalation under Obama. . .

Maybe Cartwright thought his favored program was threatened in some way by someone else in the national security apparatus.

As I have long maintained, the reaction to leaking is very much in the eye of the beholder. If the leaker is powerful enough, the act of leaking is not a crime but just politics by another means.

For the record: As far as we know, Cartwright would be the eighth target of an Espionage Act investigation undertaken in the Obama administration’s record-breaking campaign to punish leakers.

Speaking of cyberattacks, U.S. officials seems to be scrambling to find a path through this 28cyber1-img-popuppolicy thicket. On the one hand, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey is hurrying to write new rules for warfare in cyberspace, according to another article in today’s NYTimes. (Don’t hold your breath waiting to participate in this process yourself: any such rules are classified. So there!) Here’s the takeaway:

[Dempsey] said that, globally, new regulations were needed to govern actions by the world community in cyberspace. He said that the Chinese did not believe that hacking American systems violated any rules, since no rules existed.

And, finally, for an example of what’s at stake in terms of commerce, today’s Boston Globe has an eye-popping story about how the Chinese allegedly steal commercial secrets. If you thought they just stole plans for making plastic tschotschkes, think again. This one involved the design for wind turbines, which the Chinese had the nerve to sell back to us!

It’s enough to make the head spin. How am I supposed to keep up with the Whitey Bulger trial, the Hernandez case, or the trade of both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets????

p.s. For a fun and puzzling exercise in mind-games, go to the NYT homepage and enter the term “stuxnet” in the search box. If you can figure out the results, please explain in a comment below. 

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Wikileaks defendant gets a break

By Christopher B. Daly 

Among the many public services rendered by the New York Times, one is the coverage of the “Wikileaks case” being prosecuted in a U.S. court martial against Pfc. Bradley Manning. The case is taking place at Fort Meade, Maryland, which is about midway between Washington and Baltimore. That means that New York Times reporter Charlie Savage (formerly of the Boston Globe) has to

Welcome!

Welcome!

schlep out there every day when hearings are held and submit to all the rigamarole of entering a U.S. military base and the extra challenges of covering a court martial.

Because Savage is there and because he is well-versed in the law of the case, Savage is alert to the meaning of a lot of the pre-trial maneuvering. In today’s story, he informs us that Bradley caught a rare break this week: the judge ruled that the government will have a higher burden of proof than had originally been thought. The issue involves some arcane provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917 (as amended), but the judge’s ruling on the burden of proof goes right to the heart of the case. Put simply, it comes down to this:

When Private Manning leaked all those secret files to WikiLeaks (and he has already admitted doing so), did he have an intent to harm the United States? Did he have a “reason to believe” that the leaks would help a foreign enemy of the U.S.? And can the government prove that he had such a state of mind?

That really tips the balance in the defendant’s favor, because one can imagine a whole host of intentions that a leaker could plausibly have that would fall short of the “aiding the enemy” standard. Like Daniel Ellsberg — the leaker in the Pentagon Papers case — Manning could have been acting with an intent of changing U.S. war policy, or simply hastening an end to a war he considered unjust.

The government side, including military lawyers, had wished to proceed to trial under a different set of rules. Here’s how Savage paraphrased the government’s position:

A military legal spokesman argued that the decision may make little difference because the judge previously ruled that Private Manning’s motive — whether he thought of himself as trying to help society — was irrelevant to whether he intentionally broke the law. The fact that many of the documents were classified, he said, was a reason for Private Manning to believe that their disclosure could cause harm.

In other words, the classification system is always correct and any violation of its rules is, on its face, a crime. That, of course, is an invitation to those in power to cover their asses in perpetuity by classifying any information that they don’t want to see the light of day. In that case, we would never learn any of the disclosures that came to light through the Pentagon Papers or  Wikileaks. We, as citizens, could not even debate whether our elected officials are doing a good job, because we would have no evidence to work with.

It’s not an overstatement to say that, no matter what happens to Manning in the end and no matter how we feel about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, we should all thank the Times for looking out for the rights of all of us.

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Extra credit:

Savage’s story also gives us a glimpse of the conditions under which the reporters covering the trial have to work:

Military authorities, meanwhile, said that while court was in session they would ban cellphones and air cards and turn off the wireless Internet in a media center where reporters and activist bloggers watch a closed-circuit feed from the courtroom. The steps were a response to the release on the Internet by the Freedom of the Press Foundation of a bootleg recording of Private Manning’s statement in February. Colonel Lind emphasized that recordings were not allowed at any court-martial proceeding.

“To date I have not ordered persons to be screened for phones and recording devices,” she said. “I hope I won’t have to. I trust you will all follow the rules and we will not have any additional violations of the court’s rules.”

Got that?

 

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On national security leaks

By Christopher B. Daly

Here we go again.

According to today’s Times, members of Congress (especially Republicans?) are outraged at the leaks on national security matters that they believe the administration is committing. Not only that, they are shocked (shocked, I tell ya) that such leaks might be carried out to advance the president’s political fortunes. Reading between the lines, it appears that they are upset that Obama officials go off the record and whisper disclosures to the Times and other news media informing the media and thus, the public as well, of their successes in the secret drone campaign and in the secret cyberwarfare we are apparently waging against Iran.

Imagine that: Could it really be that the Obama administration has invented a tactic that no other president (such as his immediate predecessor) ever thought of? Hmmm… Ever since the passage of the Espionage Act in 1917 and especially since the rise of the National Security state after WWII, this issue has been a chronic point of friction at the intersection of law, military operations, spying, and politics.

In all these situations, I believe the first question that any honest citizen should ask is this: Where is the harm?

Who, exactly, is harmed by knowing what the government is doing in our name around the world? There is no indication that any operational details have been compromised. (Surely, the remnants of al Qaeda know that we are gunning for them; just as surely, the Iranians know that we are trying to mess up the computers that run their nuclear program. So what?)

Look at it this way: with the leaks, the American people know enough to debate whether these are good ideas or not (and whether we want to re-hire the guy who is ordering them).

Without the leaks, we would be ignorant.

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