Streetwise Professor

May 17, 2017

Another IC Kneecapping

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 3:31 pm

In signal processing, if the signal to noise ratio is small, one puts very little weight on a particular noisy signal. Similarly, in regression analysis, when the independent variable is very noisy, one reduces sharply the coefficient towards zero.

These things are worth keeping in mind in the current political environment. Alleged “bombshell” stories are so noisy that they shouldn’t be emphasized: they should be interpreted with great skepticism.

Case in point: the “Trump disclosed intelligence to the Russians story.” Regardless of what Trump told the Russians, one thing is sure: whatever ISIS would have learned had the allegation not been leaked, it learned vastly more as the result of the leaking of the details of the intelligence that (per McMaster) Trump discussed with Lavrov in fairly general terms. Indeed, this is one situation where US and Russian interests are fairly aligned: even if Trump said “an Israelis spy in an ISIS cell in Raqqa [or wherever] told us about a plot to put bombs in laptops” what incentive would the Russians have to pass along that information to ISIS? I also note that Russia and Israel have been in close communication for months now, making it not unreasonable to assume that Israel may have provided similar intelligence to Russia independently. So the odds that information that was contained in the WaPo would have made it to ISIS was about zero . . . until the WaPo ran the story. At which point the probability became 100 percent.

Regardless of whether Trump’s disclosure was prudent, it was almost certainly legal. The leak was both grotesquely imprudent and illegal.

This is another intelligence community kneecapping. No doubt about it. And it is sick and perverse that the supposed justification for leaking–that Trump endangered national security–resulted in far more damage to national security than whatever Trump revealed to Lavrov. But perhaps in the mind of some IC jackass, Trump is such a grave threat to national security that any means necessary are acceptable if he is driven from office. But that is not the call of the jackass to make.

Another case in point: the Comey memo. First, apropos my earlier post, there is no reason to believe that Comey is an a disinterested actor here. Since this is he said/he said, Comey’s alleged representation should be treated with skepticism. Second, and relatedly, context matters. A clip quote could have very different interpretations depending on the conversation that led up to it, and which followed. So a selective leak from one memo could give an impression that is 180 degrees from what actually happened.

Both stories–as well as many more–lead me to another conclusion. I will put virtually no weight on any story that relies on anonymous sources, and particularly on anonymous sources quoting selectively from documents. If these matters are so grave, and the allegations are so damning, the party in possession of the information should reveal it publicly. Particularly if s/he is a “public servant.” Fine–perform a public duty and make a public allegation on which you can be questioned.

Indeed, the very nature of anonymous leaks casts doubt on my initial analogy to signal processing. In that context, the noisy signal differs from the true one by noise that could be positive or negative. In the current situation, it is highly unlikely that the errors are random: they are chosen to distort. They are more likely deliberate, and strongly negatively correlated with the truth. So in the random noise case you believe the direction of the signal, but reduce your estimate of its magnitude: in the negative correlation case, you actually believe the opposite.

Maybe all this stuff about Trump is true. If so, I would like to know. If so, those in the possession of the information have nothing to lose by going public with it: indeed, they would likely be lionized as heroes and saviors of the Republic. The fact that they choose to backshoot from the bushes instead strongly suggests that what they are leaking cannot withstand a full and fair airing.

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  1. they lost the legislatures and governorships. they lost the presidency. the only thing they have now is deep state, and a complicit press. their arguments and policies are unpopular.

    Comment by Jeff — May 17, 2017 @ 3:49 pm

  2. It’s sad that at this point I came to the exact same conclusion before you even said it.

    Have we really gotten to a point that warning another country about possible terrorist attacks is a bad thing?

    Comment by John Hall — May 17, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

  3. @SWP…With regard to Comey, check out his testimony from ‘way back – on May 3, 2017, here:

    You should really read the entire transcript. He neatly demurs from particular questions. And there is an annoying lack of follow-up. We need to elect prosecutors.
    But for the Cliff Notes crowd, check out the testimony, near the end, when Hirono asks about political interference in investigations:

    >>HIRONO: Has it happened?<>COMEY: Not in my experience. Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that — without an appropriate purpose. I mean where oftentimes they give us opinions that we don’t see a case there and so you ought to stop investing resources in it. But I’m talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason, that would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.<<

    So if he testified that "It's not happened in my experience." how is it that he has his own memo saying that it had? Does it depend on "Not in my experience." really means?/Sarcasm

    Comment by Richard Whitney — May 17, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

  4. ‘Regardless of what Trump told the Russians, one thing is sure: whatever ISIS would have learned had the allegation not been leaked, it learned vastly more as the result of the leaking of the details of the intelligence that (per McMaster) Trump discussed with Lavrov in fairly general terms … the odds that information that was contained in the WaPo would have made it to ISIS was about zero . . . until the WaPo ran the story. At which point the probability became 100 percent … The leak was both grotesquely imprudent and illegal.’

    Spot on.

    The hysteria about Trump and Russia, Trump’s leaks, and Trump’s sacking of Comey is, to me, now taking on the characteristics of a national IQ test. That the press are gullible and have an agenda is given, but I have my fingers crossed that the rest of the country, and especially those running its institutions, aren’t so easily taken in by threadbare rumours spread anonymously by interested parties.

    Comment by Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — May 18, 2017 @ 3:22 am

  5. Are not minutes written of meetings between the Prez and the Director of the FBI? If not, why not?

    Comment by dearieme — May 18, 2017 @ 7:25 am

  6. I really do enoy reading you, since you are so totaly giving Trump the benefit of the world. Your scenario is the most rosy possible – a different scenario is that the info came not directly from Isis but from intelligence taken from the Syrian government that isreali somehow have managed to infiltrate. That would change the calculus somewhat from your rose scented scenario.

    I only know that the isreali had marked it as extremely sensitive for some reason, but they probably knows nothing about these things.

    Do keep it up – it is interesting to read the Trumpeting of a Trumpbot.

    Comment by Andreas — May 18, 2017 @ 9:52 am

  7. @SWP…A report in ZH tonight indicates that traders were passing around C-SPAN of Comey’s testimony of May 3. I wasn’t the only one to observe this Comey conundrum, but I am sure traders have bookmarked SWP, and noticed the comment.
    He will weasel out of this. They will orchestrate the questioning to frame his response, with no conditions, “its not happened in my experience…” to mean something like “…no junior adjunct staffer has ever asked the FBI to halt an investigation…” Or, to paraphrase a serial molester, it depends on your definition of ‘not’.
    This pot-banging empty-headed nonsense gives the media the opportunity to avoid the detailing real crimes that have been perpetrated by the Clintons: the uranium sale to the Russians, her criminal operation of the home server, her rigging of the primary process with the help of the DNC, and the mystery of Seth Rich. Real crimes, completely missing from the MSM coverage. So, in that deplorable sense, it is working.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — May 18, 2017 @ 7:17 pm

  8. more on IC kneecapping

    former Congressman Kucinich thinks the Deep State is trying to take down the President – any President

    2 and 1/2 minute video:

    Comment by elmer — May 19, 2017 @ 7:58 am

  9. Re: The IC:
    Everyone should read Bruce Schneier by subscribing to his blog.
    This recent entry
    reflects on the NSA/CIA hacking stories.
    My guess is that Shadow Brokers was a covert group formed during/by the previous administrtion to wreak the very havoc we are experiencing

    Comment by Richard Whitney — May 20, 2017 @ 2:15 pm

  10. There is one detail that I believe is revealing.
    Trump repeatedly asked for confirmation that he is not under investigation. And indeed when he fored Comey, he put that representation (whether delusional or not) in writing.

    Don’t you find this Trumpian obsession about the status of any investigation curious?
    It puts me in mind of my favorite Russian novel (and indeed the finest detective novel ever written): Crime and Punishment.

    I know that Trump makes an unlikely Raskolnikov (can’t imagine him ever running into a burning building to rescue a babe: rather he would be outside running a Marcus Crassus-style ‘insurance’ scam). But there is something about him constantly returning to the same topic – in an obsessive fashion – that is reminiscent of Raskolnikov’s feverish returns to the scene of his crime.

    Dostoyevsky believed that even in the most corrupted and depraved of souls there is a spark of God’s spirit that drives a man, contrary to ‘Reason’, to confront his wickedness so that eventually his own tongue betrays the sins and transgressions committed and opens the way to confession and (eventual) redemption.

    Hey! maybe there’s hope for Donald J yet!! 🙂

    Comment by Simple Simon — May 21, 2017 @ 12:18 am

  11. @Simple Simon – as much as I appreciate the literary reference, it seems to me that something out of Kafka is a more appropriate reference, or something out of real life – soviet show trials.

    There is no “obsession” – and any person who is under “investigation” would most certainly and naturally wonder what is going on.

    There is a group – call them The Unhinged, the IC, call them whatever you want – that is hell bent on getting rid of Trump by any means.

    An “investigation” into nothing is certainly one of those techniques.

    The Unhinged keep calling for Trump to confess his “sins”, in soviet show trial manner, so that he can then be executed by the show trial court, for no crimes.

    The FCC has a neat little trick called a Notice of Apparent Liability, in which they go to great pains to allege all sorts of ills committed by a particular target under telecom law. Many times, the NAL just hangs there, but the “investigators” will not tell the target what’s going on. The NAL can just hang there for many years, almost like a sword of Damocles.

    Except that The Unhinged are operating on Goebbels principle: “we are not striving for the truth – we are striving for effect.”

    And that doesn’t take any intelligence at all, as amply demonstrated by Maxine Waters, who is stupider than a box of doorknobs.

    The saying used to be that a prosecutor in front of a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich.

    Would that The Unhinged would stick to ham sandwiches.

    Comment by elmer — May 21, 2017 @ 8:20 am

  12. Trump’s mistreatment brings out the civil libertarian in individuals across the entire political divide.

    Matt Taibi’s (Rolling Stone) writing articles defending Trump (5/15/17).

    Cats and dogs…man…

    Comment by Anonymous Coward — May 22, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

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