Streetwise Professor

June 5, 2015

Is the NSA Spying on Foreign Government Hackers? I Sure As Hell Hope So

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:08 pm

The latest expose from Putin’s little monkey, Edward Snowden, desperate to maintain his relevance, is that the NSA monitors addresses and cybersignatures linked to foreign hackers, and specifically, foreign government-connected hackers:

In mid-2012, Justice Department lawyers wrote two secret memos permitting the spy agency to begin hunting on Internet cables, without a warrant and on American soil, for data linked to computer intrusions originating abroad — including traffic that flows to suspicious Internet addresses or contains malware, the documents show.

The Justice Department allowed the agency to monitor only addresses and “cybersignatures” — patterns associated with computer intrusions — that it could tie to foreign governments. But the documents also note that the NSA sought permission to target hackers even when it could not establish any links to foreign powers.

To which I say: I sure as hell hope so.

It is more than a little ironic that this article appeared almost simultaneously with the revelation that some foreign organization or government hacked into US government computers, and stole the personal information of millions of government employees. It’s hard to imagine a more telling, vivid contrast between the highly abstract and limited treat to American’s personal privacy posed by the measures described in the NYT article, and the very real threat to that privacy posed by the target of those measures.

This all points out the utter asininity of the Snowden fanatics (who, alas, include some members of Congress and at least one presidential candidate), who appear completely unwilling or unable to think of trade-offs and real world choices, but instead focus monomaniacally on the threat to their personal privacy posed by the US government, while ignoring other more serious threats that (unlike the NSA) operate subject to no legal constraint or oversight whatsoever. Yes, the USG can be abusive, at times to the point of being tyrannical. But we need to speak of specific cases.

Tell me. Whom do you believe is a bigger threat to your privacy? The NSA or hackers, foreign hackers in particular?

There is a pronounced whiff of narcissism from those who think that the NSA really gives a damn about them and their precious online secrets. Sorry to break it to you, but it doesn’t, unless perhaps you have had a bad breakup with an NSA employee. It hoovers up vast amounts of information, but is focused on filtering out the noise to get at intelligence-relevant signals. And believe it or not, the hours you spend on Tinder are nothing but noise.

Hackers, on the other hand, find your information quite fascinating, precisely because they can monetize that information. They can turn ethereal bytes into solid gold.

So there is a real trade off, and when you conceive of it as a trade off the choice becomes pretty obvious. At the cost of allowing the NSA to touch a highly limited sliver of your personal data, you can increase the odds of detecting or deterring a truly malign hack. Or, you can protect your address and cybersignature from the prying eyes of the NSA, and dramatically increase the odds of having your most valuable personal information fall victim to hackers. That’s the trade-off. That’s your choice. Deal with that reality. Those who choose to let the hackers run riot rather than have a few limited pieces of information reside on an NSA-controlled server deserve to have Died of a Theory as their financial epitaph.

(Regarding the hack of the US Office of Personnel Management, the administration pointed the finger at China with unseemly haste. Perhaps. But this seems more like a Russian MO than a Chinese. The Russians are interested in information they can monetize, the Chinese less so. Perhaps China is the culprit, but I wouldn’t rush to judgment.)

The NYT/PP article makes it clear that the DOJ only asked the FISA court for authority to collect the data from intruders connected to foreign governments. The NSA wanted a broader mandate,  including the ability to collect from foreign intruders not reliably tied to a government, but DOJ didn’t ask for it.

That’s too bad. Non-Government hackers, mainly operating from Russia, other FSU countries, and China, are arguably a bigger threat to personal privacy than governments. The non-government hackers have mercenary motives, and your data is particularly attractive to them. Most of the major hacks of valuable personal information have been executed by foreign criminal organizations with no demonstrable connections to foreign governments (though in the case of Russia, they likely operate under Russian government protection) So again looking at the trade-off, I’d prefer that the NSA have the broader authority. That would give me more privacy, and more information security.

With regards to Snowden, isn’t it interesting that Snowden’s organ grinder-Putin-would be one of the main beneficiaries of a restriction on the NSA’s authority to track foreign government hackers? Surely just a coincidence, right, because little monkeys never dance to their master’s tunes, do they?

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October 28, 2014

An American Space Disaster, With a Russian Connection

Filed under: Military,Politics,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:48 pm

An Antares spacecraft operated by Orbital Sciences and contracted to NASA to carry supplies to the International Space Station exploded on liftoff in Virginia. A failure for the American space program? Yes. But the major failure may be due to the fact that this craft, like most others operated by US companies, relies on Russian engines. Soviet engines, actually. I mean literally built in Soviet times. They have been refurbed, but Orbital Sciences was supposedly concerned about quality:

The NK-33 engine that powered Antares’ first flight was built decades ago by Russia’s Kuznetsov Design Bureau and is no longer in production. Further, Orbital is uncertain about the quality of Aerojet‘s remaining stockpile of 23 NK-33s, beyond those set aside for NASA’s CRS-1. Aerojet Rocketdyne is Orbital’s primary subcontractor and overhauls the old NK-33 engines into a configuration for Antares, dubbed AJ-26.

The fraught relationship with Russia, and Russian threats (uttered by Rogozin the Ridiculous, true) to cut off supplies of engines to the US has spurred efforts here to develop an American engine. Maybe NASA and the Pentagon should expedite those efforts.

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August 2, 2014

Getting the Message, Edward?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:53 pm

Putin is effing with Edward Snowden. Snowden’s one year of asylum ended on July 31, and he applied in mid-July for another year. As yet, he has heard nothing, except that he will be permitted to stay while his fate is decided.

Putin is most likely sending Snowden a message.

What is the message? That he is in Russia at Putin’s whim and sufferance. That he had better do as he is told, and not get any ideas. That he is owned.

Note that the Russians doubtlessly are deeply suspicious of Snowden, and likely despise him. To give an idea of what they think of those who turn their backs on their own country to assist Russia, consider what it is doing to Ukrainian soldiers captured in Crimea who decided to join the Russian military. Their Russian military records bear the notation: “Prone to treason.”

Last summer Putin made derogatory remarks about the fates of those who defected to the USSR. He specifically sneered at their disloyalty.

So Putin-and the rest of the Russian security establishment-have no respect for Snowden. They are using him. And they are sending him a message that they are using him, so that he understands perfectly his place.

Some have wondered whether Putin is considering using Ed as a bargaining chip with the US. I consider this far-fetched, because he could easily revoke asylum at any time. Moreover, there are many reasons for the Russians to keep Snowden, even if they have already squeezed him dry.

First, reputation: turning over Snowden would make others less likely to defect to Russia with information. (Though it must be noted that many of those who make this choice are sufficiently narcissistic to believe that they are immune to the fates that have befallen others, and others who do so are desperate or corruptible.)

Second, the Russians do not want the Americans to know for certain what Snowden has taken, and what the Russians know.

Third, the Russians do not want the Americans to learn anything from Snowden about how he was handled by the FSB, from the meeting at the Russian consulate in Hong Kong to his final destination in Moscow. Or from perhaps before. If Snowden was a Russian asset before he fled to Hong Kong, he will certainly never leave Moscow.

No doubt Putin will let Snowden twist in the wind for a while. Just to make sure the that message sinks in. Then he will grant another year’s asylum. Probably without the fanfare that accompanied  last year’s announcement. And the process will repeat itself again next year, with even less attention than this year. And the year after that. Until Snowden sinks into obscurity, and likely despair. And someday, Putin will probably prove a prophet, about this, anyways:

“How is he going to build his life? In effect, he condemned himself to a rather difficult life. I do not have the faintest idea about what he will do next,” Putin said.


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July 17, 2014

The KAL Moment of the New Cold War

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 5:50 pm

I had been planning to write on the latest round of sanctions, but of course that story has been overtaken by an utterly horrific event: the shooting down, by a surface-to-air missile, of a Malaysian Air 777 flying over Donetsk.

This is an unspeakable crime. Unspeakable.

I can state with near metaphysical certainty that this was the work of Russian-supported and inspired rebels from the Donetsk People’s Republic, or perhaps even the Russian military itself. The jet was downed in the same area where two Ukrainian military planes were destroyed by SAM fire in the last couple of days. The ex-FSB (or maybe not ex-) creature Girkin (aka “Strelkov”-the recent event gives new meaning to the word “shooter”) bragged on V Kontakte about shooting down a Ukrainian transport plane today . . . and then scrubbed the site once it was revealed that a civilian airliner had been destroyed. The rebels had bragged about, and Russian state media had bragged about, the rebels possession of an SA-17 Buk SAM system-which they now deny. Ukraine released transcripts of communications between rebels, and between rebels and one of their freakazoid Cossack contacts in Russia, blaming the shootdown on Cossacks rebels stationed near the border.

I could go on, but it’s not necessary.

I would hope that this is the KAL 007 moment of the New Cold War. The KAL 007 moment of Putinism. For those old enough to remember-and my memories are extremely vivid-in the aftermath of the KAL atrocity the Soviets denied, denied, denied. Then Jeanne Kirkpatrick made a presentation at the UN Security Council that played intercepted communications between the Soviet pilots that shot down the plane and Soviet air defense commanders that made it clear beyond all possible doubt that the Soviets had shot down the plane.

We certainly have the national technical means to determine who launched the weapon, and from where. We have the means to intercept communications. Satellites will have recorded exactly where the weapon was launched. Depending on the sensors we have deployed, or the Ukrainians may have deployed, we can monitor and record the radar transmissions of any air defense systems in the area. The radar signature of different systems is unique, so this would permit definitive identification of missile type as well as location.

Let’s put that all out there in the UNSC, and watch the loathsome Vitaly Churkin squirm.

But that should only be the beginning. The crucial task is to lay out information connecting the rebels to the Russian government, military, and intelligence services. Again, we no doubt have such information, even if (as is likely) that Snowden information revealed weaknesses in Russian communications security that they have closed. But I doubt that things have gone totally dark for us. What’s more, we have the means, motive, and opportunity to track movements of equipment from Russia to the Donbas.

This is the time where the NSA, CIA, DIA, and National Reconnaissance Organization demonstrate their true functions and capabilities. It’s not about snooping on Fritz’s Amazon’s purchases: it’s about uncovering Ivan’s evil acts.

Moreover, just consider the fact that the Russians would not be  so nuts as to allow a SAM battery (or even a single launcher) operate right on the border, in an area where Russian military and civilian aircraft are operating and within range, without coordinating with Russian air defense system controllers and Russian air traffic control. Hell, given what control freaks the Russians are, it’s highly likely that the Russians have to give permission for that battery to fire.

We have to lay all this out there. Put Putin on the spot. Show the world just what he has done, and what he is doing, in Ukraine. Of course, anyone who is willing to look at the facts objectively already knows, but that category excludes vast swathes of Europeans and many Americans. Maybe 295 dead, innocent Dutch, French Germans, Brits, etc., including 80 children, will be enough to get them to face reality. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Make them see, and shame them mercilessly if they still resist.

Merkel is now on the spot. France too: if it goes ahead with the Mistral sale after this, we should sink the damn things. And then text Hollande pictures of the dead babies strapped in their seats, lying bloodied in the Ukrainian dirt.

The KAL shootdown was a turning point in the Cold War. It revealed the Soviet leadership to be both evil and drastically out of touch. Their handling of the affair was utterly embarrassing. Indeed, it helped usher in the rise of Gorbachev, and had a dramatic effect on European public opinion: after having resisted, Germany approved deployment of Pershing II missiles post-KAL 007, in large part because of what it revealed about the true nature of Soviet leadership. (Think on that one, Angela. Think hard.)

We should hope that out of this horror something positive like that occurs now. Putin is doing his part, blaming the shootdown on Ukraine for failing to capitulate to the Russian proxy invasion. Russian state media has gone one better, claiming that the Ukrainians shot down the plane while they were targeting Putin’s.

In other words, this event has the potential to be like Napoleon’s assassination of the Duc d’Enghien: as Talleyrand said, “it was worse than a crime. It was a blunder.”

295 innocent people should not have died: or, to be more accurate, 295 innocent people should not have been murdered. But if their deaths hasten the demise of the criminal Putin regime, at least they will not have died in vain. It is the duty-if they understand the meaning of the word-of people like Obama and Merkel to make sure that the innocents’ sacrifice was not in vain.

Are they-are we-“highly resolved that the dead shall not have died in vain”?

I wish I were more sanguine about the answer to that question.

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July 13, 2014

If Angela Merkel is the Bad Cop, Putin Has It Made

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 8:42 pm

Germany has won the World Cup, which is somewhat annoying because they will become even more insufferable. And that is saying something given their recent behavior, especially with regards to Russia, and the spying imbroglio with the US.

Regarding Russia, it was particularly nauseating to see Merkel being quite chummy with Putin at the Cup final game. The Euros had pressured Ukrainian president Poroshenko to go as well, so that he could have a chat with Vlad. Poroshenko wisely begged off, staying home to direct the counterattack against the Russia-supported, inspired, and supplied rebellion in two eastern provinces. He no doubt realized that he would be sandbagged if he went to Rio, and for that he could have blamed it on Angela.

For despite her reputation as the bad cop in dealing with Putin (earned only by comparison with outright enablers, understanders, and collaborators like Steinmeier and Schroeder), Merkel has been putting much more pressure on the beleaguered Poroshenko than on Putin. The Euros, led by Germany, have been pushing Ukraine to negotiate directly with the freakazoid “leaders” of the “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. Moreover, Merkel tutted that Ukraine’s counterattack should be “proportionate.”

Well, “proportionality” is usually trotted out by the friends of those who are losing to stymie the advance of the stronger side that is winning by preventing it from exploiting its advantages. In this instance, moreover, “proportionate” would involve Ukraine sending armor across the border into Belgorod and Voronezh, and supporting separatists in Dagestan and Chechnya. BUt somehow I don’t think that’s what Angela means. I think she means that Ukraine should not fight to win, and that suits Putin just fine.

The Ukrainians are fighting a rebel force that has inflicted large casualties on it; has embedded itself in civilian areas; committed (per the UN) widespread “stomach churning” atrocities; destroyed bridges and rail lines; and deployed landmines and booby traps. Under the circumstances, Poroshenko has been restrained.

But Angela is running interference for her soccer buddy. In other ways as well. For instance, she is resisting the permanent deployment of NATO troops in new eastern European member states, like Poland and the Baltics. She brought up the NATO-Russia Founding Act in order to rationalize her position, but this has absolutely nothing to do with the deployment of conventional troops: it only discusses the deployment of nuclear weapons in former Warsaw Pact states.

Then there’s the spying issue, which contrary to usual practice, the Germans are making into a major public spectacle, culminating in its request that the head CIA official in Germany depart the country.

The Germans really need to get over themselves on this one. As I’ve written before, they have earned the scrutiny they get. Indeed, their heel-dragging on Russia warrants skepticism about them. They have often worked against the US within NATO. The rejection of Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 is one example. Libya is anotherIt has contributed to the rejuvenation of the Russian military (a tradition going back to the 1920s). It is an important country that bears watching. Not just for those reasons, but because (as I have noted before) the country is well-known to have been heavily penetrated by Soviet then Russian intelligence, and its businesses are rather notorious for their use of bribery to get international sales and contracts: this summary of Siemens’ sins over the years makes for enlightening reading. Since the US can have little confidence that Germany will advance US interests, and since the US has strong reasons to believe Germany might actually work against US interests, it is definitely in our interest to know what Germany is thinking and planning.

In other words, Germany wants it both ways, in a very adolescent way. It wants to pursue an independent policy that is often at odds with US policy and interests, but it also expects the US to treat it like a country whose interests are strongly aligned with ours. Sorry. If you want to act routinely contrary to US interests, the US is more than justified in not trusting, and verifying. And that involves espionage.

One of the things that has exercised the Germans most about the current spy scandal is that the man in question, “Marcus R,” passed documents relating to a German parliamentary investigation of the Snowden allegations. Well, that brings up another thing, doesn’t it? Snowden inflicted major damage on the US, and his collaborators (notably Appelbaum and Poitras) are living large in Berlin. A good part of the German establishment has been very supportive of Snowden. All of these things are rather hostile to the US, so what, we’re supposed to shrug and say “whatever”? Given Snowden’s current location, this also plays into the earlier-mentioned problem of German enabling of Putin and Russia. German dealings with Snowden are very much a matter of American national security.

It’s also rather annoying that the Germans are getting so exercised about American espionage, but direct no outrage whatsoever at Russian activities in the country.

The linked article says that public pressure has forced Merkel to act. With respect to the most recent spying issue, that’s not much of an excuse: the public pressure is the result of Germany’s publicizing the episode.

What’s more, Germany made claims that it had uncovered a second US spy, but that story pretty much evaporated on exposure to the sunlight. It now appears that the military officer in question was in touch with the State Department, not the CIA or any other US intelligence agency. Moreover, a search of the man’s home revealed nothing. So the Germans went off half-cocked and inflamed an already difficult situation, rather than acting in a more responsible way in an attempt to tamp down the passions. Another adolescent and self-absorbed political move.

Perhaps the only good thing to come of this is that it has united Congress and the administration on at least one thing. Both are heartily annoyed at the German teenage temper tantrum.

The bottom line for the US is that its interests and those of Germany are not closely aligned, especially on issues relating to Russia. So be it. But this is precisely why Obama’s policy of largely deferring to Europe (which de facto means largely deferring to Germany) on policy towards Russia and Ukraine is so problematic. Yes, the Germans (and Italians and Austrians etc.) will squeal. But doing things their way will embolden Putin, and that will just lay the groundwork for even bigger problems in the future. If Angela Merkel is the bad cop, Putin has it made.

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May 30, 2014

So Where Are the Emails, Ed?

Filed under: Military,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 10:23 am

Snowden gets more farcical-and more tiresome-by the day. In his interview with Brian Williams (who should really reconsider his life choices), Snowden asserted that he had made numerous complaints about violations of the law to his superiors, including the NSA’s General Counsel.

The GC responded by releasing a single, and predictably pedantic, email from Snowden that inquired about the precedence of executive orders over statutes. The GC claims that this is the only email in which Snowden raises any questions about NSA programs. It claims that it has searched not just its own records, but other NSA departments’ records as well, and found nothing.

Predictably Snowden has responded that the GC’s release was incomplete.

Well, this is easily solved, you’d think. After all, it stands to reason that someone who vacuumed up a reported 1.7 million highly classified NSA documents and shared many of them with the world would have kept a complete archive of his (alleged) whistle blowing correspondence with the NSA, and would have no problems releasing it. This is Ed’s perfect opportunity for a Gotcha!

So where are the emails? A few of those would be far more persuasive than the interminable, droning retort that Snowden wrote. (I should say “allegedly wrote”: one never knows given his current circumstances as an FSB houseguest.) (And really, Ed, wouldn’t “The NSA is lying. It has more emails than it released” have been sufficient? Did you really need to go on and on and on?)

And if for some unfathomable reason Snowden didn’t keep the emails, he always has another option: a FOIA request. Easily done. And Ed has a lot of time on his hands to do the necessary paperwork. So why hasn’t he?

In addition to the lack of the release of any damning (to the NSA) emails, there are also a couple of statements in Ed’s Epistle to the World that really strike a jarring chord:

Ultimately, whether my disclosures were justified does not depend on whether I raised these concerns previously. That’s because the system is designed to ensure that even the most valid concerns are suppressed and ignored, not acted upon.

That sounds like a weaseling. An escape hatch. It sounds like an admission that he can’t prove he blew the whistle, so he’s trying to dismiss the importance of that. “Even if I had blown the whistle internally, it was irrelevant. My concerns would have been rejected anyways. So it doesn’t matter that I didn’t. Let’s not discuss that subject again.”

But it is very important. Because if Snowden did not exhaust all opportunities to make the competent authorities aware of violations of the law, his decision to take matters into his own hands and release documents without authorization looks all the more suspicious. All the more the actions of a grandiose, self-appointed savior -or traitor-than of a genuinely public spirited individual with legitimate concerns.

The word “previously” also jumps out. Previously to what? His stealing the documents?

Note the date on the email that NSA released: April, 2013. Well after Snowden had contacted Greenwald and Poitras. Well after he had started to steal documents. Mere weeks before he fled to Hong Kong, and then Russia. It suggests that he raised concerns-and then only obliquely-after his operation was well advanced, and almost complete, as a sort of cover story or ex post rationalization. But in Snowden’s telling, that he did it after he set his scraper to work doesn’t matter, because his complaints would have been rejected anyways. The insertion of the word “previously” in a prepared, written document (rather than an extemporaneous answer to a question) suggests that Snowden is being Clintonesque here: strictly correct, but deliberately creating a misleading impression.

One other interesting thing. The email that Snowden wrote that the NSA released refers to mandatory USSID 18 training that Snowden took. The subject matter referred to is very basic, almost Schoolhouse Rock-level material about the legal framework in which the NSA operates. Would a trained spy who had previously operated undercover (as Snowden claims he had) have been required to take such training after going to work for an NSA contractor? Trained spies would presumably have to take such training. Why would he have to take it again? Maybe he did: maybe this is just Mickey Mouse bureaucracy at work. But it does strike me as odd that someone who claims to have held an extremely sensitive position would be taking such a basic course again.

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May 29, 2014

Snowden’s Narcissism on Full Display

Filed under: Music,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 9:49 am

Snowden was interviewed by NBC’s Brian Williams. There was nothing in the way of real information, except that the interview confirmed Eddie’s rampant narcissism and grandiosity. His insistence that he was a trained “spy” rather than some low level system administrator was a classic. One thing that narcissists can’t handle is to have their delicate, fragile self-esteem challenged. Sometimes they react with rage. Other times with haughty assertions of their own talents and achievements. Snowden’s answer was definitely in the latter category. Blathering on about how he was a trained “intelligence operative” pretty much betrayed that he was in fact not a trained intelligence operative.

The most amusing portion of the interview was when Snowden insisted that has no relationship with the Russian government.

And I am Anastasia Romanoff.

Even if he’s not a trained intelligence operative, he is a natural for the FSB, for he has Putin’s ability to utter patently-and obviously-untrue statements that spindle, mutilate and fold credulity (“there are no Russian troops in Crimea”) without batting an eye.

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May 19, 2014

A Snowden Revelation on NSA Spying on China in 3, 2, 1 . . .

Filed under: China,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 6:19 pm

The US has indicted the Chinese military for cyberespionage. (Who knew?)

Meaning that soon there will be a Snowden “revelation” about NSA spying on China. Making book on that. (Recall that when he arrived in Hong Kong, Snowden revealed NSA operations to penetrate Chinese computers. That was his negotiating ploy to get Chinese protection. The Chinese, being no dummies, said thank you very much for that, and no doubt scraped everything they could off his computers, then pawned him off on the Russians.)

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May 10, 2014

Edward Snowden: Russian Agent, Chinese Agent, or Russo-Sino Agent?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:30 am

I will take credit for being one of the first to point out the fact that Snowden’s whistleblower narrative was a total crock because after the initial flurry his leaks had little to do with NSA surveillance of individuals, but instead revealed information that was highly damaging to US national security and foreign policy. The only question in my mind was when he was when he became a Russian asset. I still don’t know, but as I also pointed out a while ago, the fact that collected disproportionately such national security-related information made it very plausible that he was tasked to collect this information, and given the identity of the ultimate beneficiary-Russia-it was also plausible that he was Russia’s witting or unwitting tool from the get go.

I didn’t know the 1.7 millionth of it. Edward Jay Epstein’s long article in today’s WSJ lays out the damaging details:

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified to the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2014, that “The vast majority of the documents that Snowden . . . exfiltrated from our highest levels of security had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities.”

. . . .

Mr. Snowden’s critics regard the whistleblowing narrative as at best incomplete, at worst fodder for the naïve. They do not believe that it explains the unprecedented size and complexity of the penetration of NSA files and records. For one thing, many of his critics have intelligence clearance. They have been privy to the results of an NSA investigation that established the chronology of the copying of 1.7 million documents that were stolen from the Signals Intelligence Center in Hawaii. The documents were taken from at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.

Once Mr. Snowden breached security at the Hawaii facility, in mid-April of 2013, he planted robotic programs called “spiders” to “scrape” specifically targeted documents. According to Gen. Dempsey, “The vast majority of those [stolen documents] were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures.”

. . . .

Mr. Snowden took the Booz Allen Hamilton job in March of 2013, but it was only at the tail end of his operation—in May—that he copied the document (possibly the only one) that specifically authorized the NSA’s controversial domestic surveillance program. This was a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act court order, instructing Verizon to provide metadata on U.S. phone calls for 90 days, that Mr. Snowden gave to the Guardian newspaper in London on June 3, 2013. (He also leaked a secret presentation in slides about the NSA’s Prism Internet surveillance. This program, operated with the FBI, targeted only foreigners, though it could be extended, with the approval of the attorney general, to suspects in the U.S. in contact with foreign targets.)

Contrary to Mr. Snowden’s account, the document he stole about the NSA’s domestic surveillance couldn’t have been part of any whistleblowing plan when he transferred to Booz Allen Hamilton in March of 2013. Why? Among other reasons, because the order he took was only issued by the FISA court on April 26, 2013.

Here’s my favorite line:

A former member of President Obama’s cabinet [who has to be Panetta: no other candidate makes sense] went even further, suggesting to me off the record in March this year that there are only three possible explanations for the Snowden heist: 1) It was a Russian espionage operation; 2) It was a Chinese espionage operation, or 3) It was a joint Sino-Russian operation.

Snowden’s whole privacy/civil liberties narrative was just the piece of bacon wrapped around a poison pill. But even that narrative had subversive and corrosive effects, particularly in its effect on US foreign policy and the perceptions of the US abroad. Most notably in Germany, where they succeeded in driving a very deep wedge into an already fractured relationship.

And Snowden wants to negotiate a return. His best leverage is that he can reveal the details of what he took, who he worked with, and what he did subsequent to absconding so that the US can attempt to assess better the damage, and contain it.

But this is exactly why Russia will never let him set foot out of the country.  No, the entire negotiation charade is just another attempt to get Snowden sympathy and put the US in an unfavorable light: “look at how the US government continues to persecute this brave whistleblower.”

Fortunately, the world is tiring of Snowden. His newer allegations don’t have the same impact. But the damage is already done. And the real damage is not from what he’s told the world, but what he’s told the Russians (and perhaps the Chinese) in the deepest secrecy.

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April 29, 2014

In Obama’s Mind, It’s Always Iraq, March 2003. And This Makes Putin Rejoice.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Snowden — The Professor @ 8:36 pm

Back in Houston, with a few moments to catch up.

I mentioned Obama’s press conference in the Philippines yesterday. It deserves a more detailed treatment, because it is quite an amazing performance.

The incredible petulance-an Obama trademark-jumps out in even a cursory reading. But when you drill down, you’ll see a rather stunning farrago of shoddy reasoning and logical fallacies (with straw men and false choices taking center stage).

Here’s my annotated take on the presser, with my parenthetical comments in bold face:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Ed, I doubt that I’m going to have time to lay out my entire foreign policy doctrine.  [Because he’d have to think it up first.] And there are actually some complimentary pieces as well about my foreign policy, but I’m not sure you ran them.

Here’s I think the general takeaway from this trip.  Our alliances in the Asia Pacific have never been stronger; I can say that unequivocally.  Our relationship with ASEAN countries in Southeast Asia have never been stronger.  I don’t think that’s subject to dispute.  As recently as a decade ago, there were great tensions between us and Malaysia, for example.  And I think you just witnessed the incredible warmth and strength of the relationship between those two countries.

We’re here in the Philippines signing a defense agreement.  Ten years ago, fifteen years ago there was enormous tensions around our defense relationship with the Philippines.  And so it’s hard to square whatever it is that the critics are saying with facts on the ground, events on the ground here in the Asia Pacific region.  Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force.  [Really? This is typical?] And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force [Everybody? Please name five even moderately prominent national office holders or media figures who espouse this view. OK: Three. OK: One.] after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?  And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?

My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely.  And, frankly, most [Most? Really?] of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests. [Again. Name names. As many as Three Finger Brown could count on his pitching hand.]

So if you look at Syria, for example, our interest is in helping the Syrian people, but nobody suggests that us being involved in a land war in Syria would necessarily accomplish this goal.  [That’s right, actually. No one has suggested a land war in Syria.] And I would note that those who criticize our foreign policy with respect to Syria, they themselves say, no, no, no, we don’t mean sending in troops.  Well, what do you mean?  Well, you should be assisting the opposition — well, we’re assisting the opposition.  [Please. The US assistance is minimal, and explicitly does not include weaponry, especially the kind of weaponry the opposition needs to have a fighting chance. Throughout this answer, Obama avoids addressing head on the specific policies that those criticizing him have advocated. He bashes straw men, attacking things that haven’t been suggested, and ignoring the things that have been.] What else do you mean?  Well, perhaps you should have taken a strike in Syria to get chemical weapons out of Syria.  Well, it turns out we’re getting chemical weapons out of Syria without having initiated a strike.  [Intelligence agencies, including those in Israel and the US, believe that Syria has not disclosed all its CW or the facilities to produce them. More to the point: it is Obama that fetishized chemical weapons. Assad is wreaking a humanitarian crisis using conventional weapons and barrel bombs and the old standby of starvation. Obama ignores this, with his obsessive focus on CW. What’s more, even from a bloodless, geopolitical perspective, American inaction and indifference is handing a strategic victory to Iran and Russia.] So what else are you talking about?  And at that point it kind of trails off. [No. It doesn’t trail off, Barry. You just ignore it.]

In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community. [Who you gonna believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes? Obama is deferring to the least common denominator, compromised countries like Austria. This mobilization has obviously had a huge impact on VVP. Huge I’m tellin’ ya.]  Russia has never been more isolated. [And Putin obviously doesn’t give a sh*t. To deter someone you have to credibly threaten the ability to damage something they care about, not what you care about. Putin is consciously and publicly attempting to isolate Russia from the west, politically and culturally. In other words, Barry: you are Br’er Fox and Putin is Br’er Rabbit. By isolating him you are throwing him in the brier patch, which is exactly where he wants to be. Well played. Well played. And truth be told, the isolation that Putin might care about-namely cutting Russia off from the world financial system-has been avoided like the plague.]  A country that used to be clearly in its orbit now is looking much more towards Europe and the West, because they’ve seen that the arrangements that have existed for the last 20 years weren’t working for them.  And Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.  [And this rejection does what for Ukraine, actually? Putin is moving, through asymmetric means, virtually unopposed. All the moral dudgeon in Europe and the US won’t help Ukraine one whit.] And we’ve been able to mobilize the international community to not only put diplomatic pressure on Russia, but also we’ve been able to organize European countries who many were skeptical would do anything to work with us in applying sanctions to Russia.  [American sanctions are a joke. European sanctions would have to be put in steroids in order to achieve joke status.] Well, what else should we be doing?  Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say.  That’s not what we mean.  Well, okay, what are you saying?  Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more.  Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?  [Yes. It’s not unreasonable. At all. The “correlation of forces” does not heavily favor Russia, especially when one considers the implications of occupying Ukraine, rather than just attacking it. Even modest increases in Ukrainian military capacity could tip the correlation against Putin.] Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying? [What? These things are mutually exclusive? Hardly. Why not both? And the opponents of your policy are advocating more robust economic actions against Putin and Russia. Again, you ignore the actual policies that your critics advocate, and wear yourself out attacking things they have never proposed.]

The point is that for some reason many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again.  [What a slur. Just who is advocating this, actually? Indeed, one major  lesson of Iraq-the challenge of occupation-favors arming the Ukrainians. The Russians have no doubt studied Iraq, and realize that a well-armed irregular force would make any attempt to occupy hell. So why not do it?] Why?  I don’t know.  [There’s a lot you don’t know, Barry.] But my job as Commander-in-Chief is to look at what is it that is going to advance our security interests over the long term, to keep our military in reserve for where we absolutely need it.  There are going to be times where there are disasters and difficulties and challenges all around the world, and not all of those are going to be immediately solvable by us.

But we can continue to speak out clearly about what we believe.  Where we can make a difference using all the tools we’ve got in the toolkit, well, we should do so.  And if there are occasions where targeted, clear actions can be taken that would make a difference, then we should take them.  We don’t do them because somebody sitting in an office in Washington or New York think it would look strong.  That’s not how we make foreign policy.  And if you look at the results of what we’ve done over the last five years, it is fair to say that our alliances are stronger, our partnerships are stronger, and in the Asia Pacific region, just to take one example, we are much better positioned to work with the peoples here on a whole range of issues of mutual interest.

And that may not always be sexy.  That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows.  But it avoids errors.  You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.  But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.

Obama came to prominence as a critic of the Iraq War. That’s how he made his mark, and it is clear that is how he defines himself. He is the un-general, un-fighting the last war. He has Iraq Syndrome, which is like Viet Nam Syndrome, except worse.

In his mental universe, the US policy establishment is populated with mouth-breathing warmongers who see only military solutions to strategic and geopolitical problems. In his mind, Obama is Horatio at the Bridge, holding back these barbarian hordes. This is profoundly insulting to those of goodwill who happen to disagree with Obama. But Obama cannot possibly conceive that anyone who disagrees with him is of goodwill. His is a truly Manichean worldview: those who agree with him are good, those who disagree are evil.

In fact, many of his critics have argued consistently that his deference to the Assads and Putins and Khamenis of the world has made military conflict (and conflict waged on terms unfavorable to the US) more likely, not less. With respect to Putin in particular, the critics have argued that acquiescing to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, terminating missile defense in eastern Europe, signaling a willingness to be “flexible” after re-election, and most notably, utterly caving in Syria has greatly emboldened Putin, thereby increasing not reducing the risk of military conflict. (When Obama took office, who was seriously discussing the credibility of our commitment to enforce Article 5 of the Nato Charter in the event of a Russian attack on Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania?)

But Obama either will not or cannot see this. He is completely convinced that he is enlightened and good, and that his critics are benighted and  evil. Seeing the world in these harsh contrasts, he is incapable of change in response to reality.

Bush was criticized, and rightly so, for his black-and-white view of the world. But Bush was capable of making mid-course corrections in response to incontrovertible evidence of failure.

By contrast, Obama makes Bush look like a paragon of subtlety and flexibility.

In The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner wrote: “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863 [i.e., the moments before Pickett’s Charge].” Obama is far worse. In his mind, every instant, it is Iraq, circa March 2003. He sees everything through that prism. This is a crippling limitation. And a crippled United States unleashes the most reprobate actors in the world, the most notable of whom at present is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

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