February 7, 2017 on Ray McGovern website
Former NSA Technical Director William Binney gave an excellent interview to WBAI radio’s Randy Credico on January 31. What Bill has to say should be REQUIRED LISTENING for those who feel a need for a cogent explanation, in understandable, non-technical language, of how NSA has been playing fast and loose with the Bill of Rights. Bill says the snooping has progressed to the point where the initials NSA now stand for “New Stasi Agency,” because NSA has become the East German Stasi (secret police) on steroids. Those who have seen the 2006 Academy Award winning “The Lives of Others” (Das Leben der Anderen) are likely to have a fuller understanding of the scarcely believable capabilities of today’s NSA and the effects that Stasi-like monitoring are already having on society. (For those who have not seen this film, it may be time you do.)
Randy Credico’s questions tease out the brutally succinct comments that are “typical Bill Binney,” dealing with questions – some of them naive — raised over recent months and years. Why should I care about “parallel construction?” for example; or “What, me worry? I have nothing to hide.” Binney tackles these head on. Ray uses some of the highlights – like “parallel construction” for further comment below:
Binney’s segment runs from minute 33:30 to 58:20. (It is preceded by an interesting interview of UK Ambassador Craig Murray – also worth a listen.)
Bulk collection, enabled by technology advances and “authorized” by secret “legal authorities,” effectively neuters the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, while violating the 1st (right to free association) and the 5th (right against self-incrimination), as well. Forget the large file rooms full to the ceiling with stacks of the paper folders used by the old Stasi and J. Edgar Hoover. Today’s data is accurate, timely, complete – and much easier to share and to store. Mind-boggling as it may be, NSA can “collect all,” and scan, read, store it all, as well. And it does.
Binney makes reference to then FBI Director Robert Mueller’s acknowledgement six years ago that the U.S. was collecting and storing information on U.S. persons. In March 2011 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Oversight Committee Mueller said: “We put in place technological improvements relating to the capabilities of a database to pull together past emails and future ones as they come in so that it does not require an individualized search.” And that’s not all Mueller acknowledged.
Under “parallel construction,” NSA shares data from its 4th Amendment-violating, bulk-collection to enable law enforcement to play fast and loose with the 5th amendment as well. Illegally acquired bulk collection is shared not only with the police, but also with the FBI, CIA, IRS, DHS, DEA et al. Using the data as tip-off, law enforcement then undertakes to use law-conforming police tactics to arrest, try, convict. Those aware of the illegal provenance of the tip-off evidence are prohibited from telling the accused, defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges, or jury about the information initially used to “construct” an ostensibly legal case.
Thus, as Bill points out, perjury is a major part of “parallel construction,” as well as infringement on the 5th amendment right to due process. He describes the program as “a perjury program run by the Department of Justice,” and notes that the indiscriminate, bulk collection of the wherewithal for the “parallel construction” was “approved” by a secret interpretation of Executive Order 12333, Section 2.3(c) which reads: “Information obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international narcotics or international terrorism investigation”
Parallel construction itself, though, is hardly a secret. Reuters revealed it in 2013. Ray wrote about it in June 2014 after he had a unique opportunity before a large audience at Georgetown University to ask former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who had been in charge of the “parallel construction” program, how he could legally justify it. Mueller explained that “various authorities” had been granted. The user-friendly audience moaned at Ray’s impertinent question. He was asking the FBI Director on what basis he justified violating the Constitution and the law; Mueller’s explanation citing “various authorities” seemed good enough for the vast majority of the audience.
See Something, Say Something; “New Stasi Agency”-style.
Binney comments on current NSA procedures requiring workers to tattle on one another if they see, or think they see, an insider threat. This does not make for a good working atmosphere among colleagues, Bill quips. As for ex-NSA whistleblowers, some current employees of NSA who have tried to contact people like Tom Drake have been summarily fired. Bill explained that this is why he avoids trying to make any such contact, lest it risk the jobs and livelihood of former colleagues.
Ray knows only a few still “on the inside,” so this is not a major problem for him. Many of his fellow retirees who are “back on contract” have not returned his calls or emails for many years now. Sadly, this includes a former colleague and friend who, with other CIA alumni, took part in the founding meeting of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (See: samadamsaward.ch.) and in presenting its first annual award in 2003). This colleague/friend is even older than Ray, but may be still “back on contract,” so he will remain nameless.) Another former colleague, now a senior CIA official, told Ray that, having bumped into him and exchanged pleasantries at wake for an analyst in Ray’s branch in the 70s, he now “had to report the contact to Security,” since Ray is now a “journalist.”
For those familiar with how much data can be put on a thumb drive, minds will boggle at how much more storage space is being built – like would you believe 2.5 million square feet right there with NSA and Fort Meade?
The Sam Adams Award
On January 22, 2015 in Berlin, Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence gave William Binney its 14th annual award, presenting him with the traditional Sam Adams corner-brightener candlestick holder in symbolic recognition of his courage in shining light into dark places.
His award citation read, in part:
“Bill Binney represents the patriotic side of a duel between two unequal adversaries: an exceedingly powerful and ruthless state and Bill, an official who would not break his solemn oath to defend its Constitution. … On both sides of the Atlantic we hear the mantra: ‘After 9/11/2001 EVERYTHING CHANGED;’ just like ‘everything changed’ after the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin on 2/27/1933. That event led many Germans into what the writer Sebastian Haffner called “sheepish submissiveness” — with disastrous consequences.
“As a young German lawyer in Berlin at the time, Haffner wrote in his diary one day after the Reichstag fire that Germans had suffered a nervous breakdown. ‘No one saw anything out of the ordinary in the fact that, from now on, one’s telephone would be tapped, one’s letters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into. What was missing, wrote Haffner, was ‘a solid inner kernel that cannot be shaken by external pressures and forces, something noble and steely, a reserve of pride, principle, and dignity to be drawn on in the hour or trial.’
“These traits were NOT missing in Bill Binney. Nor were they missing in Edward Snowden, whose patriotic risk-taking opened the way for Bill and his colleagues to expose the collect-it-all fanatics and the damage they do to privacy everywhere.”
However, we learned at the award ceremony in Berlin that, ironically, it was the other way around; it was Binney who “opened the way” for Snowden – something low-key Bill knew but kept quiet about. It fell to Ed Snowden himself, as he was streamed into Bill’s awards ceremony, to set the record straight: “Without Bill Binney there would be no Ed Snowden,” he said.
Ed explained that it was Binney’s outspoken condemnation of NSA abuses that helped embolden Ed to blow the whistle and make available to Bill and others documentary evidence showing how close the American people were/are to what Ed called “turnkey tyranny.”
Waxing biblical, one might put it this way: Binney begat Snowden; Snowden begat – well, it’s hard to be sure. It does seem altogether possible, though, that Snowden begat the insider(s) who leaked to WikiLeaks the emails showing how Mrs. Clinton and the Democratic National Committee stole the nomination from Bernie Sanders; paid the Saudis back handsomely for their huge contributions to the Clinton Foundation; and told Wall Street it had nothing to fear from her “inevitable” presidency. It is a safe guess that Ed Snowden’s willingness to risk everything to show how close the U.S. is to “turnkey tyranny,” has already inspired – and will “beget” – still other whistleblowers.
Are There More Truth-Tellers?
Surely, there are some courageous patriots – and potential whistleblowers – still in the ranks of NSA and other intelligence agencies today. They, like Binney and Snowden – not to mention other courageous colleagues like Kirk Wiebe, Thomas Drake – may honor their oath to defend the Constitution against ALL enemies foreign and domestic and take some risk to thwart the slide toward Stasi-type tyranny.
A good way for them to begin would be to tell us what to think about former President Barack Obama’s parting shot about “Russian hacking.” Although the “mainstream media” missed this, at Obama’s last press conference (Jan. 18), he admitted that: “the conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking were not conclusive as to whether WikiLeaks was witting or not in being the conduit through which we heard about the DNC e-mails that were leaked. (Emphasis added)
So Obama went out the door with inconclusive conclusions and admitted that there remains a gaping gap between “Russian hacking” and WikiLeaks. It appears that NSA does not know who gave the emails to WikiLeaks. Is Binney correct in saying that NSA would certainly know about anything “hacked” and sent over the blanket-covered network? Does this prove that leaking was involved, and not hacking – by the Russians or anyone else? This, after all is what Bill Binney – and Ambassador Craig Murray, a friend of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, and Assange himself – have been saying for many months.
Ray has been pointing out that, in professional intelligence analysis of highly technical issues, appropriate weight is traditionally given to highly experienced technical experts with a proven record for reliability – as opposed to reporters from, say, the New York Times. Thus, it remains a puzzle why even solid analysts like James Carden wait – as he did in an otherwise excellent recent article – until paragraph 45 (of 50) to mention Binney as author of what Carden labels “an alternative theory” on the Russian hacking story. Carden quotes from a Jan. 5 op-ed in the Baltimore Sun in which Binney says: “It is puzzling why NSA cannot produce hard evidence implicating the Russian government and WikiLeaks. Unless we are dealing with a leak from an insider, not a hack.”
Just before Mr. and Mrs. Obama got on the departing helicopter, Ray made a stab at decoding the ex-president’s Delphic remark, two days before, in: “Obama admits gap in Russian Hack Case.”
But Ray is no longer an “insider,” and technically (no pun intended) neither is Bill Binney. Bill quit NSA in 2001, as soon as he learned that the programs he devised were being changed to enable gross violation of Americans’ 4th Amendment right to privacy. Bill can give interviews to alternative media and appear in documentaries (see below), and Ray can be skunk at picnics – as when he asked questions of congressmen like Adam Schiff, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee (See the following two-minute clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdOy-l13FEg ), but, again, neither Bill nor Ray are “insiders” like the ones in whom Schiff says he places great confidence.
Needed: Another Patriot
Will an inside whistleblower rise to the occasion and clarify the evidence – or lack of evidence – regarding the all important gap – or a link — between Russian hacking and WikiLeaks? And, please, this time let’s not resort to the Rumsfeld aphorism that worked so well with the “WMD” in Iraq – “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
This is not to beat a dead horse; the horse is very much alive. Extremists like Sen. John McCain have characterized Russian hacking as an act of war, and a very strange bi-partisan assortment of neocons’/Republican Russia-haters’/Hillary-defeat-explainers’ knives are out for Mr. Putin – and for President Trump. California Congresswoman Maxine Waters is now suggesting impeachment proceedings based on the evidence-free notion that Trump assisted the Russian hacking that eased him into the presidency.
A Decent Newspaper Gets Burned; Kahl’s Kool Aid
The only recent sign of hope came this morning, when Germany’s leading newspaper, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, revealed that Bruno Kahl, head of the German Intelligence, was aping his U.S. counterpart, CIA Director John Brennan, late last year in claiming that the BND had evidence that Russia manipulated the voting for Trump, adding that the Kremlin is interfering in similar ways in Germany. Kahl read from the same script as Brennan and the U.S. “mainstream media,” telling the Sueddeutsche in November: “The perpetrators are interested in delegitimizing the democratic process as such.”
Apparently, the Sueddeutsche felt burned when it learned the truth after drinking Kahl’s Kool Aid and publishing it in November. Today the SZ was the first to publish the conclusion of a yearlong joint inquiry by the German equivalents of the CIA and FBI, which have been searching for evidence of Russian interference in Germany’s domestic affairs. “We have not found any smoking gun,” a German cabinet source told the newspaper.
Like the almost dead horse in Washington, however, the German steed remains kicking. Chancellor Angela Merkel has sent the two spy agencies back to the drawing board. Her office has ordered a new inquiry, this one led by a joint “psychological operations group,” to investigate Russian news agencies’ coverage in Germany. Ray did a short interview on this earlier today: (See: https://youtu.be/A8vjhA9oGzk )
The “Sources and Methods” Canard
As for the facile, all-too-familiar excuse – used by Adam Schiff, for example – that one cannot risk compromising “sources and methods,” there are many effective ways to protect them and still disclose key information, when the situation requires. Ronald Reagan, for example, insisted that a TOP SECRET encoded communication between Libyan operatives responsible for a lethal bombing in Berlin be divulged, in full knowledge the U.S. intelligence capability to intercept and decrypt such communications would be blown (for higher national purpose).
If potential whistleblowers need still more inspiration/courage, it will be readily available this month, as movie theaters begin to show “A Good American,” featuring Bill Binney and a handful of his courageous colleague whistleblowers – playing themselves. ( agoodamerican.org/ ) Oliver Stone has given the film high marks, describing it earlier as a “powerful prequel to SNOWDEN.” (Note to NSA employees: remember not to use your own credit card to purchase a ticket.)
We have now wandered a bit from the Bill Binney’s interview on WBAI last week. It may be appropriate to close with a 200 year-old warning from Goethe, a quote that Bill managed to slip into that interview:
“No one is more a slave than he who thinks himself free, but is not.”
“Niemand ist mehr Sklave, als der sich für frei hält, ohne es zu sein*.
Inspired by fringe theories about Islamic civilization, Michael Flynn is leading Trump down a dangerous path.
By PHILIP GIRALDI • February 9, 2017 on The American Conservative
The United States is adding new sanctions on Iran over that country’s alleged misdeeds, and nearly all of those allegations are either out-and-out lies or half-truths. It has a familiar ring to it, as demonizing Tehran has been rather more the norm than not since 1979, a phenomenon that has included fabricated claims that the Iranians killed American soldiers after the U.S.’s armed interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. This time around, the administration focused on the perfectly legal Iranian test of a non-nuclear-capable, medium-range ballistic missile and the reported attack on what was initially claimed to be a U.S. warship by allegedly Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi fighters. The ship was later revealed to be a Saudi frigate.
Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, “officially” put Iran “on notice” while declaring that “The Trump Administration will no longer tolerate Iran’s provocations that threaten our interests. The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.”
Ignoring the fact that Iran cannot actually threaten the United States or any genuine vital national interests, the warning and follow-up action from the White House also contradict Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to avoid yet another war in the Middle East, which appears to have escaped Flynn’s notice. The increase in tension and the lack of any diplomatic dialogue mean that an actual shooting war might now be a “false flag,” false intelligence report, or accidental naval encounter away.
If it all sounds like a reprise of the baseless allegations and intentionally unproductive negotiations that led to the catastrophic Iraq War, it should. What “belligerent actions against the United States” Flynn was referring to, generally speaking, were not completely clear, but that lack of precision may have been intentional, to permit instant vilification of anything Tehran attempts to do to counter the hostility coming out of Washington.
Hating Iran has a considerable pedigree. I must confess to being of a generation in the federal government, like Flynn and others, where saying something derogatory about Iran was in the DNA, welcomed by all and sundry. I nursed a personal and specific grudge relating to the mullahs, as an Iranian government agent tried to kill me in Turkey in the 1980s. But more often the animosity was generic, sometimes expressed humorously at CIA Station staff meetings. I recall how one fellow officer who was undercover at a consular office would positively gloat as he described how many Iranian visa applicants he had turned down in the past week and everyone would bang their fists on the conference table, signifying their approval. Of course, we all felt fully justified in our Iranophobia due to the 1979-80 embassy hostage crisis, which was still very fresh in our minds.
But my rancor toward Iran has long since faded. I have Iranian friends and have come around to the view that Iran has much more been sinned against than sinned in its relationship with the United States. With the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015, I even began to believe that the two nations might well be able to resume something like normal diplomatic relations, which would benefit everyone involved. Alas, such hopes appear to be scuppered by a recent wave of Iran hysteria that bids fair to eclipse the Russian panic that has consumed the media and chattering class during the past six months.
I should have seen it coming. In December 2015, I was present at a conference in Moscow where General Flynn explained his concept of 21st-century geo-economic-political strategy. At least I think that was what he was talking about, though one can understand the frustration of the interviewer, Sophie Shevdernadze, as she tried to get him to explain what he meant during a largely incoherent presentation.
At the time I knew little about Flynn and his views, but I was particularly taken aback by a random shot he took at the Iranians, stating very clearly that they were responsible for “fueling four proxy wars in the Middle East.” He was presumably referring to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. The audience, which included a number of international journalists and genuine foreign-policy experts, became somewhat restless and began to mutter. I was standing in the back of the room and witnessed Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, responding to the expressions of disbelief, waving his arms around and shouting “Right! Right! Check the intel!”
Two minutes later, the elder Flynn returned to the theme, mentioning the “terrible nuclear deal with Iran.” Now, I am accustomed to hearing nasty things about Iran, but they usually come from Israeli partisans who persist in falsely describing the Iranians as a global threat. It is in their interest to do so, and many pliable American politicians and media talking heads have picked up the refrain, so much so that a U.S. attack on Iran would likely be endorsed overwhelmingly by Congress and applauded in the media.
But I believed that Flynn was not particularly in with that group, consisting largely of neoconservatives, and his disdain for Iran seemed to be at least somewhat sincere in that it appeared to be rooted in his own experience as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). But I was wrong and should have paid more attention to the people Flynn was talking to.
Sources of Flynn’s Worldview
A long-time foe of Iran, Michael Ledeen believed that invading the country should have been the first priority in 2003 rather than Iraq. He believes that “everything traces back to Tehran” and that Iran manipulates both sides of the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict, leading reviewer Peter Beinart to note that his “effort to lay virtually every attack by Muslims against Americans at Tehran’s feet takes him into rather bizarre territory.”
Even as Flynn was speaking in Moscow he was collaborating with Ledeen on a book called The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, which appeared in July 2016. The book has two basic premises. First, the entire “civilized world” is engaged in a life-and-death struggle with a perverted form of Islam that has produced the phenomenon referred to as “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase that may have been embraced by the Trump administration largely thanks to Flynn. Flynn insists on the tag including the Islamic part because of his belief that the Muslim religion is itself intrinsic to the very nature of the conflict. In fact, he prefers to call Islam a political ideology rather than a religion and even describes it as a political ideology that has “metastasized” into “malignant cancer.” He once tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” linking to a false claim that Islam wants 80 percent of humanity enslaved or exterminated.
Second, Ledeen’s book views Iran as both the source and lynchpin of the massive disorder prevailing in the Middle East, with tentacles reaching throughout the region and beyond. It is itself a radical Islamic regime that uses terror as a weapon, a state sponsor of terrorism according to the State Department, and it also is an ally of movements like ISIS and the various al-Qaeda affiliates that it only pretends to be fighting. Flynn and Ledeen also assert that Iran is intent on developing a nuclear weapon and has a secret program to do so in spite of the 2015 agreement. It would use such a weapon to threaten Israel and other U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond, and is simultaneously developing ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver the weapons on target.
In addition to Ledeen, Flynn’s conspiratorial mindset goes back further, to his days with DIA, where he was well known for what his staff referred to as “Flynn facts,” things he would say that were demonstrably untrue. He once insisted that three-quarters of all new cell phones were bought by Africans and maintained that Iran has killed more Americans than al-Qaeda. Few dared to disagree. When he took over DIA, Flynn said to his senior staff that everyone needed to know was that he was always right. His subordinates would only be right when their views became the same as his.
DIA Director Flynn considered the Benghazi attack in September 2012 to be an incident in the global war against Islam. His initial reaction was to “prove” Iranian involvement, and he pressured his analysts to come up with the evidence, including shouting at them when they couldn’t support his conclusions. He told the analysts that Benghazi was a “black swan” event that needed more creative analysis to unravel.
Later, in testimony before the House of Representatives in June 2015, Flynn stated that
Iran represents a clear and present danger to the region, and eventually to the world. Iran’s stated desire to destroy Israel is very real. Iran has not once contributed to the greater good of the security of the region. Nor has Iran contributed to the protection of security for the people of the region. Instead, and for decades, they have contributed to the severe insecurity and instability of the region, especially the sub-region of the Levant surrounding Israel. … It is clear that the nuclear deal is not a permanent fix but merely a placeholder.
Flynn was eventually fired from DIA over his hardline views, in part because of his demonization of Iran and Islam. It would be easy to suggest that Flynn has only a tenuous grasp on what is really going on in the Middle East. Consider his assertion that Shi’ite Iran is in league with groups like al-Qaeda—which consider Shi’a to be a heresy and are willing to kill its followers on that basis alone. But the situation is actually much more dangerous than the usual Washington groupthink: Flynn and Ledeen have constructed a narrative in which the world is at war with a great evil and Iran is the central player on the enemy side. It is a viewpoint that is, unfortunately, shared at least in part by the new secretaries of defense and state and endorsed by many in Congress. This has consequently developed into a new sensibility about U.S. national security that is apparently driving the Trump administration’s responses to Iranian behavior.
The Danger of Escalation
Iran certainly exhibits assertive behavior regionally. But much of its maneuvering is defensive in nature; it is surrounded by a sea of enemies, most of whom are better armed and funded than it is. The nuclear agreement with Iran has considerably delayed any possible development of a nuclear weapon and is in everyone’s interest. It is not plausibly a delaying tactic to acquire a weapon somewhere down the road, as Flynn and Ledeen would have us believe.
Iran will be a very tough nut to crack if Flynn has his way and the Trump White House employs military force. Iran is roughly the same size as Alaska and has three times the population of Iraq, and the Iranian people have a strong national identity. They would fight hard, and using their sophisticated Russian-provided air defenses and Chinese missiles they could inflict major damage on U.S. air and naval units in the Persian Gulf region. They would also be able to unleash limited but nevertheless lethal terrorist resources. It would not be a “cakewalk,” and even if there were a military victory of some sorts, the world would be left with yet another power vacuum in the heart of Asia.
I believe that Flynn is a dangerous man, possibly even mentally unhinged on some issues. He thinks that the United States has the preemptive right to tell countries in the Middle East what is acceptable and what is not and is willing to exercise various repressive measures to compel good behavior. Iran, as a designated “problem state,” is consequently not allowed to act in support of its own national-security interests. Flynn justifies his hostility by claiming that Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism and instability, which is a self-serving lie. Absent diplomacy to resolve differences, the only interaction with Tehran from Washington has become the threat of economic sanctions backed up by military force. As Iran responds in kind this will become an escalatory cycle with no easy way out.
A better policy would allow Iran to diversify naturally without a constant stream of provocations that only serve to embolden hardliners. Iran’s young people, the majority of the population, are very pro-Western and even pro-American in their cultural affinities and sentiments. The Iranian population is closely tied to a large Iranian diaspora, with an estimated 1.5 million Iranians living in the U.S. alone. Threats of military action will strengthen the grip of the government in Tehran, producing hard responses and piling threat upon threat that will ultimately lead nowhere. Hopefully some adults in the White House cabinet room will at some to point tell Michael Flynn that it is time to sit down and listen to the facts.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.
More than 20 U.S. intelligence, military and diplomatic veterans are calling on President Obama to release the evidence backing up allegations that Russia aided the Trump campaign – or admit that the proof is lacking. (originally published January 17, 2017 on Consortiumnews.com)
MEMORANDUM FOR: President Barack Obama
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: A Key Issue That Still Needs to be Resolved
As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office Friday, a pall hangs over his upcoming presidency amid an unprecedentedly concerted campaign to delegitimize it. Unconfirmed accusations continue to swirl alleging that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized “Russian hacking” that helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.
As President for a few more days, you have the power to demand concrete evidence of a link between the Russians and WikiLeaks, which published the bulk of the information in question. Lacking that evidence, the American people should be told that there is no fire under the smoke and mirrors of recent weeks.
We urge you to authorize public release of any tangible evidence that takes us beyond the unsubstantiated, “we-assess” judgments by the intelligence agencies. Otherwise, we – as well as other skeptical Americans – will be left with the corrosive suspicion that the intense campaign of accusations is part of a wider attempt to discredit the Russians and those – like Mr. Trump – who wish to deal constructively with them.
Remember the Maine?
Alleged Russian interference has been labeled “an act of war” and Mr. Trump a “traitor.” But the “intelligence” served up to support those charges does not pass the smell test. Your press conference on Wednesday will give you a chance to respond more persuasively to NBC’s Peter Alexander’s challenge at the last one (on Dec. 16) “to show the proof [and], as they say, put your money where your mouth is and declassify some of the intelligence. …”
You told Alexander you were reluctant to “compromise sources and methods.” We can understand that concern better than most Americans. We would remind you, though, that at critical junctures in the past, your predecessors made judicious decisions to give higher priority to buttressing the credibility of U.S. intelligence-based policy than to protecting sources and methods. With the Kremlin widely accused by politicians and pundits of “an act of war,” this is the kind of textbook case in which you might seriously consider taking special pains to substantiate serious allegations with hard intelligence – if there is any.
During the Cuban missile crisis, for instance, President Kennedy ordered us to show highly classified photos of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and on ships en route, even though this blew sensitive detail regarding the imagery intelligence capabilities of the cameras on our U-2 aircraft.
President Ronald Reagan’s reaction to the Libyan terrorist bombing of La Belle Disco in Berlin on April 5, 1986, that killed two and injured 79 other U.S. servicemen is another case in point. We had intercepted a Libyan message that morning: “At 1:30 in the morning one of the acts was carried out with success, without leaving a trace behind.” (We should add here that NSA’s dragnet SIGINT capability 30 years later renders it virtually impossible to avoid “leaving a trace behind” once a message is put on the network.)
President Reagan ordered the U.S. Air Force to bomb Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s palace compound to smithereens, killing several civilians. Amid widespread international consternation and demands for proof that Libya was responsible for the Berlin attack, President Reagan ordered us to make public the encrypted Libyan message, thereby sacrificing a collection/decryption capability unknown to the Libyans – until then.
As senior CIA veteran Milton Bearden has put it, there are occasions when more damage is done by “protecting” sources and methods than by revealing them.
Where’s the Beef?
We find the New York Times- and Washington Post-led media Blitz against Trump and Putin truly extraordinary, despite our long experience with intelligence/media related issues. On Jan. 6, the day after your top intelligence officials published what we found to be an embarrassingly shoddy report purporting to prove Russian hacking in support of Trump’s candidacy, the Times banner headline across all six columns on page 1 read: “PUTIN LED SCHEME TO AID TRUMP, REPORT SAYS.”
The lead article began: “President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.” Eschewing all subtlety, the Times added that the revelations in “this damning report … undermined the legitimacy” of the President-elect, and “made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.”
On page A10, however, Times investigative reporter Scott Shane pointed out: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission.”
Shane continued, “Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’ There is no discussion of the forensics used to recognize the handiwork of known hacking groups, no mention of intercepted communications between the Kremlin and the hackers, no hint of spies reporting from inside Moscow’s propaganda machinery.”
Shane added that the intelligence report “offers an obvious reason for leaving out the details, declaring that including ‘the precise bases for its assessments’ would ‘reveal sensitive sources and methods and imperil the ability to collect critical foreign intelligence in the future.’”
Shane added a quote from former National Security Agency lawyer Susan Hennessey: “The unclassified report is underwhelming at best. There is essentially no new information for those who have been paying attention.” Ms. Hennessey served as an attorney in NSA’s Office of General Counsel and is now a Brookings Fellow in National Security Law.
There is a lot of ambiguity – whether calculated or not – about “Russian hacking.” “Everyone knows that everyone hacks,” says everyone: Russia hacks; China hacks; every nation that can hacks. So do individuals of various nationalities. This is not the question.
You said at your press conference on Dec. 16 “the intelligence that I have seen gives me great confidence in their [U.S. intelligence agencies’] assessment that the Russians carried out this hack.” “Which hack?” you were asked. “The hack of the DNC and the hack of John Podesta,” you answered.
Earlier during the press conference you alluded to the fact that “the information was in the hands of WikiLeaks.” The key question is how the material from “Russian hacking” got to WikiLeaks, because it was WikiLeaks that published the DNC and Podesta emails.
Our VIPS colleague William Binney, who was Technical Director of NSA and created many of the collection systems still in use, assures us that NSA’s “cast-iron” coverage – particularly surrounding Julian Assange and other people associated with WikiLeaks – would almost certainly have yielded a record of any electronic transfer from Russia to WikiLeaks. Binney has used some of the highly classified slides released by Edward Snowden to demonstrate precisely how NSA accomplishes this using trace mechanisms embedded throughout the network. [See: “U.S. Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims,” Dec. 12, 2016.]
NSA Must Come Clean
We strongly suggest that you ask NSA for any evidence it may have indicating that the results of Russian hacking were given to WikiLeaks. If NSA can produce such evidence, you may wish to order whatever declassification may be needed and then release the evidence. This would go a long way toward allaying suspicions that no evidence exists. If NSA cannot give you that information – and quickly – this would probably mean it does not have any.
In all candor, the checkered record of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for trustworthiness makes us much less confident that anyone should take it on faith that he is more “trustworthy than the Russians,” as you suggested on Dec. 16. You will probably recall that Clapper lied under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 12, 2013, about NSA dragnet activities; later apologizing for testimony he admitted had been “clearly erroneous.” In our Memorandum for you on Dec. 11, 2013, we cited chapter and verse as to why Clapper should have been fired for saying things he knew to be “clearly erroneous.”
In that Memorandum, we endorsed the demand by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner that Clapper be removed. “Lying to Congress is a federal offense, and Clapper ought to be fired and prosecuted for it,” said Sensenbrenner in an interview with The Hill. “The only way laws are effective is if they’re enforced.”
Actually, we have had trouble understanding why, almost four years after he deliberately misled the Senate, Clapper remains Director of National Intelligence – overseeing the entire intelligence community.
Hacks or Leaks?
Not mentioned until now is our conclusion that leaks are the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures in question – not hacking. Leaks normally leave no electronic trace. William Binney has been emphasizing this for several months and suggesting strongly that the disclosures were from a leaker with physical access to the information – not a hacker with only remote access.
This, of course, makes it even harder to pin the blame on President Putin, or anyone else. And we suspect that this explains why NSA demurred when asked to join the CIA and FBI in expressing “high confidence” in this key judgment of the report put out under Clapper’s auspices on Jan. 6, yielding this curious formulation:
“We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.” (Emphasis, and lack of emphasis, in original)
In addition, former U.K. Ambassador Craig Murray has said publicly he has first-hand information on the provenance of the leaks, and has expressed surprise that no one from the New York Times or the Washington Post has tried to get in touch with him. We would be interested in knowing whether anyone from your administration, including the intelligence community, has made any effort to contact Ambassador Murray.
What to Do
President-elect Trump said a few days ago that his team will have a “full report on hacking within 90 days.” Whatever the findings of the Trump team turn out to be, they will no doubt be greeted with due skepticism, since Mr. Trump is in no way a disinterested party.
You, on the other hand, enjoy far more credibility – AND power – for the next few days. And we assume you would not wish to hobble your successor with charges that cannot withstand close scrutiny. We suggest you order the chiefs of the NSA, FBI and CIA to the White House and ask them to lay all their cards on the table. They need to show you why you should continue to place credence in what, a month ago, you described as “uniform intelligence assessments” about Russian hacking.
At that point, if the intelligence heads have credible evidence, you have the option of ordering it released – even at the risk of damage to sources and methods. For what it may be worth, we will not be shocked if it turns out that they can do no better than the evidence-deprived assessments they have served up in recent weeks. In that case, we would urge you, in all fairness, to let the American people in on the dearth of convincing evidence before you leave office.
As you will have gathered by now, we strongly suspect that the evidence your intelligence chiefs have of a joint Russian-hacking-WikiLeaks-publishing operation is no better than the “intelligence” evidence in 2002-2003 – expressed then with comparable flat-fact “certitude” – of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Mr. President, there is much talk in your final days in office about your legacy. Will part of that legacy be that you stood by while flames of illegitimacy rose willy-nilly around your successor? Or will you use your power to reveal the information – or the fact that there are merely unsupported allegations – that would enable us to deal with them responsibly?
In the immediate wake of the holiday on which we mark the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to make reference to his legacy, calling to mind the graphic words in his “Letter From the Birmingham City Jail,” with which he reminds us of our common duty to expose lies and injustice:
“Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up, but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret) and former Office Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA
Bogdan Dzakovic, Former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
Larry Johnson, former CIA Intelligence Officer & former State Department Counter-Terrorism Official, ret.
Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)
Brady Kiesling, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, ret. (Associate VIPS),
John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former Senior Investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003
Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East, CIA (ret.)
Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA (ret.)
Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)
Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat