Sunday, August 03, 2014

Got paranoia?

Two updates below!

Salvador Dali, Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937.
So Israeli spies have been listening to Secretary Kerry's telephone calls made on unencrypted phone systems over the past year as he tried to negotiate a deal between Israel and Palestine, along with "at least one other secret service", but you can't find out whose, according to Le Nouvel Observateur:
un autre service de renseignement d’un pays non identifié a lui aussi écouté les communications du chef de la diplomatie américaine lorsqu’il utilisait un téléphone portable non sécurisé au lieu des systèmes cryptés, ce qui lui est arrivé plus d’une fois.
(I assume they looked behind Spiegel's subscription wall to make sure, as I was unwilling to do.)

Well, I'm willing to hazard a guess on the identity of that secret service, too contrarian for Slate, too paranoid for the Firebaggers, and too baroque for anybody but the late Norman Mailer, who might well have written it, and its initials are C.I.A., at war with the Obama administration since January 2009. I'm not even kidding. [8/4/14: It looks like speculation on CIA spying on Kerry is false. See below. Y]

Here were Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane a little before the inauguration:
For two years on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama rallied crowds with strongly worded critiques of the Bush administration’s most controversial counterterrorism programs, from hiding terrorism suspects in secret Central Intelligence Agency jails to questioning them with methods he denounced as torture.
Now Mr. Obama must take charge of the C.I.A., in what is already proving to be one of the more treacherous patches of his transition to the White House.
But folks preferred to focus on Obama's people rather than his program, and his chosen vehicle for reforming the Agency, the unlovely figure of John O. Brennan, a 25-year veteran who had taken the revolving door out in 2005 and then gave PBS an interview in which he failed to use the word "torture" in (sort of) condemning it:
There was a real debate within the agency, including today, about what are the minimum standards that you want to stoop to and beyond where you're not going to go, because we don't want to stoop to using the same types of standards that terrorists use. We are in this business, whether it be intelligence or the government, to protect freedom, democracy and liberty, not to violate that.

When it comes to individuals who are determined to destroy our nation, though, we have to make sure that we take every possible measure. It's a tough ethical question, and it's a question that really needs to be aired more publicly. The issue of the reported domestic spying -- these are very healthy debates that need to take place. They can't be stifled....

Hopefully, that "dark side" is not going to be something that's going to forever tarnish the image of the United States abroad and that we're going to look back on this time and regret some of the things that we did, because it is not in keeping with our values.
The grammar of that last bit is pretty tortured, speaking of torture, but I think he meant that we would in fact regret, not that he hoped we wouldn't. That would be in keeping with his next big move, to join Obama as an advisor to the Democratic candidate who was touring the country denouncing Bush-administration counterterrorism abuses (and how many of the candidates were doing that? none of the ones named Hillary Clinton, anyhow); and with his subsequent (self-serving bureaucrat's) complaints, after he was forced to withdraw from contending for the DCI post, about how the Bush administration passed him over for promotion because of his excessively humanitarian views:
It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush Administration, such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding. The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored. Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current Administration, only to be rebuffed by the White House.
If he was really pro-torture, couldn't he have joined the McCain campaign instead? This is the voice of a man who is pissed off with Republicans and unwilling now, however he may have felt in 2003, to go along with them. Could there have been some quiet malevolent force confusing the perceptions of our outraged dudebros and Pumas?

One of the greatest mistakes of paranoids in our time is their utter failure to understand that government, and our government in particular, far from being an ineluctable monolith, is a battlefield in which countless bitter factions contend, some of them probably even in the public interest. There's war between the branches and within them; there's war inside the individual departments. When innocent immigrants go to prison while guilty bankers go free we have to remember that there are people with the power to make that happen whose names we don't even know, some of them burrowed-in holdovers from previous administrations; blaming them on Obama is really too simple. Though Obama, needing to preserve the illusion that he is in charge, will never say so.

And the CIA is a war zone virtually by definition, because of its crazy institutional structure in two opposed divisions, geeky Analysis, where Brennan spent his career, and reckless Ops, the home of Republican warriors like William Casey and George H.W. Bush. Analysis is often unpopular with Republican administrations, because it learns things that the president doesn't want to hear, from when DCI Bush didn't like their reporting on the Soviet Union during the Ford administration and set up a Team B to tell a better story for the arms manufacturers, to when Vice President Cheney hated their view on Saddam Hussein's imaginary weapons programs and set up Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans to sex it up, as some said, or "create new realities", in the language of Karl Rove. It was a retired CIA analyst, Larry Johnson, who was among the first establishment people to protest against the OSP, in pretty strong language, as
dangerous for US national security and a threat to world peace. [The OSP] lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda of removing Saddam. It's a group of ideologues with pre-determined notions of truth and reality. They take bits of intelligence to support their agenda and ignore anything contrary. They should be eliminated.
Another thing to note there is the role of retirees like Johnson, who continue to be involved in the struggle, with more freedom to act in certain political or public venues, and providing a continuity over the very long term from World War II to the present (this is a big part of what I get from Mailer). Thus when the Operations side wanted to punish Jimmy Carter for DCI Stansfield Turner and his 1979 firing of over 800 Ops employees in an attempt to reform the Agency, it was OSS veterans Casey and the older Bush who (I believe) masterminded the October Surprise collaboration between the Iranian government and the Reagan campaign that (may have) assured Reagan's election.

Something else really strange happened in 2009, by the way: a young CIA computer hacker named Edward Snowden (judging from his own claims undercover, and thus in Operations rather than Analysis), who had been caught trying to steal classified files and, I assume, observed by his supervisors when he was lighting up the libertarian chatrooms with his denunciations of surveillance, got the sack, which sounds pretty sensible, but then immediately got a job with the National Security Agency, which never got the CIA's report on why he had been fired:
“It slipped through the cracks,” one veteran law enforcement official said of the report.
Spokesmen for the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. all declined to comment on the precise nature of the warning and why it was not forwarded, citing the investigation into Mr. Snowden’s activities.
Yes, I'm a bit of a Snowden truther, I'm afraid, with the thesis (which I haven't seen elsewhere in quite this form) that the CIA Ops division got Snowden that job, probably without his knowledge of their involvement, in the humint hope that he'd just keep doing the sort of stuff he had been doing and eventually blow up their hated sigint rival and irreparably damage the reputation of the commander-in-chief, as he more or less did. And I'll keep believing it until I hear what crack exactly that report slipped through. But it's not essential to the discussion here.

So eventually, after General Petraeus had proven too narcissistic even for Washington and flamed out as DCI, and after the 2012 election, Obama got his chance to nominate Brennan again, as he did, and to go back to his plans of Agency reform, which now began to reveal themselves as an attack on covert operations, which had metastasized during the George W. Bush years into an Organisation d'Armée Secrète of staggering proportions. Joshua Foust, no sort of leftist, wrote,
Over the last decade, the CIA has become unbalanced in its mission and outlook. While paramilitary operations have always been one of its duties (its predecessor during World War II, the Office of Strategic Services, was almost exclusively paramilitary), the War on Terror has pushed the agency to embrace paramilitary operations to an extraordinary degree. In many ways, the covert killing the Agency performs has become its primary mission – or at least its most visible. Brennan needs to focus on re-balancing the CIA....
In private, officials have told reporters that Brennan is behind a push to shift many drone activities from the CIA to the military, which operates under a different set of laws and has different reporting requirements to Congress and the public.
Sure enough, Mazzetti was saying a year later,
American officials said that [as Obama's counterintelligence chief] Mr. Brennan repeatedly cautioned Mr. Obama that the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism mission threatened to attenuate the agency’s other activities, most notably those of penetrating foreign governments and analyzing global trends. During his confirmation hearings, Mr. Brennan obliquely criticized the performance of American spy agencies in providing intelligence and analysis of the Arab revolutions that began in 2009, and said the C.I.A. needed to cede some of its paramilitary role to the Pentagon.

“The C.I.A. should not be doing traditional military activities and operations,” he said.
But it wasn't to happen, and guess why? Congress!
Influential lawmakers from both parties have fought to protect the C.I.A.’s role in the drone wars and prevent the proposed shift of the bulk of drone operations to the Pentagon.

Both [California Senator Dianne] Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have urged Mr. Brennan to push back against the White House policy announced last May...
Feinstein can scream CIA abuse all she wants now, but she has long been a principal tool in the way they always get their way on Capitol Hill.

Now we learn that there is an unnamed agency of an unnamed country that can help Mossad monitor the U.S. Secretary of State's phone calls in the interests of preventing peace. I don't think there's any serious question about what country that could be, or what agency. And I think I know which part of the agency, too; the one Brennan has been unable to control (sadly, I can totally believe operatives spied on the Senate without his knowing), partly because of his own incapacity, partly because of his background in Analysis, and quite a bit because Congress refuses to cooperate.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Update Sunday evening:

Oy am I wrong about the whole premise for this post, if Richard Silverstein is right, and he has some amazing sources: he's saying the second intelligence service is Russia's!
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a native of Moldova, has cultivated especially close relations with Russia.  In fact, it’s commonly believed among intelligence circles that he is a Russian agent.  But in this particular case, such closeness paid off for both countries.  Israel provides Russia with transcripts of the Kerry calls it intercepts when his plane is within tracking distance.  And Russia does the same when Kerry’s calls are intercepted by its agents.
This story is extraordinary for several reasons: hitherto we only knew of Israel sharing intelligence with a limited number of countries including the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.  A collaboration with Russia in which one of the U.S.’ closest allies teams up with one of this country’s most disliked international leaders is astonishing.  It further reveals that Israel has no ultimate loyalty of allegiance except to itself as narrowly and cynically conceived by its leadership.
The news doesn't invalidate the points I wanted to make about the two sides of the CIA and their relationships to the presidency, but it does kind of mess up my excuse for writing about it. It also shines quite a light on on the dishonesty and treachery of the Israeli right.

Update Monday morning:

Then again, why should Israel work with the CIA in signals eavesdropping when ISNU gets the raw data direct from NSA? As Greenwald is sort of reminding us this morning.


aimai said...

This is a fascinating essay, Y. I really need to do more reading on this subject.Your point about warring factions within the CIA (as within the Military) is very well taken. I see Obama as riding a tiger but its also probably very accurate to see him choosing one tiger over another and being savaged as they fight it out over the corpse of the country.

I'd also like to point out-or hypothesize--that the size of the para-governmental secret service or perhaps I mean the size of the para-governmental wealthy classes--prevents any President from "cleaning house" by, say, firing 800 ops people or whoever. Because presumably they would simply move over into paid employment for Xe or Kellog Brown and Root or the Koch brothers and do their damage from those vantage points. If Obama fires Brennan who can he put in to replace him? If he fires, even at Brennan's request, lots of rogue agents lower down then what is to stop them from pulling a Casey and destroying his administration?

Victor said...

I've been saying that about the CIA and Carter for almost 35 years!
People told me I was nuts.
(I may be - but not for that exclusive reason ;-)

They undermined him.

The NY Times, for almost 2 weeks, had daily front page articles about a possible US Embassy takeover in Tehran.
Then, when it happened, the CIA said, "WOW! Didn't see THAT coming!!!"

No one at the CIA read the (once liberal) NY Times?

What happened was a tragic joke.

It was also payback for The Church Committee hearings and findings.

Now, Obama's no fool.
He doesn't want to find himself riding in an open car down the middle of Dallas on a sunny afternoon - or, whatever today's plot would be.
Now, I'm not saying that JFK pissing-off the CIA after The Bay of Pigs caused his death - but, that's certainly one of the plausible theories.

You don't take on your spies.
Not unless you're like Stalin, and routinely purge them every once in a while.

Obama is no Stalin.

He just doesn't want to be the first assassinated black President.

And the CIA could do that in a number of different ways.
First off, like they did to countless leaders we didn't like, whose plane crashed.

Yeah, I'm paranoid.
And so is President Obama.

It's just not very likely that what I say on a blog will get me killed.
What he decides to do as POTUS, very well might.

People in silo's, protect their silo's.