Is America on the Eve of an Electronic Wave of Terror?

By Ed Timperlake

While serving as Director Technology Assessment, International Technology Security, Office of the Secretary of Defense (2003-2009) I engaged with both Vice Admiral Poindexter and also Major General Keith Alexander.

Admiral Poindexter was leading the DARPA, Total Information Awareness (TIA) effort, and General Alexander then CG of US Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and was creating his  “Cities of Information.”  His INSCOM effort was a very clever way to present metadata into a three dimensional dynamic iterative computer display that was plotted on an X-Y-Z-axis.

Both men, patriotic to their core and brilliant, were dedicated to the best of their considerable abilities to build information systems that captured metadata and then harnessed powerful machine based analysis to filter actionable intelligence in order to make America and our Allies safer.

I personally saw the power of their vision being merged with the power of information age technology and was hugely impressed.

Back in our ITS office, we then had a series of discussions about employing such metadata collection and analytical efforts for our Counterintelligance (CI) mission. I saw both TIA and “Cities of Information” as tremendously powerful new tools.

But, during our ITS office robust discussions, a very smart co-worker flagged his deep concerns about proceeding down this path.

This colleague pointed out that it was way too much power to give to the government.

He was exactly right, because in those days we trusted ourselves as the good guys. However, he astutely pointed out things can change in our Democracy, so I countered what could possibly go wrong? Well, America now knows exactly what can go wrong when everything changes, parties change but the system continues to grow.

There is a pervasive and pernicious bipartisan consensus, which has unleashed information intrusion and government out of control.

The left instinctively trusts and encourages Big Government as the way to improve society, it was even said about Marxism, it is easy to define heaven it is the journey that is impossible. The right instinctively trusts Big Government on National Security, as evidenced by some immediately springing to defend the phone and ISP national “dragnet.”

What both camps often overlook is the human factor: who or what bureaucracy really executes policy?

Conceptually motives can be pure, but in practice some on both the left and right can and will abuse the trust and responsibility given to them by American citizens.

I am amazed that in this breaking public debate both left and right some individuals are so dug in on their belief system that they over look human factors.

Rep Gowdy (R-SC) commenting on the evils of the IRS targeting decent American citizens accurately pointed out it is a culture problem because the IRS employees were operating in a system without a moral compass. On the left Senator Ron Wyden (D-Or) also profoundly understood unchecked power when he went after the DARPA TIA effort.

Now the President and his supporters want us all to trust their iron clad integrity and efficiency and also the total security of the 16 US Intel agencies inside of the DNI structure, with our highly personal information.

Everyone in the IC is empowered with special trust and confidence to protect America to the best of their ability. But “people are people” is not a cliché or an abstract concept.

While at ITS trying to understand and protect DOD Information Systems from collectors aka “spies” we realized that if you tried to protect everything you protected nothing.

Our flaw was that we were very technology focused.

Little did anyone know at the time that a lowly Army enlisted man Private First Class Bradley Manning would simple walk in collect highly protected data and then publish it world wide.

And Time Magazine asks this question—go figure:

The lowest common denominator is the key source of concern about a govnerment information collection system gone wild.  It is not even about the integrity of the system; it is about a system which can not ensure the integrator of the lowest common denominator.  I personally don’t want a PFC Manning using my personal data for whatever advantage he believes he has the right to gain from that data.

PFC Manning is most definitely at the bottom of the Chain-of-Command but what about our leaders and their performance as well?

In 2004, ITS engaged with General Clapper on an important mission: you can agree or disagree on the subject but his actions speak for themselves —

In addition, having previously been a key individual lying about the cause of the Battle of Benghazi, DNI Clapper also directly lied, to Senator Wyden (D-Or) about NSA spying on Americans. Remember DNI reports to the President through the National Security Director.

The Battle of Benghazi was a tactical and strategic military defeat in the field for America. The evolving and ever changing story now includes information that the IC determined very early that the attack was made by individuals with ties to Al-Qaeda.

How this information was collected is not appropriately known, perhaps from protected “sources and methods” and highly classified “signals in space, ”or it may have been seen in open postings on the Internet or from human intelligence.

The origin of the raw information about Benghazi is intentionally opaque and that is always a good thing.  It has also been reported that the NSA metadata collection system has been active as early as 2007 and since then has been getting bigger and more intrusive.

Consequently, regardless of how the background and motive of Benghazi attackers was known, that information was quickly distorted beyond comprehension for the political benefit of the Administration.  And a key Administration leader went out of her way to act without regard to the information available to the Administration.

Ambassador Susan Rice went on five national television programs and flat out lied to the American people. She is now Director of the National Security Council (NSC) and responsible for providing the President with the most important information America can collect.

What confidence should anyone have on the value of the IC effort – one currently built around violating American privacy — to keep us safe with this Administrations record of using such information to bolster their political case, and not inform the public which has paid for the collection of this information?

The President even said he is vulnerable to having his privacy invaded in an attempt to blow smoke and put the American public off the scent.  It is yet another statement that he is not responsible for what his Administration does.

Notably he has spent a lot of time and effort to keep his personal history also murky and opaque. Americans are being asked to trust him and his minions with our most personal and cherished information.

Never has Reagan’s warning been more timely: Trust but verify.  Reagan suggested the Soviets should not be trusted to self-regulate; neither can our government.

After the most recent breaking scandals in the Obama Administrations from IRS targeting American citizens for their fundamental beliefs, to DOJ attacking journalist and possible perjury by our Attorney General, to the Battle of Benghazi and President Obama blaming a move at the UN when the IC reporting said otherwise, what confidence should anyone have that their most private information being illegally collected will never be used against the interests of the American public or “political enemies.”

The government is laying a solid foundation for the implementation of Obamacare.  Up next is the government collecting all of our medical data and crafting a system of health care, unclarified, undebated and unexamined.

Just trust me is the policy mantra!

An additional consequence of the US collection effort is the contagion of intelligence sharing with allies.

It has been reported that the Brits are concerned to see if we are collecting on them, which is a very fair and good question.

But let the US reverse the question on intelligence sharing.

Another very significant point is that we may be creating a “one stop” collection effort for PLA Ministry of State Security  (MSS) “collectors.”  What PFC Manning can do, certainly the PLA can do.

China to control their citizens makes no pretense about protecting privacy and routes their cellular exchanges through the Peoples Armed Police. Inside and outside of China, PLA collectors try to collect everything important t their interests and their presentation of reality.  This is their constant unrelenting pattern and practice.

We are now quickly making it very easy for them. The issues of cyber penetration by collectors can be very simple; touch one classified secure system and very possibly a spy can touch them all.

Tragically, thanks to a recent and extremely important Washington Post story we now know that PLA cyber attacks to acquire highly guarded information about critical defense technologies have been very successful.

Hopefully the US is rapidly addressing that problem and fixing it.

But what about technology and intelligence sharing with Allies as a key problem enhanced by the expanded government intrusion into our lives as leakage of data goes global?

Just one very specific example is illustrative.  The US has successfully kept the PLA technology firm Huawei out of our national security systems.  From Congressional Testimony:

Huawei in my professional judgment is an ongoing criminal enterprise using denial and deception techniques and a lot of money and influence to infiltrate their high-tech products into American communication networks.

Yet Huawei found willing buyers in UK and the Ministers in their government apparently were clueless.

As I was writing this article about International Technology Security/OSD CI efforts, I asked one of our senior advisors who has lost his son, a US Marine, what he made of all this and this was his profound and personal touching response:

I think about these things our government is doing, I always come back to a  picture of my son and his Marine buddies, so willing to serve without questions, and the enormous burden that places on our government to act honorably as those lives are in its hands. I vividly remember sitting at the chow table in Saddam’s old palace with the Marines, all looking to this old man like young kids, peppering me as a “suit” with their basic question: how are we doing, sir?  Knowing as I did what a fuck up it was on the civilian side, and not being able to tell them how bad it was, killed me. All this stays with me.

It used to be good guys vs bad guys, but now mass secret surveillance of virtually all Americans with a phone and a computer is where we’ve come. Dismantling this meta-data brazen creature is probably beyond the capacity of even the collective outrage of the American citizenry, should they become collectively outraged. It is turning me into a libertarian, although its way too late for libertarianism. I must say I was never much of a fan of Jefferson, impressive, brilliant and broadly correct about the human condition and the rights of free men, but an isolated farmer with no understanding of economics or power. Hamilton understood how things worked. But all this has caused me to re-think Jefferson and his many warnings of an intrusive and all-encompassing government. He may well have been, ultimately, more prescient that Hamilton. Hamilton saw the need for centralized federal power more clearly than the other founders, certainly than the Virginia planters; but he is, from my cursory reading, largely silent on the dangers. For that, we need to go to George Orwell.

In my professional judgment, the U.S. is on the eve of an electronic reign of terror which is out of control.

The good news is that as a nation we still have time to just say no.

A Reign of Terror was unleashed in the French Revolution. It was a time in France of huge injustice and individuals, some fanatics and others honorably concerned about fixing a broken social order, unleashed a brutal period in French history. They let blind ideology and unchecked power set their course. The US is nowhere near such an event but in this, the age of information, an electronic reign of terror can be unleashed even with the best of motives.

That is the point about a reign of terror: the means overwhelm the ends. One can name some of the key figures of the French revolution, but what of the executioners who destroyed the aristocracy, and then turned on the revolutionaries themselves.

Reputations can be destroyed, people coerced or blackmailed, life altering medical conditions being made public, and how about the Government in possession of mental health counseling sessions with unfettered government access to information with no guarantee that PFC Manning is not a position to decide what HE wants to do.

What democratic choice is being executed by a bureaurcratic system built on stealing information from every source that it uses government authority to gain access to for “national security” or “social welfare” or “health care reasons.”

Our ancestors where concerned about taxation without representation;  we are now facing a faceless out of control information system with the power of the government and a President who eschews any responsibility.  This would make the founding fathers more concerned than even with taxation without representation, which is really a drop in the teapot by comparison.

Our enemies can exploit or create fictional information against our leaders.

Additionally, on a very practical matter the massive intrusion into individual computers can give trial lawyers an opportunity to bring reasonable doubt on cases involving computer crimes. I never underestimate US lawyer’s legal cleverness.

Another point is that there is a smart nimble reactive enemy at work.  An asymmetric enemy without much effort or expense can totally spoof this entire effort by simply flooding our collection effort with significant noise in a denial and deception campaign.

The one thing worse than no intelligence is bad intelligence.

American citizens must stop this data mining and information collection effort ASAP.

We can still be safe, in fact safer, with specifically focused and legally approved directed efforts on a case by case basis.

Stonewall Jackson got it exactly right when he said: “Never take counsel of your fears”  This “child of TIA” and it’s public defense is built on total fear mongering to justify violating the US Constitution.  Both left and right must come together to say no.

President Obama, Attorney General Holder, NSC Director Susan Rice, DNI Clapper and a cadre of as yet unnamed White House staff directing the raft of punitive political actions by government agencies, and dissembling about it have forfeited the public trust by intentionally and systematically abusing it. These leaders need to be held accountable.

It is time to stop the out of control government before it is too late.

And for these who believe that the information gathering state run by a President who avoids responsibility and staffed by PFC Manning is justified they need to remember history.

Maximilian Robespierre learned the hard way that the revolution devours its own. He was the key leader initiating the French Reign of Terror and ultimately fell victim to the monster he embraced and enabled. His own death, heralding the end of the Terror, led to real dictatorship in the person of Napoleon.





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One response to “Is America on the Eve of an Electronic Wave of Terror?”

  1. Chet Nagle says:

    Based on the author’s personal experience, it is not too surprising that his article is absolutely correct. We are on a very dangerous and slippery slope that leads to the abyss of total control by Big Brother, and it is getting late. All of us who have been, or are still, part of the Intelligence Community are obliged to remember our oath to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign AND domestic.

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