Looks like there’s yet another intelligence scandal brewing—sort of. No, It’s not the Russians purloining secrets or the Iranians trying to murder diplomats this time, but rather a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against Mark Levin, the “former special adviser” to the president of the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security. The lawsuit alleges Levin concocted “a clandestine career to manipulate three young men” at the school “into sexually abusive encounters.” These career highlights reportedly included hunting terrorists in the District of Columbia, “black operations” across Africa and Europe, and killing 38 people.
If his resume sounds too good to be true, well, that’s because it is. Like some Louis Vuitton handbags and Rolex watches, it appears he too was a knock-off; a fake intelligence official. Levin is now countersuing his alleged victims.
Yet stories like this and individuals like Levin—blustery men of a certain age who claim a shadowy-but-macho past in national security skullduggery, and who convince others of their credentials for pride and profit—keep popping up every so often. The CIA impostor Wayne Simmons was a Fox News commentator for years. The self-proclaimed spook and Houston chapter head of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers Roland Carnaby reportedly flashed a “CIA badge” (whatever that is) right before he was shot after a high-speed car chase with Houston police. The zany Chuck Barris of The Gong Show fame claimed in his autobiography to have been an assassin for CIA as well. One would think with so many government killers supposedly in Uncle Sam’s employment, the federal government would’ve been able to liquidate Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and any number of America’s nemeses fifteen times over.
Maybe the old axiom—the more things change, the more things stay the same—isn’t actually true, at least when it comes to exploiting open source intelligence.
I joined the US Army in 2005. US troops had already been fighting in Iraq for two years and in Afghanistan for four. However, my initial SIGINT training still focused on Cold War-era communications systems and electronic orders of battle. During my deployment to Iraq in 2007 we were sent into harm’s way with collection and analysis systems that were still in beta testing!
Yet America’s adversaries had evolved. In the last few decades, the world has seen internet cafes, WiMax, and satellite internet proliferate. Reporters embedded today on the front lines of the Battle for Mosul receive 3G coverage on their smartphones. Our friends and enemies are more reliant on digital communications than ever before. Stronger encryption technologies and social networking are becoming paramount in the day-to-day functions of states and subnational actors.
Open source intelligence (OSINT) now makes up the majority of Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). This discipline must be cross-trained across the board. Professionals involved in intelligence and law enforcement must thoroughly understand OS-DNI in order to do their jobs more effectively, and not treat it as a secondary information source. OS-DNI capabilities should be a “must have” versus a “should have.”
Although units exist across the intelligence and law enforcement communities that perform OS-DNI, those shops still remain a tiny minority and a ‘new fad’. The four I have visited in the last year are groups full of older people who still merely translate news articles and speeches. This mindset across the national security community toward exploiting OS-DNI must change, and quickly.
It has come to pass Peter Hoekstra is now on Trump’s Presidential transition team. Hoekstra, a former House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) chair and Michigan congressman has replaced Mike Rogers, also a former HPSCI chair and Michigan congressman to help lead the national security effort for the incoming administration. David Ignatius in the Washington Post claims GOP insiders consider him on the shortlist for CIA Director.
This means choppy waters ahead for CIA and likely the Intelligence Community as a whole. Along other highlights of his tenure in Congress, Hoekstra was the one who led the legislative charge to create a website that published a rough guide on how to build a nuclear weapon as well as erroneously claimed in 2006 the US found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
What are the foreign policy consequences of what was once unthinkable: a Trump presidency? The recent tightening of the polls—Hillary Clinton’s strong performance in the first debate notwithstanding—dictates we think through how best to contain the damage to American long-term interests that will be wrought if Trump takes a seat behind the Resolute desk.
Under such circumstances, for stability and continuity in national security, Americans should look to an unexpected place—into the shadows, to America’s intelligence agencies.
Unbeknownst to many, CIA, NSA, and other agencies maintain remarkably stable associations with intelligence services around the globe. All sides benefits from these partnerships, which are known as “liaison relationships.”
As Eric Rosenbach and Aki Peritz have written, American agencies are larger and more powerful than their foreign peers, and they see events in a global context. Foreign spy agencies tend to be local, focused on specific regions or issues, possessed of greater cultural understandings, and able to gain access to information or places denied to American eyes.
The U.S. intelligence services have developed robust liaison relationships with close allies and multilateral groups, like the Commonwealth countries and NATO, and complex yet lasting relationships with countries that are not traditional allies, like Pakistan’s intelligence service.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day static of the media cycle. But one underreported story is how the US has, in the last few months, gone from hero to zero in the Philippines, one of our closest allies in the Pacific. Since taking office in late June, President Rodrigo Duterte has:
So, who benefits from this seismic shift in Filipino policy?
The People’s Republic of China, of course. Through Duterte’s actions, Beijing just peeled off a strategic US ally with little diplomatic or military fallout.
This is an intelligence-focused website, not a political blog.
But I’m flabbergasted — as are many intelligence professionals — by Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump’s recent request to Russia to hack and release Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email:
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
It is without precedent for a presidential nominee to ask a foreign power — especially an antagonistic one like Russia — to directly interfere in our political system and the 2016 campaign. Trump’s supporters, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, say he was just joking, and the GOP nominee himself said today he was just being sarcastic.
Nonetheless it’s uncomfortable that a man who might occupy the White House in January 2017 is so cavalier about issuing intelligence collection guidance to other adversarial nation-states.
Obviously, Democrats are strongly condemning Trump’s comments. But what I find distressing is no Republican member of the House and Senate intelligence committees, nor the Speaker of the House or Senate Majority Leader, have clearly and explicitly condemned these remarks.
These are, after all, the lawmakers who are entrusted to oversee America’s intelligence community, and the lack of explicit condemnation concerning the interference in our political campaigns is distressing to say the least.
Cyber espionage represents “the greatest transfer of wealth in history, ” the former NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander stated back in 2012. NSA’s current director, Adm. Michael Rogers, remains more concerned about trustworthiness of the data used by the military and the private sector entities for making decisions.
Adm. Rogers is not alone in ringing this alarm bell. FBI Director James Comey addressed an audience at Georgetown University’s cyber security conference earlier this spring, noting “(i)ncreasingly, we’re worried not just about the loss of data but the potential manipulation of data, the corruption of data.” The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained this concern in more detail, stating, “(f)uture cyber operations will almost certainly include an increased emphasis on changing or manipulating data to compromise its integrity (i.e., accuracy and reliability) to affect decision making, reduce trust in systems, or cause adverse physical effects.”
We term the malicious manipulation of data keeping top U.S. security officials awake at night as information sabotage. Using sabotage against an adversary to advance one’s political agenda is an age-old phenomenon. Sabotage has been used in fierce industrial competition, direct action activism, terrorism, popular revolts, special operations—and of course, war.
In our view, information sabotage plays a role similar to its more traditional cousin. Our definition for information sabotage is: a deliberate and hostile action that is aimed at target’s information sources, flows, and assets with an intention of having an effect on the target through manipulation of information and its availability together with the pace that the information comes available.
In other words, information sabotage can hinder or halt a targeted entity’s operations, as critical information has been rendered untrustworthy, unavailable, or otherwise incomprehensible. Continue Reading
It’s been a long summer for proponents of American hard power in the Middle East, as the conflict against ISIS grinds on in Fallujah, Ramadi and elsewhere. But the seductive pull of America’s soft power remains ever-powerful, pulling even our terrorist enemies into its orbit.
Don’t believe me? Here are five examples that prove otherwise:
Exhibit A: Omar al-Shishani, the Islamic State’s recently-deceased Minister of War. He might have hated Western infidels with the fury of a thousand burning suns, but he still thinks The North Face hats are pretty cool:
Exhibit B: Islamic State just released a scripted drama featuring a sensitive young millennial thinking about joining the group in Raqqa, Syria. But he loves his Abercrombie and Fitch:
How do you fight an idea?
Governments and NGOs are trying to do so in a variety of ways—community outreach, tough policing, aggressive tweeting—in the quest to ‘counter violent extremism,’ mostly of the ISIS and al Qaeda variety.
But the jury remains out whether these high-minded efforts are indeed generating desired results. One only has to glance at the scientific studies that show how arguing with, say, anti-vaccination activists makes them cling more tightly to their beliefs. It’s possible deploying earnest arguments with the ISIS-curious may paradoxically end up reinforcing their worldview.
So let’s try something different than just being earnest and serious. Instead, let’s ridicule ISIS on a global scale.
This might end up being a more potent long-term weapon than dropping bombs over Syria. After all, ridicule and humor (and the assistance of Superman) helped deflate the KKK in the late 1940s.
High-minded seriousness only gets one so far—it’s doubtful the 1980s egg-bubbling imagery from the War on Drugs era actually had much effect to stop *anyone* from smoking, say, marijuana. Beyond launching a thousand parodies, the ad may not have persuaded too many people from doing drugs.
Why? Because peers did it, and many of them didn’t end up splattered in a frying pan. And if one happens to be a hard-core drug user, one’s life has enough readily-apparent problems that one won’t be ‘scared straight’ by a public service announcement.
Same with hardened jihadists. There are certainly individuals that have gone over the bend that law enforcement over here—or the military and intelligence services over there—must confront. Countering terrorism can sometimes be ugly, and require applying force and violence.
But many are still impressionable, ISIS-curious types who are persuadable in one way or another—and some of the weapons are ridicule and humor to make it socially unacceptable to even consider joining ISIS. We should endeavor to make thinking about joining a jihadist group as off-putting as, say, calling for organized racial segregation.