Thursday, December 5, 2013
The Washington Post has published its latest Snowden expose'. The reporting concerns NSA/NGIA monitoring of cell phones around the world.
This leak is a big deal - it's likely to get a lot of public attention.
These are some of the key points that stand out to me.
Scale - According to the Post, the US Intelligence Community (IC) is collecting up to five billion cell phone records a day. At the same time, the NSA is storing a huge portfolio of records in order to allow analysts to back-reference data. This storage enables analysts to access intelligence material that's utility has only become clear after collection. In essence, many cell phones are now collection platforms on their owners!
Reach - The NSA has apparently developed targeting capabilities which allow analysts to target and back-trace the location data on a cell phone. This means that if they so desire, the US IC can track where someone has been and who they've met (by referencing that second individual's data). Linked with the scale point, the Post notes that US citizens have inevitably been caught up in the drag net.
In another area, the NSA has established programs that heavily scrutinize individuals who apply a 'call and chuck' approach to cell phones. It's hard to emphasize how serious this particular leak is. 'Call and chuck' procedures are standard for intelligence officers/terrorists. Now these individuals know how the US pays attention to their activities. As a corollary, the Post also reports that the NSA pays close attention to cell phones that are turned off (to avoid monitoring) at the same time and place as other phones. The NSA's understandable thinking is that this activity is deserving of special scrutiny.
Variable utility - The Post concludes with a hint that these programs have been expanded for counter-intelligence purposes as well as intelligence gathering purposes. Specifically, the Post notes a proposed effort to monitor cell phones that consistently follow CIA case officers abroad. The thinking being- consistent presence of one cell phone in proximity to an officer = potential surveillance.
Anyway, while many of these capabilities were already known/perceptibly likely, the degree of specificity in the Post's article is noteworthy. There's no question that these leaks will have great intelligence value to US state/non-state adversaries. These actors will certainly change how they operate in order to try and evade detection. As a final point (and as I've noted before), these type of collection programs have been instrumental in countering terrorist activities across the world. That reality must form part of the public debate amidst the ongoing Snowden fallout.
If interested, my related writings can be found under 'Other' header of this page.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Regarding Lakkis's assassination - please see my post on the Lebanese Hizballah's identity crisis. And my flow chart on Syrian Civil War. In short, Hizballah are learning that actions have consequences - that their terrorism has furnished responsive terrorism. We should expect increasing instability in Lebanon. Sectarian politics are once again rising to the fore.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Monday, December 2, 2013
Sunday, December 1, 2013
My latest @ The National Review Online - In the East China Sea, three broader policy lessons for America
Friday, November 29, 2013
Imran Khan should have stuck to cricket. The Pakistani political party, PTI (Movement for Justice), has reportedly leaked the name of the CIA's Station Chief in Islamabad. For the interests of the Pakistani people, this was a profoundly idiotic move.
First, even before now, the Station Chief's identity was almost certainly known to the Pakistani authorities - one of the primary responsibilities of a Station Chief is to liaise with the foreign government. The PTI hasn't helped the Pakistani Government uncover a foreign spy. But via this leak (if only for a short time), the PTI will have weakened Pakistani-US intelligence cooperation. This is not a small concern. The US-Pakistani intelligence relationship is of great importance to the people of Pakistan. In specific terms, it's instrumental to Pakistan's ability to keep innocent civilians safe from violent extremists.
That incontestable reality speaks to a deeper truth.
This leak was about one thing - domestic politics. Over the last couple of years, Khan has cultivated a seriously unpleasant alliance with various Islamist extremist groups. At the same time, the PTI leader has sought to blame the United States for Pakistan's woeful security situation. This all culminated with Khan's rally last week against the CIA's drone program (an issue he has embraced as his defining populist cause). To be sure, many Pakistanis do not like the idea of a foreign power using force in their country. Nevertheless, as I've argued before, US drones help Pakistan to address critical threats that would otherwise go unchallenged.
Ultimately, Khan's actions speak to a broader problem in much of the Islamic world. Rather than facing up to major socio-political difficulties, far too many politicians choose to blame the United States for their nation's ills. It's certainly easier than confronting brutal extremist movements. In the short term, it also offers voters a rallying point to express their diverging discontent in common cause. Yet, the problem with this type of political strategy is that it renders such negative consequences - sacrificing the interests of the people at the altar of a patently false agenda. Take this example from a senior PTI politician. After calling for the CIA Station Chief's arrest, the MP also called for his ''interrogation'' in order to garner the identities of drone pilots. It's absurdity personified. Mazari knows that will never happen, she's simply stoking the fires of an easy anger.
Khan and the PTI aren't helping to build a better, independent future for Pakistan. Instead, they're simply fueling extremists who want to destroy any semblance of hope for a more just and prosperous democracy.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Earlier this morning I paid a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Such trips are always a moving experience, but especially so on Thanksgiving Day. As I've written before, our respect for military personnel (especially forward deployed combat units) must be unceasing and active. Anyway, below are some photos from today's visit.