December 20, 2015 | Posted in Air Force, Author, Blog, Classified, Classified Information, Congress, Cyber attack, Department of Defense, E.O. 12333, FISA, Intelligence, Law Enforcement, Leaks, NSA, PPD-28, President Obama, Privacy, Snowden, U.S. Code Title 10, U.S. Code Title 50, Writing | By Tom Wither
I hope you’ve had a great summer and fall, and are enjoying the holiday season. I’d like to extend my thanks for being fans of my work, and wish you happy holidays and a bright new year.
I’ve been busy crafting my next novel, a project I’ve named ROGUE SENTINEL, and I will finish the manuscript shortly after the New Year. ROGUE SENTINEL will see Shane Mathews take on a solo mission to Jordan to find and capture an Islamic State mission planner known only as ‘Al-Amriki’ – The American.
Up next, I’ll be resuming work on SWIFT JUSTICE, the third and concluding novel of the ‘Aziz Trilogy’ that started with THE INHERITOR and AUTUMN FIRE, with main characters Shane Mathews and Emily Thompson.
During the year I’ve written a few Op-Eds on current issues that have been published in the Baltimore Sun and in The Hill’s Congress Blog. Here’s a list so you can look at them if you’re interested.
‘The NSA data collection program isn’t criminal; ending it is’ – http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-nsa-data-20151203-story.html
‘Open Letter from a cyber terrorist’ – http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/homeland-security/255370-open-letter-from-a-cyber-terrorist
‘Stand with our watchers’ – http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/homeland-security/261237-stand-with-our-watchers
‘Access to encrypted communication, a balancing act’ – http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-encryption-data-20151001-story.html
‘Clinton E-mails: Who else was involved?’ – http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-clinton-emails-20150908-story.html
‘The country is vulnerable without CISPA’ – http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-cispa-redux-20150209-story.html
Thanks again for being fans of my stories, and feel free make them presents for the fiction reader on your holiday list – they can be purchased from Amazon or Barnes & Nobel as e-books or hardcopies in trade paperback. You can even contact me via email@example.com for a signed copy if you like.
Take care and Happy Holidays!
If you are skeptical about NSA operations and activities reported over the recent weeks, that’s certainly understandable, particularly since most Americans do not work within the intelligence community or understand the rigorous training, oversight (from the courts and Congress), and professionalism the men and women of the intelligence community bring to their work every day.
I’ll ask that you keep in mind a few things as you read news reporting from journalists that may have only incomplete or partial facts drawn from briefings or other documents outside of their proper context, and/or an incomplete understanding of the law, rules, and oversight in place. Every civilian employee and military member in the U.S. Intelligence Community (I.C.), including those at NSA, are U.S. Citizens, just like you are. They are highly trained professionals that take an oath to defend our nation and uphold the Constitution; not to any executive branch organization or institution. In fact, many have spent their entire professional lives quietly and unobtrusively working without fanfare or acknowledgement outside of the close knit intelligence community to defend our nation, provide our policymakers with the information needed to make informed decisions, and protect our troops in battle when needs be. To be allowed to serve, they have allowed themselves to be subjected to repeated background investigations, financial reviews, and polygraph examinations every few years to prove that they are responsible men and women of good character, worthy of being trusted with their nation’s most highly valued secrets. These investigations, when done properly and thoroughly (as most are), are an invasive process that many of their fellow citizens might find unacceptable or intolerable with regards to their personal privacy. These men and women are given their nation’s (actually every American citizen’s) trust, and are no more interested in violating the privacy or other constitutional rights of U.S. citizens than you are. Remember, these men and women are citizens of this nation, just like YOU are.
Undoubtedly, more news reports about the size, scope, and capabilities of NSA’s activities will be appearing in print and electronic news sources, given Mr. Snowden’s admitted removal and provision of classified material to an activist/journalist like Mr. Greenwald, and Mr. Greenwald’s recent statements that ‘new revelations‘ are coming. As you read these future stories, bear in mind that NSA’s activities are governed by Executive Order 12333, and constrained by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as well as regular oversight by Congress. Moreover, publishing of more ‘sources and methods’ information by Mr. Greenwald and his contemporaries will serve primarily to give away any advantage we may have over our adversaries and result in exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security.
We citizens are reliant upon our members of Congress to provide proper and regular oversight of the I.C. elements. To date, Congress has held three hearings (House Intel Senate Judiciary House Judiciary ) addressing the legitimate concerns voiced by the public and some members of Congress about the programs and activities Mr. Snowden and his enabler Mr. Greenwald have shared. The law often fails to keep up with the rapid pace technology changes, and some members of Congress are not likely giving the activities of the intelligence community regular scrutiny due to time constraints, current committee assignments, or just simply because their activities aren’t the ‘hot button’ issue of the day. I do believe that the majority of members on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have it right. The programs exposed thus far are legal, in that they are operating under the FISA law as enacted, and they are Constitutional, given the strict oversight and compliance requirements outlined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and the process and procedures NSA put in place to adhere to those requirements, as outlined in the public testimony and statements (Mr. Litt from ODNI). Having said that, given that Congress is paying more attention now, certain senior members like Senators Chambliss and Feinstein, and Congressmen Rogers and Ruppersberger have offered not only endorsement but in some cases reasonable improvements to the programs and oversight regime (note that they do not advocate stopping it, nor does the administration). Should Congress change the law or oversight requirements, I am certain that the Attorney General, FBI, and the NSA will abide by those changes.
Encourage your member of Congress and Senators to pay closer attention if you have concerns, and choose to take their word or not when they tell you an agency is doing what is supposed to under the law and Constitution. Fortunately, it’s YOUR choice, because we live in America; not Russia or China; but get all the facts, not just the ones a particular journalist may offer as you evaluate what you’ve been told.
As to whether Mr. Snowden is a ‘whistle blower’ / leaker, or a traitor, I’ll say this. In my view, a whistle blower sees illegality or unconstitutional acts and reports them to competent legal (the FBI or Attorney General) or agency authorities (a supervisor, a senior manager, an inspector general, an internal counsel) first, then to Congress and the media if the existing process fails. Along the way that person may suffer the loss of a job, the travails of our legal process including: possible pre-trial confinement, and a trial for his or her belief in the truth or ‘rightness’ of their actions, consistent with our Constitution and laws. In the end, they will either be vindicated, not only in court, but in the court of public opinion, or convicted under the law. Moreover, if this whistle blower is working in a classified information environment, that person uses the processes established to ‘blow the whistle’ in a way that does not expose the sources and methods of intelligence operations to our nation’s adversaries, endangering the lives of our men and women in uniform, our diplomats overseas, and our citizens (and those of our allies and friends) at home and abroad.
A traitor takes whatever classified information he can, boards a plane to a foreign country beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement, and barters that information for notoriety, monetary gain, or presumed safety in the hands of one or more foreign governments. Mr. Snowden is not a whistle blower. People like Bunnatine ‘Bunny’ Greenhouse are whistle blowers.
It seems that every couple of months or so, some professional news outlet, or the on-line site WikiLeaks, releases or reports what is described as classified material. Once an organization or entity reports it, other professional journalists tend to jump on the story quickly, hitting up their sources and reporting on the story in whatever unique way or angle they believe they can.
Today’s case in point is the Washington Post’s initial reporting (based initially on a WikiLeaks release of classified State Department cables between the U.S. and the host governments), on the locations of the bases used to purportedly launch and recover unmanned drones like the MQ-9 REAPER. These drones are used, in part, to carry the U.S. war against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates directly to the leaders in those organizations. REAPER drones have launched missiles and bombs directly at identified Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda affiliate leaders to kill them with pinpoint strikes, giving the U.S. an unmatched capability to strike and limit collateral damage, while reducing risk to U.S. forces.
The Post reporting picked up and expanded upon by Fox News today, is obviously something that would be judged a ‘newsworthy’ item by an editor. There is just one problem. The revelation of even the general location of these bases has placed the lives of American military personnel in extreme danger.
Did the Washington Post or Fox News provide specific geographic coordinates for these bases? No. Did the classified cables posted on the WikiLeaks site? I’m not going to look and find out (I have no interest in making WikiLeaks think they are providing a useful service.) It doesn’t matter if they did or not. Anyone with any reasonable amount of deductive reasoning and an Internet connection can look at the publicly available information on the MQ-9’s performance characteristics, check Google Earth for the overhead imagery of the airfields capable of allowing a REAPER to land in country X, and then send people to stay in nearby towns for a day or two and wait to see a REAPER takes off from, or lands at the airfield nearby to confirm the presence of the drones. And Al-Qaeda has more than proven itself to have people capable of deductive reasoning and Internet access and usage.
What comes next is obvious. Al-Qaeda conducts a little more reconnaissance of the security at the airfield, some planning, obtains some weapons and explosives, and conducts a little more planning. Suddenly there is an attack on the airfield, killing the American military members who act as the REAPER’s ground crew and maintenance team, and damaging or destroying one or more of the drones at the base. Al-Qaeda gains a propaganda windfall within the Arab world and the Jihadist community, while a few more American soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines are shipped home in coffins to grieving family members.
So where is the problem? The problem is the person or persons who leaked the State Department cables to WikiLeaks that kicked off the journalistic process of ‘they reported the news worthy item, why don’t we?’ inside the editorial offices and journalist’s minds.
The U.S. news outlets can’t be faulted for anything other than what I view as being in ‘rush to publish’ mode and what I view as less than ideal judgement. The Constitution of the United States explicitly allows the freedom of the press, but I will argue that in my personal opinion, the editors at the Post and Fox News should have recognized the potential danger and elected not do a story on the leaked cables. However, they are journalists first, and I’m sure they did not see (or likely consider) the potential repercussions beyond the immediate gratification of trumpeting this previously unknown facet of U.S. drone operations before more of their colleagues did, and the perceived ‘luster’ of the story faded.
What can be done is that the people who leaked the cables need to be identified by the appropriate law enforcement agencies, investigated, and prosecuted within the fullest extent of all applicable laws. They have compromised the security of the United States and its allies in a time of war, imperiled U.S. confidential diplomatic discourse with other nations, and potentially endangered the lives of U.S. and Allied military personnel. If any U.S. or Allied service member or person is harmed or killed by the leak of this information, the individuals who leaked the cables should also be charged as accomplices to assault or murder.