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FRINFORMSUM 7/25/13: State’s Cybersecurity Office Not Up to Snuff, CIA Drone Strikes More Deadly than Previously Thought, and More

July 25, 2013
Both NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and the White House are lobbying Congress over a new amendment that would not re-fund NSA's massive surveillance programs

Both NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and the White House lobbied Congress to kill an amendment that would not re-fund NSA’s massive surveillance programs

The House of Representatives narrowly voted down a critical bipartisan amendment that would have prevented extending further funding for the National Security Agency (NSA) metadata collection efforts yesterday. The vote to curb the NSA’s surveillance programs took place under the watchful eye of the Obama Administration and NSA director, General Kieth Alexander. For its part, the White House lobbied Congress hard to avoid any “knee-jerk” reactions to outrage over the NSA programs, with President Obama stating he “welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens,” but that the administration opposed “the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools. This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.”  Of course, many say that NSA’s approach to collecting metadata is not the result of an informed, open, or deliberative process either.

The man whose leaks prompted the current debate, Edward Snowden, is still waiting to hear if he is free to leave the Moscow airport and enter Russia while his request for temporary asylum is considered. Snowden has been camped out at the Sheremetyevo International Airport since June 23, and his request for temporary asylum could take another few months to process. If granted, Snowden would be allowed to stay in Russia –a country that has no extradition treaty with the US— for a year, and would have the legal ability to travel to those countries that have already offered him asylum.

While Snowden may soon receive some breathing room, Bradley Manning, responsible for leaking 250,000 Department of State cables to WikiLeaks, is having less luck. The judge in his court martial made a preliminary ruling last week that the “aiding the enemy” charge still stands. The preliminary ruling establishes that, because of Pfc Manning’s intelligence background, Manning had “actual knowledge” that the leak of classified information to an outside source could be used against the US’ interests, thus constituting the “aiding the enemy” charge. During the hearing the prosecution stated that it wouldn’t have made a difference which news organization had received the classified information, casting a pall over national security journalism, a field that has conducted important work with leaked information since the Pentagon Papers in an attempt to shed light on the area of government where the Executive exerts the most unchecked power.

A recent Department of State Inspector General report warned that if State wants to avoid future leaks, the agency’s cybersecurity office needs to clean up its act –fast. The report targeted the Bureau of Information Resource Management’s Office of Information Assurance, the Department of State component responsible for protecting the agency’s secrets from hackers, arguing that the cybersecurity office “wastes personnel resources,” “has no mission statement,” has no clear priorities, is unable to monitor $79 million in contracts, is woefully technologically behind, and its short-comings force other DOS components to try and pick up the slack. In order to address these glaring problems, the cybersecurity office requested more staff, but the IG report concluded that the quality of work being done by the office didn’t justify assigning it more personnel.

The CIA may have to face some tough questions itself in the aftermath of a leaked report, albeit a Pakistani one. The Pakistani report in question was leaked to the press and indicated that civilian fatalities resulting from CIA drone strikes were significantly higher than previously reported. The 12-page report outlines the aftermath of the nine-year campaign, and shows that out of the 746 people killed in the strikes, “at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.” Maybe a small town in Colorado, now issuing hunting licenses to shoot down drones, isn’t overreacting after all.

With national security and leaks of classified material front-page news yet again this week, Steven Aftergood’s recent summary of his Harvard law review article for Secrecy News is a timely and informative piece. Aftergood describes the changing nature of government secrecy as being “relentlessly in motion,” because the nature of the classification system is inherently a matter of judgment, and subject to “disagreement, error, reconsideration and revision.” While the nature of the classification system is coming under intense scrutiny in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s General Counsel, Robert S. Litt, said that the discussion “can, and should, have taken place without the recent disclosures.” Regardless of the timing of the discussion, “it stands to reason that the quality of the classification process can be improved by submitting those judgments to a form of external review.” It would likely mean fewer leaks as well.

One Comment
  1. July 25, 2013 10:12 am

    A 2010 Washington Post expose indicated the security establishments biggest challenge is getting a grip on the security establishment. It would appear not much has changed in the course of 3 years. With nearly a million top secret clearances and many of those in the hands of contractors, and so many sub-departments churning out product that no one department can make sense of it all, it occurs to me one of the biggest dangers would be unsavory elements accessing information not to whistle-blow but to abuse. It is established fact corporations and the USA trade confidential data already, throw in the Post article noting low level Blackwater staff had been given top secret clearances without any rationale other than convenience and the monster begins to look scary for the fact of the people who are supposed to know what is secret may not know what is secret right under their nose…

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