CIA vs the Senate Torture Report–Round 1 1/2

May 15, 2014–You read it here first (again). In earlier coverage of how the CIA would handle the investigative report on its torture and rendition programs that was done by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), we predicted the agency would drag its heels on its declassification review. Actually it’s wasn’t at all hard to predict. Secrecy is a passion for the CIA. But at least give them points for how cleverly they play the system. Listen to this one–

Watching this whole travesty unfold, the American Civil Liberties Union quite logically filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for release of the Senate intelligence committee report and Langley’s original response to it. They filed with the Justice Department, probably to try and avoid some of the CIA’s delaying tactics. That was in November of last year. Recognizing that the department would simply sit on a simple FOIA request, the ACLU went straight to court and made it a lawsuit. The suit aims at CIA. Not long afterwards it became known that CIA and the intelligence committee were fighting each other over who had betrayed whom–that’s the CIA spying on the SSCI versus senators’ purloined document argument. The ACLU promptly decided to incorporate that document, the “Panetta Report,” in its FOIA lawsuit, and did so on January 27 of this year.

In the meantime the court was compelling the Justice to get through the preliminary steps of this action. The CIA claimed jurisdiction, or not, and Justice said it lacked jurisdiction–this was a “congressional document.” A few days before the ACLU action, government lawyers agreed to a schedule for deciding whether these reports are the kinds of “records” the CIA can declassify. (The agency, too, wants this to be a “congressional” document, so it can toss the matter back to the SSCI, which is reluctant to declassify unilaterally, and originally asked CIA to review. If this sounds like a pinball in motion–it is.) Under the schedule, that was supposed to happen at the end of this month, pushed back a week upon inclusion of the Panetta Report.

As it happens, on April 3 the Senate committee, disgusted with the CIA’s delays, itself voted to release its report, but took the low road of sending it to Barack Obama for review–and the president kicked it back to Langley.

Lo and behold, on behalf of the CIA, the Justice Department today filed a motion to delay action on the FOIA request because the current version of the SSCI summary report has been amended based upon the objections the CIA made to the Senate committee and their joint conversations of how to handle the disputed issues in the report. Because the underlying document sought in the FOIA has been revised, the declassification process should be halted.

Got that? Congress asked the spy mavens to review its report. Langley dragged its feet and eventually came up with a refutation. Congress and CIA debated how to handle Langley’s objections. Responsibly, the senators considered what the CIA had to say, made some changes, inserted more text in other places to bolster its case. Now the CIA relies on the SSCI’s response to justify its attempt to avoid declassifying the report. Just for good measure, the CIA and White House have been swift to assert a necessity for third parties–other agencies, to include the Director of National Intelligence (Fearful Clapper, who never saw a program not worth lying about, or a fact not a dangerous national security leak) and, presumably, the State Department–to also certify the document. I can tell you, “equity,” the notion of third-party interest in documents, is among the problems most damaging to U.S. declassification efforts today. Langley is lining up its pins for an attempt at long-term stalling. Clever, huh?

 

The Secrecy Bug

May 13, 2014–Today is a day for Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald’s book on the Snowden affair is great and should compel our attention. Snowden himself and Laura Poitras had their day a couple of weeks ago when they were given the Ron Ridenhour Award for truthtelling. I don’t want to do anything to take away from them. But the deeper realization hits you when you ask, what kind of system is it when the public has to depend upon outraged/disaffected/guilt-ridden employees of the state to find out the truth behind the innocuous rhetoric.

Equally to the point, you can be certain the spy agencies are bending every effort to put even more secrecy measures in place, so (supposedly) preventing “another” Snowden, or Manning, or Thomas Drake, or what have you. Agency employees will have to jump through more hoops than ever in order to reach the public. That was the point of a couple of recent posts here, ones that dealt with Fearful Leader Clapper’s secrecy directives–lightning bolts from Olympus designed to put every minion on notice against saying anything to anyone. In The Family Jewels I devoted a full chapter (“Plugging the Dike,” ch. 8) to showing how the CIA had built what I called a “fortress of secrecy” to muzzle its own people, snaring them in an endless miasma of “reviews” in order to clear the words they would like to say.

The CIA jumps up to insist that, no, all its interventions are strictly for the purpose of protecting classified information, real secrets of national security importance. (How that squares with forcing an author to delete “urinal” where it appeared in his book–one of the examples in that chapter–mystifies me.) Greenwald and Snowden have produced more examples, of course, but here I want to draw attention to my colleague Malcolm Byrne at the National Security Archive. At the Archive Malcolm has gotten declassified the paperwork surrounding one specific CIA memoir and assembled the documents to show the fortress of secrecy in practice.

Iran is the subject, specifically the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the legal government of Iran in 1953 and led to so much heartache for so many decades of the Iranian revolution. CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt was a principal organizer of the 1953 operation, and his book Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran is the focus here.

Malcolm Byrne shows the agency’s Publications Review Board (PRB) worked Roosevelt relentlessly, while attempting to enforce absurd boundaries for secrecy. A CIA deputy director said he’d not permit anything to be published which showed that the CIA worked abroad. Even the Review Board–and the agency’s top lawyers–figured they couldn’t get away with that much. They tried to sidetrack the project by raising questions regarding whether the Shah of Iran approved. “Kim” Roosevelt–who had that area of the world hot-wired–not only had the Shah’s approval but the book had been suggested to him by one of the potentate’s associates. Roosevelt had also talked it over with George Herbert Walker Bush, at that time the director of the CIA, so he thought he had the bases covered. Instead the PRB came down on him hard. Roosevelt made major changes. The CIA’s general counsel felt the deputy director’s ukase unenforceable, whereupon the PRB came back with 156 specific objections, and claimed the number could be higher. Roosevelt made more changes, maybe not so many as CIA wanted but enough for one official to brag to another that they’d succeeded in converting Kim Roosevelt’s coup memoir into a work of fiction.

The end result had the CIA requiring the author to assert that the coup was suggested by British Petroleum (then known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) rather than the British Secret Service. Langley no doubt thought that was a security interest worth protecting. When BP found out they threatened to sue. The publisher pulled the entire print run of the book to pulp it and reprinted with references to–wait for it–British intelligence. The CIA, happily prosecuting Phil Agee and Frank Snepp, did nothing.

Bottom line? Secrecy is a disease. Not infectious, it’s spread by a bug. Those smitten succumb to the delusion that any kind of action can be hidden so long as the secrecy is preserved. Is that not exactly what happened to NSA with Prism? Officials who have the disease stop paying attention to what is the “right” thing, and focus on the attainable or the desirable, no matter the cost. Damage to national security results from the decisions they make and the projects they pursue–like the Iranian coup, like the NSA dragnet. The damage is not from the compromise of secrecy. The drone of that bug’s wings is really a swan song for the secrecy mavens.

America’s Terrified Spooks (2)

May 9, 2014–So here we are again, back at the Family Jewels crisis. In the last episode (“American Spooks Terrified,” April 25, 2014) we had our Fearful Leader, General James Clapper, issuing orders that require intelligence community personnel to get top bosses’ approval before any contact with the media, and to report contacts, even inadvertent ones, up the chain of command. I remarked on this as confirming the concerns Clapper and other intelligence directors expressed at threat assessment hearings earlier this year that their own employees rank as a national security threat. Today we have additional evidence, if any were needed, of Fearful Leader’s secrecy hysteria. If I were an intelligence agency employee I would be very worried.

The latest blow to civility, rationality, even First Amendment rights, comes in the form of Office of Director of National Intelligence Instruction 80.04, issued on April 8. The order requires ODNI personnel to obtain prior approval for “all official and non-official information intended for public release.” The Clapper directive describes this as “pre-publication review.” His directive complements the March order, which covered all intelligence officers. The goal is to prevent unauthorized disclosures. Note, however, that it does not apply to secret documents but to the very vague category information. That means, in effect, every item of information, secret or not, and every means of transmission of information–indeed the order itself lists “forums, panels, round tables, and question and answer sessions.”

Chilling? You bet. As with the March directive on media contacts the effect will be to obtain–as the security types no doubt think of it–“information dominance.” Ensure that everything out there is on-message from ODNI’s standpoint. Enforceable? Probably not. The attempt to regulate every single contact, and every means of exchange, between the public and an agency officer is bound to lead to a host of problems, bureaucratic, legal, and practical.

The CIA at least has a mechanism for this, something called the Publications Review Board. To enforce the Clapper rules the ODNI will need a similar entity. More to the point, this is not a value-neutral procedure. The people who run this thing will have irresistible temptations to demand and enforce a certain ideological conformity. In The Family Jewels there is a chapter which shows at considerable length how the CIA’s board is compromised in exactly this way.

It is an index of both the intelligence community’s hysteria and the intellectual bankruptcy of this “review” process that the CIA, which published an interview with the chairman of its Publications Review Board last month–no doubt with the criticisms of Family Jewels in mind–chose not even to endow this person with a name. –The Intelligence Identities Protection Act gives the CIA the authority to shield the identity of a covert officer on active assignment or recently returned. It has no such authority to withhold the identity of an administrative officer at headquarters, acting in an official capacity, in fact as part of a spin doctor operation. You can see how broken this mechanism has become.

The CIA directive governing pre-publication review at least has the merit of some specificity regarding what is covered. Clapper’s order for “information” can pertain to anything–ideas can require ODNI review because they can embody information. Plus the review process–ODNI or CIA–can get in the way of legitimate complaint procedures. The CIA directive has language discussing whistleblower documents created to be given to the Inspector General or the congressional oversight committees. The order says these are personal when first created (and safe from review) but at some point become subject to PRB action. Thus terrain on which to fight over the status of whistleblowers’ complaints is written right into the regulations. Edward Snowden’s material would not have survived “publication” review.

In the be-careful-what-you-wish-for category, General Clapper’s directive potentially punishes/criminalizes the time-honored Washington practice of obtaining policy action by leaking. The order requires ODNI officers to cite public information which proves that what they want to say is not secret–and it prohibits them from citing leaks as such sources. Think about that for a minute. In the intelligence manipulation that preceded the Bush invasion of Iraq, there was a moment in the scare-mongering when administration officials leaked some aluminum tubes information and then the vice-president, the deputy secretary of defense, and the national security adviser all used identical language about “mushroom clouds” to refer to the leaked data. General Clapper’s directive, not so conveniently for government, would make that kind of maneuver impossible.

Every review of government secrecy in living memory concludes that we classify too much information. By making everything secret, nothing becomes secret. The ODNI directive creates precisely that kind of situation. We should be moving in the direction of reducing secrecy, not increasing the problem. General Clapper wants to create a secrecy overload.

The legal and constitutional problems with this kind of secrecy have been discussed in this space before. I’ll not revisit them, except to quote the anonymous CIA chairman’s statement: “We are aware that people have first amendment rights.” That’s a good thing. Unfortunately the reality of what the spooks are doing indicates they either don’t know or don’t care.

 

NSA Dragnet Nightmare: Consider the Turkish Scenario

May 6, 2014–Not a lot of time today but I did want to put something out to chew on. The truth is that we need to proceed very carefully about how we reform the National Security Agency. An ill-considered effort can easily result in an eavesdropping regime even more sinister than the one that already exists. As always the devil is in the details.

When President Obama made his reform speech back in January, he issued a directive to the NSA and Justice Department to rein in their activities while attempting to preserve their capabilities. They appear to have succeeded. Last week there were indications the spooks like the reform regime even better, because in leaving the metadata content with the corporations along with the other data the companies already have, a new-system court order will actually afford NSA access to a wider range of the content its analysts want to get.

NSA “reform” is still a work in progress. But this got me to thinking about what is happening in Turkey, where the current political scandal bears a certain functional similarity to what is happening here. Superficially, of course, the shoe is on the other foot. That is, hackers, sharp political observers, and individuals unknown have in effect done the NSA trick and recorded the phone conversations and other insider info from the country’s prime minister, Recep Erdogan, his family, government ministers’ Turkey’s spy chief, and others. With great embarrassment to the Erdogan government, conversations have been replayed on YouTube exposing corruption, malfeasance, and other chicanery. The government’s response of closing certain newspapers and the internet has proven largely unsuccessful. Political opponents are demanding an investigation of the graft.

This kind of Family Jewels crisis is similar to the Snowden leaks in the United States. Like the Obama administration the Erdogan government promises new law to deal with the abuses. But in Turkey much of the new law actually frees the hand of the security services–the law aims to broaden the authority for government wiretaps (in the name of uncovering the source of the leaks) while also making government agents immune from criminal prosecution. Thus does an uncomfortable political scandal lead to the opposite of reform. Let us take care that America avoids the path taken in Turkey.

NSA vs Silicon Valley: Can’t Win? Change the Subject!

May 3, 2014–So, what the whistleblower said was all true. In fact, the whistleblower hardly said anything. He let the documents do the talking. The National Security Agency is intercepting anyone they want and collecting the metadata on everyone. The additional documents, legal rulings, that had to be released to “prove” that this dragnet eavesdropping had any juridical basis at all only showed that the denizens of Fort Meade had indeed sought to create a framework for doing precisely what the Snowden documents said.

The diplomatic costs have come home to roost. German-American talks on a spy treaty have collapsed. Our side blames the Germans and makes it out to be somehow off-color that another nation should demand that what American spies do on German soil cannot be illegal under German law. The Word is we don’t make deals like that even with our closest allies. The more insinuating text is that what spies do is basically illegal anyway. Why care?

Ukraine is one reason. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington this week, her talks with President Barack Obama shadowed at every turn by the NSA eavesdropping scandal. Barack needs Merkel now–he needs her to stand with him on Russian encroachments on the Ukraine, an issue on which Germany can be a major player. But Merkel is still licking political wounds inflicted upon her by the NSA scandal. Obama was conspicuously smiling at their joint appearances but underneath the president must be acutely aware of how Fort Meade’s antics have hurt his larger projects.

The NSA started off by insisting it was not collecting data on anyone nor was it eavesdropping. Then it claimed it was “only” dealing in metadata. Then it was only aiming at legitimate intelligence targets, and not Americans. After revelation that our friend Merkel’s phones were bugged, the line went that everybody spies on their allies. As the evidence of massive NSA interception mounted the spooks squirmed on the hook of public disaster. All that interception (phone calls, emails, cloud memory holdings, game moves, web search data) might just send them into oblivion.

President Obama didn’t want that any more than Fort Meade. Back in January he moved on some reforms–not enough, but a start. The problem remains that the spooks still need a way to reframe the issue so they are not at the center of the cross-hairs. It appears that both Mr. Obama and the NSA  are on the verge of creating that narrative.

It was around the New Year when you began to hear–first in Op-Eds by spy-world figures like the former CIA officer John McLaughlin–that the NSA is only doing the same sort of data-mining and cookie reading the corporations engage in. Their point that the privacy issue is bigger than NSA spying is actually well taken. I’ll buy that too. So did Obama. He ordered up a study of web privacy issues and got the first results right around when Chancellor Merkel came to town.

But the White House and Fort Meade should be careful what they wish for. Yes, there should be much more stringent privacy controls on what Silicon Valley can read out on ordinary people. As a matter of fact, Angela Merkel’s country is one where some of those more stringent controls already exist, and those privacy standards are one reason the NSA spying has been so damaging over there. Your phone should not be an NSA target for the same reasons as Merkel’s.

What the spooks would like to come out of this is for citizens to say–for reasons of convenience–that Silicon Valley data-mining is OK and that, if it is, the NSA spying is fine too. But there are both qualitative and quantitative differences in these observations. Silicon Valley cannot target a drone on you or throw you in jail. It collects your data in hopes of winning your (and your friends’) dollars. The NSA eavesdropping is purposeful. It traces your connections in hopes of linking you and your friends, and if at some “hop” there happens to be a bad guy in the chain, woe to you all. What the NSA really doesn’t want is for privacy advocates to say that Silicon Valley and NSA spying are both wrong. Of course, that’s what is actually true. Everyone needs “Merkel rules.”

Michael Hayden’s Faustian Bargain

April 29, 2014–This journey into Alice’s wonderland on the CIA torture program and the now-notorious Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) investigation of it continues. I’ve avoided comment for several weeks. I suppose I thought the issue might go away, what with the SSCI voting to release the report, thus putting its declassification into the hands of the Obama White House. But little seems to have happened there, and the president appears to have taken the course predicted here previously–giving the CIA the job of going up or down on the declassification. This incredible conflict of interest goes forward despite SSCI chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein’s request to President Obama not to permit that big bit of chicanery.

What has happened is that principal culprits in the CIA’s misdeeds are stepping forward to pre-empt the SSCI report. In the vacuum left by the absence of the investigative findings they assert–like former CIA clandestine service chief Jose Rodriguez– that no matter what the report says they know torture worked. The psychologist James Mitchell, whose schemes for manipulating individuals lie behind the whole CIA program, has had the audacity–drawing on the image of the principal character of the TV show 24–  to attack critics of torture as “people who have this Jack Bauer mentality.” Of course, it was the perpetrators of the torture, not its critics, who acted in character with agent Bauer. It is of a piece with this whole controversy that “intelligence” is fast disappearing into the maws of poseurs who apparently believe they can convince us that black is white if they say so enough times.

All of which brings us to former CIA director (and NSA director, and ODNI deputy director as well) Michael V. Hayden. A chief, no mere indian, Hayden once had charge of these people. In a sally several weeks ago the former spy chieftain inserted himself yet again into the debate. He suggested that the SSCI took the dim view it does of CIA’s torture because its chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein was too emotional. There’s audacity for you! If you’re manly you’re for torture.

I’ve written here before about how Mr. Hayden should recuse himself from this debate–on both the NSA dragnet eavesdropping and the CIA torture the general was a player, his hands not clean and his “legacy,” if we can call it that, threatened by the outcome. But the general shows no inclination to desist. So let’s unpack Michael Hayden’s role in CIA torture and its cover-up.

Michael V. Hayden ascended to the top floor at Langley in May 2006. He moved over from the house of the Director of National Intelligence, for whom he’d been deputy. At the time the black prisons had already been revealed, Jose Rodriguez had already destroyed tapes (and obstructed justice), and the CIA had told a federal court in the Moussaoui terrorism trial that no tapes of interrogations existed (the obstruction). President George W. Bush had signed the Detainee Treatment Act. General Hayden could easily have taken the high road. His incentive to do so grew within the month, when the Supreme Court decided the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case in a way that recognized and widened detainee rights. That triggered a new round of CIA-Justice Department exchanges over its “enhanced interrogation” methods.

Director Hayden took a different path. Until that summer Hayden held the lid on the torture, confining CIA information to Congress to the top leadership. At the agency Hayden pressed for a revitalization that would greatly increase “operational tempo.” Even CIA historians were pressed into service as glorified reports officers, chronicling operational activity, no longer writing agency histories. In September 2006 Mr. Bush closed the CIA prisons and sent the last fourteen detainees to Guantanamo in the care of the U.S. military. But Director Hayden tried to preserve black prisons as a contingency option. CIA issued new guidelines for detention a month later, and in November Hayden participated personally in a round of comprehensive briefings on CIA rendition for the SSCI and Senate Judiciary Committee. Then–and again in February and March 2007–Hayden’s line with the SSCI and its House counterpart was that torture had not been used in years, but that it should be available as a method to exploit. That was the position Mr. Hayden continued to press through the remainder of his tenure. When Barack Obama came to office–and issued an executive order on his very first day that outlawed torture and detention–Hayden’s lawyers made an eleventh-hour intervention to insert language into the order that would preserve a CIA rendition capability.

President Obama got his own CIA directors, starting with Leon Panetta. That put General Hayden on the outside defending the agency’s record. He opposed Obama when the president overrode protests to declassify the original John Yoo legal “opinions” contrived to justify torture. In the fall of 2009 Hayden helped organize and sign a letter from seven former CIA chiefs begging the president to drop all criminal investigations of U.S. intelligence personnel for torture and related offenses. The general commented favorably when Attorney General Eric Holder moved in that direction, and he could be depended upon for negative soundbites when the SSCI investigation got underway, as it progressed, and in the controversy surrounding its release.

The trajectory of Michael Hayden’s participation in these events is quite clear. It’s not likely that the general will, in fact, stand down. But everyone ought to be aware of exactly where Michael V. Hayden is coming from and what he stands for. This is not a matter of a historical debate over CIA achievements, it is about preserving a role for a certain operational capability. The tragedy in all this is that America is better than what General Hayden stood for–and even had laws on the books to prohibit it.

American Spooks Terrified

April 25, 2014–The spy chieftains who run U.S. intelligence are terrified. Not of the North Koreans, or Syrians, or Chinese. Not at the old “Axis of Evil.” Not even with Vladimir Putin’s suddenly muscular diplomacy in the Ukraine. No, the spy mavens are terrified of their own spooks–and of what they might say. I commented here earlier (“U.S. Intelligence Turned Inside Out,” February 5, 2014) at how scary it is that General James Clapper and other American spy chiefs seemingly regard whistleblowers, more than foreign enemies, as principal threats to United States national security. Their concern has now assumed concrete form, far beyond simply asserting before Congress that there may be a problem with leaks.

On March 20 Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, promulgated an order to affect everyone who works for any of our spy agencies. Called Intelligence Community Directive 119, the order says its purpose is “to ensure a consistent approach for addressing media engagement . . . and to mitigate the risks of unauthorized disclosures of intelligence related matters.” To achieve these goals Directive 119 orders that no one who works for U.S. intelligence is to have any contact with the media other than designated officials.

Before we go any farther I want to make a point that deserves to be repeated from every rooftop: General Clapper and his minions are substituting their own interests, narrow and parochial, for the national interest. They are either confused about what endangers national security, or they seek to use the public’s deference to that concept to avoid the very conversation America needs to be having right now.

To wit, Directive 119 designates agency directors, their deputies, their PR spin doctors, and those individuals asked by a director to do so as the only persons who can be in contact with the media. In other words, all information is to be authorized information–all vanilla, nothing controversial. Even better, not only will intelligence officers have to obtain advance permission to be in touch with media, they are also required to report casual contacts. And approval of a contact by the higher-ups, under Directive 119 does not imply the inclusion of any follow-up conversation.

This is a formula that affords spy chieftains complete ability to manipulate: they approve the medium, they approve the message, and if later on they decide a mistake was made they can retroactively construe a contact as unauthorized. Those ruled guilty of infractions under the directive can be fired or have their security clearances revoked, which pretty much amounts to the same thing, and then be referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Moreover Directive 119 defines “media” so widely that the spooks can construe almost anyone as the enemy– “media is any person, organization or entity” that engages in informing the public “in any form,” and–I love this one–is “otherwise engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security.” If you and I discuss on our I-phones U.S. trade policy in certain areas (which are now considered matters of national security) we are “media.”

This is as chilling as imaginable. Intelligence officers abandon their First Amendment rights as a condition of employment–illegal on the face of it. And the aim at whistleblowers is plainly revealed in Paragraph 8 of the directive, which goes out of its way to specify that employees have avenues (other than going to the media) to report unlawful, abusive, fraudulent, or wasteful activities. To add to the message DNI Clapper devotes an entire order, Directive 120 (which has not been made public), to layering on details of those avenues. Of course, the current situation is that action through channels is often sterile because agency officials have vested interests in their programs. A number of CIA and NSA whistleblowers have been prosecuted for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse; the very reason Edward Snowden chose to go to the media. I predict that Directive 119 will have a disastrous effect on intelligence agency morale.

Director Clapper has a tin ear. When Congress asked about NSA dragnet eavesdropping he lied about it. (Congress, by the way, is an “entity” that engages in the collection and dissemination of information on national security.) Later he reflected that if he’d just come clean there wouldn’t have been a problem. President Obama had to order Clapper to declassify and make public legal documents in support of the NSA’s version of the reality. Now, with public confidence in U.S. intelligence at a nadir–because of agencies’ actions, not the media’s reporting of them–Clapper goes after his own employees. The spooks cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that national security–the very existence of their agencies–is threatened by their actions and not by the media’s reporting. They prefer to think that shooting the messenger eliminates the problem. What they should be doing is building public confidence with openness and transparency. Instead we get Directive 119. I have the paperback edition of The Family Jewels  coming out shortly. In it I propose a solution for this mess. Take a look at it.

The Putin Doctrine

April 24, 2014–The news today is that Russian troops on the eastern border of the Ukraine are going to conduct military exercises, while Moscow warns the Ukraine not to rock the boat by using force against pro-Russia activists in the eastern Ukraine. This follows reports earlier this week that specific Russian special operations troopers had been identified in mufti among the Ukrainian “protesters.” (Today the New York Times, which reported this story, went back on the original claim after doubts emerged regarding the photographic evidence. The claim nevertheless has a certain plausibility.) Vladimir Putin’s earlier statements affirming his dedication to “New Russia,” in effect all the lands that formed parts of the historical Soviet Union, smack of irredentism– as was discussed here not very long ago (see “What Do You Say to a Country Called Ruthenia?” from March 24th).

Speaking of the old Soviet Union, it was an article of faith in Soviet military doctrine that “maneuvers” furnished great opportunities for disguising the unleashing of force. These various elements lead to a suspicion that Mr. Putin may indeed be laying the groundwork for a military operation.

It’s been a long time–decades now–since leaders of the former Soviet Union renounced the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” and much longer than that since Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev articulated that excuse for military intervention. Remember the “Prague Spring” of 1968? For me the tears still come when I reflect– on how it seemed a people were insisting on forging their own path into the future, and how the Soviet leadership insisted on their right to prevent any Eastern European nation from leaving Moscow’s camp.

President Putin is making a similar claim today, first to Crimea, now it seems, to the eastern Ukraine. It is the latest evolution of a policy that has included armed action in Chechnya and Georgia. Putin would apparently like to reunite the parts of the historic nation under the Russian flag. Thus the “Putin Doctrine.”

Mr. Putin should be careful what he wishes for. In Soviet times the need to enforce the Brezhnev doctrine helped drive unrealistic levels of military spending, and led to aid and trade commitments to Eastern Europe, both of which helped bankrupt the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The situation for Russia is not all that different today. The Russian economy, while stronger by far than Ukraine, remains weak on the international stage, and economic sanctions can wreak real damage to it. Equally to the point the imposition of Russian political, legal, and economic systems on what has become a foreign entity (whether Crimea alone or Ukraine as a whole) is going to involve real costs. Whether the Old Russia can bear those costs remains an open question. So far, reports out of Crimea indicate Putin’s minions are having difficulties creating the administrative mechanisms necessary simply to run the place.

As is so often the case in international relations, the resort to force or to coercive diplomacy is so much easier to initiate than is the follow-through required to make actions stick. With the Putin Doctrine I fear the future will bring continued chaos in the areas Russia has annexed; charges the problems are due to meddling from Kiev and, perhaps, Washington; and force used against Ukraine itself. Putin’s problem is that the further he expands his writ the more deeply he will become entrapped in a bed of quicksand. This would be a good time to reconsider. But it is likely already too late.

[This post was revised on April 25 after I saw reports disputing the accuracy of claimed photographic evidence of Russian special operations troops in the Ukraine.]

Farewell to Jonathan Schell

April 17, 2014–Back in the bad old days of Vietnam, when General William C. Westmoreland was running the war, he was intensely focused on what people were saying and writing about the conflict. If you looked at Westy’s personal papers–this was a general who every day was flitting all over South Vietnam and rarely got up and went to bed in the same place–you’d see so many press clippings that the only logical conclusion would be that the general had a platoon of privates clipping the newspapers and magazines for him at headquarters.

Some war correspondents irked Westmoreland tremendously. Jonathan Schell became one such burr under Westy’s saddle. Schell’s work, first in The New Yorker and then in books, proved quite influential. The reporter travelled Vietnam as did Westy, but he spent more time in the places he visited and stopped to smell the napalm. Quite literally. One of Schell’s pieces, expanded into the 1968 book The Military Half, discussed how the armed services, bloated with bureaucracy, wedded to formulas, and with narrow concepts of their methods, were mindlessly blowing up the land. A passage that sticks in mind is where Schell described riding in the back seat of a spotter plane while the pilot glibly called in air strikes on targets that, going at a few hundreds of miles an hour, he could hardly see. If memory serves right, General Westmoreland demanded to know who had let the journalist onto a forward observer plane, and set a posse of spin doctors to work countering Schell’s observations.

Schell’s first book–also an article originally–gave the lie to “population resettlement” as a pacification technique that aimed to win the hearts and minds of South Vietnamese. On an operation north of Saigon Schell described in graphic detail how a U.S. infantry battalion–one commanded by then-Lieutenant Colonel Alexander M. Haig, Jr.–had gone into the village, plowed everything up, destroyed the place, and carried off the villagers so quickly they hardly had time to pack belongings and gather their livestock. The Village of Ben Suc (1967) was powerful, strong enough that there were attempts to counter it too. The main objection was that Ben Suc lay in a National Liberation Front stronghold area, with the implication the villagers were all enemy anyway. The Colonel Tinyminds of Westy’s PR machine apparently did not stop to think through the issue. If pacification meant anything, it was that the counterinsurgency mavens ought to be making extra efforts to win the loyalties of peasants in the enemy zone, and the way to do that was hardly by destroying their homes. Schell had fingered a key weakness, since military methods hardly differed between this village in enemy territory and others in contested zones.

By the 1980s Jonathan Schell had moved on to grapple with the horror of impending nuclear war, and his book The Fate of the Earth (1982), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, became a mainstay of the nuclear freeze movement. It served as a searing indictment of the insanity of the nuclear arms race. Schell’s contribution was probably responsible singlehandedly–with its treatment of the dangers of automaticity in nuclear attack plans and its invocation of the dangers of nuclear winter–for thousands of people changing their minds on this critical issue.

When George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, Jonathan Schell stood among those who opposed a war that turned out to be every bit as stupid as they feared. The blood and treasure squandered in Iraq are monumental, and opponents of that intervention deserve honor.

We lose good people every day. Jonathan Schell was a great one. We’re sorry to see him go.

NSA: Clapper’s Solution to Lying

April 2, 2014–General James Clapper has had enough. He can’t take any more. The Director of National Intelligence, tired of being caught lying when confronted with questions from his congressional overseers, has finally contrived a solution: don’t answer.  Then, months later, reply quietly in a letter and hope that no one pays attention.

So it is with the latest evidence of intrusions by the National Security Agency’s eavesdroppers. Predictably, it was a question from Oregon democrat Ron Wyden at a January 29, 2014 hearing of the Senate intelligence committee that brought on this maneuver. Asked if the NSA had, in fact, conducted warrantless searches of Americans’ phone calls, Director Clapper replied, “There are very complex legal issues here,” and then clammed up.

Two months later, with the public’s attention diverted to the crisis in the Crimea and the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian talks, Clapper sent Senator Wyden a letter which affirmed the truth, albeit in spookspeak. His March 28 letter stated, “there have been queries, using U.S. person identifiers, of communications lawfully acquired to obtain foreign intelligence . . . . As you know, when Congress reauthorized [the relevant section of the FISA Amendments Act], the proposal to restrict such queries was specifically raised and ultimately not adopted.”

General Clapper could not do other than affirm the truth behind Senator’s Wyden’s question. Documents revealed by Edward Snowden last summer already show this to be the case. The DNI himself, under orders from President Obama, divulged FISA Court rulings that further confirmed this. So did an August 2013 compliance assessment from the NSA and Justice Department which found instances of these intrusions. Where are the “complex legal issues” that prevented Clapper from answering the question at an open hearing? My guess is that they were reporters and cameras.

Let’s deconstruct the substantive defense in the director’s March 28 letter. General Clapper relies on three elements: that the phonecall contents were legally obtained, that the actions occurred under FISA court judgments ruling them consistent with the law and the Fourth Amendment, and that Congress had considered and rejected a change in the law underlying the eavesdropping while renewing it.

Phonecall contents were obtained legally only in the sense that some FISA document referred to the activity in some fashion. As we should know by now, the intent of the 1978 law was to ensure that all wiretaps were covered by specific court orders. That’s different from this eavesdropping. Clapper’s top lawyer Robert S. Litt told the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on March 19 (reported here in “Spy Scandals Update,” March 20, 2014) that it would be an inconvenience for the FISA court to have to rule on every request for a wiretap. Litt actually implied there are a substantial number of these kinds of intrusions when he said the number was much greater than 288–the figure for queries against “metadata” found in blue ribbon panel reviews of the NSA traffic analysis intrusions. Interesting that.

Clapper’s second point is demonstrably false. There was no FISA court opinion which considered the application of the Fourth Amendment to this spying until very recently. When an August 2013 review found transgressions that opinion was not on the books. The validity of that opinion can still be disputed but the point is that it did not exist at the time of the violations. As for the argument that Congress rejected changing the law, the question there is whether the NSA and DNI were truthful at the time in what they told the legislators about the real threat, their alternative means, and the bottom line requirements. Judging from the intelligence community’s track record, the likelihood they were honest with Congress is very low.

These are exceedingly thin reeds. Thus are Family Jewels shielded, by desperate defenses. As Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall put it in a joint press release yesterday, “This . . . poses a real threat to the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. If a government agency thinks that a particular American is engaged in terrorism or espionage, the Fourth Amendment requires that the government secure an authorization before monitoring his or her communications. This fact should be beyond dispute.” General Clapper’s credibility as a spokesman for U.S. intelligence remains near zero. He should go. President Obama needs to make that part of his NSA reforms.