Book: Deep State

Deep State

Deep State

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Deep State

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Deep State

Inside the Government

Secrecy Industry



D . B . G R A D Y

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Copyright © 2013 by Marc Ambinder and D. B. Grady. All rights reserved

Cover Design: Wendy Mount

Cover Photograph: © Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Presidential seal © Sylvia Schug/


Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey

Published simultaneously in Canada

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“Sometimes, Tom, we have to do a thing in order to fi nd out the

reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.”

— John le Carré, A Perfect Spy

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For Michael and Kelly

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Authors’ Note


Introduction: Asleep under Fire


1. Need to Know


2. The Curious Case of Primoris Era


3. From Inception to Eternity


4. Fairly Modest


5. Vital Information


6. The Horrors Book


7. Conspiracies


8. Inside the Enclave


9. The Tip of the Spear


10. Necessary Secrets


11. The Tools for the Job


12. The Known Unknowns


13. The Structure of Secrecy


14. Partisan Transparency



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15. Open Source Strikes Back


16. Resistance


17. The Flicker of a Piercing Eye


18. Olympic Games


19. The Next Battlespace


Conclusion: Shooting at Ahmadinejad


Acknowledgments 291

Notes 293

Index 311

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A U T H O R S ’ N O T E

This is a book about secrets, and the authors feel an obligation to be

transparent about a few things.

During his time in the military, author D. B. Grady (which is a

pseudonym for David Brown) held a security clearance. No sensitive

information he came across while serving in Afghanistan or in the

United States made it into this book.

In September 2012, author Marc Ambinder began consulting for

Palantir Technologies LLC, an analytics company that does work for

intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense, among other

clients. He was brought in to work on a specifi c project that did not

require access to secrets or to classifi ed information. There was no

cross-pollination; the manuscript had already been completed, and

nothing in this book comes from any material gathered at Palantir.

Finally, both authors wrote extensively about secrecy while writ-

ing this book. We’ve written tens of thousands of words on the sub-

ject, and have collectively written more than 20,000 posts to Twitter.

If one compares our body of work to this book, it is possible that we

have reused phrases or metaphors to describe certain subjects. If that

is the case, it is entirely unintentional. Our brains don’t compart-

mentalize the way that computers can. However, aside from some

material about the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command that also

appeared in The Command: Deep inside the President’s Secret Army,

the book is an original work in its entirety, the reporting is fresh,

and the conclusions, we hope, are original.


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While researching this book we stumbled across many things that

we won’t be able to write about. Though we have no legal obligation

to submit our work to the government before publication, we have

an ethical obligation as citizens to take extreme care when writing

about sensitive subjects. We shared certain chapters with a number

of former senior national security and intelligence offi cials, including

several former directors of intelligence agencies. Our purpose was to

learn if the publication of this book would truly jeopardize national

security. After receiving the feedback, we asked ourselves whether

there was a compelling reason to print the secrets in question anyway,

and worked from there. We hope we’ve struck the proper balance.

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Asleep under Fire

On January 5, 2011, Mike Rogers, chairman of the House

Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, had dinner with

the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, in a

dining room at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. After dinner,

Panetta asked Rogers and his staff director, Michael Allen, to stop by

his offi ce. When they reached the seventh-fl oor offi ce, Panetta shut

the door. “We ’ve got a bead on bin Laden,” he told the two men. The

CIA had tracked down Osama bin Laden ’s most trusted courier, and

it turned out that the terrorist leader was holed up in an unusually

constructed, well-crafted bunker-style house in a wealthy town in

Pakistan just west of the Indian border. “Come back in a few weeks

and we ’ll give you the full brief,” he promised.

Panetta had divulged to the Republican chairman the nation ’s

most precious secret at that time—and did so informally, and with

a promise to provide more information. He did so without formally

consulting the National Security Council. Over the next few months,

he would fi nd a way to make sure that the entire Gang of Eight, a

group of eight leaders in the House and Senate, knew about the oper-

ation, the intelligence behind it, and the range of options the admin-

istration was considering. Rogers and Allen returned to Langley in

February and took in two hours of discussion with the CIA ’s lead on

the project. They pored over models of the compound and a variety


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of other intelligence, much of which remains classifi ed. A few weeks

later, Panetta called Rogers to let him know that the White House

had chosen the most dangerous, most potentially valuable option: a

U.S. Joint Special Operations Command SEAL team would storm the

compound and kill or capture bin Laden. On the Friday before the raid,

Panetta telephoned Rogers on a nonsecure phone line.

“You know that thing I ’ve been talking about?” he asked. “Well,

there ’s going to be something on it soon.” Rogers knew exactly what

the director meant.

Because the raid was successful, it is hard to determine what the

reaction from Congress would have been had things gone south. On

one hand, congressional partisanship had frozen the Senate in place.

On the other, Rogers came to trust Panetta. And Panetta had not hid-

den a thing from him.

Allen would later tell Jeremy Bash, Panetta ’s chief of staff, that

Rogers was prepared to vocally defend the White House if the raid had

gone bad. Even though the intelligence was equivocal, Panetta had the

gumption and the foresight to share it with the Gang of Eight. A few

weeks later, Rogers would get another call from Panetta, this one

informing him about a more politically precarious secret: the United

States had captured an al-Qaeda terrorist and was holding him on a

U.S. ship in the Arabian Sea. Republicans refused to sanction any

federal trial of terrorism suspects in the United States, but Panetta

told Rogers that once the military and the intelligence community

fi nished interrogating the suspect for knowledge about current al-

Qaeda operations, he would be read his Miranda rights and trans-

ferred to the custody of the U.S. Department of Justice. Rogers could

have squealed, or could have found some way to register his objec-

tions. But he did not. His interests and his institution ’s interests had

been satisfi ed. In extending the umbrella, which risked compromis-

ing the administration ’s legal policy on terrorism, Panetta had instead

depolarized the intelligence operation.

As a matter of course, the American government withholds infor-

mation from the public. It ’s been this way since the beginning, and

there ’s little likelihood that it will ever change. Accordingly, the

public seeks to learn that information, both directly (through such

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mechanisms as the Freedom of Information Act) and indirectly (by

purchasing newspapers with sensationalized details). The resulting

tension is healthy and is essential to keeping the government honest

in its classifi cation authority. For example, in the 1940s, the United

States began research into a secret “silent fl ashless weapon.” 1 When

this research began, someone recognized the danger of it falling into

enemy hands, and classifying the material made it a criminal act to

reveal any details. Today we know the truth. But if not for the con-

tinuing struggle between those who create secrets and those who

expose them, we might never have learned about the “silent fl ashless

weapon” of World War II—the bow and arrow. 2

Few dispute that certain secrets are necessary to defend the

Republic, but many secrets, like that one, are not. The line separat-

ing the two has never been clearly defi ned. In fact, there is no real

agreement as to who, exactly, gets to draw that line. However, we can

judge the quality of a democracy by the kinds of secrets it keeps. As

long as there is debate on foreign policy, civil liberties, the national

identity, and the morality of war, so too will there be a correspond-

ing debate about the secrets generated by the national security


This book is about these government secrets—how they are cre-

ated, why they get leaked, and what the government is currently hid-

ing. We will delve into the key elements of the American secrecy

apparatus, based on research and unprecedented access to lawmak-

ers, intelligence agency heads, White House offi cials, and program

managers, as well as thousands of recently declassifi ed documents

and interviews with more than one hundred authorities on the mat-

ter. Many of these interviews are on the record, remarkably candid,

and thoroughly insightful. Whether driven by politics, paranoia, or

cynicism, every citizen has wondered at some point, what terrible

thing is the government hiding from us today?

Secrets are legion—impossible to count, challenging to over-

see, and diffi cult to administer. They exist because the American

people entered into an implicit bargain at the Republic ’s founding.

The executive branch is permitted to protect its power and do things

we don ’t know about, in exchange for keeping us safe and acting in a

way that preserves our shared values while advancing our interests. As

executive power has expanded, so have the mechanisms designed to

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protect it. At no time in American history has there been a proper set

of checks and balances on secrecy powers, because Congress (espe-

cially since the Civil War) has been loath to limit the authority of the

president as commander in chief. Indeed, much of the modern secret

state is a creation of congressional legislation. The National Security

Act of 1947 codifi ed and upgraded the president ’s covert arsenal. It

made “national security” a useful catchphrase for pretty much every-

thing related to safeguarding the country from enemies foreign and

domestic. In the process, it extended the secrecy umbrella to cover

uncomfortable truths unrelated to our protection but politically

untenable or simply embarrassing to make public.

There is no single unifi ed intelligence budget, and Congress

funds and oversees intelligence activities by way of an array of com-

mittees across an alphabet soup of budgets and agencies.* Once the

intelligence budget is authorized, appropriated, and signed into law,

most of the money is hidden from the public by way of a dense forest

of line items in the annual defense budget, and further tucked away

behind a series of programs with vague names.

The American deep state is not easily laid out on any organi-

zational chart. It encompasses agencies you think you know about,

like the CIA and the FBI, but also includes ones you likely do

not, like the Defense Programs Activity Offi ce, the Navy Systems

Management Activity, the OSD

’s Special Capabilities Offi ce or

Special Collection Service. With the increase in terrorist threats,

it ’s gotten harder to divide it into foreign and domestic operations.

We can still divide secrets into four categories, however: what we ’ve

* The planning for the 2013 budget started in early 2011, when the director of

national intelligence (DNI) began asking program managers and agency directors

for guidance and input, to defend their programs and projects to him. In early to

midsummer, the Offi ce of Management and Budget and the DNI issue broad plan-

ning guidance, which specify top-line numbers and include “wish list” programs

from the White House and others. The offi ce of the DNI then presents the adjusted

budget to the rest of the intelligence community. After another round of reviews

involving program managers defending their programs, the DNI issues “Director ’s

Decision Documents”—his own version of the line-item veto—to the proposed

budget. There is a lot of internal gamesmanship here, with contractors and agencies

lobbying to get their favorite projects restored. This entire process is opaque to the

oversight committees.

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learned about enemies of the state, how we learned it, what we plan

to do about it, and what new capabilities we ’ve developed to manage

any of these. Perhaps the most important distinction, the one peo-

ple in Washington care most about these days, is: which secrets can

be used for political gains, and which cannot?

In his touchstone text on this subject, Secrecy , the late Daniel

Patrick Moynihan, U.S. senator from New York and chairman of

the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy,

wrote, “Eighty years from the onset of secrecy as an instrument

of national policy, now is the time for a measure of defi nition and

restraint.” 3 Three years after the publication of Moynihan ’s book,

however, terrorists hijacked four airliners and killed three thousand

Americans. The restraints recommended by Senator Moynihan were

quietly disregarded by the White House, which kept—and continues

to keep—more secrets from Congress and from the public than any-

one else had ever thought necessary, or even possible.

We know this because with all those secrets came an awful lot of


When asked whether the secrecy regime over which he now presides

actually works, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence,

sat back in his chair and stared off for a moment. An Air Force lieu-

tenant general, Clapper has worked in intelligence at various levels

since 1963. In that time, he has had access to practically all of the

nation ’s secrets.

“I suppose,” he answered, “it has to work.”

Clapper calls himself “genetically antithetical” to the media, with

which he works only under protest. He does not like testifying on

Capitol Hill because his answers almost always drive the day ’s news

agenda in a way they should not, and because to him, to speak of

intelligence matters in an open forum is an oxymoron.

But eventually all secrets leak. They develop a motive force of

their own.

The American people have an impoverished understanding of

the state of secrecy and the implicit bargain. Misinformation is lay-

ered on top of myths and misunderstanding, and that ’s before you

even get to the conspiracy theories about Area 51, or whether former

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vice president Dick Cheney ran a secret assassination ring. It takes a

gross misunderstanding of the incentives in play to imagine the gov-

ernment could have had a hand, for example, in the assassination of

John F. Kennedy without it leaking by now. In this book, we ’ll look

more closely at a number of conspiracy theories; in most cases, it ’s

clear that the original cover-up was of bungling and idiocy, the truth

only revealed when it was in some insider ’s interest to let it out. Still,

the impulse to believe that the government is up to no good has its

roots in the real and terrible things have been done in the name of

national security.

Last century, the government covered up assassination plots,

secret coups, illegal acts, arms sales, and any number of activities

that embarrassed the nation when revealed. In the interview with

Clapper, which took place in a large conference room on the top

fl oor of the Offi ce of the Director of National Intelligence complex

near Tysons Corner, Virginia, he allowed that the “record of the

community isn ’t all that good” when it comes to the question of

whether or not the government has shown itself capable of prop-

erly protecting secrets and not abusing its authority. Skepticism

will always be warranted. “Our history is regretfully replete with

abuse. There is some substantial basis for people to be suspicious,”

he said.

At the same time, Clapper and other members of the national

security establishment contend that an unprecedented counterpres-

sure has risen in tandem with the so-called American deep state. A

lot of people see secrets. Clapper listed a few of the oversight mech-

anisms. “Congress. The PIAB [President

’s Intelligence Advisory

Board], the GAO [Government Accountability Offi ce], the IGs

[inspectors general]—it ’s kind of endless.”

Looked at a different way, there are more people with security

clearances than ever before. Consequently, the political and tempera-

mental demography of secret keepers more closely approximates the

American mean. With the hundreds of thousands of new secret keep-

ers come hundreds of thousands of new potential secret leakers. As

Michael Morrell, the deputy director of the CIA, tells us, the gesta-

tion period between the time that a secret is established and the time

that it is disclosed has narrowed signifi cantly during his thirty-plus

years of service.

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Secrets tend to get out more quickly than ever before. The ability

of those in power to wade only in the recondite waters of black bud-

gets and black programs has degraded. As we will argue, this trend

will eventually be the undoing of the deep state.

The volume of intelligence collected by the secrecy apparatus

has grown exponentially, facilitated by the advances of the informa-

tion age and driven by the threat of multinational terrorist networks.

Because of the availability of sophisticated and once prohibitively

expensive technologies, so too has the public ’s ability to mine data-

bases for patterns that suggest examples of government secrecy. For

example, using such tools as Google Maps, a legion of amateur

sleuths and gadfl ies has identifi ed the location of virtually every clas-

sifi ed government facility in the United States. Imagery intelligence

that was once inconceivably precise is now readily available to any-

one with a computer or a mobile device. Today, secrets are easier to

collect but harder to keep.

It ’s important to divide these leaks into good leaks and bad leaks,

based on why the secret bearer let them out. It ’s nearly impossible to

imagine in advance what the results of any particular leak will be,

making motivation the key distinction to draw. Whistleblowing is

generally considered to be a “good leak.” It ’s a way for members of

the intelligence community and the secrecy apparatus to expose ille-

gal or self-evidently immoral activities, usually at some risk to their

own careers or livelihoods. The Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan is a

fi ne example. “Bad leaks” are often done for some kind of gain—it

could be money, but is usually something less tangible. For example,

the brave Pakistani doctor who helped the United States fi nd and kill

bin Laden is now in prison. That ’s a direct result of intelligence leaks.

He did the world a service, and he ’s suffering because a government

functionary wanted to impress a reporter.

During the Obama administration, we ’ve had special focus on

what the White House and related political operatives might be leak-

ing, and why. The executive branch can declassify and reclassify at

will, often selectively and for maximum political advantage. It claims

the right not only to confi rm or deny the existence of a program, but

also to, plainly stated, lie about it. Senior offi cials can sometimes leak

with impunity; White House staffers often act as though they have

declassifi cation powers extending from the president ’s penumbra.

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Meanwhile, when lower-level members of the bureaucracy have

no recourse but to leak wrongdoings to the press, they are punished

when caught, even though their leaks rarely, if ever, bring harm to

national security. Somehow, even as leaking has become epidemic

among the appointed political class, it ’s not clear that it ’s any safer to

be a whistleblower among the rabble.

We will also explore just how much sensitive material gets out

entirely by accident—through the necessary transparency of fl ight

patterns, for example, or through online job postings or pictures of

friends on military bases. We will also examine the ill-conceived,

though increasingly used, government practice of declaring a leak

“unleaked”—in other words, to offi cially reclaim information that ’s

already been declassifi ed. For example, a soldier can have his mem-

oir cleared for publication by Army offi cials, and only after it hits

bookstores will the Defense Department fi nd objectionable phrases

in it that could “reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to

national security.” To solve this problem, the government buys back

the remainder of the book ’s fi rst run, rescrubs the manuscript, and

authorizes a subsequent release. 4 The result: an inevitable compari-

son between the censored and uncensored versions, and a precise

enumeration of those secrets that the Pentagon wanted to keep, now

in the public record.

As an exercise in building trust in those who protect us, these

practices leave much to be desired.

Journalists publish sensitive information every day, and the press is

the primary vehicle through which leaks are conveyed to the public

at large. Responsible reporting requires weighing the public benefi t

against possible harm to national security and providing accurate

context in the form of a fully fl eshed-out story. That is why there was

such national outrage in 2010, when approximately 260,000 cables

and 90,000 intelligence reports leaked. It was the largest such inci-

dent in the history of the world, and the public reacted with extreme

and understandable hostility. It wasn ’t the content, but the principle.

Before anyone could cognitively process the sheer volume of classi-

fi ed information unlawfully revealed, there was a gut response of vio-

lation and outrage. A Washington Post –ABC News poll conducted

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two weeks after the release found 68 percent of Americans agree-

ing that the cable release harmed the public interest, with 59 per-

cent eager to see Julian Assange, who facilitated the leak by way of

the transparency activist site WikiLeaks, in an orange jumpsuit. 5 Those

between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine were slightly more sym-

pathetic to Assange and WikiLeaks—a not unexpected result from

those comfortable with the stones that get thrown in the glass house

of social networking. Surprisingly, however, overall opposition to

the intelligence breach crossed party lines, with Democrats and

Republicans in a rare moment of political alignment.

To manage the crisis, the White House put Deputy National

Security Advisor Denis McDonough on point. He offered daily

briefi ngs to interagency offi cials in government. He contextual-

ized information, prepared leaders to defl ect incoming arrows,

and helped mitigate residual fallout as diplomatic cables were pro-

cessed. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice faced the unenviable

task of determining exactly which laws were broken by Assange and

how best to prosecute. Assange, briefl y a fugitive for personal issues

unrelated to the diplomatic cables release, warned of an encrypted

“doomsday fi le” of the complete, unredacted database. He stated that

should he be imprisoned or assassinated, WikiLeaks would release

the fi le and password, thereby exposing the most sensitive names,

locations, and operations of the American deep state. 6

The source of the cables, Private First Class Bradley Manning,

was an active-duty member of the U.S. Army and fell under the

jurisdiction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Initially,

Manning was charged with violating Articles 92 and 134 of the

UCMJ. The fi rst deals with general dereliction of duty, the sec-

ond with bringing discredit upon the armed forces. Both charges

stemmed from improperly accessing and disseminating classifi ed

material. The list of charges would expand over the course of an

Article 32 investigation—the military equivalent of a grand jury—to

include aiding the enemy. Although it is a capital offense, prosecu-

tors declined to seek the death penalty.

Assange, meanwhile, became a target for politicians and politi-

cal columnists in the literal sense. There were calls for his assassina-

tion. One prominent U.S. political fi gure deemed Assange ’s actions

“treasonous,” though because he is a citizen of Australia, it ’s unclear

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how such a charge might apply. Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman

of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went so far as to state, “Mr. Assange can

say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his

source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their

hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” 7

But according to Wendy Morigi, former spokesperson for the DNI,

“It was much more of an embarrassment than a national security

exposé.” She adds, “Once you actually get into these things, so much

of what is secret is already out there.” With that in mind, tens of thou-

sands of unreleased documents remain in wait.

The case of Bradley Manning is an infl ection point for secrecy in the

information age. Regardless of one ’s opinion of Manning (traitor

or hero, disturbed or determined, ideological or idiotic), he put the

entire apparatus to the test. A folder wasn ’t lifted from a locked fi ling

cabinet in a subcontractor ’s offi ce and passed to foreign intelligence

for synthesis. Rather, Manning downloaded a perfect geologic slice

of what we don ’t know—not merely from one offi ce, but from a mas-

sive cross section of civilian and military agencies—and presented it

to the world. He took the catastrophic loss of strategic information

out of the theoretical and into the real world. He initiated the worst-

case scenario.

We will examine the results and how the government man-

aged the situation. Meanwhile, it ’s interesting to consider the larger

nature of leaking state secrets. Manning now faces life in prison for

his alleged crimes. But catastrophic leaks happen all the time. Days

after the Osama bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the Top

Secret fl ight manifest of the mission ’s Black Hawks leaked to the

press, which uniformly refused to run it. The leaker had nothing to

gain by exposing the names of American commandos who were on

the mission. (Indeed, no one had anything to gain, and the very idea

of such an act is reprehensible.) Yet it was leaked all the same. Why?

For what reason do secret keepers feel compelled to talk? Bradley

Manning ’s lawyers credibly argue that their client suffers from psy-

chological problems. That is not the case for everyone who goes to

the press, even as they too risk arrest and imprisonment. Some leak

to blow the whistle on immoral, unethical, or illegal behavior. Some

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leak for attention. Some leak to impress. The collective inability

of the human species to keep secrets is hardly a modern phenom-

enon. Yet somehow enough secrets were held long enough for the

American deep state to establish a nucleus, and then grow by orders

of magnitude.

Those in power are often compelled to make political decisions

about secrets, and these decisions are often choices between “very

bad” and “even worse.” The most obvious example is revelations of

detainee abuse by members of the U.S. Army in Iraq. To press for-

ward with a full accounting and admission of guilt puts the United

States on the side of transparency and marks the fi rst step in recon-

ciliation with an abused people. On the other hand, full disclosure

infl ames otherwise dispassionate Iraqis and serves to recruit insur-

gents seeking retribution.

Many wonderful books have been written about Delta Force, Seal

Team Six, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and even Area 51—agencies

and organizations that live and die by the secrets they create. We owe

those books and their authors a debt. We will look at the machinery

of secrecy as a whole and how it ’s changed over the past century,

especially in the last decade. It ’s time to assess the formal and infor-

mal mechanisms designed to protect Americans from abuses by the

American deep state—and how they might be reformed.

David Foster Wallace puts the matter most succinctly in his book

Infi nite Jest : “The truth will set you free. But not until it is fi nished

with you.” 8

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C H A P T E R 1

Need to Know

In 1912, the Department of State employed Herbert O. Yardley as

a telegrapher, where he transmitted diplomatic cables to and from

Washington, D.C. Infatuated with the methods of cryptography, he

took it as a personal intellectual challenge to decipher the mate-

rial crossing his desk every day. According to Gabriel Schoenfeld,

author of Necessary Secrets , the defi ning moment of Yardley ’s life

(and a pivotal moment in U.S. code breaking) would come when

he deciphered a telegram sent from Germany to President Woodrow

Wilson—in only two hours. 1 Yardley presented the fi ndings to his

paymasters at State, who were astonished and impressed. With

the onset of World War I, Yardley was placed in charge of Military

Intelligence, Section Number 8—the cryptography arm of the

Department of War. Under Yardley ’s deft hand, MI-8 broke the codes

of eight foreign governments. 2

Interest in cryptography only heightened after World War I.

Yardley, a genuine hero, was named chief of a new State Department

agency responsible for codes and codebreaking. He called his new

unit the American Black Chamber, after a secret program created by

French royalty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for snoop-

ing on the correspondence of their subjects.

The target of the new unit was Japan, a rising empire with ambi-

tions for the conquest of Asia. The cryptography challenge was


c01.indd 12

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beyond anything Yardley had anticipated, but the Black Chamber

found only success. By 1920, through genius and diligence, Yardley

had broken the Ja , the Japanese encryption. General Marlborough

Churchill, head of Military Intelligence, called it “the most remark-

able accomplishment in the history of code and cipher work in the

United States.” 3

The Black Chamber stacked triumph upon triumph, formulating

new methodologies for American encryption and deciphering even

the most complex and impenetrable codes of the Japanese. In every

instance, Yardley ’s work gave the United States an inestimable diplo-

matic advantage over Japan and an unobstructed view of their mili-

tary objectives.

In his lifetime, Colonel Yardley earned two Distinguished Service

Medals and upon his death, a plot at Arlington National Cemetery,

induction into the National Security Agency Hall of Honor, and

membership in the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.

It would be great—for Herbert Yardley and for the United States

as a whole—if that was the end of his story, but it is not.

President Herbert Hoover was no fan of clandestine operations. Henry

Stimson, the incoming secretary of state, defunded and disavowed

all actions of the Black Chamber. “Gentlemen,” said Stimson, “do

not read each other ’s mail.” 4 This was in many ways a sentiment of

the times and an echo of the British admirals who argued against

establishing the Secret Intelligence Service (of James Bond fame),

and who later spent decades fi ghting against its existence during

peacetime. 5

The most closely held secrets by the United States are what we

know about everyone else’s secrets and how we came to know them.

The collection of communications between persons is called signals

intelligence, or SIGINT, whether physically (communications intel-

ligence, or COMINT) or electronically (ELINT).

By World War II, the U.S. Army and the Navy had reestab-

lished fully staffed and highly effective interception capabilities.

Like Hoover, President Harry Truman would later gut the intelli-

gence community, reducing SIGINT by 80 percent. Listening posts

were abandoned, as there was nobody left to listen, and in Truman ’s

c01.indd 13

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opinion, nobody left to listen to. As a result, cryptographers had no

codes to crack.

This was a nontrivial problem. Cryptography is a cumulative sci-

ence and a perishable skill. As a game of cat and mouse, it is impera-

tive that codebreakers actively keep pace with codemakers, and vice

versa. Historically, skilled cryptographers have enduring careers, and

just as telegraphers once developed a knack for identifying their coun-

terparts on the other side of the wire based solely on tapping style and

cadence, so too do cryptographers crawl into the minds of their oppo-

sition. As a branch of academia, these techniques and methods are

passed from one “generation” of cryptanalysts to the next.

At the same time, a counterintelligence strategy is employed

in determining what decrypted information is acted upon, for fear

of revealing what exactly codebreakers know. You never want your

enemy to realize you ’ve broken their codes.

For example, J. Edgar Hoover knowingly risked the acquittal of

communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg rather than reveal the

existence of secretly intercepted and decoded Soviet fi les known as

VENONA. The fi les contained information conclusively proving

Julius Rosenberg ’s guilt and Ethel Rosenberg ’s complicity. At the

time, however, it was more important to keep the Soviets from know-

ing that we had penetrated their cryptography. 6

On October 29, 1948, the worst fears of the U.S. intelligence

community were realized: the Soviet Union disappeared. As America

dismantled its signals intelligence and cryptanalysis capabilities, the

Russians were doubling down, and on that fateful Friday the Soviets

implemented an entirely new communications grid and encryption

methodology. Radio interceptions proved impossible, and what little

remained was indecipherable.

In response, the secretary of defense ordered the creation of a

Top Secret department known as the Armed Forces Security Agency

(AFSA). Undermanned and underfunded, it suffered from early

leadership woes, with the added stress of internal rivalries among its

constituent branches in the U.S. military (almost to the point of a

complete uncoupling) and an impossible mission of cracking a highly

advanced Soviet system.

In this task, AFSA failed almost by design. But it did have some

early success in monitoring plaintext, or unencrypted, low-level radio

c01.indd 14

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communications by the Soviets. It also established a respectable traf-

fi c analysis capability. While transmissions were indecipherable, their

origins and urgency often painted a kind of residual image of Soviet

activity (much in the same way one might monitor a nation ’s fl ight

patterns to discover no-fl y zones). This early form of Kremlinology

wasn ’t much, but it was something, and the American intelligence

and military communities leveraged it to the fullest.

AFSA had better luck during the Korean War, intercepting high-

level North Korean broadcasts. To the astonishment of SIGINT spe-

cialists, North Korea was broadcasting details of its most sensitive

military operations with no encryption. When the North Koreans

fi nally got wise, AFSA made short work of almost every cipher,

achieving what Matthew Aid, author of The Secret Sentry , called “one

of the most important code-breaking accomplishments of the twenti-

eth century.” 7

But there were also failures—three hundred thousand of them, to

be exact, when China inserted thirty divisions into Korea. For com-

parison, that is the equivalent of the entire U.S. Marine Corps, from

cooks to snipers, plus fi fty thousand.

How did China do it? The same way Alexander, Caesar,

Washington, and Napoleon did it—without radios. When there are

no signals broadcast, there are no signals to intercept. Worse yet,

before the Chinese incursion in Korea, AFSA had almost entirely

neglected the Chinese military, and even if they had listening posts

diligently recording and decrypting SIGINT, they lacked linguists to

translate the intercepts. 8

The year 1951 marked the beginning of a long stalemate in the

war, and during this time the Chinese helped upgrade North Korea ’s

encryption and transmission protocols. Chinese ciphers remained

a mystery for AFSA, crippling the American war machine, which

had become accustomed during World War II to an overwhelming

SIGINT advantage. The unbreakable codes of the Soviet Union

remained an alarming gap in U.S. national security. Reforms were

attempted, but internal turf wars among the Army, the Navy, and the

Air Force crippled the organization.

Affi xing his signature to a revision of National Security Council

Di rective No. 9, titled “Communications Intelligence” and dated

December 29, 1952, President Truman formalized and enumerated

c01.indd 15

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the powers of a new National Security Agency (NSA), which would

become one of the most secret organizations in the world: “The

communications intelligence (COMINT) activities of the United

States are a national responsibility, and they must be so organized and

managed as to exploit to the maximum the available resources in all

participating departments and agencies and to satisfy the legitimate

intelligence requirements of all such departments and agencies.” Its

charter sought to address the failures of AFSA. The new agency ’s mis-

sion: “To provide effective, unifi ed organization and control of the

communications intelligence activities of the United States conducted

against foreign governments.”

The directive unambiguously decreed that the mission of the

NSA is special, and that its activities require that

they be treated in all respects as being outside the frame-

work of other or general intelligence activities. Orders, direc-

tives, policies, or recommendations of any authority of the

Executive Branch relating to the collection, production,

security, handling, dissemination, or utilization of intelli-

gence, and/or classifi ed material, shall not be applicable to

COMINT activities, unless specifi cally so stated and issued

by competent departmental or agency authority represented

on the [management] Board. 9

To appease FBI director J. Edgar Hoover—always a pressing con-

cern—the directive concluded with the statement, “Nothing in this

directive shall be construed to encroach upon or interfere with the

unique responsibilities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in

the fi eld of internal security.”

With three months left in offi ce, President Truman, the man

who loathed the activities of the FBI and the military ’s Offi ce of

Strategic Services—who in fact had once compared the organizations

to the Gestapo—established the two most secret spy organizations in

the history of the world: the Central Intelligence Agency (1947),

which not only collected intelligence in foreign lands, but covertly

worked to overthrow governments and reshape nation-states, and the

NSA, an organization whose sole purpose is to listen to everyone in

the world. Hoover ’s FBI worked in the gray. General Walter Bedell

c01.indd 16

05/02/13 2:46 PM


Smith ’s CIA worked in the black. And the NSA worked invisibly, so

much so that its abbreviation would be recognized unoffi cially as “No

Such Agency.”

Back to the matter of the Black Chamber. The end of World War I

and the end of SIGINT operations meant national hero Herbert

Yardley was soon out of a job. A man obsessed with puzzles and prob-

ability, he was also an accomplished poker player. But gambling takes

money, and without his healthy government stipend, he did what

every notable bureaucrat does when leaving federal service (espe-

cially those terminated with such casual disregard): he wrote a book.

The American Black Chamber was an instant best seller, com-

pelling not only for its remarkable story but also for the information

revealed. Yardley didn ’t hold back, exposing in detail the most impor-

tant tools in the government ’s workshop. He didn ’t just pull back the

curtain of the secrecy apparatus; he carefully aimed a spotlight at

every key aspect of America ’s cryptographic capabilities. It should go

without saying that the book was a blockbuster in Japan, for all the

wrong reasons.

Yardley was threatened but never charged with espionage for

fear that in prosecution he might disclose even more classifi ed infor-

mation. This is a recurring problem for prosecutors when deciding

whether to bring traitors, double agents, and leakers to trial. Once

on the stand, spies are obliged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and

nothing but the truth. For the intelligence community, that ’s a bit too

much truth for comfort.*

In the case of Yardley, the damage was done. Japan diverted mas-

sive resources to strengthening its cryptographic program, and the

United States, now staring down the barrel of renewed hostility with

the Japanese and a second looming world war, had to start from zero

in its codebreaking operation. And Yardley ’s life had one more secret

to reveal. After Japan ’s surrender in 1945, the United States seized

Japanese Foreign Ministry documents for archival in the Library of

Congress. In the late 1960s, the NSA took a hard look at Yardley ’s

* When used as a legal defense by members of the intelligence community, this is

known as graymail.

c01.indd 17

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activities and verifi ed a suspected but never-confi rmed bombshell:

an “internal Foreign Ministry memorandum saying that the Japanese

paid [Yardley] $7,000 for copies of deciphered Japanese messages and

cryptanalytic techniques.” 10 This was three years before the publica-

tion of The American Black Chamber.

One thing this story underlines is the importance of carefully choos-

ing who holds a security clearance and has access to sensitive mate-

rial. Not everyone with a clearance is susceptible to bribery or willing

to betray his or her country out of spite. Some good men and women

fall victim to blackmail. The SF-86 security clearance application,

currently 120 pages in length, provides a penalty of “fi nes and/or up

to fi ve years of imprisonment” for lying. In addition, those caught

making false statements on an application for clearance are can-

didates for disqualifi cation. People who would risk jail time or their

jobs to protect a personal secret might well reveal someone else ’s for

the same reason. In that regard, background investigations are a way

for the would-be handlers of state secrets to lay it all on the table—to

tell the U.S. government everything there is to know, before foreign

agents fi nd out fi rst and use it as leverage.

In many instances, even absolute transparency can result in a

candidate being denied clearance. Before 1995, homosexuality was

considered an immediate disqualifi er for a perceived risk of black-

mail. 11 Hard drug abuse can be an immediate disqualifi er. (Former

brewers of crank might take note that while many federal agencies

require subjects to submit to a polygraph examination, the military

does not.) The state ’s dogmatic pursuit of those pure in thought and

deed sometimes comes at the expense of those well qualifi ed but with

a slip in judgment. It also costs federal agencies access to those

with real-world connections or experience in the criminal under-

world. This policy of “clean” sources notably redounded to the detri-

ment of national security in 2001. Rare is the man with both Mullah

Omar on speed dial and the clean hands for government clearance.

This mentality doesn ’t apply only to aspiring G-men in starched

white shirts and conservative neckties. In 1995, it was taken to its

natural endpoint when John Deutch, former director of central

c01.indd 18

05/02/13 2:46 PM


intelligence, issued an order forcing CIA case offi cers to seek bureau-

cratic approval before fi elding agents with signifi cant criminal back-

grounds. *,12 While unsavory persons could still be hired for covert

activities, the policy (drafted in a period of relative peace) in effect

warned career offi cers away from taking unnecessary risks. In 2002,

Deutch defended the discredited policy, writing in Foreign Policy ,

“Is the potential gain from the information obtained worth the cost

that might be associated with doing business with a person who may

be a murderer, rapist, or the like?” 13 Those desperate to infi ltrate

and inveigle members of the Taliban would answer without hesita-

tion: yes. In 2002, George Tenet, director of the CIA, rescinded the

Deutch order. 14

Today there is no shortage of Americans with a security clearance.

According to Top Secret America , an investigation by Washington Post

reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin that charted the expansion

of secrecy after 9/11, 854,000 people hold a Top Secret clearance,

“nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C.” 15 In

2009, the Government Accountability Offi ce reported a stagger-

ing 2.4 million people with some level of clearance. 16 This report

even excluded “some of those with clearances who work in areas of

national intelligence.” 17 (Such a fi gure, as presented, would equal the

population of Chicago.)

With so many secret keepers, it is remarkable how well the secrecy

apparatus has kept classifi ed material that might be devastating to

the state under wraps. The Bradley Manning WikiLeaks incident

of 2010 is heretofore a black swan event. Its execution and impact

was astonishing, yet in retrospect somehow obvious and inevitable.

More astonishing, perhaps, is that the U.S. government seemed

to have no contingency plans or response mechanisms in place.

Manning wasn ’t cashing in. He wasn ’t attempting to overthrow the

* Contrary to popular usage, an agent of the CIA is more or less equivalent to an informant to the FBI. Along the same lines, the people we think of when we think

of the CIA are called case offi cers. At the FBI, they ’re called special agents.

c01.indd 19

05/02/13 2:46 PM




Republic. He wasn ’t blackmailed. He wasn ’t an agent for foreign


In fact, the direct intervention of foreign powers isn ’t the cause

of most leaks, and foreign spies aren ’t where the information ends

up. More often than not, the fi rst place a leaked secret heads is the


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C H A P T E R 2

The Curious Case

of Primoris Era

On Twitter, entire identities are forged with a single photograph,

a biography of 160 characters, and witty banter. The press is

especially drawn to the site because of its immediacy, and because it

removes the barrier between the reporter and the reader. On Twitter,

journalists and sources meet and mingle. Subject matter experts

exchange thoughts on the news of the day, and because 854,000

people hold Top Secret clearances, when pressing events concerning

national security strike, discretion often gives way to a certain James

T. Kirk information swagger. Very few worked their charm, intellect,

and access better than the mysterious Shawn Gorman, who wrote

under the pseudonym Primoris Era.

She was a bombshell among missile defense experts, and over the

course of two years she constructed an enviable personal narrative

as an analyst for the Missile Defense Agency moonlighting for

the Central Intelligence Agency. She punctuated pithy and insightful

commentary on global events with tantalizing photographs revealing

more than a little ankle. When the kind of men who fasten their top

button scoffed, she ridiculed them and raised the stakes with shots in

swimwear. The self-described “First Lady of Missiles” fl irted shame-

lessly and had the kind of body that inspired few complaints.


c02.indd 21

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In espionage, a “honeypot” is a spy who uses his or her sexual

appeal to lower the defenses of otherwise guarded secret keepers. If

ever Twitter spawned a successful honeypot, she would probably look

a lot like Primoris Era.

It ’s a certainty that a Twitter honeypot is recruiting online right now.

His or her methods are as ancient as espionage itself, but on a scale

impossible before social media. This is but one danger of many in

a sprawling secrecy apparatus. Too many secrets require too many

secret keepers—human beings with the human need for connection.

And those connections can be exploited.

Question 5 on the Questionnaire for National Security

Positions (SF-86) is, “Have you used any other names?” and speci-

fi es, “If ‘Yes,’ give other names used and the period of time you used

them [for example: your maiden name, name(s) by a former mar-

riage, former name(s), alias(es), or nickname(s)]. If the other name

is your maiden name, put ‘maiden’ in front of it.” 1

But what does that mean in the realm of social media? If the

purpose of the SF-86 is to disqualify unsuitable candidates from han-

dling classifi ed material, and the purpose of requesting aliases is to

conduct a more rigorous screening, does it not stand to reason that

online identities are just as much—and in some cases, even more—

important than a maiden name? This is not so much to fi nd a clear-

ance petitioner ’s photographs in swimwear or less (though clearly

blackmail material is abundant on such sites as Facebook), but also to

cross-reference the candidate ’s online associations with known honey-

pots and persons of interest.

The question then becomes how deeply the government might

delve into a candidate ’s parallel virtual life. There are thousands of

online communities, e-mail lists, and social networks. Is member-

ship in a World of Warcraft guild worthy of scrutiny, and why not?

Should “Threr, Night Elf Mage of Drenden” be considered an alias?

And how would the Defense Security Service, which processes secu-

rity clearances, investigate such identities? How much burden should

be placed on industry to ready their membership database, and how

would such an interface for federal investigative cross-referencing

spill over into law enforcement and domestic surveillance?

c02.indd 22

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The more people in on secrets of national import, the more likely

it is that such information leaks to the press, and then to the pub-

lic. By means of social networking, the press is a middleman that can

even be bypassed. As we have seen, on the Internet the difference

between Top Secret and public domain is Edit/Copy, Edit/Paste. And

once it ’s on the Internet, it ’s on the Internet forever.

To a young policy analyst for the Department of Defense—her fi rst

name is Robin—writing under the Twitter handle @FrostinaDC,

Primoris Era ’s online life seemed a little too perfect. (Frostina ’s

name is withheld at her request.) She worked for Michael Vickers,

the chief special operations civilian at the Pentagon. She accused

Primoris Era on Twitter of having a “fake persona” and set off a chain

reaction of public correspondence that allegedly culminated with

Primoris Era threatening Frostina ’s career and, obliquely, her life.

If the allegations had been true, they would have made Primoris

Era—man, woman, or foreign intelligence agency—Twitter ’s fi rst con-

fi rmed honeypot, and marked a new age in clandestine social engi-

neering. A lot of men in the national security fi eld who interacted

with Primoris Era lost a lot of sleep over what they might have revealed

through Twitter, instant messaging, e-mail, and Facebook. If they were

in fact tricked, with their defenses let down they might have passed along

very sensitive information on the state ’s most highly guarded secrets.

When the accusation was made, the press and the intelligence

community began “crowdsourcing,” or working collectively, to

determine the nature of the perceived threat. Spencer Ackerman

of Wired wrote, “Sometimes Shawna Elizabeth Gorman is Shawna

Elizabeth Gorman. Sometimes she ’s Shawna Gorman. Sometimes

she ’s Shawna Felchner. Sometimes she ’s Primoris Era. Sometimes

she ’s Shawna1814. Sometimes she ’s Lady Caesar.” 2 Naadir Jeewa, a

student at Birkbeck College in London, added to the list a few other

usernames with brow-raising similarities: VeritableSaint, Shad0wSpear,

and ArchAngel_6. 3 (VeritableSaint was actually a different person—a

U.S. Navy sailor.) 4

The game to unmask Primoris Era was afoot.

• • •

c02.indd 23

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In 2010, Thomas Ryan of Provide Security, LLC, launched a proj-

ect to investigate just how deeply a constructed personality on the

Internet could penetrate the secrecy apparatus. He created what he

described as a “blatantly false identity” and joined Twitter, Facebook,

and LinkedIn (a social network for industry professionals). 5 He chose

as his avatar a striking young woman of vaguely Asian descent. He

gave her ten years of experience as a cyber-security professional—

which would have meant she entered the fi eld at the age of fi fteen.

She was an MIT graduate, and her “present” job title was cyber-

threat analyst for the Naval Network Warfare Command (a job that

does not exist). He even named her Robin Sage.

The U.S. Army Special Forces training pipeline can last up

to two years depending on a soldier ’s specialty, but every would-

be Green Beret ends his training at the John F. Kennedy Special

Warfare Center located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. There,

salty candidates are sent to the “People ’s Republic of Pineland” to

engage in Robin Sage, a notoriously challenging three-week fi eld

exercise that puts years of Special Forces training to the test. Robin

Sage is not a secret, and anyone with passing knowledge of special

operations forces—certainly those in high-profi le positions at the

Department of Defense—would have heard the phrase a thousand


In the case of newly minted “Robin Sage,” the counterintelli-

gence red fl ags were everywhere. A possibly foreign female easy on

the eyes with a fi ctitious job. An inexplicable résumé. An obvious

pseudonym. An invented degree. According to Thomas Ryan ’s fi nd-

ings, presented in a paper titled “Getting in Bed with Robin Sage”:

By the end of this experiment, Robin fi nished the month

having accumulated hundreds of connections through vari-

ous social networking sites. Contacts included executives at

government entities such as the [National Security Agency],

[Department of Defense] and Military Intelligence groups.

Other friends came from Global 500 corporations. Through-

out the experiment Robin was offered gifts, government and

corporate jobs, and options to speak at a variety of security

conferences. 6

c02.indd 24

05/02/13 2:46 PM


It should be noted that not everyone fell for Robin Sage ’s elec-

tronic charms, and those who discovered her false identity did so

by means available in the public domain. One industry profes-

sional asked a friend at MIT to look her up. No such person existed.

One security specialist researched her National Security Agency

Information Security Assessment Methodology credentials. (A list-

ing of every NSA ISAM graduate is available to anyone.) But males

dominate the national security industry, which “allows women to be

a commodity in more ways than one.” 7

After Robin established a baseline of industry professionals, she

grew her sphere of infl uence based on virtual association. Wrote

one suitor, “I ’ve never met you, but I saw you had Marty on your

Facebook list, so that was good enough for me.” 8 Her looks helped

broaden her connections. Among the many photos she posted to

Facebook was “one of her at a party posing in thigh-high knee socks

and a skull-and-crossbones bikini captioned, ‘doing what I do best.’” 9

Her job title suggested a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented

Information security clearance, and thus enhanced her reputation.

Government and industry leaders solicited her advice. “If the creator

behind Robin had intentions other than to perform a social experi-

ment, he would have had means to mislead experts in their studies

and even steal their research.” 10

The similarities to the case of Primoris Era are striking. When

Shawn Gorman fi rst appeared on Twitter, she actively courted the

friendship and confi dence of national security policy wonks, jour-

nalists, and subject matter experts in the defense sector, many of

whom work for the government and hold security clearances. Her

reach extended even to Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied

Commander of NATO.

Gorman, the “Doyenne of Air, Space, and Missile Defense,”

offered commentary and Internet links on the subject with clockwork

regularity. 11 She debated experts on the START treaty, which con-

cerns nuclear arms reductions between the United States and Russia

(she spoke in vehement opposition), and fl irted audaciously with

many of her male audience. In both public and private, she reached

out to journalists on the national security beat, occasionally respond-

ing to questions about technical issues in missile defense.

c02.indd 25

05/02/13 2:46 PM




Before the incident with Frostina, several online followers noted

what appeared to be inconsistencies in Gorman ’s career and life

story. Her family lived in North Carolina—or maybe Hawaii. She

was deployed overseas—or operated strictly in the Washington, D.C.,

area. She lived in Alexandria, but never appeared at the many infor-

mal national security happy hours put together by defense industry

associates. (It was, in fact, at one of those drinking sessions in early

April 2011 that doubts about her true identity fi rst surfaced.)

When Frostina confronted Gorman, Gorman allegedly responded

with a physical threat, and then deleted it. (According to one person

who read the exchange in real time, the Primoris Era account sug-

gested that Frostina was putting herself in peril, as Primoris Era knew

the “right people.” Gorman denies this.)

Frostina was indignant. “Seriously, you threatened me & then

deleted it? At least I have the fucking balls to call you a sociopath to

your face.” She continued, “Your feed is riddled with lies about your-

self & I can assure you sooner or later the house of cards will fall. You

know the right people?? Ha, let me walked [ sic ] down to their offi ces

& asked [ sic ] about you. They ’ll return blank stares.”

Then came the bombshell from Frostina to the bombshell

Primoris Era. “Just to be clear, I have intel that Primoris Era is a

Honey Pot & if you ’re in my fi eld you know what that means.”


’s purported proof stemmed from the Pentagon

’s mas-

ter e-mail list. She allegedly checked the name Shawna Elizabeth

Gorman against the database. There were no matches. The analyst

concluded that Primoris Era was not who she said she was, and noti-

fi ed Frostina ’s superiors. Hours later, Frostina wrote on Twitter, “I

have been informed that Primoris Era is asking people for programs to

delete mass amounts of tweets. It ’s not real don ’t follow/engage.”

Sam LaGrone, a journalist for Jane’s Defense Weekly , investigated

the back-and-forth and reported back to Twitter “after couple hours

of digging [Primoris Era]. The woman ’s name attached to account

has no record of being current [Department of Defense] employee.”

Internet shorthand might seem to paint the dispute as a school-

yard fi ght. (Its prose certainly isn

’t Shakespearean.) But the

consequences of an online spy, highly skilled in the art of social engi-

neering and reaching the highest levels of the intelligence commu-

nity, could prove to be catastrophic. It sounds like hyperbole, but our

troops have already learned this lesson in Iraq and Afghanistan.

c02.indd 26

05/02/13 2:46 PM


• • •

Mark Zuckerberg runs a giant spy machine in Palo Alto, California.

He wasn ’t the fi rst to build one, but his was the best, and every day

hundreds of thousands of people upload the most intimate details

of their lives to the Internet. The real coup wasn ’t hoodwinking the

public into revealing their thoughts, closest associates, and exact

geographic coordinates at any given time. Rather, it was getting the

public to volunteer that information. Then he turned off the privacy


“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more

in for mation and different kinds, but more openly and with more

people,” said Zuckerberg after moving 350 million people into a glass

privacy ghetto. “That social norm is just something that has evolved

over time.” 12

If the state had organized such an information drive, protestors

would have burned down the White House. But the state is the nat-

ural benefi ciary of this new “social norm.” Today, that information

is regularly used in court proceedings and law enforcement. There is

no need for warrants or subpoenas. Judges need not be consulted.

The Fourth Amendment does not come into play. Intelligence agen-

cies don ’t have to worry about violating laws protecting the citizenry

from wiretapping and information gathering. Sharing informa-

tion “more openly” and with “more people” is a step backward in

civil liberties. And spies, whether foreign or domestic, are “more

people,” too.

Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, knows better than any-

one how to exploit holes in the secrecy apparatus to the detriment of

American security. His raison d’être is to blast down the walls protect-

ing state secrets and annihilate the implicit bargain, yet even he is

frightened by the brazenness of Facebook and other such social net-

working sites:

Here we have the world ’s most comprehensive database about

people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their

locations and the communications with each other, their rela-

tives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to U.S.

intelligence. Facebook, Google, Yahoo—all these major U.S.

organizations have built-in interfaces for U.S. intelligence. It ’s

c02.indd 27

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not a matter of serving a subpoena. They have an interface

that they have developed for U.S. intelligence to use. 13

It ’s all there, and the Internet never forgets. But even if the

impossible happened and the Internet did somehow develop selec-

tive amnesia, in the case of microblogging service Twitter, the

Library of Congress has acquired every message ever posted by its

two hundred million members. 14 As Jeffrey Rosen wrote in the

New York Times :

We ’ve known for years that the Web allows for unprecedented

voyeurism, exhibitionism and inadvertent indiscretion, but

we are only beginning to understand the costs of an age in

which so much of what we say, and of what others say about

us, goes into our permanent—and public—digital fi les. The

fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at

an almost existential level, our ability to control our identi-

ties; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and start-

ing anew; to overcome our checkered pasts. 15

The U.S. government isn ’t the only institution to notice. Early in

the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers of the social

networking generation uploaded to their MySpace profi les pictures

of camp life in the war zone. Innocuous photographs of troops hors-

ing around in front of tent cities, bunkers, outposts, motor pools, and

operations centers circulated freely on what was then described as “A

place for friends.”

The U.S. military soon realized that foreign intelligence services,

sympathetic to America ’s enemies and savvy to the social revolution,

could collect these photographs by the thousands and build detailed,

full-color maps of American military bases. During the Cold War,

this would have required the insertion of fi rst-rate spies, briefcases

fi lled with cash, and elaborate blackmail schemes. In the age of radi-

cal transparency, all it would take is a free MySpace account to know

exactly where to fi re the mortar rounds to infl ict maximum damage on

the United States. The Marine Corps confi rmed this in a 2009 direc-

tive. “These Internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious

actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information

c02.indd 28

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exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries.” The

directive continued, “The very nature of [social networking sites] cre-

ates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary

information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for informa-

tion leakage,” putting operational security, communications security,

and U.S. military personnel “at an elevated risk of compromise.” 16

This type of clever thinking on the part of America ’s enemies is

not unique to this confl ict. During the run-up to the Gulf War, for-

eign intelligence services had a pretty good idea that the U.S. war

machine was preparing for its most substantial engagement since

Vietnam. The U.S. military recognized a new kind of threat—one

that didn ’t require foreign intelligence to insert an agent onto every

base in the Republic. Open source information could be just as dan-

gerous. Spikes in late-night orders from pizzerias near key military

bases and an exceptionally busy parking lot at the Pentagon could tell

hostile powers everything they needed to know.

In determining what should remain secret and what should

not, the military—like each component of the American secrecy

apparatus—is good at overreaction. The default answer: more secrets.

To counter the MySpace problem, they banned blogs and social net-

works. This benefi ted base security but killed morale at home. No

longer could parents see their young sons and daughters safe—and

even happy—in the war zone. All that remained were breathless

reports of intense combat on the cable news networks. And while the

average supply clerk is probably safer in Baghdad than in Detroit,

every parent and spouse saw the same thing: a son or daughter in a

fl ag-draped casket. (In 2010, the Department of Defense revised and

consolidated its ad hoc policy on social media. 17 On its offi cial web-

site it declared, “Service members and [Department of Defense]

employees are welcome and encouraged to use new media to com-

municate with family and friends—at home stations or deployed,”

but warned, “it ’s important to do it safely.”) 18

Primoris Era was no honeypot, however. She did not obtain

secrets about technical capabilities or troop movements. But she

was a spy.

c02.indd 29

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She was a serving member of the National Clandestine Service

of the CIA. She joined Twitter while confi ned to a hospital in

Germany, having had her legs nearly blown off by a vehicle-borne

improvised explosive device in Gaza. When her identity was ques-

tioned, someone from the front company that the CIA was using to

protect her identity tried to change her Wikipedia page. The Internet

service provider of the editor was easily traced back to Dynetics, a

small missile defense company based in Huntsville, Alabama. The

company later provided the following statement for this book, which

just about says it all:

Dynetics would like to assure you that the company has had

no involvement with the Twitter or other social media activi-

ties associated with Ms. Gorman that constituted the sub-

ject of your inquiry. While Ms. Gorman was an employee

of Dynetics until the beginning of May, 2011, any Twitter,

Facebook, or other social media activities were not a part

of her work for Dynetics, and Dynetics did not authorize

or have knowledge of such activities. Moreover, any social

media activities, including social media updates to accounts

associated with Ms. Gorman, were not done by Dynetics

or authorized by Dynetics. Finally, Ms. Gorman ’s work at

Dynetics had nothing to do with secret cover operations for

intelligence agencies. While Dynetics doubts that any of the

social media activities were more than a fantasy social media

image, if there were any activities performed by Ms. Gorman,

or others, in the realm of intelligence operations, Dynetics

had no knowledge, did not authorize, and had no involve-

ment in such activities.

Gorman denied the allegations leveled against her. “I have

NEVER threatened her and I have NEVER given out classifi ed or sen-

sitive information nor have I EVER asked for it,” she wrote (emphasis

hers). 19 She added that her superiors were conducting an investiga-

tion into the incident and that she had been asked not to respond


The U.S. government “gave me a burn notice a week after

that came out,” she wrote. That meant, in essence, that she was

c02.indd 30

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unemployable. No one would hire someone who had been fi red

conspicuously. In the closed-off world of covert operations and

secret contractors, a burn notice is equivalent to being declared per-

sona non grata . However, within six months, she thought she would

be back in a big way. She had been a superstar in the National

Clandestine Service, and the intelligence community ignored her

burn notice. General David Petraeus, shortly after the start of his

(brief) tenure as director of the CIA, wanted to bring her on as a spe-

cial assistant. That ’s where she ran into a different problem associated

with disclosure: because her nonclassifi ed posts to Twitter concern-

ing missile defense and Obama administration policy were often criti-

cal, she had acquired some new enemies inside the administration,

possibly (though we could not confi rm this) even on the National

Security Council.*

For months, Gorman languished in sort of a nether land. The

CIA suddenly decided that Gorman was still “too hot” to bring on.

Gorman couldn ’t get a job anywhere else because she had no unclas-

sifi ed resume. She couldn ’t provide a reporter with basic informa-

tion like what CIA class she graduated from or whom she ’d been

deployed with. She refused to say who paid for her physical therapy

and where she went for it. (We learned independently that the gov-

ernment is paying for her rehabilitation and that she travels to a

health facility operated by the military in Maryland.) Her tormenters

on the web continued to taunt her. Even though she was a U.S. citi-

zen capable of exercising her liberties, fi nding a job, and searching

for meaning in her life—she was a ghost.

To protect American forces in the fi eld and what will invari-

ably fi nd its way to daylight, a philosophical shift will be required.

Orange-bordered cover sheets for Top Secret material are no longer

enough. Their quantity has diminished their power. Security clear-

ances—no challenge to obtain—should no longer be suffi cient

grounds for access to computers with classifi ed material. And to a

large extent, military and intelligence personnel will need to police

themselves. Presently, it is demonstratively easier to fi nd the location

* Obama renamed his National Security Council the “National Security Staff,” but

the former term is still vernacularly in use and is one we think our readers will be

more familiar with.

c02.indd 31

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of CIA safe houses in the deserts of Iraq than it is to learn the features

of the next Apple iPhone. 20 The information age is in its early days

yet, and as demonstrated by the explosive popularity of social media,

the public mindset is (for now, anyway) reoriented away from privacy

and toward a sense of openness. Certainly some percentage of the 2.4

million people holding security clearances is part of that new way of


However, Bradley Manning was not driven by a would-be

Primoris Era or a Robin Sage. What he did was intentional and sys-

tematic, and could only happen by way of the Internet. As informa-

tion technology moves faster, packaged in smaller devices, it ’s only

going to get easier from here to do exactly what Manning did, again

and again. The bar for “need to know” must be elevated. Only a few

people need to know a great many things.

c02.indd 32

05/02/13 2:46 PM

C H A P T E R 3

From Inception

to Eternity

The two most sensitive documents produced by the U.S. govern-

ment are not stamped T op S ecret, have never been leaked, and

have never found their way onto the Internet. One of these docu-

ments doesn ’t really have an offi cial name, but rather an obscure

numerical designator that no one remembers. U.S. Secret Service

agents simply call it a “Site Post Assignment Log.” Page 1 lists very

basic information. The day. The date. The name of the event. Then

it gets interesting.

Consider the atmospherics of the White House Correspondents’

Dinner on April 30, 2011. Present were the president and Mrs.

Obama, twenty-six members of Congress, the attorney general, the

treasury secretary, a half dozen governors, the mayor of the largest

city in the country, the director of the CIA, and the chairman of the

Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So far as sites go, this was a big one for the Secret Service. Forget

the symbolic resonance of the location: the Washington Hilton, also

known as the Hinckley Hilton—the place where Ronald Reagan was

shot in 1981. That irony is built into the price of securing an event

here. And though agents learn from the past, they don ’t dwell on it.

The only mission that matters is always the one under way.


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At the Correspondents’ Dinner, some of the most powerful peo-

ple in the world are confi ned together in an underground ballroom

for four hours on a date announced to the public months in advance.

It is, in other words, assassin ’s bait. The site report, which meticu-

lously lists the location of every Secret Service post-stander, his or

her duties, the moment-by-moment schedule for the event, and the

protocols in the event of an AOP (attack on principal), therefore

becomes a remarkably dangerous weapon—a twenty-page, 14-point

Times New Roman weapon of mass destruction.

Those who ’ve seen it (and know what it is) admit to having their

eyes drawn to it. You know you ’re not entitled to the information. You

don ’t “need to know,” but you really, really want to. And at any rate,

events like these are as serious to the Secret Service as combat mis-

sions are to soldiers. It ’s no place for curiosity, and even attempting

to somehow talk your way into the Secret Service security room is a

good way to get questioned, if not arrested.

In language that a ten-year-old can understand, the site advance

report meticulously describes the methods that the Service will

employ that night to protect the president. One paragraph instructs

the agent manning the “Charlie” frequency console in the security

room—that ’s what the Service calls their command posts—to ensure

that all post-standers are informed every time the president moves a

few feet. “All posts on Charlie: Renegade and Renaissance are moving

to the ballroom.”

The agent on the Charlie frequency is responsible for a common

operating picture. His counterpart is monitoring the Oscar frequency

and the Presidential Protective Detail (PPD). His job is to keep the

designated president site agent fully informed of developments that

other agents report on Charlie.

If an agent fails to respond to a radio call, the Charlie operator

will dispatch another agent to check on his or her welfare. The agent

manning Charlie at the Correspondents’ Dinner was on loan from the

investigations division. Handsome, young, and easygoing, he looks a

lot like Keanu Reeves. But he is one of the most ferocious polygraph

examiners in the government.

About twenty minutes before President Obama ’s motorcade was

scheduled to arrive at the Hilton, an agent radioed in that a White

House staffer had lost the PIN that gave her access to sensitive areas.

c03.indd 34

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Agent Keanu Reeves immediately radioed this out. “This is not

good,” he said to himself. He made a note on a log, and his coun-

terpart telephoned the information to the PPD advance agent. One

PIN might seem like nothing, but a bad guy could pick it up, and

catastrophe could ensue. But ten minutes later, the agent radioed

back. The PIN was in the pocket of the staffer. Keanu rolled his eyes.

“Attention all posts . . . ”

Those are two of the least sensitive job descriptions. A “homicide

bomber response agent” has some pretty scary responsibilities. There

is an agent inside a presidential bunker very close to the Hilton.

(Don ’t bother looking for the bunker; you won ’t fi nd it.)

That night, three specialists from the White House Commu-

nications Agency hovered around, changing out radios with drained

batteries and rekeying working ones. They were distinguishable by

their military bearing and high-and-tights and their bright red identi-

fi cation pins.

The fi nal pages of the site report describe the procedures

involved in evacuating the president during an emergency. There are

multiple options. One is an emergency motorcade. Another provides

instructions to get to a presidential safe house. A map includes a

yellow-highlighted path to the “hard room” where the president will

be taken if he needs to be secured on the premises.

A sidebar summarized the resources the Service was using that

night: the number of agents assigned to posts; the presence of coun-

tersurveillance and intelligence division agents; the classifi ed equip-

ment that will magically appear if all hell breaks loose.

This document is well protected. Armed special agents carry

them. Another document, given to a larger number of people, pro-

vides a moment-by-moment schedule of where the president will be

at what time and who will accompany him. Even his elevator rides

are premanifested. Joseph W. Hagin, the chief of White House opera-

tions in the Bush administration, calls this the most sensitive docu-

ment there is, but too many people need to know the information

it provides. It cannot be classifi ed. So instead it is “Sensitive But

Unclassifi ed.”

On the night of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,

President Obama ’s poker face onstage hid an even bigger secret—

the biggest he ’d ever known. At most, a half-dozen guests knew what

c03.indd 35

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the president did: that seventy-nine members of three U.S. Joint

Special Operations Command task forces were in the fi nal stages

of preparing the raid targeting Osama bin Laden. This secret didn ’t

leak, which is remarkable for several reasons. Washington had

recently seen its secrets revealed with strident disregard. And the

whole purpose of the Correspondents’ Dinner is for journalists to fer-

ret confi dential information out of their dinner guests. (A few of the

more egotistical journalists brought celebrities. The smarter ones

invited people with security clearances.)

There was a close call that night concerning the raid. William

Daley, the White House chief of staff, was a guest of ABC News,

as was actor Eric Stonestreet, who won an Emmy for his work on

Modern Family. Stonestreet had apparently arranged for a tour of

the White House that next day but was suddenly told that it was can-

celed. Over salad, Stonestreet turned to Daley and asked, “So I was

wondering. Was there any reason they canceled my tour?”

George Stephanopoulos ’s head swung around, and he caught

Daley ’s eye. “You got anything going on there, Bill?” Stephanopoulos

asked teasingly. A veteran of the Clinton administration, Steph-

anopoulos knows how the White House works.

Daley began to sweat, by his own recollection, and blurted out

an excuse. “It ’s something to do with the plumbing.” He added, “You

know what, Eric? Stop by Monday and I will personally give you the

tour myself.”

That answer satisfi ed Stonestreet, and more important, Steph-

anopoulos, who returned to his original conversation.

Why were there no leaks that night? Because no one involved had

any reason to leak, and because the U.S. Secret Service has a decent

record of handling classifi ed material. But very often in Washington,

carefully leveraged secrets can elevate one ’s status in social circles.

Leaks can be a deal with the devil, often nefariously targeted and

driven by many motives not pure to principle. Since the dawn of for-

mal journalism, or at least since the Progressive Era, when newspapers

established their own counterestablishment voice, the public has gener-

ally trusted journalists to faithfully contextualize the common Faustian

leak, understanding that the motives may be not be transparent.

c03.indd 36

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This implicit trust ended with the Clinton-era collapse of faith in

the notion of journalists as gatekeepers, though it arguably remains

in place when it comes to disturbing leaks about the conduct of other

corporations. We still recognize some categorical distinctions. The

whistleblower remains an archetype that draws sympathy, although

one ’s response to a whistle that has been blown depends on the par-

tisan frame of reference of the hearer. We also react to offi cial disclo-

sures of classifi ed information differently. The Bush administration

had a case to make when they revealed some U.S. SIGINT capabili-

ties in order to present a dossier to the United Nations in advance

of the Iraq War. Likewise, in 1962, Adlai Stevenson ’s dramatic presen-

tation of imagery intelligence gathered by U-2 overfl ights proved that

the Soviet Union was positioning missiles on Cuban soil. This intel-

ligence was rushed into the sunlight before the CIA had the chance

to assess whether the damage was worth the policy benefi t. (Clearly, in

retrospect, it was.)

Big fi sh usually get away with leaks, and easily. Minnows have to

fi ght.

Modern presidential press management traces its lineage to the

failure of Woodrow Wilson to tend to the journalists who followed

him as he crafted the League of Nations Treaty in Versailles. The

Bob Woodward of the time was a bombastic dandy named Herbert

Swope, who wrote for the New York World. This was Swope ’s fi rst

assignment, and he couldn ’t comprehend the restrictions the White

House had placed on the press corps—and why the press corps

seemed so damned compliant.

The president was secretly negotiating a treaty that had, as a core

principle, the provenance of openness and honesty. This irony would

prove to be the treaty ’s downfall. China knew about Wilson ’s secret

talks with Germany about annexing Chinese territory to Japan and

leaked this language to a Chinese-American journalist who worked

for the Chicago Tribune. Upon publication, it caused an outcry in

the U.S. Senate, which hardened suspicions that Wilson was not

being forthcoming. The secrecy itself wouldn ’t have been a problem

if Wilson had explained what he meant by “open covenants of peace,

openly arrived at.” It didn ’t really mean that every sensitive point of

world diplomacy had to be in the open. Rather, according to the his-

torian John M. Hamilton, Wilson meant that “no treaties would be

c03.indd 37

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created without citizens knowing that negotiations had taken place

and having a chance to discuss the terms later.” 1 Belatedly, as Wilson

realized he was losing the battle of public opinion, he personally

leaked a copy of the treaty provisions to Swope that involved repara-

tions to Germany. 2

Fast-forward to World World II. After the Chicago Tribune dis-

closed the Roosevelt administration

’s war plans—with no less a

provocative headline than “FDR

’s War Plans!”—it was generally

assumed that the press was fl exing its independence. Daniel Patrick

Moynihan, however, speculated that “the incident may have been

the fi rst instance of the executive using the power of secrecy for its

own purposes by ‘leaking’ confi dential information to the press.” 3

(The authors would add “successful instance,” given Wilson ’s ulti-

mate failure.)

After intelligence confi rmed the location of Osama bin Laden in

Abbottabad, Pakistan, a Daisy Cutter dropped from an MC-130 air-

craft at six thousand feet could have obliterated the terrorist master-

mind. Instead, U.S. commandos stormed the al-Qaeda fi gurehead ’s

compound and assassinated him with a “controlled pair” to the head.

This decision was made in large measure to preserve photographic

proof of his identity for the world.* Monitoring a live feed of the

operation from the safety of the White House Situation Room,

the Obama administration huddled in silence. A photographer cap-

tured the president ’s foreign policy team in what has become the

public image of the operation.

The Obama administration later decided—over objections from

Leon Panetta, leader of the operation and director of the CIA—to

withhold all images of a lifeless bin Laden. The offi cial reason: the

images were too graphic for public consumption. This explanation

does not survive scrutiny. After the assault, bin Laden ’s body was

cleaned, autopsied, and given a proper Islamic burial at sea. At least

one photograph of the most evil man in the world would have suf-

fi ciently sated a supposedly weak-stomached American public. After

* The White House claims a missile strike would have jeopardized the surrounding

civilian populace, an admirable consideration, though more believable if such con-

siderations were extended to the thousands of civilian neighbors to hundreds of ter-

rorists who weren ’t Osama bin Laden.

c03.indd 38

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all, the Republic somehow hobbled on after release of grisly imag-

ery of the bullet-riddled bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein and video

footage of Saddam Hussein ’s hanging. By classifying photographs of a

dead bin Laden, President Obama ensured that the defi ning image of

the operation was his administration, resolute and astride armchairs.

This politicization of secrecy will ensure a generation of bin Laden

sightings, of conspiracy theorists, and of aggressive denial among the

most hardened of Islamic terrorists.

When secrecy isn ’t used as a bartering tool of the bureaucracy,

as Moynihan observed, it is used as a form of coercion. The CIA fell

under a barrage of negative press for “enhanced interrogation tech-

niques” in the aftermath of 9/1l. Consequently, senior CIA offi cials

leaked that it was, in fact, a top-secret military unit behind the lion ’s

share of the dirty work. This type of selective leaking is often cho-

sen advisedly, as black operations military forces and the CIA work

closely together in the fi eld. But on a management and strategy level,

the agencies compete for turf and operations. When, for example, the

CIA wants more resources or wants “in” to certain areas like Yemen,

senior operations offi cers will leak details to the press about the mili-

tary ’s large footprint there and the CIA ’s lack of presence. The desk-

top snipers of the Defense Department ’s black operations community

are obliged to return fi re. Within days, a competing newspaper will

report how, for example, the CIA keeps corrupt members of the

Afghan government on its payroll, completely undermining, at least

in the eyes of the military, a counterinsurgency strategy that is predi-

cated on building a transparent and viable government. Reporters

work hard to get these stories, but timing and access to “senior admin-

istration sources” are almost always deliberate. Suddenly, intelligence

community offi cials are willing to talk about previously off-limits


Many offi cials leak with an eye toward history. When things go

right, nobody thinks of the intelligence community. When things

go wrong, recriminations whisk by as though fi red from machine

guns, and good men and women who often did the right things and

spotted the right signs and alerted the right people are drowned out

of the conversation. These offi cials, hoping to set the record straight,

sometimes fi nd no alternative but to pass fi les to journalists. The CIA

recognizes this as a dangerous game, and when certain offi cers and

c03.indd 39

05/02/13 2:46 PM




agents retire, they are given an offi ce and kept on the payroll long

enough to write classifi ed memoirs for the agency archives. 4

Leakers are not above manipulating the record for personal politi-

cal gain or positive media coverage, especially after things get ugly. In

his autobiography, former vice president Dick Cheney directly states

that he pushed to have Secretary of State Colin Powell fi red for leak-

ing policy disputes to the press corps. “It was as though he thought

the proper way to express his views was by criticizing administration

policy to people outside the government.” 5

To circle the square, sensitive information is not always leaked

to damage political opponents. It is sometimes


for the

same reason. After being pilloried for the Bush administration ’s use

of waterboarding and the failure of enhanced interrogation tech-

niques against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Cheney

pushed for the complete declassifi cation of the program so that its

successes might also be revealed. This request was denied, and the

political motivations for its denial (as well as its request) are obvious.

One Bush administration offi cial, upon learning that waterboard-

ing had been used on “only” three detainees, wondered how much

embarrassment they could have been spared if that information was

disclosed earlier than it was.

It should be noted that WikiLeaks allegedly came into posses-

sion of several hundred classifi ed fi les from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,

by way of Bradley Manning. 6 In an effort to discredit U.S. deten-

tion policies, it released a series of prisoner reports in May 2011.

Ironically, one of these reports suggested that enhanced interrogation

techniques provided a crucial “dot” connecting Osama bin Laden ’s

preferred method of communication (courier) to his whereabouts

(Abbottabad). 7

The secrecy apparatus blocks daylight by design and therefore

resists oversight and reform. Since Vietnam and Watergate, journal-

ists have taken the position that they are institutionally compelled

to force the issue. They are merely exercising their constitutionally

protected First Amendment rights. The government cannot abridge

speech rights unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Protecting

national security information fi ts that criterion, and there is ample

c03.indd 40

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precedent for the executive branch to: (1) arrest people who use

their speech to incite immediate violence; (2) forbid journalists who

are embedded with U.S. troops from exposing the locations of those

troops; (3) arrest people who provide classifi ed information to a for-

eign government or an enemy of the state for the purposes of harm-

ing the state; and (4) prevent people who have signed nondisclosure

agreements from publishing information about their work without a

review by higher authorities.

Beyond those activities, however, there seems to be a bright red

line. In general, people can say whatever they want, so long as it

is true, and especially if it relates to “government affairs,” as stated

by the U.S. Supreme Court in Mills v. Alabama (1966) . Importantly,

this is not a right guaranteed only to the press. Courts have gone out

of their way to deny that the press has any inherent right to exercise

any more power than any other citizen. The difference, until rela-

tively recently, is that the press has been the only entity with enough

resources to compete with the government for access to national

security information, while rarely being punished for doing so. 8

Because the press and (for the most part) the press alone has

this ability, it has developed into an informal privilege with its own

boundaries and checks. The Supreme Court has even granted pro-

tection to something called “routine newsgathering,” and has implied

that journalists cannot be punished for engaging in the practice. This

is why it is diffi cult to argue that if someone passes a stolen classi-

fi ed document to a journalist, the journalist should be prosecuted for


Before publishing leaks—and classifi ed material that appears

in the press is usually the result of a leak by some offi cial sworn to

secrecy—responsible journalists try to balance the potential harm

to national security against the public interest. Responsible jour-

nalism holds powerful interests to account, according to professors

at journalism schools. Indeed, in many (but not all) instances, the

“powerful interests” use the press as a mechanism to self-regulate.

A result of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cable release is that we

have some idea of the gap between what we think and what we know.

It ’s not so wide as anyone thought, or so malevolent. Accordingly, it

would seem that most secrets are neither worthwhile nor particularly

newsworthy and would rarely catch a second glance of a reader. In

c03.indd 41

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aggregate, foreign intelligence services obviously have a shot at puz-

zling out American motives and enterprises. But again, even when

a thick slice of American secrecy is presented in its entirety (as was

the case with WikiLeaks), our activities abroad are sometimes curious

and surprising but rarely shocking. (Indeed, the most shocking revela-

tions of WikiLeaks were the actions of other “hostile” governments,

and their private cooperation and seeming friendliness with our own.)

As WikiLeaks demonstrated, the secret actions of the United

States hardly muster general outrage or unrest. Even in the case

of the National Security Agency and the terrorist surveillance program,

the act of revelation by the press tends to provoke greater consterna-

tion than the programs and activities themselves.

Who decides (ultimately) where the boundary line must be drawn?

In practice, as we shall see, journalists do. But who decides who,

exactly, is a journalist?

When handling sensitive material, it falls to the journalist to fol-

low lines of information from confi rmed sources to the real-world

consequences of publication, and, from the information gathered,

determine the nature of that information. Investigative reporting of

the secrecy apparatus is not unlike the work of intelligence analysts.

It involves assembling a jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded, with little

clue as to the puzzle ’s size and with thousands of extra pieces scat-

tered about. Accordingly, journalists make decisions of astonishing

import with little personal danger.

When Dana Priest reported, for example, the secret “Salt Pit”

facility in Afghanistan, where a detainee was slain, buried, and erased

from the books as a result of enhanced interrogation techniques,

she exposed the American war machine at its worst and forced cor-

rections (one hopes) to prevent future such atrocities. Another Priest

article—a 2005 report in the Washington Post that exposed the loca-

tions of terrorist detention cells around the world—is less black and

white. The white: the government was torturing people in our name,

for little apparent benefi t. The world was now aware of such prisons,

and terrorist cells gained little material advantage (but, perhaps, for

new targets). The black: this information undermined cooperating

governments whose citizens are hostile to the “American Imperium,”

c03.indd 42

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and endangered carefully orchestrated diplomatic partnerships, to say

nothing of the soldiers and agents in the fi eld.

In the past, it might have been worth debating if it was ethical

of Priest to reveal both programs. That ’s still a worthwhile ques-

tion for journalism classes and editorial meetings, but the truth is,

if a leaker wants something out, he no longer needs Dana Priest or

the Washington Post to alert the world. The Internet has moved the

power and the ethical focus to the leakers themselves.

When the threat is still active, journalists are most obliged to act

with an excessive degree of restraint. On the front page of the New

York Times on December 16, 2005, in an exposé headlined, “Bush

Lets U.S. Spy on Callers without Courts,” reporters James Risen

and Eric Lichtblau published the details of a Top Secret program in

which the National Security Agency could monitor al-Qaeda tele-

phone conversations without fi rst arguing the wiretaps before federal

judges. The entire program will be discussed later in this book. In

short, the president authorized the Terrorist Surveillance Program

in the post-9/11 bedlam. Expediency was key, as the terrorist orga-

nization was fast on the move and savvy to electronic communica-

tions. The laws in force at the time were antiquated at best, written

thirty years before, when people still rented rotary telephones from the

phone company and secrecy was essential for the program ’s success.

The White House did not act unilaterally; congressional leaders

had been briefed on the program ’s operational details no fewer than

twelve times, as had the presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence

Surveillance Court.

Here, the New York Times ran presses at the expense of national

security and alerted an active and agile enemy to an effective and

effi cient program. In Commentary , Gabriel Schoenfeld argued:

If information about the NSA program had been quietly con-

veyed to an al-Qaeda operative on a microdot, or on paper with

invisible ink, there can be no doubt that the episode would

have been treated by the government as a cut-and-dried case

of espionage. Publishing it for the world to read, the Times has

accomplished the same end while at the same time congratu-

lating itself for bravely defending the First Amendment and

thereby protecting us—from, presumably, ourselves. 9

c03.indd 43

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Are these really two equivalent actions? It matters that the govern-

ment employees leaked this to a newspaper because they thought the

government was behaving unethically, and not to enemy agents for a

paycheck. It matters that the reporters in question were informing the

public of something a sizable portion of citizens would want stopped


The Times withheld details about the project at the government ’s

request. It didn ’t publish what it knew for a year and then did so only

because the report ’s author planned to publish a book with the rev-

elations. But national security harm is national security harm, and

the leakers and the journalists decided the ethical breach was more

important than national security.

There is no independent arbiter here; the courts seem to be very

reluctant to allow the executive branch ’s formal classifi cation powers

to be the fi nal word on national security harm. 10 Basically, they want

the tension to exist and work itself out.

The intent of the leaker can be very diffi cult to determine,

because it ’s rarely as cut and dried as Bradley Manning handing doc-

uments over to WikiLeaks. Often, the person transmitting the infor-

mation will not tell the journalist that it is classifi ed and will often, if

passing a piece of paper or an e-mail, redact information that would

identify its provenance. A great deal of classifi ed information is trans-

mitted to journalists thirdhand.

A person, for example, with knowledge of a particular U.S. cyber

defense program discusses an issue with a government consultant

who is cleared to the level at which the program is classifi ed but is

not fully aware of the dimensions of the program. The consultant,

who works at a public think tank, then engages with a journalist who

is writing about cyber security and mentions some aspect of the pro-

gram, though not nearly enough for the journalist to have a complete

story. But the journalist, wise to the beat, starts to dig around, gathers

up other clues, makes rational assumptions based on the probability

of certain things being true, and soon he or she has a nearly complete

and fairly accurate sketch of a classifi ed program.

You may protest that this scenario is unlikely or hypothetical, but

journalists in Washington and policy makers with security clearances

will recognize it as the germ of just about every enterprising national

security story. At some point in the process, the journalist becomes

c03.indd 44

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pretty sure he or she has acquired information that is classifi ed but

has no way of knowing for sure. The consultant, while not blameless,

was not intending to transmit classifi ed information. The person who

discussed the program with the consultant—the original “leaker”—is

almost completely blameless.

The journalist then calls other policy offi cials and says, “Aha! I

have in my hand information about a program I think is sensitive. Yes

I do! I ’m bragging about it. So tell me what I should do about it.” Or

the journalist publishes the information and admits that he or she has

obtained or been given access to classifi ed information. The execu-

tive branch can huff and puff, but it has not found a way to establish

a standard by which the journalist ought to be subject to prosecution.

Instead, offi cials take the easier route: they try and fi gure out who

the sources are and try to clamp down on the supply of secrets in the

middle of the chain. But as we will see, successful leak prosecutions

are rare. And the idea that they have a chilling effect on speech itself

is not very well formed precisely because the secret keepers are inher-

ently at a disadvantage.

In a remarkable amicus brief fi led in the case of two employees

of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) accused of

mishandling classifi ed information given to them by a Department

of Defense employee, six lawyers—including Viet Dinh, a former

assistant attorney general in the Bush administration—make the

plausible argument that Washington could not function without

the routine, even casual transmission, of classifi ed information to

uncleared persons:

Every day members of the press and members of policy orga-

nizations meet with government offi cials. The meetings are

a vital and necessary part of how our government and soci-

ety function. The Founders provided for them in the Bill of

Rights. During the meetings information is exchanged and

sometimes the government offi cials provide information

about the state of internal policy deliberations. Sometimes

this exchange occurs before government leaders are ready

for offi cial or formal pronouncements of the issues involved,

and sometimes the government offi cials make the decision

to recount information that may relate to such

classifi ed

c03.indd 45

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information . . . . The practice of the media and others meet-

ing with government offi cials and seeking information, the

release of which some in the government might want to

control, has gone on since our country was formed. This

exchange is part of the very checks and balances on which the

democracy has worked. This practice has become even more

extensive through the lifetime of the Espionage Act. Until

now, no administration has attempted to address what it may

perceive as annoying or premature “leaks” by criminalizing

the receipt and use of unsolicited oral information obtained as

part of the lobbying or reporting process. 11

There is a conspiracy afoot—a real one—that has kept laws that pun-

ish journalists who reveal classifi ed information off the books; that has

persuaded judges to read in to precedent exceptions for journalists that

may never have been anticipated and perhaps even actively reviled by

the Founders; that has given even the most rock-ribbed Republican

member of Congress a pause before calling for actual sanctions.* Only

once in fi fty years has the federal government successfully prosecuted

the unauthorized disclosure of classifi ed information by someone who

was not a spy. 12 Judges who grew up in the Watergate era have largely

institutionalized the informal check provided by national security

journalists. (This check remains strong, but it will atrophy over time;

Watergate did not infl uence those now assuming positions of authority.

Journalism no longer occupies a privileged status in society.)

The case of Wen Ho Lee, the scientist accused of leaking nuclear

secrets to China, is an object lesson in how this special status can

work against justice. The government offi cials who leaked his name

to reporters were conspiring with the press, in essence, to frame an

innocent man. A public interest defense cannot really be mounted

here. As Michael Kinsley writes:

To say with a straight face that “only from confi dential sources”

could the public have been “informed about the issues” in this

* The New York Times’ s disclosure of the NSA wiretapping program resulted in some aforementioned huffi ng and puffi ng but no changes to the law.

c03.indd 46

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“matter of great public interest”—about the Wen Ho Lee case!

The matter of great public interest was imaginary. It was part

of an organized effort to misinform the public. And the culture

and rules of confi dential sources are what made this campaign

of misinformation possible. The real story was a government

plot to destroy a man ’s reputation and violate his privacy. The

culture of leaks was both central to that story and the reason

everybody missed it. 13

It ’s against our interests as journalists to admit that we can be

used by a system that gives us special authority, but we are. This mat-

ters, because our ability to collectively report on national security

will be jeopardized as we become more susceptible to dangerously

politicized leaks of classifi ed or sensitive information that, while not

especially harmful to national security, are certainly not in the public

interest. In that respect, we become more like WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange and his comrades are in good company when

they decide to weaponize sensitive material to exact political change.

Consider the case of former governor Gray Davis of California.

Facing a recall and the end of his political career, he revealed intel-

ligence pointing to a possible al-Qaeda attack on the Golden Gate

Bridge, hoping for a halo effect. While the FBI had previously

announced “uncorroborated information” of unspecifi ed groups tar-

geting unspecifi ed bridges in an unspecifi ed state, Davis pressed for-

ward with everything he knew. 14 In the end, however, this ploy failed

and the electorate rescinded his governorship.

President James Madison didn

’t publish notes from the

Constitutional Convention until 1840—half a century after the fact. 15

Meanwhile, apocryphal stories of a drunken Benjamin Franklin

regularly leaking select, encouraging details of the secret meetings

in Philadelphia pubs each night are still taught in school. The twin

strands of America ’s DNA, it seems, are and have always been oppo-

site and irreconcilable.

c03.indd 47

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C H A P T E R 4

Fairly Modest

By his own admission, Julian Assange ’s goal is to expose the United

States (and other ostensibly oppressive regimes) as duplicitous

and hypocritical—smooth-talking behind the State Department

podium while orchestrating coups d’état and other malevolence in

smoke-fi lled embassies. Assange ’s weapon, until it began to fall apart

due to a lack of funding, government legal attacks, and personality

confl icts within the organization, was an online database designed for

anonymous offi cials, journalists, and whistleblowers to upload sensi-

tive material for public consumption without fear of repercussions.

His goal was the world stage. His method was laced with irony, which

he has acknowledged. Nobody knows with certainty what secrets he

possesses; his secrets are secret. And his modus operandi was to drip,

drip, drip each classifi ed document and government secret into the

public record. Offi cial denials and defl ections are countered by evi-

dence to the contrary. And by publishing these classifi ed documents,

Assange thought he could strike a shattering blow for transparency

and accountability with such force as to jar loose the intellectually

calcifi ed philosophy whereby governments use secrecy to advance

their nefarious, destructive agendas.

Using his stated criteria for success as a metric, in many ways

Assange has achieved a measure of his goals. The publication of State

Department cables revealed the extent of Tunisian president Zine El

Abidine Ben Ali ’s corruption, and proved to be, if not a tipping point,


c04.indd 48

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then certainly a kind of fuel for public uprisings in the oppressed

nation. Ben Ali ’s abdication of authority and escape to Saudi Arabia

(the Argentina of the East) not only liberated a people with mini-

mal bloodshed, but also ignited what has become known as the Arab


While Assange ’s associates at WikiLeaks see themselves as jour-

nalists on a political mission, their methods go where cable news

talking-head partisanship cannot. By posting original documents

provided by leakers, WikiLeaks activists empower citizens to make

decisions for themselves without the mediating infl uence of a news-

paper ’s editorial team or a news program ’s producers.

That ’s what makes their decision on April 5, 2010, so bizarre in


On that day, WikiLeaks released a secret video recorded in 2007,

marketing it as a “classifi ed US military video depicting the indis-

criminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New

Baghdad—including two Reuters news staff.” The description contin-

ued, “The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly

shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and

his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also

seriously wounded.” 1

The video, as edited, uploaded, and advertised, brought the site

unprecedented attention. Military analysts were skeptical of the site ’s

claims, however, and deconstructed the unedited thirty-nine-minute

version. (Twelve minutes of context had been removed from the foot-

age.) As Bill Keller of the New York Times wrote, “The video, with

its soundtrack of callous banter, was horrifying to watch and was an

embarrassment to the U.S. military. But in its zeal to make the video

a work of antiwar propaganda, WikiLeaks also released a version that

didn ’t call attention to an Iraqi who was toting a rocket-propelled

grenade and packaged the manipulated version under the tenden-

tious rubric ‘Collateral Murder.’” 2 This context is crucial, as rocket-

propelled grenades are a direct threat to military rotary-wing aircraft.

Anthony Martinez, a former infantryman familiar with such aerial

footage, wrote of the unedited version:

Between 3:13 and 3:30 it is quite clear to me, as both a for-

mer infantry sergeant and a photographer, that the two men

c04.indd 49

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central to the gun-camera ’s frame are carrying photographic

equipment. This much is noted by WikiLeaks, and

misidentifi ed by the crew of [Apache helicopter] Crazyhorse

18. At 3:39, the men central to the frame are armed, the one

on the far left with some AK variant, and the one in the center

with an RPG. The RPG is crystal clear even in the downsized,

very low-resolution video between 3:40 and 3:45 when the

man carrying it turns counter-clockwise and then back to

the direction of the Apache. This all goes by without any men-

tion whatsoever from WikiLeaks, and that is unacceptable. 3

Though Martinez, experienced in calling for air support, states

that under the circumstances he likely would have recommended

against Apaches engaging the targets, he takes special note that

it has to be taken into consideration that there is no way that

the Crazyhorse crew had the knowledge, as everyone who has

viewed this had, that the man on the corner of that wall was a

photographer. The actions of shouldering an RPG (bringing

a long cylindrical object in line with one ’s face) and framing

a photo with a long telephoto lens quite probably look identi-

cal to an aircrew in those conditions. 4

In the instance of “Collateral Murder,” as well as the massive

diplomatic cable release that followed, it seems clear that Assange

expected more than he got, or rather, saw what he wanted to see.

Certain secrets held by the government—the order of battle for an

Iranian confl ict, contingency plans for a South Korean invasion by

the North, response scenarios to a nuclear attack on a major U.S.

city—are secret only to the extent that they ’re tactical and fi led

away. Once the trigger is pulled on any of those situations, and thou-

sands more, the entirety of the plans become evident to the world.

Likewise, should the Korean peninsula peacefully reunify, it stands

to reason that the invasion contingency plans will eventually be

declassifi ed in the same manner as scenarios for nuclear war with the

Soviet Union.

Less dramatic, perhaps, but no less important are the thoughts of

U.S. ambassadors abroad and their interactions with foreign offi cials

c04.indd 50

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and informants. As a practical matter, intelligence generated is very

important today , but has a relatively short half-life. Eventually, the

information will make it into the footnotes of obscure political sci-

ence dissertations and collect dust in university libraries.

All of this is to say that these secrets are certainly sexy and

appealing to academics and enthusiasts (to say nothing of foreign

intelligence), but should one of these plans or documents leak, it ’s

unlikely to bring the Republic to its knees or force change in the

way the United States does business. When they leak, it ’s really just

a situation where they leaked illegally, but more to the point, leaked

too soon.

There are secrets, however, both offi cial and unoffi cial, that the

government doesn ’t want to leak ever. In terms of foreign affairs, if

it were discovered that the U.S. military intentionally poisoned a

village ’s water well and blamed it on the Taliban, U.S. credibility

would be annihilated. Likewise, if a well was accidentally poisoned,

Americans knew but said nothing, and civilians died as a result,

American credibility would suffer for the same reason. It ’s obvi-

ous why the government would want to keep such actions secret

forever. But such secrets are now among the hardest to keep—both

because the villagers can get their story out and because someone in

the chain of secrets will have every reason to leak it and no reason to

keep it.

In the material provided by Bradley Manning to WikiLeaks,

Julian Assange expected to fi nd a lot of poisoned wells. Instead, he

found a lot of fairly banal and expected activities by State Department

offi cials. Insofar as there were surprises, they generally came in the

form of missing puzzle pieces and moments of “I knew it!”

When Assange set course to share tranches of his classifi ed diplo-

matic cable cache with Der Spiegel , the Guardian , and the New York

Times , he assumed that he would have more control over the docu-

ments’ publications than he eventually did. Assange could have sim-

ply published the cables himself, but even he recognized the damage

to WikiLeaks’ credibility wrought by “Collateral Murder,” and the

inherent power of established and trusted journalistic entities (even

c04.indd 51

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entities he believed to be penetrated and corrupted by the system).

Simply put, the New York Times still means something to Americans,

and its stamp of approval confers legitimacy.

Assange ’s relationship with the Times soured very quickly when it

became clear that the paper would not follow his calculated schedule

for releasing the documents. (He has since publicly denounced the

paper as a spineless pawn of the state and of falling victim to govern-

mental pressure to accept an offi cial spin.) 5 It is telling that Assange

assumed the Times would abandon the traditional journalistic bal-

ancing act of revealing news on one hand while protecting national

security on the other. By vetting its information with the U.S. govern-

ment, the New York Times infl uenced what American readers learned

from the cables and provided a crucial avenue for the German and

London papers to learn the American government ’s perspective. Both

the Guardian and Der Spiegel followed the lead of the Times on most redactions—and deliberately so. The Times was in a much better

position to determine what was too sensitive to include.

The process deciding what, exactly, was fi t to print closely mir-

rored the methods of the very secrecy apparatus targeted by Assange.

The Times received the classifi ed material directly from WikiLeaks

and immediately set up the newsroom equivalent of a government

special access program—that is, a “black” department that no more

than a half-dozen people knew even existed. (This roster would

expand to about forty before publication of the diplomatic cables,

giving the Times employees a taste, most likely, of how hard it is to

effectively keep your own secrets.) Bill Keller, then the executive edi-

tor of the Times , tapped the paper ’s longtime war correspondent Eric

Schmitt to vet the documents so as to determine their legitimacy.

(“Collateral Murder” put everything in doubt.) After careful scrutiny,

however, Schmitt determined that the cache of documents was in

fact the real thing.

The New York Times spent the next six weeks rifl ing through the

most highly sensitive of the State Department cables and deciding

which were most newsworthy. Times technicians devised a software

algorithm to sort the cables by keyword, classifi cation level, ori-

gin, and destination. (For example, cables intended for distribution

to the National Security Council were more likely to be important,

and were thus elevated in the priority queue.) This process identifi ed

c04.indd 52

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approximately 150 cables of serious journalistic merit involving mat-

ters of national security. Included in the WikiLeaks revelations:

• A 2009 cable from the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan reporting

on the state of Abdul Qadeer Khan ’s detention and observation.

Khan is perhaps best known (or maybe feared is a better descrip-

tion) as the genius behind Pakistan ’s atomic bomb and the master-

mind of an international proliferation network. After handing his

Third World home a First World bargaining chip, Khan sought

to establish a global turnkey operation for would-be nuclear pow-

ers, approaching such nations as North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and

Libya—in other words, the Axis of Evil and Crazy. A national

hero in Pakistan, he never faced criminal prosecution but was

reported to have been placed under house arrest. According to

U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson, however, Khan

’s house

arrest has amounted to very little, “despite the [Pakistani] govern-

ment ’s protestations to the contrary.” The ambassador ’s warning to

Washington: a mad scientist with legitimate claim on the title of

Most Dangerous Man in the World generally roams freely, with

popular expectation that he is “free to lead a more-or-less normal

life.” 6

• A 2007 cable from the U.S. embassy in Pakistan warning of a

certain shortsightedness in the previous year ’s agreement to sell

F-16s to the nominal ally. Embassy offi cials noted that non-U.S.

and non-Pakistani aircraft and personnel are forbidden on the

same military bases as the F-16 aircraft. (This is a common pre-

cautionary move to prevent foreign nationals from gaining access

to secrets of sophisticated American weaponry—in this case, a

fi ghter jet.) The problem: “Pakistan ’s search and rescue helicop-

ters are primarily of Russian and French origin.” Additionally,

Pakistan makes great use of European-manufactured Casa 235

“short takeoff and landing” airplanes. “If Pakistan cannot base

these aircraft with the F-16s, Pakistani personnel (and U.S.

trainers) could be unnecessarily endangered. At the very least,

operational effectiveness would be hurt by lack of access to Casa

235 capabilities.” Further, the embassy warned, the restrictions

“prevent Pakistan from launching a unifi ed strike package of

U.S. and non-U.S. aircraft from a single air base. As pre-mission

c04.indd 53

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briefi ngs are essential to safety and effectiveness, this would be a

serious handicap for the Pakistan Air Force.” 7

• A 2010 cable (scheduled for declassifi cation in 2034) from the

American embassy in Seoul. Within its pages, South Korean vice

foreign minister Chun Yung-woo relayed word from China that

nothing will stop the collapse of North Korea following the death

of Kim Jong-il. According to Chun, North Korea has “already col-

lapsed economically” and would last no more than three years

beyond Kim

’s death. Meanwhile, and contrary to widespread

belief, China has little control over North Korea, and Pyongyang

“knows it.” This is especially disconcerting as “the Chinese gen-

uinely wanted a denuclearized North Korea, but the [People ’s

Republic of China] was also content with the status quo.” The

message from China: if North Korea is determined to cultivate

a nuclear program, they ’re going to continue, external infl uence

be damned. The expectation over the long term, however, is

the collapse of the North and a reunifi ed peninsula, “anchored

to the United States” in a “benign alliance.” A nonaggressive

partnership would satisfy China, which has little economic invest-

ment or incentive in North Korea, as well as Japan, which prefers

a divided Korea but lacks the leverage to halt reunifi cation. 8

• A 2010 cable revealing that the Chinese government coordinated

systematic intrusions into Google

’s network. Reportedly, “the

closely held operations were directed at the Politburo Standing

Committee level,” and Google was not the only victim of such

state-sponsored cyber crime. “Contacts in the technology industry

tell [U.S. diplomats] that Chinese interference in the operations

of foreign businesses is widespread and often underreported to

U.S. parent companies.” This is in accordance with China ’s goal

of “exploiting the global economic downturn to enact increasingly

draconian product certifi cation and government procurement reg-

ulations.” As part of its strategy, the cable reported, China appeals

to the nationalism of its citizenry by accusing the U.S. govern-

ment and its Internet cohorts of forcing China to accept “Western

values.” This strategy of information authoritarianism collapses

under “Google ’s demand to deliver uncensored search results,”

which offi cials fi nd “very diffi cult to spin as an attack on China.”

As a result of Google ’s stance, the heavily censored Chinese

c04.indd 54

05/02/13 2:46 PM




search engine Baidu “looked like a boring state-owned enterprise,”

while Google seemed “very attractive, like a forbidden fruit.” 9

• A 2007 message from the U.S. embassy in Berlin to the secre-

tary of state, relaying ongoing discussions with German offi cials

concerning Khalid El-Masri. In 2003, El-Masri—a citizen of

Germany—was snatched as a suspected terrorist while vacation-

ing in Skopje, Macedonia. (He was, in fact, confused with actual

terrorist Khalid al -Masri.) A division chief at CIA headquarters

in Langley approved extraordinary rendition for El-Masri. The

innocent German greengrocer was beaten, bagged, and brought

to the notorious Salt Pit just north of Kabul, Afghanistan. While

at the “black prison” ostensibly operated by the CIA but kept off

the books so as to allow for the most abusive of interrogations,

El-Masri was tortured for information he did not and could not

possess. Most damning, after CIA offi cers realized they had the

wrong man, the spooks were spooked and kept El-Masri incarcer-

ated. When George Tenet, director of the CIA, learned of this, he

ordered an immediate release.

Still, El-Masri remained at the Salt Pit. It took two further

demands by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for agents (includ-

ing a German intelligence offi cer, it should be noted) to fi nally

acquiesce. The CIA deposited the emaciated man on the Albanian

border, fi ve months after kidnapping him, without so much as an

apology, to say nothing of remuneration.

Such a gross violation of the rights of an innocent vacationing

citizen of Germany did not go over well with the German people or

government, and calls arose for international arrest warrants against

the fi eld team. The possibility that an ally might drag the black

operations of the global war on terror into the spotlight was similarly

unwelcome in Washington, and diplomatic pressure was applied. In

a suggestive statement as written in the leaked cable, “[U.S. deputy

chief of mission John M. Koenig] pointed out that our intention

was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German

Government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications

for relations with the U.S.” German offi cials pushed back with a weak

hand, as one of its spies was on the ground at the Salt Pit. German

deputy national security adviser Rolf Nikel assured Koenig that “the

c04.indd 55

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Chancellery is well aware of the bilateral political implications of the

case,” but added that this case “will not be easy.” Facing an outraged

press and a hostile political environment, the Chancellery “would

nonetheless try to be as constructive as possible.” Koenig “hoped that

the Chancellery would keep us informed of further developments” so

as to “avoid surprises,” and Nikel reiterated that he could not “prom-

ise that everything will turn out well.” 10

Though the New York Times would face scorn for publishing sensi-

tive material, it never deviated from an internal compass that erred

on the side of caution. Protecting the identities of soldiers, opera-

tives, agents, and diplomats in the fi eld remained a top priority.

Before reaching out to the U.S. government, the Times of its own

accord redacted or otherwise obfuscated all names and identifying

details that might be traced to sources operating within the borders

of oppressive regimes. If a cable noted that a Chinese industrialist vis-

ited the American embassy on a certain date, that date would also

be excised as a precautionary measure, given China ’s predilection for

routinely observing and recording the comings and goings of every-

one from the American compound in Beijing. The New York Times

therefore protected sources that might otherwise be identifi ed by cir-

cumstance, as opposed to simply by name.

Keller and Jill Abramson, then managing editor and now the

executive editor of the paper, agreed that the U.S. government should

get a week ’s notice. This was decided as a measure to both protect the

Times ’s competitive edge (as other papers would certainly print

the cables with or without the New York Times on point) and give U.S.

offi cials the opportunity to help contextualize the material revealed.

It would also allow offi cials to backstop the Times ’s efforts to protect

sources and highly sensitive intelligence programs and otherwise pre-

vent the disclosure of information that might cause signifi cant harm to

the United States.

On the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving 2010, after deni-

als and outrage from the Obama administration, government offi cials

fi nally came to the table.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton designated William Burns,

under secretary for political affairs, and P. J. Crowley, assistant

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secretary of state for public affairs, as team leaders of the ad hoc

WikiLeaks response group. The State Department opened negotia-

tions with an obviously overreaching request: that the Times redact

all details of communication between American diplomats and for-

eign heads of state. Would they overlook, for example, the request

by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for the United States to “cut off

the head of the snake,” referring, now famously, to Iran? 11 Similarly,

would the Times withhold cables involving the king of Bahrain, who

pleaded with General David Petraeus to deal with Iran “by whatever

means necessary”? 12

This opening bid was, of course, a nonstarter, and the Times

never considered it. The State Department WikiLeaks response

group argued that publishing these cables would rapidly destabilize

regimes in such a way that would lead to riots, death, destruction,

and carnage of the most abhorrent variety. (To a certain extent, the

State Department was correct: regimes were destabilized, and several

fell, as part of the Arab Spring.) Though representatives of the New

York Times were fully aware that the cables would strain diplomatic

relations, they determined that the government ’s request relied more

on fears of embarrassment than on any legitimate, overriding threats

to national security.

By the day of publication—November 28, 2010, under the ban-

ner “Leaked Cables Offer Raw Look at U.S. Diplomacy”—the U.S.

government was actively working with the Times as a full partner in

all but name. State offi cials vetted the cables for sensitive content

in consultation with several government agencies, and the Times

agreed to a number of the redactions requested. In fact, in most

cases the paper had already independently decided to redact them.

One involved a highly classifi ed counterterrorism unit designated

CTU—an abbreviation fans of


’s Jack Bauer might recog-

nize. CTU had taken years to build, and was staffed by Yemeni,

American, and British operatives, with the express purpose of intel-

ligence sharing. 13 Though the Obama administration has publicly

acknowledged an active footprint of U.S. special operations forces

in Yemen training locals for counterterrorism, neither CTU nor

multinational intelligence sharing had previously been revealed.

Such a revelation would have been distinctly unpopular at home,

with the rising threat of Yemen to U.S. security, and abroad, for

obvious reasons.

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A more interesting revelation of cooperation came not from a

known front in the war, but from a hostile foreign power. On February

18, 2010, General Ali Mamlouk, the general intelligence direc-

tor of Syria, attended a counterterrorism meeting “at the request

of President Bashar al-Asad as a gesture following a positive meet-

ing between [Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs] William

Burns and the Syrian president the previous day.” According to Imad

Mustapha, Syrian ambassador to the United States, who translated

for Mamlouk during the meeting, “Mamlouk ’s attendance at meet-

ings with foreign delegations was extraordinary,” and did not occur

“even with friendly countries like Britain and France.” This was a very

personal gesture and a show of goodwill. The Syrian offi cials “were

attentive during [Ambassador Daniel] Benjamin ’s presentation on al-

Qaeda, foreign fi ghters, and other common threats, and reacted pos-

itively to his warnings that these issues presented challenges to both

the U.S. and Syria.” For his part, the Syrian spy chief extended the

possibility of “security and intelligence cooperation” with the United

States, so long as Syria was given point in regional actions, the bilat-

eral relationship between the United States and Syria improved, and

economic sanctions against Syria were alleviated. “In summary,” said

Vice Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad, who was also present at the

meeting, “President Asad wants cooperation, we should take the lead

on that cooperation, and don ’t put us on your lists.” 14

By comparison, the WikiLeaks response group did not ask the

Times to withhold publication of a cable where José “Pepe” Grinda

Gonzalez, a Spanish National Court prosecutor, referred to Russia as

a “mafi a state,” or the multitude of cables reporting tensions between

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and Russian president Dmitry

Medvedev. 15 (One of the more salacious reports by Russian insiders

explores three branches of thought on the matter: that Medvedev

is coming into his own as president; that Medvedev is “Robin” to

Putin ’s “Batman”; that the two leaders coexist peacefully.) 16 These

types of reports were trivial to the response group. Western intelli-

gence sharing with terrorist states—a vital national security priority—

triggered a blinking red light and barricades.

• • •

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Interestingly, “Cablegate” has had but a limited effect on some

areas of U.S. policy and has actually strengthened the president ’s gov-

erning agenda in others. As if in mockery of Julian Assange ’s lofti-

est ambitions, the release of State Department diplomatic cables

has given ideological ammunition to those who believe that the

entrenched state, methodically cloaked in secrecy, actually refl ects

the best interest of the polity.

Assange ’s Manichean view of the governing institutions of the

United States arguably blinded him to the subtleties of foreign pol-

icy as revealed by the cable release. A clear-eyed reading of much of

the classifi ed material wrenched from the secrecy apparatus suggests

a more accountable government than Assange—or anyone, really—

ever imagined. Contrary to the initial alarmist reporting, the diplo-

matic cables make heroes out of American diplomats. For the most

part, the puzzle pieces dumped by Assange (and patiently reassem-

bled by outsiders) reveal an American government that indeed tries

to do what it says it will do. And when the government is pressed to

lie or obfuscate, it almost invariably does so to further a redeeming

interest. The oppressive secrecy regime as perceived by Assange may

be messy—yes—and abused—of course—but not altogether dysfunc-

tional or objectively immoral.

Veteran investigative journalist Bart Gellman has outlined how

this works in practice. The government competes with journalists on

one level and cooperates with them on another. That is to say, the

state labors to keep as much sensitive information out of the pub-

lic square as possible. Once classifi ed information has been com-

promised, however, the state works with journalists to facilitate its

responsible publication, with context and elaboration.

Aside from threats of enforcing the Espionage Act—a rarely used

sledgehammer in the government ’s toolshed—there is no legal or for-

mal basis for the government to ask a reporter not to reveal classifi ed

programs, or the particulars of said programs. Indeed, in such cases

the government ’s hands are often tied, as those requests would prove

technically illegal. By asking for red pen authority over key classifi ed

details of a journalist ’s reporting, the government implicitly confi rms

those details. Because it is unlawful to share, suggest, or substanti-

ate classifi ed information with persons lacking clearance and “need

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to know” authority, the state is largely impotent when faced with the

primed printing press. Blunt intimidation, therefore, is invariably


None of the cable revelations, positive or negative, nullify the

larger point: Julian Assange, and future Julian Assanges, are the direct

result of the sprawling secrecy apparatus of the U.S government.

Because so many matters of the state have been stamped Secret, the

practice of illegally leaking to the press is not only considered accept-

able, but oftentimes necessary for governance. Accordingly, lawmakers

charged with crafting legislation to prevent future WikiLeaks scenar-

ios are hamstrung by a situation they have created and a mechanism

they have come to rely on. An overreaching law might prevent future

Salt Pit–equivalent revelations, while anemic legislation would give

tacit approval for similar illegal, unilateral, bulk declassifi cations. At

the same time, politicians and the contemporary culture herald whis-

tleblowing as an act of virtue. Well, Assange blew the whistle on King

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who wanted the U.S. military to launch a

preemptive decapitation strike on Iran.

Ultimately, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates—no stranger

to the importance of state secrecy, having served as both the leader

of a military at war and as former director of central intelligence—

pointedly questioned the alarmists in Washington:

Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who ’s been at

this a long time. Every other government in the world knows

the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for

a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was

looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a

quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, pub-

lishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know

not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is


When we went to real congressional oversight of intelli-

gence in the mid-70s, there was a broad view that no other

foreign intelligence service would ever share informa-

tion with us again if we were going to share it all with the

Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.

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Now, I ’ve heard the impact of these releases on our for-

eign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer,

and so on. I think—I think those descriptions are fairly sig-

nifi cantly overwrought. The fact is: governments deal with

the United States because it ’s in their interest, not because

they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they

believe we can keep secrets.

Many governments—some governments deal with

us be cause they fear us, some because they respect us, most

because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said

before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will con-

tinue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We

will continue to share sensitive information with one another.

Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences

for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest. 17

Gates won few friends at the State Department for his candid

remarks. He contradicted statements by Secretary of State Hillary

Clinton, who had earlier called the WikiLeaks exposé “an attack on

America” and on the international community, adding, “There is noth-

ing laudable about endangering innocent people, and there is nothing

brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations.” 18 The

Department of Justice was apoplectic at Gates, fearing that such an

unvarnished assessment by such a respected, experienced, and senior

administration offi cial—a man who by virtue of his career in govern-

ment may well know more secrets than anyone—would undermine

any future prosecution of Julian Assange.

The weeks and months following the WikiLeaks cable release

have confi rmed the statements of Secretary Gates. It was embar-

rassing. Some U.S. ambassadors found their telephone calls unre-

turned. Secretary Clinton, meanwhile, endured a public lashing in

the press when cables emerged suggesting that the State Department

had issued orders for diplomats to collect human intelligence. Never

mind that such policies reach back to Thomas Jefferson, the fi rst sec-

retary of state, who instructed diplomats to gather “such political and

commercial intelligence as you may think interesting to the United

States.” 19 Never mind that diplomats of the United States were not

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in fact conscripted into intelligence gathering. Rather, because

the order was circulated to the entire State Department, Secretary

Clinton ’s name appeared as the originator of the cable. This was and

is standard procedure.

In 1990, Secretary of State James Baker found himself in similar

tempest when reports surfaced that the American envoy to Iraq, April

Glaspie, had tried to appease Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Iraqi

dictator ’s decision to invade Kuwait. In fact, Glaspie ’s cable recount-

ing events of the meeting noted that she had specifi cally warned

the Iraqi leader against invading its neighbor. But higher-ups at the

State Department didn ’t get the cable, or misplaced it, and it took

the U.S. government some time to correct the record. Baker obvi-

ously couldn ’t know the situational specifi cs to defend Glaspie, and

he wouldn ’t play the news media ’s game. “What you want me to do is

say that those instructions were sent specifi cally by me on my specifi c

orders,” he scoffed, noting that 312,000 cables go out in his name

each year. 20

The cables related to Secretary Clinton ’s nonexistent spy ring

involved guidelines set by analysts at the CIA ’s National Human

Intelligence (HUMINT) Requirements Tasking Center. The

HUMINT Tasking Center is charged with determining what types

of intelligence the U.S. government requires for ongoing activities

and how best to obtain it. In 2004, the CIA determined that in order

to provide value-added insight to policy makers enmeshed in com-

plex negotiations about war and terrorism, it needed additional raw

data on foreign dignitaries, the United Nations, and various coun-

tries. The decision to send out a tasking was itself derivative of a 2003

presidential national security directive issued by President George W.

Bush. The data would be used by many consumers: State ’s own intel-

ligence branch; the National Security Agency, which has representa-

tives in the center; the CIA; and the Defense Intelligence Agency,

which compiles extensive intelligence and operations databases.

In 2009, the CIA updated its intelligence requirements and reis-

sued the directive, which went to all members of the intelligence

community, joint intelligence centers of combatant commands, and

even to selected cleared personnel representing the Departments of

Agriculture and Commerce overseas, as the 8,500-word cable itself

makes clear. Once State got the order, Michael Owen, the acting

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State Department intelligence chief, properly distributed the instruc-

tions with a gloss as to what his shop could use to provide the intel-

ligence community with better information. Just as in the case of

Secretary Baker, in all likelihood Secretary Clinton never saw the

material, even though her name appeared as originator.

The leaked cable does, however, raise questions. Does the intel-

ligence community spy on the United Nations? Yes. Does it spy on

friendly African leaders? Certainly. Does the government want to col-

lect sensitive and personal information on friendly international poli-

ticians, like the head of the World Health Organization? Somewhat

uncomfortably, it does. But the State Department does not have

the capacity to tap phones and collect data; Foreign Service offi cers

aren ’t trained in tradecraft. They are not expected to gather intelli-

gence for the sole purpose of feeding the CIA analytical beast.

Instead, there is an assumption made by every person who comes

into contact with an identifi ed member of the U.S. Foreign Service

overseas that a representative of the U.S. government is going to act

at all times in the interest of the U.S. government. Accordingly, every

Foreign Service offi cer gathers information to some degree. The CIA

HUMINT Tasking Center directive helps focus their efforts. There is

no new, malevolent Clinton-directed blurring of lines; the lines were

already blurred by design. Foreign offi cials understand the unoffi cial

role played by diplomats and oftentimes use it as a means to send

back-channel messages to the State Department.

Like every revelation by WikiLeaks made public so far, the furor

subsided. The enticing narrative of a secret spy ring orchestrated by

Hillary Clinton gave way to the more tedious reality of how paper-

work is deployed in a bureaucracy. This is not to say, however,

that nothing changed as a result of the scandal. On the contrary, it

contributed to perhaps the most signifi cant policy casualty of the

WikiLeaks affair. Before the cable release, the CIA and the State

Department were on the verge of fi nalizing an agreement designed

to give thousands of intelligence analysts assigned to several agen-

cies of State instant desk access to high-level diplomatic traffi c.

“That all went up in smoke,” said an offi cial who was brokering the


• • •

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In the long run, this may prove to be a net positive for information

security. The Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet)

used by the Department of Defense is hardwired with no external

points of entry so as to prevent illegal access by unauthorized per-

sonnel. During the fi rst Bush administration, “authorized person-

nel” totaled fi ve hundred users with security clearances. Today,

several hundred thousand users have SIPRNet access. Many of

them have only interim clearances—a mere signature on a nondis-

closure agreement. With too many secrets come too many persons

requiring access. That is how Bradley Manning, a troubled U.S.

Army private at a forward operating base lacking even the slightest

pretense of “need to know,” gained access to the entirety of the State

Department ’s secret fi les.

War fi ghting is measurably improved by such cross-agency data

sharing, but the program was implemented at the expense of basic

precautions. USB ports were not disabled. Nor were the write capa-

bilities of CD and DVD drives. In a sense, the administrators of

SIPRNet invited the security breach.

Post-WikiLeaks, interagency information sharing has been cur-

tailed pending a reassessment of computer network security policies.

The Offi ce of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a directive

ordering all federal agencies that handle sensitive information to

review their internal security practices. In addition, the OMB has

ordered that agencies build assessment teams composed of special-

ists in security and counterintelligence to establish new procedures

and standards for training, access, and oversight. In the meantime,

WikiLeaks has put a halt to intelligence community-wide efforts at

declassifi cation—the opposite of the organization ’s stated goal.

Whether or not WikiLeaks succeeded in revealing nontrivial

overclassifi cation, however, remains an open question. Certainly

diplomatic cables consisting of compiled news summaries from the

public press and stamped “Secret” are too much, though a fair argu-

ment can be made that even then a particular selection of newspaper

columns refl ects the priorities of the United States. But such cables’

exposure does not equate with “signifi cant” harm to national secu-

rity. On other hand, those cables that would likely have imperiled the

state were carefully redacted. The New York Times took the initiative

and was soon assisted by the ad hoc State Department–


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partnership, and then followed by WikiLeaks itself. The organization

did, in fact, redact the names of U.S. covert and clandestine opera-

tives in the fi eld. 21

The WikiLeaks public relations effort certainly failed in one

respect: by its publishing such a massive number of cables simulta-

neously, a kind of “security through obscurity” effect took place, with

no one state secret able to astound and resonate before being stepped

on by yet another. Although the WikiLeaks strategy attempted to steer

media coverage with carefully timed revelations—the Khalid El-Masri

horror in Germany, the innocent Iraqis killed during Operation Baton

Rouge in Samarra, Iraq, the presence of U.S. special operations forces

on the ground in Pakistan and working alongside Pakistani fi ghters—

the WikiLeaks organization demonstrated for a second time a poor

mastery of the dynamic between the press and the public. 22 (The fi rst,

of course, being the selectively edited “Collateral Murder.”) In both

instances, WikiLeaks itself became the story.

Still, with every passing day journalists and activists rifl e through

the ocean of secrets thrust into the public sphere by WikiLeaks, and

it will take years before a full assessment can be made about the

nature of U.S. diplomacy and the damage infl icted (or profi ts gained)

by sunlight. But presently those with original classifi cation authority

in the U.S. government have been put on notice that embossing a

document with “Secret” doesn ’t diminish its ability to be printed.

It ’s worth noting in closing that contrary to the darkest suspicions

of the activists at WikiLeaks, the United States did not prove as a

rule to be duplicitous and hypocritical in its dealings. As evidenced

by tens of thousands of cables, American diplomats have proven to

be a trusted and ardent force for good in the world. Similarly, the

United States as a nation is not universally looked upon as an impe-

rial beast in need of slaying, but rather is often seen as a benign force

that friends, nominal allies, and public enemies alike turn to for guid-

ance, protection, and leadership. These nations sometimes ask the

impossible (decapitating Iran) or the awkward (support in secret and

denunciations in public), but they do look to the United States. By

that standard, America does not cleave the international commu-

nity into segments for conquest, but rather binds them together for

mutual benefi t. Perhaps the most shocking and unintended revela-

tion of WikiLeaks is that the United States isn ’t so bad at all.

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’s worth reconsidering one other purported fact about

WikiLeaks: though it may have been, in terms of volume, the larg-

est leak in history, it was not the most damaging. Israel would say

that nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu ’s exposé of the country ’s

nuclear weapons complex at Dimona was catastrophic; Britain had

to deal with disorienting revelations in the biography of former MI5

assistant director Peter Wilson in 1987 containing leaks that led to a

full-scale revision of the country ’s internal spying protocols. 23

c04.indd 66

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C H A P T E R 5

Vital Information

The election of General Dwight D. Eisenhower brought the spy

community a president of the United States who understood

intelligence in both theory and practice. One of Ike ’s fi rst orders of

business was to provide encouragement to J. Edgar Hoover, who

had eventually found acceptance but never comfort with Harry S.

Truman. “Such was my respect for [Hoover] that I invited him to a

meeting, my only purpose being to assure him that I wanted him in

government as long as I might be there and that in the performance

of his duties he would have the complete support of my offi ce.” 1

Eisenhower thus unleashed Hoover and the FBI to pursue “secu-

rity risks” in the federal government, a green light to hunt for com-

munists on the payroll. The president further proved his devotion to

Hoover by awarding the director the National Security Medal.

Eisenhower also empowered the CIA by promoting General

Walter Bedell Smith, whose leadership by 1953 had reshaped the

Company into a leaner, more focused institution of intelligence anal-

ysis and covert operations. (Concluded former case offi cer Samuel

Halpern, “If it hadn ’t been for Bedell, I don ’t think there would be a

CIA today.”) 2 Smith, who was Eisenhower ’s most trusted, most capa-

ble associate during World War II, would become under secretary of

state. The two men talked by phone “maybe several times a day.” 3

Where everyone else in the administration referred to Eisenhower


c05.indd 67

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only as “Mr. President,” Smith had no problem picking up the phone

and saying, “Goddamn it Ike, I think…” 4 Though Allen Dulles, the

new director of central intelligence, would work to limit Smith ’s

infl uence in the State Department, Smith would soon become the

president ’s closest adviser and chief overseer of covert operations. 5

Until his retirement, he continued working behind the scenes to pro-

tect and nurture the agency he once brought back from the brink.

With the Soviet bloc consolidating power in Eastern Europe, the

CIA targeted every spot on the map where colonialism had fl agged,

from the Middle East to South America. 6 The objective was to pre-

vent communist infi ltration of collapsed states. Furthermore, so long

as it could operate in complete secrecy, the CIA was empowered to

conduct operations in any nation whose geopolitical sympathies were

antithetical to those of the United States.

One of Eisenhower ’s highest priorities (and lasting achievements)

as president involved imagery intelligence (IMINT). During World

War II, he developed a minor obsession with IMINT, ordering pilots

to fl y him above the combat zone. 7 As president, he personally super-

vised the U-2 spy plane program, whereby a high-altitude reconnais-

sance plane equipped with the most sophisticated cameras of its time

fl ew over Soviet soil, recording major infrastructure and tracking

nuclear assets. The president signed off on every mission and closely

studied each fl ight ’s fi ndings with Dulles and other CIA offi cials. 8 He

was no fool as to the risk such sorties entailed, however. “Well boys,”

he said when fi rst presented with plans for the U-2. “I believe the

country needs this information, and I ’m going to approve it. But I ’ll

tell you one thing. Some day one of these machines is going to get

caught, and then we ’ll have a storm.” 9

That day almost came in 1958 when Hanson Baldwin, the mili-

tary affairs correspondent for the New York Times , learned of the

U-2 missions while visiting Germany. When Baldwin returned to

Washington, he met Robert Amory, the deputy director of central

intelligence, for lunch. Baldwin was giving the deputy director a

heads-up that the U-2 story would soon appear in the Times , to which

Amory replied, “Jesus, Hanson, no!” 10 Dulles would appeal success-

fully to Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger to spike the story. 11

That day of reckoning feared by Eisenhower arrived on May 1,

1960, when a Soviet missile hit but didn ’t destroy a U-2. 12 The plane

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landed mostly intact, though the pilot ’s fate was in doubt. (Survival

was considered unlikely, and in any event the pilot was given a cap-

sule of toxin to swallow in the event of capture.) 13 The Eisenhower

administration kept the loss a secret in hopes that the Soviets would

do the same.

Not long after, the U.S. ambassador was invited to an assem-

bly of the Supreme Soviet, where he sat as a guest of honor. Premier

Nikita Khrushchev presided over the 1,300-member Soviet legislature,

conducting routine business before unexpectedly turning to darker


Lately, infl uential forces—imperialist and militarist circles,

whose stronghold is the Pentagon—have become noticeably

more active in the United States . . . . Comrade Deputies!

On the instruction of the Soviet government, I must report to

you on aggressive actions against the Soviet Union in the past

few weeks . . . . The United States has been sending aircraft

that have been crossing our state frontiers and intruding upon

the airspace of the Soviet Union. We protested to the United

States against several previous aggressive acts of this kind . . . .

The aggressor knows what he is in for when he intrudes upon

foreign territory . . . shoot the plane down! This assignment

was fulfi lled. 14

“The pilot of the American plane,” announced Premier Khruschev,

“is alive and well.” 15

The diplomatic fallout was severe. The pilot, Gary Powers, spent

nearly two years in a Soviet hard labor camp before being traded by

the United States for a captured Soviet spy. Though the incident

would prove embarrassing to the Eisenhower administration and dev-

astating to international relations, it had the ironic effect of fast-tracking

research and development of the U.S. Corona spy satellite, which

would provide far more accurate image intelligence from the safety

and security of space. 16

For the record, the U-2 spy plane was fl own from a secret CIA

facility in Peshawar, Pakistan. 17

• • •

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When Eisenhower ordered the secret fl ights, he did so with the tacit

approval of the public. The Soviet Union was a threat and had to be

watched. His fear was not that the American people would learn of

the missions and consider them criminal or immoral, but that the

Soviets would learn of the missions and in some way retaliate. Still,

whether a program is leaked, revealed post-confl ict, or exposed by

accident, sooner or later it ’s going to get out. The entire enterprise,

therefore, is an effort at failing gracefully, or delaying political or his-

torical approval.

Every president believes that the secret activities he orders or per-

mits are both moral and in the interest of the nation. Sometimes he

understands that the nation might not necessarily agree, and in such

cases the hope is that the missions stay secret, lest they become a

political concern as well as a security matter. Generally speaking, the

worst effects of leaks (so far) have been the debates that result and

the erosion of government trust by people who dislike having been

kept in the dark.

A hypothetical example: An oil company executive tells the presi-

dent that petroleum prices will double in six months. The president

spends the next six months quietly working with hostile governments

in oil-rich countries to prevent economic disaster. Her rationale for

keeping the information and the negotiations secret is obvious. But

after six months elapse, if prices remain stable and word leaks that

the president in some way capitulated to an unambiguously wretched

regime, public faith in the government erodes. Similarly, if the econ-

omy collapses and word leaks that the president knew something ,

public faith in the government erodes. In both instances, democracy

feels like an illusion and the Republic suffers.

Another hypothetical: Immediately following a successful terrorist

attack on the United States, authorities fi nd and capture the master-

mind. Intelligence suggests that another attack is imminent, but the

terrorist isn ’t talking.

In that din of catastrophe, we should examine the limits of the

faith we entrust to the government. Forty years after Eisenhower

said, “I believe the country needs this information, and I ’m going to

approve it,” the country again needed vital information, and the pres-

ident again approved it. Only this time it didn ’t involve spy planes. It

involved torture.

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• • •

When the insurgency began in Iraq, it caused panic at the Pentagon.

The lack of tactical intelligence about enemy combatants was a sig-

nifi cant problem for war planners. In early June 2003, U.S. com-

manders in Iraq launched Operation Peninsula Strike, the fi rst of

its efforts to sweep away the underbrush that allowed the Fedayeen

Saddam to survive. The operation was not a success. On September

12, as violence against coalition forces spiked, Secretary of Defense

Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo to Stephen Cambone, the under sec-

retary of defense for intelligence. “I keep reading [intelligence com-

munity] intel,” he wrote. “It leaves one with the impression that we

know a lot—who the people are, what they are doing, where they

are going, when they are meeting, and the like. However, when one

pushes on that information it is pretty clear that we don ’t have action-

able intelligence.” Furthermore, Rumsfeld didn ’t “have good data on

the people we have been capturing and interrogating” in either Iraq

or Afghanistan. “I don ’t feel I am getting information from the inter-

rogations that should be enabling us as to answer the questions I ’ve

posed.” 18

It is not hard to see how, from this urgent need, a policy of

enhanced interrogation techniques might develop, which in the

frenzy of war might turn into torture. In 2004, according to a recently

declassifi ed memorandum written for Rumsfeld and three years after

the start of the war, the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command

(JSOC) now “operated from a reactive rather than a proactive pos-

ture, and was not structured for the complex, extended-duration

operations they currently conduct.” JSOC, it said, “lacked the ‘fi nd’

and ‘fi x’ and intelligence fusion capabilities essential” to the war on

terrorism. Its intelligence capabilities, “particularly in human intel-

ligence, were very limited.” 19

Such was the situation when Rumsfeld named then major gen-

eral Stanley McChrystal as commanding general of JSOC. General

McChrystal, the former commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment

and a task force commander in Afghanistan, had just completed a

Pentagon tour as vice director of operations on the Joint Staff. He had

impressed Rumsfeld, who admired him for defending the Iraq War in

pubic despite harboring private reservations.

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McChrystal had, with the help of Marshall Billingslea, the

Pentagon civilian in charge of special operations, painstakingly

drafted the execute order that allowed JSOC to pursue terrorists in

a dozen countries outside Afghanistan and Iraq, subject to vari-

ous rules imposed by the National Security Council. (JSOC could

not set foot in Iran; it had to jump through hoops to chase terror-

ists in Pakistan; Somalia was an open zone.) McChrystal, compact,

intense, and stone-faced, was known for his Ranger high-and-tight,

his minimal tolerance for bureaucracy, and his talent as a constant

innovator. (To wit: before he put on his fi rst star, he had rewritten

the U.S. Army hand-to-hand combat curriculum.) He is at once dis-

arming and intimidating in person. He struck some subordinates as a

monk, largely because he was an introvert, and the nickname JSOC

personnel give to their boss—the Pope—became synonymous with

McChrystal, more so than with any JSOC commander before or

since. (The Pope moniker traces its lineage to Janet Reno, the attor-

ney general under President Bill Clinton, who once complained

that getting information out of JSOC was like trying to pry loose the

Vatican ’s secrets.)

McChrystal slept in tents with his men. Once, General Doug

Brown, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command,

visited a JSOC team forward-deployed in a war zone, expecting that

McChrystal ’s offi ce would befi t a general offi cer ’s billet. It turned

out to be an austere eight-by-ten-foot prisonlike cell. It wasn ’t for

show that McChrystal accepted the designation of commander,

Joint Special Operations Command Forward—he was always with

his men. Indeed, under his command, JSOC ’s headquarters back

in Fayetteville, North Carolina, often had little to do. McChrystal

brought everything with him. But as a decorated Ranger recalls of the

period, “We were cowboys in 2003 and 2004 . . . we were account-

able to no one.”

McChrystal inherited a command that included the military ’s

brightest and boldest but also most overburdened. Indeed, his pre-

decessor, Major General Dell Dailey, wanted to scale back JSOC ’s

missions after Afghanistan in order to give the teams time to regroup.

Rangers, in particular, had just fi nished Operation Winter Strike,

clearing large swaths of territory in Afghanistan at the end of 2003.

Task Force 1-21, JSOC ’s regional task force, followed. The demands

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on JSOC were prodigious, and it lacked a strategy or central focus

for success. Even though the spigot of money for counterterrorism

operations was open, the Command often had to beg to get a fi xed-

wing aircraft in the air. Simply put, JSOC lacked the resources, the

structure, and the strategy to carry out its mission. McChrystal ’s

fi rst instinct was true to his infantry roots: he wanted more com-

bined arms training for the units, but he quickly realized he had a

much larger problem. As the war in Iraq turned ugly, no one really

knew how to solve what in military terms was known as the “OODA


An OODA loop is a term coined by the late military strategist

John Boyd to refer to the way fi ghting organizations adapt: observe,

orient, decide, and act. The challenge of fi ghting insurgencies is that

smaller groups tend to outlast their larger adversaries because small

groups have OODA loops measured in nanoseconds when compared

with the lumbering decision chains of major world armies. The

enemy is thus always a step ahead of even armies with the best tech-

nology and hardened soldiers.

Complicating matters was the existence of excess “blinks”

between the development of a piece of intelligence and its use

on the battlefi eld. Most of the actionable intelligence the United

States received came from foreign sources (the Brits were par-

ticularly good in Iraq, as were the Kurds). The National Security

Agency had yet to get a full read on Iraq ’s rudimentary but highly

distributed cell telephone network. The U.S. intelligence commu-

nity bickered over high-tech surveillance resources, and agencies

refused to talk to one another. British journalist Mark Urban, writ-

ing in Task Force Black , a narrative history about U.S.-UK coopera-

tion in Iraq, quotes a senior British offi cer as saying that the CIA ’s

refusal to share information with even its own countrymen was


Such confusion and desperation are two reasons harsh inter-

rogations seemed morally permissible at the time. At the very least,

enemy combatants would say something, which would set in motion

kinetic operations. This at least gave the appearance of movement

toward a goal.

• • •

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In the early days of the chase for al-Qaeda and the Taliban in

Afghanistan, the CIA and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency

(DIA) did most of the interrogating. JSOC intelligence gather-

ers watched but did not participate. By October 2002, an internal

JSOC assessment of interrogations at Bagram Airfi eld, Afghanistan,

and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, found that the resistance techniques

of enemy combatants “outmatched” the interrogation techniques of

U.S. forces. Higher headquarters was not satisfi ed with the results,

and JSOC picked up the rope. The Command established a task

force to determine whether its operators should directly interrogate

the “designated unlawful combatants” they captured. One month

later, U.S. military survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE)

instructors taught certain members of JSOC the fi ner points of

harsh interrogation. (These operators, like all members of the special

operations forces community, had previously attended SERE school

as prisoners so as to learn how to effectively resist torture.) Around

this time, some JSOC operators were read in to a classifi ed program

called MATCHBOX that included direct authorization to use certain

aggressive interrogation techniques in the fi eld (for example, the best

way to throw a detainee against a wall).

Who chartered MATCHBOX (also known by the unclassifi ed

nickname COPPER GREEN, as revealed by journalist Seymour

Hersh) remains a mystery. No one wants to take credit for it. Yet as

a result of the program, JSOC adopted a standard operating proce-

dure (SOP) for Afghanistan that included the use of stress positions,

barking dogs, and sleep deprivation, among various other physical


When JSOC Task Force 6-26 set up operations in Iraq, it

extended the practice, copying the SOP in its entirety, essentially

only changing “Afghanistan” to “Iraq” on its letterhead. The primary

mission of 6-26 was to hunt, kill, or capture high-value targets. At

the top of the list: former senior members of the Baathist regime, fol-

lowed by al-Qaeda and foreign fi ghters who fl ocked to the war zone

en masse seeking a pound of Uncle Sam ’s fl esh.

Just after the fall of Saddam Hussein, U.S. Army Rangers claimed

a small Iraqi military base near Baghdad International Airport for

use by special operations forces. Camp Nama, as it is called, was

purposed to hold enemy combatants thought to possess actionable

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intelligence about the locations of 6-26 targets. The limits of enemy

interrogation as defi ned in a revised, more humane SOP soon fell by

the wayside. Personnel from Task Force 6-26 (with the participation

of members of the DIA) subjected prisoners to intense physical, psy-

chological, and occasionally lethal interrogation.

The Senate Armed Services Committee investigation into

detainee abuse in Iraq includes several harrowing accounts of the

interactions between conventional military offi cers and JSOC com-

manders. Reportedly, special operations offi cers acted as though

they were above the law, and the Senate review later concluded that

JSOC interrogators regularly brutalized their detainees. At the time,

members of both the CIA and the DIA sent word up their respec-

tive chains of command that JSOC was possibly breaking the law. An

effort by the Defense Department requiring JSOC to adhere to its

own set of interrogation standards was ignored. One senior Joint Staff

offi cial testifi ed that he would give 6-26 commanders a copy of the

new SOP to sign every day. Every day, it would be “lost.” It was never


During numerous visits by outside personnel, higher-ranking

non-JSOC offi cers halted interrogations midway. JSOC personnel

seemed to be fl aunting their harsh techniques with impunity. It got

so bad that by late 2003 the DIA, the FBI, and British interrogation

teams stopped all cooperation with JSOC.

The lack of accountability was startling to long-term military

interrogators such as Lieutenant Colonel Steven Kleinman, who had

been dispatched to Iraq to review and modify JSOC detainee opera-

tions. One Iraqi was picked up for allegedly knowing a lot about

bridges. The bridges in question turned out to be of the calcium-and-

enamel variety—he was a dentist. Kleinman later testifi ed that he

considered the JSOC facility to be “uncontrolled.”

McChrystal commanded JSOC for more than a year before the

harsh interrogations fi nally stopped. People close to McChrystal

say that when he toured Camp Nama facilities, the interroga-

tors would be on their best behavior and seemed to be following

the classifi ed SOP he had approved. By the end of 2004, however,

it became clear that the abuses were habitual and institutionalized.

According to Urban, the British Special Air Service (SAS) informed

McChrystal that it would no longer participate in operations where

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detainees were sent to “black” sites, which now included a kennel-

like compound near Balad, Iraq, and another at Bagram Airfi eld in

Afghanistan. Up until that point, SAS units had been instrumental

in helping JSOC uncover the rudiments of an intelligence railway

that allowed al-Qaeda to penetrate Iraq so easily.

McChrystal ordered deputy commanding general Eric Fiel to

quietly review the practices at Camp Nama. The review, which

remains classifi ed and locked in a vault at Pope Army Airfi eld,

resulted in disciplinary action against more than forty JSOC person-

nel. Several promising careers—including that of the colonel respon-

sible for Nama at the time of the abuses—were ended. McChrystal

has since told associates that he did not fully appreciate the degree to

which interrogators at all levels lacked guidance and direction.

When the extent of the abuses at Camp Nama was made public,

Under Secretary of Defense Cambone was furious at McChrystal,

accusing the general of abusing the authority given to him.

McChrystal, to put it mildly, did not appreciate being blamed for

a program he had not created and by most accounts knew almost

nothing about. A still-classifi ed internal Pentagon investigation of

McChrystal was initiated on Cambone ’s insistence. Its conclusions

are not publicly available, but based on McChrystal ’s meteoric rise,

one can extrapolate that the conclusions did not undermine confi -

dence in the Pope.

In some ways, the detainee abuse scandals gave McChrystal a

platform to clean house at JSOC, and by most accounts he did. He

fl ew to JSOC operating locations around the world and insisted

that the era of harsh interrogations—except in the direst of circum-

stances—was over.

“My sense is that we just didn ’t know much about how to work or

handle the detainees,” said a senior military offi cial whose service at

JSOC spanned the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. “The mistakes

that were made during our initial forays into detainee exploitation

were more about ignorance and just trying to fi gure out this art, rather

than any malicious attempt to violate any policies or regulations.

We also suffered from a lack of trained personnel who didn ’t under-

stand what was effective interrogation.” But then, he added, “General

McChrystal ’s leadership drove the need for a fi x and professionalizing

the force, and then general [Michael] Flynn drove the execution.”

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• • •

No doubt, when Bradley Manning turned his trove of secrets over to

WikiLeaks, everyone involved assumed that they would fi nd some-

thing scandalous on the scale of waterboarding, black sites, or Abu

Ghraib. With confl icts as complicated and sprawling as the wars in

Iraq and Afghanistan, those who were most skeptical of American

military power were sure there must have been the murder of civil-

ians, the corruption of foreign politicians, breaches of the Geneva

Conventions, or at least collusion with some lesser of evils. When

there wasn ’t anything grand enough, they worked to create some-

thing with the “Collateral Murder” tape.

This is not to claim the government is not currently engaged in

morally or tactically questionable activities. Obviously, that ’s impossi-

ble to say defi nitively, and skepticism will always be warranted. At the

same time, this is no longer Hoover and Eisenhower ’s national secu-

rity state. So many people know about sensitive operations—people

in lower levels of authority, with “civilian” mindsets and unlimited

access to new ways to leak—that it ’s clear that Eisenhower ’s “some-

day” is now “someday soon.” The period between the time that a

secret is established and the time that it is disclosed has narrowed sig-

nifi cantly, and those running operations of any sort can ’t depend on

a thoughtful history judging them, but a heated and partisan present.

While this change owes a lot to the radical growth of the secrecy

machine after 9/11 and the concurrent rise of the Internet, it really

began in the 1970s. For the fi rst time, that was when Americans

really got a picture of what went on in the more secret corridors of

power, and it wasn ’t always pretty.

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C H A P T E R 6

The Horrors Book

On December 22, 1974, Sy Hersh pulled back the drapes of

the Central Intelligence Agency, and sunlight annihilated

everything in its path. Under the headline “Huge C.I.A. Operation

Reported in U.S. Against Anti-War Forces, Other Dissidents in

Nixon Years,” the

New York Times

reported that the CIA had

engaged in widespread domestic spying in fl agrant violation of its

charter. Hersh ’s reporting was incomplete and distorted, but it was

suffi cient to light a fuse that ended in an explosion at Langley.

According to the report, the Company had engaged in mass “break-

ins, wiretapping, and the surreptitious inspection of mail.” It had

allegedly accumulated ten thousand fi les on U.S. citizens. The tar-

gets weren ’t necessarily spies or saboteurs; they were antiwar activists

and members of Congress.

And for President Gerald Ford, that was the good news.

Two weeks later, in an Oval Offi ce meeting with the president,

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would describe “the horrors

book”—an accounting by William Colby, the newly appointed direc-

tor of central intelligence, of Agency activities over the years. The lit-

any of abuses, though ended years before and “undertaken in totally

different circumstances than today ’s,” left the president “concerned

that the CIA would be destroyed.” 1

Among the legal violations by the Agency that most alarmed Colby:


c06.indd 78

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• A two-year confi nement and interrogation of a Russian defector.

Because former director of central intelligence John McCone

approved the defector ’s imprisonment on U.S. soil, which was

highly unusual, the Agency had possibly violated kidnapping laws.

• The surveillance of investigative journalists Jack Anderson, Mike

Getler, Brit Hume, Victor Marchetti, Robert Allen, and Paul

Scott, among others.

• CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro of Cuba, Patrice Lumumba

of Congo, and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. (The

Agency had no active involvement in the deaths of the latter two,

and no success against Castro.)

And Colby was still digging. 2

That day, the president signed Executive Order 11828, establish-

ing a commission led by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller to “ascer-

tain and evaluate any facts relating to activities conducted within the

United States by the Central Intelligence Agency which give rise to

questions of compliance with the provisions of [law].” Furthermore,

the commission was charged with evaluating the legal mechanisms

designed to keep the CIA in line, and advising the president as

needed. It was to be a White House end run around those calling for

a full-scale investigation.

Congress, by and large, was not impressed.

On February 20, 1975, the White House national security team

gathered in Secretary of State Kissinger

’s offi ce. The secretary

opened the meeting by noting that “the nature of covert operations

will have a curious aspect to the average mind and out of perspec-

tive it could look inexplicable.” Kissinger didn ’t have the same prob-

lem in mind that Eisenhower did when he said there ’d be a storm;

the negative reaction he was predicting was entirely domestic and

entirely political. The result of open congressional investigations,

Kissinger predicted, “could be the drying up of the imaginations of

the people on which we depend if people think they will be indicted

ten years later for what they do.” 3

In Kissinger ’s offi ce were the men who knew where the bod-

ies were buried. There was little love lost among one another, and

since they had been tempered under Nixon, there was little doubt

c06.indd 79

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that should the hammer drop, no one in the room could trust

anyone or one another. Already, Colby sat squarely in Kissinger ’s

crosshairs for having gone to the Justice Department to set matters

straight. Colby, more than anyone else in the room, not only knew

the secrets but lived them as a highly decorated U.S. Army para-

trooper, a CIA case offi cer, CIA station chief in Saigon, and over-

seer of the paramilitary Phoenix Program. Where Kissinger wanted

entrenchment, Colby immediately and unilaterally embraced trans-

parency, offering Justice a forthright assessment of the CIA ’s “family


Executive privilege would allow the White House to resist con-

gressional subpoena authority and control what got out. This would

protect not only the men in power, but also secret geopolitical alli-

ances. Said Kissinger, “We have to demonstrate to foreign countries

we aren ’t too dangerous to cooperate with because of leaks.” (Thirty

years later, the Obama administration would fret over the same con-

cern in the aftermath of WikiLeaks.)

J. Edgar Hoover had died three years before, after putting in a

full day at the offi ce. His beloved Bureau, whose image he had spent

a lifetime protecting, was now imperiled. Up to the end, however,

the director proved to be the most effective operator in Washington.

He sensed change in the air, and by 1965 he had discontinued elec-

tronic surveillance, garbage searches, and involvement with the

Postal Service. 4 By 1971, he had ended the Bureau ’s blackest of black

operations—the COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program)

investigations—whose techniques, initially designed to destroy the

Communist Party of the USA in the 1950s, would later spread into

such activities as exposing homosexuals and extramarital affairs

and planting false evidence in order to have suspected communists

arrested by local law enforcement. 5 By February 20, 1975, the FBI

was fully divested of its misadventures.

The most telling exchange of the meeting was between Phillip

Areeda, deputy counsel to the president, and Kissinger. Areeda

explained that Senator Frank Church planned to look “into the legal,

moral and political cost-effectiveness aspects of [covert operations].”

“Then we are in trouble,” responded Kissinger.

• • •

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From the outset, skeptics doubted President Ford ’s rationale for

appointing the Rockefeller Commission. It was either defensive

posturing in a post-Watergate environment, designed to mitigate

political damage (the investigation was limited to CIA operations

on U.S. soil), or something more insidious was at play. In 1975,

New York

magazine reported that many observers believed that

“Ford may have moved in order to fend off accusations of a more

serious kind against the CIA—even more serious than domestic

snooping in contravention of the agency ’s charter.” 6 The suspicion,

of course, was assassination. At any rate, Congress didn ’t waste time

waiting for the executive branch to investigate itself. Senate leader-

ship granted Frank Church a committee with full authority to inves-

tigate the whole of the intelligence community and its activities both

foreign and domestic.

The hearings were brutal for the intelligence community. When

Church ’s fi nal report was released in April 1976, few had trouble

predicting its conclusion: “Domestic intelligence activity has threat-

ened and undermined the Constitutional rights of Americans to free

speech, association and privacy. It has done so primarily because

the Constitutional system for checking abuse of power has not been

applied.” 7

The tragedy of the fi nal report of the Church Committee is that it

was right: the intelligence community was in dire need of reform and

legal guidance. But the committee ’s gleeful partisanship undermined

an otherwise worthy goal. It was the fi rst time the nation—indeed,

the world—was given access to the machinery of tradecraft, and some

evenhandedness was merited. Many people didn ’t like what they saw,

which was the point, but was to some degree an injustice.

The government had been spying on citizens for quite some

time. During World War II, all telegrams sent to and from the

United States were screened by the Offi ce of Censorship and its

chief client, the FBI. The program collected intelligence on per-

sons of interest and potential threats to national security. With the

end of hostilities came the end of censorship, and consequently an

immediate cessation of telegram cable intelligence. That wouldn ’t

do at all.

• • •

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On August 18, 1945, the Army Signal Security Agency (SSA) sent

representatives to “make the necessary contacts with the heads

of the Commercial Communications Companies in New York,

secure their approval of the interception of all Governmental traffi c

entering the United States, leaving the United States, or transiting

the United States, and make the necessary arrangements for this pho-

tographic intercept work.” 8

International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) “very defi nitely

and fi nally refused” to play any part in the obviously illegal pro-

gram. 9 Offi cials found a warmer reception with Western Union

Telegraph Company, which agreed to cooperate under the con-

dition that the attorney general sign off on the project. The SSA

representatives then returned to ITT. In a meeting with a vice presi-

dent, the SSA offered the veiled threat that “his company would not

desire to be the only non-cooperative company on this project.” 10

ITT relented, under the same proviso as Western Union. RCA was

equally amenable, but again, only with authorization from the attor-

ney general. 11 As the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence would

later report:

Two very evident fears existed in the minds of the heads of

each of these communications companies. One was the fear

of the illegality of the procedure according to present FCC

regulations. In spite of the fact that favorable opinions have

been received from the Judge Advocate General of the Navy

and the Judge Advocate General of the Army, it was feared

that these opinions would not hold in civil court and, as a

consequence, the companies would not be protected. If a

favorable opinion is handed down by the Attorney General,

this fear will be completely allayed, and cooperation may be

expected for the complete intercept coverage of this material.

The second fear uppermost in the minds of these executives

is the fear of the ACA which is the communications union.

This union has reported on many occasions minor infractions

of FCC regulations and it is feared that a major infraction,

such as the proposed intercept coverage, if disclosed by the

Union, might cause severe repercussions. 12

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There is no evidence to suggest that either the president or the

attorney general were ever briefed on the project, but not long after

the SSA men visited the telegraph companies—and in spite of ada-

mant internal resistance from each company ’s lawyers—Operation

Shamrock went active. (Decades later, Louis Tordella, deputy direc-

tor of the National Security Agency, would admit that “he did not

know if any subsequent president or attorney general had ever been

briefed on it.”) 13

One problem remained: physically transferring thousands of

cables in secret. William Sidney Sparks, the traffi c manager for RCA

and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Signal Corps Reserve,

worked closely with the SSA to fi nd a solution. He swatted down ill-

conceived schemes by his government counterparts on the grounds

that “everybody and his brother would know just exactly what we

were doing and why.” 14

According to James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace , “He

told the offi cers that probably the most secure and effi cient way to

handle the problem would be to turn over to the agency all traffi c

entering, leaving, or transiting the company.” The SSA couldn ’t

believe their luck. Sparks initially stipulated that the SSA (soon

renamed the Army Security Agency, or ASA) would receive only

“header” information stating the origin and destination of each tele-

gram. That policy soon fell by the wayside, and the agency began col-

lecting hard copies of cables in their entirety.

For his part, Sidney Sparks understood that his actions were ille-

gal, but also that the United States was staring down the barrel of a

new kind of war. “I knew in my own mind that the Cold War was

heating up at the time,” he said, adding, “I was under no illusion at

all that any responsible Government has to monitor, to some degree,

the traffi c of the other [foreign] Government agencies as far as it can

get hold of them.” 15 His superiors, as well as executives at Western

Union and ITT, were equally cognizant of the criminal activities

to which they were party and would remain terminally paranoid.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, then the Army chief of staff, sought

to allay their fears, as would Secretary of Defense James Forrestal.

Neither man, however, would prove particularly persuasive on

this point. Shamrock was a military program; of course the defense

c06.indd 83

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secretary approved of industry participation. Meanwhile, neither the

attorney general nor the president of the United States would ever

directly convey any legal cover—or even any direct knowledge—

of the program. Communications executives wondered, indeed, if

Operation Shamrock ever reached their desks.

The ASA would eventually be absorbed by the Armed Forces

Security Agency (AFSA), which would become the National Security

Agency. The NSA thus inherited Shamrock and maintained tens of

thousands of fi les on U.S. citizens. * As a practical matter, the AFSA

and its successor acted as an information broker to the FBI and CIA.

The intelligence agencies were even internally referred to as “cus-

tomers.” Initially, each agency (and a number of others) set up desks

at Arlington Hall in Virginia, the nerve center of the AFSA. (The site

was originally Arlington Hall Junior College for Women, a nonprofi t

girls’ school seized by the Army Signal Intelligence Service in 1942

under the War Powers Act. 16 The fl edgling NSA would later install

itself in abandoned Army barracks at Fort Meade, Maryland.) These

liaisons from every segment of the intelligence community rifl ed

daily through the nation ’s cable traffi c, forwarding useful data to

their respective headquarters. 17 During the years that followed, each

agency would submit watch lists of “persons of interest” for the NSA

to be on the lookout for. In addition, NSA agents combed data in

search of trigger words. 18

Although Shamrock ostensibly searched only traffi c originat-

ing and terminating on foreign soil, the project expanded to moni-

tor perceived radicals susceptible to foreign infl uence. 19 For most

Americans, this probably crossed the line between what was possibly

illegal but benign and an absolute outrage.

The intelligence community, ever thirsty for more information

and already operating outside of the law, would push the NSA as far

as the agency would permit. Watch lists eventually became blan-

ket requests. As Frank Raven, a former NSA offi cial, later observed,

“When J. Edgar Hoover gives you a requirement for complete

surveillance of all Quakers in the United States, and when Richard

* Congressional hearings would eventually fi nd no evidence indicating that the NSA

used these fi les to monitor Americans, but rather that they were incidental to the

NSA ’s foreign intelligence mission

c06.indd 84

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Nixon is a Quaker and he ’s president of the United States, it gets

pretty funny.” (At the time, Hoover suspected that the Quakers were

sending food to Southeast Asia. As for the FBI ’s involvement in ille-

galities, Hoover had requested and received permission for such

activities from the attorney general in 1941. 20 This would suffi ce as

legal cover for the Bureau.)

The NSA would also, in turn, act as a client of the FBI and the

CIA. While the NSA had negotiated deals with the communications

giants in New York, the Bureau dominated the Washington cable

circuit and provided daily intelligence to the NSA. Furthermore,

the Bureau, which had long mastered the art of infi ltrating offi ces

and installing listening devices, provided these services to the NSA,

which was at its essence a stationary global listening post lacking an

agile force on the ground. These so-called black bag missions saved

the NSA time, money, and manpower. Deciphering encrypted calls

and cables from foreign embassies in Washington might take the

NSA months, if not years. The FBI ’s practiced special agents could

plant a bug overnight. 21

Meanwhile, the CIA performed similar operations on foreign

embassies overseas, fi lching ciphers and codebooks. And when the

NSA found itself in need of offi ce space in New York City to process

the massive collection of cable traffi c, it approached the CIA for a

“safe house.” For seven years, the Company obliged the NSA ’s real

estate needs. 22

Operation Shamrock would run for thirty years, and at its height

would collect 150,000 messages a month, illegally. 23

On March 4, 1977, Robert Keuch, deputy assistant attorney gen-

eral in the Carter administration, received a comprehensive sum-

mary of the illegalities of the intelligence community as gathered

by Congress, and the names of those who should be prosecuted as a


The problem, according to the memorandum, was that domestic

surveillance and intelligence collection was an evolutionary process

and began with presidential authorization. Presidential national secu-

rity power, it explained, “did not spring full grown from one source,

c06.indd 85

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such as the Constitution; rather, it started with an idea and grew

steadily over the better part of four decades.” 24

Interestingly, as far back as the 1940s, J. Edgar Hoover sought

secondary approval from the attorney general, writing that it would

be “highly desirable that some defi nite decisions be made by the

Department of Justice relative to the legality of the [wiretapping

activity].” (Despite the aggressive campaign against Hoover since his

death, even this “prosecutive summary” specifi cally notes that such a

request for Justice Department guidance was “not really unusual in

light of Director Hoover ’s strong dislike for wiretapping.”) 25

By the time the NSA had been created, surveillance author-

ity of the executive branch was largely unrestricted. Indeed, with

regard to communications intelligence, National Security Council

Intelligence Directive 9 specifi cally stated:

The special nature of Communications Intelligence activi-

ties requires that they be treated in all respects as being out-

side the framework of other or general intelligence activities.

Orders, directives, policies, or recommendations of any author-

ity of the Executive Branch relating to the collection, pro-

duction, security, handling, dissemination, or utilization of

intelligence, and/or classifi ed material, shall not be applicable

to Communications Intelligence activities, unless specifi cally

so stated and issued by competent departmental or agency

authority represented on the Board…. Other National Security

Council Intelligence Directives to the Director of Central

Intelligence and related implementing directives issued by

the Director of Central Intelligence shall be construed as non-

applicable to Communications Intelligence activities… unless

the National Security Council has made its directive specifi -

cally applicable to Communications Intelligence. 26

Over the decades, the Department of Justice “had repeatedly

sought (and invited) legislation from Congress which would both

permit wiretapping and allow the use of the results or fruits of such

surveillance at trial, but Congress, however, declined to act.” In 1968,

Congress would enact wiretap legislation—Title III of the Omnibus

Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Notably, however, a section of

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the act “expressly exempted the President ’s power from the coverage

of the provisions of Title III.” 27

When you wonder why so many Americans doubt the trustwor-

thiness of intelligence agencies, understand that from their respec-

tive inceptions, the FBI, the NSA, and telecoms would in fact

violate aspects of the law with respect to wiretapping. That said,

prosecution was diffi cult, if not impossible, because (as stated in the


1. Prior Presidents and Attorneys General had notice of and, in at

least once case, appeared to approve the operation;

2. Two Secretaries of Defense had tried to give the companies


3. Clause one of [section] 605 permits companies to disclose infor-

mation “upon demand of lawful authority”;

4. There was no divulgence outside the Executive Branch, so there

was no divulgence within the meaning of [section] 605;

5. A use which benefi ts the Government is not the type of “use”

contemplated by the statute;

6. It is not illegal to “ask” a company to give out copies of cables.

If the company complies, it may be violating the statute but the

recipient would not; and

7. The putative defendants acted in good faith, and they lacked the

necessary intent to prove a violation of the law.

Further, “as it is clear from a review of an evolution of the

President ’s power from its inception, the true scope of the President ’s

power (with which the Bureau and the Agency were familiar) was


Congress did not escape scrutiny; by funding the initiatives, it

had at least some notice of their activities, although very few mem-

bers were equipped to understand them—a systemic imbalance that

intelligence agencies continue to exploit. As for domestic surveil-

lance by the CIA, again, Congress was not blameless. Again, accord-

ing to the 1977 memorandum:

In July of 1973, William Colby testifi ed before the Senate

Armed Services Committee on his nomination to become

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DCI. In response to a question specifi cally addressed to

whether CIA was then engaged in assisting law enforcement

agencies in addition to the FBI, Colby replied in the affi r-

mative…. Since there was little doubt that at least some of

CIA ’s information was governed by electronic surveillance,

the Agency regards the lack of congressional objection as tacit

approval of such dissemination.

Furthermore, National Security Council Intelligence Directive

5 delegated the CIA national security responsibilities abroad, and

Title 50 U.S. Code Section 403 grants the Agency authority to per-

form “such additional services of common concern as the National

Security Council determines can be more effectively accomplished


Perhaps the most important fi nding of the “prosecutive sum-

mary” is that in not a single instance was electronic intelligence used

“for personal or partisan political purposes. The participants in every

questionable operation, however oblivious or unmindful, appear

to have acted under at least some colorable semblance of authority

in what they conscientiously deemed to be the best interests of the

United States.”

The memorandum closes, “If the intelligence agencies possessed

too much discretionary authority with too little accountability, that

would seem to be a 35-year failing of Presidents and the Congress

rather than the agencies or their personnel.”

No one went to jail. In many ways, the hearings of 1975—

the “Year of Intelligence,” as Director Colby dubbed it—in fact

emboldened the executive by infusing partisanship into the issue.

Congressional oversight, already hapless at best, would further allow

a certain permissiveness to intelligence activities depending on which

party held the gavel. President Ford would fi re Colby as director of

central intelligence. In his autobiography, Colby wrote, “I believe I

was fi red because of the way I went about dealing with the C.I.A.’s

crisis. My approach, pragmatically and philosophically, was in con-

fl ict with that of the President and his principal advisors.” Colby ’s

approach was sunlight—to cooperate with investigations “and try

to educate the Congress, press, and public, as well as I could, about

American intelligence, its importance, its successes and its failings.” 28

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That simply would not do. The message was received, and thirty

years later a new set of old problems would confront the intelligence

community, the White House, and Congress.

Covert operations have inspired more acrimony between the legisla-

tive and executive branches than almost any other issue. Since the

Year of Intelligence, Congress and the White House have furiously

debated what information, exactly, Congress has the right to, and

under what circumstances. It is an intragovernmental mirror of the

wider secrecy debate.

In the earliest days of the Cold War, Congress showed little

interest in the operational details of U.S. intelligence. There sim-

ply wasn ’t an appetite to know the nation ’s dirty secrets. As Leverett

Saltonstall, senator from Massachusetts, explained in 1956, “It is not

a question of reluctance on the part of CIA offi cials to speak to us.

Instead, it is a question of our reluctance, if you will, to seek informa-

tion and knowledge on subjects which I personally, as a member of

Congress and as a citizen, would rather not have.” 29

Congressional attitudes toward executive power and the national

security bureaucracy hardened in the wake of Watergate and rev-

elations of controversial CIA actions at home and abroad. Standing

over the festering remains of the Nixon administration, Congress

had a gladiator ’s temperament. It asserted itself on the issue of covert

actions in 1974 through the Hughes-Ryan Act, an amendment to the

Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Passed in 1974, Hughes-Ryan pre-

vented the CIA from spending funds on covert activities unrelated

to intelligence gathering unless the president “fi nds that each such

operation is important to the national security of the United States

and reports, in a timely fashion, a description and scope of such

operation” to Congress. 30 The defi nition of “timely fashion” would be

a matter of debate for decades. But at the time there was an under-

standing that briefi ngs need not necessarily take place before a covert

action had begun. 31

As mundane as it sounds, the requirement for explicit presiden-

tial authorization of covert action was a signifi cant reform. The “fi nd-

ings” stipulation meant that the CIA could not legally conduct its

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own freelance operations without the knowledge and consent of the

president. This isn ’t to say that presidents weren ’t intimately aware of

CIA operations, but rather that they always held a shield of plausible

deniability. Hughes-Ryan was an attempt to force presidents to take

responsibility for the intelligence community ’s activities.

Operations conducted in the context of a war declared by

Congress, or executed in accordance with the War Powers Act, were

exempted from the restrictions. 32 This was no small blessing, as at the

time, the new law made for an onerous briefi ng arrangement given

the scattershot congressional framework for intelligence oversight.

Hughes-Ryan would eventually result in the requirement for the

intelligence community to report to more than eight different com-

mittees: Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Appropriations, and various

intelligence committees in both the House and the Senate. 33

Marathon committee appearances for covert action notifi cations

proved unacceptable to the executive branch. 34 Shortly after Hughes-

Ryan, the executive began restricting certain notifi cation briefi ngs to

a “Gang of Four,” consisting of the Senate and House intelligence

committee leadership. It was a practice with no foundation in law but

was tolerated by intelligence committee leadership. 35

Today, journalists, whistleblowers, watchdog groups, and alert

members of the intelligence community maintain a vigil so that

mistakes of the past are not repeated. But are they successful, and is

success even possible? Forty years after COINTELPRO, there are

accusations that the government targets U.S. citizens who criticize

policy. Glenn L. Carle, a former CIA case offi cer, has claimed that

members of the Bush administration approached the agency “to get”

Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor and fi erce critic of

U.S. activities abroad. 36 The worst activities at Guantánamo Bay have

ended, but Afghan government detainees incarcerated in a military

prison at Bagram Airfi eld, Afghanistan, are often held without trial or

timeline. 37

These are the things we know about—the things that have been

reported. But if an American public, inured to scandal and resigned

to a kind of permanent shadow war, are no longer listening, will mat-

ters get better or worse? To ask the question is to answer it.

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C H A P T E R 7


On August 2, 1964, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats

engaged the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. The Maddox

had been collecting signals intelligence. When the PT boats entered

attack formation, the Maddox fi red warning shots, and when the

boats launched torpedoes, the Maddox unleashed its main batteries.

The incident ended with three crippled North Vietnamese vessels

and no Americans harmed.

President Lyndon Johnson ordered the Maddox to resume patrols

and gave a press conference warning the North against any further

provocations. (The South Vietnamese government wanted total

retaliation, but SIGINT suggested that the attack was a one-off by an

overly aggressive North Vietnamese commander.) Meanwhile, the

National Security Agency (NSA) was incensed at the attack on its

ship and moved onto war footing. It directed all ears against North

Vietnamese, and ordered priority status to any intercepts related to

activities in the region.

Two nights later, a Marine signals intelligence team transmitted

a warning that North Vietnamese PT boats were maneuvering in a

way eerily similar to those of August 2. Meanwhile, the Maddox and

the USS Turner Joy (sent to provide support) picked up a series of

incomplete radar returns suggesting a North Vietnamese air and sea

presence closing in fast, and received a priority alert from an NSA


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listening post warning of an imminent attack. When sonar opera-

tors detected signals suggesting hostile vessels closing fast, the two

destroyers unleashed weapons on the radar blip for three and a half

hours. They reported two North Vietnamese boats destroyed.

Hours later, acting on the advice of the secretary of defense,

President Johnson authorized airstrikes against North Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the on-site commanders grew alarmed that no evidence

of an attack subsequently presented itself. Neither the Turner Joy nor

the Maddox took damage. There was never a visual confi rmation of

North Vietnamese vessels; the attack was precipitated and directed

by radar and sonar, and bad weather may have confused instruments

and crew. The commander of the Maddox warned his superiors

against any further actions pending a review.

Pacifi c commanders began forwarding reports to the Pentagon

and the White House questioning the reliability of the contact report.

Signals intelligence that was initially certain now seemed ambigu-

ous at best. The most reliable confi rmation available came from a

separate, classifi ed SIGINT operation that had picked up a situation

report from the North Vietnamese describing an aggressive action it

had taken. The report was based on the translation of an intercepted

Vietnamese transmission, only parts of which were heard by the NSA.

And one key word was mistranslated: the North Vietnamese had said

that two “comrades” were lost, not two “ships.” An error like this is

common in the din of battle, but with U.S. military leadership already

shifting to a war posture, here it would prove fatal.

The president can be forgiven for his response to the initial, erro-

neous report. Other mistakes can be attributed to the raw signals

intelligence forwarded to the White House; neither NSA nor CIA

specialists were consulted in the matter, and the SIGINT was never

properly analyzed. But either way, President Johnson, ready to widen

the U.S. footprint in Vietnam, presented the attack to the nation and

to Congress in the starkest possible terms.

In 1964, the NSA covered up its role in mistakenly reporting that

two U.S ships had been attacked. Through 2001, the NSA insisted

that a second attack did in fact occur two days later, and for years this

story didn ’t change. But it was a lie perpetuated by secrecy. As late

as the twenty-fi rst century, the facts of the attack were classifi ed and

marked as Secret/SI (which compartmented the material as secret

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signals intelligence) as a means of perpetuating positive percep-

tions by Congress of the agency. Why would it do this? One agency

historian suggests that it was embarrassed by its mistakes; that its

leaders wanted to believe that a pattern of aggressive action by the

North Vietnamese was emerging; and that the system set up to ana-

lyze the signals intelligence was confusing, compartmentalized, and


The NSA did not create a lie to justify ensnaring the country in a

tragic war, but when politics hardened some mixed intelligence into

an unquestionable set of facts, they went along with it. The cumula-

tive effect of the secrecy and cover-ups then fueled fantasies of con-

spiracy theorists and eroded trust in the government. It never seemed

to occur to those in authority that using government power to punish

political enemies, doing things to non–U.S. citizens that the general

public would never approve of, and getting Americans involved in

wars they didn ’t want can, and did, damage the ability of future presi-

dents to protect the nation. Executive action in the post-Vietnam era

is more tightly compartmented, and the latitude that the public often

gives an executive during war has diminished over time. (Case in

point: there will never be another military draft.)

History is replete with theories that the intelligence community and

the military have used the power of secrecy to cover up covert actions

so out of line with American priorities that it would shock our collec-

tive sensibility. The truth is less spectacular, though still troubling.

The stovepiping of information—reporting secrets up the chain but

sharing them with no one else, no matter how much the mission

overlaps—is responsible for virtually every major intelligence failure

of the modern age.

And there is a case to be made that the intelligence community

as a whole is known more for its failures than its successes. This is

the great burden that spymasters, analysts, and operatives in the fi eld

must bear. Arguably, the three most astounding failures of U.S. intel-

ligence to protect the United States of America are the bombing of

Pearl Harbor, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the

assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

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Consider: Did the Navy or the FBI withhold an advance warning

of the attack on Pearl Harbor from Roosevelt? No. Navy cryptanalysis

had a fi eld day with decrypts of Japanese diplomatic cable traffi c. On

documents sent to the White House, reports were labeled Top Secret /

MAGIC . (MAGIC being the compartment for communications intel-

ligence on Japan.) Even though the FBI had become the country ’s de

facto national intelligence service by 1940, the Navy did not share its

MAGIC intelligence with J. Edgar Hoover or with the general and

fl ag offi cers responsible for assessing the readiness of the Pacifi c fl eet.

Meanwhile, the FBI, focused primarily on Germans and communists,

dutifully turned over every scrap of intelligence they collected about

Japanese intentions to the White House—but not to naval intelli-

gence analysts. 1 Collectively, the policymaking apparatus had a good

sense of what Japan might do and had already begun preparations for

an American entrance into the war. But intelligence (and thus the

ability to derive value from it) was compartmentalized and dispersed.

Secrets were properly kept; they just weren ’t properly used.

Before he died, Franklin D. Roosevelt had endorsed the pol-

icy of developing an atomic weapon for immediate employment.

Astonishingly, Harry Truman was not briefed on the $3 billion

doomsday project until twelve days after Roosevelt ’s death. When

Henry Stimson, the secretary of war, and General Leslie Groves,

director of the Manhattan Project, presented the bomb to the new

president on April 24, it was as a fait accompli. The weapon would

be ready in a few months, and it would be used to end the war.

Did the military deliberately manipulate the information avail-

able in order to ensure that Roosevelt ’s settled policy would not be

altered? Many accounts of Truman ’s decisions subsequent to the rev-

elation certainly suggest just such a thing. And if it were the case,

it would represent one of the most egregious uses of secrecy in

American history.

But in fact the opposite was true. Stimson and Groves were not

of one mind about the wisdom of using the bomb. And Truman—a

“decent, impulsive and simple man,” was motivated as much by his

own insecurity at his instant presidency as he was by any false picture

of the war or any set of constricted choices presented by his advisers. 2

Truman knew what he was doing. And intelligence was rather inci-

dental to his decision. 3

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Did the CIA keep information about plans for the Bay of Pigs

invasion from President John Kennedy, afraid that he would balk if

he knew the unlikelihood of insurgents successfully gaining a foot-

hold in Cuba? No. Some charge that the Company had so much

invested in the idea of regime change, especially following its suc-

cessfully executed coup d’état in Guatamala, that it subordinated

everything to the perceived menace from Havana.

But the truth is that the CIA ’s internal predictions were as opti-

mistic as the ones that Allen Dulles, director of central intelligence,

and his deputy Richard Bissell presented to Kennedy. For his part,

Kennedy not only endorsed the goals of the plan, but also withheld

details of it from advisers to the Joint Chiefs of Staff—all in the name

of secrecy. 4 As the day of the invasion approached, Kennedy grew

nervous about fallout from possible disclosures of U.S. involvement

and yet was eager to show the Soviet adventurists exactly how unwel-

come they were in our hemisphere. The president hedged his bets,

pressing for “less noise” and cutting mission-essential air support.

When Kennedy decided to move the landing point of the invasion

eighty miles away from the Escambray Mountains—a political calcu-

lation—he neither asked nor was told by his military advisers that the

Cuban exiles would have no place to hide with no mountains near

their invasion site. 5

The CIA held nothing back from Kennedy. Its own mistake was

compartmentalization; the covert action staff never “read in” those

CIA offi cers with the most strategic knowledge of Cuba. And the

president, despite misgivings and suspicions, obsessed over keeping a

project a secret until the very end. Using an exile force to overthrow

Castro was not an implausible scenario when President Eisenhower

signed a covert fi nding authorizing it. But by the time Kennedy had

clipped the mission ’s wings to the nub, it was both implausible and

became highly embarrassing.

Declassifi ed CIA histories of the Bay of Pigs invasion that exoner-

ate the Agency are predicated on knowledge gleaned from its failures

after the fact. The Agency ’s covert operations division did everything

well—which is of course beside the point. Compartmentalization

and secrecy ensured that “everything well” was not nearly enough. 6

• • •

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Volumes have also been written about the Kennedy assassination.

From November 22, 1963, to September 10, 2001, it was the go-to

singularity for crackpots and conspiracy theorists. It ’s the shallow end

of the insanity pool—a place where otherwise reasonable thinkers

can wade in unreasonable ideas.

Here are the facts: 7

Four years before Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger of a

Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifl e, the FBI opened a case fi le on him.

The former U.S. Marine had defected to the Soviet Union, taking

with him, according to his mother, his birth certifi cate. The G-men

feared the Soviets might recruit Oswald as a spy, or return an impos-

ter to the United States in his stead. 8 When Oswald returned four

years later, special agents interviewed him, fi nding a man “cold, arro-

gant, and diffi cult to interview.” Oswald denied any wrongdoing, or

that he had renounced his American citizenship. Two months later,

the FBI again interviewed him and closed the fi le on him. Bureau

sources in the Dallas Communist Party had never heard of the guy,

and members of his family interviewed provided no actionable mate-

rial. Notably, Oswald returned from the Soviet Union with a wife.

The Bureau did not interview her, believing she could be adequately

monitored in conjunction with her husband. Marina Oswald was, in

fact, a point in her husband ’s favor: a foreigner living in Russia can-

not marry without the permission of the Soviet government. It seems

unlikely that the Soviet authorities would have permitted Oswald to

marry and take his wife with him to the United States if they were

contemplating using him alone as an agent. 9

Again, Lee Harvey Oswald pinged the Bureau ’s radar when he sub-

scribed to the Worker , a communist newspaper. The Dallas Field Offi ce

of the FBI noted this in Oswald ’s fi le and reopened the case the follow-

ing year. At the time, agents did not interview Marina, because her hus-

band “had been drinking to excess and beating [her], and the relevant

FBI manual provision required that he allow a ‘cooling off’ period.”*

* J. Edgar Hoover, for his part, considered this excuse “asinine,” and James Gale,

assistant director in charge of the Inspection Division, later wrote that, if anything,

“Mrs. Oswald defi nitely should have been interviewed and the best time to get

information from her would be after she was beaten up by her husband.” Noted

Hoover in the margin, “This certainly makes sense.”

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Oswald again found himself on the business end of the FBI after

he moved to New Orleans to organize a pro-Castro organization.

But for all of Oswald ’s strident Marxism and hostility, the interview

yielded little new information for the fi le. It ’s not illegal to be a politi-

cal malcontent or a jerk.

The Bureau wouldn ’t know that Oswald left New Orleans for

Mexico until after he ’d already returned to the United States, and

then only after the CIA forwarded an intercepted cable stating that

“Lee Henry Oswald” had been in contact with the Soviet embassy in

Mexico City.

Oswald ’s next stop would be Texas, and national tragedy.

It should be very clear—it certainly was to FBI headquarters—

that the Oswald case was mismanaged on an almost metaphysical

level. After the president ’s assassination, J. Edgar Hoover intended to

drop the hammer on vast swaths of special agents. “I do not intend

to palliate the actions which have resulted in forever destroying

the Bureau as the top level investigative organization,” he noted.

The Inspection Division, however, advised him that the Warren

Commission would subpoena those agents, all of whom would be

compelled to testify under oath that they had in fact been negligent.

This would refl ect poorly on the Bureau as a whole. Hoover ’s obses-

sion with preserving the image of the FBI would, as always, be para-

mount in the director ’s agenda.

Occam ’s razor dictates that the president was slain by a deranged

man, and that federal agents worked as federal employees often do:

with minimum effort. Special agents with the New Orleans Field

Offi ce of the FBI had grown careless operating in an anti-Castro,

anticommunist area. Dallas agents, meanwhile, either lacked the

hard-charging spy hunter chops of those on the East Coast or were

weary from decades of chasing phantom Texas commies. Likewise,

the U.S. Secret Service let their guard down on a sunny day in

Dallas, when adoring throngs surrounded the president.

What complicates matters is plain embarrassment by law enforce-

ment and damage control by the Kennedy family. Whatever one ’s

feelings of JFK, he was not shy about wielding executive power. He

was stridently anti-Soviet. He ordered IRS audits with impunity.

He micromanaged the CIA and developed a fascination with “wet”

jobs—the kind of serious assassination missions only in the concept

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stages at the CIA. His brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy,

ordered (an agreeable) Hoover to illegally wiretap Martin Luther

King Jr., for fear the civil rights leader might be a communist and

thus an embarrassment to the party.

The Kennedy family had no interest in such matters being

made public and did not ask for a sprawling investigation. Alan

Dulles, Kennedy ’s former director of central intelligence, got him-

self installed on the Warren Commission, which was responsible

for investigating the assassination. (As Lieutenant Colonel William

Corson, a Marine Corps intelligence offi cer assigned to the CIA,

noted, “Allen Dulles had a lot to hide.”) 10 Meanwhile, President

Johnson feared that the American political right would tie the

Kennedy assassination to the Soviet Union (Johnson himself sus-

pected Soviet involvement) and use the tragedy to start World War

III. Every investigation pointed to Oswald, and no investigation

found foreign involvement.

Still, the Johnson administration made it known to Hoover that

any circumstantial evidence that might be used by politicians to stoke

the fl ames of war was unwelcome. The Bureau issued multiple state-

ments asserting Oswald ’s guilt, and did in fact launch a cover-up.

Only Hoover wasn ’t hiding an X-Files –esque conspiracy; he was hid-

ing red herrings. Simply put, everyone had something to hide when

President Kennedy was killed, but it wasn ’t government complicity. It

was government incompetence.

Over the years, the FBI has been accused of covering up its asso-

ciations with Oswald (there were none), or of refusing to interview

witnesses (virtually every witness who supposedly never talked to

the FBI did in fact talk to the FBI), or even of complicity with the

assassination itself. The FBI ’s fi rst report on the investigation was

thin, and the Warren Commission refused to rely on it, reinterview-

ing witnesses. This infuriated Hoover, who redoubled the Bureau ’s

effort to track down every conceivable and even inconceivable lead.

Still, despite the hard work put in by the Bureau (something even

the agency ’s critics acknowledge), historians who follow the Kennedy

assassination oeuvre blame the FBI for barely looking into Oswald ’s

ties to Cuba, or at the mob ’s growing dislike for the Kennedy broth-

ers, and the FBI ’s failure to deeply investigate the backgrounds of

Oswald and Jack Ruby. 11

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Oswald was known to the FBI because of his defection to Russia

and repatriation back into the United States. An agent named James

Hosty was assigned to his case. In early November, Oswald showed up

at the Dallas FBI Field Offi ce with a note for Hosty, who was out con-

ducting interviews. He was upset that Hosty, trying to fi gure out what

Oswald was up to, had shown up at his home and harassed his wife.

The Hosty note has been fodder—pretty much the only fodder—for

conspiracy theorists since its existence was disclosed. His supervi-

sor at the fi eld offi ce knew about it and asked Hosty to write a memo

for the record about what happened. That memo was never sent to

the FBI ’s internal registry, because it was theoretically embarrass-

ing. (God forbid that Hoover fi nd out.) But Hosty would testify fully

and completely to the Warren Commission, and later to the House

Select Committee on Assassinations. No evidence has ever challenged

his story.

Because a local FBI offi ce decided to cover up an incidental,

indirect contact between a special agent and a recently repatriated

U.S citizen who later killed the president, the specter of other malfea-

sance has simply been assumed by conspiracy theorists. 12 Had Hosty

kept the note (which, because of all the cases he was working on at

the time just didn ’t seem that important to him) and not destroyed the

contemporaneous memo, there would be nothing in the record about

the FBI ’s conduct before and after the assassination that would suggest

anything other than candor in its dealings with independent investiga-

tors. The same can be said for the Secret Service, which was embar-

rassed by reports that a few agents had been drinking the night before

the assassination (but nonetheless cooperated fully), and the CIA,

which probably should have kept better tabs on Oswald overseas, but

didn ’t. (The Agency ’s cooperation with the Warren Commission and

later investigations waxed and waned in part because of the compart-

mented nature of intelligence operations.)

Many tangential connections with Oswald surfaced after the fact

simply because they were only discovered later. Not once did the CIA

ever refuse to provide the House Select Committee on Assassinations

with a document on national security grounds. 13 If there was any ero-

sion of faith that Americans had in their government as a result of the

assassination, it was because the national security apparatus failed to

prevent it.

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There was no cover-up. There was no conspiracy.

And this is without considering the effects of social networks,

instant information sharing, and the post-privacy age. As the World

War II generation gives way to the next, papers and private fi les are

passed onward. Considering the hundreds of people required to

launch and maintain a conspiracy of assassination against the presi-

dent, it ’s almost impossible to believe that someone hasn ’t turned

up something—a smoking gun, so to speak. Yet nobody has posted a

suspicious scanned document to Facebook, auctioned proof of gov-

ernment complicity on eBay, or simply handed fi les off to one of the

thousands of reporters on Twitter. It defi es credulity to claim a sec-

ond generation of omertà-sworn LBJ loyalists.

But the nature of state secrecy ensures that there will always be

conspiracy theorists. Kennedy is but one in a list that grows every day,

despite the pesky meddling of the duo of logic and facts. And magic

bullets are nothing—no conspiracy theory has defi ed logic and facts

longer than the idea that the government has hidden proof of alien

contact for the better part of a century.

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C H A P T E R 8

Inside the Enclave

Rachel, Nevada, is an austere ranching town near the Groom Lake

salt fl at, with a friendly population of eighty, a small diner, a

lone highway, and space aliens. (Well, nobody ’s actually seen the

space aliens, though UFOs are a common occurrence.) Groom

Lake adjoins one of the most protected sites in the United States, and

indeed the world—the Air Force Flight Test Center (Detachment 3)

of Edwards Air Force Base, better known as Area 51.

Privately owned land borders the perimeter of Area 51, but if the

owners of those ranches decide to visit their inhospitable property,

fl ight tests are canceled. The owners—private citizens—have signed

nondisclosure agreements and are required by law to notify the Air

Force of any visitors and to provide their names, dates of birth, and

Social Security numbers to the U.S. Air Force Offi ce of Special

Investigations (OSI), which maintains a classifi ed squad of agents

devoted solely to the site and its counterintelligence needs. Visitors

don ’t want to set off any sensors, and any attempts to photograph

employees entering the Janet terminal at McCarran International

Airport are likely to result in a not-so-friendly investigator from OSI

making not-so-polite inquiries.

In theory and practice, any visitor lucky enough to catch sight of

an odd-looking aircraft escaping at high speeds from Area 51, only to


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see it explode, seemingly shot down from nowhere, won ’t be allowed

to stay to see government employees collect the remains.

That ’s bound to start some rumors.

The security and secrecy surrounding Area 51 has endured for more

than sixty years. As we ’ve seen, politics of varying sorts make sure the

government isn ’t good at keeping secrets forever, and the shelf life of

a secret is getting shorter and shorter. What, then, could stay so secret

for so long, unless it was the worst of the worst, something no one

must ever know, or something no one would ever believe?

The answer, of course, is that it is the least controversial kind of

secret: new weapon systems. And many of the secrets created there,

like fl ying drones, are no longer a secret. Theories of secret alli-

ances with intergalactic governments aside, virtually anyone with a

passing interest in aviation or defense is aware that the site is used

to test secret programs. Commercial pilots know it as a restricted

airspace—“the container”—where lethal force is used. Even the way

that employees get to Area 51 is itself a part of popular culture. Janet

Airlines, operated by EG&G, fl ies out of McCarran six times per day,

its signature white jets with an ugly red stripe on the side being eas-

ily photographed by hobbyists. Microsoft Flight Simulator even uses

the Janet fl ight to Area 51 to teach students how to turn a jet. As soon

as the plane crosses into restricted airspace, an unidentifi ed fl ying

object whizzes by.

The U.S. Air Force ’s obsessive secrecy ensures that Americans

remain confused about the site. Its program managers learned long

ago, too, that mystique and money are related concepts. The more

vital to national security Area 51 seems to be, the less vulnerable to

the budget ax it will become.

But the impishness of engineers and program managers provides

a glimpse into the current roster of projects. Historian Trevor Paglen

managed to obtain unit and mission patches from crews that worked

at the site as recently as 2008, publishing a coffee table book that

contained numerous artistic references to highly classifi ed projects.

He noticed that many patches contain joking references to aliens.

Others have six stars—usually fi ve stars in one confi guration and one

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star in another (5 and 1, or 51). Still others refer to their particular

aircraft ’s unique stealth capabilities or high speeds. In their own way,

using signs and symbols, they are bragging. Though the employees

theoretically could not explain the meaning of the patches to outsid-

ers, the fact that they exist (and they are real) is an outlet for the basic

urge that accompanies most satisfying types of work. The employees

want recognition for what they do. Because of this impulse, in many

ways we know more about specifi c projects being tested at Area 51

than we do about the site itself. Also, a group of former Groom Lake

engineers and employees operate an alumni website and regularly

talk to journalists about their experiences, Air Force censorship be

damned. 1

The Air Force acknowledges that it has an “operating location

near Groom Lake, Nevada,” but that is the extent to which the pub-

lic affairs offi cers are briefed, and that is the extent to which they

are willing to share anything about the site with anyone.* It is hot

and miserable in the desert, which is one of the reasons the location

was chosen. It ’s a natural deterrent to visitors who might lurk and

stumble onto things they are not supposed to see. Ironically, under

the arms control Open Skies Treaty ratifi ed by the United States, for-

eign countries can capture aerial images of anything they want. The

United States has even provided Russia with an airport diagram of the

facility. 2 But no photographs of the complex have entered the public

domain since 1968; the National Archives segregates any imagery of

the site that should have, under law, been automatically declassifi ed.

In 2000, John Pike, then director of the Public Eye program at the

Federation of American Scientists (FAS), took advantage of the newly

fl ourishing world of commercial satellite companies. In theory you

could order images of whatever you wanted. And FAS wanted to see

what would happen if they asked for pictures of Groom Lake.

Tim Brown, an imagery analyst who worked with Pike on the

project, says, “There ’s nothing really normal about the place. It ’s a

* Something it was forced to admit when former employees sued the Air Force over

the effects of alleged exposure to toxic fumes, prompting the Clinton administration

to assert a state secrets privilege and order the Environmental Protection Agency to

exempt the site from certain federal regulations.

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ripple in the space of reality.” In other words, it was the perfect sub-

ject to test whether the new commercial satellite technology could be

used to shed light on long-held secrets like Groom Lake.

They placed an order with Space Imaging, a commercial satellite

company, for a one-meter image of the area. “We said, ‘Look, here

are the coordinates, we want this facility, and that ’s that.’ And then we

waited. They said it could take weeks.”

They waited. Weeks went by with no response. Then a different

satellite company released a less precise two-meter image of Groom

Lake from the Russian Aviation and Space Agency. When Groom ’s

veil was pierced, Pike and Brown ’s order suddenly came through.

“The day after, wouldn ’t you know, all of a sudden Space Imaging

found our order behind a fi le cabinet and said, ‘Oh yeah, here ’s your


When Pike and Brown fi nally got the photos, they found that

Groom Lake was a hive of activity. The photographs showed numer-

ous newly constructed hangars, a baseball fi eld, and other recreation

areas, as well as evidence of a recent runway expansion. It was vin-

dication for Pike. “Highlighting the discrepancy between what the

public knows, and what the government will acknowledge, is a key

instrument in teasing out the absurdities of the security enclave,” he

wrote. “There is no better opportunity for such mirth than Area 51.

The U.S. Government has only recently acknowledged the ‘fact of the

existence’ of this facility, despite ample publicity and super-abundant

speculation over the past decades.” 3

For Pike, this gap showed that government secrecy inhabited a

bizarre alternate universe where the perpetuation of secret aircraft

programs—programs generally designed to further the interests of

defense industry and to promote an ideology that presupposes future

military confl ict—is the primary end, rather than secrecy to protect

national security interests.

One irony of the photo release was that the Russian govern-

ment surely had higher-resolution photos. The U.S. government had

placed a restriction on the image resolution that commercial provid-

ers could sell to private customers. It also theoretically retained “shut-

ter control” over releasable imagery of sensitive sites. 4

• • •

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The Air Force Flight Test Center ’s Detachment 3 manages opera-

tions at Groom Lake for all customers, including the CIA. Those who

work there call it “the remote site,” “the alternate site,” or simply “the

site.” With the largest dry lake bed outside Edwards Air Force Base in

neighboring California, it remains the place where the Department of

Defense and the CIA test their secret aviation projects and exploit and

test aircraft parts stolen from other countries.

About two thousand government employees and contractors

touch ground there at least once a year. According to the résumés of

several engineers who have served at the site, Detachment 3 services

about one hundred continuing projects, a dozen of which are fully

realized prototype aircraft.* Many—especially the unmanned air-

craft—are managed by the Air Force ’s new Rapid Capability Offi ce,

which exists on paper as an acquisitions team, and by the Air Force ’s

Big Safari Program Offi ce, which for decades has overseen the acqui-

sition, fi elding, and testing of secret intelligence, surveillance, and

reconnaissance planes. 5 Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman

have a full-time presence on the site.

To protect the facility, the Air Force restricts all related informa-

tion to a special access program known by the initials CD. In a four-

hour session, initiates are “read in” to the basic purpose of the site,

its history, its security procedures, and how the base is restricted even

to those who are given permission to be there. Groom Lake ’s 350

security offi cers are contractors drawn from the same fi rm that man-

ages the fl ights to and from the site: EG&G Technical Services. They

actually went on strike after 9/11 because of too much overtime, the

union steward told a Las Vegas newspaper. 6 The Air Force security

squadron ostensibly assigned to the remote site (the 99th Security

Forces Group) has no actual presence there. 7

Initiates are also told that the neighboring Tonopah Test Range,

a 336,000-acre site operated under Department of Energy cover

(it used to be known as Area 52) is also not to be acknowledged,

although the Department of Energy does so freely, as do contrac-

tors bragging about their projects there. 8 Formally, Lockheed Martin,

under a DOE contract, uses the area to test the nuclear weapons

* On his LinkedIn profi le, one such engineer wrote that he worked “on a DOD

national electronic combat test and evaluation range for tri-service customers.”

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stockpile reliability (checking, for instance, whether fuses and elec-

tromagnetic pulse shielding work properly).* Informally, the Army,

the Air Force, and the Navy have program offi ces at the site (the U.S.

Army Threat Systems Management Offi ce is one of them). 9 The Air

Force occasionally uses Tonopah Test Range as a cover for projects

that were actually tested at the Groom Lake site. Lockheed Martin ’s

once highly classifi ed RQ-170 Sentinel drone was tested at Groom

Lake beginning in 2006; offi cially, the Air Force says it was tested

at Tonopah Test Range. It has also served as a forward staging base

for foreign aircraft parts that are due to be exploited by engineers

at the Groom Lake site. Often the two sites are used together for what

the government calls Foreign Material Exploitation (FME) Tactical

Material Exploitation missions. (First, fi gure out what the enemy air-

craft is capable of. Then fi gure out how your pilots can effectively

counter the threat.)

In 2006, the government declassifi

ed a program called

CONSTANT PEG, revealing that the United States had acquired

numerous Soviet aircraft and brought pilots to the Tonopah Test Range

to fl y these aircraft with other pilots to test their skills against actual

Russian jets. In 1984, the vice commander of the Air Force Systems

Command was killed at Groom Lake while fl ying a MiG-23—some-

thing the government unsuccessfully attempted to cover up at the time. 10

The Air Force implies that the end of the Cold War prompted

the end of such testing and reverse engineering, but the U.S. govern-

ment continues to use Groom Lake and Tonopah Test Range for the

same purposes today. The cover-name conventions likewise remain

the same. In 2006, Groom Lake was used for testing Su-27 Flankers

(Russia ’s version of the F-15) that the United States had purchased

from one of the former Soviet republics. Flying the foreign aircraft

can be dangerous, and most of the FME data is used to create virtual

simulations of foreign fi ghters. Somewhere on base is a repository of

* According to the DOE, “Sandia Corporation (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin

Corporation through its contract with the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE]),

National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), Sandia Site Offi ce (SSO), oper-

ates the Tonopah Test Range (TTR) in Nevada. Westinghouse Government Service,

TTR ’s operations and maintenance contractor, performs most environmental pro-

gram functions.”

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foreign aircraft parts and systems, and the United States has billion-

dollar procurement programs in place to fi nd and steal them.

Groom Lake has to control its employee access somehow. As of

2008, its site badges were emblazoned with the crest of the Air Force

Flight Test Center. AFFTC owns land abutting the complex, but offi -

cially (and unsurprisingly) has no presence in Nevada. Its home is at

Edwards Air Force Base in California, but fl ight trackers have iden-

tifi ed jets that regularly travel between Edwards and Tonopah Test

Range, Nellis, and McCarran—and also, apparently, Groom Lake. 11

Because fl ights out of McCarran are diffi cult to keep secret, the

detachment ’s security team often brings employees in by bus. Some

shuttles might be manifested for Site 1 but will deliberately go to

Site 4, something that workers must know in advance, lest they get

dropped off somewhere at the site that they ’re not supposed to be and

see something they ’re not supposed to see.

When the site needs power lines replaced, it transports specially

cleared personnel in blacked-out vans, although the workers are

forced to wear frosted goggles, or “froggles,” that provide an extra

measure of visual obscurity. This may have been necessary when

Area 51’s existence wasn ’t acknowledged, but it ’s hard to imagine that

the workers aren ’t aware of where they ’re headed now.

Getting time to test your secret project is diffi cult, and program

managers sometimes fi nd the site ’s security restrictions overly oner-

ous. Security offi cers at the site ’s Range Coordination Agency often

forbid offsite transportation of any data or telemetry transmitted to or

from an aircraft that indicate the aircraft had been at the site. In prac-

tice, that means that the Air Force or the CIA has to create a separate

security compartment for fl ight data recorders and instruments that

are tested there, even though everyone involved in the particular pro-

gram has been cleared at the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented

Information level.

Remote sensor platforms (drones) are particularly hard to test.

The aircraft are outfi tted and launched by a ground unit at the site,

and they ’re operated by pilots and technicians elsewhere—some-

times at nearby Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, or at Hanscom

Air Force Base in Massachusetts. Site rules require that no latitude

or longitude data be transmitted outside the airspace, so systems

engineers have to create special software programs specifi c to the

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testing phase. The risk in this case is miniscule, given that the data is

encrypted and the chances of it being intercepted, decrypted, deci-

phered, and exploited by a foreign government is nil. But the site

makes the rules.

Anytime an alien hunter or curious passerby triggers a remote

sensor, crews have to quickly push aircraft and equipment back into

hangars. The Detachment receives intelligence from Air Force units

tracking Chinese, Soviet, and Israeli satellites. If there ’s any chance

that satellite (commercial or foreign) might be overhead during any

given day, the site will be locked down.

There are several other areas inside the National Security Test

Site where spooky things happen. The Air Force tests missile defense

systems and new radars at the Tonopah Electronic Combat Range.

The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA maintain

training facilities. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency also main-

tains a presence inside the container.

Even in our hypothetical opening example, the only thing

hypothetical is that anyone would have seen it. When the Predator

program began its tests at the site in the mid-1990s, Detachment 3

managers insisted on fi tting the aircraft with special automatic det-

onation devices that would destroy the drones if they wandered out

of the restricted airspace. * On the maiden voyage of one of the fi rst

test Predators, its operator increased its speed beyond allowable toler-

ances. This somehow sent bad data to the communication module

on the detonation device, which sent an error message to a ground

unit that had interrogated it. All of this resulted in a computer gen-

erated auto-destruct order. A $30 million prototype was destroyed—a

victim of an obsession with operational secrecy.

Yet it is hard to fault the government for a zero-risk policy.

GRASS BLADE was the developmental nickname for two Black

Hawk helicopters built in secret by the U.S. Army Integrated Aviation

Systems 21 group, working under the umbrella of the Applied

Aviation Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis, Virginia. For three

years beginning in 2007, engineers and technicians developed

* Offi cially, the Predator was tested at another range on the Nellis complex, the

Indian Springs Auxiliary Airfi eld.

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sound-dampening devices, mixed special resins and paints, and

laboriously and rigorously subjected the resulting helicopter pro-

totypes to radar and acoustic tests. Once assembled, the helicopters

were transferred to Groom Lake in 2010 and given the operational

nickname TRACTOR PULL. At Groom Lake, pilots from the U.S.

Joint Special Operations Command Aviation Testing and Evaluation

Group practiced fl ying them. To those who didn

’t know about

TRACTOR PULL, the gray helicopters often seen at the Groom

Lake looked like mechanical wolves and soon acquired the nickname

“Air Wolves.” Had the program been compromised, the military

would not have had a way to clandestinely transport Navy SEALs to

Abbottabad on the morning of May 3, 2011.

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C H A P T E R 9

The Tip of the Spear

For the SEALs of Red Squadron, putting two bullets in a primary

target wasn ’t asking much. The insertion aircraft were a little

different, a little more crowded than standard Black Hawks, owing

to some bolted-on stealth technology recently tested at Area 51.

Destination X, a fair-weathered hill town only thirty miles from the

capital of Pakistan and well within that country ’s borders, would make

for a daring incursion. One blip on a station ’s radar would scramble

Pakistani jets armed with 30 mm cannons, air-to-air missiles, and very

possibly free-fi re orders. Still, it wasn ’t anyone ’s fi rst time in Pakistan,

and it wouldn ’t be the last. When you ’re fi ghting shadow wars every-

where from Iran to Paraguay, quiet infi ltrations with no margin for

error are simply the expected way to do business.

Those men of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group

(DEVGRU), better known as SEAL Team Six, had spent weeks

(and, it later occurred to the them, months) training for the mission.

That night, the aircrews of the U.S. Army 160th Special Operations

Aviation Regiment (Airborne) piloted the one-of-a-kind stealth heli-

copters through Pakistan

’s well-guarded and highly militarized

border. CIA paramilitaries acted as spotters on the ground and moni-

tored the situation from afar. A ratlike RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned

aerial vehicle operated from Nevada by the U.S. Air Force 30th

Reconnaissance Squadron hovered about fi fty thousand feet above


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Abbottabad, equipped with a special camera designed to penetrate

thin layers of cloud and down to a three-story compound below.

The drone was ordered by defense planners to provide a covert

way to monitor nuclear weapons sites in Iran and North Korea. The

National Security Council, however, had granted special permission

for its use over Pakistan. To mitigate diplomatic fallout in the event

the drone was to crash in Pakistan, the U.S. Defense Department

disallowed nuclear-sensing devices from the aircraft, in opposition to

the wishes of the CIA. Pakistan was incredibly sensitive about U.S.

surveillance of their nuclear establishment; the CIA was obsessed

with it.

Transmitters on this drone ’s wing beamed encrypted footage to

an orbiting National Reconnaissance Offi ce satellite, which relayed

the signal to a ground station in Germany. Another satellite hop

brought the feed to the White House and elsewhere.

The Sentinel had spent months monitoring and mapping the

Abbottabad compound. The area had fallen under scrutiny after

intelligence analysts learned that the high-value target in question

communicated by courier. Captured enemy combatants—some sub-

jected to enhanced interrogation techniques—fl eshed out details.

A name. A description. A satellite fi rst spotted the courier ’s van, and the

drone circled. Ground crews in Afghanistan attached sophisticated

laser devices and multispectral sensors to the drone ’s underbelly,

allowing the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to create

a three-dimensional rendering of that little piece of Pakistan. Details

were so precise that analysts managed to compute the height of the

tall man in question they nicknamed “the Pacer.” When it wasn ’t

gathering imagery intelligence (IMINT), the drone would sometimes

fl y from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to Abbottabad and back, on signals

intelligence (SIGINT) operations, listening to the routine chatter of

Pakistan ’s air defense forces so that U.S. National Security Agency

analysts could determine patterns and alert confi gurations.

There was a scare just three weeks before the Abbottabad raid.

While the drone was in transit over a Pakistani airbase, translators lis-

tening to the feed picked up Pakistani air controllers alerting crews

to an orbiting American reconnaissance plane. Had the Sentinel—

designed to evade detection and crucial to the operation—been

outed? Moments later, when a Pakistani air controller ordered its

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fi ghter pilots to ascend to the altitude of “the EP-3,” Americans could

exhale. The Pakistanis were merely practicing for the possible stray-

ing of an EP-3E Aries surveillance plane from its permitted fl ight

path from the Indian Ocean into Pakistan.

Among the list of units that participated in the Abbottabad

mission—otherwise known as Operation Neptune ’s Spear—there are

others still unknown but whose value was inestimable. Some entity

of the U.S. government, for example, fi gured out how to completely

spoof Pakistani air defenses for a while, because at least some of the

U.S. aircraft in use that night were not stealthy. Yet at the core of it

all were the shooters and the door-kickers of Red Squadron, SEAL

Team Six, and a dog named Cairo. It took just forty minutes from

boots on dirt to exfi ltration, and although they lost one helicopter

to the region ’s thin air (notoriously inhospitable to rotary-wing air-

craft), they expended fewer rounds than would fi ll a single magazine,

snatched bags of evidence, and collected a single dead body.

The team detonated the lost Black Hawk and slipped like phan-

toms back to Jalalabad, where DNA samples were taken from the

body. They loaded into MH-47 Chinooks and again passed over

now-cleared parts of Pakistan, then landed on the fl ight deck of the

waiting USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier. In accordance with Muslim

rites, a short ceremony was held above deck (all crew members were

confi ned below), and the body of Osama bin Laden was tossed over-

board. The after-action report doesn ’t go into much more detail than

that, but the story of Abbottabad, of seamless integration between

elite special forces and the intelligence community, includes many

more layers. Lost in the sparkling details of the raid is the immense

logistical challenge of providing reliable communications. There

was a contingency plan; military interrogators were in place on

the Vinson , along with CIA offi cers, just in case bin Laden was cap-

tured alive. The 75th Ranger Regiment played an unknown role in

the proceedings. And someone had to later exfi ltrate the CIA offi cers

who were on the ground.

The next day, the world changed, but perhaps for no one more

so than Red Squadron, SEAL Team Six, and its parent, the U.S.

Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the president ’s secret

army. At the end of a ten-year American crucible of terrorist attacks

and two wars, and as the psychic burden of its citizenry was made

c09.indd 112

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all the heavier by a collapse in the fi nancial markets and a near-total

dysfunction in government, Operation Neptune ’s Spear offered the

tantalizing suggestion that something in government could work and

did work. Here, government agencies worked together in secret, in

pursuit of a single goal. No boundaries separated the intelligence

community from the military or one military unit from another. In

the parlance, it was the perfection of a process thirty years in the

making—operations by joint military branches (“Purple”) conducted

seamlessly with multiple agencies of the intelligence community


It was the fi nest example of the apparatuses of state working in

concert and probably the fi nest example of government secrecy

approved of by the general public.

JSOC (pronounced “JAY-sock”) is a special military command estab-

lished in 1980 by a classifi ed charter. Its purpose is to quietly execute

the most challenging tasks of the world ’s most powerful nation with

exacting precision and with little notice or regard. The Command

is clandestine by design. When it makes mistakes, this often means

that its singularly lethal techniques were applied to the wrong per-

son, or that the sheer exuberance of being the elite of the elite dulled

the razor-sharp moral calculus required of war fi ghters who have so

much autonomy.

Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, JSOC spent

twenty years quietly operating on the periphery of the armed forces,

inventing tactics to do the impossible and succeeding in execution.

It recruited some of the best soldiers and sailors in the world and put

them through the most intense training ever developed by a modern

military. The last ten years have witnessed JSOC transform itself and,

in so doing, change way the United States and her allies fi ght wars.

This is not an exaggeration or some attempt to burnish the

Command ’s mythos. Consider these two strategic objectives: sup-

pressing the insurgency in Iraq so that conventional forces could

regroup and mount a renewed counteroffensive, and degrading the

capabilities of al-Qaeda. Without JSOC ’s aggressive fusion of intelli-

gence with operations in real time, and without its warp-speed tempo

in tracking high-value targets, the United States would very likely still

c09.indd 113

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be slugging it out in the trenches of Iraq, and al-Qaeda would still

be a credible threat to U.S. security. Whatever your view of the Iraq

campaign or of war itself, and whatever your tolerance for the often

nebulous morality of special operations missions, it behooves you

to understand how this type of unconventional warfare evolved and

what it means as the U.S. military faces signifi cant spending cuts.

The bin Laden assassination bore all of the hallmarks of a mod-

ern JSOC operation. It was joint , involving military elements both

white and black from different branches of the armed forces. It was

interagency , coordinated with the CIA and leveraging the assets of

much of the U.S. intelligence community, largely without confl ict.

It was legal enough ; the razing force was temporarily placed under

the control of Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, because JSOC

isn ’t strictly authorized to conduct operations in Pakistan. It was

also resource-intensive, involving millions of dollars’ worth of secret

equipment, signifi cant satellite bandwidth, the attention of national

policymakers, and a swath of military personnel belonging to various


JSOC is the secret army of the president of the United States. But

what does “secret” mean when it involves units virtually everyone

has heard of? By the numbers, JSOC ’s cover has not changed, and

its subordinate units must “study special operations requirements

and techniques, ensure interoperability and equipment standardiza-

tion, plan and conduct special operations exercises and training, and

develop joint special operations tactics.” 1 Although that ’s not a lie, it

is to some degree obfuscation. JSOC does indeed plan and conduct

special operations exercises, but it also conducts highly sensitive mis-

sions that require particularly specialized units. Many of those units

have passed into American cultural legend.

In many ways, this mythologizing began with Colonel Charlie

Beckwith, the father of Delta Force and its fi rst commanding

offi cer, who wrote a book about his unit. Journalist Mark Bowden

later revealed in astonishing detail the operational effectiveness,

bravery, and brutal effi ciency of Delta operators in sustained com-

bat against overwhelming numbers as exhibited in the Battle of

Mogadishu. (Ridley Scott would later commit the operation to cel-

luloid in the fi lm Black Hawk Down. ) Eric Haney, a former senior

noncommissioned offi cer of Delta, produced a television show called

c09.indd 114

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The Unit , based on a book he ’d previously written. Years earlier,

Charlie Sheen and a camera crew were inexplicably granted access

to the actual SEAL Team Six compound in Virginia to fi lm a movie

about DEVGRU. And of course, the beat reporters in Fayetteville,

North Carolina, where Delta is headquartered, and Dam Neck,

Virginia, where DEVGRU is headquartered, know the names of the

colonels and the captains responsible for the military ’s most daring


So it ’s not quite right to say that the two principal counterterror-

ism units of JSOC are secret, per se. A better description might be

that they are offi cially unacknowledged. And though he can ’t come

out and say it, that ’s what Ken McGraw, a spokesman for U.S. Special

Operations Command, means when he tells reporters he won ’t be

talking about the “special missions units” with them.

Right now, with mostly successes visible to the public, we respect

that this secrecy is for operational security. However, that respect may

not last forever, because secrecy exists also to remove layers of

accountability. JSOC doesn ’t want most of our elected leaders to

know what it is up to, especially in cases where things go wrong.

And most of our elected leaders would rather not know, for the same

reason. The secrecy apparatus of JSOC is prodigious in scope, and

the Command camoufl ages itself with cover names, black bud-

get mechanisms, and bureaucratic parlor tricks to keep it that way.

It is heavily compartmentalized; the commanding offi cer of Delta

knew about Neptune ’s Spear only days before the operation. To get

around Freedom of Information Act inquiries, JSOC security offi -

cers advise operators and analysts to “stick to paper and safes,” as one

intelligence operative describes, meaning that for sensitive conver-

sations, nonmilitary cell phones are preferable to classifi ed mili-

tary computer networks where every keystroke is recorded for use

by counterintelligence investigators. JSOC currently participates

in more than fi fty special access programs, each one designating

a particular operation or capability. The programs are given ran-

domly selected and always-changing nicknames and are stamped

with code words such as Meridian and Principal that are themselves

classifi ed.

JSOC perfectly represents the two sides of the secrecy coin.

Most of their secrets—new technologies, new targets, new

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techniques—will not be a secret from our enemies once the operation

is carried out. However, there will be things—there are almost surely

already things—that they hope no one outside JSOC ever learns about.

The Command ’s secrecy can intimidate outsiders, but such an

operational culture is a necessity. Among its most sensitive tasks in

recent years has been to establish contingency plans to secure the

Pakistani nuclear arsenal in the event that the civilian government

falls in a military coup d’état. Here, policymakers are given a wel-

come choice—a choice not to know, which allows senior adminis-

tration offi cials to reliably and honestly explain to the public and to

Pakistani offi cials that they are confi dent in Pakistan ’s ability to keep

its arsenal safe without having to lie. Only a few political appointees

and members of Congress need to know the nature of such contin-

gency plans. Incidentally, JSOC is also a key part of the classifi ed

contingency plans to preserve the U.S. civilian government in the

event of a coup from the military or anyone else.

It ’s clear, however, that the blankets of secrecy are fraying. “If you

Google JSOC,” Admiral William McRaven, the commander of the

Special Operations Command (SOCOM), a former DEVGRU oper-

ator and the previous commander of JSOC, has said, “you can fi nd

out pretty much everything you want to know.”

Yet JSOC has done a decent job of keeping to itself. The mis-

sions we hear about are but a fraction of those it completes. Likewise,

JSOC has done a remarkable job of hiding from the public the

incredible scope of the missions it is assigned and a fi ne job of pre-

venting anyone outside the circle of trust from obtaining all but

the slightest knowledge of its history, organization, function, and


“Brian,” the decorated Naval Special Warfare Development Group

deputy commander who planned Neptune ’s Spear, had expected to

read a lot about his unit—some of it even true—and had participated

in conversations with colleagues about the future of the cover nar-

rative given to JSOC. Maybe it was time to loosen things up a bit.

A big mission such as this would inevitably degrade JSOC ’s capacity

to some nontrivial degree, as the effi cacy of special operations forces

is often inversely proportional to the publicity given to the mission.

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Brian is no longer a DEVGRU commander, but as with all JSOC

colonels and captains, his identity is considered a state secret, pro-

tected by the Defense Cover Program. (Brian is also not his real

name; because Nicholas Schmidle referred to him by that name in

his excellent August 8, 2011, New Yorker article “Getting bin Laden,”

we will too.)

As Brian worked with SEAL element planners and intelligence

analysts in a warren of rooms at CIA headquarters in Langley during

the fi rst months of 2011, he was bemused to fi nd that he was worried

about success. He feared that in the operation ’s aftermath, report-

ers might harass the Command for more information about how it

worked and what it did. This was, admittedly, a mild concern. There

has always been some level of curiosity, and there always would be.

A more paramount concern was that someone might leak details of

the mission before it happened. The closer to the witching hour, the

higher the risk of a compromise. Simply put, JSOC commanders

didn ’t trust everyone at the White House who would have to be “read

in” to the operation. Admiral McRaven did, however, trust Panetta and

the director

’s decision to brief certain lawmakers on the House

and Senate select committees on intelligence. (Though no lawmak-

ers received operational briefi ngs about the mission until Osama

bin Laden was introduced to the Arabian Sea, the chair and ranking

committee members were given cryptic notifi cations by Panetta that

the operation would happen about six hours before it did.)

Thankfully, Brian ’s initial fears proved unfounded. Yet what he

did not expect were the throngs of tourists fl ocking to Dam Neck,

Virginia, hoping to spot members of the team at known SEAL bars

and haunts. Or the two motion pictures put almost immediately into

production, with fi lmmakers contacting members of the squadron.

Or the History Channel and the Discovery Channel specials, with

commentators either knowing nothing at all or revealing too much.

Even President Barack Obama participated in one of them. If, as it

seemed, JSOC was no longer secret, what would it be? How could

it be effective when its existence was all but offi cially acknowl-

edged and its activities openly reported? Brian, in fact, turned out to

be the country ’s best secret keeper for a while. Because Neptune ’s

Spear was his operation, he designed its security protocols. What

that meant, in practice, was that almost nothing was committed to

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paper. There were no “read-aheads” distributed to aides in advance

of meetings. No one took notes. “We did what the enemy did,” he

said. “We went off the grid.” He kept a lot of the operational details

inside his brain.

“It increasingly became a concern for us that it was going to

leak,” he said. “We had a few operational constraints, one of which

was that we needed to go in on an illumination cycle in Pakistan.

That was at the beginning of the month, when the moon was bright.

I was concerned that if we waited for June, four long weeks—the

chances would have risen exponentially that something would leak.”

When Brian says “leak,” he doesn ’t mean a front-page story in

the Washington Post . “Even if there had been some chatter about it,

if any of that had gotten back to the Pakistani government, it would

have been over.”

When he assumed command of SOCOM, Admiral McRaven

sent word to JSOC: the story of U.S. special operations forces is a

good one, and he wanted to talk forthrightly with the American peo-

ple about it. Americans could, and should, be proud of their special

operations forces. There would by necessity be exceptions: he would

protect the identities of those involved in missions, and he

would never talk about missions themselves. In keeping with this

promise, he declined to talk about Neptune ’s Spear or any other mis-

sion for this book.

By some estimates, 80 percent of JSOC missions launched before

2000 remain classifi ed. Some of these are likely secrets they hope

will never get out. Operators from Delta Force and SEAL Team Six

infi ltrated China with the CIA and mapped the locations of Chinese

satellite transmission facilities in the event that the United States ever

needed to disable them. On more than one occasion, they ’ve engaged

Iranian troops on Iranian soil. They ’ve fought in Lebanon, in Peru, in

the Palestinian territories, and in Syria. They also spent a lot of time

shooting up abandoned buildings in U.S. cities, rehearsing hostage

rescue situations of every kind. The Command hoards contingency

planners. When the president travels overseas, a JSOC team usu-

ally shadows him. Its members are trained to take charge should the

mammoth security structure of the U.S. Secret Service break down.

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Although the bin Laden mission may have been less complicated

than other, less well-known operations, it was in many ways the cul-

mination of decades of work. Since the terrorist attacks of September

11, 2001, no single entity—not even the CIA—has done more to

degrade and isolate al-Qaeda, to prevent Hezbollah from funneling

drug money to terrorists, or to check Iranian infl uence. Pick a threat,

and there ’s a good chance the Command is there “mowing the

lawn.” (This metaphor is a favorite of JSOC fl ag and general offi cers.)

The cost of doing so much—indeed, the necessary cost of success—is

that the secret force is no longer impenetrably black. Its operators

are tired. The casualty rate has been high. And a perennial, hush-

hush debate inside the Pentagon has grown vociferous.

During the last decade, the United States has created the most

impressive rapid military response machine in the history of the

world. Simply stated, JSOC can kill more effi ciently and effectively

than any other force on earth. How then can we safely, legally, and

responsibly employ it?

The law is murky. The CIA is permitted to engage in something

called “covert action,” and can use JSOC to do so. By law, a covert

action is “an activity or activities of the United States Government to

infl uence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where

it ’s intended that the role of the United States Government will not

be apparent or acknowledged publicly.” 2 As we have discussed, the

president must formally “fi nd” that such an activity is warranted and

must inform select members of Congress in advance.

The legal defi nition of “covert action” does not cover intelligence

collection; it does not cover “traditional diplomatic or military activi-

ties, or their routine support” or support to law enforcement or other

government agencies. In practice, if another agency is engaged in

something approximating a covert action, the CIA can stand in sup-

port of that agency and not be subject to the statutory requirements

imposed by Congress. In theory, it is tempting for a president who

wants to do something secret to charter it under something like

“traditional military activities,” which is a phrase that is suffi ciently

balloonlike to purchase just about everything that JSOC does.

Since its founding, the CIA has been a bit of a free body in the

orbit of secret activities. Its regulation by Congress has a lot to do

with the tendency of its leaders to push the boundaries of policy and

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not be held accountable for it. The Department of Defense, how-

ever, is a very hierarchical organization, and accountability is not

left to a separate branch of government. It is embedded within the

organizational structure and culture of the American defense estab-

lishment, more so after the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the 1980s.

JSOC reports to the civilian secretary of defense, who reports to the

civilian National Security Council and then directly to the presi-

dent. Internally, JSOC components are constrained by the services

(the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy) that fund them, and their leaders

are held to account by the oaths they ’ve sworn, the combatant com-

mands they work under, the umbrella command they work for, and

by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to say nothing of the civilian under secre-

tary who oversees special operations. Many more people know about

JSOC operations than might be read in to a CIA “compartmented”

for a covert action. Congress, however, isn ’t necessarily in that num-

ber, which is one reason many observers of secret wars tend to worry

about JSOC and accountability. But it is accountable—just not to


Practically speaking, Congress cannot by its nature and expertise

or the Constitution tell the commander in chief how to conduct a

war. And if Congress has deemed the inchoate battle against terror-

ism to be such a war, there is very little it can do, in retrospect, to

regather or reclassify certain types of operations as distinct from that

war. The big battles of tomorrow—countercyber, counternarcotics,

and counterterrorism, are American defense priorities. The Defense

Department has all the authority it needs to resource and execute

its mission. Special operations forces will fi ght many of these “small

wars,” and they are legally permitted to operate without oversight in

ways that the CIA legally cannot. If Congress fi nds this untenable,

it can change the law. That it has not suggests that it is comfortable

with the arrangement; its silence provides the consent that the presi-

dent seeks for the employment of his secret army.

It ’s safe to assume that most Americans are just fi ne with secret

counternarcotics missions in Venezuela. But what about when the

nexus of “traditional military activities” includes the possibility that a

U.S. citizen will be killed? Indeed, can a “traditional military activity”

be directly targeted at an American overseas? In the system of secrets,

would it be more palatable for any such action to be classifi ed as a

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“covert action” and thus more accountable to Congress? Here the

executive branch is on shaky ground. In 2012, news leaked that

President Obama was consolidating the various permission structures

across government that allowed drone-based missile strikes outside of

declared war zones. This was greeted with some dismay but was argu-

ably a necessary development. When the ultimate executive power is

used, it ought to be the executive himself who is held accountable to

the public—not some midlevel functionary at the CIA ’s counterter-

rorist center. At least now we know exactly who ’s to blame when civil-

ians or noncombatants are slain in America ’s secret wars.

In no way are the moral objections to drone warfare answered by

such post facto accountability, and there is no moral doctrine that

justifi es the accidental killing of an American juvenile. On October

14, 2011—a few weeks after his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed

in the Yemeni desert—sixteen-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki

was blown to bits by an American strike while he was eating lunch

along with (we are told) some of his father ’s friends. The younger al-

Awlaki did not choose a life of terrorism; he was born into it. He did

not renounce his American citizenship. He did not encourage, as his

father had, terrorism against the United States. He was simply there.

The Obama administration will not acknowledge his death formally,

even though his blood is on their hands. The administration believes

they are constrained by the secrecy of the drone program, but they

also know that they cannot justify or even explain al-Awlaki ’s death

without referring to the fog of small wars. Attorney General Eric

Holder has insinuated that the elder al-Awlaki got his constitutional

due process because the executive branch had internal deliberations

before deciding to kill him. Because Congress has authorized the

executive to kill terrorists generally, that would suffi ce.

And as thin as it seems, that may be the best legal argument for a

national security program that many Americans defend as legitimate.

Still, while obscuring the technical details of a program, secrecy

also stifl es robust debate about its fundamental morality. It would

seem that most Americans do not object to the drone war, but it ’s

unlikely that a majority know about Abdulrahman ’s inglorious death


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C H A P T E R 1 0

Necessary Secrets

Most Americans, though they might disagree with the moral-

ity of nuclear weapons, would agree that the United States is

within its rights to use secrecy to preserve the security and integrity

of the nuclear arsenal. The U.S. Air Force protects three resources

in the continental United States with no-notice, lethal force at all

times. These assets, designated Protection Level One, include Air

Force One; one-of-a-kind aircraft (the stealth helicopters used in

the Osama bin Laden raid, for example); and nuclear weapons.

In 2006, an Internet video portraying Air Force One being vandalized

by a graffi ti artist went viral. Those in the know immediately recog-

nized it as a hoax. It had to be: security around the president ’s aircraft

is as hardened as the White House itself. A staff of armed person-

nel known as Ravens stand watch 24/7, backed up by heavier assets

nearby. Unauthorized personnel who get too close to Air Force One

will not be handcuffed. They will be shot.*

* Military and civilian employees who get unfettered access to the president (or to

the National Command Authority) must undergo a rigorous background check con-

ducted by the Defense Security Service or the FBI. Once they pass, they are read in

to a special access program called “Yankee White,” which grants them unfettered

access to presidential workspaces that might contain classifi ed information at any

level. Military personnel—Air Force pilots, Navy stewards, Marine engineers, say—

are rated according to a system that either permits or denies them access to a loaded

weapon when the president is around.


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The Posse Comitatus Act ostensibly prevents military forces from

engaging in law enforcement operations on U.S. soil. Yet Congress

may expressly permit the military to conduct activities deemed nec-

essary. Conspiracy theorists have long argued that there is a body of

secret exemptions to the act that give the military license to detain

and even kill Americans during national emergencies. This is false,

though commanders can use lethal force to secure critical infra-

structure and property and save the lives of others if they arrive at

the scene of a disaster before civilian law enforcement. Indeed,

Posse Comitatus does not address a wide range of military activities

on American soil, from commando training missions in the middle

of busy cities to operating military-grade equipment at the request

of the FBI. During some National Special Security Events, for

example, the Predator drone that hovers above the event site is not

piloted by civilians, although civilians process whatever intelligence

it gathers. These powers are not claimed in secret, though they cer-

tainly exist in secrecy ’s penumbra, and the deep penetration of mili-

tary power remains a very sensitive subject for the civilian politicians

elected to run the government.

Wherever a nuclear weapon is transported on the ground, con-

voy commanders have exclusive jurisdiction over its defense. In a

nuclear National Defense Area, as its legal umbrella is called, the

use of force is not only authorized, it is de facto. One JAG (Judge

Advocate General) offi cer told us, “ Nothing impedes the transport of

a Protection Level One resource.” When a nuke is rolling, anything

and anyone in its path can and will be fi red upon. If a nuclear weap-

ons convoy is ambushed, the National Defense Area can expand or

contract, and the full might of the American military is then brought

to bear. Stand in front of a nuclear weapons convoy, and one is

unlikely to live to tell the story.*

It should be self-evident that details of a nuclear weapon in the

wild are a necessary secret. Other such necessary secrets include things

like: our global contingency plans (such as one to try and seize control

* Aside from physical security, nuclear war plans themselves are still among the

secrets that are given the highest degree of physical protection. The most secret

of these plans is the list of Desired Ground Zeroes, or DGZ, that combatant com-

mands and the U.S. Strategic Command regularly collaborate on and revise.

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of Pakistan in the event of a coup, a protective measure to defend its

nuclear arsenal from extremists); the location of fi ber optic lines carry-

ing high-grade government traffi c inside the United States; the logisti-

cal details of missions by the Department of Energy to reclaim highly

enriched uranium; and all information related to the protection of the

president of the United States. (Indeed, for years the Secret Service

refused to tell Congress how many agents accompanied the president

on foreign visits, claiming that the information was too sensitive to

trust with oversight committees. The April 2012 prostitution scandal in

Cartagena, Colombia, put an end to that tradition of silence. In order

to convince Congress that the agency was able to hold itself account-

able, the Service revealed that 175 special agents made the trip. Nine

of those agents violated agency regulations. Now that the secret is out,

could a would-be assassin benefi t from such information? Maybe. But

complacency is the enemy of security. The number of agents traveling

with the president will probably change as a result.)

Frivolous secrets, meanwhile, are often generated as a result

of being “caught in the wash” of the necessary. A document ’s over-

all classifi cation level is dictated by the highest classifi cation level of

any of its components. 1 That is to say, a fi fty-page record with a dis-

creet state secret in a single sentence on a single page is so classifi ed

in its entirety, with the tops and bottoms of each page conspicuously

marked Secret. When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The creation

of a thousand forests is in one acorn,” he might as well have been

describing classifi cation policy. Regulations dictate that unclassifi ed

sections of the document are to be marked as such, and Executive

Order 13526 states that agencies should “use a classifi ed addendum

whenever classifi ed information constitutes a small portion of an

otherwise unclassifi ed document.” 2 Because of the sheer amount of

paperwork produced by the bureaucracy, however, this rule is not uni-

versally followed, and once a document passes through the secrecy

membrane it takes a very long time for the mundane to emerge.

There is also a less generous explanation for frivolous secrets.

They have become negotiable currency printed by an exclusive mint,

or what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called a market. As he writes in his

book Secrecy :

Departments and agencies hoard information, and the govern-

ment becomes a kind of market. Secrets become organizational

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assets, never to be shared save in exchange for another organi-

zation ’s assets. Sometimes the exchange is in kind: I exchange

my secret for your secret. Sometimes the exchange resembles

a barter: I trade my willingness to share certain secrets for your

help in accomplishing my purposes. 3

More coarsely, one current senior director on the National Security

Staff likened a staff meeting about some piece of secret information

to “a contest where everyone, when they come in, unzips their pants

and lays their dicks on the table.”

Covert programs often measure their import by the degree to

which their existence and operations are kept under wraps. This

helps ensure future contracts and funding. Reams of unnecessar-

ily classifi ed material are the by-products of this mentality, with

increased budgets and decreased oversight as the result.

But beyond the president, the bomb, and the troops, where does

one draw the line of absolute necessary secrecy when the implica-

tions of sunlight aren ’t self-evident? And at what point does a leak

become treason? This is perhaps the essential question in any discus-

sion of national security, state diplomacy, the press, or the sprawling

secrecy apparatus.

Secrets exist because we live in a world where not everyone gets

along, and on certain occasions the United States is forced to take

aggressive actions against other countries as a means of maintaining

its own interests. There is, therefore, a direct correlation between

secrecy and geopolitical power. Valid secrets in practice are an

aggressive action undertaken on behalf of the president of the United

States or the National Command Authority (that is, the lawful source

of military orders) in the name of furthering American security inter-

ests, using tactics most reasonable Americans would consider accept-

able when they eventually come to light. With regard to military

operational matters, Mark Bowden most effectively described the

tip of this spear in Black Hawk Down , writing about Delta Force, a

known but unacknowledged U.S. Army unit:

Secrecy, or at least the show of it, was essential to their pur-

pose. It allowed the dreamers and the politicians to have it

both ways. They could stay on the high road while the dirty

work happened offstage. If some Third World terrorist or

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Colombian drug lord needed to die, and then suddenly just

turned up dead, why, what a happy coincidence! The dark

soldiers would melt back into the shadow. If you asked them

about how they made it happen, they wouldn ’t tell. They

didn ’t even exist, see? 4

Since the execution of Operation Neptune

’s Spear, special

operations forces no longer operate exclusively in the shadows. That

is a meal uneasily digested by longtime Joint Special Operations

Command (JSOC) team members; once the curtains have been

opened, it is hard to draw them back shut. In fact, since being pro-

moted to commander of U.S. Special Operations Command in 2008,

Admiral William McRaven has spoken openly about the increased

need for transparency regarding the nation ’s counterterrorism forces.

McRaven, according to people who have spoken with him, would

rather JSOC spend less time creating layers of myth around itself

and more time thinking about how to protect its core assets at a time

when, as one senior administration offi cial who works with McRaven

said, “every time there is an explosion in the world, everyone knows

about it within minutes.”

Shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and detailed infor-

mation about the tactics, techniques, and procedures used by

DEVGRU shooters showed up in the mainstream media, retired colo-

nel Roland Guidry, one of JSOC ’s founding members, took the rare

step of contacting journalists to complain about the sunlight bathing

the SEALs. “The pre-mission Operational Security was superb,

but the postmission OPSEC stinks,” he said. “When all the hullabaloo

settles down, JSOC and [the SEALs] will have to get back to business

as usual, keeping the troops operationally ready and getting set for the

next mission; the visibility the administration has allowed to be focused

on JSOC and [the SEALs] will make their job now more diffi cult.” 5

Guidry said that the “administration ’s bragging” about details

such as the existence of the bin Laden courier network and efforts

to eavesdrop on cell phones would encourage the enemy to adapt

by changing their cell phones, email addresses, websites, safe

houses, and couriers. He also thinks the administration should not

have disclosed precisely what types of equipment it found in bin

Laden ’s compound, such as the terrorist ’s use of thumb drives to

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communicate. “Why did the administration not respond like we were

trained to do thirty years ago in early JSOC by uttering two simple

words: ‘no comment’?” he asked.

He wasn ’t alone in his criticism. Retired lieutenant general James

Vaught, a former Delta Force commander, confronted Admiral

McRaven directly:

Since the time when your wonderful team went and drug

bin Laden out and got rid of him, and more recently when

you went down and rescued the group in Somalia, or wher-

ever the hell they were, they ’ve been splashing all of this all

over the media. Now back when my [Delta] special operators

extracted Saddam [Hussein] from the hole, we didn ’t say one

damn word about it. We turned him over to the local com-

mander and told him to claim that his forces drug him out of

the hole, and he did so. And we just faded away and kept our

mouth shut.

Now I ’m going to tell you, one of these days, if you keep

publishing how you do this, the other guy ’s going to be there

ready for you, and you ’re going to fl y in and he ’s going to

shoot down every damn helicopter and kill every one of your

SEALs. Now, watch it happen. Mark my words. Get the hell

out of the media. 6

To be sure, the administration—construed broadly—did not

intend for too many specifi cs to get out. The National Security

Council (NSC) wrestled with the dilemma early on, knowing as soon

as bin Laden was engaged that the demand for information would be

intense. Though no strategic communications expert had been read in

to the op before it was executed, the White House and the Pentagon

hastily prepared a strategy. Mike Vickers and deputy CIA director

Mike Morrell would brief reporters on a conference call the night of

the capture, after President Barack Obama fi nished speaking. The

White House would issue some details about the time line by having

John Brennan, the respected deputy national security adviser for coun-

terterrorism, brief the press corps. And then everyone would shut up.

Because the SEALs themselves were not debriefed until after

the White House had released its initial timeline, bad information

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got out. Bin Laden had pointed a gun at the SEALs, reporters were

told, and used his wife as a human shield. Neither was true—but

both were conveyed in good faith. Reporters, sensitive to the way the

administration would try to use the bin Laden capture to boost

the president ’s image, were relentless in their efforts to pinpoint

precise details. Intelligence agencies, seeking their share of credit,

offered unsolicited interviews with analysts who had participated in

the hunt. Maybe it was simply the pent-up tension caused by keeping

the secret so long, but in the days after the raid, “the national security

establishment barfed,” is how Denis McDonough, another deputy

national security adviser, put it to a colleague. 7

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, had four

secrets he did not want published at all. One was the stealth tech-

nology used on the Black Hawk, but there was nothing he could do

once it crashed. Another was the presence on the ground of CIA

operatives—it took less than a week for a detailed story to be pub-

lished in the Washington Post about the CIA renting a house near

Osama bin Laden ’s compound. (It later emerged that the CIA had

had a station in Abbottabad for quite a while and had enlisted an

unwitting local doctor to run a vaccination campaign to try to get

blood samples from the bin Laden compound. The doctor and oth-

ers suspected of helping the CIA were taken into custody by the

Pakistani intelligence service and would later be released only after

much begging on the CIA ’s behalf.)

Secret three was the type of drones that hovered above the raid:

RQ-170 Sentinels, which operated out of Tonopah Test Range near

Area 51 in Nevada, capable of jamming Pakistani radar with one

pod and transmitting real-time video to commanders with another.

A message posted to Twitter by one of the authors on the night of the

raid and a subsequent comprehensive Washington Post story broke

that secret. (In early December 2011, an RQ-170 gathering intelli-

gence on possible insurgent training camps inside Iran lost contact

with ground controllers and subsequently fl oated down deep inside

the country. Briefl y, a JSOC recovery operation was considered, but

that was before the Iranians discovered it. At that point, a mission

would be tantamount to war. The United States had to adapt to the

possible compromise of Top Secret cryptographic devices and stealth


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Secret four was the identity of the SEAL unit that had taken the

mission and, in particular, the identities of the operatives. The unit

name was revealed the night of the raid, but the intelligence com-

munity and Special Operations Command (SOCOM) were horri-

fi ed a month later when several reporters asked them to verify a list

of names and ranks that had been distributed to them by sources

unknown. Someone had leaked the names of some of the SEALs on

the helicopters.

Military offi cials begged the reporters not to publish the names

or even reveal that the list existed. The reporters acquiesced.

A Department of Defense agency—most likely, the Air Force Offi ce

of Special Investigations—began to work quietly with the FBI to see

who might have possibly leaked such protected information. Inside

SOCOM, suspicions were directed at the White House, which, some

believed, was availing itself of every opportunity to highlight Obama ’s

decision to approve the raid. (White House offi cials insist that no

one there would be so stupid as to leak the names of Tier One opera-

tives to reporters, and SOCOM ’s Ken McGraw said he was not aware

of the incident.)

Inside JSOC, the Delta guys blamed the larger SEAL commu-

nity for inviting the attention. Whoever leaked the names might have

taken a lesson from the SEALs themselves: when Obama met with

them several days after the raid, he was told not to ask the men who

actually killed bin Laden because they wouldn ’t tell even the com-

mander in chief. Bill Daley, Obama ’s chief of staff, asked anyway and

was told by the squadron leader, “Sir, we all did.”

Operationally, the most important element of transparency for JSOC

is not what those on the outside can see, but what those on the inside

can see of each other. In fact, that ’s why the Command was founded

in the fi rst place. The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-

Delta—better known as Delta Force—had their fi rst major hostage

rescue, in Iran, end in disaster. Operation Eagle Claw was a joint

mission of U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators transported

by U.S. Air Force MC-130 cargo planes to a secret staging area des-

ignated as Desert One, in Iran. CIA paramilitaries and Air Force

combat air controllers had scouted the area. Marine helicopters from

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a Navy aircraft carrier were set to rendezvous at the base, but when

harsh weather and mechanical failures beset the incoming helos, the

mission was delayed and ultimately aborted.

The delay, however, created another problem: the idling air-

craft at Desert One now required refueling. A miscommunication

between an Air Force combat controller and a Marine pilot caused

a helicopter to collide with a transport plane. A total of eight air-

men and Marines died in the explosion. The survivors departed by

MC-130 in an emergency evacuation. In addition to the loss of life,

the United States suffered a crushing humiliation on the world stage,

U.S. special operations forces (already generally held in poor regard

by conventional military leadership) appeared second-rate at best,

and the Iranians gained abandoned helicopters and the intelligence


Following the disaster, Colonel Charlie Beckwith would imme-

diately press for the formation of a new kind of “joint” command

that he ’d long proposed, which could train for and execute special

operations requiring the best of each branch of the U.S. military. The

muddled chains of command, branch rivalries, varied operating pro-

cedures, and ad hoc arrangement that doomed Eagle Claw would be

cleared away and reorganized into a unifi ed force—a military within

the military. 8 By the end of 1980, the organization would essentially

absorb the U.S. Army Delta Force and a new U.S. Navy unit called

SEAL Team Six (a number infl ated by its founder, SEAL Team Two

commander Dick Marcinko, to alarm foreign intelligence services)

and train alongside the newly minted 160th Special Operations

Aviation Regiment (Airborne), or SOAR, an elite collection of the

most highly trained rotary-wing aircraft pilots in the U.S. Army.

In 1987, the organization was subordinated to a new U.S. Special

Operations Command, though JSOC reported directly to the

National Command Authority, meaning that its units could be tasked

directly by the president and the secretary of defense. The Command

existed on the fringes of military operations. If it worked in the shad-

ows before, secretly deploying hunter-killer teams around the world

to do the necessary dirty work of the White House, it would now

vanish completely, but for occasional glimpses in such places as

Bosnia, where it hunted war criminals, or in Panama, where it

allegedly pursued Pablo Escobar.

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The crucial role of JSOC units in the early phase of the cam-

paign against terrorism (when al-Qaeda was largely concentrated in

the Punjab) has been chronicled. Sean Naylor ’s Not a Good Day to

Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda tells it best—so rich in

detail, in fact, that Naylor was declared persona non grata by some

JSOC commanders for revealing too much about their operations.

In brief: Delta sent half of its force to Afghanistan. Major General

Dell Dailey, then commander of JSOC, ordered a second task force

of the less experienced DEVGRU SEALs to the region, setting off

some territorial friction. Delta operated autonomously, while the

SEALs operated with experienced and chagrined U.S. Army Rangers.

Despite any simmering tensions, the various teams set about pursu-

ing high-value targets without the benefi t of solid intelligence and

almost no technical intelligence surveillance assets. Yet many opera-

tors on the ground had spent the 1990s on the hunt in Bosnia and

Kosovo and leveraged their capabilities to the fullest. In March 2002,

the men killed as many as fi ve hundred Taliban and al-Qaeda fi ght-

ers in the Shahi Kot Valley in Afghanistan ’s Paktia province, working

alongside Green Berets and U.S. Army infantrymen from the 101st

Airborne Division. Early failures (such as losing Osama bin Laden

at Tora Bora) were matched with successes (for example, the Delta

Force capturing Saddam Hussein).

Details of later successes, such as the direct action mission that

killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, are

still coming to light. In this baptism of fi re, it is easy to imagine the

remnants of problems that beset Somalia falling away—no more reli-

ance on nonmilitary operators, no more weak intelligence, no more

rivalries. JSOC ’s missions in the global war on terror were taxing, but

they were normal JSOC missions—reactive, shrouded in secrecy, and

peripheral to the larger war effort. In Iraq, several small JSOC teams

covertly infi ltrated the country before the war offi cially began. Their

goal: fi nd and, if needed, secure chemical and biological weapons

Saddam was sure to use against the allied forces. General Stanley

McChrystal, the incoming commander of JSOC, would change all

of that. He would set the Command on the decisive course that put a

controlled pair in Osama bin Laden.

• • •

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General Michael Flynn fi rst worked with McChrystal in the

Afghanistan campaign, when the former was the intelligence offi cer

for the Army ’s XVIII Airborne Corps and the latter assumed com-

mand of Task Force 180. At the start of the Iraq campaign, Flynn

became a senior special operations forces intelligence offi cer, and

McChrystal was called to Washington for Joint Staff duty. Secretary

Donald Rumsfeld soon appointed McChrystal to head JSOC, and a

year later McChrystal asked Flynn to be his top intelligence offi cer.

To the extent that a man such as Flynn has martial fantasies, one

has always been to integrate intelligence and fi ght a war in real time.

In Afghanistan, early efforts at fusion teams (called Cross Functional

Teams) were modestly successful but “depended on voluntary par-

ticipation and their authorities were limited,” according to an infl u-

ential study by National Defense University academics Christopher

Lamb and Evan Munsing. 9 At Bagram Airfi eld, the fi rst formal Joint

Interagency Counter-Terrorism Task Force helped several task forces

in the early phase of the al-Qaeda confl ict. Yet intelligence analysts

did not sit in the same meetings as operators. Real-time access to

databases was limited. Everyone understood the concept—battlefi eld

forces needed intel—but no one really knew how to execute it. And

everyone was obsessed with keeping JSOC ’s secrets a secret, even at

the cost of collecting and sharing actionable intelligence.

As his intelligence offi cer (or J-2, or “two”), Flynn operated

with General McChrystal ’s full authority. He leveraged his friend-

ships with senior members of U.S. intelligence to send more ana-

lysts into the fi eld. By force of personality, and during the course of

several years, Flynn convinced offi cials everywhere from the State

Department to the Internal Revenue Service to staff the experimen-

tal new interagency fusion teams he was developing. He crossed Iraq,

trying to better integrate JSOC ’s mission (which mostly involved

hunting high-value targets) with other special operation forces and

conventional units. (Before Flynn ’s efforts began, when JSOC con-

ducted a combat mission, the battlespace would be cleared of con-

ventional forces lest anyone disturb the secrecy of a black operation.)

Flynn discovered that most intelligence and interrogation reports col-

lected by JSOC units were stamped ORCON, meaning, “originator

controlled,” which effectively precluded anyone else—even the

CIA—from seeing them. He wondered how often conventional

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forces missed an opportunity to capture or kill a bad guy because they

couldn ’t gain access to JSOC task force intelligence. Flynn issued an

order that JSOC information should be classifi ed only at the Secret

level, bringing tens of thousands of intelligence analysts around the

world into the fold.

McChrystal and Flynn slowly coaxed the FBI and the Defense

Intelligence Agency back into JSOC interrogations and insisted

to the agencies that he would deal with abuse complaints directly.

McChrystal even charmed the CIA, bringing its main special opera-

tions liaison into his secure video conference calls (but he instructed

the man to never, ever tell his superiors at Langley untruths about

what JSOC was up to). McChrystal was famously enthusiastic for vid-

eoconferencing, using the technology to “gather” offi cers, operators,

ambassadors, politicians, and members of the intelligence commu-

nity around the world in the same room to resolve issues and design

strategy. In fact, his unit spent more than $100,000 on video tele-

conferencing bandwidth during the early stages of the counterinsur-

gency operation in Iraq. (As his counterterrorism efforts in the Horn

of Africa increased, he likewise coordinated regular videoconferences

between CIA station chiefs, U.S. ambassadors, and policymakers in

Washington.) 10

If it surprises you that it took years for the CIA—which is tasked

with gathering intelligence on terrorists—to establish a regular,

senior-level presence in daily conference calls with the military units

tasked with killing terrorists, you can begin to sense the frustration

that fed Flynn ’s and McChrystal ’s determination to set things right.

Changing the culture of a mysterious organization such as

JSOC is hard, and it took more than three years before Flynn and

McChrystal could create the real-time, fl attened battlefi eld that

allowed coalition troops to signifi cantly reduce violence in Iraq.

General Doug Brown of Special Operations Command eventually

pulled in more than a hundred liaison offi cers from agencies and

entities across the government, telling them that they were expected

to be part of the team, not just note takers at briefi ngs.

McChrystal and Flynn came to realize around the same time

that JSOC ’s operational tempo could be rapidly stepped up by intro-

ducing radical decentralization and radical transparency into an

organization that had always been centralized and extraordinarily

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discreet. Flynn once told one of McChrystal

’s deputies that his

“A-ha” moment came when he saw that the key to actually doing

tactical military intelligence right was as simple as making sure that

everyone had access to everything. 11

At another moment in history, with any other unit, these insights

might not have produced even a ripple of change, much less a wave.

Yet JSOC was special and feared, and the bureaucracy paid extra

attention to it. McChrystal was uniquely suited for the challenge—

humble and exacting, capable of incorporating into his inner circle

personalities (such as Flynn ’s) that were the opposite of his own.

And there was urgency. Nothing but JSOC ’s networked warfare

was working—not the CIA ’s operations, not whatever the National

Counterterrorism Center thought it was, not outsourcing intelligence

to liaison organizations. JSOC ’s success begat success. Iraq was a hor-

rible place to be as JSOC ’s operational strategy gelled. Sometimes,

Iraqi police would have to cart fi fty dead bodies a day to the morgue

in Baghdad alone. Lieutenant General David Petraeus, the com-

manding general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq at the begin-

ning of the McChrystal era and then, in his second tour, as the usher

of President George W. Bush ’s surge, had a slightly more measured

view of JSOC ’s success; he knew how much his conventional forces

were contributing to missions that JSOC was supplementing, and

he was not above pulling rank to refuse to authorize a JSOC mis-

sion when he felt it would compromise another strategic goal. Yet

he deeply respected McChrystal for his strategic vision. Likewise,

McChrystal saw in Petraeus the model of a warrior-intellectual that he

aspired to be. The two men got along well; had their relationship not

developed, it would have been disastrous to the mission. 12 During his

brief tenure as director of the CIA, Petraus was on better terms with

special missions unit commanders than any of his predecessors ever

were, because they served under him just before his appointment.

McRaven was equally instrumental in the changes afoot at JSOC.

The former SEAL Team Six member and SEAL Team Four com-

mander had just spent eighteen months as a director on the NSC.

He ’d been itching to get back to the combat zone during his tenure

at the NSC, but his time at the top of the chain proved useful. He

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now knew the bureaucracy in ways that McChrystal and Flynn did

not, and he knew its trigger points. McRaven was given command

of the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force–Arabian

Peninsula, which oversaw all JSOC operations in Iraq. He had a

direct line to the White House through his former boss, Michele

Malvesti, the senior NSC director for combating terrorism. (They

shared adjoining desks in the Eisenhower Executive Offi ce Building.)

After mending old wounds and reorganizing the bureaucracy,

the three men turned their guns to the doctrine itself. Flynn and

McChrystal wanted to operationalize what Flynn calls “network-

centered warfare,” a PowerPoint term that conceals as much as

it reveals. With Malvesti ’s help, they developed a new model of

using intelligence to aid combat against terrorists and insurgents.

Technology now allowed (at least, in theory) for the reduction of

blinks between collecting and exploiting a piece of intelligence. The

model went by the initials FFFEAD, or F3EAD—fi nd, fi x, fi nish (that

is, the getting of the bad guys), exploit, analyze, and disseminate (that

is, using the fi rst get to get other bad guys). The “fi nish” of F3EAD—

the kill—is certainly the most dangerous part of any operation. “But

exploitation is where you truly made your money and enabled you

to go after a network, [as opposed to] a single target, once we all

embraced F3EAD, which was relatively quickly,” said a U.S. Army

Ranger who served in Iraq. “This was the strength of McChrystal and

Flynn. They believed in the process and then set out to resource it.”

As simple and intuitive as it sounds, F3EAD was terrifi cally dif-

fi cult to actually do. Most soldiers—even the elite special operations

forces—were trained on a much less elegant model that privileged

fi repower and hardware over thinking and strategizing. For Flynn,

the key word in the model is “disseminate.” Information, he told one

colleague, “was fucking less than worthless” if it couldn ’t be widely

distributed. This meant that JSOC ’s culture had to change. It had

more fully embraced bleeding-edge battlefi eld computing technolo-

gies than any command in military history. The next round of suc-

cesses would require using those tools, and tools not yet invented,

to show the Army and the world what war in the twenty-fi rst century

looked like.

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C H A P T E R 1 1

The Tools for the Job

On November 3, 2002, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force launched

a Hellfi re missile from a Predator drone that had been follow-

ing Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a coplanner of the plot to bomb

the USS Cole in Yemen in 1998. On the ground, tracking the con-

voy from a distance using lasers and other technology, were U.S.

military personnel who had been given civilian cover by the State

Department. This was to be what the CIA would later call a nonco-

vert but deniable mission. The United States would kill al-Harethi,

the Yemeni government would duly protest, the United States would

deny involvement, and both countries’ objectives would be satisfi ed.

The drone strike was successful. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secre-

tary of defense, subsequently confi rmed that the United States had

indeed developed an assassination-by-drone capability—and a “very

successful” one at that. 1 (He elided mention of an internal debate

within the National Security Council about whether al-Harethi

should be snatched up by a U.S. Joint Special Operations Command

[JSOC] team for interrogation.) Not only did Wolfowitz ’s braggadocio

resonate poorly around the world (the strike was condemned at the

United Nations), but it also soured the fragile relationship between

the United States and Yemen—precisely the type of relationship that

allowed the United States to conduct a secret counterterrorism cam-

paign inside the country in the fi rst place. A Yemeni general later


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complained that Americans have no regard for “the internal circum-

stances in Yemen.” 2

Then Yemen retaliated. Though its president and a few members

of his security cabinet had known of the strike in advance, the work-

ing layers of Yemen ’s intelligence apparatus, which had functional

ties in some instances to militants, retaliated. They explained to the

press precisely how the operation had been coordinated and how it

had worked. Edmund Hull, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, had

acted as an intelligence scout, sneaking away from Sana ’a to meet

with tribesmen who had clues to al-Harethi ’s whereabouts. 3 Hull

got a tip, and the NSA found the cell phone pings from a number

belonging to one of al-Harethi ’s associates. 4 Deniability was no lon-

ger an option for Yemen, which in subsequent years would struggle

under the weight of an al-Qaeda invasion and renaissance and would

simultaneously try to fi nd ways to demonstrate its independence

from the United States. Yemen made it clear that they would allow

no U.S. troops on the ground, except for special operations forces

trainers whom they could keep tabs on. The United States did not

abide by the agreement. Teams of CIA and JSOC intelligence

operatives rotated in and out of the country, often being airdropped

into the desert at night or using the cover of a SIGINT mission, of

which there were many. The Pentagon quietly established a military

liaison element—an MLE—that would ostensibly be used as a cover

for direct action missions.

But Hull forbade them from engaging suspected terrorists

directly; instead, they gathered human intelligence and helped

aviation assets, both manned and unmanned, to fi nd their targets.*

Though the number of U.S. personnel on the ground at any one time

was small, the pace of operations was intense. Even Marine helicop-

ters were used to drop ordnance. 5

When the United States negotiated secret agreements with

Pakistan to allow drone strikes in restricted areas, it showed sen-

sitivity to Pakistan

’s internal politics. Pakistan would be seen as

* Ambassador Hull insisted on a signed declaration from General Doug Brown,

commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Command, preventing any

“kinetic missions from taking place, aside from limited intelligence gathering and

civil affairs operations.”

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providing intelligence for the strikes; the United States would play a

supplemental role. Indeed, when the fi rst Hellfi re struck a Pakistani

target in June 2004, the Pakistani army claimed responsibility. 6 But

then the missiles began to go astray, and invariably innocents were

killed. The indignation of the average Pakistani was roused. Political

factions in Pakistan fanned the fl ames of protest. In order to rebut

the notion that the strikes were causing too many civilian casualties, the

U.S. government began to speak about the program to some jour-

nalists, on background. Other journalists developed sources within

Pakistan ’s government, which was quite willing to confi rm the details

of every subsequent strike, including their intended targets. By the

time President Obama joked about the program at the White House

Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington in 2009, the “cover” for

the program had evaporated. The CIA would swear by the program

(operated in conjunction with JSOC), pointing to the number of

high-ranking al-Qaeda offi cials who had been killed.

Obama ’s fi rst director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair,

wanted the CIA to use its capability more strategically. His read-

ing of intelligence suggested that the collateral harm of the

operation—the anger that the strikes caused among Pakistanis, even

though the targeting was precise—was damaging to U.S. security

interests. The CIA, in a deft bureaucratic move, simply stopped

providing Blair ’s offi ce with advance notice of strikes. 7 The dispute

went all the way to the Offi ce of the Vice President, which sided

with the CIA, although Blair “won” the ability to have a director of

national intelligence representative at CIA covert action briefi ngs

at the White House.

Here again, we see the difference between a “good secret”—

the technology platforms themselves, such as unmanned aerial

vehicles—and the ambiguity resulting from such secrets, in this case

essentially invisible, clinical robotic warfare, where missiles appear

from nowhere and annihilate villagers with few fi ngerprints.

Nobody feels bad for dead terrorists. But when a U.S. F-16 fi ghter

pilot makes a mistake and civilian deaths result, there ’s a moral ele-

ment that doesn ’t exist when a literally heartless drone does the

same thing. Like all creatures of biology, humans evolved to under-

stand the intimacy of killing. Drones change the equation, and

its unclear how our mammalian brains cope. But the reality is that

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no matter who is behind the strike—the United States or the local

government—those on the ground predisposed to hating the United

States will always blame us. And this technology allows mission creep

in a way never before seen. Spying on Pakistan is nothing; to a cer-

tain extent, the United States can now spy on or bomb any country

in the world at any time. While Spain probably doesn ’t have to worry,

the Third World does. And terrorists in such failing or failed states

depend on the United States to employ boneheaded uses of military

force. Covert applications of military force are the most tempting

actions of all. Good secrets can very easily go bad.

For this reason, it is hard to stay technologically neutral about drones.

They are a ubiquitous presence in global airspace. More than a

dozen major police agencies in the United States are testing them.

The U.S. military owns about 6,500 of them; the intelligence com-

munity probably controls about 500. A small percentage is equipped

with missiles; most are used for surveillance, signals intelligence col-

lection, and clandestine tracking.

When McChrystal assumed command of JSOC, it didn ’t have a

single drone to its name. To schedule orbits, JSOC reconnaissance

planners had to ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force, or even

the CIA. There were in fact very few intelligence, surveillance, and

reconnaissance resources. General Michael Flynn, JSOC

’s intel-

ligence chief, had to beg for time on specialized collection plat-

forms such as Medium Altitude Reconnaissance System airplanes,

with which he could track insurgents on the ground, and RC-12

Guardrails, innocuous jets that contain highly sensitive signals intel-

ligence collection equipment. With the National Security Council ’s

assent, Flynn expanded a unit called the Technical Development

Activity, which secretly developed manned reconnaissance and sur-

veillance aircraft. He chained it to JSOC for use in Iraq, Pakistan,

and, later, Yemen. In Iraq, Flynn and his counterparts established

a Joint Reconnaissance Task Force (JTRF) to manage all theater-

based requests for special operations force drone orbits. The JRTF

was classifi ed; it has now become a JSOC headquarters element and

is commanded by one of the Navy’s top special operations offi cers.

In conventional battlespaces, drones are assigned to Combined

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Air Operations Centers that schedule their orbits, and to several

U.S.- and Europe-based reconnaissance fl eets, which operate them

remotely. The Air Force Distributed Common Ground System links

all tasking orders together. More than sixty military installations in

the United States house the machines, mostly for testing purposes. 8

A dozen unclassifi ed UAV variants are operational, along with a half

dozen, which remain classifi ed.

As JSOC ramped up its task force operations in Iraq, the CIA was

initially reluctant to provide institutional resources. The National

Security Agency, however, under the directorship of General Keith

Alexander, was quick to see the benefi ts of giving Flynn the best per-

sonnel and manpower. Several joint CIA/NSA Special Collection

Service teams rotated through Balad, Iraq. Alexander personally par-

ticipated in a secure teleconference with General McChrystal at least

once a week. He sent dozens of engineers directly to Flynn ’s head-

quarters in Balad and to other forward-deployed sites, where they

implemented a TiVo-like system for signals intelligence that allowed

analysts to rapidly process the take from the NSA ’s near-total tapping

of the telecom networks of several Iraqi cities. SOCOM Technical

Surveillance Elements set up cameras and RFID (radio frequency

identifi cation) chip tracking sensors. A quiet Pentagon procure-

ment offi ce, the Rapid Response Technology Offi ce, and a clas-

sifi ed department called the Special Capabilities Offi ce provided

more than three hundred technological assets to assist intelligence

and special military operations in the CENTCOM (U.S. Central

Command) theater. 9 About 60 percent of them went operational. 10

The Army ’s Technical Operations Support Activity fi gured out how

to merge sensor data collected on the ground with experimental

drones in the air, providing what commanders call “persistent” sur-

veillance. Commanders could now track the bad guys and see their

activities 24/7 and could analyze patterns with incredible effi ciency.

(One promising project involves sensors attached to balloons—the

Persistent Threat Detection System.) Tactical satellites were fi elded,

and by 2009 units could task them to view multiple targets and track

as many as ten thousand objects per pass. (The unclassifi ed Pentagon

offi ce that works on these projects is called the Operationally

Responsive Space Offi ce and is run directly out of the Offi ce of the

Secretary of Defense.)

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One operational technology that was fi rst attached to drones and

later to Artemis geostationary satellites helped JSOC (and later Task

Force ODIN in Iraq) fi gure out where IEDs (improvised explosive

devices) might be placed by analyzing how recently the soil had been

disturbed. A joint National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)–

U.S. Strategic Command project called NGA SKOPE allowed JSOC

units to merge data collected from virtually any intelligence source

and predict, based on patterns of movement, where insurgents were

likely to be and what they were likely to do. (To understand how this

works, imagine sensors surreptitiously placed on cars belonging to

suspected IED planters. Based on the cars’ locations and orientations

during an IED attack, the SKOPE cell could predict future attacks

based on similar movements.)

Three technologies developed by the NSA during this short burst

of time proved pivotal. One, which the government has asked us

not to describe in detail, involves the ability to pinpoint cell phone

signals to within inches of their origin. (In their book Top Secret

America , Dana Priest and Bill Arkin refer to an “electronic divin-

ing rod” that allowed operators to hone in on cell phone–using

bad guys as though the operators were using metal detectors at a

beach.) 11 Another involves the use of RFID chips in what can only be

described as an ingenious way. (Again, details are withheld because

the technique is highly classifi ed and still in use.) One technique that

SOCOM has shared with researchers, originally code-named BLUE

GRASS, involves attaching tiny RFID emitters to vehicles and track-

ing them through a variety of different platforms. 12 In 2005, Project

SONOMA helped analyze where cells of insurgents planning IED

attacks were clustered. And JSOC was using dyes and perfl uorocar-

bons to track insurgents before the rest of the military was aware that

this capability existed.

It also helped when NSA scientists fi gured out a way to “unwipe”

supposedly cleared cell phones and extract every number ever called

by that phone. When a cell phone is captured at a site, the NSA

techs download its data using the new technique and feed it to other

analysts who are monitoring the data pulled from cell towers across

Iraq. If two numbers match, a team is sent to the area to investigate.

The NSA, with help from British intelligence, has created a mas-

sive database of computer hard drive and thumb drive identifi cation

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numbers, allowing analysts to trace connections among militants

through the technological litter left at sites.

JSOC fusion teams and their augments also benefi t from the

completion of a comprehensive biometrics database that allows

for quick identifi cation of insurgents, as well as a quiet revolution

in DOCEX (document exploitation) techniques. Using technol-

ogy relying on sophisticated algorithms that assign values to data

based on the probability that a faint “I” might indeed have been an

“I,” DOCEX specialists can reconstruct documents that have been

burned. Meanwhile, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) consoli-

dated its media exploitation center and fi gured out a way to speed up

its analysis. 13 As late as 2003, lumbering military transport planes had

to fl y into Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to drop off unsorted

pocket litter by the crate, leaving the DIA ’s teams with reams of paper

and little context.

To the credit of the Department of Defense and SOCOM, most

of these technologies were classifi ed only until they were fi elded and

then were quickly downgraded to allow the people fi ghting the wars

to gain access to them and push their limits. Had the intelligence

agencies been stingy—if they ’d been unwilling to relax security con-

trols or had set up shielding special access programs—the fusion

cells that eventually beat back the insurgency in Iraq and have been

used by U.S. forces ever since would simply not have existed. NGA ’s

SKOPE cell, for example, was highly classifi ed for about two months.

Now it is ubiquitous, and its main architect is permitted to acknowl-

edge its existence in the press. 14 “A lot of organizations like this—the

Rapid Equipping Force, the Robotics Systems Joint Program Offi ce,

the Joint IED Defeat Organization, the Biometrics task force, and

probably down at JSOC—were essentially start-ups deploying tech-

nologies that were unique to the threats of counterinsurgency,” said

Brian Smith, an Air Force captain who worked on energy projects for

the Rapid Equipping Force during the early years of the Iraq War.

In October 2011, Flynn, the former JSOC J-2, was promoted to lieu-

tenant general and appointed a deputy director of national intelli-

gence. He has been outspoken about the need for reform within the

military intelligence community. Many of his fellow fl ag and general

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offi cers in the intelligence community consider him to be too out-

spoken. His nomination took more than eight months to gestate, as

forces within the Pentagon—inside the Army in particular—pushed

back, whispering into the ears of senators that Flynn ’s tactics did not

work when he followed McChrystal to Afghanistan in 2009. (Flynn

had the last laugh. Today he is the director of the DIA and com-

mander of all intelligence forces in the Department of Defense.)

Some Democratic senators on the Armed Services Committee

believe that Flynn ’s championing of bulk data analysis provided a

brutally effi cient way to kill too many innocent Afghans and may not

have been as effective as the military suggests. By this, they mean that

instead of targeting people, infantry and special operations forces tar-

geted telephone numbers—they would target gatherings of people

who had been surreptitiously tagged with chemicals or RFID chips,

even if they didn ’t precisely know who these targets were.

Offi cially, the DIA

’s Joint Interagency Task Force–Counter

Terrorism vetted the targets, with input from the NSC. In real-

ity, the Joint Prioritized Effects List—the target board—had a lot

of phone numbers that a computer had associated with the broad

periphery of the insurgency, rather than names of specifi c terror-

ists. 15 Flynn ’s response to this is simple: for one thing, raids weren ’t

ordered because some Afghan villager happened to call a Taliban

commander; there needed to be a better reason to send Americans

into harm ’s way than that. One of the hardest tasks that Flynn ’s intel-

ligence team faced was fi guring out whether contacts between inno-

cent Afghans and those associated with the Taliban were innocent or

nefarious. Doing that required a signifi cant amount of collection and

analytical time. It required a granular level of knowledge about each

village. Plenty of people were collecting all sorts of information—

Provisional Reconstruction Teams, Human Terrain Teams, Civil

Affairs offi cers, and intelligence gatherers—but it wasn ’t being fused

or analyzed or appropriately disseminated.

Flynn wanted to create a middle level of what he termed “infor-

mation brokers,” who could analyze everything and determine pat-

terns that would allow all parts of the Afghanistan effort—especially

the mission to rebuild civil society—to succeed. As he described

it, “This vast and underappreciated body of information, almost all

of which is unclassifi ed, admittedly offers few clues about where

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to fi nd insurgents, but it does provide elements of even greater

importance—a map for leveraging support and for marginalizing

the insurgency itself.” He attempted to divine, in villages and prov-

inces, who was good and who was bad and attempted to fl esh out (as

much as possible) which members of the Taliban were secretly coop-

erating with the State Department or the CIA and which members

were susceptible to U.S. infl uence. But Washington saw American

body counts and ordered General McChrystal, as the commanding

general of the International Security Assistance Force, to force Flynn

to reprioritize his resources. He had to stop the fl ow of money and

trainers from Iran who were arming insurgents. He had to counter

growing Pakistani infl uence in the region and deal with the nettle of

cross-border political complexities. And he had promised to provide

conventional forces in Afghanistan with the same high-grade, high-

velocity intelligence that special operations forces received. 16

On a fresh patch of land in the northwestern corner of Fort Bragg,

specially cleared construction workers are completing a mas-

sive 110,000-square-foot building that will serve as the crown

jewel in JSOC ’s empire. The building will headquarter the JSOC

Intelligence Brigade (JIB), which analyzes raw and fi nished intelli-

gence for the Command ’s special missions units. The JIB has quietly

existed for more than three years, escaping the notice of congres-

sional intelligence overseers. Under a program started by Generals

McChrystal and Flynn, JSOC borrowed hundreds of intelligence

analysts from the sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies, many of them

rotating through quick frontline deployments. These augmentees

greatly helped JSOC conduct its operations, but the Command was

not able to develop a cadre of analysts who were JSOC ’s own, with

institutional muscle memory that would make the fusion of intel-

ligence and operations more effi cient in the future. The JIB, in

essence, sets in stone JSOC ’s new way of doing business.

In 2010, Admiral William McRaven attended the quiet ribbon

cutting of his newest jewel: the Intelligence Crisis Action Center

(ICAC) in Rosslyn, Virginia, funded through a classifi ed line item in

the Pentagon ’s budget. Until just recently, it operated on two fl oors

of a nondescript offi ce building that also housed a language learning

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center and a dry cleaner. At the time when McRaven christened

the center, its existence was a secret to many U.S. intelligence offi -

cials, who learned about it by way of an Associated Press newsbreak

in early 2011. According to a senior military offi cial, it has about

fi fty employees and reports directly to the JSOC Directorate of

Intelligence and Security. 17 Its primary function is to serve as a com-

mand post for JSOC operations around the world. It is informally

known as the Targeting Center, and because of operational security

concerns it has changed its name twice.

These entities are sensitive subjects at the highest levels of the

U.S. counterterrorism community, because each represents

the extraordinary achievements of the JSOC units and also reveals

by its own existence the inadequacy of the other intelligence fusion

centers set up by the government to do mostly the same thing.

JSOC ’s successes have brought with it blowback and envy and more

than a bit of criticism from military offi cials who think that conven-

tional forces and regular special operations forces units were just as

important as the smaller, secretive standing task forces in degrading

al-Qaeda ’s infrastructure.

Though the addition of an intelligence brigade to JSOC is a

natural consequence of its success and growth, when the Associated

Press disclosed the existence of the ICAC to the general pub-

lic, a spokesman for SOCOM made a point of telling report-

ers that its functions would not duplicate those of the National

Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Mike Leiter, the director of the

NCTC, worked closely with McRaven to make sure the two centers

didn ’t overlap. “I spent hours with Admiral McRaven on this,” he

said. “We saw this as a natural evolution in what they were doing. We

sent some of our guys over there, and they sent some of their guys

over here.”

Managers at the CIA and the DIA regarded JSOC

’s grow-

ing footprint with alarm. Some whispered to journalists that JSOC

was building a secret intelligence empire without oversight or scru-

tiny. More prosaically, they feared that the Command ’s activities, in

both the collection and the analysis of intelligence, would duplicate

their own.

Sensing friction, Michael Morrell, then acting director of the

CIA; Michael Vickers, the civilian intelligence chief at the Pentagon;

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and General James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the

Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to reduce tension and confl ict arising from

JSOC ’s expansion. In the fi eld, JSOC units and their counterparts at

the CIA and the DIA work well together. In Yemen, after some early

confl icts, the integration is almost seamless, with JSOC and the CIA

alternating Predator missions and borrowing each other ’s resources,

such as satellite bandwidth. Often, JSOC element commanders will

appear on videoconference calls alongside CIA station chiefs—all

but unheard of until very recently. Yet some midlevel managers at the

intelligence agencies remain resistant to the type of integration envi-

sioned by the National Security Council.

McRaven, much like JSOC itself, is at cross-purposes. He knows

that his intelligence assets will not survive budget purges unless

they fi t well within the rest of the community. Yet he also wants to

preserve the razor-sharp edge of the special missions units at a time

when, due to publicity and overtasking, it risks being dulled.

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C H A P T E R 1 2

The Known Unknowns

Chris C.” joined the Army after reading about the heroics of

Americans in Fallujah. A few months out of West Point, he was

deployed on a fi fteen-month tour of Iraq as a battalion-level intelli-

gence offi cer. In order to fi nd insurgents, his soldiers worked from

scraps of human intelligence—a rumor here, an overheard conversa-

tion there. It ’s easy to forget, in an armchair discussion of government

secrecy, that the point of intelligence is to learn our enemy ’s secrets.

In a war zone, no one forgets this. Based in Salahuddin province

north of Baghdad, Chris and his team had to share access to a sin-

gle drone for overhead surveillance. There was no National Security

Agency presence and thus no real signals intelligence. Sometimes,

a JSOC task force would inform Chris ’s commander that they were

about to raid a part of the city. “We were told: the Task Force is going

into our area, and here is the grid they ’re going to hit. I would look at

the grid and say, ‘Oh, I know who they ’re going to hit, because we ’d

just been there looking for the same person.’”

In Balad, General Michael Flynn had come to appreciate the

wealth of information that intelligence collectors with conventional

forces could provide. He recognized that such intel could benefi t the

regular troops as well as the JSOC task forces. While JSOC soldiers

went home every three months, conventional forces were on twelve-

to fi fteen-month rotations.


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General Stanley McChrystal and Flynn knew that JSOC

needed to better understand the populations their task forces worked

among—an intelligence capability that only units such as Chris ’s

could provide. Knowing the sinews of a local community could help

the U.S. military establish degrees of trust with tribal and authority fi g-

ures. General David Petraeus, for example, would use early successes

by conventional commanders such as General H. R. McMaster, the

commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq, to develop

his counterinsurgency doctrine. “JSOC, earlier than any other ele-

ment in the U.S. government, understood the importance of messag-

ing and how actions can infl uence populations,” said Mike Leiter, the

former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. 1

Offi cers such as Chris C. had an institutional knowledge of tribes,

geography, and environment that had eluded JSOC. Flynn was deter-

mined to merge the two systems. “Ninety percent of the intelligence

we needed was not in JSOC,” he told one observer in 2010. 2

Indeed, Chris ’s unit provided the tip that led the JSOC task

force to Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, the spiritual adviser to al-Zar-

qawi. Chris ’s offi cers had long watched an internecine tribal confl ict

north of the Tigris River. Just after a fi refi ght, Chris got word that Haj

al-Bazari, a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative in Iraq, had been injured

and taken to a cousin ’s home in the area. A database cross-check

revealed that one of al-Bazari

’s cousins had a wife who was an

ob-gyn. Chris ’s team searched her house and found bloody gauze and

a truculent doctor refusing to tell anyone what had happened. She was

detained. When her husband arrived at the American detention cen-

ter, he pleaded for her release. He had little money but was a member

of a major facilitation network that included former Baathist elements

funded by Syria. He offered the Americans information instead.

Chris ’s commander contacted a JSOC task force. They fl ew

in and grabbed the husband and interrogated him. That was the

last time Chris heard about the guy until, out of the blue, a JSOC

shooter team came by to thank him. (This was another early

McChrystal-Flynn innovation: allow units that operate in the shad-

ows to work with units that operate in the sunlight.) “They told me

that the guy was a high-level fi nancier and that he had led them to

Sheik Abdul Rahman,” he said.

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By December 2007, when Chris ’s second tour of duty in Iraq

began, JSOC task forces were fully integrated with the rest of the

effort. Chris ’s battalion was assigned to the eastern half of Mosul

and was constantly fi ghting to keep the province from collaps-

ing under the weight of foreign fi ghters, many from Saudi Arabia.

Communicating with the JSOC team in the area, Task Force 9-14

(also known as Task Force North), was much easier than before.

Chris had access to their interrogation reports and worked with a

TF 9-14 intelligence offi cer to devise a strategy for his area of opera-

tion: they would target specifi c midlevel operatives who might lead

to the bigger gets. His team produced a steady stream of intelligence

reports about local politics and conditions on the ground. Not once

was he denied access to JSOC products, and TF 9-14 was literally a

phone call away. “Once this started happening, it was just awesome

in terms of what we were able to do,” he said.

Here is how a colleague of General Flynn ’s described the change

in procedures on the ground:

What would normally happen is: the shooters would kick

down a door and snatch everyone and drag them to the front

room, and then take everything with them, and put it in a

trash bag. The bad guys would be taken to a detention facil-

ity and the pocket litter would come back to [the intelligence

analysts]. Flynn thought this was stupid. Instead, he gave the

shooters—think of this—the Delta guys, mini cameras, and

schooled them in some basic detective techniques. When you

capture someone, take a picture of them exactly where

you captured them. Take detailed notes of who was doing

what with what. Don ’t merge all the pocket litter.

Then, the shooters were supposed to e-mail back an

image of the person they captured to Balad [JSOC ’s intelli-

gence headquarters], where analysts would run it through

every facial recognition database we have, or fi ngerprints or

names, or what have you. We ’d get hits immediately. And so

our intel guys would radio back to the team in the fi eld, “Hey,

you ’ve got Abu-so-and-so, or someone who looks like them.

See if he knows where Abu–other-person is.”

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And that ’s what the shooters would do. They ’d tell their captured

insurgents that for a price, they could help them. A senior JSOC

intelligence commander said, “They ’d say, I know you, you ’re so-and-

so. And if you want us to help you, you need to tell us where this

other person is. And it would work. And then, when we got a new

address, sometimes within twenty minutes of the fi rst boot on the

door, we ’d have another team of shooters going to another location.”

Follow-up interrogations were plotted out like dense crime dramas,

with dozens of participants, including some by video teleconference.

Instead of three operations every two weeks, JSOC was able to

increase its operations tempo (or “optempo”) signifi cantly, sometimes

raiding fi ve or six places a night. This completely bewildered insur-

gents and al-Qaeda sympathizers, who had no idea what was going

on. In April 2004, according to classifi ed unit histories, JSOC par-

ticipated in fewer than a dozen operations in Iraq.* By July 2006, its

teams were exceeding 250 a month. McChrystal ’s operations center

was open for fi fteen hours a day, regardless of where he was. There is

a strong correlation between the pace of JSOC operations, the death

rate of Iraqi insurgents and terrorists, and the overall decline in vio-

lence that lasted long enough for U.S. troops to surge into the coun-

try and “hold” areas that used to be incredibly dangerous.

In Christopher Lamb and Evan Munsing ’s thesis-length assess-

ment of intelligence in Iraq, Secret Weapon , Flynn ’s “pivotal” efforts

at fusing intelligence and operations, developing real-time reach

back to analysts, and the fl attening of authority are lauded as “the

secret weapon” behind the surge—not some special weapon, as Bob

Woodward has hinted. Notably, Flynn is rendered in the piece as

“General Brown,” and the authors were not permitted to mention

that his team was actually JSOC. 3 Such is the nature of the Defense

Cover Program—Flynn himself was a target for terrorists and many


The problem with being a secret organization is that when a harsh

light is cast on questionable activities—even activities performed

* This fi gure was confi rmed by a senior military offi cial who asked to remain


c12.indd 150

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with patriotic intent or, at least, performed when no better options

seemed available at the time—there ’s no opportunity for a rebuttal.

“We are in a diffi cult position, in that there ’s not much we can do to

make the case for ourselves,” William McRaven said in 2010. “There

are some things we can try and do to respond to things like Seymour

Hersh articles,” referring to the journalist ’s allegations that JSOC

fostered a culture that resulted in torture and later served as Dick

Cheney ’s personal assassination force, “but we are constrained.”*

For all of McChrystal ’s advances and achievements, McRaven

still inherited a work in progress. Even with all of the attention paid

to ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) assets, JSOC

had only thirty-three planes to its name, and its drones were making

only fi ve orbits per day over Iraq. Fusion cells that worked well in

some areas didn ’t necessarily work in others. With a new U.S. presi-

dent, the rules of engagement in Iraq were about to change, and

attention would soon shift back to Afghanistan and more decisively

toward Africa. The spigots were still open, but JSOC ’s bureaucracy

was growing overburdened.

One of the earliest problems McRaven had to deal with was the

Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed with Iraq and which for-

bade the United States from conducting most counterterrorism raids

without warrants. Warrants? JSOC doesn ’t do warrants—that ’s a law

enforcement thing. Many in the Command wanted to ignore the

SOFA entirely. McRaven, however, insisted that his team fi gure out

a way to fulfi ll the agreement. To do this, he directed JSOC funds to

build mini-courthouses, fi rst in Baghdad and then elsewhere in the

country. JSOC fl ew in JAG (Judge Advocate General) offi cers from

the United States, and McRaven personally briefed the Iraqi leader-

ship, describing the constraints under which JSOC often operated.

He asked for their help.

As a result, Iraqi judges were empowered by the U.S. military and

began issuing warrants based on the testimony of JSOC intelligence

analysts, SEALs, or Delta guys themselves. Occasionally, operatives

appeared in the courtroom, though always shielded. More regularly,

Iraqis used information collected by JSOC in lieu of an operator

* We were given the JSOC commander ’s direct offi ce phone number by a source.

McRaven picked up on the fi rst ring.

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being present. McRaven at fi rst faced internal resistance for bring-

ing in the Iraqis—JSOC was supposed to be a secret organization. Yet

as operators saw how well the courthouse system worked, they soon

dropped their objections and quickly adapted.

Likewise, they adapted to McRaven ’s establishment of an Afghan

partner unit within JSOC. It consisted mostly of civilians, many with-

out a shred of military experience, and began to accompany JSOC

units on raids. This was a particularly important outreach following

a JSOC disaster in April 2010, when a Ranger unit killed fi ve Afghan

civilians in Khataba, the result of a bad tip from an unreliable source.

McRaven took the extraordinary step of personally apologizing

to the family and admitting that the men under his command had

made a “terrible terrible mistake.” As reported, McRaven, near tears,

told an elder, “You are a family man with many children and many

friends. I am a soldier. I have spent most of my career overseas, away

from my family. But I have children as well. And my heart grieves

for you.” 4 McRaven fi gured that the Afghan partner units could pre-

vent these kinds of mistakes—the kind that made the job harder for

every soldier, conventional or special operations, who was fi ghting

in Afghanistan. McRaven further reached out to conventional units,

asking commanders how his units could better assist their missions.

As of yet, JSOC does not seem to have found the kind of suc-

cesses in Afghanistan that it did in Iraq. The enemy is different, more

embedded in the population. The geography makes intelligence

gathering more diffi cult. And the strategy from the White House is

different. Yet as a force multiplier and as a hub of best practices, the

Command may have prevented a decisively unwinnable situation

from descending into disaster.

When JSOC eventually fi nds itself in the news for a high-profi le fail-

ure instead of yet another astounding success, it will not likely be

for what it did in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, it will be for its opera-

tions in countries we are not offi cially at war with (inasmuch as we

“offi cially” go to war). Covert but deniable operations in non–com-

bat zones often start as “forever” secrets; the whole point is to slip

in, kidnap or kill or retrieve or steal, and exfi ltrate without leaving

fi ngerprints.

c12.indd 152

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That ’s why the most sensitive special missions unit listed on the

base directory of Fort Belvoir in northern Virginia is the Mission

Support Activity (MSA). It is JSOC ’s clandestine intelligence-gathering

organization and is formally considered a Tier Two special missions

unit, performing Tier One functions.* Until 2009, its code name was

INTREPID SPEAR, and its cover changes every two years. In 2010,

it was known as the U.S. Army Studies and Analysis Activity. Inside

JSOC, it ’s known as the Activity, or Task Force Orange. Doctrinally,

it is responsible for “operational preparation of the environment.” The

MSA has several fi xed operating locations around the world, includ-

ing at least fi ve secret bases inside the United States. (A source says the

Activity is now funded under the name “Joint Support Activity.”)

Close readers of Bob Woodward ’s books about the Bush adminis-

tration may recognize the MSA ’s code name during the fi rst months

of the war in Afghanistan: GREY FOX. GREY FOX operators were

on the ground with CIA paramilitaries and special operations forces

shooters within days of September 11, 2001. They were instrumen-

tal in the capture of Saddam Hussein. (In the famous photograph

of Saddam crawling out of his spider hole, you can see the boot of

an MSA operator.) Included in the MSA ’s numbers are elite signals

intelligence collectors (their procurement history includes a lot of

commercial radio scanners), pilots, and, to a lesser extent, case offi -

cers, interrogators, and shooters. They gather intelligence for coun-

terterrorism operations, but some are cross-trained to kill.

In 2001, the MSA, then known, confusingly enough, as the

Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), was the bastard child of the U.S.

Army. It had survived years of controversy and scrutiny, including

several congressional attempts to shut it down, scandals involving

extralegal activities, and fi nancial improprieties. It was underutilized

and poorly integrated with the rest of the force ’s intelligence services.

In 2003, over the strenuous objection of army leadership, Marshall

Billingslea transferred the ISA to JSOC. Its new command quickly

changed the ISA ’s designation and cover name and put it to work.

(The unit ’s last known cover name was changed after a reporter

* A former Navy SEAL, Jack Murphy, has called MSA a Tier One unit, alongside

Delta and DEVGRU, but U.S. Special Operations Command does not classify it

as such.

c12.indd 153

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used the phrase in an email to a Pentagon offi cial. This constituted

an operational breach suffi cient to warrant the termination of a

dozen security contractors.) Billingslea did not intend for the MSA

to engage in direct action missions. Rather, he believed that the Tier

One teams could benefi t from the battlefi eld intelligence-gathering

skills that the MSA could bring to bear.

After Billingslea left the Pentagon, however, the incessant

demands on JSOC would turn the MSA into something resembling

a Tier One unit, with members tasked with missions that involved

the direct collection of intelligence for the sake of intelligence—

something that American law has a problem with, or, at least, the

laws that civilians are allowed to see. The MSA was never designed

to be a tactical unit per se, but intelligence and military offi cials con-

fi rm that after 9/11 they executed direct action missions in Somalia,

Pakistan, and several other countries. Congress was largely kept in

the dark, and to some extent it still is. In 1982, after the ISA/MSA ’s

creation, Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, not shy about fl exing

the Pentagon ’s muscles, worried that “we seem to have created our

own CIA, but like Topsy, uncoordinated and uncontrolled.” An orga-

nization with such a secret mandate had to have accountability as its

essence, Carlucci wrote in a memo, but “we have created an organi-

zation that is uncontrolled.” 5

As the Mission Support Activity expanded under JSOC ’s purview,

it began to execute missions independently and outside of declared

war zones. In countries such as Yemen, Kenya, Somalia, and

Ethiopia, Task Force Orange gathered intelligence directly, techni-

cally reporting to the CIA, whose operations were ostensibly based on

covert action fi ndings but in reality adhered to the Al Qaeda Network

Exord, an executive order signed by President George W. Bush after

the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Members of the MSA

staffed new military liaison elements (MLEs) installed by SOCOM

in U.S. embassies around the world, much to the consternation of

the State Department. (The use of MLEs was signifi cantly curtailed

when Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary,

although a 2010 SOCOM budget document includes a line item for

their funding in Africa.)

The MSA, with a budget of $80 million, trains its personnel to be

essentially dropped into denied areas and to operate more or less on

c12.indd 154

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their own. Some MSA elements operate highly specialized surveil-

lance and reconnaissance planes, such as a heavily modifi ed RC-12

Guardrail (code name: LIBERTY BLUE), used for years to track

al-Qaeda operatives as they meander through the deserts of North

Africa. Others zip around terrorist training camps in MH-6 Little

Birds, small helicopters used extensively by the U.S. Army.

In two countries with which the United States is not at war,

according to three former U.S. offi cials with knowledge of its opera-

tions, MSA elements were tasked with tracking and killing specifi c

terrorist targets. Technically, only the CIA can do that—which was

why SEAL Team Six was very publicly placed under the titular

authority of CIA director Leon Panetta when it conducted the bin

Laden raid, even though Admiral McRaven and a Navy captain man-

aged the operation. Under U.S. law, the military ’s intelligence activi-

ties outside war zones are restricted to Title 10 of the U.S. Code.

The CIA, meanwhile, operates under Title 50, which permits covert

action, including targeted assassinations of terrorists, so long as a

covert action fi nding has been transmitted to Congress.

Given the secrecy associated with the MSA missions, it is not

clear whether the CIA had full cognizance of what the Defense

Department was doing, particularly in the early years of the global

campaign against transnational terrorism. In places such as Africa,

“the authorities were fucked up and no one knew who was in

charge,” a still-serving JSOC offi cer said in an interview. This would

change around 2004, as JSOC and CIA objectives diverged. Seizing

the initiative, General McChrystal increased the Command ’s foot-

print in Nairobi, Kenya; Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti; and Addis

Ababa, Ethiopia. JSOC focused its efforts on “intelligence collection

and target development.” 6 In 2006, JSOC went kinetic in Somalia,

actively hunting for al-Qaeda leader Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. He was

killed in 2009.

Shortly after 9/11, one MSA case offi cer was nearly killed while

following a target (much as a CIA case offi cer might) in Beirut, when

he was kidnapped outside his hotel. He escaped, shot his attack-

ers, and wound up receiving—secretly—a medal for his valor. The

number of case offi cer types hired by the MSA ramped up after 9/11

and is slowly spinning back down. Yet JSOC ’s human intelligence–

gathering activities continue to expand—and this is not a secret.

c12.indd 155

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A recent offi cial job solicitation reports that the Command is

recruiting “[a] Human Intelligence Operations Offi cer, respon-

sible for planning and executing highly specialized, mission critical

HUMINT requirements for JCS Directed Operations and contin-

gency plans. Coordinates the de-confl iction, registration and manage-

ment of Title 10 and Title 50 recruited HUMINT sources.”

The hiring unit is JSOC ’s Directorate of Operation, Security,

and Intelligence Support Division at Fort Bragg, which includes all

of JSOC ’s intelligence assets, with the exception of the MSA. The

effectiveness of the MSA operations is diffi cult to determine, but

their legality is an easier question to answer. In Afghanistan and Iraq,

the Defense Department ran the show, using traditional authorities

granted to it under Title 10 of the U.S. Code. Outside the war zones,

the CIA had primacy. United States law is fairly explicit about this:

covert action to collect intelligence cannot be led by the military, in

part because the oversight mechanisms aren ’t set up to monitor them.

Under the large umbrella of “preparing the battlefi eld,” which later

became “preparing the environment” (an environment being a big-

ger thing than a battlefi eld), and based on their successes elsewhere,

there was reluctance in the Bush administration to de-confl ict

cases where the CIA and JSOC had different ideas about what they

wanted to do in a country where the president had signed a fi nd-

ing. For example, the CIA objected to a JSOC Somalia mission at

the last moment in 2003; the National Security Council sided with

SOCOM. The CIA had legal authority, but SOCOM had, by presi-

dential fi at, the lead in terms of counterterrorism. When the twain

diverged in thinking, signifi cant interagency confl icts resulted.

When it came to unleashing JSOC in countries with which the

United States was not at war, the NSC was cautious. Terrorists on

the target lists were fair game pretty much anywhere in the world,

and the sovereignty of several countries was quietly disregarded as tiny

hunter-killer teams invaded. Large-scale military involvement, how-

ever, was iffi er, and although the White House had embraced the

kinetic success of JSOC in Iraq, it would not endorse the same type

of resource surge into places such as East Africa, to which terrorists

were fl eeing. This was maddening for JSOC commanders: they were

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“lawnmowers,” chopping the heads off of al-Qaeda. They had suc-

cessfully disrupted Iranian attempts to use Hezbollah to destabilize

any number of operations—and now Washington was suddenly very

cautious? There was a resource crunch too. General Doug Brown

of SOCOM didn ’t have the resources he needed for foreign internal

defense operations in Africa, “and that vacuum could be, and was, in

some cases, fi lled by Al Qaeda,” he told a historian. 7

JSOC ’s role in some of the more legally marginal elements of

the war on terrorism had brought unwanted attention and signifi cant

friction with the State Department. Secretary of State Condoleezza

Rice encouraged ambassadors in countries where JSOC operated

with impunity to speak up. One was Peru, where a DEVGRU oper-

ator with red hair (his nickname was “Flamer”) got into a physical

dispute with some locals. JSOC wanted the CIA to help exfi ltrate

him from the country. The CIA refused, and JSOC had to scramble

its own assets to collect its sailor. Why was JSOC in Peru? It ’s not

clear. The NSC, not wanting to unleash JSOC ’s capacity in areas

outside the war zone and cognizant of the publicity that the units

were getting, began to pull back on the reins.

The United States believes that in the summer of 2007, as many

as three hundred al-Qaeda-trained fi ghters fl ed to the Horn of Africa.

Though JSOC was on the ground, missions were highly restricted by

an overly cautious Washington. “Flynn watched, literally, because

they had these guys tracked, as hundreds of al-Qaeda fi ghters went

to Somalia and into Yemen and elsewhere in the Horn and got bet-

ter trained,” a senior military offi cial said. It would take a new presi-

dent and a new classifi ed presidential order to unleash JSOC ’s global

strike capability again.

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is the director of the

Defense Intelligence Agency, the top intelligence offi cer for the

Department of Defense. He has dominion over the newly estab-

lished Defense Clandestine Service, a military counterpart to the

CIA ’s National Clandestine Service. David Petraeus, now retired from

the Army, served as the CIA ’s director. Admiral William McRaven

is the commander of Special Operations Command. The men who

sharpened the tip of America ’s spear now run the entirety of the arsenal.

As for the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, there is virtu-

ally nowhere they cannot go, no one they cannot target, and nothing

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they cannot track. They serve at the pleasure of the president of the

United States and operate with minimal oversight and public expo-

sure only with the greatest of successes or the worst of tragedies.

Congress keeps insisting on more insight into JSOC missions, and

the Command is showing some leg. The United States has never had

such a weapon, and the president has never had such power. The

question is what happens next. Does every president from here on

use his or her authority responsibly? Or does power breed overcon-

fi dence and, ultimately, carelessness? Misdirected force can redound

with terrible consequence to national security, and the president

hoisted with his own petard.

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C H A P T E R 1 3

The Structure

of Secrecy

Area 51 isn ’t the only place where the bodies are buried, the

aliens are imprisoned, and fl ying saucers are kept. Some secrets

are kept near Ruth ’s Chris Steak House in Crystal City, Virginia. The

restaurant and the secret share the eleventh fl oor of a federal offi ce

building easily accessed by anyone. Its neighbors include the Special

Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan, the National

Security Division of the FBI, and what used to be the Counter-

Intelligence Field Activity of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Each

of those offi ces, however, advertises itself when you get close. Armed

guards with loaded rifl es, motion sensors, and barriers serve as a neon

warning sign that visitors are not welcome.

But not this secret. Near the elevator and through the glass

windows is what appears to be a dentist ’s offi ce. It ’s not. A careful

observer might notice a single distinguishing feature: a copy of The

Starfi sh and the Spider , a book about organizational theory that suc-

cessful contemporary military and intelligence offi cers have come to

see as a bible. (The theory is that an organization is best structured

like a starfi sh, which can regrow a function if it is injured or sliced

off, as opposed to a spider, which operates from a centralized brain.)


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After the attacks of September 11, 2001, as the Department of

Defense and the U.S. intelligence community struggled to adapt to

their new counterterrorism mission, a group of forward-thinking U.S.

Air Force intelligence and technology types—some of them military,

some civilian—approached a few trusted members of the defense

appropriations committee in Congress. They identifi ed a problem:

the military and intelligence community ’s technology and acquisi-

tion infrastructure was far too cumbersome to equip war fi ghters and

intelligence offi cers. The enemy would always have a tactical advan-

tage simply because of the checks and balances, and byways and folk-

ways, that were built into the system.

They had a solution: a new research, development, and testing

offi ce, reporting directly to a few policymakers and military offi -

cers. The offi ce would have a single mission: solve technological

problems quickly, without the vagaries of the bureaucracy getting

in the way. The organization would be secret. It would not accept

ownership of its products, and it would have no pride of author-

ship. It would not be established as a program offi ce, or even as

a special access program, because in both cases it would be swept

under the umbrella of either Title 50 of the U.S. Code (the laws of

the military) or Title 10 (the laws of the intelligence community).

As a free agent, it could serve both communities without restraint.

Funding that was the easy part. So many Air Force programs exist

in two different universes: the budget line item and the real-life

entity. The Defense Department has enough discretion to move

money around, particularly if it is directed toward an entity that

was created to elude by federal acquisition laws, as this organiza-

tion was.

Now seven years into its existence, this organization has been

the germ laboratory for several transformational counterterrorism

technologies. It stood up NIGHT FIST, the joint Air Force–CIA

cell that allowed for real-time monitoring of dangerous targets, even

through dense fog or clouds. It perfected the RFID tracking and

tagging materiel used to kill more than ten thousand terrorist sus-

pects and their enablers. It invented, with the help of a contractor, a

reconnaissance technology that can spot seemingly inert improvised

explosive devices from high-fl ying drones. This organization has

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worked with the National Security Agency to perfect a method of

extracting telephone numbers from cell phones previously consid-

ered destroyed.

One soldier attached to an intelligence brigade at the U.S. Joint

Special Operations Command put it to us this way: “Suddenly, when

we realized we needed it, we had tracking and tagging. And come to

think of it, we really didn ’t know where it came from, or how we got

it so fast.”

The organization is accountable to virtually no one. Occasionally,

a staffer will brief members of Congress about a particular program—

but they will be identifi ed as belonging to a different organization


“The big picture? I don ’t know if anyone in Congress really needs

to have the big picture,” was how someone who works for this orga-

nization told us. Had the entity been set up in a way that Congress

could perform the type of oversight it wants to, “nothing would have

gotten out to the fi eld. Nothing.” This person continued, “We exist

because we have to exist.”

We tried to protest, naming fi ve other government entities that

are supposed to do the same thing. One of them is even called the

Rapid Equipping Force. “Too slow,” was the response.

Indeed, as we tenderly verifi ed the existence of this organization

with people who would know—good people, law-abiding intelligence

offi cials, generals, and admirals—not a single person disputed the


The group is now called the Special Capabilities Offi ce and is

located in the Offi ce of the Secretary of Defense (OSD/SCO). It

is responsible for providing the technology that keeps soldiers safe

and the al-Qaeda network from solidifying. The organization spends

a fraction of one percent of the entire DOD budget. Its head is

Brian Hibbeln, a physicist and former senior scientist at the National

Reconnaissance Offi ce.

The nature and rationale for the organization raises questions

about the concentrated, unexamined exercise of executive power,

and about the hapless bureaucracy so thoroughly dysfunctional and

incapable of keeping pace with the needs of the intelligence commu-

nity that the community ’s only recourse is an extralegal (though not

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illegal) structuring.* If the DOD, or a small group of people within

the DOD, know—not just believe, but know, know for a fact—that

they cannot perform their mission under the current regime of

secrecy and oversight, and if the only way the country can be pro-

tected and soldiers lives saved is to create a secret entity: if all of those

things are true, then solving the problem with secrecy is a hopeless

endeavor. Organizations like the SCO exist in a way that raises ques-

tions about everything we think we know about government secrecy,

and especially congressional oversight, which accordingly seems cos-

metic and a simulacrum of a system that checks itself and balances

competing principles.

Evolutionary biologists like to say that form follows function. In the

national security world, the same thing happens. The structure of

secrecy—its form—can tell a lot about its function. And the modifi -

cations made by agencies can reveal how an organization ’s culture of

secrecy and classifi cation has evolved to fi t its institutional needs and

external duties.

That ’s not to say that even the unclassifi ed structure is easy to

unravel. William Arkin, a persistent critic of secrecy whose research

has contributed enormously to the public ’s understanding of the

national security apparatus, published

Code Breakers

in 2006, a

remarkable book containing thousands of program names, code

words, identifi ers, and secret locations—a telephone book, basically,

of the deep state. Arkin ’s book received some attention at the time,

but is now quite literally a reference book that special security offi -

cers are required to read in offi cial (Top Secret) government classes.

Several NSA offi ces have copies of Arkin ’s book lying around simply

for them to be able to check out unfamiliar names they come across.

The modern system of classifi cation came into being on

September 26, 1951, when President Harry Truman signed an executive

* The OSD/SCO outed itself in 2010 at a classifi ed military technology symposium

whose agenda was made public. And it no longer operates from the offi ce space

described previously, so no operational details are being compromised in the retell-

ing of the story. At the request of the Pentagon, the name of SCO ’s director is being

withheld even though it is easily searchable.

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order giving the CIA, a civilian agency, the power to decide what

information ought to be classifi ed in the interests of national security.

National security was, as of that moment, no longer “merely a mili-

tary consideration.” 1

The United States has three formal classifi cation levels for col-

lateral information: Confi dential, Secret, and Top Secret, referring to

progressively higher threats to security (from “reasonable” basis to con-

clude that national security will be harmed, to causing “exceptionally

grave” damage to national security). These are terms of art, and very

little effort has been made inside the government to drill down and dis-

till across agencies what type of information will be Secret and what

will be Top Secret. (Most classifi ed information is Secret.) Accessing

Secret information requires a fairly simple background check and a

name check through various government databases. (An FBI or Offi ce

of Personnel Management or Defense Security Service agent will ask

friends you list whether you ’ve ever had a sudden surprise source of

income or come into contact with foreign governments.)

A Top Secret clearance is extremely valuable: it adds tens of thou-

sands of dollars per year to the average recipient ’s income, and it also

costs the government several thousand dollars per person to grant,

using a process called a Single Scope Background Investigation.

Since the basic system was established, the prospect of a stringent

background investigation has probably done more to deter would-be

spies and unbalanced individuals from pursuing sensitive jobs than

anything else.

Depending on the agency, applicants will be asked to take a

polygraph, an instrument born out of the necessity to weed out com-

munists and homosexuals from sensitive government service. 2 Only

recently has the DOD admitted that the polygraph is not purely a sci-

entifi c instrument; its measurements correlate slightly with physiolog-

ical responses that liars give, but there are far too many false positives

for the poly to be the conclusive test. (The CIA ’s polygraph exami-

nations did not detect Aldrich Ames ’s deceptions; the FBI ’s did not

detect Robert Hanssen ’s.) 3 In the words of the Intelligence Science

Board, “there is no evidence supporting the assumption that auto-

nomic and somatic responses refl ect intentional deception.” 4

Yet there is no formal alternative to the polygraph, and there are

other reasons it remains a ubiquitous tool. The polygraph ’s mystique

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is often used to simply scare people away or into confessing outright.

(When the president travels overseas, the Secret Service will bring

along a polygraph examiner in case they need to determine quickly

whether someone acting suspiciously is intent on doing harm.) Top

Secret clearance holders get repolygraphed every fi ve years. And the

questions asked are intrusive. If candidates already cleared require

access to information denoting the sources and methods underlying

intelligence collection—Sensitive Compartmented Information, or

SCI—polygraph examinations will delve deeply into their intimate

lives. (This is a “lifestyle” polygraph, as opposed to a “counterintelli-

gence polygraph,” which asks generic questions aimed at fi guring out

whether the person taking the test is a potential agent of a foreign


The exact questions are not released because of the ease with

which methods can be found to fool the examiners, but they tend

to follow the times: one question regularly asked during lifestyle

polygraphs is whether the person has ever sent a provocative pic-

ture of himself or herself to someone he or she did not know over

the Internet. Lest you conclude that former representative Anthony

Weiner would therefore be disqualifi ed, the polygraph examiners

and clearance adjudicators have latitude. If your sexual behavior is

colorful and rich but is unlikely to mark you as a target for black-

mail and doesn ’t interfere with your work, it won ’t matter as long as

you admit to it. The same goes for mental illnesses such as depres-

sion. Depending on the agency and the task, sufferers from chronic

depression can usually pass the background examination if they are

honest about their condition and their personal psychiatrist con-

cludes that they are not functionally impaired.

There is no standard across the government for putting people

“on the box,” as it ’s called. Soldiers are rarely subject to them, and

Defense Department civilian employees obtain Top Secret/Sensitive

Compartmented Information (Top Secret/SCI) clearances without


The three basic classifi cation levels do not even begin to peel the

onion. This is because—despite the expense of conducting background

investigations, and under the guise of establishing the government ’s

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trust in an individual—the national security system does not in fact trust

people with mere collateral clearances. The director of national

intelligence (DNI) controls the SCI caveats that refer to (and in

many cases limit access to) the sources and methods that produce


As of 2012, there were four unclassifi ed categories of SCI.

They correspond to four classes of derivative intelligence. Special

Intelligence (SI) refers to information derived from communica-

tions intelligence collection or signals intelligence. Talent-Keyhole

(TK) refers to satellite imagery. Human Intelligence Control System

(HCS) gives the bearer access to information that might implicate

certain sensitive, specifi c human sources. This year, a new unclas-

sifi ed SCI compartment was added by the DNI. Geospatial intelli-

gence requires clearance into Klondike, known by the trigraph KDK.

A few SCI terms are not offi cially acknowledged but provide

a window into the organization of the deep state. Focal Point (FP)

refers to military assistance to intelligence operations as well as civil-

ian agencies that need DOD support. There are more than a dozen

FP cells throughout the DOD, providing Defense assets to support

CIA, NSA, and other classifi ed activities. NC2-ESI is the new des-

ignation for information about nuclear targeting. (The main nuclear

war plan is known as 8010-08 and is classifi ed as Top Secret//NC2/

ESI). A compartment known as Extremely Classifi ed Information

(ECI) refers to joint CIA/NSA programs. Technical Intelligence (TI)

refers to product from drones. Especially sensitive satellite or recon-

naissance technology is compartmented as RSV. 5 VRK is an NSA-

specifi c compartment for intelligence derived from special sources.

COIT is Compartments Intelligence, for especially sensitive DOD

human intelligence and infl uence operations. Azure Blue, or AB,

caveats come from an especially sensitive new reconnaissance plat-

form. The compartment for information derived from measurement

and signature systems intelligence (MASINT) is GG. Information

from sensitive foreign sources is sometimes given the digraph CW.

And so on.

In 1986, there were more than thirty SCI control systems,

accounting for about fi ve hundred different subcompartments.


Information that fl ows through one control system must be air-

gapped (separated physically) from information that fl ows through

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another, unless they are handled jointly. This adds immeasurably

to the confusion and expense of SCI. There are about two dozen

SCI control systems today and about two hundred categories of SCI

information. And there are still at least a half dozen other ways that

the government protects its information. The CIA and the NSA

use the unfortunately named BIGOT lists to specify access to named

individuals, usually to protect their sources of information. (No,

they ’re not calling people prejudiced. The term apparently derives

from a notation that the British Secret Intelligence Service used to

compartment information from their Gibraltar station. Information

sent there: TO GIB. Information returned: BIGOT.) Nuclear code

traffi c is passed through a SPECAT—a special category channel pro-

tected from other extremely well-protected channels—through an

air gap.

The DOD and some intelligence agencies create special access

programs (SAPs) to circumscribe access to specifi c military and

intelligence operations; treaty drafts; particularly sensitive new tech-

nical collection technologies; and procurement activities. (Most

DOD SAPs concern procurement, acquisitions, and testing.) James

Clapper, director of national intelligence, famously told Dana Priest

that “only God” had cognizance of all of the SAPs in government.

In truth, the creation of even the highest-level SAP—a “waived SAP”

that only eight members of Congress get orally read in to—triggers

a notifi cation process that involves two hundred people inside the

Pentagon and national security establishment, according to a senior

government program manager who creates them. But those manag-

ing SAPs can create subcompartments within the SAPs that aren ’t

(primarily for reasons of effi ciency) subject to the same disclosure


Where SCI is identifi ed primarily by trigraph or digraph, SAPs

are given unclassifi ed nicknames (Neptune ’s Spear was the SAP

within which the Osama bin Laden raid was planned) and a clas-

sifi ed code word that formally controls their access (in this case,


to manage its rendition, interrogation, and counterterrorism pro-

grams—had more than a dozen subcompartments, each of them

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given numbers. For example, the pilots and contractors who fl ew

rendition fl ights didn ’t need to know about the enhanced interro-

gation techniques that would take place at the CIA “black sites” in

Europe and Asia. So they might be given access to GST-001; the

interrogators might have been read in to GST-001 and GST-002,

which would include the techniques and their use at the black sites,

as well as the rendition portion of the program.

Even before entertaining questions of oversight, a balancing act

occurs. It is prudent to keep sensitive sources and methods to a small

group, simply because the chances of their being disclosed increases

linearly with the number of people in the know. But the costs of

compartmentalization can undermine the programs themselves.

Consider the following example, which has been somewhat sanitized

to protect the source and the technology. A certain very secret and

highly valuable technical intelligence platform is run out of an Air

Force base in the United States. There, operators control the plat-

form and collect and disseminate intelligence. At a location over-

seas where this platform (call it BENJI) is based, there are ground

operators. This program—think of it as a truck, an airplane, a drone,

or a satellite, with a lot of special capabilities—is so sensitive that

every tasking must be approved in advance by the National Security


But the platform is so adaptable that it has a lot of customers.

The DOD might want to use its abilities to monitor something in

country X, whereas the CIA might want to use it to track nuclear

fi ssile material movements in Pakistan. The problem is that the

operators at PROJECT BENJI have to literally switch hard drives

depending on which customer gets the product. For reasons that

only the program manager himself or herself know, the Defense

Department can ’t know what the CIA gets, and vice versa. Indeed,

the DOD, sensitive to the implications of the platform ’s exposure,

forces the ground operators to take a specifi c piece of equipment off

of the platform before a DOD mission, lest anyone blame them. (Of

course, if the platform is compromised, it ’s compromised; it doesn ’t

matter a whit to Iran whether the DOD ’s Defense Threat Reduction

Agency or the CIA is monitoring its nuclear program.)

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Cries to reform this system and iron out its ironies— information

classifi ed Secret but marked with a caveat is given better protec-

tion than Top Secret information without one—have come from

inside and outside government since the dawn of the Cold War.

Robert Gates, former director of central intelligence and secretary

of defense, once called the system the “greatest deterrent” to saving

money in the national security arena. 7 Commissions on government

secrecy tend to observe the same trends (more secrets, more people

with classifying authority, bizarre examples of information that ’s been

classifi ed, and the toxicity of overclassifi cation on the public ’s faith in

government) and propose the same solutions: get rid of most of the

caveats; strengthen automatic declassifi cation rules; establish better

auditing systems so that people are presumed to have access to infor-

mation, rather than “no need to know.”

The fi rst major government report to call for reform of the pro-

cess was convened by Congress during the presidency of Dwight

Eisenhower. The sociologist Edward Shils noted that the secrecy sys-

tem was set up to justify the “phantasies of apocalyptic visionaries,” a

phrase that would forever resonate with Daniel Patrick Moynihan. 8

Things were kept secret because no one could be trusted; because an

existential threat existed in the form of nuclear weapons and commu-

nist intrusions; because the average American had to be protected by

the government for the sake of the government ’s legitimacy. After the

Cold War, this was manifestly no longer the case.

In 1993, the CIA and the DOD received a report from a com-

mission chartered by Gates, suggesting that the state wipe away the

twelve separate über-categories of classifi ed information and replace

them with two. 9 Classifi ed information was classifi ed, so there would

be one collateral term—Secret—and certain very sensitive informa-

tion would be compartmented with a code word, although the deci-

sion to compartment information would be taken very seriously.

The report was ignored. Three years later, a commission

chaired by Moynihan took an even more caustic and sociologi-

cal view of secrecy and recommended wholesale changes to the

secrecy system. He coauthored legislation calling for a National

Declassifi cation Center, for the mandatory declassifi cation of cer-

tain information, and for a wholesale overhaul of the classifi cation


c13.indd 168

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David Schanzer, a top Pentagon lawyer at the time who was sym-

pathetic to the Moynihan report, recalls how stakeholders fought

back: “DOD had a strong revulsion to the bill on a cost basis. So pro-

gram managers put together a cost case for all the requirements that

Moynihan ’s bill would have had them do. Given the volume of mate-

rial, it would wind up costing just the general counsel ’s offi ce about

$10 billion a year alone. We sent a letter to Moynihan, and as soon as

he saw it, he got sick to his stomach because he knew that legislation

wasn ’t going to be able to make it through that kind of opposition.”

Because the classifi cation apparatus is labyrinthine, those in power

sometimes feel safe compounding the issue by making up new

schemes. In 1984, Representative Dick Cheney, a young congress-

man from Wyoming, saw his assignment to the House Intelligence

Committee “as an honor.” 10 It was also his formal introduction to

the deep world of secrecy. “The very nature of the committee ’s work

requires absolute confi dentiality and secrecy,” he wrote in his mem-

oir. 11 He visited the secret test site at Area 51 near Groom Lake,

Nevada, to see an early version of the F-117 stealth fi ghter. He spent

time at the then classifi ed National Reconnaissance Offi ce watching

real-time satellite feeds. He was read in to the highly compartmen-

talized Continuity of Government procedures, a subject he would

take a particular interest in. Under President George H. W. Bush, he

would serve as secretary of defense.

Charged with vetting potential vice presidential candidates for

Governor George W. Bush, Cheney managed a tight process with

no leaks. Indeed, the fi rst hint that he might be chosen came only

a day before it was announced. After the inauguration in 2001, Vice

President Cheney and his chief counselor, David Addington, former

staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, created a layer

of insulation around the Offi ce of the Vice President. It was easy for

Cheney to ignore any interest the press might have in him; he was

not going to run for president and had no reason to develop a pub-

lic persona. A former staff member who is close to Cheney today

says that the original reason for walling himself off was that “he just

didn ’t want to be bothered.” After the attacks on September 11, 2001,

Cheney may not have changed, but everything around him did.

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The Secret Service assigned a full-time counterassault team to his

detail. When terrorist threats spiked, he spent nights at Camp David,

and when the threat was acute, at the Alternate National Military

Command Center on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Early on, Cheney likely had a conversation with President Bush

about managing the post-9/11 national security interagency process.

No one knows for sure, because Cheney never discussed his conver-

sations with the president. According to Steven Yates, deputy national

security adviser to Vice President Cheney, “In eight years, not once

did any of their private conversations leak.” Even inside the “vault,”

as staffers called the vice president ’s offi ce, “there was a one-way feed-

back mechanism. You give Cheney what he asks for and he told you

what you needed to know,” said Yates, adding, “When you walked out

of that door, it closed behind you, courtesy of a lawyer named David


Did Cheney take it upon himself to task JSOC with specifi c mis-

sions, as Seymour Hersh has alleged? Yates said he doesn ’t know.

“But there is nothing illegal about the vice president doing some-

thing the president gave him permission to do.” (General Stanley

McChrystal, the commander of JSOC from 2003 to 2007, does not

recall having spoken to Cheney during the period.) According to

Yates, no one ever discussed whether Bush and Cheney had a conver-

sation in which power was formally delegated. But Cheney, perhaps

more than anyone in the White House, knew about how sclerotic the

national security bureaucracy could be and had little patience for

the lawyerly way in which the National Security Council adjudicated

policy. “Cheney had a habit of reaching, three, four rings down into

the bureaucracy, asking people on the ground what was really hap-

pening. And that frosted people on the NSC.”

Said Yates, “People in government like Dick Cheney and Don

Rumsfeld know more about the different elements of the govern-

ment, the intelligence community, its assets, what the military can

and cannot do. They, as much as anyone else, know where to look for

those black boxes that no one likes to touch.”

Still, Cheney ’s offi ce took secrecy to excessive lengths, as Bill

Leonard, the head of the Information Security Oversight Offi ce

(ISOO) at the National Archives, would fi nd. Leonard ’s job was

to oversee the way the government classifi es national security

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information. From the start, he noticed weird things coming from

the administration. For one thing, the White House counsel always

deferred to the Offi ce of the Vice President whenever anything

related to Cheney landed on Leonard ’s desk. Things as mundane as

the vice president ’s talking points were labeled Treated as Top Secret/

SCI , or Treated as Top Secret Codeword.

What is the signifi cance of such markings? In 2003, Cheney and

his staff discussed how to handle the public relations aspect of an

editorial in the New York Times written by Joseph Wilson, a former

U.S. diplomat. In the piece, Wilson argued that there was no evi-

dence to suggest that Iraq tried purchasing yellowcake uranium from

Nigeria. 12 Notes from Cheney ’s meetings on the subject were marked

Treated as Top Secret/SCI . 13 According to Leonard:

That ’s not a recognized marking. I have no idea if it was

the intent, but I can guarantee you what the consequences

of those markings are. When any of this material eventually

does end up at a presidential library and access demands are

being made, or it ’s being processed for release, when some

poor archivist sees material marked Handle as SCI , it ’s going

into the bottom of the pile, and it is going to get much more

conservative review. Whether it was the intent to retard the

eventual release of the information, I know that ’s going to

be a consequence of it.

The Offi ce of the Vice President clashed with Leonard and the

ISOO over its handling of classifi ed information. Cheney ’s offi ce

had fi led routine annual reports on its classifi cation activity in 2001

and 2002 but stopped doing so in 2003. A year later, the Offi ce of

the Vice President rebuffed an attempt by ISOO offi cials to inspect

it. The offi ce argued that since it had both executive and legislative

functions, it was therefore not bound by an executive order on the

handling of classifi ed information. 14

This offended Leonard. “Putting aside the constitutional position

of the vice president, the very concept that nonelected government

offi cials working in the White House, accessing the most highly sen-

sitive information, and weren ’t obligated to follow the rules set forth

by the president, I found chilling, to tell you the truth.”

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Addington would later argue that the Offi ce of the Vice President

is not an agency and thus not subject to ISOO ’s oversight, a position

the White House concurred with. 15 The vice president managed to

evade ISOO ’s eyes through the end of the Bush presidency. 16

In general, Bill Clinton

’s record on declassifi cation and secrecy

is quite good, and he doesn ’t get much credit for it. A billion docu-

ments were bulk-declassifi ed during his tenure. Similarly, there were

few leaks of sensitive information—and there was plenty of sensi-

tive information to be leaked, including virtually everything about

Clinton ’s secret war against al-Qaeda. 17 But habits remained hard to

break. John Podesta, one of the architects of the modern Freedom

of Information Act (FOIA) law and one of Clinton ’s chiefs of staff,

recalls a battle he “won once out of every ten times.” He said,

“Sometimes, someone from the NSC would come into my offi ce

and hand me a newspaper article from overseas. It was marked ‘C’

for Confi dential. I was quite an asshole about this, I admit,” he said.

“I would go to the NSC executive secretary down the hall and ask,

‘Why is this classifi ed at all? It ’s a newspaper article.’ Then inevitably

they would come back and say, ‘It ’s classifi ed because the president ’s

interested in it and that is strategic information.’ Okay. Yeah, right.”

The FOIA is an effective counterweight to government secrecy. It

is also a much-abused law, overburdened by communities of conspir-

acy theorists who overwhelm FOIA offi ces with requests for informa-

tion on space aliens and such. This frustrates professional historians

and reputable transparency advocates, whose FOIA documents are

simply added to the back of the not inconsiderable queue.

By design, the FOIA process is cumbersome for both the peti-

tioner and the government. To ensure that no actively sensitive

material is released, an FOIA offi cer must often submit the request

to colleagues at multiple agencies for review. And though there are

written standards defi ning what exemptions are appropriate, every

federal agency interprets them differently. This inconsistency, espe-

cially concerning matters of national security, frustrates researchers,

and comes back to the fundamental question of what exactly consti-

tutes harm to national security and who gets to decide? And if differ-

ent people given interpretive authority make different conclusions on

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the same data (inter-rater disagreement, as sociologists call it), does

that not undermine the intellectual edifi ce of both the FOIA process

and national security classifi cation itself?

The National Security Archive at George Washington University

has made a sport out of fi nding examples where one government

agency considers something too sensitive to declassify, oblivious to

the fact that another agency has already released the material. For

example, many Cold War–era memos related to missile defense

and nuclear war planning have been held back by the Defense

Department, even though many have not only been declassifi ed but

actually published by the government in offi cial, unclassifi ed his-

tories. The problem, as university researchers see it, is that the gov-

ernment refuses to establish uniformly enforceable standards for

historical and legacy information and often refuses to revisit earlier

classifi cation decisions. According to William Burr of the National

Security Archive, “Neither historians, taxpayers, nor the secrecy sys-

tem itself are well served when declassifi cation reviewers treat histori-

cal classifi ed information in the same way as today ’s secrets.”

The more secrets an agency holds, the better it is at frustrating

the FOIA process, intentionally or otherwise. The CIA, for exam-

ple, regularly denies requests under the “(b)(3)” exemption, which

gives the government a way to protect things not formally classifi ed

as national security information but legally protected from disclo-

sure. (FOIA does not force the government to reveal ongoing and

vital national security secrets.) There are many statutory exemptions

that make sense. Sometimes government documents contain private

information about U.S. citizens, such as Social Security numbers.

Others might reveal a company

’s proprietary information. Some

might contain facts pertinent to an ongoing criminal case. It ’s not

hard to imagine exemption power being so broadly construed so as to

nix the release of virtually every document requested. But the genius

of the FOIA is in one of its fi nal clauses, fl owing directly from a quirk of

the classifi cation system itself.

Suppose that a single sentence in this paragraph contains

national security information classifi ed as Secret, and that a sen-

tence or two around it contains modifi ers or clauses that provide

details from which the secret can be inferred. That still leaves a large

number of sentences that in and of themselves, and even taken as a

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whole, do not contain classifi ed information. Under the law, the gov-

ernment must segregate unclassifi ed parts of paragraphs. The FOIA

works because the state cannot reasonably argue that every sentence

in every paragraph in every classifi ed document is itself properly clas-

sifi ed. The FOIA offi cers are sworn to uphold the statute, so while

they might be biased in favor of whatever agency they represent, they

are obliged to segregate.

The (b)(3) exemption is tricky because of its vagueness. For

example, federal rules of procedure prevent the release of infor-

mation obtained by grand juries. The law seems clear: testimony

and evidence presented during grand jury sessions are never to be

released. But in some notable cases, judges have ordered the release

of information, usually because it might be of signifi cant historical

value. So is the grand jury testimony exemption in fact absolute? And

if it isn ’t, what criteria should FOIA offi cers use when making deci-

sions? There are no easy answers to these questions and few forums

outside of a courtroom to establish precedent.

The (b)(3) exemption also requires FOIA offi cers to know the

intent and meaning of virtually every federal law proscribing a pro-

cess for withholding information. The offi cers must also keep up with

changes to these laws. And, once again, standards across agencies are

markedly different. Often information will be denied under (b)(3) on

the basis of a law that has expired or that has changed.

To help matters, as of 2009, new bills before Congress must spe-

cifi cally state if certain information is subject to the provision. But

reform will be slow going. The CIA ’s use of (b)(3) has prevented the

disclosure of even the most basic information about how the agency

works. Furthermore, the director of the CIA is legally empowered

to protect the sources and methods by which intelligence is gained.

But in 2004, that responsibility offi cially shifted to the Offi ce of the

Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

The CIA, however, points to the National Security Act of 1947,

which both established the CIA and appointed its director as head

of the intelligence community. As such, the CIA continues to pro-

tect its sources and methods as if the ODNI did not exist. In theory,

the ODNI could redelegate this power to the CIA, but it hasn ’t done

so, which means the CIA has been using a “sources and methods”

exemption that, technically speaking, it no longer possesses.

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A few litigators, such as the National Security Counselors fi rm

and the American Civil Liberties Union, along with news organi-

zations like ProPublica, have tenaciously explored the exemptions

issue, and thankfully so. Attention must be paid to the fi ner strands

of the FOIA process precisely because the law is so powerful. The

FOIA is a tremendous check on government power, and the stron-

ger it becomes, the more incentive the government will have to treat

it respectfully. Researcher Jeffrey T. Richelson has been able to get

entire National Reconaissance Offi ce imagery satellites and their

products declassifi ed with a single FOIA; the catch: he knows what to

ask for. 18

There is also the powerful Mandatory Declassifi cation Review

(MDR), established in 1972 and revised and liberalized by

Presidents Clinton and Obama. The MDR process allows anyone

(a reporter, a citizen) to formally request the declassifi cation of a

document. The originating agency still gets to determine whether

the document was properly classifi ed, and the CIA has special pow-

ers to protect its information. But MDR provides an avenue for

petitioners to twice appeal the decision to a review board, called

the Interagency Security Classifi cation Appeals Panel. In theory, the

review board has a broader perspective on classifi cation matters than

do individual agencies, and its decision is binding. It is a formida-

ble mechanism by which the issue of declassifi cation can be forced

(especially for documents written before 1966, when the FOIA was


The catch is that petitioners must fully develop information

about the classifi ed subjects for which they are requesting docu-

ments. And agencies can still deny requests, on the basis that con-

fi rming or denying the classifi cation status of a secret document

would itself reveal the existence of the document. (There is a

similar exemption called the Glomar Response that is used to pro-

tect highly sensitive compartmentalized intelligence programs.

It is named after the Glomar Explorer , the ship built by Howard

Hughes to try and recover a lost Soviet nuclear submarine.) While

MDR does not have any direct bearing on the classifi cation pro-

cess itself, repeated reversals of an agency ’s decision might provide

incentive to the agency to make better decisions about what gets

classifi ed in the fi rst place.

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C H A P T E R 1 4

Partisan Transparency

We are facing a [missile] gap on which we are gambling with our

survival,” said Senator John F. Kennedy on February 29, 1960,

during his campaign for the presidency. “Time is short. This situation

never should have been permitted to arise. But if we move now, if

we are willing to gamble with our money instead of our survival, we

have, I am sure, the wit and resource to maintain the minimum con-

ditions for our survival, for our alliances, and for the active pursuit of

peace.” 1

There was no missile gap. President Dwight D. Eisenhower


obsession with image intelligence had paid dividends, and photo-

graphs from the U-2 spy plane program confi rmed that if there was

in fact a gap, it was in favor of the United States. 2 Still, Eisenhower


’t publicly state such a concrete fact for fear of reveal-

ing what else the United States had gathered over Soviet soil. 3 But

the president feared that Kennedy, now owning and leading on the

defense issue, was taking Congress and the electorate with him. Stuart

Symington, senator from Missouri, was especially forceful in his denun-

ciations. “A very substantial missile gap does exist and the Eisenhower

Administration apparently is going to permit this gap to increase.” 4

The president dispatched General Earle Wheeler, director of the

Joint Staff for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to give Kennedy a classifi ed


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briefi ng on intelligence gathered over the Soviet Union. But

Kennedy wasn ’t going to let facts stand in the way of a winning cam-

paign theme. 5

“By getting into this numbers racket,” Eisenhower would fume

throughout the campaign, “and by scaring people, they are getting

away with murder.” “Deterrent” had become a code word for unbri-

dled military spending, enriching arms makers at the expense of the

nation ’s wherewithal. “Did they just want to build more and more

Atlases for storage in warehouses? It was unconscionable.” 6

As early as 1951, Eisenhower fretted over the growing defense

industry. He considered the economy to be a national security issue

and argued that “our system must remain solvent, as we attempt a

solution of this great problem of security. Else we have lost the battle

from within that we are trying to win from without.” 7 In his fi rst State

of the Union address, he remarked, “To amass military power without

regard to our economic capacity would be to defend ourselves against

one kind of disaster by inviting another.” 8 And leaving offi ce, shaken

by this debate that he had clearly lost, he gave his famous speech

warning, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the

acquisition of unwarranted infl uence, whether sought or unsought,

by the military-industrial complex.” 9

When President Kennedy assumed offi ce, his rhetoric collided

with a solid, apolitical intelligence assessment. Eisenhower ’s men

had been telling the truth. There was no missile gap. The president

greeted the news with a single dismayed expletive. 10


’s hard to imagine something similar happening today.

Presidential administrations seem more cavalier with classifi ed mate-

rial. The political incentives to leak are simply too great, and the

press is very willing to accommodate. The chances of a leaker get-

ting caught are slim at best, and the government doesn ’t have the

resources to investigate a tenth of the cases presented to it.

In 2002, Thomas Fingar was the senior intelligence analyst who

got Iraq right. He judged, correctly, that there was no evidence that

Saddam Hussein had reconstituted an abandoned nuclear weap-

ons program. In accordance with the axiom that holds the absence

of evidence not being the evidence of absence, he put the prewar

c14.indd 177

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pattern of facts together in a way that suggested that Saddam kept to

a policy of deliberate ambiguity despite having no weapons.

Others in the intelligence community fi ercely resisted his con-

clusions. His expertise, and the expertise of Department of Energy

(DOE) specialists who actually build centrifuges, was simply disre-

garded. Fingar and the DOE analysts had contacted the company

that made the centrifuge Iraq had been found with, and they told

him in no uncertain terms that the centrifuges could not be used to

enrich uranium at a rate that would produce weapons-grade material.

There were ring magnets too, which the Offi ce of the Vice President

was obsessed with—magnets that might be part of a centrifuge assem-

bly. They had many applications. “If you didn ’t assume they were

for centrifuges, you could have judged them to be used in many

other places. In fact, we know now, they were used for their missile


What galled Fingar, though, was that the National Intelligence

Estimate was “terrible,” as he put it. Very few people read it. (Fingar

knew this because the highly classifi ed document had to be signed

out by any offi cial who wanted to do so.) So in his view, policymak-

ers were acting like lawyers when it came to secret information. Find

the precedents; build the argument; make a clear case. Saddam was

evil; he had a nuclear program; he ’d had a missile program; if he

had one, he must have one. But intelligence isn ’t like that, and the

information had to be respected for what it was.

There is a reason the U.S. government spends so much time

training analysts about the fragility of information. The methodology

of intelligence analysis is a cultivated skill; its subtleties are not self-

evident. Politicians bring to the table a set of prejudices and predis-

positions, as was illustrated during a “missile gap” exchange between

Allen Dulles and Stuart Symington. In declassifi ed transcripts from

closed congressional hearings, the director of central intelligence

explains to the senator from Missouri that the intelligence commu-

nity cannot estimate raw information:

“When I saw you with other people who know their subject,”

said Symington, “we offered you what we thought were evi-

dences of more [missile] testing.”

“But gave me no evidence,” said Dulles.

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“Well, we thought it was evidence,” said Symington.

“Let ’s not get into that.”

“You gave me assertions,” said Dulles. “I want to make

that point perfectly clear.”

Later, tensions rise as Symington again asserts that the opinions of

his advisers constituted information. Dulles responds, “I want some

of the background on which this information was adduced. I mean,

the—if someone says there are 55 [missile] fi rings, there must be

some evidence of those fi rings. What is the evidence?”

When Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the case that

Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the “facts” were based on

a bad source, and assertions followed. (Echoes of Dulles: “You gave

me assertions. . . . What is the evidence?”) It is dangerous when poli-

cymakers abuse their access to classifi ed information. But in the case

of Iraq, it was even more dangerous that they used the information

without really knowing what they were doing.

The obvious solution to the misuse of intelligence was to broaden

access to it so that analysts from many different perspectives could

use their unique lenses to arrive at a conclusion. The experts had

to be trusted and empowered. And the information itself, being that

it formed the basis for National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), which

formed the basis for policy that could lead the country to war, had to

be processed in a way that took nothing for granted.

As the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and

chairman of the National Intelligence Council from 2005 to 2008,

Fingar would be the administration ’s point person for writing the

NIEs. In 2007, he was a principal author of an NIE on Iran. He knew

quite plainly about the policy divide inside the administration. He

also knew that once a piece of information made it into the brain of a

policymaker, it would stick.

The process of crafting an NIE under Fingar could be intermi-

nable and exacting. First, analysts would come up with the assign-

ment parameters: what is the puzzle to be assembled here, and what

are reasonable questions that can—and can ’t—be answered? If ana-

lysts needed more information, they would go to the collectors (CIA,

DIA) and ask if more was available. If it wasn ’t available, analysts

would be asked if it could be acquired. Sometimes the answer was

c14.indd 179

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yes, in which case the NIE would wait on the new information so

long as it didn ’t push the time frame too far to the right.

Slowly, the framework of the estimate would come into form, as

bits and piece of evidence were analyzed and validated, or rejected,

or rejected or validated with caveats—whatever the iterative process

showed. Often this entire process would be repeated if the informa-

tion seemed incomplete and the analysis unsatisfactory. After a pre-

liminary hypothesis was formed, the NIE would be distributed to the

analytical arms of the U.S. intelligence community, and based on

their feedback, the NIE staff would carefully note where the analysts

agreed and disagreed. If the CIA disagreed about a certain conclu-

sion, their analysts would be invited to hash it out. Often, Fingar

found, agencies disagreed with the analogies or metaphors that were

used to illuminate a conclusion. The NIE, after all, is a story written

for policymakers. The metaphors had to be precise.

Fingar didn ’t like his NIEs to have caveats. Better to draw a con-

clusion that incorporated the doubts by using language precisely

rather than to say that agency X simply disagreed. At the end of the

process, the staff would create several different versions: one for

the White House, one for Congress, and one for senior offi cials else-

where in government. Congress didn ’t get to see as many sources and

methods as the White House did. The fi nal NIE, one hundred pages

long, had fi fteen hundred source citations. 11

In the case of the 2007 NIE, Fingar was ordered, to his surprise,

to create a fourth version—one specifi cally for public consumption. 12

The order came straight from President George W. Bush. Fingar

never knew precisely what the motive was, though he suspected that

the Oval Offi ce wanted to preempt the vice president ’s offi ce from

making rash remarks about Iran policy.

So Fingar created an executive summary with sources and meth-

ods excised. One of the conclusions that he published for public

consumption was that, with a high degree of confi dence, Iran had

“halted its nuclear weapons program” in 2003. He added the impor-

tant caveat that

we also assess with moderate-to-high confi dence that Tehran

at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear

weapons. We judge with high confi dence that the halt, and

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Tehran ’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared

uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol

to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement,

was directed primarily in response to increasing international

scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran ’s previ-

ously undeclared nuclear work.

What Fingar could not publish was that the United States possessed

evidence that Iran had started up a new, undeclared uranium enrich-

ment facility at Qom. If that point had been published, it would have

raised the question, How does the United States know this? The

answer was a combination of human sources, signals intelligence,

and imagery analysis. Fingar won ’t say why the sources were too sen-

sitive at the time, but in the judgment of the intelligence community,

the fact simply could not be compromised.

Fingar added a footnote to his published conclusion stating that

the NIE ’s conclusion here referred to “Iran ’s nuclear weapon design

and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and

uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran ’s declared

civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.” Indeed,

as he later noted, “The declassifi ed portion of the estimate did not

address how long it would take Iran to convert highly enriched ura-

nium into a weapon but the classifi ed text did. What I can say here is

that we judged Iran has the scientifi c, technical, and industrial capac-

ity to produce a weapon if it decided to do so.”

Iran wasn ’t building bombs, but it still was converting uranium at

a rate that could be used for bombs.

The previous NIE had concluded that a military option was prob-

ably the only viable one, given the time frame it would take for Iran

to make an actual nuclear weapon. The new NIE suggested that

although Iran had not abandoned its goal of possessing a weapon, it

would take some time to actually build one, if they decided to do so.

It did not mean at all that Iran was out of the nuclear business.

But the White House went out of its way not to clarify, and the

press jumped on the conclusion that the weapons program had been

shut down. Take that, Dick Cheney!

Fingar told the authors that “they wanted this out, and then they

refused to take responsibility for it.” Even transparency can be used as

c14.indd 181

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a political weapon. To Fingar it was a reason to treat the privilege of

accessing secret information with humility.

Wearing his other hat, as deputy director of national intelligence

for analysis, he tried to change the culture of fi rewalls within the

intelligence community that often provided for stovepiped, inaccu-

rate, rushed, or just plain stupid analysis. The “need to know” habit

long drilled into analysts turned into a “responsibility to share.” That

is, if a report was produced from raw data, it would have to justify its

use of caveats and compartments. Reports were to be written for as

many people as possible to see. All information that is disseminated,

he believed, ought to be discoverable to analysts working on the sub-

ject. If part of an analysis was based on an extremely sensitive source

and had to be excised, the analyst would have to certify that whatever

he or she kept from other analysts would not change the conclusion.

Fingar encouraged the creation of A-Space, a cross-agency col-

laborative database of classifi ed and unclassifi ed information that was

easily searchable. He is also responsible for another innovation—one

that the Obama administration has done away with. He allowed his

National Intelligence Offi cers (NIOs) to brief members of the press

on background about their subject areas. To him, it was useful for the

press to understand the thought process of policymakers who were

wading their way through a diffi cult subject. So long as his NIOs

didn ’t share classifi ed information—and he trusted they would not—

they could provide guidance to a reporter who was writing on, say,

North Korea, or China.

Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to President Bush, knew

that a pleasant spring morning in April 2008 would not become

a pleasant spring day. A month after Israel had bombed what was

believed to be a nuclear weapons manufacturing plant, Hadley

was going to acknowledge to the House and Senate select commit-

tees on intelligence that the United States had provided Israel with

intelligence well before the raid, knew for weeks in advance that

Israel planned a strike, and (according to one offi cial who remains

in government) helped Israel disable part of Syria ’s air defense

system along its northern border with Turkey. (Other published

sources dispute this account, suggesting that the United States did

c14.indd 182

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not know in advance and had asked Israel not to disclose it even if

they wanted to.)

The September 6, 2007, raid caught the world by surprise. The

White House refused to shed any light on the subject for months

after. Slowly, details about what the site was, or wasn ’t or might have

been, began to appear in the press. Hadley had given the congres-

sional Gang of Eight (four leaders from each party) a verbal briefi ng

a week before. But the committees, controlled by Democrats in the

throes of debating intelligence about the necessity of a surge in Iraq,

demanded a full briefi ng. Why hadn ’t the White House briefed

Congress before? After all, a team of White House advisers had been

meeting weekly to discuss the impending Israeli action, and at least

some U.S. intelligence resources were involved.

It wasn ’t, as some later speculated, that the United States didn ’t

agree with Israel ’s interpretation of the intelligence. Hadley had

simply made a judgment call about secrecy. Technically, since

the United States was not running the operation, it was not an

“ ongoing and current” covert activity. Practically, he simply did not

trust Democrats on the committee to keep their mouths shut. Many

Democrats on the committee were haranguing the Bush administra-

tion on a daily basis, and Hadley wasn ’t about to pull them aside and

share one of the most sensitive counterproliferation secrets in the


The Democrats had good reason to be upset, however. As the

CIA later admitted, the United States had been observing the site

with a spy satellite for more than a year before the raid, and secretly

shared intelligence on the reactor site with Turkey in an effort to

preempt the necessity of an Israeli attack. As a Bush White House

offi cial later conceded, “We were monitoring the site. That was an

ongoing operation under almost any defi nition. But we didn ’t trust

them and they didn ’t trust us, and this is the situation we found our-

selves in.”

Indeed, any hope the Bush administration had in using the

formal disclosure of U.S. participation to advance its nonprolif-

eration policy or rally opinion against North Korea was dashed by

the tribal emotions unleashed by Democrats on the Hill. Though the

increased partisanship in Washington is rarely discussed in this con-

text, it is a driving force in the secrecy debate.

c14.indd 183

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To be clear, relations between the secrecy apparatus and

Congress have never been cordial. Bill Casey, former director of cen-

tral intelligence, referred to congressional intelligence committees as

“those assholes on the hill,” and as Trevor Paglen noted, would mum-

ble “incomprehensibly through his briefi ngs, when he bothered to

brief the intelligence committees at all.” 13

Fairly or not, Congress has long had a reputation for leaking

classifi ed information. (Frederick Hitz disagrees with that assess-

ment. “Since [1975], the most damaging leaks have come from the

executive branch, from intelligence offi cers or administration opera-

tives who disagree with the policy behind the spying or covert action,

rather than from a more vulnerable Congress.”) 14 In a preemptive

move against careless revelations, on October 5, 2001, President

Bush issued a memorandum stating that the need “to protect mili-

tary operational security, intelligence sources and methods, and sen-

sitive law enforcement investigations” was too great to entrust to 535

members of Congress and their staffs. 15 The memo decreed that all

such information would be restricted to the eight senior members of

the legislative branch. Congress publicly balked, and fi ve days later

this policy was rescinded. Though “Gang of Eight” briefi ngs became

a regular occurrence (the NSA terrorist surveillance program being

one such example), congressional oversight committees resumed reg-

ular hearings on national security.

According to The 9/11 Commission Report , in 1998 Osama bin

Laden, ever on the move and tracked by satellite phones, stopped

using this “particular means of communication almost immediately

after a leak to the Washington Times . This made it much more dif-

fi cult for the National Security Agency to intercept his conversa-

tions.” 16 Jed Babbin, deputy under secretary of defense for George

H. W. Bush, blamed an unnamed Republican senator for “blurt-

ing out” the information. CIA veteran Michael Scheuer, who ran

the bin Laden program at that time, said in a 2005 speech that “a

direct causal line from the publication of that story to the attacks of

September 11” could be drawn. 17

Even in instances where Congress is kept appraised of black

operations, often and for political reasons knowledge of such brief-

ings is later denied. Notably, in 2002 eventual Speaker of the House

Nancy Pelosi was one of four members of Congress briefed on the

c14.indd 184

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CIA ’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques. As described by the

Washington Post , “Among the techniques described, said two offi cials

present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be con-

demned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol

Hill. But on that day no objections were raised. Instead, at least two

lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. offi -

cials said.” 18 Pelosi denies such details were revealed.

For a decade after 9/11, largely because of feverish levels of mis-

trust between Democrats and Republicans, congressional skepticism

turned into defi ance.* This damaged the intelligence community,

Congress, and public trust in those institutions, and it had the per-

verse effect of weakening incentives for the secret keepers to exercise

their power appropriately. Democrats will argue, with some justifi ca-

tion, that Congress could not effectively fulfi ll its oversight functions

in a political atmosphere where questions about counterterror-

ism policies were confused with (or deliberately turned into, by the

White House) doubts about the righteousness of the American cause.

This is true. So true, in fact, that the Bush administration ’s own pen-

chant for secrecy and its determination to keep Congress out of the

loop ultimately wound up undermining even some of the less contro-

versial but highly effective secret policies it put into place.

The partisan instinct deserves its opprobrium. At ill-timed

moments, both Democrats and Republicans screamed solely because

their activist bases demanded such screaming. At least fi ve commit-

tees in each chamber have some piece of the oversight mix, and the

most important of the lot, the select committees on intelligence, hold

special status. In the House, their members aren ’t appointed (as most

members of most committees are) by steering committees. A single

person, in other words, cannot overload a committee with allies.

Instead, the Speaker of the House and the minority leader make the


* Vice President Dick Cheney writes that when he briefed members of the Gang

of Eight on the NSA surveillance program in March 2004 (after the Justice

Department ’s objections threatened to curtail the operation), the Gang agreed

that Congress could not be trusted with writing legislation because it would leak.

Another offi cial present at the meeting recalls the Gang ’s objection differently: they

didn ’t think Congress would pass something so controversial.

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During the height of hyperpartisanship post-9/11, the intelligence

committees, particularly in the House, were treated as sinecures and,

even worse, platforms for the airing of grievances. Sometimes the

grievances were well formed. When members of the intelligence

community brief Congress on highly classifi ed programs, they


incentivized to do so in a way that provides the necessary amount of

detail to satisfy the legal and administrative requirements, and not

a shred more. Since most members of the intelligence committees

aren ’t experts, an imbalance is built into the system. The briefers

will use technical language, knowing that members often can ’t share

with their staffs enough information to develop follow-up questions.

Members know this and tend to be on the alert for weasel words or

any hints or indications that there are depths to the particular pro-

gram that might not be visible in a briefi ng. The less trust there is

between institutions, the more games are played in the briefi ngs.

These games have become endemic, which for oversight is troubling.

The less trust we have in government, the more likely it is for free-

lancers and hobbyists, people who traffi c in classifi ed information

that is expressly often pulled from its context, to decide whether to

publish secrets. Don ’t blame this on the lone wolves. Blame it on the

gatekeepers for failing to maintain credibility.

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C H A P T E R 1 5

Open Source

Strikes Back

Once upon a time, the federal government ’s response to existen-

tial emergencies (known as Continuity of Government proce-

dures, or COG) was the holy of holies. There was a time when the

FBI wouldn ’t even inform members of Congress about their desig-

nated relocation site in the event of a catastrophe (the Greenbrier

Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia). Instead, the Bureau

entrusted the heads of its local fi eld offi ces with that knowledge and

instructed them to impart it to members when FBI headquarters in

Washington cabled them permission. The cover organization for

COG activities, the Defense Mobilization Programs Support Activity,

remained a secret for two decades, until journalist Ted Gup exposed

it in 1982. (It would be replaced by the National Programs Offi ce,

which used the same offi ce space and did the same thing.) After

COG programs atrophied in the 1990s, the Bush administration

reconstituted many of them after September 11, 2001.

At fi rst, stories appeared about an “undisclosed location” where

Vice President Dick Cheney would spend much of his time. This

was a secret in name only, as most everyone in Washington assumed

that Cheney was either at Site B, the Mount Weather bunker on

the border of Virginia and West Virginia, or Site R, the enormous


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underground compound near Maryland ’s border with Pennsylvania.

Then Bob Woodward and his colleagues at the Washington Post

wrote about a “shadow government” that was replicating the func-

tions of senior military and civilian offi cials, ready to step in and take

over in case of a decapitation attack. The story offered little in the

way of specifi c detail but created an unmistakable aura of gravity

about the new post-9/11 reality—the Bush administration was really

that worried about the threat of a nuclear explosion or a catastrophic

biological attack.

As the COG programs expanded, so too did the number of open

positions. Jobs that offi cially did not exist had to be fi lled somehow.

Job solicitations were posted on websites that cater to those seek-

ing government employment. In July 2011, government contractor

SAIC advertised for a “Continuity of Operations Watch Offi cer” who

would monitor incoming national intelligence data and be prepared,

on a moment ’s notice, to provide intelligence analysis to senior poli-

cymakers. The offi cer would monitor the “health” of the intelligence

community and provide daily updates to the director of national

intelligence about the status of critical intelligence systems.

Notably, the advertisement mentioned that the “actual work loca-

tion is on the VA/WVA border.” That meant that the analyst was des-

tined for the Mount Weather bunker and would actually be a part

of the government-in-waiting. If the headquarters of the director of

national intelligence were to be destroyed and its analysts incapaci-

tated, this analyst would be among a small team of surviving, fully

cleared all-source analysts who could jump in and provide the ana-

lytic support that would otherwise be unavailable. (The job posting

also provided a list of some of the classifi ed COG computer systems

that the offi cer would use, including “the PCT,” “ADAPT V2,” and

“the SPURS system.”)

Open source job postings for classifi ed functions and organiza-

tions are ubiquitous and create a headache for counterintelligence.

One recent posting sought a civilian “director for mobility” at the

U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and described, in

excruciating detail, the classifi ed special mission unit that transports

special operations forces to and from their secret missions. The entity

that currently provides cover for Continuity of Government contract-

ing and acquisition services (we shall not disclose the name, although

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it is distinctly unmemorable and therefore enormously powerful)

operates out of a highly secure facility in Elkridge, Maryland.

Tracking job postings can give interested parties a pretty

good idea of where the government hides its dozen or so con-

tinuously operating secret bunkers. These open source security

breaches are self-infl icted intrusions, but they are arguably neces-

sary in order to effi ciently staff critical government positions. Still,

the level of detail that can be found on social networking sites like

LinkedIn is often astonishing. One former program manager of the

Ground Applications Program Offi ce (GAPO), a secret offi ce of

JSOC, bragged openly that his fi ve-hundred-million-dollar portfo-

lio included acquisitions for U.S. Special Operations Command ’s

most secretive units. Though the “U.S. Army Ground Applications

Program Offi ce” can be found in Fort Belvoir ’s telephone directory,

its existence and function is classifi ed.

If you ’re interested in the budget levels for satellite programs, a

LinkedIn search for the National Reconnaissance Offi ce or “Air

Force satellites” will be illuminating. Résumés often include the

names of intelligence databases that the job seeker is familiar with,

along with operating locations. (The NSA, for example, has an

enormous facility near Denver that is not classifi ed, but plenty of

LinkedIn resumes matter-of-factly report unusual NSA deployment

locations, such as Jordan.)

Then there ’s the swarm of gadfl ies, obsessives, and good-government

critics who consciously, conspicuously, and boastfully watch the

watchers. Some do it for fun. The day that NATO launched bomb-

ing operations against Libya, for example, a Dutch scanner enthu-

siast named Huub posted to Twitter the identities of military planes

his commercial software setup was able to track. He even recorded a

U.S. information operations drone, Commando Solo, as it broadcast

messages urging Libyan troops to surrender. By monitoring the tran-

sponder codes of the planes (Libya is too close to Europe for military

jets to operate invisibly, as civilian planes might otherwise inadver-

tently get too close), Huub and his online followers were able to track

French Air Force jets as they closed in on Benghazi. The enthusi-

asts got a remarkably close look at how the United States operates its

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airborne reconnaissance and command and control platforms, like

the RC-135 Rivet Joint. 1

Using websites (and even iPhone apps) like , a gaggle of Google Groups regularly monitor the progress of U.S.

military aircraft across this country, scraping their ADS-B transpon-

der codes and listening in as they interact with air traffi c controllers.

They send logs of their daily monitoring to sites like RadioReference

.com , allowing enthusiasts to compile fairly accurate databases of training fl ights and even overseas troop deployments. With remarkable precision, members of these groups (a lot of them former avi-

ators) report the location of U.S. nuclear command and control

command posts, from the TACAMO E6-Bs (which are tasked with

sending war orders to submarines in the event of a nuclear war) to

the various Boeing jets that serve as transports for high-ranking

U.S. offi cials in the event of emergencies. On a frequency of

111.75 megahertz, on the high-frequency band, they listen and tran-

scribe the Emergency Action Messages that are transmitted by

the main STRATCOM nuclear communications hub at Andrews

Air Force Base, as well as strategic detachments around the world

that are testing the system. (MAINSAIL is the call sign for “Is anyone

out there?”)

They ’ve even monitored U-2 pilots. On March 28, 2011, Jody

in North Georgia reported, “Currently have DRAGON 69 work-

ing CHECKER OPS on 381.3 requesting they call their ops and

let them know that they are in the green. Wonder where the U-2 is


On May 30, Monitor Ed L. in Maine tracked Air Force One and

its backup, two aerial refueling aircraft, a Boeing E4-B nuclear com-

mand post plane, and two large cargo planes as they fl ew President

Barack Obama and his entourage to Europe.

Earlier that month, tracker and aviation geek David Cenciotti

caught the Boeing 757 used by the Foreign Emergency Support

Team, a semicovert rapid response team of U.S. nuclear techni-

cians and experts, fl ying into Andrews Air Force Base and using

a call sign reserved for the FBI. He fi rst noticed the fl ight on a free

tracking website. It had no offi cial call sign—indeed, it was tagged

as “NO CALL SIGN”—but when he cross-checked the tail num-

ber of the plane, he discovered its base squadron. When the plane

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maneuvered into an area where he could use a radio scanner to

pick up its transmission, he recorded it and posted the audio on his

website. The planes, and others operated by the government, try to

change their call signs and their transponder codes, but the Federal

Aviation Administration makes it almost too easy to subvert the feeble

efforts at cover. “Don ’t you believe it is somehow weird that such elu-

sive aircraft, deploying U.S. teams in response to terrorist attacks or

(as someone speculated) to transport prisoners, was transmitting full

ADS-B over the U.S.?” Cenciotti wondered. 2

At Cryptome, a website run by retired architects named John

Young and Deborah Natsios, users delight in “reversing the panopti-

con,” as Natsios once put it. They ’ve compiled a cache of data about

the secret geography and archaeology of national security, welcom-

ing contributions for publication “that are prohibited by governments

worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy,

cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and

secret governance—open, secret and classifi ed documents—but not

limited to those.” They write, “Documents are removed from this site

only by order served directly by a U.S. court having jurisdiction. No

court order has ever been served; any order served will be published

here—or elsewhere if gagged by order. Bluffs will be published if

comical but otherwise ignored.” 3

Using imagery provided by Terraserver, Google Earth, and MSN

Maps, their “Eyeball” collection includes detailed, annotated photo-

graphs and maps of everything from nuclear storage depots to secret

CIA training facilities to former vice president Cheney ’s house. In

early October 2012, the two found that Microsoft Bing ’s commercial

satellites had photographed the still-standing, full-sized mock-up of

Osama bin Laden ’s lair in Abbottabad. 4 It was there that Navy SEALs

trained for their eventual assault.

Using commercial news photographs, the two created a series

of pages—forty-four to date—devoted to “Obama Protection” and

fi lled with specifi c references to the location and methods of the U.S.

Secret Service. The Secret Service is aware of the site and probably

has opened a watch fi le on Young and Natsios, but there ’s nothing

illegal about what the two are doing, which is using protected speech

to expose the secrets of the president ’s guard, simply because they

can. The FBI has twice contacted the site owners about specifi c

c15.indd 191

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content but hasn ’t done anything else. Microsoft threatened to sue

the site ’s ISP after Cryptome posted an internal guide about its coop-

eration with law enforcement, but later backed down. 5 In 2011,

apparently under pressure from the government, PayPal briefl y

stopped processing fi nancial contributions to the site.

Cryptome went live in 1996, well before Julian Assange ever con-

templated his crusade against government secrecy. It has spawned

dozens of other websites, ranging from to

WikiLeaks rival OpenLeaks.

Among the best chroniclers of the secret state has been John Pike,

formerly of the Federation of American Scientists and now the direc-

tor of . His original purpose was to bring transparency to the decision-making process and to the policies guiding

nuclear weapons deployment, dispersal, and disposal. For years,

through Freedom of Information Act requests, guesswork, and sheer

doggedness, he managed to compile an open source repository of

secret programs, policies, and images that almost certainly rivals

anything our government has on any other government. And he ’s

still at it.

This public domain information—even that which is frag-

mented and rudimentary—provides a decisive check against the

secrecy apparatus. The men and women tirelessly piecing together

the great puzzle of the deep state are only getting better at what they

do and their tools more effective. Advancements in public databases

and information technologies are outpacing government tools and

thinking by orders of magnitude. As proven with Primoris Era

and the Osama bin Laden raid and government fl ight patterns and

military operations, the real-time crowdsourcing of data as events

unfold is an overwhelming and unstoppable force against a lumber-

ing, compartmentalized bureaucracy that ’s only scarcely capable of

internal communication, to say nothing of interagency cooperation.

The intelligence community is damn good at what they do, but one

man and his fl ash drive can throw into disarray the fundamental

dynamics of the system on whose behalf they work.

It all adds up to the inescapable truth of today and the reality

going forward: the American deep state as we know it is over. There

c15.indd 192

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are simply too many amateur but interested parties; too much public

data and too many tools that help that public drill down to deeper

truths; too many news outlets and too much connectivity, where a

secret can circle the globe femtoseconds after revelation; too many

people with access to secrets; too many ways to steal those secrets; too

many people with reasonable reasons to leak.

The system will plod on because a century of inertia doesn ’t stop

overnight. The government will reel and overreact and prosecute

with impunity. (Already we are seeing signs of this. In only three

years, the Obama administration has charged six whistleblowers—not

spies, but people interested in good government—with violating the

Espionage Act.) And methods for safeguarding state secrets will see

the occasional leap forward, just as the Soviet Union “disappeared” in


But every day, the public knows more and the picture clarifi es.

The press is useful but no longer essential. Today, it wouldn ’t mat-

ter if Allen Dulles implored Arthur Hays Sulzberger to spike a story.

It would get out anyway, on a blog or an activist site or Twitter. It

doesn ’t matter where, because users—not only activists, but mild-

mannered men and women—would cross-post and click “Like” but-

tons and retweet.

Days after it was reported that an al-Qaeda airline bombing plot

was foiled, the world learned that the “bomber” was actually a spy

working for Saudi intelligence who had penetrated al-Qaeda, gained

its trust, volunteered for the martyrdom operation, and secured

the new type of bomb for the CIA. We learned how the bomb was

worn and that testing revealed that it would have slipped through

Transportation Security Agency checkpoints. An operation that in

any other time in history would rank as a triumph of tradecraft, coun-

terterrorism, and international cooperation, and remain as close and

treasured a secret as the nuclear launch codes, became public knowl-

edge not just for newspaper readers but for everyone with a Facebook

account and interested only in pictures of the grandkids.

The deep state doesn ’t stand a chance.

c15.indd 193

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C H A P T E R 1 6


In 2005, Pirouz Sedaghaty (Pete Seda) and Soliman al-Buthi,

two principals of the Oregon affi liate of the Saudi Arabia–based

Al-Haramain Islamic Charity Foundation, were indicted by a fed-

eral grand jury. They were accused of conspiring to funnel money

from their charity to Chechen rebels engaged in jihad against Russia.

The government had obtained evidence that the two men were reg-

ularly in contact with an Egyptian who was raising money for the

Chechens. Sedaghaty and al-Buthi operated one of several U.S. bank

accounts that the charity—designated an offi cial sponsor of terrorism

by the Treasury Department in 2004—was using to hold its money. 1

Al-Buthi spent most of his time in Saudi Arabia.

What they didn ’t know at the time was that the NSA was inter-

cepting their telephone calls to see who else might have been

involved in their particular (and alleged) nexus of terrorism. The

men learned of this when, early in the discovery phase of the admin-

istrative hearings to confi rm the terrorism designation, the Justice

Department accidentally provided the defendants with a transcript

of conversations between them and a variety of people, including

their lawyers. (All parties would hence refer to this bit of work as the

Sealed Document.)

The FBI retrieved the Sealed Document from the various

attorneys and parties involved in late 2004, a few months after its


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disclosure. In 2005, the New York Times revealed the NSA orderless

wiretapping program.* In 2006, the charity lawyers fi led suit against

the government, alleging that they had been subjected to surveil-

lance without a warrant.

The government then asserted the state secrets privilege, mean-

ing the defense attorneys couldn ’t reference the potentially illegal

wiretaps, as they were a state secret. The defense attorneys said they

didn ’t need to see the retrieved fi le—the attorneys and the judge

had seen the document. They knew what it said. They knew what it


No, no, said the government. You saw nothing. The state secrets

privilege applies even to your memories. The government insisted that

the charity lawyers could not possibly establish a case without referenc-

ing the classifi ed information now retroactively erased from the public

record. And even if the lawyers could prove that they had been sur-

veilled without referencing the document, they wouldn ’t have known

to even think about the potential of being surveilled had the (nonexis-

tent, of course) document not been disclosed. The government was, in

other words, extending the state secrets privilege to infi nity.

The case would become terribly important to the American Civil

Liberties Union and other groups trying to pry open the sealed jar of


Of course, no one can prove what they can ’t know. But when it

came to being the subject of government surveillance, Al-Haramain

was a case where they knew. They knew . 2

While the Bush administration made extensive use of the state secrets

privilege, they did not invent it. For fi fty-seven years, it has allowed the

executive branch to bar sensitive evidence from use in courtrooms. In

1953, the Supreme Court formalized the privilege with United States

v. Reynolds. The government successfully prevented widows from

seeing the offi cial accident reports after their husbands died piloting

U.S. Air Force experimental planes. When the women fi rst requested

the report, the Air Force said it would violate national security to pro-

vide them. Fifty years later, it emerged that the government had been

* Technically, “warrants” are not required; court orders are.

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lying—there was nothing secret in the accident reports. (Again, it ’s

not hard to see where skepticism about government secrecy comes

from.) This raised obvious questions about the legitimacy of the state

secrets privilege, but the solicitor general under President Bush stuck

to a historical argument: although nothing in the case was truly a

secret to modern eyes, and even though the government at the time

turned to the state secrets privilege only when every other tack failed,

the executive branch would not go about second-guessing security

decisions made fi fty years ago.

The privilege remained effectively sacrosanct. Its origins in com-

mon law actually reach back much earlier. In 1876, the court said

it had no jurisdiction to hear cases involving spy contracts. (The spy

in question worked on behalf of Abraham Lincoln and was seeking

compensation for services rendered.) The CIA still invokes that deci-

sion as a means to block employment disputes from going to trial.

The government likewise used a privilege-like argument to squelch

disclosure of the technical details of armaments in litigation between

military contractors in World War I.

In United States v. Reynolds , the Supreme Court rejected the


’s argument that it alone should be able to decide

whether to withhold information. Instead, it gives judges the fi nal

say—in part. The nub of the issue is that the Reynolds decision

seems to allow a judge to determine whether national security infor-

mation rises to the level of a state secret in need of protection with-

out presuming that the judge will automatically have access to that

information. How a court can independently determine whether the

privilege was properly invoked without seeing what the privilege is

actually protecting has been the subject of years of scholarly articles

and debate, with no real resolution.

In practice, the government cannot win a state secrets case unless

it provides classifi ed information ex parte and in camera to a judge.

Modern cases never involve documents containing information that

everyone would agree should be protected. Rather, the issue is always

whether a secret has become so public that it ’s no longer really a

secret, or whether the matter forfeits protection because it might

involve government illegality.

Consider: secrets are now so commonly and quickly revealed

that we ’ve encouraged extensive legal theorizing over how “leaked”

c16.indd 196

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is completely leaked, how “known” is widely known. The executive

branch has found itself repeatedly closing the proverbial barn door

after the horses are out and then saying to the judicial branch, “What


To be sure, the executive branch has asked for, and received, sub-

stantial deference from the courts. During the Bush administration,

the privilege was invoked by the Justice Department at least a dozen

times, often to dismiss without hearings potential cases involving

secret interrogation, rendition, and surveillance programs. The num-

ber of invocations was not unusual with other administrations. What

generated controversy was the aggressive use of the privilege to pre-

vent cases from reaching the discovery stage. 3 But if blame should be

placed, it belongs to the judges. In 2006, Judge T. S. Ellis threw out

a case brought by a German citizen who had been “rendered” from

Macedonia to Afghanistan and tortured. Khalid El-Masri wanted

economic redress; civil libertarians cottoned to his case as a way to

force information into the public domain about the state secret that

allowed his rights to be violated so egregiously.

Judge Ellis ’s reasoning: one cannot simply bring a civil case with

the primary purpose of forcing disclosure of a state secret. This opin-

ion has resonance. Though no one disagrees that aggrieved victims

of torture have every right to have their day in court, courts tend to

be skeptical of those cases where major civil liberties groups have

attached themselves. Their direct interests differ from the interests of

the plaintiffs. 4

An irony in this case: El-Masri ’s case for redress had been tacitly

endorsed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she apolo-

gized to Germany ’s chancellor for the way that the United States

handled El-Masri in custody. (Rice even mentioned handling such

cases in “proper” courts.) This would seem to undercut any claim of

privilege—the government could not argue that the rendition pro-

gram was still a secret because it had already acknowledged its exis-

tence. El-Masri could point to evidence in the public domain that he

was the victim of a specifi c CIA program. Still, Judge Ellis, relying on

precedent, would not budge, accepting the government ’s argument

that acknowledgment of a program in general does not compel the

government to acknowledge specifi cs of a program that may have sig-

nifi cant national security implications. And because the government

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enjoys, thanks to Reynolds , the presumption that its defi nition of

“national security harms” in particular cases is correct, Ellis had no

choice but to rule against El-Masri. 5 As Robert Chesney, a University

of Texas law professor who served in the Obama administration, has

written, the case exposes an extreme version of the basic secrecy ten-

sion. Quoting U.S. attorney general Edward Levi, who was speak-

ing after the Supreme Court had rejected Richard Nixon ’s executive

privilege assertion a year earlier, there is “on one hand, a ‘right of

complete confi dentiality in government could not only produce a

dangerous public ignorance but also destroy the basic representative

function of government.’ On the other, ‘a duty of complete disclosure

would render impossible the effective operation of government.’” But

it seems wrong that the American system of justice could not have

found a way for El-Masri to receive some measure of relief.

Obama the campaigner had pledged to treat secrecy as an operational

need as opposed to a constitutional prerogative. Obama the president

embraced secrecy with alacrity. Inside his national security cabinet

were many different stripes of politicians and military offi cials with

varied opinions on executive power. Obama promised to be sparing

in the use of the state secrets privilege. He vowed to usher in a new

era of transparency, where government operated less in the shadows.

Still, he was not unaware that there are bad people in the world.

In the summer of 2007, he said he wouldn ’t hesitate to violate

Pakistan ’s sovereignty if he knew that the country knowingly permit-

ted terrorist training camps within its borders. During the campaign,

on advice from John Brennan, former director of the Terrorist Threat

Identifi cation Center, Obama supported the controversial immu-

nity provisions built into the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance

Act (FISA) law. (If, as a civil liberties activist, you held the view that

government surveillance was inherently bad, then you did not share

Obama ’s view.)* Government surveillance was fi ne, Obama believed,

so long as it was conducted within the norms of constitutional law.

* One prominent critic of Obama, Glenn Greenwald, was never convinced that

Obama would be the beacon of hope that some of his fellow liberals thought he


c16.indd 198

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Nevertheless, the expectation among liberals was that Obama would

be less secretive than President Bush, and that he would use execu-

tive power more judiciously.

What concerned Obama, however, was not the perception of

secrecy vis-à-vis the public. Rather, it was the perception of secrecy

vis-à-vis the other branches of government. He was determined to

more fully inform Congress and the judicial branch about secret

activities—partly to get their buy-in, but also because he understood,

as a constitutional law lecturer, that a vigorous executive branch

requires an active and independent check on its power. 6 Where the

public was concerned, he would reform the Freedom of Information

Act (FOIA) procedures that agencies used, reversing the Bush-era

bias in favor of secrecy. He would take full advantage of a congres-

sionally mandated panel on civil liberties and privacy that was cre-

ated in 2007 but had yet to be staffed. He pointedly promised “the

most transparent administration in history.” From transparency to

Guantánamo Bay, there was hope among civil libertarians that

Obama would fi nd a better way to balance competing equities for

what his lawyers would call the “classifi ed information privilege.”

Then reality intruded.

Obama ’s fi rst three months were spent dealing almost exclu-

sively with pressing cases inherited from the Bush administration.

“Almost every day, [White House counsel] Greg Craig would pop

into the Oval Offi ce with a sheet of paper and say, ‘Oh, the Justice

Department has a fi ling deadline tomorrow in this Bush-era case. We

need to know whether we should continue the opinion or reverse it,’”

a former senior administration offi cial recalls “The president would

roll his eyes at fi rst, but this stuff really agitated him. He had a lot less

discretion than he thought he would.” In many of the cases, without

having the time to think through the ramifi cations, Obama would ask

for briefi ng books with the relevant information, take them to bed

with him, and return the next day having concluded that he hadn ’t

been able to come up with a new way forward, or that he ’d deal with

the consequences down the road. It was, in a way, the curse of the

Twenty-Second Amendment: presidents are limited to two terms, and

there ’s always unfi nished business left for their successors.

It was no easier on his close friend Eric Holder, the attorney

general. On February 3, 2009—the day he was sworn in—Holder

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got his fi rst classifi ed briefi ng on a state secrets case, Mohamed

et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan , where the plaintiffs sought redress

from the company, which had allegedly helped the government

organize the fl ights that “rendered” them to foreign countries to be

tortured. (Mohamed himself endured electric shocks and genital

mutilation.) The case came to Holder smartly wrapped in an orange

folder marked Top Secret, having been teed up by career offi cials in

the civil division long used to litigating it. Holder had no deputy attor-

ney general, no solicitor general, and no associate attorney general to

help him out. And the response was due in six days. 7 Even the court

expected the administration to change its position. During the cam-

paign, Senator Obama had called warrantless wiretapping illegal. 8

Here ’s what happened when Justice Department attorney Doug

Letter informed the court that the administration was sticking with

the privilege:

“Is there anything material that has happened” that might

have caused the Justice Department to shift its views, asked

Judge Mary M. Schroeder, an appointee of President Jimmy

Carter, coyly referring to the recent election.

“No, your honor,” said Mr. Letter.

Judge Schroeder asked, “The change in administration

has no bearing?”

Once more, he said, “No, Your Honor.” The position he

was taking in court on behalf of the government had been

“thoroughly vetted with the appropriate offi cials within the

new administration,” and “these are the authorized positions,”

he said. 9

There are many different reasons to hold umbrella secrets that have

nothing to do with the actual secrets themselves. When Obama ’s

Justice Department fi rst asserted the state secrets privilege in the

Al-Haramain case, many observers concluded that it was forced to do

so because of standard legal procedure. The argument went like this:

if Justice Department lawyers had retracted the privilege in this case,

they would be sending the signal to judges handling other highly

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sensitive cases that the Obama administration did not consider the

executive branch sole decider of what constitutes national security

information, or how best to protect that information. The day that

Obama ’s Justice Department asserted the privilege, therefore, critics

asserted that Obama had been captured by the culture of secrecy or

had been tempted by the allure of unchecked executive power. 10

But when the decision to reassert the privilege was fi rst made

public in March 2009, a senior Justice Department offi cial told

one of the authors that the national security equities at stake in the

Al-Haramain case were “more than the privilege itself.” Later that

year, Attorney General Holder released guidelines for future asser-

tions of the state secrets doctrine. Meanwhile, a senior Justice

Department offi cial handling state secrets cases said that where the

Obama administration extended the Bush administration ’s privilege

assertions, it was doing so not to protect the principle—precedent

would take care of that—but because there were legitimate and valid

reasons for each case in question.

In the Al-Haramain case, what so rankled civil libertarians was the

notion that President Obama seemed determined to permit use of

the state secrets privilege even in cases where the plaintiffs could

prove that something illegal had happened. Judge Walker had no

problem with the plaintiffs using the classifi ed document, but the

Justice Department fi ercely resisted. Walker tabled the issue and

asked the plaintiffs to make their case using public evidence. In

March 2010, he found that the state secrets doctrine did not trump

the FISA law requiring warrants. The surveillance had been illegal.

The decision was good for the lawyers and the charity, but to

civil libertarians and critics of warrantless wiretapping it seemed a

pyrrhic victory, as Walker did not rule on the merits of the program.

(But he had already done that in July 2008, holding that the presi-

dent ’s authority to conduct domestic surveillance was circumscribed

by no other statute but the FISA.) Another reason Walker ruled so

narrowly was that the Department of Justice under Holder did not

argue that the surveillance program was lawful and constitutional,

but rather that parts of it were so secret (indeed, still so secret) that

any courtroom proceeding—even with the most stringent security

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measures—would signifi cantly jeopardize national security. This line

of reasoning was curious to Judge Walker, who had grown increas-

ingly impatient with the government ’s claim that it simply could not

and would not go to trial. It seemed equally specious to the plain-

tiff ’s attorneys. After all, their clients wanted justice. They had no

intention of forcing the government to reveal state secrets. Several

times, in fact, the plaintiffs’ attorneys had informally attempted to

resolve the case by asking the Justice Department to admit that the

two lawyers were surveilled, and provide relief. “Work with me,”

Jon Eisenberg would tell Anthony Coppolino, the lead government

attorney, and we ’ll end this matter to everyone ’s satisfaction without

revealing state secrets or harming national security.” But Obama ’s

lawyers continue to press.

In a casual conversation in 2009 with a senior administration offi cial

sympathetic to the arguments against the constitutionality of war-

rantless wiretapping, the assertion of the state secrets doctrine was

defended in general as a way of “protecting our relationships with

allies.” Never before had anyone connected the Al-Haramain case

with allies.

But those relationships are worth protecting. Institutionally, the

U.S. government takes a mother hen approach to foreign relations.

In other words: don ’t you dare touch our chicks. (Such an approach

was also seen in the aftermath of WikiLeaks.) It is hard to quantify

the actual damage to national security that would result if liaison

relationships were compromised. There is some logic behind the gov-

ernment ’s maternal approach. However, if the state secrets privilege

is asserted primarily to avoid signaling to allies that the U.S. govern-

ment can ’t keep things secret from its own court system, then the

privilege is being used to recursively justify itself. The national secu-

rity harm is secondary.

The United States relies on France, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and

Israel for the bulk of human intelligence information about al-Qaeda

targets in the Middle East. Meanwhile, published reports suggest

that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada collabo-

rated very closely on the controversial renditions of terrorist suspects

to Third World countries that subsequently tortured them. (This

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accounts for relationships with less-than-friendly countries in North

Africa, in the Middle East, and even occasional collaborations with

countries like Syria and Libya.)

The United Kingdom, in particular, has a highly advanced sig-

nals intelligence capacity, run by an agency called the Government

Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). It routinely sends tech-

nicians and offi cers to the United States for missions; hundreds of

NSA personnel work directly from GCHQ

’s headquarters near

London. Under a seventy-year-old agreement known colloquially as

UK-USA, fi ve countries—the United States, the United Kingdom,

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—cooperate extensively on

all matters of intelligence collection programs.* A superintending

panel of senior executives from each country ’s signals intelligence

agencies regularly meets to decide collection priorities and divvy up

the tasks. †, 11

The agreement has given rise to a classic conspiracy theory,

appropriated from a technical collection program called Echelon:

allegedly, when the United States needs to spy on its own citizens

without a warrant, it can call upon the resources of one of its allies

to do so, and vice versa. All fi ve UK-USA member states have stren-

uously denied that they do this—though there is nothing in the

agreement itself that would prevent them from doing so. But as one

former senior NSA offi cial who worked often with the British put it,

UK-USA is just “a gentleman ’s agreement.” Still, Michael Hayden

and others insist that it would be patently illegal for the United

States to ask the British to spy on an internal target if the NSA wasn ’t

allowed to do so. And it is also true that while the GCHQ gets most

U.S. SIGINT product, it does not get everything—nothing derived

* In the 1980s, New Zealand essentially broke the ANZUS defense treaty with the

United States by banning nuclear weapons in the region (and consequently, a large

part of the U.S. Navy). As part of a larger response, the United States withheld

UK-USA imagery intelligence from New Zealand until very recently. According

to a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, intelligence sharing has been “fully


† A remarkably comprehensive description of the meshing of the NSA and GCHQ

can be found in the testimony of former GCHQ chief David Pepper to the United

Kingdom ’s commission investigating Iraq War intelligence.

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from FISA monitoring goes overseas or into databases accessible by

the British.

The relationship that exists between the various allied SIGINT

organizations is a very important one, and the risk of its potential

use as a “work-around” in monitoring possible terrorists on U.S. soil

perhaps isn ’t given suffi cient attention. While every member of the

National Security Agency signs an oath promising not to spy on U.S.

citizens without a warrant, collectors from the UK ’s GCHQ are not

bound by such obligations. Unlike American intelligence agencies,

they don ’t have to follow the dictates of Executive Order 12333,

which prohibits, in no uncertain terms, domestic intelligence collec-

tion without extensive oversight and warrants. (Notably, NSA manag-

ers did not ask U.S. soldiers to participate in the earliest incarnation

of the terrorist surveillance program.)

This raises larger questions and issues. If liaison worries were

behind the government ’s extraordinary concerns about Al-Haramain,

what would that mean? Is it something as seemingly innocuous

as the usage of a particular GCHQ-controlled communication

channel—with or without that agency ’s knowledge—by the NSA

to surveil these two (or more) U.S. persons? Did GCHQ know-

ingly participate in the program? Was the program farmed out to

GCHQ collectors or to American collectors operating out of any of

the four other member countries’ intelligence agencies? All of this

is unlikely. Because of British domestic politics alone, a disclosure

that the GCHQ intercepted the communications of U.S. citizens

could cause a row of massive proportions. (Phone hacking scandals

often obliterate careers in London.) The disclosure of such activi-

ties would certainly lead to a signifi cant curtailing of intelligence

sharing between the United States and Britain. It would also, quite

probably, cause other U.S. allies to withhold cooperation as well. If

the United States cannot keep its arrangements with the UK secret,

can less friendly governments expect any better treatment? A senior

intelligence offi cial revealed to the authors that in the wake of rev-

elations in the United States about its secret rendition programs,

relationships between the British Secret Intelligence Service and the

CIA required mending when Obama assumed offi ce. And earlier in

the year, a UK court forced the British government to disclose infor-

mation about the rendition of one of its own citizens. As a result,

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the United States warned that intelligence cooperation could be

jeopardized. 12

The British Communications Act of 1985 would seem to pro-

hibit the targeting of citizens under the blanket of the UK-USA

agreement, but the laws make exceptions for the general processing

of communications that fl ow through the country. American law

does this as well; FISA permits the NSA to collect undifferentiated

information incidentally. As a 1998 article on British surveillance

in the New Statesman archly concluded, “Whether or not a British

government warrant can legally allow American agents to intercept

private British communications, there is no doubt that British law as

well as British bases have been designed to encourage rather than

inhibit the booming industry in international telecommunications


It is more reasonable to guess that the secret liaison relationship

the government is protecting in the Al-Haramain case is with Saudi


In the case, Judge Walker was openly skeptical of the classifi ed

evidence being used to justify the state secrets privilege, even as he

acknowledged the privilege ’s reach and grounding. But the Justice

Department assumed that Walker would put a quick end to the pro-

ceedings. Walker did not, and indeed at one point he told a govern-

ment lawyer that he was “not impressed” with the classifi ed evidence.

(When the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in the case of several

detainees who alleged that Jeppesen Dataplan assisted in their ille-

gal rendition to other countries where they were tortured, the govern-

ment ’s attorney, Doug Letter, mentioned the Al-Haramain case as a

way of boosting his argument that its secrecy was warranted. But one

of the panel judges—Michael Daly Hawkins, who was also on the

panel that sent the Al-Haramain case back to Walker—slapped him

down, responding that the government knew very well why the Ninth

* In 2008, ABC News reported on the case of David Murfee Faulk, a U.S. Army

soldier who worked at an NSA satellite in Georgia. Faulk told ABC News that he

had seen evidence that the United States was collecting information about then

British prime minister Tony Blair. This accusation triggered denials from all parties,

all around. The CIA ’s spokesman called it “utterly absurd” and rejected “any notion

that the CIA spies on the British government.”

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Circuit had not ruled entirely in favor of the plaintiff and implied

that it had nothing to do with the quality of the secret evidence.)

On page 14 of the government ’s third motion to dismiss the

Al-Haramain case, attorneys wrote that “it bears emphasis that noth-

ing plaintiffs cite would establish that any alleged surveillance of

plaintiffs (if any) would necessarily have occurred on a wire in the

United States in violation of the FISA.” The motion continues, “The

Government has many means of surveillance of al Qaeda–affi liated

organizations and individuals at its disposal, including surveillance

under authority of the FISA itself, surveillance information obtained

from foreign or human sources, or surveillance undertaken over-

seas—that is, collected outside the United States and not on a wire in

this country.” 13

In the government ’s opening brief fi led in the Ninth Circuit in

July 2011, when suggesting various other ways the NSA might have

gotten information about Al-Haramain, there is this: “Alternatively,

surveillance abroad may be conducted by foreign intelligence ser-

vices, which may then forward information to their American


Were government attorneys alluding to something they might

have said in a secret fi ling before Judge Walker or to the Ninth

Circuit?—that parts of the Terrorist Surveillance Program were out-

sourced to a “foreign or human source,” meaning a foreign govern-

ment, or to another federal agency? The government, in the same

motion, noted that it had “previously provided the Court, for in

camera , ex parte review, classifi ed information in support of the state

secrets privilege which sets forth the actual facts regarding whether

or not plaintiffs have been subject to surveillance.” Is this what the

government said in those fi lings about the “actual facts” regarding

plaintiff ’s surveillance? That it was outsourced? That part of it was?

In other words, maybe the Saudi government was “up” on al-Buthi

and passing the communications to the United States, or was work-

ing with the NSA to allow NSA personnel to eavesdrop on both

the domestic and international end of the conversation. If that ’s the

secret, it ’s not a big one. Either the United States was illegally inter-

cepting phone calls (from the Saudi perspective), or it was intercept-

ing them with the help of the Saudis. That ’s how the whole thing got

started anyway.

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Eisenberg (the lawyer for the plaintiff) and his co-attorneys had

never raised the possibility that any entity other than the United

States was involved in conducting the surveillance, and from the

standpoint of their case it really didn ’t matter. They did suggest it

obliquely in a separate fi ling, explaining how the government would

still be liable for damages even if it hadn ’t directly conducted the sur-

veillance. Walker did not address the matter in his ruling. Eisenberg

has been cautious about speculating on the secret. But in 2007, he

felt compelled to post an item on a relatively obscure liberal website,

asking whether it was “possible a foreign government—perhaps the

United Kingdom—has colluded with the Bush administration in con-

ducting warrantless electronic surveillance of American citizens?”

He was on to something, but the fact of surveillance wasn ’t an issue;

the evidence suggests that the originating country, and the political

implications that could result from that country ’s participation being

exposed, was the actual secret. And that country was (probably) Saudi


On a broader level, Obama had to fi gure out what to do with its

“legal IEDs”—what many on his side considered to be actual crimes

of the Bush era: the torture infl icted on detainees; the rendition of

prisoners to other countries that tortured them; and the NSA sur-

veillance program. Many decisions involved whether to keep things

secret. Others involved whether to reopen investigations and prose-

cute cases. Obama stuck to a thin piece of ground in the middle of

two very polarized sets of elite opinion. The left wanted Dick Cheney

tried as a war criminal. The right would seize upon any hesitancy as

proof of weakness and was ready to prod agencies like the CIA into

going to war with the president.

Outside the Beltway, these issues carried little resonance. Even

while the public ’s faith in government has steadily declined, as part

of the implicit bargain it tends to allow the government to do pretty

much whatever it wants in the realm of national security. (Not to say

these issues aren ’t important—they are, which is why a predilection

to cover them is not necessarily a bad bias for the press to have here.)

But Obama ’s decision-making satisfi ed no one, save for a tiny,

Washington-based clique consisting largely of middle-of-the-road

c16.indd 207

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Democrats, centrist Republicans, and the political press corps, all of

whom understood Obama ’s reasoning because they operated under

the same impression about how the U.S. government really worked.

There are many complicating factors in deciding whether to prose-

cute CIA offi cers for following an order to torture a prisoner. So far as

the CIA is an important instrument of U.S. national security power,

a young Democratic president could not be seen as taking a fi rm

stand against fi eld operators simply doing their jobs. This was the argu-

ment advanced by Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.

Holder and Emanuel did not see eye to eye from the very beginning. 14

Obama was swayed by the pleadings of former directors of the

CIA, who said that retrospective prosecution would turn every CIA

offi cer in the fi eld into a lawyer, making ad hoc decisions that were

potentially subject to criminal prosecution. This would largely ren-

der them powerless. The bureaucracy relied on faithful adherence

to executive branch orders. At a higher level, when it came to possi-

bly prosecuting policymakers, the reasoning was more clear: Obama

refused to set a precedent that would be hard to undo, no matter how

egregious the policies had been. Bloodless transitions of power in the

United States are nontrivial; Obama would much later in his fi rst

term remark upon this when most of the countries involved in the

Arab Spring turned to prosecuting their respective former presidents

as the fi rst order of business.

Politically, too, Obama felt he was hamstrung. Had he aggres-

sively made an issue of Bush-era intelligence activities, he would

have ensnared the country in debates on policies already undone,

incited a partisan frenzy in a polarized atmosphere, and found that

his own ability to get things done was crimped. Despite all of these

caveats, however, Obama did not entirely step away from the contro-

versies. He told his attorney general that he would defer to him about

whether to prosecute CIA interrogators. (Actually, Holder, in pon-

dering whether to take the job as attorney general, asked Obama for

independence as a condition of accepting the offer.) He would nei-

ther order a new investigation nor step in the way if Holder decided

to reopen some cases, despite the urging of his chief of staff.

Holder and Obama agreed to consider prosecuting only those

cases where CIA offi cers acted beyond the strictures of what even

John Yoo, author of the memos guiding enhanced interrogation

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techniques, felt was acceptable. And over the objection of the intel-

ligence community, Obama released redacted versions of Bush-era

Offi ce of Legal Counsel opinions on enhanced interrogation tech-

niques. On his fi rst day in offi ce, he signed a memorandum restrict-

ing interrogation methods to those prescribed by the Army Field

Manual, wagering that secret and potentially immoral techniques

were less desirable than legal but potentially beatable ones. The

predicate of Obama ’s decisions was that these actions would be the

end of the “looking back.” He would not endorse congressional calls

for an investigation or committee of inquiry. In walking this middle

line, Obama would fi nd himself tied to policies he did not necessar-

ily endorse. And an implicit message was sent: however bad the tor-

ture stuff had been, it couldn ’t have been that bad , because the need

to move forward outweighed the need for direct accountability. As a

result, the left would continue to be suspicious, the right would never

allow Obama to move forward an inch, and the middle was too impo-

tent to do anything else.

Obama was furious with this depiction. Contrary to the asser-

tions of his staff, he did read some of the law blogs that savaged him.

Whenever a state secrets case arose—like when the family of Anwar

al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who from his post in Yemen

called for the murder of Americans, sued the government to remove

his name from a list of allowable targets—Obama spent hours review-

ing the case, even though there was almost no question that the gov-

ernment would assert the privilege. According to one source, Obama

asked his White House counsels whether there was a way to litigate at

least some of the case without using the privilege peremptorily. In al-

Awlaki ’s case, the Justice Department offered the court four reasons

the case wouldn ’t stand; the state secrets privilege was their fi rewall


The judge decided the case in the administration ’s favor, fi nding

that Al-Awlaki ’s father had no standing to challenge the alleged assas-

sination order on his son ’s behalf. Inside the Justice Department and

the White House, this was a victory—the right way to do things. The

privilege would be used as a last resort, and judges would always be

provided with classifi ed information to prove that the government

wasn ’t trying to cover up wrongdoing. Holder hoped that, at the very

least, the policy decision to provide judges with ample classifi ed

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information would set the bar very high for any future administration

that tried to litigate state secrets cases while keeping judges in the


On September 30, 2011, a U.S. drone targeted and killed al-

Awlaki in Yemen. Senior administration offi cials, briefi ng report-

ers, said that they had concrete evidence that al-Awlaki had directly

facilitated several terrorist attacks and provided technical assistance

and logistical guidance for two failed terrorist attempts on U.S. soil.

This made him a legitimate target under the Authorization for Use of

Military Force, according to the administration, regardless of whether

he still considered himself a citizen. The ACLU and other civil rights

groups rightfully questioned the integrity of the administration ’s pro-

nouncements and accurately called his killing the “fi rst targeted

assassination of an American citizen” by the American government.

Holder ’s reasoning and careful approach to the privilege butted

up against a very powerful counterargument. According to Ben

Wizner, the lead ACLU attorney for Binyan Mohamed (he of

Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan ), “Remember, the state secrets

privilege was invoked—and the case was dismissed—before the plain-

tiffs had made a single request for evidence.” He adds, “In fact, all we

were seeking was the opportunity to present our claims with evidence

already in our possession.” But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

ruled that even if they could prove the case with the evidence they

had, it had to be dismissed because the trial itself would create what

the court felt was an “unjustifi able” risk of compromising the govern-

ment ’s ability to keep a needed secret.

Wizner notes that there is a weird and absolute contradiction at

the heart of this ruling, and many others in state secrets cases—one

that even defenders of the privilege have trouble with. “The state

secrets cases stand for the proposition that no amount of public evi-

dence can overcome a government secrecy claim so long as the ‘priv-

ileged’ content has not been offi cially confi rmed.” What does it mean

that something can be universally known and yet not confi rmed?

We have already encountered two examples: the U.S. Joint Special

Operations Command, and the CIA Predator drone program.

* Interview with Matthew Miller, former spokesman for Holder.

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Indeed, when the ACLU recently asked the CIA for documents

about the drone program using FOIA, the CIA said that to respond

to the request would require them to confi rm or deny the existence of

a program and said confi rmation or denial would itself irredeemably

harm national security. The argument then dissolves into circularity:

everyone knows about the drone program, the lawyers say. But the

CIA says, “Nothing is known until we confi rm it.” In other words, if

we confi rm something, then the enemy will react to it. There ’s a dif-

ference between what they read in the New York Times and an offi cial

declaration of the CIA.

This is a legal fi ction. Pakistan acknowledges the CIA ’s drone

program. The president has joked about it. Leon Panetta, as the

Secretary of Defense, joked about how he missed the drone tools

he had available as CIA director. The CIA talks to journalists “on

background” about the drone program. Former CIA offi cials, like

general counsel John Rizzo, have described it in detail. 15 The

enemy knows. But technically, the program is classifi ed at the Top

Secret level.

And that makes levelheaded people like Mike Rogers, the chair-

man of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,

do weird things, like tell an audience of policy professionals at the

Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., in September 2011

that the “Title 10” “airstrike program” was a vital tool of national

security. Title 10 activities are military activities; “airstrike” implies

a manned airplane. Yes, the Air Force had a drone program too, but

the question wasn ’t about that, and he knew it. He had been asked

about the CIA ’s drone program, but technically he would be disclos-

ing classifi ed information if he even acknowledged the antecedent of

the moderator ’s question.

So even if there is a legal distinction between what ’s known and

what ’s confi rmed, Wizner contends, with some consternation, that

there is no material difference. His conclusion: “This legal fi ction is

essential to ensuring that no one from the CIA or NSA will ever face

prosecution for lawbreaking. So long as courts honor the distinction

between what is known (and can be proven!) on the one hand, and

what is confi rmed on the other, the intelligence agencies will hold

the keys to their own immunity.” And Wizner, by the account of

those who assert the privilege, is correct.

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Obama will be forever lonely in his position. He may see him-

self as a civil libertarian, but so long as the only possible government

argument to the public about state secrets cases is “trust me,” civil

libertarians will not claim him. Interest groups generally determine

the reference points in debates like these. The American public

was highly polarized even before September 11, 2001. (How many

Democratic activists really believed that President Bush had been

legitimately elected in 2000?) And many Republicans spent that

decade politicizing terrorism in order to scare people for political

gain. The following decade saw Democrats “spiking the football.”

A second civil war of hyperpartisanship predated the Obama presi-

dency, and continues to be waged during it. 16

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C H A P T E R 1 7

The Flicker of a

Piercing Eye

In the early part of 2000, the National Security Agency was “up”

on a known al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen. It had intercepted cell

phone calls between a known terrorist and persons unknown in San

Diego. Because the conversations were not themselves evidence of

terrorist plots, and because the identities and locations of the persons

inside the United States were not known, the NSA did not have the

probable cause necessary to seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance

Act (FISA) warrant. (Had the other numbers been known, the FBI

could easily have fi gured out who these guys were. But the collection

platform in Yemen was acoustic and not electronic; the NSA had no

data about the target cell number.)

Then 9/11 happened.

The calls in question went to two of the airliner hijackers liv-

ing in San Diego. As Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, direc-

tor of the NSA, would explain to President George W. Bush and his

cabinet, it was unconscionable that he lacked the authority to ask a

telecom for the transactional records associated with the numbers

in question. He could have connected the dots, but FISA was being

interpreted in such a way that kept his hands tied. As a practical mat-

ter, telecoms were all but off-limits, and time was of the essence.


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In the aftermath of 9/11, Hayden and other American offi -

cials believed, with good reason, that further attacks were planned.

Hayden could help fi nd those missing dots—the U.S.-based ends of

telephone conversations emanating from Yemen, Afghanistan, and

Somalia—but he would need to do things he hadn ’t done before.

Things that didn ’t necessarily track with FISA. He would need to be

able to proactively monitor the outgoing calls of people inside the

United States—possibly even citizens—who regularly made foreign

calls to “dirty numbers” or confi rmed terrorist targets. 1

He needed transactional records from the telecoms so that he

could immediately identify who was on the other end of the tele-

phone call or who was the recipient of an e-mail. Noting that the two

San Diego terrorists changed their cell numbers frequently and regu-

larly opened new e-mail accounts, Hayden needed access to credit

records and bills that would tie one person to a series of communica-

tions transactions. And he needed to be able to see the calling circles

of those called by the U.S-based persons. He needed a way to know,

instantly, when one of those persons received or made a call associ-

ated with terrorism to a number outside the United States or to an

e-mail associated with jihadists. And he needed to fi nd a way to do all

of this without intercepting the telephone and web traffi c of innocent


Hayden would get what he needed. (It helped that Vice President

Dick Cheney; his chief of staff David Addington; and William

Haynes, the Pentagon ’s top lawyer, had already identifi ed the NSA ’s

collection problems as a major obstacle to fi nd extant al-Qaeda

cells inside the United States.) 2 But as Hayden later described it, the

President ’s Surveillance Program was simply a gap-fi ller, albeit a cru-

cial one that would allow the government to thwart terrorists before

they could act.

The NSA is the largest factory of secrets in the world. Instead of giant

brick chimneys billowing out smoke, the NSA works from a colossal

mirrored-glass building at Fort Meade, Maryland, where it collects the

world ’s digital detritus, refi nes it into a digestible product, and sends it

to policymakers for consumption. For sixty years, the NSA has turned

whispers into shouts. It is the anchor of the deep state.

c17.indd 214

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What older Americans know about the NSA was gathered from a dif-

ferent era in American espionage, when the intelligence community

was more pliant to the oftentimes nefarious whims of politicians. The

NSA followed directives to spy on U.S. citizens. Younger Americans,

on the other hand, often view the agency through a cinematic lens.

At the NSA, they called it the “Enemy of the State problem”—a ref-

erence to the 1998 movie portraying the agency as an amoral panop-

ticon able to follow anyone anywhere. (Not a few NSA managers at

the time saw the movie and privately thought, “If only!”)

For many years, it did not matter how the NSA was portrayed

in the media. 3 Congress willingly funded its ambitious projects and

asked few questions. Then came the end of the Cold War and an era

of relative peace. The president no longer depended on intelligence

collected by the NSA. Furthermore, the way signals traversed the

earth changed as telecommunications shifted from satellites to fi ber

and the global communications infrastructure exploded in size.

At the dawn of the millennium and the height of the dot-com

boom, the NSA faced a budget crunch; its technological capabili-

ties could no longer keep pace, and its mission seemed less relevant. 4

Policy entrepreneurs in Congress, to include then representative

Porter Goss, a former CIA case offi cer who would later serve as direc-

tor of central intelligence, wanted to siphon money from the NSA

for their own pet intelligence projects. In a private meeting before

Hayden was sworn in, he told the incoming director that the NSA

had a “reputation problem.” 5

When Hayden, a bracing and admired U.S. Air Force gen-

eral, became the NSA ’s director in 1999, he tried to show some leg.

Greater openness, he suspected, would lessen anxiety about the

agency and maybe even generate positive publicity, which would

feed back into Congress ’s perception of the NSA. With his general

counsel, Robert Deitz, he set up SIGINT 101—a class for reporters

who covered the agency, which included trips to NSA labs and even

a brief chance to put on the headphones and hear what an inter-

cept sounded like. General Hayden cooperated with author James

Bamford—who theretofore had written the only contemporary his-

tory of the NSA—on a second book. 6 He made himself accessible to

reporters, hosting dinners at his home. He even joked about the agen-

cy ’s alleged prowess. “Despite what you ’ve seen on television,” he

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told college students in 2000, “our agency doesn ’t do alien autopsies,

track the location of your automobile by satellite, nor do we have a

squad of assassins.” 7

The agency—once the closest held secret in the United States, if

not the world—even established an offi cial children ’s website called

CryptoKids, for “America

’s future codemakers and codebreakers.”


Hayden knew how to work the system. Like J. Edgar Hoover and

Walter Bedell Smith a generation removed, he recognized that it really

did matter what the newspapers printed about secret agencies, and he

was determined to put the NSA on solid footing. His strategy worked,

something for which even his fi ercest detractors give him credit.

Politically, Hayden had no doctrine but Goldwater-Nichols: the

civilians proposed and he disposed. He followed the law and fol-

lowed orders. That may be why he had no problem with secrecy—

even the “weird secrecy,” in the words of David Kris, former

associate deputy attorney general for national security issues. 9 Part

of that weird secrecy included what would become known as the

Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP), one of the larger sets of secret

surveillance activities authorized by President Bush in the weeks

following the September 11, 2001, attacks. (We will refer to these

activities as the “special programs” to distinguish them from regular

NSA signals intelligence collection and analysis.)

After 9/11, in an effort to build a virtual fence around the coun-

try, the NSA deliberately began collecting certain types of data

generated by U.S. citizens and tapping directly into the vein of

communications that originated in the United States. It did so with

the tacit, uneasy, and provisional approval of Congress—or rather,

of the small fraction of congressional leaders given early briefi ngs

about it. Members of the judiciary were also involved; the two

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) chief judges who

were “read in” to the program also did not object.

After it was partially exposed by the New York Times in 2005, a

consistent number of polls suggest a majority of Americans believe

that the program—to the extent that they know about it—was right.

In keeping with the implicit bargain, Americans give their presidents

wide latitude to do secret things so long as their security is enhanced

and their blood is not shed. So maybe we shouldn ’t talk about it all.

Where ’s the right to keep digging?

c17.indd 216

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For one thing, an accurate accounting of the special programs—

extraordinary extensions of executive power, and something that

Hayden described to Congress during their initial briefi ng as “very,

very different” from what the NSA had been doing before—has never

been published in an unclassifi ed format, so far as we can tell. But

plenty of current and former government offi cials—in congressional

testimony, in offi cial reports, and in published and broadcast inter-

views—have described parts of the program that technically remain

a secret. The information is already out there, and a jumble of data

points exist for anyone with a bit of time to put together. It ’s not that

hard to simply (and correctly) guess what the special programs were

(when they were fi rst authorized by President Bush), and what they

are now (formalized under FISA). Confusion and mythology may

have helped the government keep its secret, but they have not helped

the NSA repair the damage its reputation sustained in the breathless

aftermath of the New York Times piece.

Though Americans cede great authority to the president during

wartime, they become more skeptical of that authority as the war

recedes from view. Accepting the general premise that the president

ought to be allowed to listen to conversations between one person

in the United States and one person overseas where one party has a

probable connection to terrorism is one thing. Accepting that a com-

puter is sifting through an ocean of phone records to try and con-

nect dots—and, oh, your phone records might be in that data set—is

another. Accepting that the laws permitting this were interpreted and

reinterpreted in secret (and for the most part still are) is even harder.

As the fi ne teeth of the NSA ’s combs move closer to your data—the

telephone numbers you dial, the e-mail addresses you use—the more

nervous you are, especially if you don ’t know what the NSA is doing

with them. In the future, Americans will be asked to allow the NSA

to sift through the Internet traffi c they generate solely to detect and

mitigate the threat of massive cyber attacks.

The NSA ’s collection activities increasingly overlap with the digi-

tal detritus that Americans generate. For that reason alone it is worth

the effort to put together an accurate account of what the agency

does when no one is looking. The NSA has a story to tell and an

argument to make. So do critics of its role. In the case of the special

programs, excessive secrecy has contributed to several fundamental

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misunderstandings that undermine any debate about what the NSA ’s

role ought to be.

Secrecy allowed the special programs to exist when they were

absolutely crucial—in the days after September 11, 2001, when the

government had lots of information but was legally restricted from

assembling the toolkit to deduce if even greater terrorist attacks were

forthcoming. At the same time, the type of secrecy bolted around

these programs—exceeding even the extremely high level of secrecy

that accompanies regular NSA activities—undermined the special

program ’s effi cacy and legitimacy. At various junctures, the motiva-

tion to keep the program so secretive provided the main justifi cation

for decisions about how best to modify it, and even which laws would

serve as its basis.

Suspicion about NSA motives and operations may be an inevi-

table historical fact given its range and scope. But fallout from the

controversy over warrantless wiretapping has drifted into the NSA ’s

other missions as well. The “puzzle palace” is responsible for infor-

mation assurance (which basically means it protects the Defense

Department from cyber threats), and it creates and breaks codes.

These tasks remain more diffi cult today because of, again, a legal sys-

tem on a heightened state of alert against the NSA, so to speak, and a

Congress less likely to write checks without certain assurances.

Here we tell the story of what we think, to a reasonably degree of

certainty, the NSA did after 9/11. We have omitted a number of sensi-

tive details because we (alone) do not possess the knowledge to deter-

mine what would and would not compromise national security. We

have relied on the guidance of people who know about the program

to help achieve an appropriate balance.

Ten years after 9/11, Hayden, now retired, remains accessible. He

answers questions sent to his AOL e-mail address. “Can the UK task

the US with listening to British citizens? Can the US task the Brits

with collecting on US citizens?”

“Absolutely not,” he replies.

“Does the NSA maintain a database of potential political undesir-

ables in the event of martial law in the US?”

“An urban legend,” he says. 10

Did the NSA illegally eavesdrop on American citizens?

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Though the intelligence community esteems Hayden—indeed,

it ’s hard to fi nd someone he has worked with who will speak ill of

him even in private—in public he becomes quite defensive about

the special programs. Of course, he cannot be too defensive, because

he can ’t present a defense. The program, discontinued and then

revived under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, is ongoing and

has expanded beyond what even he envisioned for it. It remains Top

Secret and compartmentalized as SI, or “Special Intelligence.” If that

wasn ’t enough, the program is stovepiped into a special compartment

whose name itself is classifi ed. 11

The basic reasoning behind such draconian secrecy measures is

that if Bill the Plumber knows roughly how the NSA intercepts com-

munications originating within the United States, then Michelle

the Terrorist will likely also know this and change her communica-

tion methods accordingly. The United States, collectively, will then

fi nd it harder to fi gure out where the bad gals and guys are. So far as

national security arguments go, this one is fairly basic. Still, it ’s not

inherently persuasive, being predicated on a condition that there are

terrorists who assume the U.S. government doesn't have a method of

listening to telephone calls or reading e-mails.

That said, when the New York Times printed details of the NSA sur-

veillance program in 2005—whatever one ’s feelings about the special

programs and their legality—there is evidence that the bad guys weren ’t

making these assumptions. The Times bowed to White House pres-

sure to sit on the story for a year but reversed course shortly before the

publication of a book by one of the story ’s lead reporters. Though

the Times story itself did not contain any details that intelligence

offi cials could later tie to any American lives placed in jeopardy—

and indeed, the NSA thanked the Times in private for its discretion,

while publicly fl ailing it—the percussive effect led to a disclosure

that made it harder for the NSA to perform basic functions: that

American companies were cooperating with the NSA, mostly by pro-

viding them with reams of data about foreign communications that

happened to touch (or “transit through”) an American wire. “This, by

far, was the worst disclosure,” Hayden said in an interview. “It actively

stopped collection that no one anywhere had any problem with.”

Ironically, the fi rst public confi rmation that President Bush

had authorized the acquisition of information from these domestic

junctions came courtesy of Bob Graham of Florida, chairman of the

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Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who mentioned it to

the Washington Post after the Times fi rst reported the domestic termi-

nal portion of the story. Graham had been told about the cooperative

arrangement between the government and the telecoms in October

2002. Not long after that the NSA and the telecoms had fi gured out

how to sift through reams of metadata in real time. Earlier that sum-

mer, the NSA had started to set up splitters at key telecom network

nodes across the country, including one in San Francisco that was

exposed by a whistleblower. 12

The special programs (of which the Terrorist Surveillance

Program is a part) reside at the intersection of two very complicated

and overlapping bodies of law, each with its own language and leg-

islative history. Laws circumscribing the practice of domestic law

enforcement and statutes proscribing the country

’s fl exibility to

respond to existential military threats are not always reconcilable—

nor were they designed to be. Where laws governing domestic law

enforcement tend to minimize powers and focus on the traditional

balance of self-government and security, the larger body of national

security laws often justifi es its own existence with the need to give the

executive branch a normative foundation for extraordinary actions.

The NSA operates collection platforms in more than fi fty coun-

tries and uses airplanes and submarines, ships and satellites, specially

modifi ed trucks, and cleverly disguised antennas. It has managed to

break the cryptographic systems of most of its targets and prides itself

on sending fi rst-rate product to the president of the United States.

Inside the United States, the NSA ’s collection is regulated by FISA,

passed in 1978 to provide a legal framework for intercepting commu-

nications related to foreign intelligence or terrorism where one party is

inside the United States and might be considered a “U.S. person.”

Three bits of terminology: The NSA “collects on” someone, with

the preposition indicating the broad scope of the verb. Think of a

rake pushing leaves into a bin. The NSA intercepts a very small per-

centage of the communications it collects. At NSA, to “intercept” is

to introduce to the collection process an analyst, who examines a leaf

that has appeared in his or her computer bin. (An analyst could use

computer software to assist here, but the basic distinction the NSA

makes is that the actual interception requires intent and specifi city

on behalf of the interceptor.) A “U.S. person” refers to a U.S. citizen,

c17.indd 220

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a legal resident of the United States, or a corporation or business

legally chartered inside the United States. 13

Before the Terrorist Surveillance Program went live, the system

was designed to work something like this: When the FBI or CIA

developed information about foreign espionage or terrorist plots that

tied legitimately bad people to U.S. persons (citizens, corporations,

charities), the government, through the Justice Department ’s Offi ce

of Intelligence Policy and Review, applied for a FISA warrant. This

allowed the NSA to collect all electronic communications that directly

emanated from, or were directed to, that specifi c U.S. person—so long

as one side of the conversation was known to be overseas.

In practice, the process went like this: If an NSA analyst decided

that one party of a conversation she was about to monitor (or had just

intercepted) might be inside the United States, she would have to

convince her superior that there was probable cause to believe that

the person inside the United States was connected to the foreign

intelligence purpose that the analyst was tasked with collecting on.

The superior would go the NSA general counsel, who could veto the

request. If the general counsel approved, however, a packet of mate-

rials would be created for the Justice Department to review. Again,

Justice could say no, but if they said yes, they (that is, Justice) would

have to draft a document demonstrating probable cause for the duty

judge on the FISC. This process could be done quickly, but often

was not, and certainly couldn ’t be scaled suffi ciently so that poten-

tially urgent situations could be approved. Even accepting that FISA

allowed for orderless interceptions in emergencies, the bottleneck of

processing applications would be signifi cant. The government was

required to have probable cause to believe that the person overseas

was a member of, or signifi cantly associated with, a foreign govern-

ment or terrorist entity. Also, intention mattered. The primary pur-

pose of surveillance had to be to gather foreign intelligence. 14

What the special programs did, from a 30,000-foot level, was

remove the multiple layers of lawyers. Analysts could decide for

themselves whether probable cause existed to intercept a commu-

nication. Their work was subject to regular review by the inspector

general of the NSA, who would sample target folders to see if the

analyst ’s operational standard of probable cause met hers. The special

programs allowed the NSA to determine much more quickly whether

c17.indd 221

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a fl ashing dot somewhere in the world was worth paying attention

to or could be safely ignored. It allowed the NSA to directly acquire

a raw feed from telecoms—AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon—and

merge it with data collected from a number of other sources (e-mail

servers, most of which were based in U.S. credit bureaus; credit card

companies; passport records)—to identify the U.S.-based target of

a foreign communicator with ties to terrorism, or, in some cases, to

identify the foreign-based communicator based on a live intercept.

The telecoms provided bulk data in the form of CDRs—Call Detail

Records, which included the destination number, the duration of the

call, and the location of the call (a home switch, a cell tower, an IP

address). The NSA and the telecoms widened secure data channels

already constructed for the purpose of allowing law enforcement to

monitor to-and-from telephone information in real time—a require-

ment of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.

There was quite a bit the agency could monitor in real time. 15

Based on a scrap of paper collected somewhere overseas with a U.S.

phone number on it, the NSA could fi gure out what other numbers

that number called and even determine whether any of those domes-

tic-terminal numbers were in contact with numbers associated with

others on the watch list. (This form of analysis is called Community

of Interest collection.) To be clear, at this stage of the process the

NSA is not actively intercepting communications. It is collecting

and analyzing metadata to determine whose communications to

intercept. The equipment the NSA reportedly used at the telecom

switches (the places where Internet traffi c gets routed from one com-

pany ’s system to another) allowed them, in theory, to query e-mail

traffi c for content. The NSA insists that performing such semantic

analysis on content was not done until the target was established.*

The effectiveness of the special programs of the NSA is a mystery.

There are a couple of cases where they provided real assistance to

* Narus, a company now owned by Boeing, sold AT&T several of its STA-6400

Semantic Traffi c Analyzers, which AT&T used to detect worms and infections in

data streams but which could also be used to search through the content of e-mail

for keywords.

c17.indd 222

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investigators. But the FBI claims that early on the NSA added need-

less complications to the Bureau

’s efforts to determine whether

sleeper cells actually existed inside the United States. It was diffi cult

to segregate data that came from the special programs from data that

came from normal NSA FISA intercepts. Today, the NSA is more

judicious with the information about domestic targets that it provides

to the FBI.

Operationally, the NSA keeps secret what internal checklist must

be satisfi ed before it asks telecommunications companies for stored

data sets; how quickly it can drill down on a target after identifying

it; how, precisely, it uses target and link analysis (also known as data

mining) to develop probable cause; what equipment it uses; what

auditing tools it uses; and more. 16

What is known is that the NSA ’s special programs are larger than

they were when they fi rst existed as a presidentially authorized intel-

ligence collection tool. Inside the government there is a consensus

that the programs are critical to national security. This consensus did

not come easily, and from a civil libertarian standpoint the checks

and balances are insuffi cient. It could be that the Justice Department,

the courts, and Congress previously objected to the program only

because they weren ’t let in on the secret. Now that they ’re in on it,

they ’re willing participants in its perpetuation and expansion.

In the days after September 11, 2001, Vice President Dick

Cheney and David Addington, his legal counsel, both of whom inti-

mately knew the habits of Congress and the executive branch, had

assumed the opposite would be true. They ordered that details of the

special programs remain so tightly compartmented that lawyers for

the NSA were forbidden to discuss the matter with lawyers from the

Justice Department. The barest minimum number of congressmen

received briefi ngs. So tightly stretched was the secrecy blanket that

even the National Security Council ’s legal team was kept in the dark,

as was the president ’s chief homeland security adviser and the Justice

Department ’s chief liaison with the FISA court. 17

Only one attorney in the Justice Department ’s internal legal

offi ce, John Yoo, was providing the legal guidance. Yoo had no one

to help him. He was formerly a constitutional law professor at the

University of California, Berkeley, with a strong interest in national

security. At Justice, he wrote several opinions that read like law

c17.indd 223

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articles but in practice would serve to justify a wide range of practi-

cal actions. His boss, Jay Bybee, had been confi rmed but could not

assume his post as head of the Offi ce of Legal Counsel (OLC) until

his teaching term ended. But he would never be read in to the pro-

gram. 18 Nor was his boss, the deputy attorney general. When this later

came out, it appeared that Cheney and Addington had hand-selected

someone they knew would be sympathetic to their case. But the truth

is more prosaic: Yoo was simply the go-to guy for national security in

OLC at the time. Had Bybee been at his Justice desk, he would have

been the one to decide who would formulate the opinion.

At the NSA, Hayden immediately consulted his general coun-

sel. “Here ’s what the president wants me to do under 12333,” he told

Robert Deitz, referring to the executive order authorizing intelli-

gence collection. “Can we do it?” This was a Thursday. Deitz spent a

sleepless night trying to fi gure it out, but came in on Friday morning

with an answer: there was no constitutional question at stake—but

yes, the NSA could probably do this either under an implicit exemp-

tion in FISA, or, if not, the act itself had suddenly revealed itself to

be unconstitutionally constraining on the president ’s power. As Deitz

read court opinions going back decades, he noted that even where

judges explicitly limited the president ’s reach, they always tacked on

a footnote implying that nothing in their opinion was designed to

constrain the president ’s ability to perform his main Article II func-

tions. Deitz and Hayden agreed on two things: if the programs were

revealed, they wouldn ’t lie to Congress about them, and Hayden

would inform at least the chief of the FISC and the Gang of Eight

from the start. Both used the same metaphor: they wanted to make

Congress “pregnant,” too. The programs were legal, in Deitz ’s view,

but very close to the line.

Hayden then asked his SIGINT chief, Maureen Baginski, to

fi gure out how many people would be needed to run the programs.

Given the sensitivity involved, he had a hand in personally select-

ing everyone who would participate. Early the next day, a Saturday

morning, Hayden, Deitz, and about fi fty unsuspecting NSA analysts

and engineers fi led into a conference room in the main headquarters

building. Hayden has several times since recounted the directive he

gave to the staff: they would carry out only what the president autho-

rized “and not one photon more.” At the time he did not know, he

c17.indd 224

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now concedes, how realistic that promise was, given that the NSA

had never attempted this type of thing before. But he knew that it

would send a message to those who would operate the program: over-

collection (which is inevitable) in a program like this is more than a

minor sin.

Before 9/11, there was plenty of secrecy associated with the FISC.

Its decisions were never public, and the subject of the surveillance

would be—so far as the government was concerned—blissfully

ignorant. 19 In 1999, engineers brought a program to Hayden called

ThinThread. It looked quite promising to an agency that was

struggling to keep up with its core intelligence-gathering mission.

Hayden ’s analysts were hearing a lot of chatter about millennium-

related terror plots, and ThinThread was a $20 million computer

system that could do what the NSA admitted it needed to do

better—tap into the ever-changing global telephonic and network

architecture. 20

One thing that the NSA could not do without a court order was

acquire—the verb is important—communications that did not fully

bypass the United States. If both ends of the conversation came from

sources outside the United States, the NSA could intercept it, even

if the wires through which the electrons and photons fl owed physi-

cally went through the United States. But it was very hard to segre-

gate these conversations from domestic traffi c, and the NSA couldn ’t

collect everything and then segregate it. That the NSA had the

authority to do this at all was itself a necessary secret, and it remains

redacted in offi cial NSA regulations from the 1990s and the early part

of the 2000s that were obtained by the authors under the Freedom of

Information Act.

ThinThread ’s proponents believed they had fi gured out a way

to intercept conversations without technically “acquiring” them,

where one terminal might indeed be in the United States. NSA sig-

nals intelligence operations managers believed that by subjecting the

content of these communications to encryption they could analyze

the metadata for suspicious patterns. The response from the NSA ’s

lawyers was unanimous: the agency could not acquire communica-

tions inside the United States without a warrant whether they were

c17.indd 225

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encrypted or not. The lawyers had asked the Justice Department for

its view; President Bill Clinton ’s team found no basis in law for it.

Therefore, the neat technology of ThinThread was not something

the NSA could use. After the special programs began, the NSA used

a program called Trailblazer to do link analysis on the data provided

by telecoms and other sources. Trailblazer did not encrypt com-

munications, which raised a red fl ag for many NSA SIGINT teams

who weren ’t read in to the program. Why wasn ’t ThinThread being

used? Trailblazer, by comparison, seemed more Orwellian and more


The reason was that Hayden now had the authority to acquire

communications inside the United States (where one terminal was

reasonably believed to be outside the United States) without an

order. From his perspective, he didn ’t need ThinThread. And in any

event, his software engineers told him that it wouldn ’t scale. It would

later emerge, as Hayden acknowledges, that the system ultimately

used to acquire U.S. communications didn ’t work as well as it could

have, but that was no reason to replace it with an untested, entirely

different system. 21

A few weeks after the programs began, Deitz called Addington ’s offi ce

and asked to see the Justice Department ’s legal opinion on the special

programs. Addington refused to provide it. The president was entitled

to private legal advice, and the OLC ’s opinions were not designed to

be shared even within the executive branch. Deitz asked him for a

summary, so Addington gave Deitz the gist: the president had inher-

ent authority under Article II of the Constitution to—well, it was

Article II über alles. He could do anything he wanted. Deitz did not


We don ’t know what John Yoo wrote exactly, because his initial

opinion and many subsequent memoranda remain classifi ed. But


In 2010, an NSA manager, Thomas Drake, would be indicted for allegedly

improperly storing classifi ed information about the two systems and then giving

information to a Baltimore Sun reporter. Drake has since become an active public

critic of government secrecy and the NSA. Drake was never actually convicted of


c17.indd 226

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there are clues in a September 25, 2001, memo prepared by Yoo

for David Kris, who was then an associate attorney general trying to

fi gure out whether FISA could be interpreted to allow collection in

cases where foreign intelligence was merely a purpose, rather than

the purpose. The change of an article might allow FISA orders to be

issued for the purposes of terrorism cases, Kris reasoned. What he did

not know was that the creators of the program had already decided

against asking Congress to modify FISA in any substantial way. 22 Yoo

responded to Kris in such a way as to suggest that Congress and the

courts wouldn ’t mind a little participle switcheroo. “The factors favor-

ing warrantless searches for national security reasons may be even

more compelling under current circumstances,” concluded Yoo after

analyzing circuit court decisions. “After the attacks on September 11,

2001, the government interest in conducting searches related to fi ght-

ing terrorism is perhaps of the highest order—the need to defend the

nation from direct attack.” 23

During interviews about the topic years later, Yoo basically con-

fi rmed that he had argued in favor of inherent presidential authority

to protect the nation and that the congressional authorization to fi ght

al-Qaeda at least implicitly authorized aggressive surveillance during

this war. In any event, FISA was simply not applicable to the post-

9/11 terrorist threat. 24 He argued, in other words, that FISA was okay

until existential events rendered it irrelevant.

The NSA ’s initial opinion on the “Presidential Authorization

for Specifi ed Electronic Surveillance Activities during a Limited

Period to Detect and Prevent Acts of Terrorism within the United

States” was much more cautious.* The opinion remains classifi ed,

and Deitz would not discuss its contents with the authors. Several

who have read it say that it did not draw the same conclusion as Yoo

did. Instead, it read in to FISA as an applied exemption that would

permit surveillance without a court order if it had direct bearing on

imminent threats—particularly if the type of war incorporated the

United States as a battlefi eld, and if a combatant or terrorist was

receiving orders from another country. The NSA lawyers viewed the

* The formal unclassifi ed name for the presidential order as disclosed by the Justice

Department in 2005.

c17.indd 227

05/02/13 2:51 PM




Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al-

Qaeda and its affi liates as a safe harbor. Intelligence collection was

clearly a part of the process of going to war.

Deitz added one thing that displeased the White House: he

insisted that the analysts stick to the probable cause threshold, and

not simply a “reasonable suspicion” threshold. In practice, it might

not have altered the decision chain. The analyst would decide inde-

pendently and the collection would begin immediately. NSA lawyers

and the attorney general could stop it if they didn ’t think the thresh-

old was actually met.

Had Congress been aware that the NSA and the Department

of Justice (DOJ) had different, somewhat contrary, legal justifi ca-

tions for the program, they might have had greater reservations. But

Addington argued that the OLC opinion was tantamount to inter-

nal deliberations and could be—indeed should be—withheld. It is

possible that he was aware of how the two opinions confl icted and

knew that their commingling would create problems. Regardless, he

argued that if FISA didn ’t apply, it didn ’t apply. The NSA could col-

lect on phone calls and read e-mails if it wanted to, he believed. 25

That said, the threshold to tap into any phone was fairly invio-

lable when it came to U.S. persons: the government had to show

probable cause that a U.S. person was connected to terrorism before

any interception could begin. Anticipating the objection that FISA

expressly allowed for emergency wiretapping, both the NSA ’s and

the Justice Department ’s legal briefs argued that as a practical mat-

ter, because the probable cause standard as the court would defi ne it

could not possibly be met to the satisfaction of a court, all wiretap

activities would be halted by the FISC as soon as the exemptions

ran out, which would be disastrous if the NSA were in the middle of

tracking someone.

Context is crucial here: as all of this was playing out, lower

Manhattan was still covered in ash. The lawyers were trying to fi g-

ure a way to allow the executive branch to discover whether any

additional plots were imminent or whether conspirators were work-

ing on U.S. soil. A secondary priority was to learn whether other al-

Qaeda sleeper cells were preparing for later plots. Neither the White

House nor the NSA viewed the surveillance as a police investigator

c17.indd 228

05/02/13 2:51 PM


would. Instead, this was an intelligence operation that by design and

urgency had to be carried out pursuant to the laws governing a covert


And that ’s basically how the White House played it. Within a

week of this determination—on October 1, 2001—Hayden went to

Capitol Hill and gave a briefi ng to the Gang of Eight on the pro-

gram. He did so over the objections of Addington and Cheney, which

itself provides some evidence that, contrary to a shared belief among

the program ’s critics, the two men did not make all of the decisions

about it and were occasionally overruled. 26 There were no notes

taken during that briefi ng, so it is not clear whether the congressio-

nal leadership was forthright in later complaints that what they were

told was less egregious than what the NSA actually did (or possibly

just described to them as technically as possible in order to obscure

the egregiousness). 27 Associates of Hayden ’s say that the target analy-

sis component of the surveillance program—identifi ed as STELLAR

WIND—had not yet been set up when he fi rst went to Congress,

though engineers were working on it. 28

Although terrorism was on the minds of NSA managers before

September 11, 2001, the agency was not on a war footing. It had few

linguists capable of translating intercepted phone calls, much less a

good system of fi guring out how to determine which calls to inter-

cept. (Its SIGINT directorate tried to ascertain how many skilled

Urdu and Pashto speakers it had on staff; the NSA ’s own internal

count was off by a factor of three.)

Still, pretty much any phone call originating from Afghanistan

and from the tribal regions of Pakistan was suspicious in September

2001; very few people in Afghanistan had satellite phones capable

of making calls, and those who did were either terrorists or drug

dealers. “You could fi gure out that if someone turned on their

Iridium, bounced a call off an Intelsat satellite to a number in the

United States, they probably had something to do with terrorism,”

says Matthew Aid, a former NSA signals intelligence analyst turned

historian who wrote The Secret Sentry , a defi nitive history of the


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By Afghanistan ’s standards, Pakistan had a fairly modern tech-

nological infrastructure. The NSA had spent a signifi cant amount

of money on a secret program to tap into the private cell phone net-

work used by the country ’s civilian, military, and intelligence leaders.

The priority of U.S. intelligence was to collect as much information

as possible about the Pakistani nuclear program; terrorism was a sec-

ondary concern. When thinking about the scope of potential domes-

tic targets, the NSA ran into a problem of scale. In one of New York


’s “Little Pakistan” enclaves, about ten thousand immigrants

speak a dialect of Urdu that the NSA could not properly decipher.

Even if they had found some legal or technological way to monitor

all international communications to telephone numbers and e-mail

addresses associated with these Pakistani Americans, they could do

nothing with the intercepts.

One of the NSA ’s foundational secrets is the result of two histori-

cal accidents. First, early worldwide telephone treaties made it much

less expensive to route calls through the United States than through

other, smaller countries. This made the telecommunications infra-

structure an American creation—the product of American engineers

and American equipment. Second, the U.S. Department of Defense

created the Internet. Americans like to think of ourselves as central to

the smooth operation of the world, and so far as communications are

concerned, we are.

For the most part, telecommunication “switches,” or central

hubs, where packets of data stream through are either physically

located in the United States or built in foreign countries by U.S.

companies. 29 This is highly ineffi cient for someone in Latin America

trying to send an e-mail to a friend in Europe, but it is a boon to

the National Security Agency. 30 According to NSA offi cials, before

9/11 as much as 85 percent of the world ’s telecommunications traf-

fi c (cell phone calls, satellite calls, Internet traffi c) coursed through

a fi ber optic cable inside the United States at some point during its

transit. When it “hit the wire,” the NSA had the right to intercept it,

provided there was no reason to believe that it was a purely domes-

tic transmission. The NSA therefore found it fairly easy to convince

U.S. telecom providers to allow them access to the international por-

tion of that traffi c, although, as we have noted, the technology to

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segregate the data was not very mature. Where it had gaps, it negoti-

ated secret agreements with friendly countries like India, which con-

tained the largest telecom switch for e-mail and phone calls for the

Middle East. 31

The NSA also has a daring unit of secret wiretappers known as

the Special Collection Service (SCS), or internally as “F6,” which

operates in the fi eld with CIA offi cers. In 1999, to give one example,

the NSA tasked SCS with secretly tapping the communications net-

work used by the Pakistani military to communicate with its civilian

leadership about nuclear weapons. 32

This fi ber optic idyll for American eavesdroppers contains many

hidden thorns, however:

• How do you separate packets involving U.S. persons from packets

that don ’t, if it all fl ows through the same node?

• Many countries don ’t want the United States to be able to listen

in on their traffi c, or don ’t want their citizens to know that the

United States has such easy access to it. As a result, these coun-

tries are often diffi cult to deal with.

• Telecommunications companies might not wish to cooperate.

Because no law compels them to, there are gaps in data.

• The volume of raw signals generated by the world each day

is increasing, and not even Google has the computing power

to sample more than a fraction of it. How is the NSA supposed to

know what is important?

Routing calls and emails is an art of economy. Telecoms


’t operate according to the protocols of an intelligence

agency. Rather, they

’re primarily concerned about cost.

Communications, and especially email, are commonly routed

in groups without distinction, which makes it diffi cult at times to

separate the domestic from the international.

Because of the way email works, locating the origin of an

email by IP address is diffi cult. Using the old Information

Superhighway metaphor, email is like a motorcade. The com-

puter disassembles fi les into a series of discrete vehicles, each

of which contains a portion of the original entourage. (These

vehicles are called packets.) But no worries: every car in this

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motorcade has the same map so no one will get lost. Each packet

includes directions about where it needs to go; Internet hardware

reads this metadata and determines the easiest route. Still, the

motorcade often gets split up. There may be too much traffi c on

one road, forcing some packets to divert to another. As long as

the packets don ’t lose their metadata maps, the computer wait-

ing for their arrival will be able to reassemble everything in the

right order. The process of travel often makes it diffi cult to deter-

mine precisely where in the world the email came from, because

each packet collects a different souvenir from all the hubs

and switches it transits through. Spammers have fi gured out

how to spoof the unique twelve-digit addresses that serve to iden-

tify the original computer. 33 The NSA has an ISP Geolocation

Cell that does nothing but track down the physical locations

associated with IP addresses. Its computers are unable to do this


Even before 9/11, collecting foreign intelligence required a mas-

sive amount of post facto deletion of data inadvertently collected

about U.S. persons. And that ’s okay. Congress accepted that in the

course of daily SIGINT hunting, domestic traffi c would creep into

the bins. Provided that the NSA got rid of it quickly—unless there

was some emergency that threatened someone ’s life—eavesdroppers

were none the worse for wear.

But then events changed the NSA ’s mission, and accordingly, its

mind-set. Technology simply wasn ’t ready for these changes, its prog-

ress being dependent on, but agnostic to, the goals of human beings.

The agency lacked linguists, equipment, policy, and legal guidance.

And it was under extreme pressure. The White House needed prod-

uct the NSA could not produce. The SIGINT directorate would have

to create databases of its own and massively reorient its collection


After 9/11, The White House asked Hayden to treat any com-

munication that terminated in Afghanistan or Pakistan as potentially

intelligence-bearing. That meant the NSA had to fi gure out how to

sift those communications from all the rest. It had to determine how

best to geolocate email senders using Internet Protocol addresses,

something that to this day it has trouble doing. 34

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Email was easier in theory. The NSA could program its comput-

ers to search through electronic messages and maintain them with

much greater ease than phone calls, which required signifi cant server

space. Immediately after 9/11, an NSA assessment concluded that

terrorists would likely communicate with one another by embedding

data in PDF fi les. So it proposed an expanded program to determine

whether emails passing through its systems had PDF attachments. Its

analysts would focus on those items fi rst.

The work was divided into compartments—perhaps as many as

a dozen, each given their own classifi ed code word. 35 A technical

team would fi gure out how to modify computers and equipment to

allow for the type of collection that was required. One team of ana-

lysts would review all pocket litter (that is, things found in a terror-

ist ’s possession) coming back from the battlefi eld. Another would

try to use data-mining programs and statistical methods to search

patterns of telephone calls and emails of specifi c targets. Suspicious

sets were given probability scores, which, if high enough, triggered

an interception. Another team of engineers worked to draw a map of

the world ’s telecommunications pipes to see whether there were any

access points inside the United States that the NSA was not yet able

to monitor.

The NSA still had to sanitize the content of messages and phone

calls—there was no way around U.S. law here. 36 Only after the inter-

ception standard had been reached could the actual calls and emails

themselves be monitored.

The compartment of the program revealed by the New York

Times allowed the NSA to intercept conversations between a U.S.-

based target and a person overseas, provided that there was prob-

able cause to believe that at least one side of the communication was

involved in terrorism. Usually, the NSA knew the foreign target; it

didn ’t know the domestic target and used the bulk data analysis to

fi gure out who it might be. (FISA, of course, required that if one

side terminated in the United States, an order had to be issued, with

few exceptions.) The collection had to be directed at a target, which

under the new standard could be almost anyone or anything—an

unknown person living in Detroit whose identity (but not a name)

was collected from an al-Qaeda detainee in Afghanistan; a group of

people; even people whose behavioral patterns resembled those of

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a terrorist. In other words, the “other side” of this war on terrorism

could be anywhere, and that meant the program ’s defi nition of a tar-

get could be anything that reasonably resembled an enemy.*

Regardless, it turned out to be diffi cult to accurately pipe exact

conversations to the NSA analytical teams. Ironing out these techni-

cal wrinkles, which a former senior NSA offi cial likened to a building

engineer trying to fi gure out which valves to open to properly heat a

building, meant that a lot of unrelated data was sent to the analysts.

They ignored it (or “minimized” it), which is what they ’re supposed

to do when they encounter a U.S. person unrelated to the target.

Because of technological limitations, getting to the target

required the collection and confl ation of many unconnected and

innocent phone numbers and email or text message metadata. Some

intercepted communications originated and terminated inside the

United States. 37 To the NSA, this was all right because nothing was

done with those conversations once the correct “valve mix” was deter-

mined. To those later read in to the program, intention was now irrel-

evant; what mattered was the very fact of collection.

President Bush acknowledged only one part of the program—the

Terrorist Surveillance Program—after the New York Times publicly

disclosed it. The president did not reveal the “other intelligence pro-

grams,” as a government report later called it, that he had ordered.

It would be reasonable to assume that the TSP itself prompted

hand-wringing and objections and almost, in 2004, led to the near

resignations of the director of the FBI and the entire top turret of the

* In 2007, Yoo was asked by PBS whether the government could do “blanket sur-

veillance” under FISA. Here is how he responded: “No. This is a good example of

where existing laws were not up to the job, because under existing laws like FISA,

you have to have the name of somebody, have to already suspect that someone ’s a

terrorist before you can get a warrant. You have to have a name to put in the war-

rant to tap their phone calls, and so it doesn ’t allow you as a government to use

judgment based on probability to say, ‘Well, 1 percent probability of the calls from

or maybe 50 percent of the calls are coming out of this one city in Afghanistan, and

there ’s a high probability that some of those calls are terrorist communications. But

we don ’t know the names of the people making those calls.’ You want to get at those

phone calls, those emails, but under FISA you can ’t do that.”

c17.indd 234

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Justice Department. But it was not. Something about the way these

“other intelligence programs” were presented to Justice was the real


When acting attorney general James Comey was read in to

the program for the fi rst time, he relied on the advice of the OLC

head, Jack Goldsmith, who had growing concerns about Yoo ’s legal

analysis, particularly with regard to the Other Intelligence Activities

(OIAs)—not the TSP. 38 One of the OIAs, for example, directly con-

travened a statute of Congress. (The statute in question was not

FISA.) Comey has never publicly disclosed exactly what he objected

to, but people briefed on the program and who have spoken to

Comey say it was the legal rationale giving the NSA quick access to

telecom-collected metadata that “drove him bonkers. There was just

no way to justify this.”

To quickly acquire communications inside the United States,

the NSA needed the cooperation of U.S. telecommunications com-

panies. The Stored Communications Act of 1986 (SCA) would not

allow the provision of historical data without an order or warrant.

The Electronic Crimes and Privacy Act (ECPA) banned real-time

monitoring without an order or warrant. Furthermore, because the

types of communications that the NSA wanted were considered “con-

sumer proprietary information,” telecoms couldn ’t turn them over

to a third party for profi t, law enforcement, or at the government ’s

request. (This latter point was rejected by the NSA ’s lawyers, who

said that the FCC, which enforced it, misread the statute.) But the

SCA had language that seemed pretty clear: “[A] provider of remote

computing service or electronic communication service to the public

shall not knowingly divulge a record or other information pertaining

to a subscriber to or customer of such service . . . to any governmen-

tal entity.” 39

The rest of the act basically adds “without a warrant.” So assum-

ing that citizens of the United States count as customers, telecom

companies are forbidden from voluntarily turning over records to

the federal government. But what counts as a “record”? Anything the

telecom keeps in storage and anything involving the customer ’s past

communications. In other words: everything it knows.

One of the OIA authorized by President Bush seemed to provide a

blanket feel-free-to-ignore-the-Stored-Communications-Act-and-ECPA

c17.indd 235

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card to telecom companies. It was a certifi cation signed by the attor-

ney general attesting that the government would not criminally pros-

ecute the telecoms for their cooperation.

So what did the telecoms turn over to the NSA?* Millions of

transaction records that included millions of instances of domestic

telephones dialing other domestic telephones. Other companies sent

over tranches of email messages. The volume itself is material; the

NSA would ask for telephone logs from a certain time at a certain

place (that is, a company, a neighborhood, a mosque), and telecoms

would transmit those records upon request.

By law, the NSA had no right to do anything with such data at

that point other than try to deduce their signifi cance without read-

ing them. (Again, reading them would be both illegal and time-

consuming.) The agency used several computer programs to scan

the pen register logs (the lists of phone numbers that called other

numbers) and the metadata associated with emails (for example, To;

From; subject lines; IP addresses; lengths; frequencies; and so on). If

a group of people associated with an entity (like an Islamic charity)

had (or appeared to have) a connection with an entity connected to

foreign terrorism, all three were subject to the interception protocols.

To go back to the example that leads this chapter, the NSA would

have used this data and correlated it with the bulk radio data they

intercepted from Yemen to see which calls overlapped. Then they

could (and would) task an analyst with an interception of the U.S.

end of the call. Mike McConnell, a former director of the NSA and

the second director of national intelligence during the Bush admin-

istration, would later describe to a group of intelligence industry

professionals what happened next: “If the U.S. end of the call was

Grandma, and they were talking about cakes, we would minimize it.

If it was operationally signifi cant, we would keep it. If that U.S. num-

ber were to call another U.S. number, we would have to get a FISA

warrant.” 40

* The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence ’s report concluded that “we have

seen no evidence that Congress intended the AUMF [Authorization for Use of

Military Force] to authorize a widespread effort to collect the content of Americans’

phone and e-mail communications,” implying that the NSA had done just that.

c17.indd 236

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At no point, so far as we can tell, did the NSA ever perform link

analysis on a data set without having a specifi c target in mind. They

did not use the data sets to discover “both” ends of a communica-

tion. In all instances—and the NSA ’s inspector general would certify

this—the NSA had a specifi c thing, such as a person, a telephone

number, or an address, and used the data provided by the telecoms to

fi gure out whether the thing was signifi cant enough to warrant actual

interception. Maybe two fl ashing red lights were linked, or maybe

several numbers were associated with one person, but without synthe-

sizing the data it was hard to tell.

We are fairly certain that Comey was refusing to sign the autho-

rization for these activities. The Stored Communications Act and the

Electronic Crimes and Privacy Act had exceptions, but Comey didn ’t

think they applied.

Initially, the White House was ready to have the president ’s coun-

sel, Alberto Gonzales, sign his name to it. They tried to use Congress

as a lever. In a hastily organized briefi ng, a member asked whether

any ongoing operations would be jeopardized if the telecoms refused

to hand over data without a warrant. A senior NSC offi cial brought

up a major counterterrorism investigation code-named CREVICE.

The United States, British MI5, and German intelligence were work-

ing closely together on the case, which involved al-Qaeda-linked

jihadists in Europe who were communicating with Americans. One

was caught on a wire musing about blowing up an airplane. 41 At least

some of their communication was transiting through the United

States. Without the program, the White House insisted, the ability to

disrupt CREVICE would be signifi cantly reduced. The FBI and the

Justice Department representatives in the room who had been work-

ing CREVICE for months knew that wasn ’t true. FISA warrants had

already been issued and MI5 had its own technical surveillance oper-

ation under way. The bulk provision of data was just not that neces-

sary anymore.

The White House really wanted to advance a practical argument

to Congress but declined to do so. They want to say that the lawyers

who handled the program for the telecoms would have panicked

if, after months of seeing the signature of the attorney general—the

nation ’s top law enforcement offi cer—they saw instead the scribble

of the president ’s in-house guy. They not only would have questioned

c17.indd 237

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any past cooperation with the NSA but also probably would sig-

nifi cantly curtail their cooperation in the future. Practically, even

though Comey had signed off, certifying that it was legal to intercept

the U.S. side of an international communication connected with ter-

rorism, the companies might balk at providing even this basic service.

This was why the White House changed course after the now-

famous hospital room confrontation whereby Gonzales tried to per-

suade an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to affi x his signature.

The White House had to; it simply could not send a document to the

telecoms with anyone else’s signature. It took six months before the

NSA was able to develop procedures that fi t the interpretation of the

metadata provisions promulgated by Jack Goldsmith and his succes-

sor, Daniel Levin.

It ’s worth noting that it was President Bush himself who actually

stopped the program. Bush felt he had been misled by his cabinet

about the degree of support for it. As time went on, the president

became convinced that the program had to be brought in from the

cold and written into law. His next attorney general, Gonzales, would

agree. 42 Bush wrote in his memoirs:

I had to make a big decision, and fast. Some in the White

House believed I should stand on my powers under Article II

of the Constitution and suffer the walkout. . . . I was willing

to defend the powers of the presidency under Article II. But

not at any cost. I thought about the Saturday Night Massacre

in October 1973, when President Richard Nixon ’s fi ring of

Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox led his attorney general

and deputy attorney general to resign. That was not a histori-

cal crisis I was eager to replicate.

As Bart Gellman, Vice President Cheney ’s best biographer, would

later write, “The Bush-Cheney relationship never fully recovered

from that day. Bush wrote, without naming Cheney, that he ‘made

clear to my advisers that I never wanted to be blindsided like that

again.’ March 11, 2004, was the day the president of the United States

discovered that the vice president ’s zeal could lead him off a cliff.” 43

c17.indd 238

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• • •

Comey was not beloved at the White House. Dick Cheney in particu-

lar was not a fan of his from the start. Comey fi rst met the vice presi-

dent the same day he appointed Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the

Valerie Plame leak—an investigation that would culminate with

the indictment of Cheney ’s chief of staff for lying for the government.

When Comey introduced himself that day, Cheney replied, without

looking back, “Oh, I know you from television.” He wasn ’t smiling.

But Comey would come to the rescue of the White House later

that year, helping dissuade the New York Times from publishing

details about the special program before the 2004 election. He did

so by keeping his mouth shut. In October of that year, Condoleezza

Rice, the national security adviser, invited Phil Taubman, the New

York Times ’s Washington bureau chief, and Jill Abramson, the Times ’s

executive editor, to a private meeting in her offi ce.* Hayden and

Comey attended. On Rice ’s cue, Hayden gave the two editors a fairly

comprehensive briefi ng on the program—virtually the same briefi ng

Comey received when he was read in.

At one point, Abramson asked if the program was on a solid legal

foundation. Rice said that some lawyers, including Comey, she said,

gesturing, had expressed concerns, but the program was on solid foot-

ing now . Is this true? Abramson asked Comey. Comey replied that

it was. The Times editors did not pursue the matter. Hayden invited

Taubman to Fort Meade at one point, brought him to a conference

room, sat him down with two SIGINT analysts who were part of the

program, and then left the room. The idea was to give Taubman a

chance to question these analysts without the boss present. Hayden

was very aware of the way that journalists thought—and knew that

the gesture would gain him credibility with the Times. He was right.

A year later, Comey was not happy that the New York Times had

disclosed the TSP ’s existence. He believed that the paper ’s reporting

had also compromised the NSA ’s capacity to conduct legal surveil-

lance. Still, Comey did not feel particularly aggrieved for those who

set up the programs—the good ones and the bad ones. They created

the mess by refusing to do it properly in the fi rst place.

* Abramson would not comment on the meeting.

c17.indd 239

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But where did the leaks come from?

Some former Bush administration offi cials blame Comey

(though Hayden explicitly does not). At least one Justice Department

offi cial, Terrence Tamm, and Russell Tice, a former NSA analyst,

have admitted to talking about the program to the New York Times.

Neither has been prosecuted. (A senior Justice Department offi cial

said that Tamm was considered a legitimate whistleblower and that

he planned to use then senator Barack Obama ’s declaration that the

program was unconstitutional in his defense.)

According to a report provided by the White House to the Justice

Department ’s inspector general, the Bush administration believed

that as of 2005, fewer than a dozen people outside the NSA were read

in. This satisfi ed Addington ’s desire for strict compartmentalization.

But the White House was delusional. It has never been harder to

keep secrets than now. For example, Chuck Robinson, chief of staff

to Comey, was never counted as having been read in, but he had

been by the FBI—by a security offi cer named Mike Fedonchick. A

senior FBI agent later estimated that as many as six hundred from the

agency were briefed on some part of the special programs.

True, most fi eld FBI agents didn ’t have a full handle on every

detail, but more than enough special agents were suffi ciently knowl-

edgeable to talk. And inside the FBI, everyone talks to each other,

and everyone assumes that everyone else knows about big programs.

The FBI was getting lots of leads from the NSA. People heard things.

There was plenty of noise getting out of the compartment. The

tighter the White House tried to grip the water, the more easily it

spilled from its hand.

The White House tried to use the Times ’s partial disclosure to

publicly advance a theory of presidential power. Practically, though,

it was only a matter of time before the rest of the program ’s details

leaked out in one form or another. The NSA had legitimate worries.

If more details about the program were known, the bad guys might

learn about how diffi cult it was to rapidly acquire a target and how the

agency had solved that problem. The NSA ’s liaison relationships with

other governments might also be jeopardized. If derivative informa-

tion was ever disclosed in a court, many of those governments would

probably alter the degree to which they cooperated with the United

States. The intelligence community did not want the press to disclose

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the degree to which the NSA monitored and was able to intercept

virtually all telephone and email traffi c originating from Afghanistan

and later from Pakistan and Iraq. This might also compromise the

technological methods that the NSA legally used overseas.

Finally, the holiest of holies: a large percentage—one former

intelligence community lawyer put the fi gure at 90 percent—of inter-

national telephone and email traffi c passed through a server or node

associated with an American-owned telecommunications company.

If terrorists had known this, they could have tried to use those rare

networks that were entirely geographically constrained. But the big-

ger fear, which proved to be entirely valid, was that disclosure of this

would lead companies and countries to demand that their communi-

cations pipes not pass through the United States. These entities were

worried not about terrorism but about geopolitics: the NSA easily

intercepting their diplomatic and industrial communications and the

reaction of their citizenry to the fact.

The scene at the hospital marked a turning point for the program

but did so in a way that may well have hastened the day that Congress

would offi cially deem it sound and legitimate. Immediately after he

became attorney general in early 2005, Alberto Gonzales asked

the new head of the OLC, Steve Bradbury, to reexamine whether

there might be a different legal approach to the NSA activities autho-

rized by the president that would put those activities on a stronger

legal footing (even though all aspects of the program as then con-

ducted had been approved in a comprehensive legal opinion issued

by Jack Goldsmith and the OLC in May 2004). Starting in March

2005, Bradbury crafted a novel legal analysis that, if approved by the

FISA court, would permit much of the NSA program to be based on

the FISA statute. Bradbury presented his new approach to the White

House in the late spring of 2005, and the White House approved

without hesitation the Justice Department ’s proposal to move for-

ward with the concept, provided that the director of national intelli-

gence and the NSA were confi dent that the new approach would not

materially compromise the value and effectiveness of the program.

The DNI and the NSA expressed support, and over the next several

months, the OLC, working with the Offi ce of Intelligence Policy and

Review, developed a detailed analysis and proposal intended to be

submitted to the FISA court in late 2005 or early 2006.

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The New York Times article in December 2005 sidetracked the

legal effort that the OLC was pursuing under FISA. Bradbury and

others in the DOJ spent much of their time and attention in 2006

explaining to the public (and in private to Congress) the legal basis

for the NSA activities, which were now publicly acknowledged by

the president following the Times article, as well as addressing other

alleged activities and rumors swirling around those allegations. As a

consequence of the catastrophic distraction, it wasn ’t until January

2007 that Gonzales told Congress that the DOJ had succeeded in

obtaining from the FISA court an order authorizing under a novel

interpretation of FISA.

Then, just as quickly, it went away. A FISA judge refused to sus-

tain the same legal approval in its full scope. In late spring or early

summer of 2007, this new legal hurdle in the application of FISA

became a serious impediment to the continued effectiveness of the

surveillance activities, and thus spurred Congress to enact substantial

FISA reform legislation, which occurred fi rst in the form of stopgap

legislation in 2007 and in 2008 as a permanent and fundamental

restructuring of FISA.

This drove Mike McConnell, the DNI at the time, crazy. He told

members of Congress that if he had been the director of the NSA on

9/11 he would have asked Congress to simply change the FISA law.

He disagreed with Hayden that doing so would have made it easier

for terrorists to communicate.

Although President Bush could have ordered the program ’s con-

tinuation under his signature alone, Congress would doubtless have

responded in a way that might have precipitated a constitutional crisis.

Bush was convinced by Bradbury, Gonzales, and Stephen Hadley, his

national security adviser, that the best way to make sure the program

lasted was to allow Congress to rewrite the FISA law. That the entire

program was nonfunctional remained a secret until John Boehner,

then the minority whip, told Fox News that “there ’s been a ruling,

over the last four or fi ve months, that prohibits the ability of our intel-

ligence services and our counterintelligence people from listening

in to two terrorists in other parts of the world where the communica-

tion could come through the United States.” 44 Republicans had at the

ready expansive legislation that Democrats wouldn ’t accept—this

the public knew. But no one outside government knew that the

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program had ended. Regardless of whether one views Congressman

Boehner ’s revelation as a kind of whistleblowing or a partisan leak,

one year later Congress passed the FISA Amendment Acts.

Hayden, now the director of the CIA, found himself delighted

and felt vindicated. The FISA Amendments Act allowed the presi-

dent to do more than ever before. Now anyone associated with ter-

rorism could be subject to surveillance. For the most part, the

only restriction placed on the NSA was that they could not surveil

Americans overseas without an order. The telecoms had their offi cial

congressional writ of immunity. Bulk collection began to fl ow again,

as did NSA access to real-time telecom data. The big difference?

More people knew the secret.

Presently, the executive branch is not (that we know of) hiding

anything from Congress, the judiciary branch, or (more weirdly)

itself. Everyone has been read in to the program. And Congress

moved to align the law with the president ’s exercise of executive

power. The courts, by and large, have not objected. And most details

about the current program remain classifi ed.

But the question remains: Does the NSA read my email? Based on

what Hayden, Yoo, and others have said publicly, as well as confi den-

tial information provided to the authors and verifi ed independently

by offi cials read in to the programs:

• If you regularly call people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen,

your telephone records have probably passed through an NSA

computer. Most likely, however, if you ’ve been calling rug mer-

chants or relatives, no one at the NSA knew your name. (A

computer program sanitizes the actual identifying information.)

Depending on the time, date, location, and contextual factors

related to the call, a record may not have been created.

• If you ’ve sent an email from an IP address that has been used by

bad guys in the past (IP addresses can be spoofed), your email ’s

metadata—the hidden directions that tell the Internet where

to send it (that is, the To and From lines, the subject line, the

length, and the type of email) probably passed through a server.

The chances of an analyst or a computer actually reading the

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content of an email are very slim. (If you ’re a journalist who

writes about the Secret Service, it ought to be more disconcerting

to you when Google customizes advertisements for weapons and

commando courses based on search queries.)

• If you are or were a lawyer for someone formally accused of ter-

rorism, there is a good chance that the NSA has or had—but

could not or cannot access (at least not anymore)—your tele-

phone billing records. (N.B.: A Senate Select Committee on

Intelligence report notes that the FISA Amendments Act does not

require material erroneously collected to be destroyed.)

• If you work for a member of the “Defense Industrial Base” on

sensitive projects and your company uses Verizon and AT&T,

your email has likely been screened by NSA computers for

malware. 45

• Before 2007, if you, as an American citizen, worked overseas in or

near a war zone, there is a small chance that you were “collected

on”—that is, actively listened to—by a civilian NSA analyst or a

member of the NSA ’s Central Security Service (the name given

to the military service elements that make up a large part of the

NSA ’s workforce). 46

• If you, from September 2001 to roughly April 2004, called or sent

an email to or from regions associated with terrorism and used

American Internet companies to do so, your transaction records

(again, without identifying information) were likely collected by

your telecommunications company and passed to the NSA. 47 The

records were then analyzed, and there is a tiny chance that a per-

son or a computer read them or sampled them. The NSA would

ask telecommunications companies for tranches of data that cor-

related to particular communities of interest, and then used a

variety of classifi ed and unclassifi ed techniques to predict, based

on their analysis, who was likely to be associated with terrorism.

This determination required at least one additional and indepen-

dent extraneous piece of evidence.

• There is a chance that the NSA passed this data to the FBI for

further investigation. There is a small chance that the FBI acted

on this information. 48

• If you defi ne “collection” in the broadest sense possible, there is a

good chance that if the NSA wanted to obtain your transactional

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information in real time and knew your direct identity (or had a

rough idea of who you are), they can do so, provided that they

can prove to a FISA judge within seventy-two hours that there is

probable cause to believe you are a terrorist or associated with a

terrorist organization.

• If the NSA receives permission from a judge to collect on a cor-

poration or a charity that may be associated with terrorism, and

your company, which is entirely separate from the organization

in question, happens to share a location with it (either because

you ’re in the same building or have contracted with the company

to share Internet services), there is a chance that the NSA inci-

dentally collects your work email and phone calls. It is very hard

for the agency to map IP addresses to their physical locations and

to completely segregate parts of corporate telephone networks.

When this happens, Congress and the Justice Department are

notifi ed, and an NSA internal compliance unit makes a record of

the “overcollect.”

• If any of your communications were accidentally or incidentally

collected by the NSA, they probably still exist somewhere, sub-

ject to classifi ed minimization requirements. (The main NSA

SIGINT database is code-named PINWALE.) This is the case

even after certain collection activities became illegal with the

passage of the 2007 FISA Amendments Act, the governing frame-

work for domestic collection. The act does not require the NSA

to destroy the data.

• If you are of Arab descent and attend a mosque whose imam was

linked through degrees of association with Islamic charities con-

sidered as supporters of terrorism, NSA computers probably ana-

lyzed metadata from your telephone communications and email.

• Your data might have been intercepted or collected by Russia,

China, or Israel if you traveled to those countries. The FBI has

quietly removed from several Washington, D.C.–area cell phone

towers, transmitters that fed all data to wire rooms at foreign


• The chances, if you are not a criminal or a terrorist, that an ana-

lyst at the NSA listened to one of your telephone conversations

or read one of your email messages are infi nitesimally small

given the technological challenges associated with the program,

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not to mention the lack of manpower available to sort through

your irrelevant communications. If an unintentional collection

occurred (an overcollect), it would be deleted and not stored in

any database.

What safeguards exist today? From what we could fi gure out, only

three dozen or so people inside the NSA have the authority to read

the content of FISA-derived material, all of which is now subject to

a warrant. 49 Can the NSA share FISA product on U.S. persons with

other countries? By law it cannot and does not. (The FBI can, and

does.) What is the size of the compliance staff that monitors domestic

collection? Four or fi ve people, depending on the budget cycle. How

many people outside the NSA are privy to the full details of the pro-

gram? More than one thousand. How can you fi nd out if you ’ve been

accidentally or incidentally surveilled? You can ’t. You can sue, but

the government will invoke a state secrets privilege, and judges will

probably agree—even when you can prove without any secret evi-

dence that there is probable cause to believe that you were surveilled.

The NSA ’s general counsel ’s offi ce regularly reviews the “target fold-

ers”—the identities of those under surveillance—to make sure the

program complied with the instruction to surveil those reasonably

assumed to have connections to al-Qaeda. They do this by sampling

a number of the folders at random. How do we know the program

isn ’t expanding right now, pushing the boundaries of legality, spying

not just on suspected terrorists but on American dissidents? We don ’t.

But if it is, and over a thousand people are involved, how much lon-

ger can that secret last?

As of September 2011, ten years after the terrorist attacks that set

a new course for the NSA, the special surveillance programs are

institutionalized. The code name for the special access program is

RAGTIME. In reports it is abbreviated as “RT.” There are four com-

ponents. RAGTIME-A involves the U.S.-based interception of all

foreign-to-foreign counterterrorism-related data. RAGTIME-B deals

with data from foreign governments that transits through the United

States. RAGTIME-C focuses on counterproliferation activities.

Finally, RAGTIME-P (P stands for Patriot Act) is the remnant of the

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original PSP—the interception where one end of the call or email

is inside the United States. FISA certifi es a slate of approved targets

for RAGTIME-P, and a certain amount of bulk data can be collected

around those targets. An NSA spokesman said the agency had “no

information to provide” about the existence of RAGTIME. 50

At Fort Meade, a program called XKEYSCORE processes all

signals before they are shunted off to various “production lines”

that deal with specifi c issues. PINWALE is the main NSA database

for recorded signals intercepts. It is compartmentalized by keywords

(the NSA calls them “selectors”). Metadata is stored in a database

called MARINA and is generally retained for fi ve years. “Finished

reporting,” or transcripts and analysis of calls, is accessed through

the MAUI database. (Metadata is never included in MAUI.) There

are dozens of other NSA signals activity lines, or SIGADS, that

process data in parallel. Among the active databases and systems:

ANCHORY, an all-source database for communications intelligence;

HOMEBASE, which allows analysts to coordinate their searches

with DNI mission priorities; AIRGAP, which deals with priority

DOD missions; WRANGLER, which focuses on electronic intelli-

gence; TINMAN, a database related to air warning and surveillance;

OILSTOCK, a system for analyzing air warning and surveillance

data; and many more. 51

It ’s almost an axiom of the age that citizens are willing to give cor-

porations almost unlimited access to our data. That we don ’t even

mind when these businesses use our data against us to manipulate

us into buying things we didn ’t know we needed or voting for poli-

ticians and policies we didn ’t know we wanted. But there is a kind

of clear-mindedness about the government. It is different. It has the

power to kill and jail, and thus its surveillance powers must not go

unchecked. Even if the president possesses inherent powers to col-

lect intelligence or to perform surveillance under Article II of the

Constitution, the mere fact that he is doing so might encroach upon

the rights of Americans to associate with whomever they wish, might

chill controversial but protected speech, and might blur the bound-

ary between rights that are secure (like the ability to say in an open

forum that one supports the right of Hamas to bomb Israeli citizens)

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and activities that are illegal (like soliciting funds for Hamas to do

precisely that).

Combating terrorism requires a subjective judgment about when

protected speech crosses the line into something that threatens the

nation-state. In its investigative guidelines, the FBI uses a certain line

repeatedly: “No investigative activity, including preliminary investiga-

tions, may be taken solely on the basis of activities that are protected

by the First Amendment or on race, ethnicity, national origin or reli-

gion of the subject.” The key word is “solely.” There has to be some-

thing else.

In early 2002, the FBI and the Department of Energy (DOE)

created a secret program to detect radiation in American cities.

Vans were outfi tted with sophisticated sensors and deployed when

the Homeland Security threat level rose. In the absence of informa-

tion about a specifi c threat, the FBI would often task the vehicles

to check rail depots and airports, tourist hubs and malls—but also,

frequently, mosques. 52 Another ongoing program uses DOE heli-

copters to create radiation maps of American cities and then regu-

larly remap the cities to test for subtle differences. The rationale for

these programs is self-evident, but it does raise certain questions.

We don ’t really mind (mostly) when a police offi cer, sensing some-

thing suspicious, runs our license plate through the National Crime

Identifi cation Center. Even when she fi nds nothing, a record of that

search remains in a computer somewhere forever.* When the FBI

does the same thing in the context of a terrorism investigation—it

calls this fi rst step a “threat assessment”—the lines blur and most

reasonable people get nervous. † It ’s also worth considering that the

police thresholds for obtaining warrants and arresting citizens for

ordinary criminal acts are a matter of open record. The rules of cops

and robbers are known and accessible to criminals, victims, and

* The snipers who terrorized Virginia, D.C., and Maryland had their license plates

run quite often during their spree, which allowed prosecutors to prove that their car

had been close to the scene of several of their crimes.

† Until 2011, the FBI could not run names through investigative databases without

creating paperwork to do so during an assessment phase; the classifi ed guidelines

change this requirement.

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bystanders. The legal justifi cations for these thresholds are similarly


The FBI, on the other hand, won ’t release even the full defi nition

of a terrorist threat assessment. 53 The Bureau ’s Domestic Operations

Investigations Guide is unclassifi ed, but nonetheless redacts informa-

tion about what constitutes this type of stranger danger. In the normal

course of abnormal events, an FBI counterterrorism squad receives

intelligence from FBI headquarters about a vague and undefi ned


For example, say the NSA intercepts a phone call from some-

one in Somalia who mentions training a Minnesotan named Jason

for Jihad. Under the FBI ’s classifi ed guidelines, it must open a fi le

(thereby leaving a record) and use the bare minimum of tools (for

example, open records searches, surveillance of a building, querying

Customs databases) to see if there is someone named Jason who trav-

eled to Somalia and back to Minnesota within the time frame speci-

fi ed. If the tip doesn ’t pan out, or if there are too many Jasons and

no evidence connecting any of them to Somalia, the assessment case

closes, generally after thirty days of inactivity. After ninety days, a for-

mal review takes place. If the FBI develops evidence leading it to a

particular target or place (“adequate predication” is the standard), a

preliminary investigation is launched. 54 If not, the data collected dur-

ing the assessment still goes into the FBI ’s massive Investigative Data

Warehouse (this it redacts from its public guidelines) for later use

in data and link analysis. 55 Under the guidelines, FBI section chiefs

have a year to develop enough evidence (“an articulable factual

basis”) to convince the counterterrorism section chiefs to open a full

investigation, which can stay open until there ’s an arrest, or forever.

To investigate a crime that is yet to be committed is to create

a typology of thin distinctions. After 9/11, Congress quickly pro-

vided the FBI with a larger set of precision tools, among them the

expansion of certain types of information that businesses and indi-

viduals are required to give the Bureau without a court order. These

“National Security Letters,” which are basically an administra-

tive subpoena for counterterrorism and counterintelligence, allow

the FBI to collect and analyze fi nancial records of specifi c persons or

entities, telephone logs, credit histories, and rudimentary information

about email messages.

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To examine the actual content of emails, to record telephone

conversations, or to physically follow or search someone, the FBI

needs a FISA warrant. The exact threshold for obtaining one is

classifi ed—again, a difference that adds to the mythos of what the

FBI actually does. But here it is: the FBI must be able to convince

the FISA court that the U.S. person targeted is directly connected to

a terrorist group or an agent of a foreign government. The FBI has

seven days to start surveillance before it goes to the court—which in

theory could lead to abuses. To wit, what if the FBI starts and stops

surveillance before the court ever hears any evidence? Admittedly,

it ’s unlikely that this happens often, as the FISA court is made aware

of the surveillance regardless of whether the affi davit for a warrant is

submitted. And an affi davit is almost always submitted, in term-paper

form, with footnotes and heavy documentation. On occasion, the

FISA court will fi nd the evidence lacking and order the surveillance

stopped until the court is satisfi ed, and the FBI is disallowed from

retaining records of what they ’ve already collected. If the court is

satisfi ed, however, it grants G-men permission in blocks of 180 days,

with the option to renew.

There is another important caveat that limits the FBI ’s authority

in such matters. The terrorist group to which the person (our man

from Minnesota, for example) is connected must be on the State

Department ’s list of terrorist entities. If the cell is not, the surveil-

lance may only continue if the FBI deems the person to be acting

alone, without instruction from anyone. (This is the “lone wolf” pro-

vision. According to offi cials, it has rarely been used.)

At FBI headquarters, surveillance requests are processed by the

Communications Analysis Unit, which has not thus far acquitted

itself well. An inspector general ’s investigation found that from 2003

to 2006 it essentially fabricated the pretexts for what might be thou-

sands of National Security Letters (NSLs), allowed representatives

from telecommunications companies to point out suspicious patterns,

and promised to send businesses actual National Security Letters in

the future in exchange for data immediately—so-called exigent let-

ters that had no basis in law.

The inspector general found no evidence of ill intent but did

fi nd a Bureau overwhelmed with suspects, tips, and leads and under

intense pressure to perform. It found that few standards had been

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enforced internally and that many special agents specializing in

criminal cases had trouble following the complex counterterrorism

legal guidelines that, by the way, the Justice Department refi nes con-

stantly. This is one reason that Robert Mueller, director of the FBI,

agreed to fairly stringent limits on evidentiary standards for FISA war-

rants, and for extended oversight of the NSLs—Congress intended to

bind the FBI to tighter standards if he refused to write his own.

Within the Communications Analysis Unit, the FBI ’s Electronic

Surveillance Operations and Sharing Unit (EOPS) has an organiza-

tional mission that, for some reason, the Bureau redacts from public

reports. EOPS is, in fact, responsible for liaison with the NSA, other

government agencies, and even foreign countries. EOPS gets the tips

from the NSA ’s surveillance and passes along FBI product to allies

(the Brits get everything), friends (Israel gets many things), and occa-

sionally even strategic opponents (China might get a report or two).

So the FBI uses FISA to develop probable cause to arrest ter-

rorists inside the United States, and it uses NSLs to develop the

evidence that results in those FISA warrants. The number of NSLs

issued since September 11, 2001, is astronomical in comparison to

the number of investigations opened. This is mostly because a single

case can often require hundreds of letters. Presently, the FBI is run-

ning a large investigation (code-named “SP”) into whether mainline

Middle Eastern terrorist groups are inserting agents into the United

States in order to target synagogues, or are using Islamic chari-

ties inside the United States to raise money to target Israel. SP has

required more than four hundred NSLs.

Meanwhile, it ’s also true that the FBI has a lot of open cases

on people who may have no connection to terrorism whatsoever.

Because each NSL includes a gag rule on the recipient, most sub-

jects are unaware that they ’re under investigation. After the assassi-

nation of Osama bin Laden, the attorney general ordered enhanced

surveillance on hundreds of these suspects. (Most had existing FISA

warrants; some had to be renewed.)

It is hard to assess the FBI ’s record. Many cases brought to court

do not seem to have been worth a nationwide surveillance dragnet.

Of the 508 who ’ve become defendants in terrorism-related investiga-

tions, about half were charged with terrorism-related crimes, while

the rest were charged under unrelated statutes. A plurality of those

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arrested had no connection to any terrorist group—or no seeming

connection. Here offi cials have an unusual explanation. They say

that a lot of evidence that could have been introduced is purpose-

fully withheld. In cases where an NSA tip had been given to the FBI

(a “GUARDIAN Tip”), the chain of logic that led the FBI to begin

looking at the bad guy in the fi rst place might seem to begin abruptly

in the absence of an acknowledgment that the NSA had intercepted

a conversation.*

Quite often, as with the case of Mohamed Osman Mohamud,

a Somali arrested in Portland, Oregon, the U.S. attorney and the

intelligence community decided to obscure, not reveal, evidence

they ’d gathered about his alleged ties to al-Shabbab (a Somalia-

based adjunct of al-Qaeda), because to do so might compro-

mise the method that was used to identify him in the fi rst place.

It should be assumed in this case that other alleged terrorists who

know Mohamud would change their communication methods

if they knew that the NSA had been able to intercept their end of

the conversation in Somalia. 56 Offi cially, the FBI told reporters that

Mohamud was not being directed by a foreign terrorist organization.

That was a partial truth—he had not been ordered to perform this

specifi c task. But the FBI was fi rst alerted to him based on informa-

tion derived from an NSA operation in Somalia. 57 Mohamud ’s status

from person of interest to suspect changed when he allegedly raped

an Oregon State University student. Still, the Bureau has concluded

that the circles between domestic and international terrorism don ’t

overlap as much as it seemed they did after 9/11.

A healthy 333 defendants arrested by the FBI have pleaded

guilty. And though the FBI arrested more than 150 of them in sting

* Early on, the FBI and U.S. attorneys were loath to use any of the NSA-derived

information because they didn ’t know where it came from, and the secrecy associ-

ated with the program raised suspicions about the legality of the interception. This

problem grew acute when an informal system emerged for segregating the regularly

acquired NSA FISA data (which under the Patriot Act should have easily gone to

the FBI) from data acquired through the PSP. There was contamination-enough, in

the minds of some Justice Department offi cials, to not use the data at all. From the

NSA ’s perspective, the contamination was the inevitable consequence of the techni-

cal challenges associated with the program, and the idea wasn ’t to prosecute terror-

ists, but rather to prevent terrorist acts.

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investigations—the type where one might accuse the Bureau of push-

ing people over the edge—at least 243 were arrested based on deal-

ings with FBI informants, according to a Mother Jones analysis of data

collected through the middle of 2008. 58 Many of the cases closed

by the FBI seem quite small. How many actual threats has the FBI

prevented? How many people would not have resorted to violence

had the FBI not bothered them? Does the FBI, in aggressively using

informants and sting operations, create a climate that allows a disaf-

fected but otherwise harmless person to want to act on his impulses?

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C H A P T E R 1 8

Olympic Games

In June 2012, the New York Times published an article by journal-

ist David Sanger unequivocally stating that the National Security

Agency, with Israeli assistance, created Stuxnet, the Internet virus

that disrupted operation of nuclear centrifuges in Iran. The article ’s

sourcing was an all but offi cial confi rmation that the United States

had preemptively attacked critical Iranian infrastructure with a

sophisticated cyber weapon. The article came in advance of a book

by Sanger that contained a granular, step-by-step account of how the

United States and Israel pulled the operation off. Sanger even had

the program ’s unclassifi ed nickname: OLYMPIC GAMES.

Congressional response to the story was swift and angry. Members

of Congress accused the Obama administration of leaking the story

and promised investigative hearings and new legislation. Dianne

Feinstein, senator from California, compared the cyber attack to

the German invasion of Austria in 1938. 1 John Kerry, senator from

Massachusetts, called it “amazing” that journalists like Sanger “get a

lot of people talking about things they shouldn ’t be talking about.”

He specifi cally objected to the level of detail that Sanger published—

too much “nitty-gritty,” he said. 2 Interestingly, the intensity of con-

gressional outrage served as further confi rmation of Sanger ’s account.

Regardless, because of the credibility of the New York Times , the

Stuxnet story was assumed to be true anyway. Iran certainly wouldn ’t


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need better confi rmation; nor would China or Russia, both of whom

are aggressively testing America ’s cyber defenses on a daily basis.

Ironically, most of Sanger ’s disclosures were already public knowl-

edge. When Stuxnet moved from the Iranian uranium refi nement

network and onto the Internet, experts quickly determined its pur-

pose and noted that its complexity suggested authorship by a nation-

state. A very detailed account of precisely how the program worked

had been published in Vanity Fair more than a year earlier. 3 Internet

security fi rms Symantec and Kaspersky Lab reverse-engineered the

virus and fi gured out how it worked; that there were two variants; that

it targeted SCADA systems built by the German company Siemens

(which supplied the software for the Iranian nuclear program); that

it exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows 7; and that it was

introduced to Iran ’s system by way of a thumb drive. Wired later pub-

lished the entire code with annotations. 4

The Sanger story declared that the United States and Israel

developed the code. Well, yes. Given that it was designed to disrupt

Iranian centrifuges, and only Iranian centrifuges, who else would

Iran think was behind it—Bangladesh? In short, the secrets disclosed

by the New York Times were secrets in name only. The “nitty-gritty”

that so concerned Senator Kerry was not in fact a consequence of

Sanger ’s story. When is a secret not really a secret? Is it when every-

one assumes something to be true, and that assumption is already

priced in to the way states conduct their affairs? What is the value

of authoritative confi rmation when all it does is tell us that what we

think we know is indeed what we know?

A U.S. offi cial who was read in to OLYMPIC GAMES told us that

only about thirty people had access to all of the program ’s compart-

ments. Of the thirty, few would have had any reason whatsoever to

brag to Sanger—that few, however, had motive and opportunity.

Confi rming that the United States helped create the Stuxnet

virus had several downstream effects on policy that are hard to extri-

cate from politics. In an election year, President Barack Obama

had a reason to show that his Iran policy had teeth. In building the

argument for a “muscular” Obama policy, an overzealous senior

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American offi cial might have let it slip that President George

W. Bush authorized the initial creation of the program and that

President Obama ordered its expansion in spite of the dangers associ-

ated with discovery by Iran. Sanger, who specializes in counterpro-

liferation, has enough sources to go from there. It ’s also possible that

the offi cial was acting in accordance with the president ’s objectives.

A legitimate argument can be made that it ’s important for the world

to know about America ’s incredible cyber warfare capability. From

that standpoint, there might be policy justifi cation for relaxing inter-

nal executive checks on the release of classifi ed information.

But there are risks to this strategy. Privately, U.S. offi cials insist

that for years now, China has aggressively probed U.S. cyber infra-

structure for weaknesses and exploited those “holes in the fence.”

Most of China ’s penetrations have been passive—whatever bots the

Chinese have planted inside American computer networks seem

to be just sitting there, collecting data (maybe) or waiting for some

signal to do whatever they are supposed to do. At this stage, it seems

China is gathering intelligence. Alternately, perhaps the software is

waiting for a signal—it ’s conceivable that a major cyber attack is part

of China ’s contingency plans in the event of a war with the United

States. Such are the scenarios that U.S. war planners must now game,

just as they planned for nuclear exchanges with the Soviet Union.

Both China and Russia have gone on the record saying that they

would view an operation like OLYMPIC GAMES—a military-led

cyber attack against another country—as an aggressive act. (The NSA

is a defense intelligence agency; the CIA, which is a civilian agency,

almost certainly played a role in introducing the weapon into the

Iranian centrifuge processing system.)

Senior U.S. intelligence and technology offi cials have long

warned that the next “Pearl Harbor” may be electronic. As Noah

Shachtman of the Brookings Institution think tank ’s 21st Century

Defense Initiative has said, “But now we know that what they were

talking about wasn ’t what other people might do to us; it was what we

were doing to others.” 5

As a result, calls for laws that would give the government more

control over the dot-com domain have new, sinister undertones. The

legitimate concerns about how this protection scheme would work,

or whether it would stifl e innovation or compromise civil liberties,

c18.indd 256

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now must be paired with a fact: for every public expression of law,

there is also a covert purpose being served.

Meanwhile, attempts to draw boundaries around the global

cyber “commons” may become next to impossible. That isn ’t to say

that there won ’t be cooperation—there are more than a dozen inter-

national organizations that already, in a way, regulate parts of the

Internet. Countries actively cooperate on cyber crime. Even

the United States and China quietly partner to thwart copyright vio-

lators. But from the standpoint of each country ’s political economy,

there is little incentive to sign treaties that constrain action if the

prime mover of those treaties has already violated the sovereignty

of another country. (International laws, both formal and customary,

obviously allow a country to protect itself using its military, but there

is a real argument about whether they allow preemptive strikes.)

In the end, the U.S. offi cials who approved OLYMPIC GAMES

decided that America ’s national security interests demanded an action

that, if revealed, might hinder its long-term interests. Our enemies in

the electronic battlespace will help determine whether it was worth it. 6

“I think there is a big difference between government-supported

economic espionage (China) and geopolitical covert actions. I am not

saying one is better or worse, but they are quite different and probably

shouldn ’t be confl ated,” a former administration offi cial insists. “But it

is a distinction without a difference, at least for now.”

One of the country ’s most senior experts on cyber warfare, a

person who currently serves in a position to infl uence policy, gave

an unequivocal answer to the question of whether the narrative

change—from basically assumed to defi nitely confi rmed—would

make things more diffi cult for the U.S. government both militar-

ily and diplomatically. “Certainly. The sad part is that it will be a

nightmare for us whether or not it is true,” the offi cial said. “I think

Sanger ’s article is a critical milestone regardless of its accuracy.”

Long-serving intelligence experts like this one operate on a dif-

ferent time horizon than do the political appointees and staff who

directly serve the president. It would surprise many Americans

who are critical of the CIA that the Agency often resists requests from

the executive branch for covert action because it has learned

from mistakes. Generally, covert action should be the action of last

resort, when all other alternatives have failed. Covert actions can

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span several presidencies. CIA directors are often the most hesitant.

As former director Richard Helms wrote, “At its best, covert action

should be used like a well-honed scalpel, infrequently, and with dis-

cretion lest the blade lose its edge.” 7 The problem, as former director

William Colby wrote, is that covert operations often involve a lot of

people, and “one man has the power to frustrate the whole thing.” 8

A week or so before Sanger ’s story hit the press, researchers in

Europe announced the discovery of a highly sophisticated computer

bot that sat undetected on several hundred seemingly deliberately

chosen personal and business computers. It was dubbed “Flame.”

State sponsorship was a given. A former U.S. intelligence offi cial said

that the Flame was the NSA ’s fi rst major cyber exploitation effort after

President Bush signed a fi nding allowing the intelligence community

to do “whatever is necessary to bring down Al Qaeda and its leader-

ship.” 9 The virus took years to code and test. In 2008, using conven-

tional spear-fi shing techniques by way of email, it was unleashed on

several targets, including Iranian proxies in the al-Qaeda network, and

more than a thousand suspected peripheral players and fi nanciers.

(How did the NSA get their email addresses? Even cursory attempts to

answer that question point to the cooperation of companies that store

and process email, most of them based in the United States.)

By tracking the software ’s progress from targeted computer to,

perhaps, the computer of someone theretofore unknown, Flame

traces the fl ow of money and resources and people who, whether for

reasons of virtue or vice, associate with terrorists. Given the sophisti-

cation of the viruses, it is hard to imagine that the computer scien-

tists and managers who wrote up the extensive read-aheads that go

along with any major covert action did not anticipate the reality that

each program would operate until— not if —it was publicly disclosed.

It is hard to hide anything from anyone on the Internet. But more on

Flame in a moment.

On its face, the collective response by Congress to Stuxnet would

seem to be an overreaction. But there are institutional reasons such

a response is merited. For one, human beings who are asked to keep

something secret do not react well to a double standard that allows

others to disclose it without consequence. Members of Congress

are just such human beings. Their access to secrets of the executive

branch is contingent upon whether they prove responsible with that

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information. Who determines whether Congress is “responsible”? The

executive. The same people, in other words, who leaked the details of

Stuxnet. (Concerning the legal obligation of the executive branch to

brief the legislative branch on covert operations, once a fi nding has

been transmitted to Congress, the CIA can basically tell overseers that

the covert action is working, or working well, or not working very well,

and get away with providing little supplemental detail.)

Tension between the branches fl ared up after the bin Laden raid,

when the armed services and intelligence committees received very

little information that didn ’t make its way almost immediately into

the press. To some on the congressional intelligence committees, the

administration is simply too proud of its own accomplishments and

President Obama so sensitive to the notion that he is not tough when

it comes to fi ghting terrorism, that post facto disclosure (for example,

successful drone strikes, thwarted terrorist attacks) are seen as legiti-

mate ways of messaging.

The charge is not without evidence. The administration did

in fact provide fi lmmakers Mark Boal and Katherine Bigelow

with a special briefi ng about the raid, and their movie about mem-

bers of elite special operations forces suddenly had a new ending.*

Meanwhile, the U.S. Special Operations Command cooperated

extensively with Nicholas Schmidle of the New Yorker , allowing his

article to accurately channel the thoughts of Navy SEALs who were

on the raid ’s stealth Black Hawk that night. In both cases, a deputy

commander of SEAL Team Six was offered as a source of guidance

on the orders of Mike Vickers, who was, at the time, the chief civil-

ian special operations manager in the Pentagon. When a Freedom of

Information Act request uncovered internal emails testifying to this

fact, the SEAL ’s name was redacted.†

In a hyperpartisan state run by men and women seeking valida-

tion wherever it might be found, and an aggressive press corps run-

ning a twenty-four-hour news cycle watched and read by a society

* Marc Ambinder and Mark Boal met once to exchange details and thoughts on

Neptune ’s Spear. Boal did not tell Ambinder who his sources were.

† The Special Operations Command asked the authors to avoid revealing his real


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embracing openness with heedless abandon, and technology that

allows Libraries of Congress worth of classifi ed material to be moved

from the deep state to the public domain in a matter of minutes, it is

clear that secrecy as we know it has reached a precipice. The modern

state now faces serious implications as a result of leaks not as an aber-

ration, but as inevitability.

Computer scientists at Kaspersky Lab analyzed Flame and com-

pared it with Stuxnet. They discovered a common section of code

that proved conclusively that the two viruses were developed in tan-

dem by the same organization. Because the story of Stuxnet leaked,

we now know that the NSA is also responsible for Flame.

This makes the work of our cyber warfare group more diffi cult,

because any future cyber weapons will now have to be engineered

from scratch in order to allow for deniability, which is essential to

covert operations. In the coming years, this will become a serious

problem. In the real world, it would be like having to reinvent the

sniper rifl e every time we have to quietly kill someone.

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C H A P T E R 1 9

The Next Battlespace

On April 30, 2009, during a national security symposium at the

Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, Virginia, Melissa Hathaway,

then acting senior director for cyber-security policy at the National

Security Council, enthused about the “unprecedented transparency”

of her soon-to-be-unveiled review of federal cyber policies. President

Barack Obama had promised to elevate the issue within the bureau-

cracy and had suggested a new age of open discussion about the tech-

nological and security challenges posed by the age of ubiquitous,

instantaneous communication. Hathaway said that the administration

would even release a legal appendix to the report that laid out the

complex web of authorities governing cyber law, as well as the gaps

that Congress had to address.

But when an unclassifi ed version of Hathaway

’s report was

released several months later, there was no legal white paper. A foot-

note in the appendix of the main report notes that the legal analy-

sis was not intended to be of the type that would or could infl uence

policy, and the report itself calls for a new interagency legal review

team—a team that would produce products for internal, executive-

branch-only deliberation. A senior administration offi cial explained

that although the cyber policy questions that the lawyers debated

were obvious and common, the “mere fact that we recognize them

could be of use of the enemy.” In other words, merely because the


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review sought the formal opinion of lawyers from the Department of

Defense, the CIA, Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and

the National Security Agency, releasing it might somehow provide

those with nefarious intentions a guidebook to exploit the gaps in

U.S. law. (It was also true, as another offi cial later explained, that the

lawyer responsible for clearing the paper for publication was tied up

with other matters—he was also the chief NSC attorney in charge of

approving covert action, and simply let the cyber issue slide.)

Hathaway had left the government by then, but her successor,

Howard Schmidt, did not understand why the review had to be clas-

sifi ed at all. He told a colleague that there was nothing in there that

the government hadn ’t already acknowledged. Hathaway made it very

clear that the White House overruled her decision to release the legal

annex. Administration offi cials dispute the idea that it was her deci-

sion to make in the fi rst place.

The partially fi nished classifi ed legal annex—a copy of which was

obtained and read to us by a consultant outside of government—was

written for public consumption. It makes scant reference to contro-

versies about whether the government has the authority to, for exam-

ple, unilaterally shut down a piece of critical cyber infrastructure

during a major cyber attack, or what the rules of engagement should

be if a nation-state uses a cyber weapon to attack the United States.

The classifi ed review very closely tracks a PowerPoint presenta-

tion presented at a Texas Law Review symposium in 2010 by Sean

Kanuck, a CIA consultant who would later become the fi rst national

intelligence offi cer for cyberspace. Kanuck

’s presentation had to

be cleared for release by the CIA. It notes the various declarations

of major countries on cyber aggression, as when President Obama

declared critical cyber infrastructure to be a national security asset.

The presentation notes that if country A attacks country B, the laws

of country B will determine, absent an international consensus, what

the proper response should be. Kanuck ’s unclassifi ed presentation

makes a point that the classifi ed review fi nds too secret to be released:

current technology is not suffi cient to allow governments to set up,

much less monitor, the activities of nation-states in the way they do

for arms control treaties. Another obvious and unclassifi ed point that

Kanuck makes—another government secret in the White House

review—is that the risk of cyber escalation is grave, because a country

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will be tempted to respond if it thinks another country is behind an

attack, and that such escalation could be easily premised on false

assumptions. It is not easy to pinpoint the source of an attack without

fi rst gathering intelligence. Assuming it ’s easy (and, to be clear, it ’s

not ) to attribute the cyber penetration of an American defense con-

tractor to one of China ’s hacker schools, it is more diffi cult by orders

of magnitude to prove that the Politburo in Beijing sanctioned the


With the exception of cyber warfare capabilities like OLYMPIC

GAMES and the location of the central servers through which U.S.

government traffi c is screened, there aren ’t very many secrets asso-

ciated with cyber security, and certainly not enough to justify the

intense secrecy associated with federal cyber-security policy. Serious

national security harm could come from the disclosure of particu-

lar government vulnerabilities or by revealing, for example, how the

U.S. intelligence community tracks and archives jihadist websites, or

precisely how it engages in offensive cyber warfare against enemies

of the state. But that activity compromises a tiny fraction of what

cyber-security policy covers. And America ’s strategic adversaries in

the cyber domain—China, Russia, and occasionally Israel—know

about them in detail, because they engage in the same practices.

The U.S. government might well quarantine anyone it identifi es as

a hacker, so obvious are its cyber secrets to people who spend their

days coding for fun and malice. Mike McConnell, the former direc-

tor of national intelligence and now a senior vice president for the

Booz Allen Hamilton consulting fi rm, wants to declassify almost

everything cyber-related. He believes that secrecy signifi cantly distorts

the way the public comprehends the cyber problem and provides

the wrong types of incentives to Congress. At a time when budgets

are crunched, he wants more resources devoted to the cyber threat,

which he believes at this point is primarily economic.

The overwhelming bulk of U.S. Internet traffi c is commer-

cial. The secrecy associated with cyberspace seeps into the pub-

lic debate, engenders mistrust of government, and often blocks an

* Kanuck did not provide the classifi ed report to the authors and declined to com-

ment on its contents. The University of Texas Law School made his slideshow


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honest discussion of what ’s at stake. On top of the formal secrecy asso-

ciated with cyber policy debates, there is an informal, but perhaps

more toxic, conspiracy of silence between the government and pri-

vate industry when it comes to detecting, deterring, and responding

to cyber attacks against the stuff that regular citizens rely on. Until

very recently, thanks to a spate of state laws requiring companies to

disclose when they ’ve been penetrated by hackers, companies have

been extremely reluctant to acknowledge that their Internet infra-

structure has been compromised. That makes sense for public com-

panies with fi duciary duties to shareholders, or for private companies

with images to protect. Similarly, no bank would voluntarily disclose

that it had been robbed. But when banks are robbed, customers fi nd

out about it because police investigations become part of the public

record. Because the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insures

accounts up to $250,000, customers don ’t lose money. Smaller banks

have every incentive to spend more money on security up front to

prevent or deter robberies in the fi rst place, while large banks are able

to spread the losses from a single robbery across other branches.

In the cyber realm, the incentives differ. The Secret Service and

the FBI, which investigate most large cyber crimes, don ’t disclose

their investigations. Companies don ’t have to disclose cyber attacks

unless data they retain on private citizens is breached. (McConnell ’s

own Booz Allen Hamilton, which is synonymous in government

circles with cyber-security consulting, was conspicuously silent

when some of its front-end servers were attacked in 2011. In 2009,

Lockheed Martin tried to keep secret a penetration of data banks

holding information about the F-35 Lightning II, the most expensive

acquisition project in the history of the Air Force. In 2011, it bragged

about detecting and defeating another attempt.) 1 An obvious conse-

quence of this is that when the press discovers a cyber penetration,

the company that didn ’t initially disclose it looks as though it had

something to hide. Trust atrophies.

For the most part, the public cyber debate stalls because of

secrecy. Civil libertarians worry about a so-called Internet kill

switch—that is, whether the president can shut down parts of the

Internet if it becomes infected in such a way that seriously compro-

mises national security. They ’d like legislation to address this. The

White House doesn ’t think anything else needs to be said about it.

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Does the president have that authority? Of course he does—he ’s had

it for seventy-fi ve years, since the 1934 Radio Communications Act,

and well before the Defense Department even conceived of such a

thing as the Internet. (Indeed, before the United States conceived of

a Defense Department.) But the administration won ’t admit this—it ’s

a secret—and so they only have themselves to blame if cyber legisla-

tion gets hung up on issues they ’re afraid to debate.

It turns out that the NSA has some pretty nifty tools to use in

terms of protecting cyberspace. In theory, it could probe devices at

critical Internet hubs and inspect the patterns of data packets coming

into the United States for signs of coordinated attacks. It took the gov-

ernment a very long time to declassify another important cyber docu-

ment: the Comprehensive National Cyberspace Initiative (CNCI),

which is a road map for policy. It describes in general terms how the

government plans to spend $40 billion to secure the Internet. 2 The

main protection policy, informally known as Einstein 3, addresses

the threats to government data that run through private computer

networks. In declassifying the CNCI, the government admitted that

the NSA would perform deep packet inspection on private networks.*

Basically, the NSA provides the Department of Homeland Security

(DHS) with the equipment and personnel to do to the packet inspec-

tion; the DHS (using NSA personnel) analyzes the patterns, sanitizes

the data, and sends the information back to Fort Meade, where the

NSA can fi gure out how to respond to threats discovered. 3 This cyber

shield does not (and cannot, by law) be applied to regular Internet

traffi c.

The NSA has gathered a signifi cant amount of intelligence on

the ways sophisticated cyber actors—usually nation-states and, more

often than not, China—have written their code. Sometimes the NSA

is able, through its SIGINT collection, to get advance notice of a

major attack on a major company. It has very recently begun sharing

this information with the FBI, which in turn shares it (or a sanitized

form of it) with the companies that might be affected. But it is NSA

* Among the other facts classifi ed at the code word level for two years: that the

United States needs more public-private partnerships and is falling behind India

when it comes to generating and keeping computer engineering talent.

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policy to keep its information private. They ’re an intelligence agency.

They gather information in secret and use it to outfox the enemy. If

the NSA were to share with the public what it knows about China ’s

cyber capabilities, for example, then China would know what the

NSA knows and would adjust its tactics accordingly, thus potentially

rendering the Defense Department ’s Internet space more vulnerable.

That ’s the argument, anyway.

The logical fl aw is immediately apparent: the NSA apparently

assumes that China won ’t already realize that their cyber attacks are

ineffective. The NSA has either creatively spoofed them (by “allow-

ing” China into a system and feeding it false data), or China might

just assume that the United States has randomly varied its defenses.

The NSA, in other words, assumes a static enemy. It also completely

ignores the real problems—the vulnerability of critical infrastruc-

ture in private hands; the vulnerabilities of banks; the holes in


companies—each susceptible to government-sanctioned

(or government-sponsored) cyber intrusions.

It ’s undeniable that Congress and the public probably wouldn ’t be

comfortable knowing that the NSA has its hardware at the gateways

to the Internet. And yet there may be no other workable way to detect

and defeat major attacks. Thanks to powerful technology lobbies,

Congress is debating a bill that would give the private sector the tools

to defend itself, and it has been slowly peeling back the degree of

necessary government intervention. As it stands, the DHS lacks the

resources to secure the dot-com top-level domain even if it wanted

to. It competes for engineering minds with the NSA and with private

industry; the former has more cachet and the latter has better pay.

Some private-sector companies are good corporate citizens and

spend money and time to secure their networks. But many don ’t. It ’s

costly, both in terms of buying the protection systems necessary to

make sure critical systems don ’t fail and also in terms of the inter-

action between the average employee and the software. Security and

effi ciency diverge, at least in the short run.

If the NSA were simply to share with the private sector en masse

the signatures its intelligence collection obtains about potential cyber

attacks, cyber security could measurably improve in the near term.

But outside the space of companies who regularly do business with

the intelligence community and the military, few companies have

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people with the clearances required by the NSA to distribute threat

information. Also, because the NSA ’s reputation has been tarnished

by its participation in orderless surveillance, and because telecoms are

wary of cooperating with the NSA beyond the scope of the law, com-

panies are afraid to even admit that they ’ve asked the agency for tech-

nical advice. As a senior executive at Google admitted to us, “People

don ’t really trust the NSA, and it will raise suspicions that we ’re letting

them look at their search data, and other things. It ’s not in our inter-

est.” And though Google ’s cooperation with the NSA is well known in

national security circles, “Our average customer does not know it and

there is no reason for us to disclose how we secure our assets.”

In 2011, the government disclosed that it had extended, on

a “voluntary” basis, cyber intrusion protections to the Defense

Industrial Base (DIB)—the collective name for those companies that

regularly do business with the Department of Defense. Reasoning

that it would be much easier to monitor threats from the enterprise

level, the program would set up equipment at Internet service pro-

vider (ISP) hubs run by Verizon and other telecoms; packets coming

into any of fi fteen DIB companies would be screened by data sets dis-

tributed and updated by the NSA. The NSA itself would not perform

the screening, although it is possible that NSA employees might dip

into the private sector for short periods of time to help. It was an aus-

picious decision: the reaction from the privacy community was rather

muted and even complimentary. If the NSA was going to partner

with industry to protect cyber infrastructure, disclosure was a good

fi rst step. 4 “Because of its important partnership with industry, and

given that defense contractors have already been targeted for cyber

intrusion on their unclassifi ed systems, DOD is concerned about the

security of DIB networks,” said Lieutenant Colonel René White, a

Pentagon spokesperson. “Therefore, DOD has asked NSA to evalu-

ate under what conditions it might be possible for the government to

work with the DIB to better protect national security information and

interests in the DIB systems.”

White stressed that the cooperation was “purely voluntary.” That ’s

true—but the Defense Department is also writing new contracting

rules that would require companies with sensitive contracts to secure

their Internet space using pretty much the same technology that

the DIB pilot uses. One reason the government is so sensitive about

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the DIB pilot is that there is a sensitive program attached to it. One

way to prevent attacks is through a concept known within the gov-

ernment as “active defense.” The NSA could use its platforms at the

ISPs to prod and poke and ping places on the Internet where intel-

ligence points to the threat of an original cyber attack. Such poking

might lead those bad actors to respond in a way that reveals a pat-

tern, allowing the United States to fi gure out the precise origin of the

attack (called “attribution”) or even to design creative ways to let

the “attack” happen while not doing any damage. The NSA would

scrutinize the attack in real time to learn how it works. There are

legal limits to what the NSA can do, and within the telecom compa-

nies themselves there are diverging opinions about how much coop-

eration is acceptable. The legal teams are extremely wary of potential

liability, but the government affairs teams, noting that the govern-

ment has deemed the ISPs to be passive providers of a service, tend

to encourage more direct cooperation. Where the balance is drawn

depends on the companies involved.

As of this writing, there is still no single protocol or common

procedure for letting companies, big or small, know about poten-

tial cyber threats. In 2010, the NASDAQ market was attacked, and

it took the government several months to provide fi nancial compa-

nies with prophylactic information about the penetration. There is

no standard way for an employee at a fi nancial, electrical, telecom,

or cyber fi rm to obtain a security clearance. The government and

industry are aware of this virtual air gap in security, and they ’ve drawn

circles around the problem for years without coming to a solution. 5

Credit where credit is due: several offi cials in the Bush and

Obama administrations have pushed for more transparency about

cyber policy issues, and, in fi ts and spurts, Obama ’s national secu-

rity team has managed some accomplishments in this area, all in

the way of providing the public with a better grounding in what the

actual threat is. In the summer of 2011, Howard Schmidt ’s offi ce at

the National Security Council released a long outline of cyber policy

legislation that would be acceptable to the White House—something

that had never been done before. William Lynn, the former deputy

secretary of defense, became the ad hoc advocate for a shared sen-

sibility inside Washington, even writing in the city ’s house journal

of international relations, Foreign Affairs , about the Pentagon ’s

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vulnerability. The DHS began inviting journalists to its formal cyber-

security response exercises.

These are encouraging signs, but the government needs to do

more. In any event, the cyber-industrial complex is happy to talk

about the issue. They want the business, after all. Shortly after he

left government to join Booz Allen Hamilton, McConnell was on 60

Minutes , telling Steve Kroft, “Can you imagine what your life would

be like without electrical power?” 6 In February 2010, when CNN

broadcast a cyber war game exercise sponsored by the Bipartisan

Policy Council (and featuring several former senior government

offi cials who worked for private companies with lucrative cyber con-

tracts), the White House was not terribly thrilled with the hyperbolic

and theatrical treatment that the “formers” (as folks who leave gov-

ernment are known) gave the scenario, which involved a mass attack

against cell phones.

This is not a debate the government would be wise to cede to

industry. But unfortunately, the government hasn ’t gotten its act

together. Even basic questions, like who is responsible for attacks

against the United States, are unresolved. In theory, U.S. Cyber

Command (stood up in 2009 after the DOD fell victim to a series

of system-wide cyber penetrations by China in 2007) provides the

resources, consolidating the various offensive cyber capabilities

of the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy. In practice, aside from

weekly phone calls, the services still pretty much do their own thing.

Cyber Command is developing a doctrine and policy, and prac-

tices attacking things quite often, but whenever anything needs to

be done, the NSA, whose director is also the commanding general

of Cyber Command, does the dirty work. Under the new system, it

asks Cyber Command to write a “check” to authorize either cyber

exploitation or an offensive cyber attack. Lest you think the NSA is

regularly bombarding China with cyber penetrations, it ’s not. Most

U.S.-generated cyber attacks are aimed at very specifi c targets within

recognized battlefi elds, like Iraq and Afghanistan, and occasionally

in countries where the CIA is conducting covert operations. (For

example, the electricity was turned off in Abbottabad on the night

of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden; either the CIA fi gured out

how to temporarily cut the power from the ground or the NSA had

long ago penetrated Pakistan ’s electrical grid.)

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James Lewis, a longtime government consultant on cyber issues,

is not especially given to hyperbole. He is an academic, not a consul-

tant. But he is worried. “We ’re politically inept. It ’s like the Churchill

quote: America always does the right thing after it ’s exhausted all

other options. That ’s where we are,” he says. “There is strong resis-

tance from the business community for better cyber security. Some

of that I don ’t understand. Some of it is pretty clear. They don ’t want

additional costs, they don ’t want additional regulations. I understand

that. National security is not something you can hand to the market

or private sector and expect to have it work. But that ’s what we ’ve

been trying now for about fi fteen years. So we ’ve had ideological and

political constraints that are slowly beginning to shift the equation in

ways that favor our opponents.”

What he means is that the Russians and the Chinese aren ’t going

to do something crazy. First, they make (and save, through data theft)

so much money off cyber espionage and cyber crime that they don ’t

want to kill the golden goose. China, in particular, needs the U.S.

economy to function so it can prosper and get its debts paid back.

And second, they know that if they cross the line, Americans—well,

we are a little bit crazy and may shoot a missile at them. Right now,

our political system is willing to tolerate a signifi cant amount of cyber

espionage and the loss of billions of dollars per year. “It ’s like the mob

in New Jersey,” says Lewis of cyber invaders. “They ’re not going to

close a business down; they ’re going to be parasites and suck money

out of them.”

A miscalculation could be costly, but the rules are unclear and

secret. The possibilities for mistakes due to confused lines of author-

ity are nontrivial. The U.S. electrical grid is uniquely vulnerable to

cyber attack: its control systems are plugged in to the Internet, and

the United States has successfully managed to shut down supposedly

highly protected, air-gapped electrical control systems in tests at the

Idaho National Laboratory.* As former DNI McConnell has admit-

ted, the grid is probed regularly by the Chinese government, which

maps its vulnerabilities.

* According to Lewis, “DHS has looked at twenty-two different power companies, and

found that every single one of them said they weren ’t connected, when in fact they

were. And believe me, if DHS can fi nd it out, the Chinese are way ahead of them.”

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Suppose that during the course of one of these probes China

trips over a cord somewhere and unplugs something. Boom: the

United States is attacked; China has disabled part of the electrical

grid. Technically, yes—but also not really. They were trying to spy.

In the very unlikely event that the United States were to go to war

with China, we would want to disable their electrical system and no

doubt have used other intelligence means to fi gure out how to do so.

What China is doing is not easily distinguishable from what a human

source in Beijing might be doing for the United States.

A common vocabulary is fi rst needed to address cyber security as

well as an accurate sense of where the threat comes from and where

it does not. We might want to start by reserving “attack” for really seri-

ous cases where critical infrastructure is endangered by a deliberate

action. “Hack” can serve as a guide for the rest of what we read about.

There are major hacks and then there are nuisance hacks. Most hacks

are nuisance hacks. Because there is no requirement to report being

hacked (aside from state data breach laws), hacks encompass every-

thing from malicious infi ltrations of British banks that siphon away

tiny fractions of pences, to the political chicanery of Anonymous and

LulzSec. It would be reasonable to require MasterCard to disclose

when a hack compromises the way they exchange data with compa-

nies; it would not be reasonable to require them to disclose a denial-

of-service attack to their public website. Congress, however, doesn ’t

want to do any of this, because it violates a sacred rule of tech legisla-

tion: it should never betray a bias for or against a particular type of

technology, and should always be as open-ended as possible so as not

to prevent the development of better technology to address whatever

the law is intended to regulate. This sounds sensible. But twinned

with the lack of required disclosure, it provides an incentive for tech-

nology that is cheap rather than technology that is effective. Congress

won ’t tell power companies how to protect their grids and doesn ’t

require them to disclose when they ’ve been attacked. It might want to

do one or the other, or both. Tech neutrality turns into tech indiffer-

ence, which makes everyone more vulnerable. 7

Incidentally, the government could simply decide to report to the

public when a company that handles a lot of data or protects some-

thing critical falls victim to a major attack. This wouldn ’t require any

change to the law—only a change in attitude. In theory, companies

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could try to hide breaches from their regulators, but in practice it

would be very diffi cult to do. The easiest short-term solution—one that

might create incentives for industry to spend more money to protect

the stuff we care about—would be to speak more openly. The problem

also arises in thinking about the future architecture of the Internet.

On the other hand, it is very hard for the intelligence community

to intercept mobile communications over packet-switched networks.

(Reportedly, the NSA cannot penetrate VoIP [voice-over Internet

protocol] encryption, although a senior intelligence offi cial says that

they can , with great effort, though they usually do not.) This type of

communication is very secure. As Susan Landau, a former engineer

for Sun Microsystems, has written, “The ability of the government

to wiretap under legal authorization is an important tool for national

security, but the ability of the government to wiretap under legal

authorization is quite different than the government requiring that the

network be architected to accommodate legally authorized wiretaps.” 8

Tech neutrality has another good argument going for it: by the

time government catches up with a technology that the law pro-

scribes, technology is someplace else. Indeed, the government


Einstein 2 solution imposed on the dot-gov domain by the DHS is

about fi ve years out of date, according to offi cials there. The speed

with which the country ’s enemies adapt to technology is remarkable.

Where it took al-Qaeda ten years after its founding to launch its fi rst

attack, it took al-Qaeda ’s loosely linked affi liate based in Algeria and

Yemen less than a year from its founding to the near assassination of

the internal security minister of Saudi Arabia with a highly sophisti-

cated rectum bomb, and shortly thereafter, the near destruction of an

airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day. 9 The threats of tomorrow are

being engineered in academic laboratories today. If the technology

has the potential to be transformational and disruptive, does the gov-

ernment have the right to keep it secret?

Quantum computing is a variable in the cyber-security equa-

tion. According to Tony Tether, former director of the Defense

Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), quantum computing

in the wrong hands poses a threat comparable to advanced biological


The physics of quantum computing are quite elegant, which is

why scientists are aware of its potential, but also terribly complicated,

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which is why no one has fi gured out how to make a workable

machine. A quantum computer takes advantage of the weirdness

of the quantum world, notably parallel processing, and single bits of

information encoded as photons, or qubits, could be used to store two

pieces of data. Quantum particles can be, like Schrödinger ’s cat, in

two states at once. The more qubits a quantum computer has, the

more operations it can perform.

There is a quantum computing arms race of sorts under way.

China, Israel, and Russia have advanced quantum computing pro-

grams with the direct aim of gaining geopolitical advantage, as

does DARPA itself. The U.S. government monitors the activities of

physicists and mathematicians who work on the subject, and the

government even went so far as to require scientists who worked on

quantum computing for Bell Labs when it dissolved into Baby Bells

to remain in the United States if they wanted to pursue the subject.

Tether told Wired magazine that quantum computing is one rea-

son he does not always agree with the nostrum that the best science

is done openly, with results shared with everyone. It would be cata-

strophic, he believes, if someone else got their hands on this technol-

ogy before the United States does, much like it would have been a

crippling blow to U.S. military hegemony had another country fi g-

ured out stealth bomber technology before we did. The United States,

he argues, has to keep the bulk of its efforts secret, lest we allow any

enemy, perceived or real, to take an advantage. Quantum computing

would seem to fi t into a category rule for legitimate secrets.

But science is irrepressible. Legions of scientists work openly

on quantum computing efforts; rarely does an issue of Nature print

without the report of some small advance. In 1994, mathemati-

cian Peter Shor published an algorithm that a quantum computer

could use to break a cryptographic system whose key was based on

the diffi culty of factoring incredibly large prime numbers. That ’s

well and good, because there is no computer capable of employ-

ing it yet. 10 Encryption systems that depend on large-number fac-

toring are called asymmetric; the most common is the RSA public

key,* which is central to the way the Internet encodes and transmits

data packets. 11 Many banks and fi nancial exchange mechanisms use

* RSA derives its name from the fi rst initials of the three scientists who invented it.

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public key cryptography to protect their control systems. According

to a study for computer security fi rm SANS Institute, written by Bob

Gourley, who would later serve as chief technology offi cer for the

Defense Intelligence Agency, a working quantum computer in exis-

tence would suddenly mean that “encryption algorithms such as RSA

which rely on the diffi culty of factoring large primes will suddenly

be obsolete, and everything ever encrypted by RSA will be at risk. If

quantum computers become functional very little on the current day

internet would be safe from cracking.” 12

Likewise, there is speculation that a quantum computer might

be able to break Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption. To put that

in perspective, theoretically PGP could be bombarded with keys and

ultimately penetrated. But even under the best, nonexistent, and likely

impossible conditions, this would require constant bombardment for

ten trillion years. That comes out roughly to “a thousand times the

age of the known universe.” 13 (The Utah Data Center, a secret facil-

ity run by the NSA, has a prototype quantum computer dubbed

VESUVIUS, estimated to be capable of performing 100,000,000,000,

000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 computations at once.) 14

Such raw computing power is one reason most discussions of

quantum computing focus on the cryptography issue. It ’s scary and

interesting to think about all the information in the world suddenly

fl owing free. A country whose computers are enriched by quantum

processing could overwhelm virtually every piece of defensive technol-

ogy we employ, using unstoppable viruses to cripple fi nancial markets

and missile defense systems and power grids. Scary stuff, though we

stress the conditional. This is the quantum world, where in order to

be exploited the information bit must be as perfectly contained as pos-

sible. In classical physics, the moon is the moon—something tangible,

solid, always there. In quantum physics, there is a tiny but nonzero

chance that if you look up at the sky and look in the direction where

the moon is supposed to be, you won ’t fi nd it. That ’s because the indi-

visible bits of matter envisioned by scientists from Aristotle to Einstein

are more aptly described as mathematical wave-function equations,

where a certain something has at least some probability of being any-

where in the universe at a certain point, and might also be spookily

entangled with something else that is farther away. But why do we

see the moon if this is true? Because these fuzzy equations bump into

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each other and suddenly the bits of information decohere into things

that much better approximate the solid stuff we ’re used to dealing

with. This is an extremely simplifi ed, largely misleading way of say-

ing that anything suspended in a quantum state has to be free from

error—that is, the chance that it will decohere has to be very low.

And so the fi rst thing a working quantum computer will do, as

Christopher Monroe, the Bice Zorn Professor of Physics at the

University of Maryland ’s Joint Quantum Institute, put it to a curious

senior Bush administration offi cial in 2009, “is spend 99 percent of its

time correcting errors and the other one percent of its time on com-

putation.” 15 Right now, scientists have managed to get the error rates

down to about 0.1 percent. That sounds impressive, but in order for

a quantum computer to work, scientists need to reduce the error to a

level of 10 −6 , or 0.00006. “We have a ways to go,” as Monroe put it.

The next thing a quantum computer will do, one scientist working

on the problem told the authors, is “build a better version of itself.”

That is, the fi rst thing any smart person would want to do with a

quantum computer is to use it to make a better one, because of all

the computational time and energy spent building the fi rst one.

Tether was at fi rst very reluctant to talk to the authors about his

quantum concerns. He said he did not want to reveal the degree to

which the U.S government was worried about the problem. Here is

his case for more secrecy: “Having something other than the United

States get a quantum computer would be an enormously big deal,”

he says. While some of his colleagues liken the advent of quantum

to the development of the nuclear bomb—its disruptive effects are

that signifi cant—Tether remembers back to the development of the

solid state computer in the 1960s, which suddenly allowed millions

of transistors to be placed on chips the size of a thumbnail (no more

vacuum tubes). “People back then could not imagine the applica-

tions of an integrated circuit with billions of transistors in the chip.”

For Tether, it is the economic impact of quantum that worries

him the most. “Forget the cryptography. Imagine our ability to model

things down at the atomic level and get back an answer in seconds.

We could make a new metal, much stronger than steel, that is trans-

parent and incredibly thin. You could solve all sorts of complex bio-

chemistry equations and make new medicines. If we had a quantum

computer in 1939, the atomic bomb could have been designed in a

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week.” The United States, he insists, must be “fi rst to market” with a

quantum computer. “You really have to have two or three years’ lead

time in the market. That ’s all we ’re really talking about. You ’re not

going to keep in front of anyone else forever. We need to have it so

that we as a corporation can come up with new products and new

solutions that we can sell on the world market that will increase our

economic strength.” Tether is advancing quite deliberately the model

of a country as a corporation because, he says, that ’s how our rival

nations look at themselves—especially China.

DARPA, its intelligence cousin IARPA, and the NSA refused

to discuss quantum computing with the authors, as did Microsoft,

which has a quantum research program under way behind locked

doors at its Santa Barbara campus.

The government is working on a solution to a potentially nearer-

time problem: it needs to develop a cryptographic system that would

sustain a quantum assault. To that end, the NSA and other govern-

ment laboratories are partnering with the private sector to rapidly

understand the “major ramifi cations” that the ability to quickly fac-

tor prime numbers would have, according to a National Research

Council white paper on the frontiers of quantum science. 16 In a

vaultlike series of rooms at Stanford University ’s SRI International,

mathematicians and engineers are trying to develop an impregnable

form of what ’s known as elliptical curve cryptography, which serves

as the basis for most U.S. government cryptographic research efforts

today, and which is currently vulnerable to a quantum computer. 17

There are classifi ed and semiclassifi ed DARPA and Army/Air

Force/Navy Research Lab programs for the potential uses of quantum

cryptography for a set of select defense technologies, including:

The ability to design a perfect sensing laser for drones or


• The ability to decrypt, in real time, RSA-based public key systems

(the NSA can usually begin real-time decryption as soon as it

breaks a key or a code);

• The ability to design radar that can defeat counterstealth tech-

niques the Chinese and Russians are working on;

• The ability to design coatings for aircraft that truly are stealth,

owing to the exploitation of quantum fl uid dynamics;

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• Advances in acoustical detection technology;

• Nuclear weapon dispersal and damage simulations.

Quantum computing has its skeptics, including many scien-

tists who believe that building an operating computer is impossi-

ble. The transition from a world of normal cryptography to a world

of quantum cryptography would pose signifi cant costs on the fi rst

country to try it, which is one counterpressure to the security con-

cerns over mastering it. Even a basic system to use quantum encryp-

tion to encode, say, a message from the White House to NORAD in

Cheyenne, Wyoming, would require a quantum repeater infrastruc-

ture that no one knows how to build. 18

Most of what DARPA does is unclassifi ed by design, owing to

the principle that transparency and effi ciency and collaboration

will produce the best results. But Tether had a bad experience that

leaves him worried about the future of a quantum free-for-all. He

was the main driver of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) proj-

ect, the fi rst major DOD research effort to envision using bulk data

collection and mining for counterterrorism purposes. In Tether ’s

mind, there were two problems with the idea: that Vice Admiral

John Poindexter, an Iran-Contra fi gure, was too controversial to tend

to such a project that would itself become so controversial; and that

he did not classify it from the start. “The reason for that program is

that I watched the Twin Towers come down and I knew that we were

going to fi nd that we had all the data and had trouble connecting the

dots—that type of thing. So we started the program to develop the

technology and give the intelligence community a chance to do this

better. I put John in charge, and he was a lightning rod. The program

being unclassifi ed meant that all of the privacy people had access to

it. A couple of them became alarmed and started talking about it to

reporters, and then someone went to William Safi re, and that was

the end of it.” The New York Times columnist wrote about TIA in

November 2002, casting DARPA ’s $200 million effort as a totalitar-

ian effort to create psychographic “dossiers” on all American citizens.

Congress got involved and held hearings, canceled the program, and

prevented DOD from engaging in mass data mining.

The research programs that TIA funded were farmed out and put

to use. One version of TIA migrated over to the NSA, where it was

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classifi ed. (The DOD funding provision apparently had no effect on

the NSA ’s bulk data collection mining program, in part because the

armed services committees did not know about it.) TIA ’s technologies

are ubiquitous now; every counterterrorism entity in the government

uses social network analysis, evidence extraction and link discovery,

instantaneous speech translation software, and more. “I assumed

that no one would make a big fuss about it, said Poindexter. “We did

all the right things. We brought people in. But I guess I was wrong.

I thought we were at war, and when you ’re at war, everyone works

together and plays by the rules.”

If Tether were to do it over, he says, he would not have accepted

the project ’s Orwellian name, would not have appointed Poindexter

(not because Poindexter did a bad job, but rather because he had too

much baggage), and “I would have classifi ed it. There was a clear

national security interest there. I actually think that the TIA thing

made it much more diffi cult for these types of programs to be created

with the type of privacy safeguards that we had. But we could never

convince anyone that we never had any intentions of using these

tools on Americans.”

Tether is obviously defensive about the program, which is part of

his legacy; the chronology he shares is not universally accepted, and

civil libertarians who knew about the project say they objected to it

precisely because safeguards were nonexistent. 19 He blames civil lib-

ertarians for the demise of another program that he thinks could have

saved lives. It was called CITIES THAT SEE, and its purpose was to

set up a networked series of rugged cameras in Baghdad that could

track cars and trucks. The camera feeds would be recorded 24/7. “If

we saw a car blow up, we could roll back the tape and see exactly

where it came from. But Congress killed it after one year.”


“I was told that, well, if you can do this in Baghdad, the Bush

administration is going to fi gure out how to do it in the U.S., and we

can ’t have that. Congress would have rather killed the baby in the

crib. They were more concerned with unintended consequences of

having this capability. They were more concerned about the rights of

a private citizen than they were about capturing a terrorist.”

Tether sets up a neat dichotomy with his critics, and both are

correct. Eventually, versions of the technology he had seen did wind

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up being used to fi nd the makers of bombs in Iraq, while it also

crept its way into local law enforcement pilot projects in the United

States. As much as Tether may disagree, DARPA ’s—and science ’s—

predilection for transparency did not completely curtail the use of

promising technology. But to Tether ’s point, some degree of discretion

might have helped those technologies save lives earlier than they did.

No technology is born classifi ed; it took the government a long

time to fi gure out it needed to put controls on the transmission of

information about nuclear weapons, and it was probably too late in

doing so, at least from the perspective of wanting to preserve the stra-

tegic advantage of building the bomb. Today, the U.S. Patent Offi ce

will automatically assume that something related to a cryptoanalytic

or cryptographic technique ought to be classifi ed unless the govern-

ment says otherwise; the same rule now applies to nuclear weapons

technology. In 2001, the Department of Energy forced an Australian

company working in the United States to classify a promising tech-

nology to use lasers to separate isotopes for uranium enrichment—

only the second time since the dawn of the nuclear age that the

government used an obscure power to retroactively classify a tech-

nology. 20 As of 2011, GE was on the verge of using the technology

to develop a much more effi cient process to enrich uranium at a

plant in Delaware. 21 GE insists it developed the technology to facil-

itate its civilian nuclear power research, but in the wrong hands, it

could help a country like Iran more quickly develop enough highly

enriched uranium to pack into the core of a nuclear bomb. The gov-

ernment is so sensitive about the spread of uncontrolled information

that it once tried to classify a student ’s research dissertation.

George Washington University ’s Sean Gorman culled informa-

tion from both open and unclassifi ed sources to map the nation ’s

technological infrastructure. The government, when it became aware

of the project, saw two things: the secret concerning America ’s hosting

transit communications for many other nations, and the frailty of the

fi ber optic network that underlay America ’s digital commerce. “Burn

it,” said Richard Clarke, the decidedly not conservative former senior

National Security Council hero, to the Washington Post . In the end,

the university caved: it agreed to keep the paper under lock and key. 22

But eventually, as these things do, the paper got out there,


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Shooting at Ahmadinejad

In late September 2006, President George W. Bush attended the

61st United Nations General Assembly in New York. Each morn-

ing, the president is given a highly classifi ed newspaper of sorts that

summarizes the latest intelligence and events from around the world.

The document is called the President ’s Daily Brief, and the most

chilling item that morning was saved for last.

The item was three sentences long and marked Top Secret, and

it scared the hell out of the dozen or so White House offi cials cleared

to read it. According to one offi cial, it began, “A U.S. Secret Service

agent, in an apparent accident, discharged his shotgun as President

Ahmadinejad was loading his motorcade at the Intercontinental

Hotel yesterday.”

At the time, the Bush administration was still weighing options

for how best to deal with the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

And here, a U.S. Secret Service agent had just given the president

of Iran a massive and potentially devastating public relations coup.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was certain to reveal the accident in some

grand form on the world stage—before the whole of the United

Nations. He might allege that the United States had tried to assas-

sinate him, or scare him, or somehow send a grave message to the

Middle East, and thus upend the entire conference.


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“When I read that, I remember closing my eyes and saying,

‘Three, two, one . . .’” recalls the offi cial. But a quick scan of the

morning newspapers revealed no word of the incident. The Secret

Service, embarrassed and chastened, informed the White House that

the agent had been pulled off the detail and that a full, secret investi-

gation was under way.

It remains unclear to everyone why the incident never leaked.

The agent had hopped into the armored follow-up Suburban and was

adjusting the side-mounted shotgun when it discharged. The armor

was strong enough to stop the slug, but every agent on the detail—

and certainly the half dozen or so Iranian security agents escorting

Ahmadinejad to his car—knew what that sound was.

“Everyone just stopped. The Iranians looked at us and we looked

at the Iranians. The agent began to apologize. Ahmadinejad just

turned his head and got into his car.” And that was it.

The Iranians told no one. Not that day. Not to this day. And their

silence—their helping the Bush administration to keep an embar-

rassing secret—led several White House aides, previously inclined

to view Iran ’s leadership as being driven by the emotions of the

moment, to begin to see Ahmadinejad and his circle of advisers in

a new light. Here was evidence that maybe Iran was acting strategi-

cally, and therefore cautiously.

One of the more nuanced arguments against excessive secrecy (but

not against secrecy itself) comes from Jennifer Sims, the director of

intelligence studies at Georgetown University and a member of the

Public Interest Declassifi cation Board. She believes that the system

protects irrelevant information almost by design and thus creates ten-

sions that inevitably lead to leaks and confl ict. Properly developed,

secrets are valuable to policymakers choosing from among many dif-

fi cult options. Those secrets make it easier to govern. But frivolous

secrets generated by overclassifi cation create conditions for massive

counterintelligence problems. The more leaks there are, the less

liaison cooperation the United States will get, and the more likely

the enemy will perceive the U.S. national security system as vulner-

able. Her solution is to radically reduce the number of things that are

kept secret and to radically increase the protection accorded to those

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secrets. Here, Sims is describing one of the mechanisms that we ’ve

discussed throughout the book: that the bigger the system gets, the

more diffi cult it becomes to manage, and the harder it is to properly

assess and analyze secret information. Sims ’s board oversees the gov-

ernment ’s declassifi cation efforts. She acknowledges that the rules

now in place are at once necessary and impossibly burdensome.

“It was Pat Moynihan ’s fundamental insight that secrecy is a reg-

ulatory system just like any other,” says John Podesta. “What really

struck him were the cases where the more secrecy there was, the

more likely something was to be unsuccessful.”

Things marked Secret draw attention to themselves, and their

importance is automatically elevated. The CIA was obsessed with the

Soviet Union ’s nuclear arsenal and generated an enormous number

of secrets about it. Meanwhile, it missed open source information

about the USSR ’s demography that told a more reliable story about

the challenges facing the country. The United States ignored sugges-

tions in the Indian press that a nuclear weapon was about to be tested

in 1998, because their secret reconnaissance told them that none was

in the offi ng.

And sometimes the government uses secrecy to avoid doing

its job. Podesta recalls a debate in the Clinton administration over

chemical plants in the United States. A lot of plants were under-

regulated, but instead of rewriting rules to ensure that, say, a vat of

chlorine wasn ’t left outside overnight, some members of the admin-

istration wanted to classify the locations of these plants and keep

details about them secret.

Overclassifi cation is the detritus of a self-perpetuating secrecy

apparatus, the result of rapidly advancing technology, and the natu-

ral evolution of an entrenched national security state. But to focus

on overclassifi cation as the root of the problem is myopic. Absent an

offi cial and sustained push for reform from the top, overclassifi cation

will remain a problem in perpetuity.

And the state is showing its wear. General Bryan Douglas Brown,

former commander of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command

and the U.S. Special Operations Command, says that secrecy “is just

very expensive,” which he means in terms of dollars spent maintain-

ing the apparatus and opportunities lost by distracting intellectual

resources from other, more important areas. Bulk declassifi cation

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of very old historical records is pretty easy. But reviewing every

document that ’s been classifi ed in the past twenty-fi ve years and has

been marked with a “Do Not Declassify” caveat is impractical.

Selective declassifi cation, on the other hand, is a workable start.

During the Clinton administration, Al Gore was particularly keen to

declassify such scientifi c data as telemetry from the nation ’s undersea

surveillance system, which could help monitor climate change. The

National Reconnaissance Offi ce, as part of its fi ftieth anniversary,

gave historians a bonanza of data about some of its earlier reconnais-

sance systems. By comparison, the Obama administration has been

cagey about major declassifi cation efforts directed at documents from

the 1980s and 1990s, as many of them might relate to counterterrorist

activities still under way.

The intelligence community produces an enormous amount of

collateral intelligence, because technology allows it to do so. The

State Department, for example, is never not going to communicate

via Secret cables, and so on. There are simply too many incentives to

classify something at a higher level than necessary, and no incentive

at all to underclassify.

The process to protest a classifi cation decision within the govern-

ment is rarely used. If minor, inconsequential information is being

classifi ed, the public isn ’t necessarily being deprived of critical infor-

mation. And the enormous expense associated with any serious go at

declassifi cation is a deterrent, whatever the long-term fi nancial gain.

Formal self-correcting mechanisms such as the Freedom of

Information Act, the Public Interest Declassifi cation Board, and

the Interagency Security Classifi cation Appeals Panel, combined

with the informal mechanisms—dogged researchers like Thomas

S. Blanton, Jeffrey Richelson, Steven Aftergood, and curious his-

torians—are probably suffi cient to ensure that historically relevant

classifi ed material is released, perhaps not in as timely a manner as

it could be, but eventually. And an enlightening portrait of the deep

state for all the public to see is the result.

Ironically, another informal hedge against overclassifi cation is the

growing number of people with access to classifi ed information. The

more people who have access to a secret, the greater the chances that

it will leak. 1 This especially applies to immoral and illegal activities of

the government. Whistleblowers will provide sunlight.

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One reason for the “stamp and leak” culture is the institutional

failure of the intelligence community to fi nd an effective way of

allowing people uncomfortable with certain secrets to protest them

without leaking to the public. Channels that allow for proper and

credible adjudication are essential. David Grannis, the staff director

of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says he is not aware

of a single instance where a whistleblower from within the commu-

nity successfully navigated the complex rules set up by agencies to

handle complaints. And simply put, the people who work with secrets

have little faith in the inspectors general, no matter how independent

they are, and have every reason to believe, because they can read

newspapers, that their whistleblowing will end their careers if done


One reason the government has tended so poorly to the culture of

secrecy is that the executive branch refuses to concede that any other

branch of government (and certainly not the press) has the right or

the duty to question classifi cation decisions, to help determine what

qualifi es as national security information and how that information

should be protected. Sometimes Congress can press the issue. The

Senate, for example, forced the executive branch ’s hand in declassify-

ing the existence of the National Reconnaissance Offi ce in 1992; it

was going to include line items in its unclassifi ed authorization. (At

any rate, the press had long since revealed it.) 2 But more often than

not, the legislative branch abdicates its responsibility.

Congressional oversight of national security would be more effec-

tive if the same legal opinions that underlie executive decisions were

given to the congressional committees, but the executive branch, cit-

ing its constitutional prerogative, will never consider that. The exec-

utive branch is self-defeating in another way: the public now more

than ever knows how the government works. As a result, it grows

skeptical when told that it can ’t access information, especially as soci-

ety itself has begun reorganizing itself around openness and access.

This is especially so when the government goes to excessive lengths

to protect information that has a direct bearing on the national

security debate. Very few people inside government consciously use

secrecy as a means to sow fear and anxiety among Americans, and

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yet it fosters that anxiety and serves to recursively justify a permanent

state of war and a massive military budget. (Government contractors

are direct benefi ciaries, as the independent journalist Tim Shorrock

has documented.) 3

Barton Gellman conceives the secrecy debate as a struggle

between the government and the press for information, and the way

that information ought to be presented and interpreted. It is a com-

petition that is structured by, and limited by, a mutual understanding

of each side ’s respective role in protecting American interests. The

notion that journalists even have a role to play in the broader protec-

tion of American interests strikes some journalists as folly, because it

implies jingoism at best and capture at worst. But Gellman, whose

body of work disproves any such allegation against him, with a rep-

utation for breaking stories that hold the government and powerful

interests to account, never argues for surrender. He wants the execu-

tive branch (even informally if it must) to recognize that journalists

have a signifi cant degree of control over secrecy. He believes that

trust between antagonists can be built, while appropriate oppositional

roles can be maintained: “Hard questions about government secrecy

involve a clash of core values. Call them self-preservation and self-

government. Any answer that fails to take both of those values seri-

ously, and address them both explicitly, has not even engaged the

central problem.” 4

Suppose, he says, that we know that the “president lied about

Iraq ’s nonconventional weapons and thereby took the nation to war

in Iraq by a kind of fraud.” This is the kind of thing that the public

should know before they vote. Further suppose that the information

proving this was released. “Opening fi les would resolve the mystery

but undoubtedly carry high costs. It might put the safety of human

sources at risk, reveal enough about intelligence methods to enable

their defeat, compromise ongoing operations, or warn enemies of

operations to come. Withholding the evidence, on the other hand,

renders citizens unable to judge what may be the most consequential

act of this presidency.”

Who gets to make this judgment? What ’s the right decision? The

press doesn ’t know enough to do so. The judicial branch will defer to

the executive branch, in whose interest it is not to disclose the infor-

mation. Congress probably won ’t have the information to begin with.

both.indd 285

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The answer, as Gellman sees it, is the status quo: “In practice, the

fl ow of information is regulated by a process of struggle as the govern-

ment tries to keep its secrets and people like me try to fi nd them out.

Intermediaries, with a variety of motives, perform the arbitrage. No

one effectively exerts coercive authority at the boundary. And that ’s a

good thing.” 5

The formal checks, such as oversight or an inspector general ’s

process for whistleblowers, are insuffi cient. The informal checks,

like the power of the press and the ubiquity of access to information,

are potent and necessary, as are the informal negotiations that occur

between the government and the press. Malfeasance, wrongdoing,

cover-ups—there is simply no normative principle the government

can use to defend secrecy in these cases. Someone must call the sys-

tem to account.

To Gellman ’s prescription we would add a few more.

The government uses a vocabulary that Americans do not under-

stand. For example, what does the U.S. government mean when it

tells Americans that it has received a “specifi c,” “credible but uncon-

fi rmed,” or “uncorroborated” terrorist threat, as it did on September

10, 2011? Candidate Barack Obama and President-Elect Barack

Obama decided as a matter of policy that the worst way to respond

to a distinctive threat was to treat the country to a command perfor-

mance by scary adults in suits, grimly conveying vague but ominous

information to citizens. But that ’s precisely what President Obama

has continued. So what happened? Even if Obama came to appre-

ciate that the old style didn ’t actually incite panic, it did lead to an

inevitable question for which there is no answer: what do we do with

this “information” you have just given us?

When the intelligence community thinks something is “specifi c,”

what does that mean? At what point does John Brennan, counter-

terrorism adviser to the White House, consider a threat suffi ciently

“credible” that he checks his insurance policy? It ’s astonishing that in

the millions of person-hours devoted to pondering strategic commu-

nication, no one has thought to tell Americans what the government

means when it uses specifi c phrases. Doing so would not help terror-

ists. Rather, it would remove some of the Orwellian stigma associated

both.indd 286

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with vague government warnings. It would foster a common sensibil-

ity about terrorism, and a more realistic view of what the law enforce-

ment and intelligence communities can and cannot do to defuse

potential threats.

Here is what the words actually mean.

A specifi c threat is one that includes details that are distinctive

enough to allow the government to narrow the target set (what ’s sup-

posed to blow up) and/or the identities of the terrorists (not just “two

men,” but “two guys who trained at terrorist camp X and who might

have entered the United States on or around this specifi c date”). For

the most part, timing doesn ’t factor into these considerations, because

anniversaries of some particular event come up almost every day.

A credible threat refers to the source. What makes a source cred-

ible? Generally, if the source has in the past provided specifi c (see

above) information that has turned out to be correct, then it is cred-

ible. Usually, a credible source is a foreign government, as was the

case for the 9/10/11 threat, according to U.S. offi cials. Another source

of credible information: a terrorist or bad guy recently apprehended,

who may feel some incentive to provide accurate information to


What about uncorroborated or unconfi rmed ? These terms are

mostly interchangeable. It means that the government

’s massive

global surveillance network has not intercepted or yet processed any

information that correlates to the specifi c details provided by the

source. That is to say, the National Security Agency has not inter-

cepted a phone conversation that provides verifi cation; liaison ser-

vices haven ’t picked up the same information; a cursory link analysis

of names, fi nancial transactions, transits to and from the United

States, and other data searched with reference to the terms associated

with the specifi c threat has not resulted in any pattern than would

corroborate the threat. Or as a senior FBI agent who works counter-

terrorism cases told the authors, “We call something uncorroborated

when it meets other thresholds but we haven ’t proven it to be false.”

Why the government can ’t—or won ’t—explain this is not obvi-

ous. It may be that counterterrorism specialists simply don ’t know

how to effectively communicate often sophisticated information in

an accessible manner. It may be that some within the intelligence

community believe that providing even such basic defi nitions would

both.indd 287

05/02/13 2:46 PM




compromise sources and methods. (If that ’s the reason, then only the

president can change the communication posture.)

A major source of post-9/11 tension between the FBI and the

New York Police Department has been the NYPD ’s decision to bet-

ter communicate with New Yorkers about threats. The FBI wants

to be general. Ray Kelly, commissioner of the NYPD, and Michael

Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, want to be specifi c. This is one

reason the NYPD wants the FBI to have a presence at its press con-

ferences, but also a reason the FBI rarely gives a statement.

To the Obama administration

’s credit, when word of the

September 10 threat fi rst leaked (and a government offi cial says that

there was no plan to divulge the information precisely because there

was nothing that Americans could do with it), the Department of

Homeland Security released a very short statement confi rming the

threat. The spokesman used the aforementioned confusing set of

words, but he also tried to put them into context, pointing out that as

“we always do before important dates like the anniversary of 9/11, we

will undoubtedly get more reporting in the coming days. Sometimes

this reporting is credible and warrants intense focus; other times it

lacks credibility and is highly unlikely to be refl ective of real plots

under way.”

Transparency is generally a good thing. And it is very diffi cult to

keep the existence of a credible threat from the American people,

which is also a good thing. Part of our implicit bargain between the

government and the governed is the state ’s responsibility to treat us as

adults when it comes to the level of danger we face going about our

daily lives.

Complicating matters, in the post-9/11 rush to share information,

plenty of inaccurate details got out. Bad information adds to the col-

lective anxiety we all feel when cable networks fl ash their “Breaking

News” banners. Just as bad is a slow trickle of accurate details, which

can compromise an active investigation. (Special agents don ’t neces-

sarily want potential attackers to know how close an arrest looms.)

When it comes to real potential terrorist threats, it is reasonable

to expect the government—the people who know as much as there

is to know—to keep some things secret, and it is reasonable for us

to allow them the discretion to do so. That ’s the public ’s end of the

bargain. But the government is obliged to present a case with due

both.indd 288

05/02/13 2:46 PM



diligence and to make sure that when it does communicate, whether

to clarify leaks or simply to inform, that it makes a good-faith effort to

ensure that the end result is a shared understanding.

When he became the principal deputy director of national intel-

ligence (PDDNI),* David Gompert set out to institute precisely this

approach. He believed that the intelligence community had to keep

faith with the public, which had granted the secret world an enor-

mous amount of power. He wanted the national security establish-

ment to incorporate among its procedures the requirement to share

as much information with the American people as possible. It is their

intelligence agencies, after all. It ’s their values that are refl ected in

intelligence community operations. But Gompert received no sup-

port from his colleagues, and his ideas died. 6

Still, that forward thinkers like Gompert can make it to the

highest echelons of government suggests that the national secu-

rity establishment is beginning to understand the value of effective

communication with the public. That it is far better to preempt irre-

sponsible activists like WikiLeaks, and easier to co-opt (from their

perspective) the responsible ones, like the New York Times. The only

way for the government to keep secrets from being stolen is to proac-

tively give them away.

The press, which gets a bad reputation among the majority of

high-level secret keepers, is due for a reckoning. The generation of

Americans who will produce the judges who decide secrecy cases

twenty years from now will not remember Watergate. They will not

see national security journalists as serving a special, if informal, func-

tion, because newspapers—even highly respected ones—will be as

ancient as papyrus scrolls. Already, this generation actively mistrusts

the press. 7 They will likely be less willing to allow broad interpreta-

tions of normative concepts, which means that partisan politics will

certainly intrude on secrecy cases in the future.

Journalists of today share their craft with the likes of WikiLeaks.

They compete with WikiLeaks for the same information. We

can use words like reputation and quality and context ad infi ni-tum, but there is no useful (or legal) way to distinguish between

what WikiLeaks does and what Dana Priest does. Presently, most

* Pronounced “P-Didney.” Really.

both.indd 289

05/02/13 2:46 PM




Americans intuitively understand that Priest is performing a public

service, whereas WikiLeaks is—well, we ’re still not sure.

Julian Assange understands this changing world. As we ’ve dem-

onstrated, WikiLeaks took advantage of the New York Times ’s access

to the government as a way to negotiate and bargain and claim legiti-

macy. He knew that the world wasn ’t ready for unmediated informa-

tion, and that the institutions of old still matter. In the future, this

may change.

Another powerful check on secrecy is the budget cuts to the national

security establishment. (Perhaps “cuts” isn ’t the right word, as it

implies a pair of scissors. Economic and political forces are so align-

ing as to suggest a harvester.) The intelligence community will have

to justify everything it does, and not just to Congress. The National

Reconnaissance Offi ce (NRO) decided on its fi ftieth anniversary to

open the barn door and give journalists an unprecedented briefi ng

about its programs and some of its special projects. Of course there

were things that NRO didn ’t disclose, but they have invited more

scrutiny—respectful and orderly scrutiny—that may redound to their

benefi t, and to ours.

Yet another check we ’ve discovered is that the reputation of a

national security entity rests on how well its policies work and how

they are presented. As we ’ve noted, it may well have been neces-

sary for the NSA to create its special programs after the attacks on

September 11, 2001, but it did so at the cost of reputation. It remains

to be seen how rapidly the agency adapts to its next big mission: to

protect the country from massive, crippling cyber attacks.

Openness is coming. Whether it ’s a press demonstration at NRO

headquarters in Chantilly or curious tourists in Dam Neck, it ’s com-

ing. The implicit bargain between the government and the governed

will have certain terms renegotiated. The hidden hand that controls

secrecy policy is really one side of a handshake, and trust is the essen-

tial condition.

both.indd 290

05/02/13 2:46 PM


A number of offi cials agreed to be interviewed on the record, includ-

ing James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence; Michael

Morrell, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency;

and Bill Leonard, Director of the Information Security Oversight

Offi ce. To them, and to the one-hundred-plus current and former

government offi cials who worked with us—including several sitting

cabinet members, military fl ag and general offi cers, and outside

consultants—thank you for your time and encouragement.

Many public affairs offi cers were as helpful as they could be,

given the subject matter. We appreciate those who balance a duty to

their oaths and a responsibility to history and to truth. They include

Preston Golson and his colleagues at the Central Intelligence Agency

Offi ce of Public Affairs; Lt. Col. James Gregory, the spokesper-

son for the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence; Col. Tim

Nye and Kenneth McGraw of U.S. Special Operations Command;

Todd Breasseale, George Little, Doug Wilson, Carl Woog, and Rear

Admiral John Kirby in the Offi ce of the Secretary of Defense.

Michael Allen, staff director for the House Permanent Select

Committee on Intelligence, put together an unclassifi ed brief-

ing for us on the intelligence budget, which proved quite helpful.

David Grannis, the staff director for the Senate Select Committee on

Intelligence, patiently answered many questions about process and



back.indd 291

05/02/13 2:45 PM


The White House was no help at all. We acknowledge their

silence, despite our numerous attempts to discuss a range of issues,

both sensitive and mundane, about secrecy.

Bill Arkin was collecting information about government secrecy

before we were born. All writers in this fi eld stand on his shoulders.

His most recent work, Top Secret America, written with Dana Priest,

draws different conclusions than we do, but it proved extremely help-

ful, as did Arkin’s 2005 opus, Code Names. We found many useful

documents on such websites as Cryptome,,

Cryptocomb, and Government Attic. John Young, Deborah Natsios,

Michael Ravnitzky, and their peers provide an invaluable service.

We can’t overstate the insight, help, and guidance offered by

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute, Gabriel Schoenfeld, Richard

Gid Powers, Jon Eisenberg, Amy Zegart, Yochi Dreazen, Barton

Gellman, Dafna Linzer, Matthew Aid, Shane Harris, Jennifer Sims,

David Gomez, Matthew A. Miller, Kris Gallagher, John Gresham,

Bob Gourley, Lewis Shepherd, James Lewis, Frank Blanco, Robert

Chesney, Ben Wittes, Ken Gude, Mieke Eoyang, Chris Jordan,

Michele Malvesti, and the staff of the National Security Archive at

George Washington University.

This book benefi tted tremendously from the supreme research

skills of Adam Rawnsley. His encyclopedic knowledge of the subject

matter, and meticulous methods and information-gathering added

signifi cant value to the book.

At FinePrint Literary Management, Janet Reid took us from a

one-paragraph concept to a completed manuscript. We are grateful

for her insight and guidance. At John Wiley & Sons, Eric Nelson

sharpened arguments, challenged assertions, and turned the manu-

script into a book. It was our great fortune to work alongside him for

over a year. Lisa Burstiner and her team, who copy edited this and

The Command: Deep Inside the President’s Secret Army, have our sin-

cerest thanks.

The Fund for Investigative Journalism provided a grant that

helped make this book possible. Thank you for assisting us, and for

all the things you do to bring the truth to light, and make the world a

more just place.

back.indd 292

05/02/13 2:45 PM


Introduction: Asleep under Fire

1. Kenneth R. Mayer, With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 146.

2. Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy,

Hearing before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate,

105th Congress, First Session, May 7, 1997, p. 20, Testimony of David Wise,

Washington, DC.

3. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (New Haven: Yale

University Press, 1998), 216–217.

4. Chris Lawrence and Padma Rama, “Pentagon Destroys Thousands of Copies of

Army Offi cer’s Memoir, ” CNN, September 28, 2010,


5. Meredith Chaiken, “Poll: Americans Say WikiLeaks Harmed Public Interest; Most

Want Assange Arrested,” Washington Post, December 14, 2010, http://www.wash

6. Michael Sheridan, “Julian Assange: WikiLeaks ‘Insurance’ File Could Unleash

Secrets Should Website Get Taken Down,” New York Daily News, December 5,



7. Adam Levine, “Top Military Offi cial: WikiLeaks Founder May Have ‘Blood’ on His

Hands,” CNN, July 29, 2010,


8. David Foster Wallace, Infi nite Jest: A Novel (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996), 478.


bnotes.indd 293

05/02/13 2:45 PM

294 NOTES TO PAGES 12–24

1. Need to Know

1. Gabriel Schoenfeld, Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule

of Law (New York: Norton, 2010), 109.

2. Ibid.

3. Herbert O. Yardley, The American Black Chamber (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1931), 20.

4. Patrick Radden Keefe, Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global

Eavesdropping (New York: Random House, 2006), 10.

5. Michael Smith, MI6: The Real James Bonds 1909–1939 (London: Dialogue, 2011).

6. John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in

America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 15–16.

7. Matthew M. Aid, The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security

Agency (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), 26–27.

8. Ibid., 33.

9. National Security Council Intelligence Directive No. 9, “Communications

Intelligence,” December 29, 1952.

10. T. M. Hannah, “The Many Lives of Herbert O. Yardley,” Cryptologic Spectrum

(Fort George G. Meade, Maryland: National Security Agency, 1981), 26.

11. Todd S. Purdum, “Clinton Ends Ban on Security Clearance for Gay Workers,”

New York Times, August 5, 1995.

12. James Risen, “CIA to Issue Guidelines on Hiring Foreign Agents,” Los Angeles

Times, June 20, 1995.

13. John Deutch and Jeffrey Smith, “Smarter Intelligence,” Foreign Policy, February 2002.

14. Douglas Jehl, “Abundance of Caution and Years of Budget Cuts Are Seen to Limit

C.I.A.,” New York Times, May 11, 2004.

15. Dana Priest and William Arkin, “A Hidden World, Growing beyond Control,”

Washington Post, July 19, 2010.

16. Government Accountability Offi ce, “Personnel Security Clearances,” May 19,


17. Ibid.

2. The Curious Case of Primoris Era

1. U.S. Offi ce of Personnel Management, Questionnaire for National Security

Positions (Standard Form 86), December 2010.

2. Spencer Ackerman, “Unfollowed: How a (Possible) Social Network Spy Came

Undone,” Wired, August 28, 2011,


3. Naadir Jeewa, “An Update: The Company behind the Twitter Spies,” Random

Variable, April 30, 2011,


4. Marc Ambinder had a conversation with the sailor, who asked that his name be

withheld; the author independently verifi ed his identity.

5. Thomas Ryan, “Getting in Bed with Robin Sage, ” 2010, http://www.privacywonk


v1.0.pdf, 2.

6. Ibid.

bnotes.indd 294

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 25–40 295

7. Ibid., 3.

8. Ibid., 4.

9. Shaun Waterman, “Fictitious Femme Fatale Fooled Cybersecurity,” Washington

Times, July 18, 2010,

fi ctitious-femme-fatale-fooled-cybersecurity/?page=1.

10. Ryan, “Getting in Bed w ith Robin Sage,” 5.

11. Archived screenshots of

12. Jeffrey Rosen, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” New York Times Sunday

Magazine, July 21, 2010, MM30.

13. Laura Emmett, “WikiLeaks Revelations Only Tip of Iceberg—Assange,” RT, May

2, 2011,

14. Matt Raymond, “How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive,”

Library of Congress, April 14, 2010,


15. Rosen, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.”

16. Marine Administrative Message, “Immediate Ban of Internet Social Networking

Sites (SNS) on Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN) NIPRNET,” U.S.

Marine Corps, August 9, 2009,


17. William Lynn, Deputy Secretary of Defense Memorandum, “Directive-Type

Memorandum (DTM) 09-026—Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-Based

Capabilities,” February 25, 2010,


18. Nancy Gohring, “U.S. Defense Department OKs Social Networking,” PC World,

March 1, 2010.

19. Personal email to Marc Ambinder, February 23, 2012.

20. Adam Rawnsley, “Hidden Bases, Secret Raids: WikiLeaks Reveals CIA’s Iraq

Ops,” Wired, October 27, 2010,


3. From Inception to Eternity

1. John Maxwell Hamilton, Journalism’s Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign

Reporting (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009), 151.

2. Ibid.

3. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy: The American Experience (New Haven: Yale

University Press, 1998), 133.

4. Philip H. Melanson, Secrecy Wars: National Security, Privacy, and the Public’s

Right to Know (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 2001), 173.

5. Charlie Savage, “Cheney Says He Urged Bush to Bomb Syria in ’07,” New York

Times, August 25, 2011, A18.

6. Kevin Poulsen and Kim Zetter, “‘I Can’t Believe What I’m Confessing to You’: The

Wikileaks Chats,” Wired, June 10, 2010,


7. D. M. Thomas Jr., Memorandum for Commander, “Combatant Status Review

Tribal Input and Recommendation for Continued Detention under DOD Control

(CD) for Guantanamo Detainee, ISN: US9KU-010024DP (S),” Headquarters Joint

Task Force Guantanamo, December 8, 2006.

bnotes.indd 295

05/02/13 2:45 PM

296 NOTES TO PAGES 41–58

8. Jennifer K. Elsea, “Criminal Prohibitions on the Disclosure of Classifi ed

Information,” Congressional Research Service, September, 2011, 19–24.

9. Gabriel Schoenfeld, “Has the New York Times Violated the Espionage Act?,”

Commentary, March 2006; this article was the genesis for his well-argued book on

the subject.

10. Background on the court rulings can be found in Elsea, “Criminal Prohibitions on

the Disclosure of Classifi ed Information,” 22–24.

11. John N. Nassikas III, Kate B. Briscoe, et al., Memorandum of Law in Support

of Defendants Steven J. Rosen’s and Keith Weissman’s Motion to Dismiss the

Superseding Indictment, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia,

Alexandria Division, January 19, 2006,

12. United States v. Samuel Morison, 844 F.2d 1057 (4th Cir. 1988).

13. Michael Kinsley, “Secrets and Spies,” Slate, June 9, 2006.

14. Dan Morain, “Davis Defends Warning of Bridge Attack,” Los Angeles Times,

November 3, 2001,

15. Library of Congress, James Madison and the Federal Constitutional Convention of


4. Fairly Modest

1. WikiLeaks, “Collateral Murder, ” April 5, 2010,

2. Bill Keller, “Dealing with Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets,” New York Times,

January 30, 2011, MM32 .

3. Tim Hsia, “Reaction on Military Blogs to the WikiLeaks Video,” New York Times,

April 7, 2010,


4. Ibid.

5. Michael Hastings, “Julian Assange: The Rolling Stone Interview,” Rolling Stone,

January 18, 2012,


6. “190946: Interior Secretary Provides Terms of A. Q. Khan’s Modifi ed Detention,”

7. “F-16 Security Notes: Request for Two Specifi c Changes That Will Benefi t

Coalition Operations, ”


8. “VFM Chun Young-woo on Sino–North Korean Relations, ” http://www.cablegate

9. “Google Update: PRC Role in Attacks and Response Strategy, ” http://www.cable

10. “Al-Masri Case—Chancellery Aware of USG Concerns, ” http://www.cablegate

11. “Saudi King Abdullah and Senior Princes on Saudi Policy Toward Iraq, ” http://

12. “General Petraeus with King Hamad: Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, NATO AWACS,

Energy, ”

13. “Yemen’s Counter Terrorism Unit Stretched Thin by War against Houthis, ” http://

14. “Syrian Intelligence Chief Attends CT Dialogue with S/CT Benjamin, ” http://

bnotes.indd 296

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 58–69 297

15. “Spain Details Its Strategy to Combat the Russian Mafi a,” http://www.cablegate

16. “Medvedev’s Address and Tandem Politics, ”


17. “DOD News Briefi ng with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon,”

U.S. Department of Defense, Offi ce of the Assistant Secretary of Defense

(Public Affairs), News Transcript, November 30, 2010,


18. Scott Neuman, “Clinton: WikiLeaks ‘Tear at Fabric’ of Government,” NPR,

November 29, 2010,


19. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8 (Thomas Jefferson

Memorial Association, 1904), 92–93.

20. David Newsom, The Public Dimension of Foreign Policy (Bloomington: Indiana

University Press, 1996), 33.

21. “WikiSecrets: Julian Assange Interview Transcript,” Frontline, April 4, 2011, http://

22. “Wikileaks U.S. Diplomatic Cables: Key Pakistan Issues,” BBC, December 1, 2010,

23. Peter Wright, Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence

Offi cer (New York: Viking, 1987).

5. Vital Information

1. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mandate for Change, 1953–1956 (New York: Doubleday,

1963), 90.

2. Ralph E. Weber, Spymasters: Ten CIA Offi cers in Their Own Words (Wilmington,

DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999), 117.

3. D. K. R. Crosswell, Beetle: The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith (Lexington:

University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 48.

4. Ibid.

5. Tim


Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 80.

6. Ibid., 76.

7. Roger Z. George and Robert D. Kline, eds., Intelligence and the National Security

Strategist: Enduring Issues and Challenges (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefi eld,

2005), 437.

8. Ibid.; David M. Barrett, The CIA and Congress: The Untold Story from Truman to

Kennedy (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005), 380.

9. Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the

American Presidency from Washington to Bush (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996),


10. Barrett, The CIA and Congress, 385.

11. Clarence R. Wyatt, Paper Soldiers: The American Press and the Vietnam War

(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 20.

12. Ronald Kessler, The CIA at War (New York: St. Martin’s, 2003), 67.

13. Ibid.

14. Barrett, The CIA and Congress, 381–382.

15. Ibid., 386.

16. Kessler, The CIA at War, 68.

bnotes.indd 297

05/02/13 2:45 PM

298 NOTES TO PAGES 69–85

17. Barrett, The CIA and Congress, 416.

18. Donald Rumsfeld, memorandum to Steve Cambone, September 12, 2003.

19. General Wayne Downing, memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Special Operations Force Assessment,

November 9, 2005.



6. The Horrors Book

1. Memorandum of Conversation, the Oval Offi ce, the White House, January 4,

1975, Allegations of CIA Domestic Activities, Gerald R. Ford Library.

2. Memorandum for the File, United States Government, January 3, 1975, CIA

Matters, Gerald R. Ford Library.

3. Memorandum of Conversation, Secretary Kissinger’s Offi ce, the White House,

February 20, 1975, Investigation of Allegations of CIA Domestic Activities, Gerald

R. Ford Library.

4. Richard Gid Powers, Broken: The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI

(New York: Free Press/Macmillan, 2004), 271–272.

5. Ronald Kessler, The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (New York: St. Martin’s, 2003), 107.

6. Tad Szulc, “The Politics of Assassination,” New York, June 23, 1975,

7. United States Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with

Respect to Intelligence Activities, The Investigation of the Assassination of President

John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies, Book V, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence

Activities, April 23, 1976.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. L. Britt Snider, “Unlucky SHAMROCK,” CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence,

April 14, 2007,


12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. James Bamford, The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America’s

Most Secret Intelligence Organization (New York: Penguin, 1987), 306.

15. Ibid., 307.

16. U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command History Offi ce, On the Trail of

Military Intelligence History: A Guide to the Washington, D.C. Area, 2004, 16.

17. Bamford, The Puzzle Palace, 76.

18. Ibid., 317.

19. Ibid., 319.

20. Ibid., 314, 322.

21. Ibid., 315, 336

22. Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 186, 313–314.

23. Shane Harris, The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 332.

bnotes.indd 298

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 86–95 299


George W. Calhoun, Prosecutive Summary, United States Government

Memorandum, March 4, 1977, 4.

25. Ibid., 8.

26. National Security Council Intelligence Directive No. 9, Communications

Intelligence, Washington, DC, March 10, 1950.

27. Calhoun, Prosecutive Summary, 13, 14.

28. William Egan Colby and Peter Forbath, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA (New

York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), 14, 15.

29. James S. Van Wagenen, “A Review of Congressional Oversight: Critics and

Defenders, ” CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, 1997, https://www.cia



30. 22 U.S.C. § 2422, Public Law 93-559, Section 662, December 30, 1974.

31. Alfred Cumming, “Gang of Four,” Congressional Intelligence Notifi cations,

Congressional Research Service, January 29, 2010,


32. 22 U.S.C. § 2422, Public Law 93-559, Section 662, December 30, 1974.

33. Van Wagenen, “A Review of Congressional Oversight.”

34. Philip Taubman, “Senate Approves Bill for Oversight on Intelligence,” New York

Times, June 4, 1980; Loch K. Johnson, “Controlling the Quiet Option,” Foreign Policy 39 (Summer 1980). Note: Representative Les Aspin cast doubt on the CIA’s

claim that this resulted in briefi ngs for more than two hundred members and staff,

telling the New York Times that only three committees conducted routine covert

action reviews and that the full membership of the remaining fi ve committees did

not receive notifi cations. Loch K. Johnson, a former staff director of the House

Subcommittee on Intelligence Oversight, estimated the actual numbers to be forty-

six members and seventeen staff.

35. Cumming, “Gang of Four.”

36. James Risen, “Ex-Spy Alleges Effort to Discredit Bush Critic,” New York Times,

June 16, 2011, A1.

37. Sarah Belal and Christopher Rogers, “Bagram Prison Inmates Deserve Clear

Answers about Their Fates,” Daily Beast, April 29, 2012, http://www.thedailybeast



7. Conspiracies

1. Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI (New York: Random House, 2012), 608.

2. Max Hastings, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–1945 (New York: Alfred A.

Knopf, 2007), 448–499.

3. Ibid., 456–457.

4. Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for

Decision Makers (New York: Free Press, 1986), 140–-155. See


5. Ibid., 142–143.

6. Jack Pfeiffer, Offi cial History of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Vol. I and II, Central Intelligence Agency, accessed from the National Security Archive, http://www.gwu

.edu/~nsarchiv/bayofpigs; see also Peter Kornbluh, ed., Bay of Pigs Declassifi ed: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba (New York: New Press, 1998).

bnotes.indd 299

05/02/13 2:45 PM

300 NOTES TO PAGES 96–106

7. United States Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with

Respect to Intelligence Activities, The Investigation of the Assassination of President

John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies, Book V, Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence

Activities, April 23, 1976.

8. Richard Gid Powers, Broken: The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI

(New York: Free Press/Macmillan, 2004), 263.

9. Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence

Activities, Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

10. Joseph Trento, The Secret History of the CIA (Roseville, CA: Forum, 2001), 269.

11. Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F.

Kennedy (New York: Norton, 2007), 338 fn.

12. Ibid., 158–159.

13. Ibid., 1213, fn1.

8. Inside the Enclave

1. Thornton D. Barnes, Roadrunners Internationale, http://www.roadrunnersinter-; Trevor Paglen, I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2010).

2. United States Air Force, Airport Diagrams: Russia and CIS, October 2010, http://

3. John Pike, “Area 51—Groom Lake, NV,” Federation of American Scientists, April


4. William J. Broad, “Snooping’s Not Just for Spies Any More,” April 23, 2000, New

York Times.

5. U.S. Air Force, Rapid Capabilities Offi ce Fact Sheet, September 2, 2009, http:// The term Big Safari refers to the acknowledged special access program under which these aircraft are

budgeted. See Department of Defense Inspector General, Audit Report: Allegations

Relating to the Security Controls on Two Air Force Programs, December 16, 1999,

6. Keith Rogers, “Area 51 ‘Camo Dudes’ on Strike,” December 11, 2001, Las Vegas

Review-Journal; Keith Rogers, “Security Guards for ‘Nowhere’ Strike for Contract,

Higher Pay,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, December 12, 2001. The fi gure of 350

security offi cers is from an EG&G job posting seeking candidates for a security

manager at a “TS/SCI Air Operations” facility in Nevada.

7. Email exchange with Tim Farrell, former commander of the 99th Security Forces


8. Nellis Air Force Base, Wing Infrastructure Development Outlook (WINDO):

Final Environmental Assessment, June 2006, p. 32,

media/document/AFD-060619-037.pdf; Bill Murphy, “Tonopah Test Range Open for Business,” Sandia Lab News, March 2010,


9. Threat Systems Management Offi ce, August 24, 2011,


10. U.S. Air Force, “U.S. Air Force Declassifi es Elite Aggressor Program,” November

13, 2006,

bnotes.indd 300

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 107–137 301

11. Trevor Paglen, Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s

Secret World (New York: Dutton, 2009), 32–48.

9. The Tip of the Spear


Joint Special Operations Command, “United States Special Operations

Command, ”

2. Congressional modifi cation of 1991 to Section 503(e) of the National Security Act

of 1947.

10. Necessary Secrets

1. U.S. Department of State, Foreign Affairs Handbook, vol. 5, handbook 3, p. 1,

2. Barack Obama, Executive Order 13526, 2009.

3. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Secrecy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 73.

4. Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down (New York: Signet, 2002), 33–34.

5. Based on correspondence with Colonel Guidry.

6. Chris Monty, “SEAL Commander Told to ‘Get the Hell Out’ of the Media,”

Blippitt, February 8, 2012,


7. Based on interviews with fi rsthand participants.


Charlie A. Beckwith and Donald Knox, Delta Force: The Army’s Elite

Counterterrorist Unit (New York: Avon, 2000), 331.

9. Christopher J. Lamb and Evan Munsing, Secret Weapon: High-Value Target Teams

as an Organizational Innovation (Washington, DC: National Defense University,

2011), 11.

10. Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New

American Security State (New York: Little, Brown, 2011), 223, iPad edition;

Sean D. Naylor, “Years of Detective Work Led to Al-Qaeda Target,” Army Times,

November 21, 2011.

11. Based on interviews with fi rsthand participants.

12. From the author’s brief interview with Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy to

Afghanistan and Pakistan, shortly before his death.

11. The Tools for the Job

1. Avery Plaw, “The Legality of Targeted Killing as an Instrument of War: The Case

of Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi,” 5th Global Conference on War, Virtual War and

Human Security, Budapest, 2008, pp. 3–4,


2. Annie Jacobsen, Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military

Base (New York: Little, Brown, 2011), 352.

3. Phillip Smucker, “The Intrigue Behind the Drone Strike,” Christian Science

Monitor, November 12, 2002.

4. Michael Smith, Killer Elite: The Inside Story of America’s Most Secret Special

Operations Team (New York: St. Martin’s Griffi n, 2008), 247.

5. Interview with a Marine who was part of a mission in Yemen.

bnotes.indd 301

05/02/13 2:45 PM

302 NOTES TO PAGES 138–163

6. Stanford International Human Rights & Confl ict Resolution Clinic, Living Under


7. Interview with a former senior intelligence offi cial who worked with Blair.

8. Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Revealed: 64 Drone Bases on American Soil,

Wired, June 13, 2012,


9. National Research Council Committee on Experimentation and Rapid Prototyping

in Support of Counterterrorism, Experimentation and Rapid Prototyping in Support

of Counterterrorism (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2009), 72.

10. Ibid., 24.

11. Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New

American Security State (New York: Little, Brown, 2011), 222.

12. National Research Council Committee on Experimentation and Rapid Prototyping

in Support of Counterterrorism, Experimentation and Rapid Prototyping in Support

of Counterterrorism, 20.

13. Interview with a former DIA offi cial.

14. Henry Kenyon, “A Mandate to Innovate in Intelligence Analysis,” Federal

Computer Week, March 28, 2011,



Gareth Porter, “How McChrystal and Petraeus Built an Indiscriminate

‘Killing Machine,’” Truthout, September 26, 2011,


16. An oblique outline of this dispute can be found in Flynn’s unauthorized essay for

the Center for New American Security in January 2010, “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint

for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan, ” les/docu


17. Based on interviews with fi rsthand participants.

12. The Known Unknowns

1. Author’s interview with Michael Leiter.

2. Based on interviews with fi rsthand participants.

3. Christopher J. Lamb and Evan Munsing, Secret Weapon: High-Value Target Teams

as an Organizational Innovation (Washington, DC: National Defense University,


4. “U.S. Military Offers Sheep in Exchange for Afghanistan Deaths,” Christian

Science Monitor, April 8, 2010,


5. Memorandum to the Deputy Under Secretary for Policy, from Frank Carlucci, sec-

retary of defense, May 26, 1982, accessed from the National Security Archive web-


6. Sean D. Naylor, “Years of Detective Work Led to Al-Qaeda Target,” Army Times,

November 21, 2011.

7. John Gresham, “The Year in Special Operations,” interview with General Doug

Brown (ret.), Defense Media Network, 2010.

13. The Structure of Secrecy

1. Robert M. Pallitto and William G. Weaver, Presidential Secrecy and the Law

(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 71.

bnotes.indd 302

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 163–176 303

2. John F. Sullivan, Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner (Washington,

DC: Potomac Books, 2007), 12.

3. Ibid., 211–212.

4. The best offi cial government primer on the poly is Educing Information:

Interrogation: The Art and Science, compiled by the Intelligence Science Board in

2006. See chapter 4, “Mechanical Detection of Deception: A Short Review,” by

Kristen E. Heckman and Mark D. Happell.

5. Intelligence Community Authorized Classifi cation and Control Markings, Register

and Manual, Volume 5, Edition 1, Controlled Access Program Coordination

Offi ce, March 30, 2012, pp. 54–57.

6. William E. Burrows, Deep Black (New York: Random House, 1986), 22–23.

7. Jeffrey Smith, Redefi ning Security: A Report to the Secretary of Defense and the

Director of Central Intelligence, Joint Security Commission, February 28, 1994,

p. 1,

8. Testimony of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Committee on Governmental

Affairs, United States Senate, Hearing on Government Secrecy, May 7, 1997,

9. Joint Security Commission, Redefi ning Security: A Report to the Secretary of

Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence, February 28, 1994, Chapter 2:

Classifi cation Management,

10. Dick Cheney, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir (New York: Threshold

Editions, 2011), 140.

11. Ibid., 141.

12. Joseph Wilson, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” New York Times, July 6, 2003.

13. Government Exhibit 2A, Bates Number 001746, p. 62, Washington Post, http://

14. Peter Baker, “Cheney Defi ant on Classifi ed Material,” Washington Post, June

22, 2007,


15. David Addington, Letter to John F. Kerry, June 26, 2007,

news/2007/06/ovp062607.pdf; White House Offi ce of the Press Secretary, Press Briefi ng by Dana Perino, June 22, 2007, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives


16. Kevin Bogardus and Rebecca Brown, “Cheney Gets Last Laugh,” The Hill, June

19, 2008,

17. Richard Sale, Clinton’s Secret Wars: The Evolution of a Commander in Chief (New York: Thomas Dunne, 2009).

18. Jeffrey T. Richelson, Lifting the Veil on NRO Satellite Systems and Ground

Stations, The National Security Archive, October 4, 2012, http://www.gwu


14. Partisan Transparency

1. Dennis Merrill and Thomas Paterson, Major Problems in American Foreign

Relations, Volume II, Since 1914 (Boston: Wadsworth, 2009), 291.

2. Norman Friedman, The Fifty-Year War: Confl ict and Strategy in the Cold War

(Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2007), 238–239.

3. Ibid.

4. “Defense: The Missile Gap Flap,” Time, February 17, 1961,


bnotes.indd 303

05/02/13 2:45 PM

304 NOTES TO PAGES 177–194

5. Richard Reeves, President Kennedy: Profi le of Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 58–59.

6. Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President (New York: Simon &

Schuster, 1991), 501.

7. Christopher Preble, “Ike Reconsidered,” Washington Monthly, March/April 2011,

8. David Barno and Travis Sharp, “The Right Cuts,” Foreign Policy, January 7, 2011,

9. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address (January 17, 1961), American Rhetoric,

10. Gregg F. Herken, Counsels of War (New York: Knopf, 1985), 140.

11. Thomas Fingar, “Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence and National Security Using

Intelligence to Anticipate Opportunities and Shape the Future,” Lecture, October

21, 2009,

12. Offi ce of the Director of National Intelligence, National Intelligence Estimate:

Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, November 2007,


13. Trevor Paglen, Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s

Secret World (New York: Dutton, 2009), 222.

14. Frederick P. Hitz, Why Spy? Espionage in an Age of Uncertainty (New York:

Thomas Dunne, 2008), 120.

15. President George W. Bush, Memorandum, “Disclosures to the Congress,” October

5, 2001.

16. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11

Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks

Upon the United States (New York: Norton, 2004), 127.

17. Patrick Radden Keefe, “Cat-and-Mouse Games,” New York Review of Books 52,

no. 9 (May 26, 2005).

18. Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen, “Hill Briefed on Waterboarding in 2002,”

Washington Post, December 9, 2007.

15. Open Source Strikes Back

1. Noah Shachtman, “Listen: Secret Libya Psyops, Caught by Online Sleuths,” Wired,

March 20, 2011,

2. David Cenciotti, “The White FEST C-32 to Andrews AFB Using an FBI

Callsign on a ‘Black’ Mission?, ” May 15, 2011,


3. Andrew Orlowski, “PayPal Restores Cryptome for Real,” Register, March 11, 2010,

4. Osama bin Laden Compound Raid Mock-up, Cryptome, October 9, 2012, http://

5. Microsoft Online Services Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, March 2008,

16. Resistance

1. U.S. Attorney’s Offi ce, District of Oregon, “U.S. Branch of Al-Haramain

Islamic Foundation and Two Offi cers Indicted for Conspiring to Defraud

bnotes.indd 304

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 195–214 305

U.S. Government,” February 17, 2005,

PressReleases/20050217_al_haramain.htm; Department of the Treasury, Offi ce of Foreign Assets Control, Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List,

September 22, 2011,

2. American Civil Liberties Union, “ACLU v. NSA: The Challenge to Illegal Spying,”

3. Bobby Chesney, “State Secrets and the Limits of National Security Litigation,”

Selected Works, August 2007,


4. Ibid.

5. Jerry Markon, Lawsuit against CIA Is Dismissed, May 19, 2006, Washington Post,

2107.html. See also El-Masri v. United States, 479 F.3d 296 (4th Cir. 2007), cert.

denied, No. 06-1613, 2007 WL. 1646914 (U.S. Oct. 9, 2007).

6. Interviews with three former national security offi cials; interview with Greg Stone,

University of Chicago law professor and friend of President Obama.

7. United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 08-15693, Mohamed

v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Opinion, September 8, 2010,

datastore/opinions/2010/09/07/08-15693.pdf; interview with Holder aide.

8. President Barack Obama, “Ten Questions: Warrantless Wiretaps, Video,” August 1,


9. John Schwartz, “Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets,” New York Times,

February 10, 2009, A12 .

10. Glenn Greenwald, Obama’s Efforts to Block a Judicial Ruling on Bush’s Illegal

Eavesdropping, Salon, February 28, 2009,


11. Interview with Frank Blanco, former executive director, NSA and U.S. representa-

tive to the Five Eyes treaty board.

12. John Bingham, “Hillary Clinton Made Security Help ‘Threat’ to David Miliband

over Binyam Mohamed Case,” The Telegraph, July 29, 2009, http://www.telegraph


13. The case is compelling. For a full list of all

the transcripts, motions and related documents, see


14. For a full account of their rivalry on national security matters, see Klaidman,

Daniel, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of Obama’s Presidency

(New York: Houghton Miffl in Harcourt, 2012).

15. Tara Mckelvey, “Inside the Killing Machine,” Daily Beast, February 13, 2011,


16. Ronald Brownstein, The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has

Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America (New York: Penguin Press, 2007), 20.

17. The Flicker of a Piercing Eye

1. Kurt Eichenwald, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars (New York:

Touchstone, 2012), 98.

2. Ibid, 96.

bnotes.indd 305

05/02/13 2:45 PM

306 NOTES TO PAGES 215–227

3. National Security Agency, “American Cryptography during the Cold War 1945–

1989,” declassifi ed February 13, 2006.

4. Matthew M. Aid, The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security

Agency (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), 196.

5. Interview with former senior intelligence offi cial.

6. James Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security

Agency (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 458.

7. Michael V. Hayden, USAF, Director, National Security Agency, Address to

Kennedy Political Union of American University, 17 February 2000, http://www.fas


8. CryptoKids: America’s Future Codemakers & Codebreakers, National Security


9. Interview with a former senior offi cial in the Justice Department, June 2011.

10. Correspondence with General Michael Hayden.

11. Interview with a government offi cial who works on the program.

12. Ellen Nakashima, “A Surveillance Story,” Washington Post, November 7, 2007;

Barton Gellman, Dafna Linzer, and Carol D. Leonnig, “Surveillance Net Yields

Few Suspects,” Washington Post, February 5, 2006.

13. United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18; Executive Order 12333.

14. Dahlia Lithwick, “Secrets and Lies,” Slate, August 29, 2002,

id/2070287/; United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Memorandum Opinion, May 17, 2002,

scripts/fi sa_opinion.pdf

15. A good description of the nexus of law enforcement cooperation with the telecom

companies can be found in Susan Landau, Surveillance or Security (Cambridge:

MIT Press, 2010), 80–95.

16. A good guess at how the NSA does this part of the mission can be found in IXmpas:

Intereactively Mapping NSA Surveillance Points in the Internet “Cloud,” http://

17. Barton Gellman, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (New York: Penguin Press,

2008), pp. 144–145.

18. Unclassifi ed Report on the President’s Surveillance Program, Offi ce of the

Inspectors General of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Central

Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Offi ce of the Director of National

Intelligence, 19–20,

19. 50 USC Chapter 36—Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, Sec.1803(c)

20. Requirements for the TRAILBLAZER and THINTHREAD Systems, Deputy

Inspector General for Intelligence, 28, 107,


21. Siobahn Gorman, “NSA Killed System That Sifted Phone Data Legally,” Baltimore

Sun, May 18, 2006.

22. USC Title 50, Chapter 36, Subchapter I, § 1802. Electronic Surveillance

Authorization without Court Order; Certifi cation by Attorney General; Reports to

Congressional Committees; Transmittal under Seal; Duties and Compensation of

Communication Common Carrier; Applications; Jurisdiction of Court, http://www

23. Ibid.

bnotes.indd 306

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 227–244 307

24. “Spying on the Home Front,” Frontline, May 15, 2007,


25. Interview with a former senior intelligence offi cial, August 9, 2011.

26. James Bamford, The Shadow Factory (New York: Anchor Books), 117–118.

27. Interview with a former senior intelligence offi cial, August 9, 2011.

28. Michael Isikoff, “The Fed Who Blew the Whistle,” Newsweek, December 12,



TeleGeography, Global Internet Map 2011,

telecom-resources/map-gallery/global-internet-map-2011/; interview with Alan

Mauldin, August 8, 2011.

30. James Bamford, The Shadow Factory, 208–211.

31. Ibid.

32. Interview with a consultant for the National Security Agency.

33. Rus Shuler, How Does the Internet Work, 2002,


34. Interview with Matthew Aid, September 2010.

35. Aid, The Secret Sentry, 287.

36. Ibid.

37. Tash Hepting, Gregory Hicks, Carolyn Jewel, and Erik Knutzen, on Behalf of

Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, v. AT&T Corp., et al., Exhibits A–K,

Q–T, and V–Y to Declaration of J. Scott Marcus in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion

for Preliminary Injunction, June 8, 2006, les/

fi lenode/att/marcusa-k.pdf.

38. Unclassifi ed Report on the President’s Surveillance Program, Offi ce of the

Inspectors General of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Central

Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Offi ce of the Director of National

Intelligence, 22,

39. USC Title 18, Part I, Chapter 121, § 2702. Voluntary Disclosure of Customer

Communications or Records,


40. An account confi rmed by two who were present.

41. Thomas Hennessey and Claire Thomas, Spooks: The Unoffi cial History of MI5

(Stroud, UK: Amberley, 2011), 233.

42. Interviews with several Bush Justice Department offi cials and one White House

colleague of Gonzales who spoke with the president after the Comey incident.

43. Barton Gellman, “In New Memoir, Dick Cheney Tries to Rewrite History,” Time,

August 29, 2011,


44. Television: “Cavuto,” Fox Business, July 7, 2007.

45. Marc Ambinder, “Pentagon Wants to Secure Dot-Com Domains of Contractors,”

The Atlantic, August 13, 2010,


46. Congressional Record, August 3, 2007 (Senate), S10866,

irp/congress/2007_cr/s080307.html; Public Law 110–55, August 5, 2007, Protect America Act of 2007; Hugh D’Andrade, New NSA Whistleblowers Say NSA

Spied on US Service Members and Aid Workers, Electronic Frontier Foundation,

October 10, 2008,

bnotes.indd 307

05/02/13 2:45 PM

308 NOTES TO PAGES 244–257

47. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns

in Congress,” New York Times, June 17, 2009, A1, http://www.nytimes

.com/2009/06/17/us/17nsa.html?_r=2&hp=&pagewanted=all; Interview with cur-

rent National Security Agency offi cial.

48. Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI (New York: Random House, 2012),

420–422; interviews with current and former FBI offi cials.

49. Interview with a current National Security Agency offi cial.

50. E-mail from Vannee M. Vines, NSA spokesperson, October 15, 2012.

51. Much of the information about the types of data associated with the database

names comes from LinkedIn and by cross-referencing the résumés of analysts, the

job functions they had, and the database they say they used at the time. The names

of the databases are not classifi ed.

52. David Kaplan, “Nuclear Monitoring of Muslims Done without Search Warrants,”

U.S. News & World Report, December 22, 2005,


53. A Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Use of Exigent Letters and Other

Informal Requests for Telephone Records, Oversight and Review Division Offi ce of

the Inspector General, January 2010, 63; interview with a current Federal Bureau

of Investigation offi cial.

54. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide,

December 16, 2008, 56

55. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide,

December 16, 2008, 74.

56. Tim Fought and Nedra Pickler, “Mohamed Osman Mohamud Arrested in Portland

Car Bomb Plot,” Huffi ngton Post, November 27, 2010, http://www.huffi ngtonpost


57. Interview with a senior U.S. counterterrorism offi cial in Washington, D.C.

58. Dave Gilson et al., “Terror Trials by the Numbers,” Mother Jones, September/

October 2011, 36–37.

18. Olympic Games

1. CNN, The Situation Room, Transcript, June 6, 2012,


2. Dylan Byers, “Kerry Questions NYT Decision to Run Stories,” Politico, June 12,



3. Michael Joseph Gross, “A Declaration of Cyber-War,” Vanity Fair, April 2011,


Kim Zetter, “How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most

Menacing Malware in History,” Wired, July 11, 2011,


5. “Cyber Attacks Linked: Security Experts,” Daily Telegraph, June 12, 2012,


6. Portions of this chapter were fi rst published online in a blog post for the Atlantic’s website: Marc Ambinder, “Did America’s Cyber Attack on Iran Make Us More

Vulnerable?,” June 5, 2012,


bnotes.indd 308

05/02/13 2:45 PM

NOTES TO PAGES 258–274 309

7. Richard Helms and William Hood, A Look over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central

Intelligence Agency (New York: Random House, 2003), 184.

8. Marcus Eyth, “The CIA and Covert Operations: To Disclose or Not to Disclose—

That Is the Question,” Brigahm Young University Law School, http://www.law2

9. Tabassum Zakaria, “CIA Gets ‘New Leeway’ to Destroy bin Laden Covertly,”

Middle East Times, October 26, 2001,


19. The Next Battlespace

1. Siobhan Gorman, August Cole, and Yochi Dreazen, “Computer Spies Breach

Fighter-Jet Project,” Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2009, A1.

2. Robert Westervelt, “White House Declassifi es CNCI Summary, Lifts Veil

on Security Initiatives,” Security Search, March 2, 2010, http://search



Siobhan Gorman, “Details of ‘Einstein’ Cyber Shield Disclosed by

White House,” Wall Street Journal, March 2, 2010,



4. Marc Ambinder, “Pentagon Wants to Secure Dot-Com Domains of Contractors,”

Atlantic, August 13, 2010,

pentagon-wants-to-secure-dot-com-domains-of-contractors/61456/; Ellen Nakashima,

“NSA Allies with Internet Carriers to Thwart Cyber Attacks against Defense Firms,”

Washington Post, June 16, 2011,

internet-service-providers-cooperating-with-nsa-on-monitoring-traffi c/2011/06/07/



Joseph Marks, “Industry Urges Better Cooperation from Government on

Cyber Threats,” NextGov, April 15, 2011,


6. CBS News, “Cyber War: Sabotaging the System,” June 15, 2010, http://www

7. Chris Reed, “Taking Sides on Technology Neutrality,” Scripted, 2007, http://www Note the term “tech indifference.”

8. Susan Landau, Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping

Technologies (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2011), 247.

9. “Ten years after its founding,” an observation from Georgetown University terrorism

scholar Bruce Hoffmann, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center, September 12,


10. Matthew Hayward, “Quantum Computing and Shor’s Algorithm,” April 26, 2008.

11. RSA Laboratories, “What Is Public-Key Cryptography, ” 2011,


12. Bob Gourley, “Quantum Encryption vs Quantum Computing: Will the Defense

or Offense Dominate,” SANS Security Essentials GSEC Practical Assignment

Version 1.2e, July 15, 2001,


13. FAQ, “Chapter 3: Security Questions, ”


bnotes.indd 309

05/02/13 2:45 PM

310 NOTES TO PAGES 274–289


Alexander Higgins, “Building a $2 Billion Quantum Computer Artifi cial

Intelligence Spy Center, ” March 18, 2012, http://blog.alexanderhiggins


15. Email from Christopher Monroe to Steve Fetter, Offi ce of Science and Technology

Policy, June 27, 2009, from an FOIA obtained by the authors.

16. “The Growth of Cryptography,” MIT Video, February 8, 2011,


17. Jodie Eicher and Yaw Opoku, “Using the Quantum Computer to Break Elliptic

Curve Cryptosystems,” July 29, 1997,


18. R. Sakthi Vignesh, S. Sudharssun, and K. J. Jegadish Kumar, “Limitations of

Quantum and the Versatility of Classical Cryptography: A Comparative Study,”

Proceeding ICECS ’09, Proceedings of the 2009 Second International Conference

on Environmental and Computer Science, 2009,


19. Shane Harris, The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), 237–238. This book contains the best history of the TIA affair.

20. Steven Aftergood, “A Correction on Nuclear Secrecy,” Secrecy News, August 25,

2011,; Department

of Energy, “Record of Decision to Classify Certain Elements of the SILEX Process

as Privately Generated Restricted Data,” Federal Register 26, no. 123 (June 26,


21. William J. Broad, “Laser Advances in Nuclear Fuel Stir Terror Fear,” New York

Times, August 21, 2011, A1.

22. Laura Blumenfeld, “Dissertation Could Be Security Threat,” Washington Post, July 8, 2003, A1.

Conclusion: Shooting at Ahmadinejad

1. Interagency Security Classifi cation Appeals Panel, Information Security Oversight

Offi ce,; Mandatory

Declassifi cation Review Appeals, Information Security Oversight Offi ce, http://; National Security


2. Offi ce of the Director, National Reconnaissance Offi ce, Memorandum, Subject:

“Changing the National Reconnaissance Offi ce (NRO) to an Overt Organization,”

July 30, 1992,

3. Tim Shorrock, “Out of Service, ” Mother Jones, September-October 2009, http://


Barton Gellman, “Revealing a Reporter’s Relationship with Secrecy and

Sources, ” excerpts from lectures,


5. Ibid.

6. Interview with David Gompert, April 2011.

7. Lymari Morales, “Americans Regain Some Confi dence in Newspapers, TV News,”

Gallup, June 27, 2011,

dence-newspapers-news.aspx. Note: eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds have seen a ten-point drop in year-to-year confi dence in newspapers.

bnotes.indd 310

05/02/13 2:45 PM


Abdullah (king of Saudi Arabia), 57

Amory, Robert, 68

Abdul-Rahman al-Iraqi, Abu, 148

Area 51, 101–109

Abramson, Jill, 56, 239

Areeda, Phillip, 80, 81

Ackerman, Spencer, 23

Arkin, William, 19, 141, 162–163

“active defense,” 268

Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA),

Adams, John, 60

14–15, 84

Addington, David, 169–172, 214, 223–

Asad, Bashar, al-, 58

224, 226–229, 238, 239, 240, 242

Ashcroft, John, 238

Afghanistan War

A-Space, 182

Cross Functional Teams, 132

Assange, Julian, 8–10, 27–28, 48, 59,

executive power and, 90


Flynn and, 143

AT&T, 222

JSOC role in, 152

Awlaki, Abdulrahman, al, 121, 209–210

NSA and, 214, 229, 232, 233, 234n,

Awlaki, Anwar, al, 121, 209–210

241, 243

“Salt Pit,” 42–43, 55

Babbin, Jed, 184

social media used by soldiers, 28–29

Baginski, Maureen, 224

Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud, 280–281

Baker, James, 62

Aid, Matthew, 15, 229

Baldwin, Hanson, 68

Air Force One, 122, 190

Baltimore Sun, 226n

American Black Chamber, 12–13, 17–18

Bamford, James, 83, 215

American Black Chamber, The (Yardley),

Bash, Jeremy, 2


Bazari, Haj al-, 148

American Civil Liberties Union, 175, 195,

Beckwith, Charlie, 114, 130


BellSouth, 222

American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Ben Ali, Zine El Abidine, 48–49

(AIPAC), 45–46

Benjamin, Daniel, 58


bindex.indd 311

05/02/13 2:45 PM



Bigelow, Katherine, 259

press management by, 35, 37, 40, 43,

BIGOT, 166


Billingslea, Marshall, 72, 153–154

Secret Service/Ahmadinejad incident,

bin Laden, Osama, identity confi rmed,


112. See also Operation Neptune’s

on state secrets privilege, 194–195,


196–197, 199, 200–208

Bissell, Richard, 95

2000 election of, 212

“black bag missions,” 85

Buthi, Soliman, al-, 194–195, 200–207

Black Hawk Down (Bowden), 125–126

Bybee, Jay, 224

Blair, Dennis, 138

Blair, Tony, 205n

Call Detail Records (CDRs), 222

Bloomberg, Michael, 288

Cambone, Stephen, 71, 76

Boal, Mark, 259

Camp Nama (Iraq), 74–76

Boehner, John, 242–243

Carle, Glenn L., 90

Boeing, 222n

Carlucci, Frank, 154

Booz Allen Hamilton, 263, 264, 269

Carter, Jimmy, 85

Bowden, Mark, 114, 125–126

Cartwright, James, 146

Boyd, John, 73

Casey, Bill, 184

Bradbury, Steve, 241, 242

Castro, Fidel, 79, 97

Brennan, John, 127, 198, 286

Cenciotti, David, 190–191


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

CTU and, 57

agents and cases offi cers of, defi ned,

M15, 66, 237


Secret Intelligence Service, 204–205

Area 51, 105

Special Air Service, 75

Center for the Study of Intelligence, 82

U.S. intelligence cooperation with, 202,

CIA/NSA Special Collection Service


teams, 140

Brookings Institution, 256

classifi ed information levels, 19, 165,

Brown, Bryan Douglas “Doug,” 72, 133,

166 ( See also classifi ed information)

137n, 157, 282

conspiracy theories, 95, 97–98, 99

Brown, Tom, 103–104

“covert action” and JSOC, 118–120

“burn notice,” 30–31

creation of, 16–17

Burns, William, 56–58

cyber warfare, 256, 258

Burr, William, 173

domestic surveillance (1970s), 78–80,

Bush, George H. W., 64, 169, 184

81, 87–90

Bush, George W.

Eisenhower and, 67

Cheney and, 169–172

FOIA, 174

Continuity of Government program,

GREYSTONE, 166–167


JSOC and, 114, 117

cyber security policy, 268

El-Masri and, 55

domestic surveillance and, 90

McChrystal and, 133

Iran policy, 256

National Clandestine Service, 30

JSOC and, 154, 156

National Human Intelligence

McChrystal and, 134

(HUMINT) Requirements Tasking

NSA and, 214, 223–224, 226–229, 238,

Center, 62–63

239, 240, 242

Operation Neptune’s Spear, 1–2, 111,

partisan transparency and, 180–181,

128, 155


partisan transparency, 183

bindex.indd 312

05/02/13 2:45 PM



press and confi dential information, 39

U.S. population with security clearance,

Primoris Era and, 21–23, 25, 26,

6, 18–19, 32, 283–284


whistleblowers and, 7–8, 37, 60, 193,

Soviet Union and, 282

220, 240, 283–284

state secrets privilege, 204–205

See also interrogation practices;

See also drone warfare

partisan transparency; state secrets

Cheney, Dick


classifi ed information record of,

Clinton, Bill, 37, 172, 175, 282, 283


Clinton, Hillary, 56–58, 61–63

Continuity of Government program,

Code Breakers (Arkin), 162–163


Colby, William, 78–80, 81, 87–89

NSA and, 185n, 214, 223–224, 226–

Cole, Juan, 90

229, 238, 239, 240, 242

“Collateral Murder” (video), 49–51

Powell and, 40

Comey, James, 235, 237–238, 239–240

Chesney, Robert, 198

Commentary (Schoenfeld), 43


Communications Assistance for Law

Area 51 and, 108

Enforcement Act, 222

cryptography, 15

communications intelligence (COMINT),

cyber security and, 266, 269, 270

13, 15–17

cyber warfare and, 256, 257

Community of Interest collection, 222

press and confi dential information, 37,

Comprehensive National Cyberspace


Initiative (CNCI), 265

WikiLeaks on, 53–55

Confi dential classifi cation level, 163–164.

Church, Frank, 80, 81

See also classifi ed information

Church Committee, 78–80, 81, 87–90

conspiracy theories, 91–100

Churchill, Marlborough, 13

Area 51, 101–102, 108

Clapper, James, 5, 6, 128, 166

atomic bomb, 94

Clarke, Richard, 279

Bay of Pigs, 95

classifi ed information, 159–175

Kennedy assassination, 93, 96–100

Cheney and, 169–172

Pearl Harbor, 93–94

“covert action,” 118–120, 257–258

public opinion and, 5–6

cyber security and, 261–263, 279

September 11, 2001 terrorist

declassifi cation issues, 7–8, 126–131,

attacks, 93

132–135, 168–169, 175, 282–283,

“stovepiping of information” and, 93


Vietnam War, 91–93

FOIA process, 172–175


intelligence jobs, postings, 189–190

Continuity of Government (COG),

interagency competition and, 136–146,


161–162, 167–169, 284, 288–290


levels of, 19, 122–126, 162–164,

Coppolino, Anthony, 202


Corson, William, 98

“necessary secrecy,” 3, 12, 126–131,

Counter Intelligence Program



overclassifi cation problem of, 280–290

Craig, Greg, 199

special access programs, 166–167

credible threat, defi ned, 287

Special Capabilities Offi ce, 159–162


threat terminology, 286–287

Cross Functional Teams, 132

“unleaked” information, defi ned, 8

Crowley, P. J., 56–58

bindex.indd 313

05/02/13 2:45 PM




Sensitive Compartmented Information

quantum computing and, 274 ( See also

clearance and, 165

cyber security)

WikiLeaks and, 10

skill of cryptographers, 14

domestic surveillance, 78–90

Yardley and, 12–13, 17–18

CIA role (1970s), 78–80, 81

See also National Security Agency

executive power and, 85–90


NSA and, 82–85, 86, 217, 220, 222, 241

Cryptome, 191–192

Operation Shamrock, 82–85

CryptoKids, 216

Drake, Thomas, 226n

CTU, 57

drone warfare

cyber security

Area 51 tests of, 102, 105, 106, 107–108

classifi cation status of, 261–263, 279

classifi ed information categories, 165

commercial Internet traffi c and,

interagency competition and, 136–146


Obama on, 121

cyber warfare, 254–260

Operation Neptune’s Spear, 110–116,

national security and, 265–270


quantum computing and, 272–279

Predator, 108, 123, 136, 146, 210

tech neutrality and, 271–272

state secrets privilege, 209–211

Dulles, Allen, 68, 95, 98, 178–179

Dailey, Dell, 72, 131

Dynetics, 30

Daley, William, 36, 129

data mining, defi ned, 223. See also

Echelon, 203

National Security Agency (NSA)

EG&G, 102, 105

Davis, Gray, 47

Einstein 3, 265, 272

Defense Advanced Research Projects

Eisenberg, Jon, 202, 207

Agency (DARPA), 272–273,

Eisenhower, Dwight, 67–69, 70, 83,



Defense Cover Program, 117, 150

Electronic Crimes and Privacy Act

Defense Industrial Base (DIB), defi ned,

(ECPA), 235–236, 237


electronic intelligence (ELINT), defi ned,

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), 62,


133, 143

elliptical curve cryptography, 276

Defense Mobilization Programs Support

Ellis, T. S., 197–198

Activity, 187

Emanuel, Rahm, 208

Defense Programs Activity Offi ce, 4

Espionage Act, 46, 59, 193

Deitz, Robert, 215, 224, 226, 227–228

executive power

Delta Force, 114, 125–126, 129–131

Article II, U.S. Constitution, 224, 226,

Department of Homeland Security

238, 247

(DHS), 248, 265, 266, 269, 270n, 288

Department of Justice on, 227

Desired Ground Zeroes (DGZ), 123n

domestic surveillance, 85–90

Deutch, John, 18–19

NSA, 217, 226–229, 238, 239, 242

Dinh, Viet, 45–46

See also individual names of U.S.

director of national intelligence (DNI)


Clapper on intelligence leaks, 5, 6

FOIA and, 174

Facebook, 27–28

intelligence budget (2013) and, 4n

Faulk, David Murfee, 205n

NSA and, 236, 241

Federal Aviation Administration, 191

overclassifi cation problem and, 289

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

bindex.indd 314

05/02/13 2:45 PM



conspiracy theories and, 93–94,

state secrets privilege and, 198–199,


201, 206

Continuity of Government program,

Foreign Material Exploitation (FME)


Tactical Material Exploitation

cyber security and, 265

missions, 106

domestic surveillance and, 80, 81,

Foreign Policy (Deutch), 19


Forrestal, James, 83

Eisenhower and, 67

Franklin, Benjamin, 47

Hoover, 14, 16

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

informants and special agents of,

(b)(3) exemption, 173–174

defi ned, 19n

JSOC and, 115

McChrystal and, 133

process of, 172–175

New York Police Department and, 288

state secrets privilege and, 199

NSA and, 223, 240, 246, 248–253

FrostinaDC, 23, 26, 29–32

open source security breaches,


Gale, James, 96n

Posse Comitatus Act and, 123

Gates, Robert, 60–61, 154, 168

protected speech, 248

Gellman, Barton, 59, 238, 285–286

terrorist threat assessment, 248–253

George Washington University, 173, 279

Federation of American Scientists (FAS),

“Getting in Bed with Robin Sage” (Ryan),



Fedonchick, Mike, 240

Glaspie, April, 62

Feinstein, Dianne, 254, 192

Fiel, Eric, 76

Goldsmith, Jack, 235, 238

Fingar, Thomas, 177–182

Gompert, David, 289

First Amendment rights, 40–42, 46–47,

Gonzales, Alberto, 237, 238, 241, 242


Google, 54–55, 267

1st Special Forces Operational

Gore, Al, 283

Detachment Delta. See Delta

Gorman, Sean, 279


Gorman, Shawn (Primoris Era), 21–23,

Fitzgerald, Patrick, 239

25, 26, 29–32

Flame, 258–260

Goss, Porter, 215, 190

Gourley, Bob, 274

Flynn, Michael, 76, 132–135, 139, 142–

Government Communications

143, 147–152, 157

Headquarters (GCHQ), 203–205

Focal Point (FP), 165

Graham, Bob, 219–220

Ford, Gerald, 78–80, 81

Grannis, David, 284

Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, 89

GRASS BLADE, 108–109

Foreign Emergency Support Team,

graymail, 17n


GREYSTONE (GST), 166–167

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Grinda Gonzalez, José “Pepe,” 58


Ground Applications Program Offi ce

Amendments Act of 2008, 219, 243

(GAPO), 189

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Groves, Leslie, 94

(FISC), 216

Guardian (London), 51, 52

NSA and, 218–220, 223–224, 225,

Guidry, Roland, 126

227–228, 233–238, 241–247,

Gulf War (1991), 29, 62


Gup, Ted, 187

bindex.indd 315

05/02/13 2:45 PM



Hadley, Stephen, 182–184, 242

open source websites and security

Hagin, Joseph W., 35

breaches, 187–193

Halpern, Samuel, 67

social media, 20–32, 247–248

Hamilton, John W., 37–38

traditional press and, 43

Haney, Eric, 114–115

interrogation practices, 67–77

Haramain Islamic Charity Foundation,

domestic surveillance and, 90

Al-, 194–195, 200–207

Eisenhower and, 67–69, 70

Harethi, Qaed Salim Sinan, al-, 136–138

Iraq War and, 71–73, 74–76

Hathaway, Melissa, 261–262

waterboarding, 185

Hayden, Michael, 203, 213–220, 224–226,

WikiLeaks investigation of, 77

229, 232, 239–240, 242–243


Haynes, William, 214

Desert One, 129–130

Hellfi re, 136–138

partisan transparency and nuclear

Helms, Richard, 258

weapon program of, 180–182

Hersh, Seymour, 74, 78, 151

Secret Service incident, 280–281

Hibbeln, Brian, 161

Stuxnet and, 254–260

Hitz, Frederick, 184

WikiLeaks on, 57

Holder, Eric, 199–200, 201, 208

Iraq War

Hoover, Herbert, 13

“Collateral Murder” (video), 49–51

Hoover, J. Edgar, 14, 16, 67, 80, 84–85,

detainee abuse, 11

86, 96–97, 98–100

interrogation practices during, 71–73,

Hosty, James, 99


Hughes-Ryan Act, 89–90

Iraqi judges, 151–152

Hull, Edmund, 137

JSOC and, 113, 147–152

Human Intelligence Control System

partisan transparency and Iraq nuclear

(HCS), 165

weapon program, 177–182

Hussein, Qusay, 39

social media used by soldiers,

Hussein, Saddam, 39, 62, 177–178


Hussein, Uday, 39

Wilson editorial, 171

Huub, 189


Area 51 and, 108

imagery intelligence (IMINT), 68–69, 70,

intelligence about al-Qaeda and, 202

176–177, 191–192

partisan transparency and, 182–184

Information Security Oversight Offi ce

Stuxnet and, 254–260

(ISOO), 170–172

Intelligence Crisis Action Center (ICAC),

Jane’s Defense Weekly, 26


Janet Airlines, 101, 102

Intelligence Science Board, 163


International Security Assistance Force,

cryptography, 12–13, 17–18


Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories and,

International Telephone and Telegraph


(ITT), 82

press and confi dential information, 37


Jefferson, Thomas, 61

cyber warfare, 254–260

John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center,

“kill switch,” 264–265 ( See also cyber



Johnson, Lyndon, 91–93, 98

NSA surveillance of, 217 ( See also

Joint Interagency Counter-Terrorism Task

National Security Agency (NSA))

Force, 132–134

bindex.indd 316

05/02/13 2:45 PM



Joint Quantum Institute, University of

Masri, Khalid, al-, 55, 197–198

Maryland, 275

Masri, Khalid, El-, 55–56

Joint Reconnaissance Task Force (JTRF),



McCarran International Airport, 101, 102

Jong-il, Kim, 54

McChrystal, Stanley, 71–76, 131–134,

139–146, 144, 148–152, 155, 170

Kanuck, Sean, 262–263

McConnell, Mike, 236, 242, 263, 269

Kaspersky Lab, 255, 260

McDonough, Denis, 9, 128

Keller, Bill, 49, 52, 56

McGraw, Ken, 115, 129

Kelly, Ray, 288

McMaster, H. R., 148

Kennedy, John F., 93, 95, 96–100, 176–

McRaven, William, 116–117, 126–127,

177, 178–179

134–135, 144–146, 151–152, 155,

Kennedy, Robert, 98


Kerry, John, 254

media. See press

Keuch, Robert, 85

Medvedev, Dmitry, 58

Khan, Abdul Qadeer, 53

metadata, defi ned, 243

Khrushchev, Nikita, 69

Military Intelligence, Section Number 8

Kinsley, Michael, 46–47

(MI-8), 12–13

Kissinger, Henry, 78–80, 81

military liaison elements (MLEs), 154

Kleinman, Steven, 75

Mills v. Alabama, 41

Klondike, 165

Miqdad, Faisal, al-, 58

Koenig, John M., 55–56

Missile Defense Agency, 21–23, 25, 26,

Kris, David, 216, 227


Mohamed, Binyan, 210

LaGrone, Sam, 26

Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, 200

Lamb, Christopher, 132, 150

Mohammed, Khalid Sheikh, 40

Landau, Susan, 272

Mohamud, Mohamed Osman, 252

Lee, Wen Ho, 46

Monroe, Christopher, 275

Leiter, Mike, 148

Morigi, Wendy, 10

Leonard, Bill, 170–172

Morrell, Michael, 6, 127, 145–146

Letter, Doug, 200, 205

Mount Weather (bunker), 187, 188

Levi, Edward, 198

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, 5, 39, 124–125,

Levin, Daniel, 238

168–169, 282

Lewis, James, 270

Mueller, Robert, 251

Lichtblau, Eric, 43

Mullen, Michael, 10

Lockheed Martin, 105, 264

Munsing, Evan, 132, 150

Lynn, William, 268

MySpace, 28–29

Madison, James, 47

Narus, 222n


National Declassifi cation Center,

Malvesti, Michele, 135


Mamlouk, Ali, 58

National Defense Area, 123

Mandatory Declassifi cation Review

National Defense University, 132

(MDR), 175

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Manning, Bradley, 8–10, 19–20, 32, 40,

(NGA), 141–146

64, 77

National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs),

Marcinko, Dick, 130

178, 179–182

Martinez, Anthony, 49–50

National Intelligence Offi cers (NIOs), 182

bindex.indd 317

05/02/13 2:45 PM



National Programs Offi ce, 187

McRaven, 134–135

National Reconnaissance Offi ce, 283,

name of, 31n

284, 290

“necessary secrecy” and, 127

National Research Council, 276

Operation Neptune’s Spear,

National Security Act of 1947, 4, 174

1–2, 111

National Security Agency (NSA), 213–253

National Security Counselors, 175

CIA/NSA Special Collection Service

National Security Letters (NSLs), 250

teams, 140

Natsios, Deborah, 191–192

classifi ed information categories, 165,

Naylor, Sean, 131

166 ( See also classifi ed information)

Necessary Secrets (Schoenfeld), 12

collection process of, 220–222

New York, 81

cyber security issues, 254–260, 265–270

New Yorker, 117, 259

description of, 15–17, 214–216

New York Police Department, 288

domestic surveillance and, 82–85, 86,

New York Times

217, 220, 222, 241

on CIA, 78–80, 81

e-mail intercepted by, 233, 241,

on “Collateral Murder” (video), 49


Eisenhower and, 68

executive powers and, 217, 226–229,

on Internet issues, 28

238, 239, 242

on NSA, 43, 195, 216–218, 219–220,

FISA and, 218–220, 223–224, 225,

233, 234, 239, 240, 242

227–228, 233–238, 241–247,

on Stuxnet, 254–260


on Total Information Awareness, 277

Al-Haramain case, 194–195, 200–207

on WikiLeaks releases, 51–58, 64–65

Information Security Assessment

Wilson editorial, 171

Methodology, 25


metadata, defi ned, 243

Nikel, Rolf, 55–56

New York Times article about, 43, 195,

Nixon, Richard, 79–80, 81, 89–90, 198,

216–218, 219–220, 233, 234, 239,


240, 242

Northrup Grumman, 105

Operation Neptune’s Spear, 184

Not a Good Day to Die (Naylor), 131

Special Collection Service, 4, 231

nuclear weapons

technology of, 140, 141–146, 161,

Area 51 testing of, 105–106

229–234, 265

classifi ed information categories, 165,

Terrorist Surveillance Program, 43, 216,


220–221, 234–238, 239

of Pakistan, 53

ThinThread, 225–226

partisan transparency and, 177–186

Vietnam War and, 91–93

Protection Level One, 122–126

warrants, 194–195, 200–207, 246 ( See

also Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Obama, Barack

Act (FISA))

cyber security policy, 261, 268

WikiLeaks and, 62

on declassifi cation issues, 7–8, 175, 283,

Yardley and, 17–18


National Security Archive, George

Iran policy, 255–256

Washington University, 173

JSOC and, 121

National Security Council

National Intelligence Offi cers

on cyber security, 261–262, 268

and, 182

FOIA and, 172

National Security Council and, 31n

Intelligence Directive 9, 15–16, 86

open source security breaches, 192

bindex.indd 318

05/02/13 2:45 PM



Operation Neptune’s Spear, 33–36, 39,

“Gang of Eight,” 1–2, 183, 185n, 224


Iran and nuclear weapon program,

Pakistan drone agreement and, 138


on state secrets privilege, 198–212

Iraq War and Iraq nuclear weapon

WikiLeaks and, 56–58

program, 177–182

Offi ce of Censorship, 81

Kennedy and “missile gap,” 176–177,

Offi ce of Intelligence Policy and Review,



September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

Offi ce of Legal Counsel (OLC), 224, 226,

and, 184–186

228, 235, 241–242

Syria and nuclear weapon program,

Offi ce of Management and Budget


(OMB), 64

Patterson, Anne W., 53

Offi ce of Strategic Services, 16

Pelosi, Nancy, 184–185

Offi ce of the Secretary of Defense

Petraeus, David, 31, 134, 148, 157

(OSD/SCO), 161–162

Pike, John, 103–104, 192


PINWALE, 245, 247

Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets

Plame, Valerie, 239

Act, 86–87

Podesta, John, 172, 282

160th Special Operations Aviation

Poindexter, John, 277–278

Regiment (SOAR), 130

polygraph tests, 163–164

Open Skies Treaty, 103

Posse Comitatus Act, 123

open source websites, used by

Powell, Colin, 40, 179

civilians, 29, 187–193. See also

Powers, Gary, 69

social media

Predator, 108, 123, 136, 146, 210

Operation Eagle Claw, 129–130

Presidential Protective Detail (PPD), U.S.

Operation Neptune’s Spear

Secret Service, 34–36

cyber security, 259, 269

President’s Daily Brief, 280–281

events of, 1–2, 33–36, 39


JSOC role, 110–116

executive branch relationship to, 33–40

“necessary secrecy” of, 126–129

( See also individual names of U.S.

planning of, 116–118


as special access program, 166

First Amendment rights and, 40–42,

Operation Peninsula Strike, 71

46–47, 247–248

Operation Shamrock, 82–85

journalism ethics and, 8, 40–46

Oswald, Lee Harvey, 94, 96–100

NSA relationship to, 215–216

Other Intelligence Activities (OIAs), 235

overclassifi cation problem and,

Owen, Michael, 62–63

285–286, 289–290

See also individual names of

Paglen, Trevor, 102

correspondents; individual names of


media outlets

drone warfare and, 137–138

Priest, Dana, 19, 41–42, 141, 166,

NSA and, 229–232, 241, 243


U.S. state secrets privilege and, 198

Primoris Era (Shawn Gorman), 21–23, 25,

on U.S. drone program, 211

26, 29–32

WikiLeaks on, 53–54

ProPublica, 175

Panetta, Leon, 1–2, 38, 114, 117,

Protection Level One, 122–126

155, 211

Public Eye (Federation of American

partisan transparency, 176–186

Scientists), 103–104

bindex.indd 319

05/02/13 2:45 PM



Public Interest Declassifi cation Board,

See also Soviet Union


Ryan, Thomas, 24–26

Putin, Vladimir, 58

Puzzle Palace, The (Bamford), 83

SAIC, 188

Saltonstall, Leverett, 89

Qaeda, al-

“Salt Pit” (Afghanistan), 42–43, 55

Clinton and, 172

Sandia Corporation, 106n

cyber security and, 272

Sanger, David, 254–260

Davis on, 47

SANS Institute, 274

Al-Haramain case, 194–195, 200–207

satellite imagery

JSOC and, 113

of Area 51, 103–104

NSA surveillance of, 213–214

FOIA and, 175

Panetta and, 2

Talent-Keyhole, 165

Al Qaeda Network Exord, 154

Saudi Arabia

Saudi intelligence and, 193

Al-Haramain case, 194–195, 200–207

al-Shabbab, 252

al-Qaeda interception by, 193

Terrorist Surveillance Program, 43

WikiLeaks on, 57

al-Zarqawi, 131

Schanzer, David, 169

See also Afghanistan War; Iraq War;

Scheuer, Michael, 184

Operation Neptune’s Spear;

Schmidle, Nicholas, 117, 259

September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

Schmidt, Howard, 262, 268

quantum computing, 272–279

Schmitt, Eric, 52

Schoenfeld, Gabriel, 12, 43

Radio Communications Act (1934), 265

Schroeder, Mary M., 200

radio frequency identifi cation (RFID),

“Sealed Document” (Al-Haramain case),

140, 141, 160

194–195, 200–207, 190

SEAL Team Six, 110, 126–129, 130, 155,

RAGTIME, 246–247

259. See also Operation Neptune’s

Raven, Frank, 84


RCA, 82, 83

Secrecy (Moynihan), 5, 124–125

Rice, Condoleeza, 55, 157, 197, 239

Secret classifi cation level, 163–164. See

Richelson, Jeffrey T., 175, 283

also classifi ed information

Risen, James, 43

Secret Internet Protocol Router Network

Rizzo, John, 211

(SIPRNet), 63

Robinson, Chuck, 240

Secret Sentry, The (Aid), 15, 229

Rockefeller, Nelson, 79, 81

Secret Service, 33–36, 124, 164, 191–192,

Rogers, Mike, 1–2, 211


Rosen, Jeffrey, 28

Secret Weapon (Lamb, Munsing), 150

Rosenberg, Ethel, 14

Sedaghaty, Pirouz (Pete Seda), 194–195,

Rosenberg, Julius, 14


RQ-170 Sentinel drone, 106, 110, 128

Sensitive Compartmented Information

RSA public key, 273–274

(SCI) clearance, 164–166

Rumsfeld, Donald, 71–73, 132, 154

September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks


conspiracy theories, 93

Area 51 and, 103, 104, 108

Continuity of Government program,

cyber security and, 270


cyber warfare and, 256

The 9/11 Commission Report, 184

WikiLeaks on, 58

NSA and, 228–229

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partisan transparency, 184–186

Special Operations Command

press and, 39

(SOCOM), 116, 118, 129, 140–146,

Special Capabilities Offi ce and, 160

154, 156–158

See also Operation Neptune’s Spear;

specifi c threat, defi ned, 287

Qaeda, al-

Spiegel, Der (Germany), 51, 52

SF-86 security clearance, 18, 22

SRI International, Stanford University, 276

Shabbab, al-, 252

STA-6400 Semantic Traffi c Analyzers,

Shachtman, Noah, 256


Shils, Edward, 168

state secrets privilege, 194–212

Shor, Peter, 273

drone program, 209–211

Shorrock, Tim, 285

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,

Siemens, 255

198–199, 201, 206

signals intelligence (SIGINT), 13,

Al-Haramain case, 194–195, 200–207

92, 203, 215–216, 229–234, 246,

El-Masri case, 197–198


Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan,

Sims, Jennifer, 281–282


Single Scope Background Investigation,

torture of detainees, 207–209


United States v. Reynolds, 195–196

“Site Post Assignment Log,” 33–36

Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), 151

SKOPE (National Geospatial-Intelligence

Stavridis, James, 25

Agency), 141, 142

Stephanopoulos, George, 36

Smith, Walter Bedell, 16–17, 67–68

Stevenson, Adlai, 37

social media

Stimson, Henry, 13, 94

civil liberties threatened by, 27–28,

Stonestreet, Eric, 36


Stored Communications Act of 1986

open source websites and security

(SCA), 235, 237

breaches, 189–190

Stuxnet, 254–260

Primoris Era, 21–23, 25, 29–32

Sulzberger, Arthur Hays, 68

“Robin Sage” incident, 24–26

Swope, Herbert, 37

U.S. soldiers in war zones, 28–29

Symantec, 255


Symington, Stuart, 176–177, 178–179

JSOC missions in, 154–155, 156


NSA and, 214, 249, 252

nuclear weapon program of, 182–184

Soviet Union

WikiLeaks on, 58

cryptography, 14–15

Eisenhower and, 68–69, 70

Talent-Keyhole (TK), 165

Kennedy on “missile gap,” 176–177,

Tamm, Terrence, 240


Task Force Black (Urban), 73

Oswald and, 96, 98

Task Force 9-14 (Task Force North), 149

press and confi dential information, 37

Taubman, Phil, 239

See also Russia

telecommunications industry

Space Imaging, 104

cell phone technology and, 141–142,

Sparks, William Sidney, 83

161, 230

special access programs (SAPs), 166–167

cyber security and, 267–268

Special Air Service (SAS) (Britain), 75

domestic surveillance and, 82–85, 217,

Special Capabilities Offi ce (SCO),

220, 222, 241


See also National Security Agency

Special Intelligence (SI), 165


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Tenet, George, 55

U.S. Army

Terrorist Surveillance Program, 43, 206

Area 51 and, 106, 108–109

Tether, Tony, 272–273, 275–279

Camp Nama (Iraq), 74–76

Texas Law Review, 262–263

Delta Force, 125–126, 129–131

ThinThread (NSA), 225–226

detainee abuse in Iraq, 11

Tice, Russell, 240

Manning and, 8–10

Title 10, U.S. Code, 155, 156, 160, 211

160th Special Operations Aviation

Title 50, U.S. Code, 88, 155, 156, 160

Regiment, 110, 130

Title III, Omnibus Crime Control and

Rangers, 129–130

Safe Streets Act, 86–87

Signal Security Agency, 82–85

Tonopah Test Range, 105–109

Special Forces training, 24–26

Top Secret American (Priest, Arkin), 19,

Technical Operations Support Activity,



Top Secret classifi cation level, 163–164.

World War II interception capabilities,

See also classifi ed information


Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented

See also Delta Force; Iraq War

Information (TOP Secret/SCI)

U.S. Congress

clearance, 164–166

cyber security and tech neutrality of,

Tordella, Louis, 83


Total Information Awareness (TIA),

“Gang of Eight,” 1–2, 183, 185n, 224


House and Senate select committees


on intelligence, 1–2, 117, 211, 220,

Trailblazer, 226

236n, 284

Truman, Harry, 13–14, 15–16, 67, 94, 162

leaks by, 185

21st Century Defense Initiative (Brookings

NSA and, 242–243

Institution), 256

on Stuxnet, 254, 258–259

Twitter, 21–23, 24–26, 28, 29–32, 189

See also partisan transparency

U.S. Corona (spy satellite), 69

“UK-USA agreement,” 203–205

U.S. Cyber Command, 269

uncorroborated/unconfi rmed threat,

U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA),

defi ned, 287


Uniform Code of Military Justice (USMJ),

U.S. Department of Defense


Defense Industrial Base, defi ned, 267

Unit, The (Haney), 115

JSOC and, 120

United Kingdom. See Britain

Offi ce of the Secretary of Defense,

United States v. Reynolds, 195–196


University of Maryland, 275

Secret Internet Protocol Router

Urban, Mark, 73, 75

Network, 63

U.S. Air Force

on social media, 29

Area 51, 101–109

Total Information Awareness, 277–279

Big Safari Program Offi ce, 105

See also interrogation practices;

cyber security and, 264

individual branches of military;

Distributed Common Ground System,

individual names of wars


U.S. Department of Energy, 178, 248, 279

Offi ce of Special Investigations, 101

U.S. Department of Justice

Rapid Capability Offi ce, 105

domestic surveillance and, 80, 86

Ravens (armed personnel), 122

Al-Haramain case, 194–195, 200–207

Special Capabilities Offi ce, 160–162

NSA and, 223–225, 226–227,

See also drone warfare

234–235, 243

bindex.indd 322

05/02/13 2:45 PM



“Presidential Authorization for

Washington Times, 184

Specifi ed Electronic Surveillance

waterboarding, 185

Activities,” 227

Western Union, 82

al-Qaeda and, 2

Wheeler, Earle, 176–177

WikiLeaks and, 61

whistleblowers, 7–8, 37, 60, 193, 220, 240,

U.S. Department of State, 12–13, 51–58,


61–63, 64–65

White, René, 267

U.S. Embassy (Seoul, South Korea), 54

White House Correspondents’ Dinner

U.S. Foreign Service, 63

(April 30, 2011), 33–36

U.S. Joint Special Operations Command



“Collateral Murder” (video), 49–51

Afghanistan War, 152

effect of cables released by, 59–63,

Cheney and, 170


CIA “covert action” and, 118–120

foreign relations and, 202

declassifi cation issues, 126–131,

goals of, 48–51

132–135, 282–283

on Guantánamo Bay, 40

Directorate of Operation, Security, and

interrogation practices by U.S.

Intelligence Support Division, 156

and, 77

drone warfare and, 139–146

Manning and, 8–10, 19–20

Intelligence Brigade, 144–146

media reputation and, 289–290

Iraq War, 71–73, 74–76, 147–152

New York Times/State Department on,

missions prior to 2000, 118

51–58, 64–65

Mission Support Activity, 152–156

traditional press and, 40, 41–42, 43,

in non-combat zones, 152, 155,



Wilson, Joseph, 171

Operation Neptune’s Spear, 36–39, 39,

Wilson, Woodrow, 12, 37–38

110–116, 166, 259, 269

Wired, 23

Technical Development Activity, 139

wiretaps. See Foreign Intelligence

See also Operation Neptune’s Spear

Surveillance Act (FISA); National

U.S. Marine Corps, 28–29

Security Agency (NSA)

U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence

Wizner, Ben, 210, 211

Agency, 111

Wolfowitz, Paul, 136

U.S. Navy, 4, 13–14, 106, 109. See also

Woodward, Bob, 153, 188

SEAL Team Six

USS Carl Vinson, 112


USS Maddox, 91–93

USS Turner Joy, 91–93

Yardley, Herbert O., 12–13, 17–18

Yates, Steven, 170

Vaught, James, 127



CTU and, 57

Verizon, 222

al-Harethi and, 136–138

Vickers, Mike, 127, 145–146, 259

NSA and, 236, 243

vital information. See interrogation

al-Qaeda and, 213–214


Yoo, John, 208–209, 223–225, 226–227,

234–235, 243

Walker, Judge, 201–207

Young, John, 191–192

War Powers Act, 90

Washington Post, 42, 128, 185, 188

Zarqawi, Abu Musab, al-, 131, 148

Washington Post-ABC News, 8

Zuckerberg, Mark, 27

bindex.indd 323

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bindex.indd 324

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Document Outline

Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry



Authors' Note

Introduction: Asleep under Fire

1. Need to Know

2. The Curious Case of Primoris Era

3. From Inception to Eternity

4. Fairly Modest

5. Vital Information

6. The Horrors Book

7. Conspiracies

8. Inside the Enclave

9. The Tip of the Spear

10. Necessary Secrets

11. The Tools for the Job

12. The Known Unknowns

13. The Structure of Secrecy

14. Partisan Transparency

15. Open Source Strikes Back

16. Resistance

17. The Flicker of a Piercing Eye

18. Olympic Games

19. The Next Battlespace

Conclusion: Shooting at Ahmadinejad




Table of Contents

Authors’ Note

Introduction: Asleep under Fire

1. Need to Know

2. The Curious Case of Primoris Era

3. From Inception to Eternity

4. Fairly Modest

5. Vital Information

6. The Horrors Book

7. Conspiracies

8. Inside the Enclave

9. The Tip of the Spear

10. Necessary Secrets

11. The Tools for the Job

12. The Known Unknowns

13. The Structure of Secrecy

14. Partisan Transparency

15. Open Source Strikes Back

16. Resistance

17. The Flicker of a Piercing Eye

18. Olympic Games

19. The Next Battlespace

Conclusion: Shooting at Ahmadinejad

Acknowledgments 291

Notes 293

Index 311

Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry



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