Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Amazing stories

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA Officer, describes the revelations of a woman called Sibel Edmonds in an article in American Conservative. And boy, they are spectacular.

[Edmonds] the former FBI translator turned whistleblower tells a chilling story of corruption at Washington’s highest levels—sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Edmonds’s account is full of dates, places, and names. And if she is to be believed, a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani, and Turkish sources was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments. ... Edmonds’s revelations have attracted corroboration in the form of anonymous letters apparently written by FBI employees.



Of course, Philip Giraldi has his detractors. He famously claimed that "in 2005 that the USA was preparing plans to attack Iran with nuclear weapons in response to a terrorist action against the US, independently of whether or not Iran was involved in the action." But whether or not Edmonds or Giraldi are telling the truth, the incident provides a glimpse into the fascinating world of counterintelligence.

One of the sad realities of counterintelligence is that its success is largely dependent upon surveilling your own people. I recently attended a talk on defending computer networks against hostile intrusions and the key to a successful defense apparently lay in understanding what the network 'normally' contained; to build up a detailed picture of how it 'normally' performed in order to detect anomalies against this expected background. Detecting unusual network operations, identifying abnormal operating systems attempting to gain access to resources, and flagging odd requests is only possible when the usual, the normal and commonplace are known. In a computing environment the dynamic normal is determined by statistical profiling and the archiving of large data sets. In the human environment the dynamic normal is often obtained by following people around and tapping their comms.

But unfortunately things aren't that simple. Smart hackers can sidestep the defenses of highly protected network by attacking the man in the loop. By bribing or intimidating a network administrator a computer attacker can not only break into the system, but acquire an accomplice who can cover his tracks, or at the very least, misdirect the forensics. Similarly, the nightmare scenario of counterintelligence occurs when the enemy infiltrates the counterintelligence apparatus itself. Who guards the guardians? Who watches the watchers?

So whether or not there was a mole in the State and Defense Departments is not something we are likely to know until we read it in the newspapers. And the newspapers tell the truth, don't they?

29 Comments:

Blogger buck smith said...

One blogger has published the name of the alleged spy it is Marc Grossman, a former state department official. Funny thing - the day after I first heard about this I heard Marc Grossman quoted on NPR.

1/22/2008 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

State Dept. is anti-Israeli in the extreme. Though sympathetic to both Pakistan and Turkey. Defense Dept. is sympathetic to Israel (good relations) but antagonistic in the extreme to Pakistan and to a lesser extent, Turkey.

Both the State Dept. and Defense Dept hate each other with a passion. So to believe Edmonds, one must assume that for treasonous reasons State and Defense got along after half a century of white hot mutual hostility, and vastly different attitudes towards client states.

Does not pass the sanity check.

1/22/2008 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

I read about this story a couple of weeks ago and one of the first things I thought of was what whiskey_199 mentioned: how could the Defense Department be so cooperative with the Pakis and Turks, Muslims who hate the Jews? And the State Department hates Israel with a passion, so why are they cooperating with Israeli spies?

There has to be a deeper story to this, and it makes me wonder if there may be a deception game going on, involving Israel and the U.S. passing useless or defective information on to the Turks and Pakis?

The purpose could be to get plugged in to the A.Q. Khan network and figure out its landscape and networks, while passing on some tidbits of nuclear secrets and technology that may be a tad flawed, which in turn would set back their nuclear weapons' performance? Who knows.

The really pertinent question is: who was this Jewish U.S. State Department foreign service careerist, Grossman, REALLY working for?

1/22/2008 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

So perhaps the best counterintelligence is great intelligence? Maybe the best security is being so far out ahead of your competitors that can't even begin to figure out what you are doing? Or even if they did, they couldn't do a thing about it.

1/22/2008 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Whenever I encounter stories of this type, on which I have no insight or key information, I read past the details and ask myself whether, if I simply replaced the names with variables, the narrative could be true. I guess it could be true that foreign powers are looking to place moles in State and Defense. But having said that, I haven't the foggiest idea whether the persons actually named in the story have acted as alleged. That's one reason why I left the story in the link, rather than reproducing a quote.

But having said that, let's turn to the narrative structure itself: allegations of a foreign mole in the US government. It's happened before. Aldrich Ames, Robert Hansen, John Walker, etc, etc.

About the only thing I had to add was to reflect on the mole-catching process. And I realized that, compared to catching a network intrusion, the job of a mole-hunter must be vastly harder. First off, you can't store a track of the movements and contacts of persons of interest like you can computer log files and data samples. The legal and practical barriers are enormous. You may not even be able to guess who a person of interest should be unless there's some anomaly that tips you off. A leak; an extra flashy car; a whisper. Lastly, and probably most alarmingly, you have no real reason to exclude your fellow mole-hunters from the list of suspects.

None of these observations are new. I guess they've all been made before. But thinking through the problem gave me a renewed sense of how difficult the job was. Fact is, there are probably moles somewhere. And worse, I have no idea nor any prospect of knowing who they are. And my guess is that a lot persons actually working in government are no better off.

1/22/2008 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger deepinjuncountry said...

Where's James Jesus Angleton when you need him?

1/22/2008 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Zenster said...

El Baboso: So perhaps the best counterintelligence is great intelligence? Maybe the best security is being so far out ahead of your competitors that can't even begin to figure out what you are doing? Or even if they did, they couldn't do a thing about it.

Absolutely. This is why I backed the SDI (Star Wars) initiative when it first hit the scene and continue to advocate pursuit of the very highest technology regardless of short-term payoff. For SDI, I envisioned that just the spinoff technologies alone would be worth it. Same goes for the current missile defense shield as well.

Only by remaining at the vanguard of technological supremacy can America hope to outstrip the lower-level threats of our foes. However, for such a strategy to be successful, thrown into this mix must always be the will to simply annihilate anyone who dares do America great harm. We must never tolerate significant abuse from anybody else.

This is why China keeps popping up on my radar so frequently. Between poisoned food, espionage, cyber-attacks and assaults on our orbiting assets, it's long past tea to give Beijing's Mandarins the back of our hand.

1/22/2008 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

I believe that Turkey is actually a major ally of Israel.

1/22/2008 08:43:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Anyone who still has relatives in the Old Country is a potential mole. The leverage is always there. This is a real problem with the Chinese.

I believe that great diversity in immigration is a blessing, but it is a mixed blessing. We have a steady supply of experts, but a likely admixture of spies.

It seems that the best way to address the problem is with continuous waves of inspired disinformation. Maybe that's what we have here. I hope we never know for sure.

1/22/2008 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger El Baboso said...

My suggestion would be to look at this thru the lens of whistlebowing, not counter intel.

Having dealt with the fallout of whistleblowers several times, I find that outcome of their quests tend to gravitate towards one of the following four poles:

1. Revelations are artfully or not so artfully covered up and discredited by powerful interests. (This is often not so evil as it seems. In business for example, the customer often finds it cheaper to deal with the fraud than to find a new vendor.)

2. Whistleblower is a nutcase and his claims have no merit.

3. Whistleblower didn't understand what he witnessed and is discredited by knowledgeable investigators.

4. Whistleblower succeeds in proving his allegations but is generally unemployable/unpromotable afterwards.

Unless you witnessed the actual malfeasance, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between #1, #2 and #3 from the outside. Thus the conspiracy theories that almost always follow...

1/22/2008 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger deepinjuncountry said...

Maybe the information sold is disinformation. Maybe it's legit. Or semi-legit. Or Feith is an Israeli plant. Or a Turkish one. Or Edmonds an Irani spy. Or a Turkish one. "A Wilderness of Mirrors" indeed.

1/22/2008 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

jj mollo said...

Anyone who still has relatives in the Old Country is a potential mole. The leverage is always there. This is a real problem with the Chinese.

I believe that great diversity in immigration is a blessing, but it is a mixed blessing. We have a steady supply of experts, but a likely admixture of spies.

It seems that the best way to address the problem is with continuous waves of inspired disinformation. Maybe that's what we have here. I hope we never know for sure.
///////////////
there's something profound about this. what happens to information when you have a country where most of the people have dual citizenships,divided loyalties--especially among the elites?

imho as stated above you get "continuous waves of inspired disinformation". such is the msm.

1/22/2008 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Blogger Zenster said...

El Baboso: So perhaps the best counterintelligence is great intelligence? Maybe the best security is being so far out ahead of your competitors that can't even begin to figure out what you are doing? Or even if they did, they couldn't do a thing about it.

Absolutely. This is why I backed the SDI (Star Wars) initiative when it first hit the scene and continue to advocate pursuit of the very highest technology regardless of short-term payoff.
///////////////
Wretchard makes the proposition that he who controls the past controls the present and therefor controls the future. SDI was an example of the opposite proposition. He who controls the future controls the present--and therefor structures the terms of debates about the past.

Another example: One of the reasons for the resiliency of Christianity is Christ's claims of ultimate victory.

1/22/2008 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Annoymouse said...

The creepy thing happens when the watch keepers believe that they have compelling cause to “whistle blow” against wrong doers. It is not treachery… it is patriotism. “Inside the Company” is Philip Agee’s case history of such things. Familiarity breeds contempt and these ‘Crusaders’ will kill us all in the name of their own catharsis.

1/22/2008 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

JJ Mollo -- Israel and Turkey under the old secular government shared an alliance of convenience against mutual enemy Syria, who harbored PKK (Kurdish Separatist) terrorists and represented a threat to both nations.

That is gone under the Islamist Government that has been in power since IIRC 2002. The cooperation in any case has always been limited.

1/22/2008 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Gee, maybe it's a good thing we don't know what we are doing. Everyday those moles must be losing creditability.

Is there a county on that list the Pat Buchanan likes? Hmm, what country do he like? Make that "not hate."

As for the top echelons, there all spying for the New York Times.

1/23/2008 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

"This is why I backed the SDI (Star Wars) initiative when it first hit the scene and continue to advocate pursuit of the very highest technology regardless of short-term payoff. For SDI, I envisioned that just the spinoff technologies alone would be worth it."
///////////
SDI (first iteration, space based) was well on its way to "spinning off" cheap, truly reuable, access to orbit with the DC-X. It was being tested very successfully (in 50's/60's X project style, antithesis of the X-33 boondoggle) by the Air Force for SDI when Congress made it hand it off to the very org it threatened the most, NASA, who soon had an accident that destroyed the test craft, and simply dropped the program.

That access would have set us up for exploring space-based solar power by now, something feasibility studies have taken a recent promising look at.

Jerry Pournelle can give you an earful about DC-X's mishandling and what is wrong with NASA. Further, I believe his importnat COld War work The STrategy of Technology can be read online at his site.

1/23/2008 05:45:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Interesting. I recall NASA killed the very promising X-15 program back in the day, too.

1/23/2008 06:16:00 AM  
Blogger davod said...

I come to this debate as one who believes the US government has some serious, no catastrophic, problems with foreign agents in its midst. This, quite apart from the information released as a result partisan bickering and the "holier than thou" if you don't adopt my ideas then I will disclose all yours.

I may be wrong but, the little I know about Edmonds leads me to believe she was not a translator for very long. Her whistleblowing related to the Islamic interpreters at FBI misinterpreting information.

How does she move from this to an expansive expose which includes other departments?

1/23/2008 06:28:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

I don't trust Sibel. She has lied in the past about stuff that can be checked. She cited a Chicago Tribune article in her letter to the 9-11 Commission, but when you check the article you'll see that it doesn't say what she claims.

Let's remember, she worked as a contract translator for 6 months. She did make some true allegations (on 60 Minutes) about bureaucratic empire-building. But she keeps hinting that she has more to tell. What, a low-level translator suddenly becomes Nancy Drew?

1/23/2008 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger Susan Katz Keating said...

Let us never forget the damage inflicted by former Chi-com spy Larry Wu Tai Chin, who burrowed undetected at CIA for 30-some years.

1/23/2008 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger gumshoe said...

thought the name looked familiar...

Marc Grossman>
Richard Armitage>
Valerie Plame

1/23/2008 08:58:00 AM  
Blogger gumshoe said...

excerpt from Giraldi article below:

" Her allegations are not insignificant. Edmonds claims that Marc Grossman—ambassador to Turkey from 1994-97 and undersecretary of state for political affairs from 2001-05—was a person of interest to the FBI and had his phone tapped by the Bureau in 2001 and 2002. In the third-highest position at State, Grossman wielded considerable power personally and within the Washington bureaucracy. He had access to classified information of the highest sensitivity from the CIA, NSA, and Pentagon, in addition to his own State Department. On one occasion, Grossman was reportedly recorded making arrangements to pick up a cash bribe of $15,000 from an ATC contact. The FBI also intercepted related phone conversations between the Turkish Embassy and the Pakistani Embassy that revealed sensitive U.S. government information was being sold to the highest bidder. Grossman, who emphatically denies Edmonds’s charges, is currently vice chairman of the Cohen Group, founded by Clinton defense secretary William Cohen, where he reportedly earns a seven-figure salary, much of it coming from representing Turkey."

1/23/2008 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

Newscaper said:

"SDI (first iteration, space based) was well on its way to "spinning off" cheap, truly reuable, access to orbit with the DC-X. It was being tested very successfully (in 50's/60's X project style, antithesis of the X-33 boondoggle) by the Air Force for SDI when Congress made it hand it off to the very org it threatened the most, NASA, who soon had an accident that destroyed the test craft, and simply dropped the program."

DC-X was handed off to NASA because funding for SDIO had been curtailed.

We were all disappointed when DC-X failed. However despite the accident that destroyed DC-X, the concept had not yet been abandoned by NASA. The X-33 program originally had three prototypes:

Boeing/Rockwell proposed Space Shuttle derivative hardware (a really big Space Shuttle orbit vehicle).

McDonnell Douglas proposed a really big derivative of DC-X.

Lockheed Martin proposed a radically different design based upon a lifting body using an aerospike engine.

I should emphasize that the whole Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) concept behind X-33 was bogus to begin with. One of the first things they teach us in graduate school is the rocket equation proves that SSTOs built with real materials can not achieve low earth orbit. Heaven knows why the X-33 program was funded.

The Lockheed-Martin prototype concept (VentureStar) won probably because it looked cool and Lockheed-Martin had lots of money. The Boeing/Rockwell proposal was probably the best design based upon technical merit but lost because it was boring. The McDonnell Douglas prototype was almost as cool as VentureStar but had the fatal flaw of requiring vertical landing. Vertical landing demands perfect health of the orbit vehicle for successful landing, i.e. a bad actuator, bad engine or ruptured tank due to micrometeor impact means losing the entire orbit vehicle after surface impact. A nice thing about horizontal landing with a dead stick glider is the vehicle can be in extremely poor health and still survive.

Newscaper also said:

"That access would have set us up for exploring space-based solar power by now, something feasibility studies have taken a recent promising look at."

As a space-exploration-fanatic it pains me to say this but space-based Solar Power Satellites (SPS) have zero possibility for being economical. Long before an SPS could be cost effective, other more prosaic energy systems would be economical, e.g. ocean thermal gradiant platforms, biofuels, earth surface based solar schemes, etc. People keep resurrecting the SPS concept by cooking the economics but SPS will always fail in the final analysis because the numbers simply are not there.

Newscaper also said:

"Jerry Pournelle can give you an earful about DC-X's mishandling and what is wrong with NASA."

When I want to read science ficition, I'll go to Jerry Pournelle. Better yet, I'll go to Larry Niven or Joe Haldeman.

Rick said...

"I recall NASA killed the very promising X-15 program back in the day, too."

NASA didn't really kill the X-15. The program more or less achieved its design objectives. One could argue that the X-15 lives on today in the Space Shuttle which is largely based upon X-15 technology.

Where the funding politics got ugly was not with X-15 but with its immediate successor, the X-20 Dynasoar. The X-15 was a B-52 launched manned hypersonic vehicle with a peak performance of about Mach 6. The X-20 was to have been a Titan-II (or III) launched manned hypersonic vehicle that could actually go into orbit. Cancellation of X-20 knocked the manned space program squarely between the eyes. There are a bunch of PDFs on the history of hypersonics that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. Google: "history hypersonics". The US government printing office sells a three volume set about the history of hypersonics that's quite extensive for about $30.

Hypersonic flight is cool stuff and the technology has only been barely touched. The history of hypersonics is also fun to read. The politics behind it has been incredibly convoluted due to expense, nuclear weapons aspects, technical difficulty, etc.

1/23/2008 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Kirk Parker said...

newscaper,

You certainly can read The Strategy of Technology at Pournelle's site: here it is. This is an annotated version with several series of later comments added, including one about the authors' estimate of Soviet Military spending that alone is worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.

1/23/2008 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Andrewdb said...

Pat -

I recall when this most recent item from Edmunds hit the UK papers a few weeks ago. At the time they noted that the US adminsitration had invoked the State Secret privledge to keep her from testifying - which would seem to indicate what she said was true but dangerous, not that it was false.

I have no knowledge one way or the other.

1/23/2008 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

My bitty little reading of history suggests to me that no-one outside a very small group of insiders to any secret shenanigan will every find out exactly what went on. Even if there's a high-definition video made of their meetings, it won't tell what they were thinking and whether they were acting independently or as "sock puppets."

All our learned and wise comments notwithstanding, we can only surmise and conjecture. No amount of logic or analysis penetrates the imponderable.

Still, it's great fun trying to make sense of events.

1/23/2008 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Andrewdb said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/23/2008 08:45:00 PM  
Blogger Andrewdb said...

Here is the link I was looking for:

http://tinyurl.com/27chcy

1/23/2008 08:46:00 PM  

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