Saturday, December 22, 2007

All your base are belong to us

Wired has an article expressing alarm at the ability of Chinese intelligence to "turn" an outsourced translation service in Hawaii. Bill Gertz, who did the original reporting for the Washington Times said:

China's intelligence service gained access to a secret National Security Agency listening post in Hawaii through a Chinese-language translation service, according to U.S. intelligence officials. ... According to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, China's Ministry of State Security, the main civilian spy service, carried out the operations by setting up a Chinese translation service in Hawaii that represented itself as a U.S.-origin company.

Naval intelligence officials familiar with the Chinese spy penetration said the access to both "raw" and analyzed intelligence at Kunia caused significant damage by giving China's government details on both the targets and the sources of U.S. spying operations. Such information would permit the Chinese to block the eavesdropping or to provide false and misleading "disinformation" to U.S. intelligence.

In 2002, right after the September 11 attacks, the Legislative branch found US translation and analysis capabilities to be woefully inadequate because of 1990s cutbacks.

Hayden says NSA simply could not afford to keep them. The agency "already [had] squeezed the retraining limit dry" after 1990s cutbacks, he adds. ... he report accompanying the 2002 House Intelligence Authorization Act found that due to the dearth of analysts and linguists, NSA collected thousands of pieces of data, including electronic intercepts from terrorist organizations, but either failed to analyze them, or held them too long. Lawmakers are allowing NSA to expand for the first time since the 1980s. The agency hired 820 new workers in 2002; 1,125 in 2003; and will hire 1,500 this year. Hayden says nearly 20 percent of the civilian employees have been hired since 2000, either as replacements for retirees, or as part of the post-Sept.11 expansion.

NSA especially seeks linguists and plans to hire 150 to 200 this year. "We wish we could hire more. We're a monolingual society, that's the challenge," says Hayden. At the end of 2001, the agency had about 11,000 linguists (4,000 civilian and 7,000 military), who could translate 115 languages. Despite having government's largest translator workforce, NSA is a "long way from where it needs to be," Hayden says. Too few speak what he terms "global war on terrorism dialects," such as Arabic, the Pashto and Dari dialects of Afghanistan, and languages from the Philippines and Indonesia.

No mention of Chinese.

But NSA needs more than just translation. "We must understand not only the words, but also the intention behind the words," William Black, NSA's deputy director, told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in November 2003. To encourage linguists to become more skilled and to retain them, NSA has tripled bonus pay.

Heightened priorities probably meant that internal recruitment was insufficient to meet the need and had to be outsourced. We may never know the full details of the penetration of the NSA's translation contractor. But it's something to think about.


Blogger Lucky Pierre said...

Wretchard, you must be a communist if you don't believe that contracting out government services to private contractors is a good idea. Why, the immediate savings in wages and benefits for this fiscal year alone (hiring summer temps at $8 an hour instead of relying on overpaid 30-year civil service veterans) will offset any economic damage done by letting the Chinese tap into our ELINT network. And that's only the beginning, wait until we bid out the (expensive) missile shield program!

12/22/2007 08:19:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

The disgusting thing is that we know at all, once we knew they were listening we should have subtly began telling them what we want them to hear with nary a word to the press.

It didn’t have to be an unmitigated disaster.

12/22/2007 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

The intelligence situation with china is pretty similiar to the intelligence situation with stalin's ussr during the 30's & 40's.

But then I wouldn't be surprised if the spying on the USA isn't ubiquitous.

In the last year the EU has set up a website where european scientists based in the USA can discuss their work. Presumably the reason for doing this is technology transfer.

12/22/2007 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Well, Dan, maybe we know for a reason. Maybe it was decided somewhere in the dark halls to make it look like a compromised source in order to put the hook in some disinformation recently passed. Now they're going to "fire" some ready-to-retires to make it look even better. Of course, I can think of some reasons to give them actual intelligence to make them aware of our capabilities. ... Nah. You're probably right. The default supposition with our govt is incompetence. The curse of an open society.

12/22/2007 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Start-Up Sells Solar Panels at Lower-Than-Usual Cost

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Published: December 18, 2007

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Nanosolar, a heavily financed Silicon Valley start-up whose backers include Google’s co-founders, plans to announce Tuesday that it has begun selling its innovative solar panels, which are made using a technique that is being held out as the future of solar power manufacturing.
Nanosolar’s founder and chief executive, Martin Roscheisen, claims to be the first solar panel manufacturer to be able to profitably sell solar panels for less than $1 a watt. That is the price at which solar energy becomes less expensive than coal.

“With a $1-per-watt panel,” he said, “it is possible to build $2-per-watt systems.”

According to the Energy Department, building a new coal plant costs about $2.1 a watt, plus the cost of fuel and emissions, he said.

12/22/2007 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

I agree. The question is why was this story leaked and why now. Someone inside the NSA leaked this story.It could not have come from some place else.

I wonder if this doesn't have something to do with the intel community's embarrassment over that silly Iran estimate. maybe someone was getting back at someone for their part in heated subsequent intramural discussions. This is a very curious story. Just as curious is the this story: Report: Hoover had plan for mass arrests (1950, up to 12,000 suspected of being disloyal).

Maybe the two stories are related.

12/22/2007 06:17:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Remember VP Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government” initiative? Well, it was more than just a buzzword. Devised by one of Gore’s Ivory Tower university professor friends, it mandated a 30% cut in US Federal Government civilian personnel. Were that not bad enough, it was implemented in typical Washingtonian style – the “peanut butter spread” – the 30% cut was handed down to all agencies, rather than making decisions to cut back primarily on useless or bloated departments.

And it was worse than that, much worse. Provisions in the Reinventing Government Initiative prevented contracting out of functions, did not allow relief from regulations (which was a Reagan era initiative) and only allowed the agencies to cut back on their own capabilities, not eliminate workload that was of no use to them. For example, Congress asked for about 50 special reports from Federal Agencies in the Vietnam War era. By 1992 that number had grown to 500 special reports.

The investigation of the loss of the Shuttle Columbia pointed out that NASA had cut the inspection workforce by 25%. That was 5% less than Al Gore wanted it cut.

The 911 attacks, Chinese intelligence gathering, the loss of a Shuttle – the effects of Al Gore’s crowning achievement in government service continue to rattle down through the years.

12/22/2007 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger always right said...

Right after 9/11, the government was looking for language skills. Most emphasis was on farsi, of course, but mandarin (Chinese) was also listed. So I applied on the FBI website.

One of the questions was for the reason (to join). I wrote that (1) President Bush wanted some out-of-the-box thinking; and (2) Never trust a government that would turn the guns on their own citizens.

Guess I didn't provide the right answers.

12/23/2007 05:29:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Always right, I just volunteered to work for nothing after 9/11, in my humble slices of expertise. Not surprisingly, I could not bash through Murtha-gates to offer my services, even tho they were uniquely valuable and I was throwing them in for free.

That's frustrating.

If I can do for free, what the government is paying big bucks for, isn't that a Good Thing?

But there is no way for the Govt Procurement process to see Independents, because the process is completely netted over with today's smartest integrators.

Term Limits and Open Bidding, that's what America's Founders inteneded!

Sing along now:
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas. From now on, our troubles will be out of sight."

And in 2008 ... have yourself a global missile defense now / just let Santa through / on Christmas Eve.

12/24/2007 08:40:00 PM  

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