Category Archive 'Dana Priest'

23 Jul 2010

Top Secret America Graded By A Professional

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Thomas G. Mahnken, Professor of Strategy, U.S. Naval War College and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning, harshly criticizes the Washington Post’s “Top Secret America” in Foreign Policy.

I’ve just finished Dana Priest and William Arkin’s “Top Secret America,” The Washington Post’s two-year, three-part “investigation” into U.S. classified activities. If one of my graduate students handed this in as a term paper, I’d have a hard time giving it a passing grade. …

[T]he authors have, at best, a weak thesis. That’s actually giving them the benefit of the doubt, because the series as a whole doesn’t really have a thesis. Instead, it is a series of strung-together facts and assertions. Many of these facts are misleading. For example, the authors point to the fact that large numbers of Americans hold top-secret security clearances, but fail to distinguish between those who are genuinely involved in intelligence work and those who require the clearances for other reasons — such as maintaining classified computer equipment or, for that matter, serving as janitors or food service workers in organizations that do classified work. Similarly, they point to the large number of contractors involved in top-secret work without differentiating those who actually perform analysis and those who develop hardware and software.

Second, the authors fail to provide context. They make much of the fact that the U.S. intelligence community consists of many organizations with overlapping jurisdiction. True enough. But what they fail to point out is that this has been a key design feature of the U.S. intelligence community since its founding in the wake of World War II. The architects of the U.S. intelligence system wanted different eyes to look at the same data from diverse perspectives because they wanted to avoid another surprise attack like Pearl Harbor. …

In emphasizing the growth of the intelligence community since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the authors are at the same time accurate and misleading. They accurately note that the size of intelligence agencies grew rapidly after 9/11, but that’s like saying that the scale of U.S. warship construction ballooned in the months after Pearl Harbor. It’s true but misses the larger point. …

During the 1990s the size of the U.S. intelligence community declined significantly because both the Clinton administration and leaders in Congress believed that we were headed for a more peaceful world. Indeed, the Clinton administration made trimming the size of the intelligence community a priority through its Reinventing Government initiative. Many intelligence analysts took offers of early retirement and became contractors — contractors that the U.S. government hired back after 9/11. A good deal of the post-9/11 intelligence buildup thus involved trying to buy back capacity and capability that had been eliminated during the 1990s.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

19 Jul 2010

WaPo Top Secret America Website Launched Today

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The Washington Post’s sexy new multimedia web-site adversarially reporting on the US Intelligence Community’s components, contractors, facilities, size, and expenditures is, as was predicted, up and running today.

The introductory 1:47 video and a lengthy article by Dana Priest and William Arkin take a downright conservative-sounding tone of skepticism of big government, complaining about massive growth, duplication of effort, paralysis and confusion stemming from over-large bureaucracy, and an excessive cult of secrecy leading to a lack of accountability.

After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine. …

An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances. …

Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored. …

The U.S. intelligence budget is vast, publicly announced last year as $75 billion, 21/2 times the size it was on Sept. 10, 2001. But the figure doesn’t include many military activities or domestic counterterrorism programs.

At least 20 percent of the government organizations that exist to fend off terrorist threats were established or refashioned in the wake of 9/11. Many that existed before the attacks grew to historic proportions as the Bush administration and Congress gave agencies more money than they were capable of responsibly spending. …

Beyond redundancy, secrecy within the intelligence world hampers effectiveness… say defense and intelligence officers. For the Defense Department, the root of this problem goes back to an ultra-secret group of programs for which access is extremely limited and monitored by specially trained security officers.

These are called Special Access Programs – or SAPs – and the Pentagon’s list of code names for them runs 300 pages. The intelligence community has hundreds more of its own, and those hundreds have thousands of sub-programs with their own limits on the number of people authorized to know anything about them. All this means that very few people have a complete sense of what’s going on.

“There’s only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs – that’s God,” said James R. Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the Obama administration’s nominee to be the next director of national intelligence.

Such secrecy can undermine the normal chain of command when senior officials use it to cut out rivals or when subordinates are ordered to keep secrets from their commanders.

One military officer involved in one such program said he was ordered to sign a document prohibiting him from disclosing it to his four-star commander, with whom he worked closely every day, because the commander was not authorized to know about it. Another senior defense official recalls the day he tried to find out about a program in his budget, only to be rebuffed by a peer. “What do you mean you can’t tell me? I pay for the program,” he recalled saying in a heated exchange.

These contentions sound reasonable, though the idea of top secret government functions and processes being reformed by even more unaccountable journalists with a record of personal career advancement via damaging leaks of highly classified intelligence operations strikes me as a case of the local foxes putting on efficiency expert Halloween costumes and volunteering to improve operations in the chicken house.

I’m not in the least persuaded that the Post really needed to publish a cool interactive map of government facility and contractor company locations and a searchable database of companies working on top secret contracting assignments. Why do Washington Post readers need such detailed information? Couldn’t foreign intelligence services do their own research?

It is also far from clear to me that Dana Priest and the Washington Post have not knowingly again violated the Espionage Act of 1917 by publishing that map and database. This time, who knows? It is much easier for a leftwing administration to undertake prosecutions of these kinds of offenses. The Obama Administration has already demonstrated more willingness to enforce the law in National Security cases than the Bush Administration ever did. It will be interesting to see how the government reacts.

Will Dana Priest go to jail or will she just collect one more Pulitzer Prize?


Fox News says the Obama Administration is expecting some absurd spending stories and quotes Intelligence Community sources talking about what a great resource for America’s enemies that Post website is going to be.

The Obama administration is bracing for the first in a series of Washington Post articles said to focus in unprecedented detail on the government’s spending on intelligence contractors.

The intelligence community is warning that the article could blow the cover of contract companies doing top-secret work for the government. At the same time, a senior administration official acknowledged that the kind of wasteful spending expected to be spotlighted in the series is “troubling” and something the administration is trying to address.

“There will be examples of money being wasted in the series that seem egregious and we are just as offended as the readers by those examples,” the official said. The official said some of the information in the story is “explainable,” in that some “redundancy” is necessary in the intelligence community. But the official said the administration has been working to reduce “waste” and that “it’s something we’ve been on top of.”

Other sectors of the administration were on high alert over the piece. A source told Fox News that the series amounts to a “significant targeting document” in that it will apparently bring together unclassified information from the public domain in a single location, making it a one-stop shop for this level of detail. The official said “few intelligence groups have the assets and resources to pool” this kind of information.

This has led to warnings about how the information could be used. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence sent out a memo saying that “foreign intelligence services, terrorist organizations and criminal elements will have potential interest in this kind of information.”

14 Oct 2007

CIA Inspector General’s Office Under Investigation

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On Thursday last, the New York Times reported that CIA Director Michael Hayden has initiated an unusual investigation into the activities of the CIA’s Inspector General’s Office.

According to the Times, all this stems from criticism by that office of the CIA’s performance pre-9/11, and from “aggressive investigations” of “detention and interrogation programs and other matters.”

But, as MacRanger points out, it was Inspector General John L. Helgerson who personally recruited the same Mary O. McCarthy who was fired in April of 2006 for leaking information on covert counter-terrorism operations to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest.

AJStrata thinks the Times is spinning, and agrees that this story is really about CIA internal efforts finally to do something about the partisan leaks of highly classified national security information to the press by adversaries of the Administration within the agency.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we aren’t beginning to see some reciprocity, in the form of the Agency actually doing something about the most outrageous leaks, in return for the Bush Administration’s surrender, its abandonment of efforts to reform the Agency, and the reinstatement of Stephen R. Kappes and Michael Sulick.

10 Aug 2006

District Court Rules: Espionage Act Applies to Private Citizens Receiving Unauthorized Classified Information

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Ruling against a defense motion to dismiss in the case of US v. Steven J. Rosen, Keith Weissman, District Court Judge Thomas Selby Ellis, III held that, under the federal Espionage Act private citizens can be prosecuted for unauthorized receipt and disclosure of classified information.

Although the question whether the government’s interest in preserving its national defense secrets is sufficient to trump the First Amendment rights of those not in a position of trust with the government [i.e. not holding security clearances] is a more difficult question, and although the authority addressing this issue is sparse, both common sense and the relevant precedent point persuasively to the conclusion that the government can punish those outside of the government for the unauthorized receipt and deliberate retransmission of information relating to the national defense.

The government must… prove that the person alleged to have violated these provisions knew the [restricted] nature of the information, knew that the person with whom they were communicating was not entitled to the information, and knew that such communication was illegal, but proceeded nonetheless.

Finally, with respect only to intangible information [as opposed to documents], the government must prove that the defendant had a reason to believe that the disclosure of the information could harm the United States or aid a foreign nation…

So construed, the statute is narrowly and sensibly tailored to serve the government’s legitimate interest in protecting the national security, and its effect on First Amendment freedoms is neither real nor substantial as judged in relation to this legitimate sweep.

It is to be expected that this ruling will be tested at the Appeals Court and Supreme Court levels, but Judge Ellis’ reasoning is sound, and there is distinct cause for a nervous evening on the part of several reporters working for the Washington Post and the Los Angeles and New York Times newspapers.


Steven Aftergood reports at Secrecy News.

22 Jul 2006

Mean Intel Contractor Fires Nice Lady

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Pouting Spooks pal Dana Priest yesterday reported the sad tale of Christine Axsmith, former internal blogger on the classified Intelligence Community intranet, who claims to have been fired by her employer, CIA contractor, BAE Systems, for posting on July 19th on her blog that “Waterboarding is Torture, and Torture is Wrong.”

The lady claims to have “recreated” the offending post here, on a newer public blog.


From my perspective, it would be agreeable to think that hard-as-nails Intel community contractor supervisers compete to see how many bounces they can get tossing out onto the parking lot each and every employee venturing to post liberal bromides on-line, but who are we kidding? Real government officials these days go a lot farther than editorializing. Some disclose highly classified national security programs for publication, while others conduct major disinformation operations intended to bring down an elected administration, all without meaningful consequence.

How likely is it that anyone would treat the sentimental vaporings of this dim middle-aged female as grounds for anything more than a dismissive snort?


Nonetheless, Dana Priest’s little story is getting its share of play:

Laura Rosen

NY Times


06 May 2006

Good Work, Porter Goss!

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Pouting Spook mouthpiece, Dana Priest in today’s Washington Post exults over Porter Goss’s departure and mourns Goss’s purge of disloyal, disaffected officers (sharing some interesting gossip that gives a revealing glimpse of the other side’s perspective):

Porter J. Goss was brought into the CIA to quell what the White House viewed as a partisan insurgency against the administration and to re-energize a spy service that failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks or accurately assess Iraq’s weapons capability.

But as he walked out the glass doors of Langley headquarters yesterday, Goss left behind an agency that current and former intelligence officials say is weaker operationally, with a workforce demoralized by an exodus of senior officers and by uncertainty over its role in fighting terrorism and other intelligence priorities, said current and former intelligence officials…

.” Within headquarters, “he never bonded with the workforce,” said John O. Brennan, a former senior CIA official and interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center until last July.

“Now there’s a decline in morale, its capability has not been optimized and there’s a hemorrhaging of very good officers,” Brennan said. “Turf battles continue” with other parts of the recently reorganized U.S. intelligence community “because there’s a lack of clarity and he had no vision or strategy about the CIA’s future.” Brennan added: “Porter’s a dedicated public servant. He was ill-suited for the job.”…

Goss, then the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel, was handpicked by the White House to purge what some in the administration viewed as a cabal of wily spies working to oppose administration policy in Iraq. “He came in to clean up without knowing what he was going to clean up,” one former intelligence official said.

Goss’s counterinsurgency campaign was so crudely executed by his top lieutenants, some of them former congressional staffers, that they drove out senior and mid-level civil servants who were unwilling to accept the accusation that their actions were politically motivated, some intelligence officers and outside experts said.

“The agency was never at war with the White House,” contended Gary Berntsen, a former operations officer and self-described Republican and Bush supporter who retired in June 2005. “Eighty-five percent of them are Republicans. The CIA was a convenient scapegoat.”

Less than two months after Goss took over, the much-respected deputy director of operations, Stephen R. Kappes, and his deputy, Michael Sulick, resigned in protest over a demand by Goss’s chief of staff, Patrick Murray, that Kappes fire Sulick for criticizing Murray.

Kappes “was the guy who a generation of us wanted to see as the DDO [operations chief]. Kappes’s leaving was a painful thing,” Berntsen said. “It made it difficult for [Goss] within the clandestine service. Unfortunately, this is something that dogged him during his tenure.”

The confrontation between Murray and the agency’s senior leadership continued throughout Goss’s tenure, exacerbated by the fact that Goss effectively allowed Murray and other close aides to run the agency, in the view of some current and former intelligence officials. Many agency officials felt the aides showed disdain for officers who had spent their careers in public service.

Four former deputy directors of operations once tried to offer Goss advice about changing the clandestine service without setting off a rebellion, but Goss declined to speak to any of them, said former CIA officials who are aware of the communications. The perception that Goss was conducting a partisan witch hunt grew, too, as staffers asked about the party affiliation of officers who sent in cables or analyses on Iraq that contradicted the Defense Department’s more optimistic scenarios.

“Unfortunately, Goss is going to be seen as the guy who oversaw the agency victimized by politics,” said Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of the European division. “His tenure saw the greatest loss of operational experience” in the operations division since congressional hearings on CIA domestic spying plunged the agency into crisis, he said.

Though the agency has grown considerably in size and budget in the past four years — the operations branch has reportedly grown in size by nearly 30 percent — dozens of officers with more than a decade of field experience each, those who would have been tapped as new staff chiefs or division heads, chose to leave.

Read from the opposite viewpoint from that of the Santa Cruz graduate I like to think of as: “Will-no-one-rid-me-of-this-turbulent?” Priest, it all sounds like awfully good news. Goss’s tenure may not have been long enough to settle Intelligence agency rivalries and turf wars, or to make the Agency as effective as it should be, but apparently Porter Goss did much toward accomplishing the absolutely necessary first step of cleaning out the self-important Mandarins pretending to a right to over-rule the policies of the elected government, along with the Peaceniks who somehow accidently wandered into the CIA’s Langley headquarters thinking they had arrived at Woodstock.

So the evening’s toast is: Hurrah for Porter Goss, and confusion (and long prison sentences) to Pouting Spooks and VIP-ers.

29 Apr 2006

Dana Priest on the Law

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Dana Priest, Washington Post reporter and favorite confidante of Mary O. McCarthy and other Pouting Spooks, participated in an on-line discussion Thursday on the topic of National Security. Ms. Priest was asked:

Indianapolis, Ind.: Bill Bennett told Wolf Blitzer the other day that you should be arrested for your story about secret prisons. Wolf asked Howard Kurtz to respond. Howie looked a little stunned at first and then came strongly to your defense. How do you respond to people that are saying you should be arrested?

Dana Priest: Well, first, Bennett either doesn’t understand the law or is purposefully distorting it. He keeps saying that it is illegal to publish secrets. It is not. There is a category of secrets that is illegal to publish–names of covert operatives, certain signal intelligence and nuclear secrets–but even with these, prosecution is possible only under certain circumstances. Beyond that though, he seems to be of the camp that the government and only the government should decide what the public should know in the area of national security. In this sense, his views run contrary to the framers of the Constitution who believed a free press was essential to maintaining not just a democracy, but a strong, vibrant democracy in which major policy is questions are debated in the open.

There you have it.

There are dogmatists, like Bill Bennett, who think only the elected government should decided what is classified information, and which disclosures could be harmful to National Security. And there are more latitudinarian thinkers, like Ms. Priest, who believe disclosing Intelligence secrets in America is kind of like going to Communion in the Anglican Church: none must, some should, all may.

21 Apr 2006

Mary McCarthy Fired by CIA After Admitting Leak

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Mary McCarthy
Mary McCarthy

A variety of news sources are reporting that Mary McCarthy, a veteran CIA officer employed by the agency’s Inspector General’s Office has been identified as having illegallly given classified information to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest.

McCarthy, previously an employee of the NSA and currently nearing retirement, failed a polygraph test. She then admitted to more than a dozen unauthorized meetings with Priest, at which she supplied a variety of classified information, not all the content of which has so far been identified. It is clear, however, that it was McCarthy who provided the classified information leading to the Washington Post’s published reports of secret prisons in Eastern Europe, for which Priest received a 2006 Pulitzer Prize.

The case is now under review by the Justice Department, and an indictment is expected.


CSIS bio (both photo & bio have been removed):

Prior to joining CSIS in August 2001, Mary O. McCarthy was a senior policy adviser to the CIA’s deputy director for science and technology. Until July 2001, she served as special assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs on the National Security Council (NSC) Staff, under both Presidents Clinton and Bush. From 1991 until her appointment to the NSC, McCarthy served on the National Intelligence Council. She began her government service as an analyst, then manager, in CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence, holding positions in both African and Latin American analysis. From 1979 to 1984 she was employed by BERI, S.A., conducting financial, operational, and political risk assessments for multinational companies and banks. Previously she had taught at the University of Minnesota and was director of the Social Science Data Archive at Yale University. McCarthy has a B.A. and M.A. in history from Michigan State University, an M.A. in library science from the University of Minnesota, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Social Change and the Growth of British Power in the Gold Coast (University Press of America, 1983).

30 Dec 2005

What is GST?

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Today’s latest Washington Post leak, brought to you again by Dana Priest, confidante of choice to Pouting Spooks everywhere, amusingly fails to provide a definition for GST, the super-secret program which is the topic of the leak du jour.

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.

The bed-wetting segment of the Blogosphere is, as usual, shocked and outraged at further revelations of US inhumane treatment of terrorist latrunculi, the contemporary equivalent of the pirates, brigands, and outlaws, traditionally viewed in Western law, and conventionally treated by any lawful authority as hostes humani generis, “the common enemies of mankind.”

And they are fascinated by the riddle of the meaning of the mysterious initials.

Typical examples:

American conventional leftie profmarcus posts: bonus question: what does gst stand for…?

Sopping-wet Brit blogger WIIIAI complains the WaPo refers to this program as GST, but its crack reporters failed to crack the riddle of just what that might stand for.

Since the WaPo let them all down, I will suggest: “General Staff — Terrorism” or “General Services — Terrorism,” as opposed to “Get Serious (about) Terrorism,” as the language behind the initials, and note the interesting facet of the story, that for the first time in a very long while, one of our anonymous sources is behaving as if he thinks he might possibly have something to worry about if his disclosures proceeded too far beyond some particular point.

29 Dec 2005

Tomorrow’s Leak

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Send the subpoena to Dana Priest at the Washington Post.

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.

Add to the list of those indicted for conspiracy to jeopardize national security:

“In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action,” said A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004. “But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations.”

And be sure to nail to the barn door, as well, the hide of the:

former CIA officer [who] said the agency “lost its way” after Sept. 11, rarely refusing or questioning an administration request. The unorthodox measures “have got to be flushed out of the system,” the former officer said. “That’s how it works in this country.”

04 Dec 2005

Pouting Spooks Leak Again

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MSM Anti-Bush Administration Intel Operation collaborator Dana Priest, author of the Washington Post’s earlier “secret prisons” CIA leak story, has a new one this morning, based on “new details gleaned from interviews with current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials.”

In other words, leaked by the cabal of disgruntled State Department and Intelligence Community doves, referred to felicitously by William Safire as “a flock of pouting spooks,” who vigorously supported John Kerry in the last election, and who have since been waging an active Intelligence operation seeking to bring down the Bush Administration, whose greatest success, so far, has been achieved in connection with L’Affair Plame by the indictment of one of their key opponents: Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis Libby.

It seems that in May of 2004 the CIA released (those dastards!) a German citizen previously detained for five months, and then had the unmitigated gall to request the German government to cooperate by keeping secret informnation shared in relation to the case. (How dare they!)

Some might consider the release by US authorities to evidence the existence of fair and rational process in the secret US battle against terrorism, of proof that allegations are investigated, and suspects established to be innocent released, but not Dana Priest. To La Priest, the release:

offers a rare study of how pressure on the CIA to apprehend al Qaeda members after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has led in some instances to detention based on thin or speculative evidence. The case also shows how complicated it can be to correct errors in a system built and operated in secret.

How stupid does Ms. Priest think Washington Post readers are exactly? It would be a lot fairer too, let me suggest, if Priest also operated openly, and told the world just who it is that planted this story, including savory tidbits of inside gossip about “a former Soviet analyst with spiked hair that matched her in-your-face personality who heads the CTC’s al Qaeda unit,” who it is who is recklessly prepared to discredit and compromise US efforts to prevent terrorist attacks on large Western civilian population targets in order to avenge in-house slights, bring down rivals, and gain partisan political advantage.


Some earlier related posts are linked here.

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