Prepare for the Pendulum Swing

I’m not going to belabor the tale of woe those trying to deal with Edward Snowden’s theft are dealing with right now. For a moment I want to opine on some of the secondary and tangential issues that I predict is going to make life in the IC more difficult because of his actions:

  1. Polygraphs. If it is true that he only took the job with BAH to gain access to specific data in order to reveal it, IC polygraph units are going to have to cancel leave through 2025. Moving from one agency to another? Get ready to get hooked up to the box (again). In a sys admin job? Pucker up. That old timer you used to get who realized that people were people and they had lives? He’s going to be replaced by a legion of whippersnappers who will all be gunning to catch the next leaker. Good people will be deep-sixed and those who survive will wonder if it’s worth the ***-pain.
  2. Investigations. When you can’t pick up on obvious problem-children, and when the bottom-line is more important than doing a good job, the bureaucracy will retrench and do what it does best: drop into low gear and distrust outsiders. There are only so many government investigators, and it’s not like there are fewer missions. Coverage will slip, tasks won’t get done, the risk of surprise (you know, what we’re supposed to try and avoid) goes up.
  3. Visits. Even in the information age some things are best discussed in person. Remember how your “community” badge would kinda-sorta get you into wherever you needed to go? Good luck with that for the foreseeable future. That three hour block of time you used to allocate to go to a meeting across town? You might as well write off the whole day.
  4. Two-Man Rule. Great theory; it will suck in practice. Remember when you used to be able to call the help desk and your boy Chuck would reset your password over the phone? Yeah, not any more. Something that took minutes will take hours; something that used to take hours will take days; things that took days will take weeks. In the information age, ostensibly the information enterprise, will work about as quickly and efficiently as a pre-assembly-line car factory.
  5. Sharing. Yes, the mechanisms will still exist, but no one actually will (officially). No one will say so out loud, but in a series of staff calls of decreasing seniority the word will get out: don’t post or share anything good or the least bit sensitive online. Stovepipes will be reinforced and what good was done over the past decade+ to break down barriers will get washed away. Sharing will go underground, which will simply make detecting leaks harder.

This story is far from over, but if you’ve been in this business for any length of time you know how wildly the pendulum swings when something bad happens. Nothing actually improves, everything just gets more difficult. This was less of a big deal during the industrial age, but that age has past.



Compare and Contrast

I love how, on a mailing list I belong to that is full of Ph.D.s and J.D.s, when I call for practical approaches to real-world problems I’m called “anti-intellectual” and in other forums when I allude to someone’s level of formal education – or lack thereof – I’m called “elitist.” What’s the old saying? If you’re pissing both sides off equally you must be doing something right.

The latest example?

I recently brought up the fact that neither Bradley Manning nor Edward Snowden were Daniel Ellsberg. I didn’t come out and say ‘they weren’t fit to hold his jock,’ I was pointing out that when you compared who they were and what they did, Dr. Ellsberg is a whole different class of actor. Let’s get on the ‘tubes and let me show you what I mean:

Daniel Ellsberg

Education: Harvard undergraduate (on scholarship); Cambridge (Wilson Fellowship); Harvard (again) for graduate school and eventually his Ph.D.

Employment: USMC officer (honorable); RAND Corporation; the Department of State and the Department of Defense (he didn’t work “in the Pentagon” he worked for the Secretary of Defense).

Access: With regards to the “Pentagon Papers” he operated at the highest level and knew the full contents of the report.


Bradley Manning

Education: High School; One semester of Community College (dropped out)

Employment: Software developer (for four months); Pizza parlor; US Army Intelligence Analyst

Access: A variety of classified military, intelligence and diplomatic systems accessible in theater.


Edward Snowden

Education: Dropped out of high school; earned GED; briefly attended Community College.

Employment: US Army (never got out of training status); contract security guard; IT engineer at the CIA and NSA

(Reported) Access: Discrete systems supporting HUMINT and SIGINT operations.


Snowden wasn’t an intelligence operator or analyst, he was an IT guy who supported intelligence operators and analysts. Sports agents know a lot about sports, but no one confuses them for players. Manning had access to a lot of data, but he was a junior analyst who (if the Army still works like it worked when I was in) was focused on a particular problem set, not the Middle East theater writ large. If you worked with either one of these guys you wouldn’t care what they thought about anything work-related beyond the very narrow slice where they had demonstrable expertise, but because you know nothing about intelligence work and they happened to have a clearance you think they’re all that and a bag of crisps.

I’m not saying Snowden and Manning aren’t smart. I’m not saying they’re not earnest in their beliefs. I’m saying if I’m going to accept the judgment of an individual about issues of national if not international import, the guy who did nothing but flex the muscles in his 18-pound brain and had full view of the entire problem has a lot more credibility.

If that makes me elitist, well, I’ll be over here sipping cognac if you want to slap me across the face with a velvet glove.


Former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Ronald Montaperto, convicted last year on espionage-related charges that involved passing secrets to China, is scheduled to get out of federal prison Sunday. Prosecutors say he will be barred from meeting any Chinese intelligence personnel as a condition of his release.

Montaperto claimed the passing of intelligence to China was unintentional and the result of being tricked by two Chinese officers.

Consider the difference between Montaperto and Franklin. Both were in essence doing something that happens all-too frequently – in essence ‘how things are done’ – but in Montaperto’s case he wasn’t doing it willingly, he was tricked, tricked by those inscrutables!

Certainly there are aspects to each case that we are unaware of that could force a re-assessment of the situation, but as it stands now, it is clear there is one “lobby” that has real pull in the national security apparatus, and it isn’t headquartered in Jerusalem.
P.S. – If the comparison with the Franklin sentence wasn’t enough, contrast the “time-out” that Montaperto got with the sentence of this poor bugger. The former gave away state secrets, the latter was just a greedy spammer direct-marketer. Have we no sense of priorities?