Trump and the Canary Trap

A lot of (electronic) ink is being used regarding anonymous leaks from the Trump White House, some of which have disclosed classified information, and, in at least one case, undermined a critical intelligence relationship with a key ally. There appears to be little question that the Trump White House is far leakier than any in recent history. This is due in large part no doubt to the number of Obama administration holdovers waging an ideological guerrilla war against their new boss. These are the "anonymous sources" that the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN cite as they conduct their ongoing agitprop campaign against the President.

This has led to an interesting situation. First of all, the Trump team has decided to actually do something about these leaks -- many of which are federal felonies. More on this later. Second, many of these leaks have been inaccurate, misleading, or flat out wrong. The most recent, promulgated by CNN and based on a single anonymous source, predicted that President Trump would not address Russian meddling in our election, with President Putin. It turns out that according to Secretary of State Tillerson, who was in the room, that was the first thing Trump brought up with Putin. This, just another in a long series of mainstream media self-inflicted wounds damaging their credibility with the American public. These leaks, meant to undermine President Trump and his agenda, have instead showcased his seemingly effortless ability to quickly turn the tables on the media at will. 

However, Trump expertly playing the media is not the only thing going on here. Which brings me back to my first (and main) issue, White House leaks and leakers. As I mentioned above, the Trump administration has decided to go hard after leakers, especially those leaking classified information, some of which has already compromised sources and methods. 

Trumps leaks crackdown send chills through security world appeared in Politico on July 7, 2017: 

One U.S. official voiced concern over even talking to superiors about a benign call from a reporter. The agency this official works for had started limiting staff access to information, they said, and it would make it far easier to figure out who was talking to people in the media.

There was suspicion, the official said, that the agency was even tracking what they printed, to keep tabs on what information they were accessing.

Any "official" who has been leaking should be concerned, and here's why. One method the Trump administration is likely using to identify these leakers is called "the canary trap," a term coined by Tom Clancy in his novel Patriot Games. The canary trap is a method for organizations (including many intelligence agencies and private businesses) to determine who is improperly providing information to those not eligible to receive it. They do this by "leaking" certain information, often false, and then following it to see who ends up with it and how they did so. 

The method cited in Patriot Games applies to documents. Each copy of a sensitive document is printed with slightly different punctuation, word usage, etc. to make it unique. If a reporter quoted certain parts of the document, that uniqueness would identify the document and the one person who had given it to the reporter. This process can be partly automated now by use of computer synonym generators. 

Although coined by Tom Clancy, the technique has a long history in intelligence circles. When U.S. forces were attempting to determine when and where the next Japanese attack would take place in the Pacific, a group of Navy codebreakers under Captain James Rochefort who in turn worked for Admiral Chester Nimitz used a different version of the technique to determine that the Japanese Navy's next target was Midway. 

Rochefort's team had broken a significant part of the Japanese Naval Code leading them to believe the Japanese had an upcoming operation against "AF." However, the team wasn't sure what "AF" stood for. Hoping the Japanese would intercept it and react, Rochefort got permission to have the U.S. forces on Midway Island send a false message over an unencrypted administrative channel, that Midway's water purification plant was broken. Later, the U.S. crypto element intercepted a Japanese encrypted message stating that the water purifier on AF was broken, thus identifying "AF" as Midway.

President Donald Trump has recruited some serious and accomplished professionals to be part of his team. Tillerson at State, Mattis at Defense, Pompeo at CIA, and Sessions at Justice -- this team is going to do more, much, much more than embarrass some press organizations and show them for the inept, corrupt organizations they are. Trump's team will (likely already has) use techniques like the canary trap to identify the leakers -- and do so in a manner that will stand up in criminal court. There will be arrests. Look for the Trump team to identify several felony violators. Once they have rock-solid cases, there will be multiple arrests in a single day, in multiple organizations, and there will be perp walks. The ones who committed felonies are going do time -- serious time. And they should.

Mike Ford is a former Infantry Colonel. He has served in Europe, Central America and in Southwest Asia, Commanding at the Detachment, Company, Battalion and Brigade Levels. 

A lot of (electronic) ink is being used regarding anonymous leaks from the Trump White House, some of which have disclosed classified information, and, in at least one case, undermined a critical intelligence relationship with a key ally. There appears to be little question that the Trump White House is far leakier than any in recent history. This is due in large part no doubt to the number of Obama administration holdovers waging an ideological guerrilla war against their new boss. These are the "anonymous sources" that the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN cite as they conduct their ongoing agitprop campaign against the President.

This has led to an interesting situation. First of all, the Trump team has decided to actually do something about these leaks -- many of which are federal felonies. More on this later. Second, many of these leaks have been inaccurate, misleading, or flat out wrong. The most recent, promulgated by CNN and based on a single anonymous source, predicted that President Trump would not address Russian meddling in our election, with President Putin. It turns out that according to Secretary of State Tillerson, who was in the room, that was the first thing Trump brought up with Putin. This, just another in a long series of mainstream media self-inflicted wounds damaging their credibility with the American public. These leaks, meant to undermine President Trump and his agenda, have instead showcased his seemingly effortless ability to quickly turn the tables on the media at will. 

However, Trump expertly playing the media is not the only thing going on here. Which brings me back to my first (and main) issue, White House leaks and leakers. As I mentioned above, the Trump administration has decided to go hard after leakers, especially those leaking classified information, some of which has already compromised sources and methods. 

Trumps leaks crackdown send chills through security world appeared in Politico on July 7, 2017: 

One U.S. official voiced concern over even talking to superiors about a benign call from a reporter. The agency this official works for had started limiting staff access to information, they said, and it would make it far easier to figure out who was talking to people in the media.

There was suspicion, the official said, that the agency was even tracking what they printed, to keep tabs on what information they were accessing.

Any "official" who has been leaking should be concerned, and here's why. One method the Trump administration is likely using to identify these leakers is called "the canary trap," a term coined by Tom Clancy in his novel Patriot Games. The canary trap is a method for organizations (including many intelligence agencies and private businesses) to determine who is improperly providing information to those not eligible to receive it. They do this by "leaking" certain information, often false, and then following it to see who ends up with it and how they did so. 

The method cited in Patriot Games applies to documents. Each copy of a sensitive document is printed with slightly different punctuation, word usage, etc. to make it unique. If a reporter quoted certain parts of the document, that uniqueness would identify the document and the one person who had given it to the reporter. This process can be partly automated now by use of computer synonym generators. 

Although coined by Tom Clancy, the technique has a long history in intelligence circles. When U.S. forces were attempting to determine when and where the next Japanese attack would take place in the Pacific, a group of Navy codebreakers under Captain James Rochefort who in turn worked for Admiral Chester Nimitz used a different version of the technique to determine that the Japanese Navy's next target was Midway. 

Rochefort's team had broken a significant part of the Japanese Naval Code leading them to believe the Japanese had an upcoming operation against "AF." However, the team wasn't sure what "AF" stood for. Hoping the Japanese would intercept it and react, Rochefort got permission to have the U.S. forces on Midway Island send a false message over an unencrypted administrative channel, that Midway's water purification plant was broken. Later, the U.S. crypto element intercepted a Japanese encrypted message stating that the water purifier on AF was broken, thus identifying "AF" as Midway.

President Donald Trump has recruited some serious and accomplished professionals to be part of his team. Tillerson at State, Mattis at Defense, Pompeo at CIA, and Sessions at Justice -- this team is going to do more, much, much more than embarrass some press organizations and show them for the inept, corrupt organizations they are. Trump's team will (likely already has) use techniques like the canary trap to identify the leakers -- and do so in a manner that will stand up in criminal court. There will be arrests. Look for the Trump team to identify several felony violators. Once they have rock-solid cases, there will be multiple arrests in a single day, in multiple organizations, and there will be perp walks. The ones who committed felonies are going do time -- serious time. And they should.

Mike Ford is a former Infantry Colonel. He has served in Europe, Central America and in Southwest Asia, Commanding at the Detachment, Company, Battalion and Brigade Levels. 

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