Naked To Our Enemies

Much as been made of the demonstrated ignorance of Silvestre Reyes, the newly named chair of the House Intelligence Committee. But Reyes is far from alone in failing to have learned the most basic facts of the forces arrayed against us.

Reyes' position requires that he provide oversight of our intelligence operations, and those in charge of those operations  have demonstrated they know little more than Reyes does:
At the end of a long interview, I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the [FBI's] new national security branch; whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. "Yes, sure, it's right to know the difference," he said. "It's important to know who your targets are."

That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. "The basic goes back to their beliefs and who they were following," he said. "And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following."

O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran - Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. "Iran and Hezbollah," I prompted. "Which are they?"

He took a stab: "Sunni."

So it appears that neither the watchers (our counter intelligence officials) nor their watchers, the Congressmen selected to oversee them have a clue as to what they ought to know to do their work effectively.

One of the most disturbing books  I can remember reading in a long time, is Bill Gertz' Enemies which reveals  the failure of the U.S. Government in stopping the penetration of enemies and terrorists, stealing our secrets and using them against us. The numerous failures and the utter insufficiency of the few corrective steps taken are mind boggling. If Congressional oversight cannot accomplish what executive authority has not, we are in serious trouble. Management by committee having a poor track record, I am not comforted.
The most astonishing reports in the book are the incredible failures of David Szady who was appointed the FBI's senior counterintelligence official, despite consistent failures detailed throughout Enemies! Szady's blunders are so numerous and glaring that Gertz could have used them for a follow up book: What the Hell Do You Have to Do to Be Fired From the FBI?

What's less well known is that there has been little discernable change in our counter terrorism efforts. They still stink.

Gertz details the ghastly performance of our counter-intelligence forces. While he deals with several agencies, the most detailed deficiencies in the book involve the FBI, and I want to highlight two of its failures as he describes them., The focus is on the one man more responsible than anyone else for these failures: David Szady. He, and what came to be known as "the Posse", FBI officials Mike Rochford, Rudy Guerin, Jim Milburn and Bill Cleveland, have a lot of explaining to do.

The Hanssen Case

It was obvious there was a KGB mole operating in the US government. This person was likely to be in either the CIA or FBI. The agents in charge of the investigation, posse members Rochford, Guerin, and Milburn, were overseen by David Szady. All automatically assumed it could not be someone inside the Bureau. They focused instead on Brian Kelley of the CIA whom-in the absence of any credible evidence-they hounded and harassed (along with his family), ignoring a large body of very credible evidence that it was not he.

The mole, as we learned too late, was Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent whose own brother-in-law, another FBI agent, Mark Wauck, had over a decade earlier warned the FBI that Hanssen had suspicious amounts of cash on hand and was likely working for the Russians.

The supervisor to whom he conveyed this information, Jim Lyle, astonishingly never followed up on it. This alone is shocking enough.

Hanssen's betrayal was never uncovered by investigative effort. It was caught fortuitously because a tape recording and other evidence in the hands of a Soviet defector   pointed the FBI to finally identify him as the mole.

Lyle, the FBI agent who failed to act on Wauk's suspicions, was promoted to head the Counterintelligence Center at the CIA.

The Department of Justice's Office of the  Inspector General cited among other things:
(a) "long-standing systematic problems " in the FBI's CI program

(b) "ineffective oversight" of the Hanssen investigation

(c) "the absence of adequate security controls at the FBI"

(d) The Bureau's systematic failure to comply with Executive orders, Department regulations and sound intelligence-community procedures for internal security.
Gertz notes that while the FBI post-Hanssen did some things to improve security,
"Even today, the FBI's security problems are pervasive, from personnel security, to computer security, to document security, to security training and compliance." (Enemies, p. 125).                                               
The damage did not end with Hanssen. Of Szady's numerous failures post-Hanssen, none is more documented or inexplicable than that involving the Chinese spy, Katrina Leung.

The Leung Case

The Inspector General's detailed report of his investigation into the matter is detailed here.

Here's the summary of that report:

As early as 1991 the FBI knew that Leung had privately confessed to spying for the Chinese and yet kept her working.

In part this may have been because two of the FBI's senior counterspies, J.J. Smith and Bill Cleveland, had been engaged in long-term sexual relationships with her and were thereby compromised. Smith had flat out lied to his supervisors when the evidence came to light in 1991, claiming falsely that Leung had passed a polygraph test.

She was the most highly paid of the US sources and the (dis)information she supplied was used by her supervisors  to downgrade the credibility of other American intelligence  sources on China which were sound.

The FBI  engaged in a long cover up of this mole, who had so compromised our intelligence. Once Leung's perfidy could no longer be denied, Szady led the damage assessment team and allowed Leung's handler (Smith) off the hook, by early retirement. (Cleveland went on to Lawrence Livermore lab. When he did so, he failed to tell the security office about his affair with Leung, itself a serious breach which Szady excused, saying the violation should not be pursued.)

Not only was Szady's good friend, Cleveland, never prosecuted for his role in this, probably the most serious breach of intelligence in years, but Smith who was prosecuted did not cooperate as even the very weak plea deal he worked out required. Smith's inadequate cooperation allowed Leung to make a very generous plea agreement of the case against her as well.

As Gertz observes: "Szady himself was involved in the problems that plagued the Leung case." He looked the other way when preparing the damage assessment (particularly ignoring the fact that the disinformation she provided caused the agency to discount far more valuable contrary information, for example.) "His hands were in it from the beginning to the end," Gertz concludes. "And he never was held accountable for the obvious conflict of interest."

In an interview

for NRO, Gertz offered some suggestions to improve our intelligence operations:
"U.S. intelligence agencies remain mired in what I call crushing bureaucratization - the loss of focus on national, strategic goals and the overemphasis on protecting bureaucratic turf, budgets and personnel. The problem is seriously undermining our national security.

The intelligence community is bloated, with too many agencies doing too many of the same things. Restructuring is needed to upgrade our intelligence services to the 21st Century. While some reform has been carried out, there is so much more that needs to be done. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in my view, has become another layer of bureaucracy on the overly bureaucratic system. It turns out that what the intelligence community didn't need was a czar who could make all well.

We need smaller agencies with better people and radically different operating methods and procedures."
I have some other ideas I do wish the Congressional intelligence committees would give serious attention.
a) Take domestic counter/intelligence (CI) out of the FBI's purview.  Sooner or later it may have to be done. While  that measure alone won't make any difference or improve anything,  it could possibly prevent other reform measures from going astray due to the engrained organizational/cultural issues at the Bureau.

b) Consider a revision to our present-apparently rather toothless-espionage laws and set up a Court and a division of the Department of Justice specially designated to handle such cases. As we know from the performance of the FISA Court this is not a perfect solution. There is a tendency of such courts and divisions to expand and over zealously protect their own powers and cling to old procedures, rather than acting with good sense to meet new threats. Nevertheless, there is a great value to having judges with expertise in these matters and the kind of uniformity not possible when the cases are spread out over courts with such varying degrees of approach as, say, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the Ninth Circuit.

c) Take all counter intelligence employees and officials out of the Civil Service system which makes it impossibly hard to remove poor performers. We pay with our lives and security if they do a bad job. It's not too much to hold them really accountable when they fail to do their jobs.

d) Professionalize CI; it is too important to neglect. If we choose to retain a CI office in the FBI, we must change the training of FBI CI agents and improve the resources available to them. Many FBI careerists have little interest in national security and no expertise in it. They are frequently anti-intellectual and distrustful of non-criminal experts. It's time a centralized pool of linguists (particularly Arabic, Chinese and Russian) and political experts was created to serve as a continuing resource to the FBI. People who know Sunni from Shia, can read and understand foreign communications and who can shed light on what otherwise is not obvious. Additionally, since so much of the spying involves the theft of military  technology, a pool of technology experts which can regularly be tapped should be set up.

e) Laws should be enacted, barring military, Department of State and CIA and FBI officials from working for foreign governments, and operations funded by them, upon leaving government service. The number of such people already working for the Chinese and Saudi governments is a scandal, and the road to such employment posits a danger to honest analysis and actions in our national interest while still in government service.
Elections matter. The oversight functions of Congress are about to be shifted around. It isn't at all clear who will be even tasked with oversight of intelligence, a development creating yet more confusion and defusing accountability, making it even more likely that nothing much can be anticipated to change.

Nancy Pelosi has announced a brand new oversight of our intelligence operations is in the works:
Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she will create a new congressional panel to examine the administration's intelligence budget and to make sure the money is being spent properly. [....]

The Select Intelligence Oversight Panel proposed by Pelosi would be made up by members of the Appropriations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, and would work within the Appropriations Committee.

It would examine, through hearings, the president's intelligence budget, prepare the classified annex to the annual defense spending bill and conduct oversight of the use of appropriated funds by intelligence agencies
I'd be interested to watch how this proceeds.

Tom Maguire asks some sensible questions.
Will this new sub-committee have the budget authority to match oversight with money?  How much power will it have relative to the Appropriations and Intel committees?  And if it has real budget authority, shouldn't the chair of the House Intel Committee also chair this?  Time will tell.
If  Congressman Reyes, incoming chair of the House Intel Committee, is on this panel, is he up to the job? And who will staff it?

Will the sub-committee make the same mistake the 9/11 Commission did of relying so heavily on FBI and CIA employees seconded to it, people one can imagine were far more concerned about protecting the bureaucracies for which they work than an honest assessment of those agencies' failures?

I am growing increasingly concerned. How much longer can we count on dumb luck to protect us from our enemies?