-- 52-Year Veteran Legislator --
In the spy business, when does their guy become your guy -- and he doesn´t know it?
The National Security Agency, for which Ed Snowden worked, might start worrying about how it can be -- without being aware of it -- "turned" to work for terrorists, not against them. Ditto Booz/Allen/Hamilton, the private contractor who recruits personnel for the NSA and CIA, and landed Snowden his job with the NSA. Booz/Allen has certainly lived up to its name: it had one too many.
Personally, I don´t think turning the NSA to work against America would be hard to set up. Indeed, millions of Americans and people around the world think it has already happened.
* * *
I came to work early one morning. The door to my office directly across from the state house of representatives´ chamber, was wide open. Cops were climbing all over the walls, floor, ceiling; they took apart our telephone and light switch one stitch at a time.
My boss, the House Majority Floor Leader (read: second most powerful house member) somberly explained that the opponent Republicans knew everything we were doing. The Leader had concluded that either the GOP had bugged our offices or they had a spy in the Democratic Caucus.
The police found no bug. Ergo ...
"Tom, see if you can´t discover who in the hell is betraying us."
Such cases call for political ju-jitsu in which the opponent´s strength becomes his weakness. In this case, the spy´s strength was he had valuable information to offer. Information, then, was the key to uncovering him.
That afternoon, I prepared a one-page report presenting statewide poll results on hot bills before the legislature: abortion, capital punishment, legalizing marijuana, a state lottery. Then, I had a 19- year-old student intern pass out the report to the Democrat Caucus members as they entered an evening meeting behind closed doors.
Our movida to expose the spy came in four steps:
(1) Each copy of the report had a distinguishing mark almost invisible to the naked eye. You had to know exactly where to look to see it. But, because the Democrats entered the caucus room in clusters and in a random order, how could anybody determine which report was given to what member? Impossible, no?
(2) Unknown to the Republicans, we had an informer in their caucus (he was how we learned the Republicans knew everything we were doing). As we predicted, the Democrat who was spying on us handed out my poll report to Republican caucus members. Our Republican informant was among them.
(3) Our informant gave me the copy of the report he received in the GOP meeting.
(4) As for how marks were associated with individual Democrat caucus members:
My completely unremarkable student intern was exceedingly remarkable in three aspects. Not only did she have (1) a photographic memory, she was (2) an Evelyn Wood speed-reader and (3) a superb draftsman. She could glance in a room, then draw a picture that didn´t leave out a single pencil. When I hired her -- which was instantaneous -- I forbid her from revealing her abilities while the legislature was in session.
Immediately after she distributed the poll reports, she and I sat down and made a list of which Democrat caucus member received what mark. Considering there were over 30 members and the speed with which each was handed a report, her ability continues to astonish me. CIA and NSA: anybody like her is worth 10 Snowdens. No, I won´t give you her name; I will let your heroic hackers track her down. (Last I heard, she opened a luggage store.) Lots of luck.
I compared the mark on the report handed out in the GOP caucus to our list. In less than a minute, we had our man.
When I presented the incontrovertible proof to the Democrat leadership, their immediate reaction was to seize the traitor and hang him from the nearest lamppost. I managed to convince them, however, to take no punitive action whatsoever. The spy would prove to be an invaluable asset for us.
Over the coming months I chatted regularly with the spy. In the beginning, I gave him 100% reliable information, albeit concerning matters of little or no importance. That way, he cemented his credibility with the Republicans. However, as time passed, we systematically reduced the accuracy of the information until it became worse than useless. That is to say: a person who has zero knowledge of something knows more than somebody who has negative, viz., incorrect, knowledge.
Slowly, one drop at a time, we poisoned the spy´s well. Their guy became our guy without knowing it.
* * *
What a man wants, that is his weakness. What was it the spy wanted so desperately as to betray his fellow Democrats? Why was the spy a spy?
I can give it to you in one word: bypass.
His fair city was located on a major transportation route. Fleets of interstate haulers rumbled through town day and night, stirring up dust, polluting the air, awakening babies, vibrating homes and shaking businesses. The local Chamber of Commerce and J.C. booster babies of every shape and description raised big money, printed beautiful campaign brochures and fliers and posters, flooded every neighborhood with door-to-door volunteers, in brief: they supported the spy´s election bid and put him in the legislature. He had one assignment: get the state to fund a bypass route around the city.
The Republicans controlled the house, which meant they controlled all state government appropriations. If a legislator proposed a law requiring money, it was automatically referred to the Appropriations Committee, which would listen to his presentation and table his bill for future action (or inaction). After hearing all bills requesting money, the Committee put together all acceptable requests into one mammoth bill, the General Appropriations Act.
Needless to say, any Democrat caucus member-sponsored project in need of money was dead on arrival -- except one. The spy´s payoff: in the last week of the legislative session, money for the bypass was included in the Act.
I return to our tactic of decreasing the spy´s credibility over time to negative value. (In the words of the student intern, we "stuffed the guy more full of shit than a Christmas turkey.") The climax came when the GOP coalition running the house introduced a bill to change the state educational funding formula to rob Democrat school districts of teachers and supplies and transfer them to coalition members (see our post of June 1, 2012 "Lobbyists (5)").
What would the Democrat caucus response be?
We told the spy the night before the Republicans made their move that we had no response planned, that we had other priorities -- which was exactly, perfectly, absolutely wrong. In point of fact, as our "Lobbyists (5)" post explained, our reaction proved to be the straw that broke the coalition´s back.
The twist of the stiletto came the day after the spy gave the Republicans our "no-response" disinformation. We let the Republicans know in a conclusive manner that, via an informant, we knew every move they were making.
The GOP came to the obvious, but incorrect, conclusion.
Their spy´s information had become downright misleading -- worse than useless -- + the GOP had a spy in its midst = the Democrat traitor had been "turned," that he was now a counter-spy. The Republicans did the only thing they could do under the circumstances: amend the General Appropriations Act.
By, by, bypass.
We let the old folks at home bring out the hook. The local Chamber of Commerce, outraged by the loss of the bypass, withdrew all support for the spy. Talk about a pariah: gone were the brochures and pamphlets, the legions of volunteers. J.C. Booster Babies far and wide started shaking the bushes for an opponent in the upcoming election. They found one. The spy saw the handwriting on the wall -- "Adios, Pal" -- and did not run for re-election.
* * *
What does the above have to do with Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency?
According to the NSA, as a result of Snowden´s leaks, terrorists have changed their manner of communication, i.e., they are no longer using regular emails. NSA, CIA et al, I hate to tell you, but everybody I know who passed seventh grade has assumed for years that you had the capacity to monitor their emails and telephone conversations. So far, Snowden has done little more than confirm existing suspicions.
The proverbial bottom line: any terrorist who doesn´t know the facts of Internet/telephone life is so stupid there are other ways of catching him without resorting to billion-dollar electronic eavesdropping.
Our management of the spy in the Democrat caucus shows how spurious information can confuse, contort and confound the enemy to the extent that he subverts himself. One can only wonder if al-Qaida has not been deliberately misleading Washington for years, sending Bush and Obama on innumerable snipe hunts, e.g., at best close over 20 American embassies, at worse tricking Washington into bombing innocent wedding parties and its military allies.* A crank phone call or two about an al-Qaeda meeting in a restaurant, and presto -- sit back and watch the fireworks.
You want quantitative data? The most disturbing proof is in the Pakistan pudding. Our post of February 4, 2013 ("Barack Obama: Romancing The Drone") gave the results of a nine-month study:
"´Living Under Drones´ reported that the drones´ kill rate of terrorists is 2%. Anybody who took an introductory statistics class knows that figure shows an insignificant correlation between drone attacks/terrorist deaths. Otherwise stated, we are in the vicinity of a monkey with a dart board."
Which leaves this question: what about the other 98% of drone attacks? Who ordered them and on what basis? Who was killed, maimed? NSA, CIA: it is now obvious to anybody with one iota of common sense that your operation is so full of holes a typical teenager can play it like a flute. Maybe, that is exactly what is happening.
In our post-Snowden world, you can expect al-Qaida to fill the airwaves with all sorts of spurious reports about top-secret meetings in homes, horrendous schemes to murder millions with anthrax; announce a suicide bombing at Point A when the real target is Point B, conjure up bogus assassination plots, ad nausea. For that matter, Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela -- anybody who has an ax to grind with Obama -- can yank his chain by effusing fantastic tales for the express purpose of having them be overheard. As in "Spy Versus Spy," Washington sucks it all in, jumps through all sorts of hoops, exercises all manner of cautions, ducks and dodges all kinds of obstacles -- only to be shocked senseless at the end of the game by a common light switch.
So, what is the alternative?
* * *
A totally different dynamic is needed in the anti-terrorist fight -- a qualitative one. It has as its basis an understanding of middle class rebellion, terrorism, and their interrelationships. That understanding already has nascent sprouts, but not in the U.S.** In America, anti-terrorist strategy has been reduced to tactics, which is to say: there is no strategy.
What the NSA, FBI, Secret Service and CIA want: that is their weakness. And what they want is robotic-electronic-virtual slave machinery to run things. Just set it and forget it: that way, nobody has to do any thinking -- and they don´t.*** Their obsession with technology explains the unexplainable: how American security agents can have a terrorist (Tamerlan Tsarnaev) and a middle class rebel (Edward Snowden) sitting in front of them, and not see a thing.
By the way, you can observe the emerging, qualitative dynamic at work in foreign airports. The U.S. is 90% dependent on x-rays and electronic/computerized screening, in other words, quantitative procedures. Other cultures do not exclude them; however, they depend more on face-to-face questioning of passengers, on listening, on surmising, on detecting a certain psychological profile. Or, as I phrased it in The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion (p. 307): "To create a sensibility to a syndrome: that is the goal of this essay."
The qualitative, human approach is particularly noteworthy in that nation which has unquestionably the best security force in the world. They already comprehend what their American colleagues perhaps will never learn: low tech knowledge, creativity, hard work and common sense trump high tech gizmos every time. For those who disagree, I have a one-word response: Vietnam.
Unfortunately, that message is not delivered, much less heard, in America where information in its endless forms -- of which the collection of billions of emails and telephone calls is only the latest example -- is replacing culture at breakneck speed.
With Snowden´s revelations, middle class rebel hackers slaving away in security agency bee hives and whizz-bang artifacts flying in outer space have taken a hit from which no recovery is in sight. At some point, the information gathered by the NSA and CIA becomes so salted by pranksters and America´s opponents as to be worse than useless. That is when state-of-the-art satellites are transformed into space junk. That is when Big Brother turns into Weak Sister.
That is when our guy becomes their guy.
*The prospect of driving the NSA, CIA and FBI wild with wild goose chases was brought up on June 13, 2013, by Republican Representative Mac Thornberry in a house intelligence committee hearing. He asked FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce of one dubious group: "Would you say their intention to blow up the New York Stock Exchange was a serious plot or was this something that they kind of dream about, you know, talking among their buddies?"
Thornberry failed to make a vital distinction. A wild good chase can result from an accident or misunderstanding. A snipe hunt, on the other hand, is always a deliberate prank. It is the enhanced evolution of the former into the latter that is the essence of the Snowden Effect.
**An example of American backwardness: U.S. media (and by implication, government officials) were cackling in their Coke and bourbon over Snowden´s naive and clumsy attempts to find asyum; over 20 nations said no. In reality, Snowden´s erratic, desperate behavior was predictable. As discussed in The Source of Terrorism, "All or nothing, either or: the total absence of intermediate positions to which one could fall back to for support, is a hallmark of middle class rebellion." (p. 209). As our prior post mentlioned, Snowden had made an idée fixe out of Hong Kong. It was all or nothing, then -- Hong Kong or Bust! Hong Kong pumped him and dumped him, so it was bust.
***All indicators point in the same direction: America´s security agencies are moving toward more, not less, high tech surveillance. For an astonishing case study, click here.
P.S. Some facts in the account of the Democrat caucus spy may have been changed in order to perplex the opposition and to derail unseemly lawsuits.