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The Controversial CTC Report

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point released a report on domestic terrorism that raised hackles for a number of reasons. Despite the dismissals of liberal political pundits, the reasons for objections to the CTC report are legitimate but they did not need to arise in the first place and might have been avoided with a slightly different editorial approach or appropriate caveats (I just finished reading the report, which is primarily focused on the usual suspects). Here’s why I think the normally well-regarded CTC stumbled into a hornet’s nest:

First, in this foray into domestic terrorism analysis, the center chose to concentrate only on the threat of violence of the Far Right while ignoring other threats coming from the Far Left, infiltration by criminal insurgent networks from Mexico, notably the ultraviolent Zetas whose reach has stirred gang violence in Chicago and Islamist terrorism, either homegrown “lone wolves” or from foreign infiltration or subversion. In itself, this is understandable if the CTC plans a series of reports with a separate focus on different domestic threats; but without that context, it is a myopic analytic perspective, particularly given the demonstrated capabilities of various AQ affiliates or just south of the border, the criminal-insurgency of  the narco-cartels. Had all of these been addressed in one omnibus report, any complaints from conservatives were likely to have been muted or nonexistent. This is not to say that the radical American Far Right does not have a violent threat potential of it’s own worth studying; it does and it is real. But available evidence indicates it to be the least organized, least operationally active and least professionally competent in terms of terrorist “tradecraft” of the three.

The second and most problematic aspect of the report is an intellectually sloppy definition of a dangerous “antifederalist movement”  where noxious concepts like “white supremacy” and wacko conspiracy theories are casually associated with very mainstream conservative (or even traditionally bipartisan !) political ideas – coincidentally, some of the same ideas that contemporary “big government” liberal elites tend to find irritating, objectionable or critical of their preferred policies. Part of the equation here is that American politics are evolvng into a very bitterly partisan, “low trust” environment, but even on the merits of critical analysis,  these two passages are ill-considered and are largely responsible for most of the recent public criticism of the CTC:

….The antifederalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government.  They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights.  Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government

….In contrast to the relatively long tradition of the white supremacy racist movement, the anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s, with the emergence of groups such as the  Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia. Antifederalism is normally identified in the literature as the “Militia” or “Patriot” movement. Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist  practices,and libertarian ideas 

This is taxonomic incoherence, or at least could have used some bright-line specifics ( like “Posse Commitatus” qualifying what was meant by “anti-taxation” activists) though in some cases, such as “libertarian ideas” and “civil activism”, I’m at a loss to know who or what violent actors they were implying, despite being fairly well informed on such matters.

By the standard used in the first paragraph, Glenn Greenwald, Ralph Nader and the ACLU would also be considered “far right antifederalists”. By the standards of the second, we might be in physical danger from Grover Norquist,  Congressman John Dingell and Penn Jillette. No one who opposed the recent increases in income tax rates, dislikes gun-control or thought the DOJ may have abused it’s power in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz or in their stubborn refusal to prosecute Bankster racketeering is likely to welcome a report under the auspices of West Point that juxtaposes such normal and perfectly valid American political beliefs with neo-Nazism. A move that is simply going to – and quite frankly, did – gratuitously irritate a large number of people, including many in the defense and national security communities who are a natural “customer base” for CTC reports.

As I said previously, this could easily have been completely avoided with more careful use of language, given that 99% the report has nothing to do with mainstream politics and is concerned with actors and orgs with often extensive track records of violence. As the CTC, despite it’s independence, is associated so strongly with an official U.S. Army institution, it needs to go the extra mile in explaining it’s analysis when examining domestic terrorism subjects that are or, appear to be, connected to perfectly legitimate participation in the political process. This is the case whether the subject is on the Left or Right – few activists on the Left, for example, have forgotten the days of COINTELPRO and are currently aggrieved by the activities of Project Vigilant.

I might make a few other criticisms of the report, such as the need for a better informed historical perspective, but that is hardly what the recent uproar was about.

It Seems the Oligarchs Distrust their own Creepy-state

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

I previously made note of the emergence of an authoritarian Creepy-state element in American government, enjoying bipartisan popularity with this era’s predominantly Boomer elite politicians, CEOs and academic activists. Largely because this growing surveillance state is directed at controlling the rest of us and eroding the democratic and legal accountability of a self-imagined superclass.

Here’s a new (but unsurprising) wrinkle. The political-bureaucratic folks quietly building this incipient machinery of coercion already distrust and fear the men and women who are employed to run it. Evidently, the Rise of the Praetorian Class theory has been widely read.

US spy agency accused of illegally collecting personal data

WASHINGTON — One of the nation’s most secretive intelligence agencies is pressuring its polygraphers to obtain intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees, pushing the ethical and legal boundaries of a program that’s designed instead to catch spies and terrorists.

The National Reconnaissance Office is so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior that officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with cash bonuses, a McClatchy Newspapers investigation found.

The disclosures include a wide range of behavior and private thoughts such as drug use, child abuse, suicide attempts, depression and sexual deviancy. The agency, which oversees the nation’s spy satellites, records the sessions that were required for security clearances and stores them in a database.

Even though it’s aggressively collecting the private disclosures, when people confess to serious crimes such as child molestation they’re not always arrested or prosecuted.

“You’ve got to wonder what the point of all of this is if we’re not even going after child molesters,” said Mark Phillips, a veteran polygrapher who resigned from the agency in late May after, he says, he was retaliated against for resisting abusive techniques. “This is bureaucracy run amok. These practices violate the rights of Americans, and it’s not even for a good reason.”

The agency refused to answer McClatchy’s questions about its practices. However, it’s acknowledged in internal documents that it’s not supposed to directly ask more personal questions but says it legally collects the information when people spontaneously confess, often at the beginning of the polygraph test.

Even though it is against the law as well as internal regulations, the NRO management have given themselves the green light in a self-investigation to keep doing it to their own employees and anybody going through a security clearance background investigation – a vast number of people, many of whom have or will someday have incredibly sensitive positions in the defense, intelligence and national security communities.

After a legal review of Phillips’ assertions, the agency’s assistant general counsel, Mark Land, concluded in April that it did nothing wrong. “My opinion, based on all of the facts, is that management’s action is legally supportable and corrective action is not required,” he wrote.

But McClatchy’s review of hundreds of documents – including internal policy documents, memos and agency emails – indicates that the National Reconnaissance Office is pushing ethical and possibly legal limits by:

-Establishing a system that tracks the number of personal confessions, which then are used in polygraphers’ annual performance reviews.

-Summoning employees and job applicants for multiple polygraph tests to ask about a wide array of personal behavior.

-Altering results of the tests in what some polygraphers say is an effort to justify more probing of employees’ and applicants’ private lives.

Read the rest here.
The charitable explanation is that all this is bureaucratic overreach motivated by tiny empire building and budget-padding in the age of  austerity, where cybersecurity is one of the few “growth” areas of discretionary spending for senior bureaucrats to pursue.
The cynical explanation is that these are blackmail files being compiled systematically and deliberately; to be used later to compel IC/DoD/DHS/DoJ employees to stick with an agency party line, intimidate and punish whistleblowers or use their official positions to engage in illegal misconduct to benefit politically influential VIPs. Like harassing American citizens or journalists critical of an agency or administration policy or special interests.
There’s few good reasons for the government to do this – and those few are all narrowly related to genuine and specific security concerns we have had to live with since WWII – but many bad ones.

Boyd & Beyond 2012

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Colonel John Boyd

This is a head’s up early warning so people can get their schedules and plans together.

From J. Scott Shipman at the Disciples of Boyd’s Strategy Group:

Greetings! A gentle reminder that Boyd & Beyond 2012 is scheduled for 12 & 13 October 2012 at Quantico, VA. 

I would encourage those interested in presenting to contact me or Colonel Stan Coerr. As far as I know, Stan doesn’t have a presenters list. As in the last couple of years, we discourage the use of PowerPoint. The last two years have been two compelling days, and I’ve no doubt this year will be no exception.

There is no charge to attend, as the Command & Staff College makes space available. So check you schedules and make plans to attend, and consider submitting an idea for a presentation.

STRATFOR on Anonymous vs. The Zetas

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

I don’t think of STRATFOR as a cyber shop, generally, but this is worth a look.

Iranian Assassination – Narco-Cartel Plot Charged

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

The US Attorney General Eric Holder, supported diplomatically by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, charged the Iranian government earlier today with a plot to enlist a Mexican narco-cartel to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. SECSTATE Hillary Clinton, the FBI Director and President Barack Obama have all weighed in on this issue with strong public statements:

U.S. authorities said they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.

Iran denied the charges. But President Barack Obama called the plot a “flagrant violation of U.S. and international law” and Saudi Arabia said it was “despicable.” Revelation of the alleged plot, and the apparent direct ties to the Tehran government, had the potential to further inflame tensions in the Middle East, and the United States said Tehran must be held top account.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a Reuters interview, expressed hope that countries that have hesitated to enforce existing sanctions on Iran would now “go the extra mile.” At a news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the convoluted plot, involving monitored international calls, Mexican drug money and an attempt to blow up the ambassador in a Washington restaurant, could have been straight from a Hollywood movie.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder alleged that the plot was the work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the guardian of Iran’s 32-year-old revolution, and the Quds force, its covert, operational arm. “High-up officials in those (Iranian) agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot,” Holder told the news conference.

“I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here,” he said….

I confess that I am not quite sure what to make of this story. 

If accurate – the case originated with a DEA confidential informant in Mexico – it would amount to a new stage of reckless boldness by Iran’s hardline Pasdaran clique of security and intelligence agencies run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their retired leadership that have a semi-hegemony over the Iranian regime. It also points to the danger to American national security of a long, basically open, border with a failing state Mexico that is deeply embattled in a polycentric counterinsurgency war with the rapidly morphing narco-cartels (that said, I do not expect the administration to move a policy inch to repair the latter). Why would Iran do this – and in such a harebrained manner?

Some possible motives:

* Internal factionalism – Iran recently released imprisoned American hikers, albeit after a substantial ransom payment. Potentially, this could be viewed in the topsy-turvy world of Iranian Islamist politics as a “goodwill gesture” toward the United States. Historically, such gestures provoke rival factions in Iran to initiate anti-American actions, including acts of terrorism, usually via proxies. If an intel operation was “factional” rather than blessed by a wide elite consensus, it might very well be a marginal idea carried out on a shoe-string.

* Counterpressue – Indirect Iranian skirmishing against the US which is drawing down in Iraq and is pressuring Iran’s ally Syria. Also against the Saudis who brutally suppressed a predominantly Shia “Arab Spring” rising in Bahrain which, if it had succeeded in toppling the regime, would have added Bahrain to the regional “Shia Revival”.

* Opportunism – The Pasdaran leadership may have  believed the stories of American decline, assessed our extensive military commitments and budgetary problems and taken the Obama administration’s temperature and concluded that the benefits of carrying out the assassination outweighed the remote risk direct  of US military retaliation.

Some points to consider:

* Proximity - Iran could more easily, with less risk and with far greater likelihood of success, carry out acts of anti-American terrorism closer to home in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan the Gulf States, even in Saudi Arabia or Egypt.  Acts of terrorism in the American homeland risk a massive overreaction by Washington ( the US only needs the Navy to deal out severe consequences to Iran) which might welcome a legitimate pretext to bomb all of Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities and national security sites.

* Self-Preservation by the Mexican narco-cartels make such cooperation with Iran less likely, having the example of their Colombian predecessors in the 1980’s before them when they raised the ire of the USG sufficiently. The narcos have their hands full fighting the Mexican Army and one another without adding the CIA, Global Predator drones or the SEALs to their plate.

* Friends of MeK – By some miraculous deus ex machina, the cultish, 1970’s era Iranian Marxoid terrorist group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MeK) have spent a wealth of funds to buy the lobbying services of a glittering array of former top US national security officials and general officers – despite being on the State Department’s official terrorist list.

….Among the new faces: former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton (D), who once chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and who served as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission; Ambassador Dell Dailey, who was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism from July 2007 to April 2009; General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009; and not one, but two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe and ex-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) also spoke.

In what should be a national scandal, those names are not even a comprehensive list of the very influential former politicians, K Street lobbyists and Beltway law firms accepting payments to whisper in the ears of current officials in the national security community, regarding Iran, on behalf of the MeK. Not sure how it is legal to do so either, since aiding a group on the State Department’s list by providing services normally can get you hauled into Federal  court pronto, if you are an ordinary American citizen. A most curious situation….

I have no brief for Iran, the regime is a dedicated enemy of the United States, but a group of exiled Iranian Marxist-terrorists who used to work for Saddam Hussein hardly have our best interests at heart.

It will be interesting to watch this case unfold, but in the meantime, opinions are welcome in the comments, particularly on the Mexican narco-cartel angle.

Hat tip to James Bennett.

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