Commentary Magazine


Topic: Defense Intelligence Agency

At DIA, Focus Should Be on Improving Intel

Apparently I am not the only one skeptical of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s plan to double the size of its human spy force. (I argued in this Los Angeles Times op-ed that we already have enough intelligence personnel–we need to focus on improving their quality.) The Senate has put a temporary hold on the DIA initiative pending a Defense Department explanation of how it will fix existing problems with its attempts to gather “human intelligence”–as opposed to the kind of technical intelligence capabilities at which the Pentagon and the entire U.S. government excel.

The Senate language says that the DIA “needs to demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine [human intelligence] before undertaking any further expansion.” The same might be said of the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community: They expanded tremendously after 9/11 and in the process they did manage to improve certain capabilities–in particular the kind of targeted intelligence needed to identify and eliminate terrorist kingpins. But there is little sign that our ability to gather broader strategic intelligence has improved and considerable reason for skepticism about the intelligence community’s ability to comprehend, much less affect, fast-moving, complex events such as the Arab Spring. Witness failures from the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the claim made by a now-discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had stopped its nuclear program.

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Apparently I am not the only one skeptical of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s plan to double the size of its human spy force. (I argued in this Los Angeles Times op-ed that we already have enough intelligence personnel–we need to focus on improving their quality.) The Senate has put a temporary hold on the DIA initiative pending a Defense Department explanation of how it will fix existing problems with its attempts to gather “human intelligence”–as opposed to the kind of technical intelligence capabilities at which the Pentagon and the entire U.S. government excel.

The Senate language says that the DIA “needs to demonstrate that it can improve the management of clandestine [human intelligence] before undertaking any further expansion.” The same might be said of the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community: They expanded tremendously after 9/11 and in the process they did manage to improve certain capabilities–in particular the kind of targeted intelligence needed to identify and eliminate terrorist kingpins. But there is little sign that our ability to gather broader strategic intelligence has improved and considerable reason for skepticism about the intelligence community’s ability to comprehend, much less affect, fast-moving, complex events such as the Arab Spring. Witness failures from the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the claim made by a now-discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had stopped its nuclear program.

More than a decade after the last round of intelligence reorganization–which created a new layer of bureaucracy at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence without giving that office the actual ability to direct existing intelligence agencies–it is high time for a new round of reform that will prune bureaucracy and focus on bringing talented individuals into the ranks, especially those with knowledge of important languages and cultures. Simply expanding the existing bureaucracy, as DIA apparently contemplates, is not the answer.

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Truth or Consequences

Is it good news? The Pentagon has unveiled a new weapon for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that will save American lives. It is a portable lie detector: 

known by the acronym PCASS, for Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, uses a commercial TDS Ranger hand-held personal digital assistant with three wires connected to sensors attached to the hand. An interpreter will ask a series of 20 or so questions in Persian, Arabic or Pashto: “Do you intend to answer my questions truthfully?” “Are the lights on in this room” “Are you a member of the Taliban?” The operator will punch in each answer and, after a delay of a minute or so for processing, the screen will display the results: “Green,” if it thinks the person has told the truth, “Red” for deception, and “Yellow” if it can’t decide.

“We’re not promising perfection — we’ve been very careful in that,” Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, told MSNBC, which reports on the deployment of the device today.

It’s a good thing that the DoD is not promising “perfection.” That would be very hard to achieve, to say the least. Even non-portable lie-detector systems have a startlingly poor record of ferreting out deception. And these are almost always used in highly-controlled circumstances in which the psychological pressure on the individual being questioned is at its maximum.

The list of spies who have defeated the polygraph to penetrate U.S. intelligence is lengthy and includes Aldrich Ames, the Soviet mole in the CIA, Robert Hanssen, the Soviet mole in the FBI, and Ana Belen Montes, who toiled away in the Defense Intelligence Agency on behalf of Cuba for a decade-and-a-half, until her apprehension in 2001. The most recent case is that of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman arrested this winter, who moved from sensitive positions in the FBI to even more sensitive positions within the CIA despite a fictitious marriage and ties to the terrorist organization, Hizballah.

The idea that our troops can rely on primitive polygraphs to make snap decisions on the battlefield about whom to trust and whom to suspect is a formula for disaster. One of our most attractive and useful characteristics as a society is fascination with and love of technology. Sometimes, however, fascination and love turn into obsession. We seem to be in the grip of a clinical case of that disorder here.

Is it good news? The Pentagon has unveiled a new weapon for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that will save American lives. It is a portable lie detector: 

known by the acronym PCASS, for Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, uses a commercial TDS Ranger hand-held personal digital assistant with three wires connected to sensors attached to the hand. An interpreter will ask a series of 20 or so questions in Persian, Arabic or Pashto: “Do you intend to answer my questions truthfully?” “Are the lights on in this room” “Are you a member of the Taliban?” The operator will punch in each answer and, after a delay of a minute or so for processing, the screen will display the results: “Green,” if it thinks the person has told the truth, “Red” for deception, and “Yellow” if it can’t decide.

“We’re not promising perfection — we’ve been very careful in that,” Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, told MSNBC, which reports on the deployment of the device today.

It’s a good thing that the DoD is not promising “perfection.” That would be very hard to achieve, to say the least. Even non-portable lie-detector systems have a startlingly poor record of ferreting out deception. And these are almost always used in highly-controlled circumstances in which the psychological pressure on the individual being questioned is at its maximum.

The list of spies who have defeated the polygraph to penetrate U.S. intelligence is lengthy and includes Aldrich Ames, the Soviet mole in the CIA, Robert Hanssen, the Soviet mole in the FBI, and Ana Belen Montes, who toiled away in the Defense Intelligence Agency on behalf of Cuba for a decade-and-a-half, until her apprehension in 2001. The most recent case is that of Nada Nadim Prouty, the Lebanese woman arrested this winter, who moved from sensitive positions in the FBI to even more sensitive positions within the CIA despite a fictitious marriage and ties to the terrorist organization, Hizballah.

The idea that our troops can rely on primitive polygraphs to make snap decisions on the battlefield about whom to trust and whom to suspect is a formula for disaster. One of our most attractive and useful characteristics as a society is fascination with and love of technology. Sometimes, however, fascination and love turn into obsession. We seem to be in the grip of a clinical case of that disorder here.

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Bring Back the OSS?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take — risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take — risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

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The Times They Are Not A Changing

Should the United States build new and more reliable nuclear warheads? In the face of the aging and deterioration of weapons in the existing arsenal, the Bush administration is pushing ahead with a plan to do just that. And the New York Times, among other liberal outlets, has been pushing back.

The paper’s argument is that the nuclear modernization program

is a public-relations disaster in the making overseas. Suspicions that the United States is actually trying to build up its nuclear capabilities are undercutting Washington’s arguments for restraining the nuclear appetites of Iran and North Korea.

In other words, the United States is in danger of provoking an arms race.

But Iran and North Korea are not the only players in this game. What, one might ask, are Russia and China doing in this realm? And there are some other pertinent facts one might consider that the Times, the Washington Post, and other critics of the Bush “build-up” also never mention.

One such fact is that the Bush “build-up” is not a build-up at all but a build-down. Last week, two ranking officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration testified before Congress and reported that

we continue to reduce the stockpile to meet the President’s mandate to have the smallest nuclear stockpile consistent with our national-security objectives. As a result, today the stockpile is half of what it was in 2001, and by 2012, the United States will have the smallest stockpile since the 1950’s. Additional reductions in the stockpile are possible, but these reductions will require changes to the weapons complex and the composition of the stockpile. . . .

In 2004, the President directed a 50 percent reduction in the size of the [nuclear] stockpile, and, in December 2007, he ordered an additional 15 percent cut. The result will be a nuclear stockpile one quarter the size it was at the end of the cold war and the smallest since the Eisenhower Administration.

So much for the alarming Bush build-up. What about China and Russia?

The Pentagon has just issued its annual report, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China. China, it states,

is qualitatively and quantitatively improving its strategic forces. These presently consist of: approximately 20 silo-based, liquid-fueled CSS-4 ICBMs (which constitute its primary nuclear means of holding continental U.S. targets at risk); approximately 20 liquid-fueled, limited range CSS-3 ICBMs; between 15-20 liquid-fueled CSS-2 intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs); upwards of 50 CSS-5 road mobile, solid-fueled MRBMs (for regional deterrence missions); and, JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) on the XIA-class SSBN (although the operational status of the XIA is questionable).

By 2010, China’s nuclear forces will likely comprise enhanced CSS-4s; CSS-3s; CSS-5s; solid-fueled, road-mobile DF-31 and DF31A ICBMs, which are being deployed to units of the Second Artillery Corps; and up to five JIN-class SSBNs, each carrying between 10 and 12 JL-2 SLBM. The addition of nuclear-capable forces with greater mobility and survivability, combined with ballistic missile defense countermeasures which China is researching — including maneuvering re-entry vehicles (MaRV), multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV), decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and ASAT weapons — will strengthen China’s deterrent and enhance its capabilities for strategic strike. New air- and ground-launched cruise missiles that could perform nuclear missions would similarly improve the survivability, flexibility, and effectiveness of China’s nuclear forces.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month about Moscow’s efforts to augment its nuclear forces.

Russia has made a major commitment of almost 5 trillion rubles to its 2007-2015 budget to develop and build new conventional and nuclear weapon systems, with Moscow’s priority on the maintenance and modernization of the latter.

Development and production of advanced strategic weapons such as the SS-27/TOPOL-M ICBM and the Bulava-30 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) continues.  In April, Russia rolled out the first Dolgorukiy-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) designed to carry the Bulava-30 SLBM which continues testing despite several publicized failures. . . .

Russia retains a relatively large stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

“[W]hen we build, they build; when we cut, they build,” is what Harold Brown once said about the USSR back when he was Secretary of Defense under Jimmy Carter.

The times appear not to have changed all that much since then, and neither, in its consistent effort to blame the ills of the world on the United States, has the New York Times.

Should the United States build new and more reliable nuclear warheads? In the face of the aging and deterioration of weapons in the existing arsenal, the Bush administration is pushing ahead with a plan to do just that. And the New York Times, among other liberal outlets, has been pushing back.

The paper’s argument is that the nuclear modernization program

is a public-relations disaster in the making overseas. Suspicions that the United States is actually trying to build up its nuclear capabilities are undercutting Washington’s arguments for restraining the nuclear appetites of Iran and North Korea.

In other words, the United States is in danger of provoking an arms race.

But Iran and North Korea are not the only players in this game. What, one might ask, are Russia and China doing in this realm? And there are some other pertinent facts one might consider that the Times, the Washington Post, and other critics of the Bush “build-up” also never mention.

One such fact is that the Bush “build-up” is not a build-up at all but a build-down. Last week, two ranking officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration testified before Congress and reported that

we continue to reduce the stockpile to meet the President’s mandate to have the smallest nuclear stockpile consistent with our national-security objectives. As a result, today the stockpile is half of what it was in 2001, and by 2012, the United States will have the smallest stockpile since the 1950’s. Additional reductions in the stockpile are possible, but these reductions will require changes to the weapons complex and the composition of the stockpile. . . .

In 2004, the President directed a 50 percent reduction in the size of the [nuclear] stockpile, and, in December 2007, he ordered an additional 15 percent cut. The result will be a nuclear stockpile one quarter the size it was at the end of the cold war and the smallest since the Eisenhower Administration.

So much for the alarming Bush build-up. What about China and Russia?

The Pentagon has just issued its annual report, Military Power of the People’s Republic of China. China, it states,

is qualitatively and quantitatively improving its strategic forces. These presently consist of: approximately 20 silo-based, liquid-fueled CSS-4 ICBMs (which constitute its primary nuclear means of holding continental U.S. targets at risk); approximately 20 liquid-fueled, limited range CSS-3 ICBMs; between 15-20 liquid-fueled CSS-2 intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs); upwards of 50 CSS-5 road mobile, solid-fueled MRBMs (for regional deterrence missions); and, JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) on the XIA-class SSBN (although the operational status of the XIA is questionable).

By 2010, China’s nuclear forces will likely comprise enhanced CSS-4s; CSS-3s; CSS-5s; solid-fueled, road-mobile DF-31 and DF31A ICBMs, which are being deployed to units of the Second Artillery Corps; and up to five JIN-class SSBNs, each carrying between 10 and 12 JL-2 SLBM. The addition of nuclear-capable forces with greater mobility and survivability, combined with ballistic missile defense countermeasures which China is researching — including maneuvering re-entry vehicles (MaRV), multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRV), decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and ASAT weapons — will strengthen China’s deterrent and enhance its capabilities for strategic strike. New air- and ground-launched cruise missiles that could perform nuclear missions would similarly improve the survivability, flexibility, and effectiveness of China’s nuclear forces.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee late last month about Moscow’s efforts to augment its nuclear forces.

Russia has made a major commitment of almost 5 trillion rubles to its 2007-2015 budget to develop and build new conventional and nuclear weapon systems, with Moscow’s priority on the maintenance and modernization of the latter.

Development and production of advanced strategic weapons such as the SS-27/TOPOL-M ICBM and the Bulava-30 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) continues.  In April, Russia rolled out the first Dolgorukiy-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) designed to carry the Bulava-30 SLBM which continues testing despite several publicized failures. . . .

Russia retains a relatively large stockpile of non-strategic nuclear weapons.

“[W]hen we build, they build; when we cut, they build,” is what Harold Brown once said about the USSR back when he was Secretary of Defense under Jimmy Carter.

The times appear not to have changed all that much since then, and neither, in its consistent effort to blame the ills of the world on the United States, has the New York Times.

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Two Windows Are Closing At Once

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

As Norman Podhoretz has pointed out in a series of courageous and cogently argued articles (click here and here) making the case for an American strike on Iran’s nuclear program, President Bush seemingly locked himself into such an action when he said, in Podhoretz’s paraphrase,

that if we permit Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now will look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938.

But with less than a year left in his term, there are no indications that Bush intends to follow through. If he doesn’t, Israel may have to go it alone.

The venomous anti-Israel rhetoric spewing from Tehran is becoming increasingly bellicose. Iran is said to be supplying the Grad missiles used by Hamas in Gaza to strike the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Iran’s nuclear program, despite the trickily worded U.S. National Intelligence Estimate issued late last year, is continuing apace. With all these ominous trends in place, the pressure on Israel to employ military measures to ward off the Iranian nuclear menace will only grow.

What is the likely timing of an Israeli strike? One new factor in the equation is the Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Iran, rumored about for months and now evidently moving forward. Tucked away in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday was a single sentence from General Michael Maples, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Iran, stated Maples, “is close to acquiring long-range SA-20 SAMs.”

The SA-20 is an advanced air-defense system with a radius of up to 250 miles. Although it presumably can be defeated by electronic measures of the kind at which Israel excels, its deployment would nonetheless seriously complicate the planning and execution of an Israeli attack. Given the risks of such an operation even without having to overcome the SA-20, Israel would presumably have a strong incentive to act before the new Russian system becomes operational.

Some reports are now placing the date for the SA-20 deployment as early as December. Of course, it would take time for the Iranian military to learn to operate the system even half-way effectively. But once the surface-to-air missiles are pointing toward the sky, the clock on that process would be ticking, just as it is ticking on Iran’s nuclear bomb program. Two windows would be closing at once.

Last week, Iran’s president called Israel a “a dirty microbe.” The intentions communicated by this Nazi-style metaphor are all too clear. But Israel is not about to let itself be exterminated. Barring a sudden change of course by Iran, the Middle East is heading for another major war.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the National Archives

The website of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm that provides advice on doing business in China, Russia, India, Brazil, and other promising markets, has a tab called “in the news.” I clicked on it this morning and two items caught my eye. One was “Let’s Get to Know the Saudis,” and the other was “How Turning Capitalism Into Equality Can Mean Profit for All.” Interesting stuff–if you are a client of Stonebridge International, that is.

But even more interesting is a news story about Stonebridge that does not appear on its website, or for that matter in most of the newspapers in this country that count.

Stonebridge’s chairman is Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton. In 2005, Berger was convicted of pilfering classified documents from the National Archives as he was preparing to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He had smuggled them out by stuffing them into his trousers and socks and then hidden some of them in a nearby construction site. He was subsequently fined $56,905 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service, which he fulfilled by picking up litter in Virginia parks.

Yesterday, to avoid the ignominy of being disbarred—or perhaps, more importantly, to avoid being asked further questions under oath about what he had done—Berger agreed to surrender his license to practice law. A two-page agreement states that Berger “acknowledges that the material facts upon which the allegations of misconduct are predicated are true” and that he “could not successfully defend against them.”

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The website of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm that provides advice on doing business in China, Russia, India, Brazil, and other promising markets, has a tab called “in the news.” I clicked on it this morning and two items caught my eye. One was “Let’s Get to Know the Saudis,” and the other was “How Turning Capitalism Into Equality Can Mean Profit for All.” Interesting stuff–if you are a client of Stonebridge International, that is.

But even more interesting is a news story about Stonebridge that does not appear on its website, or for that matter in most of the newspapers in this country that count.

Stonebridge’s chairman is Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, National Security Advisor to Bill Clinton. In 2005, Berger was convicted of pilfering classified documents from the National Archives as he was preparing to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He had smuggled them out by stuffing them into his trousers and socks and then hidden some of them in a nearby construction site. He was subsequently fined $56,905 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service, which he fulfilled by picking up litter in Virginia parks.

Yesterday, to avoid the ignominy of being disbarred—or perhaps, more importantly, to avoid being asked further questions under oath about what he had done—Berger agreed to surrender his license to practice law. A two-page agreement states that Berger “acknowledges that the material facts upon which the allegations of misconduct are predicated are true” and that he “could not successfully defend against them.”

What exactly was Berger up to in the National Archives? Why did he want those documents so badly that he was willing to risk so much, including 100 hours picking up soda cans instead of racking up billable hours at Stonebridge? We still don’t really know. His own stated explanation—that he simply wanted to read the documents at his leisure at home—does not comport with stowing them in a construction-site dead-drop like a semi-trained spy. And why are only two newspapers—the Washington Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—keeping us up to date on this bizarre story? If a Bush or a Reagan administration official had done something similar would the media be so incurious? The media’s quiet handling of this is almost as baffling as in the Montaperto matter, although for sheer mystery that case is hard to beat. 

Ronald Montaperto, an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and something of a soft-liner on China policy, pleaded guilty last June to the illegal retention of classified documents. He acknowledged in the course of the proceedings against him that he had passed secret and top-secret information to Chinese intelligence officers. Last September, he was sentenced to three months in prison and was released from incarceration this past February. The sentence stands in sharp contrast to the twelve-plus years that were given to Lawrence Franklin in the AIPAC matter for the less serious offense of passing classified documents to American citizens and mishandling others by keeping them in his home.

Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times nor any of our country’s leading newspapers–except for the conservative Washington Times—has yet to report a word about Montaperto’s escapades. It is as if this Chinese espionage case didn’t happen. I do not believe it could possibly be politics that explains this silence. Newspapers like the Post and Times may not always be the altogether neutral purveyors of news that they purport to be, but they wouldn’t ever actually suppress important information. Or would they, and why?  

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All the News That’s Fit to Print?

Despite warnings that it is damaging national security, despite the prospect that it is inviting an unprecedented prosecution under the espionage statutes barring communication of national-defense information, the New York Times presses ahead in its campaign to place our country’s most highly classified military, counterterrorism, and diplomatic secrets on its front page. The string of extremely sensitive leaked information making it into the paper was extended recently when a memorandum by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, summarizing difficulties the U.S. faces with Iraq’s prime minister, appeared on page one.

But while avidly disclosing U.S. secrets, how does the Times report on intelligence operations directed against the United States by foreign powers?

Back in June, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst by the name of Ronald Montaperto was convicted on espionage charges. According to the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Montaperto had held 60 meetings with Chinese military intelligence officers over two decades and provided them with information bearing “secret” and “top-secret” designations. Despite the gravity of the offense, Montaperto was sentenced to only three months in jail. This stands in striking contrast to other well-known cases. Jonathan Pollard, who passed information to Israel in the 1980’s, is serving out a life sentence. Last January, Larry Franklin, a Defense Department desk officer, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for mishandling classified documents and passing sensitive national-defense information to employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

There are many mysteries here. One of them is why Montaperto got only a slap on the wrist. One answer is that unlike Pollard and Franklin, he was not a nobody or an outsider but a creature of the establishment. In addition to his work for the DIA, he helped to produce a Council on Foreign Relations study on Chinese nuclear weapons and had many friends in the fraternity of China experts, both in and out of government. The federal judge in the case evidently reduced his sentence on the strength of numerous letters he received from Montaperto’s former colleagues. One of those letters came from the current deputy national-intelligence officer for East Asia, Lonnie Henley. Yesterday came word, from Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, that several months ago Henley received a formal reprimand for writing it.

Another even more intriguing mystery is why, even as the New York Times feels free to compromise one classified program after another, it has kept readers in the dark about the Montaperto matter and Henley’s intervention. The story is already beginning to age, Montaperto will be getting out of prison next month, but his name has yet to be even mentioned in our newspaper of record. One explanation for this silence, easy to demonstrate from their own behavior, is that the editors of the Times do not think the loss of governmental secretswith the single revealing exception of the leak of Valery Plame’s CIA affiliationis of any consequence to national security. It is thanks only to the dogged reporting of Bill Gertz, who has himself been known to publish highly sensitive governmental secrets, that the public is aware of these cases at all. 

To find out about A & O (admission and orientation) programs for a federal prisoner like Ronald N. Montaperto, inmate number 71342-083, click here.

Despite warnings that it is damaging national security, despite the prospect that it is inviting an unprecedented prosecution under the espionage statutes barring communication of national-defense information, the New York Times presses ahead in its campaign to place our country’s most highly classified military, counterterrorism, and diplomatic secrets on its front page. The string of extremely sensitive leaked information making it into the paper was extended recently when a memorandum by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, summarizing difficulties the U.S. faces with Iraq’s prime minister, appeared on page one.

But while avidly disclosing U.S. secrets, how does the Times report on intelligence operations directed against the United States by foreign powers?

Back in June, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst by the name of Ronald Montaperto was convicted on espionage charges. According to the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, Montaperto had held 60 meetings with Chinese military intelligence officers over two decades and provided them with information bearing “secret” and “top-secret” designations. Despite the gravity of the offense, Montaperto was sentenced to only three months in jail. This stands in striking contrast to other well-known cases. Jonathan Pollard, who passed information to Israel in the 1980’s, is serving out a life sentence. Last January, Larry Franklin, a Defense Department desk officer, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for mishandling classified documents and passing sensitive national-defense information to employees of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

There are many mysteries here. One of them is why Montaperto got only a slap on the wrist. One answer is that unlike Pollard and Franklin, he was not a nobody or an outsider but a creature of the establishment. In addition to his work for the DIA, he helped to produce a Council on Foreign Relations study on Chinese nuclear weapons and had many friends in the fraternity of China experts, both in and out of government. The federal judge in the case evidently reduced his sentence on the strength of numerous letters he received from Montaperto’s former colleagues. One of those letters came from the current deputy national-intelligence officer for East Asia, Lonnie Henley. Yesterday came word, from Bill Gertz of the Washington Times, that several months ago Henley received a formal reprimand for writing it.

Another even more intriguing mystery is why, even as the New York Times feels free to compromise one classified program after another, it has kept readers in the dark about the Montaperto matter and Henley’s intervention. The story is already beginning to age, Montaperto will be getting out of prison next month, but his name has yet to be even mentioned in our newspaper of record. One explanation for this silence, easy to demonstrate from their own behavior, is that the editors of the Times do not think the loss of governmental secretswith the single revealing exception of the leak of Valery Plame’s CIA affiliationis of any consequence to national security. It is thanks only to the dogged reporting of Bill Gertz, who has himself been known to publish highly sensitive governmental secrets, that the public is aware of these cases at all. 

To find out about A & O (admission and orientation) programs for a federal prisoner like Ronald N. Montaperto, inmate number 71342-083, click here.

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