Apple vs. FBI — What This Case Means for YOU

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

and

Guest Author & Information Security professional Chris Magill

The FBI wants Apple to rewrite code for iPhones in order to break into a phone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Apple said no. They are now embroiled in a lawsuit.

On March 1, the FBI admitted exactly WHY it needs Apple’s help. The FBI was in the phone, with access to everything it needed. Then someone at the FBI changed the phone’s password. They forgot the password. Now, the FBI can’t get back in the phone.

In other words, the FBI is asking that it be allowed to gut the constitutional rights of every American in perpetuity because it made a sophomoric boo-boo.

This begs some questions . . .

1)  Why doesn’t the FBI just ask the NSA for the information?

The cat got out of the Snowden bag a few years ago that the NSA collects and stores every electronic communication that takes place in America, including and especially phone communications. Investigating the San Bernardino jihadis and their play pals is EXACTLY why the NSA collects and stores these communications. If the NSA can’t give the information to the FBI, they need to give US citizens a refund of the untold fortunes they have wasted on this data collection. (See Spooks Without Boundaries by Piper Bayard.)

2)  If the NSA for any reason can’t give the FBI the information it needs, why doesn’t the FBI ask Israel or one of the Five Eyes nations?

Again, thanks to the Snowden cat, it is public knowledge that the White House allows Israel and the Five Eyes nations (Canada, UK, NZ, Australia) access to the raw data that the NSA collects on Americans. If the NSA can’t give the FBI the info, we’re sure that for a few shekels, Israel would be happy to find it for them.

3)  What does this lawsuit mean for the American citizen?

To give you the best information possible, we have invited Information Security professional and privacy advocate Chris Magill to answer that question for us . . .

Internet bugs Canstock

Apple vs. the FBI: What This Case Means for YOU

By Chris Magill

Apple and the FBI are currently locked in a struggle over your right to privacy. The Federal government has asked the courts to require Apple to change its code to allow FBI agents to read protected data on an iPhone believed to belong to one of the San Bernardino attackers. It also wants this capability to be applied to all iPhones, even yours.

So, the question becomes should private citizens be allowed communications capabilities which cannot be read by the government?

By law, there already are communications which are protected from government eyes. For example, attorney-client privilege prevents the government from listening in on private conversations when discussing legal strategies. As Americans, we also have the protections of the right to Freedom of Speech and the right to Freedom of Assembly. Allowing government access to our phones without a warrant destroys these rights.

What is cryptography?

Cryptography is a mathematical operation that replaces plain text with scrambled characters that can only be correctly interpreted by someone who holds the secret “key.”

Cryptography has existed for thousands of years. It was a vital means of protecting communications during the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson greatly improved cryptography after the founding of our country when he developed the Wheel Cipher while serving as George Washington’s Secretary of State. Yes, the United States once had a Secretary of State who understood the importance of cryptography. In the iPhone, the iMessage feature encrypts instant messages between recent iPhone versions, making it very difficult to be read by anyone other than the intended recipient, even with access to the device.

What is a backdoor?

A backdoor is an easy-to-decrypt method for governments to read content on devices that would otherwise be very difficult to access.

Think of it as though the Federal Government sought to require you to leave your patio door unlocked in case a police officer needs to access your living room during an investigation. Obviously this would be ridiculous. Only a tiny fraction of homes would ever need to be entered by police, yet everyone would be at risk from criminals entering the unsecured door. Backdoors are a dangerous idea for two reasons. First, they require a known weakness, which can then be exploited by hackers or online thieves. And second, backdoors enable government to bypass the judicial branch to spy on citizens in violation of our rights.

Aren’t bad guys protected by cryptography?

Yes, in the same way that bad guys are protected by the Constitution.

We have constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure. These protections should also apply to the communications we share and the contents of our devices we rely on in our daily lives. The iPhone isn’t the strongest available way to pass secret messages. A determined adversary will find communications methods that can only be countered by diligent, labor-intensive traditional law enforcement and counterintelligence methods.

I haven’t broken the law, so I have nothing to hide. How does this affect me?

By the 1980s, the Justice Department estimated there were approximately 3,000 criminal offenses spanning more than 23,000 pages of Federal law. Even if you are the best attorney in the world, it’s unlikely you could even know for sure whether you’ve never violated any of them.

If the government decides to prosecute you, they have a huge arsenal of regulations to select from which you will have to defend against. Skilled cyber criminals, spies, and terrorist organizations already have access to encryption that is theoretically unbreakable. The bad guys don’t rely on commercial encryption products in consumer devices.

A government backdoor does not make you any safer from terrorism.

It does make it easier for governments to find and target those who disagree with them. This is a concern in modern day America. Ask any conservative group targeted by Lois Lerner’s IRS. With government access to a backdoor to your phone, finding people who have a differing political view becomes as simple as a Google search.

What else can happen if cryptography is compromised?

This has happened in the recent past. In 2011, Comodo was compromised by a nation state-affiliated hacker group.

Comodo is a registration authority that creates cryptographic certificates which tell your web browser the web sites you visit are who they claim to be. Fake certificates were created that enabled the government of Iran to intercept and read the personal emails of citizens using Gmail and Hotmail. We will likely never know how many Iranian dissidents were rounded up and imprisoned (or worse) as a result of this compromise. Weak encryption makes it easier for oppressive governments to spy on their own citizens and crush dissent. Weak cryptography is also a factor in most, if not all, data breaches. If your identity was stolen in any of the countless data breaches, such as Target, Home Depot, Experian, or OPM, you probably have weak or compromised cryptography to thank.

What next?

Governments have an insatiable appetite to know everything about their citizen’s activities, acquaintances, political views, and beliefs. They also have a desire to prevent citizens from having capabilities that are difficult for them to counter.

The Apple vs FBI case is not about terrorism or crime. This case is about control of the transfer of ideas.

You are the government. You select your representatives. They work for you. They derive their authority from you. You have the power to demand that they stop. Tell your representatives to block efforts to weaken freedom of speech by banning civilian access to strong encryption. Tell them to prevent the government from requiring tech companies to enable spying through commercial products.

Allowing the government to secretly spy on all Americans is the digital equivalent of book burning. Ideas that are found distasteful to whichever administration holds power can be sought out and banned, and those citizens with undesirable views targeted for retaliation or punishment. Far from protecting us from terrorists, such actions only serve to weaken our democracy.

Sources:

TechTarget: “A breach at a registration authority caused Comodo to issue nine fraudulent certificates, enabling an attacker to impersonate some major websites and servers.”

http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/news/1529110/Comodo-warns-of-serious-SSL-certificate-breach

CNet: “Apple’s iMessage encryption trips up feds’ surveillancehttp://www.cnet.com/news/apples-imessage-encryption-trips-up-feds-surveillance/

Chris Magill is an Information Security professional and privacy advocate. When he isn’t helping companies manage their cryptographic systems and hunting down hackers, Chris enjoys spending time on his small ranch with his family in the Pacific Northwest chasing horses around. His LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/cmagill

A Real Terrorist Expert’s Take on ISIS

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Given recent problems with several Western “expert” commentators in the fields of intelligence, counterterrorism, and asymmetric warfare, we know that many of our readers are anxious to find an authority they can trust. Rather than risk engaging with yet another bugus fly-by-night camera hound, we have recruited a genuine terror specialist.

 

Intelligence, Terrorism, and Asymmetric Warfare Expert Sheik Mullah Ali Baba Mohammed Faqwahdi al-Lansingi a.k.a. Sheik Mo

Intelligence, Terrorism, and Asymmetric Warfare Expert
Sheik Mullah Ali Baba Mohammed Faqwahdi al-Lansingi
a.k.a. Sheik Mo

 

We are proud to introduce our new intelligence, terrorism, and asymmetric warfare expert, Sheik Mullah Ali Baba Mohammed Fuqwahdi al-Lansingi, a.k.a. Sheik Mo.

After retiring to America from an exciting life of Mideast terror exploits, Mo has agreed to join our staff to help Westerners better understand the real world of terror and asymmetric warfare.

We’re here today in one of modern Islam’s cultural hotspots – downtown Lansing, Michigan – with Sheik Mullah Ali Baba Muhammad Fuqwahdi al Lansingi. In his first ever interview, Mo gives us an insider’s analysis of the ISIS phenomenon in Syria and Iraq.

Sheik Mo, thanks for joining us.

Hey, Jay and Piper, thanks for having me. It’s so nice to be seeing you again.

Sheik Mo, can you offer an expert analysis of the ISIS phenomenon in Syria and Iraq?

I am so glad you asked me this question. These so-called ISIS, IS, ISIL – whatever the daesh are calling themselves today – they are an embarrassment to honest, hardworking Mideast terrorists. Every time you turn on the TV, they are beheading more Muslims and burning more villages. Where did these idiots study terrorism? They don’t even know who to attack!

In my day, we knew who the enemy was . . . Well, at least we pretended to know, and we kept things straight from week to week. With a few AK’s and discount explosives from East Germany and Czechoslovakia, we got big results.

We were elite groups. We trained for years before going on our first missions. Now these ISIS types give any hash head that shows up a pair of black pajamas, and next thing you know they are parading in front of cameras, screaming like drunken English soccer fans. It’s embarrassing to the entire terrorist industry. They can’t even scream “allahu akbar” properly. Do you hear them? It’s terrible. I’ve seen better terrorists at the local preschool.

 

 

And these so called ISIS monkeys like all the publicity. In the old day, no self-respecting terrorist made videos. What’s next? ISIS book signings in London? Are they entering a float in the Rose Bowl parade?

Yet, they have captured a lot of territory, and they seem to keep recruiting more members. ISIS claims they are the new Islamic conquerors. They call themselves the “new caliphate” and the “new Islamic champions.” How should the West respond?

Well, of course, the West should oppose them. It’s always good to bomb people like that before they all get too comfortable. And anyway, with so many new models of drones competing for defense contract money all over the world, you have to test those drones somewhere. Nice videos of drones defeating a surplus Humvee on a test range is only going to sell so many. The West needs to use the advertising value from drone strikes on ISIS. A video of an ISIS convoy blowing up has sales power.

By the way, you need drones? Come see me. I have a brother-in-law that works for a defense contractor. I get you wholesale, even on small orders. No cheap Chinese junk. Only the latest drone fashions.

But please, “the new caliphate?” “The new Islamic champions?” No way. They only invade Muslim countries. It’s all a big fraud. You want a real Islamic conquest, you have to invade some high value real estate. When they capture Marbella and Manhattan, let me know, and I’ll buy some black pajamas.

For the West the answer is simple. More drones. And when they have nice big ISIS parades for the cameras, you drop lots of bombs. Remember, bombs have a shelf life. Why waste them dropping them in deserts in Nevada and New Mexico when you can drop them on ISIS?

What about the Kurdish fighters that are opposing ISIS?

Well those Kurds are serious fighters. You give them almost nothing and they show up and fight. When those ISIS clowns invaded the Kurdish region, a bunch of Kurdish farmers and girls beat the hell out of them. It was embarrassing! They call themselves big league terrorists? In my day we didn’t get beat up by girls!

 

Kurdish YPG fighters -- nobody's "girls." Image by About SLIMANY, wikimedia commons.

Kurdish YPG fighters — nobody’s “girls.”
Image by About SLIMANY, wikimedia commons.

 

But you know, many bigshots in the West don’t want to arm the Kurds because the Kurds will declare independence, and that Erdoğan guy in Turkey don’t like that. And if the Kurds declare independence in Iraq, what does that leave? That leaves you too many Iranian carpet merchants and amateur politicians in Iraq!

The Kurds don’t need Baghdad, but Baghdad needs the Kurds. Otherwise, you could send the Kurdish women’s soccer team to Syria with a few hand grenades, and they would take care of business.

Sheik Mo, thank you so much for joining us today. We look forward to our next interview with you concerning Afghanistan. In the meantime, we wish you the best of luck with your new defense contracting business.

Okay, Jay and Piper, and best wishes to your readers. Next time I’ll be contacting you from my new mobile communications and command center.

We look forward to it. Thanks again, Sheik Mo.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

And there you have it folks, a genuine insider’s view on ISIS.

 

Intelligence Fail: How Mussolini’s Ego Saved the Soviet Union

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

In previous articles, we examined the intelligence failures around Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 German invasion of the USSR, from both the German and the Soviet points of view. An important side of the equation that is usually ignored, however, is the Italian contribution to the eventual Soviet success.

 

Allies Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler Image from the US Holocaust Memorial Mueum public domain

Allies Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler
Image from the US Holocaust Memorial Mueum
public domain

 

In the fall of 1936, Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini and German Dictator Adolf Hitler announced a military treaty between their respective nations. From the beginning of this alliance, Hitler was convinced that Italy, a junior partner, could at best be most useful in countering British naval power in the Mediterranean and possibly in threatening Great Britain’s hold on the Suez Canal. From Mussolini’s point of view, the alliance with Nazi Germany entitled Italy to be treated as an equal partner. Mussolini expected the alliance to offer Italy opportunities to develop a Mediterranean empire that would stretch across northwest Africa and westward from Italy across the Adriatic.

In March of 1938, without any prior consultation with its Italian ally, Germany entered Austria and managed a coup that is remembered as “bloodless.”

The annexation of Austria was not actually bloodless, but Austrian resistance collapsed quickly, and Nazi propaganda efforts were somewhat successful in convincing the world that Germany was welcomed by the Austrian people. Mussolini was stunned both that Hitler had succeeded so easily in Austria and that Hitler had not consulted, or even forewarned him, of the invasion.

On September 29, 1938, France, Italy, Great Britain, and Germany signed the now infamous Munich Agreement, which granted the Western portion of Czechoslovakia to Germany. While in this case Mussolini was consulted, his role was limited to helping bolster the feeble notion that the Munich Agreement was legitimate, given the fact that the Czechs were not consulted at all about how their country would be carved up.

In March of 1939, Hitler again surprised Mussolini by granting independence to the Slovakian areas of Czechoslovakia and annexing the remaining portion of that country. By this point, Mussolini was beginning to understand that Hitler had no intention of treating him as an equal partner in their alliance.

Mussolini felt that he had to do something to improve his prestige. Without consulting Germany, Italy invaded Albania in April of 1939.

 

Italian Troops in Albania public domain

Italian Troops in Albania
public domain

 

Albania had a poorly trained and minimally equipped army of 15,000 men. It was further impeded by the fact that it was already in a state of political turmoil due to tensions between communist, royalist, and democratic nationalist factions.

The 100,000 Italian invaders managed a rare Italian victory, installed a puppet government, and declared that Albania was now part of Italy.

Hitler saw the Italian annexation of Albania as being a sensible move and was likely informed in advance by his intelligence agencies. From Germany’s point of view, having Italy in control of the entrance of the Adriatic Sea from the Mediterranean supported its long-term strategy for the coming war.

In August of 1939, again without consulting his Italian ally, Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with the USSR. Mussolini was angered and embarrassed at having been left out. He would likely have been far angrier if he had known that the pact included a secret agreement for a postwar division of Eastern Europe between Germany and the USSR.

The following month, Germany and the USSR invaded and divided Poland. France and Great Britain then declared war against Germany.

In April of 1940, Hitler once again went on the warpath and unleashed his army on Denmark and Norway. Denmark fell in a day, and Norway managed to resist until June.

Hitler was quite pleased with himself, while Mussolini was feeling more and more like Hitler’s weaker little brother.

Mussolini decided he had to do something to prove that Italy was a modern military powerhouse. He confided to his generals that “to sit at the peace table you have to make war.” This was his way of voicing concern about post war division of spoils between Germany and Italy after what he expected would be a quick war.

In September of 1940, Mussolini made his “big move.” He attacked British-occupied Egypt. He did so after prior consultation with Hitler. Unfortunately for Mussolini and Italy, things did not go quite as they expected.

 

Royal Air Force preparing to raid Italian positions at Tobruk public domain

Royal Air Force preparing to raid Italian positions at Tobruk
public domain

 

The British in Egypt were badly outnumbered both in men and aircraft, but their planes, tanks, and equipment were vastly superior to what the Italians had. The Italian attack on Egypt, which should have been a quick success for Italy, turned into an embarrassing failure.

In February of 1941, Hitler had to send German divisions and aircraft to help Italy try to invade Egypt. By the time Germany was able to send adequate reinforcements to North Africa, Great Britain had also reinforced Egypt. In spite of the best efforts of Hitler’s Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, his German Africa Corps, and three full corps of Italian troops, Rommel never reached the Suez Canal.

When compared to the immense scale of operations on the Eastern Front, the Axis defeat in North Africa might seem less important, but their failed North Africa campaign denied the Germans the use of several of their best divisions, along with considerable resources of the overtaxed German Luftwaffe.

In October of 1940, having achieved no success in North Africa, Mussolini did a huge favor for the USSR. He invaded Greece.

 

Greek Forces in Korce, November 1940 public domain

Greek Forces in Korce, November 1940
public domain

 

Mussolini was certain of a rapid victory over the smaller Greek Army. The Greeks were not convinced. The Italian invasion turned into an Italian retreat, and the Italians were in danger of being forced out of Albania by the Greek Army and Greek partisans.

Hitler was taken completely by surprise. He and his General Staff were focused on preparing Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR. They had not informed their ally Italy of their intentions.

The UK and the US suspected the planned German invasion of the USSR. The Soviet Army expected the German invasion but could not convince Stalin. In fact, everyone except Stalin and Mussolini expected a German invasion of the USSR. Even when Germany moved massive amounts of men, equipment, and supplies to Poland, the Italian diplomatic and intelligence communities managed to miss what should have been obvious to them. This ignorance of Germany’s planned April 1941 invasion of the USSR, was instrumental to Mussolini’s decision to invade Greece.

It was an intelligence failure that sank Mussolini’s military into dire trouble.

Hitler was furious. He refused to see that he had helped Mussolini stumble into this terrible mistake by not informing him of his Operation Barbarossa. Italy plunged head first into an ill-timed operation in Greece instead of concentrating on the far more crucial campaign in North Africa.

Hitler considered leaving the Italians to suffer their growing disaster in Greece on their own. However, as the Italian debacle dragged on towards the spring of 1941, Hitler decided that he had to save his Italian ally from complete defeat – not because Italy was his ally, but because Greece was no longer neutral and was now accepting aid from the UK. This meant that Greece had to be defeated, because if the British RAF was allowed to operate air bases in that country, their bombers would be within range of the oilfields of Romania. Without Romanian oil, the German Army would have ground to a halt in the USSR.

 

Royal Air Force Operations Over Albania and Greece, 1940 Image from Imperial War Museums public domain

Royal Air Force Operations Over Albania and Greece, 1940
Image from Imperial War Museums
public domain

 

In April of 1941, Germany and Bulgaria invaded Greece. By early June, Greece was defeated. So, all well that ends well? No. It ended well, but it ended too late.

By June, the German Army should have been halfway to Moscow with trucks of supplies following it on mostly dry, passable roads. The Russian road network was primitive, and the Germans could not afford to have their Army’s logistics further strangled by nearly impassable muddy roads.

By the time Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, it was two months behind schedule, thanks to Mussolini’s decision to invade Greece. It was also without valuable troops and equipment that now had to occupy the previously neutral Greece. Before the German Army got close to Moscow and Stalingrad, supply problems on bad roads were limiting their armored operations. When it did get to the gates of Moscow, snow began to fall, and the German Army was without winter clothing and equipment.

In the end, the vastly numerically superior Soviet Army and Soviet production defeated Hitler on the Eastern Front. However, if Operation Barbarossa had started on time, Stalin might have lost Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad. He could conceivably have decided to conclude a peace treaty with Germany, and an early departure by the USSR would have been disastrous for the Western Allies.

The great intelligence lesson to be learned from Italy’s failure to anticipate Operation Barbarossa: No nation should take for granted their ally’s intentions. Even friends need to watch each other.

In our next installment, we will consider a great American intelligence failure in WWII.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Related Articles in the Intelligence Fail Series:

Hitler and a Most Important Intelligence Lesson

Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet View

 

Antietam – Where Habitual Bad Intelligence Defeated an Intelligence Windfall

By Jay Holmes

Last week we looked at the habitual bad intelligence that paved the road to the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War in Paved with Bad Intelligence–The Road to Antietam. This week, we see how it was enough to negate an intelligence windfall.

 

Pry Farm at Antietam McClellan's Headquarters image by US Army, public domain

Pry Farm at Antietam
McClellan’s Headquarters
image by US Army, public domain

 

Lee knew that McClellan was highly intelligent and skilled, but that he was also cautious by nature. Lee was also still hoping to inspire an uprising against the Union in Maryland, and he operated with the assumption that he could defeat McClellan by maneuvering more quickly than the Union Army. Then, for uncertain reasons, Lee violated a major rule of warfare. He divided his forces in the face of a superior enemy and sent Stonewall Jackson’s troops to capture weapons and supplies at Harper’s Ferry.

 

On the morning of September 13, Union troops of the 27th Indiana Infantry rested in a meadow outside of Frederick, Maryland. They serendipitously took their break at a site that had previously been the location of the General Lee’s headquarters.

 

At that site, Sergeant John Bloss and Corporal Barton Mitchell found a piece of paper wrapped around three cigars. Known as Lee’s “Lost Orders,” the paper was a message containing Lee’s detailed plan of battle, addressed to Confederate General D.H. Hill. The men quickly handed it over to their commander. The Indiana Division’s adjutant general, Samuel Pittman, recognized the handwriting in the message as belonging to his prewar friend Robert Chilton, now the adjutant general to Robert E. Lee.

 

Lee's "Lost Orders," Order 191 image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

Lee’s “Lost Orders,” Order 191
image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

 

Pittman delivered the message straightaway to General McClellan. McClellan boasted that, with the information he now had, he would gladly be willing to go home if he could not defeat Lee. This “boast” was in fact a hedged bet. If, with the intelligence windfall he had in hand, he could not produce a resounding victory, he should have gone somewhere less pleasant than “home.”

 

The new information wiped out Pinkerton’s terrible intelligence assessment. McClellan now knew that Lee’s army was dangerously divided into five sections and stretched out over a 35-mile area that was split by the Potomac River. McClellan was twelve miles from the nearest Confederate unit at South Mountain. He was in a position that all commanders dream of in their wildest drunken moments. In their sober moments, they never dare to hope for such generosity from the capricious gods of war.

 

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan image Library of Congress, public domain

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan
image Library of Congress, public domain

 

McClellan, poised to become the great Napoleon-like general that he always knew he could be, did what Napoleon never would have done. He waited. Then he waited some more. His division commanders grew restless. Then they grew anguished. Elation fermented into quiet disgust. Finally, after eighteen hours, McClellan gave the order to move.

 

By now, much of Lee’s army was concentrated in favorable high ground near Antietam Creek. Lee had used the time granted him to send forces to plug the pass at South Mountain. His troops had set up defensive positions there and slowed McClellan’s advance.

 

Antietam Battle Map image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

Antietam Battle Map
image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The Union Army finally approached Lee’s Confederate Army on September 16. Stonewall Jackson’s troops had still not returned from Harper’s Ferry to Lee’s position, and Lee had less than 40,000 men, their backs to the Potomac.

 

McClellan’s 75,000 well-rested troops could have conducted a successful flanking maneuver against the Confederates. If McClellan had fallen off his horse or gotten drunk, they likely would have. Instead, McClellan allowed his uncertainty about the intelligence to confuse a clear and reasonable battle plan. McClellan delayed the attack until the following morning.

 

On the morning of September 17, Union Army General Joseph Hooker led the assault against the now well-entrenched Confederate forces. Rather than concentrating a reasonable portion of his forces against a single point of the Confederate line, McClellan allowed the battle plan to devolve into consecutive piecemeal attacks.

 

Confederate General Jackson and his troops finally arrived in time for Jackson to earn the nickname “Stonewall” for his defense of the Confederate flank. By the end of the day, both armies had suffered terrible casualties. The dead, wounded, or missing numbered 12,000 on the Union side and 10,000 on the Confederate side.

 

The balance of losses left McClellan with an even greater numerical advantage, in that a larger percentage of his army was still capable of battle. Over 25,000 of his army were fresh troops that had not yet been engaged.

 

McClellan's undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

McClellan’s undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House
image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

 

Lee, on the other hand, had no fresh troops remaining. The Confederate lines had held, but they were overall in worse condition than the Union troops. McClellan could still have captured or killed Lee and his army.

 

With victory staring him in the face, rather than pressing his advantage, McClellan agreed to a truce for both sides to recover their wounded and bury their dead. When night fell, Lee thanked God and withdrew from the field as quickly and quietly as he and his army could. He salvaged enough of his forces to return to defend Virginia, preventing McClellan from having a straight shot through to Richmond. George McClellan had squandered a golden opportunity to deal a crippling blow to the Confederacy.

 

Union Army burial crew at Antietam image US Army, public domain

Union Army burial crew at Antietam
image US Army, public domain

 

Lincoln was disappointed in McClellan’s performance, but, unlike McClellan, he knew how to seize an opportunity. The victory at Antietam Creek gave him public relations momentum. On September 22, Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation.

 

The Proclamation would not take effect until January 1, 1863, and then, it was conditional. Only slaves in Confederate territory were freed. Slaves in the four Union slave states still remained in bondage. Since the Confederate States were not inclined to obey any Union proclamations, only around 40,000 slaves in captured territory were actually freed at the time of the Proclamation. However, the real impact of the bloodiest day in US history was that Lincoln was able to score a monumental diplomatic victory. After the victory at Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, no European nation was willing to support the Confederacy in a war to defend the institution of slavery.

 

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead
image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

 

Due to poor intelligence and the mishandling of intelligence, Lee miscalculated the sentiments of Maryland, and McClellan dawdled away a windfall opportunity. Lee allowed himself to anticipate a States’ Rights event in Maryland, and the false analysis that men would throw themselves in for the Confederates. His failed intelligence caused him to launch a campaign that he had little chance of winning. McClellan’s refusal to accept and act on the best intelligence kept him from completely crushing Lee’s army and marching on Richmond. Nearly three more years of bloody war remained to be fought, but the fate of the Confederacy was sealed. It was a case when a perfect intelligence windfall was defeated by habitual misuse of intelligence.

 

Antietam National Cemetary image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

Antietam National Cemetary
image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

Antietam – Where Habitual Bad Intelligence Defeated an Intelligence Windfall

By Jay Holmes

Last week we looked at the habitual bad intelligence that paved the road to the Battle of Antietam in the American Civil War in Paved with Bad Intelligence–The Road to Antietam. This week, we see how it was enough to negate an intelligence windfall.

 

Pry Farm at Antietam McClellan's Headquarters image by US Army, public domain

Pry Farm at Antietam
McClellan’s Headquarters
image by US Army, public domain

 

Lee knew that McClellan was highly intelligent and skilled, but that he was also cautious by nature. Lee was also still hoping to inspire an uprising against the Union in Maryland, and he operated with the assumption that he could defeat McClellan by maneuvering more quickly than the Union Army. Then, for uncertain reasons, Lee violated a major rule of warfare. He divided his forces in the face of a superior enemy and sent Stonewall Jackson’s troops to capture weapons and supplies at Harper’s Ferry.

 

On the morning of September 13, Union troops of the 27th Indiana Infantry rested in a meadow outside of Frederick, Maryland. They serendipitously took their break at a site that had previously been the location of the General Lee’s headquarters.

 

At that site, Sergeant John Bloss and Corporal Barton Mitchell found a piece of paper wrapped around three cigars. Known as Lee’s “Lost Orders,” the paper was a message containing Lee’s detailed plan of battle, addressed to Confederate General D.H. Hill. The men quickly handed it over to their commander. The Indiana Division’s adjutant general, Samuel Pittman, recognized the handwriting in the message as belonging to his prewar friend Robert Chilton, now the adjutant general to Robert E. Lee.

 

Lee's "Lost Orders," Order 191 image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

Lee’s “Lost Orders,” Order 191
image by Wilson44691, wikimedia commons

 

Pittman delivered the message straightaway to General McClellan. McClellan boasted that, with the information he now had, he would gladly be willing to go home if he could not defeat Lee. This “boast” was in fact a hedged bet. If, with the intelligence windfall he had in hand, he could not produce a resounding victory, he should have gone somewhere less pleasant than “home.”

 

The new information wiped out Pinkerton’s terrible intelligence assessment. McClellan now knew that Lee’s army was dangerously divided into five sections and stretched out over a 35-mile area that was split by the Potomac River. McClellan was twelve miles from the nearest Confederate unit at South Mountain. He was in a position that all commanders dream of in their wildest drunken moments. In their sober moments, they never dare to hope for such generosity from the capricious gods of war.

 

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan image Library of Congress, public domain

Alan Pinkertan, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClellan
image Library of Congress, public domain

 

McClellan, poised to become the great Napoleon-like general that he always knew he could be, did what Napoleon never would have done. He waited. Then he waited some more. His division commanders grew restless. Then they grew anguished. Elation fermented into quiet disgust. Finally, after eighteen hours, McClellan gave the order to move.

 

By now, much of Lee’s army was concentrated in favorable high ground near Antietam Creek. Lee had used the time granted him to send forces to plug the pass at South Mountain. His troops had set up defensive positions there and slowed McClellan’s advance.

 

Antietam Battle Map image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

Antietam Battle Map
image by Hlj, public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The Union Army finally approached Lee’s Confederate Army on September 16. Stonewall Jackson’s troops had still not returned from Harper’s Ferry to Lee’s position, and Lee had less than 40,000 men, their backs to the Potomac.

 

McClellan’s 75,000 well-rested troops could have conducted a successful flanking maneuver against the Confederates. If McClellan had fallen off his horse or gotten drunk, they likely would have. Instead, McClellan allowed his uncertainty about the intelligence to confuse a clear and reasonable battle plan. McClellan delayed the attack until the following morning.

 

On the morning of September 17, Union Army General Joseph Hooker led the assault against the now well-entrenched Confederate forces. Rather than concentrating a reasonable portion of his forces against a single point of the Confederate line, McClellan allowed the battle plan to devolve into consecutive piecemeal attacks.

 

Confederate General Jackson and his troops finally arrived in time for Jackson to earn the nickname “Stonewall” for his defense of the Confederate flank. By the end of the day, both armies had suffered terrible casualties. The dead, wounded, or missing numbered 12,000 on the Union side and 10,000 on the Confederate side.

 

The balance of losses left McClellan with an even greater numerical advantage, in that a larger percentage of his army was still capable of battle. Over 25,000 of his army were fresh troops that had not yet been engaged.

 

McClellan's undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

McClellan’s undeployed Union troops near Pry Farm House
image by Alexander Gardner, public domain

 

Lee, on the other hand, had no fresh troops remaining. The Confederate lines had held, but they were overall in worse condition than the Union troops. McClellan could still have captured or killed Lee and his army.

 

With victory staring him in the face, rather than pressing his advantage, McClellan agreed to a truce for both sides to recover their wounded and bury their dead. When night fell, Lee thanked God and withdrew from the field as quickly and quietly as he and his army could. He salvaged enough of his forces to return to defend Virginia, preventing McClellan from having a straight shot through to Richmond. George McClellan had squandered a golden opportunity to deal a crippling blow to the Confederacy.

 

Union Army burial crew at Antietam image US Army, public domain

Union Army burial crew at Antietam
image US Army, public domain

 

Lincoln was disappointed in McClellan’s performance, but, unlike McClellan, he knew how to seize an opportunity. The victory at Antietam Creek gave him public relations momentum. On September 22, Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation.

 

The Proclamation would not take effect until January 1, 1863, and then, it was conditional. Only slaves in Confederate territory were freed. Slaves in the four Union slave states still remained in bondage. Since the Confederate States were not inclined to obey any Union proclamations, only around 40,000 slaves in captured territory were actually freed at the time of the Proclamation. However, the real impact of the bloodiest day in US history was that Lincoln was able to score a monumental diplomatic victory. After the victory at Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, no European nation was willing to support the Confederacy in a war to defend the institution of slavery.

 

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

Bloody Lane at Antietam filled with Confederate dead
image by Alexander Gardner, US Army, public domain

 

Due to poor intelligence and the mishandling of intelligence, Lee miscalculated the sentiments of Maryland, and McClellan dawdled away a windfall opportunity. Lee allowed himself to anticipate a States’ Rights event in Maryland, and the false analysis that men would throw themselves in for the Confederates. His failed intelligence caused him to launch a campaign that he had little chance of winning. McClellan’s refusal to accept and act on the best intelligence kept him from completely crushing Lee’s army and marching on Richmond. Nearly three more years of bloody war remained to be fought, but the fate of the Confederacy was sealed. It was a case when a perfect intelligence windfall was defeated by habitual misuse of intelligence.

 

Antietam National Cemetary image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

Antietam National Cemetary
image by Acroterion, wikimedia commons

5 Espionage Myths — The November Man

 

By Piper Bayard

 

The November Man movie poster

The November Man movie poster

 

The November Man is an espionage movie in which an ex-CIA operative is brought back by the Company for a personal mission in Moscow, only to find himself pitted against his protégé. It is a fast action thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Luke Bracey that rockets viewers through the Russian and Serbian shadow world with everything from brutal assassins to rogue top-level operatives. It is also a comprehensive collection of espionage myths.

 

Myth One – CIA operatives are all ready and willing to off their own at any given moment just because a bureaucrat orders it.

Truth – US intelligence operatives are not murderous automatons who blindly kill whomever they are told to, up to and including their mentors and protégés.

 

It was common in Stalin’s KGB for Soviet operatives to kill each other. In fact, the KGB had a special branch for the express purpose of targeting fellow agents. However, such pointless slaughter has never been part of the US intelligence culture. Americans don’t put up with that crap. Presidents come and go with their various agendas, and long after they are booking their lecture tours and cutting ribbons on their presidential libraries, operatives are still on the job. Our intelligence community consists of flesh and blood human beings who would not live long if they didn’t question and comprehend their missions. They are not slovenly attack dogs to be released on any target that a transient bureaucratic overlord decides is inconvenient to their political goals, particularly when that target is one of their own.

 

Myth Two – Operatives think nothing of killing innocent people.

Truth – People who randomly kill innocents are serial killers and criminal psychopaths, not highly trained intelligence operatives.

 

Killing is serious business, and the intelligence community has had standing orders for decades to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible. An operative who randomly kills innocent people would be quickly weeded out. Such behavior is unacceptable in the intelligence community.

 

Myth Three – Operatives can’t have families.

Truth – Operatives, like anyone else, can have loved ones and families that they adore.

 

While it is true that many field operatives are either single or divorced, that is due to the nature of the job and not to any taboo about bonding with other humans. The fact is that few spouses are up for, “I need to go. Can’t say where. Can’t say when I’ll be home. Sorry, but I can’t leave you a number, either.” The lifestyle is very hard on relationships, and spouses must be as committed to leading the double life as the operative is. Not many are, and they are not to blame for that. However, as my writing partner proves, some do sustain marriages and family ties for decades.

 

Myth Four – People can be killers, or they can love, but they can’t do both.

Truth – Dedicated operatives often go into the field because they DO love.

 

The notion that someone who is trained to kill the likes of Bin Laden can’t love is patently absurd. Many operatives go into the field because they are unwilling to sit still and do nothing while brutal despots butcher innocent people.

 

Myth Five – Assassins look like assassins.

Truth – Assassins look like the school secretary, the grocery store manager, the bank teller, the janitor, or anyone else who can blend in with a crowd.

 

It is not required for operatives to speak in foreign accents and wear either tailored business suits or black leather.

 

Russian Assassin from The November Man

Russian Assassin from The November Man

 

 

While not a common myth, another notable fiction in The November Man is the notion that bullets from handguns travel at four times the speed of sound . . . Excuse me? A handgun? More like a hand held rocket launcher. Clearly, Hollywood is holding out on the Navy.

 

If you care nothing for accuracy about espionage or human nature in your spy thrillers, then go ahead and spend the $13 and enjoy Pierce Brosnan doing what he does best. However, if you do know anything at all about firearms, operatives, psychology, history, NATO, or intelligence work, this movie will make your head explode at a velocity of four times the speed of sound.

Syria and the Fading Dull Pink Smudge

By Jay Holmes

As of September 22, 2013, the civil war in Syria continues to generate more humanitarian disasters than the world’s observers can tolerate. Identifying Syria as a humanitarian crisis is simple enough. Refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey now house approximately two million Syrians. Various Syrian and non-Syrian visitors feed the media a constant stream of pictures and videos showing the daily casualties. People of all political flavors share revulsion for so many civilian deaths.

Za'atri Refugee Camp, image by US. Dept. of State

Za’atri Refugee Camp, image by US. Dept. of State

In particular, seeing the stark evidence of children killed by chemical weapons attacks or executed at point blank range by a variety of fighting groups has left most of the world with a feeling that something must be done in Syria. Only a ruthless psychopath, a.k.a. Vladimir Putin, could attempt to gloss over the humanitarian crisis. To that degree, the picture of events in Syria is quite clear. However, once we move beyond our widely-shared instinct to respond to the horrors of the Syrian civil war to the question of how to respond, the picture becomes murky.

So what should be done? As is often the case, the devil is in the details. Right now details and devils abound in Syria. When we begin to examine the question of what concrete actions should be undertaken, we find less agreement among sympathizers.

As often occurs during a major humanitarian crisis, many of the world’s ardent leftists are taking a break from their usual full-time occupation of condemning the US for its “interventionist bullying” and are now loudly proclaiming that the US’s failure to forcefully intervene in Syria is the principal cause of Syria’s problems. At the same time, many of the world’s members of the “I’m not a stinking leftist” political club are disgusted that the US has allowed Iran and its Hezbolalalala minions to use their manpower, weapons, and ruthlessness in Syria and Lebanon to suppress Syria’s indigenous Freedom fighters.

This past February, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former Director of State Policy Planning under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggested that the US and any willing allies should create “no-kill zones” in Syria. These seemingly magical “no kill zones” would, in her view, expand over time and eventually isolate the Assad regime. If the allies in question would include Harry Potter and his band of merry magicians, then they might pull it off. If not, the plan needs more work.

Senator McCain, a man who is far more aware than most of us of the consequences of involving US forces in combat operations, has suggested that the US use some of its “stand off” cruise missiles to damage the Assad regime. The emphasis on “stand off” is Senator McCain’s. On the face of it, this seems like a comparatively low cost, low risk option. Depending on which particular model of cruise missile cruises into Syria, the “low cost” would be somewhere between $600,000 to $1,500,000 per missile. That would be a real bargain at today’s interventionist prices.

Senator McCain has been clear that he does not support large numbers of combat troops in Syria. However, it’s safe to say that a few sets of American boots must be on the ground there, gathering information about the dizzying array of foreign boots in Syria and trying to select out the “best boots” with which to share US-financed weapons and other supplies. With those Russian, American, British, French, and Turkish boots that are scampering about Syria trying to avoid stomping on the wrong Syrian feet, it’s difficult to generate a clear implementation of all the muddled policies being proposed by various nations.

The Gulf States are trying to support their favorite anti-Assad factions without accidentally helping all the al-Qaeda vermin that currently infest so many Syrian areas. As a result, confusion is the order of the day. The fact that the many al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda wannabes are happy to murder anyone not currently in their gangs brings even more instability and misery to Syrians. Shipping US military aid to Syria is easy enough. Finding someone likeable to hand it to is a bit more tricky.

When the Syrian civil war began two and a half years ago, members of the Western media managed to cobble together one of their exceedingly rare intelligent questions for President Obama. They asked him what the US should do about Assad’s chemical weapons inventory. The President demanded that we all let him be clear that the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces would cross a “clear red line.” Assad’s forces have since used chemical weapons and proven that President Obama’s “clear red line” was a completely meaningless, fading dull pink smudge.

"His Red Lines" by Ranan Lurie

“His Red Lines” by Ranan Lurie

From the American point of view, some interesting events have occurred since Assad’s forces urinated on Obama’s infamous red line. For starters, Vlady Putin claimed that he had proof that it was not Assad, but rather his opponents, that used chemical weapons on women and children in Syria. Those of us who are familiar with the workings of Putin and his old KGB machinery have no doubt that Putin can present “proof’ that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons. If Putin wanted, he could also provide proof that Afghanistan is in South America, and that the USSR invented ice cream. Thanks for all that Vlady.

Putin proposed that Assad send all of Syria’s chemical weapons to Russia for safe keeping. Finding himself on the wrong side of his imaginary red line, President Obama quickly agreed to a deal that will have all of Assad’s chemical weapons shipped to Russia by “mid 2014.” How many Syrian children will be murdered by chemical attacks until then was not discussed as part of the deal.

When the US led the Western world in escalating its Syrian response from frowning and grave concern to shock and dismay, the UK felt compelled to act. UK Prime Minister David Cameron clarified precisely what our “special friendship” partners in the UK would do if the US decided to directly attack the Assad regime. In response to the pressure and stress of the escalated finger waving, the UK parliament voted to surrender. The UK announced that it would not contribute to any military effort in Syria.

This declaration has farther reaching consequences than might be obvious to the casual observer. From my desk at home, I was able to imagine the cheers of joy emanating from La Casa Rosa as Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner celebrated her nation’s military victory in the Falklands. While the Falklands invasion 2.0 hasn’t occurred quite yet, Cristina is overjoyed that the Royal Navy That Has No Aircraft Carrier* will also have no support from the US should she convince Argentina’s military to conquer the oil deposits under the Falklands. We shall see.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a.k.a. la argentina feliz http://www.presidencia.gov.ar/

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a.k.a. la argentina feliz http://www.presidencia.gov.ar/

Cameron would have been much wiser to simply do the usual “Proud Fearless Lion Foot Dragging” that has been the trademark of UK foreign policy since the Suez debacle in 1956. We in the West understand that Maggie is gone, and that the UK won’t even do much of anything about the UK in the near future, let alone Syria or any place further from London than Brighton Beach. Cameron gained nothing by publicly declaring that he would not help Obama and the US. In fact, in what is being celebrated by many in the UK as a landmark moment of British tenacity and independence in foreign policy, Cameron managed to suffer damage from the Syrian war without actually showing up in Syria. Slick move, Sherlock.

In response to Cameron’s stupidity, France’s President Françoise Hollande took the opportunity to announce that France would join in military intervention in Syria. In the US, it was announced as a “France backs the US” political victory for Obama. Take note, Cameron. If you are going to profit by vague promises, this is how you do it. The US is now considering officially changing back the name “Freedom Fries” to “French Fries.” Tears of joy are flowing in Paris, and a few folks in DC are willing to pretend that it’s something other than the usual over-imbibing of wine by Parisians.

Precisely how far the US or other Western nations will go in Syria is still unclear. What is more obvious is that creating a Syria run by Syrians will be far more difficult than toppling Assad. The world’s response to Syria has created much dark comedy and inspiration for journalists and other fiction writers, but the children of Syria have little reason to join in the laughter. Their predicament is yet another reminder of how far the world community remains from operating anything like a useful “United Nations.” The children of Syria have our prayers, but they’d likely prefer to have a real country to live in and a future to contemplate. Whatever action the US takes, we must be careful that it helps the Syrian people by damaging the Assad regime without accidentally helping al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Syrian refugee in Turkey, image from Voice of America

Syrian refugee in Turkey,
image from Voice of America

*The UK’s Royal Navy currently has no functioning aircraft carriers, and it is completely dependent on the US Navy for air support at sea. Perhaps someone should mention that to Prime Minister Cameron.

Why PRISM Matters

By Piper Bayard

I could list the civil liberties we have lost since 9/11, from security against unreasonable search and seizure to the officially sanctioned vilification of those who exercise their right to bear arms, but that would be a dissertation and not a blog. The sum total result, however, can be expressed in one sentence:  The balance of power has shifted.

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie image by Digitale Gesellschaft

PRISM protest at Checkpoint Charlie
image by Digitale Gesellschaft

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government answers to the people. Its operations and the governing subset are subject to the scrutiny of the public. The people are secure from search and seizure—even in their communications—by the ruling subset of the population, and the people have the right and the ability to overthrow that subset by elections should the government grab too much power. The people are the masters, and the government is their servant.

When the government spies on us with everything from street corner cameras to DHS agents on our highways that perform warrantless searches of random individuals to collection and analysis of our every electronic transmission and phone communication, we are no longer the masters, and the government is no longer our servant. It is our ruler. It is a parent searching our rooms and opening our mail on the off chance that we MIGHT be doing something it doesn’t want us to do.

The difference between the government being the servant and the government being the master is a warrant. When an agency such as the NSA, FBI, DHS, etc., is required to obtain a warrant, an official paper trail is created by which the people can make the government answer for who and how it searches, why it searches, and what it obtains. It is a record by which citizens can hold the government accountable for its actions in a court of law.

With PRISM, every email, every phone communication, every bank transaction, every purchase involving a credit card, debit card, or check, and, once Obamacare is fully implemented, every health record is collected on all Americans. When trigger words* like “snow,” “bust,” or “sick” alert analysts, countless individuals who work for the government and in the private sector are free to peruse and interpret the threads of our lives at their personal discretion. Everything they do is off the record. No probable cause. No warrant. No accountability to the public. It is the act of a ruler, not the act of a servant.

Even with the evidence out about PRISM, our president claims that his administration is not spying on Americans. Yet he also states unapologetically that his administration will continue to collect and analyze all of our private communications with no probable cause or warrant to do so—in the name of “safety.” He is only admitting that much because of Snowden’s leaks. The true question lies in the things our president is not admitting.

Photo by Jeff Schuler wikimedia commons

Photo by Jeff Schuler
wikimedia commons

In 1972, America was shaken to its core by Nixon’s one warrantless wire tap. PRISM is a warrantless wire tap of every American and foreigner within our borders. Each and every one of us is now assumed guilty until proven innocent. Each and every one of us now answers to the government master that was once our servant. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spy on terrorists within or without our borders. I’m saying let there be warrants. Let there be public records. Let there be accountability. Do not allow the government to exercise such omnipotent power with impunity.

Prior to PRISM and to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, warrantless searches were allowed under urgent circumstances, but the after the search, the government agents involved still had to make a record and show probable cause retroactively. In most cases, terrorist investigators working in the US had plenty of time to take the few minutes needed to get a warrant from an on-call judge. There is no known history of any case in which the requirement for a warrant prevented investigators from acting in time.

Freedom is about dignity and responsibility—it is not about perfect security from cradle to grave. When we abdicate our responsibility for our freedom in favor of comfort and the illusion of safety, an illusion the Boston bombing should have shattered, we also surrender our dignity and our choices. We become wards of the state. What were once our rights as responsible adults are now merely our privileges as subjects, granted or withheld by our rulers at their whim and discretion. We must demand more of our leaders. Freedom can be won, and freedom can be surrendered, but Freedom will never be given back once successfully taken by the ruling class. PRISM is that taking.

*Department of Homeland Security Analyst’s Desktop Binder

PRISM Surveillance on Americans–What Price Convenience?

By Piper Bayard

Sure, I could be writing about my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS, which was released last week by Stonehouse Ink. In fact, I planned to do that very thing. And while I certainly hope you’ll decide to check it out, there is something even more important happening that we need to discuss.

Last week, former National Security Agency (“NSA”) intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward and released training slides used to train operatives at the NSA in a surveillance program called PRISM. PRISM allows the NSA to collect data directly from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple and search for any information on anyone at all. It was begun under a previous administration for the purpose of collecting information on foreign terrorists. It was greatly expanded by President Obama to include data collection on all Americans. These are two of the slides.

PRISM - Providers & Dates when collection began

PRISM Collection details

Some of these companies cooperated without protest. Others required warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). However, FISA does not grant authority to collect data on Americans or others within US borders, something which PRISM does. All of these companies are denying knowledge and participation at this point.

Not only does the NSA directly access these companies’ servers, which serve primarily Americans, they are sharing PRISM’s power of unbridled access into our internet usage with the UK government. That’s right. The GCHQ – that’s the UK’s NSA equivalent – has the same access to all of our information that our own Obama administration is enjoying.

As for President Obama, he and his administration are, of course, downplaying the whole PRISM-gate and denying that PRISM was ever used to collect data on Americans or on people living in the US. At the same time, he says this is a “modest encroachment” on privacy that is a worthy trade off for preventing terrorism. (Attorneys will recognize this as “arguing in the alternative.”) Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union disagree with the inconsequential nature of these violations and are considering the legal options on behalf of the American people and others living within US borders.

As a recovering attorney, I could give you my take on the constitutionality and legal implications of this surveillance program. As a senior intelligence operative, Holmes could certainly enlighten us were he at liberty to do so. However, former intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden says it best in his own words. Please take a few minutes to listen to this interview with him about PRISM, why he gave up the good life he led in Hawaii—he can never go home again—and what he hopes to accomplish with his revelations.

Programs like PRISM are extremely powerful and can reach into anyone’s email, internet records, and phone records. I am not suggesting that America should not track terrorists, but I see no sign from the Obama administration that any safeguards whatsoever are in place. Instead, the president suggests that we should take it all on good faith that his administration is not targeting Americans. Strong echoes of Richard Nixon’s infamous, “Trust me.”

In all of the stir this has created, we haven’t yet heard the deeper questions. Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection? Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors? Do the IRS and other agencies get to use this information collected on us in the name of safety for their own purposes? After all, it’s much easier to target political opponents with such things as IRS scrutiny when their entire communication history is available for review.

Regardless of the answers to these questions, the most important point to remember is this:  the American government doesn’t do anything that the American people don’t let it get away with—yet. Where will we draw our line?

Related Links:

1)    Here’s the Law the Obama Administration is Using as Legal Justification for Broad Surveillance. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.

2)    Obama: No One is Listening to Your Calls. Michael Pearson, CNN Politics, June 9, 2013.

3)    Obama Blasts Media ‘Hype’ Over Secret Program, Calling Them ‘Modest Encroachments on Privacy’. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.

4)    Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations. Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Lora Poitras, The Guardian, June 9, 2013.

5)    NSA PRISM Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google, and others. Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, June 6, 2013.

6)    U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program. Barton Gellman and Lora Poitras, The Washington Post, June 7, 2013.

The North Korean Sky is Falling

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

On April 15, North Korea will celebrate its 68th anniversary of independence. While the Western world will barely notice the celebration, it will undoubtedly be a big occasion in North Korea. Unlike the 4th of July in the US, there will be no hot dogs or hamburgers on the grill. Maybe there will be one half of a hot dog per person at maximum, and no ketchup. Generally, celebrations in North Korea take the form of televised military and party cadre parades with a strong dose of religious worship for whichever unimaginative Kim happens to be in charge at the moment. Other than that, it will be just another miserable day in North Korea.

USGS info poster showing intensity of Feb. 12, 2013 North Korean nuclear test.

USGS info poster showing intensity of Feb. 12, 2013 North Korean nuclear test.

On February 12, 2013, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, detonating a weapon with a seven kiloton yield. Fortunately, yields from nuclear detonations are easily measured by other nations, and we know that the explosion was one-third the size of the yield of the atomic bomb that the US dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

It was hardly the massive Armageddon weapon that North Korean dictator Kim Un’s propaganda machinery described. However, it represents a technical leap forward from previous North Korean nuclear detonations, and it is sufficient yield to cause thousands of deaths in any South Korean city or US base.

This missile test was yet another predictable violation of the latest nuclear weapons agreement between North Korea and the rest of the world. Why anyone in the US government would ever believe that North Korea would hold to an agreement remains one of the more curious mysteries of US foreign policy. My suspicion is that diplomats are instructed to pretend to believe that they have some quiet agreement in place with the Kim dynasty for political value at home in the US.

Even Madeleine Albright had to know she was talking nonsense when she pretended to be giddy with the “successes” of her miserable diplomatic efforts with Kim Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, during the Clinton era. The upshot of Madeleine’s diplomatic “victory” was to exchange US aid for the assurance that North Korea would not pursue nuclear weapons. Only the staunchest of Clinton administration supporters were able to convince themselves that Madeleine’s diplomatic performance was anything more than self-delusion. Madeleine’s “work” with North Korea did, however, fulfill one critical purpose. It allowed President Clinton to pass the buck to the next administration.

No US president since Eisenhower has wanted to deal with North Korea. Bill Clinton was no exception. Every US president arrives to his first day of work with his heart and mind filled with optimistic projections of how he will build his particular version of the “great society.” These optimistic visions generally start with something like a beautiful No Child Left Behind butterfly. Those visions then end up devolving into some ugly No Corporate Donor Left Behind parasite, but that’s a topic for yet another day.

And therein lies the second motive for the North Korean Kim Machine. If the first urgent goal of the North Korean government is to convince North Koreans to remain obedient, then the second goal is to be noticed by the US White House.

North Korea desperately needs the West for two important reasons. It needs us and the rest of the world to feed them. Like any undeveloped infant, North Korea is not grown up enough to feed itself. It’s too busy playing with military toys to learn that basic survival technique. Also, the Kim Dynasty’s entire 68-year-old Kim Marketing Plan relies on the perceived great and urgent threat to North Korea from the outside world.

Any time the North Koreans can broadcast a genuine video clip of a US president uttering the words “North Korea” without having to rely on their unskilled photo-shoppers, it’s a propaganda victory. In North Korea, a day without “international tension” is like, . . . well, we can only imagine what that would be like. Who knows? It hasn’t happened yet.

North Korea has also been developing a missile that has the ability to reach Alaska. Kim claims that missile can hit Los Angeles and Austin. It can’t. In fact, it is highly unlikely that North Korean missiles could reach the US mainland as of yet. It’s also unlikely that North Korea could equip a long range missile with a light enough nuclear weapon in a reentry device that would enable delivery to US soil and detonation.

In spite of the lack of a real threat, the US Defense Department has reinforced missile defense systems on the US West Coast. That reinforcement was intended for psychological rather than tactical benefit. Precisely what, if anything, occurred as a result of the announced reinforcement is a matter that I will leave to the Defense Department to (not) talk about. That “(not) talk” session would likely consist of a terse statement that the precise details of military deployments are classified.

For folks living in South Korea and Japan, including the 63,000 US forces stationed in those two countries, the view is less comical. For one thing, North Korea has about sixty-five percent of its military at or near the border with South Korea. Thousands of artillery pieces with hundreds of thousands of shells are within range of the South Korean capital of Seoul. While some media pundits like to point out that the US and South Korea could easily wipe out that North Korean artillery, they are assuming a massive first strike by US and South Korean forces before North Korea could launch a barrage of missiles and artillery shells against Seoul and other targets. And a preemptive strike by South Korea and the US is highly unlikely.

To people living in South Korea and Japan, the clownish threats by Kim are not just rhetoric. North Korea does represent a real threat to its neighbors, and it has a long history of attacking South Korea. Remember that in March 2010, a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean Navy Corvette in South Korean waters, killing 46 South Korean sailors. The following November, North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing three South Koreans. The South Korean island garrison responded with their artillery and killed about ten North Korean soldiers.

On March 26, 2013, after listening to a month long series of nuclear threats by North Korea, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye stated that North Korea’s only path to survival was through abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. North Korea responded by cutting its “hot-line” communications system with South Korea. Given that nobody in South Korea was ever going to believe anything that was spoken by a North Korean on that hot-line system, it hardly matters.

On March 29, Pyongyang announced, “The time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists.” It then ordered North Korean missile teams to be prepared to fire on US bases in the South Pacific. We in the US could afford to laugh, but there was less laughter in South Korea and Japan.

On March 30, North Korea stopped pretending to be on the verge of all-out war with South Korea and the US and, instead, announced that it is in an actual state of war. Fortunately, Kim has remembered that he is only pretending to be at war, and no unusual troop movements or communications have been detected in North Korea. The US responded by moving high tech F-22 Raptor fighters from Japan to South Korea. Any changes in deployment of US ballistic missile submarines in the waters of East Asia would be classified, but we may reasonably assume that, in the event of a nuclear attack by North Korea, the US would respond with strikes by US submarine launched missiles.

This morning, North Korea did something interesting. It announced the appointment of Pak Pong-Ju as the new premier. The premier would not be in the top five of the power structure in North Korea, but he would formulate and present economic policies to Kim Un. Pak was fired from his post as prime minister in 2007 after proposing some very minor U.S.-style economic policies.

This appointment is seen by Western leaders as a rare, positive bit of news from North Korea. The appointment of a North Korean who has dared to utter a few non-hateful words about the US is interpreted by some as a signal from Kim Un that he would like us to remember that he knows that he cannot hope to survive any war with South Korea and the US. It is also good news because North Korea’s most serious threat to South Korea and to its ally China is the threat of the complete economic collapse of North Korea.

While an economic collapse in North Korea might seem like a welcome possibility to distant observers, it is far less appealing to South Korea, to China, and to half of the 25,000,000 North Korean people who suffer from chronic malnourishment. China and South Korea quietly agree about two things concerning North Korea. One is that Kim Jong Un is an annoying twerp. The other is that if North Korea collapses, both South Korea and China will be flooded with millions of hungry North Koreans. Neither country wants to deal with such a large humanitarian crisis or the chaos that it would introduce inside their borders.

So what does this mean to those of us fortunate enough to not live in North Korea? It means that the US and South Korea have no choice but to remain prepared for war with North Korea. To the White House, that means annoying distractions from urgent domestic economic issues. Even the most loyal Obama lovers do not believe the White House’s recent optimistic self-assessments concerning the US economy. While Los Angeles will not be destroyed by a nuclear device from North Korea any time soon, it and the rest of the nation remain under attack by a home grown economic weapon of mass destruction. With so many foreign policy challenges to deal with in the Middle East, and so many millions of Americans slipping into poverty, Obama and the rest of the nation would prefer to not have to spend time and money dealing with North Korea.

However, Iran would love a war between the US and North Korea or between the US and any nation not named “Iran.”  To the north, Russia seems confused about what it wants in Korea. It can’t tell if a war in Korea would represent a net gain or loss to the Russian economy or to Russian foreign policy goals. The rest of the world is either unaware of the situation in Korea or simply hopes that war does not erupt there.

The greatest danger in North Korea is the possibility that, based on North Korea’s complete lack of understanding of the world outside of its borders, Kim Jong Un and his hard line pals in the North Korean military might miscalculate and trigger an all-out war. This morning’s announcement of their selection of a new “pro-Western” premier may indicate that, in lieu of a reasonable diet, Kim urgently needs to keep feeding his own subjects a heavy diet of war propaganda, but that he hopes that the US continues to not take him too seriously.

Yet in his confusion about the world outside of North Korea, Kim apparently feels that the only way to be taken seriously is to remain a military threat. He wants to be taken seriously enough to rate bribes from the rest of the world in the form of desperately needed food and oil shipments. My estimate is that North Korea wishes to remain one inch from that threatened war, but wants the US and South Korea to remain able to accurately measure that ever important last inch. In an ironic twist of any intelligence service’s basic goal, North Korea desperately wants everyone outside of North Korea to know more about their intentions than their own people know at home.

So far, North Korea’s war rhetoric has not been matched by military moves. Let’s hope it remains that way.

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“Jay Holmes” is a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations who spent decades intimately involved in fighting the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored. Now, he is a Senior Mouseketeer in the intelligence community, and he writes spy thrillers with author Piper Bayard. Piper is the public face of their partnership. Their first spy thriller, APEX PREDATOR: THE LEOPARD OF CAIRO, is due out this fall through Stonehouse Ink Publishing.

For more about Jay Holmes, see No Room for Fragile Egos–A Spook’s World.