IS THE U.S. INTELLIGENCE SYSTEMSTILL INTELLIGENTLY DESIGNED AND CONTROLLED?
It was great to have a chance to communicate with so many of you this last year and these conversations have shown how enduring are the interests we all share in the health and welfare of the country we have loved and respected for so many years. And it is from this perspective that I thought it might be worthwhile sharing a few additional thoughts with you.
As we step gingerly toward the threshold of yet another year of spin on our Earth’s axis, and embark on another circle in orbit around our stalwart sun, here is an update on a hearty perennial institutional conundrum that keeps knocking on the door of our political conscience and hopefully irritating our moral sub-consciences too.
From many reliable reports, we as a country, and as a people, have created and passively tolerate an incredibly unwieldy, and apparently highly dysfunctional intelligence apparatus in the United States. It has become so big that its aggregate budget now is greater than the annual GDP of more than 100 member countries of the UN.
It consists of so many separate compartments, covert and overt, compulsively secretive and aggressively competitive with each other, that probably no one has any clue anymore about how it is supposed to function in the aggregate, how you are supposed to reconcile conflicting analyses of complex subjects, or how it could possibly be effectively controlled.
But that also makes it especially and probably irresistibly vulnerable to becoming more and more, and perhaps principally, a reality fabrication and perception management machine which can enable politicians and entrepreneurs to churn out scenarios that justify national security and military initiatives that their political and economic ambitions find the most attractive and perhaps irresistible.
As far as alleged external adult supervision is concerned the Congress also seems to be not only inadequate but even institutionally vulnerable because the committee structures and security clearance requirements create significant political dangers for individual members to be accused of improperly revealing secrets, then losing their security clearances, etc, etc.
Indeed, given all of these factors there are very serious questions now as to whether it would even be possible to design an effective and politically responsible way to control this steadily growing and constantly morphing entity today because so much of it operates sub rosa.
So, what do you do with it? How does a liberal democratic republic function when voters are no longer cleared to have access to an increasingly significant portion of the information necessary to make their own decisions as to what is the proper course for their country to take? Also, with so much of this production under various depths of cover, how do you have any check on whether you are being told the truth or ever more creative and complicated lies?
More than a decade ago, a newly installed Administration came up with the bright idea of trying to scale it down in size, and an effort to reduce the number of people on these payrolls was initiated. But the numbers never really went down. Instead, a parallel effort was undertaken to start privatizing this extremely sensitive function and many of the people going out the front door with their pink slips, just walked into the building next door and started working again in similar functions but this time for private firms that had picked up secret and apparently highly lucrative outsourcing contracts. These career professionals are once again safely embedded in jobs that this time will probably be even more secure, and now due to different rules and even less accountability and visibility to Congress or any other oversight, will be even more difficult to curtail. And no doubt their salaries and bonuses will go up, all allegedly as part of a cost savings initiative!!
Also, just to add some additional sauce to this meal, think about the problem of keeping these outsourcing companies in business and profitable. There must be an enormous temptation to make sure that demand for their services will not only endure but keep growing. And that means that the temptation to create new and ever more dramatic problems could indeed become irresistible. Because of the way the system now functions we will not be able to know if this is happening, nor have any obvious way to curtail it.
How serious is this? Well, here is one example from several decades ago. A former head of the CIA, who is an old friend, told me over lunch a few years ago that when he tried to find out some simple things about what was going on in his own agency he was told rather bluntly by those working for him that access to such knowledge was not part of his job description and he would not get the answers he was seeking. When I asked him then who might know such answers, he replied that he had no idea and never did find out! So much for the illusion of control even for those in top positions.
Sixty years ago, the National Security Act of 1947 sent our little democratic republic experiment wandering off into an ever darkening wilderness from which it may never again emerge. Does it have to end this way, or is there still something that we might be able to do to rescue it?
The following three stories explore this question from different angles and offer some clues.
The first is testimony presented by Robert Hutchings, the former head of the U.S: National Intelligence Council, before a Congressional Sub-Committee a couple of weeks ago. Hutchings, a Naval Academy graduate (1967?), has had a long career in the intelligence business and seems to know a lot about what he is describing. His assessment is a very sober eye-opener.
The second story, from Mother Jones in 2005, tells about the great outsourcing boondoggle, and how this works today. From news that fortunately still leaks out, it seems that the volume of such outsourcing has continued to grow and the entrepreneurs in this privileged sector, especially those who are politically well connected, are reaping sumptuous rewards.
The third and final article is from the Washington Post a couple of days ago describing the progress being made by the FBI in developing new technologies so that the U.S. Government can more and more effectively follow each and every one of us from the time we leave the front doors of our homes until we return, and perhaps even while we are inside. Apparently we have become the biggest threats to ourselves and to our country and this is apparently the most appropriate way to deal with us now. The world seems truly to have turned upside down.
So, given all of this, what do you as a responsible shareholder in our innovative national political experiment think can and/or should be done now? If we are no longer cleared for democracy, what choices do we as stakeholders and voters still have? Can this marriage of an open democracy with a huge and growing secret intelligence apparatus work, or are we going to have to make some fundamental changes of future design and direction for our republic?
Finally, has the recent declaration of war against a couple of “isms”, accompanied by the hard selling of high octane fear and religiously flavored vitriol, already set us on a path of no return? Do we still have any meaningful control, or could the occult apparatus itself now be taking charge and calling the shots from the inside?
If you have a few spare moments, please read, contemplate and share your thoughts as we cross the beckoning threshold into 2008. Take care and Happy New Year. Andy
U.S. INTELLIGENCE SEEN "RETREATING INTO GREATER SECRECY"
From FAS - Secrecy News – December 18, 2007
The U.S. intelligence community is reverting to old patterns of cold war secrecy, warned the former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), to the detriment of U.S. intelligence.
"The reality that I see is an Intelligence Community that is retreating into greater secrecy and old cultural habits, even in the short time since I left the NIC in early 2005," said Amb. Robert L. Hutchings in recent testimony.
"Try to get a CIA analyst to go on the record at an academic conference, or participate in an interactive website or blog with experts from outside government or other countries, and you will see how deeply ingrained are the old Cold War cultural habits and mind-sets," he said.
"What this means, additionally, is that the Intelligence Community is not attracting the 'best and brightest' into their ranks. They go elsewhere."
Here is Amb. Hutchings’ prepared testimony from a very recent hearing of the House Intelligence Committee.
The Morning After: How to Reform the Intelligence Reform
Testimony of Robert L. Hutchings before the Intelligence Community Management Sub-Committee House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
December 6, 2007
Thank you for this opportunity to testify on the reform efforts led by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as developed in his 100-day and 500-day plans. I will come at these issues indirectly, by looking back to the impetus behind the intelligence reforms that gave rise to these efforts, particularly those embodied in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act and the 9/11 Commission recommendations.
Let me first preview my bottom line: namely, that the organizational changes that led to the creation of the office of the DNI were undertaken without addressing the other aspects of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. The result, I fear, may leave us worse off rather than better.
Instead of strengthening coordination among intelligence agencies via a single intelligence “czar” we may be further dividing responsibility among a new Director of National Intelligence with (nominal) authority but not much staff, a Director of CIA with staff but diminished authority, and a Director of the National Counterterrorist Center with a broad but unclear mandate.
Worse, we seem to be trying to centralize our efforts at the very time that the threat we are trying to meet is becoming more decentralized, dispersed, and eclectic. It is the wrong model. The DNI’s 100- and 500-day plans address some of these issues, but the changes envisioned in them fail to address, and may even exacerbate, the most urgent problems as I see them.
A “Perfect Storm”
How did we come to this pass? It is unfortunate that intelligence reform was pursued under conditions of a “perfect storm” for intelligence-bashing.
First was the Iraq WMD estimate of October 2002. It was flawed, but the criticism of this estimate lost all sense of proportion. The impression has been left that the intelligence community produced a deeply flawed assessment of Iraq’s WMD programs, and that this assessment led our country into war. The first half of that assertion is correct, but not the last half. The pre-war debate was never about the intelligence but about the policy. Yet the policymakers who launched the war and the members of Congress who voted for it, chose to blame it all on faulty intelligence. Neither the 9/11 Commission nor the WMD Commission addressed the failures of policy, which were vastly more serious than anything the intelligence community did or failed to do.
Second, the controversy over the WMD estimate was then conflated with the alleged “intelligence failure” of 9/11. My own view, which is actually supported by the 9/11 commission report, is that this was not a failure at all, in the sense that the attack should have been prevented and could have been prevented with good intelligence performance. There is a whole body of psychological literature on “hindsight bias,” defined as "the tendency of people to falsely believe that they would have predicted the outcome of an event once the outcome is known." Because outcome information affects the selection of evidence, a critic falling victim to hindsight bias tends to see clear lines of causation where such clarity was in fact lacking before the fact. It is easy to say that the intelligence community should have “connected the dots,” but in reality it is only after the fact that one can know which dots, out of a vast universe of them, to connect.
Third and finally, all of this came to a head during an intensely political election season in the fall of 2004. Democrats attacked the intelligence community to get at the president; Republicans attacked it to protect him. What both sides agreed on was to stick it to the intelligence community.
The Intelligence Reforms of 2004-5
Let me hasten to add that the intelligence community did and does need reform. But these reforms were debated in the worst possible climate for sound judgment. This had led, in my view, to deeply flawed intelligence reform.
In particular, focusing on the dramatic, politically attractive “quick fix” of creating an intelligence “czar” has diverted attention from the more fundamental issues that need addressing. At worst, it will create another several layers of bureaucracy that will make most of these problems worse; at best, it is simply irrelevant.
This idea is also tied up with what I call the “coordination myth”: namely, that it is somehow possible to “coordinate” the work of hundreds of thousands of people across dozens of agencies operating in nearly every country of the world. Anyone who has worked in complex organizations knows, or should know, that it is possible to coordinate only a few select activities and that there are always tradeoffs, because every time you coordinate some activities you are simultaneously weakening coordination among others. To cite just one example, the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center may have enhanced interagency coordination among terrorist operators, which is a good thing, but it has surely weakened coordination between them and the country and regional experts. The net result is that the Intelligence Community is probably stronger in tactical counter-terrorist coordination but is surely weaker in strategic counterterrorism. While we are looking for the next car bomb, we may be missing the next generation of terrorist threats.
Reforming the Reforms
With those thoughts in mind, let me offer five suggestions for intelligence reform, none of which entail further organizational change. Indeed, after the organizational turmoil of the past four years, I think we should leave the organizational charts alone for a while and try to dig deeper to effect cultural change.
First, fix the “demand” side of the problem.
All the reform ideas so far have focused on the “supply side” – the quality and reliability of the intelligence being provided – but until we fix the demand side, all these efforts will fail.
Politicization of intelligence is a part of this problem, and I fear that it will get worse under the new DNI setup. (This comment is no reflection on the incumbent but rather on the tendencies inherent in the organizational design.) As an example, I think it a mistake for the DNI to be taking the lead in defending Administration’s wiretapping program – for the same reason that it is a mistake for General Petraeus to be point person for defending the “surge” in Iraq. U.S. intelligence, like our uniformed military, should be at least one step removed from policy advocacy.
This is part of the larger problem of the inadequate linkage between intelligence and policy. In 2004, when I was Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, we produced a bleak assessment of the Iraqi insurgency that incurred presidential wrath when it leaked to the New York Times. But the real story was that the President hadn’t read it – not even the one-page “Presidential Summary”! When the results of such a key Intelligence Community product are wholly ignored, there is something badly broken. This is why the reference to “the customer” in the DNI’s 100- and 500-day plan is so misleading. This is not a marketplace in which intelligence products have any intrinsic value; they are freely and routinely ignored.
Second and relatedly, create an interagency strategic planning group.
This would have two benefits. It would restore the primacy of strategic analysis, after a period when the overriding focus on current intelligence has robbed our government of the capacity to think broadly and strategically. And it would lend coherence, rather than have different departments undertaking their own, uncoordinated planning – as was the case in preparations for post-war Iraq. There was a brief effort to create such a planning group a few years ago – I was the intelligence community’s representative on it – but the effort died after a single meeting.
Interagency planning may seem obvious, but it does not happen because administrations do not want it. Individual departments certainly do not: they want their own pet projects held close until the last possible moment rather than having them run up against the competing ideas of other departments. So the bureaucratic resistance to such efforts is enormous. But the need is compelling: we would never have gotten into the mess in Iraq had the Pentagon’s plans been subjected to serious critical scrutiny.
Third, strengthen Congressional oversight
Strengthen this oversight as the 9/11 Commission recommended. For all the criticism of the WMD estimate after the fact, it is alarming that before the war HPSCI never held hearings on it, and only six senators bothered to read it.
Let me put this in present tense. In the past year or so there have been two National Intelligence Estimates on terrorism – with quite alarming findings. But to my knowledge no Congressional hearings on those estimates have occurred. On the second of those estimates, concerning threats to the homeland, General Hayden said (at the Council on Foreign Relations) that 70% of the information came from detainee interrogations. This is worrying for two reasons: it shows how poor our penetration of terrorist networks still is, and this dependency on (often dated) detainee information can turn into a circular argument for continuing our disastrous detainee policy. Have there been Congressional hearings to look into this? A final example: one reads reports about some offices of government pushing for military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. As a citizen, I would like to know whether the Congress is asking U.S. intelligence if we could identify Iranian targets with sufficient confidence to make such a course of action even theoretically feasible (leaving aside the wisdom of such a step). This, it seems to me, is a legitimate and essential function of effective before-the-fact Congressional oversight.
Fourth, accentuate the strategic coordinating role of the DNI
Accentuate the strategic coordinating role of the DNI and de-emphasize the centralization of operational functions. This means putting the “central” back into Central Intelligence Agency and accentuating its role as the lead implementing agency, lest we wind up creating another CIA on top of the first one. My old operation, the NIC, should coordinate the Intelligence Community, not become the DNI’s operational staff. This, then, would free it to play a strategic role that risks being lost.
It seems to me that the 100-day and 500-day plans are heading in the wrong direction. They are much too intrusive, bureaucratic, and formalistic. They create an agenda that will not be achieved in 500 years, much less 500 days. Let me focus on the very first of the 33 “enabling objectives” of the 500-day plan – to formalize a “National Intelligence University.” I think I know what a university is. What the IC intends is not one; it is a training center. Calling it a university is a triumph of form over substance. The DNI set-up, and the impulse to centralize and “coordinate” everything, reinforces this tendency.
Fifth: Begin the Evolutionary Process of Changing the Culture of Intelligence
This then leads to my fifth and final recommendation: begin the evolutionary process of changing the culture of intelligence. This will entail a radical re-conceptualization of what “intelligence” is and should be. We have moved from an era in which clandestinely acquired information accounted for a large chunk of what we needed to know (or thought we needed to know) into one in which our “secrets” count for relatively little for most of the issues that affect our national well-being. There are no secrets that will shed much light on China’s rise, the contradictions of globalization, or most of the other issues we care about. For those issues we need openness, access, and flexibility.
Instead of thinking of intelligence as something done by a few specialized agencies with highly secretive mandates, we need to think of it much more expansively as a global intelligence community – an eclectic virtual community with unclassified, lightly classified, and heavily classified domains. At the unclassified level, this would mean an exponential expansion of the kinds of ties we established through the NIC’s “2020” project with experts around the world, including China. At the next level, there would be a lightly classified level (confidential/secret) involving private Americans, foreign government officials, and private individuals and institutions around the world. These links would move all the way up to the most highly classified level, involving counter-terrorist and counter-proliferation cooperation.
These considerations have implications for intelligence collection, too, though this is an area I know less about. Traveling around the world as NIC chairman, I was all too conscious of the way we create “Little America” wherever we go, populated by people with insufficient language training and incapable of disappearing into the local culture. We pay a heavy and increasing price for this ignorance. Relatedly, we have done extremely poorly since 9/11 in bringing into the intelligence community qualified Arabic language speakers. There are reasons for this, some of them valid, but the bottom line is that we need to strengthen our national commitment to understanding foreign languages and cultures – and relax the requirements for bringing in those who contribute to that understanding.
The DNI’s 100-day and 500-day plans focus on many of theses issues, and for that they deserve credit. But the reality that I see is an Intelligence Community that is retreating into greater secrecy and old cultural habits, even in the short time since I left the NIC in early 2005. Try to get a CIA analyst to go on the record at an academic conference, or participate in an interactive website or blog with experts from outside government or other countries, and you will see how deeply ingrained are the old Cold War cultural habits and mind-sets. What this means, additionally, is that the Intelligence Community is not attracting the “best and brightest” into their ranks. They go elsewhere. The Intelligence Community, and for that matter that departments of State and Defense, need to modernize the ways they go about recruitment and recognize that they are in a competitive market for a new generation of graduates with very different expectations.
These are some of the kinds of innovations that needed to be undertaken after the end of the Cold War. They don’t have much to do with the motivations that got us to the present state of intelligence reform, but if these reforms can get us headed in this direction, they will have succeeded.
# # #
WHO IS ROBERT HUTCHINGS?
On December 10, 2002, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet announced the selection of Ambassador Robert Hutchings, then the assistant dean at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, as chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC). The chairman of the NIC reports to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), and coordinates intelligence estimates for the President. Hutchings is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a Ph.D. in Government from the University of Virginia.
The NIC represents the entire U.S. intelligence community and reports to the DCI in his role as head of the community, rather than as head of the Central Intelligence Agency. The NIC acts as a center for the intelligence community's mid- and long-term strategic thinking around national security issues. Along with the chairman, the NIC also includes a vice chairman, and twelve national intelligence officers who are selected from the U.S. government, academia and the private sector, and who serve as the DCI's senior experts for a full range of regional and functional intelligence issues. The NIC leads the intelligence community to produce National Intelligence Estimates and other analyses, with the goal of providing U.S. policymakers the best and most objective assessments of international developments. Hutchings, who was 56 at the time, assumed this role in early 2003. "Bob has been an outstanding teacher and administrator here at the Wilson School. We will miss him, but take pride in his achievement. He will serve with distinction at a time of great national need," commented Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School. "We look forward to his return upon the completion of his public service."
Hutchings, who had been at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School since 1997, took a two-year public service leave of absence from the School, and returned in 2005. Hutchings' previous experience included service as Director of International Studies at Washington, DC's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Special Advisor to the Secretary of State (with rank of Ambassador); Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council; and Deputy Director at Radio Free Europe. Hutchings has previously served two tours in the NIC as Director of its Analysis Group and as the Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Europe. In announcing the selection, Director Tenet remarked, "Bob's wide-ranging career in public service, including experience both as an analyst and a consumer of intelligence, make him an ideal choice to lead the NIC as it grows and adapts to meet an unprecedented demand from policymakers for intelligence community products."
The Spy Who Billed Me
In the post-9/11 rush to beef up intelligence, the government has outsourced everything from spy satellites to covert operations -- and well-connected companies are cashing in.
Tim Shorrock, Mother Jones, January/February 2005 Issue
A small crowd files past a sign reading “Career Fair Today” at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. An American flag and a cluster of colorful balloons flutter in the breeze. But inside, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary job fair. Everybody, from the well-dressed applicants to the stern-faced recruiters, wears a badge reading “Secret” or “Top Secret.” That’s because this event is open only to candidates with an intelligence background and a government security clearance -- the more high-level, the better.
Many of the 5,517 jobs available have something to do with the global war on terror or the occupation of Iraq. One recruiter has a position open for an “Iraq Counterterrorism Analyst.” Another is looking for personnel to “conduct interrogations of detainees” in Iraq. There is a job in Baghdad for a senior intelligence analyst and several in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, for intelligence analysts experienced in “counter-terrorism, threat analysis, and counter-narcotics.” One job looks formidable: a “deputy site manager” is needed in Baghdad to supervise “1,500-2,000 linguists providing interpreter-translator service to a 140,000-member deployed U.S. military force conducting counter-insurgency, stabilization and nation building operations.”
There’s only one thing missing: the U.S. government. Every one of these jobs is being advertised by a private company -- one of hundreds of firms that contract with the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, or the Pentagon to provide everything from urine testers to supervisors of clandestine operations overseas. The people hired for these jobs may be doing government work in Washington or Baghdad, but they will be paid by firms such as the international consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton or CACI International, one of the companies whose employees were implicated in prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
The job fair is being sponsored by IntelligenceCareers.com, a recruitment firm headed by William D. Golden, a former Army intelligence officer. Golden says his company can hardly keep up with the demand for intelligence contractors. “The government has become addicted to the use of private industry in the world of intelligence,” he says. “In fact, they’ve made a science of it.” Indeed they have. A CIA official interviewed for this story wouldn’t say how much of the agency’s work is done by private companies, but admitted that outsourcing has increased substantially since 2001. Of the estimated $40 billion the United States is expected to spend on intelligence this year, experts say at least 50 percent will go to private contractors.
Yet as Americans learn more about the role of intelligence contractors from Afghanistan (where a contractor has been charged in connection with the death of a detainee) to Guantanamo (where Lockheed Martin has supplied interrogators, according to the trade publication Federal Times), critics are beginning to question whether private companies should be in the business of handling some of the government’s most sensitive work. Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, believes that the kind of military intelligence work contracted to CACI, Titan Corp., and other companies is particularly ripe for problems because intelligence agencies “operate under unusual authority.” He adds: “I don’t think the current oversight system is equipped to monitor the activities of contractors. That is one of the central lessons of the Abu Ghraib affair.”
Like the defense industry, the intelligence business is driven by a network of lobbyists and a web of close connections between government and the private sector. But unlike the arms industry, intelligence contractors operate in a world where budgets are classified and many activities -- from covert operations to foreign eavesdropping -- are conducted in secret. Even the bidding for intelligence contracts is often classified. As a result, there is virtually no oversight of the intelligence community and its corporate partners. That was one of the central findings of the 9/11 commission, which called congressional supervision of intelligence and counterterrorism “dysfunctional.”
The outsourcing revolution began with the end of the Cold War, when hundreds of intelligence jobs were eliminated, and quickened in the mid-1990s under Vice President Al Gore’s Reinventing Government initiative. Sensing a niche, information technology companies like CACI and Titan began hiring retired intelligence employees and contracting them back to the agencies they had once worked for; their business boomed after 9/11, when the intelligence community found itself awash in money and desperate to catch up.
Today, the ties between intelligence agencies and the private sector are so close, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. Joan Dempsey, a former CIA deputy director, recently -- and approvingly -- referred to consulting firm Booz Allen as “the shadow intelligence community.” Three of Booz Allen’s current and former vice presidents previously served as intelligence agency directors, including James Woolsey, who headed the CIA during the Clinton administration. Connections with the private sector are especially close at the NSA, where outsourcing has grown rapidly. Former NSA director William Studeman is now a vice president of Northrop Grumman, and Barbara McNamara, a former deputy director, is on the board of CACI. After leaving government, these officials keep their high-level security clearances, which makes them extremely valuable to their new employers. “You can’t do anybusiness without having the clearances,” says John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a Virginia- based think tank. “How else would you know about the contracts?”
The lines separating contractors from agencies are so blurred that at the leading trade association -- the Security Affairs Support Association (SASA) -- 8 of 20 board members are current government officials. The association represents about 125 intelligence contractors, including Boeing, CACI, General Dynamics, and Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). Retired Air Force Lt. General Kenneth Minihan, its president and chairman, is yet another former director of the NSA. As a nonprofit, SASA is barred from lobbying, but it frequently sponsors events where government and corporate officials mingle, and it provides infor- mation to members of Congress. “We use the term ‘advocacy,’” says Frank Blanco, SASA’s executive vice president.
Intelligence contractors themselves, meanwhile, have fielded armies of lobbyists to keep the money flowing; according to the Project on Government Oversight, Lockheed Martin spent $47 million on outside lobbying between 1997 and 2004, while another company, SAIC, spent $8.6 million and CSC spent $3.3 million. Lockheed Martin has also hired Joe Allbaugh, who managed the 2000 Bush campaign, to lobby for its rapidly growing intelligence division. And the companies are showering key members of Congress with contributions: The top contributor to Duncan Hunter (R-Ca.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is Titan Corp. Over at the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) received $14,000, almost half of his PAC intake in 2004, from six key contractors.
Most of the big players in the intelligence business have set up shop within shouting distance of SASA’s offices on the National Business Parkway in Annapolis Junction, Maryland -- just blocks from the gleaming headquarters of the NSA. One large building bears the logo of Boeing, the prime contractor for the nation’s spy satellite system; the next complex houses CSC and Logicon, the information technology unit of Northrop Grumman. Together, in 2001, the companies won a $2 billion contract to modernize the NSA’s information systems; the day the project began, more than 600 government workers were instantly transformed into private contractors.
Next door sits the brand-new headquarters for Titan, whose earnings have surged due to its contract with the U.S. Army to supply translators and provide support for the military’s unmanned spy planes. Across the street is Booz Allen, one of the prime contractors for the Trailblazer project, a huge effort to overhaul the NSA’s top-secret signals intelligence capabilities. Booz Allen and SAIC are doing research for the project under a $280 million “technology demonstration platform” contract, and few doubt that the NSA will award the final, much larger contract to the same companies. That troubles analysts, who say that allowing contractors to write the specs for their own future deals -- as Halliburton did in Iraq -- is a conflict of interest. That task “should remain within the agencies,” says Aftergood. (Booz Allen, like other contractors contacted for this article, would not comment on its intelligence work.)
But with the contracting boom continuing unchecked, such controls are unlikely -- which means, says Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, that America’s spy network could soon resemble NASA’s mission control room in Houston. “Most people, when they see that room, think they’re looking at a bunch of NASA people,” Pike notes. “But it’s 90 percent contractors.”
FBI Prepares Vast Database of Biometrics
$1 Billion Project to Include Images of Irises and Faces
By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, December 22, 2007. Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.
CLARKSBURG, W. Va. -- The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.
Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law.
"Bigger. Faster. Better. That's the bottom line," said Thomas E. Bush III, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which operates the database from its headquarters in the Appalachian foothills.
The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. Critics say that such government initiatives should not proceed without proof that the technology really can pick a criminal out of a crowd.
The use of biometric data is increasing throughout the government. For the past two years, the Defense Department has been storing in a database images of fingerprints, irises and faces of more than 1.5 million Iraqi and Afghan detainees, Iraqi citizens and foreigners who need access to U.S. military bases. The Pentagon also collects DNA samples from some Iraqi detainees, which are stored separately.
The Department of Homeland Security has been using iris scans at some airports to verify the identity of travelers who have passed background checks and who want to move through lines quickly. The department is also looking to apply iris- and face-recognition techniques to other programs. The DHS already has a database of millions of sets of fingerprints, which includes records collected from U.S. and foreign travelers stopped at borders for criminal violations, from U.S. citizens adopting children overseas, and from visa applicants abroad. There could be multiple records of one person's prints.
"It's going to be an essential component of tracking," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's enabling the Always On Surveillance Society."
If successful, the system planned by the FBI, called Next Generation Identification, will collect a wide variety of biometric information in one place for identification and forensic purposes.
In an underground facility the size of two football fields, a request reaches an FBI server every second from somewhere in the United States or Canada, comparing a set of digital fingerprints against the FBI's database of 55 million sets of electronic fingerprints. A possible match is made -- or ruled out--as many as 100,000 times a day.
Soon, the server at CJIS headquarters will also compare palm prints and, eventually, iris images and face-shape data such as the shape of an earlobe. If all goes as planned, a police officer making a traffic stop or a border agent at an airport could run a 10-fingerprint check on a suspect and within seconds know if the person is on a database of the most wanted criminals and terrorists. An analyst could take palm prints lifted from a crime scene and run them against the expanded database. Intelligence agents could exchange biometric information worldwide.
More than 55 percent of the search requests now are made for background checks on civilians in sensitive positions in the federal government, and jobs that involve children and the elderly, Bush said. Currently those prints are destroyed or returned when the checks are completed. But the FBI is planning a "rap-back" service, under which employers could ask the FBI to keep employees' fingerprints in the database, subject to state privacy laws, so that if that employees are ever arrested or charged with a crime, the employers would be notified.
Advocates say bringing together information from a wide variety of sources and making it available to multiple agencies increases the chances to catch criminals. The Pentagon has already matched several Iraqi suspects against the FBI's criminal fingerprint database. The FBI intends to make both criminal and civilian data available to authorized users, officials said. There are 900,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers who can query the fingerprint database today, they said.
The FBI's biometric database, which includes criminal history records, communicates with the Terrorist Screening Center's database of suspects and the National Crime Information Center database, which is the FBI's master criminal database of felons, fugitives and terrorism suspects.
The FBI is building its system according to standards shared by Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
At the West Virginia University Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR), 45 minutes north of the FBI's biometric facility in Clarksburg, researchers are working on capturing images of people's irises at distances of up to 15 feet, and of faces from as far away as 200 yards. Soon, those researchers will do biometric research for the FBI.
Covert iris- and face-image capture is several years away, but it is of great interest to government agencies.
Think of a Navy ship approaching a foreign vessel, said Bojan Cukic, CITeR's co-director. "It would help to know before you go on board whether the people on that ship that you can image from a distance, whether they are foreign warfighters, and run them against a database of known or suspected terrorists," he said.
Skeptics say that such projects are proceeding before there is evidence that they reliably match suspects against a huge database.
In the world's first large-scale, scientific study on how well face recognition works in a crowd, the German government this year found that the technology, while promising, was not yet effective enough to allow its use by police. The study was conducted from October 2006 through January at a train station in Mainz, Germany, which draws 23,000 passengers daily. The study found that the technology was able to match travelers' faces against a database of volunteers more than 60 percent of the time during the day, when the lighting was best. But the rate fell to 10 to 20 percent at night.
To achieve those rates, the German police agency said it would tolerate a false positive rate of 0.1 percent, or the erroneous identification of 23 people a day. In real life, those 23 people would be subjected to further screening measures, the report said.
Accuracy improves as techniques are combined, said Kimberly Del Greco, the FBI's biometric services section chief. The Next Generation database is intended to "fuse" fingerprint, face, iris and palm matching capabilities by 2013, she said.
To safeguard privacy, audit trails are kept on everyone who has access to a record in the fingerprint database, Del Greco said. People may request copies of their records, and the FBI audits all agencies that have access to the database every three years, she said.
"We have very stringent laws that control who can go in there and to secure the data," Bush said.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the ability to share data across systems is problematic. "You're giving the federal government access to an extraordinary amount of information linked to biometric identifiers that is becoming increasingly inaccurate," he said.
In 2004, the Electronic Privacy Information Center objected to the FBI's exemption of the National Crime Information Center database from the Privacy Act requirement that records be accurate. The group noted that the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2001 found that information in the system was "not fully reliable" and that files "may be incomplete or inaccurate." FBI officials justified that exemption by claiming that in law enforcement data collection, "it is impossible to determine in advance what information is accurate, relevant, timely and complete."
Privacy advocates worry about the ability of people to correct false information. "Unlike say, a credit card number, biometric data is forever," said Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley technology forecaster. He said he feared that the FBI, whose computer technology record has been marred by expensive failures, could not guarantee the data's security. "If someone steals and spoofs your iris image, you can't just get a new eyeball," Saffo said.
In the future, said CITeR director Lawrence A. Hornak, devices will be able to "recognize us and adapt to us."
"The long-term goal," Hornak said, is "ubiquitous use" of biometrics. A traveler may walk down an airport corridor and allow his face and iris images to be captured without ever stepping up to a kiosk and looking into a camera, he said.
"That's the key," he said. "You've chosen it. You have chosen to say, 'Yeah, I want this place to recognize me.' "