Mike the Mad Biologist

As if outing Valerie Plame, whose primary task was to monitor and contain WMD proliferation in the Middle East–including Iran, wasn’t bad enough, the Bush Administration destroyed another intelligence gathering operation for political gain (italics mine):

A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.

Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company’s Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.

The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group’s communications network.

“Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless,” said Rita Katz, the firm’s 44-year-old founder, who has garnered wide attention by publicizing statements and videos from extremist chat rooms and Web sites, while attracting controversy over the secrecy of SITE’s methodology. Her firm provides intelligence about terrorist groups to a wide range of paying clients, including private firms and military and intelligence agencies from the United States and several other countries.

….But within minutes of Katz’s e-mail to the White House, government-registered computers began downloading the video from SITE’s server, according to a log of file transfers. The records show dozens of downloads over the next three hours from computers with addresses registered to defense and intelligence agencies.

By midafternoon, several television news networks reported obtaining copies of the transcript. A copy posted around 3 p.m. on Fox News’s Web site referred to SITE and included page markers identical to those used by the group. “This confirms that the U.S. government was responsible for the leak of this document,” Katz wrote in an e-mail to Leiter at 5 p.m.

Al-Qaeda supporters, now alerted to the intrusion into their secret network, put up new obstacles that prevented SITE from gaining the kind of access it had obtained in the past, according to Katz.

I have no idea how SITE is getting information before our intelligence agencies–maybe they’re like the A-Team or something. Let’s not even deal with that issue. Once again, the Bush administration politicized stopping al-Queda, instead of, well, stopping al-Queda. Of course, as maha notes, there is a method to the madness:

You might ask, what does it profit us to fight al Qaeda in Iraq if we’re going to trash our own intelligence about al Qaeda? Oh, my dears, we must see the big picture. The big picture is not that we support the war to defeat al Qaeda; rather, we use al Qaeda to support the war. Keep it straight.

Now can we impeach him?

An aside: Can you imagine the pandimensional shitstorm that would have ensued if CBS, and not Fox News, had divulged this information?

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Comments

  1. #1 blf
    October 10, 2007

    Minor point, the video should not have been available on SITE’s site until after the al-Qaeda release. If you pass it to only two people, you pass it on to only two people, individually and ideally with unique watermarks (or similar) per copy so as to readily identify who fucked up and didn’t keep proper control of their copy should it leak.

    That would not have prevented a leak, but making the video available–even if it was password-protected or whatever so as to not be accessible to general visitors/viewers–prior to the public release is sloppy.

    This apparent oversight by SITE does not, in any way shape or form, excuse the leaking!

  2. #2 pough
    October 10, 2007

    @blf: sometimes you just get caught out by not expecting teh stupid. Or maybe expecting the wrong kind of stupid, eg. they’re too stupid to deal with a file safely encrypted but not so stupid they’d blow the whole operation by going public right away.

  3. #3 Dunc
    October 10, 2007

    They did more-or-less exactly the same thing with the case of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan

  4. #4 Anonymous
    October 10, 2007

    I have no sympathy for SITE. Why the heck did they decide to send the video to a couple of high-level political appointees in the White House, instead of sending it to an appropriate intelligence agency? That’s an absurd blunder. (Sure, at least one of the officials they sent it to misbehaved, but classified information of great importance simply isn’t treated this way.)

    This reeks of incompetence on both sides, and I can’t believe SITE was doing really valuable work if they screwed this up. In fact, the only evidence we have of SITE’s value is news stories, probably based on a press release from SITE, talking about how great SITE is and how damaging this leak was. Who knows what the truth is?

  5. #5 blf
    October 10, 2007

    @pough, I realise that. The nominal answer is individual accountability; here, I’d make sure each of the two authorised people got a copy with a unique, and hopefully unalterable, watermark, and (unless I was looking for a mole), I’d ensure they knew the copy is marked. Then, when a leaked copy appears, you simply look to see which watermark it has (and to be through, that it only has that one watermark). Knowing who the watermark was assigned to, you know who failed to keep proper control of their copy. Not who leaked it per se, but who did not maintain the expected and agreed-on security.

    And you ensure those two individualised copies can only be the only two copies (from you) out there. Which means you don’t put any copies on your web server at all.

    Of course, if what’s leaked is a transcript, and not a copy. all that by itself doesn’t do much good.

    This is all fairly basic stuff. As an example, it’s not uncommon in the semiconductor (and to a lessor extent, software) industry for each manual about a new product (prior to its release) to be individualised, with a preprinted name or serial number on each page (often in the background as a simulated watermark). Again, it does not prevent leaks and copies, but it does mean when there is a leak, you know who failed to keep proper control of their copy. There are usually repercussions for failing to keep proper control, such as termination.

    Similar to the transcript issue, if what is “leaked” (stolen) is a backup tape containing a soft (electronic) version of the manual, then it’s all for naught. And the individual probably isn’t to blame.

    But the minor point I was trying to make is there are certain very basic things you should do, and which you should avoid doing. Such as not put very secret secrets on a server (at all, if possible; and in this case, I see no reason for the video to have been put on a server as there was only supposed to be two copies handed out–secure individualised distribution would, in this case, have been more appropriate).

    This is all pretty much to the side, and a distraction from the real issue: The leaking itself, made worse if was for political/propaganda purposes.

    (I used to do work related to data security, and was astonished to read about the multiple downloads. There should have been, at the most, two, each traceable to the two authorised recipients. Any more is a compromise.)

  6. #6 KeithB
    October 10, 2007

    blf:
    DVD screeners for the Oscars use the same sort of system.

  7. #7 Singh
    October 11, 2007

    Its too late to impeach him.

    It could be dragged out until he leaves office anyway.

    The democrats had their chance; they demonstrated that they are no different than the Republicans…they also serve their corporate masters.

    Just like scientists, as a matter of fact, who continue to provide more and more wmds to the goverments with the means to pay.

    Fact it.

    Its too fucking late.