Constant's pations

If it's more than 30 minutes old, it's not news. It's a blog.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Able Danger and the Policy Maker Distractions

Prissy suggested I review this note. To be fair to those who are speculating about Able Danger, the facts are still out.

But what we do know is that we continue to hear more non-sense about what did or didn't happen prior to 9-11.

Regardless what did or didn't happen, Able Danger is a useful anecdote of what can be done to distract attention, and continue with the same "Emperors' New Clothes" non-sense that permeates DC.

Everyone knows what's going on, but at their cocktail parties they mumble about the latest gossip to save the world. They dare not whisper of the changing seas that may not save their souls.

[ For your convenience, there is an NSA Hearing Archive; Click here to read other content in the NSA Hearing Archive.]

* * *

Able Danger seems to ebb and flow. Sometimes people seem on the verge of screaming about it, other times, it's buried and forgotten.

I thought the note was interesting. It outlined how a legal staffer might approach the issues. The writing was succinct, and it was very timely.

The author makes a strong showing in outlining the number of likely issues and findings.

Where we diverge is in the substance of the findings.

* * *

First, the author suggests that Congress would most likely find that the Able Danger program was an open source program. However, it appears as though this is a narrow definition of Able Danger.

Rather, it appears Able Danger was not only open source, but did rely on some non-open information. Whether this information was classified, or part of another problem remains to be understood.

However, the author appears to have missed a key point: The concern about Able Danger isn't simply whether the information was from open or closed sources; but whether the program itself was lawful.

It's one thing to argue about the data used in the machine, whether it makes sense or not.

It's a far more complicated issues to assess why a broken machine is still used, even though the laws prohibiting it are unenforced.

This is not just an oversight problem; but a lack of confidence that there will be credible consequences for failing to define a program within the confines of the law.

* * *

Second, the author appears to have a firm grounding in the Total Information Awareness Program and its links with Able Danger.

Where the author appears to have missed the mark is the basis for the TIA program cancellation. The author asserts the criticisms were unfounded, but provides no discussion.

Rather, it appears the criticisms were justified in raising concerns about the use of private information for official government monitoring. This is not the same as using open source.

Also, the criticisms may have cancelled the program funding, but this is not the same as killing the program. It remains to be seen whether, as we saw in the Iran-Contra affair, the Congress voted to end funding for something that DoD continued to do anyway.

To argue Able Danger is or is not related to a cancelled program may be interesting, but it does little to answer the question: Why isn't a killed-program buried, as opposed to continuing to haunt the political landscape, yet still remains ineffective even when there's a problem.

It's one thing to have annoying ghosts stealing your candy; its a far different matter to resolve why despite bringing in an exorcist, you still cannot silence their annoying chains.

Perhaps its time to stop spending money on the DC VooDoo and focus on making peace and helping the ghosts resolve their inability to find peace.

* * *

Third, the author suggests that the 9-11 Commission "knew of should have known" about Able Danger. This is not in dispute, as the 9-11 Commission did know about the program.

The issue isn't whether the 9-11 Commission was objective or not, but whether the details of the Able Danger program would have substantively changed the conclusions of the 9-11 report.

We believe, regardless the subsequent efforts to "not implement the 9-11 recommendations," that the conclusions were appropriate to the 9-11 incident. Further, to suggest that there is a "smoking gun" with the Able Danger implies that the 9-11 Commission left something out.

Indeed, now that we have a broader perspective of things, it appears that even despite the findings of Able Danger, and had they been known, the government as evidenced by Katrina would still have botched the response.

Again, its all well and good to speculate on potential findings. But the issue becomes why are we having more investigations into issues, when the underlying problem is that the fact finding process is devoid of both facts and process.

What's needed is a competing model to crunch through the issues, and then show to the public that there are alternatives to assess an issue and identify viable solutions.

There is a common element to 9-11, and Katrina: It's a glacial response to issues.

What's needed is something that resembles the decisiveness of Pearl Harbor and the San Francisco earthquake.

* * *

Fourth, there is an issue of the wall between various agencies. DoD and the FBI may have had a wall; and the CIA and FBI had another. However, the issue when it comes to national security isn't whether there is a wall; but whether the existing oversight has an umbrella or stovepipe approach to information.

The DSP is an umbrella over both the CIA and FBI information; just as the Joint Staff is an umbrella over intelligence needed for national security, whether that intelligence come from overseas, domestic, or in a combat theater.

FBI Counter terrorism works loosely with the CIA under both the JTTF and CIFA structures. Thus to presume that there is an issue of "walls" as a causal factor, would have us ignore the overriding management that relies on these walls to have opposing points of view.

The author correctly outlines the likely issue. But this doesn't address the solution: What new approach to assessing a problem is going to ensure we address the underlying, pervasive problem?

I sense the public in its outage over Katrina, will be sidelined, as it always is, to the peanut gallery while the entrenched staffers, who've got it wrong in Iraq and the American Gulf Coast, prattle around as if this situation is beyond the public's ability to address.

Alas, a fatal error.

* * *

Fifth, the author tends to focus exclusively on the sharing agreements in the form of a contractor or arrangement. This is a fundamental legal requirement. I believe a deeper analysis will focus not just on the arrangements themselves, but whether the existing software infrastructures are sufficient.

Given the poor showing by FBI in their access to the I-drive, and the problem DHS has shown in accessing logistics information in their own News files, I suspect the larger view will be saved for another day.

It is one thing to focus on the process. It is another to assess whether the fruits of that process have yield a sickening after meal feeling.

America enjoys serving up sweet desserts, but does little to resolve the plumbing problems.

* * *

Sixth, it is correct to say that the Congress will want to know whether programs could have mitigated the risks.

The issue isn't only whether the risk could be mitigated, but whether the underlying mitigation plan was sufficient both in funding, resources, and legal foundation.

The results from Katrina show the mitigation plans needed, although conceptualized, didn't translate into a tangible result.

But results are something more than spending money, and processing paperwork. They are real results that more swiftly respond to issues, problems, and then solve the problem, not self-justify more programs.

* * *

Seventh, it appears to be a red herring to assess whether the Able Danger program should or should not exist in its present form.

Rather, what should be asked is whether the country, despite this capability, should require leaks in order to conduct oversight.

The fundamental issue is that the program, regardless its effectiveness, appears to be outside both the official oversight mechanisms, and beyond the legal framework.

One cannot argue about a program's "suitability" when the underlying premise behind that program is: "How can we ethically do something that is unlawful?"

It's a non-starter.

Able Danger appears to have been an unlawful program in search of a legal justification. But the worst aspect of it was, despite its vacuous legal foundation, it still failed to work and notify the system.

However, the real crime is to suggest this "lack of notification" was the cause of 9-11. Rather, the real surprise is that Able Danger is one datapoint; there were 52 FAA warnings that were also ignored.

Why are we spending all this time looking at, or planning to look at, Able Danger? Because it means the toads in Washington can say, "Hay, we can't make a decision, we have to have a another meeting."

Well, the issue is: Do we need to change the "number of failed notifications" from 52, or 53?

I would argue that the time for investigations has ended, and its time to start using the fruit of what we know to start throwing people in jail.

Thank goodness Fitzgerald still remains a viable force to slap around the silly buffoons inside Blair House.

* * *

There are other issues that are likely to require attention:

  • How do we assess information that relates to ongoing FBI investigations when that information is from overseas sources, but the information has not been transcribed?

  • How do we ensure that the information already in the existing data collection systems is squeezed to its fullest extent, as opposed to relying on new systems and programs to gather more data which is reviewed less closely?

  • Are we looking at the information assessment issue too narrowly in terms of terrorism, and should we focus on other approaches to getting feedback to what risks we face, and what can be done prospectively to mitigate these risks with non-combat and diplomatic efforts?

  • Is there a fundamental "good faith showing" that the US can engage in to ensure that our conduct and words are inspiring and consistent with the rule of law, thereby mitigating the likelihood this nation's lawlessness will be a catalyst for other attacks?

  • How can we ensure that information, however it is gathered, is appropriately stripped of sensitive personal information, and that it is only used to preserve the constitution, not as a sword to undermine individuals in their efforts to openly discuss issues?

  • Do we need to change the roles and missions of the departments, when the real problem may be that the existing departments have a task that they've still not credibly mobilized and transformed to address?

    * * *

    It's one thing to change roles an missions; its another to check whether the existing systems have a systemic problem meeting their existing requirements; then we can talk about new requirements.

    If we don't take the time to address what is getting in the way of addressing what we currently are not able to do, it's more of the normal DC-driven non-sense and micromanagement, when the real solutions from the field units get ignored.

    * * *

    DC likes the world to believe it's open; but only if the world blindly embraces DC-driven solutions. Katrina shows this is a flawed assumption.

    It would be helpful if there were more cross-flows of personnel around the agencies. Lower-level personnel could have the requisite perspective across multi-disciplines, as opposed to stove piping the experience.

    This means:

  • A. Ensuring that legal scholars not only have a week long visit to the field, but that they actually are from the ranks of combat units; and

  • B. lawyers are fully aware of the force protection capabilities and risks before they debate the evidence required to justify what turns out to be a military adventure devoid of legal foundation.

    As it stands, lawyers and consultants in Washington appear to be more adept at crafting arguments devoid of facts, then in ensuring the requisite language is in place to ensure program requirements are met, not cut to fund illegal programs.

    To win, one must have planners who know about lead time and getting units ready in advance. Lawyers and policy makers who waive their wand and hope things turn out, but stifle discussion, will do greater damage to our national security than a single terrorist.

    * * *

    It is the job of America to ensure that our plans are not only prudent, but that they are lawful. Clearly, when we take the route of lawlessness, we embrace all that goes with it: Stifling feedback, suppressing information, and squashing those with apt reminders.

    This nation is not so "under the threat of something" that it doesn't have the time to plan. Rather, we have the opposite: We have the illusion of immediacy in order to avoid prudence, planning, and lawful action.

    If we engage in rushed planning and actions devoid of legal foundations, we are more likely to inspire those we fight, and discourage those we hope to inspire at home.

    * * *

    Able Danger has yet to be fleshed out. It may prove, as the 9-11 Commission has said, to be something that is a sideshow.

    I believe, regardless the outcome of what we find in 9-11, that we'll find more of the same: Planning that crossed the line; more excuses to distract attention; and another dog and pony show for the lawyers and policy makers to make themselves feel good, but in the end do nothing but create more non-sense for the SES and staffers to wade through.

    All you have to do is take a broader view of Able Danger, and look at what is happening: Americans have freely embraced the idea that it is "OK" to cross the line, so long as we serve a higher good.

    The problem as we saw in Ohio, is when those who embark on these crusades, cross the line find an excuse for aberrant behavior; while those we oppose play by the very rules we impose on others, not our own, and find a following for alternatives beyond the DC radar and reach: Others' hearts and souls.

    One approach moves paper, another approach moves souls. Once cannot inspire a nation to follow blindly, when one approach simply moves dirt, while a competing process creates and moves mountains.

    To really address Able Danger, we need to understand why, despite the Constitution, this nation freely embraces lawless collection of data, then fails to use what it lawfully acquires or is freely given. IT remains to be understood why so much money is spent gathering information we do not process; while at the same time, we spend larger sums of money to rebuff information that is openly available.

    * * *

    I would hope that Sibel Edmonds be given the opportunity to weigh in on this discussion. She seems to have some valuable perspective.

    I commend the writer for looking forward at the likely issues the Congress would raise and also go so far as to suggest a range of likely conclusions.

    I believe the author, given their close proximity to the Senate and a capable legal advisor is in an excellent position to have provided this insight.

    However, we diverge on the form and substance of the potential findings. I suspect that some of the issues, although raised, have yet to be fleshed out in light of the Fitzgerald Grand Jury Investigation.

    Indeed, although Fitzgerald focused on Plame, he did find management issues that appear to be similar to what happened in re 9-11 and Able Danger.

    The issue will be whether Congress, despite the narrow approaches of some investigations, takes a broader view and looks at the systemic flaws. I believe, given the author's capable showing, that the Congress will likely take the narrow view and, as we did before 9-11, kick the proverbial accountability-can down the road.

    That can has many dents in it: Iraq, WMD, Plame, and now Katrina.

    Americans see that the policy making toads in DC are simply sitting on their comfortable lily pads, oblivious to the awakening from Fitzgerald.

    The water appears calm.

    But the sharks smell blood. How's that for danger, Able?


    Original Article:

    The Washington Times
    Able Danger and total awareness
    By Daniel Gallington
    Published September 26, 2005