The Wilderness of Mirrors: Open Sourcing a Counterintelligence Investigation Edition

The Wilderness of Mirrors is a reference to getting lost in both the overwhelming amount of information and disinformation, as well as the minutiae of that information and disinformation, when doing intelligence and counterintelligence work.

“Angleton is credited with coining the term “Wilderness of Mirrors ” meaning the confusion of the world of intelligence and espionage. He wrote that the “Wilderness of Mirrors “consists of the myriad stratagems, deceptions and all the other devices of disinformation that the Soviet Union and its coordinated intelligence services used to confuse and split the West, producing an ever-fluid landscape where fact and illusion merge. The term was used by David Martin as the tittle of his book about Angleton, Wilderness of Mirrors.

The open source news reporting into Russia’s ongoing active measures and cyberwarfare campaign, as well as all the secondary analyses – including that done by me here at Balloon Juice – is, essentially, the largest open sourced intelligence and counterintelligence investigation in history. And like all intelligence and counterintelligence work, those of us doing it, for whatever reasons people are doing it, are all too susceptible to getting lost in the Wilderness of Mirrors.

Yesterday I came across this item that was originally tweeted out on 24 July 2018 at what would be 9:15 PM 12:13 AM EDT on 24 July 2018  in the US:

Here’s the translation via Google translate:

Ex-CIA directors John Brennan and Michael Hayden, ex-FBI director James Komi and his deputy Andrew McCabe, ex-director of the National Intelligence Service James Clapper, ex-national security adviser Susan Rice say goodbye to access to classified materials. Welcome to the real world!

I already knew that the date on the original, uncorrected Statement from the President revoking DCI (ret) Brennan’s clearance was 26 July 2018.

And I knew that Klyushin is a 30 some odd year old millionaire and aspiring Russian oligarch who has claimed that he discussed a new project, supposedly by FaceTime or Skype (as he’s not in the photo at of the tweet I linked to – that’s Emin Agalarov, not Klyushin) with the President at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. And that he helped to get the President elected in 2016. Given that Klyushin isn’t in the picture at the first tweet and there’s no reporting I’ve been able to find that can actually verify that he played any role in Russia’s active measures and cyberwarfare campaign during the 2016 election, it is impossible to verify if he’s just a really wealthy troll or he’s decided to rub everyone’s nose in the well documented Russian interference in the 2016 election. Or, perhaps, both. But one of my first thoughts, which seems to have been the case for a number of people, is that the Russians got a heads up that the President was thinking of revoking clearances. This could’ve been directly or indirectly through Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capture of, say, one of the President’s late night phone calls with Sean Hannity.

However, this is most likely not the case!!!! Since I want to stay out of the Wilderness of Mirrors, because I don’t want to lead you all into it with me, I decided to do some checking. I know that Speaker Ryan, during the weekly GOP House leadership press conference on 24 July 2018, stated that: “I think he’s trolling people, honestly”. He being the President. The question was asked of Ryan in response to the White House’s statement on the potential revocation of clearances on Monday of that week.

Speaking at the regular press briefing, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump was considering revoking clearances for former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden, among others, over their remarks on the Russia investigation.

“The President is exploring the mechanisms because they politicize and in some cases monetize their public service,” Sanders said, explaining why Trump is looking at what power he has to revoke the clearance of a former officials.

Huckabee-Sanders’ remarks were made on the afternoon of Monday 23 July 2018 and widely covered by the news media as soon as the press conference ended. This provided both plenty of time and plenty of coverage for Kkyushin to work with before he tweeted about possible clearance revocations. Given the timing of the White House’s initial statement on 23 July 2018 and all the coverage that it got, this is most likely just trolling by an aspiring Russian oligarch. That doesn’t mean that Klyushin’s trolling itself is not a part of the ongoing Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign, but trying to conclude anything more than that would risk getting lost in the Wilderness of Mirrors.

Stay on the path!

Open thread.



The Naval Special Warfare Development Group Moves to Contact: Admiral (ret) William McRaven Calls Out the President

Admiral (ret) William McRaven, former member of SEAL Team 6, the former Commander of Joint Special Operations Command who planned and oversaw Operation Neptune Spear, and the former Commanding Admiral of US Special Operations Command, has publicly responded to the President’s revoking DCI (ret) Brennan’s and threat to revoke the clearances of DNI and Gen (ret) Clapper, former FBI Director Comey, DCI and Gen (ret) Hayden, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, APNSA and AMB (ret) Susan Rice, former FBI staff lawyer Lisa Page, former FBI Director of National Security and Supervisory Special Agent in Charge Peter Strzok, and Bruce Ohr who is still serving in a senior executive position at the DOJ. Admiral McRaven, most recently the Chancellor of the University of Texas system until his retirement last May, dared the President to revoke his clearance too. (emphasis mine)

Dear Mr. President:

Former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him.

Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

Before anyone starts in on “the generals won’t save us” in the comments, what Admiral McRaven has done here is almost unprecedented. The only general officer/flag officer with equivalent rank (4 stars) who has called the President out in these types of clear terms is GEN (ret) McCaffrey, who has done so on cable news (MSNBC) and twitter.

While a number of other general officers and flag officers have spoken out against the President in no uncertain terms, Admiral McRaven’s challenge this morning is especially important. What he, GEN McCaffrey, LTG (ret) Hertling (who went on CNN this evening and, following ADM McRaven’s lead, challenged the President to revoke his clearance as well), MG (ret) Eaton, and a number of other now retired senior leaders – civilian and military – are doing is the very definition of leadership. They are speaking truth to power, standing up for the ideals they both believe in and have spent their lives serving, and showing others that it is not only okay to publicly dissent, but that no one should give in to intimidation. Even intimidation from the current President.

What the President did yesterday in revoking DCI (ret) Brennan’s clearance, and threatening those of the other former senior leaders whose criticism has upset his most fragile of egos, is really only about eligibility for access to classified materials in the short term. Rather, the real issue here is the President’s direct violation of the 1st Amendment to punish a critic. This is the current President of the United States directing the power of the state to punish a critic – DCI (ret) Brennan –  for engaging in political speech, which is protected from governmental retaliation under the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights. This is as clear a violation of the oath of office as one could ask for.

Open thread!



John Brennan Responds

Perhaps Trump thought he would silence John Brennan, former head of the CIA, by revoking his clearance. Perhaps he just wanted to lash out and hurt him for this tweet.

Or maybe it was this one.

But whatever the provocation was, Brennan has struck back in a New York Times op-ed.

As a retired CIA employeed, Brennan would have had to submit the text for declassification. The CIA seems to have turned it around in record time.

A few notes from the op-ed. But read the whole thing. It’s short.

Before, during and after its now infamous meddling in our last presidential election, Russia practiced the art of shaping political events abroad through its well-honed active measures program, which employs an array of technical capabilities, information operations and old-fashioned human intelligence spycraft.

What Brennan couldn’t say is that the intelligence about these operations came from multiple countries’ spy agencies, including a number of European agencies that know the Russians very well.

Having worked closely with the F.B.I. over many years on counterintelligence investigations, I was well aware of Russia’s ability to work surreptitiously within the United States, cultivating relationships with individuals who wield actual or potential power. Like Mr. Bortnikov, these Russian operatives and agents are well trained in the art of deception. They troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters. Too often, those puppets are found.

I can’t help but think that this refers to Maria Butina’s infiltration of the NRA, under Alexander Torshin’s guidance. And there may be more. This tweet isn’t proof of anything beyond Torshin’s interest in a wide range of American institutions. Again, Brennan probably needed to leave out specifics.

Back to the op-ed:

Director Comey and I, along with the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, pledged that our agencies would share, as appropriate, whatever information was collected, especially considering the proven ability of Russian intelligence services to suborn United States citizens.

Having worked in a national security organization, I can’t emphasize enough how strongly the people in those organizations feel they are doing their best to protect the country. There has been a lot of criticism over the years of the less creditable motivations that some of them may carry. I recall the first time (during the Reagan administration) a DOE official told me that I was “just a contractor” and therefore less worthy of trust. That stung all the way down to the core of my being. I was working for the security of the United States. Whatever Comey’s and the others’ faults and limitations, I can absolutely see them coming together on this.

Brennan can read the papers as well as any of us can, and probably better, with the information he has and cannot divulge. That information doesn’t go away with the security clearance. He speculates here about the possible charges.

The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets. A jury is about to deliberate bank and tax fraud charges against one of those people, Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman. And the campaign’s former deputy chairman, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators.

As they say, read the whole thing.



Breaking News: The President Has Revoked DCI (ret) John Brennan’s Security Clearance

The official reason given by the Press Secretary is that the President has decided to revoke DCI (ret) Brennan’s clearance because of his erratic behavior. The Press Secretary also announced that the President is reviewing the clearances of DNI and Gen (ret) Clapper, former FBI Director Comey, DCI and Gen (ret) Hayden, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, APNSA and AMB (ret) Susan Rice, former FBI staff lawyer Lisa Page, former FBI Director of National Security and Supervisory Special Agent in Charge Peter Strzok, and Bruce Ohr who is still serving in a senior executive position at the DOJ.

DNI Coats does not appear to have been consulted.

This is all being done outside of the normal clearance review and adjudication process. Here are the actual guidelines for determining a person’s eligibility to hold a clearance (full descriptions at the link):

  1. Allegiance to the United States
  2. Foreign Influence
  3. Foreign Preference
  4. Sexual Behavior
  5. Personal Conduct
  6. Financial Considerations
  7. Alcohol Consumption
  8. Drug Involvement
  9. Psychological Conditions
  10. Criminal Conduct
  11. (mis)Handling Protected Information
  12. Outside Activities
  13. (mis)Use of Information Technology Systems

All of these are then reviewed and considered together under the whole person concept.

Brad Moss, whose law practice specializes in dealing with matters of contested security clearances and national security, wrote an article about this possibility for Lawfare about three weeks ago:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s announcement that President Trump is reviewing potential mechanisms by which to revoke the security clearances of several former senior government officials has—not surprisingly—set off a cascade of questions over if and how the president can accomplish this. The prospect became even more complicated when Sanders clarified that the president’s specific gripes with these particular former officials—former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director John Brennan, former FBI director James Comey, former CIA director Michael Hayden, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe—was not tied to instances of security violations or unauthorized dissemination of classified information by those individuals.

Instead, Sanders clarified, Trump is considering steps by which their clearances can be revoked because “they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances,” as well as “ma[de] baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the President.” In 11 years of representing civilian employees, military personnel, political appointees and government contractors in security clearance proceedings, I can say with certainty that these types of “allegations” are nothing like anything I have ever seen in a memorandum outlining bases for denying or revoking a security clearance.

But might those nevertheless be valid bases upon which to revoke someone’s clearance? Can the president pull this off? As a colleague of mine who still works for the government would say, “it depends.”

Much more at the link, including a detailed description of the three potential ways the President may take to do this and what procedural safeguards may be brought into play by DCI Brennan. Right now, this is Moss’s analysis:

It is unclear if today’s actions are even legal. Regardless, by doing this and considering doing this to eight others with clearances, the President has now fully politicized the clearance process. What remains to be seen is whether this stands. If it does, for the time being, eligibility for, awarding of, and maintaining a security clearance in the US will be a matter of political patronage rather than the established criteria that is currently used. This is going to throw the entire process of adjudication, awarding, and maintaining clearances into complete disarray. Especially if it is unclear whether this is a matter of access or eligibility – one can be eligible to access classified material without actually having authorization (the need to know) to access it.

The President, for now, has seriously damaged the system and the process because he is personally aggrieved by DCI (ret) Brennan’s, as well as the others being reviewed, protected by the 1st Amendment statements about him, his decision making, his policies, and his personal behavior and fitness to serve as President. That these men and women, as well as others who do not yet seem to be in jeopardy – including a number of retired senior military leaders (retired Army General Barry McCaffrey being the most senior and well known) – were actually speaking out is unprecedented. These senior leaders would often be expected to comment on very specific and very narrow issues pertaining to national security; specifically to provide analysis to the news media during periods of crisis. That they’ve so publicly stepped up, regardless of their own personal political and ideological views, to speak out against what they know are the excesses of the President and the members of his administration was already both unprecedented and inspiring. That the President is so petty and thin skinned as to respond this way just confirms what these senior leaders have been saying for months. The real question now is not whether these women and men continue to lead by example and speak out, but whether the damage the President has done to the system of awarding, adjudicating, and maintaining clearances has actually broken the system and is allowed to stand.

Edited to Add at 4:45 PM EDT:

The real issue here is not the breach of protocols, processes, and procedures dealing with clearances, as egregious as that breach is. Rather, the real issue here is the 1st Amendment one. This is the President of the United States directing the power of the state to punish a critic – DCI (ret) Brennan –  for engaging in political speech, which is protected from governmental retaliation under the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights. This is as clear a violation of the oath of office as one could ask for.

We are well off the looking glass and through the map.

Open thread!



Corporate Citizens, Not Sociopaths

Matt Yglesias has a long post at Vox about a bill Elizabeth Warren is introducing in the US Senate today: the Accountable Capitalism Act. We talked about it briefly in the morning thread, but it deserves its own post, IMO.

Basically, the bill seeks to overturn large corporations’ ($1B+) exclusive focus on generating shareholder value and make them accountable to other stakeholders, including workers and the communities in which they operate. From the Vox article:

Warren wants to eliminate the huge financial incentives that entice CEOs to flush cash out to shareholders rather than reinvest in businesses. She wants to curb corporations’ political activities. And for the biggest corporations, she’s proposing a dramatic step that would ensure workers and not just shareholders get a voice on big strategic decisions.

Warren hopes this will spur a return to greater corporate responsibility, and bring back some other aspects of the more egalitarian era of American capitalism post-World War II — more business investment, more meaningful career ladders for workers, more financial stability, and higher pay…

The conceit tying together Warren’s ideas is that if corporations are going to have the legal rights of persons, they should be expected to act like decent citizens who uphold their fair share of the social contract and not act like sociopaths whose sole obligation is profitability — as is currently conventional in American business thinking.

The article has a lot more details about the plan and the history behind it. Warren published an op-ed in the WSJ about the bill yesterday, but it’s behind their paywall.

Now, there are potted zinnias that are more conversant in economics than I am, but this sounds like a damn good idea to me. It has no chance of passing in the circle of hell that is the Trump administration and GOP-controlled US Congress, but maybe it has potential as an idea Democrats could get behind in the midterms and 2020.

What do y’all think?



Shonda: The Stephen Miller Story

… he wanted to join a party which wouldn’t have him because he was a Jew.

Hannah Arendt’s remarks on Leo Strauss

This morning Politico published an op-ed by Dr. David S. Glosser, Sc. D. Dr. Glosser is one of Stephen Miller’s uncles. While Dr. Glosser’s, and much of Stephen Miller’s other relations views about him are not exactly news, this is the first time that one of his relatives has directly addressed a national audience about him, his ideology, and his actions as opposed to having those views reported about. Dr. Glossar’s column explains in detail what almost every other American Jew knows very well, that if the immigration policies, laws, and regulations that Stephen Miller is such a clear advocate of were in force when their grandparents or great grandparents came to the US, they would never have been allowed in. And given that they were in force during the Holocaust, many seeking safety were unable to find it.

The Glossers’ journey is an American story. It is the story of the families being detained and separated at the southern border right now. No one takes their children, whatever possessions they can carry, and sets out either overland or at sea unless they are desperate. Desperate to escape state directed or tolerated political violence, drug cartel violence, the violence that arises from the sex trade, and the poverty and imisseration that contributes to it and results from it. Dr. Glossar tells the story of just one of his patients – a young man who was able to flee the mental torture of being turned into a child soldier and the physical torture that arose from suspected religious deviancy to eventually make his way to safety in the US. Dr. Glossar’s patient’s story is a testament to what America is supposed to be – the safe haven for those who seek it and wish to contribute to it. When men and women like Dr. Glossar’s patient, as well as his great grandfather – and many of our great grandparents regardless of our ethnicity or religion – undertook their long, dangerous journeys to the US they knew that at the end of that journey, if they were lucky enough to make it safely to their destination, was safety. This is the ideal that is America. This is its promise. Not the cramped, small minded, bigoted, hateful belief that the wealthiest and most powerful nation-state to ever exist is somehow on the verge of collapse because desperate men and women are carrying their children with them from danger through danger in the hope that they can reach safety.

Stephen Miller is the wickedest of sons. His prejudices and petty grievances betray not a world changing intellect, but the small minded fear of the petulant child who once slighted can never give up his grudge. Miller, and the President he so gleefully serves, like Gen. (ret) Kelly, and most every other American, is only an American because of lax immigration laws at the time their forebears came to the US and family based migration (what the President calls chain migration). It is not that they are hypocrites, they most certainly are, or would be if they had any sense of shame. Rather they are small, fearful, timid men play acting as fierce warriors on behalf of a socially constructed ideal: whiteness. And in the case of Stephen Miller, because he is Jewish, he is only white on sufferance and that privilege can be revoked by the very extremists and white supremacists that Miller has been playing footsie with since he was trying to survive the mean sidewalks and quadrangle of Santa Monica High School.

Open thread!



Space Force: Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution Edition

(Because most of our readers don’t speak Japanese*!)

I just want to quickly follow up on BettyC’s earlier post about the Vice President’s speech at the Pentagon today. Other than making some nice powerpoint slides and writing staff estimates that include projected budgetary costs, there is nothing the Department of Defense can actually do to fulfill the President’s request to create a Space Force. Article 8, Section 1 of the Constitution states:

The Congress shall have Power To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The Department of Defense cannot, just as the President cannot, will a new military Service into existence. In order for a Space Force to be created, Congress will have to pass the legislation to make it happen, just as Congress did way back in 1789, after a lot of prodding by President Washington (who is an example of somebody who’s done an excellent job and is being recognized more and more), to formally create the US Army. As such, the Department of Defense is taking this as seriously as all the other good ideas that people pitch to it. They’re being polite and making sure that they appear to be doing everything they are legally allowed to do in response to what they’re being asked to do.

Basically ordering people to show up to the Vice President’s speech and not laugh out loud.

And should a Space Force be required, well my tribe’s got us covered!

Lot of wasted space in those ship designs…

Open thread!

* Original Japanese version for the purists! ETA: From the remake.

Update at 3:51 PM EDT:

Thanks to SSDD in the comments, we’ve got a clip of the original title sequence in Japanese. Also, why is the “Chef de Project” named MILFY?

Finally, on a more historical note, back in 2015 a team financed by Paul Allen of Microsoft fame found the Yamato’s sister ship the IJN Musashi. So, technically, this premise is workable…