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!

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!

Wednesday Morning Open Thread: What Has Trump Got Against Dogs?

It would be ridiculous to suggest that this adorable puppy would be a good POTUS. On the other hand, the guy currently squatting in the Oval Office certainly isn’t fit to be there, and he’s not even soothing to look at!

In President Trump’s singular lexicon, there is no more vicious put-down than likening an adversary to a dog…

… Trump, an avowed germaphobe, has long had an aversion to dogs.

“Donald was not a dog fan,” his first wife, Ivana, writes in her memoir, “Raising Trump.” “When I told him I was bringing Chappy with me to New York, he said, ‘No.’ ”

But Ivana persisted, bringing her poodle with her when the couple moved in together.

“It’s me and Chappy or no one,” she recalls telling her husband

Chappy, it turned out, did not much care for Trump, either. Ivana writes that when Trump approached her closet, her poodle would bark at him territorially.

Trump is the first modern president not to have a dog — or any pet — in the White House…

…[P]residential historian Douglas Brinkley suggested that Trump has no pets “because he has no sense of giving and warmth and caring to any other animal but himself. Having no pet is another manifestation of his narcissism.”…

I personally suspect Trump hates dogs because (a) he suspects they’re on to him; and (b) he’s angry that the average dog gets positive attention — even from total strangers! — which Donald very badly wants to believe should be directed at him, Donald Trump. Pretty ladies would let Chappy the poodle jump in their laps, they’d pet his hair, but when Trump tried the same kind of physically affectionate greeting, well…

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…


Floriduh! Man and Gator

Back in July, I brought you the story of the Floriduh! Man who dumped an injured gator at a WaWa gas station and convenience store. Apparently this has started a slowly developing trend of Floriduh! Men, gators, and convenience stores!

Open thread!

3D Printed Guns or Dude Why are These Shards of ABS Plastic Sticking Out of My Hand and Other Parts of My Body?

There’s been some chatter in the comments over the past several days over the DOJ settling with the anarcho-libertarian who set up a company to make the blueprints for 3D printing guns and gun parts readily available and to sell his own CNC machine so that people can machine gun parts at home using the blueprints available from him. Yesterday a Federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on the release of the blueprints by Defense Distributed. The simple truth is the temporary restraining order is pointless. The CAD files are available from download at numerous other sites on the Internet. As all good browncoats know, you can’t stop the signal!

Before anyone starts to freak out because people will be able to 3D print their firearms, you can’t 3D print any form of firearm that is going to do much but blow up in your hands after a few shots. The plastics just can’t take the pressures. So you can get a shot or two plastic zip gun and maybe that’s it. Even the highest end, most advanced 3D printers that can print metal aren’t advanced enough to fabricate a decent firearm that is going to be sturdy enough. If you’re looking to print a new butt stock or the grip module for say a SIG P320 or a Beretta APX – both of which have a removable fire control unit that under Federal law is the serialized gun – then 3D printing is fine. But printing the lower receiver for an AR pattern rifle, which is the serialized part of an AR pattern rifle and therefore technically/legally the gun, is just stupid. All you’re going to do is hurt yourself because the plastic lower receiver can’t take the pressures. And you can’t print barrels out of 3D plastic filament that can handle the pressures either.

Not to rag on SIG Sauer, but SIG just released a brand new subcompact pistol, the P365. It is a similar concept to their P320, which with a couple of modifications, is the new duty side arm for the military the M17 (full size) M18 (compact). The actual firearm for both the P320 and the P365, according to the law, is the removable fire control unit (FCU), which is the serialized part. The slide is machined steel. The FCU, the return spring, the striker, the trigger springs, etc are all machined. Either directly produced or by metal injected molding (MIM). The trigger is plastic and the grip module (frame), is polymer. The magazines are metal. SIG spent significant amounts of money designing, creating a prototype, testing a prototype, etc. In the first several months of the production run they’ve been making rolling adjustments to both the production process and the design of several parts as a small number of problems have been reported. Initially it was barrel peening because of the fit between slide and barrel as it returned to lock up. Then it was a problem with the trigger spring on the FCU, as well as issues with the striker.

This is not surprising. There has not, as far as I know, been a new handgun debuted that hasn’t had production teething issues. Largely because they are mass produced items where the parts have slight variations while still technically being in spec. SIG has this problem with the new P365. They had a different issue that came to light last year with the P320. In fact Springfield Armory, which just rolled out a new variant of their pistol that is a direct competitor to the P365, has also introduced a marketing campaign that takes direct aim at the new competition without naming the competition.

Remington has had significant trigger problems with the triggers on one of their best selling shotguns. There are so many of these shotguns in circulation that it will take them decades, if not hundreds of  years, to replace all the triggers if they do nothing but replace triggers 24/7. GLOCK, known for their GLOCK Perfection advertising campaign, have had several issues as they move from generation to generation or introduce new items within a generation. And these are just ones I can think of off the top of my head. And that’s before we mention that even in a perfected, if you will, firearm, because there are always some variations in production runs of parts, even a largely reliable, trouble free firearm line will produce the occasional lemon.

If the professionals, with professional gunsmiths and hundreds of years of experience among those gunsmiths, have teething issues in their professionally manufactured and assembled firearms, all the 3D printed ones made at home are going to do is get a lot of people self perforating with ABS plastics. Unless and/or until the 3D printing technology, specifically the 3D printing technology for metal, gets a lot more advanced and a lot cheaper for personal purchase and use, all that is going to happen is that people trying to make ghost guns are going to be just as likely to blow their hands up as hit what they might be aiming at with a roll your own gun made of plastic filament. And then the lawsuits for damages will start. The 3D printing manufacturers will claim that injured people need to sue the anarcho-libertarian pushing to publish the plans. And then he’ll be in a lot of legal jeopardy.

Obligatory musical accompaniment:

Open thread!