The President’s Operational Security Failure

I want to just follow on to Cheryl’s post about the President’s operational security failure on Twitter earlier today. What the President did today, despite his standing outside the White House and saying to a reporter that he had a right to tweet out the imagery, was not declassification of the geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) imagery that he tweeted out. If that had been the case, then the original classification markers would be visible, they’d be struck through, and there would be a time and date stamp along with standardized language that the imagery had been declassified as of X time today. Instead, as you can see in the image in Cheryl’s post, there is a black rectangle in the upper left hand corner, which is most likely covering the classification code. In this case that is most likely TS/SCI/NOFORN – Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information/No Foreign Distribution. Though it could just as easily be UNCLASS/FOUO  – Unclassified/For Official Use Only. We know some of the provenance of the GEOINT the President tweeted, because everyone in the Intel Community began scrambling to cover their tuchases, which the President had exposed and hung way out the window for everyone to see. The President received the imagery during a briefing earlier today.

What Cheryl described is clearly what happened here. The President had someone on his staff, most likely his caddie Dan Scavino, who is currently serving as the Assistant to the President-Director of White House Social Media Communications and tweets as/for the President, bring an unsecure smart phone into a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) and take a picture of this classified information so he could tweet it out. Whomever took the picture, either at the President’s direction or their own initiative because they realized what they were doing was sketchy, placed a black bar over the classification markings, then loaded the image up so it could be tweeted out. Bringing an unsecure phone into a SCIF and taking pictures of anything in the SCIF is the type of thing that gets one suspended, one’s clearance stripped, and one prosecuted for stealing classified information.

As I stated above, this is not actually declassification. Here’s Brad Moss, whose law practice focuses on national security, clearance, and classification issues:

So what we have here is data spillage (emphasis mine):

Data spillage is the transfer of classified or sensitive information to unaccredited or unauthorized systems, individuals, applications, or media. A spillage can be from a higher level classification to a lower one. The data itself may be residual (hidden) data or metadata. Spillage may result from improper handling of compartments, releasability controls, privacy data, or proprietary information.The trend towards increased information sharing has weakened access controls, giving users without a need-to-know access to large volumes of sensitive or classified data. Malware that propagates via removable media has increased the risk of large data transfers outside the network. The risk of data spillage is a problem largely because of inadequate end user security awareness, unmanageable networks, and poorly implemented data policies.

The bigger issue is that anyone who has a clearance (hello!) and encounters this information (hello!) is, unlike the President, potentially liable for accessing compartmented information that they do not have a need to know. Unlike the President, no one else in the US has an Office of Legal Council memo from 1973 that places them above the law.

If you’re wondering how this could be the case, how someone with a clearance who was just scrolling through Twitter, reading Balloon Juice, or watching the news when this comes up can get in trouble, but the President can just put classified information out there, claim he has the right to do it, even if it hasn’t been formerly and properly declassified, and he faces no jeopardy and the rest of us with clearances do, it is because THE RULES WERE NOT CONCEIVED OF AND WRITTEN WITH THE CURRENT PRESIDENT IN MIND!!!!! NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM!!!! The assumption was, based on historic performance of previous presidents, that NO FUTURE PRESIDENT WOULD BE THIS STUPID AND CARELESS!!!!

As Cheryl indicated, what the President tweeted out was the good stuff. No one is supposed to know we have that good of resolution wherever and whenever we want. And because the Iranians and others – friends and foes alike – know when the test failed, combined with the shadows and other static imagery in the GEOINT, they’ll be able to work out where we were looking from.

This is not just a major Operational Security (OPSEC) failure by the President, it is also a major counterintelligence (CI) breach by the President.

As we have been since November of 2016, we are off the looking glass and through the map!

Open Thread!

* Just a quick note, because I was actually getting caught up on the news shortly after the President tweeted this out, I saw it. I then sent an email to my company’s security officer to inform him that I’d seen data spillage, that it was inadvertent, and provided the context. This was done to cover myself.

Annals of the Horrible

Thought I’d share some (late) lunch joy by cleaning out a couple of browser tabs I’ve been meaning to share with the Jackaltariat.

First up in the catalogue of awful…

Nothing says more about a society than how it treats its most vulnerable.  Which is why this, from Pennsylvania coal country last month, says all you need to know about a certain kind of Republican* values:

Wyoming Valley West School District, one of the poorest districts in the state as measured by per-pupil spending, is located in a former coal mining community in Northeastern Pennsylvania, known affectionately by locals as “The Valley.”

When officials there noticed that families owed the district around $22,000 in breakfast and lunch debt…

…school council president Joseph Mazur thought that this would be a good next move:

…the now-infamous letter to about 40 families deemed to be the worst offenders in having overdue cafeteria bills — those were children with meal debt of $10 or more.

“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” said the letter signed by Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District. “This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.”

That this was about performative cruelty, and not fiscal prudence can be shown with two facts. The $22,ooo in arrears comes to about 1/4 of one percent of the district budget; you gotta know that if this was about keeping the school doors open, proposing a (surely) expensive round of child theft would not be the first move the financial folks would make.

Just to drive the point home, the guy behind the move, school council president Mazur went on to refuse an offer from a guy in Philadelphia who wanted to pay off the whole debt.  Mazur was eventually forced to reverse course.

Next up, an even more grotesque example of cruelty for cruelty’s sake from July.  I believe some commenters pointed out this incident, and I’ve been meaning to vent rage about it ever since, but here it is:

At a Border Patrol holding facility in El Paso, Texas, an agent told a Honduran family that one parent would be sent to Mexico while the other parent and their three children could stay in the United States, according to the family. The agent turned to the couple’s youngest daughter — 3-year-old Sofia, whom they call Sofi — and asked her to make a choice.

“The agent asked her who she wanted to go with, mom or dad,” her mother, Tania, told NPR through an interpreter. “And the girl, because she is more attached to me, she said mom. But when they started to take [my husband] away, the girl started to cry. The officer said, ‘You said [you want to go] with mom.’ “


I rate that child abuse, and those who did the crime should be in prison, as far as I am concerned. Een if the family separation followed the letter of the law, putting the kid in that position was gratuitous immiseration, and will deliver lasting trauma, doled out, it seems, for the agent’s amusement.


There is a word to describe such behavior and such people:  evil.  This was evil.  I say this as one with more memory of than current participation in organized religion, but it seems to me that those who welcome evil into our republic commit a grievous sin.


Happy lunch!  Open thread.

*Luzerne County, in which the relevant school district operates, went 58-39% for Trump in 2016.


Image: Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Massacre of the Innocentsc. 1565-7

Catholic Day of Action

As Donald Trump and his administration trek further into the moral abyss, expect more demonstrations. Participate, even.

The media are ignoring demonstrations – there was some local coverage of last Friday’s Lights for Liberty, but I don’t recall seeing anything national.

On Tuesday afternoon, a thousand protesters, led by Never Again Action, a Jewish group, blocked the entrances to ICE headquarters for several hours. That got some national coverage.

Today, Catholic groups are protesting immigration policy at the Capitol. I’ve seen nothing about this so far from news organizations, so here’s a particularly good Twitter thread. Also, the hashtag #CatholicDayofAction.


Live – House Vote On Trump’s Racist Comments

Apparently one is not allowed to use the word “racist” on the House floor for reasons of decorum. And yes, I know it’s Fox. It’s the only easily embeddable feed I found.

Update: TaMara supplied a Washington Post feed. Many thanks!

Reminder – Vigils Tonight!

Lights for Liberty vigils tonight everywhere! Click here to find one near you.

If you take photos, you can send them to me and I’ll make posts over the weekend. If you have photos, contact me through the “Quick Links” at the top right, and I’ll send you my email address.

Open thread