Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Symptoms of a Much Bigger Problem

Here are some stories.

Kajakai Dam supplies power to southern Afghanistan, but unfortunately, only one turbine is currently working. A major joint British and American operation delivered a new turbine to the dam last year, but according to Michael Yon, all that money and effort may be wasted. Without the dam's powerplant coming fully online before 2014, aid money that was contingent on the dam providing needed power for Helmand Province will not materialize.

Then, there is the US Intel Community using open (public) sources for information. They've always used such sources, but now they are shooting themselves in the foot because of analysts giving themselves away on the Internet.

There are perils to the process. One source here said that analysts who engage in searches without masking their origin can lead to foreign governments or companies cutting off access to web sites or to people involved. The problem? Some analysts at NSA, CIA and other alphabet soup agencies forget to mask their IP addresses and the times at which they are searching. Chinese, Russian and other savvy operators can check time stamps, for example. If a search occurs during American working hours, it’s a pretty good bet that it’s an American source looking for the information.

Haven't these people heard of open proxies? If Russian cybercriminals can buy and use a colocation facility in the U.S., how difficult would it be for our Intel Community to buy or create open proxies in neutral or foreign countries for their analysts to use, and then train them to use them. There may be technical reasons why this is difficult, such as the use of a mandatory proxy server at work, but that's why the Three Initial Agencies have big black budgets. There are workarounds for these sorts of issues. But, that doesn't let them off the hook for letting their analysts get sloppy doing their research and compromising their intelligence gathering.

This last blog post by Tom Ricks is from a Canadian Military Intelligence officer who recently came back from Afghanistan. His report is illuminating and would be hilarious, verging on hysterically funny, if it wasn't symptomatic of the underlying problems NATO faces training the indigenous forces in Afghanistan.

Afghan National Army military intelligence officers brought an interesting perspective to signals interception: "rather than passively listening [to enemy radio traffic], the ANA had a tendency to get into arguments with insurgents."

Yet, when someone believed in us and did their job, we abandoned them to the Taliban.

In one remote village, strong Afghan commanders worked hard to deny the area to the Taliban, and also gained a remarkable amount of intelligence. But then the outpost "was closed just after the end of our tour due to its sustainment difficulties, in all likelihood dooming many of the locals who had collaborated with us there." This is the opposite of protecting the population -- it is endangering them.

These issues shouldn't have happened. They are all easily preventable. That they have been allowed to happen and continue unchecked shows a lack of attention to details that matter. All of these issues are symptoms of a much deeper and worrisome problem. With Afghanistan, they indicate that we will fail because we are not carrying through on our strategies and objectives. If we don't care about the Afghans and their country, then what are we doing there wasting Afghan, American, and others' lives, money, and resources? In the case of intelligence analysts being allowed to compromise their own online research, it implies that the American Intelligence Community isn't nearly as smart as it thinks it is. I hope the Chinese and Russians aren't laughing too hard while they collect reams of intelligence (and money) from our own military and civilian networks while denying us the same.


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