If you haven’t yet seen it, please read this Storify account, by Kelsey Atherton, of how veterans of real combat—in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere—view today’s wildly over-militarized American police. For instance: A reader on the East Coast responds to my post last night, which said that perhaps the scenes of stormtroopers among us would startle the public into realizing how far this security-state trend had gone. This reader, SC, suggests a contrasting visual cue: Maybe you’re right to conjecture that police-state images might horrify the country into restoring good sense about cops in combat gear, riding in tanks on streets. Here’s a thought about that. It’s not new, but it might be worth mentioning. I’ve pasted in an image [shown at the top of this post] that may fit slantwise with your insight. It’s not what you meant, but it conveys the message in a country that still likes seeing if calm wisdom and brains can head off any need for ostentatious official bellicosity. From the old and much-loved Andy Griffith show, it’s Sheriff Andy Taylor, who spurns sidearms in police work, and whose face expresses all that needs to be said about Deputy Barney Fife’s comically enthusiastic wanna-be militarism. I love it that Sheriff Taylor always allowed Deputy Fife to carry only one bullet, and required him to keep it in his pocket. Maybe you’ll want to keep this photo in yours, in case it’s needed (and assuming it’s not already there). It’s unrealistic, of course, to try too hard to map this half-century-old sitcom onto present problems. But it’s also unwise not to recall what Sheriff Taylor stood for, and not to recognize the extent of the country’s respect for it. Agreed. On that same theme, here is a clip from an Andy Griffith episode 50 years ago, in 1964, in which Barney Fife has a different helmet but the same enthusiasm for dress-up military gear. That gentle, dismissive, pretense-puncturing humor—something I associated with Andy Griffith in my childhood and that my parents did with Will Rogers in theirs—doesn’t have an exact current counterpart. Or not one I can think of just now. (Stephen Colbert is closer than Jon Stewart; in his earliest, funny-rather-than-angry days, Rush Limbaugh could sound this way.) Among politicians, Ronald Reagan was actually good at it — "There you go again!" — as was John Kennedy in some of his press conferences. It’s an effect Barack Obama strains for and sometimes achieves, for instance when poking fun at the latest Birther-style claim. We would like to think that such level-headed, amused BS-detection is part of our national cast of mind. A Yank at Oxford! The Duke and the King in Huckleberry Finn! The Tweet shown above, by @BFriedmanDC, may offer a glimmer of hope for its reappearance. It is the kind of comment Sheriff Andy Taylor might have made if he had seen legions of Barney Fifes dressed up for war.
The newly disclosed information could not have come from Edward J. Snowden because it refers to events after he finishing downloading documents and left the United States in the spring of 2013.
The Pentagon has shipped hundreds of thousands of small arms to Afghanistan over the past decade for that country’s Army, while creating an elaborate system to track their whereabouts, in hopes of keeping them out of the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, the system failed, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, and for reasons that could easily have been foreseen.
The bookkeeping has been so slipshod that it’s not possible to say how many weapons are missing. At one place the auditors looked, the Afghan National Army Central Supply Depot in Kabul, the auditors looked at records for 4,388 small arms. But only 3,837 of those arms — a subset of the total there — could be located, representing an error rate of 12 percent.
It turns out there are three databases meant to track the small arms, which include rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers and shotguns. One is a Defense Department listing of all those shipped from the United States. The second is a Defense Department listing of all those received in Afghanistan. They rely heavily on the serial numbers of the arms.
But these numbers must be entered manually, and the two databases — one showing shipments and one showing receipts — are inexplicably not linked together. The results are not pretty: Of the 474,823 serial numbers recorded in the second database, for example, 203,888 had missing information or were duplicates, according to the report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko.
More than 20,000 serial numbers in each of the DOD databases were repeated two or three times, the report said.
The third means of accounting is a database kept by the Afghan National Security Force, which relies on what Sopko’s report called “a commercial, off-the-shelf inventory software system” that was “not designed to account for weapons.” It does not record the serial numbers of the guns at all, and relies on hand-written records and occasional Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
The report said that because of the unsatisfactory data, there is “real potential” for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents.
The inspector general report recommended that DOD reconcile its two databases and correct all data errors within six months. It also recommended that the Pentagon work with Afghan forces to complete a full inventory of small arms, and determine how to recover or destroy excess weapons.
In response to the first recommendation, Michael Dumont, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, said his department is now merging the two databases into a single system to track these weapons — 13 years after the U.S. intervention there began. He said it would be completed within six months, as most U.S. forces move towards the door. They also said that while they cannot compel the Afghan government to conduct a more comprehensive inventory, they will request one.
In response to the second recommendation, he said without explanation that a one-time inventory wouldn’t solve the inventory problems. But small arms transfers might be dependent on full inventory checks in the future, he said.
The inspector general called these ideas “positive steps toward better weapons accountability.”
James E. Doyle’s ordeal with Washington began one morning in early February last year, when his supervisor stopped by his desk at Los Alamos National Laboratory and told him that senior managers wanted copies of all his publications.
The 55-year-old political scientist asked the reason for the request, and he eventually was told that someone at the House Armed Services Committee wanted to see the publications. But Doyle said the supervisor refused to tell him who it was or why.
Later that day at the lab’s New Mexico campus, he said, two members of a Security Inquiries Team abruptly arrived with a special, silver-colored briefcase for secure documents, and pulled out an article he published a few days earlier on the website of a London nonprofit group.
They claimed that the article, an impassioned critique of the political theories undergirding the nuclear arms race and a defense of President Obama’s embrace of a nuclear weapons-free future, contained classified information.
The assertion astonished Doyle, since the laboratory’s security authorities had already reviewed the article and declared it unclassified. But it was the start of an unusual episode in which Doyle first had his pay docked and his security clearance withdrawn, and then eventually was fired.
He got that final news on July 8, a day after the Center for Public Integrity asked the Energy department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the nation’s nuclear labs, about the dispute over his article. “I was shocked,” he said, shortly afterward. “I am still shocked.”
Experts say Doyle’s treatment raises questions about the commitment of the nuclear weapons labs — which face increased competition for resources amid declining military interest in their key product — to intellectual independence in their workforce. Top lab and Energy Department officials have responded to the flap by urging that all writing by their employees on topics related to their work be subjected to pre-publication review, even when written on their own time.
Doyle, officially a contractor, said he was told that he was being let go as part of a wide program of layoffs at the New Mexico lab. But he says he believes the sudden firing was instead part of a Washington-inspired campaign of retribution for his refusal to stay on message and support the lab’s central mission, namely its continued development and production of nuclear arms at a cost of almost $2 billion per year there.
“Classification has been used against me for the purposes of censorship of the article and retaliation against me for writing the article,” said Doyle, who is now looking for work with two children in college and another headed there.
Los Alamos officials did not respond to several requests for an interview with an official who could discuss the case. Derrick Robinson, a spokesman for the Energy agency’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees Los Alamos, said in an email that officials were aware of the case, but would not comment until the deadline for Doyle’s appeal of his treatment to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz expires Thursday, July 24.
Doyle’s treatment has nonetheless already attracted criticism from former Obama appointees and from his editor at Survival, a journal affiliated with the International Institute for Strategic Studies where the article appeared in February 2013.
“It sure looks like he’s being fired for supporting the President’s policy,” said Jon Wolfsthal, a special adviser on nuclear matters to Vice President Joseph Biden from 2009 to 2012 who said he knows Doyle.
“Nobody would go after this article on classification grounds unless they were pursuing a political agenda, and it is amazing to attack someone politically for writing an article in support of a policy of the president of the United States,” said Matthew Bunn, a former White House official under President Clinton and now a nonproliferation expert at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
“The classification system, of course, is not supposed to be used for political purposes,” Bunn said. “It is only to prohibit the release of information if it would damage the security of the U.S. And there’s nothing in this article that could in any way damage the security of the United States.”
Calling nuclear deterrence an outmoded myth
Although Doyle has left Los Alamos, he said in a telephone interview that he cannot discuss the published article that started it all — not even its name or the title of the publication it appears in. Doing so might violate the Laboratory’s nondisclosure agreement pertaining to information it deems classified.
An Energy department Office of Hearings and Appeals decision last month, which dismissed a whistleblower claim Doyle filed over his treatment, also did not name Doyle’s article, in keeping with lab classification rules.
But the Hearings report said it was published in “an international journal” in early February. Doyle’s 8,644-word article, entitled “Why Eliminate Nuclear Weapons,” is the only article Doyle published in an international journal at that time. Its subtitle asserted that “the world must reject the myths and expose the risks of the ideology of nuclear deterrence if it is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century” — foreshadowing its detailed critique of the nuclear policies supporting most of Los Alamos’ work over the past 71 years.
Doyle, who holds a doctorate in international studies from the University of Virginia, has been at Los Alamos for the past 17 years. Before he joined the lab, he said, he wrote the Department of Energy’s strategic plan for keeping weapons-grade uranium and plutonium stored at hundreds of sites scattered across the former Soviet Union from falling into the wrong hands in the late 1990s. He referred to this risky state of affairs as “the babushka-with-uranium-in-the-chicken-shed” problem.
As a nuclear safeguards and security specialist in the lab’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Division, which has 250 employees and an annual budget of about $185 million, Doyle has studied ways to verify reductions in United States and Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles beyond the current levels He also edited a textbook, Nuclear Safeguards, Security and Nonproliferation: Achieving Security with Technology and Policy, which, he said, is used in three dozen universities in the U.S. and abroad.
To perform his analytical work, Doyle long held a “Q” clearance giving him access to sensitive nuclear weapons-related information, as well as a separate clearance to review secure, compartmented information on foreign nuclear programs. He was trained to classify documents and, he says, for a time wrote the weekly intelligence briefings for the Los Alamos lab director.
Doyle said he worked for more than a year, in his spare time, on the article at the center of the controversy. Since it was not prepared at work, lab rules didn’t require him to submit it for pre-publication classification review, according to a Sept. 26, 2013, internal Los Alamos review of the episode, obtained by the Center. But he did so anyway, “in the spirit of following best practice,” the review said.
He expected it would provoke a reaction, partly because of a flap that erupted in 2010, when he wrote an article for Defense News proposing that Congress set aside $75 million to $100 million annually for research into new technologies to implement the Obama administration’s ambitious arms reductions goals.
Doyle said Tammy Taylor, a former White House official and then the leader of Doyle’s division at the lab, told him at the time that he should not suggest how federal policies should be implemented and that in the future, under a new policy, articles would be reviewed for “message and political content” as well as classification.
Doyle said he objected that this would violate academic freedom. But he said Taylor, who is now a manager at the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, didn’t agree. Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.
So this time, Doyle sent a draft of his new article on the flaws in nuclear deterrence in late 2011 or 2012 to Bryan Fearey, director of the Los Alamos National Security Office. Fearey told him he needed to balance his anti-nuclear views with pro-nuclear arguments, Doyle recalls.
Fearey’s clear message, Doyle recalled, was that otherwise it would hurt the laboratory. But Doyle said Fearey never raised any concerns about classification. Contacted by telephone, Fearey declined to answer questions about the meeting.
Richard Wallace, who was Doyle’s supervisor at the time in the Nonproliferation Division and is now retired, suggested that Doyle’s views had long made him a bit of a fish out of water at the lab. “He was extremely knowledgeable; he was well respected in his field,” Wallace said. But it had been hard in recent years to find funding for “the expertise he had. The lab isn’t known for looking at political issues related to nonproliferation and disarmament.”
Still, Wallace said that no one at the meeting involving Fearey, which he also attended, raised classification concerns. “They didn’t necessarily agree with the logic that he used and the conclusion he came up with,” Wallace said, but “they wouldn’t ask the laboratory to stop publication.”
Wallace said his impression was that more senior officials wanted to talk to Doyle to get him to “re-evaluate” his approach. Doyle said he asked Fearey to send him suggested changes, but Fearey never did.
Another laboratory employee familiar with the controversy, who spoke without approval and so asked not to be named, said that Doyle’s views upset management, but not the scientists and others who worked with him and who expect the labs to respect academic traditions of open inquiry.
“It’s a well-argued opinion piece by a subject matter expert,” the employee said. “A scientist can respect that. Los Alamos National Labs should not be political.”
Doyle argued in the piece that nuclear deterrence was a “myth” and that declassified documents showed that the world avoided several nuclear catastrophes during the Cold War only by sheer “luck.” He said that “a growing number of strategists and technical and political elites regard nuclear weapons and deterrence theory as anachronistic,” since even limited nuclear exchanges would have damaging consequences elsewhere in the world.
He wrote that nuclear weapons don’t build confidence in crises but raise the price of miscalculation. There is, he added, little evidence that building nuclear weapons keep one’s enemies at bay, noting that Egypt, Iraq, and Syria have attacked Israel at various times, Argentina attacked Britain, and Al Qaeda attacked Pakistan, Britain, the United States, and Israel.
“Eliminating nuclear weapons is profoundly in the [U.S.] national-security interest,” Doyle concluded. Though it hardly appears to have been necessary, a note appended to the printed article said its views “are the author’s own and do not represent those of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.”
Dana Allin, the editor of Survival, said in an interview he had heard that there was a reaction to Doyle’s article at Los Alamos but not that any disciplinary measures were taken. “This was a think piece,” Allin said. “This was driven by a keen understanding of concerns about nuclear deterrence. It’s the kind of thing we publish all the time.”
He added: “The idea that this is revealing secrets is ridiculous.”
Doyle’s references to Israel’s nuclear arsenal could not possibly be considered secret, said Nate Jones, who deals with nuclear-related, declassified documents at the nonprofit National Security Archive, affiliated with George Washington University. “We have a bunch of postings on our site [referring to Israel’s bombs] that were declassified officially through regular channels,” he said.
Jones said that as far as he can tell, the article did not betray any secrets.
Demanding the surrender of a home computer
After his “international journal” article was published online Feb. 1, 2013, Doyle’s life at Los Alamos took on a surreal quality, according to his recollection.
First came the mysterious demand Wednesday, Feb. 6, for his published works.
Did the office really want all of the scores of publications? he asked officials. Doyle had published more than 100 articles in a variety of journals, magazines and websites since joining the lab in 1997. Yes, he said he was told, they wanted everything. His superiors would not tell him why, emails obtained by the Center show.
Scott Gibbs — the associate director at Los Alamos for threat identification and response at the time and Doyle’s superior — provided some answers in a telephone interview this week. He said he swiftly heard complaints about Doyle’s article from a scientist with the lab’s Weapons Program Directorate, which makes the products the article savaged.
It was a sensitive moment for an anti-nuclear message to emerge from within the lab. During this period, Los Alamos officials and their Republican supporters on the House Armed Services committee were trying to find the funds for a new $6.5 billion factory at Los Alamos for plutonium “pits,” the baseball-sized spheres that form the core of most nuclear weapons.
Although the Obama administration had sought to defer the project’s start, Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, who in 2012 chaired a strategic forces subcommittee, sponsored a successful amendment that year requiring construction of the factory by 2024 and authorizing $160 million to keep design work going. Obama signed the bill on Jan. 2, 2013, that included Turner’s amendment, but it still lacked support from appropriators.
Gibbs said he personally did not agree with the views expressed in Doyle’s disputed article because he believes in the mission of the weapons lab. “One of the reasons Los Alamos exists, one of the reasons I spent my career there, is to ensure that the things that we are able to do in this country, no one else is able to do, can be done,” he said.
But Gibbs said in the interview that the complaint he heard from the weapons directorate, after its publication, was that it might contain classified information. He declined to specify which details had aroused this concern. But he said he immediately alerted the lab’s Security Inquiries Team and called the classification office. Officials there told him the article had been cleared before its publication.
The episode did not end there, however, because Gibbs also got a call in the first days after the article’s publication from the lab’s top government relations office in Washington, Patrick Woehrle, a former congressional staffer who had worked closely with the Energy Department and whose job it now is to ensure smooth relations between the lab and the lawmakers and staff who fund its work.
Gibbs, who retired in May after 28 years at the lab, said Woehrle told him someone — Gibbs said he didn’t know who — on the House Armed Services Committee staff had also raised concerns that the article might contain classified information. He said the staffer to his knowledge had not complained about its content or point of view.
“We’re looking at it, and we’re on top of it,” Gibbs recalls telling Woehrle. He added that “it’s not unusual for them to call and ask the lab questions if they see something they question,” referring to the committee staff. Woehrle did not respond to requests for comment.
On Feb. 7, 2013, according to the internal lab report and Energy Department documents, the lab’s chief classification officer Daniel Gerth summoned Doyle to a meeting in his office. There, three “derivative” classifiers — people who have been trained to review documents for classified material — told Gerth that they found no secret information in the article.
But Gerth overruled them all and declared that the document —published a week earlier on a website that reaches thousands of people a month, according to Survival editors — was classified. Reached by phone, Gerth declined to discuss the meeting or his rationale but said that he had the final word on classifying the article. “I’m the only classification officer at the lab,” he said.
Gerth and other lab officials made no effort to have the published article withdrawn from circulation, according to Survival’s editor. But for Doyle, events took an even stranger turn. After a computer expert on the security team learned Doyle had transferred drafts of the article, retroactively deemed classified, between his work computer and his home computer, lab officials ordered him to bring his home computer to the office so all traces of it could be expunged.
Doyle promptly refused, and the internal lab report described him as “initially combative and uncooperative,” though he later was fully cooperative.
Doyle admitted he was upset, but denied losing his temper. “This doesn’t feel good to me and I’m not doing it,” he recalls telling them. But he relented, he said, because officials told him that for every day he refused to surrender his home computer, he would lose a day’s pay.
He said he then watched as a security expert spent 20 minutes searching his computer, which held one of his children’s college applications and his personal banking and insurance information, purging drafts of the article. He said he later discovered that they had missed one of the copies.
As a result of his initial resistance, the lab also suspended his Q clearance for one month. And it suspended all his work-related travel.
Later in February, Doyle said, they also “withdrew” — but did not revoke — his access to Sensitive Compartmented Information on foreign nuclear programs.
Gibbs said the decision was part of what he called a “routine” review of such clearances. “If you’re not working on a project in which you need clearance, you don’t get it,” he said. “You get it back later if you’re working on a project that requires it.”
Mark Zaid, Doyle’s Washington-based lawyer, said that if the clearance had been revoked, Doyle could have appealed. But instead the lab said it would no longer sponsor Doyle’s clearance. “That’s not uncommon,” Zaid said. “That is a retaliatory tool that agencies can use without affording employees, or contract employees, any type of due process because there’s no challenge that can be made to that. It’s not viewed as a retaliatory action. That can be incredibly significant to their career.”
Doyle, deeply shaken by the lab’s handling of the incident, was unwilling to let the episode drop. He emailed the laboratory’s chief representative in Washington, asking who at the Armed Services committee had contacted him. Woehrle responded in an email: “Please run this request up through your management chain.”
Doyle also pressed Gibbs for the name of the person at HASC who raised questions about his article. “We will not release information about the individuals from HASC who provided feedback about your article, nor will we go into the specifics of that feedback,” Gibbs wrote in an email. “We consider those communications to be in confidence. You are free of course to contact any member of the HASC or their staffs as a private citizen.” But he warned Doyle that he couldn’t use his Los Alamos email to do so.
A knowledgeable congressional source said the complaint about the Survival article did not come from the Democratic side of the House committee. Claude Chafin, a spokesman for the Republican staff, said “we have a constant back and forth with the agencies we deal with on a variety of topics.” But he said “I’m not going to comment on conversations this committee has with anyone we routinely engage with.”
“I’m not confirming or denying that any complaint was ever forwarded [to Los Alamos],” Chafin said. “If DOE has taken some kind of action against one of their employees, ask them about it. I think this is silly.”
Confusion and ambiguity but no relief
Before being fired, Doyle lodged several complaints about his treatment with ethics officers at the lab and the Energy Department, without any success.
In Sept. 2013, David Clark, program director of the lab’s National Security Education Center, wrote in a 5-page report for its research integrity office that did not mention Doyle by name — but clearly addressed his case — that he had examined whether the lab had used classification policy “to suppress his views on nuclear weapons policy” and later retaliated for his protests by withdrawing his security clearances.
In his report, Clark concluded the employee in question had followed the rules and acted “in good faith.” He also wrote that the lab’s policies regarding privately-conducted work were unclear and that enforcement of classification guidelines was marked by poor training and the absence of consensus. For Los Alamos employees, Clark wrote, “this is an unacceptable situation.”
But Clark also concluded that those who felt the article in question contained classified information “were all acting in good faith” and so he found “no evidence of infringement of intellectual freedom.” His opinion did not detail why he reached this conclusion, but recommended that in the future the laboratory make clearer to its employees that anything they write as private citizens must be submitted for classification review if it relates to their lab work.
The director of DOE’s Classification Office in Washington, Andrew Weston-Dawkes, also turned Doyle’s appeal aside, ruling instead that Gerth had reasonably decided the Survival article was classified. Weston-Dawkes, who has been in the office for the past 20 years, further warned that anytime a lab employee is identified as such in any publication — even a privately-written one — “it is inferred to express the knowledge gained as a cleared Government employee” and thus needs review.
Doyle’s complaint was also reviewed by the State Department’s classification office, which affirmed that the Survival article contained classified information pertaining to national security. (The department has no jurisdiction over atomic energy secrets.)
A State Department spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about the reason for that decision. But Gibbs, in the interview, noted that the material at issue was the subject of a “long-standing disagreement” within the government over whether it should be considered classified.
“I certainly don’t see any classified or even sensitive information in this article,” said Steve Fetter, a nuclear physicist and associate provost at the University of Maryland who served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during President Obama’s first term. “I can only imagine that Doyle is being punished for the policy views that he espouses.”
Doyle also filed a complaint with a whistleblower protection office at the National Nuclear Security Administration, which funds and oversees the labs, claiming that the lab had broken the law by retaliating against him for protesting the article’s retroactive classification.
His complaint was summarily dismissed by NNSA, and when he appealed to the Energy Department’s Hearings and Appeal Office, director Poli A. Marmolejos ruled in June this year that Doyle’s case didn’t meet the agency’s standard for whistleblowers.
To qualify for special protection, Marmolejos wrote, Doyle would have to have disclosed “substantial” law-breaking by the lab. “In our view, a debatable assertion that an official misapplied classification guidance does not rise to the level of disclosing a ‘substantial violation’ of a law, rule or regulation,” Marmolejos wrote.
Doyle’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, said that the decision was an example of how the executive branch agencies don’t take the manipulation of classification rules as seriously as they should. “Misclassifying information… is clearly a violation of a rule, law or regulation to me. It goes to the heart of our system,” Zaid said. Marmolejos referred requests for comment to the public affairs office.
Clark’s report, however, makes clear that both Los Alamos and the Energy Department have had difficulties following classification guidelines. He said that the lab had declared another article was unclassified that DOE said was classified, after its publication. “The subject area in question is subjective and ambiguous,” he wrote.
Doyle said he is not certain where he will end up, though he plans to continue to work on nonproliferation and disarmament issues. “I pursued a career in national security with the motivation of improving the national security policy of my country,” he said. “And there’s nothing conflicting in advocating the elimination of nuclear weapons and maintaining the security of the United States.”
Managing editor for national security R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this article.
When Keith Alexander stepped down as head of the NSA, he raised eyebrows "pitching his services for as much as $1 million a month" as a consultant for companies that would benefit tremendously from classified information that he possesses. At best, he’d be monetizing expertise gained on the public dime to enrich himself. Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, expressed his worries in a letter. "I am writing with concerns about the potential disclosure of classified information by former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander,” he wrote. “Disclosing or misusing classified information for profit is, as Mr. Alexander well knows, a felony. I question how Mr. Alexander can provide any of the services he is offering unless he discloses or misuses classified information, including extremely sensitive sources and methods. Without the classified information that he acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer to you.” Investigative journalist Jason Leopold, who specializes in Freedom of Information Act requests, decided to look more closely at General Alexander’s behavior. For decades, American officials have been compelled to file paperwork regarding their income and investments. The idea is to lay bare all financial conflicts of interest, making corruption less attractive to attempt and more likely to be caught. Would the NSA release a copy of Alexander’s financial disclosure forms? The NSA turned down Leopold’s request. In a lawsuit seeking to compel the release of the Alexander documents, Leopold argues that they’re being withheld unlawfully. Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the NSA has "a mandatory, non-discretionary duty to produce the requested records," his complaint states. As a matter of law, Leopold is, in fact, entitled to Alexander’s financial disclosure forms unless one individual, the President of the United States, decides to suppress them. The law articulates this lone exception as follows: …this section does not require public availability of a report filed by any individual in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or the National Security Agency, or any individual engaged in intelligence activities in any agency of the United States, if the President finds or has found that, due to the nature of the office or position occupied by such individual, public disclosure of such report would, by revealing the identity of the individual or other sensitive information, compromise the national interest of the United States… There is good reason for the exception. If I could request the financial disclosure forms of every CIA agent, for example, maintaining cover would prove to be impossible. In General Alexander’s case, however, "revealing the identity of the individual" is not an issue. And as Leopold states in a complaint letter, "The letter denying Mr. Leopold’s request for financial disclosure statements did not indicate that the President had in fact made a finding that, due to the nature of the office or position of the Director of the National Security Agency, the identity of the individual or other sensitive information, compromise the national interest of the United States. Instead, the letter simply cites the exemption provision of the statute. It is not the case, however, that 5 USC app. § 105(a)(1) automatically exempts every employee of the NSA from the public disclosure requirement, and hundreds of NSA employees annually file publicly available financial disclosure forms. Absent evidence of a waiver, public disclosure is required." The matter thus comes down to Obama’s interpretation of a single clause. The American people are entitled to see Keith Alexander’s financial conflicts of interest unless Obama himself declares that revealing them would somehow "compromise the national interest of the United States." Would Obama do so, despite pledges to run the most transparent administration in history? Sadly, those pledges stopped being credible a long time ago. It is nevertheless worth noting what Obama would be saying if he helps suppress Alexander’s paperwork: that the national interest would be more imperiled by the public knowing how an extremely powerful government official earned money outside of his official duties than by that very powerful man, with a head full of classified information, selling his services to the highest bidder without meaningful public scrutiny. Obama ought to face tremendous pressure to let the records be revealed. * * * In related news: At the Aspen Ideas Festival, I questioned Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and NSA, about the eye-popping sums Alexander was reportedly seeking from private industry: Should we be worried that high-ranking people with security clearances are monetizing their access to classified information or even selling it to corporations that hire them? Would he worry if he heard this about a retiring NSA director a couple administrations from now? After all, if they were profiting by revealing classified material to corporate clients, how would one even catch them doing it? As a former national-security official who is now a principal at The Chertoff Group, I figured he would at least have an opinion. Hayden agreed that, in theory, one might legitimately worry about that, but quickly assured me that as someone who knows Alexander he can vouch for his character, even if he didn’t expect a journalist who didn’t know him to treat that as persuasive. He also said that he purposely refrains from getting classified updates from national-security agencies while working in private industry, and that something he knows about the NSA, but that I don’t, would assuage some of my concerns. Days later, Bloomberg reported that the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association is proposing "a government-industry cyber war council," and that "Sifma has retained former NSA director Keith Alexander to ‘facilitate’ the joint effort with the government. Alexander, in turn, has brought in Michael Chertoff, the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and his firm, Chertoff Group." Fancy that.
When John Brennan assured the country that the CIA hadn’t improperly monitored the Senate team that compiled a report on Bush-era torture, he fed us false information. That much is clear from Thursday’s news that "the C.I.A. secretly monitored a congressional committee charged with supervising its activities." Either the CIA director was lying, or he was unaware of grave transgressions that were perpetrated at the agency where he is supposed to be in charge. Hence the calls for his resignation or firing from Sen. Mark Udall, Trevor Timm, Dan Froomkin, and Andrew Sullivan, plus a New York Times editorial airing his ouster as a possibility. President Obama could surprise us by axing his former counterterrorism advisor, explaining that under Brennan’s management, employees for whom he’s responsible broke laws and undermined the separation of powers core to our democracy. As Obama mulls what to do, he may well make a good faith effort to act in the national interest. But it’s impossible to believe that he won’t be aware of the following: that no U.S. official knows more than Brennan about Obama’s many drone killings. Some of the killings were solidly grounded in international law. Others may have violated the Fifth Amendment, international law, or the laws of war. In the past, Brennan has been willing to lie about those drone strikes to hide ugly realities. For example, Brennan stated in the summer of 2011 that there had been zero collateral deaths from covert U.S. drone strikes in the previous year, an absurd claim that has been decisively debunked. What if he grew more forthright, whether in public statements or by anonymously leaking information? Recall how intimately Obama involved himself in many killings: President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces….Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. And how central a role Brennan played: Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama… Finally, recall the chilling logic these two settled on: Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. Even if Brennan told everything he knew, I’d still guess that the odds would be heavily against Obama ever finding himself on trial for civil rights violations or war crimes (though if I were Obama, I’d take proactive steps to lessen the odds further.) But I can imagine details that could cause Obama’s image to suffer, now and in the eyes of history; I can imagine him being subject to travel bans or indictments in absentia in certain countries; I can imagine aspects of his post-presidency suffering. We don’t now know, for example, what sort of legal authority Obama had the first time he ordered Anwar al-Awlaki to be killed, or why his 16-year-old son, an innocent American teenager searching abroad for his absentee father, ended up dead; or classified information about innocents killed in drone strikes. I am not suggesting that John Brennan is blackmailing Obama, or even that he would necessarily retaliate if fired. I am suggesting that if Obama is like most people in positions of power, he fires no subordinate without first asking himself, "Could this person damage me?" And if Obama is a normal person, rather than an unusually principled person, the answer then factors into his decision. Brennan isn’t unaware of this dynamic. And look what he said back in March, immediately after denying that the CIA spied on the Senate intelligence committee, when Andrea Mitchell asked if he’d resign his post if that turned out to be wrong: …if I did something wrong, I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go. He’s a smart man. All this may be irrelevant to his continued tenure. Perhaps Obama has always believed and continues to believe that Brennan is doing a heckuva job. But just as secret torture acted as a cancer in the U.S. government, encompassing acts so barbaric and criminal that, even recently, the CIA spied on a Senate subcommittee investigating the subject, America’s semi-secret policy of semi-targeted killing rendered everyone involved complicit in activities sufficiently dubious that all desire their secrecy. Would you fire a guy who knows as much about your most morally fraught acts as Brennan knows about who Obama has killed in secret? Yeah, me neither. This isn’t the biggest cost of presidents who hide arguably illegal actions by declaring them state secrets. But it is certainly one of the costs. There’s inevitably a need to review the job performance of people party to these secrets. Lo, they typically keep their jobs. So George W. Bush left us a CIA staffed partly with people willing to torture. And Obama will likely leave us with a CIA that includes torturers, people willing to kill an American citizen in secret without due process, and people willing to spy on a Senate subcommittee as it does oversight. The Senate intelligence committee was established precisely to stop a trajectory this dangerous from playing out, but it is failing abjectly in its duties, as yesterday’s crimes spawn today’s efforts to spin or suppress those crimes. If the Senate doesn’t act now to rein in the CIA, what will it take?
If a Senate or CIA employee decides to leak an unredacted copy of the 6,000-page report on the brutal torture of numerous human beings under President George W. Bush, there will be dismay among many national-security officials, D.C. think-tank employees, and establishment pundits. They’ll be unable to understand what radicalized the leaker enough to break his word or risk her freedom. But I will understand. It isn’t that I want the unredacted report published in full. If charged with wielding the black pen myself, I’m sure there are passages I’d strike: clauses that could credibly endanger lives, for example, yet add nothing important to the civic debate about torture or the historical record. Even so, if I worked on the Senate Intelligence Committee or at the CIA right now, I’d look at the news and feel reaffirmed in my belief that a Jane Mayer, Charlie Savage, Glenn Greenwald, or Barton Gellman would be far more likely to publish everything in the public interest and no more than the U.S. government. It isn’t just that reporters have a better historical track record than bureaucrats when deciding what ought to be suppressed and what should be public. It’s that the recent behavior of the White House, the Senate, and especially the CIA is appalling. We’re witnessing egregious dysfunction. To review, the CIA tortured prisoners, violating a longstanding moral taboo as well as international law and U.S. law. In doing so, they lied to their overseers about the particular techniques they were using, as well as the efficacy of those techniques. And all of this has been acknowledged by the president of the United States. Years later, the Senate committee that oversees the CIA spent millions of taxpayer dollars and years of scarce staff time to compile a comprehensive report on this torture. Then all of the following occurred: The report was kept secret long after being completed. President Obama assigned Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who recently lied under oath in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to head up the executive branch’s painfully slow declassification review. The CIA was given a lead role in the process, giving the black redaction pen to the very—perhaps the same people—whose illegal acts are under review. Meanwhile, it emerged that the CIA spied on its Senate overseers as they were compiling the report, lied about doing so, erroneously accused Senate staffers of having committed a felony, and got caught in all these misdeeds. Obama reacted to this malfeasance under Director John Brennan, himself a CIA staffer during the illegal torture, by complimenting his performance as head of the agency. It is unclear if anyone at the CIA will be fired over this. And when the executive branch concluded the torture-report redaction process, the results were predictable: Even Senator Dianne Feinstein, normally an extreme defender of the national-security state and a staunch advocate of state secrets, believes that too much of her committee’s work has been redacted. Nearly two years after the committee approved the report, its release is again postponed indefinitely. Why would anyone maintain faith in official channels when this is how they work? Even Feinstein, who is on the right side of this particular issue, is abdicating her responsibility to the public. She knows that more of the torture report should be released than the executive branch wants to release. She believes making this report public will make the U.S. less likely to torture again. At this point, she is under no illusion about the CIA’s willingness to use dirty tactics in its suppression attempts. Just as Senator Mike Gravel read the Pentagon Papers into the record, making use of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause, Feinstein is perfectly capable of getting a version of the torture report, with whatever redactions her committee feels is appropriate, to Congress and the people. If I were a Senate or CIA staffer, I’d be agonizing about whether I ought to leak this report to more responsible parties as the lesser of two evils. While I believe the rule of law has great value, it’s hard to argue that it is enhanced if classification statutes are followed strictly, with the result that America’s intelligence bureaucracy is better able to hide its torture and tell lies about its efficacy (in part because the CIA’s lawbreakers still fear being prosecuted for torture). As Andrew Sullivan put it, "Either the rule of law applies to the CIA or it doesn’t. And it’s now absolutely clear that it doesn’t. The agency can lie to the public; it can spy on the Senate; it can destroy the evidence of its war crimes; it can lie to its superiors about its torture techniques; it can lie about the results of those techniques. No one will ever be held to account. It is inconceivable that the United States would take this permissive position on torture with any other country or regime." If following classification rules abets that result, civil disobedience becomes more likely and more justified. Those who lament leaks would do well to understand who is creating the conditions for them: Obama, Brennan, Clapper, and an out-of-control CIA. Efforts to suppress the truth from Americans creates an understandable determination in some patriots to make sure that the truth outs, one way or another, because a system of classified secrets is never so illegitimate as when it is being used to suppress illegal and immoral government misdeeds.
A spokesman from Senator Rand Paul’s office has forward the Kentucky Republican’s reaction to news that the CIA spied on a Senate subcommittee as it investigated torture, malfeasance that CIA chief John Brennan once explicitly denied. "It is illegal for the CIA to spy on Americans and an affront to our Republic to spy on the Senate," Senator Paul stated. "Brennan told the American people that the CIA did not spy on the Senate but now he admits that they did. Brennan should dismiss those responsible for breaking the law and be relieved of his post.” Paul also emphasized that he tried to prevent Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA by mounting a filibuster against it. At least two other Senators have also called for Brennan to be fired. For more on Brennan’s unacceptable job performance and the factors President Obama may consider when deciding what to do with him, see "Does John Brennan Know Too Much for Obama to Fire Him?" Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has spoken out in defense of Brennan, and much of the conservative movement has greeted news that the CIA spied on its overseers with a yawn. A GOP that is actually interested in reining in big government excesses and bureaucratic corruption would do well to orchestrate the replacement of legislators like Chambliss with legislators like Paul when assignments to key oversight committees are made.
The agency will have to go much further than apologies for breaking into the Senate’s computers. Its culture needs an overhaul, too.
Senator Ron Wyden has urged the Justice Department to reopen its investigation into the agency over its improper search of computer files of the Senate Intelligence Committee.