Tag Archives: NSA

Germany: : Das unterwanderte Land (The Infiltrated Country)

I’ve been working for a couple of months on an investigation of the totality of U.S. intelligence in Germany, out today in Stern magazine.  English translation coming soon.

Stern 31 October 2013


Whistleblower Tribulations

My post yesterday about Thomas Drake was hardly noticed compared to the list of NSA code names I threw out there.  But Drake noticed.

“You have any number of significant errors in your blog, including the fact that no charges by the government were reduced to misdemeanors,” Drake wrote me in an email.  He invited me to meet with him and his attorney.

I thought: What kind of person invites someone to meet with them and their attorney?  And then I remembered: He’s from Washington!   And more important, he’s now a whistleblower, and the maintenance of reputation and scrupulous adherence to the facts is part of the role.

I invited Mr. Drake to correct the record, but haven’t yet heard back.

But this morning, I did hear from a former editor, who tells me that he’s gotten to “know” Drake and his attorney over the past few months, and that I “got some things wrong” in the blog:

“Most importantly, the government’s case failed precisely because their contention that Tom had retained classified documents was falling apart. The judge ruled definitively that he did NOT give classified documents to the reporter. The government was forced to admit that other counts were for documents that had been declassified. And the only remaining count was classified only AFTER it was taken from Tom’s computer, an ex-post facto abuse that so enraged George W’s very own classification czar, William Leonard, that he filed formal complaints against the NSA and the Justice department for claiming documents were classified that contained no secrets. He said, “I’ve never seen a more a more deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document.”

In my former editor’s email, the word “documents” is repeated five times in case I don’t get it.

But I went back and looked at my blog and I never used the word once.  I said classified information, in fact because I know the difference.  My point was and is that the government – the executive branch — decides.  The criteria – information the release of which would do damage to the U.S. national security – is maddeningly vague.  Hence the tug of war with the news media or whistleblowers when the government feels that its secrets have been compromised; in Washington at least, this is a deadly word game.

I can only speak from experience: News organizations and journalists invariably claim (hide behind?) the argument that information that they want to publish is in the public domain, that is, that it is already compromised in some way.  I’ve sat in many such a discussion and negotiation with government people to demonstrate that some piece or body of information was obtained using open sources.  I’ve listened to editors (and others) argue that the information is “unclassified” and I’ve listened to and watch government people squirm in frustration, trying to explain that just because a piece of paper is stamped “unclassified” or has no markings doesn’t mean its release won’t do harm, that many pieces of paper or information put together makes for classified information – the so-called ‘mosaic’ theory – or that circumstances warrant the information not being published.  I’ve listened to editors and security people and lawyers talk past each other for hours because the classification system isn’t perfect and because, well, we are talking about national security, a fairly grandiose and consequential concept.

I’ve also been involved in discussions when classified information was involved, that is, information that the government has actual reason to believe is legitimately classified, and where the news organization can’t really argue that they obtained something already in the public domain.  These are, shall we say, more complicated negotiations, and they are usually resolved by editors agreeing not to publish some detail or fact – even if it is already in the public domain – as a gesture.  Editors like to call it something other than acceding to the government’s demands in order to maintain the balance of power.  The government is invariably unhappy but content that the negotiation at least took place; that the publication in question plays its role and is inside the Washington vortex.

If someone works for the government – or has a security clearance granted by the government – and breaks away from that vortex, takes independent action, the government retaliates.  Whether it’s a former CIA director (John Deutch) accused by the security people of mishandling classified information or a standard issue whistleblower, the bureaucracy can be brutal, unforgiving, and duplicitous.  The Wen Ho Lee case comes to mind.  Government lawyers love to, need to, make examples of people, both to enforce the system of behavioral conformity and create legal precedent.

I’ve dealt with many a whistleblower in the past and the patterns are pretty much the same: the whistleblower feels – feels – all of the inconsistencies and injustices, they want to tell their story.  But at the same time, as former government employees, as vulnerable targets well aware not only that journalists will squeeze them dry and throw them away as quickly as the security types will pounce on any additional disclosure of ‘classified’ information, the whistleblower plays this little game of holding closely to their facts.  In some cases, it’s all that they have.

In Washington, in Washington culture, value is measured by information; that’s the power.  Outside Washington, evil government is a better sell.

If I wrote anything in my blog that is factually wrong, I’ll correct it.  I see that what I wrote isn’t pleasing to Mr. Drake.  I wish him the best.

Getting to the Bottom of the Intelligence Community; Is There a Way?

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake is in the news again, with an interview in Salon and his own blog posting in Daily Kos, rambling on in the way whistleblowers are supposed to do, muddying the waters about the issues, and making a claim about the Obama administration that has found its way into a general indictment levied against President Hope by the disenchanted left: That Obama has gone after whistleblowers and leakers more than Bush ever did.

I doubt that this is true but would be interested in being corrected if someone’s got some facts.

As an executive at the National Security Agency (NSA), Drake was a source for a 2006 Baltimore Sun series about a billion dollar NSA program called Trailblazer, a software system.  Drake alleged that the program did not work, violated Americans’ privacy rights, and that was inferior to a rival program called Thinthread (NSA code names are actually one word).  He was indicted on numerous felony counts of espionage before the prosecution decided to reduce the charges to misdemeanors.

Drake says in his blog posting this week “that the Obama Administration is engaged in an unprecedented war against whistleblowers and the 1st Amendment and using the Espionage Act (a World War I era statute designed to go after spies and not whistleblowers), as a bludgeon to target, investigate, prosecute and indict those revealing government war crimes, abuses of power, illegalities and wrongdoing – both within and without the government.”

Salon says rather casually that Drake never disclosed classified information.  Drake opines that “it is not a crime to reveal government wrongdoing to a reporter.”

The problem with Salon’s characterization and Drake’s bluster is that they are both wrong.

What is classified information is what the government decides is classified.  A $10 billion industry exists to classify information and guard it, and unfortunately, they decide.  National security information is classified based upon Executive Order and government regulations, not law, and the courts have consistently declined to second guess the executive branch on these matters.

Hence, a government employee, particularly one like Drake who held high level clearances and signed non-disclosure pledges, should know better, and is guilty of something.  It’s not quite espionage, but there are plenty of other ways the government could choose to prosecute him: on special laws protecting communications security, on issues of stolen government property, on violations of his pledges.

Drake seems to think that because he leaked classified information about a program to a reporter – revealing, as he likes to say, “waste, fraud, and abuse” — somehow the information is automatically not classified and protected by whistleblower protection statutes.  Again he is wrong on all counts.

[Updated March 14, 2012:  Drake’s lawyer points out that Drake was not charged with leaking classified information, that he was charged with “improper retention of … allegedly classified information.”  I stand corrected.]

The reason why the case fell apart is that Drake just happens to also be protected, protected by the news media and vague concepts about the First Amendment, protected by Congressional supporters, protected by a certain American aesthetic about government malfeasance and overreach, and most important I guess, even protected by his very inside knowledge, what the intelligence community calls ‘graymail,’ his knowledge of even more classified information that might come out if the government were to take him to trial.

Most important though, in the cycle of whistleblowers and the news media’s squeezing them dry and throwing them away is that for all of what Drake “revealed,” we really know very little about what NSA is doing.  If you read the Salon interview or the earlier Jane Mayer profile in The New Yorker, you might imagine you understand the battle between the secret programs Trailblazer versus ThinThread.

I don’t, and the reason is because the reporters themselves don’t understand.  Similarly when The New York Times reported in 2009 from another NSA whistleblower that the code name of an illegal Email program was Pinwale, and that the database was “systematically [creating] archives both foreign and domestic e-mail messages by the millions,” we just don’t know.

Drake describes the NSA as a rogue agency that operates in a black box that the public cannot penetrate.  I don’t know if its rogue, but I do know that it’s huge and does operate in a black box.  Congress seems to condone that: It is very big money after all.

Trailblazer, ThinThread, Pinwale: These are just three of hundreds of secret NSA programs, none of which we really know anything about.  I’ve collected a list of current (2012) NSA programs from contracts and work orders, corporate briefings and other documents.  Maybe the news media and Congress and the people should ask what’s going on rather than focus on the messenger, no matter how unfortunate his former intelligence career ended.

Here’s a novel notion: Maybe they are not “fraud, waste, and abuse” at all – maybe it’s just excess and autonomy and misdirection and even a waste of time and money.  We’d never know though if fraud, waste, and abuse remain the only standards by which we are allowed to pry.

NSA Code Names Revealed

The list below current NSA (and NSA-contractor) programs (as of March 13, 2012) involved in all aspects of signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection, processing, analysis, dissemination, and storage.  Some are purely administrative programs, some are tools and databases associated with social network analysis, metadata analysis, and target research.  The current focus of NSA’s work seems to be the telecommunications infrastructure to include wireless, optical, electrical, and converged networks.

Current intelligence lingo associated with these programs include:

  • Dial Number Recognition (DNR)
  • Digital Network Intelligence (DNI)
  • Geospatial Metadata Analysis (GMA)
  • SIGINT Geospatial Analysis (SGA)
  • SIGINT Terminal Guidance (STG)

The Programs




AIGHANDLER: Geolocation analysis



ARTEMIS:  Geospatial analysis






CADENCE/GAMUT: Collection mission system for tasking








COURIERSKILL:  Collection mission system




CPE (Content Preparation Environment):  Reporting tool





DRAGONFLY:  Geolocation analysis








GJALLER:  Geospatial analysis





GOSSAMER:  Geospatial analysis

GROWLER: Geospatial analysis

HERCULES:  CIA terrorism database

HIGHTIDE/SKYWRITER:  Desktop dashboard




KINGFISH:  Geospatial analysis


MAINWAY: DNI signals navigation database

MARINA: Database

MASTERLINK: Tasking source




METTLESOME: Collection mission system





OCTAVE: DNI/DNR tool for tasking


PINWALE: DNI database



PROTON:  SIGINT database


RENOIR:  Visualization tool




SKOPE:  SIGINT analytical toolkit

SKYWRITER: DNI reporting tool



STINGRAY:  Geospatial analysis




TEMPTRESS: Geolocation analysis



TREASUREMAP: DNI visualization tool



TURMOIL:  Collection mission system




UTT: DNR tool for tasking

WEALTHYCLUSTER: Collection mission system


WITCHHUNT: Geolocation analysis

XKEYSCORE: DNI collection mission system


Cash! Bonuses! for Speaking Dhivehi

Who exactly is spying on who, and for what?

The latest Wikileaks peak into STRATFOR Emails is being described as a unique insight into some shadow CIA, while meanwhile some are worried that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring social media and conducting surveillance of OWS activists.  There is a little bit of truth in both stories, but it is such small potatoes.

The big daddy of spying is NSA’s eavesdropping apparatus, and it’s barely able to keep up.  It can’t process and translate all of the material it vacuums up from radio and telephone communications, cell phones, email, texts, chats, faxes, and websites belonging to the bad guys.  And the rest of the intelligence community is practically deaf in one ear unable to understand the languages of those who are considered the enemy — let alone the languages of our “friends.”

Into the breach marches an army of private contractors, who do a brisk business and are engaged in a death struggle with each other to find people who can speak obscure languages AND at the same time qualify for Top Secret clearances.

Arabic and the languages of Afghanistan and Pakistan (Dari, Pashtu, Urdu) are the priorities, but Farsi speakers, the language mostly of Iran, are in high demand these days.  As are African languages, because, well, we have a new African Command that is creating its own empire.

I compiled a list of the languages in demand right now, the companies who are looking for Top Secret cleared applicants, and some of the locations where the spying and analysis is done.

Hebrew anyone?  Only one country speaks that language.  Dhivehi?  That’s the language of the Maldives.  (updated 3 March 2012)

Language Company Location
Amharic STG Overseas
Arabic (Gulf, Egyptian, Iraqi, Levantine, Libyan, Moroccan/Tunisian, MSA, and Yemeni dialects) Acclaim Technical Services, AllWorld Language Consultants, Archimedes Global, CACI, Camber, Chenega; Ed Wallach Search Group, General Dynamics Information Technology, iNTELLITREX, L-3, LG-TEK, ManTech, Navanti Group, Northrop Grumman, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), ProSol Associates, Quick Services LLC,  Raytheon, SAIC, STG, TASC, VOR Technology Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Ft. Belvoir, VA; Herndon VA; McLean VA; Quantico VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Germany (AFRICOM); RAF Molesworth UK
Armenian Pluribus International
Azeri STG Overseas
Baluchi Boeing, ProSol Associates, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Bosnian Ed Wallach Search Group
Chinese AllWorld Language Consultants, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, LG-TEK, ManTech, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), Pluribus International, STG Monterey CA; Hawaii; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Wright-Patterson AFB OH; Herndon VA; Overseas
Dari AllWorld Language Consultants, Boeing, Ed Wallach Search Group, ManTech, Navanti Group, Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, SAIC, STG, TASC Ft. Meade MD; Ft. Belvoir VA; Herndon VA; Quantico VA; Overseas
Dhivehi Acclaim Technical Services Northern VA
Farsi (Persian) Acclaim Technical Services, AllWorld Language Consultants, Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI, Chenega, Epsilon, Inc., General Dynamics Information Technology, Global Linguist Solutions, iNTELLITREX, L-3, ManTech, LG-TEK, Navanti Group, Northrop-Grumman; PARSONS/McMunn Associates, Inc. (MAI), Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, Quick Services LLC, SAIC, Six3 Intelligence Solutions, STG, TASC Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD;  Ft. Hood TX; San Antonio TX; Ft. Belvoir VA; Herndon VA; McLean VA; Quantico, VA; Reston VA; Overseas
French Archimedes Global, Chenega; CSC, General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3, ManTech, Pluribus International, Quick Services LLC, Raytheon Herndon VA; Djibouti; Germany (AFRICOM); RAF Molesworth UK
Georgian KEYW, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Haitian-Creole Boeing, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Hausa AllWorld Language Consultants; Archimedes Global Germany (AFRICOM)
Hebrew AllWorld Language Consultants, CACI, Pluribus International, Professional Solutions Ft. Meade MD; Overseas
Hindi ProSol Associates, SAIC, TASC Ft. Meade MD; McLean VA
Hungarian ProSol Associates
Igbo AllWorld Language Consultants
Indonesian (Bahasa Melayu) Chenega; Dynamics Information, Technology, ManTech, ProSol Associates Herndon VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Japanese AllWorld Language Consultants
Kazakh Boeing, TASC Ft. Meade MD
Korean AllWorld Language Consultants, General Dynamics, L-3, ManTech, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, SAIC, STG Monterey CA; Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Herndon VA; Reston VA; Northern VA; Overseas
Kurdish Acclaim Technical Services, General Dynamics, ManTech, Pluribus International, STG Ft. Hood TX; Herndon VA; Overseas
Malay ProSol Associates
Pashto Acclaim Technical Services;  AllWorld Language Consultants, Camber, General Dynamics Information Technology, iNTELLITREX, L-3, LG-TEK, ManTech, Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, SAIC, STG, TASC MacDill AFB FL; Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Herndon VA; McLean VA; Northern VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Polish ProSol Associates
Portuguese Archimedes Global, Pluribus International,TASC Ft. Meade MD; Germany
Punjabi (Western) Pluribus International, STG
Russian Acclaim Technical Services, AllWorld Language Consultants, General Dynamics Information Technology, ManTech, PARSONS/McMunn Associates (MAI), Pluribus International, STG Ft. Meade MD; Suitland MD; Herndon VA; Northern VA; Overseas
Somali Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI, Camber, Chenega, Ed Wallach Search Group, iNTELLITREX, KEYW, L-3, Linc Government Services, Navanti Group, STG, TASC Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Ft. Belvoir VA; McLean VA; Djibouti; Overseas
Spanish Acclaim Technical Services; Boeing, CACI; L-3,ManTech, Pluribus International, SAIC, TASC Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; El Paso, TX; Lackland AFB TX; Herndon VA; Northern VA
Swahili Archimedes Global, CACI, Chenega; General Dynamics Information Technology, iNTELLITREX Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Meade MD; Germany (AFRICOM); Kenya
Tajik AllWorld Language Consultants, Pluribus International, Quick Services LLC Herndon VA
Turkish AllWorld Language Consultants, Ed Wallach Search Group, ManTech, STG Herndon VA; Overseas
Uighur/Uyghur General Dynamics Information Technology, SAIC Reston VA
Ukranian AllWorld Language Consultants
Urdu Acclaim Technical Services; AllWorld Language Consultants, Ed Wallach Search Group, General Dynamics Information Technology, LG-TEK, ManTech, Navanti Group, Pluribus International, ProSol Associates, Quick Services LLC, STG, TASC Monterey CA; Ft. Gordon GA; Ft. Stewart GA; Ft. Meade MD; Ft. Belvoir VA; Herndon VA; Northern VA; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; Overseas
Uzbek General Dynamics Information Technology
Waziri ProSol Associates
Yoruba AllWorld Language Consultants