Comment: NSA, Trailblazer, Thin Thread

10 Security, Budgets & Funding, InfoOps (IO), Intelligence (government), Methods & Process, Misinformation & Propaganda

I noted on Phi Beta the piece on Dana Priest and your comment, which appears sadly right on the mark. You may want to check the 14 July article in the Post about former NSA senior Thomas Drake who is being indicted for spelling the beans on Trailblazer to the Baltimore Sun.

There is a lot of misinformation in the article about Project Thin Thread, an information management scheme that was virtually worthless, but had a number of defenders at the agency of which Drake was the most prominent. The author of the article also knows nothing about Trailblazer which was NOT a replacement for Thin Thread, but a much broader, if ill defined, modernization program.

This earlier article is relevant to the Priest series because as Trailblazer continued to founder NSA hired more and more contractors to try get the program on track. Both programs provide striking evidence of failures of technical leadership and incompetent project management which appear to endemic at NSA.

Incidentally several unnamed sources at the Fort contacted for article continue to argue that Trailblazer produced some worthwhile results. This is nonsense.

I served the Trailblazer program both as an NSA senior analyst and later as a contractor so observed the Trailblazer debacle from inside and outside.


Journal: Dana Priest Strikes Again…

Budgets & Funding, Corruption, Cyberscams, malware, spam, Government, InfoOps (IO), Intelligence (government), Methods & Process, Misinformation & Propaganda, Money, Banks & Concentrated Wealth, Politics of Science & Science of Politics, Power Behind-the-Scenes/Special Interests, Reform, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Technologies
Marcus Aurelius Recommends

On Deadline (
July 16, 2010

By Michael Winter

The nation's spy world is anxiously — certainly not eagerly — anticipating a Washington Post series looking at CIA and Pentagon contractors, according to insider reports. And the intelligence community has been preparing for an expected offensive by plotting its defense.

Politico says in “Jitters over WaPo intel series – Explosions rock Iranian mosque – What's Petraeus thinking? – McChrystal's retirement – ‘Monkey Terrorist' update,” that the series, by Dana Priest, is scheduled to appear “in the next few days and that public affairs officers have been preparing how to handle the resulting media onslaught.

The Atlantic has posted a memorandum, “Internal Memo: Intelligence Community Frets About Washington Post Series,” sent by Art House, the media manager for the Director of National Intelligence. He outlines what he thinks the series will say about the “IC” (intelligence community) and offers talking points for press aides.

Here are some of the highlights of the memo:


While we can't predict specific content, we anticipate the following themes:

*The intelligence enterprise has undergone exponential growth and has become unmanageable with overlapping authorities and a heavily outsourced contractor workforce.

*The IC and the DoD have wasted significant time and resources, especially in the areas of counterterrorism and counterintelligence.

*The intelligence enterprise has taken its eyes off its post-9/11 mission and is spending its energy on competitive and redundant programs.

Management of Responses

We do not know which agencies will receive attention, and each agency will need to manage its own responses. …

It might be helpful as you prepare for publication to draw up a list of accomplishments and examples of success to offer in response to inquiries to balance the coverage and add points that deserve to be mentioned. In media discussions, we will seek to garner support for the Intelligence Community and its members by offering examples of agile, integrated activity that has enhanced performance. We will want to minimize damage caused by unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and classified information. …

House's conclusion: “This series has been a long time in preparation and looks designed to cast the IC and the DoD in an unfavorable light. We need to anticipate and prepare so that the good work of our respective organizations is effectively reflected in communications with employees, secondary coverage in the media and in response to questions.”

Keep your eyes peeled for this blockbuster.

Phi Beta Iota: Panetta had a chance to get it right and blew it.  Clapper will finish the job of destroying whatever integrity is left in the US Intelligence Community.  This is not news, but the Washington Post has finally caught up with the rest of us.

See Also:

2000 ON INTELLIGENCE: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World (AFCEA, OSS, EIN)

2002 THE NEW CRAFT OF INTELLIGENCE: Personal, Public, & Political (OSS, EIN)

2003 PEACEKEEPING INTELLIGENCE: Emerging Concepts for the Future (OSS, EIN)

2006 INFORMATION OPERATIONS: All Information, All Languages, All the Time (OSS, EIN)

2006 THE SMART NATION ACT: Public Intelligence in the Public Interest (OSS, EIN)

2008 COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace (OSS, EIN)

2009 Intelligence for Peace (PKI Book Two) Finalizing (OSS,EIN)


And Reviews of Books by Others:

Congress (Failure, Reform) (108)

Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback (160)

Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform) (156)

Intelligence (Government/Secret) (292)

New Declassified Records Showing the Path Down the Vietnam Road of Doubt and Deception

04 Inter-State Conflict, Government, Media, Military, Misinformation & Propaganda, Open Government, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy

Records Show Doubts on ’64 Vietnam Crisis
Published: July 14, 2010

WASHINGTON — In an echo of the debates over the discredited intelligence that helped make the case for the war in Iraq, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday released more than 1,100 pages of previously classified Vietnam-era transcripts that show senators of the time sharply questioning whether they had been deceived by the White House and the Pentagon over the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Full article here

(clips from the article)
“If this country has been misled, if this committee, this Congress, has been misled by pretext into a war in which thousands of young men have died, and many more thousands have been crippled for life, and out of which their country has lost prestige, moral position in the world, the consequences are very great,” Senator Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee, the father of the future vice president, said in March 1968 in a closed session of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“In a democracy you cannot expect the people, whose sons are being killed and who will be killed, to exercise their judgment if the truth is concealed from them,” Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, said in an executive session in February 1968.

Robert J. Hanyok, a National Security Agency historian, said Wednesday in an interview that “there were doubts, but nobody wanted to follow up on the doubts,” perhaps because “they felt they’d gone too far down the road.”

Mr. Hanyok concluded in 2001 that N.S.A. officers had deliberately falsified intercepted communications in the incident to make it look like the attack on Aug. 4, 1964, had occurred, although he said they acted not out of political motives but to cover up earlier errors.

Imagine A Pie Chart Stomping On An Infographic Forever

Analysis, info-graphics/data-visualization, Methods & Process, Misinformation & Propaganda, Worth A Look

According to, statistical literacy is the ability to read and interpret summary statistics in the everyday media: in graphs, tables, statements, surveys and studies. Statistical literacy is needed by data consumers.

The importance of statistical literacy in the Internet age is clear, but the concept is not exclusive to designers. I’d like to focus on it because designers must consider it in a way that most people do not have to: statistical literacy is more than learning the laws of statistics; it is about representations that the human mind can understand and remember (source: Psychological Science in the Public Interest).

With data, though, careless designers all too readily sacrifice truth for the sake of aesthetics. Lovecraft’s eldritch horrors will rise only when the stars are right, but the preconditions for bad visual representations are already in place:

  • Demand for graphs, charts, maps and infographics has increased.
  • Increased data availability and more powerful tools have made it easier than ever to create them.
  • But you probably don’t have a solid understanding of how to interpret or process data.
  • Nor likely do your readers.
  • And there’s a good chance that neither of you know that.

Do you hear that fateful, fearsome ticking? You’ve given your audience a time bomb of misinformation, just waiting to blow up in their faces. Perhaps they will forget your inadvertent falsehood before they harm someone with it, but perhaps they will be Patient Zero in an outbreak of viral inaccuracy. Curing that disease can be excruciatingly difficult, and even impossible: one of the more depressing findings in psychology is that trying to set the record straight can muddle it further. The lesson is clear: provide the right story the first time. But the staggering variety of awful visualizations online makes it equally clear that designers haven’t learned that lesson yet. Let’s see just how bad it can get.


Journal: Google Wants You….In Every Way, Forever

07 Other Atrocities, 10 Transnational Crime, Computer/online security, Corporations, Corruption, Cyberscams, malware, spam, InfoOps (IO), Misinformation & Propaganda, Mobile, Power Behind-the-Scenes/Special Interests, Privacy, Real Time, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, Technologies, Tools

Prevent web malware and enforce policies for all users

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Simple to deploy, effortless to maintain, scalable and secure

  • No hardware to install or maintain, just a simple change to your firewall or proxy
  • Proactively blocks web malware before it reaches your network
  • Integrates easily with directory services for granular enforcement and reporting
  • Extends to all employees wherever they are working – at home, in a hotel room, café, client premises, or Wi-Fi spot

Interested in learning more? Download these resources

Comment:  You were right. I've just learned about Google's Endgame. I'm sure it's been out a while, but when I saw this, I immediately thought of your statement about Google wanting to BECOME the Internet. The short video tells all.  REDACTED

Phi Beta Iota:  see also these posts.

Journal: Pentagon Lies, NYT Sells Out, Obama Fiddles

08 Wild Cards, 10 Transnational Crime, Corruption, Geospatial, Government, History of Opposition, Intelligence (government), Misinformation & Propaganda, Policy, Power Behind-the-Scenes/Special Interests, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy, True Cost

Chuck Spinney Sends

Rotting Oder of Pentagon Info Op Signals Effort to Shore Up its Great Game in the Hindu Kush

On 13 June, James Risen of the New York Times conveniently (at least for the Pentagon and the war party) reported that the “United States has discovered $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan [also attached below for your convenience].  I say convenient, because time is running out for the Pentagon in Afghanistan, and this report introduces a ‘new’ reason for occupying Afghanistan.  The timing of this report was noticed very quickly by several skeptical commentators ( e.g., here and here). 

But there is more.  The NYT report has the rotting odor of yet another Pentagon misinformation operation to lather up the masses using the willing offices of the tired old Gray Lady of journalism.  The oder is intense, because Risen’s Pentagon-inspired geological report coincides with the growing disenchantment with Afghan adventure.  And more people are coming to appreciate the disconnect between (1) a spate of credible reports (e.g., here)  describing the lack of progress in Afghanistan, particularly the failure of the showcase Marja COIN strategy to deliver its predicted result and (2) the requirement imposed by President Obama to show progress by the end of this summer.  Bear in mind, Obama’s ‘requirement’ was imposed on the Pentagon when he improved the flawed McChrystal/Petraeus surge plan and sold it to the American people last fall.  The military and spokesmen for the Obama administration began immediately  to back away from the deadline shortly after its inception, and it has already been stretched to coincide with the mid-term elections in November — which goes to show that domestic politics do not end at the water’s edge?

Although the several commentators expressed their justifiable skepticism about the timing of the NYT report, to the best of my knowledge, none have addressed the substance of the mineral estimate.  Shortly after it was published, my good friend and colleague Pierre Sprey, who has been called a vampire because he does his best work in the dark after midnight, got to the heart of the latter question and put the entire story together in an elegantly brief email that he distributed in the dark early hours of 14 June. 

Attached for your reading pleasure is Pierre’s incisive critique:

Pierre Sprey

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan
Pierre Sprey  14 June 2010

The timing of this release of ancient mining news–especially when floated with Petraeus' name plastered all over it in a tried-and-true government propaganda outlet like the N.Y. Times–smells to me like a last ditch attempt to invent an economic justification for hanging on many more years in the hopeless Afghani morass.

Note that the now sacrosanct 1980s Russian mineral survey was “stumbled on” six years ago in 2004 by an American reconstruction team foraging in the Afghan Geological Survey Library. Then, according to the Times' (read Petraeus and DoD) spin, nothing happened until two years later when the U.S. Geological Survey launched a 2006 aerial mineral survey followed by another in 2007, supposedly yielding all-new evidence of astonishing mineral wealth (iron, gold, copper, lithium, supposedly a trillion dollar's worth)  just waiting to be tapped. Supposedly, this astonishing new evidence was then ignored by all until a Pentagon business development task force “rediscovered” the ignored USGS mineral data in 2009.

This spin is quite untrue: in 2005, the Afghan government, quite aware of their mineral resources, opened bidding on copper mining leases in Logar Province, bidding that was won by the Chinese in 2007. As for the reliability of the USGS data, note that they report 1.8 billion tons of potential lithium deposits (lithium is very trendy with the greens these days) but only a puny 111 million tons in proven or probable deposits.
But none of this purportedly astonishing USGS aerial survey data has raised much dust in the international mining world, despite the fact that the entire current New York Times scoop was thoroughly covered by Reuters and Mining Exploration News a year ago in April of 2009.

So what turned the ho-hum Reuters news of April, 2009 into a hot Times scoop in June of 2010? Is there any connection with the desperate need of McChrystal, Petraeus and Gates for a life jacket, now that the Afghan surge they floated is sinking so rapidly?

Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Here it is….

U.S. Identifies Vast Mineral Riches in Afghanistan

By JAMES RISEN  New York Times, 13 June 2010

WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

And so on….read the full deception.

See Also:

Chapter 20, “21st Century Counterintelligence: Evaluating the Health of the Nation,” especially Dereliction of Duty (Defense); Disinformation, Other Information Pathologies, & Repression; Emprire as a Cancer including Betrayal & Deceit; Impeacahable Offenses (Modern); Institutionalized  Ineptitude; and Intelligence (Lack Of), all in the online hyperlinked version of INTELLIGENCE for Earth: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainability (pages 179-205, in Part III.