The level of detail in this book is extraordinary, as is the meticulous documentation of sources. Even the index is surprising in both its presence and its quality.A few little gems jump out at me from all the detail:
1) Corporate corruption appears to not only be routine, but massive among more industries and companies than we might believe.
2) The government does actually try to regulate and prosecute, but this is both very expensive, and appears to result in the public *not* becoming conscious of the mis-deeds–no massive boycott, for example, seems to result.
3) The executives that conspire to cheat the public are remarkably ignorant. I was stunned to read how one of the principals in this story fell victim to what I thought was a really well-known Nigerian scam for defrauding numerous Americans of tens of thousands of dollars each, claiming that it will “release” millions in hijacked funds from the national bank.
4) The government often mistreats its own people. I was especially troubled, having seen employee abuse at other national agencies, when the book related how a senior FBI agent was not allowed to transfer–and save his mental health–because of his boss’s selfish interests.
5) Lastly, I was left with the impression that there is an elaborate dance that goes on between the very expensive top law firms that protect corporate criminals, and the government. While the government seems to have worked hard on this one, the general impression that is left is that the normal drill when the public has been defrauded of hundreds of millions of dollars, is for the culprits to plead “no contest” and agree not to do it again–in return for token fines and guaranteed immunity.
At the end of the book I was left feeling dismayed at the depth and breadth of corporate corruption, at the general inadequacy of government in keeping the private sector economy honest, and at the lack of alternative public advocacy devices for truly focusing public spotlights such that fair pricing and fair practices are widely understood and enforced by customers, not just under-funded over-worked oversight bodies.
Although the book is very very long at 629 pages, I would have liked to see an author’s epilogue titled “What Is To Be Done?” The author of this book can rightly claim to be among a select few intimately familiar with this problem in a manner no book by itself could communicate, and so a public policy analysis, some sort of prescription, would have been a valuable postscript to this excellent, really superior, investigative report.
Rare and Deep Insights into Intelligence Grid-Lock,
December 19, 2000
The opening quotation from Harry Howe Ransom says it all-“Certainly nothing is more rational and logical than the idea that national security policies be based upon the fullest and most accurate information available; but the cold war spawned an intelligence Frankenstein monster that now needs to be dissected, remodeled, rationalized and made fully accountable to responsible representatives of the people.”
Professor Johnson is one of only two people(the other being Britt Snider) to have served on both the Church Commission in the 1970’s and the Aspin-Brown Commission in the 1990’s, and is in my view one of the most competent observer and commentator on the so-called U.S. Intelligence Community. The book is a tour d’horizon on both the deficiencies of today’s highly fragmented and bureaucratized archipelago of independent fiefdoms, as well as the “new intelligence agenda” that places public health and the environment near the top of the list of topics to be covered by spies and satellites.
Highlights of this excellent work, a new standard in terms of currency and breadth, include his informed judgment that most of what is in the “base” budget of the community should be resurrected for reexamination, and that at least 20% of the budget (roughly $6 billion per year) could be done away with-and one speculates that this would be good news to an Administration actively seeking trade-offs permitting its promised tax cut program. His overviews of the various cultures within the Central Intelligence Agency, of the myths of intelligence, and of the possibilities for burden sharing all merit close review.
He does, however, go a bridge too far while simultaneously rendering a great service to the incoming Administration. He properly identifies the dramatic shortfalls in the open source information gathering and processing capabilities of the various Departments of the Federal government-notably the Department of State as well as the Department of Commerce and the various agencies associated with public health-but then he goes on to suggest that these very incapacities should give rise to an extension of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s mission and mandate-that it is the U.S. Intelligence Community, including clandestine case officers in the field and even FBI special agents, who should be tasked with collecting open sources of information and with reporting on everything from disease to pollution. This will never work, but it does highlight the fact that all is not well with *both* the U.S. Intelligence Community *and* the rest of the government that is purportedly responsible for collecting and understanding open sources of information.
On balance I found this book to be a very competent, insightful, and well-documented survey of the current stresses and strains facing the U.S. national intelligence community. The conclusion that I drew from the book, one that might not be shared by the author, was that the U.S. Government as a whole has completely missed the dawn of the Information Age. From the National Security Agency, where too many people on payroll keep that organization mired in the technologies of the 1970’s, to the U.S. State Department, which has lost control of its Embassies and no longer collects significant amounts of open source information, to the White House, where no one has time to read-we have completely blown it-we simply have not adapted the cheap and responsive tools of the Internet to our needs, nor have we employed the Internet to share the financial as well as the intellectual and time burdens of achieving “Global Coverage.” More profoundly, what this book does in a way I have not been able to do myself, is very pointedly call into question the entire structure of government, a government attempting to channel small streams of fragmented electronic information through a physical infrastructure of buildings and people that share no electronic connectivity what-so-ever, while abdicating its responsibility to absorb and appreciate the vast volumes of relevant information from around the globe that is not online, not in English, and not free.
It was not until I had absorbed the book’s grand juxtaposition of the complementary incompetencies of both the producers of intelligence and the consumers of intelligence that I realized he has touched on what must be the core competency of government in the Information Age: how precisely do we go about collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information, and creating tailored intelligence, when we are all inter-dependent across national, legal bureaucratic, and cultural boundaries? This is not about secrecy versus openness, but rather about whether Government Operations as a whole are taking place with the sources, methods, and tools of this century, or the last. To bombs, bugs, drugs, and thugs one must add the perennial Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
From the Top Cyber-Sleuth, A Cold Shower on Cyber-Hype,
May 29, 2000
When Cliff Stoll, the brilliant man who caught the top East German electronic criminal, speaks on the failures of our cyber-culture, we must listen carefully. “Our networks are awash in data. A little of it’s information. A smidgen of this shows up as knowledge….The Internet, that great digital dumpster, confers not power, not prosperity, not perspicacity…Our networks can be frustrating, expensive, unreliable connections that get in the way of useful work. It is an overpromoted hollow world, devoid of warmth and human kindness. The heavily promoted information infrastructure addresses few social needs or business concerns. At the same time, it directly threatens precious parts of our society, including schools, libraries, and social institutions.”
Insider Threat, and Poor Management = Major Losses,
April 8, 2000
Ira, a former National Security Agency professional, made a name for himself in his second career as a corporate electronic security specialist by using a combination of common sense and basic work-arounds to penetrate and download millions if not billions of dollars worth of corporate research and development-always at the company’s request, and generally with astonishing results. From his antics as a “temp” hire gaining access within two days, to his more systematic attacks using all known vulnerabilities including factory-shipped system administrator passwords that were never changed, he has exposed in a very practical way the “naked emperor” status of corporate America.
Excellent Overview of Allied and Other Economic Espionage,
April 8, 2000
John J. Fialka
John is a distinguished correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, their lead reporter during the Gulf War, and an award-winning investigative journalist in the fields of national security, politics, and financial scandal. The Chinese, Japanese, French and Russians are featured here, together with useful cross-overs into criminal gangs doing espionage on U.S. corporations, as well as overt data mining and other quasi-legal activities that yield far more economic intelligence than most business leaders understand.