Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and the Intelligence Community's Double Bind

Why one approach to stopping leaks won't work.


The anthropologist Hugh Gusterson makes an important point in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

The leak to end all leaks.

American leaders say they will avoid future Mannings and Snowdens by segmenting access to information so that individual analysts cannot avail themselves of so much, and by giving fewer security clearances, especially to employees of contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked. This will not work. Segmentation of access runs counter to the whole point of the latest intelligence strategy, which is fusion of data from disparate sources. The more Balkanized the data, the less effective the intelligence. And, as Dana Priest and William Arkin make clear in their important book Top Secret America, intelligence agencies are collecting so much information that they have to hire vast numbers of new employees, many of whom cannot be adequately vetted. Since 9/11 the National Security Agency's workforce has grown by a third, to 33,000, and the number of private companies it relies on for contractors has tripled to close to 500. The more people know your secrets, the more likely it is they will leak out.

Further reading: "Our Leaky World" and "Why a Government That Collects Everyone's Private Data Won't Let Its Employees Access Public Information."

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  1. Braaaaazzzzzzzilllllllll

  2. When they say they’ll sequment access to information — they’re lying.

    1. When they say they’ll sequment access to information move their lips — they’re lying.


  3. So, after 9/11 they centralized everything that was decentralized. Now some clever apparatchik wants to decentralize everything that was centralized.

    1. It’s almost like they’re always fighting the last war. Every. Single. Time.

      This is why these guys are in charge. Because they’re so smart. Just look at them!

    2. Tough to employ all those retired GS-14s at consultant salaries with changing something.

  4. This will not work.

    I disagree. It does work for the real goal, which is the unending growth and obfuscation of the bureaucracy and its associated cronies.

    1. Exactly. The core, true, underlying purpose to any agency like this is its own expansion. Anything which achieves this is a win for the agency.

  5. Is anyone doing any research on how to encourage more Mannings and Snowdens to come forward?

    1. Maybe we should come up with some kind of Noble Prize for whistle-blowers?

      1. The prize is a drone strike!

    2. Yeah, they’re still kinda missing the point of it all.

      1. Yeah, maybe what we should do is crack down on the journalists who report on this stuff!

        Sometimes I wonder if, somewhere along the line, I woke up in Bizzaro world.

  6. A terribly inefficient NSA would be an improvement at this point.

    1. That’s an old Civ 5 quote:

      “The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.”

      —-Eugene McCarthy

      1. Eugene never got the chance to visit the modern UK.

      2. Our system was originally designed to be inefficient, as we then prized our freedoms more than an efficient (or “efficient”) government. Now, of course, things are different.

        1. Exactly.

          In terms of law enforcement, the problem with high efficiency is that it discourages reforms to oppressive laws or tactics by squelching dissent and non-adherence.

    2. Problem is the NSA will still be able to collect information, but the channels thru which the public will be able to address this issue will become even more complicated. Now it will be even more of “We don’t handle that. You need to talk to this office.” The violations will continue but they will spread and segmented across multiple bureaucracies, each with their own agenda and fiefdom.

    3. Bah, beaten to it. I want to see micrometer segregation and segmentation. Let’s encourage a neutered surveillance state. I’m partial to the public choice model Scruffy alluded to, and if preserving civil liberties requires paying off cronies to do inefficient makework, let it be done.

      1. and if preserving civil liberties requires paying off cronies to do inefficient makework, let it be done.

        Eventually you’ll be paying off cronies by forfeiting your property rights.

  7. Civil liberties groups say that the VIPR teams have little to do with the agency’s original mission to provide security screenings at airports and that in some cases their actions amount to warrantless searches in violation of constitutional protections.

    Transportation Security Administration? How is roaming the land performing searches while people are moving about, transporting themselves around this country of ours not part of their original mission?

    Freedom isn’t free, you know…

  8. The VIPR teams were started in 2005, in part as a reaction to the Madrid train bombing in 2004 that killed 191 people.

    They can’t bomb high speed trains in this country because sadly, we don’t have them. This is why we need high speed trains.

    1. Gah, wrong thread. I blame Bradley Manning.

  9. They should do like the British army when designing the world’s funniest joke – have each operative work on a single word, so nobody knows the entire joke.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ienp4J3pW7U (at 4 minutes)

  10. So, who is Billy? Is it Billy Batson? Or some other comic Billy?

    1. I suspect it’s from a Jack Chick publication, but I can’t be sure. It looks like one.

  11. the number of private companies it relies on for contractors has tripled to close to 500.

    Slightly misleading, though. A number of the private companies are one-man shops, and those tend to be formed by people who already have clearances who then set up their own shop, taking their contracts and clearances with them. The number of large companies with substantial numbers of employees has remained constant, and those are the ones that get people cleared. Small companies can’t afford to have someone sitting around waiting to be cleared. Typical thing is someone works for the government or a big contractor, then switches to a smaller company or their own startup with less overhead. Then maybe sells that startup to one of the big guys, starts over.

    Number of employees has increased, but not tripled.

  12. I disagree. All spy organizations practice segmentation at lower and middle levels (e.g. “cells”), and fusion of data at higher levels. What is surprising about Manning and Snowden is how much data these two obviously low-level people had access to. This is not to say that it’ll stop all leaks, but “Balkanizing the data” at the Manning/Snowden level need not have a negative impact on any fusion of data that happens at higher levels.

    1. It would be great if they meant that Manning/Snowden wouldn’t have access to the entire database, but I think what they mean is that Manning/Snowden wouldn’t have access to information about the programs. They could still log in and search the entire database for records on any given individual with no technical barriers stopping them.

  13. Perhaps we could “segment” access to information by the categories “foreign” and “domestic”. For instance, the CIA and NSA would only be able to collect information outside of the US or on foreign nationals, and only the FBI would be allowed to collect information on American’s and then they would have to get a warrant, and the CIA/NSA could not pass information about Americans to the FBI or vice versa. I think this might be a workable segmentation.

    1. Of course this was the original plan, but 9/11 helped show the limitations. There was a “wall of separation” between the CIA and the FBI that caused them to not pick up clues that could have prevented it. It was one of Jamie Gorelick’s disasters.

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