Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Pentagon Spy and Me

Update (May 29 2004): Photo of Pentagon Spy Posted

The infamous Pentagon Spy from the classic post 'The Pentagon Spy and Me', shown here posing outside what appears to be a restricted overseas facility. I digitially blurred the face for some Geneva Convention reason. Yeah, that's it, the Geneva Convention. Note trademark tie-dye shirt uniform and peace sign. (He apparently works as a military intelligence contractor for Donald Rumsfeld's DOD OSD and DOD ASD NII. One wonders if he copied the Duke character straight from the pages of Doonesbury.) He appears to live the millionaire lifestyle on two coast. Yes, this is a real person, folks.

The Pentagon Spy and Me
By E.E.A. Eaton
Originally Posted May 16 2004)

It was a spring day in 2002.

I had been invited to an "extravaganza." The details were vague-they were going to do something high-tech to help some local children. (The invitation suggested they were especially after scientific and technical talent, as well as the press).

The normally sunny SoCal sky had briefly opened up and allowed a little rain to slick up the roads.

Despite the slick roads and the vaguely worded invitation, I was eager to attend. The organizers, had what at first sounded like impressive academic credentials. They also had a mansion in one of the most expensive gated communities in Southern California.

I would later become very uncomfortable with this person. He kept insisting I should not tell other people about him, that he "didn't exist." Googling his name suggested otherwise - he ran several websites advertising his many mini-organizations, his appearance at several conferences, and his with two universities. They event hint vaguely at his involvement with DOD. According to Google, he definitely exists.

There were worrying things he would later tell me. In early 2004, he confided that liberals and Democrats, would "react strongly," he felt, if they learned of his activities, especially "in this Presidential Election year." Why? Why would anyone react strongly from activities designed to protect us from deadly enemies? By 2004, I had enough hints (and many megabytes of email attachments), to put the pieces together.

However, in 2002 I had recently relocated and knew none of this yet. Naturally, I was eager to make new friends in my new area. I was certainly intrigued to be invited to a mansion in a gated community that boasts Bill Gates and other celebrities as occasional residents.

At the party, I met the philanthropist, who turned out to be a highly-paid government contractor posing as an adjunct professor at two universities. I was articulate, highly-educated with diplomas from elite universities, traveled in privileged circles, and possessed considerable scientific and technical expertise that they found useful in the war on terror, so they were interested in me as well.

Even more intriguing, he was a right-wing ex-military Christian Fundamentalist who surrounded himself with military officers and other DOD types, all the while running around in tie-dye t-shirt (!) and effectively professing to be a flower child.

Now this was strange. I never did a straight answer at the party for what they were trying to do, or how this guy made so much money. (Or why military people would like to hang around with wealthy hippies.) One of his many organizations was trying to do something with sensors that it would supposedly help children, although the details were murky.

But, I don't know flower children that hung around military types - his business card even has him wearing a tie-dye t-shirt - so I decided to find out more.

In time it turned out that he spent considerable time working as an adjunct professor at two universities - one on each coast - and spent time flying between his SoCal mansion, the East Coast, D.C., and, later on, Kuwait and Germany.

For those who aren't familiar with academic titles, adjunct professors are not ordinary professors. Adjunct professors aren't eligible for tenure, and they don't normally get paid for their work. Rather, they are effectively volunteers with doctorates whom a university has allowed in their "club" in order to have access to students. (In some cases an adjunct professor may have a regular professorship in another department or university, but that was not the case here).

So how did this guy make his money? Well, it turned out he was a DOD government contractor with multi-million dollar grants. But he kept hinting that there was more than that-he was "below the radar," "didn't exist," had "top cover" and "top clearance" and simultaneously had another job in a "parallel" (i.e., "grey") universe.

I was very suspicious. By "top cover" he apparently meant "non-governmental" cover, where the U.S. government arranges a "non-governmental" cover employment for a U.S. intelligence agent - the most difficult type of cover for the US government to organize. I remembered reading that government employees or even the press were prohibited from revealing the names of people with "non-governmental" cover. Given the secrecy, wasn't breaking the rules by even hinting to me he had "non-governmental" cover? (I now understand one might even lose one's security clearance for hinting in this way.) He answered evasively. Ultimately, I would conclude that he likely didn't have "non-governmental" cover, as that would have been made him far more liable under US laws. Like the contractors in the recent Iraqi torture scandal (with which there is no evidence either way that he was involved in, although he would have been well-qualified as a torture expert), he was a very highly-paid DOD military intelligence government contractor with a security clearance, but nothing more.

Two years later, I would watch a PBS documentary on the CIA "Cointelpro" operation, in which CIA operatives would (illegally) infiltrate U.S. liberal anti-war groups in order to spy on and subvert them. They showed a picture of the operatives together, posing for an official picture - they all wore the same tie-dyed t-shirt uniform.

As you may recall from the recent New Yorker article, one of the criticisms against Rumsfeld is that he has tried to wrest control of U.S. intelligence away from the civilian CIA in favor of his own DOD intelligence. If Rumsfeld wanted to authorize such an operation today, one could naturally expect it to be carried out by DOD intelligence rather than the more professional (and more legally cautious) CIA in the State Department. So maybe this was a DOD copy of the old CIA Cointelpro operation to infiltrate US liberal groups, right down to the tie-dye t-shirt uniform. Except, as a further legal precaution, DOD used government contractors rather than government employees.

In any event, I was familiar with the ABC spy drama Alias. In Alias' first season, a corrupt organization (SD6) recruits people by pretending to be a CIA "black" operation using a front.

Worried that I might end up helping an SD6-like organization (or, more likely, a con-artist), I was very uncomfortable with this contractor's repeated hints that he was, in fact, a government spy, and pressed him to either provide at least a vague U.S. government job description, or stop making the claim. He would eventually submit that his job was to "make the invisible visible", i.e., provide civilians with hints of government classified technology, in order to acquaint them (vaguely) with government capabilities. The goal was to boast civilian capabilities as well as better coordinate civilian capabilities in the event of an emergency, such as a terrorist attack. All of this sounded laudable.

I was, ultimately, able to confirm his DOD connection. Some of his many emails to me contained email addresses at the DOD whose bona fides I could easily verify. I forwarded some of these people the emails under a pretense. I was genuinely concerned that some of the DOD emails might be classified, or might contain information the DOD did not want forwarded around. These emails were immediately forwarded back to government contractor, so the highest levels of DOD (OSD and ASD NII) were aware of him. His claims to be in frequent meetings with these people were evidently true.

Moreover, the DOD did not really seem to care who saw these emails. For the most part, they presented a sympathetic view of a DOD deeply concerned with medical care and telemedicine for refugees, modernizing its IT systems, as well as finding terrorists.

We now have a somewhat more accurate picture - DOD was interested in telemedicine, but mainly for wounded soldiers, not refugees. Refugees were left to NGOs. The Nova PBS program on military medicine makes this clear: an entire military hospital wing was left idle in Kuwait while the refugee crisis in Iraq unfolded. So most of this was propaganda, which is why DOD didn't care about the emails.

The only negative information about DOD in these emails would be in foreign press accounts that were daily translated by one of DOD's automated translation systems (this one run by a contractor), which translates an impressive fraction of the world's press each day, especially those related to the Middle East. These translations, or edited versions thereof, are made available to qualified subscribers, including some US NGOs and DOD contractors, but not to the US press corps.

My suggestion, based on theoretical grounds (see my earlier posts on the role of a free press in democracy) is that these translations should be provided on a subscription basis to US media organizations. I was repeatedly assured that these translated open-source media accounts, as well as the automated translation service, were completely unclassified and known to a number of gov't agencies, DOD and USAID contractors and even qualified NGOs.

As such, the government was doing translations anyway, so why not make them available, for a fee, to US media outlets? A delay could even be instituted if it was thought necessary. I pointed out that former U.S. Defense Secretary McNamara had recently made a documentary in which he claimed Kennedy would have made far fewer mistakes in Vietnam had facts known to the government been published in the newspapers.

Most key decisions in the U.S., as in any democracy, are made on the basis of open source information. There are entire ecosystems of think tanks and media organizations that daily filter open source information and ultimately digest it for analysis. However, close-source information is much more expensive to work with, and ultimate gets very little analysis. The DOD was not about to help the press do a better job of translating and reporting Arab media sources, however, so my arguments apparently fell on deaf ears. To this date, I do not believe this is service is available to US media subscribers.

He would go on to me that he ultimately wasn't that interested in the translation service. What he was primarily interested in were "intelligence fusion cells," and this is what he feared Democrats would "react strongly to" "in this Presidential election" year if they found out about it.

Now the idea of the "intelligence fusion cells" is that the cell leader, a government agent, tries to "befriend" people in the community who are influential or might have skills useful to the government. The "cell" then tries to "influence" those people (i.e., feeds them propaganda) as well as seek information from those people.

Members of the "cell" would also be asked (in subtle ways) to provide interesting information on other members of the community. I initially assumed they would only be interested if they felt the neighbors might have information on terrorists, but it would turn out in all sorts of things - who was influential, what people's political beliefs were, what people's employment situation was, how much money members of the cell made, &c.

Of course, the people in the "cell" would not be told that they were members of a "cell", or even that a member of DOD military intelligence was running the group. They would think (ideally) that were just part of an informal group of friends.

These "intelligence fusion cells" were ostensibly going to be applied in Iraq, so any U.S. versions would just be informal tests in preparation for that deployment. We now know, however, what U.S.' primary methods of intelligence in Iraq were (torture). Ultimately, it would become clear that the "fusion cells" were intended to be deployed in the U.S. (where such methods would be borderline legal, and were torture of random people for intelligence would be highly illegal).

These "fusion cells" were also described as having another purpose. Ostensibly, government agencies were trying to create a buffer between themselves and the general populace. Prior to 911, government intelligence agencies were notoriously non-communicative. Any communication with U.S. citizens was often one-way, with agencies barely even acknowledging receipt of information.Such a buffer would be useful, for example, in the event of an emergency, when intelligence might need to quickly community with key people in U.S. communities. This buffer would presumably present another way of selling the "fusion cell" on unsuspecting Americans.

Another, much more practical version of the "fusion cell" might involve the integrated emergency taskforces that have been set up after 911, where local responders can place themselves under unified command in the event of an emergency (terrorist attack). Clearly, such taskforces are necessary to the national defense. Hopefully, however, these are not seen as an opportunity to spy on local communities or "influence" (i.e., manipulate with disinformation) them.

It would eventually become clear to me that he considered me one of many members of a U.S. "intelligence fusion cell" designed to both spy on Americans, as well as manipulate them with disinformation. That was the purpose of his many, often seemingly random forwarded DOD emails that presented a picture of a laudable DOD, deeply concerned about Iraqi refugee's health, interaction with NGOs in Iraq, and a strict interpretation of the Geneva Convention. The DOD was interested in "fusion cells" and such things because it was deeply anxious to learn any information that might protect this country from another terrorist strike.

Ultimately, however, what "they" were really interested in had little to with even "intelligence fusion cells."

Recall that around 2002 or so the Pentagon was engaged in a controversial program called "Total Information Awareness." In this program, the Pentagon would use Information Technology to examine private information, like consumer credit cards and airline flight records, to automatically spot possible terrorists.

Privacy advocates were concerned that the government planned to repeat Vietnam-area abuses of using the technology on Democrats and anti-war advocates. They were also concerned that this technology sometimes malfunctioned in the case of similar-sounding names, for example, and that there was no procedure for getting one's name off such a watch-list in the event of an error. The total secrecy surrounding the program and serious lack of accountability were a further concern.

There were conflicting accounts in the mainstream media that the Pentagon had either abandoned "Total Information Awareness" or had, in reality, tried to continue the very controversial program, except under far greater secrecy and under a different name. I have no either whether this program was continued or not, but it became very clear that the contractor was very interested in anything that might prove useful in this type of endeavor.

I certainly considered this a laudable goal - any information technology designed to protect us from terrorists in the U.S. or anywhere in world was certain a good thing as far as I was concerned. I was a forwarded an unclassified DOD bid solicitation (now expired) for contractors that could put together IT technology to identify terrorist command and control structures from information such as credit card and telephone receipts. The solicit made clear that the DOD bid solicitation was non-public (although explicitly unclassified) and that DOD would decline all public comment or public acknowledgement of the solicitation.

Unfortunately, the contractor suggested that DOD was planning to use the system to analyze a number of US and internationally civil organizations as a "test of the system."

"If you lack the capability to dispense more than $X billion a year, you're not a player in the global who's who of organizations" he said. Many of these organizations weren't players, and therefore interesting as test cases, "sort of like shooting skeet."

The civil society organizations he was most interested in, and which he tried to elicit information on by sending many, many emails that obliquely referred to this organization, were elite organizations for high-profile and wealthy CEOs, celebrities and other highly successful people.

These organizations were the last place one would find a 911-type terrorist-full of only the most successful, extremely well educated, wealthy, and highly intelligent Americans. These were the sort of people one would expect to run the airline, not tell a flight instructor the were only interested in flying planes already in mid-air.

Why was the DOD contractor interested in "testing the system" to identify the command and control structures of these organizations, "sort of like shooting skeet." And why were so many emails spent on this when the real target, ostensibly, were terrorist organizations? And, finally, why did he fear that liberals and Democrats and others would "react strongly" "in this Presidential election year" if they learned of any of this?

The answer, most likely, lies in his tie-dye t-shirt, the uniform for those in the Vietnam era "cointelpro" program. The purpose of this program was to infiltrate, demoralize, and ultimately control or destabilize American organizations that might form the nexus of a anti-war movement or even a pro-Democratic Party movement. Those behind the program believed the war in Vietnam was so urgent that they needed to infiltrate an damage Democratic-leaning organizations to protect the war effort.

The flip side of this, of course, is that they were undermining democratic processes to perpetuate a failed policy. We didn't need to win in Vietnam to win the Cold War. Those opposed to the Vietnam War would ultimately present a persuasive case that our later efforts there, at the very least, were an unnecessary waste of lives and materiel.

I argued in my May 12th post that democracy is simply an information processing system for making difficult social decisions. Interfering with that apparatus by interfering with the free press or by organizing a grass-roots disinformation campaign, for example, damages that system, causing it to make incorrect decisions to detriment of the society. Such interference may benefit a small clique of self-interested individuals, such as war profiteers, however.

What we have here -these U.S. intelligence fusion cells, of which I was apparently part of - appear to be a high-tech, grass-roots disinformation campaign. This type of campaign can only damage the decision-making processes in a democracy, to the detriment of America, but most likely to benefit some small, greedy or power-hungry clique in the United States. This contractor certainly seemed to be doing very well financially.

The interest in elite US organizations, and the apparent campaign to use Information Technology to possibly map them out (supposedly as only a "test" of an anti-terrorist system) is even more troubling. During the Vietnam Era, many well-meaning, law-abiding people had their lives destroyed as a result of undemocratic, illegal efforts by our government to suppress dissent.

If this were indeed again the intent, the contractors fears that Democrats would "react strongly" "during this Presidential election year" become much clearer.

I'd like to end by emphasizing that it is by no means clear that any of this contractor's actions were ever authorized by the DOD or any other US government agency. This is an independent government contractor who may simply have been acting out for personal, partisan reasons. As in the case of the Iraq prison scandal, DOD contractors are outside the normal chain of command, and not subject to the same strict laws that govern the conduct of true DOD employees. In the Iraqi prison scandal, this seems to have been part of the plan - government contractors were used precisely because they would not be subject to the usual rules and regulations.

About the only thing that can be certain is that this DOD contractor was in the loop at the highest levels of the Pentagon planning (OSD and ASD NII). His superiors seemed extremely satisfied with his activities (which seemed to involve operating mainly in the United States and sending out a great deal of email). Financially, he was doing extremely well, living a lifestyle consistent only with at least a mid-six-figure salary, similar to the pay of the contractors in the prison scandal. Unlike the contractors implicated in the scandal (some of which were also based here in Southern California), it appears that this contractor was able to operate mainly in the safety of the United States, although he may have traveled to Kuwait. There is no evidence he was involved in torture, although his academic credentials would have made him extremely well qualified as a torturer.

So, again, I want emphasize --- these might have all been the private, legal partisan actions of a private DOD contractor, and, anything more is "fevered imagination" and "conspiratorial" "by individuals with little understanding of DOD" as DOD accused the New Yorker was accused of being yesterday (earlier post). But we can be sure DOD certainly seemed very happy with him.

The morals of story are:

(1) DOD government contractors working with OSD and ASD NII at the highest levels of the Pentagon may have used Information Technology (IT) to try to map out the command and control structures of elite U.S. civil society organizations (e.g., networks of Democratic PACs and such other networks) that could form the nexus of anti-war or anti-Republican movement, ostensibly as a "test" of an anti-terrorist system. These organizations are, incidentally, completely vulnerable to such an analysis.

(2) Avoid right-wing Evangelical Christians DOD contractors that insist on dressing like flower children while working for Rumsfeld.

Update (May 29 2004):

Related article: Tech-guru/MIT professor extraordinare publically comments on the "Pentagon Spy and Me" (link).

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