Ho Lee, John Deutch and the Future of Intelligence
remains to be seen whether the impulse has "legs," as
they say in show biz and in that branch of it that they call politics.
But the freeing of physicist Wen Ho Lee from solitary confinement
in New Mexico has focused renewed attention on the case of John
Deutch, the former CIA director who is accused – apparently rather
credibly – of pretty much the same offense the government finally
charged Dr. Lee with: mishandling computer files containing secret
question is, what will happen to Mr. Deutch in the wake of Dr. Lee
being freed with an apology by a federal judging (after copping
to one of the 59 counts and agreeing to talk some more)? Hardly
anybody really believes Mr. Deutch was involved in espionage, even
though investigators discovered that he had "placed large volumes
of classified material on unsecured computers in his home, including
information about some of the government’s most sensitive covert
operations," as James Risen put it in a May 5 New York Times
story. This activity "represented potential violations of both
agency rules and federal law." Furthermore, "Three days
after the classified material was detected, Deutch deleted more
than 1,000 files from his personal computer, the inspector general’s
more you look into the background of both cases, however, the more
it looks like something larger than simple hypocrisy or even special
treatment for the insider lies beneath both scandals – and much
else that is wrong with the CIA. In the wake of the end of the cold
war the CIA has been floundering for 10 years, an agency in search
of a mission. In the meantime questions old and new are arising
about the alleged need for secrecy, or at least the need
to classify increasing volumes of material (much of which is already
available elsewhere from utterly open sources) so it becomes
illegal for certain people to have access to it.
big questions lurk. What is the role of intelligence agencies, both
government and private in an interconnected world without an active
superpower confrontation? Is government secrecy an effective way
of thwarting enemies or would-be enemies? If it is needed, is the
CIA the right agency to do it, or is it so encrusted with a cold
war corporate culture that it would be better to abolish it and
start over with a new agency? In the Internet world does government
secrecy or government intelligence acquisition even have a useful
or legitimate role?
would have been appropriate to have been examining and discussing
such questions openly and with a variety of input from the moment
the Berlin Wall fell. But aside from a few cranks, that hasn’t happened.
Institutional inertia won out over whatever latent desire for a
fresh approach to the new realities of a new era might have existed,
and the CIA has been allowed to stumble blindly for the last 10
even some evidence – from a 9/10/00 story by James Risen in the
New York Times that shows the agency a certain sympathy,
no less – that the current administration has been undermining the
CIA and hindering the search for a reason to live. It’s more by
incompetence and inattention than by design, but the CIA – indeed,
the whole idea of intelligence in a world where national borders
are less important – though not altogether unimportant is
in a deep crisis
OR PROFESSIONAL COURTESY?
to the Deutch case. The apparent violation of transferring material
to unsecured computers was discovered as Deutch was leaving office
in 1996. As CIA director he would have had access to most anything
he wanted, but even when in office not the authority to transfer
it to an unsecured computer. He was almost certainly expected to
work at home and take stuff home, but only under certain security
provisions. No doubt he was not the only CIA employee to be sometimes
lax about the details of security procedures.
the law – at least in the abstract and in some cases in reality
– is said to be concerned with actions first and motivations second.
Did he do the deed? If there are mitigating circumstances and necessities
involved in essentially technical violations, fine; maybe only a
reprimand or reminder is necessary. But the law’s first concern
is whether the violation occurred.
internal security investigation of Deutch’s downloading was begun
in December 1996 but shelved after a few months. According to a
classified report by the agency’s inspector-general’s office apparently
seen in January by James Risen of the Times, actions by the agency’s
former executive director, Nora Slatkin, and general counsel, Michael
O’Neill, "had the effect of delaying a prompt and thorough
investigation of the matter."
inspector general’s office didn’t get involved in the case until
late 1997 and didn’t tell the Justice Department about the Deutch
matter – involving a possibly prosecution worthy violation
of federal law, not just internal agency regulations until early
1998. George Tenet, the current director, learned of the possible
security breach quickly, but didn’t reprimand Deutch until the inspector
general’s office notified Justice. Nobody breathed a word to the
congressional committees with oversight jurisdiction, although most
committee meetings are held in secret and important leaks are not
all that common.
a word, as some CIA security officials concluded, senior officials
were protecting Deutch. Who knows whether anything would have happened
if a CIA employee hadn’t complained to the inspector general’s office
and triggered an investigation?
Deutch has undergone more intensive investigation since Justice
was informed and some details leaked out. He may face indictment
and prosecution. As Stratfor.com put it in its 9/18
open-source daily intelligence update – I get it by e-mail and
most people can – "If they’re going to hammer Lee, then they’re
going to hammer Deutch. It would look too bad not to do so."
gives the appearance of being a private company staffed by former
intelligence people who still buy into the broad outlines of the
intelligence ideology but with the independence that can come from
not drawing a government paycheck anymore. I don’t know that to
a certainty, and I don’t always agree with their realpolitik approach
to the world, but they often seem to know what they’re talking about
when it comes to intelligence matters
to Stratfor, "both cases [Lee and Deutch] perfectly illustrate
one of the American intelligence community’s greatest problems:
the cult of classification, in which information both rare and commonplace
is safeguarded with equal zeal. Both cases also illustrate the intense
political pressures on intelligence and counterintelligence agencies,
polluting the value of the nation’s intelligence. These are the
parts of our system that are broken, the ones that no one in Washington
wants to talk about."
short, when you classify everything, including material that has
appeared in scientific journals, the New York Times and on
the Internet, you waste too much time and resources protecting trivial
non-secrets and inevitably devote less attention to real, important
secrets. "While we obsess over these ["banal drivel"
and cases like Lee and Deutch] the true secrets will fly out the
door to the four corners of the earth."