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March 16, 2009

United States of America

An Alternate Path

Dual-Tracking Post-Governmental Employment to Avoid the Next Freeman Debacle

By Michael Tanji | March 16, 2009

This is not an article about Charles Freeman; it is about something bigger than Charles Freeman, for which he is simply a poster boy.

While anyone who is looking for an objective, informed voice on issues relative to national diplomacy and security should be at least concerned about statements attributed to Charles Freeman, one should not forget to look at this issue from another angle: Why does it seem like the only post-governmental living that can be made by people like Mr. Freeman comes at the expense (real or perceived) of their independence and objectivity?

Now, when I say "people like Freeman," I'm saying senior, seasoned officials who have logged serious time working in the trenches for their government. Their rewards, hard fought and won, tend to cumulate in a glory assignment, a high-level award, and a modest pension. Then the pay-off for all that blood, sweat and tears comes day after retirement: a well-compensated position for a consultancy of some sort, where one's expertise, experience, and influence can be applied to push a given agenda. Most readers will recognize this process by the colloquial term: revolving door.

I'm the last person in the world to say that someone shouldn't maximize their earning potential, but why is it that the most lucrative path after a career of selfless service is to embed yourself with foreign power(s) whose sole purpose for employing you is to lobby for interests that are almost assuredly going to run counter to the best interests of the US? Such efforts may not be directly and severely adverse to our own national security, and in fact such interests may be strategically useful in many regards, but the agenda isn't being driven by those who have our best interests at heart 24/7. Contrary to popular belief, "ally" on a strategic level is not analogous to "friend" on a personal level.

Did the "Israeli lobby" end Mr. Freeman's chances of leading the National Intelligence Council? Well, what if it did? It is worth noting that one of the loudest voices against Charles Freeman was a man indicted in an alleged espionage conspiracy that would have benefited Israel. The worst kept secret in the secrets business is the massive, penetrating, and long-standing intelligence operations Israel has been running against the US for decades. It is interesting to note that most of the people serving time in the US for espionage did so on behalf of or in support of a range of oppressive, adversarial regimes . . . and Israel. Granted, were I a nation surrounded by other nations bent on my destruction, I'd be running a very forward-leaning intelligence apparatus as well. Yet, were there an organized, state-sponsored effort to derail Mr. Freeman's appointment, would it in effect be anything more than a countermeasure to the efforts applied by Islamic governments?

Going on the payroll of other nations - directly or indirectly - is of little utility unless you can get back into a position where your influence can inject those positions into policy and supposedly objective intelligence. That's why foreign nations fund academic chairs, think tanks, and other mechanisms external to but closely linked with the government. I don't mind Chas Freeman diplomat-come-appointee promoting political views; just do it in the White House not in the NIC. It would be funny, were it not so disturbing, that someone didn't think that years of enjoying foreign largess would not raise a red flag. Again, make as much money as you like, just make an effort to ensure the funds originate from tax dollars, not foreign coffers.

We could avoid more and future problems of this nature by letting people choose between second careers that have foreign ties and those that do not; the former coming with the caveat that you will be locked out of contention for future governmental posts. Cushion your nest egg any way you like, espouse any position you like, just don't expect to exert any influence on your government save from afar. Our nation is not hurting for expertise in the national security arena, and in fact halting the revolving door should serve to inject new thoughts and ideas from people who would normally have never been considered for such positions because they're experts and not political. At its core however, we should be striving to develop a system that fills the government's ranks with people who show up saying, "I am here to serve my nation, not for summer in the Hamptons."

March 3, 2009

United States of America

Legacy Futures in Cyberspace

To deal with future problems, its helps to look forward

By Adam Elkus | March 3, 2009

At the information security convention Black Hat DC, homeland security expert Paul Kurtz argued in favor of developing sophisticated cyberweapons to deter attacks on American networks. However, as ThreatsWatch's own Michael Tanji observes, cyber-deterrence makes as much sense as trying to ban math. With anyone with a computer science degree able to develop malicious code, Cold War concepts of deterrence and non-proliferation are useless.

Nebulous concepts of cyber-deterrence are but one isolated symptom of a severe problem within the cyber-industrial complex: the pervasive reach of "legacy futures."

Continue reading "Legacy Futures in Cyberspace" »

March 2, 2009

United States of America

Brave Digital World

Smarter Solutions not More of the Same

By Michael Tanji | March 2, 2009

Consider the following scenarios, some notional, some pulled and adapted from recent headlines:

  • You are the President of the United States. You are about to step foot on the new Marine One helicopter for a trip to Camp David. Just before takeoff, as you are waving to the press, an aide whispers that a hostile foreign power may have obtained the plans for the bird you are about to board. Just what is the expression on your face right now?
  • You are the head of a major credit card processing firm. You are awoken at oh-dark-thirty and told your firm has become the victim of the largest single credit card data breach ever. You know that smaller breaches happen all the time and in fact the sum total of minor breaches over the course of a year might actually expose more people to greater risk, but your board, stockholders, and customers aren't going to care all that much. Just how current is your resume?
  • Barely three years have passed since the FBI's Virtual Case File debacle; perhaps an even greater technically oriented tragedy is taking place nearby. Still, the government seems hell bent on paying for a technical solution for some of our most personal and sensitive data. Data that is sure to be lost or stolen. At what point does writing checks for such services seem foolish, or cashing those checks start to feel a little indecent?

Technology can solve a lot of problems, but while we are living in an increasingly technical age, our technical sophistication has not kept pace. Executives still don't seem to make decisions based on data or the advice of those in the trenches, but from whatever article on technology was in the last in-flight magazine they read. Fights about how to retool information-based processes now that "living" stores of information and analysis are available are driven largely by ignorance and institutional inertia, not any logical or even reasonable data-based argument.

There is no shortage of good ideas on how to apply technology in ways that will make work and life safer, more efficient and more effective, it's just that government (and the institutions that serve government) is largely unused to working in such a fashion. If it is not a hundred-million dollar contract that last five years no one seems to know what to do. It is beyond the comprehension of most in positions of authority that one person with the right knowledge and skills could produce a solution equal or superior to anything a conglomerate could. You see some rare exceptions, and that rarity is a true shame that says more about those who would rather hold on to the power derived from data than serve the people.

The threat most often overlooked in such discussions is that our adversaries, particularly those of the non-state variety, don't really have such issues. By nature they are dynamic and efficient and maximize the utility of information technology to accomplish their missions (illicit though they may be). The loss of the right kind of technical data on US military aircraft means that once those aircraft are flying they may be easier to shoot down; the theft of tens of thousands of electronic identities means the loss of untold dollars of revenue and corporate and personal productivity at a time in our country when both time and money are exceedingly precious commodities; the inability to deliver on the promise of technology means that people who could derive the greatest benefit from the intelligent application of technology will neither trust it nor respect it, extending the life of failed cultures, processes and ideas. We are close to a point where our inability to operate at combat speed in the information age puts us at risk of becoming the most physically powerful and practically impotent force in the world.

It is hard to argue with the broad idea of applying information technology to address problems of any sort. However, throwing computers at a problem isn't a solution. What such approaches will inevitably do is become a money sink that will expose more people to more threats and cost millions if not billions more in lost governmental, corporate, and personal treasure. It will further erode people's confidence in technology at a time when we should be embracing its power and benefits.

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