Archive for the ‘Secrecy’ Category

Catch – um – Click 22

DARPA Headquarters?Well so much for keeping the address of the DARPA headquarters under raps.

Even though address of the agency that oversees research into everything from autonomous vehicles, robotic pack mules and Imaginary Weapons, can easily be found using Google and is clearly listed on it’s webpage (with directions), you can’t take a picture of the building itself. (At least not if you are nearby.)

Even worse, should you take a picture of the building, one could end up landing in some kind of Orwellian watch list. That’s what Kenneth W. McCormann found out. According to Marc Fisher at the Washington Post,

If you happen by 3701 N. Fairfax Drive in Arlington and decide you have a sudden craving for a photograph of a generic suburban office building, and you point your camera at said structure, you will rather quickly be greeted by uniformed security folks who will demand that you delete the image and require that you give up various personal information.

When Keith McCammon unwittingly took a picture of that building, he was launched on an odyssey that has so far involved an Arlington police officer, the chief of police and the defense of the United States of America.

McCammon could not have been expected to know when he wandered by the building that it houses the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a low-profile wing of the Defense Department that conducts all manner of high-tech research that evolves into weapons systems and high-order strategery.

DARPA’s presence at 3701 N. Fairfax is hardly a government secret–Google finds nearly 10,000 pages listing the agency’s use of the building. But there’s no big fat sign on the building, so how was McCammon to know that this was a building he dared not photograph? And why would the government care if anyone took a picture of the exterior of an office building? This is as silly and hypersensitive as the now-common harassment of people who innocently take pictures of random federal buildings in the District.

Unfortunately, in the next days and weeks, this will likely become one of the most photographed nondescript office buildings in Fairfax County, Virginia. Why? Because people are going to blog about it and wander down to see what the big deal is.

The problem here isn’t that DARPA really has anything to hide. The building itself probably isn’t even the problem. Perhaps the people entering and leaving the building would be an issue, but any spy or terrorist worth their salt could simply install a minicam in a car and park it across the street. Absolutely no problem getting images of each and every person entering the building on a given day.

Actually when McCammon followed up on the ‘contact’ writing complaints to the Arlington County Police Internal Affairs Section, he was met with openness. His blog shows the information he received. Now he has move up the line to find out what the security official at that installation has on file about him.

Think about ending up on a watch list or a no fly list simply because you took a picture of a building.

Conservatives, please connect the dots. Support the troops and obey the law. Public photography should be illegal, right? (Actually under a strict reading of the bible, image making should be illegal but we won’t go there.) Anyone could be a terrorist; anyone a target? Anywhere a secret installation? Are the liberals so far off when they say that security measures have gone a bit far?

And the officer who stopped McCammon was off duty, doing private contracting; a hired gun (abet working for the government). This says two things. Why does the governement have to contract off-duty police officers to do that kind of work (is it cost effective?). Indeed, are off-duty police officers a higher class of citizen – those who must be obeyed?

Finally, as McCammon point out,

Further, setting aside the issue of officer discretion, the most disturbing aspect of this incident is the simple fact that we had no way of knowing that we were acting in a manner that might have been so much as considered suspicious. If the subject in question is devoid of any type of external marking or warning sign, one should have no reason to suspect that it cannot be photographed (or approached while in possession of photographic equipment). And it follows that one should certainly have no reason to suspect that photographing such a subject might land one’s name on a list, or in a database. Reasonable, law-abiding people tend to avoid these types of things when it can be helped. Thus, my request for a list of locations within Arlington County that are unmarked, but at which photography is either prohibited or discouraged according to some (public or private) policy. Of course, such a list does not exist. Catch-22.

The absurdity of this type of situation is clear: We’re being penalized for violating poorly documented, questionably legal (an argument that I’m certainly unqualified to make) and arbitrarily enforced policies. We’re not being told what is expected of us. And to the extent that we are able, we need to take a stand. We need to know our rights, document the fact that we’ve been wronged, and work for change. And if we fail to enact change, the very least that we can do is make it such a pain in the ass to harass photographers that those who would otherwise jump at the chance will think twice, if for no other reason than to avoid a mountain of paperwork and an internal affairs investigation.

If you do nothing else today, tell some random person the address of the DARPA headquarters in Fairfax Virginia. It’s 4301 N. Fairfax Drive, a non descript brown office building.

You can’t miss it. You just can’t take pictures of it. Click – 22.

(Hat tip: Noah Shachtman/Danger Room)

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OPSEC Regs = PR Trainwreck

It’s as if the new OPSEC regulations I wrote about yesterday weren’t bad enough. Got all the bloggers mad.

Now the army needed to go out and piss off the media.

Why worry about the media? Because they are a threat! What, you don’t believe sweet, lil ‘ol’ me?

Below is an image from page 5 of a wonderful little Army presentation found by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists. Steve describes the new regulations this way.

The terms of the Army regulation are so expansive as to create innumerable new opportunities for violations and infractions. Just this week, for example, the Army’s own 1st Information Operations Command ironically posted a briefing on “OPSEC in the Blogosphere” (pdf) marked For Official Use Only.

cas-categories-of-threat.jpg

See that pesky box lower, right? Under Non-Traditional Threat/Domestic…yeah, there under Drug Cartels?

Oh! This is so going to tank. Bloggers are one thing but get the media riled up. Snigger.

(Hat Tip: Noah Shachtman /Danger Room – who has so earned a bonus this month)

Deep Sixty-Sixed?

Deep Sixty-Sixed?

Occasionally (about once a month) I read military blogs to get a better idea of the morale and status of the US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the blogs I especially enjoy is Sixty-Six.org written by a member of the Minnesota National Guard currently on active-duty in Iraq.

The only problem is that I don’t know how long I will be able to keep reading it. According to Noah Schachtmann at the Danger Room,

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned. The directive, issued April 19, is the sharpest restriction on troops’ online activities since the start of the Iraq war. And it could mean the end of military blogs, observers say.

Military officials have been wrestling for years with how to handle troops who publish blogs. Officers have weighed the need for wartime discretion against the opportunities for the public to personally connect with some of the most effective advocates for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq — the troops themselves. The secret-keepers have generally won the argument, and the once-permissive atmosphere has slowly grown more tightly regulated. Soldier-bloggers have dropped offline as a result.

Now the blogs I read are extremely careful not to put a time or a place on anything. Usually you simply get a feel for the emotional rollercoaster these service people are on. And perhaps that’s the problem.

Of course pizza is a bit of a threat as well. Pizza?! Yeah. Pizza.

“It’s true that from an OPSEC (operational security) perspective, almost anything — pizza orders, office lights lit at odd hours, full or empty parking lots — can potentially tip off an observer that something unusual is afoot,” he added. “But real OPSEC is highly discriminating. It does not mean cutting off the flow of information across the board. If on one day in 1991 an unusual number of pizza orders coincided with the start of Desert Storm, it doesn’t mean that information about pizza orders should now be restricted. That’s not OPSEC, that’s just stupidity.”

So sending an e-mail order to the local pizza parlor or telling your wife – “Honey I’ll be late for dinner” if you work at the Pentagon has now become a definite no,no. (Not that it was ever a yes, yes. But still.)

The issue here isn’t having a rule that can be enforced up front but something that can be used later, after the fact, for any ‘problem’ that might occur. It is a sword hanging over the head of anyone in the military. Even the Army doesn’t think these kinds of issues can be handled this way,

“The potential for an OPSEC violation has thus far outstripped the reality experienced by commanders in the field,” [Major Elizabeth Robbins] wrote [in a paper (pdf) for the Army’s Combined Arms Center].

And in some military circles, bloggers have gained forceful advocates. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, for example, now regularly arranges exclusive phone conferences between bloggers and senior commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq. Major Robbins, for one, has argued strongly for easing the restrictions on the soldier-journalists.

The theater goes even further, in a classic case of Catch 22, military contractors, family and friends are also effected by the new rules. The catch. They aren’t able to access them.

Active-duty troops aren’t the only ones affected by the new guidelines. Civilians working for the military, Army contractors — even soldiers’ families — are all subject to the directive as well.

But, while the regulations may apply to a broad swath of people, not everybody affected can actually read them. In a Kafka-esque turn, the guidelines are kept on the military’s restricted Army Knowledge Online intranet. Many Army contractors — and many family members — don’t have access to the site. Even those able to get in are finding their access is blocked to that particular file.

“Even though it is supposedly rewritten to include rules for contractors (i.e., me) I am not allowed to download it,” e-mails Perry Jeffries, an Iraq war veteran now working as a contractor to the Armed Services Blood Program.

For all those Minnesotans out there, you might keep your – um – ear on MPR tomorrow. Jon Gordon will be running a story on this at Future Tense.

I really hope my military blogs, including Sixty-Six.org don’t disappear. Deep sixed by the bureaucrats far from the families and the frontlines.

But maybe it’s just the American way. Opsec and Clusterf*ck.

Secrecy – Not Just at the Pleasure of the President

Do you ever wonder what your Congressperson reads? What kind of non-partisan information the government supplies to the legislative branch? Information about silly little issues like Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recent Developments?

Stop wondering. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides all kinds of reports to Congress.

What is the CRS? From their web page

Congress created CRS in order to have its own source of nonpartisan, objective analysis and research on all legislative issues. Indeed, the sole mission of CRS is to serve the United States Congress. CRS has been carrying out this mission since 1914, when it was first established as the Legislative Reference Service. Renamed the Congressional Research Service by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, CRS is committed to providing the Congress, throughout the legislative process, comprehensive and reliable analysis, research and information services that are timely, objective, nonpartisan, and confidential, thereby contributing to an informed national legislature.

And one might think that with a budget of about $100 Million, this information would be shared. Ah – you dreamer you.

You see, the CRS might want to contribute to an “informed national legislature” but not to an informed nation. Not because some of this information wasn’t available, it just won’t be available anymore to you.

At least not if the current director of the CRS, Daniel P. Mulhollan , has his way.

The CRS is a non-partisan organisation, but non-partisanship only goes so far. It might extend across party lines but not (banish the thought!) across branches of government or even to the public. You see in the interests of – um – whoever seemed to think this was a really good idea, it has been determined that this information has just been too available to those wild and crazy people in other branches of government.

According to a March 20th memo put out by the director of the CRS, Daniel P. Mulhollan, this free sharing of information has to stop!

The dissemination of CRS products to the public has historically been controlled by the Congress. Statue as well as policy guidance from making any broad publication of its products. Products have generally not been made available to non-congressionals directly from CRS, with notable exceptions. For example, specifically identified individual products have been furnished by the Inquiry Section to executive and judicial branch offices and employees, and state and local government officials. The research divisions have also distributed products to such entities when it has been deemed to enhance CRS service to the Congress. Additionally, CRS products have been furnished by the Inquiry Section to members of the media and foreign embassies on request, but only if the requester can make specific reference to the product number or title of the report. Product requests can also originate from other non-congressional sources including individual researchers, corporations, law officies, private associations, libraries, law firms and publishers. The Inquiry Section typically declines these requests, and most often refers the caller to his or her congressional representative’s office. However, research divisions have on occasion both received and responded to product requests from these same public sources, and have, on occasion, provided products at their own initiative.

In summary, to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals. Assistant and deputy assistant director questions about the policy should be directed to the Office of the Associate Director for Congressional Affairs and Counselor to the Director.

Perhaps they are starting to work like the administration. Say Nothing!

Now in this case, it doesn’t look like the Bush administration has anything (directly) to do with this. Mr Mulhollan has been director of the Service since 1994, so he is probably not exactly a loyal Bushie.

But this will slow down a already cumbersome process of attempting to recover this information. There are a few places where a subset of the reports can be accessed, like OpenCRS, the Federation of American Scientists and the State Departement of all people, do have some of these reports available for download.

But the process just got a little more complex, the world a little more secretive.

Because secrecy. That’s not just at the pleasure of the president. Congress can get involved too.

(Hat Tip: Noah Shachtman/Danger Room)