Monday, December 20, 2010
Friday, December 3, 2010
Here is yet another good interview from Democracy Now with Charlie Cray of Greenpeace in regards to his organizations lawsuit against two major chemical companies and their PR firms for allegedly hiring private investigators to spy on Greenpeace during the 1990's. The first few minutes of the clip involve another issue but you can mouse click on the 53:30 mark to fast forward to the Greenpeace clip.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Here is an excellent interview on Democracy Now with Nir Rosen, the author of "Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World". He speaks about the "ground truth" and other observations he has made during his travels in Iraq and Afghanistan as an independent (and unembedded) journalist.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
October 26, 2010 | 0851 GMT
By George Friedman
We are a week away from the 2010 U.S. midterm elections. The outcome is already locked in. Whether the Republicans take the House or the Senate is close to immaterial. It is almost certain that the dynamics of American domestic politics will change. The Democrats will lose their ability to impose cloture in the Senate and thereby shut off debate. Whether they lose the House or not, the Democrats will lose the ability to pass legislation at the will of the House Democratic leadership. The large majority held by the Democrats will be gone, and party discipline will not be strong enough (it never is) to prevent some defections.
Should the Republicans win an overwhelming victory in both houses next week, they will still not have the votes to override presidential vetoes. Therefore they will not be able to legislate unilaterally, and if any legislation is to be passed it will have to be the result of negotiations between the president and the Republican Congressional leadership. Thus, whether the Democrats do better than expected or the Republicans win a massive victory, the practical result will be the same.
When we consider the difficulties President Barack Obama had passing his health care legislation, even with powerful majorities in both houses, it is clear that he will not be able to push through any significant legislation without Republican agreement. The result will either be gridlock or a very different legislative agenda than we have seen in the first two years.
These are not unique circumstances. Reversals in the first midterm election after a presidential election happened to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It does not mean that Obama is guaranteed to lose a re-election bid, although it does mean that, in order to win that election, he will have to operate in a very different way. It also means that the 2012 presidential campaign will begin next Wednesday on Nov. 3. Given his low approval ratings, Obama appears vulnerable and the Republican nomination has become extremely valuable. For his part, Obama does not have much time to lose in reshaping his presidency. With the Iowa caucuses about 15 months away and the Republicans holding momentum, the president will have to begin his campaign.
Obama now has two options in terms of domestic strategy. The first is to continue to press his agenda, knowing that it will be voted down. If the domestic situation improves, he takes credit for it. If it doesn’t, he runs against Republican partisanship. The second option is to abandon his agenda, cooperate with the Republicans and re-establish his image as a centrist. Both have political advantages and disadvantages and present an important strategic decision for Obama to make.
The Foreign Policy Option
Obama also has a third option, which is to shift his focus from domestic policy to foreign policy. The founders created a system in which the president is inherently weak in domestic policy and able to take action only when his position in Congress is extremely strong. This was how the founders sought to avoid the tyranny of narrow majorities. At the same time, they made the president quite powerful in foreign policy regardless of Congress, and the evolution of the presidency over the centuries has further strengthened this power. Historically, when the president has been weak domestically, one option he has had is to appear powerful by focusing on foreign policy.
For presidents like Clinton, this was not a particularly viable option in 1994-1996. The international system was quiet, and it was difficult to act meaningfully and decisively. It was easier for Reagan in 1982-1984. The Soviet Union was strong and threatening, and an aggressive anti-Soviet stance was popular and flowed from his 1980 campaign. Deploying the ground-launched cruise missile and the Pershing II medium-range ballistic missile in Western Europe alienated his opponents, strengthened his position with his political base and allowed him to take the center (and ultimately pressured the Soviets into agreeing to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty). By 1984, with the recession over, Reagan’s anti-Soviet stance helped him defeat Walter Mondale.
Obama does not have Clinton’s problem. The international environment allows him to take a much more assertive stance than he has over the past two years. The war in Afghanistan is reaching a delicate negotiating state as reports of ongoing talks circulate. The Iraq war is far from stable, with 50,000 U.S. troops still there, and the Iranian issue wide open. Israeli-Palestinian talks are also faltering, and there are a host of other foreign issues, ranging from China’s increasing assertiveness to Russia’s resurgent power to the ongoing decline in military power of America’s European allies. There are a range of issues that need to be addressed at the presidential level, many of which would resonate with at least some voters and allow Obama to be presidential in spite of weak political support.
There are two problems with Obama becoming a foreign policy president. The first is that the country is focused on the economy and on domestic issues. If he focuses on foreign policy and the U.S. economy does not improve by 2012, it will cost him the election. His hope will be foreign policy successes, or at least the perception of being strong on national security, coupled with economic recovery or a plausible reason to blame the Republicans. This is a tricky maneuver, but his presidency no longer offers simple solutions.
The second problem is that his presidency and campaign have been based on the general principle of accommodation rather than confrontation in foreign affairs, with the sole exception of Afghanistan, where he chose to be substantially more aggressive than his predecessor had been. The place where he was assertive is unlikely to yield a major foreign policy success, unless that success is a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. A negotiated settlement will be portrayed by the Republicans as capitulation rather than triumph. If he continues on the current course in Afghanistan, he will seem to be plodding down an old path and not pioneering a new one.
Interestingly, if Obama’s goal is to appear strong on national security while regaining the center, Afghanistan offers the least attractive venue. His choices are negotiation, which would reinforce his image as an accommodationist in foreign policy, or continued war, which is not particularly new territory. He could deploy even more forces into Afghanistan, but then would risk looking like Lyndon Johnson in 1967, hurling troops at the enemy without a clear plan. He could, of course, create a massive crisis with Pakistan, but it would be extremely unlikely that such an effort would end well, given the situation in Afghanistan. Foreign policy presidents need to be successful.
There is little to be done in Iraq at the moment except delay the withdrawal of forces, which adds little to his political position. Moreover, the core problem in Iraq at the moment is Iran and its support of disruptive forces. Obama could attempt to force an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, but that would require Hamas to change its position, which is unlikely, or that Israel make massive concessions, which it doesn’t think it has to do. The problem with Israel and the Palestinians is that peace talks, such as those under Clinton at Camp David, have a nasty tendency to end in chaos.
The European, Russian and Chinese situations are of great importance, but they are not conducive to dramatic acts. The United States is not going to blockade China over the yuan or hold a stunning set of meetings with the Europeans to get them to increase their defense budgets and commit to more support for U.S. wars. And the situation regarding North Korea does not have the pressing urgency to justify U.S. action. There are many actions that would satisfy Obama’s accomodationist inclinations, but those would not serve well in portraying him as decisive in foreign policy.
The Iranian Option
This leaves the obvious choice: Iran. Iran is the one issue on which the president could galvanize public opinion. The Republicans have portrayed Obama as weak on combating militant Islamism. Many of the Democrats see Iran as a repressive violator of human rights, particularly after the crackdown on the Green Movement. The Arabian Peninsula, particularly Saudi Arabia, is afraid of Iran and wants the United States to do something more than provide $60 billion-worth of weapons over the next 10 years. The Israelis, obviously, are hostile. The Europeans are hostile to Iran but want to avoid escalation, unless it ends quickly and successfully and without a disruption of oil supplies. The Russians like the Iranians are a thorn in the American side, as are the Chinese, but neither would have much choice should the United States deal with Iran quickly and effectively. Moreover, the situation in Iraq would improve if Iran were to be neutralized, and the psychology in Afghanistan could also shift.
If Obama were to use foreign policy to enhance his political standing through decisive action, and achieve some positive results in relations with foreign governments, the one place he could do it would be Iran. The issue is what he might have to do and what the risks would be. Nothing could, after all, hurt him more than an aggressive stance against Iran that failed to achieve its goals or turned into a military disaster for the United States.
So far, Obama’s policy toward Iran has been to incrementally increase sanctions by building a weak coalition and allow the sanctions to create shifts in Iran’s domestic political situation. The idea is to weaken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and strengthen his enemies, who are assumed to be more moderate and less inclined to pursue nuclear weapons. Obama has avoided overt military action against Iran, so a confrontation with Iran would require a deliberate shift in the U.S. stance, which would require a justification.
The most obvious justification would be to claim that Iran is about to construct a nuclear device. Whether or not this is true would be immaterial. First, no one would be in a position to challenge the claim, and, second, Obama’s credibility in making the assertion would be much greater than George W. Bush’s, given that Obama does not have the 2003 weapons-of-mass-destruction debacle to deal with and has the advantage of not having made such a claim before. Coming from Obama, the claim would confirm the views of the Republicans, while the Democrats would be hard-pressed to challenge him. In the face of this assertion, Obama would be forced to take action. He could appear reluctant to his base, decisive to the rest. The Republicans could not easily attack him. Nor would the claim be a lie. Defining what it means to almost possess nuclear weapons is nearly a metaphysical discussion. It requires merely a shift in definitions and assumptions. This is cynical scenario, but it can be aligned with reasonable concerns.
As STRATFOR has argued in the past, destroying Iran’s nuclear capability does not involve a one-day raid, nor is Iran without the ability to retaliate. Its nuclear facilities are in a number of places and Iran has had years to harden those facilities. Destroying the facilities might take an extended air campaign and might even require the use of special operations units to verify battle damage and complete the mission. In addition, military action against Iran’s naval forces would be needed to protect the oil routes through the Persian Gulf from small boat swarms and mines, anti-ship missile launchers would have to be attacked and Iranian air force and air defenses taken out. This would not solve the problem of the rest of Iran’s conventional forces, which would represent a threat to the region, so these forces would have to be attacked and reduced as well.
An attack on Iran would not be an invasion, nor would it be a short war. Like Yugoslavia in 1999, it would be an extended air war lasting an unknown number of months. There would be American POWs from aircraft that were shot down or suffered mechanical failure over Iranian territory. There would be many civilian casualties, which the international media would focus on. It would not be an antiseptic campaign, but it would likely (though it is important to reiterate not certainly) destroy Iran’s nuclear capability and profoundly weaken its conventional forces.
It would be a war based on American strengths in aerial warfare and technology, not on American weaknesses in counterinsurgency. It would strengthen the Iranian regime (as aerial bombing usually does) by rallying the Iranian public to its side against the aggression. If the campaign were successful, the Iranian regime would be stronger politically, at least for a while, but eviscerated militarily. A successful campaign would ease the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, calm the Saudis and demonstrate to the Europeans American capability and will. It would also cause the Russians and Chinese to become very thoughtful.
A campaign against Iran would have its risks. Iran could launch a terrorist campaign and attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, sending the global economy into a deep recession on soaring oil prices. It could also create a civil war in Iraq. U.S. intelligence could have missed the fact that the Iranians already have a deliverable nuclear weapon. All of these are possible risks, and, according to STRATFOR’s thinking, the risks outweigh the rewards. After all, the best laid military plan can end in a fiasco.
We have argued that a negotiation with Iran in the order of President Richard Nixon’s reversal on China would be a lower-risk solution to the nuclear problem than the military option. But for Obama, this is politically difficult to do. Had Bush done this, he would have had the ideological credentials to deal with Iran, as Nixon had the ideological credentials to deal with China. But Obama does not. Negotiating an agreement with Iran in the wake of an electoral rout would open the floodgates to condemnation of Obama as an appeaser. In losing power, he loses the option for negotiation unless he is content to be a one-term president.
I am arguing the following. First, Obama will be paralyzed on domestic policies by this election. He can craft a re-election campaign blaming the Republicans for gridlock. This has its advantages and disadvantages; the Republicans, charging that he refused to adjust to the electorate’s wishes, can blame him for the gridlock. It can go either way. The other option for Obama is to look for triumph in foreign policy where he has a weak hand. The only obvious way to achieve success that would have a positive effect on the U.S. strategic position is to attack Iran. Such an attack would have substantial advantages and very real dangers. It could change the dynamics of the Middle East and it could be a military failure.
I am not claiming that Obama will decide to do this based on politics, although no U.S. president has ever engaged in foreign involvement without political considerations, nor should he. I am saying that, at this moment in history, given the domestic gridlock that appears to be in the offing, a shift to a foreign policy emphasis makes sense, Obama needs to be seen as an effective commander in chief and Iran is the logical target.
This is not a prediction. Obama does not share his thoughts with me. It is merely speculation on the options Obama will have after the midterm elections, not what he will choose to do.
"The Falcon Lake Murder and Mexico's Drug Wars is republished with permission of STRATFOR."
October 21, 2010 | 0855 GMT
Monday, October 25, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
July 15, 2010 | 0857 GMT
By Scott Stewart
The recent case involving the arrest and deportation of the Russian intelligence network in the United States has once again raised the subject of document fraud in general and passport fraud in particular. The FBI’s investigation into the group of Russian operatives discovered that several of the suspects had assumed fraudulent identities and had obtained genuine passports (and other identity documents) in their assumed names. One of the suspects assumed the identity of a Canadian by the name of Christopher Robert Mestos, who died in childhood. The suspect was arrested in Cyprus but fled after posting bail; his true identity remains unknown. Three other members of the group also assumed Canadian identities, with Andrey Bezrukov posing as Donald Heathfield, Elena Vavilova as Tracey Foley and Natalia Pereverzeva as Patricia Mills.
Passport fraud is a topic that surfaces with some frequency in relation to espionage cases. (The Israelis used passport fraud during the January 2010 operation to assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas militant commander.) Passport fraud is also frequently committed by individuals involved in crimes such as narcotics smuggling and arms trafficking, as well as by militants involved in terrorist plots. Because of the frequency with which passport fraud is used in these types of activities — and due to the importance that curtailing passport fraud can have in combating espionage, terrorism and crime — we thought it a topic worth discussing this week in greater detail.
Passports and Investigations
While the use of passports goes back centuries, the idea of a travel document that can be used to absolutely verify the identity of a traveler is a relatively new concept. Passports containing the photos of the bearer have only been widely used and mandated for international travel for about a century now, and in the United States, it was not until 1918 that Congress enacted laws mandating the use of U.S. passports for Americans returning from overseas and home country passports with visas for foreigners wishing to visit the United States. Passport fraud followed closely on the heels of these regulations. Following the American entry into World War I, special agents from the State Department’s Bureau of Secret Intelligence became very involved in hunting down German and Austrian intelligence officers who were then using forged documents to operate inside the United States.
In the decades after World War I, the Bureau of Secret Intelligence’s successor organization, the Office of the Chief Special Agent, became very involved in investigating Nazi and Communist agents who committed passport fraud to operate inside the United States. As the Office of the Chief Special Agent evolved into the State Department’s Office of Security and then finally the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), special agents from the organization continued to investigate passport and visa fraud. In addition to foreign intelligence officers, they have also investigated terrorists, fugitives and other criminals who have committed passport fraud. Since the State Department is the agency that issues U.S. passports and visas, it is also the primary agency charged with ensuring the integrity of those documents. Therefore, in much the same manner that U.S. Secret Service agents are charged with investigating counterfeit currency (and ensuring the integrity of currency for the Treasury Department), DS agents are charged with investigating passport fraud.
DS agents are not the only ones who investigate passport fraud, however. As the FBI matured organizationally and became the primary domestic counterintelligence agency, the bureau also began to work passport fraud investigations involving foreign intelligence officers. Soviet and other Communist “illegals” — intelligence officers operating without official cover — frequently assumed the identities of deceased infants, and because of this, the FBI developed a particular interest in passport fraud investigations involving infant death identity (IDI) cases. However, passport fraud is only one of the many criminal violations that the FBI investigates, and most FBI agents will not investigate a passport fraud case during their career.
As the agency primarily responsible for border and immigration enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also investigates identity-document fraud, including passport fraud, although many of the cases ICE agents work involve foreign passports. ICE also has a forensic document laboratory that is the best in the world when it comes to the technical investigation of fraudulent identity documents.
Another U.S. government agency that watches passport fraud with a great deal of interest is the CIA. Not only does it have an operational interest in the topic — the agency wants to be able to use fraud for its own purposes — but it is also very interested in being able to verify the true identities of walk-ins and other potential sources. Because of this, the CIA needs to have the ability to spot fraudulent documents. During the 1980s, the CIA produced an excellent series of unclassified guides on the terrorist use of passport and visa fraud called the “Redbook.” The Redbook was discontinued in 1992, just as the jihadist threat to the United States was beginning to emerge.
As in any area where there are overlapping jurisdictions and investigations, there is sometimes tension and bureaucratic jealously between the various agencies involved in investigating passport fraud. The level of tension is frequently lower in scenarios where the agencies work together (as on joint terrorism task forces) and where the agents and agencies have become accustomed to working together. In the forensic realm, the ICE laboratory generally has an excellent relationship with the State Department, the FBI (and the document section of the FBI laboratory) and the CIA’s document laboratory.
Types of Passport Fraud
There are several different types of passport fraud. The first is the intentional issuing of a genuine passport in a false identity by a government. Real passports are often issued in false identities to provide cover for intelligence officers, but this can also be done for other reasons. For example, in late 1990, during Operation Desert Shield, the Iraqi government provided a large group of Iraqi intelligence officers with Iraqi passports in false identities so that these officials could travel abroad and conduct terrorist attacks against U.S. interests. These Iraqi teams were dispatched all over the world and were provided direction (as well as weapons and IED components) by Iraqi intelligence officers stationed in embassies abroad. The explosives and firearms were sent around the world via diplomatic pouches (which are exempt from search). Following failed terrorist attacks in Manila and Jakarta in January 1991, DS agents investigating the case discovered that the Iraqi operatives were traveling on sequentially numbered Iraqi passports. This discovery allowed a worldwide alert to go out and governments in several different regions of the world were able to arrest or deport scores of Iraqi agents.
A second type of fraud involving genuine passports is where the government is not knowingly involved in the issuance of the passport for the fraudulent identity. In such cases, an applicant uses fraudulent identification documents to apply for a passport. The group of documents needed to obtain a passport — called “breeder” documents — normally includes a birth certificate, a Social Security card and a driver’s license. A set of fraudulent breeder documents can be counterfeit, genuine but altered (this can be done by changing the name or date of birth) or genuine documents obtained by fraud.
This is where the IDI cases come in. In these cases, someone applies for a replacement birth certificate of a deceased infant or child of their approximate age and then uses the birth certificate to obtain a Social Security card and driver’s license. The person applying for the replacement birth certificate usually claims their original birth certificate was lost or stolen.
Due to changes in procedure and technology, however, it has become more difficult in recent years to obtain a copy of the birth certificate of an infant or child who died in the United States. Birth-certificate registries are now tied electronically to death registries in every state, and if someone attempts to get the birth certificate of a dead person, it is quickly noticed and an investigation launched. Also, Social Security numbers are now issued at birth, so it is very difficult for a 25- or 30-year-old person to apply for a new Social Security number. Because of these factors, IDI cases have declined significantly in the United States.
Breeder documents are generally easier to counterfeit or obtain by fraud than a passport. However, as identity documents become more cross-referenced in databases, it is becoming more difficult to obtain a passport using a counterfeit birth certificate and Social Security number. Because of this, it has become more common for a person to buy a set of genuine breeder documents from a drug user or criminal looking for some quick cash. It is also possible to buy a genuine birth certificate and Social Security card from a corrupt official. While such documents are genuine, and can carry the applicant’s true or chosen name, such genuine documents are much more expensive than the other options. Of course, passport office employees can also be bribed to issue a genuine passport with fraudulent breeder documents, though there is a remote risk that such fraud will be caught in an audit.
At the present time, it is far easier and cheaper to obtain a genuine foreign passport by fraud than it is a U.S. passport, but corruption and plain old mistakes still allow a small number of fraudulent U.S. passports to get into the system. There are still some countries where a genuine passport in any identity can be obtained for just a few hundred dollars. Generally, it is more difficult to get passports from more developed nations (such as those that participate in the U.S. visa waiver program) than it is from less developed nations, where corruption is more prevalent. Still, corruption is a worldwide problem when it comes to passports and other identity documents.
Stolen blank passports have also been used over the years. For example, after Operation Desert Storm, an Iraqi passport office in Basra was sacked and thousands of blank Iraqi passports were stolen and then sold on the black market. One of those blanks was bought by a Pakistani jihadist operative named Abdul Basit, who had the blank passport filled out with his photograph and the name of a fictitious Iraqi citizen named Ramzi Yousef. After he entered the United States, Basit organized the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The problem with stolen blanks is that they are usually reported fairly quickly and their numbers are entered into international databases. Furthermore, like a counterfeit passport, a stolen blank passport will not correspond to information entered into passport databases, and it is therefore difficult to travel using one. In the case of Basit, he used a British passport altered to include his photo to leave Pakistan but then used the Iraqi passport to make an asylum claim once he arrived in the United States.
This highlights another category of genuine passports used in passport fraud, those that are real but have been altered, usually by replacing the photo appearing on the passport. Passport fraud investigators refer to this as a photo-subbed passport. In the 1970s, it was fairly easy to photo-sub passports from most countries, but in the past couple of decades, many countries have taken great efforts to make this process more difficult. The use of high-tech laminates and now, in current U.S. passports, RFID chips that contain a photo that must match the one appearing on the passport make it far harder to photo-sub passports today. Of course, efforts to increase passport security haven’t always worked as planned.
In 1993, the State Department began issuing a new high-tech passport with a green cover that was supposed to be impossible to photo-sub. Within a few months of the first issuance of the passports, document vendors discovered that the laminate on the green passports could be easily removed by placing a block of dry ice on the passport, changing the photo and then pressing the laminate back down with an iron. Due to the ease of photo-subbing these passports, their value on the black market skyrocketed, and the “fraud proof” green passports had to be taken out of circulation after less than a year.
Finally, we have counterfeit passports, which are passports created from scratch by a document vendor. Like counterfeit currency, there is a vast range of quality when it comes to counterfeit passports, and as a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. On the streets of places like Bangkok, Hong Kong or New York, one can buy counterfeit passports from a wide array of countries. There is, however, a vast difference between the passport one can purchase for $100 and the one that can be purchased for $10,000. Also, like currency, some passport counterfeiters will even attempt to use elements of genuine passports, like the optically “dead” paper with little or no fluorescence used for the pages and the holographic laminates used on the photo pages. However, like photo-subbed passports, it is far more difficult to create a functional counterfeit passport today than it was several years ago. Not only does the passport have to be of high quality, but the number needs to correspond to the database of legitimately issued passports. Therefore, most counterfeit passports are useful for traveling in the third world but would not withstand the scrutiny of authorities in the developed world.
In spite of these problems, there is still a market for counterfeit and photo-subbed passports. While they may not be useful for traveling to a country like the United States or France, they can be used to travel from a place like Pakistan or China to a gateway country in the Western Hemisphere like Venezuela or a gateway country in Europe like Albania. Because of this, American and European passports still fetch a decent price on the black market and are frequently stolen from or sold by Westerners. Citizens of Western countries who travel to terrorist training camps are also frequently encouraged to “donate” their passports and other documents to the group that trains them. There are also many reports that Mossad makes use of the passports of foreign Jews who move to Israel and give their passports to the intelligence agency. Stolen or deliberately lost passports not only can be altered or cloned but also can be used for travel by people who physically resemble the original bearer, although once they are reported stolen or lost and entered into lookout databases, their utility declines.
A Shifting Focus
The difficulty in obtaining functional travel documents has affected the way criminal and terrorist organizations operate. With increasing scrutiny of travel documents, groups like al Qaeda have found it progressively more difficult to travel to the West. This is one of the factors that has led to their increasing use of operatives who have the ability to travel to where the planned attack is to be conducted, rather than sending a more professional terrorist operative to conduct the attack.
This difficulty in counterfeiting passports has even affected intelligence agencies, which are the best passport counterfeiters in the world. This is why we see intelligence agencies like Mossad having to clone passports — that is, create a counterfeit passport that bears the same name and number of a legitimate passport — or even resort to other types of fraud to obtain genuine passports for operatives. It has become difficult to fabricate a usable passport using a fictitious name. Mossad operatives have gotten in trouble for attempting to fraudulently obtain genuine passports in places like New Zealand. And Mossad is certainly not the only intelligence service experiencing this difficulty in obtaining documents for its operatives.
Because of these difficulties, intelligence agencies and militant and criminal organizations have begun to place increasing importance on recruiting assets involved in the issuance of identity documents. At an embassy, a consular officer is viewed as almost as important a person to recruit as a code clerk. A corrupt consular officer can make a great deal of money selling documents. But the threat can extend far from an overseas embassy. If an organization like the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (or the Sinaloa cartel) can recruit an employee at the New Jersey Office of Vital Statistics, they can arrange to have their agent occasionally issue a genuine birth certificate (camouflaged in a large stack of legitimately issued documents) in a fraudulent identity for their use. Likewise, if they can recruit a clerk at the Social Security office in Jersey City, they can get that agent to occasionally issue a Social Security number and card that corresponds to the birth certificate. These primary documents can then be used to obtain a driver’s license (the key identity document for living in the United States) and eventually a passport for international travel.
Of course, recruiting an agent who works inside an agency is not the only way to obtain identification documents. Several years ago, a cleaning company owned by a group of Nigerians placed a low bid on the contract to provide cleaning services to Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Florida. Shortly after the company began providing services to the DMV, the agency suffered a rash of thefts across the state that included not only blank driver’s licenses and laminates but an entire machine that took the photos and processed the blank licenses.
The advent of cross-referencing databases, machine-readable passports routinely checked against such databases, radio frequency identification technology and procedures intended to prevent fraud have helped curtail many types of passport fraud. That said, passports are still required to travel for nefarious purposes, and these security measures have caused resourceful criminals, terrorists and intelligence agencies to shift their focus from technical methods of fraud toward exploiting humans in the process. In many places, the effort made to vet and monitor employees issuing documents is far less extensive than the effort made to physically protect documents from counterfeiting. The end result is that humans have become the weakest link in the equation.
"This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR"
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
"This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR"
July 13, 2010 | 0844 GMT
By George Friedman
The United States has captured a group of Russian spies and exchanged them for four individuals held by the Russians on espionage charges. The way the media has reported on the issue falls into three groups:
• That the Cold War is back,
• That, given that the Cold War is over, the point of such outmoded intelligence operations is questionable,
• And that the Russian spy ring was spending its time aimlessly nosing around in think tanks and open meetings in an archaic and incompetent effort.
It is said that the world is global and interdependent. This makes it vital for a given nation to know three things about all of the nations with which it interacts.
First, it needs to know what other nations are capable of doing. Whether militarily, economically or politically, knowing what other nations are capable of narrows down those nations’ possible actions, eliminating fantasies and rhetoric from the spectrum of possible moves. Second, the nation needs to know what other nations intend to do. This is important in the short run, especially when intentions and capabilities match up. And third, the nation needs to know what will happen in other nations that those nations’ governments didn’t anticipate.
The more powerful a nation is, the more important it is to understand what it is doing. The United States is the most powerful country in the world. It therefore follows that it is one of the prime focuses of every country in the world. Knowing what the United States will do, and shifting policy based on that, can save countries from difficulties and even disaster. This need is not confined, of course, to the United States. Each country in the world has a list of nations that it is interdependent with, and it keeps an eye on those nations. These can be enemies, friends or just acquaintances. It is impossible for nations not to keep their eyes on other nations, corporations not to keep their eyes on other corporations and individuals not to keep their eyes on other people. How they do so varies; that they do so is a permanent part of the human condition. The shock at learning that the Russians really do want to know what is going on in the United States is, to say the least, overdone.
Russian Tradecraft Examined
Let’s consider whether the Russian spies were amateurish. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviets developed a unique model of espionage. They would certainly recruit government officials or steal documents. What they excelled at, however, was placing undetectable operatives in key positions. Soviet talent scouts would range around left-wing meetings to discover potential recruits. These would be young people with impeccable backgrounds and only limited contact with the left. They would be recruited based on ideology, and less often via money, sex or blackmail. They would never again be in contact with communists or fellow travelers. They would apply for jobs in their countries’ intelligence services, foreign or defense ministries, and so on. Given their family and academic backgrounds, they would be hired. They would then be left in place for 20 or 30 years while they rose in the ranks — and, on occasion, aided with bits of information from the Soviet side to move their careers ahead.
The Soviets understood that a recruited employee might be a double agent. But stealing information on an ad hoc basis was also risky, as the provenance of such material was always murky. Recruiting people who were not yet agents, creating psychological and material bonds over long years of management and allowing them to mature into senior intelligence or ministry officials allowed ample time for testing loyalty and positioning. The Soviets not only got more reliable information this way but also the ability to influence the other country’s decision-making. Recruiting a young man in the 1930s, having him work with the OSS and later the CIA, and having him rise to the top levels of the CIA — had that ever happened — would thus give the Soviets information and control.
These operations took decades, and Soviet handlers would spend their entire careers managing one career. There were four phases:
• Identifying likely candidates,
• Evaluating and recruiting them,
• Placing them and managing their rise in the organization,
• And exploiting them.
The longer the third phase took, the more effective the fourth phase would be.
It is difficult to know what the Russian team was up to in the United States from news reports, but there are two things we know about the Russians: They are not stupid, and they are extremely patient. If we were to guess — and we are guessing — this was a team of talent scouts. They were not going to meetings at the think tanks because they were interested in listening to the papers; rather, they were searching for recruits. These were people between the ages of 22 and 30, doing internships or entry level jobs, with family and academic backgrounds that would make employment in classified areas of the U.S. government easy — and who in 20 to 30 years would provide intelligence and control to Moscow.
In our view, the media may have conflated two of Moscow’s missions.
Twin Goals and the Espionage Challenge
One of the Russian operatives, Don Heathfield, once approached a STRATFOR employee in a series of five meetings. There appeared to be no goal of recruitment; rather, the Russian operative tried to get the STRATFOR employee to try out software he said his company had developed. We suspect that had this been done, our servers would be outputting to Moscow. We did not know at the time who he was. (We have since reported the incident to the FBI, but these folks were everywhere, and we were one among many.)
Thus, the group apparently included a man using software sales as cover — or as we suspect, as a way to intrude on computers. As discussed, the group also included talent scouts. We would guess that Anna Chapman was brought in as part of the recruitment phase of talent scouting. No one at STRATFOR ever had a chance to meet her, having apparently failed the first screening.
Each of the phases of the operatives’ tasks required a tremendous amount of time, patience and, above all, cover. The operatives had to blend in (in this case, they didn’t do so well enough). Russians have always had a tremendous advantage over Americans in this regard. A Russian long-term deployment took you to the United States, for example. Were the Americans to try the same thing, they would have to convince people to spend years learning Russian to near-native perfection and then to spend 20-30 years of their lives in Russia. Some would be willing to do so, but not nearly as many as there are Russians prepared to spend that amount of time in the United States or Western Europe.
The United States can thus recruit sources (and sometimes it gets genuine ones). It can buy documents. But the extremely patient, long-term deployments are very difficult for it. It doesn’t fit with U.S. career patterns or family expectations.
The United States has substituted technical intelligence for this process. Thus, the most important U.S. intelligence-collection agency is not the CIA; it is the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA focuses on intercepting communications, penetrating computer networks, encryption and the like. (We will assume that they are successful at this.) So whereas the Russians seek to control the career of a recruit through retirement, the NSA seeks access to everything that is recorded electronically. The goal here is understanding capabilities and intentions. To the extent that the target is unaware of the NSA’s capabilities, the NSA does well. In many ways, this provides better and faster intelligence than the placement of agents, except that this does not provide influence.
The Intelligence Assumption
In the end, both the U.S. and Russian models — indeed most intelligence models — are built on the core assumption that the more senior the individual, the more knowledge he and his staff have. To put it more starkly, it assumes that what senior (and other) individuals say, write or even think reveals the most important things about the country in question. Thus, controlling a senior government official or listening to his phone conversations or e-mails makes one privy to the actions that country will take — thus allowing one to tell the future.
Let’s consider two cases: Iran in 1979 and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991. The fall of the Shah of Iran and the collapse of the Soviet empire were events of towering importance for the United States. Assume that the United States knew everything the shah’s senior officials and their staffs knew, wrote, or said in the period leading up to the Iranian Revolution. Or assume that the shah’s prime minister or a member of the Soviet Union’s Politburo was a long-term mole.
Either of those scenarios would not have made any difference to how events played out. This is because, in the end, the respective senior leadership didn’t know how events were going to play out. Partly this is because they were in denial, but mostly this is because they didn’t have the facts and they didn’t interpret the facts they did have properly. At these critical turning points in history, the most thorough penetration using either American or Russian techniques would have failed to provide warning of the change ahead. This is because the basic premise of the intelligence operation was wrong. The people being spied on and penetrated simply didn’t understand their own capabilities — i.e., the reality on the ground in their respective countries — and therefore their intentions about what to do were irrelevant and actually misleading.
In saying this, we must be very cautious, since obviously there are many instances in which targets of intelligence agencies do have valuable information and their decisions do actually represent what will happen. But if we regard anticipating systemic changes as one of the most important categories of intelligence, then these are cases where the targets of intelligence may well know the least and know it last. The Japanese knew they were going to hit Pearl Harbor, and having intelligence on that fact was enormously important. But that the British would collapse at Singapore was a fact not known to the British, so there would have been no way to obtain that information in advance from the British.
We started with three classes of intelligence: capabilities, intentions and what will actually happen. The first is an objective measure that can sometimes be seen directly but more frequently is obtained through data held by someone in the target country.
The most important issue is not what this data says but how accurate it is. Intentions, by contrast, represent the subjective plans of decision makers. History is filled with intentions that were never implemented, or that, when implemented, had wildly different outcomes than the decision maker expected. From our point of view, the most important aspect of this category is the potential for unintended consequences. For example, George W. Bush did not intend to get bogged down in a guerrilla war in Iraq. What he intended and what happened were two different things because his view of American and Iraqi capabilities were not tied to reality.
American and Russian intelligence is source-based. There is value in sources, but they need to be taken with many grains of salt, not because they necessarily lie but because the highest placed source may simply be wrong — and at times, an entire government can be wrong. If the purpose of intelligence is to predict what will happen, and it is source-based, then that assumes that the sources know what is going on and how it will play out. But often they don’t.
Russian and American intelligence agencies are both source-obsessed. On the surface, this is reasonable and essential. But it assumes something about sources that is frequently true, but not always — and in fact is only true with great infrequency on the most important issues. From our point of view, the purpose of intelligence is obvious: It is to collect as much information as possible, and surely from the most highly placed sources. But in the end, the most important question to ask is whether the most highly placed source has any clue as to what is going to happen.
Knowledge of what is being thought is essential. But gaming out how the objective and impersonal forces will interact and play out it is the most important thing of all. The focus on sources allows the universe of intelligence to be populated by the thoughts of the target. Sometimes that is of enormous value. But sometimes the most highly placed source has no idea what is about to happen. Sometimes it is necessary to listen to the tape of Gorbachev or Bush planning the future and recognize that what they think will happen and what is about to happen are very different things.
The events of the past few weeks show intelligence doing the necessary work of recruiting and rescuing agents. The measure of all of this activity is not whether one has penetrated the other side, but in the end, whether your intelligence organization knew what was going to happen and told you regardless of what well-placed sources believed. Sometimes sources are indispensable. Sometimes they are misleading. And sometimes they are the way an intelligence organization justifies being wrong.
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