Jan 01 2010

When Blogging Impacts National Security

I was absolutely furious with the NY Times when it ran a deceptive article in December 2005 on the changes to FISA made by President Bush to untie the hands, remove the gags and take off the blind folds from our national security defenses. I noted the faults with the story instantaneously and spent years blogging on what I see is a crime against our safety (275 posts and growing). It started with this post where I felt no one could be fooled by such faulty reporting.

Then I noticed a detail which proved the entire story was a political hatchet job and an outright lie – NSA never ‘went around’ FISA, they were allowed to develop leads that then fed into FISA. The NSA could now tell the FBI they had discovered a security risk inside the USA for the first time in decades. I figured this out after I and other bloggers realized the story was a political hatched job, fed to the press by a disgruntled FIS Court judge (who was forced to resign for his leak to the NY Times) and a US Senator (D) who violated his oaths of security and office.

To this day these zealots have done damage to our national security, all because they are more afraid of the second coming of Richard Nixon than al Qaeda terrorists. Warped priorities to be sure.

I bring this example up because the reporting here was irresponsible and reckless. It was about getting noticed, or gaining power. It was not a benefit to America, and in fact it was a huge detriment and an illegal act.

Today I have to address two stories running rampant through the right side of the blogosphere which are also reckless, and one incident is very much illegal. Both events being discussed hurt our national security. They put my family and everyone else’s at greater risk. Too many are siding with the people making these mistakes. I suggest everyone step back and think about this with cooler heads. National security is serious and important and not something you can just jump into cold (I won’t go into all the reasons I am not jumping in cold – I am not a professional, but I live and work closely enough to get it).

The first story is about two bloggers rightfully under criminal investigation for revealing to the world (and the terrorists) the new TSA screening procedures put in place after the near miss on Flight 253:

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Transportation Security Administration, sent federal agents to the homes of two journalists and served them with subpoenas on Tuesday night to try to identify the source of a leak about aviation security changes imposed after the failed attempt on Christmas Day to blow up Northwest Flight 253.

In separate visits, the DHS employees told Chris Elliott and Steve Frischling that their computers and all e-mail correspondence related to the leak of the security directive were being subpoenaed as part of an investigation into who leaked the document to them, which both journalists published on their Web sites.

These two bloggers are just as wrong and dangerous as the NY Times was when it exposed the changes to FISA and NSA. Maybe even more dangerous. We know al Qaeda has a number of bombers in the wings waiting to take their turn at a successful run of Flight 253. Why put the details on how we as a nation have updated our weak security practices to stop someone sneaking through a device we just cannot detect right now? Why make the next wave of bombers’ jobs easier?

Anyone defending these people is just not thinking, they are reacting. They did nothing of value to this nation. They harmed it by over exposing one of our weakest points in our defenses right now. Whatever foolish rationale they created in their minds as they rushed to increase their visitor stats is irrelevant. Well meaning foolishness does not excuse the crime.

The second story racing through the internet is about an eyewitness to some very intriguing details about Flight 253. Sadly the eyewitness cannot keep his mouth shut and is wondering why the US Federal Government is not out praising the accuracy of his story! It is a classic example of someone who should know better going completely off track.

A tidbit or two:

Haskell had two detailed posts in two different stories. Here is Part One, originally posted here:

“Today is the second worst day of my life after 12-25-09. Today is the day that I realized that my own country is lying to me and all of my fellow Americans. Let me explain.

The man in orange, who stood some 20ft away from me the entire time until he was taken away, was immediately taken away to be searched and interrogated in a nearby room. At this time he was not handcuffed. When he emerged from the room, he was then handcuffed and taken away.

I have been repeating this same story over the last 5 days. The FBI has, since we landed, insisted that only one man was arrested for the airliner attack (contradicting my account).

Early today, I heard from two different reporters that a federal agency (FBI or Customs) was now admitting that another man has been held (and will be held indefinitely) since our flight landed for “immigration reasons.” Notice that this man was “being held” and not “arrested”, which was a cute semantic ploy by the FBI to stretch the truth and not lie.

Haskell (and I am seriously having trouble not calling him “Eddie”) goes on to demand the FBI publicly admit he is 100% right. As I noted on the site in a comment, the lawyer Haskell is a bit thick. I assume everything he is saying about the incident is right – it all makes sense. Including the part were he should shut up, watch and learn.

There is a second part to his lament regarding what he saw before the plane departed, so let me add that context as well before I go into why Haskell just doesn’t understand national security investigations:

“For the last five days I have been reporting my story of the so called “sharp dressed man.” For those of you who haven’t read my account, it involves a sharp dressed “Indian man” attempting to talk a ticket agent into letting a supposed “Sudanese refugee” (The terrorist) onto flight 253 without a passport.

The importance of my story was and always will be, the attempt with an accomplice (apparently succesful) of a terrorist with all sorts of prior terrorist warning signs to skirt the normal passport boarding procedures in Amsterdam. By the way, Amsterdam security did come out the other day and admit that the terrorist did not have to “Go through normal passport checking procedures”.

Please note that there is a very easy way to verify the veracity of my prior “sharp dressed man” account. Dutch police have admitted that they have reviewed the video of the “sharp dressed man” that I referenced. Note that it has not been released anywhere, You see, if my eye witness account is false, it could easily be proven by releasing the video.

Sigh. Its all about ‘me, me, me’. I will give Haskell major kudos for his powers of observation. The lead at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam is very important. It hints at EU cells of al Qaeda.

But he fails to let the professionals do their jobs and is messing with their investigations. Since his accounts are flying across the ‘world wide web’ I can say what needs to be said, as a warning to others to not be so damn suspicious about why your 15 minutes of fame may be delayed or never allowed to come out into the open.

The reason US law enforcement and intelligence may not want it known they nabbed the orange suite guy in Detroit is to make sure all his contacts stay put and can be found before they run for cover. The man could have been part of the plan to get the device on board, or drug the bomber (who seemed totally immune to his 3rd degree burns) or any number of roles. The longer his associates believed he made it through the processing the more likely they were to sit still and not make any drastic moves. It takes time to run leads on a suspect, run his phone logs, email logs, etc. There are ton of reasons any criminal lawyer would know for the Feds to ignore Haskell and focus on the terrorists.

Of course that is a moot point thanks to Mr, Haskell.

Same with the other person in Amsterdam he detected helping Abdulmutallab get on the flight. If we are lucky they have the person’s image and may even now be on his tail. Did it ever occur to Haskell there were good reasons not to alert the target that he was made at the airport? There are cases where intelligence quietly searches for people instead of using the mode of alerting the public with images from a surveillance camera. It is usually a sign investigators are desperate when they call on the public for help.

As I hope many see and understand, you have to think about all possibilities surrounding a national security story before you go off and start an internet brush fire. In both cases the people were well meaning, but their naiveté (plus a good splash of arrogance) led them to make huge mistakes in judgement which hampered (in case 1) or may have hampered (in case 2) our national security efforts.

Freedom of speech is a right, and a responsibility. People need to take a little time before they run with something on a world wide forum like the internet. And before anyone slings doubt at the professionals trying to protect us, make sure the fault is not really about an amateur struggling to comprehend the situation.

19 responses so far

19 Responses to “When Blogging Impacts National Security”

  1. Flint says:

    Kinda sounds like Haskell may have been dismissed as a “crank,” as opposed to someone “debriefing” him and requesting he keep mum.

  2. AJStrata says:

    Flint,

    Not really. Everyone is asked to not repeat this stuff. Haskell just seems to be one of those who needs attention.

    It all makes perfect sense. Investigators need to keep their leads quiet so they can get more leads. This is not new.

  3. Flint says:

    Well, not to intimate that I have spent any real time on this, but it does look like the Haskells were not contacted by the FBI until they had “gone public.” I can see where, if you’re a little paranoid to begin with, you might conclude that the authorities had a mindset against any information that points to a conspiracy (as opposed to an isolated, ‘extremist’ act.) Anyway, the conclusion that Haskell mishandled the situation does not lead to the conclusion that the FBI did not mishandle Haskell.

    Pics of the Haskells on the Haskell Law Firm site. They look pretty solid to me.

  4. RFYoung says:

    Not Mute — Moot

    Moot Point !!

    After his bike was stolen, the cost of the impending bike race became a moot point.

    –adjective 1. open to discussion or debate; debatable; doubtful: a moot point.

    2. of little or no practical value or meaning; purely academic.

  5. MarkN says:

    Happy New Year AJ. Are you waiting for daylight savings time to begin again. Your time stamp seems to be an hour fast.

    The security of the USA should come first in all of us. It doesn’t matter if you are a blogger, Law Firm or the NYT. Or the POTUS. Which brings me to my three part year of 2009 in review.

    Part One: Fort Hood and Flight 253. They were TERROR attacks pure and simple. The POTUS wants to stick his head in the sand at our peril. Is he MAD. The inmates are running the insane asylum. Both men are in custody of the criminal justice system with defense lawyers. Although the Fort Hood TERRORIST will be subject to a court martial. They are enemy combatants are should be held, tried, and executed as such. The current administration is inviting more TERROR attacks with its security policies. You don’t smackdown the CIA and then expect them to stop the next attack. You don’t do the biding of far left liberal state department bureaucrats and expect that them to do their part in info sharing and profiling. You don’t gut the NCTC and expect them to connect the dots.

    It all points to the man at the top. If he wants something to show him where the national security system failed? hand him a MIRROR. The 26th was the pivotal day in the Flight 253 story. After the isolated extremist line, Al Qaeda calls the POTUS out into the streets, and he goes back to the golf course. It was a time of testing and Obama failed.

  6. AJStrata says:

    RFYoung,

    Nag, nag, nag. I have a killer cold and no support staff. Please translate as best you can!

  7. jimharlow says:

    If Haskell had nothing of merit to say the FBI swould have simply ignored him.

    If the TSA and FBI allowed 250+ passengers to languish in harm’s way then you should know that fact…pretending that the Haskells had some sort of moral obligation to shut-up is incoherent.

    Attention-whore, or not, Haskell has a right to say, or type, whatever the f–k he wants…that is a constitutionally protected right as far as I can recall.

    If the FBI and TSA believe Haskell is a kook they’ll ignore him…and so far they have engaged him.

  8. crosspatch says:

    In other news …. The number of US troops killed in December 2009 due to hostile action …

    ZERO!!!

  9. crosspatch says:

    Oops, meant killed in IRAQ.

  10. Frogg1 says:

    TSA Backs Down, Withdraws Subpoenas Against Two Journalists

    excerpt:

    The Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration has withdrawn subpoenas ordering two journalists to turn over all documents and e-mails related to how they obtained TSA security regulations that temporarily restricted passenger movement and activities on international flights.

    Lucy Dalglish, the head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the subpoenas “ridiculous” and said that the DHS’s actions demonstrated the need for a federal shield law to prevent journalists from being jailed for protecting their sources. Legislation establishing such a law is moving through Congress and has now been supported by the Obama administration.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/01/01/tsa-ends-journalist-subpoenas-leaked-memo/

  11. Frogg1 says:

    I agree with AJ on national security leaks. This isn’t the media’s role. It has nothing to do with keeping the government honest, etc. Any National Security leak which serves no public interest as far as corruption, etc……should be investigated and persued by all legal means. It isn’t news and it isn’t the role of the media to act like traitors.

  12. jeudi says:

    Re: Haskell

    The first thing I noticed about this man was that he managed to plug his law practice, including his areas of specialization, in the first reports.

    Add that to the fact that the couple’s mlive posts have been propagated around the net with a curious plug for their “credibility” or how “solid” they appear, as remarked by a poster here.

    There’s a certain segment of the population, largely comprised of conspiracy theorists from both sides of the political spectrum, that believes that anyone working intel is either corrupt or incompetent — which is nonsense, and an insult to those non-bureaucrats who’ve put their lives on the line to keep us safe for the past eight years.

    I agree with AJ. Mr. Haskell, please shut up. Conspiracy theorists, go find some other drum to beat and let those who care, far from the political poison of DC, do their jobs.

  13. Mondo Frazier says:

    AJStrata,

    I usually agree with 90% of your points. I have to respectfully disagree on half of this one.

    On Haskell, I agree: he should wait until the investigations are over to start leveling charges about what is a lie and what is merely “misdirection” to our nation’s enemies during a sensitive time. This seems to be his misguided 15 minutes, IMO.

    On Chris Elliott and Steve Frischling, I have to completely disagree with you. The heavy-handed approach to these two bloggers is inane, IMO. They both wrote AFTER what was contained in the directives was public knowledge. In fact, it was being tweeted about multiple times before either wrote a word.

    The directive, which was not classified–how could it be if the it was to be publicly implemented?–is about the leaker, not the bloggers. Where was this attitude when the NY Times published the 2005 information you referenced? It’s a case of picking on those least able to fight back.

    More at http://deathby1000papercuts.com/headlines/2009/12/tsa-flexes-security-muscles-threatens-bloggers/. But, I’m not the only one.

    All that being said, please keep up your good work.

  14. [...] recommend that you read A Smoking Gun Dot In President’s Report On Flight 253 Intel Failures and When Blogging Impacts National Security.  You won’t be happier when you read those posts (you’ll probably be kind of [...]

  15. WWS says:

    Lesson to be taken from all of this: Remember the wisdom of the CRU e-mail leaker. If you’ve got something you want to get out to the world that may disturb people who have the power to retaliate, put it on an anonymous Russian FTP server. Then everyone can quote it and it won’t be anyone’s fault. At least not anyone they can find.

  16. crosspatch says:

    Had this guy been properly identified as a Nigerian when he got on the plane, this might not have happened. He was apparently represented as a Somali refugee attempting to flee to the US.

    The mistake was allowing him on the plane without clearly identifying who he was. Apparently someone “vouched” for the guy who was believed by the security people at the airport.

    I don’t think we were looking for a Somali. We were looking for a Nigerian and I don’t believe we had a photograph of the guy, either so we didn’t know what the person we were looking for looked like.

    If the government of Somalia, such as would exist at any given time, is not producing passports, one might not find this situation unusual.

    This was a pretty typical example of someone social-engineering their way onto the plane. Even if we had the guy’s exact name it is doubtful we would have caught it because we were apparently looking for a Nigerian.

  17. Flint says:

    I stand self-corrected. Looks like Haskell and his wife were interviewed before they left the terminal.

    Some guy claiming to be Kurt Haskell has been posting on DU. Says he feels he’s on the same “wavelength” as some of the other posters. Not sure that helps his credibility.

  18. AJStrata says:

    Flint,

    Thanks for looking into that DU thing – I had suspicion he protested a bit too much.

  19. jforrik says:

    AJ –

    I sympathize with Haskell. We have so much history of the government covering up and telling us it was a “lone nut” or not a terrorist incident at all (eg, Hussein Husseini, “the Iraqi”, accomplice to Timothy McVeigh; TWA flight 800). In this administration, we have so far overlooked the Alabama recruiting center shooting and Nidal Hassan is made out to be a lone nut, though he was in constant contact with Imam Awlaki in Yemen. I think Haskell smells yet another coverup and is doing his duty to stand up as an American.

    If this Administration showed that it was serious about preventing terror, then you are right. But I, for one, am glad that the “flying Dutchman” on flight 253 didn’t choose to leave it to the professionals.