Theodore W. Weaver: It’s Cold Out There

tww Theodore W. Weaver: Its Cold Out ThereTheodore W. Weaver is a former Intelligence Officer within the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and the Directorate of Science and Technology. He has close to a decade working as a Special Agent with several Federal agencies and has worked against counter proliferation, human trafficking/smuggling, child exploitation, Intellectual Property Rights violations and narcotics. You can follow him on Twitter or via the nascent Inglorious Amateurs website.

I was going to try and respond to the recent Associated Press / Washington Post article (authored by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo) related to Robert Levinson and my views on news organizations breaking stories related to American citizens who are being held in captivity with as little condescension as I could possibly muster. The fact that I find myself having to contemplate this scenario at all leaves me severely disappointed. The truth is I have very little to add to that specific story. More over, the release of their article has opened the floodgates to a wash of stories from several other sources

I don’t want to come off sounding like some government crony who is completely anti-media. I believe the media has an incredible amount of power, especially in this current climate of sensitive information leaks and the inevitable post 9/11 – GWOT blowback. The fact that some journalists held their stories for over six years tells me however, they did know this was and is an extremely sensitive subject.

The essence of the debate and my heated response to the Levinson story can be distilled to one point. Robert Levinson is still out there; an American citizen and public servant for what turns out to be three decades. Exposing any info about him for personal gain is reprehensible. This isn’t a scandal; this is a crisis for him and his family. The basis of his employment and trip to Iran can be debated and pushed around the litter-box after he has been freed, but anything short of that is a self-serving, heartless mistake.

That out of the way, I’d also like to add that for once it would be nice to read a story that does not involve the words “speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized…” especially when it relates to matters of National Security (and obviously US citizens being held in captivity overseas).

Can we all agree that journalists are not national security professionals? I’m not saying they don’t have good contacts, or have a grasp of NatSec and related subject matter. What I am saying is they are not suited to decide what sensitive or classified information should be published for the entire world to read. When publishing stories I highly doubt the first thing out of an editor’s mouth is “how will this damage US intelligence assets and officers in the field?” or “would posting this get anyone killed?”

I’m not so callus as to say they don’t utter those words at all. Hell, I’ve seen HBO’s The Newsroom, I know there must be heated debates in glass walled offices about all this. After all, TV is like real life, right

So what about those “anonymous senior officials” who so gallantly dish scoops to the media? I suppose I wouldn’t be too popular if I said I’d like to see them uncloaked and held accountable would I? Personally I think anyone who gives classified or sensitive information to the media is just as likely to give it to a foreign intelligence service. And in some cases, its pretty much the same damage done.

I won’t be so dire and drab as to say, “loose lips sink ships” and put a clamp down on anyone talking without offering up an olive branch here. Could it be that the US Government has created this rampant use of “anonymous” conditional sources? If this is the case, I do believe our penchant for over-classification could be the culprit.

Its embarrassing to say, but during my time at the CIA, I’m not sure I ever really understood the how’s and why’s for our classification rules. If I am remembering correctly, we even had to fill in classification markings on inter-office emails. The system was/is bulky and pretty much everything needed to be classified. Obviously I can’t speak to specifics, but I know there were things I classified that did not need it. Somewhere there is likely a Lotus Notes server with gigabytes of classified “Meet at Woodie in 10?” and “Starbucks after the meeting?”…

So if I concede that there is a problem with over-classification in the government, can we all agree that the news media needs to seriously look in the mirror and figure out whose greater good they are trying to serve with their stories?

Back on topic, Robert Levinson is still being held in captivity. I cannot think of a viable or productive reason for the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, et al to release their stories at this time. No doubt, if any of it were true, there would have been good reason to publish it after Levinson was released. Prior to securing his release it reeks of nothing but self-serving media masturbation. I for one am sick of the rub and tug.

Natalie Sambhi: Security and Defence Accounts in Australia (and the Asia Pacific) You Should be Following on Twitter

 Natalie Sambhi: Security and Defence Accounts in Australia (and the Asia Pacific) You Should be Following on Twitter

Natalie Sambhi

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and editor of ASPI’s blog The Strategist. Natalie’s research interests include Indonesia and Southeast Asian security. She has previously worked at Department of Defence as an analyst. In 2010, she founded Security Scholar, a blog on security and defence issues. You can follow Natalie on Twitter at @SecurityScholar.

There’s a vibrant Twitter community in Australia with a strong interest in security, intelligence and defence issues in the Asia Pacific. If you’re interested in an Australian perspective, here’s a list of recommended tweeters (individual and institutional accounts) you might like to follow.

Most tweets will cover Australia’s alliance with the US; the 2013 Defence White Paper; the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific; ethnic violence; military exercises; the rise of China, India and Indonesia; the Korean peninsula; maritime security; intelligence; the South China Sea and more. But what these Tweeters have all got in common is some experience in understanding and analysing defence and security issues whether as military officers, researchers, journalists or photographers, and think tank analysts. As many have written extensively about security issues, I encourage you to explore their research and blogs as well.

You can also follow discussion on Australian defence matters via the hashtag #ausdef. For a regional view of our security issues, I’ve included some worthwhile accounts from Southeast Asia as well.

Like all Twitter lists, this is only a starting point and any additions are most welcome.

@AsiaPacSecurity | Joanne Wallis
Lecturer & Convener, Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Security, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU. Tweets on South Pacific politics and security. Canberra, Australia.

@AlbertPalazzo | Albert Palazzo
Senior Research Fellow @lwscaustralia I’ve published widely on the #Australian #Army and contemporary #military and #ausdef issues. My views are my own. Canberra

@Andrew_Zammit | Andrew Zammit
Research Fellow at the Global Terrorism Research Centre (Monash) and an Editor at Australian Policy Online (Swinburne). Opinions my own, RTs not endorsement. Blogs at The Murphy Raid. Melbourne.

@Andrew_D_ASPI | Andrew J. Davies
Senior Analyst Defence capability.

@APDC_AirPower | Air Power Dev Centre
Air Power Development Centre, Royal Australian Air Force, Canberra, Australia.

Australian Defence In a Global Context. APDR is the longest standing defence publication in Australia now in its 39th year. Australia.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan think tank on Australia’s defence and strategic policy. Canberra, Australia.

@captainbrown | James Brown
Military Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia. Formerly Australian Army officer. Sydney.

@eamonhamilton | Eamon Hamilton
Personal profile, and all views contained are my own. I have a Rubber-Band Powered Blog. Sydney, Australia.

@HodgeMark | Mark Hodge
CEO of DMTC Ltd., defence technology contractor & capability development partner. Views are my own. Retweets are for discussion & debate only. Melbourne, Australia.

@jasminchill | Jasmin C. Hill
Skydiver, rock-climber, scubadiver, nuclear aficionado, general all-round dare-devil & former child television star. My comments are my own. Retweet is not Endorsement. Australia.

@Jim_Molan | Jim Molan
Author, defence and security commentator, consultant, company director, retired army officer.

@KokodaFDN | Kokoda Foundation
Official Twitter account of the Kokoda Foundation. Re-tweets and links are not endorsements of the content.

@KZiesing | Katherine Ziesing
Australian Defence Magazine.

@lwscaustralia | Land Warfare Studies Centre
LWSC is a #future focused #thinktank, exploring land #combat and #Australia’s strategic environment. FF/RT/F does not = endorsement. #ausdef #natsec. Canberra, ACT, Australia.

@newmandala | New Mandala
New Mandala is based at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. Online since June 2006.

@PD_SDSC | Peter Dean
Director of Studies at the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre- ANU, Lecturer at the Australian Command & Staff College & Editor of Security Challenges Journal. Canberra, ACT Australia.

@RobAyson | Robert Ayson
Asia-Pacific security, global strategic issues and NZ defence/foreign policy; perenially hopeful Tottenham, Brewers & Essendon fan. Bio. Wellington New Zealand.

@Rory_Medcalf | Rory Medcalf
Watching geopolitics in Indo-Pacific Asia. Lowy Institute Program Director, Australia India Institute Associate Director, Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow. Sydney.

@SeaPowerCentre | Sea Power Centre
Sea Power Centre – Australia is the Navy’s think tank. It’s staff conduct research into sea power, maritime strategy and naval history. Canberra, Australia.

@TheBaseLeg | Mike Yeo
Published military aviation photographer. Melbourne-based Singaporean. Website has my photos & I blog/tweet mainly about Asia-Pacific military aviation news. Melbourne, Australia.

Other Interesting Twitter Accounts in the Region

@CSISIndonesia | CSIS Indonesia
Think, Learn, Share Knowledge. CSIS Indonesia. Jakarta, Indonesia.

@DrTimHuxley | Tim Huxley
Student and observer of Asian societies, politics and international relations; philatelist; aviation enthusiast; dad. Singapore.

@DzirhanDefence | Dzirhan Mahadzir
Defence journalist, Malaysia correspondent-Janes Defence Weekly former guest lecturer on military history and strategy, Malaysian Armed Forces Defence College. Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

@indomiliter | Indomiliter (In Indonesian)
Akun resmi – Ajang silaturahmi para pemerhati dan penikmat dunia militer Indonesia. Indonesia.

@ISIS_MY | ISIS Malaysia
Malaysia’s premier, autonomous and non-profit think-tank established in 1983 for objective, independent, and strategic policy research. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

@marhalimabas | Marhalim Abas
Owner of Reporting defence and national security issues since 1994, Shah Alam, Malaysia.

Interview: Ethics and Security in the Age of Ubiquitous Media with Dr. Rebecca Johnson

interviewrj Interview: Ethics and Security in the Age of Ubiquitous Media with Dr. Rebecca Johnson

Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College. Prior to joining the faculty in 2009, she taught at The Georgetown Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University and the School of International Service at American University. Dr. Johnson has spoken on topics related to military ethics across the services in the United States and at service schools abroad. She has published numerous articles and book chapters and is currently writing a book on emerging trends in military ethics. Her most recent work, “The Wizard of Oz Goes to War: Unmanned Systems in Counterinsurgency” is forthcoming in Strawser (ed.) Killing by Remote Control: The Ethics of an Unmanned Military. You can follow her on Twitter.

John Little: Let me start by saying that Blogs of War will never knowingly be the launching point for a leak of classified information – no matter how big the scoop. I consider protection of classified information to be a patriotic duty even if one is not directly tasked with that responsibility. At the same time it is impossible to ignore the fact that anyone who discusses or studies intelligence is able to do so, in large part, because of a long history of unauthorized disclosures. Once a story drops in a major publication the damage can’t be undone or minimized. The information is distributed too quickly and too widely. Given that, what responsibility do ordinary Americans, commentators, and journalists have after the initial disclosure?

Rebecca Johnson: I agree whole-heatedly that protection of classified information is everyone’s responsibility – even those who aren’t in direct government service. American lives and missions really are at stake, and it will be a cold day in hell before I do something I know could sacrifice either. I’m not persuaded by the argument that once information is leaked it’s too late to minimize damage. That may be true, but to me, it’s irrelevant. Journalists and government sources both have their own missions and motivations for what they do. I can’t do anything about what brings classified information into the public realm. I can – and must – accept responsibility for my own actions. That means my sharing of classified information (because even if it’s leaked, it’s still classified), puts me not only on the wrong side of the law, but on the wrong side of my duty to work to make the country more secure. People know I work in national security are more likely to take what I share as actual US policy. I think I have to be more careful than analysts who aren’t related to the government or regular private citizens. They might not read a specific story in the paper, but if I share what I consider to be the ‘important bits’, then I’m highlighting the potentially most damaging elements of the leak for anyone to see. I won’t do free work for enemies of the United States. I know they’re perfectly competent to identify the damaging parts of leaks themselves, but again, I’m not responsible for them. I’m only responsible for me.

Ordinary Americans have a responsibility as well. Everyone knows (but often forget) not to telegraph troop movements. Posting on Facebook that you can’t wait to see Tommy when he gets back from Afghanistan next week may not violate federal law, but it’s not the smartest thing to do. Americans also have a responsibility to be involved and communicate their opinions to the government. Here, I would simply caution that leaked classified information by definition gives only a very small part of the picture. Taking one leak and using it to indict some facet of US policy is shortsighted and sure to be inaccurate. Here, I would encourage folks to give a story time to develop, turn to a multitude of sources from different perspectives, and keep their eyes focused on what’s really important – the strength of the country, not scoring partisan or personal points.

John Little: But patience and careful consideration are in short supply. Is there a way to introduce a common ethical framework back into this arena (as opposed to a purely legal one) when it looks like the dysfunctional relationship between media and social media exhibited in the Sandy Hook School shooting is the new norm? The notion of personal responsibility doesn’t exactly appear to be on the rise either.

Rebecca Johnson: If they’re in short supply, then it’s probably a good idea to practice more! I just don’t buy this line of argument. The people working the issues are the ones generating the classified material to begin with; they don’t magically see it for the first time once it’s leaked (very often, at least!). It’s the public — and primarily those of us who work in this area, but maybe not a specific issue directly — who want to know what’s happening on the ‘high side’ and create a lot of the churn following a leak. I am a true believer in our particular system of democratic governance but I couldn’t care less about feeding personal egos or people’s desire to be ‘in the know’. There are times when people claim disclosure is in the name of democratic transparency, but what they really mean is that it’s in the name of advancing their particular agenda or sense of personal entitlement. Anyone who’s in this business to be the center of the ‘look what I know’ universe would be better served just staring in a mirror all day. It would be far more helpful for everyone.

I see Sandy Hook differently, primarily because we’re not talking about national security and classified information. It does, however, highlight both sides of social media – important information is shared quickly and efficiently, but the impulse people (not just journalists) have to be the one who shares the information first resulted in the wrong man being accused of a horrific crime in a very public, terribly painful way. Did he find out that he was accused of mass murder on twitter before or after he learned that his brother had killed his mom and 26 other people on Facebook? That is the very real cost of social media and citizen journalism. In terms of a common ethical framework, I would suggest the following (and I’m speaking here to your basic user of social media – I’ll leave journalism ethics to the professionals):

  • Sourcing in everything. If you don’t know the credibility of a source, ask before you share. If that takes you extra time, oh well. If you’re not in a position to be breaking news, it probably doesn’t matter if you’re 15 minutes behind the curve. No one will remember you weren’t first out of the box tomorrow, and it could spare you from looking like a complete jackass if you share something that turns out to be wrong.
  • Ask yourself what good would come from sharing a particular piece of information. If you’re just piling on, or potentially exposing someone’s (or the country’s) vulnerability, maybe don’t RT. When big stories break there is a group dynamic that takes over that motivates people to share more than they should. If you lack the judgment and impulse control to moderate what you share on social media, then really – REALLY – take the time to practice developing that skill. It will serve you well in life.
  • Remember that no one really cares what you think anyway. You honestly don’t have to vocalize every single thing you know or suspect to be true. I’m active on social media, so I won’t pretend to be immune to this temptation, but there seems to be a sense in which people use social media to feed self-importance. Folks who follow me on twitter know I tweet all sorts of irrelevant nonsense. It’s actually intentional. I ain’t all that, and chances are, you ain’t either. Get over yourself. You don’t have to share what you know. You certainly don’t have to let yourself get caught up in a story as it’s developing if you lack the skills to moderate yourself effectively. Just stop.
  • Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective? There are all sorts of baiters lurking on social media trying to draw people into saying something they shouldn’t. You don’t have to correct every knucklehead who gets a story wrong. Really. Work your issues and let stupid take care of stupid. It can be stomach churning to watch stories build in a direction I know to be wrong, but that’s life. People would do well to remember why they’re on social media to begin with and not let one-off distractions compromise their larger goals.

John Little: Lastly, do you think we are doing enough to prepare incoming public servants and soldiers with the burden that comes with having access to sensitive information in an environment that also encourages persistent personal broadcasting?

Rebecca Johnson: This is a great question. No. This is true of both PERSEC and OPSEC. Every day for a month I had Facebook recommend that I friend an individual whom I’ve never met but who serves in a Cabinet level position in the current administration. Finally I friended the individual (who — *sniff* — has yet to accept my friend request) and posted a courtesy message on my wall that whichever of my friends who knows the principal may want to have a gentle conversation about privacy settings. If this is the level of security for senior leaders, imagine the lack of preparation and accountability at more junior levels. I have found myself correcting my own students numerous times for PERSEC issues on social media, and my students are seasoned professionals.

In terms of OPSEC, most service members are pretty good at keeping quiet on things they shouldn’t discuss; here I would say the breakdown comes not in preparing people not to leak classified information, but in reminding people that there is a lot of open source material that still should not be shared – at least by them. Since DOD changed its policy on the use of social media, each of the services has adopted guidelines and operating procedures, but these tend to be communicated by Public Affairs Officers, rather than by commanders or small unit leaders. I’ve had the good fortune of working with leaders who embrace social media rather than run from it, and that definitely helps in building a culture of responsible social media engagement. Still, I know this isn’t the norm.

In the military, familiarity on the part of unit leaders with what social media is and the general common sense prudential rules for how to leverage it goes a long way to training subordinates in responsible practices. I’m not saying leaders should be monitoring their people’s twitter feeds; I’m saying that familiarity puts leaders in a better position to actually lead in this area. In civilian organizations (including DOD) where there is a mix of career public servants and political appointees, it can be harder to get everyone on the same page in terms of what’s appropriate to share. I’m less familiar with what individual agencies do to regulate social media use on the part of their employees, but I would suggest that the obligatory “these views do not represent” disclaimer people cram into their profile is not enough.

Banning or over-regulating the use of social media is obviously not the answer either; it’s a fact of life and has the ability to make us all better at what we do. For me, it comes down to responsible engagement. My boss likes to say that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason – so we will listen twice as much as we speak. When it comes to social media I’d push it even further. We have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. We’d all do better to stay on receive mode and be judicious in when and why we shift into transmit.