With the 2016 presidential election just weeks away, five simultaneous murders on three continents lead to an investigation revealing the recent black-market sale of five nuclear weapons. But who bought them? And what is their intended target?
Washington fears the bombs are timed to explode in major American cities before the election. They call on intelligence expert Ray Bowman to prevent the attack. With the help of a Mossad agent and a female South African intelligence officer, he follows a trail across the world to track down the missing nukes. Along the way, he discovers that the people who now control the bombs intend to do something much more devastating than expected, something that it will make nuking a few cities look like a mild attack.
Drawing on his decades of experience at the highest levels of national security, Richard A. Clarke's Pinnacle Event--the Pentagon code for a nuclear threat--is a gripping international thriller told from the rare vantage point of a true Washington insider.» View Excerpt
In Washington, the Kill Committee gathers in the White House's Situation Room to pick the next targets for the United States drone program. At an airbase just outside Las Vegas, a team of pilots, military personnel and intelligence officers follow through on the committee's orders, finding the men who have been deemed a threat to national security and sentenced to death.
On the other side of the world, in the mountains where the drones hunt their prey, someone has decided to fight back. And not just against the unmanned planes that circle their skies, but against the Americans at home who control them.
Clarke not only remains an active and respected presence within the national security community but also appears regularly as an expert commentator for ABC and other media. His insider's expertise is on full display in Sting of the Drone, a breathtakingly realistic novel set within America's contentious drone program.» View Excerpt
Politics mixes with cutting edge technology in this thriller set in the relatively near future. Can Susan Connor stop the attacks coming through cyberspace and in 18-wheelers before America's technological infrastructure is destroyed by the unidentified enemy? Nanotechnology, robotics, genetics, and computer science will all make great advances in the next decade. How will they change the nature of our society, our politics, our government? Breakpoint explains the new technologies that are about to burst forth on society, but it does it in the form of an exciting chase with a surprise climax.
Sometimes you can tell more truth through fiction. In the near future America is on the brink of war with Iran and the Secretary of Defense is scheming to make sure the conflict starts. The U.S. does not understand what is going on in Saudi Arabia, where a revolution has replaced the Saud family government. But is the new regime one we can work with, or is it another hostile power? A British spy, an American intelligence officer, a reporter, and a doubting Marine all have pieces of the puzzle. If they can get together and understand the total picture of what is about to happen, they might be able to prevent a disaster bigger than the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This thriller provides a look behind the curtain at what motivates some who want change in the rapidly evolving Arabian Gulf region and how America interacts so poorly with this key part of the world.
The next threat to national security and what to do about it
Cyber War is a powerful book about technology, government, and military strategy; about criminals, spies, soldiers, and hackers. This is the first book about the war of the future -- cyber war -- and a convincing argument that we may already be in peril of losing it.
Cyber War goes behind the "geek talk" of hackers and computer scientists to explain clearly and convincingly what cyber war is, how cyber weapons work, and how vulnerable we are as a nation and as individuals to the vast and looming web of cyber criminals. From the first cyber crisis meeting in the White House a decade ago to the boardrooms of Silicon Valley and the electrical tunnels under Manhattan, Clarke and coauthor Robert K. Knake trace the rise of the cyber age and profile the unlikely characters and places at the epicenter of the battlefield. They recount the foreign cyber spies who hacked into the office of the Secretary of Defense, the control systems for U.S. electric power grids, and the plans to protect America's latest fighter aircraft.» View Excerpts
Breaking the cycle of national security disasters
Its not just Bush and Cheney that are to blame. The system is broken. That's the message in this provocative sequel to Against All Enemies. When Richard Clarke apologized for 9-11, he never thought that there would be so many more government failures in so short a time, but climate change, Katrina, the struggle with al Qaeda, the insecurity in cyberspace, and the failure of homeland security all bespeak a larger problem, a systemic failure. Clarke documents the failures and suggests solutions for making government work better in its most important job, protecting us.» View Excerpt
Inside America's war on terror
The #1 New York Times best seller, this book revealed for the first time the failures of the Bush Administration to do anything about terrorism before 9-11 and how the Administration intentionally and erroneously used the attacks as a justification to go to war with Iraq. Speaking out publicly against that war long before most Washington insiders, attacking Bush's folly when doing so was not popular, Clarke took risks others were unwilling to run, but his analysis was eventually vindicated. He also tells a riveting account of the day of 9-11 as only the national crisis manager could tell it.
The book also goes back twenty years to tell us how we got into this situation, but it does so in a fast paced, engaging, and accessible style. This is how the government works behind the doors in national security as told by the longest serving White House national security council staff policy official, appointed to key positions in the Reagan, Bush(41), Clinton, and Bush (43) administrations.
© 2017 RAC Enterprises, Inc.
Cover Photo: The "Baker" explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on 25 July 1946. This image is a work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.
Tuesday, June 30th
The Situation Room
The West Wing, The White House
Winston Burrell was late. His chair, at the head of the table that filled the room, was empty. The Seal of the President of the United States hung on the wall behind his chair, giving the room an aura. This was not a corporate boardroom, not a Congressional committee room. It was a place where power was the currency. Meetings in this space had saved lives and taken lives. Today’s meeting was about taking lives.
The old chair had been replaced with one that better fit Burrell’s height and weight. He was not of average build. He was not average in many ways. For a man who had started his professional life as an international relations academic, he had become the quintessential behind-the-scenes operator, making things happen first in state government, then in the corporate world, and then in national politics as the White House National Security Advisor. While he could recite the details of almost any national security issue, it was in understanding their domestic political relevance that he excelled. The President was focused on domestic policy challenges. Burrell was intent on not letting national security get in the way or take up too much of the leader’s time. He saw his job as preventing disasters, promoting those causes that bought the President domestic support.
The men and women who waited were far from displeased to have some time together without the National Security Advisor. This was when the number twos and number threes from the departments and agencies got to meet, gossip, ask each other for favors, trade and deal, complain and bargain, with only one aide each looking on. This time, before the meeting started, was where the wheels were greased and coordination accomplished, without rhetoric or pretense.
“Sorry to be late,” Burrell said as he entered the room and plopped down in the big chair. He wasn’t sorry, of course, and everyone knew it. “Sorry, too, that we haven’t been able to have this meeting sooner,” he said. Most of those around the table doubted that, too. They knew he found these sessions distasteful. He disliked having to decide who lived and who died.
Winston Burrell looked around the table. The two highest ranking representatives were the Under Secretaries from State and Defense, both women. Nancy Schneidman from Defense might be the first female Secretary of Defense in a few years. Her opposite number from State, Liz Watson, was a career Foreign Service officer. She had been ambassador to Turkey.
Admiral Harlan Johnston was a SEAL assigned to the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Like many of the “Special Operations community,” he did not look the part. Slightly shorter than average, he probably weighed less than anyone in the room. As he opened his briefing book, he donned a pair of black glasses that would have made his social life difficult had he still been in high school, but he wasn’t. He had served in combat in Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and places where the Pentagon never acknowledged the presence of US military personnel. Then they had made him an admiral and assigned him to Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, where the endless Power Point slides and bullet papers had caused him to see the optometrist.
Ron Darden from Justice was probably the wealthiest person at the table. He had been Managing Partner of a Los Angeles law firm before joining the administration as Associate Attorney General. He was also the only person of color at the table.
The Intelligence Community was two headed. Seth Kaplan was the number two at CIA, but he was accompanied by Todd Hill, who ran the National Counter-Terrorism Center. Hill frequently, awkwardly, made the point that the NTCT did not report to CIA. Both men sat at the table.
“I know the requests have been piling up. So let’s get started. You all have the files. Let’s start with the Pentagon nominations. Admiral?”
“We have six nominations,” Admiral Johnston began. “Two in Afghanistan, one each in Yemen, the Philippines, Algeria, and Chad. All are AUMF cleared by the Pentagon.”
The Under Secretary of Defense, Nancy Schneidman, representing the civilian control of the military, concurred. “Right, Winston, we believe all of these six men pose an ongoing, continuous, or imminent threat to US military personnel and/or are senior officials of AQ or an al Qaeda affiliated group. As such, they are all eligible under the criteria for Authorized Use of Military Force.” She had said the magic words, chanted the incantation that would place a hex on and doom men probably then asleep, thousands of miles away.
Two rows of three squares appeared on the large screen at the other end of the table from Burrell. Each square had a photograph of the intended victim, a codename, his real name, and some words in a font too small to read.
“Everyone has had these noms for a while now,” Burrell observed. “Any questions or objections?”
“I have a question about the guy in the Philippines,” Liz Watson, the Under Secretary of State, began. “Explain to me how a guy in the jungles of Mindanao is a threat to US forces. And is the civilian government aware of this? I mean, at what level have the civilians signed off on this in Manila? Their President know?”
Burrell nodded to the Admiral to answer.
“You would be speaking about Rambler,” he said, pulling a green file folder out from a stack he had placed on the table. Each folder was covered with a red and black striped coversheet with the words TOP SECRET in a large font size at the top and bottom.
“Rambler?” Burrell asked.
“We’re using old car names now as codewords,” Under Secretary Schneidman explained. “Someone objected to our using Native American tribe names.”
“Rambler,” the Admiral began, reading aloud from his file, “is known to be planning the kidnapping or assassination of American military personnel acting as advisors to the Philippine Armed Forces engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Mindanao against an AQ affiliated offshoot of the indigenous Islamist militant movement.”
“And we briefed the civilian Defense Minister and the President’s Chief of Staff in Manila,” Nancy Schneidman added. “They concur. It was actually the Philippine military that first suggested we drone this guy. He’s holed up in a mountainous, jungle area where any attack force would just be slaughtered. Fact is this guy’s invulnerable except to drones.”
“See, this is exactly what I was talking about last time,” the Justice Department representative interjected. Ron Darden often felt like an outsider in the acronym punctuated interagency discussions. He was more at home in corporate boardrooms. “This guy didn’t bother our military so much, our guys weren’t so threatened by him, that they nominated him. The local government asked us to go after him because they can’t do it without maybe losing a few guys in the operation. If he’s not really a threat to Americans, we should not be going after him.”
The admiral removed his glasses, turned to stare and Darden, and then used his baritone voice to note, “We have solid intelligence that Rambler is planning to kidnap or assassinate American military personnel. And yes, we don’t want to, what did you say, lose some guys, to get him. But we also want to get him before he gets us. OK?”
“These are US troops we are talking about, at risk,” Nancy Schneidman added. I don’t want to have to go to Dover one more time to welcome back a coffin or go to Arlington to meet one more widow if we don’t have to.”
Burrell looked at the Defense Under Secretary as he might have regarded a disappointing student in an honors seminar. “We don’t need to go there, Nancy. We have all been to Dover and Arlington too often. Everyone at this table has a right, indeed a duty, to question the nominations that come before us.” The room was silent for a moment.
“All right, then. Does any agency object to any of the Defense nominations?” Burrell asked.
“I’m okay with the guy in the Philippines, assuming we do the usual Pattern of Life thing to make sure there will be no collateral damage,” Watson, State’s Under Secretary, interjected. Behind her, in one of the “back bench” seats against the wall, her “plus one,” an Assistant Secretary of State, squirmed and frowned. He had clearly put her up to complaining about the Philippines target and now she had withdrawn her complaint. “But tell me why the guy in Yemen is a Defense Department target and not a CIA target. I thought the strikes in Yemen were supposed to be covert operations done by CIA.”
Admiral Harlan Johnston was ready for that question. Without consulting his notes, the Admiral replied, “Studebaker is known to be plotting an attack on the US Embassy in Sana’a. That constitutes a direct threat to US forces, our military mission in the embassy, as well as the Foreign Service and Other Government Agency personnel.”
“In that case, Harlan, fry his ass,” Liz Watson replied. Before she was in Turkey, Under Secretary Liz Watson had been Ambassador to Yemen six years ago.
“All right then, shall we consider the six Defense nominations approved, subject to the rules of engagement on collateral damage?” Burrell asked. No one dissented. “Now, let’s move on to the Agency nominations, Todd and Seth.”
Todd Hill was the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, an independent intelligence organization that reported to the Director of National Intelligence. Seth Kaplan was the Deputy Director of CIA, which had its own large, Counterterrorism Center. The White House budget staff had suggested merging the two groups, but Burrell was reluctant. Even though he also thought having two big Centers was ridiculous, he also knew that if there were another significant terrorist attack after the White House had “downsized” the counterterrorism intelligence staffs, the CIA and its friends on the Hill would blame the President. Better to waste a billion or so a year than to put the President at risk of appearing soft on terrorism.
In reality, the President was very far from soft on terrorism. He had given Burrell broad but extremely clear guidance: “Winston, I don’t want to micro-manage this stuff. Just make sure we do not get attacked again. Do what you have to do. Minimize the negative press, no torture and hold down the collateral damage to an acceptable level, but err on the side of killing the bad guys. If we fuck up trying to kill bad guys, I will be fine. If we fuck up because we didn’t kill the right bad guy and he then kills a bunch of Americans, particularly in the homeland, then I get in trouble. Understood?” Burrell had already understood that, intuitively.
Todd Hill from the National Counter Terrorism Center flashed a similar set of mug shots on to the screen, three rows of four. These faces had only code names attached to them on the graphic. They were named after fish.
“Flounder is the head of the Qazzani group’s European operations, drug distribution,” Hill began. “Not normally an offense that would get him on the Kill List, but we have a very sensitive source that has informed us that the Qazzanis have signed a contract with AQ to conduct attacks on targets in Europe, specifically U-Bahns, German subway trains.”
“Where is our attack to take place?” the Under Secretary of State asked.
“Probably Austria. We have a technical source that says Flounder is meeting with his subordinates in Vienna to go over the plans,” Seth Kaplan, the CIA number two explained.
“Jesus Christ, what is wrong with you people?” Under Secretary Watson responded. “Austria is a friendly state. They are cooperative on counterterrorism. You can’t go bombing Austria like it was 1944 again. It’s in the heart of Europe.”
“She has a point,” Winston Burrell observed. “Why can’t we just ask their polizei to round these guys up when they are having their little meeting?”
“They don’t have a legal basis for arresting them. No evidence we can give them,” the CIA man, Seth Kaplan said. “Our source is too sensitive to tell anyone about.”
“Including me?” Burrell asked.
“We can give you a little bit more detail in private, but this source is way too valuable to risk more broadly,” the CIA man replied.
“So, let me get this straight, we can’t have the Austrians arrest this guy because we can’t give them the evidence against him. So we have to kill him? What if we were able to kidnap him and bring him to the US and indict him here,” Darden from Justice asked. “Under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, the US courts do not care how a person arrives before a US court as long as he was not tortured along the way. It’s legal under US law to kidnap him. It may violate Austrian law, but...”
Seth Kaplan looked uncomfortable. His staff at CIA had predicted this Kill Nomination would not go down well with Justice. “I appreciate your flexibility, Ron, but even if he were standing outside the White House fence, we could not arrest this guy. The evidence we have against him is far too sensitive to share with a US judge or jury, let alone a defense attorney. So it’s actually a good thing he is not in the US, because I am not sure we could do anything to him here.”
“But because he is oversees, we can kill him?” Darden asked.
“Yes, of course,” Kaplan replied. “That is what we have been doing, using the President’s Covert Action authority under the Intelligence Act to remove terrorists from the battlefield in other countries. His Covert Action authority has no legal basis inside the US.”
“Well, thank goodness for that Seth, or you would be coming after me I suspect,” Under Secretary Liz Watson intervened. “I’m half joking, Seth, but this is a serious problem. You are asking us to approve killing a guy in a friendly European country and you won’t tell the Austrians, or even this committee, who the source is so that we can judge for ourselves whether to believe that there is a risk that justifies this action. You have only one source? No corroboration? What is this source’s motivation? What is this source’s past record of reporting? How long has he been reporting?”
Again, the room fell silent.
“I’ve said all I can say. We have good reason to believe the source,” the CIA man finally replied, looking down at the tabletop.
Normally backbenchers were quiet, but the man sitting behind Winston Burrell spoke up. Raymond Bowman was the Director of the Policy Evaluation Group, a small, unconventional unit that theoretically reported to the Director of National Intelligence, but really worked directly for Burrell. PEG was his “second opinion” team, his independent, low profile unit that trolled through the other agencies’ intelligence, but also mastered open sources. They talked to subject matter experts no one else had found, and had a track record for prediction that consistently beat the rest of the gigantic Intelligence Community. Although they all knew him, it was Bowman’s first time attending the Kill Committee, as some of the participants had taken to calling the meeting.
“Putting aside the sourcing for the minute,” Ray began, “how exactly are we planning to fly a drone into Austrian airspace and then cause an explosion somewhere in their country without them figuring out that we violated their sovereignty?”
Burrell intervened before Bowman’s question could be answered. “You all know Ray. I have asked him to serve as my, sort of, informal deputy on all things drones. So, in the future, when you hear from him on these issues, he is me. Good question, Ray. Goes to the operational risk assessment. Seth?”
The two Intelligence Community men looked at each other, both clearly upset that they would now have another intelligence professional second guessing them. Bowman’s PEG already did that to their analysis on a regular basis. Now that group of odd balls was going to start questioning their operational judgment? It seemed that neither Intelligence representative wanted to be the one to get into the operational risk details. Todd Hill from the National Counter Terrorism Center, however, grudgingly explained, “We will be using new, covert drones. They will be launched from a rural area inside Austria at night. The attack ordnance will self-incinerate, leaving no forensic signature. We will provide the Austrians with information that leads them to conclude that a rival drug gang did the attack using a hidden parcel type bomb.”
“Oh, shit. This just gets better and better,” Liz Watson said. “I can tell you, Winston, that the Secretary of State will not support this. You are going to secretly smuggle drones into Austria. You are going to convert some Austrian farm into a secret US drone base. You are going to lie to the Austrians about what happened. And you are going to blame some other group for the attack, probably leading to them being killed in retaliation for something they did not do. Beautiful, just beautiful.”
“I’m afraid the Attorney General will join in that dissent,” Ron Darden added.
The Admiral and the Under Secretary of Defense sat silently.
“Well, I will have to discuss this with my boss,” Burrell said. There was no indication what he would recommend to that boss. “There are eleven more IC noms, Mackerel, Salmon, a whole Sushi bar here. Has everyone had time to go over the rest? Any comments or questions on those?”
“I do,” Ron Darden from Justice answered.
Burrell slumped back in his chair. He had clearly been hoping that this session was nearly over. He could not help but think of himself and the others as Roman Senators in purple-trimmed togas, sitting in the Coliseum and holding out their arms with their thumbs up or down, signaling which of the Christians and slaves would be killed. Only none of these victims were Christians.
“Pike and Pickerel,” Darden began, “they are both Mexican drug kingpins. How is it that they are being put on the Kill List? I thought that the Finding only authorized us to go after al Qaeda and its affiliates. Since when is the Rico Martinez cartel an AQ affiliate? And again, why can’t the Mexican authorities get them? Or do you have an ultra secret source you can’t tell us or the Mexicans about there too?”
“Good questions,” Burrell commented. “CIA, Dr. Kaplan?”
Todd Hill replied instead. “I’ve got the brief on this one. Hezbollah has approached both the Martinez and the Montevilla drug gangs. The leaders of both groups, Mister Pike and Mister Pickerel, have agreed to smuggle terrorists into the United States in return for a lot of money from Hezbollah, meaning ultimately Iran. Hezbollah is also on the list of terrorist groups we can peremptorily attack.”
Liz Watson returned to the fray, on behalf of the State Department. “So, since you can kill Hezbollah guys if they are planning to kill Americans, therefore Hezbollah guys being smuggled into the US are automatically assumed to be planning to conduct terrorist attacks in the US and Mexicans who have agreed to help them with the human trafficking are therefore assumed to be affiliated Hezbollah terrorists and subject to death by drone. And the reason you can’t tell the Mexicans is again some sensitive source bullshit?”
“No, Ms. Watson,” Todd Hill began slowly, “We actually have told the Mexicans. They asked us to use UAVs against these two gentlemen because the Mexican authorities said that they are too well guarded for the Mexicans to arrest or attack, even if they used the Mexican Marines.”
“Have we used drones in Mexico before?” Ron Darden asked.
“Homeland does, but they are unarmed,” the Admiral chimed in.
“Now may not be the time to open up another theater of operations for lethal drone attacks, particularly so close to US territory,” Winston Burrell noted, sitting up straight and folding his fingers together on the table, forming a little tent above his papers. “Seth, Todd, maybe you could come back to us with an alternative to the Hezbollah Mexican human trafficking caper?”
The two Intelligence Community men nodded.
“Anything else for the good of the order?” Burrell asked. “Good, then we are adjourned.”
As he left the Situation Room and walked down the hall to the take-out window of the White House Mess, Burrell wondered how it had happened. He had just signed the death certificates for sixteen more men, plus however many others who would have the misfortune of standing nearby them. On average that number was four. So, he had just ordered sixty-four executions and, he thought, he wasn’t even the Governor of Texas.
He ordered a large coffee, black, from the young sailor at the take out window. It would take a while, he knew, maybe a few months, but based on past practice, the targets would all be found at a place and time when they could be killed without unacceptable collateral damage. Some would probably die tomorrow. How had he ended up doing this? When they had started using the drones to kill, right after 9-11, it had seemed like a welcome way of finally stopping terrorist attacks on Americans. Somehow, it had grown into an industry, and he was the CEO of the industry leader.
Burrell looked up and saw Raymond Bowman exiting the Situation Room with Admiral Johnston. He signaled Ray to join him upstairs.
“Well, you too are now indictable by the War Crimes court,” Burrell started when Ray walked into the National Security Advisor’s office, carrying his own large coffee. Burrell dropped into a large, wing-backed chair. Ray sat in another one opposite him.
“That’s what I was just thinking,” Ray replied. “Why me?”
“Who else? You saw the way they are all playing their games down there. I need somebody I can trust, somebody with no agency agenda,” Burrell said. “You realize, of course, that the Mexican thing was a ruse. They nominate a few every month for me to reject. Makes the other agencies think I am being tough on the CIA.”
Ray laughed. “I thought that might be happening. And the Austrian thing. Think the President is going to go for that?”
“We’re not going to ask him. Too risky. We need to insulate him. Deniability. Protect the Principal,” Burrell explained.
“So you tell them no?” Ray asked.
“Quite the contrary. You are going to tell them to go ahead. And you are going to imply that it has gone up to The Man, but you are never actually going to say that. It will get you off on the right foot with CIA, giving them the go ahead.”
“Do I also have to tell State and Justice?” Ray asked.
“No, they’ll read about it in the papers when it happens,” Burrell replied.
“Ok then,” Ray said. “And you’re not overly concerned about the operational risk?”
“No, we’ve done this kind of thing before. A lot, actually. They never get caught. It’s the one thing the CIA seems to be able to do well, fly drones,” Burrell said. “And actually, it’s not even CIA that flies the goddamn things, it’s Air Force officers seconded to CIA. We’ve got this joint CIA-DOD coordination center that flies the sensitive missions and coordinates all the others. In fact, the new director of it is coming in to see me. You ought to join me in the meeting. Let me see here,” he said looking at his schedule. “Ms. Sandra Vittonelli.”
“Sandy?” Ray said, spilling some of his coffee.
“You know her? Is she good?” Burrell asked.
“She was when I knew her,” Ray smiled. “She is one tough cookie.”
“Good, that’s what we need in that job.” Burrell got up and walked back to his desk, signaling the meeting was over. As Ray was getting near the door Burrell added, “Oh, and Raymond, now that you are a member of the Kill Committee...”
Burrell looked across the wide office at him. “Don’t call it the Kill Committee. And we don’t call them drones.” “Why not?” Bowman asked. “Because that implies that they are autonomous and they’re not.” “Really, what do you call drones then?” “Now we say RPAs, “ the National Security Advisor explained. “What’s that stand for?” “Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Reminds people that there is a human in the loop, if not actually inside the aircraft.” “I thought they were UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, “ Bowman said, “They were, but now they’re RPAs. The human involvement wasn’t clear with the use of UAV. See, actually they are not Unmanned. Its just that the man, or woman, is on the ground.”
“Okay, but I hear that the pilots call them Fuckers.”
“I’ve never heard that. Why would they say that?” Burrell asked. “FKRs, Flying Killer Robots. The Predators are the Little Fuckers and the Global Reach are the Big Fuckers.”
“No, don’t call them Fuckers. I don’t want that to spread. Very bad messaging.”
Bowman nodded and left the room.
Chapter 1. Trail Runs
A quarter-moon reflected on the slowly flowing Euphrates, a river along which nations have warred for five thousand years. It was just after midnight, September 6, 2007, and a new kind of attack was about to happen along the Euphrates, one that had begun in cyberspace. On the east side of the river, seventy-five miles south into Syria from the Turkish border, up a dry wadi from the riverbank, a few low lights cast shadows on the wadi’s sandy walls. The shadows were from a large building under construction. Many North Korean workers had left the construction site six hours earlier, queuing in orderly lines to load onto buses for the drive to their nearby dormitory. For a construction site, the area was unusually dark and unprotected, almost as if the builder wanted to avoid attracting attention. Without warning, what seemed like small stars burst above the site, illuminating the area with a blue-white clarity brighter than daylight. In less than a minute, although it seemed longer to the few Syrians and Koreans still on the site, there was a blinding flash, then a concussive sound wave, and then falling pieces of debris. If their hearing had not been temporarily destroyed by the explosions, those on the ground nearby would then have heard a longer acoustic wash of military jet engines blanketing the area. Had they been able to look beyond the flames that were now sweeping the construction site, or above the illuminating flares that were still floating down on small parachutes, the Syrians and Koreans might have seen F-15 Eagles and F-16 Falcons banking north, back toward Turkey. Perhaps they would even have made out muted blue-and-white Star of David emblems on the wings of the Israeli Air Force strike formation as it headed home, unscathed, leaving years of secret work near the wadi totally destroyed.
Behind all of this mystery, however, was another intrigue. Syria had spent billions of dollars on air defense systems. That September night, Syrian military personnel were closely watching their radars. Unexpectedly, Israel had put its troops on the Golan Heights on full alert earlier in the day. From their emplacements on the occupied Syrian territory, Israel’s Golani Brigade could literally look into downtown Damascus through their long-range lenses. Syrian forces were expecting trouble. Yet nothing unusual appeared on their screens. The skies over Syria seemed safe and largely empty as midnight rolled around. In fact, however, formations of Eagles and Falcons had penetrated Syrian airspace from Turkey. Those aircraft, designed and first built in the 1970s, were far from stealthy. Their steel and titanium airframes, their sharp edges and corners, the bombs and missiles hanging on their wings, should have lit up the Syrian radars like the Christmas tree illuminating New York’s Rockefeller Plaza in December. But they didn’t.
What the Syrians slowly, reluctantly, and painfully concluded the next morning was that Israel had “owned” Damascus’s pricey air defense network the night before. What appeared on the radar screens was what the Israeli Air Force had put there, an image of nothing. The view seen by the Syrians bore no relation to the reality that their eastern skies had become an Israeli Air Force bombing range. Syrian air defense missiles could not have been fired because there had been no targets in the system for them to seek out. Syrian air defense fighters could not have scrambled, had they been fool enough to do so again against the Israelis, because their Russian-built systems required them to be vectored toward the target aircraft by ground-based controllers. The Syrian ground-based controllers had seen no targets.
By that afternoon, the phones were ringing in the Russian Defense Ministry off Red Square. How could the Russian air defense system have been blinded? Syria wanted to know.
Cyber warriors around the world, however, were not surprised. This was how war would be fought in the information age, this was Cyber War. When the term “cyber war” is used in this book, it refers to actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption. When the Israelis attacked Syria, they used light and electric pulses, not to cut like a laser or stun like a taser, but to transmit 1’s and 0’s to control what the Syrian air defense radars saw. Instead of blowing up air defense radars and giving up the element of surprise before hitting the main targets, in the age of cyber war, the Israelis ensured that the enemy could not even raise its defenses.
The Israelis had planned and executed their cyber assault flawlessly. Just how they did it is a matter of some conjecture.
Chapter 2. Cyber Warriors
In a television ad, a crew-cut young man in a jumpsuit walks around a darkened command center, chatting with subordinates who are illuminated by the greenish light from their computer screens. We hear his voice over the video: “control of power systems . . . water systems . . . that is the new battlefield . . . in the future this is going to be the premier war-fighting domain . . . this is going to be where the major battles are fought.” He then looks right at the camera and says, “I am Captain Scott Hinck, and I am an Air Force Cyber Warrior.” The screen fades to black, and then three words appear: “ Air, Space, Cyberspace.” Then, as the ad ends, we see a winged symbol and the name of the sponsor, “United States Air Force.”
So now we know what one cyber warrior looks like. At least in Scott’s case, he looks a lot like the bright, fit, earnest officers who populate the world’s most potent military. That is not quite our image of hackers, whom movies have portrayed as acned, disheveled guys with thick glasses. To attract more of those with the skills needed to understand how to fight cyber war, however, the Air Force seems to think it may have to bend the rules. “If they can’t run three miles with a pack on their back, but they can shut down a SCADA system,” mused Air Force Major General William Lord, “we need to have a culture where they can fit in.” (A SCADA system is the software that controls networks such as electric power grids.) That progressive attitude reflects the U.S. Air Force’s strong desire to play the leading role for the U.S. in cyber war. That service was the first to create an organization for the purpose of combat in the new domain: U.S. Air Force Cyber Command.
The perception that cyberspace is a “domain” where fighting takes place, a domain that the U.S. must “dominate,” pervades American military thinking on the subject of cyber war. The secret-level National Military Strategy for Cyber Operations (partially declassified as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request) reveals the military’s attitude toward cyber war, in part because it was written as a document that we, the citizens, were never supposed to see. It is how they talk about it behind the closed doors of the Pentagon. What is striking in the document is not only the acknowledgment that cyber war is real, but the almost reverential way in which it is discussed as the keystone holding up the edifice of modern war fighting capability. Because there are so few opportunities to hear from the U.S. military on cyber war strategy, it is worth reading closely the secret-level attempt at a cyber war strategy.
The document, signed out under a cover letter from the Secretary of Defense, declares that the goal is “to ensure the US military [has] strategic superiority in cyberspace.” Such superiority is needed to guarantee “freedom of action” for the American military and to “deny the same to our adversaries.” To obtain superiority, the U.S. must attack, the strategy declares. “Offensive capabilities in cyberspace [are needed] to gain and maintain the initiative.” At first read, the strategy sounds like a mission statement with a bit of zealotry thrown in. On closer examination, however, the strategy reflects an understanding of some of the key problems created by cyber war. Speaking to the geography of cyberspace, the strategy implicitly acknowledges the sovereignty issue ( “the lack of geopolitical boundaries . . . allows cyberspace operations to occur nearly anywhere”) as well as the presence of civilian targets (“cyberspace reaches across geopolitical boundaries . . . and is tightly integrated into the operations of critical infrastructure and the conduct of commerce”). It does not, however, suggest that such civilian targets should be off-limits from U.S. attacks. When it comes to defending U.S. civilian targets, the strategy passes the buck to the Department of Home-land Security.
The need to take the initiative, to go first, is dictated in part by the fact that actions taken in cyberspace move at a pace never before experienced in war (“cyberspace allows high rates of operational maneuver . . . at speeds that approach the speed of light. . . . [It] affords commanders opportunities to deliver effects at speeds that were previously incomprehensible”). Moreover, the strategy notes that if you do not act quickly, you may not be able to do so because “a previously vulnerable target may be replaced or provided with new defenses with no warning, rendering cyberspace operations less effective.” In short, if you wait for the other side to attack you in cyberspace, you may find that the opponent has, simultaneously with their attack, removed your logic bombs or disconnected the targets from the network paths you expected to use to access them. The strategy does not discuss the problems associated with going first or the pressure to do so.
The importance of cyberspace and cyber war to the U.S. military is revealed in the strategy’s declaration that “DOD will conduct kinetic missions to preserve freedom of action and strategic advantage in cyberspace.” Translated from Pentagonese, that statement means that rather than cyber attacks being just some support mechanism of a shooting war, the Defense Department envisions the need to bomb things in the physical world to defend against cyber attack, or to drive an enemy into networks that American cyber warriors control.
The strategic concept of deterrence is discussed in the strategy only insofar as it envisions a desired end state where “adversaries are deterred from establishing or employing offensive capabilities against US interests in cyberspace.” Since twenty or thirty nations have already established offensive cyber units, we apparently did not deter them from “establishing.” The way to stop those nations from using that capability against us, however, is discussed as “inducing adversary restraint based on demonstrated capabilities.” However, the secrecy surrounding U.S. offensive cyber war weapons means that we have no demonstrated capabilities. By the logic of the U.S. military’s strategy, we therefore cannot induce adversary restraint. The strategy does not suggest a way around this conundrum, let alone recognize it. Thus, what is called a military strategy for cyber operations raises some of the key issues that would need to be addressed in a strategy, but it does not provide answers. It is not really a strategy, but more of an appreciation. To the extent that it provides guidance, it seems to argue for initiating combat in cyberspace before the other side does, and for doing all that may be needed to dominate in cyberspace, because to do otherwise would put other kinds of American dominance at risk.
Buried in the document is, however, a realistic assessment of the problems facing the U.S. in cyber war: “threat actors can take advantage of [our] dependence” on cyberspace; and, “absent significant effort, the US will not continue to possess an advantage in cyberspace” and the U.S. will “risk parity with adversaries.” Put another way, the strategy does note the fact that other nations may be able to inflict cyber war damage on us equal to our ability to inflict it on them. It may actually be worse, because we have a greater dependence on cyberspace, which can play to the advantage of an attacker.
If the U.S. is so vulnerable, to whom is it vulnerable? Who are the other cyber warriors?
Chapter 3. The Battlespace
Cyberspace. It sounds like another dimension, perhaps with green lighting and columns of numbers and symbols flashing in midair, as in the movie The Matrix. Cyberspace is actually much more mundane. It’s the laptop you or your kid carries to school, the desktop computer at work. It’s a drab windowless building downtown and a pipe under the street. It’s everywhere, everywhere there’s a computer, or a processor, or a cable connecting to one.
And now it’s a war zone, where many of the decisive battles in the twenty-first century will play out. To understand why, we need to answer some prior questions, like: What is cyberspace? How does it work? How can militaries fight in it?
Cyberspace is all of the computer networks in the world and everything they connect and control. It’s not just the Internet. Let’s be clear about the difference. The Internet is an open network of networks. From any network on the Internet, you should be able to communicate with any computer connected to any of the Internet’s networks. Cyberspace includes the Internet plus lots of other networks of computers that are not supposed to be accessible from the Internet. Some of those private networks look just like the Internet, but they are, theoretically at least, separate. Other parts of cyberspace are transactional networks that do things like send data about money flows, stock market trades, and credit card transactions. Some networks are control systems that just allow machines to speak to other machines, like control panels talking to pumps, elevators, and generators.
What makes these networks a place where militaries can fight? In the broadest terms, cyber warriors can get into these networks and control or crash them. If they take over a network, cyber warriors could steal all of its information or send out instructions that move money, spill oil, vent gas, blow up generators, derail trains, crash airplanes, send a platoon into an ambush, or cause a missile to detonate in the wrong place. If cyber warriors crash networks, wipe out data, and turn computers into doorstops, then a financial system could collapse, a supply chain could halt, a satellite could spin out of orbit into space, an airline could be grounded. These are not hypotheticals. Things like this have already happened, sometimes experimentally, sometimes by mistake, and sometimes as a result of cyber crime or cyber war. As Admiral Mike McConnell has noted, “information managed by computer networks—which run our utilities, our transportation, our banking and communications—can be exploited or attacked in seconds from a remote location overseas. No flotilla of ships or intercontinental missiles or standing armies can defend against such remote attacks located not only well beyond our borders, but beyond physical space, in the digital ether of cyberspace.”
Why, then, do we run sophisticated computer networks that allow unauthorized access or unauthorized commands? Aren’t there security measures? The design of computer networks, the software and hardware that make them work, and the way in which they were architected, create thousands of ways that cyber warriors can get around security defenses. People write software and people make mistakes, or get sloppy, and that creates opportunities. Networks that aren’t supposed to be connected to the public Internet very often actually are, sometimes without their owners even knowing. Let’s look at some things in your daily life as a way of explaining how cyber war can happen. Do you think your condominium association knows that the elevator in your building is, like ET in the movie of the same name, “phoning home”? Your elevator is talking over the Internet to the people who made it. Did you know that the photocopier in your office is probably doing the same thing? Julia Roberts’s character in the recent movie Duplicity knew that many copying machines are connected to the Internet and can be hacked, but most people don’t know that their copier could even be online. Even fewer think about the latest trick, shredders that image. Just before all those sensitive documents pass through the knives that cut them into little pieces, they go by a camera that photographs them. Later, the cleaning crew guy will take his new collection of pictures away to whoever hired him.
Your elevator and copier “phoning home” is supposed to be happening, the software is working properly. But what if your competitor has a computer programmer who wrote a few lines of code and slipped them into the processor that runs your photocopier? Let’s say those few lines of computer code instruct the copier to store an image of everything it copies and put them into a compressed data (or zip) file. Then, once a day, the copier accesses the Internet and—ping!—it shoots that zip file across the country to your competitor. Even worse, on the day before your company has to submit a competitive bid for a big contract—ping!—the photocopier catches fire, causing the sprinklers to turn on, the office to get soaked, and your company to be unable to get its bid done in time. The competitor wins, you lose.
Chapter 4. The Defense Fails
Even though historians and national security officials know that there are numerous precedents for institutions thinking their communications are secure when they are not, there is still resistance to believing that it may be happening now, and to us. American military leaders today cannot conceive of the possibility that their Secret (SIPRNET) or Top Secret intranet (JWICS) is compromised, but several experts I spoke to are convinced that it is. Many corporate leaders also believe that the millions of dollars they have spent on computer security systems means they have successfully protected their company’s secrets. After all, if anybody had gotten inside their secret files, the intrusion detection system software would have sounded an alarm. Right?
No, not necessarily. And even if the alarm did go off, in many cases that would not have caused anyone to do anything very quickly in response. There are ways of penetrating networks and assuming the role of the network administrator or other authorized user without ever doing anything that would cause an alarm. Moreover, if an alarm does go off, it is often such a routine occurrence on a large network that nothing will happen in response. Perhaps the next day someone will check the logs and notice that a couple of terabytes of information were downloaded and transmitted outside of the network to some compromised server, the first stop on a multistage trip intended to obscure the final destination. Or, perhaps, no one will notice that anything ever happened. The priceless art is still on the museum walls. And if that is the case, why should the government or the bottom-line-conscious executive do anything?
I mentioned in chapter 2 the 2003 phenomenon code-named Titan Rain. Alan Paller, a friend who runs the SANS Institute, a cyber security education and advocacy group, described what happened on one afternoon in that case, November 1, 2003.
At 10:23 p.m. the Titan Rain hackers exploited vulnerabilities at the U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
At 1:19 a.m. they exploited the same hole in computers at the Defense Information Systems Agency in Arlington, Virginia.
At 3:25 a.m. they hit the Naval Ocean Systems Center, a Defense Department installation in San Diego, California.
At 4:46 a.m. they struck the U.S. Army Space and Strategic Defense installation in Huntsville, Alabama.
There were lots of days like that. Not only were Defense facilities hit, but terabytes of sensitive information left NASA labs, as well as the computers of corporations such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, which have been given contracts worth billions of dollars to manage security for DoD networks. Cyber security staffs tried to figure out the techniques being used to penetrate the networks. And their blocking efforts seemed to work. One participant in these defensive efforts told us that “Everyone was all self-congratulatory.” He shook his head, pulled a grimace, and added softly, “. . . till they realized that the attacker had just gone all stealthy, but was probably still stealing us blind. We just couldn’t see it anymore.” The case names Moonlight Maze and Titan Rain are now best thought of as fleeting glimpses of a much broader campaign, most of which went unseen. It may seem somewhat incredible that terabytes of information can be removed from a company’s network without that company being able to stop it all from going out the door. In the major cases we know about, the companies or federal organizations usually did not even detect that an exfiltration of data had occurred until well after it had taken place. All of these victims had intrusion-detection systems that are supposed to alarm when an unauthorized intruder attempts to get on a network. Some sites even had the more advanced intrusion-prevention systems, which not only alarm but also automatically take steps to block an intruder. The alarms remained silent. If you have a mental image of every interesting lab, company, and research facility in the U.S. being systematically vacuum cleaned by some foreign entity, you’ve got it right. That is what has been going on. Much of our intellectual property as a nation has been copied and sent overseas. Our best hope is that whoever is doing this does not have enough analysts to go through it all and find the gems, but that is a faint hope, particularly if the country behind the hacks has, say, a billion people in it.
One bright spot in this overall picture of data going out the door unhindered is what happened at Johns Hopkins University’s Advanced Physics Laboratory (APL), outside Baltimore. APL does hundreds of millions of dollars of research every year for the U.S. government, from outer-space technology to biomedicine to secret “national security” projects. APL did discover in 2009 that it had huge amounts of data being secretly exfiltrated off its network and they stopped it. What is very telling is the way in which they stopped it. APL is one of the places that is really expert in cyber security and has contracts with the National Security Agency. So one might think that they were able to get their intrusion systems to block the data theft. No. The only way in which these cyber experts were able to prevent their network from being pillaged was to disconnect the organization from the Internet. APL pulled the plug and isolated its entire network, making it an island in cyberspace. For weeks, APL’s experts went throughout the network, machine by machine, attempting to discover trapdoors and other malware. So the state of the art in really insuring that your data does not get copied right off your network appears to be to make sure that you are in no way connected to anybody. Even that turns out to be harder than it may seem. In large organizations, people innocently make connections to their home computers, to laptops with wi-fi connections, to devices like photocopiers that have their own connectivity through the Internet. If you are connected to the Internet in any way, it seems, your data is already gone.
The really good cyber hackers, including the best government teams from countries such as the U.S. and Russia, are seldom stumped when trying to penetrate a network, even if its operators think the network is not connected in any way to the public Internet. Furthermore, the varsity teams do something that causes network defenders to sound like paranoids. They never leave any marks that they were there, except when they want you to know. Think of Kevin Spacey’s character’s line in the movie The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
Chapter 5. Toward a Defensive Strategy
Military theorists and statesmen, from Sun Tzu to von Clausewitz to Herman Kahn, have for centuries defined and redefined military strategy in varying ways, but they tend to agree that it involves an articulation of goals, means (broadly defined), limits (perhaps), and possibly sequencing. In short, military strategy is an integrated theory about what we want do and how, in general, we plan to do it. In part because Congress has required it, successive U.S. administrations have periodically published a National Security Strategy and a National Military Strategy for all the world to read. Within the military, the U.S. has many substrategies, such as a naval strategy, a counterinsurgency strategy, and a strategic nuclear strategy. The U.S. government has also publicly published strategies for dealing with issues wherein the military plays only a limited role, such as controlling illegal narcotics trafficking, countering terrorism, and stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Oh yes, there is also that National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace dating back to 2003; but there is no publicly available cyber war strategy.
In the absence of a strategy for cyber war, we do not have an integrated theory about how to address key issues. To prove that, let’s play Twenty Questions and see if there are agreed-upon answers to some pretty obvious questions about how to conduct cyber war:
Didn’t do too well finding the answers anywhere in U.S. government documents, congressional hearings, or officials’ speeches? I didn’t, either. To be fair, these are not easy questions to answer, which is, no doubt, part of the reason they have not yet been knitted together into a strategy. As with much else, how one answers these and other questions will depend upon one’s experience and responsibilities, as well as the perspective that both create. Any general would like to be able to flip a switch and turn off the opposing force, especially if the same cannot be done to his forces in return. Modern generals know, however, that militaries are one of many instruments of the state, and the ultimate success of a military is now judged not just by what it does to the opponent, but by how well it protects and supports the rest of the state, including its underpinning economy. Military leaders and diplomats have also learned from past experiences that there is a fine line between prudent preparation to defend oneself and provocative activities that may actually increase the probability of conflict. Thus, crafting a cyber war strategy is not as obvious as simply embracing our newly discovered weapons, as the U.S. military did with nuclear weapons following Hiroshima.
Chapter 6. How Offensive?
In the seminal 1983 movie about computers and war, War Games, starring a young Matthew Broderick, the tinny computer voice asked haltingly, “Do you want to play a game of thermonuclear war?” Why don’t we play a game of cyber war in order to elucidate some of the policy choices that shape a strategy. DoD runs such exercises, called Cyber Storm, annually. The CIA’s annual cyber war exercise, Silent Horizon, has been happening since 2007. For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll make the same request of you that I made of students at Harvard’s Kennedy School and national security bureaucrats sitting around the White House Situation Room conference table: “Don’t fight the scenario.” By that I mean, do not spend a lot of time rejecting the premise that circumstances could happen someday that would result in the U.S. being on the edge of conflict with Russia or China.
When U.S. cyber warriors talk about the “big one,” they usually have in mind a conflict in cyberspace with Russia or China, the two nations with the most sophisticated offensive capability other than the U.S. No one wants hostilities with those countries to happen. Thinking about it, for the purposes of understanding what cyber war would look like, does not make it more likely. In fact, by understanding the risks of our current cyber war posture, we might reduce the chances of a real cyber war. And if, despite our intentions, a cyber war does happen, it would be best to have thought in advance about how it could unravel.
Certainly, I did not want to see the attack of 9/11 happen, but I had chaired countless “tabletop exercises,” or war game scenarios, to get myself and the bureaucracy ready in case something like it did happen. When it came, we had already thought through how to respond on the day of an attack and the few days thereafter. We spent enormous effort to try to prevent attacks, but we also devoted some time to thinking about what we would do if one succeeded. Had we not done so, that awful day would have been even worse. So, in that spirit of learning by visualizing, let’s think about a period of rising tensions between the U.S. and China.
Let’s call it Exercise South China Sea and set it a few years in the future. Not much has changed, except China has increased its dependence on the Net somewhat. For its part, the U.S. has not done much to improve its cyber defenses. We will have three teams, U.S. Cyber Command, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Cyber Division, and the Controllers, who play the part of everyone else. The Controllers also decide what happens as a result of the other two teams’ moves. Let’s say for the sake of the exercise that China has been aggressively pressing Vietnam and other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries to cede their rights to a vast and rich undersea area of gas and oil fields. (China has, in fact, claimed waters that run hundreds of miles to its south, along the coasts of Vietnam and the Philippines.) We will stipulate that there have been small clashes between their navies. In an irony of history, we will say that the government of Vietnam has asked the U.S. for military support, as have other nations in the region with claims on the contested waters. In response, the President has authorized a joint U.S.-ASEAN naval exercise and has dispatched two U.S. carrier battle groups, about twenty ships, including about 150 aircraft and several submarines. China and the U.S. have exchanged diplomatic notes and public pronouncements, with both countries essentially saying that the other one should stay out of the issue. American cable news networks have at this point started showing dramatic slides with the words “South China Sea Crisis.”
As our hypothetical exercise opens at Fort Meade, the team playing Cyber Command has been ordered by the Pentagon to prepare a series of steps it could take as the political situation escalates. The order from the Secretary of Defense is to develop options to:
First, dissuade the Chinese government from acting militarily over the contested waters. Second, failing that, to reduce to the maximum extent possible the ability of the Chinese military to pose a risk to U.S. and allied forces in the area. Third, in the event of increased tensions or the outbreak of hostilities, to be able to disrupt the Chinese military more broadly to reduce its ability to project force. Fourth, to occupy the Chinese leadership with disruption of their domestic infrastructure to the extent that it may cause popular and Party questioning of the Chinese government’s aggressive behavior abroad. Fifth, throughout this period Cyber Command is to work with appropriate U.S. government agencies to prevent Chinese-government or Chinese-inspired cyber attacks on the U.S. military or significant U.S. infrastructure.
Chapter 7. Cyber Peace
The United States, almost single-handedly, is blocking arms control in cyberspace. Russia, somewhat ironically, is the leading advocate. Given the potential destabilizing nature and disadvantages of cyber war to the U.S., as discussed in the earlier chapters, one might think that by now the United States would have begun negotiating international arms control agreements that could limit the risks. In fact, since the Clinton Administration first rejected a Russian proposal, the U.S. has been a consistent opponent of cyber arms control.
Or, to be completely frank, perhaps I should admit that I rejected the Russian proposal. There were many who joined me; few U.S. government decisions are ever the responsibility of a single person. However, one of my jobs in the Clinton White House was to coordinate cyber security policy, including international agreements, across the government. Despite some interest in the State Department in pursuing cyber arms control, and although the U.S. had to stand almost alone in the U.N. in rejecting cyber talks, we said no. I viewed the Russian proposal as largely a propaganda tool, as so many of their multilateral arms control initiatives had been for decades. Verification of any cyber agreement seemed impossible. Moreover, the U.S. had not yet explored what it wanted to do in the area of cyber war. It was not obvious then whether or not cyber war added to or subtracted from U.S. national security. So we said no, and we have kept saying no for over a decade now.
Now that over twenty nations’ militaries and intelligence services have created offensive cyber war units and we have gained a better understanding of what cyber war could look like, it may be time for the United States to review its position on cyber arms control and ask whether there is anything beneficial that could be achieved through an international agreement.
Often arms control negotiations have found difficulty in achieving agreement on something as basic as a definition of what it is that they were seeking to limit. I sat around the table for months with Soviet counterparts trying to define something as simple as “military personnel.” For the purposes of discussion in this book, we won’t have that kind of delay. Let’s take the definition we used in chapter 1 and make it sound more like treaty language:
Cyber warfare is the unauthorized penetration by, on behalf of, or in support of, a government into another nation’s computer or network, or any other activity affecting a computer system, in which the purpose is to add, alter, or falsify data, or cause the disruption of or damage to a computer, or network device, or the objects a computer system controls.
With that definition and the U.S. asymmetrical vulnerabilities in mind, are there successes in other forms of arms control that could be ported into cyberspace, or new ideas unique to the characteristics of cyber war that could form the basis of beneficial arms control? What are the pitfalls of bad arms control to which we should give special attention and caution when thinking about limits on cyber war? How could an international agreement limiting some aspects of cyber war be beneficial to the United States, as well as operationally feasible and adequately verifiable?
Chapter 8. The Agenda
Those were the words our hypothetical White House official heard in chapter 2. Most of the time, those are words you never want to hear, at least when somebody is shoving a phone in your direction in a crisis. The sixth element of our agenda is, however, Presidential involvement. I know that everyone working on a policy issue thinks the President should spend a day a week on his or her pet rock. I don’t.
The President should, however, be required to approve personally the emplacement of logic bombs in other nations’ networks, as well as approve the creation of trapdoors on a class of politically sensitive targets. Because logic bombs are a demonstration of hostile intent, the President alone should be the one who decides that he or she wants to run the destabilizing risks associated with their placement. The President should be the one to judge the likelihood of the U.S. being in armed conflict with another nation in the foreseeable future, and only if that possibility is high should he or she authorize logic bombs. Key congressional leaders should be informed of such presidential decisions, just as they are for other covert-actions. Then, on an annual basis, the President should review the status of all major cyber espionage, cyber war preparation of the battlefield, and cyber defense programs. An annual cyber defense report to the President should spell out the progress made on defending the backbone, securing the DoD networks, and (let me hear you say it) protecting the electric power grid.
In this annual checkup, the President should review what Cyber Command has done: what networks they have penetrated, what options would be available to him in a crisis, and whether there are any modifications needed to his earlier guidance. This review would be similar to the annual covertaction review and the periodic dusting off of the nuclear war plan with the President. Knowing that there is an annual checkup keeps everybody honest. While he is reviewing the cyber war strategy implementation, the President could annually get a report from our proposed Cyber Defense Administration on its progress in securing government agencies, the Tier 1 ISPs, and (all together now) the power grid.
Finally, the President should put reducing Chinese cyber espionage at the top of the diplomatic agenda, and make clear that such behavior amounts to a form of economic warfare.
As I suggested earlier, the President should use the occasion of his annual commencement address at a military service academy, looking out over the cadets or midshipmen and their proud families, to promulgate the Obama Doctrine of Cyber Equivalence, whereby a cyber attack on us will be treated the same as if it were a kinetic attack and that we will respond in the manner we think best, based upon the nature and extent of the provocation. I suggested that he add a proposal for a global system of National Cyber Accountability that would impose on nations the responsibility to deal with cyber criminals and allegedly spontaneous civilian hack-tivists, and an Obligation to Assist in stopping and investigating cyber attacks. It would be a sharp contrast to the Bush Doctrine, announced at West Point, that expressed the sentiment that we should feel free to bomb or invade any nation that scares us, even before it does anything to us.
To follow up such a spring speech at an academy, the President should then in September give his annual address at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session. Looking out from that green granite podium at the leaders or representatives of nine-score countries, he should say that
The cyber network technology that my nation has given to the world has become a great force for good, advancing global commerce, sharing medical knowledge that has saved millions of lives, exposing human rights violations, shrinking the globe, and, through DNA research, making us more aware that we are all descendants of the same African Eve.
But cyberspace has also been abused, as a playground for criminals, a place where billions of dollars are annually siphoned off to support cartels’ illicit activities. And it has already been used by some as a battlespace. Because cyber weapons are so easily activated and the identity of an attacker can sometimes be kept secret, because cyber weapons can strike thousands of targets and inflict extensive disruption and damage in seconds, they are potentially a new source of instability in a crisis, and could become a new threat to peace.
Make no mistake about it, my nation will defend itself and its allies in cyberspace as elsewhere. We will consider an attack upon us through cyberspace as equivalent to any other attack and will respond in a manner we believe appropriate based on the provocation. But we are willing, as well, to pledge in a treaty that we will not be the first in a conflict to use cyber weapons to attack civilian targets. We would pledge that and more, to aid in the creation of a new international Cyber Risk Reduction Center, and undertake obligations to assist other nations being victimized by attacks originating in cyberspace.
Cyber weapons are not, as some have claimed, simply the next stage in the evolution of making war less lethal. If they are not properly controlled, they may result in small disagreements spiraling out of control and leading to wider war. And our goal as signers of the United Nations Charter is, as pledged in San Francisco well over half a century ago, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” I ask you to join me in taking a step back from the edge of what could be a new battlespace, and take steps not to fight in cyberspace, but to fight against cyber war.
It could be a beautiful speech, and it could make us safer.
Chapter 1: 9-11 Changed Everything?
When I said "Your government failed you" to the families of the victims of 9-11, it seemed to me that I was merely stating the obvious: the government had failed the American people. And I had.
Three thousand people had been murdered in a morning, not on a battlefield, not in their battleships as had happened in Pearl Harbor, but in their offices. They had been killed by a terrorist group that had promised to attack us, and which we had been unable to stop.
"9-11 changed everything." That was the remark that we heard over and over again in the years that followed. It was only partially true. 9-11 did not change the Constitution, although some have acted as if it did. Nor did the government's response to the attack make us more secure.
By the second anniversary of the 9-11 attack on America, the United States had invaded and occupied two Islamic nations, created an Orwellian-sounding new bureaucracy, launched a spending spree of unprecedented proportions, and was systematically shredding the Constitution. Despite our frenzy, or in many cases because of it, the problem we sought to address, violent Islamist extremism, was getting worse. Much of what our government did after 9-11, at home and abroad, departed from our values and identity as a nation. It was also massively counter-productive. Our government failed us before and after 9-11, and it continues to do so today.
Chapter 2: NO MORE VIETNAMS
For no institution is the pain of failure more personal than for our military. When the military fails, their friends die and leave widows. Many of the living lose limbs or acquire post-traumatic stress disorder. And no institution has tried as hard as the U.S. military to understand why failure occurs or has worked as diligently to correct mistakes so that they do not recur. The formal Lessons Learned process is ingrained in the U.S. military's way of doing business. And yet there is Iraq.
The U.S. military is so richly deserving of our thanks and respect that few civilians have been willing to suggest that the Iraq disaster is at all the military's fault. Clearly the elected civilian commander-in-chief, his seasoned Vice President, the two-time Secretary of Defense, Congress, and others should bear most of the blame. But the military, more precisely the officer corps, and specifically many general officers over the course of thirty years, deserve some culpability. I say that not to add to the chorus of scapegoating and finger-pointing, but so that we as a nation can follow in the military's tradition of lessons learned, so that we can avoid Santayana's condemnation. And I believe the trail leads back to the military's own reactions to the national failure that was the Vietnam War. To understand Iraq, we need to remember Vietnam and what happened in the U.S. military after that war....
....Despite Shali's greater willingness to use force, a risk aversion deriving from the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine continued. That attitude was taken to its illogical extreme in dealing with terrorism. Before 9/11, as the President's head of counterterrorism, I came to the reluctant but inescapable conclusion that the U.S. military leadership did not want to be part of offensive operations against terrorists. On several occasions the National Security Advisor and his cabinet colleagues in the NSC Principals Committee asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to plan operations to go after terrorists. Sometimes the targets involved were just one man—a lone al Qaeda operative in a hotel room in Khartoum in 1998 or in 1995 a single terrorist working in the Water Department in Qatar. Every time the military came back, recommending against the operations and presenting plans intentionally oversized, involving enormously outsized forces that would have blown any chance of surprise and would have looked as if we were invading. The man working in the Qatar Water Department was reported to be the uncle of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, whom we had hunted down in Pakistan in 1995.
The man in Qatar had been secretly indicted in New York, and evidence suggested that he had had a hand in other operations and would probably plan more. We wanted him badly, but we knew that if we approached the Qatari government to arrest him and hand him over, someone would probably tip him off and he would escape. The CIA correctly said it had no capability to stage covert snatches in Qatar, nor did the FBI. So, remembering that there were small Special Operations Command units trained to do just such things, I urged that the military be ordered to go in with a small team. The Chairman came back not with a small covert unit of Special Operations forces but with an enormous force package and a recommendation against using it. The principals decided not to overrule the military and instructed us to ask the Qataris to arrest the terrorist. We did, but then the Qatari police went to do so, our terrorist had, predictably, just fled the country. The man in the Qatar Water Department did, as we suspected, go on to plan other terrorist strikes. His name was Khalid Sheik Mohammed. He went on to mastermind the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Chapter 3: NO MORE IRAQs
The third failure happened when it became clear that the President and his advisors were intent on invading Iraq, and those generals empowered to give professional military advice to the civilian commander in chief (and the Congress) failed to point out that the U.S. military was not prepared for what was a foreseeable—indeed, I would argue a likely—scenario: insurgency.
CIA analyses at the time made clear that insurgency was a possible postinvasion outcome. In January 2003, two intelligence assessments, “Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq” and “Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq,” predicted that internal violence and a surge in Islamist extremist violence might follow an overthrow of Saddam Hussein and an occupation.
It is one thing not to prepare for counterinsurgency in the hope that America will never have to fight one. It is quite another thing not to tell the President that you have little or no counterinsurgency capability when he directs you to conduct a war where an insurgency is likely. The point of not having a counterinsurgency capability was, presumably, so we would never have to fight one again. However, the strategy works only if you tell the Secretary of Defense or the President or the Congress the dirty little secret that you are not prepared for such a war. Then, if you are lucky, they will decide not to run the risk of going into a war that could result in a counterinsurgency. That strategy does not work if you remain silent. I am reminded of the scene in the 1960s movie Dr. Strangelove, in which the Soviet Ambassador reveals that any U.S. nuclear attack on the USSR will automatically trigger a world-ending response. Incensed, Dr. Strangelove yells at him, “the . . . whole point of the doomsday machine . . . is lost . . . if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, eh?”
And later in the chapter
A fifth failure of some generals crossed a line that had long been defended by the leadership of the U.S. military. For generations, the U.S. military’s leaders had held fast to observing international law with regard to prisoners. They believed that only if we upheld international standards did we have any chance of convincing others to do so. In short, if we tortured and abused prisoners, it increased the chances that our own troops would be abused when they were captured. Yet the record seems clear that generals, perhaps including the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Rick Sanchez, knew about, condoned, and authorized the kind of despicable treatment that the world saw in the pictures from Abu Ghraib. There may even have been daily reports to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the progress of abusive interrogations and torture. Beyond the effect on what others might do to future U.S. prisoners, the Abu Ghraib phenomenon had an immediate effect on Arabs’ and Muslims’ perceptions of the United States of America. It was like rocket fuel for the al Qaeda movement worldwide. While generals failed in their legal, moral, and strategic mission by permitting such activity, at least one general did his duty. Major General Antonio Taguba was asked to investigate what had happened and write a report. He was encouraged to sweep as much as possible under the rug, make it look as if a “few bad apples,” low-ranking personnel, had run amok. Instead, Taguba told the truth.
For doing so, he was asked to retire early. He knew that he was sacrificing his two-decade-long career, but he also knew he had to do the honorable thing. After retiring, he told the reporter Seymour Hersh, “We inculcate duty, honor, integrity . . . and yet when we get to senior officer level we forget those values. I know the Army will be mad at me . . . but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare, . . . our own principles, . . . and the core of our military values. . . . Those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.” In any hall of American military heroes, there should be a special place for Antonio Taguba, for he demonstrated a form of courage rarer than battlefield valor, and he gave real meaning to the word honor.
Chapter 4: Can we reduce intelligence failures?
….There are similar problems with the other class of technical collection, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). The problem is not usually a matter of our ability to collect electrons; it is sometimes a question of recognizing the importance of what has been collected. In 1988 a young State Department INR analyst reported to me that he had found, in the many reports sent to him, a one-line item about a signal normally associated with Chinese long-range nuclear missiles. The problem was that the analyst covered Saudi Arabia, not China, and the report was about Saudi Arabia.
No one else seemed to have noticed the routine report, nor did anyone seem to care when he raised a question about the aberrant signal. The report of that electronic bleep made no sense to me at first. Saudi Arabia was a close U.S. ally and got its weapons from us and from the Europeans. Neither we nor the Europeans would ever have sold it long-range nuclear-capable missiles. But wait, that was the point. Of course, we would not have sold it such a missile. Maybe the Saudis, therefore, had not asked us. Maybe they were crazy enough to have wanted such a weapon and bought them from the Chinese. Surely, however, we would have detected the negotiation of such a deal, or at least the delivery of such a big weapons system. As I said those words to the analyst, I realized that they were probably not accurate. I had already learned never to assume that U.S. intelligence had detected something, no matter how big and obvious. We asked for satellite photography and promptly found an extremely large base in the Saudi desert, complete with Chinese troops and long-range nuclear-capable missiles. The base was almost completed and the missiles were not yet operational.
Conveniently, the Chinese foreign minister was a floor above me at the time, meeting with Secretary of State George Shultz. Shultz was less than delighted with the prospect of having to confront his guest and the Saudis about their secret activities. However, he quickly understood that the Saudis appeared to be pulling their own version of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It looked as if the Saudis were trying to sneak nuclear missiles into their country and have them operational before anyone knew about them. China, which in the 1980s was not rich and had little respect for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, had readily agreed to sell the old missiles for a small fortune. Had it also agreed to sell the nuclear warheads without which the inaccurate missiles were worthless? Shultz did not ask that question of his guest. Instead, he asked the Saudi king to agree that no nuclear warheads would be introduced into Saudi Arabia and that the Chinese base would be open for inspection. The Saudis agreed. Had they not, it is likely they would soon have seen heavily laden fighter-bombers marked with the Star of David streaking overhead well before their missile base was completed….
Before leaving this period, I want to make a slight diversion to go into detail on one of the more incredible parts of the 9/11 tragedy, the fact that the CIA did not tell the FBI, Immigration, the State Department, or the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (me) that two known al Qaeda terrorists had made it to America and were running around somewhere in this country. A year and a half later those two terrorists participated in the 9/11 attacks.
As jaded and cynical as I am about government failures, I still find this one mind-boggling and inexplicable. The 9/11 Commission Report does not tell us very much about how or why it happened, and their explanations, while they could be correct, strain credulity and leave many questions unanswered. Here are the facts as we now know them:
In 1998 the United States discovered that al Qaeda was using a telephone number in Yemen. Monitoring the Yemen number, NSA and CIA obtained names of al Qaeda operatives, including Khalid al-Midhar. Link analysis connected him to others to the U.S. embassy bombings.
In late 1999 al Qaeda planners used this telephone to place calls discussing a meeting to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for just after the mullennium rollover at the beginning of 2000. (Al Qaeda anticipated that several attacks would take place in Jordan, Yemen, and the United States around New Year's Day, but the plots were foiled or failed.) Khalid al-Midhar was among those traveling to Malaysia. Alerted to his travel and his planned change of planes in Dubai, the CIA arranged to obtain and photograph his passport. In that passport, CIA discovered a visa for entry into the United States. It had been issued by the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, several months before.
The CIA and NSA had note placed his name on the "don't give this guy a visa" list before his July 1999 application, even though they had known he was an al Qaeda operative from the Yemen intercepts (mistake number 1). Moreover, the Saudis had reportedly told the CIA that al-Midhar and al-Hamzi were al Qaeda members. Yet no one told that to the visa section at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh (mistake number 2). When the CIA learned in Dubai that al-Midhar had a valid U.S. visa (by looking at it), they did not ask the State Department to revoke the visa, nor did they place his name on Immigration's "do not enter the United States" list (mistake number 3), even though there was a CIA program to do that kind of notification and CIA had done so hundreds of times before with other terrorist names.
Al-Midhar and al-Hamzi met in Kuala Lumpur with known al Qaeda operative at a swank golf club condo. The CIA requested the local security service to photograph people entering the meeting, which it did. A few days later al-Midhar and al-Hamzi traveled to Thailand. No one followed them, but the CIA assumed for some reason that they would remain in Thailand for a while. Instead, the two men got on a United Airlines flight (not for the last time) and flew to Los Angeles, where they waltzed through Immigration. Two months later, the Thai intelligence service got around to telling the CIA that the two had gone to the United States.
To ensure that the CIA and FBI exchanged needed information and stopped keeping secrets from each other, we had created a system of exchange officers. There were several CIA officers at the FBI terrorism office and a umber of FBI agents at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center. Some exchange officers even supervised the other agency's personnel. After Midhar and Hamzi showed up in Los Angeles, an FB agent at CIA headquarters asked permission to tell FBI headquarters that terrorists were at large in California. The exchange program was working. The FBI agent had seen something that he needed to tell his parent agency, something that had not yet been shared with the Bureau for some inexplicable reason. His request was denied by his CIA supervisor (mistake number 4). At that point, the failure to tell the FBI went from being a sloppy oversight to being a conscious decision.
Meanwhile, the two terrorists were trying to figure out how to cope in L.A., when one day they met a nice man in a restaurant. Omar al-Bayoumi was also from Saudi Arabia and, according to him, he just happened to hear some Saudi accents and befriended his fellow countrymen. Shortly thereafter, al-Bayoumi arranged for the two terrorists to move across the street from him in San Diego and then began receiving monthly stipends from his employer to take care of the boys. His employer was a Saudi company that had contracts with the Saudi government. Oman, however, did not actually work at the company. He spent his time roaming around among Saudis in Southern California. Many people, including the local FBI office at the time, assumed he was a Saudi intelligence officer.
The two terrorists signed up for flight school, did badly, and dropped out. Bored, al-Midhar went back to Yemen and may have been involved in the October 2000 attack o the U.S.S. Cole. The FBI investigators in Yemen working on the Cole case then found evidence of the earlier Malaysia meeting, where it seems the attack on the Cole had been on the agenda. The FBI provided the CIA with pictures of people who they believed had gone to the meeting and telephone numbers associated with them, asking for anything the CIA knew about them. Even though they knew about Midhar, the CIA said nothing (mistake number 5). Al-Midhar, meanwhile, went underground for a while, showuping up again in Saudi Arabia in June 2001 to get yet another U.S. entry visa from the State Department (mistake number 6). He landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport on July 4, 2001, and again cleared Immigration (mistake number 7).
A little earlier, CIA officers had also flown to New York to meet with the FBI there. The New York FBI office had the lead in the Bureau's investigating of Al Qaeda and by then had indicted bin Laden and others. The visiting CIA officers showed pictures of al-Midhar and al-Hamzi and asked what the FBI knew about them. They seemed to be fishing. They offered the FBI no information. Sometime later in July, a CIA officer assigned to FBI headquarters sent a message back to the CIA expressing his concerns about the terrorists. He seems to have learned at CIA that al-Midhar and al-Hamzi were in the United Staets, but apparently had been instructed not to tell any of his FBI analysts or superiors (mistake number 8). He got no answer frm CIA headquarters. Then an FBI agent in New York stumbled upon the factthat the CIA knew the two ere in the United States, but was told by a CIA officer to "stand down: and do nothing about it (mistake number 9).
Finally, on August 23, 2001, the CIA alerted the FBI and Immigration that the two were in the United States. It did so in a way that attracted little attention. It did not mention it in the Interagency Threat Committee, chaired twice a week by Roger Cressey of the NSC. It did not mention it in the Counterterrorism Security Group I chaired at lat weekly. It did not call Dale Watson, the FBI's top counterterrorism official. In fact, it was so low-key that the FBI did not immediately grasp how important the information was, and, therefore, did none of the obvious steps that would have located the two (such as checking if they had credit cards in their real names—they did—and where they had recently used them).
The names resurfaced on the day of the attack, 9/11. The CIA Director recalled the fact that the two al Qaeda terrorists were in the United States as soon as he heard about the attacks. Dale Watson, then the number two person in the FBI, was told by his staff that two if the names on the passenger manifests of the hijacked aircraft were those of known al Qaeda terrorists. That's how Dale found out that the U.S. government had already known about the two terrorists prior to the hijackings. Watson placed a call to me at the Situation Room, pulling me out of the crisis group to tell me. That's how and when I found out about al-Hamzi and al-Midhar.
The human brain is designed to take disparate data and order them, make sense of them, place them into a context we can understand from past experience. Sometimes it mistakenly forces data into a pattern, trying to cause things to make sense when they are purely random. This human tendency leads to conspiracy theories, which are attempts to order data that otherwise seems chaotic and improbable. Working in national security, intelligence, and terrorism, I have had to deal with a lot of conspiracy theories, such as: the queen of England is a narcotics trafficker, the U.S. Navy shot down TWA flight 800, the feds blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Y2K was a conspiracy by the software industry to make money, Israel blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11, there was no airplane that his the Pentagon, Iraq had a role in 9/11. As an investigator you suspend disbelief. You check the theories out. You run them to ground. Ninety percent of the time or more, you debunk them. Once in a while, you keep the jury out.
…I know that highly trained, independent investigators with the 9/11 Commission and with the Justice Department's inspector general examined the record of this amazing series of breakdowns surrounding Midhar and Hamzi. The CIA inspector general, John Helgerson, also did an extensive investigation into this and other alleged lapses of the CIA's performance related to al Qaeda. The Helgerson Report notes that not one or two, but sixty (60) CIA personnel knew about the presence in the United States of al-Hamzi and al-Midhar and did nothing to tell the FBI. Maybe they thought it was someone else's job among the group of five dozen, but if they thought someone else had told FBI, did none of them ever think to ask what the FBI had done with the information, not once during a year and a half?
The Senate and House Intelligence Committees investigated 9/11-related intelligence in a rare joint committee. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham came to the conclusion that Omar al-Bayoumi, the nice man in the L.A. restaurant, was a Saudi intelligence agent.
The reason that there may be doubts about all of this is that there is an ordering explanation, a way of making these seemingly unbelievable facts fit a pattern. The 9/11 Commission's own staff report and the Helgerson Report both unintentionally provide a beginning. What if, they ask, the U.S. government had not been a bumbling giant unaware of what it already knew? Well, then, the reports posit, we would have had the option of intentionally letting Hamzi and Midhar into the United States and trying to flip them to become our first real sources inside al Qaeda, or we might just have followed them around to see where they went, who they talked to. But, the Commission staff reports note, that was probably not something the pre-9/11 FBI was up to. Quite right. Had the FBI known about the location in the United States of two known al Qaeda terrorists, it would have arrested them before the coffee cooled. Unlike some other police intelligence agencies around the world, the FBI does not usually believe in giving people a chance to slip surveillance when they know that the people being surveilled are likely to go out and kill.
The CIA would not try such a dangerous ploy as trying to flip al Qaeda terrorists in the United States into becoming CIA sources because that would violate laws prohibiting CIA operations inside the United States. The CIA would not ask Saudi intelligence to approach al-Midhar and al-Hamzi in Los Angeles, because foreign intelligence agencies are legally barred from running intelligence missions in the United States. Right?
…The human mind rejects the randomness and chaos represented by the theory that the repeated mistakes made about al-Midhar and al-Hamzi were just routine, compounded incompetence. But incompetence happens. Often it is other people who pay for it.
So we prefer to think that repeated incompetence is what happened because we disdain conspiracy theories and would rather not confront the alternative….
Chapter 6: Homeland
…It is scenarios like that, perhaps, that cause some people to think that we need wiretaps without warrants and other infringements of traditional American civil liberties. The possibility that we have homegrown terrorists causes some to think we need to deal with the current terrorist threat differently than we have other security and law enforcement challenges we have faced. It is the fear of another 9/11 that justifies, in some minds, torturing suspected terrorists in camps in legal no-man’s-lands like U.S. military enclaves in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
I deeply disagree. Torture and warrantless wiretaps are unnecessary. They also erode the support we need abroad and the unity we need at home to overcome the threat from violent Islamist extremists. Most important, they are steps in the wrong direction, steps a little closer to the horrors that humans can engage in when rights are eroded. Experts have known for decades that torture draws unreliable information from its victims and that other methods have good track records in producing cooperation and information from suspects and prisoners. We know of specific examples where tortured prisoners have provided false information, such as the erroneous report that Iraq trained al Qaeda terrorists in the use of weapons of mass destruction.
The belief that Americans have used torture in Abu Ghraib and other U.S. military camps in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba has convinced many in the Islamic world that we do disrespect Muslims. It has helped some to justify terrorist tactics and support for al Qaeda and similar groups. It has convinced many that we are hypocrites when we talk about human rights and democracy. I have long believed that the U.S. Bill of Rights and the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights are among the few membranes, the thin tissues, that separate humanity from another descent into the kind of world that only a few decades ago saw many millions of people degraded and industrially disposed of in the horror camps of Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union. It is in humanity’s genes and makeup that people can engage in such atrocities. And many people have done so.
We need to hold the line well this side of the police state, far from the torture chamber. Yet the U.S. Justice Department originated a ruling that the only torture that was out of bounds was that which caused pain equivalent to organ failure. Anything else done by Americans was permissible, as long as it was not done in the United States. The Vice President of the United States drove to the Congress to lobby members to permit what he euphemistically called “alternative interrogation techniques.” It is hard to believe. You want to think it’s all a bad dream, but it’s not. You thought America was a force in the world against this sort of thing, not a nation that would actually engage in it. Thankfully, for a while we had John McCain as our conscience. McCain, who was repeatedly tortured, was there to remind us of what it means to be Americans, what it is that we stand for in this world, and who we are not. Unfortunately, he later voted against a legislated ban on waterboarding by the CIA…
People throughout the world knew at one point that the United States stood for something. Even if they disagreed with us on some things, they respected us for our principles. When we criticized others for violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people knew that we had worked hard to overcome our flaws with regard to slavery and racial discrimination. The world knew that it was the government in Washington that fought against those in our country who still tried to violate human rights on the basis of race. It gave us a strength in the world beyond our military might and economic prowess. What we did in violating human rights in the fight against terrorists showed us to the world as hypocrites, and we lost that strength. After 9/11, the United States also abandoned the oldest protection in the Anglo-American legal system, the concept of habeas corpus. This abandonment of legal tradition allows prisoners to be held by U.S. officials indefinitely, without charges, and without any really impartial review of evidence against them.
Congress has been a party to these erosions of our legal system and civil liberties. When finally it forced the administration to amend the relevant laws instead of just ignoring them, it gave the Attorney General decision-making authority in place of judges’ control over wiretaps. Congress further agreed to abandon habeas corpus when it came to some detained terrorist suspects, including those in the United States. The disregard of civil liberties, human rights, international law, privacy rights, and due process clearly and repeatedly demonstrated by the U.S. government after 9/11 has made it almost impossible for the American people to join in a consensus with their Congress and government to do some of the sensible things that should be done to enhance security and fight crime…
Chapter 7: Energy
…Prior to 9/11, I was incredibly frustrated because I could see a “clear and present danger” to the United States but, despite my warnings and those of others, the U.S. government remained complacent until it was too late. The result was the death of three thousand innocent people in one day of attacks on two iconic American symbols. As horrendous as that was, it may someday seem less significant than the deaths from floods, the forced migration of millions, the spread of diseases, the dust bowls that were once fertile lands, all of which may be the result of the climate change that we are causing. And, as with 9/11, we were warned, told for years that climate change was happening. Those like Al Gore who told us what was coming were not merely ignored, they were mocked. Imagine their frustration. During critical years when something might have been done to stop climate change, we not only failed to act, we made it worse. When most of the world united to address the problem, the United States rejected the approach and failed to offer an effective alternative.
The “know-nothings” of climate change have contended for years that the science of climate change was uncertain or that global warming may actually be a good thing on balance. They were right about one thing, that there is uncertainty: we are uncertain about whether we have already passed the point of no return, whether cataclysmic climate change is now inevitable. On the chance that it is not too late to mitigate the damage, to make it less bad than it might otherwise be, we should embark on a national emergency program to reduce carbon emissions. Instead, today, our government continues to fail on the conjoined issues of energy policy and climate change. We are misdiagnosing the national security issues associated with oil, and we are far from a national emergency effort on climate change. We have a muddled, leaderless effort that will not significantly reduce carbon emissions in the foreseeable future. Future generations will likely regard the last decade’s activity, or lack of it, on climate change as the most important failure of government in human history. And the failure continues…
Because we do not have that precise knowledge, we seem to think it is acceptable to do little or nothing. If, however, we were told that a terrorist group was going to attack New York City or Florida sometime in the next few decades with a weapon that would flood the areas and make them uninhabitable, we would not hesitate to begin acting now. Yet climate change may have a greater effect in this century than any combination of major terrorist attacks or wars, causing population centers to disappear, millions of people to move, and the global balance of power to shift away from the United States…
I have never really understood why some national security experts willingly accept the need to act on the basis of unquantifiable and remote threats from terrorists or the ballistic missiles of countries that do not yet have long-range systems, but at the same time ridicule the need to act against a threat that almost all reputable scientists say is real. In his book The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind tells the tale of Vice President Cheney’s being willing to wage a fierce (and counterproductive, the way he waged it) war against Iraq and terrorism if there were just a 1 percent possibility of a terrorist nuclear weapon going off in the United States, perhaps destroying New York, on some unknown day in the future. “The United States must act now as if it were a certainty.” Well, there is a far greater risk than 1 percent of destruction occurring in all of our coastal cities over the lifetime of children alive today, not because of an enemy, but because of our own and other nations ignoring climate change.
Chapter 8: Into Cyberspace
…Cyberwarfare has thus far apparently been limited to simple hacking. When China and Taiwan have a spat, there is often a fair amount of defacing of web sites (replacing what should be on the web page with something less flattering) and denial-of-service attacks (the floods of messages that overwhelm servers and knock sites offline). In 2007 the problems of tiny Estonia seemed to be a possible case of low-level cyberwar. The Estonians had had the temerity to move a giant statue put up during the Cold War by the Soviet Red Army to honor itself. Known in Tallinn as “the only Russian solider who did not rape in 1945,” it was seen by Estonians, not as a symbol of their 1945 liberation, but as a testament to their 1945–1990 oppression and occupation. When it was moved, Estonia’s networks and web sites were assaulted with defacements and denial-of-service attacks that went on for weeks. The attacks were easily traceable to Russia, where the government said it must be private citizens doing it and added that it was incapable of doing anything to stop them. (Oh, so limited are the enforcement capabilities of the KGB’s successors under Putin.)
Cyberwarfare, however, may be grander stuff than what we saw going on in Estonia and Taiwan. A possible window into the potential of cyberwarfare may have been opened when Israel flew F-16s and F-15s into Syria in 2007. News reports indicate that Syria’s expensive Russian radar and apparently never saw the attack. Aviation Week magazine suggested that a cyberwarfare capability similar to a U.S. program known as Suter could have allowed the attackers to take over the defense’s radar screens and eliminate any indications of the attacking aircraft. It could be similar to the scene in the movie Ocean’s 11 where the hacker replaces a video feed of a vault looking nice and safe while the vault is actually in the hands of the gang.
Around the same time as the Israeli attack on Syria, USA Today and CNN reported that U.S. government researchers had experimented with a way of damaging electric power generators by hacking from the internet into the internal network running the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software that controls the generator. Spin a big electric power generator at the wrong speed, and it can go crashing off its moorings and break apart.39 Theoretically, one could also try the Ocean’s 11 technique on a section of a power grid. If you could get into the grid’s SCADA system, you could perhaps send instructions to transformers and switches that would trigger a blackout, while all the while the control room’s dials would show that things were normal. But how could you get into such a network? I am tempted to say let me count the ways, but I will merely note that some power grids actually send SCADA commands via radio. Almost no utility companies use encryption or authentication on their networks, so that if you can get in, you can issue instructions. Guides to the software used on SCADA systems are not hard to get. A handful of SCADA software systems are used around the world.
In January 2008 we saw the first hints that this threat had gone from theory to reality. A CIA spokesman told an audience at a summit on SCADA security that a series of attacks had occurred against foreign utilities involving intrusions through the internet, followed by extortion demands. The CIA spokesperson said that “in at least one case, the disruption caused a power outage affecting multiple cities. We do not know who executed these attacks or why, but all involved intrusions through the internet.”
….Although the extent of the problem of reliance upon insecure computer systems is beginning to be understood broadly, government has yet to act decisively to address it. The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, signed by the President in 2003, sat gathering dust, unimplemented for four years. The public-private partnership that created the strategy withered, largely because the private sector lost faith in its partner because of the government’s inaction.
Then as 2007 wore on, stories leaked that an intrusion into the network in Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s own office had been traced back to China. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office reported her system had also been hacked by a Chinese entity. British authorities were also tracking Chinese hacking, prompting MI5 (the British Security Service) to send an advisory to the top three hundred British corporations telling them that in all probability their networks were already penetrated by China. The warning did not suggest that it was Chinese individuals, but rather the Chinese government, saying it was an “electronic attack sponsored by Chinese state organizations . . . designed to defeat best-practice IT security systems.”
Private-sector IT security experts were finding evidence of Chinese hacks everywhere, including an ingenious Trojan-horse program embedded in digital picture frames sold at electronics stores across America, such as BestBuy. When you connected the digital picture frame to your computer to download your photos, the picture frame uploaded a program into your computer that disabled antivirus programs, found all of your passwords, and sent them to China. The picture frame was, of course, made in China. The results of the investigation of the hacking into the Pentagon reportedly led Admiral Mike McConnell, the second person in the job of Director of National Intelligence, to hit the alarm bell. Rumors spread that China was well inside sensitive and classified U.S. networks, casting doubt on the Pentagon’s current and future plans based on “net centric warfare.” According to one U.S. Air Force officer, the new “Byzantine series (of attacks) tracks back to China.”
Chapter 9: Getting it Right
It’s a neighborhood with Tiffany, Hermès, and Gucci boutiques among hundreds of other stores in several sprawling shopping malls. It is also a neighborhood filled with the offices of firms with large contracts with the national security agencies and departments. Tysons Corner was the nation’s first “edge city,” according to Joel Garreau’s seminal work on self-sufficient minicities in suburbia. It is a place where one can live in a high-rise condo or town house, shop or dine in one of hundreds of choices, exercise in a variety of gyms and health clubs, watch a newly released movie in a multiplex, and work in a high-rise for any one of scores of outsourcing firms. If you live there, you never have to leave. It is, of course, slightly unreal, detached from the nearby nation’s capital, indeed from the lives of most Americans. After 9/11, a huge new office building started to go up on one of the few underdeveloped streets in the edge city. Oddly, there was no sign saying what company the new complex would house.
When the outer structure of the building was complete, designers from the Walt Disney Company arrived. Disney has a large store less than a mile away (I know because I have stood in line there buying presents for a three-year-old). But these designers were not there to create a place for Princess Bride birthday parties; they had come to help build a counterterrorism command center. Jumbotrons now hang above a broad expanse with scores of workstations. It has a Hollywood feel, looking like the set for the command center in movies like Dr. Strangelove and War Games. It is also reminiscent of the network operations center for a major telephone company I visited in New Jersey. There a corporate Vice President had been candid enough to admit to me, “We spent a boatload making this place look like NASA’s Mission Control, but it’s just to wow the customers. It could all be done from a normal office with cubicles.” Counterterrorism could all be done from a normal office, too, but the Disney-designed command room is meant to impress members of Congress and the media that the new National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) is cutting edge. It is also extremely popular with NCTC staff and their guests when they use the Jumbotrons to watch the Super Bowl. In case the command center did not impart its mission statement sufficiently, NCTC renamed the street outside Liberty Crossing.
The hundreds of people working for NCTC come in two flavors: first, government employees, mainly on loan from the CIA and FBI, and second, the equally numerous private contractors. “The only way you can tell the difference is the color of their badge,” one person who frequented Liberty Crossing explained. (Every person in the center is required to have a plastic identification tag hanging around his or her neck or pinned onto his or her lapel.) Much of what the NCTC staff does all day is to talk with people at other terrorism centers around Washington, the largest of which is the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) about a mile away at CIA headquarters. Probably next in size is the FBI’s counterterrorism center in the J. Edgar Hoover Building near the White House. These are not to be confused with the Terrorist Screening Center, for which the FBI is the executive agent, which is housed in a nondescript office tower near National Airport. Nor should one overlook the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center, which is run by the Treasury Department, or the new Intelligence Fusion Centers for counterterrorism in every state capitol, or the Joint Terrorism Task Forces now in one hundred cities, or…
Next to the large NCTC complex, another huge edifice is rising at Liberty Crossing. This one is to house the staff of the burgeoning Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the many contract employees supporting it. Reflecting the suburban sprawl that has defaced northern Virginia outside Washington, the FBI is moving some things a little farther out, to Prince William County, where a building, “nicknamed ‘the Taj Mahal’ by some FBI officials, will feature highly finished terrazzo floors at the entrance, a soaring atrium and a giant fingerprint etched into the elevator doors. The Bureau plans to bring new counter terrorism squads to the new Prince William office and to open a language translation unit there, to help with the chronic problem of attracting Arabic speakers.” No doubt the terrazzo floors and the access to more distant shopping malls will help the FBI overcome its chronic inability to recruit or maintain employees with the needed linguistic capabilities.
Nearby is the first of several buildings in another CIA campus, curiously, called the Discovery Center. The building serves as an “intake center” for polygraphing, interviewing, and assigning the many new CIA employees needed to obtain the goal of doubling the staff of the Agency. Prospective employees sit awaiting their turn to have their bodies strapped to a machine whose results are not admissable in any federal court. If they were applying for a private sector job, the law in most states would prohibit an employer from screening prospective employees with a polygraph, but this is the CIA, which believes in the disproven flutter box. So they sit, perhaps in the nice new Starbucks in the center or in the lounge where all of the new flat-screen televisions are set to FOX News.
I know that good work is done at the National Counterterrorism Center, but I also know how to run counterterrorism operations and they do not require Jumbotrons or the very nice color calendar one can download from NCTC’s web page, which notes for each day of the year what famous terrorist-related events took place on that day in history. “The NCTC for Kids” web page has a nice Disney quality, with a cartoon eagle and a cartoon Lady Liberty, but the command center, calendar, and cartoon characters all bespeak a larger issue: bloat.
Monday, August 15
Herman Strodmann rang the bell as he drove the first trolley of the day out of the little, end-of-the-line station at 0600. He loved driving the number 38 route because he could walk to work from his cottage, at the edge of the Vienna Woods, on the hill above Grinzing village. He walked by the house where Beethoven had written the Second Symphony. He thought of the 38 tram as a time machine, taking him in half an hour from the quaint, traditional wine stubels and heurigers of eighteenth century Grinzing to the hectic modernity of downtown Vienna. He especially liked the first kilometer of the route, when the tram had its own rail bed to the right of the road. On that stretch he did not have to share the street with cars.
There he could get the two car trolley up to a decent speed. As he was doing just that, he noticed a blue BMW in his rear mirror.
The car was accelerating quickly up the Grinzinger Alle behind the tram. It was going to overtake him quickly, Strodmann thought. What was the rush so early in the morning? As the tram approached the corner of Hungerbergstrasse, the exclusive rail bed ended and Strodmann guided the trolley on to the street. As he did, for a second he lost sight of the BMW. Then, suddenly, it was veering right in front of the tram, aiming into the Daringergasse. Herman Strodmann hit the brakes just as the trolley smashed into the BMW and rode up over it, crushing the passenger compartment.
In seconds, the BMW 525 erupted into an orange ball of flame shooting twenty-five feet in the air. The flame scorched the windows around the trolley driver’s seat and leaped in the small, open side window, giving Herman Strodmann second degree burns on his left arm. He quickly threw open all the doors for the few passengers to get out and then he leapt from the crippled tram. He could see that the flames instantly incinerated the man driving the BMW.
Karl Potgieter had known when he bought the car that it was a younger man’s vehicle. Although he was 72, partially retired, and now working as a consultant to the UN’s Vienna-based, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he was fit and looked much younger than his years. A nuclear physicist, he was a South African citizen, but had lived in Austria for twenty-two years. Every weekday morning, he drove himself into Vienna for an early Fruhstuck, breakfast, at his favorite haunt, the Cafe Lantman next to the Burgtheater on the Ringstrasse.
That morning, his usual waitress, Maria, wondered where he was. She learned about the crash a few hours later. Word spread quickly as to why the 38 tram route was closed. Later, Maria would read that poor Dr. Potgieter’s body was burned beyond all recognition and was only identified by dental records. It did not help her calm down to see the picture of the flaming car dominating the front page of Kronen Zeitung the next day. Maria knew he had been such a nice man, such a good tipper. She also knew that it was such bad luck. There were so few fatal accidents with the trolleys.
Dawid Steyn and his wife Rachel enjoyed living in Herzliya Pituah, near the beach. It was an expensive neighborhood, but the house was big enough for her mother to live with them and take care of the girls. It was also close to Israel’s Silicon Valley. Rachel could drive to work at Google in ten minutes, including the time it took to drop Dawid off at the train station. For Dawid, the train ride into Tel Aviv gave him just enough time to scan the Jerusalem Post. He usually tried to get a seat on the upper level of the double decker train that ran from Binyamina through Tel Aviv to Ashkelon. On the 07:08 train, that was usually not a problem. If he waited for a later departure, the upper deck filled up before the train got to Herzliya, but Rachel was an early riser and Dawid had adjusted to her ways long ago, so making the early train was easy.
His eighteen minute commute, from Herzilya, a town named after the father of Zionism to a train station named for the original Israeli military, the Haganah, reminded him every day of the origins of his adopted country. He and his father had moved to Israel after his mother died, when Dawid was ten. His mother had been Jewish, so Dawid gained Israeli citizenship automatically through the Right of Return. Now, with his father dead, Dawid Steyn carried on the family’s international investment business from a small office in Tel Aviv. No one could tell from the Steyn office suite’s modest size that the firm managed over two billion dollars in assets, and as of this week it was two and a half billion.
He looked up as the train stopped at Tel Aviv University, watching the students disembarking. They looked so young, but he reminded himself that it was almost fifteen years ago that he had graduated from that school. In less than a decade, his own girls could be riding this train to University, if Rachel’s mother could ever let go of them.
At 07:26 the big, red, double-decker train from Binyamina pulled into track three at Tel Aviv-HaHagana station, from which Dawid would normally catch the line 16 Dan bus to his office near the beach promenade. He was among the last to get off the train, at the rear of the crowd making its way up the platform to the escalator, his head still in the Post as he walked. There was a push, then a shove. Startled, Dawid looked up as the man hit against him hard, sending him off the platform and on to track four just as the express from Nahariyya pulled into the station.
Dawid Steyn, 35, was the first person to die on the tracks at the HaHagana Station. It was almost 08:30 when the Tel Aviv Police reached Rachel at her desk at Google. Her first emotion was guilt, that she had been wrong to mock Dawid’s paranoia, his theory that people were following him.
The Address hotel, Mall of the Emirates
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
“Room Service,” he heard from outside his door. Marius Plessis thought room service was the best part of his condo-apartment in the hotel, that and the fact that he could walk to all the restaurants and stores in the Mall. It was also a five minute taxi ride to his office and a fifteen minute drive to the marina where he kept his boat.
He threw on his robe, tying it closed as he made his way to the door. He had set the time for breakfast delivery at 0900. Was it nine already? He had gotten in late from the airport the night before. His flight from Zurich had not landed until after midnight. Rubbing his eyes, he opened the door. “Please, set it up on the balcony,” he said to the waiter. Half the year, the weather in Dubai was delightful and he enjoyed being outside as much as possible. The other half it was so hot that, if he had to be in Dubai then, he tried never to leave the air conditioned environments.
Marius stepped into the bathroom as the waiter pushed the food dolly cart to the balcony. When he emerged, the polite, young Indian stood waiting for him on the balcony, holding the morning papers. “The Khaleej Times, sir, and your Financial Times, as usual,” the waiter said. Marius added a tip and signed for the breakfast.
He regretted that they did not serve “real” bacon. It was one of the few things that he missed, living in Dubai. As he devoured the scrambled eggs, Marius Plessis folded the salmon colored Financial Times so he could read the story on the rise in the price of natural gas. He wondered if it was too late to invest in the new Australian shale fields. He would have to find somewhere new to invest soon, now that the money had hit the accounts he managed. His advisors at the Dubai International Financial Center had been at the office for hours already, straddling the Asian and European markets. He thought he should call them after breakfast, or maybe he would just go over there after lunch at Le Petite Maison. It was a better restaurant, he thought, than the London original, behind Claridge’s.
Finishing breakfast, he rose and stretched, looking north toward Iran. It may be a troubled neighborhood, he thought, but there could be few better places to live than in Dubai. You could get anything here, anything, and nowhere was the standard of living higher. With a modern, high rise, luxury condominium here and another in Vancouver for the summer months, what more could he ask for in life? He never missed the land of his birth, let them have it. They were destroying it, as he knew they would. His two daughters were happily married and living in Toronto and San Diego. He saw them and their babies just enough. They would never approve of the female friends he had here, some of them younger than his daughters, but what was money for if you did not get enjoyment from it. At seventy-one, he was still in great shape, with a little assistance from the pills.
Perhaps, he thought, he would visit the gym after going over to the DIFC. His trainer would be there today, at the hotel’s marvelous spa. He heard the waiter entering the suite to collect the food cart. Marius looked down at the dancing fountains, forty-six floors below, and smiled, contented with his life now, after all of the earlier strife. Then he felt his legs being grabbed at the ankles, his head was over the railing and he was in the air, off the building, falling toward the fountains.
The Khaleej Times would not carry the story of Marius Plessis’ death. Suicides, like his, did not fit in with the themes that the Ruler wanted reported in his papers and, in reality, there were hardly any suicides in the emirate except among the guest workers on the construction projects. White men like Plessis almost never killed themselves in Dubai.
“I don’t think you need me anymore, Dr. Coetzee,” the attractive Asian woman said, dabbing her mouth with her napkin. “Your Chinese is almost flawless, but I do enjoy our lunches and tutorials, so I will not complain if you wish to continue.” The couple sat at an outside restaurant on the water, enjoying a late and long lunch, in a modern complex of bars, restaurants, and shops where once the old freighters had docked. Now the ships were so large that only the giant cranes could handle their container cargo, at the computerized terminals across the harbor. The current cargo piers were like conveyor belts for the containers, with hundreds of ships lined up just beyond the harbor, waiting their turns to offload and load up.
“Weemin, my Chinese is only fair. When my associates drop the English and start talking rapidly in Chinese, I only pick up about half of what they are saying to each other.”
“That may be, sir, because they do not want you to know what they are saying. They may suspect that you have been taking Chinese lessons for years now. After all, they are all spies at the Security and Intelligence Division, the SID, they must know about me,” she said, smiling at the older man.
Cornelius Coetzee looked slightly embarrassed. “I may have led them to believe that our relationship is less than Platonic. I don’t think they know I speak and read Chinese. There is never a Chinese language document in the office. English is the government language, the business language. Chinese is only spoken at home, and, as you say, when they want to keep things from me.”
“How do you know, Dr. Coetzee, that I do not work for your colleagues at the SID? I may report everything to them,” Weemin said, laughing.
“Because you work for my employers’ arch rival, the internal security boys, ISD. My dear, I have known that for years and I must say that your reports to them about me must be very boring indeed.”
“Cornelius, how can you think that?” she protested, mildly. “And if I did work for ISD, why after all these years of having nothing to report about you would they keep sending me out to meet you?”
Coetzee chuckled. “Because they hate the SID so much that any chance they could learn some inside tidbit is worth it to them, however silly that is.”
“I think there is another reason that you want to improve your Chinese,” she suggested.
The check came and Cornelius Coetzee produced a credit card. “Oh, really. And what, please tell, might that be, my little spook?”
“You advise the SID only one day a week now, not because they do not want you to spend more time with them, but because your investments take more and more of your time.” She was dropping all pretense now of being only a Chinese tutor. “You have been investing heavily in China and doing very well where others have not. And just this week you received a great deal more money to invest. They may ask you where that money came from?”
Coetzee, too, had ceased to play the part of the doddering, old, retired spy. “Who might ask me, Weemin?”
“The Internal Security Division, or even your friends at the SID. They must know, too,” she said.
He signed the credit card bill and punched his PIN into the hand held machine the waiter brought to the table. When the waiter was gone, Dr. Cornelius Cotzee looked Weemin Zhu in the eyes and said, very softly, “You know, Weemin, I think you are right. My Chinese has gotten to the point where I don’t need you anymore. May you live a long and happy life.” He rose from the table and walked toward the street, leaving her sitting, somewhat stunned, by the waterside.
He strode quickly toward River Valley Road, past the modern, chain stores and bars, ignoring the sign that read “The Party never stops at Clarke Quay.” The anger was rising up inside him. He had worked for this little city-state country for more than two decades, helping their fledgling foreign intelligence service in tradecraft, talent spotting, and agent handling, everything he had done so well in his own country. His advice had helped them penetrate the US Navy, the Australian Army, the Indonesian president’s office, and the Malaysian police. And what gratitude do they show? When the money entrusted to him by his old colleagues suddenly increases, they think he’s been paid off for spying on Singapore? He had been completely loyal to his new home. Furthermore, who would pay him half a billion dollars US for spying on Singapore? He would have to sell their giant casino complex, that ugly monstrosity, to get paid that kind of money.
He knew that getting mad like this was not good for his blood pressure, so he exhaled and tried to calm down. He reached the road and thrust up his arm to hail one of the ubiquitous blue taxis. As he did, a 9 mm bullet pierced his forehead just above his nose. Cornelius Coetzee leaned backwards and then folded like a Macy’s parade balloon, falling to his knees and then forward, his head hitting the sidewalk and covering it with a quickly expanding pool of bright red blood.
Hearing the shot, Weemin Zhu ran toward him, pulling a handgun from her purse, but there was no one to shoot at, no indication of the shot’s origin. She looked down at Coetzee and knew that the single bullet had been fatal. She replaced the gun in her handbag and removed her mobile. She called the Watch Command at the Internal Security Division and identified herself. “I need a response unit immediately at Clarke Quay. There has been a murder of my subject. The police will be here soon. Do you want me to tell them that this is my case?”
They did want her to. The Internal Security Division thought the police would never be able to figure it out and, besides, maybe Coetzee’s murder would reflect badly on their rival, his employer, the SID. After all, they said to Weemin, a murder in Singapore had to be an espionage related event. There was no street crime in the city.
The Rocks, Sydney
New South Wales, Australia
“I’m taking the rest of the day off. Got some chums in town, going to go do the Manly thing with them,” Willem Merwe announced to his staff as he bounded out of the office of Merwe-Wyk-Roux in the restored brick building in the old part of town. “See you all in the morning.”
His small team was used to him disappearing for rugby, or volleyball on Bondi Beach. It was clear to them that the younger Mr. Merwe was nothing like his late father, who had spent long hours poring over investments and accounts. They should have known that he would be different as soon as he moved them from the downtown office tower to the funky townhouse in the Rocks district. “Roux in the Rocks,” Willy had jokingly proclaimed, his only attempt at a rationale to the staff for moving. The real reason, his staff knew, was that he wanted to abandon the staid old image and become more hip. He never wore a tie and he biked to work. Despite his youth, his investment strategies had paid off, Chinese computer components media, real estate. One of them must have just hit big, the staff assumed, because he had told them that morning that there was a substantial amount more to invest and he wanted ‘transformational” ideas.
At twenty-nine, Willy Merwe looked like the All Australian male, tall, blond, broad shouldered, with the muscled legs of a champion bicyclist. No one on Bondi would have guessed he was an immigrant and, if they had, no one would have cared. He was cool and Australia was a nation of immigrants.
Merwe locked his bike on the rack at Circle Quay Ferry Terminal and ran for the 3:15 boat from Pier 3 to Manly Beach, across Sydney Harbor. He made his way upstairs to the bar, got a KB Lager and then climbed higher up to the top deck, which was open to the sky and the breeze.
He looked back at the Sydney skyline and smiled. It was a view that always made him happy, the Opera House, the Bridge, the skyscrapers. He never understood why so few people came up to the top deck, like now, when he was the only one there. Why also did people live in these crowded financial centers like New York, Tokyo, or London, he wondered, when you could bloody well do the same bit of business in a city that was livable and liked to have fun.
He knew his team at the office thought he was going over to Manly Beach for a good time. He did not want to disabuse them of that idea, because it was actually to meet up with some people from his father’s organization who had showed up in town without notice and suggested a get together where they might all look like old buddies doing the tourist thing. His dad’s old organization was now his, he supposed. The role was something that he inherited, something he had been trained to do because he had been designated as his father’s successor. There was always a designated successor. Even he had one now, a guy about his age in New Zealand, Paul Wyk.
Willy Merwe, however, planned to do the job for the next twenty years. He would manage the funds, hidden in various safe havens, grow the principal, pay the families on a regular basis and make emergency disbursements when he thought that one of the families had a legitimate need for more. If any family did not like his decision, they could appeal to the four others, but no one ever did. He was fair and he was generous. He was also more successful with his Discretionary Investment Fund than any of the other four had been in the last two years. Now that they had made the Deacquisition Decision, as he and Karl Potgieter had advocated, there was a real opportunity to put some big money to work. Willy Merwe never forgot what he had learned in his Finance class at Wharton: there are opportunities only open to big money, opportunities to get IRRs in the forties. “It takes big money to make big money,” Professor Meitzinger had said. Now, Willy thought, I am going to do just that.
Instead, he felt a sharp, overwhelming pain in the back of his skull, so dominating his consciousness that he never felt the fall until he hit the water. His brain was so jarred by the impact of the strike to his head that he was unable to send messages to his arms and legs. His body was swept up in the spinning water of the ferry’s propeller wash. No one would be too surprised that another drunken passenger had fallen off a Sydney ferry and drowned. Unfortunately, it happened a lot.
Sunday, October 2
Policy Evaluation Group
Navy Hill, Foggy Bottom Washington, DC
SCIFs, Sensitive Information Compartmented Facilities, weren’t supposed to have windows, but his did. Dugout loved to stare out at the Potomac and the jumble of trees on Roosevelt Island. Usually there were rowers on the water on Sunday afternoons, but not today.
Sunday afternoons were a great time to work. No one else was in the building, except maybe the guys in the little room that passed as an operations center and they were probably watching football. It was even more pleasant for Dugout to work when Sunday was like today, rainy. It was not a cold or windy rain, just steady, and it darkened the sky. A good day to be inside, with hot Earl Grey tea in a mug, sweetened by honey he had bought at the Farmers Market.
Dugout blamed the dark sky for his sleeping in, but it may also have had something to do with the fact that he had played the last set before closing at Twins on U Street. Hadn’t gotten home until after three. The jazz kept him sane, he told himself, playing the tenor sax oiled his neural pathways. He wondered how Mrs. Wrenfrow’s neural pathways had been doing since he had left her yesterday.
Mrs. Wrenfrow was what Douglas J. Randall, III, Dugout to his friends, called the kluged-together cluster of servers that ran his modified Minerva software. He had named it after the ever helpful woman at the Belmont Public Library who had assisted him in finding Curious George books when he was in kindergarten and obscure volumes and articles on mathematics when he was in high school. Minerva, the software package that ran on the computer cluster, was a big data analytics package he had gotten his old boss to buy him from a Silicon Valley start up. Dug had modified it significantly, made it a kick-ass machine learning program, able to plow through the exabytes and zettabytes of data he could access, legally and otherwise.
Saturday afternoon he had set Minerva looking through the last two years of international interbank transfers for any unusual patterns involving non-institutional players, individuals. NSA had gladly given him access to the data. His goal was to find pseudonyms of people who were actually Mexican government officials with overseas accounts which had been the recipients of large deposits from suspect senders. Winston Burrell, the National Security Advisor, had in mind giving a list of miscreants to the new Mexican president who was going to visit the White House in two weeks.
Dugout, with is long hair, looked a little like the typical image of Jesus, but with glasses. He had been recruited to PEG from DARPA, the Pentagon’s creative, geek hive. Raymond Bowman, PEG’s first Director, had promised Dugout all the toys he wanted, the chance to work on “things that matter,” and most importantly, a work schedule of his own making. Dugout hated the nine to five mentality and seldom showed up before ten in the morning or left work prior to midnight.
For almost five years now, it had been a perfect home for Dugout, an eclectic band of geniuses with an All Access Pass to the treasure trove of data gathered by US Intelligence and a sub-rosa virtual pathway for their analyses to get to the West Wing. Then, last year, Ray Bowman had left, gone on indefinite Leave of Absence. As PEG Director he was supposed to be a desk jockey, but Winston Burrell had asked him to save the US drone program from its critics, foreign and domestic. In the process, Bowman had been forced to go operational, become a field guy, and stop a major terrorist attack in the US. In the end, he had stopped the attacks, but also had dealt up close with a lot of deaths, including some people very dear to him. After that, Bowman had checked out, disappeared, and left Dugout to catch some of the balls the National Security Advisor had sent bouncing off the left field wall.
Dugout tapped his keyboard to uncover the results of his search. He was surprised at how many people around the world had gotten several deposits into their personal accounts, each of ten million dollars or more. He then asked the program to list those who in one month got sums totaling one hundred million dollars, and then in one hundred million dollar increments up to one billion dollars. Then he asked the software to sort the people into groups with similarities of some sort. What popped up first was not what he was expecting, but with Minerva the unexpected was getting to be the norm.
What was at the top of the list was a group of five men who had each received deposits over a one month period totaling five hundred million dollars each. What they had in common was that they were all South Africans living abroad. Dugout paused a moment to try to guess what else this group of men had in common that made them suddenly so rich. Nothing came to mind.
He entered their names into a master data base of current intelligence and media reports. The current intelligence files had nothing, which meant that nobody in the seventeen US intelligence agencies cared about them. The media files, however, had a few small stories about each of the men. The stories were about how they had died, mostly in bazaar accidents. They were all, now, dead men.
Well, that was something else they had in common, he thought. Then he saw the dates of the stories.
He tapped on the links and pulled up the media accounts of their deaths. All five men had died on the same day, August 15th, indeed at almost the same time, in five different countries. When he taught Intelligence Analysis classes he always pointed out that coincidences do actually happen. This, however, was more than a coincidence. He doubted very much these were accidental deaths, although the media stories indicated that, except in Singapore, the police thought they were.
“All right, Minerva, let’s see what you can do with this one,” he said aloud to the empty room. “Time to turn on the Way Back machine.” He began searching the intelligence archives. Some of the dead South African men had been in their 70s and 80s, so he tapped into files going back to the 1970s, files which had been digitized in recent years. While the search was underway, he made another mug of Earl Grey and tried to recall if South Africa had organized crime. It must, he thought. Everywhere does.
Crime, however, was not the correlation that Minerva made, not unless you think that making nuclear weapons is a crime. These men, or their parents, had all done just that in the 1980s and 90s in South Africa. Their names showed up many time in reports on the Apartheid regime’s weapons activities.
It came as news to Dugout that South Africa had ever made nuclear weapons. He tapped in to the data bases for a quick tutorial, entering the terms “South Africa” and “nuclear weapon.”
Minerva answered that request with a long list of references, in chronological order. The most recent report was not, however, from the 1990s. It was from earlier this year. He pulled up that file. The highlighted sentence read “Although it is unlikely, South Africa must be considered one suspect for the recent nuclear detonation in the Indian Ocean. South Africa is one of two nations suspected of a similar ship-borne nuclear test in 1979.”
The recent nuclear detonation in the Indian Ocean? That, too, was news to Dugout. His next query hit a roadblock. In answer to his input “nuclear test, Indian Ocean, 2014,” he got the following: “An intelligence report matching your query parameters is restricted. Contact your supervisor to determine if you can be made eligible to access the file. Reference TS/Q/G/ 20160909/A751.” From the file designator, Dug realized that the report had been written in August. His five dead men had all expired in August.
With his clearances, it was not often that Dugout hit roadblocks in his data searches. As he stared out the window, wondering what to do next, he realized that one of the few cars in the parking lot below belonged to his nominal supervisor, Grace Scanlon, the new Director of the Policy Evaluation Group. Well, if she were in the office on a Sunday afternoon, at least he probably would not need an appointment. He printed a few files and wandered upstairs. So much for a relaxing, rainy Sunday afternoon alone with his computers, he thought as he strode up the stairs two at a time.
Grace Scanlon had been the Vice President of a Pentagon funded think tank in California. A year ago when the previous Director of the Policy Evaluation Group had placed himself on indefinite leave, National Security Advisor Winston Burrell had tapped her to take over what he thought of as his personal intelligence analysis unit. She had proved a good analyst and a natural manager, but she remained largely clueless about the ways of Washington. Dugout was not surprised to see her in on a Sunday afternoon. She had impressed everyone at PEG as being a hard worker and, the rumor was, she had left her boyfriend behind in Santa Monica.
“God, I thought I looked scruffy today,” Grace Scanlon said, looking up to see Dugout standing in her doorway. “What the hell happened to you. A gang of homeless men stole your clothes and left you theirs? And the hair. Have you been electrocuted?”
He was still getting to know the new Director. People had said she was blunt, had a “New York City street sensibility about her.” Now he knew what they meant. “Sorry to interrupt, but I just hit on something I think you should see.”
A few minutes of story telling later and Dr. Scanlon was
pulling up the restricted report on her desktop monitor. She scanned it and summarized for Dugout. “Nuclear detection satellite saw the double flash indicative of a nuclear explosion on 9 August in the middle of nowhere in the Indian Ocean. No corroborating intelligence from SIGINT or HUMINT helps to explain who might have done the detonation. Analysts speculate about various countries, but they have no evidence to support their guesses. Case remains open.”
“So there was a detonation on 9 August,” Dugout said scanning his notes, “and on 12 August each of five South Africans formerly associated with their nuclear bomb program gets a half billion dollars deposited into their accounts. Three days later they are all dead.”
Grace Scanlon stood up from her desk. In her old grey track suit, Dug thought she was no one to criticize him for looking scruffy. “And you are the first one to make the connection?” she asked. “And you just made it a half hour ago?”
“As far as I know, yeah I am the only one who has seen all three pieces. The bomb blast, the money, and the murders. From what I can tell the local authorities in four of these cases classified the deaths as accidents. Only the guy who got shot in Singapore was classified as a murder.”
“Hard to avoid the conclusion that the cause of death was the bullet between his eyes?” she asked. “You know, Douglas, for the first time since I began working here at PEG I actually think I know a secret that nobody outside of this little outfit knows. We have a little secret. Or should I say a big one?”
“So have you come to the same conclusion I have?” Dug asked.
“My conclusion is we don’t have all the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle, but the ones we do have could be arranged into a very scary picture.” She walked close to him and spoke softly. “We’re going to have to see Winston Burrell tomorrow on this. I’ll get the meeting. In the meantime, you tell no one, but do see if you can find a few more pieces to the puzzle. Hopefully, they won’t look like a mushroom cloud to Winston when you’re done putting them together.”
“I’m afraid they may look like a whole mushroom garden,” Dug said.
“He’s going to fucking love this,” Dug heard her say as he walked out the door. “Potential loose nukes in the middle of a presidential election campaign.”