Situation Report

Spying blind: NSA’s mistakes; Bright Star, CANX; Hagel’s plan to stamp out sexual assault; U-2, Area 51, revealed today!; About face at the Warrior Café; Greenert’s navigation; Even small wars are hell; and a bit more.

Spying blind: NSA’s mistakes; Bright Star, CANX; Hagel’s plan to stamp out sexual assault; U-2, Area 51, revealed today!; About face at the Warrior Café; Greenert’s navigation; Even small wars are hell; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold 

Supersized surveillance. It turns out that an internal National Security Agency audit identified some 2,776 "incidents" in which the rules of court orders for surveillance of Americans or foreign targets in the U.S. were violated, according to a big story in the WaPo today. That means that the NSA has broken privacy rules "or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year," according to the audit and other top-secret documents cited by the Post. "Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls. The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence."

In the meantime, according to intelligence historian Matthew Aid, writing on FP, the NSA collects so much information that its mistakes are enormous. "Every day, it actively analyzes the rough equivalent of what’s inside the Library of Congress and ‘touches’ – to use an agency term – another 2,990 Libraries’ worth of data. That kind of volume of data means that if it makes mistakes, that produces terabytes and terabytes of improperly-harvested data, and that means that thousands of people are wrongly caught in the surveillance driftnet."

"Spying Blind." FP’s Shane Harris: "The Obama administration’s claim that the NSA is not spying on Americans rests on a fundamental assertion: That the intelligence agency is so good at distinguishing between innocent people and evildoers, and is so tightly overseen by Congress and the courts, that it doesn’t routinely collect the communications of Americans en masse. We now know that’s not true. And we shouldn’t be surprised. The question is, why won’t the NSA admit it?  … One of the reasons that the NSA has been able to gather so much power is that the agency has built a reputation over the years for super-smarts and hyper-competence. The NSA’s analysts weren’t just the brainiest guys in the room, the myth went; they were the brightest bulbs in the building. The NSA’s hackers could penetrate any network. Their mathematicians could unravel any equation. Their cryptologists could crack any cipher. That reputation has survived blown assignments and billion-dollar boondoggles. Whether it can outlast these latest revelations is an open question." Read the rest here.

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Hopes for Bright Star were dimming, then Obama cancelled it. The big military exercise the U.S. holds with Egypt known as Bright Star, held every other year and scheduled for next month, was considered low-hanging fruit when it comes to suspending assistance and engagement with Egypt. Bright Star won’t happen now, though the administration isn’t making any substantial changes yet to the $1.3 billion aid package it maintains with Egypt, where the crackdown against dissidents and the turmoil overall is getting worse.

Obama, from Martha’s Vineyard, yesterday: Let me say that the Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen over the last several days.  And to the Egyptian people, let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop… America cannot determine the future of Egypt.  That’s a task for the Egyptian people.  We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure.  I know it’s tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States or the West or some other outside actor for what’s gone wrong.  We’ve been blamed by supporters of Morsi.  We’ve been blamed by the other side, as if we are supporters of Morsi.  That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve."

Battleland’s Mark Thompson: "‘This exercise is an important part of U. S. Central Command’s theater engagement strategy,’ the Pentagon routinely says when discussing Bright Star‘s importance. It "is designed to improve readiness and interoperability and strengthen the military and professional relationships among U.S., Egyptian and participating forces.’ But the U.S. currently has no clout among Cairo’s power brokers – the generals it has sought to woo for years – and pretending that it does by going ahead with Bright Star would only highlight American impotence. The notion that such military cooperation can give the U.S. influence over a foreign military is dubious. The emperor, you might say, has no uniform – despite the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. gives to Egypt annually, a bounty for signing the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978. Bright Star, also stemming from the peace pact, began in 1981, and generally has been held every two years. Thousands of U.S. and Egyptian troops, along with soldiers from several other nations, participate in war games and training exercises in locations around Egypt." His post here.

The Cable’s John Hudson on Rand Paul and funding for Egypt’s generals: "how does your conscience feel now?" Hudson: Sen. Rand Paul is hammering his fellow senators for keeping billions in financial aid flowing to Egypt’s military — even as Cairo’s security forces massacre anti-government activists. ‘This is something that those who voted in Congress are going to have to live with,’ Paul told The Cable on Thursday. ‘The question is: How does their conscience feel now as they see photographs of tanks rolling over Egyptian civilians?’" Read the rest here.

Thanks to Fox News, the Pentagon reversed itself on reducing hours for the "Warrior Café" at Walter Reed. Fox News’ Justin Fishel and Jennifer Griffin reported yesterday that the military in August had decided to invalidate meal tickets and reduce hours for the sole dining facility in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda in an apparent cost-cutting move. But after Fox reported it, the Pentagon reversed itself and the dining facility will remain open. Fox: "Initially, the military moved to close the cafe on weekends, shorten its hours and invalidate meal tickets. The decision would mean wounded warriors who would normally have a government-funded meal just down the hall would have to walk, wheel or limp nearly a half-mile across the Walter Reed campus to the temporary "food trailer" for breakfast, lunch and dinner."

Sgt. Josh Wetzel, who lost both legs when he stepped on a pressure plate IED outside Kandahar, Afghanistan in May, on the café he visits daily: "I mean it’s called the Warrior Cafe, you would think it is for us." Then, from his wife, Paige, later that day: "Josh just received the news from his squad leader that the Warrior (Cafe) will now be open again on the weekends and meal cards have been reinstated!" She added that Fox’s reporting "influenced positive change here and our soldiers are getting what they deserve again." Whole story here.

The CNO has a plan to navigate the Navy forward. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert is out with a "Navigation Plan" for the next five years. The plan, based on a "sailing directions" metaphor, describes the Navy’s budget submission for fiscal years 2014-2018 and how it "pursues the vision of the CNO’s Sailing Directions. It highlights our investments that support the missions outlined in our defense strategic guidance… This Navigation Plan defines the course and speed we will follow to organize, train and equip our Navy over the next several years." Interested? Click here.

The Pentagon takes steps to stamp out sexual assault. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is directing "immediate implementation" of a series of moves that the Pentagon says will provide victims additional rights, protections and legal support, as well as "help to ensure that sexual-assault related investigations and judicial proceedings are conducted thoroughly and professionally." They include: Each military service will now have a legal advocacy program (Situation Report first wrote about a successful Air Force program here.); Judge advocates general will now conduct all pretrial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges; Commanders will have options to reassign or transfer a member accused of committing a sexual assault or related offense; "timely" follow-up reports on sexual assault incidents are now required for the first general or flag officer within the chain of command; DOD’s Inspector General will now regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations; Prohibitions on inappropriate behavior between recruiters and trainers and their recruits and trainees will now be standardized; and proposed changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial will be made to allow victims to provide input for the sentencing phase of courts-martial involving sexual assault. DOD has also established an independent panel that is currently looking at the legal and programmatic systems used to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate sexual assault crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Hagel, on eliminating sexual assault from the armed forces being one of the Department’s top priorities: "Sexual assault is a stain on the honor of our men and women who honorably serve our country, as well as a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force.  It must be stamped out.  I will continue to meet weekly with DoD’s senior leadership team to personally review our efforts and ensure that directives and programs are being implemented effectively.  We are all accountable to fix this problem, and we will fix it together."

An investigation showed that the Chief had an inappropriate relationship. Navy Times: "The chief of the boat aboard a Bangor, Wash. based submarine was relieved Thursday because of an inappropriate relationship." More here.

A new report today from the CIA pulls the covers off America’s most famous spy plane – the U-2 – and Area 51. Writing on FP, Jeffrey Richelson: On February 21, 1955, Richard M. Bissell, a senior CIA official, wrote a check on an agency account for $1.25 million and mailed it to the home of Kelly Johnson, chief engineer at the Lockheed Company’s Burbank, California, plant. According to a newly declassified CIA history of the U-2 program, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive, the agency was about to sign a contract with Lockheed for $22.5 million to build 20 U-2 aircraft, but the company needed a cash infusion right away to keep the work going. Through the use of "unvouchered" funds — virtually free from any external oversight or accounting — the CIA could finance secret programs, such as the U-2. As it turned out, Lockheed produced the 20 aircraft at a total of $18,977,597 (including $1.9 million in profit), or less than $1 million per plane. In other words, the project came in under budget, a miracle in today’s defense contracting world. Fifteen years later, the CIA has become considerably less reticent about revealing details of the program, as demonstrated by the newly declassified The Central Intelligence Agency and Overahead Reconnaissance: The U-2 and OXCART Program, 1954-1974, from which the 1998 volume was drawn. This report, which the National Security Archive is posting today, openly credits Chinese Nationalist pilots with numerous missions over the People’s Republic of China to gather intelligence on both military facilities and industrial areas, although details of a flight over a nuclear facility are deleted. British participation in the program is also now spared from redaction — participation that included flights over the Soviet Union. The history also notes President Dwight Eisenhower’s belief that the British role would confuse the Soviets as to who was behind the program." Click here for more.

ICYMI (we did): War is hell – in miniature. Photographer Dave Levinthal likes to play with toy soldiers. But his playing is serious. And FP has this cool slide show of toy soldiers in battle in Afghanistan. According to art critic Dave Hickey, in his foreword to War Games, a soon-to-be-published book featuring Levinthal’s full body of "toy-soldier work," Levinthal’s art is "a kid’s solution to an adult dilemma." Levinthal, Hickey writes, has "combined the aggression of battle, the visual aggression of photography, and the built-in cultural aggression of ‘serious’ art to create a lethal cocktail — a body of objects that are admirable, affecting, beautiful, and not comfortable at all."  Click bait to see what he’s done to show war in Afghanistan. Click here.