In 2013, hundreds of CIA officers — many working nonstop for weeks — scrambled to contain a disaster of global proportions: a compromise of the agency’s internet-based covert communications system used to interact with its informants in dark corners around the world. Teams of CIA experts worked feverishly to take down and reconfigure the websites secretly used for these communications; others managed operations to quickly spirit assets to safety and oversaw other forms of triage.
“When this was going on, it was all that mattered,” said one former intelligence community official. The situation was “catastrophic,” said another former senior intelligence official.
From around 2009 to 2013, the U.S. intelligence community experienced crippling intelligence failures related to the secret internet-based communications system, a key means for remote messaging between CIA officers and their sources on the ground worldwide. The previously unreported global problem originated in Iran and spiderwebbed to other countries, and was left unrepaired — despite warnings about what was happening — until more than two dozen sources died in China in 2011 and 2012 as a result, according to 11 former intelligence and national security officials.
The disaster ensnared every corner of the national security bureaucracy — from multiple intelligence agencies, congressional intelligence committees and independent contractors to internal government watchdogs — forcing a slow-moving, complex government machine to grapple with the deadly dangers of emerging technologies.
More than just a question of a single failure, the fiasco illustrates a breakdown that was never properly addressed. The government’s inability to address the communication system’s insecurities until after sources were rolled up in China was disastrous. “We’re still dealing with the fallout,” said one former national security official. “Dozens of people around the world were killed because of this.”
Now guess on whose watch this disastrous fiasco occurred. Go on, guess.
This is simply stunning. A rollup of networks across the world — an event that began in Iran, where the Obama administration would soon enough be negotiating its much sought-after “nuclear deal framework,” and ended with numerous deaths is the kind of thing of which intelligence nightmares and national-security disasters are made. One’s first instinct is to look back and see who was CIA director during that period: Leon Panetta (Feb. 2009-June 2011); Michael Morell (acting director, July-Sept. 2011); David Petraeus (Sept. 2011-Nov. 2012); Morell again (acting, Nov. 2012-March 2013); and finally John Brennan, who served out the remainder of the Obama administration.
In other words, a lot of churn during what we now know was a tumultuous time. Oddly enough, one important national-security position experienced exactly zero churn during these years, that of Homeland Security adviser. Which chair was occupied by John Brennan, until he stepped in at the CIA.
I emphasized the incompetent asshole Brennan above, just because. But it can’t fairly be said that the buck stopped with him; it went much higher than that, of course.
The fact is, networks get rolled up all the time, especially when the controlling agency becomes complacent, or goes to the well once too often. Communication methods must always be reassessed — especially when they seem to be working — and changed. But the Obama administration’s cavalier attitude toward security basics is nonetheless shocking, and evidence of the rank amateurism with which the Obamanauts approached foreign policy and national security.
Gee, imagine my surprise. Walsh also notes that the story finally surfaced on Nov 2, and sarcastically wonders why it “got mighty little attention from the national media.” He knows quite well, and so do you.