A Single Standard

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Presidential adviser Ivanka Trump’s e-mails.

My e-mails.*

If any of us violated the terms of our security clearances, nondisclosure agreements, or training, in the course of sending US Government information by e-mail, we should face the same penalty.

If any of us mishandled classified US Government information by sending it over an unclassified e-mail system, whether a government-owned system or a system in the private sector, and whether by intent or through negligence, we should face the same penalty.

If any of us deleted US Government information that was meant (or especially required) to be archived, we should face the same penalty.

We have enough double standards in the world.

Double Standard
(Image: “Double Standard,” by Andy Mangold, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Must we continue to excuse wrong behavior, or apply a different standard, based on who is involved?

Can there ever be a single standard?

*In whatever official positions I held: Speechwriter to the Under Secretary of the Air Force, Technology Security Policy Program Manager, Detachment Commander, etc.

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Angel Call

Sometimes you need an angel. Maybe a guardian angel, maybe an avenging angel. Maybe just someone who can step in to help in a touchy situation.

But how do you call that angel when you need them?

In the “harebrained scheme” department, I first thought about this a year or so ago, when I was at a local watering hole with some old office mates. Simply, I wondered whether bars, restaurants, and other “date night” kinds of places, or even stadiums, might install simple alert systems in their women’s restrooms. They might not rise to the level of being “panic buttons” — then again, they might.

Maybe these already exist in some places — I don’t go in the ladies’ rooms, so I wouldn’t know. But I only found a couple of references to restroom call buttons on the Interwebz, plus a recent article on panic buttons being given to housekeepers in Chicago hotels, so I get the impression that this isn’t a common accessory.

Anyway, the way I figured it, the button could send a discreet signal to the management (e.g., a light behind the bar at a pub, a security office in a stadium) so they could send someone to assess the situation and call for help, if needed. In general, it would be the same principle as the emergency telephone pylons installed on college campuses years ago, from which people can summon the campus police.

(Image from the Clemson University campus safety operations page.)

It seemed to me that something like that might be useful for ladies whose dates are becoming threatening, or who feel they’re being stalked. It might also be used by other women who see someone being abused but who aren’t prepared themselves for a confrontation.

It wouldn’t have to be limited to ladies’ rooms, but at the risk of being considered sexist I thought of it as primarily a ladies’ room addition because it seemed to me the need would be greater there than in a men’s room. Also, the potential problem of overuse and especially prank use (“crying wolf” or even trying to distract the management) would seem to be higher among men — and particularly young men.

Again, maybe this kind of “Angel Call” thing already exists. If not, I imagine it could be pretty simple to build and install — a one-to-one transmitter-to-receiver RF link would do the trick. Alternately, a wifi-and-app-based system, maybe like the “Rave Guardian” app, might be useful in large venues with multiple restrooms and a central security office (call it the “Staydium Safe” or somesuch).

Granted, I guess venues might not want to install something like that. Staff would have to be trained on how to deal with different possible situations — when to watch, when to speak, when to call the authorities, etc. — which could raise some liability issues. And since staff are there to do specific jobs, this kind of customer assistance would be “above and beyond.” Add in the difficulty of false reports, which might lead managers and workers to ignore the signals, and it might cause more problems than it solved.

Then again, it could be geared toward making certain nightspots “blind date safe.” In this age of Tindr and Match and eHarmony and whatnot, that might actually bring in a few customers.

I don’t know. It’s just another wacky idea.

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Up or Down

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is President Ronald Reagan’s birthday (6 February 1911 – 5 June 2004). Before serving as President, Reagan served as Governor of California; and before he was Governor, he delivered a speech called “A Time for Choosing” that thrust him into the political spotlight.

This section of the speech seems to relate as much or more to us today as it did to his audience then:

You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down — up to man’s age-old dream; the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order — or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.

I like that a lot. Not left or right, not progressive or conservative, but up or down.

Arrows up down
Which direction shall we go?. (Image: “Arrows up down,” by Counse, on Flickr, under Creative Commons.)

Reagan gave that speech on 27 October 1964. I don’t know if my parents watched it on television; I certainly don’t remember, since I was just over four months old at the time. But it resonates with me, and I remain committed to moving “up” — toward greater freedom within the bounds of the law, rather than down toward more constraints on our lives.

Who’s with me?

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Where Did ’60 Minutes’ Get a Classified State Department Cable?

Last night on 60 Minutes, correspondent Lara Logan read part of what she described as a “diplomatic cable” to Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of “the largest Shiite force” in Iraq fighting against the false caliphate that we are now encouraged to refer to as “Daesh.”*

Admitting that it pains me to do this,** here’s a screenshot of the video on the CBS News page:

(Screenshot of “60 Minutes” segment entitled “A Common Enemy,” produced by Max McClellan.)

The banner line — the overall classification marking at the top of the document — isn’t visible, but do you notice anything about the paragraph markings on that page on top? It’s hard to see at this resolution, but there’s a parenthetical (C) after the number of paragraph 2. If you served in the military or some other national security posts, you will recognize that portion marking: it means that paragraph contains CONFIDENTIAL information, the lowest level of classified information.

Here’s a close-up:

(Screenshot close-up of “60 Minutes” segment entitled “A Common Enemy,” produced by Max McClellan. It’s evident that the image is not of a properly declassified document, because in that case the classification markings would have been crossed out.)

Paragraph 3 is even more interesting, as it is portion-marked (S/NF). (It is of minor interest that the classification marking appears to be formatted incorrectly; did the producers create their own facsimile of another document?) The S indicates that the paragraph contains SECRET information, and the NF is the release marking shorthand for NOFORN, which means information that is “not releasable to foreign nationals.”

It is at least possible that CBS News obtained a declassified document and then re-worked it to something like its original condition, but as presented it appears that they used a still-classified memo. If so, then the question is how did CBS obtain the document? Why did they feel obliged to display it so prominently? And, perhaps more to the point, did Lara Logan know when she read part of paragraph 3 that she was releasing information that the Government had deemed should not be released to any foreign national?

If that document was indeed classified, as it appeared to be, I hope the appropriate parties at the State Department and within the Intelligence Community are investigating how this information was passed to the producer and correspondent.

*”Daesh” is equivalent to the Arabic acronym for ISIL, but according to this article it “is nearly identical to the Arabic word ‘dais,’ meaning something that crushes or tramples. That’s an ominous definition on its own, but not the one this self-aggrandizing group wants in its quest for Islamic rule.”

**It goes against my training and long-ingrained experience for me to post screenshots that may contain classified information, but the images were already broadcast as part of a national news program. As the Operative said in Serenity, “Damage done.” However, if a US Government representative asks me to remove the images, I will gladly do so.

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Space History: the Nascent Strategic Defense Initiative

Thirty years ago today — March 23, 1983 — President Ronald Reagan announced a research program that would eventually become the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

President Reagan called for a major research-and-development effort on space-based defenses against ballistic missile attacks. Some of the work I did in the Air Force was related to SDI, which became known (usually pejoratively) as “Star Wars.”

Those of us who were geeks of one stripe or another didn’t really mind the nickname.

According to this excerpt from Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War by Frances Fitzgerald,

The announcement, made in an insert into a routine defense speech, came as a surprise to everyone in Washington except for a handful of White House aides. The insert had not been cleared with the Pentagon, and although Reagan was proposing to overturn the doctrine which had ruled U.S. nuclear strategy for more than three decades, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state were informed only a day or so before the speech was broadcast.

I find that fascinating: visionary, and quite bold. I appreciate that.

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Lack of Security at the Department of Homeland Security

So the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that DHS would remove the “right-wing extremist” report from their web site.* The horse-and-barn-door metaphor seems appropriate, because it’s a meaningless gesture: the report’s been cached and will continue to be available on other sites (for example, the Anti-Secrecy Society … a.k.a. the Federation of American Scientists).

The real question is, why was it on-line in the first place?

I have a copy of the report, which I downloaded almost a month ago; I don’t remember whether I got if off the DHS site, but I don’t think so. Notwithstanding the other controversy surrounding its contents I was more disturbed by the fact that several of the paragraphs are not marked FOUO, but instead are marked LES. Most people can recognize FOUO as “For Official Use Only,” but LES may not be as familiar. LES means “Law Enforcement Sensitive.”

How sensitive? The paragraph in the report that describes the LES marking says,

This product contains Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES) information. No portion of the LES information should be released to the media, the general public, or over non-secure Internet servers. Release of this information could adversely affect or jeopardize investigative activities.

Let’s see that again: “No portion of the LES information should be released to the media, the general public, or over non-secure Internet servers.”

I got the report over non-secure Internet servers. Who put it there? A reprimand would seem to be in order.

*According to this report.

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We Told Them, But They Didn’t Listen

Back in March of 2008, my old boss prompted me to start a new thread in the Space Warfare Forum on whether President Obama might de-weaponize space. Here’s what we wrote then:

Not to overstate the obvious, but space is already weaponized. Not, perhaps, in the form of constantly orbiting weapons platforms, but then again we haven’t seen many proposals for those, have we? But in the form of dedicated platforms necessary to our national defense, space is weaponized. And in the form of recently demonstrated anti-satellite capability that challenges the Senator’s “unproven missile defense systems” line — and that we argued elsewhere were already evolving — the use of weapons in and near space is here today, and probably here to stay.

Fast forward to this weekend, and Reuters reports that “Challenges loom as Obama seeks space weapons ban.” But their article doesn’t seem to consider the already existing uses of space systems to enable terrestrial warfare, instead mentioning that two “officials” said “it was difficult to define exactly what constituted a ‘weapon’ because even seemingly harmless weather tracking satellites could be used to slam into and disable other satellites.”

That example seemed to me to be poorly chosen, but the Reuters folks apparently liked it.

In my follow-up SWF entry, I related what I told my best friend the last time I spoke with him:

I hope President Obama, when he took his first briefings on the very real threats facing us, sat up a little straighter and began to take his responsibility to protect this nation a little more seriously. I hope.

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Happy Civil Rights Day

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Civil Rights Day, with hope that your civil rights are intact. If you live in the U.S. and are a law-abiding citizen, I believe your civil rights are as secure as ever … despite the protestations of the fear-mongers in this and other media.

I cannot, of course, evaluate the condition of the civil rights of people from countries other than the U.S. If you do not enjoy the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I hope soon you will. Remember: no matter what your tyrants tell you, we in the U.S. desire only your freedom and friendship.

For those wrongly accused, denied their civil rights for illegitimate reasons, I wish for you justice.

But for people living in the U.S. who are plotting violence against our country, its leaders, or its institutions — no matter your ideological bent — you have no civil rights in my eyes. You abrogated your civil rights the minute you donated money to the terror-supporting organization; the second you agreed to do the bidding of your brooding, bellicose bosses; the instant you decided that your vision of unrest and death was preferable to our vision of peace and freedom. I hope the full force of our domestic intelligence apparatus is working to ferret you out of the holes in which you live and work and plot our downfall.

So, again, happy Civil Rights Day.

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Patriot Day

I was supposed to be in the Pentagon seven years ago today — I’d been in the SecDef’s Executive Support Center the day before, with some old colleagues — but an appointment with the senior military officer in my new office kept me in Alexandria. (My wife seemed very relieved to hear my voice on the phone in the afternoon.) I wouldn’t have been in the impact zone, and doubtless would’ve evacuated with everyone else had I been there. I can’t say that my Air Force career would’ve ended up much differently either way.

My retirement ceremony was in the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Chapel, right near where the plane hit the building. It was difficult to choose to retire during the war, and I still second-guess myself sometimes; but I wasn’t in a position to fight, and I chose to go out while I was as close to the top as I’d ever get.

To those still in the fight, and those who have lost loved ones in the fight — military or civilian, combatant or bystander — I salute you.


LATE ADDITION: Haunting NASA image of the burning World Trade Center as seen from the International Space Station, with commentary.

And I have to wonder why Google didn’t have a 9/11-related image on their site today.

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Are phone calls intellectual property?

All the boo-hooing over the FISA reauthorization bill, on the part of the Huffington Posters and the BoingBoingers and the “left-right coalition” that I blogged about a while ago, got me thinking about the Fourth Amendment. The amendment states,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Somewhere along the line the courts decided the amendment applies to telephone conversations, but I’m not sure I agree with that. Phone conversations certainly aren’t persons, or houses. Might they be considered papers or effects? I don’t think so, because papers and effects have an element of permanence that conversations lack. Electronic files, stored on computers or other media, seem practically preserved in stone compared to the ephemeral nature of phone calls — they would certainly fall under the broad category of “papers and effects,” as intellectual property. But phone calls? Maybe if they were recorded calls 😉 .

When the civil libertarians wrap telephone conversations into the Fourth Amendment, it seems to me they’re establishing an unreasonable expectation of privacy. Personally, I don’t say anything over a telephone that I wouldn’t say across a table in a restaurant — my expectation of privacy is very low, whether I’m using a land-line or a cell phone. To me, because the phone signal traverses the boundary of my home, talking on the phone is about equivalent to opening the window and having a conversation where any passerby can hear it.

Then again, I’m biased in favor of the dedicated professionals who work every day to protect us. I was one of them (not on the Intel side and only in my own small way), and I believe in what they do and appreciate their devotion to their duty. This new version of FISA helps them to protect us from the bad guys, and that’s all I care about.

It helps that I’m not plotting to blow up buildings or assassinate leaders or overthrow the government; I like our government just fine, thank you. I’m not real thrilled about the candidates running to lead it, but that’s another subject — and why I developed the Anti-Campaign, in case anyone was wondering 😀 .

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