Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Part bummer, Part reset, Spygate checkup


The twin towers of Russiagate and Spygate sometimes seem to be outfitted with tractor beams for charlatans and disinformation. So much digital (and real life) ink has been spilled telling and retelling fantastic tales of international intrigue, it's enthralling. The narratives constructed over the past three years are multifaceted and impressive.

Unfortunately, not all of it is actually true. Put another way, there are strains of truth running through rivers of lies. Remember, these stories until now have mostly been told by people like Glenn Simpson, Ben Rhodes, Adam Schiff, Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi and George Papadopoulos...not exactly clear-eyed honest operators.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

10 Reasons Why Appointing Mueller Made Sense


Trying to decipher Rod Rosenstein is a hobby of mine (and a few others), and it's not easy to be honest. How did Rod go from (allegedly) discussing a wiretap of the President to effusively praising him? The first order of business seems to be understanding the circumstances of the May 17th, 2017 appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel. For that decision alone, Rod Rosenstein became a MAGA-punching bag. Hell, I have been guilty of it too. But maybe some of that hate was and is misguided.

Here are 10 reasons why the decision to appoint Mueller actually made some sense:

1-Shutting down the "Trump-Russia" investigation on May 16th, 2017 was untenable
Shutting it down seems like the right move in a vacuum. Trump-Russia was a hoax, we now know that definitively with the release of the Mueller report. But at the time, there were "Russia" questions from Americans of all stripes. Trump was an outsider candidate with worldwide business dealings, and Mike Flynn had been fired for something, who knows maybe there is something there, they thought. All of these doubts were billowed by the echo chamber media but regardless, that perception was out there. Shutting it down would make Trump look guilty, like he had something to hide.

Making it worse, it seems likely that some at the top levels of the FBI and DOJ would mass quit if Rosenstein decided to shut down the investigation. I'm sure McCabe would. A mass quit event would be portrayed in Watergate terms, maxing out the political damage to Trump. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

How did we get the Spygate Texts?


Anyone with an internet connection can right now read almost 8,000 text messages between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, a stunning win for transparency, but how did we even get to that point? The usual answer is: "Horowitz found them," which is true, but it's nested inside this larger tempest of #spygate, Mueller and Congressional machinations.

This post is focused on the discovery of the text messages, not necessarily on the release of them. But simply the story of these texts being lifted off of FBI archiving systems and tabulated is pretty incredible. This is how it went down, based on the information publicly available right now.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Is this all just a mall?


It seems like every day there a new suspension or ban on the major social media platforms and it's just getting to be too much. Too many people locked out of accounts. Too many hard to understand reasons for it. There is no recourse.

In brilliant blog post from 2010, sociologist Zeynep Tufekcia used a mall analogy to describe Facebook. She explains, it's a highly controlled/surveilled space, specifically designed to push you towards buying crap and the owners can kick you out pretty much whenever they feel like it.

That description always stuck with me. Because when you take a step back, it seems like a silly thing (getting kicked off a social media site). It's something we used to laugh about and decry the overzealous mall cops giving you trouble. Yet these days, social media bannings feel more...upsetting. More oppressive.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Rosenstein's Bad Options



There are so many theories around Rod Rosenstein's motives that I can barely keep them all straight.

The left at first thought he was a great choice for the DOJ, as evidenced by his confirmation in the Senate by a wide margin (94-6). Then once he had a hand in firing James Comey, they called for his head. That flipped when he appointed Robert Mueller - Rod was their hero again. But now that the Mueller report is out and he supported Barr's decision-making, he's again a traitor. (phew!)

On the right, Rosenstein has been excoriated for his decision to appoint Mueller. And this rhetoric (that Rod's a bad guy) has been continued by many on the right through today. However there are also those on the right who believe Rod has been quietly doing Trump's bidding all along and, quite honestly, I find this idea fascinating.

Really, all this comes back to a single question: what was the reasoning behind the Mueller appointment. Why did Rod decide it was needed after consistently pushing back on the idea. Did he panic? Was he squeezed? Was it a grand plan? Something else?

So this is my attempt to parse that question.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The NCIJTF Finds a Home in Chantilly

The story here is about two buildings built in Chantilly, VA with defense contractors in mind and how those buildings got to be leased by the FBI to house it's growing Cyber division, and the NCIJTF specifically (if you want to understand what the NCIJTF is, read this).

The government leases buildings all the time, but the most sensitive operations seem to take place on government owned property. CIA HQ is it's own government owned campus in McLean, NSA HQ is inside of Fort Meade, DIA HQ is at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. Even in Chantilly itself, there is the government owned National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) complex.

FBI Cyber is certainly working with sensitive intelligence, yet a leasing arrangement was chosen in this case. Why did they choose to lease instead of own? Hard to say for sure. But I trace it back to the hacker mindset of being incognito. Holed up in a non-descript business park with no signage or even documentation saying you're actually there.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

What is the NCIJTF?


The acronym NCIJTF stands for National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force.

It is a so-called fusion center, one of many inside the US Intelligence Community, so it's not a three letter agency unto itself, but rather a hub where many agencies collaborate and participate. Fusion centers came into vogue after stovepiping of intelligence was identified as a cause of the 9/11 attacks. It's a simply a way to combat stovepipes/silos. One example of a fusion center is the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) which are scattered across the US and are each comprised of the local branches of FBI, US Secret Service, DEA, ATF, ICE, US Postal Inspection Service, US Marshals Service and much more.

Another example of a fusion center is the OCDETF, which Bruce Ohr ran not too long ago. That organization gathers intelligence on multi-jurisdictional drug trafficking and money laundering operations by pooling information from many of the same agencies mentioned above.

However, unlike the JTTF (terrorism) or the OCDETF (drug trafficking), the NCIJTF is specifically focused on cyber crimes, a discipline which the FBI has had an interesting relationship with. Any talk of the NCIJTF has to be couched in a larger conversation about the FBI and Cyber.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

5 Things About Those Spygate Texts

Through Senator Ron Johnson's refreshing advocacy and some other surprising strokes of government transparency, the public has received ~8,000 texts between FBI employees Lisa Page and Peter Strzok to date.

Once you start digging into these texts and cross-referencing, you notice some interesting artifacts. No doubt due to the strange journey these documents have taken from the bowels of the J Edgar Hoover building to the public eye.

Here are five things I've noticed:

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Nunes quietly racking up wins

Devin Nunes has come under constant and heavy political fire for over two years now. His detractors have employed bureaucratic maneuvers, massive infusions of cash into his district election plus nonstop media hit pieces continuing through today in an attempt to derail the congressman from Tulare. Yet, quietly, Nunes has been notching wins.

Look no further than the shady ethics complaint filed against him in April 2017. It apparently took eight months for the House Ethics Committee to consult with classification experts, but once they finally did, Nunes was fully vindicated. Or look to the bureaucratic tactics used to prevent the release of his memo in early 2018. The FBI demanded a review period before release of that document, citing national security concerns, then attempted to use that review period to delay or stifle the actual release. In both cases, Nunes won.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Teflon Don Strikes Again

With the conclusion of the Mueller probe, Trump has now head-faked more dirty political attacks than I can count. From Obama's 2011 vitriol at the White House Correspondents Dinner to the 2016 GOP primaries to the unprecedented and unfounded accusations of treason no less, Trump has faced and absorbed political blow after political blow. Jeb!'s jaw must be on the floor by now.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Mueller probe, specifically, represented an existential threat to his presidency. Many sober minded people believe that the regulations governing the role of a Special Counsel are too expansive and inevitably lead to overreach and unintended political consequences. We don't need to look very far back to see this illustrated in the Clinton Independent Counsel probe led by Ken Starr which started at Whitewater and ended at Monica Lewinski.