Turf Warfare as Rome Burnt

I stumbled upon a Lawfare article on an issue and a story that was lost in Comey’s post-firing sainthood. Lets not forget as this Lawfare article highlights the concerns at the time of tipping the election … and it was considered a crisis even though the focus is elsewhere now. [updated 8/2017 another perspective including not-so-kind comments by his friends, colleagues and FBI agents in a March article.]

I keep going back not because information, cyber, risk and organizational impact have been pet peeves and in my professional domain. I can not get over it because it is yet institutionally and accountability-wise unresolved and at least as important as the Russian meddling if not more. While the Special Counsel, FBI and the Congress investigate there are lessons learned along with unrepeatable and fleeting opportunities.

The following are not in dispute: (1) Russians used massive and targeted Information Warfare (2) against Hillary Clinton, if not for Trump, and (3) key electoral votes were lost by small margins. So the FBI director publicly giving credibility to that propaganda and casting a doubt on the DOJ’s role is significant. It factually ended up better-than-fake-news ammunition in Russia’s Information Warfare.

The crisis of confidence Trump referred to may have been of another kind — and the grandstanding showboat a reference to another performance. He says lots of things and one can only guess.

The article raises points about organizational and operational challenges of a diverse and yet bureaucratically entrenched culture. What is relevant is the convergence of symptoms to affect a critical high level decision, creating a weak link in national security, impacting the election and, so far, the second biggest intelligence crisis in the U.S. history, all of which would have been avoidable. Even as republicans claim that it did not impact the election, and despite the fact that Comey did come around, the risk is too important to brush off as self-healing.

It is not hard to conclude, based on readings from different sources, that the core issues are an intelligence turf war and FBI’s at-will charter (or for lack of) expansion. No one disputes its critical role in domestic security, national security, counter-intelligence and terrorism. It seems though a religious turf-war has been waged by the FBI (one small example here or chasing anyone and the CIA for anything here) — and why the heck the wholesale suspicion by Comey et al including the NSA for its assessment concurring with the CIA?

Which makes it not just poor judgement, but a: hey I am not just your equal here (domestic ground) nut also there (foreign soil and your SCI assessments and your foreign partner shared information,) but more, I can also override NSA, CIA, and DNI. After Hansen and this, it does take a fresh start for the IC community to share their TS/SCI since they do not have to absent confidence. And BTW the global partners who also supply critical intelligence were and are watching. Their confidence also needs to be restored or the whole IC including the FBI is adversely impacted. How many religious wars can a select group of fanatic-believers-disbelievers of a domestic agency wage globally and not cause more harm? The fact is that no one has to share anything absent confidence and domestically generated foreign intelligence alone is small and of limited value outside the larger mosaic, with domestic counter intelligence being dependent almost entirely on the latter.

What is insane is that the war is not about principle but more of a sport, a pissing contest in which due to a mix of cultural gaps, and genuine ignorance along with hubris, of a few, in a medium to distant-warning reactive culture of mostly office work and backed up by overwhelming force, think of themselves as equal or superior to a culture of early warning any one can get killed any time alone and get others killed in enemy territory and back home — without a swat team backup. Both are valid but you do not want one encroaching where the other is appropriate.

Popularity and even well placed respect within the organization is not relevant in that context and I doubt that it was unanimously appreciated by everyone in the CD side of the FBI —  but what do I know? I am just a civic-conscious layman.

As Nero fiddled …


Author: Sam Sarmad