You can argue about the effectiveness of the United States’ national security classification program, but there’s no disputing one point: Keeping secrets costs money—lots of it.
Last year, executive branch agencies shelled out an estimated $11.4 billion on classified information systems and other facets of the program, according to an annual report released this week by the Information Security Oversight Office, a branch of the National Archives and Records Administration.
That’s up 12 percent–or $1.2 billion–from 2010, and more than double the figure from a decade ago. The actual tab to taxpayers is likely much higher, because the report doesn’t include spending by the CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office and four other agencies that do almost all of their work in secret. Their estimates are provided in a classified addendum to the public portion of the report.
ISOO doesn’t speculate on possible reasons behind last year’s double-digit percentage increase, but one obvious suspect is the government’s response to the massive WikiLeaks breach, which became known starting in mid-2010. Spending on “protection and maintenance for classified information systems,” for example, shot up 20 percent last year to $5.65 billion. The cost of physical security also ballooned by more than 20 percent to $1.74 billion. Interestingly, though, estimated agency spending on personnel security dropped 10 percent to about $1.4 billion.
As of today, the Information Security Oversight Office has a new director in the person of John P. Fitzpatrick, a former top security official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
ISOO, part of the National Archives and Records Administration, is a small but critical cog in oversight of the government’s security classification system. The agency has also been charged with bringing order to the mishmash of agency approaches for handling controlled unclassified information.
“A strong advocate for information sharing and protection, he has demonstrated his ability to lead and oversee change both within and beyond the intelligence community throughout his career,” Archivist David Ferriero told NARA staff in announcing Fitzpatrick’s appointment. The announcement was posted on the Secrecy News blog of the Federation of American Scientists, where Steven Aftergood wrote that Fitzpatrick is taking over at “at a particularly crucial moment in secrecy policy.”
Fitzpatrick succeeds William Bosanko, who was promoted in March; William Cira, ISOO associate director for classification management, has been filling in.
Fitzpatrick formerly served as assistant deputy director of National Intelligence for Security at ODNI and previously headed the agency’s special security center, according to his official bio. He has also worked at the CIA and the National Reconnaissance Office.
A Senior Executive Service member, Fitzpatrick has a bachelor’s degree in economics and psychology from the College of William and Mary.
The bizarre case of Raymond Allen Davis — a US consulate employee in Lahore, Pakistan, who shot and killed two Pakistanis Jan. 27 who he said were trying to rob him — is quickly becoming a diplomatic SNAFU. The US is citing diplomatic immunity and demanding Davis be freed, but the Pakistani government is refusing to release him. The Washington Post reports that the two governments have suspended high-level diplomatic ties over the incident, and it could scuttle plans for President Obama and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to visit each others’ countries this year.
The government’s squishy explanations about exactly what Davis was doing for them — not to mention reports that he was carrying a disguise — aren’t exactly quelling rumors that he’s CIA. Disputed reports that the two men he shot were Pakistani intelligence agents are fueling local speculation that the shooting was a spy standoff gone wrong. But the two dead Pakistanis had five cell phones on them, and two other Pakistanis have come forward to say the dead men had robbed them of their phones earlier that day.
Anti-American protests were held in Pakistan last week with signs saying “Hang Raymond now” and calling Davis a “CIA hitman.” With the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions already tenuous at best, this is one more headache the government doesn’t need.
The most unlikely defense consultant ever will perform in Arlington, Va., next Thursday at a benefit for families of fallen CIA officers.
Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter will appear July 8 at a charity dinner for the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance announced yesterday. All proceeds from the dinner will help support the families of CIA officers who die on active duty, such as paying for college tuition for their children. “Blues Brothers” and “Ghostbusters” star Dan Aykroyd will deliver the keynote and perform with Skunk and his band.
It isn’t surprising to see Skunk Baxter help raise money for CIA families. He’s a unique guy, to say the least, and his acceptance into national security circles over the last quarter-century is an interesting story. In the mid-80s, Skunk became fascinated with defense weaponry and technology, and educated himself by reading journals on the subject. He wrote a prescient five-page paper on how Aegis cruisers could be converted into theater missile defense systems, and sent it to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., which launched his defense consulting career. He’s probably the only man in history to hold both eight platinum records and the chairmanship of a civilian advisory panel on ballistic missile defense.
Baxter has participated in numerous war game exercises at the Pentagon and, believe it or not, is respected for his creativity and unconventional thinking by military leaders. (He apparently makes a good bad guy, and the Wall Street Journal said he is frequently called in to help the Pentagon anticipate terrorist tactics and strategies.) NASA in 2005 named him to its Exploration Systems Advisory Committee, and he has also worked with the Missile Defense Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
After the jump, read about my brief encounter with Skunk back in 2001.
The Washington Post’s SpyTalk blog reports today that the CIA’s Iraq Operations Group was mulling some hairbrained schemes for discrediting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein before the 2003 invasion. Their most outlandish idea was to play the homophobia card and create a phony video that appeared to show Saddam having sex with a teenage boy, two CIA officials told the Post.
The Post said that and other psychological operation, or PSYOP, ideas went nowhere, partly because the CIA didn’t have the money and expertise to carry them out and partly because they were, well, stupid. What they should have done was buy a few hundred DVDs of the South Park movie, which (explicitly) shows Saddam and Satan as feuding gay lovers, and airdrop those into Baghdad.
The CIA apparently actually did create a video that purported to show Osama bin Laden and his buddies “sitting around a campfire, swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys.” One CIA official told the Post that the agency used some of its “darker-skinned employees” to play the reminiscing terrorists. Something tells me that’s not what former chief human capital officer Ronald Sanders had in mind when he talked about the need to diversify the intelligence community.
EDIT: It’s also worth noting that the CIA may have been stealing from the Weekly World News, which once ran a series of articles on Saddam and Osama’s alleged romance.
Everyone hates the IRS, right?
Bunch of pencil-pushing money-grubbers whose goal in life is to squeeze every last dime from the poor taxpayer.
That’s the old stereotype, anyway.
But a new poll from the Pew Research Center shows that over the last decade or so, the tax-collecting agency has improved in public perception more than any of the other 12 agencies included in the survey.
The ratings bump could be a result of new, user-friendly online tax software.
Or it could just reflect the fact that the IRS was starting from such a low point — its favorable ratings were a dismal 38 percent in the late ‘90s. Its current 47 percent rating is better, but still the second lowest in the survey. (Come on down, Education Department!)
The full results are after the jump.
President Obama just issued the following statement regarding yesterday’s suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan’s Khost Province that killed seven CIA officers and at least one other person:
To the men and women of the CIA:
I write to mark a sad occasion in the history of the CIA and our country. Yesterday, seven Americans in Afghanistan gave their lives in service to their country. Michelle and I have their families, friends and colleagues in our thoughts and prayers.
These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life. The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA. You have helped us understand the world as it is, and taken great risks to protect our country. You have served in the shadows, and your sacrifices have sometimes been unknown to your fellow citizens, your friends, and even your families.
A suicide bomber killed eight Americans yesterday at a CIA base in Eastern Afghanistan. The Washington Post reports that most — if not all — of the victims were CIA employees or contractors. At least one Afghan also was killed, the Post said.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack in Khost, near the Pakistan border. The Post said the bombing is “believed to be the deadliest single attack on U.S. intelligence personnel in the eight-year-long war and one of the deadliest in the agency’s history.” In 1983, eight CIA officers were killed in a devastating truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
UPDATE: Apparently seven of the eight dead Americans are CIA officers, according to a memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta obtained by the Post.
ABC News today reported that strife is growing between CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and the White House, and said Panetta might not be at Langley for much longer. The CIA and Obama administration are officially denying any shakeup, but ABC says Panetta let loose a profanity-laced tirade at the White HouseÂ last month over the Justice Department’s possible investigation into CIA torture of terrorism suspects and threatened to quit. And that’s not all:
In addition to concerns about the CIA’s reputation and its legal exposure, other White House insiders say Panetta has been frustrated by what he perceives to be less of a role than he was promised in the administration’s intelligence structure. Panetta has reportedly chafed at reporting through the director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, according to the senior adviser who said Blair is equally unhappy with Panetta.
“Leon will be leaving,” predicted a former top U.S. intelligence official, citing the conflict with Blair. The former official said Panetta is also “uncomfortable” with some of the operations being carried out by the CIA that he did not know about until he took the job.
[...] Six other current and former senior intelligence officials said they too had been briefed about Panetta’s frustrations in the job, including dealing with his former Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives.
One of the officials said the White House had begun informal discussions with candidates who were runners-up to Panetta in the CIA director selection process last year.
One of the candidates reportedly has begun a series of preparatory briefings.
The Senate last night voted to confirm Leon Panetta as the CIA’s new director. Panetta and new Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair have promised to reduce the size of the intelligence community’s contractor work force, and pledged to bring interrogation positions almost entirely back in house.