Ishmael Jones: Spy versus spy

Ishmael Jones is the pseudonymous former CIA case officer and author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture. He has forwarded his comments on certain aspects of the CIA’s vulnerability. He advises that his comments have been reviewed and approved by the CIA’s publications review board. Mr. Jones writes:

CIA secrets were once typed on paper and stored in safes. Even the typewriter ribbons were removed at the end of the day and locked away. Secrets could still be exposed but it was harder. A traitor like Aldrich Ames had to ferret his way into offices at CIA Headquarters to gain physical access to documents written on paper. Then he had to smuggle those documents out of the building.

Today a clever software engineer who is not even located within the Headquarters building can have access to it all and can download it all. Tens of thousands of intelligence agency employees sit in front of tens of thousands of linked computers sown throughout the Washington, D.C. area.

The people who have sold the software driving this system will insist there are firewalls between these computers, but the massive, relentless leaking, the Wikileaks CIA dump as well as the recent NSA dump and the resulting worldwide hack –- with no ability to find out who did it — say otherwise.

Our modern software-based technical espionage often produces amazing intelligence, but this product appears to be a side effect. The fundamental design of these systems is insecure because they are based upon the needs of Deep State bureaucracy, which has its own priorities.

The CIA doesn’t get to buy expensive fighter jets, it buys software. This software is produced at huge profit by companies that use former CIA employees as frontmen.

When former CIA chief John Brennan sat down in front of the TV with a tasty beverage and a plate of nachos on November 8 to enjoy Hillary’s victory, the disappointment he felt later in the evening must have been all the more bitter because a Trump victory would make it harder for him and his pals to embark on lucrative careers selling software to the CIA.

The billions spent on the CIA’s information and software systems have created a Swamp of different kinds of software created by thousands of different software engineers using unknown and contradictory styles. It’s a witch’s brew of software, slapped together, each incompatible with the other. No one knows what’s in all this stuff. It is easy to hack. There is no incentive for a contractor to write software that will be easy for a competing contractor to use.

The Swamp’s software companies differ from Silicon Valley’s. Steve Jobs was entranced by technology at a young age. He was brusque and single-minded. By contrast, recently I met a tech CEO in the Swamp who sells software to the CIA. His career had been as CEO of a Democrat think tank. He’s a nice guy, well-connected, and an expert at schmoozing government employees and selling them questionable software. He doesn’t understand what he’s selling, but he knows the profit margin is huge. “None of my friends can believe I’m a tech CEO!” he said.

The recent Wikileaks dump of what it describes as the entire hacking capacity of the CIA indicates our intelligence agencies are unable to keep secrets. The CIA has responded with harsh words for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. But Assange is merely a symptom. The Deep State bureaucracy is the disease. When foreign governments examine the Wikileaks dump, they’ll be perplexed: some of the software will be superb, but so much will be nonsense that they’ll wonder if they’re the victim of a disinformation campaign.

The solution is to get control of the software systems and the contractors who sell them. Congressman Darrell Issa has recognized and sought to attack this problem with the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. Strengthening this Act and forcing intelligence agencies to obey is important.

All of our nation’s intelligence secrets, including the identities of our people and our foreign agents, are at risk. Get the Swamp’s software salesmen out of the building.