Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Security Clearances

One sometimes hears people try to inflate their own credibility by saying, "I have a Top Secret security clearance," only to learn that the person ignorantly believes the clearance he had thirty years ago in the military is still valid. Other people incorrectly use the terms "background investigation" and "criminal history check" interchangeably.

Full-field background investigations required for the highest security clearances and special access permissions are costly and take as long as a year to complete. The time required for applicant adjudication, particularly among civilian defense contractors, is causing concern in the US government. That concern is expressed in a US Government Accountability Office report to its Congressional requesters. The report is titled DoD Personnel Clearances - Additional OMB Actions Are Needed to Improve the Security Clearance Process. The report was submitted in September 2006.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Electronic Snooping Into Your Cellular Telephone

Once upon a time in a far and distant land my job included retrieving investigative leads and evidence from all sorts of electronic devices but mainly from telecommunications equipment. Yes, I was an electronic snoop.

Many consumers (some of them still sitting in federal prison) do not fully appreciate just how much information about their behaviors is stored in such things as their car's computer, their home or office's electronic telephone system, or their personal and networked computers and the associated servers. Often overlooked as an electronic tattletale is the most ubiquitous telecommunication device of the late 20th century: the cellular mobile telephone.

So commonplace have these little marvels become that we load them up with all sorts of personal contact information (including call logs, photos of children, homes, outings, etc.) and then discard them every year or two when a newer and more full-featured model hits the market. Some people, maybe most, go through the phones and dutifully use the erase or reset function before giving the phone away to the Women's Center or simply tossing it in the garbage. Believing they have cleansed the little beast of its incriminating, embarrassing, or maybe titillating information, they toss or donate it . And they leave behind a good deal of information for us electronic snoops. How much information? Read this Washington Post article titled Used Cellphones Hold Trove of Secrets That Can Be Hard to Erase (free registration may be required).

The proliferation of microprocessor memories in a wide range of devices including vehicles, appliances, utility meters, and telecommunications equipment has increased the probability that some of your private information will be compromised. At least with cellular mobile telephones, you can take steps to more completely reduce that probability. One reasonably accessible countermeasure is to contact the manufacturer of your phone and ask for specific instructions about how to completely erase and overwrite all the information you've put into the phone. You can also go to a website, WirelessRecycling.com, and get erasure instructions for some telephone models.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that from firsthand experience analyzing equipment and dealing with cellular telephone design engineers, I can tell you that companies will often not reveal all of the exploitable capabilities of their equipment. Most of today's cellular mobile telephones have chips containing features that are not marketed or user accessible but have been designed in to minimize future manufacturing costs. On more than one occasion we caught cellular telephone manufacturers denying an exploitable capability existed. Then we confronted them with their lie by showing them how we had done what they denied could be done.

The bottom line is this: If you have a cellular mobile telephone you want to discard and if it is imperative that no critical information be retrieved from it, first remove the battery, then use a very heavy hammer or a torch to totally destroy the telephone. Electronic erasure and overwriting helps, but it is not totally reliable. So don't rely on it!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Traitor? Or Fall Guy?

This morning's Seattle Post-Intelligencer is running an article about an Idaho boy who allegedly went bad.

The article, written by Tracy Johnson, is titled Former CIA spy branded a traitor wants to clear his name.

A Google search on Edwin Wilson will turn up several "hits" that describe how Wilson allegedly betrayed the United States by selling explosives to Libya in 1977. Wilson has steadfastly maintained that all he did, he did at the behest of the US government.

It will be interesting to see if Wilson survives long enough to clear his name. It seems an odd task for a parolee to undertake in his late 70's unless he has conclusive proof. As noted in the article, he was able to convince a judge that the US had lied to obtain his original conviction.

I've always been puzzled by the timers Wilson allegedly had custom-made for sale to Libya. Who was the manufacturer? Who paid for the R&D on them? These were extremely well-made, precise, timers with absolutely no commercial application. Their only purpose was to detonate murderous improvised explosive devices.

Maybe Wilson's quest to clear his name will answer my questions and others as well.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

US Intelligence Community's Strategic Human Capital Plan

In May 2006 I posted Strategic Planning - A Federal Model for Local Goverment. That post included a reference to the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 which requires federal agencies to submit five-year strategic plans to the Government Accountability Office.

Law enforcement agencies sometimes reject strategic planning because they fear the plan would be public record. It would, and it should be. Being able to access strategic plans lets voters and taxpayers evaluate how well or how poorly local agencies are setting goals and meeting them. Strategic plans are not the same as tactical plans.

As noted in the May 2006 post, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's strategic plan is public record. And now the US Intelligence Community has released its unclassified five year strategic plan for human intelligence. The Community's plan was dated June 22, 2006, and released to the public on October 18, 2006. It is titled Strategic Human Capital Plan - An Annex to the US National Intelligence Strategy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Law Enforcement's Response to Public Health Emergencies

Public health emergencies, whether manmade or natural, are first and foremost the responsibility of public health agencies at the federal and state level. Many law enforcement agencies mistakenly believe they must "take charge" in such an emergency. The problem, however, is that law enforcement is ill-prepared and poorly equipped to have the primary responsibility in dealing with a public health emergency.

That is not to suggest that law enforcement has no role at all. It has an important role: It must support the public health agencies in their interactions with the public.

To better help law enforcement agencies prepare to assume their important but secondary role responding to public health emergencies, the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance has prepared a 39-page guide titled The Role of Law Enforcement in Public Health Emergencies - Special Considerations for An All-Hazards Approach.

The September 2006 publication has three major divisions:
  • Preparing the department to be mentally and logistically prepared for public health emergencies
  • Protecting officers so they are less likely to become victims of the emergency (guns, Tasers, extendible batons, and handcuffs are surprisingly ineffective against bacteria and virii)
  • Protecting the community during and after the health emergency.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

OIG Report Not Surprising

The US Department of Justice, Office of Inspector General, has released a report titled Report Concerning Alleged Mismanagement and Misconduct by Carl J. Truscott, Former Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

I worked with Carl Truscott when he was in the Secret Service's Los Angeles Field Office. He was clearly on someone's fast-track to the Senior Executive Service. He was bright and did the work he was assigned, so as expected he was rapidly promoted. He was more interested in dignitary protection than in criminal investigations, so it was completely unsurprising that he ultimately became the Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division. The person occupying that position nearly always moved up the Secret Service ladder.

The OIG report linked above referred several times to Truscott's errors in judgment. It is not surprising that this contributed to his downfall. To say he was too young and inexperienced to have been approved as the Director of the BATF is an oversimplification but not necessarily an inaccuracy. Rising stars like Truscott were moved from position to position without being given sufficient time to mature in any of those positions. That is the danger of too-rapid promotion. Not everyone learns and matures in a position at the same rate. When a person had been fast-tracked by "Mahogany Row" as Headquarters was often called, the critical supervision and mentoring that would have enhanced maturity and judgment was lessened.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Barriers at the Border

Most everyone probably knows that border security, especially security along the border between the United States and Mexico, is a hot topic. That's especially true during this campaign season.

To educate its subscriber members about the policy issues affecting border barriers, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service has published a 35-page report entitled Border Security: Barriers Along the U.S. International Border.

The report, dated September 21, 2006, discusses such policy issues as barrier effectiveness, costs versus benefits, location, design, unintended consequences, land acquisition, and potential diplomatic ramifications. Not surprisingly the report focuses on the border near San Diego and says almost nothing about our border with Canada.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Witness Intimidation

In our criminal justice system, witnesses are people who meet three criteria:

  • They have observed an event or series of events. Their observation may be very limited or very extensive. A witness can also have been a participant in the event.
  • They have the ability to recall their observations. They may have made contemporaneous notes, photographs, recordings, or in some other way documented their observations to enhance their recall later.
  • They have the ability and willingness to recount their observations truthfully.

The criminal justice system functions better when witnesses' testimonies are "pure", uninfluenced by outside pressures. That's rarely the case. Even routine press coverage of an event may subtly influence a witness. For example, if press coverage offers information significantly different from the witness's recollection of what he observed, he may begin to question if he really observed what he first recounted to authorities. That's not witness intimidation.

Witness intimidation is most often associated with someone using violence, threat of violence, or some other coercive or retributive action to influence a witness. This is the type of intimidation addressed by the US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Problem Specific Guide No. 42 entitled Witness Intimidation by Kelly Dedel.

This 72-page guide discusses several key topics including:

  • The problem of witness intimidation
  • A general description of the problem
  • Factors contributing to witness intimidation
  • Understanding your local problem of witness intimidation
  • Responses to the problem of witness intimidation (what works, what doesn't work)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Moral Degenerates

Compare the Republican Party leadership's responses to the facts behind the US Representative Mark Foley resignation with the Catholic Church leadership's responses to the priests' sexual exploitation of children.

Both institutions' "leaders" knew of immoral misconduct by subordinates, yet instead of taking meaningful action to stop it, they concealed, they denied, and they lied. It's pathetic how much we will let moral degenerates who wear expensive suits or turned-around collars get away with.