The FBI is handcuffed in fighting domestic terrorism
The Edward Snowden affair makes me think back to 9/11. Shortly after witnessing the horrors of that day, I was upset when a domestic surveillance program was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. At the time, I posed reasons why Beijing should pick up the slack.
Yes… Beijing…as in China. Let me caution you…when I’m upset, I often resort to humor. The first reason we should pay China to spy on America is that our Asian “friend” already has the opportunity to do so… in Cuba! Yes, China operates a super-secret complex that eavesdrops on our satellite-based military transmissions, the messages contained in our home and business faxes and e-mails…even our cell phone transmissions (I shudder when I think that the Chinese may know what pizza toppings l like, for I use my smartphone to order a home-delivered special every Friday).
CIA agents in Cuba grew suspicious when large numbers of names like Yang Chow and Yo-Yo Qian booked into hotels in Havana in the late 1990’s. Sure enough, shortly thereafter a Chinese electronic espionage facility sprang up. In return, Beijing gave Castro electronic countermeasures to block Radio Marti from carrying pro-U.S. radio and TV broadcasts into Cuba from Miami.
During the post-9/11 period, I was upset when an ACLU lawsuit handcuffed America’s intelligence services in their attempts to ferret out die hard radical Islamic sleeper cells lurking inside America. I remember visualizing people jumping off the tops of the Twin Towers, wondering what they were feeling as they flew toward the pavement far below. The National Security Agency’s (NSA) interception of billions of e-mails, fax, cell phone, and I-Pod messages seemed like a personal security blanket that kept Americans out of harm’s way and guaranteed their future liberty.
Fortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit concluded that because none of those in the ACLU suit could prove they had been monitored, they had no standing to bring the suit. I’d wager practically all of the loved ones of the 9/11 victims sided with that court decision.
But a growing number of Americans feel the opposite today, even though the information that NSA collects is too vast to record and personally be read by a human being. So, it created a “Dictionary Program” that whizzes through the Library of Congress-sized data that their mass surveillance sweeps up, and zeros in on several dozen threat targets out of trillions of intercepts. Then, and only then, a real live human being may read the targeted intercepts and eliminate spy thriller writers like me who tap into the keyboard fictional, terrorist plots to attack America, or who publish articles like the one you are now reading.
I do not see how robust monitoring of targeted American communications to overseas points violates our personal freedoms; there’s simply too much information collected. And when the NSA narrows down potential threats to a select few, the FISA requirements kick into gear. The Bush administration wanted to make the Protect America Act a permanent fixture in our surveillance arsenal. With the FISA requirement, our intelligence services could monitor (with warrants) the communications of both foreign and domestic home-grown suspects.
Personally, I feel safer being inconvenienced by having to take off my shoes, unbuckle my belt from around a bulging waistline, empty my pockets of coins and car keys and taking my laptop computer out of its carrying case before boarding a commercial airliner with 300 strangers and ascending to 35,000 feet at a velocity of 530mph. Likewise, I feel safer when suspicious e-mails and international cell phone calls are screened in the airways that I share with billions of other cyberspace strangers. If the NSA targets what pizza toppings I like on my Friday night cell phone take-home pizza orders…fine!
If I may return to the ridiculous suggestion that America outsource its domestic spying to China. It would eliminate the problem of leakers of classified information and the few unscrupulous whistleblowers (I admire most whistleblowers) who place us in harm’s way. When I think of 5 million Americans holding top secret clearances and hundreds of thousands of them being private contractors, my mind shouts out “Holy Edward Snowden!”. I envision a counterintelligence nightmare as an endless supply of leakers bent on becoming selfless martyrs of public adulation pursuing personal glory and fame by leaking America’s vital secrets…then high tailing it to Hong Kong and Russia.
The trouble is, most of the top-secret NSA info that Snowden handed over to Russia and China did not involve civil liberty issues. The fact that Russia and China learned from Snowden which of their computer networks and systems the NSA hacked into and were monitoring does not safeguard the civil liberties and freedoms of Americans…it blinds them from overseas threats. Snowden is not a patriotic whistleblower.
So, why not make China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS)- not the NSA, FBI, or CIA- the target for this misdirected human energy? Why not outsource the job to Chinese spies who operate only a stone’s throw away…in Cuba? Since they already eavesdrop on America’s heartland, they’re bound to stumble upon a homegrown domestic terrorist somewhere in America when they communicate with their neo-Nazi, white supremacist cohorts overseas. We could shell out a $50 thousand bounty to Beijing for each radical domestic extremist its MSS hands over to us. That’s taxpayer’s money well spent; hell, the CIA placed a $50 million bounty on bin Laden’s head.
My suggestion may even appease the ACLU. After all, farming out the domestic spying job to communist China would solve our free speech and privacy conundrum, not to mention the separation of powers statute that is enshrined in the Constitution. Beijing faces no legal or moral catch-22’s when it comes to eavesdropping; for years they’ve snooped on their 1.8 billion citizens and suppressed internal protests for democracy. Paying off a despotic regime to eavesdrop on Americans would permit Uncle Sam to continue along his self-governing, anti-racial profiling, no mentioning of “radicalized Islam”, and anti-warrantless snooping pathway to democratic preservation.
My Chinese outsourcing idea would also soothe the anxieties felt by our counterintelligence agencies, who feel they’re not doing enough to uncover the burgeoning numbers of radicalized homegrown domestic terrorists lurking amongst us. Long ago, I attended a luncheon where then FBI Director Robert S. Mueller lamented about the FBI’s domestic counterintelligence shortfalls. His agents were simply spread to thin. My China option would alleviate Mueller’s concerns, especially if Beijing’s spies in Cuba begin handing the FBI some names.
So, let’s entice Beijing’s cloak-and-dagger operation near Bejucal, a small town south of Havana, to reprogram their orbiting satellites and ground based, state-of-the art signals intelligence hardware. Like a vacuum sweeping up dust particles off a carpet, they already suck up satellite-based U.S. military communications, along with our personal business and computer e-mails, cell phone calls, telex, fax messages and, perhaps, the pizza-delivery toppings I order over my cell phone. So, what’s the big deal about letting them inspect messages sent out from the U.S. to Jihad-friendly countries, as well as encrypted smart phone calls from domestic terrorists lurking inside America?
Besides, Beijing owes us one! U.S. counterintelligence believes many of the 97,000 Chinese permitted to visit the U.S. each year must agree to specific technology collection requirements set by Beijing. The FBI’s 15,000+ agents are spread paper thin shadowing Chinese diplomatic and business officials, students, delegation envoys and émigrés. They’ve busted dozens of our Asian friends who fan out across America seeking to buy U.S. military technology, such as the AGM-129 cruise missile. Ko-Suen “Bill” Moo, one of the most significant Chinese arms dealers ever arrested, attempted to purchase from undercover agents the AGM-129 cruise missile, which has stealth technology and can carry nuclear warheads 2,300 miles.
“The fact that this individual was plotting to purchase advanced U.S. cruise missiles for a foreign government is truly alarming,” ICE chief Julie Myers said over a decade ago. “This case demonstrates, in the clearest terms possible, the need to protect sensitive U.S. technology from illegal foreign acquisition.” Incidentally, the once super-secret and advanced AGM-129 is positioned under the wingspan of our entire B-52 fleet.
The FBI is spread paper thin in its attempts to uncover jihadist sleeper cells lurking among us, who believe martyrdom and certainty of paradise can be reached by detonating “dirty” radioactive bombs, biological weapons… or worse… inside America. Therefore, we can’t afford to have the Edward Snowden’s of the espionage world releasing classified information as they see fit. In today’s hi-tech world, America needs to protect itself. The symbol of our strength and security is the majestic Bald Eagle, but the shaft of our enemy’s arrow is feathered with one of the eagle’s own plumes; we are giving our enemies the means for our own destruction.
The need for the NSA to conduct broad domestic and foreign surveillance and for FISA-approved wiretapping on narrowed-down, specific threat targets is needed. When the NSA screens trillions of electronic airway communications it is not invading anyone’s personal privacy or liberty, for everyone remains anonymous.
My outrageous Chinese outsourcing proposal underscores how legally and morally handcuffed the Intelligence Community (IC) is. They need more help, but not from China. Even though we’re searching for a balance between our personal freedoms and national security, I hope the courts continue to maintain a broad domestic warrantless surveillance program.
Thanks for allowing me to vent; I don’t care if Uncle Sam knows what toppings I order on my home delivered pizza…Beijing already does.
Robert Morton is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), enjoys writing about the U.S. Intelligence Community, and relishes traveling to the Florida Keys and Key West, the Bahamas and Caribbean. He combines both passions in his Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster series. Check out his latest spy thriller: MISSION OF VENGEANCE.