TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 18

1. After the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, the world must push a political solution to the Ukraine crisis or risk it becoming much more dangerous.

By Dmitri Trenin at the Carnegie Moscow Center

2. We can’t disown the children at our border.

By Jim Gaines at the Reuters Great Debate

3. We should let failing arts organizations die.

By Devon Smith in Medium

4. Amazon Web Services deal with the CIA could revolutionize intelligence work.

By Frank Konkel in Government Executive

5. A Cold War lesson: Challenging the status quo in Iran as we did decades ago with the USSR.

By Nicholas Burns in the Boston Globe

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME foreign affairs

Don’t Be Fooled, Germany’s Outrage at U.S. Spying Is Just for Show

GERMANY-US-RUSSIA-INTELLIGENCE-NSA-PARLIAMENT
Activists wearing a mask of fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden (R) and of German Chancellor Angela Merkel take part in a demonstration in favor of an appearance by Snowden as a witness in German NSA hearings held in the German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, outside the Reichstag building in Berlin on May 8, 2014. ADAM BERRY—AFP/Getty Images

It's unlikely Germany didn't know what the U.S. was up to, and kicking out a local CIA chief is largely political theatrics for a German citizenry still fuming over last year's revelations of extensive NSA surveillance, says former CIA lawyer John Rizzo.

After serving more than three decades as a lawyer at the CIA, I retired from the Agency nearly five years ago. Since then, I’ve been like everyone else in the outside world—all I know about what the CIA is reportedly up to comes from the media. For someone who had been privy to the most sensitive national security secrets for so long, I’ve found my new existence at once liberating and frustrating. I no longer have to help manage the messy controversies in which the CIA seems to be constantly embroiled, but I also wonder whether all the spy “flaps” I read about now in the newspapers really tell the true, or at least the complete, story.

So it is with the latest crisis du jour, the German government’s announcement that it was expelling the alleged local CIA station chief in the wake of the Agency’s “recruitment” of maybe one or two Germans working inside the government in Berlin. Germany’s official reaction has been outrage and hurt – how could the U.S. do such a sneaky, underhanded thing like spying on one of its closest allies? Critics in both countries publicly fret that a crucial bilateral relationship may have suffered lasting harm. But amid all the ensuing sturm und drang, when I read the press accounts, my experience tells me that there’s more going on here than the headlines indicate.

First, make no mistake: a key U.S. ally booting an alleged CIA station chief out of a country with such orchestrated public fanfare is a big deal indeed. I can’t recall anything quite like it happening during my 34 years at Langley. I do remember a number of occasions when a friendly foreign government, for any number of reasons, including a botched or “blown” covert operation inside its borders, would make no bones about how much it disliked or distrusted a senior in-country CIA representative.

In the current case, the Germans could have expressed their ire through private back channels to Washington and our guy would likely be gone. But it would be handled discreetly, the way spy organizations on the same side deal with each other on something like this. That political leaders in Berlin chose to trumpet the expulsion from the rafters tells me that the target audience here was not the American government but rather a German citizenry still fuming over revelations dating from last year, courtesy of Edward Snowden, of extensive NSA surveillance activities there. But setting up the alleged local CIA chief as a bogeyman and publicity ploy heretofore has been a tactic employed by the U.S.’s adversaries, not its allies.

At the same time, there is an unmistakable “Captain Renault” quality to Berlin’s protestations of being “shocked, shocked” at what CIA was up to. The BND – the German equivalent of the CIA — is among the most sophisticated and coldly pragmatic intelligence organizations in the free world. Surely it has long assumed that other countries, including the U.S., were seeking to obtain secret inside information on Germany’s plans, intentions, motivations, etc. That’s what spy outfits have always done and are expected to do to each other, whether it be friend or foe. So take the German politicians’ laments for what they are: largely political theatrics. I bet the BND does; in fact, I suspect its career leadership is already quietly passing the word to its CIA counterparts that, “Hey, don’t pay any attention to the hoopla. We’re all professionals. Let’s forget about this and keep working together.”

Company Man jacket image

I have seen this phenomenon before when I was on the inside at the CIA for all those years. Like in the 1980s, when CIA was covertly arming the Contras in Nicaragua, to the publicly expressed consternation – but private encouragement and sometimes secret support – of U.S. allies around the world. Or in the early post-9/11 years, when leading politicians in many of the same countries took to the public airwaves to assail CIA terrorist interrogation techniques like waterboarding as illegal and barbaric, while at the same the spy organizations under their jurisdiction were quietly imploring the Agency to ignore the noise and keep the river of intelligence derived from those techniques flowing in their direction.

Sure, this all sounds cynical, but spies often have to have to maintain a healthy level of cynicism to do their jobs. So no one should blame our friends in Berlin for behaving the way they have. After all, it was my former employer that apparently violated one of the most cynical but enduring tenets in the espionage business: don’t get caught.

John Rizzo had a decorated career at the CIA, culminating with seven years as the Agency’s chief legal officer. Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA is his first book.

TIME U.S.-Germany spy scandal

Germany May Counter U.S. Spying With Typewriters

The use of typewriters instead of e-mail was adopted by Russia last year following similar claims of U.S espionage

+ READ ARTICLE

A leading German politician has suggested that typewriters will be used to write confidential documents, in the wake of the U.S. spying scandal.

Patrick Sensburg, head of the German parliament’s enquiry into NSA activity, said that email may soon become redundant, in an interview with the Morgenmagazin TV show Monday night.

Faced with the incredulity of the interviewer, Sensburg insisted that his announcement wasn’t a joke. He added that should German politicians adopt typewriters, they’ll be using manual, not electronic, models.

Sensburg said that ongoing U.S. monitoring of Germany necessitated the change in operation.

Berlin isn’t the first country to consider reverting to old-school technology. Germany follows in the footsteps of Russia, which reportedly took similar measures after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the Kremlin had been a target of NSA spying.

The Kremlin’s security agency spent 486,540 rubles, or around $14,162, on typewriters equipped with a unique typing pattern that allowed each document to be linked to a particular machine.

The scandal surrounding U.S. surveillance of Germany escalated last week after the top U.S. Intelligence official at the American Embassy in Berlin was ordered to leave Germany.

The CIA station chief’s exodus clipped on the heels of news reports earlier this month that a German intelligence official arrested on suspicion of spying had been working as a double agent for the U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Germany Sunday to play down tensions, calling the two nations “great friends.”

TIME National Security

CIA Celebrates Twitterversary and Addresses Tupac’s Whereabouts

And a request from Ellen Degeneres

The Central Intelligence Agency celebrated one full month on Twitter Monday. And so, to commemorate the occasion, the government agency decided to address five questions some of their followers had tweeted to them—including, do you know where Tupac is?

They also cannot help you get back into your Twitter account because they do not know your password. (Or, so they claim.)

And they addressed any possible hard feelings from Ellen Degeneres, who tweeted a month ago when the CIA first joined Twitter that she hoped they would follow her back.

The Tupac tweet had already garnered more than 20,000 retweets after roughly half an hour, but that’s nothing compared to their first tweet, which was retweeted over 300,000 times.

 

TIME intelligence

German Mistrust of the U.S. Deepens Amid Latest Spy Scandals

Angela, Merkel, German chancellor
German Chancellor Angela Merkel Ute Grabowsky—Photothek/Getty Images

Just as the outrage over U.S. surveillance in Germany was starting to die down, a fresh set of allegations sends their relations into another tailspin

The annual Fourth of July party this year did not go quite as the U.S. embassy in Berlin had planned. The event still gave the German political elites a chance to mingle with American diplomats, sample a hotdog and take home a box of donuts. But even as the band played the Star-Spangled Banner, some of the guests couldn’t stop grumbling about the spying habits of their hosts.

Just before presiding over the party on Friday, U.S. Ambassador John Emerson was called into the Foreign Office in Berlin to explain the latest case of alleged U.S. espionage against the German government. It wasn’t the first time. Since last fall, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel learned that the U.S. had been tapping her cell phone for years, U.S spying allegations have eroded decades of trust between Berlin and Washington. But the mess just keeps getting worse.

Last week alone saw two separate scandals involving U.S. espionage in Germany. The first one broke on Thursday, when German media reported that the U.S. National Security Agency, or NSA, has been spying on a German privacy advocate who works to protect Internet users from the snooping of … the NSA. The following day, July 4, a second scandal broke in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media, which reported that an employee of Germany’s foreign-intelligence service, the BND, had confessed to selling secrets to the U.S. government. New details of that case continued to emerge on Monday, with Reuters reporting that the CIA was involved in the spying operation that led to the man’s recruitment. But German officials have confirmed little about the investigation, saying only that a 31-year-old man was arrested July 2 on suspicion of spying for a foreign government.

So Chancellor Merkel, who is on a trip to China this week, was cautious when asked about the case on Monday. “If this is true, then I believe we are dealing with a very serious development,” she told a news conference in Beijing. “I would see this as a clear contradiction to what I understand as trusting cooperation of intelligence services as well as of partners.”

Not everyone in the German leadership has been so diplomatic. After their long experience living under the watch of their own secret police — first the Nazi gestapo and then the East German Stasi — the German public is particularly sensitive to issues of individual privacy. So they were especially alarmed last year when Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower, revealed how millions of German citizens, including Chancellor Merkel, had been caught up in the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs.

William Binney, another NSA whistle-blower, testified last week before the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the Snowden leaks in Germany, and his characterization of U.S. spying practices as “totalitarian” and “senseless” made headlines across the country. The latest set of spying allegations came out against this background, and the public reaction was summed up nicely over the weekend by German President Joachim Gauck, who said if the allegations are true, “It’s really time to say, ‘Enough already!’”

What makes the most recent scandal particularly galling is not the scale of the spying so much as its apparent clumsiness, says Sylke Tempel, the editor of a leading foreign-affairs journal in Berlin, Internationale Politik. The suspected double agent at the BND was apparently not even providing the U.S. any groundbreaking intelligence. According to the German media reports, he approached the U.S. embassy in Berlin offering a small stash of secret files, some of which were related to the German Parliament’s probe into the Snowden leaks. “They could have gotten that same information just from talking to German lawmakers,” says Tempel. Instead, the U.S. reportedly paid the man about $34,000 for his secrets.

Asked to respond to these accusations on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. would “work with the Germans to resolve the situation appropriately.” But he declined to say whether any of the claims were true. “What I can say, more generally, though, is the relationship that the United States has with Germany is incredibly important,” Earnest said.

But if the U.S. had wanted to repair some of the damage to that relationship, it could have informed the BND that one of its employees was hawking secrets, says Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, a think tank focusing on U.S.-German ties. “That would have been a huge help in rebuilding trust,” she says. “So I don’t know what our American friends were thinking. This is just awful incompetence.”

So far, the scandal doesn’t seem likely to cause any sudden rupture in relations, but the broader lack of trust is sure to eat away at Germany’s willingness to help the U.S. on a variety of issues. By the end of this year, the U.S. is hoping to sign a free-trade and investment deal with the E.U., where Germany has a decisive vote. In the Western standoff with Russia over Ukraine, the U.S. also needs to maintain solidarity across the Atlantic, and it could find support dwindling for new sanctions against Moscow if Germany turns away. “The spying just adds to the feeling of exasperation, disillusionment, fatigue with America,” says Tempel. “It becomes so much harder to defend the transatlantic relationship.”

That issue becomes more important — especially for younger German voters — as each new spying scandal breaks, and that has made it costlier for a German politician to tout the U.S. as a trusted friend and ally. “This is indicative of larger trust issues,” says Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund. “This isn’t something that just blows over.” Yet when the U.S. ambassador arrived on Friday to address the Fourth of July party, he made no mention of the scandals that all his guests were talking about. “We are a nation of forests and fields and farmlands,” Emerson assured them from the stage before the band began to play. “Of mountains high and deserts wide.” But to a growing part of the German electorate, the U.S. has come to feel a bit like a nation of spies.

TIME Congress

Edward Snowden and the NSA Can Both Be Right

Edward Snowden NSA
US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials via videoconference during a parliamentary hearing on improving the protection of whistleblowers, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 24, 2014. Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty Images

Two reports raise the possibility that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it

The yearlong debate over the leak of National Security Agency documents by former contractor Edward Snowden has divided the world into two camps. One sees Snowden as a patriotic public servant and believes the NSA programs he revealed are unjustified threats to civil liberties. The other sees Snowden as a traitor and views the NSA programs as necessary for national security.

Two reports this week raise a third possibility: that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it.

On July 1, the independent agency charged with overseeing U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism programs to ensure they don’t infringe on privacy and civil liberties found the core of the NSA’s Internet collection programs did neither. In a 196-page report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found both the NSA’s collection of Internet traffic from service providers, and the agency’s tapping of undersea cables, complied with the Constitution and Congress’s privacy protections for U.S. persons, and were therefore legal. It further found that the programs were valuable (two board members called them “extremely valuable”) for foreign intelligence and counterterrorism:

Presently, over a quarter of the NSA’s reports concerning international terrorism include information based in whole or in part on Section 702 collection.

On the other side of the equation, the PCLOB report comes less than a week after Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of the NSA, told the New York Times that while the damage done by Snowden was real, he did not believe “the sky is falling” as a result. Earlier in June, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Washington Post that “we think that a lot of what [Snowden] looked at, he couldn’t pull down,” and that “it doesn’t look like [Snowden] took as much” as first thought.

Taken together, the reports raise the possibility that the NSA programs continue to contribute to U.S. national security and that the damage done by Snowden’s leaks is offset by the public awareness of and debate about surveillance.

There are, of course, qualifiers to such a best-of-both-worlds view. For starters, the PCLOB report raised concerns about how the NSA, CIA and FBI search the data once it is collected from the Internet and recommended in some cases curtailing those searches. In January, the PCLOB found that the NSA’s telephone metadata records program was effectively illegal and should be ended. And no one can seriously look at the Snowden revelations without considering the possibility that they damaged national security. A large majority of security experts recently polled by National Journal believe the damage caused by the leaks is greater than the public value of Snowden’s revelations.

But the PCLOB said it had not seen any evidence of “bad faith or misconduct” in either the NSA’s Internet collection program or the telephone metadata program: for all the speculative fear of a dystopian future, no one has been maliciously targeted, and the programs haven’t been hijacked by a malevolent Nixonian seeking political advantage. At the same time, Snowden’s revelations have initiated a broad, bipartisan public debate over government surveillance, and he has advanced the idea that in the digital age, privacy is always in play (including the commercial collection and sale of data on virtually every household in the country, as the Federal Trade Commission recently reported).

This may all sound Panglossian, but it fits with the conclusions of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, scourge of secrecy, who believed there were many things that “should be made secret, but then released as soon as the immediate need has passed.” Standing at the threshold of the digital age in 1997, Moynihan declared:

In one direction we can reach out and touch the time when the leaders of the Soviet Union thought that the explosion at the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl could be kept secret from the rest of the world. In the other direction we can see a time — already upon us — when fourteen-year-old hackers in Australia or Newfoundland can make their way into the most sensitive areas of national security or international finance. The central concern of government in the future will not be information, but analysis. We need government agencies staffed with argumentative people who can live with ambiguity and look upon secrecy as a sign of insecurity.

At the least, the new reports raise the possibility that neither side in the continuing debate over Snowden’s revelations has the absolute high ground when it comes to the defense of the public good.

TIME Foreign Policy

Former Officials Knock U.S. Drone Program

Predator Drone
Maintenence personel check a Predator drone on March 7, 2013 in Sierra Vista, Arizona. John Moore—Getty Images

"A serious counterterrorism strategy needs to consider carefully… the potential unintended consequences of increased reliance on lethal UAVs"

A bipartisan group of former senior intelligence and military officials broadly criticized the Obama Administration’s program of targeted drone strikes Thursday and called for the U.S. to reassess the practice.

Their critique, in a report published Thursday by the Washington think tank Stimson Center, represents the latest challenge to the use of armed drones for targeted killings, days after courts forced the release a legal memo justifying the killing of alleged American terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in a strike in Yemen. The report warns that armed drones create a “slippery slope” that could lead to continual wars, as the relative low-risk associated with their use could encourage the U.S. to fly more missions.

Among other recommendations, the panel called for the U.S. to conduct a strategic cost-benefit analysis of the their use, provide greater transparency in the process, and shift the authority over the program away from the Central Intelligence Agency and to the military.

“We are concerned that the Obama administration’s heavy reliance on targeted killings as a pillar of US counterterrorism strategy rests on questionable assumptions, and risks increasing instability and escalating conflicts,” the report says. “While tactical strikes may have helped keep the homeland free of major terrorist attacks, existing evidence indicates that both Sunni and Shia Islamic extremist groups have grown in scope, lethality and influence in the broader area of operations in the Middle East.

The panel, which was jointly led by retired General John P. Abizaid, the former head of United States Central Command, and Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University, also called for President Barack Obama to create an independent commission to regularly review the use of lethal drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.

“A serious counterterrorism strategy needs to consider carefully… the potential unintended consequences of increased reliance on lethal UAVs,” the report says.

Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokesman, told the New York Timesahead of the report’s release to the public that the Administration would review the findings on the use of armed drones but added that the U.S. needs to preserve “the ability to continue those operations.

“The administration is exploring ways we can provide more information about the United States’ use of force in counterterrorism operations outside areas of active hostilities, including information that provides the American people with a better understanding of U.S. assessments of civilian casualties,” she told the Times.

TIME Congress

House Approves Amendment That Would Curb Spying on Americans

Proposed legislation would bar the NSA from secretly browsing search histories, emails and chat histories without warrants

The House of Representatives called for the imposition of new safeguards that would curtail the U.S. government’s wide-reaching ability to spy on American citizens with a striking bipartisan majority during a vote late on Thursday night.

The proposed curbs on the government’s domestic spying apparatus were included in an amendment attached to the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. The House approved the amendment by 293 votes to 123.

The legislation, if passed, will put an end to searches of “government databases for information pertaining to U.S. citizens, without a warrant” and prohibit the NSA from using budget it receives under the act to access “commercial tech products”— presumably computers, phones, phone networks and Internet-based services — through “back doors.”

House Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin, California legislator Zoe Lofgren and Kentucky’s Thomas Massie sponsored the amendment.

“By adopting this amendment, Congress can take a sure step toward shutting the back door on mass surveillance,” said the legislators in a joint statement. “Congress has an ongoing obligation to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and its surveillance authorities.”

However, not everyone in the House was supportive. House Judiciary chairman Bob Goodlatte asserted that curbs on surveillance would play in the hands of terrorists.

“This amendment would create a blind spot for the intelligence community tracking terrorists with direct connections to the U.S. homeland,” Goodlatte told Roll Call. “Such an impediment would put American lives at risk of another terrorist attack.”

TIME intelligence

CIA Planned To Make ‘Demon’ Osama Bin Laden Action Figure

Terrorists Osama bin-Laden
Osama bin-Laden was the founder of al-Qaeda, the militant Islamist organization that was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. Bin-Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011 by an American Special Forces unit in an operation ordered by President Obama. Getty Images

The CIA confirmed to the Washington Post that three prototypes of the action figure were created

The CIA started to make Osama bin Laden action figures that were intended to spook children and parents into turning against him, the Washington Post reports.

Citing “people familiar with the project,” the Post reports that in 2005 the CIA began developing bin Laden action figures with heat-dissolving material that would peel off and reveal a red-faced, demon-like bin Laden. A batch of the toys were manufactured in China, though exactly how many is a subject of dispute.

A spokesperson for the CIA told the Post that only three action figures were created as prototypes, and the agency decided against moving forward with the project. But a source told the Post that hundreds of toys were sent to Karachi in 2006.

See the Post‘s images of the terrifying toy here.

[Washington Post]

TIME video

‘My Father is an Assassin’: How a CIA Spy Told His Kids About His Job

They did not all respond well to the news.

+ READ ARTICLE

Jack Devine is 32 year veteran of the CIA, working on the operations side. He helped oust Allende from Chile; he gave the mujahedin the stingers with which they shot down the Russian helicopters. He trained with traitor Aldrich Ames. But in his new book Good Hunting, he also talks about being a family man, a father of six.

He developed a method for the delicate job of explaining to his kids what he really did. (Officially, he was “a diplomat”). He liked to have “the talk” in the U.S., to prevent unanticipated leakage, and he had to catch each kid at just the right age. But for his middle daughter, he didn’t get the timing quite right.

In the interview, which is available to subscribers here, Devine also talks about what spies do when they don’t agree with their mission, how they get people to betray their countries and the mishap he had with invisible ink. (HINT: it involves a receipt for a payoff.)

Here’s a longer version of Devine’s chat with Time.

 

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser