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US Government Releases DoD Report Critical of NSA

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the can-you-hear-me-now dept.

Communications 38

decora writes "Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project has posted a summary of the newly released DoD Inspector General report (PDF) on the NSA's Thinthread and Trailblazer programs. The DoD found that NSA 'disregarded solutions to urgent national security needs' and that 'TRAILBLAZER was poorly executed and overly expensive.' NSA contractors had a 'fear of management reprisal' for cooperating with the DoD audit. The FBI later raided the homes of several people involved with the report, and Thomas Drake faced Espionage Act charges for retaining information related to it. Those charges were dropped two weeks ago. Radack and the GAP represent Drake on whistleblower issues."

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Humans are human (4, Insightful)

mtrachtenberg (67780) | more than 3 years ago | (#36558206)

When human beings are offered the opportunity to work at secret agencies, on secret things, they will take advantage of the ability to keep their mistakes secret.

That is why secrecy in government is bad, and transparency in government is good. It doesn't take Einstein to understand this.

The United States government has poured billions (trillions?) into secrecy. That is bad.

To an extent... (2)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559242)

A totally open government is no government at all. Almost no decisions are not made out in the open, except for Rain Man. All we see is the result of decisions. Taking transparency to its logical conclusion, we'd bug every government employee and politician 24/7. Government would grind to a halt. I'm for open government, to a point. Regardless of what I want to know, there are things I don't want enemies of the state to know.

Secrecy isn't bad. Abuse is bad. Secrecy just makes it easier. But let's not put the cart before the horse. The problem is abuse, and that is solved by audits of even secret agents. One doesn't need to know what the secret program is if they know the grade of the report and the auditing and auditors are open to scrutiny. Companies regularly conduct blind audits for the advantages of being more objective and less subjective.

Re:To an extent... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36560502)

Suggesting secret agents as a solution to secrecy cover-ups would seem to indicate that secret agents can overcome secrecy therefore undoing secrecy. Also, does secrecy thus welcome secret agents?

Secret agents could not exist in an open ecosystem.

I will ask you to give me an example of something you don't want an enemy of the state to know. Nuclear launch codes? Don't have codes, have people.

War is based on deception, peace is based on openness.

Which state do you want?

Re:To an extent... (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 3 years ago | (#36564048)

Of course, now there is a wide range of things that once you know them, you become an enemy of the state...

Re:To an extent... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36566678)

A totally open government is no government at all. Almost no decisions are not made out in the open, except for Rain Man. All we see is the result of decisions. Taking transparency to its logical conclusion, we'd bug every government employee and politician 24/7. Government would grind to a halt.

If we can get the federal government down to the parts we can "all" agree on, then we win. Anything else is failure; indeed, it is fascism.

Re:To an extent... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36568604)

You say this as if it's a bad thing. Our form of government was kind of sort of designed to grind to a halt. That's the point. It was meant to be given only enough power to keep the peace, protect us from invasion, and so on, but was supposed to have so many innifienrcies that it would have a hard time turning on the people because it would be infighting amongst itself most of the time.

The problem with government is when it starts to get efficient. That's when it works like a well oiled machine AGAINST YOU. Secrecy helps that come about, hence why the checks and balances of our country are being thrown out the window. Through secrecy, they've pretty much created a dictatorship of the executive branch which doesn't answer to our representatives or even the judges that they, themselves appoint. Through secrecy, the separation of powers between different levels of government (federal, county, state, local) are all merged. That further erodes the protection we have in our form of government. Through secrecy, there is literally no possibility to have a country ruled by the will of the people. For all we know, they could be planning genocide for large numbers of Americans. It would be secret, and anyone who "blew the whistle" would be treated like an "enemy of the state", so you'd never know until they loaded you on the cattle car right next to your dissenting senator who also was unaware of the plan because of. . . government secrecy.

I say we bug all politicians, and even put cameras in the capital bathrooms. They COULD BE making deals while sitting on the crapper, and I WANNA KNOW ABOUT IT. Better safe than sorry. I say we broadcast their lives on national TV 24/7 on dedicated channels for our own entertainment and scrutiny. They chose to become politicians, after all. If they want a life of privacy, maybe becoming a cattle farmer or a grocery store clerk would be a wiser career choice.

Re:Humans are human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36559730)

Point well taken, secrecy among human beings is bad.
mtrachtenberg (67780)
(email not shown publicly)

Nah, just joking. In general, Gov't secrecy is not good, whether it's bad is another discussion.

Re:Humans are human (3, Informative)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#36561030)

When human beings are offered the opportunity to work at secret agencies, on secret things, they will take advantage of the ability to keep their mistakes secret.

That may be true, but in this case it was the workers at the secret agency who were the whistleblowers trying to uncover waste. The secrecy came from the political appointees above them. It was the President above those appointees who initiated the vendetta against the whistleblowers. The vendetta itself was performed by a different, non-secret agency. The people working at the agency tried to make the waste public, but it was the political overseers who for its own reasons continued to pour money into the program for years after the agency's own IG branded it a billion dollar boondoggle.

So, I'd say that in *this* case, at least, it wasn't the career bureaucrats that failed the American people. It was democracy itself that failed. We, the people deserved to get fleeced of ever dollar the frauds we elected took out of our hide, but letting those frauds use mafia tactics on the only responsible and honest people in the scenario is going too far.

Re:Humans are human (1)

Aighearach (97333) | more than 3 years ago | (#36561820)

It was the President above those appointees who initiated the vendetta against the whistleblowers.

That's like blaming the Baseball Commissioner for a corked bat. Trust me, the Commissioner was not told about the bat, and if he had been, he would have put a stop to it right away. There are just different interests. It is the middle managers that come up with this stuff, and hide it from the top, and wreck havoc on those below who say anything.

Re:Humans are human (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36564572)

The baseball commissioner is not responsible for a single corked bat. However, if corked bats run rampant, he IS responsible, especially if he instructs others to turn a blind eye, or worse, penalizes anyone who might expose the problem so that it can continue. He is also responsible if he fails to see the warning signs and so takes no corrective action. That's part of leadership.

The president COULD tell any part of the executive branch to take their lumps and move on rather than trying to nail whistle blowers to the wall. It seems he is doing the opposite.

Re:Humans are human (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#36569594)

That's like blaming the Baseball Commissioner for a corked bat. Trust me, the Commissioner was not told about the bat, and if he had been, he would have put a stop to it right away. There are just different interests. It is the middle managers that come up with this stuff, and hide it from the top, and wreck havoc on those below who say anything.

That may be the common case, but in *this* case the President ordered the investigation. It'd be more like the commissioner telling a manager to increase the swing speed of the batters on his team overnight. The only way to do that would be to tamper with the equipment.

In any case, the President isn't like the Commissioner of Baseball. The team owners and managers don't work for the Commssioner; it's the other way around.

How poorly (2)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 3 years ago | (#36558212)

How poorly executed and overly expensive does something have to be for the government to think that about it? :D

I suspect it's no worse than anything else right now and they're just trying to make it look like they didn't waste time and money on a useless investigation.

I mean, 'disregarded solutions' ... You mean, they didn't think they'd be the right direction to go? Isn't it part of their job to determine that kind of thing?

Re:How poorly (1)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 3 years ago | (#36558634)

DoD = teh suck

NSA = teh secret suck

When their powers combine, they become...

CAPTAIN SUPERSUCK!

Re:How poorly (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559104)

When their powers combine, they become...

CAPTAIN SUPERSUCK!

Oh, come now ... at that level, they'd be Generals and Admirals.

A mere captain doesn't have the authority to fuck things up on that scale. ;-)

Re:How poorly (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559414)

Good point. The senior military leadership of the DoD is uniformly 4-Star flag officers. And the Director of the NSA is a 3-Star flag officer (Lieutenant General, Vice Admiral). So "Captain" is a serious under-rank, even if you mean the Navy variant (O-6, just below the lowest General/Admiral rank).

Whoa! Was that a low-flying signals intercept I just heard whistling in over my head?

Re:How poorly (2)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 3 years ago | (#36558880)

How poorly executed and overly expensive does something have to be for the government to think that about it? :D

The vast amount of government operations as as efficient, if not more so, than private sector equivalents. Why do you think private enterprise is so afraid of govenrment competition? If government is so bad, then the health insurance industry should welcome the new healthcare law instead of spending millions/day to fitght it. If they can truly provide a better product at a lower price, what are they so afraid of? Now that is not to say that government doesn't have spectacular failures, but so does the private sector. Bears & Sterns, anyone? Lots of even large companies go belly uip and disappear. We (American consumers) pay for that - even if you don't see it. We pay for it through higher taxes that support unemployment, higher prices on mortgages and consumer loans to repay the money the banks lost, higher prices on goods to repay investors, and so on. We pay for it all; just in different ways. The main difference is that a government failure is trumpeted all over the place and tax payers get irate and a private failure is quietly swept under the rug leaving the investors holding the bag. No matter what we all pay for all failures.

Re:How poorly (2)

Bengie (1121981) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559262)

The problem with your example is it's healthcare. There is an incentive for healthcare, to no fix the problem, but prolong it. Situations where something is needed, but is a bad business investment, those need to be run by the government.

It really comes down to Health and Infrastructure should entirely be government, as they naturally cause abuse.

A lot of government institutions have the idea of "throw money at it and don't keep track of it", because there is no real reason to. All they need to do is vote in more taxes, which there is little people can seem to do about.

Re:How poorly (2)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559460)

It's not just healthcare. As you say, anything that doesn't have a profit motive. Clean drinking water. Sewage treatment. Roads. Basic fundamental research. Arts (real arts, not the crap from Hollywood). Public radio and TV. Public buildings. Public transportation. Lots of really good examples where the private industry doesn't do well.

Most government is accountable. It's just that people don't understand how accountable, and there is always some politician who will dig up one invoice and use it to tar the entire government. I'm not defending gov't waste; I'm simply saying that any large organization will have some waste.

Re:How poorly (1)

Magius_AR (198796) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559710)

There is an incentive for healthcare, to no fix the problem, but prolong it.

I just don't believe that. Can you honestly tell me that if a company invented and patented an exclusive miracle cure for say cancer or AIDs that they wouldn't become rich beyond the dreams of avarice? It might be _easier_ to develop maintenance drugs than cures, but to say there isn't any incentive to develop a cure is just foolhardy. It's just incredibly risky -- you have to put a ton of research into a longshot that may or may not pay off.

Re:How poorly (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36564620)

Sure, but given two equally promising research projects, one that cures cancer forever with just one pill and another that allows the patient to survive as long as treatment continues, which one do you suppose gets the fast track?

Which gets the research dollars, the patentable slightly better penis pill or the un-patentable new treatment protocol that doubles the cancer cure rate using generic drugs?

Re:How poorly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36559364)

The vast amount of government operations as as efficient, if not more so, than private sector equivalents. Why do you think private enterprise is so afraid of govenrment competition?

You have Widget Company A. I have Widget Company B. I'm allowed to have guns, and you aren't. I'm allowed to come by and take your assets anytime I want to subsidize my company. You aren't allowed to resist.

Which company do you think is going to win?

Re:How poorly (1)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559634)

I work for a publicly held corporation. We have no guns. We have no right to take anyone's assets. We don't have the ability to use eminent domain; we have to buy everything in the open market just like anyone else. We are required to let private companies compete with us. Anyone can set up a shop, and offer the same product, and we are required to help them. Customers can choose one or the other. Guess what? Almost no-one chooses the private companies. Most customers use us because we're cheaper except in rare circumstances. No, we get no tax subsidies. But our customers are our shareholders, so any profits we make have to be used to reduce the price of what we sell. We are prohibited by law from making a profit. Plus we don't pay millions for our CEO, and none of us get huge bonuses. We do pay our workers almost double what the private industry does, and we offer full benefits, and we still manage to be cheaper. Go figure.

And stop drinking that cool-aid. Government cannot do any of the things you imagine it can.

Re:How poorly (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#36560342)

Lemme guess: USPS?

You probably should carry guns, just in case any dogs attack you when you're delivering mail. Pepper spray might work too, but I prefer using guns on peoples' loose dogs so it doesn't have the opportunity to hurt someone else later. (Of course, you have to use judgment: if it's a chihuahua, just pet it on the head, or give it a small kick if it's trying to bite you with its cat-size mouth. If it's a pit bull or other large dangerous breed, shoot until it's dead.)

Re:How poorly (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36559852)

The vast amount of government operations [are] as efficient, if not more so, than private sector equivalents. Why do you think private enterprise is so afraid of [government] competition?

Anyone that refers to government operations as efficient must be a troll, but against my better judgement I'll comment anyway lol. Bureaucracy is practically the antonym of Efficiency. I think the real reason government agencies shouldn't compete with private enterprises is because it wouldn't be a level playing field. Government services are seemingly offered for "free" (or at a nominal charge) because they pay for the costs of providing the services indirectly through taxes instead. So when John Q. Public has the choice of getting something from the government for free (i.e. already paid for in taxes) or from a private company that has to charge him the actual cost, it's obvious which he will choose.

Re:How poorly (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#36560400)

Red herring. Government operations don't have to be funded by taxes. They can be set up as government-owned corporations that operate autonomously. The USPS and many publicly-owned utility companies are like this. They can't make a profit, they can't pay their CEO $200 million a year, and they have to be self-sufficient. Companies like this work great, because they're not constantly trying to "grow" or provide "shareholder value", as their mission is to provide an essential service at the best price possible with good quality.

For essential services, I think things would be better if everything like this were government-provided, but using autonomous companies. It's when you let these things get entangled in politics or operate out of the general treasury that it turns into a disaster.

Re:How poorly (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 3 years ago | (#36562928)

I figure that for all the flak "da gubmint" gets, there's an awful lot of nonsense in large private organizations that isn't seen in nearly the same light.

Transparency Important (5, Interesting)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 3 years ago | (#36558704)

Transparency in Government is important, but not always practical. Undercover operations, signals intelligence, military development or deployment, counterintelligence work, and plenty of other areas exist which should function with very limited transparency--but still with accountability. A culture that accepts lawbreaking and promotes covering the back of fellow officers (or soldiers) in any law enforcement community, is a massive problem for justice, because it actively works to prevent justice and it passively allows criminals to thrive. Whistleblowing to superiors or to the appropriate government agency about a superior's conduct should never be something that one should need to fear reprisal for.

If someone is an ass--whether a superior or reporting a superior, that can be noted. But they should never get fired for doing the right thing.

The problems with not having such a culture are massively magnified where there is no transparency. Where there are legitimate reasons for the lack of transparency, a culture which does not tolerate lawbreaking and which encourages reporting of it (ideally without entrapment) will go a long way toward making sure people stay on task. It's not just toleration of lawbreaking that lets people break the law--it's living around people where breaking the law is commonplace.

Re:Transparency Important (1)

StandardAI (1988770) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559180)

wish I could mod you +1

Re:Transparency Important (3, Interesting)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559290)

I suspect it's an impossible balance.

At some point it becomes corrupt and there's nothing that can be done short of "the people" kicking up such a stink that things are forced to be changed.

You can't control the culture, coruption is too useful and ever growing. Just look at any popular TV show/movie and how the "good guys" are presented and how taking short cuts is always a good thing...

Plus of course you get it from the top when you get someone like Nixon being elected President (it doesn't matter if you think someone else is worse, we have proof of Nixon's doings and hence he's the best example). Who are you going to blow the whistle too?

And of course Hoover's FBI were considered great buys by most people at the time.

Re:Transparency Important (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559342)

Absolutely correct. If things are bad at the NSA because of lack of transparency, just imaging how bad they are at DHS (Homeland Security). Or as I like to think of it, the Department of Homeland Pork.

Disregarded solutions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36558822)

I have to wonder if "disregarded solutions" is newspeak for declining to make use of evil-but-legal possibilities like torture. Then it's a critique along the lines of "the leadership is not cartoonishly evil. Corrective action required!"

A PDF from the DoD about the NSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36558836)

A PDF from the DoD about the NSA? Sounds like Stuxnet2 is finished and working its way into LulzSec/Anonymous. ;)

OMG (1)

return 42 (459012) | more than 3 years ago | (#36559666)

The U.S. government actually criticized itself in public? Invest in ice skates now, Lucifer will be buying millions of them.

all politics (1)

recharged95 (782975) | more than 3 years ago | (#36560418)

Looks like an audit report of any major corporation.... really.

Honestly, TB's TDP was mainly a contractor driven project.Contractors were managed as an integrated product team (IPT) [wikipedia.org] , which was a new concept to the agency in 2000, a carry over from 'its' successful use in DoD in the mid-90's. And over time, the IPT leds were changing hands almost every fiscal year due to the politics of business, and changing technology and hiding(hearsay?) of the issues. The latter is very important in large projects such as TB. The IRS's modernization project comes to mind.

One needs to realize that sure, there were huge cultural issues (still being worked as of 2011 last I heard), but the TB TDP/TThread programs were supposed to fix that and breakdown the silos of operations at the agency, which certain tech leads knew no way those silos could handle the brave new world of the Internet today. From that, technologies in fields of messaging, enterprise management, mining and such in 2001 were flaky, slow, and plain not reliable--BUT the TDP was to prove that the tech worked and get it running as a fully operational system. For instance, trying to use J2EE in 2001 was more of a receipt for disaster than it is today, or an high performance XML database? data standards? no such thing back then! A multi-tiered architecture was unheard of within tech ranks there.

But, the execs were convinced the tech worked as "advertised", the contractors wanted the business, but... the federal workers (analysts) wanted to evolve their silos instead since they were already in ops.

And guess what, the tech was just flat out flaky, and Internet traffic exploded (circa 2001-04). That allowed gave the old guard ammo to make the TDP looked like arse (gave it no "home"). The IPT solution? Throw more cash at it... hey that's an easy win for any contractor. Yes, there was a lack of gov't oversight due to many reasons, and then there's the congressional politics, but we've been here before (DoD GIG, B1 bomber, F15E, Space Shuttle, etc...)

So with the lack of information in this document, I suggest those to take it with a grain of salt. Just take it from a person that was there. Yes, transparency is good, but we're (actually) finding the same old problems... there's no quick answer here.

thanks for this. (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36562780)

that is very interesting information.

i am wondering, if it was a standard corporate audit report, then why did the IG complainers get raided by FBI years later? why was one person charged with the Espionage Act?

what is your view on everything that happened to these people? what did you think when you first heard about it?

thanks again

banana republic (1)

Jeek Elemental (976426) | more than 3 years ago | (#36562816)

lots of noise about "necessary secrecy" etc., the fact is US is a banana republic, albeit a fragmented one.
Greed is celebrated and cultivated from an early age, why is anyone surprised it leads to greedy people?

The choice for someone in whatever agency is to toil anonymously until death, with noone giving a flying fuck, or take the offer of directing funds to this or that company, in return for money and a life.

Two things... (1)

dfuess (72488) | more than 3 years ago | (#36567190)

Two things you can take to the bank: 1) If the classification system can be twisted to cover up government boondoggles or malfeasance it will be, 2) Any power given to the government will eventually be abused. The government is not your friend, hence, there is no substitute for vigilance and transparency.

correction (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#36573712)

Drake retained documents related to the IG report, (he was a source for it) not necessarily 'from it'.

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