Profile: Keith Alexander
Keith Alexander was a participant or observer in the following events:
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba submits the final version of his report (see February 26, 2004) on the investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib by MPs. He concludes that military intelligence personnel played a part in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But due to the fact that his investigation was limited to the conduct of MPs (see January 19, 2004), he did not investigate military intelligence conduct. Another investigation (see August 25, 2004), however, is launched that will examine military intelligence’s role in the abuses. It will be conducted by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence. But the scope of this investigation is also limited from the outset, for two reasons. First, as a two-star general, he cannot hold any officer of his own rank or higher accountable. Second, Fay is appointed by Lt. Col. Ricardo S. Sanchez and therfore the scope of investigation is limited to the people under Sanchez’s command. [Newsweek, 6/7/2004] Additionally, Fay may be less inclined to report negatively on military intelligence personnel, since his superior, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Army Intelligence, has already stated that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was committed by “a group of undisciplined military police” who were acting on their own, and not upon instructions from military intelligence officers. [Truthout (.org), 5/14/2004]
Current and former National Security Agency (NSA) employees say that the agency often retaliates against whistleblowers by labeling them “delusional,” “paranoid,” or “psychotic.” They say such labeling protects powerful superiors who might be incriminated by potentially criminal evidence provided by such whistleblowers, and helps to keep employees in line through fear and intimidation. One NSA whistleblower, former intelligence analyst Russell Tice, is currently the victim of such agency allegations. Tice, along with three other former analysts, Diane Ring, Thomas Reinbold, and another analyst who wishes to remain anonymous, make the allegations of unfounded psychological labeling by the agency; their allegations are corroborated by a current NSA officer who also wishes to remain anonymous. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Identifying a Potential Spy - Tice, a former signals intelligence (SIGINT) officer, is the first NSA whistleblower to capture the media’s attention, when in 2004, the Pentagon investigated possible NSA retaliation against him. In 2001, Tice reported that a co-worker at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was possibly engaged in espionage for China, possibly connected to California Republican official and Chinese double agent Katrina Leung. [Democracy Now!, 1/3/2006; Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006] Tice says, “I saw all the classic signs” in the DIA employee. After transferring to the NSA in November 2002, he reported his concerns again, this time adding criticisms of incompetence for the FBI, who in Tice’s view failed to properly investigate his allegations. Instead, Tice was ordered by NSA Security to undergo psychiatric evaluation. He was labeled “paranoid” and “psychotic” by NSA forensic psychologist Dr. John Michael Schmidt; Tice lost his top-secret security clearance as a result. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Fired - He was fired from the NSA in 2005 after spending his last years at the agency pumping gas and working in an agency warehouse. “I reported my suspicion and got blown off,” he says. “I pushed the issue and that ticked them off, the fact that I questioned their almighty wisdom.” [Cox News Service, 5/5/2005] Tice again made news on January 10, 2006 (see January 10, 2006), when he admitted to being a source for the New York Times’s article about a secret NSA electronic surveillance program against American citizens, a program carried out in the name of combating terrrorism. [ABC News, 1/10/2006]
No Evidence of Mental Instability - As for Tice’s own psychological evaluation by Schmidt, according to three other clinical psychologists, there is “no evidence” of either of the disorders in Tice’s mental makeup. And another NSA psychologist pronounced Tice mentally sound in 2002, though having a “somewhat rigid approach to situations.” Tice is described by five retired NSA and intelligence officials as “congenial,” “enthusiastic,” and “a scholar of high intellectual rigor [with] sound judgment [and] unparalleled professionalism.” Tice says of the NSA’s attempts to smear whistleblowers with apparently baseless psychological allegations, “This nonsense has to stop. It’s like Soviet-era torture. These people are vicious and sadistic. They’re destroying the lives of good people, and defrauding the public of good analysts and linguists.” But it has been effective in cowing others who were, in Tice’s words, “too afraid or ashamed to come forward.” [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Further Allegations - Another former analyst, now employed by another federal agency and who only allows himself to be identified as “J,” describes similar targeting by the NSA. J is fluent in an unusually high number of languages, and is described by former colleagues as “brilliant” and possessed of “amazing” critical skills. “I believe the abuse is very widespread,” J says. “The targeted person suddenly is described as ‘not being a team player,’ as ‘disgruntled,’ and then they’re accused of all sorts of bizarre things. Soon they’re sent to the psych people.” J himself was targeted in September 1993 (see September 11, 1993) when he and other analysts concluded that the United States was being targeted by Islamic terrorists, and then again in early 2001 after predicting a terrorist attack using planes as weapons (see May 2001).
NSA Like the 'Gestapo' - A third whistleblower, a current NSA officer who refuses to be identified, confirms the allegations and says that baseless psychiatric allegations as a form of retaliation are “commonplace” at the agency. He says, “A lot of people who work there are going through the same thing. People live in fear here. They run it like some kind of Gestapo.” Those identified as “problems” are “yelled at, badgered and abused.…These are really good people, who start to be labeled crazy, but they’re telling the truth.” The official adds that the NSA often plants false evidence in personnel files as part of the intimidation campaign. Tice says the NSA maintains what he calls a “dirt database” of inconsequential but potentially embarrassing information on employees, gathered during routine clearance investigations and used as a form of leverage. The current officer says that an “underground network” has developed to discuss these issues. “It’s like the Nazis have taken over,” he says. [Cybercast News Service, 1/25/2006]
Personal Vendettas - Diane Ring is another former NSA official targeted by her superiors. Unlike Tice, a self-described conservative who believes President Bush should be impeached over the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program, Ring is a Bush supporter who believes the surveillance program is entirely proper. Ring, a former NSA computer scientist, says she was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations after coming into conflict with a colonel at the Pentagon. Ring is not a whistleblower per se like the others, but says she was targeted for retaliation because of a personal vendetta against her. The colonel “blew up” at Ring after she missed a meeting and explained that her branch chief had her working on a classified program that took priority over the meeting. Ring also was evaluated by Dr. Schmidt. When she complained about the apparent retaliation, her security clearance was, like Tice’s, revoked, and she was “red-badged,” or put on restricted access within the NSA offices. Ring says she received an excellent job evaluation just three months prior to the actions taken against her. She says her colleagues at the time were told not to talk to her, and she was restricted to working in a room filled with other red-badgers. She thinks she was isolated as part of an intentional campaign to force her to leave the agency. “They had these red-badgers spread out all over the place.” she recalls. “Some were sent to pump gas in the motor pool and chauffeur people around. In our room, some people brought sleeping bags in and slept all day long. Others read. I would think that would incense the taxpaying public.” Schmidt eventually reported that another doctor diagnosed Ring with a “personality disorder,” but Ring has a July 21, 2005 letter from that doctor, Lawrence Breslau, which reads in part, “On mental status examination including cognitive assessment she performs extremely well.” In the letter, Breslau says he never made such a diagnosis. She, like others in her position, went to the NSA Employee Assistance Service (EAS) for confidential counseling, but the current NSA officer says that though those sessions are supposed to be confidential, NSA officials can and do obtain “confidential” sessions for retaliatory purposes. “Their goal is to freak you out, to get inside your mind,” that officer says. Rice claims that NSA General Counsel Paul Caminos lied about her case before a judge, denying that he had sent an internal e-mail forbidding anyone from supporting Ring. Ring says she was “floored” by Caminos’s actions: “I served in Bosnia. We had mines going off all around us, all day long. That was nothing compared to this.” She is currently working on clearing her name with the NSA’s new director, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. Ring believes that the problem at NSA involves a small number of people, “The whole lot of them is corrupt though. There is zero integrity in the process. And zero accountability.”
'Psychiatric Abuse' 'Very Widespread' - Like his fellow whistleblowers, former NSA officer Thomas Reinbold says the practice of “psychiatric abuse” inside the NSA is “very widespread.” Reinbold, who recelved 26 commendations and awards during his career at the NSA, including a medal for the intelligence he provided during the 1991 Gulf War, says, “They call it ‘doing a mental’ on someone.” Such practices have a “chilling effect” on other potential whistleblowers: “They fear for their careers because they fear someone will write up bad [psychological] fitness reports on them.” Reinhold was labeled “paranoid” and “delusional” by Schmidt after he complained to an inspector general on February 25, 1994, that the federal government was guilty of contract tampering; Schmidt’s evaluation contradicts a psychological evaluation he conducted on Reinbold eight months before that found he was mentally sound. At the time, Reinbold worked as a contracting officer representative for the Naval Security Group (NAVSECGRU) in Virginia. Reinbold had his high-level security clearance revoked, and was escorted off the grounds by armed security officers. Reinbold says NSA officials fabricated evidence in his personnel file to force him out; that evidence included allegations that he was a danger to himself and others, and that he had said “if [he] was going down, [he] would take everyone with him.” In September 1995, an administrative hearing found that the revocation of Reinbold’s security clearance was unjustified and recommended restoring his clearance, but did not allow the damaging information to be removed from his personnel file. He later sued the agency, and then retired because of diabetes. “I gave 29 years of my life to the intelligence community,” he recalls. “They couldn’t get me out the door fast enough. There are very good people, getting screwed and going through hell.”
Helping Those Who Come After - Some of the whistleblowers hope to gain the assistance of politicians to help their cases. But Tice is less optimistic. “Our time is over,” Tice says he told Ring. “But we can make a difference for those who come behind us.” The five whistleblowers have the support of the whistleblower advocacy group Integrity International. Its founder and director, Dr. Don Soeken, himself a whistleblower while he was with the US Public Health Service in the 1970s, says, “When this retaliation first starts, there’s a tendency by bosses to use code words like ‘delusional,’ ‘paranoid’ and ‘disgruntled’. Then they use psychiatric exams to destroy them. They kill the messenger and hope the PR spin will be bought by the public.” Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project says that “psychiatric retaliation” is a knee-jerk reaction against whistleblowers: “It’s a classic way to implement the first rule of retaliation: shift the spotlight from the message to the messenger. We call it the ‘Smokescreen Syndrome.’” Superiors investigate and smear the whistleblower for anything from financial irregularities to family problems, sexual practices, bad driving records, or even failure to return library books, Devine says. “It’s a form of abuse of power.” The Whistleblower Protection Act was written to protect those like Tice, Ring, Reinbold, and Soeken, but, says Beth Daly of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the act has serious flaws. “You have to go through the inspector general or the director of the CIA to let them know if you’re going to Congress and what you’re going to disclose,” she says. “And inspector generals are notorious for revealing who whistleblowers are.”
Entity Tags: Paul Caminos, Project for Government Oversight, Naval Security Group, Russell Tice, Tom Devine, Thomas Reinbold, National Security Agency, US Public Health Service, Keith Alexander, Lawrence Breslau, Diane Ring, Defense Intelligence Agency, Beth Daly, Don Soeken, House National Security Subcommittee, Government Accountability Project, John Michael Schmidt, Integrity International, “J”
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Justice Department files a brief with the US District Court of Northern California asking that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)‘s lawsuit against AT&T (see January 31, 2006) be dismissed on the grounds that it would breach “state secrets” vital to “national security.” The Justice Department publicly announced its intentions of asking that the lawsuit be dismissed on those grounds two weeks ago (see April 28, 2006). EFF is suing AT&T for compromising its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s domestic surveillance program. The lawsuit is Hepting, et al v. AT&T, often shortened in the media to Hepting v. AT&T. The government submits a number of secret documents to Judge Vaughn Walker as evidence, along with a heavily redacted document submitted for public perusal. Other documents include affidavits from the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and the head of the NSA, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. Some observers believe that Walker, a conservative appointed to the bench by President George H.W. Bush, will quickly comply with the government’s request. However, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is working with EFF on the lawsuit (see Early January 2006), will later write, Vaughn is independent-minded and possessed of a “strong libertarian bent,” and will not be so prone to do the government’s bidding as some believe. [Klein, 2009, pp. 72-73] Walker’s first hearing on the brief will be held four days later (see May 17, 2006).
The Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and NSA Director Keith Alexander try to get a lawsuit dismissed that alleges the NSA illegally wiretapped a Saudi charitable organization (see February 28, 2006). The organization, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, is presenting a classified US document as proof of the illegal wiretapping.
Invoking 'State Secrets' Privilege - In late 2006, Negroponte and Alexander tell the presiding judge, US District Judge Garr King, that in order to defend itself, the government would have to disclose “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) that would expose US anti-terrorism efforts. This same argument will be reiterated in July 2007, when government lawyers say, “Whether plaintiffs were subjected to surveillance is a state secret, and information tending to confirm or deny that fact is privileged.” The judge will hear arguments for and against dismissing the case on August 15, 2007. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]
Judicial Examination - King, in Portland, Oregon, examined the document for himself, and read classified briefs supplied by the Justice Department. Upon reading the briefs, King met with government lawyers to discuss turning over yet more documents in discovery—a decision unlikely to have been taken had King not believed the evidence did not show that the Al Haramain plaintiffs were, in fact, monitored. And, under FISA, had the surveillance been lawful and court-ordered, King would have been legally constrained to dismiss the lawsuit, since according to that law, plaintiffs can only sue if no warrant was ever issued for the alleged surveillance. “If there was a FISA warrant, the whole case would have crumbled on the first day,” says plaintiff attorney Thomas Nelson, “It’s pretty obvious from the government’s conduct in the case, there was no warrant.”
'Inherent Authority' of President - Justice Department lawyers rely on the argument that the president has the inherent authority to order surveillance of suspected terrorists with or without warrants, and that to judge the president’s decision would reveal national secrets that would alert terrorists to government anti-terrorist actions, thereby mandating that this and other lawsuits be dismissed.
Consolidation of Lawsuits - An August 2006 court ruling ordering that the Al Haramain case be consolidated with 54 other NSA-related lawsuits, under US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, damaged the government’s argument that it cannot be sued in court. Walker has presided over the year-old class-action lawsuit brought before his court by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T for the telecom firm’s cooperation with the NSA program (see January 31, 2006); Walker ruled in July 2006 that the case would proceed, against government requests that it be thrown out because of national security requirements. Walker ruled that because the government had already admitted to the existence of the program, the state secrets privilege does not apply. (The Justice Department is appealing Walker’s decision.) As for Al Haramain, its lawyers want that case to be adjudicated separately, because the court has sufficient evidence to decide on the case without waiting for the appellate court decision. Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jon Eisenberg, tells Walker in February 2007, “You need only read the statutes to decide, ‘Does the president have the right to do this without a warrant?’” Walker has yet to rule on that request. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Thomas Nelson, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Jon Eisenberg, John Negroponte, AT&T, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Garr King, Keith Alexander, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010; Washington Post, 4/1/2010, pp. A04]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Asim Ghafoor, Anthony J. Coppolino, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), “Justice Department”, Barack Obama, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Suliman al-Buthe, Keith Alexander, Eric Holder, US Department of the Treasury, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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