The CIA Battled the Kremlin With Books and Movies

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency. Image:

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 2 May, 2015.

During the Cold War, Moscow’s Ministry of Culture was a master of censorship. The Kremlin’s cultural bulwark screened non-Russian films, suppressed literature and shaped the lives of Soviet artists.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also dabbled in the dark arts of cultural influence. Except it preferred the carrot to the stick.

Words matter. A society’s books and movies impact the world. Books, in particular were often internationally influential during the Cold War. Both the ministry and the agency understood this.

The CIA funded the production and distribution of individual literary projects. It made sure Russian-language copies of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago flooded into the Soviet Union. Further, the agency directed more comprehensive operations. » More

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Chinese and Russian Cyber Espionage: The Kaiser Would Be Jealous

Espionage Image: Alan/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 11 September, 2015.

After the OPM hack, there were suggestions that the Chinese might be building digital dossiers on every U.S. government official, or even on all Americans. More recent reports have the Russian and Chinese intelligence services exploiting personally identifiable information about Americans from security clearance databases, airline records, medical records and many other sources on a massive scale. The Los Angeles Times has reported that the head of the National Counterintelligence Executive has confirmed that foreign powers are doing these things. Other, anonymous sources told the Times that “at least one clandestine network of American engineers and scientists who provide technical assistance to U.S. undercover operatives … overseas has been compromised as a result.” It has even been suggested that the Russian and Chinese services are throwing data from the Ashley Madison breach into the mix. » More

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(W)Archives: Cooking the Books on the Islamic State and the Viet Cong

A Viet Cong guerilla fighter with an AK-47. Image: SSgt. Herman Kokojan/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 4 September, 2015.

According to recent press reports, the Pentagon’s Inspector General is investigating whether officials from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) have skewed intelligence assessments to show more progress in the fight against the Islamic State than the facts would justify. Allegedly, these politicized assessments have made their way to senior officials right up to the president.

We do not yet know the full truth but these are serious allegations; politicization is one of the most profoundly unethical acts that intelligence officers can engage in. If the charges are substantiated, this will not be the first time that the U.S. military has cooked the books on a war. In 1967, the U.S. Intelligence Community produced Special National Intelligence Estimate 14.3-67, “Capabilities of the Vietnamese Communists for Fighting in South Vietnam,” which is available at the CIA’s Freedom of Information Act website. The sordid story of this estimate encourages us to take a hard line on politicization. It also reminds us, however, that intelligence is an inherently uncertain business. » More

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Why Don’t Defense Contractors Do Cyber?

Cyber security – why are America’s big contractors departing the field? Image: Ivan David Gomez Arce/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Atlantic Council on 1 August, 2015.

Going on eight years now, Raytheon has been mounting a strategic campaign in cyber security. This past April, the company spent $1.7 billion on Austin-based Websense, the 13th cyber business it has purchased since October 2007 (Defense Mergers & Acquisitions Daily, 20 April 2015). In Forbes, defense industry booster Loren Thompson called the transaction “bold”—the value roughly matched that of the 12 preceding deals. That pattern suggests that Raytheon has been learning along the way how to build a successful business. More recent evidence was Raytheon’s selection this month as a finalist in DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge, in which some of the top teams in the US have been working to create self-healing code. As Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners wrote, that alone “suggests it’s doing something right,” whatever misgivings investors and their analysts may have had about Raytheon’s long-running strategy. » More

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Why Would the US Spy on its Allies? Because Everyone Does

People in Berlin protesting the NSA surveillance program. Image: Digitale Gesellschaft/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 24 June, 2015.

The spotlight must be an uncomfortable position for intelligence organisations that would far prefer to remain in the shadows. But since Edward Snowden fled the United States in the summer of 2013, there has been an almost constant drip-feed of stories concerning the operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). Yet the most recent scoop – originating from Wikileaks – has shown that we would do well to consider these kinds of “revelations” with a little greater care.

At its heart, the claim that the NSA spied on French presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Holland, effectively boils down to: “country A spied on country B”. As a piece of news, this surely sits alongside the Pope’s status as a Catholic. What else would we expect a national intelligence gathering agency to do? The fundamental purpose of such organisations is to seek out national advantage, in whatever field – whether it is political, economic, military, or otherwise. » More

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