Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mashable Reveals Secret US Sites?

Click here for related article [Mashable (L Franceschi-Bicchierai]

There was quite a hullabaloo when Mashable posted Google photos of US military bases and sites around the world -- some supposedly secret.  The author used materials readily available to the public, e.g.,  Military publications and Google Earth and Bing Maps, and compiled all the data and photos into one document/site created by Josh Begley.

Many Facebook denizens expressed outrage that Mashable would "...put our troops at risk" by publishing such sensitive information.  Why, you'd think it was a reprise of Fast Eddie Snowden's release of NSA secrets.

But, let's clarify

Josh Begley conducted what is known in the Intelligence Biz as OSINT, or Open Source Intelligence -- which is sort of a contradiction in terms.  It's a technique in which intelligence analysts use open sources [e.g., newspapers, magazines, journals, TV, and, oh yeah, the Internet] to pull together data to analyze and create intelligence from the assembled data by applying it to a designated target or classified collection effort. 

Technically, Intelligence is the product of "raw, unevaluated information",  classified and unclassified.

Back in the 1970s, the Intelligence Community was woefully out of touch with reality since it depended almost solely on classified materials to conduct analysis and operations -- omitting critical unclassified information collected by academics, journalists [not the posturing charlatans on the loose today], or private sector corporate analysts. 

When we created and directed a national military intelligence training program for the Army Reserves and National Guard, we included "OSINT" as part and parcel of the curriculum and in the command post exercises [CPX] to ensure that no critical -- but readily available -- data was overlooked.  Within two years, we had trained more than 100,000 intelligence personnel, most of whom subsequently registered exceptionally high scores on their proficiency tests -- well in excess of their Active Duty counterparts, leading to demands that we train Active Duty units as well.

Later, as an analyst at the Pentagon, we were condemned by the analyst community when we accurately called the 1979 military coup in El Salvador -- down to the hour - along with the complete identity of the incoming junta.  At the post-mortem gathering, we were accused of withholding classified information from The Community, which of course, was not the case.  After presenting all in attendance with copies of their own agency reports which we had used, we revealed our "secret sources", i.e., newspaper clippings, excerpts from trade journals, and commercial assessments -- all of which were available to the general public -- but ignored by the Intelligence Community since those data were not part of the "classified data base."

[Following a series of such analyses, we were designated by the Director of Central Intelligence as an "Exceptional Intelligence Analyst" - an award with a lucrative research budget and two year graduate fellowship.]

With that as background, our conclusion and astute analysis is that the bases Mashable revealed are no secret from the locals, or from those who might be a threat to the US.

Shh! It's a secret!
The US tends to not be terribly subtle in building its bases, to include hiring local contractors to build and supply them. The really secret bases are constructed by imported labor and constructed "secretly" so no one can notice -- except the locals, who distribute the information to anyone who will listen, to include foreign intelligence operatives astute enough to collect such information.  Our deployed intelligence officials insist on coordinating such enterprises with host country intelligence folk, some of whom pass that sensitive information to our enemies - for a fee.  [There are few secrets these days.]

In the US and overseas, you can usually figure out which buildings/areas are "secret" because the windows are blacked out, the area is surrounded by hurricane fences topped with barbed wire, and entrance/exits are guarded with gatehouses and armed guards, with white unmarked Crown Victoria Fords in the US, [or HumVees overseas, with grim looking drivers motoring endlessly around the area - trying to look both threatening as well as inconspicuous, to protect the secrecy of their enterprise.

So, please don't believe that revelations such as Mashable's, based on "Open Source" materials, endanger our facilities or our troops.

When we were with the CIA in Southeast Asia [SEA] during the 1970s, we learned of the construction of a new, "secret" military facility during a conversation with a Chinese merchant.  He provided plans, timetables, and all things sensitive, to include the costs and scope of the project -- six months in advance of the initiation of construction.  He advised the SEA Chinese merchant community was fully aware of the project and would be making an enormous profit from the enterprise.  In turn, all the locals were fully aware as well.  The only ones in the dark were the American intelligence and security personnel.

Until construction was actually underway, the Military declined to acknowledge the project.

[As an aside, the merchants were also aware of virtually every secret facility and operation in the subcontinent -- so, if a US government agency wouldn't tell us, we'd ask the Chinese merchants what was going on.]

So, we doubt local merchants are unaware of any of the facilities highlighted in the Mashable piece.

As part of our training program for the National Guard and Reserve, we included a concept, which later became doctrine, called Operational Security -- later shortened to OPSEC.

It was a common-sense procedure in which sensitive activities and installations were protected by not distributing sensitive information to a broad spectrum of folks who had no need to know.  Refined, it provided a low profile to facilities, programs, and operations by using a light, but plausible cover story -- but without attempting to cloak them with highly visible security procedures -- drawing attention to them.

Interestingly, a number of years later, the Army Intelligence and Security Command [INSCOM] developed an entire program, staffed with lots of colonels and GS-14s called OPSEC -- which created Military Security policy based on -- umm, common sense!