National Security Geek

Thoughts, analyses and rants from a national security geek

CyberCon 2014

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2014 International Engagement On Cyber:

Developing International Norms For A Safe, Stable & Predictable Cyber Environment

On March 4, 2014, the Georgetown University Institute for Law, Science and Global Security held the fourth annual International Engagement on Cyber conference. This gathering promoted dialogue among policymakers, academics, and key industry stakeholders from across the globe, and explores the worldwide community’s increasing interconnectivity in this domain.  The 2014 event included four expert panels on: (1) National Cyber Strategies, (2) Internet Governance, (3) National Security in Cyberspace in a Post-Snowden Era and (4) The Development of International Norms for Cyberspace.

Below you’ll find videos from the panel, along with a links to my questions.

National Cyber Strategies: Are We Making Progress? 

You can hear my question at the 1:18:00 mark.


Keynote Address from General Keith B. Alexander

You can hear my question at the 27:32 mark.


Internet Governance: Foreign Policy, National Security and the Ongoing Tension Between Sovereignty and the Multistakeholder Model

You can hear my question at the 45:20 mark.


National Security In Cyberspace in a Post-Snowden Era 

You can hear my question at the 51:15 mark.


Prospects for Progress in Developing International Cybersecurity Norms 


Closing Keynote, The Honorable Michael Chertoff 

You can hear my question at the 22:15 mark.


Written by The Mike Best

March 24th, 2014 at 8:58 am

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The Snowden Operation: How Snowden Enabled Russia’s Seizure Of Crimea

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Written by The Mike Best

March 22nd, 2014 at 10:42 pm

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The Myth of the Short War

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See my new article at AND Magazine.

Written by The Mike Best

March 16th, 2014 at 7:21 pm

Posted in Main

Torture and the Scottish Play

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Every industry has its quirks and superstitions, things that you eventually learn to accept if you work in that field.  Some folks who’ve worked in the White House over the years considered it bad juju to say the word ‘recession’.  Some ex-spooks who were NOCs still refuse to sit with their back to a door, although that has practical origins.  Some ERs have virtually banned the words “quiet” and “slow,” and G-d help you if you ever say the name of the Scottish Play around someone who’s spent time working in the theatre.

All of these examples are fine because they don’t prohibit real discussion.  No playhouse has ever failed to put on the Scottish Play because the cast and crew refused to say the play’s proper title, and economic policy has never been hampered by an avoidance of the word ‘recession’.  When avoiding a word crosses the line from refusing to tempt fate into refusing to discuss reality, there’s a problem.  I encountered this problem a few months ago, but recently it’s resurfaced in headlines about British intelligence.  As it turns out, in the Intelligence Community, you can’t say the word torture.

I discovered this at a meet and greet function around the time that Snowden had fled to Hong Kong.  Before the function began, I joined a conversation about debriefings and interrogations.  As I sang the praises of compliance officers to the analysts from CIA, and how with proper training a compliance officer can achieve the desired results without resorting to putting someone in isolation, water boarding or even the outright torture countries like North Korea resort to.  When I said the word torture, everyone stopped and stared.  If music had been playing, there would’ve been a record needle scratch.

One of the younger analysts from CIA whispered, “we don’t use the word… torture.

I stared back at him, expecting a variation of ‘what the US does isn’t torture, don’t use that word for it.’  I reassured them that “of course we don’t torture,” only to be harshly cut off.

“We don’t ever use that word.”

To be clear, this isn’t an official policy – it’s just’ a prohibitive taboo in some parts of the Intelligence Community.  It’s a dangerous taboo though, because it prevents and ends discussions.  The conversation we had been having ended at that moment, and the others spent the remaining time before the function discussing when and where they had met a DCI/DCIA.  What had been an exchange of information and a discussion about how to effectively protect the country was turned into an exercise in name dropping.

When it comes to national security, everything needs to be up for discussion.  Dismissing options out of hand is one thing, forbidding the topic from even being raised is ridiculous at best, and negligent at worst; because eventually a conversation will end or never begin because it’s “inappropriate” – and people will die.

Forbidden words are for children; it makes no more sense to forbid a word to people working in national security than it does to forbid a word to a poet.

Written by The Mike Best

December 20th, 2013 at 10:57 am

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Homeland Insecurity: America’s Hospitals

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Note:  Everything discussed here is what I was able to notice without looking.  I suspect that the problem extends well beyond what I noticed, and that someone actively looking with malicious intent would see even more than I did.

Two weeks ago, I had the misfortune of burning both my hands.  While most of the skin has now regrown, I’ve thought a lot about what I observed at the hospital and it’s left me with a very disconcerting conclusion: American hospitals are horribly vulnerable to a terrorist attack.  There are actually two local hospitals, and the other seems just as insecure.  I’ll be discussing the two hospitals as though they were one facility, though I will not mention any vulnerabilities if I have reason to believe that only one of the facilities suffers from that vulnerability.

First, a brief bit of background.  Attacks on civilian hospitals have been historically frowned upon, and seen as an inhuman violation of the Laws of Wars.  Aside from this, attacks on civilian hospitals are unlikely to benefit a traditional military.  There are no high profile targets there, it will only cause chaos and the loss of innocent lives; this combined with the backlash from the international community and the pointless expenditure of resources has been enough to prevent civilized military groups from attacking a civilian hospital.

Modern terrorists, especially al Qaida and others espousing a doctrine of global jihad, will feel little compunction from attacking a civilian hospital.  Hospital patients would be easy targets for an armed assault on a hospital, and can just as easily be used as hostages.  While most hospitals have evacuation plans, many of them are designed to a disaster or severe weather threat, and they will have trouble quickly removing injured and disabled people from the hospital – especially once an assault has begun.

Terrorist groups like al Qaida, who see it as their duty to kill every American and every ally or collaborator of America, would be thrilled with the high body count a hospital could provide – especially if it were a religious (i.e. Catholic) hospital.  They would also be happy that the local medical establishment is disrupted as new patients must be redirected to another facility, and while damages to the hospital are repaired after the assault – especially if expensive equipment, like MRI machines, were sabotaged.  Al Qaida would also be ecstatic if such an attack made people afraid to go to a hospital.  Depending on how much intelligence was gathered ahead of time, they may be able to steal medical waste, including infectious and radiological materials.

Let’s move beyond some of the reasons why a terrorist group would like to attack medical facilities, and focus on some of the vulnerabilities that the hospitals need to address ASAP.


The ‘Professional’ Security Staff Doesn’t Know Who Belongs and Who Doesn’t

My first hint that hospital security was below par came when a security guard convinced himself that I worked at the hospital.  When I parked my car in the Visitor’s Lot, he stopped me and repeatedly insisted that I couldn’t park there because I worked at the hospital.  After a few minutes of talking to him, I was able to finally convince him I didn’t work at the hospital.  The alarming part is that his confusion wasn’t the result of me looking like someone who did work at the hospital – it was that I was wearing a nice button up shirt and slacks, and I had a laptop/messenger bag/man purse that I keep my iPad and other essentials in.

If I had gone there wearing actual scrubs, or with a name badge that even slightly resembled the ones used by the hospital, or if I had stated that I was with the IT department, hospital administration or any number of other positions, I could have easily accessed most parts of the hospital.


The ‘Professional’ Medical Staff Are Unfamiliar With Their Own Hospital

When I needed tests to look for nerve damage, I went to the Neuro-Diagnostic Lab at the hospital.  I already had the suite number and information, when one of the hospital orderlies got onto the elevator with me and hit the button for the floor I was going to.  I asked him to confirm if that floor was where the NDL was, he gave me a confused look.  When I rephrased and asked about Neurology, he wrinkled his brow and said no – that wasn’t on that.  The only department on that floor was the one he worked in.  We stepped off the elevator and were immediately greeted by a giant sign, with arrows indicating Neuro in one direction, and the orderly’s department in the other.  He was completely surprised to discover that he was wrong, which is distressing since the staff in the NDL told me they had not been moved there anytime recently.

It’s a safe bet that the orderly was unfamiliar with the NDL staff and wouldn’t be able to tell whether they did or didn’t belong on that floor – meaning he would have no idea if he saw something out of place, and he’d be unable to alert security until it was too late.


The Ambulance Bay and Parking Garage Are Both Exceedingly Vulnerable To Car Bombs

Unfortunately, there may be little that can be done to protect ambulance bays from being attacked by a suicide car bomb, but there is no excuse for the parking garage to share that vulnerability.  There are no measures in place to prevent someone from parking their car in the garage, probably near the entrance/exist or a support beam, and then detonating explosives in the trunk from a safe distance.  This could be carried out as an attack unto itself, or if the terrorists are planning an assault on the hospital, the explosion outside acts as a convenient cue for the primary assault to begin while giving the emergency response teams something else to distract and divert them.


Computers Are Regularly Left Unattended, and Their USB Ports Are Exposed

An attached USB device could easily act as a key logger to gain access to the hospital’s database and files.  The right kind would be very difficult to notice, as the keyboard would plug into the key logger, which then plugs into the computer.  The computer doesn’t detect the key logger, which stores every bit of information the keyboard sends through it.  Almost universally, the computers are positioned so that the USB ports face away from the operator and towards a potential attacker.   It would be all too easy to attach a USB device without the operator being aware of it; and even easier with the computers which are left unattended in unlocked rooms.


The After-Hours Lockdown Is A Joke

I’ve never been able to stomach false security, ever since my High School announced that if anyone ever tried to attack the school after the students had all arrived, they’d be unable to get inside because the doors automatically locked.  The glass doors.  I considered that fake security, since anyone coming to harm students or teachers would not balk at throwing a rock through the locked glass door.  The hospitals do essentially the same thing.  After visiting hours end, the hospital goes into “lockdown” where the main entrances are all locked, so no one can get in except through the Urgent Care or Employee entrances.

This seems like an excellent idea, except that no one performed any sort of sweep to make sure that no one was hiding in the hospital, and waiting for most of the medical and security staff to leave.  The doors into Urgent Car (also made of glass) do have a security post just past them – the problem is that in the seven hours I spent waiting in Urgent Care, the security guard spent less than 20 minutes at his post.  He was nice enough to pull out the log and record books and then put them back in an unlocked drawer which could easily be seen from the waiting area.  Once someone has made it to Urgent Care, they’re an unguarded corridor away from the rest of the hospital.


Performing Reconnaissance and Gathering Intel Is Simple and Easy

Unfortunately, getting a good look at a hospital’s layout could not be simpler.  By posing as a visitor during the day, most of the hospital can be accessed or studied, making it easy to become familiar with the layout.  Getting a closer look only requires an injury severe enough to require admittance to Urgent Care, or the hospital itself.  With a simple gash on their arm or unknown animal bite provides plenty of access to look around, plant key loggers and spyware using the USB drives on computers.  The devices can later be recovered the same way.

Hospitals are also extremely vulnerable to Open Source Intelligence gathering.  General maps of the facilities are uploaded online, reducing the need for physical reconnaissance.  In an attempt to improve patient doctor relations, and to make it easier to find the right doctor, information about hospital personnel is available online – including names, pictures, specialties and backgrounds.  All of this information would make it easier for someone to bluff that they belong there until it’s time to launch the assault.


An Assumption

I assume that the hospitals are using detectors to alert them to an airborne chemical or biological contaminate.  They are designed to not be seen or obvious, but their use in hospitals is a necessity.  More than almost any non-governmental facility, hospitals must protect against a biological attack due to the number of people with weakened immune systems, and the presence of on-site infectious material.



Based on my observations, hospitals remain extremely vulnerable to terrorist or active shooter attacks.  Unless the shortcomings in security are addressed, then it is a matter of when and not if civilian hospitals will become targets of terrorists.  There are many ways that an attack could be launched on a hospital, this piece discusses only a few of them and in a general way; the goal was to point out specific security vulnerabilities and not compile a list of ways terrorists could decimate a hospital.

Written by The Mike Best

November 30th, 2013 at 12:14 pm

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Asimov’s Three Laws of Government

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Isaac Asimov famously coined the Three Laws of Robotics, which were used to govern their behavior and ensure that they were not a threat to humanity.  Asimov admitted that the rules applied to any sort of tool, and that while they were intuitive, no one had yet codified them in a concise form.  Since then, Asimov’s Laws have been used by science fiction writers and actual engineers when designing Artificial Intelligences.  While the focus has always been on robots, we must remember that Asimov’s Laws are a sorting algorithm that can be applied to any tool, including government.

The government’s sole function is to ensure national security; everything else necessarily falls under that banner.  Protecting the environment is essential for national security, as is the economy.  If the citizenry is uneducated or ill-educated, it harms national security.  Whether it is on the federal, state or local level, everyone of the government’s undertakings should contribute to national security by ensuring a free and prosperous society.

In adapting Asimov’s Laws to apply to government, a distinction is made between humans and citizens.  Humans, or rather humanity, only come into play in the Zeroth law – which supersedes all others.  In this model, the government and civil servants and beholden to their citizens.  Those who reject the laws and are found guilty after receiving due process, are by definition outlaws, and therefore not subjective to all the same rights and protections as the public citizenry; the government is not beholden to them as it is to citizens.


0.  A government may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

The “highest” of the laws, and the last to be written by Asimov, it is the most important one.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was defused because both the American and Russian leadership understood that the conflict would be devastating to humanity as a whole.  The inherent recognition of this law prevents world powers from truly attempting to conquer their neighbors, or from simply wiping out every other power.  This law raises governments and leaders above nationalism and self-interest to protect humanity from threats that range from al Qaida’s global jihad to the effects of climate change.

The Zeroth Law was written after the first three, and conceived of as a natural extension of the First Law.  Both the Zeroth and the First Law require the government to act in the best interests of humanity and the citizenry, even if circumstances require the government to do so in a way some of the citizenry finds undesirable.


1. A government may not injure a citizen or, through inaction, allow a citizen being to come to harm, except where this would conflict with the Zeroth Law.

One of the most commonly seen uses of government is the short-term protection of its citizens.  Police, Firefighters, Emergency Medical Services are all examples of this rule in action.  This rule, and to a lesser extent the Zeroth Rule, is the impetus for things like the Global War on Terror.

The First Law demands that citizens be protected and equipped to protect themselves.  It requires that citizens be educated, and that the government preserve the resources that they and future generations will need.


2. A government must obey the orders given to it by citizens, except where such orders would conflict with the Zeroth or First Law.

The government is beholden to its citizenry, and must responds to the demands of the public – except where doing so would endanger citizens or humanity.  The government would never acquiesce to a petition that demanded the abolishment of the military, because to do so would endanger the national security and the security of individual citizens.

The Second Law does not demand a democracy or even a republic, only a government that responds to how the citizens want the government to fulfill its duties.  The Second Law can be ‘vetoed’ by invoking the Zeroth or First Law, which require the government to act in the best interests of the public even if they don’t like it; a situation very comparable to a parent forcing a child to take a foul tasting medicine.


3. A government must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the Zeroth, First or Second Law.

In order to continue to protect its citizens and humanity, a government must continue to exist and function.  Under this law, the government can and must take steps to ensure that it continues to function.  This allows the government to act when it, but not its citizens or humanity as a whole, are under attack.  This law will become more and important as cyber warfare and cognitive warfare become more and more widely used, as these methods of warfare allow attacks directed at the government itself without physically threatening any citizen.

Written by The Mike Best

November 12th, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Clearing Up Misconceptions: Classified Doesn’t Mean Secret

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Secret keeping is one of the hardest elements of national security to explain to the public.  Some seem to think that secrets exist in a binary state, that it is either secret and thus hidden or not a secret and thus completely public.  Many people seem to think that if the secret is out, then the damage is done and it may as well be acknowledged.  Then there’s the WikiLeaks crowd, who seem bent on attacking secrecy itself.  Judging from some of the twitter reactions to the CIA’s declassifying information about the 1953 Iranian Coup, these attitudes are more common than ever.


This results from several misunderstandings about how intelligence, counterintelligence, politics and the news cycle all work – as well as the facts.


Fact #1:  The CIA Already Admitted Involvement

With headlines like the Independent’s “Sixty years on, CIA finally admits role in Iran coup” one would think that the CIA hadn’t admitted to involvement before, ignoring the documents that were leaked through the New York Times (a much more responsible choice for a leaker/”whistleblower” than running to Russia and working with the FSB).  Former CIA officers had previously acknowledged the Agency’s involvement, and the Agency’s lawyers had indirectly acknowledged it in various Freedom of Information lawsuits.  Former CIA officer had written books about the subject, and former DCI’s had mentioned it in their memoirs.  The CIA had even go so far as to publish excerpts that discussed the Agency’s involvement in the Iran, using the Center for Intelligence Studies and then uploaded those to CIA’s public website.

One could hardly say that CIA had never admitted its role before, despite the excitement of the internet and the main stream media.  This is, unfortunately, a regular phenomena of the modern world and at times a rather maddening one.  It also gives us headlines like “C.I.A. Acknowledges Area 51 Exists” from the New York Times – never mind that Area 51′s existence had long been acknowledged.  Satellite images have been available to those who know where and how to look, and the area has long been marked by a fence and strongly worded signs.  CIA even declassified a memo that mentioned Area 51 by name.  Which brings us to…


Fact #2: News isn’t new, it’s sensational

News organizations, generally speaking, don’t care if something is new or not – they only care if they can make it into a new headline that will grab eyeballs.  As a result, accuracy suffers.  You get headlines that say things like “finally admits” because it’s more interesting than “reveals more information” or “continues to acknowledge.”  The news organizations can’t be blame though – the viewers eat it up.  Bad news organizations are like bad governments and bad politicians – none of it is spontaneous or self-creating, it is entirely the doing of the public who vote at the election booth or the Nielsen box.


Fact #3:  Classified doesn’t mean secret

Something being known by foreign intelligence services or even the public is not a reason to declassify it.  Project Azorian may be the most famous example of this simple concept in action.  For years Project Azorian was known to the public as Project Jennifer, and many details of the project were known.  It was no secret that a specially built submarine, the Glomar Explorer, had been built by Howard Hughes’ company to help CIA retrieve a sunken Soviet sub.  The American press got wind of the story and published it, ensuring that the Soviet Union was fully aware of what had happened.  The cat was out of the bag, so to speak, but that didn’t mean it was time to turn the bag inside out.

Operational details are always paramount, whether they reveal a secret source or asset or whether they offer data which could be used to calculate the likelihood of a repeat project.  Details also have the potential to dispel alternate theories on what happened, or what the “true” goal of an operation might have been.  Releasing official details at the time of the press’ disclosure would have relieved the USSR of a counterintelligence headache from trying to decipher what “really” went on, or what else might have been done, as well as forced the Soviet Union to respond.  Which brings us to…


Fact #4: News is fuel for propaganda

Every news story is used by someone with an agenda to prove that they were right.  This is true for the Russian, American and Iranian governments, as well as “independent” groups like WikiLeaks or Alex Jone’s InfoWars.  The truth is, it would have been incredibly unwise for the US Government to release any new information (or comment at all) on the 1953 Iranian Coup even a month ago.  Why?  The Iranian election and the new government that assumed office at the beginning of the month.  Releasing the information would have been fuel for anti-American sentiment in the election or the outgoing government.

It wouldn’t have been hard for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to use CIA’s confirmation along with some fabricated evidence (or a mere accusation) that the recent elections had been tampered with.  Having declared this, Ahmadinejad could have refused to leave office, or at the very least use his remaining time to cause serious problems for Iran’s relationship with the United States.  It could easily have been an excuse to continue or accelerate Iran’s enrichment program – perhaps by trying to attain 1,000 tons of “yellow cake” Uranium – a threat that continues despite US sting operations.


Fact #5: Secrets don’t exist in a vacuum

When it comes to intelligence and counterintelligence, no amount of compartmentalization can keep secrets completely isolated.  On more than one occasion I have combined information published years or decades before with new data to identify former intelligence officers and assets in the employ of an intelligence service.  The sheer raw amount of information which has been declassified or leaked over time makes it impossible for the Declassification Reviews and Publication Review Boards to be sure that some new bit of information cannot be combined with something old to yield new results.  This is one of the reasons the why the US Government was reluctant to authenticate information that Manning provided to WikiLeaks, it removes doubt from the minds of the foreign intelligence services.

For instance, let’s say that Kim was a mid-level KGB officer who had been recruited by the United States in the 1960s, and remained active until the collapse of the Soviet Union several decades later.  Kim has been dead for over ten years, and has no surviving family who could be threatened or harassed by the KGB’s successor, the FSB.  A Mandatory Declassification Review has been requested with CIA so that new information can be revealed from the remaining volume of CIA’s history of the Bay of Pigs invasion.  With Kim dead, there’s no reason not to release information about the information he provided to CIA about the Soviet Union’s state of mind and reactions during the Cuban Missile Crisis and before and after the invasion, right?


As soon as that information is released, the Russian intelligence services begin an immediate review of Kim’s entire career.  Every subsequent operation he took part in is scrutinized, along with everything he did before then and everyone he worked with, recruited or was otherwise close to.  The same goes for the FIS of any other country that ever had dealings with Kim.  Each and every FIS will assume that all the data Kim had access to was compromised, and any assets he recruited for the United States are under immediate suspicion, creating a counterintelligence coup for the various FIS – in addition to the propaganda victory.

Written by The Mike Best

August 23rd, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Trolls in the Jester’s Court

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I try not to get involved in other people’s disputes.  It rarely does any good, and typically leads to drama.  Unfortunately sometimes it seeks me out, like it did last week.  Why?  I follow Rachel Marsden on Twitter.

For a month or two, Rachel Marsden had been following Th3 J35t3r (hereafter spelled The Jester, since I’m probably not “leet” enough to use his preferred 1337 spelling) and communicating with him in public tweets as well as private direct messages.  After awhile, she believed she had his true name and wrote a column about him.  In it, she said that she had spoken to him on the phone and that he had claimed his name was Mark Walker.

The Jester was not amused.

Rachel Marsden was not the first person to attach the name Mark Walker to the Jester.  One of the longer pieces that attach this name to him is “Jester’s Caught? The Curious Tale of The Hacker Who Never Hacked.”  Nor is that article the only one to impugn his hacking abilities.  The Jester responded by denying that was his true name in a lengthy blogpost where he “exposed” Rachel Marsden’s past.  Like most great exposes, he did this by talking about the things on her Wikipedia page.

And then the internet, or at least the Jester’s court, went insane; and that’s where I enter the story.

The Jester’s fans decided that not only did the entire internet absolutely have to know about Rachel’s past, that specifically her Twitter followers (including me) needed to be spammed with links to the Jester’s blogpost.  Their stated goal?  To get everyone to unfollow her, to get her fired and to get publications to stop carrying her column.  All the while, they accused her of stalking the Jester because she followed his Twitter account at the same time that he followed her.

When she blocked their accounts, because of large numbers of abusive and spammy messages being sent to her, they accused her of censoring their free speech – while trying to get companies to silence her.

Will anyone be surprised to learn that that account was specially created for to be spammy, and has been unused since then?  I assume that the fake account was created by one of the Jester’s followers and was not the Jester himself – but he certainly did nothing to discourage his followers from harassing Rachel Marsden or her followers. What he did do was imply that Rachel Marsden, who wouldn’t know what to do with a botnet even if she had one, was launching a massive attack against his blog.

The Jester Claiming To Be Hacked

Meanwhile, Rachel Marsden’s website actually was being hit by a DDoS attack:

They could have claimed good faith if the blog post had simply been sent out through Twitter normally, except the Jester posted her private messages, too.  I still wouldn’t believe it was, but perhaps they could have claimed good faith if they had only contacted the publications with relevant and reputable information, as if they would hire her without looking into her history, or even simply checking her Wikipedia page.

That’s not what they did – they attacked her server and harassed everyone that followed her on Twitter.  That’s not how a responsible adult behaves, and it’s not the kind of behavior an adult condones or remains silent about when it’s taken up on his behalf.

I have no idea if she was right about his identity or not, but in the end the only people she has to convince are her editors and the legal department.  If the Jester has a problem with the piece, he can contact the publications directly or go to court.  Anything else is immature, and his refusal to condemn the DDoS attack on her server and his followers harassment of her and her followers is tantamount to condoning actions which are borderline criminal.

That still leaves the question: if she was wrong about his true name, then why go to the trouble of writing such a long blog post about her?  And why have the Jester’s Court spam every one of her Twitter followers?


P.S.  If anyone decides to hack me over this post, congratulations.  I’m sure it wasn’t hard.  Luckily I have back-ups.

Written by The Mike Best

August 12th, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Interview about Egypt with former CIA Operations Officer Claire Lopez

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The interview was conducted by Katherine Humphries, originally for  Due to some issues with the domain, ownership, copyright and trademark laws, she is unable to post it there and asked me to publish the interview for her.  I present it here, unedited and in it’s entirety.  Information on Claire Lopez (a very nice woman) can be found at the bottom.


1) What exactly is going on in Egypt- we are aware of the coup that took place but what led up to that?

Morsi / MB govt proved inept at governance while Egyptian military, Gulf states observed societal unrest w/growing uneasiness. Egyptian population suffered greatly from possibly deliberately military-induced shortages of bread, gasoline, other commodities, as well as police protection on the street.

Previous income-earners for Egypt such as tourism and the oil/gas industry collapsed: tourism because of MB ideas about a shariah-compliant society plus violence in the Sinai – oil/gas more because of administrative shortcomings – plus also brigands, terrorists, anarchy in the Sinai


2) What are the roots of this coup?

Roots of the coup primarily rest with economic collapse. Egypt cannot feed itself and must import 50% of caloric needs; but with income down, foreign investment non-existent, few loans finalized under Morsi, foreign exchange reserves way down, Egypt neither had the $$ w/which to buy wheat, other foodstuffs it needs.

Unemployment is massive, illiteracy around 40%, malnutrition rampant, and starvation a real prospect. People could only take so much and poured into the streets. Military had to act to prevent total societal chaos and it seems that Gulf states like KSA, UAE also were behind military decision to move, likely with promises of financial aid, which indeed poured in immediately after the coup.


3) What are the implications of this coup in terms of democracy developing in this region?

It is foolish to speak of “democracy” for people still in thrall to Islam. The two are incompatible, if by “democracy” is meant a civil society, with freedoms of belief, speech, etc., independent judiciary, vibrant free press, universal equality before man-made law, pluralism, tolerance, etc….in other words, a culture of democracy, genuine democracy, cannot possibly exist among a people who remain enslaved by Islamic Law (shariah).

They must first establish the building blocks of a genuinely democratic, free society–which means rejection of, or at least moving away from shariah–before being permitted to engage in the mere mechanism of elections and voting. Otherwise, you’re always going to get the same result as we see in Gaza, Iran, and Morsi’s Egypt: pro-shariah-dominated government that is intolerant of modern, Western, liberal democratic norms, lethal to non-Muslim minorities, unequal for women, deadly for apostates, blasphemers, and homosexuals, and overall, anti-Israel, antisemitic, and anti-West.


4) What are the implications of this coup in terms of Islamists groups?

The term “Islamists” really has no meaning for me, but if you mean implications for pro-jihad, shariah-compliant Islamic organizations like al-Qa’eda, the Muslim Brotherhood, HAMAS, and Hizballah, then I would say that the Egyptian coup d’etat represents a serious, but temporary setback. Because the loyalty to, and yearning for, governance under Islamic Law, remains strong among so many in Egypt and across the region, once underlying economic issues are at least ameliorated somewhat, the focus will return to pressure for shariah government.

We need to watch what happens with the Egyptian constitution process. Guaranteed, the provision about shariah being the law of the land, or some such phrasing, will remain. That will be a disappointing, but inevitable, signal that this population in Egypt is not yet ready to join the modern world with a genuinely liberal democratic form of government.

It means that Egypt will continue to teeter-totter between authoritative military rule and the popular forces of the Muslim Brotherhood (and Salafis – but of course, in essence, the MB are Salafis by definition, too, so consider them more allies than rivals, except in the “political party” or individual rival politician sense).

As for the terms “Islamism” and “Islamist” that I see used so often, there is simply no doctrinal distinction that can be made with authority and citations between plain old ordinary “Islam” and what people like to call “Islamism.” Same for “Islamists” – Muslim faithful are called “Muslims” unless and until they advise otherwise that they do not follow the doctrine of their faith. I would do the same for Buddhists, Christians, Jews, or any other faith group.

My rule of thumb is that it is up to Muslims and Muslim groups themselves publicly to let the rest of us know where their beliefs lie. We can’t and shouldn’t try to do it for them.

If any of them wish to announce condemnation of authoritative doctrinal Islam on topics like death to apostates, Jew-hatred, or jihad, we should welcome and engage them. But if they do not, then it is only right to consider that they remain faithful Muslims, pro-jihad, pro-shariah, and antisemitic, as the faith demands.

It is perhaps for these few courageous minority Muslims, who choose not to follow what their faith demands that we need a new word – not for the hundreds of millions who do support their faith’s doctrine. We can call them “cultural Muslims” maybe, or “cafeteria-style Muslims” maybe, or “fallen away Muslims” – but there must be a better term that sounds more positive, as these are the ones we would most wish to prosper and multiply !


5) What role does the US,as a major ally of Egypt, play in this situation?

What are the implications of this coup regarding US-Egyptian relations? The US government is deeply infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and so, since Pres. Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech (the green light for the Islamic uprisings), has been playing a role that is deeply inimical to core US national security interests in the MENA region.

Instead of working to empower the MB in Egypt and elsewhere (along with al-Qa’eda), the US should reach out to the beleaguered minority voices of the disenfranchised, Christians in particular. We should publicly re-establish our unwavering support for Israel, continue to support Jordan (which is also under threat from a majority pro-MB population), and let Egyptians know that the USA stands for our founding principles – which include recognition of natural law, natural rights, individual liberty, gender and minority equality, and civil society under rule of man-made law.

The US Congress should pass a law that designates the MB a “hostile foreign power,” with admin policy to follow that withdraws all support for the MB wherever they are (domestically or abroad), eschews contact with MB leadership figures, and instead reaches out to those who will work toward genuinely democratic civil society.

If this means we must work for the time being with a military regime in Egypt, then so be it. During this time, the US should continue to use bilateral relations and assistance programs to urge them towards policies that will marginalize Islam, shariah, and the MB from public policy, relegating them to the private sphere only.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration is firmly supportive of Islamic rule and especially works to empower the MB, both in Egypt and across the region. There is not much hope this policy will change under current leadership.

This is deeply detrimental to US national security interests, that of our key ally in the region, Israel, and for those among the Egyptian people themselves who look to the US to champion liberal democracy (particularly the Copts).


Clare M. Lopez is a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on Middle East, national defense, WMD, and counterterrorism issues. Specific areas of expertise include Islam and Iran. Lopez began her career as an operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), serving domestically and abroad for 20 years in a variety of assignments, and acquiring extensive expertise in counterintelligence, counternarcotics, and counterproliferation issues with a career regional focus on the former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. She has served in or visited over two dozen nations worldwide, and speaks several languages, including Spanish, Bulgarian, French, German, and Russian, and currently is studying Farsi.

Now a private consultant, Lopez also serves as Vice President of the non-profit forum, The Intelligence Summit, and is a Professor at the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI Centre), where she teaches courses on the Iranian Intelligence Services, and the expanding influence of Jihad and Sharia in Europe and the U.S. She is affiliated on a consultant basis with DoD contractors that provide clandestine operations training to military intelligence personnel. Lopez was Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee, a Washington, DC think tank, from 2005-2006. She has served as a Senior Scientific Researcher at the Battelle Memorial Institute; a Senior Intelligence Analyst, Subject Matter Expert, and Program Manager at HawkEye Systems, LLC.; and previously produced Technical Threat Assessments for U.S. Embassies at the Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, where she worked as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for Chugach Systems Integration.

Lopez received a B.A. in Communications and French from Notre Dame College of Ohio (NDC) and an M.A. in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She completed Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia before declining a commission in order to join the CIA. Lopez is a member of the Board of Directors for the Institute of World Affairs and also serves on the Advisory Board for the Intelligence Analysis and Research program and as an occasional guest lecturer at her undergraduate alma mater, NDC. She has been a Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University and a guest lecturer on terrorism, national defense, international relations, and Iran there, at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, and the National Defense Intelligence College in Washington, D.C. Lopez is a regular contributor to print and broadcast media on subjects related to Iran, Islam, counterterrorism, and the Middle East and is the co-author of two published books on Iran.

Written by The Mike Best

August 10th, 2013 at 11:35 am

Game Theory and Politics Part II: The Nash Equilibrium

without comments

Previously, I discussed the end-game effect and how it is helping drive the United States and Russia towards Cold War II, and made brief mention of the Nash Equilibrium and promised to return to the subject.  Understanding the effect of the Nash Equilibrium is extremely useful for comprehending the dynamics of domestic and international politics, and why political parties slowly become more extreme and insular.

So what is a Nash Equilibrium?  We can define a Nash Equilibrium as an impasse in a game where no single player can unilaterally deviate from the equilibrium without suffering negative consequences, in some cases those negative consequences afflict the other players in addition to the player making the deviation.  For a quick and easy example, let’s go back to Mutually Assured Destruction.

Let’s say that the United States and Russia each have 10,000 nuclear warheads capable of launching against every major city in the world.  If either country launches even one of it’s missiles, they will be counter-attacked and presumably destroyed.  If either country were to disarm itself, it would be open to attack or invasion without a realistic threat of retaliation to act as deterrence.  Neither country can unilaterally use its weapons or dispose of those weapons without risking an attack.  Therefore even though both countries would be better off if both were to disarm, neither country is willing to do so first.

This is the basis of every Nash Equilibrium – an inability to do anything different or to change the circumstances without suffering repercussions, even if the change is for the better.

Nash Equilibrium can be designed intentionally, or arise accidentally.  The United Nations Security Council is a prime example of an intentional Nash Equilibrium.  The UNSC was designed so that not only could no single member unilaterally force a course of action onto the Council, but so that any member of the Council could unilaterally veto something the rest of the Council had voted for.  The UNSC was purposefully built this way so that every major power would join – one of the lessons from the League of Nations was that an incomplete membership list only limits their effectiveness.

Another example of the Nash Equilibrium can be seen in the duplicity of politicians when it comes to the Intelligence Community, a situation which is as infuriating for the IC as it is for the public.  The problem essentially arises from bad public relations, and the fact that Foreign Intelligence Services have undermined the United States IC in a decades long example of psychological and cognitive warfare.  While looking at this example, keep a few premises in mind:

  1. Most US politicians (correctly) believe the IC needs to be empowered to collect and analyze data through programs such as PRISM.
  2. The politicians also (correctly) believe that it is better to focus on stopping abuses of power rather than completely remove those powers, similar to how the law focuses on preventing and prosecuting hit-and-run incidents rather than preventing people from driving cars.
  3. The geopolitical landscape is grayer than ever, and identifying potential spies and terrorists is increasingly difficult.  The internet has created a globalized and decentralized communication system,
  4. Much of the public has no idea what the Intelligence Community actually does, and 8 percent irrationally believe they’re being actively investigated by the NSA.
  5. The public is naturally suspicious of anything done in secret, and not only suspects the worst – but assumes it.
  6. Leaked secrets never present information in a full and proper context.
  7. It doesn’t matter if the perceived/feared repercussions are real or not, the fact that the player believes they are is sufficient to alter their behavior.

The resulting situation, which we now find ourselves in, is an unfortunate example of a Nash Equilibrium.  Politicians cannot discuss or explain intelligence operations because they are classified.  The Intelligence Community cannot declassify operations because details about them will be used by the enemy to circumvent or exploit those operations, and because the public will immediately and automatically assume the worst.  The public will also demand full disclosure, insist that intelligence agencies be barred from investigating or collecting information on a variety of topics and from many different sources, and then be outraged when there’s a resulting intelligence failure.  Since a large portion of the public believes that any trust placed in the intelligence agencies will be immediately abused, they refuse to trust them at all.  When the intelligence community doesn’t provide full disclosure about every question, much of the public takes this as confirmation of their worst fears.

While some are merely opportunists, many politicians feel forced to take a false stance as a result of leaked information.  For instance, Information Gathering Program X is leaked, and the public reacts with shock and outrage.  The program is still classified, so politicians aren’t able to explain.  It would be political suicide for a politician to admit to knowing about such a program and then not comment on it or explain, and the lack of an immediate explanation infuriates the public, who then demand an immediate inquiry.  Politicians, wanting to be re-elected, feign this same outrage and demand an investigation into a program they were fully aware of or even participated in.

There is, thankfully, a way out.  The public and the intelligence community have to engage with each other more, and to genuinely try to hear what the other has to say.  Not long ago General Alexander went to the Blackhat Conference to speak to members of the hacker and computer security community.  Did the attendees listen?  Did they ask intelligence questions, or articulate their concerns?  Or did some of them take the opportunity to heckle the General, wasting an opportunity and discouraging future attempts to reach out?

It’s inevitable that the public will always want to know more than they’re being told about the Intelligence Community, but transparency is only discouraged when the IC tries to reach out and people respond by interrupting and heckling.  Until the public is actually willing to take that step with the intelligence community, they will lack both the information they want and more importantly, the context they require.