Archives for posts with tag: CIA


Parapsychology: The name given to the scientific study of paranormal phenomena …. Parapsychology largely replaced the earlier term “psychical research,” the change indicating a significant shift in emphasis and methodology.

Psi: Greek letter used in parapsychology to indicate psychic or paranormal phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP) or psychokinesis (PK).

Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology [1]

[This is Fred, and today we’re going to explore subjects that the public generally don’t know about, or forget, or don’t want to remember. You know, like leprosy in the U.S.[2] or the sterilization of undesirables in our glorious country[3], or the disturbing appearance of radiation in our milk supply back in the 1950’s[4]. [Why did we call it the ‘milk supply’? What we really meant was that there was a radioactive element in our cows, which they excreted with their milk so we could drink it down.]  But we all need a little humor now and then, so let’s look for something more cheerful.  Let’s review parapsychology, i.e., mental telepathy, precognition and remote viewing, and how our government experimented with them. It turns out we [the U.S.] did quite a bit of that back in the day. Perhaps we still do? And while we’re at it, let’s revisit Unidentified Flying Objects as well.

There’s a new book, Phenomena[5], that tells us a lot about government’s research in parapsychology up to about 1990. That’s later than I would have expected; frankly I thought the taxpayer had stopped paying for mind benders, etc. around 1970, when the Air Force also gave up chasing flying saucers. I realize the two are different. Flying saucers [i.e., UFOs} are unidentified objects people have reported in the sky. Generally the folks who make the reports are reliable, ordinary citizens but bewildered. They’ve seen something but they can’t say what it is.  The people who say they can read minds, foretell the future, or see things far away are different. You’re more likely to find them in show business, as mentalists [aka mind readers], stage magicians, stage hypnotists and the like. My point is not that you have to ignore such people. It’s just that you have to be very, very careful when you test them and their abilities. After all, another word for a magician is an illusionist.

Of course government research in the paranormal once was classified, but nothing is secret forever, especially today. In fact, if you go to the CIA Library [the electronic one], and ask for a list of things that have been declassified, you’ll probably find a bunch of stuff on all kinds of subjects, including flying saucers, remote action and, of course, remote viewing. I’ve pulled a couple of their documents to illustrate a point or two.]

Flying Saucers

G. Sallust wrote an interesting blog on this not too long ago.[6] His thesis was that the Air Force had burned up a lot of time chasing reported UFO sightings after-the-fact. You remember, probably, that the Air Force discontinued its program, called Project Blue Book, in 1970. Modern technology should allow us to dispense with all that chasing around. Today a better approach would be to go to the places where sightings are reported, mine those areas with sensors, send the reconnaissance drones to loiter there, train the satellite cameras on them as well, and wait to see what shows up. Photograph [excuse me, image] an actual visitor from outer space and the program justifies itself! Now that sounds like a plan!

But something I didn’t know was that the CIA also had a role in tracking and identifying UFOs and it didn’t end until around 1990. The CIA’s activity was outlined in an article written by Gerald Haines, head of the National Reconnaissance Office.[7] So far it’s the best official explanation I’ve found of why and how the UFO controversy became, well, so controversial. Haines said that “over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights … over the United States.” [8] Our Government didn’t want to discuss them at the time because the associated programs[9] were highly classified. If you take those flights into account the percentage “of what the Air Force considered to be unexplained UFO sightings fell to 5.9 percent in 1955 and to 4 percent in 1956.”[10]

Of course, the fact that 4% of sightings remained unexplained did not automatically make some of them the work of space aliens. Unexplained events prove nothing except the limits of our knowledge.  Only on TV can a lack of evidence be evidence of, say, a far-reaching conspiracy or cosmic forces arrayed against us. So if we want conspiracy in our lives, why not just blame the Devil for everything we don’t understand? People did that in the Middle Ages, and it worked, sort of, except for the occasional plague, witch hunt, pogrom or whatever. I guess today we’re supposed to know better. Or don’t our schools teach that anymore?

Oops! I got carried away there. That last paragraph was my opinion, not Mr. Haines’. But he did conclude his analysis with some pop psychology.Like the JFK assassination conspiracy theories,” he said, “the UFO issue probably will not go away soon, no matter what the Agency does or says. The belief that we are not alone in the universe is too emotionally appealing and the distrust of our government is too pervasive to make the issue amenable to traditional scientific studies [or] rational explanation and evidence.”[11]

So that’s the Government position as I understand it. If you’re not satisfied, perhaps you might consider G. Sallust’s suggestion that we investigate modern sightings [not the old ones of the 1950s and 1960s] with modern technology. Let’s lay our traps and see what shows up! And if we find drug dealers infiltrating the country, rather than space aliens, that would be good to know.


So now we get to the area covered by Phenomena, i.e. the use of psi[12] powers to view far-away places or things, or to affect things [or people] at a distance. Need I point out that this was supposed to be done using mental powers rather than physical means? No radio or TV transmissions or missile strikes were permitted! Generally the experiments we know about were conducted jointly with the Stanford Research Institute. SRI would design the experiments – the protocols, as it were – and provide the facilities, and the government would supply the people.

In the case of remote viewing,[13] for example, two researchers would randomly choose a sealed envelope from a group kept in a safe at SRI, leave the SRI office, open the envelope and go to the landmark identified.  Once there, and at a specified time, they would stare at the landmark [“survey the site,” the book says] and attempt to transmit their impressions back to SRI. Transmit to whom? Why, to a “sensitive” employed by the Government and sitting in a Faraday cage at SRI. A Faraday cage, by the way, is “an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields.”[14] Presumably the Faraday cage was there to prevent anybody from slipping a radio signal to the sensitive who was supposed to be reading minds.[15]

Many thought this and other work at CIA was interesting, and useful, but apparently CIA management didn’t fully agree. There’s an article from 1977 by Kenneth Kress, a CIA physicist[16] that pretty much encapsulates this view:

There is no fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of paranormal functioning, and the reproducibility remains poor. The research and experiments have successfully demonstrated abilities but have not explained them nor made them reproducible. Past and current support of parapsychology comes from applications-oriented intelligence and military agencies. The people managing such agencies demand quick and relevant results. The intelligence and military agencies, therefore, press for results before there is sufficient experimental reproducibility or understanding of the physical mechanisms[17]

Did you get all of that? Nobody really understands paranormal phenomena. Favorable results, when they appear, can’t be reproduced. “The research and experiments have successfully demonstrated abilities but have not explained them nor made them reproducible.” If results can’t be repeated, then why should other scientists believe them? Also CIA managers, the ones responsible for budgets, want to see results. Otherwise why should they continue to fund projects?

It sounds as though Dr. Kress might have been lobbying for some sort of “blue sky” funding, the kind of pure research that ARPA [now DARPA] finances. I wonder if today anyone over there sponsors parapsychology research? [18]

Nevertheless the work continued. In 1987, for example, SRI and JFK University experimented to see if a human could mentally affect a piezoelectric transducer “to produce an event above a preset feedback threshold.” This wasn’t a test of remote viewing. It was instead an attempt to directly affect the physical world with the mind alone.[19] While preliminary tests were encouraging, i.e., “sufficiently interesting to warrant further investigation,” the final tests produced “no evidence” of the desired effect. [20]


Of course, I haven’t looked at all of the government experiments out there, publically available or still classified, but so far I wouldn’t jump to any positive conclusions. Parapsychology is an area of research that by all appearances has led nowhere.

If any of you want to pursue either of these topics, UFOs or Psi Powers, by all means do so.

  • If you fancy the UFO/ space alien hypothesis, I believe the best new idea out there came from our own G. Sallust. Ask your Congressperson to support a program to provide continuous surveillance of areas that report high incidents of UFO sightings. Do the surveillance in real time, not only after something has happened. If we’re prepared, we can catch UFOs “in the act,” not after the fact.
  • If you want to follow up on parapsychology, then most likely someone – independent of the establishment – will have to do a survey of the science that’s been done so far. A lot of it is out in the public domain, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act. I would start with the STARGATE files maintained by the CIA, mostly because I know about them.[21] You’ll have to find the rest.

Good luck on all of that!


[1] See Melton, Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology (Gale Group, 2001) at Parapsychology, p. 1181, & Psi, p.1246.

[2]  See Health Resources and Services Administration, National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Program Caring and Curing Since 1894, available at .

[3] If you want to research this subject, start with the Wikipedia article on Eugenics in the U.S., at . That should lead you to lots of additional sources.

[4] I remember well the consternation about Strontium 90 in the 1950s but got lazy when I looked for a reference. The most useful one I could find, for free, is the one in Wikipedia, at , but it really doesn’t capture the mood of that time.

[5] See Jacobsen, Phenomena (Little Brown, 2017). Henceforth the book will be cited as Phenomena at __.

[6] See the blog of 2017/05/04, UFOs in New York, available at

[7] See, e.g., Haines, A Die-Hard Issue: CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90, available at  Page references will be identified as Haines at __.

[8] See Haines at 73.

[9] That is, the U-2 and SR-71 projects.

[10] See Haines at 73

[11] See Haines at 79.

[12] See n. 1.

[13] See Phenomena at Chapter Ten, Remote Viewing.

[14] See the Wikipedia entry on Faraday cages at .

[15] A reasonable precaution if you consider the early history of the field. In the 1950s, for example, a machinist who heard voices was found to be sane once the doctors involved discovered that the fillings in his teeth were covered with carborundum, which acted like a crystal receiver in the old crystal radio. Actually he was picking up WOR radio in New York City, not voices from the other side. See Phenomena at p. 35 – 36.

[16] See Phenomena at p. 167 -171.

[17] See Kress, Parapsychology in Intelligence: A Personal Review and Conclusions, appearing in Studies in Intelligence (Winter, 1977). This is a CIA internal publication, classified, but according to the CIA, the classification was lifted in 1996. You can verify that if you go online to the CIA Library, and search the Index of Declassified Articles, By Title. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find the article itself at the CIA [that’s probably my mistake], but there’s a copy of what seems to be the right thing on WordPress, at  And finally, if you want to see the blizzard of paperwork released by CIA in recent years under FOIA, go to the CIA Reading Room and search the “STARGATE” Collection. Yes, I said “STARGATE!”

[18] The DARPA website is at . Take a look for yourself. They’re quite open about many [most?] of their projects

[19] Whatever that means!

[20] See, e.g., Hubbard, et al., A Remote Action Experiment with a Piezoelectric Transducer (December 1987) (Approved for Release 2002/11/18, CIA-RDP96-00787R000300300001-7) and available from the aforementioned STARGATE file, at pp. 5, 16. “In conclusion, we found no evidence of an RA effect on a PZT.”

[21] See n. 17.


[This is G. Sallust, and today I’m doing a [hopefully] short post on health care, a subject that’s bedeviled our politics for years. More specifically, we’ll talk about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act[1], popularly known as Obamacare, passed in 2010. As you may know, we did a lengthy blog a while back detailing how that was done, and the rather clownish debate that accompanied the complex parliamentary procedures employed by both sides.[2]  As I recollect, the Republicans took the position that anyone who supported the bill probably was a Marxist, while the Democrats said that basically the Republicans just wanted to kill the poor. The “debate” was not a consensus-building exercise.]

As we all know Obamacare finally did pass, and thereafter Republicans in the Congress voted repeatedly to abolish it. None of these efforts got by President Obama because a President has the power to veto legislation, and it’s very hard for Congress to overcome one of those even when Conservatives wish it so. [3]  My take on President Trump is that he is more moderate on Obamacare than the far right wing of his party really likes. He’s willing to “repeal and replace” the program, not just do away with it. We’ll find out what that means when the Republican House and Senate produce legislation that they both agree to. If he signs it, that act will define his Administration’s policy.

Best Care in the World?

Back in 2009, 2010 one of the arguments against Obamacare was that we already had the best medical care in the world, so why tamper with it by regulating service and letting more people in? That would have been a good argument if it were true, but it wasn’t. In 2000 WHO [the World Health Organization] published a report that studied and ranked health system performance around the world.[4]   France was ranked # 1 in “Overall Health System Performance”; Germany, # 25; and the U.S., # 37.[5]

When WHO issued its 2010 report, in time for the great debate on healthcare here in the U.S., it had even more embarrassing facts for people who thought we were the greatest. [6] Just looking at the same 3 countries, France, Germany and us, it’s obvious that the people there live measurably longer than we do here. Our life spans are OK, I guess, but definitely we’re not # 1, ever. Take a look at these statistics from 2000 and 2008:

Life Expectancy at Birth in 2000, 2008, for France, Germany and the United States


  • CY 2000: men 75 years; women 83 years; average 79 years;
  • CY 2008: men 78 years; women, 85 years; average 81 years;


  • CY 2000: men 75 years; women 81 years; average 78 years;
  • CY 2008: men 77 years; women 83 years; average 80 years.

United States   

  • CY 2000: men 74 years; women 80 years; average 77 years;
  • CY 2008: men 76 years; women 81 years; average 78 years[7]

So did things get better in 2015? They did so marginally; but we were still last of the 3, and again men were dying sooner than women:

Life Expectancy at Birth in 2015 for France, Germany and the U.S.


  • CY 2015: men, 79.4 years; women, 85.4 years; average 82.4 years;


  • CY 2015: men, 78.7 years; women, 83.4 years; average 81.0 years;

United States

  • CY 2015: men, 76.9 years; women, 81.6 years; average 79.3 years. [8]

U.S. Spending

But in spite of our poor performance compared to France and Germany, we do lead everyone in one important area. We spend more on healthcare than anybody else in the world.  And how do I know that? Well, the CIA keeps track of that kind of thing. According to the CIA World Factbook[9],

  • The U.S. spent 17.1 % of its GDP on healthcare as of 2014
  • France spent 11.5 % of its GDP on healthcare as of 2014
  • Germany spent 11.3% of its GDP on healthcare as of 2014

So we lead the pack overall in spending, if not in results. After all, the spending numbers are expressed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product; our GDP is the largest in the world, at least for now; and we spend the highest percentage of GDP on healthcare, so we are, by definition, the big spenders of the planet. We just don’t get as much for our money as others, like the French seem to do. And costs here are going up. If you don’t believe that, take a look at your medical insurance premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Word is, they’ll rise again, unless the insurance companies drop their medical coverage altogether, or the Government steps in with a subsidy. Is this a great country, or what?

And by the way, current news is that the new president of France, Emmanuel Macron, is looking for ways to improve French health care.[10] He seems to think that the French system is a bit too expensive. Hopefully he won’t ask us for advice, or if he does so to be diplomatic, he won’t take it. Why would he want to ruin the better [and less expensive] French system by adopting our mistakes? It would be like sending American wine to France and expecting people there to like it.

Or perhaps he might decide to adopt the good parts of our system and forget the rest. If he does that, and can identify them for us, then perhaps we should take his advice, rather than vice-versa.  But actually I don’t think our economists, or politicians, would ever accept ideas from a foreigner that contradicted their own. We are the greatest, right?



[1] The official citation is Pub. Law 111–148, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 124 Stat. 119 – 1025 (March 23, 2010).

[2] See the blog of 09/19/2013, Health Care Again and Again, available at

[3] See U.S. Constitution, Article 1, §7. For an interesting article on the veto, see Cameron, The Presidential Veto, available at

[4] See WHO, The World Health Report 2000, available at

[5] Id. at p. 153 – 155.

[6] See WHO, World Health Statistics 2010, available at

[7] Id. at Mortality and Burden of Disease, p. 50 – 54.

[8]  By the way, for future reference you can download the most recent data from the WHO Global Observatory, at These numbers are taken from Annex B, Part I of the 2015 data.

[9] This is another Government document that’s not a secret, but this time it’s intentional. You can  find it at

[10] See The Lancet, Casassus, Macron’s vision for the French health system (13 May 2017), available at

[This is G again. I’m back, still working off the timeline of the Snowden affair that my friends prepared these last three weeks. Fred asked me to remind you that he wants to “open source” the Timeline, so he’ll consider any and all suggestions for improving it. He’s very opinionated, as you know, so he’s not guaranteeing he will accept all changes, but he promises to give them all a fair hearing. I expect that’s better than you might get anywhere else.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the NSC’s approach to collecting data about Americans, and compare it with the criteria set out in NSA’s “foundational authority” for spying, i.e., in Executive Order 12333.[1] Of course, that Order dates from 1981, but it’s still around[2], so it’s still “operative,” to use an old expression[3]. But is it being followed? Let’s take a look.]

Executive Order 12333.

This Order dates from the Reagan Administration. The people who wrote it were very careful to observe the Constitutional niceties. Nothing in the Order, they said, “shall be construed to authorize any activity in violation of the Constitution or statutes of the United States. [4]“ That’s an important statement, I think, because it says even the Intelligence Community must obey the rule of law. Media pundits, Hollywood script writers and others of similar ilk may not agree, but hey! That’s show business!

Assassination is prohibited[5] as a tool of intelligence, and human experiments are closely controlled. [6] One of these days we’ll look into the history of this; I’m sure there’s quite a story there. But that’s a tomorrow problem. Today we’ll just note that Intelligence agencies can’t break these rules or ask others to do so.[7] At least that’s what the Executive Order says.

Now let’s move on to our main topic, i.e., how and when does the U.S. Government spy on Americans?

Of course, by now we all know what the U.S. Constitution[8] says. The Fourth Amendment says our right “to be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …”[9] The Government must first get a warrant, based on “probable cause,” and describing the particulars of what it is looking for, before it can invade our personal space.

So how does that work when the Government’s after intelligence? Well, it’s not absolutely clear. The Intelligence Community needs information to protect us, and will pursue it in a “vigorous, innovative and responsible manner.”[10] But at the same time, its activities must be “consistent with the Constitution and applicable law and respectful of the principles upon which the United States was founded.[11]” Sounds like a conundrum, doesn’t it? A puzzle, a riddle, a problem to be solved?

Well, apparently there is a solution, or at least a process, that intelligence bureaucrats can invoke if they’re suspicious of a citizen.[12] If the suspect is in this country or abroad, the Government should:

  • Use the “least intrusive collection techniques feasible”[13]
  • Don’t use electronic surveillance, unconsented physical search, mail surveillance, physical surveillance or monitoring devices unless such techniques are regulated by the Head of the Agency involved and the regulations are approved by the Attorney General.[14]
  • In general, use the CIA for surveillance overseas, and the FBI to do the same job in the U.S.[15]

So, just looking at the four corners of Executive Order 12333, it seems our Government has, or had, a system carefully tuned to examine individual cases, determine the appropriate surveillance techniques, and apply them. Today, however, we seem to have developed a different, parallel system. We have the new, improved …

NSC/NSA Vacuum Cleaner

No doubt you all remember June 6, when The Guardian released the first of its articles on Edward

Snowden and the documents he purloined from the NSA.[16] It turns out the NSA has been collecting signals intelligence on a wholesale basis for some time now, and has accumulated a massive data base including, what a surprise, data on U.S. persons at home or abroad. Is this because the Government has probable cause to believe that many of us are a danger to our country? No, not really. The Government needs all of that data because someday, somewhere, a pattern may emerge from it that predicts terrorist activity of some sort at some place or another.

And how do I know that? Well, because the Director of National Intelligence said so. He said the data collected “is broad in scope” because “more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism-related communications.”[17] Acquiring lots of data in this manner “allows us [the Government] to make connections related to terrorist activities over time.[18]” QED. The Government gets all of this data because someday it might be useful.

Isn’t that a bit of an overreach? Of course, some terrorists are very dangerous; but we’ve had dangerous outlaws before in this country. Consider, for example, the case of John Dillinger. In 1933-1934 he and his associates robbed at least a dozen banks; raided police stations and federal arsenals for weapons; escaped from jail a couple of times (once with a wooden gun); vacationed in Florida; and killed a bunch of people, including bystanders and police.[19] Dillinger was killed in 1934 in a faceoff with agents of a newly minted federal agency, the FBI. Some say that without John Dillinger the modern FBI might not exist.

So how did the FBI do it? How did they catch John Dillinger? Did agents search the homes and offices of the innocent, intercept their mail, tap their phones, etc. and accumulate massive amounts of data in the hope that someday, some of it might give a clue as to Dillinger’s whereabouts? No. After all, the pesky old Fourth Amendment was supposed to protect the general public from hysterical intrusions by over-zealous police. They needed a warrant and “probable cause” to search, homes, papers, etc.

Instead the FBI relied on informants. Dillinger was caught because he was staying in a brothel in Chicago, and the head madam there gave him up. And there’s a lesson in that for the NSC. If you want to catch today’s Dillingers, the terrorists, check first with the hookers[20]. They know a lot more than you do about the criminal element.

[1] See Executive Order 12333. The Order was published in 1981, in the Reagan Administration, and still in effect. You can get it online from the Federal Register at Henceforth it will be cited as Executive Order 12333 at ___.

[2] Actually, according to Wikipedia it’s been amended and ‘strengthened” a couple of times. For their short article, go to Wikipedia at

[3] I’m referring to Ron Zeigler, President Nixon’s press secretary, who famously said: “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.” You can find the quote in Wikipedia. Just go to the website and search Ron Zeigler, or click here:

[4] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.8.

[5] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.11: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” Wikipedia says that this prohibition has been weakened a bit. For Wikipedia’s short article, go to

[6] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.10: “No agency within the Intelligence Community shall sponsor, contract for or conduct research on human subjects except in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.”

[7] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.12: “No agency of the Intelligence Community shall participate in or request any person to undertake activities forbidden by this Order.”

[8] For the version of the Constitution we use, go to Transcript of Constitution of the United States (1787), Art. II, Sec. 4 at You can download a copy from the Government Printing Office; just go to

[9] See U.S. Constitution, Amendment 4: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

[10] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.1.

[11] Id.

[12] The actual term used is “United States person.” See Executive Order 12333 at § 3.4(i).In this case, U.S. citizens also include permanent resident aliens, many corporations incorporated in the U.S., and unincorporated associations substantially composed of U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens.

[13] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.4.

[14] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.4.

[15] See Executive Order 12333 at § 2.4(a), (b) & (c).

[16] See the guardian, Greenwald, NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily (June 5, 2013) at ; the guardian, Greenwald, et al., The National Security Agency: surveillance giant with eyes on America (June 6, 2013) at ; See the guardian, Greenwald, et al., NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others (June 6, 2013), at

[17] See Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Clapper, DNI statement on Recent Unauthorized Disclosures of Classified Information (June 6, 2013), available as a pdf. from the Office of the DNI: go to

[18] Id.

[19] There’s a good history of John Dillinger in Wikipedia. Just go to the website and search John Dillinger, or click here:

[20] Apologies to the sociologists among you. I realize that the modern term for “hooker” is “sex worker.” I used the old terminology as a literary device.


[Note: The Timeline we published last week is proving useful (to us, at least) so we’re going to update it as circumstances dictate. If there is an update we’ll publish it as an Attachment to the newest blog rather than as a separate post. Once we figure out how to do it.]

[This is G. I’m back, armed with new ideas and more. This week I’m going to touch on an idea raised by the Guardian on July 6, i.e., that the NSA has developed a “worldwide, ubiquitous electronic surveillance apparatus.” The general idea is that NSA, operating through one or more domestic U.S. phone companies, partners with foreign telecoms, intercepts phone traffic on their networks, and directs copies, etc. of that traffic to NSA repositories.

The Guardian was a bit short on actual proof of this, but the notion is interesting; so I thought it might be useful to rummage around a bit to look for confirmation in the public record. As you know, we have no classified information here at Elemental Zoo Two.]

The NSA or its predecessors have been with us at least since World War I.[1] Back then the job of signals intelligence was to listen in on the other guy’s radio signals, break the code if there was one, and report the results. It was called traffic analysis and was highly effective between the wars and during WW II.[2] After that the U.S. consolidated its various signals intelligence activities under a joint Army-Navy Communications Intelligence Board and President Truman authorized the services to continue collaborating with the British on these matters.[3]

In 1947, of course, the old War Department was reorganized into the Department of Defense, the Air Force was added as a separate military service, and the Secretary of Defense became the only representative of the military in the President’s Cabinet.[4] The NSA, which reports directly to the Secretary of Defense, remains the sole agency for conducting signals intelligence.[5]

So how does the NSA operate? Well, first and foremost, it’s a component of DOD, which in turn is a member of the “Intelligence Community.”[6] And the Community has rules. In brief outline, the structure is:

  • The National Security Council. This is the ‘highest Executive Branch entity that provides review of, guidance for and direction to the conduct of all national foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and special activities …”[7]
  • The CIA. It has lots of duties; but the most relevant here are to  (i) “[f]ormulate policies concerning foreign intelligence and counterintelligence arrangements with foreign governments;” (ii) coordinate such relationships;[8] and to (iii) monitor the programs and as necessary, “conduct program and performance audits and evaluations.”[9]
  • The Secretary of Defense conducts signals intelligence activities as executive agent for the United States, “except as otherwise directed by the NSC.”[10] He also establishes and maintains “military intelligence relationships and military intelligence exchange programs with selected cooperative foreign defense establishments …”[11]
  • The NSA, of course, is the primary actor in this drama. It collects signals intelligence information for “national foreign intelligence purposes;”[12] conducts “foreign cryptologic liaison relationships;”[13]and provides any necessary “administrative and technical support” (including procurement) to perform these functions.[14]

So what do we really know? Well, nothing that directly proves The Guardian’s July 6 allegations, but at least we know something about the bureaucratic structure that would support a massive program to monitor communications in other countries.  That’s assuming, of course, that our Government actually follows its own rules, which isn’t always a sure thing.

The NSC is the capstone of the intelligence pyramid in this country. Presumably a program to spy on practically everybody overseas would not escape NSC’s attention. If it did, then probably its staff should be replaced with people who can see and understand what’s really going on. Also, the CIA is supposed to provide policy guidance for activities of this sort. If something’s going on, I wonder what CIA said and when they said it?

I suppose NSA is the obvious choice if our Government decides to spy on the world’s communications. After all, they and their predecessors have been in the SIGINT business since World War I, and currently are our Government’s designated experts in the field. But that doesn’t mean such a program exists. Right now it’s only a possibility, and a speculation.

And what about tomorrow? Classified documents keep popping up, and unnamed sources are blabbing to the media. Who knows where it will end? I don’t. For sure we don’t have any classified here, nor do we have confidential sources. So we’ll be the last to find out.

But on second thought, suppose there is a massive program of the sort described by The Guardian. If we’re co-opting foreign telecoms, I would think we’d do it with the cooperation of their local intelligence services. After all, NSA is supposed to liaise with them. So, what do they get in return from us? Money? Probably not, except in the most venal cases. How about, instead, access to the giant database we’re creating?

Are we in fact becoming a giant information utility available to the counterspies of the world? Are we making it easier for them to spy on their own people, and ours as well? Are we headed for a world where “every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open [?]”[15]

It’s an interesting thought, but surely our Government would never let it happen.

[1] See NSA, Howe, The Early History of NSA (no date) at This article will be cited as Howe at ___.

[2] See, e.g., Howe at 12: “Such results from traffic analysis alone surpassed Naval intelligence gained by other means and won support in the upper echelons of the U.S. Navy.”

[3] See Howe at 12, 13.

[4] See Howe at 13, 14. The current structure of DOD is spelled out in Title 10 of the United States Code. You can find it at Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, at Take a look at the Wikipedia entry for a history of DOD. Go to the Wikipedia website and search DOD or click here:

[5] See Executive Order 12333, at §§ 1.11(e), 1,12(b). The Order was published in 1981, in the Reagan Administration, and still in effect. You can get it online from the Federal Register at Henceforth it will be cited as Executive Order 12333 at ___.

[6] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.4. The “Community” is not specifically defined.

[7] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.2.

[8] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.5(e).

[9] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.5(p).

[10] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.11(e).

[11] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.11(i).

[12] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.12(b) (3).

[13] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.12(b) (12).

[14] See Executive Order 12333 at §1.12(b) (13).

[15] See Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (6th Edition 2004) at Jane Austin, p. 39, no. 10. The quote is from Northanger Abbey.


[This is Fred. G is out this week. After writing five blogs in a row, I guess he had antagonized enough people for the moment, including some us here at Elemental Zoo Two, that he felt entitled to a vacation. I’m not sure how he decides that kind of thing. Sometimes he seems to have a plan to antagonize; charts his progress each week; and leaves when the last ‘i’ is dotted and ‘t’ crossed. Other times he’s in a hurry, as though he got a call in the night, warning him to get out of town, to go somewhere, anywhere to cool off for a while. Perhaps that’s what happened last week. After all, G’s most recent blog wasn’t for everyone.]

Am I being paranoid? Who knows? It’s hard to know the difference, if any, between healthy paranoia and the true facts. Sometimes there is one, but we don’t find out about it for months or years. Take Benghazi, for example. Ever since the killings there Elemental Zoo has asked a simple question: Why would our ambassador, who knew that the area was dangerous and State Department security was inadequate, want to go there?[1] After all, he was stationed in Tripoli, which is quite far away.[2] Was it to see the famous Greek and Roman ruins? There are plenty in the area.[3]

Probably not. Today we have new leaks about the Benghazi situation. Of course, being leaks, they don’t come with a Government certification of accuracy. But if they did, would that make them more trustworthy? Think back a few weeks. Edward Snowden told us that the NSA had a super strong program to spy on pretty much everybody. The Administration and Congress denied it, and then called for his blood. The relevant Congress–people, who were supposed to be overseeing intelligence, were especially vehement. But as time marches on and Snowden’s documents are released, it looks like he understands his evidence, while the Government apologists don’t.

The most recent documents involve an NSA program called XKeyscore.[4] I read the article, and XKeyscore looks to be a data base that one can mine by typing search parameters into a series of windows, then authorizing the search. It’s part of what NSA calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI), and covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet.”[5] That includes phone conversations, emails and other internet activity. So much data is retrieved that it can be stored by XKeyscore for only 1 to 30 days. But “interesting” data can be offloaded to other data bases, and kept for much longer. What’s interesting? Well, whatever NSA says.

NSA’s training materials caution that warrants are required to access emails, etc. of U.S. citizens communicating within the U.S.; but XKeyscore doesn’t require proof of a warrant to do a search. It simply asks the operator to type in a “justification” that can be reviewed later. The NSA’s basic position is that none of their people would just “make up” that kind of information, but if anyone did, NSA would catch it in subsequent reviews. Recently they said they’ve caught a few, but not enough to be alarming.[6] To them, that is. And remember, they didn’t catch Edward Snowden when he worked for them.

Now that the story is out, NSA does not deny the basic facts of the matter: XKeyscore and other programs exist. So how about the State Department and Benghazi? As I mentioned, there are new disclosures about what happened there, but none of them are as well documented as Edward Snowden’s.

CNN reported on August 1 that, at the time of the riots and the killing of our ambassador, there were almost three dozen CIA operatives there in addition to the staff we’ve been told about. “Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground” the night of the Benghazi attack, and now the CIA “is going to great lengths” to ensure that there are no leaks about it.[7] What lengths? Well, how about monthly lie detector tests, false identities, and so forth?[8] And what were the CIA people doing in Benghazi? One report is that they were engaged in some sort of arms smuggling scheme.[9]

We’re not reporters here at Elemental Zoo Two; we just wait for the information to roll in, and try to analyze it. If we hear an unlikely press report we try to find corroboration before we believe (or disbelieve) it. Some stories are proved; others are unproved but interesting, because they might explain things that heretofore haven’t been; and still others are obvious fiction. The current Benghazi reports fall in the middle.

What do they explain? Well, for openers they show why our ambassador to Libya might have wanted to visit Benghazi. After all, the State Department and the CIA do work closely together from time to time. If our ambassador to a country knows that there is a major CIA operation in it, he might visit to help, or just to follow progress and report to Washington. Also, presumably he knew there were three dozen CIA operatives there, so he might have felt secure even though the general area was known to be dangerous.

Also, there was that curious disagreement that popped up between the Administration and Libya right after the Benghazi attacks. You remember, back then the Administration was spinning a story that the “riots” at Benghazi grew out of Muslim protests over an amateur film produced in California. But the President of Libya, who was visiting the U.S. at the time, absolutely disagreed. He said “It [the attack] was planned– definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who– who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their– since their arrival.”[10]

Why the difference of opinion? Who knew more about Benghazi? The State Department or the Libyans? Good question. But if foreigners had infiltrated Libya, and wanted to make a terrorist statement, it makes sense that they would go for a big, vulnerable target in a dangerous area, preferably far from the central government. Like, for instance, a CIA station in Benghazi. That would be an easier target, I think, than a better defended embassy in a more stable area, such as Libya’s capital. So given that hypothesis, how do we explain the death of our ambassador? Well, he may not have been the primary target. Perhaps he was just in the wrong place in the wrong time.

Of course, this is all just a heap of speculation. The best way to resolve these questions is to find some of the CIA people who CNN says were in Benghazi and interview them. If they exist, they can confirm or deny, and possibly explain what they were doing. I expect even now reporters are sniffing for them; there will be more news, one way or another.

And what about possible Government interference, hiding witnesses and so forth? A word of advice to the folks in the intelligence bureaucracies: It’s not the program that gets you in trouble, it’s the cover-up. You should know that by now.

This has been a great year for leaks. I learn more and more every day; but most of all, I’m reminded of something an old bureaucrat once told me: “Never say, ‘This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, and nothing can top it.’ In time there will be worse. You’re talking about human beings, who are monarchs of folly and very inventive. They have no limits.”

[1] See the Elemental Zoo blog of 10/18/2012, The Great Debate: Version 2.0, available at

[2] How far? About 405 miles as the crow flies. To verify that, go to

[4] You can find it in, Greenwald, XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’ at

[5] This is a quote from the article cited in note 4. My machine doesn’t show page numbers, so I can’t give you one.

[6] This is also from the article in note 4.

[7] The first report was on Jake Tapper’s show. See CNN, The Lead with Jake Tapper (5 PM, August 1, 2013) at

[8] See The Gateway Pundit, Hoft, BREAKING>>> GOP Rep: Obama WH Is Hiding Benghazi Survivors AND CHANGING THEIR NAMES (Video) (August 1, 2013) at  The included video, with Greta Van Susteren, is the most interesting part.

[9] See The Telegraph, McElroy, CIA ‘running arms smuggling team in Benghazi when consulate was attacked’ (o2 Aug. 2013) at

[10] See CBS, “Face the Nation” transcripts, September 16, 2012: Libyan Pres. Magariaf, Amb. Rice and Sen. McCain, available at;contentBody The quote is from President Magariaf.