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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Reform, Not Resistance Is Needed To Restore The CIA's Reputation

The CIA statement on Wikileaks' recent document dump is less than optimal --  defensive and arrogant. For such an intellectually sophisticated organization, their communication strategy needs work.

Let's take it apart:

The first thing they say is that they won't comment on whether the documents are real. 
"We have no comment on the authenticity of purported intelligence documents released by Wikileaks or on the status of any investigation into the source of the documents." 
What they should say is that they're not allowed to comment. Saying that you "won't" do something implies choice, power and discretion. Saying you "can't" demonstrates that you are following the rule of law. 

Why does this matter? Because politicized, lawless behavior by elements of the CIA is at the root of the problem here.

The statement goes on to defend CIA's right to develop extremely sophisticated technology.
"CIA’s mission is to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries. It is CIA’s job to be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defense in protecting this country from enemies abroad. America deserves nothing less."
This is a really terrible thing to say to people whose trust you have betrayed. "You deserve nothing less" than the best protection we can offer, and so you should keep quiet.

Uh, no, not really. My television is spying on me!

Now they go on to do a typical government communication thing, which is to issue a very narrow, technically accurate denial that doesn't really speak to the issue.
"It is also important to note that CIA is legally prohibited from conducting electronic surveillance targeting individuals here at home, including our fellow Americans, and CIA does not do so."
The problem with a statement like this is that it insults people -- many of whom already assume that the CIA thinks they're stupid. The key words here are "CIA does not do so," with the modifying clause "electronic surveillance targeting individuals here at home, including our fellow Americans." Reading between the lines, I assume that somebody else is doing the surveillance here at home with technology that the CIA has developed, and that there is some sort of partnership or relationship that provides CIA or other intelligence agencies with access to the data collected.

Then we get a statement about the law provides for close review of CIA activities at all times:
"CIA’s activities are subject to rigorous oversight to ensure that they comply fully with U.S. law and the Constitution."
Ask any one of the hundreds of millions of Americans who have watched any Hollywood depiction of the CIA. Do they really believe that their activities are overseen fully? Do they even believe that the CIA knows what the CIA is doing at all times?

Highly, highly doubtful.

We end with this statement, which is troubling not because of the language they used, but because they don't take any responsibility for the problems they themselves have caused:
"The American public should be deeply troubled by any Wikileaks disclosure designed to damage the Intelligence Community’s ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries. Such disclosures not only jeopardize U.S. personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm."
I speak only for myself in my blogs, but I think it is safe to say this on behalf of other Americans, too: We appreciate our intelligence community, including the CIA:
  • We are grateful to have such smart and dedicated people defending us.
  • We know that our adversaries are just as smart and dedicated.
  • We appreciate that only the most sophisticated tools available can effectively outmaneuver our adversaries.
The problem however is that the intelligence community, or more specifically, elements within the intelligence community, have clearly overstepped their bounds.
  • They have developed technology that can be used to spy on us, even if we think our communications are private.
  • They have developed technology that can make it look like others are hacking our electoral system, and they didn't tell us.
  • They are vulnerable to politicization, and we don't understand the extent of how this has affected their mission.
There are many other concerns, too, particularly when it comes to oversight.

The CIA should engage the American public with a more respectful, accountable communication strategy that speaks to our real concerns.

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All opinions my own.