In a rare public appearance, a senior intelligence official who has worked on the front lines of securing Defense Departments computer networks said it would be "almost immoral" for the DOD to focus on protecting itself and not apply that expertise to the commercial sector.
Speaking at a conference in Washington on Tuesday, Charles Berlin, the Director of the National Security Operations Center at the National Security Agency, said, "The mission of the Department of Defense" is not merely to protect the department. "It's to protect America."
"I've been on the ramparts pouring boiling oil on the attackers for years," Berlin said, referring to NSA's efforts to repel intrusions into DOD and military networks, which have been broadly successful. But he sounded frustrated that there weren't more ways for his agency to protect the country as a whole. "At the present time, we're unable to defend America," Berlin said.
The operations center that Berlin runs is the heart of the NSA's efforts to provide early warning about threats, including to information networks. Berlin said the NSA was looking for ways to take the skills it has developed in the government and "apply [them] to the private sector."
But many executives, as well as lawmakers and privacy advocates, are uneasy about the NSA, which is a military organization that spies on foreign countries and terrorists, taking on a larger role protecting private networks inside the United States.
Currently, the Homeland Security Department, a civilian agency, has the legal authority to provide companies with warnings about cyber attacks. But much of that intelligence comes from the NSA. The agency does not work directly with all American companies. And yet, it is undoubtedly the reservoir of expertise in government for how to defend networks from potentially devastating assaults. Of particular concern to the Obama administration are threats against critical infrastructure, such as public utilities and the financial sector networks, as well as industrial espionage by hackers in China.
"There needs to be a team effort" to protect private networks, Berlin said. He noted that the NSA had been invited to examine the networks of some companies and "found some appalling things" in how they were being run. For example, Berlin said he knew of US defense contractors doing business in China and Korea that had not taken relatively easy and practical steps to raise the defenses of their networks and protect proprietary information. That's troubling to the NSA since defense contractors have secret government information on their networks, which makes them a frequent target of cyber spies.
Berlin spoke at a conference sponsored by SAS, a business analytics software and services company.
You’d be forgiven for not believing it, but there was a time when seizing a reporter’s private e-mails and accusing him in court documents of possibly aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy for doing his job would have been unthinkable.
By now, we’re well acquainted with the Obama administration's unprecedented prosecutions of suspected leakers, and how that pursuit has ensnared journalists and jeopardized their ability to protect their sources’ identities. But this anti-leaking zeal didn’t begin in 2009 with the inauguration of Barack Obama.
The course was set in 2003, when an influential appeals court judge opined that journalists’ supposedly legal right not to reveal their sources, known as “reporters’ privilege,” was complete bunk. The privilege—or at least lawyers’ perception of it—was the constitutional cornerstone that backed up journalists’ pledges never to reveal the names of people who talked to them in confidence. But now that the legitimacy of the privilege was questioned, prosecutors were emboldened to acquire reporters’ confidential information using tactics they wouldn’t have dared try in a prior era.
In a piece for the magazine three years ago, I wrote about how federal prosecutors have flexed their legal muscles over the past decade, and how the undermining of the reporters’ privilege helps explain why the Obama administration is so keen to go after leakers and is willing to turn journalists into unwitting, and unwilling, tools of investigations. Here are the key moments in the timeline.
July 2003: Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit writes an opinion explaining why the court had ruled against a group of authors who refused to hand over tape recordings of interviews they’d done with a source. Unexpectedly, Posner argues that the landmark Supreme Court decision in Branzburg v. Hayes that supposedly established reporters’ privilege actually did no such thing.
Journalists don’t have an “absolute” privilege to protect their sources, Posner writes. Instead, courts need to “make sure” that a media subpoena “is reasonable in the circumstances. . . . We do not see why there need to be special criteria merely because the possessor of the documents or other evidence sought is a journalist.”
Posner lowers a gate separating the government and the press. And within a few years, federal prosecutors are climbing over it.
December 2003: US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, acting as a special prosecutor in the investigation of who may have leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame to news reporters, subpoenas five journalists to testify before a grand jury. Judith Miller of the New York Times refuses to comply and eventually spends 85 days in jail.
“Plamegate” becomes a watershed for the press, in large part because Miller fought the subpoena and lost. This becomes a precedent that weakens reporters’ assertion of privilege where the underlying leak, in this case identifying a clandestine CIA officer, might involve a crime. In retrospect, then-Times executive editor Bill Keller wonders whether the paper should have tried to strike a deal with prosecutors that would have prevented Miller from having to fight the subpoena and go to jail.
February 2006: The Justice Department investigates the source of a New York Times article that revealed a secret program of warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency. In testimony before a Senate panel, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is asked whether the administration had considered “any potential violation [by the newspaper] for publishing that information.” Gonzales replies, “Obviously our prosecutors are going to look to see all the laws that have been violated. And if the evidence is there, they’re going to prosecute those violations.”
This is the first time any administration official has hinted that the government might prosecute journalists under criminal law for reporting on national security information.
March 2006: A pair of FBI agents shows up at the Bethesda home of Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor and former investigative reporter for CNN. They demand that Feldstein hand over decades-old documents that he’d been researching for a book on investigative columnist Jack Anderson, who’d died a few months earlier. When Feldstein asks what crime the FBI was investigating, an agent replies, “Violations of the Espionage Act.”
The agents say they’re investigating a case involving two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who’d been indicted for receiving classified information. The FBI wants Feldstein to tell them the names of reporters who’d worked for Anderson and who held pro-Israel views and had pro-Israel sources.
Feldstein doesn’t hand over the documents or assist the FBI. He later writes that the agent’s actions “suggested that the bureau viewed reporters’ notes as the first stop in a criminal investigation rather than as a last step reluctantly taken only after all other avenues have failed.”
May 2006: A federal prosecutor subpoenas two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle who’d seen transcripts of confidential grand-jury testimony in an investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which produced performance-enhancing drugs for athletes. The reporters linked well-known players to steroid use, including players who publicly proclaimed that they’d never taken drugs. The government wanted to know who had violated the rules of grand-jury secrecy and shown court documents to the reporters.
The BALCO case tests the limits of internal guidelines that Justice Department lawyers are supposed to follow when subpoenaing members of the media. No national-security issue was at stake, nor was knowing who leaked the grand-jury information, which was a crime, necessary to establish the guilt or innocence of anyone involved in steroid use. The subpoenas were approved by Attorney General Gonzales.
Mark Corallo, the Justice Department spokesman under Gonzales’s predecessor, John Ashcroft, later says the prosecutors had broken the department’s rules. “This was an abuse of power,” Corallo tells the PBS news program Frontline. “. . . The government just did not meet the standards set by their own guidelines. . . . This one doesn’t even come close.”
The reporters, who had once been personally thanked by President George W. Bush, a former baseball team owner, for their public service journalism, ultimately avoid going to jail when their source identifies himself.
August 2006: A freelance videographer, Joshua Wolf, is sent to jail after he refuses to turn over video footage of a protest in San Francisco in which a police car was burned and an officer was injured. Wolf spends 226 days in prison. He is released when he finally agrees to turn over his uncut footage.
January 2008: The Justice Department subpoenas New York Times reporter James Risen, demanding to know the source of information for a chapter in his book, State of War, about a botched CIA operation against Iran. The government had been investigating the case for two years, and had considered trying to halt the book’s publication, in 2006. Risen resists the subpoena, which eventually expires at the end of the Bush administration.
February 2008: Newspaper reporter Toni Locy is held in contempt of court for refusing to identify her sources for a series of articles in USA Today. Locy had written in 2001 about Steven Hatfill, a virologist who was identified as a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks, allegations that later proved false. Hatfill sued the government for violating his privacy and subpoenaed several journalists to find out who in the government fingered him as a suspect.
The Justice Department, which is defending the US government in the civil suit, argues that Judge Reggie Walton “should reject this attempt at expanded discovery” and quash Hatfill’s subpoena. Walton disagrees, underscoring judges’ new willingness not to recognize the reporter’s privilege, even in non-criminal cases. He rules that for every day Locy refuses to testify, she must pay $5,000 in penalties out of her own pocket. The decision is stayed pending appeal, and a court eventually vacates the judge’s ruling, but only because Hatfill had settled his case with the government, rendering Locy’s testimony needless. The appeals court did not reach any decision about the reporters’ privilege.
April 2010: The Justice Department subpoenas New York Times reporter James Risen a second time. Judge Leonie Brinkema questions why the government needs a subpoena when there appears to be enough evidence of who the leaker is to secure an indictment. She requires prosecutors to get the sign-off of Attorney General Eric Holder. Risen continues to fight the subpoena, and eventually Brinkema limits the questions the government may ask him in court. Risen appeals to keep that decision in place. The case could end up in the Supreme Court.
May 2010: A federal judge authorizes a search warrant for the personal e-mails of Fox News reporter James Rosen in connection with the suspected leak of classified information about North Korea a year earlier. An FBI agent swears in an affidavit in support of the warrant that “there is probable cause to believe” that Rosen is violating a criminal law on disclosing “national defense information” by acting as “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” with a State Department official suspected of being his source. Rosen is reportedly not informed that the government wants to search his e-mails and has no opportunity to resist the warrant.
May 2013: The Justice Department informs the Associated Press that it had subpoenaed the phone records of several AP journalists. The records, obtained months earlier, include numbers dialed to and from phone lines in four AP offices, possibly implicating the communications of 100 journalists, over a period around two months. The Justice Department appears to be investigating an AP story on a successful CIA operation to thwart a bombing plot hatched in Yemen.
There have always been spies, but espionage is far from static. Like so many things, what drives a person to spy on the US on behalf of foreign interests changed drastically after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And these motivations appear to be changing again in the post-9/11 era.
Today, spies are more racially diverse and adept at using technology, but most of all, they're more idealistic than during the Cold War. That's among the findings of a 2008 study by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC), which published a series of reports analyzing what compels American citizens to spy on their own country.
In the 1980s, 74 percent of spies did it solely for money, the study found. But since then, the majority of Americans caught spying on America were not recruited by a shadowy foreign agency or in it for financial benefit. Of the 37 Americans caught spying inside the United States since 1990, only one was solely motivated by monetary gain, the study found.
This shift in motivation is likely the result of a marked demographic change in the spy population. The traditional Cold War spy was a younger, white male. Now, while still mostly male, the modern domestic spy is older, more educated, more likely to be married, more likely to be non-white, and more likely to be motivated by what the study calls "divided loyalty."
The study cites "divided loyalties," which it defines as "allegiance to a foreign country or cause in addition to or in preference of allegiance to the United States," as the most drastic and significant change in espionage motivation. Prior to 1990 it had been the sole motivation in only 20 percent of cases, but leaped to 57 percent after.
The study attributes this increase to globalization and changing immigration patterns. From 1947 to 1989, 80 percent of American spies caught working for foreign entities were native born. From 1990 to 2007, the number dropped to 65 percent with the remainder being naturalized citizens. More importantly, spies with cultural ties to other countries shot up from 10 percent before 1990 to 50 percent after.
One example is the case of John Joungwoong Yai, a businessman and naturalized American citizen of Korean descent, who for three years in the early 2000s sent unclassified information to North Korea and was plotting to obtain classified information before his arrest in 2003 for acting as an agent of a foreign power.
This demographic shift seems to be, in part, a response to the vacuum left by the Soviet Union and the repositioning of priorities for the War on Terror. As of 2007, Russia was the destination for only 15 percent of the information collected by the known domestic spies that PERSEREC studied. Asian counties, including China, and Latin American countries, especially Cuba, are collecting more now.
The number of known spies in the US peaked in 1985, but the 1980s were also the the peak of success for domestic counter-espionage. Only 60 percent of attempts by American spies to pass information, usually to the Soviet Union, were successful. The 1990s and early 2000s saw the success rate bounce back to 84 percent, almost matching the early Cold War. This increase may be due the shift toward better educated spies and the proliferation of costumers for American intelligence since the 1990s.
Let's play a game. Let's pretend that Ryan C. Fogle, the US diplomat whom the Russian government accuses of working for the CIA, actually is a CIA officer trying to recruit Russian spies. There are reasons to believe the story is not that simple. (Here's a good list of them.) But for the moment, imagine he was in Moscow on a secret mission to recruit a Russian government official.
How to explain, then, the bizarre assortment of paraphernalia he had on his person? His costume kit looks like what you'd wear to a Halloween party if you were dressing up as a spy. And there are items here that, at first glance, seem useless to a 21st-century master of espionage. What on earth could Fogle be doing with, among other things, two wigs, an old cell phone, a map, a compass, and a canister of pepper spray?
Actually, quite a lot. Let's take the items one at a time.
A) A pair of wigs
If Fogle were on his way to meet a recruit, he might presume he was being followed. So obviously he'd want to disguise his normal appearance. But to throw off his minders, he might change wigs in mid-course. "Disguises can be used at different times, going into the operational act or leaving it, so that you look different leaving it," said Peter Earnest, the executive director of the International Spy Museum and a former CIA officer. He adds, "The use of disguises didn’t go out with the end of the Cold War."
B) A printed map of Moscow
In the age of GPS-enabled smartphones, why would a CIA officer need to carry a map? Maybe because he doesn't want to be tracked on that GPS-enabled smartphone. Presuming Fogle was trying to evade electronic surveillance (and there are other indications that he was), and that he doesn't know every avenue and alley of Moscow by heart, he might need an old-fashioned assist from a street map. This might also explain the equally unexpected presence of C) a compass.
Another, arguably less likely reason for carrying these directional paraphernalia: to give them to his recruit, so he could get out of town without using a smartphone.
D) An old model cell phone, apparently a Nokia
Like the map and compass, the old-school phone seems anachronistic. But if Fogle's intention was to limit his exposure to electronic surveillance and geo-location tracking and still have a reliable means of communicating with people, he might look for an older phone that doesn't automatically ping its location. He might also have brought the phone to give to his recruit as a way of communicating with him in the future.
E) Blue "RFID Shield" pouch
Fogle had a plastic document sleeve bearing the logo of this company, which designs protective barriers for passports and other documents embedded with radio-frequency identification chips. The company claims that when a passport is surrounded by its shield, "the identity and biometric data stored on the RFID chip . . . will be kept safe from snooping."
But the company doesn't appear to have any clear blue plastic models, which is what Fogle was carrying. And whatever is inside the pouch appears to be wrapped in tinfoil. That's a pretty standard DIY RFID shield. All in all, this item looks puzzling, but it might also show that Fogle was taking yet another counter-surveillance measure.
F) Canister of pepper spray
It's a bit hard to tell from the photo, but this looks like a canister of pepper spray, a standard non-lethal tool for self-defense. If Fogle got into a tight spot with some Russian security forces and needed to disable them, he'd prefer to do so without committing murder. Yes, he's carrying G) a knife, but that strikes me as a tool of last resort. Also, the knife isn't very big. Nor is Fogle, for that matter. It'd be easier for him to temporarily blind an adversary and then run away than to attack him with a knife.
The other items in Fogle's kit seem pretty obvious. Money to pay the contact. Flashlight—it was dark outside. The Swiss Army knife looks attached to a keychain, maybe along with a fob.
We should remain skeptical about this whole operation, since the US has offered no explanation, and because the apprehension of Fogle looks staged and designed for public consumption.
"This has the earmarks of being a setup," said a former intelligence official, who was quick to add, "That's not to say the guy didn’t have that stuff on him and wasn't trying to recruit somebody." The spying business is still going strong well after the end of the Cold War. "No one should be shocked that there still is gambling going on in this casino," the former official said. "Russians in lots of other countries still go out of our way to spy on us, and we return the favor."
Ryan C. Fogle, the US government employee whom the Russian security service claims is a CIA officer, is merely the latest spy-posing-as-diplomat to be thrown out of the country. And plenty of his Russian colleagues have gotten the boot for spying in the West. Over the past decade, dozens of agents, intelligence officers, and embassy employees on all sides have been outed, arrested, and deported or imprisoned for espionage.
2001: After the arrest of FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen, the US declares six Russian diplomats persona non grata. Later, another 46 diplomats are ordered to leave the country, marking the largest spy deportation since President Ronald Reagan ordered out 55 Soviet agents in 1986.
2001: Russia arrests and later releases a US Fulbright scholar on drug charges and alleges that he was a spy in training.
2006: A Navy enlisted man, Ariel Weinmann, gave tomahawk missile information to the Russians in Vienna. He was later caught and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
2006: Canada arrests and deports an alleged Russian spy, who had been living as a Canadian with fake documents for a decade.
2007: The UK expels four Russian diplomats.
2010: Ten russian agents, dubbed the "illegals,” are arrested in the US, accused of trying to gather information on businesses and American policy.
2010: The UK and Russia exchange tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.
2012: Alexander Fishenko is arrested for selling hi-tech electronics to Russia.
2012: Retired Russian Col. Vladimir Lazar is convicted of spying and selling 7,000 maps to the Pentagon.
2012: Russia orders the US to end USAID operations in the country for meddling in internal affairs.
Nicholas Hunt contributed reporting.
Osama bin Laden may have met his fate at the hands of military men. But it's a lesser-known fact that, for more than a decade, many of the CIA officers who were tracking the terrorist leader were women. Indeed, for as long as the CIA has been in the business of finding the founder of al Qaeda, and eventually killing him, women have been leading much of the hunt. Some say it's work to which they're particularly well suited.
The CIA established a group devoted exclusively to gathering and analyzing intelligence on bin Laden, known as Alec Station, in 1996. Counterterrorism wasn't the high-stakes, career-advancing line of work that it would become after the 9/11 attacks. And the members of Alec Station, many of whom were women, took a professional risk by pigeon-holing themselves into a profession that didn't seem to have a future.
But this tight band of CIA officers, some of whom called themselves "the Sisterhood," had found a bit of refuge from the male-dominated culture of the agency, in which no woman has ever served as director. They also found a rare, and at the time maybe even unique kind of intelligence work, in which analysts--the traditionally desk-bound thinkers of the agency's Directorate of Intelligence--worked closely with those who ran spies and did the clandestine work of espionage in the field, the members of the agency's Directorate of Operations. Historically, those sides didn't mix much on a personal or professional level. But at Alec Station, analysts and operators worked together, and in fairly short order they realized that the man whom much of the CIA had written off as a feckless wannabe jihadist was poised to become extraordinarily dangerous.
The story of how the CIA first got onto bin Laden's trail, and how it ultimately pointed Navy SEALs to his physical address in Pakistan, is the subject of the new documentary Manhunt, premiering Wednesday night on HBO. Directed by Greg Barker (Sergio, Koran by Heart), it "stars" some of the former members of the Sisterhood and other CIA officers who joined in the hunt for bin Laden and his al Qaeda brethren before and after the 9/11 attacks. The film is based on the book Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--from 9/11 to Abbottabad, by journalist Peter Bergen, the author of four books on al Qaeda who produced bin Laden's first television interview, for CNN in 1997.
The film Manhunt is a work of broad ambition, so broad, and covering so many years, that after the first half hour, when we were still not very close to Abbottabad, I wondered how Barker would ever bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. (Even though we all know how this story ends.) But the film succeeds by turning the bin Laden story into a personal and intimate one, told entirely through the perspective of the people who actually tried to track him down.
Not every member of Alec Station is here, nor is everyone who played a central role in bin Laden's ultimate demise. But those who speak on camera do so without aliases or disguises, and in numbers that, as far as I can tell, is unprecedented for any work of film or television. If Manhunt weren't also an engrossing story, it would still be notable just for brining into the Klieg lights so many people who spent their lives in the shadows.
The film portrays intelligence work up close, with a particular emphasis on the role of women. Cindy Storer, a former CIA analyst, and Nada Bakos, a former CIA targeting officer who tracked al Qaeda in Iraq, demonstrate how to locate a terrorist using fragments of disjointed and often contradictory information. We watch them tack photos and bits of paper to a white board, connecting the items with colored lines. The picture doesn't come together as quickly as some of Carrie Mathison's jazz-fueled intel binges on "Homeland," but like that fictional representation, real-life analysis is tedious, frequently maddening, and often unproductive. But when it pays off, it does so with lethal effects.
There are times when Manhunt feels like fiction. Marty Martin, who was in charge of the operational hunt for bin Laden after 9/11 and most purely represents the spying-side of the agency (now known as the National Clandestine Service), is as flamboyant and mischievous a character as you'd expect to find in an espionage potboiler. He's full of war stories and serves as the brawn to the analytic brains, and, visually at least, a strong masculine counterpoint to a story dominated by women.
But like a good spy story, not everything is what it seems. Far from butting heads with his women colleagues, either owing to their gender or some link to the "other side" of the CIA bureaucracy, Martin fuses with them. And the farther we get in time from the 9/11 attacks, the more the distinctions across the CIA between men and women, analysts and operators, start to fade, until they become arbitrary. Bakos represents the final synthesis of the two--a targeting officer is both an analyst and an operator. And the blending of those two worlds brings us to the modern CIA, which is more a global paramilitary organization than a Cold War spy house.
Manhunt is a work of empathetic storytelling. Barker doesn't want to tell you the story of finding bin Laden so much as show you how the hunters did it. And because you walk in his subjects' shoes, you feel their triumphs and their failures acutely. You can imagine yourself sitting in an office like theirs, doing mind-numbing work and taking it home in your head at night. You can grieve with the CIA officers who talk, through tears, about their friends and co-workers who were killed in a suicide bombing in Khost, Afghanistan, in 2009, an event that the film accurately portrays as a turning point in the CIA's war against al Qaeda--it galvanized the agency to recommit to finding bin Laden. These testimonials make the bin Laden story, which has been the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters, accessible.
Manhunt inevitably draws comparisons to that other big movie about killing bin Laden. But while Zero Dark Thirty purports to be a work of journalism, Manhunt actually is. There are no pseudonyms or character composites. And when some of the same events are portrayed in Zero Dark Thirty, which is a superb film, they feel beyond the realm of our everyday experience. We can more easily imagine ourselves like Storer, showing up to work every day and banging her head against a desk, than we can see ourselves on the deck of a Blackhawk helicopter, wearing night-vision goggles and carrying an assault rifle.
Barker's empathy imposes certain limits on his film. You don't know where he stands on some of the most controversial and socially important questions of the bin Laden story, such as whether torture produced information that helped the CIA finish their manhunt. When Barker and I met in Washington a few weeks ago, he told me it's the mark of a successful film that you can't say for sure what he thinks. Not everyone who watches Manhunt will be satisfied with Barker's approach, which leaves some very big questions about some very dark days not fully answered.
But we shouldn't expect every story about bin Laden to be told through the lens of a moral dilemma. It's enough, at least for this film, to show people doing a job, one that was measured in years and lives lost, and that changed those who did it, just as it changed history.
The executive chairman of Google says the most significant threats in cyberspace won't come from individuals, because the kinds of attacks that a national government worries about are too expensive to be pulled off by one person.
"Governments are going to continue to do what they've always done which is spy, worry about other countries. That's not going to go away," Eric Schmidt said in an interview with Rita Braver, which will air on CBS' "Sunday Morning" this weekend.
"Individuals are unlikely to be able to put together the kinds of threats that we worry about. It's going to take a lot of money and a lot of very specialized knowledge. Because the Internet is, in fact, pretty safe."
The image of a lone hacker sitting in a basement somewhere taking down a power grid has been the kind of nightmare scenario that government officials and corporate executives have used over the years to focus attention on cyber security. But increasingly, experts are saying that to pull off such a devastating assault on critical infrastructure is going to take considerable manpower, organization, and money.
I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a cyber security researcher at a Washington think tank, who said it wasn't smart for governments to worry about single actors; they should be focusing their counter-cyber war efforts on other governments and organized criminal rings. Look at Stuxnet, he said. The most sophisticated known cyber attack to date is generally believed to have been launched by the US and Israeli governments. The project likely took many months of work and relied on an extraordinarily high level of technical expertise.
For someone of Schmidt's statute and national prominence to implicitly rebut the lone-hacker threat as the thing governments should really be worrying about suggests that you're going to hear more high-level people follow suit. This may help to tamp down some of the more hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding the threat of cyber war. Or it may just cause governments to panic more about other governments.
During the 1950s, US lawmakers and government officials claimed that since homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and shameful, communists would threaten to expose gay and lesbian US government employees if they didn't agree to spy for the Soviet Union.
"Sex Perverts in Government Said Weak Link as Spy Prey," read one headline at the time.
Sen. Joseph McCarthy declared, "Homosexuals must not be handling top secret material."
But a new documentary, The Lavender Scare, explores how US officials actually became blackmailers and extortionists as they tried to root out gay men and lesbians from the ranks of the civil service. An executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower, signed 60 years ago this Saturday, touched off what the filmmakers describe as "a witch hunt" that ended the careers of thousands of people, who were threatened with public exposure if they didn't quit their jobs. But unexpectedly, the purge also set in motion a protest by a few individuals that helped start the modern LGBT rights movement.
From a national security perspective, it's remarkable how this whole paradigm has flipped. Today, in a society that's vastly more accepting of gays and lesbians, people are considered more trustworthy and less prone to blackmail if they're out of the closet. People who have nothing to hide are harder to turn. I've never heard of someone being asked during a background check whether he or she sleeps with men or women. But over the years, many intelligence officials have remarked to me how, when they began their career, being gay or lesbian was dangerous, but that it's just no longer the case. (An exception: If you're an intelligence officer serving in a region that regards homosexuality as a crime, you'd probably keep your orientation private.)
You can watch a trailer for the film here. The producers are running a Kickstarter campaign to help finish the production. Full disclosure, a close friend of mine, who has written for The Washingtonian, is an executive producer. But even if he weren't, I'd be drawing attention this movie. This period in history is remarkable for the confluence of human rights, national security, and Cold War paranoia.
Charming single-family home, 4BR, 1 1/2 baths, attached garage, unfinished basement. Great fixer upper potential. Previously owned by Russian spies.
The former Montclair, N.J., home of Richard and Cynthia Murphy, aka Vladimir Guryev and Lidiya Guriyeva, is on the market. The "Murphys" were part of the so-called Illegals ring of Russian spies that the FBI busted back in 2010. The couple assimilated into American life, raised two girls. Mrs. and Mrs. M were actually arrested in this house, though that should hardly depress the market value. It's listing for $444,900. Twenty-four hour surveillance and FBI wiretapping does not convey.
The current owners, the U.S. Marshals Service, are ditching the 1,830 square-foot two-story as part of the Justice Department's Asset Forfeiture Program.
We wrote about the Russian spy ring in the magazine after learning that one of our staff writers was subletting an apartment from a member of the outfit, Mikhail Semenko.
When the Murphys were hauled off by the feds, the neighbors on tree-lined Marquette Rd. were amazed to hear who was living in number 31. “They couldn’t have been spies,” one neighbor jokingly told the New York Times. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”
Sadly, the Marshals Service is not known for its horticultural prowess, so the flower beds may need a little TLC.
Here are some upcoming titles that have caught my attention in the past few months. Pub dates given if available.
Untitled book by Andrew Cockburn (Times Books)
The author of Rumsfeld, and future father-in-law to SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis, is working on a true story about drones and assassins.
We Will Not Be Silent: How the White Rose Student Resistance Movement Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman (Clarion)
A story about a small group of university students who distributed anti-Hitler leaflets and condemned his policies.
Untitled book on Russian protest group Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen (Riverhead)
The author of The Man Without a Face, about the rise of Vladimir Putin, has an untold story of Russia's most famous dissidents.
Pub date: Fall 2013
Untitled book by Karen J. Greenberg (Crown)
Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, is writing a narrative account described as "how the power and legitimacy of the Department of Justice have been radically challenged in the wake of 9/11."
Casablanca by Meredith Hindley (Public Affairs)
A narrative history of the famous North African city, against the backdrop of the French resistance, Gestapo, Vichy agents, and American spies battling for control.
The Russian Revolution by Sean McKeekin (Basic)
Billed as "a revisionist account of the Russian Revolution" based on new information from Soviet archives.
Pub date: 2017
CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys: How and why CIA Agents Conspired to Kill JFK and RFK by Patrick Nolan (Skyhorse)
An investigation of "CIA involvement" in the assassinates of President Kennedy and his brother Robert. Timed for release with the 50th anniversary of JFK's death.
Pub date: Fall 2013
Rogue Code by Mark Russinovich (Thomas Dunne Books)
The third novel in a thriller series about cyber-expert Peter Joseph. The first two books were Zero Day and Trojan Horse.
Untitled book by Adam Segal (Public Affairs)
Segal, who's a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and heads up their cyber security initiatives will write about "the geopolitics of information and what diplomacy looks like in the age of big data."
Forty-Seven Days by Mitchell Yockelson (Caliber)
How Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing led the Army and helped it come of age in World War I, with the service of soldiers such as George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, and Harry Truman.
Pub date: Summer 2015