Saturday, October 5, 2013

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From A Former NSA Officer

John Schindler, a National Security Agency veteran and now a professor at the Naval War College, tweeted out a series of what he calls Spy Rules today that we consider a must read.

Schindler spent ten years in the NSA as an analyst and counterintelligence officer, and has been outspoken about the Snowden leaks – particularly because he contends that spying on foreign countries is a legitimate form of government.

1. All important intelligence methods have already been perfected by the Russians. We need to figure out how to do them nicely.

2. It's not what you know. It's not who you know. It's what you know about who you know.

3. If you don't understand that, in intelligence, your job is based on breaking other people's laws, get out now.

4. If you don't own the street, the other side will. And soon they will steal your lunch money.

5. If you don't understand the other side's collection, and what he's doing to mess up your collection, you're clueless too.

6. Intelligence analysts without deep knowledge of the target (language, culture, history) are usually worse than useless.

7. If you think counterintelligence is fundamentally about catching traitors/moles, you don't really understand CI.

8. If you're not at least somewhat competent in counterintelligence, why bother having intell services at all? You're giving it away.

9. One analyst who really knows target in & out is worth his/her weight in gold. But they're very rare, and their co-workers hate them.

10. Good analysts are golden, but there are few of them. And, like academics, they are tough to manage and entitled in outlook.

11. There are two kinds of intell services: Those with global look/reach and those without. Very few in Group 1. Huge difference.

NSA Facility at Bluffsdale, Utah.

12. US intelligence is the world's BIG DAWG, especially in SIGINT & IMINT, but the bureaucracy is so vast as to undercut too much of that.

13. Intelligence services are accurate reflections of their societies. It's not always a pretty picture.

15. The Brits are good - damn good - too, but the legend outstrips the reality. Ditto on the Israelis.

14. The Russians are good, very good, but they're their own worst enemy in espionage.

16. Generals like pictures. They will go with IMINT over any other INT even when it's clearly BS to the trained eye.

17. There are no "new" intell ideas. The Russians (or Brits or French or Israelis) have done it already. But you can make ideas better.

19. SIGINT is the golden source but if the enemy doesn't understand his own system, neither will you.

20. You can learn tradecraft. You can't learn common sense. Nor can you get "up to speed" on a problem in a couple weeks.

21. The bigger your bureaucracy, the less effective your intelligence system is. No exceptions.

22. The best way to protect your secrets is to steal the other side's.

23. You can never have "too many" dots (preferably multi-INT). But make sure they're real dots, not dots other side wants you to see.

24. If you don't understand the other side's collection, and what he's doing to mess up your collection, you're clueless too

25. If you don't understand collection, you don't understand intelligence. Period. No exceptions.

To my mind, there is a clear distinction between espionage and reconnaissance. My definition of a spy is one who passes information clandestinely from within an organization - in other words, a traitor. To do otherwise is to be a scout. Of course, this distinction blurs when you are rolled up behind enemy lines, in civilian clothes, with all kinds of electronic surveillance equipment and exotic weapons.


If you're not on Twitter you're missing out on the next wave of mass communication that is revolutionizing the way people exchange and disseminate information. Schindler's twitter handle is @20committee. Mine is @sean_linnane - S.L.


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