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John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead Lyricist, Dick Cheney Campaign Manager, George Wallace Voter), the CIA, and the Genesis of Social Media

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John Perry Barlow

John Per­ry Bar­low

skeletonsclosetCOMMENT: In FTR #854, we not­ed the curi­ous pro­fes­sion­al resume of John Per­ry Bar­low, con­tain­ing such dis­parate ele­ments as–lyricist for the Grate­ful Dead (“Far Out!”); Dick Cheney’s cam­paign man­ag­er (not so “Far Out!”); a vot­er for white supremacist/segregationist George Wal­lace in the 1968 Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign (very “Un-Far Out!”).

Bar­low intro­duced the Grate­ful Dead to Tim­o­thy Leary, who was inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the CIA. We dis­cussed this at length in AFA #28:

AFA 28: The CIA, the Mil­i­tary & Drugs, Pt. 5
The CIA & LSD
Part 5a
46:15 | Part 5b 45:52 | Part 5c 42:56 | Part 5d 45:11 | Part 5e 11:25
(Record­ed April 26, 1987)

 

” . . . . Tim­o­thy Leary’s ear­ly research into LSD was sub­si­dized, to some extent, by the CIA. Lat­er, Leary’s LSD pros­e­ly­ti­za­tion was great­ly aid­ed by William Mel­lon Hitch­cock, a mem­ber of the pow­er­ful Mel­lon fam­i­ly. The financ­ing of the Mel­lon-Leary col­lab­o­ra­tion was effect­ed through the Cas­tle Bank, a Caribbean oper­a­tion that was deeply involved in the laun­der­ing of CIA drug mon­ey.

After mov­ing to the West Coast, Leary hooked up with a group of ex-surfers, the Broth­er­hood of Eter­nal Love. This group became the largest LSD syn­the­siz­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing orga­ni­za­tion in the world. Their “chief chemist” was a curi­ous indi­vid­ual named Ronald Hadley Stark. An enig­mat­ic, mul­ti-lin­gual and well-trav­eled indi­vid­ual, Stark worked for the CIA, and appears to have been with the agency when he was mak­ing the Broth­er­hood’s acid. The qual­i­ty of his prod­uct pro­ject­ed the Broth­er­hood of Eter­nal Love into its lead­er­ship role in the LSD trade. Stark also oper­at­ed in con­junc­tion with the Ital­ian intelligence/fascist milieu described in AFA #‘s 17–21.

The broad­cast under­scores the pos­si­bil­i­ty that LSD and oth­er hal­lu­cino­gens may have been dis­sem­i­nat­ed, in part, in order to dif­fuse the pro­gres­sive polit­i­cal activism of the 1960’s.

Pro­gram High­lights Include: CIA direc­tor Allen Dulles’ pro­mo­tion of psy­cho­log­i­cal research by the Agency; the work of CIA physi­cian Dr. Sid­ney Got­tlieb for the Agen­cy’s Tech­ni­cal Ser­vices Divi­sion; con­nec­tions between Stark and the kid­nap­ping and assas­si­na­tion of Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Aldo Moro; Stark’s mys­te­ri­ous death in prison while await­ing tri­al; Leary’s con­nec­tions to the milieu of the “left” CIA and the role those con­nec­tions appear to have played in Leary’s flight from incar­cer­a­tion; the CIA’s intense inter­est in (and involve­ment with) the Haight-Ash­bury scene of the 1960s. . . . .”

For our pur­pos­es, his most note­wor­thy pro­fes­sion­al under­tak­ing is his found­ing of the EFF–The Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. A lead­ing osten­si­ble advo­cate for inter­net free­dom, the EFF has endorsed tech­nol­o­gy and embraced per­son­nel inex­tri­ca­bly linked with a CIA-derived milieu embod­ied in Radio Free Asi­a’s Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. (For those who are, under­stand­ably, sur­prised and/or skep­ti­cal, we dis­cussed this at length and in detail in FTR #‘s 891  and 895.)

Lis­ten­er Tiffany Sun­der­son con­tributed an arti­cle in the “Com­ments” sec­tion that brings to the fore some inter­est­ing ques­tions about Bar­low, the CIA and the very gen­e­sis of social media.

We offer Ms. Sun­der­son­’s obser­va­tions, stress­ing that Bar­low’s fore­shad­ow­ing of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion func­tions inher­ent in social media and his pres­ence at CIA head­quar­ters (by invi­ta­tion!) sug­gest that Bar­low not only has strong ties to CIA but may have been involved in the con­cep­tu­al gen­e­sis that spawned CIA-con­nect­ed enti­ties such as Face­book:

Fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle by John Per­ry Bar­low, can’t believe I haven’t seen this before. From Forbes in 2002. Can’t accuse Bar­low of hid­ing his intel ties, he’ll tell you all about it! To me, this is prac­ti­cal­ly a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment, as it hints at the think­ing that inevitably lead to Inq­tel, Geofee­dia, Palan­tir, Face­book, etc. Includ­ing whole arti­cle, but here are a few pas­sages that jumped out at me.

http://www.forbes.com/asap/2002/1007/042_print.html

This part cracks me up: it’s “mys­ti­cal super­sti­tion” to imag­ine that wires leav­ing a build­ing are also wires ENTERING a build­ing? Seri­ous­ly? For a guy who nev­er shuts up about net­work­ing, he should get that there is noth­ing “mys­ti­cal” about such a notion. It’s exact­ly how attack­ers get in. If you are con­nect­ed to the inter­net, you are not tru­ly secure. Peri­od.

“All of their prim­i­tive net­works had an ‘air wall,’ or phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion, from the Inter­net. They admit­ted that it might be even more dan­ger­ous to secu­ri­ty to remain abstract­ed from the wealth of infor­ma­tion that had already assem­bled itself there, but they had an almost mys­ti­cal super­sti­tion that wires leav­ing the agency would also be wires enter­ing it, a ver­i­ta­ble super­high­way for invad­ing cyber­spooks. ”

Here, JPB brags about his con­nec­tions and who he brought back to CIA. I’ve always had spooky feel­ings about Cerf, Dyson, and Kapor. Don’t know Rutkows­ki. But the oth­er three are seri­ous play­ers, and Cerf and Kapor are heav­i­ly involved with EFF. You know, because the EFF is all about stand­ing up for the lit­tle guy.

“They told me they’d brought Steve Jobs in a few weeks before to indoc­tri­nate them in mod­ern infor­ma­tion man­age­ment. And they were delight­ed when I returned lat­er, bring­ing with me a pla­toon of Inter­net gurus, includ­ing Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor, Tony Rutkows­ki, and Vint Cerf. They sealed us into an elec­tron­i­cal­ly impen­e­tra­ble room to dis­cuss the rad­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty that a good first step in lift­ing their black­out would be for the CIA to put up a Web site”

This next part SCREAMS of intel’s ties to the “social media explo­sion.” I think this pas­sage is what qual­i­fies Barlow’s arti­cle as a his­tor­i­cal doc of some val­ue.

“Let’s cre­ate a process of infor­ma­tion diges­tion in which inex­pen­sive data are gath­ered from large­ly open sources and con­densed, through an open process, into knowl­edge terse and insight­ful enough to inspire wis­dom in our lead­ers.

The enti­ty I envi­sion would be small, high­ly net­worked, and gen­er­al­ly vis­i­ble. It would be open to infor­ma­tion from all avail­able sources and would clas­si­fy only infor­ma­tion that arrived clas­si­fied. It would rely heav­i­ly on the Inter­net, pub­lic media, the aca­d­e­m­ic press, and an infor­mal world­wide net­work of volunteers–a kind of glob­al Neigh­bor­hood Watch–that would sub­mit on-the-ground reports.

It would use off-the-shelf tech­nol­o­gy, and use it less for gath­er­ing data than for col­lat­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing them. Being off-the-shelf, it could deploy tools while they were still state-of-the-art.

I imag­ine this enti­ty staffed ini­tial­ly with librar­i­ans, jour­nal­ists, lin­guists, sci­en­tists, tech­nol­o­gists, philoso­phers, soci­ol­o­gists, cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans, the­olo­gians, econ­o­mists, philoso­phers, and artists‑a lot like the orig­i­nal CIA, the OSS, under “Wild Bill” Dono­van. Its bud­get would be under the direct author­i­ty of the Pres­i­dent, act­ing through the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er. Con­gres­sion­al over­sight would reside in the com­mit­tees on sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy (and not under the con­gres­sion­al Joint Com­mit­tee on Intel­li­gence). ”

http://www.forbes.com/asap/2002/1007/042_2.html

“Why Spy?” by John Per­ry Bar­low; Forbes; 10/07/02.

If the spooks can’t ana­lyze their own data, why call it intel­li­gence?
For more than a year now, there has been a del­uge of sto­ries and op-ed pieces about the fail­ure of the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty to detect or pre­vent the Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, mas­sacre.

Near­ly all of these accounts have expressed aston­ish­ment at the appar­ent incom­pe­tence of America’s watch­dogs.

I’m aston­ished that anyone’s aston­ished.

The visu­al impair­ment of our mul­ti­tudi­nous spook­hous­es has long been the least secret of their secrets. Their short­com­ings go back 50 years, when they were still pre­sum­ably effi­cient but some­how failed to detect sev­er­al mil­lion Chi­nese mil­i­tary “vol­un­teers” head­ing south into Korea. The sur­prise attacks on the World Trade Cen­ter and the Pen­ta­gon were only the most recent over­sight dis­as­ters. And for ser­vice like this we are pay­ing between $30 bil­lion and $50 bil­lion a year. Talk about a faith-based ini­tia­tive.

After a decade of both fight­ing with and con­sult­ing to the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, I’ve con­clud­ed that the Amer­i­can intel­li­gence sys­tem is bro­ken beyond repair, self-pro­tec­tive beyond reform, and per­ma­nent­ly fix­at­ed on a world that no longer exists.

I was intro­duced to this world by a for­mer spy named Robert Steele, who called me in the fall of 1992 and asked me to speak at a Wash­ing­ton con­fer­ence that would be “attend­ed pri­mar­i­ly by intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als.” Steele seemed inter­est­ing, if unset­tling. A for­mer Marine intel­li­gence offi­cer, Steele moved to the CIA and served three over­seas tours in clan­des­tine intel­li­gence, at least one of them “in a com­bat envi­ron­ment” in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca.

After near­ly two decades of ser­vice in the shad­ows, Steele emerged with a lust for light and a belief in what he calls, in char­ac­ter­is­tic spook-speak, OSINT, or open source intel­li­gence. Open source intel­li­gence is assem­bled from what is pub­licly avail­able, in media, pub­lic doc­u­ments, the Net, wher­ev­er. It’s a giv­en that such materials–and the tech­no­log­i­cal tools for ana­lyz­ing them–are grow­ing expo­nen­tial­ly these days. But while OSINT may be a time­ly notion, it’s not pop­u­lar in a cul­ture where the phrase “infor­ma­tion is pow­er” means some­thing bru­tal­ly con­crete and where sources are “owned.”

At that time, intel­li­gence was awak­en­ing to the Inter­net, the ulti­mate open source. Steele’s con­fer­ence was attend­ed by about 600 mem­bers of the Amer­i­can and Euro­pean intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment, includ­ing many of its senior lead­ers. For some­one whose major claim to fame was hip­pie song-mon­ger­ing, address­ing such an audi­ence made me feel as if I’d sud­den­ly become a char­ac­ter in a Thomas Pyn­chon nov­el.

Nonethe­less, I sal­lied forth, con­fi­dent­ly telling the gray throng that pow­er lay not in con­ceal­ing infor­ma­tion but in dis­trib­ut­ing it, that the Inter­net would endow small groups of zealots with the capac­i­ty to wage cred­i­ble assaults on nation-states, that young hack­ers could eas­i­ly run cir­cles around old spies.

I didn’t expect a warm recep­tion, but it wasn’t as if I was inter­view­ing for a job.

Or so I thought. When I came off­stage, a group of calm, alert men await­ed. They seemed eager, in their undemon­stra­tive way, to pur­sue these issues fur­ther. Among them was Paul Wall­ner, the CIA’s open source coor­di­na­tor. Wall­ner want­ed to know if I would be will­ing to drop by, have a look around, and dis­cuss my ideas with a few folks.

A few weeks lat­er, in ear­ly 1993, I passed through the gates of the CIA head­quar­ters in Lan­g­ley, Vir­ginia, and entered a chilled silence, a zone of par­a­lyt­ic para­noia and obses­sive secre­cy, and a tech­no­log­i­cal time cap­sule straight out of the ear­ly ’60s. The Cold War was offi­cial­ly over, but it seemed the news had yet to pen­e­trate where I now found myself.

If, in 1993, you want­ed to see the Sovi­et Union still alive and well, you’d go to Lan­g­ley, where it was pre­served in the meth­ods, assump­tions, and archi­tec­ture of the CIA.

Where I expect­ed to see com­put­ers, there were tele­type machines. At the nerve core of The Com­pa­ny, five ana­lysts sat around a large, wood­en lazy Susan. Beside each of them was a tele­type, chat­ter­ing in upper­case. When­ev­er a mes­sage came in to, say, the East­ern Europe ana­lyst that might be of inter­est to the one watch­ing events in Latin Amer­i­ca, he’d rip it out of the machine, put it on the turntable, and rotate it to the appro­pri­ate quad­rant.

The most dis­tress­ing dis­cov­ery of my first expe­di­tion was the near­ly uni­ver­sal frus­tra­tion of employ­ees at the intran­si­gence of the beast they inhab­it­ed. They felt forced into incom­pe­tence by infor­ma­tion hoard­ing and non­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, both with­in the CIA and with oth­er relat­ed agen­cies. They hat­ed their prim­i­tive tech­nol­o­gy. They felt unap­pre­ci­at­ed, oppressed, demor­al­ized. “Some­how, over the last 35 years, there was an infor­ma­tion rev­o­lu­tion,” one of them said bleak­ly, “and we missed it.”

They were cut off. But at least they were try­ing. They told me they’d brought Steve Jobs in a few weeks before to indoc­tri­nate them in mod­ern infor­ma­tion man­age­ment. And they were delight­ed when I returned lat­er, bring­ing with me a pla­toon of Inter­net gurus, includ­ing Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor, Tony Rutkows­ki, and Vint Cerf. They sealed us into an elec­tron­i­cal­ly impen­e­tra­ble room to dis­cuss the rad­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ty that a good first step in lift­ing their black­out would be for the CIA to put up a Web site.

They didn’t see how this would be pos­si­ble with­out com­pro­mis­ing their secu­ri­ty. All of their prim­i­tive net­works had an “air wall,” or phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion, from the Inter­net. They admit­ted that it might be even more dan­ger­ous to secu­ri­ty to remain abstract­ed from the wealth of infor­ma­tion that had already assem­bled itself there, but they had an almost mys­ti­cal super­sti­tion that wires leav­ing the agency would also be wires enter­ing it, a ver­i­ta­ble super­high­way for invad­ing cyber­spooks.

We explained to them how easy it would be to have two net­works, one con­nect­ed to the Inter­net for gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion from open sources and a sep­a­rate intranet, one that would remain ded­i­cat­ed to clas­si­fied data. We told them that infor­ma­tion exchange was a barter sys­tem, and that to receive, one must also be will­ing to share. This was an alien notion to them. They weren’t even will­ing to share infor­ma­tion among them­selves, much less the world.

In the end, they acqui­esced. They put up a Web site, and I start­ed to get email from peo­ple @cia.gov, indi­cat­ing that the Inter­net had made it to Lan­g­ley. But the cul­tur­al ter­ror of releas­ing any­thing of val­ue remains. Go to their Web site today and you will find a lot of press releas­es, as well as descrip­tions of maps and pub­li­ca­tions that you can acquire only by buy­ing them in paper. The unof­fi­cial al Qae­da Web site, http://www.almuhajiroun.com, is con­sid­er­ably more reveal­ing.

This dog­ma of secre­cy is prob­a­bly the most per­sis­tent­ly dam­ag­ing fall­out from “the Sovi­et fac­tor” at the CIA and else­where in the intel­li­gence “com­mu­ni­ty.” Our spooks stared so long at what Churchill called “a mys­tery sur­round­ed by a rid­dle wrapped in an enig­ma,” they became one them­selves. They con­tin­ue to be one, despite the evap­o­ra­tion of their old adver­sary, as well as a long series of efforts by elect­ed author­i­ties to loosen the white-knuck­led grip on their secrets.

The most recent of these was the 1997 Com­mis­sion on Pro­tect­ing and Reduc­ing Gov­ern­ment Secre­cy, led by Sen­a­tor Patrick Moyni­han. The Moyni­han Com­mis­sion released a with­er­ing report charg­ing intel­li­gence agen­cies with exces­sive clas­si­fi­ca­tion and cit­ing a long list of adverse con­se­quences rang­ing from pub­lic dis­trust to con­cealed (and there­fore irre­me­di­a­ble) orga­ni­za­tion­al fail­ures.

That same year, Moyni­han pro­posed a bill called the Gov­ern­ment Secre­cy Reform Act. Cospon­sored by con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans Jesse Helms and Trent Lott, among oth­ers, this leg­is­la­tion was hard­ly out to gut Amer­i­can intel­li­gence. But the spooks fought back effec­tive­ly through the Clin­ton Admin­is­tra­tion and so weak­ened the bill that one of its cospon­sors, Con­gress­man Lee Hamil­ton (D‑Ind.), con­clud­ed that it would be bet­ter not to pass what remained.

A few of its rec­om­men­da­tions even­tu­al­ly were wrapped into the Intel­li­gence Autho­riza­tion Act of 2000. But of these, the only one with any oper­a­tional force–a require­ment that a pub­lic-inter­est declas­si­fi­ca­tion board be estab­lished to advise the Admin­is­tra­tion in these mat­ters-has nev­er been imple­ment­ed. Thanks to the vig­or­ous inter­ven­tions of the Clin­ton White House, the cult of secre­cy remained unmo­lest­ed.

One might be sur­prised to learn that Clin­to­ni­ans were so pro-secre­cy. In fact, they weren’t. But they lacked the force to dom­i­nate their wily sub­or­di­nates. Indeed, in 1994, one high­ly placed White House staffer told me that their incom­pre­hen­si­ble cryp­to poli­cies arose from being “afraid of the NSA.”

In May 2000, I began to under­stand what they were up against. I was invit­ed to speak to the Intel­li­gence Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lab­o­ra­tion Con­fer­ence (a title that con­tained at least four ironies). The oth­er pri­ma­ry speak­er was Air Force Lt. Gen­er­al Mike Hay­den, the new­ly appoint­ed direc­tor of the NSA. He said he felt pow­er­less, though he was deter­mined not to remain that way.

“I had been on the job for a while before I real­ized that I have no staff,” he com­plained. “Every­thing the agency does had been pushed down into the components…it’s all being man­aged sev­er­al lev­els below me.” In oth­er words, the NSA had devel­oped an immune sys­tem against exter­nal inter­ven­tion.

Hay­den rec­og­nized how exces­sive secre­cy had dam­aged intel­li­gence, and he was deter­mined to fix it. “We were America’s infor­ma­tion age enter­prise in the indus­tri­al age. Now we have to do that same task in the infor­ma­tion age, and we find our­selves less adept,” he said.

He also vowed to dimin­ish the CIA’s com­pet­i­tive­ness with oth­er agen­cies. (This is a prob­lem that remains severe, even though it was first iden­ti­fied by the Hoover Com­mis­sion in 1949.) Hay­den decried “the stovepipe men­tal­i­ty” where infor­ma­tion is passed ver­ti­cal­ly through many bureau­crat­ic lay­ers but rarely pass­es hor­i­zon­tal­ly. “We are rid­dled with water­tight infor­ma­tion com­part­ments,” he said. “At the mas­sive agency lev­el, if I had to ask, ‘Do we need blue giz­mos?’ the only per­son I could ask was the per­son whose job secu­ri­ty depend­ed on there being more blue giz­mos.”

Like the CIA I encoun­tered, Hayden’s NSA was also a lot like the Sovi­et Union; secre­tive unto itself, sullen, and gross­ly inef­fi­cient. The NSA was also, by his account, as tech­no­log­i­cal­ly mal­adroit as its rival in Lan­g­ley. Hay­den won­dered, for exam­ple, why the direc­tor of what was sup­pos­ed­ly one of the most sophis­ti­cat­ed agen­cies in the world would have four phones on his desk. Direct elec­tron­ic con­tact between him and the con­sumers of his information–namely the Pres­i­dent and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty staff–was vir­tu­al­ly nil. There were, he said, thou­sands of unlinked, inter­nal­ly gen­er­at­ed oper­at­ing sys­tems inside the NSA, inca­pable of exchang­ing infor­ma­tion with one anoth­er.

Hay­den rec­og­nized the impor­tance of get­ting over the Cold War. “Our tar­gets are no longer con­trolled by the tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of the Sovi­et Union, a slow, prim­i­tive, under­fund­ed foe. Now [our ene­mies] have access to state-of-the-art….In 40 years the world went from 5,000 stand-alone com­put­ers, many of which we owned, to 420 mil­lion com­put­ers, many of which are bet­ter than ours.”

But there wasn’t much evi­dence that it was going to hap­pen any­time soon. While Hay­den spoke, the 200 or so high-rank­ing intel­li­gence offi­cials in the audi­ence sat with their arms fold­ed defen­sive­ly across their chests. When I got up to essen­tial­ly sing the same song in a dif­fer­ent key, I asked them, as a favor, not to assume that pos­ture while I was speak­ing. I then watched a Strangelov­ian spec­ta­cle when, dur­ing my talk, many arms crept up to cross invol­un­tar­i­ly and were thrust back down to their sides by force of embar­rassed will.

That said, I draw a clear dis­tinc­tion between the insti­tu­tions of intel­li­gence and the folks who staff them.

All of the actu­al peo­ple I’ve encoun­tered in intel­li­gence are, in fact, intel­li­gent. They are ded­i­cat­ed and thought­ful. How then, can the insti­tu­tion­al sum add up to so much less than the parts? Because anoth­er, much larg­er, com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors is also at work: bureau­cra­cy and secre­cy.

Bureau­cra­cies nat­u­ral­ly use secre­cy to immu­nize them­selves against hos­tile inves­ti­ga­tion, from with­out or with­in. This ten­den­cy becomes an autoim­mune dis­or­der when the bureau­cra­cy is actu­al­ly designed to be secre­tive and is whol­ly focused on oth­er, sim­i­lar insti­tu­tions. The coun­ter­pro­duc­tive infor­ma­tion hoard­ing, the tech­no­log­i­cal back­ward­ness, the unac­count­abil­i­ty, the moral lax­i­ty, the sus­pi­cion of pub­lic infor­ma­tion, the arro­gance, the xeno­pho­bia (and result­ing lack of cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic sophis­ti­ca­tion), the risk aver­sion, the recruit­ing homo­gene­ity, the inward-direct­ed­ness, the pref­er­ence for data acqui­si­tion over infor­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion, and the use­less­ness of what is dis­sem­i­nat­ed-all are the nat­ur­al, and now ful­ly mature, whelps of bureau­cra­cy and secre­cy.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, peo­ple who work there believe that job secu­ri­ty and pow­er are defined by the amount of infor­ma­tion one can stop from mov­ing. You become more pow­er­ful based on your capac­i­ty to know things that no one else does. The same applies, in con­cen­tric cir­cles of self-pro­tec­tion, to one’s team, depart­ment, sec­tion, and agency. How can data be digest­ed into use­ful infor­ma­tion in a sys­tem like that?

How can we expect the CIA and FBI to share infor­ma­tion with each oth­er when they’re dis­in­clined to share it with­in their own orga­ni­za­tions? The result­ing dif­fer­ences cut deep. One of the rev­e­la­tions of the House Report on Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Intel­li­gence Capa­bil­i­ties and Per­for­mance Pri­or to Sep­tem­ber 11 was that none of the respon­si­ble agen­cies even shared the same def­i­n­i­tion of ter­ror­ism. It’s hard to find some­thing when you can’t agree on what you’re look­ing for.

The infor­ma­tion they do divulge is also flawed in a vari­ety of ways. The “con­sumers” (as they gen­er­al­ly call pol­i­cy­mak­ers) are unable to deter­mine the reli­a­bil­i­ty of what they’re get­ting because the sources are con­cealed. Much of what they get is too undi­gest­ed and volu­mi­nous to be use­ful to some­one already suf­fer­ing from infor­ma­tion over­load. And it comes with strings attached. As one gen­er­al put it, “I don’t want infor­ma­tion that requires three secu­ri­ty offi­cers and a safe to move it in around the bat­tle­field.”

As a result, the con­sumers are increas­ing­ly more inclined to get their infor­ma­tion from pub­lic sources. Sec­re­tary of State Col­in Pow­ell says that he prefers “the Ear­ly Bird,” a com­pendi­um of dai­ly news­pa­per sto­ries, to the President’s Dai­ly Brief (the CIA’s ulti­mate prod­uct).

The same is appar­ent­ly true with­in the agen­cies them­selves. Although their fin­ished prod­ucts rarely make explic­it use of what’s been gleaned from the media, ana­lysts rou­tine­ly turn there for infor­ma­tion. On the day I first vis­it­ed the CIA’s “mis­sion con­trol” room, the ana­lysts around the lazy Susan often turned their atten­tion to the giant video mon­i­tors over­head. Four of these were show­ing the same CNN feed.

Secre­cy also breeds tech­no­log­i­cal stag­na­tion. In the ear­ly ’90s, I was speak­ing to per­son­nel from the Depart­ment of Ener­gy nuclear labs about com­put­er secu­ri­ty. I told them I thought their empha­sis on clas­si­fi­ca­tion might be unnec­es­sary because mak­ing a weapon was less a mat­ter of infor­ma­tion than of indus­tri­al capac­i­ty. The recipe for a nuclear bomb has been gen­er­al­ly avail­able since 1978, when John Aris­to­tle Phillips pub­lished plans in The Pro­gres­sive. What’s not so read­i­ly avail­able is the plu­to­ni­um and tri­tium, which require an entire nation to pro­duce. Giv­en that, I couldn’t see why they were being so secre­tive.

The next speak­er was Dr. Edward Teller, who sur­prised me by not only agree­ing but point­ing out both the role of open dis­course in sci­en­tif­ic progress, as well as the futil­i­ty of most infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty. “If we made an impor­tant nuclear dis­cov­ery, the Rus­sians were usu­al­ly able to get it with­in a year,” he said. He went on: “After World War II we were ahead of the Sovi­ets in nuclear tech­nol­o­gy and about even with them in elec­tron­ics. We main­tained a closed sys­tem for nuclear design while design­ing elec­tron­ics in the open. Their sys­tems were closed in both regards. After 40 years, we are at par­i­ty in nuclear sci­ence, where­as, thanks to our open sys­tem in the study of elec­tron­ics, we are decades ahead of the Rus­sians.”

There is also the sticky mat­ter of bud­getary account­abil­i­ty. The direc­tor of Cen­tral Intel­li­gence (DCI) is sup­posed to be in charge of all the func­tions of intel­li­gence. In fact, he has con­trol over less than 15% of the total bud­get, direct­ing only the CIA. Sev­er­al of the dif­fer­ent intel­li­gence-reform com­mis­sions that have been con­vened since 1949 have called for con­sol­i­dat­ing bud­getary author­i­ty under the DCI, but it has nev­er hap­pened.

With such hazy over­sight, the intel­li­gence agen­cies nat­u­ral­ly become waste­ful and redun­dant. They spent their mon­ey on toys like satel­lite-imag­ing sys­tems and big-iron com­put­ers (often obso­lete by the time they’re deployed) rather than devel­op­ing the orga­ni­za­tion­al capac­i­ty for ana­lyz­ing all those snap­shots from space, or train­ing ana­lysts in lan­guages oth­er than Eng­lish and Russ­ian, or infil­trat­ing poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous groups, or invest­ing in the resources nec­es­sary for good HUMINT (as they poet­i­cal­ly call infor­ma­tion gath­ered by humans oper­at­ing on the ground).

In fact, few­er than 10% of the mil­lions of satel­lite pho­tographs tak­en have ever been seen by any­body. Only one-third of the employ­ees at the CIA speak any lan­guage besides Eng­lish. Even if they do, it’s gen­er­al­ly either Russ­ian or some com­mon Euro­pean lan­guage. Of what use are the NSA’s humon­gous code-break­ing com­put­ers if no one can read the plain text extract­ed from the encrypt­ed stream?

Anoth­er sys­temic deficit of intel­li­gence lies, inter­est­ing­ly enough, in the area of good old-fash­ioned spy­ing. Although its inten­tions were noble, the ’70s Church Com­mit­tee had a dev­as­tat­ing effect on this nec­es­sary part of intel­li­gence work. It caught the CIA in a num­ber of dubi­ous covert oper­a­tions and took the guilty to task.

But rather than lis­ten to the committee’s essen­tial mes­sage that they should renounce the sorts of nefar­i­ous deeds the pub­lic would repu­di­ate and lim­it secre­cy to essen­tial secu­ri­ty con­sid­er­a­tions, the lead­er­ship respond­ed by pulling most of its agents out of the field, aside from a few hired trai­tors.

Despite all the efforts aimed at sharp­en­ing their tools, intel­li­gence offi­cials have only become pro­gres­sive­ly duller and more expen­sive. We enter an era of asym­met­ri­cal threats, dis­trib­uted over the entire globe, against which our most effec­tive weapon is under­stand­ing. Yet we are still pro­tect­ed by agen­cies geared to gaz­ing on a sin­gle, cen­tral­ized threat, using meth­ods that opti­mize obfus­ca­tion. What is to be done?

We might begin by ask­ing what intel­li­gence should do. The answer is sim­ple: Intel­li­gence exists to pro­vide deci­sion mak­ers with an accu­rate, com­pre­hen­sive, and unbi­ased under­stand­ing of what’s going on in the world. In oth­er words, intel­li­gence defines real­i­ty for those whose actions could alter it. “Giv­en our basic mis­sion,” one ana­lyst said weari­ly, “we’d do bet­ter to study epis­te­mol­o­gy than mis­sile emplace­ments.”

If we are seri­ous about defin­ing real­i­ty, we might look at the sys­tem that defines real­i­ty for most of us: sci­en­tif­ic dis­course. The sci­en­tif­ic method is straight­for­ward. The­o­ries are open­ly advanced for exam­i­na­tion and tri­al by oth­ers in the field. Sci­en­tists toil to cre­ate sys­tems to make all the infor­ma­tion avail­able to one imme­di­ate­ly avail­able to all. They don’t like secrets. They base their rep­u­ta­tions on their abil­i­ty to dis­trib­ute their con­clu­sions rather than the abil­i­ty to con­ceal them. They rec­og­nize that “truth” is based on the widest pos­si­ble con­sen­sus of per­cep­tions. They are com­mit­ted free mar­ke­teers in the com­merce of thought. This method has worked fab­u­lous­ly well for 500 years. It might be worth a try in the field of intel­li­gence.

Intel­li­gence has been focused on gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion from expen­sive closed sources, such as satel­lites and clan­des­tine agents. Let’s attempt to turn that propo­si­tion around. Let’s cre­ate a process of infor­ma­tion diges­tion in which inex­pen­sive data are gath­ered from large­ly open sources and con­densed, through an open process, into knowl­edge terse and insight­ful enough to inspire wis­dom in our lead­ers.

The enti­ty I envi­sion would be small, high­ly net­worked, and gen­er­al­ly vis­i­ble. It would be open to infor­ma­tion from all avail­able sources and would clas­si­fy only infor­ma­tion that arrived clas­si­fied. It would rely heav­i­ly on the Inter­net, pub­lic media, the aca­d­e­m­ic press, and an infor­mal world­wide net­work of volunteers–a kind of glob­al Neigh­bor­hood Watch–that would sub­mit on-the-ground reports.

It would use off-the-shelf tech­nol­o­gy, and use it less for gath­er­ing data than for col­lat­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing them. Being off-the-shelf, it could deploy tools while they were still state-of-the-art.

I imag­ine this enti­ty staffed ini­tial­ly with librar­i­ans, jour­nal­ists, lin­guists, sci­en­tists, tech­nol­o­gists, philoso­phers, soci­ol­o­gists, cul­tur­al his­to­ri­ans, the­olo­gians, econ­o­mists, philoso­phers, and artists‑a lot like the orig­i­nal CIA, the OSS, under “Wild Bill” Dono­van. Its bud­get would be under the direct author­i­ty of the Pres­i­dent, act­ing through the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advis­er. Con­gres­sion­al over­sight would reside in the com­mit­tees on sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy (and not under the con­gres­sion­al Joint Com­mit­tee on Intel­li­gence).

There are, of course, prob­lems with this pro­pos­al. First, it does not address the press­ing need to reestab­lish clan­des­tine human intel­li­gence. Per­haps this new Open Intel­li­gence Office (OIO) could also work close­ly with a Clan­des­tine Intel­li­gence Bureau, also sep­a­rate from the tra­di­tion­al agen­cies, to direct infil­tra­tors and moles who would report their obser­va­tions to the OIO through a tech­no­log­i­cal mem­brane that would strip their iden­ti­ties from their find­ings. The oper­a­tives would be legal­ly restrict­ed to gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion, with harsh penal­ties attached to any engage­ment in covert oper­a­tions.

The oth­er prob­lem is the “Sat­urn” dilem­ma. Once this new enti­ty begins to demon­strate its effec­tive­ness in pro­vid­ing insight to pol­i­cy­mak­ers that is con­cise, time­ly, and accu­rate (as I believe it would), almost cer­tain­ly tra­di­tion­al agen­cies would try to haul it back into the moth­er ship and break it (as has hap­pened to the Sat­urn divi­sion at Gen­er­al Motors). I don’t know how to deal with that one. It’s the nature of bureau­cra­cies to crush com­pe­ti­tion. No one at the CIA would be hap­py to hear that the only thing the Pres­i­dent and cab­i­net read every morn­ing is the OIO report.

But I think we can deal with that prob­lem when we’re lucky enough to have it. Know­ing that it’s like­ly to occur may be suf­fi­cient. A more imme­di­ate prob­lem would be keep­ing exist­ing agen­cies from abort­ing the OIO as soon as some­one with the pow­er to cre­ate it start­ed think­ing it might be a good idea. And, of course, there’s also the unlike­li­hood that any­one who thinks that the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty is a good idea would ever enter­tain such a pos­si­bil­i­ty.

Right now, we have to do some­thing, and prefer­ably some­thing use­ful. The U.S. has just tak­en its worst hit from the out­side since 1941. Our exist­ing sys­tems for under­stand­ing the world are designed to under­stand a world that no longer exists. It’s time to try some­thing that’s the right kind of crazy. It’s time to end the more tra­di­tion­al insan­i­ty of end­less­ly repeat­ing the same futile efforts.

John Per­ry Bar­low is cofounder of the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. His last essay for Forbes ASAP was “The Pur­suit of Empti­ness,” in Big Issue VI: The Pur­suit of Hap­pi­ness.

Discussion

7 comments for “John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead Lyricist, Dick Cheney Campaign Manager, George Wallace Voter), the CIA, and the Genesis of Social Media”

  1. Thanks for the inter­est­ing post Dave.

    His last pub­lished essay

    http://www.forbes.com/asap/2001/1203/096_print.html

    was def­i­nite­ly NOT shobo­gen­zo-wor­thy.

    I sus­pect there are sim­i­lar flaws in the final sen­tences of this one as well...

    Posted by Surface Dabbler | December 8, 2016, 1:16 pm
  2. Ever read ‘Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon’ by David McGowan. It turns out that with the excep­tion a few indi­vid­u­als like Charles Man­son, almost all the pop stars from Lau­rel Canyon in 1960’s L.A. were the sons and daugh­ters of The Estab­lish­ment. Either dad was a senior career intel offi­cer, Mil­i­tary offi­cer, or polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed fam­i­ly going back hun­dreds of years. No gen­er­al lay­men.

    Posted by Chris | December 10, 2016, 9:17 am
  3. @Chris–

    No, I’m not famil­iar with the book.

    I would not auto­mat­i­cal­ly con­clude that the pop stars in the Lau­rel Canyon mode were oper­a­tives and/or assets from the fact of their fam­i­ly lin­eage, which I do not dis­pute.

    Some kids do diverge from the path­way of their prog­en­i­tors.

    This is not to say that many of them weren’t oper­a­tives and/or assets. It is not uncom­mon at all to see kids of spooks fol­low­ing in the fam­i­ly pro­fes­sion.

    I just don’t know about the Lau­rel Canyon scene, in the final analy­sis.

    The whole hip­pie/­counter-cul­ture man­i­fes­ta­tion WAS a damned “op,” how­ev­er.

    The hip­pie alum­ni STILL haven’t fig­ured it out.

    With regard to Bar­low, what­ev­er his fam­i­ly lin­eage he may have had, his career sug­gests “spook” all over.

    Cheney’s cam­paign man­ag­er, George Wal­lace vot­er, invit­ed to CIA head­quar­ters in ’92 to held with their tech ops, founder of the EFF–very sup­port­ive of Eddie the Friend­ly Spook Snow­den (the peach-fuzz fas­cist) and Julian “Alt-Right” Assange (who played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the ele­va­tion of the Trumpenkampfver­bande, col­lab­o­rat­ing with Roger Stone)–all of this sug­gests that Bar­low was, and is, an oper­a­tive.

    Check out his Wikipedia page, bear­ing in mind strong CIA input into Wikipedia. Wikipedia can gen­er­al­ly be hand­i­capped to the left.

    As I stock up in Dra­mamine pills in antic­i­pa­tion of the pre­dictably revolt­ing, myopic 50th anniver­sary of the so-called “Sum­mer of Love,” it amazes me that the peo­ple who went through that haven’t devel­oped a more cir­cum­spect, adult per­spec­tive on their expe­ri­ences.

    Then again, the whole thing was a direct out­growth of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty’s mind con­trol pro­grams.

    LSD was devel­oped by the Nazi SS and then appro­pri­at­ed by the agency for appli­ca­tion to mind con­trol.

    Annie Jacob­sen’s “Oper­a­tion Paper­clip” has an excel­lent account of how the SS devel­oped “Acid” and then hand­ed it off to CIA after the war.

    It was devel­oped as an inca­pac­i­tat­ing agent.

    Worked pret­ty well, I’d say.

    Where­as the so-called coun­ter­cul­ture was an out­growth of pro­grams devel­oped by the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, the bulk of its alum­ni are char­ter mem­bers of the “un-intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty”:

    Say, what’s the lat­est from Jer­ry Gar­cia?

    Been kind of qui­et late­ly, no?

    Make me f*g sick!

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | December 10, 2016, 2:31 pm
  4. If you want to inves­ti­gate this spook Bar­low, Id start by research­ing an inci­dent from the ear­ly 70’s. Its been writ­ten that while “protest­ing” the Viet­nam war, he got so riled up that he strapped 25 lbs of explo­sives to him­self, head­ed up to Boston and threat­ened to det­o­nate it in the mid­dle of Har­vard Yard.

    Posted by Ludwig | December 17, 2016, 8:00 am
  5. Bench test­ed at Ascona, Switzer­land after being man­u­fac­tured by Ger­many in the 1900’s.

    http://www.hippy.com/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=243

    There’s a site called Gnos­tic media that goes into LSD. While the guy who runs comes off as anti-Semit­ic, (and I def­i­nite­ly don’t agree with him on that point and a few oth­ers), he does go into detail on how LSD actu­al­ly works. Name­ly, it’s a pow­er­ful hyp­not­ic drug. If you believe it will cause hal­lu­ci­na­tions, then you will have them. If you think it will pro­vide you with a pow­er­ful reli­gious expe­ri­ence, that hap­pens to. If you think it will cure addic­tion to Hero­in, it will trick you into think­ing you’re off Hero­in.

    Posted by Chris | December 17, 2016, 12:50 pm
  6. @Ludwig–

    Can you pro­vide a link and/or print­ed ref­er­ence to the alle­ga­tion you have pre­sent­ed?

    It would be wel­come.

    Best,

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | December 17, 2016, 4:42 pm
  7. Posted by ludwig | December 18, 2016, 5:07 am

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