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When Exploitation is a Good Thing

I am not one to attract attention. Part of it is cultural; part of it is learned through two-decades of serving in silence in the US Intelligence Community.

Coming out as a named contributor in a recent article in the Weekly Standard is unusual for me in the sense that I’d just as soon my Wellstone! stickered neighbors thought I was a mild-mannered office worker without a history. Those who do know me know that I’m not afraid to shoot my mouth off when I think it is necessary. Sometimes I taste my own shoe leather, but better that than the taste of blood that comes from constantly biting one’s own tongue.

There is no disputing the audience of the Weekly Standard and while my political leanings tend towards the right, I made the decision to work with Steve not because I’m angling for a membership card in the vast right-wing conspiracy (though I understand there are some nice benefits), but because he’s the only guy whose bothered to pursue the most under-rated yet significant story associated with Operations ENDURING and IRAQI FREEDOM: The issues and potential fall-out associated with the exploitation of captured media.

A number of friends and colleagues have wondered if I haven’t gone off the deep end. Let me say that I’m not a huge proponent of the approach that various political elements are floating: The widespread release of captured data for independent public analysis. You don’t spend all of your adult life in the culture of secrecy and not get the heebie-jeebies when someone talks about public release. My opinion was asked on how I might do it and I provided an opinion, that’s it.

What I am firmly behind is a strong push to break the technical and methodological approach currently used to deal with exploitation. In the sense that low-hanging fruit is still tasty, then one can happily and honestly say that things in the exploitation business are a great success. In the sense that ignoring the 90% of the fruit that sits in the middle and top of the tree is a tremendous waste of food, one can only say that we’re screwing up. This is a situation that is only going to get worse globally. We’re reaching a point in time where it doesn’t matter how much of a backwater the next country we go to war with is; the pervasiveness of information technology will make the exploitation problems of Iraqi seem like a walk in the park.

I don’t give out secrets, so details of exploitation efforts will have to come from someone else. However, let me give you an analogy: If I give you the Sunday New York Times and you scan the headlines on the front page, is it accurate to say that you’ve “read” the Sunday Times? Now are you feeling more confident about what we are and are not finding from our copies of war booty?

Some folks apparently want to argue that what has been found to date isn’t “all that.” To that I respond with: read the previous paragraph.

Assuming we get the gumption to actually go through everything we’ve captured with a fine-toothed comb. It may or may not support the reason we went to war. The goal here shouldn’t be political vindication or vilification (though I understand that we ARE talking about Washington DC) but to help us understand where we went right, where we went wrong, and to avoid mistakes in the future.

That’s a proposition I hope we can all get behind, whether you are a subscriber or not.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.