Why Google Made The NSA
Authored by Nafeez Ahmed via Medium.com,
Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet...
INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain âinformation superiority.â
The origins of this ingenious strategy trace back to a secret Pentagon-sponsored group, that for the last two decades has functioned as a bridge between the US government and elites across the business, industry, finance, corporate, and media sectors. The group has allowed some of the most powerful special interests in corporate America to systematically circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law to influence government policies, as well as public opinion in the US and around the world.
The results have been catastrophic: NSA mass surveillance, a permanent state of global war, and a new initiative to transform the US military into Skynet.
This exclusive is being released for free in the public interest, and was enabled by crowdfunding. Iâd like to thank my amazing community of patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on this in-depth investigation. Please support independent, investigative journalism for the global commons.
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Read Part 1 here...
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Mass surveillance is about control. Itâs promulgators may well claim, and even believe, that it is about control for the greater good, a control that is needed to keep a cap on disorder, to be fully vigilant to the next threat. But in a context of rampant political corruption, widening economic inequalities, and escalating resource stress due to climate change and energy volatility, mass surveillance can become a tool of power to merely perpetuate itself, at the publicâs expense.
A major function of mass surveillance that is often overlooked is that of knowing the adversary to such an extent that they can be manipulated into defeat. The problem is that the adversary is not just terrorists. Itâs you and me. To this day, the role of information warfare as propaganda has been in full swing, though systematically ignored by much of the media.
Here, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE exposes how the Pentagon Highlands Forumâs co-optation of tech giants like Google to pursue mass surveillance, has played a key role in secret efforts to manipulate the media as part of an information war against the American government, the American people, and the rest of the world: to justify endless war, and ceaseless military expansionism.
The war machine
In September 2013, the website of the Montery Institute for International Studiesâ Cyber Security Initiative (MIIS CySec) posted a final version of a paper on âcyber-deterrenceâ by CIA consultant Jeffrey Cooper, vice president of the US defense contractor SAIC and a founding member of the Pentagonâs Highlands Forum. The paper was presented to then NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander at a Highlands Forum session titled âCyber Commons, Engagement and Deterrenceâ in 2010.
Gen. Keith Alexander (middle), who served as director of the NSA and chief of the Central Security Service from 2005 to 2014, as well as commander of the US Cyber Command from 2010 to 2014, at the 2010 Highlands Forum session on cyber-deterrence
MIIS CySec is formally partnered with the Pentagonâs Highlands Forum through an MoU signed between the provost and Forum president Richard OâNeill, while the initiative itself is funded by George C. Lee: the Goldman Sachs executive who led the billion dollar valuations of Facebook, Google, eBay, and other tech companies.
Cooperâs eye-opening paper is no longer available at the MIIS site, but a final version of it is available via the logs of a public national security conference hosted by the American Bar Association. Currently, Cooper is chief innovation officer at SAIC/Leidos, which is among a consortium of defense technology firms including Booz Allen Hamilton and others contracted to develop NSA surveillance capabilities.
The Highlands Forum briefing for the NSA chief was commissioned under contract by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and based on concepts developed at previous Forum meetings. It was presented to Gen. Alexander at a âclosed sessionâ of the Highlands Forum moderated by MIIS Cysec director, Dr. Itamara Lochard, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC.
SAIC/Leidosâ Jeffrey Cooper (middle), a founding member of the Pentagonâs Highlands Forum, listening to Phil Venables (right), senior partner at Goldman Sachs, at the 2010 Forum session on cyber-deterrence at the CSIS
Like Rumsfeldâs IO roadmap, Cooperâs NSA briefing described âdigital information systemsâ as both a âgreat source of vulnerabilityâ and âpowerful tools and weaponsâ for ânational security.â He advocated the need for US cyber intelligence to maximize âin-depth knowledgeâ of potential and actual adversaries, so they can identify âevery potential leverage pointâ that can be exploited for deterrence or retaliation. âNetworked deterrenceâ requires the US intelligence community to develop âdeep understanding and specific knowledge about the particular networks involved and their patterns of linkages, including types and strengths of bonds,â as well as using cognitive and behavioural science to help predict patterns. His paper went on to essentially set out a theoretical architecture for modelling data obtained from surveillance and social media mining on potential âadversariesâ and âcounterparties.â
A year after this briefing with the NSA chief, Michele Weslander Quaid?â?another Highlands Forum delegate?â?joined Google to become chief technology officer, leaving her senior role in the Pentagon advising the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Two months earlier, the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Defense Intelligence published its report on Counterinsurgency (COIN), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (IRS) Operations. Quaid was among the government intelligence experts who advised and briefed the Defense Science Board Task Force in preparing the report. Another expert who briefed the Task Force was Highlands Forum veteran Linton Wells. The DSB report itself had been commissioned by Bush appointee James Clapper, then undersecretary of defense for intelligence?â?who had also commissioned Cooperâs Highlands Forum briefing to Gen. Alexander. Clapper is now Obamaâs Director of National Intelligence, in which capacity he lied under oath to Congress by claiming in March 2013 that the NSA does not collect any data at all on American citizens.
Michele Quaidâs track record across the US military intelligence community was to transition agencies into using web tools and cloud technology. The imprint of her ideas are evident in key parts of the DSB Task Force report, which described its purpose as being to âinfluence investment decisionsâ at the Pentagon âby recommending appropriate intelligence capabilities to assess insurgencies, understand a population in their environment, and support COIN operations.â
The report named 24 countries in South and Southeast Asia, North and West Africa, the Middle East and South America, which would pose âpossible COIN challengesâ for the US military in coming years. These included Pakistan, Mexico, Yemen, Nigeria, Guatemala, Gaza/West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, among other âautocratic regimes.â The report argued that âeconomic crises, climate change, demographic pressures, resource scarcity, or poor governance could cause these states (or others) to fail or become so weak that they become targets for aggressors/insurgents.â From there, the âglobal information infrastructureâ and âsocial mediaâ can rapidly âamplify the speed, intensity, and momentum of eventsâ with regional implications. âSuch areas could become sanctuaries from which to launch attacks on the US homeland, recruit personnel, and finance, train, and supply operations.â
The imperative in this context is to increase the militaryâs capacity for âleft of bangâ operations?â?before the need for a major armed forces commitment?â?to avoid insurgencies, or pre-empt them while still in incipient phase. The report goes on to conclude that âthe Internet and social media are critical sources of social network analysis data in societies that are not only literate, but also connected to the Internet.â This requires âmonitoring the blogosphere and other social media across many different cultures and languagesâ to prepare for âpopulation-centric operations.â
The Pentagon must also increase its capacity for âbehavioral modeling and simulationâ to âbetter understand and anticipate the actions of a populationâ based on âfoundation data on populations, human networks, geography, and other economic and social characteristics.â Such âpopulation-centric operationsâ will also âincreasinglyâ be needed in ânascent resource conflicts, whether based on water-crises, agricultural stress, environmental stress, or rentsâ from mineral resources. This must include monitoring âpopulation demographics as an organic part of the natural resource framework.â
Other areas for augmentation are âoverhead video surveillance,â âhigh resolution terrain data,â âcloud computing capability,â âdata fusionâ for all forms of intelligence in a âconsistent spatio-temporal framework for organizing and indexing the data,â developing âsocial science frameworksâ that can âsupport spatio-temporal encoding and analysis,â âdistributing multi-form biometric authentication technologies [âsuch as fingerprints, retina scans and DNA samplesâ] to the point of service of the most basic administrative processesâ in order to âtie identity to all an individualâs transactions.â In addition, the academy must be brought in to help the Pentagon develop âanthropological, socio-cultural, historical, human geographical, educational, public health, and many other types of social and behavioral science data and informationâ to develop âa deep understanding of populations.â
A few months after joining Google, Quaid represented the company in August 2011 at the Pentagonâs Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Customer and Industry Forum. The forum would provide âthe Services, Combatant Commands, Agencies, coalition forcesâ the âopportunity to directly engage with industry on innovative technologies to enable and ensure capabilities in support of our Warfighters.â Participants in the event have been integral to efforts to create a âdefense enterprise information environment,â defined as âan integrated platform which includes the network, computing, environment, services, information assurance, and NetOps capabilities,â enabling warfighters to âconnect, identify themselves, discover and share information, and collaborate across the full spectrum of military operations.â Most of the forum panelists were DoD officials, except for just four industry panelists including Googleâs Quaid.
DISA officials have attended the Highlands Forum, too?â?such as Paul Friedrichs, a technical director and chief engineer of DISAâs Office of the Chief Information Assurance Executive.
Knowledge is Power
Given all this it is hardly surprising that in 2012, a few months after Highlands Forum co-chair Regina Dugan left DARPA to join Google as a senior executive, then NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander was emailing Googleâs founding executive Sergey Brin to discuss information sharing for national security. In those emails, obtained under Freedom of Information by investigative journalist Jason Leopold, Gen. Alexander described Google as a âkey member of [the US militaryâs] Defense Industrial Base,â a position Michele Quaid was apparently consolidating. Brinâs jovial relationship with the former NSA chief now makes perfect sense given that Brin had been in contact with representatives of the CIA and NSA, who partly funded and oversaw his creation of the Google search engine, since the mid-1990s.
In July 2014, Quaid spoke at a US Army panel on the creation of a ârapid acquisition cellâ to advance the US Armyâs âcyber capabilitiesâ as part of the Force 2025 transformation initiative. She told Pentagon officials that âmany of the Armyâs 2025 technology goals can be realized with commercial technology available or in development today,â re-affirming that âindustry is ready to partner with the Army in supporting the new paradigm.â Around the same time, most of the media was trumpeting the idea that Google was trying to distance itself from Pentagon funding, but in reality, Google has switched tactics to independently develop commercial technologies which would have military applications the Pentagonâs transformation goals.
Yet Quaid is hardly the only point-person in Googleâs relationship with the US military intelligence community.
One year after Google bought the satellite mapping software Keyhole from CIA venture capital firm In-Q-Tel in 2004, In-Q-Telâs director of technical assessment Rob Painter?â?who played a key role in In-Q-Telâs Keyhole investment in the first place?â?moved to Google. At In-Q-Tel, Painterâs work focused on identifying, researching and evaluating ânew start-up technology firms that were believed to offer tremendous value to the CIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.â Indeed, the NGA had confirmed that its intelligence obtained via Keyhole was used by the NSA to support US operations in Iraq from 2003 onwards.
A former US Army special operations intelligence officer, Painterâs new job at Google as of July 2005 was federal manager of what Keyhole was to become: Google Earth Enterprise. By 2007, Painter had become Googleâs federal chief technologist.
That year, Painter told the Washington Post that Google was âin the beginning stagesâ of selling advanced secret versions of its products to the US government. âGoogle has ramped up its sales force in the Washington area in the past year to adapt its technology products to the needs of the military, civilian agencies and the intelligence community,â the Post reported. The Pentagon was already using a version of Google Earth developed in partnership with Lockheed Martin to âdisplay information for the military on the ground in Iraq,â including âmapping out displays of key regions of the countryâ and outlining âSunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, as well as US and Iraqi military bases in the city. Neither Lockheed nor Google would say how the geospatial agency uses the data.â Google aimed to sell the government new âenhanced versions of Google Earthâ and âsearch engines that can be used internally by agencies.â
White House records leaked in 2010 showed that Google executives had held several meetings with senior US National Security Council officials. Alan Davidson, Googleâs government affairs director, had at least three meetings with officials of the National Security Council in 2009, including White House senior director for Russian affairs Mike McFaul and Middle East advisor Daniel Shapiro. It also emerged from a Google patent application that the company had deliberately been collecting âpayloadâ data from private wifi networks that would enable the identification of âgeolocations.â In the same year, we now know, Google had signed an agreement with the NSA giving the agency open-ended access to the personal information of its users, and its hardware and software, in the name of cyber security?â?agreements that Gen. Alexander was busy replicating with hundreds of telecoms CEOs around the country.
Thus, it is not just Google that is a key contributor and foundation of the US military-industrial complex: it is the entire Internet, and the wide range of private sector companies?â?many nurtured and funded under the mantle of the US intelligence community (or powerful financiers embedded in that community)?â?which sustain the Internet and the telecoms infrastructure; it is also the myriad of start-ups selling cutting edge technologies to the CIAâs venture firm In-Q-Tel, where they can then be adapted and advanced for applications across the military intelligence community. Ultimately, the global surveillance apparatus and the classified tools used by agencies like the NSA to administer it, have been almost entirely made by external researchers and private contractors like Google, which operate outside the Pentagon.
This structure, mirrored in the workings of the Pentagonâs Highlands Forum, allows the Pentagon to rapidly capitalize on technological innovations it would otherwise miss, while also keeping the private sector at arms length, at least ostensibly, to avoid uncomfortable questions about what such technology is actually being used for.
But isnât it obvious, really? The Pentagon is about war, whether overt or covert. By helping build the technological surveillance infrastructure of the NSA, firms like Google are complicit in what the military-industrial complex does best: kill for cash.
As the nature of mass surveillance suggests, its target is not merely terrorists, but by extension, âterrorism suspectsâ and âpotential terrorists,â the upshot being that entire populations?â?especially political activists?â?must be targeted by US intelligence surveillance to identify active and future threats, and to be vigilant against hypothetical populist insurgencies both at home and abroad. Predictive analytics and behavioural profiles play a pivotal role here.
Mass surveillance and data-mining also now has a distinctive operational purpose in assisting with the lethal execution of special operations, selecting targets for the CIAâs drone strike kill lists via dubious algorithms, for instance, along with providing geospatial and other information for combatant commanders on land, air and sea, among many other functions. A single social media post on Twitter or Facebook is enough to trigger being placed on secret terrorism watch-lists solely due to a vaguely defined hunch or suspicion; and can potentially even land a suspect on a kill list.
The push for indiscriminate, comprehensive mass surveillance by the military-industrial complex?â?encompassing the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, defense contractors, and supposedly friendly tech giants like Google and Facebook?â?is therefore not an end in itself, but an instrument of power, whose goal is self-perpetuation. But there is also a self-rationalizing justification for this goal: while being great for the military-industrial complex, it is also, supposedly, great for everyone else.
The âlong warâ
No better illustration of the truly chauvinistic, narcissistic, and self-congratulatory ideology of power at the heart of the military-industrial complex is a book by long-time Highlands Forum delegate, Dr. Thomas Barnett, The Pentagonâs New Map. Barnett was assistant for strategic futures in the Pentagonâs Office of Force Transformation from 2001 to 2003, and had been recommended to Richard OâNeill by his boss Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski. Apart from becoming a New York Times bestseller, Barnettâs book had been read far and wide in the US military, by senior defense officials in Washington and combatant commanders operating on the ground in the Middle East.
Barnett first attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum in 1998, then was invited to deliver a briefing about his work at the Forum on December 7th 2004, which was attended by senior Pentagon officials, energy experts, internet entrepreneurs, and journalists. Barnett received a glowing review in the Washington Post from his Highlands Forum buddy David Ignatius a week later, and an endorsement from another Forum friend, Thomas Friedman, both of which helped massively boost his credibility and readership.
Barnettâs vision is neoconservative to the root. He sees the world as divided into essentially two realms: The Core, which consists of advanced countries playing by the rules of economic globalization (the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Japan) along with developing countries committed to getting there (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and some others); and the rest of the world, which is The Gap, a disparate wilderness of dangerous and lawless countries defined fundamentally by being âdisconnectedâ from the wonders of globalization. This includes most of the Middle East and Africa, large swathes of South America, as well as much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It is the task of the United States to âshrink The Gap,â by spreading the cultural and economic ârule-setâ of globalization that characterizes The Core, and by enforcing security worldwide to enable that ârule-setâ to spread.
These two functions of US power are captured by Barnettâs concepts of âLeviathanâ and âSystem Administrator.â The former is about rule-setting to facilitate the spread of capitalist markets, regulated via military and civilian law. The latter is about projecting military force into The Gap in an open-ended global mission to enforce security and engage in nation-building. Not ârebuilding,â he is keen to emphasize, but building ânew nations.â
For Barnett, the Bush administrationâs 2002 introduction of the Patriot Act at home, with its crushing of habeas corpus, and the National Security Strategy abroad, with its opening up of unilateral, pre-emptive war, represented the beginning of the necessary re-writing of rule-sets in The Core to embark on this noble mission. This is the only way for the US to achieve security, writes Barnett, because as long as The Gap exists, it will always be a source of lawless violence and disorder. One paragraph in particular sums up his vision:
âAmerica as global cop creates security. Security creates common rules. Rules attract foreign investment. Investment creates infrastructure. Infrastructure creates access to natural resources. Resources create economic growth. Growth creates stability. Stability creates markets. And once youâre a growing, stable part of the global market, youâre part of the Core. Mission accomplished.â
Much of what Barnett predicted would need to happen to fulfill this vision, despite its neoconservative bent, is still being pursued under Obama. In the near future, Barnett had predicted, US military forces will be dispatched beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to places like Uzbekistan, Djibouti, Azerbaijan, Northwest Africa, Southern Africa and South America.
Barnettâs Pentagon briefing was greeted with near universal enthusiasm. The Forum had even purchased copies of his book and had them distributed to all Forum delegates, and in May 2005, Barnett was invited back to participate in an entire Forum themed around his âSysAdminâ concept.
The Highlands Forum has thus played a leading role in defining the Pentagonâs entire conceptualization of the âwar on terror.â Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a retired IMB vice president who co-chaired the Presidentâs Information Technology Advisory Committee from 1997 to 2001, described his experience of one 2007 Forum meeting in telling terms:
âThen there is the War on Terror, which DoD has started to refer to as the Long War, a term that I first heard at the Forum. It seems very appropriate to describe the overall conflict in which we now find ourselves. This is a truly global conflictâ¦ the conflicts we are now in have much more of the feel of a battle of civilizations or cultures trying to destroy our very way of life and impose their own.â
The problem is that outside this powerful Pentagon-hosted clique, not everyone else agrees. âIâm not convinced that Barnettâs cure would be any better than the disease,â wrote Dr. Karen Kwiatowski, a former senior Pentagon analyst in the Near East and South Asia section, who blew the whistle on how her department deliberately manufactured false information in the run-up to the Iraq War. âIt would surely cost far more in American liberty, constitutional democracy and blood than it would be worth.â
Yet the equation of âshrinking The Gapâ with sustaining the national security of The Core leads to a slippery slope. It means that if the US is prevented from playing this leadership role as âglobal cop,â The Gap will widen, The Core will shrink, and the entire global order could unravel. By this logic, the US simply cannot afford government or public opinion to reject the legitimacy of its mission. If it did so, it would allow The Gap to grow out of control, undermining The Core, and potentially destroying it, along with The Coreâs protector, America. Therefore, âshrinking The Gapâ is not just a security imperative: it is such an existential priority, that it must be backed up with information war to demonstrate to the world the legitimacy of the entire project.
Based on OâNeillâs principles of information warfare as articulated in his 1989 US Navy brief, the targets of information war are not just populations in The Gap, but domestic populations in The Core, and their governments: including the US government. That secret brief, which according to former senior US intelligence official John Alexander was read by the Pentagonâs top leadership, argued that information war must be targeted at: adversaries to convince them of their vulnerability; potential partners around the world so they accept âthe cause as justâ; and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they believe that âthe costâ in blood and treasure is worth it.
Barnettâs work was plugged by the Pentagonâs Highlands Forum because it fit the bill, in providing a compelling âfeel goodâ ideology for the US military-industrial complex.
But neoconservative ideology, of course, hardly originated with Barnett, himself a relatively small player, even though his work was extremely influential throughout the Pentagon. The regressive thinking of senior officials involved in the Highlands Forum is visible from long before 9/11, which was ceased upon by actors linked to the Forum as a powerful enabling force that legitimized the increasingly aggressive direction of US foreign and intelligence policies.
Yoda and the Soviets
The ideology represented by the Highlands Forum can be gleaned from long before its establishment in 1994, at a time when Andrew âYodaâ Marshallâs ONA was the primary locus of Pentagon activity on future planning.
A widely-held myth promulgated by national security journalists over the years is that the ONAâs reputation as the Pentagonâs resident oracle machine was down to the uncanny analytical foresight of its director Marshall. Supposedly, he was among the few who made the prescient recognition that the Soviet threat had been overblown by the US intelligence community. He had, the story goes, been a lone, but relentless voice inside the Pentagon, calling on policymakers to re-evaluate their projections of the USSRâs military might.
Except the story is not true. The ONA was not about sober threat analysis, but about paranoid threat projection justifying military expansionism. Foreign Policyâs Jeffrey Lewis points out that far from offering a voice of reason calling for a more balanced assessment of Soviet military capabilities, Marshall tried to downplay ONA findings that rejected the hype around an imminent Soviet threat. Having commissioned a study concluding that the US had overestimated Soviet aggressiveness, Marshall circulated it with a cover note declaring himself âunpersuadedâ by its findings. Lewis charts how Marshallâs threat projection mind-set extended to commissioning absurd research supporting staple neocon narratives about the (non-existent) Saddam-al-Qaeda link, and even the notorious report by a RAND consultant calling for re-drawing the map of the Middle East, presented to the Pentagonâs Defense Policy Board on the invitation of Richard Perle in 2002.
Investigative journalist Jason Vest similarly found from Pentagon sources that during the Cold War, Marshall had long hyped the Soviet threat, and played a key role in giving the neoconservative pressure group, the Committee on the Present Danger, access to classified CIA intelligence data to re-write the National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet Military Intentions. This was a precursor to the manipulation of intelligence after 9/11 to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Former ONA staffers confirmed that Marshall had been belligerent about an imminent Soviet threat âuntil the very end.â Ex-CIA sovietologist Melvin Goodman, for instance, recalled that Marshall was also instrumental in pushing for the Afghan mujahideen to be provided with Stinger missiles?â?a move which made the war even more brutal, encouraging the Russians to use scorched earth tactics.
Enron, the Taliban and Iraq
The post-Cold War period saw the Pentagonâs creation of the Highlands Forum in 1994 under the wing of former defense secretary William Perry?â?a former CIA director and early advocate of neocon ideas like preventive war. Surprisingly, the Forumâs dubious role as a government-industry bridge can be clearly discerned in relation to Enronâs flirtations with the US government. Just as the Forum had crafted the Pentagonâs intensifying policies on mass surveillance, it simultaneously fed directly into the strategic thinking that culminating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On November 7th 2000, George W. Bush âwonâ the US presidential elections. Enron and its employees had given over $1 million to the Bush campaign in total. That included contributing $10,500 to Bushâs Florida recount committee, and a further $300,000 for the inaugural celebrations afterwards. Enron also provided corporate jets to shuttle Republican lawyers around Florida and Washington lobbying on behalf of Bush for the December recount. Federal election documents later showed that since 1989, Enron had made a total of $5.8 million in campaign donations, 73 percent to Republicans and 27 percent to Democrats?â?with as many as 15 senior Bush administration officials owning stock in Enron, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, senior advisor Karl Rove, and army secretary Thomas White.
Yet just one day before that controversial election, Pentagon Highlands Forum founding president Richard OâNeill wrote to Enron CEO, Kenneth Lay, inviting him to give a presentation at the Forum on modernizing the Pentagon and the Army. The email from OâNeill to Lay was released as part of the Enron Corpus, the emails obtained by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but has remained unknown until now.
The email began âOn behalf of Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I) and DoD CIO Arthur Money,â and invited Lay âto participate in the Secretary of Defenseâs Highlands Forum,â which OâNeill described as âa cross-disciplinary group of eminent scholars, researchers, CEOâs/CIOâs/CTOâs from industry, and leaders from the media, the arts and the professions, who have met over the past six years to examine areas of emerging interest to all of us.â He added that Forum sessions include âseniors from the White House, Defense, and other agencies of government (we limit government participation to about 25%).â
Here, OâNeill reveals that the Pentagon Highlands Forum was, fundamentally, about exploring not just the goals of government, but the interests of participating industry leaders like Enron. The Pentagon, OâNeill went on, wanted Lay to feed into âthe search for information/ transformation strategies for the Department of Defense (and government in general),â particularly âfrom a business perspective (transformation, productivity, competitive advantage).â He offered high praise of Enron as âa remarkable example of transformation in a highly rigid, regulated industry, that has created a new model and new markets.â
OâNeill made clear that the Pentagon wanted Enron to play a pivotal role in the DoDâs future, not just in the creation of âan operational strategy which has information superiority,â but also in relation to the DoDâs âenormous global business enterprise which can benefit from many of the best practices and ideas from industry.â
âENRON is of great interest to us,â he reaffirmed. âWhat we learn from you may help the Department of Defense a great deal as it works to build a new strategy. I hope that you have time on your busy schedule to join us for as much of the Highlands Forum as you can attend and speak with the group.â
That Highlands Forum meeting was attended by senior White House and US intelligence officials, including CIA deputy director Joan A. Dempsey, who had previously served as assistant defense secretary for intelligence, and in 2003 was appointed by Bush as executive director of the Presidentâs Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, in which capacity she praised extensive information sharing by the NSA and NGA after 9/11. She went on to become executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a major Pentagon contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan that, among other things, created the Coalition Provisional Authorityâs database to track what we now know were highly corrupt reconstruction projects in Iraq.
Enronâs relationship with the Pentagon had already been in full swing the previous year. Thomas White, then vice chair of Enron energy services, had used his extensive US military connections to secure a prototype deal at Fort Hamilton to privatize the power supply of army bases. Enron was the only bidder for the deal. The following year, after Enronâs CEO was invited to the Highlands Forum, White gave his first speech in June just âtwo weeks after he became secretary of the Army,â where he âvowed to speed up the awarding of such contracts,â along with further ârapid privatizationâ of the Armyâs energy services. âPotentially, Enron could benefit from the speedup in awarding contracts, as could others seeking the business,â observed USA Today.
That month, on the authority of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld?â?who himself held significant shares in Enron?â?Bushâs Pentagon invited another Enron executive and one of Enronâs senior external financial advisors to attend a further secret Highlands Forum session.
An email from Richard OâNeill dated June 22nd, obtained via the Enron Corpus, showed that Steven Kean, then executive vice president and chief of staff of Enron, was due to give another Highlands presentation on Monday 25th. âWe are approaching the Secretary of Defense-sponsored Highlands Forum and very much looking forward to your participation,â wrote OâNeill, promising Kean that he would be âthe centerpiece of discussion. Enronâs experience is quite important to us as we seriously consider transformative change in the Department of Defense.â
Steven Kean is now president and COO (and incoming CEO) of Kinder Morgan, one of the largest energy companies in North America, and a major supporter of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.
Due to attend the same Highlands Forum session with Kean was Richard Foster, then a senior partner at the financial consultancy McKinsey. âI have given copies of Dick Fosterâs new book, Creative Destruction, to the Deputy Secretary of Defense as well as the Assistant Secretary,â said OâNeill in his email, âand the Enron case that he outlines makes for important discussion. We intend to hand out copies to the participants at the Forum.â
Fosterâs firm, McKinsey, had provided strategic financial advice to Enron since the mid-1980s. Joe Skilling, who in February 2001 became Enron CEO while Kenneth Lay moved to chair, had been head of McKinseyâs energy consulting business before joining Enron in 1990.
McKinsey and then partner Richard Foster were intimately involved in crafting the core Enron financial management strategies responsible for the companyâs rapid, but fraudulent, growth. While McKinsey has always denied being aware of the dodgy accounting that led to Enronâs demise, internal company documents showed that Foster had attended an Enron finance committee meeting a month before the Highlands Forum session to discuss the âneed for outside private partnerships to help drive the companyâs explosive growthâ?â?the very investment partnerships responsible for the collapse of Enron.
McKinsey documents showed that the firm was âfully aware of Enronâs extensive use of off-balance-sheet funds.â As The Independentâs economics editor Ben Chu remarks, âMcKinsey fully endorsed the dubious accounting methods,â which led to the inflation of Enronâs market valuation and âthat caused the company to implode in 2001.â
Indeed, Foster himself had personally attended six Enron board meetings from October 2000 to October 2001. That period roughly coincided with Enronâs growing influence on the Bush administrationâs energy policies, and the Pentagonâs planning for Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Foster was also a regular attendee at the Pentagon Highlands Forum?â?his LinkedIn profile describes him as member of the Forum since 2000, the year he ramped up engagement with Enron. He also delivered a presentation at the inaugural Island Forum in Singapore in 2002.
Enronâs involvement in the Cheney Energy Task Force appears to have been linked to the Bush administrationâs 2001 planning for both the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, motivated by control of oil. As noted by Prof. Richard Falk, a former board member of Human Rights Watch and ex-UN investigator, Enronâs Kenneth Lay âwas the main confidential consultant relied upon by Vice President Dick Cheney during the highly secretive process of drafting a report outlining a national energy policy, widely regarded as a key element in the US approach to foreign policy generally and the Arab world in particular.â
The intimate secret meetings between senior Enron executives and high-level US government officials via the Pentagon Highlands Forum, from November 2000 to June 2001, played a central role in establishing and cementing the increasingly symbiotic link between Enron and Pentagon planning. The Forumâs role was, as OâNeill has always said, to function as an ideas lab to explore the mutual interests of industry and government.
Enron and Pentagon war planning
In February 2001, when Enron executives including Kenneth Lay began participating concertedly in the Cheney Energy Task Force, a classified National Security Council document instructed NSC staffers to work with the task force in âmeldingâ previously separate issues: âoperational policies towards rogue statesâ and âactions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.â
According to Bushâs treasury secretary Paul OâNeill, as quoted by Ron Suskind in The Price of Loyalty (2004), cabinet officials discussed an invasion of Iraq in their first NSC meeting, and had even prepared a map for a post-war occupation marking the carve-up of Iraqâs oil fields. The message at that time from President Bush was that officials must âfind a way to do this.â
Cheney Energy Task Force documents obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information revealed that by March, with extensive industry input, the task force had prepared maps of Gulf state and especially Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, and refineries, along with a list titled âForeign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.â By April, a think-tank report commissioned by Cheney, overseen by former secretary of state James Baker, and put together by a committee of energy industry and national security experts, urged the US government âto conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments,â to deal with Iraqâs âdestabilizing influenceâ on oil flows to global markets. The report included recommendations from Highlands Forum delegate and Enron chair, Kenneth Lay.
But Cheneyâs Energy Task Force was also busily pushing forward plans for Afghanistan involving Enron, that had been in motion under Clinton. Through the late 1990s, Enron was working with California-based US energy company Unocal to develop an oil and gas pipeline that would tap Caspian basin reserves, and carry oil and gas across Afghanistan, supplying Pakistan, India and potentially other markets. The endeavor had the official blessing of the Clinton administration, and later the Bush administration, which held several meetings with Taliban representatives to negotiate terms for the pipeline deal throughout 2001. The Taliban, whose conquest of Afghanistan had received covert assistance under Clinton, was to receive formal recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in return for permitting the installation of the pipeline. Enron paid $400 million for a feasibility study for the pipeline, a large portion of which was siphoned off as bribes to Taliban leaders, and even hired CIA agents to help facilitate.
Then in summer 2001, while Enron officials were liaising with senior Pentagon officials at the Highlands Forum, the White Houseâs National Security Council was running a cross-departmental âworking groupâ led by Rumsfeld and Cheney to help complete an ongoing Enron project in India, a $3 billion power plant in Dabhol. The plant was slated to receive its energy from the Trans-Afghan pipeline. The NSCâs âDabhol Working Group,â chaired by Bushâs national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, generated a range of tactics to enhance US government pressure on India to complete the Dabhol plant?â?pressure that continued all the way to early November. The Dabhol project, and the Trans-Afghan pipeline, was by far Enronâs most lucrative overseas deal.
Throughout 2001, Enron officials, including Ken Lay, participated in Cheneyâs Energy Task Force, along with representatives across the US energy industry. Starting from February, shortly after the Bush administration took office, Enron was involved in about half a dozen of these Energy Task Force meetings. After one of these secret meetings, a draft energy proposal was amended to include a new provision proposing to dramatically boost oil and natural gas production in India in a way that would apply only to Enronâs Dabhol power plant. In other words, ensuring the flow of cheap gas to India via the Trans-Afghan pipeline was now a matter of US ânational security.â
A month or two after this, the Bush administration gave the Taliban $43 million, justified by its crackdown on opium production, despite US-imposed UN sanctions preventing aid to the group for not handing over Osama bin Laden.
Then in June 2001, the same month that Enronâs executive vice president Steve Kean attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum, the companyâs hopes for the Dabhol project were dashed when the Trans-Afghan pipeline failed to materialize, and as a consequence, construction on the Dabhol power plant was shut down. The failure of the $3 billion project contributed to Enronâs bankruptcy in December. That month, Enron officials met with Bushâs commerce secretary, Donald Evans, about the plant, and Cheney lobbied Indiaâs main opposition party about the Dhabol project. Ken Lay had also reportedly contacted the Bush administration around this time to inform officials about the firmâs financial troubles.
By August, desperate to pull off the deal, US officials threatened Taliban representatives with war if they refused to accept American terms: namely, to cease fighting and join in a federal alliance with the opposition Northern Alliance; and to give up demands for local consumption of the gas. On the 15th of that month, Enron lobbyist Pat Shortridge told then White House economic advisor Robert McNally that Enron was heading for a financial meltdown that could cripple the countryâs energy markets.
The Bush administration must have anticipated the Talibanâs rejection of the deal, because they had planned a war on Afghanistan from as early as July. According to then Pakistani foreign minister Niaz Naik, who had participated in the US-Taliban negotiations, US officials told him they planned to invade Afghanistan in mid-October 2001. No sooner had the war commenced, Bushâs ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, called Pakistaniâs oil minister Usman Aminuddin to discuss âthe proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project,â according to the Frontier Post, a Pakistani English-language broadsheet. They reportedly agreed that the âproject opens up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation particularly in view of the recent geo-political developments in the region.â
Two days before 9/11, Condoleeza Rice received the draft of a formal National Security Presidential Directive that Bush was expected to sign immediately. The directive contained a comprehensive plan to launch a global war on al-Qaeda, including an âimminentâ invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. The directive was approved by the highest levels of the White House and officials of the National Security Council, including of course Rice and Rumsfeld. The same NSC officials were simultaneously running the Dhabol Working Group to secure the Indian power plant deal for Enronâs Trans-Afghan pipeline project. The next day, one day before 9/11, the Bush administration formally agreed on the plan to attack the Taliban.
The Pentagon Highlands Forumâs background link with the interests involved in all this, show they were not unique to the Bush administration?â?which is why, as Obama was preparing to pull troops out of Afghanistan, he re-affirmed his governmentâs support for the Trans-Afghan pipeline project, and his desire for a US firm to construct it.
The Pentagonâs propaganda fixer
Throughout this period, information war played a central role in drumming up public support for war?â?and the Highlands Forum led the way.
In December 2000, just under a year before 9/11 and shortly after George W. Bushâs election victory, key Forum members participated in an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to explore âthe impact of the information revolution, globalization, and the end of the Cold War on the US foreign policy making process.â Rather than proposing âincremental reforms,â the meeting was for participants to âbuild from scratch a new model that is optimized to the specific properties of the new global environment.â
Among the issues flagged up in the meeting was the âGlobal Control Revolutionâ: the âdistributedâ nature of the information revolution was altering âkey dynamics of world politics by challenging the primacy of states and inter-state relations.â This was âcreating new challenges to national security, reducing the ability of leading states to control global policy debates, challenging the efficacy of national economic policies, etc.â
In other words, how can the Pentagon find a way to exploit the information revolution to âcontrol global policy debates,â particularly on ânational economic policiesâ?
The meeting was co-hosted by Jamie Metzl, who at the time served on Bill Clintonâs National Security Council, where he had just led the drafting of Clintonâs Presidential Decision Directive 68 on International Public Information (IPI), a new multiagency plan to coordinate US public information dissemination abroad. Metzl went on to coordinate IPI at the State Department.
The preceding year, a senior Clinton official revealed to the Washington Times that Metzâs IPI was really aimed at âspinning the American public,â and had âemerged out of concern that the US public has refused to back President Clintonâs foreign policy.â The IPI would plant news stories favorable to US interests via TV, press, radio and other media based abroad, in hopes it would get picked up in American media. The pretext was that ânews coverage is distorted at home and they need to fight it at all costs by using resources that are aimed at spinning the news.â Metzl ran the IPIâs overseas propaganda operations for Iraq and Kosovo.
Other participants of the Carnegie meeting in December 2000, included two founding members of the Highlands Forum, Richard OâNeill and SAICâs Jeff Cooper?â?along with Paul Wolfowitz, another Andrew Marshall acolyte who was about to join the incoming Bush administration as Rumsfeldsâ deputy defense secretary. Also present was a figure who soon became particularly notorious in the propaganda around Afghanistan and Iraq War 2003: John W. Rendon, Jr., founding president of The Rendon Group (TRG) and another longtime Pentagon Highlands Forum member.
John Rendon (right) at the Highlands Forum, accompanied by BBC anchor Nik Gowing (left) and Jeff Jonas, IBM Entity Analytics chief engineer (middle)
TRG is a notorious communications firm that has been a US government contractor for decades. Rendon played a pivotal role in running the State Departmentâs propaganda campaigns in Iraq and Kosovo under Clinton and Metzl. That included receiving a Pentagon grant to run a news website, the Balkans Information Exchange, and a US Agency for International Development (USAID) contract to promote âprivatization.â
Rendonâs central role in helping the Bush administration hype up the non-existent threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to justify a US military invasion is now well-known. As James Bamford famously exposed in his seminal Rolling Stone investigation, Rendon played an instrumental role on behalf of the Bush administration in deploying âperception managementâ to âcreate the conditions for the removal of Hussein from powerâ under multi-million dollar CIA and Pentagon contracts.
Among Rendonâs activities was the creation of Ahmed Chalabiâs Iraqi National Congress (INC) on behalf of the CIA, a group of Iraqi exiles tasked with disseminating propaganda, including much of the false intelligence about WMD. That process had begun concertedly under the administration of George H W. Bush, then rumbled along under Clinton with little fanfare, before escalating after 9/11 under George W. Bush. Rendon thus played a large role in the manufacture of inaccurate and false news stories relating to Iraq under lucrative CIA and Pentagon contracts?â?and he did so in the period running up to the 2003 invasion as an advisor to Bushâs National Security Council: the same NSC, of course, that planned the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, achieved with input from Enron executives who were simultaneously engaging the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
But that is the tip of iceberg. Declassified documents show that the Highlands Forum was intimately involved in the covert processes by which key officials engineered the road to war on Iraq, based on information warfare.
A redacted 2007 report by the DoDâs Inspector General reveals that one of the contractors used extensively by the Pentagon Highlands Forum during and after the Iraq War was none other than The Rendon Group. TRG was contracted by the Pentagon to organize Forum sessions, determine subjects for discussion, as well as to convene and coordinate Forum meetings. The Inspector General investigation had been prompted by accusations raised in Congress about Rendonâs role in manipulating information to justify the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. According to the Inspector General report:
ââ¦ the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration/Chief Information Officer employed TRG to conduct forums that would appeal to a cross-disciplinary group of nationally regarded leaders. The forums were in small groups discussing information and technologies and their effects on science, organizational and business processes, international relations, economics, and national security. TRG also conducted a research program and interviews to formulate and develop topics for the Highlands Forum focus group. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration would approve the subjects, and TRG would facilitate the meetings.â
TRG, the Pentagonâs private propaganda arm, thus played a central role in literally running the Pentagon Highlands Forum process that brought together senior government officials with industry executives to generate DoD information warfare strategy.
The Pentagonâs internal investigation absolved Rendon of any wrongdoing. But this is not surprising, given the conflict of interest at stake: the Inspector General at the time was Claude M. Kicklighter, a Bush nominee who had directly overseen the administrationâs key military operations. In 2003, he was director of the Pentagonâs Iraq Transition Team, and the following year he was appointed to the State Department as special advisor on stabilization and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The surveillance-propaganda nexus
Even more telling, Pentagon documents obtained by Bamford for his Rolling Stone story revealed that Rendon had been given access to the NSAâs top-secret surveillance data to carry out its work on behalf of the Pentagon. TRG, the DoD documents said, is authorized âto research and analyze information classified up to Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS.â
âSCIâ means Sensitive Compartmented Information, data classified higher than Top Secret, while âSIâ designates Special Intelligence, that is, highly secret communications intercepted by the NSA. âTKâ refers to Talent/Keyhole, code names for imagery from reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites, while âGâ stands for Gamma, encompassing communications intercepts from extremely sensitive sources, and âHCSâ means Humint Control System?â?information from a very sensitive human source. In Bamfordâs words:
âTaken together, the acronyms indicate that Rendon enjoys access to the most secret information from all three forms of intelligence collection: eavesdropping, imaging satellites and human spies.â
So the Pentagon had:
1. contracted Rendon, a propaganda firm;
2. given Rendon access to the intelligence communityâs most classified information including data from NSA surveillance;
3. tasked Rendon to facilitating the DoDâs development of information operations strategy by running the Highlands Forum process;
4. and further, tasked Rendon with overseeing the concrete execution of this strategy developed through the Highlands Forum process, in actual information operations around the world in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
TRG chief executive John Rendon remains closely involved in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, and ongoing DoD information operations in the Muslim world. His November 2014 biography for the Harvard Kennedy School âEmerging Leadersâ course describes him as âa participant in forward-thinking organizations such as the Highlands Forum,â=9
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