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I think I know why the caged canary sings

I first learned about the "Canary Trap" in Tom Clancy's "Patriot Games." It's a technique for identifying leakers; feed selected (often false) information to those you suspect of disloyalty, then see if it appears in public. In more sophisticated forms, it involves giving different suspects different information (or different details) of the same story. It's been around for ages, and nearly everyone knows about it, but it is still used, and it still works.

I was reminded of that recently, and I find myself speculating on whether it's been brought back, with spectacular results.

First, we had the Pulitzer Prize-winning story about secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. The funny thing was, nobody could find a single shred of evidence that such prisons existed.

Now we have the news of a secret NSA program that collected literally trillions of phone records (at rough estimate) and dumped them into a database for data-mining, in quest of connections to terrorists. This story dominated all the news for days, with some of the far lefties calling it an "impeachable offense" and using it to assail General Hayden's nomination to head up the CIA.

But now, two of the phone companies cited as giving their data to the NSA have issued very strong -- even categorical -- denials. The story, as spectacular as it sounded, appears to be built on air.

Just like the secret prisons story.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence or inside information to work from. As I often say, I'm just a nobody from nowhere. But if I was in charge of counterintelligence for the CIA or the NSA, I'd be deeply troubled by all the leaks from the agency. And if someone were to suggest I cook up a few really, really juicy stories, the types of stories that would be absolutely irresistible to those ideologically-driven leakers, those who seem to be focused on assailing the Bush administration in order to preserve the ingrained bureaucracy and culture of the intelligence community. Stories such as secret prisons or massive federal snooping would fit the bill quite nicely.

All speculation, all conjecture, all half a step above fantasy. But it seems to fit the facts as they stand today.


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» The Thunder Run linked with Web Reconnaissance for 05/18/2006

Comments (27)

It might be possible to con... (Below threshold)

It might be possible to contain a secret inside an intelligence agency, at least it was at one time but somehow I doubt that it's even remotely possible to keep the same secret in a major telephone company's management, even less likely still to do it with 3 or 4 ocmpeting phone companies who are competing with each other.

I've wondered that myself, ... (Below threshold)

I've wondered that myself, Jay. It's really odd that nobody could come up with a CIA prison - since usually a prison isn't exactly something that's easily hidden.

Unless they built it in a mountain somewhere, or under a desert - but in Europe? A secret prison? I just don't see it.

Does it strike anyone else that the credibility of 'Anonymous' seems to be rising in leaps and bounds with the media, and dropping for anyone else? Seems like 'Anonymous' has a hard time coming up with anything verifiable - but that's sure not stopping the media from reporting anything from an 'Anonymous' source as real...

You are not the only one th... (Below threshold)

You are not the only one thinking along those lines.

I've said too much already.

Interesting if true.<... (Below threshold)

Interesting if true.

Problem is that the people who are inclined to believe the story will not be persuaded otherwise no matter how many denials the phone companies issue.

If Helen Thomas doesn't kno... (Below threshold)
Robb H:

If Helen Thomas doesn't know about it, it can't possibly be true. Sorry.

'Report' the 'story' first,... (Below threshold)

'Report' the 'story' first, find out if it's actually true later.

There is no media bias.

Not o confuse anyone with f... (Below threshold)

Not o confuse anyone with facts, but there are prisons and according to this story the U.S. has admitted to that:

STRASBOURG (AFP) - The US Central Intelligence Agency has sent up to 50 suspects since 2001 to countries where they could face torture, a European Union investigator probing the CIA's actions in Europe said.

Claudio Fava, an Italian member of the European Parliament , said members of his team were given the information by US intelligence officials during a visit to the United States last week.

The sources had also said the agency ran secret prisons in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Re: the phone companies, according to a lawsuit filed in San Francisco by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (the same organization that has been strong supporters of blogger's rights) AT&T phone centers in several cities across the U.S. are set up to provide phone and internet traffic to the government.

and then there's is this news today:

Iain Thomson, vnunet.com 18 May 2006

AT&T has lost its legal battle with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) over leaked documents purporting to show that the telco had been helping the US National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on its customers.

The documents, which were handed to the EFF by a former technician at AT &T, allegedly show that the telco opened its key telecoms facilities and databases to direct access by the NSA and/or other government agencies, thereby disclosing to the government the contents of its customers' communications as well as detailed communications records about millions of its customers.

US District Judge Vaughn Walker said that the evidence - three documents that AT&T alleges are proprietary and contain company trade secrets - can be used in the case but will be kept under seal for now.

Disturbing news to disturbed people who just don't want this story to be true (Paul), but in the NSA/Phone case the canary is singing a tune a lot of people just don't want to believe.

I think there is a sting operation underway to catch leakers -- especially since some of the leaks we've seen appear to have gone beyond whistleblowing. The Rove indictment fluff this last weekend may have been part of a sting. Even if Rove is indicted, the early leak of that indictment may have been part of a canary hunt.

(reposted without links after the first attempt to post with links to these stories was blocked by Whizbang!'s moderation software)

Lee, I don't think the quot... (Below threshold)

Lee, I don't think the quoted material about the secret prisons quite proves your case. It's a start, but doesn't go far enough, in my opinion. It basically boils down to a "I heard it from someone who heard it from someone" chain which, for all we know, might be part of the original disinformation.

I'd like to see (a) photographic evidence or (b) the testimony from someone who either runs one of them or is stationed in one of them. Seems to me that something like a prison would be big enough that it shouldn't be too difficult to find someone who has actually seen it, no matter how remotely it's been placed, and no matter how secret it supposedly is.

Lee,Would you care... (Below threshold)


Would you care to provide a link to your AFP article? Google can't seem to find it, assuming it exists.

In any case, what is described is called rendition, a practice that has been around for decades as far as we know and in no way related to secret prisons.

I grow tired of you lefties trying to conflate two different stories into one super conspiracy.

OM - I understand your hesi... (Below threshold)

OM - I understand your hesitation re the CIA story, but Fava is a government official, and are you saying we shouldn't believe him? (oh wait a minute - I know the answer to that, but it could be true regardless...)

Since the WB software won't let me inlcude a link to the story here is the full text.

STRASBOURG (AFP) - The US Central Intelligence Agency has sent up to 50 suspects since 2001 to countries where they could face torture, a European Union investigator probing the CIA's actions in Europe said.

Claudio Fava, an Italian member of the European Parliament , said members of his team were given the information by US intelligence officials during a visit to the United States last week.

The sources had also said the agency ran secret prisons in Europe, Asia and Africa.

The United States has come under intense fire over the last year following press reports that the CIA has flown suspects in the US "war on terror" across European airspace since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The prisoners were reported mainly to have been taken through Europe to third countries in a process known as "rendition," in which the transfers take place outside the legal framework of an extradition agreement.

"More than one source in the CIA, senior officials, explained to us that there were 30 to 50 renditions, not including people arrested and taken to Guantanamo Bay," the US naval base prison in Cuba, Fava said.

He could not say whether the suspects had been picked up in Europe, were flown through the continent's airspace or transported through its territory, or if any were of European origin.

He said the intelligence officials told investigators that the renditions were acceptable in that they were part of the "war on terror". Indeed senior US officials have acknowledged that a few renditions have taken place.

The Italian deputy said the officials were asked about the secret prisons in Europe -- in particular facilities, now thought closed, in Poland and Romania -- and that "they told us there were prisons in Europe, Asia and Africa."

Fava also accused the White House of putting pressure on the US media -- an editor of the Washington Post and television stations -- not to make public the names of countries suspected of allowing secret CIA prisons on their territory.

Lee - why not post the url ... (Below threshold)

Lee - why not post the url with spaces in it. Using Google on the paragraphs come up with nothing - oddly enough.

Fava...a government officia... (Below threshold)

Fava...a government official....yeah an ITALIAN government official... That's got to carry loads of credibility hasn't it?


It's always useful to consi... (Below threshold)

It's always useful to consider the timing of each scandal as it's breathlessly reported in the news. The most recent "scandal" about phone traffic aggregation is a case in point. When this kind of story is popped and repeated endlessly by the major news outlets just before major confirmation hearings, one should detect a faint odor of rat and withhold judgement, unlike the media.

It's pretty hard to ignore the obvious: these stories all start somewhere, and they all come out at a time calculated to cause the Administration the most damage, and they all seem to get broken by media outlets hostile to the current administration. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I am starting to wonder about where the DNC draws the line between "loyal opposition" and criminal conspiracy.

kbiel and lysander -- copy ... (Below threshold)

kbiel and lysander -- copy and paste this into your browser address bar - hopefully it will lead you to the AFP story I quoted. Let me know if it doesn't work for you and I will try some other way to paste the link in.


Jay,We used to cal... (Below threshold)


We used to call the same outing technique the "Western Union Sting."


First you (and your moonbat friends) whine that we couldn't find WMD in Iraq, but now you expect us to belive there were "secret prisons" in Europe? Works both ways. You'll have to do better than the cut & paste you've listed.

Lee, you forgot to add the ... (Below threshold)

Lee, you forgot to add the last paragraph to the story:

The head of the inquiry, Portuguese lawmaker Carlos Coelho, said information gathered in the United States showed that the "transfer programme would not have been possible without the help of European governments."

There you go.

thanks SB - sorry for the o... (Below threshold)

thanks SB - sorry for the omission.

We won't hear whining from the EU governments if they were helping - but I suspect that news will be upsetting to the european citizens who oppose what the CIA did - namely, that it was done with their own government's knowledge.

Hmmmm.Lee there is... (Below threshold)


Lee there is a vast difference between:

The US Central Intelligence Agency has sent up to 50 suspects since 2001 to countries where they could face torture, a European Union investigator probing the CIA's actions in Europe said.

And actually HAVING secret prisons in EUROPE.

So that person A tells pers... (Below threshold)

So that person A tells person B that person C that an anonymous source said that he (the source) thinks he (the source) thought he saw a cat doesn't mean that A, B, or C know what they're talking about.
"members of his team (person "C") were given the information by US intelligence officials ("anonymous source") during a visit to the United States last week" and told to person "B" (Fava) who told person "A" (Coelho). So, has anyone seen the bloody things yet - or is it something "my friend's roommate's cousin's girlfriend's sister's babysitter's aunt's friend" said?

Dead God - are you working ... (Below threshold)

Dead God - are you working for Reynolds Wrap? Foil stock is up 15.5 points today. Actually I agree with you on this one.

-Yes it's true, the Swiss Government is in on it. (Dick Marty, the Swiss senator investigating) Oh, and Spain, Germany and Norway as well. They have all opened up "investigations." Wink wink!
-The UK is in as well. (Foreign Minister Siddiq's note to Tony Blair)
-Maher Arar is clearly in on it, lying about the whole thing. Mamdouh Habib as well. Good work, boys.
-Michael Scheuer made it up, just to sell more books. Also, Richard Clarke. Dan Coleman doesn't have a book, but he's still lying. Sure they were in intelligence for decades, but they are now liars.
-The Washington Post and Guardian are in on it, helping catch leakers. (Also, if you want a picture of one of these fake sites set up, check out the Post article by Priest. They did a really good job of making it look real - fake roads and everything!)

I commend the Bush Administration for going to such great lengths to catch leakers. The problem always lies within. Now, on with the canary hunt!

ed - see paragraph 3 ref pr... (Below threshold)

ed - see paragraph 3 ref prisons in Europe

The sources had also said the agency ran secret prisons in Europe, Asia and Africa.

What? None in Antarctica? ... (Below threshold)

What? None in Antarctica? Halliburton needs to get on the ball.

ANd yet Lee, the sources ar... (Below threshold)

ANd yet Lee, the sources are annonymous and untraceable...

Adding on more locations to the allegations don't make them any more real

SCSIwuzzy - don't worry, th... (Below threshold)

SCSIwuzzy - don't worry, the details should be out in time for the presidential elections.

Hmmmm.ed ... (Below threshold)


ed - see paragraph 3 ref prisons in Europe

And that's the entire point behind Jay Tea's post in the first place Lee!

That there are unsupported allegations but no proof.

And no I don't take third hand undocumented allegations by a member of the **European Parliment** to be in any way, shape or form as proof.

Considering that the European Parliment isn't an actual part of a soverign functioning government I'd say that it has as much credibility as a burrito from Taco Bell.

Without hot sauce.

Hmmmm.SCS... (Below threshold)


SCSIwuzzy - don't worry, the details should be out in time for the presidential elections.

Which means what?

Bush isn't running again. Cheney isn't going to run.

So who on earth is this crazy-ass nonsense going to negatively affect in the 2008 elections?

Man, if only the squeeking ... (Below threshold)

Man, if only the squeeking of moonbats was hypersonic, like that of their smaller mundane cousins...






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