Posts tagged CIA

Of course y’all are smarter than CIA agents

Shared Article from NPR.org

So You Think You're Smarter Than A CIA Agent

When 3,000 average citizens were asked to forecast global events, some consistently made predictions that turned out to be more accurate than those ma…

Alix Spiegel @ npr.org


For the past three years, Rich and 3,000 other average people have been quietly making probability estimates about everything from Venezuelan gas subsidies to North Korean politics as part of the Good Judgment Project, an experiment put together by three well-known psychologists and some people inside the intelligence community.

. . . For most of his professional career, Tetlock studied the problems associated with expert decision making. His book Expert Political Judgment is considered a classic, and almost everyone in the business of thinking about judgment speaks of it with unqualified awe.

All of his studies brought Tetlock to at least two important conclusions.

First, if you want people to get better at making predictions, you need to keep score of how accurate their predictions turn out to be, so they have concrete feedback.

But also, if you take a large crowd of different people with access to different information and pool their predictions, you will be in much better shape than if you rely on a single very smart person, or even a small group of very smart people.

The wisdom of crowds is a very important part of this project, and it’s an important driver of accuracy, Tetlock said.

According to one report, the predictions made by the Good Judgment Project are often better even than intelligence analysts with access to classified information, and many of the people involved in the project have been astonished by its success at making accurate predictions.

. . . There’s a lot of noise, a lot of statistical random variation, Tetlock said. But it’s random variation around a signal, a true signal, and when you add all of the random variation on each side of the true signal together, you get closer to the true signal.

In other words, there are errors on every side of the mark, but there is a truth at the center that people are responding to, and if you average a large number of predictions together, the errors will end up canceling each other out, and you are left with a more accurate guess.

That is the wisdom of the crowd.

The point of the Good Judgment Project was to figure out if what was true for the dead ox is true for world events as well.

It is.

In fact, Tetlock and his team have even engineered ways to significantly improve the wisdom of the crowd — all of which greatly surprised Jason Matheny, one of the people in the intelligence community who got the experiment started.

They’ve shown that you can significantly improve the accuracy of geopolitical forecasts, compared to methods that had been the state of the art before this project started, he said.

What’s so challenging about all of this is the idea that you can get very accurate predictions about geopolitical events without access to secret information. In addition, access to classified information doesn’t automatically and necessarily give you an edge over a smart group of average citizens doing Google searches from their kitchen tables.

— Alix Spiegel, So You Think You’re Smarter Than A CIA Agent (2 April 2014), NPR Parallels

It’s nice to see closer attention to this in ongoing research. It ought to be completely unsurprising to hear these results, though. The basics of the wisdom-of-crowds findings are well-established by now, even old hat. So it should not be surprising that when you let a lot of people look at a problem, they often do better than the predictions of official experts. If folks are still agog that jes’ folks might do better at predicting than spies with access to classified information, then it may be because they have too much of a science-fiction picture of how intelligence agencies actually work, and too much of a picture of intelligence agencies as omnicompetent, omniscient secret conspiracies — as if the most significant information for predicting world events were some secret world of deep, dark esoteric truths that are locked away in classified files, which give them some immense and systematic advantage over jes’ folks without access to such files. But that’s not how it works. The overwhelming majority of intel analysis has nothing to do with classified information in the first place; it has to do with the completely unsexy reality of systematically gathering publicly available information from foreign newspapers, television, statistical abstracts, etc. There’s no reason to think that privileged government experts have an advantage in doing that; the image of spy agencies as omniscient forces in control of secret wisdom has much more to do with politics than it does with practical reality.

(Via William Gillis.)

Priorities (cont’d)

From CBS News, CIA sacrifices valuable intelligence source to foil underwear bomb plot

U.S. intelligence officials faced a difficult decision. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was looking for a suicide bomber. The target: an American jetliner. The only way for intelligence officials to ensure they controlled the plot was to have their own agent volunteer to be the bomber and then hand the bomb to the CIA. The tradeoff: They would lose a source penetrated deep inside the organization — but they would save lives.

— John Miller, CIA sacrifices valuable intelligence source to foil underwear bomb plot, in CBS News (9 May 2012)

The choice presented here is a choice between giving up some government spying, on the one hand, or standing by and knowingly leaving hundreds of people to be murdered, all for the sake of your military-political priorities. I suppose I should be glad they didn’t choose the latter. But I must point out that this is a tradeoff only if you think you have a right to trade in human lives. And it is a difficult decision only if you don’t value those lives very highly.

Also.

Change You Can Believe In (Vol. III, No. 4, April 2011)

The latest instalment in our ongoing monthly feature.[1] You may be surprised to find that this month I am going to pass over the new fucking war that the Peace President has been kinetically pursuing against yet another Muslim country. Too obvious. Instead, we have….

Executive power

In which Obama decides he’s in favor of the unitary theory of the executive — in order to save his Czars, natch.

There is no ambiguity in that vow: none at all. He explicitly promised not to use signing statements to nullify Congressional statutes he thought were invalid. Citing his credentials as a Constitutional Law professor, Obama explained that “Congress’ job is to pass legislation,” and when that happens, a President has only two options: “the President can veto it or sign it.” In contrast to Bush — who, Obama said, “has been saying ‘I can change what Congress passed by attaching a statement saying I don’t agree with this part, I’m going to choose to interpret it this way or that way’” — Obama said he, by contrast, believes “that’s not part of [the President’s] power.” He punctuated his answer as follows: “we’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress.” It just doesn’t get any clearer than that.

But on Friday, Obama did exactly that which he vowed in that answer he would never do. When signing the budget bill into law, he attached a signing statement objecting to some provisions as an encroachment on executive power but still vowing to obey them (such as restrictions on transferring Guantanamo detainees), but then explicitly stated that he would ignore the provision of this new law that de-funds his so-called “czars” (which are really little more than glorified presidential advisers). Declaring that the Executive has the unfettered “authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch” — i.e., asserting another critical aspect of the “unitary theory of the Executive” — Obama declared that “the executive branch will construe [the de-funding provision] not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives.” In other words, we’re going to ignore that mandate because we believe it’s unconstitutional: he’s going to use funds for exactly the purpose that Congress, in a bill he signed into law, flatly prohibited.

— Glenn Greenwald, Obama v. Obama on signing statements, in Salon.com, April 17, 2011.

Drug warfare

Hey, remember back when Obama stopped the Drug Enforcement Agency from raiding medical marijuana dispenaries in states that have legalized medical marijuana?

Here’s how Obama’s DEA stopped raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that this month in Spokane:

DEA agents raided at least four dispensaries around Spokane…. On Thursday evening Charles Wright said that “THC will be open and in full operation tomorrow.” His message less than a day later was much different.

“Effective immediately, THC Pharmacy is shutting down immediately and I recommend all pharmacies in Washington State follow suit,” he said.

DEA agents raided THC Pharmacy Thursday, confiscating all the marijuana and cash. But it wasn’t the raid that scared Wright into closing. He said his it was a conversation he said his attorney had with US Attorney Michael Ormsby Friday morning.

“I am being threatened with 20 years to life and I have no further political power to do anything. If I open the doors today they will put me in prison tomorrow,” he said.

… Charles Wright said that US Attorney Michael Ormsby has said that federal raids will continue until all dispensaries are in compliance with federal law, which states it is illegal to possess or sell marijuana.

Rob Kauder, Feds Continuing Crackdown On Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, at KXLY.com (29 April 2011)

Here’s how they stopped it in Rhode Island:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The top federal prosecutor in Rhode Island has warned Gov. Lincoln Chafee that the state’s plan to license medical marijuana dispensaries violates federal law.

U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha says in a letter delivered to Chafee on Friday that federal prosecutors have the right to investigate and prosecute those who grow and distribute marijuana, even if such activities are allowed by state law.

— Associated Press, Federal Prosecutor Warns RI About Medical Pot, at abc6.com (2011-04-30)

Here’s how they stopped it in San Marcos, California:

At least one medical marijuana dispensary in San Marcos was raided by law enforcement agents Thursday, authorities confirmed, and the homes of suspected medical marijuana providers in North County were hit, as well.

Authorities raided the Club One Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary at 1232 Los Vallecitos Blvd., a business park just north of Highway 78, said San Diego County sheriff’s Capt. Mike Barnett.

“It was raided today along with several other locations throughout North County and Riverside County,” said. “Evidence was seized and money was seized.”

… Also, residences in Vista, Oceanside and Temecula were raided Thursday by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the San Diego Narcotic Task Force…. The homes hit by the raids were the residences of medical marijuana patients, said Eugene Davidovich, the director of the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

— Teri Figueroa, SAN MARCOS: Authorities raid medical marijuana collective, in the North County Times (28 April 2011)

Here’s how they stopped it in Metro Detroit:

Drug agents executed search warrants at two medical marijuana facilities in Oakland County on Tuesday, but it was unclear whether it signaled a new federal crackdown against the state’s fledgling industry.

The raids were part of a wide-ranging operation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which dispatched agents in eight coordinated raids of homes and businesses in Detroit, Novi, Commerce Township, Walled Lake and Romulus.

… [T]he raids were focused in Oakland County, ground zero in the battle between medical marijuana clinics and law enforcement officers.

A DEA official confirmed that agents executed search warrants at Casab’s home in Commerce Township and his Caregivers of America marijuana facility on 12 Mile in Novi.

The DEA raided another Caregivers facility on Decker Road in Walled Lake. The building is owned by 1020 Decker LLC, whose registered agent is lawyer Barry A. Steinway of Bingham Farms, state records indicate.

Walled Lake issued a medical marijuana dispensary license to 1020 Decker LLC on Aug. 31, 2010, under terms of a local ordinance.

“The feds say it’s illegal, but the city issued them a license,” Abel said.

— Robert Snell and Mike Martindale, DEA raids Oakland Co. medical marijuana centers, in the Detroit News (13 April 2011)

It’s been two and a half years, but I’m sure that sometime real soon now our Progressive President is going to get his Drug Enforcement Agency to halt those raids. They probably just haven’t gotten around to it yet, because they’ve been so very busy in the past couple months.

War on the World

Finally, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention one of our Progressive Peace President’s real triumphs. During the long, dark night of the Bush administration, the United States government became notorious for its use of torture, its disregard for due process, and its endless, arbitrary detentions in legal black-holes like Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of a ever-shifting, never-ending War on Terror. Obama promised that he would rectify that. Nowadays, thanks to Obama, they only promise to hold people in Guantanamo forever without a trial after they try out a few options and can’t figure out any kangaroo court where it would be politically expedient to send them. Under the Bush administration, the CIA became notorious as one of the leading practitioners of indefinite detention and interrogation by torture, in black-hole secret prisons where prisoners — many of them innocent victims of mass sweeps and round-ups — had no legal recourse at all. The Obama administration has put an end to all that. Now:

“The CIA is out of the detention and interrogation business,” said a U.S. official who is familiar with intelligence operations but was not authorized to speak publicly.

— Ken Dilanian, CIA has slashed its terrorism interrogation role, in the Los Angeles Times (10 April 2011)

Huzzah and kudos. Now, instead of indefinitely detaining people without trial and torturing them for years, the CIA just kills them instead:

Under Obama, the CIA has killed more people than it has captured, mainly through drone missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At the same time, it has stopped trying to detain or interrogate suspects caught abroad….

— Ken Dilanian, CIA has slashed its terrorism interrogation role, in the Los Angeles Times (10 April 2011)

In summary executions like this one:

WASHINGTON — C.I.A. drones fired two missiles at militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas on Wednesday…. The strikes drew a sharp rebuke from a Pakistani government that is increasingly public in its criticism of the C.I.A.’s covert role in its country.

… The drone attack was widely interpreted by Pakistan’s main spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, as a deliberate effort by Washington to embarrass the country. “If the message was that business will continue as usual, it was a crude way of sending it,” a senior Pakistani intelligence official said.

… The targets of the attack were militants commanded by Maulvi Nazir, a Taliban leader from South Waziristan…. The drones struck a double-cabin pickup truck and a motorcycle as they returned from Afghanistan into Pakistan, a Pakistani military official said. Seven fighters were killed and six others were wounded in the attack just south of the village of Angor Adda on the border between the two countries.

Pakistani officials have grown more alarmed at the frequency of the drone attacks — 117 last year, more than all previous years combined — and the fact that the targets are now largely low-level fighters and junior commanders, not top operatives. Wednesday’s strikes bring this year’s number of attacks to 20….

— Eric Schmitt, New C.I.A. Drone Attack Draws Rebuke From Pakistan, in the New York Times (13 April 2011)

Plus ca change, mes amis. But President Bush must be careful to cover his political bases; I hear that he is planning to run for a fourth term next year.

  1. [1] Here’s January 2011; here’s February 2011; here’s March 2011.

Monday Lazy Linking

Dick Cheney’s Greatest Hits

So this week we learned that Vice President Dick Cheney created a CIA hit squad taking orders directly from his office — a little factoid which he happened to keep secret throughout the remainder of the Bush Administration. From Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The CIA withheld information from the U.S. Congress about a secret counterterrorism program on orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, a senator said on Sunday as Democrats called for an investigation. … The still-secret program, which The New York Times said never became operational, began after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

The Wall Street Journal said the secret initiative terminated by Panetta was an effort to carry out a 2001 authorization by then Republican President George W. Bush to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives.

— Reuters (2009-07-12): Cheney hid CIA program from Congress: senator

Let’s get some reactions from arch-liberal power-brokers Patrick Leahy and Diane Feinstein:

Feinstein and Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, insisted no one should go outside the law.

Asked about Cheney’s alleged involvement, Leahy told the CBS program Face the Nation: I’d like to know if it’s true or not. I mean, nobody in this country is above the law … You can’t have somebody say, well, if you’re vice president, you don’t have to obey the law.

Feinstein said Congress should have been told.

This is a big problem, because the law is very clear. And I understand the need of the day, which was when America was in shock after September 11, she said on Fox. But … I think you weaken your case when you go outside of the law.

— Reuters (2009-07-12): Cheney hid CIA program from Congress: senator

Oh, well. It was wrong because it wasn’t The Law.

So, just so we’re clear, if Cheney and Bush had gotten Congress to change the federal laws so that it would be perfectly legal for the Vice President of the United States to create unaccountable secret international death squads that take orders from, and report only to the highest levels of, Executive power, would that have somehow made it alright?

Really?

See also: