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April 23, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Obama's BlackBerry
President Obama will soon get his souped-up, high-security BlackBerry for use in and around the White House and during presidential travel, according to Obama administration officials.

The top-secret BlackBerry 8830 is in the final stages of development by the National Security Agency, which will soon begin checking to make sure its encryption software meets federal standards. The device could be ready for use in the next few months.

Once in hand, the president will be able to send text and e-mail and make phone calls to others with the secure software loaded on their devices. Others expected to get secure BlackBerrys include top aides as well as first lady Michelle Obama.

The software being used is called SecureVoice, developed by the Genesis Key Inc. of Washington. It can turn any BlackBerry 8830 or Curve into a device that is designed to defeat hackers, eavesdroppers and spies.

Steven Garrett, Genesis Key chairman, said he could not discuss details of the work on the presidential BlackBerry but noted that Mr. Obama had said he expected security officials to pry the device out of his hands once he was sworn in.

"We're going to put his BlackBerry back in his hand," Mr. Garrett said.

"With the recent foreign cybersecurity threats, it is important that the president has a BlackBerry that is completely secure at the top-secret level," said Gary S. Elliott, Genesis' chief information assurance officer, who is a specialist in cyberwarfare threats.

The president was forced to give up his unsecured BlackBerry after Inauguration Day, amid concerns that its communications and e-mail would be intercepted.

In the interim, Mr. Obama has been using a patchwork of two devices, a BlackBerry and an NSA-supplied secure hand-held device known as Sectera Edge. The General Dynamics Corp.-made Sectera must be plugged into the presidential BlackBerry, making its use more cumbersome than a secure BlackBerry.

The software that allows users access to data up to the Top-Secret classification level was developed by Genesis Key with the help of engineers from the Toronto-based Research In Motion, which makes BlackBerry.

The White House Communications Agency, part of the Pentagon's Defense Information Systems Agency, is working with the NSA on the project. A White House spokesman had no comment.

Pulitzer outrage
Retired military analysts are reacting with outrage that the Pulitzer committee awarded one of its prestigious prizes for a story discredited by an independent investigation, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.

The Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting announced Monday went to New York Times reporter David Barstow for his story, "Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand" and other stories.

The main story looked at the public-affairs-office practice from 2002 to 2008 of inviting TV analysts to the Pentagon for private briefings. The story claimed improprieties and raised accusations against analysts of gaining unfair competitive advantage in winning contracts for companies they represented. The April 2008 story sparked an investigation by the Pentagon inspector general, an office known for its independence. The office has not shied away from criticizing the tenure of former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who started the briefings for 70 retired military officers.

In January, the IG released its report, which rebutted the New York Times' major allegations.

On the practice of conducting meetings and conference calls with the analysts, the IG concluded:

"We determined that those activities were conducted in accordance with DoD policies and regulations. We found the evidence insufficient to conclude that [Retired Military Analyst] RMA outreach activities were improper. Further, we found insufficient basis to conclude that [the office of public affairs] conceived of or undertook a disciplined effort to assemble a contingent of influential RMAs who could be depended on to comment favorably on DoD programs."

On the allegations of favorable contracting, the IG said:

"With regard to [retired military analysts] who had ties to military contractors, extensive searches found no instance where such RMAs used information or contacts obtained as a result of the OASD(PA) outreach program to achieve a competitive advantage for their company. We found that 20 (29 percent) had some type of corporate association. We examined publicly available contracting information involving RMA-affiliated companies to identify any pattern of contract award or contract type that might indicate an irregularity. We did not isolate such a pattern and concluded that further investigative work into this matter was not warranted."

The Pulitzer prize citation reads, "Awarded to David Barstow of The New York Times for his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended."

A number of military analysts believe they were smeared by the Times story and expressed dismay at it winning journalism's most coveted prize.

"It shows how corrupt the system is," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, who appears on Fox News.

He co-authored an online article with retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely and conservative activist Annie Hamilton.

They wrote, "Why in the [expletive] would the Pulitzer committee give the New York Times one prize, let alone five, after the publication of the 85-page [IG] report exonerating these inappropriately targeted officials? Shouldn't there be accountability, a day of reckoning for this so-called 'Reporter' who failed to meet the burden of proof in order to satisfy his story?"

They added: "It hardly requires genius to understand that Mr. Barstow's intent was to damage the credibility and reputation of the Bush Administration, our Military and that his publicly discredited attempts to undercut our Nation's bravest accomplishes little more than turning the Prize, his newspaper and his reputation into a laughing stock."

Larry Di Rita, a former Rumsfeld aide who helped set up the program, told Inside the Ring, "It seems to violate the Pulitzer committee's time-honored tradition of awarding the prize before the story is later debunked. This time they at least waited for the debunking to happen first. I look at it as just another laughable reminder that the establishment media are awarding themselves ever more grandiose awards in direct proportion to their increasing irrelevance and desperation."

Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, another analyst, said, "I believe the DoD IG report completely exonerates the analysts and the Rumsfeld Pentagon. Did Rumsfeld and his team make mistakes? Yes. But equipping the analysts with updated and accurate information and providing us access to decision makers just increased our ability to communicate credibly to the American people."

Mr. Barstow said in an e-mail that he did not want to comment specifically but noted that the Times' public editor, Clark Hoyt, found the IG report to be "highly flawed."

"Many others have noted significant errors, or even branded it a 'whitewash,' " Mr. Barstow said. "They have pointed out, for example, that the report erroneously identified Gen. McCaffrey as having no ties to any defense contractors."

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC analyst, runs his own defense-consulting business.

The IG report listed Gen. McCaffrey as one of the analysts who had "no direct affiliation with defense contractors."

"[I] suggest the New York Times should not have allowed Barstow to selectively mine the DoD IG report to defend his articles - and again attack me," Gen. McCaffrey said. "How could he not mention sworn testimony from a senior defense official that noted DoD anger at my criticism of Rumsfeld and the Pentagon? All of America expects excellence from the New York Times. This article today by Barstow is journalism which lacks integrity."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suspended the briefings after the Times' first story appeared.

Said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman: "I'm certain the new public-affairs leadership will want the opportunity to review this program before making any determinations about its future."

China cyberwarfare
The U.S. government's most senior counterintelligence coordinator warned recently that China is among the most aggressive nations involved in attacking U.S. government and private-sector computers.

Joel F. Brenner, the national counterintelligence executive, disclosed in a speech April 3 that the problem of foreign cyber attacks and spying is growing.

"Counterintelligence used to be a challenge for the FBI, CIA and the military," Mr. Brenner told a meeting of the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas at Austin.

"Now it's a challenge for every private firm that lives on a network - which means all of them."

Mr. Brenner then listed several examples of what he termed the real threats faced by security specialists.

In one case a U.S. company held negotiations with the Chinese "only to realize midway through that the Chinese know every one of their bottom line positions as a result of having hacked their network."

Another case involved a U.S. security expert who traveled to Beijing and shortly after turning on his personal digital assistant found that by the time he reached his hotel that "a handful of beacons" or tracking software had been remotely inserted into the device.

"Some are designed to track his movements, others to infect and investigate his home server when he e-mails home," he said.

Another case was a U.S. computer security company that sought to do business in China and hired a group of Chinese nationals to conduct research on security vulnerabilities. The company failed to properly vet the Chinese.

The hired Chinese included "at least one hacker with ties to the PRC government," Mr. Brenner said.

Then there was the case of a Chinese intelligence officer who tried to recruit an ethnic Chinese-American who was highly placed within the information office of a U.S. company.

Chinese intelligence agents "want him to spy on his own company," Mr. Brenner said.

"He turns them down. Later he's approached again - this time to say that his mother in China needs hospitalization, but the hospitals are, you know, crowded. Does he want to reconsider?" Mr. Brenner said.

Mr. Brenner also confirmed reports that counterfeit computer routers and microchips had "made their way into U.S. military fighter aircraft."

Chinese Embassy Spokesman Wang Baodong could not be reached for comment. China's government, however, routinely dismisses reports of Chinese cyberspying as groundless.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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