Dec 22, 2009

Where's An Ariens Snow Thrower When You Need One?

Remember the SMC maxim: "Any time a U.S. official publicly refers to chatter, you can be sure that some variety of bullshittery is afoot."

The SMC maxim cited here has only a slight direct relevance to the overall story (the part where DHS issued the upgraded threat level based on "chatter"), but it is an indication that the dude's program was a stinker and that people knew all along that it was crap.

The weeks before Christmas brought no hint of terror. But by the afternoon of December 21, 2003, police stood guard in heavy assault gear on the streets of Manhattan. Fighter jets patrolled the skies. When a gift box was left on Fifth Avenue, it was labeled a suspicious package and 5,000 people in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were herded into the cold.

It was Code Orange. Americans first heard of it at a Sunday press conference in
Washington, D.C. Weekend assignment editors sent their crews up Nebraska Avenue to the new Homeland Security offices, where DHS secretary Tom Ridge announced the terror alert. “There’s continued discussion,” he told reporters, “these are from credible sources—about near-term attacks that could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11.” The New York Times reported that intelligence sources warned “about some unspecified but spectacular attack.”

The financial markets trembled. By Tuesday the panic had ratcheted up as the Associated Press reported threats to “power plants, dams and even oil facilities in Alaska.” The feds forced the cancellation of dozens of French, British and Mexican commercial “flights of interest” and pushed foreign governments to put armed air marshals on certain flights. Air France flight 68 was canceled, as was Air France flight 70. By Christmas the headline in the Los Angeles Times was "Six Flights Canceled as Signs of Terror Plot Point to L.A." Journalists speculated over the basis for these terror alerts. “Credible sources,” Ridge said. “Intelligence chatter,” said CNN.

But there were no real intercepts, no new informants, no increase in chatter. And the suspicious package turned out to contain a stuffed snowman. This was, instead, the beginning of a bizarre scam. Behind that terror alert, and a string of contracts and intrigue that continues to this date, there is one unlikely character.

The man’s name is Dennis Montgomery, a self-proclaimed scientist who said he could predict terrorist attacks. Operating with a small software development company, he apparently convinced the Bush White House, the CIA, the Air Force and other agencies that Al Jazeera—the Qatari-owned TV network—was unwittingly transmitting target data to Al Qaeda sleepers.

An unusual team arrived in Reno, Nevada in 2003 from the Central Intelligence Agency. They drove up Trademark Drive, well south of the casinos, past new desert warehouses. Then they turned into an almost empty parking lot, where a sign read "eTreppid Technologies." It was an attractively designed building of stone tile and mirrored windows that had once been a sprinklerhead factory.

ETreppid Technologies was a four-year-old firm trying to find its way. Some of its employees had been hired to design video games. One game under construction was Roadhouse, based on the 1989 movie in which Patrick Swayze plays a bouncer in a dive bar.
Other programmers worked on streaming video for security cameras.


He is an unusual man. In court papers filed in Los Angeles, a former lawyer for Montgomery calls the software designer a “habitual liar engaged in fraud.” Last June Montgomery was charged in Las Vegas with bouncing nine checks (totaling $1 million) in September 2008 and was arrested on a felony warrant in Rancho Mirage, California. That million is only a portion of what he lost to five casinos in Nevada and California in just one year. That’s according to his federal bankruptcy filing, where he reported personal debts of $12 million. The FBI has investigated him, and some of his own co-workers say he staged phony demonstrations of military technology for the U.S. government.

Montgomery has no formal scientific education, but over the past six years he seems to have convinced top people in the national security establishment that he had developed secret tools to save the world from terror and had decoded Al Qaeda transmissions. But the communications Montgomery said he was decrypting apparently didn’t exist.

Since 1996 the Al Jazeera news network had been operating in the nation of Qatar, a U.S. ally in the war on terror. Montgomery claimed he had found something sinister disguised in Al Jazeera’s broadcast signal that had nothing to do with what was being said on the air: Hidden in the signal were secret bar codes that told terrorists the terms of their next mission, laying out the latitudes and longitudes of targets, sometimes even flight numbers and dates. And he was the only man who had the technology to decrypt this code.

As strange as his technology appeared to be, it was nevertheless an attractive concept.
Montgomery was as persuasive as some within the intelligence community were receptive. Al Jazeera was an inspired target since its pan-Arabic mission had been viewed with suspicion by those who saw an anti-American bias in the network’s coverage. In 2004 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused Al Jazeera of “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable” reporting. Will Stebbins, Al Jazeera’s Washington bureau chief, told The Washington Post, “There was clearly an attempt to delegitimize Al Jazeera that came during a period of a lot of national hysteria and paranoia about the Arabic world.” (“It is unfortunate,” an Al Jazeera spokesperson told Playboy when asked for comment, “that a select few people continue to drag up these completely false conspiracy theories about Al Jazeera, which were generated by the previous U.S. administration.”)

Over the years Montgomery’s intelligence found its way to the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, Special Forces Command, the Navy, the Air Force, the Senate Intelligence Committee and even to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. Back in 2003, just before the terror alert caused by Montgomery’s technology, eTreppid held a Christmas party in a ballroom at the Atlantis Casino in Reno. Employees gathered at round tables to dine and drink. Even a CIA man showed up, a lanky fellow wearing a button-down shirt with an oxford collar. By the end of the night, employees noticed Montgomery and eTreppid chief executive Warren Trepp talking closely. A photo snapped by an employee shows Montgomery with his jacket off and a Christmas ribbon wrapped around his head like a turban with a rose tucked into it. He was hugging Trepp, who sobbed into his shoulder. The festivities were a rare break for Montgomery, who had been busy churning out terrorist target coordinates for the CIA.On Sunday, January 4, 2004 a British Airways flight out of Heathrow was delayed for hours for security reasons, and FBI agents demanded that hotels in Vegas turn over their guest lists. It was also the day a top CIA official flew to the eTreppid office in Reno. There, on eTreppid letterhead, the CIA official promised the company’s name would not be revealed and that the government would not “unilaterally use or otherwise take” Montgomery’s Al Jazeera technology.

Back in
Washington, few insiders in government knew where the intelligence was coming from. Aside from Tenet and a select few, no one was told about eTreppid’s Al Jazeera finds. Even veteran intelligence operatives within the CIA could only wonder. “These guys were trying to hide it like it was some little treasure,” one former counterterrorist official told me.

The reason the whole thing worked was because Montgomery’s CIA contact was with the agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology. That’s the whiz-bang branch of the intelligence service, where employees make and break codes, design disguises and figure out the latest gadgets. S&T was eventually ordered by CIA brass to reveal its source to small groups from other parts of the agency. And when some experienced officers heard about it, they couldn’t believe it. One former counterterrorism official remembers the briefing: “They found encoded location data for previous and future threat locations on these Al Jazeera tapes,” he says. “It got so emotional. We were fucking livid. I was told to shut up. I was saying, ‘This is crazy. This is embarrassing.’ They claimed they were breaking the code, getting latitude and longitude, and Al Qaeda operatives were decoding it. They were coming up with airports and everything, and we were just saying, ‘You know, this is horseshit!’” Another former officer, who has decades of experience, says, “We were told that, like magic, these guys were able to exploit this Al Jazeera stuff and come up with bar codes, and these bar codes translated to numbers and letters that gave them target locations. I thought it was total bullshit.”

The federal government was acting on the Al Jazeera claims without even understanding how
Montgomery found his coordinates. “I said, ‘Give us the algorithms that allowed you to come up with this stuff.’ They wouldn’t even do that,” says the first officer. “And I was screaming, ‘You gave these people fucking money?’”

Despite such skepticism, the information found its way to the top of the U.S. government. Frances Townsend, a Homeland Security advisor to President George W. Bush, chaired daily meetings to address the crisis. She now admits that the bar codes sounded far-fetched. And, she says, even though it all proved to be false, they had no choice but to pursue the claim. “It didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility,” she says. “We were relying on technical people to tell us whether or not it was feasible. I don’t regret having acted on it.” The feds, after all, had a responsibility to look into the technology. “There were lots of meetings going on during the time of this threat,” says Townsend. “What were we going to do and how would we screen people? If we weren’t comfortable we wouldn’t let a flight take off.” Eventually, though Montgomery continued to crank out his figures, cooler heads prevailed. The threat was ultimately deemed “not credible,” as Townsend puts it.

A former CIA official went through the scenario with me and explained why sanity finally won out. First,
Montgomery never explained how he was finding and interpreting the bar codes. How could one scientist find the codes when no one else could? More implausibly, the scheme required Al Jazeera’s complicity. At the very least, a technician at the network would have to inject the codes into video broadcasts, and every terrorist operative would need some sort of decoding device. What would be the advantage of this method of transmission?

A branch of the French intelligence services helped convince the Americans that the bar codes were fake. The CIA and the French commissioned a technology company to locate or re-create codes in the Al Jazeera transmission. They found definitively that what
Montgomery claimed was there was not. Quietly, as far as the CIA was concerned, the case was closed. The agency turned the matter over to the counterintelligence side to see where it had gone wrong.

Read more over at Playboy (PNSfW)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, my Dear, I am blowing the whistle and put the dots together on the C.I.A.'s worldwide espionage at universities!

"University Spy - A True Story"

Which unapologetic investigative reporter is going to identify and expose the reckless U.S. ‘university supplier’, to which fictional ‘Paterson Inc.’ lent its imprint?

Behavioral science teaches that small changes in a man’s sex-life can have large effects on keeping secrets. Defrocked Chief Paterson, who had up to my ‘interviews’ never hooked up with a man, made a quick transition from the closet to homosexual voracity and behaved like an animal on steroids!

These investigative interviews will plunge you, the reader, into the murk of the abnormal psychology and mind boggling career of W. B. Paterson from hell-bent taxi driver to hysterical C.I.A. Chief-of-university-spies!

It was morning in America, the alcoholic Chief had just finished vomiting, was hung-over and had a pathological need for homosexual intercourse. Working in the Chief‘s office was like coming to a U.S. war-of-aggression zone where sexual degradation, torture and rape flourish. As the sexually harassed male employee of perverted Chief Paterson I unlocked sinister secrets ripe for a journalistic tour de force!

Blowing the whistle! Chief Paterson is the inheritor of American multi-billion dollar conglomerate Paterson Inc., a globally operating university supplier which doubles as a C.I.A. spy contractor! Chief Paterson has the command over a hidden espionage archipelago stretching across the world from university to university. It’s scary, very scary!

Evil exists! In vicious violation of privacy and security of professors, students and research, Paterson Inc. is giving the C.I.A. a thousand eyes on academia’s scientific experiments, social networks, political activities, fingerprints, bank accounts and much more. "We are a covert operations contractor for the C.I.A." The Chief wobbled back and forward like a drunken tip-over doll, his jaws loosened by a bottle of whisky. "We are kicking academic ass since five decades", he barked with frothing-at-the-mouth, biting the hand that feeds him!

An extremist university supplier with neo-Nazi flavorings! The juicy revelations of the Chief going anal are off the record; Walt Blair Paterson’s real name, his official job, U.S.-whereabouts and the name of his gonzo company were changed and rendered anonymous - to protect me and my ’deep-throat’ for legal reasons!

America, my most favored democracy: One dollar, one vote! C.I.A. espionage contractors such as Paterson Inc. are NOT SUBJECT to the Freedom of Information Act!

Crime pays fabulously in America! An obscure law allows the C.I.A. to block all congressional and public inquiries into the secret files, the budget, the number of cloak-and-dagger agents and the entire power structure of the Pater$on Shadow Company, the recipient of vast amounts of U.S. government money!

The U.S. will go down in history as the country that breeds the greatest science looters! Who are the shameless American ’scholars’ and at which benighted U.S. universities do they work, dim-wits who helped dreadful C.I.A. & Paterson to conceptualize the hellish ‘intellectual’ framework for spying worldwide at universities?

A betrayal worthy of Judas! If the burly men from beastly Paterson Inc. tilted the global academic playing field in favor of U.S. ’scientists’, and if this helps clarify America’s unparalleled share of Nobel prizes during that curiously energetic U.S. ’research’ period over the past five decades, synchronized with the C.I.A.’s university espionage history, then so be it!

All this I found out like a Teutonic spy on tiptoes, interrupted only by the Chief’s disgusting demonstrations of affection and while his ungentlemanly hands fondled among my pink boxer-shorts!

Yours, Truly
Dr. H.R. Goetting