Computer Spies Infiltrate the Pentagon
By Daniel Politi
Posted Tuesday, April 21, 2009, at 6:39 AM ET
The New York Times leads with word that Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who has long been involved in intelligence matters, agreed to push for leniency from the Bush administration on behalf of two lobbyists of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel organization. In calls intercepted by the National Security Agency, Harman apparently agreed to speak up for the lobbyists in exchange for help in convincing party leaders that she should be the chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee after her party gained control of Congress in 2006. The wiretapped calls were first reported by Congressional Quarterly and the NYT gets three sources to confirm much of the information. The Wall Street Journal banners word that cyberspies managed to repeatedly penetrate the Pentagon's $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter, the "Defense Department's costliest weapons program ever," as well as the Air Force's air-traffic control system. The spies were even able to copy "several terabytes" of data relating to the fighter-jet program.
USA Today leads with, and the Los Angeles Times fronts, news that "almost 20" criminal investigations have been opened into potentially illegal activity in connection with the $700 billion financial bailout program. The special inspector general in charge of overseeing the bailout said the probes involve possible securities and tax fraud and insider trading, among other possible violations. The Washington Post leads with word that Chrysler Financial refused to accept a $750 million government loan earlier this month because it didn't want to have to be tied to the limits on executive compensation. Instead, Chrysler Financial obtained financing from private banks at a higher cost. The LAT leads locally with documents that show 14 children died of abuse and neglect in Los Angeles County last year "despite coming from families that had been under scrutiny of child welfare officials." In total, 32 children died in the county in 2008 from abuse and neglect.
Harman became the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee after the 2002 election, and it was no secret that she wanted to become its chairwoman when her party gained control of Capitol Hill in 2006. Apparently the transcripts of the NSA wiretaps show that someone representing the two pro-Israel lobbyists called Harman to ask her to have a talk with the Justice Department about the espionage charges they were facing. Harman agreed but said she would probably have more luck talking with a White House official. In exchange for her help, the caller said wealthy Californian donor Haim Saban would threaten Rep. Nancy Pelosi to withhold any further campaign contributions if Harman wasn't appointed to the position.
It was already widely known that Harman could be under investigation, but CQ's report was the first to provide details of the alleged wiretapped conversations, where Harman said she would "waddle into" the AIPAC case "if you think it would make a difference" before stating that "this conversation doesn't exist." Harman appears to have been inadvertently caught in the NSA net as eavesdroppers listened in on calls during an investigation. According to the CQ article, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales ended a preliminary investigation into the alleged quid pro quo because he wanted Harman's help in convincing the NYT not to run its story on the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. Harman issued a statement denying she talked to the Justice Department about the case, but, as the NYT points out, her statement didn't address whether she may have contacted someone else at the White House or even deny that the calls had taken place.
The WSJ's report about cyberspies penetrating Pentagon computer networks comes a few weeks after the paper revealed that the country's electrical grid had also been threatened. According to one official, these types of attacks, or at the very least the knowledge of these infiltrations, seem to have increased over the last six months. It seems the identity of the computer spies isn't known, but former officials say the attacks seem to have originated in China, although the evidence is hardly conclusive since it's relatively easy to hide identities online. There is no single government office that deals with cybersecurity, but it appears the Obama administration wants to create a senior White House post to coordinate efforts between agencies, as well as a new military command to deal with cybersecurity. The problem isn't exactly new and officials say spies were able to infiltrate computers involved in the fighter-jet program as far back as 2007. The spies weren't able to get at the most sensitive information relating to the program because that is kept in isolated systems, but they managed to get a lot of data on the design and electronics systems of the fighter jets.
Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the bailout program, didn't name the entities under investigation but said the approximately 20 criminal probes are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, fraud involving the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program could reach into the tens of billions of dollars. "The disclosures reinforce fears that the hastily designed and rapidly changing bailout program … is going to carry a heavy price of fraud against taxpayers," notes the LAT. Barofsky said the program has become so complex that it is "inherently vulnerable to fraud, waste, and abuse." The report recommends that the Treasury change the way in which it plans to buy up toxic securities to clean up banks' balance sheets. According to the report, $590.4 billion has been allocated under the program, and companies receiving taxpayer money have paid more than $3.1 billion in dividends and interest.
Chrysler Financial officials vehemently denied that company executives refused to accept limits on their compensation. Of course, the suggestion is particularly controversial considering how Chrysler is teetering close to bankruptcy. Officials from the automaker's financing arm, which is technically a separate company but is also largely owned by Cerberus, say they didn't take the loan because they didn't need it, but the WP notes their "account conflicts with a report set to be released today." After the details of this loan were worked out in April—Chrysler Financial had received a $1.5 billion loan in January—Treasury asked the company to get 25 executives to agree to any present or future compensation limits that the government could set. Chrysler Financial said it couldn't get all the executives to agree so the Treasury rejected any additional requests for funding.
The LAT fronts, and everyone covers, the Pulitzer Prizes in journalism that were announced yesterday. The NYT was the biggest winner, with five awards, the second-highest number of Pulitzers awarded to the paper after the seven it received in 2002. The WP, which was the biggest winner last year with six awards, only got one this time around for Eugene Robinson's columns. The LAT received the explanatory reporting award for its five-part series on wildfires. The Las Vegas Sun won the prestigious public service medal for its investigation into the large number of construction-worker deaths in the city. The St. Petersburg Times made history by winning the national reporting award for its PolitiFact project that fact-checked claims made during the presidential campaign, most of which was published online and not in print.
The WP's fashion critic, Robin Givhan, is sure to get a lot of e-mails about today's column that says Susan Boyle should get a makeover. Boyle, who became an overnight Internet sensation after her rousing performance on Britain's Got Talent, "would not be mesmerizing if she were not an ugly duckling," writes Givhan. But a "proper makeover" isn't intended to make you look like someone else but rather the best version of what you could be. Although many say Boyle will lose everything if she messes with her looks, "she's hardly Everywoman." Boyle is "an odd duck, a bit of a loner. … And she's living out a fairy tale." A good fairy tale always involves some form of transformation. "The tale of Susan Boyle will not be complete until the shy spinster blossoms," writes Givhan. "Those who have been entranced by her story so far should let Boyle's fairy godmother finish her work."
Daniel Politi writes "Today's Papers" for Slate. He can be reached at email@example.com.