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An Intelligence Contractor's Christmas

by R.J. Hillhouse (December 2008)

Day One. Partridge in a Pear Tree:

          During the night-shift at the NSA, Booz Allen contractors suddenly have their online Christmas shopping interrupted when Booz Allen's proprietary counterterrorist data-mining algorithms note an unusual spike in internet chatter of persons of interest using the term partridge in a pear tree. Their NSA Contracting Officer's Technical Rep is alerted.

Day Two. Two Turtledoves:

          At the NSA, SAIC contractors discover a positive correlation between partridge in a pear tree and two turtledoves. The NSA notifies the CIA. CIA analysts who are new to the job due to high Agency turnover do not recognize the turtledove / partridge-in-a-pear-tree pattern, but speculate that the combination of phrases indicates that a terrorist plan may have gone operational. The White House is briefed.

Day Three. Three French Hens:

          Sources on the ground in Paris are unable to corroborate indications of French involvement. Officers in the National Clandestine Service suspect the French hens are a false-flag and secretly hope that the Russians are back in the game. Due to strong political pressure from the White House, CIA analysts concede that the Iranian involvement cannot be ruled out.

          CIA interrogators at a black site in Burkina Faso send a cable to Headquarters requesting permission to gut slap an al Qaeda detainee who may hold valuable information.

Day Four. Four Calling Birds:

          At the behest of the Administration, AT&T, MCI, Sprint, and Verizon all hand over their calling data to third-party data warehousing companies that do not face the same legal restrictions as the telcos, creating a rendition program of sorts for data. The data warehousers frantically sift through calls.

          CIA interrogators at the African black site are frustrated when Headquarters requests more details about potential information that could be acquired from the detainee if he is slapped. They curse the lawyers and compose a response. A senior contractor overseeing facilities management at the site quips that they should suggest the detainee may volunteer information about five golden rings, but he thinks the kids running the interrogation would never get the joke. The 26 year-old case officer in charge of the interrogation cables Headquarters that the detainee likely holds information about five golden rings.

Day Five. Five Golden Rings:

          New NSA intercepts discover persons of interest discussing Five Golden Rings. With this new development, CIA analysts suspect that terrorists are plotting to use five dirty bombs to irradiate large areas of US metropolitan areas.

          The Deputy Director of the National Clandestine Service is excited that one of the black site detainees may know about the golden rings. Over the objections of his Assistant General Counsel, the Deputy Director approves the slap.

Day Six. Six Geese-A-Laying:

          A blogger who monitors al Qaeda internet sites and chat rooms contacts the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to alert them to a suspicious discussion among al Qaeda sympathizers about six geese-a-laying. The ODNI passes the intel along to the CIA and NSA, and as word of the sites spread among Intelligence Community members, the sites are slammed with new visitors from overt beltway bandit IPs in northern Virginia and Anne Arundel county in Maryland. Suspicious al Qaeda webmasters shut them down.

          Meanwhile at the black site, a CIA interrogator trained in enhanced techniques, slaps the al Qaeda detainee. A CACI green badger interpreter with no formal training in interpretation misinterprets the terrorist's mumblings as seven swamis.

          The interrogators cable Headquarters with the raw intel and request permission not only to attention shake the detainee, but to apply sleep deprivation techniques, justifying the request with their suspicions that they might receive additional information about possible Indian involvement, which may actually turn out to be Iranian since both words start with I, end with n, and have between six and seven letters.

Day Seven. Seven Swans-A-Swimming:

          NSA contractors Raytheon, Booz Allen, and SAIC have all picked up chatter about seven swans-a-swimming. SAIC analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center rack up billable hours trying to reconcile this with CIA intel concerning the seven swamis. Raytheon analysts at Defense Intelligence insist that the seven swans-a-swimming indicates that seaplanes are bringing the dirty bombs into the country. With strong pressure from corporate and the DoD, which has been pushing for funding for a satellite-based seaplane early warning system proposed by Raytheon, Raytheon green badgers at the ODNI push hard for the seaplane analysis and win out. It is included in the President's Daily Brief.

          At the Pentagon, with the support of DIA's General Clapper, the Air Force claims it should be the lead. The Navy argues that since the swans are swimming and not flying, clearly this requirement falls under their command's area of responsibility. The Marines stand at the ready, prepared to toast and roast, then eat the swans, whether in the air, land, or sea.

          All the while, CIA case officers at the black site stare at the detainee, waiting on a response to their cable. Junior officers are afraid that if they don't put the detainee to bed soon, they may be accused of torture and face possible legal actions. Just to be on the safe side, they offer a can of Red Bull to the detainee. The Office of Medical Services on-site physician takes the detainee's blood pressure.

Day Eight. Eight Maids-A-Milking:

          The Department of Homeland Security alerts TSA agents to be on the watch for breast-feeding mothers who may have terrorist involvement. It issues alerts to local authorities.

          With an attack on the Homeland seemingly imminent, a Fusion Center in Sacramento is used to circumvent various federal privacy laws. In a piecemeal version of Total Information Awareness, federal, state, and local databases are fused with private marketing databases. Contractors search through billions of records from phone and credit card and internet search companies to find breast-feeding behavioral patterns suggestive of terrorist involvement. They come up with an additional 226,351 persons of interest in the Golden State. The FBI and local authorities work overtime to investigate all leads. None turn up anything actionable, but the 226,351 persons of interest are added to the TSA's No-Fly list anyway, just as a precaution. As a result of the extra additions to the 600,000 strong list, holiday air travel is snarled.

          At the black site, a cable is received approving administration of sleep deprivation. The 26 year-old case officer in charge of the interrogation is relieved that his decision to push the envelope with the Red Bull has not endangered his career. He's secretly proud to be carrying on the tradition of the Agency's bad boys and starts calling himself Captain Bull, after the legendary bat-wielding Beirut interrogator known as Captain Crunch.

Day Nine. Nine Ladies Dancing:

          Fearing more sexual harassment training seminars, analysts throughout the Intelligence Community dismiss intercepts concerning nine ladies dancing and omit all references to them from their reports.

Day Ten. Ten Lords-A-Leaping:

          The same day that the phrase ten lords-a-leaping is correlated with the previous NSA intercepts, ten members of the British House of Lords are killed in Baghdad by a suicide bomber. They were on their way to observe the British pullout in Basra under the protection of a Blackwater PSD team. Blackwater claims that it was not allowed to fire upon a rapidly approaching white Toyota containing the explosives because the vehicle did not fit the suicide bomber profile as outlined by the State Department's acting head of Diplomatic Security. At a well-attended press conference, the Iraqi Minister of Interior charges that Blackwater was negligent and should have known to fire upon the occupants of the suicide vehicle. He holds up a twisted, charred bumper that he claims was from the VBIED. Plastered to it is the damning yellow bumper sticker: How's My Driving? Call 1-800-Al-QAEDA. International headlines claim Blackwater is responsible for the British Lords' deaths because its operators should've correctly identified the VBIED. Congressman Waxman vows to hold Blackwater accountable for its unforgivable lack of aggression.

          Meanwhile at the black site, sleep deprivation is proving to be ineffective, so a cable is sent to Headquarters requesting permission to waterboard the detainee.

Day Eleven. Eleven Pipers Piping:

          Outsourced analysts at the CIA and Department of Energy are convinced that the latest NSA intercept, eleven pipers piping, is a thinly veiled reference to aluminum tubes. Aluminum tubes could really only be used in a centrifuge enrichment program to develop atomic weapons, they explain. Under pressure from the Vice President's office, it's determined that the earlier information from the CIA's detainee program about seven swamis was misinterpreted. It's now thought the seven swamis were an indirect reference to seven Pakistani nuclear scientists working with Iranians on nuclear weapons.

          The black site interrogators receive permission to waterboard the detainee. Before the procedure begins, the lead interrogator collapses from the stress that he will end up in front of Congressional committees and in court for his actions. The detainee is horrified at the sight of his interrogator crying in a fetal position. He's convinced that something so horrific is about to happen to him that he breaks before they can position the Saran wrap over his mouth to protect him from drowning. The detainee explains that al Qaeda is now working with Iran to help them with their nuclear weapons development program. He confirms every suspicion of his interrogators. The black site cables Langley with confirmation that the seven swamis swimming was actually seven Pakistani nuclear scientists assisting Iranian WMD development.

Day Twelve. Twelve Drummers Drumming:

          On the twelfth day of Christmas, the world wakes up to New York Times headlines, U.S. Says Ahmadinejad Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts. On the same day, twelve top Administration officials appear on Sunday morning talk shows.

          On Meet the Press, Cheney claims that Iran is "trying, through its illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium – specifically, aluminum tubes." Condi Rice appears on CNN's Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer and warns that "we don't want the smoking yule log to be a mushroom cloud." Then she recites the evidence in the reverse order in which it was gathered: "Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree."

          Blitzer pauses for a commercial break.

          Meanwhile at the black site, the CIA contractors and interrogators are watching CNN via satellite and realize what they've just done. The contractors fire off a cable to their corporate headquarters, explaining what's happened and their indirect role in the folly.

          But corporate is ecstatic.

          The employees at the black site, and everyone even remotely associated with their chain of command in the firm, all receive special Christmas bonuses (a reimbursable expense on their contract). Their company stock in their 401(k)s quadruples in value due to increased business thanks to the war with Iran. This happy holiday is truly a season of joy!