WTF “Nuclear Secrets”?

I have this fantasy, which is that someone gave Donald Trump a laminated card that said “launch codes: man, woman, camera, a plan, burma shave” or something like that. He’s kept it, of course, because it’s valuable.

As Richard Feynman once said, “the only secret about these things is that they work at all.” He also said something to the effect that there wasn’t much physics involved, it was mostly engineering. If you know where and how to dig, you can learn a tremendous amount about how nuclear weapons work – what you can’t learn is how to turn a 3-ton bomb into a portable one, or one you can move around with a pallet jack.

Anyhow, the leaks out of Mar a Lago are that the FBI was looking for “nuclear weapons documents” which smells faintly of bullshit, to me. Maybe what they are looking for is the negotiating positions that the Trumpists were supposed to take with Iran, before the toddler threw his toys out of the pram. Or, perhaps some briefing notes covered with sharpie doodles regarding what might happen if there’s a nuclear showdown over Taiwan. I’d be shocked if any of that sort of material has any value after a president leaves office, because his international policy leaves office with him. Any national security council notes or briefing materials are likely to be irrelevant unless they somehow contain evidence of crimes in the planning stage – but generally those sorts of notes are carefully managed and edited. What I’m getting at is that I doubt very much that any of the stuff Trump has is worth anything other than as historical analysis, and any historical analysis would have to take into account the large amount of material that has already leaked. Besides, the January 6th committee’s historical analysis is way more interesting.

Unless, of course, Trump was briefed by some of his attendant nutbars, “how to steal the election” and stuff like that. That would be interesting – but it’s not nuclear. Knowing that the US military’s plans for Kim Jong Un involved a nuke going off overhead of his known position? That’s not learning anything interesting, except for the depth of the president’s love for Kim.

Back in the day, I made a few comments about Hillary Clinton’s private email server, because – at that time – it was offensive, as a former system administrator, what the clintonites expected us to believe. No offsite backups, who do you think is stupid here? No tape jukebox? Puhleeze! Meanwhile, the US secret service and department of homeland security appear to have forgotten exactly the same things, and congress appears to have forgotten exactly the same questions, such as: “Tell us about how your system is backed up. Where are the tapes?” Are we seriously expected to believe that the USSS is such a bunch of yutzes that the way they do data retention is the default options in iCloud or google cloud services? This stuff offends me because apparently they are so stupid they think I’m stupid, too. “Oh, I reset my phone.” So fucking what, if you’ve been syncing it there will be a half dozen backup images on your hard drive or in your phone system provider’s cloud services, asshole who thinks that resetting your phone means you’ve wiped evidence. And, by the way, let’s see a few of those bastards charged with some crimes – maybe they can hire James Comey to come in and bulldog the issue.

As someone funny said, “they should retain Alex Jones’ lawyers”

------ divider ------

Somewhere in my box of plaques and certificates at the studio, is a “with appreciation from the US Secret Service” plaque for unspecified services rendered in 1992-4. At the time I was impressed by the USSS, who seemed very squared away and devoted to their job. They were definitely on the right-wing authoritarian side of the scale and nowadays I would be much more uncomfortable working with them.

All I come away with from these stories is the impression that the “technical press” don’t understand any of this stuff. Which is crazy: how hard is it to ask some system administrator “OK, android cloud backups, how do they work?” and listen to what they say? The whole story USSS and DHS are telling is predicated on “ha ha you journalists are such ignorant goobs you’ll fall for this” or something like that. Not that I expect any journalists to read this but: ask your system administrator. Modern phones make it hard to lose your data, by design. Can you “reset” them? Sure! But that’s another question entirely, and it needs to be asked in the same manner as “why did Hillary Clinton’s system administrator feel the need to use a disk wipe for a normal email purge?” A normal technology refresh does not result in unrecoverable message wipes. Just looking right now, my computer contains 2 backups in iTunes and my messages and contacts are backed up in iCloud for the FBI’s convenience where any encryption around them (my suspicion is that it’s backdoored or not very good) can be attacked offline.


  1. flex says

    The whole “nuclear secrets” things does ring a bit hollow, but I could conceive of a few “nuclear secrets” which may show up at a briefing and Trump held on to. Mainly about location of nuclear devices and/or capabilities of other nations.

    For example, if Trump was given a briefing on the location of Russian nuclear submarines, even though those subs probably wouldn’t be in those locations any longer it would reveal to the Russians how good the surveillance program is. For example, if they found a map from the briefing and find that the US knew where all their subs were, that would give them a very different level of confidence in the power of the US tracking systems than if the map only showed 30% of their nuclear subs. Or if the map was of all US nuclear submarines at a given time, and the Russians got ahold of it, it would allow the Russians to have some idea of how good their equipment is.

    There are also a number of countries which have nuclear capability which are not commonly known about. In many cases the countries, who are allies of the US, doesn’t want anyone to know they have nuclear capabilities. So if Trump was handed a piece of paper saying, “These are the countries we know have nuclear capabilities and these are the countries we suspect.” That would be a ‘nuclear secret’ and it would be very highly classified and would be very damaging to US operations if it leaked.

    Of course this is all speculation, and the word “nuclear” is a bug-a-boo which creates fear in the minds of lots of people so it’s a good word to use to incite fear so I will keep an open mind about the subject of the search warrant until I see it, but there are possibilities beyond information about building nuclear devices.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I’d be shocked if any of that sort of material has any value after a president leaves office, because his international policy leaves office with him.

    As our esteemed host has noted many a time, US foreign policy in particular has worked consistently and continuously across multiple administrations – part of what some people called the “deep state”.

    No offsite backups, who do you think is stupid here?

    The general impression I got (or that we were intended to get) involved something like Bill and Chelsea setting up Hillary’s server over a weekend, working from an old copy of “Servers for Dummies” with the security chapter missing several pages.

    Meanwhile, I haven’t seen any of the recent reportage on Trump mentioning the first-year-or-so Trump reportage about him refusing to learn/use serious security phones while happily blathering (ahem) “sensitive” topics via whatever civilian cell he or his nearest subordinate had in their pockets. Perhaps everyone in DC who knew/cared about presidential data security all had nervous breakdowns by the end of 2018.

  3. says

    All the TS/SCI documents are jacketed and serialized.
    It should be easy to overcome the “planted documents” argument by dropping the reciepts: thus and such document was accessed by so-and-so in the NSC’s SCIF on such and such date.
    “Now, if you want to say a regular FBI field agent from some local office in Florida dropped that, explain to me now where they got it.”

  4. says

    Updated story is that there was also “signals intelligence material.” That stuff is explosive, e.g., Angela Merkel’s SMS messages, or something embarrassing and revealing of capabilities.

    Also interesting is that Breitbart is breaking some of the story, so some of this could be a bit of Bannon giving a kick to the yarbles of a downed man.

  5. says

    That’s pretty good!

    A good example of the intelligence problem is the satellite photo of the exploded Iranian rocket launch attempt which Trump shared. The are many pieces of intelligence:
    1) Iranian rocket blew up
    2) US has satellites parked over Iranian launch facility
    3) Those satellites have remarkably good imaging capability
    4) Someone who knew how could calculate the resolution of the satellite

    #4 is worth a lot. The Chinese probably already know that because they are inside the satellite development program but this is confirmation. Etc. The satellite incident did a lot to convince the IC that Trump is a dangerous idiot.

    Why did Trump take that stuff? I think it’s simple: they thought they were staying in the White House. When they were asked to leave they threw everything in the truck because it might have been evidence of other crimes and they couldn’t leave it lying around. Then when the archives started asking for it, it was just an opportunity to be obnoxious.

Leave a Reply