tv The Spy Who Couldnt Spell CSPAN November 20, 2016 8:00pm-9:01pm EST
military and intelligence secrets to libya. he used his dyslexia to create a complicated code that was difficult for the fbi to decipher. >> thank you all so much for coming out. i think what we will do is talk for the first 20 or 25 minutes and then i will be available for questions pertaining to the book :
at this great institution. nick has been a great friend of mine and is an accomplished journalist. i'm glad that you are doing this with me and delighted to talk about the buck. let's get started. >> my first question is why don't you talk about how you found the story in this case and give us the back story of how you sort of ended up working on this project. >> i came across the case in 2009. his life story his name was dan olson and he told me about a variety of cases and most of
them involved those that person -- prison gangs use them in his ten minute talk to me he described the case instead i worked on solving some of the code. i thought surely this is an old case and the conviction occurred in 2003 and i thought surely people have written about this but when i dug deeper i saw that it hadn't been covere had been d the reason is he was arrested two weeks before 9/11 after the u.s. invaded iraq, so it was almost as if his story was book ended in these major events and it is a low hanging fruit for me to go after.
>> your interest you have a background in science writing. if you get to the correct -- cryptology section, can you talk about the interest on cryptology or what was your interest. when i went to the lab i was working on science and i was interested in codes and in this idea of hiding things from others. i've always been fascinated by characters who do that and the making and breaking involves
deception so that was my sort of general interest but i wasn't drawn to code. but i started learning more about the history of he went through a couple of cryptology courses during the military training and he wasn't a cryptologist in the sense that he came up with these himself and he kind of invented then as a strong word but he used some conventional p. us to come up with the codes and that's why they proved to be so difficult to break. how did he find himself in this predicament?
>> he was an employee in the air force and he'd grown up with severe dyslexia. as a result of that he didn't do very well in school and was also mocked by his peers and classmates and friends in the neighborhood not just because of his dyslexia but certain quirks in his personality which you can read about in the buck. on the military test to get into the air force he did well enough to be absorbed into the air force intelligence as a signals analyst and he did pretty well for ten to 12 years he served admirably during the first gulf war he was at the pentagon during signals analysis to help
the forces ended in 1995 he came to the national reconnaissance office which is an agency that manages all the military spy satellites the u.s. government has. these are multibillion dollar satellites that have taken years and years to develop into different decades behind them and these images the satellites gather and the signals and gyms that the satellites collect are what gave the united states its great military superiority in the world. so, starting in 1997, because brian regan was facing hardships and his financial life, he was under severe credit card debt.
the. he was frustrated because of the lack of respect because he was a fairly distant to make a decent worker. just like it happened in childhood he kept getting ridiculed by some of his colleagues said he came up with a plan he was going to steal the american secrets to market them overseas to hostile governments. so he went through a process of collecting the secrets which actually collecting them by it self wasn't that hard and that is something we can talk about later about the vulnerability of the secrets that he had access
to. he succeeded in stealing the secrets and hiding them in the two state parks outside of dc and in pocahontas state park and he came up with this ingenious method of encrypting the geo-coordinates of all of the locations and so what he had in the end of his theft were sheets filled with letters and numbers that wouldn't mean anything to anybody else but were essentially the keys to the kingdom. >> if you haven't already bought the book in the course of the explanation there is also books for sale but you will be signing after this but it's a phenomenal story and i think one of the
things you do very well is a you give the sense of what motivated him often times people are looking for motivation and often times comes down to money but it was a sort of proving himself not to be a dolt in the opening scene he visits high school and you can see these worlds colliding so that was phenomenal getting into the psychology of these as well. both of them played a system admin role where they only had a right to know the secret and access to secret as a result of the technical expertise and not necessarily of the espionage specialty, is that correct?
>> if you were to compare brian to these individuals, he had experience and knew the value very specifically because he had helped to collect it and analyze it. he maintained that the webpage for his particula this particuld he had certain privileges. i don't know what they were but he was quite familiar with how all of this information that was stored had to be used in war and peace and that made him dangerous given his intent. so he had both access and knowledge and knew the value of these things and he knew what might have the information so if
you read that you would find he went through the process of sorting all of the classified material that he had stolen in order to create separate packages some of them to separate packages for the government of libya and iraq. >> we associate it and that intelligence is far more valuable because of these expensive platforms so if you talk about it being this agency that no one has heard of -- >> that is a great question and
i spent some time describing what it is and why it was important. so until 1992 they didn't know that it didn't exist at because it's this little office within the air force completely classified into existence wasn't known. they had no idea what the nro was. it was disqualified so the existence became known. since the late 50s, this is the agency that sort of first came up with all the technology to photograph and collect images
from space. there were several improvements made to the public didn't know anything about it in the 70s, 80s and that's when people started to get wind of it. one of his photographic intelligence, just images, high-resolution images of what indeed those -- >> it was taken by another middle eastern spy agency that in the book you will find why that is relevant to a.
at an instrumental and above or were that brian did during the first gulf war wasn't the only one of course. those were two empower the iraqi forces when they invaded kuwait. >> of the imagery they had -- >> one of the individuals that was involved in collecting the intelligence led to a terrific piece on the new yorker.
one was called to testify in the trial and tried very hard to interview him that the agency didn't make that person available. so we talk about what the nro was doing or didn't know. so he's accumulating all this information in his house and then stashing in the words. his family does have suspicions, can you talk about that and how he managed to keep the secret from colleagues and families and how he was outed. >> he was a recluse and didn't really have friends in his neighborhood and as his wife told me many years later when i was working on the book that
he's not even somebody that i knew, so the layers o late yearf deception that he was able to deploy are as fascinating as the code. so i sought to unravel it through my reporting. he stashed the materials first at one of his cabinet and there is a scene in one of the books he goes off on travel duty and to take away the cabinet they unlock it and discovered all these papers and say it probably belongs to the sky and then when he returns they call him and say
it take credit for editors all this stuff you had. do you need it so he says sure, please. they should certainly concern us but aside from that, he did a good job himself of keeping it a secret when he brought it home and he was sorting it by his wife and kids were away so he was able to sort it in his basement and soon after that he took it out and first actually stored it in a public storage facility while he was putting the plan together saplan togethe multiple steps on how he stored the information.
he didn't have to go through the trouble of printing stuff out and putting in a credenza or tupperware containers and burying it in the forest as he had to. >> said he thought his piles and sends a better to the embassy. >> that's right. he goes through to create a letter that is coded and then creates a cheat so he sends a letter that is in three parts. it has the instructions for how to resolve the code and then there is a letter that is coded
so all of this is his way of trying to remain anonymous because he's really paranoid about being found out, as anybody would be. so, he sends these to the libyan embassy, and he addresses the letter to gadhafi. he has a separate letter that goes to saddam hussein. all of these letters get intercepted by the fbi by a source they had in the embassy. i never got much clarity on that and the fbi needs to protect its sources and methods and that's how the hunt began and it took several months for the fbi to figure out who sent those
letters. how much did you struggle with wanting to uncover the sources and methods to see how they did it and also respecting the fact that the fbi had the sources and methods like your own personal journalistic ambitions hell did they contradict the ambitions of the fbi in their own sort of protection sources and methods? >> i knew that this was an important part of the story but i knew that there was the beginning of the story and so i was happy enough to let that fly because after all i need is always a chance to talk to me for the next two years telling
me how they crack the case and if i had gotten hung up on how they got the tip and adjust insisted on finding that out. well, this book wouldn't be here so i didn't think that it was germane to the story. however what i saw and the prosecution phase the lengths to which they had to build the case without bringing in the informant ion you how important it was to keep the informant behind the scenes and later on, when i discussed this with counterintelligence agents, i learned that there could be tremendous risks. he could have been killed by the regime for having essentially done wha but they were seeking o for the country. >> there's this concept in the
u.s. public prosecutions where in the cases of counterintelligence as they are bringing the evidence often times that the prosecution will say okay this guy is a criminal, but he can't tell you how we got what he got and they would have these private, secure conversations. is there an intent to try to compromise and? >> that is exactly what he did. brian knew that the government would not be able to bring this informant to testify. he didn't know exactly who had tipped off the fbi that he knew that if they have presented these letters in court, they would have a hard time sort of showing that they were actually send to an embassy so he attempted to blackmail the
government and say i am not giving up and i think i deserve less than nine years in prison for what i've done and only if you give me the short sentence relatively speaking, will i help you to dig up the secrets that i've buried and so, this was highly unusual and probably the worst judgment call and that's what fascinated me. i wanted to dig deeper into his life to understand what kind of childhood and adolescence and youth he had t had to do what wd to think in this way that he could outmaneuver the government after being caught with his pants down.
>> said he tried to outsmart the government prosecution stage during the legal phase. both the chase itself. the letter comes and you have this fantastic fbi agent as your protagonist. talk about how they build the case and how did they go after him and eventually get ten >> it was identified in who this person was in so they cast a wide net and looked at the nsa and cia and counterintelligence people said because we have much more easily to people that served in the agency so this was in fact just as a side note what fascinated me because he would go, he would be so meticulous
and smart and then he would do one thing that would be so dumb that would completely be the end of his plot and this happens repeatedly through the story i discovered. but, back to the chase, the fbi started to do audits of these servers to seafood access to certain things. he printed out several documents from the intelligence community and he had included 23 or 24 pages about the 19 documents in his package that he had mailed and so that was the clue so to
make a long story short, eventually they found one particular documenthat onepartid been printed out july 9 if they narrowed down the access of the document on that particular day and that's when his name came to the forefront. they also had other clues they were looking for a bad speller and when they looked into his files, the letters that he'd written. intelligence investigations are incredibly complex if they are to hold up in court, there's a lot of evidence because all the defense has to do is inject reasonable doubt. so they went through a long
process of first confirming that he had done it and there's moments in the stories when he had seen going into the library in maryland where fbi agents are watching him and he's doing the searches for the addresses and embassies in europe. once again as a side note, he goes through the incredible effort to cover his tracks and then he leaves the browser open when he walks off from the terminal. if he had just refreshed it, they wouldn't have been able to see what he had been looking at so that is an example of why he came to be known by mr. eadie present because they would see
that he is brilliant 80% of the way that he would make a left turn to stupidity. so, once they knew that he was their guy they still needed to collect evidence and they didn't know what he'd stolen even at that point. so ultimately they brought him back as a contractor finally when he was able to leave the country to market for the embassies overseas, that's when they finally gone. >> so he never successfully passed that on to what was
intending to sell. thethey had an access if they we no longer in the confines did that jeopardize all the sources and methods that were used to gather all that information or were they able to preserve those, do you know? >> we were asking i if there waa brisk outstanding even though he hadn't been able to sell the information. >> the person who took the photograph when they know that he had the photograph in his possession does that mean that the person who took the photograph is no longer usable because he somehow compromised even if not in a significant w way? >> since the particular photograph was taken by the agency and one of our allies in the middle east there wasn't any
particular risk just from that photograph that all the material that he had stolen and buried would have compromised billions of dollars worth of assets have they been found and keep in mind after he was arrested he wasn't giving up anything or pleading guilty or saying here's what i did come here's how i did it and i swear i haven't actually given any of this to anyone. he may have already communicated giving them some of these locations but they didn't even know that he'd bury the stuff that wasn' wasn't evident from t they had collected. they just knew he made stops at parks and have habit of going to the forest and they were trying to piece all of this together so that's the interesting part about the case while there was
>> >> but i think because of the ridicule he had suffered , he had a personality of trying to prove that he had the ace up his sleeve that nobody else knew about . and that is what led him to make those bad decisions after he was arrested frankly because if he had tested at that point he would not spend the rest of his life in prison.
>> cbs news fascinating story as far as cryptology, was it especially challenging because it was only meant to be understood by himself and then not shared with any agency or allies. >> yes you make a good point he was trying to hide it in case he got caught nobody could figure out what it was and he could still recover the locations . but there is a theory but he may have communicated the codes and the way to break them to another intelligence service if that had been required to execute but he came up with a weird ways to encrypt and because it was
personal in nature is made out harder for the fbi to crack. >> that theory that he may have had contact us some sort what are you thinking? >> i don't think he could make contact there was a scene in the book june 2000 -- two months to 40 was arrested he flew to europe and he did go to the libyan embassy and said can i speak your security officer he was trying to tell them that he had information that he wanted to sell but because of his bumbling ways in the way he came across the weekend across as a provocation that he was said delaware gaulle because in the intelligence world agencies do this all the time to send one of their
own to pretend to be a spy of another consulate to knock on the door of the intelligence service so he was booted out partly because of his personality he thought he knew all about spying but he didn't and that is true for everything he did he thought he knew qsr carter and a peabody yells but not as smart as he thought he was so he ended up making mistakes if he hadn't indeed steadied spy craft he may have found a way to make contact with somebody at the nsc to introduce bit by bit if you read the other successful spy stories while success is
a loaded term but where the traders were successful to sell information you will see they didn't go to great lengths to hide the information but they did to establish a relationship with what ever intelligence service they would work for. >> don't be arrogant. >> given not we don't know the particulars of the martin case that just came up in the intent was rather different can you comment when this case happened so many years before the harold martin case with a fizzle
security aspect why did the nsa but tim taken so many documents:physically quick. >> is dump's me as much as it does you in fact, i recently wrote an op-ed for "the new york times" precisely asking that question but the reagan case offers so many lessons both digital security as well as physical security of classified secrets . but because the case have been right before 9/11 it somehow got lost many had never heard of the bride and reagan case . -- brian reagan case so how to protect secrets were never taken seriously and
not applied until many years later and even now the arms race continues between insider threat to plan to do something like this or other noble purposes i lost my train of thought . so i have no idea how he could take said some dry for this cd-roms with classified information then store that in his garage four years . maybe he started to take them back in 2003 . who knows? >> host: no one else has questions? really? is that possible? >> i uninterested in the process to collect the
information it doesn't seem like you are super connected into the cia or nsa so how hard is it to get them to talk? >> it wasn't that hard to get the lead case agent to talk . back in 2009 when i would go back to interview the cryptology stomachaches -- cryptology us to of the case it didn't go into much detail but would cover the secrets then i became friends with the zero lead agent steve carr like to gather there was a lot more to the story that could be
told at the time i did not know what that was but i had a vague notion to pursue . ultimately i could get some cooperation from the fbi because of mike other cases this had gone to trial was so there was quite a bit of information already in private domain but once started to go through witness' testimony, i started to find people who knew bits and pieces, others were willing to talk to us because i knew steven and they new-line had done a good job of the article . but was more difficult was to find enough information
about price and regan childhood because believe better not when somebody is branded as this friday november was to claim they ever knew him that is worse than a pedophile because it is so deeply stigmatized that anybody who is accused of treason, you don't want to touch that person with a 10-foot pole . so it took a great deal of effort to track down friends of brian regan from childhood to piece together the story of his dysfunctional growing up years and bring at back to bear to some of the decisions that he made. >> host: and you attempted to get in touch within yourself? >> guest: yes . i thought about '05 years with the department of justice and few other
agencies and the nro to communicate with brian regan he is maybe only one of 100 federal prisoners known under special administrative measures under special terms of incarceration that prevent people like regan and of boston ballmer from being able to communicate with the outside world . so i never got that permission but the reason is that that regan was this done predictable character he could death toll something in his interviews with me just to get back at the government and to further harm national-security even though it has been more than 10 years, actually 13 he has been in prison . so i was not able to speak to him but i could collect information from
psychiatrist that the defense team had employed to speak to him i was also able to dig up some notes that a government psychiatrist had made from interviewing brian regan right before the trial began just to assess if he was in a sound mental condition. pgh these were not covered by any sort of privacy rules. pgh this is why i can access them so i could access a lot of dots the notes from the psychiatrist was the transcript of the interview and most important, they debrief brian regan for over 30 sessions after all the
secrets word dog up -- were dug up. pgh and they went over with him precisely what he had done and when he had done it. pghnd i benefited from the agency were in the room when those conversations were taking place perco i could not get the recordings of those sessions. >> if they know how to get access to those cuddy's send a book to him quite. >> that would like to i have tried sending him letters but they are intercepted. i could not ask the family member to send a letter because then that would stop contact with family members progress some way die have to draw the line.
>> host: could you write in code? clef laugh. >> guest: that would have been interesting especially if i misspelled his name very much you would have misspelled mine. >> any congressional oversight over this case with the security lapses after the of unrest? >> guess while the case was going on during the investigation there were briefings done on the hill with a closed room session and i absurd that such briefings are pretty routine from the security lapses. igo know what changes have been made as a result but i do know the nro improved digital security so
ultimately they can salvage the situation by cooperating with the fbi and ultimately damage was done. that is a weird thing about the case even though he got away with stealing the information ultimately he could not pass it onto a foreign service, so a broad counterintelligence perspective it seems no harm no-fault. pressure and under the carpet and forget about it. but with martin and manning and the edward snowden now talking about charging it with espionage, is a death threat that has gone away, we just see one example where the person was caught but no real damage was done.
but there must me at least a few out there and it is the job of the fbi and other agencies to read the amount. >> in the years of reporting with all of players, what surprised you most? what was the conversation you thought that just shines a light on an aspect of espionage or counterintelligence you had not anticipated? >> it was more about human character. i was really surprised when i learned that brian regan just as he was about to bury the packages in pocahontas pocahontas, he sorted all of the information hot one last
time and discovered documents that were very sensitive. he decided they were so sensitive that he would not sell them. he tried to flush them down the toilet of his motel room . of course, that did not work . then he picked that up out of the toilet to put in the bathtub and tried to mulch at. he would let the water run and he tried to stop on it and destroy the documents able to do that so he would wrap it up and throw it into a dumpster. i found it very strange that somebody who would embark upon a clear plan to commit espionage, did not give a damn about the consequences consequences, obviously he
was for himself, but it didn't get the damn of the consequences to the country country, that he should have this stirring of the motions that made me think about his character so from all of the reporting that i did, after i learned of this incident, i discovered that brian regan he was a troubled human being with difficulties growing up in hanover, lot of challenges to have the career that he had. but get his quest for respect kept getting stymied . he would get 80 percent and then something would happen and then find himself back at square number-one. this would happen over and over with him.
i never thought we started this project for a guy who would commit espionage espionage, especially my was hearing the story told by people like steve carr or all those who hunted him down to bring him to justice. but as they learn more about his childhood in his dysfunctional life, i felt very sorry for him and i did not expect that that was the biggest surprise. >> character development. we will all be the book. >> coming to a theater soon. >> i don't know. is an interesting story i think it is ripe for movie treatment because at the heart of the book is a
complicated character, not a fun chase and the story does not end with brian regan getting caught it actually goes on because there is the cat and mouse game that continues after brian regan is in prison so i think it would make a great movie. >> host: thanks for coming and thanks for having a. [applause] >> i really appreciated. thanks for the questions. [inaudible conversations]
>> headband is firing up standing outside home of the of pittsburgh steelers it is game day today and show me your terrible towels. in 1979 started the terrible towel to wave away the enemies you will see that they will be waving their terrible towel. once you have one that is given to you like a little baby economic wash away the magical powers i have won over four years have seen a lot of lead and a slit -- sweat and tears
>> we will drive today and take a look at an overview and learn some history. >> as we come around the corner, you will see the sports museum on the right-hand side, you can see the goalpost of three rivers stadium as the steelers became the dominant force of the nfl in the '70s. >> when was the team established a quick. >> in 1933, one of the original franchisees of the nfl. they didn't have a name in the first years they called themselves the pirates
because that was the name of the pirate so they wore black and gold like the other team but after a time around world war two they decided we need are own team so they started to call themselves the steelers. some people say because they stole the players from other teams but pretty soon the people love pittsburgh really adopted the name because it is the steel city be were proud of the steel and industrial heritage so that seemed like the right thing to do. we are just passing the pennsylvania station that is now been converted into housing and in the 1840's there was a big bowl here filled with water because
this was the end of the line for the pennsylvania canal. people would get around and move freight on the water on the canals. >> q. can hear us rattling. this is named grant street not because of president grant before james grant the british general who is captured in 1758. this was a grant still there used to be a hill here but in 1909 they brought in steve equipment of bulldozers and excavators to level grants hill to make it a nice flat grand street. the streets have changed over time but then they went
to kabul streets and then blocks and then probably only 30 or 40 years ago they went to bricks because they were easier to lay because of the infrastructure work is one of the top steelmakers in america but there is a lot of competition for steel all around the world. so the steel industry is not dominant in pittsburgh today. >> but in the county courthouse you can see that rusticated stone going back to the turn of the century when of the architectural wonders. coming up to the river into can start to see some of the bridges in pittsburgh more than 450 bridges all over the city.
foot bridges and automobile bridges, rail bridges we have bridges of all kinds. it isn't easy to navigate the pittsburgh streets but it aligns with the river so there are hills and bridges and billy's even the locals have gotten into trouble getting around downtown. but once you figure it out it is not so bad. we are going over the smithfield st. brigid conceded crest of the black and gold of the ural of chatham for whom pittsburgh was named. he was the secretary of state of the british empire during the french and indian war in the 17 fifties when pittsburgh was established. there are inclined planes on the hills of passport -- pittsburgh along the monongahela incline people have the hills down at the
river level really one of the only to inclined planes operating today. the inclined planes are cable cars that allowed the workers to get down to their factories down at the river level and people still use them today but it is mostly for the tourist to get a better view of the three rivers. >> if you had to describe the typical pittsburg president? >> peseta saying you always say they're coming after work.
and they have their own way speaking. with waves of migration and 16,000 years ago during the ice age to set up shop of the american indian tribes from one washington arrived. with the scots irish eastern european today people come from asia and south central and south america. coming up on the city and county that is commensurate commemorating the anniversary. that is two vendors of being inc. there were no bridges and in