Peter Bergen’s Bumper Sticker

Yesterday, just two days after the unofficial start of the General Election, Joe Biden officially rolled out the slogan he had already warned would be his refrain for the entire campaign season:

If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.

Also yesterday, Time Magazine rolled out a Peter Bergen article, The Last Days of Osama Bin Laden (which is still behind the paywall), accompanied not just by a bunch of other piggy-backed articles, but the letter above, Leon Panetta’s record of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon’s call telling him the operation against OBL was a go.

I guess we’re supposed to assume the timing of the two events is entirely coincidental.

The other event that transpired yesterday–Judge James Boasberg’s order ruling the CIA had properly withheld 52 photos taken during the raid on OBL’s compound under FOIA exemption 1 (properly classified information)–probably was just a coincidence.

But it does remind us that the photos–that is, records of the same covert operation as Leon Panetta’s note recorded–were immediately stamped “Top Secret,” considered derivatively classified, and subsequently formally classified and withheld from FOIA.

And yet, here Panetta’s note is, somehow having evaded the classification stamps. That, in spite of the fact that it records the normally religiously guarded Presidential communications, not to mention details of how CIA and JSOC work together on covert ops, the time it was officially okayed, that McRaven was informed first even though CIA was ostensibly in charge of the op. All of it stuff that, had the op blown up in Obama’s face, would be as carefully guarded as those pictures of OBL’s funeral.

In my mind, this whole festival of information asymmetry targeted at voters is capped off by the byline involved: Peter Bergen.

When I read about the imprisonment of journalists like Abdulelah Haider Shaye, or the wiretapping of Lawrence Wright and Christiane Amanpour, I think back to Bergen, who in the days after 9/11 was an important, reliable source who knew more about al Qaeda than many of the people taxpayers were paying to keep us safe. I’ve always thought, as our government targets journalists covering Islamic extremists, we’re handcuffing the next Peter Bergen, that journalist who is right now collecting the information our intelligence community is neglecting.That Peter Bergen is likely to be imprisoned, like Shaye, for talking directly to a terrorist.

And what has Bergen become, along the way? The outlet for officially leaked information–one more tool in the President’s toolbox of information asymmetry.

I don’t blame the Obama Administration for running on Joe Biden’s pithy slogan. But I do blame it for corrupting information in this way, both the system of classification that should be free from politics, and the space it accorded journalists to do their job when the government wasn’t.

Update: See this for details of how Brian Williams will film Obama and friends re-enacting last year’s Sit Room drama as they killed OBL.

Update: One of the things Judicial Watch complained about in their OBL suit is that the photos were probably classified only after the government received their FOIA on May 2 (to DOD) and May 4 (to CIA). CIA Information Review Officer Elizabeth Anne Culver explained that the CIA always considered the photos classified.

Contrary to Plaintiff’s suggestion, after their creation these extraordinarily sensitive images were always considered to be classified by the CIA and were consistently maintained in a manner appropriate for their classification level.

So wouldn’t Panetta’s note be considered derivatively classified, just like the photos? If so, why doesn’t have declassification markings now?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

20 replies
  1. jo6pac says:

    Update: See this for details of how Brian Williams will film Obama and friends re-enacting last year’s Sit Room drama as they killed OBL.

    Sick but then again I hope it’s not on the same time as dancing with wash-ups;)

  2. MadDog says:

    I can’t imagine why Team Obama 2012 isn’t using the Awlaki assassination to politically show off their foreign policy chops, can you?

  3. MadDog says:

    OT – Yesterday via Haaretz:

    “Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said on Thursday that other countries have readied their armed forces for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear sites to keep Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons…”

    It may be that those other armed forces referred to are the first Mideast deployment of the US’s premier F-22 stealth fighters via an Aviationweek article also yesterday:

    “As tensions between Tehran, Washington and Tel Aviv continue to mount over Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons technologies, the U.S. has quietly begun a deployment of its premier stealthy fighter, the twin-engine F-22, to the United Arab Emirates.

    Multiple Lockheed Martin aircraft will operate out of Al Dhafra Air Base there, industry sources say. This is the same base from which U.S. U-2s and Global Hawk UAVs have been launched since shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    “The United States Air Force has deployed F-22s to Southwest Asia,” according to a statement from service spokesman Capt. Phil Ventura. “Such deployments strengthen military-to-military relationships, promote sovereign and regional security, improve combined tactical air operations and enhance interoperability of forces, equipment and procedures.” Ventura declined to specify what the aircraft’s mission is for this deployment…”

    This may all be bluff/counterbluff gamesmanship, but who can trust Batshit Crazy Bibi?

  4. Arbusto says:

    My Obama bumper sticker would read: Osama bin Laden is and the 4th Amemndment are dead and General Motors Wall Street are alive.

  5. thatvisionthing says:

    I don’t know. I kinda don’t care. Who needs citizens? Who needs government? They’ve divided this house against itself. There’s a paywall like 99% of us can’t get through and a consciencewall like 1% of them can’t get through. They cannot fathom conscience and humanity. They cannot stand reality checking. Not the light! It is what it is, and I think they’re stupid. Citizens can constitute new governments, it’s something we do, but I don’t think governments can constitute new citizens.

  6. Gitcheegumee says:


    We are quite simply …a commodity… continuously fed propaganda..smiling all the while on the way to the inevitable slaughter.

    Volunteer victims,bleatingly accepting indentured servitude for future generations to come.

  7. Carl Weetabix says:

    Let’s see how it works to go to your bank and say, “I always considered my payments optional”.

    Either the photos were classified or they weren’t – you don’t get “consider” them anything in an honest court of law (I say “honest” because the courts have become so deferential to Executive power, there’s nothing “honest” about these cases).

  8. Phil Perspective says:

    So wouldn’t Panetta’s note be considered derivatively classified, just like the photos? If so, why doesn’t have declassification markings now?

    Did you really think they’d let this opportunity go by to stick it to the GOP, and remind everyone that it was Obama that made killing OBL a priority? Especially against a dope like Mittens who admitted, like W., that capturing/killing OBL just wasn’t that big a deal.

  9. thatvisionthing says:

    @Mary McCurnin: That’s what I keep thinking. Wheel of distraction, and you can’t believe anything they say. They lie, they kill, they pose. They can’t help themselves. They are not my beautiful country.

  10. thatvisionthing says:

    @Gitcheegumee: No… I don’t think so. I think they are vanishing. They’re hollow, they’re substanceless, they’re soulless, they’re cut off. A disembodied head? Good luck with that.

  11. spanishinquisition says:

    @Carl Weetabix: We are in an authoritarian dictatorship now where Due Process doesn’t equal Judicial Process. The Dictator can just kill people on a whim, only will provide the official story and will imprison anyone who attempts to whistleblow the truth.

  12. spanishinquisition says:

    @Phil Perspective: Clearly killing OBL wasn’t that big of a deal to Obama – nothing has changed. We’ve still got the Patriot Act, etc. You don’t see Obama trying to roll back the laws that were supposedly put in place because of OBL. Whether OBL is alive or dead, the perma-war goes on with no desire from the Constitutional Scholar to give us our rights back.

  13. thatvisionthing says:


    A Matrix:

    It is built on lies. It works only as long as people are willing to live within the lie.

    But the moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out, “the emperor is naked!”–when a single person breaks the rules of the game, thus exposing it as a game–everything suddenly appears in another light and the whole crust seems then to be made of a tissue on the point of tearing and disintegrating uncontrollably.

    –Václav Havel, “Power of the Powerless“

    Occupy The Matrix (bumpersticker? :-)

  14. thatvisionthing says:

    @spanishinquisition: Right. It’s illegitimate. And it doesn’t work. Everyone can see that. So who needs THAT government? That government is dissolving itself. It can’t help itself. Rot rots, rotten begets rot. And then new things grow. I expect people will look for something that is legitimate and does function properly, because they need to, they have to — there’s a reason governments exist. So I expect they will constitute that.

    In Vaclev Havel’s essay, he calls it “living within truth.” An idea totally foreign now to the government but inherent to our Constitution and before that our Declaration of Independence: Legitimacy based on self-evident truths. We hold these truths, therefore we are. (Way better, btw, than the devolution, “We drone strike, therefore we are at war.”)

    Ah, spring.

  15. thatvisionthing says:

    @Gitcheegumee: Actually I like occupy. When I looked again at the Matrix youtube I linked to, it just hit me — that’s what occupy, occupying the Matrix, would look like. It just made me happy to see it. We can do this! Look, it’s do-able.

    I just looked at one of emptywheel’s new stories for the day, about Latif and a judge’s opinion being unredacted — and what had been redacted was the judge referring to the Wizard of Oz, the movie. She can’t trust Latif’s story, she sees it as the Wizard of Oz, motivated lying. Facts? May not enter. The Wizard of Oz is real to her and that was somehow so powerful it was redacted. Well it’s real to me too. And so is the Matrix, it’s everywhere. And I see the judge as like a trick or component of the Matrix, a concoctor of government reality (motivated lying!), and I wish some real reality would occupy her. I think it’s do-able…

    I do so want to live within the truth.

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