A few weeks back, I emphasized that the dragnet the government admitted to using in the Shantia Hassanshahi case (and issued a narrow claim to have shut down) was a drug database. That is, a dragnet purportedly created to track drug trafficking had been used to police sanctions.
Yesterday, the WSJ broke the story revealed by documents liberated by an ACLU FOIA. One point made in both hasn’t received enough emphasis. A 2009 document revealed that asset forfeiture was one of the primary goals of the program.
The Pilot National LPR Initiative has received enormous support from all several government and law enforcement entities and multiple request have been made to connect LPR devices from state and local law enforcement. In anticipation of the Pilot National LPR Initiative being utilized by all of DEA as well as Federal, State, and Local law enforcement throughout the United States, we must insure we can collect, manage, and maintain to the highest standards all data from the system as well as every other aspect of the LPR system. DEA has designed this program to assist with locating, identifying, and seizing bulk currency, guns, and other illicit contraband moving along the southwest border and throughout the United States. With that said, we want to insure we can collect and manage all the data and IT responsibilities that will come with the work to insure the program meets its goals, of which asset forfeiture is primary.
Funny. This passage doesn’t mention drugs at all. On the contrary, this is about seizing things of value — not drugs — so the law enforcement agency can profit.
After having deliberated for slightly over 2 days, the jury today found Jeffrey Sterling guilty of all nine counts today. (See a summary of the charges here.)
I’m not surprised the jury found Sterling guilty of some of the charges: of leaking Risen information on Merlin and the operation he was involved in, and of retaining and then leaking Risen a document involved in that. The government multiplied the charges for both the 2003 New York Times story (at which point, Sterling and Risen had only spoken for two minutes and 40 seconds) and the 2006 book (by which point they had had more lengthy discussions), such that each leak amounted to multiple charges. In addition, the jury convicted Sterling of passing government property worth over $1,000, and of obstruction of justice.
It’s the last charge that really raises questions about how the jury understood their instructions.
That’s because the government charged Sterling for obstructing the investigation by destroying a totally unclassified email he sent to James Risen in March 2003; he destroyed that email sometime between April and July 2006. The government made no allegation that Sterling ever entered Virginia during this period, much less destroyed the email there. In other words, there is no way Sterling should have been found guilty on that charge in Virginia (though it was easily the charge for which there was the most evidence to convict him of, had it been charged in Missouri). So that guilty verdict should make it easier to prove that the jury misunderstood the venue questions.
The other thing I think the defense might have grounds to appeal was Leonie Brinkema’s decision (which remains classified) that kept out details showing that several of the witnesses against Sterling — up to four of the people cleared into the Merlin operation — had, like Sterling, kept classified documents at home. One of the few concrete pieces of evidence against Sterling was that he had kept (probably retroactively) classified documents at home, which the government presented in big red printed SECRET folders. But, if (as seems highly likely) Bob S also did the same, it might raise questions about why FBI never investigated him as a potential source.
There’s much more that raises questions about the legitimacy (though not necessarily the outcome) of the trial, such as the things CIA managed to keep secret, including that the CIA had declared state secrets over some of the evidence submitted at trial to deprive Sterling of the ability to sue for discrimination.
And, finally, the verdict raises real questions about the economy of leaks in DC, in which people may point reporters to stories, only to have the reporters dig up damning evidence from other sources (which is what seems most likely to have happened here). Jeffrey Sterling just got found guilty for causing James Risen to publish a story to (the government claimed) avenge his crummy treatment by the CIA. Sterling’s guilty verdict allows no room for Risen to have decided to publish a story about CIA’s horrible record on WMD. This verdict will not only send Sterling to prison, but it turns journalists into agency-free vehicles of their sources.
I was mostly offline when King Abdullah died, so while I got to read the fawning tributes to the regressive monarch, and have caught up in time to read about the contest General Dempsey is staging in tribute (h/t @tweetsintheME), I missed the far more important detail from last week’s succession: that King Salman named Mohammed bin Nayef as Deputy Crown Prince. As Steve Coll lays out, this makes the American favorite (and the architect of Saudi Arabia’s brutal internal policing) third in line for the throne. Coll draws a parallel to the way that Abdul Aziz ensured succession would pass from his oldest son, Saud, to the more competent Faisal.
Saud was corpulent, self-indulgent, and incompetent. Abdul Aziz rightly feared that he was not up to advancing and preserving what he had built.
Yet Abdul Aziz’s second surviving son, Faisal, was shrewd, austere, and serious. Before he died, the king forged a compromise: he decreed that his throne would pass laterally from his eldest son to his youngest son, however long that took. This meant that, while Saud would become king upon Abdul Aziz’s death, Faisal would become Crown Prince, in a position to run things while Saud indulged himself. That decision proved sound. Faisal and the larger royal family eventually persuaded Saud to resign. Faisal modernized Saudi Arabia in many respects until, in 1975, a family member assassinated him.
Coll argues this appointment will signal to the world the Sauds intend to stick around for the long haul (and, implicitly, will remain a ruthless police state as well).
Within the kingdom and outside, the choice of Muhammad bin Nayef as the Deputy Crown Prince, and the vehicle for dropping down a generation, will be read by many as a signal of reasoned debate and consensus about continuity within the Council. Bin Nayef ran counterterrorism operations in Saudi Arabia when the kingdom cracked down on Al Qaeda after 2003. He then became the interior minister. He is a favorite in Washington and London, regarded as more serious and committed to government than many others in the royal family. He is also a ruthless type who has spent his ministry’s enormous budget building one of the world’s most attentive police states.
I’m not surprised MbN has been slotted into the succession plans. But I’m rather interested in how this will affect a key tool of US-Saudi relations, the Technical Cooperation Agreement which I spent some time obsessing about when MbN came to the US to renew it just as Obama shuffled his cabinet post-reelection. The State Department has been sitting on a FOIA for the Agreement — which might explain details about how US government employees report up through the Saudi chain of command, or might lay out how the new cybersecurity agreement relates to having given the Saudis Third Party status at NSA. But it also might describe how this serves as a vehicle for petrodollar laundering — a way to bind the KSA to the dollar.
Whatever State was hiding, it was also hiding a relationship that put MbN squarely in charge of the relationship.
When the National Security Council tweeted out on Narenda Modi’s meeting with President Obama, I realized that Modi has 9.7 million twitter followers (which makes sense, given India’s population), which got me interested in whether there was another world leader who had more than Modi.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far (I’m including the Dalai Lama and Pope for comparison purposes).
Barack Obama: 53.7M
Dalai Lama: 10.2M
Narendra Modi: 9.7M
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: 5.6M
Enrique Pena Nieto: 3.54M
Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia): 3.52M
Cristina Kirchner: 3.5M
Dilma Roussef: 3.2M
Joko Widodo (President of Indonesia): 2.66M
Najib Razak (PM of Malaysia): 2.33M
Nicolas Maduro: 2.23M
Rafael Correa (President of Ecuador): 1.97M
Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud: 1.6M
David Cameron: 900K
Francois Hollande 858K
Paul Kagame (Rwanda): 787K
Uhuru Kenyatta: 715K
Shinzo Abe: 446K
Tony Abbott (Australia): 430K
Park Geun-Hye (South Korea): 372K
Jacob Zuma: 348K
John Key (New Zealand): 149K
Luis Guillermo Solis (Costa Rica): 133K
Lee Hsien Loong (Singapore): 128K
Michelle Bachelet (Chile): 59K
Evo Morales: 56K
Goodluck Jonathan (Nigeria): 25K
Abdel Fattah Elsisi: 1.8K (no tweets)
Enda Kenny (Irish Taoiseach): 26K
No twitter account: Angela Merkel
The government engaged in a great deal of security theater during the Jeffrey Sterling trial, most notably by having some CIA witnesses — including ones whose identities weren’t, technically, secret — testify behind a big office divider so the general public couldn’t see the witness.
But along the way, the government revealed a great number of secrets, including a number of secrets about how its counterproliferation programs work.
Perhaps most ironically, in a trial aiming to convict Jeffrey Sterling for revealing that the Russian scientist referred to as Merlin during the trial was a CIA asset, the government revealed that Merlin’s wife was also an asset.
That possibility was first suggested in the testimony of the first witness, Stephen B, who described originally recruiting Mrs. Merlin (presumably also for information on Russia’s nuclear program), not Merlin himself. Merlin’s wife suggested CIA recruit Merlin.
But the exhibits make it even more clear that CIA continued to have a relationship with Mrs. Merlin as well. For example, the first of two cables describing CIA informing the Merlins the engineer appeared in James Risen’s book describes them as the “Merlin assets,” plural.
That January 6, 2006 cable goes on to reveal that Mrs. Merlin had been facilitating the targeting of a Russian official who was due to travel to the US.
In addition, a stipulation regarding how much the CIA paid out over the years described it as how much “CIA paid Merlin and his wife.” [my emphasis] Indeed, the payments continued after CIA purportedly had to discontinue using Merlin on operations when Risen threatened to publish a New York Times story in 2003, and continued even after Merlin appeared in Risen’s book in 2006, even increasing in 2007.
Altogether, the CIA paid the Merlins roughly $413,223.67 over the 7 years after James Risen supposedly ruined Merlin’s usefulness as an asset.
It’s possible that some of these amounts were just meant to keep the Merlins silent. Yet it’s also clear that in 2006, Mrs. Merlin was actively providing information on Russian targets to the CIA.
None of these details — including a listing of how much nuclear engineers might expect to be paid by the CIA for a thorough debriefing then participation in a deception operation — were made public by Risen’s book.
But in the government’s zeal to punish Jeffrey Sterling because it believes he revealed Merlin to the world, the government has, in turn, revealed Mrs. Merlin.
“Jeffrey Sterling was the hero of Risen’s story,” prosecutor Eric Olshan finished his closing argument in the Jeffrey Sterling trial. “Don’t let him be the hero of this one.”
“They are patriots,” prosecutor Jim Trump ended his remarks, speaking of the many CIA officers the jury had heard from. “They do their work without accolades.” He then compared Sterling with those patriots. “Sterling is not a patriot,” he described after accusing Sterling of betraying the CIA and his colleagues. “He is the defendant, he is guilty.”
Defense attorney Barry Pollack spoke in different terms — of the government’s insurmountable burden to present actual evidence that Jeffrey Sterling leaked national defense information to James Risen. Pollack warned of what a tragedy it would have been had the jury used the circumstantial evidence, presented by the government, that the word “Merlin” appeared on a computer Sterling used for 2 years to convict Sterling, when it turns out the word probably got there from its prior owner’s review of a piece of software called Merlin. “It would have been a tragedy” had the jury convicted Sterling based on that evidence, Pollack ended his presentation.
But along the way Pollack reminded whose story this is: James Risen’s, not Jeffrey Sterling’s, and the choices about how he presented Sterling, Bob S, and Merlin were made by him. The government, which pursued Risen’s testimony for 9 years, today presented the reporter as a mere vehicle for Jeffrey Sterling, a non-entity. Of course, no mention was made of Risen’s clear argument, in both the chapter (which the jurors will read) and the rest of the book (which jurors cannot read) that there were real reasons to be worried about CIA’s actions with respect to WMDs in both 2003 and still in 2006.
The government did a lot of good for their case in their closing arguments. Prior to today, their case was a mess, with their last witness, FBI Agent Ashley Hunt, admitting she had not even tried to gather evidence from some of the other possible sources for Risen, and had not succeeded for others. Olshan’s focus on citations from Sterling’s performance review was particularly compelling that Sterling had a role — albeit one that might have involved sharing entirely unclassified information — in Risen’s story.
Pollack did his best work pointing out that the evidence in CIA cables — particularly the timeline of meetings just before Merlin went to Vienna — suggested Merlin’s explanation for how a key letter appeared in Risen’s book did not make any sense. “There’s one problem [with Merlin's story],” Pollack claimed. “It’s not true.” CIA cables showed that Merlin had not met alone with Sterling at the time he claimed he had, so it was impossible for Sterling to have gotten a copy of the letter in the way Merlin claimed he had. Pollack also took the government’s own narrative of Sterling’s calls with Risen, and showed where they had omitted the events in Sterling’s long-running equal opportunity and publication fights with the CIA, a perfectly innocent explanation for his calls with Risen.
There was almost no room in either story for challenging these narratives of heroism and betrayal. After all, if nuclear weapons are as serious as Olshan reminded the jury they are, then perhaps the concern about giving nuclear blueprints to Iran was itself a grave concern. Perhaps whoever leaked this story to James Risen as the country went to war in the name of WMDs that didn’t exist was him- or herself a hero. That was not submitted to the jury as a possibility.
Ultimately, though, it will come down to the story the jurors themselves craft to explain how a chapter that adopts a strong narrative voice — Risen’s voice — came to be, and whether they believe the government has presented enough evidence to prove Sterling was one of the many characters in the story of how investigative reporter James Risen publicized what the government claims was one of its closest held secrets.
Before this close, I would have guessed that there was no way the jury would find Sterling guilty; the government simply had not presented any evidence. It’s not clear their evidence is any more sound now, but they have told a story that may well resonate with the jury.
The FBI Special Agent who investigated the Merlin leak, Ashley Hunt, testified on Wednesday.
Much of the evidence she entered into the record pertained to the (remarkably limited) phone records between James Risen and Jeffrey Sterling between 2003 and 2007. While there were longer calls when Sterling lived in Missouri in 2004, before Risen went to the CIA with a story he claimed was ready to publish in April 2003, there were just a few minutes of conversation between Risen and Sterling.
One of the last things the government did while Special Agent Hunt was on the stand, however, was enter Stipulation 12, which entered phone records she had identified that took place between Jeffrey Sterling and another journalist. The records dated to around April 2003, but they were all very limited in length and some were even placed to the 800-number for the reporter’s newspaper.
The reporter in question was Ronald Kessler, who was then with the Los Angeles Times.
Kessler was also, at that time, finishing up a book, CIA at War (which would be released in October 2003), that according to the Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report, was “blessed” by George Tenet and completed with the “assistance” of the CIA.
In seeking to shape press reporting on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, CIA officers and the CIA’s Office of Public Affair (OPA) provided unattributed background information on the program to journalists for books, articles, and broadcasts, including when the existence of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was still classified. When the journalists to whom the CIA had provided background information published classified information, the CIA did not, as a matter of policy, submit crime reports. For example, as described in internal emails, the CIA’s [redacted] never opened an investigation related to Ronald Kessler’s book The CIA at War, despite the inclusion of classified information, because “the book contained no first time disclosures,” and because “OPA provided assistance with the book.” Senior Deputy General Counsel John Rizzo wrote that the CIA made the determination because the CIA’s cooperation with Kessler had been “blessed” by theCIA director. [footnotes omitted]
The Senate Torture Report went on to enumerate the inaccurate information Kessler had reported that CIA officials were also spreading. The report also explained that CIA “cooperated” with another Kessler book in 2007.
In other words, over the period of at least 4 years that coincided with the Merlin investigation, Ronald Kessler was considered by the CIA to be one of the most amenable reporters to CIA propaganda, all the way up to George Tenet.
Kessler was, according to the Torture Report, a guy the CIA would reach out to to spread their propaganda.
And that’s the best the government could do as far as implicating Jeffrey Sterling in speaking with reporters other than James Risen.
After a week of ominous language about the dangers of leaking classified documents, the 14 jurors in the Jeffrey Sterling trial Tuesday got their first look at purportedly classified documents.
Martha Lutz, the CIA’s Chief of Litigation Support and the bane of anyone who has FOIAed the CIA in the last decade, was on the stand, a tiny woman with a beehive hairdo and a remarkably robust voice. After having Lutz lay out the Executive Orders that have governed classified information in the last two decades and what various designations mean, the government introduced four documents into evidence — three under the silent witness rule — and showed them to Lutz.
“When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.
“They weren’t,” Lutz responded.
“But they are now properly classified secret?”
“Yes,” Lutz answered.
A court officer handed out a packet of these same documents with bright red SECRET markings on the front to each juror (the government had tried to include such a warning on the binders of other exhibits, but the defense pointed out that nothing in them was actually classified at all). Judge Leonie Brinkema, apparently responding to the confused look on jurors’ faces, explained these were still-classified documents intended for their eyes only. “You’ll get the context,” Judge Brinkema added. “The content is not really anything you have to worry about.” The government then explained these documents were seized from Jeffrey Sterling’s house in Missouri in 2006. Then the court officer collected the documents back up again, having introduced the jurors to the exclusive world of CIA’s secrets for just a few moments.
On cross, however, the defense explained a bit about what these documents were. Edward MacMahon made it clear the date on the documents was February 1987 — a point which Lutz apparently missed. MacMahon then revealed that the documents explained how to use rotary phones when a CIA officer is out of the office. I believe the prosecution objected — so jurors can’t use MacMahon’s description in their consideration of how badly these documents implicate Sterling — but perhaps the improper description will help cue the jurors’ own understanding about what the documents they had glimpsed were really about, making it clear to them they’re being asked to convict a man because he possessed documents about using a rotary phone that the CIA retroactively decided were SECRET.
Along with these awesome secrets about rotary phone usage, the prosecution noted that Sterling also had a 1993 performance evaluation at his home in Missouri. Under cross, MacMahon got Lutz to correct her testimony that this PAR was not from when Sterling was a Case Officer — as she had originally explained — but from when he was a trainee. But Lutz insisted that the document would still have been secret if not redacted anyway because it would reveal the kind of trainees the CIA looks for.
You might be wondering how the government plans to use retroactively classified documents about rotary phones to convict Jeffrey Sterling for leaking details about an operation dealing nuclear blueprints to James Risen. Luckily, the government explained all that back in September 2011.
Remarkably, they argue that these documents seized from Sterling’s house in Missouri in 2006 are proof that he possessed classified documents in his house in Herndon, VA in 2003.
Although the uncharged classified documents were seized from the defendant’s residence in Missouri on October 5, 2006, the defendant had to have moved those documents from his residence in Herndon, Virginia to his residence in Missouri in August 2003. The defendant had no access to classified information while residing in Missouri, and no longer had access to any classified documents when the CIA terminated him on January 31, 2002.
Along with the FBI’s Agent’s hairdresser’s testimony, the government is offering these documents as “proof” that they’ve properly charged Sterling in Virginia and not, say, Missouri, where a judge is less likely to permit the government to wave around documents on rotary phones as if they’re an important secret.
The government also introduced these documents about rotary phone usage because — they readily admitted in that September 2011 motion – that they were forced to do such things because they only have a circumstantial case showing that Sterling had a letter that got leaked to James Risen absent the journalist’s testimony (they submitted that motion at a time when Brinkema had limited Risen’s testimony).
The evidence of the defendant’s possession of the seized classified documents is necessary because the letter charged in Counts Three and Five no longer exists. Absent Risen’s testimony, the evidence of the defendant’s possession of the letter charged in Counts Three and Five is solely circumstantial, based largely on inferences drawn from the defendant’s involvement in Classified Program No. 1, his access to certain CIA cables containing drafts of the letter, and the small number of individuals who would have had access to a paper copy of the letter.
In other words, they’ve submitted these documents Sterling obviously got in the very early days of his CIA career to “prove” that he also had snuck a letter on the Merlin program out of the CIA in 2000 (after which point he lost access to the information) and sat on it until 2003, when he allegedly shared it with Risen.
That the government is doing so makes it all the more ridiculous that a number of CIA’s witnesses — including up to four who were themselves cleared into the Merlin program — were able to testify without answering questions about the classified documents they improperly brought home. Given that the CIA actually learned of those documents in real time, it’s likely they were a lot more interesting than instructions on how to dial a rotary phone. And following the government’s habit of making fevered inferences, their improper treatment of classified information should make them more likely candidates to be James Risen’s source than Jeffrey Sterling.
But instead, the government is arguing, in all seriousness, that Jeffrey Sterling should go to prison because of three documents on dialing a rotary phone dating to 1987.
Here’s my latest on the Jeffrey Sterling trial from ExposeFacts.org:
Coming back into the courtroom after a break in the Jeffrey Sterling trial this afternoon, I heard an odd conversation. Apparently the government had unsuccessfully tried to get the defense to stipulate that the hairdresser for the FBI officer who had investigated this case had read James Risen’s book, State of War, in the Eastern judicial district of Virginia, where the court is located.
“There is no hairdresser privilege,” the judge presiding over the case, Leonie Brinkema, ruled.
So after a surprisingly weak presentation of computer forensic evidence, the government then called the investigating FBI officer’s hairdresser, who I will refer to as Julia P (because why shouldn’t she get the same privacy protections all the CIA’s witnesses got?). She seemed unprepared for court testimony, dressed casually. But she was a welcome breath of fresh air from all the stern witnesses preaching national security we’ve seen in the trial so far.
“Hi!” she said in a high voice as she took the stand. She explained she’d been a hairdresser for 35 years (she looked far too young for that to be the case). Julia P then confirmed that she had read State of War.
“Yessir, every chapter.”
She went on to confirm that she had read the book in Alexandria, VA shortly after it came out and that she does not have a security clearance.
The government, you see, is trying to establish they have charged Jeffrey Sterling in the proper venue. If anything has so far been presented that ties the alleged crimes to the Eastern District of Virginia, it’s not apparently clear what that is. It may be that the government had intended to use Risen’s testimony to establish venue in CIA’s home judicial district, but even there, he lives in Maryland and his office in is District of Columbia, as the government had just stipulated.
So they called the investigative Special Agent’s hairdresser.
And citing no precedent for this means to establish venue for an espionage case, the prosecution got Julia P to testify she had read a nationally released book that disclosed classified information in the same city where the trial is taking place.
Judge Brinkema then interjected, “how did you obtain the book?” It might have been either Borders or Barnes & Noble, Julia P explained. When pressed, she said it was probably in Alexandria or Arlington.
But it might have been in Bowie, Maryland, because her boyfriend lives there.
As Julia P pointed out, there are Barnes & Nobles all over.
On cross-examination, the defense asked her to clarify this, whether she knew where she bought the book. “It was probably Virginia, but it might have been Bowie,” she repeated. “You don’t remember whether you bought the book in Virginia or Maryland?” the defense asked again to be sure.
When she was dismissed, Julia P responded with the same refreshing voice, “Thank you!”
Note, of a fairly large jury pool, not a single potential juror had read Risen’s book. But to Julia P’s great credit, she has.
I’m anticipating that the venue jury instructions are going to be mighty interesting.
My latest post on the Jeffrey Sterling trial notes that the same guy who called Sterling’s performance “extremely sub-par” is also the guy who set up the NYPD’s program profiling Muslims.
On Friday, former high ranking CIA officer David Cohen — who headed up the New York office while Sterling was there — described how he removed Sterling from the Merlin case because he didn’t believe Sterling was performing well at his job (an opinion neither his deputy, Charles Seidel, nor Bob S shared, at least according to their testimony). “His performance was extremely sub-par,” Cohen testified. Cohen also seemed to disdain what might be called political correctness, which if true may have exacerbated Sterling’s increasing sense of being discriminated against for being African American.
That would be consistent with the action for which Cohen has received more press in recent years: setting up the New York Police Department’s intelligence program that profiles the area’s Muslim community. In the wake of 9/11, Cohen moved from the CIA to the NYPD. In 2002, he got a federal court to relax the Handschu guidelines, which had been set up in 1985 in response to NYPD’s targeting of people for their political speech. Handschu required specific evidence before using informants to investigate a group. But, as an article from the Pulitzer Prize winning AP series described it, “Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it ‘virtually impossible’ to detect terrorist plots.” After getting the rules relaxed, Cohen created teams of informants that infiltrated mosques and had officers catalog Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, and even schools. “Cohen said he wanted the squad to ‘rake the coals, looking for hot spots,’” the AP reported in 2011.
At almost precisely the same time as jury selection for Sterling’s case started, theThird Circuit Court of Appeals heard a challenge from those targeted under the program, who claim they had been discriminated against on the basis of their religion.
While the agencies involved are different, it seems notable that the primary person to find fault with Sterling’s performance at the CIA — which Sterling claimed arose from problems with his race — is the same guy who started a program targeting Muslims across the New York City area. But that detail won’t be presented to jurors at all during the trial.
Click through to see how the Russian involved in the operation invoked Valerie Plame to describe his concern about his name leaking, just weeks before it started to become clear that Vice President Cheney probably ordered that leak.