103 minutes into todays Global Threat Hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee, National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen got asked his first question, about what his agency is seeing as rising threats. As part of the discussion that ensued, he noted that homegrown Islamic terrorists continued to be a threat though, he admitted, such attacks would be “unsophisticated.”
He then admitted that those who get inspired by Al Qaeda propaganda are “wayward knuckleheads.”
The comment sure seems to confirm a key premise of Trevor Aaronson’s book, The Terror Factory. Our domestic war on terror — complete with FBI-concocted plots — really consists of getting wayward knuckleheads to respond to FBI incitment. “FBI’s trawling in Muslim communities has resulted largely in sting operations that target easily susceptible men on the margins of society.”
Meanwhile, Robert Mueller had a curious comment in his discussion about the ongoing al Qaeda threat. He said that airplane plots remain a threat. The individuals responsible for previous airline attempts still out there, he said.
Um, I thought we had killed at least one individual responsible for previous airline attempts in September 2011. You mean Anwar al-Awlaki wasn’t the mastermind of the UndieBomb threat?
Of course not: Ibrahim al-Asiri was the operational mastermind of it (or maybe Abu Tarak!). Which is why we had another purported attempt last year, more than six months after Awlaki died.
In any case, Mueller’s comment seems to be an at least implicit admission that the Administration oversold Awlaki’s single centrality to the first UndieBomb plot.
This story — about how Occupy Wall Street protestor Michael Premo beat an assaulting an officer charge when his lawyers found video evidence to disprove the NYPD’s claims — might make you believe in justice.
Except for this. Premo’s lawyers first went to the cops for video, knowing they had tons of officers deployed with cameras during the protests. They found the cop who had relevant video. And … he apparently lied in court about whether he had that video.
Prosecutors told them that police TARU units, who filmed virtually every moment of Occupy street protests, didn’t have any footage of the entire incident. But [Premo’s lawyer Meghan] Maurus knew from video evidence she had received while representing another defendant arrested that day that there was at least one TARU officer with relevant footage. Reviewing video shot by a citizen-journalist livestreamer during Premo’s arrest, she learned that a Democracy Nowcameraman was right in the middle of the fray, and when she tracked him down, he showed her a video that so perfectly suited her needs it brought a tear to her eye.
For one thing, the video prominently shows a TARU cop named Bosco, holding up his camera, which is on, and pointing at the action around the kettle. When Premo’s lawyers subpoenaed Bosco, they were told he was on a secret mission at “an undisclosed location,” and couldn’t respond to the subpoena. Judge Robert Mandelbaum didn’t accept that, and Bosco ultimately had to testify [Correction: Bosco didn’t take the stand; he had to appear at the District Attorney’s office for a meeting with Maurus and prosecutors. Judge Mandelbaum accepted that Bosco would likely say on the stand what he said in the meeting, and didn’t require him to testify.] Bosco claimed, straining credibility, that though the camera is clearly on and he can be seen in the video pointing it as though to frame a shot, he didn’t actually shoot any video that evening.
Bosco almost certainly lied. The NYPD clearly lied, repeatedly.
And yet there’s no hint they’ll be charged with obstructing justice.
While you’re reflecting on that, remember what the cops were doing (funded, in part, by JP Morgan Chase $4.6 million donation to the NYPD Foundation). They were making sure that a bunch of hippies could not continue to engage in a highly visible challenge to bank power, and certainly not in the banks’ turf around Wall Street.
Sure, OWS did not present as significant a financial threat as preventing banks from foreclosing on homes they did not hold the proper paperwork on — the threat that robosigners lied under oath to combat. But they did present an ideological threat to the banks.
And here we are, again finding people — cops! — lying in court to protect the banks. And here we are, once again, finding those liars go unpunished.
There’s one question I haven’t seen anyone ask but which seems utterly critical to John Brennan’s fitness to be CIA Director.
Back when the AP was first exposing how the CIA set up a spying program for the NYPD, they asked John Brennan about it. He professed to be “intimately familiar” with the program.
President Barack Obama’s homeland security adviser, John Brennan, who was the deputy executive director the CIA when the NYPD intelligence programs began, said he was intimately familiar with the CIA-NYPD partnership. He said that agency knew what the rules were and did not cross any lines.
As the program got more attention last year, Brennan even went to NYC to personally give the domestic spying program his seal of approval.
The White House added its stamp of approval a month later when President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan visited police headquarters.
“I have full confidence that the NYPD is doing things consistent with the law, and it’s something that again has been responsible for keeping this city safe over the past decade,” he said.
Remember, this program is offensive not just because it spies on so many Americans and in such incompetent fashion. It’s offensive because it involved the CIA in training NY Police Officers in CIA spy techniques.
These operations have benefited from unprecedented help from the CIA, a partnership that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying.
David Cohen arrived at the New York Police Department in January 2002, just weeks after the last fires had been extinguished at the debris field that had been the twin towers. A retired 35-year veteran of the CIA, Cohen became the police department’s first civilian intelligence chief.
Cohen had an exceptional career at the CIA, rising to lead both the agency’s analytical and operational divisions. He also was an extraordinarily divisive figure, a man whose sharp tongue and supreme confidence in his own abilities gave him a reputation as arrogant. Cohen’s tenure as head of CIA operations, the nation’s top spy, was so contentious that in 1997, The New York Times editorial page took the unusual step of calling for his ouster.
Among Cohen’s earliest moves at the NYPD was making a request of his old colleagues at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. He needed someone to help build this new operation, someone with experience and clout and, most important, someone who had access to the latest intelligence so the NYPD wouldn’t have to rely on the FBI to dole out information.
CIA Director George Tenet responded by tapping Larry Sanchez, a respected veteran who had served as a CIA official inside the United Nations. Often, when the CIA places someone on temporary assignment, the other agency picks up the tab. In this case, three former intelligence officials said, Tenet kept Sanchez on the CIA payroll.
When he arrived in New York in March 2002, Sanchez had offices at both the NYPD and the CIA’s station in New York, one former official said. Sanchez interviewed police officers for newly defined intelligence jobs. He guided and mentored officers, schooling them in the art of gathering information. He also directed their efforts, another said.
There had never been an arrangement like it, and some senior CIA officials soon began questioning whether Tenet was allowing Sanchez to operate on both sides of the wall that’s supposed to keep the CIA out of the domestic intelligence business.
The documents and the FBI’s defense of them exposes several long term claims by the FBI to be false. First, that their domestic mapping program, the Domain Management Program, is not inappropriate surveillance directed at domestic politics.
An October 2011 memo from the bureau’s Jacksonville, Fla., field office was titled Domain Program Management Domestic Terrorist.
The memo said agents discussed “past and upcoming meetings” of the movement, and its spread. It said agents should contact Occupy Wall Street activists to ascertain whether people who attended their events had “violent tendencies.”
Domain Management also gets directed at Muslims and Latinos in the name of preparing to investigate terrorism and drugs. If it weren’t already clear this is about domestic spying, the inclusion of Occupy should now make that clear.
Then there’s FBI’s claim that it can’t investigate solely on the basis of speech or religion.
“The F.B.I. recognizes the rights of individuals and groups to engage in constitutionally protected activity,” said the spokesman, Paul Bresson. “While the F.B.I. is obligated to thoroughly investigate any serious allegations involving threats of violence, we do not open investigations based solely on First Amendment activity. In fact, the Department of Justice and the F.B.I.’s own internal guidelines on domestic operations strictly forbid that.”
Bresson overstates this, of course. The Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide prohibits opening an investigation solely on the basis of First Amendment activity. But it permits using such activity as part of the predicate for an investigation.
Which is why I find the FBI’s redactions so interesting.
Even the first pages of the actual documents show how FBI repeatedly acknowledged that Occupy “does not openly condone the use of violence.” But then it notes that Occupy trained for civil disobedience and its response, and from that the FBI concludes “that violence and/or illegal activity is expected by event organizers.” The FBI ascribes the violence that organizers correctly expected from cops to the organizers themselves, and used the intent to engage in civil disobedience as the means to use First Amendment activity as a predicate for investigation.
More interesting, on page 2, the FBI claims that Occupy’s website, “suggested that protestors bring ‘billy clubs and taser guns.'”
Well, that doesn’t sound like the Occupy I know (not to mention most Occupy adherents would have a tough time getting a taser gun). Luckily, the FBI included handy-dandy endnotes to show from what public sources (here, Occupy’s own website) they drew these observations.
But FBI redacted all these endnotes as a b(7)(E) exemption, which allows FBI to hide techniques used in law enforcement investigations.
These are–at least according to the claims in the document–public websites (and would have to be to be permissible under preliminary investigation rules). And yet, the FBI refuses to tell us on which public websites these claimed suggestions were made.
Probably, because that would show that FBI is using the timeworn “investigation techniques” of “drawing illogical conclusions from public claims” and “just making shit up” to invent the reason to use First Amendment activities as the predicate for an investigation.
The NYT has a follow-up on Charlie Savage’s earlier article about all the gun safety provisions lying dormant at DOJ. It describes the gaps in the background check system due to states not sharing their data with the federal government.
Nearly two decades after lawmakers began requiring background checks for gun buyers, significant gaps in the F.B.I.’s database of criminal and mental health records allow thousands of people to buy firearms every year who should be barred from doing so.
The database is incomplete because many states have not provided federal authorities with comprehensive records of people involuntarily committed or otherwise ruled mentally ill. Records are also spotty for several other categories of prohibited buyers, including those who have tested positive for illegal drugs or have a history of domestic violence.
In the past I’ve drawn a comparison between our country’s treatment of terrorists and gun nuts, arguing that it has prioritized the less urgent threat.
But this background check database raises interesting comparisons with DHS’ Secure Communities, particularly the effort to ensure that any undocumented person arrested for a crime gets deported. Like terrorism, Secure Communities has hit a point of diminishing returns. As with terrorism, Secure Communities is built to allow for false positives.
Nevertheless, the government has prioritized getting that database completely functioning, with participation from every state.
While the law also allowed the Justice Department to withhold some general law enforcement grant money from states that did not submit their records to the system, the department has not imposed any such penalties, the G.A.O. found.
Not so with gun buyers, apparently.
And the comparison here offers one other lesson. One reason for the delay in data-sharing from the states is the difficulty in implementing an appeals process.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, Congress enacted a law designed to improve the background check system, including directing federal agencies to share relevant data with the F.B.I. and setting up a special grant program to encourage states to share more information with the federal government. But only states that also set up a system for people to petition to get their gun purchasing rights restored were eligible under the law — a key concession to the National Rifle Association — which proved to be an extra hurdle many states have not yet overcome.
Frankly, ensuring people have due process is one of the least offensive things the NRA does (would that they championed the civil rights of felons more generally).
If we demand this for gun ownership, why don’t we demand it for far more damaging terrorism and deportation data mining?
The most interesting line of this WSJ article–describing the dissent to the Administration’s plan to give the National Counterterrorism Center any government database it wants for five years–is this one.
Mr. Brennan considered the arguments. And within a few days, the attorney general, Eric Holder, had signed the new guidelines.
The story suggests that the way the Administration resolved objections from people within Department of Homeland Security (as well as DOJ) to giving NCTC Americans’ flight data in ways they hadn’t been informed of when the data was collected was to have a meeting at the White House Situation Room at which John Brennan would decide whether to heed those objections.
John Brennan. Not the President, not the Attorney General, not even National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, but instead John Brennan (not coincidentally, a former contractor on data mining and before that in charge of targeting for Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program).
Much of the rest of the story rehearses what I reported (among other places) here and here and here and here. It describes how the NCTC will have access to any database it claims contains terrorist information.
What’s new in this story is the reason NCTC demanded a policy granting them broad access to these databases–because it had not complied with an agreement made with DHS regarding one of its databases.
Late last year, for instance, NCTC obtained an entire database from Homeland Security for analysis, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Homeland Security provided the disks on the condition that NCTC would remove all innocent U.S. person data after 30 days.
After 30 days, a Homeland Security team visited and found that the data hadn’t yet been removed. In fact, NCTC hadn’t even finished uploading the files to its own computers, that person said. It can take weeks simply to upload and organize the mammoth data sets.
Homeland Security granted a 30-day extension. That deadline was missed, too. So Homeland Security revoked NCTC’s access to the data.
To fix problems like these that had cropped up since the Abdulmutallab incident, NCTC proposed the major expansion of its powers that would ultimately get debated at the March meeting in the White House. [my emphasis]
And it describes how, primarily, former DHS Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan fought the changes.
In May 2011, Ms. Callahan and Ms. Schlanger raised their concerns with the chief of their agency, Janet Napolitano. They fired off a memo under the longwinded title, “How Best to Express the Department’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Concerns over Draft Guidelines Proposed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center,” according to an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The contents of the memo, which appears to run several pages, were redacted.
The two also kept pushing the NCTC officials to justify why they couldn’t search for terrorism clues less invasively, these people said.
To resolve the issue, Homeland Security’s deputy secretary, Jane Holl Lute, requested the March meeting at the White House.
Ms. Callahan argued that the rules would constitute a “sea change” because, whenever citizens interact with the government, the first question asked will be, are they a terrorist?
It also describes how all these people who not only championed privacy, but also pointed out our targeting failures in the past came from not investigating quickly, not lacking the data to find those people.
This feels very similar to the same argument that Thomas Drake fought at NSA. He, like these former DHS and DOJ people, fought for a way to find terrorists that didn’t also infringe on the privacy of Americans. And he, like these DHS people, was overruled.
The difference, of course, is that this abuse of privacy came under Barack Obama, who never seems to get criticized for showing the same disdain for privacy that Dick Cheney did.
Though, insofar as John Brennan is making all the decisions in Obama’s war on terror, I’m not sure there’s a real difference between the two.
His latest effort (for which some of his staffers appear to have staged a very fun photo shoot) takes on the stupid things localities bought under the $7.1 billion Urban Area Security Initiative, which was originally intended to help likely terrorist targets (like NYC) prepare against an attack, but which turned into a big boondoggle for towns unlikely to be targeted.
The describes how Keene, NH (home of the Free State Project) tried to use a grant to buy its 40-cop police department–which has faced just one murder in the last two years–an armored vehicle to protect its annual pumpkin festival. Keene was not alone; the report has several pages dedicated to the graft Lenco Armored Vehicles has been conducting selling governments in Waukesha, WI and Santa Barbara, Carlsbad, Escondido, and Fontana, CA BearCats they have no need for using sole source bids.
The report attacks Pittsburgh for having bought an LRAD–which it used during the G-20–as “a kinder and gentler way to get people to leave.” It also describes how San Diego County used an LRAD to protect a speaking event with Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, and Susan Davis.
But the centerpiece of the report is the description of how first responders used grant money to attend a training session in a San Diego resort at which they were entertained by a Zombie Apocalypse simulation billed as “a very real exercise, this is not some type of big costume party.”
One notable training-related event that was deemed an allowable expense by DHS was the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit 2012. Held at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa on an island outside San Diego, the 5-day summit was deemed an allowable expense by DHS, permitting first responders to use grant funds for the $1,000 entrance fee. Event organizers described the location for the training event as an island paradise: “the exotic beauty and lush grandeur of this unique island setting that creates a perfect backdrop for the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit.
The marquee event over the summit, however, was its highly-promoted “zombie apocalypse” demonstration. Continue reading
Pretty sure there’s direct correlation bet size of NatSec departments [sic] failures at core job–HUMINT, safety–& desire for drones–CIA, DHS.
CIA has another massive HUMINT failure. Response? Moar dronz! DHS fusion centers proven to be huge wastes. Response? Moar dronz!
Banks looting the country? MOAR DRONZ! Impending climate catastrophe? MOAR DRONZ!
I swear, when I made that joke, I had not yet read how the CIA closed its climate change center because David Petraeus thought it more important to hunt terrorists with drones.
The center was designed as a small unit of senior specialists focused on the impact that environmental changes could have on political, economic and social factors in countries of concern to the United States. The analysts probed questions such as, under what scenarios might a massive drought cause large-scale migration, and when might a government’s failure to respond to a devastating flood open the door for terrorist groups to win over the local populace?
Analysts at the center worked to develop warning software that combined regional climate projections with political and demographic information, and held climate war games looking at what might happen in extreme scenarios, such as if rapid glacial melt caused the ocean’s major currents to shut down.
The center didn’t focus on the science behind climate change but instead relied on data from other government agencies as well as recommendations — including ones in a report released just over a week ago — from the National Academy of Sciences (Greenwire, Nov. 9).
But congressional Republicans skeptical of the science behind climate change sought to block the center’s funding shortly after it was launched. Those efforts failed, but sources say the center received little internal support after Panetta left the CIA in 2011 to take the top job at the Defense Department. Under his successor, David Petraeus, the agency was highly focused on terrorism, specifically targeted killings using armed drones. [my emphasis]
The diddling Director, it seems, thought taking out an American teenager with a drone was more important than responding to a crisis that is already leading to migration and increased credibility for terrorist groups.
But it’s not just the diddling Director. The CIA’s statement on the closure says instead of focusing on climate change, the CIA is focusing on energy.
CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz confirmed the change.
“The CIA for several years has studied the national security implications of climate change,” Ebitz said in a statement to Greenwire. “This work is now performed by a dedicated team in an office that looks at a variety of economic and energy security issues affecting the United States.”
This parallels, as it happens, Obama’s changing emphasis on gas production for energy security reasons, and only secondarily for climate change ones.
It seems our national security establishment–from the man who would turn back the oceans to the diddling Director–are more interested in replacing the Saudis as the petro-state than really preventing climate disaster in the not-too-distant future.
And if that emphasis should continue to destabilize the increasingly climate-wracked world?
And while they seem to indicate Jack Lew is likely to replace TurboTaxTimmeh Geithner and Secretary of State will be the subject of active speculation for some time (with intriguing speculation that Howard Berman, who lost to Brad Sherman in CA, might be under consideration), one key role–albeit not of cabinet level–is missing:
After all, Robert Mueller is already 2 years beyond his sell by date; Obama extended his term to get past the election (he said). And regardless of rank, the FBI Director is one of the most important figures in the increasingly powerful surveillance state.
And there have been some very troubling names mentioned in discussions to replace him, including NYPD’s Ray Kelly, who would really be the second incarnation of J Edgar Hoover’s abusive power. There had been speculation that Patrick Fitzgerald wanted the job, but his decision to join Skadden Arps just before the election suggests he knew he wasn’t going to get that job.
Particularly given Eric Holder’s apparent increasing doubt that he’ll stick around, we have the possibility of seeing something worse–all the capitulation we got from Holder in the first term, plus and FBI Director who has none of the claimed measure of Mueller (though I’ve always had my doubts about those claims).
A new FBI Director (which is guaranteed), particularly if it came with a new Attorney General, could either set a dramatic new course or harden in the old course. And I fear it is most likely to be the latter.
Of 1,423 words in an article questioning whether deficit hawkery might cut the domestic spying budget, Scott Shane devotes over a sixth–roughly 260–describing what former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden thinks about the balances between funding and security.
Remarkably, none of those 260 words disclose that Hayden works for Michael Chertoff’s consulting group, which profits off of big domestic spying. This, in an article that cites Chertoff’s electronic border fence among the expensive counterterrorism duds that were subsequently shut down (Shane mentions “puffer” machines as well, but not the Rapiscan machines that Chertoff’s group lobbied for, which are now being withdrawn as well).
And then there’s a passage of Shane’s article that touches on topics in which Hayden’s own past actions deserve disclosure.
Like other intelligence officials after 2001, Mr. Hayden was whipsawed by public wrath: first, for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, and then, a few years later, for having permitted the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects in the United States without court approval.
Perhaps, as a result, he often says that the American people need to instruct the government on where to draw the line. He told an audience at the University of Michigan last month, for instance, that while a plot on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks was highly unlikely, smaller terrorist strikes, like the shootings by an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, could not always be stopped.
“I can actually work to make this less likely than it is today,” Mr. Hayden said. “But the question I have for you is: What of your privacy, what of your convenience, what of your commerce do you want to give up?”
To be fair, Shane counters Hayden’s claims by noting that “secrecy … makes it tough for any citizen to assess counterterrorism programs.”
But he doesn’t mention one of the biggest examples where Hayden–where anyone–chose both the most expensive and most privacy invasive technology: the wiretap program Hayden outsourced to SAIC rather than use in-house solutions.
As Thomas Drake has made clear, by outsourcing to SAIC, Hayden spent 300 times as much as he would have with the in-house solution.
One of them was Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, the head of the agency: he wanted to transform the agency and launched a massive modernization program, code named: “Trailblazer.” It was supposed to do what Thin Thread did, and more.
Trailblazer would be the NSA’s biggest project. Hayden’s philosophy was to let private industry do the job. Enormous deals were signed with defense contractors. [Bill] Binney’s Thin Thread program cost $3 million; Trailblazer would run more than $1 billion and take years to develop.
“Do you have any idea why General Hayden decided to go with Trailblazer as opposed to Thin Thread, which already existed?” Pelley asked.
Asked to elaborate, Drake said, “Careers are built on projects and programs. The bigger, the better their career.” [my emphasis]
Along the way, Hayden repeatedly blew off Congressional staffer Diane Roark’s inquiries about privacy protection.
When Binney heard the rumors, he was convinced that the new domestic-surveillance program employed components of ThinThread: a bastardized version, stripped of privacy controls. “It was my brainchild,” he said. “But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” He said that although he was not “read in” to the new secret surveillance program, “my people were brought in, and they told me, ‘Can you believe they’re doing this? They’re getting billing records on U.S. citizens! They’re putting pen registers’ ”—logs of dialled phone numbers—“ ‘on everyone in the country!’ ”
[Former HPSCI staffer Diane Roark] asked Hayden why the N.S.A. had chosen not to include privacy protections for Americans. She says that he “kept not answering. Finally, he mumbled, and looked down, and said, ‘We didn’t need them. We had the power.’ He didn’t even look me in the eye. I was flabbergasted.” She asked him directly if the government was getting warrants for domestic surveillance, and he admitted that it was not. [my emphasis]
So it’s not just disclosure of all the ways Hayden has and does profit off of continued bloated domestic surveillance that Shane owes his readers: he also should refute Hayden’s claims about the relationship between cost, privacy, and efficacy.
Michael Hayden’s SAIC-NSA boondoggle is one case where secrecy no longer hides how much money was wasted for unnecessary privacy violations.
Yet somehow, that spectacular example of the unnecessary waste in domestic spying doesn’t make it into the 260 words granted to Hayden to argue we need continued inflated spending.