Terrorism

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Mullah Mansour Drone Strike: Important Milestone or Radicalizing Event?

How much more ironic could it be? More than 43 years after the last Americans evacuated Vietnam, ending our disastrous occupation there, the dateline reads Hanoi on President Barack Obama’s statement today on the US drone strike that killed Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. Mansour was the head of Afghanistan’s Taliban but was in Pakistan at the time the US killed him with a drone, striking a similarity to the US “secret” bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam war.

From today’s New York Times, we have parts of Obama’s statement:

Calling the death “an important milestone,” President Obama said in a statement, released just as he was meeting with top officials in Vietnam, that the United States had “removed the leader of an organization that has continued to plot against and unleash attacks on American and coalition forces.”

“Mansour rejected efforts by the Afghan government to seriously engage in peace talks and end the violence that has taken the lives of countless innocent Afghan men, women and children,” Mr. Obama continued in the statement. “The Taliban should seize the opportunity to pursue the only real path for ending this long conflict — joining the Afghan government in a reconciliation process that leads to lasting peace and stability.”

So Obama is saying that the Taliban should respond to our extrajudicial killing of their leader by reconciling with the Afghan government (chosen in large part by John Kerry) and working toward peace. What are the odds of that happening? Max Abrahms has some very important points to make on that topic:

Dr Max Abrahms, from Northeastern University in Boston, said the US Government does not look carefully enough at the strategic implications of its strikes on extremist leaders.

He said he had done a number of studies on leadership decapitation of a militant group and he had not found a statistically significant reduction in the amount of violence perpetrated by the group after a leader was removed.

“In fact these decapitation strikes can actually be counter-productive, because one of the assumptions of the targeted killing campaigns is that the replacement of the leader that you killed will be more moderate,” Dr Abrahms said.

“And yet I find just the opposite to be true. The replacement is even more extreme.

“So for that reason, in the immediate aftermath of a successful targeted killing, like over this weekend, the group’s violence tends to become even more extreme, in the sense that it’s even more likely to attack civilian targets.”

And so our circle of irony is complete. Obama’s statement on the killing of Mansour, released from Vietnam, shows that US military misadventures still rely on faulty logic when major moves are made. A strike made to make the Taliban more peaceful seems virtually certain to result in more indiscriminate killing of civilians.

Because I know how much Marcy enjoys miraculous “left behind” documents, I couldn’t resist following up on a Twitter reference I saw flit by yesterday about how a passport for Mansour somehow survived the conflagration in the taxi in which Mansour met his death by drone. By following it, though, I found even more deep irony in the drone strike. This article by ToloNews carries a photograph of a pristine-looking passport. Compare that with the photo in the New York Times article linked above with the burned out wreckage of the vehicle Mansour was said to have been in when hit. How could the passport have survived?

But wait, there’s more! ToloNews tells us that the passport has Mansour’s name and carries a valid Iranian visa. Furthermore:

Meanwhile, a number of analysts said the Taliban in recent months tried to extend relationships with Iran and Russia to fight Daesh and that there is a possibility that Mansour traveled to Iran to escape ISI and talk with Iranian officials.

“Iran is afraid of Daesh presence in Afghanistan, because Daesh is an enemy to Iranian clerics; therefore, Iran wants to eliminate Daesh with the help of the Taliban. Previously, Taliban had strong affiliation to Saudi Arabia, but now there is a rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia and Iran wants to expand its influence on the group [Taliban],” political analyst Shafiq Hamdam said.

So while Mansour and his group have continued to reject peace talks with the Afghan government, at least some observers believe that he was in the process of trying to join the fight against Islamic State. And it may well be that he died because of that effort. Here’s a map of the region, showing that the site of the drone attack, Ahmad Wal, lies about 100 miles away from Quetta (where the Afghan Taliban has long been believed to be headquartered) along the highway that is the most direct route to Iran from Quetta.

Google map of the region surrounding Ahmed Wal, where Mullah Monsour was killed.

Google map of the region surrounding Ahmed Wal, where Mullah Monsour was killed.

Minh Quang Pham: FBI Continues Creating Terror Stories Assisted by Unrecorded Interviews

Minh Quang Pham, whom I dubbed AQAP’s “graphic artist of mass destruction” because he was busted for providing graphic design skills to AQAP, got sentenced today; neither FBI nor SDNY have announced his sentence but it will be between 30 and 50 years in prison.

The government, as it tends to do, has submitted a bunch of documents as part of the sentencing process to inflate the magnitude of Pham’s acts, which largely consist of carrying a Kalashnikov he wasn’t really trained to use and helping Samir Khan make Inspire look prettier. With the documents, DOJ suggests Pham might have attacked Heathrow if he hadn’t been stopped when he was. Materials submitted as part of the sentencing process include:

The FBI 302s have the most detail, including that Awlaki gave Pham a “clean” computer that, as described, was not clean at all (a forensics report that is sealed in the docket reportedly found it had shared data with a computer that Warsame had been caught with) and the claim that Awlaki gave Pham a phone and an email account to contact him with — or to provide to new AQAP recruits (the story varies) — in the future. One 302 provides the rather incredible detail that “the email account AULAQI provided might have been a Hotmail account.”

We’re to believe that Awlaki, a guy who learned he was being wiretapped in November 2009, had been pursued using all resources of the US government for a year and a half, and who otherwise had a sophisticated understanding of US surveillance, was still using a Hotmail account in June 2011.

The final 302 (I don’t think the previous 3 include start and stop times, which is a telling omission) provides details of what Scott Shane has described as proof Anwar Awlaki was acting as a bomb making trainer close to the end of his life, based on the description of him teaching Pham, in a single day, “how to mix chemicals to make an explosive powder” that Pham used to detonate a tin can that “generated enough force to launch the tin can away from PHAM and into the air.” This was the training, the FBI implies, that AQAP gave Pham to prepare him to attack Heathrow Airport.

Here’s the thing, though: FBI didn’t record any of those interviews, in spite of an explicit policy presuming FBI will record custodial interviews that went into effect on July 11, 2014. There are exceptions FBI might, in a stretch, be claiming here (that because Pham was not yet in a formal detention center, he was not in custody, or that it was a national intelligence collecting interview that is nevertheless being used against him in sentencing; I’ve got an email in with the FBI to find out what their explanation is). But this seems like a clear-cut case, where, for their own credibility, FBI should have recorded the interviews.

Especially since Pham says they’re inaccurate.

For four days I have willfully sat with the agents to confess my association with AL-QAIDA + to make an appeal to the government for compassion. Brian said: “we are the best representatives to the government for you.”

[snip]

The agenst [sic] had the opportunity to take recording but for some reason they did not do so. I only receive the FBI statements around couple months after my interviews. I then realize that they have omitted possibly 30 – 40% of what I’ve said, misunderstood many points + added some information I did not say. Had there been a recording, it would have shown a different picture. Had they been sincere in what they said about being “the best representatives to the government,” they would have shown me the draft of the statement for any needed correction before publishing it or have the interview recorded which would have revealed all the questions + answers.

Initially I didn’t want to tell them about the airport plot because it was something occurred in YEMEN which I never intended to do. I only want to leave YEMEN + had to accept a foreign operation. I told them that Imam ANWAR AL-AWLAQI (who was killed in a drone strike in Sept 2011) wanted me to do. The reason why I told the agents is because I felt pressured due to MATT posing the same question for 4 days, + on the 4th day he said: “Is there something they told you to do but decided not to?”

[snip]

Later at the 5th interview, the prosecutor asks me if I intended to carry out the plot, Matt intervene + said “at that point did you accept it? I made it clear that I did not intended [sic] it but I only accept it + was willing to accept any plot to go home.

The expression I got from the was that, they were trying to paint a picture oof me of intending to return to carry out the plot + had I not been arrested, I would have carried out a suicide operation at Heathrow Airport.

Obviously Pham has good reason to want to insinuate he would never have conducted the plot (but then, he was free in the UK for 5 months and didn’t take any steps to do so, not even obtaining acetone from his sister’s nail salon). Then again, obviously the FBI has good reason to want to claim that Pham was more than the graphic artist who was never really trained in fighting that the other records show him to be.

The thing is, there’s no evidence in the record that makes this Heathrow attack look credible. There are some other really funny details about this story that I hope to return to. But I’m sure the story worked to ensure Pham would spend most of the rest of his life in a US SuperMax.

Update: I guess this is why they didn’t announce Pham’s sentence: Judge Alison Nathan delayed sentencing because of conflicting stories over whether Pham really intended to attack Heathrow, or whether he used that as a way to get out of Yemen (though she reportedly is inclined to side with the government). I think this is a sound result: the government actually hasn’t proven this attack was real (again, I have questions about whether even Awlaki designed it to be real). Moreover, Pham will get 30 years in any case.

The FBI might have a more (or less — who knows!!) credible case had they taped these interviews. Now they have to make their case in court.

The (Former) Riyadh Station Chief Defends His Saudi Friends from Charges of Terrorism

On Sunday, former CIA Riyadh Station Chief John Brennan had a remarkable appearance on Meet the Press. A big part of it — the second to last thing he and Chuck Todd discussed — was Brennan’s argument against the release of the 28 pages (“so-called,” Brennan calls them) showing that 9/11 was facilitated by at least one Saudi operative.

Brennan opposes their release in three ways. First, he falsely suggested that the 9/11 Commission investigated all the leads implicating the Saudis (and also pretends the “so-called 28 pages” got withheld for sources and methods and not to protect our buddies).

JOHN BRENNAN:

Those so-called 28 pages, one chapter in this joint inquiry that was put out in December of 2002, was addressing some of the preliminary findings and information that was gathered by this joint commission within the Congress. And this chapter was kept out because of concerns about sensitive source of methods, investigative actions. The investigation of 9/11 was still underway in late 2002.

I’m quite puzzled by Senator Graham and others because what that joint inquiry did was to tee up issues that were followed up on by the 9/11 Commission, as well as the 9/11 Review Commission. So these were thoroughly investigated and reviewed. It was a preliminary review that put information in there that was not corroborated, not vetted and not deemed to be accurate.

The 9/11 Commission didn’t even look at NSA for intercepts Thomas Drake has said were there. Nor did it adequately investigate what now appears to be a Sarasota cell. How can Brennan claim the Commission investigated all these leads?

Brennan then slightly misstates how absolute was the 9/11 Commission judgement on Saudi involvement, such as it was.

CHUCK TODD:

The information in those 28 pages, you think, are inaccurate information? Everything that’s in there is false?

JOHN BRENNAN:

No, I think there’s a combination of things that is accurate and inaccurate. And I think the 9/11 Commission took that joint inquiry, and those 28 pages or so, and followed through on the investigation. And they came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution, or Saudi officials individually, had provided financial support to Al Qaeda.

The 9/11 Commission report judged,

It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some government’s may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda’s fundraising activities. Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda.)

That is, Brennan’s comment overstates whether any Saudi officials funded the attack, which the 9/11 Commission did not comment on (and the key paragraphs in underlying documents also remain classified).

Ultimately, though, the (former) Riyadh Station Chief argues it would be “very, very inaccurate” if anyone were to suggest the Saudis were involved in 9/11.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you concerned that the release of those pages will unfairly put the relationship in a damaged position?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I think some people may seize upon that uncorroborated, un-vetted information that was in there, that was basically just a collation of this information that came out of F.B.I. files, and to point to Saudi involvement, which I think would be very, very inaccurate.

Remember, for at least 8 years after 9/11 (including in the 9/11 report), it was the judgement of the intelligence community that Saudis were still the biggest funders for Al Qaeda. But the (former) Riyadh Station Chief argues it would be very, very inaccurate to suggest any Saudi involvement in the attack.

The whole thing was pathetic enough — Meet the Press propaganda worthy of Dick Cheney’s best exploitation of the form.

But it is all the more remarkable, coming as it did, after Brennan transitioned seamlessly from a victory lap about killing Osama bin Laden to “this new phenomenon of ISIL.”

CHUCK TODD:

You know, five years ago, I remember going to the White House and hearing cheers, hearing people gather in the streets of Washington, and it was happening in other cities. And there was a sense of relief. It was like this moment of, “Wow. Is this the end? Have we won whatever this was we were fighting, this war with Al Qaeda? Have we won?” Boy, it doesn’t feel that way five years later.

JOHN BRENNAN:

I remember that same evening. When I left that White House about midnight, it was as bright as day outside, and the chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A,” and, “C.I.A., C.I.A.” It was the culmination of a lot of very hard work by some very good people at C.I.A. and other agencies. And we have destroyed a large part of Al Qaeda. It is not completely eliminated, so we have to stay focused on what it can do. But now, with this new phenomenon of ISIL, this is going to continue to challenge us in the counterterrorism community for years to come.

I noted on Twitter during CIA’s propagandistic Twitter reenactment of their version of the bin Laden killing that, five years later, we’re still fighting the war against bin Laden. But Brennan wants you to forget that war, and pretend it’s all just ISIL.

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Bob Graham Says FBI Aggressively Deceived on Sarasota 9/11 Investigation

James Clapper has suggested that the 28 pages of the Joint Congressional Inquiry may be declassified by June. I’m skeptical the pages will be entirely declassified, but look forward to them.

Meanwhile, former Senate Intelligence Chair has begun to press for an accounting on the Sarasota cell of apparent 9/11 supporters. In an interview with NPR, he stated clearly that FBI lied (um, misstated) what they knew about the Sarasota cell and called for the investigations to be reopened without the tight time limits imposed on the original commissions.

I think it’s been more than a cover up. I think it’s what I call aggressive deception: instances in which the FBI has publicly released statements which I know from personal experience were untrue. They stated that in this Sarasota situation they had completed the investigation, that the investigation determined that there were no connections between the hijackers and the prominent Saudi family and that they had turned over all of this information to the Congressional Inquiry and the 9/11 Citizen’s [sic] Commission. I know for a fact that none of those three statements are true.

[snip]

It’s more than a cover-up. The FBI misstated what is in their own records relative to the situation in Sarasota.

Of course, the FBI went even further with its aggressive deception on the anthrax attack.

Nevertheless (or perhaps, “as a result”), Robert Mueller will probably have the new FBI headquarters named after him, based on the bogus premise that his FBI didn’t engage in some of the same kinds of deceits as J Edgar Hoover’s FBI did.

Are the Economic Pins to the Saudi-US Relationship Still in Place?

As I noted the other day, 60 Minutes renewed attention on the 28 pages implicating Saudi, surely to set up the announcement that the White House is conducting a declassification review of the section of the Joint Congressional Inquiry that implicates one of our closest allies in that attack. I went on to argue that the suppression of those pages for 15 years, even as the Saudis continued to support anti-American terrorism, indicts those who’ve been complicit.

Sadly, this whole orchestrated move toward declassifying the 28 pages may well be a charade — a threat to the Saudis designed to make them change their ways. At this point, after tolerating Saudi double dealing for so long, those 28 pages indict Americans just as badly as they indict the Saudis.

To illustrate just how much of a charade the attention on the President voluntarily conducting a declassification review of the Saudi section of the Joint Inquiry, in the wake of that hullaballoo, the NYT reported on the financial threats the Saudis made that (the article suggests) are one of the things, though not the only thing, that has led Obama to lobby against a bill permitting the Saudis to be held accountable in court.

Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.

Adel al Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts.

Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that say such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The administration, which argues that the legislation would put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of Sept. 11 victims are infuriated.

So on the one hand, Obama is making a big show of declassifying the 28 pages. On the other hand, he is lobbying (privately until this NYT report) to ensure that nothing legal will come of the release of those pages.

It feels kind of like Obama’s treatment of torture, allowing very limited exposure of what happened, all while ensuring there will be no legal accountability (legal accountability, I’d add, that would threaten to expose others higher up in the US executive branch; and  note that while the Administration is permitting a lawsuit of James Mitchell and Bruce Jesson, I’m skeptical this well get very far either).

Against this background, the Saudis are trying to negotiate an oil freeze to bring up prices, but apparently have delayed doing so, ostensibly because of rising animosity with Iran but also, analysts suggest, to hurt US capacity.

Failure to reach a global deal would signal the resumption of a battle for market share between key producers and likely halt a recent recovery in prices.

“If there is no deal today, it will be more than just Iran that Saudi Arabia will be targeting. If there is no freeze, that would directly affect North American production going forward, perhaps something Saudis might like to see,” said Natixis oil analyst Abhishek Deshpande.

Of course, our investment in fracking has always been, in significant part, about undercutting the power over the Saudis. The Saudis have been especially concerned about losing their privileged relationship with us since the Iranian deal, and since then the Saudis have been playing a game of chicken with oil production, daring other opponents to outlast it (which South American producers have been unable to do).

So a lot of this is financial.

But the fact that it is financial — and the fact that NYT’s analysts are skeptical that the Saudis could manage to screw us over, financially — suggests there’s something more.

Obama also doesn’t want the Saudis sued for liability reasons. He says, overseas.

Except this charade has been going on far too long for liability to exist only overseas.

The FBI’s Asinine Attempt to Retroactively Justify Cracking Farook’s Phone

“Hold on honey,” said Syed Rizwan Farook, who had just murdered 14 of his co-workers, “let me go get my work phone in case they call me during our getaway”

That’s the logic the FBI is now peddling to reporters who are copping onto what was clear from the start: that there was never going to be anything of interest on Farook’s phone. After all, they’re suggesting geolocation data on the phone (some of which would be available from Verizon) might explain the 18 minutes of the day of the attack the FBI has yet to piece together.

For instance, geolocation data found on the phone might yet yield clues into the movements of the shooters in the days and weeks before the attack, officials said. The bureau is also trying to figure out what the shooters did in an 18-minute period following the shooting.

Farook drove a SUV to the attack and was killed in the same SUV. To suggest his work phone, which was found in a Lexus at his house, might have useful geolocation data about the day of the attack would suggest he made a special trip to the car to leave his phone in it and turned it off afterwards (if we really believe it was off and not just drained when the FBI found it the day after the attack).

Hold on honey, let me go place my work phone in the Lexus.

Similarly, it is nonsensical to suggest the phone would yield evidence of ties with foreign terrorists.

The FBI has found no links to foreign terrorists on the iPhone of a San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist but is still hoping that an ongoing analysis could advance its investigation into the mass shooting in December, U.S. law enforcement officials said.

They’ve had the metadata from the phone since December 6, at the latest. That’s what would show ties with foreign terrorists, if Farook had been so stupid as to plot a terrorist attack against his colleagues on his work phone, to which his employer had significant access.

Finally, reporters should stop repeating the FBI’s claim that Farook turned off his backups.

In particular, the bureau wanted to know if there was data on the phone that was not backed up in Apple’s servers. Farook had stopped backing up the phone to those servers in October, six weeks before the attack.

The government has actually never said that in sworn declarations. Rather, their forensics guy, Christopher Pluhar, asserted only that Farook may have turned them off.

Importantly, the most recent backup is dated October 19, 2015, which indicates to me that Farook may have disabled the automatic iCloud backup feature associated with the SUBJECT DEVICE. I believe this because I have been told by SBCDPH that it was turned on when it was given to him, and the backups prior to October 19, 2015 were with almost weekly regularity. [my emphasis]

But if he did, he was a damned incompetent terrorist, because — as Jonathan Zdziarski, who is quoted in this article, pointed out — at the same screen he would have used to turn off the iCloud backup, he could have also deleted all his prior backups, which we know he didn’t do.

  • Find my iPhone is still active on the phone (search by serial number), so why would a terrorist use a phone he knew was tracking him? Obviously he wouldn’t. The Find-my-iPhone feature is on the same settings screen as the iCloud backup feature, so if he had disabled backups, he would have definitely known the phone was being tracked. But the argument that Farook intentionally disabled iCloud backup does not hold water, since he would have turned off Find-my-iPhone as well.
  • In addition to leaving Find-my-iPhone on, the option to delete all prior backups (which include iMessage history and other content) is also on the same settings screen as the option to disable iCloud backups. If Farook was trying to cover up evidence of leads, he would have also deleted the existing backups that were there. By leaving the iCloud backup data, we know that Farook likely did not use the device to talk to any leads prior to October 19.

We also know from a supplemental Pluhar declaration that Farook had not activated the remote-wipe function, which he also would have done if he were a smart terrorist trying to cover his tracks.

Finally, Apple’s Privacy Manager, as Erik Neuwenschander demonstrated, Pluhar didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about with regards to backups.

Agent Pluhar also makes incorrect claims in paragraph 10(b). Agent Pluhar claims that exemplar iPhones that were used as restore targets for the iCloud backups on the subject device “showed that … iCloud back-ups for ‘Mail,’ ‘Photos,’ and ‘Notes’ were all turned off on the subject device.” This is false because it is not possible. Agent Pluhar was likely looking at the wrong screen on the device. Specifically, he was not looking at the settings that govern the iCloud backups. It is the iCloud backup screen that governs what is backed up to iCloud. That screen has no “on” and “off” options for “Mail,” “Photos,” or “Notes.

Zdziarski offers another possible explanation for the lack of backups on Farook’s phone, so there are other possible explanations.

iCloud backups could have ceased for a number of reasons, including a software update that was released on October 21, just two days after the last backup, or due to iCloud storage filling up.

The point is, we don’t know, and it’s not even clear Pluhar would know how to check. So given all that other evidence suggesting Farook may not have turned off his backups, journalists probably should not claim, as fact, he did.

Of course, that claim is really just a subset of the larger set of the bullshit FBI has fed us about the phone. It’d really be nice if people stopped taking their bullshit claims seriously, as so few of the past ones have held up.

The CIA Doesn’t Want You To Know that ISI Supports Terror, But DIA Does

The National Security Archive just got a number of documents on the funding of the Haqqani network, showing it gets (or got) funding from Gulf donations, the Taliban in the tribal lands, and Pakistan’s ISI. A particularly interesting DIA cable describes how a guy named Qabool Khan, on orders of the Haqqani, got a job — thanks to Hamid Karzai’s brother Mahmoud’s influence — running security for the US Salerno and Chapman bases. Along with intelligence about Americans on the base, of the $800 he made for each guard at the base, Khan sent $300 back to the Haqqanis.

This DIA cable, however, has generated more attention. It alleges that Pakistan’s ISI gave the Haqqanis $200,000 to carry out the attack on the Chapman base in Khost that killed seven CIA officers.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 11.51.53 AM

Reuters reported it here, saying this about the accuracy of the report.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s embassy in Washington did not have any immediate comment.

Because the document is heavily censored, it is not clear whether it represents an intelligence agency consensus or fragmentary reporting. One line, which has been crossed out, says: “This is an information report, not finally evaluated intelligence.”

More amusing is this piece from Joby Warrick who, after all, wrote an entire book about the attack filled with very detailed descriptions that could only have come from top CIA people. His anonymous source(s) — whose particular agency affiliation he does not identify, which clearly matters here — cast doubt on the report, and either they or Warrick himself questions the claim that Arghawan might be involved in the plot because he died.

But is the claim credible? The new version of events has prominent skeptics, starting with the U.S. intelligence community, which was both targeted by the attack and also spent many months piecing together the evidence on how and why it happened.

[snip]

One U.S. intelligence official who studied the newly released document described its contents on Thursday as an “unverified and uncorroborated report”— essentially raw intelligence of the kind that routinely lands on the desk of U.S. analysts and diplomats in overseas posts. The redacted report says nothing about the source of the information, including whether the person was regarded as reliable or how the allegations were eventually assessed.

“The document clearly states that it contains unevaluated information,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because much of the investigation into the bombing remains classified.

“The Haqqanis are brutal terrorists who continue to target innocent people, including Americans,” the official said. “Nonetheless, the general consensus is that the 30 December attack was primarily an al-Qaeda plot and did not involve the Haqqani network.”

[snip]

Arghawan was in fact the man assigned by the CIA to pick up Balawi at the Pakistan border and drive him to Khost for the meeting. But his involvement in any plot would appear doubtful, as he was killed along with seven Americans when Balawi detonated his bomb.

Call me crazy, but I can imagine how an extra $100,000 might motivate someone to kill an accomplice, even setting aside the possibility that those who plotted this attack would want as few live witnesses as possible. Note, too, that Bob Baer pointed to the use of a driver (that is, Arghawan) as a key failure of tradecraft.

An old operative I used to work with in Beirut said he would have picked up Balawi himself and debriefed him in his car, arguing that any agent worth his salt would never expose the identity of a valued asset to a foreigner like the Afghan driver. I pointed out that if he’d been there and done it that way, he’d probably be dead now. “It’s better than what happened,” he said.

But all the discussion about the credibility (or not) of this report doesn’t consider something: that this just got released under FOIA! It is a cinch to withhold information, especially raw intelligence, under FOIA. Indeed, the paragraph, like the cable as a whole, is classified Secret/NoForn. But here, the State Department not only went to DIA to facilitate this release, but the censors made an affirmative decision this piece of data should not be withheld.

Whether or not its true (and I’d be surprised if DIA wanted inaccurate information implicating ISI released, unless they just wanted to burn this source), it is the case that DIA, possibly with the involvement of State, released information revealing that DIA obtained intelligence that those in charge of Chapman (that is, the CIA) were employing at least one and probably two Haqqani agents. (Remember, too, that CIA reportedly got warning about this attack but still failed to prevent it.)

I’d also add that alleged ISI involvement in the attack would raise really interesting questions about whether ISI wanted the particular CIA attendees, including key Osama bin Laden targeter Jennifer Matthews, at the meeting killed, rather than just a strike at CIA drone targeters generally. Indeed, the possibility that ISI facilitated the attack, luring in the CIA with promises of the location of Ayman al-Zawahiri, particularly when we know that ISI wanted the Haqqanis protected, is particularly intriguing.

In any case, I’m sure the ISI is reading the reporting on this cable with some interest.

The 28 Pages

On Sunday, President Obama said this about about Hillary’s email scandal: “There’s classified & then there’s classified.”

Perhaps that’s what has led him to decide, after 15 years, the 28 pages on the Saudis’ role in 9/11 can finally be released (or at least reviewed for declassification; given the way the 60 Minutes script ignored evidence about Bandar bin Sultan, I suspect they’ll still protect him).

The ostensible precipitating factor was a 60 Minutes show that, as I understand, didn’t expose anything we haven’t known for a decade (for comparison see this declaration Bob Graham submitted last year in a suit against the Saudis). But given the way 60 Minutes have become a house organ for the Intelligence Community, and given the way Nancy Pelosi had a statement (emphasizing her long role in Intelligence oversight, such as it exists) endorsing the disclosure all ready to go,

“As the former Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and top the House Democrat on the Joint Congressional investigation looking into the 9/11 attacks, I agree with former Senator Bob Graham that these documents should be declassified and made public, and that the Bush Administration’s refusal to do so was a mistake,” Pelosi said in a statement. “I have always advocated for providing as much transparency as possible to the American people consistent with protecting our national security.”

I gotta believe this was all orchestrated.

After pretending the Saudis have been good faith partners for 15 years, in spite of abundant evidence evidence they have always continued to support terrorism as a tool in their bid for power, it seems, the Intelligence Committee has finally decided it was convenient to be able to discuss the Saudi role in 9/11.

Mind you, if the IC was really serious about discussing what bad partners the Saudis have always been, they should also declassify the other abundant evidence that the Saudis have been playing two sides with us.

But that would discomfort a good many Americans, I suspect.

CIA Officers Didn’t Carry Out Waterboarding

A lot of people are pointing to John Brennan’s assurances that CIA won’t ever torture again as if it means anything (usually ignoring Brennan’s motivation from institutional preservation, not efficacy or morality or legality).

CIA Director John Brennan told NBC News in an exclusive interview that his agency will not engage in harsh “enhanced interrogation” practices, including waterboarding, which critics call torture — even if ordered to by a future president.

“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure,” Brennan said.

[snip]

When asked specifically about waterboarding Brennan could not have been clearer.

“Absolutely, I would not agree to having any CIA officer carrying out waterboarding again,” he said.

There are a lot of reasons this doesn’t mean anything, starting with the fact that President Trump could easily fire Brennan and replace him with someone pro torture.

But it’s funny, too, because Brennan’s assurances about waterboarding would hold true even for the period when CIA was waterboarding detainees. Because CIA officers didn’t do the waterboarding.

As a reminder, at least four detainees were known to be waterboarded under the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification. The first, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, was waterboarded by Egyptian intelligence, though with Americans present.

The others were waterboarded as part of torture led by Mitchell and Jessen, who were not CIA officers, but instead contractors. CIA officers were definitely involved in that torture (as they were present for our outsourced Egyptian torture). But the torture was technically done by contractors.

Don’t get me wrong: CIA officers did engage in a whole lot of torture directly.

But Brennan’s squirmy language should only emphasize the fact that even when CIA was in the business of waterboarding, CIA officers didn’t do the waterboarding. So Brennan’s guarantees that CIA officers won’t do so in the future are pretty meaningless guarantees.

Wednesday Morning: Wicked Weary World

Let’s have a brunch-time salute to Belgium, which produced this fine young artist Loic Nottet. Too bad there’s not much well-produced content in YouTube yet by this youngster. He has incredible upper range reach with great potential because of the power behind his voice. Hope to hear more by him soon; he’s a sweet antidote to bitter wickedness.

All in the family
Hope you’ve read Marcy’s piece already this morning on the relevance of nuclear family units to terrorism. In addition to suicide bombers El Bakraoui brothers Marcy mentioned, it’s worth examining the other links between the November 13 attacks in Paris and the attacks in Belgium yesterday. Note the familial relationships and their first-degree network:

Brahim Abdelslam — older brother of Salah, blew himself up in Paris during the November 15 attacks. (Dead)
Salah Abdelslam — captured last Friday March 18, has admitted he ‘had planned to target Brussels.’ His location was flagged by an unusual number of pizzas delivered to an apartment where power and water had been shut off. (In custody)

Abaid Aberkan — characterized as a relation of the Abdelslams, carried Brahim’s casket at the funeral last week. (NOT a terror suspect Edit: Le Monde indicates Aberkan was arrested during Friday’s raid, but name spelled ‘Abid.’) (In custody)
Aberkan’s mother — renter/owner of Molenbeek apartment in which Salah was hiding when captured last week. (NOT a terror suspect)

Mohamed Belkaid — killed in a raid last Tuesday at an apartment in Forest district; Salah fled the apartment. (Dead)

Mohamed Abrini — A childhood friend and neighbor of Salah, his younger brother Suleymane died fighting in an Islamist militia under the direction of Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Abaaoud, the leader of the Paris attacks, died on November 18 during a police raid. Abrini had traveled with both of the Abdelslam brothers the week before the attacks in Paris. He is now on the run and sought in relation to yesterday’s attack. (Suspect)

Najim Laachraoui — traveled with Salah and Belkaid last September, under the name Soufiane Kayal. His DNA was found in three different locations: on explosives in Paris, and at two other hide-outs used by attackers. He is now sought in relation to yesterday’s attack. (Suspect)

Though we’ll hear arguments for increased internet surveillance, it’s easy to see that traditional police work could identify a terrorist network of family and friends in the same way members of an organized crime syndicate centered around a family are revealed. (Sources for the above: The Guardian and The Australian)

Other stuff going on…

  • ‘Flash Crash’ trader to be extradited to the U.S., rule British judges (France24)
  • Sextortionist Michael Ford, who ran a criminal enterprise from his work computer while employed at U.S. embassy, sentenced to four years and nine months in prison (Ars Technica) — BoingBoing notes the hypocrisy of a government demanding backdoors while failing to note such a massive misuse of its own network.
  • Another hospital held hostage by ransomware, this time in Kentucky (Krebs on Security) — STOP OPENING LINKS IN EMAIL at work, for starters. Isolating email systems from all other networked operations would be better.
  • 24 car models by 19 automakers vulnerable to keyless entry hack (WIRED–mind the ad-block hate) — Mostly foreign models affected due to the radio frequency used.

Better luck tomorrow, gang. See you in the morning.

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