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Comey Sending Out His Allies as Ferguson Effect Truthers

When Chuck Rosenberg, the Acting EPA Chief, echoed Jim Comey’s suggestion that increased surveillance of cops had led to a chilling effect leading them to stop doing their jobs …

Chuck Rosenberg, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said Wednesday that he agrees with FBI Director James Comey that police officers are reluctant to aggressively enforce laws in the post-Ferguson era of capturing police activity on smartphones and YouTube.

“I think there’s something to it,” Rosenberg said during a press briefing on drug statistics at DEA headquarters in Arlington. “I think he’s spot on. I’ve heard the same thing.”

… I reminded that Rosenberg is also Comey’s former Chief of Staff, from when Comey was Deputy Attorney General in the Bush Administration.

Which is why I find it interesting that the White House has suggested President Obama raised the issue with Comey in a meeting this week.

Asked whether Mr. Obama would call in the two men to discuss the issue privately, Mr. Earnest noted that Mr. Comey met with the president last week, and he strongly hinted that the president chided his F.B.I. director on the subject.

“The president is certainly counting on Director Comey to play a role in the ongoing debate about criminal justice reform,” Mr. Earnest said, suggesting that Mr. Obama expected Mr. Comey to uphold the president’s view on the matter.

While he was Comey’s CoS, remember, Comey made sure he was in the loop on torture discussions he otherwise wouldn’t be, as Comey made an effort to limit some of what got approved in the May 2005 torture memos. That was partly to make sure the torturers didn’t use his absence to push through the memo, but also partly (it seems clear now) to lay out his own record of events.

Given the timing (and the distinct possibility Rosenberg endorsed Comey’s Ferguson Effect views after Comey got chewed out by the President), this feels like a concerted bureaucratic stand. Of course, these two allies’ role atop aggressive law enforcement agencies, Comey just 2 years into a 10-year term, stubbornly repeating police claims, is a pretty powerful bureaucratic stand for cops who want to avoid oversight.

Throwing Umm Sayyaf to the Kurds

Today Ali Watkins had a long report on the problems with the High Value Interrogation Group, which Obama instituted in 2009 to try to standardize on scientific alternatives to torture. Among its problems: it has no institutional structure, agencies resist having FBI in charge and therefore withhold their best interrogators, and it’s not being checked for results.

But six years on, the Obama administration’s elite interrogation force is on shaky ground. U.S. officials and outside critics question the effectiveness of its interrogators, whether they’re following their own training, and whether they can continue to rely on psychological research to help break suspects. Congress and the White House, which once saw the group as a key to reinventing the nation’s counterterrorism strategy, aren’t paying attention. And those struggles illuminate a broader reality: Obama’s limited reforms to how American detains, interrogates and prosecutes suspected terrorists are ad-hoc and fragile

Given what I’ve seen of some of the interrogations conducted by HIG, I also suspect there are differing takes on what constitutes a “successful” interrogation.

Watkins points to the interrogation of Umm Sayyaf, the wife of a top ISIS commander tied to the kidnapping and rape of Kayla Mueller, as an example of how the conflicting agency equities play out.

Certain intelligence shops would prefer to keep their top interrogators to themselves, these sources argue, which means the HIG gets whoever’s left. U.S. intelligence agencies sometimes interrogate the same detainees the HIG questions — and claim better results. Military officials have told reporters that Umm Sayyaf, one of the people the HIG interrogated, provided invaluable information on ISIS before being turned overto Iraqi Kurdish authorities. But “the HIG hardly got anything out of her,” a second U.S. official told HuffPost. “It was all [non-HIG Defense Department interrogators].”

Also today, Daily Beast has an article on the fate of Umm Sayyaf. It emphasizes that the Iraqi woman couldn’t be turned over to American authorities because of Iraq’s justice system.

Umm Sayyaf, who is an Iraqi citizen, was captured by U.S. forces in Syria. She was interrogated in Iraq by an American unit that operates outside the traditional criminal justice system. But the decision on where to try her was based largely in deference to Iraqi law. And she will now be turned over not to the government of Iraq in Baghdad, but Iraq’s Kurdish regional government in Erbil, which is expected to “throw the book” at her, and perhaps do much more than that.

Iraq’s own legal system made extraditing Umm Sayyaf difficult if not impossible, said one senior administration official.

“We discussed the idea of her surrender and extradition to the U.S. with senior-level [government of Iraq] officials, but ultimately that option was not available as Iraq has a constitutional prohibition on surrendering Iraqi citizens to foreign authorities,” the official said.

But they also note that not enough of the evidence from the reportedly more effective interrogation of Umm Sayyaf would be admissible in a US court.

What’s more, even if Umm Sayyaf, whose real name is Nasrin As’ad Ibrahim, were brought back to an American courtroom, officials worried that they didn’t have enough evidence to build a case against her, at least not one that would persuade 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Umm Sayyaf was responsible for Mueller’s abduction and death, Defense Department officials told The Daily Beast.

Umm Sayyaf was interrogated by a special U.S. team outside the traditional legal protections afforded to people held inside the United States. While much of the information her questioners obtained was exceptionally valuable for intelligence purposes, and, Defense officials said, pointed to Mueller having been raped by the top ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the information might not be admissible as evidence in a U.S. criminal trial.

This was a key point of HIG: to be able to conduct interrogations that would not taint a case for a US criminal court. I’m not convinced all the evidence they submitted in trials should have been, but they’ve succeeded in working within the US justice system.

The implication is the HIG is in trouble because no one wants to do that.

Along with Outdated Toothpaste and Caitlin Jenner Covers, Manning in Trouble for Reading Torture Report

As you’ve likely heard the authorities at Leavenworth have put Chelsea Manning in indefinite solitary confinement for — among other things — having an expired tube of toothpaste (and also sweeping some crumbs onto the floor).

She just posted the list of materials the authorities confiscated from her. They include the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair issue and what I assume is the Cosmopolitan issue on Jenner.

But in addition, the government also confiscated Manning’s copy of the SSCI torture report.

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Because it is the American way to subject someone to torturous solitary confinement because she tried to read about the torture done to others before she was subjected to the same kind of forced nudity described in the report?


Was the White House Involved in the Decision to Unapologize to Dianne Feinstein?

A must-read Jason Leopold piece on the fight between the Senate Intelligence Committee and CIA over the torture report reveals that John Brennan apologized about hacking the SSCI website — before he unapologized .

John Brennan was about to say he was sorry.

On July 28, 2014, the CIA director wrote a letter to senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss — the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) and the panel’s ranking Republican, respectively. In it, he admitted that the CIA’s penetration of the computer network used by committee staffers reviewing the agency’s torture program — a breach for which Feinstein and Chambliss had long demanded accountability — was improper and violated agreements the Intelligence Committee had made with the CIA.


“I recently received a briefing on the [OIG’s] findings, and want to inform you that the investigation found support for your concern that CIA staff had improperly accessed the [Intelligence Committee] shared drive on the RDINet [an acronym for rendition, detention, and interrogation] when conducting a limited search for CIA privileged documents,” Brennan wrote. “In particular, the [OIG] judged that Agency officers’ access to the… shared drive was inconsistent with the common understanding reached in 2009 between the Committee and the Agency regarding access to RDINet. Consequently, I apologize for the actions of CIA officers…. I am committed to correcting the shortcomings that this report has revealed.”

But Brennan didn’t sign or send the apology letter.

Instead, four days later, he sent Feinstein and Chambliss a different letter — one without an apology or admission that the search of their computer network was improper.

Leopold includes the letter as an image in his story (and also at page 299 in the SCRIBD embed). The letter he did send appears at page 11 of the embed.

In addition to the dramatically different content, the later letter does not include — as the earlier one did — notice that carbon copies of the letter were sent to DNI James Clapper, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, and CIA’s Inspector General David Buckley.

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You can see the earlier letter (see page 298) was sent by some emoticon-wielding (presumed) Assistant who explained — at 4:32 that same day — “Sending anyway, Just in case you need it soft copy for any reason. :)”

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It’s as if by that point the CIA had already decided to pursue a different option (which, if we can believe the CIA’s currently operative story to Leopold, was to apologize to Senator Feinstein in person rather than memorialize such an apology in writing).

But I wonder … given that they were going to include Eggleston on the original but saw no need to include him (and Clapper and Buckley) on the finalized letter … was the White House in the loop in the decision to unapologize?

As Leopold reminds in his story, Brennan looped Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in before the January searches of SSCI’s network, implicating (though insulated by two degrees of separation, if we believe the CIA’s story) the White House in the decision to spy on SSCI. Was the White House included in the decision on whether to apologize to Dianne Feinstein?

John Brennan Admits to Lying about Working with Human Rights Abusers

Back in May, I noted that in addition to an unclassified request that John Brennan correct his lies about CIA hacking the Senate Intelligence Committee torture investigators, Ron Wyden, Martin Heinrich, and Mazie Hirono also asked Brennan to correct a lie he told in March.

Additionally, we are attaching a separate classified letter regarding inaccurate public statements that you made on another topic in March 2015. We ask that you correct the public record regarding these statements immediately.

I suggested that Brennan probably lied in response to a request about working with human rights violators at a public speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

QUESTION: I’m going to try to stand up. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch. Two days ago, ABC News ran some video and images of psychopathic murderers, thugs in the Iraqi security forces, carrying out beheadings, executions of children, executions of civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, executions of hundreds of captives and so forth.

And some of the allies in the anti-ISIS coalition are themselves carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, like beheadings in Saudi Arabia, violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia—how do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance?

BRENNAN: It’s tough sorting out good guys and bad guys in a lot of these areas, it is. And human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of ISIL or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped.

And in an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses. And this is something that I think we need to be able to address. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.

(I even noted in real time he was refusing to respond to the part of the question about the Saudis.)

Brennan has now responded (Ali Watkins first reported on the letter on Friday). As part of his response, he admits that, contrary to his claim at CFR that “we will not work with entities that are engaged” in human rights abuses, in fact the CIA does — “because of critical intelligence those services provide.”

I understand your concerns about my brief, extemporaneous remarks. While we neither condone nor participate in activities that violate human rights standards, we do maintain corporative liaison relationships with a variety of intelligence and security services around the world, some of whose constituent entities have engaged in human rights abuses. We strive to identify and, where possible, avoid working with individuals whom we believe to be responsible for such abuses. In some cases, we have decided to continue those relationships, despite unacceptable behavior, because of the critical intelligence those services provide, including information that allows us to disrupt terrorist plotting against the United States.

Mind you, his letter implies that his response pertains only to “Iraqi security forces,” and not — as was part of the original question, but not one Brennan even acknowledged in his response — our allies the head-chopping Saudis.

I would suggest, however, that the Saudis are far better described as a service that provides us critical intelligence, “including information that allows us to disrupt terrorist plotting against the US.” I’d frankly be shocked if Iraqi security forces even have that capability, not to mention that the terrorists in Iraq are pretty focused on setting up their caliphate in Iraq right now, not attacking the US.

So kudos to John Brennan for owning up to the general lie, that “we will not work with entities that are engaged in” human rights abuses, even if in owning up to it, the old Riyadh Station Chief is still protecting his buddies the Sauds.

Baby steps, I guess.

Did the Former Deputy Director of CTC Misinform Congress about Torture Report Costs?

Jason Leopold had an important update on the torture report that — because he’s doing rolling updates — hasn’t gotten sufficient attention.

Leopold obtained the contracting documents of the company, Centra, that drove up costs for the report by reviewing every document turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee. But after he posted those documents, the CIA’s story about how much Centra got paid for those specific tasks changed. After 7 months of public claims that the then-unnamed contractor had gotten paid $40 million, the CIA all of a sudden changed its mind.

CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani disputed VICE News’ “interpretation” of the Centra contract.

“A significant portion of the contract cost pertained to services completely distinct from, and wholly unrelated to, the Senate Intelligence Committee review,” Trapani said, backtracking on the agency’s statement last year that the $40 million the agency spent was due entirely to “the committee’s demands of CIA in this investigation.” “In terms of the services performed in support of the committee review, CIA dedicated substantial resources to provide the committee unprecedented access to millions of pages of documents as expeditiously as possible, consistent with the security requirements for such highly classified, sensitive documents.”

That’s troubling because it runs counter to what everyone on SSCI believed, including then Chair Dianne Feinstein, who has been rebutting claims that the committee itself spent the money ever since it became public last year.

The overwhelming majority of the $40 million cost was incurred by the CIA and was caused by the CIA’s own unprecedented demands to keep documents away from the committee. Rather than provide documents for the committee to review in its own secure Senate office—as is standard practice—the CIA insisted on establishing a separate leased facility and a “stand-alone” computer network for committee use.

Which raises the question of where the claim that the entirety of that $40 million was spent on the torture report came from — which Leopold notes in an update came from this footnote in the Republican views on the report (and by association, a 2012 letter from CIA’s then number 3, Sue Bromley).

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Not only was Bromley CIA’s number 3 when she wrote the letter, but in the years in question, she cycled through as Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center.

V. Sue Bromley, an Agency veteran of 28 years, will become our new Associate Deputy Director. Sue has served as our Chief Financial Officer since June 2009. As a former OMB director, I can attest to her exceptional skill and diligence in managing one of the most complex budgets in government.

Before that, Sue helped lead our analytic effort for two years as Deputy Director for Intelligence. She has made vital contributions to the fight against al-Qa’ida and its violent allies, both as Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center and as Chief of the Operations and Management Staff in the National Clandestine Service, where she helped plan, justify, and distribute a large increase in funding for counterterrorism operations after the September 11th attacks.

Now, it’s possible that the Republicans just took her letter out of context and no one on the Democratic side checked their math. There are a lot of references in the minority report (heh) that don’t make sense.

But Bromley is a money gal. She shouldn’t be making mistakes about contracts, and certainly not to the scale that appears to have happened — all in such a way as to serve the pro-torture narrative which in turn serves to protect … the counterterrorism center.

At least according to the story the CIA is currently telling, everyone on the CIA’s oversight committee grossly misunderstood a $40 million expenditure.


WikiLeaks Reveals Steinmeier Intercepts, 2 Years before Helping Condi Look Unconcerned by Kidnapping Liabilities

In its latest release on the individual intercepts the NSA collected on top German officials, WikiLeaks revealed that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had been a priority 2 target in NSA’s monitoring of German political affairs.

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The actual intercept released with today’s list of targets pertains to Steinmeier’s first visit to DC as Foreign Minister in November 2005.

The intercept described how Steinmeier was pleased to have gotten a non-committal answer from Condi Rice when he asked her whether the CIA had run rendition flights through Germany.

(TS//SI//NF) New German Foreign Minister Pleased With First Official  Visit to Washington

(TS//SI//NF) Frank­-Walter Steinmeier seemed pleased on 29 November  with the results of his first visit to Washington as the new German Foreign Minister. Steinmeier described the mood during his talks with U.S. officials as very good, but feared that the most difficult part was still ahead. He seemed relieved that he had not received any  definitive response from the U.S. Secretary of State regarding press reports of CIA flights through Germany to secret prisons in eastern  Europe allegedly used for interrogating terrorism suspects. Steinmeier remarked that Washington is placing great hope in his  country’s new government. In this connection, he is looking for areas where bilateral cooperation can be strengthened and is considering  the southern Caucasus as one possible area.

This would have been of particular concern for Steinmeier as he was Chief of Staff in German’s Chancellery, in charge of intelligence. If German intelligence did know about the flights, he would be complicit. So he might be particularly happy to report that the US — that Condi Rice — was officially giving a non-answer to the question of whether or not the CIA was using Germany as a base for its kidnapping flights.

Better to officially not know.

Now, I actually am not at all troubled that NSA is wiretapping foreign officials. They’re surely doing the same to our equivalents. So while I’m interested in what these WikiLeak releases say about our NSA activities, I’m not critical of these activities.

But I am interested that Steinmeier was wiretapped for this reason.

As a State cable released by WikiLeaks back in 2010 showed, in 2007, Steinmeier and Condi met to discuss the recent arrest warrants issued by a German court. Steinmeier came out of the meeting and said publicly that Condi had told him she and the US would have no problem with the issue of arrest warrants for 13 US agents. After Steinmeier created that impression in the press, the Deputy Chief of the Mission to Germany corrected that impression, making it clear that the US had a very big problem with the planned arrest of its agents for kidnapping.

Just as the German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA personnel, Condi Rice and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met in DC for a discussion of Mideast peace efforts. After they met, Steinmeier told the German press that Condi had assured him that the arrest warrants wouldn’t affect German-US relations.

Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that he had raised the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who “assured me there would be no negative impact on German-American relations.”

Steinmeier, whose remarks were released a day ahead of publication on Sunday, said he told Rice the warrants could only be served in Germany at present, but the government expected the court to issue international warrants at some stage.

The cable describes a February 6, 2007 meeting in which the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Germany, John Koenig, “corrected” the impression that Steinmeier had gotten from his meeting with Condi the week before.

In a February 6 discussion with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel, the DCM reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case. The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case. The DCM emphasized that this was not the case and that issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship. He reminded Nikel of the repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year.

Koenig goes on to note that the government would have political problems in the US if the Germans issued the international arrest warrants.

The DCM pointed out that the USG would likewise have a difficult time in managing domestic political implications if international arrest warrants are issued.


[T]his was obviously a hastily called meeting in response to Steinmeier’s quotation of Condi’s assurances the warrantswouldn’t cause a problem. Note the specific language Koenig uses:

The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case.

He’s not telling the Germans that Steinmeier was wrong, that he mis-quoted Condi. Rather, Koenig’s simply saying that the content–what Condi had said–was wrong.

While the cable makes it clear that Koenig was emphasizing the stance of the USG, it’s still not clear whether Condi just lied to Steinmeier about USG concern, using that as cover for the kidnapping that she, who was National Security Advisor during the kidnapping, would have been implicated in, or whether Steinmeier knowingly put disinformation into the press that State subordinates could correct in secret. That is, it’s not clear how knowingly Steinmeier served as a stooge in US disinformation that ultimately protected Condi.

But I do find the continuity of Steinmeier’s happiness about pretending there was no kidnapping going on in Germany to be notable. I also find it notable that Condi and her friends would have had very detailed understanding of Steinmeier’s opinions and activities from the interim period.

Joel Brenner Reveals David Addington’s Sources and Methods

Several people (including Dan Froomkin) have pointed to the speech former NSA Inspector General Joel Brenner gave at NSA today for the confirmation of what was pretty clear from the joint IG Report on Stellar Wind — that David Addington ran the program out of OVP.

The seed of the problem was planted shortly after 9/11, when the White House determined to undertake certain collection outside the FISA regime under a highly classified, but now mostly declassified, program called STELLAR WIND. That program was not SAP’ed, because the creation of a new special access program requires Congressional notification, but it was run directly by the Office of the Vice President and put under the direct personal control of the Vice President’s counsel, David Addington.

But there’s another detail I find more interesting (aside from Brenner’s note that parts of the program remain classified, which people often forget).

Stellar Wind was not SAP’ed, Joel Brenner (who was, at least according to the IG Report, not read in himself until far later than he makes out in his speech).

Because if it were SAP’ed — if it were made a Special Access Program — then Congress would have had to be notified.

I’m interested in that for two reasons.

First (and most prosically), the Executive was messing around with the classification of Stellar Wind at least until January 2009, when they appear to have been making last minute adjustments to gain advantage in the al-Haramain suit.

More interestingly, because the Executive claims Congress was notified (even in that IG Report, though interestingly enough, some accountings of Congressional briefings got redacted in the underlying reports). Joel Brenner is here suggesting that they weren’t, really. Which is consistent with the fact that the briefing Congress got on March 10, 2004 was different in substance than what they had gotten before then.

Finally, because there are questions about when and who made the torture program a SAP. It appears not to have happened until early 2003 (and some of CIA’s own briefing records suggest that’s when the first torture briefings were, notwithstanding the September 2002 briefings for the Gang of Four).

Brenner’s suggestion makes it likely (as if it weren’t already) that that decision, too, was driven by Addington.

Wyden et al: Spot the Lie in Brennan’s CFR Speech Contest!

As the Daily Dot reported, Senators Wyden, Heinrich, and Hirono wrote John Brennan a letter trying to get him to admit that he lied about hacking the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But, as often happens with Wyden-authored letters, they also included this oblique paragraph at the end:

Additionally, we are attaching a separate classified letter regarding inaccurate public statements that you made on another topic in March 2015. We ask that you correct the public record regarding these statements immediately.

A game!!! Find the lies Brennan told in March!!!

The most likely place to look for Brennan lies comes in this appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, where Brennan took questions from the audience.

While you might think Brennan lied about outsourcing torture to our allies, his answer on CIA involvement with interrogations conducted by our partners was largely truthful, even if he left out the part of detainees being tortured in custody.

But on a related issue, Brennan surely lied. He claimed — in response to a questions from an HRW staffer — not to partner with those who commit atrocities.

QUESTION: I’m going to try to stand up. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch. Two days ago, ABC News ran some video and images of psychopathic murderers, thugs in the Iraqi security forces, carrying out beheadings, executions of children, executions of civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, executions of hundreds of captives and so forth.

And some of the allies in the anti-ISIS coalition are themselves carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, like beheadings in Saudi Arabia, violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia—how do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance?

BRENNAN: It’s tough sorting out good guys and bad guys in a lot of these areas, it is. And human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of ISIL or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped.

And in an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses. And this is something that I think we need to be able to address. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.

As I noted at the time, Brennan totally dodged the question about Saudi atrocities. But it is also the case that many of the “moderates” we’ve partnered with in both Syria and Iraq have themselves engaged in atrocities.

So I suspect his claim that “we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities” is one of the statements Wyden et al were pointing to.

A potentially related alternative candidate (the letter did say Brennan had made false statements, plural) is this exchange. When Brennan claimed, at the time, he has no ties to Qasim Soleimani, I assumed he was lying, not just because we’re actually fighting a way in IRGC’s vicinity but also because Brennan seemed to exhibit some of the “tells” he does when he lies.

QUESTION: James Sitrick, Baker & McKenzie. You spent a considerable amount of your opening remarks talking about the importance of liaison relationships. Charlie alluded to this in one of his references to you, on the adage—the old adage has it that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Are we in any way quietly, diplomatically, indirectly, liaisoning with Mr. Soleimani and his group and his people in Iraq?

BRENNAN: I am not engaging with Mr. Qasem Soleimani, who is the head of the Quds Force of Iran. So no, I am not.

I am engaged, though, with a lot of different partners, some of close, allied countries as well as some that would be considered adversaries, engaged with the Russians on issues related to terrorism.

We did a great job working with the Russians on Sochi. They were very supportive on Boston Marathon. We’re also looking at the threat that ISIL poses both to the United States as well as to Russia.

So I try to take advantage of all the different partners that are out there, because there is a strong alignment on some issues—on proliferation as well as on terrorism and others as well.

I happen to think it an exaggeration that the Russians “were very supportive on Boston Marathon,” but maybe that’s because FSB was rolling up CIA spies who were investigating potentially related groups in Russia.

Finally, while less likely, I think this might be a candidate.

QUESTION: Thank you. Paula DiPerna, NTR Foundation. This is probably an unpopular suggestion, but is it feasible or how feasible would it be to do a little selective Internet disruption in the areas concerned, a la a blockade, digital blockade, and then an international fund to indemnify business loss?

BRENNAN: OK. First of all, as we all know, the worldwide web, the Internet, is a very large enterprise. And trying to stop things from coming out, there are political issues, there are legal issues here in the United States as far as freedom of speech is concerned. But even given that consideration, doing it technically and preventing some things from surfacing is really quite challenging.

And we see that a number of these organizations have been able to immediately post what they’re doing in Twitter. And the ability to stop some things from getting out is really quite challenging.

As far as, you know, indemnification of various companies on some of these issues, there has been unfortunately a very, very long, multi-year effort on the part of the Congress to try to pass some cybersecurity legislation that addressed some of these issues. There has been passage in the Senate.

I think it’s overdue. We need to update our legal structures as well as our policy structures to deal with the cyber threats we face.

Remember, Ron Wyden has been pointing to an OLC opinion on Common Commercial Services (which, however, CIA’s now General Counsel Carolyn Krass said publicly she wouldn’t rely on) for years. I suspect indemnity is one of the things it might cover.

Plus, I do think it likely that we’ve disrupted the Internet in various circumstances.

Who knows? Maybe Brennan just told a lot of lies.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

Update: NatSec sources are already dismissing this Sy Hersh piece on the real story behind the bin Laden killing. But if there’s truth to this detail, then it would suggest I was overly optimistic when I suggested Brennan was truthful about outsourcing our interrogation to allies.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’

If we do still have a secret prison in Diego Garcia, then the claim that we outsource everything to allies would be the key lie here.

Dean Baquet Explains that the CIA Cries Wolf, But Misses How Transparency Helps Hold Feinstein Accountable

Jack Goldsmith conducted  fascinating interview with NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet about the latter’s decision to name Michael D’Andrea and two other top CIA officials whose identities the CIA was trying to suppress.

He attributes his decision to three factors: The CIA has increasingly taken on a new military role that demands some accountability, the CIA admitted these three figures were widely known anyway, and the CIA (and NSA’s) explanations in the past have proven lame.

There are some interesting points, but I think Baquet — and Goldsmith — miss two aspects of accountability that the NYT article permitted.

Widely known figures

Baquet reveals that even the CIA didn’t claim these men were secret, even if it still pretends they are under cover.

DB: These guys may technically be undercover. But even the CIA admitted when they called – and this was a big factor in the decision – that they are widely known, and they were known to the governments where they were stationed. The CIA’s pitch was not that these guys are secret or that people don’t know about them. The CIA’s pitch to me was, “Look, its one thing to be widely known, and to be known to governments and to be on web sites; but when they appear on the front page of the New York Times, that has a larger meaning.” So they were known anyway. The gentleman at the very top [of the CTC] runs a thousand-person agency, and makes huge decisions, personally, that have tremendous repercussions for national security. I’m not making judgments about him, but that’s the reality.

Later in the interview Goldsmith appears to totally ignore this point when he worries that these men don’t have the same kind of security as their counterparts running drone programs in the military. He suggests they might come under new threat because their names have been published on the front page of the NYT.

But that assumes our adversaries are too dumb to look in the places where these men’s names have been published before — just like CIA’s successful attempt to suppress Raymond Davis’ association with the CIA even after it was broadly known in Pakistan. It assumes our adversaries who seek out this information are not going to find where it’s hiding in plain sight.

The CIA isn’t keeping these secrets from our adversaries. They already know them. Which makes CIA’s efforts to keep them from the US public all the more problematic.

Crying wolf

Baquet’s argument about CIA’s squandered credibility is two fold. First, he notes that the CIA always claims people are under cover, which makes their claims less credible as a result.

JG: Let me ask you a different question. What do you think about the claim by Bob Litt, the General Counsel of the DNI, that you’ve put these guys’ lives and their families’ lives in jeopardy, and also the people they worked with undercover abroad? How do you assess that? How do you weigh that?

DB: I guess I would say a couple of things. I wish the CIA did not say that about everybody and everything. They hurt their case.

JG: They say it a lot?

DB: They say it all the time. I wish they were a little more measured in saying that. Sometime it’s a little difficult to deal with the Agency. When somebody says that and has a track record of rarely saying that, it really gives me pause. But they [the CIA] say it whenever we want to mention a [covert] CIA operative or CIA official.

But — perhaps more importantly for a guy who has taken heat for killing important stories in the past — Baquet also mentions the times agencies convince him to kill stories that turn out to get published anyway. Baquet uses sitting on the detail that the US used a drone base in Saudi Arabia to kill Anwar al-Awlaki as his example.

DB: I’ll give you an example. When Al-Awlaki was killed by a drone strike, we were on deadline, and I was the Managing Editor. The Acting Director of the CIA called up because we were going to say in the middle of the story that the drone that killed Al-Awlaki took off from a base in Saudi Arabia. (I can give you twenty examples, but this is just one.) He called up and said, “If you say that the drone took off from a base in Saudi Arabia, we are going to lose that base. The Saudis are going to go nuts, they don’t want people to know that we are flying drones from their base.” And so I took it out. And I think we made it something like, “The drones took off from a base in the Arabian Peninsula,” something vague. Sure enough, the next day, everybody other than us said it was Saudi Arabia. When I thought hard about it, [I concluded] that was not a good request. And I later told the CIA it was not a good request. And they should have admitted that was not a good request. Everyone knew they had a base. It was for geopolitical reasons, not really national security reasons. I think that’s one where they shouldn’t have asked and I shouldn’t have said “yes” so automatically. So now I am tougher. Now I just say to them, “Give me a compelling reason, really really tell me.” Because to not publish, in my way of thinking, is almost a political act. To not publish is a big deal. So I say, “Give me a compelling reason.” And I don’t think I said that hard enough earlier on. That influences me now. It does make me want to say to the CIA, and the NSA, and other agencies involved in surveillance and intelligence: “Guys, make the case. You can’t just say that it hurts national security. You can’t just say vaguely that it’s going to get somebody killed. You’ve got to help me, tell me.” In cases where they have actually said to me something really specific, I have held it. There is still stuff that’s held, because it is real. But I think I am tougher now and hold them to higher standards. And part of that is that secrecy now is part of the story. It’s not just a byproduct of the story. It’s part of the story. I think there is a discussion in the country about secrecy in government post-9/11. It was provoked partly by Snowden, it was provoked partly by the secrecy of the drone program. And I think that secrecy is now part of it. And that puts more pressure on me to reveal details when I have them.

But I find his invocation of Snowden (and the mention of the NSA which he makes 4 times) all the more interesting.

Remember, in 2006, Mark Klein brought the story, with documents to prove the case, that the NSA had tapped into AT&T’s Folsom Street switch to Baquet when the latter was at the LAT. Baquet killed the story, only to have the NYT publish the story shortly thereafter.

Back in 2006, former AT&T employee Mark Klein revealed information that proved the communications giant was allowing the NSA to monitor Internet traffic “without any regard for the Fourth Amendment.” Klein initially brought the story to The Los Angeles Times, but it never made it to print under Baquet, who recently replaced the fired Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times.

Klein told HuffPost Live’s Alyona Minkovski that he gave 120 pages of AT&T documents to an LA Times reporter who “was promising a big front-page expose” on the story. But the reporter eventually told Klein there was a “hangup,” and the story was abandoned shortly after with no explanation.

Months later, producers from ABC’s “Nightline” who were working on the story contacted editors at the LA Times to ask if they had, in fact, decided not to print it. The producers were told that Baquet killed the story, Klein said.

“That’s when Dean Baquet came out with this lame excuse that he just couldn’t figure out my technical documents, so he didn’t think they had a story. I don’t think anybody really believed that argument because, as I said, a few weeks after the LA Times killed the story, I went to The New York Times and they had no trouble figuring it out,” Klein said.

Any question of the clarity in the documents Klein produced “was just Dean Baquet’s lame cover story for capitulating to the government’s threats,” Klein alleged.

And while Baquet still claims he didn’t kill the story due to pressure from the government, the claim has always rung hollow.

The CIA and NSA have not only cried wolf once too often, they have cried wolf with Baquet personally.

Missing accountability

There are two things that are, sadly, missing from this discussion.

First, no one actually believes that Michael D’Andrea, who (as I pointed out yesterday) the CIA helped Hollywood turn into one of the heroes of the Osama bin Laden hunt) is really under cover. But it’s important to look at what suppressing his actual name does for accountability. And the torture report is the best exhibit for that.

If you can’t connect all the things that D’Andrea — or Alfrea Bikowsky or Jonathan Fredman — have done in their role with torture, you can’t show that certain people should have known better. After KSM led Bikowsky to believe, for 3 months, that he had sent someone to recruit black Muslims in Montana to start forest fires, any further unfathomable credulity on her part can no longer be deemed an honest mistake; it’s either outright incompetence, or a willful choice to chase threats that are not real. Hiding D’Andrea’s name, along with the others, prevents that kind of accountability.

But there’s one other crucial part of accountability that’s core to the claim that our representative government adequately exercises oversight over CIA.

A key part of the NYT story (and Baquet emphasized this) was challenging whether the Intelligence Committees were exercising adequate oversight over the drone strikes. The NYT included really damning details about Mike Rogers and Richard Burr pushing to kill Americans.

Yet the article was most damning, I think, for Dianne Feinstein, though it didn’t make the case as assertively as they could have. Consider the implications of this:

In secret meetings on Capitol Hill, Mr. D’Andrea was a forceful advocate for the drone program and won supporters among both Republicans and Democrats. Congressional staff members said that he was particularly effective in winning the support of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who was chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee until January, when Republicans assumed control of the chamber.


The confidence Ms. Feinstein and other Democrats express about the drone program, which by most accounts has been effective in killing hundreds of Qaeda operatives and members of other militant groups over the years, stands in sharp contrast to the criticism among lawmakers of the now defunct C.I.A. program to capture and interrogate Qaeda suspects in secret prisons.

But both programs were led by some of the same people.

The implication — which should be made explicit — is that Dianne Feinstein has been protecting and trusting a guy who also happens to have been a key architect of the torture program (Feinstein did the same with Stephen Kappes).

Feinstein can complain about torture accountability all she wants. But she has the ability to hold certain people to a higher standard, and instead, in D’Andrea’s case and in Kappes, she has instead argued that they should maintain their power.

And that’s the kind of the thing the public can and should try to hold Feinstein accountable for. Rogers and Burr, at least, are not hypocrites. They like unchecked and ineffective CIA power, unabashedly. But Feinstein claims to have concerns about it … sometimes, but not others.

The public may not be able to do much to hold the CIA accountable. But we can call out Feinstein for failing to do the things she herself has power to do to get accountability for torture and other CIA mismanagement. And that, at least, is a key value of having named names.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel This is great: The Human Impulse to Live Beyond the Law
emptywheel Your government really spent 11 years trying to hide "s"es showing it asks for phone numbers, plural, using NSLs.
emptywheel Among other things, Govt redacted passage pointing out even "dim-witted" terrorist could figure out redactions.
emptywheel FBI Redacted Passages Showing Judge Mocking Its Stupid Claims Where is EO does it permit hiding mockery?
bmaz @_JGR If and when you do, please advise. Generally they are supposed to bet rather quickly (within 10 court days is std here).
bmaz Not positive I completely agree w/the suggestion (I think QI ought be severely restricted, but this is fascinating
bmaz @_JGR By the way, has the local media reported what day the preliminary hearing is set for? Those are supposed to be set quickly.
bmaz @_JGR Now, I am NOT saying I think that should work here, but with a cop, I think you have a spitting chance with a good expert.
bmaz @_JGR That it was reflexive under the heat+stress of the moment, and therefore not premeditated. Trustme, there are "cop experts" for this.
emptywheel @richietynan He's not REALLY a teenager, just claiming to be.
emptywheel @richietynan The panel needs to know a hacker claiming to be a teenager just got into FBI's counterpart of that system.
emptywheel Don't tell the terrorists the FBI knows some people have separate work phone numbers or they'll win!
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