Keith Alexander has attempted to explain his million dollar salary demands for cyber consulting to Shane Harris. This story doesn’t necessary hang together any better than his claims about NSA’s spying.
Alexander is worth a million a month, he says (though he already dropped his price to $600K) because he has a unique approach to detecting persistent threats that he plans to patent.
The answer, Alexander said in an interview Monday, is a new technology, based on a patented and “unique” approach to detecting malicious hackers and cyber-intruders that the retired Army general said he has invented, along with his business partners at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., the company he co-founded after leaving the government and retiring from military service in March.
Alexander developed the technologies behind these patents — which Alexander says would address precisely the kind of attacks he facetiously argues have carried out the greatest transfer of wealth in history, the ones attacking the US — in his spare time.
A source familiarly [sic] with Alexander’s situation, who asked not to be identified, said that the former director developed this new technology on his private time, and that he addressed any potential infractions before deciding to seek his patents.
To which Harris asked the obvious question: if this solution is so great, then why not implement it while he was still in government? Why not save America from that greatest transfer of wealth in history?
Alexander then added that his solution relies on behavioral analysis one of his partners contributed.
Alexander said that his new approach is different than anything that’s been done before because it uses “behavioral models” to help predict what a hacker is likely to do.
Alexander said the key insight about using behavior models came from one of his business partners, whom he also declined to name, and that it takes an approach that the government hadn’t considered. It’s these methods that Alexander said he will seek to patent.
Perhaps the best (anonymous) quote Harris includes in his story is a “former national security official with decades of experience in security technology” who says such behavioral models are highly speculative and have never before worked.
So it’s possible that Keith Alexander is simply going to sell his new approach to a bunch of chumps who have gotten rich trading off of algorithms — proof behavioral models “work” even if they don’t work! — and therefore believe they will work to find persistent threats.
The guy who couldn’t find Edward Snowden absconding with thousands of files and his friends the big banks are going to start policing their networks by using algos to find suspicious behavior.
Harris sort of alludes to one problem with this scheme. Alexander used his perch at DIRNSA to create this market. As Harris points out, that’s in part because Wiper — a variant of the StuxNet attack developed under Alexander’s tenure — is what the banks are so afraid of.
That will come as a supreme irony to many computer security experts, who say that Wiper is a cousin of the notorious Stuxnet virus, which was built by the NSA — while Alexander was in charge — in cooperation with Israeli intelligence.
That is, Alexander will get rich helping banks defeat the weapons he released in the first place.
More generally, too, this fear exists because Alexander sowed it. The banks are responding to the intelligence claims Alexander has been making for years, whether or not a real threat exists behind it (and whether not resilience would be a better defense than Alexander’s algos).
One more thing: as far as we know, in addition to inventing this purportedly new technology in his free time, Alexander was consulting with his partners — which as far as we know include Promontory Financial Group and Chertoff — while he was DIRNSA. So it’s not just the underlying technology, but the discussions of partnership, that likely derive from Alexander’s time at DIRNSA.
And that seems to be the fourth part of Alexander’s magic sauce (in addition to the tech developed on the government dime, his ability to sow fear, and partnerships laid out while still in the private sector). After all, with Alexander out of his NSA, where will he and his profitable partners get the data they need to model threats? How much of this model will depend on the Cyber Information sharing plan that Alexander has demanded for years? How much will Alexander’s privatized solutions to the problem he couldn’t solve at NSA depend on access to all the information the government has, along with immunity?
To what degree is CISA about making Keith Alexander rich?
Thanks to this NYT editorial, everyone is talking about Patrick Leahy’s version of USA Freedom, which he will introduce tomorrow.
Given what I’ve heard, my impression is the editorial is correct that Leahy’s bill is a significant improvement off of USA Freedumber.
That’s not saying much.
It tightens the definition for Specific Selection Term significantly (though there may still be limited cause for concern).
It improves the FISA Advocate (but not necessarily enough that it would be meaningful).
It improves transparency (but there’s one aspect of “improved” transparency that actually disturbs me significantly).
It pretends to fix concerns I had about the PRTT minimization, but I don’t think it succeeds.
Still, an improvement off of the USA Freedumber.
I’m not convinced that makes it an acceptable improvement off of the status quo (especially the status quo requiring court approval for each seed). That’s because — from what I’ve heard — Leahy’s bill retains the language from USA Freedumber on contact chaining, which reads,
(iii) provide that the Government may require the prompt production of call detail records—
(I) using the specific selection term that satisfies the standard required under subsection (b)(2)(C)(ii) as the basis for production; and
(II) using call detail records with a direct connection to such specific selection term as the basis for production of a second set of call detail records;
Now, I have no idea what this language means, and no one I’ve talked to outside of the intelligence committees does either. It might just mean they will do the same contact chaining they do now, but if it does, why adopt this obscure language? It may just mean they will correlate identities, and do contact chaining off all the burner phones their algorithms say are the same people, but nothing more, but if so, isn’t there clearer language to indicate that (and limit it to that)?
But we know in the equivalent program for DEA – Hemisphere – the government uses location to chain people. So to argue this doesn’t include location chaining, you’d have to argue that NSA is satisfied with less than DEA gets and explain why the language of this bill specifically prohibits it. (The bill — as USA Freedumber before it did — requires NSA to use Call Detail Records at each step; that may or may not impose such limits.)
I remain concerned, too, that such obscure language would permit the contact chaining on phone books and calendars, both things we know NSA obtains overseas, both things NSA might have access to through their newly immunized telecom partners.
In addition, Leahy’s bill keeps USA Freedumber’s retention language tied to Foreign Intelligence purpose, allowing the NSA to keep all records that might have a foreign intelligence purpose.
Why, after having read PCLOB’s 702 report stating that, “when an NSA analyst recognizes that [a communication] involves a U.S. person and determines that it clearly is not relevant to foreign intelligence or evidence of a crime,” destruction of it, which is required by the law, “rarely happens,” would anyone applaud a Section 215 bill that effectively expands retention using that very same utterly meaningless “foreign intelligence” language? And with it may expand the permitted dissemination of such data?
The bill is definitely an improvement over USA Freedumber. But until someone explains what that connection chaining language does — and includes limiting language to make sure that’s all it will ever do — I have no way of knowing whether Leahy’s bill is better than the status quo. As it is, however, it is certainly conceivable Leahy’s bill will result in more innocent Americans ending up in the corporate store.
(I may have two more new concerns about Leahy’s bill, but I’ll hold those until I see what precise language the bill uses for them.)
I have been harping lately on the US approach to international crises being to first ask “Which group should we arm?” and how this strategy has come back countless times to bite us in the ass, as seen most spectacularly in Osama bin Laden. Further, in Afghanistan, the dual problems of failed training and insider attacks have demonstrated that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are ineffective and now even require a separate layer of security between them and US forces.
Back when there was a stronger push for the US to arm and train “moderates” in Syria, I noted the poor record-keeping that was being put into place, where we were being assured by those doing the training that they were getting handwritten receipts for the weapons they were handing out. Who could have known that in our much larger program of handing out weapons, in Afghanistan, that records were not much better? The 2010 NDAA required that DOD establish a program for accounting for weapons handed out in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report today (pdf) on how that accounting has gone. And the answer is not pretty:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required that DOD establish a program for registering and monitoring the use of weapons transferred to the ANSF. However, controls over the accountability of small arms provided to the ANSF are insufficient both before and after the weapons are transferred. Accountability over these weapons within DOD prior to their transfer to Afghan ownership is affected by incompatible inventory systems that have missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records, that may result in missing weapons prior to transfer to the ANSF. However, the problems are far more severe after the weapons are transferred to the ANSF. ANSF record-keeping and inventory processes are poor and, in many cases, we were unable to conduct even basic inventory testing at the ANSF facilities we visited. Although CSTC-A has established end use monitoring procedures, the lack of adherence to these procedures, along with the lack of reliable weapons inventories, limits monitoring of weapons under Afghan control and reduces the ability to identify missing and unaccounted for weapons that could be used by insurgents to harm U.S., coalition, and ANSF personnel.
This graphic from the report shows the insanity of how three completely independent and incompatible databases are used to track the weapons:
Seriously, who comes up with these acronyms? The database used by the military in shipping the weapons out is the Security Cooperation Information Portal, or SCIP. This name seems designed to let us know up front that these weapons are skipping town and there is no prospect for tracking them. And to make sure they can’t be tracked, once they arrive in Afghanistan, the weapons are logged in, but they go into a completely different database incompatible with SCIP. In Afghanistan they use the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, or OVERLORD. SIGAR tells us “SCIP is used by DOD personnel to track the shipment of weapons from the United States, while OVERLORD is used for tracking the receipt of weapons in Afghanistan. Errors and discrepancies often occur because these two systems are not linked to each other and require manual data entry.”
Perhaps if we were dealing with the relatively smaller number of weapons for an operation like our death squad training in Syria, manual entry into a database might make sense. But here is a photo from SIGAR of one of the weapons caches that they attempted to audit in Afghanistan:
But perhaps even worse is that SIGAR has found Afghan forces already have far more light weapons than they need. From the databases they determined that there are 112,909 weapons in excess of stated needs for the Afghans (and 83,184 of them are AK-47′s that many Afghans learn to handle practically from birth) already in country.
As if that is not enough, more weapons will keep flowing even though ANSF force size is projected to shrink:
The problems posed by the lack of a fully functional weapons registration and monitoring program may increase as plans to reduce the total number of ANSF personnel proceed. According to our analysis, the ANSF already has over 112,000 weapons that exceed its current requirements. The scheduled reduction in ANSF personnel to 228,500 by 2017 is likely to result in an even greater number of excess weapons. Yet, DOD continues to provide ANSF with weapons based on the ANSF force strength of 352,000 and has no plans to stop providing weapons to the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the ANSF, and Afghan civilians.
What could possibly go wrong?
Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis is suing the group for defamation, claiming they falsely accused him of being an Iranian front.
The group said it had uncovered a letter proving there was a plan to do business in Iran. It also accused Mr. Restis of using his ships in support of Iran’s oil industry.
Mr. Restis said the letter was fraudulent, the illicit Iranian deal never existed, and his ships made only authorized humanitarian shipments. He accused the group of shaking down companies for donations; the group in turn accused him of being a “master criminal.”
The group said it based its accusations on “valid research, credible documents, distinguished relationships, and pre-eminent sourcing.” In court, Mr. Restis demanded that the group disclose those documents and its relationships.
Soon after that demand, Mr. Restis said he was approached by an Israeli businessman, Rami Ungar, with no direct connection to United Against Nuclear Iran.
According to court documents filed by Mr. Restis’s lawyers, Mr. Ungar knew details about the case and said he was “authorized to try to resolve the issues” on behalf of the group’s supporters.
It was not clear who those supporters were. Like many nonprofit groups, its donor list is secret. Mr. Restis’s lawyers said in a letter to the judge in April that they had uncovered information that United Against Nuclear Iran “is being funded by foreign interests.”
DOJ suggested they might claim a law enforcement exception to protect the files, though it has not yet formally claimed such a privilege. That might suggest the files are Treasury files that may soon be used to impose sanctions on Restis. Or perhaps it means they have files that don’t meet Treasury’s standards for imposing sanctions, and UANI exists to shame people where sanctions are unavailable. In any case, Restis wants to know how Ungar got them; I’d like to know precisely what UANI is getting from whom.
Apuzzo lists some of the characters who are behind the group: former Mideast Peace Envoy Dennis Ross, Fran Townsend, and Joe Lieberman. Otto Reich, whose role in Iran-Contra (as opposed to his role in trying to overthrow Hugo Chavez in the 2002 coup) involved illegally funneling taxpayer dollars for the purposes of lobbying, is of particular note. Restis is particularly interested in interviewing UANI advisor Meir Dagan, the long-time head of Mossad; Restis believes Dagan provided the documents to Ungar. In addition, Richard Dearlove, who was in charge of sexing up the British case for war in 2003 when he was MI6, also advises the group.
in other words, it’s a classic case of a quasi-governmental group, one that apparently plays an extra-legal purpose in the campaign to isolate Iran (to be fair, most, though not all, of its advisors have worked hard to stave off war). And Restis’ efforts to get some kind of justice against it may be stymied by US claims they’ve got privileged interests in the case.
The entire episode raises some very good questions about what goes into isolating our adversaries.
In a piece that gets at some of the points of leverage between the White House and CIA over torture, Mark Mazzetti describes George Tenet’s effort to “challenge” the torture report.
It suggests Brennan’s close ties to Tenet — Brennan was once Tenet’s Chief of Staff – led the CIA Director to reach out to Tenet to lead pushback. It describes how Brennan’s close ties to Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough from when he served as White House Counterterrorism Czar led McDonough to intervene when Dianne Feinstein tried to require any CIA review to take place in Senate Intelligence Committee space.
All that’s beside the real source of CIA’s power over the White House — the fact that torture operated as a Presidentially-authorized covert op for years, as has the drone program, which means CIA has the ability to implicate both George Bush personally (and Obama, in illegal drone strikes), as well as the Office of the President more generally.
My favorite detail, however, is that Cofer Black has also been involved in this pushback campaign.
Just after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to declassify hundreds of pages of a withering report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan convened a meeting of the men who had played a role overseeing the program in its seven-year history.
The spies, past and present, faced each other around the long wooden conference table on the seventh floor of the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Northern Virginia: J. Cofer Black, head of the agency’s counterterrorism center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks; the undercover officer who now holds that job; and a number of other former officials from the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. Over the speakerphone came the distinctive, Queens-accented voice of George J. Tenet.
Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. [my emphasis]
According to Ken Dilianian’s version of the same story, Black will not be allowed to preview the report — he’s probably among the dozen people who thought they could review it but recently learned they would not be able to.
About a dozen officials were called in recent days and told they could read the executive summary at a secure room at the Office of Director of National Intelligence, as long as they agreed not to discuss it, four former officials said.
Then, on Friday, CIA officials called them and told them that due to a miscommunication, only former CIA directors and deputy directors would be given that privilege. Former directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss and George Tenet have been invited to read it, as have former acting directors John McLaughlin and Michael Morell.
Black’s involvement, of course, should be a story unto itself.
According to the CIA’s official version of torture, it got authorized under the September 17, 2001 Finding by language authorizing the capture and detention of top Al Qaeda officials. But they didn’t start considering torture until they picked up Abu Zubaydah at the end of March in 2002. They didn’t start torturing, the official story goes, until DOJ gave them the green light in August 1, 2002.
Why, then, would Black need to be involved in the torture pushback?
He left the Counterterrorism Director spot in May 2002, well before the torture started — at least according to the CIA version, but not the personal experience of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi and Binyam Mohamed, both of whom got tortured before Black’s departure. In his book Jose Rodriguez claims, falsely, the torture program started in June, and he led it. If this official CIA chronology is correct, Black should have had no role — and no personal interest — in the torture program.
And yet there he is with the other torturers, leading pushback.
Even in their pushback effort, then, the CIA proves that they’ve been lying for years.
In February 2011, around the time the CIA took over the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, NSA started collaborating with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) Technical Assistance Directorate (TAD), under the umbrella of CIA’s relationship with MOI (it had previously cooperated primarily with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense).
On August 15, 2011, hackers erased the data on two-thirds of the computers at Saudi Aramco; American sources claim Iran was the culprit.
On September 30, 2011, CIA killed Anwar al-Awlaki, using drones operated from a base on Saudi soil.
On November 5, 2012, King Abdullah named close John Brennan ally Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN) Minister of the Interior; MbN had for some time been our top counterterrorism partner in the Kingdom.
On December 11, 2012, James Clapper expanded NSA’s Third Party SIGINT relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the first time formally including the Ministry of Interior’s Technical Affairs Directorate.
Between January 14 and 16, 2013 MbN traveled to Washington and met with just about every top National Security person (many of whom, including Brennan, were just assuming new jobs). On January 16, MbN and Hillary Clinton renewed and expanded the Technical Cooperation Agreement initiated in 2008. The TCA was modeled on the JECOR program used from the late 1970s until 2000 to recycle US dollars into development programs in Saudi Arabia; in this more recent incarnation, the Saudis recycle dollars into things like a 30,000 mercenary army and other military toys for internal stability and border control. Last year’s renewal — signed just over a month after Clapper made the Saudis full Third Person partners – added cybersecurity to the portfolio. The TCA — both the existing security resources and its expansion under close ally MbN — shored up the power base of one of our closest partners (and at a time when we were already panicking about Saudi succession).
In other words, in addition to expanding Saudi capabilities at a time when it has been cracking down on peaceful dissent, which is what the Intercept story on this document discusses, by giving the Saudi MOI Third Party status, we added to the power of a key ally within the royal family, and did so at a time when the TCA was already shoring up his power base.
We did so, the Information Paper makes clear, in part because MOI has access to internal Saudi telecommunications. While the Information paper talks about AQAP and Iran’s Republican Guard, they are also targeting Saudi targets.
And these new capabilities? They get coordinated through Chief of Station in Riyadh, the CIA. John Brennan’s agency.
It’s all very tidy, don’t you think?
Back in January, I focused on one of the most alarming disclosures of the 2009 phone dragnet problems, that 3,000 presumed US person identifiers were on an alert list checked against each day’s incoming phone dragnet data. That problem — indeed, many of the problems reported at the beginning of 2009 — arose because the NSA dumped their Section 215 phone dragnet data in with all the rest of their metadata, starting at least as early as January 4, 2008. It took at least the better part of 2009 for the government to start tagging data, so the NSA could keep data collected under different authorities straight, though once they did that, NSA trained analysts to use those tags to bypass the more stringent oversight of Section 215.
One thing that episode revealed is that US person data gets collected under EO 12333 (that’s how those 3,000 identifiers got on the alert list), and there’s redundancy between Section 215 and EO 12333. That makes sense, as the metadata tied to the US side of foreign calls would be collected on collection overseas, but it’s a detail that has eluded some of the journalists making claims about the scope of phone dragnet.
Since I wrote that early January post, I’ve been meaning to return to a remarkable exchange from the early 2009 documents between FISC Judge Reggie Walton and the government. In his order for more briefing, Walton raised questions about tasking under NSA’s SIGNIT (that is, EO 12333) authority.
The preliminary notice from DOJ states that the alert list includes telephone identifiers that have been tasked for collection in accordance with NSA’s SIGINT authority. What standard is applied for tasking telephone identifiers under NSA’s SIGINT authority? Does NSA, pursuant to its SIGINT authority, task telephone identifiers associated with United States persons? If so, does NSA limit such identifiers to those that were not selected solely upon the basis of First Amendment protected activities?
The question reveals how little Walton — who had already made the key judgments on the Protect America Act program 2 years earlier — knew about EO 12333 authority.
I’ve put NSA’s complete response below the rule (remember “Business Records” in this context is the Section 215 phone dragnet authority). But basically, the NSA responded,
The First Amendment claims in the last two bullets are pretty weak tea, as they don’t actually address First Amendment issues and contact chaining is, after all, chaining on associations.
That’s all the more true given what we know had already been approved by DOJ. In the last months of 2007, they approved the contact chaining through US person identifiers of already-collected data (including FISA data). They did so by modifying DOD 5240.1 and its classified annex so as to treat what they defined (very broadly) as metadata as something other than interception.
The current DOD procedures and their Classified Annex may be read to restrict NSA’s ability to conduct the desired communications metadata analysis, at least with respect to metadata associated with United States persons. In particular, this analysis may fall within the procedures’ definition of, and thus restrictions on, the “interception” and “selection” of communications. Accordingly, the Supplemental Procedures that would govern NSA’s analysis of communications metadata expressly state that the DOD Procedures and the Classified Annex do not apply to the analysis of communications metadata. Specifically, the Supplemental Procedures would clarify that “contact chaining and other metadata analysis do not qualify as the ‘interception’ or ‘selection’ of communications, nor do they qualify as ‘us[ing] a selection term,’ including using a selection term ‘intended to intercept a communication on the basis of. .. [some] aspect of the content of the communication.” Once approved, the Supplemental Procedures will clarify that the communications metadata analysis the NSA wishes to conduct is not restricted by the DOD procedures and their Classified Annex.
Michael Mukasey approved that plan just as NSA was dumping all the Section 215 data in with EO 12333 data at the beginning of 2008 (though they did not really roll it out across the NSA until later in 2009).
Nowhere in the government’s self-approval of this alternate contact chaining do they mention First Amendment considerations (or even the domestic activities language included in their filing to Walton). And in the rollout, they explicitly permitted starting chains with identifiers of any nationality (therefore presumably including US person) and approved the use of such contact chaining for purposes other than counterterrorism. More importantly, they expanded the analytical function beyond simple contact chaining, including location chaining.
All with no apparent discussion of the concerns a FISC judge expressed when data from EO 12333 had spoiled Section 215 data.
We will, I expect, finally start discussing how NSA has been using EO 12333 authorities — and how they’ve represented their overlap with FISA authorized collection. This discussion is an important place to start. Continue reading
I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to track the various deadlines the US has issued for having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement in hand. Such an agreement would authorize US troops to remain in Afghanistan with criminal immunity after the current agreement expires at the end of this year. Just a search of the tag “Bilateral Security Agreement” brings back three pages of posts on the topic at Emptywheel. Early in the process, the US position was that the mental giants in our military needed a full year to plan whether or not we were withdrawing completely, and so a signed BSA had to be in hand by the beginning of 2014. Then, after Karzai defied the loya jirga and stated that he would not sign the agreement while in office, the US pinned its hopes on the presidential elections, since the two leading candidates both stated they would sign the agreement immediately upon winning. There was the unrealistic hope that a clear winner would emerge from the first round of voting in April, but that did not come to pass. The runoff was originally slated for May 28, then moved to June 7 and finally took place June 14. But when the preliminary results of the runoff showed Abdullah moving from beating Ghani by a million votes in the first round to losing to him by a million votes in the runoff, the problems with counting votes in Afghanistan have moved to the center of the ongoing crisis.
The crisis shows no prospect of abating. Even though Kerry brokered an extra-constitutional “unity government” agreement between Abdullah and Ghani (and there has even been a nebulous conference on the new structure), the dim prospects for these two actually sharing power can be seen in how long the arguments over how to audit the runoff votes has carried on. We have had countless pronouncements out of Kabul that the snail’s pace of the audit will accelerate any day now, once the two sides agree on the procedure. The UN finally put forward its own proposal for a procedure yesterday since the candidates could not agree on one. Further disruptions in the audit will come next week as two more days will be lost to Eid. With thousands of ballot boxes still to be audited, there is no way that an official final tally will be issued by the specified August 2 date Karzai had planned for inauguration of the new president.
It’s hard to see how Kerry’s fantasy of a shared government will ever come to pass. Each candidate in the runoff will have strong grounds for declaring the results fraudulent should the other be declared the winner of the audit, and I think that is behind the impasse on developing an audit procedure. The argument can be made that there is no legitimate government in place since Karzai’s term has already expired, so there simply is no way to say who should be responsible for signing a BSA at this point. Back in December, the US openly floated the idea of working around Karzai to get someone else to sign the agreement. I’m thinking that plan is being dusted off again this week in Washington.
Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration have already shown that they are quite willing to work outside Afghanistan’s constitution when it is in their interest (as demonstrated by the shared government plan). As noted above, Karzai’s term officially expired in May. I look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately. But remaining in Afghanistan likely also will suddenly require a lot more US troops since it also seems likely that violence will break out between supporters of Abdullah and Ghani rather than the two sharing the new government. I doubt Obama has the courage to simply walk away from Afghanistan, but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.
The WaPo reports that Judge James Pohl has just severed Ramzi Bin al-Shibh from 9/11 trial, creating two 9/11 trials. He did so for two reasons: because he could not quickly resolve whether the FBI investigation into defense attorneys has compromised his representation, and because the court has not yet determined whether he is competent to stand trial.
Army Col. James L. Pohl said the court needs to resolve whether Binalshibh has the mental capacity to participate in a trial and whether he needs another lawyer because of a potential conflict of interest after theFBI questioned members of his defense team.
These issues “are not expected to be completed in the near term,” Pohl said in his order.
While both issues are emblematic of the clusterfuck that is Gitmo, I’m particularly struck by the uncertainty whether bin al-Shibh is competent.
Earlier this year, prosecutors asked the judge to evaluate Binalshibh after he repeatedly interrupted court proceedings and had to be removed because he ignored warnings to stop the disruptions. However, neither the government nor Binalshibh’s lawyer argue that he is mentally incompetent.
“The judge’s decision today seems to indicate that the issue of competency is still open,” [bin al-Shibh lawyer James] Harrington said. “We have to clarify that with him.”
After all, the entire point of the torture program was to break these men. They succeeded in doing so with bin al-Shibh (that is confirmed by other sources). But now they can’t try him — it sounds like this severance is probably a tacit admission he can never stand trial, for a variety of reasons.
I would much prefer civilian justice, and have said so numerous times. But this Kangaroo Court in Gitmo has sure succeeded in demonstrating all the problems with the US counterterrorism approach.
In a JustSecurity post reviewing the same speech that I observed ignored US failures to prevent violent extremism, NYU Professor Samuel Rascoff defends the US use of counterterrorism stings, even in spite of the details revealed by HRW’s report on all the problems related to them. David Cole has an excellent response, which deals with many of the problems with Rascoff’s argument.
I’d like to dispute a more narrow point Rascoff made when he suggested that, because we have so many fewer trained militants than the Europeans, we “can afford” the “luxury” of stings.
There are now approximately 3,000 European passport holders fighting in Syria and Iraq. In the time that it took Najibullah Zazi to drive from Denver to New York, a fighter could drive from Aleppo to Budapest. What that means is that European officials are relatively more consumed than American counterparts in keeping up with, and tabs on, trained militants. Orchestrating American-style sting operations is, in a sense, a luxury they cannot afford.
The claim is astonishing on its face, in that it suggests that, because we don’t have real militants like Europe does, we should engage in the “luxury” of entrapping confused young Muslim men and sending them to expensive decades-long prison terms.
Think a bit more about that notion of “luxury” and the financial choices we make on law enforcement. Here are some numbers taken from two sources: the HRW report (I basically searched on the dollar sign, though this doesn’t include every mention of dollars) and today’s Treasury settlement with Bank of America for helping 10 drug kingpins launder their money over a four year period, three years of which constituted “egregious” behavior.
First, HRW reports that FBI spends over $1.3 billion a year on counterterrorism, much of it stings, leaving less than $2 billion for all other investigations.
More than 40 percent of the FBI’s operating budget of $3.3 billion is now devoted to counterterrorism.
That allows the FBI to pay some of its informants and experts hefty sums.
Beginning in August 2006, the FBI paid Omar $1,500 per week during the investigation. Omar received a total of $240,000 from the FBI. This included: $183,500 in payment unrelated to expenses, and $54,000 for expenses incurred during the investigation including car repair and rent.
“Kohlmann is an expert in how to use the Internet, like my 12-year-old. He has found all the bad [stuff] about Islam, and testifies as if what he is reading on the Internet is fact. He was paid around $30,000 to look at websites, documents, and testify.”
These informants sometimes promise — but don’t deliver — similar hefty sums to the guys they’re trying to entrap.
Forty-five-year-old James Cromitie was struggling to make ends meet when, in 2009, FBI informant Hussain offered him as much as $250,000 to carry out a plot which Hussain—who also went by “Maqsood”—had constructed on his own.
The informant proposed to lend Hossain $50,000 in cash so long as he paid him back $2,000 monthly until he had paid back $45,000.
Which is particularly important because many of these guys are quite poor (and couldn’t even afford to commit the crimes they’re accused of).
At the time he was in contact with the informant and the undercover [agent] he was living at home with his parents in Ashland and he didn’t have a car, he didn’t have any money and he didn’t have a driver’s license because he owed $100 and he didn’t have $100 to pay off the fine. In various parts of the investigation he didn’t have a laptop and he didn’t have a cellphone. At one point the informant gave him a cell phone.
And some of these crimes (the very notable exceptions in the HRW report include two material support cases, both of which are close calls on charity designations, but which involved very large sums, $13 million a year in the case of Holy Land Foundation) involve relatively minscule sums.
According to the prosecution, Mirza was the ringleader in collecting around $1,000—provided by the FBI agents and co-defendant Williams—that he handed to a middleman with the intent that it go to families of Taliban fighters.
So one theme of the HRW report is we’re spending huge amounts entrapping what are often poor young men in miniscule crimes so taxpayers can pay $29,000 a year to keep them incarcerated for decades.
These are the stakes for what Rascoff calls a “luxury.” At a time of self-imposed austerity, these stings are, indeed, a luxury.
Compare that to what happens to Bank of America, which engaged in “egregious” violations of bank reporting requirements for three years (and non-egregious ones for a fourth), thereby helping 10 drug kingpins launder their money. No one will go to jail. Bank of America doesn’t even have to admit wrong-doing. Instead, it will have to pay a $16.5 million fine, or just 0.14% of its net income last year.
This settlement came out of a Treasury investigation, not an FBI one.
But when DOJ’s Inspector General investigated what FBI did when it was given $196 million between 2009 and 2011 to investigate (penny ante) mortgage fraud, FBI’s focus on the issue actually decreased (and DOJ lied about its results). When FBI decided to try to investigate mortgage fraud proactively by using undercover operations, like it does terrorism and drugs, its agents just couldn’t figure out how to do so (in many cases Agents were never told of the effort), so the effort was dropped.
Banks commits crimes on a far grander scale than most of these sting targets. But FBI throws the big money at its counterterrorism stings, and not the banks leaching our economy of its vitality.
Rascoff accuses HRW’s and similar interventions of being one-dimensional.
[F]or all the important questions about official practices that critics raise, they have tended to ignore some hard questions about the use of stings and the tradeoffs they entail.Instead, their interventions have an exaggerated, one-dimensional quality to them.
But he himself is guilty of his own crime. Because every kid the FBI entraps in a $240,000 sting may represent an actual completed bank crime that will never be investigated. It represents an opportunity cost. The choice is not just sting or no sting or (more accurately, as David Cole points out) sting or community outreach and cooperation.
Rather, the choice is also between manufacturing crimes to achieve counterterrorism numbers or investigating real financial crimes that are devastating communities.
So long as we fail to see that tradeoff, we fail to address one major source of the economic malaise that fuels other crimes.
Ignoring bank crimes is, truly, something we don’t have the luxury of doing. Nevertheless, we continue to choose to go on doing so, even while engaging in these “luxurious” counterterrorism stings that accomplish so little.