Ali Abdullah Saleh

Against Legion of Doom Alert, Is Hadi Playing Saleh’s Old Game?

After President Obama met with Yemen’s President Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi on the eve (or during the progression) of the Legion of Doom alert last week, he said this about Hadi’s cooperation on terrorism.

I thank President Hadi and his government for the strong cooperation that they’ve offered when it comes to counterterrorism. Because of some of the effective military reforms that President Hadi initiated when he came into this office, what we’ve seen is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, move back out of territories that it was controlling.

And President Hadi recognizes that these threats are not only transnational in nature, but also cause severe hardship and prevent the kind of prosperity for the people of Yemen themselves. [my emphasis]

Hadi responded,

Our work together insofar as countering terrorism is concerned and also against al Qaeda is expressive, first and foremost, of Yemeni interests, because as a result of the activities of al Qaeda, Yemen’s development basically came to a halt whereby there is no tourism, and the oil companies, the oil-exploring companies had to leave the country as a result of the presence of al Qaeda. So our cooperation against those terrorist elements are actually serving the interests of Yemen. [my emphasis]

Note how this carefully scripted puppet show emphasized Yemen’s own interests in defeating al Qaeda.

Here’s what, in the wake of disagreements whether a disrupted plot (that may have had nothing to do with AQAP) had anything to do with the Legion of Doom alert, the WSJ now reports really happened at the meeting between Obama and Hadi.

The U.S. raised concerns in meetings in Washington last week, with officials complaining to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi that Yemeni forces weren’t taking the al Qaeda threat seriously and needed to stop pulling back from military offensives, people familiar with the meetings said. Yemeni officials say they have spared no effort battling al Qaeda and its affiliates but that the threat remains too large for their ill-equipped military.

“We don’t have the capabilities or man power to capture large swaths of territory,” said one Yemeni official familiar with counterterrorism policy. “AQAP has hide-outs in remote villages and towns spread across the country.”

The history of U.S.-Yemeni counterterrorism relations has been checkered with missteps and mistakes, even before this latest terror alert. Mr. Hadi—who came to power in large part due to America’s diplomatic intervention—has tried to strengthen military and economic ties with the U.S.

Some officials in San’a, however, worry that President [my emphasis]

It goes onto lay out details of the cooperation — though the reported influx of JSOC members to Yemen may reflect a dramatic departure from this cooperation.

At the heart of the U.S.-Yemeni cooperation is a joint command center in Yemen, where officials from the two countries evaluate intelligence gathered by America and other allies, such as Saudi Arabia, say U.S. and Yemeni officials. There, they decide when and how to launch missile strikes against the highly secretive list of alleged al Qaeda operatives approved by the White House for targeted killing, these people say.

But local sensitivities about the bilateral counterterrorism cooperation have spiked in recent years due to high-profile civilian deaths by U.S. missiles, prompting tight limitations on any visible American role in the fight against al Qaeda.

For example, U.S. Special Forces aren’t allowed to accompany Yemeni units on patrols through the rugged mountains where al Qaeda cells have found haven, military officials familiar with the situation say. But Yemeni units have neither the skill nor political will to take on these sorts of quick-strike operations, the officials said.

Instead, Yemeni armed forces conduct periodic high-profile land operations against militants whose affiliation with al Qaeda isn’t clear.

And all that’s built on a bunch of military toys which Foreign Policy catalogs here. (Note, why are we paying Gallup $280,000 for a “Yemen Assessment Survey” when they can’t even poll in the US competently anymore? If we insist on using a US firm, why not use Zogby, which would have better ties to Arabic speakers?)

But underlying all this parroted language about cooperation is the reality that a focus on Al Qaeda tends to distract Hadi, who already relies on the US and Brits and Saudis to retain power, from issues that matter to Yemenis. This superb Guardian piece notes how counterterrorism delegitimizes him.

Among ordinary Yemenis, meanwhile, the latest al-Qaida drama has been greeted with scepticism and even some derision. Continue reading

If 40 Months of Drone Strikes in Yemen Haven’t Made Transfers Safe …

When on January 5, 2010 President Obama announced a halt to all transfers of Yemeni Gitmo detainees, he reiterated his intent to close the prison, even noting that AQAP formed, in part, in response to Gitmo (recall that Said al-Shihri, one of AQAP’s actual operational leaders, had been a Gitmo detainee).

Finally, some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. So let me be clear. It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected.

With respect to Yemen in particular, there’s an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner. Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the Attorney General and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

But make no mistake: We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The announcement came less than a week after John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman released a statement (citing Shihri explicitly) complaining about the imminent release of 6 Yemeni detainees; Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond issued their own request. Jane Harman and Crazy Pete Hoekstra were also calling for a halt to transfers to Yemen (Hoekstra, of course, was also leaking NSA intercepts to fearmonger against Anwar al-Awlaki). The day after the announcement, DOD sources leaked a report that would later be released in more detail showing 20% of Gitmo detainees released had joined or rejoined al Qaeda. In short, in significant part it came in response to political pressure to halt transfers, something DiFi admits readily.

But the halt in transfers also came among Obama Administration guarantees that their new strategy against Yemen would quickly bring results. Brennan described the new security agreements put into place at the January 2, 2010 David Petraeus-Ali Abudullah Saleh meeting (this is where Brennan estimated the number of AQAP militants to be “several hundred”) at which Saleh agreed to let fixed wing planes, including drones, operate in his country.

WALLACE: Let me widen this discussion in that sense. Not only as you point out, obviously, were you in Yemen earlier, but General Petraeus, the head of Central Command, was in Yemen yesterday.

The British overnight have announced that the U.S. and the British are going to be co-funding a new Yemeni anti-terror counter-terror police force.

Is it fair to say that we are opening up a second front in our war on terror outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater in Yemen?

BRENNAN: I wouldn’t say we’re opening up a second front. This is the continuation of an effort that we’ve had under way since, as I said, the beginning of this administration.

David Petraeus has been out to Yemen several times. I spoke with him yesterday after he met with President Salih. We’re continuing to have a very close and ongoing dialogue with the Yemeni government. The cooperation is on the security, intelligence and military fronts.

We’ve had close consultations with the British. I spoke with the British last night also about the types of things that we can do together in support of the Yemeni government. So this is a determined and concerted effort.

We’re not going to let Al Qaeda continue to sort of make gains in Yemen, because we need to take whatever steps necessary to protect our citizens there as well as abroad.

WALLACE: Could that mean U.S. troops on ground in Yemen?

BRENNAN: We’re not talking about that at this point at all. The Yemeni government has demonstrated their willingness to take the fight to Al Qaeda. We — they’re willing to accept our support. We’re providing them everything that they’ve asked for.

And they’ve made some real progress. And over the past month, Al Qaeda has taken a number of hits, and a number of Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen are no longer with us because of this determined and aggressive action.

The day after Obama announced the moratorium on Yemen transfers, Robert Gibbs claimed (perhaps because several Yemenis had been transferred in December) that the moratorium came as a result of a recent decline in security.

MR. GIBBS: I have not seen or heard about the latest report that you refer to and I don’t have handy what numbers had been for similar reports in years past. Yesterday’s determination was made and announced very much on what you heard John Brennan say over the weekend. We never had a plan to transfer anybody either to their home country or to a third country that we believe — we have reason to believe will present a security situation for us or for that country. And in relating to Yemen, I think you heard John say nobody was going to be transferred back that we did not believe that the Yemeni government could handle.

The determination was made that given the — as you heard the President say — the swift change in the security environment even over the last few weeks in Yemen caused the President and the Attorney General to agree that pausing any of those transfers was the right policy right now.

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John Brennan’s Review of How He Killed an American Teenager

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Jeremy Scahill’s book, Dirty Wars, comes out tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it over the next few weeks.

But for now, he’s got an adaptation at the Nation that describes a Senior Administration Official involved in drone targeting, who would have left sometime between October 14, 2011 and now (so, maybe Petraeus, Panetta, Clinton, or Vietor?? Update: Or Jeh Johnson?), claiming that the strike was all a mistake, launched in response to apparently crappy intelligence from Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government (or possibly the Saudis?) claiming that senior AQAP leader Ibrahim al-Banna was present, alone.

A former senior official in the Obama administration told me that after Abdulrahman’s killing, the president was “surprised and upset and wanted an explanation.” The former official, who worked on the targeted killing program, said that according to intelligence and Special Operations officials, the target of the strike was al-Banna, the AQAP propagandist. “We had no idea the kid was there. We were told al-Banna was alone,” the former official told me. Once it became clear that the teenager had been killed, he added, military and intelligence officials asserted, “It was a mistake, a bad mistake.”

The now-former SAO goes on to describe how pissed the Moral Rectitude Drone Assassination Czar John Brennan was about the strike, because he believed Abdulrahman was deliberately set up to be killed (though Scahill’s source doesn’t appear to specify whom Brennan thought was setting up an American teenager for death, JSOC, Yemeni partners, or the Saudis).

However, John Brennan, at the time President Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review.”

So Brennan sets up a review … that apparently got stashed in the same black hole as every other report on drone killing.

Because the whole thing is embarrassing.

Brennan, who is now director of the CIA, recently answered an inquiry from the Senate Intelligence Committee on such after-strike reviews. When civilians are killed, Brennan said, “we not only take account of the human tragedy, but we also go back and review our actions.” Analysts “draw on a large body of information—human intelligence, signals intelligence, media reports, and surveillance footage—to help us make an informed determination about whether civilians were in fact killed or injured,” Brennan asserted in his written response. “In those rare instances in which civilians have been killed, after-action reviews have been conducted.” No such review of Abdulrahman’s killing has ever been made public.

The consensus that has emerged from various anonymous officials commenting on Abdulrahman’s killing was that it was a mistake. I asked the former senior administration official why, if that was the case, the White House didn’t publicly acknowledge it. “We killed three US citizens in a very short period,” he told me. “Two of them weren’t even targets: Samir Khan and Abdulrahman Awlaki. That doesn’t look good. It’s embarrassing.”

Recall, when JSOC killed almost an entire Bedouin clan in al-Majala, David Petraeus claimed that only the alleged targets immediate family had been killed, well after people had been to the site to document the carnage. Immediately after Abdulrahman’s death, the Administration immediately, almost boisterously, claimed the boy was 21, either based on crappy intelligence or in an attempt to justify a “military aged male” claim.

This is why it is so important to declassify the documents on targeted killing. Even according to the Moral Rectitude Drone Assassination Czar, this kid was set up.

He just won’t tell us by whom.

Is the Government Going to Claim Bradley Manning “Harmed” the US by Exposing Drone Details?

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 9.46.44 PMLast week’s Bradley Manning hearing significantly focused on how much the government could hide about its witnesses. A big part of the discussion pertained to how a Seal Team 6 member would testify to finding WikiLeaks material at Osama bin Laden’s compound. But the government also advanced its case to have a list of other government employees testify, at least partly, in secret, mostly in the “harm” phase of sentencing.

Here’s Alexa O’Brien’s transcription of that list (click through for the list). There are a number of interesting names on this list. But the one that popped out at me is Ambassador Stephen Seche.

You see, while Seche was Chargé d’Affaires in Syria mid-decade and more recently was in charge of Near Eastern affairs at State, he will almost certainly testify about how WikiLeaks disclosures of cables he wrote while Ambassador to Yemen “harmed” relations with that country.

Indeed, as the image above shows, Seche wrote one of the most newsworthy cables ever released by WikiLeaks, the January 4, 2010 cable recounting a January 2 meeting between then CentCom head David Petraeus and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The cable is best known for this statement, laying out the agreement by which Saleh would lie about missile and drone strikes and pretend they were Yemen’s.

“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh said, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Alimi to joke that he had just “lied” by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG.

But there are several other inflammatory details in this cable. There’s the nugget of our agreement to shift from using cruise missiles to drones.

Saleh did not have any objection, however, to General Petraeus’ proposal to move away from the use of cruise missiles and instead have U.S. fixed-wing bombers circle outside Yemeni territory, “out of sight,” and engage AQAP targets when actionable intelligence became available.

Potentially more damning still, there’s the passage that suggests Anwar al-Awlaki was an intended target of the December 24, 2009 attack (a day before the US believed he was an operational and at least a month before it had evidence he was). In addition, there’s Petraeus’ absolutely incorrect contention that only three civilians had died at al-Majala instead of the Bedouin clan we know died.

(S/NF) Saleh praised the December 17 and 24 strikes against AQAP but said that “mistakes were made” in the killing of civilians in Abyan. The General responded that the only civilians killed were the wife and two children of an AQAP operative at the site, prompting Saleh to plunge into a lengthy and confusing aside with Deputy Prime Minister Alimi and Minister of Defense Ali regarding the number of terrorists versus civilians killed in the strike. (Comment: Saleh’s conversation on the civilian casualties suggests he has not been well briefed by his advisors on the strike in Abyan, a site that the ROYG has been unable to access to determine with any certainty the level of collateral damage. End Comment.) AQAP leader Nassr al-Wahishi and extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may still be alive, Saleh said, but the December strikes had already caused al-Qaeda operatives to turn themselves in to authorities and residents in affected areas to deny refuge to al-Qaeda. [my emphasis]

At the very least, this passage demonstrates how shoddy our intelligence was both before and after we killed a bunch of civilians. But it may also support the case that the first time we tried to kill Awlaki, we didn’t believe he met the standards laid out in the memo that would ultimately authorize his killing: being a senior operational leader of AQAP involved in planning attacks against the US.

In other words, this cable, by itself, may include evidence of possible war and domestic crimes.

And yet the government wants to send Seche to a classified hearing to talk about the “harm” Bradley Manning caused.

While I think it possible that release of this particular cable made it harder for Djibouti to partner with us (recall we moved the drones targeting Awlaki to Saudi Arabia in 2011), the government at least maintains that Yemen continues to allow us to shoot drones in the country.

Yet it seems highly likely the government wants to claim disclosures of crimes like this amounted to “harm” of the US.

But here’s the punchline.

Continue reading

Somehow DOD Kept Missing Anwar al-Awlaki

I was going to leave well enough alone with this NYT article on Anwar al-Awlaki, having criticized both its legal editorializing and its selective presentation of evidence against Awlaki. But since I suspect it is intended to prepare the ground for an Obama speech on targeted killing, I want to look at how assiduously the article hides Yemeni former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s questionable commitment to our war on terror.

Let’s start by comparing this description of the May 25, 2010 drone strike that killed Saleh rival Jabir Shabwani from the WSJ:

On May 25, 2010, a U.S. missile attack killed at least six people including Jabir Shabwani, the 31-year-old deputy governor of Yemen’s central Mareb province. The Yemeni government provided intelligence used in the strike but didn’t say Mr. Shabwani would be among those there, say several current and former U.S. military officials.

These people say they believe the information from the Yemenis may have been intended to result in Mr. Shabwani’s death. “We think we got played,” said one participant in high-level administration discussions.

The government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh denies it used the U.S. campaign to eliminate a political rival or provided misleading intelligence. They say the president and other officials were furious when they learned of Mr. Shabwani’s death. Not all U.S. officials believe the U.S. was set up.

With the version the NYT gave us:

A disastrous American missile strike in May 2010 accidentally killed a deputy provincial governor in Yemen and infuriated President Saleh, effectively suspending the clandestine war.

While even the WSJ pays lip service to Saleh’s claim to be “furious,” the NYT not only completely ignores the widely held understanding that Saleh was not furious at all because he set up the attack, but claims Shabwani was only accidentally targeted.

The event is one of the signature examples of how our reliance on unreliable partners has contributed to counterproductive drone deaths. And yet the NYT doesn’t explain that part of the tragedy.

Continue reading

Targeted Killing Timeline

A timeline!

I’ve been working on this timeline for almost nine months, trying to pull together the known dates about strikes against Americans, the evidence supporting the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the legal cases surrounding both targeted killing and torture, to which targeted killing is linked via the Memorandum of Notification, and Congressional efforts to exercise oversight.

September 17, 2001: George Bush signs Memorandum of Notification (henceforth, Gloves Come Off MON) authorizing a range of counterterrorism techniques, including torture and targeted killing.

September 18, 2001: Congress passes the Authorization to Use Military Force.

November 3, 2002: US citizen Kamal Derwish killed in drone purportedly targeting Abu Ali al-Harithi.

Late 2008: Ruben Shumpert reported killed in Somalia.

June 24, 2009: Leon Panetta gets briefed on assassination squad program.

June 26, 2009: HPSCI passes a funding authorization report expanding the Gang of Eight briefings.

July 8, 2009: The Administration responds with an insulting appeal to a “fundamental compact” between Congress and the President on intelligence matters.

July 8, 2009: Silvestre Reyes announces CIA lied to Congress.

October 26, 2009: British High Court first orders British government to release language on Binyam Mohamed’s treatment.

October 28, 2009: FBI kills Imam Luqman Asmeen Abdullah during Dearborn, MI arrest raid.

October 29, 2009: Hearing on declassifying mention of Gloves Come Off MON before Judge Alvin Hellerstein; in it, Hellerstein reveals NSA James Jones has submitted declaration to keep mention of MON secret.

November 5, 2009: Nidal Hasan attacks Fort Hood, killing 13.

December 24, 2009: JSOC tries but fails to hit Anwar al-Awlaki. On that day, the IC did not yet believe him to be operational.

December 25, 2009: With Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attack, FBI develops full understanding of Awlaki’s operational goals.

January 2, 2010: In conversation with David Petraeus, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks as if Awlaki, whom he refers to as a cleric, not an AQAP member, was a designated target of December 24 attack.

Continue reading

Is This Why the Press Finally Revealed the Saudi Drone Base?

In spite of all the furor over the way the NYT and WaPo sat on news of a Saudi drone base, the only explanation I know of for why they chose to reveal it now was this one.

So, what changed? Why did the New York Times decide to break the silence with a story last night including mention of the Saudi Arabia base? Managing Editor Dean Baquet told news hound-cum-New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan that the decision was connected to the nomination of John O. Brennan to move to the directorship of the CIA; Brennan, after all, was a central figure in establishing the Saudi base.

There’s more to it, notes Leonhardt:

Ultimately, we decided that naming the country did not present enough of a national-security risk to justify withholding the information. There are not many countries on the Arabian peninsula. Some Web reports had already made the connection. We were aware of no specific security risks or threats, and it is widely known that Saudi authorities are aggressively pursuing Qaeda militants in Yemen. The administration continued to object, but we notified them on Monday that we intended to include the location in an upcoming story, which we did.

Bold text added to highlight an interesting wrinkle: Sullivan’s account of the goings-on suggests that toward the end, the government didn’t escalate the matter up the hierarchy at the New York Times:

Mr. Baquet said he had a conversation with a C.I.A. official about a month ago and, at that time, agreed to continue withholding the location, as it had done for many months. More recently, though, one of the reporters working on the story told the government that The Times would reveal the location and said officials should contact Mr. Baquet if they wanted to discuss it further.

“They didn’t call this time,” Mr. Baquet said.

The depiction of continued Administration opposition is a bit rich.

After all, as the NYT presented the story, the Saudi drone base played a role in both Anwar al-Awlaki and Said al-Shihri’s deaths.

The strikes have killed a number of operatives of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, including Said Ali al-Shihri, a deputy leader of the group, and the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

[snip]

Not long afterward, the C.I.A. began quietly building a drone base in Saudi Arabia to carry out strikes in Yemen. American officials said that the first time the C.I.A. used the Saudi base was to kill Mr. Awlaki in September 2011.

Since then, officials said, the C.I.A. has been given the mission of hunting and killing “high-value targets” in Yemen — the leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who Obama administration lawyers have determined pose a direct threat to the United States. When the C.I.A. obtains specific intelligence on the whereabouts of someone on its kill list, an American drone can carry out a strike without the permission of Yemen’s government.

[snip]

Although most Yemenis are reluctant to admit it publicly, there does appear to be widespread support for the American drone strikes that hit substantial Qaeda figures like Mr. Shihri, a Saudi and the affiliate’s deputy leader, who died in January of wounds received in a drone strike late last year.

The claim that Shihri (a former Gitmo detainee who had ties to a Saudi Gitmo deradicalized double agent) was killed by a drone is not at all clear. Continue reading

The War and Intelligence behind Anwar al-Awlaki’s Targeting

Believe it or not, there’s a fascinating debate going on over at NRO. First, Charles Krauthammer points to the muddle of the Administration’s white paper, which could have (he argues) just authorized Awlaki’s killing under the laws of war.

Unfortunately, Obama’s Justice Department memos justifying the drone attacks are hopelessly muddled. They imply that the sole justification for drone attack is imminent threat — and since al-Qaeda is plotting all the time, an al-Qaeda honcho sleeping in his bed is therefore a legitimate target.

Nonsense. Slippery nonsense. It gives the impression of an administration making up criteria to fit the president’s kill list. No need to confuse categories. A sleeping Anwar al-Awlaki could lawfully be snuffed not because of imminence but because he was a self-declared al-Qaeda member and thus an enemy combatant as defined by congressional resolution and the laws of war.

Nowhere, unfortunately, does Krauthammer consider why they didn’t do this — or indeed look more closely at the details behind Awlaki’s killing.

Kevin Williamson takes issue with that, reviewing both Awlaki’s lack of indictment after 9/11, but also expressing doubt that Awlaki moved beyond propaganda.

There is a difference between sympathizing with our enemies and taking up arms against the country; there is even a difference between actively aiding our enemies and taking up arms against the country, which is why we have treason trials rather than summary execution.

The question of whether al-Awlaki in fact took up arms against the United States is unanswered, at least in my mind. The evidence suggests that he was very much the “bin Laden of the Internet” rather than a man at arms. What perplexes me is that so many conservatives trust the same government authorities who got it so spectacularly wrong about al-Awlaki the first time around — feting him at the Pentagon, treating him as an Islamic voice of reason — to get it right the second time around. This is not a libertarian criticism but a conservative one. It is entirely possible that the same unique strain of stupidity that led to al-Awlaki’s being invited to the Pentagon as an honored guest of the U.S. military is alive and well in the Obama administration. This is precisely why we have institutions such as the separation of powers, congressional oversight, and trials. Killing a U.S. citizen in the heat of battle is one thing, but Al-Awlaki was not killed in a battle; he was not at arms, but at breakfast. Enemy? Obviously. Combatant? Not obviously.

And then Andrew McCarthy writes in to suggest that Jane Fonda would have made the Kill List had we had one during Vietnam.

Now aside from McCarthy (who serves here only as a warning in where this is going), both these contributions are worth reading.

But what both are missing are the known details about the development of intelligence on Anwar al-Awlaki between the time he was first targeted, on December 24, 2009, and the time he was killed, on September 30, 2011. And while I can’t claim to know the classified intelligence, there’s enough in the public record that ought to give both men more nuance in their arguments. Three key points I lay out in more detail here:

  • Awlaki was first targeted, by the military and before the OLC memo the white paper is based on was written, at a time when the intelligence community did not consider him operational.
  • During negotiations for a plea agreement that never happened, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab implicated Awlaki in a clearly operational role, but after plea negotiations fell apart, that testimony was never presented in an antagonistic courtroom (indeed, the government itself told a significantly different story at Abdulmutallab’s trial).
  • By the time Awlaki was killed, the government likely had additional evidence suggesting Awlaki’s role in actual plots — notably the October 2010 toner cartridge plot — was weaker than the “senior operational leader” role they invoked when they killed him.

The one time we presumably did try to kill Awlaki under the Krauthammer standard — even the government now says — he did not fit that standard. There was probably a moment to kill Awlaki under that standard (if you ignore that the government was only at this point formalizing AQAP’s status as a terrorist group) around February 2010, before the white paper was written. But by the time we did kill him, not only were there unidentified reasons to get CIA involved (probably having to do with the unreliability of Ali Abdullah Saleh), but the contorted pre-crime standard of imminence John Brennan described probably was what the government was working with (as well as, I suspect, a theory that made Awlaki’s propaganda into an act of war), because the intelligence implicating Awlaki had gotten weaker over time.

There are probably multiple reasons why the argument in support of Awlaki’s killing is so contorted. But one of them appears to be changes in the intelligence the government had implicating him.

Which is why Williamson is ultimately correct. This is why we have courts and separation of powers.

Is Chinese Elite Looting More Newsworthy than Middle Eastern–or US–Looting?

NYT has a really good article today on how the family of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has gotten enormously wealthy while he’s been in power. The Chinese government has already started censoring the story itself and discussions of it.

And while I applaud NYT’s coverage of the corruption of the Chinese elite, I was left wondering whether NYT would print the equivalent story on Middle Eastern dictators or–even more unlikely–American elites.

While there has been some coverage of how Hosni Mubarak, Moammar Qaddafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh, or Zine El Abindine Ben Ali looted their countries of billions now that they’ve fallen, one of the only times we’ve heard about Saudi looting came after Riggs Bank got busted.

And while we’ve had reports on Countrywide’s VIP program and the general process by which members of Congress get enormously wealthy on our dime as well as stories focused on those (like Maxine Waters), we rarely see maps like the one NYT drew of the business connections involved.

Partly, I wonder whether the US is just better at hiding these connections. Some of this kind of work would stumble on America’s shell corporations, for example.

In the case of Mr. Wen’s mother, The Times calculated her stake in Ping An — valued at $120 million in 2007 — by examining public records and government-issued identity cards, and by following the ownership trail to three Chinese investment entities. The name recorded on his mother’s shares was Taihong, a holding company registered in Tianjin, the prime minister’s hometown.

The apparent efforts to conceal the wealth reflect the highly charged politics surrounding the country’s ruling elite, many of whom are also enormously wealthy but reluctant to draw attention to their riches. When Bloomberg News reported in June that the extended family of Vice President Xi Jinping, set to become China’s next president, had amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, the Chinese government blocked access inside the country to the Bloomberg Web site.

“In the senior leadership, there’s no family that doesn’t have these problems,” said a former government colleague of Wen Jiabao who has known him for more than 20 years and who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “His enemies are intentionally trying to smear him by letting this leak out.”

And partly it may be lack of self-awareness. NYT complains, for example, that Chinese disclosure laws don’t apply to extended relatives.

In the winter of 2007, just before he began his second term as prime minister, Wen Jiabao called for new measures to fight corruption, particularly among high-ranking officials.

“Leaders at all levels of government should take the lead in the antigraft drive,” he told a gathering of high-level party members in Beijing. “They should strictly ensure that their family members, friends and close subordinates do not abuse government influence.”

The speech was consistent with the prime minister’s earlier drive to toughen disclosure rules for public servants, and to require senior officials to reveal their family assets.

Whether Mr. Wen has made such disclosures for his own family is unclear, since the Communist Party does not release such information. Even so, many of the holdings found by The Times would not need to be disclosed under the rules since they are not held in the name of the prime minister’s immediate family — his wife, son and daughter.

Eighty percent of the $2.7 billion in assets identified in The Times’s investigation and verified by the outside auditors were held by, among others, the prime minister’s mother, his younger brother, two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, daughter-in-law and the parents of his son’s wife, none of whom is subject to party disclosure rules.

But when Congress finally passed a bill cracking down on insider trading this year, it didn’t even cover the spouses of members of Congress and we’re exempting some Executive Branch members on national security grounds.

Maybe I’m being churlish. But I really wonder if such a superb article would come out to expose graft of our allies that got deposited into American banks. And I wish we saw more of this kind of reporting about our own corrupt elite.

In somewhat related news, Silvio Berlusconi got sentenced to four years for tax fraud today (though appeals will probably save him from jail time). And we still haven’t seen Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

What Was the Evidence Supporting the First Strike on Anwar al-Awlaki?

According to the William Webster report, the FBI’s understanding about Anwar al-Awlaki’s operational role developed only after the UndieBomb attack.

As of January 7 and June 16, 2009, the FBI knew anwar al-Aulaqi was an anti-American, radical Islamic cleric and the subject of a Tier <redacted> FBI counterterrorism investigation. San Diego believed [<redacted> that Aulaqi was [developing ambitions beyond radicalization] <redacted>. WFO viewed him at that time as merely inspirational. The FBI’s full understanding of Aulaqi’s operational ambitions developed only after the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009. [72; emphasis mine]

On December 24, 2009–the day before FBI began to understand Awlaki’s operational ambitions–a JSOC strike in Yemen missed Anwar al-Awlaki.

Dana Priest’s report revealing Awlaki was subsequently added to a JSOC kill list, published three days before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab started cooperating again with the FBI, claims Awlaki was not the target of that December 24, 2009 strike.

As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaeda leaders. Although he was not the focus of the strike and was not killed, he has since been added to a shortlist of U.S. citizens specifically targeted for killing or capture by the JSOC, military officials said. The officials, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operations. [my emphasis]

But Ali Abdullah Saleh, speaking with David Petraeus three weeks before Priest’s report, sure seemed to treat Awlaki as one of two targets of the strike.

Saleh praised the December 17 and 24 strikes against AQAP but said that “mistakes were made” in the killing of civilians in Abyan. The General responded that the only civilians killed were the wife and two children of an AQAP operative at the site, prompting Saleh to plunge into a lengthy and confusing aside with Deputy Prime Minister Alimi and Minister of Defense Ali regarding the number of terrorists versus civilians killed in the strike. (Comment: Saleh’s conversation on the civilian casualties suggests he has not been well briefed by his advisors on the strike in Abyan, a site that the ROYG has been unable to access to determine with any certainty the level of collateral damage. End Comment.) AQAP leader Nassr al-Wahishi and extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may still be alive, Saleh said, but the December strikes had already caused al-Qaeda operatives to turn themselves in to authorities and residents in affected areas to deny refuge to al-Qaeda. [my emphasis]

Given that we blamed Saleh for the strike, you have to assume he knew who the targets were. And he seems to suggest that both Wuhayshi and Awlaki were the intended targets.

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bmaz @gracels @dcbigjohn That is a given.
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bmaz @gracels Naw, I have sat with @dcbigjohn My bet is you would actually like him quite a bit! Seriously. And he has passion for border stories
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bmaz @KanysLupin @emptywheel @MonaHol Not sure of context or question, but I would imagine prior statuses or placements on a list. Sorry, dunno.
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bmaz @dcbigjohn This is fucking outrageous.
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bmaz @kdrum Yeah. This is just ugly. I am turning to the Boise State game on ESPN2 I think. Or Netflix and a beer.
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bmaz @cody_k You are NOT doing very well quarterbacking the USC Trojans tonight. Not very helpful for the ASU Sun Devils. Please do better!
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bmaz Will NOBODY rid me of these pesky Bruins?? Jeez. This is what I get for needing help from, and rooting for, ONE TIME, the USC Trojans. #Ugly
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bmaz @gracels @21law @jacklgoldsmith As much as I hate it, yeah, they are their own little fiefdoms. Again, I go off what I see where I practice.
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bmaz @21law @gracels @jacklgoldsmith If properly charged and within boundaries of state, yes amenable to process for Rule 8 state speedy trial
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bmaz @gracels @21law @jacklgoldsmith well, want the conviction for that purpose+willing to lock em up here even if no deport. thats my concern.
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bmaz @21law @gracels @jacklgoldsmith In fact, willfully itinerant and belligerent to Fed policy when they can be. Think lot of GOP places may be.
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bmaz @21law @gracels @jacklgoldsmith Ah, thanks. We shall see. But my experience here is county prosecutors are undeterred by Fed policies.
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