My latest post on the Jeffrey Sterling trial notes that the same guy who called Sterling’s performance “extremely sub-par” is also the guy who set up the NYPD’s program profiling Muslims.
On Friday, former high ranking CIA officer David Cohen — who headed up the New York office while Sterling was there — described how he removed Sterling from the Merlin case because he didn’t believe Sterling was performing well at his job (an opinion neither his deputy, Charles Seidel, nor Bob S shared, at least according to their testimony). “His performance was extremely sub-par,” Cohen testified. Cohen also seemed to disdain what might be called political correctness, which if true may have exacerbated Sterling’s increasing sense of being discriminated against for being African American.
That would be consistent with the action for which Cohen has received more press in recent years: setting up the New York Police Department’s intelligence program that profiles the area’s Muslim community. In the wake of 9/11, Cohen moved from the CIA to the NYPD. In 2002, he got a federal court to relax the Handschu guidelines, which had been set up in 1985 in response to NYPD’s targeting of people for their political speech. Handschu required specific evidence before using informants to investigate a group. But, as an article from the Pulitzer Prize winning AP series described it, “Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it ‘virtually impossible’ to detect terrorist plots.” After getting the rules relaxed, Cohen created teams of informants that infiltrated mosques and had officers catalog Muslim-owned restaurants, shops, and even schools. “Cohen said he wanted the squad to ‘rake the coals, looking for hot spots,’” the AP reported in 2011.
At almost precisely the same time as jury selection for Sterling’s case started, theThird Circuit Court of Appeals heard a challenge from those targeted under the program, who claim they had been discriminated against on the basis of their religion.
While the agencies involved are different, it seems notable that the primary person to find fault with Sterling’s performance at the CIA — which Sterling claimed arose from problems with his race — is the same guy who started a program targeting Muslims across the New York City area. But that detail won’t be presented to jurors at all during the trial.
Click through to see how the Russian involved in the operation invoked Valerie Plame to describe his concern about his name leaking, just weeks before it started to become clear that Vice President Cheney probably ordered that leak.
In February, here’s what Jennifer Shasky Calvery said in testimony before a House Subcommittee.
These staggering amounts of money in the hands of some of the worst criminal elements create a terrifyingly vicious cycle – money enables [the crooks] to corrupt the economic and political systems in which they operate, thereby allowing them to consolidate and expand their power and influence, which gives rise to more opportunity to commit crime and generate revenue.
Mind you, I’m cherry picking a quote from testimony about Transnational Crime Organizations. But it shows the blindness DOJ (and the Administration generally) have had as they try to repurpose their counter-terrorism tools to combat transnational crime: to some extent, what’s true of drug cartels is also true of the banks that have escaped prosecution even while doing as much damage as the drug cartels.
And yet we never get around to prosecuting our own transnational criminal organizations, the banks.
It’s worth keeping in mind, now that Shasky Calvery takes over at Treasury’s FinCEN, the part of the Agency that makes sure corporations are complying with reporting requirements of suspected financial crimes.
I have never doubted that Hezbollah and/or Iran could be behind the attack in Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria. Certainly, it is one of the few attacks blamed on one or the other in the last year that exhibited the competence we expect from Hezbollah.
Israeli intelligence sources claiming to protect the very secret intelligence they are leaking have offered this claim as evidence.
Israeli intelligence has evidence of many telephone calls between Lebanon and Burgas in the two months before the bombing, according to a senior government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information is classified, with the volume intensifying in the three days leading up to it.
But they are no more prepared to expose the details of their counterintelligence work publicly than the attackers are to claim responsibility. “We know the sources in Lebanon,” though not the identity of those on the other end in Bulgaria, the official said. “They shouldn’t know that we know the numbers in Lebanon.”
Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that it was otherwise sourced to press reports, this laughable press conference announcing the What’s-Old-Is-New sanctions against Hezbollah on Friday made no mention of the new claim; it discussed the ties between Hezbollah and Burgas this way:
And we are working to assess the facts and with our partners to discover who was responsible. And although the investigation continues, and we are not in a position to make a statement about responsibility, the attack does resemble Hezbollah’s plotting earlier this year.
They didn’t mention the calls–or even the A1 cutout report of the calls–at all.
Which is notable given that at least four journalists at the press conference asked what was new behind the sanctions on Hezbollah. Josh Rogin summarizes the absurdity of imposing sanctions on a group that is already under sanctions that have the same effect.
The Cable asked both officials if designating Hezbollah for sanctions, which freezes the group’s U.S.-based assets and bars Americans from doing business with Hezbollah, has any added concrete effect if done twice. They said the added effect is in the court of public opinion.
“It will put the group in a more difficult situation, and, I think, will make them think long and hard before they continue this campaign in which the Syrian people are being brutalized. So we do see very concrete benefits coming from this designation,” said Benjamin. “Whether they will be in the area of financial sanctions or not remains to be seen, but in terms of casting a bright light on what the group is doing, I think that’s vitally important.”
So the Treasury Department doesn’t have to actually do anything to enforce the new designation it wasn’t doing already, and Hezbollah doesn’t feel any additional direct pain.
In any case, this is what we’ve come to. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen admits that these sanctions are about exposing a purportedly new role from a terrorist organization that has pretty much played the role of supporting Syria for decades.
But the purpose of our designations, whether it’s the Hezbollah action today or any of our other designations under our authorities, is not solely focused on the immediate financial impact, but as Ambassador Benjamin just expressed, to expose the activity of the party that is being designated for the conduct that has led to the designation.
And yet–even as Adam Entous refuted the government’s claims based on WSJ’s reporting–the government refuses to offer no more than press reports.
I really can’t give you any greater detail than what we’ve put forward in the press release and in my statement this afternoon about the activities of Hezbollah in Syria.
This is not a matter of idle speculation or press reports.
I was just going to say, look, we’re obviously very sensitive here to issues of sources and methods and we’re not going to divulge anything that shouldn’t be divulged.
I think we have put out as much detail as we are able to put out with respect to Hezbollah’s activity in Syria.
Our war by vacuous press release, all justified in the guise of protecting sources and methods, is rapidly losing all credibility.
It feels like the Iraq War campaign again.
American Banker reported that Treasury wanted “additional focus on international areas such as terrorist financing,” and less focus on “other financial crimes such as mortgage fraud.”
Three days before he was fired, FinCEN released this report, showing in aggregate what all of last year’s Suspicious Activity Reports revealed. It shows that among the SARs from depository institutions (which make up over half of all SARs), reports of terrorist financing and hacking (computer intrusion) are going down, while reports of behavior targeting consumers–mortgage and consumer loan fraud–are going up (though it notes the mortgage loan fraud reports are inflated because some date from years ago).
Such trends are similar to what the report shows in the securities and futures industries, with an even bigger drop in terrorist financing and big gains in futures fraud, embezzlement, and insider trading.
Remember, SARs are not a reflection of what Freis demands (nevermind the fact he’s been on the job when things like terrorist financing were higher). Rather, this is what banks and securities firms self report, as mandated by law, about what they’re seeing in their own records.
Jim Freis showed that terrorism is getting better and bankster crimes are getting worse. And then Treasury fired him.
And the report from American Banker suggests that by replacing Freis, Treasury may intend to have FinCEN dictate what financial institutions prioritize. Which will mean terrorism–and not the crimes of banksters–will once again be the focus.
Fincen is likely to take a higher profile when it receives new leadership. In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Fincen was very active in dealing with bank regulatory matters, including helping to shape policy on anti-money laundering requirements. But the financial crisis largely pushed Fincen to the side and the agency focused on many of its other responsibilities. Treasury appears to want Fincen to take a larger role in terrorist financing activities and possibly reassert itself in the bank regulatory sphere. In past few years, banks have not had to focus on what Fincen’s agenda was. A more assertive Fincen changes the equation.
FinCEN offers one objective read of the relative prevalence of various forms of financial crime. And last year, it showed that banksters were a growing problem and terrorists a shrinking one.
And that message was so dangerous to the powers that be, it appears, Treasury decided to kill the messenger.
The AP’s Goldman and Apuzzo have another blockbuster counterterrorism article, this time describing how the NYPD has built its own intelligence service to target Muslims. It’s long, but it’s worth reading the whole thing. Keep an eye out for these key details:
As comprehensive as this story is, it leaves out two of the program’s most significant failures. The NYPD claims that this program is successful because NY hasn’t been attacked.
For [retired CIA officer David] Cohen [who pioneered this program], there was only one way to measure success: “They haven’t attacked us,” he said in a 2005 deposition. He said anything that was bad for terrorists was good for NYPD.
Granted, Cohen made that statement in 2005.
But, first of all, it’s no longer true that “they haven’t attacked us.” The Faisal Shahzad attempt last year may have been unsuccessful, but it is an example of an attack launched with international support.Yet neither the NYPD (nor, for that matter, the FBI) had any clue about Shahzad before he attacked.
That may be perfectly understandable for the NYPD. After all, Shahzad lived in Connecticut. He used a hawala (the guy who ran it just signed a plea deal), but that was in Long Island, not the City. So the few hints that Shahzad might attack were outside of NYPD’s jurisdiction. The AP article notes the NYPD’s spooks operate far outside of the city, but in any case, the failure to identify Shahzad shows how much will remain hidden even from the NYPD’s invasive approach.
The case of Najibullah Zazi is still more problematic.
The NYPD had infiltrated Zazi’s mosque in NY, which was the focus of his conspiracy. They even used the Imam there, Ahmad Wais Afzali, as an informant. Yet they appear to have had no advance warning that Zazi and two friends from NY were training for an attack (the FBI is reported to have gotten their first lead on Zazi from the Pakistanis).
In other words, all the activity described in the AP piece included Zazi’s immediate circle of associates. Yet that activity apparently failed to identify Zazi as a threat.
Even worse, the NYPD’s confidence in Afzali compromised the FBI’s case. After the FBI tipped of the NYPD, the NYPD tried to develop its own leads. That included showing Afzali a picture of Zazi, which led Afzali to call Zazi’s father and then Zazi himself to warn them of the investigation.
Media reports quoting anonymous FBI officials have suggested the NYPD botched the case when it showed a picture of Najibullah Zazi, the Denver shuttle-bus driver at the heart of the investigation, to Ahmed Afzali, a Queens Imam and sometime police informant. Afzali, the reports say, first called Zazi’s father Mohammed, then Najibullah himself, alerting them to the probe. The FBI, which had been monitoring the calls, was then forced to move immediately to arrest the Zazis — much sooner than it had planned.
When Zazi traveled to New York ahead of the anniversary of 9/11, the FBI as a precaution alerted the NYPD. That’s when officers from the NYPD’s intelligence unit consulted Afzali. “It looks like they did this on their own initiative — they really trusted this Imam,” says the law-enforcement official. “But if they’d consulted with the bureau first, they’d have been told not to talk to anybody.”
The NYPD spoke to Afzali three times after they were tipped off to the investigation.
The NYPD’s freelancing apparently began when an Intelligence Division detective of its top secret Special Services Unit — identified in government documents as Dan Sirakowsky — telephoned Afzali on Sept. 10, a day before the eighth anniversary of the Trade Center attacks.
Afzali had been Sirakowsky’s confidential informant, or C.I., since 9/11.
Sirakowsky told Afzali the department needed to speak to him right away. Minutes after the phone call, a detective and a sergeant showed up at Afzali’s home with pictures of Zazi and three of his alleged accomplices.
According to [Afzali's lawyer] Kuby, Afzali recognized Zazi and two others. They had been students in Afzali’s mosque class years before. The police then asked Afzali to find out more about what the three were up to in the city.
In addition, it appears that the NYPD shared information on the Zazi investigation with cops who did not have clearance.
Four NYPD detectives have been hauled before a federal grand jury probing leaks of top-secret information about a terror plot to blow up city subways, sources told the Daily News.
The inquiry is said to be focusing on leaks of sensitive information from the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorism Task Force to cops who did not have clearance.
Some of the information ended up in the press.
(Read that entire article for a sense of how Ray Kelly has retaliated against those who might expose the abuses and failures of his intelligence division.)
In short, not only did this elite intelligence unit not find the one guy who has actually attacked NYC, but it significantly endangered the investigation into another terrorist who came close to attacking NYC.