As I have repeatedly noted, I think President Obama will protect John Brennan — and the CIA more generally — because of the mutual complicity built in between CIA and the White House over covert ops.
It’s not just that CIA knows the full details of the drone killings Obama authorized on his sole authority. It’s also that the CIA is still protecting the Office of the Presidency’s role in torture by withholding from the Senate documents over which the White House might — but did not formally — claim Executive Privilege. Obama did the same thing when he went to some lengths to prevent a very short phrase making it clear torture was Presidentially-authorized from being released in 2009; it wasn’t just the Finding that still authorized his drone strikes the President was protecting, but the Office that George Bush sullied by approving torture.
I also think Obama will stand by Brennan because they have worked closely so long Brennan is one of Obama’s guys.
Bloomberg View’s Jonathan Bernstein doesn’t agree, however. After dismissing Conor Friedersdorf’s version of the mutual incrimination argument, he suggests Obama is simply demonstrating to the national security bureaucracy he’s on their side.
Obama is concerned -– in my view, overly so -– with demonstrating to the intelligence bureaucracy, the broader national security bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy in general, that he is on their side. The basic impulse to stand up for the people he appointed isn’t a bad one; nor is the impulse to demonstrate to the intelligence community that he is no wild-eyed peacenik softie who opposes the work they do. For one thing, he’s more likely to effect change in national security areas if experts in the government believe he’s at least sympathetic to them as individuals and to their basic goals, even if he questions some of the George W.Bush-era (or earlier) methods. For another, the ability of bureaucrats to hurt the president with leaks doesn’t depend on the existence of deep dark secrets. Every president is vulnerable to selective leaks and a drumbeat of steady negative interpretations from the bureaucracy.
And yet, overdoing support for the bureaucracy can have severe costs. On torture, for example, emphasizing the good intentions of those faced with difficult choices during the last decade makes sense. But failing to take action, and leaving bureaucrats with serious liabilities because the status of their past actions is unresolved, only may have made reassuring them of presidential support increasingly necessary. That’s not a healthy situation.
Again: some of the incentive to (at least at first) stand up for presidential appointees is inherent in the presidency, and a healthy thing to do even when the president believes people have misbehaved and should go. But throughout his presidency, Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to potentially crossing his national security bureaucracy, and I strongly suspect that torture and other Bush-era abuses are both part of the original cause and will cause more of that timidity down the road.
Obama has been overly skittish when it comes to crossing his NatSec bureaucracy?
First, as I have already noted, Obama was perfectly happy demanding David Petraeus’ resignation for fucking his biographer. While I have my doubts whether that was really the reason — and while by firing him, Obama undercut a potential 2012 rival — he didn’t shy away from firing a man with some of the best PR in DC.
You might also ask the 19 top Generals and Admirals Obama has fired (most with the help of Bob Gates; also note the 20th on this list is Petraeus) — so many that conservatives accuse him of “purging” — whether he’s squeamish about crossing the NatSec bureaucracy. And while Micah Zenko’s comment on Twitter is correct that intelligence officials have largely escaped this treatment, Obama seemed happy to use Michael Leiter’s National Counterterrorism Center’s failure to stop the UndieBomb attack to fire then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.
President Obama is not a man afraid to fire members of the national security bureaucracy.
The starkest contrast with Brennan’s treatment comes from the case of Stanley McChrystal.
Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation not because his night raids were exacerbating extremism in Afghanistan. Not because many service members felt he had left them exposed. Not because, even then, it was clear the surge in Afghanistan was going to fail.
Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because Michael Hastings exposed McChrystal and his top aides (including Michael Flynn, who quit in April because of differences on policy) being insubordinate. Obama demanded McChrystal’s resignation because doing so was necessary to maintain the primacy of civilian control — like separation of powers, one of the bedrocks ensuring national security doesn’t trump democracy.
That, to me, is the important takeaway from comparing McChrystal’s fate with Brennan’s.
When a top member of the national security bureaucracy challenged the control of the civilian executive, he got canned, appropriately, in my opinion.
But when the Director of the CIA permitted his Agency to strike at the core of the separation of powers by investigating its overseers, Obama offered his support. Obama may have fired a top general for threatening Executive authority, but he has supported a top aide after he threatened Legislative authority.
You can come up with any number of explanations why Obama did that. But being afraid of taking on his National Security bureaucracy — as distinct from taking on the intelligence agencies, as Obama chose not to do when Clapper lied or when Keith Alexander oversaw the leaking of the family jewels even while getting pwned in his core cyberdefense capacity — is not the explanation.
Obama has proven to have no qualms about upsetting his national security bureaucracy. Just that part of it run covertly.
I’m in the process of going really deep in the weeds on this Section 215 stuff, just adjusting my earlier timelines.
Several of us have noted the curious timing of the discovery of the problems with Section 215 dragnet. November 2, 2008 was the stated high number of identifiers which the NSA could contact chain, at 27,090 (though when NSA started cleaning this stuff up they only audited back through November 1, 2008).
On December 10, 2008, two analysts (whom I wildarseguess suspect were actually FBI Agents) start doing searches on unapproved identifiers, doing 280 over the next month and a half.
On December 11 and 12, 2008, Reggie Walton wrote the first systematic opinion on this program and approved a new Primary Order.
On December 15, 2008, the NSA stopped one of its abusive alert system processes.
On January 9, 2009, NSA told folks at DOJ’s National Security Division about them.
By January 15, 2009, NSA had seemingly purged thousands of identifiers from its alert list, because on that day (five days before the inauguration) it had only 17,835, down from 27,090 two days before Obama was elected.
January 20, 2009: Obama took the oath as President, replacing George Bush.
That, of course, led to change at key positions. One which I find remarkably interesting, however was that of Mike McConnell, who had spent two years as Director of National Intelligence (just long enough to get immunity for those who did all this illegally under Cheney’s program). McConnell left on January 27, 2009, leading to a delay on (reported) DNI involvement in this until his replacement Dennis Blair came in on January 29. Blair was briefed on this on his second day in office, January 30, 2009.
I don’t know — because the documents don’t say (see, especially, Keith Alexander’s chart on page 25 of his declaration that is totally non-responsive about anyone in DNI who would have known about these problems)– how much the revolving Intelligence Contractor Exec McConnell knew about NSA’s extension of the illegal Cheney program, illegally, under the FISC sanctioned Section 215 order.
But remember: as Vice Chair of Booz, Mike McConnell was (sort of) Edward Snowden’s boss until the latter absconded with proof of these gross violations under McConnell’s tenure at DNI.
Among other things, this rough outline suggests this wasn’t so much a “discovery” of violations, it was an attempt to hide what at least some people knew were systematic and gross violations of the Section 215 program, just before Obama came in and replaced some of the top players.
But I do find it ironic that McConnell’s company, Booz, played its small part in making all this clear.
When I compared what appeared in Eric Holder’s March 2012 targeted killing speech and the targeted killing white paper, I discovered two sections that appear in Holder but not the white paper: a section on leaders as targets.
Furthermore, it is entirely lawful – under both United States law and applicable law of war principles – to target specific senior operational leaders of al Qaeda and associated forces. This is not a novel concept. In fact, during World War II, the United States tracked the plane flying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – the commander of Japanese forces in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway – and shot it down specifically because he was on board. As I explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee following the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the same rules apply today.
And a section asserting that the technology of drones doesn’t change the legal principles behind the use of lethal force.
These principles do not forbid the use of stealth or technologically advanced weapons. In fact, the use of advanced weapons may help to ensure that the best intelligence is available for planning and carrying out operations, and that the risk of civilian casualties can be minimized or avoided altogether.
But that language was not new to the Holder speech; it appears as two of the main bullet points in Harold Koh’s March 2010 speech addressing, in part, our use of drones.
First, some have suggested that the very act of targeting a particular leader of an enemy force in an armed conflict must violate the laws of war. But individuals who are part of such an armed group are belligerents and, therefore, lawful targets under international law. During World War II, for example, American aviators tracked and shot down the airplane carrying the architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, who was also the leader of enemy forces in the Battle of Midway. This was a lawful operation then, and would be if conducted today. Indeed, targeting particular individuals serves to narrow the focus when force is employed and to avoid broader harm to civilians and civilian objects.
Second, some have challenged the very use of advanced weapons systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, for lethal operations. But the rules that govern targeting do not turn on the type of weapon system used, and there is no prohibition under the laws of war on the use of technologically advanced weapons systems in armed conflict– such as pilotless aircraft or so-called smart bombs– so long as they are employed in conformity with applicable laws of war. Indeed, using such advanced technologies can ensure both that the best intelligence is available for planning operations, and that civilian casualties are minimized in carrying out such operations.
In addition to situating drone strikes within law of war principles, Koh also addressed two other issues that show up in the white paper (and Holder’s speech): due process and assassinations.
Third, some have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in an armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force. Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meetings. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law.
Fourth and finally, some have argued that our targeting practices violate domestic law, in particular, the long-standing domestic ban on assassinations. But under domestic law, the use of lawful weapons systems—consistent with the applicable laws of war—for precision targeting of specific high-level belligerent leaders when acting in self-defense or during an armed conflict is not unlawful, and hence does not constitute “assassination.”
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.
In recent weeks, both Colleen McMahon and Ron Wyden have been hinting that there is more than one targeted killing memo (indeed, Wyden has been suggesting that for almost a year). Both also suggest the Administration may be relying on the President’s Article II authority–and not the Authorization to Use Military Force–in its drone program (or at least its strike(s) on Anwar al-Awlaki).
The attempted bombing of an airliner a few months later, on Dec. 25, stiffened the president’s resolve, aides say. It was the culmination of a series of plots, including the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex. by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam.
Mr. Obama is a good poker player, but he has a tell when he is angry. His questions become rapid-fire, said his attorney general, Mr. Holder. “He’ll inject the phrase, ‘I just want to make sure you understand that.’ “ And it was clear to everyone, Mr. Holder said, that he was simmering about how a 23-year-old bomber had penetrated billions of dollars worth of American security measures.
When a few officials tentatively offered a defense, noting that the attack had failed because the terrorists were forced to rely on a novice bomber and an untested formula because of stepped-up airport security, Mr. Obama cut them short.
“Well, he could have gotten it right and we’d all be sitting here with an airplane that blew up and killed over a hundred people,” he said, according to a participant. He asked them to use the close call to imagine in detail the consequences if the bomb had detonated. In characteristic fashion, he went around the room, asking each official to explain what had gone wrong and what needed to be done about it.
“After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States,” said Michael E. Leiter, then director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Even John Brennan, someone who was already a hardened veteran of counterterrorism, tightened the straps on his rucksack after that.”
David Axelrod, the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and achievements.
In the most dramatic possible way, the Fort Hood shootings in November and the attempted Christmas Day bombing had shown the new danger from Yemen. Mr. Obama, who had rejected the Bush-era concept of a global war on terrorism and had promised to narrow the American focus to Al Qaeda’s core, suddenly found himself directing strikes in another complicated Muslim country.
The very first strike under his watch in Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, offered a stark example of the difficulties of operating in what General Jones described as an “embryonic theater that we weren’t really familiar with.”
It killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents. It was hardly the kind of precise operation that Mr. Obama favored. Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.
The sloppy strike shook Mr. Obama and Mr. Brennan, officials said, and once again they tried to impose some discipline.
In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.
But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the C.I.A. for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
Now, in the wake of the bad first strike in Yemen, Mr. Obama overruled military and intelligence commanders who were pushing to use signature strikes there as well.
“We are not going to war with Yemen,” he admonished in one meeting, according to participants.
His guidance was formalized in a memo by General Jones, who called it a “governor, if you will, on the throttle,” intended to remind everyone that “one should not assume that it’s just O.K. to do these things because we spot a bad guy somewhere in the world.”
The passage purports to explain how the Administration imposed limits on the drone program in response to the al-Majala cruise missile strike (remember, the al-Majala attack was launched from a ship, not a drone). The passage is a misleading mess–which I’ll describe at more length below.
Just as interesting, though, it leads up to the description of a James Jones memo laying out limits to–at a minimum–our strikes in Yemen. Jones’ memo may well be one of the things responsive to–at least–ACLU’s targeted killing FOIA which the Administration is so squeamish about releasing.
And the sloppiness of this passage makes that all the more interesting. The chronology it tells looks like this:
December 25, 2009 UndieBomb attack
November 5, 2009 Fort Hood attack
[unknown date] Axelrod at Terror Tuesdays
December 17, 2009 al-Majala attack
[unknown date] James Jones memo
Described in this way, the passage suggests that we identified a new risk in Yemen–a claim emphasized by this passage:
the Fort Hood shootings in November and the attempted Christmas Day bombing had shown the new danger from Yemen
In response, the passage suggests misleadingly, we launched the attack against al-Majala, which was a disaster. And in response Obama and the Moral Rectitude Drone Assassination Czar imposed some discipline.
The sloppy strike shook Mr. Obama and Mr. Brennan, officials said, and once again they tried to impose some discipline
But of course, that can’t be how it happened. While, within days of the Nidal Hasan attack, Pete Hoekstra had rushed to the press to expose Hasan’s communications with Anwar al-Awlaki, we also know that nothing in those communications showed Awlaki directed Hasan’s attack. And the December 25 attack surely can’t be the justification for the December 17 attack on al-Majala.
Moreover, the NYT conveniently doesn’t mention that the December 17 attack on al-Majala was followed by a December 24 attack on Awlaki and Nasir al-Wuhayshi. That allows them to avoid mentioning that on the day we first targeted Awlaki, the intelligence community believed him not to be operational. Which, in turn, also allows them to leave unclear whether the James Jones memo–written in response to a strike on December 17–was in operation yet when the US first tried to kill Awlaki on December 24.
This sloppy passage about “the sloppy strike” seems to cover up some other really key details. Continue reading
On February 3, 2010, in a public House Intelligence Committee hearing, Ranking House Intelligence member Pete Hoesktra asked then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair about the “framework” that might be used to target a US citizen.
So there is a framework and a policy for what’s hypothetically a radical born cleric … who’s living outside of the United States, there’s a clear path as to when this person may be engaging in free speech overseas and when he may have moved into recruitment or when he may have moved into actual coordinating and carrying out or coordinating attacks against the United States?
In response, Blair gave one of the most detailed statements any serving Administration figure has uttered about the process used to target Americans.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in each case a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get special permission.
“We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said. “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”
He also said there are criteria that must be met to authorize the killing of a U.S. citizen that include “whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans. Those are the factors involved.”
Mr. Blair responded that he would rather not discuss the details of this criteria in open session, but he assured: “We don’t target people for free speech. We target them for taking action that threatens Americans or has resulted in it.”
He added, “The reason I went this far in open session is I just don’t want other Americans who are watching to think that we are careless about endangering … lives at all. But we especially are not careless about endangering American lives, as we try to carry out the policies to protect most of the country and I think we ought to go into details in closed session.”
Viewed from this distance, the conversation is particularly ironic. As a Gang of Four member, Hoekstra presumably received a detailed review of the attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009.
Yet, it is largely because of Hoekstra’s attempt to politicize the Nidel Hasan attack that we now know that the Intelligence Community believed, on the day Awlaki was targeted, that he was not operational. Even on the day this exchange occurred, it is not clear Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had yet changed his initial confession to implicate Awlaki.
So while the NSA had found messages between the UndieBomber and Awlaki to indicate they communicated, and while the US had intelligence warning of an imminent attack that led us to target a clan of Bedouins even while Abdulmutallab was on his way to Detroit, even when this exchange occurred it’s not clear we had clear evidence implicating Awlaki in the UndieBomb attempt.
Two months later, Awlaki reportedly would be added to the CIA’s kill list, presumably based on the plea agreement based representations of Abdulmutallab. The following month, in May 2010, Blair would be ousted, ostensibly because of his failure to prevent the UndieBomb attack, though that explanation didn’t make any sense, for a number of reasons. And only after that–in early June 2010–would the Administration finally get around to finalizing the OLC memo that ostensibly okayed the targeting of Awlaki, though the memo clearly did not cover the circumstances of that first attempt.
I find all that rather interesting background, considering Blair’s increasingly assertive calls for the Administration to be more transparent in its discussions of drones.
Blair — who was dismissed by President Obama in May 2010 after a falling-out over intelligence matters — said the administration should make public some details of how and why it decides that some terrorists should be targeted. “The United States is a democracy, we want our people to know how we use military force and that we use it in ways the United States is proud of,” Blair said. “There’s been far too little debate” about this form of killing.
The drone strikes are reviewed, after they have taken place, by the House and Senate intelligence committees, so there is some oversight of the process by which targets are selected and people killed. But Blair said he doubted the White House would allow the public insight into the drone program. “They’ve made the cold-blooded calculation that it’s better to hunker down and take the criticism than to take the debate public — which I think in the long run is essential,” he said.
He’s the guy who went on the record saying “special permission” was needed to target an American–with the understand that permission came from the President. And he now describes a refusal to explain the drone targeting “hunkering down.”
Since Jo Becker co-wrote the Angler series in the WaPo with Barton Gellman, her long piece today with Scott Shane will be seen as the Obama version of that story: how he evades the law to pursue ruthless counterterrorism policies.
I’ll have more to say about the story later. But for now, let me note how it proves, pretty definitively, that John Brennan is a liar.
The story describes Obama being informed, just days after his confirmation, that a drone strike had killed civilians.
Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser recounted.
Now, who do you suppose informed Obama of this (see update below–it was Michael Hayden)? And who do you suppose was involved in discussions of it? I find it inconceivable to believe that John Brennan was out of the loop on that news, particularly as Obama responded by using less powerful missiles for drones to lessen collateral damage. John Brennan learned, in the first days of the Administration, that we had killed civilians.
And yet Brennan repeatedly and publicly has claimed there had been no civilian casualties.
The NYT story acknowledges Brennan’s comments (and probably quotes him again, anonymously, in this passage).
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
If Brennan is indeed that anonymous source, then it means NYT presented evidence he lied his ass off–though didn’t call him on it–and then went back to him for more bullshit lies.
The story seems to accept as serious the funny accounting the Administration uses to pretend civilian drone deaths didn’t happen.
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
But others (I’m guessing Dennis Blair is one of these) recognize this is all phony accounting.
The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.
“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
I guess it’s opposition like this that causes the White House to bring its drone war into the White House, to be overseen solely by John Brennan, so they can continue to pretend that all the dead teenage boys (including, of course, US citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who would also be counted as a fighter using these rules) were our enemies.
When James Clapper testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he rejected one of the central criticisms in the WaPo’s Top Secret America series–that the redundancy in the Intelligence Community contributed to waste and intelligence failures.
Clapper disputed criticism of redundancy in intelligence programs, saying that duplication is sometimes a conscious decision. “One man’s duplication is another man’s competitive analysis,” he said.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that his first act as DNI is to add to the redundancy.
After my second week on the job, I wanted to let you know what an honor it is to be leading this Community of such skilled and dedicated professionals.
When President Obama asked me to lead the Intelligence Community he said he wanted someone who would continue to build our enterprise into an integrated team. I have begun to embark on that process and wanted to share with you a few of my initial thoughts and plans.
I have asked DIA Deputy Director Robert Cardillo to join ODNI in the newly-created role of Deputy Director for Intelligence Integration. While the specifics of this position are still being developed, it unites the roles of Analysis and Collection to elevate information sharing and collaboration between these two essential functions.
Admittedly, Clapper doesn’t explain what he just hired a top DOD intell guy to do, but it sure seems like it overlaps with the mandate of the National Counterterrorism Center.
NCTC serves as the primary organization in the United States Government for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to terrorism possessed or acquired by the United States Government (except purely domestic terrorism); serves as the central and shared knowledge bank on terrorism information; provides all-source intelligence support to government-wide counterterrorism activities; establishes the information technology (IT) systems and architectures within the NCTC and between the NCTC and other agencies that enable access to, as well as integration, dissemination, and use of, terrorism information.
NCTC serves as the principal advisor to the DNI on intelligence operations and analysis relating to counterterrorism, advising the DNI on how well US intelligence activities, programs, and budget proposals for counterterrorism conform to priorities established by the President.
And the move is all the more bizarre given that Clapper only has this job because the Administration chose to fire Dennis Blair rather than hold Michael Leiter, the Director of the NCTC, responsible for failing to connect the dots on the UndieBomber attack, even though it appears that Leiter deserves more of the blame. So if I’m right that this new position is duplicative of the NCTC position, then the Administration has chosen not to fire the guy most responsible for missing the UndieBomber clues, and instead fire the DNI and replace him with a guy that–rather than firing the guy most responsible for missing the UndieBomber clues–will instead just create a second version of that guy’s position.
Now in an ideal world, the next time someone misses an attack, we’ll be justified in firing Clapper, since he’s the guy who opted for redundancy rather than holding one person responsible. But I’m guessing by then Clapper will be capitalizing on his inevitably short tenure as DNI, getting rich heading six or eight intelligence contractors.
I trust you will all read Dana Priest and William Arkin’s story on the unwieldiness of our Intelligence Industrial Complex. It is good, insofar as it focuses needed attention on a huge problem.
But boy is it itself unwieldy. Today’s overview appears to want to be two stories: one on the problem with out-of-control contracting, and one on how that led to the failure to identify the Nidal Hasan and UndieBomber threats.
Moreover, what I find utterly shocking is that today’s 5315-word installment includes only this reference to the simmering battle over intelligence reform and the Director of National Intelligence position and tomorrow’s confirmation hearing for James Clapper!
“There’s only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs – that’s God,” said James R. Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the Obama administration’s nominee to be the next director of national intelligence. [my emphasis]
Remember, this hearing is tomorrow. The debate that has led up to it has covered whether or not we need a stronger DNI, whether or not GAO can audit intelligence programs, and whether more than 4 people should be briefed on major new intelligence programs.
Every single one of the issues that has led to tomorrow’s confirmation hearing is an issue that goes to the heart of the problems identified in the WaPo piece: the ongoing lack of real value-added analysis to make sense of all the intelligence collected, the opacity and potential waste and fraud of the entire IIC, and the turf battles that contribute to that waste.
So while I’m grateful that this story (and more importantly, the issues behind the story, since the content of today’s installment has largely already been reported by Tim Shorrock) is getting as much attention as it is, I’m aghast that the WaPo didn’t try to contextualize it by framing the issues in it in terms of Clapper’s nomination to be DNI.
The guy the Obama Administration nominated to be Director of National Intelligence seems glib about the utter lack of transparency and oversight in our intelligence world (his predecessor, Dennis Blair, claims in the story he was able to see it all). One after another high level security official are quoted in the story complaining about the lack of central focus on intelligence–precisely the issue that Clapper’s nomination won’t solve.
If Clapper’s nomination is approved tomorrow–and it sounds like DiFi has resigned herself to approving Clapper not because she thinks he’s adequate to the job but because the interim DNI is retiring shortly–it will represent success on Obama’s part at forestalling efforts to deal in substantive way with the problems identified in the story.
That’s the news in this WaPo story.
Now for your latest installment of DOD’s expanding intelligence authorities, DNI’s increasing irrelevance, and the White House’s efforts to make sure those trends continue.
As you’ll recall, back in March, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a scathing report on the many failures to stop the Undie Bomber. The report was most critical of the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter. But instead of replacing Leiter right away, the Administration sat on the report for two months until it became public, and then used the report as its excuse to fire Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair as the scapegoat for the Christmas Day attack. The White House reportedly tried to get either Leon Panetta or Chuck Hagel to take over, but after they refused, Obama nominated James Clapper, over the objections of both the Democrats and Republicans who need to confirm the position on SSCI. Two things make this worse: in the face of the need to scale back DOD’s intelligence portfolio to better balance our intelligence community as a whole, DOD has instead been expanding it. And Clapper signed an April memo arguing against a range of controls Congress was trying to put on DOD’s intelligence activities.
It turns out that in addition to SSCI’s March report finding NCTC most responsible for the Christmas Day attack, and Clapper’s April report calling for DOD to keep its expansive intelligence powers, the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board was issuing its own report, finished in March and sent to Congress on April 1. The report calls for a stronger DNI–precisely what Congress is trying to do but DOD and the White House are trying to prevent.
But the White House has not shared the report with the DNI’s office.
The White House has withheld a key report, which maps out a strategy for fixing the troubled Director of National Intelligence, from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The classified report, “Study of the Mission, Size, and Function of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,” was completed by the Presidential Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB) at least as early as March, several weeks before President Obama asked DNI Dennis Blair to resign. The report came at an inopportune time for the White House, which has pursued a policy course counter to the report’s advice.
Multiple sources within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence tell The Atlantic that the office, which employs about 1,500 people including the director himself, never received the report. The White House would not comment on how it was distributed, but Assistant Press Secretary Tommy Vietor said, “The study you reference was shared with DNI Blair, who provided us comments on the findings.” However, the findings are only a brief summary of the report’s unclassified sections; they are also freely available on Politico’s website. The full report, which is classified, has not been shared.
Of particular import here is the White House’s organized blow-off of Congress. Congress commissioned the PIAB report last year as part of the 2010 Defense Authorization.
Congress commissioned the PIAB report late last year as part of the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, requiring the board to evaluate the DNI and offer proposals for improving it.
At the same time, Congress included some provisions in the 2010 Intelligence Authorization–things like controls on expenditures and expanding budgets, review of the use of contractors, and an Inspector General for the entire intelligence community–that would strengthen the DNI and rein in DOD. SSCI sent a report to the White House in March that the White House used to start planning the ouster of Dennis Blair, who was sympathetic to the goal of a stronger DNI. And at the same time, the White House was refusing to share the PIAB report which would have strengthened Blair’s hand. Against the background of the report showing that the President’s advisory board thinks Congress, not DOD, is right about how the Intelligence Community is organized, the White House sends the Clapper nomination–which is designed to do just the opposite.