Jabir al-Fayfi

Exploitation: “In my ears and in my eyes”

Goldman and Apuzzo, perhaps as a swan song before the former heads off to WaPo, break the story of Penny Lane — the story of the Gitmo camp where recruited double agents stayed until they were sent off to spy for the CIA.

They focus primarily on the series of perks detainees got both while at Gitmo and once they had agreed to spy.

By early 2003, Penny Lane was open for business.

Candidates were ushered from the confines of prison to Penny Lane’s relative hominess, officials said. The cottages had private kitchens, showers and televisions. Each had a small patio.

Some prisoners asked for and received pornography. One official said the biggest luxury in each cottage was the bed — not a military-issued cot but a real bed with a mattress.

The cottages were designed to feel more like hotel rooms than prison cells, and some CIA officials jokingly referred to them collectively as the Marriott.

Current and former officials said dozens of prisoners were evaluated but only a handful, from a variety of countries, were turned into spies who signed agreements to work for the CIA.

[snip]

Prisoners agreed to cooperate for a variety of reasons, officials said. Some received assurances that the U.S. would resettle their families. Another thought al-Qaida had perverted Islam and believed it was his duty as a Muslim to help the CIA destroy it. One detainee agreed to cooperate after the CIA insinuated it would harm his children, a former official said, similar to the threats interrogators had made to admitted 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

All were promised money. Exactly how much each was paid remains unclear. But altogether, the government paid millions of dollars for their services, officials said. The money came from a secret CIA account, codenamed Pledge, that’s used to pay informants, officials said.

But there are a few details they either barely hint at or profess ignorance to.

First, that mention of threatening a detainee with harming his children? Obviously, that’s coercion, not persuasion. Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye have long focused on how our torture program aims to exploit prisoners, including “recruiting” them to be double agents, in part, by torturing them. (And this was one key purposes of torture at Abu Ghraib, too.)

The process by which we recruited detainees to turn informant was by no means solely about real mattresses.

Goldman and Apuzzo profess ignorance about whether these double agents showed up in lists of “Gitmo recidivists.” They did. Remember: several Gitmo “recidivists” then “flipped back” to Saudi control and provided key information on AQAP structure and plots. Though it appears to have even taken several years before they explained to Congress that some of these recidivists were actually not — or at least were not supposed to be. So not only did these detainees serve as double agents against al Qaeda, but the existence of them as “recidivists” fed the fears about closing Gitmo.

And there are at least textual hints of whom they did flip (or think they had flipped), though I won’t lay out the several places where I’ve seen those hints in case these men are still out there.

Finally, Goldman and Apuzzo note this program ended in 2006, as the number of new detainees dropped (and, I might add, as the government tried to get out of the torture business).

But make no mistake. The government still aims to exploit the people it captures for counterterrorism purposes, whether in some forgotten cell in Afghanistan or on a ship. If we were only in the interrogation business, it could all take place in a traditional jail with legal representation.

The Laughable Currently Operative AP Pushback Story

It has taken several days for the government — apparently, almost exclusively DOJ — to try to spin its secret seizure of AP call records. The new version of the government’s ever-evolving story is that the reason the AP story was so damaging was because it prevented CIA from using the mole to locate Ibrahim al-Asiri, AQAP’s bomb-maker.

Here’s how the guy who headed DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy until last year explained this on Friday.

About a year ago, someone within the government who had access to highly classified information about an intelligence operation in Yemen involving a double agent saw fit to talk about it with the Associated Press. When senior government officials learned that the Associated Press had this story and intended to publish it, those officials realized that the agent’s cover had been blown. Anxious for his safety, the officials prevailed on the AP to delay publication so that first the agent’s family and then the agent himself could be extracted to safety. The AP then published its story, which focused on thwarting a plot to use a new and improved underwear bomb to blow up an airplane bound for the United States.

What went completely without mention in the initial coverage was the fact that thwarting this plot was not the objective of the ongoing undercover operation. Its true objective was to gain enough intelligence to locate and neutralize the master bomb builder, Ibrahim Hassan al-Ashiri, who works with an Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Penetrating AQAP is incredibly difficult. This double agent provided a rare opportunity to gain critical, life-saving information. Whoever disclosed the information obtained by the AP had not only put the agent’s life and his family’s life in danger. He also killed a golden opportunity to save untold more lives that now remain at risk due to al-Ashiri remaining at large.

Here’s how three former high-ranking DOJ officials explained it in an op-ed today.

The United States and its allies were trying to locate a master bomb builder affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that was extremely difficult to penetrate. After considerable effort and danger, an agent was inserted inside the group. Although that agent succeeded in foiling one serious bombing plot against the United States, he was rendered ineffective once his existence was disclosed.

And here’s how Walter Pincus reported it today.

Whoever provided the initial leak to the Associated Press in April 2012 not only broke the law but caused the abrupt end to a secret, joint U.S./Saudi/British operation in Yemen that offered valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

One goal was to get AQAP’s operational head, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso. That happened one day before the AP story appeared.

A second goal was to find and possibly kill AQAP bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, whose first underwear device almost killed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism chief.

[snip]

Hitting targets in the United States is one of AQAP’s goals. In association with Saudi intelligence, the CIA inserted a Saudi who convinced AQAP that he wanted to be a suicide bomber. Eventually he was outfitted with Asiri’s newest device, which he was to use on a U.S. aircraft. After the device was delivered to U.S. officials, someone or several people leaked the information to the AP. [my emphasis]

Now, Pincus’ story is generally balanced. Unlike the other two, he admits that Fahd al-Quso got killed while the AP held their story and that, in killing Quso, the government accomplished at least one objective of the mole’s mission and did so thanks to AP’s willingness to cede to government requests about this story. He also admits that before the AP ever came to the government with the story, the mole’s UndieBomb had already been delivered to the US.

That chronology is important. And it is one backed by the government’s official timeline (not to mention the CNN report that said the mole had turned over the bomb around April 20 and the report that Robert Mueller traveled to Yemen for an unscheduled 45 minute meeting on April 24). The day after the AP story, Jay Carney said that Obama had been informed about the plot in “early April.”

Q Do you expect that he’ll address at all — I know we got statements yesterday, but the Yemeni al Qaeda plot, do you think he will address that at all in his remarks today?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t expect him to address that issue in his remarks. I mean, I will say that he’s certainly pleased with the success of our intelligence and counterterrorism officials in foiling the attempt by al Qaeda to use this explosive device. It is indicative of the kind of work that our intelligence and counterterrorism services are performing regularly to counter the threat posed by al Qaeda in general, and AQAP in particular.

So he was regularly — as you know, he was made aware of this development in early April and he was regularly briefed on it by John Brennan. [my emphasis]

The NSC’s official statement on that day also said Obama had been informed of the plot in April.

So the government rolled up the plot in April — almost certainly by April 24 — and then the AP came to the CIA and White House with their story about a foiled plot on May 2.

It’s that timing that undermines the claim that the government still hoped to use the mole to get at Ibrahim al-Asiri. Because to maintain that claim, you’d have to explain how an AQAP operative who had been entrusted with the latest version of Ibrahim al-Asiri’s UndieBomb sometime in early April, had left (at least as far as Sanaa), had not apparently succeeded in his mission (which was, after all, meant to be a suicide bombing), could return to AQAP without the UndieBomb and infiltrate even further than he had the first time.

“Oh, hi, AQAP gatekeeper” — their story must imagine the mole saying as he returned to AQAP — “I’ve both failed in my mission and somehow lost the bomb you gave me, but based on that would you be willing to let me spend some quality time with even higher-ranking AQAP operatives?”

The government must believe AQAP has far worse counterintelligence than Asiri’s longevity would seem to suggest. Alternately, they’re just inventing stories right now to justify their seizure.

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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.

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What the White House “Official Announcement” of UndieBomb 2.0 Would Have Looked Like

As I’ve been tracing, there’s a pissing contest going on between the AP and John Brennan over the roll-out of the UndieBomb 2.0 “plot” earlier this month.

When the AP first broke the story on UndieBomb 2.0, it explained that it had held the story but decided to publish before the Administration made an official announcement on what would have been Tuesday, May 8.

The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way.

Once those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday. [my emphasis]

Since that time, the Administration has tried to claim they never intended to make an official announcement about the “plot.” They did so for a May 9 LAT story.

U.S. intelligence officials had planned to keep the bomb sting secret, a senior official said, but the Associated Press learned of the operation last week. The AP delayed posting the story at the request of the Obama administration, but then broke the news Monday.

“When the AP got it and started talking about it, it caused all kinds of problems with the operation,” said a U.S. official who would not be quoted by name discussing the classified operation. “The investigation never went to its full conclusion.”

AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news agency held off publishing until U.S. officials told the AP that security concerns were allayed.

“We were told on Monday that the operation was complete and that the White House was planning to announce it Tuesday,” he said.

Then the White House tried misdirection for a Mark Hosenball story last week–both blaming AP for information about the Saudi infiltrator the AP didn’t break, and attributing Brennan’s comments implying the plot involved an infiltrator to hasty White House efforts to feed the news cycle spin respond to the story.

According to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, due to its sensitivity, the AP initially agreed to a White House request to delay publication of the story for several days.

But according to three government officials, a final deal on timing of publication fell apart over the AP’s insistence that no U.S. official would respond to the story for one clear hour after its release.

When the administration rejected that demand as “untenable,” two officials said, the AP said it was going public with the story. At that point, Brennan was immediately called out of a meeting to take charge of damage control.

[snip]

The AP denies any quid pro quo was requested by them or rejected by the White House. “At no point did AP offer or propose a deal with regard to this story,” said AP spokesman Paul Colford.

[snip]

The White House places the blame squarely on AP, calling the claim that Brennan contributed to a leak “ridiculous.”

“It is well known that we use a range of intelligence capabilities to penetrate and monitor terrorist groups,” according to an official statement from the White House national security staff.

“None of these sources or methods was disclosed by this statement. The egregious leak here was to the Associated Press. The White House fought to prevent this information from being reported and ultimately worked to delay its publication for operational security reasons. No one is more upset than us about this disclosure, and we support efforts to prevent leaks like this which harm our national security,” the statement said.

The original AP story, however, made no mention of an undercover informant or allied “control” over the operation, indicating only that the fate of the would-be suicide bomber was unknown. [my emphasis]

Now, there are several problems with this latest White House story. The allegation of a quid pro quo rests on the premise that the Administration was also about to release the information; it’s just a different version of the request to hold the story until an official White House announcement. Furthermore, if the White House didn’t want this information out there, then why brief Richard Clarke and Fran Fragos Townsend, who went from there to prime time news shows and magnified the story?

In short, the White House attempt to blame the release of this story on the AP makes less and less sense every time they change their story.

But there’s another piece of counter-evidence to claims the White House didn’t intend to do a dog-and-pony show boasting of their success at “foiling” an AQAP bomb “plot.”

The dog-and-pony show they rolled out the last time they foiled an AQAP bomb plot targeting the US, four days before the midterm elections in 2010.

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Cluster Bombs on the Head of a Saudi Pinpoint

Congratulations to the NYT, which offers the superlative version of a story everyone seems to be writing today. It describes a whole host of reasons why we should not trust the Saudis.

That collaboration appears to have intensified over the past two years, despite a long history of mistrust rooted in the role of Saudi hijackers in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The relationship was tested again last year when Saudi leaders responded furiously to American endorsement of the revolt that ousted a Saudi ally, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. American diplomats were surprised and angered in turn soon afterward when Saudi Arabia sent troops to help put down unrest in neighboring Bahrain.

[snip]

The counterterrorism cooperation has not been without bumps, officials from both countries acknowledge.

In 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation quietly sent a handful of agents to Saudi Arabia to work with officials there on a classified counterterrorism strategy, according to a senior American official who was briefed on the program. After several months, however, the two sides disagreed on a common strategy, and the F.B.I. agents went home.

Internal State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations revealed American frustration with Saudi Arabia in curtailing financial supporters of many extremist activities.

“It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” said a classified cable sent by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in December 2009, concluding that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

But ultimately concludes that in spite of all this evidence, our partnership with the Saudis is working just great.

But when it comes to counterterrorism, the Saudis have been crucial partners, not only for the United States but also for an array of other Western powers.

[snip]

Under pressure from the United States, American officials now say, Saudi Arabia is taking the threat more seriously, holding financiers accountable through prosecutions and making terrorist financing a higher priority.

Like many of these stories, the NYT quotes Mustafa Alani, a counterterrorism analyst at the Gulf Research Center with close ties to the Saudi intelligence establishment, describing the division of labor on counterterrorism: the US conducts electronic surveillance, the Saudis provide HUMINT. And while the NYT gets the prize for the most self-contradictory celebration of US-Saudi counterrorism “cooperation,” my favorite quote from Alani is this one, in the WaPo’s version of the story.

“Even with the drone strikes, the air raids, the Americans need someone on the ground,” Alani said. “The Saudis are the ones who can pinpoint targets for the Americans.”

The Saudis, Alani brags, are responsible for our pinpointed targeting in Yemen. You know? The kind that manages to kill an American teenager but fails to hit its intended target. Or the kind that will become even less pinpointed now that the Saudis have delivered up a bomb plot to convince the President that AQAP is still targeting the US (this CNN story confirms that the bomb plot was delivered up before Obama’s signature strike okay was reported) and therefore needs to be targeted with signature strikes.

But since we’re discussing Saudi pinpointed targeting, let’s look more closely at two other Saudi pinpoints. First, there’s the Saudi strike on a Houthi medical clinic in 2009-2010, which they used to ask for Predator drones. Almost the whole cable is worth reading to see the multiple ways in which Saudi Prince Khaled bin Sultan manipulated us.

USG CONCERNS ABOUT POSSIBLE STRIKES ON CIVILIAN TARGETS

——————————————————-

¶2. (S/NF) Ambassador Smith delivered points in reftel to Prince Khaled on February 6, 2010. The Ambassador highlighted USG concerns about providing Saudi Arabia with satellite imagery of the Yemen border area absent greater certainty that Saudi Arabia was and would remain fully in compliance with the laws of armed conflict during the conduct of military operations, particularly regarding attacks on civilian targets. The Ambassador noted the USG’s specific concern about an apparent Saudi air strike on a building that the U.S. believed to be a Yemeni medical clinic. The Ambassador showed Prince Khaled a satellite image of the bomb-damaged building in question.

 

IF WE HAD THE PREDATOR, THIS MIGHT NOT HAVE HAPPENED

—————————————————-

¶3. (S/NF) Upon seeing the photograph, Prince Khalid remarked, “This looks familiar,” and added, “if we had the Predator, maybe we would not have this problem.” Continue reading

Did the Saudis or the Yemenis Expose the Involvement of a Double Agent?


There’s a remarkable moment in this CNN story reporting on the concern within the US that someone leaked the fact that a double agent was involved in foiling the UndieBomb plot. After quoting Peter King saying “a major investigation” would be launched to find the source, the CNN cites what must be a Saudi source confirming the double agent story.

The mole, who volunteered as a suicide bomber for the terrorist group, was actually working as an intelligence agent for Saudi Arabia, a source in the region familiar with the operation told CNN.

The man left Yemen, traveled through the United Arab Emirates and gave the bomb and information about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to the CIA, Saudi intelligence and other foreign intelligence agencies, the source said.

The agent works for Saudi intelligence, which has cooperated with the CIA for years, the source said.

“Indeed, we always were the ones managing him,” the source told CNN. [my emphasis]

After all, a “source in the region familiar with the operation” who asserts “we always were the ones managing him” would seem to have to be Saudi, given that the Saudis were running him.

Now there seem to be two things going on. If I’m not mistaken, King was calling for an investigation into the source who leaked the news of the foiled plot more generally. That’s suspect because of who had that story first: the AP. In other words, Peter King, a good buddy of Ray Kelly and a big booster of the NYPD’s efforts to profile Muslims wants to know who Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo’s sources are.

Right.

Note, too, that whereas the AP reported that the Administration planned to announce the foiled plot,

The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday.

The LAT quotes US intelligence officials suggesting they weren’t going to make it public.

U.S. intelligence officials had planned to keep the bomb sting secret, a senior official said, but the Associated Press learned of the operation last week. The AP delayed posting the story at the request of the Obama administration, but then broke the news Monday.

“When the AP got it and started talking about it, it caused all kinds of problems with the operation,” said a U.S. official who would not be quoted by name discussing the classified operation. “The investigation never went to its full conclusion.”

AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news agency held off publishing until U.S. officials told the AP that security concerns were allayed.

“We were told on Monday that the operation was complete and that the White House was planning to announce it Tuesday,” he said.

Which suggests that the focus on the source of the leak may have elicited a revisionist story from the Administration.

Now the focus has shifted to the source who exposed the role of the double agent–a potentially far bigger secret. A lot of people have treated the LAT as the first story for the double agent story. But that’s not true–that article credits ABC with breaking the story.

The disclosure that a double agent had infiltrated an Al Qaeda bomb cell in Yemen, which was first reported by ABC News, could endanger future counter-terrorism operations, U.S. officials said.

While the ABC story cites US officials, among others, it also cites an “international intelligence official” as well as “officials” and “authorities” named generically (as well as John Brennan on the record, rather uncharacteristically trying to protect “the equities that are involved with it”).

In a stunning intelligence coup, a dangerous al Qaeda bomb cell in Yemen was successfully infiltrated by an inside source who secretly worked for the CIA and several other intelligence agencies, authorities revealed to ABC News.

The inside source is now “safely out of Yemen,” according to one international intelligence official, and was able to bring with him to Saudi Arabia the bomb al Qaeda thought was going to be detonated on a U.S.-bound aircraft.

[snip]

And what Brennan knows and did not say, according to officials, is that several other elements of the plot were under investigation, including possible additional bombers and other kinds of bombs.

In other words, in spite of the fact that there appears to be a hunt for the US based sources that leaked this information, it is possible if not likely that ABC got it from foreign sources first, and only after that got US officials (which could include members of Congress and others outside of the Executive Branch) to comment. Continue reading

Did Another Saudi Double Agent “Tip” Us Off to a “Plot” Against America?

ABC reports that the UndieBomber 2.0 plot revealed yesterday in breathless fashion was exposed by a double agent that–given that he delivered the bomb to Saudi Arabia–was presumably being run by the Saudis just like all the other men the Saudis have infiltrated into AQAP.

In a stunning intelligence coup, a dangerous al Qaeda bomb cell in Yemen was successfully infiltrated by an inside source who secretly worked for the CIA and several other intelligence agencies, authorities revealed to ABC News.

The inside source is now “safely out of Yemen,” according to one international intelligence official, and was able to bring with him to Saudi Arabia the bomb al Qaeda thought was going to be detonated on a U.S.-bound aircraft.

So as happened when Jabir al-Fayfi revealed the toner cartridge plot, we can now celebrate the skill of our spooks without thinking too much about what it means that the Saudis are running this terror show. (Though at least we’ve reached the point where US outlets are reporting this, rather than just British outlets.)

But here are a few questions:

Have Republicans already claimed this guy was a “recidivist” Gitmo detainee, as they have with other double agents? That effectively gives them a two-fer on detainee exploitation, “proof” that Gitmo detainees are too dangerous to release, followed by “proof” that the terrorists are planning attacks (not to mention “proof” that the CIA has good intelligence on al Qaeda).

Was the “international intelligence official” who revealed this double agent to ABC Yemeni? The Yemenis leaked Jabir al-Fayfi’s role back in 2010. If they again leaked the involvement of this double agent, we might want to start asking ourselves whether they can be trusted to keep these double agents secret.

I argued that the decision to use signature strikes in Yemen seems like a Saudi-driven demand rather than a well-considered US decision. We apparently made that decision around the same time the US reportedly learned of this “plot.” If the Saudis were–as I suspect–running this double agent like all the other double agents we’ve infiltrated into AQAP, then did they “tip” this plot as a way to convince us to make what on its face looks like a boneheaded decision?

One more bit of possible irony to contemplate. Ibrahim al-Asiri–the AQAP bombmaker reportedly behind this plot–sent his own brother, Abdullah, out to assassinate Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef back in 2009. The attempt failed. Since then, two of the men Nayef presumably infiltrated into AQAP have foiled Asiri’s bomb plots. It sort of makes you wonder how Saudi double agents keep getting close enough to al-Asiri to foil his plots, doesn’t it?

Remember When that “Recidivist” Jabir al-Fayfi Saved American Lives?

It’s recidivist season again, when the DNI releases data about how many Gitmo detainees have “reengaged” and fear-mongering reporters (including, uncharacteristically, Mark Hosenball) then describe how many “recidivists” from Gitmo there have been.

Of course, even while DNI brags about how detailed the new numbers are, they are just that. A list of numbers: 12, 28, 52, 0, 0, 3, with just the following description of what DNI considers “reengagement” (or, of course, engagement for the first time, but no one wants to admit that throwing someone innocent in Gitmo for a decade might radicalize someone) in terrorism.

Definition of “Terrorist” or “Insurgent” Activities. Activities such as the following indicate involvement in terrorist or insurgent activities: planning terrorist operations, conducting a terrorist or insurgent attack against Coalition or host-nation forces or civilians, conducting a suicide bombing, financing terrorist operations, recruiting others for terrorist operations, and arranging for movement of individuals involved in terrorist operations. It does not include mere communications with individuals or organizations—including other former GTMO detainees—on issues not related to terrorist operations, such as reminiscing about shared experiences at GTMO, communicating with past terrorist associates about non-nefarious activities, writing anti-U.S. books or articles, or making anti-U.S. propaganda statements.

Without a list of actual names, no one can check DNI’s claims or–as I did when the House Armed Services Committee last engaged in this game–point out that someone who once was claimed to be a recidivist, Mazin Salih Musaid al-Awfi, had actually infiltrated AQAP, and then returned to Saudi Arabia to provide lots of intelligence on the organization.

So let me remind the fear-mongers of another so-called recidivist who provided key intelligence: Jabir al-Fayfi. At least according to the claims made about the plot he tipped off, the toner cartridge plot could have caused real damage to airplanes or, possibly, the American synagogues to which the toner cartridges had been sent.

Jabir al-Fayfi, who surrendered to Saudi authorities on 16 October, told officials about the plan by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap), the Yemen-based terror cell of which he was a member.

US officials said earlier that an alert from Saudi Arabia led to the interception of two explosive devices on planes, hidden in packages addressed to Chicago-area synagogues, travelling via Britain and Dubai.

And yet two years ago, the fear-mongers would have been pointing to him as proof that no one should ever leave Gitmo.

Mind you, I’m not supporting the use of prison camps to coerce people to spy for us, though clearly this recidivism fear-mongering should at least acknowledge we did that in some cases.

And I’m not saying an assessment of our release decisions and practices should get no review. Not only is it worthwhile to track under what circumstances people engage or re-engage in terrorism after having been held in a prison camp for long periods, but I suspect a review of which detainees our allies asked for and why might raise some interesting questions (in one case I will probably show at more length some time, a Saudi detainee was only slotted for transfer after DOD started claiming he had ties to Lashkar-e-Taiba).

But I remind that, at least in Fayfi’s case, a so-called recidivist saved lives because of the context (as described by Hosenball) of this particular recidivist season: the discussion about releasing five members of the Taliban as part of a larger peace deal.

The increase in the apparent recidivism rate, while not large, comes at a delicate time for President Barack Obama, and could further complicate his attempts to negotiate a peace deal with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

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How Good Are DOJ’s Reasons for Burying Its Case against Anwar al-Awlaki?

Today’s the day Eric Holder explains how his Department decided it was okay to kill a US citizen with no independent legal review, even while he says we should use civilian courts to, uh, give terrorists due process.

Now, at least as of late January, the Administration still planned not to include any real information about its case against Anwar al-Awlaki in Holder’s speech.

As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing.

Since much of the evidence that has been used to implicate Awlaki came from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, I’m going to return to a question I first raised several weeks ago, why DOJ sat on the information it got from Abdulmutallab implicating Awlaki so long.

In this post, I considered why DOJ published a narrative explicitly describing Anwar al-Awlaki’s role in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s terror plot last month, rather than when it learned the information from Abdulmutallab sometime in 2010. The reason is likely evidentiary. It appears the government never persuaded Abdulmutallab to testify against Awlaki even while he was implicating Awlaki during “plea negotiations,” meaning it’s unclear Abdulmutallab would have repeated the information implicating Awlaki in court. Note, since that post, Abdulmutallab prosecutor Jonathan Tukel confirmed in court that the UndieBomber was offered–but did not accept–a plea agreement.

In this post, I will consider other reasons why DOJ may have buried (and presumably will continue to bury) their case against Awlaki: a desire to hide its signals intelligence, its informants, as well as a desire to win legal cases.

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Exploitation: How a “Recidivist” became a Double Agent

The Republicans are at it again: collecting lists of former Gitmo detainees they deem to have “returned to combat” and using those lists to fear-monger against transferring prisoners out of Gitmo.

Here’s the report the Republicans on the House Armed Service Investigations Subcommittee put out; here’s an excellent rebuttal from the Democrats, here’s Adam Serwer, and here’s Charlie Savage.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Cooper summarizes,

The report was supposed to be a comprehensive and bipartisan look at former GTMO detainees, but fails at both objectives. Much of the failure is due to the majority’s insistence on releasing a public report during an election year. The majority is well aware that most of the relevant material is classified and politically sensitive. To their credit, committee staff did do a workmanlike job on the classified annex, which we recommend to all members. But the public report uses a highly problematic “methodology” in order to write ghost stories designed to scare voters. Americans deserve better.

Reports on terrorism should not further the terrorists’ goal of spreading fear. After all, terrorism is a double-barreled attack on civilization: violence is one weapon and publicity of that violence is another. Without publicity, the terrorist can never succeed. Regrettably, this report gives former GTMO detainees publicity by making them seem more numerous and dangerous than they are. Reengagers will like their image in the report.

[snip]

The report concludes that, despite the admitted improvements in the Obama Administration’s handling of detainee issues, the number of former detainees who return to terrorism will be as high or higher. This is purely speculative, and seems politically motivated. Time will tell, but the current rate of confirmed reengagement of transferees under the Obama Administration is closer to 3%, not the report’s cover graphic of 27%. The lower figure does not, however, make headlines.

I will have more on the report later. But I wanted to point out one detail about how the propaganda list of who is a “recidivist” and who isn’t changes.

In the April 2009 list leaked to ruin Obama’s efforts to close Gitmo, the Saudi former detainee Mazin Salih Musaid al-Awfi was listed second on the list of those “confirmed” to have “reengaged” in terrorism along with Said al-Shihri.

Abu Sufyam al-Asdi al-Shihri–repatriated to Saudi Arabia in November 2007, and Mazin Salih Musaid al-Alawi al-Awfi–repatriated to Saudi Arabia in July 2007. On 24 January, a 19-minute video was released wherein al-Shihri and al-Awfi announced their leadership within the newly established al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula.

But in this week’s list, al-Shihri appears all by himself (though still second on the list).

Said al-Shihri 17 (ISN 372) was transferred in November 2007 to the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling (also known as Care) in Saudi Arabia.18 This is an initiative, operated by the Saudi government, meant to rehabilitate those believed to be terrorists.19 However, after completing the portion of the program requiring him to reside at the Care facility, al-Shihri left Saudi Arabia for Yemen despite putatively being barred from foreign travel. In addition to raising questions about the Saudi government’s ability to enforce travel restrictions on former detainees, al-Shihri’s arrival in Yemen allowed him and another former GTMO detainee to assume leadership of the newly established al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).20  They released a video announcing their roles.21 [my emphasis]

The report invokes al-Awfi, but don’t name him or explain why they don’t consider him among those “confirmed” to have returned to extremism.

Maybe this is why:

Mohammed al-Awfi’s is an extraordinary story. He went through the rehabilitation programme like the others from Batch 10, but then fled to Yemen where he starred in the al-Qaeda launch video.

Astonishingly al-Awfi later re-crossed the border into Saudi Arabia and gave himself up.

I have never understood why he did so.

The Saudis told me it was because he had received a phone call from his wife telling him to return to look after her and the children.

The explanation caused me to raise a quizzical eyebrow. I was told it is not unknown for the Saudis to use families as bait.

Al-Awfi is now living in luxury accommodation in Riyadh’s top security prison where he is being drained of every scrap of intelligence.

He has all the comforts of home, a well furnished flat and regular visits by a grateful and relieved family.

I can’t guarantee al-Awfi was working as a double agent–presumably like that other “rehabilitated” Saudi detainee who joined AQAP only to return to Saudi Arabia to dump key intelligence, Jabir al-Fayfi–the whole time. But it sure does look like it.

Which means among the former detainees whose story fearmongers used in 2009 to argue against closing Gitmo was, probably, a double agent collecting intelligence on what became AQAP.

For all we know, the Subcommittee may be doing the same again now–claiming people have “returned to action” when they haven’t, exactly. In fact, it’s not even clear they know for sure that their “returned fighters” are what they claim. The folks who might know best–the CIA–refused to cooperate with this report.

The committee believes the Central Intelligence Agency may have been able to provide additional insight on reengagement issues and resolve factual discrepancies identified during meetings with U.S. officials abroad. Headquarters representatives from the CIA declined requests, made at the behest of the subcommittee chairman and ranking member, to meet with staff. This impaired the committee’s efforts to evaluate fully this topic.

Which highlights how brilliant it was to recruit double agents at Gitmo (if you want to sustain the fear of terrorism). If successful, recruits might serve double duty, both infiltrating al Qaeda and providing intelligence, and serving as (apparently false) examples of how dangerous this foe really is.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @zefirotorna If there are bigger pieces of human scum at this time on earth than McCulloch and @GovJayNixon it's hard to fathom who they are
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bmaz RT @zefirotorna: @bmaz Agree on @GovJayNixon. And he said no a special prosecutor about 6 hours ago. He and McCulloch are on this together.
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bmaz @KellyCDenver @larosalind this is actually Honergirl. Look them up on google. Just killer.
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bmaz Well @laRosalind I'm here with my Gin Blossom friends http://t.co/Eqc74Mk0DG
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emptywheel @FalguniSheth It's actually a family thing. My grandmother (or great grandmother) gets credit. @bmaz
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bmaz @ScottGreenfield That is Dara Lind, @DLind She is very cool and does excellent work. She is not your average Voxer.
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bmaz RT @emptywheel: Ya'll know the best way to make yummy turkey is to slather it all with bacon, right? http://t.co/nqlLQ4ABlh
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bmaz @nickmartin Cool. Let me know and we will get lunch again or something. Happy holidays!
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bmaz @nickmartin You back for Christmas this year?
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bmaz Would have been better if Obama had spared the life of Abdulrahman Awlaki instead of turkeys Mac and Cheese, but bygones I guess.
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bmaz @ggreenwald @benwizner I really wanted to be ED BALLS, but will settle for First Sea Lord.
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