Still reading the NSA IG Report, so I’ll just quote right from Mark Udall’s release:
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I am concerned to see news reports about the CIA’s response to the Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program before the information was provided to the committee. Committee members have not yet seen this response, which we have been expecting for nearly six months.
The American people’s trust in intelligence agencies requires transparency and strong congressional oversight. This latest leak–the latest incident in a long string of leaks from unnamed intelligence officials who purport to be familiar with the Committee’s Study and the CIA’s official response to it–is wholly unacceptable. Even as these reports emerged today and over the past several months, the CIA and the White House have repeatedly rejected requests to discuss the Committee’s report with Members or Committee staff.
The continual leaks of inaccurate information from unnamed intelligence officials are embarrassing to the agency and have only hardened my resolve to declassify the full Committee Study, which is based on a review of more than six million pages of CIA records, comprises more than 6,000 pages in length and includes more than 35,000 footnotes. The report is based on CIA records including internal memoranda, cables, emails, as well as transcripts of interviews and Intelligence Committee hearings. The Study is fact-based, and I believe, indisputable.
I am confident the American people will agree once they have the opportunity to read the Study, as well as the CIA’s official response, that this program was a failure and a tragic moment in America’s history. The only way to correct the inaccurate information in the public record on this program is through the sunlight of declassification.
CIA Director John Brennan is launching a new campaign aimed at pressuring CIA officers to keep the intelligence agency’s secrets secret, after a series of leaks to the media.
In a memo to the CIA workforce this week, Brennan says the “Honor the Oath,” campaign is intended to “reinforce our corporate culture of secrecy” through education and training.
Some leadership on “our corporate culture of secrecy” Brennan is showing, huh?
I have to admit, this letter from Mark Udall urging Obama to support the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report is close to shrill when describing CIA Director John Brennan’s disinterest in declassifying the report.
Meanwhile, there have been media reports that the CIA is planning an “aggressive response” and is objecting to a “majority” of the Committee’s Study. While I find these reports hard to believe, I am concerned that despite my request — and requests from Chairman Feinstein and other colleagues on the Committee — Director Brennan and his staff have shown little to no interest in engaging collaboratively and constructively with the Committee on a path forward on the Committee’s Study. In fact, despite repeated requests by Members, the CIA has declined to meet or discuss the Study with Committee staff. [my emphasis]
But a more important detail elaborates on something hinted at in this report of Joe Biden’s support for releasing the report.
Speaking about the classified Senate Intelligence report on the use of torture or enhanced interrogation by the United States, Biden suggested that his personal view is that he agrees with McCain that more information should be made public, while he noted it has been the subject of intense debate at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Now this voluminous study has been done,” Biden said. “And the internal debate that goes on in the Congress and in the White House is, do we go back and do we expose it? Do we lay out who was responsible and how we got to where we are?”
“It offends the fundamentals of what kind of country we are, and the practical side of it is, don’t think it didn’t damage the United States’ image in the world in ways that we’ll be paying for for years to come,” McCain said, noting his support for disclosing more details of what happened.
“It is not resolved yet, John, but I’m where you are. I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge, you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward,” Biden said. [my emphasis]
That is, the CIA is not the only part of the Executive Branch debating the release of the report. So is the White House. And while Udall is much less shrill with this suggestion than his description of Brennan’s disinterest in discussing the report, he does imply that Obama ultimately gets to make this decision.
It is my understanding that the comments from your administration will reflect not only the views of the CIA, but also other Executive Branch agencies impacted by the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. I believe the views of other government agencies and the White House are absolutely essential in order to engage in a constructive, lessons-learned dialogue.
In 2009, you made it clear that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program and its “enhanced interrogation techniques” had no place in an Obama administration. I deeply appreciate your stand on these important issues. I also applaud the recent comments of Vice President Biden about the need to “excise the demons” and acknowledge what was done under the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Only by acknowledging and correcting the false public record can the CIA — with your support — credibly institute the necessary reforms that are essential for the CIA to be its best. I strongly believe — and trust that you agree — that publicly acknowledging the truth of this program, regardless of how uncomfortable, is necessary, consistent with our country’s history and ideals, and in the long-term interests of the CIA and the American people. [my emphasis]
Obama’s Administration has tried to hide the fact in the courts, but the torture program was the President’s program, not CIA’s. According to then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, the NSC — not the CIA Director — was the entity that made the torture program a Special Access Program.
Officials at the National Security Council, (NSC) determined that in light of the extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital interests of the United States and the sensitivity of the activities contemplated in the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, it was essential to limit access to the information in the program. NSC officials established a special access program governing access to information relating to the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. Continue reading
According to the White House, John Brennan was sworn in as CIA Director on a “first draft” of the Constitution including notations from George Washington, dating to 1787.
Vice President Joe Biden swears in CIA Director John Brennan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, March 8, 2013. Members of Brennan’s family stand with him. Brennan was sworn in with his hand on an original draft of the Constitution, dating from 1787, which has George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations on it.
That means, when Brennan vowed to protect and defend the Constitution, he was swearing on one that did not include the First, Fourth, Fifth, or Sixth Amendments — or any of the other Amendments now included in our Constitution. The Bill of Rights did not become part of our Constitution until 1791, 4 years after the Constitution that Brennan took his oath on.
I really don’t mean to be an asshole about this. But these vows always carry a great deal of symbolism. And whether he meant to invoke this symbolism or not, the moment at which Brennan took over the CIA happened to exclude (in symbolic form, though presumably not legally) the key limits on governmental power that protect American citizens.
Update: Olivier Knox describes how the White House pushed the symbolism of this.
Hours after CIA Director John Brennan took the oath of office – behind closed doors, far away from the press, perhaps befitting his status as America’s top spy – the White House took pains to emphasize the symbolism of the ceremony.
“There’s one piece of this that I wanted to note for you,” spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters gathered for their daily briefing. “Director Brennan was sworn in with his hand on an original draft of the Constitution that had George Washington’s personal handwriting and annotations on it, dating from 1787.”
Earnest said Brennan had asked for a document from the National Archives that would demonstrate the U.S. is a nation of laws.
“Director Brennan told the president that he made the request to the archives because he wanted to reaffirm his commitment to the rule of law as he took the oath of office as director of the CIA,” Earnest said.
Update: I’m assuming this copy of the Constitution is the one Brennan used.
Yesterday, the President rolled out his answer to the Newtown massacre. He’s putting the guy who was put in charge of the Middle Class Task Force during a different crisis in charge of a similar commission to solve gun violence.
If you’re wondering how Joe Biden does with these task force thingies, here’s what the MCTF promised to deliver:
Ahem. Given that Obama’s gun control press conference was dominated by questions about his plans to make retirement less secure by cutting Social Security, I guess we shouldn’t put too much stock in Biden’s new Task Force.
Meanwhile, the NRA has obviously put more serious thought into how to “lead” on this issue than the White House. They have scheduled a Friday night news dump press conference for tomorrow, at which they will describe how they plan to be “part of the solution.”
Few reporters are going to dedicate a lot of energy to a press conference as they’re trying to pack up for Christmas.
But the press conference did provide Meet the Press with an excuse to schedule Wayne LaPierre for a one-on-one chat with hack David Gregory. No matter what you think of MTP, it accords the leader of a group that has spent decades making it easier for gun nuts to massacre people a certain stature and the opportunity to frame this debate.
Mind you, I don’t blame the NRA here, I blame the White House. The White House has a use-it-or-lose-it soapbox. And in this case, they seem to have had little interest in using it.
Which suits LaPierre and his massacre-enablers just fine.
Contrary to just about everyone, I liked the way Martha Raddatz asked the abortion question in last night’s debate, because it gave Joe Biden an opportunity to point out how Paul Ryan ignores the entire social justice aspect of Catholicism. [Note, this was not included in the official transcript, but it appears after Ryan says he takes issue with the Church.]
You have, on the issue of Catholic social doctrine, taken issue.
Moreover, it elicited a really weird effort from Ryan to pretend that his anti-choice stance stems from both science and dogmatic Catholicism. He did so by recalling the ultrasound where he first saw his now-daughter in the form of a bean.
RYAN: Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course. But it’s also because of reason and science.
You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born, for our seven week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, “Bean.” Now I believe that life begins at conception.
Ryan saw what he himself implies was a bean with a heartbeat, and called it human life. That’s his basis in “science” for the belief that beans should have almost the same legal status as women who carry them in utero.
Ryan went on to claim he respects people who disagree that life begins at bean-hood and invoked the Romney current stated policy of retaining exceptions for rape, incest, and the life (but not health) of the mother.
That’s why – those are the reasons why I’m pro-life. Now I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don’t agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
Biden responded by saying he accepts the Church’s teaching, but would not impose that teaching on women who may believe something else.
Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the – the congressman. I – I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that – women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.
He then went onto call Ryan on his own stated belief that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape, showing that Ryan does not, in fact, “respect those who disagree” with him on abortion.
Now with regard to the way in which the – we differ, my friend says that he – well I guess he accepts Governor Romney’s position now, because in the past he has argued that there was – there’s rape and forcible rape. He’s argued that in the case of rape or incest, it was still – it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend.
And this boy wonder, this guy who believes that life begins at bean-hood, this guy who the pundits claim is so smart, responded to Biden’s provocation, admitting that he does indeed believe it’s a crime for a woman to remove a bean a criminal implanted in her uterus.
All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle.
You see, with the Romney-Ryan ticket, it’s not just corporations that should enjoy the same legal status women do. It’s beans too.
That’s a principle, you see.
The Internet is abuzz today with Sheldon Adelson’s announcement that he has already donated $10 million to Mitt Romney’s SuperPAC and plans to provide limitless donations to defeat Obama.
Forbes has confirmed that billionaire Sheldon Adelson, along with his wife Miriam, has donated $10 million to the leading Super PAC supporting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney–and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A well-placed source in the Adelson camp with direct knowledge of the casino billionaire’s thinking says that further donations will be “limitless.”
But the attention is mostly focused on the sheer numbers he’s talking about, not what it suggests that Adelson–who already spent buckets of money to try to defeat Mitt in the primary–has now promised limitless donations to defeat Obama.
This is about Likud trying to decide the American elections.
Adelson doesn’t hide the fact that this donation is about Israel as much as it is Obama’s “socialism.”
Adelson, this source continues, believes that “no price is too high” to protect the U.S. from what he sees as Obama’s “socialization” of America, as well as securing the safety of Israel. He added that Adelson, 78, considers this to be the most important election of his lifetime.
Nor is it surprising he’s doing this. More than he is for any of these American politicians, Adelson is Bibi Netanyahu’s Sugar Daddy. And Obama has been remarkably successful thus far in stymying Bibi’s goal of forcing the US to attack Iran. In addition to the sanctions regime that has brought about negotiations, in recent months, the Administration has leaked both a white paper showing that an Iran attack would do nothing but set off a regional war and news of the bases in Azerbaijan Israel would use if it unilaterally attacked Iran. David Sanger quoted Presidential briefers and Joe Biden–Bibi’s old nemesis–blaming Israel for freeing StuxNet, possibly intentionally. Leon Panetta has, on the record, told the entire world, including Iran, when Israel planned to attack. (I actually thought Panetta’s latest 60 Minutes appearance might have been an attempt to placate Israel.)
It may appear to us that the Administration continues typical American policy of capitulating to Israel. But the Obama Administration has taken surprisingly strong measures to push back against Israel.
And now Sheldon Adelson has promised to use unlimited funds to get rid of President Obama.
As much as the money concerns me, that’s not what I worry about the most. The Israelis have never been shy about running off-the-books operations to influence our policies. Indeed, they played a role in Iran-Contra, the start of which goes back to the last October Surprise plot to make sure a Democrat didn’t get reelected in 1980. And the state of affairs in Israel’s neighborhood (both Syria and Egypt would be excellent candidates, though if I were Turkey I’d be cautious, too) is such that it would be very very very easy to create an October Surprise that would make it a lot harder for Obama to get reelected.
Bibi’s Sugar Daddy just announced the world he will do anything in his power to defeat Obama. You can be sure Bibi feels the same way.
Update: Iran/Israel confusion fixed, h/t vl.
In this interview between David Sanger and Jake Tapper, Sanger makes a striking claim: that he doesn’t know who leaked StuxNet.
I’ll tell you a deep secret. Who leaked the fact? Whoever it was who programmed this thing and made a mistake in it in 2010 so that the bug made it out of the Natanz nuclear plant, got replicated around the world so the entire world could go see this code and figure out that there was some kind of cyberattack underway. I have no idea who that person was. It wasn’t a person, it wasn’t a person, it was a technological error.
At one level, Sanger is just making the point I made here: the age of cyberwar may erode even very disciplined Administration attempts to cloak their covert operations in secrecy. Once StuxNet got out, it didn’t take Administration (or Israeli) sources leaking to expose the program.
But I’m amused that Sanger claims he doesn’t know who leaked the information because he doesn’t know who committed the “technological error” that allowed the code to escape Natanz. I find it particularly amusing given that Dianne Feinstein recently suggested Sanger misled her about what he would publish (while not denying she might call for jailing journalists who report such secrets).
What you have are very sophisticated journalists. David Sanger is one of the best. I spoke–he came into my office, he saw me, we’ve worked together at the Aspen Strategy Institute. He assured me that what he was publishing he had worked out with various agencies and he didn’t believe that anything was revealed that wasn’t known already. Well, I read the NY Times article and my heart dropped because he wove a tapestry which has an impact that’s beyond any single one thing. And he’s very good at what he does and he spent a year figuring it all out.
Sanger claims, now that DiFi attacked him, he doesn’t know who made this “technological error.”
An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.
“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”
Remember how Obama rolled out a campaign to prevent atrocities three weeks ago? “Never again”?
The other day, here’s how the Vice President expressed that fierce commitment to preventing atrocities in a meeting with a man whose country has been committing them. (This is the White House readout of the meeting.)
Vice President Biden met this afternoon with Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain. The Vice President reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to our long-standing partnership with the Government of Bahrain and discussed with the Crown Prince steps to strengthen those ties. The Vice President expressed concern about the recent escalation of street violence, including attacks against security forces. The Vice President also underscored the importance of ensuring fundamental rights for all Bahrainis and the need for greater progress by the government on accountability for past abuses, police reform and integration, and inclusive political dialogue.
And where the readout says “the Vice President reaffirmed the US commitment to our long-standing partnership” with this atrocity committing state? That translated into the announcement that the US was going to sell weapons to Bahrain.
The Obama Administration no doubt knows how bad this looks. Josh Rogin says one point of this weapon sale is to buck up the Crown Prince’s power within the Bahrani regime.
“The administration didn’t want the crown prince to go home empty-handed because they wanted to empower him,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who was arrested in Bahrain while documenting protests there last month. “They placed a lot of hope in him, but he can’t deliver unless the king lets him and right now the hard-liners in the ruling family seem to have the upper hand.”
The crown prince has been stripped of many of his official duties recently, but is still seen as the ruling family member who is most amenable to working constructively with the opposition and with the United States. It’s unclear whether sending him home with arms sales will have any effect on internal Bahraini ruling family politics, however.
But while the Crown Prince met with Obama’s most important cabinet members–in addition to Biden, Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton–there’s no public hint Obama met with him personally (Obama was busy campaigning for part of the time), which might have raised his stock but would tie Obama more closely to this decision.
The State Department insists that none of the weapons they’re selling (of which they have provided no public list–you’ll just have to trust them) can be used for “crowd control.” Less explicit, though clearly understood by all, is that these arms will target–um, defend Bahrain from–Iran. CNN’s sources talk about interoperability. And State Departments officials who, at a briefing, connected this arms sale to the Strategic Cooperation Forum–basically a closer military cooperation between the GCC and the US which Hillary rolled out at the end of March in Riyadh. At that meeting, Hillary explicitly tied “interoperability” to Iran.
In today’s inaugural session of the Strategic Cooperation Forum, I underscored the rock-solid commitment of the United States to the people and nations of the Gulf. And I thanked my colleagues for the GCC’s many positive contributions to regional and global security, particularly the GCC’s leadership in bringing about a peaceful transition within Yemen. We hope this forum will become a permanent addition to our ongoing bilateral discussions that exist between the United States and each nation that is a member of the GCC. We believe this forum offers opportunities to deepen and further our multilateral cooperation on shared challenges, including terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and piracy, as well as broader economic and strategic ties.
Among other things, it should help the American and GCC militaries pursue in concert a set of practical steps, such as improving interoperability, cooperating on maritime security, furthering ballistic missile defense for the region, and coordinating responses to crises. Let me turn to a few of the specific challenges facing the region that we discussed.
I will start with Iran, Continue reading
If you’re looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.
Also yesterday, Time Magazine rolled out a Peter Bergen article, The Last Days of Osama Bin Laden (which is still behind the paywall), accompanied not just by a bunch of other piggy-backed articles, but the letter above, Leon Panetta’s record of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon’s call telling him the operation against OBL was a go.
I guess we’re supposed to assume the timing of the two events is entirely coincidental.
The other event that transpired yesterday–Judge James Boasberg’s order ruling the CIA had properly withheld 52 photos taken during the raid on OBL’s compound under FOIA exemption 1 (properly classified information)–probably was just a coincidence.
But it does remind us that the photos–that is, records of the same covert operation as Leon Panetta’s note recorded–were immediately stamped “Top Secret,” considered derivatively classified, and subsequently formally classified and withheld from FOIA.
And yet, here Panetta’s note is, somehow having evaded the classification stamps. That, in spite of the fact that it records the normally religiously guarded Presidential communications, not to mention details of how CIA and JSOC work together on covert ops, the time it was officially okayed, that McRaven was informed first even though CIA was ostensibly in charge of the op. All of it stuff that, had the op blown up in Obama’s face, would be as carefully guarded as those pictures of OBL’s funeral.
In my mind, this whole festival of information asymmetry targeted at voters is capped off by the byline involved: Peter Bergen.
When I read about the imprisonment of journalists like Abdulelah Haider Shaye, or the wiretapping of Lawrence Wright and Christiane Amanpour, I think back to Bergen, who in the days after 9/11 was an important, reliable source who knew more about al Qaeda than many of the people taxpayers were paying to keep us safe. I’ve always thought, as our government targets journalists covering Islamic extremists, we’re handcuffing the next Peter Bergen, that journalist who is right now collecting the information our intelligence community is neglecting.That Peter Bergen is likely to be imprisoned, like Shaye, for talking directly to a terrorist.
And what has Bergen become, along the way? The outlet for officially leaked information–one more tool in the President’s toolbox of information asymmetry.
I don’t blame the Obama Administration for running on Joe Biden’s pithy slogan. But I do blame it for corrupting information in this way, both the system of classification that should be free from politics, and the space it accorded journalists to do their job when the government wasn’t.
Update: See this for details of how Brian Williams will film Obama and friends re-enacting last year’s Sit Room drama as they killed OBL.
Update: One of the things Judicial Watch complained about in their OBL suit is that the photos were probably classified only after the government received their FOIA on May 2 (to DOD) and May 4 (to CIA). CIA Information Review Officer Elizabeth Anne Culver explained that the CIA always considered the photos classified.
Contrary to Plaintiff’s suggestion, after their creation these extraordinarily sensitive images were always considered to be classified by the CIA and were consistently maintained in a manner appropriate for their classification level.
So wouldn’t Panetta’s note be considered derivatively classified, just like the photos? If so, why doesn’t have declassification markings now?
Presumably to buck up their campaign theme–”Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive“–the Administration pre-leaked some documents to David Ignatius taken from OBL’s compound revealing that OBL hoped to attack President Obama. Ignatius described the aspirational plot as a “bold” command
Before his death, Osama bin Laden boldly commanded his network to organize special cells in Afghanistan and Pakistan to attack the aircraft of President Obama and Gen. David H. Petraeus.
“The reason for concentrating on them,” the al-Qaeda leader explained to his top lieutenant, “is that Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make [Vice President] Biden take over the presidency. . . . Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis. As for Petraeus, he is the man of the hour . . . and killing him would alter the war’s path” in Afghanistan. [my emphasis]
And even while Ignatius admits OBL was never going to be able to shoot Petraeus and Obama out of the air, he offers it as proof that the terrorist still wanted to launch spectacular attacks.
The plot to target Obama was probably bluster, since al-Qaeda apparently lacked the weapons to shoot down U.S. aircraft. But it’s a chilling reminder that even when he was embattled and in hiding, bin Laden still dreamed of pulling off another spectacular terror attack against the United States. [my emphasis]
Politico–that arbiter of beltway conventional wisdom–has described Ignatius’ acceptance of a motivated leak to be a scoop of such proportions to solidify his position as the “preeminent writer on national security affairs.” Politico even offers a quote from its own anonymous Administration source explaining what they got by leaking stuff to Ignatius.
“David is not only influential, he’s a serious journalist who is taken seriously,” an Obama administration official told POLITICO. “His byline gives [the bin Laden] story instantaneous cachet, credibility and, yes, visibility.”
Which Politico accompanies with fawning quotes from Jeff Goldberg, Evan Thomas, Steve Clemons and Sally Quinn (Sally Quinn!?!?!) affirming Ignatius’ magnificence as national security status.
There’s just one problem with all that.
Ignatius, this purportedly brilliant commenter, doesn’t even notice, much less mention, how stupid OBL was.
OBL was going to kill Obama not for the sake of killing the US President, but because Biden, who served in the Senate for 36 years, almost 12 of which he served as one or another powerful committee Chair, “is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis.”
Joe Biden may be many things: but he is as prepared to be President as just about any person in this country. And in a number of key debates during this Administration–notably, what to do with Afghanistan–Biden proved to be right two years before the rest of the Administration copped on.
OBL’s plans to attack Obama, then, show not just how unhinged from reality about al Qaeda OBL was by this point, but also how completely ignorant he was about America.
You’d think that DC’s crack national security correspondent would note just how laughable OBL’s plots were late in life.
But I guess if he did, the Administration wouldn’t come to him anymore for his purported “instantaneous cachet, credibility and, yes, visibility.”