John Brennan

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Vindictive John Brennan Should Be Fired Before He Strikes Again

Rarely do we get to see both faces of John Brennan.

Rarely do we get to see both faces of John Brennan.

Since the release of the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on torture, I don’t think we’ve seen a return of the fawning press pieces over John Brennan where we see reverent mention of his moral rectitude. That’s a good thing, since the hummus incident in the report would suggest that those he leads at the CIA display something more like moral rectaltude. Sadly, though, it seems that outgoing Senator Mark Udall of Colorado is the lone voice in the wilderness calling for Brennan to be fired. Here he is on Wednesday, in the Senate, disclosing more information from the Panetta review on torture and calling for Brennan to be fired over his continued lies to Congress and the American people (at 3:09 of the video, “In other words, the CIA is lying.”):

As Udall notes, Brennan has continued to cover for CIA lies and misrepresentations to Congressional overseers. He also has mostly claimed that CIA torture saved lives, although yesterday he did engage in some semantics over that point, presumably in response to Udall’s Wednesday speech.

But besides Udall’s point about Brennan needing to be fired over his failure to clean house over torture or even to fully recognize it, there is another, stronger, reason to call for Brennan’s removal. Brennan has demonstrated, multiple times, that he will allow political vindictiveness to drive his actions. And he has done so in the worst possible way: in his previous counterterrorism role and then at CIA in his control of drone strikes.  As I have noted in this post and this one, drone strikes in which Brennan would have played a controlling role can be seen as being driven by political retaliation rather than security.

A man who has used drone strikes as political retaliation tools has no business running a CIA that is once again under siege for its crimes. Even though few in the US are calling for prosecutions, calls for prosecutions have now come from more than one UN figure.

Also, don’t forget another event that will factor into Brennan’s anger over calls for prosecutions and/or his removal: he undoubtedly feels that the anti-torture crowd caused him to have to wait to take his rightful role as head of CIA. Recall that he withdrew his name for consideration in 2008 due to his association with the torture program and has been director now for less than two years.

How can Barack Obama leave in office a man who has used lethal drone strikes in the past to score political points to remain in office when the organization he leads is under siege for its demonstrated breaches of international law? Brennan makes the case for his removal even more urgent when he says that a return to torture is simply a question for future policymakers rather than something that is clearly illegal.

As Last Piece of Business, Carl Levin Reiterates that Dick Cheney Lied Us into War

As one of the last things Carl Levin did before retiring, he released a letter he received from John Brennan demonstrating what a liar Dick Cheney is.

For years, Levin has been trying to get the CIA to declassify a March 13, 2003 cable assessing a source’s claim that Mohammed Atta met Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmad Samir al-Ani in Prague before 9/11, a purported meeting Cheney repeatedly used to insinuate a tie between Iraq and al Qaeda justified the war in Iraq. While Brennan still refuses to declassify the cable, but his letter does explain some of CIA’s assessment of that source.

On 13 March 2003, CIA headquarters received a communication from the field responding to a request that the field look into a single-source intelligence report indicating that Mohammed Atta met with former Iraqi intelligence officer al-Ani in Praque in April 20001. In that communication, the field expressed significant concern regarding the possibility of an official public statement by the United States Government indicating that such a meeting took place. The communication noted that information received after the single-source report raised serious doubts about that report’s accuracy.

The context — and CIA’s long refusal to declassify the cable — suggests that the source was yet another planted lead designed to justify the war, a last ditch attempt to create a tie between Iraq and al Qaeda that did not exist.

Brennan’s letter goes on to quote on line from the report.

The field added that, to its knowledge, “there is not one USG [counterterrorism] or FBI expert that … has said they have evidence of ‘know’ that [Atta] was indeed [in Prague]. In fact, the analysis has been quite the opposite. [brackets original]

Four days after this report, Cheney fought mightily to make the Atta claim once more, just before the attack, even though the entire intelligence community thought the claim was not credible.

I raise all this when I should instead be talking about the torture report because it gets to the point I made here, which I keep making in every radio appearance I do on the torture report.

This all was about exploitation, not intelligence. And for over a year, Dick Cheney’s goal for exploitation was to create a fraudulent case for the Iraq war, whether via torture or dubious single source claims in Prague. As Cheney complains that the torture report (which reported on the anal rape done in the guise of rectal rehydration done on his order) is “full of crap,” we should never forget that one end result of this was the disastrous Iraq war.

Some Torture Facts

At the request of some on Twitter, I’m bringing together a Twitter rant of some facts on torture here.

1) Contrary to popular belief, torture was not authorized primarily by the OLC memos John Yoo wrote. It was first authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification (that is, a Presidential Finding) crafted by Cofer Black. See details on the structure and intent of that Finding here. While the Intelligence Committees were briefed on that Finding, even Gang of Four members were not told that the Finding authorized torture or that the torture had been authorized by that Finding until 2004.

2) That means torture was authorized by the same Finding that authorized drone killing, heavily subsidizing the intelligence services of countries like Jordan and Egypt, cooperating with Syria and Libya, and the training of Afghan special forces (the last detail is part of why David Passaro wanted the Finding for his defense against abuse charges — because he had been directly authorized to kill terror suspects by the President as part of his role in training Afghan special forces).

3) Torture started by proxy (though with Americans present) at least as early as February 2002 and first-hand by April 2002, months before the August 2002 memos. During this period, the torturers were operating with close White House involvement.

4) Something happened — probably Ali Soufan’s concerns about seeing a coffin to be used with Abu Zubaydah — that led CIA to ask for more formal legal protection, which is why they got the OLC memos. CIA asked for, but never got approved, the mock burial that may have elicited their concern.

5) According to the OPR report, when CIA wrote up its own internal guidance, it did not rely on the August 1, 2002 techniques memo, but rather a July 13, 2002 fax that John Yoo had written that was more vague, which also happened to be written on the day Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination on torture prosecutions.

6) Even after CIA got the August 1, 2002 memo, they did not adhere to it. When they got into trouble — such as when they froze Gul Rahman to death after hosing him down — they went to John Yoo and had him freelance another document, the Legal Principles, which pretend-authorized these techniques. Jack Goldsmith would later deem those Principles not an OLC product.

7) During both the August 1, 2002 and May 2005 OLC memo writing processes, CIA lied to DOJ (or provided false documentation) about what they had done and when they had done it. This was done, in part, to authorize the things Yoo had pretend-authorized in the Legal Principles.

8) In late 2002, then SSCI Chair Bob Graham made initial efforts to conduct oversight over torture (asking, for example, to send a staffer to observe interrogations). CIA got Pat Roberts, who became Chair in 2003, to quash these efforts, though even he claims CIA lied about how he did so.

9) CIA also lied, for years, to Congress. Here are some details of the lies told before 2004. Even after CIA briefed Congress in 2006, they kept lying. Here is Michael Hayden lying to Congress in 2007

10) We do know that some people in the White House were not fully briefed (and probably provided misleading information, particularly as to what CIA got from torture). But we also know that CIA withheld and/or stole back documents implicating the White House. So while it is true that CIA lied to the White House, it is also true that SSCI will not present the full extent of White House (read, David Addington’s) personal, sometimes daily, involvement in the torture.

11) The torturers are absolutely right to be pissed that these documents were withheld, basically hanging them out to dry while protecting Bush, Cheney, and Addington (and people like Tim Flanigan).

12) Obama’s role in covering up the Bush White House’s role in torture has received far too little attention. But Obama’s White House actually successfully intervened to reverse Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s attempt to release to ACLU a short phrase making it clear torture was done pursuant to a Presidential Finding. So while Obama was happy to have CIA’s role in torture exposed, he went to great lengths, both with that FOIA, with criminal discovery, and with the Torture Report, to hide how deeply implicated the Office of the President was in torture.

Bonus 13) John Brennan has admitted to using information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. This means that information derived from torture was used to scare Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004.

Torture Is Not a Christmas Tree and John Brennan Is Not a Jesuit Pope

I would have thought by this point journalists would cease comparing John Brennan with Jesuits, unless it’s a coded reference to the corrupt spookish reputation the sect had in past centuries.

Such a Jesuitical response will do absolutely nothing to satisfy critics of the program or its supporters—some of whom still go work at Langley every day. 

And I find it downright disgusting for a journalist to use an extended Christmas present metaphor to discuss basic transparency in a democracy, as if democracy were just a gleeful romp on Santa’s lap.

There may have been bourbon punch and festive lights at the CIA’s holiday party Friday night, but a frosty gloom hung in the air. As everyone in the agency’s Langley, Va., headquarters knew, the long-awaited “torture report” from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democrats was set to drop early the next week, perhaps as soon as Monday morning. It seemed a rather awkward time for a party.

[snip]

For pro-release activists, the dissemination of the report would be a holiday present, years in the making. 

[snip]

As of Friday, just how the final publication would play out remained a mystery, like so many Christmas presents under the tree.

[snip]

So as CIA brass passed the punch and mini-pecan pies Friday evening, they wondered: would next week would bring sugarplum fairies, or lumps of coal?

Since when are journalists not among those who want official reports to be released?

Like it or not we will learn what primary sources from the CIA document they did over a 5 year period.

Which means no credible journalist should parrot this claim …

Chief among the agency’s complaints will be that Senate investigators failed to interview anyone who worked on the program, leaving them to base their findings solely on classified documents that, officials argue, couldn’t be fully understood without some elaboration and context.

… without noting the implication of it: that the primary thing the CIA does, which is generate cables and reports, is so flawed that literally millions of cables are inaccurate or so misleadingly written they don’t present a fair record of what we paid the CIA to do.

Seriously: if you have multiple sources you consider credible repeating this claim, your job should immediately be to chase down how it is that so much of the CIA’s work is fraudulent, which would be a truly epic scandal. But no one is doing that, somehow, which suggests even those who are pitching the story know that their own emails and other documents show that they conspired to (among other things) lie to Congress.

That is what the record — even that which is already public — clearly shows. If the CIA did not, along the way, cover its ass sufficiently to make it clear that David Addington was cheering the torture at every step, welp, I hope they develop better self-preservation skills in the future (though it’s quite clear the CIA only documented those aspects of congressional briefings that helped their case, and suppressed or altered those that did not, so it’s not likely they weren’t involved in any CYA).

Finally, the main jist of the complaint Harris documents here is that Brennan made a deal with the White House: to protect that office (by protecting the aforementioned David Addington) in exchange for protecting the CIA officers who got promoted for being good torturers. Brennan succeeded in delivering some version of that deal, though it’s unclear just how far he went. If that’s the case, the CIA officers have already gotten what they signed up for: continued career advancement for remaining silent about who instigated the torture, even as critics of torture were ousted from the agency and even, in John Kiriakou’s case, prosecuted. That was the deal, and they fared better than the critics did.

If they sold their soul too cheaply, perhaps they won’t sell it so cheaply in the future. That’s the entire point of this report, no?

My Yearly December Post on John Brennan Rolling DiFi on Torture Report

Brennan with TortureApproximately 358 days ago, I wrote a post titled,

Yup, John Brennan Rolled DiFi on the Torture Report

In it, I predicted,

Since I was right about John Brennan being completely untrustworthy about bringing an open mind to the evidence presented in the Torture Report, let me make another prediction based on this detail.

Committee aides said the panel hoped to finish work on an updated version of the report, taking note of CIA comments, by the end of the year. The committee could then vote to request declassification, which would allow the public to see the report, or at least parts of it.

What’s going to happen is the SSCI will water down the report, ignoring the clear implications of the evidence, in hopes of getting support for declassification. The Republicans on the committee, at least, still won’t vote to declassify it. Some section of the watered-down report will be released. And the historical record on torture will not reflect the clear evidence in the documentary record.

Dianne Feinstein could, of course, move to declassify the report in its current state.

But she won’t do that, and John Brennan knows it. You see, he knows DiFi wants to be loved by the spooks she oversees, and they could care less what she thinks of them, so long as they continue to hide the true nature of their organizations. And her desire to be loved by those she oversees makes her an easy mark.

When that post said, “by the end of the year”? That meant last year. 2013.

Didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, in recent days, we’ve learned that Brennan prevailed on one of the key fights between CIA and SSCI, succeeding in having the pseudonyms of pseudonyms redacted so we can’t track all the things Alfreda Bikowsky did, beyond the torture tourism we know she engaged in and the torture she subjected an innocent Khalid el-Masri to, before she got several more promotions at CIA.

And while I think today’s report, confirming that “Yup, John Brennan Rolled DiFi on the Torture Report,” adds another dynamic — that of CIA and the President and State publicly making clear that Dianne Feinstein will bear responsibility for any backlash over the revelations in the Torture Report, I think Brennan is still doing a victory lap.

Secretary of State John Kerry personally phoned Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Friday morning to ask her to delay the imminent release of her committee’s report on CIA torture and rendition during the George W. Bush administration, according to administration and Congressional officials.

[snip]

“What he raised was timing of report release, because a lot is going on in the world — including parts of the world particularly implicated — and wanting to make sure foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing,” an administration official told me.  “He had a responsibility to do so because this isn’t just an intel issue — it’s a foreign policy issue.” 

“That’s a nice Torture Report you’ve got there, Dianne,” these men seem to be saying, “and we’ll happily take credit for your work. Unless something bad happens in which case expect us to throw you to the wolves.”

CIA (and NSA) always get Congress to back off oversight with threats like this — kudos to Senator Feinstein for remaining committed to releasing the report.

It’s just really really frustrating that we are here, a year later, with the men in charge still levying these kinds of threats. If the torture CIA did will cause blowback, then that’s CIA’s fault, George Bush’s fault. Dick Cheney’s fault.

Bizarre Deployment of McDonough Torture Role in Article Bitching about Obama Non-Panic

Brennan with TortureThe NYT has a long story claiming to show that Obama is “lurching from crisis to crisis” but ultimately providing evidence to support this observation, which appears at the very end of the story.

Yet he remains deliberative, methodical and not swayed by outside criticism of his style.

It seems DC has decided it is a Big Story that Obama doesn’t show senseless panic, like the inept members of Congress do.

What the story also shows is that Obama — like all Presidents going back to Reagan — relies too much on his National Security Council and not enough on his agencies. There’s a hint of an argument that that is what leads to Obama’s apparent lack of strategy (which as I said earlier this week, may be an appearance or may be real, I’m not sure anyone knows).

And to support that, the story includes this incident (which is by far the most interesting part of the article aside from where it says Chuck Hagel doesn’t speak up often in larger meetings for fear it will leak to the press, as his explanation for not speaking up got leaked to the press).

Over the Columbus Day weekend, the White House chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, traveled to the San Francisco home of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to negotiate personally over redactions in a Senate report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation policies after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

That Mr. McDonough would get involved in such an arcane matter puzzles some legislative aides on Capitol Hill, given the other demands on his time.

[snip]

Some liberals have been deeply disappointed with Mr. Obama’s slowness in embracing the Senate report, and have questioned Mr. McDonough’s involvement in redacting it, noting his close ties to the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, with whom he served as a deputy national security adviser during the president’s first term. Mr. McDonough said he traveled to Mrs. Feinstein’s home because he views the role of Congress in foreign policy as sacrosanct.

“This is an important case study of the role of Congress in foreign policy,” he said, “and I want to get it right.”

Forgive me if you spat up your drink, reading about McDonough’s deep respect for Congress’ “sacrosanct” role in foreign policy. What a load of baloney!

But of course McDonough needed to provide an alternate explanation for the real one — the one that explains why McDonough’s investment in the torture report is no surprise.

President Obama’s White House has been heavily involved in the torture declassification process for years, since when National Security Advisor James Jones intervened to keep a short phrase secret making it clear torture was authorized by a Presidential finding, not by OLC memos. This is more of the same (and probably arises out of precisely the same instincts). That’s not in the least news, even if the NYT hasn’t acknowledged what is going on.

The headline for this story should be, “BREAKING White House intervening to protect torture.” Instead, the NYT has taken a No Drama Obama story and turned into a demand for MOAR PANIC.

Connecting the Dots on the CIA Torture Report

I want to pull several details of the HuffPo’s last two pieces on the CIA torture report together (kudos to HuffPo for stealing Ali Watkins from McClatchy).

Tuesday’s story presents conflicting claims about whether the CIA impersonated SSCI staffers to access the part of the server dedicated to their work.

One side — explicitly relying on the CIA Inspector General’s own report — say the CIA impersonated staffers, and possibly worse.

According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency’s inspector general report remain classified.

“If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It’s straight out of a movie,” said one Senate source familiar with the document.

The quote from the other side issued a non-denial denial (though perhaps there was a more direct denial not quoted): CIA did not use Administrator access (which is not what the other source claimed).

A person familiar with the events surrounding the dispute between the CIA and Intelligence Committee said the suggestion that the agency posed as staff to access drafts of the study is untrue.

“CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said.

Now consider today’s story, which describes the inconclusive result of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms report. Here, the dispute is portrayed as a disagreement over whether the CIA has the original access logs, or only copies of them.

Computer records may have provided evidence on how the CIA document made its way into the Intelligence Committee’s hands. Those records, Senate sources said, were erased by the CIA.

The claim is technically true. The computer audit logs that recorded activity on the CIA computers used for the committee’s report were overridden from the machines’ local drives at regular intervals throughout the five-year study, HuffPost has learned. The records, however, continued to be stored elsewhere, and were provided to the Sergeant-at-Arms office for its inquiry. The CIA said that the Senate office received the computer audit records earlier this year.

“CIA cooperated fully with the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms review and provided all the relevant information that the [Sergeant-at-Arms] requested,” said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd. “In fact, audit data was specifically provided to the [Sergeant-at-Arms] in July 2014. Furthermore, CIA continues to maintain copies of this audit data to this day. Claims alleging otherwise are patently false.”

[snip]

A source familiar with the Senate inquiry has since said that the CIA submitted copies of records to the Sergeant-at-Arms, rather than the records themselves, which the investigators considered unreliable.

The Sergeant-at-Arms “can’t verify any of what CIA is saying,” said the source, who was briefed on the investigation.

In other words, the Sergeant-at-Arms got records that they can’t actually use to verify what happened on the servers. They would have gotten those logs after this issue had already blown up.

I’m reminded of the White House emails, where the content of the emails appears to have been doctored right as Patrick Fitzgerald was subpoenaing specific accounts.

If the CIA had doctored the access logs they stored, they would have been able to eliminate any trace of CIA using SSCI credentials to access the server.

So where does the claim that CIA impersonated the SSCI staffers come from? And what as the inaccurate information based on which the CIA IG referred Senate staffers for investigation?

The CIA had asked the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges against the Senate staff for removing the document, which the Justice Department declined in June to investigate. The CIA’s inspector general has since determined that the criminal referral was based on “inaccurate information.” The inspector general also publicly accused CIA staff of misleading the offices’ investigators during its inquiry.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Inspector General was working with dodgy access logs. CIA has any number of ways to lie — it’s what we pay them to do. By 2010, after all, the CIA had already altered or destroyed all this evidence of their torture:

Since there are so many incidences of destroyed or disappearing torture evidence, I thought it time to start cataloging them, to keep them all straight.

  • Before May 2003: 15 of 92 torture tapes erased or damaged
  • Early 2003: Gitmo commander Mike Dunlavey’s paper trail documenting the torture discussions surrounding Mohammed al-Qahtani “lost”
  • Before August 2004: John Yoo and Patrick Philbin’s torture memo emails deleted
  • June 2005: most copies of Philip Zelikow’s dissent to the May 2005 CAT memo destroyed
  • November 8-9, 2005: 92 torture tapes destroyed
  • July 2007 (probably): 10 documents from OLC SCIF disappear
  • December 19, 2007: Fire breaks out in Cheney’s office

(I put in the Cheney fire because it happened right after DOJ started investigating the torture tape destruction.)

Add to that the 920 documents (potentially pertaining to White House involvement) stolen back from the server after they had originally been made available.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

Again, we don’t know that the CIA altered the access logs.

But if they didn’t, it would almost constitute an exception to their rule of destroying evidence.

Update: As a reminder, here were the conclusions in the CIA IG Report summary that was publicly released.

Agency Access to Files on the SSCI RDINet: Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet.

Agency Crimes Report on Alleged Misconduct by SSCI Staff: The Agency filed a crimes report with the DOJ, as required by Executive Order 12333 and the 1995 Crimes Reporting Memorandum between the DOJ and the Intelligence Community, reporting that SSCI staff members may have improperly accessed Agency information on the RDINet. However, the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based. After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report.

Office of Security Review of SSCI Staff Activity: Subsequent to directive by the D/CIA to halt the Agency review of SSCI staff access to the RDINet, and unaware of the D/CIA’s direction, the Office of Security conducted a limited investigation of SSCI activities on the RDINet. That effort included a keyword search of all and a review of some of the emails of SSCI Majority staff members on the RDINet system.

Lack of Candor: The three IT staff members demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities during interviews by the OIG.

Update: Katherine Hawkins reminds me that Manadel al-Jamadi’s blood-stained hood disappeared.

The Timing of CIA’s Discovery Its Paramilitary Ops Fail

Mark Mazzetti reports that in 2012 and 2013, CIA did a study that one of its favorite means of covert intervention — arming rebels — pretty much doesn’t work.

An internal C.I.A. study has found that it rarely works.

The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.

The findings of the study, described in recent weeks by current and former American government officials, were presented in the White House Situation Room and led to deep skepticism among some senior Obama administration officials about the wisdom of arming and training members of a fractured Syrian opposition.

But in April 2013, President Obama authorized the C.I.A. to begin a program to arm the rebels at a base in Jordan, and more recently the administration decided to expand the training mission with a larger parallel Pentagon program in Saudi Arabia to train “vetted” rebels to battle fighters of the Islamic State, with the aim of training approximately 5,000 rebel troops per year.

The only “success” CIA could find was the mujahadeen ousting the Russians in Afghanistan.

Goodie.

I’m particularly interested in the timing of all this.

Mazzetti says there were multiple studies done in 2012 — at which point David Petraeus was CIA Director, and was pushing to arm rebels in Syria — and 2013 — by which point John Brennan had replaced Petraeus.

So the timing looks something like this:

2012: CIA starts doing studies on how crappy their covert ops have been

2012: Hillary and Petraus both push Obama to arm Syrians

2012: Benghazi attack targets CIA officers ostensibly working to reclaim weapons used to oust Qaddafi but reportedly to send them on to Syria

2012: Petraeus ousted for reasons that probably aren’t primarily that he fucked his biographer

2013: John Brennan nominated to serve as CIA Director. As part of his confirmation process, the follow exchange takes place (Bark Mikulski asked a similar question in the hearing itself).

Question 7: What role do you see for the CIA in paramilitary-style intelligence activities or covert action?

The CIA, a successor to the Office of Strategic Services, has a long history of carrying out paramilitary-style intelligence activities and must continue to be able to provide the President with this option should he want to employ it to accomplish critical national security objectives.

[snip]

Question 8: What are you views on what some have described as the increased “militarization” of the CIA mission following the September 11, 2001 attacks?

In my view, the CIA is the nation’s premier “intelligence” agency, and needs to remain so. While CIA needs to maintain a paramilitary capability to be able to carry out covert action as directed by the President, the CIA should not be used, in my view, to carry out traditional military activities.

April 2013: Obama signs finding authorizing an op CIA knew wouldn’t work

June 2013: Covert op begins, per Chuck Hagel confirmation of it in August

As Mazzetti explains, the amazing discovery that CIA’s covert ops are often useless was one reason Obama delayed so long before he authorized one anyway (and his close confidante Brennan implemented it).

But I think two other things are likely (in addition to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in both April and August 2013). One, it wasn’t so much Obama was opposed to such an op; he was just opposed to the way Petraeus (who oversaw the latter part of the Libya op) and Hillary implemented it. (Note, Mazzetti specifically notes both Hillary and Leon Panetta’s claims they warned Obama to respond earlier in Syria, so Mazzetti’s piece may be a response to that.) And just as likely, the Saudi-tied rising strength in ISIL forced our hand, requiring us to be able to offer a legitimate competitor to their paid terrorists.

Particularly given the mujadadeen “success” apparently cited in the CIA study, I find that rather ominous.

Moral Rectitude? No, John Brennan is a Honey Badger

A tweet yesterday by Arif Rafiq noted that there was a US drone strike in North Waziristan yesterday just a few hours before Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would visit a spot only 20 miles away. At the New York Times article Rafiq linked:

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan visited a military camp in the tribal district of North Waziristan on Thursday in what was seen as a pointed show of support and an attempt to bolster his troubled relationship with the country’s top generals.

The rare visit by Mr. Sharif to the tribal belt came three months after the military launched a sweeping offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan, a hub of Taliban and Qaeda activity.

/snip/

His visit to Miram Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, on Thursday showed Mr. Sharif standing staunchly behind the country’s generals. “Our courageous troops are fighting a difficult war against an invisible enemy,” he told soldiers. “This is a war for the survival of Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s military claims that 80 percent of North Waziristan has been wrested from the militants and that at least 1,000 militants have been killed in the offensive, known as Zarb-e-Azb, which started on June 15. The figures are impossible to independently verify because the area is out of bounds for most reporters.

According to Pakistan Today, Sharif was emphatic in claiming victory by Pakistan over the militants they were attacking in North Waziristan:

Praising Pakistan Army for the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the prime minister said he visited areas of North Waziristan which used to be havens for terrorists but now the army had purged all anti-state elements from there.

Despite Sharif’s claim of total victory over the terrorists, the US obviously feels the job is not complete, as drone strikes this week have been heavy, including the strike Rafiq notes in the Times article as only 20 miles from where Sharif would visit a few hours later.

The beginning of this week was marked by observance of Eid-ul-Azha, but the religious holiday had no bearing on the timing of drone strikes by the CIA. This Express Tribune article notes that US drone strikes in North Waziristan killed five in the pre-dawn hours Monday, another five later on Monday, six early Tuesday, and another eight also on Tuesday.

And then as AP recounts, there were two separate attacks overnight Wednesday and Thursday that killed five more. Near the end of the Times article linked by Rafiq, we get the observation of how close in location and timing it was to Sharif’s visit:

In an unexpected turn, Mr. Sharif’s visit also had an unusual dimension in terms of his relationship with the United States. Hours before he arrived, an American drone fired a missile at a vehicle in Datta Khel, 20 miles west of the camp where Mr. Sharif visited. Four people were killed and two were wounded, a Pakistani security official said on the condition of anonymity.

Clearly, when it comes to drone strikes in Pakistan, John Brennan is a honey badger. He don’t care about religious holidays. He don’t care about the Pakistani military claiming to have established control of North Waziristan. He don’t care about the Prime Minister entering the area. John Brennan just don’t care.

Who ever heard of a honey badger with moral rectitude?

In Telling of Brennan Fit, Panetta Somehow Forgets the Torture Documents Stolen Back for the White House

As you likely know, I’m firmly of the belief that one should call DC memoirs — especially those written by National Security figures — autobiographical novels, because they tend to stray so far from the truth (that’s true of all autobiographies, but in DC it seems far more motivated). Turbo-Tax Timmy Geithner is about the only DC figure whose memoir has ever been treated with any of the skepticism it deserves.

With that in mind, I wanted to look at this detail from Leon Panetta’s book, which Katherine Hawkins alerted me to.

To illustrate how Obama’s micromanagement hurt relations with Congress, Panetta describes the negotiations with Dianne Feinstein over the cables that went into the torture report.

She requested access for her staff to every operational cable regarding the program, a database that had to be in the hundreds of thousands of documents. These were among the most sensitive documents the agency had. But Feinstein’s staff had the requisite clearances and we had no basis to refuse her. Still, I wanted to have some control over this material, so I proposed a deal: Instead of turning over the documents en masse to her staff, we would set up a secure room in Virginia. Her staff could come out to the secure facility and review documents one by one, and though they could take notes, the documents themselves would stay with CIA.

When the White House found out, they went apeshit, calling Panetta into the Situation Room for a spanking.

“The president wants to know who the fuck authorized this release to the committees,” Rahm said, slamming his hand down on the table. “I have a president with his hair on fire, and I want to know what the fuck you did to fuck this up so bad.”

I’d known Rahm a long time, and I was no stranger to his language or his temper, so I knew when to worry about an outburst and when it was mostly for show. On this occasion, my hunch was that Rahm wasn’t that perturbed but that Obama probably was and that others at the table, particularly Brennan and McDonough, were too. Rahm was sticking up for them by coming after me.

[snip]

It went back and forth like this for about fifteen minutes. Brennan and I even exchanged sharp words when I, unfairly, accused him of not sticking up for the agency in the debate over the interrogation memos. Finally, the White House team realized that whether they liked it or not, there was no way we could go back on our deal with the committee. And just like that, the whole matter was dropped.

Rahm and Brennan spanked Panetta, he claims, but then the whole thing blew over.

There are just three problems with this story.

First, according to the quotations Dianne Feinstein revealed from her agreement with Panetta, the CIA wasn’t supposed to “have … control over this material.”

Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta, and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a “stand-alone computer system” with a “network drive” “segregated from CIA networks” for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would “not be permitted to” “share information from the system with other [CIA] personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee.”

Far more significantly, Panetta doesn’t mention the documents that disappeared during Panetta’s tenure — ostensibly, on orders from the White House.

In early 2010, the CIA was continuing to provide documents, and the committee staff was gaining familiarity with the information it had already received.

In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that [certain] documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible. Staff approached the CIA personnel at the offsite location, who initially denied that documents had been removed. CIA personnel then blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority. And then the CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

And Panetta also doesn’t mention what may or may not be the same set of documents, those withheld by CIA on behalf of the White House, as described by Stephen Preston in response to Mark Udall.

With specific reference to documents potentially subject to a claim of executive privilege, as noted in the question, a small percentage of the total number of documents produced was set aside for further review. The Agency has deferred to the White House and has not been substantively involved in subsequent discussions about the disposition of those documents.

In other words, CIA didn’t live up to its deal with Feinstein, not with respect to this set of documents, anyway. After turning over all the cables it believed SSCI had a right to obtain, it then took some back. As far as we know, it never did provide them.

We know that one of the Torture Report’s conclusions is that the CIA lied to the White House.

While there’s good reason to believe CIA lied to Condi Rice, there’s also abundant reason to believe that Dick Cheney and David Addington knew precisely what was going on. If I had to guess, the documents CIA stole back probably make that clear.

Panetta would have us believe that, after his spanking by John Brennan and others, the whole matter was dropped. Which is a convenient tale, except that it obscures that the White House succeeded in clawing back documents CIA originally believed SSCI was entitled to.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV Re-upping: GAO Analysis Highlights Lab Samples Excluded in Sloppy FBI Anthrax Investigation https://t.co/tayFUfUjol
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bmaz @goodyk Had to go to the airport. Which prevented me from saying you were right. Ugh.
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bmaz @robertcaruso @KatieSimpsonCTV Hey, in Ohio that person would be dead; the border is apparently safer!
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bmaz @goodyk Meh, I think the defense looks different if they were not gambling and pressing because there is no possibility of offense.
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bmaz @goodyk No. But would really like to have seen how this game went with Carson Palmer, or, really, any quarterback, around.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @remesdh: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses http://t.co/eB7tiZlzCH
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emptywheel @thegrugq Precisely. Some criminal networks are more lucrative than others--esp if top govt officials are revolving door in and out of it.
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emptywheel @thegrugq See also Wall Street.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @JasonLeopold: NYT Editorial Board: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses http://t.co/BPPranpgDy
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JimWhiteGNV RT @froomkin: NYT editorial: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses http://t.co/nqXkNZ3VQY
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JimWhiteGNV @bsonenstein Maybe tomorrow?
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JimWhiteGNV Costas the philosopher. #Destiny
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