The Obama Administration continues to hold onto the fantasy that training and equipping a group of “moderate” rebels in Syria will allow threading the gap between the Bashar al-Assad regime that continues to relentlessly attack its own citizens and the ISIS fighters who behead many of the folks in their path. After all, Obama and his minions seem to want us to to think, the “moderates” only occasionally eat a victim’s heart or behead people after posing for photos with John McCain.
The press in Turkey is reporting that Obama’s centerpiece of the “moderate” rebel movement, the Free Syrian Army, has fled the strategic city of Aleppo where battles have taken place since early in the Syrian civil war. The reports say that within the past two weeks, the new leader of the FSA, Jamal Marouf (previous FSA leader Salem Idris was among those in the famous photo with McCain) fled to Turkey where he is being protected. Iranian news is repeating these reports, with stories in both Fars News and PressTV. Both Iranian stories cite this report from Turkey:
The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the recognized armed opposition group against the Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has ceased its resistance in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, withdrawing its 14,000 militia from the city, a ranking Turkish security source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 17.
“Its leader Jamal Marouf has fled to Turkey,” confirmed the source, who asked not to be named. “He is currently being hosted and protected by the Turkish state.”
The source did not give an exact date of the escape but said it was within the last two weeks, that is, the first half of November. The source declined to give Marouf’s whereabouts in Turkey.
Wow, so not only did the leader apparently leave, but 14,000 fighters abandoned Aleppo, too? That’s huge. The only Western news story I see so far on this is an AFP story carried by Yahoo News in the UK. The story opens by describing how desperate the refugee problem will be in Turkey if Aleppo has indeed fallen:
Turkey fears another two to three million Syrian refugees could cross its borders if the region of Syria’s second city of Aleppo is overrun either by Islamist extremists or regime forces, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.
Turkey is already hosting at least 1.5 million refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict and has repeatedly warned that its capacities are being strained by the numbers.
It takes another sixteen paragraphs or so before getting to the news about Marouf:
Meanwhile the Turkish online newspaper Radikal reported that the chief of the moderate anti-Assad group the Syrian Revolutionary Front, Jamal Maarouf, had fled to Turkey two weeks ago.
There was no confirmation of the report and no further details were immediately available.
But never fear! The article gives us this rosy news as a conclusion:
Media reports said at the weekend that Turkey and the United States have agreed a plan under which some 2,000 FSA fighters would be trained on Turkish soil.
Let’s see, 14,000 troops fled, and now we’re going to train a whopping 2000 to take their place.
On May 27, 2013, nearly three months before the deadly August, 2013 sarin attack, Josh Rogin was granted an “exclusive” to publish in The Daily Beast that John McCain had secretly slipped into Syria to meet with “moderate” rebels who oppose Bashar al-Assad:
McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.
The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition. Two leaders of the group attended all of the McCain-Idris meetings and discussed them with The Daily Beast.
Just who was present in the meetings with McCain, both in photographs that have appeared and in less public meetings, has been a point of contention since word of the meeting came out. Within a week of the Rogin story, Rand Paul was quoted by CBS:
Wielding a charge that’s been largely refuted, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the weekend took a swipe at his fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for hislast week with Syrian rebels.
“I’m very worried about getting involved in a new war in Syria,” Paul said Saturday night while taking questions at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “a bad guy – he is,” the Kentucky senator continued, but cited al Qaeda and additional extremist groups “on the other side” as a reason to give the United States pause before engaging militarily.
“They say, ‘there are some pro-Western people, and we’re going to vet them,’” Paul continued. “Well, apparently we had a senator over there who had his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re doing vetting those who are going to get the arms.”
Even though CBS noted that Paul’s accusation had already been refuted before they quoted it, Josh Rogin felt it necessary to give more detail debunking Paul. Leaving aside the red herring of Nour and whether he was at the meeting, this part of Rogin’s piece is very interesting: Continue reading
I well remember when Robert Grenier testified at Scooter Libby’s trial. His performance – like most of the witness testimony — was a performance. But I was more intrigued by the response. Even the cynical old DC journalists were impressed by the smoothness of the performance. “You can tell he was a great briefer,” one journalist who had written a book on the CIA said.
Today, he takes up the role of bogus pushback to the Senate torture report, complete with all the false claims about the report, including:
But perhaps Grenier’s most cynical assertion is his claim — in a piece that falsely suggests (though does not claim outright) that Congress was adequately briefed that Congress’ job, their sole job, is to legislate, not oversee.
A second, related reason would be to build support for comprehensive legislation — that is what Congress is supposed to concern itself with, after all — to remove any of the interpretive legal ambiguity which permitted coercive interrogation to be considered in the first place, and ensure it never happens again.
It is a cynical move, but given the rest of his argument, the part that I find compelling, necessary.
Because Grenier warns Dianne Feinstein that her attack on the Presidentially authorized counterterrorism methods of the past will chill President Obama’s preferred presidentially authorized counterterrorism methods — drone strikes — going forward.
It is not just the past which is at stake, but the present and the future as well. Make no mistake — those currently serving in CIA are watching these developments closely.
Senator Feinstein, we are told, though having great moral qualms about vigorously interrogating terrorists, appears to have no particular compunction about killing them — so long as it is done remotely, with little direct contact with the gruesome details. As anyone reading the press will know, the current, Democratic administration has shown great enthusiasm for directed killings, employing drones in lethal operations around the world to an extent that might have shocked their Republican predecessors in the Bush administration. Death by video game has its attractions, particularly for those lacking intestinal fortitude. It enables them to avoid confronting the essential and unavoidable brutality of what they are doing.
Just as was the case with harsh interrogations during the last administration, the current resort to directed killings, including so-called “signature strikes,” in which the specific identities of those targeted are unknown, though remarkably uncontroversial at the outset of the current administration, has become anything but uncontroversial since. Should the perceived threat from various bits of ungoverned, terrorist-dominated geography around the globe diminish, the controversy involving drone strikes will only grow further. At some point soon, if they haven’t already, the tribunes of the people in the U.S. Congress will begin to wonder about the political wisdom of their association with directed killings.
They needn’t worry — they have already demonstrated their ability to avoid all responsibility — but those charged with carrying out such strikes should, and they know it. Those in both the White House and the Congress who have chosen to comfort themselves by propagating the myths associated with drone strikes — that they are universally “surgical,” always precisely targeted, and that any civilian casualties associated with them are rare — will inevitably find themselves shocked — perhaps “chilled” is the word — by reality when political calculation dictates that they examine it more closely. Drone strikes, like any other aspect of war, are far more messy and imprecise than advertised, involving subjective judgments easily vulnerable to second-guessing and ex-post-facto recrimination. They benefit only by comparison with more primitive methods, including ground attacks and conventional air strikes, but those comparisons will no longer matter when political interest moves in the other direction. Some successor to Dianne Feinstein may well soon find political cover or political advantage, as the case may be, in a thorough, negative investigation of the drone program — we can watch for it.
I told you CIA would invoke Obama’s drone strikes to limit the damage of the torture report.
To be sure, there is already evidence CIA is lying to Congress about drone strikes, just as it lied about torture, particularly about the numbers of civilians it has killed. Yet DiFi has willfully continued to believe those lies, to believe the CIA’s purportedly better record on drone strikes stems from some inherent skill and not the preference of foreign partners to work with a malleable CIA rather than DOD.
Grenier is absolutely right that Congress and the White House want to be lied to on this point.
Grenier then launches a more interesting implicit threat — that CIA will stop doing what the President demands under Article II.
In my own time in CIA, as perhaps in all times, there were those inside the organization who preached that the Agency should steadfastly avoid presidential directives to affect or shape events, rather than just report on them. “Stick to traditional intelligence collection,” they’d say. We hear similar voices now. But presidents always feel otherwise. Every president confronts foreign policy challenges for which a cheap, clandestine solution appears tempting. Given CIA’s unique capabilities, it’s often the right thing to do. But the opportunities to frustrate the president’s wishes and avoid such entanglements are rife for those who are so inclined. There is even a term for it: “slow rolling.” Current events, and the anticipated Senate report, will greatly strengthen the hand of the slow-rollers. It’s hard to disagree with them now.
Rather than taking responsibility for changes in counterterrorism policy on itself, it is a far safer, if more insidious course — one instinctive to Congress — to abuse the CIA to the point where it self-regulates. But as noted above, there are serious downsides to that approach. U.S. national security will not be served by fostering a culture within CIA in which the organization decides for itself which of its lawful orders it will choose to follow, and makes those judgments based on what CIA officers consider best for themselves and their institution, rather than on what their elected masters deem best for the country. That is not the way the system is supposed to work. The federal bureaucracy is supposed to follow legal orders. That is what CIA has always done, frequently to its cost, and that is what the American people need it to do. If they don’t like what their elected leaders have done, they can throw them out. They shouldn’t look to CIA to make these decisions for them — on their own, and for their own purposes.
Ostensibly, this talk about slow rolling the President’s Findings is about drone strikes. Except that the President is re-launching the war in Iraq even as we speak, based solely on Article II authority (I presume JSOC features as prominently as CIA, but CIA clearly has been on the ground for some time).
The implicit threat: if SSCI continues to push, both the President and the Democrats who want to respond to ISIS without declaring war will regret it.
Even here, Grenier is full of shit. He makes no mention of the structure of the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Finding, which itself outsourced most substantive decisions to CIA. It’s one thing to demand Congress do something about that — and they should — and yet another to suggest the rest of Obama’s covert operations employ such structure (though I wouldn’t put it beyond the National Security establishment). Moreover, the abundant evidence (in CIA’s own records, which Grenier treats both as accurate and as inaccurate!) that CIA ignored even the limits imposed by DOJ makes their actions illegal, regardless of what order Bush originally gave.
The problem is the orders — both to torture and to drone strike. But it is also the type of relationship Cofer Black and Dick Cheney embraced (and Obama has retained, at least with respect to the Gloves Come Off MON).
Which is why this is my favorite line from Grenier’s piece.
Goodness. If even a substantial portion of this were true, I would be among the first to advise that CIA be razed to the ground and begun all over again.
This is coming (as Grenier alludes to but doesn’t fully lay out, just as he lays out the suggestion that CIA resumed torture after he refused in early 2006) from a guy who tried to stay within the law, stopped torturing after the Detainee Treatment Act forbade it. It is, perhaps, the best line, given the impasse we’re at.
CIA has become the instrument of illegal actions, an arm of the Executive that evades all law, precisely because of its corrupted relationships with both the Executive and Legislative branch.
So, I take you up on the suggestion, Robert Grenier. Let’s raze the damn thing and — if a thorough assessment says a democracy really needs such an agency, which it may not — start over.
My favorite call for John Brennan’s head thus far comes from Fred Fleitz, who helped John Bolton sex up WMD claims leading into the Iraq War. He says John Brennan has to resign not just to shore up CIA’s relations with Congress, but also NSA’s.
I believe CIA director John Brennan and agency officials involved in the monitoring of computers used by the SSCI staff must resign to help mend the CIA’s relationship with Congress. Such resignations would go a long way toward restoring the confidence of the SSCI in the CIA and, it is to be hoped, would win the agency and the National Security Agency some crucial allies in both houses of Congress to fend off several ill-advised intelligence-reform proposals currently under discussion there.
But that’s not my favorite part. Nor is where this “intelligence” professional says a report voted out with support from John McCain (in the first vote) and Susan Collins (in the second) is a Democratic vote. Nor is the bit where Fleitz claims the program was properly briefed, which it wasn’t.
My favorite part is Fleitz’ conflicting claims about Michael Hayden.
The main focus of the SSCI probe reportedly is to prove Democratic claims that the effectiveness of the enhanced-interrogation program has been exaggerated. Former CIA director Michael Hayden and other former senior CIA officials involved in the enhanced-interrogation program dispute this. According to Hayden, as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from harsh interrogations.
Despite their firsthand knowledge of the enhanced-interrogation program, there is no input in the SSCI report from Hayden, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, or other CIA officials, since the report is based solely on an examination of documents.
Assertion 1) Michael Hayden claims half of the government’s knowledge about al Qaeda came from torture, meaning no more than half came from the illegal torture he was conducting at the time over at NSA (and also meaning that relatively more intelligence has come in from SIGINT since Hayden left).
Assertion 2) Michael Hayden, whose entire CIA tenure post-dated the Detainee Treatment Act that made the torture program illegal, should have some say in a torture report.
Maybe Hayden was spying on the CIA while he was in charge of NSA. Or maybe (ok, in fact) Hayden continued torture after such time as Congress made it doubly illegal.
But in the same way that Cofer Black should not need to have a say in torture if the CIA’s false narrative were not false, Michael Hayden shouldn’t either.
Man, as much as this report is demonstrating how much CIA lies and how useless their torture program was, it also demonstrates the misnomer of the whole “intelligence” label.
The talking points are particularly pathetic for the way they try to turn the torture report — and our treatment of torture more generally — as proof of functional democracy.
The TPs claim the report is evidence of the government’s transparency…
The fundamental facts about this program have been known for some time. The U.S. government is committed to transparency and has released much of this information to the public before. This report adds additional details which confirm the wisdom of our national decision not to use such interrogation methods again.
… of our vibrant democracy…
America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.
America can champion democracy and human rights around the world not because we are perfect, but because we can say that our democratic system enables us to confront and resolve our problems through open and honest debate. Our Congress issued this report, and the Obama administration strongly supported its declassification, in that spirit.
… and the separation of powers …
These interrogation methods were debated in our free media, challenged in our independent courts, and, just two years after their introduction, restricted by an act of our Congress sponsored by Senator John McCain and overwhelmingly backed by members of both of our political parties.
The last talking point is particularly neat given that 1) it gets the timing of the Detainee Treatment Act (passed in late 2005, and therefore over 3.5 years after torture started, not 2) wrong — not to mention its efficacy at ending torture, and 2) the Executive, including this President, has prevented any court challenge to torture by claiming state secrets and immunity, and as recently as this month claimed the victims of our torture cannot describe their own torture before the Gitmo Kangaroo Court. John Kiriakou, in particular, will likely find this talking point curious.
I’m just as interested in how aggressively State prepares to answer questions posed on CIA’s behalf in these questions:
4. Is the White House in a position to say that no useful information was obtained?
5. Isn’t the CIA in a better position to assess this?
6. Does the CIA believe useful information was obtained?
13. Does the CIA still stand by its response to the SSCI, or did the SSCI address the CIA’s
concerns when it revised its report?
Perhaps that’s just State doing its best to prep the questions that CIA will cue compliant journalists to ask. And admittedly, State is going to have to do some of the damage control with countries like UK and Poland, which will be embarrassed by the report.
Still, I can’t help but remember that Maria Harf was CIA spokesperson before she moved over to State — indeed, actually started on the analytical side of the house.
In any case, it’s nice to know that State thinks impunity for torture is a sign of a vibrant democracy.
Over the last few days, I’ve tracked the accusations and counter-accusations between CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
A number of people have asked why, as a way to end this issue, the Committee doesn’t just declassify the entire SSCI Report.
But it’s not so simple as that.
It’s not clear there are the votes to release the Report.
Recall that when the Committee approved the Report back in 2012, the vote was largely split on party lines, with the exception of John McCain, who voted as an Ex Officio member (as Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee) to release the Report. McCain is no longer SASC Ranking member: Jim Inhofe is, and I’m betting he’s not going to vote to release the Report.
There are few other changes in the Committee proper since the report was originally finalized. Martin Heinrich and Angus King have replaced Bill Nelson and Kent Conrad, and Susan Collins and Tom Coburn have replaced Olympia Snowe and Roy Blunt.
And while Heinrich has quickly become one of the better overseers on the Committee, including on torture, it’s not actually clear whether King would vote to release the report. Collins, too, has been reported to be undecided (and her vote would be critical to making this a “bipartisan vote,” now that McCain doesn’t have a vote). There are even hints that Mark Warner wouldn’t vote to support its declassification (though he supported its finalization).
And importantly, King and Collins have been reported to be undecided after the time when, in January, the Committee at least began to suspect they’d been surveilled.
There are, obviously, two different issues (though Saxby Chambliss, at least, sides with CIA on both counts). But there’s been little outcry from the swing votes on releasing the underlying report itself.
Update: h/t to JK for the link to the Collins/King report I was not finding.
Imagine a McCain Committee as the inheritor of the tradition of Frank Church and Otis Pike.
(Yes, I did that to make bmaz’ head explode.)
Only, McCain proposes to investigate not just whether NSA has engaged in things it was not authorized to do. But also to investigate Snowden’s leaks themselves and the potential role of contractors in making leaks more likely.
All that said, I might be excited about McCain’s proposal to review the dragnet, as described:
(3) The nature and scope of National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans, that were the subject matter of the unauthorized disclosure, including–
(A) the extent of domestic surveillance authorized by law;
(B) the legal authority that served as the basis for the National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities that are the subject matter of those disclosures;
(C) the extent to which such programs, operations, and activities that were the subject matter of such unauthorized disclosures may have gone beyond what was authorized by law or permitted under the Constitution of the United States;
(D) the extent and sufficiency of oversight of such programs, operations, and activities by Congress and the Executive Branch; and
(E) the need for greater transparency and more effective congressional oversight of intelligence community activities.
There’s just one problem with McCain’s proposal.
Here’s the list of the people who would be on the Committee (he provides titles, I’m providing names):
There are a number of very big NSA defenders on this list — in addition to DiFi and Saxby, both Jello Jay and Coburn are Intel Committee members who have never questioned the dragnet (indeed, Coburn has called for getting rid of the controls on the phone dragnet!). Chuck Grassley, too, has generally been supportive of the dragnet in SJC hearings on the subject. Most of the rest are simply not the caliber of people who might critically assess the dragnet much less show real interest in Americans’ privacy. Only Carl Levin and Pat Leahy, alone among the 12 named members, have been explicitly skeptical of the dragnet at all.
McCain proposes a Select Committee to investigate the dragnet. And he proposes to fill it with people who are really happy with the dragnet as it currently exists.
Update: Just to give a sense of how terrible this make-up for a Select Committee is, compare it with the bipartisan list of 26 Senators who asked James Clapper for more information on other uses of Section 215 last June. Just one Senator from that list — Pat Leahy — would be on McCain’s committee.
Today’s Washington Post carries a story that is quite unlike their usual coverage that tends to tilt toward violence answering most problems. In the story is a striking photo of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari and former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo. Annan, Ahtisaari and Zedillo are traveling as a contingent of The Elders (Mehr News states that Desmond Tutu also traveled with the group), a group founded by the late Nelson Mandela, and are visiting Tehran. When I saw the photo and read the story, I couldn’t help noting the striking contrast between this group of elder statesmen who are traveling the globe to promote peace and diplomacy while the US is saddled with elected representatives who
travel the globe to promote war. The “Three Amigos” of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Joe Lieberman made too many trips to count, always doing their best to promote America’s forever wars and to advocate spreading them to more countries. With Lieberman’s retirement from the Senate, the latest trip for hypocrisy tourists McCain and Graham had John Barrasso sitting in the third position as they went to Kabul to lobby for indefinite detention without charges and for Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement so that US troops can remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year.
The Post describes the Tehran trip:
Members of the Elders, a group of former statesman and high-profile peace mediators promoted by the late Nelson Mandela, are visiting Tehran to push for compromises on disagreements between Iran and world powers.
“We must rebuild trust and mutual respect in the region, which is not easy and requires patience,” former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan said Monday. Annan, a member of the delegation, made the remarks at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The lofty purpose of the three-day visit is to “encourage and advance the new spirit of openness and dialogue between Iran and the international community, and to explore what could be done to enhance cooperation on regional issues,” according to a statement issued by the Elders ahead of their arrival in Tehran.
In a press release Monday, after the first day of the visit, Annan had this to say:
As President Rouhani said to the UN General Assembly in September, that alongside widespread fears in the world today, and I quote:
“There are new hopes; the hope of universal acceptance by the people and the elite all across the globe of ‘yes to peace and no to war’; and the hope of preference of dialogue over conflict and moderation over extremism.”
We believe there has been a number of recent positive developments, most importantly the interim nuclear agreement, signed in Geneva last November. These efforts now need to be sustained to achieve final agreement.
In this regard, we must rebuild trust and mutual respect in the region and further afield. This is not an easy task. It will need patience and perseverance.
Contrast that diplomacy with this Lindsey Graham quote found in the New York Times coverage of the trip to Kabul and in reference to Afghanistan releasing prisoners who have been cleared by the review board at Parwarn Prison:
“If these releases go ahead, it will do irreparable damage to the relationship,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “There will be a backlash in the U.S. Congress.”
Graham only knows war and retribution, this time in the form of cutting off aid.
The world benefits greatly when shuttle diplomats are allowed to ply their trade to promote peace. If the shuttle war mongers are ignored, real progress is likely to ensue.
It turns out that Mark Kirk — not Bernie Sanders — was the first member of Congress to raise concerns about the NSA spying on Senators after Edward Snowden’s leaks started being published. Kirk did so less than a day after the Guardian published the Verizon order from the phone dragnet, in an Appropriations Committee hearing on the Department of Justice’s budget (see at 2:00). After Susan Collins raised the report in the context of drone killing, Kirk asked for assurances that members of Congress weren’t included in the dragnet.
Kirk: I want to just ask, could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored, of members of Congress, that would give a future Executive Branch if they started pulling this kind of thing up, would give them unique leverage over the legislature?
Holder: With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue–I’d be more than glad to come back in an appropriate setting to discuss the issues that you’ve raised but in this open forum–
Kirk: I’m going to interrupt you and say, the correct answer would say, no, we stayed within our lane and I’m assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress.
The first substantive question Congress asked about the dragnet was whether they were included in it.
After that, a few moments of chaos broke out, as other Senators — including NSA’s representative on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Barb Mikulski — joined in Kirk’s concerns, while suggesting the need for a full classified Senate briefing with the AG and NSA. Richard Shelby jumped in to say Mikulski should create the appropriate hearing, but repeated that what Senator Kirk asked was a very important question. Mikulski agreed that it’s the kind of question she’d like to ask herself. Kirk jumped in to raise further separation of powers concerns, given the possibility that SCOTUS had their data collected.
The very first concern members of Congress raised about the dragnet was how it would affect their power.
And then there was a classified briefing and …
… All that noble concern about separation of power melted away. And some of the same people who professed to have real concern became quite comfortable with the dragnet after all.
It’s in light of that sequence of events (along with Snowden’s claim that Members of Congress are exempt, and details about how data integrity analysts strip certain numbers out of the phone dragnet before anyone contact-chains on it) that led me to believe that NSA gave some assurances to Congress they need not worry that their power was threatened by the phone dragnet.
The best explanation from external appearances was that Congress got told their numbers got protection the average citizen’s did not, perhaps stripped out with all the pizza joints and telemarketers (that shouldn’t have alleviated their concerns, as some of that data has been found sitting on wayward servers with no explanation, but members of Congress can be dumb when they want to be).
And they were happy with the dragnet.
Then, 7 months later, Bernie Sanders started asking similar — but not the same –questions. In a letter to Keith Alexander, he raised several issues:
He even defined what he meant by spying.
“Spying” would include gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.
In response, Alexander rejected Sanders’ definition of spying (implicitly suggesting it wasn’t fair), while using a dodge he repeatedly has: the Americans in question are not being targeted, even while they might be collected “incidentally.”
Nothing NSA does can fairly be characterized as “spying on Members of Congress or other American elected officials.”
NSA may not target any American for foreign intelligence collection without a finding of probable cause that the proposed target of collection is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. Moreover, as you are aware, whenever an NSA activity results in the incidental collection of information about Americans, that information is handled pursuant to the very robust procedures designed to protect privacy interests — procedures that must be approved by the Attorney general or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as appropriate. All those protections apply to members of Congress, as they do to all Americans.
Alexander then addressed just one of the three kinds of spying Sanders raised: phone data (which, if I’m right that NSA strips Congressional numbers at the data integrity stage, is the one place Alexander can be fairly sure Sanders’ contacts won’t be found).
Your letter focuses on NSA’s acquisition of telephone metadata…
And used the controls imposed on the raw data of the phone dragnet as an excuse for not answering Sanders’ question.
Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups. For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without that predicate.
Alexander totally ignored Sanders’ two other specified concerns: emails sent and websites visited.
Which is mighty convenient, because for a very large segment of that collection (the internet metadata collected under EO 12333 and via PRISM, though not the data collected domestically before 2011 or domestic upstream collection), NSA believes it doesn’t even need Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to search on US person identifiers. Continue reading
Today’s New York Times dutifully bleats to us that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been “warned” over his plan to release 88 prisoners from the Detention Facility in Parwan over the objections of the US. The warning:
“If these releases go ahead, it will do irreparable damage to the relationship,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “There will be a backlash in the U.S. Congress.”
Those doing the warning were hypocrisy tourists Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Missing their third amigo, Joe Lieberman, the duo settled for stand-in John Barrasso to join them on the trip. It appears, however, that Barrasso opted out of the opportunity to open his mouth, as he is not quoted in the Times piece and doesn’t appear in the video interview ToloNews conducted while they were in Kabul:
The hypocrisy emanating from [Linsey, as he is identified in the ToloNews video] Graham and McCain is staggering. Back in December of 2011, Graham led the charge to put remarkably strong rights protection for the Parwan prisoners into the NDAA, as Marcy noted, but Obama then proceeded to gut that language with his signing statement.
The entire issue of the prison at Parwan and the “independence” of Afghanistan to make its own decisions on the fate of prisoners put into the facility by US forces has been a point of contention for years and has seen significant deception on the part of the US. For example, in September of 2012, the US pretended, as they had several times before, to hand over “complete” control of the prison to Afghans, but still claimed to have veto power over the release of any prisoners. The US pretended again in March, 2013 to do the handover of the prison.
The current controversy again seems to come down to whether this veto power still exists and to the underlying wish of the US for Afghanistan to practice indefinite detention without charges, which Afghanistan has resisted instituting.
The relevant section 1024 of the NDAA calls for review of Afghan prisoner status:
But the NDAA wasn’t all bad when it comes to U.S. military detention policy. In fact, section 1024 of the law, spearheaded by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, provides detainees held indefinitely in Afghanistan with the right to a military defense lawyer and a neutral military judge to evaluate whether their detention is lawful and necessary. The provision was not particularly controversial and garnered little media attention; Congress apparently understood that for the U.S. to maintain any legitimacy while imprisoning some 3,000 Afghans in their own country it has to provide them basic rights to defend themselves.
As Marcy noted, though, Obama’s signing statement sought to undercut that authority for an Afghan review. Graham and McCain, on their hypocrisy tour, appear to be agitating for the US veto power that Afghanistan never seems to have agreed to. From the ToloNews article accompanying the video: Continue reading