Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin wants you to believe the NSA wasn’t really reading Anwar al-Awlaki’s communications content, on whose emails (including the web-based ones) the NSA had a full-time tap at least as early as March 16, 2008.
In my experience, NSA analysts err on the side of caution before touching any data having to do with U.S. citizens. In 2010, at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, I chaired a panel investigating the intelligence community’s failure to be aware of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “underwear bomber” who tried to blow up a commercial plane over Detroit on Dec. 25, 2009.
The overall report remains classified, but I can say that the government lost vital time because of the extraordinary care the NSA and others took in handling any data involving a “U.S. person.” (Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, was recruited and trained by the late Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen based in Yemen.)
And maybe that’s the case.
Except it doesn’t seem to square with the report that two FBI Agents were spending 3 hours a day each reading Awlaki’s mail. It doesn’t seem to accord with the efforts those Agents made to chase down the Nidal Hasan lead — which, after all, infringed on the privacy of two American citizens, against one of whom probable cause had not been established. You’d think it would be far easier to chase down the Abdulmutallab messages, particularly given what has been portrayed as more clearly operational content, given that Abdulmutallab would have gotten no protection as a US person.
Sure, those Agents complained about the “crushing” volume of the communications content they had to review every day, but that was a factor of volume, not any restrictions on reading FISA target Anwar al-Awlaki’s email.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled someone has raised Abdulmutallab in the context of assessing NSA’s dragnet, which I’ve been calling for since October.
UndieBomb 1.0 was the guy who was allegedly plotting out Jihad with Anwar al-Awlaki — whose communications the FBI had two guys reading – over things like chats and calls. That is, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was a guy whose plot the NSA and FBI should have thwarted before he got on a plane. (To say nothing of the CIA and NCTC’s fuck-ups.)
And yet, he got on that plane. His own incompetence and the quick work of passengers prevented that explosion, while a number of needles went unnoticed in the NSA’s most closely watched haystacks.
Nevertheless, the lesson DiFi takes is that we need more haystacks.
Shouldn’t the lessons of UndieBomb 1.0 be just as important to this debate as the partial, distorted, lessons of 9/11?
(I’ve also been wondering why Faisal Shahzad, who was getting instructions, including hawala notice, from known targets of drone strikes in Pakistan, before his attack, wasn’t identified by phone and Internet dragnet analysis as a person of interest through those contacts, though that may legitimately be because of turmoil in both dragnet programs.)
But for McLaughlin’s claims to be true then the description of the treatment of the Awlaki wiretaps in the Webster report on the Nidal Hasan investigation wouldn’t seem to make sense.
By all means, let’s hear what really happened back between 2008 and 2010, when the NSA missed multiple contacts with top AQAP targets and TTP targets and as a result missed two of the three main international terrorist attacks on this country since 9/11. That should be part of the debate.
But let’s be very clear whether it was really limits on US person data, when we see FBI reading content of two US persons directly, or rather the sheer volume we’re collecting (as well as the crappy computer systems FBI had in place in 2009) that caused the dragnet to fail.
Oh hi! Are you folks still here? Missed you!
First off, thanks to bmaz and Jim and Rayne for holding down the fort while Mr EW, McCaffrey the MilleniaLab, and I explored Kentucky. There are many wonderful aspects of the state: the sandstone arches, the ham, and I think we’re even finally beginning to get this Bourbon thing!
I’ll be catching up for a few days, probably commenting on things that broke while I’m away. Such as this news, that John Brennan is showing his leadership at CIA by having three former CIA people weigh in on whether he should retain the woman who destroyed the torture tapes as the head of the clandestine service (she’s the acting head now, Brennan is considering making her appointment permanent; Mark Mazzetti has more details on her career here).
To help navigate the sensitive decision on the clandestine service chief, Brennan has taken the unusual step of assembling a group of three former CIA officials to evaluate the candidates. Brennan announced the move in a previously undisclosed notice sent to CIA employees last week, officials said.
“Given the importance of the position of the director of the National Clandestine Service, Director Brennan has asked a few highly respected former senior agency officers to review the candidates he’s considering for the job,” said Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman.
The group’s members were identified as former senior officials John McLaughlin, Stephen Kappes and Mary Margaret Graham.
Note that at least two of these three were deeply implicated in the torture program, with McLaughlin involved in decisions and briefing of the program itself (and also vouching for Brennan’s claimed opposition to torture back when it mattered, solely because he’s “honest”), and Kappes involved in covering up the Salt Pit killing of Gul Rahman, among other things. So they’re not exactly neutral on the contributions of people who cover up the CIA’s torture program. While the selection of these three is being spun as expertise (I suspect they were also selected because Dianne Feinstein respects them, though that’s a guess), it should be clear that they are not neutral on torture.
But I’m just as amused at how this process — Brennan’s fairly transparent attempt to outsource the morally repugnant decision to promote someone involved in torture and its cover-up — undermines all the carefully cultivated claims about Brennan’s role as the priest serving as a moral compass for others, at least on the drone program.
Among other descriptions offered of the guy in charge of drone assassinations, Harold Koh described him as a priest.
“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”
That same formulation–moral rectitude–shows up in Karen DeYoung’s profile of John Brennan today.
Some White House aides describe him as a nearly priest-like presence in their midst, with a moral depth leavened by a dry, Irish wit.
One CIA colleague, former general counsel John Rizzo, recalled his rectitude surfacing in unexpected ways. Brennan once questioned Rizzo’s use of the “BCC” function in the agency’s e-mail system to send a blind copy of a message to a third party without the primary recipient’s knowledge.
“He wasn’t joking,” Rizzo said. “He regarded that as underhanded.”
Back when Brennan’s boosters were promising he’d be a controlling figure at CIA, they suggested he’d make these decisions based on a priest-like moral compass.
Yet, just weeks into the job, he has instead asked those who benefitted from this woman’s cover-up to bless her promotion, thereby dodging the responsibility himself.
I warned that this moral rectitude thing was just a myth when Brennan was nominated. It sure didn’t take long to be proven right.
This Mark Hosenball story is getting a lot of attention. It repeats earlier assertions–from Dianne Feinstein among others–about whether or not John Brennan opposed torture or not, with anonymous sources (one, a senior Administration official, who might not have means to know firsthand) arguing both sides.
Some former officials familiar with deliberations about the program said they don’t recall Brennan voicing objections to the use of harsh interrogation techniques.
But other former officials say Brennan was among agency officials who were uncomfortable with the use of physically coercive tactics, despite the legal opinions that supported their use. He expressed concern, according to these officials, that if details of the program became public, it would be CIA officers who would face criticism, rather than the politicians and lawyers who approved them.
“Mr. Brennan had significant concerns and personal objections to many elements of the EIT (enhanced interrogation techniques) program while it was under way,” a senior administration official said in response to Reuters’ inquiries. “He voiced those objections privately with colleagues at the agency.”
But I’m most amused by one of the only on-the-record quotes in the piece, from George Tenet’s Deputy, John McLaughlin.
“If John says he expressed reservations about some techniques, I believe him because he’s an honest guy,” said John McLaughlin, who was deputy CIA director at the time.
John Brennan’s an honest guy. Sure.
The guy who said there were no civilian drone casualties.
The guy who implied all drone strikes are targeted at known people, pretending none are targeted at patterns of people whose identity remains unknown.
The guy who said Osama bin Laden shot at the team that ultimately killed him.
I’ve got my concerns about John Brennan’s knowledge of–even his logistical involvement in–torture. But a far bigger concern, in my book, is that–like John McLaughlin’s boss, George “Slam Dunk” Tenet–he has lied to the American people, all the while hiding behind a claim of secrecy.
And so not only is it absurd to believe John Brennan opposed torture because he says so. It’s that–just 10 years after being lied into an illegal war–we’re even considering confirming a guy who has engaged in the same kind of lying that George Tenet used to help get us into that war.
Laura Rozen has been reporting an angle of the Jane Harman story that has been largely neglected elsewhere–the possibility that this story is coming out now as a way to hit Harman, the fiercest critic of the torture program.
A former senior U.S. intelligence officer said he heard during work on the Hill in the 2004 time period of whispers among members of the intelligence committees and their staffs that Harman was allegedly caught up in some Israel-related case that would likely prevent her from getting the chairmanship of the committee she sought. He also said that it was clear that Goss and Harman (and their staffs) fiercely disliked each other.
But he wondered if the timing of this story was about changing the subject, from what Bush-era officials had authorized, to what the Congress was complicit in. "Is this about taking pressure off the revelations of waterboarding and the memos?" he speculated. "And the fact," he added, "that no real intelligence came out of this whole effort?" referring to the enhanced interrogation/torture regime revealed in the memos, which he said produced no actionable intelligence.
(For his part, Stein said in an online chat Monday afternoon that he had had the story for a while, and only decided to move on it now.)
But the former intelligence official familiar with the matter noted that Goss has given only one on-the-record interview on these CIA controversies since leaving the CIA director job. In the December 2007 interview, he said that Congressional leaders, including Representatives Pelosi and Goss himself, Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and later Rep. Harman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), had been briefed on CIA waterboarding back in 2002 and 2003. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," Goss told the Washington Post. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."
Who was the lone lawmaker the article identified as objecting to the program?
The story is plausible not just because Porter Goss–both a former Congressman and former DCI–might fit as one of the sources for all the intelligence reporters covering this story. But also because we know Porter Goss was doing a masterful job working the press to distract from his role in the torture tape destruction (that’s what his on-the-record interview was all about). Continue reading
Per Jeff’s suggestion, I took a closer look at Zelikow’s memo on how the CIA stiffed the 9/11 Commission on evidence relating to interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri. I’ll come back and comment on it in more detail–but I was struck by how closely the requests coincided with the beginnings of the Abu Ghraib scandal and Tenet’s resignation. So for now, I’m just adding some dates to this timeline (which I’ve integrated my torture tapes timeline). Look closely at the roles of Rummy, Cambone, Tenet, and McLaughlin.
August 1, 2002: Bybee Memo on torture governing interrogations by CIA
March 2003: Second John Yoo opinion on torture, governing interrogations by DOD
June 6, 2003: 9/11 Commission requests "’all TDs and other reports of intelligence information obtained from interrogations’ of forty named individuals from CIA, DOD, and FBI
August 31 to September 9, 2003: Major General Geoffrey Miller ordered to Abu Ghraib from Gitmo
September 22 and September 25, 2003: 9/11 discussions with CIA about interrogation process
October 1, 2003: Hamdi petition filed with SCOTUS
October 14 and 16, 2003: 9/11 Commission sends questions to CIA General Counsel Scott Muller on interrogations
October 31 and November 7, 2003: Response to 9/11 Commission with little new information
Fall 2003: General Sanchez visits Abu Ghraib regularly
December 2003: Jack Goldsmith tells Rummy he will withdraw March 2003 opinion on torture
December 23, 2003: 9/11 Commission requests access from Tenet to seven detainees; Tenet says no; Lee Hamilton asks for any responsive documents
January 5, 2004: 9/11 Commission decides CIA responses inadequate
January 9, 2004: SCOTUS agrees to hear Hamdi
January 13, 2004: Joseph Darby gives CID a CD of images of abuse
January 15, 2004: Memo to Gonzales, Muller, and Steve Cambone asking for more information
January 15, 2004: General Craddick receives email summary of story
January 19, 2004: General Sanchez requests investigation of allegations of abuse
January 20, 2004: Craddick and Admiral Keating receive another notice of abuse
January 2004: General Myers learns of abuse
January 26, 2004: After negotiations with Gonzales, Tenet, Rummy, and Christopher Wray from DOJ, 9/11 Commission accepts asking questions through intermediary
January 31, 2004: Taguba appointed to conduct investigation
February 9, 2004: 9/11 Commission requests “all TDs and reports related to the attack on the USS Cole, including intelligence information obtained from the interrogations of Abd al Rashim al Nashiri” from CIA
February 2 to 29, 2004: Taguba’s team in Iraq, conducting investigation
March 9, 2004: Taguba submits his report
Late March, 2004: 60 Minutes II starts on story
April 2004: General Miller ordered to Abu Ghraib to fix problems
April 7, 2004 (approximately): 60 Minutes II acquires photos authenticating Abu Ghraib story
Mid-April, 2004: General Myers calls Dan Rather to ask him to delay story