While the nation grieves over the senseless death of Trayvon Martin and the missed opportunity to hold his killer responsible for that death, there is another senseless death of an American teenager of color where an attempt is continuing, after previous failures, to hold accountable those responsible for the lawless way in which this life was arbitrarily ended.
Exactly one year ago today, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit (pdf) on behalf of Nasser al-Awlaki (father of Anwar al-Awlaki and grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki) and Sarah Khan (wife of Samir Khan). The defendants in the case are former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Commander of Special Operations Command William McRaven, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command Joseph Votel and former CIA Head David Petraeus. The complaint cites violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as well as violation of the Bill of Attainder Clause in the targeted killings of Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdulrahaman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Oral arguments on the suit begin tomorrow.
Given what is known about the role of Barack Obama in these killings and his personal authorization of the “kill list” in his Terror Tuesday meetings, I find it perplexing that he is not also a defendant in this case.
The complaint seeks damages in an amount to be determined at the trial and any other relief the court deems just and proper.
Coincident with the filing of the complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia a year ago, the video above was released. Today, an op-ed by Nasser al-Awlaki was published in the New York Times, helping to focus attention on tomorrow’s opening arguments. The video and op-ed are truly gut-wrenching.
From the op-ed:
I LEARNED that my 16-year-old grandson, Abdulrahman — a United States citizen — had been killed by an American drone strike from news reports the morning after he died.
The missile killed him, his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians on Oct. 14, 2011, while the boys were eating dinner at an open-air restaurant in southern Yemen.
The grandfather describes his anguish as he seeks answers to the question of why his grandson was killed:
Nearly two years later, I still have no answers. The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed. It was not until May of this year that the Obama administration, in a supposed effort to be more transparent, publicly acknowledged what the world already knew — that it was responsible for his death.
Nasser al-Awlaki describes the huge impact an education in the United States made on his life and how he put that education to use when he returned to Yemen. More importantly, he puts the actions of the United States in killing his son and grandson significantly at odds with the values of the United States when he was a student here:
A country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew. From 1966 to 1977, I fulfilled a childhood dream and studied in the United States as a Fulbright scholar, earning my doctorate and then working as a researcher and assistant professor at universities in New Mexico, Nebraska and Minnesota.
After returning to Yemen, I used my American education and skills to help my country, serving as Yemen’s minister of agriculture and fisheries and establishing one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning, Ibb University. Abdulrahman used to tell me he wanted to follow in my footsteps and go back to America to study. I can’t bear to think of those conversations now.
The op-ed closes with a direct and haunting question:
The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?
Sadly, we can state with confidence that even before the proceedings open the government will argue that it does not have to explain why it killed Abdulrahman. Because terror. Even more sadly, it is quite likely that the court will side with this senseless and lawless argument. Because terror.
What has our country become?
I wanted to point to one more detail from the DOD Inspector General’s report on Leon Panetta’s leaks to Zero Dark 30’s filmakers.
The very last page of the report describes how Admiral William McRaven responded after realizing the SEALs who had participated in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound had all hung around a Hollywood producer with their name badges exposed.
According to ADM McRaven, the DoD provided the operators and their families an inordinate level of security. ADM McRaven held a meeting with the families to discuss force protection measures and tell the families that additional protective monitoring will be provided, and to call security personnel if they sensed anything. ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released. This effort included purging these records to another Government Agency. [my emphasis]
The report doesn’t reveal when SOCOM purged its records and handed the documents to, presumably though not definitely, CIA, though if McRaven directed it, it happened after he took command in August 2011. (Update: That’s probably not right, as he was in command of the operation in any case.)
But it’s a relevant question because Judicial Watch had FOIAed pictures of OBL on May 3, 2011, and sued 10 days later, so before all the leaking and presumably therefore the purging began. On June 26, 2011, just two days after Panetta’s leaky party, the government stalled on the suit, saying Judicial Watch had not exhausted its administrative remedies. By September 26, DOD claimed they had no pictures of OBL (though earlier this year there were reports 7 new photos had been found) and CIA claimed none of the 52 pictures they had could be released. Along with that filing, McRaven submitted a declaration explaining why these photos couldn’t be released, though the interesting parts remain redacted. John Bennett’s declaration for the CIA does not describe when the Agency searched its files for photographs, and therefore doesn’t indicate whether they searched before or after DOD purged its files.
Now, none of this timing would mitigate CIA’s claims about the extremely grave harm that would arise from releasing OBL death porn.
But it is, at the very least, very sketchy — and all that’s before having a really good sense of when the purging and the FOIA response occurred.
Update: I spoke to Judicial Watch’s lawyer for this FOIA, Michael Bekesha, and they have never been informed of this purge. Though it may explain some other details about the progress of the FOIA, including some funkiness with the classification of the photos.
Update: Here’s DOD’s declaration about their search from September 26, 2011.
It’s interesting for two reasons. First, they make claims about SOCOM files that is the exact opposite of what DOD said in the NYT/ACLU FOIA for Anwar al-Awlaki related OLC memos. Whereas in the drone FOIA, they claimed CENTCOM handled SOCOM’s FOIA responses, this one says,
The mission of USSOCOM is to provide Special Operations Forces to defend the United States and its interests. A priority of USSOCOM is to “Deter, Disrupt, and Defeat Terrorist Threats,” and a primary aspect of this priority is to plan and conduct special operations. When a special operation is conducted, the military service Components of USSOCOM (U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Navy Special Warfare Command, U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Special Operations Command) provide Special Operations Forces (personnel and equipment) to the operation. Accordingly, it is DoD FOIA policy that documents created or maintained by these military service Components during or for a joint special operation come under the cognizance of USSOCOM and not the military services for purposes of the FOIA. Therefore, USSOCOM and not the military services, is responsible for the searches of records responsive to plaintiff’s FOIA request at those service components that may have participated in the subject operation.
And like CIA, they don’t date their search description at SOCOM, so don’t say whether it happened pre- or post-purge.
USSOCOM searched the Headquarters and relevant Components, and no records responsive to plaintiff’s request were located. The specific filing systems searched at the Headquarters USSOCOM offices and relevant Components were all hard copy and electronic records including all email records during the inclusive dates of May 1, 2011, through May 31, 2011.
There’s a funny passage from the DOD Inspector General on Leon Panetta’s blabbing about the Osama bin Laden raid that was leaked to POGO.
It describes CIA’s apparent helplessness from protecting CIA Headquarters from being breached by outsiders, even while many of our nation’s most elite warriors were present.
In a description of how a Hollywood Executive (possibly Kathryn Bigelow) managed to attend a celebration of the successful Osama bin Laden raid, the report explains,
On June 24, 2011, the CIA held an awards ceremony in a tent located on the grounds of the CIA headquarters. Two to four days prior to this awards ceremony, a CIA [Public Affairs Officer] contacted a DoD PAO to notify the DoD PAO that one of the Hollywood executives may attend the event. According to the DoD PAO, the CIA PAO attempted to prevent this from happening. The DoD PAO did not inform his Chain of Command or the special operators who were going to attend this ceremony about the possibility that a Hollywood executive might also attend. The DoD PAO said he did not forward this information because he hoped the CIA PaO would be able to ensure the Hollywood executive would be refused access. The DoD PAO’s current Deputy Commanding General told us he knew of those DoD PAO actions and did not fault the DoD PAO for not getting the information to the command group.
According to the DoD PAO, the day of the event, the CIA PAO contacted the DoD PAO to state that efforts failed and the “Chief of Staff” directed that the Hollywood executive be given access to the event.
It seems that Leon Panetta’s Chief of Staff, Jeremy Bash, and CIA’s Public Affairs Officer disputed who let the crafty Hollywood executive breach the nation’s premier spy agency. But breach Langley he or she did.
Mind you, all this went down a month before Pentagon Press Secretary George Little revealed that Panetta wanted Al Pacino to play him in Zero Dark 30.
Mr. Little: “I hope they get Pacino to play [Secretary Panetta]. That’s what he wants, no joke!”
Nevertheless, the lesson from this sordid tale appears to be that if terrorists want to breach CIA Headquarters, all they have to do is dangle the name of a famous actor who might play the part of the CIA Director, and they’ll walk into the middle of a highly classified party, even as Osama bin Laden’s killers prowl the site.
This must be what Obama means when he claims to run the most Transparent Administration Ever™.
POGO has a story that adds a new twist to an old story.
The old story is Leon Panetta, leaking classified info, in this case, leaking info on the Osama bin Laden raid to a Zero Dark Thirty executive.
In June 2011, when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Panetta discussed the information at a CIA headquarters event honoring participants in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to an unreleased report drafted by the Inspector General’s office and obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
“During this awards ceremony, Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name,” the draft report says. “According to the DoD Office of Security Review, the individual’s name is protected from public release” under federal law, the report says.
“Director Panetta also provided DoD information, identified by relevant Original Classification Authorities as TOP SECRET//SI//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL, as well as, SECRET/ACCM,” the report says.
This is the investigation Peter King requested in 2011.
The new, but predictable, twist, is that when DOD’s Inspector General tried to investigate this, it apparently got no cooperation from Panetta himself, who had subsequently moved over to head DOD itself. More importantly, the IG stalled the report, apparently until Panetta retired.
The unknown fate of the IG report was the subject of a December 2012 email exchange—obtained by POGO—between a congressional staff member and an employee in the IG’s office. The congressional aide mentions having heard that someone in the IG’s office was “sitting on it until Secretary Panetta retires” and asks the IG employee for any information about it.
The IG employee replies: “That effort . . . has been controlled and manipulated since inception by the IG Front Office.” The employee adds: “There is a version ready to hit the street, been long time ready to hit the street…but we will see if that happens anytime soon. Highly unusual tight controls and tactical involvement from senior leadership on this project.”
The employee says the matter reflects broader problems within the IG’s office.
“I have grave concerns that the message and findings are now controlled and subject to undue influence across the board at DoD IG. I have never experienced or seen so much influence or involvement by outsiders now in developing and issuing oversight reports.”
The IG employee invokes whistleblower status.
“I consider this protected communications on alleged wrong-doings within the Government.”
While it doesn’t say so directly, POGO suggests the Obama Administration may have pulled this off by withholding the nomination for the Acting Inspector General to become its permanent IG.
The Defense Department IG’s job has been vacant since December 2011, and the office has been headed on a temporary basis by Lynne M. Halbrooks, who is now the principal deputy inspector general. She has sought support to be named permanent inspector general, a presidential appointment that traditionally involves the approval of the secretary.
In short, Panetta exposed a classified identity to a movie maker, as well as SIGINT pertaining to the Osama bin Laden raid (perhaps reports on the intercepts the government used to identify the courier?). But rather than being treated like John Kiriakou, for example, Panetta got moved into a position to prevent any release of this information.
The term “sheep dip” has been adopted to refer to the practice of having Special Forces operate under CIA guise, as they did on this OBL raid, to operate under CIA’s covert authorities. It turns out the institutional shell game with the OBL raid served not to keep secrets, nor even to sustain deniability from the Pakistanis (particularly after Panetta identified Shakeel Afridi), but rather to allow the Administration to treat this covert operation just like they do covert operations like drones (Joby Warrick’s book, The Triple Agent, includes a lot on drones that obviously comes from Panetta’s office too), to make them selectively public.
In an article flattering Eric Holder’s sense of remorse once he realized how inappropriate it was to claim a journalist engaging in flattery might be a co-conspirator in a leak, Daniel Klaidman quotes a Holder friend explaining that the Attorney General doesn’t see himself as some kind of Torqemada figure pursuing journalists.
But for Attorney General Eric Holder, the gravity of the situation didn’t fully sink in until Monday morning when he read the Post’s front-page story, sitting at his kitchen table. Quoting from the affidavit, the story detailed how agents had tracked Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department, perused his private emails, and traced the timing of his calls to the State Department security adviser suspected of leaking to him. Then the story, quoting the stark, clinical language of the affidavit, described Rosen as “at the very least … an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the crime. Holder knew that Justice would be besieged by the twin leak probes; but, according to aides, he was also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.
As attorney general, a position at the intersection of law, politics, and investigations, Holder has been at the center of partisan controversy almost since taking office. But sources close to the attorney general says he has been particularly stung by the leak controversy, in large part because his department’s—and his own—actions are at odds with his image of himself as a pragmatic lawyer with liberal instincts and a well-honed sense of balance—not unlike the president he serves. “Look, Eric sees himself fundamentally as a progressive, not some Torquemada out to silence the press,” says a friend who asked not to be identified. [my emphasis]
Granted, the Torquemada metaphor was Holder’s friend’s, not his own. And granted, Holder’s DOJ has worked to avoid the kind of Muslim-bashing people like Peter King have called for (though his DOJ has also slow-walked its investigation into NYPD’s profiling of Muslims and allowed FBI to engage in similar behavior).
But the reference to Torquemda highlighted how limited this remorse is — just to investigations involving journalists, not Muslims, for example — and how thin Holder’s apparent understanding of the problem remains.
I have to admit, this letter from Mark Udall urging Obama to support the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report is close to shrill when describing CIA Director John Brennan’s disinterest in declassifying the report.
Meanwhile, there have been media reports that the CIA is planning an “aggressive response” and is objecting to a “majority” of the Committee’s Study. While I find these reports hard to believe, I am concerned that despite my request — and requests from Chairman Feinstein and other colleagues on the Committee — Director Brennan and his staff have shown little to no interest in engaging collaboratively and constructively with the Committee on a path forward on the Committee’s Study. In fact, despite repeated requests by Members, the CIA has declined to meet or discuss the Study with Committee staff. [my emphasis]
But a more important detail elaborates on something hinted at in this report of Joe Biden’s support for releasing the report.
Speaking about the classified Senate Intelligence report on the use of torture or enhanced interrogation by the United States, Biden suggested that his personal view is that he agrees with McCain that more information should be made public, while he noted it has been the subject of intense debate at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Now this voluminous study has been done,” Biden said. “And the internal debate that goes on in the Congress and in the White House is, do we go back and do we expose it? Do we lay out who was responsible and how we got to where we are?”
“It offends the fundamentals of what kind of country we are, and the practical side of it is, don’t think it didn’t damage the United States’ image in the world in ways that we’ll be paying for for years to come,” McCain said, noting his support for disclosing more details of what happened.
“It is not resolved yet, John, but I’m where you are. I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge, you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward,” Biden said. [my emphasis]
That is, the CIA is not the only part of the Executive Branch debating the release of the report. So is the White House. And while Udall is much less shrill with this suggestion than his description of Brennan’s disinterest in discussing the report, he does imply that Obama ultimately gets to make this decision.
It is my understanding that the comments from your administration will reflect not only the views of the CIA, but also other Executive Branch agencies impacted by the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. I believe the views of other government agencies and the White House are absolutely essential in order to engage in a constructive, lessons-learned dialogue.
In 2009, you made it clear that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program and its “enhanced interrogation techniques” had no place in an Obama administration. I deeply appreciate your stand on these important issues. I also applaud the recent comments of Vice President Biden about the need to “excise the demons” and acknowledge what was done under the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Only by acknowledging and correcting the false public record can the CIA — with your support — credibly institute the necessary reforms that are essential for the CIA to be its best. I strongly believe — and trust that you agree — that publicly acknowledging the truth of this program, regardless of how uncomfortable, is necessary, consistent with our country’s history and ideals, and in the long-term interests of the CIA and the American people. [my emphasis]
Obama’s Administration has tried to hide the fact in the courts, but the torture program was the President’s program, not CIA’s. According to then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, the NSC — not the CIA Director — was the entity that made the torture program a Special Access Program.
Officials at the National Security Council, (NSC) determined that in light of the extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital interests of the United States and the sensitivity of the activities contemplated in the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, it was essential to limit access to the information in the program. NSC officials established a special access program governing access to information relating to the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. Continue reading
In another installment of his book, Mark Mazzetti describes the Ray Davis episode as the signature (pun intended) event that turned Pakistan against the US. Certainly the Davis episode provides a nice hook for a description of the way the US-Pakistani relationship has declined, but it seems Mazzetti presents Davis as being an almost penultimate event of that decline (in this excerpt, he doesn’t get around to describing the 20-some Pakistani soldiers killed by NATO helicopters at the end of 2011).
In his first book excerpt, recall, Mazzetti described how the US killed Nek Muhammad in June 2004 as a quid pro quo with Pakistan for the authority to target al Qaeda figures within Pakistan.
But as Mazzetti explains in this excerpt, our drone strikes in Pakistan didn’t do much good: we didn’t get many high value targets, in part because some of them were seemingly tipped off.
Since the first C.I.A. drone strike in Pakistan in 2004, only a small number of militants on the C.I.A.’s list of “high-value targets” had been killed by drone strikes, and other potential strikes were scuttled at the last minute because of delays in getting Pakistani approval, or because the targets seemed to have been tipped off and had fled.
Then, in 2007, the CIA determined that al Qaeda had reconstituted in the tribal lands of Pakistan. So the CIA’s counterterrorism folks lobbied for escalating the drone war.
[A] highly classified C.I.A. internal memo, dated May 1, 2007, concluded that Al Qaeda was at its most dangerous since 2001 because of the base of operations that militants had established in the tribal areas. That assessment became the cornerstone of a yearlong discussion about the Pakistan problem. Some experts in the State Department warned that expanding the C.I.A. war in Pakistan would further stoke anti-American anger on the streets and could push the country into chaos. But officials inside the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center argued for escalating the drone campaign without the I.S.I.’s blessing.
So after a year of debate, the CIA told General Kayani that they were going to operate unilaterally in Pakistan.
[I]n July 2008, when C.I.A. officers in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, to tell him that President Bush had signed off on a set of secret orders authorizing a new strategy in the drone wars. No longer would the C.I.A. give Pakistan advance warning before launching missiles from Predator or Reaper drones in the tribal areas. From that point on, the C.I.A. officers told Kayani, the C.I.A.’s killing campaign in Pakistan would be a unilateral war.
Side note: Mazzetti’s original story described the initial drone strikes as an agreement between ISI and CIA. Here, Kayani plays a central role, though the rest of this installment affirms the later central role of Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI. I’m interested in whether we played Pakistan’s military off of ISI.
At this point of his story, Mazzetti only describes this as an escalation, followed by a declining relationship with CIA.
So, in July 2008, when the C.I.A.’s director, Michael Hayden, and his deputy, Stephen Kappes, came to the White House to present the agency’s plan to wage a unilateral war in the mountains of Pakistan, it wasn’t a hard sell to a frustrated president. That began the relentless, years-long drone assault on the tribal areas that President Obama continued when he took office. And as the C.I.A.’s relationship with the I.S.I. soured, Langley sent station chiefs out to Islamabad who spent far less time and energy building up good will with Pakistani spies than their predecessors had. From 2008 on, the agency cycled a succession of seasoned case officers through Islamabad, and each left Pakistan more embittered than the last. One of them had to leave the country in haste when his identity was revealed in the Pakistani press. The C.I.A. suspected the leak came from the I.S.I.
Many paragraphs in his story later, he describes signature strikes and the associated “military aged male” standard. Mazzetti doesn’t describe how the two developments both exacerbated the problem. In fact, according to Mazzetti’s NYT colleagues’ reporting from 2008, the decision to use signature strikes actually precedes this change by six months. And as Greg Miller laid out last year, the impetus for the change in both strategies came from “Roger,” the abrasive guy who took over the counterterrorism center in 2006. And Roger’s campaign to make these changes preceded the 2007 report that said al Qaeda was reconstituting itself in the tribal lands. Continue reading
The decision is based on a theory Merrick Garland used in the hearing (which Wells Bennett analyzed here). Whether or not the CIA had admitted to the agency being involved in drones, it had admitted to having an interest in them. Which makes any claim that it cannot reveal it has documents ridiculous.
And there is still more. In 2009, then-Director of the CIA Leon Panetta delivered remarks at the Pacific Council on International Policy. In answer to a question about “remote drone strikes” in the tribal regions of Pakistan, Director Panetta stated:
[O]bviously because these are covert and secret operations I can’t go into particulars. I think it does suffice to say that these operations have been very effective because they have been very precise in terms of the targeting and it involved a minimum of collateral damage. . . . I can assure you that in terms of that particular area, it is very precise and it is very limited in terms of collateral damage and, very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.8
It is hard to see how the CIA Director could have made his Agency’s knowledge of — and therefore “interest” in — drone strikes any clearer. And given these statements by the Director, the President, and the President’s counterterrorism advisor, the Agency’s declaration that “no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA . . . has an interest in drone strikes,” Cole Decl. ¶ 43; see CIA Br. 43, is at this point neither logical nor plausible.
It is true, of course, that neither the President nor any other official has specifically stated that the CIA has documents relating to drone strikes, as compared to an interest in such strikes. At this stage of this case, however, those are not distinct issues. The only reason the Agency has given for refusing to disclose whether it has documents is that such disclosure would reveal whether it has an interest in drone strikes; it does not contend that it has a reason for refusing to confirm or deny the existence of documents that is independent from its reason for refusing to confirm or deny its interest in that subject. And more to the point, as it is now clear that the Agency does have an interest in drone strikes, it beggars belief that it does not also have documents relating to the subject.
But again, there is more. In the above-quoted excerpt from the CIA Director’s Pacific Council remarks, the Director spoke directly about the precision of targeted drone strikes, the level of collateral damage they cause, and their usefulness in comparison to other weapons and tactics. Given those statements, it is implausible that the CIA does not possess a single document on the subject of drone strikes. Continue reading
“Every drone strike,” [Baitullah Mehsud] would say, “brings me three or four new suicide bombers.” –Joby Warrick, The Triple Agent
Leon Panetta is doing something of a media swan song this weekend, showing up on the Sunday shows and doing this interview with NPR.
Leon Panetta lies about the drone strike that killed Baitullah Mehsud and his wife
In it, he explains that President Obama picked him to run the CIA because he thought Panetta could restore trust in the CIA (around 4:00).
He said the reason I’m talking to you is because I think you have the credibility and integrity to be able to restore trust in the CIA.
Yet even while talking about restoring trust, as Justin Elliott notes, NPR actually captures Panetta in a significant lie. In response to a question about civilian casualties from drone strikes, Panetta claims the CIA would not carry out a drone strike if there were women present (around 6:00).
How did the civilian deaths and the risks of civilian deaths weigh on your decision making process?
Frankly, we made very clear that if there were any women or children we would not take the shot. I mean, that became a rule that we abided by.
That, if there women or children on site, the strike was called off?
Yet NPR follows up to note that in at least one strike, Panetta did know a woman was involved.
There is at least one case where US officials, including Panetta, knew that a woman was present at a possible strike site, and the attack was ordered anyway.
Kudos to NPR for fact-checking Panetta thus far.
But it’s worth examining the strike in question — the targeting of Baitullah Mehsud — in more detail (see my earlier posts on Mehsud’s targeting here, here, and here). Because it illustrates how one particular drone strike led to an escalation of the war on terror.
The killing has been described at least three different times: in Joby Warrick’s The Triple Agent (for which he pretty obviously relied on sources in the very immediate vicinity of Panetta; I include excerpts of Warrick’s description of the killing here), Daniel Klaidman’s Kill or Capture, and the NYT Drone Assassination Czar story. Given that Panetta is lying about it on his way out of government, it’s worth drawing the several implications of the killing together in one place.
The killing of the young girl in the Pakistani tribal lands led directly to an escalation both of our drone war, but also of extremists’ retaliation against us.
Five months into Obama’s first term, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta caused a scandal by telling Congress about Blackwater-staffed assassination squads deployed under the Bush Administration; we would ultimately learn the program was run by a still-active mafia hitman.
Partly in response and partly because of the CIA’s lies to Congress under the Bush Administration, the Intelligence Committees began to tie funding to full briefing of the Committees, rather than just Gang of Eight (which were really Gang of Four) briefings Bush used to avoid oversight. The White House responded by issuing a veto threat if Congress violated the “fundamental compact” of letting CIA operate with almost no oversight. In response, after adding the shoot-down of a missionary plane to the scope, then House Intelligence Chair Silvestre Reyes got Pete Hoekstra to support an investigation into all the times CIA lied to Congress, which Reyes announced in July 2009. By October 2009, the House Intelligence Committee released its preliminary conclusion that CIA had lied to Congress on at least five occasions. In summer 2010, Nancy Pelosi got pissed. In October 2010, Obama finally signed Intelligence Authorization purportedly agreeing to new oversight. In November 2010, Reyes released the final results of the HPSCI inquiry, which showed that “in several specific instances, certain individuals did not adhere to the high standards set forth by the Intelligence Community and its agencies.” However, he said, most of the problems were fixed with that year’s Authorization. In the next Congress, Reyes would be replaced as Ranking Member at HPSCI by Dutch Ruppersberger, a servant to the NSA.
From June 2009 until October 2010, a Democratic Congress and the Obama Administration were engaged in a surprisingly contentious argument over whether the Administration would permit Congress to engage in adequate oversight of the Intelligence Community. In October 2010, the Administration purportedly agreed to abide by the clear terms of the National Security Act, which requires briefing of all members of the Intelligence Committees on covert programs.
With that in mind, consider the timeline suggested by Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden’s letter to John Brennan (see also this post).
December 2010: Wyden and Russ Feingold ask Eric Holder about “the interpretation of a particular statute” (probably having to do with online privacy)
Before January 2011: Wyden asks about targeted killing authority
April 2011: Wyden calls Eric Holder with questions about targeted killing authority
May 2011: Intelligence Community provides some response to Wyden, without answering basic questions
Before January 2012: Wyden asks for “the complete list of countries in which the intelligence community has used its lethal counterterrorism authorities”
Early 2012: Wyden repeats request for response to letter about a particular statute (probably online privacy)
February 2012: Wyden renews his request for answers on targeted killing
In October 2010, the Obama Administration agreed to let Congress oversee the Intelligence Community’s activities.
Almost immediately thereafter, the Administration started stonewalling Wyden, a member of one of those Committees with supposedly renewed oversight authority, on at least three issues (though two–the lethal authority and the targeted killing–are closely related). (As I’ll discuss in a follow-up post, they also blew off Wyden’s request to revoke an OLC opinion that probably guts Americans’ privacy.)
And remarkably, one of the topics on which the IC is stonewalling Wyden–where the IC has engaged in lethal counterterrorism authorities–may well be precisely the issue that set off this process back in June 2009, the use not just of drones to kill alleged terrorists, but also assassination squads.
Even as Wyden made this timeline clear, he also revealed not only that the CIA lied to all the outside entities overseeing its torture program, but continues to lie to the American people about that program.
As Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor and an at least tangential participant in the earlier decisions on the “lethal counterterrorism authorities,” John Brennan has presumably been instrumental in the continued stonewalling of Congress. In a few weeks, he hopes to be approved to lead the CIA.