CIA Chief David Petraeus wants to expand his drone fleet by about one third, according to the Washington Post. We learn from the Post that the CIA now has a fleet of about 30 to 35 drones capable of use in attacks and Petraeus would like to increase that number by about ten.
An expansion of this offensive capability gets at the heart of what the role of the CIA should be:
The CIA is urging the White House to approve a significant expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones, a move that would extend the spy service’s decade-long transformation into a paramilitary force, U.S. officials said.
The outcome has broad implications for counterterrorism policy and whether the CIA gradually returns to being an organization focused mainly on gathering intelligence, or remains a central player in the targeted killing of terrorism suspects abroad.
Paramilitary activity seems to be quite a stretch for an agency whose name describes its role as intelligence rather than fighting.
With a former Pentagon darling now running the CIA, we see that the CIA now may be seen as more friendly territory by DoD:
In the past, officials from the Pentagon and other departments have raised concerns about the CIA’s expanding arsenal and involvement in lethal operations, but a senior Defense official said that the Pentagon had not opposed the agency’s current plan.
It would appear that this time, as usual, Petreaus has found the proper location for applying more of his charms and has aligned the political forces to favor his objectives.
And speaking of Petraeus’ actions in the political realm, the timing of his speaking up for more drones is very “convenient” for him, because the issue of the CIA, what it knew, when it knew it and, most importantly, when it shared what it knew, seems to be at the heart of the political shitstorm brewing over the September 11 Benghazi incident. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Journalists and human rights groups found a collection of damning–but not the most damning–records of Libya’s cooperation with the CIA and MI6, all wrapped up in binders with labels marking CIA and UK collaboration.
Documents found at the abandoned office of Libya’s former spymaster appear to provide new details of the close relations the Central Intelligence Agency shared with the Libyan intelligence service – most notably suggesting that the Americans sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya despite that country’s reputation for torture.
Although it has been known that Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after it abandoned its program to build unconventional weapons in 2004, the files left behind as Tripoli fell to rebels show that the cooperation was much more extensive than generally known with both the C.I.A. and its British equivalent, MI-6.
Some documents indicate that the British agency was even willing to trace phone numbers for the Libyans, and another appears to be a proposed speech written by the Americans for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi about renouncing unconventional weapons.
The documents were discovered Friday by journalists and Human Rights Watch. There were at least three binders of English-language documents, one marked C.I.A. and the other two marked MI-6, among a larger stash of documents in Arabic. [my emphasis]
And yet few people seem to have thought how curious it is that such a collection came to become accessible all wrapped up with a pretty bow.
As I said, it appears these binders don’t include what would be the most damning record of CIA collaboration–which would be a record of how it was that Ibn Sheik al-Libi came to be suicided in April or May 2009, just as records of the US torture program were released. Nor does it include what would be the most damning record of MI6 collaboration, negotiations trading release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, in August 2009 for BP drilling rights in Libya. The records reportedly stop short in 2007 (in spite of a similar “discovery” just last week of a letter al-Megrahi wrote from Scottish prison in late 2007 or early 2008, declaring his innocence), before any of those events.
The documents cover 2002 to 2007, with many of them concentrated in late 2003 and 2004, when Moussa Koussa was head of the External Security Organization. (Mr. Koussa was most recently Libya’s foreign minister.)
Note, too, the way the NYT ties these files to Moussa Koussa, the Michigan State-educated former Libyan spook in chief. Perhaps the timing and the English language of these makes that tie clear, but it seems … convenient, in ways I’ll return to.
Boy has Charlie Savage caused a headache for Barack Obama and Harold Koh.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a hearing to grill Koh today, in part, because of Savage’s report that Obama overrode OLC, DOJ, and DOD lawyers in deciding that we are not engaged in “hostilities” with Libya and therefore he can blow off the requirements of the War Powers Resolution. Granted, the Obama Administration limited the headache by having just Koh, who sided with Obama in the dispute, and not those lawyers who were overridden, appear at the hearing. Committee Chair John Kerry admitted they had been invited, but declined to attend.
The issue of how Obama came to claim Libya did not involve “hostilities,” by itself, had Koh speaking in circles worthy of his former student, John Yoo.
But what really made things difficult was Savage’s 2007 report on what candidate Barack Obama believed about a President’s war powers. In response to Savage’s question about whether or not the President could unilaterally bomb Iran, the constitutional professor presidential candidate responded,
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
Richard Lugar–who by partnering with Senator Obama on a key foreign relations law gave him some credibility in the area–started the hearing by citing both Savage’s article citing the wisdom of candidate Obama and the one depicting President Obama overriding key lawyers on this issue.
It was about that point of the hearing where Charlie Savage revealed, via Twitter, that 15 years ago he served as an intern in Lugar’s office.
When Jim Risch raised the same quote from candidate Obama (Savage said nothing about interning for Risch), the lawyer now sanctioning Obama’s curious definition of hostilities said that candidate Obama’s 2007 stance on presidential war powers was legally incorrect.
So we’ve learned today that 2007 Harold Koh didn’t agree with what 2007 Charlie Savage reported 2007 Barack Obama believed about the law. But in 2011, Savage’s report made clear, 2011 Koh is the key administration lawyer who agrees with 2011 Obama’s views on the law.
I’m watching the Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s grilling of Harold Koh–either bmaz or I will post on that later.
But Jim Webb just made a really important point. He noted that we have suspended, but not severed, our relations with Libya. After cornering Koh on that issue (and finally getting Koh to acknowledge that point), Webb then asked “What is the constitutional limitation on the assassination of a head of state?” Koh replied that the ban on assassinations is an Executive Order, not a law (a point I make all the time, given that it means the ban can be pixie dusted at will by Presidents).
Webb then said that Nobody up here wants Qaddafi to remain. But moral standard we set is one we should expect.
In other words, Webb notes, if we actively work to assassinate the leader of a country we recognize, we are implicitly endorsing such actions against us.
Silly Webb doesn’t get yet that the US operates under one giant double standard, I guess.
By my count, the OLC memo retroactively authorizing the bombing of Libya mentions the importance of UN or UN Security Council credibility nine times, including these two extended discussions.
In prior opinions, this Office has identified a variety of national interests that, alone or in combination, may justify use of military force by the President. In 2004, for example, we found adequate legal authority for the deployment of U.S. forces to Haiti based on national interests in protecting the lives and property of Americans in the country, preserving “regional stability,” and maintaining the credibility of United Nations Security Council mandates. Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, from Jack L. Goldsmith III, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Deployment of United States Armed Forces to Haiti at 3-4 (Mar. 17, 2004) (“2004 Haiti Opinion”), available at http://www.justice.gov/olc/ opinions.htm. In 1995, we similarly concluded that the President’s authority to deploy approximately 20,000 ground troops to Bosnia, for purposes of enforcing a peace agreement ending the civil war there, rested on national interests in completing a “pattern of inter-allied cooperation and assistance” established by prior U.S. participation in NATO air and naval support for peacekeeping efforts, “preserving peace in the region and forestalling the threat of a wider conflict,” and maintaining the credibility of the UNSC. Proposed Bosnia Deployment, 19 Op. O.L.C. at 332-33. And in 1992, we explained the President’s authority to deploy troops in Somalia in terms of national interests in providing security for American civilians and military personnel involved in UNSC-supported humanitarian relief efforts and (once again) enforcing UNSC mandates. Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 10-12.2
The second important national interest implicated here, which reinforces the first, is the longstanding U.S. commitment to maintaining the credibility of the United Nations Security Council and the effectiveness of its actions to promote international peace and security. Since at least the Korean War, the United States government has recognized that “‘[t]he continued existence of the United Nations as an effective international organization is a paramount United States interest.’” Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 11 (quoting Authority of the President to Repel the Attack in Korea, 23 Dep’t St. Bull. 173, 177 (1950)). Accordingly, although of course the President is not required to direct the use of military force simply because the UNSC has authorized it, this Office has recognized that “‘maintaining the credibility of United Nations Security Council decisions, protecting the security of United Nations and related relief efforts, and ensuring the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping operations can be considered a vital national interest’” on which the President may rely in determining that U.S. interests justify the use of military force. Proposed Bosnia Deployment, 19 Op. O.L.C. at 333 (quoting Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 11). Here, the UNSC’s credibility and effectiveness as an instrument of global peace and stability were at stake in Libya once the UNSC took action to impose a no-fly zone and ensure the safety of civilians—particularly after Qadhafi’s forces ignored the UNSC’s call for a cease fire and for the cessation of attacks on civilians. As President Obama noted, without military action to stop Qadhafi’s repression, “[t]he writ of the United Nations Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling that institution’s future credibility to uphold global peace and security.” Obama March 28, 2011 Address; see also Obama March 21, 2011 Report to Congress (“Qadhafi’s defiance of the Arab League, as well as the broader international community . . . represents a lawless challenge to the authority of the Security Council and its efforts to preserve stability in the region.”). We think the President could legitimately find that military action by the United States to assist the international coalition in giving effect to UNSC Resolution 1973 was needed to secure “a substantial national foreign policy objective.” Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 12. [my emphasis]
Never mind that the Administration felt no need to bomb Cote d’Ivoire to maintain the credibility of the resolutions regarding that country, the Obama Administration just bombed another country in the name of “credibility” of the UN. While the Administration’s stated concerns about credibility focus on the UNSC, it extends (according to this memo) to the UN’s effectiveness generally, the UN’s security, and its relief efforts.
That’s interesting, because the UNHCR explains that in order for its Special Rapporteur on Torture to retain credibility, he must have unmonitored access to detainees. (See the Guardian for more on this.)
“Since December 2010, I have been engaging the US Government on visiting Mr. Manning, at the invitation of his Counsel, to determine his current condition,” the human rights expert said. “Unfortunately, the US Government has not been receptive to a confidential meeting with Mr. Manning.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as part of the methods of work for his mandate, requires unimpeded access to all places of detention, where he can hold private, confidential and unsupervised interviews with detainees. The requirement of a private, confidential and unsupervised interview is a standard practice of the Rapporteur’s mandate and ensures the credibility of any interviews that an independent expert holds with detainees or persons who allege that they have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
“I have since last year on several occasions raised serious concern about the conditions of detention of Mr. Manning, who since his arrest in May 2010, has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia. I have also urged the authorities to ensure his physical and mental integrity,” said Mr. Méndez.
“Even though I have not received an official answer from the Brig Commander, Mr. Manning’s counsel has learned that the request for an official visit has been denied,” Mr. Méndez said. “Presumably, the alternative is a ‘private visit’, the difference between the two is that the latter takes place in the presence of a guard, while an official visit may be unmonitored.”
On Friday, April 8, the Special Rapporteur held a conversation with high authorities in the Departments of Defense and State. Those officials confirmed that Manning could ask to see the Special Rapporteur if he so wished and in that case the US Government would have no objection to a ‘private visit,’ meaning a visit that is monitored by prison officials.
“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US Government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning. I understand that Pfc Manning does not wish to waive his right to an unmonitored conversation with me,” the human rights expert said. “My request for a private, confidential and unsupervised interview with Manning is not onerous: for my part, a monitored conversation would not comply with the practices that my mandate applies in every country and detention center visited. In fact, such forms of interview have been used by the Special Rapporteur in, at least, 18 countries over the last 6 years.” [my emphasis]
But the Obama Administration has given Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez the same kind of run-around they gave Dennis Kucinich, and then ultimately refused to comply with the standard practice.
Apparently, our “national interest” in the credibility of the UN extends only so far as it allows us to bomb other countries, but not so far as it might expose our own treatment of detainees to independent evaluation.
Update: Title changed to get the type of visit correct.
I’m going to have more to say about the Libya memo the Administration released yesterday. But I just wanted to point out something about the structure of it.
Here’s the first paragraph:
This memorandum memorializes advice this Office provided to you, prior to the commencement of recent United States military operations in Libya, regarding the President’s legal authority to conduct such operations. For the reasons explained below, we concluded that the President had the constitutional authority to direct the use of force in Libya because he could reasonably determine that such use of force was in the national interest. We also advised that prior congressional approval was not constitutionally required to use military force in the limited operations under consideration. [my emphasis]
This is not the advice authorizing the Libyan engagement. Rather, it is a document written the day after–the memo notes–the Administration turned over control to NATO, claiming to memorialize the advice given before the Libyan engagement (therefore, presumably, before March 19).
Is this all the advice OLC gave the President? Did OLC authorize further activities? Did Obama’s description of why bombing Libya was in the national interest before March 19 match what appears in this memo, written after the fact?
This fundamental structural reality is all the more striking given the role of Section I of the memo: it provides a narrative of the Libyan engagement starting in mid-February and leading right up to the March 31 turnover of control to NATO. In other words, a key function of this memo is to provide the Administration’s own mini-history of the Libyan engagement, written the day after an artificial “end date” for the engagement, which it uses to lay out the national interest of bombing Libya and the limits to our engagement in it that the memo says justify the engagement. Two key elements in this history–Obama’s address to Congress on March 21 and his address to the nation on March 28–took place after the real advice OLC offered Obama to authorize this engagement.
But the memo claims to have offered its advice before the start of the bombing. It is basically using Presidential statements made up to 9 days after the advice it gave to “memorialize” the advice it gave 9 days earlier. The memo uses limits Obama described after the advice was actually given to claim the advice itself had limits.
I’m envisioning a discussion like this:
Bob Bauer: Caroline, can you give us a verbal okay for this engagement?
Caroline Krass: Do you want a written memo?
Bauer: Not yet. Let’s wait until it’s all done so we can tailor the legal authorization of it to what we really end up doing. It’ll make it easier for us to thread the needle between authorizing what we do while still claiming to believe Executive Power is limited.
Krass: Okay, Bob.
Pretty remarkable, isn’t it, the way a memo written after the fact authorizes precisely the engagement that Obama ultimately used, all the while highlighting limits to the use of unilateral presidential power?
Mark Hosenball, who yesterday broke the news that Obama had issued a Finding authorizing the CIA to operate covertly in Libya in the last 2-3 weeks, today says “intelligence operatives” were on the ground before Obama signed that Finding.
U.S. intelligence operatives were on the ground in Libya before President Barack Obama signed a secret order authorizing covert support for anti-Gaddafi rebels, U.S. government sources told Reuters.The CIA personnel were sent in to contact opponents of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and assess their capabilities, two U.S. officials said.
The president — who said in a speech on Monday “that we would not put ground troops into Libya” — has legal authority to send U.S. intelligence personnel without having to sign a covert action order, current and former U.S. officials said.
Within the last two or three weeks, Obama did sign a secret “finding” authorizing the CIA to pursue a broad range of covert activities in support of the rebels.
Congressional intelligence committees would have been informed of the order, which the officials said came after some CIA personnel were already inside Libya.
Now, one explanation for this is simply that Obama sent JSOC–under the guise of preparing the battlefield–rather than CIA. It sounds like the practice–first exploited by Cheney–that the government has used frequently in the last decade of ever-expanding Presidential authority.
Indeed, House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers’ claims he must authorize covert action, but hasn’t, sounds like the kind of complaint we’ve frequently gotten when the President bypassed the intelligence committees by claiming DOD was simply preparing the battlefield.
And Hosenball’s nuanced language about “boots,” that is, military, on the ground, may support that view.
Furthermore, we know there are a slew of British Special Forces on the ground in Libya. So why not Americans, too?
Hosenball is not saying this explicitly, yet. And he does refer to “CIA operatives” (who could be in Libya to simply collect information). But all the subtext of this article suggests that our special forces have been on the ground since before any Finding, which in turn suggests they may have been there longer than 2-3 weeks (the timeframe given for the Finding).
This is all a wildarsed overreading of Hosenball at this point. But if I’m right, then it would mean Obama would be using the shell game he adopted from Cheney to engage in war without Congressional oversight.
I consider this a wicked brain teaser:
The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to the rebels in Libya, senior officials said on Tuesday, with some fearful that providing arms would deepen American involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have links to Al Qaeda.
The debate has drawn in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, these officials said, and has prompted an urgent call for intelligence about a ragtag band of rebels who are waging a town-by-town battle against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, from a base in eastern Libya long suspected of supplying terrorist recruits.
“Al Qaeda in that part of the country is obviously an issue,” a senior official said.
On a day when Libyan forces counterattacked, fears about the rebels surfaced publicly on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when the military commander of NATO, Adm. James G. Stavridis, told a Senate hearing that there were “flickers” in intelligence reports about the presence of Qaeda and Hezbollah members among the anti-Qaddafi forces. No full picture of the opposition has emerged, Admiral Stavridis said. While eastern Libya was the center of Islamist protests in the late 1990s, it is unclear how many groups retain ties to Al Qaeda.
After all, according to Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project any help to a terrorist group–even counseling on how to make peace–is material support. And no matter how we try to spin arming rebels as an act of peace, it’s a good deal more help than legal counsel.
And, as the DC Circuit’s decision yesterday in Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman’s habeas suit makes clear, it’s not enough for a person to stop associating with al Qaeda in the 1990s, nor does the government need any real evidence of a tie between someone in al Qaeda’s vicinity to claim that person is a member of al Qaeda.
Uthman filed a challenge, and in February 2010, District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. ruled that he was being improperly held and that the United States had failed to demonstrate that he was a member of al-Qaeda. As ProPublica detailed, the government censored Kennedy’s decision and quickly appealed the case to a court that was already lowering the government’s burden for proving a prisoner’s detainability.
In another case last year, known as Salahi, the appeals court rejected a lower court’s standard that the government show direct evidence the detainee was a member of al-Qaeda. In that case, the court sent the detainee back to the district court to have his habeas corpus petition reheard.
In today’s opinion, written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the appeals court went further by reversing the habeas win outright. In doing so, the court determined that circumstantial evidence, such as a detainee being in the same location as other al-Qaeda members, is enough to meet the standard to hold a prisoner without charge.
That standard, the court wrote in its decision today, “along with uncontested facts in the record, demonstrate that Uthman more likely than not was part of al Qaeda.”
By the DC Circuit’s standards, it seems clear, at least some of the rebels we’ve been helping (and are debating arming) are the same as al Qaeda for legal purposes.
Which would mean we’ve already been offering material support to terrorists.
If I were Obama, I’d make the decision quickly about where he wants to be tried for material support of terrorism. If Bud McKeon has his way, he’ll take away the President’s decision-making authority on whether to try Americans in civilian or military trials.
So if you’re the President and need to decide where to try yourself for material support for terror, where do you do it?
Update: Mark Hosenball cites four different sources saying Obama signed a covert order to arm the rebels 2-3 weeks ago.
Obama signed the order, known as a presidential “finding”, within the last two or three weeks, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with the matter.
I forget. Does material support for terrorists done under cover of a Finding qualify as material support for terror?
It’s all so confusing!!!
NYT’s food columnist Mark Bittman has given up food:
I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 other people in a fast to call attention to Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry.
By doing so, I surprised myself; after all, I eat for a living. But the decision was easy after I spoke last week with David Beckmann, a reverend who is this year’s World Food Prize laureate. Our conversation turned, as so many about food do these days, to the poor.
Who are — once again — under attack, this time in the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)
These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.
Bittman doesn’t say it, of course, but just since Monday we’ve probably dropped enough bombs on Libya to offset these cuts.
We’re spending an average of $55 million a day to bomb Libyans while, as Bittman says, people here are going to bed hungry.
I don’t care where you come down on the question of whether we have a national interest in Libya or not. Until someone explains why that national interest is greater than feeding our own children, or until some decides to start taxing GE and Bank of America to pay for this, the action is illegitimate.