Saturday night, the New York Times published a blockbuster article by James Risen and Matt Apuzzo that was then carried on the front page of Sunday’s print edition. The article described the jaw-dropping revelation that somehow, a lowly Port Authority detective wound up as the primary contact for Jundallah, a Sunni extremist group on the Iran-Pakistan border that attacks Iran (and sometimes Pakistan) with an aim to unify the region that is home to the Baloch people. Further, it appears that through Thomas McHale’s contacts (and McHale’s membership in a Joint Terrorism Task Force), information on Jundallah attacks filtered into the CIA and FBI prior to their being carried out in Iran.
Iran has long accused the US and Israel of having associations with Jundallah, even going so far as to state that the CIA and/or Mossad equip them and help them to plan their attacks. With negotiations between the P5+1 group of countries and Iran now in the home stretch toward a November 24 deadline, Saturday’s disclosure could hardly have come at a worse time. In fact, John Kerry was in Oman, meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and Catherine Ashton from the EU over the weekend. Despite this disclosure coming out, Sunday’s negotiating session turned into two sessions and a further session was even added on Monday. Upbeat news is still flowing from that meeting, so on first blush the disclosure Saturday didn’t completely disrupt the talks.
My first thought on seeing the article was that it fit perfectly with the previous front page effort by the Times at disrupting the talks. David Sanger “mistakenly” claimed that a new wrinkle in the negotiations would allow Russia to take over enrichment for Iran. This would almost certainly give hardliners the room they need to kill the deal, since maintaining enrichment capacity is a redline issue for Iran.
The reality is that what is under discussion is that Iran would continue its enrichment activities, but ship low enriched uranium to Russia where it would be converted into fuel rods. Evidence that this pathway is making progress can be seen in this morning’s announcement that Iran and Russia have signed an agreement for Russia to build two more nuclear power plants in Iran. It seems that a new wrinkle on the arrangement might allow Russia to prepare the fuel rods inside Iran:
Russia, which is involved in those talks, will also cooperate with Teheran on developing more nuclear power units in Iran, and consider producing nuclear fuel components there, according to a memorandum signed by the heads of the state atomic bodies, Sergey Kirienko of Russia’s Rosatom and Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI).
Just as hinting falsely that Iran was negotiating away its enrichment technology was a move by the Times that could have disastrous effects on the ongoing negotiations, I felt that providing this strange story on McHale would give ammunition to those in Iran who see the CIA behind Jundallah. However,there is another possibility. In a Twitter discussion with Arif Rafiq on the disclosure, Rafiq suggested that “the US is coming clean about something that has concerned Iranians for years. Could be a plus”. He later allowed that hardliners could see it as a smoking gun. A further interesting speculation from Laura Rozen on Twitter suggested that perhaps the US played both sides of Jundallah:
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) November 9, 2014
So let’s consider these nicer possibilities for a moment. Maybe we did give Rigi to the Iranians. Maybe we are admitting Jundallah contacts now as a way of making sure it ends. But if that is the case, Risen and Apuzzo are a very strange source for how this news came out. An admission of this sort is what I would expect to be routed through David Ignatius, Eli Lake or Josh Rogin. Risen would be especially difficult to see as cooperating with specific timing on a disclosure. Recall that the Times spiked his disclosure of Bush’s illegal wiretaps until after the 2004 elections and then only published when the book was about to drop. To believe that Risen is now somehow cooperating with the government is a huge stretch, but he does still appear to be at risk of being subpoenaed in the ongoing DOJ actions in response to the wiretapping disclosure.
Many issues surrounding US support for Jundallah (and MEK) are still quite unresolved in my view. Recall that we had the whole “false flag” controversy back in January of 2012, where it was “disclosed” that Mossad ran Jundallah while posing as CIA. Not too long after that, Sy Hersh disclosed that the US has trained operatives for the MEK (no mention of Jundallah at all in the article) for covert actions against Iran. What particularly raised my hackles in that report was that the training was held at the same site in Nevada where I suspect that the materials used in the 2001 anthrax attacks was produced.
Over at Moon of Alabama, b seems to feel that the US was indeed behind the running of Jundallah. For that to be the case, we are pretty much forced to believe that Risen and Apuzzo have been either duped or coerced. I find so much of what has come out to be conflicting that I doubt we’ll ever completely sort this out. I have no doubts that JSOC and CIA stand ready to see Iran’s enemies prosper, especially as we saw in the MEK training in Nevada. When it comes to involvement in actual operations, I just don’t know. But the possibility that we helped at some times and then handed over Rigi possibly to make up for it sounds so like what our rudderless intelligence services would do that I’m leaning that direction.
As you have likely heard by now, a former FBI agent has agreed to plead guilty to leaking material about the second underwear bomb attempt to reporters in May of 2012. Charlie Savage of the New York Times has the primary rundown:
A former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent has agreed to plead guilty to leaking classified information to The Associated Press about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen last year, the Justice Department announced on Monday. Federal investigators said they identified him after obtaining phone logs of Associated Press reporters.
The retired agent, a former bomb technician named Donald Sachtleben, has agreed to serve 43 months in prison, the Justice Department said. The case brings to eight the number of leak-related prosecutions brought under President Obama’s administration; under all previous presidents, there were three such cases.
“This prosecution demonstrates our deep resolve to hold accountable anyone who would violate their solemn duty to protect our nation’s secrets and to prevent future, potentially devastating leaks by those who would wantonly ignore their obligations to safeguard classified information,” said Ronald C. Machen Jr., the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, who was assigned to lead the investigation by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
In a twist, Mr. Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Ind., was already the subject of a separate F.B.I. investigation for distributing child pornography, and has separately agreed to plead guilty in that matter and serve 97 months. His total sentence for both sets of offenses, should the plea deal be accepted by a judge, is 140 months.
Here is the DOJ Press Release on the case.
So Sachtleben is the leaker, he’s going to plead guilty and this all has a nice beautiful bow on it! Yay! Except that there are several troubling issues presented by all this tidy wonderful case wrap up.
First off, the information on the leak charges refers only to “Reporter A”, “Reporter A’s news organization” and “another reporter from Reporter A’s news organization”. Now while the DOJ may be coy about the identities, it has long been clear that the “news organization” is the AP and “Reporter A” and “another reporter” are AP national security reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman (I’d hazard a guess probably in that order) and the subject article for the leak is this AP report from May 7, 2012.
What is notable about who the reporters are, and which story is involved, is that this is the exact matter that was the subject of the infamous AP phone records subpoenas that were incredibly broad – over 20 business and personal phone lines. These subpoenas, along with those in the US v. Steven Kim case collected against James Rosen and Fox News, caused a major uproar about the sanctity of First Amendment press and government intrusion thereon.
The issue here is that Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ, as a result of the uproar over the →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
As Marcy noted, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the AP have gotten their hands on an early copy of Jose Rodriquez’s new
screed book, “Hard Measures”. The one substantive point of interest in their report involves the destruction of the infamous “torture tapes”. What they relate Rodriquez saying in his book is not earth shattering nor particularly new in light of all the reporting of the subject over the years, but it is still pretty pretty arrogant and ugly to the rule of law:
The tapes, filmed in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, showed the waterboarding of terrorists Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri.
Especially after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Rodriguez writes, if the CIA’s videos were to leak out, officers worldwide would be in danger.
“I wasn’t going to sit around another three years waiting for people to get up the courage,” to do what CIA lawyers said he had the authority to do himself, Rodriguez writes. He describes sending the order in November 2005 as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.”
As you may recall, specially assigned DOJ prosecutor John Durham let the statute of limitations run out on prosecuting Jose Rodriquez, and others directly involved, including four Bush/Cheney White House attorneys (David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, John Bellinger and Harriet Miers) involved in the torture tapes destruction, as well as two CIA junior attorneys, on or about November 9, 2010. There was really never any doubt about what Rodriquez’s motivation was in light of the fact he destroyed the tapes of Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri within a week of Dana Priest’s blockbuster article in the Washington Post on the US “black site” secret prisons.
But, just as there was no doubt, then or now, as to the motivation of Rodriquez and/or the others, there was similarly never any doubt about the legitimate basis for criminal prosecution. The basic government excuse was they could not find any proceeding in which the torture tapes were material to so as to be required to have been preserved. For one thing, Judge Alvin Hellerstein determined the tapes were indeed material to the ACLU FOIA suit and within the purview of their evidentiary hold (even though he refused to hold CIA officials in contempt under the dubious theory they may not have had notice).
More important, however, was the immutable and unmistakable fact that the torture tapes were of specific individuals, al-Qaeda members Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who, at the time of destruction of the tapes, were in detention awaiting trial, whether it be in an Article III →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo have a nice and fascinating article out today telling the story of a single CIA career analyst who was the critical cog in collating the information that led to Osama bin Laden’s capture and death:
He examined and re-examined every aspect of bin Laden’s life. How did he live while hiding in Sudan? With whom did he surround himself while living in Kandahar, Afghanistan? What would a bin Laden hideout look like today?
The CIA had a list of potential leads, associates and family members who might have access to bin Laden.
“Just keep working that list bit by bit,” one senior intelligence official recalls John telling his team. “He’s there somewhere. We’ll get there.”
Goldman and Apuzzo have done good work here; it is a great story, please read it in its entirety. But I want to play off their work to take it the step further that they did not. This is not just a feel good story about what worked and went right to capture bin Laden, it is an instructive primer on what didn’t work, to wit: torture.
So, while we congratulate CIA analyst “John”, let us also remember that years of effort, centuries of founding principles and an eternity of American morality was lost to the Bush/Cheney torture brigade. Ever since Osama bin Laden’s take down, the torture apologists have come out of their caves bleating at full voice in a vain attempt to justify their war crimes and save their face. Even yesterday, as the nation celebrated its founding, one of the most craven torture toadies of all, Marc Theissen, was back at it, saying the country owed the torture freaks an apology.
But torture is not what caught Osama bin Laden, good solid human intelligence and analysis were what did the trick.
That ability to spot the importance of seemingly insignificant details, to weave disparate strands of information into a meaningful story, gave him a particular knack for hunting terrorists.
Yes. Around here, we call that digging and trolling in the weeds. It is what works; not torture.