Michael Chertoff

The Forgotten OPR Report Exposing the White House Role in Torture

Brennan with TortureMcClatchy reports today that the Senate Intelligence Report will include no details on the White House role in torture.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

“It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law,” the person said.

McClatchy’s story is interesting, in part, because I had heard that the report was going to admit what has been in the public domain for years: the torture program, contrary to almost all reporting, was authorized by Presidential finding, not primarily by the memos that garner all the attention.

If the Torture Report is no longer going to confirm that, it is far bigger news than McClatchy has conveyed. It would mean someone — presumably the White House! (though remember the Finding’s author, Cofer Black, was involved in reviewing the document) — had won concessions in the declassification discussions to hide the role of President Bush in personally authorizing torture.

That would be consistent with President Obama’s rather remarkable efforts to keep a short mention of the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification suppressed in ACLU’s torture FOIA (something that’s in the public record, but which I have been the only one to report).

But if President Obama’s White House has, a second time, intervened to prevent public confirmation that the President authorized torture, we really ought to start demanding to know why that’s the case. Remember when the 2nd Circuit backed White House efforts to keep mention of the MON suppressed, the White House said it was still using the MON.

The other reason I find McClatchy’s report curious is because it leaves something utterly central out of its narrative.

As Katherine Hawkins noted yesterday, McClatchy missed a key detail in the chronology of when and how Republicans backed out of the torture review.

Obama DOJ investigation into torture is not “prior” to SSCI report. Launched after SSCI, & is reason GOP withdraws

But there’s one more part of that chronology — one McClatchy might actually review if it wants the things it says it wants: the Office of Public Responsibility report into OLC lawyers’ role in the torture memos. Reporting in 2009 made it clear that Eric Holder launched the John Durham investigation in response to reading the OPR Report. So the chronology goes OPR Report, Durham investigation, GOP withdraws from SSCI Torture Report which (McClatchy argues) is when the Democrats could have turned and pushed to get documents implicating Bush White House figures.

While both David Addington and Tim Flanigan refused to be interviewed for the OPR report, it made it clear (especially Jay Bybee and John Yoo’s rebuttals) that both had had a direct role in setting up the legal loopholes CIA used to conduct torture. Between that and other public (largely unreported by anyone but me) documents, it is fairly clear that in response to concerns raised around July 10, 2002, CIA tried to get DOJ to give “advance” declination of prosecution (though for conduct that surely had already occurred). On July 13, Michael Chertoff refused, probably because Ali Soufan had already raised concerns about the conduct (his concerns probably relate to the use of mock burial) to give advance declination for torture. This led John Yoo to freelance a July 13, 2002 fax laying out how CIA could avoid accountability; that appears to be what Jonathan Fredman relied on in his advice to the torturers, not the more famous Bybee Memos. Nevertheless, at a July 16, 2002 meeting at the White House, it was decided (Yoo and Addington differ, it appears, on who did the deciding, but it is a rock solid bet that Addington did) that the Bybee Memo would include Commander of Chief language on how to avoid prosecution.

There are a number of other moments in the history of the program where White House responsibility is clear. But at that moment on July 16, 2002, David Addington got John Yoo to provide legal cover for anything the President ordered CIA do; he did so, of course, after CIA had been torturing for months on Presidential orders.

The answers to many of the questions McClatchy says have gone unanswered are sitting right there in the OPR report. And those answers are crucial to understanding the dance over declassification going on right now.

Aside from whatever else the Torture Report is, it is also a report that dodges the underlying power structure, in which the President orders the CIA to break the law and later ensures CIA avoids any accountability for doing so. At some point in this Torture Report process — fairly recently too! — Democrats seemed interested in exposing that dynamic, a dynamic President Obama has benefitted from at least as much as Bush did, going so far as to permit him to have CIA kill a US citizen with no due process. (That’s probably why Leon Panetta told some fibs in his memoir on this point.)

Ultimately, we’re never going to rein in CIA until we expose the mutual embrace of complicity the White House and CIA repeatedly rely on. Now it looks like the Senate Intelligence Committee has — in bipartisan fashion — decided to back off doing so here.

Keith Alexander’s Cyber Circle Jerk Gets Worse

As I noted earlier today, last year Keith Alexander’s CyberCommand forces got their asses handed to them by civilians in a cyber war game.

“They were pretty much obliterated,” said one Capitol Hill staffer who attended the exercise. “The active-duty team didn’t even know how they’d been attacked.”

Nevertheless, here is one of the things he told Ken Dilanian in his second “exclusive” interview attempting to explain why he should get rich in the private sector capitalizing on 9 years of fear-mongering about cyber.

“If I retired from the Army as a brain surgeon, wouldn’t it be OK for me to go into private practice and make money doing brain surgery?” he asked. “I’m a cyber guy. Can’t I go to work and do cyber stuff?”

Alexander’s story has changed a bit since his last attempt  to explain himself, to Shane Harris. The number of patents he’ll get expanded from 9 to 10.

His firm is developing as many as 10 patents, he said, and has secured contracts with three clients he declines to name.

And he claims — after apparently not challenging the underlying $1 million a month claim to Harris — that his rates were always overblown.

Reports of his firm charging $1 million a month for consulting services are not accurate, he said, though he declined to disclose his firm’s fees.

“That number was inflated from the beginning,” he said.

But that’s not the best bit. In addition to revolving door shadow regulator Promontory Financial Group (which goes unmentioned in both stories) and the Chertoff Group, Dilanian reveals who gave Alexander the advise he could get rich off serving the last 9 years in a top national security position: Someone who spent those same years in a top national security position.

Lawyers at NSA and his private lawyers— including former FBI Director Robert Mueller, now with the Wilmer Hale law firm in Washington — have told him he is on firm legal footing, Alexander said.

These exclusives are all well and nice, but both of them ignore the reports about Alexander serving as the lead to set up a public-private partnership between the banksters and the national security state to infringe our privacy in order to keep the banks safe (heck neither mentions his known contract with SIFMA).

Until exclusives actually ask Alexander about the known thrust of this program, they’re going to help his credibility no more than the exclusives with the same journalists explaining NSA spying did.

CISA: The Banks Want Immunity and a Public-Private War Council

A group of privacy and security organizations have just sent President Obama a letter asking him to issue a veto threat over the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. It’s a great explanation of why this bill sucks and doesn’t do what it needs to to make us safer from cyberattacks. It argues that CISA’s exclusive focus on information sharing — and not on communications security more generally — isn’t going to keep us safe.

Which is why it really pays to look at the role of SIFMA — the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association – in all this.

As I’ve noted, they’re the banksters whom Keith Alexander is charging big bucks to keep safe. As Bloomberg recently reported, Alexander has convinced SIFMA to demand a public-private cyber war council, involving all the stars of revolving door fearmongering for profit.

Wall Street’s biggest trade group has proposed a government-industry cyber war council to stave off terrorist attacks that could trigger financial panic by temporarily wiping out account balances, according to an internal document.

The proposal by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, known as Sifma, calls for a committee of executives and deputy-level representatives from at least eight U.S. agencies including the Treasury Department, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, all led by a senior White House official.

The trade association also reveals in the document that Sifma has retained former NSA director Keith Alexander to “facilitate” the joint effort with the government. Alexander, in turn, has brought in Michael Chertoff, the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and his firm, Chertoff Group.

Public reporting positions SIFMA as the opposition to the larger community of people who know better, embracing this public-private war council approach.

Kenneth Bentsen, chief executive at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said in a statement that leaders of the Senate Intelligence panel who wrote the bill have “taken a balanced and considered approach which will help the financial services industry to better protect our customers from cyber terrorists and criminals, as well as their privacy.”

According to the same banksters who crashed our economy 6 years ago, this bill is about protecting them at the expense of our privacy and rule of law.

And in their reply to Alan Grayson’s questions about WTF they’re paying Keith Alexander so handsomely for, SIFMA repeats this line (definitely click through to read about Quantum Dawn 2).

Cyber attacks are increasingly a major threat to our financial system. As such, enhancing cyber security is a top priority for the financial services industry. SIFMA believes we have an obligation to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our markets and the millions of Americans who use financial services every day.

[snip]

However, the threat increases every day. SIFMA and its members have undertaken additional efforts to develop cyber defense standards for the securities industry sector as a follow on to the recently published NIST standards. And we are developing enhanced recovery protocols for market participants and regulators in the event of an attack that results in closure of the equity and fixed income markets. We are undertaking this work in close collaboration with our regulators and recently held a meeting to brief them on our progress. And, we plan to increase our efforts even further as the risks are too great for current efforts alone.

We know that a strong partnership between the private sector and the government is the most efficient way to address this growing threat. Industry and investors benefit when the private sector and government agencies can work together to share relevant threat information. We would like to see more done in Congress to eliminate the barriers to legitimate information sharing, which will enable this partnership to grow stronger, while protecting the privacy of our customers.

This is not — contrary to what people like Dianne Feinstein are pretending — protecting the millions who had their credit card data stolen because Target was not using the cyberdefenses it put into place.

Rather, this is about doing the banksters’ bidding, setting up a public-private war council, without first requiring them to do basic things — like limiting High Frequency Trading — to make their industry more resilient to all kinds of attacks, from even themselves.

Meanwhile, if that’s not enough indication this is about the bankstsers, check out what Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is doing this afternoon.

In the afternoon, the Secretary will visit Verizon’s facilities in Ashburn, Virginia to discuss cybersecurity and highlight the important role of telecommunications companies in supporting the financial system. 

Just what we need: our phone provider serving the interests of the financial system first.

DiFi wants to make it easier to spy on Americans domestically to help private companies that have already done untold damage to Main Street America. We ought to be protecting ourselves from them, not degrading privacy to subsidize their insecure practices.

CIA’s Own Records of CIA’s Lies to Congress

Monday, WaPo made big news for reporting what Ron Wyden made clear 14 months ago: a key conclusion of the Senate Torture report is that CIA lied to Congress (and DOJ and the White House).

But much of this has been clear for even longer, having been exposed in some form in 2009-10.

Yet much of that got lost in CIA’s aggressive attack on Congress — one that anticipated what we’ve seen and will surely continue to see with the release of the Torture Report.  At the time, CIA attempted to claim Congress had been fully briefed on torture, and therefore shouldn’t criticize the agency. Yet it gradually became clear how laughable CIA’s claims were. Along the way details of the lies CIA told in briefings came out.

The lies CIA told Congress in its first several years of the torture program include that it,

  • Refused, at first, to reveal that the CIA relied on the September 17, 2001 Finding and therefore hid that the President had personally authorized the torture.
  • Briefed on torture techniques that had happened months in the past, but claimed they had never yet been used.
  • Falsely claimed CIA had not tortured before the August 1 memos purportedly authorizing it.
  • Claimed Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were not yet compliant as late as February 2003, even though they had been found compliant, after which CIA continued to use torture anyway.
  • Claimed the torture tapes were a perfect match with what had been recorded in the torture log when a CIA OGC lawyer reviewed them in December 2002.
  • Did not disclose the tapes had already been altered by the time CIA OGC reviewed them.
  • Claimed the torture tapes had shown the torturers followed DOJ’s guidance when in fact they showed the torturers exceeded DOJ guidance.
  • Misled regarding whether the detainees who had been killed had been tortured.
  • Oversold the value of information provided by Abu Zubaydah.
  • Lied about importance of torture in getting Abu Zubaydah to talk.

There are a number of claims CIA made that are almost certainly also false — most notably with regards to what intelligence came from torture — but most of that didn’t get recorded in the CIA’s records. I fully expect we’ll find details of those in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

September 17, 2001: Bush signs “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes capture and detention of top al Qaeda leaders, but leaves CIA to decide the details of that detention

Before I focus on the briefings, some background is in order.

Torture started as a covert operation authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification. Under the National Security Act, the Intelligence Committees had to be briefed on that Finding and they were. However, the Finding was structured such that it laid out general ideas — in this case, the capture and detention of senior al Qaeda figures — and left the implementation up to CIA. As a result, key members of Congress (notably, Jane Harman, who was Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee for much of the period during which the program operated) apparently had no idea that the Finding they had been briefed on in timely fashion actually served as the Presidential authorization for torture until years later. Also, since that September 17, 2001 Finding authorized both torture and the outsourcing of nasty jobs to foreign intelligence partners, the earliest torture, such as that of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Egyptian custody starting in February 2002 and Binyam Mohamed in Pakistani custody starting in April 2002, should be considered part of the same covert op.

April to July 2002: CIA tortures Abu Zubaydah based solely on Presidential authorization

By now there is no dispute: the CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah well before the August 1, 2002 memo that purportedly prospectively authorized that treatment. CIA even exceeded early verbal guidance on things like sleep deprivation, after which CIA unilaterally authorized what CIA had done retrospectively. The CIA appears to have gotten in real trouble when they moved to conduct mock burial with Abu Zubaydah, to which Ali Soufan objected; his objections appear to be the reason why mock burial (and by extension, mock execution) was the only technique John Yoo ultimately rejected. On July 13, after Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination of prosecution to CIA for things they were ostensibly talking about prospectively but which had in fact already occurred, Yoo wrote a short memo, almost certainly coached by David Addington but not overseen by Yoo’s boss Jay Bybee, that actually served as the authorization CIA’s CTC would rely on for Abu Zubaydah’s torture, not the August 1 memos everyone talks about. As a result, CIA could point to a document that did not include limits on specific techniques and the precise implementation of those techniques as their authorization to torture.

CIA had, in internal documents, once claimed to have briefed the Gang of Four (then Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Shelby, and Bob Graham) in April 2002. But after being challenged, they agreed they did not conduct those briefings. This, then, created a problem, as CIA had not really briefed Congress — not even the Gang of Four — about this “covert op.”

Septmber 4, 2002: CIA provides initial trial balloon briefing to Pelosi and Goss, then starts destroying evidence

On September 4, 2002, 7 months after Egypt started torturing Ibn Sheikh al-Libi at America’s behest, almost 5 months after CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah, and over a month after the OLC memo that purportedly started a month of torture for Abu Zubaydah, Jose Rodriguez, a CTC lawyer, and Office of Congressional Affairs head Stan Moskowitz first briefed Congress on torture techniques.

The record supports a claim that CIA provided some kind of description of torture to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss. It supports a claim that neither objected to the techniques briefed. Both Pelosi and Goss refer to this briefing, however, as a prospective briefing. Goss referred to the torture techniques as “techniques [that] were to actually be employed,” not that had already been employed, and when asked he did not claim they had been briefed on techniques that had been used. Pelosi claimed,

I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.

Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.

Thus, at least as far as Goss and Pelosi are concerned, over a month after they first waterboarded Abu Zubaydah (and many more after Egypt had waterboarded al-Libi for us), CIA implied they had not yet done so with any detainee.

As striking as the evidence that CIA only briefed prospectively on torture that had been used for as many as 7 months, however, is what happened next. CIA moved to destroy evidence.

The day after that initial briefing in which CIA told Congress it might torture in the future, it “determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes.” Then, the following day, CTC altered its own notes on the substance of the briefing, taking out a sentence (it’s not clear what that sentence said). CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs never finalized a description for this, and at one time even listed Jane Harman as the attendee rather than Pelosi. In fact, in a list of the briefings on torture compiled in July 2004, it did not treat this briefing as one covering torture at all.

In addition, for some reason a briefing for Bob Graham and Richard Shelby  initially scheduled for September 9 got rescheduled for the end of the month, September 27. According to available records, Jose Rodriguez did not attend. According to Bob Graham’s notoriously meticulous notes, the briefing was not conducted in a SCIF, but instead in Hart Office Building, meaning highly classified information could not have been discussed. Graham says it chiefly described the intelligence the CIA claimed to have gotten from their interrogation program. Graham insists waterboarding did not come up, but Shelby, working off memory, disputes that claim.

February 4 and 5, 2002: CIA gets Republican approval to destroy the torture tapes, kills SSCI’s nascent investigation, and refuses to explain torture’s Presidential authorization

By November 2002, Bob Graham had started to hear vague rumors about the torture program. He did not, he says, receive notice that CIA froze Gul Rahman to death after dousing him with water or even hear about it specifically. But because of those rumors, Graham moved to exercise more oversight over the torture program, asking to have another staffer read into the program, and asking that a staffer see a Black Site and observe interrogation. That effort was thwarted in the first full briefing CIA gave Congress on torture on February 4, 2002, when CIA told Pat Roberts (who had assumed Senate Intelligence Chair; newly Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller was not present at this briefing, though a staffer was) they would not meet Graham’s requests. CIA claims — but Roberts disputes — that he said he could think of “ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea” to exercise such oversight.

In addition to getting Roberts to quash that nascent assessment, CIA gave Roberts the following false information:

  • CIA described Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri “as founts of useful information” about “on-going terrorist operations, information that might well have saved American lives.” While Abu Zubaydah provided some useful information, the “ongoing operations” were often invented. Moreover, of all the information Abu Zubaydah gave up under torture, just 10 bits of it were deemed important enough to appear in the 9/11 Report.
  • CIA told Roberts about the “difficulty of getting that information from [Nashiri and Zubaydah], and the importance of enhanced techniques in getting that information.” Public records show CIA repeatedly attributed to Abu Zubaydah either things FBI had elicited without torture or things CIA learned via other means.
  • CIA claimed Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were not yet compliant. “[T]hey have not, even under enhanced techniques, revealed everything they know of importance.” Subsequent reports made clear that in both cases, they were fully compliant but people within CIA demanded more torture believing they were withholding information.
  • To get Roberts to buy off on the destruction of the torture tapes, CIA told Roberts “the match” between what appeared in the torture tapes and what got recorded in CIA logs “was perfect” and that the CIA OGC lawyer who had reviewed the tapes “was satisfied that the interrogations were carried out in full accordance with the guidance.” While it is in fact true that CIA OGC claimed the tapes were an exact match, in fact the tapes had already been significantly altered (and the taping system had been shut down for some torture sessions), and the tapes showed that the torturers had not followed DOJ’s guidelines on torture. CIA also appears to have neglected to tell Roberts that 2 of the tapes showed interrogations involved Nashiri.

The Memorandum of Understanding of this briefing appears to be one of only two that got finalized (it actually included a reference that Goss and Harman had been briefed on the torture tape, but not that Harman warned against destroying it).

The February 5, 2003 briefing involving Porter Goss and Jane Harman is just as interesting, though CIA has refused to release their notes from it.

Five days after the briefing, Harman wrote a letter questioning whether torture had been reviewed from a policy perspective and advising against destroying Abu Zubaydah’s torture tape. In addition, she asked if the President had signed off, revealing that she didn’t know that the Finding she had been briefed on included torture. The CIA and the White House met to decide how to respond. In the end, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller’s response didn’t really answer any of Harman’s questions, nor note her warning against destroying the torture tape.

Also note: in the month before these briefings, the CIA prepared what appears to be a tear-line document on Abu Zubaydah. While it’s not certain the document was prepared to brief the Gang of Four, it matches what we know to have been said to Roberts, especially as regards to the torture tapes. But it also reveals real discrepancies between the tear-line (Secret) claims and the Top Secret claims it was based on, notably inflating the value of Abu Zubaydah’s intelligence below the tear-line.

September 4, 2003: An innocuous briefing left off some of the tracking

We don’t really know what happened in the September 4, 2003 briefings of both Goss and Harman and Roberts and Rockfeller, which is a shame because it would have covered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment (and that of Ammar al-Baluchi, whom we now know may have been treated even worse than his uncle). In fact, it was left off lists of “sensitive” briefings at different times.

July 2004: CIA has to tell Congress even CIA(‘s IG) thinks they lied

On May 7, 2004, CIA’s IG John Helgerson completed his report finding that the torture had exceeded guidelines and questioning the value of the intelligence obtained using it. On June 23, the Roberts and Rockefeller got copies (it’s not clear whether Goss and Harman got advance copies). On July 13, 2004, CIA briefed Goss and Harman again.

The briefing did include some details from CIA IG John Helgerson’s report on the program — that it violated the Convention Against Torture and did not comply with the OLC memos. He also explained that both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding was problematic, the first in execution and the second in number.

As part of that briefing (or by reading the IG Report), Harman learned that the Finding authorized this torture; in the briefing she pointed out the Finding had only authorized detention and capture, not interrogation.

But CIA persisted in a narrow dodge and two false claims:

  • CIA claimed that none of the at least 3 or 4 detainees who had died in CIA custody by that point were in the interrogation program; by that, it meant only that they weren’t part of the RDI program, but CIA did in fact torture them before they died.
  • CIA claimed we had not used any torture before the OLC memos, which is only true if you ignore that al-Libi and Mohamed’s torture was carried out by proxies.
  • CIA claimed it did not start torturing Abu Zubaydah until August 1; in reality, they had started torturing him earlier.

There are few details on the briefing CIA gave Roberts and Rockefeller on July 15.

These are just the details of the lies CIA itself has documented and released CIA telling Congress. There are other allegations of CIA lies in briefings, though those records were not released under FOIA. And things started getting really funky in 2005, as Dick Cheney started participating in CIA briefings to try to defeat the Detainee Treatment Act. In addition, CIA briefed Pete Hoekstra (who had become the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee) on the morning they destroyed the torture tapes; the content of that briefing has never been revealed.

None of this excuses Congress, of course: the knew enough to know this was problematic.

But it is clear that CIA lied to them both to boost the value of the torture they were doing and to diminish the problems and abuses.

DHS Fear-Mongers Off Apparent Diminishment in Ibrahim al-Asiri’s Skills

The Department of Homeland Security wants you to be afraid of the latest handiwork of AQAP’s bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri. They’ve issued a warning (and leaked that warning) about new-and-improved shoe bombs.

Senior U.S. officials say that Wednesday’s terror warning about international air travel, first reported by NBC News, is the result of recent chatter about Ibrahim al-Asiri, the al Qaeda bombmaker from Yemen responsible for several high-profile bombing attempts against U.S. targets.

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security warned airlines of new information related to the possibility of bombs or bomb material hidden in shoes, like the device that shoe bomber Richard Reid used to try to take down a plane over the Atlantic in December 2001.

Now, perhaps this is a grave new worry.

But the first thing I thought of when I heard about this warning was the warning DHS issued two years ago, 10 days after they had flown the Saudi-British infiltrator into AQAP out of Yemen with the undiebomb he was allegedly given to use against a US-bound flight.

DIANE SAWYER (ABC NEWS)

(Off-camera) Good evening. As we come on the air, ABC News has learned that US authorities are studying a new terror threat tonight, members of al Qaeda using body bombs, explosives that have been surgically implanted in their bodies to evade security. Tomorrow, it will be the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, making this week a time of heightened concern on the ground and in the sky. And ABC’s chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross is here with these new details. Brian?

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)

(Off-camera) Diane, well, tonight American and European authorities tell ABC News, they fear al Qaeda will use these so-called body bombs to target Americans overseas and US flights coming in from overseas.

GRAPHICS: SECURITY WATCH

BRIAN ROSS (ABC NEWS)

(Voiceover) As a result, security at several airports in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and the middle ease has been substantially stepped up, with a focus on US carriers. And additional federal air marshals have been shifted overseas in advance of this week’s anniversary of the bin Laden raid. The plot is not so far fetched. Medical experts say there is plenty of room in the stomach area for surgically implanted explosives.

After that bit of propaganda, I fully expect the White House will roll out a thwarted plot in approximately 8 days. And then, after the initial excitement, we’ll learn the plot (if it was indeed a plot and not a sting) was actually thwarted (if it was indeed a plot and not a sting) back on February 14.

Bonus points: this plot will have been foiled using the phone dragnet.

And aside from the skepticism I have given DHS’ past manipulation of Asiri warnings, there’s one more problem with DHS crying wolf like this.

Two years ago, anonymous leakers from the very same vicinity as this week’s leakers assured us that Asiri had mastered the process of surgically placing operational bombs inside a person’s stomach cavity Virtually undetectable, even with Michael Chertoff’s best boondoggle machines!

And now, with two more years to perfect his craft, DHS claims that Asiri is making … shoe bombs?

Really? Shoe bombs?

We’re supposed to be panicked that Asiri’s skill has apparently regressed from where — these same anonymous leakers claimed — it was two years ago, that Asiri can no longer make undetectable cavity bombs but has instead returned to a ploy Al Qaeda used 12 years ago?

Again, maybe this threat is real. If it is, it’s too damn bad DHS has already squandered its credibility with past inflammatory warnings about Asiri’s skill.

House Intelligence Committee Moves to Learn How OTHER Services Don’t Throw Away Incidental US Person Data

I’ve long been tracking the implications of the Air Force’s policy to keep US person data incidentally collected using domestic drones. Effectively, it would allow the government to collect data on select locations (such as a likely drug trafficking route), so long as it didn’t target any particular American, and then refer back to or data mine that information in the future.

The policy is (not surprisingly, since both are DOD) very nearly parallel to what we think is happening with the NSA’s collections. So long as they weren’t originally targeting a US person, the government seems to be saying, nothing prevents them from going back to use the data in the future.

Which is why I’m not all that impressed by the House Intelligence Committee’s push, in this year’s appropriations bill, to require other services and DOD agencies to lay out what they’re doing with domestic collections.

Congress has directed the Secretary of Defense to report on the handling of surveillance data collected by military unmanned aerial systems operating in domestic airspace.  A provision in the 2013 continuing appropriations conference bill approved by the House yesterday explained:

“The conferees are aware of concerns that have been raised regarding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and their sensors in domestic airspace. The conferees understand that the Air Force has policies and procedures in place governing the disposition of UAV collections that may inadvertently capture matters of concern to law enforcement agencies. These policies and procedures are designed to ensure constitutional protections and proper separation between the military and law enforcement. However, it is unclear if other Services and Defense agencies have similar policies and procedures in place, or if these policies and procedures need to be revised or standardized. Therefore, the conferees direct the Secretary of Defense to report to the congressional defense committees on the policies and procedures in place across the Services and Defense agencies governing the use of such collections and to identify any additional steps that need to be taken to ensure that such policies and procedures are adequate and consistent across the Department of Defense. This report shall be submitted not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act.” [my emphasis]

Given the liberal policies the Air Force uses on “incidentally” collected information, it doesn’t seem to offer much protection under the Fourth Amendment (not least because the Clapper decision means we would never be able to challenge such collection). Rather, this effort seems designed to placate concerns about violations of Posse Comitatus and potentially stave off real privacy efforts.

When the Michael Chertoff threatened to use satellites to conduct this kind of surveillance 5 years ago, Democrats (led by Bennie Thompson and Jane Harman) balked, and forced Chertoff to back down. Since then, however, drones that can and do conduct the same kind of surveillance (in the guise of training, mind you!) have been rolled out without, until just recently, any focus on the same issues.

Yet another example of what a Democratic President can get away with that a Republican cannot.

Tom Coburn Takes on the Zombie Apocalypse

I tell you, if Tom Coburn just stuck to shutting down the most egregious Homeland Security fearmongering boondoggle abuses rather than shutting down government itself, I might grow to love the man.

His latest effort (for which some of his staffers appear to have staged a very fun photo shoot) takes on the stupid things localities bought under the $7.1 billion Urban Area Security Initiative, which was originally intended to help likely terrorist targets (like NYC) prepare against an attack, but which turned into a big boondoggle for towns unlikely to be targeted.

The describes how Keene, NH (home of the Free State Project) tried to use a grant to buy its 40-cop police department–which has faced just one murder in the last two years–an armored vehicle to protect its annual pumpkin festival. Keene was not alone; the report has several pages dedicated to the graft Lenco Armored Vehicles has been conducting selling governments in Waukesha, WI and Santa Barbara, Carlsbad, Escondido, and Fontana, CA BearCats they have no need for using sole source bids.

The report attacks Pittsburgh for having bought an LRAD–which it used during the G-20–as “a kinder and gentler way to get people to leave.” It also describes how San Diego County used an LRAD to protect a speaking event with Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, and Susan Davis.

But the centerpiece of the report is the description of how first responders used grant money to attend a training session in a San Diego resort at which they were entertained by a Zombie Apocalypse simulation billed as “a very real exercise, this is not some type of big costume party.”

One notable training-related event that was deemed an allowable expense by DHS was the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit 2012. Held at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa on an island outside San Diego, the 5-day summit was deemed an allowable expense by DHS, permitting first responders to use grant funds for the $1,000 entrance fee. Event organizers described the location for the training event as an island paradise: “the exotic beauty and lush grandeur of this unique island setting that creates a perfect backdrop for the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit.

[snip]

The marquee event over the summit, however, was its highly-promoted “zombie apocalypse” demonstration. Continue reading

Michael Hayden, Privacy and Counterterrorism Frugality Champion

Of 1,423 words in an article questioning whether deficit hawkery might cut the domestic spying budget, Scott Shane devotes over a sixth–roughly 260–describing what former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden thinks about the balances between funding and security.

Remarkably, none of those 260 words disclose that Hayden works for Michael Chertoff’s consulting group, which profits off of big domestic spying. This, in an article that cites Chertoff’s electronic border fence among the expensive counterterrorism duds that were subsequently shut down (Shane mentions “puffer” machines as well, but not the Rapiscan machines that Chertoff’s group lobbied for, which are now being withdrawn as well).

And then there’s a passage of Shane’s article that touches on topics in which Hayden’s own past actions deserve disclosure.

Like other intelligence officials after 2001, Mr. Hayden was whipsawed by public wrath: first, for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, and then, a few years later, for having permitted the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects in the United States without court approval.

Perhaps, as a result, he often says that the American people need to instruct the government on where to draw the line. He told an audience at the University of Michigan last month, for instance, that while a plot on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks was highly unlikely, smaller terrorist strikes, like the shootings by an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, could not always be stopped.

“I can actually work to make this less likely than it is today,” Mr. Hayden said. “But the question I have for you is: What of your privacy, what of your convenience, what of your commerce do you want to give up?”

To be fair, Shane counters Hayden’s claims by noting that “secrecy … makes it tough for any citizen to assess counterterrorism programs.”

But he doesn’t mention one of the biggest examples where Hayden–where anyone–chose both the most expensive and most privacy invasive technology: the wiretap program Hayden outsourced to SAIC rather than use in-house solutions.

As Thomas Drake has made clear, by outsourcing to SAIC, Hayden spent 300 times as much as he would have with the in-house solution.

One of them was Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, the head of the agency: he wanted to transform the agency and launched a massive modernization program, code named: “Trailblazer.” It was supposed to do what Thin Thread did, and more.

Trailblazer would be the NSA’s biggest project. Hayden’s philosophy was to let private industry do the job. Enormous deals were signed with defense contractors. [Bill] Binney’s Thin Thread program cost $3 million; Trailblazer would run more than $1 billion and take years to develop.

“Do you have any idea why General Hayden decided to go with Trailblazer as opposed to Thin Thread, which already existed?” Pelley asked.

[snip]

Asked to elaborate, Drake said, “Careers are built on projects and programs. The bigger, the better their career.” [my emphasis]

Along the way, Hayden repeatedly blew off Congressional staffer Diane Roark’s inquiries about privacy protection.

When Binney heard the rumors, he was convinced that the new domestic-surveillance program employed components of ThinThread: a bastardized version, stripped of privacy controls. “It was my brainchild,” he said. “But they removed the protections, the anonymization process. When you remove that, you can target anyone.” He said that although he was not “read in” to the new secret surveillance program, “my people were brought in, and they told me, ‘Can you believe they’re doing this? They’re getting billing records on U.S. citizens! They’re putting pen registers’ ”—logs of dialled phone numbers—“ ‘on everyone in the country!’ ”

[snip]

[Former HPSCI staffer Diane Roark] asked Hayden why the N.S.A. had chosen not to include privacy protections for Americans. She says that he “kept not answering. Finally, he mumbled, and looked down, and said, ‘We didn’t need them. We had the power.’ He didn’t even look me in the eye. I was flabbergasted.” She asked him directly if the government was getting warrants for domestic surveillance, and he admitted that it was not. [my emphasis]

So it’s not just disclosure of all the ways Hayden has and does profit off of continued bloated domestic surveillance that Shane owes his readers: he also should refute Hayden’s claims about the relationship between cost, privacy, and efficacy.

Michael Hayden’s SAIC-NSA boondoggle is one case where secrecy no longer hides how much money was wasted for unnecessary privacy violations.

Yet somehow, that spectacular example of the unnecessary waste in domestic spying doesn’t make it into the 260 words granted to Hayden to argue we need continued inflated spending.

The Senate Report on Fusion Center Fails to Ask or Answer the Most Basic Question

As I suggested the other day, there is a lot to recommend the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on fusion centers.

But while it meticulously supports its claims about the waste and inefficacy of fusion centers, it seems to miss what all that evidence suggests. That is that there is no need for fusion centers. The report clearly shows we have spent somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion to build a bunch of data sharing centers in the name of terrorism; yet in spite of the investment, the centers appear to never actually have contributed to finding a terrorist.

Fusion centers are supposed to be about counterterrorism

This is made clear in the way the report meticulously lays out the purported purpose of fusion centers, then measures how they fulfill that purpose.

The report notes two moments in DHS’ history when fusion centers were pointedly not authorized: the initial formation of DHS, the 9/11 Commission report. It notes that under Michael Chertoff, DHS aides were pushing for reasons to sell fusion centers to the Feds.

Mr. Riegle said that he did not believe that access to state and local information was really a principal reason for the federal government to support fusion centers, but it was part of the pitch. “It was a selling point to the Feds,” Mr. Riegle said. “I’ve got to tell them what the benefits are.”

Only in 2007, at a time when there were already 37 fusion centers, many in states not likely to be targeted by foreign terrorism, did Congress specifically authorize fusion centers. At that time, Congress emphasized the fusion centers’ counterterrorism function.

The law also directed DHS to detail intelligence personnel to the centers if the centers met certain criteria, several of which required a center to demonstrate a focus on and commitment to a counterterrorism mission. Among the criteria the law suggested were “whether the fusion center . . . focuses on a broad counterterror approach,” whether the center has sufficient personnel “to support a broad counterterrorism mission,” and whether the center is appropriately funded by non-federal sources “to support its counterterrorism mission.”

Fusion centers have not found any terrorists

And on that basis, fusion centers have failed.

The value of fusion centers to the federal government should be determined by tallying the cost of its investment, and the results obtained. Continue reading

Steven Bradbury’s Revenge

Since I noted in August 2011 that Mitt had named two torture architects to his legal advisory committee (Tim Flanigan and Steve Bradbury), I have had zero doubt that Mitt would embrace torture if he were President. So Charlie Savage’s story–reporting on a September 2011 memo confirming that fact–wasn’t surprising in the least to me. Here’s the key recommendation from the memo:

Governor Romney has consistently supported enhanced interrogation techniques. Governor Romney is also on record as stating that he does not believe it is wise for him, as a presidential candidate, to describe precisely which techniques he would use in interrogating detainees. The combination of these two positions, as well as the information presented above, leads to two principal options in this area for his campaign.

The first option is that Governor Romney could pledge that upon taking office, he will rescind and replace President Obama’ s Executive Order restricting government interrogators to the Army Field Manual. Consistent with the authority reserved for the President under the Military Commissions Act, he could commit his Administration to authorizing (classified) enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal, and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives. But because President Obama’s release of the OLC memos has reduced the number of available techniques that meet these criteria, Governor Romney should not commit in advance to a timetable for implementing this plan; it may well take time to identify potential techniques and analyze their effectiveness and legality.

[snip]

The Subcommittee recommends the first option. Governor Romney has recognized for years that the sounder policy outcome is the revival of the enhanced interrogation program. And a reluctance by the Governor to expressly endorse such an outcome during the campaign could become a self-fulfilling prophecy once he takes office by signaling to the bureaucracy that this is not a deeply-felt priority. [my emphasis]

Mitt is pro-torture. We knew that, and he hasn’t hidden that fact.

But there are a couple of details about this that are curious.

First, note the language here. The advisors worry that if Mitt doesn’t explicitly endorse getting back into the torture business during the election, he might not do so. They want to force his hand before he’s elected to make sure he’ll carry through.

That is not the language of advisors. It’s the language of puppet-masters (though I’m sure the equivalent memos from inside the Obama camp aren’t much different). That is, the legal advice here is designed not so much to provide the best advice (if it were, then the support used in the memo wouldn’t be such discredited propaganda). Rather, it is to force Mitt’s hand in the eventuality he becomes President.

The other interesting aspect of this are the people. Savage provides this list of the advisors, in addition to Steven Bradbury, in the loop on this memo (he notes that it’s unclear whether they have bought off on the advice).

The list also included Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary; Cully Stimson, the Pentagon’s detainee policy chief; and many other Bush-era executive branch veterans: Bradford Berenson, Elliot S. Berke, Todd F. Braunstein, Gus P. Coldebella, Jimmy Gurule, Richard D. Klingler, Ramon Martinez, Brent J. McIntosh, John C. O’Quinn, John J. Sullivan, Michael Sullivan and Alex Wong. Three others — Lee A. Casey, Maureen E. Mahoney and David B. Rivkin Jr. — served in earlier Republican administrations.

First, note where Savage starts this list: Michael Chertoff, who as Criminal Division head in 2002 refused to give Bush’s torturers an advance declination on prosecution. That refusal ultimately led to the contorted form of the original Yoo memos authorizing torture. If Chertoff supports this policy (Savage’s caveat noted), then it’s a pretty clear indication that Chertoff was cautious in 2002 because people like Ali Soufan were running around saying mock burial was torture, and not because he had any qualms about torture himself. That’s not surprising in the least, but still worth noting.

Maureen Mahoney (who defended Jay Bybee in the OPR investigation) and David Rivkin (who defended Rumsfeld in civil suits for torture) have also backed their earlier legal representation with their own reputation (or lack thereof).

Finally, note who’s not on this list: Tim Flanigan, who with Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney, and David Addington, was one of the most central architects of torture and other illegal counterterrorism approaches.

It’s sort of odd that Mitt advisor Tim Flanigan, one of the original architects of torture, wasn’t the one leading this effort last year.

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