Michael Leither

Angler 2.0: Brennan Wields His Puppet Strings Differently

As I said earlier, the parallel between the Jo Becker/Scott Shane Angler 2.0 story and the earlier series by Becker and Barton Gellman is hard to miss.

But I’m very interested in how the stories are structured differently. With Angler 1.0, the story was very clearly about Dick Cheney and the methods he used to manipulate Bush into following his advice. Here, the story is really about John Brennan, Obama’s Cheney, portrayed deep in thought and foregrounding Obama in the article’s picture. Indeed, halfway through, the story even gives biographical background on Brennan, the classic “son of Irish immigrants” story, along with Harold Koh’s dubious endorsement of Brennan’s “moral rectitude.”

But instead of telling the story of John Brennan, Obama’s Cheney, the story pitches Obama as the key decision-maker–a storyline Brennan has always been one of the most aggressive pitchmen for, including when he confirmed information on the Anwar al-Awlaki strike he shouldn’t have. In a sense, then, Brennan has done Cheney one better: seed a story of his own power, but sell it as a sign of the President’s steeliness.

The Silent Sources for the Story

I already pointed out how, after presenting unambiguous evidence of Brennan’s past on-the-record lies, the story backed off calling him on it.

But there are other ways in which this story shifts the focus away from Brennan.

A remarkable number of the sources for the story spoke on the record: Tom Donilon, Cameron Munter, Dennis Blair, Bill Daley, Jeh Johnson, Michael Hayden, Jim Jones, Harold Koh, Eric Holder, Michael Leiter, John Rizzo, and John Bellinger. But it’s not until roughly the 3,450th word of a 6,000 word article that Brennan is first quoted–and that’s to largely repeat the pre-emptive lies of his drone speech from last month.

“The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things.”

That is the only on-the-record direct quote from Brennan in the entire article, in spite of the centrality of Brennan to the story.

And I would bet several of the sources quoted anonymously in the section describing Obama’s method of counting the dead (which still ignores the women and children) are Brennan: “a top White House adviser” describing how sharp Obama was in the face of the first civilian casualties; “a senior administration official” claiming, in the face of credible evidence to the contrary, that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan were in “single digits.”

Note, too, the reference to a memo his campaign national security advisors wrote him.

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.

The memo was written not long after Brennan started playing a more central role among Obama’s campaign advisors. But the story makes no mention of his presumed role in it. Further, in describing Jeh Johnson to introduce a quote, the piece notes that he was “a campaign adviser” (it doesn’t say Johnson was also focused on voter protection). But it does not note that Brennan, too, was a key campaign advisor, one with an exclusively national security focus.

Nor does the story note, when it describes how Obama “deployed his legal skills … to preserve trials in civilian courts” it was John Brennan making that case, not the Attorney General.

In other words, in several places in this story, Brennan plays a key role that is downplayed.

The Pro-Drone Narrator

Given that fact, I’m really interested in the several places where the story adopts a pro-drone viewpoint (it does adopt a more critical stance in the narrative voice at the end).

For example, the story claims, in the first part of the story, that the drone strikes “have eviscerated Al Qaeda” without presenting any basis for that claim. This, in spite of the fact that al Qaeda has expanded in Yemen since we’ve started hitting it with drones.

Later, the article uncritically accepts the claim that the drone–regardless of the targeting that goes into using it–is a “precision weapon” that constitutes a rejection of a “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets, and their reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency to reject what he called the Bush administration’s “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

For fucks sake! This article describes how the White House has adopted a “guilt by association” approach to drone targeting. Continue reading

Michael Leiter Went Skiing … And All We Got Were Vast Expansions of Data-Sharing and No T-Shirt

In its short summary of the new NCTC data sharing guidelines, Lawfare said this:

The White House has passed new ”Guidelines for Access, Retention, Use, and Dissemination. . . of Information in Datasets Containing Non-Terrorism Information.” Read the new guidelines here. The Times tells us that the National Counterterrorism Center can now ”retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism” for 5 years, instead of the previous 6 months. You can thank Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab for that. The Wall Street Journal and the Post also have the story. [my emphasis]

Actually, no.

I guess you can’t blame Michael Leiter for going skiing right after the UndieBomber attack. But when the report on the 14 failures that led us to miss the attack was released, it was pretty clear the National Counterterrorism Center–Leiter’s unit–deserved most of the blame.

Leiter wasn’t fired. He served over a year longer.

We didn’t do the most basic thing we could have done in response to the UndieBomber attack–hold those who failed accountable.

Instead, we’re now rolling back Americans’ privacy yet again, because those in charge would prefer to trade citizens’ civil liberties for actual accountability for failure.

It’s easy for folks like Lawfare to blame all this on the terrorist and none of it on the people who failed to defend against terrorism. And ultimately, that means the rest of us pay because Michael Leither chose to ski instead of ensuring we found terrorists.

WaPo Top Secret Story: Why Not Nominate God to Be Director of National Intelligence?

I trust you will all read Dana Priest and William Arkin’s story on the unwieldiness of our Intelligence Industrial Complex. It is good, insofar as it focuses needed attention on a huge problem.

But boy is it itself unwieldy. Today’s overview appears to want to be two stories: one on the problem with out-of-control contracting, and one on how that led to the failure to identify the Nidal Hasan and UndieBomber threats.

Moreover, what I find utterly shocking is that today’s 5315-word installment includes only this reference to the simmering battle over intelligence reform and the Director of National Intelligence position and tomorrow’s confirmation hearing for James Clapper!

“There’s only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs – that’s God,” said James R. Clapper, undersecretary of defense for intelligence and the Obama administration’s nominee to be the next director of national intelligence. [my emphasis]

Remember, this hearing is tomorrow. The debate that has led up to it has covered whether or not we need a stronger DNI, whether or not GAO can audit intelligence programs, and whether more than 4 people should be briefed on major new intelligence programs.

Every single one of the issues that has led to tomorrow’s confirmation hearing is an issue that goes to the heart of the problems identified in the WaPo piece: the ongoing lack of real value-added analysis to make sense of all the intelligence collected, the opacity and potential waste and fraud of the entire IIC, and the turf battles that contribute to that waste.

So while I’m grateful that this story (and more importantly, the issues behind the story, since the content of today’s installment has largely already been reported by Tim Shorrock) is getting as much attention as it is, I’m aghast that the WaPo didn’t try to contextualize it by framing the issues in it in terms of Clapper’s nomination to be DNI.

The guy the Obama Administration nominated to be Director of National Intelligence seems glib about the utter lack of transparency and oversight in our intelligence world (his predecessor, Dennis Blair, claims in the story he was able to see it all). One after another high level security official are quoted in the story complaining about the lack of central focus on intelligence–precisely the issue that Clapper’s nomination won’t solve.

If Clapper’s nomination is approved tomorrow–and it sounds like DiFi has resigned herself to approving Clapper not because she thinks he’s adequate to the job but because the interim DNI is retiring shortly–it will represent success on Obama’s part at forestalling efforts to deal in substantive way with the problems identified in the story.

That’s the news in this WaPo story.

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emptywheel @Gaius_Publius Halloween costume. Doesn't fit very well--looking forward to taking it off before I go to bed.
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emptywheel Surprise surprise! Govt was discussing killing Awlaki before they had Abdulmutallab confession they say justifies it https://t.co/gHpcG7CX6C
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bmaz @APribetic @walterwkatz They are witches?
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bmaz RT @JamesRisen: Given the costs the White House charges the media for flying with the president, that was a very expensive barter -- cake f…
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bmaz Your dogged and determined White House Press Pool hard at work reporting on the machinations of democracy: https://t.co/DCZIng2jgo
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