Omar Suleiman

More Dirty Secrets Go to the Grave

I gotta believe Moussa Koussa is feeling a bit worried these days, as one after another of those harboring the secrets about the torture the US has been complicit with die. Today, Omar Suleiman brought details of how Egyptians tortured Omar Khadr and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi (the latter of whom invented details that Dick Cheney used to drum up war against Iraq), among others, on our behalf to the grave with him.

Egypt’s former spy chief Omar Suleiman died early on Thursday aged 76 whilst undergoing medical tests in the United States.

“He was fine, it happened all of a sudden,” Hussein Kamal, the head of Suleiman’s presidential campaign team and head of his personal office, told Reuters. “He was undergoing medical examinations,” he added, without revealing the cause of death.

Meanwhile, Sky News Arabia quoted an anonymous source stating that Suleiman had been suffering from a blood disease, which led to his death in a Cleveland hospital at dawn Thursday.

Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA claimed Suleiman had developed a lung disease months ago, which later caused heart problems. His health notably deteriorated over the past three weeks, it added.

I expect we’ll see a range of conspiracy theories about Suleiman’s quick death, and on US soil. But then, I guess that’s deserved, given how sordid our relationship with Suleiman has always been.

America’s torturers are outliving the evidence against them. Congratulations are in order, for example, to Dick Cheney; his new heart has given him the ability to outlive one of the witnesses to his crimes. And Cofer Black, who crafted the plan to subsidize the Egyptian torture chambers after 9/11 and now stands poised to reenter government if Mitt Romney wins the Presidency? Congratulations, your soiled slate just got one bit cleaner.

Our Torturer, Omar Suleiman, Wants to Be President–Will We Help Him?

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After earlier stating he would not run in the upcoming Egyptian Presidential race, Omar Suleiman announced on Friday he would file to run for President (with the Army’s help gathering the 30,000 signatures he would need to collect in just one day).

Omar Suleiman, one of the most powerful figures of Mubarak’s regime, had said earlier this week that he would not run. But he said he changed his mind after hundreds of people rallied in Cairo to support a bid.

[snip]

Hundreds rallied Friday in Cairo to call for him to run for president.

Suleiman said that helped change his mind.

“I can only meet the call and run in the presidential race, despite the constraints and difficulties I made clear in my former statement,” he said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency on Friday. He said he faces administrative obstacles, but did not elaborate.

The AJE piece above describes how the Presidential race has devolved into all sides responding to Islamists–who had a big win in Parliamentary elections–deciding to run. Suleiman’s decision seems to be just another step in that process.

Mr. Suleiman’s decision raises the possibility that, one year after an uprising that was spurred in part by the Mubarak regime’s brutality, torture, and oppression, one of the architects of that repression could become Egypt’s first post-Mubarak president.

Some see his candidacy as a response by Egypt’s military rulers to the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent decision to field a presidential candidate – a decision that broke a year-long promise to stay out of the race. Omar Ashour, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, says Suleiman’s candidacy raises the possibility that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is currently ruling Egypt, may rig the elections to favor the former intelligence chief.

Some observers suggest Suleiman’s move is just be an effort to make Amr Moussa look credible by comparison.

But as Jeff Stein reviews, in many ways he’d be the most palatable candidate to the West, largely because of our long history of cooperating with him on things like torturing Ibn Shaikh al-Libi to generate propaganda with which to start the Iraq War. People predicted Suleiman might succeed Hosni Mubarak long before the Arab Uprising.

“An open question is whether he can count on help from his longtime friends in the CIA,” I wrote back in January 2011.

“Ask who they posit as a possible successor,” a State Department expert on the region told me then. “Bet you a beer, the name Omar Suleiman comes up more often than most.”

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Senior Officials Wave Their SIGINT Around

You’ve probably already read this story detailing how Hosni Mubarak used his 18 day delay in resigning to rob the Egyptian people. While the whole thing is worth a read, I wanted to point out how a senior Western intelligence official makes a point of revealing that we’ve been aware of conversations among Mubarak’s thieving family members.

But a senior Western intelligence source claimed that Mubarak had begun moving his fortune in recent weeks.

We’re aware of some urgent conversations within the Mubarak family about how to save these assets,” said the source, “And we think their financial advisers have moved some of the money around. If he had real money in Zurich, it may be gone by now.” [my emphasis]

The reference to “urgent conversations” seems to suggest they were actually listening in on them. (It also raises the question of why we didn’t try to stop Mubarak from stealing the money, but I think we know the answer to that question.)

That’s similar to the way another senior official–this one identified as American–brags to CNN about the satellites we’re using to collect intelligence in Egypt. (h/t Tim Shorrock)

As the Obama administration reacted, Washington was using a variety of intelligence assets to see what was happening in Cairo and other Egyptian cities, CNN has learned.

The U.S. military and intelligence community are using “national technical means” in the sky over Egypt to gather information about the demonstrations and the deployment of Egyptian security forces.

The phrase “national technical means” is used by the U.S. government to generally refer to the use of reconnaissance satellites to gather imagery or signals intelligence.

A senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the operation confirmed the intelligence-gathering but declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

The official declined to say to what extent the Egyptian government is aware of the activity. The official would not say specifically which intelligence-gathering elements were being used but indicated that operations were being conducted in a manner that would not be visible to the Egyptian populace.

The official said the decision to use intelligence-gathering assets came in part after violence erupted in the early days of the Cairo demonstrations. [my emphasis]

Now, it should surprise no one to know that the US has been collecting signals intelligence from Egypt. We would be focusing on Egypt anyway because of our Israeli and counterterrorism interests. And SIGINT will undoubtedly be more important as our relationship with Omar Suleiman shifts along with his position in the government. But normally it’s considered polite not to admit to using SIGINT so blatantly.

What seems to be a key intent of these public admissions of our spying is to disclose to whom we were listening–Mubarak’s family (and presumably other top officials)–and why we shifted our normal focus away from counterterrorism targets–because of Egyptian security forces had used violence against protesters.

In other words, this seems to be a message to top officials in Egypt–both Mubarak and our partners in Egypt’s military–that we’ve shifted our gaze away from counterterrorism and onto the government itself.

I thought we weren’t supposed to tell the people we were eavesdropping on that we were doing so?

The CIA IG Report on Renditions

There are a couple of details I want to return to in this AP story on what has happened to those responsible for CIA’s biggest fuck-ups and crimes.

One is this discussion of the CIA Inspector General’s report on “erroneous” renditions.

While the inspector general was investigating the mishandled el-Masri case, congressional investigators discovered several other CIA renditions that seemed to rest on bad legal footing, a U.S. intelligence official said. The CIA looked into them and conceded that, yes, the renditions had been based on faulty analysis.

But the agency said the renditions would have been approved even if the correct analysis had been used, so nobody was disciplined.

Now, we’ve heard of this investigation before. References to it (but no details) appear in a lot of the documents or Vaughn Indices released as part of the torture and ghost detainee FOIAs (often in the form of Congress nagging the CIA for the results of the study). The most detailed early description of the investigation comes from a 2005 Dana Priest article that was also one of the earliest detailed description of Khaled el-Masri’s treatment.

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls “erroneous renditions,” according to several former and current intelligence officials.

One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.

“They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association” with terrorism, one CIA officer said.

Priest reviews several of the people rendered by the CIA but ultimately dumped in Gitmo which served–one of Priest’s sources explains–as the dumping ground for CIA’s mistakes.

Among those released from Guantanamo is Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, apprehended by a CIA team in Pakistan in October 2001, then sent to Egypt for interrogation, according to court papers. He has alleged that he was burned by cigarettes, given electric shocks and beaten by Egyptian captors. After six months, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay and let go earlier this year without being charged.

Another CIA former captive, according to declassified testimony from military tribunals and other records, is Mohamedou Oulad Slahi, a Mauritanian and former Canada resident, who says he turned himself in to the Mauritanian police 18 days after the 9/11 attacks because he heard the Americans were looking for him. The CIA took him to Jordan, where he spent eight months undergoing interrogation, according to his testimony, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay.

Another is Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, an Egyptian imprisoned by Indonesia authorities in January 2002 after he was heard talking — he says jokingly — about a new shoe bomb technology. He was flown to Egypt for interrogation and returned to CIA hands four months later, according to one former intelligence official. After being held for 13 months in Afghanistan, he was taken to Guantanamo Bay, according to his testimony.

Note Habib is one of the former detainees whose treatment at the hand of Omar Suleiman has come under new scrutiny given Suleiman’s role in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

Now, the AP piece doesn’t provide many new details, but two are worthy of note.

First, apparently Congress identified the erroneous renditions, not the CIA. That suggests the CIA was not forthcoming in admitting its mistakes to Congress (which is about par for the course).

But I’m interested too in the conclusion:the renditions had been based “on faulty analysis” but they would have been approved even if “the correct analysis” was used.

That suggests Inspector General John Helgerson, not long after CIA had finagled a way to limit his conclusions about torture, focused on just the analysis–presumably, the approval process–that went into the rendition. I’m not sure what that means, but looking back at Priest’s description of the problem behind “erroneous” renditions–notably, its reliance on torture-induced evidence from al Qaeda detainees–I wonder whether Helgerson assessed the actual facts behind the rendition, or just whether the rendition, using those faulty facts, would have been approved according to the right decision process. That is, I wonder whether the CIA decided that the disappearances that even it considers were wrong didn’t matter so much because they didn’t evaluate the lies and misinformation their torture program had introduced into the process by which they chose people to disappear.

That is, it appears CIA has labeled its disappearances simply a matter of flawed bureaucracy rather than a clear example of the problems that result when you eliminate due process.

Look Forward, and Promote the Torturers

There’s Matt, who froze Gul Rahman to death in the Salt Pit. Paul, his boss and the CIA Station Chief of Afghanistan, who ignored Matt’s requests for more help at the prison. There’s Albert, who staged a mock execution of Rahim al-Nashiri, and his boss, Ron, the Station Chief in Poland, who witnessed the forbidden technique and did nothing to stop it. There’s Frances, the analyst who was certain that Khaled el-Masri had to be the terrorist with a similar name, and Elizabeth, the lawyer who approved Frances’ decision to have el-Masri rendered and tortured. There’s Steve, the CIA guy who interrogated Manadel al-Jamadi and, some say, effectively crucified him. There’s Gerry Meyer, the Baghdad station chief, and his deputy, Gordon, who permitted the ghost detainee system in Iraq. And of course, there’s Jennifer Matthews, the Khost station chief who ignored warnings about Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi that might have prevented his attack (and her own death).

These are the CIA officers responsible for the Agency’s biggest known fuck-ups and crimes since 9/11.

The AP has a story tracking what happened to those officers. And it finds that few were held accountable, particularly not senior officers, and even those who were reprimanded have continued to prosper in the agency.

In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officers who committed serious mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead have received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has revealed.

[snip]

Though Obama has sought to put the CIA’s interrogation program behind him, the result of a decade of haphazard accountability is that many officers who made significant missteps are now the senior managers fighting the president’s spy wars.

The AP investigation of the CIA’s actions revealed a disciplinary system that takes years to make decisions, hands down reprimands inconsistently and is viewed inside the agency as prone to favoritism and manipulation. When people are disciplined, the punishment seems to roll downhill, sparing senior managers even when they were directly involved in operations that go awry.

Paul–the guy who let the inexperienced Matt freeze Gul Rahman to death–is now chief of the Near East Division.

Ron–who watched Albert stage a forbidden mock execution–now heads the Central European Division.

Albert–who staged the mock execution–was reprimanded, left the CIA, but returned to the CIA as a contractor involved in training officers.

Frances–who insisted Khaled el-Masri be rendered and tortured–was not disciplined and now heads the CIA’s “Global Jihad” unit.

Elizabeth–the lawyer who approved el-Masri’s rendition–was disciplined, but has since been promoted to the legal adviser to the Near East Division.

Steve was reprimanded–not for his interrogation of al-Janabi, but for not having him seen by a doctor. He retired and is back at CIA as a contractor.

Gordon–the Deputy at the Baghdad station at the time of the worst torture–was temporarily barred from working overseas and sent to training; he’s now in charge of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department of the Counterterrorism Center.

And, as the AP notes, several of these people are now among Obama’s key counter-terrorism advisors. (Of course, John Brennan, who oversaw targeting for Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program, is his top counter-terrorism advisor.)

No wonder Obama has no problem pushing our Egyptian torturer, Omar Suleiman, to lead Egypt. It’s completely consistent with our own practice of promoting our own torturers.

Omar Suleiman Promised the 2006 Election in Gaza Wouldn’t Take Place

Back in 2008, David Rose had a fairly explosive article on Condi Rice and Elliot Abrams’ incompetent meddling in Gaza, which he compared to Iran-Contra. Here’s how I summarized its revelations at the time:

The story explains how the Administration pushed an election for the Palestinians, not seeing what every sane observer saw–that Hamas would win. Immediately after the election, Condi started pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve Parliament. When he refused, the Administration started backing the Fatah strongman, Mohammad Dahlan, in hopes that he could strengthen Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s security organizations–which had been devastated by Israel during the intifada–sufficiently to overcome Hamas. This set off a civil war between Fatah and Hamas. To end the bloodshed, Saudi’s King Abdullah brokered a national unity government, without warning the US he would do so. In response to Abdullah’s unity government plan, the State Department developed its own $1.27 billion plan, what Hamas considered “a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup.” The US handed that plan to Abbas and had him adopt it as if it were his own. Hamas responded by taking over Gaza and capturing the Egyptian weapons intended to strengthen Fatah.

Central to the whole story is how the State Department could have been so stupid as not to see that Hamas would win a democratic election in Gaza in 2006.

Elections for the Palestinian parliament, known officially as the Legislative Council, were originally set for July 2005, but later postponed by Abbas until January 2006.Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that Fatah still wasn’t ready for elections in January. Decades of self-preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.

“Everyone was against the elections,” Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. “Bush decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, ‘The president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?”

The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.

Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there was no contingency plan to deal with it. “I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” Condoleezza Rice told reporters. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing.”

“Everyone blamed everyone else,” says an official with the Department of Defense. “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the fuck recommended this?’”

But a Wikileaks cable released by Aftenposten may explain why State was taken by surprised.

They may have thought the election itself wouldn’t happen.

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Hillary Can’t Decide Whether to Impose Democracy or Not

On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told attendees at a security conference that our torturer, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, should manage the transition to democracy in Egypt.

She backed off that stance yesterday.

CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller:

On flight home from Germany, Secy of State Clinton says “we cannot and would not try to dictate any outcome” in Egypt.

Clinton says “I am no expert on the Egyptian constitution,” but if Mubarak resigns, presidential elections would have to be held in 60 days.

State Department Spokesperson PJ Crowley:

#SecClinton today: The transition to #democracy (in #Egypt and elsewhere) will only work if it is deliberate, inclusive and transparent.

Secretary #Clinton today: There needs to be an orderly, expeditious transition. The people of #Egypt will be the arbiters of this process.

Meanwhile, Robert Fisk lays out in detail the same thing I raised to explain Frank Wisner’s apparent flip-flop on whether Mubarak should go or not. Here’s what I said:

Wisner is a lobbyist for Patton Boggs, representing the Government of Egypt.

PJ [Crowley] would have been better served to say somsething like, “having utterly failed in his mission for his country, Wisner has gone back to his day job pushing whatever policy his clients think, regardless of its benefit to America.”

Here’s Fisk’s explanation.

The US State Department and Mr Wisner himself have now both claimed that his remarks were made in a “personal capacity”. But there is nothing “personal” about Mr Wisner’s connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises “the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government’s behalf in Europe and the US”. Oddly, not a single journalist raised this extraordinary connection with US government officials – nor the blatant conflict of interest it appears to represent.

[snip]

Patton Boggs states that its attorneys “represent some of the leading Egyptian commercial families and their companies” and “have been involved in oil and gas and telecommunications infrastructure projects on their behalf”. One of its partners served as chairman of the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce promoting foreign investment in the Egyptian economy. The company has also managed contractor disputes in military-sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act. Washington gives around $1.3bn (£800m) a year to the Egyptian military.

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Claiming Consensus, Omar Suleiman Promises to Hold Protesters Accountable

The key to understanding Omar Suleiman’s statement claiming there is “consensus” in how to move forward in Egypt is to see how he redefines the crisis from being caused by legitimate grievances voiced by the “youth” involved in protests into a lack of security caused by the protests.

All participants of the dialogue arrived at a consensus to express their appreciation and respect for the 25 January movement and on the need to deal seriously, expeditiously and honestly with the current crisis that the nation is facing, the legitimate demands of the youth of 25 January and society’s political forces, with full consideration and a commitment to constitutional legitimacy in confronting the challenges and dangers faced by Egypt as result of this crisis, including: The lack of security for the populace; disturbances to daily life; the paralysis of by public services; the suspension of education at universities and schools; the logistical delays in the delivery of essential goods to the population; the damages to and losses of the Egyptian economy; the attempts at foreign intervention into purely Egyptian affairs and breaches of security by foreign elements working to undermine stability in implementation of their plots, while recognizing that the 25 January movement is a honorable and patriotic movement. [my emphasis]

This paragraph starts out by hailing the January 25 movement, but then says there is consensus that Egypt must both deal with the “legitimate” demands of the movement and “confront[] the challenges and dangers faced by Egypt as result of this crisis.” Fully half the paragraph lists the perceived threats to security “caused” by the uprising. Predictably, Suleiman doesn’t include police attacks on unarmed citizens among those threats to security.

In other words, Suleiman is saying, “The January 25 movement is honorable, but they have hurt the security of the nation, so the solution largely consists of responding to the threat to security they represent.”

This allows Suleiman to promise that no one will be persecuted for political activities–indeed, “prisoners of conscience” will be released.

2. The Government announces the establishment of a bureau to receive complaints regarding, and commits to immediately release, prisoners of conscience of all persuasions. The Government commits itself to not pursuing them or limiting their ability to engage in political activity.

Which would seem to be an attempt to convince protesters they won’t be prosecuted if they demobilize.

Except that Suleiman makes four different promises to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the alleged breakdown of national security (as defined by Suleiman, not by the protesters):

6. Pursuit of corruption, and an investigation into those behind the breakdown of security in line with the law

7. Restoring the security and stability of the nation, and tasking the police forces to resume their role in serving and protecting the people.

[snip]

4. Supervisory and judiciary agencies will be tasked with continuing to pursue persons implicated in corruption, as well as pursuing and holding accountable persons responsible for the recent breakdown in security.

5. The state of emergency will be lifted based on the security situation and an end to the threats to the security of society

Along with an implicit promise to use the military to crack down on those who threaten national security.

In addition, all participants in the dialogue saluted the patriotic and loyal role played by our Armed Forces at this sensitive time, and affirmed their aspirations for a continuation of that role to restore of calm, security and stability, and to guarantee the implementation and of the consensus and understandings that result from the meetings of the national dialogue.

The key in all of this is bullet 5 quoted above: the “state of emergency” (and with it the emergency law that limits freedom of assembly and provides alternative legal processes) will only be lifted after “threats to the security of society” have ended. This is contrary to some of the reports that Suleiman had agreed to lift the emergency law that have come out of these meetings. Suleiman has described the protests as being part of the problem, and agreed to lift the emergency only after that problem has been investigated and held accountable. The one exception–his promise to liberalize the media–is limited by his depiction of foreign interference in Egyptian affairs, seeing to suggest foreign media will still be targeted.

In other words, having redefined the protests as the direct cause of the breakdown in security (even quoting Hosni Mubarak’s February 1 speech that did the same), Suleiman has all but promised to use the emergency law to prosecute those who caused that breakdown in security.

I guess that’s just about what we should expect from our torturer.

Update: Mohamed el Baradei has released a statement in response. He is not impressed.

Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei slammed fledgling negotiations on Egypt’s future on Sunday and said he was not invited to the talks.

The Nobel Peace laureate said weekend talks with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman were managed by the same people who had ruled the country for 30 years and lack credibility. He said the negotiations were not a step toward the change protesters have demanded in 12 days of demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

“The process is opaque. Nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage,” ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Hillary’s Tortured Democracy and the Suleiman “Assassination Attempt”

At a security conference in Munich today, Hillary Clinton announced that America’s torturer, Omar Suleiman, must be in charge of Egypt’s “transition” to “democracy.”

The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton today signalled how far the US has swung its support behind vice-president Omar Suleiman and the transition process he is leading in Egypt.

Clinton was speaking at a security conference in Munich today, where the watchword on Egypt was the need for orderly transition.

In her most striking remarks, the US secretary of state said: “There are forces at work in any society, particularly one that is facing these kind of challenges, that will try to derail or overtake the process to pursue their own agenda, which is why I think it’s important to follow the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by vice-president Omar Suleiman.”

This, just hours after Obama reiterated that “it’s not up to us” to determine the future of Egypt.

See the FT for an even more detailed description of Hillary’s address.

Meanwhile, our government appears to be the only entity–aside from Fox News–pushing a totally unconfirmed report that Hillary’s choice to lead Egypt’s “democracy” survived an assassination attempt the other day.

I first learned about the rumor when David Corn reacted on Twitter to a Fox reporter asking about it.

Q: Do you know anything about assassination attempt on #Egypt VP? G: I’m not going to get into that question.//Huh?

I found Robert Gibbs’ response (at least as Corn captured it–the WH has not released a transcript) fascinating. You would think if Gibbs knew the allegation was false, he’d say so in no uncertain terms. If he didn’t know about it, he’d tell reporters he’d get back to them on it. But instead, “I’m not going to get into that question.”

Which is not dissimilar from the way Hillary used this alleged assassination attempt in Munich. In spite of the fact that only Fox has reported it in the US, the German diplomat who at one point seemed to confirm subsequently retracted it, and an Egyptian official has denied it, Hillary used the alleged assassination to support her case that stability is key in the transition to Egyptian “democracy.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the conference that the news of the assassination attempt reflects the challenges of restoring stability in Egypt.

While I haven’t found a direct transcription of this yet, it appears that, like Gibbs, Hillary acknowledged the existence of an “assassination plot” that only Fox seems to know exists, without directly confirming it, and then used it to emphasize how the danger of such things demonstrates the need for our torturer to oversee a stable transition in Egypt.

I’m having a bit of deja vu this morning. Last time I remember these kinds of linguistic tricks, Dick Cheney and George Bush were using them to convince us to forcibly impose democracy on Iraq in 2002-2003.

“Did Anyone Know a Fruit Vendor in Tunisia Was Going to Light Himself on Fire?”

That’s the question NSC spokesperson Tommy Vietor used yesterday to deflect Senate Intelligence Committee concerns that the Administration was taken by surprise by the events in Egypt.

Did anyone in the world know in advance that a fruit vendor in Tunisia was going to light himself on fire and start a revolution? No. But for decades, the intelligence community and diplomats have been reporting on unrest in the region that was a result of economic, demographic and political conditions.

That’s pretty much the answer Stephanie O’Sullivan gave to the committee as they grilled her yesterday (though without the snide reference to Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian whose self-immolation sparked the uprising there).

“We warned of instability,” said Stephanie O’Sullivan, who has been nominated to become the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official. The hearing was on her nomination to be principal deputy director of the Office of Director of National Intelligence. But, she added, “we didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be.”

It’s also what Paul Pillar told Spencer about warnings of the Egyptian uprising.

“The ingredients of upheaval were there for a long time,” says Paul Pillar, who was the intelligence community’s top Mideast analyst from 2000 to 2005, “but it was impossible to predict in advance what particular catalyzing events would set stuff off.”

But that response doesn’t address three issues.

First, there’s DiFi’s complaint that the intelligence community was not monitoring open source resources to track the Egyptian opposition.

Feinstein set a skeptical tone at the opening of the hearing, saying Obama and other policymakers deserved timely intelligence on major world events. Referring to Egypt, she said, “I have doubts whether the intelligence community lived up to its obligations in this area.”

After the hearing, Feinstein said she was particularly concerned that the CIA and other agencies had ignored open-source intelligence on the protests, a reference to posts on Facebook and other publicly accessible Web sites used by organizers of the protests against the Mubarak government.

Speaking more broadly about intelligence on turmoil in the Middle East, Feinstein said, “I’ve looked at some intelligence in this area.” She described it as “lacking . . . on collection.”

Our intelligence community makes a great deal of effort to track the public internet communications of Islamic extremists. But DiFi suggests they’re not doing the same to track potential sources of instability around the world. In my next post, I’ll show that she may have a point.

In addition, the response that the intelligence community can’t predict when a fruit vendor will self-immolate and with it light up the whole Middle East ignores a point that Pillar admitted.

At the same time, the CIA is really, really close to its Egyptian counterparts. It relied on Egypt’s spymaster, now Mubarak’s vice president, to carry out a torture program against terrorist suspects. But Pillar denies that closeness led the CIA to rely on rosy pictures of a stable country provided by Egypt’s spies.“They take with grain of salt what [Egyptian spies] have to say,” Pillar says. “Anybody in the State Department or intelligence community following a country like Egypt is highly conscious of that as an occupational hazard. That doesn’t mean necessarily that they have great sources inside an opposition movement, but they’re aware of this as a potential shortcoming.” [my emphasis]

Pillar admits that we didn’t necessarily have great sources within the opposition movement. And he may be suggesting that that is because of our particularly close ties to Egypt’s intelligence services and thugs like Omar Suleiman. Particularly if DiFi’s complaint about not tracking social media is correct, that’s sort of going to make it hard to predict a revolution.

Finally (and this is a point as salient for the complaining Senators as for the intelligence community), what if we did know people were talking about a revolution? What would we have done?

Given the Administration’s caution about dispensing of its ally Mubarak (something I’m not terribly surprised about), what do the Senators really think we would have done, as a country, had we thought Mubarak’s rule was unstable? Egypt has been such a cornerstone of our foreign policy for so long, I highly doubt it would have changed our policy of gently trying to nudge Mubarak to reform without trying to offend him.

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bmaz @ScottGreenfield @mmasnick @techdirt Pointlessness is an understatement. The level of bad faith is stunning+the court mostly sits+takes it.
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bmaz RT @erinscafe: If you buy a ticket to #ffthefilm, @JoseCanseco will give you a hug. Wait, Jose, are you coming to the premiere? I have a ti…
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bmaz Another wet track at Shanghai for Chinese GP qualifying. Great for the TV fans, not so much for the drivers and local fans.
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bmaz Why innocent people plead guilty via http://t.co/EMXiSk40m2 Jed Rakoff brings some truth
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April 2014
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