Recall that last fall, Barack Obama spent some time altering the public record on when CIA-trained death squads first entered Syria to move the date from just before the Ghouta sarin attack to just after (while also trying to shrink the size of those first groups). But the US was a month behind Pakistan’s Taliban, who also sent fighters to Syria, ostensibly on the same side as us this time, to fight pro-Assad forces. But while these efforts on the same side in Syria are having little success as Assad remains in power and might even be gaining the upper hand, the work of the CIA and Taliban on opposite sides in Pakistan has produced a devastating result, with the World Health Organization announcing yesterday that it has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the spread of polio to countries where it previously had been eradicated:
After discussion and deliberation on the information provided, and in the context of the global polio eradication initiative, the Committee advised that the international spread of polio to date in 2014 constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk to other States for which a coordinated international response is essential. The current situation stands in stark contrast to the near-cessation of international spread of wild poliovirus from January 2012 through the 2013 low transmission season for this disease (i.e. January to April). If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases. It was the unanimous view of the Committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have been met.
Although fundamentalist Islamic groups have long accused vaccination campaigns, and especially polio vaccinations, of being efforts by the West to sterilize Muslims, the very high profile case of Dr. Shakeel Afridi carrying out a hepatitis vaccination ruse on on behalf of the CIA in an effort to obtain blood samples from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad provided a refreshed incentive for attacks on vaccine programs.
Marcy pointed out the stupidity of Leon Panetta’s confirmation that Afridi worked with the CIA in the ruse the day before Panetta’s 60 Minutes segment ran:
Not only does this presumably put more pressure on Pakistan to convict Afridi of treason (he remains in custody), but it exacerbates the problem of having used a vaccination campaign as cover in the first place, confirming on the record that similar campaigns in poor countries might be no more than a CIA front.
I presume someone in the White House gave Panetta permission to go blab this on 60 Minutes; I assume he’s in no more legal jeopardy than Dick Cheney was when he insta-declassified Valerie Plame’s identity.
But shit like this discredits every single claim national security experts make about the need for secrecy. I mean, how are CIA officers ever going to recruit any more assets when the assets know that the CIA director may, at some time in the future that’s politically convenient, go on 60 Minutes and confirm the relationship?
Afridi was eventually sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, not on treason but on other dubious charges and in a shopped venue. And the fallout in Pakistan’s tribal areas from US confirmation of the vaccination ruse was exactly as might be expected: multiple deadly attacks on polio vaccine workers and many new cases of paralyzed children.
While the polio virus circulating in Syria doesn’t appear to have come directly with the Taliban fighters sent from Pakistan, it is indeed a strain from Pakistan’s tribal areas that is in Syria now:
Thirteen cases of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) have been confirmed in the Syrian Arab Republic. Genetic sequencing indicates that the isolated viruses are most closely linked to virus detected in environmental samples in Egypt in December 2012 (which in turn had been linked to wild poliovirus circulating in Pakistan).
WHO is recommending drastic measures, primarily calling for all travelers from Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria to be vaccinated for polio, preferably at least four weeks prior to international travel, but at least at departure if it hasn’t been done earlier. WHO is also calling for increased efforts in vaccinations in countries (Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria) where the virus is known to be present but from which transmission has not been seen.
So the fears from two years ago on the impact of the CIA’s actions on polio eradication are now met. But keep in mind that it’s not just vaccine programs that were put at risk by this incredibly stupid move. A large alliance of humanitarian groups complained directly to the CIA that all humanitarian groups were put at risk by the move, since the CIA ruse was carried out under cover of a humanitarian organization. Will John Brennan be able to heed this advice?
The New York Times has just released an excerpt from Carlotta Gall’s upcoming book “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014″. Recall that Gall lived in Afghanistan and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Times from 2001-2013 (Declan Walsh also covered Pakistan from inside Pakistan until he was expelled just before the election in 2013). The biggest revelation in the excerpt is that Pakistan knew about, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, actively sheltered, Osama bin Laden when he was in hiding in Pakistan.
Gall claims that then-ISI head Ahmed Shuja Pasha had direct knowledge of bin Laden’s presence:
Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid. “He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,” the Pakistani official told me. The official was surprised to learn this and said the Americans were even more so. Pasha had been an energetic opponent of the Taliban and an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI. “Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy,” the official said. But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
Although Pasha knew, it appears that ISI compartmented the knowledge very carefully:
In trying to prove that the ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him, I struggled for more than two years to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI — such is how supersecret intelligence units operate — but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.
Gall’s reporting on Taliban factions and their madrassas came at great personal risk. This story picks up at a point where her Pakistani colleagues have been picked up by the ISI at the hotel where they were staying and she had been summoned to meet the ISI agents outside: Continue reading
Today’s New York Times has a fascinating update on the investigation into the killing of Swedish reporter Nils Horner on March 11. Although there have been systematic attacks on journalists in the region for years, it appears that in the case of Horner, suggestions of the involvement of Western intelligence agencies are getting significant attention:
Now, some are saying Mr. Horner may have been killed as part of some shadowy intelligence war in Afghanistan waged by foreigners.
The allegation first surfaced in a widely disputed claim of responsibility issued by a group calling itself Feday-e-Mahaz, and thought to be an offshoot of the Taliban.
“This was certainly not the work of the Taliban,” Mr. Faizi said in an interview, adding that he did not believe there were any breakaway factions. “They are fictions.”
Afghan officials linked Mr. Horner’s death to the attack on Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners that suicide attackers struck in January, killing 21 people, most of them foreigners.
Though the Taliban took credit for that attack, Mr. Karzai has suggested that it may be linked to foreigners and not Afghan insurgents. Mr. Horner was shot as he tried to find and interview a chef who had escaped from that Lebanese restaurant, officials said.
“Perhaps there are some of those with fears about what he would find out,” one Afghan official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.
The official emphasized that he was speaking of the possibility that Westerners were responsible in both the restaurant attack and Mr. Horner’s shooting, and not Pakistanis, whom Afghan officials often blame after attacks because of what the official called Pakistan’s clandestine support of the Taliban.
But how on earth could such a ludicrous story get started? I mean, it’s not like the US meddles and tries to prevent the outbreak of peace talks or anything like that. Oh, wait.
Okay, but surely this meddling is recent. The history of our motives in the region must be pure. Just ask someone who has observed our actions over the years, like, say, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, (pdf):
But it was too late because some of the organizations had become a part of the Afghan
people. As for Afghanistan itself, the West did not support the Afghan organizations in
order to bring about peace, prosperity, and security in Afghanistan. The U.S. proxies in the
lSI under American control foiled every attempt to reconcile or integrate the various
Afghan organizations. Every time they saw a strong leader or an organization, they
supported him in order to split his organization off from the others. They split the group
Hezb Al-Islami Hekmatyar into two parties- one by the same name and one by the name
Hezb Al-Islami Younis Khalis and so on.
Well, yes, as Marcy notes, KSM is trolling, but there are bits that can’t be denied.
Oh, and don’t forget the use of a doctor in a vaccination ruse to obtain intelligence on the compound where Osama bin Laden was living prior to the attack that killed him. So why wouldn’t the West use a journalist? And look at Horner’s history:
Horner, 51, was an experienced Hong Kong-based reporter who had previously been in Afghanistan to witness the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and in Iraq during the war in 2003.
And just to make things juicier, even though Horner worked for Swedish radio, he held British citizenship. The Wall Street Journal article linked here notes that Horner covered Asia generally since 2001 and “had visited Kabul many times in the past”.
I’m not ready to embrace these conspiracies, but it sure is easy to see how the concept can take hold when we consider how the US has behaved in the region for decades.
“Destroy them immediately.”
That’s what Admiral William McRaven said 11 days after Judicial Watch FOIAed for pictures of Osama bin Laden’s remains.
As I was the first to note back in June, McRaven ordered that all photos in JSOC’s possession should be purged. According to the IG Report where I first noted that order, he ordered them be sent to CIA (the final IG Report censored that reference). I thought at the time (and still believe) it was an attempt to jurisdictionally sheep dip the pictures, just as the operation had been, to get further protection for the pictures.
It’s only now, after Judicial Watch lost their suit to obtain these photos, that DOD has gotten around to providing this document that makes it clear McRaven ordered the photos not just purged, but “destroyed” after the Judiical Watch request.
It’s all so familiar!
Yesterday, Al Jazeera published a leaked copy of the final report from the Abbottabad Commission appointed by Pakistan’s government to investigate both how Osama bin Laden could have lived within Pakistan (on military land!) for so long and how the US was able to carry out its mission to kill him without Pakistan’s military responding in any way.
The report is published as a pdf file of what is clearly a photocopy of the report. The English version has a few translation and/or transcription errors where a word here and there does not make sense. The copy is nearly complete, but Al Jazeera notes that every copy they saw was missing a page in which former ISI director Pasha described conversations Musharraf had with the US just after 9/11.
I’m about a third of the way through reading the report. So far, it has been organized as summaries of the testimony from individuals who had some sort of role at bin Laden’s compound or a role in government or law enforcement that intersected with the event. Each summary of testimony is followed by a bit of reaction from the commission itself, and this reaction can be quite pithy at times. The commission found Shakeel Afridi’s testimony completely unbelieveable, as he claimed to have no knowledge at all that he was working with the CIA. The commission also, in response to the testimony of a lower level local police figure, ascribed the abdication of duty as due to “government implosion syndrome”, adding that “This explains a lot without excusing it.”
What stands out to me in the reading so far is the role that Umar Patek could have played in aiding the US to find bin Laden. Recall that so far, the party line from the US is that bin Laden’s compound was located in Abbottabad by tracing the two couriers who lived there. However, Indonesian bomber Umar Patek was arrested in Abbottabad in January of 2011, just a few months before the May raid by the US.
Here is a bit of the testimony from the Home Secretary of Kyhber Pakhunkhwa Province (so as not to add further transcription errors, I am relying on partial screen captures of the pdf document that is in a form not allowing text to be copied):
So the arrest of Patek aroused at least some concern, but it was not followed up on. The testimony of the wife of one of the couriers, Maryam, got into a very interesting analysis of the Patek situation, though, with the commission offering some incisive deductions:
And after a page break:
Almost nobody had paid any attention to Patek’s arrest being so close in time and location to the bin Laden raid. Well, one foul-mouthed blogger did, a year ago this week:
But there’s a question that has, AFAIK, never been answered. Patek was arrested in January 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There have always been suspicions that the arrest of Patek in the city Osama bin Laden was hidden out in (Patek reportedly planned to meet OBL) helped to solidify the case that he was in fact the “Pacer” in the compound. Did Patek help the US get OBL?
Both Marcy and the commission find the interrogation window for Patek to fit extremely well with the timing of the bin Laden raid. The commission also shows considerable insight in noting that despite the efforts by bin Laden to cut off all interaction with the outside world except for the use of his two couriers, at least one high level al Qaeda affiliate may well have known that bin Laden was in Abbottabad.
While the world focuses on the role of following bin Laden’s couriers, it may well be that Patek provided some of the most actionable intelligence on bin Laden being in Abbottabad.
Congratulations to the AP, which has caught up to the reporting I did a month ago on the way SOCOM purged their own systems of Osama bin Laden photos (and, apparently, records) and moved them to the CIA.
But it appears that this shell game involved more than just moving all these records to CIA. It appears CIA had to retroactively classify at least the photographs.
As you recall, Judicial Watch (as well as a bunch of other entities) had FOIAed any pictures of the raid. It its motion for summary judgment, JW made several complaints about the government’s FOIA response:
It is the last of these that is most interesting, given the apparent fact that DOD transfered all its photos to CIA (plus my suspicion that a lot of these are trophy photos, not official operational photos).
First, Defendants fail to identify who classified the records. Director Bennett testifies as to who generally has the authority to classify information as TOP SCERET and who generally has the authority to delegate such authority. Bennett Decl. at ¶¶ 14-15. In addition, Director Bennett states that the “Director of the CIA has delegated original TOP SECRET classification authority to me. As an original classification authority, I am authorized to conduct classification reviews and to make original classification decisions.” Id. at ¶ 18. Yet, Director Bennett does not testify that he personally classified the records. Nor does he state that any other authorized official actually classified the records. If an individual without the proper authority classified the records, Defendants have not complied with the procedural requirements of EO 13526.
Second, Director Bennett does not specifically testify as to when the 52 records were classified. Director Bennett only states that as of September 26, 2011, the 52 records are currently and properly classified. Continue reading
As the New York Times notes, the Taliban took steps over the weekend to remove some of the more provocative aspects of its office in Qatar from which representatives may enter into negotiations on the end of the war in Afghanistan. Specifically, they took down both the version of the Afghan flag which they used while they ruled the country and they removed the sign that could have been interpreted as a claim that they were still the legitimate government of the country:
In a possible easing of tensions that have held up an opening for peace talks by American, Afghan and Taliban officials in Qatar, the Afghan government confirmed the complete removal of an objectionable sign, flag and flagpole that had led the Afghan delegation to boycott negotiations.
“According to the timely and appropriate and precise position of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Taliban flag has been brought down from the office, the Islamic Emirate sign has been removed and the Qatari police removed the flagpole from the Taliban office,” said a statement released Sunday by the presidential palace, quoting Masoom Stanekzai, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council.
The statement referred to the signs and flag unveiled when the Taliban open their Doha office last week — their first public re-entry on to the international stage in almost 13 years. At the official opening of the office the Taliban had put up signs saying “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which is the name they used for their government when they ran Afghanistan, and they raised their white flag with black writing.
Both gestures, along with their description of the office’s mandate of speaking to foreign governments, suggested that the Taliban were trying to present themselves as an alternative to the Afghan government.
It is possible that these symbolic moves came about through an ascendance of a more moderate wing within the Afghan Taliban. Significant support for such a view comes from a remarkable interview TOLOnews correspondent Mujahid Kakar conducted with Mutasim Agha Jan, who was Finance Minister of Afghanistan when the Taliban ruled. The interview can be seen in the two-hour-plus video embedded below (with English subtitles) or the English translation can be read as a 31 page pdf file here.
There are a couple of caveats that should be kept in mind when reviewing Jan’s statements. First, the interview took place in Turkey, where Jan has resided since about 2011, when he was injured in an attack in Karachi after falling out with Taliban leaders in 2010, so the fact that he is not in either Qatar or Afghanistan suggests that he and the moderate faction for which he appears to speak still don’t feel safe in either of those locations. Second, I of course have no idea whether the translations in the video or transcript are accurate.
With those caveats in mind, however, Jan makes a number of striking statements. Early in the interview, we get a description of the moderate and extremist groups within the Afghan Taliban: Continue reading
On Tuesday, I noted that, between the draft and the final, DOD’s Inspector General removed this language referring to Admiral William McRaven purging SOCOM’s network of pictures of Osama bin Laden after CIA exposed the members of SEAL Team 6.
This effort included purging these records to another Government Agency.
But there was also telling new language introduced in the final (which would have been introduced between late last year and last week). The draft included this sentence.
ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released.
The final changed that language to read,
ADM McRaven also directed personnel to forego releasing names of operators and photographs associated with the raid.
The use of the word “personnel” is ambiguous, as it’s not clear whether it refers to the SEAL Team members mentioned earlier in the paragraph or to DOD staffers who handle SOCOM’s archives (or to CIA personnel who now purportedly have the photos).
But I find it telling, given another detail about Judicial Watch’s FOIA for these photos.
Recall that on February 15, 2013, DOJ informed Judicial Watch that CIA had found 7 more photos responsive to their FOIA. That happened just 4 days after Esquire published a splashy story about the guy who claimed to have been the SEAL who actually killed OBL. The current version includes this line.
In the compound, I thought about getting my camera, and I knew we needed to take pictures and ID him.
I had made the connection at the time, and I have a distinct suspicion the language was slightly different in the original (Esquire was making factual corrections along the way but the original is not on Internet Archive), making it clear that the Shooter and possibly others did take pictures, though perhaps not for operational purposes.
What kind of amped up warrior who had just helped kill the bogeyman could resist taking souvenir pictures? Could you blame them, if so?
In any case, I suspected at the time that the reason CIA “located” new photos was because they read about another set of photos in the possession in one of the guys who participated in the op, if not shot the lethal bullet. The ambiguity in the description of McRaven’s order seems to support that.
That is, what SOCOM and CIA appear to be protecting are — in significant part — the personal photos taken by the guys who did the operation.
The day before I got hopelessly buried in the rabbit warren of NSA leaks, I reported that the draft IG Report on the Obama Administration’s leaks to Zero Dark Thirty’s creators seemed to indicate that, on Admiral William McRaven’s orders, SOCOM had purged its networks of Osama bin Laden photos that were the subject of an active Judicial Watch FOIA.
According to ADM McRaven, the DoD provided the operators and their families an inordinate level of security. ADM McRaven held a meeting with the families to discuss force protection measures and tell the families that additional protective monitoring will be provided, and to call security personnel if they sensed anything. ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released. This effort included purging these records to another Government Agency.
The other day the final report came out. And while I haven’t yet read the report in depth (short version: it clears the Obama Administration of all the improprieties laid out in the draft), I do notice this interesting edit.
According to ADM McRaven, DoD provided the operators and their families an inordinate level of security. ADM McRaven stated that he previously met with operators’ family members and discussed force protection measures. USSOCOM officials informed family members that protective monitoring will be initiated, and instructed them to call security personnel if security-related incidents arise. ADM McRaven also directed personnel to forego releasing names of operators and photographs associated with the raid.
They took out all mention of the “purge” of photos requested under FOIA.
To be fair, the use of the word “purge” in the original always seemed inapt, as it appears that McRaven ordered the photos on DOD servers to be moved — not destroyed — to CIA’s servers. So it’s not like McRaven ordered evidence be destroyed.
Still, as I’ll eventually get around to describing, it may have affected the outcome of the FOIA.
Which seems worthy of note. But apparently not to the people who protect top military leaders.
I wanted to point to one more detail from the DOD Inspector General’s report on Leon Panetta’s leaks to Zero Dark 30′s filmakers.
The very last page of the report describes how Admiral William McRaven responded after realizing the SEALs who had participated in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound had all hung around a Hollywood producer with their name badges exposed.
According to ADM McRaven, the DoD provided the operators and their families an inordinate level of security. ADM McRaven held a meeting with the families to discuss force protection measures and tell the families that additional protective monitoring will be provided, and to call security personnel if they sensed anything. ADM McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released. This effort included purging these records to another Government Agency. [my emphasis]
The report doesn’t reveal when SOCOM purged its records and handed the documents to, presumably though not definitely, CIA, though if McRaven directed it, it happened after he took command in August 2011. (Update: That’s probably not right, as he was in command of the operation in any case.)
But it’s a relevant question because Judicial Watch had FOIAed pictures of OBL on May 3, 2011, and sued 10 days later, so before all the leaking and presumably therefore the purging began. On June 26, 2011, just two days after Panetta’s leaky party, the government stalled on the suit, saying Judicial Watch had not exhausted its administrative remedies. By September 26, DOD claimed they had no pictures of OBL (though earlier this year there were reports 7 new photos had been found) and CIA claimed none of the 52 pictures they had could be released. Along with that filing, McRaven submitted a declaration explaining why these photos couldn’t be released, though the interesting parts remain redacted. John Bennett’s declaration for the CIA does not describe when the Agency searched its files for photographs, and therefore doesn’t indicate whether they searched before or after DOD purged its files.
Now, none of this timing would mitigate CIA’s claims about the extremely grave harm that would arise from releasing OBL death porn.
But it is, at the very least, very sketchy — and all that’s before having a really good sense of when the purging and the FOIA response occurred.
Update: I spoke to Judicial Watch’s lawyer for this FOIA, Michael Bekesha, and they have never been informed of this purge. Though it may explain some other details about the progress of the FOIA, including some funkiness with the classification of the photos.
Update: Here’s DOD’s declaration about their search from September 26, 2011.
It’s interesting for two reasons. First, they make claims about SOCOM files that is the exact opposite of what DOD said in the NYT/ACLU FOIA for Anwar al-Awlaki related OLC memos. Whereas in the drone FOIA, they claimed CENTCOM handled SOCOM’s FOIA responses, this one says,
The mission of USSOCOM is to provide Special Operations Forces to defend the United States and its interests. A priority of USSOCOM is to “Deter, Disrupt, and Defeat Terrorist Threats,” and a primary aspect of this priority is to plan and conduct special operations. When a special operation is conducted, the military service Components of USSOCOM (U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Navy Special Warfare Command, U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Special Operations Command) provide Special Operations Forces (personnel and equipment) to the operation. Accordingly, it is DoD FOIA policy that documents created or maintained by these military service Components during or for a joint special operation come under the cognizance of USSOCOM and not the military services for purposes of the FOIA. Therefore, USSOCOM and not the military services, is responsible for the searches of records responsive to plaintiff’s FOIA request at those service components that may have participated in the subject operation.
And like CIA, they don’t date their search description at SOCOM, so don’t say whether it happened pre- or post-purge.
USSOCOM searched the Headquarters and relevant Components, and no records responsive to plaintiff’s request were located. The specific filing systems searched at the Headquarters USSOCOM offices and relevant Components were all hard copy and electronic records including all email records during the inclusive dates of May 1, 2011, through May 31, 2011.