One of my favorite ironies from the Greg Miller story on the Mullah Omar death — which doesn’t really try to explain why we’re just learning about a death that all sides likely knew about years ago — is that Mullah Omar, not Osama bin Laden, got hospitalized with kidney problems.
Omar was said to be afflicted with illnesses ranging from kidney failure to meningitis.
But I’m most interested in the timing of our confrontation of Pakistan that they were harboring in the kidney ward: early 2011, or around the same time we were planning our raid on Osama bin Laden (according to some accounts, with the involvement of top Pakistani officials).
In early 2011, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta confronted the president of Pakistan with a disturbing piece of intelligence. The spy agency had learned that Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader who had become one of the world’s most wanted fugitives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was being treated at a hospital in southern Pakistan.
The American spy chief even identified the facility — the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi — and said the CIA had “some raw intelligence on this” that would soon be shared with its Pakistani counterpart, according to diplomatic files that summarize the exchange.
I just find it odd that, given the Raymond Davis confrontation and our plans — covert or not — to take out Osama bin Laden, we also had this confrontation.
My guess is one day we’ll learn that all these confrontations were of a piece, and that we’ve long known who was and wasn’t alive (including Ayman al-Zawahiri), but that the powers that be had reason to pretend these people weren’t corpses yet.
Until such time as the next terrorist narrative starts and you have to end the previous one.
Heck. This story might even be coming out as the counter-Osama bin Laden narratives did: to pressure the US about the corrupt deals they’ve long been living under.
On the same day that Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, spoke to the press alongside US President Barack Obama in Washington, Bob Woodward teamed with Greg Miller to release confirmation that Pakistan’s government has agreed to and collaborated in choosing targets for the US “secret” drone program inside Pakistan. Participation by Pakistan, and especially its military, has long been known by close observers and the regular insistence by Pakistan’s government that drone strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is viewed cynically as the government’s need to provide domestic political cover.
On first thought, the timing of this revelation seems to break the basic tenets of what Marcy describes as the Bob Woodward Law that applies to classified information being leaked to Woodward:
As explained by John Rizzo in the context of the Obama Administration’s leaks to Bob Woodward, they can and do insta-declassify stuff for their own political purposes all the time. They can do it to make the President look important; they can do it to lie us into an illegal war; they can do it to ruin the career of someone who might expose the earlier lies.
The timing of this leak seems to be aimed more at embarrassing Obama than making him look important. The description of the joint appearance by the New York Times is quite interesting if one assumes that Sharif and Obama were aware that the leak was about to be published:
But Mr. Sharif said after the meeting that he had asked Mr. Obama to halt American drone strikes in Pakistan, broaching an issue that has aggravated tensions. The president did not respond publicly, saying only that the two sides needed to find ways to fight terrorism “that respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, that respect the concerns of both countries.”
So Obama would not address the drone issue directly in his public remarks. But it seems that Sharif was not particularly enthusiastic in his obligatory public denouncement of drone strikes: Continue reading
At his confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, who has been nominated by President Obama to be the next Secretary of State, engaged in nearly ten minutes of discussion with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Paul managed to come off as not nearly as batshit insane as he sounds while campaigning (although Kerry did have to say “let me finish” several times), and actually came very close to making a good and substantial point. While discussing the issue of providing arms to Egypt, Paul mentioned the long history of the US supporting and providing arms to a series of groups including the mujahideen and even Osama bin Laden. I say Paul came close to making a good point because this part of his commentary was framed around these groups coming back to pose a threat to Israel. Paul could have made a very important point had he framed the discussion as part of the bigger issue of the blowback when these groups, especially bin Laden, set their
sites sights on the US after being funded by us as “the enemy of my enemy”. Kerry did a fine job of ending this part of the exchange, by stating that answer to the issue of arming various parties is to “make peace”.
In the final third of the video above, Paul moves to the question of relations with Pakistan. I didn’t get to watch the hearing live and haven’t yet found a transcript, but at least in the questions Paul had about Pakistan, I find myself wishing different questions had been asked. Regarding Pakistan, I would have asked Kerry if his idea of diplomacy is represented by his actions in the Raymond Davis affair, when Kerry went to Pakistan to lobby for Davis’ release and smuggled out of Pakistan the driver of the diplomatic vehicle that struck and killed a Pakistani civilian while attempting to rescue Davis from the site where he had shot and killed two Pakistanis. I also would have asked Kerry what steps he had taken personally to follow up on his pledge to Pakistan that Davis would be subject to a criminal investigation for the killings in Lahore.
Instead, Paul asked Kerry whether he would condition financial aid to Pakistan on the release of Dr. Shakeel Afridi. Neither Paul nor Kerry mentioned or condemned the vaccination ruse in which the CIA employed Afridi or the damage that ruse has done in terms of reduced polio vaccination rates and murdered health workers who were administering the polio vaccine. Instead, both lamented that someone who had helped the US to find bin Laden would find himself in jail. Kerry, however, stated that withholding aid would be the wrong approach. From the New York Times:
On Pakistan, Mr. Kerry said he had talked to Pakistani leaders about the Pakistani doctor who has been imprisoned for assisting the C.I.A.’s effort to track Osama bin Laden.
“That bothers every American,” said Mr. Kerry, who said that he was nonetheless opposed to cutting aid. “We need to build our relationship with the Pakistanis, not diminish it,” he said.
Dawn went into more detail on the exchange:
It was Senator Rand Paul, a new Republican face in the committee, who suggested cutting US aid to Pakistan “if they do not release Dr Shakil Afridi” who, he said, was imprisoned for helping the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. The Al Qaeda leader was killed in a US military raid on his compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011.
Mr Kerry informed the senator that he had discussed this issue directly with President Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and like most Americans found it “incomprehensible if not repugnant, that somebody who helped us find Osama bin Laden is in jail in Pakistan”.
And “that bothers every American,” he added.
The senior US lawmaker, who stayed engaged with both Pakistan and Afghanistan as President Obama’s informal emissary during his first term, urged Senator Paul to also look at what the Pakistanis say.
“Pakistanis make the argument Dr Afridi did not know what he was doing, who he was specifically targeting … it was like a business for him,” he said, adding that this was no excuse for keeping the physician in jail.
But he said that he would stay engaged with Pakistan rather than resorting to “a pretty dramatic, draconian, sledge-hammer” approach of cutting US aid to the country Senator Paul had suggested.
This discussion by Paul and Kerry of Afridi is the first time in several weeks that Afridi’s name has resurfaced. I still think it likely that Afridi will disappear from the jail where he is now held. The only question is whether he will reappear in the US (where people like Rand Paul and Dana Rohrabacher will certainly want to take him on tour with them in a victory lap) or just disappear entirely.
Greg Miller and Julie Tate provide some fascinating reading in today’s Washington Post, where they provide many new details on the CIA’s Global Response Staff and reveal that its most famous (probably now former) member is Raymond Davis.
One thing that we learn is that members of the GRS typically are contractors and that they are paid a “lucrative” salary around $140,000, but with no benefits. I suppose an argument can be made that by hiring contractors, the CIA has an extra layer of deniability, but it still strikes me as completely heartless and stark that people with such important missions and at such high risk are treated in a way that nonprofit foundations have to exist to provide for school expenses for the surviving children when these operatives die while on duty.
What I want to concentrate on here, though, is the description of what GRS does and how that might give us new insight into the Raymond Davis incident. Here are Miller and Tate on what GRS does:
The GRS, as it is known, is designed to stay in the shadows, training teams to work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.
CIA veterans said that GRS teams have become a critical component of conventional espionage, providing protection for case officers whose counterterrorism assignments carry a level of risk that rarely accompanied the cloak-and-dagger encounters of the Cold War.
Spywork used to require slipping solo through cities in Eastern Europe. Now, “clandestine human intelligence involves showing up in a Land Cruiser with some [former] Deltas or SEALs, picking up an asset and then dumping him back there when you are through,” said a former CIA officer who worked closely with the security group overseas.
Bodyguard details have become so essential to espionage that the CIA has overhauled its training program at the Farm — its case officer academy in southern Virginia — to teach spies the basics of working with GRS teams.
I have always been troubled by the Raymond Davis incident, trying to understand why Davis would have been seen as a target worthy of attacking in the middle of a busy and highly populated urban site. But now I wonder whether Davis was by himself when the incident started. If he was providing security to a high value target, that would provide a much better explanation for why his vehicle was attacked. Also, recall that a Toyota Land Cruiser rushed to the scene from the Lahore consulate, killing a third Pakistani when it went the wrong way down a one-way street. The whole Davis incident would make more sense to me if this Land Cruiser picked up the high value target and, most likely, a second GRS protector and took them back to the Lahore consulate. Recall that as Marcy pointed out, John Kerry subsequently smuggled the Land Cruiser driver out of Pakistan. Did he also remove the high value target and the other GRS protector?
One final note. The article addresses recruitment for GRS, stating “The work is lucrative enough that recruiting is done largely by word of mouth”. I had previously speculated that Davis was a CIA recruiter, but given the GRS duties we now know, the types of recruiting targets I described fit even better into GRS jobs.
Update: Sadly, it appears that the University of Denver has become cowardly and withdrawn the video, but I’m leaving the embed language in the post just to show the folly of their action.
Update 2: And now it’s back, but at a new URL. Embed should be restored (for the video, not Broadwell…)
There was a lot of discussion last night of the YouTube you see here, which shows Paula Broadwell in an October 26 appearance at the University of Denver. One of the better analyses of the appearance, along with a transcription of Broadwell’s comments on the Behghazi incident, was written by Blake Hounshell of Foreign Policy.
I will leave it to others to discuss whether Broadwell disclosed classified information with her reference to the CIA holding two militia members or if she might have been confused on that point as Marcy suggests. I want to concentrate on two other points that jumped out to me regarding the appearance and what Broadwell said.
First, the appearance is at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. As the school points out, it is named after Madeleine Albright’s father and has a history of producing prominent graduates in international relations. However, this school also came to my attention early last year when I was researching Raymond Davis. I found that Davis had a history of previous addresses where he had lived in close proximity to university programs such as the Josef Korbel school. In fact, I found that one of Davis’ “business” operations even had a corporate officer who appeared to be a student at Josef Korbel. The information I found led me to believe that whatever his duties overseas, it seemed likely that Davis’ duties while in the US may have been to recruit for the CIA and that graduate programs like this one were seen as prime recruiting grounds.
The second point I want to hit is how Broadwell described Petraeus’ response after the Behnghazi attack. From Hounshell’s transcript (around 35 minutes into the video, as Hounshell points out): Continue reading
On the same day that the US and Pakistan formally signed the agreement reopening the NATO supply routes through Pakistan, a piece profiling the US-Pakistan relationship in the New York Times provides further evidence supporting the idea that the US sometimes uses drone strikes as a tool for political retaliation. The retaliatory strikes previously have been stepped up to almost one per day when a particular point is being emphasized.
The entire Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt piece in today’s Times is worth reading, but I want to focus on the evidence they provide for drone strikes as retaliation. The piece focuses on the Haqqani network and how the perceived ties between them and Pakistan’s ISI complicate the US-Pakistan relationship. At one point in the article, the discussion moves to contingencies the US has considered about what the US would do if the Haqqani network manages to inflict a significant blow against US forces in Afghanistan:
But a new boldness from the Haqqanis that aims at mass American casualties, combined with simmering political tension, has reduced the room for ambiguity between the two countries. Inside the administration, it is a commonly held view that the United States is “one major attack” away from unilateral action against Pakistan — diplomatically or perhaps even militarily, one senior official said.
American officials recently considered what that could mean. Days after the Salerno attack, the White House held a series of interagency meetings to weigh its options in the event of a major success by the Haqqanis against American troops.
The meetings yielded a list of about 30 possible responses, according to a senior official who was briefed on the deliberations — everything from withdrawing the Islamabad ambassador, to a flurry of intensified drone attacks on Haqqani targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt, to American or Afghan commando raids on Haqqani hide-outs in the same area.
Gosh, “a flurry of intensified drone attacks” sounds very familiar. That is exactly what happened last May when Zardari’s visit to the NATO summit in Chicago did not produce the agreement for reopening the supply routes. Retaliatory strikes started almost immediately, with at least four strikes coming within a span of six days.
With the understanding that the US views drone strikes as a retaliation tool, we can watch this week’s visit to Washington by new ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam. Islam will visit with David Petraeus and others Wednesday through Friday of this week. Drones are expected to be on the agenda for the meetings:
Lieutenant General Zaheer ul-Islam, who was appointed in March, “will visit USA from 1st to 3rd August. This will be a service-to-service bilateral visit,” the statement said.
“He will meet his counterpart General David Petraeus, director CIA.”
The short statement gave no other details, but a senior Pakistani security official earlier told AFP that the pair would discuss counter-terror cooperation and intelligence sharing.
Islam would also demand an end to US drone attacks against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and again ask for the means for Pakistan to carry out the attacks instead, the security official said.
The US has made it clear multiple times that it will not give up on carrying out drone strikes and that it does not trust ISI enough to bring them closely into the loop when choosing targets or timing for strikes. It seems very likely to me that the US will carry out a strike within the first day or two after the meeting ends, just to send the message to the ISI that the meeting has changed nothing in how the US will operate. If the strike is as reckless as the one that killed a group of 40 who turned out to be mostly civilians on the day after the release of Raymond Davis, then the US could be accused of letting the need for political retaliation move it all the way to blind rage. Another hint in the Times piece tells us that Haqqani leader “Sirajuddin Haqqani surrounds himself with civilians — often women and children — at his base in the town of Miram Shah”. Will the US decide to allow some “collateral damage” to women and children in an attempt to take out Sirajuddin Haqqani as Islam returns to Pakistan from his meeting with Petraeus?
The Raymond Davis incident in Lahore, Pakistan raised the issue of people moving within Pakistan under US diplomatic cover while heavily armed. Davis, who in fact worked for the CIA, had a number of weapons in his possession (see here for photos) when he was arrested for killing two men. A third man was killed by a consular vehicle rushing to the scene of the shooting. That issue arose again yesterday, when two vehicles transporting US “diplomats” were stopped at a toll plaza outside Peshawar and multiple weapons were seized:
Four US diplomats and their three Pakistani employees were arrested and shifted to the nearby Chamkani police station.
An FIR was registered against the three Pakistanis under Section 13 of the Arms Ordinance, while the US diplomats were released after hours-long negotiations between SP Shafeeullah Khan and US Consul General in Peshawar Marie Richard.
The police intercepted two bullet-proof vehicles of the US consulate on the motorway in Peshawar and found four pistols, four SMG rifles and several ammunition magazines in their possession, Chamkani police station’s SHO Haji Inayatullah told The Express Tribune.
Inayatullah identified the four diplomats as Vincent Capodicci, Timothy Daniel, Leon Carter and Daryal Lee Groom. The arrested Pakistanis were security in-charge Manzoor and drivers Ihsan Khan and Asif Khan.
The Chamkani Police Station is on the eastern outskirts of Peshawar. It is very hard to understand the stated destination the diplomats had visited. From Dawn:
Police said the Americans were taken into custody along with their vehicles during examination on a Motorway checkpost when they were on their way to Peshawar from Malakand University.
Malakand University is quite small and moderately isolated. It is hard to understand why diplomats would be visiting there. The “nearby” Chamkani Police Station where the diplomats were taken from the toll plaza area is on the most direct route back into Peshawar from Malakand University, which is to the north and east.
Dawn and the Express Tribune differ on both the number of and names of the diplomats detained. The list of four names above is from the Express Tribune, while Dawn claims only two were detained, “Daniel and Levan”. The “Levan” name does not appear in the Express Tribune list of names, which does include “Timothy Daniel”. Taken together then, the two articles implicate anywhere between two and five Americans being in the vehicles.
If we assume that the University is just a cover location, then what was the real purpose of the trip? Two possibilities come to mind in light of recent events. Continue reading
Dawn is reporting this morning that Pakistan is in the process of abandoning its demand that US drone strikes in Pakistan end and instead is now bargaining for joint ownership of the process, giving the Pakistanis access to key intelligence and advance knowledge of strikes. In the meantime, the Express Tribune is reporting that John Kerry is soon to be dispatched to Pakistan to convey an official apology for the November, 2011 border post attack that killed 24 Pakistani troops. Both of these developments occur within the larger framework of the US and Pakistan working to redefine cooperation on various fronts as a precursor to reopening NATO supply routes through Pakistan.
As the Dawn story points out, Pakistan seems to have moved to negotiating for joint ownership of drone strikes because the US flatly rejects Pakistan’s demand for an end to drone strikes:
Pakistan and the United States have begun exploring various options for joint ownership of drone attacks against militant targets in the tribal belt after the US flatly refused to stop the predator strikes.
“We are striving to have genuine co-ownership of the drone operations,” a senior Pakistani diplomat, who has been regularly briefed on the ongoing behind-the-scenes negotiations between Islamabad and Washington, told Dawn on Thursday.
Given the level of distrust the US has shown toward Pakistan’s intelligence operations, my guess is that sharing advance knowledge of targets will be rejected just as strongly as the concept of stopping drone attacks was dismissed. In anticipation of losing on the issue of drones, they are now being left off Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s list of areas in which the US and Pakistan are nearing final agreement:
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while outlining the negotiation agenda at the DCC meeting over the weekend, omitted drone attacks.
“Negotiation on new terms and conditions for resumption of the Ground Lines of Communication (more commonly referred to as Nato supply routes), joint counter-terrorism cooperation, greater inter-agency coordination, transparency in US diplomatic and intelligence footprint in Pakistan, strengthening of border security and non-use of Pakistan’s territory for attacks on other countries and expulsion of all foreign fighters from Pakistan’s territory, are our fundamental policy parameters,” Mr Gilani said while listing ‘policy parameters’ for re-engagement with the US.
The current break in US-Pakistan relations was triggered by the killing of 24 Pakistani troops at a border station last November. It now appears that a formal apology for that incident is in the works:
US President Barack Obama is sending his key trouble-shooter to Pakistan later this month amidst efforts to reset ties in light of the new foreign policy guidelines recently approved by parliament.
Former presidential hopeful and chairman of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry is expected to travel to Islamabad on April 29 to meet the country’s top civil and military leadership, an official told The Express Tribune.
Kerry seems to be the go-to guy on both apologies and non-apologies, as he was dispatched for the apology for the Raymond Davis incident and was sent to tell Pakistan that we would not apologize for the Osama bin Laden killing.
Considering that Pakistan is also demanding an end to covert agents inside Pakistan, we are left to wonder whether Kerry will use his plane once again to remove spies, as he did while delivering the Davis incident apology.
Greg Miller got a lot of buzz this weekend for his profile of the head of CTC, whom he calls “Roger.” The article is in no way unbalanced–Miller makes it clear that Roger is an asshole and suggests he might bear some responsibility for the Khost bombing.
But I couldn’t help but wonder whether the story was another in a series of articles designed to pressure David Petraeus to resume signature strikes–those drone strikes that target a pattern rather than an individual high level target.
After all, the article ends by conflating a description of Roger’s effort to push signature strikes with Osama bin Laden’s killing.
“He came in with a big idea on a cold, rainy Friday afternoon,” said a former high-ranking CIA official involved in drone operations. “It was a new flavor of activity, and had to do with taking senior terrorists off the battlefield.”
The former official declined to describe the activity. But others said the CTC chief proposed launching what came to be known as “signature strikes,” meaning attacks on militants based solely on their patterns of behavior.
Previously, the agency had needed confirmation of the presence of an approved al-Qaeda target before it could shoot. With permission from the White House, it would begin hitting militant gatherings even when it wasn’t clear that a specific operative was in the drone’s crosshairs.
Roger’s relentless approach meshed with the Obama mind-set. Shortly after taking office, Obama met with his first CIA director, Leon E. Panetta, and ordered a redoubled effort in the fight against al-Qaeda and the search for the terrorist group’s elusive leader.
From 53 strikes in 2009, the number soared to 117 in 2010, before tapering off last year.
The cumulative toll helped to crumple al-Qaeda even as CTC analysts finally found a courier trail that led them to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Yet it somehow neglects to mention why the signature strikes tailed off: because last March’s Shiga strike–launched over our Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter’s, objections in the days after the Raymond Davis release, and killing a significant number of civilians set off an extended debate in the Administration over the relative value of the signature strikes. The debate ended by giving newly confirmed CIA Director Petraeus final say over signature strikes, which has resulted, thus far, in a move away from their use.
There’s something funny about the response I’ve seen so far to the AP report on the number of civilian drone strikes.
The AP reports that 30% of the drone strikes in the last 18 months in North Waziristan were civilians or police; discounting the most deadly attack brings that number down to 12% (eliminating the March 17 strike makes the final totals 18 civilians killed of 152).
Indeed, the AP was told by the villagers that of at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent — at least 138 — were militants. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police, and 38 of them were killed in a single attack on March 17, 2011.
Excluding that strike, which inflicted one of the worst civilian death tolls since the drone program started in Pakistan, nearly 90 percent of the people killed were militants, villagers said.
Though I’m not sure why any analysis would discount that one strike. While the government offered the AP a lame excuse about heavily armed men,
Regarding the March 17, 2011, strike on Shiga village, the bloodiest attack investigated by the AP, U.S. officials familiar with drone operations said the group targeted was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to al-Qaida, and all “acted in a manner consistent with AQ (al-Qaida)-linked militants.”
But villagers and Pakistani officials said the missiles hit a community meeting, or jirga, held to resolve a mining dispute, killing four Pakistani Taliban fighters and 38 civilians and tribal police.
An earlier AP story–to which this same writer, Sebastian Abbot contributed–described how the US Ambassador to Pakistan tried to stop the strike at the last minute.
Ambassador Cameron Munter’s rare request — disclosed to The Associated Press by several U.S. officials — was forwarded to the head of the CIA, who dismissed it. Some U.S. officials said Leon Panetta’s decision was driven by a belief that the militants being targeted were too important to pass up, but others suspected that anger at Pakistan for imprisoning Raymond Davis for so long played a role.
Furthermore, the CIA changed their targeting rules in response to this one strike, suggesting the government recognized a problem with it.
And in any case, the range of civilian casualties remains 12-30%.
Compare that to the numbers The Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows (above) for 2011: 59 civilians killed out of 470 total, or 13% civilians (their numbers include the March 17 strike), and the AP’s numbers actually reflect higher levels of civilian casualties than TBIJ (they’re using a different time frame and focusing on attacks in North Waziristan).