SSCI

Senate Intelligence Committee Open Hearings: A Platform for Liars

Pentagon Papers era NYT Counsel James Goodale has a piece in the Guardian attracting a lot of attention. In it, he says the first step to reform NSA is to fire the liars.

The NSA has lied to the Congress, the courts, and perhaps even to the president himself, but no one seems to care.

The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper admitted he lied to Congress about the NSA metadata collection program. He said the NSA had no such program – and then added that that was the least “untruthful” remark he could make. General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, lied in 2012 that the NSA does not hold data on US citizens, and repeated similar misstatements, under oath, to Congress about the program:

We’re not authorized to do it [data collection on US citizens], nor do we do it.

NSA lawyers lied to secret Fisa court Judges John D Bates and Reggie B Walton. In recently released opinions, Bates said he had been lied to on three separate occasions and Walton said he had been lied to several times also.

But Clapper and Alexander have not been held in contempt of Congress. Nor have the Justice Department attorneys, who lied to Judges Walton and Bates, been disciplined.

And while he links to many of the best examples of James Clapper and Keith Alexander lying, he misses this.

In just its third open hearing this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee has arranged the following witnesses for tomorrow’s hearing on NSA’s spying.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) today announced the committee will hold an open hearing to consider legislative changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to include the NSA call records program, on Thursday, September 26, at 2 p.m.

WHAT:  Public hearing on FISA, NSA call records

WHO:

Panel I

  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
  • National Security AgencyDirector General Keith Alexander
  • Deputy Attorney General James Cole

Panel II

  • Ben Wittes, Brookings Institution
  • Tim Edgar, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University

So DiFi’s idea of an “open hearing” is to invite two established liars. And for her non-governmental witnesses, one keeps declaring Congress NAKED! in the face of evidence the government lies to them, and the other tells fanciful stories about how much data NSA shares.

It’s like DiFi goes out of her way to find liars and their apologists to testify publicly.

That’s nothing new, though. Those other two open hearings? The Global Threat Assessment hearing where Clapper assured Ron Wyden the NSA didn’t collect data on millions of Americans. And the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, who once claimed the US had killed no civilians in an entire year of drone strikes (and, if his odd mouth gestures were the tell they appeared to be, he lied about leaks to journalists including on UndieBomb 2.0 in the hearing as well.)

It’s DiFi’s committee. And if she wants every single open hearing to serve as a platform for accomplished liars, I guess that’s her prerogative.

But observers should be clear that’s the purpose of the hearings.

DiFi and the Silly Season of Senate Committee Music Chairs

A little over an hour ago, there was some rather notable news tweeted out by CNN:

Intel cte’s @SenFeinstein will give up the chair and move to Judiciary, source tells @CapitolHillCNN. @SenatorReid to announce today

I have talked to both sources at both the Senate Judiciary Committee and Personnel offices and have yet to hear a denial. This is, then, significant news as to a complete reshuffling of key Majority Senate Leadership assuming it continues to bear out.

First off, a tenured Senator like Feinstein does not leave a high value Committee Chairmanship without another, or something higher, on the offer. CNN said she it is to “move to Judiciary”. But DiFi has long been a member of the SJC, that can only portend she will then become Chairman of Judiciary.

Ryan Grim at Huffington Post has also picked up this shuffle, and beat me to the punch by a few minutes:

If Feinstein does take over leadership of the Judiciary Committee, that could ease the passage in the Senate of a renewed assault weapons ban, which was passed under President Bill Clinton in 1994 but expired in 2004. The shooting rampage on Friday in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were murdered by a gunman with a military-style assault weapon and high-capacity magazines, has renewed calls for stricter gun control legislation.

On Tuesday, speaking in the Capitol before the party’s weekly caucus lunch, Feinstein told reporters who had asked her whether she will jump to Judiciary, “Keep tuned. I think it is [going to become open], and I think it’ll happen.”

On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) who was the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, passed away at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now that Inouye’s post is empty, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is rumored to be looking at taking over Appropriations — in turn opening up the leadership slot at Judiciary. Feinstein could then move from her current spot as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to chair Judiciary.

That is good, fast reporting and coincides with what I can discern. And Appropriations Chair is a long time traditional home for the Senate Pro-Tem, which Pat Leahy became with yesterday’s passing of Inouye.

So, what about SSCI? Next in line would, by seniority, be Jay Rockefeller. But, as Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann pointed out, Rockefeller gave up leadership at Intel nearly three years ago to take over the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee helm, and there is no reason to think he would double back. That gave a brief glimmer of hope that Ron Wyden might get the nod at SSCI, but HuffPo’s Grim, in a tweet, thinks he is more likely to take over the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the outgoing Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who did not seek reelection. That would mean the next senior Democrat on SSCI as Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Now, if I were Wyden, I would want the SSCI job over Energy. It is likely most progressives would like him there as well, which is why the smart money likely says Reid talks him into the Energy Chair.

So, we are into the Congressional equivalent of Formula One silly season; i.e. the end of the year shuffling of drivers before the season is really over. The one real wildcard here is Wyden.

Nuke Site Breached Just Days After SSCI Moved to Eliminate Reporting on Nuke Site Security

I have been dawdling about writing this post, in which I explain that two of the reporting requirements the Senate Intelligence Committee rather stupidly, IMO, moved to eliminate last week pertain to the security of our nuclear labs.

Back when I criticized the plan to eliminate these reports in June, I wrote,

The bill would eliminate two reporting requirements imposed in the wake of the Wen Ho Lee scandal: that the President report on how the government is defending against Chinese spying and that the Secretary of Energy report on the security of the nation’s nuclear labs. Just last year, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory had to separate from the Internet because some entity–China would be a good candidate–had hacked the lab and was downloading data from their servers. Now seems a really stupid time to stop reporting on efforts to avoid such breaches.

In spite of these very obvious reasons, the Senate did indeed eliminate two reporting requirements pertaining to national labs (though they kept the one pertaining to Chinese spying).

(7) REPEAL OF REPORTING REQUIREMENT REGARDING COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY PRACTICES AT THE NATIONAL LABORATORIES.—Section 4507 of the Atomic Energy Defense Act (50 U.S.C. 2658) is repealed.

(8) REPEAL OF REPORTING REQUIREMENT REGARDING SECURITY VULNERABILITIES OF NATIONAL LABORATORY COMPUTERS.—Section 4508 of the Atomic Energy Defense Act (50 U.S.C. 2659) is repealed.

I’m glad I waited. Now I can use this story to demonstrate how vulnerable our nuclear labs remain.

The U.S. government’s only facility for handling, processing and storing weapons-grade uranium [Oak Ridge National Lab] was temporarily shut this week after anti-nuclear activists, including an 82-year-old nun, breached security fences, government officials said on Thursday.

[snip]

The activists painted slogans and threw what they said was human blood on the wall of the facility, one of numerous buildings in the facility known by the code name Y-12 that it was given during World War II, officials said.

While moving between the perimeter fences, the activists triggered sensors which alerted security personnel. However, officials conceded that the intruders still were able to reach the building’s walls before security personnel got to them.

When James Clapper’s office asked to throw these reports out, they justified it by saying they could just brief the information rather than report it regularly.

This reporting requirement should be repealed because it is over a decade old and the Secretary of Energy and the National Counterintelligence Executive can provide the information requested through briefings, as requested, if congressional interest persists.

Oak Ridge Lab has been breached twice in two years, once via its computer systems and now physically. I’m sure Congress will be getting a slew of briefings about the lab, but it really does seem like a little reporting requirement might help DOE to take this seriously.

30 Ways to Shrink Intelligence Oversight

Correction: I misunderstood a few things about this. First, this is the request from DNI, not what the Intelligence Committees have agreed to. And the House–which has taken up this request–did not accept all these requests (including the clearances audit). This post has been altered accordingly.

The DNI released their 2013 Intelligence Authorization request yesterday. Almost 10 pages of the 24 page document describe reporting that these “oversight” committees will no long require from the Intelligence Community. The bill starts by putting a default 3 year expiration on any new reporting requirements. And then it includes a list of 27 reports that the bill will eliminate and another 3 that it will modify.

And while some of the reports may well be redundant or outdated (the justification given for most of the changes), some seem really troubling. For example, the bill would eliminate a requirement–passed just three years ago–that the Administration audit and report (partially in unclassified form) the total number of security clearances and how long it takes to approve and reapprove those clearances. Here’s how the bill justifies eliminating such a report:

Justification: Section 506H includes two enduring reporting requirements. The requirement for a quadrennial audit of positions requiring security clearances should be repealed because the National Counterintelligence Executive, in partnership with other agencies with similar responsibilities, examines the manner in which security clearance requirements are determined more frequently than once every four years. Rather than submit a report regarding a quadrennial activity, the executive branch can provide more frequent briefings, as requested, if congressional interest persists.
With regard to the annual reporting requirement on security clearance determinations, the Executive Branch as a whole has made significant progress in expediting and streamlining the security clearance process since the passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, thus reducing the saliency of this report. This reporting requirement should be replaced by briefings, as requested, if congressional interest persists.

What this effectively does is eliminate one way for citizens to see at least the outlines and scope of our secret government. Rather than a partially unclassified report, instead, the intelligence community will brief Congress, rendering it not only secret, but eliminating some of the paperwork that can be FOIAed or archived.

The bill also would eliminate a requirement for the Director of National Intelligence and CIA Director to each provide an annual list of any advisory committees they’ve created, their subject, and their members. I’m guessing the proposed substitution–regular Congressional notifications and briefings–is probably not going to include the same level of detail. And given ODNI’s inadequate response to Electronic Frontier Foundation on an advisory committee as important as the Intelligence Oversight Board, I’m not all that confident it will provide adequate notice on more obscure advisory committees. Moreover, there is a history of advisory board members obtaining great influence and advantages from their position. Lists of members should be on paper somewhere.

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CIA General Counsel: If the President Authorizes It, It’s Legal

I do hope the Harvard students who listened to this speech from CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston–in which he purported to explain what a law-abiding agency the CIA is and which appears to be the CIA’s effort to prove that the Anwar al-Awlaki killing was legal–are sophisticated enough to realize he, like all spooks, was peddling deceit. I’ll get to those details below.

But first I want to focus on how he bookends his claim that CIA’s “activities are subject to strict internal and external scrutiny.”

He starts by admitting that courts and citizens are not part of this “external scrutiny.”

It is true that a lot of what the CIA does is shielded from public view, and for good reason: much of what the CIA does is a secret! Secrecy is absolutely essential to a functioning intelligence service, and a functioning intelligence service is absolutely essential to national security, today no less than in the past. This is not lost on the federal judiciary. The courts have long recognized the state secrets privilege and have consistently upheld its proper invocation to protect intelligence sources and methods from disclosure. Moreover, federal judges have dismissed cases on justiciability or political question grounds, acknowledging that the courts are, at times, institutionally ill-equipped and constitutionally incapable of reviewing national security decisions committed to the President and the political branches.

Let’s unpack the logic of this: first, CIA operations are subject to strict “external scrutiny.” But because–”national security”–such external scrutiny is not possible.

Next, Preston claims that the courts have been in the business of consistently upholding the “proper invocation” of state secrets “to protect intelligence sources and methods.” Of course, just about every invocation of state secrets has been subsequently or contemporaneously shown to be an effort to protect–at best–misconduct and, in most cases, illegal activities: things like kidnapping, illegal wiretapping, and torture. So when he describes this “proper invocation” of states secrets, he is effectively saying that when lawsuits threatened to expose CIA’s law-breaking, courts have willingly dismissed those cases in the name of sources and methods.

And even before it gets to that stage, courts will bow to the Executive Branch’s claim that only Congress and the Executive can decide what forms of law-breaking by the CIA will be tolerated; courts are “ill-equipped” to judge the legality of illegal actions if those illegal actions are committed by the CIA.

So to prove that CIA’s ops are subject to “external scrutiny,” Preston starts by admitting that two of the most important agents of external scrutiny–citizens and courts–don’t actually exercise any scrutiny, particularly in cases where the government is willing to invoke state secrets to shield illegal activities.

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

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

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

Actually, no.

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

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

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

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

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

The “Oversight” over NCTC’s Not-Terrorist-Terrorist Database

Back when John Negroponte appointed him to be the Director of National Intelligence’s Civil Liberties Protection Officer, Alexander Joel admitted he had no problem with Cheney’s illegal domestic wiretap program.

When the NSA wiretapping program began, Mr. Joel wasn’t working for the intelligence office, but he says he has reviewed it and finds no problems. The classified nature of the agency’s surveillance work makes it difficult to discuss, but he suggests that fears about what the government might be doing are overblown.

“Although you might have concerns about what might potentially be going on, those potentials are not actually being realized and if you could see what was going on, you would be reassured just like everyone else,” he says.

That should trouble you, because he’s the cornerstone of oversight over the National Counterterrorism Center’s expanded ability to obtain and do pattern analysis on US person data.

The Guidelines describe such oversight to include the following:

  • Periodic spot checks overseen by CLPO to make sure database use complies with Terms and Conditions
  • Periodic reviews to determine whether ongoing use of US person data “remains appropriate”
  • Reporting (the Guidelines don’t say by whom) of any “significant failure” to comply with guidelines; such reports go to the Director of NCTC, the ODNI General Counsel, the CLPO, DOJ (it doesn’t say whom at DOJ), and the IC Inspector General; note, the Guidelines don’t require reporting to the Intelligence Oversight Board, which should get notice of significant failures
  • Annual reports from the Director of NCTC on an (admittedly worthwhile) range of metrics on performance to the Guidelines; this report goes to the CLPO, ODNI General Counsel, the IC IG, and–if she requests it–the Assistant Attorney General for National Security

There are a few reasons to be skeptical of this. First, rather than replicate the audits recently mandated under the PATRIOT Act–in which the DOJ Inspector General develops the metrics, these Guidelines have NCTC develop the metrics themselves. And they’re designed to go to the CLPO, who officially reports to the NCTC head, rather than an IG with some independence.

That is, to a large extent, this oversight consists of NCTC reporting to itself.

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Congress and Killing Oversight: Eric Holder v. Ron Wyden

Eric Holder today said that giving “appropriate members of Congress” information on the “legal framework” of its operations where “lethal force is used against United States citizens” is a key part of robust oversight.

That is not to say that the Executive Branch has – or should ever have – the ability to target any such individuals without robust oversight.  Which is why, in keeping with the law and our constitutional system of checks and balances, the Executive Branch regularly informs the appropriate members of Congress about our counterterrorism activities, including the legal framework, and would of course follow the same practice where lethal force is used against United States citizens.

Well, then, there simply hasn’t been robust oversight over the Anwar al-Awlaki killing.

As of a month ago–four months after Awlaki was killed–the Senate Intelligence Committee had not been provided with the legal framework for Awlaki’s kill. This, in spite of the fact that SSCI member Ron Wyden had been requesting that framework for over five months before Awlaki was killed.

I said when Wyden made that clear that it showed there had not been adequate oversight of the killing. By his words–if not his deeds–Holder effectively made the same argument.

Mark Udall’s Unsatisfactory Solution to the Detainee Provisions

As I have repeatedly described, I have very mixed feelings about the debate over Detainee Provisions set to pass the Senate tonight or tomorrow. I view it as a fight between advocates of martial law and advocates of relatively unchecked Presidential power. And as I’ve pointed out, the SASC compromise language actually limits Presidential power as it has been interpreted in a series of secret OLC opinions.

Which is why I’m no happier with Mark Udall’s amendment than I am with any of the other options here.

On its face, Udall’s amendment looks like a reset: A request that the Executive Branch describe precisely how it sees the military should be used in detention.

SEC. 1031. REVIEW OF AUTHORITY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES TO DETAIN COVERED PERSONS PURSUANT TO THE AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE.

(a) In General.–Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with appropriate officials in the Executive Office of the President, the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Attorney General, submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report setting forth the following:

(1) A statement of the position of the Executive Branch on the appropriate role for the Armed Forces of the United States in the detention and prosecution of covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)).

(2) A statement and assessment of the legal authority asserted by the Executive Branch for such detention and prosecution.

(3) A statement of any existing deficiencies or anticipated deficiencies in the legal authority for such detention and prosecution.

On one hand, this seems like a fair compromise. The Republicans want something in writing, Carl Levin claims SASC met just about every demand the Administration made in its attempt to codify the authority, but in response the President still issued a veto threat. So why not ask the President to provide language codifying the authority himself?

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The Detainee Debate Heats Up: The Rule of Martial Law Vs. the Unitary Spookery

As I noted yesterday, Obama issued a veto threat for the detainee provisions included in the Defense Authorization. Since then, both Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have given speeches on the floor, arguing against (DiFi) and for (Levin) the provisions.

And while I’d be happy to see the provisions in question fail (because the provisions represent a further militarization of our country), effectively the argument being made is between those (the Republicans, enabled by Levin) who support further militarization of law and those (DiFi and, especially, the Administration) who want the Executive Branch to continue fighting terrorism (and whatever else) with an intelligence-driven approach bound by few legal checks.

DOJ’s Special Forms of Extended Interrogation and Coercion

In a sense, DiFi’s speech on Thursday looked like an appeal to rule of law. For example, she warns of the danger of “further militariz[ing] our counterterrorism efforts.” But what she really focused on in her speech–implicitly–are the tools the government has wrung out of the civilian legal system to make it easier to get intelligence (whoever picked a Senate Judiciary Committee member to be head of the Senate Intelligence Committee made this blurring of law and intelligence easier).

DiFi alludes to tools DOJ has that DOD does not. She mentions both Najibullah Zazi and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as people whose prosecution within the civilian justice system aided prosecution.

Suppose a terrorist such as Zazi were forced into mandatory military custody. Then the government could also have been forced to split up codefendants, even in cases where they otherwise could be prosecuted as part of the same conspiracy in the same legal system.

[snip]

It was FBI agents who traveled to Abdulmutallab’s home in Nigeria and persuaded family members to come to Detroit to assist them in getting him to talk. The situation would have been very different under Section 1032. Under the pending legislation, it would have been military personnel who were attempting to enlist prominent Nigerians to assist in their interrogation, and Abdulmutallab would have been classified as an enemy combatant and held in a military facility and, therefore, his family would not be inclined to cooperate. This is we have been told on the Intelligence Committee.

She appears to be invoking the way we’re getting people to talk: by threatening and persuading their families. In the case of Zazi, we got him to cooperate by charging his father. In the case of Abdulmutallab, we presumably made some guarantees about treatment if his family would persuade him to cooperate (maybe that’s why he stayed in a minimum security prison through the pre-trial period; I also wonder whether we threatened his prominent banker father).

Most charitably, this is akin to the problem Ali Soufan experienced with Salim Hamdan; Soufan was about to persuade Hamdan to cooperate in exchange for a shorter sentence when DOD dumped Hamdan in Gitmo where there was no option to trade cooperation for better treatment. As the case of Omar Khadr (who was not permitted to spend time with other detainees after he plead guilty) makes clear, in military custody, we lose control of the conditions of someone’s confinement as soon as they plead guilty, and so can’t use that as a tool to get people to cooperate.

But there’s something else DiFi is not saying, though is out there. With our creative interpretation of Miranda of late, we have interrogated Faisal Shahzad for two weeks without a lawyer; Manssor Arbabsiar for 12 days; and Ahmed Warsame for a month. We got Arbabsiar (and, I would bet, Warsame) to cooperate to ensnare others during the period of pre-arraignment arrest. Thus, for better or worse, civilian detention has actually been offering the government more ways to deploy detainees in intelligence operations than military detention.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @adambonin Wait. David Brooks? Can I get my tuition back? @NateSilver538 @AmherstCollege
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emptywheel @adambonin Wait what?!?! I'd say got to Brunos but I understand ... sadly ... @NateSilver538 @AmherstCollege
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emptywheel Fat Evil Parallel Gore RT @twolf10: Snow sticking to ground in mid April, 2 days after almost hit 80. I blame evil parallel universe Al Gore
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bmaz That said Olivia Wilde was one light year closer to Suzy Miller than Chris Hemsworth was to the real James Hunt who I actually knew a little
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bmaz I was fortunate enough to meet Suzy Miller back in the day, and Olivia Wilde looks nothing at all like her.
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emptywheel @adamgoldmanwp Lots of reasons to imagine why it might remain suppressed, most innocuous of which is investigation in key stage.
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emptywheel @adamgoldmanwp It may not be in there--but it is in HHSAC report. Prosecutors won't let Dhokhar's team see it either.
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emptywheel RT @gregorydjohnsen: That last tweet was in jest - the only reason this unit was closed was the work of @adamgoldmanwp and @mattapuzzo - ht…
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emptywheel @adamgoldmanwp The language on that in the IG report--assuming it exists--is all classified.
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emptywheel @SarahKnuckey Or did someone give them bad intel .... again?
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JimWhiteGNV RT @jaraparilla: Saudi Arabia sacks intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan http://t.co/xG2W1PT0Hn #AboutTime #Interesting
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emptywheel @ilovaussiesheps Waiting for the fine print, which may have to do w/who gets to loot DIA. But ... looks like it.
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