Victoria Nuland

Will Obama Treat Victoria Nuland More Leniently than PJ Crowley?

Over three years ago, State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley had to resign after he called Chelsea Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

In a bizarre NYT story suggesting that Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland’s husband, Robert Kagan, had influenced Obama with a critique of his foreign policy, it quotes Nuland suggesting she agrees with her husband’s critique.

His wife and unofficial editor, Victoria Nuland, is an assistant secretary of state and one of the country’s toughest and most experienced diplomats, whose fervor for building democracy in Ukraine recently leaked out in an embarrassing audio clip.

[snip]

Ms. Nuland declined to comment on her husband’s critique of her current boss’s foreign policy. “But suffice to say,” she said, “that nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.”

Nuland is not going to comment but she thoroughly agrees with Kagan’s attack on her boss’ foreign policy, I guess.

This dig probably won’t be noted, but it does seem remarkably aggressive, even if Nuland is only slamming Obama’s policies second-hand.

Nevertheless, she won’t pay a price for calling out her boss. That’s true, I’m guessing, because John Kerry seems to love being a NeoCon and he likely has some discretion over her role. And because the NeoCons don’t get held to account in DC for their dangerous provocations.

Still, it appears that it’s a firing offense to call out inhumane treatment inconsistent with our values, but not one for calling out insufficient imperial designs.

Benghazi Talking Points: Petraeus’ Revenge

It has taken three days for the bleating press corps in DC to wade through the roll-out of Benghazi talking point emails and realize that the tension behind the emails — as has been clear from just days after the attack — is that Benghazi was really a CIA, not a State, Mission, and therefore CIA bears responsibility for many of the security lapses. So State, in making changes to the emails, was making sure it didn’t get all the blame for CIA’s failures.

David Corn describes it this way.

The revisions—which deleted several lines noting that the CIA months before the attack had produced intelligence reports on the threat of Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi—appear to have been driven by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who, it should be noted, is a career Foggy Bottomer who has served Republican and Democratic administrations [ed: including Dick Cheney], not a political appointee. Her motive seems obvious: fend off a CIA CYA move that could make the State Department look lousy.

Yet it’s only now, several days into this frenzy, that some reporters are coming to report this.

And they’re still not noting ways in which the CIA’s initial emails were self-serving. For example, when the CIA said,

Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has [sic] previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.

They might have also said, “since February, people tied to CIA’s mission have twice been harassed by militia members, suggesting our OpSec was so bad they knew we were in Benghazi.”

And when CIA’s talking points said,

The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society. That being said, we do know that extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.

They might also have said that the “trusted” militia, February 17 Brigade, trained by David Petraeus’ CIA, whose career legacy is based on false claims of successfully training locals, appears to have allowed the attack to happen (and, critically, delayed CIA guards from heading to the State mission to help).

Note that Congressman Frank Wolf is just now showing some interest in why CIA’s vetting of the militia central to the mission’s defense was so bad. Maybe if CIA had included that detail in their self-serving initial talking points, Congress would have turned to this issue more quickly, particularly since we’re currently training more potentially suspect militias in Syria.

In other words, the story CIA — which had fucked up in big ways — wanted to tell was that it had warned State and State had done nothing in response (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is precisely the story Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz are trying to tell). The truthful story would have been (in part) that CIA had botched the militia scene in Benghazi, and that had gotten the Ambassador killed.

Yet that appears to be just the half of the self-serving function this email release has had for CIA.

Consider how this rolled out. Continue reading

Is This What the Government Considers Inability to Capture Awlaki?

I’m going to have two posts on the Anwar al-Awlaki documents liberated by Judicial Watch.

On March 24, 2011, State sent the Embassy in Sanaa a cable (see pages 63-64) asking them to courier Awlaki a letter at a Sanaa address telling him there’s an important letter for him at the Embassy he must pick up in person.

Post is to hold and retain the revocation letter and send a separate letter to Mr. Aulaqi informing him that there is an important letter for him at post regarding his U.S. passport. Mr. Aulaqi will need to appear in person and at that time post will then serve him with the revocation letter. The language for the letter informing Mr. Aulaqi to appear at post regarding his passport is below. Post should not mention that the letter waiting for Mr. Aulaqi is a revocation letter.

2. The Department’s action is based upon determination by the Secretary that Mr. Aulaqi’s activities abroad are causing and/or likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.

3. The department has been informed that Anwar Nasser Aulaqi is currently located at Rabat St., Sanaa, Yemen.

4. The language for the letter asking Mr. Aulaqi to appear at post may not be modified without the approval of the Office of Legal Affairs.

5. Post should coordinate delivery of this letter by courier or other acceptable method for ensuring delivery. Post should create a memorandum of record specifically stating the date upon which delivery of the letter was made. Post should also obtain a confirmation of receipt. Please provide a copy of the memorandum and confirmation of receipt to the Director of the Office of Legal Affairs via secure email.

[snip]

7. Below is the language that must be used in the letter requesting Mr. Aulaqi to appear at post:

This letter is to advise you that the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, has an important letter regarding your U.S. passport. This letter must be picked up in person at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa.

Now, we know there’s actually more to this request. Page 60 shows a March 29 reply to a “high side” (that is, sent on the classified email system) request for the cable, with the cable attached.

Which is why Victoria Nuland’s response to questions about this the other day is so interesting. While she says the sole reason State sent the letter was to call him to the Embassy to tell them they were going to revoke his passport, she also says they would have offered him a one-time passport to fly to the US to face charges.

MS. NULAND: I’m not going to entertain the notion that we would be calling him to the Embassy for that purpose, Matt. We were calling him to the Embassy for one purpose alone, which was to revoke his passport and to advise him that if he was prepared to travel back to the United States, where he would have faced prosecution, we would give him a one-way passport back to the United States. He chose not to answer –

QUESTION: Probably smart of him.

MS. NULAND: – our request for him to come to the Embassy. [my emphasis]

So this request was about revocation and a generous offer for a one-time passport to face prosecution in the US (thus the secrecy about the purpose of the appearance in the first place), but the letter to get him to show up at the Embassy included no mention of that prosecution?

And, um, prosecution? On what charges? Are we to understand from Nuland’s comment that the government has–or at least had, in March 2011, before they attempted to take him with a drone strike two more times that year, a sealed indictment against Awlaki?

Part of the purported process the US uses to decide it can kill Americans with no due process is to claim that they could not capture the American. I wonder whether this charade–carried just as CIA was taking a more active role in drone strikes in Yemen, whih would ultimately lead to Awlaki’s killing six months later–is what the lawyers rubber stamping killing American citizens consider an attempt to “capture” someone?

Rohrabacher Chairs Hearing on Balochistan, Pronounces it “Balookistan”

Ethnic regions in and around Pakistan. (1980 map from Wikimedia Commons)

Demonstrating the tact, cultural sensitivity and deep research skills of today’s Congressional Republicans, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) chaired a hearing Wednesday for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation and throughout the hearing he mispronounced the name of area being discussed. Proper pronunciation would be described as “Baloochistan” and yet Rohrabacher repeatedly said “Balookistan”.

The topic of the hearing was listed as “Baluchistan” on the committee’s website. The Pakistani press uniformly uses “Balochistan” for its spelling of the province where ethnic Balochs reside. As with many languages and dialects from the region, transliteration of vowels varies, so the “Baluchistan” vs. “Balochistan” spelling matters little. In this case the proper pronunciation puts that vowel sound as more like the English “oo”, so using the “u” spelling makes a bit of sense. What Rohrabacher mangled is that the “ch” is never pronounced as a “k” sound.

Needless to say, Rohrabacher’s pronunciation became a part of Pakistan’s coverage of the hearing:

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has declared Balochistan a troubled area and said that the Baloch have seen little benefit from the development of natural gas and other natural resources that are produced in their province.

The US House Committee conducted a hearing on Balochistan on Wednesday under the chair of Congressman Donna Rohrbacher.

Rohrbacher, who kept pronouncing Balochistan as “Balookistan”, said that Islamabad has refused to concede any legitimacy to Baloch nationalism, or to engage the Baloch leadership in serious negotiations. “Its response has been based on brute force, including extra-judicial killings.”

[Emphasis added.]

I’m guessing that the editors at The News were having a bit of fun at Rohrabacher’s expense with their variant spelling of both his first and last names.

Although the hearing was dressed up as a “serious” discussion of the rights of Balochs who seek independence, it seems much more likely that Rohrabacher’s true intent was to disrupt the planned Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. From Dawn’s coverage of the hearing:

Dr. M. Hosseinbor, a Baloch nationalist scholar, assured the Americans that the Balochs were natural US allies and would like to share the Gwadar port with the United States, would not allow the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline through their lands and will fight the Taliban as well.

Here is the “full biography” of Dr. Bor from the website of the New York City law firm where he is employed: Continue reading

Karzai and US Fight over Who Gets to Run the Abusive Prisons

As I noted, President Obama reacted to the NDAA’s requirement that DOD actually review detainees’ cases to figure out if they should be held by claiming the authority to make our prison at Bagram largely exempt from the law.

At one level, having us hold detainees keeps them out of the Afghan prisons, where they’ll be tortured. But of course, the Afghans have at least managed to do what we claim to be unable to do–give these men trials.

Now, Karzai is upping the ante: demanding that the US turn over Bagram and its 3,000+ detainees next month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered the transfer of the U.S.-run Bagram prison to his government’s control within a month, citing human rights violations.

Karzai decided the transfer should be made after hearing a report on the prison from the Constitutional Oversight Commission that “details many cases of violations of the Afghan Constitution and other applicable laws of the country, the relevant international conventions and human rights,” the president’s office said yesterday in a statement.

And in response to Karzai’s claims of abuses (which appear to be about nudity), State Department’s spokesperson and former Cheney hack Victoria Nuland basically said the same thing the Bush Administration always said: Geneva comply blah blah blah.

QUESTION: And what about his charges that – violation of human rights in these prisons?

MS. NULAND: Well, you know that we take seriously any charges or allegations of detainee abuse. We respect the rights of detainees who are in facilities that the United States manages, and we ensure that all detainees in U.S. custody are treated in accordance with international legal obligations, including Geneva Common Article III. Any specific allegations of detainee abuse are investigated fully by the Department of Defense and by ISAF.

Coming from Nuland, such reassurances are little comfort.

But then, this is basically a pissing contest over who can run abusive prisons, so it’s not comforting in any case.

Telling Stories about What Iran Is Capable Of

As I’ve mused on twitter and in comment threads, I’ve started wondering who paid more for Scary Iran Plot, the US Government or (allegedly) Quds Force?

After all, it’s clear that Narc offered up the idea to attack Adel al-Jubeir at a restaurant with explosives rather than, say, shooting him or poisoning him. Narc invented the fictional 150 civilians who would be at the restaurant. Narc invented the fictional Senators who might be killed in the blast. Narc said he could, “blow him up or shoot him,” and Arbabsiar said, “how is possible for you.” When Narc warned about those fictional casualties, Arbabsiar said, “if you can do it outside, do it” (though he clearly okayed collateral damage if necessary). Thus, even assuming there is nothing else funny about the plot, it’s clear that Narc authored the most spectacular details of it, the ones that resulted in a terrorism and WMD charges rather than just murder-for-hire, and quite possibly the ones that made this an alleged act of war against the US, rather than just an attack on Saudi Arabia.

Even assuming the Iranians dreamt up this plot, the US wrote the screenplay for it.

So how much did each side pay to create this plot?

I’d put the Quds force tab at $175,000. They allegedly advanced $100,000 for some kind of plot–but refused to send any more money. And on July 17, Arbabsiar describes asking Shahlai for “another $15.” Given that that happened in month 6 of a 9 month plot, I think it fair to estimate he was paid three installments of $15,000, or $45,000. Add in $30,000 for Shukari’s time, and you’ve got $175,000. (It’s not clear whether Arbabsiar paid for his international flights out of his advance, but I’ll also leave out the much greater travel costs on the American side. Further, all this assumes we haven’t paid in the past or agreed to pay Arbabsiar in the future for his part in the plot.)

The government, for its part, paid Narc to work Arbabsiar for at least four months. They paid Craig Monteilh $11,800 a month to run around safe mosques to try to entrap aspirational terrorists in LA; I presume they’d pay more for an actual cartel member to risk his life as an informant in Mexico. But let’s assume they paid the same rate they paid Monteilh, which would work out to $47,200, remarkably, about what Quds Force allegedly seems to have paid Arbabsiar. In addition, we’ve got at least the time of Robert Woloszyn, the FBI Agent who wrote the complaint. He doesn’t seem to have been Narc’s handler, so you’ve got Narc’s handler working long hours. In the press conference rolling out this case, Preet Bharara said two prosecutors, their two supervisors, the Deputy US Attorney, and the Acting Criminal head in NY “have [not] gotten much sleep lately.” In addition to SDNY, there was involvement from the Houston US Attorney and FBI offices, Houston DEA (which may be where Narc’s handler worked), NY’s JTTF. And all those intelligence personnel who played a critical role that we can’t discuss (except in anonymous leaks to journalists). Now clearly, many of these people were probably not personally involved in the crafting of a story that took alleged Quds Force intent to attack Saudi Arabia and turned it into the spectacular attack on a fictional restaurant in DC. But it’s probably safe to say that the US Government paid as much to craft this plot as the Quds Force allegedly did, even before you account for the money spent surveilling Arbabsiar, Shahlai, and Shakuri before the plot as well as the money spent stopping it.

With that in mind, check out the language State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland uses to describe how other countries are receiving the State Department’s efforts to persuade them to treat this plot as real.

Other countries are buying the basic idea of the plot, Nuland said, despite fairly widespread skepticism among Iran watchers about the likelihood the Quds Force would put such a clumsy plan into place.

“Countries may find it quite a story, but they’re not surprised that Iran would be capable of something like this,” she said.

It seems that our allies may be just as skeptical as many American observers that the Quds Force planned the precise plot that–it is clear–Narc’s handlers wrote the screenplay for. But, Nuland says, they buy the basic idea of it–”they’re not surprised that Iran would be capable of something like this.”

We had to invent this entire screenplay–perhaps investing as much money or more as Quds Force allegedly did–to get our allies to agree that the Quds Force might engage in terrorism? Didn’t they already know that?

(I sort of wonder whether our representatives are also asking our allies whether they think we’re capable of assassinating nuclear scientists?)

Therein lies the problem with the American practice of using stings to craft the scariest terror story possible. If the sheer improbability of it makes the story less credible, if all it does is reinforce a widely held belief, then doesn’t the theatricality of it work against the government?

Hillary Picks Cheney Aide to Replace PJ Crowley

It’s bad enough that Obama didn’t clear out the Cheney folks burrowed into the permanent bureaucracy. Now the Obama Administration will appoint former Cheney aide Victoria Nuland to replace PJ Crowley as State Department spokesperson.

Victoria “Toria” Nuland, the current U.S. special envoy for conventional forces in Europe and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, will be named the new spokesperson for the State Department this week, officials and foreign policy hands told the Envoy.The State Department did not provide comment in response to queries. Nuland did not respond to  a query.

The appointment is expected to be announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as early as Monday, sources told the Envoy.

Nuland, a career foreign service officer, has previously served as U.S. Ambassador and deputy ambassador to NATO, former principal deputy national security adviser to then Vice President Dick Cheney, and as chief of staff to Clinton-era Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, now President of the Brookings Institution.

Well, I guess one way to make sure someone doesn’t go off the reservation like PJ Crowley did is to appoint a former Cheney aide.

Though I do hope Hillary recalls how Cheney sabotaged Colin Powell’s efforts at State Department with his agents there (people like John Bolton).

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @Krhawkins5 It's covert ops. They were promoting people (eg, Rodriguez) who had been part of similar in LA @gregorydjohnsen @matthewacole
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JimWhiteGNV RT @onekade: Former soldier: US soldiers used dogs to rape Afghan prisoners, many of whom were farmers they randomly kidnapped http://t.co/
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emptywheel RT @KimZetter: Suddenly GOPs English is so good.
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JimWhiteGNV Free idea: as oil price plunges and fracking stops, plot oil price vs earthquake frequency in TX, OK as fracking went up and then down.
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bmaz @rhfelix Everybody has known her name for a decade. It is just silly at this point.
19mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel And as flawed as intel was 12 years ago claiming link between Iraq and 9/11, it was no way near as privatized as intel here is.
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emptywheel 12 years ago Dick Cheney went on MTP (as he did last Sunday) to claim that Iraq was partly behind 9/11. #Attribution
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JimWhiteGNV Hope so. Think StuxNet got my wifi BBQ controller (; RT @JimMcelwainUF: Can we use all that money on a academic center for barbecue instead?
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JimWhiteGNV RT @froomkin: John Brennan installs his deputy in Susan Rice’s office. How very Cheney. http://t.co/B8JWOFeXF0
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JimWhiteGNV @ArifCRafiq Any word on whether today's drone strike hit Fazlullah?
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