The Latest 60 Minutes Propaganda: We Need a Crypto Back Door because ISIS Is “Coming Here” with WMD

It has been clear for several years now that 60 Minutes has become a propaganda vehicle for the intelligence community (postpost, post). So it was unsurprising that John Brennan was given an opportunity to fearmonger last night without pesky people like Ron Wyden around pointing out that CIA itself poses a threat, even according to the terms laid out by the Intelligence Community.

I find the timing and content of John Brennan’s appearance of note.

The first segment (indeed the first words!) of the appearance did two things: first conflate ISIS-inspired attacks with ISIS-directed ones to suggest the terrorist organization might strike in the US.

Scott Pelley: Is ISIS coming here?

John Brennan: I think ISIL does want to eventually find it’s, it’s mark here.

Scott Pelley: You’re expecting an attack in the United States?

John Brennan: I’m expecting them to try to put in place the operatives, the material or whatever else that they need to do or to incite people to carry out these attacks, clearly. So I believe that their attempts are inevitable. I don’t think their successes necessarily are.

Here’s how the global threat testimony from last week, which really serves as temporal justification for Brennan’s appearance, carried out a similar though more nuanced conflation of ISIS’ aspirations with the aspirational plots here in the US.

The United States will almost certainly remain at least a rhetorically important enemy for most violent extremists in part due to past and ongoing US military, political, and economic engagement overseas. Sunni violent extremists will probably continually plot against US interests overseas. A smaller number will attempt to overcome the logistical challenges associated with conducting attacks on the US homeland. The July 2015 attack against military facilities in Chattanooga and December 2015 attack in San Bernardino demonstrate the threat that homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) also pose to the homeland. In2014, the FBI arrested approximately one dozen US-based ISIL supporters, in 2015, that number increased to approximately five dozen arrests. These individuals were arrested for a variety of reasons, predominantly for attempting to provide material support to ISIL.

Both Brennan and the threat testimony slide carefully from ISIS overcoming the logistical problems to attack themselves with attacking here to the ISIS-inspired far smaller attacks.

After having suggested ISIS wants to attack the US, Pelley then led Brennan to overstate the degree to which the Paris attackers hid behind encryption.

Scott Pelley: What did you learn from Paris?

John Brennan: That there is a lot that ISIL probably has underway that we don’t have obviously full insight into. We knew the system was blinking red. We knew just in the days before that ISIL was trying to carry out something. But the individuals involved have been able to take advantage of the newly available means of communication that are–that are walled off, from law enforcement officials.

Scott Pelley: You’re talking about encrypted Internet communications.

John Brennan: Yeah, I’m talking about the very sophisticated use of these technologies and communication systems.

From all the reports thus far, ISIS achieved what little obscurity they had primarily through burner devices, not through encryption (not to mention the fact that French authorities got an encryption key from someone who had decided against carrying out an ISIS attack the summer before this attack). And while Jim Comey revealed that FBI had not yet cracked one of several phones used by the San Bernardino attackers (who were not directed by ISIS and may have only invoked it for their own obscurantist purposes), the threat testimony pointed to social media as as big a concern as encryption (most of what ISIS uses is fairly weak).

Terrorists will almost certainly continue to benefit in 2016 from a new generation of recruits proficient in information technology, social media, and online research. Some terrorists will look to use these technologies to increase the speed of their communications, the availability of their propaganda, and ability to collaborate with new partners. They will easily take advantage of widely available, free encryption technology, mobile-messaging applications, the dark web, and virtual environments to pursue their objectives.

Finally — still in the first segment!!! — Pelley invites Brennan to suggest that limited reports that ISIS has used chemical weapons in Syria mean they might use them here.

Scott Pelley: Does ISIS have chemical weapons?

John Brennan: We have a number of instances where ISIL has used chemical munitions on the battlefield.

Scott Pelley: Artillery shells.

John Brennan: Sure. Yeah.

Scott Pelley: ISIS has access to chemical artillery shells?

John Brennan: Uh-huh (affirm). There are reports that ISIS has access to chemical precursors and munitions that they can use.

The CIA believes that ISIS has the ability to manufacture small quantities of chlorine and mustard gas.

Scott Pelley: And the capability of exporting those chemicals to the West?

John Brennan: I think there’s always the potential for that. This is why it’s so important to cut off the various transportation routes and smuggling routes that they have used.

Compare Brennan’s suggestion that ISIS may be manufacturing CW with the threat testimony note that two people have been exposed to mustard gas, though with far more widespread allegations of such use.

We assess that non state actors in the region are also using chemicals as a means of warfare. The OPCW investigation into an alleged ISIL attack in Syria in August led it to conclude that at least two people were exposed to sulfur mustard. We continue to track numerous allegations ofISIL’s use of chemicals in attacks in Iraq and Syria, suggesting that attacks might be widespread.

Now, I’ll grant you that Brennan much more carefully dodges here than Dick Cheney ever used to. But it’s pure fear-mongering — especially in the wake of the Oregon standoff that makes it clear domestic extremists are not only every bit as motivated as ISIS wannabes, but better trained and equipped. And fear-mongering using Dick Cheney’s favorite techniques (albeit with the added kicker of crypto fear-mongering).

And it all happened as Brennan’s buddies the Saudis are pretending to (finally) join the fight against ISIS in what is a fairly transparent attempt to prevent Russian-backed Syrian forces from gaining a crucial advantage in Syria. That is, this fairly crass fear-monger is likely directed at Assad as much as it is ISIS.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

17 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Daesh does more damage just by scaring the wits out of the pundits and the chickenhawks than it could if it actually got here.

  2. Rayne says:

    When the Bushistas used Al Qaeda as their boogeyman, switching back and forth to Saddam Hussein with a mushroom cloud, what were they really trying to redirect us from? Now the Obama administration is using the same tactic–and the redirect is away from…? Hypothetical only, no answer required, just throwing it out there given how many bogeys they’re wielding now.

  3. wayoutwest says:

    I wonder if Brennan enjoys or tires of the PR role he plays to maintain the illusion of democratic oversight fed to the rubes with this never-ending theatre. The role of the champion of public accountability played by the Fish Called Wyden rounds out the cast of this melodrama, when he isn’t selling his states resources to ecological terrorists foreign and domestic.

    Trying to equate the IS with the poor deluded and defeated Bundy ‘extremists’ and his hapless followers who only want to shoot Feds, but aren’t quite that crazy, and draw what little support they have from local sources is a stretch, a very very long stretch.

  4. Hieronymus Howard says:

     
    Be very afraid, citizen.
     
    But how were the San Ber’dino terr’rists “homegrown”?  I was under the impression they were immigrants.  (& badly supervised they were, at that.  Where were the watchers?)
     
    Scott Pelley is such a TOOL of the MIC.  Can’t bear to look at his silly face.  Has me scrambling for the remote every time he shows up.
     
    Stir up some shit
    Blame Putin for it

    • Jim White says:

      .
      Pick a screen name and stick with it. I count six different names using this email address and ip address. Once you’ve chosen the name to stick with, don’t post under any of the others or we will ban you for violation of site policy.

      • bmaz says:

        Yep, hi there “Hieronymus Howard”.
        .
        Or should I call you Giles Byles, Hans Sherbert, Bonky Moon or Mitt Rumsey? All of which you have previously used here. Hell you used “Mitt Rumsey” here previously just today.
        .
        STOP, or you are done.

        • Hieronymus Howard says:

          Okay, gosh, sorry.  Was not aware of this “policy.”  All the missives were in the exact same style & I wasn’t even trying to hide what I was obviously up to.  Thought the names were funny & each had its own “personality.”  Won’t happen again.  (You left out Halle Bally, the female alter-ego.)

          • martin says:

            Jim White warned:”Once you’ve chosen the name to stick with, don’t post under any of the others or we will ban you for violation of site policy.”

            “Okay, gosh, sorry. Was not aware of this “policy.”

            For what it’s worth Howard, I went through the same thing. Never saw any “policy” whatsoever. So don’t feel bad. Oh, and don’t run the red lights either.

            Funny though, I never pay attention to names. Unless I want to reply. You could have used twenty different names and it wouldn’t bother me. It’s what you say that’s important to me. Of course…I’m nobody..but policy is policy ya know. Btw, there’s also a policy that says you’ll turn blue and explode if you disparage trash. Page 9, Line 7, bullet point 3. So be warned. Ok, given I haven’t violated some policy in fine print between pages 59 and 74…. c’ya.

            ps…NEVER..under any circumstances.. compare an attorney to a catfish.
            Catch 23. Policy 4. Consequences 2,3 and 8.

            Oh..btw, Tongue in cheek is allowed as an alibi should you get caught with your pants down. “Gosh, sorry” is only allowed once. All other offense’s will be treated with extreme prejudice and official termination after one warning.

  5. LOL says:

    small quantities of chlorine gas? Uh-oh!

    Guess we’ll have to stop teaching high-school level chemistry now… :-\
    The hard part will be doing so without having the cleaning crew accidentally killing Brennan through sheer ignorance.

  6. ambrose says:

    I thought ISIS were already there in USA, as I see a lot of men, heavily armed, faces covered (cowards), in uniforms indiscriminately killing people ( usually brown), using the same tactics as IDF.
    You call them police, but I know they are paid for by the same people who pay for the mercenaries in the Middle East
    The same bankers will invite them to control Americans on behalf of the psuado politicians in the private country of Washington DC.

    • Evangelista says:

      Excellent Observation, Ambrose.

      I have long been puzzled that most in the U.S. have not noticed that the black-and-balaclava’d ISIS uniform is the standard American SWAT uniform. Just as the ISIS prisoners’ uniform, the dayglo orange jumpsuit, is the American police-standard prisoner jumpsuit uniform. The difference is only in the American SWAT uniform being bulked up with body armor and Depends over steroid-bulking (hat the beef industry calls ‘marbling’). And, of course, the SWAT preference for standing at distance and shooting, which allows them to only wet their Depends, instead of filing them, as anything like body-contact seems to induce them to do.

      Clearly, ISIS is a SWAT-Team copy, and a sort of SWAT-Team Dream-World, where courage-to-contact is not bowel-loosening and protesters (like frosted the SWAT guys’ donuts in Ferguson) can be machine-gun sprayed out of the way.

      As for “chemical weapons”, uhmm, the American Police stand-by dispersants, teargas, pepper-spray and ammonia (now being deployed in paint-ball munitions form)— What are they?

      • wayoutwest says:

        I think you are still viewing photos of Islamic State fighters from a year ago when they wore improvised black uniforms. More recent photos show they now wear crisp desert camo uniforms with standard military kit, probably from the military warehouses they captured in Mosul. These are hardened soldiers fighting a war of conquest not some SWAT team busting down the wrong door and threatening civilians and a few criminals.

        The only black uniform I’ve seen was a Battle Burka worn by a special women’s fighter group. I wouldn’t want to encounter these armed and dangerous women on a cloudy and moonless night or any night.

  7. martin says:

    quote”I count six different names using this email address and ip address.”unquote

    Welcome to emptywheels NSA.

    sheeezus…with all due respect.. don’t you guys have better things to do than analyzing peoples email/ip addys with usernames? I mean… WTF? Quoting Hillary.. what possible difference does it make? Who cares?

  8. scruffy says:

    How would they know ISIS is ‘on their way with wmd’s’ unless the intel they r looking at is unencrypted? FBI, CIA, NSA all fail America miserably as intel agencies. The amount of incompetence is monumental.

  9. Procopius says:

    “In2014, the FBI arrested approximately one dozen US-based ISIL supporters, in 2015, that number increased to approximately five dozen arrests. These individuals were arrested for a variety of reasons, predominantly for attempting to provide material support to ISIL.” Translation: “In 2014 we were able to persuade approximately one dozen weak-minded individuals with emotional problems and learning disabilities to do things we were able to arrest them for. In 2015 we were able to trick five times as many. It’s a good thing the courts ignore the fact that none of these people would say or do the things we arrest them for unless our highly paid informants talked them into it and gave them equipment or training.”

    I don’t think the terrorists use encryption. It’s not necessary. Although all postal systems are less efficient now than they were before the anthrax attacks, just sending letters back and forth between Paris and Brussels would be all they really needed for coordinating attacks. I don’t believe the secret police open and read all letters any more. Maybe occasionally getting together for drinks and a couple hours discussion in a bar or restaurant would be useful. Besides, the secret police have created their own problem by hoovering up so much material. They are trying to find a needle in a hay stack and keep piling more hay on the stack.

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