Fifteen Years Fighting the War on Terror Would Have Inured Mike Flynn to Kidnapping

As the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, in December 2016, Mike Flynn had a second meeting with representatives of Turkey to discuss a plan to help them kidnap Fethullah Gulen.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI.

The report has led to some gleeful hand-wringing (and, as always, baby cannon eruptions) from interesting quarters.

For those of us who have opposed the US practice of extraordinary rendition, sure, the notion that Flynn would work with a foreign country to assist in the illegal kidnapping of someone that country considered a terrorist does seem outrageous. But for those who, not so long ago, worried that counterterrorism success might lead us to eschew things like extraordinary rendition, I’m not sure I understand the hand-wringing.

Yet the more effectively we conduct counterterrorism, the more plausible disbelief becomes and the more uncomfortable we grow with policies like noncriminal detention, aggressive interrogation, and extraordinary rendition. The more we convince ourselves that the Devil doesn’t really exist, the less willing we are to use those tools, and we begin reining them in or eschewing them entirely. And we let the Devil walk out of the room.

Especially not when you consider Mike Flynn’s service to the country. For fourteen years, Flynn played a key role in counterterrorism policy, serving in an intelligence role in Afghanistan when we were paying Pakistan bounties just to have enough Arabs to fill Gitmo, serving as Director of Intelligence for JSOC for some of the bloodiest years of the Iraq War, then serving in another intelligence role in Afghanistan during a period when the US was handing prisoners off to Afghanistan to be tortured.

That’s what two presidents, one a Nobel Prize winner, and another increasingly rehabilitated, asked Mike Flynn to do. And in that role, I have no doubt, he was privy to — if not directly in the chain of command — a whole lot of legally dubious kidnapping, including from countries with respectable institutions of law. (In related news, see this report on MI6 and CIA cooperation with Gaddafi, including kidnapping, after 9/11.)

So having spent 14 years kidnapping for the United States, why is it so odd that Flynn would consider it acceptable to help one of our allies in turn, to help them kidnap the kinds of clerics we ourselves have targeted as terrorists.

There is, of course, something different here: the suggestion that Flynn and his son might profit mightily off the arrangement, to the tune of $15 million.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

But even the notion of bribery to facilitate human rights abuses is not something the US forgoes. One of the biggest disclosures from the SSCI Torture Report, for example, is how the Bush Administration worked to bribe other countries to let us build torture facilities in their countries.

The buddies of those now scolding such arrangements were part of that bribery operation.

The big question with Flynn is whether the similar bribe for this kidnapping operation would have been different from those under the table bribes we paid for our torture facilities. Did they go into the countries’ populace, or did they get pocketed by the national security officials doing the dirty deeds?

I actually don’t mean it to be a gotcha — though I would sure appreciate a little less hypocritical squeamishness from those who elsewhere view such irregular operations as the cost of keeping the country safe (as Erdogan claims to believe to be the case here).

Rather, I raise it to suggest that Mike Flynn knows where the bodies are buried every bit as much as David Petraeus did, when he was facing a criminal prosecution to which the best response was graymail. Flynn surely could demand records of any number of kidnapping operations the United States carried out, and he might well be able to point to bribes paid to make them happen, if Robert Mueller were to charge him for this stuff. It’s different, absolutely, that it happened on US soil. It may (or may not be) different that an individual decided to enrich himself for this stuff.

But this is the kind of thing — Mike Flynn knows well — that the US does do, and that certain hawks have in the past believed to be acceptable.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

20 replies
  1. dalloway says:

    Re:  Mr. Wittes’ tweet:   Flynn was planning a kidnapping and rendition for money!

    (And I don’t think that’s the only  transaction by the Trump gang.  I have a feeling sums paid to bigger fish will make Flynn’s little deal seem quaint.)

  2. orionATL says:

    the keyboard lawyer warriors are exercising their right to write hypocrisy.

    the guantanamo naval facility was filled with victims of righteous rendition; turkish prisons have been filling up for months.

  3. maybe ryan says:

    Read this long ago, and it has stayed with me – Susan Sontag’s gloss on Simone Weil:

    Hitlerism was the application by Germany to the European continent, and the white race generally, of colonial methods of conquest and domination.

    What started in the Congo was imported to Poland and Ukraine.  Flynn learned rendition in Afghanistan and thought it might be perfectly fine in Pennsylvania.

    Not that rendition was moral or proper in Afghanistan.  Just that chickens come home …

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      An excellent lengthy survey of the origins of this is in today’s Guardian:

      [T]he American elite’s ruthlessness with blacks and Native Americans greatly impressed the earliest generation of German liberal imperialists, decades before Hitler also came to admire the US’s unequivocally racist policies of nationality and immigration. The Nazis sought inspiration from Jim Crow legislation in the US south, which makes Charlottesville, Virginia, a fitting recent venue for the unfurling of swastika banners and chants of “blood and soil”.

      Imperialism, racism, state violence, accumulations of vast wealth and imposition of desperate poverty have been pals for centuries. Only Donald Trump might imagine that he invented the recipe.

  4. Peterr says:

    Kind of reminds me of the old joke . . .

    Flynn: “What kind of general do you think I am?”

    Turks: “We’ve already established that — now we’re just haggling over the price.”

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I agree that the substance seems to have much in common with what appears to be standard US practice.

    The process, however, leaves Flynn open to jeopardy.  He was a civilian.  He was negotiating to kidnap someone legally in the US for money and to illegally transport them across the US border, presumably through an illegally operated aircraft.  He was negotiating to interfere, as a civilian, in US foreign policy.  He was presumably negotiating to do so through the use of firearms or other weapons, and probably planning illegally to administer drugs to the victim in furtherance of other felonies.

    Then there are the various accounting and tax contortions one would have to perform to make any funds exchanged for these acts to appear to be something else, done at a different time, to make electronic transfers to US and/or foreign banks using false statements, and to make payments to others for engaging in illegal acts, presumably using false documents to do so.  Planning or executing some of those things might have been done.  Flynn might also have been dumb enough to use mail for some of this.  Finally, there are false statements regarding these acts made to US authorities, whether or not under oath.  That’s just for starters.

    Conspiracies for all that could be limited to Flynn and his son and their intended contractors.  Or it could extend further or be related to other conspiracies.  Different crimes would be committed had Flynn and associates done any of this while he and/or they were employees of the USG.

    That’s a lot of potential jeopardy Flynn will have to contemplate, for himself and his son, as he considers reducing it by giving up a bigger fish higher up the chain of command.

    • emptywheel says:

      I actually think the reporting doesn’t get us that far. What we have are questions asked of 4 people (not clear whom) about whether the know about this. It’s not clear any of them corroborated it. It could be the questions come from Turkish intercepts.

      And Flynn’s lawyer has vigorously denied the allegation (but none of the others, including the more modest kidnapping one). It may be that they’re doing that because this introduces real FARA problems (and all the other legal ones). But I’m not sure I buy this as reported.

       

      • orionATL says:

        to me it is not whether flynn had a deal or not, or committed a violation of law. to me the con ern is that a major counselor to the president-elect felt comfortable discussing, for the second time, a rendition to turkey of an opponent of the turkish prez in a dec 2016 meeting, given that the turkish prez was someone, like putin or the phillipino, that trump admired?

        this suggests to me flynn had confidence he would not run afoul of trump. that’s the big deal. did flynn have a sense he could engage in other illegalities under trump’s not-so-watchful eye? would similar activities have occurred once trump was crowned and flynn was nat sec advisor?

        i’ve had fun lampooning this hairbrained scheme, but what did it portend for a trump-flynn axis post jan. 21 – riyadd on the potomac?

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        I’ll be circumspect about this, but Jim Woolsey’s an interesting canary here — I think of Laura Rozen’s profile of him as a “hybrid hawk” — because you don’t get to his position without seeing (and probably approving) a lot of dubious shit, both inside DC and as a powerful outsider. But whatever Flynn was doing w/r/t to Turkey had him doing the Grandpa Simpson dot gif.

        Woolsey said he was offered the CIA director job by Flynn shortly after the election, with the condition that he’d reporting to Flynn, and stepped away from the transition on January 6th, saying that he hadn’t really been functioning as an advisor for a while and wanted to avoid “fly[ing] under false colors” as a pundit/surrogate.

        Does this mid-December datapoint to add to the September meeting change things here?

  6. TarheelDem says:

    Why is it that the mention of Turkey in this context raises the name of Sibel Edmonds and what did not make a whole lot of senses (absence of context) 13 yeara ago?

  7. Ed Walker says:

    I wonder if the deal was that Flynn would get things done when he was actually in office, where he could run interference, and the money would go to the son.

      • orionATL says:

        curiouser and curiouser!

        now brexit star boris johnson shows up with the maltese falconer, professor misfud.

        + an associate of johnson’s is contacted by putin’s niece who volunteers to translate his site into russian.
        https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/11/boris-johnson-met-london-professor-linked-to-fbis-russia-investigation

        and remember, the guardian’s carole cadwalladr (it’s welsh) says there is a neat circle connecting brexit stars and trump campaign stars such as mercer and bannon and cambridge analytica and julian assange/wikileaks.

        now maybe that circle will be expanded to include the uss of russia:
        https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/04/boris-johnson-brexit-russia-trump

        • orionATL says:

          o. k. why not say it. better to be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

          it could be that breaking britain off from the eu and electing a white nationalist to the american presidency (to foment ethnic and racial conflict) were both part of a single russian masterplan with characters like johnson and bannon playing key roles.

          whether related or not i don’t know, but i read that robert mercer resigned from his rennaisance investing firm recently and sold his breitbart investment to his daughters for who knows what reason.

        • orionATL says:

          so how did the russians get the clinton campaign/dns docs fbs and gru stole into julian assange’s hands?

          https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/28/trump-assange-bannon-farage-bound-together-in-unholy-alliance

          https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/23/when-nigel-farage-met-julian-assange

          who knows:

          https://www.snopes.com/2017/06/01/nigel-farage-reportedly-person-interest-fbis-russia-investigation/

          as has been the case from the beginning with this russian intrusion business, there are so many short, weak threads. there is so much thin gruel.

        • orionATL says:

          https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/04/brexit-ministers-spy-russia-uk-brexit

          “… Nalobin had long been a person of interest. In 2012, he was the key figure at the heart of an organisation called Conservative Friends of Russia, a high-profile new group that threw a high-profile launch in the Russian ambassador’s garden – the same ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, who was named last week in the FBI documents – and that attracted the endorsement of senior politicians including, initially, Malcolm Rifkind, until he resigned. Rifkind was then chair of the Commons intelligence and security committee.

          But the Conservative Friends of Russia was not what it seemed, and nor was Nalobin. A series of reports by the Guardian’s Luke Harding and others revealed that Nalobin was intimately connected to the FSB, and that the Conservative Friends of Russia was a Moscow influence operation.

          Sergei Cristo, a Russian-born financier and long-time Conservative activist who helped expose the organisation, told the Observer last week how he was targeted first by Nalobin but quickly became aware that there was something very wrong. “He was trying very hard to find an entry route into the Conservative party, and initially he thought that would be me. I met with him several times and he told me how he could help with fundraising. He said: ‘We have companies. We have Russian companies here in London willing to donate to the party.’ I knew this was illegal, of course. I went away thinking, ‘I wish I was wired.’”… “

          • orionATL says:

            so the russians were waging a two-front war (the u. s. election and the brexit campaign) from london, where espionage was much easier to hide, which war will profoundly negatively affect both nations for a long time in the future,

            and we’re sitting around over here tsk-tsking about whether the u. s. and british intelligence agencies may have co-operated on the steele dossier. definitely not realpolitik.

  8. Bay State Librul says:

    From a 1/18/17 newspaper report

    Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with designated U.S. National Security adviser Rt. Gen. Mike Flynn on Wednesday at Trump Hotel in Washington.

    “Met with General Flynn, who will assume the position of National Security Advisor, and other officials at a working breakfast in Washington D.C.,” Çavuşoğlu tweeted.

    The meeting marks a first direct reachout between the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan administration and the incoming Donald Trump administration, other than a phone call between two leaders last November.

    House Intelligence Committee Congressman Devin Nunes, a Republican heavyweight, also attended the breakfast

    Comment: Looky here: Nunes?

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