Democrats Should Propose Susan Collins Serve as Acting Chair for Russian Hack Investigation

As I’ve been saying, the Intelligence Committees are the sensible place for any investigation into the Russian hack, but the current investigation is hampered because both Chairs — Devin Nunes in the House and Richard Burr in the Senate — have conflicts that prevent them from being independent.

The WaPo has an absolutely masterful article exposing their conflicts.

Better still, it shows that Benghazi truther Mike Pompeo has already abused his position as CIA Director in the pursuit of politics.

The part that has gotten the most notice is WaPo’s report that — after Reince Priebus failed to get FBI to issue a rebuttal to this NYT article — which claims “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election” — he then arranged calls with the press and Nunes and Burr, so they could rebut the claims. As the WaPo reports, the calls were not persuasive enough to get WaPo to report on them.

The officials broadly dismissed Trump associates’ contacts with Russia as infrequent and inconsequential. But the officials would not answer substantive questions about the issue, and their comments were not published by The Post and do not appear to have been reported elsewhere.

Nunes’ comments actually were picked up by WSJ (which has discouraged reporters from doing hard reporting on this issue). Burr’s were not. Here’s how Burr — who normally leaks far less than other Gang of Four members, and who was a national security advisor for Trump during the campaign — defended his comments.

Burr acknowledged that he “had conversations about” Russia-related news reports with the White House and engaged with news organizations to dispute articles by the New York Times and CNN that alleged “repeated” or “constant” contact between Trump campaign members and Russian intelligence operatives.

“I’ve had those conversations,” Burr said, adding that he regarded the contacts as appropriate provided that “I felt I had something to share that didn’t breach my responsibilities to the committee in an ongoing investigation.”

More delectably, the WaPo obliquely reveals that an intelligence official was involved in the calls, and then makes it very clear that Pompeo was the guy. As WaPo points out, this not only makes Pompeo a raging hypocrite, given the way he politicized Benghazi, but it also suggests Pompeo inquired into the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation for the purpose of leaking details of it to the press.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo is the senior-most intelligence official in the administration, with former senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) still awaiting confirmation as director of national intelligence.

As a Republican member of Congress, Pompeo was among the most fiercely partisan figures in the House investigation of Benghazi, which centered on accusations that the Obama administration had twisted intelligence about the attacks for political purposes.

It is not unusual for CIA leaders to have contact with news organizations, particularly about global issues such as terrorism or to contest news accounts of CIA operations. But involving the agency on alleged Trump campaign ties to Russia could be problematic.

The CIA is not in charge of the investigation. Given the history of domestic espionage abuses in the United States, CIA officials are typically averse to being drawn into matters that involve U.S. citizens or might make the agency vulnerable to charges that it is politicizing intelligence.

This is actually fairly breathtaking. It’s one thing to inquire into a past event, because the inquiry can’t change it. But this is an ongoing counterintelligence investigation! Russians are dying left and right, and at least one of them looks like he was a likely source for the Trump dossier. Two Russians have already been charged with treason and a Ukranian may well be as well. There are reasons you keep counterintelligence investigations secret.

But the CIA Director is more interested in helping Trump out politically.

It turns out that Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner, who thus far has defended Burr’s role in this investigation, is not all that happy about this. Here’s what he had to say in response to WaPo’s disclosures.

Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he called CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Burr to express his “grave concerns about what this means for the independence” of the investigation.

“I am consulting with members of the Intelligence Committee to determine an appropriate course of action so we can ensure that the American people get the thorough, impartial investigation that they deserve, free from White House interference,” Warner said in a statement Friday night.

So here’s my suggestion: tell Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr that Susan Collins should serve as acting Chair for this investigation, and if they don’t agree the Democrats will demand an independent inquiry.

Collins is a perfect choice even beyond her comments from the other day, which among other things entertained the possibility of subpoenaing Trump’s tax returns. She has voted against Trump more than any other Senator (which is not much, but still). As Chair of Homeland Security, she conducted a number of credible investigations, working closely with Joe Lieberman.

So she surely could credibly lead this report.

To be clear: I’m suggesting this as a negotiating strategy. This hasn’t been done before and I suspect it wouldn’t be done here. But it is clear that Collins is independent and qualified to lead this investigation. The alternatives all involve more potential exposure for Trump.

Democrats should propose this — so McConnell and Burr can shoot it down, making it clear that Republicans want people who’ve already compromised their independence to lead this investigation.

Update: Here’s Collins’ comment on the new disclosures.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has the expertise, the cleared staff, and the bipartisan determination to follow the evidence wherever it leads in this investigation into malicious Russian activities. For the public to have confidence in our findings, it is important that the Committee work in a completely bipartisan fashion and that we avoid any actions that might be perceived as compromising the integrity of our work. It is also important that the Committee ultimately issue a public report on our findings.

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.

The Purge, the Benghazi Report, and Trump’s Claim Obama Created ISIS

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When I learned yesterday that, in addition to “purging” Mike Rogers, Trump had added Devin Nunes and Crazy Pete Hoekstra to his transition team (thus replacing Rogers with both his predecessor and successor as House Intelligence Chair), I wondered whether the Benghazi report had something to do with the exchange. As I noted when the House Intelligence Committee’s report came out, Nunes repeatedly asked questions that Rogers cut short.

The NYT confirms that that is, indeed, one of the reasons Rogers got purged.

One member of the transition team said that at least one reason Mr. Rogers had fallen out of favor among Mr. Trump’s advisers was that, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he had overseen a report about the 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which concluded that the Obama administration had not intentionally misled the public about the events there. That report echoed the findings of numerous other government investigations into the episode.

The report’s conclusions were at odds with the campaign position of Mr. Trump, who repeatedly blamed Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent and the secretary of state during the attacks, for the resulting deaths of four Americans.

In point of fact, the Additional Views that Rogers released with three other Republicans on the committee (but not Nunes) did find,

Senior U.S. officials perpetuated an inaccurate story that matched the Administration’s misguided view that the United States was nearing victory over al-Qa’ida.

The Additional Views also blamed State for ignoring safety concerns in Benghazi.

So that may not be the key difference between Rogers and Trump with regards to the Benghazi report.

Instead, consider what the report did not say about CIA’s facilitation of Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish arms transfers to Syria during this period — and Nunes’ attempts to push this issue further.

The report concludes that, “The CIA was not collecting and shipping arms from Libya to Syria.” It then explains how it proved this, noting that all witnesses (it sourced its reports only to security personnel and the Benghazi base chief, not the officers at the Annex) said they had not seen any non-CIA weapons at the Annex. But then it said:

From the Annex in Benghazi, the CIA was collecting intelligence about foreign entities that were themselves collecting weapons in Libya and facilitating their passage to Syria.

Here’s what the transcript of the committee’s interview with Mike Morell and the other intel bosses actually shows (page 15):

Mr. [Devin] Nunes: Are we aware of any arms that are leaving that area and going into Syria?

Mr. Morell: Yes, sir.

Mr. Nunes: And who is coordinating that?

Mr. Morell: I believe largely the [redacted–right length for Saudis] are coordinating that.

Mr. Nunes: They are leaving Benghazi ports and going to Syria?

Mr. Morell: I don’t know how they are getting the weapons from Libya to Syria. But there are weapons going from Libya to Syria. And there are probably a number of actors involved in that. One of the biggest are the [redacted–could be Qataris]

Mr. Nunes: And were the CIA folks that were there, were they helping to coordinate that, or were they watching it, were they gathering information about it?

Mr. Morell: Sir, the focus of my officers in Benghazi was [redacted], to try to penetrate the terrorist groups that were there so we could learn their plans, intentions and capabilities

Mike Rogers then interrupts because not everyone in the room is cleared to hear about what the CIA was doing in Benghazi. (Note, Fox’s Catherine Herridge also covered this here.)

Four months later, in a follow-up interview of Morell (file one, file two, at the break), Nunes picked up that line of questioning again. Having gotten Morell to state that there were weapons for security folks at the annex, he tries to clarify that none of these were being sent on. Mike Rogers again interrupts to offer “clarification,” though it becomes clear that on at least one occasion the CIA facility was used to transfer weapons.

The Chairman: There may be an exception, but that was not the rule.

So at the very least CIA was watching its allies send weapons from Libya to Syria, which given the clusterfuck in Syria — most notably the possibility that these weapons are now in the hands of ISIL — may be one reason to moderate the report.

That is, the interviews behind the report include clear evidence that the CIA was watching our allies run arms to Syria (and note, even there, Morell stopped short of saying the CIA wasn’t directly involved). Evidence that Nunes had a particular interest in pursuing.

Now consider a pair of rather famous DIA reports — reports done at a time that Trump advisor Mike Flynn was running the agency — on how the US ended up on the same side as al Qaeda in Syria.

What did the CIA know and when did they know it?

That’s the real question that ought to be raised by a recently declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, obtained by Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The August 2012 document describes how the U.S. ended up on the same general side in the Syrian Civil War as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS. “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning,” the report explained. Meanwhile, “[w]estern countries, the Gulf states, and Turkey are supporting” rebel efforts against the Assad regime in a proxy war, putting them on the same side as, if not working together with, the terrorists now overrunning Iraq.

Some outlets have concluded that this means “the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad.”

But as Juan Cole counters, the report that western powers supported rebels “doesn’t say that the US created sectarian groups and it does not say that the US favors al-Qaeda in Syria or the so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq.’” Cole continues, “It says that those powers (e.g. Turkey and the Gulf monarchies) supporting the opposition wanted to see the declaration of a Salafi (hard line Sunni) breakaway statelet, in order to put pressure on the al-Assad regime.”

In a nutshell, Cole argues that the U.S. didn’t support Al-Qaeda in Syria directly. But its allies certainly did.

Two months after the report laying out AQI support for the rebels — another of the documents obtained by Judicial Watch shows — the DIA provided a detailed description of how weapons got shipped from Benghazi to Syria, presumably for rebel groups. “During the immediate aftermath of, and following the uncertainty caused by, the downfall of the [Qaddafi] regime in October 2011 and up until early September of 2012,” the report explained, “weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya, to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria.”

The report obtained by Judicial Watch says that the weapons shipments ended in “early September of 2012.” But note what event this second report conspicuously does not mention: The Sept. 11 attack on the State Department and CIA facilities in Benghazi at the same time that the flow of weapons stopped.

By all appearances, the Benghazi attack interrupted a CIA effort to arm the rebels in Syria that the US government acknowledged were allied with al Qaeda.

That’s what the Rogers-directed HPSCI report did not include.

Just as importantly, this fits in with what Flynn has said during the campaign [RT link intentional]. which is where Trump got the claim that Obama (and Hillary) “created” ISIS.

In addition, recall that in Flynn’s wake, DIA whistleblowers revealed that their more pessimistic take on ISIS was getting softened before it got to CentCom bosses.

Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.

That complaint was supported by 50 other analysts, some of whom have complained about politicizing of intelligence reports for months. That’s according to 11 individuals who are knowledgeable about the details of the report and who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity.

You can see where this is going. One of the first things Trump has done has been to ensure agreement in its national security team on this point: that by letting our Middle Eastern allies arm al Qaeda-allied fighters, the Obama Administration created the mess that is in Syria.

And unanimity on that point — accompanied by what is sure to be a very ugly campaign of recriminations against the Obama Administration for cooking intelligence (even aside from the merit of this claim, Flynn has been bitter about his firing for what he sees as objecting to this cooked intelligence) — will provide the basis for Trump to work with Putin on ending the civil war in Syria to Bashar al-Assad’s advantage.

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.

Revisiting David Petraeus’ Crack Plan to Ally with Al Qaeda

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on potential airstrikes against Assad, September 3, 2013

SEN. CORKER: What I’m unaware of is why it is so slow in actually helping them with lethal support — why has that been so slow?

SEC. KERRY: I think — I think, Senator, we need to have that discussion tomorrow in classified session. We can talk about some components of that. Suffice it to say, I want to General Dempsey to speak to this, maybe Secretary Hagel. That is increasing significantly. It has increased in its competency. I think it’s made leaps and bounds over the course of the last few months.

Secretary Hagel, do you — or General, do you want to —

SEN. HAGEL: I would only add that it was June of this year that the president made a decision to support lethal assistance to the opposition, as you all know. We have been very supportive with hundreds of millions of dollars of nonlethal assistance. The vetting process, as Secretary Kerry noted, has been significant. But — I’ll ask General Dempsey if he wants to add anything — but we, Department of Defense, have not been directly involved in this. This is, as you know, a covert action, and as Secretary Kerry noted, probably to go into much more detail would require a closed or classified hearing.

Tom Udall, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on ISIS, September 17, 2014

Everybody’s well aware there’s been a covert operation, operating in the region to train forces, moderate forces, to go into Syria and to be out there, that we’ve been doing this the last two years. And probably the most true measure of the effectiveness of moderate forces would be, what has been the effectiveness over that last two years of this covert operation, of training 2,000 to 3,000 of these moderates? Are they a growing force? Have they gained ground? How effective are they? What can you tell us about this effort that’s gone on, and has it been a part of the success that you see that you’re presenting this new plan on?

A number of us were discussing how odd it was that this big NYT article — describing President Obama blame those who championed arming Syrian rebels — made no mention of the covert CIA operation dating back to 2012 (and confirmed in a public hearing to have started by June 2013). How could a NYT writer pretend the CIA training effort didn’t proceed the DOD one, especially given the fairly lengthy reporting done by other NYT reporters on it? Especially given the Peter Baker’s refutation of Obama’s position pertains to whether Obama should have armed rebels earlier, which of course he did.

In effect, Mr. Obama is arguing that he reluctantly went along with those who said it was the way to combat the Islamic State, but that he never wanted to do it and has now has been vindicated in his original judgment. The I-told-you-so argument, of course, assumes that the idea of training rebels itself was flawed and not that it was started too late and executed ineffectively, as critics maintain.

Which is why I was interested in the blame-setting.

Hillary comes in for a large part of the blame, almost certainly justifiably (though she’s also likely a stand-in for those on Obama’s own staff who espouse intervention with little consideration of consequences). David Petraeus — CIA Director when arms first started flowing to Syria, though not when that April 2013 finding was signed — gets remarkably little blame, especially given the prominence Petraeus Godfather Jack Keane got in the piece.

The finger, it says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place — a group that, in addition to congressional Republicans, happened to include former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

[snip]

The idea of bolstering Syrian rebels was debated from the early days of the civil war, which started in 2011. Mrs. Clinton, along with David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, and Leon E. Panetta, then the defense secretary, supported arming opposition forces, but the president worried about deep entanglement in someone else’s war after the bloody experience in Iraq.

Perhaps most remarkably, our allies — Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey — get no blame here, even in spite of the fact that they’d be funding more radical anti-Assad forces with our involvement or not (on that note, see this great tick tock of how we got here). Much of the reason our options remain so dismal in Syria is because our so-called allies are going to pursue their objectives whether or not we’re playing along. Which leaves only the question of whether anything we could do would improve the outcome — not to mention whether our interest coincides with that of our allies.

So with all that in mind, let’s reconsider David Petraeus crack plan to start allying with al Qaeda to fight (he says) ISIS. As I noted at the time, he engaged in a lot of making shite up, including not only “the Surge” (which he will spin until his dying day), but also what he was doing at CIA.

 

I’m most interested in this claim:

Petraeus was the CIA director in early 2011 when the Syrian civil war erupted. At the time, he along with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly urged the Obama administration to work with moderate opposition forces. The U.S. didn’t, and many of those groups have since steered toward jihadist groups like the Nusra Front, which are better equipped and have had more success on the battlefield.

While it is true that Obama did not systematically arm rebels in Syria in 2011, it is also a public fact that the CIA was watching (and at least once doing more than that) Qatar and Saudi Arabia move arms from Libya before Petraeus’ departure in 2012, and Obama approved a covert finding to arm “moderate” rebels in April 2013, with CIA implementing that plan in June.

That’s all public and confirmed.

So how is it that we once again are pretending that the CIA — the agency Petraeus led as it oversaw a disastrous intervention in Libya that contributed to radicalization both there and in Syria — didn’t arm purported moderates who turned out not to be?

That is, Petraeus’ plan to ally with al Qaeda accompanies a false narrative about whether we had supported rebels, including al Qaeda affiliates, from the start.

The plan from those who got CIA to support rebels in 2013 (and arm them even earlier) and who kept pushing to train rebels after that is — now that blame is being assigned for the second attempt to arm them — to join with al Qaeda. Which we effectively did years ago.

On top of everything else, its a nice way to inoculate against what has happened, which is and always was going to be about strengthening Islamic fighters.

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.

David Petraeus, Whose Greatest Aptitude Lies in Rewriting History

As always in stories involving David Petraeus, this story about his plan to work with al Qaeda to defeat ISIS involves some rewriting or forgetting of history. There’s the fiction that what is usually called the surge but here is at least called co-opting members of al Qaeda “worked.”

The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quietly urging U.S. officials to consider using so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria, four sources familiar with the conversations, including one person who spoke to Petraeus directly, told The Daily Beast.

The heart of the idea stems from Petraeus’ experience in Iraq in 2007, when as part of a broader strategy to defeat an Islamist insurgency the U.S. persuaded Sunni militias to stop fighting with al Qaeda and to work with the American military.

The tactic worked, at least temporarily. But al Qaeda in Iraq was later reborn as ISIS, and has become the sworn enemy of its parent organization. Now, Petraeus is returning to his old play, advocating a strategy of co-opting rank-and-file members of al Nusra, particularly those who don’t necessarily share all of core al Qaeda’s Islamist philosophy. [my emphasis]

To be fair to the Daily Beast, they call it a “tactic,” not a strategy, which is correct and part of the problem with it — it provides no path to lasting peace and can easily lead to the metastasis of new violent groups — as DB makes clear happened with the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq. The description of how Petraeus engaged the Sons of Iraq also neglects to mention the financial payoff, which seems important both to understand the play but also its limitations. Thus far, though, DB at least hints as why Petraeus’ plan is so batshit crazy.

Then there’s the silence in the story about how every attempt to train allied troops that Petraeus has been involved with has turned to shit: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. That seems worth mentioning.

But I’m most interested in this claim:

Petraeus was the CIA director in early 2011 when the Syrian civil war erupted. At the time, he along with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reportedly urged the Obama administration to work with moderate opposition forces. The U.S. didn’t, and many of those groups have since steered toward jihadist groups like the Nusra Front, which are better equipped and have had more success on the battlefield.

While it is true that Obama did not systematically arm rebels in Syria in 2011, it is also a public fact that the CIA was watching (and at least once doing more than that) Qatar and Saudi Arabia move arms from Libya before Petraeus’ departure in 2012, and Obama approved a covert finding to arm “moderate” rebels in April 2013, with CIA implementing that plan in June.

That’s all public and confirmed.

So how is it that we once again are pretending that the CIA — the agency Petraeus led as it oversaw a disastrous intervention in Libya that contributed to radicalization both there and in Syria — didn’t arm purported moderates who turned out not to be?

In other words, the story here should be, “David Petraeus, after overseeing a series of failed training efforts and covert efforts that led to increased radicalization, wants to try again.”

Which would make it even more clear how crazy this idea is.

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.

Maybe Petraeus’ Plea Deal Is More Interesting to the Benghazi Report than Hillary’s Emails?

There is an exception to every rule, standard operating procedure, and poli­cy; it is up to leaders to determine when exceptions should be made and to ex­plain why they made them.

David Petraeus’ Rules for Living, as presented by Paula Broadwell as they were being caught in an FBI investigation

Predictably, Trey Gowdy has subpoenaed more information about Hillary Clinton’s email personal email revealed this week.

But it seems he also ought to call David Petraeus in for another chat about Benghazi in light of details in the former CIA Director’s plea deal.

That’s because the Plea Documents show that the investigation into Petraeus and Paula Broadwell intersects with the Benghazi investigation in ways that are even more interesting than was already clear. Consider what those two timelines look like when you add in the fact that Petraeus lied to the FBI about leaking information to his mistress on October 26, 2012, which has been updated from this post (note that contemporaneous reporting dated Petraeus’ FBI interview to October 29).

From the sex and leaking standpoint, the revised timeline is interesting because it shows Petraeus and Broadwell together at — of all places! — the annual celebration for old-style subterfuge, the OSS dinner, between the time Petraeus lied to the FBI and the time Broadwell was interviewed a second time.

But from a Benghazi perspective, it shows that on the same day Petraeus lied to the FBI, Paula Broadwell made the accusation that the attack was really about freeing militia members held at the CIA annex. The next day Petraeus and Broadwell hobnobbed together among the old style spooks. and then days later — even as an FBI whistleblower was forcing the investigation into the public, without which it might have been dropped — Petraeus went on a “fact-finding” mission to Cairo, in part to consult with some of the people involved in the Benghazi response.

Petraeus did a report on that trip, but Dianne Feinstein was complaining that her committee had not received a copy of it on November 12 (Petraeus was resisting, in part, because he no longer worked at CIA).

There’s no evidence that the House Intelligence Committee consulted Petraeus’ trip report when they did their report on the attack. (Indeed, the report shows remarkable lack of interest in Petraeus’ role altogether, in spite of the fact that he watched the later parts of the attack develop via the drone surveillance camera feed piped to the SCIF at his home.)

Did either of the Intelligence Committees ever get the report on the trip Petraeus did after he knew he was in trouble with the FBI, at a time when his ex-girlfriend was claiming the reason behind the attack was entirely different from what we’ve been told?

As I’ve noted, more than anyone else, current HPSCI Chair Devin Nunes showed significant interest in that claim about detainees, as reflected in the backup to a report that Mike Rogers made sure to get done before he left Nunes in charge. In response to his question (as well as some questions about arms-running) Nunes got non-denials denials.

In a related detail, in the earlier session Nunes also elicited a non-denial denial about detainees (and accusation first leveled by David Petraeus’ mistress Paula Broadwell), the other alleged reason for the attack on US entities in Benghazi.

Mr. Nunes: Okay. To the detainees, were there ever any detainees at either of these locations in the last year of any kind?

Mr. Morell: Not with regard to the CIA facility, sir.

Mr. Kennedy: And the State Department does not engage in detentions overseas.

Rather than just answering no, between them Morell and Kennedy carved out a space where it might be possible the CIA (or someone else, possibly JSOC) were holding detainees at the TMF or elsewhere in Benghazi.

Maybe Petraeus’ last minute trip to do a personal investigation of the aftermath of Benghazi — the results of which Petraeus resisted sharing with the Committees investigating the attack — is just a coinkydink.

But given the timing — and Petraeus’ sweetheart plea deal — it’d be nice if the Benghazi Committee asked a few more questions about that coinkydink. Read more

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.

Anas al-Libi Dies of Cancer before Trial

Back in an October post laying out Abu Anas al-Libi’s challenge of the interrogation he underwent on a Navy ship, I wrote,

Meanwhile, the government is not providing al-Libi cancer treatment doctors at Duke said during the summer he needs to address liver cancer. Maybe the government is just hoping al-Libi will succumb to cancer before he can press these issues?

The WaPo just reported,

A suspected al-Qaeda terrorist died Friday night just days before he was slated to go on trial in New York on charges of helping plan the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, his lawyer said.

Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer after U.S. commandos and FBI agents captured him in a 2013 raid outside his house in a suburb of Tripoli.

His lawyer, Bernard Kleinman, said his client’s condition had deteriorated significantly in the last month. Kleinman said Ruqai, 50, died at a hospital in the New York area.

Welp, if having al-Libi die before trial was the idea, Mission Accomplished.

Update: Here’s al-Libi’s lawyer’s letter from October raising concerns about delays in his cancer treatment.

At the same time MIr. al Liby had been scheduled to have a surgical procedure done (a bland arterial embolization) designed to hopefully retard the spread of his liver cancel’. This procedure was scheduled for Duke Cancel’ Center the beginning of August. To date it has not been done. It is now two and one-half months later and he is still waiting – with no explanation whatsoever. This, with all due respect, is inexcusable. This surgical procedure, recommended by Dr. White, an oncological surgeon at Duke Cancel’ Center (and endorsed by all of the other physicians), needs to be done with all deliberate speed.

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.

Benghazi: A Poster Child for Covert Ops Blowback

You’ve no doubt heard that, last Friday (a pre-holiday Friday, as some people are already on their way to Thanksgiving), the Benghazi scandal ended with a fizzle.

The House Intelligence Committee released its report on the Benghazi attack, which basically says all the scandal mongering has been wrong, that Susan Rice’s talking points came from the CIA, that no one held up any rescue attempts, and so on and so on. This post will attempt to lay out why that might have happened. The short version, however, is that the report reveals (but does not dwell on) a number of failures on the part of the CIA that should raise real concerns about Syria.

Note that not all Republicans were as polite as the ultimate report. Mike Rogers, Jeff Miller, Jack Conaway, and Peter King released an additional views report, making precisely the points you’d expect them to — though it takes them until the 4th summary bullet to claim that Administration officials “perpetuated an inaccurate story that matched the Administration’s misguided view that the United States was nearing victory over al-Qa’ida.” Democrats released their own report noting that “there was no AQ mastermind” and that “extremists who were already well-armed and well-trained took advantage of regional violence” to launch the attack. Among the Republicans who presumably supported the middle ground were firebrands like Michele Bachmann and Mike Pompeo, as well as rising Chair Devin Nunes (as you’ll see, Nunes was a lot more interested in what the hell CIA was doing in Benghazi than Rogers). The day after the initial release Rogers released a second statement defending — and pointing to the limits of and Additional Views on — his report.

Now consider what this report is and is not.

The report boasts about the 1000s of hours of work and 1000s of pages of intelligence review, as well as 20 committee events, interviews with “senior intelligence officials” and 8 security personnel (whom elsewhere the report calls “the eight surviving U.S. personnel”) who were among the eyewitnesses in Benghazi. But the bulk of the report is sourced to 10 interviews (the 8 security guys, plus the Benghazi and Tripoli CIA Chiefs), and a November 15, 2012 presentation by James Clapper, Mike Morell, Matt Olsen, and Patrick Kennedy. (Here are  the slides from that briefing: part onepart two.) As I’ll show, this means some of the claims in this report are not sourced to the people who directly witnessed the events. And the reports sources almost nothing to David Petraeus, who was CIA Director at the time.

The FBI analyzed the intelligence better than CIA did

One of the best explanations for why this is such a tempered report may be that FBI performed better analysis of the cause of the attack than CIA did. This is somewhat clear from the summary (though buried as the 4th bullet):

There was no protest. The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012, when closed caption television footage became available on September 18, 2012 (two days after Ambassador Susan Rice spoke), and after the FBI began publishing its interviews with U.S. officials on the ground on September 22, 2012.

That is, one reason Susan Rice’s talking points said what they did is because CIA’s analytical reports still backed the claim there had been a protest outside State’s Temporary Mission Facility.

Moreover, in sustaining its judgment there had been a protest as long as it did, CIA was actually ignoring both a report from Tripoli dated September 14, and the assessment of the Chief of Station in Tripoli, who wrote the following to Mike Morell on September 15.

We lack any ground-truth information that protest actually occurred, specifically in the vicinity of the consulate and leading up to the attack. We therefore judge events unfolded in a much different manner than in Tunis, Cairo, Khartoum, and Sanaa, which appear to the the result of escalating mob violence.

In a statement for the record issued in April 2014, Mike Morell explained that Chiefs of Station “do not/not make analytic calls for the Agency.” But it’s not clear whether Morell explained why CIA appears to have ignored their own officer.

While the report doesn’t dwell on this fact, the implication is that the FBI was more successful at interviewing people on the ground — including CIA officers!! — to rebut a common assumption arising from public reporting. That’s a condemnation of CIA’s analytical process, not to mention a suggestion FBI is better at collecting information from humans than CIA is. But HPSCI doesn’t seem all that worried about these CIA failures in its core missions.

Or maybe CIA failed for some other reason. Read more

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.

60 Minutes’ Response Is Still Inadequate

60 Minutes has released the results of its review of Lara Logan’s ridiculous story on Benghazi. In response, they’re putting Logan and the producer of the story on administrative leave for an undisclosed period of time.

I guess if Dan Rather were prettier he’d still be working at 60 Minutes.

And even with Logan’s leave, their response is still inadequate. Check out the first two bullets in their internal report.

–From the start, Lara Logan and her producing team were looking for a different angle to the story of the Benghazi attack. They believed they found it in the story of Dylan Davies, written under the pseudonym, “Morgan Jones”. It purported to be the first western eyewitness account of the attack. But Logan’s report went to air without 60 Minutes knowing what Davies had told the FBI and the State Department about his own activities and location on the night of the attack.

–The fact that the FBI and the State Department had information that differed from the account Davies gave to 60 Minutes was knowable before the piece aired. But the wider reporting resources of CBS News were not employed in an effort to confirm his account. It’s possible that reporters and producers with better access to inside FBI sources could have found out that Davies had given varying and conflicting accounts of his story. [my emphasis]

All the focus on this story has been on what Jones AKA Davies told the FBI. But as 60 Minutes notes (and I reported weeks ago), Jones AKA Davies’ story also conflicted in significant ways with the publicly released Accountability Review Board. And while the report didn’t attribute the many failures of Jones AKA Davies’ employees to an interview with him directly, the scathing review of Blue Mountain Group’s (and therefore Jones AKA Davies’) performance provided obvious motive for Jones AKA Davies to lie (in part, because his failures contributed to getting Chris Stevens killed).

So while it’s nice that 60 Minutes expresses some embarrassment they didn’t get people with better sources at CBS (including the CBS people who used to work at FBI) to double check Jones AKA Davies’ story with the FBI, I’m really wondering if they have an explanation for why, over a year of work, neither Logan nor her producer did something as simple as a Google search?

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.

McClatchy Debunks the Latest Libyan Left Behind Novel

60 Minutes Current ViewMcClatchy has done the long overdue work of debunking the entirety of the 60 Minutes piece on Benghazi.

Much of their line-by-line debunking serves to point out that 60 Minutes’ repeated claims that “al Qaeda” was responsible for the attack is not based in any known evidence (and in at least one case conflicts with what a Benghazi investigator had to say).

But I’m particularly interested in McClatchy’s debunking of CBS’ claim to have found a page from Chris Stevens’ itinerary on an October visit to the compound.

But the compound owner, Jamal el Bishari, told McClatchy on Wednesday that he began clearing debris in April from the compound’s four buildings and is still renovating the site. McClatchy visited the site in June and saw a pile of debris sitting outside the compound walls, but no documents were discernible among the broken concrete, clothing, furniture and soot.

Bishari said it is unlikely such a document could have been discovered recently.

“It is impossible to find a document now,” he told McClatchy.

In “60 Minutes Overtime”, an addendum to the piece that was available online and outlined how CBS spent a year reporting the story, the piece’s producer, Max McClellan, explained how the program obtained the schedule.

“The person who shot this footage has a lot of experience in Libya and through his network of contacts on the ground in Benghazi, he was able to access the compound. It was closed, guarded, but through relatives of people he had gotten to know over the years, he was able to get in and take these pictures for us,” McClellan said. “We did not expect that we would find the U.S. compound in the state that we found it. There was still debris and ammunition boxes and a whiteboard that had the day’s assignment for the security personnel at the compound as of September 11, 2012.”

El Bishari said that he could not remember when he removed the remnants of the attack as part of the renovation, but what McClatchy’s June visit showed was that little debris remained inside the compound then. A local journalist who visited the site in September on assignment for Fox News told McClatchy Tuesday that any documents that remained at the site then would have been inconsequential. He returned to the site Tuesday at McClatchy’s request and took photos, which showed that the debris piles evident in June had been removed.

CBS spokesman Tedesco declined to respond to a specific question of “whether it was a CBS News employee or someone else who went to the site” or “when and how exactly he/she found the document?” [my emphasis]

This evidence suggests the video 60 Minutes claimed had been taken in October were taken at some other time. From the description of McClatchy’s visit in June, it sounds like the images were taken even before June.

And all that addresses just the debris shown, not the paper that purportedly survived a fire and lay untouched for over a year.

But the underlying question is why? Why present a piece of paper as some kind of talisman? And where did they really come from, and why?

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.

“Morgan Jones'” Blue Mountain Whitewash

One thing that surprises me about this whole 60 Minutes “Morgan Jones” fiasco is that no one mentions that, regardless of whether “Jones” lied to his supervisor about running to the compound or not, it’s clear he lied to his supervisor about Chris Stevens’ death. As I noted earlier, the incident report (which the FBI has leaked matches his interview with them) says,

I kept quiet about the Ambassadors [sic] death as I knew there would be huge repercussions.

Assuming “Jones'” company was what it claims to be — a security firm — he had been involved in the worst possible disaster, the death of the principal, and he didn’t warn his boss. Even within the scope of the incident report, it’s clear he lied.

The ARB version

With all that in mind, I want to compare what the State Department Accountability Review Board said about BMG’s performance (they refer to it as Blue Mountain Libya, BML) with the two versions “Jones” has offered.

The ARB admitted that BMG guards were unarmed.

The Special Mission also had an unarmed, contract local guard force (LGF), Blue Mountain Libya (BML), which provided five guards per eight-hour shift, 24/7, to open and close the gates, patrol the compound, and give warning in case of an attack.

But it also found they had failed to fulfill one of their primary duties, perimeter patrols.

The Board found the responses by both BML and February 17 to be inadequate. No BML guards were present outside the compound immediately before the attack ensued, although perimeter security was one of their responsibilities,

[snip]

Although the unarmed BML guards could not be expected to repel an attack, they had core responsibility for providing early warning and controlling access to the compound, which they had not always performed well in the past.

In addition, ARB raised questions about whether the BMG guards had run away and left the gate open, facilitating the quick assault on the compound.

In the final analysis, the Board could not determine exactly how the C1 gate at the Special Mission compound was breached, but the speed with which attackers entered raised the possibility that BML guards left the C1 pedestrian gate open after initially seeing the attackers and fleeing the vicinity. They had left the gate unlatched before.

Finally, there are conflicting stories about whether the BMG guards even sounded the first alarm — or any alarm — before attackers had already started streaming into the compound.

and there is conflicting information as to whether they sounded any alarms prior to fleeing the C1 gate area to other areas of the SMC.

[snip]

Around the same time, the TDY RSO working in the TOC heard shots and an explosion. He then saw via security camera dozens of individuals, many armed, begin to enter the compound through the main entrance at the C1 gate. He hit the duck and cover alarm and yelled a warning over the radio, and recalled no such warning from the February 17 or BML guards, who had already begun to flee to points south and east in the compound, towards the Villa B area. ARSOs 1 and 2 heard an attack warning from the BML guards passed on over the radio.

About the only contribution BMG made to security for the compound, the ARB reports, was in noticing a man uniformed as a police officer scoping out the compound earlier that morning.

At approximately 0645 local that morning, a BML contract guard saw an unknown individual in a Libyan Supreme Security Council (SSC) police uniform apparently taking photos of the compound villas with a cell phone from the second floor of a building under construction across the street to the north of the SMC. Read more

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.