At a panel on secrecy yesterday, Bob Litt proclaimed that the NYT “disgraced itself” for publishing names, some of which were widely known, of the people who were conducting our equally widely known secret war on drones.
Did the NYT “disgrace itself” for publishing a column by Maureen Dowd that covers over some of the more unsavory female CIA officers — notably, Alfreda Bikowsky — who have nevertheless been celebrated by the Agency?
I’d submit that, yes, the latter was a far more disgraceful act, regardless of the credit some of the more sane female CIA officers deserve, because it was propaganda delivered on demand, and delivered for an agency that would squawk Espionage Act had the NYT published the same details in other circumstances.
Keep that in mind as you read this post from Jack Goldsmith, claiming — without offering real evidence — that this reflects a new “erosion of norms” against publishing classified information.
I mean, sure, I agree the NYT decision was notable. But it’s only notable because comes after a long series of equally notable events — events upping the tension underlying the secrecy system — that Goldsmith doesn’t mention.
There’s the norm — broken by some of the same people the NYT names, as well as Jose Rodriguez before them — that when you take on the most senior roles at CIA, you drop your cover. By all appearances, as CIA has engaged in more controversial and troubled programs, it has increasingly protected the architects of those programs by claiming they’re still undercover, when that cover extends only to the public, and not to other countries, even adversarial ones. That is, CIA has broken the old norm to avoid any accountability for its failures and crimes.
Then there’s the broken norm — exhibited most spectacularly in the Torture Report — of classifying previously unclassified details, such as the names of all the lawyers who were involved in the torture program.
There’s the increasing amounts of official leaking — up to and including CIA cooperating with Zero Dark Thirty to celebrate the work of Michael D’Andrea — all while still pretending that D’Andrea was still under cover.
Can we at least agree that if CIA has decided a Hollywood propagandistic version of D’Andrea’s is not classified, then newspapers can treat his actual career as such? Can we at least agree that as soon as CIA has invited Hollywood into Langley to lionize people, the purportedly classified identities of those people — and the actual facts of their career — will no longer be granted deference?
And then, finally, there’s CIA’s (and the Intelligence Community generally) serial lying. When Bob Litt’s boss makes egregious lies to Congress to cover up for the even more egregious lies Keith Alexander offered up when he played dress-up hacker at DefCon, and when Bob Litt continues to insist that James Clapper was not lying when everyone knows he was lying, then Litt’s judgement about who “disgraced” themselves or not loses sway.
All the so-called norms Goldsmith nostalgically presents without examination rest on a kind of legitimacy that must be earned. The Executive has squandered that legitimacy, and with it any trust for its claims about the necessity of the secrets it keeps.
Goldsmith and Litt are asking people to participate with them in a kind of propagandistic dance, sustaining assertions as “true” when they aren’t. That’s the habit of a corrupt regime. They’d do well to reflect on what kind of sickness they’re actually asking people to embrace before they start accusing others of disgraceful behavior.
Yesterday, WSJ caused a stink by reporting that the Obama Administration was pissed because Israel had shared intelligence it gathered about the Iran negotiations and shared it with Congress.
Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.
The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.
The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.
“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.
The story is not new. Earlier in the month, there were complaints in the conservative press the US had cut intelligence sharing with Israel because of its cherry picking of intelligence. And Bibi himself got caught trying to withhold an intelligence briefing from Senators on a codel.
Obviously, I’m not the least bit sympathetic to Bibi’s disinformation campaign.
But the Administration has brought this on itself. As I noted last year, the Committees have had to go begging for the intelligence they need to do their job (in this case, to craft an AUMF to fight ISIL).
As I noted in my Salon piece last week, former Associate Counsel to the White House Andy Wright noted, and today Jack Goldsmith and Marty Lederman note, Tom Udall suggested before Congress funds overt training of Syrian opposition groups, maybe they should learn details about how the covert funding of Syrian opposition groups worked out.
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?
Kerry, who had been sitting right next to Hagel when the Defense Secretary confirmed this covert op a year ago, said he couldn’t provide any details.
I know it’s been written about, in the public domain that there is, quote, a covert operation. But I can’t confirm, deny, whatever.
(At the end of the hearing he suggested he has been pushing to share more information, and that he might be able to arrange for the Chair and Ranking Member to be briefed.)
Shortly thereafter, SFRC Bob Menendez confirmed that his committee was being asked to legislate about a war with no details about the covert op that had laid the groundwork for — and created the urgency behind — that war.
To the core question that you raise, this is a problem that both the Administration, as well as the Senate leadership must be willing to deal with. Because when it comes to questions of being briefed on covert operations this committee does not have access to that information. Yet it is charged with a responsibility of determining whether or not the people of the United States should — through their Representatives — support an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. It is unfathomable to me to understand how this committee is going to get to those conclusions without understanding all of the elements of military engagement both overtly and covertly. … I’ll call it, for lack of a better term, a procedural hurdle we’re going to have to overcome if we want the information to make an informed judgment and get members on board.
That’s only going to increase the thirst for intelligence wherever members of Congress can get it (though interestingly, Bob Corker, currently the Senate Foreign Relations Chair, says he hasn’t been getting Bibi’s special briefings).
Information may be power, and the Obama Administration may like hoarding that power. But the vacuum that it leaves can itself exert a lot of power.
Update: I hadn’t seen this Yahoo interview with Bob Corker. But he complains that he’s not getting intelligence. Instead, they bring Senators to a SCIF so we citizens can’t hear the questions.
Yahoo News: A bombshell Wall Street Journal story says the Israelis penetrated the Iranian talks and shared the information with Congress. Are you in a position to confirm any of that? And if the Israelis did what the Journal says they did, did they act appropriately?
Bob Corker: I have never found them actually to be sharing anything different than was in public sources. As I met with Netanyahu the last time, he said, ”You know, all this is Google-able — Yahoo-able!” For what it’s worth, I get more information about what’s happening from foreign ministers than I do from anyone. Not from Israel — foreign ministers that are part of the negotiating teams.
The White House is upset that foreign governments may be giving information to senators because they’re not? Every time they meet with us and give us information down in the classified SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) — they really do that so that none of you can hear questions that are asked — I never learn anything that I haven’t read about on Yahoo or New York Times or some other place.
We are now in the “final” week of negotiations to set the framework for the P5+1 long-term agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology. With so much in the balance, voices are popping up from every direction to offer their opinions on what constitutes a good or bad deal. While Netanyahu’s address to Congress dominated the headlines in that regard, other sources also have not held back on offering opinions. In the case of Netanyahu, informed observers considering his remarks knew in advance that Netanyahu considers Iran an “existential threat” to Israel and that violent regime change in Iran is his preferred mode of addressing Iran’s nuclear technology. When it comes to other opinions being offered, it is important to also have a clear view of the backgrounds of those offering opinions so that any biases they have can be brought into consideration.
With that in mind, the Washington Post has committed a gross violation of the concept of full disclosure in an Iran op/ed they published yesterday. I won’t go into the “substance” of this hit piece on Iran, suffice it note that the sensationalist headline (The Iran time bomb) warns us that the piece will come from an assumption that Iran seeks and will continue to seek a nuclear weapon regardless of what they agree to with P5+1.
The list of authors for this op/ed is an anti-Iran neocon’s wet dream. First up is Michael Hayden. The Post notes that Hayden led the CIA from 2006-2009 and the NSA from 1999 to 2005. I guess they don’t think it’s important to note that he now is a principal with the Chertoff Group and so stands to profit from situations in world politics that appear headed toward violence.
The third of the three authors is perhaps the least known, but he’s a very active fellow. Here is how Nima Shirazi describes Ray Takeyh:
Takeyh is a mainstay of the Washington establishment – a Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow before and after a stint in the Obama State Department and a founding member of the neoconservative-created Iran Strategy Task Force who has become a tireless advocate for the collective punishment of the Iranian population in a futile attempt to inspire homegrown regime change (if not, at times, all-out war against a third Middle Eastern nation in just over a decade). Unsurprisingly, he dismisses out of hand the notion that “the principal cause of disorder in the Middle East today is a hegemonic America seeking to impose its imperial template on the region.”
The Post, of course, doesn’t mention Takeyh’s association with the group Shirazi describes, nor his membership in another Iran Task Force organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Sandwiched between Hayden and Takeyh, though, is the Post’s biggest failure on disclosure. Olli Heinonen is described by the Post simply as “a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency”. As such, uninformed readers are likely to conclude that Heinonen is present among the authors to serve as a hefty dose of neutrality,given his background in the IAEA. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the Post fails to disclose is that Heinonen is also a prominent member of the Advisory Board of United Against Nuclear Iran.
Not only is UANI an advocacy group working against Iran, but they are currently embroiled in litigation in which it has been learned that UANI has come into possession of state secrets from the United States. The Department of Justice has weighed in on the UANI case, urging the judge to throw the case out on the grounds that continuing to litigate it will disclose the US state secrets that UANI has obtained. Since the litigation involves UANI actions to “name and shame” companies it accuses of violating US sanctions against Iran, one can only assume that the state secrets leaked to UANI involve Iran.
How in the world could the Washington Post conclude that Heinonen’s role on the Advisory Board for United Against Nuclear Iran would not be something they should disclose in publishing his opinion piece entitled “The Iran time bomb”?
Oh, and lest we come to the conclusion that failing to note Heinonen’s UANI connection is a one-off thing in which Heinonen himself is innocent, noted AP transcriptionist of neocon anti-Iran rhetoric George Jahn used Heinonen in exactly the same way a month ago.
We can only conclude that Heinonen is happily doing the neocons’ bidding in their push for war with Iran.
Buzzfeed today revealed a key detail behind in the Matthew DeHart case: the content of the file which DeHart believes explains the government’s pursuit of him. In addition to details of CIA’s role in drone-targeting and some ag company’s role in killing 13,000 people, DeHart claims a document dropped onto his Tor server included details of FBI’s investigation into CIA’s possible role in the anthrax attack.
According to Matt, he was sitting at his computer at home in September 2009 when he received an urgent message from a friend. A suspicious unencrypted folder of files had just been uploaded anonymously to the Shell. When Matt opened the folder, he was startled to find documents detailing the CIA’s role in assigning strike targets for drones at the 181st.
Matt says he thought of his fellow airmen, some of whom knew about the Shell. “I’m not going to say who I think it was, but there was a lot of dissatisfaction in my unit about cooperating with the CIA,” he says. Intelligence analysts with the proper clearance (such as Manning and others) had access to a deep trove of sensitive data on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet, the classified computer network used by both the Defense and State departments.
As Matt read through the file, he says, he discovered even more incendiary material among the 300-odd pages of slides, documents, and handwritten notes. One folder contained what appeared to be internal documents from an agrochemical company expressing culpability for more than 13,000 deaths related to genetically modified organisms. There was also what appeared to be internal documents from the FBI, field notes on the bureau’s investigation into the worst biological attack in U.S. history: the anthrax-laced letters that killed five Americans and sickened 17 others shortly after Sept. 11.
Though the attacks were officially blamed on a government scientist who committed suicide after he was identified as a suspect, Matt says the documents on the Shell tell a far different story. It had already been revealed that the U.S. Army produced the Ames strain of anthrax — the same strain used in the Amerithrax attacks — at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. But the report built the case that the CIA was behind the attacks as part of an operation to fuel public terror and build support for the Iraq War.
Despite his intelligence training, Matt was no expert in government files, but this one, he insists, featured all the hallmarks of a legitimate document: the ponderous length, the bureaucratic nomenclature, the monotonous accumulation of detail. If it wasn’t the real thing, Matt thought, it was a remarkably sophisticated hoax. (The FBI declined requests for comment.)
Afraid of the repercussions of having seen the folder of files, Matt panicked, he claims, and deleted it from the server. But he says he kept screenshots of the dozen or so pages of the document that specifically related to the FBI investigation and the agrochemical matter, along with chat logs and passwords for the Shell, on two IronKey thumb drives, which he hid inside his gun case for safekeeping.
Is it possible DOJ would really go after DeHart for having seen and retaining part of that FBI file?
For what it’s worth, I think Bruce Ivins could not have been the sole culprit and it’s unlikely he was the culprit at all. I believe the possibility that a CIA-related entity, especially a contractor or an alumni, had a role in the anthrax attack to be possible. In my opinion, Batelle Labs in Ohio are the most likely source of the anthrax, not least because they’re close enough to New Jersey to have launched the attacks, but because — in addition to dismissing potential matches to the actual anthrax through a bunch of smoke (only looking for lone wolves) and mirrors (ignoring four of the potentially responsive samples) — Batelle did have a responsive sample of the anthrax. Though as a recently GAO report made clear, FBI didn’t even sample all the labs that had potentially responsive samples, so perhaps one of those labs should be considered a more likely source. Batelle does work for the CIA and just about everyone else, so if Batelle were involved, CIA involvement couldn’t be ruled out.
So I think it quite possible that FBI was investigating CIA or someone related to CIA in the attack. It’s quite possible, too, that someone might want to leak that information, as it has been clear for years that at least some in FBI were not really all that interested in solving the crime. Even the timing would make sense, coming as it would have in the wake of the FBI’s use of the Ivins suicide to stop looking for a culprit and even as the Obama Administration was beginning to hint it wasn’t all that interested in reviewing FBI’s investigation.
But there’s something odd about how this was allegedly leaked.
According to Buzzfeed, the anthrax investigation came in one unencrypted folder with the ag document and a document on drone targeting the source of which he thinks he knows (it would like have been a former colleague from the ANG).
How would it ever be possible that the same person would have access to all three of those things? While it’s possible the ag admission ended up in the government, even a DOJ investigation into such an admission would be in a different place than the FBI anthrax investigation, and both should be inaccessible to the ANG people working on SIPRNet.
That is, this feels like the Laptop of Death, which included all the documents you’d want to argue that Iran had an active and advanced nuclear weapons program, but which almost certainly would never all end up on the same laptop at the same time.
And, given DeHart’s belief reported elsewhere this was destined for WikiLeaks, I can’t help but remember the Defense Intelligence Agency report which noted that WikiLeaks might be susceptible to disinformation (not to mention the HB Gary plot to discredit WikiLeaks, but that came later).
This raises the possibility that the Wikileaks.org Web site could be used to post fabricated information; to post misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda; or to conduct perception management and influence operations designed to convey a negative message to those who view or retrieve information from the Web site
That is, given how unlikely it would be to find these juicy subjects all together in one folder, I do wonder whether they’re all authentic (though DeHart would presumably be able to assess the authenticity of the drone targeting documents).
And DeHart no longer has the documents in question — Canada hasn’t given them back.
Paul told the agents that his family had evidence to back up their account: court documents, medical records, and affidavits — along with the leaked FBI document Matt had found that exposed an explosive secret. It was all on two encrypted thumb drives, which Matt later pulled off a lanyard around his neck and handed to the guards.
If Matt is, in fact, wrongly accused, answers could be on the thumb drives taken by the Canada Border Services Agency, which have yet to be returned to the DeHarts. But without access to the leaked files Matt claims to have seen, there is no way to verify whether he was actually in possession of them, and, if he was, whether they’re authentic.
Though at least one person (a friend in London? Any association with WikiLeaks?) may have a copy.
Inside a hotel room in Monterrey, Mexico, Matt says he copied the Shell files onto a handful of thumb drives. He mailed one to a friend outside London, and several others to locations he refuses to disclose. He also says he sent one to himself in care of his grandmother, which he later retrieved for himself. When the subject of the drives comes up, Matt acts circumspect because, he says, he knows that our communications are being monitored.
There’s definitely something funky about this story. Importantly, it’s not just DeHart and his family that are acting like something’s funky — the government is too.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the FBI thinks CIA did the anthrax attack.
In a letter to the NYT complaining that the paper compared his client, David Petraeus, with Stephen Kim and John Kiriakou, defense attorney David Kendall implicitly makes the argument that mistress-biographers have a better recognized privilege to access classified information than defense attorneys. (h/t Steven Aftergood via Josh Gerstein)
Now, far be it for me to criticize Kendall’s lawyering ability. After all, his firm, Williams & Connolly, has developed quite the expertise for getting well-connected Republicans off for leaking covert officers’ identities, having done so for Ari Fleischer, Dick Cheney, and now David Petraeus.
But his letter is ridiculous on both the facts and his rebuttal of the comparison, at least as it pertains to John Kiriakou.
First, Kendall omits key facts in his depiction of Petraeus’ crimes.
General Petraeus’s case is about the unlawful removal and improper storage of classified materials, not the dissemination of such materials to the public. Indeed, a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement and signed by both General Petraeus and the Justice Department makes clear that “no classified information” from his “black books” (personal notebooks) that were given to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, appeared in the biography.
He notes the plea deal “makes clear that ‘no classified information’ from his ‘black books’ … appeared in the biography.” That’s a very different thing than claiming that no classified information Petraeus shared with Broadwell appeared in her fawning biography of his client — and the record seems to suggest that it does.
Kendall also neglects to mention that this case is also about his client, just days after applauding Kiriakou’s plea, lying to the FBI. While, through the good grace of Kendall’s lawyering, Petraeus has gotten off scot free for a crime that others do years of prison time for, Petraeus nevertheless admitted that he committed that crime.
Indeed, as Abbe Lowell has made clear, that’s what prevented Kim from getting precisely the sweet deal that Petraeus has gotten, his alleged lies to the FBI.
But I’m even more disgusted by Kendall’s cynical treatment of Kiriakou’s crime.
By contrast, Stephen J. Kim arranged for the publication of highly sensitive classified information from an intelligence report on North Korea’s military capabilities, and John C. Kiriakou revealed the identities of covert C.I.A. agents, a betrayal of colleagues “whose secrecy is their only safety,” in the words of a government attorney.
Reporters, like biographers, are frequently given access to sensitive information on the understanding that they will not publicize it, and it is hypocritical for The Times to argue for leniency for Mr. Kim and Mr. Kiriakou and harshness for General Petraeus.
Note how Kendall doesn’t describe to whom Kiriakou “revealed the identities of covert C.I.A. agents” [a factual error — Kiriakou was only accused of leaking one covert officer’s identity]? The answer is he revealed the identity of a torturer to a journalist who was working for defense attorneys defending people that torturer had tortured.
Now, clearly, Kendall does defend the right of journalists to receive such classified information if they don’t publicly disclose it. That’s what he argues Petraeus’ mistress has done (the evidence notwithstanding). So according to Kendall’s lawyering, providing that covert officer’s identity to a reporter who didn’t disclose it publicly — which is what happened in Kiriakou’s case — should have gotten Kiriakou probation.
Ultimately though, Kendall doesn’t even deal with the fact that, whatever scant privilege journalists and mistress-biographers have been granted in this country, defense attorneys have generally been granted more, for good reason. Thus, by all measures, Kiriakou made no worse, and arguably a much more legally defensible disclosure of a CIA officer’s identity than the multiple covert officers’ identities Petraeus exposed to his mistress and anyone else who decided to peruse his unlocked desk drawer.
I mean, I never really expect people in Petraeus’ vicinity to do anything but fluff his reputation; Petraeus has an infallible ability in eliciting that from people he permits to get close (or closer, in the case of Broadwell).
But I am rather surprised that a defense attorney is arguing he should have fewer privileges than a mistress-biographer.
In early 2010, Chelsea Manning discovered that a group of people Iraq’s Federal Police were treating as insurgents were instead trying to call attention to Nuri al-Malki’s corruption. When she alerted her supervisors to that fact, they told her to “drop it,” and instead find more people who were publishing “anti-Iraqi literature” calling out Maliki’s corruption.
On 27 February 2010, a report was received from a subordinate battalion. The report described an event in which the FP detained fifteen (15) individuals for printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” By 2 March 2010, I received instructions from an S3 section officer in the 2-10BCT Tactical Operations Center to investigate the matter, and figure out who these “bad guys” were, and how significant this event was for the FP.
Over the course of my research, I found that none of the individuals had previous ties with anti-Iraqi actions or suspected terrorist or militia groups. A few hours later, I received several photos from the scene from the subordinate battalion.
I printed a blown up copy of the high-resolution photo, and laminated it for ease of storage and transfer. I then walked to the TOC and delivered the laminated copy to our category 2 interpreter. She reviewed the information and about a half-hour later delivered a rough written transcript in English to the S2 section.
I read the transcript, and followed up with her, asking for her take on its contents. She said it was easy for her to transcribe verbatim since I blew up the photograph and laminated it. She said the general nature of the document was benign. The documentation, as I assessed as well, was merely a scholarly critique of the then-current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. It detailed corruption within the cabinet of al-Maliki’s government, and the financial impact of this corruption on the Iraqi people.
After discovering this discrepancy between FP’s report, and the interpreter’s transcript, I forwarded this discovery, in person to the TO OIC and Battle NCOIC.
The TOC OIC and, the overhearing Battlecaptain, informed me they didn’t need or want to know this information any more. They told me to “drop it” and to just assist them and the FP in finding out where more of these print shops creating “anti-Iraqi literature” might be. I couldn’t believe what I heard, (24-25)
At the time, David Petraeus was the head of CENTCOM, the very top of the chain of command that had ordered Manning to “drop” concerns about Iraqis being detained for legitimate opposition to Maliki’s corruption.
Manning would go on to leak more documents showing US complicity in Iraqi abuses, going back to 2004. None of those documents were classified more than Secret. Her efforts (in part) to alert Americans to the abuse the military chain of command in Iraq was ignoring won her a 35-year sentence in Leavenworth.
Compare that to David Petraeus who pretends, to this day, Maliki’s corruption was not known and not knowable before the US withdrew troops in 2011, who pretends the US troops under his command did not ignore, even facilitate, Maliki’s corruption.
What went wrong?
The proximate cause of Iraq’s unraveling was the increasing authoritarian, sectarian and corrupt conduct of the Iraqi government and its leader after the departure of the last U.S. combat forces in 2011. The actions of the Iraqi prime minister undid the major accomplishment of the Surge. (They) alienated the Iraqi Sunnis and once again created in the Sunni areas fertile fields for the planting of the seeds of extremism, essentially opening the door to the takeover of the Islamic State. Some may contend that all of this was inevitable. Iraq was bound to fail, they will argue, because of the inherently sectarian character of the Iraqi people. I don’t agree with that assessment.
The tragedy is that political leaders failed so badly at delivering what Iraqis clearly wanted — and for that, a great deal of responsibility lies with Prime Minister Maliki.
Unlike Manning, Petraeus adheres to a myth, the myth that this war was not lost 12 years ago, when George Bush ordered us to invade based on a pack of lies, when Petraeus and his fellow commanders failed to bring security after the invasion (largely through the priorities of their superiors), when Paul Bremer decided to criminalize the bureaucracy that might have restored stability — and a secular character — to Iraq.
Of course, Petraeus’ service to that myth is no doubt a big part of the reason he can continue to influence public opinion from the comfort of his own home as he prepares to serve his 2 years of probation for leaking code word documents, documents far more sensitive than those Manning leaked, as opposed to the 35 years in Leavenworth Manning received.
Which is, of course, a pretty potent symbol of our own corruption.
As part of its cooperation with New Zealand’s best journalist on that country’s SIGINT activities, Nicky Hager, the Intercept has published a story on the targets of a particular XKeyscore query (note: these stories say the outlets obtained this document; they don’t actually say they obtained it from Edward Snowden): top officials in the Solomon Islands and an anti-corruption activist there.
Aside from the targets, which I’ll get to, the story is interesting because it shows in greater detail than we’ve seen what an XKS query looks like. It’s a fairly standard computer query, though initiated by the word “fingerprint.” Some of it is consistent with what Snowden has described fingerprints to include: all the correlated identities that might be associated with a search. The query searches on jremobatu — presumably an email unique name — and James Remobatu, for example. As I have noted, if they wanted to target all the online activities of one particularly person — say, me! — they would add on all the known identifiers, so emptywheel, @emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler, and all the cookies they knew to be associated with me.
What’s interesting, though, is this query is not seeking email or other Internet communication per se. It appears to be seeking documents, right out of a file labeled Solomon government documents. Those may have been pulled and stored as attachments on emails. But the query highlights the degree to which XKS sucks up everything, including documents.
Finally, consider the target of the query. As both articles admit, the reason behind some of the surveillance is understandable, if sustained. Australia and New Zealand had peacekeepers in the Solomons to deal with ethnic tensions there, though were withdrawing by January 2013 when the query was done. The query included related keywords.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s the islands suffered from ethnic violence known as “The Tensions.” This led to the 2003 deployment to the Solomons of New Zealand, Australian and Pacific Island police and military peacekeepers. By January 2013, the date of the target list, both New Zealand and Australia were focused on withdrawing their forces from the island country and by the end of that year they were gone.
The XKEYSCORE list shows New Zealand was carrying out surveillance of several terms associated with militant groups on the island, such as “former tension militants,” and “malaita eagle force.” But with the security situation stabilized by 2013, it is unclear why New Zealand spies appear to have continued an expansive surveillance operation across the government, even tailoring XKEYSCORE to intercept information about an anti-corruption campaigner.
More specifically, however, the query was targeting not the militants, but the Truth and Reconciliation process in the wake of the violence.
I would go further than these articles, however, and say I’m not surprised the Five Eyes spied on a Truth and Reconciliation process. I would fully expect NSA’s “customer” CIA to ask it to track the South African and Colombian Truth and Reconciliation processes, because the CIA collaborated in the suppression of the opposition in both cases (going so far as providing the intelligence behind Nelson Mandela’s arrest in the former case). While I have no reason to expect CIA was involved in the Solomons, I would expect one or more of the myriad intelligence agencies in the Five Eyes country was, particularly given the presence of Aussie and Kiwi peacekeepers there. And they would want to know how their role were being exposed as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process. This query would likely show that.
Which brings me to the point the activist in question, Benjamin Afuga (who sometimes publishes leaked documents) made: this spying, which would definitely detail all cooperation between him and the government, might also reveal his sources.
Benjamin Afuga, the anti-corruption campaigner, said he was concerned the surveillance may have exposed some of the sources of the leaks he publishes online.
“I’m an open person – just like an open book,” Afuga said. “I don’t have anything else other than what I’m doing as a whistleblower and someone who exposes corruption. I don’t really understand what they are looking for. I have nothing to hide.”
Ah, but Afuga does have things to hide: his sources. And again, if one or another Five Eyes country had intelligence operatives involved both during the tensions and in the peace keeping process, they would definitely want to know them.
Again, this is all standard spying stuff. I expect CIA (or any other HUMINT agency) would want to know if they’re being talked about and if so by whom — I even expect CIA does a more crude version of this within the US about some of its most sensitive topics, not least because of the way they went after the SSCI Torture investigators.
But this query does provide a sense of just how powerful this spying is in a world when our communications aren’t encrypted.
Sorry to be all Petraeus-centric.
But I wanted to follow up on one more detail about his plea deal, because it has been a point of discussion on whether he faces an appropriate punishment.
A number of people are saying that Paula Broadwell did not publish any classified information that David Petraeus shared with her.
Do we actually know that?
I’m not sure whether we know that to be true or not. What the plea deal says (and unless I’m mistaken, all it says) is that she did not publish any information from his Black Books, those notebooks full of code word intelligence and covert operatives identities and deliberative conversations with NSC.
No classified information from the Black Books appeared in the aforementioned biography.
That’s different from saying that he did not share and she did not publish any classified information.
This plea deal, as all plea deals I’ve seen do, notes that not everything known is in the plea deal.
This Factual Basis does not attempt to set forth all the facts known to the United States at this time.
The early stories on this leak suggested that FBI saw things in their emails and in things seized from her home that suggested he had shared classified information with Broadwell. The Black Books were likely the most classified thing he shared with her (one would hope), but that leaves open the possibility that he shared a lot less classified information (which would be less problematic to share with a Reserve Officer, but not if she published it).
I don’t know one way or another. But unless I’m mistaken, neither does anyone else, based on the public record. Clearly DOJ wanted to set Petraeus up with a sweet plea deal, which it did. That would have been a lot harder to do if it also admitted that Broadwell’s book included classified information she got from him.
To some degree it doesn’t matter (after all, Leon Panetta got away with classified information too!). But I just want to note that I, for one, don’t actually know whether Broadwell published any information that was classified.
Update: This piece seems to suggest there may be a good deal of classified information in Broadwell’s book. It shows that Broadwell sourced some key discussions from June 2011 involving National Security Council discussions to an interview with Petraeus the day after he retrieved his Black Books which would have included descriptions of those discussions.
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. Continue reading
One of the favorite tactics of Edward Snowden’s critics is to call him a “fugitive” in Russia, emphasizing that he is avoiding US legal prosecution by hiding in an abusive country. As Glenn Greenwald noted yesterday, such digs ignore that Snowden has asylum, which is well-recognized especially in the case of espionage claims, as Snowden has been charged with.
CNN’s “expert” is apparently unaware that the DOJ very frequently — almost always, in fact — negotiates with people charged with very serious felonies over plea agreements. He’s also apparently unaware of this thing called “asylum,” which the U.S. routinely grants to people charged by other countries with crimes on the ground that they’d be persecuted with imprisonment if they returned home.
That background is instructive given the public report Customs and Border Patrol released the other day on arresting Matthew DeHart, who has been charged with kiddie porn but is actually wanted at least in part (even according to the judge in the kiddie porn case) because of his ties to Anonymous and maybe because of the document that reportedly describes something for which the FBI investigated the CIA which DeHart had on two thumb drives.
With the assistance of law enforcement partners, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Peace Bridge Port of Entry arrested a traveler wanted under an indictment relating to production and transportation of child pornography.
On March 1, CBP officers arrested Matthew DeHart, a 30-year-old male, a U.S. citizen in the custody of the Canadian Border Services Agency, after DeHart attempted to enter Canada. DeHart was wanted on a felony warrant from April 2013, for failure to appear at a court hearing on his indictment for production and transportation of child pornography.
“We work very closely with our Canadian counterparts,” said Rose Hilmey, CBP director of field operations for the Buffalo Field Office. “They were able to identify this person as wanted by American law enforcement, and returned him to the custody of CBP officers to face charges.”
DeHart was taken into FBI custody after a warrant and extradition were confirmed.
As Adrian Humphreys (the reporter who did the series on DeHart) noted, that characterization is wrong. DeHart was not extradited, but instead denied refugee status for torture. As the Courage Foundation (which is now supporting DeHart’s case) elaborated, the distinction in DeHart’s case is critical. Had the US asked Canada to extradite DeHart for espionage, it might have changed his status for asylum considerations in Canada.
Extradition is a process that would have been instigated by US authorities, whereas in Matt’s case he was deported at the behest of the Canadian authorities after he failed in his bid for refugee status and protection under the UN Convention on Torture.
This is significant, because if the US authorities had instigation extradition proceedings against Matt, they would have been forced to show their hand and file all charges before extradition was considered by the Canadian government. However, since Matt was deported, it leaves the door open for more charges to be filed. This is of concern to Matt and his legal team, since although Matt currently faces child pornography charges in the US — charges Matt vehemently denies — during extensive FBI interrogation sessions Matt endured, all the questions the agents asked were about Matt’s work with Anonymous, his connection to WikiLeaks, his former colleagues in the military, and issues related to national security. Because Matt was deported rather than extradited, it is still possible therefore that espionage charges could be filed.
There are two scenarios here. First, that the government’s concerns really are — which would be totally understandable — that a former drone operator with ties to Anonymous sought to defect to Russia and Venezuela and therefore presents a huge espionage concern. Even given what DeHart, by his own admission, admitted to (he claims, under torture), then the government could easily charge him with security related charges.
But they haven’t. Maybe they will — maybe that’s imminent. But they haven’t in several years during which they could have.
Alternately, they want DeHart because of those two thumb drives, which would represent an interest for the nation’s spooks, but for which DeHart would not be the guilty party.
The more they pull shit like this, the more it suggests this case is about the latter issue, the data that DeHart had on two thumb drives.