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Threat Level Orange! Election Week Plot!

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-5-01-51-pmThis morning, CBS published a story attributed to senior producer Pat Milton, who has done a lot of FBI-based stories (and co-produced fawning 60 Minutes interviews with John Brennan and Jim Comey), reporting on a possible terrorist attack. The story described the threat with specific detail — scheduled for Monday, in maybe NY, TX, or VA — but even while explicitly stating that “its credibility hasn’t been confirmed.”

Sources told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that U.S. intelligence has alerted joint terrorism task forces that al Qaeda could be planning attacks in three states for Monday.

It is believed New York, Texas and Virginia are all possible targets, though no specific locations are mentioned.

U.S. authorities are taking the threat seriously, though the sources stress the intelligence is still being assessed and its credibility hasn’t been confirmed. Counterterrorism officials were alerted to the threat out of abundance of caution.

The version published at 7:43 AM (and screen captured to the right) clearly attributed the story to a senior FBI official. (I’ve bolded the differences.)

A senior FBI official told CBS News, “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States.  The FBI, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.”

The version published at 12:52 rewrote that paragraph, obscuring that FBI was the source.

While we do not comment on intelligence matters, we will say the counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States,” a U.S. intelligence official told CBS News. “The FBI and DHS, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, share and assess intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.

This story, leaked by a senior FBI official who “doesn’t comment on intelligence matters” but nevertheless did just that, comes at the end of the crappiest week for the FBI in decades.

At this point, it is fair to argue that the intelligence community — including people leading it today — have capitalized on a terrorist threat, even a dodgy one. As I tweet stormed this morning (and wrote in more detail here), in 2004 the government played up two dodgy election year threats.

In March 2004 (just as torture, spying cut back) fabricator went to CIA in Pakistan and said, “Janat Gul wants to attack US elections.”

Someone in CIA immediately said, “Nah!” Nevertheless, US got PK to detain, turn Gul to US to be tortured.

USG (including Jim Comey) reauthorized torture, to be used with Gul. Including waterboarding & techniques CIA had already used w/o approval.

USG (including Comey & John Brennan) also used election year plot based off fabrication as one reason FISC had to approve Internet dragnet.

There were, of course, leaks to the press about this election year plot.

CIA kept torturing and torturing Janat Gul, because they needed details of an election year plot based off a fabrication.

It wasn’t until October that someone said, “Hey, let’s go check if that guy claiming Gul wanted to attack US election was lying!” He was.

But Gul had served purpose: election year scare, reauthorizing torture, getting FISC approval for dragnet. Not bad for one torture victim!

Comey didn’t know CIA immediately raised concerns abt fabricator’s claims. It’s one thing Cheney/Gonzales prevented him fr learning in 2005

Comey signed off on torture again, including waterboarding w/o knowing that that case was all based off a fabrication.

But Comey has also refused to read torture report, which lays all this out. He’s avoiding learning what he did in 2004, 2005. Brennan too!

I lay all this out bc, w/history like this, IC (still led by Brennan & Comey) should be VERY careful abt leaking election year plots.

Succinctly: They cried wolf in 2004. And have yet to face accountability for that.

Then, in 2006 (at a time when both Comey and Brennan were on hiatus from directly government work, though they were both working with key government contractors), it happened again. Dick Cheney triggered the revelation of a very real terrorist plot in 2006 — fucking over the British officials trying to collect enough information to prosecute the perpetrators — to help Joe Lieberman stay in the Senate.

The point is, these people, including the people in charge of the IC now, have selectively exploited real or imagined terrorist plots before. The leak of this one, which FBI clearly hasn’t even vetted, sure seems exploitative given how badly FBI needs to distract from its own fuck-ups.

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.

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The Same Month CBP Missed Tamerlan Tsarnaev, It Was Ramping Up Searches for “Good” Guys

One of the most notable failures to prevent a terrorist attack in recent years involves Tamerlan Tsarnaev. After the Russians alerted us he was engaging with radical elements, he flew to Chechnya in January 2012. In spite of an alert set to identify him, Customers and Border Protection did not stop him either going out or coming back from Russia.

As the Inspector General report on the attack explains, though CBP had probably been properly alerted he was a concern, Tsarnaev was not interviewed on the way out of the country because there were higher priority passengers.

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On Tsarnaev’s way back into the country, CBP would have gotten an alert from Aeroflot, but that alert did not come up on CBP’s display status.

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A recent story from the Intercept reveals that one of the things that may have been a higher priority than interviewing Tsarnaev was interviewing “good” guys.

In years leading up to the attack on the Boston Marathon CBP started working with the FBI to identify potential informants through CBP interviews. Reports describe how this involved a shift in perspective, from an enforcement perspective focused on “looking for the ‘bad guys’,” to an intelligence perspective focused on “looking for the ‘good guys'” who might be willing to trade information about their community for immigration benefits.

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It worked this way: CBP would provide a 3-day passenger list to the FBI, the FBI would find anyone of interest, and then CBP would screen them to determine whether they had access to sources and willingness to serve as an informant.

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The documents the Intercept released pertain only to Boston’s Logan Airport, Buffalo, and Rochester; curiously, at least Buffalo seems to coordinate primarily with Boston. So they don’t describe how this program got rolled out at JFK, through which Tsarnaev flew. But in Boston, at least, there was a big spike in the number of CBP inspections conducted in January 2012, the very month Tsarnaev flew out.

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Was CBP so busy looking for informants it missed someone the Russians had IDed (correctly) as a terrorist?

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.

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BREAKING! There Were State-Sponsored Terrorists Operating in the US in 2015

If we’re to believe the NYT’s explanation for why Yahoo was asked to scan all its email in 2015, there are (or were) state-sponsored terrorists operating in the US. That’s the only logical explanation for why the FBI would use an individualized FISA court order to obligate Yahoo to adapt their kiddie porn filter to search for a signature used by what NYT describes as state sponsored terrorists.

Although the digital signature was individually approved by a judge, who was persuaded that there was probable cause to believe that it was uniquely used by a foreign power, the collection was unusual because it involved the systematic scanning of all Yahoo users’ emails. More typical surveillance court orders instead target specific user accounts.

[snip]

In fact, according to the government official and other people familiar with the matter, Yahoo was served with an individualized court order to look only for code uniquely used by the foreign terrorist organization, and it adapted the scanning systems that it already had in place to comply with that order rather than building a new capability.

Now, I don’t find this explanation all that plausible, because if there were real state-sponsored terrorists operating in the US, the US would be bombing the shit out of the country in question. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia sponsor terrorists, but they’re our friends and we try to overlook the way they foster terrorism. So I’m betting these aren’t real terrorists, but instead entities the government has told the FISA Court are terrorists to make it possible to approve things they otherwise would find questionable. Plus, it sounds so much cooler when you make such explanations than if you admit you were scanning all Yahoo users’ emails to search for hackers.

I’m going to wildarseguess that this really means the US had a line on Iranian Revolutionary Guard hacking techniques. I say that because the government has long argued that Iran (or at least, the Revolutionary Guard) is a terrorist organization so it can use fancy spy tools that have only been approved for terrorism uses. It’s a bullshit claim, but one the FISC has consistently approved going back years, probably to 2006 (and one OLC almost certainly approved under Stellar Wind). If this operation had happened two months later, after USA Freedom Act expanded the definition of foreign power to within two degrees of proliferators, they might have used that excuse, but back then, piggybacking a terrorist claim onto the use of the foreign government tie would provide the most impressive claim to need to scan domestically.

We even know the IRGC uses Yahoo, because that’s what NSA was collecting on in 2011 when someone spamouflaged key IRGC accounts at precisely the moment we were trying to entrap a top IRGC commander in the Scary Iran Plot.

And while the request to Yahoo came at a later time, we know that the US was aggressively going after Iranian hackers at least in late 2014 because they were targeting banks. DOJ would go on to indict a bunch of Iranians for, among other things, hacking a very small dam.

So rest assured, Yahoo users! FBI only made Yahoo scan your emails because it was hunting terrorists in your inbox.

But remember, that also means there are real state-sponsored terrorists — and not just ISIS wannabes — among us.

Update: Revolutionary for Republican fixed.

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.

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Terror Drugs Justice'>America’s War against Terror Drugs Justice

This line appears somewhere in the middle of a substantial story on the impunity the US gave right wing Colombian paramilitaries for cooperation in drug prosecutions:

On Sept. 10, 2001, a day before his attention turned elsewhere, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell designated the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as the AUC, a foreign terrorist organization, just like the FARC.

It’s a reminder that doesn’t get much attention elsewhere in the massive article that the US brought a bunch of (right wing) terrorists to the United States and effectively gave them shelter from justice in their own country.

One reason the terrorists were spirited away to the US — and thereby hidden from the Peace and Justice process in Colombia — is because they had ties to former President Álvaro Uribe, as well as the CIA. In the one war where the US declared both sides terrorists, it managed to find a way to avoid treating “our” terrorists like we do all others.

Compared to either the sentences your average low level drug dealer gets or your average young Muslim kid set up by the FBI, the sentences these key players in the drug and terror industry are remarkably light: 7.5 years on average for the paramilitaries and 10 for the drug lords, according to the NYT’s calculation.

As such, I think this is one of the most important articles for you to read today, on Never Forget day. It reveals a dramatically different model for a war on drugs and terror than the Foreverwar we’re marking today, one in which America’s favored terrorists get impunity and the victims of terrorism get shafted.

Meanwhile, Uribe’s successor has brought about a peace deal (one Uribe attacks) that, if it works, might finally bring peace to Colombia.

I don’t think the US protection for Uribe’s thugs had an effect on peace. Indeed, our ambassador claims in the story that agreeing not to extradite Colombian drug criminals to the US is our contribution to the peace process.

President Santos has said he hopes that one dividend of the peace accord will be a reduction in the drug trafficking that financed the internal armed conflict. Coca cultivation has been soaring in Colombia, with a significant increase over the last couple of years in acreage dedicated to drug crops.

Extradition as a panacea has fallen out of favor. Colombia extraditions to the United States were half as frequent in 2015 — 109 — as the year the paramilitary leaders were sent away. And the new accord, if approved by voters, would guarantee the guerrilla leaders protection against extradition for their drug smuggling — with the blessing of the Americans.

“If you want to see that as the U.S.’s contribution to the peace process, you’re welcome to do so,” Kevin Whitaker, the American ambassador to Colombia, told Radio Caracol.

What is certain, however, is that by sheltering these thugs, the US has short-circuited justice in Colombia.

The article focuses on the case of Julio Henríquez Santamaría, who was assassinated because he was trying to help farmers move away from farming coca. His family has successfully fought to testify at his sentencing, for the first time demanding that the US consider the impact on victims outside the US in crimes the US has bigfooted jurisdiction on as if the US is the primary or even only victim of them.

Skinny but imposing with aviator glasses, a bushy mustache and a toothy smile, Julio Henríquez Santamaría was leading a community meeting in this sylvan hamlet when he was abducted by paramilitary thugs, thrown into the back of a Toyota pickup and disappeared forever on Feb. 4, 2001.

Ahead of his time, Mr. Henríquez had been organizing farmers to substitute legal crops like cacao for coca, which the current Colombian government, on the verge of ending a civil war fueled by the narcotics trade, is promoting as an antidrug strategy.

But Hernán Giraldo Serna, or his men, didn’t like it, or him.

From his early days as a small-time marijuana farmer, Mr. Giraldo had grown into El Patrón, a narcotics kingpin and paramilitary commander whose anti-insurgent mission had devolved into a murderous criminal enterprise controlling much of Colombia’s mountain-draped northern coast.

Mr. Henríquez was hardly his only victim; Mr. Giraldo, whose secondary alias was the Drill because of his rapacious appetite for underage girls, had all kinds. But Mr. Henríquez became the emblematic one, with a family tenacious enough to pursue Mr. Giraldo even after he, along with 13 other paramilitary leaders, was whisked out of Colombia and into the United States on May 13, 2008, to face drug charges.

[snip]

Victims’ advocates howled that it was like exporting “14 Pinochets.” Mr. Henríquez’s family, meanwhile, quietly vowed to hold at least one of them accountable for the Colombian blood that stained the cocaine shipped to American shores.

“We hope that the effort we have made over all these years means that things won’t end with impunity,” said his daughter Bela Henríquez Chacín, 32, who was 16 when her father was murdered and hopes to speak at Mr. Giraldo’s sentencing in Washington next month. The Henríquezes will be the first foreign victims ever given a voice in an international drug smuggling case in the United States, experts believe.

Elsewhere the story talks about two women who were brought as 14 year olds to Giraldo in prison, after he had allegedly foresworn his crimes, in the guise of “conjugal visits.” Their testimony may expose Giraldo to a life sentence in Colombia.

This year, two young women cautiously approached the authorities in Santa Marta. They had decided to reveal that they had been victims of Mr. Giraldo’s sexual violence even after he surrendered and pledged to stop committing crimes.

When they were under 14, they said, they were taken to Mr. Giraldo for conjugal visits, both in a special detention zone for paramilitary members and later in a jail.

[snip]

If proved, the allegations would be grounds to deny Mr. Giraldo the eight-year alternative sentence he would get under Justice and Peace. He would face spending the rest of his life in a Colombian prison — if the United States sent him back.

Much of the rest of the article suggests Giraldo will avoid that fate here in an American prison, even while holding onto FARC members, like Simon Trinidad, who played a part on the peace process and had been thought might get released.

It’s an infuriating article: one that really underscores how fickle America’s opposition to drugs and terror really 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 FBI Has Lost Track of Who the Informants Are?

Here are all the informants and undercover employees listed in the criminal complaint against Erick Hendricks, who was arrested for conspiring to materially support ISIL in relation to the Garland, TX attack:

  • CHS-1: a paid informant for the last year and a half with a criminal record of fraud and forgery who has not (yet?) received sentencing benefits for his cooperation; he met with Hendricks in Baltimore.
  • CHS2: a paid informant for the last 4 years with no known criminal history; he posed as someone wanting to join ISIL.
  • CHS-3: a paid informant for the last 4 and a half years with no known criminal history; Hendricks instructed CHS-3 to assess UCE-1 for recruitment.
  • CHS-4: a paid informant for the last 4 years with no known criminal history; Hendricks provided him with jihadist propaganda on social media. He also met with Hendricks in Baltimore, at a later date.
  • UCE-1: an undercover officer had conversations directly with Hendricks that mirrored those Hendricks had with a cooperating witness. UCE-1 also incited and then was present for the Garland attack.

Not mentioned at all in this narrative is the role played by Joshua Goldberg, a Jewish guy who adopted many avatars online to incite all kinds of violence, including, under the name of Australi Witness, Garland. In December Goldberg was deemed incompetent to stand trial, though in June it was decided with more treatment he might become competent enough to stand trial, so they’re going to check again in four months.

So, the cell that committed the Garland attack consisted of the two now-dead perpetrators, four informants, an undercover FBI officer, a mentally ill troll, and Hendricks.

Only now, Hendricks claims he was an informant too!

Hendricks claims to have been a paid informant of the FBI since 2009 who helped the agency identify potential terrorists. Code name: “Ahkie,” a variation of the Muslim term for “brother.”

He also claims to have been an outspoken and longtime opponent of radical Islam.

“I have publicly, privately and consistently denounced Al-Qaeda, ISIS and all extremist groups,” Hendricks said in a statement that Lisa Woods says her son dictated during a Wednesday phone call from the jail.

“I am baffled as to why the FBI (is) accusing me of terrorist ties.”

[snip]

In his statement, Hendricks says the FBI first made contact with him in 2009, when as Mustafa Abu Maryam, Hendricks was the youth coordinator of the Islamic Circle of North America Center in Alexandria, Va.

[snip]

In his jail statement, Hendricks says he was recruited in 2009 by an FBI agent named David to help identify potential terrorists. In 2010, after Hendricks had moved to Columbia, he says he worked with another FBI agent named Steve. Altogether, Hendricks claims to have developed “at least a half-dozen” cases against extremists.

Has the FBI simply lost track of who are real and who are the people it is paying to play a role? Or is it possible someone from another agency, claiming to be FBI, recruited Hendricks (don’t laugh! That’s one potential explanation for Anwar al-Awlaki’s curious ties to US law enforcement, a story that wends its way through a related mosque in VA)?

Sure, maybe Hendricks is making all this up (at the very least, it may necessitate the BoP to protect him in prison since he has now publicly claimed to be a narc). But FBI’s network of informants sure is getting confusing.

 

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 Just Right Fear Industry, in 18,000 Words

Steven Brill thinks we’re not worried enough about bioterrorism and dirty bombs. He makes that argument even while acknowledging that a dirty bomb attack launched in Washington DC would result in just 50 additional cancer deaths. And curiously, his extensive discussion about germ threats (inspired by a Scooter Libby report, no less!) doesn’t mention that the Russian military is currently struggling to contain an anthrax attack launched by a thawing reindeer.

That’s the problem with Brill’s opus: anthrax attacks only matter if they’re launched by Islamic extremist reindeers, not reindeers weaponized by climate change. (And if you were wondering, although he discusses it at length, Brill doesn’t mention that the 2001 anthrax attack, which was done with anthrax derived from a US lab, has never been solved.)

He makes a similar error when he spends 18 paragraphs focusing on what he (or his editors) dub “cyberterrorism” only to focus on OPM as proof the threat exists and includes this paragraph from Jim Comey admitting terrorists don’t yet have the capabilities to hurt us our Chinese and Russian adversaries do.

For his part, the FBI’s Comey worries more about a cyberterror onslaught directed at the private sector than one directed at the government. “These savages,” he says, “have so far only figured out how to use the internet to proselytize, not to wreak physical damage. What happens when they figure out how to use it to break into a chemical plant, or a blood bank and change the blood types? We know they are trying. And they don’t have to come here to do it.”

Biothreats and hacking are a threat. But it would be sheer idiocy to approach the problem, at this point, as primarily one of terrorism when climate change and nation-state adversaries clearly present a more urgent threat.

But it’s not just Brill who adopts some weird categorization. The article is perhaps most interesting for the really telling things he gets Comey to say, as when he suggests FBI drops investigations when they hear a “wing nut” making bomb threats in a restaurant.

“Think about it from our perspective,” Comey said when I asked about this. “Suppose someone is overheard in a restaurant saying that he wants to blow something up. And someone tells us about it. What should we do? Don’t we need to find out if he was serious? Or was he drunk? The way to do that is to have someone engage him in an undercover way, not show up with a badge and say, ‘What are your thoughts in regard to terrorism?’ ”

“Plenty of times it’s a wing nut or some drunk, and we drop it,” he continued.

I actually think the FBI, as an institution, is better than this. But to have the FBI Director suggest his bureau wouldn’t follow up if someone making bomb threats was deemed a radical but would if they were deemed a Muslim is really telling.

Which gets to the core of the piece. Over the course of the 18,000+ words, Brill admits — and quotes both President Obama and Comey admitting — that what makes terrorism different from the equally lethal attacks by other mentally unstable or “wing nut” types is the fear such attacks elicit.

President Obama described the difference to me this way: “If the perpetrator is a young white male, for instance—as in Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown—it’s widely seen as yet another tragic example of an angry or disturbed person who decided to lash out against his classmates, co-workers, or community. And even as the nation is shaken and mourns, these kinds of shootings don’t typically generate widespread fear. I’d point out that when the shooter or victims are African American, it is often dismissed with a shrug of indifference—as if such violence is somehow endemic to certain communities. In contrast, when the perpetrators are Muslim and seem influenced by terrorist ideologies—as at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon bombing, San Bernardino, and Orlando—the outrage and fear is much more palpable. And yet, the fact is that Americans are far more likely to be injured or killed by gun violence than a terrorist attack.”

The FBI’s Comey agrees. “That the shooter in San Bernardino said he was doing it in the name of isil changed everything,” he told me. “It generates anxiety that another shooting incident, where the shooter isn’t a terrorist, doesn’t. That may be irrational, but it’s real.”

Nevertheless, all three — even Brill, in a piece where he takes Obama to task for not publicizing his change in dirty bomb response, refers to “deranged people and terrorists” obtaining assault weapons as if they are mutually exclusive categories — seem utterly unaware that part of the solution needs to be to stop capitulating to this fear. Stop treating terrorism as the unique, greatest threat when you know it isn’t. Channel the money being spent on providing tanks to local police departments to replacing lead pipes instead (an idea Brill floats but never endorses). Start treating threats to our infrastructure — both physical and digital — including those caused by weaponized reindeer as the threat they are.

And for chrissakes, don’t waste 18,000 words on a piece that at once scolds for fearmongering even while perpetuating that fear.

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.

One Beheaded Child Here and There…

On the same day that the FBI culminated a six year investigation into DC Metro Police Officer Nicholas Young by busting him for sending $245 in gift card serial numbers to an undercover FBI officer posing as someone Young believed to be a friend who joined ISIS (but who was in reality had been just someone else — an informant — playing a role scripted by the FBI), Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department Mark Toner engaged in this conversation about the US-funded Syrian rebel group Harakat Nour al-Zenki using chemical weapons and beheading a 10-year old Palestinian boy.

QUESTION: So what does a rebel group in Syria have to do to not receive U.S. funds any longer? What is the line that they must cross? What kind of controversial incident must take place for a group to stop receiving U.S. funds?

MR TONER: Well, first of all, there’s a lot of vetting of the Syrian moderate opposition that has already taken place, and it’s not just by the U.S., but it’s by all the members of the ISSG and, frankly, the UN. And it was established that al-Nusrah as well as Daesh or ISIL were considered to be by all members and by the UN to be terrorist organizations. I think, again, these are not easy processes, and one incident here and there would not necessarily make you a terrorist group.

One incident here and there — up to and including beheading a child — will not make you a terrorist group, but buying $245 of gift cards for an FBI actor will make you a terrorist.

That’s not to say Young isn’t a dangerous man or that he should work as a policeman in any organization. But even there, it’s not clear what kind of dangerous person he is. He likes military weapons, Nazis, Islamic terrorists, and may beat his spouse. The FBI, of course, chose to focus on the Islamic terrorism rather than the domestic abuse or Nazism. Even then, by far the most frequent “incriminating” details cited in the affidavit against Young describe his unhappiness about FBI surveillance (including that they spoke to his family in 2010 before they interviewed him when the FBI first had concerns about his associations) and his efforts to thwart it. The FBI presented this operational security as incriminating even though they deemed him not to have violated the law in several earlier reviews, the presumption being that every person who has been investigated should therefore be willing to undergo persistent surveillance for the foreseeable future.

The closest Young actually came to joining a terrorist group was in 2011 when he “had been” with rebels working to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi (the FBI improbably creates the impression that they somehow didn’t monitor his two trips to Libya after investigating him for months leading up to these trips, not even after he was stopped by Egyptian authorities). A description later in the affidavit explains he must have been hanging out with the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, a group that arose out of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which the US has variously considered a terrorist group or not as its global interests dictated, though which they treated like rebel partners in 2011. Just as the US now considers Harakat Nour al-Zenki worthy of its financial support, in sums delivered in far greater increments than $245 gift cards.

But for the most part, the entirety of any extremism Young engaged in — at least as portrayed in the affidavit — was FBI theater, an expensively crafted multi-player elaborate fiction. No 10-year old boys were beheaded.

Again, by all means make sure that Young can’t make the world a more dangerous place.

But while you’re doing that, consider the implications of the far more significant material support for terrorism the US engages in.

Update: Murtaza Hussein wrote a piece in similar vein on Young and Max Abrahms was the first person I saw tweet on Toner’s comment.

 

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.

Brennan Calls Out the Press for Giving ISIS More Credit Than They Deserve

Both James Clapper and John Brennan appeared at the Aspen Security Forum this week (it was Brennan’s first appearance, apparently). As I may lay out, Clapper was by far the more measured of the two. But this exchange, between Brennan and Dina Temple-Raston, deserves more attention. She notes that ISIS gets credit for attacks (she doesn’t name any, but I’d point to the San Bernardino killing and the Orlando massacre) that seem incidentally motivated at the last minute by ISIS, but generally are motivated by other issues.

To his credit, Brennan blames the press for crediting ISIS with these attacks.

Temple-Raston: It seems that people get credit for being an ISIS adherent just by having a brief flirtation online with the group. And I wonder if by calling something an ISIS attack so readily, which we seem to do, whether or not we’re giving ISIS more credit than it deserves.

Brennan: When you say “calling something an ISIS attack” that we’re prone to do, you’re talking about the media, right?

[Laughter, Brennan not exactly smiling, then later smiling]

Temple-Raston: No.

[More laughter]

Temple-Raston: I just wonder if you can’t say that it’s an opportunistic attack, as opposed to an ISIS attack.

But then Brennan goes on and notes that getting credit for such attacks is part of ISIS’s strategy.

Brennan: Sometimes I think ISIL doesn’t know themselves. I think most times they don’t. If somebody has been encouraged and incited by ISIL, they have no idea if that was the real motivation. Even if somebody is found with literature in their apartment that might reflect ISIL’s, you know, narrative, that doesn’t mean that they carried it out for that. It may mean that they, you know, woke up that day and wanted to commit suicide and wanted to take others down with them. But, it is part of ISIL’s strategy to have people that they can deploy, directly, that they can support directly, as well as to encourage and provide indirect direction and incitement to individuals. They will claim credit for a lot of things and they feel as though this is part of their brand.

Therein is the rub. If this is part of ISIS’ strategy, then having the media — and FBI (or, in other countries, other security organizations) — give them credit for it only serves to play to their strength.

Both Brennan and Temple-Raston remained silent about FBI’s role in this process, leaking details about affiliation with ISIS. But that — and the budget driving impulse that is a part of the motivation for it — is as much a part of the problem as the media’s rush to label things ISIS.

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

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

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

FBI Established Saudi Task Force Just before Joint Inquiry Release

The House Intelligence Committee just released the 28 pages detailing Saudi involvement in 9/11.

The pages are actually more damning than I expected. It lays out many damning details we already knew of: including that Bandar bin Sultan’s wife was providing money to one of the suspect Saudi intelligence people, several Saudi apparent agents provided support for the hijackers, and an apparent dry run for the attack was conducted by someone paid by the Saudis.

One really damning detail that I didn’t know, however (or had forgotten if covered in Bob Graham’s book), is that it wasn’t until the Joint Inquiry focused on the Saudis that FBI established task force to look into Saudi Arabia’s role in the attack.

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That means over a year elapsed before the FBI really started investigating this angle. It goes on to reveal FBI was not focusing any counterintelligence resources on Saudis before 9/11, because “FBI received ‘no reporting from any member of the Intelligence Community’ that there was a [redacted] presence in the United States.” A very heavily redacted passage implies that’s because they were an “ally” [scare quotes original].

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It goes on to note that CIA did have records of such ties (we knew that); it makes no mention of NSA, though they knew of Saudi ties as well.

The report even reveals that Robert Mueller learned about the Saudi role in the attack from the Joint Inquiry:

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This is fairly unbelievable, but all too believable.

The end of the report provides multiple reports of Saudi refusal to cooperate in the investigation.

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I’m particularly interested in the detail that they demanded information that would show sources and methods. I know that the Saudis had notice of Stellar Wind well before it got exposed in 2005. That means they were getting tips on what we knew even as refusing to tell what they knew.

Between that and the failure to investigate, it explains how the Saudis could get away with assisting an attack on the US.

Update: Kristin Breitweiser rightly rails on mainstream coverage of the report that dismiss the seriousness of the allegations in the report.

When CIA Director John Brennan states that he believes the 29 pages prove that the government of Saudi Arabia had no involvement in the 9/11 attacks, recognize that John Brennan is not a man living in reality — he is delusional by design, feeding and protecting his Saudi vice.

When Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Anne W. Patterson, testifies — under oath — that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an ally that does everything they can to help us fight against Islamic terrorism, recognize that her deep, steep Saudi pandering serves and protects only her Saudi vice.

Read the 29 pages and know the facts.

Do not let any person in our government deny the damning reality of the 29 pages.

And as you read the 29 pages remember that they were written during 2002 and 2003.

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.

Wednesday: Mend

Repair Day here, can’t spend much time reading or writing as I’ll be tied up mending things. Enjoy a little mellow Foo Fighters’ tune — can’t handle metal rock today or I’ll end up HULK SMASHing things I’m supposed to fix.

Here’s a range of topics which deserve more attention:

UK’s Chilcot report released today (Guardian-UK) — [Insert lengthy string of epithets here, circa 2003] I’m sure one of the other team members here at emptywheel will elaborate more effectively on the ugliness in the report and on former Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s continued lies rationalizations for military intervention in Iraq over alleged 9/11 terrorists and non-existent nuclear weapons. His self-flagellation and tepid mea culpa are pathetic, like watching a wee gnat flailing on an elephant’s ass. Thirteen years later, Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists. Self-fulfilling prophecy, much?

The full Chilcot report can be found here. The Guardian is working on a collaborative evaluation of the same.

BreachedDataSweetSpot_06JUL2016Hookup site Ashley Madison under investigation by FTC (Reuters) — Not clear exactly what FTC’s focus is, whether they are looking primarily at the data breach or if they are looking into the misleading use of “fembot” AI to chat up potential customers. Though the article’s characterization of the business as a “discreet dating site” cracks me up, I’m still concerned about the potential risks involved with a breach, especially since other breached data make Ashley Madison’s data more valuable. Like in this Venn diagram; if you were a foreign agent, which breached data would you mine most carefully?

French Parliament released its inquiry into November terrorist attacks (20 Minutes) — Six months after the attack at the Bataclan and in the streets of Paris, representatives of the Parliamentary inquiry spoke yesterday about the inquiry’s findings:

  • Poor cooperation between intelligence functions — In spite of consolidation of General Intelligence and Directorate of Territorial Surveillance under the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence in 2008 and then the Directorate General of Internal Security (ISB) in 2014, there were gaps in hand-offs between functions.
  • Ineffective collection and sharing of prison intelligence — The ISB did not have information from Justice (the prison service) about the relationships between incarcerated radical Islamists nor information about targets’ release from custody.
  • Poor cooperation between EU members and EU system gaps — Fake Syrian passports should have been caught by the EU’s Frontex at external borders to EU, and Frontex has no access to data collected by police and intelligence services internal to the EU.
  • Gaps in jurisdiction — Not all law enforcement was engaged as they should have been during the November attack, and when engaged, not where they should have been.
  • Victims and families treated inadequately — Some families were told they were “ineligible” to be notified of their relatives’ deaths. Forensic Institute was swamped by the volume of work. At least one victim tried to call the police; they hung up on the victim because she whispered on the phone.

It’s not clear what steps the French will take next to fix these problems identified after looking at 2015’s January and November terrorist attacks, though it is reassuring to see a relatively detailed evaluation. Some of the suspects involved in both the November attacks in Paris and in Brussels are still being rounded up and bound over for prosecution; two were handed over by Belgium to France just this week. The full Parliamentary inquiry report will be released next week.

NHTSA informed by Tesla of self-driving car accident 9 days later (Reuters) — The delay in reporting may have misled investors in advance of Tesla’s offer for SolarCity suggest reports, including one by Fortune magazine. To be fair, I don’t think all the details about the accident were fully known immediately. Look at the condition of the vehicle in the Reuters’ report and the Florida Highway Patrol report; the FHP’s sketch of the accident site doesn’t automatically lead one to think the accident was induced by distracted driving or by auto-pilot. Can’t find the report now, but a DVD player was found much later; it was this device which revealed the driver’s last activities. How did the FHP’s report make its way to Tesla? And as Tesla responded, with one million auto accidents a year, not every accident is reported to the NHTSA. Begs the question: should all self-driving car accidents be automatically reported to the NHTSA and their automakers, and why?

‘Zero Days’ documentary on Stuxnet out this Friday (Flavorwire) — If director Alex Gibney can make this subject exciting to the average non-technical schmoe, hats off. It’s a challenge to make the tedium of coding exciting to non-coders, let alone fluff process control equipment. This is a really important story with a very long tail; hope Gibney was able to do it justice.

EIGHT DAYS in session left in U.S. House of Representatives’ July calendar. Hearing about EPA scheduled this morning, but I don’t think it had anything to do whatsoever with Flint Water Crisis.

Okay, that’s enough to get you over the hump, just don’t break anything on the way down. I’m off to go fix stuff.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.