The Lesson Trump Has (Thus Far) Not Taught Us: Civilian Casualties

I have a confession.

There’s something I like about the Trump Administration.

It’s the way that his unpopularity taints long-standing policies or practices or beliefs, making people aware of and opposed to them in a way they weren’t when the same policies or beliefs were widely held under George Bush or Barack Obama. Many, though not all, of these policies or beliefs were embraced unquestioningly by centrists or even avowed leftists.

I’ve been keeping a running list in my mind, which I’ll begin to lay out here (I guess I’ll update it as I remember more).

  • Expansive surveillance
  • The presumption of regularity, by which courts and the public assume the Executive Branch operates in good faith and from evidence
  • Denigration of immigrants
  • Denigration of Muslims
  • Denigration health insurance

As an example, Obama deported a huge number of people. But now that Trump has expanded that same practice, it has been made visible and delegitimized.

In short, Trump has made things that should always have been criticized are now being far more widely so.

But there’s one thing that Trump has escalated that has thus far — with the singular exception of the botched raid on Yemen — escaped widespread condemnation: the bombing of civilians. There was the Al Jineh mosque on March 16, a school sheltering families in Raqqa on March 21, and this strike last week in Mosul, not to mention continued Saudi attacks in Yemen that the US facilitates.

Again, I’m not saying such civilian strikes didn’t happen under Obama. And it’s not clear whether this spate of civilian bombings arises from a change in the rule of engagement put in place in December, the influence of James Mattis, or Trump’s announced review of rules of engagement. But civilians are dying.

And for the most part, unlike all the other horrible things happening under President Trump, they’re getting little notice and condemnation in the US.

Update: This NYT story on the Mosul strike says that the increased civilian casualties do reflect a change in rules of engagement put in place under Trump.

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.

A Modest Proposal: Ban the Interstate Travel of Kansans

It may be that Kansas is actually one of the most dangerous hives of terrorist activity in the US today.

Consider the case of Adam Purinton, who allegedly shot three men on Wednesday night outside of Kansas City, believing two of them — who are actually engineers from India — were Middle Eastern.

Details are emerging of what happened in and around Austins when a man known to some bar staffers became disgruntled in the patio area, spouting racial slurs at two men of Indian descent and then shooting them and another regular who stood up for the two.

At least one witness reportedly heard the suspect yell “get out of my country” shortly before shooting men he reportedly thought were Middle Eastern. Both men, engineers at Garmin, appear to be originally from India.

[snip]

The suspect fled on foot as police descended onto his neighborhood just behind Austins. Purinton eventually left the Kansas City area.

About five hours later, he was having a drink at the Applebee’s at Clinton, Mo., when he told a bartender he needed a place to hide out because he had just killed two Middle Eastern men.

The bartender called police, and he was arrested without incident.

The FBI is investigating whether this is a hate crime, but it falls squarely into the kind of crime that Trump wants to treat as terrorism in order to defend his Muslim ban.

More serious still is the attack that three conspirators on the other side of the state plotted against Somali refugees — a plot the FBI broke up not long before Election Day last year. The men (at least one of whom is a Trump supporter) called themselves the Crusaders. They had already scoped out a mosque, churches that sponsored refugees, and an apartment complex where many Somalis live. They were both trying to make their own bombs, as well as trading drugs with an undercover officer to get help building a fertilizer bomb. They spoke of the Somalis as “cockroaches” and planned to launch a “bloodbath” to take “this country back.”

The only fucking way this country’s ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath and it will be a nasty, messy motherfucker. Unless a lot more people in this country wake up and smell the fucking coffee and decide they want this country back…we might be too late, if they do wake up…I think we can get it done. But it ain’t going to be nothing nice about it.

In 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller killed three people at two Jewish sites near Kansas City. Like Purinton, Miller didn’t succeed in targeting his desired type of victim; all of his victims are Christians. A former Klan member, Miller had also previously conspired with MLK parade terrorist Kevin Harpham.

In 2009, Scott Roeder assassinated abortion provider George Tiller in his church in Wichita, Kansas. Roeder conspired with a network of other anti-abortion terrorists, and he continued to call for violence even after being imprisoned.

In 1994 and 1995, Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols carried out most of their preparation for the Oklahoma City bombing in Kansas.

Under Trump’s logic, the best way to deal with spiking violence such as we see in Kansas is to wall it off, to prevent it from infecting the rest of the country.

I realize this will create a lot of undue hardship for the people of Kansas. I realize, too, it will prove to be a royal pain in the ass for anyone trying to drive across the vast expanse in the middle of the country, particularly long haul truckers.

But we have to keep our country safe.

So Kansans will have to be cooped up in their violent state, along with the dangerous whackjobs that mean to do them harm, until we can figure this out.

Update: Fixed spelling of Purinton. Thanks to DFDG for reminding me about the Tiller assassination. Thanks to KG for reminding me that McVeigh prepped the Oklahoma City attack in Kansas.

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.

Trump’s Muslim Ban Forces IC to Conduct Actual Assessment of Terror Threats

CNN reports that the Trump Administration has asked DHS and DOJ to come up with an intelligence report backing the selection of the seven Muslim banned countries. According to CNN, some of those working on the report feel they’re being asked to fit a report to a desired conclusion.

President Donald Trump has assigned the Department of Homeland Security, working with the Justice Department, to help build the legal case for its temporary travel ban on individuals from seven countries, a senior White House official tells CNN.

Other Trump administration sources tell CNN that this is an assignment that has caused concern among some administration intelligence officials, who see the White House charge as the politicization of intelligence — the notion of a conclusion in search of evidence to support it after being blocked by the courts. Still others in the intelligence community disagree with the conclusion and are finding their work disparaged by their own department.

This is another of those areas where I’m grateful for the incompetence of the Trump Administration. If it were me, I’d call the four Obama Administration officials who first named these seven countries a threat: former Deputy CIA Director Avril Haines, former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Homeland Security Czar Lisa Monaco, and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice. They’re already on a court declaration in this case, so even the ones who might have been able to dodge testifying normally, they wouldn’t be able to. Make them explain why Iran and Sudan are on this list. They would either have to admit the truth: that our notions of terrorism generally are utterly politicized, and that if we were to measure on actual threat, our close allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would lead the list. Or they’d have to invent something to justify their past politicized actions.

Instead, Trump is trying to politicize intelligence, which not only has elicited this backlash, but will never be able to accomplish its objective. Even after redefining terror attack down to include material support (something that is actually consistent with the last 15 years of FBI fluffing their terror prosecution numbers), it is still impossible to present Iran as a bigger terrorist threat than Saudi Arabia (plus, you’d have to acknowledge that the listing and delisting of MEK, which a number of Trump officials have supported for cash payments, is also totally politicized).

Hopefully, that will lead to a larger reassessment of how we think of terrorism, including the recognition that our allies are actually the problem, not our arch-enemy Iran. That’s obviously wildly optimistic. But it is the kind of possibility that Trump’s incompetence allows us to consider.

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 Undie Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Life Coached “Who Moved My Cheese” Weeks before Jihad

I’m still working on the serious parts of the reports from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s FBI interrogations that Scott Shane liberated. But I wanted to share this detail, because it’s pretty funny.

In his fourth interview with the FBI on January 31, 2010 (the third after he started cooperating), Abdulmutallab told about how he tried to serve as a life coach for someone — perhaps a friend or a family member — back in Nigeria. He relied, according to the interrogation report, on principles he learned not from reading the Quran, but from the pop business book, Who Moved My Cheese.

That was in May 2009. Just two months later (two paragraphs in the interrogation report), Abdulmutallab decided to take set off to find Anwar al-Awlaki to undertake jihad.

In the last few days of July, 2009, UM [Abdulutallab] emailed the headmaster at SIAL [the school he would study at in Yemen]. He obtained the email address from SIAL’s website and sent the message using UM’s [redacted]

[snip]

This decision was entirely UM’s; no one encouraged him to go to Yemen to participate in jihad.

[snip]

For security reasons, UM told no one of his plan to travel to Yemen and participate in jihad.

Perhaps it’s not just funny and schmaltzy. It also demonstrates the degree to which Abdulmutallab was just looking for a path in life. Not long before he left to Yemen, he twice to propose to a woman, but (as he told the FBI, at least), his family wouldn’t permit him to marry yet.

Having been deprived that cheese, perhaps, he set off to martyr himself in the service of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

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.

In Attempting to Justify Trump Muslim Ban, Propaganda Outlet Proves Inanity of Iran, Sudan Inclusion

WaPo did this fact check on Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller’s claim that, “72 individuals, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, have been implicated in terroristic activity in the United States who hail from those seven nations, point one.” It awards his claim three stars, stating,

[U]pon closer examination of the cases on the list, it becomes clear that his statement went too far. In fact, this is pretty thin gruel on which to make sweeping claims about the alleged threat posed to the United States by these seven countries, especially because the allegations often did not concern alleged terrorist acts in the United States.

[snip]

Regardless of the direct or tangential ties that investigators believe each individual may have to terrorist activities, these charges need to be proven in a court of law. Suspected or potential terror links involving these 72 individuals do not confirm Miller’s claim that they were “implicated in terrorist activity.”

Moreover, some people on this list entered the United States — many of them naturalized — decades before they were charged with any of the crimes. That makes Miller’s use of this list to defend Trump’s executive order quite questionable.

There are other methodological problems with the list Miller references that WaPo doesn’t consider. For example, it includes people, like Ahmed Warsame, who got extradited or rendered to the US, so it’s not like their presence in the US can be attributed to visa screening (though there is some concern that the Muslim ban will make it more difficult to extradite and coerce cooperation from similarly situated defendants, thus making it harder to round up threats overseas).

Just as strikingly, the list affirmatively undermines the claim that these seven countries are all a threat. Of the CIS’ list of 72 individuals, just four are from Iran, two from Libya, just one from Sudan. And the claims implicating these people mostly fall apart when you look closer. Most of them arise from the efforts in the early 2000s to prosecute Muslim charities, and several of those cases eventually fell apart, rather spectacularly in a case associated with Al-Haramain. Plus, in at least two cases, these defendants got caught in the middle of America’s changing views on which terrorists it criminalizes and which it partners with.

Sudan

Abdel Azim El-Siddig: CIS claims that El-Siddig was found guilty of conspiracy to fail to register as a foreign agent and was sentenced to 58 months. That’s an error. El-Siddig plead just to conspiracy to violate FARA. He was sentenced to probation and has served that sentence. El-Siddig was largely charged in an effort to coerce his cooperation in prosecuting former Congressman Mark Deli Siljander, who pursued the interests of the Islamic American Relief Agency. Ultimately, even Siljander was only sentenced to a year; it looks like this may have been one of the cases that fell apart based on crummy intelligence.

Libya

Ali Mohamed Bagegni: One of the Libyans listed is Ali Mohamed Bagegni, who was on the board of IARA and got wrapped up in the case against Siljander. He served 6 months of probation.

Emadeddin Muntasser: Muntasser was convicted in another charity case — for lying to get tax exempt status for Care International and also for lying about having met Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has gone on and off America’s list of favored terrorists for twenty years now. Judge Dennis Saylor overturned the tax charge, finding it was not supported by the facts presented. The First Circuit reinstated guilty verdicts on tax charges, but Saylor just sentenced him to time served.

Iran

Siavosh Henareh: As WaPo notes, one of the Iranians listed is Siavosh Henareh. He was busted for conspiracy to import heroin that others allegedly were going to use to raise money for Hezbollah. But he was not charged with any ties to terrorism.

Pete Seda (Pirouz Sedaghaty): Seda’s case is a particularly problematic charity case, as we know the government illegally spied on him under Stellar Wind (though they probably did with all the other charity defendants as well). Ultimately, though, the charge that he tried to funnel money to Chechen fighters was overturned by the 9th Circuit, and he pled guilty to tax fraud. The case fell apart in part because the government had to pay off witnesses to implicate him and withheld other information. See this post for more details about how HSBC got off for a far bigger scale of crime associated with this case.

Zeinab Taleb-Jedi: Taleb-Jedi was prosecuted in 2006 for material support for MEK, the anti-Iranian group that a good chunk of DC has also materially supported, including Howard Dean, Elaine Chao, John Bolton, Fran Townsend, and Newt Gingrich, a group which had been a big source of often flimsy intelligence on Iran.  She stalled out that prosecution and in 2009 ultimately pled guilty to violating an executive order. Shewas sentenced to time served.

Manssor Arbabsiar: I’ve written about the Scary Iran Plot extensively (for example here, here, here, here). It is the one case where someone really was convicted of plotting an attack in the United States — in this case, to assassinate then Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel al-Jubeir. Arbabsiar plead guilty to the charges, so there’s no doubt he did act on his Revolutionary Guard cousin’s orders to find someone to kill the Saudi Ambassador. But most of the details about the plot — Arbabsiar’s likely prior role as an informant and his efforts to resume that role, DEA’s great craft in making the plot as scary as possible (even targeting a restaurant favored by Senators), the circumstances surrounding Arbabsiar’s interrogation and mental competence, and even hints that the cousin may have been a mole for another government — raise questions about how serious Iran was about actually conducting this attack.

In short, just one of these cases can really be construed as an attempted attack, and that was pretty remarkable for the fiction and other handiwork the DEA went into in making it a spectacular bust.

Don’t get me wrong. The overall list is bullshit too. If you look at CIS’ numbers, you see that most represented community, Somalia, also happens to be the one that has for years partnered closely with the FBI to alert them to concerns about radicalization. That basically means Trump’s Muslim ban punishes that community for affirmatively working to prevent terrorism.

But CIS’ efforts to pretend that Iran, Sudan, and Libya make sense here fall even further flat.

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.

Trump’s War on Some Terror Directed Only at White European Christians

Yesterday, Trump told a bunch of military service members that the press doesn’t cover terrorist attacks.

We’re up against an enemy that celebrates death and totally worships destruction — you’ve seen that. ISIS is on a campaign of genocide, committing atrocities across the world. Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11; as they did from Boston to Orlando, to San Bernardino. And all across Europe, you’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported and, in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that.

When the press called him on that claim, the White House released a batshit crazy list of 78 attacks; the Guardian offers an excellent compilation and contextualization here. (Update: CNN matches the list to how many stories reported out each attack.)

As many have observed, there are a slew of problems with the list. There are numerous spelling errors, including a page where the attackers were labeled “ATTAKERS,” other spelling errors including “San Bernadino,” and a remarkable scope. The list appears to include just those attributed to or inspired by ISIL, leaving out even the Charlie Hebdo attack while listing associated Paris attacks. It leaves out attacks in Sub-Saharan Africa; as Micah Zenko noted on Twitter, those make up the vast majority of mass casualty attacks. The list also leaves out other attacks — even those rare white supremacist attacks charged as terrorism — that don’t involve Muslims (here’s a list of those attacks). Which of course means it leaves out the attack on a mosque that self-described Trump supporter Alexandre Bissonnette carried out in Quebec last week, leaving 6 dead and 19 wounded.

The list also sometimes, though not always, describes perpetrators as “US persons” rather than by name. That may suggest it is based off a real list put together by a foreign intelligence agency, which would have to minimize the names of US persons. If so, that would explain why domestic terror attacks aren’t included, as FBI does, inconsistently, include those in its list of terror attacks. (See my analysis of a 2012 FBI list used as a prop by Dianne Feinstein here.)

Of course, the list also doesn’t include random gun deaths, the casualties of which dwarf the casualties of terror attacks.

In short, the list is a shit show. And rather than proving a point (at least to anyone outside of his followers), Trump instead got a lot of media genuinely pissed that he had claimed they ignored stories they covered for months, like San Bernardino or Paris. He even got a few in the media to report on that Quebec terrorist attack, which has received spotty attention amid all the Trump craziness.

Trump claimed the media isn’t making us fearful enough, and instead he performed a caricature of obsession about terror against white European Christians.

For years, the US has obsessed about Islamic terrorism, dedicating all our resources towards killing that off, while doing nothing about the more pressing threats to the US. Trump will only make that worse — as his limitation of Countering Violent Extremism programs to Islamic terrorism already has (a move that JM Berger criticized here).

But that was built on bipartisan insider consensus that that was the right standard. Trump, because he is so obviously wrong, may finally change that.

Or, he may wield the power of the state against Muslims as scapegoats for all his own failures.

That’s the choice before us.

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 Folks Who Picked the Stupid Seven Banned Countries Say the Muslim Ban Is Stupid

Buried in a declaration written by a bunch of former national security officials in the Washington v Trump suit opposing Trump’s Muslim ban is this passage:

Because various threat streams are constantly mutating, as government officials, we sought continually to improve that vetting, as was done in response to particular threats identified by U.S. intelligence in 2011 and 2015. Placing additional restrictions on individuals from certain countries in the visa waiver program –as has been done on occasion in the past – merely allows for more individualized vettings before individuals with particular passports are permitted to travel to the United States.

These officials, which include (among others) former Deputy CIA Director Avril Haines, former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Homeland Security Czar Lisa Monaco, and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice argue that the practice is to tweak immigration rules based on changing threat patterns rather than impose broad bans not driven by necessity and logic. They argue that additional restrictions imposed on certain immigrants in 2015 were “in response to particular threats identified by U.S. intelligence.”

That’s really interesting because the 2015 change they reference is the basis of the Trump list that excludes countries that are real threats and includes others (especially Iran) that are not. Here’s how CNN describes the genesis of the seven countries covered by Trump’s ban.

In December 2015, President Obama signed into law a measure placing limited restrictions on certain travelers who had visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011. Two months later, the Obama administration added Libya, Somalia, and Yemen to the list, in what it called an effort to address “the growing threat from foreign terrorist fighters.

The restrictions specifically limited what is known as visa-waiver travel by those who had visited one of the seven countries within the specified time period. People who previously could have entered the United States without a visa were instead required to apply for one if they had traveled to one of the seven countries.

Under the law, dual citizens of visa-waiver countries and Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria could no longer travel to the U.S. without a visa. Dual citizens of Libya, Somalia, and Yemen could, however, still use the visa-waiver program if they hadn’t traveled to any of the seven countries after March 2011.

Now, Haines, Kerry, Monaco, and Rice might be excused for opposing Trump’s ban on seven poorly picked countries that themselves had a hand in picking. After all, the changes derived from bills presented by Republicans, Candace Miller and Ron Johnson, which got passed as part of the Omnibus in 2015. Obama can’t be expected to veto the entire spending bill because some Republicans wanted to make life harder on some immigrants.

Except that, as far as I understand, the Obama Administration extended the restrictions from the original law, which pertained only to people from or who had traveled to Syria and Iraq, to Iran and Sudan. And then (as CNN notes) they extended it again to three other countries, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen (notably, all countries we destabilized).

So it’s partly the fault of Haines, Kerry, Monaco, and Rice that Iran, which hasn’t targeted the US in real terrorism for decades, is on the list. It’s partly the fault of Haines, Kerry, Monaco, and Rice that countries with actual ties to terrorists who have attacked inside the US — most notably Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — are not on the list.

I have no doubt that the argument presented in the declaration (which was also signed by a bunch of people who weren’t part of Obama’s second term national security team) is right: Trump’s Muslim ban is badly conceived and makes us less safe. But one reason they likely know that is because their own visa restrictions were badly conceived and did little to make us more safe.

Trump is pursuing a lot of stupid policies. But we should remain honest that they largely build on stupid policies of those who came before.

Update: Corrected that this is not an amicus, but a declaration submitted with state opposition.

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.

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.

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.

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.