Terrorism

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Report: FBI Needs to Hunt “Space-System Intruders” Better

I’m reading through the report released yesterday that basically says FBI needs to do more spying and analysis.

On top of some observations on the substance of the report (to come), I think it was poorly edited, with some fairly humorous results.

Which is what I attribute the mention of “space-system intruders” in the following passage to:

The Review Commission recognizes that national security threats to the United States have multiplied, and become increasingly complex and more globally dispersed in the past decade. Hostile states and transnational networks—including cyber hackers and organized syndicates, space-system intruders, WMD proliferators, narcotics and human traffickers, and other organized criminals—are operating against American interests across national borders, and within the United States. [my emphasis]

I have no clue what FBI actually meant by this transnational threat, the “space-system intruder.” Maybe we really are, still, fighting UFOs, only this time launched by al Qaeda? Maybe we’re having a fight over the satellite-sphere, and not just with other nation-states? Maybe this is just an awkward phrase for territorial insurgents?

Whatever it is, I hope this incautious mention elicits some good conspiracy sci-fi.

Update: Charlie Savage tweets that it is “threat of hacking satellites with systemic consequences (GPS, communications).”

The $450 an Hour Terror Industry Echo Chamber

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.00.22 AMMatthew Levitt, a prominent figure in the Terror Industry, has been testifying in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. He’s one of a number of noted figures who gets presented as experts at trials who doesn’t speak Arabic, who hasn’t bothered to learn Arabic over the course of years of this work.

Yesterday, Levitt spent several hours explaining how the explanation Dzhokhar wrote on a boat in Watertown had to have come from Anwar al-Awlaki’s propaganda.

Just before Levitt testified yesterday, he RTed an article describing him as the expert that would testify at Dzhokhar’s trial. As soon as he got done, he RTed several more articles about his own testimony, describing himself as an “expert” “decoding” the boat. And then, for good measure, he RTed a livetweet from his own testimony.

Today, on cross, it became clear the Awlaki propaganda on Dzhokhar’s computer was all Levitt got from prosectors. He didn’t know how long it had been on Dzhokhar’s computer. Nor did he know what else Dzhokhar has read. He also doesn’t know much about Chechnya, except in the context of Jihad. And though Levitt testified yesterday that there always must be a “radicalizer,” he did not know, nor was he asked, to identify the “radicalizer” in Dzhokhar’s life.

Levitt also did not, apparently, recognize some of what Dzhokhar had written as the boat as having come from the Quran.

He did, however, reveal that he gets paid $450 an hour to do this work.

When called on his RTing of his own testimony by the defense, Levitt admitted he “should have been wiser” about having done so.

I wonder, though, if Levitt was worried that the mystique of his expertise might not hold up if he didn’t constantly reinforce it with his own echo chamber?

CISA’s Terrorists Are Not Just Foreign Terrorists

In addition to hunting hackers, the Cybersecurity Information Security Act — the bill that just passed the Senate Intelligence Committee — collects information domestically to target terrorists if those so-called terrorists can be said to be hacking or otherwise doing damage to property.

Significantly, as written, the bill doesn’t limit itself to targeting terrorists with an international tie. That’s important, because it essentially authorizes intelligence collection domestically with no court review. Thus, the bill seems to be — at least in part — a way around Keith, the 1971 ruling that prohibited domestic security spying without a warrant.

It takes reading the bill closely to understand that, though.

The surveillance or counterhacking of a “terrorist” is permitted in three places in the bill. In the first of those, one might interpret the bill to associate the word “foreign” used earlier in the clause with the word terrorist. That clause authorizes the disclosure of cyber threat indicators for “(iii) the purpose of identifying a cybersecurity threat involving the use of an information system by a foreign adversary or terrorist.”

But the very next clause authorizes information sharing to mitigate “a terrorist act,” with no modifier “foreign” in sight. It authorizes information sharing for “(iv) the purpose of responding to, or otherwise preventing or mitigating, an imminent threat of death, serious bodily harm, or serious economic harm, including a terrorist act or a use of a weapon of mass destruction;”

And the last mention of terrorists — reserving the authority of the Secretary of Defense to conduct cyberattacks in response to malicious cyber activity — includes the article “a” that makes it clear the earlier use of “foreign” doesn’t apply to “terrorist organization” in this usage.

(m) AUTHORITY OF SECRETARY OF DEFENSE TO RESPOND TO CYBER ATTACKS.—Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit the authority of the Secretary of Defense to develop, prepare, coordinate, or, when authorized by the President to do so, conduct a military cyber operation in response to a malicious cyber activity carried out against the United States or a United States person by a foreign government or an organization sponsored by a foreign government or a terrorist organization.

Frankly, I’m of the belief that the distinction that has by and large applied for the last 14 years of spying betrays the problem with our dragnet targeted on Muslims. America in general seems perfectly willing to treat some deaths — even 168 deaths — perpetrated by terrorists as criminal attacks so long as they are white Christian terrorists. If white Christian terrorists can be managed as the significant law enforcement problem they are without a dragnet, then so, probably, can FBI handle the losers it entraps in dragnets and then stings.

But here, that distinction has either apparently been scrapped or Richard Burr’s staffers are just bad at drafting surveillance bills. It appears that whatever anyone wants to call a terrorist — whether it be Animal Rights activists, Occupy Wall Street members, Sovereign Citizen members, or losers who started following ISIL on Twitter — appears to be fair game. Which is particularly troubling given that CISA makes explicit what NSA used to accomplish only in secret — the expansion of “imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm” to incorporate harm to property. How much harm to a movie studio or some other IP owner does it take before someone is branded a “terrorist” engaged in the “act” of doing “serious economic harm,” I wonder?

Note, too, that according to OTI’s redlined version of this bill, most of the application of this surveillance to foreign and domestic terrorists is new, added even as SSCI dawdles in the face of imminent Section 215 sunset.

As I’ll show in a later post, one function of this bill may be to move production that currently undergoes or might undergo FISC  or other court scrutiny out from under a second branch of government, making a mockery out of what used to be called minimization procedures. If that’s right, it would also have the effect of avoiding court scrutiny on just whether this surveillance — renamed “information sharing” — complies with Supreme Court prohibition on warrantless spying on those considered domestic security threats.

The Unopened Torture Report and Trusting CIA on Other Covert Operations

Yesterday, Pat Leahy issued a Sunshine Week statement criticizing Richard Burr for attempting to reclaim all copies of the Torture Report, but also complaining that State and DOJ haven’t opened their copy of the Torture Report.

I also was appalled to learn that several of the agencies that received the full report in December have not yet opened it.  In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking release of the full report, Justice Department and State Department officials submitted declarations stating that their copies remain locked away in unopened, sealed envelopes.  I do not know if this was done to attempt to bolster the government’s position in the FOIA lawsuit, or to otherwise avoid Federal records laws.  I certainly hope not.  Regardless of the motivation, it was a mistake and needs to be rectified.

The executive summary of the torture report makes clear that both the State Department and the Justice Department have much to learn from the history of the CIA’s torture program.  Both agencies were misled by the CIA about the program.  Both should consider systemic changes in how they deal with covert actions.  Yet neither agency has bothered to open the final, full version of the report, or apparently even those sections most relevant to them.

Today, Ron Wyden issued a Sunshine Week release linking back to a February 3 letter Eric Holder is still ignoring.  The letter — which I wrote about here — addresses 4 things: 1) the unclear limits on the President’s ability to kill Americans outside of war zones 2) the common commercial service agreement OLC opinion that should be withdrawn 3) some action the Executive took that Wyden and Russ Feingold wrote Holder and Hillary about in late 2010 and 4) DOJ’s failure to even open the Torture Report. Wyden’s statement, lumps all these under “secret law.”

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., renewed his call for Attorney General Eric Holder to answer crucial questions on everything from when the government believes it has the right to kill an American to secret interpretations of law. The Justice Department has ignored these questions or declined to answer them, in some cases for years.

[snip]

“It is never acceptable to keep the basic interpretations of U.S. law secret from the American people. It doesn’t make our country safer, and erodes the public’s confidence in the government and intelligence agencies in particular,” Wyden said. “While it is appropriate to keep sources, methods and operations secret, the law should never be a mystery. Sunshine Week is the perfect time for the Justice Department to pull back the curtains and let the light in on how our government interprets the law.”

This may be secret law.

But I find it interesting that both Wyden’s letter and Leahy’s statement tie covert operations to the lessons from the Torture Report.

There are many reasons DOJ (and FBI) are probably refusing to open the Torture Report. The most obvious — the one everyone is pointing to — is that by not opening it, these Agencies keep it safe from the snooping FOIAs of the ACLU and Jason Leopold.

But the other reason DOJ and FBI might want to keep this report sealed is what it says about the reliability of the CIA.

The CIA lied repeatedly to DOJ, FBI, and FBI Director Jim Comey (when he was Deputy Attorney General) specifically. Specifically, they lied to protect the conduct of what was structured as a covert operation, CIA breaking the law at the behest of the President.

Of course, both DOJ generally and FBI specifically continue to partner with CIA as if nothing has gone on, as if the spooks retain the credibility they had back in 2001, as if they should retain that credibility. (I’m particularly interested in the way FBI participated in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, perhaps relying on CIA’s claims there, too, but it goes well beyond that.)

That’s understandable, to a point. If DOJ and the FBI are going to continue pursuing (especially) terrorists with CIA, they need to be able to trust them, to trust they’re not being lied to about, potentially, everything.

Except that ignores the lesson of the Torture Report, which is that CIA will lie about anything to get DOJ to rubber stamp criminal behavior.

No wonder DOJ and FBI aren’t opening that report.

The Jihadi John Cover Story

In the WaPo’s story identifying Jihadi John as Mohammed Emwazi, they noted that the FBI intimated it had ID ISIL’s executioner as far back as February.

Authorities have used a variety of investigative techniques, including voice analysis and interviews with former hostages, to try to identify Jihadi John. James B. Comey, the director of the FBI, said in September — only a month after the Briton was seen in a video killing American journalist James Foley — that officials believed they had succeeded.

In a Telegraph piece explaining how the WaPo had IDed Emwazi, Adam Goldman suggests he and his colleagues repeated that approach.

Former hostages said that the Islamic State killer spoke fluent Arabic, a hint that he was not from Britain’s large Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities.

He made his captives watch online videos from al-Shabaab, the Somali terror group, which suggested he may have had an interest in jihad in east Africa before heading to Syria.

“I was trying to pick up pieces of information, data points, scraps,” said Adam Goldman, the Washington Post reporter who broke the story with his colleague Souad Mekhennet. “It was hard, man. People were tight-lipped about this.”

When Mr Goldman finally closed in on the name of Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born British citizen who grew up in west London, two things quickly became evident.

The first was that the name on its own would shed little light on the identity of the man who taunted the West in Isil’s gruesome videos. Emwazi had basically none of the internet presence you would expect from a man in his mid-twenties. No Facebook account, no Twitter, no digital trace.

“The trail was thin. Which was odd because in this day and age if you’re 26 years old you’re all over the internet,” said Mr Goldman. Emwazi’s computer skills, honed at the University of Westminster, may have helped him scrub his record.

In that piece, Goldman also made clear that officials in both the US and UK knew who Emwazi was, but weren’t sharing.

The original WaPo piece also makes clear they relied, in part, on help from CagePrisoners’ Asim Qureshi. As I noted the other day, CagePrisoners has got a great deal of documentation on Emwazi’s early run-ins with the British security state, some of which is now coming out in stories.

In short, people knew, and a number of WaPo journalists were also able to learn who Jihadi John is. And they did so largely by talking to people who had met or known him — classic HUMINT.

Which is why I find this story so odd. Exclusive!! Jihadi John exposed himself via SIGINT!

Mohammed Emwazi, 26, now the world’s most-wanted man after beheading British and US hostages, had been on a shortlist of suspects.

But the crucial piece of the jigsaw fell into place when when Emwazi used a laptop in Syria to download web design software which was being offered on a free trial.

Instead of buying the software with a credit card, he used a student code from London’s Westminster University when he studied computer technology.

The number contained unique information which gave his date of birth, what he studied, and where, and information on his student loan.

Sources revealed the download singled him out as being in the right place and time to be the killer.

The information was passed back through the intelligence chain and further matches showed he was the murderer.

An intelligence source said last night: “In today’s electronic age of social media and technology, we chase the digital footprint before we chase the person.

British intelligence sources are now claiming that the SIGINT hunt for Emwazi preceded the HUMINT one, and also claiming that a SIGINT clue — and the related SIGINT trail that clue uncovered — provided the breakthrough in IDing him.

Which is almost certainly bullshit.

But notable bullshit, for two reasons. First, because the current story — that the UK lost Emwazi — poses really big problems for the dragnet. Because if someone like Emwazi, whom MI5 had been chasing for years, can simply disappear, only to reappear as the man beheading western journalists (though technically, the videos never show him doing so), then it suggests the entire dragnet is least effective when it is most needed. The Express’ ill-defined sources appear to want to tell a story about SIGINT succeeded rather then explain how it is that SIGINT failed (at least according to the story getting told publicly).

Mind you, I’m not entirely convinced Emwazi did disappear. But if he didn’t, that raises some other questions. Questions heightened by the role of CagePrisoners, as well. Remember, the Brits arrested Moazzam Begg for travel it had pre-approved to Syria in 2012, holding him from February to October 2014, when they finally admitted the British government had known of his trip, precisely the period when Jihadi John came into US consciousness.

I suspect both CagePrisoners and British intelligence are trying to spin this, in this case by focusing on SIGINT rather than HUMINT which clearly led to Emwazi.

The “Torture Works” Story

After Adam Goldman exposed the identity of Jihadi John, ISIL’s executioner, as Mohammed Emwazi, it set off an interesting response in Britain. CagePrisoners — the advocacy organization for detainees — revealed details of how MI5 had tried to recruit Emwazi and, when he refused, had repeatedly harassed him and his family and prevented him from working a job in Kuwait (where he was born).

While that certainly doesn’t excuse beheadings, it does raise questions about how the intelligence services track those it has identified as potential recruits and/or threats.

And seemingly in response to those questions, the former head of MI6 has come forward to say that torture has worked in a ticking time bomb scenario — that of the toner cartridge plot in 2010.

In his first interview since stepping down from Secret Intelligence Service in January, Sir John Sawers told the BBC yesterday that torture “does produce intelligence” and security services “set aside the use of torture… because it is against the values” of British society, not because it doesn’t work in the short term. Sir John defended the security services against accusations they had played a role in the radicalising of British Muslims, including Mohammed Emwazi, who it is claimed is the extremist responsible for the murder of hostages in Syria.

The IoS can reveal details of a dramatic “Jack Bauer real-time operation” to foil an al-Qaeda plot to bring down two airliners in 2010. According to a well-place intelligence source, the discovery of a printer cartridge bomb on a UPS cargo aircraft at East Midlands airport was possible only because two British government officials in Saudi Arabia were in “immediate communication” with a team reportedly using torture to interrogate an al-Qaeda operative as part of “ticking bomb scenario” operation.

The terror plot was to use cartridge bombs to bring down two aircraft over the eastern United States. However, British authorities intercepted the first device at the cargo airport hub after what they described as a “tip-off” from Saudi Arabia. A second device was intercepted aboard a freight plane in Dubai; both aircraft had started their trips in Yemen.

The IoS understands there was a frantic search prompted by “two or three” calls to Saudi Arabia after the tip-off, with security services battling to find the device. French security sources revealed the device was within 17 minutes of detonating when bomb disposal teams disarmed it.

One intelligence source said: “The people in London went back on the phone two or three times to where the interrogation was taking place in Riyadh to find out specifically where the bomb was hidden. There were two Britons there, in immediate communication with where the interrogation was taking place, and as soon as anything happened, they were in touch with the UK. It was all done in real time.”

I find this rather interesting for several reasons.

At the time, multiple sources on the Saudi peninsula revealed that authorities learned of this plot — and therefore learned about the bombs — from an apparent double agent (and former Gitmo detainee), Jabir al-Fayfi, who had left AQAP and alerted the Saudis to the plot. If so, it would mean what was learned from torture (if this account can be trusted) was the precise location of the explosives in planes that boxes that had already been isolated. I’m not certain, but that may mean this “success” prevented nothing more than an explosion in a controlled situation, because it had already been tipped by a double agent who presumably didn’t need to be tortured to share the information he had been sent in to obtain.

That is, the story, as provided, may be overblown.

Or may be referring to torture that happened in a different place and time, as part of an effort to “recruit’ al-Fayfi.

But I’m interested in it for further reasons.

The toner cartridge story significantly resembles the UndieBomb 2.0 plot, which was not only tipped by a double agent, but propagated by it (indeed, I recently raised questions about whether leaks about both were part of the same investigation). But in that case, the double agent came not via Gitmo and Saudi “deradicalization,” but via MI5, via a recruitment effort very like what MI5 used with Emwazi.

Indeed, it is not unreasonable to imagine that Emwazi knew that double agent and/or that CagePrisoners has suspicions about who he is.

I have increasingly wondered whether the treatment of a range of people implicated in Yemeni and/or Somali networks (MI5 accused Emwazi of wanting to travel to the latter) derives from the growing awareness among networks who have intelligence services have tried to recruit who else might have been recruited.

Which might be one reason to tie all this in with “successful torture” — partly a distraction, partly an attempt to defer attention from a network that is growing out of control.

American Hegemony: Delivering “Unpredictable Instability” the World Over

I love Global Threat Hearings and curse you Richard Burr for holding the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing in secret.

At least John McCain had the courage to invite James Clapper for what might have been (but weren’t) hard questions in public in front of Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

Clapper started with a comment that was not prominent in (though it definitely underscored) his written testimony (Update: Here’s the transcript of his as-delivered statement.)

Unpredictable instability is the new normal.The year 2014 saw the highest rate of political instability since 1992. The most deaths as a result of state-sponsored mass killings since the early 1990s. And the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons (or IDPs) since World War II. Roughly half of the world’s currently stable countries are at some risk of instability over the next two years.

It’s a damning catalog. All the more so given that the US has been the world’s unquestioned hegemon since that period in the early 1990s when everything has been getting worse, since that period when the first President Bush promised a thousand points of light.

And while the US can’t be held responsible for all the instability in the world right now, it owns a lot of it: serial invasions in the Middle East and the coddling of Israel account for many of the refugees (though there’s no telling what would have happened with the hundred thousand killed and millions of refugees in Syria had the second President Bush not invaded Iraq, had he taken Bashar al-Assad up on an offer to partner against al Qaeda, had we managed the aftermath of the Arab Spring differently).

US-backed neoliberalism and austerity — and the underlying bank crisis that provided the excuse for it — has contributed to instability elsewhere, and probably underlies those countries that Clapper thinks might grow unstable in the next year.

We’re already seeing instability arising from climate change; the US owns some of the blame for that, and more for squandering its leadership role on foreign adventures rather than pushing a solution to that more urgent problem (Clapper, by the way, thinks climate change is a problem but unlike Obama doesn’t consider it the most serious one).

There are, obviously, a lot of other things going on. Clapper talked admiringly of China’s modernization of its military, driven by domestically developed programs, an obvious development when a country becomes the manufacturing powerhouse of the world. But China’s growing influence comes largely in the wake of, and in part because of, stupid choices the US has made.

There was, predictably, a lot of discussion about cyberthreats, even featuring Senate Intelligence Committee member Angus King arguing we need an offensive threat (we’ve got one — and have been launching pre-emptive strikes for 9 years now — as he would know if he paid attention to briefings or read the Intercept or the New York Times) to deter others from attacking us with cyberweapons.

Almost everyone at the hearing wanted to talk about Iran, without realizing that a peace deal with it would finally take a step towards more stability (until our allies the Saudis start getting belligerent as a result).

Still, even in spite of the fact that Clapper started with this inventory of instability, there seemed zero awareness of what a damning indictment that is for the world’s hegemon. Before we address all these other problems, shouldn’t we focus some analysis on why American hegemony went so badly wrong?

The Secret Squirrels Pitching “Countering Violent Extremism”

For the record, I believe our country needs some kind of program to divert wayward young men — of whatever race, religion, and ideology — rather than ensnaring them in stings that will result in a wasted life.

Mind you, the government is going about it with the Muslim community badly. In part, that’s because the US doesn’t have much positive ideology to offer anymore, especially to those who identify in whatever way with those we’ve spent millions villainizing. In part, that’s because we’d have to revamp FBI before we started this CVE stuff, starting with the emphasis on terrorist conviction numbers as the prime measure of success. You’ll never succeed with a program if people’s primary job measure is the opposite.

Finally, and most obviously, you have to start by building trust, which will necessarily require a transition time between when you primarily rely on dragnets and informants to that time when you can rely on community partners (it will also require an acceptance that you won’t stop all attacks, regardless of which method you use).

Which is why I find this story, in the Administration’s latest effort to roll out a CVE program, so telling.

Senior administration officials, speaking to reporters Monday, said that while the initiative would not end terrorist acts like those undertaken in Copenhagen and Libya in the past few days, they are part of the broader answer to such threats.

“I think we need to be realistic that this is a long-term investment,” said one official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the event in advance. “And so, ultimately, we hope to get to a place where we just have much greater resilience and greater action across communities. But that is not something we’re going to see tomorrow.”

[snip]

One of the senior administration officials said Monday that “there’s no profile that we can point to to say this person is from this community, is going to be radicalized to violence,” adding, “I think that we make a mistake as a government if we focus on stereotypes.” [my emphasis]

The article quotes the US Attorney from Minnesota, which has had a fairly sustained effort of outreach to the Somali community, by name. And it quotes the Congressional testimony of others.

But otherwise, every single Administration official insisted on anonymity.

This is all about trust, and the Administration would not permit the top officials rolling out this program to speak under their own name.

The increasing paranoiac secrecy of the Executive, worse even under Obama than Bush, sows distrust among all parts of the community.

But all the more so at the community most often targeted by programs that rely on secrecy to avoid public criticism.

So maybe before the Administration invests any more dollars into trying to change young Muslim men, it should first deal with its own poisonous hyper-secrecy?

Mossad Now Issuing Denials for CIA?

Screen shot 2015-02-06 at 8.23.51 PMTen days ago, I noted that — after he denied it to me — Newsweek’s editor, Jim Impoco, admitted that his magazine had sat on a story about CIA’s role in killing Imad Mugniyeh in 2008.

Almost exactly a week ago, theWashington Post reported on CIA’s role in the 2008 car bomb killing of the key Hezbollah planner behind the terrorist attack on the American Embassy in Lebanon in 1983, Imad Mugniyeh.

Shortly thereafter, Newsweekpublished an even more detailed version.

As everyone was discussing the story the next day, I suggested the timing made it seem as if one outlet — I was agnostic about which one — had sat on the story at the request of CIA. Newsweek’s editor, Jim Impoco, scoffed that anyone might do such a thing.

“Who does that anymore?” he asked.

Politico just confirmed that I was correct: Newsweek sat on the story for a year in response to a CIA request.

CBS’s has a column purporting to rebut the claims laid out in Newsweek and WaPo’s versions.

According to the published accounts, the bomb had been designed, shaped, and repeatedly tested at an American base to be sure that only Mughniyeh and no other people would be killed.

Because of the revelation that the CIA was part of the mission, as well as details of how it was accomplished, Israelis close to their country’s security services wondered why American sources chose to leak so much about it.

One result was that some of those Israelis – apparently miffed that the Americans were taking too much credit – went to the trouble of speaking with Western officials and diplomats to offer corrections.

[snip]

Contrary to the recent reports, the Israelis claim to have designed and tested the bomb, while respecting the CIA’s insistence that it not be too large so as not to kill any innocents.

According to this version, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert kept track of the testing and – during a trip to Washington – even showed some of the videos to George W. Bush, who was impressed and enthusiastic about eliminating Mughniyeh. The CIA had briefly withdrawn from the mission, but President Bush brought the agency back in. [my emphasis]

Given the confirmation that Newsweek sat on their story for a year at CIA’s request, this story makes no sense. CIA would have had an easier way to quash the story if they weren’t involved at all. They chose not to avail of that.

Maybe CIA’s still trying to bury this story, only with the help of Mossad now?

Military Just Can’t Kick Its Afghanistan Habit, Picks Up Pace of Night Raids

The US military’s addiction to war in Afghanistan is now in its fourteenth year. Such a long addiction can’t just be ended in a weekend of going cold turkey. Much of the effort to end the war has been cosmetic and semantic. Although troop levels are now down dramatically from the peak of Obama’s surge, Obama’s tactic at the end of 2014 was to declare the war “over” while at the same time signing a secret order allowing for expanded activities by those troops remaining in the country.

The military has joined in Obama’s gamesmanship, taking as much of the war effort behind curtains of secrecy as it possibly can. In October, it suddenly classified information on Afghan troop capabilities and then in January it tried to expand that classification to nearly all information coming out of the war. While the military seems to have relented on at least some of that move, I haven’t yet seen SIGAR report on the information grudgingly given up after the classification was strongly criticized in Washington.

Two reports in the current news cycle highlight the military’s desperation in hanging onto as much combat activity in Afghanistan as it can. Yesterday, John Campbell, commander of US troops in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current schedule for drawdown of troops from Afghanistan must be slowed:

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and slated pullback from bases in the country by the end of the year, as the White House reconsiders its plans.

Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has made those recommendations and they are now being considered by the joint staff and secretary of defense’s office.

It is hard to see this move as anything but an attempt to delay the inevitable total collapse of Afghan forces, just as Iraqi forces collapsed without US support. Consider how Campbell framed his testimony:

“This is their first fighting season on their own,” Campbell said, speaking of the Afghan forces the United States hopes will be able to secure the country against Taliban, Islamic extremists linked to the Islamic State, and drug lords.

Just like a junkie needing that next fix, Campbell tries to claim that just one more year of training will have those Afghan troops working perfectly:

A slower withdrawal time line could allow the forces to continue the train-advise — and-assist and the counterterror operations at more of the 21 bases it and coalition forces now use throughout the country.

This desperate plea for a slower US troop withdrawal and more time for training Afghan forces puts a much colder light on the sudden classification of Afghan troop capability. Even John McCain realizes that we are headed down the same path in Afghanistan as we saw in Iraq (but of course he used that make a dig at Obama while overlooking his own cheerleading of the ongoing clusterfuck):

“We are worried about it being done ‘just as we’ve done in Iraq,’” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., mocking a statement by President Barack Obama last year that touted the proposed Afghanistan drawdown.

But the classification of Afghan troop capability is not the only front on which actions in Afghanistan have gone secret. We learn today from the New York Times (h/t The Biased Reporter) that the US is relying on new authority for night raids as part of its counterterror activities authorized under the Bilateral Security Agreement put into place once Ashraf Ghani assumed the presidency. Unlike the days of the Karzai presidency, the John Kerry-invented National Unity Government of Ghani and Abdullah not only doesn’t protest US night raids, it actively works with the US to hide all news of them:

The spike in raids is at odds with policy declarations in Washington, where the Obama administration has deemed the American role in the war essentially over. But the increase reflects the reality in Afghanistan, where fierce fighting in the past year killed record numbers of Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians.

American and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing operations that are largely classified, said that American forces were playing direct combat roles in many of the raids and were not simply going along as advisers.

“We’ve been clear that counterterrorism operations remain a part of our mission in Afghanistan,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Thursday. “We’ve also been clear that we will conduct these operations in partnership with the Afghans to eliminate threats to our forces, our partners and our interests.”

The raids appear to have targeted a broad cross section of Islamist militants. They have hit both Qaeda and Taliban operatives, going beyond the narrow counterterrorism mission that Obama administration officials had said would continue after the formal end of American-led combat operations last December.

The gist of the Times article is that this uptick in raids is driven mostly by intelligence contained on a laptop magically captured by Afghan forces, but it is clear that US forces would have used any excuse they could find to justify this increase in death squad activity now that the Afghan government allows their return.

Postscript: Somehow, even though the laptop is supposed to have been from an al Qaeda operative, it is even claimed to have had information that helped target drones to kill Abdul Rauf Khadim. I’m pretty sure that by now getting his al Qaeda space checked off, Rauf has completed his terror bingo card showing sides on which he has played, even if posthumously.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel Best as I can tell, no update on location of Hailey Betts, 6-yo Amber Alert about whom woke up much of MI at 5AM. https://t.co/zYLGCiag4p
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emptywheel @dangillmor So they say.
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emptywheel @nickmanes1 But you got it? Was your phone nearby? Mine was downstairs, no idea what noise it made. But D's phone noise was HORRIBLE.
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emptywheel @dangillmor Right. That'll definitely happen under Leader Schumer.
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emptywheel RT @ValeriePlame: Very good article. But it's the comments that are intriguing... Guantánamo’s Charade of Justice http://t.co/4YHLU1pwoH
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emptywheel @PhilPerspective Did not know but he's launching book tour for book abt Poppy. Wonder how much CIA dirt will not be in it @Krhawkins5 @bmaz
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emptywheel @OrinKerr We should have public convo. Too bad FBI has repeatedly engaged in bad faith. @trevortimm @astepanovich
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emptywheel @PhilPerspective As @Krhawkins5 suggested, perhaps bc he helped them avoid accountability for torture? @bmaz
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bmaz @randiego2 @tparsi Yes I would, and I would want a nuke bad for deterrence. So, if they are willing to negotiate away, its a great deal.
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bmaz @Popehat Good grief, let us hope not. We haz teh laws for that.
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bmaz If he only had a heart... RT@emptywheel Dick Cheney was too busy to drive 10 miles to see CIA give George W Bush an award.
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bmaz RT @emptywheel: Dick Cheney was too busy to drive 10 miles to see CIA give George W Bush an award. http://t.co/pfT4Y2cIJ5
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March 2015
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