Maybe Republicans Didn’t Want Hologram Reagan Because They Didn’t Want a Snitch at Their Convention?

Last week, before we learned Mitt’s surprise speaker at the RNC was an actor speaking to an invisible President, there were rumors that the speaker would be a half-visible actor-President, hologram Reagan. But unlike Clint Eastwood’s invisible president, hologram Reagan actually exists. Only, the GOP didn’t think Mitt was up for the competition with hologram Reagan.

Despite some conflicting reports, Yahoo News has learned that a holographic projection of former President Ronald Reagan is in the works and was originally intended to debut outside the halls of the Republican National Convention this week. But its official unveiling has been put on hold until later this year or early 2013.

[snip]

However, Reynolds says he discussed the idea with a number of Republican activists who asked him to delay the project out of concern it would overshadow Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech.

“At the time he hadn’t chosen Paul Ryan, so I think they were a little worried about his energy,” Reynolds said. “Even in a hologram form I think Reagan’s going to beat a lot of people in terms of communicating.”

Or maybe there’s another explanation. Maybe the Republicans just didn’t want an FBI snitch reporting back on all the scandalous things they were doing at the RNC?

Reagan was more involved than was previously known as a government informer during his Hollywood years, and that in return he secretly received personal and political help from J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime F.B.I. director, at taxpayer expense.

Read more

Even Liars Get To Invoke State Secrets

As the LAT first reported, Judge Cormac Carney has dismissed a suit, Fazaga v. FBI, brought by Southern California Muslims against the FBI for illegal surveillance. Carney actually made two rulings, one dismissing most of the suit on state secrets grounds and one dismissing part of the suit against the government–but not individual FBI officers–on FISA grounds.

The rulings are interesting for four reasons:

  • Carney has basically accepted the government’s claims in a case that is closely related to one where–three years ago–he called out the government for lying to him personally
  • Carney overstates the degree to which the Administration appears to be adhering to its own state secrets policy
  • The case is an interesting next step in FISA litigation
  • Carney suggests the FBI now investigates people for radicalization

Liars get to invoke state secrets

Three years ago, Carney caught the government lying to him about what documents it had collected on Southern Californian Muslims in this and related investigations. In an unclassified version of his ruling released last year, he revealed part of the government’s breathtaking claim.

The Government argues that there are times when the interests of national security require the Government to mislead the Court. The Court strongly disagrees. The Government’s duty of honesty to the Court can never be excused, no matter what the circumstance. The Court is charged with the humbling task of defending the Constitution and ensuring that the Government does not falsely accuse people, needlessly invade their privacy or wrongfully deprive them of their liberty. The Court simply cannot perform this important task if the Government lies to it. Deception perverts justice. Truth always promotes it.

Yet in finding the government’s state secrets invocation here, he is effectively accepting the government’s word–which in some way claims to have a real predicate for its investigation into Southern Californian mosques–over the word of their former informant, Craig Monteilh, who says he was instructed to collect information indiscriminately because “everybody knows somebody” who knows someone in the Taliban, Hamas, or Hezbollah.

Read more

Some Data Points on Minh Qhang Pham, AQAP’s Graphic Artist of Mass Destruction

On Friday, the government indicted Minh Quang Pham for material support of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The indictment and the press release make it clear (though don’t say explicitly–though this report confirms it) that Pham’s primary alleged crime was helping Samir Khan produce Inspire magazine.

In or about April 2011, PHAM worked with a United States citizen (“American CC-1”) to create online propaganda for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

[snip]

[Pham] facilitated communications between al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and supporters; and provided expert advice and assistance in photography and graphic design of media for al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Meaning CC-2 is Anwar al-Awlaki.

In or about April 2011, PHAM met with a United States citizen (“American CC-2”) in Yemen.

Given the centrality of Pham’s alleged association with Khan and Awlaki, consider the following chronology and the additional details below.

December 2010: Pham travels from the UK to Yemen.

March and April 2011: Pham carries a Kalashnikov.

April 2011: Pham works with Samir Khan and meets Anwar al-Awlaki.

“About” May 2011: UndieBomb infiltrator travels from UK to Yemen.

September 27, 2011: AQAP releases Inspire, Issue 7.

September 30, 2011: Khan and Awlaki killed in drone strike

December 2011: Pham returns to the UK; “Prior to his arrest [June 29, 2012], PHAM was held by British authorities in immigration custody.”

Around April 20, 2012: UndieBomb 2.0 and his handler removed from Yemen.

May 3, 2012: AQAP releases Inspire Issues 8 and 9.

May 7, 2012: UndieBomb 2.0 revealed.

May 11, 2012: British role in recruiting UndieBomb 2.0 revealed.

May 26, 2012: False AQAP statement released.

June 29, 2012: Pham arrested (presumably in Britain); indicted in US.

First, note that some of alleged acts–notably carrying a Kalashnikov–might require an inside source to learn.

Then consider you had someone coming from the UK to Yemen not long before the UndieBomb 2.0 infiltrator. Unlike UndieBomb 2.0, Pham appears to have decided to leave after his partner in propaganda, Khan, got killed. But then he appears to have been held in immigration custody for 6 months–which happens to cover the time UndieBomb 2.0 infiltrator and his handler were still in Yemen.

How interesting, too, that Pham is being tried here in the US, not in the UK (where the crimes are slightly different but where terrorist propaganda is even more criminalized than here, if I understand the law correctly). Why do you suppose they’re trying him here and not in the UK, where he has just been held for 6 months?

Meanwhile, I’ve always been intrigued that the latest versions of Inspire were released between the time when UndieBomb 2.0 was whisked out of Yemen and the time first the purported plot, then UndieBomb 2.0’s role it, was revealed. Then, several weeks later, someone released a false AQAP announcement claiming AQAP had been infiltrated. Pham would have been in British custody during this period.

Finally, there’s this rather interesting language. As a lot of indictments that fall under the federal terrorism statute do, this one has language on forfeiture under 18 USC 981. But note the way it phases this language on forfeiture.

As a result of planning and perpetuating Federal crimes of terrorism against the United States … defendant [] shall forfeit … all right, title, and interest in all assets, foreign and domestic, affording a source of influence over al Shabaab and AQAP.

This guy, presumably, doesn’t have a whole lot of financial goods to forfeit. Nevertheless, the government is going to the trouble of seizing all his interest in assets affording Pham influence over al Shabaab and AQAP.

Those are, mind you, just data points. But some fairly intriguing ones.

Hesham Abu Zubaydah Dates FBI Investigation of Mohammed Osman Mohamud a Year Earlier

The most recent hearing in the Mohammed Osman Mohamud case provided the following details, which the FBI claimed described the beginning of their investigation into Mohamud.

February 2009: Samir Khan and Mohamud start emailing

August 31, 2009: Mohamud’s father, Osman Barre, calls the FBI to say he’s worried his son is being brainwashed

Early November 2009: Mohamud investigated in–but exonerated for–a date rape allegation

December 2009: Mohamud and Amro Alali exchange coded emails

The entire hearing was supposed to serve as the FBI’s proof that the date rape allegations didn’t mark the start of their interest in Mohamud–the Khan emails and Mohamud’s father’s call did.

Except that Jason Leopold’s mammoth investigation into Abu Zubaydah’s brother Hesham suggests the investigation started perhaps as much as a year before Samir Khan’s emails.

After 9/11, public claims about his brother, and a failed American marriage, Hesham found it almost impossible to get citizenship, even after marrying another American woman. Finally, the FBI came to him and suggested if he turn informant, they would help him get his citizenship.

After he agreed, they showed him a bunch of pictures of people of attendees at the Masjed As-Saber mosque in Portland. Including, in 2008, Mohamud.

Hesham said he would do “whatever it takes” to “prove to you that I am a good person and fix my situation.”

Gray called him two weeks later and they met again. She brought an envelope with about ten photographs. A majority were Somalis. But there were also photographs of Iraqis and Saudis, Hesham said.

Do you recognize any of these people?” Gray asked Hesham.

“Nope,” he said.

“I’d like you to go to the mosque and find out what these people are up to,” Gray said. “Find out if any of those people are helping terrorists.”

“I will keep my eyes open,” Hehsam said.

[snip]

Hesham said one of the photographs Gray showed him was of a young Somali named Mohamed Osman Mohamud who attended the Masjed As-Saber mosque. Mohamud, who was the subject of an FBI sting operation, was arrested in November 2010 on terrorism charges for allegedly attempting to detonate what he believed was a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland. Hesham said he recalls being shown a photograph of Mohamud in 2008, two years before that incident, when Mohamud was just 16.

Samir Kahn’s success in leaving the US, when in similar circumstances other young men were stopped or prevented, has always been rather incredible. That’s made worse by the fact that Khan was clearly being investigated by the FBI when he was allowed to leave the US (remember, even Mohamud wasn’t allowed to go to Alaska for a summer job while he was being investigated).

But if Hesham’s memory is correct, it shows several things. First, the FBI’s currently operative story–which has changed several times already–would be proven incomplete again. Moreover, it might suggest that Khan (whose family got an apology when he died) had an ongoing relationship with the FBI after they allowed him to slip out of the US as they prevented so many others from doing.

And, finally, it would suggest the FBI first started targeting Mohamud well before he turned 18. It would suggest as a teenager, Mohamud withstood 2 years of that treatment before being entrapped trying to blow up the FBI’s own bomb.

Again, all this rests on Hesham’s memory. But his memory is utterly damning for the FBI’s case against Mohamud.

Peter King Makes It More Clear He’s Targeting the AP, Not Leakers

A real member of Congress might worry that the government is using double agents to expand wars in other countries without briefing the Gang of Eight, as required by law.

Not Peter King. He wants to investigate the AP’s sources–but not, apparently, ABC’s–to find out how the press learned something that had not been briefed properly.

Also: Peter King doesn’t believe in scaring the American people. Just ginning up fear about one religion or ethnic group.

Did Another Saudi Double Agent “Tip” Us Off to a “Plot” Against America?

ABC reports that the UndieBomber 2.0 plot revealed yesterday in breathless fashion was exposed by a double agent that–given that he delivered the bomb to Saudi Arabia–was presumably being run by the Saudis just like all the other men the Saudis have infiltrated into AQAP.

In a stunning intelligence coup, a dangerous al Qaeda bomb cell in Yemen was successfully infiltrated by an inside source who secretly worked for the CIA and several other intelligence agencies, authorities revealed to ABC News.

The inside source is now “safely out of Yemen,” according to one international intelligence official, and was able to bring with him to Saudi Arabia the bomb al Qaeda thought was going to be detonated on a U.S.-bound aircraft.

So as happened when Jabir al-Fayfi revealed the toner cartridge plot, we can now celebrate the skill of our spooks without thinking too much about what it means that the Saudis are running this terror show. (Though at least we’ve reached the point where US outlets are reporting this, rather than just British outlets.)

But here are a few questions:

Have Republicans already claimed this guy was a “recidivist” Gitmo detainee, as they have with other double agents? That effectively gives them a two-fer on detainee exploitation, “proof” that Gitmo detainees are too dangerous to release, followed by “proof” that the terrorists are planning attacks (not to mention “proof” that the CIA has good intelligence on al Qaeda).

Was the “international intelligence official” who revealed this double agent to ABC Yemeni? The Yemenis leaked Jabir al-Fayfi’s role back in 2010. If they again leaked the involvement of this double agent, we might want to start asking ourselves whether they can be trusted to keep these double agents secret.

I argued that the decision to use signature strikes in Yemen seems like a Saudi-driven demand rather than a well-considered US decision. We apparently made that decision around the same time the US reportedly learned of this “plot.” If the Saudis were–as I suspect–running this double agent like all the other double agents we’ve infiltrated into AQAP, then did they “tip” this plot as a way to convince us to make what on its face looks like a boneheaded decision?

One more bit of possible irony to contemplate. Ibrahim al-Asiri–the AQAP bombmaker reportedly behind this plot–sent his own brother, Abdullah, out to assassinate Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef back in 2009. The attempt failed. Since then, two of the men Nayef presumably infiltrated into AQAP have foiled Asiri’s bomb plots. It sort of makes you wonder how Saudi double agents keep getting close enough to al-Asiri to foil his plots, doesn’t it?

Recruiting Informants: Framings, Expulsion, and Torture

Between this MoJo story from last week and this Telegraph story from today, it sure looks like the US and Brits have utterly dispensed with rule of law in hopes of recruiting informants.

Last week, Nick Baumann told the story of Yonas Fikre. While visiting family in Sudan, men purporting to be FBI (remember that CIA has repeatedly lied and said they were FBI since 9/11) pushed him to become an informant. When he refused, the Agents told him he had been put on the no-fly list. He then traveled to UAE, where he was detained (reportedly at the behest of the US, torture, and interrogated–in an effort, Fikre says, to elicit a false confession.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph tells of the process depicted by more of the documents liberated in Libya (I’m still wondering when the documents explaining how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was suicided). In violation of laws prohibiting it, MI5 not only provided information to Libyans about Libyan refugees in the country, but set up meetings to try to coerce them to become informants.  If offering them citizenship didn’t work, the story describes, then they would prosecute them for meeting with the Libyan agents whose meeting they had set up.

The minutes suggest that MI5 preferred to use the carrot, rather than the stick, in inducing the target to start giving up information about his associates: ‘We might allow him to visit his family in Libya, then return to Britain. We could offer to help clear his name with Libyan authorities. We could offer to help with citizenship or residency. This could open the door to his co-operation. We could enter his office frequently, do business with him and open the door to further conversations.’

But if that didn’t work, then they could resort to coercion: ‘Libyan operatives could ask him [the target asylum seeker] about problems at home in Libya or in Britain.
‘They offer to help in return for giving information we want

about other targets. If he refuses, British police will arrest him and accuse him of associating with Libyan secret agents. He will be told that as a non-resident of Britain he could be deported if found guilty.’

At some point this isn’t about collecting intelligence anymore (particularly in the case of Fikre’s mosque, the Imam from which the FBI has probably sent 10 informants against without ever being able to make a case against him). It’s about instilling turning Muslim men into the puppets of the governments claiming to wage counter-terrorism campaigns.

So Much for the FBI’s $100,000 Informant

MoJo, which did a superb report on the FBI’s use of informants last year, reports that one of the guys they profiled in that package, Shahed Hussain, got sniffed out by a Pittsburgh area man, Khalifah Al-Akili, whom he was trying to ensnare in a sting.

Shahed Hussain, a long-time FBI terrorism informant Mother Jones profiled last year, has surfaced again—but this time, Google appears to have foiled his effort to identify a new target. Khalifah al-Akili, a 34-year-old Pittsburgh man who says he was approached by Hussain and another informant in January. Al Akili told the Albany Times-Union that after Hussain “repeatedly made attempts to get close” to him, he googled them. He found Trevor Aaronson’s August 2011 Mother Jones expose about the FBI’s massive network of undercover terrorism informants and confronted Hussain on the phone.

MoJo notes Akili is being held on gun charges, but it doesn’t really lay out what appears to have happened to him–which is that FBI was trying to build a terrorism charge against him, but then triggered the gun charge arrest after Akili publicized Hussain’s efforts to reach out to him.

Akili–formerly James Marvin Thomas Jr–was busted in 2001 on drug charges and sentenced to 2.5 to 5 years in prison. He says an informant tried to ensnare in him in 2005. The FBI Special Agent who testified in his bond hearing, Joseph Bieshelt, claimed that Akili expressed sympathy for the Taliban in 2005, which may be the same effort.

Mr. Akili is known to have expressed sympathy for the Afghan resistance movement in a 2005 conversation with a man he knew in prison, Agent Bieshelt said.

And both before and after his arrest and imprisonment, he had a history of fighting cops and ignoring warrants on minor infractions. He reportedly tried to run when the FBI came to arrest him on Thursday.

In December, according to Bieshelt, Akili was recorded saying, “that he was developing somebody to possibly strap a bomb on himself,”

Then, in January, Hussain and another informant, Shareef, tried to entrap Akili.

Al-Akili said he was approached by Hussain, who went by the name “Mohammed,” and another man, who used the name “Shareef,” in January when they turned up in his neighborhood and repeatedly made attempts to get close to Al-Akili. But Al-Akili said he quickly figured out Hussain’s identity as an FBI informant. He said the men were “too obvious” and requested receipts even for small items they purchased like coffee and donuts.

Al-Akili said Shareef also asked Al-Akili repeatedly if he could help him purchase a gun. Al-Akili said he told the man he could not help him.

Al-Akili said his suspicions the men were informants were confirmed when he saw a photograph of Hussain on the Internet. In addition, he said, a cell phone number Hussain had given him was the same number used by Hussain during a 2009 counterterrorism investigation against four Newburgh men in the small Orange County city. Al-Akili said he found the number and its connection to that case through a simple Internet search using Google.

Last week (so maybe around March 10), he called Hussain and asked if he was an FBI informant.

Al-Akili said the last time he spoke to Hussain was a week ago when Al-Akili said he called Hussain’s cell phone and asked him if he was an FBI informant. He said Hussain quickly ended the call. The other man, “Shareef,” vacated his apartment and vanished within a day, Al-Akili said.

He revealed all that to the Albany Times Union, which interviewed Al Akili on Sunday, March 11 (he also reportedly put it on his Facebook page, which I haven’t found yet). A US Marshall, Jonathan Neely, filed an affidavit for his arrest on March 14. And the FBI arrested him on Thursday–based primarily on a YouTube video from July 2010 showing him holding a gun at a gun range. On Friday, he was denied bail. On Saturday, the Times Union published their story revealing that Al Akili had identified and confronted Hussain.

Here’s what I find particularly interesting about all this.

Read more

How Good Are DOJ’s Reasons for Burying Its Case against Anwar al-Awlaki?

Today’s the day Eric Holder explains how his Department decided it was okay to kill a US citizen with no independent legal review, even while he says we should use civilian courts to, uh, give terrorists due process.

Now, at least as of late January, the Administration still planned not to include any real information about its case against Anwar al-Awlaki in Holder’s speech.

As currently written, the speech makes no overt mention of the Awlaki operation, and reveals none of the intelligence the administration relied on in carrying out his killing.

Since much of the evidence that has been used to implicate Awlaki came from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, I’m going to return to a question I first raised several weeks ago, why DOJ sat on the information it got from Abdulmutallab implicating Awlaki so long.

In this post, I considered why DOJ published a narrative explicitly describing Anwar al-Awlaki’s role in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s terror plot last month, rather than when it learned the information from Abdulmutallab sometime in 2010. The reason is likely evidentiary. It appears the government never persuaded Abdulmutallab to testify against Awlaki even while he was implicating Awlaki during “plea negotiations,” meaning it’s unclear Abdulmutallab would have repeated the information implicating Awlaki in court. Note, since that post, Abdulmutallab prosecutor Jonathan Tukel confirmed in court that the UndieBomber was offered–but did not accept–a plea agreement.

In this post, I will consider other reasons why DOJ may have buried (and presumably will continue to bury) their case against Awlaki: a desire to hide its signals intelligence, its informants, as well as a desire to win legal cases.

Read more

Exploitation: How a “Recidivist” became a Double Agent

The Republicans are at it again: collecting lists of former Gitmo detainees they deem to have “returned to combat” and using those lists to fear-monger against transferring prisoners out of Gitmo.

Here’s the report the Republicans on the House Armed Service Investigations Subcommittee put out; here’s an excellent rebuttal from the Democrats, here’s Adam Serwer, and here’s Charlie Savage.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Cooper summarizes,

The report was supposed to be a comprehensive and bipartisan look at former GTMO detainees, but fails at both objectives. Much of the failure is due to the majority’s insistence on releasing a public report during an election year. The majority is well aware that most of the relevant material is classified and politically sensitive. To their credit, committee staff did do a workmanlike job on the classified annex, which we recommend to all members. But the public report uses a highly problematic “methodology” in order to write ghost stories designed to scare voters. Americans deserve better.

Reports on terrorism should not further the terrorists’ goal of spreading fear. After all, terrorism is a double-barreled attack on civilization: violence is one weapon and publicity of that violence is another. Without publicity, the terrorist can never succeed. Regrettably, this report gives former GTMO detainees publicity by making them seem more numerous and dangerous than they are. Reengagers will like their image in the report.

[snip]

The report concludes that, despite the admitted improvements in the Obama Administration’s handling of detainee issues, the number of former detainees who return to terrorism will be as high or higher. This is purely speculative, and seems politically motivated. Time will tell, but the current rate of confirmed reengagement of transferees under the Obama Administration is closer to 3%, not the report’s cover graphic of 27%. The lower figure does not, however, make headlines.

I will have more on the report later. But I wanted to point out one detail about how the propaganda list of who is a “recidivist” and who isn’t changes.

In the April 2009 list leaked to ruin Obama’s efforts to close Gitmo, the Saudi former detainee Mazin Salih Musaid al-Awfi was listed second on the list of those “confirmed” to have “reengaged” in terrorism along with Said al-Shihri.

Abu Sufyam al-Asdi al-Shihri–repatriated to Saudi Arabia in November 2007, and Mazin Salih Musaid al-Alawi al-Awfi–repatriated to Saudi Arabia in July 2007. On 24 January, a 19-minute video was released wherein al-Shihri and al-Awfi announced their leadership within the newly established al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula.

But in this week’s list, al-Shihri appears all by himself (though still second on the list).

Said al-Shihri 17 (ISN 372) was transferred in November 2007 to the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling (also known as Care) in Saudi Arabia.18 This is an initiative, operated by the Saudi government, meant to rehabilitate those believed to be terrorists.19 However, after completing the portion of the program requiring him to reside at the Care facility, al-Shihri left Saudi Arabia for Yemen despite putatively being barred from foreign travel. In addition to raising questions about the Saudi government’s ability to enforce travel restrictions on former detainees, al-Shihri’s arrival in Yemen allowed him and another former GTMO detainee to assume leadership of the newly established al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).20  They released a video announcing their roles.21 [my emphasis]

The report invokes al-Awfi, but don’t name him or explain why they don’t consider him among those “confirmed” to have returned to extremism.

Maybe this is why:

Mohammed al-Awfi’s is an extraordinary story. He went through the rehabilitation programme like the others from Batch 10, but then fled to Yemen where he starred in the al-Qaeda launch video.

Astonishingly al-Awfi later re-crossed the border into Saudi Arabia and gave himself up.

I have never understood why he did so.

The Saudis told me it was because he had received a phone call from his wife telling him to return to look after her and the children.

The explanation caused me to raise a quizzical eyebrow. I was told it is not unknown for the Saudis to use families as bait.

Al-Awfi is now living in luxury accommodation in Riyadh’s top security prison where he is being drained of every scrap of intelligence.

He has all the comforts of home, a well furnished flat and regular visits by a grateful and relieved family.

I can’t guarantee al-Awfi was working as a double agent–presumably like that other “rehabilitated” Saudi detainee who joined AQAP only to return to Saudi Arabia to dump key intelligence, Jabir al-Fayfi–the whole time. But it sure does look like it.

Which means among the former detainees whose story fearmongers used in 2009 to argue against closing Gitmo was, probably, a double agent collecting intelligence on what became AQAP.

For all we know, the Subcommittee may be doing the same again now–claiming people have “returned to action” when they haven’t, exactly. In fact, it’s not even clear they know for sure that their “returned fighters” are what they claim. The folks who might know best–the CIA–refused to cooperate with this report.

The committee believes the Central Intelligence Agency may have been able to provide additional insight on reengagement issues and resolve factual discrepancies identified during meetings with U.S. officials abroad. Headquarters representatives from the CIA declined requests, made at the behest of the subcommittee chairman and ranking member, to meet with staff. This impaired the committee’s efforts to evaluate fully this topic.

Which highlights how brilliant it was to recruit double agents at Gitmo (if you want to sustain the fear of terrorism). If successful, recruits might serve double duty, both infiltrating al Qaeda and providing intelligence, and serving as (apparently false) examples of how dangerous this foe really is.

image_print