The Classified Appendix Fifth Bullet on “Certain Counterterrorism Matters”

I want to make a really minor point about one of the documents produced to ACLU with the Drone Rule Book — which the White House calls a Presidential Policy Guidance — last week (here’s my working thread on the Rule Book). The Rule Book itself has a section that “requires” Congressional notification (but may be more important for the requirement that the White House must learn about information sharing before it happens, which might end up in less notification).

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As part of its implementation of the Rule Book, DOD released a Report on Congressional Notification of Sensitive Military Operations and Counterterrorism Operational Briefings (DOD released several related documents; CIA released nothing). Throughout the short document, it says the 2014 Defense Authorization (which was introduced after the Rule Book was signed but before DOD issued its Drone Rule Book implementation procedures and signed into law on December 23, 2013) and the PPG require Congress be informed of sensitive military operations. That’s the Executive Branch’s way of saying, “Congress has required we tell it what we’re doing but so has the President” as if they came up with the idea to do that additional reporting in the first place.

Its last section looks like this:

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Those bullets don’t come from the Rule Book (its notice requirement is far less detailed than that). Rather, they come from this section of the Defense Authorization.

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As you can see, that section mandates answers to bullets 1 through 4 (the unredacted ones), and then includes a conforming amendment that repeals this section from 2013’s Defense Authorization.

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The only difference in the unclassified portion of the 2014 Defense Authorization that replaced the 2013’s version is the deletion of the phrase “involving special operations forces.”

Of course, we can tell from the Report there’s a fifth, Top Secret bullet. It may well be that’s why they eliminated the prior year’s requirement and added a new almost identical one: to provide an opportunity to put that fifth bullet into the Defense Authorization’s classified appendix. That’s a wildarse guess, of course, but also a logical explanation for that fifth bullet: at a time when the White House was releasing fluffy documents pretending to be more open and orderly, Congress was secretly mandating additional reporting they weren’t getting.

There are a number of things that might be in that fifth bullet. Perhaps the least controversial of those would be a requirement that DOD tell Congress — actually just a tiny handful of members — which countries the US engages in lethal force in, and which groups we partner with to do it (this would be consistent with a number of items that are redacted in the Rule Book itself). You could imagine why, in 2013 and 2014, members of Congress might want to be told if the US was partnering with al Qaeda affiliates on lethal operations anywhere in the world, seeing as how we are ostensibly at war with al Qaeda.

As a reminder, Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden spent part of 2012 and 2013 unsuccessfully trying to get a list of all the places the government was engaging in lethal operations.

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As I said, this is a fairly minor point. But it also suggests that even while the Executive was leaking wildly to get good press about this Drone Rule book, Congress was at the same time mandating specifically some of the things the Rule Book only nodded to in theory.

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Drone Rule Book, Working Thread

What ever happened to the inclusions of headers and footers in documents? It used to be, documents would ID what document you were reading on every page, which is really useful if one page walks or gets replaced with a new one. Now even life-and-death documents like the Drone Rule Book liberated by the ACLU lack real headers.

This will be a working thread on that.

(0) Seriously, there’s something funky about the production of this document. Perhaps it’s a reprint of the actual drone rule book with interesting stuff removed. But it’s not even clear the classification description on the front page (to include an original classification authority, a reason for classification, and a date for declassification) is complete. Nor are specific redactions cited by exemption. Given that drones were part of the 2001 Finding which was itself classified by NSC, not CIA, that raises interesting questions about how long they maintained that claim.

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Also note the green line on the first page, which seems to suggest some digital alteration, either at the White House or ACLU. For a variety of reasons, I also wonder whether this has been updated, with no record, which the informal structure of it would seem to invite.

(1) It’s really crazy for a POTUS to be setting what claim to be “procedures,” as opposed to policy. These are mostly policies. But tied to implementing bureaucratic tools. I’ll write later how this hybrid purpose makes the PPG far less valuable than it pretends to be.

(1) Note the applicability: “for when the United Staes takes direct action, which refers to lethal and non-lethal uses of force, including capture operations, against terrorist targets outside the United States.” Obviously, that’s not what this covers. There are a slew of examples where “the US” takes direct action outside the US. Implicitly, this is about amending or replacing the 9/17/01 Finding (and given the timing, and the declassification of the Finding’s role in torture, it could be the latter). But this does raise questions about whether there’s an underlying (perhaps modified) Finding that undergirds this.

(1) They redact the kind of plan they use to make sure it can’t be FOIAed. I bet there are numerous drone strikes that didn’t have them; remember, at about this process, CIA didn’t play by same rules as DOD.

(1) “based on the legal authorities of the nominating department” Interesting relation with covert authorities.

(1) The capture feasibility assessment seems targeted to Congress. I wonder how broadly this was circulated there.

(1) Note the PPG just assumes everyone knows this is about HVTs without saying so. But the PPG as a whole distinguishes between targeting HVTs and others, with incidental death being envisioned in the latter case (see footnote 1 on 2).

(2) First redaction must relate to the “unable or willing to act” formula; that it is redacted suggests it has nothing to do with established intl law (later incidences of it are unredacted use of the unable willing formula).

(2) second redaction may be a caveat about the circumstances in which expert agencies (such as State) get to review.

(2) “when considering potential direct action against a U.S. person under this PPG, there are additional questions that must be answered.” That’s rather weak.

(2) The named plan is 3 words long.

(2) Note the redaction modifying what kind of “direct action operations” this covers. That may be the same redaction as the last one on the page.

(3) Redaction in bullet 3 is interesting.

(3) Does bullet 5 reference foreign partners?

(3) Bullet 7 permits variations from this PPG, which essentially eats up the rule book.

(3) Note that the 3 assessments required before using lethal force all make up subbullets to bullet 8. That implies a logical structure whereby the decision making process happens after the fact.

(4) 1F treats identity here as primarily relating to HVTs.

(5) 1H2 suggests the President may impose her own conditions on such approval. This is a crazy level of involvement from the President, not necessarily all in a good way.

(5) Footnote 1 seems to permit us getting exclusive shot at a detainee before we dump them onto foreign governments.

(5) Footnote 2 seems to give NSS a way to veto DOJ indictment. (Which is of particular interest with Awlaki.)

(6) Note the acknowledgement that the US “provides training, funds, or equipment to enable a foreign government to capture a suspect,” which does not count as us doing so.

(6) Note the nominating agency seems to get to suggest what to do with the detainee long term. That seems problematic.

(7) The redaction of things that must be included in a baseball card doesn’t say much for the due process involved. Note the emphasis, too, on gaps in intelligence/differences in opinion. But DOD or CIA gets to pull this together.

(8) No discussion of difference between Interagency Disposition Planning Group and Restricted Counterterrorism Security Group (though the latter appears to be the analysts and the former appears to be the policy people). If the same people are on both it would have a garbage in garbage out effect.

(9) I’m guessing bullet 2 pertains to foreign partner custody. That’s important because bullet 4 presumes certain things might happen in detention, like torture, that would make prosecution impossible.

(9) A lot implied by that “if appropriate” language on whether the operational plan can be shared with the Deputies Review.

(9) Note the DNSA determines who will be present at a Deputies Committee review. It’d be easy to leave, say, State out.

(10) Note that they consider whether detaining someone would interfere with sources or methods. Not surprising but the implications of that are worth nothing.

(10) The reference to humane treatment in bullet 6 is likely to relate to redacted passages earlier (and must have been introduced in a redacted passage).

(10) Foreign detention should be explored based on NatSec considerations. No mention here of humane treatment.

(10) Interesting Q why the decision to strike in defiance of Principals Committee guidance goes through DNSA, not NSA. If a Brennan or Monaco presents that decision, it’ll lack the larger picture that an NSA might bring.

(11) Only those people present at DC meeting will learn that POTUS has approved a strike over their guidance.

(11) I will probably return to 3A but I think it is a muddle that totally turns this document inside out.

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(11) 3b is written in an odd voice: “lethal action requires” rather than “before taking lethal action.” Also note this comes from within the capture process.

(11) The decision to off someone has to formally come from the GC of the agency that will do the business. Interesting how this might result in two, potentially competing lists.

(11) FN 8: This language seems to provide a time where the DC would reassess feasibility for capture, on expedited process. But the way in which this “procedure” works largely ensures it can be sidestepped.

(12) Here’s how the list of considerations for a capture versus a kill operation look, in completely redacted form.

Kill or Capture Considerations

Given the significant differences in redaction, there doesn’t appear to be much overlap beyond the initial bullet.

(12) It is really bizarre to have to specify that NSS forwards the package to the DC, as if in the past the wrong package got forwarded.

(13) What does this mean: “In all events, the NSS Legal Adviser and the General Counsel of the nominating agency shall consult with DOJ”? Given that they try to avoid paper trails, what does this entail? And when reviewing a USP nomination, there are no requirements about what the DOJ review must include (which might be another bulleted list like the one above if this document weren’t a joke).

(13) Here’s how the Deputies Committee meetings for a capture versus a kill decision differ.

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The redacted agency(ies) present at capture but observant at kill may be involved in detention and/or (FBI) prosecution. If so, that means FBI would only get observant status if the IC had decided to kill someone.

(14) Here’s what the DC considers for a capture versus a kill decision.

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While both consider intelligence implications (sort of) the unredacted section doesn’t consider how a kill decision will affect CT strategy outside of broader regional interests (that it is phrased in that way is particularly interesting given the prominence of side payment strikes in Pakistan).

(14) This seems to permit bypassing the DC altogether.

The Principal of the nominating agency may approve lethal action against the proposed individual if: ( I) the relevant Principals unanimously agree that lethal action should be taken against the proposed individual. and (2) the Principal of the nominating agency has notified the President through a DNSA of his intention to approve lethal action and has received notice from a DNSA that the President has been apprised of that intention. The Principal of the nominating agency may not delegate his authority to approve a nomination.

Note, they don’t even need to get approval from the President to kill someone–she need only be apprised of it. (I’m mindful that this rule book was largely written, though not finalized, by John Brennan). I half wonder whether consideration #6 involves a need to remove him from this earth for secrecy reasons.

(14) Note, the annual review does not explicitly review whether the person still remains a threat.

(15) The redaction describing lethal force here seems longer than the one describing HVT lethal force, though it’s possible this section describes first targeting on patterns and then on infrastructure.

(15) The thing that will be missed in a “fleeting opportunity” attack is contrary intelligence and downsides, yet nevertheless claims to abide by the same “near certainty” criteria.

(16) The “appropriate NSS official shall communicate the President’s decision” would seem to invite that person bypassing the President altogether (as it did with Brennan in fact).

(17) The PPG specifically permits the President to authorize drone strikes because a person presents a threat to other country’s persons. I look forward to legal analysis of this attenuated imminence standard (especially since the government has most jealously guarded its OLC memos on agreements with countries in question).

(17) Since the after action report must be submitted after 48 hours, it can’t consider larger questions, such as whether it helped or hurt overall CT strategy.

(18) This would seem to permit the agency of any principal/deputy to review after action reports.

(18) Only “appropriate” members of Congress get notified, and this doesn’t even list them. This section would appear to permit briefing the Gang of Four before an operation (for secrecy reasons) but then only informing the Gang of Four afterwards, when secrecy concerns were no longer as urgent. In addition, agencies have to get the NSS to approve sharing with Congress, and only applies it to those “required to submit congressional notifications,” which may create some loopholes.

(18) The redaction at 8B is pretty interesting.

(18) As noted above: the reporting requirements of the PPG don’t invite reporting on larger strategic issues on lethal killing, making the review under 8C pretty useless as well.

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Training Camp Trash Talk

Welp, the NFL and Olympics have both descended on us. There is not much up in F1, the same usual boring Mercedes dominance with intra-team squabbling and petulance. Yawn. There is some really decent racing behind the Mercs, but the crappy coverage afforded in the States by the craptastic NBCSN shows little of it. So, unless you have a foreign feed, or are actually there, it is yet another worthless and boring season. F1 needs to get its act together fast, or become increasingly irrelevant.

On to the good stuff. training camp and the “pre-season” are here in the NFL. As you know by now, Tom Brady and the NFLPA got hammered and reversed by a split panel of the 2nd Circuit. The dissent, by the Chief Judge for the Circuit, Katzmann, was spot on, but he was outvoted by a majority who truly did not seem to be particularly prepared or knowledgeable in the nuances of the lower proceedings record. Either that, or just did not care and were determined to uphold the iron vise grip of arbitration no matter what.

Be that as it may, the majority prevailed, and Judge Katzmann did not. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Everything you could possibly want to know is covered and/or linked in our friend Dan Werly’s superb blog, The White Bronco, including the pleadings and opinions, most importantly the 2nd Circuit majority and Katzmann dissent.

To put a coda on the affaire du Deflategate, this week the 8th Circuit, finally after months of waiting, issued its decision in the Adrian Peterson case. It tracked the anti-labor nimrodery of the 2nd Circuit militating against any semblance of Due Process if there is a collective bargaining agreement. A sad and terrible end, and an unfortunate one not only for the labor in the NFL, but all labor subject to CBA’s.

With Deflategate finally receding in the rear view mirror, NFL training camps have opened and the pre-season games are approaching. The first, as always, is the Hall of Fame game from Canton Ohio. That will be Sunday night between the Packers and Colts. But there will be little Aaron Rodgers, and little Luck, so view at your own peril. But the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony is tonight, starting at 7 pm EST on ESPN. The draw is, of course, The ‘Ole Gunslinger, Brett Favre, who will be the last inductee tonight. Here are some interesting notes on Favre from Andrew Brandt, who worked with him in Green Bay. If every player in the NFL played with the same pure joy as Favre, it would be a better place.

In other news and notes, the Bolts can’t even sign their first round draft choice (or maybe they should have steered away from Ohio State lunkheads that have been under Urban Meyer’s dubious tutelage) in spite of the fact the rookie caps and specs are supposed to avoid this type of situation. It really looks ugly, and the Bolts will have to either trade Joey Bosa or risk having him sit the year out and turn into draft vapor. What a mess.

In local news, the Cardinals have extended both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald for an extra year. Both are no longer spring chickens, but incredibly productive and absolutely critical for the Cards chances of staying near the top of the league. Seems like a good move as to both, but let’s wait to see what the toll of another full NFL season brings. Also recently signed up by the Cards long term is Tyrann “Honeybadger” Mathieu. He is an injury risk, but such an awesome player and even better person in the community here, it had to be done. Let’s hope the Honeybadger stays healthy for a while.

There are news and notes all through the league. Please, bring them from your team and area. I know Scribe is dying to drop some Steelers info on us, and maybe JoeSixPac from the Niners (who still look dicey to me!). Maybe Marcy will even bring some updates on the Kittehs and Pats!

Rock on folks. This weekend’s music, Seasons of Wither, is an older classic cut from Aerosmith off of their second album, Get Your Wings. This is a live and unplugged version they did later, just because live music is the best music. It goes out, along with best thoughts and wishes, to our good friend Jason Leopold.

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Friday: Little Fly

Friday jazz comes to us from vocalist and bassist Esperanza Spalding, one of my personal favorites. She’s the first jazz musician to ever win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, awarded only a handful of months after this featured performance from 2010.

My favorite tune of the three she performs here is Apple Blossom — it never fails to make me sniffle. Spalding plays more than just the double bass; sample her more progressive work on electric bass here. Want something a bit more traditional? Try her upbeat bluesy rendition of On the Sunny Side of the Street. Or maybe a little pop rock slice with her tribute to Stevie Wonder, Overjoyed.

Wheels and steals
Volkswagen:

  • Whiny op-ed complains about poor, poor Volkswagen (WSJ) — Aw, poor fraudulent enterprise lied and ripped off the American public for a decade while other automakers in the U.S. complied with emissions laws. Murdoch-NewsCorp outlet Wall Street Journal wants us to take pity on the bastards who did not care one whit they were literally poisoning U.S. citizens while lying to customers and dealers, let alone poisoning and lying to tens of millions of customers abroad. Look, they broke U.S. laws for nearly ten years. They made interest and capital gains on the money they gained from their illegal efforts. They can make the customers they defrauded whole and they can do something to fix the damage they wreaked on our environment. And they should be punished for breaking laws on top of reparations. Anything less is a neoliberal blowjob to a company which cannot compete fairly inside the U.S.
  • VW passenger diesel owners need additional protections (Reuters) — The current settlement offered by VW in federal court does not provide a secondary level of protection to consumers says the consumer advocacy journal, needed if the proposed fix to the emissions cheating diesel vehicles does not work. These vehicle owners should be able to opt for buy-back. The amount offered also undervalues retail prices on alternative replacement vehicles, Consumer Reports said in its submission during the public comment period which ended today.

    Consumer Reports said it generally supported the settlement, but urged “regulators to wield robust oversight of Volkswagen to ensure that the company implements its recall, investment, and mitigation programs appropriately” and it called on “federal and state officials to assess tough civil penalties and any appropriate criminal penalties against the company in order to hold it fully accountable.”

  • South Korea halts sales of 80 VW vehicle models (NBCNews) — This is what the U.S. could have done to VW given the scale of fraud, emissions cheating, and the lack of actual “clean diesel” passenger technology available to remedy both 2.0L and 3.0L engine vehicles. The 80 models now banned for non-compliance with emissions and noise pollution laws as well as document forgery include VW, Audi and Bentley vehicles. VW has also been slapped with $16.06 million fine, which is extremely light considering VW broke not only emissions laws while fraudulently misrepresenting the vehicles’ attributes.
  • West Virginia’s suit against VW amended (Hastings Tribune) — WVa Attorney General expanded the suit to include VW parent group as well as Audi and Porsche brands. Bosch, the manufacturer of VW’s electronic control units which were programmed to defeat emissions controls, is included in the lawsuit.
  • Fewer Americans buying VW vehicles (Business Insider) — No surprise, given the emissions controls cheating scandal, the pricey labels, iffy reliability, and a product lineup that doesn’t match the U.S.’ market demand. It may be a long time before VW digs itself out of its hole here.

NOT Volkswagen:

  • Two Houston thieves hack Jeep and Dodge cars (Phys.org) — Hacking pirated computer software used by auto technicians and dealers, two men tweaked Fiat Chrylser model vehicles’ security codes so their key worked. The thieves were picked up driving a stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee after police focused on an area where a high number of vehicle thefts occured.
  • White hat hackers proved Chrysler’s anti-hack update breachable (The Register) — Last year Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek showed Fiat Chrysler’s wireless feature could be hacked remotely to take control of a car. At Black Hat 2016 this week the same duo showed how they could defeat Fiat Chrysler’s firmware update which the automaker pushed to patch the vulnerability. But in terms of ease and speed, the two thieves in Houston might actually have a faster approach to taking control of a vehicle.
  • 28-year-old cracks up his brother’s car while playing Pokémon GO (The Guardian) — Dude. Really? You’re lucky to be alive or that you didn’t kill someone else. This is the kind of generational stupid old-man-yelling-at-clouds Clint Eastwood should take a poke at instead of doubling down on his closeted racism.
  • Self-driving feature in Tesla X may have saved its driver (CNBC) — Driver suffered a pulmonary embolism while on the road; the vehicle took him to the hospital. Article says the driver “was able to steer the car the last few meters” suggesting he was conscious and in control if limited in capacity. No further details were included to describe how the vehicle switched from its original route to the hospital.

Because opening ceremonies begin tonight at the Rio Olympics, I’ll leave you here. Catch you Monday — have a safe and restful weekend!

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Tear Up Texas, Tear Up Another Encryption Claim

Both the Intercept and the Daily Beast have reported on this eye-popping exchange from the criminal complaint charging Erick Hendricks with conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, showing an undercover FBI employee advising one of the future Garland gunmen to “tear up Texas” in the days before the attack.

[Allegedly] Elton Simpson: Did u see that link I posted? About texas? Prob not.

UCE: [states he doesn’t have Simpson’s Twitter handle]

Simpson: [posts link to Draw Prophet Mohammed Contest

UCE: Tear up Texas.

Simpson: Bro, u don’t have to say that… U know what happened in Paris… I think … Yes or no …?

UCE: Right

Simpson: So that goes without saying … No need to be direct.

[snip]

UCE-1 subsequently traveled to Garland, Texas and was present on or about May 3, 2015, at the event.

[snip]

UCE-1 claimed to have been the “eyes” of Hendricks, to have seen Simpson and Soofi be killed, and stated that “Cops almost shot me.”

In other words, FBI had an officer onsite, scoping out the event, who was in communication with both Elton Simpson and Hendricks, the latter of whom may have been inciting a disruption (the evidence doesn’t clearly support he ordered the attack, though it is certainly possible; the complaint accuses hid of conspiring with someone DB IDed as Amir Said Abdul Rahman al-Ghazi, a cooperating witness, not the Garland shooters). Indeed, the undercover officer encouraged the attack with his “Tear up Texas.”

This raises big questions about the attack itself. But it also raises questions about a claim Jim Comey made in December 2015, when arguing about the dangers of encryption.

That morning, before one of those terrorists left and tried to commit mass murder, he exchanged 109 messages with an overseas terrorist. We have no idea what he said, because those messages were encrypted.

That’s interesting because the affidavit provides extensive details, based in part on Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi’s admissions to law enforcement, and based in part on one of Simpson’s phones obtained by the FBI, how Hendricks would coach people to move back and forth from Twitter to three other “secret” (presumably encrypted) messaging apps, as well as either Tor or a VPN. Certainly, the FBI has Simpson’s side of “secret” conversations. There’s no mention of the other Garland shooter, Nadir Soofi, but the affidavit at least appears to suggest Hendricks was playing a key broker role. So any communications with him would presumably be partly mirrored in what the Garland shooters said. Certainly, the FBI has a great deal of metadata that has been useful in filling in the network its 4 informants and 1 undercover officer haven’t already filled in.

That doesn’t mean the FBI was then or has since been able to crack these 109 encrypted messages.

But the claim sounds a lot less alarming when you say, “We weren’t able to decrypt 109 social media messages though we were watching other messages in real time and had an FBI officer present at the attack.”

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CIA Director Entry Number 2: Mike Morell, Fabulist

As Eli Lake wrote the other day, there are three men angling to be CIA Director under President Hillary: John Brennan, Mike Morell, and Mike Vickers.

I’ve already explained what is terrifying about Vickers’ audition to be CIA Director: after laying out the Hillary as Commander-in-Chief case (which appears to be mandatory for these things), Vickers then talks about how we need to escalate our wars and belligerence.

To be sure, we will need more aggressive counterterrorism strategies, stronger support for the Syrian opposition as the only plausible counterweight to authoritarianism and extremism within Syria, more effective counters to Iranian and Russian expansion, and better strategies for deterring and competing with China over the long term.

Henceforth, I will refer to Vickers as The Escalationist.

Today, Mike Morell submitted his audition to be CIA Director.

As Vickers did (these do seem to be formulaic), Morell lays out his extensive bipartisan past (Vickers claims service under 4 Republican and 2 Democratic Presidents, Morell claims 3 of each), then talks about how serving with Hillary convinced him she has the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief.

I spent four years working with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, most often in the White House Situation Room. In these critically important meetings, I found her to be prepared, detail-oriented, thoughtful, inquisitive and willing to change her mind if presented with a compelling argument.

Like Vickers, Morell lauds Hillary’s courage in pushing for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Mrs. Clinton was an early advocate of the raid that brought Bin Laden to justice, in opposition to some of her most important colleagues on the National Security Council.

[snip]

I never saw her bring politics into the Situation Room. In fact, I saw the opposite. When some wanted to delay the Bin Laden raid by one day because the White House Correspondents Dinner might be disrupted, she said, “Screw the White House Correspondents Dinner.”

Disrupting White House Correspondents Dinner to kill someone would count as politics? Really?

Also like Vickers, Morell then lays out Trump’s lack of qualification for the job, both in terms of background and temperament.

But Morell’s gimmick — the brand that sets him apart on this quest to be CIA Director — is not an explicit call for escalation, but instead the specific gloss he puts on Trump’s soft spot for Putin. After portraying Trump’s careless claims as full endorsements of Putin, Morell claims Trump has been recruited by the old KGB officer, albeit unwittingly.

Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor in making political hay out of Trump’s call on Putin to hack Hillary, especially coming as it does from someone (unlike Jake Sullivan and Leon Panetta) without a known history of mishandling classified information.

But that line? “recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation”? That’s all about the clicks, and it has been serving splendidly. Just like “Slam Dunk” was a nifty line.

In a piece auditioning to be CIA Director, I’d prefer someone stick more rigorously to the truth. Trump is an apologist for Putin, undoubtedly, but there’s no more evidence Putin has recruited Trump (unwittingly) than there is, say, the Saudis have recruited Hillary. They’re all just picking the assholes they champion, with Hillary picking the assholes we’ve long championed.

Then again, this is not the first time Morell has stretched the truth a bit — up to and including on torture, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the tactic.

So there you have it: The Escalationist versus The Fabulist, your first two contestants on the Price is Right CIA nomination competition.

Sadly, we probably won’t see something quite so explicit from Brennan (though it would be amusing to see if a third endorsement hewed so closely to the same script as the other two), so we’ll just have to accept Lake’s “drone warrior” brand for him.

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Thursday: Move

Need something easy on the nerves today, something mellow, and yet something that won’t let a listener off too lightly. Guess for today that’s John Legend’s Tiny Desk Concert.

I promised reindeer tales today, haven’t forgotten.

From Anthrax to Zombies

  • First outbreak in 75 years forces evacuation of reindeer herders (The Siberian Times) — The last outbreak in the Siberian tundra was in 1941; news of this outbreak broke across mainstream media this past week, with some outlets referring to it as a “zombie” infection since it came back from dormancy, likely rising from a long-dead human or animal corpse.
  • Infected reindeer corpses to be collected and destroyed (The Barent Observer) — A lot of odd details about anthrax and its history pop up as the outbreak evolves. Like the mortality rate for skin anthrax (24%) and the alleged leak of anthrax from a Soviet bio-warfare lab in 1979. Reindeer deaths were blamed initially on unusually warm weather (~30C); the same unusually warm weather may have encouraged the release of long-dormant anthrax from the tundra.
  • Siberian outbreak may have started five weeks earlier (The Siberian Times) — Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance senior official is angry about the slow response to the first diagnosis; the affected region does not have strong veterinary service, and it took a herder four days’ walk across the tundra to inform authorities about an infection due to a lack of communications technology. The situation must be serious as the Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova has now been vaccinated against anthrax. Reports as of yesterday indicate 90 people have been hospitalized, 23 of which have been diagnosed with anthrax, and one child died. The form most appear infected with is intestinal; its mortality rate is a little over 50%. Infection is blamed on anthrax-contaminated meat; shipment of meat from the area is now banned. Russian bio-warfare troops have established a clean camp for the evacuated herder families until the reindeer corpses have been disposed of and inoculations distributed across the area’s population.
  • Important: keep in mind this Siberian outbreak may be unusual for its location, but not across the globe. In the last quarter there have been small anthrax outbreaks in Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Bulgaria. Just search under Google News for “anthrax” stories over the last year.
  • Coincidentally, anthrax drug maker filed and received FDA’s ‘orphan status’ (GlobeNewsWire) — There have been so few orders for anthrax prophylaxis vaccine BioThrax that specialty biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions requested ‘orphan status’ from the FDA, granted to special therapies for rare conditions affecting less than 200,000 persons in the U.S. The status was awarded mid-June.
  • Investor sues anthrax drug maker for misleading expectations (Washington Business Journal) — Suit filed against the company and executives claims Emergent BioSolutions mislead investors into thinking the company would sell as many doses of BioThrax to the U.S. government during the next five years as the preceding five years. On the face of it, investor appears to expect Emergent BioSolutions to predict both actual vaccine demand in advance along with government funding (hello, GOP-led Congress?) and other new competitors in the same marketspace. Seems a bit much to me, like the investor feels entitled to profits without risk. Maybe they’ll get lucky and climate change will increase likelihood of anthrax infections — cha-ching.
  • Another coincidence: Last Friday marked 8 years since anthrax researcher Bruce Ivin’s death (Tulsa World) — And this coming Saturday marks six years since the FBI released its report on the anthrax attacks it blamed on Ivins.

Cybernia

  • Facebook let police shut down feed from negotiations resulting in another civilian-death-by-cop (The Mary Sue) –Yeah, we wouldn’t want to let the public see the police use deadly force against an African American mother and her five-year-old child instead of talking and waiting them out of the situation as they do so many white men in armed confrontations. And now police blame Instagram for her death. Since when does using Instagram come with an automatic death warrant?
  • Can GPS location signals be spoofed? Yep. (IEEE) — It’s possible the U.S. Navy patrol boats caught in Iran’s waters may have relied on spoofed GPS; we don’t know yet as the “misnavigating” incident is still under investigation. This article does a nice job explaining GPS spoofing, but it leaves us with a mystery. GPS signals are generated in civilian and military formats, the first is unencrypted and the second encrypted. If the “misnavigated” patrol boats captured by Iran in January were sent spoofed GPS location data, does this mean U.S. military encryption was broken? The piece also ask about reliability of GPS given spoofing when it comes to self-driving, self-navigating cars. Oh hell no.
  • Security firm F-Secure releases paper on trojan targeting entities involved in South China Sea dispute (F-Secure) — The Remote Access Trojan (RAT) has been called NanHaiShu, which means South China Sea Rat. The RAT, containing a VBA macro that executes an embedded JScript file, was spread via email messages using industry-specific terms. The targets were deliberately selected for spearfishing as the senders knew the users did not lock down Microsoft Office’s default security setting to prevent macro execution. The malware had been in the wild for about two years, but its activity synced with events related to the South China Sea dispute.

Tomorrow’s Friday, which means jazz. Guess I’d better start poking around in my files for something good. Catch you later!

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One Beheaded Child Here and There…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Wednesday: Not the Shape


I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart


— excerpt, Shape of My Heart by Sting and Dominic Miller, 1993

After reading deeply about so many people suffering, I’m falling back on the equivalent of musical comfort food. A double helping as this Sting song is one of my favorites, performed here by some of my favorite musicians.

Suffer the little children

  • U.N. Commission of Inquiry reports Yazidis erased by ISIS (OHCHR) — The UN’s independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis” on June 16 but media outlets are only now reporting on the inquiry’s findings. ISIS has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention, by

    “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community”

    Seven weeks later mainstream media finally gets around to covering this report. I wonder how many more Yazidis have died or been degraded and tortured in that time. And I wonder if we’ll ever do anything constructive to halt the elimination of this people by a non-state (or state) actor. Before ISIS began its assault on the Yazidi, there were an estimated 800K to 1.5 million of them.

  • Australia continues to ignore plight of refugees on Nauru (HRW) — Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International investigated the conditions of refugees held on Pacific Island of Nauru, to which Australia shunts ayslum seekers and refugees from other countries. In spite of earlier investigations over the last 15 months and subsequent demands for improvements by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and an independent investigator, Australia continues to do nothing about the appalling and abusive conditions on Nauru. The gross neglect is now policy by default.
  • Czech president wants to reject all refugees (Deutsche Welle) — Milos Zeman has always talked anti-Nazi, but on the matter of EU’s policy on refugees he sounds like he’s done a 180 degree turn. His spokeman claims this position is based on terrorism:
    “Our country simply cannot afford to risk terrorist attacks like what occurred in France and Germany. By accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks…”

    In opposition to Zeman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has agreed to take 80 Syrian refugees. That’s far more than the U.S. has accepted on a proportional basis; we killed more Syrian civilians this month than that number.

Reading the Classics
From Sententiae Antiquae, Corrupt Leaders Make Corrupt Countries: An Ancient Course on Leadership. Nothing new under the sun; sure looks like we’ve debated this topic for millennia.

I like this bit by the Greek writer Onasander particularly:

…οὐδὲ χωρὶς στρατηγῶν οὐδὲ μία πόλις ἐκπέμψει στρατόπεδον, οὐδὲ δίχα τοῦ δύνασθαι λέγειν αἱρήσεται στρατηγόν.

…No land nor city will field an army without generals nor even choose a general who cannot speak effectively.

How do you say, “Wishful thinking” in ancient Greek?

Reindeer games here tomorrow, in spite of the season. See you then.

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Eli Lake’s Portrayal of the CIA Director Campaign: Drones, Benghazi, and … ?

Eli Lake reports that John Brennan wants to stay on as CIA Director under President Hillary. That’s not surprising given that Brennan believes (as Lake notes) CIA Directors should get 10 year terms just like FBI Directors do.

I thought maybe Brennan wanted to stick around to make sure he gets credit for bettering Allen Dulles’ record for regime change (after all, it’s not clear how the regime change conducted while Brennan was at the White House gets counted in these things).

Apparently not. After laying out what he portrays as opposition from both the left and right (not that that stopped Brennan from being confirmed in 2013), Lake describes that Brennan might stay because he’s the architect of the drone war.

Brennan does have the benefit of understanding the intricacies of the U.S. drone war that expanded significantly under Obama. Indeed, he is one of the main authors of that policy, going back to his time at the White House during Obama’s first term.

There was a time when Obama endeavored to end that war by the time he left office. It’s now clear that Obama’s successor will inherit it. Brennan is hoping that if that successor is Clinton, she will also inherit the architect of the drone war that he and Obama can’t seem to end.

This, at a time when the Senate Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee still squabble over who should drive the drone war.

Lake describes Mike Morell’s case (someone Dianne Feinstein has lobbied against in the past) this way:

Morell in particular has been helpful to Clinton. In his memoir and in congressional testimony, he blamed the CIA and the White House for the talking points on the 2012 Benghazi attack that attributed an act of terror to a demonstration over an internet video. Clinton, of course, was secretary of state at the time, and Republicans have leveled most of their criticism of Benghazi at her.

Lake pretends that the stated role in Benghazi and unstated opposition from Feinstein based off Morell’s comments about the torture report wouldn’t sink his candidacy. Maybe that wouldn’t?

Which leaves Mike Vickers, about whom Lake only mentions Vickers’ history as “former CIA officer and undersecretary of defense for intelligence.” Thankfully, Vickers has made his own case, in a recent endorsement of Hillary. After Vickers recalls his own bipartisan history (largely running covert ops), he raises Hillary’s favorite alleged proof of her national security chops, when she advised Obama to launch the Osama bin Laden raid.

As a Green Beret, CIA operations officer and senior national security official, I have served under six presidents—four Republicans and two Democrats. The last was Barack Obama, and for four years in the White House Situation Room, I saw Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s sound strategic judgment first-hand—on the Afghanistan surge, the campaign to dismantle and defeat core al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region, the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, and on lethal support for the moderate Syrian opposition. Secretary Clinton has the temperament, national security experience and strategic judgment to be an outstanding commander in chief. Donald Trump does not. I’m with her.

Vickers then ends his “endorsement” by confidently asserting we need to be more hawkish than we currently are.

To be sure, we will need more aggressive counterterrorism strategies, stronger support for the Syrian opposition as the only plausible counterweight to authoritarianism and extremism within Syria, more effective counters to Iranian and Russian expansion, and better strategies for deterring and competing with China over the long term. But just as we needed an experienced and steady hand to guide us safely through the early years of the Cold War, we need an experienced and steady hand to guide us through the current challenges to American leadership and world order. Only one candidate in this presidential race can supply that.

There you have the race to be CIA Director under Hillary (at least as viewed through a Neocon lens): the current drone architect, Mr. Benghazi, or the guy whose enthusiasm for covert ops matches Hillary’s own.

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