The George Nader Problem: NSA Removes the Child Exploitation Content from Its Servers

When Lebanese-American dual citizen George Nader was stopped at Dulles after arriving on a flight from Dubai on January 17, 2018, he had at least 12 videos on his phone depicting boys as young as two years old being sexually abused, often with the involvement of farm animals. In the days before a Mueller prosecutor obtained the contents of the three phones Nader had with him, Nader sat for at least four interviews with Mueller’s prosecutors and told a story (which may not have been entirely forthright) about how he brokered a meeting in the Seychelles between Russia and Erik Prince a year earlier. Nader exploited Prince’s interest in work with Nader’s own employer — Mohammed bin Zayed — to set up the back channel meeting, and as such was a very effective broker in the service of two foreign countries, one hostile to the US. As such, I assume, Nader became a key counterintelligence interest, on top of whatever evidence he provided implicating Trump and his flunkies.

Mueller’s team got the returns on Nader’s phones back on March 16. An FBI Agent in EDVA in turn got a warrant for the child porn. But two days after the agent got the warrant return, Nader skipped town and remained out of the country until days after Mueller shut down his investigation, at which point he returned to the US and was promptly arrested for his abuse of children. Even without the other influence peddling that Nader had done on behalf of the Emirates, he would have remained a key counterintelligence interest for the entire 14 months he remained outside the country. After all, Nader had been making key connections since at least the time he introduced Ahmed Chalabi to Dick Cheney, and probably going back to the Clinton Administration.

So it is quite possible that for the entire period Nader was out of the country, he was surveilled. If that happened, it almost certainly would have happened with the assistance of NSA. As an agent of Dubai, he would be targetable under FISA, but as a US citizen, targeting him under FISA would require an individualized FISA warrant, and the surveillance overseas would take place under 705b.

If the surveillance did happen, Nader’s sexual abuse of boys would have had foreign intelligence value. It would be of interest, for example, to know who knew of his abuse and whether they used it as leverage over Nader. The source of the videos showing the children being exploited would be of interest. So, too, would any arrangements Nader made to procure the actual boys he abused, particularly if that involved high powered people in Middle Eastern countries.

Understanding how George Nader fit in international efforts to intervene in US affairs would involve understanding his sexual abuse of boys.

And that poses a problem for the NSA, because it means that really horrible content — such as Nader’s videos showing young boys being abused with goats for the object of an adult’s sexual pleasure — is among the things the NSA might need to collect and analyze.

I’ve been thinking about George Nader as I’ve been trying to understand one detail of the recent FISA 702 reauthorization. In January 2020, the NSA got permission to — in the name of lawful oversight — scan its holdings for child exploitation, stuff like videos of adults using goats to sexually abuse very young boys.

In a notice filed on January 22, 2020, the government informed the Court that NSA had developed a method, [redacted] of known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography), to identify and remove such material from NSA systems. To test this methodology, NSA ran the [redacted] against a same of FISA-acquired information in NSA systems. The government concedes that queries conducted for such purposes do not meet generally applicable querying standard; nor do they fall within one of the lawful oversight functions enumerated in the existing NSA querying procedures. Nevertheless, NSD/ODNI opined that “the identification and removal of child exploitation material … from NSA systems that is a lawful oversight function under section IV.C.6,” and that the deviation from the querying procedures was “necessary to perform this lawful oversight function of NSA systems.” Notice of Deviation from Querying Procedures, January 22, 2020, at 3; see Oct. 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10.

NSA anticipates using such queries going forward, likely on a recurring basis, to proactively identify and remove child-exploitation material from its systems. The government submits that doing so is necessary to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly disturbing, illegal material.” October 19, 2020, Memorandum at 10. The Court credits this suggestion and likewise finds that performance of these queries qualifies as a lawful oversight function for NSA systems. But the Court encouraged the government to memorialize this oversight activity in § IV.C.6, among the other enumerated lawful oversight functions that are recognized exceptions to the generally acceptable querying standards.

The government has done so. Section IV.C.6 now includes a new provision for “identify[ing] and remov[ing] child exploitation material, including child pornography, from NSA systems.” NSA Querying Procedures § IV.C.6.f. The Court finds that the addition of this narrow exception has no material impact on the sufficiency of the querying procedures taken as a whole.

At first, I thought they were doing this to protect the children. Indeed, my initial concern was that NSA was using these scans to expand the use of NSA queries for what wound up being law enforcement action, such that they could ask to do similar scans for the seven other crimes they’ve authorized sharing FISA data on (though of the other crimes, only snuff videos would be as easy to automate as child porn, which has a well-developed technology thanks to Facebook and Google). I thought that, once they scanned their holdings, they would alert whatever authority might be able to rescue the children involved that they had been victimized. After all, under all existing minimization procedures, the NSA can share proof of a crime with the FBI or other relevant law enforcement agency. Indeed, in 2017, FISC even authorized NSA and FBI to share such evidence of child exploitation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, so they could attempt to identify the victims, help bring the perpetrators to justice, and track more instances of such abuse.

But that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening.

Indeed, as described, “saving the victims” is not the purpose of these scans. Rather, preventing NSA personnel from having to look at George Nader’s pictures showing goats sexually abusing small boys is the goal. When I asked the government about this, NSA’s Director for Civil Liberties, Privacy and Transparency, Rebecca Richards, distinguished finding child exploitation material in the course of intelligence analysis — in which case it’ll get reported as a crime — from this, which just removes the content.

NSA does not query collected foreign intelligence information to identify individuals who may be in possession of child exploitation material. This particular provision allows NSA to identify and remove known or suspected child-exploitation material (including child pornography) from NSA systems.

The Court agreed that this was appropriate lawful oversight to “prevent [NSA] personnel from unneeded exposure to highly distributing, illegal material.” The point of the query is not to surface the material for foreign intelligence analysis, the function of the query is to remove the material. If NSA finds such information in the course of its analytic process to identify and report on foreign intelligence, it will review and follow necessary crimes reporting.

The Court credits the suggestion to conduct this activity as part of NSA’s lawful oversight function. [my emphasis]

I asked NSA a bunch of other questions about this, but got no further response.

First, isn’t the NSA required to (and permitted to, under the minimization procedures) alert the FBI to all such instances they find? So wouldn’t this be no different from a law enforcement search, since if found it will lead to the FBI finding out about it?

Second, as offensive as this stuff is, isn’t it also of value from a foreign intelligence perspective? Ignoring that George Nader is a US person, if a high profile advisor to MbZ was known to exploit boys, wouldn’t that be of interest in explaining his position in MbZ’s court and his preference for living in Dubai instead of VA? Wouldn’t it be of interest in understanding the counterintelligence threat he posed?

If it is of FI interest (I seem to recall a Snowden revelation where similar discoveries were used against a extremist cleric, for example), then how is it recorded to capture the FI use before it is destroyed? And in recording it, aren’t there NSA and/or FBI personnel who would have to look more closely at it? Wouldn’t that increase the amount of child exploitation viewed (presumably with the benefit of finding more predators, even if they are outside US LE reach)?

Finally, can you tell me whether NCMEC is involved in this? Do they receive copies of the material for their databases?

Are you saying that if the NSA finds evidence of child exploitation via these searches, it does not refer the evidence to FBI, even if it implicates victims in the United States?

Another question I have given Richards’ response is, why would NSA personnel be accessing collections that happen to include child exploitation except for analytic purposes?

But maybe that’s the real answer here: NSA employees would access child exploitation 1) for analytical purposes (in which case, per Richards, it would get reported as a crime) or 2) inappropriately, perhaps after learning of its presence via accessing it for analytic purposes (something that is not inconsistent with claims Edward Snowden has made).

After all, there have been two really high profile examples of national security personnel accused of critical leaks in the last decade who also have been accused of possessing child pornography: Donald Sachtleben, who after he was busted for (amazingly) bringing child porn on his laptop into Quantico, he later became the scapegoat for a high profile leak about Yemen, and Joshua Schulte, on whose computer the government claims to have found child porn on when it searched the computer for evidence that he stole all of CIA’s hacking tools.

So perhaps the NSA is just removing evidence of child exploitation from its servers — which it spent a lot of resources to collect as foreign intelligence — to avoid tempting NSA employees from accessing it and further victimizing the children?

If that’s correct, then it seems that NSA has taken a totally backwards approach to mitigating this risk.

If you’re going to scan all of NSA’s holdings to ID child exploitation, why not do so on intake, and once found, hash and encrypt it immediately. Some of what analysts would be interested in — tracking the dissemination of known child porn or the trafficking of known victims by transnational organized crime, for example — could be done without ever viewing it, solely after those existing hashes. If there were some other need — such as identifying a previously unidentified victim — then the file in question can be decrypted as it is sent along to FBI. That would have the added benefit of ensuring that if NSA personnel were choosing to expose themselves to George Nader’s videos of young boys being abused with farm animals, then the NSA would have a record of who was doing so, so they could be fired.

I get why the NSA doesn’t want to host the world’s biggest collection of child abuse, particularly given its difficulties in securing its systems. I don’t have any answers as to why they’re using this approach to purge their systems.

Investigating Juan Cole Rather than Ahmed Chalabi

James Risen reports that Glen Carle, a former CIA officer, says the Bush Administration was looking for dirt on Juan Cole in 2005. In one incident, Carle’s supervisor asked whether the CIA had anything on Cole.

Mr. Carle said that sometime that year, he was approached by his supervisor, David Low, about Professor Cole. Mr. Low and Mr. Carle have starkly different recollections of what happened. According to Mr. Carle, Mr. Low returned from a White House meeting one day and inquired who Juan Cole was, making clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to gather information on him. Mr. Carle recalled his boss saying, “The White House wants to get him.”

“ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ” Mr. Low continued, according to Mr. Carle.

Mr. Carle said that he warned that it would be illegal to spy on Americans and refused to get involved, but that Mr. Low seemed to ignore him.

“But what might we know about him?” he said Mr. Low asked. “Does he drink? What are his views? Is he married?”

Then, several months later, a CIA analyst sought information about Cole again.

Several months after the initial incident, Mr. Carle said, a colleague on the National Intelligence Council asked him to look at an e-mail he had just received from a C.I.A. analyst. The analyst was seeking advice about an assignment from the executive assistant to the spy agency’s deputy director for intelligence, John A. Kringen, directing the analyst to collect information on Professor Cole.

Now, Risen connects these two incidents with successful right wing attempts to persuade Yale not to offer Cole a prestigious position.

Cole’s critics — in The New York Sun, National Review, The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, several of whom are now praising Yale for not hiring him — have maintained that they aren’t using political tests, but object to Cole’s career on a variety of grounds. They point to numerous quotes he has made (generally in his blog) that they say show a willingness to blame the United States and Israel inappropriately (Cole has said that some of the quotes are taken out of context and that others represent legitimate opinion). Several have also criticized his scholarship, saying that he is spending too much time on blogging and questioning his output of serious scholarship. (His supporters point to a long publication list.) Campus Watch, a pro-Israel group, maintains a long list of articles about Cole, most of which it endorses for their criticism of him.

But the timing also happens to coincide with Juan Cole’s correct predictions that Ahmed Chalabi would not win the 2005 Iraqi elections. We know from AJ Rossmiller that the intelligence community made great efforts to ignore Cole’s predictions.

Chalabi won just .5% of the vote. Iyad Allawi, in whom the Administration also invested their hopes, won just 8% of the vote. And the Shiite coalition dominated by SCIRI and the Sadrists got 41% of the votes. In his book, Still Broken, AJ describes that he saw this coming.

After Iraq’s winter elections, the results validated the predictions contained in the paper I’d written in the fall. It created something of a stir because the paper turned out to be remarkably accurate, far more so than the forecasts of other agencies and departments. Before the election occurred, a high-ranking official requested a follow-up evaluation of our assessments, and I wrote a memo that described our precision. The memo made its way up through the chain, and a few days later the office got a note from Stephen Cambone, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, praising both the prediction and the self-evaluation.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the last half of AJ’s book describes how such accurate predictions are generally weeded out by higher-ranking analysts worried that their office’s work product might piss off the Administration.


When AJ was asked how he got the 2005 election right, one of the things he pointed to, half-seriously, was the open source work of Juan Cole.

I began to write the explanation of our methodology, and I tried to resist the temptation to criticize other agencies while explaining how and why we did things differently. State, in particular, was very sensitive about their screwup, and I didn’t want to piss anybody off.

“Sir, can’t I just say that I copied and pasted Juan Cole?”

Now, I’m not suggesting that the White House was digging dirt on Juan Cole because he correctly predicted Ahmed Chalabi would get smoked in a democratic election.

But it’s probably worth noting what opinions Cole expressed that generated this attention in the first place.


More New York Republicans Providing Material Support to Terrorists

Speaking of material support for terrorism, David Cole uses the recent trip by Rudy Giuliani and others to suck up to the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) as an opportunity to explain the idiocy of the Holder versus Humanitarian Law Project SCOTUS verdict.

DID former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Tom Ridge, a former homeland security secretary, and Frances Townsend, a former national security adviser, all commit a federal crime last month in Paris when they spoke in support of the Mujahedeen Khalq at a conference organized by the Iranian opposition group’s advocates? Free speech, right? Not necessarily.

The problem is that the United States government has labeled the Mujahedeen Khalq a “foreign terrorist organization,” making it a crime to provide it, directly or indirectly, with any material support. And, according to the Justice Department under Mr. Mukasey himself, as well as under the current attorney general, Eric Holder, material support includes not only cash and other tangible aid, but also speech coordinated with a “foreign terrorist organization” for its benefit. It is therefore a felony, the government has argued, to file an amicus brief on behalf of a “terrorist” group, to engage in public advocacy to challenge a group’s “terrorist” designation or even to encourage peaceful avenues for redress of grievances.


But in June, the Supreme Court ruled against us, stating that all such speech could be prohibited, because it might indirectly support the group’s terrorist activity. Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that a terrorist group might use human rights advocacy training to file harassing claims, that it might use peacemaking assistance as a cover while re-arming itself, and that such speech could contribute to the group’s “legitimacy,” and thus increase its ability to obtain support elsewhere that could be turned to terrorist ends.

Cole goes on to note the hypocrisy of the government, which has given exceptions for humanitarian purposes to corporations seeking to sell cigarettes, even while arguing NGOs cannot provide food and water.

Mind you, I’m actually with Cole: Rudy and Mukasey and Fran Fragos Townsend and Tom Ridge ought to be able to go make speeches sucking up to Iran’s version of Ahmad Chalabi (oops! I forgot that Chalabi was Iran’s!), a bunch of liars who have invented intelligence to try to justify war with Iran. That’s what Republicans do, after all: promote hucksters who can justify the next war.

But it’s really time for either some consistency in the way the government pursues its war on terror violent extremism, or an admission that the war on terror has disintegrated into a war on those who oppose US empire. The government is still investigating a bunch of peace activists for material support. And yet four prominent Republicans can offer the same kind of material support as the peace activists–but this time in service of war or US hegemony or oil–with no similar consequences?

Chalabi: “I am convinced [there was] an implicit agreement between America and Iran”

Whoops. That little investment in fraudster and Iranian ally Ahmed Chalabi keeps looking like a worse and worse idea, huh, Bush? (h/t Tom Ricks)

[Al-Hayat]: What would you tell George Bush if you met him, in a party for example?

[Chalabi]: I would say: thank you for toppling Saddam but I am displeased with what you did afterwards.

[Al-Hayat]: Do you believe that it is possible for a superpower to commit such terrible mistakes?

[Chalabi]: Yes, very possible.

[Al-Hayat]: If you want to describe George Bush, then how would you describe him?

[Chalabi]: A man with very little skill and knowledge.

[Al-Hayat]: He did Iran a great service by toppling Saddam?

[Chalabi]: Iran benefited from toppling Saddam. Bush didn’t mean to do it a favor but it was clear that Iran would benefit from Saddam’s fall. I am convinced that Saddam would not have fallen except for an implicit agreement between America and Iran.

But my favorite part is where Ahmed Chalabi takes credit for getting George Tenet fired.

[Chalabi]: I accused the director of the CIA George Tenet and I said that he was behind the [May 2004 raid on Chalabi’s compound] despite the fact that I received a letter through one of my friends that stressed that I shouldn’t attack the CIA. When Tenet was ousted 10 days later, Hillary Clinton, a senator at the time, said that Ahmad Chalabi was behind Tenet’s dismissal. When I was asked about this, I answered: I am in Al-Najaf, how could I oust him?

Not that I disbelieve Chalabi had a part (though remember that Chalabi ally Dick Cheney had other reasons to want to take Tenet out in the days after he got questioned in the Plame leak).  I’m just amused that the notion that Chalabi could get the Director of CIA fired is plausible enough for this consummate fraudster to claim.