Hillary Clinton

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The [Emails Sent to] Clinton Story May End Up Being about Loyalty

I was surprised that this story voicing concerns that Clinton backers fear “old weaknesses stalk” her campaign (stalk!) didn’t mention one of the weaknesses from 2008 that bothered me the most: loyalty.

Don’t get me wrong. Loyalty is a good thing.

Except when loyalty to long-term friends drives your hiring decisions.

To me, Hillary’s failure in 2008 is best exemplified by her refusal to fire Mark Penn, even though he divided the campaign staff and made a lot of the decisions that let Obama beat her.

More recently, Hillary retained Sidney Blumenthal as an advisor even after the White House nixed him having an official role at State — a decision that lies behind some of the more controversial emails revealed as part of the email scandal.

Yet the WaPo article on potential Hillary stumbles doesn’t mention loyalty, not even in its discussion of the email scandal.

The e-mail issue has dampened Clinton’s support in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary, on Feb. 9. Sanders rose to a statistical tie there in the latest statewide poll, to the shock of some longtime Clinton backers. She is on safer ground in Iowa, which will hold the nation’s first presidential selection vote in the Feb. 1 caucuses.

Democrats in Washington fret that the e-mail liability is something Clinton brought on herself and has managed from a defensive crouch. The decision to operate a separate e-mail system parallel to the regular State Department system has resulted in an investigation that is now out of the control of Clinton and her campaign advisers.

Political strategists who have been through past such episodes note that an investigation like this can go in unexpected and damaging directions.

“I don’t think there’s a big smoking gun,” one Democrat said. “But it’s hard to explain why you had a private server, why you just now turned it over. . . .Shouldn’t you have had better judgment?”

As I have noted, everything we know about the email scandal confirms that any legal problems stem not from Hillary sitting down and transcribing the contents of a satellite-derived intelligence report into an unencrypted email, but from a staffer taking material he or she knew to be classified and including it in an email to Hillary. It’s not even clear that happened — the CIA has a nasty habit of claiming widely known facts are Top Secret, but that is the legal issue we’re discussing (go here to review my critique of Hillary’s over actions).

Both because they hate her, because she worked under a special status at State, and because there seems to be real reason to think she had a role in emails of question, the focus has now turned to Huma Abedin, currently Vice Chairwoman for Hillary’s campaign. This report on Abedin’s possible involvement emphasizes how closer Hillary and Abedin are.

Abedin, who’s been with Clinton for about two decades, started working for Clinton as a 19-year-old intern in the former first lady’s office.

At State and during the 2008 campaign she was considered Clinton’s “body woman,” never far from Clinton’s side and often seen watching her boss intently, ready to scramble to her aid at any minute. Top politicians, and even Bill Clinton, would phone her to reach Hillary, and emails released in recent months showed she enjoyed access to Clinton at her private home, too, dropping items off on her counter and instructing her how to dress and keeping her schedule.

In 2013, news broke that Abedin had been given a special government employee status, allowing her to be simultaneously on the payroll for the philanthropic Clinton Foundation and Teneo, a consulting firm founded by former Clinton White House adviser Doug Band. She previously had not disclosed the dual employment.

Abedin has said she stepped back from government work and became a contractor so she could be with her family and her newborn son. But since then, critics have questioned her about whether she had a conflict of interest while working at State and alongside close friends of the Clinton family.

There are a few other staffers whose names have been floated as potentially sending the emails with information deemed classified.

But if Abedin is among them, it poses the quintessential problem for Hillary: the possibility that dealing with this email problem would at the same time require distancing herself from a cherished associate. If someone like Abedin were involved in sending classified information, would Hillary do what she refused to do in 2008?

The SEKRIT Drones in Hillary’s [Staffers’] Emails

From the start of the Hillary Clinton email scandal, I’ve maintained that there are real reasons to be critical of her use of a private email.

There are big governance reasons to be concerned that Clinton has been in control of all her official emails, including that the emails will get destroyed or hidden from FOIA and Congressional requests.

But there’s also the question of whether whatever sensitive communications she had — potentially including classified information — were safe on a server run out of her Chappaqua home. While the State Department’s own emails have been notoriously unreliable — they have been compromised both in the WikiLeaks leak and in persistent hacks in recent years– if foreign adversaries learned of her private server (and remember, it’s very hard to hide metadata from someone who is looking), her communications would be even easier to compromise.

[snip]

[T]he system is also broken because it has been permitted to become a tool the powerful use to control their own image (and thereby accrue more power). After the years-long witch hunts under her spouse’s Presidency, Clinton might be forgiven for wanting to maintain complete control over her own communications (except for that whole bit about democratic accountability). But she is of course doing it to serve her own Presidential aspirations.

Not only are there real governance reasons it was wrong, but it was an own-goal given that she knew Republicans would pounce on anything that hints of corruption (even though most GOP presidential candidates have done the same thing). In the grand scheme of things, however, I’m most interested in fixing the email and accountability problem, because it has been a recurrent problem since Poppy Bush tried to destroy some PROFs notes to cover up the Iran-Contra scandal.

That said, much — though not all — of the reporting on it took a decidedly irresponsible turn when Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough revealed that two emails from the emails on Hillary’s server had been determined to contain Top Secret information. Such reporting was led by former NSA official John Schindler whose piece in the Daily Beast bore this headline.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 8.40.08 AM

Schindler might be excused for a headline editors gave his piece to drive clicks and scandal — and indeed, in some parts of his article he was more disciplined in specifying whose emails these were — but he nevertheless used the formulation “Clinton’s emails” when claiming she had satellite-derived information on her servers.

Most seriously, the Inspector General assessed that Clinton’s emails included information that was highly classified—yet mislabeled as unclassified. Worse, the information in question should have been classified up to the level of “TOP SECRET//SI//TK//NOFORN,” according to the Inspector General’s report.

This left the suggestion that as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down with some SIGINT reporting, transcribed it, and then sent it off to her staffers. That, in spite of repeated clarifications from official sources that Hillary was in no way a target of the FBI inquiry into this.

Dianne Feinstein clarified the point yesterday: the issue is that Hillary received emails that had information claimed to be classified, not that she sent them.

There has been a lot of press coverage recently of allegations regarding Secretary Clinton’s email. Unfortunately, much of the coverage has missed key points.

First, none of the emails alleged to contain classified information were written by Secretary Clinton.

The questions are whether she received emails with classified information in them, and if so, whether information in those emails should have been classified in the first place. Those questions have yet to be answered. However, it is clear that Secretary Clinton did not write emails containing classified information.

Again, nothing obviates all the blame that Hillary chose to rely on an unclassified email system, but it’s one thing if Hillary were sending Top Secret information across an unprotected server, and yet another thing if she received emails that might have been derived from Top Secret information, but were not marked as such or even evidently sourced from Top Secret information. Or even — given that some of the people and agencies in question aren’t entirely trustworthy when they make claims of secrecy — that publicly available information was deemed Top Secret.

At least according to the AP (in a story sourced to US officials, so potentially some people in DiFi’s immediate vicinity), that’s what happened.

The two emails on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private server that an auditor deemed “top secret” include a discussion of a news article detailing a U.S. drone operation and a separate conversation that could point back to highly classified material in an improper manner or merely reflect information collected independently, U.S. officials who have reviewed the correspondence told The Associated Press.

[snip]

The drone exchange, the officials said, begins with a copy of a news article that discusses the CIA drone program that targets terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere. While a secret program, it is well-known and often reported on. The copy makes reference to classified information, and a Clinton adviser follows up by dancing around a top secret in a way that could possibly be inferred as confirmation, they said. Several officials, however, described this claim as tenuous.

But a second email reviewed by Charles McCullough, the intelligence community inspector general, appears more suspect. Nothing in the message is “lifted” from classified documents, the officials said, though they differed on where the information in it was sourced. Some said it improperly points back to highly classified material, while others countered that it was a classic case of what the government calls “parallel reporting” — different people knowing the same thing through different means.

This is CIA claiming secrecy for its drone operations!!! The ongoing FOIAs about CIA’s acknowledged role in the drone war are evidence that even independent appellate judges don’t buy CIA’s claims that their drone activities are secret. Just yesterday, in fact, DC Judge Amit Mehta ordered DOJ to provide Jason Leopold more information about its legal analysis on CIA drone-killing Anwar al-Awlaki, information the CIA had claimed was classified. Indeed, Martha Lutz, the woman who likely reviewed the emails turned over, is fairly notorious for claiming things are classified that pretty obviously aren’t. It’s her job!

I’m all in favor of doing something to ensure all people in power don’t hide their official business on hidden email servers — right now, almost all people in power do do that.

But those who take CIA’s claims of drone secrecy seriously should be mocked, as should those who deliberately obscure the difference between receiving an unmarked email with information claimed to be classified and those who transcribe information from a properly marked classified document.

The Unopened Torture Report and Trusting CIA on Other Covert Operations

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

This may be secret law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSA Probably Doesn’t Have ALL of Hillary’s Emails … But Maybe Someone Should

I’m among those who believes Hillary Clinton’s use of a privately run email server is an abuse of power. Doing so appears to have skirted laws ensuring good governance and it may well have exposed her communications to adversaries (including some who would have reason to use the contents of her email to help Republicans win the White House), even if her email would have been just as targeted at State, per reports about persistent hacking of it. While I don’t buy — in the absence of evidence — she did so to hide ties with the Clinton Foundation, I do think she did so not just for convenience, but for control, as I laid out last week.

In response to the scandal, some people are calling on NSA to turn over Hillary’s emails (as they earlier did with former IRS official Lois Lerner).

For some Americans, the NSA isn’t an agency that protects them from terrorist threats or keeps this country safe from another catastrophic event. For many people, the NSA represents an intrusion of privacy. However, ‘Emailgate’ is an opportunity for the NSA to show Americans that it can protect the nation from possible security breaches, even when powerful members of government have made these errors of judgment. Nobody is accusing Hillary Clinton of anything treasonous or malicious, after all, Powell and Rice also used private emails at times. The primary concern with this scandal rests in the fact that private email servers were stored in a private residence, with their contents possibly being “sensitive” or “classified.”

If anyone in the country engaged in such behavior, the NSA would have likely had information on all of this citizen’s communication and activities. If  Clinton compromised national security in any way, the most renowned record-keeping agency in the U.S. government should help answer some questions. If the NSA has the full record of Clinton’s emails, it should hand them over to Congress.

There’s little reason to believe that NSA has all of Hillary’s emails — or even metadata on them — though it may well have (had) some.

We’re talking about emails from a non-PRISM US based server that are two to six years old.

Until December 2011, the NSA would have been capturing the metadata from all of Hillary’s email. But according to multiple documents (including sworn documents), NSA destroyed this data in 2011. NSA currently appears to collect US person Internet metadata from two other sources: from PRISM collection, and under SPCMA on data obtained overseas.

According to the 9-page explanation on the emails Hillary sent, “During her time at State, she communicated with foreign officials in person, through correspondence, and by telephone. The review of all of her emails revealed only one email with a foreign (UK) official.” Thus, while many of the people the Secretary of State would interact with could easily be targeted under Section 702, she claims she had email communication with only one of those legitimate targets, and that potentially legitimate target is from the UK, the least likely country to be targeted. This would mean that Hillary’s emails (and therefore metadata) would be unlikely to have been captured under PRISM collection. [Update: I realize now that any private conversations she had with foreigners could have been targeted and would not be among those she kept as official business.]

If she had used a targeted person’s identifier (email or phone number, for example), that might come up under upstream collection, particularly if she sent the email while overseas. The NSA has focused more since 2011 on sorting out the all US person communications captured in that way. But they also appear to go very far out of their way to avoid learning that communications are domestic, because that causes legal problems for them. So that would make it less likely they would ID these emails.

In other words, if NSA had collected Hillary’s emails using upstream collection, they should have destroyed them, and if they didn’t, they would now want to pretend they hadn’t collected them.

That leaves one other way the NSA might have some of Hillary’s emails (if they haven’t hurriedly destroyed them to avoid being caught having collected what would be considered domestic communications): via bulk collection overseas, which is quite possible, given how frequently Hillary would have been overseas, even in countries where the Five Eyes presumably pulls and keeps full take most of the time (though some of her emails sent both sides domestically might well have transited overseas and gotten collected).

By all means, let’s ask the NSA to search on her email identifiers to see what they’ve collected and retained for the 2-6 years in question! It would be a good test of how much “innocent” US person communications are collected incidentally, especially if that person travels frequently to targeted countries. (Though, again, I would imagine NSA has already done a purge to make sure they don’t have this, because if they got caught doing so, it would be … awkward.)

Finally, there’s one more reason to think NSA would not have Hillary’s email. As James Risen and Eric Lichtblau reported on June, 16, 2009 — just 3 months after Hillary started using this email — an analyst once got investigated for targeting Bill Clinton.

He said he and other analysts were trained to use a secret database, code-named Pinwale, in 2005 that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages. He said Pinwale allowed N.S.A. analysts to read large volumes of e-mail messages to and from Americans as long as they fell within certain limits — no more than 30 percent of any database search, he recalled being told — and Americans were not explicitly singled out in the searches.

The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.

As NSA explained to Congress the day after the report (this notice was attached to the Q3 2009 IOB report), this incident actually dated to 1992.

On November 3, 1992, an analyst wondering how foreign targets were reacting to Bill Clinton’s election typed in a query [redacted]. The query was made against the [redacted]. There were probably very few emails of any kind in there at that time, and there would not [sic] about Bill Clinton. Immediately after the query was entered, the co-worker sitting next to the analyst identified that this was a query on a U.S. person. The analyst immediately realized that the query was wrong and contrary to authorities.

[snip]

Although this activity occurred 17 years ago, we have used it in our oversight training, even in the last several years, as an illustrative example of queries that are inappropriate and must be reported and investigated. This type of query remains as inappropriate today as it was then and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

In other words, up until no more than a few years before Hillary became Secretary of State, NSA used illegally querying on her husband as a training example. The server Hillary was using was (as far as I understand it) a Clinton Foundation server — a corporate entity tied to the man used as a training case on illegal targeting.

I’d say the centrality of Bill in NSA training would emphasize the importance of not targeting Bill, his property, and thereby his wife’s undisclosed email. Certainly from buffered collections (which is how NSA sorts full take collection overseas), it’d be less likely anyone would query anything that looked remotely like a Clinton email, even though almost all of Clinton’s foreign donors are likely targets.

Admittedly, a lot of Clinton Foundation emails might be kept for other reasons (and would be legitimately targeted based off their foreign interlocutor). But I would imagine NSA is particularly careful with anything that bears the name Clinton, because of this history.

In other words, while NSA almost certainly doesn’t have all Hillary emails, it might have some — but would have very very big incentives to be able to tell Congress it doesn’t if and when they ask.

Which is not to say someone shouldn’t have these emails.

One thing the recent 702 Minimization Procedures reveal are that all three agencies — NSA, FBI, and CIA — keep some data for a year to conduct security assessments. For example, FBI’s reads:

Similarly, and notwithstanding any other section in these procedures, the FBI may use information acquired pursuant to section 702 of the Act to conduct security assessments of its systems in order to ensure that FBI systems have not been compromised. These security assessments may include, but will not be limited to, the temporary storage of section 702-acquired information in a separate system for a period not to exceed one year. While retained in such a storage system for security assessments, such section 702-acquired information may not be accessed for any other purpose.

To be honest, I don’t understand this provision (as FBI.gov shouldn’t be collected under 702), though the provision may exist more broadly in SIGINT collection procedures, in which case it would seem utterly parallel to the CSEC practice of storing emails sent to the government.

But it seems if the government is retaining emails in the name of security of its own systems, it could also retain emails in the name of ensuring government abides by Federal Records rules. For top officials, who appear to keep changing their identifiers to prevent average citizens from being able to contact them (both Hillary and Eric Holder did this), identifying, retaining, and storing emails seems to have few privacy implications. So maybe NSA should have Hillary’s emails?

Maybe Petraeus’ Plea Deal Is More Interesting to the Benghazi Report than Hillary’s Emails?

There is an exception to every rule, standard operating procedure, and poli­cy; it is up to leaders to determine when exceptions should be made and to ex­plain why they made them.

David Petraeus’ Rules for Living, as presented by Paula Broadwell as they were being caught in an FBI investigation

Predictably, Trey Gowdy has subpoenaed more information about Hillary Clinton’s email personal email revealed this week.

But it seems he also ought to call David Petraeus in for another chat about Benghazi in light of details in the former CIA Director’s plea deal.

That’s because the Plea Documents show that the investigation into Petraeus and Paula Broadwell intersects with the Benghazi investigation in ways that are even more interesting than was already clear. Consider what those two timelines look like when you add in the fact that Petraeus lied to the FBI about leaking information to his mistress on October 26, 2012, which has been updated from this post (note that contemporaneous reporting dated Petraeus’ FBI interview to October 29).

From the sex and leaking standpoint, the revised timeline is interesting because it shows Petraeus and Broadwell together at — of all places! — the annual celebration for old-style subterfuge, the OSS dinner, between the time Petraeus lied to the FBI and the time Broadwell was interviewed a second time.

But from a Benghazi perspective, it shows that on the same day Petraeus lied to the FBI, Paula Broadwell made the accusation that the attack was really about freeing militia members held at the CIA annex. The next day Petraeus and Broadwell hobnobbed together among the old style spooks. and then days later — even as an FBI whistleblower was forcing the investigation into the public, without which it might have been dropped — Petraeus went on a “fact-finding” mission to Cairo, in part to consult with some of the people involved in the Benghazi response.

Petraeus did a report on that trip, but Dianne Feinstein was complaining that her committee had not received a copy of it on November 12 (Petraeus was resisting, in part, because he no longer worked at CIA).

There’s no evidence that the House Intelligence Committee consulted Petraeus’ trip report when they did their report on the attack. (Indeed, the report shows remarkable lack of interest in Petraeus’ role altogether, in spite of the fact that he watched the later parts of the attack develop via the drone surveillance camera feed piped to the SCIF at his home.)

Did either of the Intelligence Committees ever get the report on the trip Petraeus did after he knew he was in trouble with the FBI, at a time when his ex-girlfriend was claiming the reason behind the attack was entirely different from what we’ve been told?

As I’ve noted, more than anyone else, current HPSCI Chair Devin Nunes showed significant interest in that claim about detainees, as reflected in the backup to a report that Mike Rogers made sure to get done before he left Nunes in charge. In response to his question (as well as some questions about arms-running) Nunes got non-denials denials.

In a related detail, in the earlier session Nunes also elicited a non-denial denial about detainees (and accusation first leveled by David Petraeus’ mistress Paula Broadwell), the other alleged reason for the attack on US entities in Benghazi.

Mr. Nunes: Okay. To the detainees, were there ever any detainees at either of these locations in the last year of any kind?

Mr. Morell: Not with regard to the CIA facility, sir.

Mr. Kennedy: And the State Department does not engage in detentions overseas.

Rather than just answering no, between them Morell and Kennedy carved out a space where it might be possible the CIA (or someone else, possibly JSOC) were holding detainees at the TMF or elsewhere in Benghazi.

Maybe Petraeus’ last minute trip to do a personal investigation of the aftermath of Benghazi — the results of which Petraeus resisted sharing with the Committees investigating the attack — is just a coinkydink.

But given the timing — and Petraeus’ sweetheart plea deal — it’d be nice if the Benghazi Committee asked a few more questions about that coinkydink. Continue reading

The Timing of CIA’s Discovery Its Paramilitary Ops Fail

Mark Mazzetti reports that in 2012 and 2013, CIA did a study that one of its favorite means of covert intervention — arming rebels — pretty much doesn’t work.

An internal C.I.A. study has found that it rarely works.

The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.

The findings of the study, described in recent weeks by current and former American government officials, were presented in the White House Situation Room and led to deep skepticism among some senior Obama administration officials about the wisdom of arming and training members of a fractured Syrian opposition.

But in April 2013, President Obama authorized the C.I.A. to begin a program to arm the rebels at a base in Jordan, and more recently the administration decided to expand the training mission with a larger parallel Pentagon program in Saudi Arabia to train “vetted” rebels to battle fighters of the Islamic State, with the aim of training approximately 5,000 rebel troops per year.

The only “success” CIA could find was the mujahadeen ousting the Russians in Afghanistan.

Goodie.

I’m particularly interested in the timing of all this.

Mazzetti says there were multiple studies done in 2012 — at which point David Petraeus was CIA Director, and was pushing to arm rebels in Syria — and 2013 — by which point John Brennan had replaced Petraeus.

So the timing looks something like this:

2012: CIA starts doing studies on how crappy their covert ops have been

2012: Hillary and Petraus both push Obama to arm Syrians

2012: Benghazi attack targets CIA officers ostensibly working to reclaim weapons used to oust Qaddafi but reportedly to send them on to Syria

2012: Petraeus ousted for reasons that probably aren’t primarily that he fucked his biographer

2013: John Brennan nominated to serve as CIA Director. As part of his confirmation process, the follow exchange takes place (Bark Mikulski asked a similar question in the hearing itself).

Question 7: What role do you see for the CIA in paramilitary-style intelligence activities or covert action?

The CIA, a successor to the Office of Strategic Services, has a long history of carrying out paramilitary-style intelligence activities and must continue to be able to provide the President with this option should he want to employ it to accomplish critical national security objectives.

[snip]

Question 8: What are you views on what some have described as the increased “militarization” of the CIA mission following the September 11, 2001 attacks?

In my view, the CIA is the nation’s premier “intelligence” agency, and needs to remain so. While CIA needs to maintain a paramilitary capability to be able to carry out covert action as directed by the President, the CIA should not be used, in my view, to carry out traditional military activities.

April 2013: Obama signs finding authorizing an op CIA knew wouldn’t work

June 2013: Covert op begins, per Chuck Hagel confirmation of it in August

As Mazzetti explains, the amazing discovery that CIA’s covert ops are often useless was one reason Obama delayed so long before he authorized one anyway (and his close confidante Brennan implemented it).

But I think two other things are likely (in addition to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in both April and August 2013). One, it wasn’t so much Obama was opposed to such an op; he was just opposed to the way Petraeus (who oversaw the latter part of the Libya op) and Hillary implemented it. (Note, Mazzetti specifically notes both Hillary and Leon Panetta’s claims they warned Obama to respond earlier in Syria, so Mazzetti’s piece may be a response to that.) And just as likely, the Saudi-tied rising strength in ISIL forced our hand, requiring us to be able to offer a legitimate competitor to their paid terrorists.

Particularly given the mujadadeen “success” apparently cited in the CIA study, I find that rather ominous.

Hillary Said Appoint a Gitmo Champion; The Opposite Happened

There’s a weird detail in this Daniel Klaidman piece on Obama’s claimed newfound commitment to closing Gitmo.

One of the new details in it describes a memo Hillary Clinton wrote just before she left the State Department.

One recent plea, two sources told Newsweek, came from Hillary Clinton, who, just before she left office in January 2013, sent a two-page confidential memo to Obama about Guantánamo.

[snip]

Now, in one of her last moves as secretary of State, she was making a final effort to prod her boss to do more. Her memo was replete with practical suggestions for moving ahead on Gitmo. Chief among them: Obama needed to appoint a high-level official to be in charge of the effort, someone who had clout and proximity to the Oval Office. Further, Clinton argued that Obama could start transferring the 86 detainees who’d already been cleared for release. (Congress has imposed onerous restrictions on the administration’s ability to transfer Gitmo detainees—including a stipulation that the secretary of Defense certify that detainees sent to other countries would not engage in acts of terrorism. In her memo, Clinton pointed out that the administration could use “national-security waivers” to circumvent the restriction.)

The Clinton missive perturbed White House aides, who viewed it as an attempt to put them on the spot, according to a senior administration official. It’s unclear how Obama himself reacted to the memo; there’s no evidence that it spurred him to action.

I thought to myself as I read this, “but Clinton’s departure is precisely when the Administration moved backwards on this front, by reassigning Daniel Fried, who had been in charge of resettling detainees.” Fried’s reassignment was reported January 29. That was technically while Hillary was still at State — Kerry took over on February 1.

Still, whoever transferred Fried, she must have written that memo (which pissed off Obama’s minders) at almost precisely the moment State eliminated the person most focused on working towards Gitmo closure.

Klaidman doesn’t entirely ignore this detail. Six paragraphs later he mentions the transfer.

For much of the past few years, without any signal that Obama was going to fight on Gitmo, the policy drifted. Daniel Fried, the veteran State Department official in charge of resettling detainees, was transferred to a different position.

Still, there must be a story explaining why Fried got transferred at precisely the moment Hillary, technically still his boss, was calling to redouble the effort to close Gitmo.

Benghazi Talking Points: Petraeus’ Revenge

It has taken three days for the bleating press corps in DC to wade through the roll-out of Benghazi talking point emails and realize that the tension behind the emails — as has been clear from just days after the attack — is that Benghazi was really a CIA, not a State, Mission, and therefore CIA bears responsibility for many of the security lapses. So State, in making changes to the emails, was making sure it didn’t get all the blame for CIA’s failures.

David Corn describes it this way.

The revisions—which deleted several lines noting that the CIA months before the attack had produced intelligence reports on the threat of Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi—appear to have been driven by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who, it should be noted, is a career Foggy Bottomer who has served Republican and Democratic administrations [ed: including Dick Cheney], not a political appointee. Her motive seems obvious: fend off a CIA CYA move that could make the State Department look lousy.

Yet it’s only now, several days into this frenzy, that some reporters are coming to report this.

And they’re still not noting ways in which the CIA’s initial emails were self-serving. For example, when the CIA said,

Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has [sic] previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.

They might have also said, “since February, people tied to CIA’s mission have twice been harassed by militia members, suggesting our OpSec was so bad they knew we were in Benghazi.”

And when CIA’s talking points said,

The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan society. That being said, we do know that extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.

They might also have said that the “trusted” militia, February 17 Brigade, trained by David Petraeus’ CIA, whose career legacy is based on false claims of successfully training locals, appears to have allowed the attack to happen (and, critically, delayed CIA guards from heading to the State mission to help).

Note that Congressman Frank Wolf is just now showing some interest in why CIA’s vetting of the militia central to the mission’s defense was so bad. Maybe if CIA had included that detail in their self-serving initial talking points, Congress would have turned to this issue more quickly, particularly since we’re currently training more potentially suspect militias in Syria.

In other words, the story CIA — which had fucked up in big ways — wanted to tell was that it had warned State and State had done nothing in response (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is precisely the story Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz are trying to tell). The truthful story would have been (in part) that CIA had botched the militia scene in Benghazi, and that had gotten the Ambassador killed.

Yet that appears to be just the half of the self-serving function this email release has had for CIA.

Consider how this rolled out. Continue reading

Musharraf Banned from Politics for Life As Violence Flairs in Pakistan Ahead of Elections

Although he has been under house arrest since shortly after his return to Pakistan while facing trial on charges of arranging the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani Army Chief and President Pervez Musharraf was given a lifetime ban from holding political office by the Peshawar High Court:

The Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Monday banned former military ruler Pervez Musharraf from politics for life.

The ruling came in response to an appeal filed by the former army strongman over the rejection of his nomination papers for the National Assembly seat in Chitral.

A four-member larger bench, headed by PHC Chief Justice Dost Mohammad Khan and comprising of Justice Malik Manzoor, Justice Syed Afsar Shah and Justice Ikramullah ruled that since Musharraf had abrogated the Constitution twice, he could not be allowed to contest elections for either the National Assembly or the Senate.

Isn’t that interesting? In Pakistan, violating the country’s constitution as President gets a lifetime ban from politics, while in the US the same offense allows the perpetrator to open a Presidential Lie Bury.

Meanwhile, as the May 11 elections draw nearer, violence is escalating. Today’s New York Times reports on a suicide bomber who killed nine in Peshawar in an attack that seemed aimed at creating an overall climate of fear rather than attacking a particular target:

An attacker riding a motorcycle detonated his explosives near the suspected target, a police patrol car, on busy University Road during the morning rush hour, killing a police constable and several bystanders, said Faisal Kamran, a senior police official.

/snip/

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although the Taliban have carried out a relentless series of attacks against secular political parties around the country in recent weeks as part of a drive to influence the elections.

Officials in Peshawar said the attack on Monday was different in that it did not appear to target a specific party but aimed instead to foster a broader climate of fear during the campaign season.

Sadly, two of the people who died were Afghan trade officials who most likely were not targeted but merely were victims of the senseless attack.

As stated above, most violence ahead of the election has been aimed at political parties and candidates. It has become so widespread that Human Rights Watch issued a statement yesterday, calling for more protection of candidates and political parties:

Pakistan’s interim government should take all necessary steps to ensure the safety of candidates and political party activists at risk of attack from the Taliban and other militant groups, Human Rights Watch said today. Nationwide parliamentary elections in Pakistan are scheduled for May 11, 2013.

Since April 21, when election campaigning formally began, the Taliban and other armed groups have carried out more than 20 attacks on political parties, killing 46 people and wounding over 190. Earlier in April, another 24 people were killed and over 100 injured in election-related attacks.

That violence is continuing:

An independent election candidate and two of his relatives from Balochistan’s Jhal Magsi area were killed by unknown assailants on Tuesday night prompting the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to postpone the elections in PB-32.

According to the police and relatives of the deceased, Abdul Fateh Magsi was kidnapped on Tuesday (sic) night and his bullet-riddled body was found on Tuesday morning.

Presumably, Magsi was kidnapped on Monday evening and his body found this morning.

There is a long article in today’s Washington Post handicapping the elections. I’m pretty sure that this passage is delivered without a clue to the level of hypocrisy it drips:

On May 11, Pakistanis will choose the next prime minister in an election hailed as a landmark of democratic progress for a country ruled by the military for nearly half its 65-year history. Yet decades of tradition dictate why democracy has remained more of a concept than a reality.

Even as Pakistan prepares to witness its first democratic transition of power, elite political families, powerful landholders and pervasive patronage and corruption undermine the prospects of a truly representational democracy, political analysts say.

Coming on the heels of Sandra Day O’Connor finally admitting the US Supreme Court should not have decided the 2000 Presidential Election and as the Post and other pundits continue to hype the Hillary Clinton vs. JEB! Bush 2016 contest, what more proof do we need that the US is completely free of corruption and elite political families?

Ray Davis as a Stand-In for the War between CIA, ISI, and State

In another installment of his book, Mark Mazzetti describes the Ray Davis episode as the signature (pun intended) event that turned Pakistan against the US. Certainly the Davis episode provides a nice hook for a description of the way the US-Pakistani relationship has declined, but it seems Mazzetti presents Davis as being an almost penultimate event of that decline (in this excerpt, he doesn’t get around to describing the 20-some Pakistani soldiers killed by NATO helicopters at the end of 2011).

In his first book excerpt, recall, Mazzetti described how the US killed Nek Muhammad in June 2004 as a quid pro quo with Pakistan for the authority to target al Qaeda figures within Pakistan.

But as Mazzetti explains in this excerpt, our drone strikes in Pakistan didn’t do much good: we didn’t get many high value targets, in part because some of them were seemingly tipped off.

Since the first C.I.A. drone strike in Pakistan in 2004, only a small number of militants on the C.I.A.’s list of “high-value targets” had been killed by drone strikes, and other potential strikes were scuttled at the last minute because of delays in getting Pakistani approval, or because the targets seemed to have been tipped off and had fled.

Then, in 2007, the CIA determined that al Qaeda had reconstituted in the tribal lands of Pakistan. So the CIA’s counterterrorism folks lobbied for escalating the drone war.

[A] highly classified C.I.A. internal memo, dated May 1, 2007, concluded that Al Qaeda was at its most dangerous since 2001 because of the base of operations that militants had established in the tribal areas. That assessment became the cornerstone of a yearlong discussion about the Pakistan problem. Some experts in the State Department warned that expanding the C.I.A. war in Pakistan would further stoke anti-American anger on the streets and could push the country into chaos. But officials inside the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center argued for escalating the drone campaign without the I.S.I.’s blessing.

So after a year of debate, the CIA told General Kayani that they were going to operate unilaterally in Pakistan.

[I]n July 2008, when C.I.A. officers in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, to tell him that President Bush had signed off on a set of secret orders authorizing a new strategy in the drone wars. No longer would the C.I.A. give Pakistan advance warning before launching missiles from Predator or Reaper drones in the tribal areas. From that point on, the C.I.A. officers told Kayani, the C.I.A.’s killing campaign in Pakistan would be a unilateral war.

Side note: Mazzetti’s original story described the initial drone strikes as an agreement between ISI and CIA. Here, Kayani plays a central role, though the rest of this installment affirms the later central role of Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI. I’m interested in whether we played Pakistan’s military off of ISI.

At this point of his story, Mazzetti only describes this as an escalation, followed by a declining relationship with CIA.

So, in July 2008, when the C.I.A.’s director, Michael Hayden, and his deputy, Stephen Kappes, came to the White House to present the agency’s plan to wage a unilateral war in the mountains of Pakistan, it wasn’t a hard sell to a frustrated president. That began the relentless, years-long drone assault on the tribal areas that President Obama continued when he took office. And as the C.I.A.’s relationship with the I.S.I. soured, Langley sent station chiefs out to Islamabad who spent far less time and energy building up good will with Pakistani spies than their predecessors had. From 2008 on, the agency cycled a succession of seasoned case officers through Islamabad, and each left Pakistan more embittered than the last. One of them had to leave the country in haste when his identity was revealed in the Pakistani press. The C.I.A. suspected the leak came from the I.S.I.

Many paragraphs in his story later, he describes signature strikes and the associated “military aged male” standard. Mazzetti doesn’t describe how the two developments both exacerbated the problem. In fact, according to Mazzetti’s NYT colleagues’ reporting from 2008, the decision to use signature strikes actually precedes this change by six months. And as Greg Miller laid out last year, the impetus for the change in both strategies came from “Roger,” the abrasive guy who took over the counterterrorism center in 2006. And Roger’s campaign to make these changes preceded the 2007 report that said al Qaeda was reconstituting itself in the tribal lands.  Continue reading

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @JerryLMaine yeah, exactly.
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bmaz That's not very reassuring protocol for an perimeter area that the cops already abandoned because of no suspects https://t.co/4DX89f6eoQ
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bmaz So, on @CNN just now, they reported "law enforcement are going around with their guns drawn everywhere"... presumably around Fox Lake IL.
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bmaz Le Mans I love, but le.mon disturbs me greatly. https://t.co/6r8D6x2Ljm
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bmaz @dcbigjohn Just wait until Dylan Byers has injected the Lemon with extra honky Politicoed Hippity Hoppity. What giddy times are a coming.
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bmaz @JamesWolcott Heh, worthy goal. Details matter!
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bmaz The @NFL only "investigates" and hammers on success, not abject failure like the Washington Football Franchise. https://t.co/FHLdiAXlaN
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emptywheel @PogoWasRight You didn't mean Gawker notwithstanding? @jvagle @wendyck
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bmaz @MasaccioEW Short lived happiness, maybe, but I will take it!
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emptywheel @kombiz I hope you got him a toy to rip to shreds to make yourself more cognizant of the day...
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emptywheel @EricKleefeld Basically John Yoo has reinforced Exec's authority to tell Congress to fuck off on matters involving WMD.
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emptywheel @EricKleefeld Not clear. There's a John Yoo (!) OLC memo based on prior Iran-Contra Boland Amendment memo that says fuck it.
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