Threat Level Orange! Election Week Plot!

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-5-01-51-pmThis morning, CBS published a story attributed to senior producer Pat Milton, who has done a lot of FBI-based stories (and co-produced fawning 60 Minutes interviews with John Brennan and Jim Comey), reporting on a possible terrorist attack. The story described the threat with specific detail — scheduled for Monday, in maybe NY, TX, or VA — but even while explicitly stating that “its credibility hasn’t been confirmed.”

Sources told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that U.S. intelligence has alerted joint terrorism task forces that al Qaeda could be planning attacks in three states for Monday.

It is believed New York, Texas and Virginia are all possible targets, though no specific locations are mentioned.

U.S. authorities are taking the threat seriously, though the sources stress the intelligence is still being assessed and its credibility hasn’t been confirmed. Counterterrorism officials were alerted to the threat out of abundance of caution.

The version published at 7:43 AM (and screen captured to the right) clearly attributed the story to a senior FBI official. (I’ve bolded the differences.)

A senior FBI official told CBS News, “The counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States.  The FBI, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, shares and assesses intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.”

The version published at 12:52 rewrote that paragraph, obscuring that FBI was the source.

While we do not comment on intelligence matters, we will say the counterterrorism and homeland security communities remain vigilant and well-postured to defend against attacks here in the United States,” a U.S. intelligence official told CBS News. “The FBI and DHS, working with our federal, state and local counterparts, share and assess intelligence on a daily basis and will continue to work closely with law enforcement and intelligence community partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to public safety.

This story, leaked by a senior FBI official who “doesn’t comment on intelligence matters” but nevertheless did just that, comes at the end of the crappiest week for the FBI in decades.

At this point, it is fair to argue that the intelligence community — including people leading it today — have capitalized on a terrorist threat, even a dodgy one. As I tweet stormed this morning (and wrote in more detail here), in 2004 the government played up two dodgy election year threats.

In March 2004 (just as torture, spying cut back) fabricator went to CIA in Pakistan and said, “Janat Gul wants to attack US elections.”

Someone in CIA immediately said, “Nah!” Nevertheless, US got PK to detain, turn Gul to US to be tortured.

USG (including Jim Comey) reauthorized torture, to be used with Gul. Including waterboarding & techniques CIA had already used w/o approval.

USG (including Comey & John Brennan) also used election year plot based off fabrication as one reason FISC had to approve Internet dragnet.

There were, of course, leaks to the press about this election year plot.

CIA kept torturing and torturing Janat Gul, because they needed details of an election year plot based off a fabrication.

It wasn’t until October that someone said, “Hey, let’s go check if that guy claiming Gul wanted to attack US election was lying!” He was.

But Gul had served purpose: election year scare, reauthorizing torture, getting FISC approval for dragnet. Not bad for one torture victim!

Comey didn’t know CIA immediately raised concerns abt fabricator’s claims. It’s one thing Cheney/Gonzales prevented him fr learning in 2005

Comey signed off on torture again, including waterboarding w/o knowing that that case was all based off a fabrication.

But Comey has also refused to read torture report, which lays all this out. He’s avoiding learning what he did in 2004, 2005. Brennan too!

I lay all this out bc, w/history like this, IC (still led by Brennan & Comey) should be VERY careful abt leaking election year plots.

Succinctly: They cried wolf in 2004. And have yet to face accountability for that.

Then, in 2006 (at a time when both Comey and Brennan were on hiatus from directly government work, though they were both working with key government contractors), it happened again. Dick Cheney triggered the revelation of a very real terrorist plot in 2006 — fucking over the British officials trying to collect enough information to prosecute the perpetrators — to help Joe Lieberman stay in the Senate.

The point is, these people, including the people in charge of the IC now, have selectively exploited real or imagined terrorist plots before. The leak of this one, which FBI clearly hasn’t even vetted, sure seems exploitative given how badly FBI needs to distract from its own fuck-ups.

Or Maybe the FBI Really Did Have a Reason to Stay Off the Russian Attribution?

The Comey whiplash continues.

In the latest development, a single source — a “former FBI official,” offered with no description of how he or she would know — told CNBC that weeks ago Jim Comey refused to join onto the Intelligence Community’s attribution of the DNC hacks to Russia because it was too close to the election.

FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election and ultimately ensured that the FBI’s name was not on the document that the U.S. government put out, a former FBI official tells CNBC.

The official said some government insiders are perplexed as to why Comey would have election timing concerns with the Russian disclosure but not with the Huma Abedin email discovery disclosure he made Friday.

In the end, the Department of Homeland Security and The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued the statement on Oct. 7, saying “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”


According to the former official, Comey agreed with the conclusion the intelligence community came to: “A foreign power was trying to undermine the election. He believed it to be true, but was against putting it out before the election.” Comey’s position, this official said, was “if it is said, it shouldn’t come from the FBI, which as you’ll recall it did not.”

In spite of what Hillary said at the most recent debate, the statement was billed as a “Joint Statement,” though it did claim to represent the view of the intelligence community.

Until someone else confirms this story — preferably with more than one source, one clearly placed in a position to know — I advise caution on this.

That’s true, first of all, because a bunch of people who likely harbor grudges against Jim Comey are coming out of the woodwork to condemn Comey’s Friday statement. Given the reasons they might resent Comey, I really doubt Alberto Gonzales or Karl Rove were primarily motivated to criticize him out of a concern for the integrity of our election process.

The same could be true here.

The other reason I’d wait is because of reporting going back to this summer on the case against Russia. As I’ve noted, reporters repeatedly reported that while there seemed little doubt that Russia had hacked the Democrats, the FBI had not yet proven some steps in the chain of possession. For example, at the end of July, FBI was still uncertain who or how the emails from DNC were passed onto WikiLeaks.

The FBI is still investigating the DNC hack. The bureau is trying to determine whether the emails obtained by the Russians are the same ones that appeared on the website of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks on Friday, setting off a firestorm that roiled the party in the lead-up to the convention.

The FBI is also examining whether APT 28 or an affiliated group passed those emails to WikiLeaks, law enforcement sources said.

As I noted, the IC attribution statement actually remained non-committal on precisely this step of the process, finding that the leaks of emails were consistent with stuff Russia’s GRU has done in the past, but stopping short of saying (as they had on the hack itself) that it is confident that Russia leaked the files.

Which is to say the same thing the FBI had questions about in July is something that remained non-committal in the October statement, which might be one of a number of reasons (including that FBI wants to retain the ability to prosecute whoever they charge with this, including if it is a currently unknown middleman) that the FBI might not want to be on the attribution. FBI was unwilling to fully commit to the accusation in July, and apparently unwilling to do so in October.

Note that CNBC’s anonymous source, even when confirming that Comey backed the statement, didn’t confirm he backed the whole content of it. The person contrasts the most aggressive quote from the IC statement:

… the U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises …

With this, allegedly from Comey:

A foreign power was trying to undermine the election

Those statements are not the same thing, and it may be that FBI continued to have perhaps not doubts, but unproven holes in the case, that led to caution on the Russia statement.

In any case, it’s not that I believe the anonymous CNBC statement to be impossible. But there is another perfectly consistent explanation for Comey hesitating to name FBI on that IC attribution.

Update: Ellen Nakashima has a version of this story (sourced to more than one person) now. Here’s an excerpt, but definitely read the whole thing for the logic (or lack thereof) FBI used.

In the debate over publicly naming Russia, the FBI has investigative interests to protect, officials said. At the same time, other officials said, the aim of public attribution was to stop Russia from undermining confidence in the integrity of the election.


But the White House, Justice Department, State Department and other agencies debated for months whether to officially blame Moscow or not.

Comey’s instincts were to go with the public attribution even as late as August, said one participant in the debate. But as the weeks went by and the election drew nearer, “he thought it was too close,” the official said.

When, by early October, the decision was made, the talk shifted to who would make the announcement. In December 2014, it was the FBI that publicly pointed the finger at North Korea for hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment and damaging its computers. That was because the attribution to Pyongyang was based on the FBI investigation, said a senior administration official.


The announcement did not mention the White House, which also had been very concerned about appearing to influence the election.