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Praising by Damned Faintness: The NSAs, SoSs, and SoDs Who Didn’t Endorse Chuck Hagel

Ever since this letter, in which a bunch of former Directors of Central Intelligence–but not Poppy Bush–came out against torture investigations, I’ve been more interested in who doesn’t sign these endorsement letters than who does.

For example, did you notice that Harold Koh did not vouch for John Brennan’s respect for the rule of law the other day, even though his counterpart at DOD, Jeh Johnson, did?

The same is true of this letter–signed by a bunch of former National Security Advisors and Secretaries of Defense and State in support of Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense Secretary.

Here’s who did endorse:

Hon. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State

Hon. Samuel Berger, former National Security Advisor

Hon. Harold Brown, former Secretary of Defense

Hon. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor

Hon. William Cohen, former Secretary of Defense

Hon. Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense

Hon. James Jones, former National Security Advisor

Hon. Melvin Laird, former Secretary of Defense

Hon. Robert McFarlane, former National Security Advisor

Hon. William Perry, former Secretary of Defense

Hon. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor

Hon. George Shultz, former Secretary of State

Hon. Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor

Which leaves–in addition to currently serving Tom Donilon, Leon Panetta, and Hillary Clinton–these non-endorsers:

Stephen Hadley

Condi Rice (both NSA and State)

Anthony Lake (Lake directs UNICEF right now, which may preclude such endorsements)

Frank Carlucci (both NSA and Defense Secretary) [Update: Thanks to Justin Raimundo for correcting me–while Carlucci did not sign this letter, he did sign a LTE in support of Hagel]

John Poindexter

William Clark (NSA for Reagan)

Richard Allen (NSA for Reagan)

Henry Kissinger (both NSA and State)

Donald Rumsfeld

Dick Cheney

James Schlesinger

James Baker III

Jeebus, White House, get on your game! You want people to vote for Hagel? Release the list of all the corporatist warmongers who didn’t endorse Chuck Hagel. Hagel may not be my first choice, but there is no clearer praise than the list of non-endorsers Hagel has racked up.

We Can’t Afford Another “Complicated and Quirky” Presidency

You’ve no doubt heard about the BoGlo piece that describes 9 different legal documents on which Mitt Romney was listed as CEO of Bain after the time–in 1999–when he now claims to have left the company.

Romney has said he left Bain in 1999 to lead the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ending his role in the company. But public Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm’s “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.”

[snip]

Romney did not finalize a severance agreement with Bain until 2002, a 10-year deal with undisclosed terms that was retroactive to 1999. It expired in 2009.

[snip]

The Globe found nine SEC filings submitted by four different business entities after February 1999 that describe Romney as Bain Capital’s boss; some show him with managerial control over five Bain Capital entities that were formed in January 2002, according to records in Delaware, where they were incorporated.

I’m envisioning Mitt Romney, in 2017, claiming the treaty he signed with China in 2014 doesn’t really count because he wasn’t really acting as President when he signed it, in spite of his legal status as President.

But I’m most interested in the scant response the Mitt campaign gave.

A Romney campaign official, who requested anonymity to discuss the SEC filings, acknowledged that they “do not square with common sense.” But SEC regulations are complicated and quirky, the official argued, and Romney’s signature on some documents after his exit does not indicate active involvement in the firm.

“Complicated and quirky” says a guy (or gal) now spending his time trying to get Mitt elected to an even more complicated and quirky office, the Presidency.

Frankly, though, there’s precedent for a President claiming “complicated and quirky” absolves him of responsibility for things that occurred under his presidency. After all, while Bush signed the paperwork in the first 6 years of his presidency, it wasn’t until he fired Rummy that Bush actually took over responsibility for the big decisions from Dick Cheney.

And I can’t help but harp on the “complicated and quirky” document–the “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification, effectively written by now Romney advisor Cofer Black–that has undermined the accountability Presidency more generally. Effectively, that MON pre-authorized the CIA (at least) to do whatever they wanted within certain general areas of organization. It served as Presidential authorization, but insulated the President from any provable involvement in torture and assassination and partnering with lethal regimes. When proof that the President had authorized all this torture threatened to come out via legal means, the current President went to the mat to prevent that from happening.

All the rest–the debates about what Congress authorized the day after this complicated and quirky document, the OLC memos, the repeated investigations that always end up in immunity for all (or almost all)–are just the legal facade that hides the fact that in fact even our Constitution has become “complicated and quirky.” And while Obama at least admits his involvement in these issues–while still hiding them from legal liability–he has chosen to keep the structure in place and has relied on the plausible deniability it gives.

The thing is, as damning as this revelation may prove to be for Mitt, it is in fact quite unsurprising that a man can run for President on a resumé for which–his advisors say, behind the veil of anonymity–he can simultaneously claim credit but no responsibility.

That’s the way this country increasingly works. Even–perhaps especially–the Presidency.

What Happened to Mehsud’s Dirty Bomb?

As I alluded the other day, the story the NYT told about the targeting of Baitullah Mehsud differs in key respects from the story Joby Warrick told in his book, The Triple Agent. And since the discrepancy involves yet another unsubstantiated nuclear claim, and since Mehsud’s targeting led directly to the double agent Humam Khalil al-Balawi’s successful attack on Khost, the difference is worth mapping carefully.

First, the stories provide different explanations for how Mehsud came to be targeted. As I noted here, Warrick explained that we started targeting Mehsud after NSA intercepted a discussion about nukes.

In May [2009] one such phrase, plucked from routine phone intercepts, sent a translator bolting from his chair at the National Security Agency’s listening station at Fort Meade, Maryland. The words were highlighted in a report that was rushed to a supervisor’s office, then to the executive floor of CIA headquarters, and finally to the desk of Leon Panetta, now in his third month as CIA director.

Nuclear devices.

Panetta read the report and read it again. In a wiretap in the tribal province known as South Waziristan, two Taliban commanders had been overheard talking about Baitullah Mehsud, the short, thuggish Pashtun who had recently assumed command of Paksitan’s largest alliance of Taliban groups. It was an animated discussion about an acquisition of great importance, one that would ensure Mehsud’s defeat of Pakistan’s central government and elevate his standing among the world’s jihadists. One of the men used the Pashto term itami, meaning “atomic” or “nuclear.” Mehsud had itami devices, he said. (62-63)

Shortly thereafter, the government intercepted Mehsud’s shura council debating whether Islam permitted the use of Mehsud’s devices. Ultimately, the CIA concluded Mehsud had acquired a dirty bomb and started targeting him (including killing a close associate in hopes Mehsud would show up at his funeral; the Administration targeted the funeral but didn’t get Mehsud).

The NYT provides a much vaguer story.

The C.I.A. worried that Mr. Mehsud, whose group then mainly targeted the Pakistan government, did not meet the Obama administration’s criteria for targeted killing: he was not an imminent threat to the United States. But Pakistani officials wanted him dead, and the American drone program rested on their tacit approval. The issue was resolved after the president and his advisers found that he represented a threat, if not to the homeland, to American personnel in Pakistan.

The description is not inconsistent with Warrick’s description, which describes the US originally hesitating to target Mehsud and the Paksitanis rejoicing once we did.

U.S. officials had long viewed the Mehsud clan as a local problem for the Pakistanis and were reluctant to agitate yet another militant faction that might cross into Afghanistan to attack U.S. troops.

The dirty bomb threat changed everything. Now the Obama administration was privately talking about targeting Mehsud, and Pakistani officials, for once, were wholeheartedly embracing the idea of a U.S. missile strike on their soil. (71)

Perhaps it was the dirty bomb that convinced the US Mehsud threatened US troops, as described by the NYT. Mind you, it’s unclear whether an as-yet unconfirmed dirty bomb in the hand of a guy targeting Pakistan (the Pakistanis blamed him for Benazir Bhutto’s death) really presented a threat to US troops.  Perhaps it represented–like the insurgents in Yemen–a sufficient threat to our allied government we considered it a threat?

In any case, the NYT doesn’t mention the dirty bomb. Maybe that’s because no one ever found it.

By the time the campaign [against the Pakistani Taliban] ended, the Pakistanis were sitting on a mountain of small arms and enough explosives to supply a madrassa full of suicide bombers. But they found no trace of a dirty bomb. The radiation detectors never sounded at all.

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Angler 2.0: Brennan Wields His Puppet Strings Differently

As I said earlier, the parallel between the Jo Becker/Scott Shane Angler 2.0 story and the earlier series by Becker and Barton Gellman is hard to miss.

But I’m very interested in how the stories are structured differently. With Angler 1.0, the story was very clearly about Dick Cheney and the methods he used to manipulate Bush into following his advice. Here, the story is really about John Brennan, Obama’s Cheney, portrayed deep in thought and foregrounding Obama in the article’s picture. Indeed, halfway through, the story even gives biographical background on Brennan, the classic “son of Irish immigrants” story, along with Harold Koh’s dubious endorsement of Brennan’s “moral rectitude.”

But instead of telling the story of John Brennan, Obama’s Cheney, the story pitches Obama as the key decision-maker–a storyline Brennan has always been one of the most aggressive pitchmen for, including when he confirmed information on the Anwar al-Awlaki strike he shouldn’t have. In a sense, then, Brennan has done Cheney one better: seed a story of his own power, but sell it as a sign of the President’s steeliness.

The Silent Sources for the Story

I already pointed out how, after presenting unambiguous evidence of Brennan’s past on-the-record lies, the story backed off calling him on it.

But there are other ways in which this story shifts the focus away from Brennan.

A remarkable number of the sources for the story spoke on the record: Tom Donilon, Cameron Munter, Dennis Blair, Bill Daley, Jeh Johnson, Michael Hayden, Jim Jones, Harold Koh, Eric Holder, Michael Leiter, John Rizzo, and John Bellinger. But it’s not until roughly the 3,450th word of a 6,000 word article that Brennan is first quoted–and that’s to largely repeat the pre-emptive lies of his drone speech from last month.

“The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things.”

That is the only on-the-record direct quote from Brennan in the entire article, in spite of the centrality of Brennan to the story.

And I would bet several of the sources quoted anonymously in the section describing Obama’s method of counting the dead (which still ignores the women and children) are Brennan: “a top White House adviser” describing how sharp Obama was in the face of the first civilian casualties; “a senior administration official” claiming, in the face of credible evidence to the contrary, that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan were in “single digits.”

Note, too, the reference to a memo his campaign national security advisors wrote him.

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.

The memo was written not long after Brennan started playing a more central role among Obama’s campaign advisors. But the story makes no mention of his presumed role in it. Further, in describing Jeh Johnson to introduce a quote, the piece notes that he was “a campaign adviser” (it doesn’t say Johnson was also focused on voter protection). But it does not note that Brennan, too, was a key campaign advisor, one with an exclusively national security focus.

Nor does the story note, when it describes how Obama “deployed his legal skills … to preserve trials in civilian courts” it was John Brennan making that case, not the Attorney General.

In other words, in several places in this story, Brennan plays a key role that is downplayed.

The Pro-Drone Narrator

Given that fact, I’m really interested in the several places where the story adopts a pro-drone viewpoint (it does adopt a more critical stance in the narrative voice at the end).

For example, the story claims, in the first part of the story, that the drone strikes “have eviscerated Al Qaeda” without presenting any basis for that claim. This, in spite of the fact that al Qaeda has expanded in Yemen since we’ve started hitting it with drones.

Later, the article uncritically accepts the claim that the drone–regardless of the targeting that goes into using it–is a “precision weapon” that constitutes a rejection of a “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets, and their reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency to reject what he called the Bush administration’s “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

For fucks sake! This article describes how the White House has adopted a “guilt by association” approach to drone targeting. Read more

Yet More White House Involvement in FOIA Responses

As I’ve been writing my series on the Administration’s extensive efforts to hide all mention of what I have decided to call the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification, this passage from Daniel Klaidman’s article on the Administration’s equivocations about revealing information on the Anwar al-Awlaki killing has been nagging me.

Another senior official expressing caution about the plan was Kathryn Ruemmler, the White House counsel. She cautioned that the disclosures could weaken the government’s stance in pending litigation. The New York Times has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the release of the Justice Department legal opinion in the Awlaki case. (The department has declined to provide the documents requested.)

The suggestion here is that White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler didn’t want to affirmatively reveal details about Awlaki’s killing because doing so would mean they’d have to reveal details in the ACLU and NYT’s FOIAs for … the same information.

That never really made sense (though I never dwelt too much on it because the Administration’s stance on secrecy rarely makes sense).

But in the last few days, I’ve been wondering if Ruemmler was thinking not about the drone FOIA–about revealing details of one element authorized by the Gloves Come Off MON–but instead thinking about the MON itself. After all, if the government reveals one (torture) after another (drones) of the programs authorized by the Gloves Come Off MON, then it gets harder and harder to claim the whole MON must remain secret. And remember, still to be litigated in the torture FOIA is the MON itself, in addition to what I believe are references to it in the title of the Tenet memo.

And while this may mean nothing, the government has been stalling on its response to the drone FOIA. Back on April 9, the government asked for 10 more days to respond to the FOIA. Judge Colleen McMahon responded by snipping, “Ok, but dont ask for any more time. If government official can give speeches about this matter without creating security problem, any involved agency can.” Yet in spite of her warning, they asked for an additional month-long extension today.

We write respectfully on behalf of the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency (collectively, the “Government”) to seek a further extension until May 21, 2012, of the Government’s deadline to file its consolidated motion for summary judgment in these related Freedom of Information Act cases seeking records pertaining to alleged targeted lethal operations directed at U.S. citizens and others affiliated with al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. has personally directed us to seek this additional time to allow the Government to finalize its position with regard to the sensitive national security matters presented in this case.

We are mindful of the Court’s admonition in its April 9, 2012, order that the Government not seek an further extensions of its briefing deadline, and we do not take this request lightly. Given the significance of the matters presented in this case, the Government’s position is being deliberated at the highest level of the Executive Branch. It has become clear that further consultation and discussion at that level of the Executive Branch is necessary before the Government can make its submission to the Court.

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CIA’s NSC’s President’s Torture Program'>The CIA’s NSC’s President’s Torture Program

One more diversionary post before I delve into why the Administration is so worried about releasing a short phrase that, I suspect, acknowledges that George Bush’s September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.

National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration supporting Administration efforts to keep the authorization behind the torture program secret

I want to reflect on what it means that then-National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration–sometime in Fall 2009–to keep this short phrase hidden. The government revealed that, though without hinting at what Jones had to say, in the October 29, 2009 closed hearing with Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

MR, LANE . We think the first Issue before we get to documents is your Honor had asked us to specifically identify the second declarant. There is a second declaration in this case. And we wanted to put that on the record that that declaration is from James L. Jones, Assistant to the President for National Security and National Security Advisor,

AUSA Sean Lane then goes on to make clear that Jones’ declaration argues why Hellerstein should withhold the few word acknowledgment that the Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.

THE COURT: Both [Jones’ declaration and a second sealed one from CIA Associate Information Review Office Wendy Hilton] support the argument for maintenance of the redactions.
MR. LANE: Correct, your Honor. They both address what the government ties been calling “the Intelligence method” withheld from the two OLC memos, and the Court has been referring to as “The source of the CIA’s authority.”

So it’s not just that–as I inaccurately suggested the other day–that the CIA is trying to keep this short phrase noting that the President authorized the torture program secret. The National Security Advisor–for all intents and purposes, the President himself–is going to some lengths to keep that phrase secret as well.

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Soft Power

In the comments to this thread, we discussed the possibility that Obama would execute a long overdue shift in emphasis in our foreign policy, emphasizing the State Department and soft power over DOD and military power (and, even, soft power implmented by the military). See, especially, this nadezhda comment.

That appears to be the plan:

Yet all three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena.

The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr. Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change — one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best — “will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,” one of his senior advisers said recently.

The adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the three have all embraced “a rebalancing of America’s national security portfolio” after a huge investment in new combat capabilities during the Bush years.

The article points out many of the hurdles Obama will face in implementing this plan. There’s DOD’s insatiable appetite for money–the same money that would need to be switched to State. And there’s the right wing suspicion of any kind of foreign policy that doesn’t give them a hard-on.

Of course, those hurdles may be easier to overcome given the team Obama is announcing today, partly because Gates will give Obama cover for "gutting" Defense, Hillary will be adamant about increasing her portfolio, and Jones will have the chops to knock any skeptics in the military back in place.

Let’s hope they succeed.