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Who Taught Trump about Weaponized Migration?

Amid the ongoing family separation crisis, I want to look back at something that raised a few eyebrows among the more generalized nausea at Trump’s behavior at the G-7. The WSJ reported this comment Trump made to Shinzo Abe in the context of the horror it elicited from European leaders and along with a related comment he made to Emmanuel Macron.

At one point, Mr. Trump brought up migration as a big problem for Europe and then told Mr. Abe, “Shinzo, you don’t have this problem, but I can send you 25 million Mexicans and you’ll be out of office very soon,” according to the senior EU official who was in the room. A sense of irritation with Mr. Trump could be felt, “but everyone tried to be rational and calm,” the person said.

The EU official said at another point, in a discussion over Iran and terrorism, Mr. Trump verbally jabbed at Mr. Macron, “You must know about this, Emmanuel, because all the terrorists are in Paris,’” the senior official said.

What Trump is talking about when he suggests he could send 25 million Mexicans to Japan is weaponized migration, as envisioned here, the deliberate creation of migration influxes to take out a political leader. In spite of the salience of racism in our politics, it’s not a common concept here. But in Europe, where migration from a destabilized Northern Africa and Middle East poses (as I heard a few MEPs say just before the election in 2016) the single biggest threat to the EU project, it’s a very real concern. For some time, the political cost of her human rights approach to migration has been the key weakness Angela Merkel’s opponents exploit. And in the days since the G-7, the topic of migration has threatened, for the second time this year, to collapse Merkel’s governing coalition.

For some time, there have been signs that the migration from (especially) Syria had been weaponized in two ways: first, by the seeming release of waves of migration that in their intensity would overwhelm Europe’s ability to respond. And more importantly, by the inclusion of terrorists, including returning European Arabs, among the waves of migrations. Most notably, four of the men who attacked the Stade de France on November 13, 2015 came in with a wave of other migrants. While Europeans respond more rationally to terrorist attacks than Americans do, by tying this one to migration, it made the waves of migrants in Europe far more politically toxic than they would otherwise be.

And while it was clear that the migration from Libya and Syria was being orchestrated for maximum damage, at the time (and still) it wasn’t clear who was behind it. Turkey (as the host of many of the Syrian refugees), Saudi Arabia (which maximized the instability of Syria to support ousting Assad), and Syria itself were all possibilities. On February 25, 2016 testimony viewed as particularly inflammatory, then NATO Commander Phillip Breedlove placed the blame squarely on Russia and Syria.

To the South from the Levant through North Africa, Europe faces a complicated mix of mass migration spurred by state instability and state collapse.

And masking the movement of criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters. Within this mix, Daesh — ISIL or Daesh, as I called them, is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own with terrorist attacks. Its brutality is driving millions to flee from Syria and Iraq, creating an almost unprecedented humanitarian challenge.

Russia’s enter into the fight in Syria has wildly exacerbated the problem, changing the dynamic in the air and on the ground. Despite public pronounces (sic) to the contrary, Russia (inaudible) has done little to counter Daesh but a great deal to bolster the Assad regime and its allies. Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration from Syria. In an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.

Around the time Breedlove gave this testimony, GRU hackers would hack Breedlove as a key focus of the DC Leaks campaign that paralleled — but should in my opinion be considered a separate campaign from — the hack and leak of the DNC.

So Trump’s comment, while addressed to Abe, was instead intended for the benefit of Macron and, even more specifically, Merkel, and subsequent events have only borne out the salience of the comment.

I want to know who prepped the fantastically unprepared Trump to deliver this line. Trump knows virtually no policy well enough to deliver a zinger like this, and yet he knew how best to deliver a line to exploit the real vulnerabilities of all the European members of the G-7. And while, from the comments kicking off his campaign by inventing rapist immigrations from Mexico, Trump is perhaps at his best when he’s mobilizing racism, this comment had a more sophisticated vector than his usual bombast. Further, Trump public comments are, so often, just a regurgitation of the last person he engaged closely with. Which makes me acutely interested in who has both the access and the ability to direct his interests such that he managed this line.

There are certainly candidates in his orbit. Obviously, Stephen Miller is all too happy to politicize immigration. But in truth, it’s not clear (though the jury may still be out) that he’s any good at it. The Muslim ban has serially backfired (though we’ll see what SCOTUS says in a few hours), and unified centrists and even conservative supporters of America’s wonderful diversity against Trump in early days of his regime. The family separation policy, thus far, has provided Democrats an effective way to humanize Trump’s vicious policies, and the White House’s failure to manage the messaging of Miller’s hostage-taking has only made things worse. The other key policy effort to politicize immigration, Jeff Sessions’ focus on MS-13, has largely been a laughable dud, both because those who actually comment on the policy recognize that MS-13 is an American phenomenon, and because MS-13 has never done anything as spectacular as ISIS and Al Qaeda with which to generate visceral fear or even much press attention on the policy.

Steve Bannon, who has hob-nobbed with the European far right and is far more sophisticated than Miller, is another likely source for Trump’s remarkably sophisticated understanding of weaponized migration.

I think neither John Bolton nor John Kelly would be the culprit, the former because he’s a different kind of asshole than the racists Miller and Bannon, the latter because his racism has always lagged Trump’s and he seems to have lost much of the control he has over Trump in recent days. Mike Pompeo is also a racist, and a savvy one at that, but I’m not sure even he is cynical enough to prep this line from Trump.

Whoever it was, that line is not just horrifying on its face, but horrifying because whoever explained how weaponized migration works when wielded by competent actors seems to have privileged access to Trump right now.

Update: I first posted this at 8:27. At , Trump tweeted this:

The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief (Part Two in a Series)

As I explained in Part One of this series, I think the Mueller questions leaked by the Trump people actually give a far better understanding of a damning structure to the Mueller investigation — one mapping out cultivation, a quid pro quo, and a cover-up — than the coverage has laid out. This post will lay out how, over the course of the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo, involving a Putin meeting and election assistance in exchange for sanctions relief if Trump won (as noted, the Russians dangled real estate deals to entice Trump based on the assumption he wouldn’t win).

April 27, 2016: During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?

Given the structure of George Papadopoulos’ plea, it’s highly likely Mueller knows that Papadopoulos passed on news that the Russians had thousands of Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump to people in the campaign. Papadopoulos could have passed on that news to Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski as early as April 27. On the same day, Papadopoulos helped draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev signaled a willingness to meet.

Between the time the GRU first exfiltrated DNC emails in April and the election, Trump invoked “emails” 21 times on Twitter (usually to refer to emails from Hillary’s server). The first of those times came on June 9, less than an hour after the Trump Tower meeting. The most famous of those came on July 27, when Trump addressed Russia directly.

Earlier in the day, Trump had called on Russia to release the emails not to the FBI, but to the press.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

The timing may reflect awareness among some in the campaign that the call to Russia was a step too far legally. (h/t TC for the addition)

That Trump’s email comments pertain mostly to Hillary’s home-based server doesn’t actually exonerate him. Right after the DNC release (and therefore the July 27 Trump tweet), GOP rat-fucker Peter Smith started reaching out to Russian hackers in hopes of finding hacked versions of those emails. His support documents named Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, and Mike Flynn. If those people actually learned of the effort (there’s reason to believe Smith was just overselling the ties to the campaign), it’s possible that Trump learned about it as well.

As to social media, while it has gotten virtually no attention, the reference to three Florida-based Trump campaign officials in the Internet Research Agency indictment suggests further investigative interest in them.

[T]here are three (presumed) Americans who, both the indictment and subsequent reporting make clear, are treated differently in the indictment than all the other Americans cited as innocent people duped by Russians: Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2, and Campaign Official 3. We know, from CNN’s coverage of Harry Miller’s role in building a cage to be used in a fake “jailed Hillary” stunt, that at least some other people described in the indictment were interviewed — in his case, for six hours! — by the FBI. But no one else is named using the convention to indicate those not indicted but perhaps more involved in the operation. Furthermore, the indictment doesn’t actually describe what action (if any) these three Trump campaign officials took after being contacted by trolls emailing under false names.

So Mueller may be pursuing whether there was state-level coordination going on, and if so, how far up the campaign chain of command knowledge of that coordination extended.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?

On June 16, 2015, the day Trump announced his campaign, the Agalarovs offered to serve as an intermediary between him and Putin.

Then, starting at least as early as March 31, 2016 (with Trump’s first foreign policy meeting), his aides started floating pitches for meetings with increasingly senior campaign officials that would hypothetically lead up to one between Trump and Putin.

Those include at least:

  • The George Papadopoulos thread, spanning from March 21 through August 15
  • The Carter Page thread, including his Moscow trip in July, and possibly continuing through his December Moscow trip
  • The NRA thread, focusing on the NRA meeting in Kentucky in May; NRA’s longer outreach includes Trump associates John Bolton and David Clarke

We know Trump was present and did not object when Papadopoulos pitched this in the May 31 meeting. Several of the other entrees went through Don Jr. Many of the offers got briefed at least as far as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. We don’t know how many of the other offers he learned about. We just know that years earlier he had joked about becoming Putin’s best friend, and over the course of the campaign, Russian intermediaries made repeated, persistent efforts to work towards a meeting between Trump and Putin, with a meeting between Agalarov representatives (who, again, had offered to serve as intermediaries with Putin when Trump kicked off the campaign) and the most senior people on the campaign happening just as Trump sealed up the nomination.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

This is an open-ended question that might pose particular problems for Trump given the misleading statement claiming the June 9 meeting was about adoptions and not the Magnitsky sanctions. More interesting still are hints that Mueller sees a signaling going back and forth involving Papadopoulos; some of this may have involved signaling a willingness to provide sanctions relief.

Both Aras Agalarov and Natalia Veselnitskaya followed up after the election pushing for sanctions relief.

June 9, 2016: When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?

Sam Nunberg has suggested Trump probably learned of the Trump Tower meeting before it happened. While he is unreliable on that point, the original June 3, 2016 email Rob Goldstone sent to Don Jr suggests reaching out to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Democrats suspect that between two calls Don Jr had with Emin Agalarov about the meeting on June 6, 2016, he called his dad.

Trump Jr.’s phone records show two calls to and from the same Russian number on June 6, 2016.62 The first call occurred at 4:04 pm on June 6, 2916 – just 21 minutes after Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. to say that Emin Agalarov was “on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call. [emphasis added]” 63 At 4:38 pm, Trump Jr emailed Goldstone, “Rob, thanks for the help.”64

This documentary evidence indicates that a call likely took place between Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov. During his interview, Trump Jr. confirmed that the Russian phone number belonged to Agalarov, though he claimed to not recall whether he actually spoke with him. Rather, despite one of the two calls reflecting a two-minute connection, Trump Jr. suggested that Agalarov may have left voice messages.65

The phone records also show a “blocked” number at 4:27 pm, between the two calls to and from Emin Agalarov. Trump Jr. claimed he did not know who was associated with the blocked number.66 While the Committee has not pursued leads to determine who called Trump Jr. at this crucial time from a blocked number, Corey Lewandowski told the Committee that Mr. Trump’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.” 67

Mueller, of course, almost certainly has the phone records the Democrats weren’t able to obtain.

Finally, Steve Bannon has stated that he’s certain Don Jr “walk[ed] these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor” on the day of the meeting. There’s reason to believe Ike Kaveladze and Goldstone could have done so, including the new piece of evidence that “Kaveladze left [a meeting with Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia Veselnitskaya] after a few minutes to take a call from Agalarov to discuss the meeting.”

The day after the meeting — and four days before Trump’s birthday — Agalarov sent Trump an expensive painting as a present.

The June 9 meeting is, as far as is public, the most important cornerstone in a presumed quid pro quo. Russians offered unnamed dirt that Don Jr seemed to know what it entailed even before speaking to Emin Agalarov personally. Having offered dirt, four Russians — including two representatives of Trump’s long-time handler Aras Agalarov — laid out a pitch to end the Magnitsky sanctions. And less than a week later, a presumed Russian agent released the first dirt stolen from Hillary Clinton.

July 7, 2016: What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

We don’t have many details on what Mueller knows about Manafort’s requests for help on the campaign. We do know he remained in close touch with Russians via someone the FBI believed was a Russian intelligence agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, through whom he remained in communications with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is named in some court documents in a way that suggests his relationship with Manafort may be the still hidden third prong of investigation into Manafort approved by August 2, 2017.

Starting in April, Manafort and Kilimnik (whom Rick Gates and therefore presumably Manafort knew was a former GRU officer), exchanged a series of cryptic emails, suggesting that Manafort might be able to pay off the $20 million he owed Deripaska with certain actions on the campaign. In an email sent on July 7, Manafort offered to provide briefings on the campaign to Deripaska. On or around August 2, Manafort and Kilimnik met in person at the Grand Havana Club, in Kushner’s building at 666 5th Avenue. Both deny that anything about the campaign came up. Shortly after this meeting, one of Deripaska’s jets came to Newark, and Russian opposition figure Viktor Navalny has claimed to have proof the jet went from there to a meeting between Deripaska and Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko.

An August 2017 report describes intercepts picking up “Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, … relay[ing] what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

There’s one more area of potential assistance I find of interest. Since January, we’ve been getting hints that Oleg Deripaska has some tie to the Steele dossier, possibly through a lawyer he and Steele share. I’ve raised repeated concerns that the Russians learned about the dossier and found ways to feed Steele disinformation. If they did, the disinformation would have led Democrats to be complacent about the hacks that targeted them. And whether or not the dossier is disinformation (and whether or not Deripaska had a role in that, if true), Paul Manafort coached Reince Priebus on how to attack the dossier as a way to discredit the investigation into the campaign’s ties with Russia.

With regards to this Manafort question: remember that Rick Gates flipped on February 23, and the questions date to early March. So Gates may have proffered confirmation about these details. In any case, Mueller likely has learned far more about them two months after Gates flipped.

July 10-12, 2016: What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?

The Majority HPSCI Russia Report explains that the RNC platform was changed by staffers at the convention based off Trump’s public statements on sanctions.

[Rick] Dearborn generated a memorandum, dated August 1, 2016, outlining a detailed sequence of events that occurred between July 10 and 12, 2016. As part of that memo, J.D. Gordon created a timeline that noted candidate Trump’s policy statements–including at a March 31, 2016, national security meeting–served as the basis for the modification of [Diana] Denman’s amendments. Gordon’s timeline made it clear that the change was initiated by campaign staffers at the convention–not by Manafort or senior officials.

J.D. Gordon has not confirmed that he was asked about this, but he surely was. I would expect Mueller to have tested the timeline Gordon laid out in summer 2016 (when the platform change was a big political issue) against the testimony and communications records of everyone else involved.

Of course, by asking the question in this fashion, Mueller doesn’t reveal what he has already confirmed about the platform changes.

August 5, 2016: What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?

After multiple public statements that the Russians were behind the hack-and-leak, on August 5, 2016 (after traveling from NY to LA to his home in FL), Roger Stone wrote a column claiming to believe that Guccifer 2.0 was a hacktivist with no ties to Russia. Stone’s purportedly changed beliefs about Guccifer 2.0 coincide with an August 4 claim he made in an email to Sam Nunberg that he had met with Julian Assange the night before. Stone’s claimed belief that Guccifer 2.0 is not Russian is key to his denials of any involvement or pre-knowledge of hack-and-leak events. It also kicked off an alternative story that others, up to and including Trump, have adopted to excuse their own embrace of the stolen emails. In other words, a key prong in the plausible deniability the Russians built into the hack-and-leak campaign came from long-time Trump associate Roger Stone, after a dramatic and unexplained change in beliefs (Lee Stranahan, who used to work for Breitbart and now works for Sputnik, has claimed some credit for the change, and given how lucid the August 5 column is, someone had to have helped Stone write it).

Ten days later, after Stone had called on Twitter to let him out of Twitter jail, Guccifer 2.0 and Stone started exchanging (fairly innocuous) DMs.

There are events both before and after that which suggest Stone — probably through more interesting go-betweens than Randy Credico — sought information on what dirt Assange and Wikileaks had, and what and when planned to do with it.

Much has been made, especially in the DNC lawsuit, about Stone’s seeming prediction that “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Perhaps that’s true (and Stone’s explanation for the tweet is garbage), but any explanation of Stone’s supposed prediction needs to acknowledge that he more often predicted Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation emails, not Podesta ones, that he got the timing somewhat wrong, and that he didn’t dwell on the Podesta emails at all once Wikileaks started releasing them (preferring, instead, to talk about Bill Clinton’s lady problems). Still, that may reflect Stone involvement in the Peter Smith operation, and efforts to get WikiLeaks to release purported Clinton Foundation emails passed on via hackers.

That Mueller is even asking this suggests (if the several grand jury witnesses in recent months dedicated to it don’t already) that Mueller has a pretty good idea that Stone’s communications were more extensive than his denials let on. That he thinks Stone may have shared that information with Trump is all the more interesting.

All of which is to say that the known answers to Mueller’s questions map out a quid pro quo set up during the election, in which Russians offered a Putin meeting and dirt on Hillary, with the expectation that Trump would lift the Magnitsky sanctions if he won (and would get a Trump Tower in Moscow if he lost). I suspect there are other pieces to the quid pro quo, dealing with Ukraine and Syria. But certainly the June 9 meeting set up an understanding: dirt in exchange for Magnitsky relief. The release of the Guccifer 2.0 emails may indicate the Trump camp provided some signal they had formally accepted the offer.

Update: Fixed syntax in last paragraph, h/t LT.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

John Bolton Will Get to Start His Iran War Because Nine Iranians Stole Academic Dissertations

Earlier today, Rod Rosenstein rolled out a dangerously vague indictment of nine Iranians, allegedly tied to the Revolutionary Guard, for hacking hundreds of universities and some private companies and NGOs.

I say it’s dangerously vague because, while it’s clear the Iranians compromised thousands of university professors, it’s not clear precisely what they stole. But it appears that most of data stolen from universities (some privacy companies, government agencies, and NGOs were targeted too) consists of scholarship.

[M]embers of the conspiracy used stolen account credentials and obtained unauthorized access to victim professor accounts, though which they then exfiltrated, or transferred to themselves, academic data and documents from the systems of compromised universities, including, among other things, academic journalist, these, dissertations, and electronic books.

The indictment describes the stolen data benefitting (along with the IRGC) “Iran-based universities.” And it specifies that the hackers sold the information so that Iranians could access US academic online libraries.

Magapaper sold stolen academic resources to customers within Iran, including Iran-based public universities and institutions, and Gigapaper sold a service to customers within Iran whereby purchasing customers could use compromised university professor accounts to directly access the online library systems of particular United States-based and foreign universities.

The indictment claims the Iranians stole “academic data and intellectual property” which cost the affected 144 US universities “$3.4 billion to procure and access.” But that’s reminiscent of the Aaron Swartz case (to which several people have likened this), where the prosecutor justified pursuing Swartz because he had downloaded “intellectual property that cost millions to create,” something like 4.75 million articles and 87 Gigabytes of data (See the extensive discussion about cost and damages in this MIT report.) DOJ accuses the Iranians of stealing 31 terabytes of data.

As I said, this is a dangerously vague indictment. And, from the metadata, it appears that the indictment may be more than a month old. ( h/t z3dster)

There are also not dates on any of the signature lines, so it may be this indictment has just been sitting in a drawer in southern Manhattan, waiting to serve as a casus belli.

Perhaps there was more sensitive data stolen here. Perhaps the professors who got hacked were more selectively targeted than the sheer number of academics targeted — 100,000 got phished, with almost 8,000 responding — suggests.

But absent far more details, this indictment seems to make an international incident out of people in a very closed society trying to access academic information that is readily available here.

I’ve long written about the potential downsides of indicting nation-state hackers, which is effectively what these guys are — particularly the possibility that doing so will invite retaliation against our own official hackers. But in some cases — with the OPM hack, with hacks of national security information, with the Russians who targeted the election — that might make sense.

But indicting nation-state hackers for stealing dissertations?

Update: This confirms what z3dster noted: this thing has been sealed since February 7. Why? And why did it get unsealed the day after Bolton was hired?

Clearest Indication Yet That Some Chemical Weapon Sites in Syria Are Under Rebel Control

One of the underlying assumptions for folks who joined the rush to claim that the UN report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus proved the attack was carried out by Syrian government forces was that only government forces had access to the refined versions of chemical weapons that the Assad regime had amassed. That aspect of the story began to crumble quickly once the accidental diplomacy kicked in and it became clear that chemical weapons inspectors would need cooperation from both the Syrian government and rebel forces to gain access to all sites where chemical weapons are present. Today’s New York Times presents the clearest indication yet that it isn’t just access routes to chemical weapons sites that the rebels control, but that the rebels control some of the sites themselves:

A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.

Somehow, though, the Times only discusses this very important piece of information in light of the need for rebels to grant access to the sites to the OPCW without noting that the rebels had direct access to chemical weapons (or their immediate precursors) previously belonging to the Syrian government. This admission by a “Western diplomat” completely invalidates the assumption that rebels had access only to crude, “home-made” versions of chemical weapons.

Today’s news fully underscores the need for a true ceasefire (as I have been shrilly pointing out for some time now):

“The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition,” the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate issue. “However divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition.”

The inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group in charge of implementing the agreement along with the United Nations, has not publicly cited any specific instance of opposition fighters’ impeding access to chemical weapons sites. As with agencies that deliver relief aid, the inspectors face a complicated and uncertain process that requires cease-fires with multiple parties among fluid lines of combat.

Clearly, a general ceasefire by all parties would be much better than the current, piecemeal arrangement where it appears that localized agreements are put into place for individual excursions by the inspectors.

Finally, it should also be noted that however the Obama administration got to the diplomatic route involving the OPCW, we got new details over the weekend on how the Bush administration orchestrated the removal of the previous head of OPCW because he wanted to send inspectors into Iraq in 2001-2002 to verify that Iraqi chemical weapons had been destroyed in the 1990’s:

More than a decade before the international agency that monitors chemical weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize, John R. Bolton marched into the office of its boss to inform him that he would be fired.

“He told me I had 24 hours to resign,” said José Bustani, who was director general of the agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. “And if I didn’t I would have to face the consequences.”

/snip/

But Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration’s plans to invade Iraq. As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war.

“Everybody knew there weren’t any,” he said. “An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade.”

What a different place the world would be today if Bolton and his neocon buddies hadn’t held such sway during the George W. Bush presidency.

The Intelligence Community Has Cleaned Up Its Attribution Problem … Has the Press?

James Risen has another article on the evolution of intelligence analysis, this time describing how screwing up the Iraq intelligence so badly now weighs on Iran analysts (for the better, IMO).

I was struck by the description of one way the intelligence community has improved its analysis.

The intelligence community also now requires that analysts be told much more about the sources of the information they receive from the United States’ human and technological spies. Analysts were left in the dark on such basic issues in the past, which helps explain why bogus information from fabricators was included in some prewar intelligence reports on Iraq. And, when they write their reports, they must include better attribution and sourcing for each major assertion.

While I’m skeptical the IC has improved sufficiently on this front (I suspect, for example, that attribution problems are one reason the IC was looking for an AQAP attack in 2009 in Yemen and not on a plane bound for Detroit), I am heartened that at least the IC is trying to give analysts more information on where information comes from and what biases might come with that information. At the very least, it should help avoid the stovepiping of information from people like Curveball.

But reading that passage got me wondering whether the press has gotten any better on this front. This article was published in the NYT, a newspaper that rather famously promised to clean up its anonymous sourcing after the Judy Miller fiasco, but which routinely fails to meet its own guidelines.

Don’t get me wrong–Risen himself meets these guidelines in the story, explaining why around 3 anonymous sources had to remain anonymous.

one former senior intelligence official, who like several others quoted in this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity about internal agency matters

He also includes on-the-record quotes from sources that appear identical to the named anonymous sources he quotes from; leaving little doubt as to who and where his story came from.

one former official who worked with the [CIA] analyst [who had a breakdown after the Iraq intelligence debacle]

Greg Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst who resigned to protest what he considered the Bush administration’s politicization of the prewar Iraq intelligence

Paul Pillar, a former senior C.I.A. analyst on the Middle East

according to the former officials [who worked on the 2007 Iran NIE]

one official [who worked on the 2007 NIE] recalled

Thomas Fingar, who was chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the time of the 2007 assessment on Iran

He even describes John Bolton in such a way as to downplay Bolton’s own role in intelligence as Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, presumably making it clear (as if there were any doubt) that Bolton was not among his sources describing the problems with intelligence under Bush.

John R. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former ambassador to the United Nations in the Bush administration

So this is not a commentary on Risen. Read more

The NeoCons’ Long Animosity towards Mohamed el Baradei

As Siun noted yesterday, Mohamed el Baradei issued a statement critical of US support for Hosni Mubarak in advance of returning to Egypt (and, as of now, being put under house arrest).

Of course, you in the West have been sold the idea that the only options in the Arab world are between authoritarian regimes and Islamic jihadists. That’s obviously bogus. If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organize themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate. They want desperately to catch up with the rest of the world.

It’s not at all clear that Baradei will serve as the kind of leader in Egypt that he seems to want to. But given that Baradei is one of the few opposition leaders the US press seems to understand, I think it worthwhile to review the Neocons long-standing attacks on him.

Though the US first supported Baradei’s election to head the IAEA, US support for him soured when, in 2003, he called bullshit on the US propaganda meant to justify our invasion of Iraq, most notably when he declared the Niger case to have been based on amateurishly forged documents.

Based on available evidence, the IAEA team has concluded that Iraq’s efforts to import these aluminium tubes were not likely to have been related to the manufacture of centrifuges and, moreover, that it was highly unlikely that Iraq could have achieved the considerable re-design needed to use them in a revived centrifuge programme.

[snip]

The IAEA has made progress in its investigation into reports that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger in recent years. The investigation was centred on documents provided by a number of States that pointed to an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of uranium between 1999 and 2001.The IAEA has discussed these reports with the Governments of Iraq and Niger, both of which have denied that any such activity took place. For its part, Iraq has provided the IAEA with a comprehensive explanation of its relations with Niger, and has described a visit by an Iraqi official to a number of African countries, including Niger, in February 1999, which Iraq thought might have given rise to the reports. The IAEA was also able to review correspondence coming from various bodies of the Government of Niger, and to compare the form, format, contents and signatures of that correspondence with those of the alleged procurement-related documentation.

Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents – which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger – are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded. [my emphasis]

Baradei followed that up by refusing to make the sweeping condemnations of Iran’s nuclear enrichment programs the US wanted him to.

As a result, in the months leading up to the election for his third term, the US tried everything it could to prevent Baradei’s reelection as head of IAEA. As part of that effort, the US scrutinized their wiretaps of Baradei in an unsuccessful attempt to try to find material they could use to claim bias on his part.

The Bush administration has dozens of intercepts of Mohamed ElBaradei’s phone calls with Iranian diplomats and is scrutinizing them in search of ammunition to oust him as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to three U.S. government officials.

[snip]

The intercepted calls have not produced any evidence of nefarious conduct by ElBaradei, according to three officials who have read them. But some within the administration believe they show ElBaradei lacks impartiality because he tried to help Iran navigate a diplomatic crisis over its nuclear programs. Others argue the transcripts demonstrate nothing more than standard telephone diplomacy.

Shortly after his reelection, the Nobel committee awarded Baradei the peace prize.

Read more

Cheney’s “Hard, Hard Power” and Syria

Apparently, the Poodle’s memoir (the tour for which got a little messy in Dublin) confirms something that was blatantly obvious: Dick Cheney wanted to conquer the entire Middle East, country by country.

Describing the former US vice president as an advocate of “hard, hard power”, Mr Blair said Damascus was next on Mr Cheney’s hit list.

“He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hizbollah, Hamas, etc,” Mr Blair wrote in his autobiography, A Journey. “In other words, he thought the whole world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency.”

As this report notes, Cheney’s transparent desire to take out Syria led that country to do things–like offer a haven for Iraqi insurgents–that hurt our overall war effort in Iraq. More importantly, Sy Hersh wrote extensively about how targeting Syria deprived the US of one of its best sources of information on al Qaeda.

State Department officials have told me that by early 2002 Syria had emerged as one of the C.I.A.’s most effective intelligence allies in the fight against Al Qaeda, providing an outpouring of information that came to an end only with the invasion of Iraq.

[snip]

… after September 11th the Syrian leader, Bashar Assad, initiated the delivery of Syrian intelligence to the United States. The Syrians had compiled hundreds of files on Al Qaeda, including dossiers on the men who participated—and others who wanted to participate—in the September 11th attacks. Syria also penetrated Al Qaeda cells throughout the Middle East and in Arab exile communities throughout Europe. That data began flowing to C.I.A. and F.B.I. operatives.

[snip]

Syria also provided the United States with intelligence about future Al Qaeda plans. In one instance, the Syrians learned that Al Qaeda had penetrated the security services of Bahrain and had arranged for a glider loaded with explosives to be flown into a building at the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet headquarters there. Flynt Leverett, a former C.I.A. analyst who served until early this year on the National Security Council and is now a fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, told me that Syria’s help “let us thwart an operation that, if carried out, would have killed a lot of Americans.” The Syrians also helped the United States avert a suspected plot against an American target in Ottawa.

[snip]

“Up through January of 2003, the coöperation was topnotch,” a former State Department official said. “Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the Administration got heavy- handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq. It was something Washington wanted from the Syrians, and they didn’t want to do it.”

But what I’m most interested in, particularly given the way that–as David Corn shows–Blair selectively edited out the parts of history that show the US was prepared to provoke an excuse to go to war against Iraq, is what it says about the intelligence we were trumping up about Syria. You know? Claims made by the now Director of National Intelligence that Iraq had moved its WMD program into Syria? Or the A1 cutout leak of John Bolton’s bogus testimony to Judy Miller to pre-empt intelligence community disagreements with it?

Granted, we really have known this all along: the Cheney government was inventing intelligence to justify a war not only against Iraq, but against much of the Middle East.

But as we piece together the evidence as new sources become available, this serves as a reminder that it’s not just about Iraq and Iran.

A Blowjob for Liz “BabyDick” Cheney

Joe Hagan has an epic softball in the New York Magazine describing PapaDick Cheney’s plan to salvage his legacy. Or rather, Liz “BabyDick” Cheney’s plan to salvage Daddy’s legacy, and with it, launch her own career. (At several points, the piece comes close to suggesting PapaDick’s mental acuity is finally going the way of his heart.) It relies on such hard-hitting sources as Rush Limbaugh, Elliott Abrams, former Cheney press aide Pete Williams, and Michael Goldfarb saying, “You have a little crush on her … It’s hard not to.”

Since I’ve mentioned Pete Williams, this description of how much NBC loves the Cheneys is one of the best parts of the article.

Fox is a regular pulpit, of course, but Liz is also all over NBC, where she happens to be social friends with Meet the Press host David Gregory (whose wife worked with Liz ’s husband at the law firm Latham & Watkins), family friends with Justice Department reporter Pete Williams (Dick Cheney’s press aide when he was secretary of Defense), and neighborhood friends with Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski, daughter of Carter-administration national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. When Mika criticized Dick Cheney on her show last year, the former vice-president sent her a box of chocolate cupcakes.

Lawrence O’Donnell, an MSNBC pundit who engaged in a particularly testy shouting match on Good Morning America with Liz Cheney over waterboarding, says the networks have allowed her a high degree of control over her appearances. “She had up to that point been completely accustomed to having interviews go her way and ceded on her terms,” he observes. “She has been careful to make sure that the interviews worked that way.”

Though somehow Hagan missed the detail from the Libby trial, Cheney’s Press Secretary explaining that Cheney got to set the agenda when he appeared on Meet the Press. Under David Gregory’s watch, I guess that has only gotten to be more true.

In the whole 8-page article, there’s just this hint that BabyDick’s constant press assault might be about legal liability for war crimes rather than political legacy Read more

Russ Feingold: We Need to Protect Americans from John Bolton

Thanks to Selise for making this YouTube. 

When introducing his amendment requiring the government to segregate any information known to be from a US person in a separate database, Russ Feingold used the example of John Bolton to demonstrate the need for protections beyond the weak minimization procedures currently in the Intelligence Bill.

…the supporters of the Intelligence Committee bill claim that minimization procedures are enough to protect Americans’ privacy.

In fact, the minimization requirements in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are quite weak. They permit the widespread dissemination throughout the United States Government of information about US persons if it is deemed foreign intelligence information which again, is very broadly defined. And they permit dissemination of the identities of these US persons if it is, quote, necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance, unquote. Also, also a very loose standard.

Now we know, we know, Mr. President, from our experience in the nomination hearing of John Bolton to be United Nations Ambassador how easy it is for government officials to obtain access to those identities.

And when the FBI receives reports referring to a US person according to a recently declassified government document, it will, quote, likely request that person’s identity, unquote, and will likely meet the requirements for obtaining it. There are other minimization requirements in government regulations, the details of which are classified, but we know in any event that those can be changed at any time. Mr. President, minimization is simply inadequate in the context of these broad new authorities.

You’ll recall that the Senate Dems held up John Bolton’s appointment to the UN because the Administration refused to turn over the NSA intercepts for which Bolton requested the identity of the US person recorded on the intercept.

Read more

John Bolton Time Warp

John Bolton, July 21, 2004

Finally, the world is safer today than one year ago because of an event
unprecedented in modern history: after years of isolation and being caught up
in a web of sanctions, the leader of a regime made a simple, but profound
strategic choice he came to the conclusion that his pursuit of weapons of mass
destruction made his country and his regime not more, but less secure. It is
not just the outside world that has benefited.

[snip]

Colonel Qhadadfi has made a strategic choice to put his people before his unjustified fears of a U.S. invasion.

John Bolton, December 5, 2007

Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point.

Not to mention the fact that Bolton claims to be ignorant of the pas de deux that the Iranians, at least, attempted in 2003. Read more