John Brennan

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The Appropriations Battle over Funding “Moderate” Terrorists

Two weeks ago, John Brennan admitted on a Sunday show that sometimes when we “push the envelope … to protect this country” it “stimulates and spurs additional threats to our national security interests.” In a post on his comments, I suggested he might be thinking specifically of Syria as much as generally of counterterrorism.

Today, the WaPo cites “U.S. officials” complaining that the House Intelligence Committee voted to cut 10% off CIA’s Syrian budget.

The measure has provoked concern among CIA and White House officials, who warned that pulling money out of the CIA effort could weaken U.S.-backed insurgents just as they have begun to emerge as effective fighters. The White House declined to comment.

Arrayed against those anonymous whiners, the WaPo cites Adam Schiff on the record and a senior aide anonymously, describing how the CIA effort isn’t tracked with real metrics and hasn’t done much to weaken Assad.

“There is a great deal of concern on a very bipartisan basis with our strategy in Syria,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the intelligence panel. He declined to comment on specific provisions of the committee’s bill but cited growing pessimism that the United States will be in a position “to help shape the aftermath” of Syria’s civil war.

[snip]

“Assad is increasingly in danger, and people may be taking bets on how long he can last, but it’s largely not as a result of action by so-called moderates on the ground,” said a senior Republican aide in Congress, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

[snip]

“Unfortunately, I think that ISIS, al-Nusra and some of the other radical Islamic factions are the best positioned to capi­tal­ize on the chaos that might accompany a rapid decline of the regime,” Schiff said.

Underlying it all, though, appears to be yet another effort (one we’ve seen with propaganda in the press as well) to claim those linked to al Qaeda in Syria are “moderate,” which in turn permits insiders to believe they’ll have some control over Syria after our Sunni and Israeli allies pull off his defeat.

Remember: Devin Nunes has long shown skepticism about our efforts to use proxy terrorists to spread democracy. And Adam Schiff is simply smarter than the kind of person who typically gets to be a ranking member of an Intelligence Committee. Good for them for finally insisting on metrics and — absent that — reining in the CIA’s gravy train.

Is John Brennan Confessing His (Petraeus’) Covert Ops in Syria Backfired?

Both Michah Zenko and Jon Schwarz noted John Brennan making a remarkable admission on Face the Nation back on May 31: that sometimes US involvement in events exacerbates things.

But both seem to interpret Brennan’s comment as a general comment on US’s big foot stepping in shit around the world (my description, not theirs). Zenko reads this as “an unprecedented recognition by a senior official about how U.S. counterterrorism activities can increase direct threats to the United States and its ‘national security interests.'” And Schwarz interprets Brennan to be “acknowledg[ing] that U.S. foreign policy might sometimes cause terrorism.”

It may well be such a generalized admission.

But I wonder whether it’s not something more: a specific admission that the US fostered the rise of ISIS with its covert role in Syria in 2012 — a topic that has discussed of late because of documents released via a Judicial Watch FOIA on briefings to Congress about Benghazi (here’s the post I did on the documents).

Here’s the full exchange between Bob Schieffer and Brennan.

SCHIEFFER: Another question I asked Jeb Bush, some of the critics of this administration and some of them are within the government. The ones in the government are not saying these things publicly but saying that the president seems to be just trying to buy time here, that he’s not ready to make a full commitment here in this war on terrorism and basically is just trying to keep things together well enough that he can leave it to the next president to resolve it.

Do you see that?

BRENNAN: I don’t see anything like that. I’ve been involved in this administration in different capacities for the last six and a half years and there has been a full court effort to try to keep this country safe.

Dealing with some of these problems in the Middle East, whether you’re talking about Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, others, these are some of the most complex and complicated issues that I’ve seen in my 35 years, working on national security issues. So there are no easy solutions.

I think the president has tried to make sure that we’re able to push the envelope when we can to protect this country. But we have to recognize that sometimes our engagement and direct involvement will stimulate and spur additional threats to our national security interests.

Brennan’s response comes — as Schieffer made clear — after Schieffer had already posed the question to Jeb!, and in that context, it specifically addressed ISIS.

SCHIEFFER: Some of the administration’s critics, even some people in the Pentagon, are saying privately that the administration is sort of just buying time and is trying to leave this for the next president to deal with.

BUSH: It looks that way, because you don’t have a clear strategy.

And I think the strategy is both military, as well as political. We need to make sure that Iraq is stable for the region and to create — narrowing the influence of ISIS not just in Iraq, but in Syria. So, it doesn’t appear that they have a strategy.

Then they put — every time that they talk about a strategy, they put conditions on that strategy to make it harder to actually implement it. So, I think the first thing you need to do is take advice of military leaders that know a lot about this than folks in the White House. Take their input. Create a strategy. Express what the strategy is.

And the strategy ought to be take out ISIS in coordinated way and do it over the long haul. This is not something that is going to happen overnight.

And while Brennan mentions two other places — Yemen and Iran — that may not (but they actually might!) be part of the covert operations in which CIA tried to arm “moderates” to oppose Syria but instead helped their buddies energize ISIS, the others were all part of the plan to deal Libyan weapons to the “moderate” liver-eaters in Syria.

The administration is still carefully protecting the details about what they did in Syria in 2012, even from Congress. But they have, in fact, been doing a lot in the Middle East, only most of it has been making things worse.

About those Brennan Lies about Working with Iran and Those Who Commit Atrocities

During the whole flap over Seymour Hersh’s reporting questioning the Osama bin Laden raid, I kept pointing to Ron Wyden’s comments to John Brennan about lies he told in March, probably at his Council on Foreign Relations speech.

I guessed that Brennan’s likely lies had to do with whether we partner with anyone who commits atrocities and whether Brennan has worked directly with Iranian Republican Guard leader Qasem Soleimani. And after Hersh’s report that we still have a dark site on Diego Garcia, I added Brennan’s claim we outsource all our interrogation to partners.

Keep those potential lies as you read Moon of Alabama’s guesses about why the Syrians announced this raid before the Americans did.

Wyden et al: Spot the Lie in Brennan’s CFR Speech Contest!

As the Daily Dot reported, Senators Wyden, Heinrich, and Hirono wrote John Brennan a letter trying to get him to admit that he lied about hacking the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But, as often happens with Wyden-authored letters, they also included this oblique paragraph at the end:

Additionally, we are attaching a separate classified letter regarding inaccurate public statements that you made on another topic in March 2015. We ask that you correct the public record regarding these statements immediately.

A game!!! Find the lies Brennan told in March!!!

The most likely place to look for Brennan lies comes in this appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, where Brennan took questions from the audience.

While you might think Brennan lied about outsourcing torture to our allies, his answer on CIA involvement with interrogations conducted by our partners was largely truthful, even if he left out the part of detainees being tortured in custody.

But on a related issue, Brennan surely lied. He claimed — in response to a questions from an HRW staffer — not to partner with those who commit atrocities.

QUESTION: I’m going to try to stand up. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch. Two days ago, ABC News ran some video and images of psychopathic murderers, thugs in the Iraqi security forces, carrying out beheadings, executions of children, executions of civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, executions of hundreds of captives and so forth.

And some of the allies in the anti-ISIS coalition are themselves carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, like beheadings in Saudi Arabia, violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia—how do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance?

BRENNAN: It’s tough sorting out good guys and bad guys in a lot of these areas, it is. And human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of ISIL or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped.

And in an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses. And this is something that I think we need to be able to address. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.

As I noted at the time, Brennan totally dodged the question about Saudi atrocities. But it is also the case that many of the “moderates” we’ve partnered with in both Syria and Iraq have themselves engaged in atrocities.

So I suspect his claim that “we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities” is one of the statements Wyden et al were pointing to.

A potentially related alternative candidate (the letter did say Brennan had made false statements, plural) is this exchange. When Brennan claimed, at the time, he has no ties to Qasim Soleimani, I assumed he was lying, not just because we’re actually fighting a way in IRGC’s vicinity but also because Brennan seemed to exhibit some of the “tells” he does when he lies.

QUESTION: James Sitrick, Baker & McKenzie. You spent a considerable amount of your opening remarks talking about the importance of liaison relationships. Charlie alluded to this in one of his references to you, on the adage—the old adage has it that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Are we in any way quietly, diplomatically, indirectly, liaisoning with Mr. Soleimani and his group and his people in Iraq?

BRENNAN: I am not engaging with Mr. Qasem Soleimani, who is the head of the Quds Force of Iran. So no, I am not.

I am engaged, though, with a lot of different partners, some of close, allied countries as well as some that would be considered adversaries, engaged with the Russians on issues related to terrorism.

We did a great job working with the Russians on Sochi. They were very supportive on Boston Marathon. We’re also looking at the threat that ISIL poses both to the United States as well as to Russia.

So I try to take advantage of all the different partners that are out there, because there is a strong alignment on some issues—on proliferation as well as on terrorism and others as well.

I happen to think it an exaggeration that the Russians “were very supportive on Boston Marathon,” but maybe that’s because FSB was rolling up CIA spies who were investigating potentially related groups in Russia.

Finally, while less likely, I think this might be a candidate.

QUESTION: Thank you. Paula DiPerna, NTR Foundation. This is probably an unpopular suggestion, but is it feasible or how feasible would it be to do a little selective Internet disruption in the areas concerned, a la a blockade, digital blockade, and then an international fund to indemnify business loss?

BRENNAN: OK. First of all, as we all know, the worldwide web, the Internet, is a very large enterprise. And trying to stop things from coming out, there are political issues, there are legal issues here in the United States as far as freedom of speech is concerned. But even given that consideration, doing it technically and preventing some things from surfacing is really quite challenging.

And we see that a number of these organizations have been able to immediately post what they’re doing in Twitter. And the ability to stop some things from getting out is really quite challenging.

As far as, you know, indemnification of various companies on some of these issues, there has been unfortunately a very, very long, multi-year effort on the part of the Congress to try to pass some cybersecurity legislation that addressed some of these issues. There has been passage in the Senate.

I think it’s overdue. We need to update our legal structures as well as our policy structures to deal with the cyber threats we face.

Remember, Ron Wyden has been pointing to an OLC opinion on Common Commercial Services (which, however, CIA’s now General Counsel Carolyn Krass said publicly she wouldn’t rely on) for years. I suspect indemnity is one of the things it might cover.

Plus, I do think it likely that we’ve disrupted the Internet in various circumstances.

Who knows? Maybe Brennan just told a lot of lies.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

Update: NatSec sources are already dismissing this Sy Hersh piece on the real story behind the bin Laden killing. But if there’s truth to this detail, then it would suggest I was overly optimistic when I suggested Brennan was truthful about outsourcing our interrogation to allies.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’

If we do still have a secret prison in Diego Garcia, then the claim that we outsource everything to allies would be the key lie here.

Now That’s Some Disturbance in the Force

At some time around 9:30 PM ET at the INSA Leadership Dinner, John Brennan suggested that maybe the CIA Director — that is, maybe he — should have a 10 year term.

D/CIA John Brennan says it might make sense to have the CIA director and DNI serve similar terms to the FBI director’s 10-year term.

At 4:30 AM Saudi time (so 9:30 PM ET), Saudi King Salman announced a major royal shake-up. Rather than his brother Muqrin bin Abdulaziz being Deputy and heir to the throne, American favorite and very close Brennan buddy Mohammed bin Nayef will be heir.

Saudi King Salman is announcing a major royal shake-up at 4:30 am. Muqrin is out, M. Bin Nayaf is the new heir, his own son deputy heir.

That’s a rather interesting power move by two closely affiliated types (though I assume that the CIA Director can’t do these things by fiat … yet).

Update: Adding, King Salman’s insomnia induced Kingdom restructuring also apparently made Ambassador to the US (the guy whom Manssor Arbabsiar was purportedly trying to kill) Adel al-Jubeir Foreign Minister.

On Drone Rule Books and Breaking the Rules

Back when we first learned that the CIA had killed an American (and an Italian) hostage in a January drone strike that also killed American, I predicted, based on posts like this and this, we would learn that Obama was never applying the rules in Pakistan because (as Jim had already pointed out) John Brennan has a way of exempting himself from the rules.

Q: 2 yrs ago, Klaidman reported it’d take several yrs to adopt drone rule book, w/PK being last. Do we know they purportedly did apply it?

And in any case, Brennan kind of exempted himself. Because moral rectitude. So very likely this is abt Brennan exempting himself fr rules.

Sure enough, WSJ reported yesterday that Obama had exempted Pakistan.

Mr. Obama in a 2013 speech at the National Defense University spelled out some rules governing drone strikes, which he codified in a “presidential policy guidance” directive.

Among them were that the threat needed to be imminent and that the U.S. had to have “near-certainty” no civilians would be killed or injured. Officials said the directive also included language aimed at curbing and eventually eliminating a particular type of drone strike in which the U.S. believes an individual is a militant, but doesn’t know his identity.

These so-called “signature” strikes have been responsible for killing more al Qaeda leadership targets than strikes directly targeting high-value leaders, especially in Pakistan, where the group’s leadership can be difficult to find, current and former U.S. officials said.

The Jan. 15 strike that killed Messrs. Weinstein and Lo Porto was a signature strike.

Under a classified addendum to the directive approved by Mr. Obama, however, the CIA’s drone program in Pakistan was exempted from the “imminent threat” requirement, at least until U.S. forces completed their pullout from Afghanistan.

The exemption in the case of Pakistan means that the CIA can do signature strikes and more targeted drone attacks on militant leaders who have been identified without collecting specific evidence that the target poses an imminent threat to the U.S. Being part of the al Qaeda core in Pakistan is justification enough in the Obama administration’s eyes.

This has led people to note that you simply can’t trust what the Executive does via Executive Order or Presidential Policy Guidance, as in this Daphne Eviatar post that goes onto to talk about secrecy generally.

But we’ve known all along that the president’s statement in his 2013 speech was just a policy preference. It was never an actual limitation on the use of drones, or more importantly, on the use of lethal weapons to kill suspected terrorists.

Since Obama has proven untrustworthy in his 2013 PPD on drones, we should assume he has kept similar secret exemptions under PPD-28, which purports to rein in surveillance.

You should never trust a President Order to mean what it says because the Executive has self-exempted itself from honesty.

Which leads me to what I noted the other day. On top of the tragedy of Warren Weinstein’s death, I still think the circumstances of Faruq’s targeting are … suspicious.

Particularly given that the last confirmed head of OLC, Virginia Seitz, left quietly at the end of 2013 because — anonymous sources suggested to Carrie Johnson — she was unwilling to authorize the drone death of some American(s).

Two other sources suggested that aside from the tough work, another issue weighed heavily on her mind over the past several months: the question of whether and when the U.S. can target its own citizens overseas with a weaponized drone or missile attack. American officials are considering such a strike against at least one citizen linked to al-Qaida, the sources said.

A law enforcement source told NPR the controversy over the use of drones against Americans in foreign lands did not play a major role in Seitz’s decision to leave government, since the Office of Legal Counsel is continuing to do legal analysis of the issue and there was no firm conclusion to which she may have objected or disagreed.

Particularly given the hoops the White House is jumping through regarding precisely what they were targeting, given the fact that they appear to be claiming they’ve only confirmed Faruq was an al Qaeda leader, this appears to suggest DOJ had a lot of disagreement over whether some of these men could be targeted.

Or who knows?

Maybe OLC has subsequently approved what I’ve dubbed the Sitting in a Baddie Compound authorization for executing Americans?

America’s Intelligence Empire

I’ve been reading Empire of Secrets, a book about the role of MI5 as the British spun off their empire. It describes how, in country after country, the government that took over from the British — even including people who had been surveilled and jailed by the British regime — retained the British intelligence apparatus and crafted a strong intelligence sharing relationship with their former colonizers. As an example, it describes how Indian Interior Minister, Sardr Patel, decided to keep the Intelligence Bureau rather than shut it down.

Like Nehru, Patel realised that the IB had probably compiled records on himself and most of the leaders of Congress. However, unlike Nehru, he did not allow this to colour his judgment about the crucial role that intelligence would play for the young Indian nation.

[snip]

Patel not only allowed the continued existence of the IB, but amazingly, also sanctioned the continued surveillance of extremist elements within this own Congress Party. As Smith’s report of the meeting reveals, Patel was adamant that the IB should ‘discontinue the collection of intelligence on orthodox Congress and Muslim League activity’, but at the same time he authorised it to continue observing ‘extremist organisations’. Patel was particularly concerned about the Congress Socialist Party, many of whose members were communist sympathisers.

[snip]

The reason Patel was so amenable to continued surveillance of some of his fellow Indian politicians (keeping tabs on his own supporters, as one IPI report put it) was his fear of communism.

And the same remarkable process, by which the colonized enthusiastically partnered with their former colonizers to spy on their own, happened in similar fashion in most of Britain’s former colonies.

That’s what I was thinking of on March 13, when John Brennan gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. While it started by invoking an attack in Copenhagen and Charlie Hebdo, a huge chunk of the speech talked about the value of partnering with our intelligence allies.

Last month an extremist gunned down a film director at a cafe in Copenhagen, made his way across town and then shot and killed a security guard at a synagogue. Later the same day the terrorist group ISIL released a video showing the horrific execution of Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya.

The previous month, in a span of less than 24 hours, we saw a savage attack on the staff of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France. We saw a car bomb kill dozens at a police academy in Yemen.

[snip]

As CIA tackles these challenges, we benefit greatly from the network of relationships we maintain with intelligence services throughout the world. This is a critically important and lesser known aspect of our efforts. I cannot overstate the value of these relationships to CIA’s mission and to our national security. Indeed, to the collective security of America and its allies.

By sharing intelligence, analysis, and know-how with these partner services, we open windows on regions and issues that might otherwise be closed to us. And when necessary, we set in concert to mitigate a common threat.

By collaborating with our partners we are much better able to close key intelligence gaps on our toughest targets, as well as fulfill CIA’s mission to provide global coverage and prevent surprises for our nation’s leaders. There is no way we could be successful in carrying out our mission of such scope and complexity on our own.

Naturally these are sensitive relationships built on mutual trust and confidentiality. Unauthorized disclosures in recent years by individuals who betrayed our country have created difficulties with these partner services that we have had to overcome.

But it is a testament to the strength and effectiveness of these relationships that our partners remain eager to work with us. With the stakes so high for our people’s safety, these alliances are simply too crucial to be allowed to fail.

From the largest services with global reach to those of smaller nations focused on local and regional issues, CIA has developed a range of working and productive relationships with our counterparts overseas. No issue highlights the importance of our international partnerships more right now than the challenge of foreign fighters entering and leaving the conflict in Syria and Iraq.

We roughly estimate that at least 20,000 fighters from more than 90 countries have gone to fight, several thousand of them from Western nations, including the United States. One thing that dangers these fighters pose upon their return is a top priority for the United States intelligence community, as well as our liaison partners.

We exchange information with our counterparts around the world to identify and track down men and women believed to be violent extremists. And because we have the wherewithal to maintain ties with so many national services, we act as a central repository of data and trends to advance the overall effort.

On this and in innumerable other challenges, our cooperation with foreign liaison quietly achieves significant results. Working together, we have disrupted terrorist attacks and rolled back groups that plot them, intercepted transfers of dangerous weapons and technology, brought international criminals to justice and shared vital intelligence and expertise on everything from the use of chemical armaments in Syria to the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine.

These relationships are an essential adjunct to diplomacy. And by working with some of these services in building their capabilities we have helped them become better prepared to tackled the challenges that threaten us all.

[snip]

With CIA’s support, I have seen counterparts develop into sophisticated and effective partners. Over time our engagement with partner services fosters a deeper, more candid give and take, a more robust exchange of information and assessments, and a better understanding of the world that often ultimately encourages better alignment on policy.

Another advantage of building and maintaining strong bilateral and multilateral intelligence relationships is that they can remain, albeit not entirely, insulated from the ups and downs of diplomatic ties. These lengths can provide an important conduit for a dispassionate dialogue during periods of tension, and for conveying the U.S. perspective on contentious issues.

In recognition of the importance of our liaison relationships, I recently reestablished a senior position at the CIA dedicated to ensuring that we are managing relationships in an integrated fashion. To developing a strategic vision and corporate goals for our key partnerships and to helping me carryout my statutory responsibility to coordinate the intelligence communities’ foreign intelligence relationships. [my emphasis]

We are and still remain in the same position as MI5, Brennan seems to want to assure the CFR types, in spite of the embarrassment experienced by our intelligence partners due to leaks by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Information sharing remains the cement of much of our relationships with allies; our ability to let them suck off our dragnet keeps them in line.

And of particular note, Brennan described these “strong bilateral and multilateral intelligence relationships …remain[ing], albeit not entirely, insulated from the ups and downs of diplomatic ties.”

The spooks keep working together regardless of what the political appointees do, Brennan suggested.

But that speech is all the more notable given the revelations in this Der Spiegel story. It describes how, because of the Snowden leaks, the Germans slowly started responding to something they had originally discovered in 2008. The US had been having BND spy on selectors well outside the Memorandum of Understanding governing the countries’ intelligence sharing, even including economic targets. At first, BND thought this was just 2,000 targets, but as the investigation grew more pointed, 40,000 suspicious selectors were found. Only on March 12 — the day before Brennan gave this remarkable speech — did Merkel’s office officially find out.

But in October 2013, not even the BND leadership was apparently informed of the violations that had been made. The Chancellery, which is charged with monitoring the BND, was also left in the dark. Instead, the agents turned to the Americans and asked them to cease and desist.

In spring 2014, the NSA investigative committee in German parliament, the Bundestag, began its work. When reports emerged that EADS and Eurocopter had been surveillance targets, the Left Party and the Greens filed an official request to obtain evidence of the violations.

At the BND, the project group charged with supporting the parliamentary investigative committee once again looked at the NSA selectors. In the end, they discovered fully 40,000 suspicious search parameters, including espionage targets in Western European governments and numerous companies. It was this number that SPIEGEL ONLINE reported on Thursday. The BND project group was also able to confirm suspicions that the NSA had systematically violated German interests. They concluded that the Americans could have perpetrated economic espionage directly under the Germans’ noses.

Only on March 12 of this year did the information end up in the Chancellery.

This has led to parliamentary accusations that BND lied in earlier testimony. The lies are notable, given how they echo the same kind of sentiment John Brennan expressed in his speech.

According to a classified memo, the agency told parliamentarians in 2013 that the cooperation with the US in Bad Aibling was consistent with the law and with the strict guidelines that had been established.

The memo notes: “The value for the BND (lies) in know-how benefits and in a closer partnership with the NSA relative to other partners.” The data provided by the US, the memo continued, “is checked for its conformance with the agreed guidelines before it is inputted” into the BND system.

Now, we know better. It remains to be determined whether the BND really was unaware at the time, or whether it simply did not want to be aware.

The NSA investigative committee has also questioned former and active BND agents regarding “selectors” and “search criteria” on several occasions. Prior to the beginning of each session, the agents were informed that providing false testimony to the body was unlawful. The BND agents repeatedly insisted that the selectors provided by the US were precisely checked.

As almost a snide aside, Der Spiegel notes that in spite of these lies, the public prosecutor has not yet been informed of these lies.

That is, the spooks have been lying — at least purportedly including up to and including Merkel’s office. But the government seems to be uninterested in pursuing those lies.

As Brennan said as this was just breaking out, the spooks retain their “strong bilateral and multilateral intelligence relationships …remain[ing], albeit not entirely, insulated from the ups and downs of diplomatic ties.”

And as with Brennan — who, as Gregory Johnsen chronicles in this long profile of the CIA Director published yesterday — the spooks always evade accountability.

Brennan’s Addiction to Signature Strikes Killed Weinstein

The US insists that the deaths of hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were a “mistake”. Both the New York Times and Washington Post open their articles about the drone strike that killed them with descriptions couched in the language of error. The Times:

The first sign that something had gone terribly wrong was when officers from the C.I.A. saw that six bodies had been pulled from the rubble instead of four.

And in the Post:

After weeks of aerial surveillance, CIA analysts reached two conclusions about a compound to be targeted in a January drone strike: that it was used by al-Qaeda militants and that, in the moment before it was hit, it had exactly four occupants.

But as six bodies were removed from the rubble, the drone feeds that continued streaming back to CIA headquarters carried with them a new set of troubling questions, including who the two other victims were and how the agency’s pre-strike assessments could have been so flawed.

Consider that for a moment. Despite all the blathering from John Brennan about “near certainty” in his infamous drone rules (whose legal basis the government still steadfastly refuses to release), we are dealing yet again with deaths of innocents from a signature strike. In those strikes, the US kills without knowing precisely who the targets are. Instead, the US claims that the pattern of activities by those targeted match those of terrorists intent on striking out against the US. The more cynical among us note that there is hubbub over this strike merely because the innocents who were killed happen to be white instead of brown. But the outcome is the same: making the decision to kill based on incomplete evidence that doesn’t even include the actual identities of those in the crosshairs is bound to result in the collateral deaths of many who are not enemies of the US.

Recall that John Brennan made a power grab in the spring of 2012 to take charge of ordering signature strikes when JSOC told the White House that such strikes were not needed in Yemen. And, of course, Brennan immediately started using this tool as a political cudgel as well as the strategic weapon it was believed to represent. But let’s go for a moment to a part of Greg Miller’s Washington Post article linked above:

The deaths of the hostages follow other recent developments that have revealed divisions among the CIA and other agencies over whether to capture or kill a U.S. citizen.

Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh was recently arraigned in a U.S. court on federal terrorism charges after he was captured by Pakistan and secretly flown to New York. His arrest raised questions about the frequency with which the U.S. government asserts that capturing terrorism suspects is not feasible. The CIA had been pushing to kill Farekh for more than a year before his arrest, current and former U.S. officials said.

Isn’t that interesting? It appears that Farekh was on CIA’s list of targets it would like to have killed in a targeted strike, with part of the justification for killing him being that it wouldn’t be feasible to capture him. And yet the Pakistanis did capture him. And that development points out an even bigger problem with the decision to hit the compound where Weinstein was killed: that compound is in the southern part of North Waziristan. Recall that Pakistan’s offensive to clear the tribal areas of terrorists began last June. See the map embedded in this post where I discussed the beginning of the offensive. Weinstein and Lo Porto were being held in the Shawal Valley, which is at the very southern end of North Waziristan. Miram Shah and Mir Ali, two of the hottest targets for US drone strikes sit in the central part.

Just a little more patience on the part of Brennan and his signature strike shop might have led to a very different outcome. In November, Pakistan’s military claimed that 90% of North Waziristan had been cleared of terrorists. And in the very same week of the strike that killed the hostages, Pakistan noted that the Shawal area was slated for clearing:

During a journalists briefing here, about the current visit of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to Britain, he said operation Zarb-e-Azb was continuing successfully in North Waziristan and many areas including Mir Ali, Mirshah and Dattakhel were cleared of terrorists, many of whom were killed and arrested and their infrastructure was destroyed.

In these troubled areas, militants had set up infrastructure, training and call centres and they were making phone calls to people in other parts of the country for ransom, he added. Before start of the North Waziristan operation, Pakistan informed Afghanistan and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), so that they could take action against terrorists who cross over the border.

Operations were continuing along the border areas with Afghanistan, with whom Pakistan had improved its relations and both countries were sharing intelligence, he added. He said in the next few months the remaining areas including Shawal would be cleared.

Although Pakistan’s military is not particularly noted for protecting citizens during these clearing actions in the tribal areas, it still stands out that Weinstein and Lo Porto were killed in Shawal on January 15 and Pakistan announced on the 18th that Shawal was next up for clearing. Would Pakistani forces have rescued the hostages? We will never know.

Even worse, Brennan was supposed to have stopped signature strikes in Pakistan. Returning to the Times article:

The strike was conducted despite Mr. Obama’s indication in a speech in 2013 that the C.I.A. would no longer conduct such signature strikes after 2014, when American “combat operations” in Afghanistan were scheduled to end. Several American officials said Thursday that the deadline had not been enforced.

Brennan will never give up his prized signature strikes. Greg Miller does note, though, that this strike was one of the last ones for “Roger”, who headed the counterterrorism center and was Brennan’s right hand man for signature strikes. But I’m pretty sure that we can count on Brennan to get Roger’s replacement up to speed on his prized tool very quickly.

FBI Field Offices Don’t See the Point in Racial Profiling

As I noted earlier, I’m reading the 9/11 Follow-Up Report just completed for FBI. And while there are some interesting insights in it, in general I think the analysis of the report itself is pretty horrible (which is funny because the report says FBI needs more analysts). I’ll have more specific details on that later, but I wanted to point to what the report says about FBI not adopting “Central Strategic Coordinating Components” or CSCCs, which are basically analysts in each Field Office that are supposed to do “domain awareness” for the Field Office. That means they’re supposed to get to know the neighborhood to anticipate any problems that might come up. (As far as I know, no one has ever thought of doing a domain awareness for Wall Street, in spite of all the new threats that pop up there over and over.)

As the report makes clear, every Field Office is supposed to have someone doing this. But, as documents obtained by ACLU under FOIA have shown, it often amounts to racial profiling, whether that be Muslims or Latinos or something else. And, at least given the NYPD example, where their domain awareness program never found any plot (and didn’t find two plots covered by this FBI report, notably the Najibullah Zazi attack), there’s no evidence I know of that they actually help to prevent crimes.

Yet rather than analyzing whether this concept serves any purpose whatsoever, it instead says, “it’s corporate policy, no one is doing it well, so it needs to improve.” (Note, most of the named people interviewed for the report are not FBI agents, and many come from CIA or another intelligence agency; John Brennan, who almost certainly had a role in setting up NYPD on the Hudson, for example, was interviewed.)

What I find particularly remarkable is what the report found in the field.

According to one anecdote, 20% of analysts (not even Field Agents!) understand the point of this. And even in offices where they do understand, the Field Agents won’t do their part by going and filling in the blanks analysts identify.

Call me crazy. But maybe the people responding to actual crimes believe they learn enough in that process — and are plenty busy enough trying to catch criminals — that they don’t see the point of racially profiling people like NYPD does? Maybe they believe the ongoing threats are where the past ones of have been, and there’s no need to spend their time investigating where there aren’t crimes in case there ever are in the future?

I don’t know. But I think the Field Agents might be onto something.

Update, 3/27: Adding, there seems to be a logic problem with this too. Another big push for the FBI — a more understandable one, but not without risks of its own — is that FBI partner much more closely with local cops. If the local cops are doing their job well, wouldn’t they provide the “domain awareness” FBI needs? This is actually a point a senior FBI manager noted in discussing its relationship with ODNI (see page 92). Admittedly, a lot of cops are occupiers rather than local stewards of safety, but that’s a separate problem.

Update, 3/27: The report returns to domain awareness again, pointing to that as the one thing that can differentiate between a domestic security agency and an intelligence agency.

As the FBI began its transformation into a national security organization, at the heart of that transformation was the concept of domain awareness. Domain awareness reflected the realization that the FBI could not be reactive and wait for cases to develop, it had to proactively seek to understand its environment. From the Review Commission’s perspective, that means that domain analysis, which attempts to capture what is known and identify gaps for further collection, is at the heart of the FBI’s transformation into a domestic intelligence agency, and it needs to be a process informed by everything the USIC has to offer. This includes all information from local sources—law enforcement, colleges and universities, and prisons—to which other parts of the USIC do not have access. Robust domain analysis will allow the FBI to harness its considerable skill at collection and source development in support of identifying new threats in addition to collecting against known threats. A failure to achieve that goal will leave the US with a domestic security service rather than a domestic intelligence agency, and with a vulnerability to homegrown threats that fall outside the purview of our foreign intelligence establishment.316


(U) CSCCs are responsible for the FBI’s domain awareness and analysis. Each field office is required to establish a CSCC. The groups are comprised of small groups of intelligence analysts who are tasked to produce foundational documents such as Domain Intelligence Notes (DINs) and Threat Mitigation Strategies (TMSs). They also expose information gaps and guide special agents’ planned or incidental collection efforts. Effective CSCCs are critical to ensuring that field office efforts are threat-based and intelligence-driven.

(U) But during its field office visits, the Review Commission observed an uneven application of the CSCC concept and that many field offices struggled with effectively operating its CSCC. In the majority of the field offices the Review Commission visited, the CSCCs were not performing their intended functions. 215 Many of the intelligence analysts who were initially assigned to the CSCC had been moved to operational squads to provide tactical support to case agents, leaving the CSCC understaffed and unable to fulfill its primary mission.216 In some field offices, CSCC analysts were so involved in tactical support that their DINs and TMSs languished until the SAC accounted for them in the office’s mid and year-end reviews.217

(U) A centerpiece of the FBI’s intelligence framework is domain analysis, which entails the ability to understand what is happening in a given area of operations using all available sources of data. Accordingly, domain management is the FBI’s systematic process to develop strategic awareness in order to: identify and prioritize threats, vulnerabilities, and intelligence gaps; contribute to the efficient allocation of resources and operational decisions; discover new opportunities for collection; and set tripwires to provide advance warning.218 The Review Commission strongly believes that the field offices must prioritize collection opportunities to identify, develop, and pursue new intelligence leads in concert with their ongoing investigations.

(U) In many field offices we visited there was only one intelligence analyst left on the CSCC to conduct domain analysis for the field office and even then they spent much of their time mapping existing incidents and/or efforts. There was no observable forward looking aspect to the work. From the Review Commission’s observations, even when the DINs and TMSs are produced they are not generally valued at the field office-level as parts of a comprehensive intelligence collection plan (e.g., the plan that establishes the field’s baseline knowledge, identifies intelligence gaps, and informs the field’s strategy to mitigate new threats).219 In one field office we were told that an analyst had produced a comprehensive collection plan but it was ignored by the special agents who would have to implement it.220 We attribute this to a special agent-driven culture that still does not necessarily understand the value of filling intelligence collection requirements and, therefore, renders this overall mission a lower priority than it should be. It can also be attributed to the lack of sufficient leadership to hold field office personnel accountable for intelligence as well as criminal responsibilities.

 

215 (U) Some offices demonstrated a much higher comprehension of the CSCC concept and value and consequently provided higher levels of resources to facilitate mission success. The Review Commission would like to commend, however, the one field office that acknowledged that it was struggling with creating an effective CSCC and planned to visit another field office that is believed to be doing a better job so as to learn how others are operating a CSCC and perhaps identify best practices to bring back and implement. Memorandum for the Record, July 28, 2014.

216 (U) One intelligence analyst speculated the CSCC concept was widely misunderstood across the FBI because the benefit to special agents is unclear. The intelligence analyst also estimated that approximately 20 percent of analysts understood the meaning and purpose of the CSCC. Memorandum for the Record, September 17, 2014.

217 (U) Memorandum for the Record, August 14, 2014.

218 (U) Federal Bureau of Intelligence, Directorate of Intelligence, Intelligence Program Corporate Policy Directive and Policy Implementation Guide, May 2, 2013: 62.

219 (U) Memorandum for the Record, September 19, 2014.

220 (U) Memorandum for the Record, July 29, 2014.

If US Won’t Share Intelligence with Those Hosting Snowden, Why Are We Engaged with Russia on ISIL?

Glenn Greenwald reports that, when he asked German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel why he doesn’t offer asylum to Edward Snowden, Gabriel revealed the US had threatened to cut Germany off from intelligence sharing if they did.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (above) said this week in Homburg that the U.S. Government threatened to cease sharing intelligence with Germany if Berlin offered asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden or otherwise arranged for him to travel to that country. “They told us they would stop notifying us of plots and other intelligence matters,” Gabriel said.

The Vice Chancellor delivered a speech in which he praised the journalists who worked on the Snowden archive, and then lamented the fact that Snowden was forced to seek refuge in “Vladimir Putin’s autocratic Russia” because no other nation was willing and able to protect him from threats of imprisonment by the U.S. Government (I was present at the event to receive an award). That prompted an audience member to interrupt his speech and yell out: “why don’t you bring him to Germany, then?”

[snip]

Afterward, however, when I pressed the Vice Chancellor (who is also head of the Social Democratic Party, as well as the country’s Economy and Energy Minister) as to why the German government could not and would not offer Snowden asylum – which, under international law, negates the asylee’s status as a fugitive – he told me that the U.S. Government had aggressively threatened the Germans that if they did so, they would be “cut off” from all intelligence sharing. That would mean, if the threat were carried out, that the Americans would literally allow the German population to remain vulnerable to a brewing attack discovered by the Americans by withholding that information from their government.

Which is odd, because CIA Director John Brennan just implied — in a speech that was largely about information sharing — that the US continues to engage with Russia on terrorism issues, even though it hosts Snowden.

QUESTION: James Sitrick, Baker & McKenzie. You spent a considerable amount of your opening remarks talking about the importance of liaison relationships. Charlie alluded to this in one of his references to you, on the adage—the old adage has it that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Are we in any way quietly, diplomatically, indirectly, liaisoning with Mr. Soleimani and his group and his people in Iraq?

BRENNAN: I am not engaging with Mr. Qasem Soleimani, who is the head of the Quds Force of Iran. So no, I am not.

I am engaged, though, with a lot of different partners, some of close, allied countries as well as some that would be considered adversaries, engaged with the Russians on issues related to terrorism.

We did a great job working with the Russians on Sochi. They were very supportive on Boston Marathon. We’re also looking at the threat that ISIL poses both to the United States as well as to Russia.

So I try to take advantage of all the different partners that are out there, because there is a strong alignment on some issues—on proliferation as well as on terrorism and others as well.

Admittedly, the timing on Snowden’s asylum in Russia is pretty remarkable, coming as it did after Sochi and two months after the Marathon attack, launched by brothers with ties to Chechnya. In fact, in Dzhokhar’s trial, we just learned that Tamerlan sent $900 back to Chechnya in the weeks before the attack. Thus, at the time Putin granted Snowden his first year of asylum, the US needed Russian cooperation more urgently than Russia needed America’s (and Putin was carefully managing that relationship).

Still, by tying cooperation with Russia to ISIL, Brennan implied it is ongoing (not least because the government was not as engaged against ISIL as it might have been until a year after Snowden arrived in Russia).

At least if we’re to believe Gabriel, the US threatened to cut off a close ally if it hosted Snowden, but it continues to share intelligence with one of our major adversaries on matters of common interest.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @emptywheel @Pachacutec_ NO! That is what moved him ahead of Eli!
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emptywheel @bmaz Oh? The Pats are already only your THIRD favorite team??? It's bc Tommy destroyed his phone, isn't it? @Pachacutec_
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emptywheel @mollyknefel Congrats! Way to take charge.
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bmaz @Pachacutec_ Oh, wait!! You DO play my new third favorite team, the Bradys! #FreeTomBrady
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bmaz @Pachacutec_ Naw, thank you. Well, at least until the Gents play the Pack or Cards. Don't think that's this year! So, all good!
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emptywheel @mattkbh Possibly true. But glad you gave New Haven its due.
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bmaz @Pachacutec_ I see you over there in the corner. Come join me, my friend.
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emptywheel Basically we called out PK over Mullah Omar then promptly sent SEAL Team 6 to off OBL. https://t.co/fUSlXZMJx0 Busy time, early 2011.
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emptywheel Irony: Mullah Omar, not OBL, ended up in a hospital w/kidney failure. https://t.co/O9bHAvPW5A
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bmaz @ddayen Also, I KNEW my heartfelt sayonara would go to shit. It is like all those GEICO commercials, it is just what I do....
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