John Brennan

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?”


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.

John Brennan’s Careful Dodge of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Abuses

In his appearance as the Council on Foreign Relations today, a woman with Human Rights Watch listed (starting at 56:30) a number of abuses our “partners” in the fight against ISIL engage in, including,

  • The ABC report of egregious abuses committed by some of Iraq’s elite military units
  • Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS like atrocities
  • Beheadings and violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia

She then asked, “How do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance”?

After clearing his throat, Brennan responded,

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 I-S-I-L or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped. 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 we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.

Brennan changed a question that twice explicitly included Saudi Arabia to one that included only Syria and Iraq. Which he would have to do — because the US is not about to stop working with “entities” like Saudi Arabia, even if they do behead as many people as ISIL.

John Brennan Predicts the Dissolution of the Nation-State Structure

Rather than asking John Brennan challenging questions about the reform of CIA at Brennan’s Council on Foreign Relations event Friday, Charlie Rose instead asked John Brennan what he saw as the challenge to CIA’s analytical function over the next 15 years (around 39:50).

Here’s how Brennan responded:

The world is becoming more and more challenging. Nation-states are under increasing challenge and threat. More and more, we see individuals in different corners of the world who are identifying with sub-national groups and organizations. And so just the authority of nation-states and governments I think is being looked at in a different way than it did just 20 years ago. And so this is one of the things that we really have to be able to understand and anticipate and work with foreign governments because if you’re going to have basically the dissolution of the nation-state structure that we’ve had for centuries, it’s really going to be even a more chaotic world.

I don’t actually disagree with Brennan. I’ve been saying we’re headed for NeoFeudalism for over a decade.

That said, the policies of the US government are really fostering this change. Drones — as well as increased reliance on paramilitary forces — are one thing that contributes to this. So do trade agreements, especially the ones the US is trying to force on Asia and Europe right now. US demands that its corporations help the US spy in other countries is another factor.

Yet, nevertheless, the government is pursuing these policies even while recognizing that the dissolution of the nation-state system will bring much more chaos.

Brennan describes it like a bug, but US policy suggests it’s a feature.

Update: Take this prediction in tandem with James Clapper’s judgement that “Roughly half of the world’s currently stable countries are at some risk of instability over the next two years.”

Did John Brennan Confirm NSA’s Role in Tracking Finance?

In his talk at the Council on Foreign Relations, John Brennan was asked about terrorists’ use of offshore bank and shell companies (just after 50:00)

I must say that the US Department of the Treasury as well as other institutions of the US government have been very very effective and successful working, again, with international partners to try to uncover and uproot this, but it’s not just for terrorism purposes, it’s for organized crime, narco, um, cartels and others.

It would be thoroughly unsurprising if NSA were spying on monetary flows. After all, their dominance of international telecom cables mean they dominate the infrastructure tracking that flow. Plus there’s that whole SWIFT thing.

But it’s nice to know from John Brennan that those “other institutions” have so thoroughly uncovered and uprooted that kind of intelligence, while presumably ignoring the crimes of Jamie Dimon.

In 2015, CIA Will Proactively Respond to the “Digital Revolution”

I noted some weeks ago about how John Brennan — who had failed spectacularly on cybersecurity while at the White House but then learned the joys of hacking targets when he spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee — was rolling out a cyber directorate.

On Wednesday and yesterday, Brennan rolled out that change amid a larger restructuring.

In a troubling sign, the plan twice refers to the “digital revolution” as if it were in progress right now, not something that has already happened and is now our status quo. “Second, we must be positioned to embrace and leverage the digital revolution to the benefit of all mission areas.” But don’t worry, because Brennan says this reorganization will prevent the CIA from suffering the fate of Kodak, which didn’t anticipate digital cameras. CIA is embracing the “digital revolution” so it doesn’t miss the next one, I guess, as it did with the Arab Spring.

With all the focus on the digital directorate, however, I think there are aspects of this reorganization plan that are far more worthy of note.

First, the whole thing reads like a mid-1990s business reorganization plan, organized into “themes” and speaking of “investing in our people” and a new Talent Development Center of Excellence and embracing and modernizing and blah blah blah. That’s troubling, because those jargon-driven reorganizations usually failed after some Mitt Romney type had stripped the entity in question for cash. At least in the unclassified description of the reorganization, the plan seems better served to attract credulous investors than to effect change.

Just as telling, the unclassified plan says nothing about how CIA will retain what linguistic and cultural skills it has after it shifts to a more topical and less geographic structure. Digital analysis is nice, but there will come a time when someone is going to have read the content that metadata has identified, and we can’t simply rely on foreign partners to do this or we’ll be susceptible to their disinformation.

Finally, there’s this section:

Theme Three: Modernize the way we do business. The pace of world events and technological change demands that Agency leaders be able to make decisions with agility, at the appropriate level, with the right information, and in the interests of the broader enterprise.  We must have the capacity to make the sound strategic decisions needed to build a better Agency and run it efficiently, even as we respond to urgent external requirements. We must empower our officers to address the operational, analytical, technological, support, and other issues that are at the heart of what we do every day. Accordingly, we will:

  • Enhance and empower the Executive Director’s role and responsibilities to manage day-to-day organizational functions, including overseeing a revamped corporate governance model.
  • Create a restructured Executive Secretary office to streamline core executive support functions, thereby increasing effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Even as we improve our ability to govern and make decisions and streamline our processes at the enterprise level, there will be a corresponding effort to delegate decisionmaking and accountability for achieving mission to the lowest appropriate level and to streamline our processes and practices throughout the Agency.

Perhaps I should just trust Brennan here, because he has served as both Chief of Staff to the Director and Deputy Executive Director, so he knows how these critical management roles function. But it also sounds like a bid to have the Director’s immediate staff more involved in the nitty gritty of operations, perhaps akin to the way the White House National Security Council (where Brennan has served more recently) has done the same with operations, in part to bypass oversight. If Brennan wants to make it easier to hold officers accountable for fuck-ups, great. But if Brennan wants to make it easier to conduct ill-considered operations without a grown-up objecting, it’ll lead to more problems from the CIA.

Alfreda Bikowsky has been the model of the analyst-who-sticks-her-nose into the operations function that seems to be the goal here. The CIA thinks she’s great, but she’s also the poster child for hackishness, abuse, and in some cases obstinate stupidity. I wish Brennan the best of luck in making CIA a more effective agency. I just hope he doesn’t end up making it still more problematic.

Bob Litt Tried to Stuff Ron Wyden down Alice In Wonderland’s Rabbit Hole

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Man, I must have written about this letter Ron Wyden sent to John Brennan during his confirmation process 15 times (of which just a few are linked below). Which is why I’m so fascinated by the back and forth between Wyden’s office (the staffer’s name is redacted) and ODNI, largely Bob Litt, both before and after Wyden sent the letter on January 14, 2013. (Many many kudos to Zack Sampson who FOIAed it through MuckRock.)

Wyden’s office submitted the letter for a declassification review on January 11, 2013. Wyden’s office did not get an answer before he sent it. And on January 15, Bob Litt complained,

I have a concern that there are several references in this letter that are not only classified but compartmented.

So the staffer writes back letting Litt know that he or she had unclassified comments by Executive Branch officials for all the references, and he or she will happily share it. To which Litt responded (on January 17),

Although I am dubious, since there are statements in there that assume as fact things that we have recently succeeded in convincing a judge remain classified, I’ll take a look.

It went on for a while (the email thread is from page 21 to 24), with Litt complaining some more, promising Brennan wouldn’t answer questions about it, and the staffer ultimately pointing out that the reason they keep asking publicly is because ODNI won’t provide answers even in classified form (this exchange precedes Clapper’s lies about the dragnet — about which most of the other documents released under this FOIA pertain — by two months).

What Litt was talking about, clearly, was the Administration’s killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the memos authorizing which Judge Colleen McMahon, citing Alice in Wonderland for the bizarreness of it all, had just ruled remained exempt from FOIA on January 2, 2013.

In other words, Litt was suggesting that Wyden should not have said the following — which cites McMahon!! — because McMahon had ruled that the government did not have to give the OLC memos authorizing the Awlaki killing to ACLU and NYT, which is rather different from ruling they didn’t have to share such information with the Intelligence Committee or claiming that Wyden could not refer to official comments in a letter to someone who made those comments because citing back those comments made them classified.

I have asked repeatedly over the past two years to see the secret legal opinions that contain the executive branch’s understanding of the President’s authority to kill American citizens in the course of counterterrorism operations. Senior intelligence officials have said publicly that they have the authority to knowingly use lethal force against Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations, and have indicated that there are secret legal opinions issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that explain the basis for this authority. I have asked repeatedly to see these opinions and I have been provided with some relevant information on the topic, but I have yet to see the opinions themselves.

Both you and the Attorney General gave public speeches on this topic early last year, and these speeches were a welcome step in the direction of more transparency and openness, but as I noted at the time, these speeches left a large number of important questions unanswered. A federal judge recently noted in a Freedom of Information Act case that “no lawyer worth his salt would equate Mr. Holder’s statements with the sort of robust analysis that one finds in a properly constructed legal opinion,” and I assume that Attorney General Holder would agree that this was not his intent.

As Wyden noted, both Brennan and Holder had given big dog-and-pony shows that were clearly about killing Awlaki, and yet Bob Litt wanted to prevent Wyden from pressuring Brennan to turn over the actual legal authorizations to the Intelligence Community’s oversight committee? Really?

Ah well, it all worked out for the forces of good, as when the Committee threatened to hold up Brennan’s confirmation, someone leaked the White Paper to Mike Isikoff that therefore had to be shared with Jason Leopold that ultimately led McMahon to liberate the opinions themselves.

Which is probably precisely what Bob Litt was worried about.
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