Posts

Look Forward, and Promote the Torturers

There’s Matt, who froze Gul Rahman to death in the Salt Pit. Paul, his boss and the CIA Station Chief of Afghanistan, who ignored Matt’s requests for more help at the prison. There’s Albert, who staged a mock execution of Rahim al-Nashiri, and his boss, Ron, the Station Chief in Poland, who witnessed the forbidden technique and did nothing to stop it. There’s Frances, the analyst who was certain that Khaled el-Masri had to be the terrorist with a similar name, and Elizabeth, the lawyer who approved Frances’ decision to have el-Masri rendered and tortured. There’s Steve, the CIA guy who interrogated Manadel al-Jamadi and, some say, effectively crucified him. There’s Gerry Meyer, the Baghdad station chief, and his deputy, Gordon, who permitted the ghost detainee system in Iraq. And of course, there’s Jennifer Matthews, the Khost station chief who ignored warnings about Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi that might have prevented his attack (and her own death).

These are the CIA officers responsible for the Agency’s biggest known fuck-ups and crimes since 9/11.

The AP has a story tracking what happened to those officers. And it finds that few were held accountable, particularly not senior officers, and even those who were reprimanded have continued to prosper in the agency.

In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officers who committed serious mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead have received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has revealed.

[snip]

Though Obama has sought to put the CIA’s interrogation program behind him, the result of a decade of haphazard accountability is that many officers who made significant missteps are now the senior managers fighting the president’s spy wars.

The AP investigation of the CIA’s actions revealed a disciplinary system that takes years to make decisions, hands down reprimands inconsistently and is viewed inside the agency as prone to favoritism and manipulation. When people are disciplined, the punishment seems to roll downhill, sparing senior managers even when they were directly involved in operations that go awry.

Paul–the guy who let the inexperienced Matt freeze Gul Rahman to death–is now chief of the Near East Division.

Ron–who watched Albert stage a forbidden mock execution–now heads the Central European Division.

Albert–who staged the mock execution–was reprimanded, left the CIA, but returned to the CIA as a contractor involved in training officers.

Frances–who insisted Khaled el-Masri be rendered and tortured–was not disciplined and now heads the CIA’s “Global Jihad” unit.

Elizabeth–the lawyer who approved el-Masri’s rendition–was disciplined, but has since been promoted to the legal adviser to the Near East Division.

Steve was reprimanded–not for his interrogation of al-Janabi, but for not having him seen by a doctor. He retired and is back at CIA as a contractor.

Gordon–the Deputy at the Baghdad station at the time of the worst torture–was temporarily barred from working overseas and sent to training; he’s now in charge of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department of the Counterterrorism Center.

And, as the AP notes, several of these people are now among Obama’s key counter-terrorism advisors. (Of course, John Brennan, who oversaw targeting for Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program, is his top counter-terrorism advisor.)

No wonder Obama has no problem pushing our Egyptian torturer, Omar Suleiman, to lead Egypt. It’s completely consistent with our own practice of promoting our own torturers.

Rummy’s Dump

Donald Rumsfeld, channeling Julian Assange, has now made the database of documents accompanying his book available.

As Spencer notes, making these documents available is largely self-serving; a way for Rummy to point to early moments of reflection that were followed by later moments of rash stupidity or lies.

To put it uncharitably: when you’ve got a rep for being less-than-honest and unwilling to debate, you might as well let the documents speak for themselves.

So take, for instance, one that Rumsfeld’s promoting on his website. It’s a September 9, 2002 summary from the Joint Staff’s top intelligence official confessing that U.S. assessments of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction “rely heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence.” Rumsfeld told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “take a look” at the memo, because “what we don’t know about WMD… is big.”

Aha! Rumsfeld was a voice for moderation on the Iraq WMD all along! He looks pretty good for bravely disclosing that, right? Not when you remember that after he received that summary, he continued to portray the evidence against Iraq as ironclad, up to and after the invasion. (“We know where [the WMD] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”)

Spencer points to similar examples relating to Afghanistan and interrogation.

But there are some fascinating documents in here. As Marc Ambinder noted yesterday, there’s Rummy’s memo to General Myers and Stephen Cambone supporting George Tenet’s recommendation that John Brennan head the Terrorist Threat Integration Center; in that position Brennan oversaw targeting for Cheney’s illegal wiretap program. But in news relevant to today, the memo also emphasizes Brennan’s experience as CIA’s Chief of Station in Cairo.

Then there’s this memo from retired General Wayne Downing to Rummy recommending some changes to Special Operations. Among other things, this memo recommends that special operations report directly to the Secretary of Defense:

To flatten the chain of command, JSOC should report directly to the SD for the immediate future. There is precedent for this new approach to the combat employment of SOF that will better position DoD for the future fight. JSOC reported directly to the CJCS prior to Goldwater-Nichols legislation and the Nunn-Cohen Amendment.

Read more

Colombia Refuses to “Look Forward”

In Colombia, apparently, you get arrested when you oversee illegal domestic wiretapping.

Colombia’s Prosecutor General ordered the arrest of Jorge Noguera, a former director of Colombia’s state intelligence agency DAS, for the his alleged involvement in the illegal spying on government opponents.

Noguera, who was director of the DAS between 2002 and 2006, is suspected of having set up the illegal activities of the DAS that included wiretapping supreme court magistrates, journalists, human rights organizations and opposition politicians.

Imagine if Michael Hayden (who oversaw the NSA when Cheney set up his illegal wiretap program) or John Brennan (who was in charge of the departments that chose whom to target with the system) got arrested for their role in the program?

Hell, imagine if Cheney himself were arrested (President Alvaro Uribe’s Chief of Staff is reportedly one target of this investigation)?

Pretty crazy, isn’t it, imagining what it would be like to live in a country with a functioning rule of law … like Colombia?

Did John Brennan Have a Role in DOJ’s Decision to Prosecute Jeffrey Sterling?

John Brennan apparently plays an interesting role in the events surrounding Jeffrey Sterling, whom DOJ indicted for allegedly leaking details of the MERLIN program to James Risen.

James Risen first wrote about Sterling–profiling his employment discrimination suit–in March 2002. In it, Risen quotes then CIA Deputy Executive Director John Brennan, denying that Sterling was dismissed because he is black.

John Brennan, the deputy executive director of the agency who met Mr. Sterling several times about his case, said there was no evidence that racial discrimination had caused his problems.

”It was an unfortunate situation,” Mr. Brennan said, ”because Jeffrey was a talented officer and had a lot of the skills we are looking for, and we wanted him to succeed.

”We were quite pleased with Jeffrey’s performance in a number of areas. Unfortunately, there were some areas of his work and development that needed some improvement.”

Now Brennan’s role in negotiating with Sterling on the discrimination claims already provides one reason why Brennan might have a personal interest in seeing DOJ renew its pursuit of Sterling.

But there’s another: to go after Risen personally.

After all, whatever role Brennan had in Sterling’s discrimination suit, there’s no reason to believe it put Brennan at legal risk.

But Risen’s other big scoop in State of War did.

As I have shown, for at least a year, John Brennan was in charge of the process that picked who Dick Cheney would wiretap in his illegal domestic surveillance program.

Brennan appears to have overseen the units that conducted the threat assessments that were a key part of the illegal program from May 2003 at least until August 2004, and possibly up until he left ODNI in December 2005, just days before the NYT broke this story.For at least a year and possibly two, John Brennan appears to have been the guy inventing “reasonable cause” to wiretap people in the United States. John Brennan was also likely the guy who put together the list of groups considered al Qaeda affiliates (including al-Haramain) that could be wiretapped.

Of particular note, Brennan was in charge of this process when, after March 11, 2004, it operated without DOJ sanction, the time when it had the least legal cover (and the time period for which al-Haramain has proof they were illegally wiretapped). John Brennan is an accessory (at least) to violating FISA and other laws prohibiting domestic surveillance (including the part of 2004’s DOD appropriation bill that prohibited data mining of Americans).

And Risen’s reporting is what has ultimately led to the (very limited) exposure of Brennan’s role in the illegal wiretapping of Americans.

Mind you, the Deputy National Security Advisor probably shouldn’t be telling DOJ whom to investigate or not–particularly not if he’s trying to retaliate for the exposure of his own illegal actions. But he seems to have been right in the mix on the White House’s involvement in DOJ’s decisions on torture.

So did DOJ pursue this case so intently–as opposed to, say, torture and illegal wiretapping–at the direction of the White House?

Did Brennan and Napolitano Have Advance Warning of the UK Arrests?

Now that I’ve fetched Mr. EW from his 48 hour trip to Philadelphia from Dublin, my entire family will be in one place for the next day or so, so don’t expect much posting from me in that period.

But I did want to point to this detail about the alleged terrorists arrested the other day in the UK: they were allegedly plotting to hit the US Embassy.

The U.S. embassy in London was a target of a group of men arrested last week in Britain and charged with conspiracy to cause explosions and preparing acts of terrorism, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.Twelve men were arrested on December 20 in what British police said were counter-terrorism raids essential to protect the public from the threat of attack.

Which brings me back to my point of the other day: the possibility that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did not know of the investigation and arrests before they happened. One possibility I suggested, for example, is that the British didn’t share details of the investigation with us because they had been burned (by Dick Cheney and Jose Rodriguez) in the past.

Only, this detail sort of extends my point. While it’s clear John Brennan and Janet Napolitano knew of the by then widely-reported arrests by the time Diane Sawyer asked James Clapper about them, had they known the US Embassy was a target (and that the news would be published in the next few days), they probably wouldn’t have claimed there was no tie between those terrorism arrests and threats to the US. Indeed, there’s some indication the entire government had no clue about that fact, given that ODNI’s statement about Clapper suggested that Clapper wasn’t immediately briefed because it didn’t appear there was a “homeland nexus.” Now maybe “homeland nexus” is a weasel way of saying we no longer consider our embassies overseas–not even the one in our closest ally’s capital–to be a target (if so, someone should tell Ahmed Ghailani’s lawyers, and all the other terrorists convicted in the US of striking US embassies overseas).

But the more likely possibility, given what Brennan, Napolitano, and Clapper have said is that the US–the entire government–was left out of the loop on this investigation. That’s certainly Britain’s prerogative. You never know when some Dick Cheney figure is going to sabotage a British investigation on them, after all.

But it does seem to be a notable data point.

Obama’s Still Obfuscating about Domestic Surveillance

Adam Serwer does a pretty thorough job debunking Obama’s lame effort to defend his civil liberties record.

When people start being concerned about, “You haven’t closed Guantánamo yet,” I say, listen, that’s something I wanted to get done by now, and I haven’t gotten done because of recalcitrance from the other side. Frankly, it’s an easy issue to demagogue. But what I have been able to do is to ban torture. I have been able to make sure that our intelligence agencies and our military operate under a core set of principles and rules that are true to our traditions of due process. People will say, “I don’t know — you’ve got your Justice Department out there that’s still using the state secrets doctrine to defend against some of these previous actions.” Well, I gave very specific instructions to the Department of Justice. What I’ve said is that we are not going to use a shroud of secrecy to excuse illegal behavior on our part. On the other hand, there are occasions where I’ve got to protect operatives in the field, their sources and their methods, because if those were revealed in open court, they could be subject to very great danger. There are going to be circumstances in which, yes, I can’t have every operation that we’re engaged in to deal with a very real terrorist threat. [my emphasis]

But I wanted to add one thing.

Obama suggests his Administration has only invoked state secrets to protect “operatives in the field.”

That’s the case only in one of the most notable state secrets invocations the Administration has made or sustained. Consider:

  • Jeppesen Dataplan
  • Al-Haramain
  • Al-Awlaki

I’ll grant that one of the things the Administration refuses to publicize about the al-Awlaki case is how they know what they know. And we know there are covert teams operating in Yemen, so it is probable that one of the things–though certainly not the only thing–they are protecting are those operatives in the field.

But in Jeppesen Dataplan, the government is protecting a publicly traded company from the backlash it would experience if its role in torture were confirmed. And it is protecting the governments that tortured on our behalf: Egypt and Morocco.

The government’s invocation of state secrets in al-Haramain has even less to do with protecting operatives in the field. In that case, the government is (again) protecting publicly traded companies from even more certain backlash from consumers. And it is protecting the details about how and the extent to which the government conducts domestic surveillance and data mining. The government is not protecting operatives in the field at all. On the contrary, the government is protecting itself from the wrath of its citizens. (He’s also protecting the prior Administration, including his current top terrorism advisor, John Brennan.)

And to hide that fact–to try to legitimize his government’s secrecy–Obama invents a largely bogus concern about men and women risking their lives overseas.

Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about that fact. After all, Obama’s flip-flop on FISA was the first big disappointment, the first promise he broke. From that point, it was clear Obama would place political considerations ahead of his stated commitment to civil liberties.

Which is, I guess, what his lame defense is all about.

The Perils of Giving John Brennan Unchecked Power

Before you read this post, go read this Glenn Greenwald one highlighting an Eli Lake interview with John Brennan. Lake reports John Brennan describing “dozens” of Americans against whom the US will bring the full brunt of its power.

“There are, in my mind, dozens of U.S. persons who are in different parts of the world, and they are very concerning to us,” said John O. Brennan, deputy White House national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism.

[snip]

“If a person is a U.S. citizen, and he is on the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq trying to attack our troops, he will face the full brunt of the U.S. military response,” Mr. Brennan said. “If an American person or citizen is in a Yemen or in a Pakistan or in Somalia or another place, and they are trying to carry out attacks against U.S. interests, they also will face the full brunt of a U.S. response. And it can take many forms.”

Glenn points out the number (we previously knew only that three Americans were targeted), the global scope of this, and the continuity Brennan claims with Bush’s counter-terrorism.

But I’d like to focus on John Brennan himself.

Brennan asserts that the Obama Administration is largely building on the Bush Administration counterterrorism policy.

“There has been a lot of continuity of effort here from the previous administration to this one,” he said. “There are some important distinctions, but sometimes there is too much made of those distinctions. We are building upon some of the good foundational work that has been done.”

Glenn notes that this assertion is all the more notable since Brennan was, after all, a top Bush counterterrorism official. Brennan is saying there’s continuity between what he did under Bush and what he’s doing now.

So let’s recall the reason John Brennan is even able to rejoin government after having worked in the Bush Administration and then profited in the Intelligence Industrial Complex for a few years: retroactive immunity.

Brennan was in charge of picking the Americans George Bush would illegally wiretap–including during the period after March 11, 2004, when Bush reauthorized the illegal wiretap program in spite of the fact that DOJ had told him there was no legal basis for it. Brennan was directly involved in illegally wiretapping Americans (though he likely did not know that the entire program was even more illegal at that point than previously). And lo and behold, about the time that Brennan assumed a significant role on candidate Obama’s team, Obama flip-flopped on retroactive immunity, pretty much ensuring that Bush’s–and Brennan’s–would never receive real scrutiny.

Would John Brennan be Obama’s Homeland Security Advisor right now if Americans knew the full extent of his role in targeting Americans for illegal wiretapping?

This is the guy, then, boasting that we’ve got not three, but dozens, of Americans against whom we intend to bring the full brunt of the US military. A guy who was previously involved (possibly unknowingly) in wiretapping Americans without the requisite legal review.

Read more

“Countering Violent Extremism”

Sorry to let the threads grow so long of late–I’ve been out weeding again, if you know what I mean.

So partly to open up another thread to discuss the many ways in which our government kills Americans and/or journalists, and partly because we’ve been talking about whether the Hutaree militia organizing 40 miles from my house to the west, or whether the Imam gunned down by the FBI 30 miles in the other direction, were terrorists, I wanted to point to a Mark Hosenball post on the jargon replacing “GWOT”:

Not long after President Obama took office, he unofficially put an end to a favorite phrase of his predecessor: the “global war on terror.” True, George W. Bush used it so much that GWOT, as it became known in Washington, had largely lost its impact. But it got the job done—and Obama had yet to find a tough, pithy replacement. Until now.

In a speech today before a conference on post-9/11 intelligence-reform efforts, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair didn’t once utter the words “global war on terror.” But at least twice he talked about the administration’s efforts at “countering violent extremism.”

[snip]

CVE has been slowly catching on among the Obama crowd. Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser, used it in testimony he gave to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month. As Benjamin explained it, “The primary goal of countering violent extremism is to stop those most at risk of radicalization from becoming terrorists. Its tools are noncoercive and include social programs, counter-ideology initiatives, and working with civil society to delegitimize the Al Qaeda narrative and, where possible, provide positive alternative narratives.” He added, “We are working hard to develop a variety of CVE programs.”

Hosenball also quotes John Brennan acknowledging that terrorism is a tactic.

It seems we’re replacing the word “terrorist,” then, with “extremist.” Preferable, in my mind, to be sure. But how will the term be used in the United States where we’ve got nutcases threatening members of Congress because they don’t like democratic votes? And will the fight against extremists merit special tactics in return, like the targeting of Americans with no due process?

John Adams and Patrick Fitzgerald

About a million of you, seeing Isikoff and Hosenball’s and Justin Elliott’s coverage of a story about Fitzgerald getting involved in an investigation of how photos of torturers ended up at Gitmo have emailed me the story in alarm. (This is a story I first covered 8 days ago.)

I’m going to attribute the alarm to the fact that neither Newsweek nor Elliott mention Bill Gertz’s much more detailed and informative story that first broke this. And to the use of phrases like “most feared,” “paparazzi,” “national controversy,” “star prosecutor,” which sensationalize the story more than it appears to merit, at least thus far.

Here’s what I think is going on:

1) DOJ has been investigating the John Adams Project since last August to find out how photographs of torturers got into the hands of detainees at Gitmo. The JAP has employed a Private Investigator to track down likely interrogators of detainees, to take pictures, get a positive ID, and once done, call those interrogators as witnesses in legal proceedings. DOJ appears concerned that JAP may have made info–learned confidentially in the course of defending these detainees–available to those detainees, and therefore violated the protective order that all defense attorneys work under. Yet JAP says they collected all the info independently, which basically means the contractors in question just got caught using bad tradecraft.

2) DOJ appears to believe no crime was committed and was preparing a report to say as much for John Brennan, who will then brief Obama on it.

3) But CIA cried foul at DOJ’s determination, claiming that because one of the lawyers involved, Donald Vieira, is a former Democratic House Intelligence staffer, he is biased.  They seem to be suggesting that Vieira got briefed on something while at HPSCI that has biased him in this case, yet according to the CIA’s own records, he was not involved in any of the more explosive briefings on torture (so the claim is probably bullshit in any case). After CIA accused Vieira of bias, he recused himself from the investigation.

4) So apparently to replace Vieira and attempt to retain some hold on DOJ’s disintegrating prosecutorial discretion, DOJ brought in Patrick Fitzgerald to pick up with the investigation. Fitz, of course, a) has impeccable national security credentials, and b) has the most experience in the country investigating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, having investigated the Torturer-in-Chief and his Chief of Staff for outing CIA spy Valerie Plame. In other words, DOJ brought in a guy whom CIA can’t bitch about, presumably to shut down this controversy, not inflame it.

Read more

The Torture Apologists Ratchet Up the Attack

You know how the Moonie Times let go almost all of its “journalists” last year? Well, apparently they haven’t let go of their CIA mouthpiece (not a surprise, I guess, since MT has always been one big disinfo campaign), Bill Gertz. And he’s out this morning suggesting (though not saying explicitly) that the CIA wants human rights lawyers trying to identify the people who interrogated their clients investigated for Intelligence Identity Protection Act violations–the crime Dick Cheney got away with when he outed Valerie Plame. (h/t MadDog)

As a reminder, detainee defense lawyers have undertaken what they call the John Adams Project–an effort to take pictures of suspected interrogators that they can show to their clients to positively ID. The hope is to call detainees’ interrogators to testify at their habeas proceedings and/or criminal trials. Of course, this information should be available to detainees in any case, but the government routinely protects it under national security classification rules.

The CIA, of course, is apoplectic that its interrogators might be tied to what they did to these detainees. So, in a brief to longtime CIA guy and now top Homeland Security advisor to Obama, John Brennan, they appear to be trying to suggest the John Adams project be investigated for IIPA violations. And because one of the DOJ staffers is a former House Intelligence Committee staffer (but not, according to the CIA, one of the guys briefed during the most secretive torture briefings), and because the torture apologists are already conducting a witch hunt of those at DOJ they say are al Qaeda sympathizers, Vieira has recused himself and DOJ has apparently brought in Patrick Fitzgerald Read more