Lots of Senior Officials Spilling State Secrets Today

Last year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the following:

I am asserting privilege over classified intelligence information, assessments, and analysis prepared, obtained, or under the control of any entity within the U.S. Intelligence Community concerning al-Qaeda, AQAP or Anwar al-Aulaqi that may be implicated by [Awlaki’s father’s attempt to sue for information about why Awlaki was on the CIA’s assassination list]. This includes information that relates to the terrorist threat posed by Anwar al-Aulaqi, including information related to whether this threat may be “concrete,” “specific,” or “imminent.”

Then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the following:

DOD cannot reveal to a foreign terrorist organization or its leaders what it knows about their activities and how it obtained that information.


The disclosure of any operational information concerning actions U.S. armed forces have or may plan to take against a terrorist organization overseas would risk serious harm to national security and foreign relations. Official confirmation or denial of any operations could tend to reveal information concerning operational capabilities that could be used by adversaries to evade or counter any future strikes.


Finally, as discussed below, public confirmation or denial of either prior or planned operations could seriously harm U.S. foreign relations.


The disclosure of information concerning cooperation between the United States and a foreign state, and specifically regarding any possible military operations in that foreign country, could lead to serious harm to national security, including by disrupting any confidential relations with a foreign government. [my emphasis]

Then CIA Director and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the following:

I am invoking the [state secrets] privilege over any information, if it exists, that would tend to confirm or deny any allegations in the Complaint [about CIA targeting Awlaki for assassination] pertaining to the CIA.

Yet in spite of the fact that these top government officials swore to a judge that revealing operational details about the CIA’s assassination operations, US counterterrorist cooperation with Yemen, and confirmation of prior or planned military operations would harm foreign relations and national security, we’re seeing details like this in reporting on Anwar al-Awlaki’s death:

An American-born cleric killed in Yemen played a “significant operational role” in plotting and inspiring attacks on the United States, U.S. officials said Friday, as they disclosed detailed intelligence to justify the killing of a U.S. citizen.

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical Islamic preacher who rose to the highest level of al Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen, was killed in a CIA-directed strike upon his convoy, carried out with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command’s firepower, according to a counterterrorist official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.


Four individuals were killed in Friday’s attack, according to U.S. officials.


Al-Awlaki had been under observation for three weeks while they waited for the right opportunity to strike, one U.S. official said.


U.S. counterterrorism officials said that counterterrorism cooperation between the U.S. and Yemen has improved in recent weeks, allowing the U.S. to gather better intelligence on al-Awlaki’s movements. The ability to better track him was a key factor the successful strike, U.S. officials said.

Or details like this, including John Brennan’s comments on the record:

Fox News has learned that two Predator drones hovering above al-Awlaki’s convoy fired the Hellfire missiles which killed the terror leader. According to a senior U.S. official, the operation was carried out by Joint Special Operations Command, under the direction of the CIA.


But American sources confirmed the CIA and U.S. military were behind the strike on al-Awlaki, whom one official described as a “big fish.”

The strike hit a vehicle with three or four suspected Al Qaeda members inside, in addition to al-Awlaki. According to a U.S. senior official, the other American militant killed in the strike was Samir Khan, the co-editor of an English-language Al Qaeda web magazine called “Inspire.”


Top U.S. counter terrorism adviser John Brennan says such cooperation with Yemen has improved since the political unrest there. Brennan said the Yemenis have been more willing to share information about the location of Al Qaeda targets, as a way to fight the Yemeni branch challenging them for power. Other U.S. officials say the Yemenis have also allowed the U.S. to fly more armed drone and aircraft missions over its territory than ever previously, trying to use U.S. military power to stay in power. [my emphasis]

Judge Bates, if I were you, I’d haul Clapper, Gates, and Panetta into your courtroom to find out whether they lied their ass off to you last year so as to deprive a US citizen of due process, and if they didn’t, then how long it will be until John Brennan and some other counterterrorism officials get charged with Espionage.

John Brennan, the Intelligence Community’s One Man Justice Department

Matt Apuzzo has a story describing three different responses to growing concerns about the CIA-on-the-Hudson.

There’s Rush Holt, who unfortunately is no longer on the House Intelligence Committee and therefore has limited ability to look into this:

“I believe that these serious and significant allegations warrant an immediate investigation,” Holt wrote.


Holt, who previously served on the House Intelligence Committee, said he never remembers being told about the CIA partnership or the programs the NYPD was running.


Holt asked for a special prosecutor because he wanted both the civil rights issues and the NYPD-CIA collaboration to be investigated, his office said.

So Holt, who suggests he should have been informed of the NYPD spook program but wasn’t, suggests one means of oversight never happened.

There’s Mike Bloomberg, who has been Mayor for almost the entire post-9/11 period and therefore ought to have exercised some oversight over this program:

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked Thursday about the CIA’s investigation and whether he thought the partnership violated any laws.

“How would I know?” Bloomberg replied. “They’re doing an investigation. That’s what — if I knew, I’d be happy to tell them. But my guess is no.”

Surprisingly, Bloomberg hasn’t thought of consulting one of NY’s own lawyers, or one of the thousands of lawyers inhabiting NY, to find out whether the partnership was legal. A smart guy like Mayor Mike and he claims not to even know how he might find out if the program were legal. Rather than finding out, though, he’s just gonna guess.

And then, finally, there’s John Brennan, the guy who apparently did the targeting for Cheney’s illegal wiretap program and also was personally involved in one of the whistleblower cases the Obama Justice Department is prosecuting, who cites his intimate knowledge of the program as his basis for being sure there’s no problem.

President Barack Obama’s homeland security adviser, John Brennan, who was the deputy executive director the CIA when the NYPD intelligence programs began, said he was intimately familiar with the CIA-NYPD partnership. He said that agency knew what the rules were and did not cross any lines.

Call me crazy. But I think there’s a third reason to support Holt’s call for an independent prosecutor. Not only is Obama’s DOJ personally involved, but his top Homeland Security advisor was involved in this mess, too. Given the White House’s past involvement in shutting down DOJ investigations pertaining to the Brennan-era CIA, I’d say we need someone free of that chain of authority.

John Brennan: Immunizing the Truth

The first time I read Nicholas Schmidle’s breathtaking account of Osama bin Laden’s killing, I gave up when I got to this passage:

John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told me that the President’s advisers began an “interrogation of the data, to see if, by that interrogation, you’re going to disprove the theory that bin Laden was there.” The C.I.A. intensified its intelligence-collection efforts, and, according to a recent report in the Guardian, a physician working for the agency conducted an immunization drive in Abbottabad, in the hope of acquiring DNA samples from bin Laden’s children. (No one in the compound ultimately received any immunizations.)

The article, which alternated between incredibly detailed accounts of the SEALs’ actions with more generalized depictions of Obama’s leadership, seemed designed to puff up the operation anyway. And while I’m not at all qualified to fact check the military details of it, the fact that Schmidle cited the Guardian–and not any of his own sources–for the most criticized aspect of the raid tells you a lot about the agenda of his sources. Furthermore, the fact that the Guardian provided slightly different details about the outcome of the immunization operation than Schmidle …

A nurse known as Bakhto, whose full name is Mukhtar Bibi, managed to gain entry to the Bin Laden compound to administer the vaccines. According to several sources, the doctor, who waited outside, told her to take in a handbag that was fitted with an electronic device. It is not clear what the device was, or whether she left it behind. It is also not known whether the CIA managed to obtain any Bin Laden DNA, although one source suggested the operation did not succeed.

… may indicate yet another level of manipulation on this detail of the raid.

Since that first reading, a number of people who are qualified to fact check the military details have suggested it was a nice propaganda piece. But they all remained mum about how they could tell.

Which is why I found this article, which describes Schmidle’s efforts to avoid questions about his sourcing, instructive. Among other things, it explains that Schmidle has made linguistic mistakes when covering Pakistan in the past, and suggests he might have limited linguistic understanding here, too.

He even describes how the translator Ahmed hollered in Pashto at the locals that a security operation was ongoing to allay their suspicions about the nature of the cacophony in the cantonment town. (This detail caught my eye as the majority of persons in Abbottabad, where the raid took place, speak Hindko rather than Pashto.)

While this piece doesn’t tell us what details are false, it emphasizes that Schmidle did not source the article where it appears to be sourced, to the SEALs who took part in the operation.

Now, I’m not surprised folks within the Obama Administration are leaking such heroic versions of the OBL raid. But in the context of the Administration’s war on leaks, it deserves more discussion. For example, I find it telling that a “counterterrorism official” repeatedly refutes the events presented from the perspective of the SEALs that–we know–Schmidle isn’t reporting directly.

After blasting through the gate with C-4 charges, three SEALs marched up the stairs. Midway up, they saw bin Laden’s twenty-three-year-old son, Khalid, craning his neck around the corner. He then appeared at the top of the staircase with an AK-47. Khalid, who wore a white T-shirt with an overstretched neckline and had short hair and a clipped beard, fired down at the Americans. (The counterterrorism official claims that Khalid was unarmed, though still a threat worth taking seriously. “You have an adult male, late at night, in the dark, coming down the stairs at you in an Al Qaeda house—your assumption is that you’re encountering a hostile.”)


Three SEALs shuttled past Khalid’s body and blew open another metal cage, which obstructed the staircase leading to the third floor. Bounding up the unlit stairs, they scanned the railed landing. On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft. (The counterterrorism official asserts that the SEAL first saw bin Laden on the landing, and fired but missed.)

These are, after all, some of the details that raise legal questions about the raid (and which John Brennan botched in the days immediately following the raid). And by presenting this story falsely as if Schmidle spoke directly to the SEALs, it allows whatever Administration official who gave it to him the ability to both admit that SEALs fired at unarmed men while providing a Hollywood version that glosses over that part. From a narrative perspective, it’s worthy of a popular novelist.

Finally, though, the whole thing raises questions about who leaked this, presumably with Obama’s explicit or implicit permission.

Here’s a list of the named sources Schmidle relies on, in rough order of appearance:

Shuja Nawaz, an expert on the Pakistani Army

John Radsan, a former assistant general counsel at the C.I.A.

General James Cartwright

John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser



Ben Rhodes, the deputy national-security adviser

And here’s a list of the anonymous sources:

Senior defense and Administration officials

special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid

A senior counterterrorism official

a senior Defense Department official

a Pakistani senior military official

a senior adviser to the President

the special-operations officer

the special-operations officer

the counterterrorism official

The counterterrorism official

the special-operations officer

A former helicopter pilot with extensive special-operations experience

the special-operations officer

The senior adviser to the President

the senior Defense Department official

the special-operations officer

the special-operations officer

the special-operations officer

the special-operations officer

the special-operations officer

the special-operations officer

The senior adviser to the President

In other words, this story relies almost entirely on four sources: the special-operations officer, the senior counterterrorism official, the senior Defense Department official, and the senior adviser to the President. And among the named sources in the article are Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, General James Cartwright, and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. (Former helicopter pilot and assistant commander of JSOC, Brigadier General Marshall Webb, figures prominently in the narrative, though is not quoted by name.)

And Brennan and Rhodes were reported by Schmidle to be present at some of the key low attendance events described here, such as the meeting at which Obama announced his decision to go with a SEALs operation, and the meeting at which the SEALs briefed Obama after the mission. Which is all the more telling, given that Schmidle attributed his story’s sourcing to the SEALs recollections.

…some of their recollections—on which this account is based—may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute.

In other words, it seems likely that Brennan and Rhodes serve as both anonymous and named sources for this story.

John Brennan had a direct role in Jeffrey Sterling’s battles with the CIA. Sterling is now being tried for allegedly leaking information equivalent to the information included in this story. Mind you, if Brennan leaked these details, he no doubt did so under the Insta-Declassification schtick that Scooter Libby used when he leaked Valerie Plame’s identity and the contents of the Iraq NIE. If the President okays leaks, they’re legal in this day and age; otherwise, they deserve the harshest punishment.

Still, this story is so thinly-veiled an Administration puff piece, it ought to attract as much attention for the sheer hypocrisy about secrecy it demonstrates as it will for the heroism such hypocrisy attempts to portray.

Update: Here’s the reason I focused on Webb (shown typing on his computer above) as the “special-forces official.”

Brigadier General Marshall Webb, an assistant commander of JSOC, took a seat at the end of a lacquered table in a small adjoining office and turned on his laptop. He opened multiple chat windows that kept him, and the White House, connected with the other command teams. The office where Webb sat had the only video feed in the White House showing real-time footage of the target, which was being shot by an unarmed RQ 170 drone flying more than fifteen thousand feet above Abbottabad. The JSOC planners, determined to keep the operation as secret as possible, had decided against using additional fighters or bombers. “It just wasn’t worth it,” the special-operations officer told me. The SEALs were on their own.

Obama returned to the White House at two o’clock, after playing nine holes of golf at Andrews Air Force Base. The Black Hawks departed from Jalalabad thirty minutes later. Just before four o’clock, Panetta announced to the group in the Situation Room that the helicopters were approaching Abbottabad. Obama stood up. “I need to watch this,” he said, stepping across the hall into the small office and taking a seat alongside Webb. Vice-President Joseph Biden, Secretary Gates, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed him, as did anyone else who could fit into the office. On the office’s modestly sized LCD screen, helo one—grainy and black-and-white—appeared above the compound, then promptly ran into trouble. [my emphasis]

First, this passage describes Webb alone in the office that ultimately filled up. Sure, others must have known he was there, alone in the office, but it is a detail that no other people were present for.

More tellingly, why include the detail that Obama took a seat alongside Webb? It’s a detail that Schmidle could get from the photo–so it’s not a question of how Schmidle learned the detail. Rather, it’s a question of who would care (and who would orient the President’s actions from Webb’s perspective, rather than orienting Obama’s position in the room generally). In a way, it feels like one of those renaissance paintings that includes an image of the patron in the corner of the frame, just to make sure the viewer knows who sponsored the whole thing.

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.


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.


“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.

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