“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.”


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

Kit Bond's Politico Projections

Before Kit Bond went on MSNBC this morning to call for John Brennan’s resignation, he planted the same attack in what was one of the most ridiculous Politico articles I’ve seen since its last Dick Cheney blowjob.

For example, you know the rule that says anonymous sources often appear, giving on-the-record quotes, elsewhere in the same article? This article, entirely focused on Kit Bond’s baseless attack against Brennan (though mentioning that Crazy Pete Hoekstra also made baseless accusations against Brennan) ends with this:

“There is tension between the intelligence community and Brennan,” a Republican member of Congress who has long worked on intelligence issues told POLITICO. “They just feel that he is trying to micromanage, and also playing somewhat of a political role.”

Hmm. “Republican member of Congress who has long worked on intelligence issues” would be a prominent intelligence committee member. Such as Crazy Pete. Or … Kit Bond! Way to hide your tracks Bond, um, Kit Bond.

Then there’s this line, in which Bond tries to associate Brennan with Rahm.

Others with ties to the intelligence community think Brennan—who works in closer proximity to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel than any other intelligence official—is behind the push to fight back against political attacks on White House counterterrorism policy.

But here’s the fundamental problem with Kit Bond’s attack. As the article even notes (though doesn’t explain, but then it’s Politico), Brennan is pushing back against baseless politicized attacks on no-nonsense policies. Those baseless attacks were coming from … Kit Bond!!!
So essentially, the Politico has granted Kit Bond anonymity and an otherwise unobstructed soap box to wail that John Brennan pointed out that Bond’s–and other Republicans’–attacks were completely nonsensical given the briefings they received, not to mention the rule of law.

And Now They're Disclaiming Responsibility for their Briefings

Surprise, surprise. Just days after Crazy Pete Hoekstra did what Crazy Pete Hoekstra attacked Nancy Pelosi for last year–accused the CIA of lying–he’s now caught in another position he has criticized Pelosi for–not objecting in a briefing to an Administration policy he subsequently claimed to be vehemently opposed to. On Meet the Press this morning, John Brennan revealed that he briefed the Republican members of the Gang of Eight about the treatment of underwear bomber Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab (this is already an improvement on Bush policy, since they usually only briefed the Gang of Four). And they didn’t raise any objections to the planned treatment of him.

The Obama administration briefed four senior Republican congressional leaders on Christmas about the attempted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound flight.

White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) did not raise any objections to bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab being held in FBI custody.

“They knew that in FBI custody there is a process that you follow. None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at this point,” Brennan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They were very appreciative of the information.”

The Republicans are, predictably, claiming they didn’t know that normal FBI procedure includes mirandizing suspects, claiming that it wasn’t a real briefing–anything to sustain their efforts to politicize national security.

Meanwhile, I’m not holding my breath waiting for the press to call these Republicans on their excuses about the briefing or, more importantly, on their raging hypocrisy. After all, last year the press was able to sustain itself for several months over Crazy Pete’s attack on Nancy Pelosi for this (even while Crazy Pete’s attack was factually wrong). But somehow they seem to lose interest when someone like Crazy Pete gets exposed, for the second time in a week, as a raging hypocrite.

Where Will Brennan Land in Rahm v. DOJ Spat?

As Jason notes, David Axelrod has already taped a CSPAN response to Jane Mayer’s piece on Rahm’s spat about distractions like “the law” and “human rights” with Eric Holder and Greg Craig. In it, Axe appears to try to distance the White House from the decisions that have been attacked in the last few weeks, particularly the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York.

David Axelrod did not dispute that a rift had emerged between the White House and the Justice Department over the 9/11 case, which has recently become a political sore spot for the administration.Despite a rising tide of opposition to having a trial in Manhattan, which has sent the administration scrambling to find another location, Axelrod said it was not a mistake for Holder to announce the trial would be held there. But Axelrod did not defend it — or portray it in any way as a decision that came from the White House. “The attorney general was responding under the protocol that was developed between the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense for the prosecution of terrorists,” Axelrod said in an interview for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” series set to air on Sunday.

Acknowledging White House resistance to the Justice Department decisions, Axelrod continued: “Rahm has a perspective that’s different. He’s the chief of staff. He looks at things from a legislative perspective, he looks at things from other perspectives.”

Side note: Responsible journalism would dictate that Anne Kornblut avoid the metonymy of “White House” here, as it obscures whether this is just Axe and Rahm working the press as they do, or Obama as well. After all, if Obama has decided to give Holder autonomy on this decision, he has, in fact, supported such a decision, or should have. But therein may be the real root of White House dysfunction on this issue.

So Rahm and Axe are out there declaring that the decision to try KSM in a civilian trial in NY belongs entirely to DOJ and DOD, which Axe appears to portray as somehow divorced from the authority and will of the White House (and therefore, from Obama). In the likelihood that the trial will be moved to some other venue altogether, then, Axe and Rahm can continue to make Holder the scapegoat. Heck, they may even be trying to force Holder out like they have forced Craig out.

But what’s going to happen when the White House strongly owns its decisions on the handling of the Underwear Bomber? They’ve got John Brennan on Meet the Press tomorrow to defend the Administration’s decisions on his treatment. As Mark Ambinder tweets,

Admin puts Brennan on Sunday shows to defend Abdulmuttalab’s handling. He is steaming mad about the CW.

Whatever my complaints with Brennan, he does come off as less of a backroom bumbler than Rahm and Axe of late. And he plans to go on TV and rebut the conventional wisdom about the decision to mirandize Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and try him in civilian court.

In other words, Brennan will be making the same defense of civilian law as Eric Holder has. Maybe, in the process, he’ll explain how Abdulmutallab’s testimony has already led the White House to put Anwar al-Awlaki on a kill list, just to look tough in the process!

So it seems that as Rahm and Axe try to set up and scapegoat Holder, one of the grownups is about to go on TV and own not the KSM decision, but certainly the decision to sustain our system of civilian law.

Obama Appoints Fox To Evaluate Terror Watchlist Henhouse

fox-and-chicken-richardson-300x288Barack Obama, doing his best to make Dick Cheney’s questions about leadership look rational, has assigned John Brennan to conduct the Administration’s ballyhooed investigation into the claimed failure of the terrorist watchlist program in the Christmas Fruit Of The Loom Bomber incident.

What’s wrong with this picture? Throw a dart in any direction and you will find something.Politico gives the unsettling details:

President Barack Obama promised a “thorough review” of the government’s terrorist watch-list system after a Nigerian man reported to US government officials by his father to have radicalized and gone missing last month was allowed to board a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit that he later tried to blow up without any additional security screening.

Yet the individual Obama has chosen to lead the review, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, served for 25 years in the CIA, helped design the current watch-list system and served as interim director of the National Counterterrorism Center, whose role is under review.

In the three years before joining the Obama administration, Brennan was president and CEO of The Analysis Corporation, an intelligence contracting firm that worked closely with the National Counterterrorism Center and other US government intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security agencies on developing terrorism watch-lists.

“Each and every day, TAC makes important contributions in the counterterrorism (CT) and national security realm by supporting national watchlisting activities as well as other CT requirements,” the company’s Web site states.

According to financial disclosures forms released by the White House, Brennan served as president and CEO of TAC from November 2005 until January 2009, when Obama named him to the White House terrorism and homeland security job. The disclosures show that Brennan reported earning a $783,000 annual salary from the Analysis Corporation in 2008. ….

One former senior intelligence official told POLITICO it is “unsavory to see Obama put Brennan in charge of a review of this matter since it is possible that NCTC or TAC could have failed in their responsibilities.”

Oy. “Unsavory”? Ya think? This is akin to a law school final exam where you try to identify all the conflicts of interest in the given situation. But there is not enough time to hit them all. Do not fret, the crack White House ethics team has looked at Brennan and determined Read more

Hasan and War Crimes and Congressional Briefings

At first, I didn’t make too much over this report that Nidal Hasan may have gone on a killing spree because his requests that his patients be investigated for war crimes was denied.

Fort Hood massacre suspect Nidal Malik Hasan sought to have some of his patients prosecuted for war crimes based on statements they made during psychiatric sessions with him, a captain who served on the base said Monday.

Other psychiatrists complained to superiors that Hasan’s actions violated doctor-patient confidentiality, Capt. Shannon Meehan told The Dallas Morning News.


It wasn’t clear Monday what information Hasan received from patients and what became of his requests for prosecution. ABC News, citing anonymous sources, reported that his superiors rejected the requests, and that investigators suspect this triggered the shootings.

But then I got interested that the same article reported that the Senate Armed Services Committee briefing on the killing was postponed yesterday.

That’s because the House Intelligence Committee has just given Chair Silvestre Reyes’ explanation for the postponement.

Due to the high visibility of the issues surrounding the tragic event at Fort Hood, the President has instructed the National Security Council to assume control of all informational briefings. The NSC has directed that the leadership, as well as the chairmen and ranking minority members of the relevant congressional committees receive briefings first.

I have been told that the Director of National Intelligence is still committed to providing the full membership a briefing on the activities within the jurisdiction of this Committee. I believe that this will occur, and I will push to schedule a briefing before the end of this week. [my emphasis]

As Spencer reported last week, John Brennan got put in charge of reviewing what the IC knew of Hasan last week.

On November 6, 2009, I directed that an immediate inventory be conducted of all intelligence in U.S. Government files that existed prior to November 6, 2009, relevant to the tragic shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, especially anything having to do with the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, U.S. Army. In addition, I directed an immediate review be initiated to determine how any such intelligence was handled, shared, and acted upon within individual departments and agencies and what intelligence was shared with others. This inventory and review shall be conducted in a manner that does not interfere with the ongoing criminal investigations of the Fort Hood shooting.

The results of this inventory and review, as well as any recommendations for improvements to procedures and practices, shall be provided to John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, who will serve as the principal point of contact on this matter for the White House. Preliminary results of this review shall be provided by November 30, 2009.

But back when Obama made that decision, it did not object to the many briefings scheduled. Only now it’s NSC–presumably Brennan–dictating what briefings the various committees will get, and making the decision to postpone the general committee briefings.

The NSC has just basically made this a Gang of Eight type of briefing (though they seem to be including other Chairs besides Intelligence)–if only for the moment. It may be they’re hiding more extensive known ties to al Qaeda than has been reported (by everyone except Crazy Pete Hoekstra). Or it may be they’re trying to keep something else quiet.

Announcing National Use Zazi to Gain New Surveillance Powers Day!

The last line of this article on how the Najibullah Zazi arrest was a victory for the Obama Administration’s approach to terrorism boasts that the Administration didn’t have a John Ashcroft-style press conference on the day of the arrest.

With Zazi’s arrest, administration officials said they had a renewed sense of confidence that they could approach security threats in a new way. "The system probably worked the way it did before, but we made a conscious decision not to have a big press conference" about Zazi’s arrest, a senior official said. 

Which is pretty hysterical, coming as it does in one article of several that are obviously similarly seeded, boasting of Obama’s new approach to terrorism. There are several aspects to this apparent PR blitz. Articles providing details (though none as detailed as the NPR story over the weekend) explaining how the CIA learned of Zazi and shared info with the FBI. Articles discussing the address by Eric Holder, Janet Napolitano, and Robert Mueller yesterday, lauding information sharing. All of which will lead into coverage of Obama’s address to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, scheduled for today at 11:40.

We didn’t have a press conference when we arrested Zazi, the WaPo’s source (who could be Rahm or John Brennan) seems to be saying, but we’re sure as hell going to have a media blitz about it when it serves our purposes.

What’s especially nice about this WaPo piece, though, is it makes the goal of the media blitz explicit, tying it to the discussion of the PATRIOT Act.

At the same time, the Obama administration is pressing Congress to move swiftly to reauthorize three provisions of the USA Patriot Act set to expire in late December. They include the use of "roving wiretaps" to track movement, e-mail and phone communications, a tool that federal officials used in the weeks leading up to Zazi’s arrest.

With the apprehension of Zazi, as well as several other covert operations at home and abroad, the Obama administration is increasingly confident that it has struck a balance between protecting civil liberties, honoring international law and safeguarding the country.

Note, however, that the WaPo focuses on one of the least controversial of the practices, roving wiretaps. Read more

The Total Nail Polish Remover Awareness Program, Brought to You by the Democratic Party

tia.pngI wanted to pull together the discussion in Thursday’s PATRIOT Act Hearing regarding the use of authorities within it–particularly Section 215–in existing investigations. DiFi initiates this discussion by referring to the "biggest investigation we’ve had since 9/11" (note, contrary to my earlier post, this reference is only implicitly related to the Zazi arrest.

DiFi (47:00): My concern was that nothing we do here interfere adversely with an investigation that’s going ongoing. I happen to believe that the biggest investigation we’ve had since 9/11 is currently ongoing and do not want to do anything to disturb it. Second, I believe that finally, the intelligence in the transformation or transfiguration of the FBI is now taking hold and that we are developing an intelligence mechanism within the country that is now able to ferret out some of these proposed attacks before they might happen. And I think the arrest of Mr. Zazi is demonstration of that. It is not ended and the investigation continues on. I also believe that we continue to face the very real threat of international terrorism. There are people who would hurt us grievously if they have an opportunity to do so, so again, I think it’s vital that we not take any action, especially at this time that would hinder the government’s ability to detect, investigate, and prosecute those who are intent on killing innocent Americans. 

Note, too, DiFi’s reference to the "transfiguration" of FBI finally in place–is she suggesting that for the first time the FBI has used Total Information Awareness to support  terrorist busts?

Later, during the discussion of Durbin’s attempt to limit the use of 215 to those with some discernible tie to a terrorist suspect, DiFi claims that such changes would end several investigations.

DiFi (101:31): Secondly, the FBI does not support this amendment. And thirdly, in putting forward this higher standard, it would end several classified and critical investigations. This was one of the amendments that I submitted to you and you were gracious enough to accept it. Senator Sessions is correct. These are authorized investigations and it’s a use of the National Security Letter in an authorized investigation. So, as I said, a standard for me is that this not interfere in existing investigations, and in fact it would. 

Understand the implications of that comment. Read more