The Tortured Intra-Administration Squabble Continues

The NYT has another story mapping the tensions within the White House over the torture issue (though this one, which cites Rahm directly, primarily portrays him–implausibly–as the neutral broker), this one focusing on the Holder-Panetta drama. The most interesting passage in the story, though, is this one.

At the time, Mr. Panetta felt besieged on several fronts. Mr. Blair, the intelligence director, was pushing to appoint the senior intelligence officials in each country overseas, a traditional prerogative of the C.I.A.

And other administration officials complained when the C.I.A. sent documents about the detention program to the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving the White House time to consider whether there were any executive privilege issues.

The interagency debate grew heated enough that Mr. Emanuel summoned Mr. Panetta, Mr. Blair and other officials to the White House to set down rules for what should be provided to Congress. Mr. Panetta complained that he was being chastised for excessive openness after being criticized for excessive secrecy when he pushed to withhold details from the interrogation memos.

The various issues raised by the Bush-era interrogation and detention policies have caused other tensions within the Obama team. Mr. Emanuel and others have concluded that the White House mishandled the planning for the closing of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Set aside the Blair-Panetta tension over Chiefs of Station here for the moment, which structurally in this passage is just a feint. While I’m sure the Blair-Panetta squabble over Chiefs of Station came up at the meeting, the passage focuses more closely on what CIA gave to SSCI–presumably for its extensive investigation into the torture program. This dispute was reported–as an intra-CIA squabble–back in May. And back then, Mark Hosenball reported that Panetta wanted to give full cables to SSCI, but instead compromised on giving them redacted cables.

Panetta’s instinct was to give Congress what it wanted. But undercover officers warned him that this would break with standard practice, and veteran spies worried that it would chill brainstorming between field agents and their controllers. Aiming to compromise, Panetta signaled to Congress that the CIA would turn over only redacted documents—and that it would take a long time to vet as many as 10 million pages of cable traffic.

Congressional investigators aren’t backing down, however, insisting on all of the material without deletions, including names of personnel who participated in harsh questioning, and holding subpoenas in reserve. 

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Bush’s Info Sharing Memo and the Warrantless Wiretap Revelations

Okay, this is going to be a bit weedy, but bear with me.

In the wake of the recent domestic spying revelations and the news that the NCTC center–and current Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan–were key players in Bush’s illegal spying program, I’ve been reading the October 2007 National Information Sharing Strategy.

And I couldn’t help but notice that the day Risen and Lichtblau first exposed the domestic wiretap program, Bush issued a Memorandum to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies setting up a framework for information sharing.

On December 16, 2005, in accordance with section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the President issued a Memorandum to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies prescribing the guidelines and requirements in support of the creation and implementation of the [Information Sharing Environment]. In the December Memorandum, the President directed that the ISE be established by building upon “existing Federal Government policies, standards, procedures, programs, systems, and architectures (collectively “resources”) used for the sharing and integration of and access to terrorism-related information, and … leverage those resources to the maximum extent practicable, with the objective of establishing a decentralized, comprehensive, and coordinated environment for the sharing and integration of such information.” [my emphasis]

Now, the memo–and the creation of ISE itself–is not suspicious. As noted, it was required by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act of 2004. It’s the timing I find curious.

If I read section 1016 correctly, it requires the President to start pushing agency heads to share information 270 days after passage of the law–or roughly September 13, 2005. 

(d) Guidelines and Requirements.–As soon as possible, but in no event later than 270 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall–


(3) require the heads of Federal departments and agencies to promote a culture of information sharing by–

(A) reducing disincentives to information sharing, including over-classification of information and unnecessary requirements for originator approval, consistent with applicable laws and regulations; and

(B) providing affirmative incentives for information sharing.

Now, perhaps Bush fulfilled this requirement with EO 13388, signed on October 25, 2005. But the language in Bush’s own Information Sharing Strategy–with its explicit invocation of section 1016–seems to suggest this Memo fulfilled that requirement. Only he sent it three months late. And, coinkydink of all coinkydinks, he sent it just as it became known that he was spying on Americans.

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John Brennan Gives Gonzales-Like Answer on Illegal Surveillance Program

Or perhaps worse than Alberto Gonzales.

At John Brennan’s speech today, Spencer asked a question I’ve been hoping to have clarified since the IG Report revealed that two departments Brennan managed were in charge of targeting for Bush’s illegal surveillance program.

So today I asked Brennan: in light of the IGs report, what was his role, if any, in the domestic surveillance activities of the Bush administration? Here’s his answer, in full:

I fulfilled all my responsibilities at NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] that I was asked to fulfill. And there are a number of different programs, some of which have come out in the press, some of which have not. Some of the things that have come out in the press have been inaccurate in terms of the representations there. And when I look back in terms of my service at the NCTC and those places I believe I fulfilled those responsibilities to the best of my abilities.

These issues related to the so-called domestic surveillance programs and other things — one of the things I mentioned, there’s a lot of hyperbole and misrepresentations about what actually happened. And a lot of times people go down certain roads believing reports as facts. And that’s not the case. So I’m not going to go into sort of what my role was in that instance because a lot of those activities are still considered classified and not in the public domain, irrespective of what the press reports might be out there.

Brennan is either conflating unspecified inaccurate press reports with the inspectors general report or he’s challenging the inspectors general report itself.

Brennan seems to be doing two things. First, he’s using the same tactic adopted by Gonzales when he dodged questions about Bush’s illegal spying program by playing semantics about whether there was one program or many. Gonzales claimed there was no disagreement about the program by segmenting off the actual wiretapping of targets from the data mining which–the IG Report seems to confirm–was the key issue in the dispute. By claiming the Terrorist Surveillance Program was distinct from the data mining, then, Gonzales got away with claiming under oath that there had been no dispute.

Here, Brennan is suggesting either that the aspects of the program that have come out in the press aren’t the aspects he was involved in, or that the reporting on it has been inaccurate. Or rather, "either" … "and/or." Read more

On PDB Day, a New Direction against Terrorism? John Brennan’s Coming Out Party?

Eight years ago, our President was on vacation, ignoring a Presidential Daily Brief that warned, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." The brush on a pig farm in Texas, you see, was far more  important.

And here we are now, six whole days in to August, and Obama’s just got one week planned on Martha’s Vineyard. How will the brush get cleared? How will the PDBs get ignored?

Obama has chosen today, PDB day, for John Brennan’s coming out party, where Brennan will present Obama’s new direction in counterterrorism. (Spencer will be liveblogging from the talk at the Windy).

There are parts of today’s speech that are welcome. This is a reiteration of Obama’s March renunciation of the War on Terror.

"This is not a ‘war on terror.’ . . . We cannot let the terror prism guide how we’re going to interact and be involved in different parts of the world." 

It’s an embrace of soft power–a real engagement with the rest of the world. (Mind you, Bush tried it, but sent Karen Hughes to do the job.)

Washington must couple the military strikes that have depleted al-Qaeda’s middle ranks with more sustained use of economic, diplomatic and cultural levers to diminish Islamist radicalization, he said, exercising "soft power" in ways that President George W. Bush came to embrace but had trouble carrying out.

 But it also seems to represent the ascendancy of John Brennan, Obama’s holdover from Bush’s War on Terror team.

"His portfolio is growing, not shrinking," said Mark Lippert, a longtime Obama foreign policy aide and now chief of staff for the National Security Council, which is run by Brennan’s boss, national security adviser James L. Jones. Brennan’s role spans terrorism, cybersecurity, swine flu and some intelligence matters. "He has the president’s trust. . . . Folks from all parts of the policy and intelligence community respect him," Lippert said. 

I’m sure John Brennan is very knowledgable and all. But he was also, apparently, intimately involved in the illegal activities of the Bush Administration, particularly Bush’s domestic surveillance program

So soft power is all well and good–provided we make a more competent attempt at it than Karen Hughes was able to muster. But will it move beyond the abuse of power Brennan was involved in under Bush?

Spencer has an appropriately skeptical look at this at the Windy:

… it’s on Brennan to explain how this approach is Read more

John Brennan, The Terrorist Threat Integration Center, and Main Core

In my last post, I pointed out that John Brennan almost certainly had a role overseeing the threat assessment used for George Bush’s illegal surveillance program, for at least a year and possibly two. He probably did so, I explained, in his role as Director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the Interim Director of the National CounterTerrorism Center.

That’s troublesome not just because one of Obama’s closest national security advisors is complicit with this illegal program. But also because it means the entity doing the Terrorist Watch List has been intimately involved in deciding whom to wiretap.

Here’s WhoRunsGov’s description of what Brennan did at TTIC and NCTC:

In 2004, he accepted a job at the National Counter-Terrorism Center, where he revamped the government’s monitoring of terrorist activity by incorporating information from across agencies. He also increased the number of analysts and compiled one of the most comprehensive reports on terrorism across the world. “We want to make sure that we are looking at it [terrorism] openly and as exhaustively as possible,” Brennan said in 2004. He also created the terrorist watch list, which contains names and data on thousands of suspected terrorists and is accessible to law enforcement officials, during his tenure.

And here’s part of a Frontline interview with Brennan.

… You were involved in creating the terrorist watch list through the NCTC, right? … Does it work?

It works, I think, very well. There [are] still improvements that need to be made. But prior to about two years ago or so in 2004, there were over a dozen databases in about nine different federal departments and agencies that were part of the watch-listing system. It was dysfunctional because they were not interconnected.

No organization, no architect[ure].

Right. And now there is an architecture that’s in place, and the National Counterterrorism Center feeds information to the FBI-administered Terrorist Screening Center [TSC] so that airports and ports of entry and local police have access to the master watch list of all individuals who are known or suspected to be transnational terrorists.

They can call in, or it shows up in airports?

They can do an immediate search. They can just log onto the computer that they have and run the name, and all the variants will come up. It’s a much more effective and efficient system now.

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Did Obama Flip-Flop on FISA to Protect John Brennan?

Aside from his career of moderate political stances, the earliest clue that progressives were going to be disappointed with Barack Obama came last July, when he flip-flopped on his previous promises to oppose retroactive immunity on FISA. Yesterday’s IG Report may reveal the source of Obama’s flip-flop and subsequent reversal of his stance that Bush’s domestic surveillance program was illegal: John Brennan.

Brennan, you see, appears to have been a key figure in the illegal surveillance program from at least May 2003 through December 2005–precisely the period when the program was such an object of controversy internally.

While it was apparent from the Scope of the IG Report released in March and the various declarations in support of State Secrets that the Intelligence Community provided threat assessments that were used in the program, the IG Report provides a great deal of new detail on this process and–more importantly–a chronology describing which element of the IC conducted the threat assessments. The chronology is:

October 2001 to May 2003: DCI Chief of Staff (then John Moseman)

May 2003 to August 2004: Terrorist Threat Integration Center

August 2004 to April 2005: National CounterTerrorism Center

April 2005 to January 2007: ODNI

Now look at John Brennan’s career path (these dates are somewhat vague, but accurate to the best of my knowledge):

March 2001 to May 2003: Deputy Executive Director, CIA

May 2003 to August 2004: Director, Terrorist Threat Integration Center

August 2004 to December 2005: Interim Director, National CounterTerrorism Center (including ODNI after April 2005)

While Spencer is right that John Brennan was not the guy who compiled these assessments when the program first began (that is, John Brennan was no longer DCI COS), 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.

And John Brennan was consulting with candidate Obama last year when Obama flip-flopped.

And John Brennan remains a key national security advisor for Obama as the President has cowardly refused to prosecute a program he himself once called illegal.

Are Obama and Eric Holder refusing to prosecute illegal domestic surveillance because they’re protecting a key member of Obama’s Administration? Read more