John McCain

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The US Chamber of Commerce Is Pre-Clearing What It Is Willing to Do for Our National Security on CISA

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 4.11.21 PMSheldon Whitehouse just attempted (after 1:44) to rebut an epic rant from John McCain (at 1:14) in which the Arizona Senator suggested anyone who wanted to amend the flawed Cyber Intelligence Sharing Act wasn’t serious about national security.

Whitehouse defended his two amendments first by pointing out that McCain likes and respects the national security credentials of both his co-sponsors (Lindsey Graham and Max Blunt).

Then Whitehouse said,  “I believe both of the bills [sic] have now been cleared by the US Chamber of Commerce, so they don’t have a business community objection.”

Perhaps John McCain would be better served turning himself purple (really! watch his rant!) attacking the very notion that the Chamber of Commerce gets pre-veto power over a bill that (according to John McCain) is utterly vital for national security.

Even better, maybe John McCain could turn himself purple suggesting that the Chamber needs to step up to the plate and accept real responsibility for making this country’s networks safer, rather than just using our cybersecurity problems as an opportunity to demand immunity for yet more business conduct.

If this thing is vital for national security — this particular bill is not, but McCain turned himself awfully purple — then the Chamber should just suck it up and meet the requirements to protect the country decided on by the elected representatives of this country.

Yet instead, the Chamber apparently gets to pre-clear a bill designed to spy on the Chamber’s customers.

Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr’s Authoritarian Power Grab Fails

Last night, Mitch McConnell dealt himself a humiliating defeat. As I correctly predicted a month before events played out, McConnell tried to create a panic that would permit him and Richard Burr to demand changes — including iMessage retention, among other things — to USA F-ReDux. That is, in fact, what Mitch attempted to do, as is evident from the authoritarian power grab Burr released around 8:30 last night (that is, technically after the Administration had already missed the FISA Court deadline to renew the dragnet).

Contrary to a lot of absolutely horrible reporting on Burr’s bill, it does not actually resemble USA F-ReDux.

As I laid out here, it would start by gutting ECPA, such that the FBI could resume using NSLs to do the bulky Internet collection that moved to Section 215 production in 2009.

It also vastly expanded the application of the call record function (which it very explicitly applied to electronic communications providers, meaning it would include all Internet production, though that is probably what USA F-ReDux does implicitly), such that it could be used against Americans for any counterterrorism or counterintelligence (which includes leaks and cybersecurity) function, and for foreigners (which would chain onto Americans) for any foreign intelligence purpose. The chaining function includes the same vague language from USA F-ReDux which, in the absence of the limiting language in the House Judiciary Committee bill report, probably lets the government chain on session identifying information (like location and cookies, but possibly even things like address books) to do pattern analysis on providers’ data. Plus, the bill might even permit the government to do this chaining in provider data, because it doesn’t define a key “permit access” term.

Burr’s bill applies EO 12333 minimization procedures (and notice), not the stronger Section 215 ones Congress mandated in 2006; while USA F-ReDux data will already be shared far more widely than it is now, this would ensure that no defendant ever gets to challenge this collection. It imposes a 3-year data retention mandate (which would be a significant new burden on both Verizon and Apple). It appears to flip the amicus provision on its head, such that if Verizon or Apple challenged retention or any other part of the program, the FISC could provide a lawyer for the tech companies and tell that lawyer to fight for retention. And in the piece de la resistance, the bill creates its very own Espionage Act imposing 10 year prison terms for anyone who reveals precisely what’s happening in this expanded querying function at providers.

It is, in short, the forced-deputization of the nation’s communications providers to conduct EO 12333 spying on Americans within America.

Had Mitch had his way, after both USA F-ReDux and his 2-month straight reauthorization failed to get cloture, he would have asked for a week extension, during which the House would have been forced to come back to work and accept — under threat of “going dark” — some of the things demanded in Burr’s bill.

It didn’t work out.

Sure, both USA F-ReDux (57-42) and the short-term reauthorization (45-54) failed cloture votes.

But as it was, USA F-ReDux had far more support than the short-term reauthorization. Both McConnell and Rand Paul voted against both, for very different reasons. The difference in the vote results, however, was that Joe Donnelly (D), Jeff Flake (R), Ron Johnson (R), James Lankford (R), Bill Nelson (D), Tim Scott (R), and Dan Sullivan (R) voted yes to both. McConnell’s preferred option didn’t even get a majority of the vote, because he lost a chunk of his members.

Then McConnell played the hand he believed would give himself and Burr leverage. The plan — as I stated — was to get a very short term reauthorization passed and in that period force through changes with the House (never mind that permitting that to happen might have cost Boehner his Speakership, that’s what McConnell and Burr had in mind).

First, McConnell asked for unanimous consent to pass an extension to June 8. (h/t joanneleon for making the clip) But Paul, reminding that this country’s founders opposed General Warrants and demanding 2 majority vote amendments, objected. McConnell then asked for a June 5 extension, to which Ron Wyden objected. McConnell asked for an extension to June 3. Martin Heinrich objected. McConnell asked for an extension to June 2. Paul objected.

McConnell’s bid failed. And he ultimately scheduled the Senate to return on Sunday afternoon, May 31.

By far the most likely outcome at this point is that enough Senators — likely candidates are Mark Kirk, Angus King, John McCain, Joni Ernst, or Susan Collins — flip their vote on USA F-ReDux, which will then be rushed to President Obama just hours before Section 215 (and with it, Lone Wolf and Roving Wiretaps) expires on June 1. But even that (because of when McConnell scheduled it) probably requires Paul to agree to an immediate vote.

But if not, it won’t be the immediate end of the world.

On this issue, too, the reporting has been horrible, even to almost universal misrepresentation of what Jim Comey said about the importance of expiring provisions — I’ve laid out what he really said and what it means here. Comey cares first and foremost about the other Section 215 uses, almost surely the bulky Internet collection that moved there in 2009. But those orders, because they’re tied to existing investigations (of presumably more focused subject than the standing counterterrorism investigation to justify the phone dragnet), they will be grand-fathered at least until whatever expiration date they have hits, if not longer. So FBI will be anxious to restore that authority (or move it back to NSLs as Burr’s bill would do), especially since unlike the phone dragnet, there aren’t other ways to get the data. But there’s some time left to do that.

Comey also said the Roving Wiretap is critical. I’m guessing that’s because they use it to target things like Tor relays. But if that’s the primary secretly redefined function, they likely have learned enough about the Tor relays they’re parked on to get individual warrants. And here, too, the FBI likely won’t have to detask until expiration days on these FISA orders come due.

As for the phone dragnet and the Lone Wolf? Those are less urgent, according to Comey.

Now, that might help the Republicans who want to jam through some of Burr’s demands, since most moderate reformers assume the phone dragnet is the most important function that expires. Except that McConnell and others have spent so long pretending that this is about a phone dragnet that in truth doesn’t really work, that skittish Republicans are likely to want to appear to do all they can to keep the phone dragnet afloat.

As I said, the most likely outcome is that a number of people flip their vote and help pass USA F-ReDux.

But as with last night’s “debate,” no one really knows for sure.

American Hegemony: Delivering “Unpredictable Instability” the World Over

I love Global Threat Hearings and curse you Richard Burr for holding the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing in secret.

At least John McCain had the courage to invite James Clapper for what might have been (but weren’t) hard questions in public in front of Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

Clapper started with a comment that was not prominent in (though it definitely underscored) his written testimony (Update: Here’s the transcript of his as-delivered statement.)

Unpredictable instability is the new normal.The year 2014 saw the highest rate of political instability since 1992. The most deaths as a result of state-sponsored mass killings since the early 1990s. And the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons (or IDPs) since World War II. Roughly half of the world’s currently stable countries are at some risk of instability over the next two years.

It’s a damning catalog. All the more so given that the US has been the world’s unquestioned hegemon since that period in the early 1990s when everything has been getting worse, since that period when the first President Bush promised a thousand points of light.

And while the US can’t be held responsible for all the instability in the world right now, it owns a lot of it: serial invasions in the Middle East and the coddling of Israel account for many of the refugees (though there’s no telling what would have happened with the hundred thousand killed and millions of refugees in Syria had the second President Bush not invaded Iraq, had he taken Bashar al-Assad up on an offer to partner against al Qaeda, had we managed the aftermath of the Arab Spring differently).

US-backed neoliberalism and austerity — and the underlying bank crisis that provided the excuse for it — has contributed to instability elsewhere, and probably underlies those countries that Clapper thinks might grow unstable in the next year.

We’re already seeing instability arising from climate change; the US owns some of the blame for that, and more for squandering its leadership role on foreign adventures rather than pushing a solution to that more urgent problem (Clapper, by the way, thinks climate change is a problem but unlike Obama doesn’t consider it the most serious one).

There are, obviously, a lot of other things going on. Clapper talked admiringly of China’s modernization of its military, driven by domestically developed programs, an obvious development when a country becomes the manufacturing powerhouse of the world. But China’s growing influence comes largely in the wake of, and in part because of, stupid choices the US has made.

There was, predictably, a lot of discussion about cyberthreats, even featuring Senate Intelligence Committee member Angus King arguing we need an offensive threat (we’ve got one — and have been launching pre-emptive strikes for 9 years now — as he would know if he paid attention to briefings or read the Intercept or the New York Times) to deter others from attacking us with cyberweapons.

Almost everyone at the hearing wanted to talk about Iran, without realizing that a peace deal with it would finally take a step towards more stability (until our allies the Saudis start getting belligerent as a result).

Still, even in spite of the fact that Clapper started with this inventory of instability, there seemed zero awareness of what a damning indictment that is for the world’s hegemon. Before we address all these other problems, shouldn’t we focus some analysis on why American hegemony went so badly wrong?

DC’s Elite: Let Our General Go!

At almost precisely the moment the FBI started investigating who was pestering Tampa Bay socialite Jill Kelley, an investigation that would lead to the resignation and investigation of David Petraeus, John McCain called for an investigation into top Obama officials leaking details of covert ops to make themselves look good.

Outraged by two recent articles published by the New York Times, which exposed the extent of U.S. involvement in cyberattacks made against Iran and the White House’s secret ‘Kill List,’ John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) took to the Senate floor to admonish the administration, and accuse it of widespread disregard for national security.

“The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks by a 22-year-old Army private in the Wikileaks matter and former CIA employees in other leaks cases, but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable,” McCain said.

Now, McCain is outraged! that former top Obama official David Petraeus is getting the callous treatment given to those being investigated for leaks.

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) today released the following statement on the handling of the investigation into former CIA Director David Petraeus:

“While the facts of the case involving General David Petraeus remain unknown and are not suitable for comment, it is clear that this investigation has been grievously mishandled.

“It is outrageous that the highly confidential and law enforcement-sensitive recommendation of prosecutors to bring charges against General Petraeus was leaked to the New York Times. It is a shameful continuation of a pattern in which leaks by unnamed sources have marred this investigation in contravention to fundamental fairness.

“No American deserves such callous treatment, let alone one of America’s finest military leaders whose selfless service and sacrifice have inspired young Americans in uniform and likely saved many of their lives.”

And of course, McCain had no problem when the first story about poor Petraeus’ treatment appeared in December, quoting lots of McCain’s buddies calling for justice! for Petraeus.

McCain (and his sidekick Lindsey) are not the only ones rending their garments over the injustice of a top Obama official being investigated for leaking classified details to make himself look good. Jason Chaffetz keeps complaining about it. And Dianne Feinstein took to the Sunday shows to declare that Petraeus has suffered enough. Richard Burr apparently made false claims about how the Espionage Act has been wielded, of late, even against those whose leaks caused no harm.

Golly, you’d think all these legislators might figure out they have the authority, as legislators, to fix the overly broad application of the Espionage Act.

Meanwhile, Eli Lake — who launched the campaign to Let Our General Go last month — has an odd story complaining about Petraeus’ treatment. To Lake’s credit, he mentions — though does not quote — how Petraeus celebrated John Kiriakou’s guilty plea. Here’s what Petraeus said then about the importance of respecting your vows to secrecy:

It marks an important victory for our agency, for our intelligence community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

Lake also suggests Paula Broadwell’s job — writing fawning biographies of the man she was fucking — was the same as Bob Woodward’s.

What’s more, Broadwell herself was writing a second book on Petraeus. When Broadwell — a graduate of West Point — was writing her first biography of him, she was given access to top secret information covering the period in which Petraeus commanded allied forces in Afghanistan. This arrangement is common in Washington for established authors. Sources for Bob Woodward, whose books often disclose classified information that is provided to him through semi-official leaks, are not investigated for betraying state secrets.

Maybe it is, maybe Woodward is nothing more than a power-fucker. But it obscures the key difference (which should not be true but is) that when the White House sanctions a book, they get to sanction self-serving leaks for it.

Finally, Lake misstates something about selective treatment.

Senior officials such as Petraeus, who serve at the highest levels of the national security state, are almost never punished as harshly as low- and mid- level analysts who are charged with leaking. When former CIA director John Deutch was found to have classified documents on his unsecure home computer, he was stripped of his security clearance and charged with a misdemeanor. 

An even better example — one not mentioned at all — is when Alberto Gonzales was found to have kept a CYA file, full of draft OLC memos and notes from a briefing on the illegal wiretap program, in a briefcase in his house. He resigned at the beginning of that investigation (and it has never been clear how much that played a role in his resignation; there are many interesting questions about Gonzales’ resignation that remain unanswered). But he suffered no consequences from keeping unbelievably sensitive documents at his house, aside from being denied the sinecure all other Bush officials got.

That said, that’s true of a lot of people in sensitive positions. Of the 40 witnesses who might be called against Jeffrey Sterling, for example, 6 have been found to have mistreated classified information (as has Sterling himself); that includes his direct supervisor while at CIA as well as 3 others cleared into the Merlin op (and I’m certain that doesn’t include Condi Rice, whose testimony the AIPAC defendants would have used to show how common leaking to the press was, nor does it include one other witness I strongly suspect has been involved in another big leak case). CIA withheld that detail from DOJ until right before the trial was due to start in 2011. But it does offer at least one metric of how common mistreating classified information is.

The prosecution of it, of course, is very selective. And that’s the problem, and David Petraeus’ problem, and Congress’ problem.

Yet that won’t ensure that Congress does anything to fix that problem with the means at their disposal, legislating a fix to stop the misuse of the Espionage Act. That’s because they like the overly broad use of it to cudgel leakers they don’t like. Just not the ones they’re particularly fond of.

Did Obama’s Beloved “Moderate” FSA Fighters Flee Aleppo?

The Obama Administration continues to hold onto the fantasy that training and equipping a group of “moderate” rebels in Syria will allow threading the gap between the Bashar al-Assad regime that continues to relentlessly attack its own citizens and the ISIS fighters who behead many of the folks in their path. After all, Obama and his minions seem to want us to to think, the “moderates” only occasionally eat a victim’s heart or behead people after posing for photos with John McCain.

The press in Turkey is reporting that Obama’s centerpiece of the “moderate” rebel movement, the Free Syrian Army, has fled the strategic city of Aleppo where battles have taken place since early in the Syrian civil war. The reports say that within the past two weeks, the new leader of the FSA, Jamal Marouf (previous FSA leader Salem Idris was among those in the famous photo with McCain) fled to Turkey where he is being protected. Iranian news is repeating these reports, with stories in both Fars News and PressTV. Both Iranian stories cite this report from Turkey:

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), the recognized armed opposition group against the Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has ceased its resistance in Aleppo, Syria’s second biggest city, withdrawing its 14,000 militia from the city, a ranking Turkish security source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Nov. 17.

“Its leader Jamal Marouf has fled to Turkey,” confirmed the source, who asked not to be named. “He is currently being hosted and protected by the Turkish state.”

The source did not give an exact date of the escape but said it was within the last two weeks, that is, the first half of November. The source declined to give Marouf’s whereabouts in Turkey.

Wow, so not only did the leader apparently leave, but 14,000 fighters abandoned Aleppo, too? That’s huge. The only Western news story I see so far on this is an AFP story carried by Yahoo News in the UK. The story opens by describing how desperate the refugee problem will be in Turkey if Aleppo has indeed fallen:

Turkey fears another two to three million Syrian refugees could cross its borders if the region of Syria’s second city of Aleppo is overrun either by Islamist extremists or regime forces, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Tuesday.

Turkey is already hosting at least 1.5 million refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict and has repeatedly warned that its capacities are being strained by the numbers.

It takes another sixteen paragraphs or so before getting to the news about Marouf:

Meanwhile the Turkish online newspaper Radikal reported that the chief of the moderate anti-Assad group the Syrian Revolutionary Front, Jamal Maarouf, had fled to Turkey two weeks ago.

There was no confirmation of the report and no further details were immediately available.

But never fear! The article gives us this rosy news as a conclusion:

Media reports said at the weekend that Turkey and the United States have agreed a plan under which some 2,000 FSA fighters would be trained on Turkish soil.

Let’s see, 14,000 troops fled, and now we’re going to train a whopping 2000 to take their place.

Winning!

It May Not Have Been ISIS, But McCain Did Pose With Members of a Group That Beheads Opponents

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

On May 27, 2013, nearly three months before the deadly August, 2013 sarin attack, Josh Rogin was granted an “exclusive” to publish in The Daily Beast that John McCain had secretly slipped into Syria to meet with “moderate” rebels who oppose Bashar al-Assad:

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Rogin continues:

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition. Two leaders of the group attended all of the McCain-Idris meetings and discussed them with The Daily Beast.

A couple of days later, Politico published a photo from the visit, identifying Mouaz Moustafa of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (he is now listed as their Executive Director).

Just who was present in the meetings with McCain, both in photographs that have appeared and in less public meetings, has been a point of contention since word of the meeting came out. Within a week of the Rogin story, Rand Paul was quoted by CBS:

Wielding a charge that’s been largely refuted, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the weekend took a swipe at his fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for his clandestine meeting last week with Syrian rebels.

“I’m very worried about getting involved in a new war in Syria,” Paul said Saturday night while taking questions at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “a bad guy – he is,” the Kentucky senator continued, but cited al Qaeda and additional extremist groups “on the other side” as a reason to give the United States pause before engaging militarily.

“They say, ‘there are some pro-Western people, and we’re going to vet them,'” Paul continued. “Well, apparently we had a senator over there who had his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re doing vetting those who are going to get the arms.”

Even though CBS noted that Paul’s accusation had already been refuted before they quoted it, Josh Rogin felt it necessary to give more detail debunking Paul. Leaving aside the red herring of Nour and whether he was at the meeting, this part of Rogin’s piece is very interesting: Continue reading

CIA’s Torture Pushback Gets More Artful

I well remember when Robert Grenier testified at Scooter Libby’s trial. His performance – like most of the witness testimony — was a performance. But I was more intrigued by the response. Even the cynical old DC journalists were impressed by the smoothness of the performance. “You can tell he was a great briefer,” one journalist who had written a book on the CIA said.

Today, he takes up the role of bogus pushback to the Senate torture report, complete with all the false claims about the report, including:

  • SSCI should not have relied exclusively on documents — which, if true, is an admission that millions of CIA’s cables are fraudulent and false
  • The claim that members of the Gang of Four were briefed earlier and more accurately than even CIA’s own documents show them to have been
  • SSCI — and not CIA — made the decision that CIA officers should not testify to the committee
  • That a report supported by John McCain and Susan Collins is a Democratic report (Grenier also claims all involved with it know history from history books, not — as McCain did — from torture chambers)
  • That the CIA cables exactly matched the torture depicted on the torture tapes (see bullet 1!), and that CIA’s IG reported that, both of which are false

But perhaps Grenier’s most cynical assertion is his claim — in a piece that falsely suggests (though does not claim outright) that Congress was adequately briefed that Congress’ job, their sole job, is to legislate, not oversee.

A second, related reason would be to build support for comprehensive legislation — that is what Congress is supposed to concern itself with, after all — to remove any of the interpretive legal ambiguity which permitted coercive interrogation to be considered in the first place, and ensure it never happens again.

It is a cynical move, but given the rest of his argument, the part that I find compelling, necessary.

Because Grenier warns Dianne Feinstein that her attack on the Presidentially authorized counterterrorism methods of the past will chill President Obama’s preferred presidentially authorized counterterrorism methods — drone strikes — going forward.

It is not just the past which is at stake, but the present and the future as well. Make no mistake — those currently serving in CIA are watching these developments closely.

Senator Feinstein, we are told, though having great moral qualms about vigorously interrogating terrorists, appears to have no particular compunction about killing them — so long as it is done remotely, with little direct contact with the gruesome details. As anyone reading the press will know, the current, Democratic administration has shown great enthusiasm for directed killings, employing drones in lethal operations around the world to an extent that might have shocked their Republican predecessors in the Bush administration. Death by video game has its attractions, particularly for those lacking intestinal fortitude. It enables them to avoid confronting the essential and unavoidable brutality of what they are doing.

Just as was the case with harsh interrogations during the last administration, the current resort to directed killings, including so-called “signature strikes,” in which the specific identities of those targeted are unknown, though remarkably uncontroversial at the outset of the current administration, has become anything but uncontroversial since. Should the perceived threat from various bits of ungoverned, terrorist-dominated geography around the globe diminish, the controversy involving drone strikes will only grow further. At some point soon, if they haven’t already, the tribunes of the people in the U.S. Congress will begin to wonder about the political wisdom of their association with directed killings.

They needn’t worry — they have already demonstrated their ability to avoid all responsibility — but those charged with carrying out such strikes should, and they know it. Those in both the White House and the Congress who have chosen to comfort themselves by propagating the myths associated with drone strikes — that they are universally “surgical,” always precisely targeted, and that any civilian casualties associated with them are rare — will inevitably find themselves shocked — perhaps “chilled” is the word — by reality when political calculation dictates that they examine it more closely. Drone strikes, like any other aspect of war, are far more messy and imprecise than advertised, involving subjective judgments easily vulnerable to second-guessing and ex-post-facto recrimination. They benefit only by comparison with more primitive methods, including ground attacks and conventional air strikes, but those comparisons will no longer matter when political interest moves in the other direction. Some successor to Dianne Feinstein may well soon find political cover or political advantage, as the case may be, in a thorough, negative investigation of the drone program — we can watch for it.

I told you CIA would invoke Obama’s drone strikes to limit the damage of the torture report.

To be sure, there is already evidence CIA is lying to Congress about drone strikes, just as it lied about torture, particularly about the numbers of civilians it has killed. Yet DiFi has willfully continued to believe those lies, to believe the CIA’s purportedly better record on drone strikes stems from some inherent skill and not the preference of foreign partners to work with a malleable CIA rather than DOD.

Grenier is absolutely right that Congress and the White House want to be lied to on this point.

Grenier then launches a more interesting implicit threat — that CIA will stop doing what the President demands under Article II.

In my own time in CIA, as perhaps in all times, there were those inside the organization who preached that the Agency should steadfastly avoid presidential directives to affect or shape events, rather than just report on them. “Stick to traditional intelligence collection,” they’d say. We hear similar voices now. But presidents always feel otherwise. Every president confronts foreign policy challenges for which a cheap, clandestine solution appears tempting. Given CIA’s unique capabilities, it’s often the right thing to do. But the opportunities to frustrate the president’s wishes and avoid such entanglements are rife for those who are so inclined. There is even a term for it: “slow rolling.” Current events, and the anticipated Senate report, will greatly strengthen the hand of the slow-rollers. It’s hard to disagree with them now.

[snip]

Rather than taking responsibility for changes in counterterrorism policy on itself, it is a far safer, if more insidious course — one instinctive to Congress — to abuse the CIA to the point where it self-regulates. But as noted above, there are serious downsides to that approach. U.S. national security will not be served by fostering a culture within CIA in which the organization decides for itself which of its lawful orders it will choose to follow, and makes those judgments based on what CIA officers consider best for themselves and their institution, rather than on what their elected masters deem best for the country. That is not the way the system is supposed to work. The federal bureaucracy is supposed to follow legal orders. That is what CIA has always done, frequently to its cost, and that is what the American people need it to do. If they don’t like what their elected leaders have done, they can throw them out. They shouldn’t look to CIA to make these decisions for them — on their own, and for their own purposes.

Ostensibly, this talk about slow rolling the President’s Findings is about drone strikes. Except that the President is re-launching the war in Iraq even as we speak, based solely on Article II authority (I presume JSOC features as prominently as CIA, but CIA clearly has been on the ground for some time).

The implicit threat: if SSCI continues to push, both the President and the Democrats who want to respond to ISIS without declaring war will regret it.

Even here, Grenier is full of shit. He makes no mention of the structure of the September 17, 2001 Gloves Come Off Finding, which itself outsourced most substantive decisions to CIA. It’s one thing to demand Congress do something about that — and they should — and yet another to suggest the rest of Obama’s covert operations employ such structure (though I wouldn’t put it beyond the National Security establishment). Moreover, the abundant evidence (in CIA’s own records, which Grenier treats both as accurate and as inaccurate!) that CIA ignored even the limits imposed by DOJ makes their actions illegal, regardless of what order Bush originally gave.

The problem is the orders — both to torture and to drone strike. But it is also the type of relationship Cofer Black and Dick Cheney embraced (and Obama has retained, at least with respect to the Gloves Come Off MON).

Which is why this is my favorite line from Grenier’s piece.

Goodness. If even a substantial portion of this were true, I would be among the first to advise that CIA be razed to the ground and begun all over again.

This is coming (as Grenier alludes to but doesn’t fully lay out, just as he lays out the suggestion that CIA resumed torture after he refused in early 2006) from a guy who tried to stay within the law, stopped torturing after the Detainee Treatment Act forbade it. It is, perhaps, the best line, given the impasse we’re at.

CIA has become the instrument of illegal actions, an arm of the Executive that evades all law, precisely because of its corrupted relationships with both the Executive and Legislative branch.

So, I take you up on the suggestion, Robert Grenier. Let’s raze the damn thing and — if a thorough assessment says a democracy really needs such an agency, which it may not — start over.

 

Say, Why Should Mikey Hayden Get a Say on Torture that Purportedly Preceded Him?

My favorite call for John Brennan’s head thus far comes from Fred Fleitz, who helped John Bolton sex up WMD claims leading into the Iraq War.  He says John Brennan has to resign not just to shore up CIA’s relations with Congress, but also NSA’s.

I believe CIA director John Brennan and agency officials involved in the monitoring of computers used by the SSCI staff must resign to help mend the CIA’s relationship with Congress. Such resignations would go a long way toward restoring the confidence of the SSCI in the CIA and, it is to be hoped, would win the agency and the National Security Agency some crucial allies in both houses of Congress to fend off several ill-advised intelligence-reform proposals currently under discussion there.

But that’s not my favorite part. Nor is where this “intelligence” professional says a report voted out with support from John McCain (in the first vote) and Susan Collins (in the second) is a Democratic vote. Nor is the bit where Fleitz claims the program was properly briefed, which it wasn’t.

My favorite part is Fleitz’ conflicting claims about Michael Hayden.

The main focus of the SSCI probe reportedly is to prove Democratic claims that the effectiveness of the enhanced-interrogation program has been exaggerated. Former CIA director Michael Hayden and other former senior CIA officials involved in the enhanced-interrogation program dispute this. According to Hayden, as late as 2006 fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from harsh interrogations.

Despite their firsthand knowledge of the enhanced-interrogation program, there is no input in the SSCI report from Hayden, former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, or other CIA officials, since the report is based solely on an examination of documents.

Assertion 1) Michael Hayden claims half of the government’s knowledge about al Qaeda came from torture, meaning no more than half came from the illegal torture he was conducting at the time over at NSA (and also meaning that relatively more intelligence has come in from SIGINT since Hayden left).

Assertion 2) Michael Hayden, whose entire CIA tenure post-dated the Detainee Treatment Act that made the torture program illegal, should have some say in a torture report.

Maybe Hayden was spying on the CIA while he was in charge of NSA. Or maybe (ok, in fact) Hayden continued torture after such time as Congress made it doubly illegal.

But in the same way that Cofer Black should not need to have a say in torture if the CIA’s false narrative were not false, Michael Hayden shouldn’t either.

Man, as much as this report is demonstrating how much CIA lies and how useless their torture program was, it also demonstrates the misnomer of the whole “intelligence” label.

State’s Funny View of Our Democracy

In addition to its story about the State Department talking points it “accidentally” got (see my post on that), the AP included the talking points themselves.

The talking points are particularly pathetic for the way they try to turn the torture report — and our treatment of torture more generally — as proof of functional democracy.

The TPs claim the report is evidence of the government’s transparency…

The fundamental facts about this program have been known for some time. The U.S. government is committed to transparency and has released much of this information to the public before. This report adds additional details which confirm the wisdom of our national decision not to use such interrogation methods again.

… of our vibrant democracy…

America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.

[snip]

America can champion democracy and human rights around the world not because we are perfect, but because we can say that our democratic system enables us to confront and resolve our problems through open and honest debate. Our Congress issued this report, and the Obama administration strongly supported its declassification, in that spirit.

… and the separation of powers …

These interrogation methods were debated in our free media, challenged in our independent courts, and, just two years after their introduction, restricted by an act of our Congress sponsored by Senator John McCain and overwhelmingly backed by members of both of our political parties.

The last talking point is particularly neat given that 1) it gets the timing of the Detainee Treatment Act (passed in late 2005, and therefore over 3.5 years after torture started, not 2) wrong — not to mention its efficacy at ending torture, and 2) the Executive, including this President, has prevented any court challenge to torture by claiming state secrets and immunity, and as recently as this month claimed the victims of our torture cannot describe their own torture before the Gitmo Kangaroo Court. John Kiriakou, in particular, will likely find this talking point curious.

I’m just as interested in how aggressively State prepares to answer questions posed on CIA’s behalf in these questions:

4. Is the White House in a position to say that no useful information was obtained?
5. Isn’t the CIA in a better position to assess this?
6. Does the CIA believe useful information was obtained?

[snip]

13. Does the CIA still stand by its response to the SSCI, or did the SSCI address the CIA’s
concerns when it revised its report?

Perhaps that’s just State doing its best to prep the questions that CIA will cue compliant journalists to ask. And admittedly, State is going to have to do some of the damage control with countries like UK and Poland, which will be embarrassed by the report.

Still, I can’t help but remember that Maria Harf was CIA spokesperson before she moved over to State — indeed, actually started on the analytical side of the house.

In any case, it’s nice to know that State thinks impunity for torture is a sign of a vibrant democracy.

Do Senators Collins, King, and Warner Like Being Spied On?

Over the last few days, I’ve tracked the accusations and counter-accusations between CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

A number of people have asked why, as a way to end this issue, the Committee doesn’t just declassify the entire SSCI Report.

But it’s not so simple as that.

It’s not clear there are the votes to release the Report.

Recall that when the Committee approved the Report back in 2012, the vote was largely split on party lines, with the exception of John McCain, who voted as an Ex Officio member (as Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee) to release the Report. McCain is no longer SASC Ranking member: Jim Inhofe is, and I’m betting he’s not going to vote to release the Report.

There are few other changes in the Committee proper since the report was originally finalized. Martin Heinrich and Angus King have replaced Bill Nelson and Kent Conrad, and Susan Collins and Tom Coburn have replaced Olympia Snowe and Roy Blunt.

And while Heinrich has quickly become one of the better overseers on the Committee, including on torture, it’s not actually clear whether King would vote to release the report. Collins, too, has been reported to be undecided (and her vote would be critical to making this a “bipartisan vote,” now that McCain doesn’t have a vote). There are even hints that Mark Warner wouldn’t vote to support its declassification (though he supported its finalization).

And importantly, King and Collins have been reported to be undecided after the time when, in January, the Committee at least began to suspect they’d been surveilled.

There are, obviously, two different issues (though Saxby Chambliss, at least, sides with CIA on both counts). But there’s been little outcry from the swing votes on releasing the underlying report itself.

Update: h/t to JK for the link to the Collins/King report I was not finding.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz From four days ago. Wolfrum ahead of his time. https://t.co/ZogqV9wyDr
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bmaz RT @arj: A fine long-form article about Randy Barnett and the libertarian jurisprudence movement. Worth your time to read. http://t.co/Y6VP
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bmaz The Rehabilitationists http://t.co/ApSLfpKKEg Good piece by @brianbeutler
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bmaz RT @JimmySky: General Motors should push back against Obama's presidential overreach and christen their high-end, full-size SUV the GMC McK…
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bmaz RT @dmataconis: The busboy who cradled a dying RFK has finally stepped out of the past http://t.co/OJTSt7uIHT
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bmaz @dmataconis Pretty touching story
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bmaz Petraeus prosecutor: Clinton has committed no crime http://t.co/sXTsrPP2y7 And why those who keep demagoguing E-Ghazi are dishonest.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @wessmith123: Dear #DickCheney, We NEVER Want To Hear From You Again! Especially On The #IranDeal! #ISIS http://t.co/tQ1gu9FhfJ http:/…
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bmaz What, @ESPN making more false reports on the @NFL?? Oh, wait, @mortreport is involved, that explains it. https://t.co/NTCkUAPp6b
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emptywheel @shenebraskan Well, I root against him. I have the utmost respect for him. But you gotta root against someone and he's perfect! @024601
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emptywheel @shenebraskan Nah. But he knows how to make money & I wish more football players went on to maximize what they get for crushing their heads
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