Posts

“Side Payment” Counter-Insurgency Drone Strikes?'>What Is the Overlap between Signature Strikes and “Side Payment” Counter-Insurgency Drone Strikes?

ProPublica has a very worthwhile article drawing attention back to signature drone strikes.

My favorite part is their focus on John Brennan’s effort to dodge a question about signature strikes last year, which happened not long before anonymous sources working on Brennan’s behalf launched his Kill List Shiny Object campaign, which served to distract from the signature strikes he had just approved for use in Yemen.

Brennan was asked about signature strikes last April but sidestepped the question. He replied: “You make reference to signature strikes that are frequently reported in the press. I was speaking here specifically about targeted strikes against individuals who are involved.”

He continued that “everything we do, though, that is carried out against Al Qaeda is carried out consistent with the rule of law, the authorization on the use of military force, and domestic law… that’s the whole purpose of whatever action we use, the tool we use, it’s to prevent attack [sic] and to save lives.”

The article also catalogs how Brennan and the Administration have dodged questions from Jerry Nadler, John Conyers, and Bobby Scott, as well as from John McCain.

The administration has rebuffed repeated requests from Congress to provide answers – even in secret.

[snip]

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recently sent his own letter to Brennan asking several pointed questions on signature strikes.

“How do ‘signature strikes’ square with your statement that targeted killing operations are only approved when a targeted individual poses a ‘significant threat to U.S. interests?’” McCain asked, quoting a speech Brennan gave on drone strikes last April.

“How can the Administration be certain it is not killing civilians in areas, like many parts of Yemen and Pakistan, where virtually all men, including civilians, carry weapons?” the letter continued.

A McCain spokesman said the senator had not received a response.

In any case, go read the article. But read it in conjunction with this remarkable Lawfare post on How to Make a Kill List, from Gregory McNeal, who once worked in counterterroism at State (though this work derives from a range of sources). McNeal has a follow-up on network analysis, which I’ll return to later.

McNeal’s post is notable because it is, as far as I know, one of the first times that someone has gone on the record admitting that our drone war is, in part, targeting people our allies pick, effectively us waging their counterinsurgency for them.

There are three basic categories of targets who might find their way onto a kill-list: (1) Targets who fall within the AUMF, and its associated forces interpretations [AUMF Targets], (2) targets who fall within the terms of a covert action finding [Covert Action Targets], and (3) targets provided by allies in a non-international armed conflict in which the U.S. is a participant. [Ally Targets or derisively “side payment targets.”] [my emphasis; all other brackets original]

“Side payment targets.” Wow. Evocative.

The reason I say this article should be read in conjunction with the ProPublica one is that the two places where we know the US is engaging in counterinsurgency targets, Pakistan and Yemen, are also the two places we know we’ve used signature strikes. Read more

John McCain, Space Monkeys and Model Planes

What is it about Iran that brings out the most inhumane and racist side of John McCain? As if his “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” in 2007 while he was running for president wasn’t sick enough, he has topped himself today. After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today “I am ready to be the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists”, McCain just couldn’t refrain from sending out this “joke” tweet:

That’s just so funny, at least to people who believe that Iranians are monkeys who now and then need to be bombed to put them back into their place.

And it’s not like there wasn’t sufficient material from which McCain could have made an appropriate joke. Iran suffered quite a bit of embarrassment over its space monkey launch last week when it was noticed that photos of two different monkeys had been used in Iranian news releases on the launch. This prompted some to speculate that the monkey had died during the flight and a stand-in was brought in for the after-mission photos. AP obtained an explanation from Iran (the different photos can be seen in this Telegraph article):

Mohammad Ebrahimi told the The Associated Press that the monkey who traveled in space was named “Pishgam,” the Farsi word for pioneer. Initially, the Iranian media said “Pishgam” was the rocket that took him on a 20-minute journey into space on Monday.

Ebrahimi said one set of pictures showed an archive photo of one of the alternate monkeys. He said three to five monkeys are simultaneously tested for such a flight and two or three are chosen for the launch. Finally, the one that is best suited for the mission and isn’t stressed is chosen for the voyage.

/snip/

“I say this with certainty that the monkey is in good health and the space flight didn’t have any physical effect on Pishgam,” Ebrahimi said. “Some of the photos released by one of news agencies were not related to the time of flight. They were archive photos of the monkeys being prepared for the launch.”

If McCain had wanted to make a joke about Ahmadinejad’s offer, it seems that he could have come out with a suggestion that Iran provide good before and after pictures to make sure the proper person gets on the rocket.

In somewhat related Iranian technology news, Iran also has announced development of a new fighter jet, the Qaher-313. From PressTV:

Iran has unveiled a new indigenous fighter jet, which is said to be similar to a US-made warplane.

Qaher-313 (Conqueror-313) advanced military aircraft was put on display during a ceremony on Saturday in the presence of Commander of Iran’s Army Major General Ataollah Salehi, Defense Minister Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi and Commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) Brigadier General Hassan Shah-Safi on the occasion of the Ten-Day Dawn celebrations commemorating the victory of 1979 Islamic Revolution.

This news report has a short snippet of video (at about 20 seconds into the video) purported to be the Qaher-313 in flight:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok2aMgfBdCs[/youtube]

However, there appear to be folks in defense aviation who have their doubts about the jet and the video:

Iran has unveiled what it says is a new stealth fighter called the Qaher-313. Perhaps, this is just me as a product of the 1980s, but this aircraft looks a lot like an old GI Joe toy.

The Iranians would have you believe this is some sort of highly advanced stealth strike aircraft that they’ve already designed, built and flown. But this, frankly speaking, looks unimpressive–and if I had to put money down on it, I say it’s a mock-up. I suppose it could be some sort of test bed, but I’m highly skeptical.

/snip/

The cockpit, if you take a closer look, doesn’t really look like it’s finished. If anything, from inside the cockpit, this jet’s instrument panel looks like it was lifted from a newish-model general aviation aircraft. There appears to be no provisions for a head-up display–which is typically found in most modern fighter aircraft except the Lockheed Martin F-35, which has a helmet-mounted display. The canopy seems to be made of poor quality Plexiglas with some really bad optical qualities. Check out the distortion looking through the transparency below.

I wouldn’t look for the Qaher-313 to be affecting the balance of air power in the Persian Gulf region any time soon. Especially since it might not even be able to fly.

 

Hagel Hearing: Twilight of the Neocons Makes Senate Armed Services Committee Dysfunctional

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiXTyDnA2TI#![/youtube]

The disgusting bullying of former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) during his hearing yesterday on his nomination to be Secretary of Defense is demonstrated clearly in the short clip above where Senator Lindsey Graham (R-Closet) asks Hagel to “Name one person, in your opinion, who’s been intimidated by the Israeli lobby.” Hagel said he couldn’t name one. A quick look at this word cloud from the hearing, though, or at this tweet from the Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.” shows that Hagel should be at the top of the list of those intimidated by the Israeli lobby, which yesterday was embodied by the SASC.

Hagel did himself no favors when he stumbled badly on one of the few substantive and relevant topics brought up. On Iran’s nuclear program, even after being handed a note, he bungled the Obama administration’s position of prevention, stating first that the US favors containment. [His bungled statement of the Obama administration’s position should be considered separately from the logic of that position, where containment of an Iran with nuclear weapon capability is seen by some as a stabilizing factor against Israel’s nuclear capabilities, while prevention could well require a highly destabilizing war.]

Overall, however, the combative nature of Republican questioning of Hagel was just as hostile as the questioning last week of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi incident. Why would Republicans turn on one of their own with a vengeance equal to that shown to their long-term nemesis? Writing at Huffington Post, Jon Soltz provides an explanation with which I agree when he frames yesterday’s hearing as a referendum on neocon policy (emphasis in original):

“Tell me I was right on Iraq!”

Essentially, that’s what Sen. McCain said during most of his time in today’s confirmation hearing for Chuck Hagel. And that sums up why the die had been cast on the Hagel nomination, before we even got to these hearings today, which I am currently at. This vote, I believed (and now believe more than ever) is a referendum on neocon policy, not on Chuck Hagel.

Much of McCain’s bullying of Hagel was centered on McCain trying to get Hagel to admit that he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge. This clinging to the absurd notion that the Iraq surge was a success sums up the bitter attitude of the neocons as the world slowly tries to emerge from the global damage they have caused. And that this view that the surge was a success still gets an open and unopposed position at the Senate Armed Services Committee highlights the dangerous dysfunction of one of the most influential groups in Washington.

A functional SASC would have spent much time in discussion with Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who provided a meticulous debunking of the myth that the Iraq surge was a success. His report, however, has been quietly ignored and allowed to fade from public view. Instead, this committee has essentially abandoned its oversight responsibilities in favor of pro-war jingoism. That Hagel refuses to engage in their jingoism is at the heart of neocon hatred of him.

Hagel would have done himself and the world a favor by turning the tables on the Committee during the hearing. A report (pdf) released Wednesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights a massive oversight failure by the Senate Armed Services Committee that lies at the juxtaposition of US defense policy in both Iran and Afghanistan. Despite long-standing sanctions against US purchases of Iranian goods, the Committee has allowed the Department of Defense to purchase fuel for use in Afghanistan that could well have come from Iran. Here is the conclusion of the report (emphasis added):

DOD’s lack of visibility—until recently—over the source of fuel purchased for the ANSF raises some concerns. DOD lacked certification procedures prior to November 2012 and had limited visibility over the import and delivery sub-contracts used by fuel vendors. As a result, DOD is unable to determine if any of the $1.1 billion in fuel purchased for the ANA between fiscal year 2007 and 2012 came from Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. Controls—recently added by CJTSCC to the BPAs for ANSF fuel—requiring vendor certification of fuel sources should improve visibility over fuel sources. To enhance that visibility, it is important that adequate measures are in place to test the validity of the certifications and ensure that subcontractors are abiding by the prohibitions regarding Iranian fuel. Recently reported steps to correct weaknesses in the fuel acquisition process may not help U.S. officials’ in verifying the sources of fuel purchased with U.S. funds for the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s continued challenges in overseeing and expending direct assistance funds, it will become more difficult for DOD to account for the use of U.S. funds as it begins to transfer funds—in March 2013—directly to the Afghan government for the procurement and delivery of ANSF fuel. In light of capacity and import limitations of the Afghan government, the U.S. government may need to take steps to place safeguards on its direct assistance funding—over $1 billion alone for ANSF fuel from 2013-2018—to ensure that the Afghan government does not use the funds in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.

Imagine the sputtering that would have ensued if Hagel had managed to ask Graham or McCain why the committee had failed to enforce the sanctions against purchasing Iranian fuel by the Defense Department. While he was busy singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” on the campaign trail in 2008, McCain was failing in his responsibility to see that Iranian fuel wasn’t purchased by the Defense Department.

Blabby Brennan to Replace Publicity Petraeus at CIA?

“He is a horrendously political animal, and there will be a tendency to politicize information to put the best spin for the administration on it.”

–An anonymous CIA officer, speaking of John Brennan, with whom he worked at CIA during the Bush Administration

As predicted, John Brennan’s past support for torture has generated only limited concern from John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, but no real threat that it will hold up his confirmation. No one, as far as I know, seems to care that Brennan was involved in Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program, nor that he decided to give NCTC access to the federal data of completely innocent Americans, nor his “intimate familiarity” with the genesis of NYPD’s abusive domestic spying program. And while there has been much discussion of his role in drone strikes–much of it credulously insisting Brennan wants to put order to drone strikes with an effort stalled after Mitt lost–even drone skeptics like Ron Wyden have not yet raised it as a confirmation issue.

John Cornyn’s warning that Brennan won’t be approved until the leak investigations finish is much more interesting, however.

“John Brennan has not been absolved of responsibility for the slew of high-level security leaks that have characterized this White House,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told POLITICO in a statement Monday. “This investigation needs to be resolved before his nomination can move forward.”

An aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “The questions about national security leaks by this administration have not yet been answered, and that will obviously be an issue as the Senate considers his nomination.”

Sure, to some degree Cornyn’s professed concern just reflects Cornyn being not only a partisan asshole, but a hypocrite about leaks.

But there seems good reason to inquire into what John Brennan’s sieve-like qualities will have on national security.

Consider his role in the exposure of the sources and methods used to set up a sting entrapping AQAP in an UndieBomb plot and with it sustaining the claim that AQAP wants to–and has the ability to–strike in the US. After the AP revealed there had been a plot (having held off at the request of the Administration), Brennan called his predecessors to spin the plot and in doing so made it clear that it was a sting, thereby exposing the British passport holder who set up the sting as an infiltrator.

At about 5:45 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 7, just before the evening newscasts, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top White House adviser on counter-terrorism, held a small, private teleconference to brief former counter-terrorism advisers who have become frequent commentators on TV news shows.

According to five people familiar with the call, Brennan stressed that the plot was never a threat to the U.S. public or air safety because Washington had “inside control” over it.

Brennan’s comment appears unintentionally to have helped lead to disclosure of the secret at the heart of a joint U.S.-British-Saudi undercover counter-terrorism operation.

A few minutes after Brennan’s teleconference, on ABC’s World News Tonight, Richard Clarke, former chief of counter-terrorism in the ClintonWhite House and a participant on the Brennan call, said the underwear bomb plot “never came close because they had insider information, insider control.”

A few hours later, Clarke, who is a regular consultant to the network, concluded on ABC’s Nightline that there was a Western spy or double-agent in on the plot: “The U.S. government is saying it never came close because they had insider information, insider control, which implies that they had somebody on the inside who wasn’t going to let it happen.”

The White House made it clear they would have revealed the plot anyway. Indeed, they did so in an analogous situation two years earlier. And our Saudi and Yemeni partners tend to boast about such things anyway. Much of the outrage over this so-called leak served only to beat up on the AP that had exposed the aforementioned abusive NYPD program.

Nevertheless, revelations about how Brennan briefs his predecessors who then run to their respective networks to officially leak this information show that he is an enthusiastic participant in the asymmetric spread of information in DC.

But hey. We knew that.

Nevertheless, the asymmetry is key. As I’ve noted, Brennan has an interesting closeness to half of the Administration’s whistleblower prosecutions. Yet one of those prosecuted whistleblowers–John Kiriakou, whose book someone who looks exactly like Brennan helped to get publishedsuggested today that Brennan is “the most prolific leaker in this administration.” A former senior Administration official seems to agree.

“It’s not on people’s radar, but this could be an issue,” said the former administration official, who asked not to be named discussing a potential downside of Brennan’s nomination. “He’s a guy who comes across as a strong, silent type who never speaks, [but] he actually does a lot of talking both internally with the president and externally with select, influential reporters. … I’m not saying the guy seeks it, but [other White House officials] view him as the most credible internal mouthpiece on national security matters.”

Which brings me back to this point. It’s not just that Brennan exposes sources and methods while seemingly supporting the unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers who do the same. But it’s also that he does so for political gain. This is not–contra Brennan’s many boosters–transparency. It’s about enforcing an official version of events that often contradicts markedly from the truth.

Mind you, it is not at all unprecedented to have a skilled leaker madly spinning Administration policies rather than leveling with the American people at CIA. That doesn’t make it good for national security, but it happens a lot.

All that said, one of yesterday’s jokes is that Brennan–a man with ties to torture and illegal wiretapping–is replacing a guy purportedly ousted for a consensual affair. There are reasons why such affairs on the part of the Director of CIA raise more concerns in the nuclear era than they might have in the past. And that nuclear tie may be the related complications cited to explain why Petraeus had to resign.

Or maybe not. In Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s recent report on Petraeus’ habit of giving the pundits who advanced his career Top Secret clearance and access to materials that might be used to oppose Administration policies, he suggested this practice was receiving new scrutiny at DOD, the kind of scrutiny that might necessitate retirement.

John Cornyn is largely being an asshole in raising Brennan’s blabby mouth in respect to his nomination. But in doing so, he may just expose the deep hypocrisy underlying this Administration’s asymmetric leaks. That may be the price Cornyn demands to rubberstamp Brennan’s CIA appointment.

John McCain: Declassify the Torture Report

John McCain just released a very strong statement on the torture report–which is below. Of particular note, he called to declassify the report.

Will McCain’s call to declassify it provide the moral weight–and political cover, for the Administration–to do so?

I commend the members and staff of the Committee who have worked tirelessly over many years to produce the comprehensive study that you meet to discuss today. At a moment when our country is once again debating the efficacy and morality of so-called “enhanced interrogation” practices, this report has the potential to set the record straight once and for all. What I have learned confirms for me what I have always believed and insisted to be true – that the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country’s conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence.

It is my sincerest hope that we Americans, for all of our many disagreements, can nonetheless manage to agree that torture of the kind described in this report is unworthy of our national honor and should no longer be a matter for discussion. It is my hope that we can reach a consensus in this country that we will never again engage in these horrific abuses, and that the mere suggestion of doing so should be ruled out of our political discourse, regardless of which party holds power. It is therefore my hope that this Committee will take whatever steps necessary to finalize and declassify this report, so that all Americans can see the record for themselves, which I believe will finally close this painful chapter for our country.

Our enemies may act without conscience, but we do not. It is indispensable to our success in this war that those we ask to fight it know that, in the discharge of their dangerous responsibilities to our country, they are never expected to forget that they are Americans, and the valiant defenders of a sacred idea of how nations should be governed and conduct their relations with others – even our enemies.

Those of us who have given our protectors this onerous duty are obliged by our history, and the many terrible sacrifices made on our nation’s behalf, to make clear that we need not risk our country’s honor to prevail – that through the violence and chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.

Update: DiFi has released a statement, along with announcing a 9-6 vote (meaning one Republican–though it could be McCain by proxy–voted for it). She says she’s not going to release it until the Executive Branch gets to review it.

Following the committee’s vote today, I will provide the report to President Obama and key executive branch officials for their review and comment. The report will remain classified and is not being released in whole or in part at this time. The committee will make those decisions after receiving the executive branch comments.

She says this in a statement that suggests this report should settle the debate about torture.

I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report.

As Failure Language Creeps into Afghanistan Discussion, McCain, Young Call for Accelerated Withdrawal

Now that most joint operations involving US and Afghan forces have been put on hold, there are major developments in both media discussions of the war and in opinions among prominent Republicans in Washington on how the US should move forward from this point. The change in media language is that there are more overt references to the war being a failure. Perhaps reflecting a realization of this point, both Bill Young (R-FL), who chairs the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have called for an accelerated exit from Afghanistan.

In The Guardian, we hear once again from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, whose earlier report on the failures of the Afghanistan war strategy was largely ignored. Davis’ message has not changed, but with the rapid rise of green on blue deaths and the suspension of most joint US-Afghan operations put into place so fast that NATO allies were caught off guard, Davis’ message now seems more likely to be understood (emphasis added):

Lieutenant colonel Daniel Davis – who caused a political stir in Washington in February by accusing the Pentagon of “lying” about the situation in Afghanistan because his experience during a year-long deployment “bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground” – said that calling off of joint operations will be damaging because it will reinforce a perception among Afghans that the US is rushing to leave.

Davis said “insider attacks” have eroded trust among Nato troops of their Afghan colleagues. But, he added, confidence between the two militaries has been on the wane for some time because of overly optimistic claims by the US about the state of the war with the Taliban and Barack Obama’s setting of a 2014 date for an end to American combat operations.

“In my personal opinion, we (Isaf) have been responsible for a portion of the destruction of trust between the Afghan forces and Isaf troopers because so often our leaders say things like “everything’s on track”, “we’re on the right azimuth.”

“But when those messages are heard by the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces, and even the Taliban, they see with their own eyes that nothing could be further from the truth. When they hear us saying these things and actually appear to believe them, they either don’t trust us or they don’t put any value in our ability to assess,” Davis said.

When you’re using the language of success to describe abject failure, you have no credibility in the eyes of those on the ground who know the truth.

But it’s not just Davis who is spreading the message of failure. Consider this from Time, where Ben Anderson discusses his new book “No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan” (emphasis added again):

What is the book’s bottom line?

Despite the incredible hard work, bravery and suffering of our troops, despite the massive Afghan civilian casualties, despite the hundreds of billions spent, we have not achieved our goals in Afghanistan.

Essentially, we’re supposed to be clearing an area of insurgents and then persuading locals to chose us and our Afghan allies over the Taliban. Most areas where we are based have not been cleared of the Taliban and even if they had been, we’re fighting to introduce a largely unwelcome government.

The Afghan army cannot provide security on its own, the Afghan government is spectacularly corrupt and the police are feared and hated, for good reason.

So even if the military part of the strategy goes perfectly to plan (and it never does) the locals don’t want what we are offering.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been told countless times that locals prefer the Taliban to foreign forces and the Afghan government, particularly the police. I should point out that I’ve spent most of time in Afghanistan in Helmand and Kandahar, where the war has always been fiercest.

Writing at Foreign Policy, analyst Arif Rafiq adds to the language of failure (emphasis added): Read more

Latif’s Death: A Blow to the Head of Our System of Justice

I’d like to take issue with Ben Wittes’ post on the sadness of Adnan Farhan abd al Latif’s death. I certainly agree with Wittes that Latif’s death is terribly sad. But I object to Wittes’ take on three related grounds. Wittes,

  • Provides a problematic depiction of the justification for Latif’s detention
  • Misstates the importance of Latif’s clearance for release
  • Assigns responsibility for Latif’s continued detention to the wrong people

Wittes tries hard to downplay how much Latif’s death in custody damns Gitmo. But he does so by obscuring a number of key facts all while accusing Gitmo foes of building up “myths.”

A problematic depiction of the justification for Latif’s detention 

Before he talks about how sad this is, Wittes tries to refute the “myths” Gitmo opponents have spread. First, he argues, we should not be arguing Latif was innocent.

Guantanamo’s foes are building up a lot of myths about the Latif case—many of which I don’t buy at all. While I have criticized the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in the case, it does not follow from the decision’s flaws that Latif was an innocent man wrongly locked up for more than a decade. Indeed, as I argued inthis post, it is possible both that the district court misread the evidence as an original matter and that the D.C. Circuit overstepped itself in reversing that decision. The evidence in the case—at least what we can see of it—does not suggest to me that Latif had no meaningful connection to enemy forces. [my emphasis]

After twice using the squirreliest of language, Wittes finally settles on a lukewarm endorsement of the argument that Latif had some “meaningful connection” to the enemy. Curiously, though, he exhibits no such hesitation when he describes Latif this way:

Latif—a guy whose mental state was fragile, who had suffered a head injury, and who seems to have had a long history of self-injury and suicide attempts. [my emphasis]

That’s curious because whether or not Latif continued to suffer from his 1994 head injury was a central issue in whether or not Latif was credible and therefore whether he should be released. Moreover, it is one area where–as I explained in this post–Janice Rogers Brown fixed the deeply flawed argument the government made, thereby inventing a new (equally problematic, IMO) argument the government had not even plead to uphold the presumption of regularity that has probably closed off habeas for just about all other Gitmo detainees.

As you’ll recall, Henry Kennedy found Latif’s argument he had traveled to Afghanistan for medical treatment for his head injury credible because DOD’s own intake form said he had medical records with him when they took custody of him in Kandahar.

Furthermore, there are indications in the record that when Latif was seized traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan, he was in possession of medical records. JE 46 at 1 (noting that Latif was seized in a “[b]order [t]own in [Pakistan]” with “medical papers”); JE 66 (unidentified government document compiling information about Latif) at 2 (stating that “[Latif] had medical papers but no passport or weapon” when he “surrendered himself to [Pakistani] authorities”).12

David Tatel, too, pointed to that in his dissent: “the most plausible reason for why Latif would have had medical papers in his possession when first seized is that his trip in fact had a medical purpose.”

Yet the government argued that Latif offered no corroboration for his story.

The court improperly gave no adverse weight to the conclusory nature of Latifs declaration, and the lack of corroboration for his account of his trip to Afghanistan, both factors which should have weighed heavily against his credibility.

[snip]

Latif also provided no corroboration for his account of his trip to Afghanistan. He submitted no evidence from a family member, from Ibrahim, or from anyone to corroborate his claim that he was traveling to Pakistan in 2001 to seek medical treatment.

That’s a laughable claim. Latif submitted one of the government’s own documents as corroboration for his story. The government, however–in a brief arguing that all government documents should be entitled to the presumption of regularity–dismissed that corroborating evidence by implying that government document didn’t mean what it said–which is that Latif had medical papers with him when captured.

Respondents argue that these indications are evidence only that Latif said he had medical records with him at the time he was seized rather than that he in fact had them.

The claim is all the more ridiculous given that, unlike the CIA interrogation report the government argued should be entitled to the presumption of regularity, there’s a clear basis for the presumption of regularity of Latif’s intake form: the Army Field Manual. It includes instructions that intake personnel examine documents taken into custody with detainees. They don’t just take detainees’ words for it, they look at the documents.

I’m not suggesting that the government’s claim–that the screener just wrote down whatever Latif said–is impossible; I think it’s very possible. But they can only make that argument if they assume the intake screener deviated from the AFM, and therefore a document created under far more regulated conditions than the CIA report, and one created in US–not Pakistani–custody, should not be entitled to the presumption of regularity. Read more

Lost Among the Findings in Syria

The Neocons have been pressuring Obama to do something in Syria. So it’s thoroughly unsurprising that we’re officially learning what we’ve known for months: the CIA has been involved in Syria. According to Mark Hosenball the Finding Obama signed authorizing such actions permits us to collaborate at a “secret” command center on or close to our air base at Incirlik.

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

[snip]

This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

The Finding doesn’t authorize arming the rebels (though Hosenball’s sources seem unsure about the general scope of the Finding), but NBC has reported that the Saudis and Qataris have already armed them with shoulder-launched missiles.

It’s just like old times! The US partnering with Saudis to get shoulder-launched missiles into the hands of rebels with dubious loyalties. Whatever could go wrong with that?

There are two details about this that deserve notice.

What happened to the leak hawks in Congress?

First, this story is based on the leak of a covert Finding–precisely the kind of leak that Congress has gone on the warpath against. Hosenball attributes his reporting to US sources–an attribution that can (though doesn’t necessarily) refer to Congressional sources.

U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

[snip]

A U.S. government source acknowledged

And while he notes–and names–the Senators who have been pressuring Obama to do precisely what he has been doing for months, Hosenball doesn’t name the members of Congress who are opposed to such an action.

Some U.S. lawmakers, such as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have criticized Obama for moving too slowly to assist the rebels and have suggested the U.S. government should become directly involved in arming Assad’s opponents.

Other lawmakers have suggested caution, saying too little is known about the many rebel groups.

In short, chances are not insignificant that a Congressional source leaked the contents of a Finding authorizing covert operations.

And yet … crickets!

Those same Senate Intelligence Committee leak hawks who have authorized a range of stupid actions to prevent leaks seem unperturbed by a leak revealing information that is as sensitive as the leaks they’re demanding be investigated.

How does anti-Assad Finding relate to the Assad-cooperation authorized under the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification?

Then there’s this. In his description of all the things included in the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification authorizing the war on terror, Bob Woodward said cooperation with Syria (and Libya) were included.

[George Tenet] called for initiating intelligence contact with some rogue states such as Libya and Syria that he said might be helpful in trying to destroy al Qaeda. For the CIA to obtain helpful information against the terrorists, they might have to get their hands dirty. (Bush at War 77)

We know the MON included such cooperation with Libya because liberated documents have reflected cooperation on renditions. And Maher Arar, who was rendered to Syria and tortured, can tell you all about what our cooperation with Syria entailed.

The thing is, the MON authorizing cooperation with Syria remains in effect. We know that to be true because Judge Richard Wesley, in enabling the government to keep all mention of this MON secret a few months ago, stated it pertained to “active intelligence activity.” Rather than writing a new MON–one that doesn’t give CIA carte blanche in deciding the limits of things like targeted killings–Obama is still relying on this MON for things like killing American citizens.

So does that mean the CIA is at once authorized to share intelligence with Bashar al-Assad (under the Gloves Come Off MON) and help rebels overthrow and probably kill him (under this new Finding)?

Probably, there is a very simple explanation for this (and for the fact that we helped to kill Moammar Qaddafi, as well). Probably, the new FInding (and whatever Finding authorized the activities our spooks engaged in in Libya) simply includes language canceling the prior language authorizing cooperation with Assad. So no big deal, really.

Still, doesn’t that give lie to the Administration’s seeming treatment of that 11 year old MON as inviolate? That is, if this Finding renders (heh) part of that MON meaningless, then maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for Obama to write a new MON, one that involved actual oversight.

Do Republicans Wish They Retroactively Had Let Newt Sustain His Bain Attacks?

[youtube]BLWnB9FGmWE[/youtube]

Two soundbites from the Sunday shows have made a big stink: Mitt Romney’s former Bain partner, Ed Conard, admitting that Mitt was legally CEO of Bain until 2002. And GOP fixer Ed Gillespie, distancing Mitt from the outsourcing Bain did by insisting Mitt had “retroactively retired” before all the bad stuff happened but while (Conard confirmed) he was legally CEO.

All that’s on top of the fact that Mitt was profiting mightily from this vulture capitalism and siphoning the money to his offshore havens in Bermuda and Cayman Islands, which we’re not yet really talking about.

More telling, though, is the list of Republicans now calling on Mitt to release more his tax returns:

  • Columnist Bill Kristol
  • AL Governor Robert Bentley
  • Lobbyist and former MS Governor Haley Barbour
  • Columnist George Will
  • Strategist Matt Dowd
  • Strategist Ana Navarro
  • Strategist John Weaver

Now, none of these people–with the possible exception of Barbour–are big insiders who have any leverage over Mitt. Moreover, I can’t think of any way that any of them would definitely know the content of Mitt’s tax returns.

But what if they do? What if they know or suspect that those tax returns would expose not just Mitt’s role in Bain (including how much they paid him in salary in 2001 and 2002 to do, Mitt claims, absolutely nothing), but how much money he siphoned away to tax havens so as to avoid paying his fair share to the country he now wants to lead? What if they know the tax returns will doom his campaign, and want to force him to release them now, while they can still replace him with Chris Christie or someone else? (To be fair, with such a diverse mix of GOPers, I suspect they’ve got different motives for their comments, including–some of them–good faith belief releasing the forms would be best.)

Which makes me think back to the week in January when the GOP had the chance to fully expose what Mitt did at Bain–with the video Newt’s SuperPAC released above–but backed off that chance. (h/t ZachBeauchamp for finding a working copy)

Newt released the video on January 7. By January 10, Newt accused Mitt of undermining capitalism. But then, on January 11, he reversed himself, claiming he overstepped and asking his SuperPAC to edit the video, using the same claims of inaccuracy advanced by fact checkers that have foundered on the obvious facts included in SEC filings now. But by January 17, he was calling on Mitt to release his tax returns. Newt won the South Carolina primary on January 21. On January 24, Mitt released a single tax return, showing he paid very little in taxes and had tax shelters in Switzerland (now closed), Bermuda, and Cayman Islands, but revealing nothing about what he did in the key years in 2001 and 2002. Since Mitt won the nomination, Newt has even warned Democrats not to attack Mitt on the same terrible Bain record he himself did.

I sort of get the feeling Newt knows what’s in Mitt’s tax returns. Indeed, I’ve seen oblique tweets from a few Republicans this weekend saying “I told you so” and paying off debts, leading me to believe more than a few Republicans tried to warn their party that this Bain thing would blow up and are now being vindicated.

Read more

Gang Warfare to Protect Israel’s Secrets

Easily the most overlooked line in David Sanger’s story on StuxNet is this one:

Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.

If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.

It’s a sentiment he repeats in this worthwhile interview:

FP: There haven’t been thoughtful discussions about the consequences or the ethics or the international legal ramifications of this approach. Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re [Iranian President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and you are confronted with this. Isn’t your first reaction, “How is them blowing up Natanz with a code any different from them blowing up Natanz with a bomb? And doesn’t that justify military retaliation?”

DS: Blowing it up with computer code, rather than bombs, is different in one big respect: It very hard for the Iranians in real time to know who the attacker was, and thus to make a public case for retaliating. It takes a long time to figure out where a cyber attack comes from.

That was a big reason for the U.S. and Israel to attack Natanz in this way. But it wasn’t the only reason, at least from the American perspective. One of the main driving forces for Olympic Games was to so wrap the Israelis into a project that could cripple Natanz in a subtle way that Israel would see less of a motivation to go about a traditional bombing, one that could plunge the Middle East into a another war. [my emphasis]

A key purpose of StuxNet, according to Sanger, was not just to set back the Iranian nuke program. Rather, it was to set back the nuke program in such a way as to set back Israel’s push for war against Iran.

With that in mind, consider the way the article blamed the Israelis for letting StuxNet escape.

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”

After having explained that the whole point of StuxNet was to stop the Israelis from bombing Iran, the article then goes on to say that what alerted the Iranians to StuxNet’s presence in their systems–and effectively gave a very dangerous weapon to hackers around the world–was an Israeli modification to the code.

The Israelis went too far.

Those details are, IMO, some of the most interesting new details, not included the last time David Sanger confirmed the US and Israel were behind StuxNet on the front page of the NYT.

How very telling, then, that of all the highly revealing articles that have come out during this Administration–of all of the highly revealing articles that have come out in general, including Sanger’s earlier one revealing some of the very same details–Congress is going apeshit over this one.

Read more