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“Oddly Passive” in the World of Drone Killing

The WaPo has an important piece on the use of drones. One thing bmaz noted about it on Twitter, for example, is that CIA had Anwar al-Awlaki under such multi-drone surveillance before they killed him, it is not credible that they killed Samir Khan, also an American, out of ignorance of his presence. Particularly given their claim they had made sure no “civilians wandered in the cross hairs.”

Two Predators pointed lasers at Awlaki’s vehicle, and a third circled to make sure that no civilians wandered into the cross hairs.

So the article makes it clear that the Administration doesn’t consider non-operational American citizen propagandists “civilians.”

But I’m particularly interested in what a “former official who served in both [the Bush and Obama] administrations and was supportive of the [drone] program” had to say about who was promoting increased use of drones. The official starts by pointing to Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, and John Brennan as the program’s champions.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former CIA director and current Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan seemed always ready to step on the accelerator, said a former official who served in both administrations and was supportive of the program. Current administration officials did not dispute the former official’s characterization of the internal dynamics.

And then calls the Commander-in-Chief “oddly passive” when it comes to drones.

Obama himself was “oddly passive in this world,” the former official said, tending to defer on drone policy to senior aides whose instincts often dovetailed with the institutional agendas of the CIA and JSOC.

The senior administration official [who also disputed that the drones were driving our counterterrorism policy and not vice versa] disputed that characterization, saying that Obama doesn’t weigh in on every operation but has been deeply involved in setting the criteria for strikes and emphasizing the need to minimize collateral damage.

“Everything about our counterterrorism operations is about carrying out the guidance that he’s given,” the official said. “I don’t think you could have the president any more involved.”

The description of a passive Obama accords with other descriptions of Obama’s role in the drone war. As I noted in October, even Obama’s “approval” of the Anwar al-Awlaki targeting, according to Mark Hosenball, consisted only of not rejecting the recommendations of the Principals Committee’s recommendation (and therefore people like Hillary, Brennan, and Panetta).

The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.

[snip]

Other officials said the role of the president in the process was murkier than what Ruppersberger described.

They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC “principals,” meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.

[snip]

Several officials said that when Awlaki became the first American put on the target list, Obama was not required personally to approve the targeting of a person. But one official said Obama would be notified of the principals’ decision. If he objected, the decision would be nullified, the official said.

A former official said one of the reasons for making senior officials principally responsible for nominating Americans for the target list was to “protect” the president.

In addition, Joby Warrick’s description of the targeting approval process used before we killed Baitullah Mehsud and his young wife shows just the Director of the CIA signing off on the killing.

So it’s not news, exactly, that Obama has been given plausible deniability about the out-of-control backlash-creating program. Nor that the Administration wants to sustain that plausible deniability while still pursuing political advantage from the drone strikes.

But I am interested in the implication Greg Miller leaves as a result. Obama is passive, and so his senior aides control the program (perhaps one of the aides denying that Obama is passive?), and they, in turn, basically support the “the institutional agendas of the CIA and JSOC.”

Here’s what that senior aide had to say to try to deny that we’re letting a fondness for drones drive our counterterrorism policy.

“People think we start with the drone and go from there, but that’s not it at all,” said a senior administration official involved with the program. “We’re not constructing a campaign around the drone. We’re not seeking to create some worldwide basing network so we have drone capabilities in every corner of the globe.”

It seems there’s a third option, an alternative to “we’re building so many drone bases because we like drones” and “we have so many drones because there are so many possible targets for them.”

That third option is that JSOC and CIA have certain “institutional agendas” that center on wielding the power of drones anywhere in the world to implement a policy they’ve dreamt up rather than their civilian Commander-in-Chief. There’s a hint, at least, that drones not only take the human out of the cockpit, but also take the Commander-in-Chief out of the cockpit as well.

Bachmann Was Almost Right: The ACLU Is in Cahoots with the CIA

As I have puzzled over the civil liberties and human rights communities’ stance on the NDAA Detainee Provisions, I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that Michelle Bachmann was not far off when she claimed, “Barack Obama … has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them.”

After all, in the guise of “fixing” some of what I agree are problems with the Detainee Provisions–the laws regarding detention and interrogation of detainees–the ACLU is telling its members to lobby for the Udall Amendment to the NDAA.

But there is a way to stop this dangerous legislation. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is offering the Udall Amendment that will delete the harmful provisions and replace them with a requirement for an orderly Congressional review of detention power. The Udall Amendment will make sure that the bill matches up with American values.

In support of this harmful bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained that the bill will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and people can be imprisoned without charge or trial “American citizen or not.” Another supporter, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also declared that the bill is needed because “America is part of the battlefield.”

The solution is the Udall Amendment; a way for the Senate to say no to indefinite detention without charge or trial anywhere in the world where any president decides to use the military. Instead of simply going along with a bill that was drafted in secret and is being jammed through the Senate, the Udall Amendment deletes the provisions and sets up an orderly review of detention power. It tries to take the politics out and put American values back in.

As a threshold matter, the ACLU’s  support of the Udall Amendment appears to put them on the same side of the debate as–among others–former CIA exec John Brennan and the former Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta. (Current CIA Director and outspoken detention authority while still at DOD, General David Petraeus, has been eerily quiet over the last several weeks.)

And I do agree with the ACLU that the Udall Amendment sets up an orderly review of detention power.

But, as I’ve noted, there’s one aspect of the Detainee Provisions that Udall doesn’t leave for orderly review: the scope of the language describing a “covered person.” Instead, Udall’s Amendment says covered people should be those “whose detention … is consistent with the laws of war and based on authority provided by” the 9/11 and Iraq AUMFs, as well as “any other statutory or constitutional authority.”

(b) Covered Persons.–A covered person under this section is any person, other than a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, whose detention or prosecution by the Armed Forces of the United States is consistent with the laws of war and based on authority provided by any of the following:

(1) The Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40).

(2) The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution 2002 (Public Law 107-243).

(3) Any other statutory or constitutional authority for use of military force.

Udall pretty much unilaterally reasserts the application of the AUMFs (plural) and other vaguely defined legal bases to detention (and, because that’s how OLC has built up Executive Power over the last decade, a bunch of other things), in an effort to defeat SASC’s language that limits such detention authority to those tied directly to 9/11 or “who [were] part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces.” Udall’s Amendment may give SSCI and SJC another shot at this law, but it dictates that detention authority apply to a far broader group of people than the SASC language describes.

Hey, Mark. See that calendar? We’re not going to pass and sign this bill before December 1. We’re due to pull our troops out of Iraq by the end of that month. Are you telling me we need to include that language for less than 31 days? Or just to provide a bubble during which the Administration can do whatever it wants with Ali Mussa Daqduq, the alleged Hezbollah agent in US custody presenting so many legal dilemmas for us in Iraq? Or are you instead applying the AUMF for a war that is effectively over to grant the President authority to hold a much broader category of “terrorist” than the 9/11 AUMF authorized? Why, at this late date, are you including the Iraq AUMF?

Given your “based on authority provided” language, I assume it is the latter, meaning this attempt to do an orderly review of detention authority also mandates that that detention authority be applied as if the Iraq war were not ending.

And all that’s before you consider the “any other statutory or constitutional authority for use of military force,” which seems to say that in any circumstance in which Congress has authorized some use of military force, Udall’s Amendment also piggybacks detention authority … and whatever else (like assassination and wiretap authority) gets built off of detention authority in secret by the OLC.

The Udall Amendment, while giving the Senate Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committees an opportunity to weigh in on what the President must and can do with detainees, goes far beyond the language in the SASC version of 1031, which reaffirmed the war on terrorists, but only on terrorists who have anything directly to do with, or are associated with, 9/11.

I may be badly misreading this. But as I understand it, the ACLU is basically lobbying to codify a vastly-expanded AUMF that will serve to legitimize many of the intelligence community’s most egregious civil liberties abuses, not just on detention, but on a range of other “war powers,” like wiretapping and assassination.

And while that may not be the same as outsourcing interrogation to the ACLU–as Bachmann described it–it does amount to using the ACLU to give sanction to a broad expansion of Executive war and surveillance powers the likes of which the CIA loves to exploit.

John Rizzo Latest Target for DOJ Probe into Leaking

It pains me to defend John Rizzo. After all, his willful dumbness–or more likely, outright deceit–played a key role in our country’s approval of torture.

Still, I have mixed feelings about investigating–and probably reprimanding, but not prosecuting–him.

The Justice Department is investigating whether a former top U.S. intelligence official, John Rizzo, improperly disclosed classified information about the CIA’s drone campaign, one of the spy agency’s most secretive and politically sensitive programs.

People familiar with the matter say that the CIA’s general counsel’s office opened the probe in March, shortly after Newsweek published an article in which Rizzo — who had retired in 2009 after serving as the CIA’s acting general counsel — outlined an array of specific details about how CIA officials choose terrorists for drone strikes and which American officials sign off on actually carrying them out.

[snip]

Investigations into current or former senior CIA officials like Rizzo are exceptionally rare, and people familiar with the investigation said they expected this one to end with some sort of formal reprimand, and possibly a financial penalty such as a decrease in his government pension, rather than with his imprisonment. Until the Justice Department decides what it wishes to do, however, the CIA cannot take any action.

Rizzo may have spoken on the record for this article out of pique that his torturers, but not Obama’s drone killers, had come under criticism (plus, I’d dispute that the drone strikes haven’t come under criticism).

But this kind of information is actually crucial for citizens in a democracy to know:

How CIA staffers determine whether to target someone for lethal operations is a relatively straightforward, and yet largely unknown, story. The president does not review the individual names of people; Rizzo explains that he was the one who signed off.

Read more

Lots of Senior Officials Spilling State Secrets Today

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

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

Then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the following:

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

[snip]

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

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

Panetta: Kill 20 Leaders, End the War on Terror

Leon Panetta kicks off his new job as Secretary of Defense with a trip to Afghanistan. On the plane over there this morning, he told reporters that we just need to kill 10 or 20 leaders of al Qaeda and we will “strategically defeat” al Qaeda. (h/t Spencer)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared Saturday that the United States is “within reach” of “strategically defeating” Al Qaeda as a terrorist threat, but that doing so would require killing or capturing the group’s 10 to 20 remaining leaders.

Heading to Afghanistan for the first time since taking office earlier this month, Panetta said that intelligence uncovered in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May showed that 10 years of U.S. operations against Al Qaeda had left it with fewer than two dozen key operatives, most of whom are in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa.

“If we can be successful at going after them, I think we can really undermine their ability to do any kind of planning to be able to conduct any kinds of attack on this country,” Panetta told reporters on his way to Afghanistan aboard a U.S. Air Force jet. “That’s why I think” that defeat of Al Qaeda is “within reach,” he added.

To kill or capture those 20 leaders, mind you, we’ve got 100,000 troops in Afghanistan–where none of these key al Qaeda leaders are, according to Panetta–and will have 70,000 there after we withdraw the surge troops. So I’m guessing Panetta isn’t really promising we’ll end the war; we’ll just have tens of thousands of troops in harms way to do … something.

Compare Panetta’s characterization of what we’re up against with Charlie Savage’s description of the government’s justification for capturing Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame. As you read this, remember that Warsame was captured on April 19, over a week before the government killed Osama bin Laden and started analyzing the intelligence at OBL’s compound. Though, according to ProPublica, we already knew that OBL nixed a suggestion to make Anwar al-Awlaki the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Savage suggests that we nabbed Warsame on his way back to Somalia from a meeting with al-Awlaki.

Meanwhile, new details emerged about Mr. Warsame’s detention on a Navy ship after his capture in April aboard a fishing skiff between Yemen and Somalia, and about internal administration deliberations on legal policy questions that could have implications for the evolving conflict against Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

A senior counterterrorism official said Wednesday that Mr. Warsame had recently met with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical cleric now hiding in Yemen.

The Administration justified capturing Warsame based on an argument not that we’re at war against al-Shabaab as a group, but that a handful of al-Shabaab leaders adhere to al Qaeda’s ideology and “could” conduct attacks outside of Somalia.

While Mr. Warsame is accused of being a member of the Shabab, which is focused on a parochial insurgency in Somalia, the administration decided he could be lawfully detained as a wartime prisoner under Congress’s authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to several officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.

But the administration does not consider the United States to be at war with every member of the Shabab, officials said. Rather, the government decided that Mr. Warsame and a handful of other individual Shabab leaders could be made targets or detained because they were integrated with Al Qaeda or its Yemen branch and were said to be looking beyond the internal Somali conflict.

“Certain elements of Al Shabab, including its senior leaders, adhere to Al Qaeda’s ideology and could conduct attacks outside of Somalia in East Africa, as it did in Uganda in 2010, or even outside the region to further Al Qaeda’s agenda,” said a senior administration official. “For its leadership and those other Al Qaeda-aligned elements of Al Shabab, our approach is quite clear: They are not beyond the reach of our counterterrorism tools.”

Now, logic dictates that this handful of leaders of a group that did not exist on 9/11 (and therefore couldn’t logically be included in the authorization of force against those who planned the attack) includes the Somalian al-Shabaab leaders included in Panetta’s 10-20 targets.

That is, among the 20 or so people we need to kill or capture to declare victory and go home try to invent some justification to keep 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, are people who simply “could” attack outside of Somalia, but may not have yet. And of course the nexus here seems to focus on al-Awlaki, a guy the Administration has declared a state secret, yet still feels free to leak details with impunity.

Don’t get me wrong, if Panetta is preparing to declare victory and come home, I’m all for it (if the Secretary of Defense actually brings these men and women home, which there’s no plan to do yet).

But there’s something fishy underlying even his claim we need to get these 10-20 leaders.

Panetta: No Detainee in CIA Custody Revealed Courier’s Real Name

Greg Sargent has liberated the letter that Leon Panetta sent to John McCain to explain how torture didn’t find Osama bin Laden. Sargent has three paragraphs of the letter (go read them), but here is the operative passage.

Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting.

In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.

Consider the significance of this letter. The Director of the CIA claims no credit for the two biggest intelligence leads that led to OBL (mind you, he oversaw that actual op to get OBL, so CIA did have a big role). While this letter doesn’t say it, McCain’s two statements (which I presume reflect further conversations with Panetta) reveal that the detainee who first discussed Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was interrogated by another country.

The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of Al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country. The United States did not conduct this detainee’s interrogation, nor did we render him to that country for the purpose of interrogation. We did not learn Abu Ahmed’s real name or alias as a result of waterboarding or any ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ used on a detainee in U.S. custody.

And we know from other descriptions that we got Abu Ahmed’s real name and location via SIGINT. Rather bizarrely, Pakistan even claims to have collected and handed over those intercepts to us (doesn’t the NSA have the best intercept capability in the Milky Way?).

The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the ISI, which prides itself on arresting a series of key terrorists including the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has now broken off relations with the Central Intelligence Agency.

“They are furious. They handed over telephone intercepts in 2009 that were crucial in leading to bin Laden’s courier – the key breakthrough in the hunt,” said a source briefed on relations between the two countries.

“Then four months ago they were told there was nothing in it, it was what the Americans called a ‘cold lead’. Since then they have been left out completely out of the loop.”

In addition, we also used various means of tracking him (presumably including more SIGINT and satellite imagery).

Note, too, that in this passage at least, Panetta doesn’t even take credit for the intelligence provided by Hassan Ghul about the true role of al-Kuwaiti in al Qaeda. As McCain describes he, he had to learn that from SSCI staffers.

I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee – information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden – was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any ‘enhanced interrogation technique.’

In other words, the CIA Director is not even bragging about stuff that did come from a CIA detainee (though I’ve raised my doubts about when he was transferred into CIA custody).

Now, maybe Panetta is doing this to appease the Pakistanis. While we can’t publicly say the SIGINT came from them (and possibly the first detainee interrogation intelligence), if CIA doesn’t claim credit it sort of makes it easier for others to do so.

But think about the other implication of this. Panetta has a date with–among others–Jeff Sessions and Scott Brown for confirmation hearings to become Secretary of Defense. This letter–and the fact it was liberated just in time to spoil AEI’s torture fest–is not going to make things easy for Panetta among the nuttier Republicans on the committee and in the Senate more generally.

Good thing the guy he wrote the letter to is the Ranking Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

CIA Had Warning on Khost Attack, Will Not Hold Anyone Responsible

Jordanian intelligence warned the CIA that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Khost bomber, might be working for al Qaeda three weeks before al-Balawi killed 7 CIA people in the attack. But because the CIA still suffers from the same information sharing shortcomings problems that prevented it from finding out about 9/11, the CIA still allowed al-Balawi onto their forward operating base.

Three weeks before a Jordanian double agent set off a bomb at a remote Central Intelligence Agency base in eastern Afghanistan last December, a C.I.A. officer in Jordan received warnings that the man might be working for Al Qaeda, according to an investigation into the deadly attack.

But the C.I.A. officer did not tell his bosses of the suspicions — brought to the Americans by a Jordanian intelligence officer — that the man might try to lure Americans into a trap, according to the recently completed investigation by the agency.

But the CIA is not holding anyone responsible for this horrible lapse, partly because the station chief killed in the attack would have received much of the blame.

Mr. Panetta said that the report did not recommend holding a single person or group of individuals directly accountable for “systemic failures.”

“This is a war,” he said, adding that it is important for the C.I.A. to continue to take on risky missions.

[snip]

Current and former C.I.A. officials said that the decision not to hold officers directly responsible for the bombing was partly informed by an uncomfortable truth: some of them might have been among those killed in the bombing.

The officials said there was particular sensitivity about how much fault to assign to Jennifer Matthews, a Qaeda expert who was the chief of the Khost base.

Before you accept that explanation, re-read the piece that Bob Baer wrote on the Khost killing in April. He attributes the lapses to the de-professionalization of operations within CIA, and argues that Matthews (whom he calls Kathy) was set up to fail.

On January 10, 2010, CIA director Leon Panetta wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he disputed that poor tradecraft was a factor in the Khost tragedy. Panetta is wrong.

An old operative I used to work with in Beirut said he would have picked up Balawi himself and debriefed him in his car, arguing that any agent worth his salt would never expose the identity of a valued asset to a foreigner like the Afghan driver. I pointed out that if he’d been there and done it that way, he’d probably be dead now. “It’s better than what happened,” he said.

One thing that should have raised doubts about Balawi was that he had yet to deliver any truly damaging intelligence on Al Qaeda, such as the location of Zawahiri or the plans for the Northwest bomb plot. Balawi provided just enough information to keep us on the hook, but never enough to really hurt his true comrades. And how was it that Balawi got Al Qaeda members to pose for pictures? This should have been another sign. These guys don’t like their pictures taken. So there were a few clear reasons not to trust Balawi, or at least to deal with him with extreme caution.

But the most inexplicable error was to have met Balawi by committee. Informants should always be met one-on-one. Always.

The fact is that Kathy, no matter how courageous and determined, was in over her head. This does not mean she was responsible for what happened. She was set up to fail. The battlefield was tilted in Al Qaeda’s favor long ago—by John Deutch and his reforms, by the directors who followed him, by the decision to drop the paramilitary course from the mandatory curriculum (which would have made Kathy a lot more wary of explosives), and by two endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have worn the CIA down to a nub. Had Kathy spent more time in the field, more time running informants, maybe even been stung by one or two bad doubles, the meeting in Khost probably would have been handled differently—and at the very least there would have been one dead rather than eight.

And while two of the recommendations Leon Panetta offered in response to the investigation was to provide more training on counterintelligence and to make sure veterans are involved in the most critical counterterrorism operations, that doesn’t address what Baer, at least says needs to happen: fixing the entire career path of CIA professionals out in the field.

Is not holding anyone responsible for this horrible mistake about protecting a CIA officer who died after being set up to fail? Or protecting her superiors who put her in that position?

CIA Sues over Whistleblower Book

Jeff Stein reports that, after months of rumors this would happen, the CIA has sued Ishmael Jones for publishing The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture without approval from CIA’s review board.

The Justice Department suit, on behalf of the spy agency, seeks “an injunction against any further violations of ‘Jones’ secrecy obligations and recovery of the proceeds from the unauthorized publication.”

It cited as precedent Snepp vs. United States, the 1980 Supreme Court decision against former CIA officer Frank Snepp that validated the agency requirement that employees submit their writings for approval as a fiduciary obligation.

As a result of the decision, the government was able to seize Snepp’s profits from the book. Snepp subsequently wrote a second book, “Irreparable Harm: A Firsthand Account of How One Agent Took on the CIA in an Epic Battle Over Free Speech,” which was cleared by the agency.

Like Snepp, whose memoir “Decent Interval” harshly criticized CIA activities at the end of the Vietnam War, Jones maintains that his book contained “no classified information.”

He said he used a pseudonym because “I was under deep cover for most of my career, so to use my real name might expose people I’ve met.”

Publishing the book without approval was necessitated because “there are no viable whistleblower mechanisms within the CIA,” he said.

I guess, unlike Bob Woodward, Jones is one of the people whom the President won’t allow to leak secrets.

The Secrets They’re Keeping Selectively Leaking about Anwar al-Awlaki

As I noted yesterday (and Glenn has examined at more length), in addition to asserting that the government can target Anwar al-Awlaki … because they said so, the Obama Administration also invoked state secrets in its motion to dismiss the ACLU/CCR suit challenging targeted killings.

The Obama Administration has officially positioned itself to the right of hack lawyer David Rivkin.

But the state secrets invocation is interesting not just because it shows a Democratic Administration out-hacking a noted hack.

For example, I think the invocation shows just how weak they recognize their own argument to be. Consider what Robert Gates (who invoked something newfangled called the “military and state secrets privilege”) and James Clapper described as falling under their invocation of state secrets (Leon Panetta basically said only that CIA could neither confirm nor deny its involvement, which sort of makes me wonder whether CIA really has targeted al-Awlaki or not).

Robert Gates:

A. Intelligence information DoD possesses concerning AQAP and Anwar al-Aulaqi, including intelligence concerning the threat AQAP or Anwar al-Aulaqi pose to national security, and the sources, methods, and analytic processes on which any such intelligence information is based;

B. Information concerning possibly military operations in Yemen, if any, and including criteria or procedures DoD may utilize in connection with such military operations; and

C. Information concerning relations between the United States and the Government of Yemen, including with respect to security, military, or intelligence cooperation, and that government’s counterterrorism efforts.

James Clapper:

A. (U) Intelligence information concerning al-Qaeda and the sources and methods for acquiring that information.

B. (U) Intelligence information concerning AQAP and the sources and methods for acquiring that information.

C. (U) Intelligence information concerning Anwar al-Aulaqi and the sources and methods for acquiring that information.

The Administration is sort of kind of relying on the President’s authority under the AUMF (unless the judge doesn’t buy that argument, in which case the Administration promises to try something else), which states:

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

In other words, the Administration is relying on some tie between AQAP and the al Qaeda organization that hit us on 9/11 for its authority to kill an American citizen with no due process. Mind you, it can’t say precisely what that tie is–whether AQAP is al Qaeda or whether it is just closely connected enough to be included under the AUMF. But that’s precisely what it has called a state secret: the evidence of ties between the group against which Congress declared war in 2001 and the group we’re targeting in Yemen.

Effectively, the Executive Branch–with no known support from Congress–is saying we’re at war against AQAP. But it’s also saying no one outside of select people within the Executive Branch (and, presumably, a group of four or maybe eight members of Congress who serve in leadership or on the Intelligence Committees) can see the evidence that proves we’re at war against AQAP.

The President has unilaterally declared war against a group but then said no one can see why he has done so.

And then both Gates and Clapper invoke state secrets over the evidence the government has against al-Awlaki.

Rather than prove to a judge that they even have reasonable suspicion to believe al-Awlaki is part of AQAP, much less enough evidence to execute him, the government has instead asserted that all of that is a state secret. They’ve declared everything al-Awlaki would need to challenge his execution a state secret. Even KSM will be able to see the evidence against him; and he has admitted to killing 3,000 Americans. But American citizen al-Awlaki, whom no one has accused of actually killing anyone, can’t see the same kind of information.

Finally, there’s the tired old sources and methods catch all. We can’t know how the government has collected the evidence it has against al-Awlaki.

Except we already do.

Thanks largely to the efforts of Crazy Pete Hoekstra, we know that the government had wiretaps on al-Awlaki going back at least since December 2008. Al-Awlaki himself has challenged the government to release the intercepts they have on him (which public reports say include correspondence with tens of thousands of people). Al-Awlaki has even made some of that correspondence available himself. But the government says all that is a state secret.

Furthermore, some of the evidence against al-Awlaki appears in court documents, from the public testimony of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The alleged recruitment of Abdulmutallab is one of the key issues the government describes al-Awlaki to have been involved in. That information is public. Yet the government also says it is a state secret.

And if all this really is a state secret, then why isn’t Crazy Pete Hoekstra in jail? Read more

Obama Doesn’t Know Why the Fuck He’s Entitled to Kill Al-Awlaki, He Just Is, Damnit

The most striking aspect of the government’s motion to dismiss the ACLU/CCR lawsuit challenging the use of targeted killing is that the government does not commit to the basis for its authority to kill an American citizen like Anwar al-Awlaki with no review.

This starts as soon as the filing tries to lay the ground work for unchecked authority under the AUMF. It doesn’t commit to whether Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is part of al Qaeda itself, or is instead just closely enough associated to count under the AUMF.

The United States has further determined that AQAP is an organized armed group that is either part of al-Qaeda, or is an associated force, or cobelligerent, of al-Qaeda that has directed armed attacks against the United States in the noninternational armed conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda that the Supreme Court recognized in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557, 628-31 (2006).

[snip]

Furthermore, as noted above, the Executive Branch has determined that AQAP is an organized armed group that is either part of al-Qaeda or, alternatively, is an organized associated force, or cobelligerent, of al-Qaeda that has directed attacks against the United States in the noninternational armed conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda that the Supreme Court has recognized (see Hamdan, 548 U.S. at 628-31). [my emphasis]

Though note the gigantic slip here: the AUMF only declares war against those “those nations, organizations, or persons [the President] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons” (when AQAP didn’t exist in its current form), not those who have attacked us since. This “either/or” statement only claims that AQAP is part of the same war, not that it had any role in 9/11, so it’s totally bogus in any case, even without the betrayal of their lack of confidence in both of these claims with the either/or construction.

Presumably to tie AQAP more closely to the AUMF, the government then notes that the Treasury declared AQAP a terrorist organization (not noting that that happened eight months after al-Awlaki was first targeted for assassination), which in turn relies upon a Presidential declaration issued roughly around the same time as the AUMF.

Based in part on this information, on July 16, 2010, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued an order designating Anwar al-Aulaqi a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT) for, inter alia, “acting for or on behalf of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) . . . and for providing financial, material or technological support for, or other services to or in support of, acts of terrorism[.]” Designation of ANWAR AL–AULAQI Pursuant to Executive Order 13224 and the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 594, 75 Fed. Reg. 43233, 43234 (July 23, 2010).1

1 This designation was issued pursuant to the President’s authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”), 50 U.S.C. §§ 1701-06. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the President issued Executive Order No. 13224 (“E.O. 13224”), 66 Fed. Reg. 49,079 (2001), effective September 24, 2001, declaring a national emergency with respect to the “grave acts of terrorism . . . and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on United States nationals or the United States.” See E.O. 13224, Preamble. The Secretary of State previously designated AQAP as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on January 19, 2010, pursuant to her powers under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1189. (See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2010/01/135364.htm).

Gosh! That’s almost like AQAP was included in the AUMF back in 2001, the reliance on a declaration made just days after the AUMF itself.

Except it’s not. (And the argument itself presumes that anyone Timmeh Geithner wants to call a terrorist can be killed with no due process, whether or not they have a tie to Al Qaeda.)

You can tell DOJ’s lawyers recognize this to be a gaping hole in their argument, because they repeatedly claim–without providing any evidence–that they have been authorized by “the political branches” to use all means against the threat that Al-Awlaki is part of.

In particular, plaintiff’s requested relief would put at issue the lawfulness of the future use of force overseas that Executive officials might undertake at the direction of the President against a foreign organization as to which the political branches have authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force.

[snip]

More broadly, the Complaint seeks judicial oversight of the President’s power to use force overseas to protect the Nation from the threat of attacks by an organization against which the political branches have authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force, in compliance with applicable domestic and international legal requirements, including the laws of war. See Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Pub. L. No. 107 40, 115 Stat. 224 (2001) (Joint Resolution of Congress signed by the President). [my emphasis]

Last I checked, only one political branch has the authority to declare war, Congress. Not multiple political branches. That the Administration has even invoked political branches, plural, for their authority to use force–basically arguing “we and that rump organization better known as Congress have authorized this, so there!”–demonstrates the audacity of their claim to self-authorize using unlimited power.

Presumably to reinforce the magic power of this strange invocation of the political branches, the filing then argues that judges aren’t equipped “to manage” the Executive Branch.

The Judiciary is simply not equipped to manage the President and his national security advisors in their discharge of these most critical and sensitive executive functions and prescribe ex ante whether, where, or in what circumstances such decisions would be lawful. Whatever the limits of the political question doctrine, this case is at its core.

Of course, that’s not what the suit asks the court to do at all. It asks the court to review the decisions of the Executive Branch, not least to see whether its actions comply with the terms which that other political branch–the one that actually has the authority to declare war–has laid out.

Review … manage.

What’s the difference if an American citizen’s life is at stake?

Read more