Erik Prince, Sanctions, and Mineral Wealth

Let me start by laying out a few details about Erik Prince that have been reported of late.

  • Prince recently gave a speech I interpreted as a proposal for private contractors to serve as big oil’s enforcer–including in Nigeria and Iran
  • Blackwater illegally tried (but allegedly failed) to negotiate a deal to train guards for southern Sudan; as part of the deal, Blackwater would be paid with 50% of Sudan’s mineral wealth
  • The US is close, again, to not prosecuting Blackwater and instead simply fining it for that illegal contracting attempt and other export control violations
  • Anonymous sources say (but his spokesperson will not confirm) that Erik Prince will move to the United Arab Emirates, which has no extradition treaty with the US, claiming he would be leaving the US market altogether
  • He also announced he was selling the company–though you gotta wonder how the reported fine will play into the sale
  • For its part, Blackwater just signed new deals with the State Department and CIA for work in Afghanistan, which has been recently touted for its mineral wealth
  • When asked about the new CIA Blackwater contract, Leon Panetta explained that CIA has reviewed all of BW’s contracts and that for this one, BW simply underbid other bidders
  • Facing a veto threat from the Obama Administration, DiFi has all but dealt away Congress’ demand that GAO be able to audit intelligence related programs–including things like fraud in black ops contracts (more on that later)

Now, as I pointed out in my post on Prince’s reported move to UAE, his move followed that of Halliburton. Given the McClatchy report on the fairly extensive list of alleged export and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act crimes Blackwater had committed, I could imagine that Prince might move for precisely the same reason Halliburton may have–to avoid being held responsible for bribing foreign officials and violating sanction regimes (Halliburton faced its own FCPA charges when it moved to UAE).

Here’s what Blackwater was up to in Sudan:

After negotiating a $2 million draft contract to train Kiir’s personal security detail, Blackwater in early 2007 drafted a detailed second proposal, valued at more than $100 million, to equip and train southern Sudan’s army. Because the south lacked ready cash, Blackwater sought 50percent of its untapped mineral wealth, a former senior U.S. official said.

In addition to its well-known oil and natural gas reserves, southern Sudan has vast untapped reserves of gold, iron and diamonds.

“Most people don’t know this stuff exists. These guys did,” said a second former senior official who saw the document, which apparently was never signed.

Ultimately, though, Blackwater’s venture in Sudan foundered, U.S. officials said.

“Blackwater had some problems in Iraq,” said Deng Deng Nhial, the deputy chief of southern Sudan’s Washington office. “Nothing really materialized. No services were performed.”

Federal investigators, however, found evidence that Blackwater’s sales campaign had violated U.S. sanctions, export control laws and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is designed to prevent U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials in return for business, according to the officials and documents.

The suspected violations included brokering for defense services without a U.S. government-approved license; transferring satellite phones and encrypted e-mail capabilities to southern Sudanese officials; and attempting to open a joint escrow account with the South’s government at a Minnesota bank.

So now you’ve got Prince, the guy who set up our Black Ops contractor, located in the Persian Gulf, with no way to prevent him from violating the US’ own laws about corruption and sanctions. Prince says he’s done working with the United States, and maybe he’s done working directly with the US. Or maybe not. But we do know he’s got aspirations to work with both US allies and enemies.

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Tapper Throws Softball on Drones to Panetta

Jake Tapper’s interview with Leon Panetta has made a lot of news already and he deserves credit for getting the CIA Director on film in the first place. But one question he asked did more harm than good. Tapper asked Panetta to assure us that the US use of drones was legal. But he limited that question to Pakistan.

Tapper: Will you give us your personal assurance that everything the CIA is doing in Pakistan is compliant with US and international law?

Panetta: There’s no question that we are abiding by international law, and the law of war.

As the UN report on targeted killing (which Tapper references in setting up his question) makes clear, the problem with drones is not so much their use against combatants in active war zones (as the borderlands of Pakistan, at least, is).

79. The use of drones for targeted killings has generated significant controversy. Some have suggested that drones as such are prohibited weapons under IHL because they cause, or have the effect of causing, necessarily indiscriminate killings of civilians, such as those in the vicinity of a targeted person.142 It is true that IHL places limits on the weapons States may use, and weapons that are, for example, inherently indiscriminate (such as biological weapons) are prohibited.143 However, a missile fired from a drone is no different from any other commonly used weapon, including a gun fired by a soldier or a helicopter or gunship that fires missiles. The critical legal question is the same for each weapon: whether its specific use complies with IHL. [my emphasis]

Rather, the problem is using drones in places like Somalia and Yemen, where we are not at war.

86. Outside its own territory (or in territory over which it lacked control) and where the situation on the ground did not rise to the level of armed conflict in which IHL would apply, a State could theoretically seek to justify the use of drones by invoking the right to anticipatory self-defence against a non-state actor.147 It could also theoretically claim that human rights law’s requirement of first employing less-than-lethal means would not be possible if the State has no means of capturing or causing the other State to capture the target. As a practical matter, there are very few situations outside the context of active hostilities in which the test for anticipatory self-defence – necessity that is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation”148 – would be met. This hypothetical presents the same danger as the “ticking-time bomb” scenario does in the context of the use of torture and coercion during interrogations: a thought experiment that posits a rare emergency exception to an absolute prohibition can effectively institutionalize that exception. Applying such a scenario to targeted killings threatens to eviscerate the human rights law prohibition against the arbitrary deprivation of life. In addition, drone killing of anyone other than the target (family members or others in the vicinity, for example) would be an arbitrary deprivation of life under human rights law and could result in State responsibility and individual criminal liability. [my emphasis]

So by phrasing the question as he did, specifically limiting it to one of the few places where it is legal, Tapper invited Panetta to claim legality for the wider drone program.

Now, Tapper prefaces this question by noting that Panetta can’t discuss classified programs, perhaps suggesting that the drone attacks in countries with which we are not at war are a secret (though our first strike in Yemen was widely reported in 2002!).

But if the effect of the question, as asked, is to allow the government to specifically obscure the legal issues, is it really worth asking?

We Spend $1 Billion/Year Fighting Each al Qaeda Member in Afghanistan

Think Progress does the math on Panetta’s admission that there are just 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and discovers we’ve got 1,000 American troops in Afghanistan for each al Qaeda member.

The U.S. has committed nearly 100,000 troops to the mission in Afghanistan. ABC This Week host Jake Tapper asked CIA Director Leon Panetta how big is the al Qaeda threat that the soldiers are combating:

TAPPER: How many Al Qaeda, do you think, are in Afghanistan?

PANETTA: I think the estimate on the number of Al Qaeda is actually relatively small. I think at most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of Al Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

The 100,000 U.S. forces that have been tasked to dismantle the 100 or so al Qaeda members — a ratio of 1000:1 — is complicated by the fact that we are also engaged in operations going after the Taliban leadership.

Now let me add to their math. Even Afghan war fans admit that it costs $1 million a year–on top of things like salary–to support a US service member in Afghanistan.

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution, says one useful way to break down these huge numbers is to look at how much it costs to send just one soldier to war.

“We are at a point where it’s unbelievably costing us close to a million dollars, in additional costs — above and beyond salaries and the equipment that’s already in the inventory — per soldier or Marine per year,” he says.

Fighting in Afghanistan means fighting in one of the most remote regions on Earth, and that plays a large role in the seemingly astronomical figure.

Dov Zakheim, a former chief financial officer for the Defense Department, says the $1 million price tag includes getting the soldier to Afghanistan, getting his equipment to Afghanistan, and moving the soldier around once in the country.

So 1,000 US troops per al Qaeda member, at a cost of $1 million each. That’s $1 billion a year we spend for each al Qaeda member to fight our war in Afghanistan.

This sort of adds a new twist to that old Einstein quip about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Because we’re doing the same thing over and over again–at a cost of $1 billion a year per nominal opponent–and expecting anything other than bankruptcy.

“Pattern of Life” Drone Strikes

The LAT reports that targeting for most of the drone strikes that have killed more than 500 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been based not on information about an individual’s ties to terrorism, but rather on “pattern of life” analysis that targets the actions of a person.

The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

Think about that: we’re potentially killing people based not on what we know about an individual, but what we have observed solely through the camera of a drone. Or, if we’ve got particularized information from someone on the grounds, it’s as likely to be someone from Blackwater or an even more disreputable contractor posing as PsyOp warriors. And this includes strikes in Pakistan, a country with which we are not at war, supposedly. And among those targeted in such a manner may be associates of Faisal Shahzad.

Remember that old Bush ditty, that we were fighting them over here so we didn’t have to fight them here? Apparently that has now been turned on its head: we are targeting them from here which may make it more likely we’ll be fighting them here.

“High Side” Cables and FOIA Responses

As you’ll no doubt understand over the next week or so, bmaz and I have been comparing the case of David Passaro, the only CIA-related person to be prosecuted for detainee abuse, with what happened in Gul Rahman’s death at the Salt Pit. Passaro, a CIA contractor obviously trained in SERE-based interrogation techniques, was convicted of assaulting an Afghan, Abdul Wali, with his hand, foot, and flashlight, while interrogating him at the Asadabad firebase in Eastern Afghanistan in June 2003.

I’ll have a lot more to say about Passaro’s case in upcoming posts (short story, though, is his defense tested many of John Yoo’s favorite theories and lost). But for now, I wanted to point to two passages in this filing, which requests electronic communications evidence related to Wali’s interrogation and death. One thing it requests are transcripts of satellite phone calls from the Field.

The audio recordings and/or text documentation of the contents of satellite phone calls related to the events which prompted Wali’s surrender; his subsequent intake, detention, and questioning; his death; and all investigations into these events. Counsel for Mr. Passaro has learned that CIA operatives and contractors, members of Special Operations forces, and military intelligence unites, and members of other governmental agencies (OGA) frequently used satellite phones to communicate from this region of Afghanistan, and that the government maintains voice recordings of all satellite phone calls;

Granted, Afghanistan is apt to be more reliant on Sat Phone calls than–say–Thailand or Poland. But this request suggests there might be another set of documentation pertaining to (for example) daily authorizations for torture techniques in April and May 2002.

Then there is Passaro’s lawyer’s suggestion that the government has withheld what is called “high side” message traffic from him.

All message traffic to or from any member of a Special Ops (Special Forces, Delta Force, Navy Seals, etc.) or Military Intelligence unit, or OGA, related to the events which prompted Wali’s surrender; his subsequent intake, detention, and questioning; his death; and all investigations into these events. Counsel for Mr. Passaro has learned that members of these units [redacted] and submitted daily situation reports which detailed the detention and questioning of all detainees. Based on our review of the redacted messages the government submitted November 10, 2004, it appears that these messages–classified as “secret” and known as “low-side” traffic–originated from a member of the CIA. Message traffic to and from members of the units specified in this request were typically sent as “high-side” traffic and were sent independent from any CIA messages;

As I understand it, “high side” and “low side” refer to two different communication networks, Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) and Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), respectively (I believe that’s what’s pictured in the image above). Stuff that’s Top Secret or TS/SCI has to go over the JWICS network because it’s more secure. And Passaro was complaining that he only got cables that were classified Secret, which, he suggested, meant the government had not turned over the cables that had been sent over JWICS.

Now, I’m more interested in what this means for public disclosures rather than Passaro’s case. Many of the cables we’ve seen referred to in CIA Vaughn Indices refer to Secret, not Top Secret cables. Since we’re getting just Secret cables, it suggests the possibility that we’re getting just “low side” communications, rather than the most sensitive communications.

The exception to that assertion–the one case where it appears CIA has described a whole bunch of Top Secret cables, actually raises even more concerns. The index of cables back and forth from Thailand to Langley from 2002 appears to show a batch of cables that are almost all Top Secret cables. But recall what Leon Panetta revealed in a footnote last year: that “many” of the cables were actually classified “Secret,” but that he was retroactively calling them “Top Secret.”

Then there’s the last bit, wherein cables originally classified as SECRET apparently have become TOP SECRET.

In his declaration, Panetta notes that some of the documents in the declaration were not marked properly:

Many of the operational communications were originally marked as SECRET in our communications database even though they should have been marked as TOP SECRET, and some of the miscellaneous documents were not properly marked. While we are not altering original electronic copies, this error is being corrected for copies printed for review in this case.

Given that Panetta uses the word “many,” I assume this means more than just the one operational cable from HQ to Field, dated November 30, 2002, that is marked SECRET on the CIA’s list of documents (I believe the other documents marked SECRET are what Panetta treats as “miscellaneous” documents). So, first of all, there’s the funny detail that the CIA has been representing these documents to be TOP SECRET to Judge Hellerstein since at least May 1, yet they’re only now getting around to telling him (now that they’re turning some over for his review) that they were originally actually marked SECRET.

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Obama’s Intelligence Leaders: For GAO Oversight Before They Were Against It

Yesterday, we talked about how Rahm Emanuel opposed indefinite detention before he started working for it with Lindsey Graham.

Today, Steven Aftergood shows that Obama’s two intelligence heads, Leon Panetta and Dennis Blair, supported GAO oversight of intelligence activities before–presumably–they supported yesterday’s veto threat of GAO oversight.

As a Congressman in 1987, Leon Panetta actually introduced a measure to give GAO oversight authority over the CIA.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and others have repeatedly argued that the GAO could usefully supplement the intelligence oversight process without detracting anything.  “It is Congress’s responsibility to ensure that the IC carries out its critical functions effectively and consistent with congressional authorization. For too long, GAO’s expertise and ability to engage in constructive oversight of the IC have been underutilized,” Sen. Akaka said last year.

In 2008, Sen. Akaka chaired a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing (at which I testified [pdf]) on the feasibility and utility of GAO intelligence oversight.  “Congress must redouble its efforts–that is what we are trying to do–to ensure that U.S. intelligence activities are conducted efficiently, effectively, and with due respect for the civil rights and civil liberties of Americans, and I will work to see that it does,” Sen. Akaka said then.

Amazingly, an earlier version of the proposal for an expanded GAO role in intelligence oversight was introduced in 1987 by then-Rep. Leon Panetta, who is now the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

According to Rep. Panetta’s proposed “CIA Accountability Act of 1987″ (pdf) (H.R. 3603 in the 100th Congress), “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Comptroller General [who directs the GAO] shall audit the financial transactions and shall evaluate the programs and activities of the Central Intelligence Agency” either at his own initiative or at the request of the congressional intelligence committees.

And during his confirmation hearings, Blair was open to the possibility of GAO oversight as well.

At the January 22, 2009 confirmation hearing (pdf) of Adm. Dennis C. Blair to be Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Blair also acknowledged a role for GAO in intelligence oversight.

Sen. Ron Wyden asked him: “If the GAO is conducting a study at the direction of one of the intelligence committees using properly cleared staff, will you give them the access they need to do their work?”

Adm. Blair replied: “Senator, I’m aware that the direction of GAO studies and the terms of them are generally subject to talk between the two branches of government for a variety of reasons, and subject to having those discussions, ultimately I believe the GAO has a job to do and I will help them do that job.”

But, along with Obama’s opposition to investigating the Amerithrax investigation, he is now threatening to veto legislation that advocates just this kind of oversight.

Where Does Blackwater Play in the CIA-DNI Conflict?

By now you’ve probably read Jeremy Scahill’s latest, which moves forward the story of Blackwater thugs being deployed with the JSOC in Pakistan. It confirms what Sy Hersh reported last year–that these covert actions were (and may still be) eluding Congressional oversight, that Dick Cheney directed their activities directly.

But I’d like to focus on the picture Scahill draws of the competing lines of authority in Pakistan and put it in the context of the recently-solved turf war between Leon Panetta and Dennis Blair. Scahill explains that, since both JSOC and CIA are doing drone strikes in Pakistan (and Blackwater is assisting both) but JSOC’s have remained secret until now, CIA often gets the blame for Blackwater’s mistakes.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. “Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings.

I’m particularly focused on these competing lines of authorities in Pakistan because of one aspect to the turf war between Leon Panetta and Dennis Blair. Read more

The Tortured Intra-Administration Squabble Continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panetta’s Threats

I’m trying to find it, but some weeks back, there was a report of Rahm and Leon Panetta having a very contentious very public meal in DC. Which is what I assume this passage from the ABC story reporting (again) that Panetta may be on his way out at CIA refers to.

According to intelligence officials, Panetta erupted in a tirade last month during a meeting with a senior White House staff member. Panetta was reportedly upset over plans by Attorney General Eric Holder to open a criminal investigation of allegations that CIA officers broke the law in carrying out certain interrogation techniques that President Obama has termed "torture."

Assuming that the senior staffer was Rahm (always a good guess when tirades are involved), what does that say about the rest of the article (aside from the fact that the description of Panetta using "salty language" without reporting that it was probably a two-way flood of "fucks" suggests some bias)?

The article itself reports three kinds of complaints Panetta has regarding his position:

  • The imminent appointment of a prosecutor to investigate torture and dealing with the Democrats in the House
  • Panetta’s subordinate position with respect to Dennis Blair
  • Panetta’s discomfort with "with some of the operations being carried out by the CIA that he did not know about until he took the job"

Of note, those are unlike things. Panetta’s frustration with the torture investigation and his former colleagues is undoubtedly related. But his pique at being bureaucratically bested by Blair is completely different. And the discomfort about ongoing operations–suggesting he’s less willing to push the limits than the "former top US intelligence official" reporting this complaint is another kind of problem altogether.

In other words, it’s unclear from the reporting whether Panetta’s complaining because he has been too protective of CIA, of his own turf, or of the law. 

Now add that range of complaints in with some of the guarantees from those who might be passing on mere observations or might be attempts to create the reality it claims to observe. In particular, I’m particular intrigued by the report that one of the runners-up to Panetta in getting the position is already being briefed to take over appearing in the same article citing a former high ranking intelligence officer.

"Leon will be leaving," predicted a former top U.S. intelligence official, citing the conflict with Blair. 

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The Errors of Telling of Leon Panetta’s Error

By my count there are 27 paragraphs in the Daily Beast’s breathless attempt to un-ring Leon Panetta’s bell for him–to tell a story in which Panetta’s revelation that the CIA had an assassination program it had not briefed Congress on was all a big misunderstanding. It takes novelist Joseph Finder, who wrote this story, until paragraph 23 to reveal the context of HPSCI’s reaction to Panetta’s briefing on the program that hadn’t previously been briefed.

More seriously, this controversy has given ammunition to congressional efforts to broaden CIA briefings. Instead of allowing the CIA to limit disclosure of the most sensitive, most highly classified stuff to just the “Gang of Eight”—the leaders of those committees and of the House and Senate—they want to require the CIA to brief the full membership of the intelligence committees.

Somehow, Finder neglects to provide his readers that information where it chronologically makes sense–between the time Panetta briefed Congress on June 24 …

On June 23, in the course of a routine briefing by the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Panetta first learned about the assassination squads. Alarmed, he terminated the program at once and called the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). He told Reyes he’d discovered something of grave concern, and requested an urgent briefing for the House and Senate intelligence committees as soon as possible. Less than 24 hours later, he was on the Hill, "with his hair on fire," as a Republican member of the House committee put it. “The whole committee was stunned,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA).

And when he describes them leaking the letter and turning this into a big stink.

Afterward, seven Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee sent Panetta an indignant letter: “Recently you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all members of Congress, and misled members for a number of years from 2001 to this week," the Democratic lawmakers wrote. They demanded he “correct” his statement back in May that the CIA does not mislead Congress.

Ten days later, one of them leaked the letter.

That is, Finder totally neglects to mention the full chronology, which looks something like this:

June 24: Panetta’s briefing on this program

June 26: HPSCI passes a funding authorization report expanding the Gang of Eight briefings

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