Posts

Trump’s 200 Million Inauguration Visitors and $15 Million Net Worth: The Scale of His Border Lies

Tonight, Trump will take over the airwaves to lie about the southern border in what will either be a last ditch effort to persuade Senate Republicans to stay the course supporting his temper tantrum, or will include a declaration of emergency that would pave the way to reopen government while saving face, all while creating an unbelievably dangerous precedent in the process.

Yesterday, NBC reported just how enormous are the lies the Trump Administration is telling about the southern border.

It describes that while the Administration claims to have stopped 4,000 known or suspected terrorists last year, in reality, CBP stopped just six.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data provided to Congress in May 2018 and obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

That number six is itself an exaggeration. In a piece predicting that, “the Intelligence Community is almost certainly not able to stand publicly behind what the White House and DHS are saying,” former National Counterterrorism Center Director Nick Rasmussen explains what (he correctly suspected) that number represents: visa denials based on a possible link to terrorism.

[T]hose visa denials or SIA encounters hardly equates to disruption of a terrorist plot or the “capture” of a known terrorist. Our watchlisting system is predicated on a carefully calibrated risk management approach. When the intelligence community acquires information that points to a potential link to terrorist activity, individuals are not permitted to travel to the United States. But it should not be assumed that every individual who was denied the opportunity to enter the U.S. because was in fact a would-be terrorist intent on doing us harm.

Plus, the 4,000 number equates to all such stops, not just those on the southern border.

In other words, the White House has been telling an unbelievable exaggeration to attempt to ratchet up fear to justify Trump’s tantrum.

It is, even among Trump’s fantastic lies, remarkable. Trump used a number, 4,000, that is actually 666 times higher than even a conservatively high number, 6.

To show just how big a lie it is, I calculated what two of Trump’s other most famous lies, exaggerated on such a scale, would be.

In an effort to avoid looking inadequate as compared to President Obama, whose inauguration had record crowds (much to the chagrin of those us of caught in the Purple Tunnel of Doom), Trump claimed more people attended his inauguration than ever before, meaning more than the 1.8 million who attended Obama’s first inauguration. In reality, the number was likely between 300,000 and 600,000. Take the smaller of those two numbers, exaggerate by as much as Trump is exaggerating the threat of terrorist infiltration on the southern border, and he’d have to claim 200 million people would have attended his inauguration, many more times the crowd Obama got.

Or take his net worth, another of his most epic lies.

Trump has claimed his net worth is $10 billion; the company, too, claims to make that much in a given year. Last year Forbes calculated Trump’s net worth was actually closer to $3 billion.

But if we take Trump’s exaggerated claim of $10 billion, and assumed he is exaggerating by the scale that he’s exaggerating the threat at the southern border, and it’d say his real net worth was just $15 million.

I mean, that’d make Mitt Romney far richer than Trump. Richard Blumenthal, too, would be worth more than the President. The Senate might not even let a pauper like that join their club! According to some calculations, Nancy Pelosi would even be worth more — in monetary, and not just human, worth — than Trump if he exaggerated this much.

The point is this lie is not just egregious and fact-free. It is, even among Trump’s lies, a whopper.

And Trump will go on teevee tonight to try to spread lies on an epic scale.

Nick Rasmussen’s Leak Interviews

This is a detail I’ve meant to post on for some time, but the discussion of ODNI’s latest on leaks has finally prompted me to point to this detail.

As part of the standard questionnaire for Intelligence Committee nominees, Rasmussen was asked if he had been interviewed in the last 10 years in a leak investigation (question 42). He responded that he had been interviewed in two investigations:

  • In 2013, for a FBI investigation concerning compromise/leak of classified information related to a disrupted terrorism plot in 2010
  • In 2014, in connection with an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

The latter one is likely to be the 2014 investigation into who leaked a terrorist watch list document to the Intercept. Rasmussen would clearly be among the (as he describes it “large number of people who had access by virtue of position to the information that was reportedly compromised.”

It’s the other investigation I’m interested in. The best known “disrupted” terrorist plot in 2010 was the AQAP toner cartridge plot. And while it could be a different thwarted plot (like Faisal Shahzad’s attack, though not much got leaked about it except from Pakistan), no one has ever reported an investigation into that, even though aspects of that leak largely resembled the UndieBomb 2.0 leak that DOJ subpoenaed the AP over.

But I’m just as struck by Rasmussen’s silence about the UndieBomb 2.0 leak investigation. Rasmussen remained at the same counterterrorism position in the White House  until June 2012, through the UndieBomb 2.0 leak. Unless those investigations merged (which might explain why they were investigating a 2010 leak in 2013), it would seem to suggest that Rasmussen was not read into the UndieBomb 2.0 infiltration, in spite of its significant similarities to the Toner Cartridge infiltration.

By way of comparison, here’s how John Brennan answered the same question (he was going to be interviewed on the UndieBomb 2.0 leak during his confirmation process).

  • MD USA: Possible unauthorized disclosures of information to reporters about cyberattacks against Iran.
  • DC USA: Possible unauthorized disclosures of information to reporters about a foiled bomb plot tied to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (scheduled for February 1, 2013)

The comparison raises the same questions: There’s no way Brennan wasn’t read into whatever 2010 thwarted attack got compromised, because he would have been read into everything (he was a key point person on both the Faisal Shahzad attack, and did a big dog-and-pony show around the Toner Cartridge plot).

Were Rasmussen and Brennan just discussing the same investigation, into how details of double agents in AQAP kept getting exposed (in large part, by our Saudi and AQAP allies). In any case, was Rasmussen not interviewed in the latter part, in which case it would suggest the compartment for the latter was much more closely held?

Dianne Feinstein Calls Out NCTC Head for Bullshit Torture Report Threat Assessment

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 4.23.40 PMToday’s SSCI public hearing was remarkably useful, in spite of Chairman Burr’s interrupting a chain of serious questions to ask a clown question of National Counterterrorism Center head Nick Rasmussen. Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, and Angus King all asked questions about Authorizations to Use Military Force that will be useful in the upcoming debate.

The highlight, however, came when Dianne Feinstein asked Rasmussen whether the claims of great harm — provided to her just before she released the Torture Report in December — had proven to be correct.

Feinstein: And I have one other question to ask the Director. Um, Mr. Director, days before the public release of our report on CIA detention and interrogation, we received an intelligence assessment predicting violence throughout the world and significant damage to United States relationships. NCTC participated in that assessment. Do you believe that assessment proved correct?

Rasmussen: I can speak particularly to the threat portion of that rather than the partnership aspect of that because I would say that’s the part NCTC would have the most direct purchase on, and I can’t say that I can disaggregate the level of terrorism and violence we’ve seen in the period since the report was issued, disaggregate that level from what we might have seen otherwise because, as you know, the turmoil roiling in those parts of the world, not that part of the world, those parts of the world, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, there’s a number of factors that go on creating the difficult threat environment we face.

So the assessment we made at the time as a community was that we would increase or add to the threat picture in those places. I don’t know that looking backwards now, I can say it did by X% or it didn’t by X%. We were also, I think, clear in saying that there’s parts of the impact that we will not know until we have the benefit of time to see how it would play out in different locations around the world.

Feinstein: Oh boy do I disagree with you. But that’s what makes this arena I guess. The fact in my mind was that the threat assessment was not correct.

Note, Ron Wyden used his one question to get Rasumussen to admit that he had only read the Torture Report summary in enough detail to conduct the threat assessment. Wyden informed Rasmussen there were other parts in the still-classified sections that he should be aware of as NCTC head.

The Drone Rule Book Has Made It Easier for Our Partners To Drone Kill With Us Again

As I noted earlier, one of the questions that National Counterterrorism Center nominee Nick Rasmussen got asked in his prehearing confirmation questions pertained to the Drone Rule Book.

He was asked about his role in writing the “US Policy Standards and Procedures for the Use of Force in Counterterrorism Operations Outside the United States and Areas of Active Hostilities.” He replied that he participated in “very initial drafts” of the document in May and June 2012 while at NSC, and then participated in the interagency process before it was approved in May 2013.

He was then asked, “Has the Presidential Policy Guidance made our counterterrorism operations more effective?”

Click through to read his full answer to question 17, but he basically talks a lot about institutionalizing the process, all while emphasizing that the Drone Rule Book simply recorded the swell procedure that was already in place. After several bullets of that, he finally answers what was ultimately a yes or no question.

By refining and documenting the careful and deliberate way in which these operations are approved and conducted and by contributing to greater transparency in our CT operations, I believe the PPG has made it easier for some of our key allies and CT partners to support those operations by sharing intelligence and/or providing other forms of support for our CT operations. I believe PPG had likely contributed to making some of our CT operations more effective by making critical forms of CT cooperation with key partners more sustainable. By standardizing and institutionalizing the considerations and processes that inform our policymaking on direct action operations, we have become more effective in reviewing these operations and ensuring all appropriate national security equities are considered prior to approval.

In response to a question about whether the Drone Rule Book “is a good long term solution for this type of irregular warfare,” Rasmussen talked about how it combined flexibility with a framework to balance many issues.

Obviously, I’m most interested in the benefit Rasmussen says the Drone Rule Book has brought: that it makes it easier for key partners to cooperate with us on drone strikes and other lethal operations.

That’s particularly interesting given the lawsuit by a Yemeni man against British Telecom for its role in a drone strike that killed his brother. He bases his suit on BT’s role in providing cable service between a base in the UK and Djibouti, from where some of the drone strikes are launched.

And here we come to find out that the Drone Rule Book is an effort to make it easier for partners — which probably includes both the UK and Djobouti (because I can’t imagine the Saudis, Yemenis, and Pakistanis much care) — to help out on our drone killing program.

 

The “DSOP Accommodation”

In what may serve as the public transition moment from Dianne Feinstein to Richard Burr (in part because Saxby Chambliss was absent), the Senate Intelligence Committee considered the nomination of Nick Rasmussen to head National Counterterrorism Center yesterday. He’s long served as the Deputy anyway, so he’s very well qualified, and the hearing was one of those love affairs you often see (though in this case I’m not aware of any big flags that the Committee might soon regret, as I predicted during John Brennan’s confirmation).

That said, I highly recommend Rasmussen’s Additional Prehearing Answers. Along with a really accessible (and welcome) description of many of NCTC’s functions, it includes (question 17) what appears to be his description of his role in developing the Drone Rule Book.

I wanted to also point to his discussion of the Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (see questions 11 and 13). In 2012, DSOP was described as an important part of CT, but one Congress had largely neglected:

The Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning is supposed to be the mechanism for government-wide strategic operational planning and is half of NCTC’s mission, yet oversight is negligible.  The seeming importance of DSOP has been highlighted in testimony by NCTC leadership, yet relatively unchallenged by Congress in hearings.  In his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as nominee for the Director of the NCTC, Adm. John Scott Redd called strategic operational planning “substantial, daunting and, I believe, very necessary.”[xii]  Through the years, SOP has been called “truly revolutionary”[xiii] as the government has “come together in ways…never seen during…decades of government service.”[xiv]  Despite caveats of strategic operational planning as “new to the US government,” [xv]SOP was called “foundational”[xvi] to counterterrorism efforts.  Succeeding NCTC Director Michael Leiter said he was “more convinced than ever that success against terrorism will only come through such coordinated and synchronized efforts—to include the full weight of our diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement activities.” [xvii]  For such weighty importance, however, Congress hardly paid attention to DSOP.

Since then, however, it has become clear that one reason Congress hadn’t been paying attention is because the Executive wasn’t sharing details on it. In John Brennan’s prehearing questions, for example, the Committee hammered him a bit for withholding information.

Question 23: Please describe any involvement you have had in the Administration’s responses to the Committee’s requests for the strategies produced by the Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning, including whether you personally made any decision or recommendation regarding the Committee’s access to such strategies and, if so, providing the specific legal basis for your decision or recommendation.

A: In my capacity as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, I have conferred with NCTC Director Matt Olsen on how to determine what elements of those NSS-led counterterrorism implementation plans that NCTC’s Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (DSOP) has contributed to should be shared with the Committee. DSOP supports the NSS in helping to draft and coordinate some–not all–CT implementation plans and to compile related department and agency activities. These documents often contain policy-focused information from the NSS that is deliberative in nature; include information on non-intelligence-related activities that departments and agencies may be pursuing; and, in some cases, access to documents is limited by the NSS due to security sensitivities around the CT planning/implementation effort. I have worked with Director Olsen to share with the SSCI those plans or parts of plan that are not deliberative in nature and that involve intelligence activities. I have supported NCTC’s decision to respond to SSCI requests for briefings/information on the non-deliberative, intelligence-related aspects of particular plans and would support SSCI requests for briefings/information from other parts of the intelligence community, including CIA, as it relates to particularly plans.

The question on this topic addressed to Rasmussen is more circumspect.

Question 13: Historically, the Committee has had difficulty in obtaining the strategies that are produced by NCTC’s Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning. If confirmed, will you abide by the current accommodation that has been reached between the Committee and NCTC?

A: Yes. I am familiar with the accommodation that has been reached with the Committee with respect to the strategies that DSOP produces and, if confirmed,, I would continue to abide by it.

The response doesn’t really reveal whether the SSCI is actually learning what kind of schemes get considered during this strategic response to terrorism; it sure seems to be limited.

As it happens, two of the maybe 12 questions addressed to Rasmussen addressed the question as well.  Rising Chair Burr challenged Rasmussen what he — in this DSOP role — would do strategically to combat terrorism (I liked his emphasis that DSOP, not NSC, is actually the agency in charge).

Burr: What is NCTC as the Executive agent for our nation’s strategy gonna do about [the broad threat of terrorism]?

Rasmussen: [pauses] The role that NCTC plays in carrying out Strategic Operational Planning in support of the government is one that has us tied very closely to the National Security Council staff and the policy development process for pursuing strategies against–on counterterrorism. We work with the National Security Council staff to develop whole of government plans to address our counterterrorism concerns in each of the theaters around the world. Not just one single theater, for ex–as you would well expect, Senator. The efforts to develop strategies against ISIL is at a particularly energetic pace right now. But our Strategic Operational Planning capability is also brought to bear on the whole array of CT challenges we face, in Africa, in Asia, in South Asia, every region you can think of. And so I would consider our job at NCTC to make sure that we aren’t leaving any holes in that fabric of strategy as we look out across all of the different CT challenges that we face, while at the same time prioritizing where effort needs to be most energetically directed. And that of course right now would argue for a lot of effort to be directed at the challenges we’re facing in Syria and Iraq.

And Angus King askedwhy we don’t develop something akin to the Kennan containment strategy used against the Soviet Union.

Rasmussen: The strategies that we try to help produce at NCTC in support of the National Security Council staff — in my answer to Chairman Feinstein [sic] are typically whole of government strategies, not just relying on our intelligence capabilities or our military capabilities but also trying to take advantage of the abilities, the resources we have across the government to try to produce the conditions that would over time eat away at support for terrorism in some of these conflict locations, um, overseas. At the same time, we all go into it understanding well that those effort will ultimately take years if not decades to play out for us to reap the benefits of those kinds of strategies, and in the meantime, you’re left to manage a very difficult threat environment.

Note that, whatever Rasmussen’s commitment to the DSOP “accommodation” to share information with SSCI, he still seems to defer to NSC on this topic, even though the law says that NCTC should take the lead.

It may well be that the White House (properly, to a point) believes that strategic planning against terrorism is an inherent Executive function. But it doesn’t seem like the White House should be hiding all this — to whatever extent it is — from its Congressional overseers, particularly given how easily the fight against terrorism can turn into support for terrorism.