An Interesting Few Days for Al-Awlaki

Earlier today, bmaz and I asked a series of questions about the significance of Anwar al-Awlaki’s name on the list of US citizens who can be assassinated with no due process.

bmaz: So, the US can put Awlaki on a list for death by assassination, but couldn’t, and apparently still cannot, form the basis to prosecute him criminally??

ew: And cannot prosecute him having had a tap on his phones going back–at the very least–at least a year?

ew: I wonder if [the targeting of Awlaki] is what happened to the William Webster inquiry into Awlaki’s communications with Nidal Hasan?

Today, Declassifed blog’s Mark Coatney asked a related question that I had earlier raised: Why was the Administration, immediately, so chatty about the Underwear Bomber, even while it remains very close-lipped about Nidal Hasan? (The Administration–though not, apparently, Webster–was supposed to brief the Intelligence Committees on the Hasan investigation today, which I guess makes it safe to assume Dana Priest’s article came up in the briefing, if Congress didn’t already know about the assassinations of American citizens.)

Capitol Hill officials say that the Obama White House and relevant government agencies have been very cooperative in supplying congressional oversight committees with a torrent of information—both raw intelligence and law-enforcement material and results of internal administration inquiries—about alleged would-be Christmas Day underpants airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. President Obama and other senior administration officials have said that in the months before Abdulmutallab boarded his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, U.S. agencies had collected various “bits and pieces” of intelligence, which, had they been properly knitted together, might well have enabled U.S. authorities to foil Abdulmutallab’s attempted airplane bombing before he boarded his flight.

By contrast, the same officials allege that the administration has been relatively tightfisted with information, both from raw intelligence and law-enforcement files and from postmassacre investigations, on the background of the accused Fort Hood shooter. Congressional officials say they don’t know why the administration has been more reticent about Fort Hood than about the failed underpants attack, but that the contrast between how the cases have been treated up until now has been striking.

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one noticing the disparity in treatment of the two extremists.

More interesting than the confirmation that I’m not crazy in seeing the disparity, though, is the timeline revealed in several recent details on Al-Awlaki.

December 17, 2008: Nidal Hasan sends first email to al-Awlaki “asking for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army”

November 5, 2009: Hasan killings in Ft. Hood

November 8, 2009: Al-Awlaki blesses Hasan’s killings

November 19, 2009: Underwear Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s father alerts US embassy of his concerns about his son

December 4, 2009:  Abdulmutallab leaves Yemen, having met with al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula members, possibly including al-Awlaki

December 22, 2009: FBI Deputy Director John Pistole provides classified briefing to Senate Homeland Security Committee on Fort Hood

December 23 (?), 2009: Al-Awlaki does interview with al-Jazeera that is subsequently posted to many jihadi forums

December 24, 2009: Strike in Yemen mistakenly thought to have hit al-Awlaki

December 25, 2009: Abdulmutallab attempts to blow up plane outside of Detroit

December 26, 2009: Crazy Pete Hoekstra says there may have been ties between al-Awlaki and Abdulmutallab

After December 24 but before end of 2009: Al-Awlaki added to JSOC list of those to be killed or captured

December 29: Moonie Times reports that al-Awlaki blessed Abdulmutallab’s plot beforehand (based on intelligence source)

If you match this timeline with the assertion that Awlaki had some tie with Abdulmutallab and that he was placed on the assassination list(s) just after Abdulmutallab’s attempted attack, then it seems clear that, after al-Awlaki’s ties to Hasan became clear, and after the attempted attack in Detroit, the Obama Administration almost immediately placed him on the list. Read more

The Crotch-Bomber and Nidal Hasan Reviews

The White House has released its summary of the intelligence review on the Christmas Crotch Bomber (and here is Obama’s order for corrective action). The big take-away is:

The US Government had sufficient information prior to the attempted December 25 attack to have potentially disrupted the AGAP attack.

But, the summary says, the Watch List system and the Intelligence Community are not broken; they just need to be improved.

All well and good.

But I’m curious by the quick turnaround on this report and the lack of any similar unclassified summary of the report on Nidal Hasan’s successful attack. For that matter, William Webster is still working on his review of the Hasan attack (which I understand to be a follow-up to just this kind of initial review).

Does that mean whatever the review found, preliminarily, could not be published? Meanwhile, the military has just appointed a “sanity board” to review Hasan’s competence to stand trial.

FBI Asks William Webster to Look Closer at Nidal Hasan Analysis

The WaPo reports that the FBI has appointed William Webster to review the FBI’s response to Nidal Hasan’s actions leading up to the Fort Hood shootings.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has asked former director and retired federal judge William H. Webster to conduct an independent review of the bureau’s actions in advance of last month’s deadly shootings at Fort Hood, Tex., according to government officials familiar with the move.

But the most interesting thing about the report are the details it offers on the FBI’s analysis of Anwar al-Awlaki’s communications.

FBI agents in California already monitoring Aulaqi, whose violent rhetoric has inspired terrorist plots in Canada, Great Britain and the United States, forwarded two e-mails to the Washington task force, another government official confirmed. An analyst there took a few months to review the messages, before concluding they were innocent and in line with research Hasan had been conducting about Muslim soldiers and mental health issues, the official said.

Later e-mails between Hasan and the cleric were not sent to agents in Washington, but were reviewed by analysts in San Diego who determined they were in line with the earlier correspondence, the official added.

To sum up, the FBI maintains that Awlaki has “inspired” attacks plots [corrected per KenMuldrew] in Canada, the UK, and the US. Though this does not include a description of what “inspired” means.

It also reveals that the actual analysis of Awlaki’s communication–which we have reason to believe were collected under FISA surveillance–was initially done in CA (presumably, in San Diego). But the initial decision whether or not to pursue an investigation of Hasan based on the wiretaps was made in DC.

Not that I have any grand conclusions about that–but I do find it curious that the analysis of communications with Awlaki–whose last US-based location was in the DC area–was done in San Diego.

One more thing. What the WaPo doesn’t mention about Webster’s background is that, in addition to being a judge and a former FBI Director (and an Amherst grad), he’s also a former CIA Director and Chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Both of those roles would add another layer of expertise that may be useful for this review.

Update: I asked Tim Shorrock, author of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, why they might be doing the analysis in San Diego. He said that the JTTF in San Diego is pretty substantial. Like me, he speculated that SAIC, which is located in San Diego, may be involved.

The most likely contractor would be SAIC, and not just because it’s based in San Diego. It has very close ties with the FBI and is a prime contractor on a massive FBI database called Investigative Data Warehouse. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been trying to shine some light on IDW through FOIA, and earlier this year released some of its findings:

Crazy Pete Hoekstra’s NSA Dirty Work and Nidal Hasan

I’m almost ready to post my next working thread on the EFF documents. But pages 121 through 125 of the OLC2 set deserves its own post.

It’s basically an email from Chris Donesa, a Republican HPSCI staffer, to a bunch of people at DNI, DOJ, and NSA who had been involved in the Protect America Act passage, followed by a letter Crazy Pete Hoekstra sent to NYT’s Bill Keller. He includes the message, “Happy Tuesday to all” as the only explanation.

The copy of Crazy Pete’s letter in the EFF documents is hard to read, but luckily Crazy Pete sent a copy to Human Events, too. Crazy Pete’s letter is, in turn, a response to an editorial the NYT ran after Congress caved on the PAA and a James Risen article reporting on what the legislation actually did.

Crazy Pete claims to refute the editorial and (more importantly) the Risen article.

Only, the EFF document dump makes it clear that Crazy Pete is, um, lying his ass off.

Every single one of Crazy Pete’s “refutations” completely avoid the charges made by the NYT, even while hiding the now provable fact that the NYT was absolutely correct. For example, this “refutation:”

• Misstatement and Exaggeration: “[T]he court’s only role will be to review and approve the procedures used by the government in the surveillance after it has been conducted.”

o Facts: This is a false and selective characterization of the plain provisions of the law.  Third parties who are asked to assist the intelligence community under the law may challenge the legality of any directive by filing a petition with the FISA Court.

Much of the discussion leading up to passage of PAA, we now know, involved preventing prior court review at all cost. Read more

Hasan and War Crimes and Congressional Briefings

At first, I didn’t make too much over this report that Nidal Hasan may have gone on a killing spree because his requests that his patients be investigated for war crimes was denied.

Fort Hood massacre suspect Nidal Malik Hasan sought to have some of his patients prosecuted for war crimes based on statements they made during psychiatric sessions with him, a captain who served on the base said Monday.

Other psychiatrists complained to superiors that Hasan’s actions violated doctor-patient confidentiality, Capt. Shannon Meehan told The Dallas Morning News.


It wasn’t clear Monday what information Hasan received from patients and what became of his requests for prosecution. ABC News, citing anonymous sources, reported that his superiors rejected the requests, and that investigators suspect this triggered the shootings.

But then I got interested that the same article reported that the Senate Armed Services Committee briefing on the killing was postponed yesterday.

That’s because the House Intelligence Committee has just given Chair Silvestre Reyes’ explanation for the postponement.

Due to the high visibility of the issues surrounding the tragic event at Fort Hood, the President has instructed the National Security Council to assume control of all informational briefings. The NSC has directed that the leadership, as well as the chairmen and ranking minority members of the relevant congressional committees receive briefings first.

I have been told that the Director of National Intelligence is still committed to providing the full membership a briefing on the activities within the jurisdiction of this Committee. I believe that this will occur, and I will push to schedule a briefing before the end of this week. [my emphasis]

As Spencer reported last week, John Brennan got put in charge of reviewing what the IC knew of Hasan last week.

On November 6, 2009, I directed that an immediate inventory be conducted of all intelligence in U.S. Government files that existed prior to November 6, 2009, relevant to the tragic shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, especially anything having to do with the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, U.S. Army. In addition, I directed an immediate review be initiated to determine how any such intelligence was handled, shared, and acted upon within individual departments and agencies and what intelligence was shared with others. This inventory and review shall be conducted in a manner that does not interfere with the ongoing criminal investigations of the Fort Hood shooting.

The results of this inventory and review, as well as any recommendations for improvements to procedures and practices, shall be provided to John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, who will serve as the principal point of contact on this matter for the White House. Preliminary results of this review shall be provided by November 30, 2009.

But back when Obama made that decision, it did not object to the many briefings scheduled. Only now it’s NSC–presumably Brennan–dictating what briefings the various committees will get, and making the decision to postpone the general committee briefings.

The NSC has just basically made this a Gang of Eight type of briefing (though they seem to be including other Chairs besides Intelligence)–if only for the moment. It may be they’re hiding more extensive known ties to al Qaeda than has been reported (by everyone except Crazy Pete Hoekstra). Or it may be they’re trying to keep something else quiet.