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Barack Obama (and the Three Musketeers of Selective Leaking) Says Barack Obama Wanted an OBL Trial

The AP made some news yesterday with this Barack Obama quote from Mark Bowden’s new book, The Finish.

Frankly, my belief was if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position, politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaida, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.

It’s a quote repeated and expanded in this exclusive piece from Vanity Fair, which will have an excerpt of the book in its next edition.

Now, both of these excerpts make it clear: This is a direct quote of an Obama claim, made after the fact. But if that didn’t already make you suspect the political efficacy of telling this story just weeks before the election, check out Bowden’s acknowledgements, above.

Not only does Bowden thank the Three Musketeers of Obama’s selective leaking, John Brennan, Tom Donilon, and Denis McDonough.

But it also thanks Obama personally.

(It also thanks CIA Director David Petraeus, a man who never met press coverage he didn’t like.)

Look, I’d love to imagine that Obama would have made the political effort to give Osama bin Laden a trial had he been captured alive. I’ve even rationalized how much easier that would be, given that we presumably would avoid the whole torture phase that has made trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

There are both political and legal reasons why it serves Obama’s interests to say he considered the possibilities of a live capture followed by a trial. And given how closely Bowden worked with those trying to make the most of Obama’s OBL killing, I don’t see any reason to treat the claim as credible.

And this book–with Obama’s top aides identified as sources so clearly–is yet another reason why I think Mark Bissonnette won’t experience any legal troubles for publishing a book covering the same topic.

No Easy Day, WikiLeaks, and Mitt’s 47%: Three Different Approaches to Illicitly-Released Information

Last week, DOD issued a guidance memo instructing DOD personnel what they are–and are not–permitted to do with the Matt Bissonnettte book, No Easy Day, that they claim has sensitive and maybe even classified information. DOD personnel,

  • are free to purchase NED;
  • are not required to store NED in containers or areas approved for the storage of classified information, unless classified statements in the book have been identified;
  • shall not discuss potentially classified and sensitive unclassified information with persons who do not have an official need to know and an appropriate security clearance;
  • who possess either firsthand knowledge of, or suspect information within NED to be classified or sensitive, shall not publically speculate or discuss potentially classified or sensitive unclassified information outside official U.S. Government channels (e.g., Chain-of-Command, Public Affairs, Security, etc.);
  • are prohibited from using unclassified government computer systems to discuss potentially classified or sensitive contents ofNED, and must not engage in online discussions via social networking or media sites regarding potentially classified or sensitive unclassified information that may be contained in NED.

The memo points to George Little’s earlier flaccid claims that the book contains classified information as the basis for this policy, even though those claims fell far short of an assertion that there was actually classified information in the book.

The strategy behind this policy seems to be to accept the massive release of this information, while prohibiting people from talking about what information in the book is classified or sensitive–or even challenging Little’s half-hearted claim that it is classified. Moreover, few of the people bound by this memo know what the President insta-declassified to be able to tell his own version of the Osama bin Laden raid, so the memo also gags discussions about information that has likely been declassified, not to mention discussions about the few areas where Bissonnette’s version differs from the Administration’s official version.

Still, it does let people access the information and talk about it generally.

Compare that policy with the Administration’s three-prong approach to WikiLeaks information:

  • Government employees cannot discuss–and are not supposed to consult at all–WikiLeaks cables. The treatment of Peter Van Buren for–among other things–linking to some WikiLeaks cables demonstrates the lengths to which the government is willing to go to silence all discussion of the cables. (Though I imagine the surveillance of social media will be similar to enforce the DOD guidance.)
  • Gitmo lawyers not only cannot discuss material–like the dodgy intelligence cable that the government used to imprison Latif until he died of still undisclosed causes or the files that cite tortured confessions to incriminate other detainees–released by WikiLeaks unless the press speaks of them first. But unlike DOD personnel who do not necessarily have a need to know, Gitmo lawyers who do have a need to know couldn’t consult WikiLeaks except in closely controlled secure conditions.
  • The Government will refuse to release cables already released under FOIA. While to some degree, this strategy parallels the DOD approach–whereas the NED policy avoids identifying which is and is not classified information, the WikiLeaks policy avoids admitting that cables everyone knows are authentic are authentic, the policy also serves to improperly hide evidence of illegal activity through improper classification.

Now, one part of the Administration’s logic behind this approach to purportedly classified information (thus far without the legal proof in either case, or even a legal effort to prove in the case of Bissonnette) is to limit discussion of information that was allegedly released via illegal means. Read more

Matt Bissonnette’s Information Operation Against a Broken System of Secrecy

“We all knew the deal. We were tools in the toolbox, and when things go well they promote it. They inflate their roles.” –Mark Bissonnette

HuffPo and AP/CBS have an initial description of how Matt Bissonnette’s story of the Osama bin Laden killing differs from the story the Administration has told. While the details are interesting, I expect we can learn as much about how a well-trained SEAL manages InfoOps as we learn about the events of Bissonnette’s life from the book.

As I pointed out yesterday, once DOD got a copy of the book, the publisher announced it would almost double the initial print run and advance the publication date by a week–making it much harder for DOD to pre-empt the unredacted publication by buying up the copies. Bissonnette has also already planned to give at least some of the proceeds of the book to the families of SEALs who have died (something that former CIA officer Ishmael Jones also did), meaning DOD can’t punish him by seizing his earnings.

And now, with just the bits of information already public about the book, Bissonnette has made it very difficult for the government to prosecute him–and certainly not before the election.

The most interesting detail that both HuffPo and AP report is that Osama bin Laden never put up a fight.

“We were less than five steps from getting to the top when I heard suppressed shots. BOP. BOP,” writes Owen. “I couldn’t tell from my position if the rounds hit the target or not. The man disappeared into the dark room.”

Team members took their time entering the room, where they saw the women wailing over Bin Laden, who wore a white sleeveless T-shirt, loose tan pants and a tan tunic, according to the book.

Despite numerous reports that bin Laden had a weapon and resisted when Navy SEALs entered the room, he was unarmed, writes Owen. He had been fatally wounded before they had entered the room.

“Blood and brains spilled out of the side of his skull” and he was still twitching and convulsing, Owen writes. While bin Laden was in his death throes, Owen writes that he and another SEAL “trained our lasers on his chest and fired several rounds. The bullets tore into him, slamming his body into the floor until he was motionless.”

While I’m sure there are many details that are of greater tactical sensitivity, this one differs just enough from the previously official version that it makes it toxic to pursue. After all, prosecuting Bissonnette would require acknowledging that Bissonnette violated his non-disclosure agreement, which would in turn requiring admitting to the truth of what he presents in his book. Read more

Publisher’s Shock and Awe

As I mentioned yesterday, the Pentagon has now gotten a copy of Osama bin Laden kill team member Matt Bissonnette’s book, No Easy Day. They’re reviewing it for classified information.

So today, the publisher announced that it has almost doubled its print run–from 300,000 to 575,000–and moved up publication a week.

In response to a crush of media attention, criticism and consumers clamoring to buy the book, the publisher behind the first-hand account of the Navy SEALs raid that killed Osama bin Laden has decided to move up the release date to next Tuesday.

Dutton, the imprint of Penguin that acquired the book in secret, said that “No Easy Day,” which will appear under the pseudonym Mark Owen, will go on sale Sept. 4, a week ahead of the planned date, Sept. 11.

“The publisher now feels it is important to put ‘No Easy Day’ on sale and let the book speak for itself,” Dutton said in a statement.

[snip]

Christine Ball, a spokeswoman for Dutton, also said on Tuesday that the publisher had increased the planned print run to 575,000 hardcover copies from the original total, 300,000.

And while Dutton claims these moves are simply a response to the media attention, I’m guessing they’re primarily designed to make it harder for DOD to affect publication of the book.

Remember what happened to Anthony Shaffer when the Defense Intelligence Agency found sensitive information in his Operation Dark Heart after it had already been printed.

Defense Department officials are negotiating to buy and destroy all 10,000 copies of the first printing of an Afghan war memoir they say contains intelligence secrets, according to two people familiar with the dispute.

[snip]

Release of the book “could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to national security,” Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., the D.I.A. director, wrote in an Aug. 6 memorandum. He said reviewers at the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and United States Special Operations Command had all found classified information in the manuscript.

In that case, DOD paid $47,300 to take 200 passages out of fewer than 10,000 copies.

The upshot was that the Pentagon paid $47,300 in taxpayer money for the 9,500 books that constituted almost the entire first print run of the book and had the volumes destroyed Sept. 20, while the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, issued a second edition Sept. 24 with roughly 200 words or passages blacked out.

To do the equivalent now–particularly with the doubled print run–would be quite a bit more expensive. And DOD now has just a week to decide what, if anything, they’re going to do about someone completely bypassing their censorship system.