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In Terror Fight, “Rush For Immediate Results” Leads to Loss of Tradecraft, Misses Real Threats

Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo have a long AP article this morning, outlining yet another huge blow to CIA operations, this time in the form of the loss of a number of agents in Lebanon. However, in describing that situation, Goldman and Apuzzo provide a description of a likely root cause of the problem that I think may apply more globally than just to the CIA and counterintelligence:

The Lebanon crisis is the latest mishap involving CIA counterintelligence, the undermining or manipulating of the enemy’s ability to gather information. Former CIA officials have said that once-essential skill has been eroded as the agency shifted from outmaneuvering rival spy agencies to fighting terrorists. In the rush for immediate results, former officers say, tradecraft has suffered.

As described by Robert Baer in his description of the utter failure of tradecraft in the Khost bombing, the loss of tradecraft in the CIA started when it was under the direction of John Deutch (whom I think of as likely Clinton’s worst appointment and entirely inappropriate for the job), but as Baer described, the massive expansion in CIA activities post 9/11 with so few properly trained field agents contributed even more strongly to the current shortage of tradecraft.

But it is not just within CIA where a massive shift in actions and priorities occurred post 9/11. Consider what has been put forward just in the past few months from the FBI and NYPD and it is easy to see that here, too, a “rush for immediate results” has hurt the fight against terrorists, producing laughable arrests while missing real threats.

Just last night, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly staged “terror porn”, in which they described the arrest of the “Christmas Light Bomber” in a case that it appears even the FBI found not worth pursuing. The FBI looks no better, however, having chosen to indict a group of Georgia crackers who met at Waffle House to discuss making ricin from a few castor beans. And, of course, the FBI really outdid itself in concocting and making an arrest in the Scary Iran Plot, where we are asked to believe in a connection between Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and a Mexican drug cartel. Read more

The Bloomie and Kelly Show … with Fake Video Props!

Just three days after NYPD’s cops overreacted to First Amendment protests, and two days after NY’s Muslim community protested NYPD’s heavy handed spying, Mike Bloomberg and Ray Kelly decided to roll out a big press conference to announce …

A pipe bomb.

The person who intended to use the pipe bomb is a “lone wolf” al Qaeda sympathizer  named Jose Pimental who lives with his mother.

Authorities have been tracking Pimental since May 2009 and reports are an informant was involved, which might explain why he moved from strictly talking about violence to actually going to Home Depot to buy a few pipes and (as bmaz describes it) some Christmas lights to make his bomb.

Now, Bloomie and Kelly tried to make this look spectacular. They went to the effort of blowing up a car and videotaping it to show what the bomb could have done–though there’s no indication that his pipe bombs were ever operational. (No, no journalists asked who paid for the car the NYPD destroyed so they could have a nice video prop.)

They also made a nice model of Pimental’s Christmas lights bomb.

Kelly tried to suggest that Pimental aspired to hit the same targets that Occupy Wall Street protestors were targeting. “We remain the nation’s financial capital,” he said, suggesting that’s why Pimental targeted NY. Except that Pimental’s planned targets–like the post office in Washington Heights or soldiers returning from deployments–have nothing to do with the finance industry or even anything unique to NY.

None of Bloomie and Kelly’s efforts to put on a good show prevented the journalists present from asking, repeatedly, “Did the FBI decline to take this case?” Given the way Bloomie refused to look at the camera the third time a variant of the question was asked, I’m guessing the answer is “yes.” {Update: Ryan Reilly confirms that is in fact the case.]

The lesson to take from this terrorism porn is actually that the NYPD counterterrorism effort is useless in hunting down threats like this. Pimental was first identified in Schenectady. The Albany PD referred him to the NYPD. The NYPD didn’t find this guy, they just … nurtured him.

And Pimental was, as Bloomie repeated, a “lone wolf.” Which means no amount of infiltrating mosques and Moroccan restaurants would have found him, because he had no associations that would have revealed him (unlike Najibullah Zazi, whom the NYPD missed, even though his Imam was one of their informants).

The big questions coming out of this presser–aside from who paid to blow up a car and why Bloomie wore an ugly orange sweater to a press conference–has to do with the timing. Kelly seemed to suggest the NYPD was orchestrating this somewhat when he said, “We had always intended to take him in custody before he detonated a bomb.” In addition, he said Pimental had decided to make a bomb back in August.

So why is it that their closely watched terrorist decided to actually build a bomb at the precise moment when Bloomie’s and Kelly’s heavy handed policing, including their abusive counterterrorism spying, have lost all credibility?

Update: Here’s the complaint. You’ll like how the Officer doesn’t mention they’ve been tracking this guy since May 2010, and instead says it all started in October 2010. You’ll also enjoy how Pimental handed the informant every bit of his bomb, as if he were playing a role.

Ray Kelly Vs. Minimal Oversight

In the AP’s first report on the NYPD’s CIA-on-the-Hudson, they quoted City Councilmen Peter Vallone reassuring that his private conversations with Ray Kelly were adequate oversight.

“Ray Kelly briefs me privately on certain subjects that should not be discussed in public,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone. “We’ve discussed in person how they investigate certain groups they suspect have terrorist sympathizers or have terrorist suspects.”

A month and a half of damning new revelations later, Vallone is not so sure.

Peter Vallone, the chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the council doesn’t have the power to subpoena the NYPD for its intelligence records. And even if it did, he said the operations are too sophisticated for city officials to effectively oversee. More oversight is likely needed, he said, perhaps from the federal government.

“That portion of the police department’s work should probably be looked at by a federal monitor,” he said after Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly testified Thursday at City Hall.

But Kelly–whose cops are being filmed on an increasingly frequent basis beating and pepper spraying peaceful protestors–likes it just fine with no oversight.

Kelly told council members that the department’s internal accountability was rigorous and ensured that civil rights were being protected. And he said everything the department does is in line with court rules, known as the Handschu guidelines, that limit how and why police can collect intelligence before there’s evidence of a crime.

“The value we place on privacy rights and other constitutional protections is part of what motivates the work of counterterrorism,” he said. “It would be counterproductive in the extreme if we violated those freedoms in the course of our work to defend New York.”

[snip]

“The AP stories make it hard to believe we’re getting the balance right,” said Brad Lander, a Brooklyn councilman.

“That’s your opinion,” Kelly said. “We’re following the Handschu guidelines.”

With regard to Kelly’s racial profiling program (as opposed to the overreaction to Occupy Wall Street), it’s not actually clear who, with City Council abdicating their oversight role, can perform that oversight. The AP notes that the Obama Administration and Congress aren’t in a rush to exercise oversight over the CIA-on-the-Hudson either.

Which is precisely how Ray Kelly gets away with doing what he’s doing.

New Report on Zazi Investigation Reinforces NYPD’s Miss

The Denver Post had a story detailing the superb work the FBI did to prevent Najibullah Zazi from launching his attack on the subways. As it describes, the FBI discovered an email he wrote discussing an upcoming “wedding,” and in two weeks managed to track him down.

They also had three e-mails that Zazi had reportedly sent, in which he asked about “mixtures.”

“The marriage is ready flour and oil,” one e-mail stated, in part.

It’s widely known in intelligence circles that terrorists use the word “marriage” to mean an attack or suicide bombing. To see the words “marriage” and “ready” in such close proximity, the agents knew, was cause for serious alarm.

While this story describes (as I have) how the NYPD tipped Zazi off to the investigation, it also makes clear, once again, what didn’t identify Zazi: the NYPD’s abusive spying program. The NYPD had recruited Zazi’s imam as an informant. And yet they missed the development of one of the biggest plots of recent years.

As NYPD Engages in New Civil Liberties Violations, Past Violations Under New Scrutiny

While supervisors from the NYPD are pepper-spraying peaceful political protestors, the Department is also coming under scrutiny for its past (and presumably ongoing) civil liberties abuse, the profiling of Muslim and Arab residents of NY.

As the original AP story on the NYPD’s profiling program described, in the 1980s, the city was put under court orders limiting the kind of intelligence-gathering programs it could conduct.

Since 1985, the NYPD had operated under a federal court order limiting the tactics it could use to gather intelligence. During the 1960s and 1970s, the department had used informants and undercover officers to infiltrate anti-war protest groups and other activists without any reason to suspect criminal behavior.

To settle a lawsuit, the department agreed to follow guidelines that required “specific information” of criminal activity before police could monitor political activity.

In September 2002, [NYPD Intelligence Unit Head David] Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it “virtually impossible” to detect terrorist plots. The FBI was changing its rules to respond to 9/11, and Cohen argued that the NYPD must do so, too.

“In the case of terrorism, to wait for an indication of crime before investigating is to wait far too long,” Cohen wrote.

U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. agreed, saying the old guidelines “addressed different perils in a different time.” He scrapped the old rules and replaced them with more lenient ones.

As the AP has been exposing the NYPD profiling program, it has never been entirely clear how this agreement simply got put aside, not least because the intelligence department was also involved in the 2004 RNC abuses.

And the question is more pressing given that Anthony Bologna, the pepper sprayer, is part of the NYPD’s counterterrorism group. I

It’s bad enough, after all, that the NYPD is profiling the city’s Moroccan restaurants, but it seems to be abusing the kind of political persecution the court order–Handschu v. Special Services Division–was supposed to prevent.

Today, the NYCLU is asking more questions about what is going on.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and partnering civil rights attorneys today filed papers in federal court seeking information on the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims in New York City to determine whether the spying operation violates an existing court order. The filing is part of the Handschu v. Special Services Divisionproceedings, a decades-old federal case that has produced a series of court orders regulating NYPD surveillance of political and religious activity.

The filing asks the court to initiate a discovery process pertaining to the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims to determine whether those efforts have violated a 1985 consent decree in the Handschu case that restricts the Police Department’s ability to conduct surveillance targeting political and religious activity. The filing also asks the court to order the NYPD to preserve any records relating to its surveillance of Muslims while the discovery process takes place.

“The NYPD’s reported surveillance of local Muslim communities raises serious questions concerning whether the Police Department has violated court-ordered restrictions on its ability to spy on and keep dossiers on individuals,” said NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg. “In order to know whether the NYPD is violating the court order, we need a more complete explanation of the NYPD’s surveillance practices.”

To be clear, this is a response to the ethnic profiling, not the crack-down on #OccupyWallStreet.

But if the NYCLU effort succeeds, it may succeed in exposing a lot more about how the NYPD became the CIA-on-the-Hudson. Anthony Bologna’s aggression is already being investigated by the NYPD itself and the DA. But with this NYCLU action, other activities of the NYPD may get scrutinized by the courts, too.

The Name of NYPD Brutality: Anthony Bologna

The Lieutenant Deputy Inspector who pepper-sprayed a kettled, defenseless woman has been identified as Anthony Bologna. He was IDed, in part, by a lawyer representing one of the people Bologna improperly arrested during the 2004 RNC.

The Guardian has learned that the officer, named by activists as deputy inspector Anthony Bologna, stands accused of false arrest and civil rights violations in a claim brought by a protester involved in the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican national convention.

[snip]

Alan Levine, a civil rights lawyer representing Post A Posr, a protester at the 2004 event, told the Guardian that he filed an action against Bologna and another officer, Tulio Camejo, in 2007. The case, filed at the New York Southern District Court, is expected to be heard next year.

[snip]

The lawyer said Posr was arrested on 31 August 2004, after he approached the driver of a Volkswagen festooned with anti-abortion slogans.

[snip]

Levine said: “Police contend that Posr hit the man with a rolled-up newspaper. He said he was just talking to the guy. Bologna ordered another officer, Camejo, to arrest Posr.”

Posr was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct and one count of second degree harassment, and held until September 2. On November 8, all charges against him were dropped.

Levine said that, in a departure from normal police procedure, his client was held in a special detention facility, at Pier 57, where he and others arrested were held until the protests were over.

It sounds like this guy is using his badge to legally and physically abuse people whose politics he disagrees with–someone politically debating choice in 2004 and a woman opposing MOTU power this weekend.

I don’t expect Ray Kelly to do anything about such an abusive officer on his staff (in any case, the union would presumably defend Bologna if Kelly tried to fire him). But so long as he remains on the force, we have a name and a face to personify the NYPD’s brutality: Anthony Bologna.

Update: Bologna’s rank fixed. One of the women who got partly sprayed by him apparently incorrectly used that rank. h/t Cynthia Kouril.

If the NYPD Maces the First Amendment, What Will They Do with Anti-Aircraft Weapons?


The NYPD made the news yesterday twice.

First, for their over-reaction to the Occupy Wall Street protests. In the video above, street cops corral some women with orange mesh, so another cop–in the white shirt–could mace them.

As the NYPD was bullying people for exercising their First Amendment rights, Commissioner Ray Kelly was on 60 Minutes. He started by confirming he was the boss of all 50,000 people the NYPD had working for it (more than the FBI, 60 Minutes helpfully notes).

Pelley: You call it a hierarchical kind of organization. In other words, you’re the boss.

Kelly: That’s correct. That’s the way it works here.

Pelley: And you’ve got 50,000 people working for you.

Kelly: 35,000 uniformed police officers, 15,000 civilian employees. That’s correct.

Kelly went on to boast that the NYPD had the ability to take down a plane.

Pelley: Are you satisfied that you’ve dealt with threats from aircraft, even light planes, model planes, that kind of thing?

Kelly: Well, it’s something that’s on our radar screen. I mean in an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane.

Pelley: Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?

Kelly: Yes, I prefer not to get into the details but obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.

Pelley: You have the equipment and the training.

Kelly: Yes.

Since Ray Kelly is “the boss” here, I assume he owns the over-reaction to Occupy Wall Street as much as he owns missing Najibullah Zazi and his Imam, who was an NYPD informant. Presumably, too, that means the guys trained to use anti-aircraft weapons have the same itchy trigger finger as the cop shooting mace in the video above.

The visible face of the NYPD–cops macing women in pens–offers reason enough to question the discipline and judgment of at least the supervisors running the department. Yet there’s a secret face of the NYPD, one that spies on Americans and, apparently, trains to shoot down planes, too. Given what we see in the visible face of the NYPD, how can we trust the invisible face to have anti-aircraft weapons?

How Does the CIA-on-the-Hudson Program Interact with Secure Communities?

The AP has another installment of their series on the NYPD intelligence department’s mapping of ethnic neighborhoods in New York. As always, you should read the whole thing, as well as the documents showing the spooks’ data collection on innocent Moroccans and Moroccan-Americans.

One question I came away with, though, was how this program interacted with Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program.

Secure Communities, recall, involves information sharing from local law enforcement to the FBI to DHS.

When state and local law enforcement arrest and book someone into a jail for a violation of a state criminal offense, they generally fingerprint the person. After fingerprints are taken at the jail, the state and local authorities electronically submit the fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This data is then stored in the FBI’s criminal databases. After running the fingerprints against those databases, the FBI sends the state and local authorities a record of the person’s criminal history.

With the Secure Communities program, once the FBI checks the fingerprints, the FBI automatically sends them to DHS, so that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can determine if that person is also subject to removal (deportation). This change, whereby the fingerprints are sent to DHS in addition to the FBI, fulfills a 2002 Congressional mandate for the FBI to share information with ICE, and is consistent with a 2008 federal law that instructs ICE to identify criminal aliens for removal. Secure Communities does not require any changes in the procedures of local law enforcement agencies or jails.

By that process, DHS identifies people it can deport so as to meet the quota set for them by Congress.

As DDay has written repeatedly, this process has led to the deportation of low-level undocumented people, not the hardened felons the program was designed for. And this, in turn, makes local law enforcement less effective, because it makes immigrant communities less willing to cooperate with the cops because doing so might get them deported.

As the documents made available by AP make clear, when the NYPD’s spooks case out businesses, they note whether they are owned by citizens of ethnic (even Italian!) descent, or (as with the Eastern Nights Cafe profile, above) non-citizens. This effectively means NYPD’s spooks are, among other things, creating a database of the statuses of key members of ethnic communities throughout the city. Also, since the NYPD had a set of questions to ask anyone arrested or on parole from the Moroccan community, it also means the normal law enforcement process was being used to collect a database of information on immigration statuses and habits.

The AP story seems to suggest that NYPD keeps this information in a database separate from their other database system.

The information was recorded in NYPD computers, officials said, so that if police ever received a specific tip about a Moroccan terrorist, officers looking for him would have details about the entire community at their fingertips.

[snip]

Current and former officials said the information collected by the Demographics Unit was kept on a computer inside the squad’s offices at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It was not connected to the department’s central intelligence database, they said.

The first installment of this series reported that the NYPD had shredded some of its documents to keep aspects of the program–including the fact that they were “building dossiers on innocent people, as these latest documents show they were–secret.

Some in the department, including lawyers, have privately expressed concerns about the raking program and how police use the information, current and former officials said. Part of the concern was that it might appear that police were building dossiers on innocent people, officials said. Another concern was that, if a case went to court, the department could be forced to reveal details about the program, putting the entire operation in jeopardy.

That’s why, former officials said, police regularly shredded documents discussing rakers.

But they did pass some of the information to the CIA via back channels.

Intelligence gathered by the NYPD, with CIA officer Sanchez overseeing collection, was often passed to the CIA in informal conversations and through unofficial channels, a former official involved in that process said.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean this information was shared with DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to deportations.

But given information sharing laws included within the PATRIOT Act, this intelligence might well be legally available to the Federal government (but possibly illegal for them to keep, given that it is potentially illegal domestic intelligence).

All of which leads me to wonder: has the CIA-on-the-Hudson make NYC less safe, because it has turned the local cops into officers combining law enforcement, intelligence, and immigration mapping?

The CIA Hates Us for Our Freedom

As I’ve noted a couple of times, there’s the suggestion that the CIA likes the NYPD’s CIA-on-the-Hudson because the NYPD, unlike the CIA, is diverse enough to have people with the linguistic and cultural background to infiltrate Muslim communities.

So how stupid is this?

Three weeks ago, The Arab American News published a story written by The Associated Press about the CIA and the NYPD cooperating in a massive spying operation on the entire Muslim community in the New York/New Jersey area.

The following week, we published an article detailing the CIA’s denial of that activity.

As we went to press last week, Thursday, September 8, 2011, we received an email from the advertising agency which handles the CIA’s account. “The government agency for the CIA has just contacted us and wants us to remove the banners from your website for undisclosed reasons,” the agency said in its email. A representative from the advertising agency haunted our advertising director all afternoon, repeatedly asking to immediately remove the four ads that the agency just orderedeight days ago. Another email three hours later from the same agency: “Sorry to keep bothering you but the client is giving me a headache.” The CIA has canceled all advertising in The Arab American News.

Not only was this outlet a place the CIA advertised to the Arab community (presumably including recruitment ads), but the paper, as it describes, served as an entree into the community.

This newspaper was instrumental in inviting the CIA into the community, introducing its employees to community leaders and helping to forge good relations between the force and local organizations. The CIA has sponsored many events in the community and generally been welcomed with open arms.

So now the newspaper is drawing one of the most obvious conclusions: that the CIA hates us–rather, a newspaper serving the Arab American community–for our freedoms.

But the evidence shows that perhaps that was a mistake. We treated the CIA like an American institution that believes in American values, like freedom of speech, freedom of worship and the freedom to peaceably assemble. At least in America.

However, if displeasure with one story the newspaper publishes causes a government agency to pull all its ads in retribution, then we assume everyone should be afraid of the CIA — and maybe the whole government — because it’s obviously “my way or the highway” with them. For us they can pull advertising and satisfy their thirst for revenge.

There is, though, one other (not mutually exclusive) possibility. Presumably the CIA wants Arab-Americans it recruits to imagine that they will be targeting actual terrorists if they go to work for the CIA. But the AP series shows that, in the CIA-assisted NYPD program, Arab-Americans will be spying on the innocent activities of their own community. Arab-Americans who read the AP series in this newspaper, then, might be less pliable recruits for the CIA.

So, instead, they’ll just have to rely even more on the NYPD to infiltrate these communities, I guess, having pissed off key figures in the community it needs to reach out to to do its job.

John Brennan, the Intelligence Community’s One Man Justice Department

Matt Apuzzo has a story describing three different responses to growing concerns about the CIA-on-the-Hudson.

There’s Rush Holt, who unfortunately is no longer on the House Intelligence Committee and therefore has limited ability to look into this:

“I believe that these serious and significant allegations warrant an immediate investigation,” Holt wrote.

[snip]

Holt, who previously served on the House Intelligence Committee, said he never remembers being told about the CIA partnership or the programs the NYPD was running.

[snip]

Holt asked for a special prosecutor because he wanted both the civil rights issues and the NYPD-CIA collaboration to be investigated, his office said.

So Holt, who suggests he should have been informed of the NYPD spook program but wasn’t, suggests one means of oversight never happened.

There’s Mike Bloomberg, who has been Mayor for almost the entire post-9/11 period and therefore ought to have exercised some oversight over this program:

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked Thursday about the CIA’s investigation and whether he thought the partnership violated any laws.

“How would I know?” Bloomberg replied. “They’re doing an investigation. That’s what — if I knew, I’d be happy to tell them. But my guess is no.”

Surprisingly, Bloomberg hasn’t thought of consulting one of NY’s own lawyers, or one of the thousands of lawyers inhabiting NY, to find out whether the partnership was legal. A smart guy like Mayor Mike and he claims not to even know how he might find out if the program were legal. Rather than finding out, though, he’s just gonna guess.

And then, finally, there’s John Brennan, the guy who apparently did the targeting for Cheney’s illegal wiretap program and also was personally involved in one of the whistleblower cases the Obama Justice Department is prosecuting, who cites his intimate knowledge of the program as his basis for being sure there’s no problem.

President Barack Obama’s homeland security adviser, John Brennan, who was the deputy executive director the CIA when the NYPD intelligence programs began, said he was intimately familiar with the CIA-NYPD partnership. He said that agency knew what the rules were and did not cross any lines.

Call me crazy. But I think there’s a third reason to support Holt’s call for an independent prosecutor. Not only is Obama’s DOJ personally involved, but his top Homeland Security advisor was involved in this mess, too. Given the White House’s past involvement in shutting down DOJ investigations pertaining to the Brennan-era CIA, I’d say we need someone free of that chain of authority.