Osama bin Laden

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Hillary’s Admission Diplomacy Couldn’t Get Pakistan To Hand Over Bin Laden

There was a really weird moment during the foreign policy section of last night’s debate.

Bernie, to respond to Hillary’s explanation of what we need to do to win wars against terrorism, said he doesn’t support regime change. To counter him, Hillary said, in part, that he had voted in favor of regime change in Libya.

Which led to this exchange:

SANDERS: Judy, if I can, there is no question, Secretary Clinton and I are friends, and I have a lot of respect for her, that she has enormous experience in foreign affairs. Secretary of state for four years. You’ve got a bit of experience, I would imagine.

But judgment matters as well. Judgment matters as well. And she and I looked at the same evidence coming from the Bush administration regarding Iraq. I lead the opposition against it. She voted for it.

But more importantly, in terms of this Libya resolution that you have noted before, this was a virtually unanimous consent. Everybody voted for it wanting to see Libya move toward democracy, of course we all wanted to do that.

SANDERS: That is very different than talking about specific action for regime change, which I did not support.

CLINTON: You did support a U.N. Security Council approach, which we did follow up on. And, look, I think it’s important to look at what the most important counterterrorism judgment of the first four years of the Obama administration was, and that was the very difficult decision as to whether or not to advise the president to go after bin Laden.

I looked at the evidence. I looked at the intelligence. I got the briefings. I recommended that the president go forward. It was a hard choice. Not all of his top national security advisors agreed with that. And at the end of the day, it was the president’s decision. So he had to leave the Situation Room after hearing from the small group advising him and he had to make that decision. I’m proud that I gave him that advice. And I’m very grateful to the brave Navy SEALs who carried out that mission.

This is not the first time Hillary has changed the subject by bringing up the Osama bin Laden killing — a far more awkward example came when she did so to respond to Chuck Todd’s question whether she would release her Goldman Sachs speech transcripts.

TODD: Are you willing to release the transcripts of all your paid speeches? We do know through reporting that there were transcription services for all of those paid speeches. In full disclosure, would you release all of them?

CLINTON: I will look into it. I don’t know the status, but I will certainly look into it. But, I can only repeat what is the fact that I spoke to a lot of different groups with a lot of different constituents, a lot of different kinds of members about issues that had to do with world affairs. I probably described more times than I can remember how stressful it was advising the President about going after Bin Laden.

But this example is more telling in a number of respects.

First, consider why she had to change the subject, aside from the fact that Libya has turned out to be such a colossal mistake. Hillary claimed Bernie voted in favor of regime change and then, without a break, described the vote as favoring Security Council involvement.

He voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participate in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on.

The resolution included, among other things, these three parts:

(3) calls on Muammar Qadhafi to desist from further violence, recognize the Libyan people’s demand for democratic change, resign his position and permit a peaceful transition to democracy governed by respect for human and civil rights and the right of the people to choose their government in free and fair elections;

(7) urges the United Nations Security Council to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory;

(11) Welcomes the outreach that has begun by the United States government to Libyan opposition figures and supports an orderly, irreversible and transition to a legitimate democratic government in Libya.

It certainly called for Qaddafi to resign and transfer power to a democratic government. It even endorsed the “outreach” — which ultimately involved barely covert support for rebels — as a means to “transition to a legitimate democratic government.” And it called for the UNSC to take further action, which it did weeks later in calling for a no-fly zone. Famously, Russia and China only permitted that resolution to pass because Susan Rice had led them to believe it did not entail regime change (which is why Russia refused to play along with multilateral efforts to do something about Bashar Assad’s massacres).

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said he had abstained, although his country’s position opposing violence against civilians in Libya was clear.  Work on the resolution was not in keeping with Security Council practice, with many questions having remained unanswered, including how it would be enforced and by whom, and what the limits of engagement would be.  His country had not prevented the adoption of the resolution, but he was convinced that an immediate ceasefire was the best way to stop the loss of life.  His country, in fact, had pressed earlier for a resolution calling for such a ceasefire, which could have saved many additional lives.  Cautioning against unpredicted consequences, he stressed that there was a need to avoid further destabilization in the region.

In last night’s debate, Sanders responded — after talking about what good friends he is with the woman who just claimed he had supported regime change — that he had supported more democracy in Libya, not regime change.

Everybody voted for it wanting to see Libya move toward democracy, of course we all wanted to do that. That is very different than talking about specific action for regime change, which I did not support.

Which led Hillary to suggest, in response, that “we follow[ed] up on,” which led directly to Qaddafi taking a bayonet up his rectum.

You did support a U.N. Security Council approach, which we did follow up on.

Hillary is suggesting (whether solely for political gain or also for legal cover, it’s not entirely clear) that that Senate call for democracy entailed permission to execute regime change. That is, she seems to be claiming that the intent all along was regime change and Sanders should have known that when he did not object to a voice vote in favor of the Libya resolution.

Then, BOOM, dead Osama bin Laden…

… Just in case you start thinking too much about what it means that Hillary suggested that Senate resolution amounted to support for regime change which therefore amounted to an authorization to use military force.

Now, thus far, the exchange is troubling, but not surprising. Hillary’s hawkishness and fondness for fairly broad exercises of executive authority are known qualities.

But the juxtaposition of the disastrous regime change effort in Libya with Obama’s decision to secretly send Navy SEALs into Pakistan to execute Osama bin Laden got me thinking about how different that OBL decision looks when the former Secretary of State is boasting about it, rather than the President.

Once you decide that the way to respond to locating OBL is to sneak into a sovereign country and execute someone, you clearly have to consult with the Secretary of State, as she’s going to have to deal with the diplomatic fallout. That was all the more true as things rolled out, given that we were already conducting delicate negotiations to get Raymond Davis out. Not to mention the way that Davis fiasco soured relations between CIA and State.

Left unsaid, though, is the other option: developing good enough relations with Pakistan — or, more likely, being able to wield enough leverage against Pakistan — such that they would turn him over without the sovereignty violation.

Maybe — likely — that was never going to happen. Maybe — likely — within the bowels of CIA and State and the White House we had good reason to know that Pakistan would not turn over OBL, no matter how much leverage we used. Maybe — likely — it’s also true that the Obama Administration thinks special forces have a better success rate than diplomacy — or thought that, in his first term; his second term, post-Clinton, has had a series of impressive diplomatic successes.

I’m not suggesting I think we could have just asked nicely. But I find it notable that the Secretary of State describes her role as advising the President on whether or not to violate another country’s sovereignty to execute someone, not as considering whether there are other ways to achieve the same objective. I find it remarkable that a Secretary of State boasts about this decision, which ultimately is about the limits of diplomacy even with our so-called allies.

DOJ’s Double Standard on Osama Bin Laden Trophy Photos

Two and a half years ago, I first started pointing to the evidence that several of the guys on the Osama bin Laden operation took trophy photos.

[O]n February 15, 2013, DOJ informed Judicial Watch that CIA had found 7 more photos responsive to their FOIA. That happened just 4 days after Esquire published a splashy story about the guy who claimed to have been the SEAL who actually killed OBL. The current version includes this line.

In the compound, I thought about getting my camera, and I knew we needed to take pictures and ID him.

I had made the connection at the time, and I have a distinct suspicion the language was slightly different in the original (Esquire was making factual corrections along the way but the original is not on Internet Archive), making it clear that the Shooter and possibly others did take pictures, though perhaps not for operational purposes.

What kind of amped up warrior who had just helped kill the bogeyman could resist taking souvenir pictures? Could you blame them, if so?

In any case, I suspected at the time that the reason CIA “located” new photos was because they read about another set of photos in the possession in one of the guys who participated in the op, if not shot the lethal bullet. The ambiguity in the description of McRaven’s order seems to support that.

That is, what SOCOM and CIA appear to be protecting are — in significant part — the personal photos taken by the guys who did the operation.

The Intercept has a story describing how Matt Bissonnette — the guy who wrote No Easy Day — is under continued investigation as a result of having done just that.

It appears the government went after Bissonnette after he published his book, and demanded a cut of his profits and that he turn over a hard drive that had an “unauthorized” picture of OBL.

The retired SEAL voluntarily provided investigators with a copy of his hard drive as part of an agreement not to prosecute him for unlawfully possessing classified material, according to the two people familiar with the deal.

[snip]

Luskin said that he had negotiated a deal in 2014 with the Pentagon and the Justice Department to hand over to the government some of the millions of dollars in book profits Bissonnette had received.

He would not confirm Bissonnette’s possession of the bin Laden photo or whether any investigation still remains open.

But once DOJ got Bissonnette’s hard drive — which according to the Intercept was technically turned over voluntarily (meaning there’d be no warrant to limit the scope of what the government could do with it), they found evidence he may have had side deals associated with his procurement role for the team.

During their search of his hard drive, investigators subsequently found emails and records dealing with Bissonnette’s work as a consultant while he was on active duty at SEAL Team 6. Those records, which were not part of the non-prosecution agreement, led to the widening probe. Federal investigators then became interested in whether Bissonnette’s business ventures with companies that supply military equipment — including companies whose products were used by SEAL Team 6 — were helped by his role in the elite unit’s procurement process, according to one of the people familiar with the case.

Element Group, a company Bissonnette helped set up in Virginia Beach about five years ago, is among the companies NCIS is said to be investigating. According to a former SEAL Team 6 operator familiar with Element Group’s business arrangements, the firm, which has since been shut down, designed prototypes for, and advised, private companies that make sporting and tactical equipment.

According to several former SEAL Team operators familiar with the company, Element Group also did business with at least one Defense Department contractor that sold equipment to SEAL Team 6. The defense contractor, Atlantic Diving Supply, or ADS, has military supply and equipment contracts with SEAL Team 6, according to several former SEAL Team 6 operators, as well as other parts of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Federal investigators have been looking into the business relationship between Element Group and ADS.

I don’t defend Bissonnette if his side deals were corrupt. But this is bullshit on several levels.

Of course, many people, including me, have noted that Bissonnette’s book was an attempt to push back on the information asymmetry — and with it, propaganda — that the government uses classification to pull off.

Prosecuting Bissonnette would require admitting that the government used its unilateral authority over the nation’s secrets to tell a fiction–not an egregious one, but still one that served a significant political objective.

Now there are probably legal ways around that problem (they could prosecute Bissonnette for revealing obscure details that no one really cares about, for example). But probably not political ways around it, because at best, it would seem like retaliation for exposing the Administration’s fluffing of the facts.

It appears that Bissonnette has shown that the Administration used its control over secrecy as a political tool, not just an operational one, and to prosecute him, they’d have to make that point even more clear.

In addition, as I noted in a series of posts, DOD did a lot of things that arguably violate classification laws to hide those trophy photos by retroactively classifying them and sending them over to CIA where they’d be further hidden from Judicial Watch and other FOIAs that had already been filed.

[I]f the photos were classified after their FOIA, they would have had to have been classified on a photo by photo basis by the Director of CIA, Deputy Director, or a Senior Agency Official in charge of classifications, the CIA responded by saying that, after the CIA got the photos (which by all appearances happened after the FOIA), they were derivatively classified in accordance with the SAO’s guidance.

CIA doesn’t say whether that official reviewed the photos individually or not. Nor does it explain who wrote “TOP SECRET” on them, without adding all the other required classification markers.

And note how the CIA claims these photos “were always considered to be classified” by them — but not necessarily by SOCOM, which originally had the photos. But they don’t even claim they were always considered to be Top Secret.

If I’m right about the DOD’s efforts to avoid its obligation under FOIA, then it basically went after Bissonnette for improperly handling classified information while it was doing the same thing (albeit to withhold previously unclassified information). Plus, if these photos were unauthorized, classifying them to hide them would amount to classification to hide misconduct.

Finally, whatever the ethical conflicts with Bissonnette’s side deals (they remain under investigation and it’s not clear there was a conflict, in which case this feels like DOJ’s pursuit of NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney et al for their effort to start a business), they’re being investigated at a time when the Intelligence Community has just eliminated some measures designed to facilitate oversight of precisely this kind of conflict. I sure take from that that the powers that be in our IC want to continue to engage in the kind of conflicted business deals that Bissonnette is being investigated for.

Here’s the irony though: I noted James Clapper had pushed that conflict change through, in part because it is so much work to ride herd on conflicts, even while accepting a requirement that his office increase its surveillance of line personnel. I concluded that Clapper has some really funny ideas about insider threats, finding abusive incompetents trading on their position to be less of a problem than leakers.

Clapper’s perfectly willing to expand his bureaucracy to look for leakers, but not to weed out the dangerously incompetent people ordering potential leakers around.

Bissonnette’s problem, I guess, is he was allegedly both, someone who shared information that undercut official propaganda, and someone who traded on his position.

Had he just done the latter everything would have been fine, I guess.

Mike Morell’s Performance of “Intelligence”

Given that Bill Harlow co-wrote George Tenet and Jose Rodriguez’ autobiographical novels, it’s fairly clear he continues to propagandize for the CIA years after he left the Agency as Public Affairs officer. Still, his past autobiographical novels were perhaps more convincing than the roll out of Mike Morell’s autobiographical novel, The Great War of Our Time, which Harlow also co-wrote. That’s pretty remarkable given that Morell had more retained credibility than either of the other two. This propaganda tour actually seems to be eroding Morell’s credibility.

Part of the problem is interviews like this, where Morell says both that we should be “all in” with Saudi Arabia (an asinine judgement, in my opinion, perhaps betraying CIA’s close ties to the Saudis) and that we should support secular Bashar al-Assad, which is totally inconsistent with his first stance.

And he makes those two claims in an interview where he also claims that numbers on collateral damage tied to drone strikes are “propaganda.”

“The other thing I’ll say is that this is the most precise weapon in the U.S. arsenal.  Collateral damage is not zero — and gosh, I wish it were zero, but it’s not — but it’s very close to zero.

“Number three, the numbers that you see about huge numbers of collateral damage just aren’t true.  They are put out there as propaganda by people who want this program to go away, and al-Qaida is one of those groups.”

It’s a great display of Morell’s approach to lying.

First, most people don’t claim there are huge numbers of collateral damage. TBIJ — which is both one of the more partisan voices against drone strikes but which also does some of the most meticulous work tracking drone killing over years — shows that civilians amount for around 14%  of those killed (a lower number than some more hawkish counts). The number itself is not, as Morell depicts it, “huge.” But it is, nevertheless, a relatively large amount, one what brings with it a lot of blowback. And the numbers — which again, are similar to those tracked my multiple independent sources — are much higher than CIA publicly claims.

It is CIA, and not drone killing trackers, engaged in propaganda here.

Yet by refuting something his opponents hadn’t asserted, Morell gets to claim to have debunked it.

While I have no idea what part of Sy Hersh’s story on Osama bin Laden are true, Morell’s use of the same method to debunk Hersh suggests he’s engaged — at least partly — in non-denial denial.

Jeff Stein deals with one problem with Morell’s debunking. CIA’s former Deputy Director claims that if we had tipped the Pakistanis (who are dealt with as a monolith in Morell’s story) they would have told Osama bin Laden. Wouldn’t that require knowledge of where he was, and some ongoing interest in protecting him? If so, that actually confirms a key premise of Hersh’s (and other reporters’) stories.

Then there’s Morell’s debunking of the walk-in story.

He claims that we learned of bin Laden’s location not from following the courier and from excellent intelligence analysis, but from a Pakistani intelligence officer who walked into the U.S. Embassy and gave us bin Laden’s whereabouts in exchange for “much of the $25 million reward offered by the U.S.” The truth is that while walk-ins have long been useful in providing intelligence to us world-wide, none of the information that led to finding the location where bin Laden was came from walk-ins.

NBC has already confirmed that there was a walk-in — just that he wasn’t key to identifying OBL’s location.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was first published. The original version of this story said that a Pakistani asset told the U.S. where bin Laden was hiding. Sources say that while the asset provided information vital to the hunt for bin Laden, he was not the source of his whereabouts.

Morell’s statement is utterly consistent with NBC’s reporting.

Morell claims to debunk Hersh’s claim that CIA obtained DNA from OBL.

bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment.

[snip]

The planners turned for help to Kayani and Pasha, who asked Aziz to obtain the specimens. Soon after the raid the press found out that Aziz had been living in a house near the bin Laden compound: local reporters discovered his name in Urdu on a plate on the door. Pakistani officials denied that Aziz had any connection to bin Laden, but the retired official told me that Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up because the DNA sample had showed conclusively that it was bin Laden in Abbottabad.

But Morell focuses on obtaining DNA from the compound and from OBL’s children, not from OBL himself.

Mr. Hersh says we obtained DNA samples from people in the bin Laden compound before the assault was launched. Wrong again. We would have liked to have obtained samples from the children in the compound to confirm that they were bin Laden’s children, but we did not. [my emphasis]

And Morell claims Hersh’s claim that SEALs couldn’t have thrown OBL body parts out the helicopter over the Hindu Kush …

The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed.

… Because he received a burial at sea.

Finally—and most absurdly perhaps—Mr. Hersh cites his sources as telling him that SEALs threw bin Laden body parts off their helicopter over the Hindu Kush and suggests that the burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson never happened. Bin Laden’s body received a proper Muslim burial at sea. How do I know? I heard the president give the order, and I saw photographs and video of the burial at sea.

Now, to be fair, this is one claim from Hersh I’m most skeptical of (though I realize now the SEALs might have thrown some body parts out the helicopter to leave DNA evidence that OBL was killed there, which was the purported cover story). But Morell’s debunking is no such thing, because it is perfectly possible a shrouded corpse could be buried at sea even if it were missing some body parts. (I’ll also note that JSOC hid what I believe to be trophy photos after this story started breaking, which suggests the SEALs did something with the corpse that would cause problems if it were publicized, though I always assumed they just hammed it up.)

In other words, as Morell does for his drone propaganda, he usually doesn’t debunk what Hersh wrote, but instead something else.

Which is a suggestion that he’s engaged in another cover story.

Jack Goldsmith Declares Victory … for Osama bin Laden

Yesterday, Jack Goldsmith misread a crabby Harold Koh defense of Obama’s ISIL escalation justification as the end to the end to the Forever War.

Harold’s Koh’s grudging defense of the domestic legal basis for President’s Obama’s use of force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is important.  It adds little new to other defenses of the President’s position – a legal position, I have argued in past posts, is politically stupid and constitutionally imprudent but nonetheless legally defensible under Article II and the 2002 AUMF (but not the 2001 AUMF).  Koh’s defense is nonetheless important because it definitively reveals the death of the Obama administration’s ambition to end what Koh has described as “the Forever War.”

As I said, I think this is a misreading of Koh. Koh still clings to the notion that a Congress ducking legislative action for many reasons — almost none of which have to do with electoral pressure in the short term, and many of which have to do with the fact the President has given them the luxury of dodging responsibility for what will almost certainly be an unpopular and probably unsuccessful escalation — will provide the President a more appropriate authorization for his escalation later this year.

Achieving a better outcome is not politically impossible. Representative Adam Schiff’s proposed AUMF, for example, would accomplish in one bill three of the four steps described above. It would (1) authorize “all necessary and appropriate force against ISIL” for eighteen months, limited geographically to Iraq and Syria and operationally to no US ground forces; (2) repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF now and (3) repeal the 2001 al-Qaeda AUMF in eighteen months. If the President openly backed such legislation, it would place his war with ISIL on a much firmer legal ground, while advancing his longer-term objective—announced in 2013 at the National Defense University —of taking us off a permanent war footing.

This President came to office to end war. But he just declared a new one, sparing Congress of its constitutional responsibility to back him. Instead of breaking the vicious cycle, and asking Congress to live up to its constitutional duties to confront the Islamic State, the President prolonged a dysfunctional historical pattern that is inconsistent with the design of our National Security Constitution. As the conflict with ISIL stretches on, pressure will build to send advisers and other boots on the ground to further the goal of destroying ISIL. Americans and the world will grow weary and forget the exigencies that led this President to take this course.

There is still time to avoid this vicious cycle. When Congress returns, some will be lame ducks, and for all, the next election will be at least two years off. If members of Congress seriously care about their prerogatives, they will have no excuse for again ducking their constitutional responsibility. And this President will have those same years to consider what his constitutional legacy will be. History will treat this President far better if he leaves office not just having fought the Islamic State, but having lived up to his promise to put us on the path toward ending the Forever War.

That is, Koh still clings to the fantasy that the President will agree to limit his own authority when Congress won’t force him to do so.

Goldsmith, on the other hand, presents Koh’s painful somersaults as endorsement of the notion that Islamic extremism will remain a threat for the foreseeable future, and therefore Congress may finally replace the 2001 AUMF with something that better authorizes Forever War for the long haul.

I always thought the debates about what to do with the 2001 AUMF – repeal it, let the President interpret it flexibly, or replace it with a more rigorous updated authorization – turned on intuitions about the persistence and danger posed by Islamist terrorists.  It is now clear that the Islamist terrorist threat is not dissipating anytime soon.  It is also clear that the President’s interpretation of the 2001 AUMF to fight this threat, whether lawful or not, is certainly a stretch, even on Koh’s account.  It is also pretty clear, finally, that Congress will not easily authorize wars on a threat-by-threat basis.  So perhaps now we can start talking about realistic statutory replacements for the 2001 AUMF.

For Koh, this is a choice between a legally defensible (in the short term) justification, and more legally justifiable way to bring the Forever War to a close. For Goldsmith, however, the choice is between a legally suspect justification for the Forever War, and a more defensible justification for the Forever War.

Forever War or Forever War.

Whichever you choose, the President will retain the authority to override limits on domestic spying (written by … Jack Goldsmith!), to override due process to drone-kill American citizens, to indefinitely detain men who were sold for a bounty, and to train and arm men we’ve given cause to loathe us. From time to time, Congress will be called on to stir itself from suckling, Matrix-like, on its Defense Contractor cash to approve funds and expand immunities. The fight Osama bin Laden started will continue to rot our government and Constitution. “They hate us for our freedoms,” they used to say, and now our experts embrace indefinitely signing away those freedoms in increasing bits, via legally suspect means or legally defensible.

All the while, this Forever War will suck up money that should be spent funding things like education and infrastructure, things that used to sustain America’s vitality. And the constant threat inflation needed to justify this Forever War will distract from far more pressing threats, like climate change and Ebola and reckless banksters.

Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t worked as OBL wanted is that America’s refusal to deal with climate change will kill devout Muslims in far greater numbers, at first, than it will Americans.

Institutionalizing the Forever War might as well be declaring victory for OBL.

The most telling part of this exchange, though, is how Koh, after having referred to a bunch of fellow law professor critics as “commentators,” then called law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell, writing for a publication with greater reach and news credibility than the legal blog Just Security that Koh was writing in, “the blogosphere.” Continue reading

CIA, Pakistan Taliban Bring Fighters to Syria…and a Global Polio Emergency

Recall that last fall, Barack Obama spent some time altering the public record on when CIA-trained death squads first entered Syria to move the date from just before the Ghouta sarin attack to just after (while also trying to shrink the size of those first groups). But the US was a month behind Pakistan’s Taliban, who also sent fighters to Syria, ostensibly on the same side as us this time, to fight pro-Assad forces. But while these efforts on the same side in Syria are having little success as Assad remains in power and might even be gaining the upper hand, the work of the CIA and Taliban on opposite sides in Pakistan has produced a devastating result, with the World Health Organization announcing yesterday that it has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the spread of polio to countries where it previously had been eradicated:

After discussion and deliberation on the information provided, and in the context of the global polio eradication initiative, the Committee advised that the international spread of polio to date in 2014 constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk to other States for which a coordinated international response is essential. The current situation stands in stark contrast to the near-cessation of international spread of wild poliovirus from January 2012 through the 2013 low transmission season for this disease (i.e. January to April). If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases. It was the unanimous view of the Committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have been met.

Although fundamentalist Islamic groups have long accused vaccination campaigns, and especially polio vaccinations, of being efforts by the West to sterilize Muslims, the very high profile case of Dr. Shakeel Afridi carrying out a hepatitis vaccination ruse on on behalf of the CIA in an effort to obtain blood samples from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad provided a refreshed incentive for attacks on vaccine programs.

Marcy pointed out the stupidity of Leon Panetta’s confirmation that Afridi worked with the CIA in the ruse the day before Panetta’s 60 Minutes segment ran:

Not only does this presumably put more pressure on Pakistan to convict Afridi of treason (he remains in custody), but it exacerbates the problem of having used a vaccination campaign as cover in the first place, confirming on the record that similar campaigns in poor countries might be no more than a CIA front.

I presume someone in the White House gave Panetta permission to go blab this on 60 Minutes; I assume he’s in no more legal jeopardy than Dick Cheney was when he insta-declassified Valerie Plame’s identity.

But shit like this discredits every single claim national security experts make about the need for secrecy. I mean, how are CIA officers ever going to recruit any more assets when the assets know that the CIA director may, at some time in the future that’s politically convenient, go on 60 Minutes and confirm the relationship?

Afridi was eventually sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, not on treason but on other dubious charges and in a shopped venue. And the fallout in Pakistan’s tribal areas from US confirmation of the vaccination ruse was exactly as might be expected: multiple deadly attacks on polio vaccine workers and many new cases of paralyzed children.

While the polio virus circulating in Syria doesn’t appear to have come directly with the Taliban fighters sent from Pakistan, it is indeed a strain from Pakistan’s tribal areas that is in Syria now:

Thirteen cases of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) have been confirmed in the Syrian Arab Republic. Genetic sequencing indicates that the isolated viruses are most closely linked to virus detected in environmental samples in Egypt in December 2012 (which in turn had been linked to wild poliovirus circulating in Pakistan).

WHO is recommending drastic measures, primarily calling for all travelers from Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria to be vaccinated for polio, preferably at least four weeks prior to international travel, but at least at departure if it hasn’t been done earlier. WHO is also calling for increased efforts in vaccinations in countries (Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria) where the virus is known to be present but from which transmission has not been seen.

So the fears from two years ago on the impact of the CIA’s actions on polio eradication are now met. But keep in mind that it’s not just vaccine programs that were put at risk by this incredibly stupid move. A large alliance of humanitarian groups complained directly to the CIA that all humanitarian groups were put at risk by the move, since the CIA ruse was carried out under cover of a humanitarian organization. Will John Brennan be able to heed this advice?

Carlotta Gall: ISI Sheltered Bin Laden in Pakistan

The New York Times has just released an excerpt from Carlotta Gall’s upcoming book “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014″. Recall that Gall lived in Afghanistan and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Times from 2001-2013 (Declan Walsh also covered Pakistan from inside Pakistan until he was expelled just before the election in 2013). The biggest revelation in the excerpt is that Pakistan knew about, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, actively sheltered, Osama bin Laden when he was in hiding in Pakistan.

Gall claims that then-ISI head Ahmed Shuja Pasha had direct knowledge of bin Laden’s presence:

Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid. “He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,” the Pakistani official told me. The official was surprised to learn this and said the Americans were even more so. Pasha had been an energetic opponent of the Taliban and an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI. “Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy,” the official said. But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Although Pasha knew, it appears that ISI compartmented the knowledge very carefully:

In trying to prove that the ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him, I struggled for more than two years to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI — such is how supersecret intelligence units operate — but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.

Gall’s reporting on Taliban factions and their madrassas came at great personal risk. This story picks up at a point where her Pakistani colleagues have been picked up by the ISI at the hotel where they were staying and she had been summoned to meet the ISI agents outside: Continue reading

Conspiracy Stories Surrounding Nils Horner Murder Hard to Dismiss Due to US Behavior

Today’s New York Times has a fascinating update on the investigation into the killing of Swedish reporter Nils Horner on March 11. Although there have been systematic attacks on journalists in the region for years, it appears that in the case of Horner, suggestions of the involvement of Western intelligence agencies are getting significant attention:

Now, some are saying Mr. Horner may have been killed as part of some shadowy intelligence war in Afghanistan waged by foreigners.

/snip/

The allegation first surfaced in a widely disputed claim of responsibility issued by a group calling itself Feday-e-Mahaz, and thought to be an offshoot of the Taliban.

/snip/

“This was certainly not the work of the Taliban,” Mr. Faizi said in an interview, adding that he did not believe there were any breakaway factions. “They are fictions.”

/snip/

Afghan officials linked Mr. Horner’s death to the attack on Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners that suicide attackers struck in January, killing 21 people, most of them foreigners.

Though the Taliban took credit for that attack, Mr. Karzai has suggested that it may be linked to foreigners and not Afghan insurgents. Mr. Horner was shot as he tried to find and interview a chef who had escaped from that Lebanese restaurant, officials said.

“Perhaps there are some of those with fears about what he would find out,” one Afghan official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.

The official emphasized that he was speaking of the possibility that Westerners were responsible in both the restaurant attack and Mr. Horner’s shooting, and not Pakistanis, whom Afghan officials often blame after attacks because of what the official called Pakistan’s clandestine support of the Taliban.

But how on earth could such a ludicrous story get started? I mean, it’s not like the US meddles and tries to prevent the outbreak of peace talks or anything like that. Oh, wait.

Okay, but surely this meddling is recent. The history of our motives in the region must be pure. Just ask someone who has observed our actions over the years, like, say,  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, (pdf):

But it was too late because some of the organizations had become a part of the Afghan
people. As for Afghanistan itself, the West did not support the Afghan organizations in
order to bring about peace, prosperity, and security in Afghanistan. The U.S. proxies in the
lSI under American control foiled every attempt to reconcile or integrate the various
Afghan organizations. Every time they saw a strong leader or an organization, they
supported him in order to split his organization off from the others. They split the group
Hezb Al-Islami Hekmatyar into two parties- one by the same name and one by the name
Hezb Al-Islami Younis Khalis and so on.

Well, yes, as Marcy notes, KSM is trolling, but there are bits that can’t be denied.

Oh, and don’t forget the use of a doctor in a vaccination ruse to obtain intelligence on the compound where Osama bin Laden was living prior to the attack that killed him. So why wouldn’t the West use a journalist? And look at Horner’s history:

Horner, 51, was an experienced Hong Kong-based reporter who had previously been in Afghanistan to witness the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and in Iraq during the war in 2003.

And just to make things juicier, even though Horner worked for Swedish radio, he held British citizenship. The Wall Street Journal article linked here notes that Horner covered Asia generally since 2001 and “had visited Kabul many times in the past”.

I’m not ready to embrace these conspiracies, but it sure is easy to see how the concept can take hold when we consider how the US has behaved in the region for decades.

“Destroy Them Immediately:” William McRaven Adopts the Jose Rodriguez Approach

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“Destroy them immediately.”

That’s what Admiral William McRaven said 11 days after Judicial Watch FOIAed for pictures of Osama bin Laden’s remains.

As I was the first to note back in June, McRaven ordered that all photos in JSOC’s possession should be purged. According to the IG Report where I first noted that order, he ordered them be sent to CIA (the final IG Report censored that reference). I thought at the time (and still believe) it was an attempt to jurisdictionally sheep dip the pictures, just as the operation had been, to get further protection for the pictures.

It’s only now, after Judicial Watch lost their suit to obtain these photos, that DOD has gotten around to providing this document that makes it clear McRaven ordered the photos not just purged, but “destroyed” after the Judiical Watch request.

It’s all so familiar!

Did Umar Patek Lead the US to Osama bin Laden?

Yesterday, Al Jazeera published a leaked copy of the final report from the Abbottabad Commission appointed by Pakistan’s government to investigate both how Osama bin Laden could have lived within Pakistan (on military land!) for so long and how the US was able to carry out its mission to kill him without Pakistan’s military responding in any way.

The report is published as a pdf file of what is clearly a photocopy of the report. The English version has a few translation and/or transcription errors where a word here and there does not make sense. The copy is nearly complete, but Al Jazeera notes that every copy they saw was missing a page in which former ISI director Pasha described conversations Musharraf had with the US just after 9/11.

I’m about a third of the way through reading the report. So far, it has been organized as summaries of the testimony from individuals who had some sort of role at bin Laden’s compound or a role in government or law enforcement that intersected with the event. Each summary of testimony is followed by a bit of reaction from the commission itself, and this reaction can be quite pithy at times. The commission found Shakeel Afridi’s testimony completely unbelieveable, as he claimed to have no knowledge at all that he was working with the CIA. The commission also, in response to the testimony of a lower level local police figure, ascribed the abdication of duty as due to “government implosion syndrome”, adding that “This explains a lot without excusing it.”

What stands out to me in the reading so far is the role that Umar Patek could have played in aiding the US to find bin Laden. Recall that so far, the party line from the US is that bin Laden’s compound was located in Abbottabad by tracing the two couriers who lived there. However, Indonesian bomber Umar Patek was arrested in Abbottabad in January of 2011, just a few months before the May raid by the US.

Here is a bit of the testimony from the Home Secretary of Kyhber Pakhunkhwa Province (so as not to add further transcription errors, I am relying on partial screen captures of the pdf document that is in a form not allowing text to be copied):

KP Home Sec re Umar Patek

 

So the arrest of Patek aroused at least some concern, but it was not followed up on. The testimony of the wife of one of the couriers, Maryam, got into a very interesting analysis of the Patek situation, though, with the commission offering some incisive deductions:

Patek part 1

 

And after a page break:

Patek part 2

 

Almost nobody had paid any attention to Patek’s arrest being so close in time and location to the bin Laden raid. Well, one foul-mouthed blogger did, a year ago this week:

But there’s a question that has, AFAIK, never been answered. Patek was arrested in January 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There have always been suspicions that the arrest of Patek in the city Osama bin Laden was hidden out in (Patek reportedly planned to meet OBL) helped to solidify the case that he was in fact the “Pacer” in the compound. Did Patek help the US get OBL?

Both Marcy and the commission find the interrogation window for Patek to fit extremely well with the timing of the bin Laden raid. The commission also shows considerable insight in noting that despite the efforts by bin Laden to cut off all interaction with the outside world except for the use of his two couriers, at least one high level al Qaeda affiliate may well have known that bin Laden was in Abbottabad.

While the world focuses on the role of following bin Laden’s couriers, it may well be that Patek provided some of the most actionable intelligence on bin Laden being in Abbottabad.

It’s Not JUST the Shell Game of Moving Osama bin Laden Records–It’s Retroactive Classification of Them

Congratulations to the AP, which has caught up to the reporting I did a month ago on the way SOCOM purged their own systems of Osama bin Laden photos (and, apparently, records) and moved them to the CIA.

But it appears that this shell game involved more than just moving all these records to CIA. It appears CIA had to retroactively classify at least the photographs.

As you recall, Judicial Watch (as well as a bunch of other entities) had FOIAed any pictures of the raid. It its motion for summary judgment, JW made several complaints about the government’s FOIA response:

  • The search, particularly at DOD, was inadequate.
  • The government declarations didn’t adequately specify what was included in the pictures (I suspect this was done to hide trophy pictures not shown to Congress or, possibly, even the President).
  • The government declarations don’t prove that all the photos could cause exceptionally grave harm.
  • The description of the classification process was inadequate.

It is the last of these that is most interesting, given the apparent fact that DOD transfered all its photos to CIA (plus my suspicion that a lot of these are trophy photos, not official operational photos).

First, Defendants fail to identify who classified the records. Director Bennett testifies as to who generally has the authority to classify information as TOP SCERET and who generally has the authority to delegate such authority. Bennett Decl. at ¶¶ 14-15. In addition, Director Bennett states that the “Director of the CIA has delegated original TOP SECRET classification authority to me. As an original classification authority, I am authorized to conduct classification reviews and to make original classification decisions.” Id. at ¶ 18. Yet, Director Bennett does not testify that he personally classified the records. Nor does he state that any other authorized official actually classified the records.  If an individual without the proper authority classified the records, Defendants have not complied with the procedural requirements of EO 13526.

Second, Director Bennett does not specifically testify as to when the 52 records were classified. Director Bennett only states that as of September 26, 2011, the 52 records are currently and properly classified. Continue reading

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