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Five Polio Workers in Pakistan Killed in Further Fallout From Panetta’s Leak

Providing more evidence that perhaps the best move President Obama can make for world affairs is to quickly appoint a new Secretary of Defense so that Leon Panetta can retire to a soundproof booth, five more polio workers in Pakistan paid with their lives for Panetta’s leak that conclusively tied Dr. Shakil Afridi and a vaccination ruse to the CIA effort to identify and kill Osama bin Laden. The tragic shootings in Pakistan consisted of three separate incidents in Karachi and one in Peshawar.

Dawn summarizes various news services’ reports on the shootings:

Four were killed in three different incidents in the port city of Karachi and the fifth in the northwestern city of Peshawar, on the second day of a nationwide three-day drive against the disease, which is endemic in Pakistan.

All of the victims were Pakistanis working with a UN-backed programme to eradicate polio.

Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for Sindh province said he had ordered a halt to the anti-polio drive in the city in the wake of the shootings.

These killings come on the heels of previous incidents:

On Monday, police said a gunman killed a volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign was shot dead on the city outskirts in Gadap Town.

Earlier in July 2012, a local paramedic associated with the polio vaccination was shot dead and a World Health Organisation doctor, Fosten Dido, from Ghana along with his driver were wounded in two separate attacks in the Sohrab Goth area.

WHO, a partner in government efforts to eradicate the disease, suspended vaccination activities in part of Pakistan’s largest city in July after a spate of bloody shootings.

These killings come just under three weeks since it was announced that Dr. Afridi had started a hunger strike at Peshawar Central Jail after the jail retaliated against him for his telephone interview with Fox News. Since the report of the start of the hunger strike, the jail has fired the guard whose phone was used for the interview, but I’ve seen no further reports on the status (or whereabouts) of Afridi. That is striking, since the report on Afridi’s hunger strike appeared within 24 hours of its apparent start. Further, we learn from the New York Times today that US funds for Pakistan’s military have once again begun to flow, despite repeated threats from various members of Congress that these funds would be blocked until Afridi is released from jail. These events also take place in the wake of Panetta’s ham-handed “clarification” last week on the status of Pakistan’s cooperation in anti-terrorism activity.

The Times article tells us that the Pentagon notified Congress of the release of funds to Pakistan on December 7, just a week after the Afridi hunger strike started on November 30. Is Afridi still in Peshawar Central Jail or has he been quietly released and removed from the country as part of the normalization of US-Pakistan relations?

Iran Claims to Have Decoded All Data From Captured ScanEagle and RQ-170 Drones: What Did They Learn?

Iran has published reports in which it claims to have decoded all data carried by the recently captured ScanEagle drone and the RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured last year. As proof of this decoding, Iran provided descriptions of the missions flown by the surveillance drones. The described mission for the ScanEagle fits well with what would be expected for its use, but the description for the RQ-170 conflicts with widely published accounts in the US media.

The decoding of the mission for the ScanEagle was reported last week, just one day after it was captured:

“Yes, we have fully extracted the drone’s data…,” the IRGC Public Relations Department said on Wednesday, referring to the ScanEagle drone — a long-endurance aircraft built by Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing.

“The drone, in addition to gathering military data, used to pursue gathering data in the field of energy, especially the transfer of oil from Iran’s oil terminals,” the department said.

It said that the capture of the aircraft helps discovery of “what kind of data they (the Americans) are after.”

This report for the ScanEagle fits well with what we were told about the use of ScanEagles in the region when Iran first made the claim of capturing this drone. However, the report today on decoding data from the RQ-170 Sentinel drone captured last year is more confusing: Read more

Peshawar Jail Retaliates Against Afridi for Fox News Interview, Afridi Goes on Hunger Strike

The day before the fateful attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans and gave the Republicans Mitt’s desired “Jimmy Carter moment“, Fox News published an interview purported to be with Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA in its quest to locate Osama bin Laden by carrying out a bogus “immunization” program aimed at collecting DNA. At the time, it was entirely unclear whether the interview was genuine. Now, however, there is no doubt that the interview was real. In response to his actions, authorities at Peshawar’s Central Jail have beaten and tortured Afridi and put him into more restrictive solitary confinement with no family or attorney visits allowed. In response, Afridi has started a hunger strike in an apparent attempt to bring attention to his plight and to get back the amenities which were taken away from him.

Reuters gives us the bare bones of the solitary confinement and hunger strike:

The Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hunt down Osama bin Laden started a hunger strike in his jail cell this week to protest against his living conditions, prison officials said on Thursday.

/snip/

Prison officials in the northwestern city of Peshawar said they are keeping Afridi in solitary confinement and will not allow him to have visitors nor speak to anyone by telephone as punishment for a media interview he gave in September.

“After the interview in which Dr. Shakil Afridi levelled serious allegations against the country’s top spy agency, the prison authorities barred his family members and lawyers from meeting him,” said a prison official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“In protest, Dr. Shakil has begun a hunger strike for an indefinite period.”

The “prison official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media” appears to have no appreciation of the irony of his making an unauthorized statement to the media describing Afridi’s punishment for making an unauthorized statement to the media.

It appears that Afridi made more telephone calls than just the one in which Fox News interviewed him:

An investigation following the September interview found that Afridi had bribed guards to use their cell phones to speak to journalists, family and friends, making a total of 58 calls, prison officials said. Six prison guards have been suspended.

I had suggested in my September post that if the interview were real, then Afridi must have accomplished it through bribing guards: Read more

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.

Pakistan Denounces Railway Minister for Filmmaker Bounty, US Joins Condemnation, Ignoring Own Bounties

The US has condemned Pakistan’s National Railway Minister for offering a $100,000 bounty on the maker of the anti-Islam film, while maintaining a website promoting multimillion dollar bounties on a number of people.

On Saturday, Pakistan’s Federal Railway Minister made headlines around the world by offering a $100,000 bounty for the killing of the maker of “The Innocence of the Muslims” after riots related to the film resulted in 21 deaths in Pakistan on Friday:

Federal Railway Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour announced that $100,000 will be awarded to the person who kills the maker of the anti-Islam blasphemous film “Innocence of Muslims”.

Speaking to the media on Saturday, Bilour said that there was no other way to lodge a protest and instill fear among the blasphemers other than murder of the filmmaker. “I request all the rich people to bring out all their money so that the killer can be loaded with dollars and gold.”

The minister admitted of knowing that he was committing a crime by instigating people for murder, but said that he was ready to be a criminal for this cause. “If there is a case lodged against me in the international court or in this country’s court, I will ask people to hand me over to them… I want to show these countries that we will not tolerate any such things.”

On Sunday, Pakistan’s government and Bilour’s political party distanced themselves from Bilour’s action:

Announcing a $100,000 bounty on Saturday, Bilour had invited members of the Taliban and al Qaeda to take part in the “noble deed”, and said given the chance he would kill the film-maker with his own hands.

The government has “nothing to do with the statement made by the railways minister,” Shafqat Jalil, a spokesperson for Premier Raja Pervaiz Ashraf told The Express Tribune. “This is not the government’s policy. We disassociate (ourselves) from this.”

The next bit from Jalil is a bit lacking in credibility:

Jalil added that even though the incumbent government respects its coalition partners, it could not endorse statements that may ignite the already provoked sentiments of Pakistanis.

I guess that declaring Friday as a national holiday so that everyone could take part in demonstrations against the film was really not expected to “ignite the already provoked sentiments of Pakistanis”? I can’t buy that one.

We learn in the same article that Bilour’s political party, the Awami National Party distanced itself somewhat, saying Bilour’s comments were his own views, but would not state whether Bilour might face disciplinary action from the party.

In an act undertaken without any apparent awareness of its inherent hypocrisy, the US also has criticized Bilour’s bounty: Read more

Leaky Leon Does More Damage

Even in his official photos Panetta can’t keep his lips closed.

Marcy pointed out even before it aired that Defense Secretary (and former CIA Director) Leon Panetta’s televised confirmation that Dr. Shakeel Afridi worked for the CIA in the effort to find and kill Osama bin Laden was a breech of security. Since then, both Marcy and I have documented the damage resulting from this disclosure, which includes Afridi being jailed instead of quietly slipping out of Pakistan and a UN doctor being shot while hundreds of thousands of Pakistani children have been denied vaccines. In further damage from Panetta’s improper disclosure, Pakistan is now in the process of expelling the aid group Save the Children over concerns that they may have a CIA tie through a link with Afridi.

But that is not the only time Panetta has disclosed secret information that he should have kept quiet. In this post where I was discussing what looked like signs of increasing cooperation between the US and Pakistan, I included video from an AP interview of Panetta. The segment I chose to post turns out to be very significant. Here is my description of the video clip and its significance:

The absence of drone strikes continued and then on August 13 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was interviewed by Lolita Baldor and Robert Burns of AP. As seen in the video excerpt above, Panetta said that he expected Pakistan to launch military operations soon against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. As Bill Roggio noted at Long War Journal, this was a shocking development. After opening with “This is absolutely stunning”, Roggio went on to list his reasoning for why the announcement didn’t make much sense.

Panetta’s claim that Pakistan was about to launch military action in the FATA stunned those who watch the area closely. By publicly announcing such an unexpected action before it started, Panetta put Pakistan into an untenable position. Today’s Express Tribune details the damage arising from Panetta’s disclosure:

Pakistan has quietly conveyed to the United States to not make any public statement on its planned operation against militants in the restive North Waziristan Agency bordering Afghanistan.

The advice stems from the fact that any remarks by American officials may complicate the Pakistani authorities’ plan to create the ‘necessary environment’ for the Waziristan offensive, a senior government official said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official told The Express Tribune that the military does not want to be seen as aligned with the US on the issue of launching a fresh operation in the rugged tribal belt because of growing anti-American sentiments in the country.

Pakistan protested directly to the US about Panetta’s leak:

Islamabad voiced concerns when US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed last month that the Pakistani military was planning to start an operation against militants in North Waziristan.

/snip/

“It was inappropriate for Panetta to make that statement. There was no need for that … it really complicated the situation,” a military official commented.

Why does Leaky Leon still hold a security clearance? The Haqqani network, operating now with virtual impunity from Pakistan’s FATA, is seen as one of the largest barriers to a stable Afghanistan. By delaying Pakistan’s action against them, Panetta has made himself directly responsible for additional harm to NATO troops and innocent Afghan civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Did Fox News Really Interview Dr. Shakeel Afridi From Peshawar Central Jail?

In a remarkable development, Fox News published a story Monday based on an interview Dominic Di-Natale says he conducted with Dr. Shakeel Afridi, the doctor who aided the CIA’s search for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. As I had described back in June, Afridi now is in the central jail in Peshawar, but local authorities there have been asking the federal government to find a safer place for Afridi to be imprisoned, because it is feared that militants will attack Afridi to exact revenge for the aid he provided in the bin Laden mission.

Prior to his trial earlier this year, it is believed that Afridi was detained by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. In the Fox story, Afridi is quoted as saying that the ISI is merely manipulating the US to obtain funding for Pakistan:

Pakistan’s powerful spy agency regards America as its “worst enemy,” and the government’s claims that it is cooperating with the US are a sham to extract billions of dollars in American aid, according to the CIA informant jailed for his role in hunting down Usama bin Laden.

/snip/

“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained.

Pakistan, and especially the ISI, vigorously denies that the interview could have taken place:

The ISI rubbished as ‘fiction’ on Tuesday a reported interview by a US TV channel of jailed Dr Shakeel Afridi, allegedly involved in tracing Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

“There is no evidence to suggest that Fox News correspondent had interviewed Dr Afridi,” a senior security official said after preliminary investigations.

“It is all concocted and baseless,” he said as he laughed off the claims made in the interview. “It’s amusing how well he (as reported in the interview) learnt about ISI operations from the cell in which he was kept blindfolded for eight months, as claimed by him,” he added.

The jail in which he has been lodged has ‘jammers’ that block cellphone signals, another official said.

At yesterday’s press briefing at the State Department, Victoria Nuland said that the authenticity of the interview has not yet been determined:

QUESTION:Staying on Pakistan, I wondered if State Department’s had a chance to review a supposed interview that Dr. Afridi has given to Fox News and whether you think it’s credible.

MS. NULAND: Well, frankly, we can’t at this point verify the authenticity of the interview. Read more

DOD Gets Awfully Sensitive When They’re Cornered

Just about every outlet that reported on George Little’s whine about Matt Bissonnette’s book yesterday claimed that Little had said there was “classified” information in the book.[all emphasis in this post mine]

CNN: A Pentagon official said Tuesday that a former Navy SEAL who helped kill Osama bin Laden included classified material in his new book and did not follow protocol for pre-publication review.

AP: George Little said that an official review of the book, “No Easy Day,” determined that it reveals what he called “sensitive and classified” information.

ABC: Top Pentagon officials said today that a controversial firsthand accountof the nighttime raid that killed Osama bin Laden written by a former U.S. Navy SEAL reveals classified information and could endanger other special operations servicemen.

Fox: “Sensitive and classified information is contained in the book,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters in Washington. “It is the height of irresponsibility not to have this material checked.”

The reality is far more telling. Little did not commit to saying there was classified information in the book until cornered after repeated questions by the press. The transcript is worth reviewing in more detail since, if this ever gets litigated, Little’s hesitation to claim the book included classified information will become an issue.

In response to the first question on Bissonnette’s book, Little gave what was probably his rehearsed answer to it. He focused on Bissonnette’s failure to do a prepublication review (remember, Bissonnette’s lawyer, Bob Luskin, says such a review was recommended but not required). And when discussing the actual review, Little said there was sensitive information; only later, speaking more generally, did Little say “sensitive and classified.”

George, on the separate issue, on the SEAL book, has the department made a decision yet on whether to take any legal action regarding this and on whether or not there is classified material in the book, and if there — if, indeed, you’ve determined there is, can you tell us what it is and what action may or may not be taken at this point?

MR. LITTLE: Thank you very much, Lita, for that question. We continue to review our options when it comes to legal accountability for what in our estimation is a material breach of nondisclosure agreements that were signed by the author of this book.

With respect to the information that’s contained in the book, people inside the department have read it. And we do have concerns about some of the sensitive information that we believe is contained in it. I’m not going to get out ahead of what the process going forward might be and what options we might decide to pursue, but this is a very serious concern that we have.

When it comes to sensitive special operations missions, such as the operation that took down Osama bin Laden, it is important that those who are involved in such operations take care to protect sensitive and classified information. And if I had been part of the raid team on the ground and I had decided to write a book about it, it wouldn’t have been a tough decision for me to submit the book for pre-publication review. That is common sense. It’s a no-brainer. And it did not happen.

Thus far into the process, the press wasn’t buying Little’s slight of hand. He gets a followup on the sensitive/classified distinction, which he dodges by focusing on pre-publication review again.

Q: Will you — just as a follow-up — you made a distinction between sensitive and classified. So is the determination that it is sensitive information there and not classified? And also, is there any determination on whether the book will be sold on — on bases (off mic)

MR. LITTLE: There’s been no directive from this department to withhold sale of the book from military exchanges. This book is being made widely available in bookstores and online. It is not our typical practice to get into the business of deciding what and what does not go on bookshelves in military exchanges. But that doesn’t mean in any way, shape or form that we don’t have serious concerns about the fact that this process of pre-publication review was not followed.

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.