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Not So Great Expectations: Paying the Price of Hubris in Iraq, Afghanistan

Developments over the past few days on several different fronts are coming together in a way that outlines just how arrogantly the US conducted the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how the consequences of that hubris are now diminishing the previously dominant role for the US in the region going into the future. At the same time, these developments drive home the message of the terrible waste of lives and money the war efforts have been.

In today’s New York Times, we learn that the staff at the gargantuan US embassy in Baghdad is about to be cut in half. It appears that one of the driving forces behind these cuts is that the Iraqis are not making it easy for embassy personnel to move freely into and out of the country:

At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s office — and sometimes even the prime minister himself — now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.

Perhaps Mr. al-Maliki should study the activities of the US Customs Service if he really wants to learn how to make it even clearer to selected foreigners that he doesn’t want them in his country.

But al-Maliki is not the only elected Iraqi official who sees an opportunity to repay the US for the hubris it has shown the region, as the Times quoted Nahida al-Dayni, whom they described as “a lawmaker and member of Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament” with regard to the embassy compound:

The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.

That US actions in the Middle East would have prompted such an attitude among local officials should have been foreseen, but the Times article informs us that the State Department seems to have been hit by a bit of shock and awe: Read more

The Material Support of Hillary Clinton and Tarek Mehanna

18 USC 2339(A) and 18 USC 2339(B) proscribe the material support of terrorism and designated foreign terrorist organizations. In short, it is the “material support” law:

the term “material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials;

During oral argument on the now seminal defining case as to the astounding reach of this statute, Holder v. HLP, now Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan argued, as Solicitor General, that even humanitarian lawyers could be charged and convicted under the wide ranging provisions:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Do you stick with the argument made below that it’s unlawful to file an amicus brief?

GENERAL KAGAN: Justice Kennedy —

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think I’m right in saying it that that was the argument below.

GENERAL KAGAN: Yes, I think that would be a service. In other words, not an amicus brief just to make sure that we understand each other. The Petitioners can file amicus briefs in a case that might involve the PKK or the LTTE for themselves, but to the extent that a lawyer drafts an amicus brief for the PKK or for the LTTE, that that’s the amicus party, then that indeed would be prohibited.

Kagan argued for an interpretation so broad that even the filing of an amicus brief would be violative of the material support prohibitions and the Supreme Court so held.

So, surely, the DOJ is going to heed the words and intent of the right honorable Justice Kagan over this report then, right?

The Iraqi government has promised to shutter Camp Ashraf — the home of the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK) — by Dec. 31. Now, the United Nations and the State Department are scrambling to move the MEK to another location inside Iraq, which just may be a former U.S. military base.

The saga puts the United Nations and President Barack Obama’s administration in the middle of a struggle between the Iraqi government, a new and fragile ally, and the MEK, a persecuted group that is also on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The Marxist-Islamist group, which was formed in 1965, was used by Saddam Hussein to attack the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and has been implicated in the deaths of U.S. military personnel and civilians. The new Iraqi government has been trying to evict them from Camp Ashraf since the United States toppled Saddam in 2003. The U.S. military guarded the outside of the camp until handing over external security to the Iraqis in 2009. The Iraqi Army has since tried twice to enter Camp Ashraf, resulting in bloody clashes with the MEK both times. (emphasis added)

Well, no, there will be no prosecution for aiding and abetting these terrorists. Now, in all Read more

The Government Once Again Harrasses Others to Hide Its Own Failures

This is a post I could have written (in fact, I think I did here, here, here, and here). One difference, however, is that the author of this post is a government insider, State Department Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren.

The State Department and its Bureau of Diplomatic Security never took responsibility for their part in the loss of all those [WikiLeak] cables, never acknowledged their own mistakes or porous security measures. No one will ever be fired at State because of WikiLeaks — except, at some point, possibly me. Instead, State joined in the Federal mugging of Army Private Bradley Manning, the person alleged to have copied the cables onto a Lady Gaga CD while sitting in the Iraqi desert.

That all those cables were available electronically to everyone from the Secretary of State to a lowly Army private was the result of a clumsy post-9/11 decision at the highest levels of the State Department to quickly make up for information-sharing shortcomings. Trying to please an angry Bush White House, State went from sharing almost nothing to sharing almost everything overnight. They flung their whole library onto the government’s classified intranet, SIPRnet, making it available to hundreds of thousands of Federal employees worldwide. It is usually not a good idea to make classified information that broadly available when you cannot control who gets access to it outside your own organization. The intelligence agencies and the military certainly did no such thing on SIPRnet, before or after 9/11.

State did not restrict access. If you were in, you could see it all. There was no safeguard to ask why someone in the Army in Iraq in 2010 needed to see reporting from 1980s Iceland. Even inside their own organization, State requires its employees to “subscribe” to classified cables by topic, creating a record of what you see and limiting access by justifiable need. A guy who works on trade issues for Morocco might need to explain why he asked for political-military reports from Chile.

Another difference is that Van Buren is being harassed because he included a link from his blog to some cables describing the US dealing weapons to Moammar Qaddafi, including this account of John McCain and Lindsey Graham sucking up to the dictator.

The more amusing cable is from August 2009, just two short years ago. It recounts the visit to Libya of Congressional super heroes John McCain,Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. The boys had a nice visit with Qaddafi and his son it seems. The cable notes “Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends.” Old Man McCain assured his hosts “that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C-130s and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. He described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, Staff, and War colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.”

The cable continued to say that “Qadhafi commented that friendship was better for the people of both countries and expressed his desire to see the relationship flourish. He thanked the Senators for their visit and described America as a race rather than a nationality, explaining that many Libyans are dual citizens because they were born in the United States. Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the U.S. interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship and pledged to try to resolve the C-130 issue with Congress and Defense Secretary Gates.”

And whereas in my posts on the government’s overreaction to WikiLeaks, I focused on DOD’s hypocrisy on assigning all of the blame for a massive security breach to Bradley Manning in spite of its own rank incompetence keeping its networks safe, Van Buren rehearses the State Department’s past failures to keep their data safe.

Over the years, State has leaked like an old boot. One of its most hilarious security breaches took place when an unknown person walked into the Secretary of State’s outer office and grabbed a pile of classified documents. From the vast trove of missing classified laptops to bugging devices found in its secure conference rooms, from high ranking officials trading secrets in Vienna to top diplomats dallying with spies in Taiwan, even the publicly available list is long and ugly.

[snip]

Then again, history shows that technical security is just not State’s game, which means the Wikileaks uproar is less of a surprise in context. For example,in 2006, news reports indicated that State’s computer systems were massively hacked by Chinese computer geeks.  In 2008, State data disclosures led to an identity theft scheme only uncovered through a fluke arrest by the Washington D.C. cops.  Before it was closed down in 2009, snooping on private passport records was a popular intramural activity at the State Department, widely known and casually accepted.  In 2011, contractors using fake identities appear to have downloaded 250,000 internal medical records of State Department employees, including mine.

[snip]

Diplomatic Security famously took into custody the color slides reproduced in the Foreign Service Journal showing an open copy of one of the Government’s most sensitive intelligence documents, albeit only after the photos were published and distributed in the thousands. Similarly DS made it a crime to take photos of the giant U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, but only after the architecture firm building it posted sketches of the Embassy online; a Google search will still reveal many of those images; others who served in Iraq have posted them on their unsecured Facebook pages

Finally, though, there’s the big difference. State is threatening to take away Van Buren’s security clearance, which would amount to firing a successful Foreign Service Officer for a few links to WikiLeaks cables widely available elsewhere.

Secrecy News just posted a Congressional Research Service report written on WikiLeaks type leaks. As SN has previously reported, CRS researchers aren’t allowed to refer to the WL cables, not even for their reports.

“Add me to the list of grumblers,” said a respected national security analyst at the Congressional Research Service, where employees have been prohibited from accessing WikiLeaks documents online.

“This whole thing is so [expletive] stupid,” he said yesterday. “Even staff with clearances can’t read the cables, let alone quote them. One reason is that we can’t read classified materials on unclassified computers and we have no classified computers.”

“We can now quote news stories which cite the cables, but we have no way of verifying whether the article correctly quotes the cables.”

“This is hampering CRS work and management knows it,” the analyst said.  “There’s just no leadership on this issue.”

The rule, in the case of this recent report, results in the absurdity of long footnotes citing news articles, but never once citing an actual WL cable.

16 State’s Secrets, NY TIMES (online edition), Nov. 29, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/world/statessecrets.html. According to the Guardian, the fact that most of the cables are dated from 2008 to 2009 is explained by the increase in the number of U.S. embassies linked to the military’s secure computer network, SIPRNet, over the past decade. See The US embassy cables, GUARDIAN (UK), http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/nov/29/wikileaks-cables-data.
17 Scott Shane and Andrew W. Lehren, Cables Obtained by WikiLeaks Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels, NY TIMES.
18 The Guardian states that the earliest of the cables is from 1966. See The US embassy cables, supra footnote 16.

Not to mention a CRS report the very first sentence of which makes a demonstrably false statement.

The online publication of classified defense documents and diplomatic cables by the organization WikiLeaks and subsequent reporting by The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), and Der Spiegel (Germany), among others, have focused attention on whether such publication violates U.S. criminal law. [my emphasis]

The Iraq cables were published simultaneously, and except for the recent dump of everything, the State cables were published by the newspapers before WL published them.

This continuing game–the persecution of insiders for non-serious leaks while sanctioned leaks to Bob Woodward or General’s kids go un-investigated, the preference for the error and inanity of this CRS report over actual information–is getting really pathetic. It makes us dysfunctional as a country, preventing real discussion and therefore sound decision making, while we’re not doing the bureaucratic things to keep our secrets safe from our actual enemies. And all the while, efforts of people like Van Buren to tell us what a catastrophe our Iraq project really was get punished.

Has Aafia Siddiqui’s Daughter Surfaced?

Aafia Siddiqui has been at the center of one of the many mysteries flowing from the Bush and Obama administrations’ conduct of  intelligence operations. A Pakistani native and former MIT scientist, background on Siddiqui can be found several places, including a Seminal diary by ondelette here.

The stories of Siddiqui’s disappearance and  her recent trial in the US are too convoluted to easily summarize.  For purposes of the story now emerging — the possible appearance of Siddiqui’s daughter — the bare bones are that, after returning to Pakistan from the US, Aafia Siddiqui was named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in his US-run torture interrogations.  Shortly thereafter, in March, 2003, Siddiqui disappeared. Her three children —  oldest son Ahmed, 4-year-old Maryam and her infant son, Suleman — disappeared with her.

After seven years, Siddiqui suddenly reappeared in Afghanistan, where the US alleged she was involved in the attempted shooting of an American soldier as she was being detained for interrogation. When Aafia was  apprehended in Afghanistan, a boy was with her. The US handed off the boy to Afghan intelligence while they shipped Siddiqui to the US for trial.

Pakistan became involved diplomatically over the child and demanded his return. He was handed over to Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan, but her other children have remained missing. There has been controversy in Pakistan over the status of the boy and whether he truly was Siddiqui’s son or not.

Last weekend a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was  “Fatima,” was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister.  Some stories indicate an American named “John” may have been with her. Dawn reported a senior policeman described that the girl was:

… wearing a collar “bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off”.

That was last week.

This week, April 11 marks the start of a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, to the Read more