Senate Torture Report, Version 1.75

July 27, 2014–Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) investigated CIA torture and the agency’s black prisons the spooks at Langley made the investigators come to them to access the source material. With the Senate report now complete and intense pressures to release it, subjects of the study (read George J. Tenet, his successors, and their minions) are desperate to see the document, learn what it says, and prepare their counterattacks. When the SSCI voted to release the report, CIA director John O. Brennan consulted former spooks who had participated in the events it portrays. There were meetings in the director’s conference room and conference calls among the principals.

Despite his promises at confirmation hearings to take the report to heart and support its release, Director Brennan has continued to drag his feet on taking any action. In part this reflects his own loyalties–Brennan was once chief of staff to George Tenet, and the man Tenet selected to lead the first terrorist threat integration center, a fusion center whose “threat matrix” reports guided CIA counterterror actions for some time after 9/11. No doubt Brennan thought he owed it to Tenet and the others involved to bring them into the loop on the SSCI torture report.

Tenet, Porter J. Goss (who presided over the destruction of the videotapes of torture sessions), and Michael V. Hayden (who defended the program and sought to preserve the “authorities” to conduct it) sent a joint letter to Director Brennan arguing it was only fair they be able to see the report and react to it before the document is declassified. John Brennan took the letter to chairwoman Diane Feinstein of the SSCI. In a cute bit of turnabout (sauce for the gander), Feinstein offered to let the gentlemen have access on the premises of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Apparently that was too much for the former spooks, who raised the roof about the injustice of it all. (They might well have pondered the justice issues more deeply when they had those “high value detainees” in their black prisons.) But let’s take a moment to think about this. In U.S. security services access to classified information requires “clearances” that periodically have to be renewed. Indeed at several points in the past couple of decades, not least with the Manning and Snowden affairs and the Navy Yard shootings, it has been controversial that these renewals are not more thorough, with new investigations and polygraphing. Promises to tighten procedures have been made repeatedly. Of course the units that carry out these vettings are overwhelmed with work and far behind schedule.

It is a near certainty that clearances held by former officials like Mr. Tenet are dated. And we are absolutely sure that the SSCI torture report is highly classified–otherwise this stupid argument over releasing it could not happen. All of which begs the question of whether it is just to permit the former spooks access to secret documents that are denied to the public.

In the New York Times on July 26 Mark Mazzetti revealed that Mr. Brennan has enlisted the cooperation of White House chief of staff Denis McDonough who has brokered a deal. Bypassing the clearance issue, Tenet and company can look at the secret documents (in their full-text, unredacted versions) at the offices of Fearful Leader James Clapper, who can be counted on to support the sour grapes arguments that are sure to follow. Mazzetti speculates there will be a three-way showdown among Mr. Tenet and his crowd of former spooks, the White House, and the Senate intelligence committee.

George Tenet and his top lieutenants–people like Cofer Black, who headed the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) when the black prisons were set up; or Felix Rodriguez, CTC’s chief of operations–will argue the Senate investigators got it all wrong. They will say there was a real threat on the day after September 11, that CIA busted up real plots, that the agency merely followed orders. (They will not say, as some cooler heads did after 9/11, that the attacks were a one-off spectacular, the capacity for which ended the day airlines installed armored doors for their cockpits; that the hysteria drummed up by claims of plots against shopping malls and the Brooklyn Bridge was used to push through outrageous orders; or that the CIA obtained approvals for its strong-arm methods while misrepresenting the degree of their severity.) The spooks won’t need to say that the Bush administration was eager to buy that Brooklyn Bridge plot, even to egg the CIA on to greater outrages. The perps here will also neglect to mention the Nuremberg Principle, that following orders is no defense in the case of crimes against humanity.

Porter Goss will say the destruction of videotapes–and obstruction of justice–was done without his knowledge. Without the full SSCI report (not its executive summary, which is at issue here) the public will not know the extent of Mr. Goss’s knowledge. Michael Hayden will say that he dismantled the black prisons and became the man who explained the program to outraged  overseers. He will not talk about CIA’s efforts to maintain contingency authority to continue the program, or his suppression of the agency’s own inspector general when the latter’s inquiries cut too close to the bone.

Here the White House is playing an enabling role, consistent with President Obama’s rejection of a truth commission back in 2009. This stance makes the president increasingly complicit in what happened here. One wonders. Mr. Obama had better have the great loyalty of the CIA on his side because he has gone far out on a limb for them. If that bough breaks the president will fall.

Fearful Leader and the 9/11 Gang

July 24, 2014–On the Left, at the height of the Vietnam war nightmare, some activists used to comfort each other bandying about pithy slogans. One of them went, “What if They Gave a War and Nobody Came?” Offering a hopeful sentiment, that slogan might be worth dusting off today. There’s news to report that, while not any huge development, is an interesting indicator of changing times. The basic thrust is the scaremongers have entered the Deep Muddy.

Consider: Two days ago we passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the 9/11 Commission report. For this occasion prominent members of the old Commission, which disappeared except for its useful “report cards” once the report appeared, showed up at the Bipartisan Policy Center to hand out a 50-page reflection on the decade of the war on terror. Those on the stage included both the chairpersons, former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean and former congressmen Lee H. Hamilton.

Also on the stage with them–Director of National Intelligence General James R. Clapper. Extremely interesting! The last time a spy director appeared together with our Commission folks it was CIA’s George Tenet, squirming on the hot seat and trying to explain how the spooks had failed to connect the dots on the terror plot which led to the September 11 attacks. Now Clapper shared the stage with erstwhile adversaries.

Why? Because of the message. Fearful Leader loved what the former investigators had to say. While conceding dramatic changes in the world since 9/11–in particular that the core of Al Qaeda has been “seriously diminished,” the commissioners went on to retail Clapper’s line that the threat is worse than ever. By these lights “Al Qaeda associates” have fanned out across the Middle East, now active in sixteen countries and objectified by Islamist groups in the Yemen and Syria. The 9/11 Gang members repeated what a “senior national security official” had told them: “that the forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade.” The Gang warned against “counterterrorism fatigue,” as well as “a waning sense of urgency.”

Then Fearful Clapper took the stage. The intelligence community, the general boldly asserted, has been victimized by “a perfect storm” over the past year, its efforts hampered by the Snowden affair.

Let’s parse all of this. Counterterrorism fatigue? Al Qaeda has been taken off the board. The Syrian ISIS group, in making a bid for Islamist primacy, is fighting an internal war, not one aimed at the United States. Efforts of the rebels in Yemen are also directed overwhelmingly at the Yemeni government. The global monolithic terrorist conspiracy, if it ever existed (outside the heads of the national security mavens), is over. If the idea is that the world’s citizens should continue to accept the purposeful exercise of coercive force superceding all constitutional rights–and regardless of the actual threat–then the waning urgency of the public is no surprise.

As for the Snowden affair, readers of this space already know what I think. There is a perfect storm about the spies’ excesses because they have crossed the line, not because some of them were revealed by Edward Snowden. The current muddle of Fearful Clapper’s minions in Germany is the obvious example. As I argue in The Family Jewels, the time has come to revamp the oversight of intelligence operations with a real 9/11 Commission.

General Clapper tries to rally the forces of hysteria. Here he seized the occasion of the 9/11 report anniversary to stoke the terrorism threat. I would put odds that the national security official who laid that doomsday rap on the 9/11 Gang was none other than Fearful Leader himself.

And the good news? Despite seizing the limelight from the 9/11 commissioners, convincing them to articulate the spooks’ dire line, and the 9/11 Gang’s predilection for threats–plus the public venue–Clapper’s sally went over like one hand clapping in the forest. Network news virtually ignored the event. Only a few papers noted it. The festivities were absent from both the New York Times and Washington Post, though the latter carried an item on its website. In short, Fearful Leader is having trouble getting a bullhorn for his hysterical pronouncements–and that is good news indeed!

Geneva Ends U.S. Action in French Indochina

July 21, 2014–Sixty years ago today at Geneva, the negotiators for an array of Far Eastern nations, convening powers, and Western allies announced a negotiated settlement of the Franco-Vietnamese war that had climaxed so remarkably at Dien Bien Phu. The Geneva accords set the stage for what would later become the American war in Vietnam. Players changed. Others assumed new places onstage. The United States was among the latter.

I have posted a good deal about Dien Bien Phu in this space. You can read more in my book Operation Vulture. I’ve tried to illuminate one of the most ignored aspects of that 1954 crisis, the extent to which the U.S., going beyond the received history of diplomatic feelers, participated in real military actions in the French war at the time of Dien Bien Phu.

The book is replete with details of various American naval and air activities and the Eisenhower administration’s canoodling on whether to move to open intervention in Indochina. Here I thought I would just present a few points on U.S. Air Force activities by way of making the case concrete.

First, a quote. This concerns the long-running effort to pretend that U.S. planning for Indochina intervention in 1954 never had anything to do with using nuclear weapons in Vietnam. The text is from Far East Air Force (FEAF)staff study K720.04-8, dated April 12, 1954, and intended to “Recommend an Effective Course of Action to Achieve US Objectives in Indochina.” In their concept of operations the FEAF staff planners commented: “All types of weapons and devices, including atomic bombs, should be made available and used whenever a militarily profitable target is discovered. In order to gain maximum psychological benefit from the decision to use atomic weapons where profitable in a localized war, the decision should be generally announced. Its subsequent employment would not then create would-wide opinion that the US is about to embark on a global war.”

President Eisenhower didn’t take this advice as it turned out, instead doing what he could to keep the lid on his conversations about nukes. But Ike’s action should be seen as the cover up it was, and the absence of open acknowledgement of the nukes in memoirs and so on should no longer be taken as evidence that none were involved. As Operation Vulture shows, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers conducted nuclear weapons drills on their way to patrols off the Vietnamese coast.

The Far East Air Force was a large organization. Its aerial transport activities were conducted by the 315th Air Division, which was composed of units of various type aircraft. The extent of its involvement in work that directly supported the French military in Indochina is evident from the division’s own statistics: nearly 40 percent of the flight hours of its C-119 twin-engine aircraft, a quarter of the effort of the huge C-124 “Globemasters,” yesterday’s equivalent of the C-5A or Boeing 747 (that effort amounted to 48.3 percent of C-124 flight activity during the height of the Dien Bien Phu battle), and over 20 percent of the hours flown by four-engine C-54 transports, the military version of the Douglas DC-6. In all U.S. Air Force aircraft spent nearly 11,000 hours flying for the benefit of the French military effort just until April 18, 1954, with more work to do before the Dien Bien Phu battle ended in May. Slightly more than five thousand airmen of the transport units worked on the Indochina mission.

Bottom Line: The American military effort was real–and significant. On a certain level it is a good thing that the diplomats reached some accommodation at Geneva, because the warriors were edging closer and closer to battle.

Red Flag for the Spooks: The Gathering Storm

July 11, 2014–Remember back in March? What Obama said? The spy agencies served up a menu to President Barack Obama they thought could turn the tables and get them out of deepening scandal. The National Security Agency (NSA) advanced a scheme that, while appearing to respond to criticism of its dragnet eavesdropping, might actually permit it to collect more information on Americans and other citizens. The president thought the option workable. Obama said, “I’m confident it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people had raised.”

Meanwhile the Central Intelligence Agency was counterattacking against Congress on the Senate torture report, claiming the Senate Intelligence Committee had violated secrecy regulations, referring the case of an allegedly purloined document to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Fearful Leader James Clapper must have felt himself riding especially high last week, when the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board delivered its opinion on the NSA’s targeted (as opposed to its dragnet) wiretapping, which expressed itself “impressed with the rigor of the government’s efforts to ensure that it acquires only those communications it is authorized to collect.”

Then it all came crashing down.

In short order a series of developments have blown away the gossamer webs of complacency. On July 6, just a few days after the Privacy Board report, the Washington Post published an extensive expose that reviewed some 22,000 actual NSA surveillance reports, finding that just 11 percent of those intercepted were targets approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Nine out of ten persons wiretapped were bystanders.

The spooks’ irrepressible consigliere Robert S. Litt jumped up with the its-just-as-we-said defense, remarking that “the most you could conclude from these news reports is that each valid foreign intelligence target talks to an average of nine people.”

That lasted for just two days. The parsing depends on what is a “valid” foreign intelligence target. On July 9 in The Intercept, journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain revealed that the NSA targeted numerous American citizens, including officials of American Muslim lobbying and advocacy groups, a Pentagon official running for political office in Virginia, and other prominent Muslim citizens. The FBI, functioning as the NSA’s target provider, put out training materials clearly racist in nature, picturing Muslims as conspirators (“Mohammed Raghead”) and fundraising for any purpose as intended to support terrorism.

Let’s go back to that nine-out-of-ten bystander rate. We’re not talking 2,400 terrorists, here, plus everyone they communicated with. We’re talking a small number of legitimate targets–Anwar al-Awlaki is on that list–a much larger list of innocents targeted–and then 90 percent more innocent bystanders in the NSA crosshairs. Once the NSA finds any expression of less than sterling content, the FBI then organizes a sting to entrap the person.

I mentioned the novel 1984 in a recent posting. What could be more Orwellian than this? It is totally illegitimate.

Meanwhile there is the matter of the German spying. The NSA wiretapping of German prime minister Angela Merkel has been deplored for some time. Der Spiegel, the newsmagazine, reports the NSA has its largest listening posts in Europe ensconced near Wiesbaden. As noted here the other day (“NSA: Who’s Damaging American National Security,” July 5), the German parliament has begun to investigate NSA spying in Germany–and the CIA set one of its spies to find out what is happening. German counterintelligence caught the agent. Now we get the everybody-spies-on-allies line from flak Michael V. Hayden (“Michael Hayden’s Faustian Bargain,” April 29). Hayden probably wishes now he had kept his mouth shut. A couple of days ago the Germans arrested a second alleged CIA spy, and their government has declared the CIA station chief persona non grata. That’s the kind of thing that happened between the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War. To have it now with Germany, a close U.S. ally on whose territory thousands of American soldiers and airmen are still stationed, is astonishing. The damage to U.S. national security is evident.

So here’s where it begins. “It” being the swamp that is going to swallow Fearful Clapper and his minions. As I explain in The Family Jewels, these scandals usually have a president defending the spooks, then tossing them overboard when the White House itself becomes implicated. Now Obama is indeed on the hot seat. He promised NSA reforms and said a good scheme has been adopted, only to have American citizens openly spied upon with an enormous army of the also-threatened right behind them. Muslim-American organizations have demanded explanations direct from the White House. Obama had discussed the NSA eavesdropping with Angela Merkel, making undertakings with Germany only to have continued espionage–and CIA spies–revealed. This calls into question Mr. Obama’s leadership of the U.S. intelligence community.

The marker quietly laid down several days ago is that the White House knew nothing about the CIA spies in Germany. That’s a very temporary holding position. Here is a high profile intelligence matter with a major U.S. ally who grants basing rights to American troops and whose cooperation on the Ukraine, in NATO, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere is quite necessary. Obama had already been revealed spying on Merkel. He made promises. The Germans actually tried to negotiate a no-spy pact. Now the CIA is caught with its hand in the cookie jar? In behalf of the NSA? Obama either did not bother to inform himself of what our spooks were doing (which seems unlikely), or he was the ringleader (also unlikely), or the spy agencies are out of control. I think the president will be obliged to demonstrate leadership by cracking down.

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced it is dismissing the CIA’s complaint against the Senate intelligence committee. The shoe is falling. NSA, CIA–welcome to the Brave New World.



NSA: Who’s Damaging American National Security?

July 5, 2014–It’s ironic–or, perhaps, fitting in this new era of government  doublespeak–that the patriotic airs of July 4 and America’s birthday are now accompanied by news of fresh security outrages. The National Security Agency’s preoccupation for covering its ass is to blame, and from the looks of this, it sounds like NSA is dragging the CIA into the muck with it. The locale is Germany and the story is spies.

As you’ll know from watching television, reading the papers, or this space, the NSA has scandalized Germany with its dragnet eavesdropping operations. President Obama issued an order to impose some limits on coverage of individuals–and specifically prohibited (only) spying on German chancellor Angela Merkel. The subject was the elephant in the closest recently when Merkel visited Washington for the two leaders to concert a policy to cope with the current troubles in the Ukraine.

That was “identifiable damage to national security”–the standard applied to claim so many citizens have hurt the spies. Here we have the spies hurting the nation. The security agencies should have taken their marching orders from the sense of Obama’s instructions. Instead we have this: the German parliament, or Bundestag, is conducting an official investigation into the NSA dragnet operation. This week the investigating committee took testimony, some of it in secret session, from former NSA employees Thomas Drake and William E. Binney. The spooks are so desperate to learn what German parliamentarians are discovering about the NSA’s operations, illegal in Germany, that CIA sources have been mobilized to service NSA desires.

Not long ago German counterespionage officers apprehended a suspected double agent, a 31-year old officer for the federal intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), who was suspected of spying for Russia. German state prosecutor Harald Range has confirmed the action on July 2. The BND officer is accused of selling more than two hundred secret documents, including a number that disclose activities of the Bundestag parliamentary committee. Under questioning, German sources report, the suspected spy disclosed that he does not work for the Russians at all but for the CIA–and takes his instructions direct from the U.S. embassy. Reports are that U.S. ambassador John Emerson, summoned to the German foreign ministry, has been asked to cooperate with the investigation of this espionage.

Can’t blame this on Edward Snowden. It is the activities of the intelligence agencies–in this case spying on friends America needs to make our foreign policies succeed–that damage our national security. These activities become known to the targets (as they did here) whether or not they are revealed by whistleblowers. The spooks would prefer to have us believe the damage results from revelation, not from commission. That is an arrogant and cynical stance. Do not believe it.