Category Archive 'CIA'
18 May 2012

Inside Story Worse Than the Rumors

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John O. Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Assistant to the President

Michael A. Walsh, in the New York Post, spills the beans on the damaging leak which has seriously compromised relations between British and American intelligence services.

So that “CIA coup” in Yemen against another al Qaeda underwear bomber turns out to actually have been a joint Saudi-British intelligence operation — which apparently was prematurely terminated thanks to flapping lips on this side of the Atlantic.

So the leak didn’t just blow our chances to nail the notorious bomb designer behind the plot, Ibrahim al-Asiri, and put the life of the double agent in mortal danger for no reason.

It also seriously damaged Langley’s relationship with its foreign counterparts, who now understand that operational security and the lives of their operatives mean nothing to us (not in an election year, anyway).

Which makes it even more important to find out: Who leaked?

The betting starts with former CIA official John Brennan, the White House’s deputy nationalsecurity adviser for counterterrorism. Shortly after details about the operation leaked to the Associated Press via unnamed “officials,” Brennan took to the airwaves to crow publicly about how the wedgie bomber was “no longer a threat to the American people.”

And the AP admitted it cleared its story with the feds in advance.

The uncharitable immediately saw this naked self-aggrandizement as a blatant attempt by the Obama administration to take political credit for something it had almost nothing to do with.

Read the whole thing.

19 Jan 2011

Stuxnet Was a Joint US-Israeli Project

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Anonymous official sources have spilled enough to the New York Times to allow it to put the pieces together (and to give an opportunity to US and Israeli Intelligence to take a few public bows and indulge in a bit of gloating at Iran’s expense). And, what do you know! it was another of those George W. Bush policies that Barack Obama decided to continue, just like detentions at Guantanamo.

The Dimona complex in the Negev desert is famous as the heavily guarded heart of Israel’s never-acknowledged nuclear arms program, where neat rows of factories make atomic fuel for the arsenal.

Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.

Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.”

Though American and Israeli officials refuse to talk publicly about what goes on at Dimona, the operations there, as well as related efforts in the United States, are among the newest and strongest clues suggesting that the virus was designed as an American-Israeli project to sabotage the Iranian program. …

Many mysteries remain, chief among them, exactly who constructed a computer worm that appears to have several authors on several continents. But the digital trail is littered with intriguing bits of evidence.

In early 2008 the German company Siemens cooperated with one of the United States’ premier national laboratories, in Idaho, to identify the vulnerabilities of computer controllers that the company sells to operate industrial machinery around the world — and that American intelligence agencies have identified as key equipment in Iran’s enrichment facilities.

Siemens says that program was part of routine efforts to secure its products against cyberattacks. Nonetheless, it gave the Idaho National Laboratory — which is part of the Energy Department, responsible for America’s nuclear arms — the chance to identify well-hidden holes in the Siemens systems that were exploited the next year by Stuxnet.

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

The attacks were not fully successful: Some parts of Iran’s operations ground to a halt, while others survived, according to the reports of international nuclear inspectors. Nor is it clear the attacks are over: Some experts who have examined the code believe it contains the seeds for yet more versions and assaults. …

Israeli officials grin widely when asked about its effects. Mr. Obama’s chief strategist for combating weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, sidestepped a Stuxnet question at a recent conference about Iran, but added with a smile: “I’m glad to hear they are having troubles with their centrifuge machines, and the U.S. and its allies are doing everything we can to make it more complicated.”

In recent days, American officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity have said in interviews that they believe Iran’s setbacks have been underreported. That may explain why Mrs. Clinton provided her public assessment while traveling in the Middle East last week.

By the accounts of a number of computer scientists, nuclear enrichment experts and former officials, the covert race to create Stuxnet was a joint project between the Americans and the Israelis, with some help, knowing or unknowing, from the Germans and the British.

The project’s political origins can be found in the last months of the Bush administration. In January 2009, The New York Times reported that Mr. Bush authorized a covert program to undermine the electrical and computer systems around Natanz, Iran’s major enrichment center. President Obama, first briefed on the program even before taking office, sped it up, according to officials familiar with the administration’s Iran strategy. So did the Israelis, other officials said.

You can hear the champagne corks popping at Langley all the way out here in Fauquier County.

Read the whole thing.

07 Jan 2011

Former CIA Officer Arrested For Leaking Iran Operations

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James Risen‘s source for the MERLIN story has been arrested.

It is a bit ironical, but there can be no doubt that the Obama Administration has been taking a much tougher line with leakers of National Security information than the Bush Administration ever did.

Washington Post:

A former CIA officer involved in spying efforts against Iran was arrested Thursday on charges of leaking classified information to a reporter, continuing the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on the flow of government secrets to the media.

Jeffrey A. Sterling, 43, of O’Fallon, Mo., was charged with 10 felony counts, including obstruction of justice and unauthorized disclosure of national defense information. A federal indictment made public Thursday in the Eastern District of Virginia accuses Sterling of leaking secrets after he was fired from the CIA and the agency refused to settle a racial discrimination claim he made.

The intensified campaign against leaks comes as the U.S. government is confronting a potent new threat to its ability to keep secrets from public view. Over the past year, the WikiLeaks Web site has posted and shared with multiple media organizations thousands of classified U.S. military records and State Department cables.

The indictment, returned under seal last month, does not identify the alleged recipient of the classified information. But former U.S. intelligence officials and lawyers familiar with the case said that the journalist is New York Times reporter James Risen.

The officials said Sterling has long been suspected within the agency of providing Risen with extensive information about CIA efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, material that is believed to have formed the basis for a prominent chapter in Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War.” …

Other cases brought during the Obama administration include the indictment in April last year of Thomas A. Drake, a former executive at the National Security Agency accused of leaking information to the Baltimore Sun; as well as a State Department contractor indicted last August on charges of leaking information to Fox News.

The latest indictment includes details about dozens of phone calls and e-mails exchanged between Sterling and a journalist identified in the document only as Author A, beginning in 2002.

Sterling was the subject of a lengthy New York Times article by Risen in March of that year that reported Sterling’s assertion that his career had been repeatedly derailed by racial discrimination within the CIA.

Sterling was described in the piece as the “sole black officer” assigned to the Iran Task Force in January 1995. He handled Iranian sources, was subsequently trained in Farsi and was sent to a station in Germany to recruit Iranian spies.

Sterling asserts in the article that he was undermined in that job and that he was passed over for others by senior CIA officials who considered him a liability because of his skin color. At one point, he said, a supervisor told him that he couldn’t function as a spy because “you kind of stick out as a big black guy.”

Sterling, a lawyer who also sparred with senior CIA officials over his plans to publish a memoir, filed a complaint with the CIA’s antidiscrimination office in 2000 and subsequently sued the agency.

According to the indictment, about two weeks after the CIA rejected a third settlement offer from Sterling, he “placed an interstate telephone call” from his home in Herndon to the Maryland residence of Author A.

In subsequent calls and e-mails, the Justice Department alleges, Sterling shared details of sensitive CIA operations against Iran. Among them was a classified effort code-named Merlin that was designed to degrade Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program by sabotaging materials and blueprints being acquired by Iran.

The indictment indicates that Risen planned to write about the program, which Sterling portrayed as deeply flawed. The New York Times did not publish a story, but details about the Merlin operation appeared in Risen’s book.

One chapter describes a CIA plan to employ a Russian agent to offer Iran nuclear weapons blueprints that contained fatal flaws. But because the flaws were obvious and possible to overcome, the plan risked providing useful information that could “help Iran leapfrog one of the last remaining engineering hurdles blocking its path to a nuclear weapon,” according to the book.

The indictment says that a description of the plan also appeared in drafts of a memoir that Sterling submitted to CIA reviewers. CIA spokesman George Little declined to comment on the case, except to say that the agency “deplores the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”

Federal authorities pressured Risen at least twice to testify before a grand jury investigating the case. Kelley, Risen’s attorney, said that the reporter declined to comply and that he does not expect Risen to be called as a witness if there is a trial.

According to the indictment, Sterling was aware by 2003 that the FBI was investigating him for alleged illegal disclosure of classified information. In 2004, he filed for bankruptcy protection, listing debts of $150,000.

Sterling was arrested Thursday in St. Louis. U.S. officials said he will remain in custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for Monday. He faces six charges of unauthorized disclosure and retention of national defense information, each carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Potential penalties on the remaining four charges include a 20-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $250,000.

EmptyWheel explains that Sterling has sued the CIA twice, and has a timeline.

[The first lawsuit was] an employment discrimination suit filed in NY on August 2, 2000. On April 18, 2002, the CIA first invoked state secrets in his case. On March 7, 2003, the judge in NY granted the CIA’s venue complaint and moved the case to Alexandria, VA–basically the CIA’s very own district court. On March 3, 2004, the case was dismissed. And on September 28, 2005, the Appeals Court rejected Sterling’s appeal.

Sterling’s second suit was filed on March 4, 2003 (that is, the day after his employment discrimination suit was dismissed in VA). It charges that Sterling submitted his memoirs for pre-publication review in 2002. His second submission was held up, not least to give CIA’s Office of General Counsel a review. Sterling claims that OGC got involved to give them an advantage in the NY employment discrimination suit. In December 2002, the CIA told him some of the information was classified (after having earlier said that similar information was not). Upon rejecting his submission on January 3, 2003, the CIA not only told him some of the information was classified, but they “informed Sterling that he should add information into the manuscript that was blatantly false.”

17 Apr 2010

Goodbye, Mr. Kappes

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Stephen R. Kappes
Stephen R. Kappes has announced his retirement as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency next month.

WaPoNew York Times

Kappes dramatically returned in triumph to the CIA as DDCIA in May of 2006, having come close to being appointed Director but being edged out by Leon Panetta. Kappes was the preferred candidate for the directorship of Senators Jay Rockefeller and Diane Feinstein, and his Deputy Directorship was a concession to Feinstein.

Kappes had earlier resigned as Deputy Director of Operations in November of 2004 after a brief interval of conflict with Porter Goss, who had been appointed CIA Director with a charter to reform the Agency in late September. Stephen Hayes describes what happened.

On November 5, Goss’s new chief of staff Patrick Murray confronted Mary Margaret Graham, then serving as associate deputy director for counterterrorism in the directorate of operations. The two discussed several items, including the prospective replacement for Kostiw, a CIA veteran named Kyle “Dusty” Foggo. Murray had a simple message: No more leaks.

Graham took offense at the accusatory warning and notified her boss, Michael Sulick, who in turn notified his boss, Stephen Kappes. A meeting of Goss, Murray, Sulick, and Kappes followed. Goss attended most of the meeting, in which the two new CIA leaders reiterated their concern about leaks. After Goss left, Murray once again warned the two career CIA officials that leaks would not be tolerated. According to a source with knowledge of the incident, Sulick took offense, called Murray “a Hill puke,” and threw a stack of papers in his direction.

Goss summoned Kappes the following day. Although others in the new CIA leadership believed Sulick’s behavior was an act of insubordination worthy of firing, Goss didn’t go quite that far. He ordered Kappes to reassign Sulick to a position outside of the building. Goss suggested Sulick be named New York City station chief. Kappes refused and threatened to resign if Sulick were reassigned. Goss accepted his resignation and Sulick soon followed him out the door.

William Safire referred at the time to the exodus of “a flock of pouting spooks at Langley who bet on a Kerry victory.”

Stephen Kappes had a distinguished career in CIA Operations, but he was one of the central figures in Agency efforts to oppose the policies of a Republican elected administration.

Scott Johnson, at Power-line, quotes the pseudononymous former CIA case officer and author “Ishmael Jones” on the reasons for Kappes’ resignation.

His departure suggests that the Obama administration understands that the status quo at the CIA is unacceptable.

The bomb attack at the CIA base in Khost helped push Kappes out. Kappes had personally briefed President Obama on the quality of the operation beforehand. Following the bombing, we learned that the operation had been a classic bureaucratic boondoggle: 14 people, many with little experience, had met the agent when there should have been only one. Espionage is a one on one business. With so many layers of management involved both in the field and at Headquarters, the chain of command was vague and no-one was really in charge. The CIA’s chief at Khost was set up for failure.

Kappes then attempted to recover from the Khost debacle by leaking news of the defection of an Iranian nuclear scientist. But closer examination showed this to be a hollow achievement. CIA officers are taught to keep agents operating in place because once they defect, their access to intelligence is lost. Defection is an option only when the agent’s life is at risk. And then, once an agent has defected, the news is not to be leaked to the press. The scientist in question turned out to be a low-level participant in the Iranian program who had left the program almost a year ago.

Kappes had outlived his usefulness and become a liability. And so, like Jeremiah Wright, under the bus he goes.

31 Mar 2010

“Tune in, Iran”

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An unnamed (presumably liberal) official working in non-proliferation comments with indignation about Iran’s refusal to stop building nukes despite futile efforts by the current administration to bribe and cajole them into cooperating. The new CIA Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center 721 report makes it clear that they are ignoring the Obama Administration, the UN, and bien pensant liberals everywhere and going right ahead with developing all the WMD and delivery systems they can. Members of the comfortable and contented Western haute bourgeois establishment consistently indulge in the fallacy of supposing that foreign adversaries of the United States are at heart reasonable, well-meaning people like themselves who underneath it all really just want to get along with everyone. Of course, despotic totalitarian regimes don’t want to get along, they want to win.

Bill Gertz reports:

Iran is poised to begin producing nuclear weapons after its uranium program expansion in 2009, even though it has had problems with thousands of its centrifuges, according to a newly released CIA report.

“Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so,” the annual report to Congress states.

A U.S. official involved in countering weapons proliferation said the Iranians are “keeping the door open to the possibility of building a nuclear weapon.”

“That’s in spite of strong international pressure not to do so, and some difficulties they themselves seem to be having with their nuclear program,” the official said. “There are powerful incentives for them to close the door completely, but they are either purposefully ignoring them or are tone deaf. You almost want to shout, ‘Tune in Tehran.'” …

During the first 11 months of last year, the main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz produced about 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride, compared with about half a ton the previous year.

The number of centrifuges at Natanz increased from about 5,000 to 8,700 last year, although the number reported to be working is about 3,900, indicating the Iranians are having problems with the machines. The centrifuges enrich uranium gas by spinning it at high speeds.

Last year, Iran disclosed it is building a second gas-centrifuge plant near the city of Qom that will house an estimated 3,000 machines. U.S. officials have said the Qom facility, which was discovered in 2007, is a clear sign Iran’s nuclear program is geared toward producing weapons, because the facility is too small for nonmilitary uranium enrichment.

Iran also continued work last year on a heavy water research reactor.

On missiles, the report said Iran is building more short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and stated that “producing more capable medium-range ballistic missiles remains one of its highest priorities.”

Three test flights of a new 1,240-mile-range Sejil missile were conducted in 2009, the report said, noting that assistance from China, North Korea and Russia “helped move Iran toward self-sufficiency in the production of ballistic missiles.”

The report also said that Iran has the capability of producing both chemical and biological weapons, and Tehran continued to seek dual-use technology for its bioweapons program.

21 Mar 2010

DOJ vs. CIA

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Bill Gertz, in the Washington Times last Monday (March 15), revealed a major behind-the-scenes conflict between the CIA and prominent officials of Eric Holder’s Justice Department.

The CIA wants the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act enforced at the expense of attorneys from the John Adams Project, a joint initiative of the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who allegedly supplied photographs of CIA interrogators to attorneys defending al Qaeda terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay, who then showed them to their clients.

The CIA believes providing terrorists access to those photographs compromised the agency’s ongoing operations and could potentially lead to reprisals against the interrogators. The Justice Department was resistant to CIA demands for investigation and prosecutions, not surprisingly, since a number of prominent DOJ officials these days have themselves been part of the Al Qaeda Bar Association, and are a lot more in favor of prosecuting CIA interrogators and Bush Administration officials for “torture” and war crimes.

[A] senior Justice Department national security official removed himself from [a] counterintelligence probe last week after opposing CIA security worries.

Donald Vieira, a former Democratic counsel on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who in September became chief of staff at the Justice Department’s National Security Division, recused himself from the counterintelligence investigation into the recent discovery of photographs of CIA interrogators in the possession of defense lawyers at the prison in Cuba.

The investigation has been under way for many months, but was given new urgency after the discovery last month of additional photographs of interrogators at Guantanamo showing CIA officers and contractors who have carried out interrogations of detainees, according to three officials familiar with the investigation. They spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Findings of the investigation to date produced some signs that the senior al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo gained intelligence on CIA interrogators through their lawyers that could be used in future legal proceedings.

CIA counterintelligence officials have “serious concerns” that the information will leak out and lead to the terrorists targeting the officers and their families, if the identities are disseminated to terrorists or sympathizers still at large, said one official.

“They have put the lives of CIA officers and their families in danger,” said a senior U.S. official about the detainees’ lawyers.

The case is being pressed by the counterspies who only recently were able to alert senior agency, Justice Department and White House officials to their concerns. …

According to the officials, the dispute centered on discussions for a interagency memorandum that was to be used in briefing President Obama and senior administration officials on the photographs found in Cuba.

Justice officials did not share the CIA’s security concerns about the risks posed to CIA interrogators and opposed language on the matter that was contained in the draft memorandum. The memo was being prepared for White House National Security Council aide John Brennan, who was to use it to brief the president.

The CIA insisted on keeping its language describing the case and wanted the memorandum sent forward in that form.

That resulted in the meeting and ultimately to Mr. Vieira withdrawing from the probe.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and his chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, a former chief counsel for the House intelligence committee, at first were unaware of both the scope and seriousness of the case.

However, both officials began addressing the matter after inquiries were made from members of Congress. Since then, Mr. Panetta and Mr. Bash are getting regular updates on the dispute, said the officials.

The legal underpinnings of the counterintelligence probe stem from the 1982 law that makes it illegal to disclose the identity of clandestine CIA and other intelligence officers. The law was passed after CIA defector Philip Agee in the 1970s disclosed the identity of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Greece, who was assassinated in 1975 after the disclosure. …

The Pentagon also is involved in the investigation in the photographs compromising CIA officers’ identities at Guantanamo because the military provided the lawyers currently representing some detainees. A Pentagon spokeswoman in charge of detainee affairs had no immediate comment and said she was unaware of the case.

The officials said the photographs of the CIA officers found recently at Guantanamo were obtained by a joint program of the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers called the John Adams Project.

The project, according to a Washington Post report in August, hired contractors to photograph CIA officers who were thought to have carried out terrorist interrogations. Those photographs were then to be provided to defense lawyers representing some of the Guantanamo detainees as part of an effort to identify the interrogators, for possible use as witnesses in military or civilian trials.

Joshua Dratel, a lawyer representing the John Adams Project, declined to comment directly on whether his group hired investigators to photograph CIA officers and supply them to military defense lawyers.

However, Mr. Dratel said in an interview that “none of the John Adams Project lawyers have done anything inappropriate or contrary to the protective order or any other rules that apply” to the prisoners.

ACLU spokesman John Kennedy also declined to comment on whether the project obtained photographs of CIA officers. However, he said none of the John Adams Project lawyers disclosed the identities of CIA officers to detainees held at Guantanamo.

Details about the investigation into the photographs remain closely held, but one official said CIA counterintelligence and security officials were alarmed by the discovery at the prison.

“What it says is that somebody is going out and finding these agents, taking their pictures, and taking them back to Gitmo, trying to get these guys at Gitmo to confirm who they are and where they are from,” one U.S. intelligence official said. “CIA is afraid this information will become public and jeopardize the lives of the agents.”

A second source said the probe also has heightened an ongoing political dispute among CIA, Justice and White House officials over the issue of terrorism detainees.

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Debra Burlingame and Thomas Joscelyn discuss the CIA-DOJ donnybrook.

18 Mar 2010

FOB Chapman Bombing Avenged

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CBS
Thought to be a photo of Hussami

Last week, a predator drone strike in Waziristan sent a number of al Qaeda militants to the Prophet’s Paradise, including a top trainer who helped arrange the suicide bombing at a CIA post in Afghanistan last December.

Bill Roggio
reports.

The US killed a key al Qaeda operative involved in the network’s external operations during an airstrike last week in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

Sadam Hussein Al Hussami, who is also known as Ghazwan al Yemeni, was killed during the March 10 airstrike in the town of Miramshah, according to a statement released on a jihadist forum.

The March 10 airstrike was carried out by unmanned US attack aircraft and targeted two terrorist compounds in the middle of a bazaar in the town. Six Haqqani Network and al Qaeda operatives were reported killed.

Three other al Qaeda operatives, identified as Abu Jameelah al Kuwaiti Hamed al Aazimi, who served with slain al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi; Abu Zahra al Maghrebi; and Akramah al Bunjabi al Pakistani, were killed with Hussami, according to a translation of the martyrdom statement released on March 12 by Abu Abdulrahman al Qahtani, who is said to be based in Waziristan. The statement was posted on the Al Falluja Forum and a translation is provided by Global Terror Alert. [For more information on Aazimi, see Threat Matrix report, “Al Qaeda operative killed in Pakistan linked to Zarqawi.”]

According to Qahtani, Hussami was a protégé of Abu Khabab al Masri, al Qaeda’s top bomb maker and WMD chief who was killed in a US airstrike in July 2008. Hussami was in a prison in Yemen but was released at an unknown point in time.

Hussami “was involved in training Taliban and foreign al Qaeda recruits for strikes on troops in Afghanistan and targets outside the region,” The Wall Street Journal reported. He “was also on a small council that helped plan” the Dec. 30, 2009, suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman that killed seven CIA officials and a Jordanian intelligence officer. The slain intelligence operatives were involved in gathering intelligence for the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban leaders along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

“Hussami was a skilled operative high up in al Qaeda’s external operations network,” a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “He also has direct links to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the terror branch that operates in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

“He was sorely wanted for his involvement in the COP Chapman suicide attack,” the intelligence official continued. Hussami is said to have been instrumental in helping the Jordanian suicide bomber Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al Balawi, who is also known as Abu Dujanah al Khurasani, plan and execute the attack.

Hussami is the first al Qaeda operative killed by the US who is directly linked to the suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman. The US has been hunting Hakeemullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, after he appeared on a videotape with Khurasani.

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Hussami’s death was considered sufficient cause for Leon Panetta to indulge in a certain amount of public self congratulation on behalf of the Agency and the current administration.

Aggressive attacks against al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region have driven Osama bin Laden and his top deputies deeper into hiding and disrupted their ability to plan sophisticated operations, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Wednesday.

So profound is al-Qaeda’s disarray that one of its lieutenants, in a recently intercepted message, pleaded with bin Laden to come to the group’s rescue and provide some leadership, Panetta said. He credited improved coordination with Pakistan’s government and what he called “the most aggressive operation that CIA has been involved in in our history,” offering a near-acknowledgment of what is officially a secret war.

“Those operations are seriously disrupting al-Qaeda,” Panetta said. “It’s pretty clear from all the intelligence we are getting that they are having a very difficult time putting together any kind of command and control, that they are scrambling. And that we really do have them on the run.” …

t he said the combined U.S.-Pakistani campaign is taking a steady toll in terms of al-Qaeda leaders killed and captured, and is undercutting the group’s ability to coordinate attacks outside its base along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

To illustrate that progress, U.S. intelligence officials revealed new details of a March 8 killing of a top al-Qaeda commander in the militant stronghold of Miram Shah in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s autonomous tribal region. The al-Qaeda official died in what local news reports described as a missile strike by an unmanned aerial vehicle. In keeping with long-standing practice, the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the CIA formally declines to acknowledge U.S. participation in attacks inside Pakistani territory.

Hussein al-Yemeni, the man killed in the attack, was identified by one intelligence official as among al-Qaeda’s top 20 leaders and a participant in the planning for a Dec. 30 suicide bombing at a CIA base in the province of Khost in eastern Afghanistan. The bombing, in which a Jordanian double agent gained access to the CIA base and killed seven officers and contractors, was the deadliest single blow against the agency in a quarter-century.

This is the same Central Intelligence Agency that is winning on Wednesday that includes elements who leaked to the New York Times for publication two days earlier a story alleging that private contractor efforts which seem to have been succeeding rather well in identifying enemy targets have been conducted in contravention of unspecified Intelligence statutes and International Law, and represented a fraudulent diversion of funds.

If I were Mr. Panetta, I’d be doing something about some of my own internal adversaries, those in the habit of employing leaks and innuendo to undermine Agency efforts in the field. It is also essential to do something to terminate the enthusiastic cooperation of their establishment media allies and enablers. Putting a Hellfire missile into certain offices at the New York Times and the Washington Post may be off-limits, but there is still on the books an Intelligence Act of 1917, which makes it a crime to convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies, punishable by death or by imprisonment for not more than 30 years.

If the private contractor operation mentioned by the Times on Monday really was, as seems most probable, a legitimate US Intelligence covert operation, Messrs. Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazetti of the New York Times and their informants could very well be guilty of producing “false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies and whoever when the United States is at war.” False reports or statements in such a case would be punishable by a fine and 20 years in prison.

The Bush Administration chickened out on prosecuting its leakers, and the result has been a dysfunctional situation in which certain members of the Intelligence community are permitted to exercise their own liberum veto over policies and operations.

15 Mar 2010

NY Times Leaks Covert Op in Pakistan

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The New York Times is reporting, in duly scandalized tone, on the basis of information received from “military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States” that the US government was getting around the Pakistani ban on US military operations withing that country’s borders by using a private contracting company employing retired CIA officers and Special Forces military personnel to locate militants and insurgent bases of operation.

Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazetti breathlessly suggest that these contractors are being used to target Predator drone attacks, and that all this is very possibly “a rogue operation” breaking some unspecified alleged law against the use of private contractors in covert operations. On top of which, why, funding for all this was probably improperly diverted from an Internet website intended to inform the US military about “Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape.”

We have here a classic example of the damaging leak by disgruntled insiders. Details about a covert operation are made public, the covert activity is (surprise! surprise!) disclosed to have been going on in secret, the public is advised in shocked tones that persons working for the US government have been quietly engaged in doing harm to enemies of the United States, the covert operation in question is darkly hinted to transgress some unspecified and unidentified federal intelligence statute and/or international law, and finally the secret mission is accused of diverting funding from its own cover.

Even under Obama, it appears that American Intelligence Operations policy will continue to be decided by press leaks and disinformation.

26 Feb 2010

Democrat Effort to Insert Criminal Penalties into Intel Bill Fails

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With the media and the country distracted yesterday by President Obama’s health care summit, House democrats tried to slip provisions into the intelligence authorization bill that would not only have criminalized a number of controversial interrogation tactics, an “includes but is not limited to” provision would have made anything done by a US interrogator allegedly “degrading” to a prisoner potentially punishable by imprisonment.

Faced with strong Republican opposition and fearing the reaction of the public, the House leadership backed off and removed the entire bill from consideration.

The Hill:

[Intelligence committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) added language, originally offered by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.)] into the intelligence authorization bill that would establish criminal punishment for CIA agents and other intelligence officials who engage in “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” during interrogations.

Democrats inserted an 11-page addition into the bill late Wednesday night as the House Rules Committee considered the legislation.

The provision, previously not vetted in committee, applied to “any officer or employee of the intelligence community” who during interrogations engages in beatings, infliction of pain or forced sexual acts. The bill said the acts covered by the provision would include inducing hypothermia, conducting mock executions or “depriving the [detainee] of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care.”

The language gave Congress the discretion to determine what the terms mean, and it would have imposed punishments of up to 15 years in prison, and in some cases, life sentences if a detainee died as a result of the interrogation.

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Andrew McCarthy explains just how far the language went:

The provision is impossibly vague — who knows what “degrading” means? Proponents will say that they have itemized conduct that would trigger the statute (I’ll get to that in a second), but it is not true. The proposal says the conduct reached by the statute “includes but is not limited to” the itemized conduct. (My italics.) That means any interrogation tactic that a prosecutor subjectively believes is “degrading” (e.g., subjecting a Muslim detainee to interrogation by a female CIA officer) could be the basis for indicting a CIA interrogator. …

Waterboarding is not all. The Democrats’ bill would prohibit — with a penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment — the following tactics, among others:

    – “Exploiting the phobias of the individual”

    – Stress positions and the threatened use of force to maintain stress positions

    – “Depriving the individual of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care”

    – Forced nudity

    – Using military working dogs (i.e., any use of them — not having them attack or menace the individual; just the mere presence of the dog if it might unnerve the detainee and, of course, “exploit his phobias”)

    – Coercing the individual to blaspheme or violate his religious beliefs (I wonder if Democrats understand the breadth of seemingly innocuous matters that jihadists take to be violations of their religious beliefs)

    – Exposure to “excessive” cold, heat or “cramped confinement” (excessive and cramped are not defined)

    – “Prolonged isolation”

    – “Placing hoods or sacks over the head of the individual”

Naturally, all of these tactics are interspersed with such acts as forcing the performance of sexual acts, beatings, electric shock, burns, inducing hypothermia or heat injury — as if all these acts were functionally equivalent. …

Democrats are saying they would prefer to see tens of thousands of Americans die than to see a KSM subjected to sleep-deprivation or to have his “phobias exploited.”

03 Feb 2010

CIA Hunting Osama bin Ladin in Baluchistan

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According to a report published late last year in the subscriber-only version (I’m afraid NYM does not have the funding for subscription services) of a certain Israel-based Intelligence rumor mill (generally believed to be connected to Mossad), during the second half of 2009, intelligence reports reached Washington that Osama bin Ladin, along with his staff and security entourage, had crossed the border from Afghanistan into the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

The BBC had reported that Osama Bin Ladin had allegedly been sighted most recently previously by a captured Taliban in the eastern Afghan province of Ghazni in January or February of last year.

Baluchistan is large and sparsely populated, and borders both Afghanistan and Iran. The Bolan Pass offers a direct route from Kandahar.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar is thought to be hiding in Baluchistan along with his staff and shura, despite Pakistani denials. It is generally known, however, that elements of Pakistani intelligence loyal to jihadism have been systematically hiding Taliban leaders and Pashtun insurgents in Baluchistan.

Moving to Baluchistan could have brought bin Ladin into direct contact with the Taliban’s chief leadership.

Baluchistan is really the home of anti-American Islamic terrorism. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef are relatives and are Baluch raised in Kuwait.

It also would have placed bin Ladin for the first time since 2001 with reach of the open sea. If he chose to take ship, bin Ladin could move his base of operations to the Horn of Africa or, even more interestingly, return triumphantly to the Arabian Peninsula to his native Hadhramaut in Yemen to take direct command of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Consequently, the CIA and the pro-Western portion of the Pakistani Intelligence Service are currently intensifying joint operations in Baluchistan attempting finally to kill or capture bin Ladin, Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership, or at the very least to prevent their escape by sea.

03 Feb 2010

Top Intelligence Officials Say Al Qaeda Attack Attempt on USA “Certain” in Next Six Months

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Mirandizing Omar Farouk Abdulmutullab could really come back to haunt this administration, if al Qaeda even comes close to succeeding again.

MSNBC:

The Obama administration’s top intelligence officials on Tuesday described it as “certain” that al-Qaeda or its allies will try to attack the United States in the next six months, and they called for new flexibility in how U.S. officials detain and question terrorist suspects.

The officials, testifying before the Senate intelligence committee, also warned of increased risk of cyber-attacks in the coming months, saying that the recent China-based hacking of Google’s computers was both a “wake-up call” and a forerunner to future strikes aimed at businesses or intended to cause economic disruption.

“Al-Qaeda maintains its intent to attack the homeland — preferably with a large-scale operation that would cause mass casualties, harm the U.S. economy or both,” Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair told the committee in a hearing convened to assess threats against the country.

Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta warned of new threats from al-Qaeda’s regional allies, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Several groups appear increasingly intent on attacking U.S. and other Western targets, even as al-Qaeda’s core leadership struggles to regain its footing after repeated setbacks and eroding popular support in the Muslim world, the officials said.

“They are moving to other safe havens and regional nodes such as Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb and others,” Panetta said. He said al-Qaeda-inspired groups had successfully “deployed individuals to this country,” citing recently disrupted terrorist plots in Colorado and Chicago.

25 Jan 2010

Who Mishandled Abdulmutallab?

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George Smiley notes ironically that the Massachusetts special election did the Obama Administration one big favor. It soaked up all the news coverage, preventing anyone paying attention to some very damaging congressional testimony by Admiral Dennis Blair.

Appearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair admitted that intel officials bungled the handling of Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber who tried to bring down a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

Specifically, Mr. Blair told the committee that Abdulmutallab should have been interrogated by a special team that handles high value targets. But the spooks never got a crack at the Nigerian suspect. As Blair told Congress, he was never consulted about how the suspect should be handled.

Indeed, the nation’s intel apparatus was apparently out of the loop as the FBI decided to treat the would-be bomber as they would a criminal. Mr. Blair’s lieutenants were out of the loop as well. Then, after less than an hour of questioning, Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights and provided with legal counsel. At that point, he stopped cooperating with authorities, leaving key questions unanswered.

And, it gets worse. Remember that team that’s supposed to interrogate high-value suspects? It was hailed as a key element of Mr. Obama’s plan (unveiled last year) to end the “torture” of terror detainees and shut down the facility at Guantanamo Bay. But as Blair informed the Homeland Security panel, that highly-touted team has never been formed.

For his candor, Blair is in trouble with Congressional Republicans–and the White House. According to Newsweek’s “Declassified” blog, administration officials have described the DNI (a retired Navy admiral) as “misinformed,” and have ordered him to correct his remarks. Sure enough, Blair released a statement only an hour later, claiming that his comments were “misconstrued.”

In other words, Admiral Blair is feeling the heat for telling the truth. The nation’s intelligence chief was never consulted in the aftermath of an attempted terrorist attack that could have destroyed an airliner and killed hundreds of passengers. He also claims that the (limited) FBI interrogation provided important information, although you’ve got to wonder just how much Abdulmutallab divulged in hour before FBI agents advised him of his “rights.”

There’s also the troubling matter of why the High-Value Interrogation Group (or HIG as it’s known) still isn’t in operation. Months after the President ordered its creation, attorneys are still devising a charter for the group, suggesting that it is months away from achieving operational status. Until then, who’s in charge of interrogating suspected terrorists? After being pilloried by politicians and the press, both the CIA and the military have grown skittish; we’re guessing that most of the questioning will be conducted by the FBI, until the HIG–staffed by experts from intelligence and law enforcement–becomes operational.

Blair’s disturbing admissions also raise another question, namely, who made the call to treat Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect, rather than an accused terrorist? The administration claims the decision was made by agents from the FBI’s Detroit field office, who met the plane when it landed. But that sounds a bit suspect. Would you, as a Special Agent in Charge be willing to stake your career on the handling of a suspected terrorist–a decision you made without consulting your superiors in Washington?

There’s little doubt that senior FBI officials (and probably, Attorney General Eric Holder) were alerted when Abdulmutallab was removed from that Northwest flight. And the decision to “Mirandize” was likely made by high-ranking officials at the bureau, if not Mr. Holder himself.

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