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Profile: Bruce Riedel

Bruce Riedel was a participant or observer in the following events:

Bruce Riedel.Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bruce Riedel, Central Intelligence Agency, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA officer by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) has resulted in the exposure of a CIA front company, potentially causing widespread damage to overseas intelligence gathering. Yesterday, Novak revealed the name of the firm in another column (see October 2, 2003). The fictitious Boston firm, Brewster Jennings & Associates, appears in Federal Election Commission records on a 1999 form filled out by Plame Wilson when she donated $1,000 to the presidential campaign of Al Gore (D-TN). Once the Novak column was published, CIA officials admitted that it is a front. Brewster Jennings is listed as Plame Wilson’s employer on her 1999 tax forms, though she was working as an undercover CIA officer at the time. A former diplomat says that since Brewster Jennings and Plame Wilson have been exposed, every foreign intelligence service is running the names through their own databases to determine whether she ever visited their countries and what kinds of contacts she made there. “That’s why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name,” the former diplomat says. [Washington Post, 10/4/2003]
Plame's NOC Status, 'Legend' - As one of a very small, select number of “nonofficial cover” officers, Plame Wilson would have enjoyed little or no government protection had her cover been blown while she was overseas. Training officers such as her cost millions of dollars and require elaborate constructions of fictional background, called “legends,” including the creation of CIA front companies such as Brewster Jennings. The amount of damage caused by the outing of Plame Wilson and Brewster Jennings is incalculable. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says many other CIA agents and foreign assets are now endangered, and future attempts to convince foreign citizens to share information with US intelligence agencies will be hampered. Former CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson, who trained with Plame Wilson in 1985, says that when the damage is fully assessed, “at the end of the day, [the harm] will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives.” Johnson describes himself as “furious, absolutely furious” at the breach. “We feel like the peasants with torches and pitchforks,” he says. “The robber barons aren’t going to be allowed to get away with this.” Former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who also trained with Plame Wilson, agrees: “This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent’s identity.” While the CIA continues to keep details of Plame Wilson’s career secret, it is known that she was attached to a US embassy in Europe in 1990 and 1991 (more information on her overseas postings will later be revealed—see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). It is known that when Novak blew her cover, she was a senior case officer for the CIA’s counterproliferation division, working with intelligence about hostile countries and WMD. “All the people who had innocent lunches with her overseas or went shopping or played tennis with her, I’m sure they are having heart attacks right now,” says one former colleague who was also in covert operations. “I would be in hiding now if I were them.” [Washington Post, 10/8/2003; Knight Ridder, 10/11/2003]
Brewster Jennings Just One of Plame Wilson's Cover Firms - Former intelligence officials confirm that Brewster Jennings was just one of several cover affiliations that Plame Wilson used when she was operating overseas. “All it was was a telephone and a post office box,” says one former intelligence officer. “When she was abroad she had a more viable cover.” [Boston Globe, 10/10/2003] Cannistraro will later add that when Plame Wilson was operating undercover outside the US, she would have had a real job with a more legitimate company. The Boston company “is not an indicator of what she did overseas.” Now, those firms are themselves in jeopardy of exposure for working with US intelligence. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343-344] In 2007, former CIA and National Security Council official Bruce Riedel will say: “I have looked at the part of her CV that is in the open domain. The agency spent an awful lot of effort building a really good cover for this person. A lot of effort. People who say this was not a covert operative don’t understand what they’re saying. This was intended to be a nonofficial cover person who would have the credentials to be a very serious operative. The damage done to the mission of the organization by exposing her, and how cover is built, is pretty serious.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Vincent Cannistraro, Jim Marcinkowski, Central Intelligence Agency, Brewster Jennings, Counterproliferation Division, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Federal Election Commission, Larry C. Johnson, Bruce Riedel

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession.A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession. [Source: Rob Rodgers / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 10, 2007), becomes, as Time puts it, “a focus of cable TV and other media coverage, a reminder of America’s ongoing battle against international terrorism.” [Time, 3/15/2007] However, terrorism analysts are skeptical of some aspects of it. In an article entitled Why KSM’s Confession Rings False, former CIA agent Robert Baer says that KSM is “boasting” and “It’s also clear he is making things up.” Specifically, Baer doubts that KSM murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Baer notes that this “raises the question of just what else he has exaggerated, or outright fabricated.” Baer also points out he does not address the question of state support for al-Qaeda and that “al-Qaeda also received aid from supporters in Pakistan, quite possibly from sympathizers in the Pakistani intelligence service.” [Time, 3/15/2007] Pearl’s father also takes the confession of his son’s murder “with a spice of doubt.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Journalist Yosri Fouda, who interviewed KSM in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), comments, “he seems to be taking responsibility for some outrages he might not have perpetrated, while keeping quiet about ones that suggest his hand.” Specifically, he thinks KSM may have been involved in an attack in Tunisia that killed about 20 people (see April 11, 2002). [London Times, 3/18/2007] KSM is also believed to have been involved in the embassy and USS Cole bombings (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001), but these are also not mentioned. Terrorism analyst Bruce Riedel also does not take the confession at face value, saying, “He wants to promote his own importance. It’s been a problem since he was captured.” [Time, 3/15/2007] The Los Angeles Times notes that, according to intelligence officials, “the confession should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.” A former FBI manager says: “Clearly he is responsible for some of the attacks. But I believe he is taking credit for things he did not have direct involvement in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2007] The Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out that the Plaza Bank, one of the targets KSM says he planned to attack, was actually established in 2006, three years after he was captured. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007] Michael Scheuer, formerly head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notes KSM only says he is “involved” in the plots and that 31 plots in 11 years “can hardly be called excessive.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Some media are even more skeptical. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer comments that KSM, “claimed credit for everything but being John Wilkes Booth’s handler.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/30/2007]

Entity Tags: Yosri Fouda, Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Michael Scheuer, Robert Baer, Bruce Riedel

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

George W. Bush, defying calls to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, says, “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.” Critics say Bush is grossly oversimplifying the nature of the Iraq insurgency and its putative, unproven links with al-Qaeda, and is attempting to exploit the same kinds of post-9/11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the months preceding the Iraqi offensive. The al-Qaeda affiliate group in Iraq called al-Qaeda in Iraq (or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia) did not exist at all before the March 2003 invasion, and since then, it has thrived as a magnet for recruiting and for violence largely because of the invasion. While US military and intelligence agencies contend that al-Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for a disproportionately large share of the suicide car bomb attacks that have stoked sectarian violence, the organization is uniquely Iraqi in origin and makeup, with few operational ties to the overall terrorist group. Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert and former CIA official, says, “The president wants to play on al-Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat al-Qaeda poses. But what I don’t think he demonstrates is that fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq precludes al-Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al-Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.” Counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says that if US forces were to withdraw from Iraq, the indigeneous al-Qaeda fighters would focus much more on battling Shi’ite militias in the struggle for dominance in Iraq than on trying to follow US troops home. Al-Qaeda in Iraq “may have more grandiose expectations, but that does not mean [it] could turn al-Qaeda of Iraq into a transnational terrorist entity,” he says. [International Herald Tribune, 7/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Bruce Riedel, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Bruce Hoffman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

John Brennan.John Brennan. [Source: PBS]An article in the New Yorker magazine reveals that the CIA interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) were not as reliable as they are typically made out to be. Mohammed was interrogated with methods such as waterboarding that are regarded as torture by many. CIA official John Brennan, former chief of staff for CIA Director George Tenet, acknowledges, “All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.” One former top CIA official estimates that “ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.” Cables of Mohammed’s interrogation transcripts sent to higher-ups reportedly were prefaced with the warning that “the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations was called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies” (see June 16, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel asks, “What are you going to do with KSM in the long run? It’s a very good question. I don’t think anyone has an answer. If you took him to any real American court, I think any judge would say there is no admissible evidence. It would be thrown out.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says, “A guy as dangerous as KSM is, and half the world wonders if they can believe him—is that what we want? Statements that can’t be believed, because people think they rely on torture?” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist James Risen wrote in a 2006 book, “According to a well-placed CIA source, [Mohammed] has now recanted some of what he previously told the CIA during his interrogations. That is an enormous setback for the CIA, since [his debriefings] had been considered among the agency’s most important sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda. It is unclear precisely which of his earlier statements [he] has now disavowed, but any recantation by the most important prisoner in the global war on terror must call into question much of what the United States has obtained from other prisoners around the world…” [Risen, 2006, pp. 33] In a 2008 Vanity Fair interview, a former senior CIA official familiar with the interrogation reports on Mohammed will say, “90 percent of it was total f_cking bullsh_t.” A former Pentagon analyst will add: “KSM produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Levin, John O. Brennan, Bruce Riedel, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

A detainee claims that he received information concerning the location of Osama bin Laden in January or February. The detainee says he met bin Laden several times before 9/11, and, according to Pakistani security officials, has close ties with Pakistan and Afghan Taliban leaders.
Detainee's Story - Earlier in the year, the detainee met a trusted contact who said he had seen bin Laden in the eastern Afghani town of Ghazni 15 to 20 days earlier. “He [the contact] said he had come from meeting Sheikh Osama, and he could arrange for me to meet him,” says the detainee. “He helps al-Qaeda people coming from other countries to get to the sheikh, so he can advise them on whatever they are planning for Europe or other places. The sheikh doesn’t stay in any one place. That guy came from Ghazni, so I think that’s where the sheikh was.” The detainee is interviewed twice by the BBC in the presence of Pakistani officials, although Western interrogators are not allowed to talk to him. He is not named publicly for legal reasons, and says he declined the invitation to travel to meet bin Laden because he was afraid of compromising bin Laden’s security, if he was captured by the police or the army, stating, “If I had met him, the first question they would have asked would be where have you met him, and I would have had more problems and it would have created problems for them [al-Qaeda].” The BBC will point out that the detainee’s claims cannot be verified.
Comment by Counterterrorism Expert - However, US counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, says the detainee’s story is “a very important lead, that ought to be tracked down,” adding, “The entire Western intelligence community, CIA, and MI6, have been looking for [bin Laden] for the last seven years, and haven’t come upon a source of information like this.”
Bin Laden 'Fresh' - The detainee also claims that bin Laden is well, active, and even training instructors. “What my associate told me was that he is fresh, and doing well,” he says. “The information I have is that he provides training to special people. There are training centres in homes, and all the teachers are first trained by the Sheikh. Then they go and teach the classes.”
Militants Allegedly Avoiding Pakistan - The detainee also says militants are avoiding Pakistani territory because of the risk of US drone attacks. “Pakistan at this time is not convenient for us to stay in because a lot of our senior people are being martyred in drone attacks,” he says.
Skepticism - The BBC will point out that “his account suits Pakistan, which maintains that bin Laden is not on its soil (see December 3, 2009), though Britain and the US think otherwise.” It adds, “The detainee’s account raises a lot of questions—among them, what were his motives for talking.” [BBC, 12/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Bruce Riedel

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A cell phone could link Osama bin Laden to an Islamist militant group with ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the New York Times reports. The US military raid that killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) also killed a courier who had links to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, an Islamist militant group in Pakistan with links to the ISI. This suggests that the ISI may have been indirectly linked to bin Laden in his hideout.
Links to Harkat Could Lead to ISI - The cell phone of bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (also known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) was recovered by US forces during the raid. The New York Times reports that senior US officials say the cell phone contains contacts to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen. This group has long been considered an asset of the ISI. Tracing the phone calls, US intelligence analysts determined Harkat leaders in communication with Ahmed had called ISI officials. One Harkat leader met an ISI official in person. No “smoking gun” showing the ISI protected bin Laden has been found so far. However, the Times says that this raises “tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harkat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years.”
Harkat Has Strong Local Presence - Harkat is said to have a strong presence in the area around Abbottabad. The group has training camps and other facilities in Mansehra, only a few miles away. Bin Laden’s courier Ahmed appears to have stopped by a camp in Mansehra belonging to a Harkat splinter group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Members of Harkat are able to move freely within Pakistan. Even now, the group’s top leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, about 30 miles away from Abbottabad. Analysts suspect this support network could explain why bin Laden chose to hide where he did. Harkat also has a presence in Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to live, so bin Laden could have used it to send money and messages back and forth to the tribal region.
Harkat 'Very, Very Close to the ISI' - Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says that Harkat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI. The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the US. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Bruce Riedel, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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