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General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. (Harvey 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs 8/26/2009) In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. (Lake 8/24/2009)
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. (US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 8/10/2009; Miller 9/20/2009)
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defends Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse by the CIA (see August 24, 2009). Referring to Holder’s decision going against the apparent wishes of President Obama, Gonzales says, “As chief prosecutor of the United States, he should make the decision on his own, based on the facts, then inform the White House.” The attorney general has a “great deal of discretion” in such matters, he says. Gonzales also says that since Bush administration lawyers clearly defined what interrogation techniques were legal, the interrogators who went beyond those defined boundaries should be investigated. “We worked very hard to establish ground rules and parameters about how to deal with terrorists,” he says. “And if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question and examine that conduct to ensure people are held accountable for their actions, even if it’s action in prosecuting the war on terror.” Holder, Gonzales says, is only concerned about the “one percent of actors” who went beyond the guidelines of Justice Department lawyers, and is not conducting a witch hunt. The other 99 percent “are heroes and and should be treated like heroes for the most part, not criminals,” he says. (Weber 9/1/2009) Two days later, Gonzales backs down from his position. He tells a Washington Times reporter, “Contrary to press reporting and based on the information that’s available to me, I don’t support the investigation by the department because this is a matter that has already been reviewed thoroughly and because I believe that another investigation is going to harm our intelligence gathering capabilities, and that’s a concern that’s shared by career intelligence officials, and so for those reasons I respectfully disagree with the decision.” (Conery 9/3/2009)
Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr in Milan (see Noon February 17, 2003), joins a Los Angeles-based marketing analysis company called PhaseOne Communications. Castelli had left the agency the previous year over the fallout from the rendition’s exposure. His role at PhaseOne, owned by former CIA officer Reynold Stelloh, is unknown. However, although most of the company’s clients are commercial, a source familiar with the business will say that his main responsibility will probably be generating government contracts. Reporter Jeff Stein will comment that a 2004 description of the company in a trade journal “suggests its work may be applicable to managing the effectiveness of US government propaganda operations.” The journal said, “The formulas and systems used by PhaseOne were originally derived during World War II as elements of classified work of US and British intelligence analysts, who developed the science of content analysis to a point where it was able to successfully predict enemy behavior based on public communications.” Stein will add, “Knowledgeable observers said they would not be surprised if PhaseOne were contracted by the government to analyze the effectiveness of terrorist propaganda against the United States, and vice-versa.” (Stein 9/17/2009)
Seven former directors of the CIA urge President Obama to end the investigation of claims that the CIA tortured detainees to obtain intelligence (see August 24, 2009). The investigation was triggered by the release of an internal CIA report from 2004 (see August 24, 2009). The directors say that all the cases in the 2004 report have already been adequately investigated, and to reopen those investigations would make it difficult for intelligence agents to believe they can safely follow legal guidance. In a letter signed by the seven former directors, they write: “Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Those men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their actions.… [T]his approach will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country.” The letter is signed by former CIA directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutch, James Woolsey, William Webster, and James Schlesinger. Current CIA Director Leon Panetta opposed the investigation, but says that he will cooperate with it (see Before August 24, 2009). (Fox News 9/18/2009)
ACLU: Letter 'Self-Serving' and Wrong - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer calls the letter “self-serving,” writing: “Attorney General Holder initiated a criminal investigation because the available evidence shows that prisoners were abused and tortured in CIA custody. The suggestion that President Obama should order Attorney General Holder to abort the investigation betrays a misunderstanding of the role of the attorney general as well as the relationship between the attorney general and the president. Where there is evidence of criminal conduct, the attorney general has not just the authority but the duty to investigate. The attorney general is the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer, and it would be profoundly inappropriate for President Obama to interfere with his work. The attorney general’s investigation should be allowed to proceed without interference, and it certainly should not be derailed by the self-serving protests of former CIA officials who oversaw the very crimes that are being investigated. If there is a problem with the unfolding criminal investigation, it is that its focus is too narrow. There is abundant evidence that torture was authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, and the Justice Department’s investigation should be broad enough to encompass Bush administration lawyers and senior officials—including the CIA officials—who authorized torture.” (Roth 9/18/2009)
Justice Department Responds - The Justice Department counters the letter with its own statement: “The attorney general works closely with the men and the women of intelligence community to keep the American people safe and he does not believe their commitment to conduct that important work will waver in any way. Given the recommendation from the Office of Professional Responsibility as well as other available information, he believed the appropriate course of action was to ask John Durham to conduct a preliminary review. That review will be narrowly focused and will be conducted by a career prosecutor who has shown an ability to handle cases involving classified information. Durham has not been appointed as a special prosecutor; he will be supervised by senior managers at the [Justice] Department. The attorney general’s decision to order a preliminary review into this matter was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law. As he has made clear, the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.” (Ackerman 9/18/2009)
US Special Operations and CIA paramilitary forces more than quadruple the number of clandestine kill or capture raids they carry out in Afghanistan. The secret teams carry out 90 raids in November as compared to 20 in May, according to US officials. The Los Angeles Times reports that top commander General Stanley McChrystal orders the change in US military strategy, which intensifies Special Operations missions and shifts away from hunting al-Qaeda leaders to targeting mid-level Taliban commanders. Black operations teams involved in the missions reportedly include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy SEALs’ Team Six, working together with CIA paramilitary units. (Barnes 12/16/2009) These special units fall under the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive structure formerly headed by McChrystal (see May 11, 2009).
Most of the defendants are found guilty at a trial of dozens of US and Italian officials over the rendition of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003). Twenty-three US officials are convicted, the most high-profile being former CIA officers Robert Seldon Lady and Sabrina de Sousa, as well as Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Romano. (Reuters 11/4/2009) Lady gets the heaviest sentence, eight years, whereas de Sousa, Romano, and the other Americans—Monica Adler, Gregory Asherleigh, Lorenza Carrera, Drew Channing, John Duffin, Vincent Faldo, Raymond Harbaough, James Harbison, Ben Amar Harty, Cynthia Logan, George Purvis, Pilar Rueda, Joseph Sofin, Michalis Vasiluou, Eliana Castaldo, Victor Castellano, John Gurley, Brenda Ibanez, Anne Lidia Jenkins, and James Kirkland—get five years. (Reuters 11/4/2009; International Commission of Jurists 11/24/2009 ) Judge Oscar Magi finds three US officials not guilty as they have diplomatic immunity. They are the CIA’s former Rome station chief Jeff Castelli, whose “brainchild” the abduction was (see Before February 17, 2003), former first secretary at the US embassy in Rome Ralph Russomando, and former second secretary Betnie Medero. Prosecutor Armando Spataro says he may appeal the decision to grant them diplomatic immunity. Five agents of the Italian military intelligence service SISMI are also not convicted. The officials, including former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, get off because evidence against them is suppressed on state secrecy grounds (see March 2009). However, two junior SISMI agents are convicted and sentenced to three years in prison as accomplices. (Reuters 11/4/2009)
A CIA officer who hunted Osama bin Laden after 9/11 says that the al-Qaeda leader must be dead, according to former CIA officer and journalist Robert Baer. The officer adds, “No wonder there’s no intelligence on him.” When Baer asks him about the numerous audio and videotapes that appear to have been released by bin Laden over the past few years, the officer says they easily could have been digitally mastered from old recordings. However, he admits that the CIA has no evidence bin Laden died and his comments are only based on a hunch. Baer will say this theory is not popular in Washington because “it veers off into the realm of conspiracies,” and people are scared that “the moment they air their view, bin Laden will reappear.” Nevertheless, according to Baer: “[I]t’s a real possibility that bin Laden was killed at Tora Bora in late 2001 and is now buried under tons of rock, never to be found. Or that he died of ill health in the intervening years.” (Baer 12/8/2009) Baer will later be proven incorrect (see May 2, 2011).
A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. (Sabbagh-Gargourin 1/6/2010; Smith, Warrick, and Nakashima 1/10/2010)
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. (Smith, Warrick, and Nakashima 1/10/2010; Skalka 1/2011)
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. (Warrick 6/8/2010)
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. (Smith, Warrick, and Nakashima 1/10/2010; Skalka 1/2011)
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. (Schifrin 1/7/2010; Farrell 1/9/2010) A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).
US-operated drones kill 708 civilians in 44 Predator attacks targeting Pakistan’s tribal areas between January 1 and December 31, 2009, according to statistics compiled by Pakistani authorities. Dawn reports that for each key al-Qaeda and Taliban militant killed by US drones, 140 Pakistani civilians also die. On average, 58 civilians are reportedly killed in drone attacks every month—about two people per day. (Dawn (Karachi) 1/2/2010) Other estimates of civilian-to-militant deaths over a longer time span vary greatly. Daniel L. Byman of the Brookings Institution, citing analysis by journalist Peter Bergen and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that since 2004, drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. (Bergen and Tiedemann 6/3/2009; Byman 7/14/2009) Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen cites even more alarming statistics, acknowledging earlier Pakistani estimates that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. (Kilcullen 1/6/2009; Kilcullen and Exum 5/16/2009) Bergen and Katherine Tiedmann will later report that new analyses of drone strike deaths in Pakistan from 2004 to March 2010 indicate that the civilian fatality rate is only 32 percent. Their study estimates that of the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan from 2004 to the early months of 2010, between 834 and 1,216 people are killed, of whom around 549 to 849 are described as militants in press accounts. (Bergen and Tiedemann 2/24/2010 ) Apart from the statistics, the controversial weapons are regarded by human rights and legal experts as legally-dubious instruments of extrajudicial killing. (Shamsi 7/21/2009)
A State Department official sends a secret cable from the US Embassy in Doha, Qatar, to the FBI, CIA, and Department for Homeland Security in Washington, DC. The contents of the cable will be made public by the Daily Telegraph and WikiLeaks in early 2011. The cable recommends that a United Arab Emirates man named Mohamed al Mansoori be watchlisted because he is “currently under investigation by the FBI for his possible involvement in the [9/11 attacks]. He is suspected of aiding people who entered the US before the attacks to conduct surveillance of possible targets and providing other support to the hijackers.” The cable mentions that Mansoori’s US visa had been revoked at some earlier point. Mansoori spent about a week with three Qatari men—Meshal Al Hajri, Fhad Abdulla, and Ali Al Fehaid—several weeks before 9/11. The three men traveled in the US for several weeks and left the day before 9/11. Their behavior raised suspicions amongst the staff at one Los Angeles hotel, and their trip was funded by Al Hajri’s brother, who was living in Virginia but later would be suspected as a terrorist and deported (see August 15-September 10, 2001). (Swinford, Winnett, and Allen 2/1/2011) In 2011, law enforcement officials will tell NBC News that the cable was prompted because the three Qataris were planning to return to the US. The Qataris ended up not coming to the US, but Mansoori presumably was added to the watchlist. These officials will also claim that there is no active investigation of Mansoori or the Qataris. No hard evidence has linked any of them to the 9/11 plot. However, an official claims that Mansoori was deported from the US several years after 9/11, and the FBI apparently continued to have suspicions about him. (Isikoff 2/2/2011)
New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer writes that CIA officer Matthew Zirbel, who caused Afghan detainee Gul Rahman to freeze to death in November 2002 (see November 20, 2002), is still employed by the agency. (Mayer 3/31/2010; Goldman and Apuzzo 2/9/2011) The comment is made in a post about Rahman’s death and the aftermath. (Mayer 3/31/2010)
Andrew Warren, a CIA officer facing date rape charges (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), exposes himself to a neighbor. This appears to be part of a series of instances of strange behavior following Warren’s firing by the agency (see Shortly After March 20, 2009) and indictment on the charges (see June 18, 2009). According to a neighbor on Vimy Ridge Avenue, Norfolk, Virginia, where Warren has been living for a year, Warren comes over to her house to introduce a newly arrived roommate. “He had his genitals hanging out of his pants, over the top of ‘em,” the neighbor, who lives with her fiancé in the house, will recall. She will add that Warren claims his name is “Marco,” and has been to see her and her fiancé at their house several times. “He tried to brush it off on the fact by saying, you know, ‘Excuse me. I’ve had minor surgery so I get a little horny sometimes,’” the neighbor will add. “While he was in the restroom, there was moaning and groaning, and it sounded like he was masturbating.” She will also say that after Warren leaves, she finds evidence that suggests her suspicion is correct and her fiancé then calls the local police. A similar account of erratic behavior will accompany Warren’s arrest later in the month (see April 26, 2010). (13NEWS 4/26/2010) In addition to this strange behavior, a long-time acquaintance of Warren’s will recall that visitors to his house in recent months have seen “multiple sets of IDs in different names, with Social Security numbers, from different sources.” (Stein 4/28/2010)
Andrew Warren, a former CIA station chief accused of date rape, is arrested at a Ramada Limited hotel in Norfolk, Virginia, by local police, US Marshals, and Diplomatic Security Service officers. The arrest is based on a bench warrant issued when Warren missed a pre-trail hearing in mid-April. Warren has a gun in his waistband when he is arrested. He is tasered twice, because officers believe he is under the influence of drugs and is reaching for his “mid-torso” region, where the gun is located. Officials will also say a crack pipe is recovered from his room. (Cole and Hill 4/27/2010; Hill and Chinn 5/14/2010; Chinn and Hill 6/7/2010) A tip led officers to the hotel. (13NEWS 4/26/2010) The tip apparently came after authorities reached out to Warren’s family and friends. After the arrest, Warren is taken to a local hospital. (Cole and Hill 4/27/2010) A fellow guest at the hotel will describe Warren’s behavior as odd during his time there. “He would say, like, a lot of creepy things to me,” the guest will recall, “like, when my boyfriend wasn’t around, like inappropriate things.” (13NEWS 4/26/2010) When Warren appears in court the next day, he is confined to a wheelchair and bruising is visible on his face. (Hill and Chinn 5/14/2010)
Lawyers acting for Andrew Warren, a former CIA station chief accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), request their client be given access to psychiatric and drug addiction services. Attorneys William Martin and Mark Hunter say their client has been held in a medical unit since being transferred to Washington from Norfolk, Virginia, following his arrest but is not receiving psychiatric services. Martin says that Warren has been examined by a private physician and is competent to stand trial, but requests that Warren receive a social services assessment as he might be in need of treatment for severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction issues. Warren appears in court with one of his feet in a cast. (Hill and Chinn 5/14/2010)
Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” (MSNBC 6/1/2010)
Andrew Warren, a former CIA station chief in Algeria, pleads guilty to one count of abusive sexual conduct, stemming from date rape allegations, and one count of using illegal drugs while possessing a firearm, which resulted from the circumstances of his arrest in April (see April 26, 2010). Warren faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine, registration as a convicted sex offender, and lifelong supervised release. (Chinn and Hill 6/7/2010) However, according to an earlier report, he could have faced life in prison. (Cole and Hill 4/27/2010) Warren had initially claimed he was not guilty, but changed his plea after adverse rulings on preliminary matters by Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. First, the court rejected a motion to suppress the discovery of child pornography on his CIA laptop by a Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent. (Stein 6/4/2010) Warren’s lawyer had tried to suppress the evidence and statements to the DSS agent on the grounds they were improperly obtained. (Stein 3/23/2010) Then Huvelle ruled that potential witnesses Warren wanted to call to prove he was the victim of a sex trap set by “Algerian women who acted as ‘honey traps’ to manipulate American officials” had no direct knowledge of the case. (Stein 6/4/2010) Warren is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He limps when walking in court and tells Huvelle during the plea that he is seeing a counselor in prison and has been prescribed the antidepressant Celexa. (Chinn and Hill 6/7/2010)
In an interview, CIA Director Leon Panetta says Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan’s tribal region. Bin Laden, Panetta says, is in “very deep hiding. He’s in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan, that is very difficult. The terrain is probably the most difficult in the world.” Asked when the CIA last had good information on bin Laden’s location, Panetta says: “It’s been a while. I think it almost goes back to the early 2000s in terms of actually when he was moving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then, it’s been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.” (ABC News 6/27/2010) Almost a year later, bin Laden will be assassinated in his Pakistan hideout (see May 2, 2011).
A key mistake by Osama bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) lead US intelligence to exact location of bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). US intelligence already had a good idea that Ahmed was a courier working for bin Laden, and in the summer of 2009, he used a cell phone that allowed analysts to determine he was living somewhere in northwest Pakistan (see Summer 2009). But he drove an hour or two before making his calls, and he changed the SIM cards in his phone, making it impossible to pinpoint his exact location. After a flurry of calls in the summer of 2009, he did not use his phone for nearly a year. (Cole 5/19/2011)
Phone Call Is Key Mistake - But then, around July 2010, he accepts a call that provides the key intelligence breakthrough. The call is from an unnamed old friend, but the friend’s calls are already being monitored by US intelligence for his al-Qaeda links. The friend asks Ahmed innocuous questions, like where have you been and what are you doing now. Ahmed vaguely replies, “I’m back with the people I was with before.” Bob Woodward of the Washington Post will later report, “There was a pause, as if the friend knew that [Ahmed’s] words meant he had returned to bin Laden’s inner circle, and was perhaps at the side of the al-Qaeda leader himself. The friend replied, ‘May God facilitate.’” (Woodward 5/6/2011)
Exact Neighborhood Is Located - According to one account, when Ahmed takes this call, apparently he is in or near the town of Peshawar (about 120 miles from Abbottabad). He is soon spotted there, and then continually monitored. It will take several weeks before he returns to Abbottabad, and the exact location of bin Laden’s hideout there is discovered. (Mazzetti, Cooper, and Baker 5/2/2011) According to another account, Ahmed is either inside bin Laden’s compound or very close to it when he takes the call, because the NSA is quickly able to determine the exact neighborhood where the call was received. From there, the CIA and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency search aerial satellite photographs and deduce which house in the neighborhood likely belongs to bin Laden. (Cole 5/19/2011) Either way, apparently his hideout will be discovered by US intelligence on August 1 (see August 1, 2010).
Bin Laden's Compound Already Known to CIA? - According to the Associated Press, the CIA had already known “for years” that bin Laden’s compound was linked to al-Qaeda, but they had dismissed it as not very important since there were no security guards patrolling it. In any case, the compound is located (or relocated), and US intelligence starts to monitor it. (Goldman 5/2/2011)
US intelligence begins intensively spying on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where they strongly suspect Osama bin Laden is hiding (see August-September 2010). The compound was discovered on August 1, 2010 (see August 1, 2010). The Washington Post will later report that “virtually every category of [intelligence] collection in the US arsenal” is used, including satellite imagery and attempts to record voices inside the compound.
CIA Safehouse - The efforts include a CIA safehouse located somewhere near the compound. Abbottabad is a tourist town with pleasant weather and colonial era charm, enabling strangers to easily come and go without attracting suspicion. The CIA takes advantage of that atmosphere to send CIA operatives and informants into the town to gather information. A former US official will say, “The [main compound building] was three stories high, and you could watch it from a variety of angles.” Moving there “was his biggest mistake.” (Woodward 5/6/2011)
Escape Tunnel? - Analysts even study the water tables in the area in an attempt to figure out if bin Laden could have an escape tunnel. They conclude the soil is too wet to build a tunnel. (Cole 5/19/2011)
Intelligence Allegedly Still Lacking - The surveillance is so extensive that in December 2010, the CIA has to secretly get Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars within various agency budgets to help fund it. But US intelligence is allegedly unable to get a clearly identifiable picture or voice recording of bin Laden before the raid that eventually kills him. The CIA safehouse is abandoned shortly after the May 2, 2011 raid that kills bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), since it has served its purpose. (Woodward 5/6/2011)
The Wall Street Journal runs an article about the chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan (see Summer 2009). The purpose of the article seems to be to stress the importance of the station chief, known only as “Spider.” The Journal calls him the “key” to relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and “a pivotal behind-the-scenes power broker in Kabul.” (Gorman 8/24/2010)
On January 25, 2011, radical militant Umar Patek is arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Patek is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspect at the time, because he is the only major suspect wanted for the 2002 Bali bombing who has not yet been killed or captured. The US issued a $1 million bounty on him in 2005 (see October 6, 2005 and After). Patek has $1 million in cash on him when he is arrested, and he is shot in the leg during the arrest. News of Patek’s arrest will become public in late March 2011 (see March 30, 2011). (Toosi 5/4/2011; Randall and Buncombe 5/8/2011) The CIA worked with other countries to get Patek. But Patek stays imprisoned in Pakistan, unlike many other terrorist suspects captured in Pakistan who are deported to the US or elsewhere. (Gannon and Dozier 3/30/2011)
Is Patek There to See to Bin Laden? - After Osama bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), an unnamed senior US counterterrorism official will say that Patek’s presence in the town “appears to have been pure coincidence” and there is no evidence that Patek was meeting with bin Laden there. However, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro will later say, “The information we have is that Umar Patek… was in Pakistan with his Filipino wife trying to meet Osama Bin Laden.” Indonesian counterterrorism official Chairul Akbar will further explain that Patek was there to meet bin Laden and get his “support and protection.” Akbar says that Patek “was instructed to go to Abbottabad to meet other militants.” He will also claim that Patek may have met other al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but he had not yet met with bin Laden before his arrest. (Associated Press 5/4/2011) Patek’s arrest takes place less than two miles away from where bin Laden is hiding. (Mayr 5/18/2011)
Link to Bin Laden's Key Courier - The Independent will report after bin Laden’s death that Patek met with Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), an al-Qaeda courier who is living with bin Laden in an Abbottabad compound at the time. By this time, US intelligence is intensively monitoring the compound and everyone in it (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). However, the compound is not searched by the Pakistanis during the raid that got Patek, or in the months afterward. (Sengupta 5/3/2011)
Link to Another Al-Qaeda Courier - Additionally, two French men, Sharaf Deen and Zohaib Afza, are arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 23, 2001. One of them was born in Pakistan and the other was a convert to Islam. A Pakistani named Tahir Shehzad is arrested with them. Investigators will later say that they trailed Shehzad from Abbottabad to Lahore, and that the French men planned to travel with Patek to Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda leaders are hiding. Shehzad gave up Patek’s location, which led to his arrest two days later. Later press reports will call Shehzad an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” who worked as a clerk in the Abbottabad post office. Pakistani intelligence had Shehzad under surveillance since 2010, when he was seen in Abbottabad with an “Arab terror suspect” (see August 2010). (Brummitt and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Keaten and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Mir 5/3/2011)
Waiting in Abbottabad for Someone? - Abbottabad resident Abdul Hameed Sohail will later tell the press that his son found Patek and Patek’s wife cold and shivering in the street, and he ended up feeling sorry for them and let them stay in his house. They were given an upstairs room, and for nine days they rarely left the room or even ate the food that he left for them. Finally, Pakistani officials raided the house, shot Patek, and took him away. Sohail is not arrested. However, his son Kashif is arrested as an accomplice, and will still be in custody three months later. Patek and his wife had arrived in Pakistan five months earlier, traveling with forged passports, but it is not known where they were in Pakistan prior to Abbottabad. (Nor is it known what happens to his wife.) (Brummitt and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Mir 5/3/2011; Mayr 5/18/2011)
CIA Tip Off - It also will later be reported that the CIA gave key information to Pakistan about Patek being in Pakistan, which led to his arrest. It may be that the CIA gave the information that Patek had gone to Pakistan five months earlier under another name. (Gannon and Dozier 3/30/2011) In hindsight, this is interesting since the CIA is part of the surveillance of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound at the time, and news of Patek’s arrest could have threatened the effort to find bin Laden.
A meeting about Osama bin Laden’s possible hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005), is held at CIA headquarters. The attendees include commander of Joint Special Operations Command Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other senior CIA officials. They meet around a large and highly accurate scale model of the suspect Abbottabad compound built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from satellite imagery. They discuss the intelligence about the compound and possible courses of action. Three choices of action are discussed: a Stealth bomber bomb strike; a Special Forces helicopter raid; and a joint operation raid with the Pakistani government. Analysts have concluded that there is a high-value target in the compound (which is now called Abbottabad Compound One, or AC1), and there is a strong possibility that the target is bin Laden. However, it is also possible the target could be someone else important like al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, or bin Laden’s family could be there without him. To be more certain, a “red team” analysis is ordered, which means that analysts so far unaware of the compound are given the evidence and asked to critically appraise it. (Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011; Tapper 6/9/2011) Three months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama meets again with the National Security Council to decide how to act on intelligence that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). Two weeks earlier, he had narrowed down the options to two: bomb the compound with stealth bombers and thus completely destroy it, or send in US Special Forces by helicopter and kill bin Laden with a ground assault (see March 14, 2011). Since that meeting, CIA analysts have been unable to rule out the possibility that there is a tunnel network under the compound. To be sure tunnels could not be used to escape, the amount of bombing on the compound would need to be greatly increased. At least one nearby house would be in the blast radius and probably a dozen or so neighbors would be killed. Furthermore, the heavy bombing would make it even less likely that DNA evidence could be acquired to prove that bin Laden had been killed. By the end of the meeting, Obama rules out the bombing option, leaving only the Special Forces helicopter raid option. He tells Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, to come back to him by April 18 with a more detailed helicopter raid plan and an opinion on how likely such a plan would be successful. (Mazzetti, Cooper, and Baker 5/2/2011; Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011; Tapper 6/9/2011) Five weeks later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
CIA Director Leon Panetta meets with Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The meeting, at CIA headquarters, is meant to help repair relations between tUS and Pakistan. A CIA contractor named Raymond Davis caused a major diplomatic crisis after he shot and killed two Pakistanis in disputed circumstances. He was held in Pakistan for two months and released on March 16. Pasha asks Panetta to be more forthcoming about what the CIA is doing in Pakistan. Panetta promises to respond to Pasha’s concerns. But at the time, the US government is secretly planning to raid Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011), and Panetta does not say a word about this. His goal is to appease Pasha so relations with Pakistan will be improved by the time the bin Laden raid takes place. (Gorman and Barnes 5/23/2011) Bin Laden will be killed less than a month later (see May 2, 2011).
Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. (Staff 5/1/2011; MURRAY 5/2/2011) Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. (Staff 5/1/2011)
Osama bin Laden’s killing by US forces on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) reignites the debate about the usefulness of the torture techniques used by US intelligence. The debate centers on how US intelligence learned about bin Laden’s location and whether the torture of prisoners helped find him.
Courier Provides the Key Lead - According to Obama administration officials, bin Laden was located through US intelligence agencies’ “patient and detailed intelligence analysis” of “a mosaic of sources,” including evidence garnered from detained inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The first clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts came when US intelligence learned of an al-Qaeda courier that worked with bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, who used the pseudonym “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” Ahmed is one of those killed during the Abbottabad raid. US intelligence had known of Ahmed since 2002, after a Kuwaiti detainee told interrogators about him, and it has taken this long for CIA and other intelligence officers to identify him, locate him, track his communications, and then follow him to the large and well fortified compound in Abbottabad.
Do Bush Administration Techniques Deserve Credit? - Some former Bush administration officials, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo, claim that the Bush administration and not the Obama administration deserves the credit for finding bin Laden. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, “the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, said the first important leads about Kuwaiti came from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader at the time of his capture.” KSM was repeatedly waterboarded (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003). (richey 5/5/2011) Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey states that the path to bin Laden “began with a disclosure from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” (Mukasy 5/2/2011)
Rebuttal from CIA Director Panetta - However, according to information in a letter CIA Director Leon Panetta sends to Senator John McCain, these assertions are false or misleading. In the letter, Panetta says: “Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that bin Laden was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one ‘essential and indispensible’ key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence—including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources—led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the ‘only timely and effective way’ to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to bin Laden. Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting. In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.” (Sargent 5/16/2011)
Officials Says Torture Techinques Played No Role - Also, nine US military interrogators and intelligence officials state in an open letter: “The use of waterboarding and other so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional US interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Reports say that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.” (al 5/4/2011)
In an interview, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says that the CIA purposefully withheld information from him about two future 9/11 hijackers for over a year before September 11. The interview was taped in October 2009, but is released now by documentary makers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy ahead of a forthcoming podcast entitled “Who Is Rich Blee?” about the intelligence failures before 9/11. Clarke indicates he found out the CIA failed to pass information on to him not long after 9/11, but assumed the information had been honestly missed by a single junior officer. However, when he later learned at at least 50 officers accessed the information, he began to question this theory. (Note: the news that the information was accessed by at least 50 officers broke in August 2007—see Mid-January-March 2000 and August 21, 2007). According to Clarke, information of the sort the CIA had on two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, was automatically forwarded to him, but he never heard their names before 9/11. Clarke, who admits he cannot prove his allegation that the information was withheld deliberately, says the best explanation he can come up with is that the CIA was attempting to turn the two hijackers into double agents, which is why nobody was told outside the agency. Clarke points out that alleged Saudi intelligence operatives working in the US (see January 15-February 2000 and Spring 2000) who knew the hijackers could have helped with this. Clarke mentions four officials who would have been involved in a decision to withhold information: CIA Director George Tenet, who followed information about al-Qaeda in “microscopic detail,” Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black, Alec Station chief Richard Blee, and his deputy Tom Wilshire. Clarke also expresses wonder that the information was not mentioned at a key meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001) when Tenet, Black, and Blee were trying to get her to take strong action against al-Qaeda, because what they had on Almihdhar and Alhazmi was the “most persuasive piece of evidence” they had. He also does not understand why the CIA told the FBI in late August 2001 that the two hijackers had entered the country (see August 21-22, 2001). Clarke adds that the CIA presumably did not mention the fact that the two men were in the US at a meeting of high-level officials on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) because it would have angered Clarke and this would have led to an investigation in CIA “malfeasance and misfeasance” in concealing the information. However, he thinks the US authorities would have caught the hijackers with a “massive sweep” even if he had been told as late as September 4. Clarke also comments that he never asked Tenet and the other CIA officials about what had happened, as the facts became known to him over time. He also says that Tenet, Black, and Blee have got away with what they did, as they were not held to account by the Joint Congressional Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission. (John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski 8/11/2011; Leopold 8/11/2011) Tenet, Black, and Blee received an advance copy of the interview and issued a statement in response (see August 3, 2011).
President Obama signs a controversial bill passed by Congress (see December 15, 2011), which gives the president power to order indefinite military detention for anyone deemed an enemy combatant, including US citizens arrested or captured in the United States. Obama had threatened to veto the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on a number of occasions, but once certain restrictions on presidential authority were removed, he became willing to sign it. For instance, the original version of the bill required that persons covered by the bill be held prisoner by the military and prosecuted by military tribunals, if at all. Obama was of the view that by requiring military detention, Congress was intruding on areas under the purview of the executive branch, and in ways that would impede the ability of the executive branch to effectively gather intelligence, fight terrorism, and protect national security. He also believed the bill was unnecessary and potentially risky in order to codify detention authority, and that the president already had authority, via the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and subsequent court rulings, to unilaterally designate persons, including US citizens, as enemy combatants and subject them to indefinite military detention without trial. (White House 12/31/2011; Greenwald 12/15/2012) For the same reasons, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, White House Advisor for Counterterrorism John Brennan, and DOJ National Security Division head Lisa Monaco were also opposed to the mandatory military detention provisions. (Anders 12/7/2011) Also, according to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), a sponsor of the NDAA, “[L]anguage which precluded the application of section 1031 [1021 in the final bill] to American citizens was in the bill we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.” (Senate 11/17/2011) With the bill drafted so that military detention was optional, and an option US citizens were subject to (see December 15, 2011), Obama signaled he would sign it, despite having concerns that it was still unduly restrictive of executive authority, and it unnecessarily codified authority that had been exercised for 10 years and had been upheld by a number of lower court decisions. (White House 12/17/2011 ) However, in a non-binding signing statement attached to the bill, Obama says he is signing the bill “despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.” Obama does not specify what his reservations are, but promises: “[M]y administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.” (White House 12/31/2011)
Controversy over Indefinite Detention Provisions - Though 86 percent of US senators and almost two-thirds of the House of Representatives voted to pass the NDAA (see December 15, 2011), and the bill is signed by Obama, the military detention measures are opposed by a number of constitutional experts and public interest organizations, and a significant percentage of the general public (see December 22-26, 2011).
Investigative journalist Robert Parry speaks at a conference in Heidelberg, Germany concerning the progression of journalism from the 1970s to the present. Parry tells the gathering that American investigative journalism may have hit something of a zenith in the 1970s, with the media exposure of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) and the Watergate scandal (see August 8, 1974). “That was a time when US journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press,” he says. “In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses—from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard. Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the US news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.” However, those days are long past, Parry notes, and in recent years, American journalism has, he says, gone “terribly wrong.” Parry says that the American press was subjected to an orchestrated program of propaganda and manipulation on a par with what the CIA did in many foreign countries: “Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies. It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth. And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and—over the course of several decades—they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.”
Building a Base - Right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers (see 1979-1980) and Richard Mellon Scaife, along with Nixon-era figures such as former Treasury Secretary William Simon (a Wall Street investment banker who ran the right-wing Olin Foundation) worked to organize conservative foundations; their money went into funding what Parry calls “right-wing media… right-wing think tanks… [and] right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.” Parry finds it ironic, in light of the CIA’s interference in the affairs of other nations, that two foreign media moguls, Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, were key figures in building and financing this conservative media construct. Some media outlets, such as Fox News (see Summer 1970 and October 7, 1996), were created from scratch, while others, such as the venerable and formerly liberal New Republic, were bought out and taken over by conservatives. When Ronald Reagan ascended to the White House, Parry says, he brought along with him “a gifted team of [public relations] and ad men.” Vice President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director, enabled access to that agency’s propaganda professionals. And Reagan named William Casey to head the CIA; Casey, a former Nixon administration official, was “obsessed [with] the importance of deception and propaganda,” Parry says. “Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.”
Two-Pronged Attack - Two key sources of information for Washington media insiders were targeted, Parry says: the “fiercely independent” CIA analytical division, whose analyses had so often proven damaging to White House plans when reported, and the “unruly” Washington press corps. Casey targeted the CIA analysts, placing his young assistant, Robert Gates, in charge of the analytical division; Gates’s reorganization drove many troublesome analysts into early retirement, to be replaced with more malleable analysts who would echo the White House’s hard line against “Soviet expansionism.” Another Casey crony, Walter Raymond Jr., worked to corral the Washington press corps from his position on the National Security Council. Raymond headed an interagency task force that ostensibly spread “good news” about American policies in the foreign press, but in reality worked to smear and besmirch American journalists who the White House found troubling. According to Parry, “Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America.” It was easy to discredit female journalists in Central America, Parry says; Raymond’s team would spread rumors that they were secretly having sexual liaisons with Communist officials. Other reporters were dismissed as “liberals,” a label that many news executives were eager to avoid. Working through the news executives was remarkably successful, Parry says, and it was not long before many Washington reporters were either brought to heel or marginalized.
'Perception Management' - Reagan’s team called its domestic propaganda scheme “perception management.” Parry says: “The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control. Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.” The New York Times and Washington Post, the newspapers that had led the surge of investigative reporting in the 1970s, were effectively muzzled during the Reagan era; Parry says that the two papers “became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.” The same happened at the Associated Press (AP), where Parry had attempted, with limited success, to dig into the Reagan administration’s Central American policies, policies that would eventually crystallize into the Iran-Contra scandal (see May 5, 1987). Few newspapers followed the lead of AP reporters such as Parry and Brian Barger until late 1986, when the Hasenfus air crash provided a news story that editors could no longer ignore (see October 5, 1986). But, Parry says, by the time of the Iran-Contra hearings, few news providers, including the Associated Press, had the stomach for another scandal that might result in another impeachment, particularly in light of the relentless pressure coming from the Reagan administration and its proxies. By June 1990, Parry says he understood “the concept of ‘perception management’ had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.… Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.” The process accelerated after 9/11, Parry says: “[M]any journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq. Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq. Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in. Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008” (see November 2002-March 2003, November 25, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 5, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 7, 2003, and March 17, 2003).
The Wikileaks Era and the 'Fawning Corporate Media' - Parry says that now, the tough-minded independent media has been all but supplanted by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.” This has increased public distrust of the media, which has led to people seeking alternative investigative and reporting methods. Parry comments that much of the real investigative journalism happening now is the product of non-professionals working outside the traditional media structure, such as Wikileaks (see February 15, 2007, 2008, and April 18, 2009). However, the independent media have not demonstrated they can reach the level of influence of institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times. “[I]f we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked,” Parry says, “we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the ‘war on terror,’ no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all. When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.… Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.… So, a sad but—I think—fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.” (Parry 5/15/2012)
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