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Profile: US Department of State
US Department of State was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US Department of State releases its 2005 edition of Country Reports on Terrorism, in which it states that Cuba remains a “state sponsor of terrorism, while Venezuela virtually ceased its cooperation in the global war on terror.” According to the report, Venezuela has been “tolerating terrorists in its territory and seeking closer relations with Cuba and Iran.” [US Department of State, 2006, pp. 155 ]
US officials deny charges leveled by Amnesty International that US interrogators tortured prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison. White House officials also say that the administration intends to close the facility as soon as it is practical to do so. Amnesty International’s most recent annual report faults the US for allegedly abandoning human rights concerns in its pursuit of terrorists. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Amnesty’s charges are false, and says while the administration wants to close Guantanamo, critics have given no answers as to what to do with the detainees. “At some point in the future, would we all like to see Guantanamo Bay closed down? Absolutely,” he says. “But at the moment, there are dangerous people being held in Guantanamo Bay. These are people that were picked up on battlefields, planning for, engaged in various acts of terrorism around the world. These are individuals who pose a threat potentially not only to American citizens, but citizens from Europe as well as around the world.” America is doing the world a service by detaining these dangerous terrorists, he says (see February 7, 2006). [Voice of America, 5/23/2006]
US Ambassador to Spain Eduardo Aguirre meets with Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who warns him that a Spanish judge is investigating the CIA’s rendition program. High Court Judge Ismael Moreno opened the investigation based on a lawsuit filed by a group of lawyers in Mallorca. Aguirre will later report back on this conversation to the State Department in Washington (see June 9, 2006). “Moratinos indicated the Spanish government’s desire to give this issue as low a profile as possible, though, as a judicial case, the government had a limited capacity to influence the direction of the case,” he will write. The cable will later be obtained by WikiLeaks and published by the Spanish daily El Pais. [El Pais, 12/3/2010]
US Ambassador to Spain Eduardo Aguirre meets with Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega to discuss the CIA’s use of Spain in its rendition program. De la Vega “emphasize[s] that Spain had no objection to United States government intelligence flights through Spanish territory.” According to a cable Aguirre drafts to summarize the meeting for the State Department in Washington, “[The Spanish government] simply want[s] to be kept informed and, if necessary, to be able to demonstrate that they [are] exercising proper oversight of foreign aircraft passing through Spain.” The previous day, the Council of Europe issued a report stating that the Spanish government had “permitted or failed to investigate” the use of Mallorca as a staging point for the “illegal” transfer of individuals by the CIA. It also accused a dozen European governments of conspiring with the US government in similar actions that the council said could be seen as contributing to human rights violations. “Regarding the CIA flights issue, […] de la Vega sa[ys] Spain’s inclusion in the Council of Europe report ha[s] caught the [Spanish] government totally off guard and she insist[s] Spain ha[s] nothing to hide on the issue,” writes Aguirre. The deputy prime minister tells the US ambassador that “Spain [is] prepared to deal with this issue, but want[s] to be certain that it ha[s] all the information available regarding the flights to avoid being caught unprepared.” In this respect, Aguirre writes that he told her “that we too ha[ve] an interest in preserving our credibility and were careful to share whatever information we ha[ve] and to avoid any actions that might create problems for the Spanish authorities.” The cable will later be obtained by WikiLeaks and published by the Spanish daily El Pais. [El Pais, 12/3/2010]
In an interview, Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls learning that for all intents and purposes, Vice President Cheney and his staff, and not President Bush and his staff, runs the US government’s foreign policy (see September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Mid-September, 2001). Wilkerson, a veteran politician with a strong understanding of bureaucracy, came to this understanding over the course of his four years in the State Department. Many procedures seemed peculiar to him, particularly the practice of Cheney’s national security staffers—part of Cheney’s shadow National Security Council, an unprecedented event in and of itself—reading all of the e-mail traffic between the White House and outside agencies and people. The reverse is not true; Cheney’s staff jealously guards its privacy, even from presidential aides. “Members of the president’s staff sometimes walk from office to office to avoid Cheney’s people monitoring their discussions,” Wilkerson recalls. “Or they use the phone.” A former White House staffer confirms Wilkerson’s perceptions. “Bush’s staff is terrified of Cheney’s people,” the former staffer says. Further, Cheney has liberally salted Bush’s staff with his own loyalists who report back to him about everything Bush’s staff does. Again, the reverse is not true; Cheney’s staff is small, tight, and intensely loyal to their boss. Two of Cheney’s “eyes and ears” in the White House are, or were, Stephen Hadley, formerly the deputy national security adviser before assuming the position himself; and Zalmay Khalilzad, formerly on the National Security Council before becoming the US ambassador to Baghdad. Other members of Cheney’s staff have undue influence over other agencies. One example is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who, despite being the nation’s top law enforcement officer, always defers to the legal judgment of Cheney’s former top legal counsel and current chief of staff David Addington. “Al Gonzales is not going to stand up to [Addington],” a former military officer who worked with both Gonzales and Addington says. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 176-177]
Brent Blanchard, a leading professional and writer in the controlled demolition industry, publishes a 12-page report that says it refutes claims that the World Trade Center was destroyed with explosives. The report is published on ImplosionWorld.com, a demolition industry website edited by Blanchard. Blanchard is also director of field operations for Protec Documentation Services, Inc., a company specializing in monitoring construction-related demolitions. In his report, Blanchard says that Protec had portable field seismographs in “several sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn” on 9/11. He says they did not show the “spikes” that would have been caused by explosions in the towers. Blanchard also takes aim at the claim that Building 7 of the WTC was demolished, writing: “Several demolition teams had reached Ground Zero by 3:00 pm on 9/11, and these individuals witnessed the collapse of WTC 7 within a few hundred feet of the event. We have spoken with several who possess extensive experience in demolition, and all reported hearing or seeing nothing to indicate an explosive detonation precipitating the collapse.” However, Blanchard does not identify the demolition teams and the witnesses he spoke to. [ImplosionWorld.com, 8/8/2006 ]
The report seems to receive official endorsement when it is later used as a source in a State Department debunking webpage entitled “The Top Ten September 11 Conspiracy Theories.” [International Herald Tribune, 9/2/2006; US State Department, 9/16/2006]
Conservative pundits and columnists launch a new barrage of attacks and accusations against former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). The pundits use the recent revelation that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was apparently the first administration official to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see August 22, 2006 and September 7, 2006). They claim that the new information proves that there was never a conspiracy to “out” Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), but that her status as a covert CIA agent was revealed merely as a result of harmless gossip from Armitage, who is not considered a major part of the neoconservative axis of power within the White House. [Washington Post, 9/1/2006]
Blaming Armitage and the State Department - The Wall Street Journal blames Armitage for allowing the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation to go on while he remained mute, allowing “political opportunism and internal score-settling” to drive the investigation when it never should have taken off. “The White House, in short, was not engaged in any campaign to ‘out’ Ms. Plame [Wilson],” the editorial states. Since the prosecution of Lewis Libby for perjury and obstruction during the investigation is not likely to be dropped, the editorial concludes, President Bush should end it by pardoning Libby. [Wall Street Journal, 8/30/2006] The New York Sun also chastizes Armitage for standing silent “while the president’s critics sullied the good names of Messrs. Cheney, Libby, and Rove.” [National Review, 7/19/2004; New York Sun, 8/30/2006] A similar position is advocated by neoconservative John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post, who also says that the Armitage revelation should result in special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald dropping all charges against Libby. [New York Post, 8/29/2006] Neoconservative Frank Gaffney, writing for the online political publication TownHall, accuses both Armitage and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as other senior State Department officials, of being “disloyalists” who “wage[d] war” against the Bush administration “from behind enemy lines”—from his position in the State Department, essentially functioning as a saboteur for unnamed liberal interests, and to win ground the State Department lost in conflicts with the White House. Gaffney goes further, accusing other State Department officials of intentionally sabotaging US nuclear negotiation efforts with North Korea (see September 19-20, 2005 and July 15, 2006). He accuses Armitage of “destructive and disloyal behavior” and “appeasement” towards North Korea and other US opponents. [Town Hall (.com), 9/5/2006] San Francisco Chronicle writer Debra Saunders calls the entire affair nothing more than “gossip,” and notes that an admission by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that he confirmed Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 10, 2005 and October 14, 2005) is virtually meaningless. The only “abuse of power” that has come to light during the investigation, Saunders opines, is the investigation itself. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/6/2006]
Libby 'Exonerated' by Armitage Admission - The New Hampshire Union Leader calls the investigation a “non-issue” promulgated by “conspiracy nuts” now proven wrong by the Armitage admission. [New Hampshire Union Leader, 8/30/2006] Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez says the “exculpatory” Armitage revelation exonerates Libby, and calls his prosecution “malicious” and unwarranted. [Creators Syndicate, 8/30/2006]
Wilson, 'Leftists' to Blame - Slate’s Christopher Hitchens goes further, attacking the “Joseph Wilson fantasy” that Iraq had not attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), calling the idea that the White House deliberately attempted to smear Wilson’s character a “paranoid fantasy” (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006), and concluding that the entire Plame Wilson imbroglio was the result of a “venom[ous] interdepartmental rivalry” between Armitage’s State Department and the White House, blown entirely out of proportion by liberal critics of the Bush administration. [Slate, 8/29/2006] A National Review editorial blames the New York Times editorial board and “shrieking” “leftist adversaries” of the Bush administration for the investigation, and, like Chavez and others, calls for the immediate end of the Libby prosecution. [National Review, 8/30/2006] The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes compiles a “rogues list” of “the Plamegate Hall of Shame,” including Armitage, his former boss Colin Powell, Patrick Fitzgerald, the Justice Department, Joseph Wilson, and the media. “So instead of Cheney or Rove or Libby,” Barnes writes, “the perennial targets of media wrath, the Plamegate Hall of Shame consists of favorites of the Washington elite and the mainstream press.” And like the others, Barnes calls on Fitzgerald to immediately terminate his investigation as well as his prosecution of Libby. [Weekly Standard, 9/2/2006] And the Washington Times’s editor in chief Wesley Pruden rounds off the attacks, rather ghoulishly predicting that the next time Plame Wilson will be mentioned in the press is when “a nice obituary in the Washington and New York newspapers and a few lines of a telegraph dispatch on a page with the truss ads in Topeka” is printed. He calls Plame Wilson, who headed the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), “the queen of the clipping scissors and pastepots at the CIA” (see September 29, 2003), and calls the leak investigation a “fraud.” [Washington Times, 9/5/2006]
Picked Up by Mainstream Media - Many in the mainstream media echo the new line of attack, with the Washington Post’s editorial board joining the other editorials and columnists in demanding that the Libby prosecution be immediately terminated. Echoing a Wall Street Journal guest editorial from almost a year before (see November 3, 2005), the Post editorial claims that because Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went public with his knowledge of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), he is ultimately responsible for outing his wife. The Post writes: “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming—falsely, as it turned out—that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.” The allegation that Wilson had “falsely… debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger” is itself false, as Wilson’s report further proved that no such deals ever took place (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 9/1/2006] The New York Times’s conservative columnist, David Brooks, joins in the attacks, calling the exposure of Plame Wilson a “piffle” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006) blown out of proportion by a group of Congressional Democrats and the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. Like the others, he blames Armitage for “keep[ing] quiet while your comrades are being put through the ringer [sic].” [New York Times, 8/31/2006] Days later, the Post’s David Broder writes that Karl Rove, one of the White House officials who outed Plame (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), had been treated badly by reporters and pundits, and deserved a round of apologies. [Washington Post, 9/7/2006]
'Marvel of Wingnut Logic' - Author Jane Hamsher, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, hammers the Post editorial and its presumed author, op-ed editor Fred Hiatt, writing with some apparent outrage: “[T]o argue that somehow this [Armitage] leak—which played no part in the concerted administration effort to bully, intimidate, and punish Joe Wilson—should somehow excuse Scooter Libby and Karl Rove’s subsequent actions is a true marvel of wingnut logic. Incredibly it is somehow okay to rob the liquor store, shoot the owner, rape the cashier, and spatter the walls with blood because someone else was caught shoplifting there the week before. It is the Sistine Chapel of bad faith editorials.” [Jane Hamsher, 9/1/2006]
Comparisons to Soviet Propaganda - Plame Wilson herself is “furious” at reading the Post editorial and other, similar writings. In her 2007 book Fair Game, she will write, “I suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world.” Plame Wilson calls the allegations that her husband is responsible for outing her “flatly untrue,” and shows the writers’ “ignorance about how our clandestine service functions.” She notes that the FBI had known of the Armitage leak since October 2003, and that since “the FBI didn’t shut down the investigation” this indicated “they had good reason to believe that Libby and Rove were lying to them.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 257-260]
Entity Tags: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens, Valerie Plame Wilson, Colin Powell, Frank Gaffney, Fred Barnes, Debra Saunders, David Brooks, David Broder, US Department of State, Wesley Pruden, New York Times, John Podhoretz, Richard Armitage, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Jane Hamsher, Linda Chavez, New York Sun, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, New Hampshire Union Leader, National Review
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Karl Eikenberry. [Source: NATO]In autumn 2006, President Bush declares in a White House news conference that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” but in fact intelligence reports are indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The New York Times will later comment, “with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.” Frustrated, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top US commander in Afghanistan, orders military officers, CIA, and US special forces to assemble a dossier documenting the Pakistani government’s role in allowing militants to establish their safe haven in the tribal region. According to the Times, “Behind the general’s order was a broader feeling of outrage within the military—at a terrorist war that had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America’s most deadly enemy had become stronger.” When Eikenberry finally presents his dossier to several members of Bush’s cabinet, some inside the State Department and the CIA dismiss his warning as exaggerated and simplistic. [New York Times, 6/30/2008] On February 13, 2007, Eikenberry states publicly before a Congressional committee that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without addressing the safe haven across the border in Pakistan. He does not publicly discuss Pakistan’s support for the militants, but he does say, “A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success.” He also warns that the US is facing a “reconstituted enemy” and “growing narcotics trafficking” in Afghanistan, which could lead to “the loss of legitimacy” of the government there. Eikenberry is already due to be replaced as commander of US forces in Afghanistan by the time he makes these blunt comments. [Washington Post, 2/14/2007; Rashid, 2008, pp. 383] The White House responds by sending Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, Pakistan, later in February (see February 26, 2007). But there is little apparent change in Pakistan’s behavior. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Philip Zelikow, who is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s closest aide, gives a speech asserting that the US must seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, Zelikow says, the US may have trouble securing the support of Arab moderates and Europeans in dealing with the Middle East. The speech seems to be the result of a long discussion of the topic between Rice and former Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft (see October 2004). The counterattack from the neoconservatives in Vice President Cheney’s office, who want nothing to do with any settlements with the Palestinians, is immediate and fierce. Cheney’s office issues harsh condemnations of Zelikow, and neoconservative-friendly newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the New York Sun publish news reports designed to undermine Zelikow’s message. Rice refuses to stand up to Cheney on behalf of Zelikow, and the State Department officially repudiates Zelikow’s remarks. Zelikow resigns his post. The neoconservatives’ views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remain the guiding force behind the Bush administration’s Middle East policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 8]
The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/2006]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, David Albright, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Emadeddin Baghi, International Atomic Energy Agency, Jane Harman, Paul Wolfowitz, US Department of State, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, People’s Mujahedin of Iran, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Secretary of State Rice says that she does not recall the meeting on July 10, 2001, when CIA Director Tenet and other officials briefed her about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 10, 2001). “What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2006] Rice says she has no recollection of what she variously calls “the supposed meeting” and “the emergency so-called meeting.” [Editor & Publisher, 10/1/2006; McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] The Washington Post comments that “Rice added to the confusion… by strongly suggesting that the meeting may never have occurred at all—even though administration officials had conceded for several days that it had.” Hours after Rice’s latest denial, the State Department confirms that documents show Rice did attend such a meeting on that date. However, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack then says, “The briefing was a summary of the threat reporting from the previous weeks. There was nothing new.” The Washington Post notes that when it was pointed out to McCormack that Rice asked for the briefing to be shown to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft (see July 11-17, 2001), “McCormack was unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2006]
In an abrupt reversal, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologizes for his country’s nuclear test (see October 9, 2006). He reportedly tells a Chinese delegation that he regrets the test, denies any plans for further tests (see October 11, 2006), and says he is willing for North Korea to resume its participation in international nuclear negotiations if the US agrees not to “financially isolate” his country. For their part, US State Department officials say they doubt Kim made any such statements. But the US is willing to rejoin negotiations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, “The Chinese are emphasizing the need for six-party talks to begin again and for the North to re-engage in the talks.” North Korea “urged us to be open to returning to those talks without preconditions, which for us is not difficult.” [MSNBC, 10/20/2006]
In an interview with the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, US embassy spokeswoman Kristin Stewart hints at possible sanctions against Nicaragua if Ortega is elected president: “If a foreign government has a relationship with terrorist organizations, like the Sandinistas did in the past; US law permits us to apply sanctions.… Again, it will be necessary to revise our policies if Ortega wins,” she says. [La Prensa (Managui), 10/31/2006; Democracy Now!, 11/1/2006]
On September 5, 2006, the government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with Taliban-linked militants in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as North Waziristan (see September 5, 2006), and President Bush quickly gave his public approval to the deal (see September 7, 2006). By November 2006, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, head of US forces in Afghanistan, says that the number of Taliban attacks out of North Waziristan has tripled since the deal was signed. On December 26, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher says, “The Taliban have been able to use [the tribal regions] for sanctuary, and for command and control, and for regrouping and supply.” The State Department decides that the deal has been a failure for US policy, just as two previous deals with militants in the border region had been. But the Pakistani government continues to stick to the terms of the deal well into 2007. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 277]
An unnamed Pentagon consultant describes the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq and Iran as “a classic case of ‘failure forward.’” He adds: “They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq—like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state.” In the light of belligerent statements made by several administration officials hostile to the current regime in Iran, he also says: “More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq.… [T]he goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran’s nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb—and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq.” (Note: al-Sadr’s closeness to Iran is a matter of dispute.) [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
A “democracy and public diplomacy” working group at the State Department drafts a
two-page document discussing ways the US can support Syrian activists who oppose President Bashar al-Assad. The document, which notes that the US is already “supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists” in Europe, says that the country’s upcoming March 2007 elections “provide a potentially galvanizing issue for… critics of the Assad regime.” It proposes a secret “election monitoring” plan, in which “Internet accessible materials will be available for printing and dissemination by activists inside the country [Syria] and neighboring countries.” The operation would also involve providing financial backing to an opposition candidate, as well as funding “voter education campaigns” and public opinion polling. The document makes it clear that the efforts would be clandestine. “Any information regarding funding for domestic [Syrian] politicians for elections monitoring would have to be protected from public dissemination,” it says. Funding for the program would apparently be funneled through the International Republican Institute through a State Department program known as the Middle East Partnership Initiative, or MEPI. Time, which is the first to report on the memo, quotes one US official familiar with the document who says, “You are forced to wonder whether we are now trying to destabilize the Syrian government.” Joshua Landis, a Syria expert who is co-director of the Center for Peace Studies at the University of Oklahoma, tells the magazine the proposed operation is “really just an attempt to pressure the Syrian government” into doing what the US wants. [Time, 12/19/2006]
US troops raid the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi’ite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and capture two Iranians. The two, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, are high-ranking members of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which the US accuses of supplying funding and training to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. After a tense nine-day diplomatic standoff, the US acquiesces to requests by the Iraqi government and its own State Department to allow the two to return to Iran, though the Pentagon wished to keep them in captivity for interrogation. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007] Iran calls both Chirazi and Davari “diplomats,” and says they are in Iraq at the invitation of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, as part of an agreement to improve security between the two countries. [BBC, 12/29/2006]
Hugo Llorens, the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Madrid, sends out a cable referencing Spanish High Court prosecutor Vicente Gonzalez Mota. The US embassy and Mota are working together to block a Spanish lawsuit against the use of Mallorca as a stopover in the CIA’s rendition program. US officials know Gonzalez well because he served as the Spanish representative in the embassy’s Bilateral Counter Terrorism Experts Working Group. “We find him to be an engaging and helpful colleague and anticipate that he will be sensitive to the Spanish government’s preference that this case not proceed,” writes Llorens. Nevertheless, Llorens adds that Spanish judges “fiercely guard their independence and are willing to break new ground on issues of jurisdiction.” [El Pais, 12/3/2010]
A State Department official reflects on the Bush administration’s expectation that Iraq would function smoothly after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the administration’s complete failure to anticipate an insurgency and the sectarian strife which together have engulfed the country in violence. The official, who chooses to remain anonymous to interviewer Craig Unger, says this all happened because the neoconservatives driving the White House foreign policy know next to nothing about Iraq’s history and culture. “In all the literature they’ve written about Iraq, you will not see anything by them that has anything about the nature of Iraqi society,” the official says. “It was as if that stuff did not exist. Likewise, they did not think about Iraq in the context of the region. They viewed those things as distractions from their larger objectives. That is what was so frustrating about [Brent] Scowcroft (see October 2004) and others who spent a lifetime developing knowledge and expertise to examine the unintended consequences of various policies.” Scowcroft and other “realists” in the administration, most prominently Colin Powell, were derided, mocked, and ultimately driven out of the administration by the neoconservatives, to the detriment of the administration’s Iraq policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 305-306]
Ryan Crocker [Source: CBC]In preparation for his expected announcement of a new “surge” of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq (see January 10, 2007), President Bush puts together a new team of advisers and officials to oversee his administration’s Iraq policy. The new team includes:
Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad, the only Middle East native in a senior position in the administration, is the former ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq (see November 2003), a well-known neoconservative who formerly held a position with the oil corporation Unocal. He will replace interim ambassador John Bolton, an abrasive neoconservative who could never win confirmation in the post from the US Senate.
Ryan Crocker is the leading candidate to replace Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic, is currently the ambassador to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Negroponte, a controversial veteran of US foreign operations in Latin America and the Middle East, has also served as the US ambassador to Iraq. Rice is widely viewed as in dire need of a savvy, experienced deputy who can assist her both in handling the sprawling State Department bureaucracy, and focus her efforts to handle diplomatic efforts in the Middle East as well as in other regions.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who headed the National Security Agency under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will replace Negroponte as DNI.
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, will replace General John Abizaid as commander of the US forces in the Middle East. Abizaid has drawn media attention in recent months for his muted criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policies.
Army General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief military commander in Iraq. Petraeus once headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Like Abizaid, Casey has been skeptical about the need for more US forces in Iraq. [USA Today, 1/5/2007; CBS News, 1/5/2007]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Unocal, United Nations, William Fallon, Ryan C. Crocker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Casey, David Petraeus, John Negroponte, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush, Mike McConnell, Condoleezza Rice, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office. [Source: Yahya Ahmed / Associated Press]US forces carry out two raids inside Iraq, capturing five Iranians as well as a large amount of documentary and computer data. Both raids are inside the Kurdish city of Irbil. One raid is at the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used as a local headquarters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; according to Iranian sources, five US helicopters land on the roof of the office building around 4 a.m. local time, and US soldiers break down doors, snatch up the five Iranians, and take away boxes of documents and computer equipment. The second raid, at the Irbil airport, ends differently, with US troops finding themselves confronting unfriendly Kurdish troops. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, “A massacre was avoided at the last minute.” No Iranians are detained as part of the airport raid. The two raids are part of a new US intelligence and military operation launched in December 2006 against Iranians allegedly providing assistance to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents. Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which provides funding and military training to other Shi’ite revolutionary groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the primary target of the US offensive. “Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the headquarters of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq says in a prepared statement. The month before, two senior Iranians of al-Quds, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, were captured in similar raids (see December 21-29, 2006), and freed shortly thereafter. [Alalam News, 1/11/2007; Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Newswire, 1/12/2007] US officials dismiss the raids as “routine.” [Reuters, 1/11/2007] Months later, a Kurdish government official says that the real target of the raids was not the Iranian liaison officials, but commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were openly visiting Kurdish government officials. The commanders were not captured (see Early April, 2007). [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Rhetorical Escalation - Bush says that he has ordered US forces to “seek out and destroy the networks” arming and training US enemies, an indirect reference to Iran (see January 10, 2007). Joining Bush in the rhetorical escalation is General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charges that Iran is “complicit” in providing weapons designed to kill American troops: “We will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network regardless of where those people come from.” The Iranian Liaison Office was opened with the approval of the Iraqi Kurds, who maintain a near-autonomous region in northern Iraq with the support of the US. Iran wants to upgrade the office to a formal consulate. US forces did not inform their Iraqi allies of the raids on the office beforehand; the raids may well disrupt Kurdish and Iraqi government attempts to deepen ties with the Iranian government. “This is a very, very dangerous thing,” says Zebari. The Iranian government has protested the raids, and the capture of their five officials, through Iraqi and Swiss diplomats to the United Nations (Switzerland represents US interests in Iran). Tehran insists that all five captured Iranians are diplomats, a claim rejected by US and Iraqi officials. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007] The State Department will assert, without presenting proof, that the Iranians are part of a much larger effort by Iran to support the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Apparently the United States’ charges that the Iranians are not diplomats rest on a bureaucratic foible: the five Iranians had applied for diplomatic accreditation, but their paperwork had not been fully processed. The Kurdish government were treating them as if they were accredited. Iran insists that the five are legitimate diplomats regardless of paperwork, and that by capturing them, the US is violating the Vienna Conventions and other international diplomatic regulations. But the US routinely ignores such laws in both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing criticism from human rights organizations and legal experts around the globe. Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says, “The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’. They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot. The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/25/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007]
Eventual Release of Some Captives - Months later, the US will release some of the captured Iranians (see November 6-9, 2007).
Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, US Department of Defense, Peter Pace, US Department of State, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Mohsen Chirazi, Human Rights Watch, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Abu Amad Davari, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, John Sifton, Iranian Liaison Office, Hoshyar Zebari, United Nations
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Investigative reporter Robert Parry, writing for the progressive Web news outlet ConsortiumNews, notes that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage may be far more intimately involved with the 2003 White House attempt to besmirch the credibility of former ambassador Joseph Wilson than has been previously noted (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Armitage was the first administration official to expose former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to a reporter (see June 13, 2003), and later leaked it again (see July 8, 2003), that time to columnist Robert Novak, who exposed Plame Wilson in a July 2003 column (see July 14, 2003). Parry writes that conventional media wisdom paints Armitage as an outsider, not a member of the White House inner circle, and a skeptic about the Iraq war; therefore, the media argues, Armitage’s leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity were “inadvertent” and merely coincidental to the White House efforts to claim that former ambassador Joseph Wilson was sent to Africa (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) for partisan reasons by his wife. Parry notes that, as recently as September 2006, the Washington Post joined with conservative supporters of the Bush administration to claim that the White House did not intentionally “orchestrate” the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity (see Late August-Early September, 2006), and that Armitage had no connection with whatever efforts went on inside the White House to leak her identity. However, Parry notes, the mainstream media has consistently ignored the deep connections between Armitage and White House political savant Karl Rove, who many believe did orchestrate the Plame Wilson leak. According to Parry, “a well-placed conservative source… [a]n early supporter of George W. Bush who knew both Armitage and Rove… told me that Armitage and Rove were much closer than many Washington insiders knew.” Armitage and Rove became friends during the first weeks of the Bush administration’s first term, and they cooperated with one another to pass backchannel information between the White House and State Department. The source tells Parry that it is plausible to surmise that Armitage leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate reporters, not by accident, but in collusion with Rove’s strategy to besmirch Wilson by exposing his wife’s CIA identity. Novak printed his column outing Plame Wilson using two primary sources—Armitage and Rove (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). The source says that Novak’s initial claim of being given Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 21, 2003) suggests, in Parry’s words, “Armitage and Rove were collaborating on the anti-Wilson operation, not simply operating on parallel tracks without knowing what the other was doing.” The source finds the media’s assumption that Armitage “inadvertently” let Plame Wilson’s identity slip out, almost as gossip, amusing, and inaccurate. “Armitage isn’t a gossip, but he is a leaker,” the source says. “There’s a difference.” [Consortium News, 1/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard Armitage, Robert Parry, Washington Post, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: New York Times]Military and national security experts outside of the neoconservative orbit view the US occupation of Iraq as a calamity that actually increases the threat towards both Israel and the US. “[Bush’s wars] have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she’s been in since 1948,” says retired colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff in the State Department. “If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran’s No. 1 enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran’s No. 2 enemy.” The Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk adds, “Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant.” The Israeli hawks have decided that because of the disaster in Iraq, the only course left to protect itself against Iran is a military strike. “Attacking Iraq when it had no WMD may have been the wrong step,” says Uzi Arad, who advised former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on foreign affairs. “But then to ignore Iran would compound the disaster. Israel will be left alone, and American interests will be affected catastrophically.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
A Senate panel finds that billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted in reconstruction efforts throughout Iraq through fraud, corruption, incompetence, and outright theft. The panel, led by independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman and moderate Republican Susan Collins, say they are considering legislation to create a commission to help fix problems after investigators found confusion and disarray in the four-year-old Iraq reconstruction effort. Lieberman observes, "Where we’ve seen failure is when the US government failed to plan projects carefully and then failed to keep a close watch over contractors and now we’ve seen billions of dollars wasted—a cost measured not just in dollars but in the undermining of the overall US mission in these war-torn countries." Inspector General Stuart Bowen’s latest report on the occupation’s reconstruction efforts found that nearly $400 billion had either been wasted or simply disappeared, though Bowen’s report was careful not to make allegations of outright criminality. Bowen’s report primarily blames confusion, disarray, and incompetence in joint efforts between the rival Defense and State Departments. "Anyone who has spent appreciative time in the Iraq reconstructive effort understands the tension that exists between the two," Bowen says. Bowen’s latest report finds, among other things, that a Defense Department agency charged with running the reconstruction effort never developed a fully coordinated plan upon members’ arrival in 2003, leading to confusion and duplication of effort. "We were bumping into one another as we tried to solve the same problem,” a former agency official is quoted as saying. Money flowed to reconstruction projects before procedures, training and staffing were fully in place, resulting in a "lack of clearly defined authorities" and little accountability in terms of how dollars were being spent. There was little oversight to ensure that Iraqi companies hired to do reconstruction work operated according to international standards. Earlier this year, federal investigators determined that the Bush administration had squandered as much as $10 billion in reconstruction aid in part because of poor planning and contract oversight, resulting in contractor overcharges and unsupported expenses. [Associated Press, 3/22/2007]
Private contractors paid by US firms outnumber US troops in Iraq, according to newly released figures from the State and Defense departments. Over 180,000 civilians, including Americans, foreign citizens, and Iraqis, are working under US contracts in Iraq, compared to about 160,000 soldiers and several thousand civilian government employees stationed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq—a mission criticized as being undermanned.” The Brookings Institute’s Peter Singer says, “These numbers are big. They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It’s the coalition of the billing.” The numbers of contractors include:
43,000 foreign contractors;
about 118,000 Iraqis.
These numbers are not complete; private security contractors, hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey. According to some firms’ figures, about 30,000 security personnel work in Iraq, sometimes fighting alongside—or independent of—military forces. All these employees working for private contractors are paid with US tax dollars. Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting rather than on other tasks. “The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter,” says Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of defense who oversees contractors. “Fundamentally, they’re supporting the mission as required.” But some are critical, noting that the US government has relied far more heavily on contractors in the Iraq war than in any other conflict in American history. Critics note that troops and their missions can be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military’s command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire. Just such an occurrence happened in 2004, when US forces were forced to endure food rationing after delivery drivers refused to ferry supplies into a combat zone. And the government does not keep centralized track of the number or location of contractors operating in Iraq, though the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has recently bowed to pressure from Congress and begun a census of the number of contractors working on US and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water, and shelter is needed. The corporation with the single largest presence in Iraq is KBR, which was the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root until early 2007. KBR provides logistical support to US and Iraqi troops, and holds the single biggest contract in Iraq, employing nearly 14,000 US workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include L-3 Corporation, which provides translators to troops, and engineering firm ITT. The companies that have drawn the most attention are the private security firms such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Erinys. Military policy experts say these contractors’ jobs should be done by servicemen, and point out the number of times security forces have engaged in firefights with Iraqi insurgents. “We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” says William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon “is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that’s obscene.” Others point to the almost-complete lack of governmental accountability; the Times notes that “[a]lthough scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2004] (See July 3, 2007 and July 5, 2007.)
Entity Tags: USAID, US Department of Labor, William Nash, Triple Canopy, ITT Corporation, Halliburton, Inc., Gary Motsek, Erinys, Blackwater USA, Kellogg, Brown and Root, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, L-3, Peter Singer
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Tim Russert. [Source: Huffington Post]NBC political analyst and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert is interviewed by PBS’s Bill Moyers about the apparent self-censorship and cooperation of the news media with the Bush administration after 9/11 (see February 25, 2003, September 10, 2003, April 25, 2007, and April 25, 2007). Russert says that he realizes top-level government officials are usually not the best sources of objective information (see April 25, 2007). “Look, I’m a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work ‘em very hard. It’s the mid-level people that tell you the truth.… [T]hey’re working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and political officials.” Moyers responds, “But they don’t get on the Sunday talk shows” (such as Russert’s “Meet the Press”). Russert answers, “No. I mean, they don’t want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out sometimes their bosses and other public officials.” Moyers asks, “What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?” Russert’s answer is much less direct: “It’s important that you have an opposition party. That’s our system of government.” Moyers presses, “So, it’s not news unless there’s somebody…” and Russert interjects, “No, no, no. I didn’t say that. But it’s important to have an opposition party, your opposing views.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid writes an editorial in the Washington Post entitled, “America’s Bad Deal With Musharraf, Going Down in Flames.”
Cheney in Control - Rashid reveals, “Current and past US officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from [Dick] Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and refuses to brook any US criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.” The State Department seems acquiescent to this policy, and is refusing to even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted. But the CIA and Defense Department are more resistant, and worry about the lack of an alternative to fully supporting Musharraf. Officials in these agencies, “many of whom have served in Islamabad or Kabul, understand the double game that Musharraf has played—helping the United States go after al-Qaeda while letting his intelligence services help the Taliban claw their way back in Afghanistan.”
Lack of Expertise - Due to recent turnover, there has been a “dramatic drop-off in US expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in US history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office.” One former senior US diplomat says, “They know nothing of Pakistan.”
US Policy Making Matters Worse - Rashid concludes that instead of confronting the Islamist militant threat, the Pakistani army “has focused on keeping Musharraf in power—negotiating with extremists, letting radical Islamic students set up a base in Islamabad, and so forth. Meanwhile, to spook the West into continuing to support him, Musharraf continues to grossly exaggerate the strength of the Islamic parties that he warns might take over his nuclear-armed country. In fact, the United States would be far safer if it pushed for a truly representative Pakistani government that could marginalize the jihadists, rather than placing all its eggs in Musharraf’s basket.” He speculates that the US’s blind support of Musharraf allows Musharraf to continue to resist democratization and sharing power, exacerbating the crisis. “The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2007]
Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade bombed in Karachi. [Source: BBC]Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Earlier in the month she had made a deal with President Pervez Musharraf that gave her amnesty in return for not opposing Musharraf’s reelection vote (see October 4, 2007). Bhutto, Pakistan’s most popular opposition politician, is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds as she arrives in the city of Karachi. But as her motorcade is moving through the crowd at night, a suicide bomber approaches on foot and throws a grenade to attract attention. Then the bomber sets off a larger blast that kills at least 139 and injures around 400. Bhutto is not hurt, as she had just moved inside her vehicle from the roof moments before. CNN reporter Dan Rivers, filming the motorcade just before the attack, later comments on the lack of security. He says it was possible to walk right up to the side of her vehicle without being stopped. [CNN, 10/19/2007]
Bhutto Assigns Blame - The next day, Bhutto says, “I am not accusing the government [as a whole], but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers.… I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General [Muhammad Zia ul-Haq] who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism.” She has long accused the ISI of opposing her. Aides close to her say that she specifically names Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official linked to Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002) and the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another Pakistani intelligence agency. She also says that an unnamed “brotherly country” had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her, including squads from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. She says this government gave the Pakistani government the phone numbers the plotters were using, but implies investigators did not take advantage of the lead. She further says the street lamps had been turned off along the motorcade route, making it difficult for her security detail to scan the crowd for possible bombers, and demands an investigation into this. [New York Times, 10/20/2007]
Others Assign Blame - Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is more direct, saying, “I blame the government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” The government by contrast complains that the security situation was extremely difficult. She was taking a big risk, moving though crowds of hundreds of thousands in a notoriously violent city of 16 million people. [Australian, 10/20/2007] The US by contrast, quickly blames al-Qaeda. Only one day after the bombing, US State Department officials say they believe there is a “strong al-Qaeda connection” and that it “bears the hallmarks” of an al-Qaeda attack. [CNN, 10/20/2007]
While President Bush takes something of the high road (see December 5, 2007) in reacting to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), neoconservatives and other right-wing figures throw an entire array of accusations—some directed at Democrats, some at the State Department officials who compiled the report, and some at the US intelligence community itself, in an attempt to discredit the report (see December 3, 2007, December 3, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4-6, 2007, December 5, 2007, and December 6, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007]
Joining the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page questions the motives of the three former State Department officials who helped compile the NIE, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepin, and Kenneth Brill. The Journal writes, “Our own ‘confidence’ is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” [Fox News, 12/6/2007] Former UN ambassador and influential neoconservative John Bolton agrees. Bolton, who has already accused the intelligence community of deliberately politicizing its report (see December 4, 2007), tells a reporter: “I would also say many of the people who wrote this are former State Department employees who, during their career at the State Department, never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as members of the intelligence community, the same opinions that they have had four and five years ago.” [CNN, 12/4/2007]
Fred Kaplan. [Source: ForeignAffairs.com]Both Vice-President Dick Cheney and Slate’s Fred Kaplan back the accuracy of the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that says Iran’s nuclear program ended in 2003 (see December 3-6, 2007 and December 7, 2007). Cheney is asked by a reporter from the online news magazine The Politico, “[D]o you believe the new [NIE] that’s out—or is there a reason to question those conclusions?” Cheney replies: “I don’t have any reason to question the—what the community has produced, with respect to the NIE on Iran. Now, there are things they don’t know. There are always—there’s always the possibility that the circumstances will change. But I think they’ve done the best job they can with the intelligence that’s available to give us their best judgment on those issues.” [White House, 12/6/2007] Kaplan refutes a claim that three State Department officials, at least one hostile to Bush, wrote the NIE, saying: “[T]he NIE is not ‘a team of three in the State Department.’ It’s the product of all 16 US intelligence agencies. From all accounts, this was a very elaborate process involving thousands of new pieces of information, including intercepts, human intelligence, and so forth. It also seems to have been scrubbed meticulously, subjected to ‘red team’ exercises—the works.” [Slate, 12/6/2007]
Thomas Fingar. [Source: Office of Personnel Management]Some Bush administration members and supporters accuse three former State Department officials of deliberately writing the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) (see December 3, 2007) in an inaccurate and partisan manner. The three former State Department officials are Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All three currently work at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill helped compile the information in the NIE, and helped write the final draft, but none of them actually produced or analyzed the intelligence used in the report. A spokesman for Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says that intelligence reports such as the recent Iran NIE are “becoming very politicized.” David Wurmser, the former chief Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, says, “One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on.” The officials say that when the three DNI officials worked in the State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, they supported Powell’s belief that diplomacy, not confrontation and belligerence, would best address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. On the other side was then-Undersecretary John Bolton, who, like his fellow neoconservatives in the White House, believed that the only way to handle Iran’s nuclear threat was by confrontation. Unnamed officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of trying to “torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.” The officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of working to block economic and military sanctions against Iran and “sabotag[ing]” the administration’s attempt to pressure foreign allies to impose sanctions. The three former State officials were brought to the DNI by then-director John Negroponte, considered a strong Powell ally. Van Diepen is particular criticized and accused of having a personal animosity towards Bolton, and of opposing anything towards Iran except what they call “tea-cup diplomacy.” Brill is accused of being “extremely close” to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an agency which these officials view as an Iran apologist. [Washington Times, 12/7/2007] The anonymous officials’ charges are refuted by, among others, Vice President Dick Cheney (see December 6, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Negroponte, George W. Bush, David Wurmser, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), John Ensign, Vann Van Diepen, Mohamed ElBaradei, Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah (see July 1, 2000), receives a posting at the State Department in Washington. She takes up the position of a desk officer at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, where she is responsible for the West Bank and Gaza. [AFSA News, 1/2008 ]
Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah (see July 1, 2000), becomes a board member of the American Foreign Service Association. [AFSA News, 1/2008 ] According to its Web site, the association has 15,000 dues-paying members who work abroad, mostly for the State Department, and its principal mission is to protect their interests and enhance the effectiveness of the US’s Foreign Service. [American Foreign Service Association, 4/17/2010] Steinger is currently a desk officer at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs (see Before January 2008). Also appointed to the board at this time are former Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who hampered the FBI’s investigation into the USS Cole bombing in 2000 (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and Anne Aguilera, a consular officer who has served in Iraq. [AFSA News, 1/2008 ]
The Sunday Times runs a series of articles about FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, detailing allegations made by Edmonds about Turkish and US involvement in the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, as well as money laundering, drugs, and conventional weapons. Some allegations made by Edmonds were previously discussed in the press, but many remained secret; she divulges more to Sunday Times now because, after having unsuccessfully attempted to pursue her case through the courts and Congress, she has become “disillusioned with the US authorities’ failure to act.”
Allegations against State Department and Pentagon Officials - The allegations center on an unnamed former high-ranking State Department official, who is said to have received money from Turkish nuclear smugglers, and on other household names who served at the Pentagon. Edmonds says, “He [the State Department official] was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.” She adds, “If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials.” The former State Department official says: “If you are calling me to say somebody said that I took money, that’s outrageous… I do not have anything to say about such stupid ridiculous things as this.”
"Overlapping Corroboration" - The Sunday Times says that it spoke to two FBI agents and two CIA officers who worked on nuclear proliferation while researching the story, and, “While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.” One of the CIA sources confirms that Turkey did acquire nuclear secrets from the US and shared them with Pakistan and Israel, saying: “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s.” [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/20/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]
Official Said to be Marc Grossman - The high-ranking State Department official who is not named in the Sunday Times articles, possibly due to libel law considerations, is said to be Marc Grossman by both Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story and former CIA officer Phillip Giraldi, writing in the American Conservative. [Raw Story, 1/20/2008; American Conservative, 1/28/2008]
Manuel Miranda. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Departing State Deartment employee Manuel Miranda, a longtime Republican operative in the Office of Legislative Statecraft who has served in the US Embassy in Baghdad for the last year, writes a memo to US Ambassador Ryan Crocker saying that the State Department’s efforts in Iraq are so poorly managed they “would be considered willfully negligent if not criminal” if done in the private sector. “We have brought to Iraq the worst of America—our bureaucrats,” Miranda writes in the memo, which is cc’d to “ALCON” or “all concerned” at the State Department. “You are doing a job for which you are not prepared as a bureaucracy or as leaders. The American and Iraqi people deserve better.” The US will never win the confidence of the Iraqi people as long as the State Department and the Foreign Service are in control, Miranda writes. Their members are hard-working and willing, he observes, but in his judgment are ill-prepared and incompetent. Instead of a streamlined, efficient management team, Miranda says, the occupation’s civilian governance has been little more than a never-ending battle for bureaucratic control between different agencies and different factions within the same department. He accuses the Foreign Service of suffering from “attention deficit disorder.” “Any American graduate-school study group could do better,” he avers. The State Department responds: “We think Ambassador Crocker and his team are doing a very good job under extremely challenging circumstances. We have great confidence in their ability to carry out their mission.” Miranda is a former legal counsel for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and was involved in a controversy after he hacked into Senate Democrats’ Capitol Hill computer system, stole a private political strategy memo, and leaked it to the press. [ABC News, 2/8/2008; Miranda, 2/8/2008 ]
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]
After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008; BBC, 3/21/2008] It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for information about the recently announced, unauthorized access to Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files (see March 20, 2008). Waxman also asks that the State Department make the information public. In a letter to Rice, Waxman asks for the names of the two State Department contractors who broke into Obama’s files. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008; Henry A. Waxman, 3/21/2008 ] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the State Department will make results of its internal investigation available to congressional oversight committees and to Obama’s office. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008]
The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/21/2008] Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
A typical US passport. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Jaikumar Vijayan explores the kind of information contained in passport files, in the wake of reports that Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama’s passport files were repeatedly breached (see March 20, 2008). All passport records are maintained in a classified records system in the State Department’s Passport Services annex in Washington, DC.
Extent of Information - Passport files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and contain all the information supplied on passport applications, including Social Security numbers, date and place of birth, family status, occupation, and physical characteristics. They do not, as has been widely reported, contain evidence of travel such as exit and entrance stamps, visas, or residence permits. The files also include investigative reports compiled as a part of the granting or denial of a passport, criminal records related to passports, court documents and administrative determinations related to passports and citizenship, copies of birth and baptismal certificates, medical, personal, and financial reports, and details of arrest warrants that may have been issued.
Origin of Information - The information comes from the applicants themselves as well as law enforcement agencies, investigative and intelligence sources, and officials of foreign governments.
Access to Information - The information is used not only by the State Department, the IRS, foreign governments, federal, state, and local authorities, attorneys representing a client in a passport case, and in some instances, members of Congress. Only State Department employees (or their contractors) who have valid identification cards and who have passed background checks may access the passport information database, and then only with passwords issued to them by their supervisors.
Access Logged - All access to the database is logged in a computer system, and potentially unauthorized or inappropriate access is flagged and brought to the attention of a supervisor. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008]
Stanley, Inc logo. [Source: Stanley, Inc.]Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. [NBC News, 3/21/2008; CNN, 3/22/2008]
The New York Times reports that US intelligence agencies have concluded that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped plan the July 7, 2008, bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The attack was initially blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants, and 54 people were killed (see July 7, 2008). It is said US intelligence intercepted communications between ISI officers and militants who took part in the attack. The communications were intercepted before the bombing, but apparently were not specific enough to stop the attack. Anonymous US officials would not specifically tell the Times what kind of assistance the ISI gave the bombers. However, it was noted that the ISI officers involved were not renegades, suggesting their actions could have been authorized by superiors. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] The US also claims to have arrested an ISI officer inside Afghanistan, apparently for a role in the attack, but who this person is and what their role exactly allegedly was remains unclear. India and Pakistan have been traditional enemies, and Pakistan is concerned about India’s influence in Afghanistan. Many Western intelligence officials have long suspected that the ISI gets aid from the US and its allies and then uses this support to help the militants the US is fighting. However, solid proof has been hard to find. However, one British official tells the London Times, “The Indian embassy bombing seems to have finally provided it. This is the smoking gun we’ve all been looking for.” [London Times, 8/3/2008] One State Department official similarly says of the bombing evidence, “It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held. It was sort of this ‘a-ha’ moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof.” US officials believe that the embassy bombing was probably carried out by members of a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who in turn has close alliances with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. US officials also say there is new evidence that ISI officials are increasingly providing militants with details about the US military campaign against them. In some cases, this has allowed militants to avoid US missile strikes in Pakistan. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] Several days before these accusations against the ISI were leaked to the press, British and US officials privately confronted Pakistani officials about the charges. President Bush even directly threatened Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack were linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, asked if waterboarding is torture, replies, “Absolutely.” Armitage’s interview is broadcast as part of the WNET documentary Torturing Democracy. Armitage, who graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1967 and served in Vietnam, was waterboarded as part of his Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which was later used as a platform for developing the Bush administration’s torture policies (see December 2001 and January 2002 and After). He describes his own waterboarding, with physical gestures: “I was put on an incline. My legs were like that and my back went down. I can’t remember if it was a wet T-shirt or a wet towel was put over my nose and mouth, and it was completely soaked. But I could still breathe. And then a question would be asked and I would not answer, and water would slowly be poured in this. And the next time I took a breath, I’d be drawing in water, whether I took it from my mouth or my nose. For me, it was simply a feeling of helplessness.” The interviewer observes: “I’ve talked to a former SERE instructor who was also waterboarded, and he said there’s nothing simulated about it. You think you are drowning.” Armitage replies: “Except in the case that I did realize I was in Northern California, and I did realize the people doing this were actually on my side. But the sensation to me was one of total helplessness, and I’ve had a lot of sensations in my life, but helplessness was not generally one of them. But the sensation was enormously unpleasant and frightening to me.” Would he describe it as torture? Armitage is asked. “Absolutely,” he responds. “No question.” The interviewer then asks, “So how do you explain the recent indecision over whether or not waterboarding is torture?” Armitage responds: “I cannot believe that my nation is having a discussion on what is torture. There is no question in my mind—there’s no question in any reasonable human being, there shouldn’t be, that this is torture. I’m ashamed that we’re even having this discussion.” Armitage says the State Department was deliberately left out of the Bush administration discussions of torture, “I think precisely because we’d have no part of it.” As for the discussions among White House and Justice Department officials over what did and did not constitute torture, Armitage says: “Well, if you were twisting yourselves into knots because you’re fearful that you may be avoiding some war crimes, then you’re probably tripping too closely to the edge. The fact that you want to have a discussion about how to avoid being accused of war crimes would indicate that you’re pretty close to the edge to me.” [National Security Archives, 1/21/2009]
Media critic and columnist George Neumayr writes that the Democrats’ economic stimulus plan will include enforced abortions and euthanasia for less productive citizens. Neumayr calls this claim a once “astonishingly chilly and incomprehensible stretch [that] is now blandly stated liberal policy,” basing it on the Democrats’ plan to provide money to the states for “family planning.” Neumayr equates the funding, which would go for such initiatives as teaching teenagers about the use of condoms and measures to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, to the famous Jonathan Swift essay of 1729, “A Modest Proposal,” which satirically suggested that impoverished Irish families might sell their children to rich Englishmen for food. “Change a few of the words and it could be a Democratic Party policy paper,” Neumayr writes. “Swift suggested that 18th-century Ireland stimulate its economy by turning children into food for the wealthy. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] proposes stimulating the US economy by eliminating them. Other slumping countries, such as Russia and France, pay parents to have children; it looks like Obama’s America will pay parents to contracept or kill them. Perhaps the Freedom of Choice Act can also fall under the Pelosi ‘stimulus’ rationale. Why not? An America of shovels and scalpels will barrel into the future. Euthanasia is another shovel-ready job for Pelosi to assign to the states. Reducing health care costs under Obama’s plan, after all, counts as economic stimulus too. Controlling life, controlling death, controlling costs. It’s all stimulus in the Brave New World utopia to come.” Like a Washington Times editorial from months earlier (see November 23, 2008), Neumayr uses the term “final solution” for the Democrats’ economic proposal, the term for the Nazis’ World War II-era extermination of millions of Jews and other “undesirables.” He writes: “‘Unwanted’ children are immediately seen as an unspeakable burden. Pregnancy is a punishment, and fertility is little more than a disease. Pelosi’s gaffe illustrates the extent to which eugenics and economics merge in the liberal utilitarian mind.” “Malthus lives,” he says, referring to the 19th century scholar Thomas Robert Malthus, whose theories of ruthless natural selection predated Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Neumayr goes on to accuse “Hillary Clinton’s State Department” of preparing to set up programs of “people-elimination,” predicated on what he calls “UN-style population control ideology” and “third-world abortions.” [American Spectator, 1/27/2009]
The Iraqi government informs the US Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s main security company. In effect, the decision forces Blackwater to cease operations within Iraq. Many Blackwater employees are accused of using excessive force while protecting US diplomats and State Department personnel. Those Blackwater employees not accused of improper conduct may continue working as private security contractors in Iraq, as long as they quit Blackwater and begin working for other firms. Blackwater must leave Iraq as soon as a joint US-Iraqi committee finalizes guidelines for the conduct and liability of private contractors under the new security agreement between the two countries. Under earlier agreements, Blackwater and other US contractors have been entirely immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says, “When the work of this committee ends,” private security companies “will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don’t have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately.” US State Department spokesman Noel Clay says the department’s contractors will obey Iraqi law: “We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel.” A Blackwater spokeswoman says her firm is unaware of the Iraqi government’s decision. The Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq in September 2007 and threatened to expel the firm’s employees, but US officials ignored the order and renewed the company’s contract. Blackwater contractors have been involved in around 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, many involving Iraqi civilians. Five Blackwater contractors face manslaughter charges for killing 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007, the incident that prompted the Interior Ministry to try to expel the firm from the country. The widow of one of the 17 civilians, Umm Tahsin, says of Blackwater: “Those people are a group of criminals. What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family.” [Washington Post, 1/28/2009]
The US State Department cancels the official diplomatic passport of Sabina De Sousa, a CIA officer who helped prepare the rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) in 2003. De Sousa was working under State Department cover at the time. The move is the result of De Sousa being named as a CIA officer in an Italian trial against her and dozens of others involved in the abduction. Reporter Jeff Stein will say that the cancellation is a “professional death knell” for De Sousa, as she cannot get another position abroad without it, and that it leaves her “even more vulnerable to arrest and extradition by Italian authorities should she travel abroad.” In addition, the State Department tells De Sousa she cannot travel to India to visit her sick mother, and that she will be dismissed if she does. De Sousa quits her job in response. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/15/2009]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. [Washington Post, 2/15/2009] Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. [Hankyoreh, 2/16/2009]
For the first time in 30 years, an Iranian diplomat meets for informal discussions with officials from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Senior NATO negotiator Martin Erdmann will later confirm that he has met with Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, Ali-Asghar Khaji. “This is another good step in engaging Iran in the international community,” Erdmann will say. NATO will confirm the discussion, and will say the main focus of the talks is the situation in Afghanistan. Iran will confirm its planned participation in US-backed talks on Afghanistan to take place at The Hague. NATO spokesman James Appathurai will say of Iran’s participation in those talks, “The fact that Iran has decided to go is good news and constitutes a new step.” The US State Department will welcome Iran’s contacts with NATO. The Iranian contact follows a recent message sent by President Obama to the government and people of Iran (see March 19, 2009). [BBC, 3/27/2009]
Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff and now chairs the New America Foundation/US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative, writes an op-ed titled “Some Truths about Guantanamo Bay” for the Washington Note. Wilkerson explains why he believes so many people were captured and so many of those were tortured, for so little gain, and in the process covers several other issues regarding the Bush administration.
Handling of Terror Suspects - Wilkerson writes that the entire process of capturing, detaining, and processing suspected Islamist militants was marked by incompetence and a casual, improvisational approach. Most of the “suspects” captured during the first weeks and months of the Afghanistan invasion (see October 7, 2001) were merely picked up in sweeps, or bought from corrupt regional warlords, and transported wholesale to a variety of US bases and military camps, and then sent to Guantanamo, mostly in response to then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s exhortation to “just get the b_stards to the interrogators.” Wilkerson blames the civilian leadership, for failing to provide the necessary information and guidance to make sensible, informed decisions about who should and should not have been considered either terror suspects or potential sources of information. When detainees were found not to have had any ties to Islamist radical groups, nor had any real intelligence value, they were kept at Guantanamo instead of being released. Wilkerson writes that “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough.… They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.” He writes that State Department attempts to rectify the situation “from almost day one” experienced almost no success.
Data Mining Called for Large Numbers of Detainees - Wilkerson notes what he calls “ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people,” a data mining concept called in the White House “the mosaic philosophy.” He explains: “Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified. Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.” Unfortunately for this data mining effort, the gathering, cataloging, and maintenance of such information was carried out with what he calls “sheer incompetence,” rendering the information structure virtually useless either for intelligence or in prosecuting terror suspects.
No Information of Value Gained from Guantanamo Detainees - And, Wilkerson adds, he is not aware of any information gathered from Guantanamo detainees that made any real contribution to the US’s efforts to combat terrorism: “This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric—continuing even now in the case of Cheney—about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation, and for secret prisons and places such as Gitmo.”
Hindrance to Prosecution - This incompetence in gathering and storing information had a powerful impact on the ability of the US to prosecute the two dozen or so detainees who actually might be what Wilkerson calls “hardcore terrorists.” For these and the other detainees, he writes, “there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand” (see January 20, 2009).
Shutting Down Guantanamo - Wilkerson writes that the Guantanamo detention facility could be shut down much sooner than President Obama’s promised year (see January 22, 2009), and notes he believes a plan for shutting down the facility must have existed “[a]s early as 2004 and certainly in 2005.”
War on Terror Almost Entirely Political - Wilkerson charges that the Bush administration’s driving rationale behind the “never-ending war on terror” was political: “For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years,” he writes in an op-ed about the US’s detention policies. “Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.”
Cheney's Criticisms of Obama 'Twisted ... Fear-Mongering' - Wilkerson excoriates former Vice President Dick Cheney for his recent statements regarding President Obama and the “war on terror” (see February 4, 2009). Instead of helping the US in its fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, Wilkerson writes, Cheney is making that fight all the more difficult (see February 5, 2009). “Al-Qaeda has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks. But al-Qaeda will be back. Iraq, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased US support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qaeda’s resilience, staying power, and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.” [Washington Note, 3/17/2009]
The US places a $5 million bounty on the head of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani has been slowly taking over leadership of the Haqqani network from his aging father Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban and is based in Pakistan. The US State Department announcement of the bounty claims that Sirajuddin Haqqani “maintains close ties to al-Qaeda,” and it further claims that he admitted planning a January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including a US citizen (see January 14, 2008), and he also admitted planning the April 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). [US Department of State, 3/25/2009] However, the US has yet to officially blacklist the Haqqani network itself. Nor has the US put a bounty on Jalaluddin Haqqani, even though he continues to lead the network with Sirajuddin. US intelligence believes the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has long-standing links to the Haqqani network, and to Jalaluddin Haqqani in particular (see July 28, 2008).
The New York Post publishes an article headlined “Scary! Obama nominee wants one world order.” The article, by Post reporter Meghan Clyne, attacks President Obama’s nomination of Yale Law School dean Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department. Clyne says Koh is a “fan of ‘transnational legal process,’ arguing that the distinctions between US and international law should vanish.” She says that according to Koh’s views, judges should put aside the Constitution in favor of “legal ‘norms’” from other nations’ laws. “Sharia law could apply to disputes in US courts,” she writes. “The United States constitutes an ‘axis of disobedience’ along with North Korea and Saddam-era Iraq.” The newly launched Fox Nation, the blog for Fox News, links to the article, which disappears from the Post’s Web archive shortly thereafter. [Fox Nation, 3/31/2009; Media Matters, 4/10/2009] An extraordinarily racist conservative blog, Chimpout, hosts a forum discussion of the article under the heading “Osambo picks another douche bag for his cabinet.” The forum’s thread is part of a larger discussion section entitled “N_gger College” and a subsection entitled “F_cked Up Facts about First Monkey,” an apparent reference to Obama. Commenters immediately begin launching “birther”-styled accusations of Obama being an illegal president because of his “Kenyan birth” (see October 8, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, and August 4, 2009), and say Obama should be relegated to “picking cotton.” [Chimpout, 3/31/2009] Days later, Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, conservative editor Cliff Kincaid, and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum will join in attacking Koh (see April 1, 2009, April 6, 2009, and April 9, 2009).
Entity Tags: Glenn Beck, Chimpout (.com), Barack Obama, Fox Nation, US Department of State, Obama administration, Harold Koh, Rick Santorum, New York Post, Meghan Clyne, Cliff Kincaid
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Fox News host Glenn Beck, speaking on his daily radio show, lambasts President Obama’s nomination of Yale Law School dean Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department. Beck says Koh “believes in internationalism. He believes that we should not have a Constitution, that the Constitution is trumped by international law.” Beck later says: “[T]he idea is, have our courts answer to international law. Forget about the Constitution. Forget about your sovereignty.” [Media Matters, 4/10/2009] Days later, conservative editor Cliff Kincaid and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum will join Beck in attacking Koh (see April 6, 2009 and April 9, 2009).
Cliff Kincaid, the editor of the conservative Accuracy in Media, accuses President Obama of seeking to appoint an advocate of the “new world order” to the State Department. Kincaid is referring to Obama’s nomination of Yale Law School dean Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department. Kincaid says Koh’s nomination “is beyond worrisome. This is terrifying that—the thought of this kind of guy with these views becoming the top lawyer at the State Department. But seen in the light of the some of the other appointments Obama has made, it’s consistent with his push, which is now out in the open, for the US to become really subsumed into this, quote, ‘new world order’ that everybody keeps talking about, in which our sovereignty has been sacrificed for the, quote, ‘greater good.’” Kincaid is harking back to claims made in the ‘90s and later by extremist militia groups, which warned that the US government intended to implement a “new world order” (see September 11, 1990) of a one-world government that would result in the confiscation of Americans’ guns, and a general replacement of democracy for tyranny (see 1994, January 1994, February 1995, July 4-11, 1997, October 20, 1999, April 14-15, 2009, January 21, 2010, and October 11, 2010). [Media Matters, 4/10/2009] Three days later, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) will say that Obama’s nomination of the “internationalist” Koh shows that Obama is “contemptuous of American values” (see April 9, 2009).
Former Republican senator Rick Santorum writes in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer that President Obama is “contemptuous of American values.” Santorum, now a columnist for the Inquirer, ties his comments to the pending nomination of Harold Koh to become the State Department’s lead counsel. Santorum and other far-right conservatives oppose Koh, a former Yale Law School dean, because of his “internationalist” views. Obama’s nomination of Koh for the State Department, and Obama’s recent supposed “apology for American arrogance” to European audiences, “helped convince me that [Obama] has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions,” Santorum writes. Santorum opposes Koh’s view that the US must become part of the international legal community, and instead insists that the US hold itself apart from international law, a position Santorum shares with the former Bush administration. “Koh’s ‘transnationalism’ stands in contrast to good, old-fashioned notions of national sovereignty, in which our Constitution is the highest law of the land,” Santorum writes. “In the traditional view, controversial matters, whatever they may be, are subject to democratic debate here. They should be resolved by the American people and their representatives, not ‘internationalized.’ What Holland or Belgium or Kenya or any other nation or coalition of nations thinks has no bearing on our exercise of executive, legislative, or judicial power. Koh disagrees. He would decide such matters based on the views of other countries or transnational organizations—or, rather, those entities’ elites.” Koh supports the International Criminal Court, which Santorum views as an objectionable intrusion upon American sovereignty. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/9/2009] Santorum is echoing recent arguments by Fox News host Glenn Beck (see April 1, 2009) and Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid (see April 6, 2009).
Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide. [Source: Public domain]Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” [Nation, 8/20/2009] The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009] Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Entity Tags: Obama administration, Total Intelligence Solutions, New York Times, Paul Gimigliano, Peter Hoekstra, Robert Richer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Leon Panetta, Ray McGovern, Jeremy Scahill, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan Schakowsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Blackwater USA, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Cofer Black, Enrique (“Ric”) Prado, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Rice, Erik Prince, Jeffrey H. Smith, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The Obama administration says it intends to continue the Bush administration policy of extraordinary rendition. The announcement comes from President Obama’s Interrogation and Transfer Policy Task Force, and is apparently intended to help offset the impact of the release of a long-withheld report by the CIA inspector general that provides new details about the brutal tactics used by the CIA in interrogating terrorism detainees (see August 24, 2009). As a candidate for the presidency, Obama had signaled that he would discontinue the practice. In a 2007 article for the magazine Foreign Affairs, he said the US must end “the practices of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.” One of Obama’s first actions as president was to order the closure of secret CIA prisons (see January 22, 2009). Senior Obama advisers say this administration’s rendition policy is different from the Bush administration’s because the State Department will have a larger role in assuring that transferred prisoners will not be abused. “The emphasis will be on ensuring that individuals will not face torture if they are sent overseas,” one administration official says, and adds that detainees will not be sent to countries known to conduct abusive interrogations. Nevertheless, the decision is sharply criticized by human rights advocacy groups, who say that the administration will continue to send prisoners to countries that torture, and so-called “diplomatic reassurances” from those countries are meaningless. “It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” says the American Civil Liberties Union’s Amrit Singh. Singh cites the case of detainee Maher Arar (see October 7, 2002), who was renditioned to Syria and tortured even though Syrian officials assured Bush administration officials that they would not use such techniques against him. Singh also notes that the previously used method of ensuring compliance—monitoring via visits from Americans or allied consular officials—has proven entirely ineffective. For example, Arar was visited several times by a Canadian consular official, but was too frightened to tell the official that he was being abused. Some human rights advocates believe that Obama is continuing the rendition policy in order to avoid having to admit Guantanamo detainees to US prisons after that facility is closed. [New York Times, 8/25/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, top US diplomat for East Asia, says the Obama administration believes that policy continuity is critical in preserving ties with Japan’s new government, which desires more equitable relations with the US. According to Campbell, both countries have agreed to close and replace Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base, the hub of airpower in the Pacific. The two countries have agreed to relocate Kadena on the overpopulated southern Japanese island of Okinawa, but Okinawa citizens would like the base completely removed from their homeland. The removal of Kadena Air Base is also supported by government members of brand new Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has expressed a desire to review US military presence in Japan, although the prime minister has carefully emphasized that the US, Japan’s major military ally and trading partner, shall remain the keystone of Japan’s foreign policy. Just recently, Campbell returned from Tokyo where he met with the new government. “The Obama administration will be very clear about how important it is to respect each other as equals, although we support a strong and independent Japanese foreign policy. As an alliance partner and a strong friend of Japan, at this early stage, we cannot be in a position to dictate,” he said, adding that, “In private, we will, however, underscore areas where we think continuity in policy is important.” The new Japanese government also would like to end its country’s Indian Ocean naval refueling operation in support of US and coalition forces in Afghanistan, although the US says it would like Japan to continue cooperating. [Taragana, 9/21/2009; Associated Press, 9/21/2009]
Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah (see July 1, 2000), serves as the political officer at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The date of her appointment is not known, but she is listed as the political officer there in a State Department telephone directory published in early December. [US Department of State, 12/2/2009]
Testimony by Patrick F. Kennedy, an under secretary for management at the State Department, before the House Committee on Homeland Security confirms that US intelligence officials prevented the State Department from revoking the US visa of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The 23-year-old Nigerian student, whom US intelligence believed was working with the Yemeni arm of al-Qaeda, attempted to set off a bomb on Northwest Flight 253 into Detroit on December 25, 2009 (see December 25, 2009). Kennedy informs the committee’s chairman, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS): “We will revoke the visa of any individual who is a threat to the United States, but we do take one preliminary step. We ask our law enforcement and intelligence community partners, ‘Do you have eyes on this person and do you want us to let this person proceed under your surveillance so that you may potentially break a larger plot?’ And one of the members—and we’d be glad to give you that out of—in private—said: ‘Please do not revoke this visa. We have eyes on this person. We are following this person who has the visa for the purpose of trying to roll up an entire network, not just stop one person.’” With the exception of a story appearing in the Detroit News, this revelation will go unreported in mainstream news media outlets. [US Congress. House. Committee on Homeland Security, 1/27/2010; Detroit News, 1/27/2010]
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). [Daily Telegraph, 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. [MSNBC, 2/2/2011]
The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, examines a claim being promulgated in a recent series of chain emails. The emails claim that President Obama has the ability, under the newly passed health care reform legislation, to create his own “private army” of 6,000 soldiers. The email states in part: “Obama Just Got His Private Army. Were you aware of the fact that the health care bill created a civilian army? A Ready Reserve Corps for service in time of national emergency. All commissioned officers shall be citizens of the United States and shall be appointed without regard to the civil-service laws (which means they will not be sworn to uphold the Constitution) and compensated without regard to the Classification Act 2 of 1923, as amended. Remember when Obama said he wanted a ‘national security force’? Not the national guard, but a civilian one that has not sworn to uphold the Constitution?” The email references then-presidential candidate Obama’s July 2008 speech, where he advocated the creation of “a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded” as the US military. Obama was talking about strengthening organizations such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, the USA Freedom Corps, and the State Department’s foreign service arm. (Republican lawmakers such as Michele Bachmann have accused Obama of wanting to turn Americorps into “re-education camps” designed to brainwash American children—see March 31, 2009). Since then, some have insisted that Obama wants to create a privately operated “national security force” answerable only to himself. They believe that Section 5210 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul recently signed into law, gives Obama just such power. The US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps now has the power to create and eventually deploy a “Ready Reserve Corps,” under the control of the surgeon general and designed specifically to help the Public Health Service (PHS) respond quickly and effectively to emergencies such as natural disasters. The Commissioned Corps has integrated the former, quite small reserve corps into itself, expanding its numbers to some 6,600 personnel—mostly doctors, nurses, scientists, and medical professionals. The new Ready Reserve is intended to augment the Commissioned Corp when the government sends response teams to offer assistance in areas that are stricken by natural disasters such as floods or hurricanes, or in the case of sudden pandemic outbreaks of dangerous diseases such as H1N1. The Reserve Corps is still being formulated, but PHS officials anticipate the number of Reserve Corps members as being in the neighborhood of several thousand. Most will be public health professionals. Jerry Farrell, executive director of the Commissioned Officers Association, says that the Ready Reserve can help the PHS avoid situations such as what happened after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, when so many members of the regular and reserve corps were dispatched to New Orleans and other areas hit by the hurricane that “the corps discovered, for instance, that they had deployed a whole surgical clinic of the Indian Health Service.” FactCheck concludes “there is absolutely no support for this chain email’s speculation that uniformed members of the Public Health Service would be ordered to give ‘lethal injections’ (a.k.a. vaccinations) to ‘unworthy people.’” [FactCheck (.org), 4/7/2010]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urges the US State Department to blacklist the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban) and the Haqqani network, but this does not happen. Both the Tehrik-i-Taliban and the Haqqani network are militant groups closely linked with the Taliban, but are mainly based in Pakistan. Feinstein, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, claims that the US blacklists foreign groups that engage in terrorism and threaten US citizens and US national security, and both groups “clearly meet” the criteria to be blacklisted. Agence France-Presse reports that the US “has hesitated” to blacklist these groups “in part out of consideration for relations with Pakistan, where anti-Americanism runs rife and whose government is keen to be seen as fighting the Taliban on its own terms.” The Haqqani network is believed to have taken part in a number of terrorist attacks (see January 14, 2008, April 27, 2008, July 7, 2008, December 30, 2009), and in 2009, the US put a $5 million bounty on leader Sirajuddin Haqqani (see March 25, 2009). The Haqqani network is also believed to be a strategic asset of the Pakistani government (see May 2008). Tehrik-i-Taliban was recently implicated in a failed bombing in Times Square in New York City. [Agence France-Presse, 5/13/2010]
A chain email circulating on the Internet claims that because Barack Obama went to Pakistan in 1981, he cannot be a US citizen. The argument, according to the email, is: “Pakistan was on the US State Department’s ‘no travel’ list in 1981. [Therefore,] when Obama went to Pakistan in 1981 he was traveling either with a British passport or an Indonesian passport.” Had Pakistan actually been on the “no travel” list in 1981, Obama would have had to either travel there illegally, or use the passport of a foreign national. PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, investigates the claim. It is true that Obama went to Pakistan in 1981, during a summer vacation; he went to Indonesia to visit his mother and then to Pakistan with a college friend. But in 1981, according to the State Department, Pakistan was perfectly accessible to US citizens. State Department public affairs officer Ivna Giauque says, “According to our Pakistan experts, there was no travel ban to Pakistan in 1981.” PolitiFact notes that in August 1981, the State Department issued a “travel advisory” for Pakistan, but that would not have precluded any American from visiting Pakistan had he or she chosen to do so. In August 1981, the US consul general in Lahore wrote a letter to the New York Times encouraging Americans to visit the country. And a March 1981 New York Times featured an advertisement listing Karachi and Lahore as two destinations in their travel package. PolitiFact concludes that in the case of the email, “[s]omebody was just looking for an excuse to promote the birther conspiracy.” [St. Petersburg Times, 6/28/2010] The “travel ban” was advanced as an argument against Obama’s citizenship in a 2008 lawsuit which was summarily thrown out of court (see August 21-24, 2008).
Fox Business Channel host Stuart Varney, appearing on Fox News’s ‘The O’Reilly Factor.’ [Source: Salt 'em All (.com)]A Fox Business Channel host attacks a union representative for “sid[ing] with [America’s] enemies” by advocating for the rights of workers to organize. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, was designed “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices.” For years, conservative and Republican candidates and organizations have fought against unions’ rights to bargain collectively, in part because labor unions are a critical element of the center-left “progressive” coalition in American politics. [Media Matters, 9/7/2010; Board, 2011] A regular segment on Fox News is titled “Unions: Can America Afford Them?” [Fox News, 2011] Fox News host Glenn Beck often calls union workers “thugs” and/or “enforcers.” [Media Matters, 9/7/2010] Stuart Varney, host of Varney and Company on the Fox Business Channel, attacks a union representative on his show for “sid[ing] with our enemies” against America. Varney opens by telling Bruce Raynor of the pro-union group Workers United: “I was shocked and angered by the idea that my government in America would link our behavior in America vis-a-vis unions, and link it to some kinds of human rights abuse. Say it ain’t so. You can’t be serious.” Varney is referring to a recent State Department report that calls for strengthening labor unions in order to combat workplace abuses by employers. Raynor begins by informing Varney that “millions of American workers today have no right to organize a union,” and Varney immediately attempts to cut him off by saying that all workers have “every right” to organize, a claim that is flatly untrue. Raynore cites examples of public workers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and other states who are prohibited by law from forming unions; Varney then contends that the lack of a right to organize is not, as the State Department report claims, a human rights abuse. Raynor contends that it is indeed an abuse of human rights. Varney then accuses Raynor and the State Department of attempting to “embarrass this great country” by taking this report to the United Nations “and put us in the same league as North Korea.” Raynor calls the right to organize part of Americans’ constitutional right to free association. Varney then begins to shout Raynor down, saying: “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?” Raynor attempts to counter with the fact that over 20 states have laws forbidding certain groups of workers from organizing in unions, and notes that drivers for Federal Express, one of the largest private employers in the US, are forbidden to join or organize unions, while drivers for United Parcel Express (UPS) do have that right. Varney calls Raynor’s examples “little” and “tiny” that mean nothing in a larger sense, and storms: “You now say that this great democracy abuses human rights. That’s embarrassing, sir.” Raynor continues to cite examples of workers who lack the right to organize, and Varney disputes the accuracy of Raynor’s facts, trying to dispute the fact of law with Raynor over workers’ rights to organize. Raynor says that every organization except for the military should have the right to organize, but many of them do not. The United States, Raynor says, “is the hardest country in the free world to organize unions.” Varney, clearly indignant, accuses Raynor of “report[ing] us to the United Nations, a den of thieves, and you say” the US is abusing its citizens’ rights. Varney begins shouting again, accusing Raynor of “embarrassing” the United States by “bringing a public spotlight,” and says: “You have sided with our enemies. You’re in the same camp as our enemies. That’s disgraceful.” Raynor attempts to deny the allegation, and Varney concludes the interview, saying, “I’m sorry, we must agree to differ, but that, sir, is disgraceful.” [Media Matters, 9/4/2010; Media Matters, 9/7/2010]
US State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley calls the treatment of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” The remarks are made at a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology about how new media are impacting foreign policy, during a question-and-answer session. Crowley is asked about what he thinks about WikiLeaks and the US “torturing a prisoner in a military brig.” After criticising the conditions of Manning’s detention, Crowley adds, “None the less Bradley Manning is in the right place,” and goes on to say that in Washington’s view, “there is sometimes a need for secrets… for diplomatic progress to be made.” When the remarks become news, Crowley will issue a clarification: “What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official [US government] policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning.” [BBC, 3/12/2011]
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley is forced to resign from his position under pressure from the White House following his criticism of the treatment of whistleblower Bradley Manning (see March 12, 2011). According to CNN, White House officials are “furious” about Crowley’s statement that the treatment of Manning is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” In his resignation statement, Crowley attributes his resignation to the media coverage of his remarks: “Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation.” However, CNN adds, “Crowley has told friends that he is deeply concerned that mistreatment of Manning could undermine the legitimate prosecution of the young private.” In addition, Crowley thinks he has the administration’s best interests at heart because “he thinks any mistreatment of Manning could be damaging around the world to President Obama, who has tried to end the perception that the United States tortures prisoners.” [CNN, 3/13/2011]
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