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Both the prosecution and defense teams in the Lewis Libby trial file status reports with the court. Libby’s lawyers say that two reporters it intends to subpoena may resist testifying; the lawyers do not name the reporters. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald says that none of the prosecution’s witnesses, including White House officials, will claim privilege to avoid testifying. However, Fitzgerald writes: “The government is not aware of any government witness who is intending to assert a blanket privilege, and the government does not otherwise anticipate any of its witnesses moving to quash or limit trial subpoenas. The government also does not intend to examine any witnesses on any topic for which we expect an assertion of privilege.” His statement acknowledges the possibility that government witnesses may assert privilege on specific topics of inquiry. Libby requests a tape of a conversation between former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, presumably a recording referring to Armitage’s revelation to Woodward that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA officer (see June 13, 2003). And Fitzgerald indicates he will drop his appeals of the court’s rulings on classified documents. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 12/14/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 12/14/2006 ]
President Bush signs the Postal Reform bill and includes a signing statement asserting that the federal government has a right to search the mail of any US citizen “for foreign intelligence collection.” While
White House spokesman Tony Snow insists that Bush is just clarifying current law, the New York Daily News reports that experts say Bush’s signing statement “is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed.” Nor do the lawmakers who drafted the law agree with Bush’s interpretation. “Despite the president’s statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people’s mail without a warrant,” says Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who co-sponsored the bill. Under current law, federal agents must have a search warrant to open first-class mail. Commenting on Bush’s signing statement, Ann Beeson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, remarks, “The signing statement raises serious questions whether he is authorizing opening of mail contrary to the Constitution and to laws enacted by Congress. What is the purpose of the signing statement if it isn’t that?” [New York Daily News, 1/4/2007; MSNBC, 1/5/2007]
The Electronic Frontier Foundation files a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to obtain more information about a secret program called the Automated Targeting System (ATS) (see 2002 and After). This program allows the government to assign terror risk numbers to American citizens who enter or leave the US. The suit demands an expedited response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed earlier in the month. Frontier Foundation Senior Counsel David Sobel says, “DHS needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this ‘risk assessment’ score that will follow them throughout their lives.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 12/19/2006]
On December 24, 2006, Ethiopia invades Somalia with US encouragement, attacking the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist militant group that rules much of the country. The invasion is triggered because the ICU had encircled the Somali town of Baidoa, the last hold out of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the internationally recognized government of Somalia that actually controls very little of the country. Within days, the Ethiopians conquer the capital of Mogadishu and replace the ICU with the TFG. But Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia, occupying much of the country, and the ICU and other Islamist militant groups are not completely defeated. On January 5, 2007, al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a message urging Somalis to “consume” the “crusader” Ethiopians “as the lions eat their prey.” [Time, 11/29/2007] The US had been quietly improving ties with Ethiopia, and had been secretly training Ethiopian forces in counterterrorism techniques for years. The US covertly assists Ethiopia’s invasion with spy satellite data and other intelligence. A secret US special forces unit, Task Force 88, launches operations into Somalia from Kenya and Ethiopia. On January 6, two US Air Force AC-130 gunships secretly arrive at a small airport in eastern Ethiopia. The next day, they carry out a strike near a small village close to the Kenyan border, attempting to kill al-Qaeda-linked militants fleeing the country. Eight people are killed, but apparently no important al-Qaeda leaders. [New York Times, 2/23/2007] A second AC-130 strike on January 23 also misses its target. It is unknown how many are killed, but the wreckage of six large trucks is later seen at the spot of the attack. But while the US strikes are unsuccessful, al-Qaeda leader Abu Talha al-Sudani is apparently killed at some point during the fighting between Ethiopian forces and Somali militants. The US will not officially say he is dead, but US officials will unofficially say he is to Time magazine later in the year. Al-Sudani is said to have been living in Somalia since 1993 and involved in al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002. [Washington Post, 1/8/2007; Time, 11/29/2007] By summer 2007, US and Ethiopian officials will claim that the war in Somalia is over. However, the fighting, the occasional US strikes, and the Ethiopian occupation, continue. [Time, 11/29/2007]
The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) receives over twenty complaints from Northern California residents reporting excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents upon their entering the country. The residents say they have been interrogated about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, and political associations when they returned from traveling abroad, regardless of their First Amendment rights. The residents say their books, business cards, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories were examined and sometimes copied. When they complained, some of them were told, according to the ALC, “This is the border, and you have no rights.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008]
Interrogation at the Border - Nabila Mango, a US citizen from San Francisco, returns from a trip to Jordan in December 2007. She will say she is told by customs officials at San Francisco International Airport to list every person she met and every place she slept. Her Arabic music books, business cards, and cell phone are examined, and she believes some of her documents are copied. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Her daughter tries repeatedly to call her on her cell phone during the interrogation, but Mango finds that customs officials erased the records of her calls. [Washington Post, 2/7/2008] “In my 40 years in this country, I have never felt as vulnerable as I did during that interrogation,” Mango will say. “I want to find out whether my government is keeping files on me and other Americans based on our associations and ideas.” A California citizen, Amir Khan, will also say he is stopped and interrogated every time he returns to the country. He has his laptop, cell phone, and personal notebooks searched. He is never told why he is being singled out. “One customs officer even told me that no matter what I do, nothing would improve,” he will say. “Why do I have to part with my civil liberties each time I return home?” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Software engineer Kamran Habib, a permanent US resident, has his laptop and cell phone searched three times in 2007. Now, Habib says, “every time I travel, I basically clean out my phone. It’s better for me to keep my colleagues and friends safe than to get them on the list as well.”
Search and Seizure - Maria Udy, a marketing executive in Bethesda, Maryland, will say her company laptop is seized by a federal agent as she attempts to fly from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to London. Udy, a British citizen, is told by the agent that he has “a security concern” with her. “I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,” she will recall. Udy is told that it is standard procedure to keep the computer for 10 to 15 days; over a year later, her laptop will not have been returned, and she will not be given any explanation. A tech engineer who wishes to remain anonymous will say he has a similar experience in the same airport months earlier. The engineer, a US citizen, says a federal agent requires him to open up his laptop and type in his password. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he protests. “It belongs to my company.” He has little choice; he logs on, and the agent copies down every Web site he had visited on the laptop. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)‘s Susan Gurley will say her organization has filed its own FOIA request to find out what happened to seized laptops and other electronic devices. “Is it destroyed right then and there if the person is in fact just a regular business traveler?” she asks. “People are quite concerned. They don’t want proprietary business information floating, not knowing where it has landed or where it is going. It increases the anxiety level.” The ALC’s Shiran Sinnar says that by examining the websites people visit and the phone numbers they store, “the government is going well beyond its traditional role of looking for contraband and really is looking into the content of people’s thoughts and ideas and their lawful political activities.” Legal experts say that if conducted inside the country, such searches would require a warrant and probable cause. The government insists that a laptop is legally the same as a suitcase, and can be opened and examined essentially at will. Law professor David Cole disagrees: “It’s one thing to say it’s reasonable for government agents to open your luggage. It’s another thing to say it’s reasonable for them to read your mind and everything you have thought over the last year. What a laptop records is as personal as a diary but much more extensive. It records every website you have searched. Every email you have sent. It’s as if you’re crossing the border with your home in your suitcase.” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]
Entity Tags: Nabila Mango, US Customs and Border Protection, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Asian Law Caucus, Amir Khan, David D. Cole, Maria Udy, Washington Dulles International Airport, Shirin Sinnar, Susan Gurley, Kamran Habib, San Francisco International Airport
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003), is disciplined over the affair. Castelli is reprimanded by the CIA’s accountability board and sent to the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. One reason for the domestic posting is that Castelli may have difficulty traveling, as he could be arrested if he entered a European country, as well as some other states. [Congressional Quarterly, 2/15/2008]
CIA officer Arthur Keller allegedly hears rumors in 2007 that Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group, is assisting Osama bin Laden with logistics in helping him hide somewhere inside Pakistan. Harkat will later be linked to the courier who lives with bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout until the US raid that kills bin Laden in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The group also has long-standing ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Keller had worked for the CIA in Pakistan in 2006. By 2011, he will have retired from the CIA and will tell his account about these rumors to the New York Times. Another US intelligence official will note that members of Harkat may have helped bin Laden without being aware who exactly they were helping or where he was hiding. It is unclear if the CIA investigates possible links between Harkat and bin Laden at this time, or later. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Afghan intelligence allegedly suggests that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a town very close to Abbottabad, Pakistan, but the Pakistani government will not listen. Shortly after bin Laden’s death in Abbottabad in 2011 (see May 2, 2011), Amrullah Saleh, who from 2004 to 2010 was head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, will claim that in 2007, the NDS identified two al-Qaeda safe houses in the town of Manshera. Manshera is only about 13 miles from Abbottabad. Saleh brought this information up in a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also in 2007. But Saleh says that Musharraf was outraged at the suggestion that bin Laden would be able to hide so far inside Pakistan. Musharraf allegedly smashed his fist on a table. “He said, ‘Am I the president of the Republic of Banana?’ Then he turned to President Karzai and said, ‘Why have you have brought this Panjshiri guy to teach me intelligence?’” Saleh says Karzai had to physically intervene after Musharraf started to physically threaten Saleh. [Guardian, 5/5/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
US intelligence learns al-Qaeda courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real full name. According to later media reports, his real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for Osama bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] An unnamed US official will cryptically say that the crucial intelligence on his real name comes not from Pakistan, but “from a different part of the world.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]
Intel from Ahmed's Family? - Apparently, around 2006, US intelligence somehow learned his real last name (see (2006)). But since “Ahmed” is a common name in many countries, more work was needed to learn the rest of his name. It appears that intelligence comes from learning about his family. The New York Times will later report that after his last name was discovered, analysts “turned to one of their greatest investigative tools—the National Security Agency (NSA) began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man’s family and anyone inside Pakistan. From there they got [Ahmed’s] full name.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011]
How Did US Intelligence Know about His Family? - The exact sequence of events of how analysts learn who his family is will not be revealed. But the “al-Kuwaiti” in Ahmed’s “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti” alias obviously refers to Kuwait, and US intelligence learn at some point from other prisoners that Ahmed’s parents had moved to Kuwait (even though he originally was from Pakistan). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
Could Ahmed's Father Be Important Al-Qaeda Figure? - It will later be reported that Ahmed’s father was close to bin Laden. This still unnamed father, who lived and worked in Kuwait, allegedly had a trusting relationship with bin Laden going back 30 to 40 years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Perhaps this is not relevant, but if US intelligence already had some intelligence on Ahmed’s father, this could have narrowed down the search of Pakistani-linked families living in Kuwait.
Real Name Will Lead to Location - It is unclear when, but the NSA eventually starts tracking the phone calls of Ahmed’s relatives in the Persian Gulf to anyone they call in Pakistan. Later, the NSA will be able to figure out Ahmed’s location in Pakistan from one such phone call (see Summer 2009). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
In 2007, when General Nadeem Taj becomes head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, he allows “a number of radical ideologues associated with jihadist groups to use Abbottabad as a transit hub.” One such person is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, head of Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group sometimes linked to both the ISI and al-Qaeda. This is according to a London Times article published shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [London Times, 5/8/2011] Prior to heading the ISI, Taj was the commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, which is only 800 yards from the Abbottabad compound Osama bin Laden hid in starting around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). Taj started that job in April 2006. [News (Islamabad), 4/24/2006] On September 29, 2008, it will be reported that the US is intensely pressuring Taj and two of his assistants to resign from the ISI because of alleged “double-dealing” with militants. [Australian, 9/29/2008] Taj will be replaced by Ahmed Shuja Pasha one day later (see September 30, 2008). [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/30/2008] Some will later say that the ISI had to have known that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad (see May 2, 2011 and After).
Some time this year, Said Bahaji, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany along with a few of the 9/11 hijackers, speaks to his mother on the telephone, the New York Times will report in 2009. Anneliese Bahaji, Bahaji’s mother living in Germany, will tell the Times that in 2007, Bahaji “said he just wanted to call and say he’s still alive.” She will mention that he does not say where he is, and she does not hear from him afterwards. In October 2009, there will be renewed interest in Bahaji after his German passport is found in the tribal region of Pakistan (see Late October 2009). Bahaji’s mother will also mention that Said has a Moroccan passport, and he may travel using that. [New York Times, 10/30/2009] Bahaji is wanted in Spain and Germany on terrorism charges (see September 21, 2001). However, the US has never put a bounty on him, or even put him on their most wanted lists, despite reports that he had a key role in supporting the 9/11 attacks. [CNN, 10/30/2009]
The FBI requests $12 million for its proposed National Security Analysis Center (NSAC), which would mine nearly 1.5 billion records created or collected by the FBI and other government agencies in an effort to expose terrorist cells. The FBI’s budget request says that the new agency would “pro-actively” mine the data to find terrorists using “predictive” analysis. Predictive analysis entails combing though personal data—such as bank transactions and travel purchases—to identify patterns of behavior that are believed to be terrorist-like. But this methodology for identifying terrorists is unproven. In 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence completed a report concluding that terrorism researchers “cannot readily distinguish the absolute scale of normal behaviors” for terrorists or ordinary Americans. [ABC News, 6/12/2007] The FBI’s proposed National Security Analysis Center is very similar to another initiative called the Total Information Awareness program (see Mid-January 2002) that was started by the Pentagon in 2002, but which was curtailed by Congress after it was revealed by the New York Times (see November 9, 2002).
Paul Keim. [Source: Public domain]The FBI matches an anthrax sample submitted by suspect Bruce Ivins with the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. The sample, of anthrax used by Ivins in his work, was submitted to the FBI in February 2002, but the FBI then destroyed it since it had not been prepared using a strict protocol needed for it to be used as evidence in a trial (see February 22-27, 2002). By late 2006, the FBI suspects Ivins sent the 2001 anthrax letters (see Late 2006). Also in 2006, scientists have discovered unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and they are comparing them to other anthrax samples they have collected. A sample Ivins gave to the FBI in April 2002 does not match the anthrax in the letters. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, has kept duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, Keim discovers that he still has a copy of Ivin’s February 2002 sample, known as RMR-1029, and it matches the anthrax used in the attacks. However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006), if not 200 to 300 scientists (see 1997). [Frederick News-Post, 8/19/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]
Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes, whose involvement with a set of documents known as the “torture memos” threatens his nomination as an appellate court judge (see November 27, 2002), telephones Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor at Guantanamo, to pressure Davis to charge accused Australian terror suspect David Hicks. Haynes is apparently attempting to do a political favor for Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Haynes is advised that his interference is improper, but calls Davis a second time and suggests that Davis charge other prisoners along with Hicks to avoid any impression that the charges are “a political solution to the Hicks case.” Davis will resign in part because of pressure from Washington to politicize his prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
CIA officer Richard Blee, who headed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see August 22-September 10, 2001), is considered for the position of chief of station in Baghdad, one of the CIA’s largest stations. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] However, he does not get the position. [Harper's, 2/9/2007] The reasons for him not getting the job are apparently that he is seen as a “bad fit,” and is closely associated with detainee abuse and renditions, in particular that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In addition, he is said to have a poor relationship with the military, in particular the Special Operations community. An unnamed former official calls Blee a “smart guy,” but says, “He’s the last guy you want running a tense place like the station in Baghdad, because he creates a lot of tension himself.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007] Shortly before mid-May 2003, Blee had been loaned to the FBI, where he had a senior position, but his career history after that is unknown. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases FBI documents detailing 26 eyewitness accounts of prisoners abused by US personnel at Guantanamo. The FBI chose not to follow up 17 of the accounts. “These documents contain eyewitness FBI accounts of prisoner abuse which cannot be dismissed by the administration, and only underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US controlled detention facilities,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “The documents also call into question the FBI’s apparent decision to not follow up on prisoner abuses by Defense Department personnel. The fact that Defense Department policy allowed this treatment does not mean that it was legal, humane, or ethical.” The documents, compiled by FBI investigators after the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, contain eyewitness accounts by guards and interrogators of “aggressive mistreatment, interrogations, or interview techniques of GTMO detainees by representatives of any law enforcement, military, or bureau personnel which were not consistent with bureau guidelines.” Many of the eyewitness accounts focus on insulting the detainees’ religion:
Interrogators wrapped one detainee’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran.”
An interrogator bragged about forcing a detainee to listen to “satanic black metal music for hours and hours.” That same interrogator later “dressed as a Catholic priest and baptized the detainee in order to save him.”
A Marine captain was observed enraging a detainee by squatting over a Koran in a fashion that the prisoner found extremely offensive.
After compiling these accounts, the FBI apparently chose not to pursue them further, citing the fact that what it observed was authorized by Defense Department policies. Only nine of the 26 accounts were slated for follow-up investigations. One incident marked “no further interview necessary” involved draping an Israeli flag around a detainee, shackling detainees to the floor, and subjecting them to excruciatingly loud music and strobe lights. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer says: “The FBI appears to have turned a blind eye to the very abuses that most need investigating—those abuses that were expressly authorized by Defense Department policy. The FBI documents only remind us that a thorough and independent investigation is long overdue.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/3/2007]
John Negroponte resigns from his position as director of national intelligence. The official explanation is that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has lured him to serve as her deputy, a post that has been vacant since July. [Washington Post, 1/4/2007; Fox News, 1/5/2007] But according to sources interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, Negroponte’s decision was spurred by a shift in the White House’s Middle East policy (see Late 2006) that he felt was reminiscent of the Iran-Contra affair. A former senior intelligence official tells Hersh, “Negroponte said, ‘No way. I’m not going down that road again, with the NSC running operations off the books, with no finding.’” (Findings are written communications issued by the president to Congress informing lawmakers about covert operations.) [New Yorker, 3/5/2007] Another factor, according to Hersh, was that he doesn’t get along with Cheney very well—Cheney apparently feels Negroponte is too “legalistic.” [Democracy Now!, 2/28/2007]
A graphic showing the similarities between the super-dollars and real dollars. [Source: Lee Hulteng and Judy Treible / McClatchy Newspapers]The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a German daily newspaper, accuses the CIA of being the source of sophisticated, almost perfect, counterfeit US bills called “super-notes” or “super-dollars.” FAZ claims that the CIA prints the bills in a secret facility close to Washington, DC. The US government has long accused North Korea of being the source of the “super-notes,” but this claim remains unproven and disputed by some. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 1/7/2007] In early 2008, McClatchy Newspapers will publish a similar article. It will note that the Secret Service has presented no actual evidence that the North Koreans are behind the notes, and witnesses making that claim have been discredited. The State Department has stopped accusing North Korea of making the notes. In May 2007, the Swiss federal police conclude an investigation and decide it is unlikely the North Koreans are behind the notes, though they do not know just who is. Remarkably, the super-notes have gone through at least 19 different versions, each corresponding to a tiny change in US engraving plates. Thomas Ferguson, former director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, says the super-notes appear to have been made by someone with access to some government’s printing equipment. Klaus Bender, the author of a book on the subject, “claims that the super-notes are of such high quality and are updated so frequently that they could be produced only by a US government agency such as the CIA.” The article will note that the CIA counterfeited the Soviet Union’s currency during the Cold War, and “Making limited quantities of sophisticated counterfeit notes also could help intelligence and law enforcement agencies follow payments or illicit activities or track the movement of funds among unsavory regimes, terrorist groups, and others.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 1/10/2008]
The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/10/2007]
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte says that al-Qaeda’s central leadership is based in Pakistan and is regrouping there. Speaking before a Senate committee, he says that al-Qaeda operatives “are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.” This is the first time a high-ranking US official has described Pakistan as a “secure hide-out” for al-Qaeda or used similar language. He adds, “Pakistan is our partner in the war on terror and has captured several al-Qaeda leaders. However, it is also a major source of Islamic extremism. Eliminating the safe haven that the Taliban and other extremists have found in Pakistan’s tribal areas is not sufficient to end the insurgency in Afghanistan but it is necessary.” [Reuters, 1/12/2007]
Former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson experiences strongly mixed feelings about the information revealed during the trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). Later in 2007, she will write that during the trial, she is disturbed by the testimony of “some of the so-called premier journalists in the country” (see January 30-31, 2007 and January 31, 2007). Their testimony “showed how eagerly they accept spoonfed information from official sources. They appeared to make little effort to corroborate information or seek out other sources at the working levels who might have given them a different story. The trial did not show American journalism at its finest hour.” Of the White House officials who either testify or are subjects of testimony, Plame Wilson will write that she is shocked to see “just how recklessly senior government officials who should have known better, who should have been much more diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer, tossed around my name with those who had no need to know (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, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). All of these officials were fully aware that I worked at the CIA, and while they might have been unclear as to where exactly I worked there, the fact that it was the CIA should have raised a big red flag. All of the officials involved in the leak of my name signed oaths when they joined the government to protect national security secrets. They knew that the CIA goes to great lengths, and at significant taxpayers’ expense, to devise creative ‘covers’ for its employees.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 286]
Muhammad Hanif confessing on video. [Source: BBC]A captured Taliban spokesman claims that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is living in Pakistan under the protection of the ISI. Muhammad Hanif, a.k.a. Abdul Haq Haji Gulroz, one of two Taliban spokesmen, was recently captured by the Afghan government. He is seen on video saying to his captors, “[Omar] lives in Quetta [a Pakistan border town]. He is protected by the ISI.” He further claims that the ISI funds and equips Taliban suicide bombings and former ISI Director Hamid Gul supports and funds the insurgency. The Pakistani government denies the allegations and claims Omar has not been seen in Pakistan. [BBC, 1/17/2007; Daily Telegraph, 1/19/2007]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee informing it that the lawsuit against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see August 17, 2006) is moot—the National Security Agency will now operate under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in its wiretaps. One of the FISC judges, Gonzales writes, has issued an “innovative” and “complex” order that allows the NSA to continue doing what it had been doing with the overall approval of the court, or at least the approval of the single FISC judge. Gonzales does not go into detail about the judge’s ruling, but the administration intensifies its attack on the lawsuit, asking an appeals court to set the previous ruling aside in light of the new FISC protocol, and even to erase the ruling from judicial history as a matter of “public interest.” The appeals court votes 2-1 to set aside the previous ruling; the majority opinion finds that the state secrets privilege prevents the courts from learning whether the plaintiffs in the case had the standing to sue. [Savage, 2007, pp. 207]
In a second day of testimony (see January 17, 2007), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the president has always had the inherent authority to bypass or ignore statutory law if he is acting in the interest of national security. Gonzales is referring to a recent Bush administration decision to use a sympathetic FISC judge to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program (see January 17, 2007). “We commenced down this road five years ago because of a belief that we could not do what we felt was necessary to protect this country under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Gonzales testifies. “That is why the president relied upon his inherent authority under the Constitution. My own judgment is, the president has shown maturity and wisdom here in this particular decision. He recognizes that there is an inherent reservoir of inherent power that belongs to every president. You use it only when you have to. In this case, we don’t have to [anymore].” Yale law professor Jack Balkin strenuously disagrees. He points to a “remarkable similarity between the administration’s behavior in the Padilla case (see October 9, 2005 and December 21, 2005) and its behavior here.… Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the president acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.” Instead of going to Congress for the authority to conduct a warrantless wiretapping program, Balkin writes that the administration used FISA’s supposed deficiencies “as an excuse to disregard the law, so that it could make claims of unbridled presidential authority to ignore FISA.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 207-208; Jack Balkin, 1/18/2007]
Theodore Wells, the lead lawyer for the Lewis Libby defense team, makes his opening statement to the jury in the Libby perjury and obstruction trial (see January 16-23, 2007), and proclaims Libby’s innocence of all charges. While Libby may have misspoken to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the Plame Wilson grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) about his involvement in leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to reporters, he never lied to either one, Wells says, because there was never any intent to lie. He was not trying to cover anything up, Wells asserts, because he did nothing illegal or questionable. “This is a case about memory, about recollection, and about words,” Wells says. Wells surprises observers by claiming Libby was made a scapegoat by the White House in order to protect President Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove. Rove has admitted to being a source of the original leak (see October 15, 2004, February 2004, and October 14, 2005). Wells tells the jury that Libby believes his former colleagues in the Bush administration tried to “set him up” to “take a fall” in the investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak. According to Wells, Libby said to his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney: “They’re trying to set me up. They want me to be the sacrificial lamb.” Libby, according to Wells, believed he was being sacrificed to protect Rove. Wells says that Libby told Cheney, “I will not be sacrificed so Karl Rove can be protected.” Wells tells the jury: “Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job in the Bush administration. He was concerned about being set up, he was concerned about being made the scapegoat.… People in the White House are trying to protect Karl Rove.” Libby was considered “just a staffer,” while Rove “was viewed as a political genius… the lifeblood of the Republican Party.” [Pensito Review, 1/23/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007; CBS News, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Plame Wilson will observe, “The tactic went against the conventional wisdom that Libby would play the good soldier, say nothing of value, and receive a presidential pardon if convicted.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 282-284] In a PowerPoint presentation, Wells presents the jury with the following bullet points about Libby:
He gave his best good faith recollection;
Any misstatements by him were innocent mistakes;
He had no knowledge that Plame Wilson’s job status was classified;
He did not push reporters to write about Plame Wilson;
He did not leak to Robert Novak: Richard Armitage did;
He is innocent and had no motive to lie.
Wells then engages the jury in a long explanation of Libby’s responsibilities, emphasizing his role in the administration’s efforts in the war on terror. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007] After a break for lunch, Wells resumes going through his version of events. He introduces a key element of the “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006), that Libby knew of Plame Wilson’s CIA status in July 2003 when he leaked her identity to reporters, but forgot that he knew it in October, when he denied knowing of her classified or covert status to the FBI and the grand jury. Wells equates Libby’s alleged memory difficulties with “similar” memory difficulties by the reporters involved in the leak to be examined during the trial. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007]
Marc Grossman. [Source: NNDB (.com)]Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald calls his first witness in the Lewis Libby perjury trial, former State Department official Marc Grossman. Grossman testifies to his June 2003 conversation with Libby, where he revealed then-covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Libby (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Washington Post, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Informed Libby of Plame Wilson's CIA Identity - Grossman, formerly the undersecretary of state for political affairs, testifies that the information about Plame Wilson was given to Libby “in about 30 seconds of conversation.” He says he spoke to Libby several times a week. He testifies that when Libby asked him about Joseph Wilson’s 2002 Niger trip (see May 29, 2003), he knew nothing about it, which he found somewhat embarrassing. “I should have known,” he says. He testifies that his immediate supervisor, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, knew nothing of the Wilson trip either. Grossman says he asked Carl Ford of the State Department’s in-house intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), and State’s head of African affairs, Walter Kansteiner, for information on the Wilson trip. Both Ford and Kansteiner knew of the trip, Grossman testifies, and both told him that Wilson had reported to the CIA on the trip (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002). Grossman says he asked Armitage if it was permissible for him to ask Wilson directly about the trip, and receiving permission, did so. According to Grossman, Wilson told him about the Niger trip, and said he thought the trip had been at the request of the Office of the Vice President (see (February 13, 2002)). It was after his conversation with Wilson that Grossman spoke to Libby about the trip, and informed him that Wilson’s wife was a CIA employee. Grossman testifies that he prepared a memo for Libby after his return from a trip to Spain and North Africa (see June 10, 2003), using information provided by Ford. According to Grossman, it was Ford who alleged Plame Wilson orchestrated her husband’s trip to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), but Grossman is not aware of the inaccuracy of Ford’s information. Grossman says he felt it somewhat inappropriate that Plame Wilson would have put her husband up for the trip. He informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s supposed role in her husband’s trip to Niger the day after putting together the memo on the trip (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grossman tells the court: “I think I said that there was one other thing that he [Libby] needed to know—that Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the agency. Meaning the CIA. I phrased it that way because he was senior to me, it was my responsibility to make sure he had the whole context.” According to Grossman, Libby denied that his office had anything to do with sending Wilson to Niger. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007; USA Today, 1/24/2007] Grossman also recalls speaking on the phone with Wilson on June 9, 2003, and recalls Wilson being angered by comments from then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on a recent edition of Meet the Press (see June 8, 2003). “He was furious.… He was really mad,” Grossman recalls. Grossman testifies that Wilson said he might publicly correct Rice’s characterization of the Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see June 9, 2003-July 6, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007; ABC News, 1/24/2007] Grossman also testifies that Armitage informed him on February 23, 2004 that he had revealed Plame Wilson’s status to columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003). He says that Armitage characterized his leak to Novak as “one of the dumbest things” he had ever done. Grossman testified to the FBI a day later (see February 24, 2004) and informed it of Armitage’s leak. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/23/2007]
Defense Attacks Grossman - The second day of testimony begins with the Libby defense team cross-examining Grossman. Defense lawyer Theodore Wells attacks Grossman’s credibility, accusing him of being a “crony” of Armitage and implying that, because he talked to Armitage the night before he testified to the FBI, his credibility is questionable. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Washington Post, 1/25/2007] Wells elicits an admission from Grossman that he did not show Libby the INR memo, and notes that Grossman cannot produce documents to prove he spoke with either Ford or Kansteiner; the State Department routinely destroys emails after archiving them for 90 days, Grossman says. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007] Wells also attempts to portray Grossman as self-contradictory, eliciting an admission that Grossman told the FBI that he and Libby had talked on the phone (see October 17, 2003 and February 24, 2004), but now says he and Libby spoke face-to-face. “You accept the fact that you told the FBI something different on February 24, 2004, than you told this jury?” Wells asks, to which Grossman replies, “Yes, sir.” Wells also focuses on Grossman’s contact with Armitage, who spoke to him a day before he testified to the FBI about his leaking of Plame Wilson’s identity (see October 2, 2003). “He—Richard Armitage—told the FBI that he… disclosed Mrs. Wilson’s work status at the CIA to Robert Novak?” Wells asks. Grossman replies, “Yes, sir.” [ABC News, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; CBS News, 1/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Marc Grossman, Richard Armitage, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Walter Kansteiner, Condoleezza Rice, Joseph C. Wilson, Theodore Wells, Carl W. Ford, Jr., Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Robert Grenier. [Source: PBS]Former CIA official Robert Grenier testifies in the Lewis Libby perjury trial. He tells the jury that he received a telephone call from Libby on June 11, 2003, asking about the Niger trip made by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 1/25/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Grenier was the CIA’s “Iraq Mission Manager,” a new position created by then-Director George Tenet. His job was to coordinate the CIA’s disparate efforts on Iraq. As part of his job, he often attended Deputies Committee meetings, where he met Libby. He worked on a regular basis with Libby as part of his position. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Contradicts Libby's Claims - Grenier’s testimony directly contradicts Libby’s claim that he first learned of then-CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Grenier says he quickly surmised that Libby was attempting to compile information on Wilson in order to discredit him (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). Grenier testifies that he knew nothing of Wilson’s Niger trip before Libby’s request, and to his surprise at being contacted by Libby to discuss Wilson. “It was pretty clear he wanted answers,” Grenier says. “It was unusual for him to call in the first place.… He was serious.” Grenier testifies that after his first meeting with Libby, Libby pulled him out of a meeting with Tenet to find out more about Wilson. “Someone came to the door and beckoned me out,” Grenier recalls. “I don’t think I’ve ever been pulled out a meeting with the director before.” Grenier testifies that he spoke to someone in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), who informed him of the trip and of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. (At the time, Plame Wilson worked in CPD.) The CPD person did not say Plame Wilson’s name directly, but identified her as “Wilson’s wife.” Grenier told Libby that the CIA had sanctioned Wilson’s trip to Niger, and that Wilson’s wife was involved in the decision; Grenier says that the information seemed to please Libby (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grenier also testifies that Libby discussed the feasibility of leaking the information about Wilson and his wife to the press, and says that after talking with CIA press liaison Bill Harlow, he told Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby told Grenier that Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, would coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003); Libby had Martin speak with Harlow about the effort, a choice Grenier testifies he found “surprising.” He adds that when he read the newspaper column outing Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), he deduced that the information had come from someone in the White House. [ABC News, 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; Washington Post, 1/25/2007] Grenier testifies that after informing Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, he “felt guilty very briefly” about revealing personnel information that is usually closely held by the CIA. [USA Today, 1/24/2007] According to a transcript taken by court observer and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, Grenier says: “I didn’t know her name, so I didn’t give her name, but by saying Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, I was revealing the identity of a CIA officer. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, that is information that we guard pretty closely, and if we don’t have to say it, we don’t.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Attacking Grenier's Memory - But Grenier’s testimony differs somewhat from his earlier statements to the FBI and to Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see December 10, 2003). Grenier said in earlier statements that he wasn’t sure if Plame Wilson’s name had come up in the conversations with Libby. It was only later, he testifies, that he developed what he calls “a growing conviction” that he’d mentioned “Wilson’s wife” to Libby. An attorney for Libby, William Jeffress, sharply questions Grenier on the inconsistencies in his story, forcing the agent to admit at one point that “my recollection of a lot of conversations from that time are pretty vague.” Grenier stays with his current claims, saying that he’d been “conservative” when he first talked to investigators, not wanting to cast “suspicion on Mr. Libby” unnecessarily. [ABC News, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; Washington Post, 1/25/2007] Grenier testifies that when talking to the FBI, he couldn’t be completely sure he had disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to Libby (see December 10, 2003), but when testifying before the grand jury, he testified that he definitely had given Libby that information. Jeffress says, “You told the FBI that you did not discuss Valerie Wilson with Mr. Libby.” Grenier replies: “I told them I really didn’t recall clearly whether I had said so or not. I think there’s some confusion, frankly, in this report from the FBI.” Grenier continues: “My memory of what I said in that meeting, I believe that that I conveyed in that meeting, and I want to caution, it’s hard for me to parse out what I said in what meeting and what time, but what I believe I reported to the FBI initially was that in my conversation, my second conversation, with Mr. Libby on June 11, I couldn’t recall clearly whether I told him that Mr. Wilson’s wife was working in the unit that dispatched him to Niger. I may have, but I didn’t have a clear recollection.” Jeffress reminds Grenier that five weeks had passed between his FBI appearance and his testimony before the grand jury, and asks, “In those five weeks, you didn’t remember having told Mr. Libby about Mr. Wilson’s wife?” Grenier replies, “I did not remember.” Jeffress presses: “When you testified before the grand jury, did you tell the grand jury that you had no clear recollection of having told Mr. Libby anything about Mr. Wilson’s wife, although it is possible [you] may have done so?” Grenier replies that he had tried to give the most conservative answer. However, when he appeared before the grand jury a second time, in 2005 (see July 29, 2005), he was read his original testimony. He was startled, Grenier says. “I remembered it and thought that I had always remembered it,” he testifies. “I was saying what I believed to be true at the time and subsequently had a different recollection.” Jeffress asks: “Do you find that your memory gets better the farther away you are in time? Does your memory improve with time?” Grenier laughs and answers, “Not in all cases, no.” Grenier now states that he is sure he told Libby about Wilson’s wife being a CIA official, but is not sure he told Libby her name. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; National Review, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Refusing to Pin Blame on CIA - Grenier tells Jeffress that he is not entirely sure the FBI interviewer got his responses correct. According to Wheeler’s transcript, Grenier testifies: “I would like to state, I have the greatest respect for the FBI, but the FBI agent may not have gotten what I said exactly right. What is important is that my belief that the WH [White House] was throwing blame on the CIA—not for Wilson’s trip—but for not having provided proper warning to the WH on this issue of Iraq’s attempt to buy nukes.” Wheeler writes that in her estimation, Jeffress is attempting to blame the CIA for the Bush administration’s faulty and misleading claims about Iraq’s WMDs, an attempt in which Grenier refuses to participate. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Counterproliferation Division, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Bill Harlow, Valerie Plame Wilson, William Jeffress, Marcy Wheeler, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Youssef Nada in 2007. [Source: PBS]Egypt freezes the assets of dozens of top Muslim Brotherhood figures and then announces that 40 of them will stand trial in Egypt’s military court. The Associated Press notes this court is “known for its swift trials and no right of appeal.” Figures targeted include most of the top leaders of the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland, the Muslim Brotherhood bank banned by the US for its alleged ties to al-Qaeda. About five of those to be tried in absentia are tied to the bank, including bank directors Youssef Nada and Ghaleb Himmat. [Agence France-Presse, 1/24/2007; Associated Press, 2/6/2007; Ikhwanweb, 2/8/2007] The Muslim Brotherhood has been officially banned in Egypt for decades but it has generally been tolerated by the government. Muslim Brotherhood members became the largest opposition bloc in the Egyptian parliament after winning 88 of the 454 seats in the 2005 legislative elections by running as independents. [Associated Press, 2/6/2007]
CIA officer Craig Schmall, who regularly briefed both Lewis Libby and his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies that Libby had spoken to him about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s Niger trip on June 14, 2003 (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Libby Quizzed Schmall about Wilson Trip - Schmall is now a manager in the Directorate of Intelligence. In 2003, he was the CIA’s assigned briefer for Libby and later Cheney. He recalls that at the June 14 briefing, Libby was “annoyed” that someone at the CIA had apparently discussed sensitive issues with a reporter, specifically regarding allegations that Cheney was pressuring CIA officials to produce slanted intelligence “proving” Iraq harbored WMDs. He then asked Schmall about Wilson’s Niger trip. Libby wanted to know why someone told Wilson that the Office of the Vice President had pushed for his trip to Niger. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
'Grave Danger' of Leaking CIA Official's Identity - Schmall testifies that when he read Robert Novak’s column outing Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), he expressed his concerns to both Cheney and Libby. “I thought there was a grave danger leaking the name of a CIA officer,” Schmall says he told the two. “Foreign intelligence services where she served now have the opportunity to investigate everyone whom she had come in contact with. They could be arrested, tortured, or killed.” [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Jury Cannot Consider Plame Wilson's CIA Status - Before the defense cross-examines Schmall, Judge Reggie Walton instructs the jury that it will not receive evidence of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—i.e. whether or not she was a covert official—and whether her outing posed a real risk to national security. According to a transcript by court observer and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, Walton says: “Her actual status, or damage, are totally irrelevant to your assessment of defendant’s guilt or innocence. You may not speculate or guess about them. You may consider what Mr. Libby believed about her status.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Defense Impugns Schmall's Memory - Defense lawyer John Cline reads item after item from the 27 points in a morning briefing prepared for Libby by Schmall; the CIA briefer cannot recall any of the items. “This was very important stuff,” Cline observes. The Associated Press will later write, “Cline wants to make the point that if Schmall cannot remember the details of the briefing—which included more than two dozen potential terrorist threats or intelligence issues—it is plausible Libby forgot about it, too.” Cline also establishes that Schmall is not clear about who from the prosecution was present during his 2004 discussion with FBI interviewers (see April 22, 2004). [Associated Press, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Judge: 'Suicide' if Libby Fails to Testify - The defense’s cross-examination of Schmall spills over into the morning of January 25. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald performs a brief redirect of Schmall, attempting to establish his reliable memory. The defense successfully objects to Fitzgerald’s line of questionining; Wheeler speculates that Fitzgerald is trying to lead Schmall too strongly. Lawyers for both sides engage in a lengthy sidebar over whether the defense can use Schmall as part of its “memory defense” strategy (see January 31, 2006) without actually putting Libby on the stand; Walton says the defense will commit “suicide” if Libby fails to testify (see January 24, 2007). Walton instructs the jury that Cline’s questions are not evidence, they are only to consider Schmall’s answers. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Craig Schmall, John Cline, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Office of the Vice President, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Novak, Reggie B. Walton, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Marcy Wheeler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
In a press briefing, President Bush says of Iran, “As you know, the Iranians, for example, think they want to have a nuclear weapon. And we’ve convinced other nations to join us to send a clear message, through the United Nations, that that’s unacceptable behavior.” [White House, 1/26/2007]
Italian authorities investigating the kidnapping of radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) seize half of a villa belonging to Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA substation chief involved in the abduction (see Noon February 17, 2003 and February 22-March 15, 2003). The half of the villa that belongs to Lady (the other half belongs to his wife) is to be held until the end of Lady’s trial for the kidnapping (see February 16, 2007). If Lady is convicted, it will be sold to pay for court costs and possibly damages. [Associated Press, 1/26/2007]
Interpol’s bureau in Washington, DC, sends a bulletin about bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa to the FBI, the NSA, and the Department of Homeland Security, concerning an unnamed “project initiated to proactively target terrorism from captured terrorists.” The bulletin will later be released in heavily redacted form by the Intelwire.com website, and what else it says is unclear. Just four days later, Khalifa will be murdered in Madagascar in mysterious circumstances (see January 30, 2007). It is his first trip outside of Saudi Arabia since the 9/11 attacks. [Guardian, 3/2/2007]
Journalist Ken Silverstein writes a piece about a CIA officer who is being considered for the position of station chief in Baghdad (see January-February 2007). According to Silverstein, who uses the pseudonym “James,” the officer is “the son of a well-known and controversial figure who served at the agency during its early years.” Silverstein also mentions the officer’s time managing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, problems with his management style (see June 1999), his closeness to former CIA Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black (see 1998 and After), his work as station chief in Kabul after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001), and his involvement in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). [Harper's, 1/28/2007] The officer, Richard Blee, will finally “out” himself in a joint statement issued with former CIA Director George Tenet and Black in August 2011 (see August 3, 2011).
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, brother-in-law and former best friend of Osama bin Laden, is killed in Madagascar. Khalifa’s family claims that a large group of armed men broke into his house and killed him as he slept. His computer and laptop is stolen. Khalifa was living in Saudi Arabia but traded precious stones and was staying at a mine that he owns. His family says they do not believe he had been killed by locals. There is considerable evidence Khalifa was involved in funding al-Qaeda-connected plots in the Philippines and Yemen in the 1990s (see December 16, 1994-February 1995, December 16, 1994-May 1995, and 1996-1997 and After). Since that time, Khalifa has steadfastly denied any involvement in terrorism and has criticized bin Laden. CNN reporter Nic Robertson asks, “Was he killed by bin Laden’s associates for speaking out against the al-Qaeda leader or, equally feasibly, by an international intelligence agency settling an old score?” Just one week earlier, a Philippine newspaper published a posthumous 2006 interview with Khaddafy Janjalani, former leader of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim militant group in the southern Philippines. In the interview, Janjalani claimed Abu Sayyaf received $122,000 from Khalifa and bomber Ramzi Yousef in the mid-1990s (see Early 1991). [CNN, 1/31/2007; Reuters, 2/1/2007] And four days before his murder, Interpol put out a bulletin about him, notifying a number of US intelligence agencies (see January 26, 2007). [Guardian, 3/2/2007] His murderers have not been found or charged.
Judith Miller, center, enters the courtroom. Her lawyer Robert Bennett is escorting her inside. [Source: Kevin Wolf / AP]Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail trying to avoid testifying to the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 6, 2005), testifies in the trial of former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). Miller testifies that Libby told her in confidence that the wife of a prominent critic of the Iraq war, Joseph Wilson, worked at the CIA (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby has testified that he first learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status three weeks later, from reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003 and March 24, 2004). [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
'Perverted War of Leaks' - During their first meeting, Miller testifies: “Mr. Libby appeared to me to be agitated and frustrated and angry. He is a very low key and controlled guy, but he seemed annoyed.” Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald asks, “Did he indicate what he was annoyed at?” Miller replies, “He was concerned that the CIA was beginning to backpedal to try to distance itself from the unequivocal intelligence estimates it had provided before the war.” She goes on to say that Libby had called the CIA’s action “a perverted war of leaks.” During their subsequent meetings, Libby exhibited an increasing irritation with the idea that the CIA would leak information to put distance between itself and earlier estimates of Iraqi WMD capabilities. According to Miller: “He said that nobody had ever [sic] come to the White House from the CIA and said, ‘Mr. President, this is not right.’ He felt that if the CIA had had such doubts, they should have shared them with the president.”
Outing Plame Wilson - Miller testifies that Libby broached the subject of Joseph Wilson’s trip to Africa (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) during their first meeting. At the time, Wilson was still criticizing the administration anonymously (see May 6, 2003), and few outside Washington knew who he was. Miller says that Libby began by calling Wilson “that clandestine guy,” and only later began referring to him by name. Miller testifies, “He [Libby] said the vice president did not know that Mr. Wilson had been sent on this trip” (see March 5, 2002). Libby told Miller that Cheney did not know of Wilson and “did not get a readout” on Wilson’s findings. As “an aside,” Miller testifies, Libby told her during their first meeting that Wilson’s wife “worked in the bureau.” Miller says at first she was not sure what he was referring to, and speculated that “the bureau” might mean the FBI, but, she says, “it became clear that he was referring to the CIA.” Libby never indicated whether Plame Wilson was a covert official, but during the second meeting, he told her (incorrectly) that Plame Wilson worked in WINPAC, the Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control Center of the CIA. Libby, Miller testifies, viewed the entire Wilson trip as “a ruse—that’s the word he used—an irrelevancy.” She confirms that during their second meeting, Libby took the unprecedented step of having her identify him in her reporting as “a former Hill staffer,” an apparent attempt to mislead readers into thinking the information he was providing to her was coming from someone who used to work in Congress. Miller testifies that she wanted to write about Plame Wilson being a CIA official, but her editor at the Times, Jill Abramson, refused to allow it. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007; National Review, 1/31/2007]
Leaking NIE Material - Miller says that Libby began providing her with sensitive information culled from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) during their second and third meetings. Libby told her that the classified information from the NIE was even stronger in its support of Iraqi WMD claims than what he was giving her. Miller wasn’t sure if the information Libby gave her was classified or unclassified. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007]
'Refreshed' Memory with Notes - Fitzgerald shows Miller that in her initial testimony before his grand jury (see September 30, 2005), she failed to mention her first discussion of Plame Wilson’s identity with Libby on June 23. Miller claims that she refreshed her memory of that first discussion from her notes of the meeting, which she found in a shopping bag near her desk at the Times, and clarified her testimony in a later appearance (see October 12, 2005).
Defense Focuses on Self-Contradictions - During the defense’s cross-examination, Libby’s attorney William Jeffress hammers at Miller over her seemingly contradictory testimony, sometimes eliciting testy responses. Miller tells the court that her memory “is mostly note-driven,” and that rereading the notes “brought back these memories” of the June 23 meeting. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007; National Review, 1/31/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Author Marcy Wheeler, observing the proceedings for the progressive blog FireDogLake, notes that Miller seems extremely nervous and fidgety under Jeffress’s cross-examination. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007] Miller’s January 30 court testimony ends almost an hour ahead of schedule after Jeffress attempts to ask her about other sources besides Libby with whom she may have discussed Wilson. Miller’s attorney, Bob Bennett, objects, saying questions about other sources are off limits. Judge Reggie Walton dismisses the jury for the day and listens to arguments for and against the line of questioning. Jeffress tells Walton, “I think she’s going to say she couldn’t remember which is very important to her credibility.” Defense lawyer Theodore Wells adds that it is important to have Miller answer the question because it would cast doubt on her testimony. “This is classic 101 [witness] impeachment,” he says. Walton will rule against the line of questioning, agreeing with Fitzgerald that quizzing Miller about her information on Iraqi WMDs is irrelevant to the charges pending against Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007; Wall Street Journal, 1/31/2007]
'I Just Don't Remember' - The next day, Jeffress continues to aggressively cross-examine Miller. She tells the court she is not completely sure she learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby before she learned it elsewhere, giving Libby’s lawyers an avenue to challenge her memory and her credibility. Miller now says she cannot be “absolutely, absolutely certain” that she first heard about Plame Wilson from Libby. As with earlier government witnesses (see January 23-24, 2007, January 24-25, 2007, January 24, 2007, and January 29, 2007), the defense lawyers challenge Miller’s memory and recollection of events. Jeffress notes that she misspelled Plame Wilson’s name in her notes, identifying her as “Valerie Flame.” Miller shows signs of irritation during the cross-examination, at one point repeating loudly: “I just don’t remember. I don’t remember.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/30/2007; New York Times, 1/31/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/31/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Reggie B. Walton, Marcy Wheeler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Theodore Wells, Robert T. Bennett, Jill Abramson, Tim Russert, William Jeffress, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Time reporter Matt Cooper testifies at the perjury and obstruction trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby about his conversations with Libby concerning the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Cooper confirms that he learned that Plame Wilson worked with the CIA from both Libby and White House political strategist Karl Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), but did not ask Libby how he knew Plame Wilson was indeed a CIA officer. According to Cooper, when he mentioned learning from Rove that Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, Libby said, “I’ve heard that too.” Cooper says that Libby did not qualify his statement in any way, though in 2004, Libby testified to the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) that he told both Cooper and reporter Judith Miller that he was merely citing rumors he had heard from other reporters (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Cooper confirms that Libby did not indicate the information about Plame Wilson was classified, nor did he say anything about learning it from other journalists. Libby’s lawyers attack Cooper’s credibility, noting that his testimony does not precisely match what he told his editors at the time, and suggest he could have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from other reporters. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/31/2007; Washington Post, 2/1/2007; National Review, 2/1/2007; New York Times, 2/4/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Cooper initially said that he considered Libby’s remark “off the record,” a term reporters use to indicate that a comment cannot be used in print. Later, Cooper says he considered it confirmation that could be used as background attribution. He also acknowledges that he changed the wording of Libby’s quote slightly for the Time article. Cooper testifies that he didn’t take any notes on that exchange or include it in his memo to his editor and fellow reporters. “I can’t explain that,” he says. “It was late in the day. I didn’t write it down, but it is my memory.” [Associated Press, 1/31/2007]
Rove's Involvement - Cooper’s testimony gives defense lawyers the opportunity to bring up Rove’s involvement, since Cooper learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Rove before he learned it from Libby (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Cooper says that he was told by Rove that Plame Wilson, not Vice President Dick Cheney, sent former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see July 6, 2003). [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/31/2007]
Sloppy Journalism - The Washington Post notes of Cooper’s testimony juxtaposed with Judith Miller’s, who preceded him on the stand (see January 30-31, 2007): “The pair’s turn on the witness stand also provided an unflattering portrayal of how some of Washington’s most prominent journalists work. If the testimony of half a dozen government officials earlier in the trial exposed infighting at the highest levels of the Bush administration, the testimony of Cooper and Miller exposed jurors—and the public—to the sloppy and incomplete note-taking of reporters, their inability to remember crucial interviews, and, in Miller’s case, important interview notes stuffed into a shopping bag under her desk.” [Washington Post, 2/1/2007]
Ali Reza Asgari. [Source: FARS / Reuters]Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007] He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. [Time, 3/22/2007]
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). [Inter Press Service, 12/17/2007]
In his new book America at Night, author and former CIA agent Larry Kolb writes: “[O]ur government has spent trillions turning Iraq into the world’s largest terrorist training camp, while pursuing policies guaranteed to keep at least a billion people around the workd intensely pissed at us. Our military forces are so overstretched that, if any real threat emerges, we will risk being seen as a paper tiger. And in spite of all the blue ribbon panels and commissions, and the new layer of bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to make us safe at home, America is less safe now from terrorism and cataclysm than it ever was.” [Kolb, 2007, pp. 225-226]
The Bush administration confirms that it believes US citizens can be designated as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The confirmation comes during the trial of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari and the only person on the American mainland being held as an enemy combatant. Al-Marri, currently held at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig, is a legal US resident accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2001). He was arrested in December 2001, while living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. Al-Marri is charged, not with any direct terrorist activities, but with credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. He is challenging his indefinite detention in federal court, and the government is using the MCA to argue that al-Marri has no status in the courts because of his designation as an enemy combatant. One of the appellate court judges, Roger Gregory, asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons, “What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, ‘You are an enemy combatant?’” Salmons responds that the government can do just that, without interference from the courts, and adds, “A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy combatant.” Gregory and the second of the three appellate judges, Diana Gribbon Motz, seem uncomfortable with the law’s provisions that the US judiciary has no role in such designations. When Motz asks Salmons about the difference between nations making war and individuals committing acts of terrorism, Salmons retorts with a familiar, and long-disputed, argument that the US Congress gave the government the right to detain terrorist suspects without charge or recourse to the judiciary when it granted the administration the right to use military force against terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001).
Theoretically Declaring War on PETA - Motz is skeptical of the argument, and asks a series of hypothetical questions about just what organizations or individuals President Bush could designate as enemy combatants. Using the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example, Motz asks, “Could the president declare war on PETA?” Salmons says the question is unrealistic, but refuses to say that Bush could not do so if he chose. The Bush administration is careful in its use of the enemy combatant designation, Salmons says, therefore, “The representative of PETA can sleep well at night.” [New York Times, 2/2/2007]
Ignoring Constitutional Concept of 'Inalienable Rights' - Author and investigative journalist Robert Parry notes that in the al-Marri case, the Bush administration is arguing against the concept of “inalienable,” or “unalienable,” rights as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. According to the administration, as long as the US is embroiled in what it calls the “war on terror,” Bush can use his “plenary,” or unlimited, executive powers to essentially waive laws and ignore Constitutional rights if he so chooses. Parry writes that “since the ‘war on terror’ will go on indefinitely and since the ‘battlefield’ is everywhere, Bush is asserting the president’s right to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants wherever the person might be, virtually forever.” Parry concludes, “The Justice Department’s arguments in the [al-]Marri case underscore that Bush still sees himself as a modern-day version of the absolute monarch who gets to decide which rights and freedoms his subjects can enjoy and which ones will be denied.” [Consortium News, 2/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Bush administration (43), Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, David Salmons, George W. Bush, Robert Parry, Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz, US Department of Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
FBI agent Deborah Bond testifies for the prosecution in the trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). Bond took over the Libby investigation when the previous head, John Eckenrode (see November 24, 2003), retired. She discusses two interviews she held with Libby, in October and November 2003 respectively (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). She says that in one interview Libby acknowledged that his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, “may have talked” on July 12, 2003, about telling the press that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, worked at the CIA, though Libby told her that he was “not sure” the conversation actually took place. According to Bond, Libby acknowledged that he and Cheney “may have” discussed the Plame Wilson matter the same day, while the two flew back to Washington from Norfolk aboard Air Force Two (see July 12, 2003); Libby said that Cheney might have learned about Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA Director George Tenet or another CIA official, though he was not sure. Cheney was wondering how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. Days before, Cheney had written in the margin of an op-ed by Wilson a question about the possibility of Plame Wilson sending her husband on a fact-finding “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). Libby told the FBI during a November 2003 interview that, in the agent’s words, “there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA” during that July 12 flight. “Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn’t sure.” In the hours after the discussion, Libby called reporter Judith Miller; in their conversation, he outed Plame Wilson as a CIA official and accused her of sending her husband to Niger (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), though Bond testifies that Libby denied ever mentioning Plame Wilson to Miller. Libby also called Time reporter Matthew Cooper and confirmed that Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, and had been involved in her husband’s trip (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says of Bond’s testimony, “This is significant, because it bring [sic] Cheney himself far more directly into the case, and for the first time suggests that it was the vice president who wanted the news about Wilson’s wife to be circulated to the news media.” Bond’s testimony also establishes the first time Libby claimed he “forgot” about learning Plame Wilson’s CIA status until “remembering” in October 2003. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Washington Post, 2/2/2007; Associated Press, 2/2/2007; National Journal, 2/15/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The defense presses Bond to acknowledge that Libby told her he was unsure of his memory and needed to consult his notes to be sure of his facts. Defense lawyer Theodore Wells also notes that Bond’s notes from the Libby interview are incomplete, and fail to mention Libby’s denials of disclosing Plame Wilson’s identity to Miller. Bond says that while she is sure Libby denied discussing Plame Wilson’s CIA identity with then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), FBI notes of Libby’s testimony contain no record of such a denial. The notes say that he may have discussed it, but he couldn’t recall. “Adamantly might not be the perfect word,” Bond testifies. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Associated Press, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, George J. Tenet, Judith Miller, John Eckenrode, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Michael Isikoff, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Theodore Wells
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The British government admits it should have credited a postgraduate student’s article as being part of its so-called “Dodgy Dossier” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (see February 3, 2003). “In retrospect we should have acknowledged” that sections of the document were based on an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, says a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Menzies Campbell, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, says the incident is “the intelligence equivalent of being caught stealing the spoons.… The dossier may not amount to much but this is a considerable embarrassment for a government trying still to make a case for war.” Labour leader Glenda Jackson, an outspoken opponent of war with Iraq, calls the dossier “another example of how the government is attempting to mislead the country and Parliament on the issue of a possible war with Iraq. And of course to mislead is a Parliamentary euphemism for lying.” Blair’s spokesman disputes the allegation that the government lied; instead, he says, “We all have lessons to learn.” The Blair administration insists the dossier is “solid,” no matter what its sources. “The report was put together by a range of government officials,” says a Downing Street spokesman. “As the report itself makes clear, it was drawn from a number of sources, including intelligence material. It does not identify or credit any sources, but nor does it claim any exclusivity of authorship.” Conservative Party shadow defense secretary Bernard Jenkin says his party is deeply concerned about the dossier. “The government’s reaction utterly fails to explain, deny, or excuse the allegations made in it,” he says. “This document has been cited by the prime minister and Colin Powell as the basis for a possible war. Who is responsible for such an incredible failure of judgment?” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003; BBC, 2/7/2003; Office of the Prime Minister, 2/7/2003; New York Times, 2/8/2003]
An investigation by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General finds that the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) inappropriately produced “alternative” intelligence reports that falsely concluded that Saddam Hussein’s regime had collaborated with al-Qaeda. The report says, “We believe the actions were inappropriate because a policy office was producing intelligence products and was not clearly conveying to senior decision-makers the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community.” The report cites a July 2002 memo (see July 25, 2002) issued by the OSP that had taken issue with the intelligence community’s view that Iraq would not work with Islamic extremists. The inspector general says that as an alternative view, the memo should have been developed in accordance with the appropriate intelligence agency guidelines. But the report also says that the unit did nothing illegal. The inspector general’s investigation had been requested by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) on September 22, 2005. [US Department of Defense, 2/9/2007 ; New York Times, 2/9/2007; McClatchy Newspapers, 2/9/2007; Associated Press, 2/10/2007] Responding to the report’s conclusions, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says in a statement that the Pentagon intelligence unit’s activities may have violated the 1947 National Security Act. The act “requires the heads of all departments and agencies of the US government involved in intelligence activities ‘to keep the congressional oversight committees informed,’” Rockefeller says. “The IG has concluded that [Feith’s] office was engaged in intelligence activities. The Senate Intelligence Committee was never informed of these activities. Whether these actions were authorized or not, it appears that they were not in compliance with the law.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 2/9/2007]
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) is released in Egypt. He was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan, Italy, in 2003 and taken to Egypt, where he was imprisoned. This sparked a confrontation between the CIA and Italian anti-terrorist authorities, who had been investigating him before he was kidnapped (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, who filed an action for unlawful detention against Egypt’s Interior Ministry, is released in Alexandria after a State Security Court declares his detention “unfounded.” Nasr will apparently remain in Egypt and not return to Italy, where a warrant for his arrest was issued on terrorism counts (see April 2005). [Associated Press, 2/12/2007]
Thom Hartmann. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Author and talk show host Thom Hartmann issues a call for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006). He frames his argument with a quote from the revered British Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill: “The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.” The MCA is “the most conspicuous part of a series of laws which have fundamentally changed the nature of this nation, moving us from a democratic republic to a state under the rule of a ‘unitary’ president,” Hartmann writes. The MCA is an “attack on eight centuries of English law,” the foundation of US jurisprudence that goes back to 1215 and the Magna Carta. While the MCA’s supporters in and out of the administration give reassurances that the law only applies to non-citizens, Hartmann notes that two US citizens, Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, have already been stripped of their habeas corpus rights. Habeas corpus, Hartmann writes, is featured prominently in Article I of the US Constitution. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was flat wrong in saying that the Constitution provided “no express grant of habeas” (see January 17, 2007), Hartmann writes. “Our Constitution does not grant us rights, because ‘We’ already hold all rights. Instead, it defines the boundaries of our government, and identifies what privileges ‘We the People’ will grant to that government.” The authors of the Constitution “must be turning in their graves,” Hartmann writes, quoting the “most conservative” of those authors, Alexander Hamilton: “The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus… are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains.… [T]he practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.” Hamilton’s colleague Thomas Jefferson said that laws such as habeas corpus make the US government “the strongest government on earth.” Now, Hartmann writes, the strength of that government is imperiled. [CommonDreams (.org), 2/12/2007]
Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in an interview that the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak is one of the worst security breaches in US history. He also says that he believes Vice President Dick Cheney, and not just White House staffers such as Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis Libby, was responsible for the leak. “It’s hard to believe that the chief of staff to the vice president was acting as a rogue agent,” Graham says. “What we have learned from the trial validates the suspicion that Libby was not just operating as a lone ranger. He was carrying out what the vice president wanted him to do, which was to besmirch Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband and a forceful critic of the Iraq war]. I think Libby has been a conspirator in one of the most reprehensible and damaging breaches of American security in modern history.” [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Bob Graham (D-FL), the former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that the White House found it almost impossible to refuse to appoint a special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003) because of the Bush administration’s insistence on an aggressive investigation of a Congressional leak in 2002 (see June 19, 2002 and June 20, 2002). The strongest push for a leak investigation came from Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, Graham recalls: “They [the administration] would have had a certain exposure to hypocrisy if they hid behind executive privilege” when the Plame Wilson investigation began, or if they had fought the appointment of a special prosecutor, Graham says. “It made it politically untenable to avoid having a strong investigation, because they had demanded it of us. With us, they said we should call out the meanest, leanest dogs. The example that they set with us became the boomerang that came around and hit them.” Both Cheney and Libby are central suspects in the Plame Wilson outing, though no one has been charged with leaking her CIA status to the press. Cheney is known to have selectively leaked and declassified intelligence to bolster the administration’s case for war and later to defend against charges that he misrepresented prewar intelligence (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and July 12, 2003). And evidence points to the conclusion that Cheney ordered Libby to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see July 7-8, 2003 and July 12, 2003). Senior Justice Department officials and Senate Democrats all pushed for Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself and name a special prosecutor. According to several senior Congressional staffers, Democrats made their case based in part on Cheney’s personal insistence that senators and their staffers be investigated over the NSA leak. [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
An Italian judge rules that there is enough evidence to try thirty-five people in the affair of kidnapped imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). Nasr was kidnapped by the CIA, with the knowledge of the Italian military intelligence service Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), in Milan in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, a former CIA asset (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), was then taken to Egypt, where he says he was tortured (see April-May 2004). The 26 Americans that are indicted can be tried in absentia in Italy and include Robert Seldon Lady, former chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, the former CIA station chief in Rome, and an officer from the US air base in Aviano, near Venice. The nine Italians include former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, but three of them are only charged with complicity in the kidnapping, not the kidnapping itself. However, none of the Americans are in Italy at this time, and Italy has not asked for them to be extradited. [Associated Press, 1/26/2007; CNN, 2/16/2007]
Mike McConnell. [Source: US Defense Department]Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell is sworn in as the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), replacing John Negroponte. [White House, 2/20/2007] Negroponte will become the Deputy Secretary of State under Condoleezza Rice, a position that has been vacant since July 2006, when the previous deputy, Robert Zoellick, left to take a position with the Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. Negroponte is felt to be a voice of experience in the State Department, and one that will help the oft-faltering Rice in her duties. [Associated Press, 1/5/2007]
Cheney, Negroponte, and the Iran NIE - One of the major factors in the White House’s decision to replace Negroponte is Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the administration release a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that supports Cheney’s aggressive policy towards Iran, and does not include any dissenting views. Cheney, who has for months suppressed the draft NIE on Iran because he does not want any views other than his own to be included in the NIE (see November 10, 2007), was displeased with Negroponte; Negroponte angered Cheney and other neoconservatives when, in April 2006, he told reporters that the US intelligence community believes Iran is “a number of years off” from being “likely to have enough fissile material to assemble into or to put into a nuclear weapon, perhaps into the next decade.” Though Negroponte was merely echoing the position of the 2005 NIE on Iran, he came under fierce attack from Cheney allies inside and outside the administration. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph publicly contradicted Negroponte, calling Iran’s nuclear program near the “point of no return,’ an Israeli concept referring to the mastery of industrial-scale uranium enrichment. And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a protege of former defense adviser Richard Perle, called Negroponte’s position on Iran’s nuclear program “absurd.” Cheney himself approached McConnell about accepting the position. McConnell is far more amenable to White House influence than Negroponte. On February 27, he will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that he is “comfortable saying it’s probable” that the alleged export of explosively formed penetrators to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq was linked to the highest leadership in Iran. Negroponte, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have refused to go that far. And the 2005 NIE on Iran estimated that it would take Iran five to ten years to produce a nuclear weapon, another position that Cheney opposes. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
In early March 2007, the Pakistani government announces that a top Taliban official has been captured. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s former defense minister, was supposedly captured on February 26, 2007, the same day that Vice President Cheney visited Pakistan, which the Associated Press says “has been under growing international pressure to crack down on Taliban militants believed to seek sanctuary on its soil.” If so, he would be the most senior Taliban leader ever captured since 9/11. However, the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick claims that one of its reporters interviewed him in Quetta, Pakistan on February 28, just two days after his supposed capture. SonntagsBlick writes, “The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee.” [Associated Press, 3/2/2007; Associated Press, 3/11/2007] He was also reportedly captured by the Northern Alliance in early 2002 and then released with US approval (see Early January 2002).
Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA officer involved in the rendition from Italy to Egypt of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), grants an interview to GQ magazine. In addition to discussing the rendition and the surveillance of Nasr that preceded it, Lady comments on his life afterwards, saying he feels he is constantly watched and that his wife has left him because of the stress following his outing as a covert operative. Furthermore, his home in Italy will probably be confiscated if he is convicted in legal proceedings against the kidnappers in Italy, although he is still making mortgage payments of $4,000 a month on it. “I’ll probably be convicted, but I won’t go to the trial, and I’ll never see Italy again,” he says. The CIA apparently told him to “keep quiet and let this blow over,” and he has to report to headquarters every month for update meetings. “No one’s called me for support. No one has helped. I keep thinking, ‘F_ck it, I’ve got nothing to lose,’” he adds. “Leaders used to protect those below from the top as they went up. It’s a way of harnessing the loyalty of those they led. Now they protect the top. They manage down and step on anyone below. What happened to me—and it happened to many good people—is that I worked too hard. I was decent. Even bureaucracies must die.” [GQ, 3/2007 ]
In hindsight, most observers believe that the break-in of the Nigerien embassy in Iraq that began the entire Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see January 2, 2001) was nothing more than it seemed—a crime of opportunity by individuals seeking to make money through fraud (see June or July 1999). They note that the burglary took place before President Bush took office. But Colonel Patrick Lang is not so sure. Lang, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, thinks that the entire affair may have been orchestrated to provoke an invasion of Iraq. He notes that he has no proof to back up his speculation. That being said, he goes on to note his belief that the US neoconservatives, who were so intensely interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would not have hesitated to reach out to their friends in Italian intelligence (SISMI) even before Bush entered the White House. Lang tells author Craig Unger: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the neocons had their eye on Iraq. This is something they intended to do, and they would have communicated that to SISMI or anybody else to get the help they wanted.” SISMI would have cooperated, Lang says, if for no other reason than to ingratiate itself with the new US administration. Lang says: “These foreign intelligence agencies are so dependent on us that the urge to acquire IOUs is a powerful incentive by itself.… It would have been very easy to have someone go to Rome and talk to them or have one of the SISMI guys here [in Washington], perhaps the SISMI officer in the Italian embassy, talk to them.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206-207]
A bipartisan group of senators headed by Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Kit Bond (R-MI) campaign to force the CIA to release the executive summary of a report by its inspector general about some aspects of its performance before 9/11. Wyden says, “It’s amazing the efforts the administration is going to stonewall this,” adding that he is considering linking acceptance of President Bush’s nominations for national security positions to the report’s release. Wyden also says that the report is not being kept secret for national security reasons, but merely to protect individuals from embarrassment. Apparently, some of the officials criticized in the report are still in “senior government positions.” The idea of releasing the executive summary is twice approved by the Senate before being made law in August 2007 (see August 8, 2007). [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]
Nieman Reports, a quarterly magazine about journalism, publishes an article by investigative journalist Craig Pyes describing how the US Army attempted to undermine a Los Angeles Times investigation looking into the March 2003 deaths of two Afghan detainees (see March 16, 2003). It is believed that members of a Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan murdered the two men, identified as Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed, and then covered up the circumstances surrounding their deaths. An official investigation into the two deaths by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) found insufficient probable cause to bring charges for either of the two deaths. As a result of the CID investigation, two soldiers were given noncriminal administrative letters of reprimand (see January 26, 2007) for “slapping” prisoners at the Gardez facility and for failing to report the death of Naseer. In his article, Pyes recounts the resistance he and his colleague Kevin Sack encountered from the military as they sought information about the two deaths. The military refused to disclose basic information about the circumstances surrounding the two deaths, including the two men’s identities, the circumstances of their detention, the charges against them, court papers, and investigative findings. The journalists also learned that soldiers had been told by their superiors that it was important that everyone be “on the same page in case there was an investigation.” During their investigation, they also discovered that “military examiners had made some significant errors, including their initial failure to identify the victims. They also grossly misidentified dates of crucial events and persistently failed to interview key people and locate supporting documents.” [Nieman Watchdog, 3/2/2007]
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) welcomes the jury’s verdict in the Lewis Libby trial (see March 6, 2007), and calls on President Bush not to pardon Libby. “It’s about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics,” Reid says. The White House refuses to comment on Reid’s statement. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
MSNBC ‘Breaking News’ image with photo of Lewis Libby immediately after he learns he is found guilty. [Source: MSNBC]A jury finds former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby guilty of multiple felonies relating to his divulging the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Libby is found guilty of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice. He is acquitted of one count of lying to the FBI, Count Three of the charges. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/6/2007 ; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
No Further Charges - The Associated Press writes, “The trial revealed how top members of the Bush administration were eager to discredit Plame [Wilson]‘s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who accused the administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq.” Libby remains expressionless during the reading of the verdicts, but his wife sobs and lowers her head as the verdicts are announced. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says no additional charges pertaining to the Plame Wilson leak investigation will be filed. “The results are actually sad,” Fitzgerald tells reporters. “It’s sad that we had a situation where a high-level official person who worked in the office of the vice president obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that it had not happened, but it did.” Fitzgerald adds that Libby, by lying and obstructing justice, harmed the process of law, and made it more difficult to find out who actually did what in the Plame Wilson leak. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007]
Libby the 'Fall Guy'; Memory Defense Implausible - Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007). One juror, Denis Collins, tells reporters that he and his fellow jurors found passing judgment on Libby “unpleasant,” but that in final consideration, Libby’s story was too difficult to believe. Collins, a former Washington Post reporter, tells reporters that the jurors had constructed 34 poster-sized pages filled with information they distilled from the trial testimony (see March 1, 2007). They determined that Libby had been told about Plame Wilson’s CIA status at least nine different times, and could not accept the defense’s argument that he forgot about knowing it (see January 31, 2006). “Even if he forgot that someone told him about Mrs. Wilson, who had told him, it seemed very unlikely he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson,” Collins says. But, Collins goes on to say, the jurors believe there is more to the story than Libby’s criminal behavior. “We’re not saying we didn’t think Mr. Libby was guilty,” Collins says, “but it seemed like… he was the fall guy” for Vice President Dick Cheney, his former boss. Collins says the jurors felt “a tremendous amount of sympathy” for Libby, and wondered why they were not hearing from other White House officials in Libby’s defense, particularly Cheney and Bush political strategist Karl Rove. “It was said a number of times: ‘What are we doing with this guy here? Where’s Rove? Where are these other guys?’” He says that the testimony of Cheney aide John Hannah was particularly hurtful to Libby’s case (see February 13, 2007), with Hannah seesawing between claiming Libby had an “awful” memory (see January 31, 2006) and then saying he had an incredible grasp of minute details. Collins describes the jury as “dispassionate” in its deliberations, and adds that it took the jury over a week to conclude Libby was guilty of any charges. He says that one juror held out for Libby’s innocence on Count Three, based on reasonable doubt; otherwise the entire jury was unanimous for Libby’s guilt. Fitzgerald says that because Libby lied to both FBI investigators and the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak, it became impossible to fully investigate Cheney’s role in leaking Plame Wilson’s covert identity. [Associated Press, 3/6/2007; Jane Hamsher, 3/6/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/6/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] In her 2007 book Fair Game, Plame Wilson will reflect, “[I]t seemed that Libby’s defense tactic of casting him as a ‘scapegoat’ (see January 16-23, 2007) had worked, but not in the way they had intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
New Trial? - Libby’s defense attorney, Theodore Wells, says he will request a new trial—something the BBC will call “a common tactic”—and if it is denied, Wells says he will appeal the verdict. Libby is fingerprinted and released on his own recognizance to await sentencing. [Christy Hardin Smith, 3/6/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] “We have every confidence Mr. Libby ultimately will be vindicated,” Wells tells reporters. “We believe Mr. Libby is totally innocent and that he didn’t do anything wrong.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
Weeping with Relief - Plame Wilson will recall watching the news on television: “To say I was a bundle of nerves—it felt like I needed two hands to stir the milk in my coffee—would be an understatement.” When the verdicts are read, she begins to “cry with relief,” and immediately calls her husband Joseph Wilson. His response: “Thank God. The charge of obstruction of justice was the most important.” Of her own feelings, Plame Wilson will write, “My feelings of deep sadness over the entire affair were tempered by relief that our justice system still worked as intended.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 294-295]
White House Response - White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino says President Bush watched news of the verdict on television in the Oval Office. Perino says the president respects the jury’s verdict but “was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family.” Perino says the verdict should not be construed as in any way embarrassing for the White House: “I think that any administration that has to go through a prolonged news story that is unpleasant and one that is difficult—when you’re under the constraints and the policy of not commenting on an ongoing criminal matter—that can be very frustrating.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Denis Collins, John Hannah, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Dana Perino, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Judge Marcia Cooke. [Source: Daily Business Review]Federal prosecutors in the Jose Padilla case (see May 8, 2002) say that a video of Padilla’s final interrogation, on March 2, 2004, is inexplicably missing. The video was not part of a packet of DVDs containing classified material turned over to the court handling the Padilla case. Padilla’s lawyers believe that the missing videotape may show Padilla being subjected to “harsh” interrogation techniques that may qualify as torture, and wonder if other potentially exculpatory recordings and documentation of Padilla’s interrogations have also been lost. Padilla’s lawyers say something happened during that last interrogation session on March 2, 2004, at the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, that led Padilla to believe that the lawyers are actually government agents. Padilla no longer trusts them, the lawyers say, and they want to know what happened. Prosecutors say that they cannot find the tape despite an intensive search. “I don’t know what happened to it,” Pentagon attorney James Schmidli said during a recent court hearing. US District Court Judge Marcia Cooke finds the government’s claim hard to believe. “Do you understand how it might be difficult for me to understand that a tape related to this particular individual just got mislaid?” Cooke told prosecutors at a hearing last month. Padilla, a US citizen, is scheduled to stand trial in April. Padilla’s lawyers want the brig tapes, medical records, and other documentation to prove their claims that Padilla suffers intense post-traumatic stress syndrome from his long isolation and repeated interrogations, though Cooke has ruled that Padilla is competent to stand trial. They believe that he was mistreated and possibly tortured in the Naval brig before being transferred to civilian custody. This missing DVD may not be the only one because brig logs indicate that there were approximately 72 hours of interrogations that either were not recorded, or whose recordings were never disclosed. Prosecutors claim some interrogations were not recorded, but defense lawyers question that, pointing out that there are even videos of Padilla taking showers. [Newsweek, 2/28/2007; Associated Press, 3/9/2007] Statements by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey in June 2004 indirectly support the defense’s claim that Padilla was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics (see June 2004). Other videotapes that may pertain to the Padilla case have been destroyed by the CIA (see November 22, 2005). Former civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald writes, “[I]f the administration’s patently unbelievable claim were true—namely, that it did ‘lose’ the video of its interrogation of this Extremely Dangerous International Terrorist—that would, by itself, evidence a reckless ineptitude with American national security so grave that it ought to be a scandal by itself. But the likelihood that the key interrogation video with regard to Padilla’s torture claims was simply ‘lost’ is virtually non-existent. Destruction of relevant evidence in any litigation is grounds for dismissal of the case (or defense) of the party engaged in that behavior. But where, as here, the issues extend far beyond the singular proceeding itself—we are talking about claims by a US citizen that he was tortured by his own government—destruction of evidence of this sort would be obstruction of justice of the most serious magnitude.” [Salon, 3/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Anthony Natale, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Marcia Cooke, Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Glenn Greenwald, James B. Comey Jr., James Schmidli
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) tells 60 Minutes that he has looked into the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), and has concluded that there was leaking by top government officials—not to shut down the sole publicly named suspect, Steven Hatfill, but to disguise a lack of progress in the investigation. Asked if he has any evidence that government officials knowingly planted false information in the press, Grassley replies, “I believe the extent to which they wanted the public to believe that they were making great progress in this case, and the enormous pressure they had after a few years to show that, yes, that they was very much misleading the public.” He adds that the leaking hurt the investigation: “Because it gave people an indication of where the FBI was headed for. And if you knew what that road map was, that if you were a guilty person you would be able to take action to avoid FBI.” [CBS News, 3/11/2007]
The British government embellished intelligence used to justify the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, according to Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector. Blix, who led the UN search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq until June 2003, says a later discredited dossier on Iraq’s weapons programs had deliberately embellished the case for war. Tony Blair’s government published a dossier before the invasion that claimed Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and could deploy some within 45 minutes, but the dossier turned out to be riddled with errors and deliberate falsehoods. Blix says, "I do think they exercised spin. They put exclamation marks instead of question marks." Blix says that as a result, Blair and Bush had "lost a lot of confidence" once failures in intelligence were exposed. Britain’s dossier on Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction was criticized by a 2004 official British inquiry into intelligence on Iraq. Though the inquiry’s head, Lord Butler, did not fault Blair’s government, he criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on “seriously flawed” or "unreliable" sources. Butler’s review concluded that the dossier, which helped Blair win the support of Parliament to join the US in the conflict, had pushed the government’s case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats. Blix says that if UN inspectors had been allowed to carry out inspections "a couple of months more," intelligence officials would likely have drawn the eventual conclusion that Iraq had no weapons stockpiles and that their sources were providing poor quality information. [Associated Press, 3/12/2007]
Silvestre Reyes. [Source: US House of Representatives]In response to a question asked at a briefing, CIA Director Michael Hayden makes an “offhand comment” to the House Intelligence Committee indicating that tapes the CIA has made of detainee interrogations have been destroyed (see Spring-Late 2002). Although some committee members have been aware of the tapes’ existence since 2003 (see February 2003), this is apparently the first time they learn of their destruction, which occurred over year ago (see November 2005). The destruction is again “briefly mentioned” in a letter to a member of the committee in mid-April. Leading committee members Silvestre Reyes and Peter Hoekstra will later write to Hayden, “We do not consider this to be sufficient notification. Moreover, these brief mentions were certainly not contemporaneous with the decision to destroy the videotapes.” [US Congress, 12/7/2007] The Senate Intelligence Committee is apparently not informed until later (see December 7, 2007).
A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession. [Source: Rob Rodgers / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 10, 2007), becomes, as Time puts it, “a focus of cable TV and other media coverage, a reminder of America’s ongoing battle against international terrorism.” [Time, 3/15/2007] However, terrorism analysts are skeptical of some aspects of it. In an article entitled Why KSM’s Confession Rings False, former CIA agent Robert Baer says that KSM is “boasting” and “It’s also clear he is making things up.” Specifically, Baer doubts that KSM murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Baer notes that this “raises the question of just what else he has exaggerated, or outright fabricated.” Baer also points out he does not address the question of state support for al-Qaeda and that “al-Qaeda also received aid from supporters in Pakistan, quite possibly from sympathizers in the Pakistani intelligence service.” [Time, 3/15/2007] Pearl’s father also takes the confession of his son’s murder “with a spice of doubt.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Journalist Yosri Fouda, who interviewed KSM in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), comments, “he seems to be taking responsibility for some outrages he might not have perpetrated, while keeping quiet about ones that suggest his hand.” Specifically, he thinks KSM may have been involved in an attack in Tunisia that killed about 20 people (see April 11, 2002). [London Times, 3/18/2007] KSM is also believed to have been involved in the embassy and USS Cole bombings (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001), but these are also not mentioned. Terrorism analyst Bruce Riedel also does not take the confession at face value, saying, “He wants to promote his own importance. It’s been a problem since he was captured.” [Time, 3/15/2007] The Los Angeles Times notes that, according to intelligence officials, “the confession should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.” A former FBI manager says: “Clearly he is responsible for some of the attacks. But I believe he is taking credit for things he did not have direct involvement in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2007] The Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out that the Plaza Bank, one of the targets KSM says he planned to attack, was actually established in 2006, three years after he was captured. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007] Michael Scheuer, formerly head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notes KSM only says he is “involved” in the plots and that 31 plots in 11 years “can hardly be called excessive.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Some media are even more skeptical. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer comments that KSM, “claimed credit for everything but being John Wilkes Booth’s handler.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/30/2007]
Valerie Plame Wilson testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Life]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing about the ramifications of the Lewis Libby guilty verdict (see March 6, 2007) and the outing of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Plame Wilson is the star witness, and for the first time publicly discusses the leak and her former status as a covert agent. As earlier revealed by authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their book Hubris, Plame Wilson was the covert operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI), a section of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), which itself is part of the agency’s clandestine operations directorate. Indeed, as Libby special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has already stated, the fact of her employment with the CIA was itself classified information (see October 28, 2005). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 299; Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Republican Attempts to Close Hearing Fail - Tom Davis (R-VA), the committee’s ranking Republican, attempts to close Plame Wilson’s testimony to the public on the grounds that her statements might threaten national security. “It would be with great reluctance, but we have to protect confidential information,” he says. Politico reporter John Bresnahan describes Davis as “clearly unhappy that the hearing is taking place at all, so his threat has to be viewed in that context.” Davis goes on to say: “We are mining something that has been thoroughly looked into. There are so many other areas where [Congressional] oversight needs to be conducted instead of the Plame thing.” The hearing will remain open to the public. [Politico, 3/14/2007]
Pre-Testimony Jitters - In her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls the jitters she experiences in the hours leading up to her appearance before the committee. She had tried, in the days before the hearing, “to think of every possible question the committee could throw at me.… I had to be sharp to avoid giving any information that the CIA would deem sensitive or classified. It was a minefield.” She is relieved to learn that CIA Director Michael Hayden has met with committee staffers and, she will write, “explicitly approved the use of the term ‘covert’ in describing my cover status.” She will write that though she still cannot confirm the length of her service with the CIA, she can “at least counter those who had suggested over the last few years that I was no more than a ‘glorified secretary’” (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 299]
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Before Plame Wilson testifies, committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reads a statement saying that she had been a “covert” officer” who had “served at various times overseas” and “worked on the prevention of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States.” Waxman notes that the CIA had cleared this statement. And during subsequent questioning, committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) reports that Hayden had told him, “Ms. Wilson was covert.” [Nation, 3/16/2007; Think Progress, 3/16/2007; FireDogLake, 3/16/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 3/16/2007]
Confirms Her Status in CPD - Plame Wilson testifies that she is still bound by secrecy oaths and cannot reveal many of the specifics of her CIA career. However, she testifies, “I served the United States of America loyally and to the best of my ability as a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.” She says, “In the run-up to the war with Iraq, I worked in the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA, still as a covert officer whose affiliation with the CIA was classified.” She also notes that she helped to “manage and run secret worldwide operations.” Prior to the Iraq war, she testifies, she had “raced to discover intelligence” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. “While I helped to manage and run secret worldwide operations against this WMD target from CIA headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.” Those trips had occurred within the last five years, she says, contradicting arguments that she had not functioned as a covert agent within the last five years and therefore those who revealed her identity could not be held legally accountable (see February 18, 2007). “Covert operations officers, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, are still covert,” she says. Furthermore, far from her identity as a CIA agent being “common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit,” as some have alleged (see September 30, 2003, July 12, 2004, and March 16, 2007), she testifies that she can “count on one hand” the number of people outside the agency who knew of her CIA status before her outing by White House officials. “But, all of my efforts on behalf of the national security of the United States, all of my training, and all of the value of my years service were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007; Mother Jones, 3/16/2007] During this portion of testimony, Davis repeats an assertion that neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney were aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status during the time of her exposure. [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007]
'They Should Have Been Diligent in Protecting Me and Other CIA Officers' - Plame Wilson testifies that, as the Libby trial progressed, she was “shocked and dismayed by the evidence that emerged. My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department. All of them understood that I worked for the CIA, and having signed oaths to protect national security secrets, they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer.” Many agents in CPD are covert, she says, and thusly, officials such as Cheney and Libby, who knew she worked in that division, should have been careful in spreading information about her.
'Grave' Damage to National Security - Plame Wilson says she cannot be specific about what kind of damage was done by her identity being revealed (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); the CIA did perform a damage assessment, but did not share the results with her, and that assessment is classified (see Before September 16, 2003). “But the concept is obvious,” she says. “Not only have breaches of national security endangered CIA officers, it has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents who in turn risked their own lives and those of their families—to provide the United States with needed intelligence. Lives are literally at stake. Every single one of my former CIA colleagues, from my fellow covert officers, to analysts, to technical operations officers, to even the secretaries, understands the vulnerability of our officers and recognizes that the travesty of what happened to me, could happen to them. We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies. It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover… for purely political motives.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007] She refuses to speculate as to the intentions of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove in exposing her identity (see July 10, 2005). [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007]
Politicization of Intelligence Dangerous, Counterproductive - Plame Wilson decries the increasingly partisan politicization of intelligence gathering and presentation under the Bush regime, saying: “The tradecraft of intelligence is not a product of speculation. I feel passionately as an intelligence professional about the creeping, insidious politicizing of our intelligence process. All intelligence professionals are dedicated to the ideal that they would rather be fired on the spot than distort the facts to fit a political view—any political view—or any ideology.… [I]njecting partisanship or ideology into the equation makes effective and accurate intelligence that much more difficult to develop. Politics and ideology must be stripped completely from our intelligence services, or the consequences will be even more severe than they have been and our country placed in even greater danger. It is imperative for any president to be able to make decisions based on intelligence that is unbiased.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007]
No Role in Deciding to Send Husband to Niger - Plame Wilson discusses the persistent rumors that she dispatched her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Such rumors imply that Wilson was unqualified for the mission, and was sent by his wife for reasons having to do with partisan politics and nepotism (see July 9, 2004). Plame Wilson testifies that she had no authority to send her husband anywhere under CIA auspices, that it was a co-worker’s suggestion, not hers, to send her husband (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), and that her participation was limited to writing a note outlining her husband’s qualifications for such a fact-finding mission (see Fall 1999 and February 13, 2002). She testifies that a colleague had been misquoted in an earlier Senate Intelligence Committee report in saying that she proposed her husband for the trip, and that this colleague was not permitted to correct the record. [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Further Investigation Warranted - After Plame Wilson concludes her testimony, Waxman declares: “We need an investigation. This is not about Scooter Libby and not just about Valerie Plame Wilson.” Journalist David Corn concurs: “Waxman was right in that the Libby trial did not answer all the questions about the leak affair, especially those about the roles of Bush administration officials other than Libby. How did Cheney learn of Valerie Wilson’s employment at the Counterproliferation Division and what did he do with that information? How did Karl Rove learn of her CIA connection? How did Rove manage to keep his job after the White House declared anyone involved in the leak would be fired?… What did Bush know about Cheney’s and Rove’s actions? What did Bush do in response to the disclosure that Rove had leaked and had falsely claimed to White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he wasn’t involved in the leak?” Republican committee members are less sanguine about the prospect of such an investigation, with Davis noting that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had already conducted an investigation of the leak. Corn writes: “Not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. Valerie Wilson’s presence at the hearing was a reminder that White House officials (beyond Libby) engaged in improper conduct (which possibly threatened national security) and lied about it—while their comrades in the commentariat spinned away to distort the public debate.” [Nation, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Joint Task Force on Iraq, David Corn, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Elijah Cummings, Valerie Plame Wilson, Counterproliferation Division, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove, Tom Davis, Michael Hayden, Joseph C. Wilson, John Bresnahan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Isikoff, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, who ordered the wrongful rendition of a German citizen (see Before January 23, 2004) and made an unauthorized trip to view the waterboarding of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see After March 7, 2003), is considered for the position of deputy chief at the CIA’s station in Baghdad. Harper’s journalist Ken Silverstein learns of her candidacy from two sources, who describe her as “a person who inspires little confidence, and who is highly adept at working her way through the bureaucracy, but has no leadership ability.” Apparently, she is being considered because “no one wants to take high-profile positions at Baghdad station, so the CIA is stuck taking whoever is willing to go.” However, in the end she does not get the job. [Harper's, 3/23/2007] Several weeks later, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano will write to Silverstein to defend Bikowsky. Gimigliano says that at this time she “is neither considering, nor being considered for, service in Iraq.” He adds: “I can tell you that she has been central over the years to the efforts of our government, and other governments, to discover and disrupt al-Qaeda operations worldwide. Her work, and the work she has led, has stopped terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives. The counterterrorist expertise she has built and applied on behalf of our country is the product of great effort and exceptional commitment.” [Harper's, 4/16/2007]
ACLU advertisement against the Military Commissions Act. [Source: ACLU]The American Civil Liberties Union strongly objects to the stripping of habeas corpus rights contained within the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The ACLU observes, “Habeas corpus isn’t a fancy legal term. It’s the freedom from being thrown in prison illegally, with no help and no end in sight. No president should ever be given the power to call someone an enemy, wave his hand, and lock them away indefinitely. The Founders made the president subject to the rule of law. They rejected dungeons and chose due process.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 3/28/2007]
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) at Guantanamo in July 2009. [Source: International Committee of the Red Cross]At his Combat Status Review Tribunal hearing in Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), 9/11 facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi) denies being an enemy combatant and says he has provided “vital information” to the US. Regarding the allegations against him:
He admits sending money to hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in the US, but says it was Alshehhi’s money and he regularly moved money for others—he did not know Alshehhi intended to hijack airliners (see June 28-30, 2000);
He admits knowing and working for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), his uncle, but says he had no idea KSM was connected to al-Qaeda;
He admits leaving Dubai just before 9/11, but says this was due to residence permit problems (see September 9-11, 2001);
He also denies various other allegations made against him and says he has never been a member of al-Qaeda, trained in the camps, or met Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Statements by KSM and Ramzi bin al-Shibh saying he was not involved in the operation are also submitted in his defense. In his final statement to the tribunal he says: “Ever since I was turned in to the United States government, about four years ago, the government uses my services by getting information from me about al-Qaeda activities and personnel that I obtained through independent research. The United States has benefited from the vital and important information I supplied by foiling al-Qaeda plans and obtaining information on al-Qaeda personnel… So, is it fair or reasonable that after all the important and vital information I have supplied to the United States government that I be considered an enemy combatant?” [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007 ] The CIA refuses to comment on Ali’s claim he is cooperating. [Los Angeles Times, 4/13/2007]
FBI director Robert Mueller orders a criminal probe into FBI officials who used misleading “exigent letters”—letters used in lieu of National Security Letters (NSLs) that demand information on an emergency basis—to acquire thousands of US citizens’ phone records. Mueller tells civil liberties groups of the probe, which focuses on the activities of the Communications Analysis Unit (CAU). The probe could result in criminal prosecutions for misuse of Patriot Act investigative tools. NSLs are powerful subpoenas that can be issued by FBI supervisors without court supervisions, and have played central roles in previous allegations of misuse (see February 2005). The probe is investigating incidents where CAU officials wrote “exigent letters” to telecommunications firms requesting immediate wiretaps and promising that court warrants would be forthcoming—but the warrants had never been applied for and were never issued. Some FBI employees have already been granted immunity in return for their testimony. NSLs are routinely used to provide investigators in terrorism and espionage cases with data from phone companies, banks, credit reporting agencies, and Internet service providers on any US citizens considered “relevant” to an ongoing investigation. This information is then stored in three separate computer systems, including a shared data-mining system called the Investigative Data Warehouse. Though warned in 2001 to use this power with restraint, FBI agents have so far issued over 47,000 NSLs, more than half of those targeting Americans. In the case of the CAU, a support bureau which analyzes suspected terrorist communications and provides intelligence to the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, its officials cannot issue subpoenas, but must have counterterrorism investigators do so. But the CAU has issued at least 739 “exigent letters” to AT&T, Verizon, and MCI seeking information on over 3,000 phone numbers; some of the individual letters contained requests for over 100 numbers. The letters read in part, “Due to exigent circumstances, it is requested that records for the attached list of telephone numbers be provided. Subpoenas requesting this information have been submitted to the US Attorney’s Office who will process and serve them formally to [telecom firm] as expeditiously as possible.” [Wired News, 7/12/2007] (Reporter Ryan Singel notes, The most striking thing about these exigent letters… is that they all use the same pathetic, passive bureaucratese.”) [Wired News, 7/10/2007] No such subpoena requests had been filed with the particular US attorneys, and only some of the requests were later followed up with proper legal processes. CAU chief Bassem Youssef says he ended the problem after he took over the unit in 2005, and says his attempts to provide post-facto legal processes were often hampered by uncooperative field offices. Youssef is suing the FBI over his complaints that the bureau was wasting his Arabic-language skills and antiterrorism experience and the bureau’s alleged retaliation. [Wired News, 7/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Verizon Communications, USA Patriot Act, Ryan Singel, Robert S. Mueller III, Bassem Youssef, Communications Analysis Unit (FBI), AT&T, MCI, Investigative Data Warehouse, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
In a press briefing, President Bush says that Iran is actively working on a nuclear weapon: “Our position is that we would hope that nations would be very careful in dealing with Iran, particularly since Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, and a major threat to world peace is if the Iranians had a nuclear weapon.… [We] are deeply concerned about an Iranian government that is in violation of international accords in their attempt to develop a nuclear weapon.” [White House, 3/31/2007]
Cofer Black, former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, is named a senior adviser for counterterrorism and national security issues in the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney. Black will also be named chairman of the campaign’s counterterrorism policy advisory group in September. According to the Boston Globe, “some observers” will say that Black has significant influence on Romney’s campaign, as Romney says he wants to double the size of Guantanamo Bay, endorses tough interrogation techniques, praises the Patriot Act, and supports some aggressive surveillance policies. According to the Globe, “many people in the national security field expect that Black would play a leading role in a Romney presidency, making Black a potentially pivotal figure for a former governor with little foreign policy and counterterrorism experience.” [Boston Globe, 11/2/2007]
The FBI’s letter to Bruce Ivins. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Bruce Ivins is sent a formal letter by prosecutors saying that he is “not a target” of the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation. In fact, samples of the anthrax used in the attacks have been shown to match anthrax once controlled by Ivins (see Early 2007) and Ivins has already been questioned about late-night work he had conducted in the USAMRIID laboratory shortly before the anthrax letters were mailed (see March 31, 2005). [New York Times, 9/6/2008] Since late 2006, Ivins has correctly been under the impression that he is a target of the investigation (see Late 2006).
Suzanne Spaulding. [Source: Bipartisan Security Group]Suzanne Spaulding, a national security expert with twenty years of experience in the CIA, on various Congressional oversight committees, and executive director of two separate commissions on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of that body’s hearings on the improper use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by the FBI (see October 25, 2005). Spaulding has spoken out before against the NSA’s wiretapping program (see December 25, 2005). She says that the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agents need “the tools they need to do their job” and “clear guidance on just what it is that we want them to do on our behalf—and how we want them to do it. Clear rules and careful oversight provide essential protections for those on the front lines of our domestic counterterrorism efforts.” However, Spaulding testifies, “it appears both were lacking in the implementation of national security letter authorities.” Spaulding says that Congress should begin a much larger examination of domestic surveillance issues, saying, “The appropriateness of using FISA electronic surveillance to eavesdrop on Americans should be considered in light of other, less intrusive techniques that might be available to establish whether a phone number belongs to a suspected terrorist or the pizza delivery shop. It’s not the ‘all or nothing’ proposition often portrayed in some of the debates.” However, according to recent findings by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn A. Fine, “there is not sufficient guidance on how to apply that in the NSL context or in conjunction with other available collection techniques.” Therefore, there is a strong “need for a broader examination of domestic intelligence tools.”
Urges Congressional Review - Spaulding urges Congress “to undertake a comprehensive review of all domestic intelligence collection, not just by FBI but also by the other national security agencies engaged in domestic intelligence collection, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Agency. A Joint Inquiry or Task Force could be established by the Senate leadership, with representation from the most relevant committees (Judiciary, Intelligence, Armed Services, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs), to carefully examine the nature of the threat inside the US and the most effective strategies for countering it. Then Congress, and the American public, can consider whether we have the appropriate institutional and legal framework for implementing those strategies with adequate safeguards and oversight.”
FBI's Expanded Powers Need Review - In addition, she testifies, the FBI’s expanded ability to use NSLs under the Patriot Act must be examined. Currently, the law seems to allow the FBI to use NSLs to obtain evidence pursuant to a FISA warrant, thus allowing “the government to get information about individuals who are not themselves the subject of an investigation”—“parties two or three steps removed from their subjects without determining if these contacts reveal suspicious connections,” Fine reported. Spaulding expands on Fine’s findings: “In fact, the most tenuous of connections would seem to suffice for this NSL standard. For example, it’s not clear why an ‘investigation to protect against international terrorism’ couldn’t justify demanding information about all residents of, say, Dearborn, Michigan [home to a large Arab-American community], so that you could run them through some logarithmic profile to identify ‘suspicious’ individuals. In fact, Congress should examine the facts surrounding the nine NSLs in one investigation that were, according to the IG Report, used to obtain information regarding over 11,000 different phone numbers.”
Data Mining Efforts Should Be Examined - Also, she says, data mining efforts by other law enforcement and intelligence agencies should be carefully examined and addressed: “NSLs should not become a mechanism for gathering vast amounts of information about individuals with no known connection to international terrorism for purposes of data mining.” Spaulding also notes that the Patriot Act allows FBI special agents in charge (SACs) to issue NSLs; instead, she says, only attorneys in the Justice Department’s National Security Division should be able to issue NSLs. Yet another problem Spaulding notes is the FBI’s policy of retention of data gathered on US citizens through NSLs, even when those citizens have no connection to terrorist activities. Spaulding expressed similar concerns in a previous op-ed for the Washington Post (see December 25, 2005). [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
French investigative journalist Guillaume Dasquie writes an article for Le Monde detailing the extensive knowledge obtained by the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about al-Qaeda between July 2000 and October 2001. The article is based on a series of DGSE reports leaked to Dasquie about al-Qaeda’s funding (see July 24, 2000), aerial photographs of Osama bin Laden (see August 28, 2000), and al-Qaeda threats against the US (see Between September 2000 and August 2001), including aircraft piracy. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 7/4/2007]
Former CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who ran the agency’s “rendition” program that sent suspected terrorists to foreign nations to be interrogated for information in the late 1990s (see Summer 1995 and 1997), says during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that the assurances of Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria that a suspect will not be tortured are not “worth a bucket of warm spit.” Scheuer tells the assembled lawmakers that he knows of at least three mistakes that the CIA has made in its overseas rendition program, including the capture and subsequent torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002 and October 10, 2002-October 20, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 149-150; US Congress, 4/17/2007 ]
Eric Lichtblau. [Source: PBS]Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003 and June 17, 2004), is subpoenaed to testify in the Justice Department’s investigation of the leaks that resulted in the New York Times’s dramatic disclosure of the NSA domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Goldsmith had spoken to one of the two Times reporters, Eric Lichtblau, in October 2004, three months after his resignation from the OLC, but lied to Lichtblau, saying he knew nothing of the program. He immediately alerted his former boss, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, of the interview.
'Stunned' By Subpoena - In his September 2007 book The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith will recall being “stunned” at the subpoena, though the two FBI agents who give him the subpoena—in public—say that they don’t suspect him as the source of the leak. Goldsmith later recalls, “What angered me most about the subpoena I received on that wet day in Cambridge was not the expense of lawyers or a possible perjury trap, but rather the fact that it was Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department that had issued it. As [the two FBI agents] knew, I had spent hundreds of very difficult hours at OLC, in the face of extraordinary White House resistance, trying to clean up the legal mess that then-White House Counsel Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and others had created in designing the foundations of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. It seemed rich beyond my comprehension for a Gonzales-led Department of Justice to be pursuing me for possibly illegal actions in connection with the Terrorist Surveillance Program….”
Supported Surveillance of Terrorism - Goldsmith will continue, “I was not opposed to the leak investigation itself or to vigorous surveillance of terrorists. I agreed with President Bush that the revelations by [James] Risen and Lichtblau had alerted our enemies, put our citizens at risk, and done ‘great harm’ to the nation. I hoped the FBI would find and punish the leakers, and I had spent many hours trying to help them do so. I also shared many of the White House’s concerns with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the 1978 domestic wiretapping law that required executive officers, on pain of jail, to get a court warrant before wiretapping suspected enemies in the United States. We were at war with terrorists who were armed with disposable cell phones and encrypted e-mails buried in a global multibillion-communications-per-day system. It seemed crazy to require the commander in chief and his subordinates to get a judge’s permission to listen to each communication under a legal regime that was designed before technological revolutions brought us high-speed fiber-optic networks, the public Internet, e-mail, and ten-dollar cell phones. But I deplored the way the White House went about fixing the problem. ‘We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,’ Addington had told me in his typically sarcastic style during a tense White House meeting in February of 2004 (see February 2004). The vice president’s counsel, who was the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, was singing the White House tune on FISA. He and the vice president had abhorred FISA’s intrusion on presidential power ever since its enactment in 1978. After 9/11 they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations. My first experience of this strict control, in fact, had come in a 2003 meeting when Addington angrily denied the NSA inspector general’s request to see a copy of OLC’s legal analysis in support of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Before I arrived in OLC, not even NSA lawyers were allowed to see the Justice Department’s legal analysis of what NSA was doing.”
Difficult to Justify Legally - Goldsmith will write of the difficulties he found in finding legal justifications for the program. “I first encountered the program in 2003-2004, long after it had been integrated into the post-9/11 counterterrorism architecture. Putting it legally aright at that point, without destroying some of the government’s most important counterterrorism tools, was by far the hardest challenge I faced in government. And the whole ordeal could have been avoided.…In 2004, I and others in the Department of Justice had begun the process of working with the FISA court to give the commander in chief much more flexibility in tracking terrorists. From the beginning the administration could have taken these and other steps to ramp up terrorist surveillance in indisputably lawful ways that would have minimized the likelihood of a devastating national security leak. But only if it had been willing to work with the FISA court or Congress. The White House had found it much easier to go it alone, in secret.” [Slate, 9/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, New York Times, Terrorist Surveillance Program, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., Eric Lichtblau, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, James Risen, Jack Goldsmith, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Germany rejects a fresh bid from Spain to extradite Mamoun Darkazanli, a German-Syrian businessman who associated with 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and Ziad Jarrah and is suspected of helping the 9/11 plot (see October 9, 1999 and Spring 2000). Germany had rejected a previous extradition request (see July 18, 2005), but German law had been amended and the Spanish, who had indicted Darkazanli on terrorism charges, tried again. The justice ministry in Hamburg was apparently in favor of extradition, but the move was blocked by the federal justice ministry, which said Germany had already investigated Darkazanli and found no grounds to prosecute him. Apparently, they could not find evidence that he supported the 9/11 plot and being a member of al-Qaeda only became illegal in Germany in 2002, so he cannot be extradited. It appears no action can now be taken against Darkazanli, and a spokesman for the justice department in the city-state of Hamburg says, “We now assume that the Darkazanli case is closed for us.” [EUbusiness(.com), 4/30/2007; Agence France-Presse, 4/30/2007]
According to former CIA Director George Tenet, he speaks to a “senior CIA officer” with knowledge of pre-9/11 intelligence failures, apparently in preparation for a book he is writing. They discuss the failure to inform the FBI that one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The officer tells Tenet: “Once Almihdhar’s picture and visa information were received, everyone agreed that the information should immediately be sent to the FBI. Instructions were given to do so. There was a contemporaneous e-mail in CIA staff traffic, which CIA and FBI employees had access to, indicating that the data had in fact been sent to the FBI. Everyone believed it had been done.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 195] The claim that “everyone agreed” the information should be sent to the FBI is false, because two officers, deputy unit chief Tom Wilshire and Michael Anne Casey, specifically instructed two other people working at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, not to send it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). The “contemporaneous e-mail” was then written by Casey, who must have known the claim the information had been passed was incorrect (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Casey later appears to have lied about this matter to Tenet (see Before October 17, 2002) and the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004).
Bush administration officials tell Senate Intelligence Committee members that they will not promise to continue seeking warrants for surveillance on US citizens, as the administration agreed to do in January 2007. They insist that President Bush has the Constitutional authority to decide whether or not to order the NSA to conduct surveillance without warrants if he desires. The secret wiretapping program was revealed to the public just weeks before the agreement (see December 15, 2005), and immediately drew tremendous outcries of criticism from civil libertarians, from lawmakers from all across the political spectrum, and from much of the public. Since the January agreement, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court has issued warrants for domestic wiretaps after being given evidence showing some kind of probable cause to justify the proposed surveillance. Previously, the wiretapping program had ignored the FISA restrictions. Now Bush officials, most notably the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, are saying that Bush has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to order warrantless wiretaps on US citizens.
Invoking Presidential Authority - In Senate testimony on this day, Russ Feingold (D-WI) asks McConnell if he is willing to promise that the administration will no longer ignore the law and the court when monitoring citizens. McConnell replies, “Sir, the president’s authority under Article II is in the Constitution. So if the president chose to exercise Article II authority, that would be the president’s call.” McConnell is echoing previous arguments made by Bush and other officials, who have said that Bush has the power to order wiretaps without court review, both under the Constitution and under the September 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force against al-Qaeda. McConnell says that the administration is conducting surveillance against Americans only with court warrants, and has no plans “that we are formulating or thinking about currently” to resume domestic wiretapping without warrants. “But I’d just highlight,” he adds, “Article II is Article II, so in a different circumstance, I can’t speak for the president what he might decide.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007] Article II is the section of the Constitution that delineates the powers of the executive branch, and establishes the fundamental “separation of powers” doctrine that governs American democracy. Constitutional expert Steve Mount notes that the “Constitution is deliberately inefficient; the “Separation of Powers devised by the framers of the Constitution was designed to do one primary thing: to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist.” [Mount, 1995]
White House Seeking Congressional Authorization - While the administration continues to argue that it has the power to eavesdrop on US citizens without warrants, it also continues to seek Congressional legislation affirming and perhaps expanding that power. The White House justifies that hoped-for legislation by pointing to national security and the war on terrorism, as well as the challenges posed by new communications technologies such as e-mail and wireless communications. White House officials have consistently refused to go into specifics as to what communications gaps they feel need plugging. And they have consistently ignored Congressional requests for information and documents related to the NSA’s domestic spy program, now being called the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” by White House officials and their Republican colleagues. Many Congressional Democrats say they would be reluctant to support any such legislation until they receive the information they have requested. “To this day, we have never been provided the presidential authorization that cleared that program to go or the attorney general-Department of Justice opinions that declared it to be lawful,” says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “Where’s the transparency as to the presidential authorizations for this closed program? That’s a pretty big ‘we’re not going to tell you’ in this new atmosphere of trust we’re trying to build.” [New York Times, 5/2/2007]
Russell Feingold. [Source: Flickr.com]Four senators—Russell Feingold (D-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Ron Wyden (D-OR)—send letters objecting to the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation against terrorism suspects after receiving a briefing from CIA Director Michael Hayden on the subject. Though lawmakers are bound by secrecy oaths from revealing the nature of the classified briefings on secret interrogation subjects, in November 2007, Feingold will breach that oath, complaining that the Bush administration is mischaracterizing the level of Congressional support for what administration officials call “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see November 7, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Fort Dix plot suspects. [Source: NBC]Six Muslim men are arrested in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and accused of plotting to attack the Army’s Fort Dix in New Jersey and massacre scores of US soldiers. FBI agent J. P. Weiss says “Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.” The FBI says the men had formed a “platoon” and had performed documented reconnaissance of their target. Although no evidence is uncovered linking the men to international terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, several of the men were willing to kill and die “in the name of Allah” according to court records. [Washington Post, 5/8/2007] Officials characterize the plot as “homegrown” and still in the planning stages. They state that no attack was imminent. [CBS News, 5/8/2007] The plotters are characterized as self-directed terrorist sympathizers. US Attorney Christopher J. Christie says, “Unlike other cases we’ve done, there was no clear ringleader. They all seemed to feed off each other. They were clearly guys turning to this element for inspiration. They wanted to be jihadists.” [Washington Post, 5/9/2007] The men are identified as ethnic Albanian Yugoslavian illegal immigrants Dritan Duka, his brothers Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka, legal Turkish immigrant Serdar Tartar, and US citizens Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer and Agron Abdullah. [Hurriyet, 5/8/2007] The FBI was first made aware of the alleged plot in January 2006. An unidentified Circuit City store clerk alerted police to a video that showed the men firing assault weapons, calling for jihad and yelling “God is great” in Arabic, according to officials. The video had been taken into the store in order to be transferred to DVD. The video came from firearms training in the Poconos, according to the indictment. [Washington Post, 5/9/2007] The FBI managed to implant an informant in the group of friends. This informant discovered 50 loaded 9mm magazines in Tartar’s car. [Hurriyet, 5/8/2007] Another informant infiltrated the group and was told of the plans to attack military installations. Shnewer was recorded as saying, “My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers… This is exactly what we are looking for. You hit four, five or six Humvees and light the whole place [up] and retreat completely without any losses.” [US Department of Justice, 5/8/2007 ] The men allegedly possessed jihadist videos and documents, including copies of the last will and testament of two of the 9/11 hijackers. [US Department of Justice, 5/8/2007 ] The target was allegedly decided by information gathered by one of the men, Tartar, who had access to Fort Dix from a job delivering pizzas there. [Hurriyet, 5/8/2007] The men are arrested when they attempt to buy AK-47s, M-16s, and other weapons from yet another FBI informant. [Washington Post, 5/8/2007] Most face possible life sentences. [Washington Post, 5/9/2007]
Two British men are found guilty of leaking a secret memo about talks between President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. David Keogh, a communications officer at the Cabinet Office, is found guilty of two offenses under Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and Leo O’Connor, a researcher for then-member of parliament Anthony Clarke, is found guilty of one offense under the same law. [BBC, 5/9/2007] The memo recorded talks held in the Oval Office between Bush and Blair on April 16, 2004 about the Iraq occupation. Prosecutors claimed during the trial that publication of the document could cost British lives because it contained details about troop movements within Iraq. Few details of the “highly sensitive” memo have been disclosed. However it is known that during his talk with Blair, Bush suggested that allied forces bomb the offices of Arab television network Al Jazeera, a suggestion that many experts and observers have found, in the words of reporter Sarah Lyall, “shocking.” At the time, the White House dismissed reports suggesting this as “outlandish” and a Blair spokesman said, “I’m not aware of any suggestion of bombing any Al Jazeera television station.” [New York Times, 7/12/2006] The jury for the trial is instructed to remain quiet about what they have learned in the courtroom. Keogh originally passed a copy of the classified memo to O’Connor, who passed it along to his boss, Clarke, who is strongly against the war. After receiving the memo, Clarke called the police. O’Connor calls some of the statements in the four-page memo “embarrassing [and] outlandish,” and says he never intended to send copies of the memo to newspapers or other members of parliament. Keogh’s lawyer, Rex Tedd, tells the court that his client “acted out of conscience” and not for any political motivation. “No doubt, he did so misguidedly and he did so in a way which was likely to cause damage.” [BBC, 5/9/2007]
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey delivers dramatic testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the March 2004 attempts by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure a seriously ill John Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to certify the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004, Early 2002). Comey testifies that even though he, who at the time has the full authority of the attorney general during Ashcroft’s illness, and Ashcroft both refused to authorize the program due to their belief that the program is illegal, President Bush will certify the program anyway. Only a threatened mass resignation by Ashcroft, Comey, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other senior officials will persuade Bush, weeks later, to make changes in the program that bring it somewhat closer to operating within the law. [Think Progress, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Ashcroft's Hospital Room, Comey Believes - Comey says that while he cannot be certain, he believes Gonzales and Card went to Ashcroft’s hospital room on orders from President Bush: “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” he tells the committee. His major concern in heading off Gonzales and Card at the hospital, Comey testifies, is that, “given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.” Comey says he was “stunned” by how forceful Ashcroft was in refusing to comply with Gonzales and Card’s directive to sign the reauthorization.
Gonzales a 'Loyal Bushie' - Committee members are openly contemptuous of Gonzales’s actions, and question his fitness to serve as attorney general. “He’s presided over a Justice Department where being a, quote, loyal Bushie seems to be more important than being a seasoned professional, where what the White House wants is more important than what the law requires or what prudence dictates,” says Charles Schumer (D-NY). Arlen Specter (R-PA) is hardly less critical. “It is the decision of Mr. Gonzales as to whether he stays or goes, but it is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is,” Specter says. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’s decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.” [New York Times, 5/15/2007]
Not a 'Team Player' - Interestingly, President Bush views Comey with disdain because Comey isn’t what Bush calls a “team player;” Bush earlier tagged Comey, who resigned his position in 2005 and who previously tangled with the White House over its embrace of torture for terrorist suspects, with the derisive nickname “Cuomo,” after the former Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famous for vacillating over whether to run for the presidency in the 1980s. The White House denies the nickname. [Newsweek, 1/9/2006] Comey is not popular in the White House in part because of his 2003 appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury connected to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). And after the 9/11 attacks, Comey challenged Cheney’s assertions that the use of torture and other “war on terror” policies were legal (see January 9, 2002). Comey says he has been prepared to testify about the Ashcroft hospital visit for three years, but never did until now, because “Nobody ever asked.…I’ve never been in a forum where I was obligated to answer the question. Short of that, it was not something I was going to volunteer.” Card says that his actions at the hospital earned him bureaucratic punishment from Card. After Gonzales became attorney general, Ashcroft’s then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, told Comey that Gonzales’s “vision” was to merge the deputy’s office with Gonzales’s own office, stripping Comey of much of his autonomy and reducing him, in essence, to a staff member. Comey refused to cooperate. “You may want to try that with the next deputy attorney general,” Comey told Sampson. “But it’s not going to work with me.” [US News and World Report, 5/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Judiciary Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, James B. Comey Jr., George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Arlen Specter, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Coburn, Tony Snow, US Department of Justice, Adam Putnam, Senate Intelligence Committee, Russell D. Feingold, Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith, John Sununu, John McCain, National Security Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, James B. Comey Jr.
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Los Angeles Times reports that US intelligence has no idea where bin Laden is hiding. The search for bin Laden was disrupted in early 2002 when most US intelligence assets and equipment was pulled out of Afghanistan to prepare for war with Iraq, and the search has yet to recover. There has not been a single substantiated lead on bin Laden’s location since early 2002 (see Early 2002). “We’re not any closer,” says a senior US military official who monitors the US intelligence on bin Laden. A former senior CIA official says, “We’ve had no significant report of him being anywhere,” and adds that the US does not even have information since 2002 that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified. There have been no solid leads on the location of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in recent years either. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007] The Washington Post similarly reported in September 2006 that the search for bin Laden has gone “stone cold” (see September 10, 2006). In June 2008, a Western military analyst” will tell NBC News, “We don’t have a clue where [bin Laden] is or even may be. We have had NO credible intelligence on [him] since 2001. All the rest is rumor and rubbish either whipped up by the media or churned out in the power corridors of Western capitals.” This analyst says the last good information on bin Laden from the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001. [MSNBC, 6/13/2008]
Fort Huachuca [Source: Army]An FBI advisory is distributed in May 2007 to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the nation warning that up to 60 Afghan and Iraqi terrorists are to be smuggled into the US through underground tunnels with high-powered weapons to attack an Arizona Army base. The alleged target, Fort Huachuca, is the nation’s largest intelligence-training center. It lies about 20 miles from the Mexican border and has members of all four service branches training in intelligence and secret operations. Security measures are swiftly changed at the base in response to the threat, according to multiple confidential law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Times. The advisory warns that “a portion of the operatives were in the United States, with the remainder not yet in the United States [and]…the Afghanis and Iraqis shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners.” The FBI report on which the advisory is based points to the involvement of Mexican drug cartels, stating that each operative paid drug lords $20,000 “or the equivalent in weapons” for assistance in smuggling them and their weapons , including anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles, through tunnels along the border into the US. The advisory further warns that a number of the operatives are already in a safe house in Texas and some weapons have already been successfully smuggled into the US. The FBI report is based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources, including Mexican nationals with access to a “sub-source” in the drug cartels. This “sub-source” is allegedly “a member of the Zetas,” the military arm of one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, the Gulf Cartel, who identified the Sinaloa cartel as the organization involved in the plot. However, the advisory states that “this information is of unknown reliability,” while the DEA warns that the Gulf Cartel may be attempting to manipulate the US into acting against their rivals. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson says that the report is based on “raw, uncorroborated information that has not been completely vetted.” A Department of Homeland Security document on the possible attack states “based upon the information provided by the DEA handling agent, the DEA has classified the source as credible [and]…the identity of the sub-source has been established; however, none of the information provided by the sub-source in the past has been corroborated.” [Washington Times, 11/26/2007] The threat later proves to be unfounded. The attack never occurs and FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, based in Phoenix, admits in November that the warning was the result of bad information. He says “a thorough investigation was conducted and there is no evidence showing that the threat was credible.” [Arizona Daily Star, 11/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Manuel Johnson, US Department of Homeland Security, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Customs and Border Protection, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Gulf Cartel, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paul Bresson, Zetas, Sinaloa Cartel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, demands that former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson explain what he calls “differences” in her various accounts of how her husband, Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to secretly buy uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003).
Plame’s differing versions have furthered “misinformation” about the origins of the case that roiled official Washington beginning in July 2003, Bond says. A recently released CIA memo from February 2002 said Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the trip. Bond says this is at odds with Plame Wilson’s March 2007 testimony before Congress, where she said a CIA colleague first suggested her husband for the trip (see March 16, 2007). In Bond’s version of events, Plame Wilson has told three different versions of events: in 2003 or 2004, she told the CIA’s Inspector General that she suggested Wilson; in 2004, she told committee staffers that she wasn’t sure if she had suggested Wilson (see July 9, 2004); in her March testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, she said that a colleague had first suggested Wilson for the trip. A spokeswoman for Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the committee chairman, says she is not sure whether Rockefeller is interested in having committee investigators interview Plame Wilson, but Bond says he has asked the CIA for permission to re-interview her. Melanie Sloan, the attorney representing Plame Wilson, says her client has “always been very consistent that she is not the person responsible for sending Joe Wilson” to Africa. Instead, Sloan says, trying to impugn Plame Wilson’s truthfulness is an attempt to draw attention from the “real wrong here—a White House that outed a covert operative and undermined national security.” [USA Today, 5/30/2007] The Senate Intelligence Committee did report that Plame Wilson recommended Wilson for the trip, but that report was based on somewhat inaccurate information provided in a State Department memo; both in her March 2007 testimony and her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that a young records officer first suggested that Wilson be sent (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005).
Roslynn Mauskopf. [Source: US Department of Justice]US Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf describes a recently foiled alleged terror plot to blow up John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City as “one of the most chilling plots imaginable.” She claims it “could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths, and destruction.” But one unnamed law enforcement official with Mauskopf at her press conference will later say he cringed at the description. Newsday will later relate, “The plot, he knew, was never operational. The public had never been at risk. And the notion of blowing up the airport, let alone the borough of Queens, by exploding a fuel tank was in all likelihood a technical impossibility.” Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, says, “It was a totally overstated characterization that doesn’t comport with the facts.…there’s a pattern here of Justice Department attorneys overstating what they have.” [Newsday, 6/6/2007] Safety experts have criticize the government’s description of the plot’s danger. John Goglia, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board, describes the plot as a “fantasy,” saying “You could definitely reach the tank, definitely start a fire, but to get the kind of explosion they were thinking they were going to get… this is virtually impossible to do.” Jake Magish, an engineer with Supersafe Tank Systems, says “The fantasy I’ve heard about people saying, ‘They will blow the tank and destroy the airport’, is nonsense.” The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration comes under fire from aviation expert Michael Boyd, who states that these organizations are “not run by security professionals…[they are] run by political appointees.” [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] In addition, the plotters lacked the explosives and financial resources to carry out the attack. Four alleged Islamic radicals have been charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion at the airport and three of them have been arrested. [The Australian, 6/6/2007] Newsday calls the plot’s alleged mastermind Russell Defreitas “hapless and episodically homeless.” [Newsday, 6/6/2007]
Aftab Khan Sherpao. [Source: Associated Press / Army Times]A document by Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao warns that the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups are growing in strength in Pakistan. They are spreading beyond their strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal regions near the Afghanistan border and without “swift and decisive” action, they could destabilize the entire country. Sherpao narrowly escaped a suicide bombing in April, near the city of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province. The attack on his life caused him to reconsider the government’s policy of appeasing militant groups. The Interior Ministry report is presented to the US National Security Council on June 4 with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in attendance. The report says: “The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan. There is a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban, which has further emboldened them.” A Western diplomat familiar with the report says it is the first acknowledgment from Pakistan as to the danger of the militant threat. The diplomat calls it “an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country’s heart. It’s tragic it’s taken so long [for Pakistan] to recognize it.” [New York Times, 6/30/2007] The report’s gloomy predictions will quickly be proven correct as the raid on the Red Mosque one month later greatly increases militant violence throughout Pakistan (see July 3-11, 2007 and July 11-Late July, 2007).
A high-ranking Taliban leader says that Osama bin Laden is alive and well. Mullah Bakht Mohammed (a.k.a. Mansoor Dadullah) says in an interview with Al Jazeera: “Sheikh Osama bin Laden is alive and active. He’s carrying out his duties. The latest proof that he is alive is that he sent me a letter of condolences after the martyrdom of my brother.” Bakht’s brother, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, was the Taliban’s top military commander, but was killed in May 2007 (see May 13, 2007), and Bakht immediately took his place. [Al Jazeera, 6/5/2007] In December 2007, the Taliban will announce that Bakht has been replaced as military commander due to insubordination. He will continue fighting for the Taliban however, and will be injured and captured by Pakistani forces near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in February 2008. [Associated Press, 2/11/2008]
The FBI terrorist watch list now includes over half a million names, which civil liberties advocates say limits its usefulness. Although the actual content of the list is classified, the FBI’s 2008 budget request refers to “the entire watch list of 509,000 names,” which is utilized by its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. It is common for many names on the list to be associated with one individual. The FBI foreign and domestic terror watch list, combined with the interagency National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) list of suspected international terrorists, comprise the watch list used by federal security screening personnel on the lookout for terrorists. The NCTC refuses to reveal how many US citizens are on the list (see February 15, 2006). ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani says the FBI watch list “grows seemingly without control or limitation. If we have 509,000 names on that list, the watch list is virtually useless.” Internal reviews of the list by the US Terrorist Screening Center have previously found the list to be incomplete and inaccurate (see June 14, 2005). Reviews of versions of the list reveal the names of US lawmakers; former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, imprisoned at the time of review; al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui, also imprisoned; and 14 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, all deceased (see March 2006). [ABC News (The Blotter), 6/13/2007]
It is reported that an unclassified FBI budget document states that since the 9/11 attacks the Bureau has dramatically increased so-called ‘black bag’ jobs. In a black bag job a team of specialists secretly enter a premise, search the contents, and leave no indication they were ever there. Whereas most of the FBI’s secret search operations previously related to criminal investigations, by 2006 close to 90 percent of such operations are for national security matters. The FBI is asking for more money and personnel to conduct more such operations. [ABC News.com, 6/15/2007]
George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. [Source: White House]During a press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush accuses Iran of actively developing nuclear weapons, and warns of the ramifications of that activity. He warns of the “consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, such as financial sanctions, or economic sanctions.… Now, whether or not they abandon their nuclear weapons program, we’ll see.” [White House, 6/19/2007]
According to reports in the Indian press, a recently arrested militant leader says he believes Saeed Sheikh wired money to lead hijacker Mohamed Atta before 9/11 (see Early August 2001 and Summer 2001 and before). The militant, who is known as Babu Bhai and is a leader of the militant organization Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, says that the money came from a ransom paid for the release of a kidnapped shoe company executive and that he was involved in the kidnap operation as a deputy to the local commander, Asif Raza Khan. Other people involved in the money transfer are arrested based on the information disclosed by Babu Bhai. This confession supports previous reports about the transfer (see September 30-October 7, 2001, January 22-25, 2002 and July 31, 2003). [Times of India, 6/25/2007; News Post India, 6/25/2007; Ahmedabad Newsline, 6/29/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in Pakistan away from the tribal region, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, the warning comes shortly after a Taliban meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, also attended by al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, top leaders of the Haqqani network (a semi-autonomous Taliban faction based in Pakistan), and at least two officials of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Immediately afterwards, al-Zawahiri visits Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city in the country’s northwest. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “The urgency with which al-Zawahiri visited Islamabad or the area in its vicinity suggested that he was there for some purpose. We told [the US] about al-Zawahiri visiting Islamabad and we also told them that we believed Osama may not be hiding in caves but in a highly urbanized area somewhere near Islamabad. Of course, nobody had spotted him and it was a conclusion we drew on the basis of the information we got.” Islamabad is only 31 miles from Abbottabad, where bin Laden will eventually be found. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
The Pakistani government secretly releases al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul from its custody. Ghul was arrested in Iraq in 2004 and spent two and a half years in the CIA’s secret prison system (see January 23, 2004). The CIA handed Ghul to Pakistan in mid-2006 after Pakistani pressure (see (Mid-2006)). Pakistan apparently wanted Ghul because he was linked to Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). The ISI had secretly promised to make sure that Ghul would never be freed, but he is released after about a year without ever being tried or even charged. It is not known exactly when Ghul is released. However, a British prisoner named Rangzieb Ahmed will later testify in Britain that he was held in an adjacent cell to Ghul’s in Pakistan, and the last time he sees Ghul is in January 2007. In 2011, the Associated Press will report that unnamed former and current US intelligence officials say that Ghul has since rejoined al-Qaeda. Under US interrogation, Ghul provided key intelligence about Osama bin Laden’s main courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. So when Ghul returns to al-Qaeda, he could warn bin Laden that US intelligence is learning about Ahmed. But either Ghul does not reveal what he confessed, or his warning is not heeded, because bin Laden continues to live with Ahmed in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011] Despite Ghul’s return to al-Qaeda, the US has yet to put Ghul on any of its most wanted lists. No picture of Ghul has ever been made public either, even though the US goverment must know what he looks like since he was held by the US for several years.
Conversations between Iranian military commanders indicate that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been shut down for years. The calls are intercepted by the US and lead to the realization that the program was halted in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). However, when they first learn of them, senior White House officials will balk at accepting those calls, with some suggesting that the secretly intercepted calls are part of a clever Iranian disinformation campaign. Intelligence officers will spend months validating the new information before determining it is real. [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]
Alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces. His arrest will be reported in Pakistani newspapers in early August 2007, but the arrest receives little international attention because al-Afghani is a previously unheard of figure. However, the US government considers him valuable. He is soon transferred to the CIA’s secret prison system and is held there until March 2008 when he will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison and officially declared a “high value” prisoner (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008 and March 14, 2008). Rahim is an Afghan who is said to have been a long-time al-Qaeda planner and facilitator. He is probably highly valued because it is said he served as a translator for Osama bin Laden in recent years, and not many people in recent contact with bin Laden have been caught. [Asian News International, 8/2/2007; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
An aerial view of the Red Mosque compound. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)The Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) has long been a prominent center of Islamist militancy in Pakistan.
ISI Ties Slowly Weaken - Located in Islamabad, just two miles from the president’s residence and half a mile from ISI headquarters, the mosque has long-standing ties to the ISI. For instance, the mosque housed the orphans and relatives of suicide bombers who had died in the disputed region of Kashmir; the ISI worked closely with militant groups in Kashmir for many years. The mosque is run by two brothers, Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who also have long-standing ties to the ISI and Pakistani military. But feeling safe due to their government links, the Ghazi brothers had been acting increasingly assertive, seizing land around the mosque and slowly turning it into a large complex of madrassas (Islamic boarding schools) housing thousands of students.
Armed Standoff Slowly Develops - Militants from the mosque began threatening and sometimes even kidnapping nearby citizens for being insufficiently religious. An increasing number of militants come to the mosque with weapons, turning it into a heavily armed compound. In April 2007, the Ghazi brothers threaten civil war if the government refuses to implement Sharia law, a strict Islamic legal code. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “It was clear that the movement was out of control, the Ghazi brothers had overstepped their limits and gotten carried away, and the militants were no longer listening to their ISI handlers.” A Pakistani army brigade surrounds the estimated 10,000 students and militants barricaded inside the mosque compound. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] The crisis comes to a head in late June 2007, when activists from the mosque kidnap a six Chinese women and three Chinese men from a nearby acupuncture clinic. The activists claim the clinic is really a brothel and they will hold them until they are reeducated. [Agence France-Presse, 7/24/2007]
Army Attacks and Takes Over - On July 3, 2007, there is an initial clash between the army and the militants, and several thousand inside escape or surrender. On July 8, the army begins a full scale assault against those remaining. It takes three days of heavy fighting to clear out the mosque and surrounding complex. Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi is killed while Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi is arrested while trying to flee as a woman. The government claims that 102 militants and/or students and 10 soldiers were killed, but the militants claim that hundreds in the complex were killed.
Effects of Raid - Up until this time, there has been a loose alliance between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in Pakistan, despite a continuing friction. But with the Red Mosque siege, the militants essentially launch a civil war against the government (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Twenty-one attacks are launched in the next three weeks alone. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 381-383] Musharraf’s popularity is initially boosted after the raid, but this support dims after evidence comes out that a number of children were killed during the raid. [Sunday Times (London), 7/15/2007] Some evidence suggests that al-Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri were secretly supporting the militants in the mosque (see July 15, 2007), and al-Zawahiri apparently quickly releases an audio tape condemning the raid (see July 11, 2007).
The New York Times reports that the US still rarely conducts missions inside Pakistan, where most of the top al-Qaeda leadership is assumed to be, out of consideration for the government of Pakistan. Such attacks could politically hurt Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. A former Bush administration official says, “The Special Operations guys are tearing their hair out at the highest levels.” While there has not been good intelligence on the locations of the highest al-Qaeda leaders recently, there sometimes has been useful information on other figures. “There is a degree of frustration that is off the charts, because they are looking at targets on a daily basis and can’t move against them.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
Manfo Kwaku Asiedu (left) and Adel Yahya (right). [Source: Metropolitan Police]Four men are found guilty of plotting to bomb London’s transport network on 21 July, 2005, two weeks after the 7/7 bombings (see July 21, 2005). After a six-month trial, the jury unanimously convicts Muktar Ibrahim, Yassin Omar, Ramzi Mohammed, and Hussain Osman, of conspiracy to murder. The four are sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of 40 years. Evidence included thousands of hours of CCTV film, as well as a suicide note left by Mohammed for his girlfriend and two children asking them to “rejoice in happiness.” The men had also been monitored attending a militant training camp in the Lake District in 2004 (see May 2-August 2004). No verdict is reached for two other men accused of being members of the conspiracy. The men, Adel Yahya and Manfo Kwaku Asiedu, face a retrial. [BBC, 7/10/2007] Asiedu is said to have been the fifth bomber who abandoned his bomb at the last minute. He says he went along with the plot because he feared being killed by the others. Yahya is not accused of directly taking part in the attempted bombings, but is charged with assisting the others, for example by buying some of the bomb-making materials. [BBC, 7/11/2007] Shortly before the retrial is to begin, Asiedu pleads guilty and is sentenced to 33 years in prison, while Yahya pleads guilty to a lesser charge of possessing terrorist information and is sentenced to seven years in prison. [London Times, 11/5/2007; Daily Telegraph, 11/21/2007] The defendants claim that the bombs were fakes and that the plot was a protest against the war in Iraq. Prosecutor Nigel Sweeney tells the jury that the plot “had been in existence long before the events of July 7” and was not a “hastily-arranged copycat” operation. Responding to the defense, Sweeney says: “The failure of those bombs to explode owed nothing to the intention of these defendants, rather it was simply the good fortune of the traveling public that day that they were spared.” [BBC, 7/10/2007] The judge, Justice Adrian Fulford, also dismisses the suggestion that the men did not intend to cause carnage. He says, “This was a viable and a very nearly successful attempt at mass murder.” [BBC, 7/11/2007]
Wired News reporter Ryan Singel examines the documents released as part of the FBI’s probe into the possibly illegal use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by its agents (see Before Mid-March, 2007). Singel finds that all of the letters originate from the same room in the FBI’s Washington headquarters, Room 4944. Almost all of them refer to a “Special Project,” and the only name on any of the letters is Larry Mefford. At the time the letters were written, Mefford was the Executive Assistant Director in charge of the Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division. His job primarily focused on preventing domestic terror attacks. Having Mefford’s name on the letters adds another layer of interest, Singel writes: “… Mefford’s name is on documents that requested personal information on Americans. Some of those requests included information known to be false to the agents signing them. That’s a federal crime, according to one former FBI agent.” It is unclear what the “Special Project” is, outside of its existence within the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit (CAU), which issued the NSLs in question. Why some of the NSLs requested over two pages of phone numbers as part of a single request is also unclear. Singel observes, “The documents also show that these ‘exigent letters’—essentially end runs around the rules set up to keep the FBI from trampling on citizens rights—weren’t devised by some rogue Jack Bauer-style agent [a reference to the popular TV action drama 24.]. The form letters originated from inside FBI Headquarters and in some cases, bear the name of a senior level FBI official who should have been aware of the letters’ legal grey status and possibility for abuse.” [Wired News, 7/10/2007]
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