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John Kringen. [Source: CIA]A new threat assessment compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” is presented to a House committee and then leaked to some reporters. It concludes that al-Qaeda has significantly rebuilt itself. CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence John Kringen says that al-Qaeda appears “to be fairly well settled into the safe haven in the ungoverned spaces of Pakistan,” adding: “We see more training. We see more money. We see more communications.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2007] While the assessment remains classified, another official tells a reporter that it concludes al-Qaeda is “considerably operationally stronger than a year ago,” “has regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001,” and has managed to create “the most robust training program since 2001, with an interest in using European operatives.” A different official concludes that the group is “showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States.” [Salon, 3/27/2008]
In a press briefing, President Bush says, “The fight in Iraq is part of a broader struggle that’s unfolding across the region. The same region in Iran—the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers.” [White House, 7/12/2007]
Justice Department official Patrick Philbin testifies in a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee on the subject of interrogation tactics. Philbin testifies that each of the 24 approved interrogation tactics used by US personnel to interrogate terrorist suspects are “plainly lawful.” He notes that laws such as the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Uniform Code of Military Justice define, to an extent, what is and is not torture, and prohibit excessive interrogation methods that might come under that rubric. He also notes that the US is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which defines torture broadly as the intentional infliction of “severe pain or suffering” by anyone acting in an official capacity. He insists the US has done nothing to violate this treaty, nor the War Crimes Act, the Geneva Conventions, or Fifth and the Eighth Amendments to the US Constitution. Although terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and “extragovernmental” organizations such as the Taliban do not fall under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, Philbin argues that the US continues to follow its guidelines in its treatment of prisoners from those groups “to the extent consistent with military necessity…” [House Intelligence Committee, 7/14/2007 ] However, in 2004, a classified report by the CIA’s Inspector General concluded that some of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA probably did violate the Convention Against Torture (see May 7, 2004).
Entity Tags: War Crimes Act, US Department of Justice, Uniform Code of Military Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, House Intelligence Committee, Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, is released in Pakistan. He had been arrested in July 2004 (see July 13, 2004) and was quickly turned, sending out e-mails to help out dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world before his name was leaked to the press (see July 24-25, 2004 and August 2, 2004). He was held for three years by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. He was never charged with any crime and apparently there are no plans to charge him in the future. He is said to be living with his parents in Karachi, Pakistan. He is being closely monitored and the media is not allowed to speak with him. US and British officials and analysts express dismay at Noor Khan’s quick release. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation says, “I find it strange and baffling.… He presents a major threat to the West.” [Guardian, 8/23/2007] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says, “Khan may have bargained for an early release because he cooperated.” [ABC News, 8/21/2007] But his release also comes at a time when Pakistan’s judiciary is releasing dozens of suspected Islamic militants and government critics who have been held without trial. This is seen as a sign of President Pervez Musharraf’s eroding influence after public protests forced him to reinstate Pakistan’s chief justice. [London Times, 8/23/2007] One former intelligence official says that Khan’s case is a “murky tale” in which there are “no clear answers.” [Guardian, 8/23/2007]
A 2007 map showing Pakistan’s tribal areas. Regions dominated by Islamist militants are highlighted in pink. [Source: New York Times]A summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland” is declassified. The NIE, a unified assessment from all 16 US intelligence agencies, says that al-Qaeda has, in the words of the Post, “reestablished its central organization, training infrastructure, and lines of global communication over the past two years, putting the United States in a ‘heightened threat environment‘…” The last NIE on terrorism worldwide was completed in April 2006 and indicated that al-Qaeda’s fortunes were declining (see April 2006). The main reason the new NIE gives for al-Qaeda’s resurgence is the establishment of a safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Its link with the affiliate group Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also helped “energize” militants and aided recruitment and funding. The NIE’s release comes just days after a similar report by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” (see July 11, 2007), and also just days after the Pakistani government broke peace deals with Islamist militants in the tribal region (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Edward Gistaro, national intelligence officer for transnational threats and the primary author of the NIE, says in a press briefing, “Over the past 18 to 24 months, safe haven in Pakistan has become more secure.” He says it has allowed al-Qaeda to develop of a new tier of leadership in the form of “lieutenants… coming off the bench,” to replace the leaders who have been captured or killed. On the same day the NIE is released, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell says of al-Qaeda, “They’re working as hard as they can in positioning trained operatives here in the United States.… They have recruitment programs to bring recruits into… Pakistan, particularly those that speak the right language, that have the right skills, that have the right base that they could come to the United States, fit into the population… and carry out acts.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) issues a national security bulletin based on four recent incidents in San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston, and Baltimore. The bulletin creates the impression of imminent terrorist plots targeting the aviation sector. The TSA warns that terrorists are testing the possibility of smuggling bomb components on to an airplane. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe says the agency has noticed an increase in unusual items in checked and carry-on luggage, including “wires, switches, cell phone components, and dense clay-like substances” - including a block of cheese. [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] The incidents all turn out to have innocent explanations. On July 27, Brian Todd of CNN reports “That bulletin for law enforcement eyes only told of suspicious items recently found in passenger’s bags at airport checkpoints, warned that they may signify dry runs for terrorist attacks… it turns out none of that is true.” One such case was that of Sara Weiss, who was detained in San Diego after two ice packs covered in tape and containing clay were allegedly found in her baggage. Weiss, who works for a faith-based organization, was also carrying a survey about Muslim Americans. Weiss says she was held for three hours and questioned by San Diego Harbor Police and two other men who did not identify themselves. She says she was asked if she knew Osama bin Laden, which she described as “a ridiculous question.” Todd reports “The FBI now says there were valid explanations for all four incidents in that bulletin, and a US government official says no charges will be brought in any of these cases.” The FBI maintains “they were right” in putting the bogus reports on the TSA bulletin, which is distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The TSA says that security officers must be trained in identifying suspicious packages, even when those packages turn out to be innocuous. [CNN, 7/27/2007] Defense for the TSA bulletin comes from a number of sources. “This is what TSA should be doing whether it turns out to be a whole bunch of harmless coincidences or part of a plot,” says James Carafano, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who in the past called for TSA’s abolition. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, also a critic of the TSA, agrees the agency is handling this appropriately: “To stay ahead of potential threats to our aviation system it must use all of the intelligence available as part of its daily operations.” However, the bulletin is questioned by San Diego Harbor Police Chief Kirk Sanfilippo who says officers found two ice packs wrapped in clear tape, not duct tape, and there was no clay inside. “It was not a threat. It was not a test run,” Sanfilippo says. “The whole thing was very explainable and understandable.” [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] He characterizes the bulletin as “a little bit off.” Local TSA Security Director and chief of the airport police Michael J. Aguilar says it was quickly determined the ice packs contained the usual blue gel. Aguilar says he doesn’t know why the TSA memo, issued in Washington, reported the substance as clay. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, CNN, Brian Todd, Bennie Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Transportation Security Agency, Sara Weiss, James Carafano, House Homeland Security Committee, Kirk Sanfilippo, Ellen Howe, Michael J. Aguilar, San Diego Harbor Police
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Steven Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 means for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” The Bradbury memo, released after months of debate among Bush officials regarding the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision extending Geneva protections to enemy combatants in US custody (see June 30, 2006), new legislation following the Court’s decision (see October 17, 2006), and an executive order on interrogations (see July 20, 2007), spells out what interrogation practices the CIA can use. The memo’s existence will not become known until after the 2009 release of four Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will say upon learning of the memo, “The CIA still seems to want to get authority to interrogate people outside of what would be found to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the law.” Ratner will add that the memo raises questions about why the CIA felt it needed expanded authorities for interrogations. “What we don’t know is whether, after Hamdan, that 2007 memo modifies what the CIA is able to do in interrogation techniques,” he will say. “But what’s more interesting is why the CIA thinks it needs to use those interrogation techniques. Who are they interrogating in 2007? Who are they torturing in 2007? Is that they’re nervous about going beyond what OLC has said? These are secret-site people. Who are they? What happened to them?” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft into signing a recertification of the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004). Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has already testified before the same committee (see May 15, 2007) that Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft, then just hours out of emergency surgery, to overrule Comey, who was acting attorney general during Ashcroft’s incapacitation. Gonzales and Card were unsuccessful, and Comey, along with Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and others, threatened to resign if the program wasn’t brought into line with the Constitution. But today Gonzales tells a quite different story. Gonzales tells the committee that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress itself wanted the program to continue (see March 10, 2004), and he and Card merely intended to “inform” Ashcroft about Comey’s decision, and not to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey. Many of the senators on the committee are amazed at Gonzales’s contention that Congress wanted Comey overruled. And they are equally appalled at Gonzales’s seemingly cavalier explanation that he and Card were not, as Comey has testified, trying to pressure a sick man who “wasn’t fully competent to make that decision” to overrule his deputy in such a critical matter: Gonzales’s contention that “there are no rules” governing such a matter does not carry much weight with the committee. Many senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), simply do not believe Gonzales’s explanations; she says that to secure Ashcroft’s reversal was “clearly the only reason why you would go see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales replies that he and Card were operating under what he calls “extraordinary circumstances,” in which “we had just been advised by the Congressional leadership, go forward anyway, and we felt it important that the attorney general, general Ashcroft, be advised of those facts.” Only later in the hearing does Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) force Gonzales to admit that he was indeed carrying a reauthorization order from the White House, something that he likely would not have had if he were not there to secure Ashcroft’s signature. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says in his opening statement that Gonzales has “a severe credibility problem,” and continues, “It is time for the attorney general to fully answer these questions and to acknowledge and begin taking responsibility for the acute crisis of leadership that has gripped the department under his watch.” He goes on to note that the Bush administration has squandered the committee’s trust “with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups.” Gonzales garners little trust with his own opening, which states in part, “I will not tolerate any improper politicization of this department. I will continue to make efforts to ensure that my staff and others within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated. I have never been one to quit.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007]
'I Don't Trust You' - Arlen Specter (R-PA) is another senator who questions Gonzales’s veracity. “Assuming you’re leveling with us on this occasion,” he says, “…I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he’s under sedation and incapacitated—for anything.” Gonzales replies, “Senator, obviously there was concern about General Ashcroft’s condition. And we would not have sought nor did we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he wasn’t fully competent to make that decision. But General—there are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, ‘I’m feeling well enough to make this decision.’” Gonzales adds that the fact that Comey was acting attorney general was essentially irrelevant, as Ashcroft “could always reclaim that. There are no rules.” “While he’s in the hospital under sedation?” Specter asks incredulously. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] “It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility. And the list goes on and on.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007] After Gonzales’s restatement of his version of events, Specter observes tartly, “Not making any progress here. Let me go to another topic.” Gonzales goes on to say that he and Card visited Ashcroft hours after they had informed the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight Congressional leaders who are sometimes briefed on the surveillance program, that Comey did not intend to recertify the program as legal, “despite the fact the department had repeatedly approved those activities over a period of over two years. We informed the leadership that Mr. Comey felt the president did not have the authority to authorize these activities, and we were there asking for help, to ask for emergency legislation.” Gonzales claims that the Congressional leaders felt that the program should be reauthorized with or without Comey’s approval, and that since it would be “very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program…we should look for a way ahead.” Gonzales confirms what Comey has already said, that Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. “…I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, ‘Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.’” Feinstein is also obviously impatient with Gonzales’s testimony, saying, “And I listen to you. And nothing gets answered directly. Everything is obfuscated. You can’t tell me that you went up to see Mr. Comey for any other reason other than to reverse his decision about the terrorist surveillance program. That’s clearly the only reason you would go to see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales says that he and Card were only interested in carrying out the will of the Congressional leadership: “Clearly, if we had been confident and understood the facts and was inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him to reverse [Comey’s] position.” When Feinstein confronts Gonzales on the contradictions between his own testimony’s and Comey’s, Gonzales retreats, claiming that the events “happened some time ago and people’s recollections are going to differ,” but continues to claim that the prime purpose of the visit was merely to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s resistance to reauthorizing the program. Like some of his fellows, Leahy is reluctant to just come out and call Gonzales a liar, but he interrupts Gonzales’s tortured explanations to ask, “Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Leahy, out of patience with Gonzales’s evasions and misstatements, finally says flatly, “I don’t trust you.” [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Whitehouse Grills Gonzales - Whitehouse wants to know if the program “was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.” Gonzales says he believes the program ran with Ashcroft’s approval for two years before the hospital incident: “From the very—from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.” It is now that Gonzales admits, under Whitehouse’s questioning, that he indeed “had in my possession a document to reauthorize the program” when he entered Ashcroft’s hospital room. He denies knowing anything about Mueller directing Ashcroft’s security detail not to let him and Card throw Comey out of the hospital room, as Comey previously testified. Whitehouse says, “I mean, when the FBI director considers you so nefarious that FBI agents had to be ordered not to leave you alone with the stricken attorney general, that’s a fairly serious challenge.” Gonzales replies that Mueller may not have known that he was merely following the wishes of the Congressional leadership in going to Ashcroft for reauthorization: “The director, I’m quite confident, did not have that information when he made those statements, if he made those statements.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007; CNN, 7/24/2007]
'Deceiving This Committee' - Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of Gonzales’s harshest critics, perhaps comes closest to accusing Gonzales of out-and-out lying. Schumer doesn’t believe Gonzales’s repeated assertions that there was little or no dissent among White House and Justice Department officials about the anti-terrorism programs, and what little dissent there is has nothing to do with the domestic surveillance program. “How can you say you haven’t deceived the committee?” Schumer asks. Gonzales not only stands by his claims, but says that the visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not directly related to the NSA program, but merely “about other intelligence activities.” He does not say what those other programs might be. An exasperated Schumer demands, “How can you say you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercises like this? You want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself.” [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Specter does not believe Gonzales any more than Schumer does; he asks Gonzales tartly, “Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?” [CNN, 7/24/2007] In his own questioning, Whitehouse says that he believes Gonzales is intentionally misleading the committee about which program caused dissent among administration officials. Gonzales retorts that he can’t go into detail in a public hearing, but offers to provide senators with more information in private meetings. [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Gonzales’s supporters will later claim that Gonzales’s characterization of little or no dissent between the White House and the Justice Department is technically accurate, because of differences between the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and that agency’s data mining program, but Senate Democrats do not accept that explanation (see Early 2004, May 16, 2007).
Executive Privilege Undermines Congressional Oversight? - Specter asks Gonzales how there can be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight. Gonzales refuses to answer directly. “Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached.” “Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?” Specter retorts. Gonzales then replies, “Senator, I’m not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused,” eliciting a round of boos from the gallery. [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Mueller will roundly contradict Gonzales’s testimony, and affirm the accuracy of Comey’s testimony, both in his own testimony before Congress (see July 26, 2007) and in notes the FBI releases to the media (see August 16, 2007).
Impeach Gonzales for Perjury? - The New York Times writes in an op-ed published five days after Gonzales’s testimony, “As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other—unspecified—intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it ‘different’ from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up. Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] A Washington Post editorial from May 2007 was hardly more favorable to Gonzales: “The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration’s alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president’s inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice’s conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department’s supervision. Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington Post, Robert S. Mueller III, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, “Gang of Eight”, Paul Clement, Sheldon Whitehouse, New York Times, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Schumer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David S. Addington, John Ashcroft, National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr.
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) disputes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s characterization of the March 10, 2004 Congressional briefing (see March 10, 2004) regarding the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) as about other surveillance programs, and not the NSA program now referred to as the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). Gonzales testified earlier today (see July 24, 2007) that the briefing did not cover the NSA program, but Rockefeller says that it did. Rockefeller was at that meeting, then serving as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rockefeller confirms that the Congressional leaders at the briefing, known colloquially as the “Gang of Eight,” had no idea about the tremendous dispute over the legality of the wiretapping program. He also says, again in contradiction to Gonzales’s testimony, that they were never asked to draft legislation that would make the wiretapping program legal. As to the topic of discussion, Rockefeller says, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one” intelligence program. Rockefeller says at the end of the briefing, most of the lawmakers were still unclear about the nature and extent of the program, nor were they clear as to the White House’s plans for the program. “They were not telling us what was really going on,” Rockefeller says. Asked if he believed that Gonzales had purposely misled the Judiciary Committee today, Rockefeller replies, “I would have to say yes.” [Politico (.com}, 7/24/2007] He calls Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” [New York Times, 7/24/2007]
Other Democrats Bolster Rockefeller's Recollections - Other Democrats present at the briefing add their voices to Rockefeller’s. Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says Gonzales is inaccurate in his characterizations of the briefing, and that the program under discussion could have only been the NSA wiretapping operation. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Harman says. The NSA program was “the only program we were ever briefed about.” Harman and Rockefeller both say that this and later briefings about the program were quite limited in scope. “We were briefed on the operational details—period—not the legal underpinnings,” Harman says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007] Harman adds that Gonzales was apparently being deliberately deceptive in trying to characterize the program as something other than the NSA operation. “The program had different parts, but there was only one program,” she says. Gonzales was, she says, “selectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct,” an action Harman calls improper. [New York Times, 7/24/2007] Harman says that Gonzales should not even have revealed that there had been such a classified briefing, especially revealing such a meeting in order to defend his own contradictory testimonies. “He doesn’t have the authority to do that,” she says. [Roll Call, 7/25/2007]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell asks Congress to allow the government to monitor overseas phone calls without warrants. In a letter to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), McConnell says that Congress must “act immediately” to change the law, which he says now requires burdensome court orders that hinder the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. McConnell is advocating a raft of changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) proposed by the Bush administration; Congress is studying the law pending any possible amendments. McConnell writes that “clarifications are urgently needed” in the law to enable the use of “our capabilities to collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas without requirements imposed by an out-of-date FISA statute,” and says he has “deep concern[s]” about the nation’s ability to counter terrorist threats. At issue are overseas phone calls between two international sources, but which travel through US-based terminals or switches. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the committee, is also pushing for the changes in FISA, calling the proposals “simple fix[es]” that would expedite the US’s ability to monitor terrorist organizations without adversely affecting US civil liberties. But fellow committee member John Tierney (D-MI) disagrees, saying that FISA “already allows for foreign-to-foreign communications to be intercepted” but that the administration “has chosen to say that it wants a warrant nonetheless.” [Washington Post, 7/28/2007]
New documents contradict Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s recent sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicating that Gonzales may have committed perjury before the panel.
Lied About Congressional Briefing - In testimony before the committee (see July 24, 2007), Gonzales told senators that a March 10, 2004 emergency briefing with the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two houses of Congress and the ranking members of both houses’ intelligence committees (see March 10, 2004), did not concern the controversial NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program, but instead was about other surveillance programs which he was not at liberty to discuss. But according to a four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office, that briefing was indeed about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or TSP, as it is now being called by White House officials and some lawmakers. The memo is dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. It details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI memo provides further evidence that Gonzales has not been truthful in his dealings with Congress, and gives further impetus to a possible perjury investigation by the Senate. So far, both Gonzales and Justice Department spokesmen have stood by his testimony. The nature of the March 2004 briefing is important because on that date, Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft was recuperating from emergency surgery in the hospital, to reauthorize the domestic wiretapping program over the objections of acting Attorney General James Comey, who had refused to sign off on the program due to its apparent illegality (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey’s own testimony before the Senate has already strongly contradicted Gonzales’s earlier testimonies and statements (see May 15, 2007). The entire imbroglio illustrates just how far from legality the NSA wiretapping program may be, and the controversy within the Justice Department it has produced. Gonzales flatly denied that the March 2004 briefing was about the NSA program, telling the panel, “The dissent related to other intelligence activities. The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Grilled By Senators - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales for clarification: “Not the TSP? Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.” Gonzales replied, “It was not. It was about other intelligence activities.” Today, with the DNI documents in hand, Schumer says, “It seemed clear to just about everyone on the committee that the attorney general was deceiving us when he said the dissent was about other intelligence activities and this memo is even more evidence that helps confirm our suspicions.” Other senators agree that Gonzales is not telling the truth. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony,” says committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “We’re going to have to ask who’s telling the truth, who’s not.” And committee Democrats are not the only ones who find Gonzales’s testimony hard to swallow. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told Gonzales yesterday, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.” The “Gang of Eight” members disagree about the content of the March briefing. Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and Tom Daschle all say Gonzales’s testimony is inaccurate, with Rockefeller calling Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” But former House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, refuse to directly dispute Gonzales’s claims. [Associated Press, 7/25/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Three weeks later, notes from FBI director Robert Mueller, also present at the Ashcroft meeting, further contradict Gonzales’s testimony (see August 16, 2007).
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Porter J. Goss, Nancy Pelosi, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, John Negroponte, Andrew Card, Arlen Specter, Bill Frist, Charles Schumer, “Gang of Eight”, James B. Comey Jr., Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), which many believe to be illegal. Mueller directly contradicts testimony given the day before by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see July 24, 2007), where Gonzales claimed that “there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed.” Mel Watt (D-NC) asks Mueller, “Can you confirm that you had some serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program that kind of led up to this?” Mueller replies, “Yes.” Later, Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) asks about the now-notorious visit by Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room, where they tried to pressure the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Gonzales testified that he and Card visited Ashcroft to discuss “other intelligence matters,” and not the NSA surveillance program. Jackson-Lee asks, “Did you have an understanding that the conversation was on TSP?” referring to the current moniker of the NSA operation, the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Mueller replies, “I had an understanding that the discussion was on an NSA program, yes.” Jackson-Lee says, “I guess we use ‘TSP,’ we use ‘warrantless wiretapping,’ so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?” Mueller agrees: “The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.” [Speaker of the House, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 7/26/2007]
Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says he is “shocked” and “appalled” by the apparent perjury of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to Congress. Gonzales testified (see July 24, 2007) under oath about a 2004 visit to a hospitalized John Ashcroft by himself and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure Ashcroft, then the attorney general, to overrule the acting attorney general, James Comey, and reauthorize the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Toobin says of Gonzales’s apparent perjury, “You know, it’s our job to be jaded and not to be shocked. But I’m shocked. I mean, this is such an appalling set of circumstances. And the Justice Department is full of the most honorable, decent, skilled lawyers in the country. And to be led by someone who is so repudiated by members of both parties is, frankly, just shocking.” Toobin explains the nature of Gonzales’s alleged lies: when Gonzales was first asked, under oath, if there was any dispute among Justice Department and White House officials over the NSA program, he denied any such debates had taken place (see May 16, 2007). But months later, Comey testified (see May 15, 2007) that there was so much dissension in the Justice Department concerning the program that the attempt to pressure the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize the program brought the dissent to a head: Comey, Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and other officials threatened to resign if the program was not brought into line. Comey flatly contradicted Gonzales’s version of events. (Weeks from now, Mueller will release five pages of his own notes from that 2004 hospital meeting that will confirm Comey’s veracity; see August 16, 2007.) After Comey’s testimony called Gonzales’s truthfulness into question, Gonzales changed his story. He told his Congressional questioners that there were in fact two different programs that were being discussed at Ashcroft’s bedside, one controversial and the other not. Mueller has also testified that there is only one program causing such dispute: the NSA warrantless surveillance program. Toobin says, “So, this week, what happened was, the Senators said, well, what do you mean? How could you say it was uncontroversial, when there was this gigantic controversy? And Gonzales said, oh, no, no, no, we’re talking about two different programs. One was controversial. One wasn’t. But Mueller said today it was all just one program, and Gonzales, by implication, is not telling the truth.” The White House contends that the apparent contradiction of Gonzales’s varying statements is explained by the fact that all such surveillance programs are so highly classified that Gonzales cannot go into enough detail about the various programs to explain his “confusing” testimony. But Toobin disputes that explanation: “Mueller didn’t seem confused. No one seems confused, except Alberto Gonzales.” [CNN, 7/26/2007; Raw Story, 7/27/2007]
Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007] (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) [CBS News, 7/26/2007] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” [US Senate, 7/26/2007] Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” [Associated Press, 7/26/2007] Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. [USA Today, 7/26/2007]
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” [New York Times, 7/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Paul J. McNulty, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Tony Snow, Sheldon Whitehouse, William W. Mercer, Paul Clement, Patrick J. Leahy, Russell D. Feingold, Monica M. Goodling, Alberto R. Gonzales, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Brian Roehrkasse, Harry Reid, National Security Agency, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The CIA captures al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim in the summer of 2007. Rahim, an Afghan, is little known to the public, but he is said to have helped Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in late 2001. He is also known as a translator for bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. CIA Director Michael Hayden calls Rahim “a tough, seasoned jihadist.” But Rahim is not on any US most wanted list and there are no known pictures of him. Only one Pakistani newspaper mentions his arrest around the time it happens, and reports that he is captured near Lahore, Pakistan, in late July 2007. He is kept in a secret CIA prison and is presumably interrogated. On March 14, 2008 the US finally announces his arrest and says he has recently been transferred to the Guantanamo prison. Only after that will he be treated in accordance with US and international law. He is the first person transferred from a secret CIA prison for over a year (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). [Associated Press, 3/14/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
In a letter to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell acknowledges that President Bush “authorized the National Security Agency to undertake various intelligence activities designed to protect the United States from further terrorist attack.” Many of these “intelligence activities,” the nature of which has never been made public, were authorized under the same secret executive order Bush used to authorize the NSA’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). McConnell says that the only aspects of the variety of programs that can be acknowledged or discussed are those already revealed by the New York Times in its expose of the NSA warrantless surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). McConnell adds, “It remains the case that the operational details even of the activity acknowledged and described by the President have not been made public and cannot be disclosed without harming national security.” McConnell also acknowledges that the marketing moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program” was adopted in early 2006, after the revelations of the NSA program hit the media. [Mike McConnell, 7/31/2007 ]
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband formally asks the Bush administration to release five British citizens from detention at Guantanamo. The administration will release three, but refuse to release Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001 and November 4, 2005) and Shaker Aamer, citing security concerns. [Guardian, 2/5/2009]
In October 2007, Fox News military commentator Col. David Hunt claims that in August 2007, the US military had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden, but did not. “We know, with a 70 percent level of certainty—which is huge in the world of intelligence” that bin Laden was in a convoy heading south from Tora Bora. He claims that bin Laden was seen on satellite imagery and heard through communications intercepts. “We had the world’s best hunters/killers—SEAL Team 6—nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings; we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist.” But, “[u]nbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill Osama bin Laden.” He blames risk-aversion and incompetence for the failure to act. His account has not been corroborated by other sources. [Fox News, 10/23/2007]
FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Boston Globe, 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee, 9/18/2007 ] Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007] The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” [Slate, 8/6/2007]
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” [Salon, 6/19/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 86-87]
Entity Tags: Trent Lott, Mike McConnell, Protect America Act, Joseph Lieberman, Mitch McConnell, Jane Harman, Jerrold Nadler, Caroline Fredrickson, Bush administration (43), Jan Schakowsky, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
During the Senate debate over the controversial Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) says that the threat from terrorism is so dire, and so imminent, that lawmakers should pass the law and then get out of Washington as soon as they can to save their own lives. (Congress goes into recess in a few days.) Lott says that Congress needs to pass the PAA, otherwise, “the disaster could be on our doorstep.” He continues, “I think it would be good to leave town in August, and it would probably be good to stay out until September the 12th.” Lott provides no information about any predictions of an imminent terrorist attack on Washington or anywhere else. [Roll Call, 8/2/2007]
Congressional Democrats attempt to short-circuit the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) currently under debate. They introduce their own bill, the Improving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Defend the Nation and the Constitution Act, that would address the administration’s concerns that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act imposed unwieldy limitations on the NSA’s ability to electronically monitor foreign communications that were transmitted through communications networks inside the US. The Democrats’ bill redefines “electronic surveillance” to allow the NSA to monitor such communications without a FISA warrant if it “reasonably believes” the targets of those communications to be outside the US. This would give the NSA new surveillance powers, so the Democrats’ bill provides for oversight by the FISA Court, audits by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and restrictions on domestic surveillance. However, the Bush administration does not want the bill to become law. President Bush announces that he opposes the bill, and threatens to hold Congress in session past its August adjournment date until he can get the Protect America Act passed. The Democrats’ bill dies before ever coming up for a full vote in Congress. [US House of Representatives, 8/3/2007 ; Slate, 8/6/2007]
The Center for National Security Studies (CNSS) issues a warning about the Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007). The PAA lets the NSA conduct warrantless surveillance against US citizens “without any meaningful judicial oversight,” the CNSS writes, and gives the NSA almost unlimited access to almost all international communications that originate in, pass through, or terminate with a US citizen, again without oversight. According to the CNSS, the administration refused to countenance any suggestion that the NSA should be restricted to focusing on foreigners, terrorist targets, or conducting surveillance that could be construed as necessary to national security, as well as refusing to allow any meaningful judicial or Congressional oversight. [Center for National Security Studies, 8/5/2007]
Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush says, “[I]t’s up to Iran to prove to the world that they’re a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon. This is a government that is in defiance of international accord, a government that seems to be willing to thumb its nose at the international community… [T]he burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they’re a positive force. And I must tell you that this current leadership there is a big disappointment to the people of Iran. The people of Iran could be doing a lot better than they are today. But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it, because they’re not a force for good, as far as we can see. They’re a destabilizing influence wherever they are.” [White House, 8/6/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union registers bitter disapproval of the newly passed Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007), which it disparagingly labels the “Police America Act.” It writes: “[The act] allows for massive, untargeted collection of international communications without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts. It contains virtually no protections for the US end of the phone call or email, leaving decisions about the collection, mining and use of Americans’ private communications up to this administration.” The Attorney General can issue warrants for domestic surveillance of international communications without court review, and can order surveillance of people outside of the US for a year, all without any review by the FISA Court. The PAA “cut[s FISA] out of the process, leaving the executive branch unchecked.” Any telephone or e-mail communications from US citizens “caught up in the dragnet” can be examined at the government’s leisure, the ACLU says, without any privacy considerations or respect for Constitutional rights. The law leaves “the administration to decide how to collect, store, datamine and use Americans’ private communications.” The ACLU says that the court review provisions of the PAA are a sham. The Attorney General need not explain how US citizens’ communications are handled once they are intercepted. The FISA Court “will have no information about how extensive the breach of American privacy is, nor the authority to remedy it.” The provisions for Congressional oversight are equally meaningless, the ACLU says, because the Attorney General is not required to disclose any information about what domestic communications the government has intercepted or what is being done with those intercepts. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/7/2007]
Ryan Singel. [Source: Wired]According to Ryan Singel of Wired, the new Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) gives the Bush administration “the power to order the nation’s communication service providers—which range from Gmail, AOL IM, Twitter, Skype, traditional phone companies, ISPs, internet backbone providers, Federal Express, and social networks—to create possibly permanent spying outposts for the federal government.” He adds: “These outposts need only to have a ‘significant’ purpose of spying on foreigners, would be nearly immune to challenge by lawsuit, and have no court supervision over their extent or implementation. Abuses of the outposts will be monitored only by the Justice Department, which has already been found to have underreported abuses of other surveillance powers to Congress.” In addition, Singel says the PAA redefines any monitoring of US citizens’ telephone and Internet communications “reasonably believed” to be outside the country as not surveillance, allows telecommunications firms to target both foreign and domestic parties for surveillance, and forces those firms to give assistance in secret, without informing Congress or the targeted parties. [Wired News, 8/6/2007]
John Brennan. [Source: PBS]An article in the New Yorker magazine reveals that the CIA interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) were not as reliable as they are typically made out to be. Mohammed was interrogated with methods such as waterboarding that are regarded as torture by many. CIA official John Brennan, former chief of staff for CIA Director George Tenet, acknowledges, “All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.” One former top CIA official estimates that “ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.” Cables of Mohammed’s interrogation transcripts sent to higher-ups reportedly were prefaced with the warning that “the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations was called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies” (see June 16, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel asks, “What are you going to do with KSM in the long run? It’s a very good question. I don’t think anyone has an answer. If you took him to any real American court, I think any judge would say there is no admissible evidence. It would be thrown out.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says, “A guy as dangerous as KSM is, and half the world wonders if they can believe him—is that what we want? Statements that can’t be believed, because people think they rely on torture?” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist James Risen wrote in a 2006 book, “According to a well-placed CIA source, [Mohammed] has now recanted some of what he previously told the CIA during his interrogations. That is an enormous setback for the CIA, since [his debriefings] had been considered among the agency’s most important sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda. It is unclear precisely which of his earlier statements [he] has now disavowed, but any recantation by the most important prisoner in the global war on terror must call into question much of what the United States has obtained from other prisoners around the world…” [Risen, 2006, pp. 33] In a 2008 Vanity Fair interview, a former senior CIA official familiar with the interrogation reports on Mohammed will say, “90 percent of it was total f_cking bullsh_t.” A former Pentagon analyst will add: “KSM produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Aziz Huq, an author and the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, writes that the Protect America Act (PAA-see August 5, 2007) came about as a result of what he calls “the most recent example of the national security waltz, a three-step administration maneuver for taking defeat and turning it into victory.” Step one is a court defeat for the administration, for example regarding detainees at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), or the overruling of military commissions in 2006 (see June 30, 2006). The second step, which comes weeks or months later, is an announcement that the ruling has created a security crisis and must be “remedied” through immediate legislation. The third and final step is the administration pushing legislation through Congress, such as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) or the Military Commissions Act, that, Huq writes, “not only undoes the good court decision but also inflicts substantial damage to the infrastructure of accountability.”
Step One: FISC Refuses to Approve NSA's Surveillance Program - In January 2007, the administration announced that it was submitting the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court that issues FISA warrants for surveillance (see May 1, 2007). This was due to pending court cases threatening to rule the program in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment; the administration wanted to forestall, or at least sidestep, those upcoming rulings. In June, FISC refused to approve parts of the NSA program that involved monitoring overseas communications that passed through US telecom switches. Since a tremendous amount of overseas communications are routed through US networks, this ruling jeopardized the NSA’s previous ability to wiretap such communications virtually at will without a warrant. The administration objected to the NSA having to secure such warrants.
Step Two: The Drumbeat Begins - Months later, the drumbeat for new legislation to give the NSA untrammeled rights to monitor “overseas” communications, which not only traveled through US networks, but often began or ended with US citizens, began with appearances in the right-wing media by administration supporters, where they insisted that the FISC ruling was seriously hampering the NSA’s ability to garner much-needed intelligence on terrorist plots against the US. The White House and Congressional Republicans drafted legislation giving the NSA what it wanted, and presented it during the last week of the Congressional session, minimizing the time needed for scrutiny of the legislation as well as reducing the time available for meaningful debate.
Step Three: Passing a Law With Hidden Teeth - The legislation that would become the Protect America Act was carefully written by Bush officials, and would go much farther than giving the NSA the leeway it needed to wiretap US citizens. Instead, as Huq writes, “the Protect America Act is a dramatic, across-the-board expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight.” Democrats believed they had negotiated a deal with the administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to limit the law to addressing foreign surveillance wiretaps, but, Huq writes, “the White House torpedoed that deal and won a far broader law.” The law removes any real accountability over domestic surveillance by either Congress or the judiciary. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that the PAA provides “unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure.” The law is part of the administration’s continual attempts to “eviscerat[e]” the checks and balances that form the foundation of US democracy.
Ramifications - The law includes the provision that warrantless surveillance can be “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” Huq writes that this is a tremendously broad and vague standard that allows “freewheeling surveillance of Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” He adds: “The problem lies in the words ‘directed at.’ Under this language, the NSA could decide to ‘direct’ its surveillance at Peshawar, Pakistan—and seize all US calls going to and from there.… Simply put, the law is an open-ended invitation to collect Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” The law does not impose any restrictions on the reason for surveillance. National security concerns are no longer the standard for implementing surveillance of communications. And the phrase “reasonably believe” is uncertain. The provisions for oversight are, Huq writes, “risibly weak.” Surveillance need only be explained by presentations by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to FISC, which has little room to invalidate any surveillance, and furthermore will not be informed of any specific cases of surveillance. As for Congress, the Attorney General only need inform that body of “incidents of noncompliance” as reported by the administration. Congress must rely on the administration to police itself; it cannot demand particulars or examine documentation for itself. The law expires in six months, but, Huq notes, that deadline comes up in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, with all the pressures that entails. And the law allows “the NSA to continue wielding its new surveillance powers for up to a year afterward.” The law, Huq writes, “does not enhance security-related surveillance powers. Rather, it allows the government to spy when there is no security justification. And it abandons all but the pretense of oversight.” [Nation, 8/7/2007]
Congressional legislation forces the CIA to declassify and release the executive summary of its inspector general’s report into some of its pre-9/11 failings. The legislation follows a long campaign by senators (see Spring-Summer 2007) and victims’ relatives (see June 18, 2007), and orders the CIA to release the summary within 30 days, together with a classified annex for Congress explaining the report’s redactions. The report was completed in 2004 (see June-November 2004), and rewritten in 2005 (see January 7, 2005), but was then not released (see October 10, 2005). Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) says, “All I can say is that it’s an extraordinarily important, independent assessment, written with a specific purpose to learn how we can improve our security.” Senator Kit Bond (R-MI) points out that “this should have been declassified a long time ago.” [The Hill, 8/8/2007] The report is released two weeks later (see August 21, 2007).
President Bush’s rhetoric towards Iran’s supposed nuclear program shifts from flat assertions that Iran is definitely working for a nuclear bomb (see January 26, 2007, March 31, 2007, June 19, 2007, July 12, 2007, and August 6, 2007) to a more nuanced approach. In a press briefing, Bush now asserts that Iran is taking measures to have a nuclear weapons program: “They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability.… It’s a very troubling nation right now.” [White House, 8/9/2007] Journalist Dan Froomkin, and others, later believe that Bush was informed a day or two before he made this comment that the US intelligence community has found that Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But instead of reversing course, Froomkin will write, Bush merely adjusts his rhetoric and continues to insist that Iran is a danger to the Middle East because of its nuclear ambitions (see December 5, 2007). “[I]t certainly didn’t tame the overall message,” Froomkin will observe. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that provide evidence of a possible cover-up of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American personnel in 2003. The documents detail US Army Office of Inspector General investigations by three high-ranking Army officials: Major General Barbara Fast, then the top intelligence officer in Iraq (see December 2003); Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and former CENTCOM head Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The documents suggest that these three flag officers failed to act promptly when informed of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They also show that an Army investigator found that the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at the Iraqi prison qualified as torture. “These documents make clear that prisoners were abused in US custody not only at Abu Ghraib, but also in other locations in Iraq,” says ACLU official Amrit Singh. “Rather than putting a stop to these abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” The documents also show that Major General George Fay (see August 25, 2004) found the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at Abu Ghraib to be torture: “[W]hat was actually being done at Abu Ghraib was they were placing people in their cells naked and they were—those cells they were placing them in, in many instances were unlit. No light whatsoever. And they were like a refrigerator in the wintertime and an oven in the summertime because they had no outside form of ventilation. And you actually had to go outside the building to get to this place they called the ‘hole,’ and were literally placing people into it. So, what they thought was just isolation was actually abuse because it’s—actually in some instances, it was torturous. Because they were putting a naked person into an oven or a naked person into a refrigerator. That qualifies in my opinion as torture. Not just abuse.” Fay also noted in the document that a memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing removal of clothing created a ‘mindset’ in which that kind of humiliation was considered an “acceptable technique.” He noted that even though Rumsfeld later rescinded the memo (see August 25, 2004), not everyone received notice that the interrogation of naked prisoners was no longer permissible. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
Notes made by FBI Director Robert Mueller about the 2004 attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program contradict Gonzales’s July testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the events of that evening (see March 10-12, 2004 and July 24, 2007). Gonzales’s testimony was already at odds with previous testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007). Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid and articulate, even though Ashcroft had had emergency surgery just hours before (see March 10-12, 2004), and he and Card had merely gone to Ashcroft’s hospital room to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s refusal to authorize the program (see May 15, 2007). But Mueller’s notes of the impromptu hospital room meeting, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee today, portray Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate,” and “stressed” during and after the confrontation with Gonzales and Card. [US Department of Justice, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007; Associated Press, 8/17/2007] Mueller wrote that Ashcroft was “in no condition to see them, much less make decision [sic] to authorize continuation of the program.” Mueller’s notes confirm Comey’s testimony that Comey requested Mueller’s presence at the hospital to “witness” Ashcroft’s condition. [National Journal, 8/16/2007]
Mueller Directed FBI Agents to Protect Comey - The notes, five pages from Mueller’s daily log, also confirm Comey’s contention that Mueller had directed FBI agents providing security for Ashcroft at the hospital to ensure that Card and Gonzales not be allowed to throw Comey out of the meeting. Gonzales testified that he had no knowledge of such a directive. Mueller’s notes also confirm Comey’s testimony, which held that Ashcroft had refused to overrule Comey’s decision because he was too sick to resume his authority as Attorney General; Ashcroft had delegated that authority to Comey for the duration of his hospital stay. Gonzales replaced Ashcroft as attorney general for President Bush’s second term. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that Mueller’s notes “confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.” (Ashcroft had previously complained that the White House’s insistence on absolute secrecy for the program had precluded him from receiving legal advice from his senior staffers, who were not allowed to know about the program.)
Notes Contradict Other Testimony - Mueller’s notes also contradict later Senate testimony by Gonzales, which he later “clarified,” that held that there was no specific dispute among White House officials about the domestic surveillance program, but that there was merely a difference of opinion about “other intelligence activities.” [New York Times, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007] In his earlier Congressional testimony (see July 26, 2007), which came the day after Gonzales’s testimony, Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and Ashcroft told him the meeting dealt with “an NSA program that has been much discussed….” [CNN, 7/25/2007] Mueller did not go into nearly as much detail during that session, declining to give particulars of the meeting in Ashcroft’s hospital room and merely describing the visit as “out of the ordinary.” [House Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 8/16/2007] Mueller’s notes show that White House and Justice Department officials were often at odds over the NSA program, which Bush has lately taken to call the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Other information in the notes, including details of several high-level meetings concerning the NSA program before and after the hospital meeting, are redacted.
Call for Inquiry - In light of Mueller’s notes, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers—in essence, committed perjury—in his testimony about the NSA program as well as in other testimony, particularly statements related to last year’s controversial firings of nine US attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation (see July 26, 2007). [Washington Post, 8/17/2007] Leahy writes to Fine, “Consistent with your jurisdiction, please do not limit your inquiry to whether or not the attorney general has committed any criminal violations. Rather, I ask that you look into whether the attorney general, in the course of his testimony, engaged in any misconduct, engaged in conduct inappropriate for a Cabinet officer and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, or violated any duty.” [Associated Press, 8/17/2007]
Entity Tags: John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, James B. Comey Jr., US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Leahy, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, George W. Bush, Glenn Fine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
CIA Director Michael Hayden releases a statement attacking the publication of the executive summary of a report by the CIA’s inspector general about some aspects of the agency’s performance before 9/11 (see August 21, 2007). Hayden lambasts the decision to publish it, saying it will “distract officers serving their country on the frontlines of a global conflict,” “consume time and attention revisiting ground that is already well plowed,” and have a “chilling effect” on officers. Hayden also says that the officers criticized in the report and others “took strong exception to its focus, methodology, and conclusions,” and that neither he nor his predecessor Porter Goss implemented the report’s main finding (see October 10, 2005)—accountability boards to assess the performance of the officers who performed poorly before 9/11. Instead, Hayden praises these officers, saying they “worked flat out” and that their “skill, wisdom, energy, and leadership” made “powerful contributions to our national security.” Despite refusing to convene the accountability boards or even name most of the employees who performed poorly, Hayden remarks, “This is not about avoiding responsibility,” arguing that the CIA has already discussed failings in some of its programs before 9/11. [Central Intelligence Agency, 8/21/2007]
The media’s reaction to the release of a redacted summary of a report by the CIA’s inspector general about some aspects of the agency’s performance before 9/11 is mixed. Different outlets highlight different aspects of the story, for example:
Newsweek calls it “withering” and says that it shows that “the CIA under [Director George] Tenet’s leadership repeatedly blew opportunities to disrupt the al-Qaeda network—and possibly even penetrate the 9/11 plot itself—because of ‘mismanagement,’ a lack of strategic direction and a ‘systemic breakdown’ within the agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC).” Newsweek also points out the report is bad for current CIA Director Michael Hayden, also a former NSA director, as the NSA did not work well with the CIA before 9/11, and former president Bill Clinton, whose instruction to assassinate bin Laden was allegedly unclear. [Newsweek, 8/21/2007]
The New York Times’ story starts with problems understanding intelligence about alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1997 or After), followed by the revelation that dozens of CIA officers read cables about travel by two of the hijackers to the US in 2000 (see Mid-January-March 2000), and the proposal that accountability boards be convened to review the performance of some employees, including Tenet. [New York Times, 8/22/2007]
ABC focuses on the report’s criticism of Tenet, saying that he “‘bears ultimate responsibility’ for failing to create a strategic plan to stop al-Qaeda prior to 9/11.” [ABC News, 8/21/2007]
The Guardian leads with the story about the cables reporting the hijackers’ travel being read by dozens of officers. [Guardian, 8/22/2007]
Former CIA Director George Tenet attacks a report by the CIA’s inspector general into the agency’s failings related to al-Qaeda prior to 9/11, a classified summary of which has just been released (see August 21, 2007). Tenet, who was both praised and criticized in the report, compares it unfavorably to a previous inspector general’s report on the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, and says the inspector general’s statement that he did not have a strategic plan to fight terrorism and did not use resources correctly is “flat wrong.” Tenet also says that an effort by one of his subordinates to collect information about Osama bin Laden that was praised by the inspector general was done at his request. In addition, Tenet says he worked hard to obtain money for counterterrorism at the CIA—although the inspector general found that not all the money obtained was actually spent on counterterrorism (see 1997-2001)—and that the report “vastly under appreciates the challenges faced and heroic performance of the hard working men and women of the CIA in general and CTC in specific.” [George J. Tenet, 8/21/2007]
Andrew Warren, chief of the CIA’s station in Algeria, allegedly date-rapes an Algerian national with German citizenship. When Warren is later confronted with the allegations, he will admit having sex with the woman, but deny raping her. The woman is invited to a party at Warren’s residence by US embassy employees. Although she does not know Warren, he makes her a whiskey and coke, which is prepared out of her sight. During the evening, she drinks several such beverages, and begins to feel the effects of the alcohol. While having her last drink, she feels a sudden need to vomit and runs to the toilet. According to a witness, while the woman is vomiting in the bathroom, Warren stands at the door and says she should stay the night at his house. The woman will say she does not remember anything after this, and the witness will say all the other guests depart at this time, leaving only the alleged victim, the witness, and Warren in the house. The woman will later say she wakes up alone and naked on a bed with a headache and a pain in her vaginal area, making her think she recently had sex, although she cannot remember it. She also notices a condom with what appears to be sperm inside it on the floor by the bed. She calls the witness on her cell phone and tells her to come quickly. When the witness arrives, the woman shows her the condom and the two women then quickly leave the house. The witness will also later say that she recalls Warren using a video camera during the party and that he was recording the victim. Another witness will recall the woman being at the party and getting drunk there. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/2008 ] The witness will subsequently complain to the embassy (see June 1, 2008) and date rape drugs will be found in a search of Warren’s house (see October 13, 2008).
The US administration leaks the news that it has obtained an advance copy of a new video from a man thought to be Osama bin Laden, damaging an intelligence operation by the SITE Institute. SITE, a private organization involved in the fight against international terrorism, obtains an advance copy of the video through an intelligence operation that had been ongoing for years (see September 7 and 11, 2007) and provides the copy to the White House.
SITE founder Rita Katz sends White House representatives Fred Fielding and Joel Bagnal an e-mail saying that there is a need for secrecy and the video should not be distributed, but within twenty minutes of this government defense and intelligence agencies begin downloading the video from SITE. The video leaks from the administration to the news media within a few hours, tipping al-Qaeda off to the security breach. SITE’s activities are described as “tremendously helpful” by some intelligence officials, but Katz says that due to the leak, “Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless.” However, officials say that US agencies do not rely solely on outside contractors for such information, and Ross Feinstein, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, comments, “We have individuals in the right places dealing with all these issues, across all 16 intelligence agencies.” [Washington Post, 10/9/2007] The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announces an inquiry into the leak, but Feinstein says, “we don’t think there was a leak from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or the National Counterterrorism Center,” which also received a copy of the video from SITE. [Washington Post, 10/10/2007]
A frame from Osama bin Laden’s 2007 video. [Source: Intelcenter]US analysts obtain two new videos of a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see September 7, 2007 and September 11, 2007) before al-Qaeda makes them available on the internet. A video released on September 7 is obtained by the US-based SITE Institute, which provides it “to government agencies and news organizations at a time when many well-known jihadist Web sites had been shut down in a powerful cyberattack by unknown hackers.” The next tape is obtained by a web designer known as “Laura Mansfield,” who manages “to scoop al-Qaeda by publicly unveiling its new video, a feat she has accomplished numerous times since 2002.” Although SITE’s founder Rita Katz declines to comment on how it obtained the video, the Washington Post says that SITE, Mansfield, and others like them obtained the videos, whose release was publicly announced in advance, “using a combination of computer tricks, personal connections and ingenuity to find and download password-protected content.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2007] The fact that the SITE Institute obtained the tape in advance was apparently leaked to the press by the White House, and SITE will complain about this, as it damages an intelligence operation aimed at al-Qaeda (see September 7, 2007).
The Washington Post reports, “Today, al-Qaeda operates much the way it did before 2001. The network is governed by a shura, or leadership council, that meets regularly and reports to bin Laden, who continues to approve some major decisions, according to a senior US intelligence official. About 200 people belong to the core group and many receive regular salaries, another senior US intelligence official said.” This second official adds, “They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organization and not just as a loose bunch of guys.” Most of this core group is believed to be in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] It has been estimated that there were roughly 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives around 9/11, but only a core of about 200 had pledged loyalty to bin Laden (see Just Before September 11, 2001).
Osama bin Laden in 2004 (left) and 2007 (right). [Source: As-Sahab]Problems with a recently released video featuring a man thought to be Osama bin Laden surface. In particular, the 26-minute recording only contains two short sections where the man said to be bin Laden is seen talking. The first covers the initial two minutes of the tape, the second begins after around twelve and a half minutes and lasts for about 90 seconds. The remaining 23 minutes of the tape show only a still image of the speaker. There are also many audio and video splices in the tape and the two live sections appear to be from different recordings, as the desk in front of bin Laden is closer to the camera in the second section. Analyst Neal Krawetz says, “the new audio has no accompanying ‘live’ video and consists of multiple audio recordings… And there are so many splices that I cannot help but wonder if someone spliced words and phrases together. I also cannot rule out a vocal imitator during the frozen-frame audio. The only way to prove that the audio is really bin Laden is to see him talking in the video.” Krawetz will also note the similarities with bin Laden’s previous video, released just before the 2004 US presidential election (see October 29, 2004): “[T]his is the same clothing [a white hat, white shirt and yellow sweater] he wore in the 2004-10-29 video. In 2004 he had it unzipped, but in 2007 he zipped up the bottom half. Besides the clothing, it appears to be the same background, same lighting, and same desk. Even the camera angle is almost identical.” Krawetz also comments, “if you overlay the 2007 video with the 2004 video, his face has not changed in three years—only his beard is darker and the contrast on the picture has been adjusted.” [News(.com), 9/12/2007] However, most of the Western news coverage about the video fails to point out that most of the video is a still image. [CNN, 8/8/2007; National Public Radio, 9/7/2007; BBC, 9/8/2007]
MSNBC runs an inaccurate story about waterboarding and its alleged usefulness. According to an article by Robert Windrem sourced to four senior US officials, only three detainees have been waterboarded: alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and Jemaah Islamiyah head Hambali. The article contains several claims that will later be proved false:
It says that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was not one of three detainees who was waterboarded. [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] However, it will later be generally reported that he was indeed waterboarded, and Vice President Dick Cheney will admit it in 2008. [Washington Times, 12/18/2008]
The report claims that Hambali was one of the three detainees who was waterboarded. [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] However, this claim will later fade, with al-Nashiri replacing Hambali as the third detainee subjected to waterboarding. [Washington Times, 12/18/2008] The article also falsely claims that Hambali was subjected to waterbaording because he was “resistant to other interrogation methods.” It adds that he “cried like a baby,” a claim repeated in a prominent subheadline, and “quickly told all he knew.” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007]
One former senior intelligence official is quoted as saying that “KSM required, shall we say, re-dipping,” although it will later emerge that KSM was waterboarded 183 times on five separate days (see After March 7, 2003 and April 18, 2009).
In addition, the article says, “a total of 13 high value detainees—all of them ranking al-Qaeda operatives—were subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in 2002 through 2004.” [MSNBC, 9/13/2007] However, according to a 2008 interview with Cheney, the US applied enhanced interrogation techniques to 33 detainees. This number appears to relate to a longer period, from 9/11 until late 2008, although cases where enhanced techniques were used after 2004 are not well known. [Washington Times, 12/18/2008]
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell admits, “9/11 should have and could have been prevented; it was an issue of connecting information that was available.” [ABC News, 9/18/2007] The reason he gives for this is: “There was a terrorist. He was a foreigner. He was in the United States [note: presumably he is referring to Khalid Almihdhar]. He was planning to carry out the 9/11 attacks. What the 9/11 Commission and the Joint Inquiry found is that person communicated back to al-Qaeda overseas and we failed to detect it.” [US Congress, 9/18/2007] However, it is unclear which portions of the 9/11 Commission and Congressional Inquiry reports he thinks he is referring to. The 9/11 Commission report contains two brief mentions of these calls to and from the US, but does not say whether they were detected or not, although it does say that other calls made outside the US by the 9/11 hijackers were detected. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-8, 181, 222] The Congressional Inquiry report says that the calls between Almihdhar in the US and the al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen were intercepted and analyzed by the NSA, which distributed reports to other intelligence agencies about some of them. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] The FBI had requested the NSA inform it of calls between the number Almihdhar talked to, an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, and the US (see Late 1998), but the NSA did not do so (see (Spring 2000)). A variety of explanations are offered for this after 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).
Following the release of a new video and a new audio message from a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see September 7, 2007 and September 11, 2007), terrorism analyst Peter Bergen says it may be a good idea to allow As-Sahab, a clandestine institute that makes videos for al-Qaeda, to continue to operate. Bergen says it would be difficult to shut the operation down, “You’d have to capture or kill everyone involved, and if you knew who they were, you might want to follow them instead,” says Bergen, adding, “Understanding the inner workings of As-Sahab is probably as good a way as any I can think of to get close to bin Laden and [al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-]Zawahiri.” However, former director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center John Brennan says of a possible attempt at penetrating As-Sahab, “Don’t presume that’s not happening.” CIA Director General Michael Hayden says of As-Sahab’s ability to continue putting out videos, “It might be disappointing, but it shouldn’t be surprising.” [United Press International, 9/19/2007]
In mid-September 2007, the CIA informs the prosecution team from the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial that it has one video recordings of a high-ranking detainee interrogation. The CIA had previously claimed it had no video recordings of any interrogations when in fact it did (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA then initiates a review and unearths another video and an audio recording several days later. The prosecutors will subsequently inform the judge, but say that the error did not influence the outcome of the trial, as Moussaoui pleaded guilty, but the death penalty was not imposed. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 ; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Lawyers who prosecuted Zacarias Moussaoui view these two videotapes and listen to the one audiotape. The names of the one to three detainees who were recorded are not known. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 ] However, they were enemy combatants that could not testify at the trial, and substitutions for testimony were submitted in the trial on behalf of five enemy combatants: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Khallad bin Attash, Hambali, and Mohamed al-Khatani. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 ; Reuters, 11/13/2007] Shortly after this, the CIA discloses that it had destroyed some similar videotapes in 2005 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). Apparently this indicates some videotapes have survived the destruction.
Laurie Mylroie, a neoconservative author whose theories that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see October 2000) and the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001 and July 2003) have been repeatedly discredited (see February 2003, July 9, 2003, and December 2003), produces a report on Iraq for the Pentagon. Reporter Justin Elliott, learning about Mylroie’s position with the Defense Department in 2009, cites Mylroie as an example of “neoconservatives… falling upward,” or “repeatedly getting important things wrong and… being handed new opportunities to pursue their work.” Mylroie’s report, “Saddam’s Foreign Intelligence Service,” follows her February 2007 study entitled “Saddam’s Strategic Concepts: Dealing With UNSCOM.” Both were produced for the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment [ONA], which the Washington Post has described as an “obscure but highly influential” bureau within the department. In 2009, Jacob Heilbrunn, who has written a book about neoconservatives, will say: “It’s kind of astonishing that the ONA would come even within a mile of her. I think she is completely discredited.” The New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons will add: “I’m shocked. If this came out in 2007, she was presumably working on it in 2006, and, by that time, the fate and fortunes of a lot of these people was already switching.” Heilbrunn will explain why Mylroie’s opinions are so sought after within the Pentagon, even though she has been roundly discredited: “She was one of the original fermenters of the idea that Saddam Hussein had these intimate ties with al-Qaeda.” A Defense Department spokesperson will explain Mylroie’s selection as an ONA researcher by saying, “All aspects of researchers and research institutions are considered, with an emphasis on obtaining the widest range of possible intellectual approaches in order to provide a fully balanced approach to the analysis of future developments.” As for her work with ONA, the Defense Department says, “These reports were part of a multi-scope research effort to identify the widest possible range of analysts whose expertise was likely to generate insights and concepts which would contribute to Net Assessments’ ongoing work to develop and refine trends, risks, and opportunities which will shape future (2020) national security environments.” [TPM Muckraker, 1/29/2009]
The Washington Post’s editorial page, headed by Fred Hiatt, denounces Iran’s “race for a bomb,” writing: “[T]he danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it. The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy—that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s superiors to suspend their race for a bomb.… Even if [Iran] provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment—and thus its progress toward a bomb—will continue. That doesn’t trouble [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei, who hasn’t hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking US military action… European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don’t make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
For about a year until his death in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008), anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins is openly followed by FBI agents in surveillance vehicles. When this begins exactly is not known, but his house is searched by the FBI on November 1, 2007 (see November 1, 2007), so presumably he is followed at least after that date. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] This tactic used on Ivins had already been controversially used on the previous primary anthrax attacks suspect, Steven Hatfill, in 2002 and 2003. One of the heads of the FBI’s anthrax investigation, Robert Roth, later admitted in court that this tactic of openly following Hatfill was against FBI guidelines. “Generally, it’s supposed to be covert,” Roth said. [Associated Press, 8/5/2008]
According to Time magazine, the CIA produces a report saying that Osama bin Laden has long-term kidney disease and may only have months to live. Time cites as its source “two US officials familiar with the report.” Allegedly, the CIA managed to get the names of some of the medications bin Laden is taking. How this was done is unclear. One of the sources says the report concluded, “Based on his current pharmaceutical intake, [we] would expect that he has no more than six to 18 months to live and impending kidney failure.” However, some observers will dispute the alleged report’s apparent claims. Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will say, “It’s trying to make a diagnosis from thousands of miles away with only fragments of the medical chart.” Former Bush administration official Frances Fragos Townsend will add: “I’ve read all the same conflicting reports [on bin Laden’s health] that people have talked to you about. I never found one set of reporting more persuasive than another.” When Time breaks the story the next year, the CIA will even disavow the claims attributed to the report. “I have found no one here familiar with this alleged report or the analytic line it supposedly conveys,” says CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “The fact that anonymous sources attribute views to the CIA is not, by itself, reason to believe the agency actually holds those views.” [Time, 6/30/2009]
The New York Times reveals that the Justice Department issued two secret rulings authorizing far more extensive use of torture and abuse during the interrogation of terror suspects than has previously been acknowledged by the White House (see February 2005 and Late 2005). The White House’s deputy press secretary, Tony Fratto, makes the same counterclaim that Bush officials have made for years, saying, “We have gone to great lengths, including statutory efforts and the recent executive order, to make it clear that the intelligence community and our practices fall within US law” and international agreements. But that claim is countered by the statements of over two dozen current and former officials involved in counterterrorism. When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned in September after accusations of misleading Congress and the public on a wide array of issues, he said in his farewell speech that the Justice Department is a “place of inspiration” that had balanced the necessary flexibility to pursue the administration’s war on terrorism with the need to uphold the law and respect civil liberties (see July 25, 2007). But many of Gonzales’s associates at the Justice Department now say that Gonzales was usually compliant with the wishes of Vice President Cheney and Cheney’s chief counsel and adviser, David Addington, to endorse whatever interrogation policies the White House wished in the name of protecting the nation, no matter what conflicts may arise with US and international law or whatever criticisms from other governments, Congressional Democrats, or human rights groups may ensue. Critics, including many of the officials now speaking out, say that Gonzales turned the Justice Department from the independent law enforcement arm of the US government into just another arm of the White House. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Air Force Colonel Morris Davis resigns his position as the lead counsel for the military commissions trials at Guantanamo after complaining that his authority in prosecutions is being usurped for political purposes (see October 19, 2007). In particular, Davis complains about interference by Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, a legal adviser at Guantanamo (see July 2007), and Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes (see October 4, 2007). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Davis planned on prosecuting as many as 80 of the Guantanamo detainees. There have been no trials so far, because the Supreme Court ruled the trials unconstitutional until they were reauthorized by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Davis has made headlines with outspoken support of the trials and his colorful characterizations of Guantanamo detainees. In March 2006, he compared detainees who challenged the trial system to vampires afraid of the harsh sunlight of US justice: “Remember if you dragged Dracula out into the sunlight, he melted? Well, that’s kind of the way it is trying to drag a detainee into the courtroom,” he told reporters. “But their day is coming.” [Miami Herald, 10/6/2007]
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]
In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]
NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).
CIA Director Michael Hayden orders an unusual internal investigation of the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the press will later learn. The OIG, led by Inspector General John Helgerson, has conducted aggressive investigations of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs (see May 7, 2004). Current and former government officials say that Hayden’s probe has created anxiety and anger in the OIG, and has sparked questions in Congress of possible conflicts of interest. The review is focusing on complaints that the OIG has not been, as the New York Times reports, a “fair and impartial judge of agency operations,” but instead has “begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” Some current and former officials say that such a probe threatens to undermine the independence of the office. Former CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who served from 1990 through 1998, says any move by Hayden to conduct a probe into the OIG would “not be proper.” Hitz calls it “a terrible idea,” and adds: “Under the statute, the inspector general has the right to investigate the director. How can you do that and have the director turn around and investigate the IG?” A CIA spokesman says Hayden’s only motive is “to help this office, like any office at the agency, do its vital work even better.” The investigation is being overseen by Robert Deitz, a trusted aide to Hayden who served with him when he ran the National Security Agency. Another member of the investigating group is Associate Deputy Director Michael Morrell. Under the law, the proper procedure for Hayden would be to file complaints with the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which oversees all the inspectors general, or to go directly to the White House. For an internal inquiry to be launched against an agency’s OIG by the agency head violates the independence and the position of the OIG. Critics say that the timing of Hayden’s investigation is more than coincidental, as Helgerson’s office is readying a number of reports on CIA detention, interrogation, and rendition practices. [New York Times, 10/11/2007]
Qwest logo. [Source: Qwest]Former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, who refused to accede to Bush administration demands that he participate in the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see February 2001 and Beyond), says in court documents released today that the NSA retaliated against Qwest by withdrawing a large government contract from the firm. Nacchio was convicted on 19 counts of insider trading, and was unable to mount the defense he wanted because the information he tried to present to the court was classified. He is appealing the verdict. The documents released today make up part of that defense. The documents indicate that the NSA was discussing a secret and possibly illegal surveillance operation against Americans as far back as February 2001—months before the 9/11 attacks, which Bush officials have used to justify wiretapping Americans without court warrants. Although the legal filings are heavily redacted for public consumption, they reveal, among other things, a February 27, 2001 meeting between Nacchio and NSA officials to discuss an infrastructure project and another, classified topic that may be regarding the NSA’s illegal wiretapping of US citizens (see February 27, 2001). After the discussion, in which Nacchio refuses to participate in the operation, the NSA withdrew its “Groundbreaker” contract from consideration for Qwest. Nacchio and an associate “went into that meeting expecting to talk about the ‘Groundbreaker’ project and came out of the meeting with optimism about the prospect for 2001 revenues from NSA,” Stern writes, “[T]he Court has prohibited Mr. Nacchio from eliciting testimony regarding what also occurred at that meeting, [redacted].… The Court has also refused to allow Mr. Nacchio to demonstrate that the agency retaliated for this refusal by denying the Groundbreaker and perhaps other work to Qwest.” Nacchio was convicted for not warning investors that Qwest’s stock would drop before he sold off his own stock; Nacchio contends that he believed the secret NSA contracts would come through and bolster his former firm’s stock price. [Raw Story, 10/12/2007; Marketwatch, 10/13/2007]
Qwest's No-Bid Contracts - On May 25, 2007, Judge Edward Nottingham wrote that, according to Nacchio, “Qwest entered into two classified contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, without a competitive bidding process and that in 2000 and 2001, he participated in discussion with high-ranking [redacted] representatives concerning the possibility of awarding additional contracts of a similar nature.… Those discussions led him to believe that [redacted] would award Qwest contracts valued at amounts that would more than offset the negative warnings he was receiving about Qwest’s financial prospects.” [Washington Post, 10/13/2007]
'Quid Pro Quo' - The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Hugh D’Andrade writes, “It appears that the NSA’s requests for cooperation came with an implied quid pro quo—give us your customer’s calling records and we will reward you with generous contracts worth millions. It is beginning to look like the telecoms were motivated by something other than ‘patriotism’ after all.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10/17/2007]
'Never-Ending Carousel' - And Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, himself a former Constitutional law and civil rights litigator, writes, “The cooperation between the various military/intelligence branches of the federal government—particularly the Pentagon and the NSA—and the private telecommunications corporations is extraordinary and endless. They really are, in every respect, virtually indistinguishable. The federal government has its hands dug deeply into the entire ostensibly ‘private’ telecommunications infrastructure and, in return, the nation’s telecoms are recipients of enormous amounts of revenues by virtue of turning themselves into branches of the federal government. There simply is no separation between these corporations and the military and intelligence agencies of the federal government. They meet and plan and agree so frequently, and at such high levels, that they practically form a consortium.” Greenwald calls it “a never-ending carousel of multi-billion dollar transactions—pursuant to which enormous sums of taxpayer money are transferred to these telecoms in exchange for the telecoms serving as obedient divisions of the government, giving them unfettered access to all of the data and content of the communications of American citizens.” [Salon, 10/15/2007]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Qwest, Joe Nacchio, US Department of Defense, Hugh D’Andrade, Herbert Stern, Glenn Greenwald, Bush administration (43), American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Edward Nottingham, AT&T
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Dissent among CIA personnel, brewing for well over a year (see April 19, 2006), has become even more intense in recent months, according to reporter Ken Silverstein. Some CIA employees, increasingly disgusted with the Bush administration’s torture and rendition policies, have taken their complaints directly to Inspector General (IG) John Helgerson. In response, CIA Director Michael Hayden has launched an internal inquiry into Helgerson’s office (see Before October 11, 2007). Silverstein reports that on top of internal dissent and complaints to Helgerson’s office, a former senior legal official quit in protest over the administration’s torture policies. Silverstein is not at liberty to reveal the name of the official, but says he worked as a deputy inspector general under former IG Frederick Hitz, who left the position in 1998, and after that worked in the CIA’s office of general counsel. Silverstein says the official had the reputation of being a “hardliner” on terrorism and prisoner interrogations. According to Silverstein, “sources tell me he couldn’t stomach what he deemed to be abuses by the Bush administration and stepped down from his post.” [Harper's, 10/12/2007]
Attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey uses an anecdote about a cell phone battery to argue that the current legal system is poorly equipped to fight Islamic terrorism. The anecdote is told during his confirmation hearings, but he previously used it in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in August. Mukasey says that during Ramzi Yousef’s trial for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing: “[S]omebody testified to somebody having delivered a cell phone battery to someone else. That piece of testimony disclosed to al-Qaeda that a line of communication of theirs had been compromised and, in fact, was one of communication that our government was monitoring and from which it had gotten enormously valuable intelligence. That line of communication shut down within days of that testimony and I don’t know what we lost. Nobody knows what we lost. But we probably lost something enormously valuable.” Mukasey does not say which of Yousef’s two trials the testimony was at. [Wall Street Journal, 8/22/2007; CQ Transcripts Wire, 10/18/2007] This incident is not known and is not confirmed by other sources. It is unclear who the two militants were, and why the militant who received the cell phone battery would be unable to purchase it himself. Osama bin Laden is said to have received a doctored battery for his satellite (not cell) phone in Afghanistan, and this is said to have helped the US track him (see May 28, 1998). However, this apparently happened after Yousef was sentenced in the last of the two cases to come to trial, so it is unclear how this could have been mentioned at the trial (see January 8, 1998). A rumor later circulated that bin Laden had stopped using the satellite phone with the allegedly doctored battery based on a leak of intelligence to the press, but that appears to be an urban myth (see Late August 1998).
The former lead prosecutor for terrorism tribunals at Guantanamo, Colonel Morris Davis, tells reporters that senior officials at the Pentagon pushed for convictions of high-profile detainees before the November 2008 presidential elections, placing politics ahead of duty. Davis says that the pressure from the Pentagon played a part in his decision to resign (see October 4, 2007). Davis says senior Defense Department officials discussed the “strategic political value” of putting some prominent detainees on trial in a September 2006 meeting (see September 29, 2006). Davis also says he objected to newly appointed senior officials’ insistence on using classified evidence in closed sessions of court, and to the military commissions being put under Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes (see October 4, 2007).
'Less than Full, Fair and Open' - Davis had serious concerns about the use of classified evidence, due to worries it could be seen to be tainting trials. Davis says that since Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann’s arrival as legal adviser to the convening authority in the summer of 2007, Hartmann has attempted to speed up trials that will engage media attention and show the public that the process works (see July 2007). “He said, the way we were going to validate the system was by getting convictions and good sentences,” Davis says. “I felt I was being pressured to do something less than full, fair and open.” [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Pentagon regulations require the legal adviser to be an impartial administration and not an arm of the prosecution.
'Political Commission' - Law professor Marc Falkoff, who represents some of the Guantanamo detainees, will observe that the interference Davis cites “is a patent violation of Rule 104 of the Manual for Military Commissions and Section 949b of the Military Commissions Act, both of which make it unlawful to ‘attempt to coerce or, by any unauthorized means, influence… the exercise of professional judgment by trial counsel or defense counsel.’” Falkoff notes that in the Supreme Court’s Hamdan verdict (see June 30, 2006), Justice Anthony Kennedy specifically disapproved of the first military commissions because they lacked “the safeguards that are important to the fairness of the proceedings and the independence of the court.” Davis says, “[A]s things stand right now, I think it’s a disgrace to call it a military commission—it’s a political commission.” [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade bombed in Karachi. [Source: BBC]Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan after eight years in exile. Earlier in the month she had made a deal with President Pervez Musharraf that gave her amnesty in return for not opposing Musharraf’s reelection vote (see October 4, 2007). Bhutto, Pakistan’s most popular opposition politician, is greeted by large, enthusiastic crowds as she arrives in the city of Karachi. But as her motorcade is moving through the crowd at night, a suicide bomber approaches on foot and throws a grenade to attract attention. Then the bomber sets off a larger blast that kills at least 139 and injures around 400. Bhutto is not hurt, as she had just moved inside her vehicle from the roof moments before. CNN reporter Dan Rivers, filming the motorcade just before the attack, later comments on the lack of security. He says it was possible to walk right up to the side of her vehicle without being stopped. [CNN, 10/19/2007]
Bhutto Assigns Blame - The next day, Bhutto says, “I am not accusing the government [as a whole], but I am accusing certain individuals who abuse their positions, who abuse their powers.… I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General [Muhammad Zia ul-Haq] who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism.” She has long accused the ISI of opposing her. Aides close to her say that she specifically names Ijaz Shah, a former ISI official linked to Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002) and the director general of the Intelligence Bureau, another Pakistani intelligence agency. She also says that an unnamed “brotherly country” had warned her that several suicide squads were plotting attacks against her, including squads from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. She says this government gave the Pakistani government the phone numbers the plotters were using, but implies investigators did not take advantage of the lead. She further says the street lamps had been turned off along the motorcade route, making it difficult for her security detail to scan the crowd for possible bombers, and demands an investigation into this. [New York Times, 10/20/2007]
Others Assign Blame - Her husband Asif Ali Zardari is more direct, saying, “I blame the government for these blasts. It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” The government by contrast complains that the security situation was extremely difficult. She was taking a big risk, moving though crowds of hundreds of thousands in a notoriously violent city of 16 million people. [Australian, 10/20/2007] The US by contrast, quickly blames al-Qaeda. Only one day after the bombing, US State Department officials say they believe there is a “strong al-Qaeda connection” and that it “bears the hallmarks” of an al-Qaeda attack. [CNN, 10/20/2007]
Bob Drogin. [Source: CBS News]Reporter Bob Drogin, discussing his new book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, reflects on the opposing views surrounding the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq based on misinformed and sometimes fraudulent information about Iraq’s supposed WMD programs. The Bush administration has repeatedly blamed its erroneous claims of Iraqi WMDs on “bad intelligence,” and administration critics have stated that Bush officials “manipulated” and “cherry-picked” the intelligence they wanted to justify their push for war, and ignored the rest. Drogin says that both descriptions are accurate. “I don’t see that as an either-or proposition. Both happened,” he says. “The White House clearly manipulated information to make its case for war. It exaggerated the supposed link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9/11, for example, going far beyond what the CIA believed.… [T]he White House didn’t need to ‘cherry pick’ intelligence on Saddam’s WMD because the CIA stuff was all wrong. And it flowed into the White House by the truckload. Go back and read [Colin] Powell’s 2003 UN speech, or the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the so-called gold standard of the US intelligence community. Virtually every sentence is wrong. That was the official view. It gave them the pretext for war.… I wanted to understand how an intelligence system that spends about $50 billion a year could produce the worst intelligence disaster in our history. The cascade of mistakes in the Curveball case is a big part of the answer.” He continues, “It was like witchcraft—the failure to find proof [of WMDs] was considered proof itself. So it became ‘not only does he have them, but look at how good he is at hiding them.’ So the threat was even greater. Our fears blinded us, I think—and the politicians used that to engender a state of national concern.” Drogin puts much of the blame, not on the media for conflating the story into a “crisis,” but on Congress for not standing up and demanding real answers and real proof. “I mean, I was in Washington and there was no debate. Democrats were running absolutely scared, running with their tails between their legs and the Republicans all lined up behind Bush. And the press can only do so much—in the end, I’m a reporter and I can’t prove a negative. I’m not going to go out and say he doesn’t have weapons, I don’t see the intelligence, I don’t know… [I]f members of Congress had fought that battle then it would have been covered and the debate would have been there. There’s only so much you can do as a reporter to create a debate.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
The cover of Plame Wilson’s ‘Fair Game.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former CIA spy and case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), an expert on Iraqi WMD, publishes her memoir of her time in the CIA, Fair Game. The book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, notes that significant amounts of material Plame Wilson originally wrote for the book were redacted by the CIA, and the redactions survived a lawsuit aimed at restoring them. “Accordingly,” the publisher writes, “Ms. Wilson’s portion of this book contains only that information that the CIA has deemed unclassified and has allowed her to include.” The portions the CIA ordered redacted are represented by blacked-out passages. Some of the incidents covered in the redacted material are revealed in an afterword written by journalist Laura Rozen. [Simon & Schuster, 9/19/2007 ] On the subject of Iraqi WMDs, Plame Wilson writes: “[I]t is easy to surrender to a revisionist idea that all the WMD evidence against Iraq was fabricated. While it is true that powerful ideologues encouraged a war to prove their own geopolitical theories, and critical failures of judgment were made throughout the intelligence community in the spring and summer of 2002, Iraq, under its cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, was clearly a rogue nation that flouoted international treaties and norms in its quest for regional superiority.” Using material and information collected by the nonpartisan Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Plame Wilson notes that by 2001, Iraq had made progress in all three major areas of WMD.
Iraq could have “probably” fabricated a crude nuclear device if it had successfully secured enough uranium or plutonium.
Iraq was a few years away from being able to produce its own weapons-grade fissile material.
It had a large, experienced pool of nuclear weapons scientists and technicians, and viable plans for building nuclear devices.
Iraq had actively sought equipment related to building nuclear devices.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all materials and information related to the construction of nuclear weapons possessed by Iraq must be destroyed.
Between 1972 and 1991, Iraq had an active and growing nuclear weapons development program involving some 10,000 people and $10 billion, and in 1990 it attempted to divert uranium sealed under an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear weapons development.
Iraq had plans for equipping existing Al-Hussein (modified Scud-B) missiles, with a 300-kilometer range, or possibly modifying Al-Hussein missiles, to fly as far as 650 kilometers. The US believed that, if allowed to work unchallenged, Iraq could build missiles capable of flying 3,000 kilometers within 5 years and build full-fledged ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) within 15 years.
In 1987, Iraq had reportedly field-tested some sort of radiological bomb.
Iraq was believed to have retained stockpiles of biological weapons munitions, including over 150 aerial bombs and at least 25 Al-Hussein missiles with either chemical or biological warheads. At least 17 metric tons of bioweapons growth media remained unaccounted for. Iraq was also believed to possess weaponized strains of anthrax, smallpox, and camelpox. It had conducted tests on delivering biological and/or chemical payloads via unmanned “drone” aircraft.
Iraq was believed to have bioweapons sprayers built to be deployed by its fleet of F-1 Mirage fighters.
Iraq was believed to have kept hidden bioweapons laboratories capable of producing “dry” biological weapons, which have much longer shelf lives and can be deployed with greater dissemination. It was also thought to be able to produce anthrax, aflatoxin, botulism, and clostridium.
During the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraq had prepared, but not launched, a number of Al-Hussein missiles equipped with biological and/or chemical warheads.
Iraq had repeatedly violated the mandate of UN Resolution 687, which required that all Iraqi bioweapons capabilities be destroyed.
In 2001, Iraq was believed to possess a stockpile of chemical munitions, including at least 25 chemical or biologically-equipped Al-Hussein missiles, 2,000 aerial bombs, up to 25,000 rockets, and 15,000 artillery shells.
Iraq was believed to have the means to produce hundreds of tons of mustard gas, VX toxin, and other nerve agents.
Iraq was reconstructing its former dual-use chemical weapons facilities that had been destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War and during follow-up air strikes. A huge chemical arsenal had been destroyed by UN inspectors after the war.
Iraq retained a large and experienced pool of scientists and technicians capable of making chemical weapons.
In 1988 and 1989, Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, and from 1983 through 1989, had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all chemical weapons technology and materials in Iraqi hands be destroyed.
Iraq was not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Plame Wilson writes that in 2001, the general view of Iraq among the US intelligence community was that the nation’s government was “dangerous and erratic,” and very interested in procuring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons technology. The community’s knowledge of Iraq’s WMD program “was a huge puzzle with only a few pieces that fit together correctly.… [N]one of us knew what the completed puzzle would look like.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 97-98]
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen writes: “Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
On the eve of a visit to London, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia says that his intelligence service warned Britain of an impending plot before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), but that British authorities failed to act on the warning. King Abdullah says, “We sent information to [Britain] before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy.” He also says that Britain did not take terrorism seriously for a while. However, British authorities deny all this. [BBC, 10/29/2007] Details of the warning are not specified. However, this may be a reference to one or two discussions between Saudi Arabia and Britain in early 2005 about information indicating there was to be an attack in London (see December 14, 2004-February 2005 and April 2005 or Shortly Before).
Through investgative blogger Brad Friedman, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds makes an open offer to all broadcast TV networks to give any one of them an exclusive “tell all” interview in exchange for unedited air time. Edmonds says, “[h]ere’s my promise to the American Public: If anyone of the major networks—ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox—promise to air the entire segment, without editing, I promise to tell them everything that I know.” She further explains, “I can tell the American public exactly what it is, and what it is that they are covering up,” adding, “I’m not compromising ongoing investigations,” as “they’ve all been shut down since.” Edmonds has already gone to Congress, the Justice Department inspector general, and the 9/11 Commission, and on two separate occasions had been gagged under the State Secrets Act to prevent her testimony in court. Regarding what she has to talk about, Friedman summarizes it as: “Everything she hasn’t been allowed to tell since 2002, about the criminal penetration of the FBI where she worked, and at the Departments of State and Defense; everything she heard concerning the corruption and illegal activities of several well-known members of Congress; everything she’s aware of concerning information omitted and/or covered up in relation to 9/11. All of the information gleaned from her time listening to and translating wire-taps made prior to 9/11 at the FBI.” [Bradblog.com, 10/29/2007]
Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [Source: Associated Press]The trial of 28 people accused of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings comes to an end, and 21 are found guilty. However, only three are convicted of murder and are given life sentences: Jamal Zougam, Othman El Gnaoui, and Emilio Suarez Trashorras. Seven of the principal bombers blew themselves up one month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). None of the accused confessed, making convictions difficult. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was accused of being the bombing mastermind. While living it Italy, he reportedly bragged, “I was the leader of Madrid,” and “the Madrid bombings were my project, and those who died as martyrs there were my beloved friends.” But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated and so they were thrown out as evidence. A counterterrorism expert says the court appeared to have a very strict standard of admissible evidence. However, Ahmed is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Italy based on unrelated charges. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004; MSNBC, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 11/1/2007] Many victims’ relatives complain that the sentences are too lenient. And a spokesperson for Spain’s main opposition party comments, “We still don’t know who gave the order, we still don’t know who built those bombs, and we still don’t know who was the coordinator of these cells that carried out these attacks.” [BBC, 11/1/2007] Some of the other verdicts:
Hamid Ahmidan - 23 years.
Rachid Aglif - 18 years.
Abdelmajid Bouchar - 18 years.
Basel Ghalyoun - 12 years.
Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam - 12 years.
Fouad el Morabit - 12 years.
Mouhannad Almallah - 12 years.
Rafa Zouhier - 10 years.
Youssef Belhadj - 12 years.
Antonio Toro - Acquitted.
Carmen Toro - Acquitted. [El Mundo (Madrid), 11/1/2007]
Entity Tags: Rachid Aglif, Mouhannad Almallah, Othman El Gnaoui, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Rafa Zouhier, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Hamid Ahmidan, Abdelmajid Bouchar, Antonio Toro, Basel Ghalyoun, Carmen Toro, Fouad el Morabit, Jamal Zougam, Youssef Belhadj
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Around late autumn 2007, FBI agents pressure the family of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. According to an unnamed scientist colleague and friend of Ivins, agents show Ivins’s 24-year-old daughter pictures of the victims of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and tell her, “Your father did this.” The agents also offer her brother the $2.5 million reward for solving the anthrax case and the sports car of his choice. Dr. W. Russell Byrne, a friend and former supervisor of Ivins, will later say he heard from other people who knew Ivins that investigators were going after Ivins’s daughter, but these conversations were short because people were afraid to talk. “The FBI had asked everybody to sign these nondisclosure things. They didn’t want to run afoul of the FBI.” [Associated Press, 8/5/2008] Bryne also says the FBI’s repeated discussions with Ivins’s daughter “was not an interview. It was a frank attempt at intimidation.” [Baltimore Sun, 8/5/2008]
Ivins Drinks and Struggles with Pressure - Perhaps as a result of this pressure, Ivins begins drinking heavily (a liter of vodka on some nights) and taking large doses of sleeping and anti-anxiety pills. His unnamed scientist friend later says that Ivins “was e-mailing me late at night with gobbledygook, ranting and raving” about what he called the “persecution” of his family. This friend also later says he is contacted by another colleague of Ivins who says that Ivins “has really gone down the tubes.” Another friend, Gerry Andrews, who worked with Ivins at USAMRIID for nine years, said that prior to this time Ivins drank so little that others teased him about being a teetotaler. Andrews had retired but kept in touch with Ivins until autumn 2007, when Ivins “kind of fell off the radar screen. I found out that there was some issues with his house being surveilled.”
Ivins Seeks Treatment - In March 2008, Ivins is found collapsed in his home. In April, he begins to seek treatment. He spends four weeks at a Maryland hospital for detoxification and rehabilitation, and begins attending therapy sessions with a counselor. In November 2007, Ivins is banned from working with dangerous toxins at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, where he works (see November 1, 2007). But he will not be permanently barred from working there until July 2008, when he is hospitalized a second time (see July 10, 2008). [Washington Post, 8/6/2008]
The house of Bruce Ivins. [Source: Rob Carr / Associated Press]The FBI suspects that Bruce Ivins, a scientist working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). His home is searched by the FBI, but no report of this makes the newspapers. On the same day, USAMRIID cuts off his access to the laboratories where biological agents and toxins are used and stored. However, he continues to work at USAMRIID without such access until July 2008, when he will be completely banned from the lab (see July 10, 2008). [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008] According to McClatchy Newspapers, his lab access is apparently reinstated some time after this date. [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
Marc Falkoff. [Source: Northern Illinois University]Law professor Marc Falkoff, who represents some of the Guantanamo terror suspects, says that the resignation of Colonel Morris Davis as the lead prosecutor in the Guantanamo military commissions trials (see October 4, 2007) is important not just because only 80 of the 350 detainees are slated to be tried, leaving the other 270 in what Falkoff calls a “legal limbo, subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial or any court oversight for the duration of the war on terror,” but because of Davis’s revelations that the commissions have been tainted by political considerations. Davis’s resignation “may finally signal to the American public that politics rather than principle reigns at Guantanamo, and that decisions about the administration of justice at the camp are being made—largely outside of public view and without accountability—by political actors for nakedly political reasons.” As an example, Falkoff notes that every European in custody has been returned to their home countries, but 90% of the Yemenis in detention remain in custody even though many have been cleared for release by the US military. Falkoff says that he and his colleagues have for over three years visited their clients in Guantanamo to bring them what he calls “good news” about the court victories they have won. Falkoff writes, “To a man, upon hearing our news, our clients have smiled politely and shrugged, pointing out to us that they still have not had their day in court and that they still are not treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions. ‘You have to understand,’ they tell us, ‘this is all a big game.’ More and more, I am starting to think they are right.” [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan says that before 9/11 the Saudi government was “actively following” most of the 19 hijackers “with precision.” Prince Bandar, formerly Saudi ambassador to the US, also says that the information Saudi Arabia had may have been sufficient to prevent 9/11: “If US security authorities had engaged their Saudi counterparts in a serious and credible manner, in my opinion, we would have avoided what happened.” A US official says that the statement made by Prince Bandar should be taken with a grain of salt. [CNN, 11/2/2007] Saudi officials had previously said that they watchlisted two of the Saudi hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the late 1990s (see 1997 and Late 1999) and their interest in Nawaf Alhazmi may have led them to his brother, Salem. All three of these hijackers were also tracked by the US before 9/11 (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001 and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
Saudi Tracking - Almost a year after Prince Bandar makes this claim, author James Bamford will offer information corroborating it. Bamford will write that Saudi officials placed an indicator in some of the hijackers’ passports and then used the indicator to track them. The Saudis did this because they thought the hijackers were Islamist radicals and wanted to keep an eye on their movements. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] Details of the tracking by the Saudis are sketchy and there is no full list of the hijackers tracked in this manner. According to the 9/11 Commission, Almihdhar and the Alhazmi brothers had indicators of Islamist extremism in their passports. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 33 ] Two other hijackers may also have had the same indicator. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 564]
The three who had the indicator are: -
Nawaf Alhazmi, who obtained a passport containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 (see March 21, 1999), and then left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999).
Khalid Almihdhar, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 6, 1999 and June 1, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, Late 2000-February 2001, May 26, 2001, and July 4, 2001).
Salem Alhazmi, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 4, 1999 and June 16, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, November 2000, June 13, 2001, and (Between June 20 and June 29, 2001)).
The two who may also have had the indicator are: -
Ahmed Alhaznawi, who obtained a passport possibly containing an indicator before mid-November 2000 (see Before November 12, 2000) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After November 12, 2000, (Between May 7 and June 1, 2001), and June 1, 2001).
Ahmed Alnami, who obtained passports possibly containing an indicator in late 2000 and spring 2001 (see November 6, 1999 and April 21, 2001) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see Mid-November, 2000 and May 13, 2001).
What the indicator actually looks like in the passports is not known.
Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CBS News]CBS News reveals the identity of the infamous Iraqi defector, “Curveball,” whose information was used by the Bush administration to build its case for Iraqi biological weapons. Curveball’s real identity is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, an Iraqi who defected to Germany in November 1999, where he requested asylum at a refugee center near Nuremberg (see November 1999). The evidence Curveball provided was detailed, compelling, and completely false, but instrumental in driving the US towards invading Iraq. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who was unable to convince either his superiors in the agency or senior officials in the White House that Curveball was untrustworthy (see September 2002), says of Curveball’s contribution to the rhetoric of war, “If they [the Bush administration] had not had Curveball they would have probably found something else. ‘Cause there was a great determination to do it. But going to war in Iraq, under the circumstances we did, Curveball was the absolutely essential case.” CBS reporter Bob Simon says Curveball is “not only a liar, but also a thief and a poor student instead of the chemical engineering whiz he claimed to be.” The CIA eventually acknowledged Alwan as a fraud. The question remains, why did he spin such an elaborate tale? Drumheller thinks it was for the most prosaic of reasons. “It was a guy trying to get his Green Card, essentially, in Germany, playing the system for what it was worth. It just shows sort of the law of unintended consequences.” Alwan is believed to be still living in Germany, most likely under an assumed name. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).
After spending a year traveling through the Middle East and writing about his experiences, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland says there is an “unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” He adds: “That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.… [T]ime is running out on the diplomatic track.” In late October, Hoagland dismissed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s doubt that Iran would be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon (see October 26, 2007) as “implausible.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
Evan Wallach, a New York judge who teaches the law of war at two New York City law schools, pens an editorial for the Washington Post protesting the argument that waterboarding has somehow become legal. Wallach, a former Judge Advocate General officer in the Nevada National Guard, recalls routinely lecturing military policemen about their legal obligations towards their prisoners. He writes that he always concluded by saying: “I know you won’t remember everything I told you today, but just remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” He is proud to note that the unit he was with, the 72nd Military Police Company, “refused to participate in misconduct at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.”
Waterboarding Is Real, Not Simulated, Drowning - Wallach then explains what waterboarding is. It is not “simulated drowning,” as many media reports characterize it: “That’s incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs, and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding’s effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”
Prosecution of Waterboarding as Torture Goes Back to 1898 - Wallach notes that after World War II, several Japanese soldiers were tried and executed for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. One former POW, Lieutenant Chase Nielsen, testified: “I was given several types of torture.… I was given what they call the water cure.… Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning… just gasping between life and death.” The waterboarding of POWs was one of the driving forces behind the US’s organization of war crimes trials for senior Japanese military and civilian officials. Wallach writes: “Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.” (Weeks later, torture opponent Senator John McCain will cite the Japanese prosecutions in a presidential debate—see November 29, 2007). Wallach notes that as far back as 1898, US soldiers were court-martialed for waterboarding Filipino guerrillas during the Spanish-American War. More recently, a group of Filipino citizens sued, in a US district court, the estate of former Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos, claiming they had been waterboarded and subjected to other tortures. The court awarded the plaintiffs $766 million in damages, and wrote: “[T]he plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to… the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation.” In 1983, a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies were convicted of violating prisoners’ civil rights by subjecting them to a procedure similar to waterboarding (see 1983). Wallach concludes: “We know that US military tribunals and US judges have examined certain types of water-based interrogation and found that they constituted torture. That’s a lesson worth learning. The study of law is, after all, largely the study of history. The law of war is no different. This history should be of value to those who seek to understand what the law is—as well as what it ought to be.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2007]
Curveball, a.k.a. Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CNN]Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress releases a statement in response to CBS’s 60 Minutes segment revealing the name of discredited Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see November 4, 2007). (Note: the CBS report did not mention Curveball’s alleged INC affiliations.) The INC says that the segment proves once and for all that there is no link between the INC and Curveball: “The INC can state categorically that there has never been any person at any level of the INC who is related to anyone named Rafid Ahmed Alwan.” The statement continues, “The CIA engaged in a smear campaign to link Curveball to the INC in order to deflect blame from its own failures in Iraq.” It calls on the US media to correct the “false information that has misled their readers.” [Iraqi National Congress, 11/4/2007] The INC’s blanket denial may not be entirely accurate (see 2001, February 5, 2003, and October 22, 2007).
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaches the rule of secrecy in revealing information about classified briefings to object to what he says are mischaracterizations of his and other Congressional lawmakers’ support for the administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against terror suspects. In a statement on the floor of the Senate opposing the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to become Attorney General (see November 8, 2007), Feingold says, “Last week the White House press secretary again implied the members of Congress who have been briefed in the CIA’s interrogation program have approved it or consented to it. That is not the case. I have vigorously opposed the program and continue to do so. The program is of highly questionable legality, it is inconsistent with our values as a nation, and it does not make our nation any safer. In fact, I believe it may have the effect of exposing Americans, including other US personnel, to greater risk.” Feingold and other lawmakers are bound not to reveal the nature of such classified briefings, or even that they participated in them. Feingold reveals his own participation in some of the briefings because he believes that the administration is taking advantage of that secrecy restriction to “spin” the issue as regards the members’ reactions and levels of support. Feingold continues, “I have detailed the reasons for my strong objections to the CIA’s program in classified correspondence sent very shortly after I was first briefed on it (see May 1-10, 2007). More recently I’ve stated my opposition publicly, although I am prohibited by classification rules from providing further details about my concerns in a public setting.” Feingold calls one of the most notorious techniques employed by the CIA, waterboarding, “barbaric,” notes that it “has been used by some of the most evil regimes in history” and “has been considered torture in this country for over a century,” and asks, “If Judge Mukasey won’t say the simple truth—that this barbaric practice is torture—how can we count on him to stand up to the White House on other issues?” [US Senate, 11/7/2007; Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility. [Source: Wired]Former AT&T network technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) gives a press conference with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in Washington, DC, in an effort to lobby Congress and prevent an immunity bill for the telecoms from passing. The next day, Klein appears in the audience during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting as part of his lobbying effort in Washington to reveal his knowledge of a secret NSA electronic surveillance operation at AT&T’s San Francisco operations center (see January 2003). The NSA has monitored an enormous volume of telephone and Internet traffic through this secret operation. “I have first-hand knowledge of the clandestine collaboration between one giant telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history,” Klein tells reporters. “I think they committed a massive violation not only of the law but of the Constitution. That’s not the way the Fourth Amendment is supposed to work.” [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008] Klein states his four main points of information: that AT&T provided the NSA with all varieties of electronic communications, from telephone conversations to emails, text messages, Web browsing activities, and more; AT&T provided the NSA with billions of purely domestic communications; the program involved everyone using the Internet and not just AT&T customers, because of the interconnected nature of the Internet; and AT&T had 15 to 20 NSA “spy rooms” in facilities across the nation. Brian Reid, a telecommunications and data networking expert who served as one of the New York Times’s experts on the NSA allegations (see April 12, 2006), appears with Klein at the press conference. Reid told Klein in the days before the conference, “My job is to make people believe you.” Reid tells reporters, “The most likely use of this [AT&T/NSA] infrastructure is wholesale, untargeted surveillance of ordinary Americans at the behest of the NSA.” Hours after the press conference, Klein appears as a guest on MSNBC’s political talk show Countdown, where host Keith Olbermann asks him if his experience “felt like finding yourself in a scene from the sci-fi flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers—did it have that sort of horror quality to it?” Klein replies, “My thought was George Orwell’s 1984 and here I am being forced to connect the Big Brother machine.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 93-100]
Key Witness - Klein is a key witness in the lawsuit against AT&T by the EFF (see January 31, 2006 and Early January 2006). He is offering to testify against efforts by the Bush administration and its Congressional Republican allies to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to grant immunity to telecom companies like AT&T from prosecution for surveillance acts. Such an immunity grant would likely result in the dismissal of such lawsuits. But no committee of Congress invites him to testify. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007; Democracy Now!, 7/7/2008]
NSA Secure Room - Part of Klein’s information is from a deposition that was entered into evidence in the lawsuit, and is now made available to individual members of Congress (see February 23-28, 2006, June 26, 2006, and June 13, 2007). Klein relates that during a tour of the AT&T-controlled floors of the Folsom Street facility of what was then SBC Communications, he saw Room 641A, categorized as the “SG3Secure Room” (see October 2003 and Late 2003). That fall, when he was hired to work at the facility, he saw an NSA agent who came to interview a field support specialist for clearance to be able to work in the Secure Room. “To my knowledge, only employees cleared by the NSA were permitted to enter the SG3 Secure Room,” Klein says. “To gain entry to the SG3 Secure Room required both a physical key for the cylinder lock and a combination code number to be entered into an electronic keypad on the door. To my knowledge, only [two field support specialists] had both the key and the combination code.” Klein installed new circuits to a fiber-optic “splitter cabinet” that had only one purpose: to duplicate Internet traffic from WorldNet’s service into SG3, thereby allowing the NSA access to all traffic on that circuit. “What I saw is that everything’s flowing across the Internet to this government-controlled room,” he now says. [New York Times, 11/6/2007; BetaNews, 11/8/2007]
EFF Lobbyists - The EFF secures the services of two professional lobbyists, Adam Eisgrau and former Congressman Thomas Downey (D-NY), who escort Klein and EFF officials Cindy Cohn and Kevin Bankston around Capitol Hill during the two-day period. EFF also works with a professional media company to prepare the media for the November 7 press conference. After the conference, Klein is introduced to a number of Democratic lawmakers, though he says only a few are truly interested in his evidence; he names Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a former physicist who had actually worked with some of the technology Klein cites in his statements, as two of those willing to give him more than a handshake and a quick photo opportunity. Klein later regrets being unable to meet with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), whom he considers to be one of the few real champions of civil liberties in Congress. Dodd cited Klein’s evidence, and Klein by name, in his unsuccessful filibuster of the FISA amendment bill (see July 10, 2008). [Klein, 2009, pp. 91-95] The lobbyists are able to gain access for Klein to the Congressional hearings. Some media outlets later report, mistakenly, that Klein actually testifies before the panel. [Klein, 2009, pp. 100-101]
The FBI warns that al-Qaeda operatives are planning several holiday attacks on US shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago over the holiday period. [ABC News, 11/8/2007] In an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities, the FBI says that the attacks have been planned for two years with the goal of disrupting the US economy. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 11/7/2007 ] The FBI received the information in late September and declassified it for the intelligence information reports. These reports routinely contain raw, unvetted or uncorroborated chatter about possible threats. It is estimated that the FBI released 8,000 such reports over the last year. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security Department have released about 200 threat bulletins possible plot trends that are based on actual events worldwide. [SF Gate, 11/8/2007] Questions are immediately raised about the alert. [ABC News, 11/8/2007] As with previous threats, some in the media question the timing and necessity of such a warning. The FBI anticipates this and clarifies its intentions in releasing the memo. The report states that “this information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.” [ABC News, 11/8/2007] Other intelligence officers raise the possibility that it could be “disinformation.” It is believed that the source only has “indirect access” to al-Qaeda. It is common for jihadist web sites and chat rooms to have comments discussing attacks on “soft targets,” such as shopping malls. Special Agent Richard Kolko says “out of abundance of caution, and for any number of other reasons, raw intelligence is regularly shared within the intelligence and law enforcement communities - even when the value of the information is unknown… Al-Qaeda messaging has clearly stated they intend to attack the US or its interests; however, there is no information to state this is a credible threat. As always, we remind people to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to authorities.” A Homeland Security official says “we have no credible, specific information suggesting an imminent attack.” [ABC News, 11/8/2007] LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urges residents to go about their daily routines, but says that they should be “mindful of anything out of the ordinary.” [SF Gate, 11/8/2007]
Vice President Cheney’s office has been holding up the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran for over a year, while pressuring the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on Iran’s nuclear program, two former CIA officers now reveal. So far the intelligence community has not bowed to Cheney’s pressure, and the White House has apparently decided to release the “unsatisfactory” draft NIE—but not make its key findings public. NIEs are the product of the 16 US intelligence agencies, and usually focus on a single nation or issue. According to one former CIA officer, the Iran NIE was ready to be published a year ago, but was delayed then because the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, wanted the NIE to reflect a consensus on key conclusions, especially on Iran’s nuclear program (see February 20, 2007). The US intelligence community is split on its view of Iran’s nuclear program, with less independent-minded analysts willing to embrace Cheney’s alarmist positions, and others rejecting that view. The first draft was unacceptable to the White House; according to the former CIA officer, “They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views in it.” Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi agrees with the unnamed officer’s assessment. “The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy,” Giraldi says. Giraldi wrote in October 2006 that the Iran NIE was being held up by Cheney’s office, which objected to its findings on both Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s putative role in arming Iraq. The White House then chose to delay any decision on the internal release of the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections (see October 2006). In April 2007, Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said that the report would be delayed while the intelligence community evaluated “new reporting” from the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources, as well as “reexamining old evidence.” According to the two former CIA officers, Fingar’s statement sent a powerful signal to the intelligence community that the White House wanted the NIE to be specific, focused, and alarming in its conclusions. In past weeks, officials involved in producing the NIE have been “throwing their hands up in frustration” over the refusal of the administration to allow the estimate to be released, according to the former intelligence officer. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
The CIA “erroneously” misled the court and the lawyers involved in the ongoing prosecution of 9/11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005), it admits in a letter released today. In court declarations on May 9, 2003 and on November 14, 2005, the CIA stated it had no recordings of interrogations of “enemy combatants.” Now it admits it had two video tapes and one audio tape. Moussaoui’s lawyers want the tapes as part of his defense. The federal prosecutors say they just recently learned of the tapes, but they have been assured by the CIA that the tapes have no bearing on Moussaoui’s case, and no one on the tapes mentions either Moussaoui or the 9/11 plot. The prosecutors assert that, while the CIA errors are “unfortunate,” no harm was done to Moussaoui, who pled guilty and is serving a life sentence for his complicity in the attacks (see May 3, 2006). The letter, which has been heavily censored for public consumption, reads in part, “We bring the errors to the court’s attention… as part of our obligation of candor to the court.… The government will promptly apprise the court of any further developments.” [Reuters, 11/13/2007]
Ahmed Idris Nasreddin is quietly removed from the US and UN terrorist financier lists. Neither the US nor the UN publicly announces the decision or explains why his name is no longer on an updated list of financiers. Nasreddin, a 78-year old businessman based in Italy and Switzerland, was formally listed in 2002 due to his ties with the banned Al Taqwa Bank (see November 7, 2001). That bank was considered one of the top funders for al-Qaeda and other militant groups until it was banned in late 2001. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about the delisting, the Treasury Department says the original listing was appropriate but Nasreddin was delisted because he submitted signed statements certifying he had terminated all business relationships with Al Taqwa and related entities and individuals. Former State Department official Victor Comras complains: “They seem to be saying that he was a bad guy but that he has renounced being a bad guy. If that’s the criteria, wow, a lot of people will try to get off the list. All they have to do is say, We’re not doing it anymore.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/28/2007]
A federal appellate court bars an Islamic charity accused of assisting terrorists from using a US government document to prove that it had been illegally spied upon (see February 28, 2006). The charity, the now-defunct Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see Late May, 2004), has been accused by the government and the UN Security Council of being affiliated with al-Qaeda; the charity’s officials deny the charges. In its finding, the three-judge panel rules in favor of the government’s argument that protecting “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) is of overriding importance in the case. Other courts have ruled that the Bush administration can refuse to disclose information if “there is a reasonable danger” it would affect national security. Al Haramain’s lawyers argued that the document is necessary to prove that it was illegally monitored. According to the ruling, the judges accept “the need to defer to the executive on matters of foreign and national security and surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second-guessing the executive in this arena.”
Reaction Divided - Opinion is divided on the ruling. Constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University says the court’s deference to the “executive branch in situations like this [is] very troubling.” Another constitutional law professor, Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine, says “the opinion is consistent with” an earlier ruling that struck down a challenge to the government’s surveillance program filed by the American Civil Liberties Union; Kmiec says the rulings indicate that “federal courts recognize that the essential aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program both remain secret and are important to preserve as such.”
Mixed Results - The appellate court does not give the government everything it asked for. It rejects the Justice Department’s argument that “the very subject matter of the litigation is a state secret.” That finding may prove important in the other surveillance cases where the government is arguing that even to consider legal challenges to warrantless wiretapping endangers national security. The appeals court sends the case back to a lower court to consider whether or not the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires approval by a special court for domestic surveillance, preempts the state secrets privilege. The court also severs the Al Haramain case from other, similar lawsuits challenging the government’s secret surveillance program. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2007]
Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, jointly respond to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s revelation that he had unknowingly misled the public as part of a White House campaign of deception surrounding the “outing” of Plame Wilson, then an undercover CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). The Wilsons quote the words of former President George H. W. Bush in labeling the Bush administration officials they believe betrayed Plame’s identity—Lewis Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer—as “the most insidious of traitors” (see April 26, 1999). McClellan’s naming of George W. Bush as being “involved” in orchestrating the campaign of deception makes Bush, they write, a “party to a conspiracy by senior administration officials to defraud the public.” The two continue: “If that isn’t a high crime and misdemeanor then we don’t know what is. And if the president was merely an unwitting accomplice, then who lied to him? What is he doing to punish the person who misled the president to abuse his office? And why is that person still working in the executive branch?”
Criticism of Mainstream Media - The Wilsons are particularly irate at the general failure of the mainstream media, with the exception of several MSNBC pundits and reporters, to pay much attention to McClellan, instead dismissing it as “old news.” The Wilsons write: “The Washington press corps, whose pretension is to report and interpret events objectively, has been compromised in this matter as evidence presented in the courtroom demonstrated. Prominent journalists acted as witting agents of Rove, Libby and Armitage and covered up this serious breach of US national security rather than doing their duty as journalists to report it to the public.” They quote one reporter asking if McClellan’s statement was not anything more than “another Wilson publicity stunt.” The Wilsons respond: “Try following this tortuous logic: Dick Cheney runs an operation involving senior White House officials designed to betray the identity of a covert CIA officer and the press responds by trying to prove that the Wilsons are publicity seekers. What ever happened to reporting the news? Welcome to Through the Looking Glass.” They conclude with the question, again using the elder Bush’s words: “Where is the outrage? Where is the ‘contempt and anger?’” [Huffington Post, 11/22/2007]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, MSNBC, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
On November 25, 2007, the London Times publishes an article about Luai Sakra, an al-Qaeda leader imprisoned in Turkey who allegedly was also a CIA informant before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). The Times reports, “According to Sakra, [9/11 hijacker] Nawaf Alhazmi was a veteran operative who went on to pilot the plane that hit the Pentagon [Flight 77]. Although this is at odds with the official account, which says the plane was flown by another hijacker, it is plausible and might answer one of the mysteries of 9/11,” namely, why the FBI claims Hani Hanjour was the pilot of that plane, when many reports suggest Hanjour was a bad pilot. [London Times, 11/25/2007] Although none of the official accounts such as the 9/11 Commission report claim that Alhazmi was a pilot, there is considerable evidence to suggest that he was:
In December 1999, Alhazmi was taught how to use a computer flight simulator program while in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (see Early December 1999).
On April 4, 2000, Alhazmi took one day’s worth of flying lessons, and his instructor later claims he did quite well and was already almost capable of taking off and landing on his own (see April 4, 2000).
One month later, he took a second one day flying lesson, however his instructor will later call him “dumb” and unskilled (see May 5 and 10, 2000).
Near the end of 2000, he told two unconnected associates that he was in Arizona and learning to fly with Hanjour (see (December 2000-January 2001)).
On March 19, 2001, he bought flight deck videos for Boeing 747s and a Boeing 777 (see November 5, 2000-June 20, 2001).
On March 23, 2001, he bought an aeronautical chart covering the northeastern US (see March 23, 2001).
In July 2001, he and Hanjour appear to have rented an aircraft together in New Jersey. Alhazmi’s credit card was used to pay for the aircraft rental, as well as fuel in Maryland (a072001haninawafflight).
Neighbors will later claim that just days before the 9/11 attacks, Alhazmi was practicing flying on a computer flight simulator program. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/14/2001]
In 2002, al-Qaeda associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh will claim in an interview several months before his arrest that Alhazmi was one of the 9/11 pilots.
According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]
Republican senator and presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says that during World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and hanged for war crimes involving the waterboarding of American prisoners of war. “There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that [waterboarding] as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans,” McCain says. He notes that he forgot to bring this piece of information up during the previous night’s debate with fellow Republican candidates; during the debate, he criticized former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) for refusing to say what interrogation techniques he would rule out if president. “I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history, and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak,” McCain says. “America is a better nation than that.” Waterboarding is banned by US law and international treaties. “If the United States was in another conflict, which could easily happen, with another country, and we have allowed that kind of torture to be inflicted on people we hold captive, then there’s nothing to prevent that enemy from also torturing American prisoners,” McCain adds. [Associated Press, 11/29/2007]
Francesco Cossiga, former president of Italy, says in an interview, “All of the democratic circles of America and of Europe […] now know well that the disastrous [9/11] attack was planned and realized by the American CIA and Mossad with the help of the Zionist world to put under accusation the Arabic Countries and to persuade the Western powers to intervene in Iraq and Afghanistan.” [Corriere della Sera (Milan), 11/30/2007] Cossiga was president of Italy in the early 1990s, when the NATO-led Gladio “stay behind” network was exposed. Gladio was a decades-long secret right wing effort to prevent left wing forces from taking power in Europe, and the network sometimes staged false-flag bombings and assassinations blamed on left-wing groups to discredit them. Cossiga admitted his long involvement in the network in 1990, adding, “I am proud of the fact that we have kept the secret [of Gladio] for 45 years.” [Guardian, 3/26/2001; Ganser, 2005, pp. 14]
In late 2007, top Bush administration officials draft a secret plan making it easier for US special forces to conduct missions to capture or kill al-Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan’s mountainous tribal region. A highly classified Defense Department order outlines the plan, which is designed to eliminate the sharp policy disagreements and turf battles that have bogged down US policy regarding al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan. But in late June 2008, the New York Times will report that “more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was ‘mounting frustration’ in the Pentagon at the continued delay.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
In December 2007, scientist Bruce Ivins is privately told by the FBI that he could be a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). This is according to Ivins’s attorney Paul Kemp, who also says that he and Ivins have a meeting with the FBI that same month in response. Ivins’s house had been searched by the FBI the month before, which presumably made the FBI’s interest in Ivins obvious (see November 1, 2007). Kemp will later claim that he and Ivins will meet with the FBI about four or five times between this time and Ivins’s death in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008). Additionally, Kemp will claim that Ivins had been interviewed by the FBI about 20 to 25 times before he was told he could be a suspect, yet Ivins regularly had his security clearances renewed. [Time, 8/5/2008]
The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 ] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).
Following the release of an intelligence estimate showing Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley defends President George Bush’s recent statements about a possible “World War III” (see October 20, 2007). Hadley says that Bush was not told to tone down his rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program after he was advised that the intelligence community was in the process of revising its estimate and that Bush would have made his “World War III” remarks anyway. “It was making a point that the president and we have been making for two or three years—that the international community has to exert more pressure, because Iran needs to suspend [its] enrichment program,” Hadley says. “That continues to be our policy after this latest National Intelligence Estimate.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]
Stephen Hadley briefing reporters on the new NIE. [Source: New York Times]Following the release of the the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concludes Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley portrays the NIE as reflective of the Bush administration’s views. Hadley says that it “offers some positive news,” adding that the NIE “confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons.” Perhaps the most illuminating portion of Hadley’s interpretation reads: “The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force—as the administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the president has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran.” [New York Times, 12/3/2007] President Bush has apparently not changed his views because of the NIE. He says: “Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.… I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. The reason why it’s a warning signal is they could restart it.… To me, the NIE provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community—to continue to rally the community—to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program. What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program.” When asked if he had been “hyping” the threat from Iran in view of the NIE’s findings, Bush claims that he was only made aware of the NIE’s conclusions last week, a claim that does not stand up to examination (see December 3-4, 2007). [Associated Press, 12/4/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007]
Author and Hoover Institute fellow Victor Davis Hanson takes a different tack in his contribution to the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Hanson says the NIE is a victory for the Bush administration and a conundrum for Democrats, who, Hanson asserts, must now accept that Bush has successfully headed off two separate nuclear threats to the US: “The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a bomb—if even remotely accurate—presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats. Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes?… After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war—aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region—might have been the elimination, for some time, of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?” [National Review, 12/3/2007]
Neoconservative eminence grise Norman Podhoretz, who recently advocated an all-out military strike against Iran (see October 28, 2007), claims that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007) is an attempt by the US intelligence community to avoid making the same mistakes with weapons of mass destruction that it made in Iraq. Podhoretz rightly notes that in May 2005, the intelligence community assured the administration in an NIE that Iraq was pushing towards developing a nuclear weapon. Podhoretz writes that he suspects the intelligence community, “having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam [Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view… that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” Podhoretz then presents what he calls “an even darker suspicion… that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” [Commentary, 12/3/2007]
George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).
Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Responses from outside the White House (see December 3, 2007) to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which states that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), are largely marked by relief that the US will now probably take a less aggressive position on Iran. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki says he welcomes the US move to “correct” its previous assertions, adding: “It’s natural that we welcome it when those countries who in the past have questions and ambiguities about this case… now amend their views realistically. The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.” However, a statement from the Israeli government says that Israel believes Iran is still working on developing nuclear weapons. [Guardian, 12/4/2007] Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that the NIE has removed much of the immediacy from the possibility of US military intervention in Iraq. “[I]f nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities” is no longer there, says Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE). “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that, in light of the new intelligence report, the White House should adjust its policy and pursue “a diplomatic surge” to engage with Iran. Reid suggests that the administration “[f]ollow the Ronald Reagan theory of diplomacy.… What did Ronald Reagan do? He started his diplomats working with the evil people in the Soviet people, as he referred to, to work something out. And he did. He met with the leaders of the Soviet Union he didn’t particularly like. And that’s what we should be doing with Iran. We should be having a surge of diplomacy with Iran. And based upon this, I think it would be a pretty good idea.” [Think Progress, 12/3/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007] Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, “The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle. [The community] has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials.” [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]
While President Bush takes something of the high road (see December 5, 2007) in reacting to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), neoconservatives and other right-wing figures throw an entire array of accusations—some directed at Democrats, some at the State Department officials who compiled the report, and some at the US intelligence community itself, in an attempt to discredit the report (see December 3, 2007, December 3, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4-6, 2007, December 5, 2007, and December 6, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007]
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