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Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. [ABC News, 12/4/2007] Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]
Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” [VetVoice, 12/4/2007]
Former UN ambassador John Bolton joins the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Bolton says that the NIE is a victory for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both advocates of diplomacy with Iran: “Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have fundamentally won. This is an NIE very conveniently teed up for what the administration has been doing.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007] Bolton echoes and extends an accusation leveled by fellow neoconservative Norman Podhoretz about the intelligence community manipulating the NIE for its own ends (see December 3, 2007): “I think there is a risk here, and I raise this as a question, whether people in the intelligence community who had their own agenda on Iran for some time now have politicized this intelligence and politicized these judgments in a way contrary to where the administration was going. I think somebody needs to look at that.” [Fox News, 12/4/2007]
As part of the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), American Enterprise Institute fellow and former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin tries to pin the blame for the previous uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear program on the Clinton administration. Rubin writes: “If Iran was working on a nuclear weapons program until 2003, what does this say about US policy in the late Clinton period…? Is it fair to say that while Iran spoke of dialogue of civilizations, it was working on a nuclear weapons program?” [National Review, 12/4/2007]
Neoconservative academic and intelligence figure Michael Ledeen joins his fellows Norman Podhoretz (see December 3, 2007) and John Bolton (see December 4, 2007) in attacking the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Ledeen excoriates the intelligence community for reversing themselves from their previous claims that Iran did indeed have an active nuclear program, and accuses its members of trying to “cover their derrieres.” Ledeen writes. “[I]ndeed, those ‘intelligence professionals’ were very happy to take off their analytical caps and gowns and put on their policy wigs.… This sort of blatant unprofessionalism is as common in today’s Washington as it is unworthy of a serious intel type, and I think it tells us a lot about the document itself.… This document will not stand up to serious criticism, but it will undoubtedly have a significant political impact, since it will be taken as confirmation of the view that we should not do anything mean to the [Iranian] mullahs. We should talk to them instead.” Ledeen concludes that the NIE is “insulting to our leaders, who should expect serious work from the [intelligence community] instead of this bit of policy advocacy masquerading as serious intelligence.” [Pajamas Media, 12/4/2007; National Review, 12/4/2007]
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, says that he does not know of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran has long ago shut down its nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), but he does not believe it. “I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says that they suspended the program and how credible that is versus the news that they actually are expanding it,” he says. “And then I’ve heard the last two weeks supposed reports that say that they are accelerating and could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally they thought.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/4/2007] Huckabee made light of his ignorance of foreign policy earlier in the day, joking on a radio talk show that he’s “not an expert… but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” [National Journal, 12/4/2007] Conservative pundit Byron York attacks Huckabee: “Beyond doing nothing to resolve doubts about his foreign policy qualifications, the exchange underscores the fact that Huckabee doesn’t really have much of a campaign, in the sense that [fellow Republican presidential candidates Rudolph] Giuliani and [Mitt] Romney have campaigns, with teams of advisers and carefully-thought-out policy positions. In important ways, he has been flying by the seat of his pants, relying on his unequaled talents as a retail campaigner. But now that he is leading in Iowa, and moving up nationally as well, the deficiencies of his campaign might come more and more into the spotlight.” [National Review, 12/4/2007]
Joining the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page questions the motives of the three former State Department officials who helped compile the NIE, Thomas Fingar, Vann Van Diepin, and Kenneth Brill. The Journal writes, “Our own ‘confidence’ is not heightened by the fact that the NIE’s main authors include three former State Department officials with previous reputations as ‘hyper-partisan anti-Bush officials.’” [Fox News, 12/6/2007] Former UN ambassador and influential neoconservative John Bolton agrees. Bolton, who has already accused the intelligence community of deliberately politicizing its report (see December 4, 2007), tells a reporter: “I would also say many of the people who wrote this are former State Department employees who, during their career at the State Department, never gave much attention to the threat of the Iranian program. Now they are writing as members of the intelligence community, the same opinions that they have had four and five years ago.” [CNN, 12/4/2007]
The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin puts together what he calls a “pattern of deception” in President Bush’s response to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate about Iran (see December 3, 2007). Froomkin writes that, contrary to Bush’s assertions that he knew nothing about the report’s conclusions until late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and December 5-6, 2007), it is evident Bush was told something concrete in August. At that time Bush began to change his rhetoric about Iran, going from explicit assertions about Iran’s nuclear weapons to more vague, yet just as alarming, assertions about Iran’s desire to obtain the knowledge and technology required for building a nuclear weapon. Froomkin writes, “Bush left his listeners with what he likely knew was a fundamentally false impression. And he did so in the pursuit of a more muscular and possibly even military approach to a Middle Eastern country. It’s an oddly familiar pattern of deception.”
Timeline of Deception - Froomkin provides a timeline of Bush’s statements against Iran, from early January 2007, where Bush said Iran “want[s] to have a nuclear weapon” (see January 26, 2007), to late March, when he asserted Iran was actively working on a nuclear bomb (see March 31, 2007). In mid-June, Bush warned that there would be “consequences” towards Iran if it continued working on a nuclear bomb (see June 19, 2007). A month later, Bush tied the Iranian nuclear program into what he called a “broader struggle” in the Middle East (see July 12, 2007). On August 6, Bush said that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a “destabilizing” force in the Middle East (see August 6, 2007). But on August 9, Bush’s rhetoric shifted: while not backing down from his threats and warnings about Iran’s nuclear program, he began talking about Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its “step[s] toward having a nuclear weapons program” (see August 9, 2007). Bush continued with that particular parsing until the NIE was made public in early December. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
Olbermann Denounces Bush's Rhetorical Shift - MSNBC host Keith Olbermann uses Froomkin’s carefully constructed timeline of presidential pronouncements about Iran to launch a fiery denunciation of Bush’s deceptions. Olbermann says, “We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War III about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole, or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked, at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so, whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed were still even remotely plausible. A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief.” Bush’s parsing might be technically true, Olbermann notes: “Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial, but ethically it is a lie. It is indefensible.… You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.… You not only knew all of this about Iran in early August, but you also knew it was accurate. And instead of sharing this good news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent, you merely fine-tuned your terrorizing of those people, to legally cover your own backside.” [MSNBC, 12/6/2007]
President George W. Bush demands that Iran “come clean” about its nuclear weapons program or face diplomatic isolation. The director of national intelligence recently released a sweeping National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear weapons research program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), and since then the administration has attempted various responses to the document. Bush is now demanding that Iran produce details about its nuclear weapons programs which it “has yet to acknowledge.” Bush says: “The Iranians have a strategic choice to make. They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation.” According to analysts, Bush may be worried the US is losing leverage over Iran, as well as credibility around the world.
Response to NIE and US intelligence community - Bush does not directly criticize the US intelligence community, but says he appreciates its work in helping his officials understand past and present activities in Iran, and helping his administration develop a sound policy towards Iran. Of the NIE, Bush continues to portray it as in line with his own policies and suspicions, saying, “It is clear from the latest NIE that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions.” Bush says that his administration will continue to push for tougher UN sanctions against Iran. Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto says that Iran continues to hide information, remains in violation of two UN Security Council resolutions, tests ballistic missiles and is enriching uranium. “Anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts,” Fratto says. [Associated Press, 12/5/2007]
While many inside and outside the Bush administration consider the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which concluded that Iran halted its push towards building nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), a disappointment, a small but influential group inside the Defense Department consider it a victory for their viewpoint. The NIE almost guarantees that Bush will not order any sort of military strike against Iran, a result sought by, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and Admiral William Fallon, the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East. All three have, in recent months, privately and publicly opposed the idea of going to war with Iran; indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence units were instrumental in forming the NIE’s conclusions. Time reporter Mark Thompson writes, “Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the administration.” Additionally, some Pentagon officials believe that this NIE shows the US intelligence community is not as tied to ideological and political concerns as was evidenced by the 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). For his part, Gates warns that the US and the international community must continue pressuring Iran to keep its nuclear-weapons program dormant, and “[a]s long as they continue with their enrichment activities, then the opportunity to resume that nuclear weapons program is always present.” But Gates adds that the NIE demonstrates that non-military actions are the best way to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check: “If anything, the new national estimate validates the administration’s strategy of bringing diplomatic and economic pressures to bear on the Iranian government to change its policies.” [Time, 12/5/2007]
Former senator and current Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson joins the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Thompson asks if Iran might have leaked the information used in the NIE for its own purposes: “We’re just going to have to wait and see, why they would start it up and they would move away without telling anybody. Unless of course they have leaked this themselves. So, just a bunch of unanswered questions.… And this is perhaps a weak, faint or weak attempt to cause us to divert our attention a little bit.” He adds: “The accuracy of the latest NIE on Iran should be received with a good deal of skepticism. Our intelligence community has often underestimated the intentions of adversaries, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and North Korea.… It’s awfully convenient for a lot of people: the administration gets to say its policies worked; the Democrats get to claim we should have eased up on Iran a long time ago: and Russia and China can claim sanctions on Iran are not necessary. Who benefits from all this? Iran.” [Think Progress, 12/5/2007]
The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
In a statement released by CIA Director Michael Hayden, the CIA admits that it has destroyed videotapes of interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002 and November 2005). [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] The statement is apparently released to preempt a New York Times article on the verge of publication that would have revealed the destruction. [Washington Post, 12/7/2007] The fact that the CIA had videoed detainee interrogations was made public a few weeks previously (see November 13, 2007). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 ] According to several former intelligence officials, there is concern that the tapes could have set off controversies about the legality of the interrogations and generated a backlash in the Middle East. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] Numerous political figures condemn the destruction in strong terms. For example, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “We haven’t seen anything like this since the 18½-minute gap in the tapes of President Richard Nixon,” and, “What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious—coverup.” Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says, “What is at stake here goes to the heart of the rule of law and justice in America.” Human rights activists are also angry, and an Amnesty International spokesman says, “It falls into a pattern of measures that have been taken that obstruct accountability for human rights violations.” [CBS News, 12/7/2007; ABC News, 12/7/2007] Both the Justice Department and the CIA’s Inspector General initiate preliminary inquiries. The House and Senate intelligence committees also start investigations. [Los Angeles Times, 12/9/2007]
Fred Kaplan. [Source: ForeignAffairs.com]Both Vice-President Dick Cheney and Slate’s Fred Kaplan back the accuracy of the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that says Iran’s nuclear program ended in 2003 (see December 3-6, 2007 and December 7, 2007). Cheney is asked by a reporter from the online news magazine The Politico, “[D]o you believe the new [NIE] that’s out—or is there a reason to question those conclusions?” Cheney replies: “I don’t have any reason to question the—what the community has produced, with respect to the NIE on Iran. Now, there are things they don’t know. There are always—there’s always the possibility that the circumstances will change. But I think they’ve done the best job they can with the intelligence that’s available to give us their best judgment on those issues.” [White House, 12/6/2007] Kaplan refutes a claim that three State Department officials, at least one hostile to Bush, wrote the NIE, saying: “[T]he NIE is not ‘a team of three in the State Department.’ It’s the product of all 16 US intelligence agencies. From all accounts, this was a very elaborate process involving thousands of new pieces of information, including intercepts, human intelligence, and so forth. It also seems to have been scrubbed meticulously, subjected to ‘red team’ exercises—the works.” [Slate, 12/6/2007]
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, joining the attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), asks about the likelihood of political gamesmanship inside the administration. Limbaugh tells his listeners, “I guarantee there’s more sabotage coming out of that place regarding the Bush administration.” [Fox News, 12/6/2007]
Following the revelation that the CIA has destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), most of the media assume that the reason for the destruction is that the tapes must show CIA officers torturing detainees and “the CIA did not want the tapes seen in public because they are too graphic and could lead to indictments.” However, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will suggest there may be other reasons: “I would find it very difficult to believe the CIA would deliberately destroy evidence material to the 9/11 investigation, evidence that would cover up a core truth, such as who really was behind 9/11. On the other hand I have to wonder what space-time continuum the CIA exists in, if they weren’t able to grasp what a field day the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are going to have with this… Still, the people who think 9/11 was an inside job might easily be able to believe that Abu Zubaida [one of the detainees who was videotaped] named his American accomplices in the tape that has now been destroyed by the CIA. It isn’t going to help that the Abu Zubaida investigation has a lot of problems even without destroyed evidence. When Abu Zubaida was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, two ATM cards were found on him. One was issued by a bank in Saudi Arabia (a bank close to the Saudi royal family) and the other to a bank in Kuwait. As I understand it, neither Kuwait nor Saudi Arabia has been able to tell us who fed the accounts (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). Also, apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see Early September 2001 and September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007]
Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says that he did not know about the destruction of CIA videos of detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). [US Congress, 12/7/2007] This contradicts a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden saying that, “Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] The CIA says that the committee was informed of the destruction in November 2006, but, “A review of the November 2006 hearing transcript finds no mention of tapes being destroyed.” [US Congress, 12/7/2007] The House Intelligence Committee was apparently informed in March 2007. [CBS News, 12/7/2007] However, the committee will say to Hayden that, “The notification came in the form of an offhand comment you made in response to a question,” and, “We do not consider this to be sufficient notification.” [US Congress, 12/7/2007] There is also a dispute over what happened when the committees were first informed of the videos’ existence. Hayden says, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] Some political leaders were informed of the tapes in 2003, but urged that they not be destroyed (see November 2005).
Although it is reported that the head of the CIA’s clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, is the man most responsible for the destruction of videotapes showing detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), some commentators are skeptical of this. A former intelligence official says, “This looks like he was tossed under a giant bus… How likely is it that he took this decision on his own, especially when he’s not in the videotapes and wouldn’t be affected directly? Not very likely.” [Harpers, 12/8/2007] A former intelligence official says he is concerned Rodriguez is being unfairly singled out for blame over the matter. [New York Times, 12/11/2007] According to attorney Scott Horton, by midday on December 7, shortly after news breaks that the CIA destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations, “White House off-the-record explainers were extremely busy pointing fingers at one man, the designated scapegoat… So the sacrificial beast now has a name: it is Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations.” Horton also sees a shift between the line initially taken by officials, and a later alteration: “Yesterday we are told, in highly implausible statements coming from General Hayden, that the CIA had acted completely appropriately… The issue had been considered, reviewed and cleared. Twenty-four hours later, there is a radical shift of course. Now we learn that the White House didn’t know about the decision and certainly wouldn’t have approved it.” Horton ascribes the shift to worries about the legality of destroying the tapes, especially as they may have been requested by a judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005), problems in prosecutions where evidence has been destroyed, and a general lack of plausibility. Former CIA officer Larry Johnson will also be skeptical: “Jose Rodriguez will not be the only one walking the public plank on this issue. In fact, he did not undertake this mission without the permission or direction from higher ups. And when you are the Deputy Director of Operations, there are not a lot of people above you.” [Harpers, 12/8/2007]
As part of the conservative backlash against the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that concluded Iran had halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007), some Senate Republicans intend to call for a Congressional commission to investigate the conclusions and the intelligence that went into it, with an eye to discrediting the NIE and its producers. John Ensign (R-NV) says he will propose a “bipartisan” commission to review the NIE, saying, “Iran is one of the greatest threats in the world today. Getting the intelligence right is absolutely critical, not only on Iran’s capability but its intent. So now there is a huge question raised, and instead of politicizing that report, let’s have a fresh set of eyes—objective, yes—look at it.… There are a lot of people out there who do question [the NIE]. There is a huge difference between the 2005 and 2007 estimates.” The 2005 NIE concluded, apparently erroneously, that Iran was an imminent threat for developing a nuclear weapon (see August 2, 2005). Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) adds, “If [the NIE is] inaccurate, it could result in very serious damage to legitimate American policy.” As late as July 2007, Sessions notes, intelligence officials testified before Congress that they believed Iran was hard at work developing a nuclear weapon. “We need to update our conclusions,” Sessions says, “but this is a substantial change.” The proposed commission would take its cue from a commission that examined a 1995 NIE on the ballistic missile threat faced by the US. [Washington Post, 12/7/2007]
Fox News pundit Sean Hannity derides the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). Hannity goes further than many of his fellow conservatives (see December 3-6, 2007), and claims that the NIE is not only wrong, but is the same as the erroneous 2005 NIE on Iran which claimed that Iran was mere months away from producing a nuclear weapon. “The headlines that we’re reading about the NIE are misleading,” Hannity declares. Discussing the NIE with his guest, former UN ambassador and leading neoconservative John Bolton, Hannity says, “[S]ubstantively you’re pointing out that the NIE report in 2005 and the one in 2007 are basically the same. And you say, moreover, the distinction between military and civilian programs is highly artificial.” Bolton says in reply, “They’re still doing it, building up an inventory.” [Fox News, 12/7/2007] Hannity and Bolton misconstrue the two NIEs. Some of the differences:
The 2005 NIE assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons,” while the 2007 NIE assessed “high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
According to the 2005 NIE, “Iran could produce enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of this decade.” The 2007 NIE concludes, “[T]his is very unlikely.” [USA Today, 12/4/2007]
Hannity’s co-host, moderate Alan Colmes, says of the NIE’s findings, “They’re very clear. They [Iran] halted their covert weapons program in 2003. It’s very clear.” Hannity dismisses Colmes’s assertion by retorting, “He doesn’t get it.” [Fox News, 12/7/2007]
Thomas Fingar. [Source: Office of Personnel Management]Some Bush administration members and supporters accuse three former State Department officials of deliberately writing the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) (see December 3, 2007) in an inaccurate and partisan manner. The three former State Department officials are Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All three currently work at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill helped compile the information in the NIE, and helped write the final draft, but none of them actually produced or analyzed the intelligence used in the report. A spokesman for Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says that intelligence reports such as the recent Iran NIE are “becoming very politicized.” David Wurmser, the former chief Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, says, “One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on.” The officials say that when the three DNI officials worked in the State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, they supported Powell’s belief that diplomacy, not confrontation and belligerence, would best address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. On the other side was then-Undersecretary John Bolton, who, like his fellow neoconservatives in the White House, believed that the only way to handle Iran’s nuclear threat was by confrontation. Unnamed officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of trying to “torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.” The officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of working to block economic and military sanctions against Iran and “sabotag[ing]” the administration’s attempt to pressure foreign allies to impose sanctions. The three former State officials were brought to the DNI by then-director John Negroponte, considered a strong Powell ally. Van Diepen is particular criticized and accused of having a personal animosity towards Bolton, and of opposing anything towards Iran except what they call “tea-cup diplomacy.” Brill is accused of being “extremely close” to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an agency which these officials view as an Iran apologist. [Washington Times, 12/7/2007] The anonymous officials’ charges are refuted by, among others, Vice President Dick Cheney (see December 6, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Negroponte, George W. Bush, David Wurmser, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), John Ensign, Vann Van Diepen, Mohamed ElBaradei, Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol say that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (see December 3, 2007 and December 3-6, 2007). Giuliani says Iran was intimidated into halting its program: “It worked in 2003 to get him [sic] to back off their nuclear program. And what happened in 2003? What big thing happened in 2003? We deposed Saddam Hussein. America showed massive military force in the country right next to Iran called Iraq.” [ABC News, 12/7/2007] Kristol, whose magazine is one of the premier showcases for neoconservative thought and opinion, echoes Giuliani’s belief on Fox News, saying, “I believe we invaded a neighboring country in 2003 and removed their dictator and that sent shock waves through the region and at the time people were quite worried.” Kristol also attributes the end of Libya’s nuclear weapons program to the invasion of Iraq. [Think Progress, 12/9/2007] However, the reason Iran’s nuclear weapons program ended in 2003 is not specified in the recently released National Intelligence Estimate that revealed the program’s end. [Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 ]
Former CIA analyst and National Security Council adviser Flynt Leverett, who worked in George W. Bush’s administration, praises the authors of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007), saying: “We seem to have lucked out and have individuals who resist back-channel politics and tell it how it is. That is what the CIA and other agencies are supposed to do.” Speaking of two of the authors of the NIE, Thomas Fingar and Vann Van Diepen (see December 7, 2007), Leverett says: “They both felt the intelligence was misused in the run-up to the Iraq war. The conservatives are now attacking them, saying they are taking their revenge. It is not mutiny for intelligence officers to state their honest views.” [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says of the newly released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007): “What is happening is that foreign policy has swung back to the grown-ups. We are watching the collapse of the Bush doctrine in real time. The neoconservatives are howling (see December 3-6, 2007) because they know their influence is waning.” [Guardian, 12/8/2007]
Jon Wolfstahl. [Source: Washington Note]Jon Wolfstahl, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, speaks out in favor of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007). Wolfstahl says: “The last thing we need is more political input into intelligence matters. The facts are the facts, and it’s time conservatives began to deal with the facts on the ground.… The days of Doug Feith and Steve Cambone creating intelligence to suit their ideology are thankfully behind us.” [Inter Press Service, 12/9/2006]
Several inquiries are launched into the destruction by the CIA of videotapes showing detainee interrogations.
The Justice Department begins a preliminary inquiry. It writes to the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, noting he has undertaken to ensure all currently existing records are preserved. [Associated Press, 12/8/2007]
The CIA’s Inspector General begins an inquiry. One of the questions it will address is whether the destruction was obstruction of justice. [Associated Press, 12/11/2007] However, some Democratic lawmakers raise questions about the propriety of inquiries run by the Justice Department, as its lawyers offered advice about the tapes, and the CIA Inspector General, who reviewed the tapes before they were destroyed. [Washington Post, 12/15/2007]
The House Intelligence Committee starts an inquiry. Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes says it is planning a “broad review” of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, but adds, “I’m not looking for scapegoats.” [International Herald Tribune, 12/8/2007] The committee requests all cables, memos and e-mails related to the videotapes, as well as legal advice given to CIA officials before the tapes were destroyed. [New York Times, 12/15/2007]
The Senate Intelligence Committee also begins an inquiry. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]
The House Judiciary Committee sends letters to CIA Director Michael Hayden and Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking whether the Justice Department provided the CIA with legal advice. [Associated Press, 12/7/2007]
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigates whether the Federal Records Act has been violated. [FindLaw, 12/14/2007]
There is a debate in a court case involving 11 Guantanamo detainees about whether the tapes were subject to a preservation order issued by the judge in that case (see December 14, 2007).
Several current and former members of Congress have varying recollections of being given a classified briefing in the months after the 9/11 attacks on the interrogation methods being used by the CIA on terror suspects, including waterboarding (see September 2002). Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss recalls: “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.” Former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) says he does not recall ever being briefed about waterboarding or other extreme interrogation methods, “Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn’t object.” Graham says he believes waterboarding and many of the other interrogation techniques used by the CIA are illegal and constitute torture. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to comment on the briefings, but a source familiar with her position on the matter says she recalls some discussions of enhanced interrogation, and that she was told the techniques described to her were in the planning stages at the time of the briefings. The source acknowledges that Pelosi raised no objections at the time. Former ranking House Intelligence Committee member Jane Harman (D-CA) says that in the months after the briefing, she filed a classified letter with the CIA officially protesting the interrogation program. Harman says that she had been prevented from publicly revealing the letter, or the CIA interrogation program, because of strict rules of secrecy. “When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath—one of secrecy,” she says. “I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.” The “Gang of Four” consists of the ranking Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Pat Roberts (R-KS), then the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refuses to discuss his participation in the briefings, as does the then-ranking Democrat on that committee, John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Since 2005, Rockefeller has pushed for expanded Congressional oversight and an investigation of CIA practices. “I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities,” Rockefeller says. [Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Eric Margolis. [Source: Eric Margolis]Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis calls the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran the “revenge” of a “fifth column [of] America’s spooks” for being forced in 2002 and 2003 “to concoct a farrago of lies about Iraq, and then take the blame for the ensuing fiasco there.” While Margolis’s conclusions about the motives of the US intelligence community may be a bit hyperbolic, it is apparent that the NIE is, as Margolis writes, “a devastating, humiliating blow to Bush, Dick Cheney, and the neocons who have been fulminating for war against Iran.” The irony that “Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was telling the truth all along when he said Iran was not working on nuclear arms, while Bush and Company were lying through their teeth, just as they have over Iraq and Afghanistan,” must be particularly galling in certain quarters of the White House.
Turning to Israel - Margolis also notes that part of the underlying message of the NIE is that the White House should rely on its own intelligence community, and not other sources, for proper information. When the White House first learned over a year ago that the US intelligence community wasn’t going to give it the conclusions it wanted on Iran, it turned instead to Israel’s Mossad, which gave Bush officials the answers they wanted. (The Mossad still says Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 2008.) Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called the NIE report a “blow to the groin.” Israel has worked tirelessly, Margolis writes, to convince the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It is less clear whether Israel will now consider performing that task on its own.
Impeachment Doubtful - Margolis writes, “This is the final disgrace for Bush and Cheney. Their war propaganda and efforts to suppress the new NIE should constitute grounds for immediate impeachment.” His argument is one that many find compelling: “If Bill Clinton could be impeached for lying about oral sex, shouldn’t Bush and Cheney face trial for attempting to lie and deceive Americans into yet another war of aggression?” Yet, he notes sourly, Congress “lacks the guts for such action.” [Toronto Sun, 12/9/2007]
Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, writes an op-ed for the New York Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Under August’s Protect America Act, McConnell writes, the country is “safer” from terrorist attacks while the privacy of US citizens is protected (see August 5, 2007). The government has “greater understanding of international [al-]Qaeda networks, and the law has allowed us to obtain significant insight into terrorist planning.” But the Act expires in two months, and McConnell wants it re-enacted and significantly expanded “if we are to stay ahead of terrorists who are determined to attack the United States.” Echoing the arguments of Bush administration officials, McConnell attacks the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as significantly hindering the government’s “ability to collect timely foreign intelligence.” McConnell complains: “Our experts were diverted from tracking foreign threats to writing lengthy justifications to collect information from a person in a foreign country, simply to satisfy an outdated statute that did not reflect the ways our adversaries communicate. The judicial process intended to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans was applied instead to foreign intelligence targets in foreign countries. This made little sense, and the Protect America Act eliminated this problem.” McConnell calls for new legislation that would obviate the need for intelligence agencies such as the NSA to seek warrants to monitor US citizens’ telephone and e-mail communications: “The intelligence community should spend its time protecting our nation, not providing privacy protections to foreign terrorists and other diffuse international threats.” He also calls for retroactive immunity for “private parties”—i.e. the US telecommunications companies—that are subject to lawsuits over their cooperation with the NSA in monitoring US communications. “The intelligence community cannot go it alone,” he writes. “Those in the private sector who stand by us in times of national security emergencies deserve thanks, not lawsuits.” Two days later, new Attorney General Michael Mukasey will write a virtually identical op-ed for the Los Angeles Times (see December 12, 2007). [New York Times, 12/10/2007]
Colonel Morris Davis, the former head of the Office of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, writes in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that he resigned (see October 4, 2007) because he “concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system.” He adds that, “I felt that the system had become deeply politicized and that I could no longer do my job effectively or responsibly.” Davis writes that while the legitimacy of the military commissions rests on the belief that they are being conducted fairly and honestly, the political appointee who is now the “convening authority,” Susan Crawford, is “not living up to that obligation.” The convening authority has “no counterpart in civilian courts,” Davis explains, and has great powers over certain aspects of prosecutions, such as which charges go to trial, which are dismissed, who serves on the jury, and whether to approve requests for experts, and reassesses findings of guilt and sentences. The position is mandated by law to be absolutely impartial, favoring neither prosecutions or defendants. While Crawford’s predecessor conducted himself with the required impartiality: “Crawford, on the other hand, had her staff assessing evidence before the filing of charges, directing the prosecution’s pretrial preparation of cases… drafting charges against those who were accused and assigning prosecutors to cases, among other things. How can you direct someone to do something—use specific evidence to bring specific charges against a specific person at a specific time, for instance—and later make an impartial assessment of whether they behaved properly? Intermingling convening authority and prosecutor roles perpetuates the perception of a rigged process stacked against the accused.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2007]
John Kiriakou. [Source: ABC News]Former CIA officer John Kiriakou gives the first of several media interviews around this time about the agency’s use of waterboarding and torture, to ABC. In this interview and others Kiriakou, who led the team that captured militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), makes several points:
Zubaida was waterboarded. This is the first official on-the-record acknowledgment by any CIA official that the controversial technique that simulates drowning was used.
Zubaida was only waterboarded once, for about 30 to 35 seconds. (This is untrue. Zubaida was actually waterboarded at least 83 times—see April 18, 2009.)
After the waterboarding, Zubaida became co-operative; he had previously been uncooperative. (This is also allegedly untrue—see June 2002.) Kiriakou says, “The threat information that he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.” Kiriakou thinks the attacks were not to be on US soil, but overseas, although he is not sure. Waterboarding and the other techniques were used because of a sense of urgency. “Those tricks of the trade require a great deal of time—much of the time—and we didn’t have that luxury. We were afraid that there was another major attack coming.”
Use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques is tightly controlled in the agency. Each application of a technique had to be specifically approved by the deputy director for operations.
Kiriakou implies that waterboarding is torture and should remain banned now, but the circumstances of the time warranted its use. He believes that waterboarding both compromised American principles and saved lives. “Like a lot of Americans, I’m involved in this internal, intellectual battle with myself weighing the idea that waterboarding may be torture versus the quality of information that we often get after using the waterboarding technique,” he says. “And I struggle with it.”
Although he was personally involved in Zubaida’s capture, Kiriakou was not present at the interrogations and only learned about them at CIA headquarters. [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 ; ABC News, 12/10/2009 ] Over the next few days, Kiriakou gives a number interviews to other media outlets with basically the same information. The New York Times will call the series of interviews a “media blitz.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007; New York Times, 4/28/2009] The media he speaks to include the Washington Post, the New York Times, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC (see December 11, 2007). A CNN anchor even calls him “the man of the hour.” [New York Times, 4/28/2009] Kiriakou garners praise for his poise in front of the camera. For example, Harper’s journalist Scott Horton will call him “telegenic,” whereas Foreign Policy magazine commentator Annie Lowery will opt for “telegenic and well spoken.” [Harpers, 12/21/2007; Foreign Policy, 4/28/2009]
President George Bush says he was unaware that the CIA had videotaped detainee interrogations. The CIA had videotaped some interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002), but the tapes were destroyed in late 2005 (see November 2005), and this was disclosed five days previously (see December 6, 2007). Bush says, “My first recollection of whether the tapes existed or whether they were destroyed was when [CIA Director] Michael Hayden briefed me.” [ABC News, 12/11/2007] Bush took an interest in information coming from one of the detainees who was videotaped, Abu Zubaida (see Late March 2002), and normally a president would be informed about activities like the detainee interrogations. However, there appears to have been a long-standing deliberate policy of keeping Bush out of the loop regarding aggressive interrogation methods to protect him from any adverse consequences that might arise (see April 2002 and After).
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who has recently admitted that the agency waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007), gives another interview about the issue, this time to MSNBC “Today Show” host Matt Lauer. Kiriakou again repeats his talking points: the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaida, the use of this and other enhanced techniques was controlled by bureaucratic procedure, it led to intelligence, but it is torture. However, when Lauer asks whether the White House was involved in the decision, Kiriakou answers: “Absolutely.… This was a policy decision that was made at the White House with concurrence from the National Security Council and Justice Department.” Lauer plays a clip of an interview he did with President Bush over a year ago in which Bush said, “I told our people get information without torture and was assured by our Justice Department that we were not torturing.” Kiriakou responds to it, saying: “I disagree. I know that there was a high level policy debate on whether or not this was torture and that the Department of Justice and the White House counsel and the National Security Council decided that it was not, at the time.” [MSNBC, 12/11/2007] The CIA decides not to refer Kiriakou to the Justice Department for a leak investigation over his original interview at this time (see December 11, 2007). However, according to Harper’s magazine columnist Scott Horton, officials at the Justice Department and the National Security Council are “furious” that Kiriakou has mentioned their role in the waterboarding, and insist that he be investigated (see December 20, 2007). [Harpers, 12/21/2007]
The CIA decides it will not prosecute former officer John Kiriakou, who recently admitted that the agency had waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/11/2007] One report, in the New York Times, suggests that “Kiriakou sought and received approval from the CIA” for the interviews. [New York Times, 12/11/2007] However, Kiriakou denies this and it appears not to be the case. [ABC News, 12/11/2007] Some accounts say a section of CIA officials are furious at him over the interviews. [ABC News, 12/11/2007; Harpers, 12/21/2007] However, according to Harper’s journalist Scott Horton, “Many high-level figures were elated to see the telegenic Kiriakou vigorously defend the agency on a subject on which it is already taking a lot of flak.” This is because efforts by CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to fend off criticism from Congress and the public have “fallen flat.” One source will tell Horton: “Falling flat is putting it pretty generously. The public seems to have decided that they don’t really believe Hayden or McConnell on this issue. That’s bad news for us.” Horton adds: “Since the leaders of the intelligence community are under constant attack these days both from Democrats and Republicans, this can’t really be surprising. Kiriakou was, simply put, far more credible and appealing as a media figure.” [Harpers, 12/21/2007] Whatever the case, the CIA decides not to ask the Justice Department to investigate Kiriakou to determine whether he leaked classified information. Instead, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a memo warning all employees “of the importance of protecting classified information,” although the memo does not mention Kiriakou by name. A spokesman adds, “Disclosing classified information is a violation of the law,” and “intelligence officers have a lifelong, moral and legal responsibility to safeguard classified information. This continues even after someone leaves the agency.” [ABC News, 12/11/2007] However, on this day Kiriakou reveals that the White House and Justice Department were involved in the waterboarding (see December 11, 2007), causing the CIA to change its mind and initiate an investigation of him (see December 20, 2007).
Following appearances before the Senate and then House Intelligence Committees, CIA Director Michael Hayden takes a different line than the previous week over the CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing detainee interrogations. When the scandal first broke, he had said: “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] However, the committees protested (see December 7, 2007) and, after his closed-door meeting with the House committee on December 12, he says, “particularly at the time of the destruction we could have done an awful lot better at keeping the committee alerted and informed.” [Fox News, 12/13/2007] His private explanation to the Senate committee leaves many questions unanswered, but chairman Jay Rockefeller calls it “a useful and not yet complete hearing.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2007] House committee chairman Silvestre Reyes, who expresses the committee’s “frustration” at not being kept informed about the tapes, calls the meeting “the first step in what we feel is going to be a long-term investigation,” and says some parts of Hayden’s briefing are “stunning.” [Fox News, 12/13/2007] Hayden points out to both committees that he arrived at the CIA after the tapes had been destroyed, so “Other people in the agency know about this far better than I.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2007]
Michael Mukasey, the new Attorney General, writes an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Mukasey supports the NSA program, echoing the administration’s long insistence that the surveillance program is “crucial” in protecting the country against terrorist attacks. He also reiterates the administration’s criticism of the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which he says hampers the government’s ability to collect needed intelligence and does little to protect the privacy of US citizens. Mukasey calls for Congress to pass a Senate bill that would grant the telecommunications firms retroactive immunity to civil lawsuits and criminal charges surrounding their cooperation with the NSA, and would no longer require court orders for the government to “direct surveillance at foreign targets overseas”—surveillance that would target US citizens. Mukasey says the US will “need the full-hearted help of private companies in our intelligence activities; we cannot expect such cooperation to be forthcoming if we do not support companies that have helped us in the past.” Mukasey strongly opposes another Senate bill that would grant no immunity and would continue to require the government to obtain FISA Court warrants before wiretapping domestic communications. Two days earlier, the director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, penned a virtually identical op-ed for the New York Times (see December 10, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2007]
The trial of the “Miami Seven” results in a deadlocked federal jury after nine days of deliberations, with one man, Lyglenson Lemorin, acquitted and a mistrial declared for the other six. The men each faced four terrorism-related conspiracy charges that carry a combined maximum of 70 years in prison. The charges relate to an alleged terrorist cell formed by the men, who hoped to forge an alliance with al-Qaeda to carry out bombings against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI’s Miami office and other federal buildings (see June 23, 2006). The group operated out of a warehouse in the Liberty City section of Miami. [Guardian, 12/13/2007] The arrests of the men in 2006 were heralded as a major victory for the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” Then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales warned that, if “left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda.” The alleged plot was used as an example of the government’s post-9/11 improvements to counter-terrorism methods. The men were members of the Moorish Science Temple, a sect that blends Islam, Christianity and Judaism and does not recognize the legitimacy of the US government. The majority of the evidence in the case came from an FBI Middle Eastern informant, Elie Assad, posing as an al-Qaeda operative named “Brother Mohammad.” He had worked for the FBI for years before he approached Narseal Batiste, the alleged ringleader. Among the evidence he obtained was a recording from March 16, 2006 in which the men vowed to act as “Islamic soldiers” for al-Qaeda. Other evidence included a further 12,000 recorded conversations, including one in which Batiste spoke of waging a “ground war.” The prosecution also presented surveillance photos some defendants took of federal buildings in Miami, wish lists of weapons, and a request for $50,000 made to the informant. Batiste claimed during the trial that he was conning the informant, just as the informant was conning him. He says he was desperate for money to aid his failing construction business, so he went along with the informant in hopes of tricking him into giving him $50,000. [Time, 12/13/2007] The mistrial and acquittal is considered a major loss for the government and its strategy of pre-emptive prosecution of suspected terrorists. The jury of six men and six women twice sent notes to the presiding judge indicating they could not reach verdicts but were told to keep trying. The mistrial came after their third vote. [Guardian, 12/13/2007] The jury foreman, Jeffrey Agron, says, “It was a very difficult case with a lot of evidence… people see evidence in different ways. There were different takes that people had.” A large part of the defense was based on the extensive FBI involvement in the plot: the warehouse was paid for by the FBI and the defendants moved their operations there at the suggestion of the FBI informant. The vows to al-Qaeda were instigated by the informant, who even suggested the bombing of the Miami FBI office. Defense attorney Albert Levin says, “The case was written, produced and directed by the FBI.” Attorney Joshua Dratel, who has defended several suspects in terrorism cases, says: “[A]re we interested in finding terrorists or creating them? Even in cases where people are found guilty, I’m not sure that [this strategy] is necessarily finding people who are a genuine danger. What it’s really doing is finding people who—with enough inducement and encouragement—may do something. But whether they would ever do anything on their own, we’ll never know.” A new trial is scheduled for next year. [Time, 12/13/2007]
After it is revealed that the CIA has destroyed tapes showing detainee interrogations (see November 2005), congressional leaders Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) ask Attorney General Michael Mukasey for “a complete account of the Justice Department’s own knowledge of and involvement with” the tape destruction. News reports indicate the Justice Department did advise the CIA not to destroy the tapes as far back as 2003 (see 2003). The Justice Department is also asked whether it offered legal advice to the CIA or communicated with the White House about the issue. However, Mukasey refuses to answer any of the questions, replying that the Justice Department “has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters. This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2007] According to the New York Times, Justice Department officials describe this and another rebuff to congress (see December 14, 2007) as “an effort to caution Congress against meddling in the tapes case and other politically explosive criminal cases.” [New York Times, 12/15/2007]
The Justice Department urges a federal judge not to begin an inquiry into the destruction of CIA videotapes in a case involving 11 Guantanamo Bay detainees. The judge in the case, Henry Kennedy, had previously issued a ruling that evidence related to the detainees should be preserved (see June-July 2005). After attorneys for the detainees file a motion saying the CIA’s destruction of the tapes “raises grave concerns about the government’s compliance with the preservation order entered by this court,” the administration argues it was not under an obligation to preserve the videotapes and tells US District Judge Kennedy that asking for information about the tapes’ destruction could “potentially complicate” a Justice Department inquiry into it. The Justice Department also says the judge lacks jurisdiction and is worried he will compel CIA officers to testify. In addition, the destroyed tapes were made outside Guantanamo, whereas the order previously issued by the judge only directly affected material in Guantanamo. However, evidence from “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant” is being used against one of the detainees, and this lieutenant may have been shown on the destroyed tapes, making them relevant to the case. The Associated Press calls the Justice Department’s request “unusual,” and law professor Douglas Kmiec comments, “It’s hard to know on the surface whether this is obstruction or an advancement of a legitimate inquiry.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007; Associated Press, 12/15/2007] Another law professor, Jonathon Turley, comments: “The Justice Department insists it will essentially investigate itself and then tells the court that because it is investigating itself it won’t turn over evidence of its possible criminal misconduct. It’s so circular, it’s maddening.” [ABC News, 12/15/2007] In early January 2008, Kennedy will decline to hold a hearing into the destruction, saying that the destroyed tapes were not directly related to this case, as they were not made in Guantanamo. He is also “influenced by the assurances of the Department of Justice” that its criminal investigation will cover the issue of whether the tapes’ destruction “was inconsistent with or violated any legal obligations.” [New York Times, 1/10/2008]
British military sources tout the success of secret meetings and negotiations held with elements of the Taliban, claiming that direct contact has led insurgents to change sides and has provided intelligence leading to the deaths of key insurgent commanders. But critics, such as officials within the Afghan government, argue that the tactics—including the use of bribes for information—undermine democracy and allow the Taliban a back door back into power. In addition, Afghan military sources claim that insurgents are using coalition forces to settle scores with rivals. American officials say the policy of engagement by the British has led to serious mistakes, such as the agreement reached in Musa Qala in February under which British forces were withdrawn in return for tribal elders pledging to keep the Taliban out. The Taliban quickly occupied the town and held it for seven months. The Independent also reports that the Taliban has killed and tortured insurgents, children included, who were seen to be collaborating with British and the Afghan governments. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government continues to officially deny Britain has been involved in negotiations with the Taliban. [Independent, 12/14/2007]
Kenneth Wainstein. [Source: White House]The Justice Department attempts to delay probes by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees into the destruction of CIA tapes showing detainee interrogations, saying the administration cannot provide the witnesses or documents the committees want, as this may jeopardize its own investigations. Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson write to congressional intelligence committee leaders saying, “We fully appreciate the committee’s oversight interest in this matter, but want to advise you of concerns that actions responsive to your request would represent significant risk to our preliminary inquiry.” However, Wainstein and Helgerson are unable to say when they will have results. Attorney General Michael Mukasey also rejects a request for details about the Justice Department-CIA inquiry (see December 14, 2007). [Washington Post, 12/15/2007; New York Times, 12/15/2007] House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Vice Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) threaten to issue subpoenas and respond in a joint statement: “We are stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation… Parallel investigations occur all of the time, and there is no basis upon which the Attorney General can stand in the way of our work.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2007] They add: “It’s clear that there’s more to this story than we have been told, and it is unfortunate that we are being prevented from learning the facts. The executive branch can’t be trusted to oversee itself.” [Associated Press, 12/15/2007] The New York Times comments, “The inquiry by the House committee had been shaping up as the most aggressive investigation into the destruction of the tapes.” The intelligence committee inquiries are similar to those of the Justice Department and CIA Inspector General, but also aim to determine whether anyone in the executive branch had sought to have the tapes destroyed to eliminate possible evidence that CIA officers had used banned interrogation techniques. [New York Times, 12/15/2007] A CIA spokesman says, “Director Hayden has said the Agency will cooperate fully with both the preliminary inquiry conducted by [Justice Department] and CIA’s Office of Inspector General, and with the Congress. That has been, and certainly still is, the case.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2007] However, the CIA fails to provide documents the House committee has requested. [New York Times, 12/15/2007] Commentator Scott Horton will call this “a conscious decision to shield criminal conduct from exposure before the watchdog appointed by the Constitution: Congress.” [Harpers, 12/15/2007]
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf mysteriously escapes from a prison in Pakistan. Authorities will say he escapes after freeing himself from handcuffs while being transported from one prison to another. The two policemen escorting him allowed him to stop and pray at a mosque. According to The Guardian, “The officers claimed that when Rauf walked into the mosque they waited outside in their car, never considering for a moment that he could simply walk out of the back door.” Furthermore, they do not report the escape for several hours. The two policemen on the duty are arrested, but it is unclear what happens to them. The Pakistani government will say they must have been bribed to allow Rauf to escape.
Linked to Pakistani Militant Group - Rauf, a dual Pakistani and British citizen, was implicated as a leader of a 2006 plot to blow up airplanes in Britain using liquid explosives (see August 10, 2006). He was arrested in Pakistan. His wife is closely related to Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani militant group that has a history of links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Was He Allowed to Escape to Avoid Extradition? - Rauf’s lawyer will claim that it is not a case of simple bribery. “You could call it a ‘mysterious disappearance’ if you like, but not an escape,” he will say. “The Pakistanis are simply not interested in handing him over to the British. They never have been, although it is not clear why not.” In December 2006, terrorism charges against Rauf were dropped, but he remained in Pakistani custody on charges of carrying explosives and forged identity papers (see December 13, 2006). In November 2007, those charges were dropped and a judge ordered his immediate release. But less than an hour later, the Pakistani government announced that he would be extradited to Britain to be charged in the airplane plot, and he would remain in custody until that happened. His escape took place as he was getting close to being extradited. People at the mosque where he is supposed to have escaped will say that they never saw him or any policemen on this day, and the police never came looking for him later. [Guardian, 1/28/2008] In November 2008, it will be reported that Rauf was killed in a US drone strike, but his family will insist he remains alive (see November 22, 2008).
The Bush administration begins a push to get Congress to pass legislation to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits over their assistance with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. This is part of the administration’s long and sometimes uneasy partnership with the telecom industry to conduct a wide range of secret anti-terrorism surveillance operations. The firms fear further lawsuits and more public exposure, and some have refused outright to cooperate (see February 27, 2001 and 1990s).
Fiber Optics - Twenty years ago, the NSA had little difficulty in monitoring telephone communications because older technology relied on broadcast signals carried by microwave towers and satellite relays; the agency used its own satellite dishes to cull the signals. But fiber optic communications are much more difficult to tap, forcing the agency to seek the cooperation of the telecoms to monitor their signals.
Relationship - “It’s a very frayed and strained relationship right now, and that’s not a good thing for the country in terms of keeping all of us safe,” says an industry official in favor of immunity for the telecoms. “This episode has caused companies to change their conduct in a variety of ways.” Both the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, write virtually identical op-eds in recent days calling for passage of legislation to grant immunity to the telecoms and remove the need to obtain warrants to wiretap Americans’ communications (see December 10, 2007 and December 12, 2007).
Two Bills - Currently, two bills are before Congress: one largely crafted by Republicans and passed on by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms, and another from the House Judiciary Committee that would not. The White House says President Bush will veto any legislation that does not grant immunity to the telecoms. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
Israel has no “smoking gun” intelligence it can use to force the US to reassess its recent National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). But even if it did have such a piece of evidence, a diplomatic official says it would be either “very arrogant” or “naive” to think that all Israel needs to do is provide one piece of information to the US intelligence community and have it “take it all back and follow Israel’s line.” The US knows what Israel knows, the official says, but the two nations’ intelligence communities have different interpretations. “If we had information that we held back, then we have only ourselves to blame for the US report,” the official says. Israel continues to insist that Iran is a major threat to Israel, in large part because of its nuclear weapons program. “Israel can’t take the risk that Iran will be nuclear,” the official adds. [Jerusalem Post, 12/18/2007]
The CIA videotapes destruction scandal reopens a debate about the usefulness of torturing al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. The FBI briefly used rapport-building techniques on Zubaida before the CIA took over and tortured him. On December 10, 2007, several days after the public disclosure that the videotapes of the CIA’s interrogation of Zubaida were destroyed, former CIA officer John Kiriakou admitted that Zubaida was tortured by the use of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007). Kiriakou claimed that waterboarding was so effective that Zubaida completely broke after just one session of waterboarding lasting 35 seconds. [ABC News, 12/10/2007] This claim became a frequently used media talking point. However, on December 18, the Washington Post presents a contrary account, stating, “There is little dispute, according to officials from both agencies, that Abu Zubaida provided some valuable intelligence before CIA interrogators began to rough him up, including information that helped identify Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla” (see Late March through Early June, 2002). The Post notes that Kiriakou helped capture Zubaida but was not present at any of his interrogations. Furthermore, “other former and current officials” disagree with Kiriakou’s claim “that Abu Zubaida’s cooperation came quickly under harsh interrogation or that it was the result of a single waterboarding session. Instead, these officials said, harsh tactics used on him at a secret detention facility in Thailand went on for weeks or, depending on the account, even months.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] The most in-depth previous media accounts suggesed that the FBI interrogation of Zubaida was getting good intelligence while the CIA torture of him resulted in very dubious intelligence (see Mid-April-May 2002 and June 2002).
Speaking on CNN, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley outlines the criminal offenses that may have been committed in the scandal surrounding the destruction of CIA videotapes showing detainee interrogations: “There are at least six identifiable crimes from obstruction of justice to obstruction of congress, perjury, conspiracy and false statements. What is often forgotten, the crime of torturing suspects. Now, if that crime was committed, it was a crime that would conceivably be ordered by the president himself, only the president can order those types of special treatments or interrogation techniques.” [CNN, 12/19/2007]
A fire erupts in Vice President Dick Cheney’s ceremonial offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building while White House press secretary Dana Perino is answering questions about the destruction of CIA interrogation videos, at approximately 9:15 in the morning, next door at the White House. White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore says she is unaware of any documents or artwork lost in the fire. DC fire department spokesman Alan Etter says that smoke came from an electrical closet on the second floor, which may have been the location of the fire’s cause. Perino says the fire may have originated in the electrical closet or a phone bank. The vice president’s working office is located in the West Wing of the White House, whereas the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses the Office of Management and Budget, staff of the National Security Council, other agencies, and the ceremonial offices of the vice president. The adjacent office of the vice president’s political director Amy Whitelaw is heavily damaged in the fire, according to Cheney spokesperson Lea Anne McBride. [CBS News, 12/19/2007; Associated Press, 12/19/2007; Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2007]
The CIA refers the case of John Kiriakou, a former officer who has recently admitted the agency waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007), to the Justice Department for investigation. The department is to investigate whether Kiriakou committed a criminal offence by illegally disclosing classified information in the interviews he gave about Zubaida’s treatment. [McClatchy, 12/20/2007] The CIA originally decided not to refer the case (see December 11, 2007), but pressure was applied by the Justice Department and National Security Council after Kiriakou revealed its involvement in a later interview (see December 11, 2007).
IntelCenter, a US-based organization that conducts research into terrorism, finds that al-Qaeda has released more than 90 videos in 2007. This is more than al-Qaeda released in the previous three years put together. The videos were released through the organization’s media arm, As-Sahab. Al-Qaeda’s most prominent spokesman is its second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has issued at least 16 messages this year (see January 5, 2007, January 23, 2007, and July 11, 2007), whereas al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is only credited with issuing five (see September 7, 2007, September 11, 2007, September 20, 2007, October 22, 2007, and November 29, 2007). The Associated Press will comment: “The videos have grown more sophisticated in targeting their international audience. Videos are always subtitled in English, and messages this year from bin Laden and al-Zawahiri focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan have been dubbed in the local languages, Urdu and Pashtu. Videos and audiotapes have also had a faster turnaround, referring sometimes to events that occurred only days earlier. The al-Qaeda leaders’ messages are often interwoven with footage of past attacks, militants training, and TV news clips of world events and leaders including President Bush—evidence that their producers have easy access to media.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in one of Pakistan’s military garrison areas, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, Indian intelligence warned the US in mid-2007 that bin Laden could be living in northwest Pakistan, after getting some information about the movements of al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-2007). Over the next six months or so, Indian intelligence learned more about the movement of al-Qaeda leaders in northwest Pakistan. Then, in early 2008, India sends the US more intelligence. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “This time, we specifically mentioned about his presence in a cantonment area. It was because we had definite information that his movement was restricted owing to his illness and that it would have been impossible for him to go to an ordinary hospital. We told the Americans that only in a cantonment area could he be looked after by his ISI or other Pakistani benefactors.” Cantonments are permanent military garrison areas administered by the military. Abbottabad, where bin Laden will be killed in 2011, is one of the cantonments in northwest Pakistan. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
The Justice Department’s National Security Division and the CIA’s inspector general conclude their preliminary inquiry into the destruction of CIA videotapes showing the interrogation of detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see December 7, 2007 and Shortly After). They report that there is enough evidence to start a criminal investigation, but do not say for certain that a crime has been committed. [Salon, 1/2/2008] A prosecutor is appointed to head the investigation (see January 2, 2008).
In an op-ed published by the New York Times, former 9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton write that their 9/11 inquiry was “obstructed” by the CIA, which failed to provide them with videotapes of detainee interrogations. The White House also knew of the videotapes’ existence but failed to inform the Commission, which had repeatedly asked for all material related to detainee interrogations and was unhappy with what the CIA gave it (see Summer 2003-January 2004, Summer 2003, November 5, 2003-January 2004, and After January 2004). Kean and Hamilton write that the CIA “failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot. Those who knew about those videotapes—and did not tell us about them—obstructed our investigation. There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the CIA—or the White House—of the commission’s interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations.” [New York Times, 1/2/2008]
John Durham. [Source: Bob Child / Associated Press]After the Justice Department and CIA Inspector General conclude there should be a criminal probe into the destruction of videotapes showing interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see January 2, 2008), Attorney General Michael Mukasey appoints John Durham, a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, to oversee the case. The investigation would usually be handled by the prosecutor’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, but that office is recused to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interests. Durham will not act as an independent special prosecutor like Patrick Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame Wilson case, but will report to the Deputy Attorney General. [Salon, 1/2/2008] Durham made his name as a prosecutor in a difficult organized crime case in Boston. [New York Times, 1/13/2008] House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) criticizes the appointment, saying, “it is disappointing that the Attorney General has stepped outside the Justice Department’s own regulations and declined to appoint a more independent special counsel in this matter… The Justice Department’s record over the past seven years of sweeping the administration’s misconduct under the rug has left the American public with little confidence in the administration’s ability to investigate itself. Nothing less than a special counsel with a full investigative mandate will meet the tests of independence, transparency and completeness.” [Salon, 1/2/2008]
Coinciding with the publication of the first article in a series in Britain’s Sunday Times covering some of her allegations (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), 2000-2001, Summer 2000, Summer 2001 and After September 11, 2001), former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds posts a gallery of 18 photos of people and three images of question marks on her website, justacitizen.com (see August 8, 2009). The 21 images are divided into three groups, and the page is titled “State Secrets Privilege Gallery.” No other explanation of the images is given, and the photos include no names or captions. [Sibel Edmonds, 1/6/2008] Luke Ryland, a blogger who has been closely following Sibel Edmonds’s case, posts an entry on his blog titled “Sibel ‘names names’ (in pictures!),” in which he puts names to the faces, and says, “we can reasonably presume that they are the 21 guilty people in her case.” Ryland notes that the three groups correspond to the affiliations of the people in the photos: “The first group contains current and former Pentagon and State Department officials”: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Franklin. “The second group is current and former congressmen”: Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Dan Burton (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), ? (box with question mark), Bob Livingston (R-LA), a former House speaker, and Stephen Solarz (D-NY). “The third group includes people who all appear to work at think tanks—primarily WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy”: Graham E. Fuller—RAND Corporation, David Makovsky—WINEP, Alan Makovsky—WINEP, ? (box with question mark), ? (box with question mark), Yusuf Turani (president-in-exile, Turkestan), Professor Sabri Sayari (Georgetown, WINEP), and Mehmet Eymur (former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT). [Luke Ryland, 1/6/2008]
Entity Tags: Tom Lantos, Sibel Edmonds, David Makovsky, Dan Burton, Brent Scowcroft, Bob Livingston, Alan Makovsky, Dennis Hastert, Stephen Solarz, Douglas Feith, Graham Fuller, Sabri Sayari, Roy Blunt, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, Luke Ryland, Eric Edelman, Yusuf Turani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The Sunday Times runs a series of articles about FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, detailing allegations made by Edmonds about Turkish and US involvement in the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring, as well as money laundering, drugs, and conventional weapons. Some allegations made by Edmonds were previously discussed in the press, but many remained secret; she divulges more to Sunday Times now because, after having unsuccessfully attempted to pursue her case through the courts and Congress, she has become “disillusioned with the US authorities’ failure to act.”
Allegations against State Department and Pentagon Officials - The allegations center on an unnamed former high-ranking State Department official, who is said to have received money from Turkish nuclear smugglers, and on other household names who served at the Pentagon. Edmonds says, “He [the State Department official] was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.” She adds, “If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials.” The former State Department official says: “If you are calling me to say somebody said that I took money, that’s outrageous… I do not have anything to say about such stupid ridiculous things as this.”
"Overlapping Corroboration" - The Sunday Times says that it spoke to two FBI agents and two CIA officers who worked on nuclear proliferation while researching the story, and, “While none was aware of specific allegations against officials she names, they did provide overlapping corroboration of Edmonds’s story.” One of the CIA sources confirms that Turkey did acquire nuclear secrets from the US and shared them with Pakistan and Israel, saying: “We have no indication that Turkey has its own nuclear ambitions. But the Turks are traders. To my knowledge they became big players in the late 1990s.” [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/20/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]
Official Said to be Marc Grossman - The high-ranking State Department official who is not named in the Sunday Times articles, possibly due to libel law considerations, is said to be Marc Grossman by both Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story and former CIA officer Phillip Giraldi, writing in the American Conservative. [Raw Story, 1/20/2008; American Conservative, 1/28/2008]
An armed attacker in the lobby of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 14, 2008. [Source: TV2 Norway]Militants attack a luxury hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, with machine guns and a suicide bomber. Six people are killed and six more are injured. The suicide bomber blows himself up and one of the machine gunners is killed, and two other attackers apparently escape. The target is the Serena Hotel, a heavily guarded five-star hotel frequented by Westerners. A Norwegian journalist and a US citizen are among those killed. A Taliban spokesperson immediately takes credit for the attack. [BBC, 1/15/2008] Months later, the New York Times will report that the attack was actually masterminded by a leader of the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, which is largely based in Pakistan. The leader is not named, but Sirajuddin Haqqani will later boast in an interview that he planned the attack (see March 25, 2009). According to the Times: “Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, [top leader Jalaluddin] Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence [the ISI] and still enjoys their protection.” In a video, Jalaluddin boasts of his role in an attack on a hotel, which presumably is the Serena Hotel attack, as well as boasting of other attacks. Jalaluddin is Sirajuddin’s father. [New York Times, 6/17/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell says that the 9/11 hijackers could not be monitored in the US because they did not commit any crimes. He says in a speech: “[I]f Mohamed Atta had been in Pakistan and we were tracking him, some way to track him—he went to Turkey, went to Europe, got over to Canada, we’d track him as foreign intelligence target, and he crosses into the United States, he’s now a US person; he gets all of the rights and privileges that you get. He’s invisible to your intelligence community. As long as he doesn’t break the law, law enforcement can’t conduct surveillance because they don’t have a probable cause. Al-Qaeda recognized that and that is why 9/11 happened in my view.” [Director of National Intelligence, 1/17/2008 ] The 9/11 hijackers committed various offenses for which they could have been arrested in the US, such as lying on visa application forms (see August 29, 2001), overstaying their visas (see January 18, 2001, May 20, 2001 and January 10, 2001), driving without a license (note: a warrant for Mohamed Atta’s arrest was even issued in the summer of 2001—see June 4, 2001), and having a known role in blowing up the USS Cole, thereby murdering 17 US servicemen (see Around October 12, 2000). The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was also specifically designed so that the FBI and other agencies could monitor agents of foreign powers in the US even if they did not commit a crime (see 1978).
A group of suspected suicide bombers are arrested in Barcelona, Spain. Twelve are Pakistani and two are Indian, and all of them had trained at militant camps in Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal region where al-Qaeda has a safe haven. One of the suspected suicide bombers is actually an informant for French intelligence, known by the name Asim (see Late January 2008). Having just arrived in Barcelona from the safe haven several days before, Asim mistakenly believes that an attack is imminent. But in the rush to quickly arrest the suspects, at least six of them get away, with one supposedly taking most of the explosives with him. Spain’s leading counterterrorism judge Baltasar Garzon says, “In my opinion, the jihadi threat from Pakistan is the biggest emerging threat we are facing in Europe. Pakistan is an ideological and training hotbed for jihadists, and they are being exported here.” Asim claims the suspects were going to start with an attack in Barcelona, which was going to be followed by demands from al-Qaeda through Baitullah Mahsud, a militant leader in Waziristan. If their demands were not met, they would stage more attacks in Spain and then in other European countries. US officials say they monitored phone calls to Pakistan by some of the suspects. Some suspects were already under surveillance by Spanish intelligence. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]
The FBI is accused of covering up a key case file containing evidence against corrupt government officials involved in a nuclear smuggling ring. The case file’s number is allegedly 203A-WF-210023, but the FBI denies it exists in response to a Freedom of Information Act request specifically for a file with that number. The request was made by the Liberty Coalition, a human rights group, based on an anonymous tip-off (see Before January 20, 2008). However, the Sunday Times obtains a document signed by an FBI official saying that the case file does exist. FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds also says that the file exists, that she previously discussed its contents with Congressional committees, and that the denial by the FBI is an “outright lie.” According to Edmonds, the file “refers to the counterintelligence program that the [Justice Department] has declared to be a state secret to protect sensitive diplomatic relations.” An FBI spokesman contacted by the Sunday Times is not familiar with the case file but comments, “if the FBI says it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist.” [Sunday Times (London), 1/20/2008]
Center for Public Integrity logo. [Source: Center for Public Integrity]The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity, Bush administration (43), Bill Buzenberg, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dan Froomkin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Mark Reading-Smith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
US District Judge Richard Roberts says that CIA interrogation videotapes may have been relevant to a case before him and orders the administration to explain why they were destroyed in 2005, and also to say whether other evidence was destroyed. The government has three weeks to produce the report, as the judge thinks the tapes may have been relevant to the case of Guantanamo detainee Hani Abdullah. The charges against Abdullah are based, at least in part, on information obtained from militant leader Abu Zubaida, who was shown on the tapes and was subjected to waterboarding and other “enhanced techniques” (see Spring-Late 2002 and Mid-May 2002 and After). The report also has to explain what the government has done to preserve evidence since Roberts issued an order in July 2005 not to destroy it, what it is doing now, and whether any other potentially relevant evidence has been destroyed. [Associated Press, 1/24/2008]
Newly released CIA documents show that the agency uses “national security letters” (NSLs) to secure financial and other information about US citizens from employers, financial institutions, libraries, and other private and public firms (see January 2004). The documents were requested by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI has used NSLs for years, and drawn heavy criticism for its use of the instruments (see February 2005), but until now, the CIA’s use of NSLs has been a closely guarded secret. Like the FBI NSLs, the CIA’s letters come with “gag orders” that force the recipients to remain silent about the demand for information, or that there was even such a demand. According to ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman, often the recipient of an NSL cannot keep a copy of the letter or even take notes about the information turned over to the CIA. A CIA spokesman denies that its use of NSLs was ever kept secret, and the information has always been requested on a voluntary basis for “such legitimate purposes as counterintelligence and counterterrorism.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2008]
George W. Bush delivering his State of the Union address. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Bush gives his final State of the Union address. During the speech, Bush calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation awarding retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms that may have illegally cooperated with the NSA and other US intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). Bush says of those agencies: “[O]ne of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they’re planning. Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February the 1st. That means if you don’t act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted.” He then says of the telecoms involved in domestic surveillance: “Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.” (In this statement, Bush refuses to admit that the telecoms have actually cooperated with US surveillance operations; two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney will make just such an admission (see January 30, 2008).) [White House, 1/28/2008; New York Times, 1/29/2008] Bush says that while the nation is at risk of terrorist attack if this legislation is not enacted, he will veto such legislation if it does not contain provisions to protect the telecom industry from civil and criminal prosecution. Harpers commentator Scott Horton calls Bush’s rhetoric a “squeeze play… an exercise in fear-mongering of the purest, vilest sort.” Horton boils down Bush’s comments to say, “‘If Congress doesn’t give me just what I want, then Congress will be responsible for whatever attacks befall the country,’ he reasons.” [Harper's, 1/29/2008]
Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Associated Press]The US fires a missile from a Predator drone at a house in North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. The missile reportedly kills about 13 people. Some of them are said to be militants, and US officials will later confirm that one of those killed is al-Qaeda leader Abu Laith al-Libi. He is considered a top field commander and a liaison between al-Qaeda and the Taliban. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008] He is relatively unknown to the public, but in September 2007, the Washington Post profiled him as about one of a dozen of the most important current al-Qaeda leaders. He also survived a US rocket attack in June 2007. [Washington Post, 9/8/2007]
MSNBC counts the number of endnotes in the 9/11 Commission report that cite detainee interrogations and finds that more than a quarter of them—441 out of over 1,700—do so. It is widely believed that the detainees were tortured while in US custody, and that statements made under torture are unreliable. One of the detainees, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose interrogations are mentioned hundreds of times in the report (see After January 2004), was extensively waterboarded (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and a CIA manager said that up to 90 percent of the information he provided under questioning was unreliable (see August 6, 2007). The endnotes often give the sources of the information contained in the main text. MSNBC comments: “The analysis shows that much of what was reported about the planning and execution of the terror attacks on New York and Washington was derived from the interrogations of high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives. Each had been subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’ Some were even subjected to waterboarding.” In addition, many of the endnotes that cite detainee interrogations are for the report’s “most critical chapters”—five, six, and seven—which cover the planning of the attacks and the hijackers’ time in the US. In total, the Commission relied on more than 100 CIA interrogation reports. Its Executive Director Philip Zelikow admits that “quite a bit, if not most” of its information on the 9/11 conspiracy “did come from the interrogations.” Karen Greenberg, director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University’s School of Law, says, “It calls into question how we were willing to use these interrogations to construct the narrative.” [MSNBC, 1/30/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney calls in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast. Cheney argues in favor of the administration’s push for Congress to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms suspected of cooperating with US intelligence agencies in illegally monitoring the telephone and e-mail communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush made the same call, but refused to admit that the telecoms had actually participated in such actions (see January 28, 2008). Cheney is more forthcoming. He tells Limbaugh that the proposed legislation is about “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann lambasts President Bush’s State of the Union call to protect US telecom firms from liability in their cooperation with government surveillance of US citizens (see January 28, 2008): “President Bush has put protecting the telecom giants from the laws ahead of protecting you from the terrorists. He has demanded an extension of the FISA law—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—but only an extension that includes retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped him spy on you.… This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand: If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity and sends it to your desk and you veto it—you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists. Ya gotta have this law, or we’re all gonna die. But you might veto this law!” Olbermann terms Bush’s call for telecom immunity a “shameless, breathless, literal, textbook example of fascism—the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government.” With heavy sarcasm Olbermann says: “[The telecom immunity] isn’t evil, it’s ‘to protect America.’ It isn’t indiscriminate, it’s ‘the ability to monitor terrorist communications.’ It isn’t unlawful, it’s just the kind of perfectly legal thing, for which you happen to need immunity.… This is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or protecting the people from terrorists, sir. It is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or pretending to protect the people from terrorists.… The eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat, the thwarting of which could hinge on an e-mail or a phone call going through room 641-A at AT&T in San Francisco next week or next month. Because if there were, Mr. Bush, and you were to, by your own hand, veto an extension of this eavesdropping, and some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists, you would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people, you would not merely be guilty of stupidity, you would not merely be guilty of treason, but you would be personally, and eternally, responsible.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
On January 16, 2007, a young man known as Asim arrives in Barcelona. He had recently been living in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan as an informant for French intelligence. He comes to Barcelona to inform on a group of Pakistanis living in that town who spent time in Pakistani training camps and allegedly are planning a series of suicide attacks in Spain and possibly other European countries. He is posing as one of the suicide bombers. Fearing that an attack is imminent, Spanish authorities arrest most of the suspects three days later (see January 19, 2008). But the Spanish decide that they don’t have enough physical evidence to successfully prosecute the arrested suspects, and they turn Asim into a protected witness for the prosecution. The New York Times will comment, “the case has caused diplomatic friction among investigators. Spain’s handling of the French informant has enraged officials at France’s intelligence agencies and eroded trust between the countries, French and other European officials said. The informant’s value as a source was destroyed when he was made a prosecution witness and the contents of his statements were leaked to the news media.” Asim’s case contradicts the commonly held notion that intelligence agencies have been unable to penetrate al-Qaeda’s central command (see March 20, 2008). But many questions remain. It is unclear when he first penetrated Waziristan as an informant, how much time he spent there, and how high level his al-Qaeda contacts there were. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization dedicated to the protection of civil liberties, releases a statement saying it is “outraged” by revelations about the extent to which the 9/11 Commission report was based on statements from detainees who are said to have been tortured. After MSNBC finds that over a quarter of the report’s endnotes cite detainee interrogations (see January 30, 2008), CCR President Michael Ratner says: “If the Commission suspected there was torture, they should have realized that as a matter of law, evidence derived from torture is not reliable, in part because of the possibility of false confession…at the very least, they should have added caveats to all those references (note: the Commission’s report does contain one caveat related to two chapters—see After January 2004). The Commission’s heavy reliance on tainted sources reinforces the notion that we as a nation have not yet come to terms with the reality that the US engaged in torture. Until we do so, we undermine our credibility in the eyes of the world as a nation of hypocrites.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 1/31/2008]
Eric Pound is appointed head of the CIA’s external operations and cover division. Pound is a veteran officer who was CIA station chief in Athens during the 2004 Olympics (see 2004 or Before). [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2008]
Abu Mansoor al-Amriki. [Source: Al-Jazeera]A militant in a video message released this month has an interesting background. The message supports Shabab, one of two radical Islamic groups fighting for power in war-torn Somalia. According to a US intelligence source, the militant in the video, Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, is an ex-US soldier who fought in Bosnia in the early 1990s. No US soldiers officially fought in the Bosnia war, but about a dozen Muslim ex-US Special Forces soldiers fought in Bosnia and trained al-Qaeda and other mujaheddin forces there around 1993 (see December 1992-June 1993). At the time, the US military and Saudi government apparently had an interest in sending Muslim ex-Special Forces there (see December 1992-June 1993 and December 1992). Mansoor is said to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda’s East Africa leadership, and is a lead trainer for Somali insurgent forces. Although he only appears on video wearing a face mask, it is clear that he is Caucasian. [Middle East Times, 2/28/2008]
Hani Hanjour (left) and Majed Moqed (right) captured by surveillance video on September 5, 2001. [Source: FBI]An FBI timeline of the 9/11 hijackers’ activities compiled in late 2001 and released this month indicates that considerable video footage of the hijackers has yet to be released. Most of the footage appears to come from surveillance video discovered after the 9/11 attacks. So far, the only known footage made public has been two video stills of Hani Hanjour and Majed Moqed using an ATM machine, one still each of Waleed Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami, several stills of Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari in Portland the night before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001), and a few more stills and footage of several hijackers in airports on the morning of 9/11 (see (Between 5:45 a.m. and 5:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (7:15 a.m.-7:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But the FBI’s timeline reveals video footage that has never even been publicly hinted at:
Mohamed Atta used an ATM in Palm Beach, Florida, on July 19, 2001.
Salem Alhazmi and Ahmed Alghamdi used an ATM in Alexandria, Virginia, on August 2.
Hanjour and Mojed used a Kinko’s for half an hour in College Park, Maryland, on August 10.
Moqed and Nawaf Alhazmi shopped at an Exxon gas station in Joppa, Maryland, on August 28.
Waleed and Wail Alshehri wandered around a Target store in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on September 4.
Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari were in a Florida bank lobby on September 4, and the audio of Atta calling Saudi Arabia was even recorded in the process.
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad used an ATM on September 7 in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Salem Alhazmi was at the Falls Church DMV on September 7. Low quality surveillance video at the Milner Hotel in Boston showed Marwan Alshehhi and possibly Mohand Alshehri on multiple occasions in the days just before 9/11.
Ziad Jarrah and possibly Saeed Alghamdi were videotaped using a Kinko’s for about an hour near Newark on September 10. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001 ]
Additionally, an FBI document will later be made public that indicates there is footage of Saeed Alghamdi entering the Marriott Hotel at the Newark International Airport on September 8, carrying a black roll along bag (he will not have any checked luggage on 9/11).
This same document indicates Ziad Jarrah is also seen on videotape shortly after midnight on September 8 at the same Marriott Hotel, making credit card and cash payments for two hotel rooms. He is accompanied by two young men, who most likely are Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami. [Investigative Services Division, FBI Headquarters, 4/19/2002]
Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, Ziad Jarrah, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Mohamed Atta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abdulaziz Alomari, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alghamdi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Ahmed Alnami, Marwan Alshehhi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The editorial board of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls for a new inquiry into 9/11, as it believes the 9/11 Commission’s investigation may have been compromised. The call is due to a new book by New York Times journalist Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission. The book highlights the close relationship between 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and the White House, in particular National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, as well as an attempt he made to connect Iraq to al-Qaeda. The Post-Intelligencer writes of Zelikow that “[s]omeone with an apparent deference for the White House should not have been trusted with such a valued task.” It comments, “If bulletproof, the book prompts us to add one more thing to our to-do list for the next administration: Pressure it to charge a panel of independent experts to write a real, nonpartisan report on the attacks.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/4/2008]
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) lets slip the news that changes proposed to US surveillance laws drastically increase the government’s ability to conduct electronic surveillance inside the US. While speaking against an amendment that would require the government to destroy non-emergency evidence procured through domestic surveillance if a court later finds the surveillance was illegal, Rockefeller reveals that the new laws will not just “make it easier for the NSA to wiretap terrorists,” as the argument goes, but will allow the NSA to, in reporter Ryan Singel’s words, “secretly and unilaterally install filters inside America’s phone and Internet infrastructure.” Rockefeller tells his fellow senators: “Unlike traditional [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application orders which involve collection on one individual target, the new FISA provisions create a system of collection. The courts role in this system of collection is not to consider probable cause on individual targets but to ensure that procedures used to collect intelligence are adequate. The courts’ determination of the adequacy of procedures therefore impacts all electronic communications gathered under the new mechanisms, even if it involves thousands of targets.” Singel puts it more plainly: “In short, the changes legalize Room 641A, the secret spying room inside AT&T’s San Francisco Internet switching center” (see November 7-8, 2007). FISA judges will, if the law is passed, no longer evaluate whether the government has sufficient cause to eavesdrop on someone inside the US. Instead, the judges will only be able to evaluate descriptions of what the NSA is doing with its “filters.” There is no provision in the new bill to penalize the NSA for conducting illegal surveillances. [Wired News, 2/5/2008]
CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. [Wall Street Journal, 2/6/2008] Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mike McConnell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Two civil liberties organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), file a joint lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security. The two organizations file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and demand that DHS make available its records on the questioning and searches of lawful travelers through US borders. The suit follows a large number of complaints by US citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have spoken out about what they term excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents (see 2007). ALC’s Shirin Sinnar says, “When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation’s doorstep. The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.” EFF’s Marcia Hofmann agrees, saying, “The public has the right to know what the government’s standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America’s travelers.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] The lawsuit demands the public release of DHS’s policies on border searches and interrogations. It also demands an explanation as to how far government agents can go in questioning and searching citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The question of whether federal agents have the right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.
Racial or Religious Profiling? - Almost all of the complaints come from travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Many of the complainants believe they were targeted because of racial or religious profiling. US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger denies the charge. It is not her agency’s “intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny,” she says, and adds that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. However, a Customs officers training guide says that “it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.” Law professor David Cole asks, “What’s the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]
In House testimony, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Lieutenant General Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency say that they stand by their agencies’ decisions not to waterboard detainees. Two days before, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified that the CIA had used waterboarding and might do so again (see February 5, 2008). The Pentagon has banned its employees from using the tactic, and the FBI has stated, “its investigators do not use coercive tactics when interviewing terror suspects.” Rush Holt (D-NJ) asks Mueller and Maples why their agencies do not use coercive interrogation: “Do you never interrogate people who have critical information?” Mueller responds: “Our protocol is not to use coercive techniques. That is our protocol. We have lived by it. And it is sufficient and appropriate for our mission here in the United States.… We believe in the appropriateness of our techniques to our mission here in the United States.” Maples adds: “The Army Field Manual guides our efforts and the efforts of the armed forces.… We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.” The field manual bans the use of coercion against detainees. [Think Progress, 2/7/2008] The same day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. [Independent, 2/12/2008] The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).
Entity Tags: Vincent Warren, US Department of Defense, Khallad bin Attash, Daniel Pearl, Clive Stafford Smith, John McCain, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Thomas Hartmann, Center for Constitutional Rights, Ramzi Yousef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush administration (43), Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), tells the House Judiciary Committee that the Bush administration routinely allowed the CIA to use interrogation tactics that were “quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,” as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture. One of those techniques, waterboarding, is legal and not torture, Bradbury says, because it is a “procedure subject to strict limitations and safeguards.” Those standards and limitations make waterboarding as used by the CIA substantially different from historical uses of the technique as it was employed during the Spanish Inquisition and by the Japanese during World War II. Bradbury, asked if waterboarding violates US and international laws against torture, says it does not. Waterboarding as practiced by the CIA bears “no resemblance” to what torturers in time past have done. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding,” Bradbury says. The “only thing in common is the use of water.” Spanish and Japanese water torture techniques “involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water.” When asked if he is aware of any “modern use” of waterboarding that involves the “lungs filling with water,” Bradbury says he is not. Bradbury says that the Japanese forced the ingestion of so much water that it was “beyond the capacity of the victim’s stomach.” Weight or pressure was then applied by standing or jumping on the stomach of the victim, sometimes leading to “blood coming of the victim’s mouth.” The Spanish Inquisition would use the technique to the point of “agony or death.” The CIA does not do that, Bradbury says. “Strict time limits” are involved—presumably governing the length of time that interrogators can induce the sensation of drowning. Additionally, “safeguards” and “restrictions” make waterboarding a much more controlled procedure. Together, waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is not torture. However, Bradbury admits that recent Supreme Court decisions have changed the OLC’s analysis, and says that in 2006 the CIA stopped using waterboarding. [TPM Muckraker, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
Bradbury's Comparison 'Obscene' - Bradbury claimed that no water entered the lungs of three al-Qaeda captives subjected to the practice; many believe that those captives had cellophane or cloth over their noses and mouths while waterboarded. Torture experts say that practice poses a serious risk of asphyxiation. Former OLC official Martin Lederman says he finds Bradbury’s testimony “chilling.” Lederman notes that “to say that this is not severe physical suffering—is not torture—is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse and that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding… is obscene.” Human rights experts have said that the CIA’s particular form of waterboarding is similar to those practiced by such regimes as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the French colonial government in Algeria, and the government of Myanmar (Burma). All three of those regimes have been criticized for brutality and flagrant human rights violations. [Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003), is considered for the position of chief of the CIA’s station in New York. Reporter Jeff Stein calls this an “astounding comeback, especially considering that Italy is planning a trial in absentia of the CIA employees implicated in the kidnapping, perhaps as early as this spring.” Because of the kidnap allegations, if Castelli attempted to enter a European country, he would be arrested. One of Stein’s sources comments on the posting under consideration, “Well, they can’t send him overseas because of the Milan thing.” [Congressional Quarterly, 2/15/2008] However, Castelli will not get the position, and will leave the agency this year. [Congressional Quarterly, 9/17/2009]
Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” [National Public Radio, 2/15/2008] Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” [Fox News, 2/17/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]
With the Protect America Act expiring amid warnings of imminent terror attacks from Bush administration officials and Congressional Republicans (see February 16, 2008 and February 15-17, 2008), most experts outside the administration say its expiration will have little effect on national security. Under the PAA, the government could wiretap domestic phones and computer systems without a warrant, but the legislation was considered a temporary stopgap measure to give Congress and the White House a chance to work together to create new, permanent regulations covering domestic surveillance. The government’s domestic wiretapping program now reverts to the procedures followed for 30 years under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires warrants from the FISA Court to engage in surveillance inside the US. Despite administration claims that the paperwork for those warrants is too cumbersome, many experts say that FISA gives the government the tools it needs to spy on terrorists. Timothy Lee from the conservative Cato Institute recalls that the last time FISA was revamped, after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush praised the overhaul, saying it “recognizes the realities and dangers posed by the modern terrorist.” Lee observes: “Those are the rules we’ll be living under after the Protect America Act expires this weekend. There’s no reason to think our nation will be in any more danger in 2008 than it was in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.” Ben Wittes of the centrist Brookings Institution says that because existing warrantless surveillance begun under the temporary laws could continue for up to a year, the “sky is not falling at all.” Wittes says he is “somewhat bewildered by the apocalyptic rhetoric” of the Bush administration. Many experts note that emergency FISA warrants can, and have, been granted in a matter of minutes, and government eavesdroppers have up to three days to wiretap a phone or computer and then retroactively acquire a warrant. But administration officials have a different view. White House press secretary Dana Perino says the PAA’s expiration “will harm our ability to conduct surveillance to detect new threats to our security, including the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad.” Perino says that the PAA “temporarily closed” a “dangerous intelligence gap.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls that warning “categorically false.” Hoyer continues: “In fact, a wide range of national security experts has made clear that the president and our intelligence community have all the tools they need to protect our nation, if the Protect America Act—temporary legislation passed last August—expires.… We believe the president’s rhetoric is inaccurate and divisive, and an attempt to stampede the House of Representatives to rubber-stamp legislation by stoking the fears of the American people. We will not be stampeded.” [Washington Times, 2/16/2008]
Moroccan police arrest 35 people for involvement in a radical militant group led by an informant for the Belgian government. Over the next several weeks, it will gradually be leaked to the media that the arrested leader of the group, Abdelkader Belliraj, has worked for Belgian intelligence and possibly the CIA since at least 2000 (see February 29, 2008). Belliraj holds both Belgian and Moroccan citizenship and is a Shiite. His unnamed group has both Shiite and Sunni Muslim links, and is linked to Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda as well as to traditional organized crime. Others arrested in Morocco with Belliraj include local politicians, businessmen, a police commander and Hezbollah television station correspondent. A large stockpile of weapons is found in police raids, including assault rifles, machine guns, and detonators. Two days after the raids, the small Islamist party al-Badil al-Hadari is officially dissolved after several of those arrested are found to have links to the party, including the party’s secretary general. The Moroccan government claims Belliraj’s group was planning a series of political assassinations in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]
New evidence emerges proving that, despite earlier denials, a senior press officer was closely involved in writing the British government’s September 2002 dossier that claimed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see September 24, 2002), a claim then known to be false. John Williams, then the director of communications at the Foreign Office, was granted access to secret intelligence as he helped prepare an early draft of the dossier (see September 10-11, 2002). Williams was a former political editor of the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper. According to a document that until now has been suppressed by the Foreign Office, Williams was given the same access to classified information as the primary author of the dossier, then-Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett. The Foreign Office document is only now being made available because an information tribunal reviewing pre-war intelligence ordered its release. Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the Williams document was not used as the basis for the “Scarlett dossier.” However, during the Hutton inquiry, Scarlett referred to the “considerable help” Williams had given him in writing the dossier. Additionally, Williams took part in Cabinet Office meetings on the dossier. The document refers to Iraq having missiles capable of “threatening NATO,” including Greece and Turkey, a claim repeated in the published dossier. It also states that there was “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” That phrase was used in all three drafts of the dossier, though it was well known by that time that the claims of Iraqi-African uranium deals were based on forged documents. Some of Williams’s more extravagant language was not used. His draft begins: “Iraq presents a uniquely dangerous threat to the world. No other country has twice launched wars of aggression against neighbours.” Someone else wrote in the margin: “Germany? US: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico.” William Hague, the Conservative Party’s shadow foreign secretary, says the Williams document is “further evidence that spin doctors, not intelligence analysts, were leading from the first in deciding what the British people were told about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” [Guardian, 2/19/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey pen a letter to Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that because the Democratically led Congress has allowed the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire (see February 16, 2008), the government is losing critically needed intelligence on potential terrorist threats. McConnell and Mukasey do not include any evidence of the claim in their letter. In the six days since the PAA expired, the two write, some of the government’s “partners” in intelligence operations—US telecommunications firms—have “reduced [their] cooperation” in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The two officials do not name which firms they say have cut back on their cooperation. The telecom firms are more reluctant to continue their cooperation with the government because they do not have retroactive legal immunity from civil and criminal charges for their cooperation in the past. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans allowed the PAA to expire rather than approve an extension of the law that did not include an immunity clause (see February 23, 2008). In their letter, McConnell and Mukasey claim that since the Protect America Act lapsed, telecom firms “have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.” They add, “Although most partners intend to cooperate for the time being, they have expressed deep misgivings about doing so in light of the uncertainty and have indicated that they may well cease to cooperate if the uncertainty persists.” McConnell and Mukasey write that if Congress does not extend immunity to the telecom firms, the firms will continue to be reluctant to cooperate with the surveillance program: “This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.” A day later, the two retract their claim (see February 23, 2008). Reyes and other Democrats have accused the administration of exaggerating the claims of threats to national security because of their refusal to grant the telecoms immunity; some have accused the administration of “fearmongering” and employing “scare tactics.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Politico, 2/22/2008]
Democrats Take 'Strong Offense' to Charges - In a joint statement, Reyes, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and other Democrats respond to McConnell and Mukasey’s letter: “Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008] Reyes says: “President Bush has just been spoiled dealing with the Republican-controlled Congress before. I take strong offense at the president’s comments that somehow we’re less safe because the Protect America Act expired.” [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Republicans Refuse to Discuss Legislation - Democratic staffers in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees meet today to discuss how to iron out difference between the two chambers’ version of the proposed extension of the PAA; Republican aides refuse to attend. [Associated Press, 2/23/2008] Democrats also charge that, contrary to administration claims of wanting to work with Congress to pass an acceptable update to the law, the White House has refused to supply lawmakers with documents they have requested pertaining to the extension. [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell write to Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, about their desire to see the Protect America Act renewed. In the letter, they mention the failure to exploit NSA intercepts of calls between the 9/11 hijackers in the US and al-Qaeda’s main global communications hub, which apparently had the potential to thwart the 9/11 plot (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). They write: “[O]ne of the September 11th hijackers communicated with a known overseas terrorist facility while he was living in the United States. Because that collection was conducted under Executive Order 12333, the intelligence community could not identify the domestic end of the communication prior to September 11, 2001, when it could have stopped that attack.” [US Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2/28/2008 ] Executive Order 12333 became law in 1981 and governed general activities by the US intelligence community. [US President, 12/4/1981] The order did allow the NSA to disseminate information about US persons to law enforcement officials in the event of an impending terrorist act. [US Congress: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, 4/12/2000] The letter does not give more detailed reasons why Mukasey and McConnell think the NSA could not have traced the calls and informed the FBI of the two hijackers’ presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)). [US Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2/28/2008 ] Similar incorrect statements have been made by numerous intelligence officials since December 2005, when the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program was revealed (see December 17, 2005).
The Bush administration says all major US telecommunications firms have agreed to cooperate “for the time being” with US intelligence agencies’ wiretapping, regardless of the recent expiration of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see February 16, 2008). According to a joint statement from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wiretaps will resume under the current law “at least for now.” The statement says in part, “Although our private partners are cooperating for the time being, they have expressed understandable misgivings about doing so in light of the ongoing uncertainty and have indicated they may well discontinue cooperation if the uncertainty persists.” Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said earlier that intelligence agencies have missed critical intelligence because of the expiration of the PAA, a claim they retracted hours later (see February 23, 2008). [Reuters, 2/23/2008]
A day after the director of national intelligence and the attorney general warned that the government is losing critical intelligence on terrorist activities because Congress had not reauthorized the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), the same two officials now admit that the government is receiving the same intelligence as it did before the PAA expired (see February 16, 2008 and February 22, 2008). Mike McConnell and Michael Mukasey now admit that the nation’s telecommunications firms are still cooperating with the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We learned last night after sending [the original] letter that… new surveillances under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act will resume, at least for now,” Mukasey and McConnell say in a statement. “We appreciate the willingness of our private partners to cooperate despite the uncertainty.” But in the same letter, McConnell and Mukasey contradict themselves, saying, “Unfortunately, the delay resulting from this discussion impaired our ability to cover foreign intelligence targets, which resulted in missed intelligence information.” No one in the White House will give specifics of what intelligence data may have been missed, or how serious it may have been. A Democratic Congressional official says he is skeptical that anything was missed because the law permits continued monitoring of terrorists and their associates regardless of the PAA’s expiration. “This is serious backpedaling by the DNI,” the Democratic official says of McConnell. “He’s been saying for the last week that the sky is falling, and the sky is not falling.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Fredrickson, whose organization is suing a number of telecoms for information about the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, says, “In an attempt to get sweeping powers to wiretap without warrants, Republicans are playing politics with domestic surveillance legislation.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2008]
President Bush again demands that Congress reinstate the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), with new provisions providing the nation’s telecommunications industry retroactive legal immunity from criminal and civil prosecution for possible crimes committed in the administration’s domestic wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006). Bush says that without such immunity, US telecom firms will be reluctant to help the administration spy on potential terrorists. The PAA is a central part of the legislative update of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978) which mandates that any wiretaps must receive the approval of the FISA Court. Bush insists that he will veto an update to FISA without the immunity provisions, even as he asserts the country is at risk of further terrorist attacks without the FISA updates, and after letting the PAA lapse without signing an extension of the legislation into law. However, Bush blames Congress for not passing the FISA update with an immunity clause: “Congress’ failure to pass this legislation was irresponsible,” he says. “In other words, the House’s refusal to act is undermining our ability to get cooperation from private companies. And that undermines our efforts to protect us from terrorist attack.” He explains why the Democrats don’t want his bill: “House leaders are blocking this legislation, and the reason can be summed up in three words: class action lawsuits.” A spokesman for Congressional Democrats retorts: “They cannot have it both ways. If it is true that the expiration of the [surveillance law] has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and Congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law.”
Democrats Put Trial Lawyers Before National Security? - Bush says: “The Senate bill would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from suing companies believed to have helped defend America after the 9/11 attacks. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages from these companies.… It is unfair and unjust to threaten these companies with financial ruin only because they are believed to have done the right thing and helped their country.” The lawsuits (see June 26, 2006) seek damages based upon violations of FISA, the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, among other laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause says neither money nor punishment is the issue: “Innocent Americans who have had their rights violated by the telecoms deserve their day in court. If these companies did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.” Bush is apparently attempting to refocus the issue as an attack on trial lawyers—traditionally a group supportive of Democrats—in saying: “Members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar—or they can empower the intelligence community. They can help class action trial lawyers sue for billions of dollars—or they can help our intelligence officials protect millions of lives. They can put our national security in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers—or they can entrust it to the men and women of our government who work day and night to keep us safe.” House member John Conyers (D-MI) calls such characterizations “irresponsible” and “inaccurate.” [CBS News, 2/23/2008]
Joseph Margulies. [Source: PBS]Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University, and lawyer George Brent Mickum write of their plans to meet with Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as part of his legal defense team. The lawyers write: “Zubaydah’s world became freezing rooms alternating with sweltering cells. Screaming noise replaced by endless silence. Blinding light followed by dark, underground chambers. Hours confined in contorted positions. And, as we recently learned, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding. We do not know what remains of his mind, and we will probably never know what he experienced.” What exactly the CIA did to Zubaida may never be determined, as the agency destroyed the videotapes of his interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Zubaida’s subsequent confessions to FBI agents are essentially meaningless, the lawyers assert, because his will and mind were already irrevocably broken by the time of the FBI interviews. The lawyers hope to piece together what Zubaida knew and what was done to him, although they are not confident they will be given the documentation necessary to find out what they want to know. They fear that, if they are not able to learn the truth of Zubaida’s participation with al-Qaeda and the interrogation methods he was subjected to, then in his and others’ cases, the truth will be “only what the administration reports it to be. We hope it has not come to that.” [Washington Post, 2/23/2008]
Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court. [Source: Associated Press / Mohammed al-Qadhi.]Jaber Elbaneh, an Islamist militant wanted by the US, comes out of hiding to appear in court in Yemen, but is not arrested. Elbaneh, a US citizen and whose family came from Yemen, had lived in Lackawanna, New York, before the 9/11 attacks. He went to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaeda training camp along with about six other men from Lackawanna, but while the others dropped out and returned to the US, Elbaneh never returned (see April-August 2001). He moved to Yemen. The Yemeni government says he also helped plan the 2002 attack on the oil tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast (see October 6, 2002). He was arrested there in 2004 after being charged in the US for attending the training camp. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February 2006, he and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives escaped from a high-security Yemeni prison (see February 3, 2006). The US offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Elbaneh was then implicated in a September 2006 bombing in Yemen that took place several days before national elections (see September 15, 2006). Some suggest the bombers may have colluded with the government to use the bombing to successfully help Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh win reelection. Elbaneh was convicted, but allowed to stay at home under a loose form of house arrest. Given the outstanding $5 million reward for him, Elbaneh appears to surprise everyone by appearing in court where his conviction in the 2006 bombing was being appealed. Furthermore, he gives a speech proclaiming his innocence. He says that after his prison escape, he surrendered directly to President Saleh in May 2007, who absolved him of any jail time. The New York Times comments: “Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding [Elbaneh] is his decision to appear in court… The Yemeni government has generally instructed the jihadists with whom it arranges amnesty to avoid the news media and keep low profiles. But Mr. Elbaneh deliberately spoke out in a public setting, with journalists present, and named the president in his brief tirade.” [Reuters, 2/27/2008; New York Times, 3/1/2008]
Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) pens a blistering op-ed for the conservative National Review that accuses House Democrats of allowing the Protect America Act to expire (PAA—see February 16, 2008) and thereby endangering the country by leaving it unprotected against terrorist attacks. This is the same argument President Bush and Republicans have advanced in recent days in favor of continued warrantless wiretapping (see February 23, 2008). Hoekstra calls the Democrats’ action “unprecedented irresponsibility.” The “burdensome paperwork, government lawyers, and court orders” that implementing wiretaps will now engender, Hoekstra writes, “could mean the difference in stopping a terrorist plot or saving the life of an American soldier.” Hoekstra quickly turns to another key agenda for reauthorizing the PAA—providing retroactive immunity from lawsuits for American telecommunications firms. He echoes the arguments of Bush and other officials such as Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (see February 22, 2008) by writing that without such immunity, “these companies obviously will be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future.” But Hoekstra takes the argument even farther, equating the Democrats’ refusal to reauthorize the PAA with their support from trial lawyers, who “have contributed more $1.5 million to Democrat coffers.” He then says that US intelligence agents will suffer because, he asserts, “many of [them] have been forced to take out professional liability insurance to protect them from the actions of the Democratic Congress.” Hoekstra claims that Democrats consistently favor working to investigate global warming over protecting the nation. [National Review, 2/25/2008] Hoekstra continues the attack the next day with a piece in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with his House colleague Lamar Smith (R-TX) and his Senate colleague Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO). The three open this column with the rhetorical question, “Are Americans as safe today as they were before Congress allowed the Protect America Act to expire on Feb. 16?” and answer it with much the same arguments that Hoekstra advanced the day before. “We are less safe today and will remain so until Congress clears up the legal uncertainty for companies that assist in collecting intelligence for the government—and until it gives explicit permission to our intelligence agencies to intercept, without a warrant, foreign communications that pass through the US,” they claim. They also echo the claim asserted by McConnell and Mukasey that the nation’s intelligence community has lost valuable intelligence because of the lapse in legislation—without acknowledging that McConnell and Mukasey withdrew that claim within hours (see February 23, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 2/26/2008]
The Washington Post reports that US intelligence has finally determined that Anwar al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was an imam at two different mosques attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, and he has been suspected of assisting the 9/11 plot. An anonymous US counterterrorism official tells the Post, “There is good reason to believe Anwar al-Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.” However, the US apparently did not ask Yemen to extradite him when he was arrested there in 2006, because there was no pending legal case against him. He continues to reside in Yemen and apparently still has not been charged with any crime. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] In December 2007, just two months before this article, the US approved the release of al-Awlaki in Yemen, apparently because there still was no pending legal case against him (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He also does not appear to be on any public wanted list.
A missile fired from a US Predator drone kills at least 12 people in Pakistan. The missile hits a house in the village of Kaloosha, near the Afghan border. Some suspected militants are reportedly killed, but details are scanty. [BBC, 3/16/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testifies before Congress that the security situation in Afghanistan is “deteriorating.” He estimates that the official Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai controls only about 30 percent of Afghanistan, while the Taliban controls 10 percent and the rest is controlled by various tribes and warlords. He says that the key to the Taliban’s success “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan.” Karzai’s government denies McConnell’s claims. However, various think tank reports echo McConnell’s conclusions. One report headed by former NATO commander Gen. James L. Jones concludes that “urgent changes” are immediately required to “prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state.” [Guardian, 2/29/2008]
Abdelkader Belliraj. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Belgian media reports that Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian-Moroccan citizen arrested in Morocco earlier in the month, is actually a long-time informant for Belgium’s internal security service, State Security. [Agence France-Presse, 2/29/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2008] The Belgian government initially denies the charges but soon tacitly admits them when the head of State Security, Alain Winants, complains about the leak of the “highly classified” status of Belliraj several days later. Agence France-Presse reports that although the “accusations were at first met with scepticism in Belgium, authorities now consider them credible.” Belliraj has been personally involved in armed robberies and murders dating back to the 1980s, and has links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamist militant groups. It remains unclear if Belliraj was committing all his crimes with the approval of Belgian officials or if he may have been duping them to some degree. One anonymous Belgian police official speculates: “How could he travel freely since the 1980s from Belgium to various terrorist hot-beds around the world? There are two possibilities: either he worked for a secret service or else the State Security is full of idiots.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/11/2008] On Belgian newspaper claims that at the same time he was a paid Belgian informant since 2000, “It’s almost certain that at the same time he worked for another foreign secret service, possibly the French DGSE or American CIA.” [Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Another major Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, claims that Belliraj had both French and US intelligence links while working with Belgium too. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/4/2008]
CIA Director Michael Hayden and his top aides are told about one aspect of an agency program to capture and assassinate al-Qaeda leaders. The program was proposed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and has been under development at the agency for years, although it has not yet become operational (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Details of what Hayden is told are unclear, although he is told about plans that involve gathering sensitive information in a foreign country. Hayden orders that the operation be scaled back and that Congress be notified if the plans become more fully developed. However, Congress is not informed before Hayden’s successor cancels the program (see June 23, 2009). [New York Times, 7/14/2009]
According to an unnamed scientist colleague of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, around this time FBI agents are pressuring Ivins in public places and also pressuring his children. At some point in March, when Ivins is at a shopping mall with his wife and son, FBI agents confronted him, saying, “You killed a bunch of people.” Then they turn to his wife and say, “Do you know he killed people?” That same week, Ivins angrily tells a former colleague that he suspects his therapist is cooperating with the FBI. [Washington Post, 8/6/2008] Such public pressuring of Ivins’s family members had begun by late autumn 2007 (see Late Autumn 2007).
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