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The White House protests about a sub-heading in a New York Times story on the destruction of CIA videotapes showing detainee interrogations, and the New York Times admits the subheading was misleading and prints a correction. The subheading is “White House role was wider than it said” (in discussions about what to do with the tapes), but White House spokesperson Dana Perino complains. She issues a statement saying that the subheading is “pernicious and troubling,” as it indicates a conscious effort to mislead by the White House, which has not actually yet officially described its role in the tapes’ destruction except to say that President Bush thinks he was not informed. Even though it corrects the subheading, the paper notes that the White House “had not challenged the content of our story.” [New York Times, 12/19/2007; New York Times, 12/20/2007; Washington Post, 12/20/2007]
Roy Greenslade, a media commentator with The Guardian, wonders why the US media is ignoring revelations by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, who says that there are links between US officials and the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring (see January 6, 2008 and After). Greenslade also quotes former Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg: “For the second time in two weeks, the entire US press has let itself be scooped by Rupert Murdoch’s London Sunday Times on a dynamite story of criminal activities by corrupt US officials promoting nuclear proliferation. But there is a worse journalistic sin than being scooped, and that is participating in a cover-up of information that demands urgent attention from the public, the US Congress and the courts.” Greenslade calls it a “very hot story” and “world exclusive,” and says it “should surely have been taken up by mainstream newspapers in the United States.” [Guardian, 1/22/2008] One of the few US media outlets that picks up the story initially is Fox News, which reports on one of the claims made in the Sunday Times—that the FBI has denied it has a file on the nuclear smuggling case in response to a Freedom of Information Act, whereas Edmonds says it does have the file, as does a document signed by an FBI official that has been obtained by the Sunday Times (see January 20, 2008). [Fox News, 1/20/2008] The Dallas Morning News will also reprint a section of an article about Edmonds in February. The article was originally written for the American Conservative Magazine by former CIA officer Philip Giraldi. [Dallas Morning News, 2/17/2008]
The Washington Post publishes a front page story promoting the myth that al-Qaeda has never been effectively penetrated by intelligence agencies. The article by Craig Whitlock is titled After a Decade at War With West, Al-Qaeda Still Impervious to Spies. It states that “al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan and Afghanistan has so far proved impervious to damaging leaks.” It quotes Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who says that from 1992 until November 2004 (when he left the CIA), “[the CIA] worked side by side with the Egyptians, the Jordanians—the very best Arab intelligence services—and they didn’t recruit a single person who could report on al-Qaeda.” The article seems to be a reaction to the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, which was publicly exposed several weeks earlier, when Belliraj was arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). The article notes that Belliraj was a Belgian government informant and important Islamist militant leader who had al-Qaeda links for years and met with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan (see 2001). Belliraj’s case seemingly undercuts the thrust of the article, but the rest of the article mostly quotes a series of anonymous intelligence officials who say penetrating al-Qaeda would be next to impossible. [Washington Post, 3/20/2008] Whitlock’s article ignores numerous reports that al-Qaeda has repeatedly been penetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For instance:
In 2002, US News and World Report reported, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official said: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising” (see September 22, 2002).
In 2004, author Ronald Kessler wrote, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” He quoted a longtime CIA officer who said, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t” (see Before September 11, 2001).
In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind reported that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He also noted that other informants had been recruited since 9/11, and commented, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true” (see Late 2002).
In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan by 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). He also claimed that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” sharing information with the CIA penetrated al-Qaeda, and some of them penetrated al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In February 2008, the New York Times reported that French intelligence had an informant that penetrated al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region (see Late January 2008).
ABC hires John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who gave the network an exclusive interview about waterboarding in late 2007 (see December 10, 2007), as a paid consultant. ABC journalist Brian Ross will say that network officials were concerned about the appearance of a tie between the interview and the job. For that reason, “I felt that we should sort of wait,” he will say. “I didn’t want anyone to think that he was promised something for the interview. He was not.” Kiriakou remains with ABC for eight months, before leaving for the Council on Foreign Relations. Shortly after his departure, the press learns that one of the key claims he made in the interview was false (see April 28, 2009). [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
In the face of pressure after the death of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, ABC News responds to criticism of its false stories in October 2001 linking the anthrax attacks to Iraq (see October 26-November 1, 2001). ABC News, particularly its reporter Brian Ross, repeatedly pushed a story claiming that initial analysis of the anthrax used in the attacks showed that it contained bentonite, and that this was a signature of anthrax used by the Iraqi government. In fact, no tests ever showed any signs of bentonite in the anthrax, and bentonite was not a signature of Iraqi anthrax in any case (see October 26-November 1, 2001). Ross responds to questions about his reporting, but to the obscure media outlet TVNewser instead of on ABC News itself. He says: “In the end, you’re only as good as your sources. My sources were good, we just got information that became outdated before they could update. My point of view is viewers of World News knew early that week we had been wrong to say bentonite.” In 2001, Ross claimed his story was backed by four independent sources. Now, he reveals, “Our sources were current and former government scientists who were all involved in analyzing the substance in the letter.” But he says that anthrax suspect Ivins was not one of those sources: “No he was not. If it was Ivins, I would report that in a second.” He continues to maintain that ABC News was not lied to and initial tests had simply given a mistaken result, confusing bentonite for silica. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008]
On August 8, 2008, the Washington Post prints an FBI leak that on September 17, 2001, anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins took administrative leave from his job at USAMRIID (the US Army’s top biological laboratory) in the morning and did not return to a work appointment until about 4 or 5 p.m. later that day. USAMRIID, in Frederick, Maryland, is about three hours away from the Princeton, New Jersey, mailbox where the first batch of anthrax letters are mailed that day. This would give him just enough time to drive to Princeton and then quickly return. The Post says that “government sources” believe “the gap recorded on his time sheet [offers] investigators a key clue into how he could have pulled off” the anthrax attacks. [Washington Post, 8/8/2008]
Debunked - However, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald soon points out, “But almost immediately after the FBI leaked this theory as to when and how Ivins traveled to New Jersey undetected, it was pointed out in several online venues… that this timeline made no sense whatsoever—that, indeed, the FBI’s own theories were self-contradictory.” In other recently released documents, the FBI defines the “window of opportunity” for mailing that batch of letters as beginning on September 17 at 5 p.m. and ending sometime on September 18, because the last mail pick up is at 5 p.m. and the letters in question have a September 18 postmark. Ivins could not have traveled by day to Princeton and posted the letters after 5 p.m. if he was already back in his Maryland office by 5 p.m. [Salon, 8/18/2008]
FBI Changes Claim - On August 14, 2008, the FBI completely changes its claim. The Post reports: “[G]overnment sources offered more detail about Ivins’s movements on a critical day in the case: when letters were dropped into the postal box on Princeton’s Nassau Street… Investigators now believe that Ivins waited until evening to make the drive to Princeton on Sept. 17, 2001. He showed up at work that day and stayed briefly, then took several hours of administrative leave from the lab, according to partial work logs. Based on information from receipts and interviews, authorities say Ivins filled up his car’s gas tank, attended a meeting outside of the office in the late afternoon, and returned to the lab for a few minutes that evening before moving off the radar screen and presumably driving overnight to Princeton. The letters were postmarked Sept. 18.” [Washington Post, 8/14/2008]
Criticism of FBI - Greenwald comments several days later, “That the FBI is still, to this day, radically changing its story on such a vital issue—namely, how and when Bruce Ivins traveled to New Jersey, twice, without detection and mailed the anthrax letters—is a testament to how precarious the FBI’s case is.… [T]heir own theory as to how and when he sent the letters was squarely negated by their own claims, and so they had to re-leak their theory to the Post once that glaring deficiency, which they apparently overlooked, was pointed out on-line. This isn’t some side issue or small, obscure detail. Being able to link an accused to the scene of the crime is the centerpiece of any case.”
Criticism of Washington Post - Greenwald is also critical of the Post, noting that one Post journalist, Carrie Johnson, wrote or co-wrote the two articles, and yet failed to note the second article presented “a brand new theory that contradicted the one she mindlessly passed on from the FBI the week before.… To the contrary, in touting the FBI’s brand new theory, Johnson wrote that ‘government sources offered more detail about Ivins’s movements on a critical day in the case’—as though the FBI’s abandonment of its prior claim in favor of a new one comprised ‘more detail.’ The FBI didn’t offer ‘more detail’; it offered completely ‘new detail’ because the last ‘detail’ they leaked to Johnson was almost instantaneously disproven…” [Salon, 8/18/2008]
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof apologizes to Steven Hatfill, the person he suggested could be responsible for the anthrax attacks in a series of 2002 columns (see May 24-August 13, 2002): “I owe an apology to Dr. Hatfill. In retrospect, I was right to prod the FBI and to urge tighter scrutiny of Fort Detrick, but the job of the news media is supposed to be to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Instead, I managed to afflict the afflicted.” He points out that Hatfill sued him and the Times, but the suit was eventually dismissed. “[Y]et even if I don’t have a legal obligation, I do feel a moral one to express regret for any added distress from my columns.” Kristof also comments on the FBI’s recent allegation that Bruce Ivins was responsible for the anthrax attacks: “Some of [Ivins’s] friends and family are convinced of his innocence and believe the FBI hounded him to death. And the evidence against him, while interesting, is circumstantial. Shouldn’t a presumption of innocence continue when a person is dead and can no longer defend himself?” [New York Times, 8/27/2008]
Following the release of a set of Bush administration memos about torture (see April 16, 2009) and the discovery that militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times in one month (see April 18, 2009), some commentators recall comments made by former CIA officer John Kiriakou.
Kiriakou's Media Blitz - In late 2007, shortly after the CIA admitted destroying videos of Zubaida (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), Kiriakou toured media outlets, saying that Zubaida had only been waterboarded once (see December 10, 2007 and December 11, 2007). New York Times reporter Brian Stelter writes the most comprehensive treatment of Kiriakou’s “media blitz,” in an article entitled “How ‘07 ABC Interview Tilted a Torture Debate.” He points out that Kiriakou’s claim of only one waterboarding was “repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs, and newspapers” and “quickly ricocheted around the media.” This despite the fact that Kiriakou was not present at the black site where Zubaida was interrogated, and only learned of his treatment from reading accounts from the field. This injected the claim of one waterboarding into the public debate without the CIA having to make it itself. When asked about the false claim, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano replies: “This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren’t misled from here.”
Waterboarding Was Necessary - In addition, Kiriakou said that at the time it did produce results and he had thought it was necessary then, statements that were repeated and amplified around the media. The net effect of his interjection in the debate was to make the torture seem much less harsh than it really was, diverting criticism away from the CIA. [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
CIA Media Plant? - Numerous other commentators will make similar points. For example, in a piece entitled “John Kiriakou: CIA Media Plant?” Foreign Policy magazine commentator Annie Lowery says: “It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou—telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television—was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It’s an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.” [Foreign Policy, 4/28/2009]
Kiriakou Admits He Was Wrong - In 2010, Kiriakou will publish a book and in it he will mention in passing that his earlier claims were wrong. He did not take part in Zubaida’s interrogation and he was wrong about Zubaida being only waterboarded one time, and about him freely confessing afterwards. He will claim that he was a dupe used by the CIA to promote disinformation, writing, “In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.” [Foreign Policy, 1/26/2010]
Testimony by Patrick F. Kennedy, an under secretary for management at the State Department, before the House Committee on Homeland Security confirms that US intelligence officials prevented the State Department from revoking the US visa of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The 23-year-old Nigerian student, whom US intelligence believed was working with the Yemeni arm of al-Qaeda, attempted to set off a bomb on Northwest Flight 253 into Detroit on December 25, 2009 (see December 25, 2009). Kennedy informs the committee’s chairman, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS): “We will revoke the visa of any individual who is a threat to the United States, but we do take one preliminary step. We ask our law enforcement and intelligence community partners, ‘Do you have eyes on this person and do you want us to let this person proceed under your surveillance so that you may potentially break a larger plot?’ And one of the members—and we’d be glad to give you that out of—in private—said: ‘Please do not revoke this visa. We have eyes on this person. We are following this person who has the visa for the purpose of trying to roll up an entire network, not just stop one person.’” With the exception of a story appearing in the Detroit News, this revelation will go unreported in mainstream news media outlets. [US Congress. House. Committee on Homeland Security, 1/27/2010; Detroit News, 1/27/2010]
Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL), speaking on MSNBC’s The Ed Show to host Ed Schultz, criticizes former President Bush while discussing a current controversy regarding a combined mosque and Islamic community center being built near the ruins of the World Trade Center. Grayson says: “If we are going to talk about 9/11, why don’t we talk about how not so much the people who died on 9/11 were disgraced by the possibility of an Islamic athletic center several blocks away; how about the fact that they were disgraced by a president who let it happen? Who went on vacation for the entire month of August after he was warned in writing that Osama bin Laden was actually finding targets in NYC and learning how to take these planes and do terrible things with them? The [warning] itself said ‘hijacking’ and they did nothing about it” (See August 6, 2001, (August 4-5, 2001), and Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). [Raw Story, 8/21/2010]
The domain name JulianAssangeMustDie.com, referencing Wikileaks leader Julian Assange, is registered, apparently by right-wing US blogger Melissa Clouthier. A few days after the domain name becomes news, it is deleted. [The Nation, 1/10/2011]
Umar Patek with the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines, 2007. [Source: Associated Press]The Associated Press makes public for the first time the arrest of an Indonesian militant named Umar Patek in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on January 25, 2011. It will later turn out that Osama bin Laden is in hiding in Abbottabad at this time, and Patek may have been there to meet with him (see January 25, 2011). The Associated Press claims that the information was provided by Indonesian and Philippine intelligence officials one day earlier, and then it was confirmed by Pakistani officials before publication. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011] News reports two weeks later even reveal that an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” and Abbottabad resident named Tahir Shehzad was arrested as well, after he gave up Patek’s location. Plus, it is reported that Shehzad had been monitored by Pakistani intelligence for a year before that. [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; Associated Press, 4/14/2011]
Who Is to Blame? - Bin Laden does not immediately move from Abbottabad after these reports come out. After he is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the Pakistani government will register displeasure that Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed the information about the arrest on March 30. But Rudd’s confirmation comes after the Associated Press article has been published. A Pakistani official will say that an attempt was made to keep the arrest a secret for fear that “subsequent leads would all go dead.”
No Reaction from Bin Laden? - The Australian will later note, “Many security experts have… expressed surprise that the leaking of Patek’s arrest in Abbottabad did not trigger alarm bells in the bin Laden compound and prompt [bin Laden] to flee the area.” [Australian, 5/6/2011]
The non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks releases documents that may inadvertently speed up the timing of the US effort to raid Osama bin Laden’s hideout. WikiLeaks releases secret military dossiers on about 750 prisoners held at the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba (see April 24, 2011). These documents cover nearly every prisoner held at Guantanamo since the prison opened there in 2002. All the dossiers are published in full and are easily accessible on well known websites, including those of the New York Times, The Guardian, and WikiLeaks. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Mentions of Ahmed - Numerous dossiers mention “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti,” or some variant on that name. This will later be revealed as a commonly used alias for Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, a trusted courier for bin Laden. In the dossiers, Ahmed is seen as an important al-Qaeda figure and a courier for important al-Qaeda leaders. [Express Tribune, 5/4/2011]
Mentions of Abbottabad - Even more crucially, the dossiers reveal al-Qaeda activity in Abbottabad, the Pakistan town where bin Laden is hiding at this time. For instance, the dossier on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi states: “In July 2003, al-Libbi received a letter from Osama bin Laden’s designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organizing travel, and distributing funds to families in Pakistan.… In mid-2003, al-Libbi moved his family to Abbottabad, and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar.” [Daily Mail, 5/3/2011]
Data in the Dossiers Lead to Bin Laden - In fact, the courier mentioned as “Jan” appears to be Ahmed. “Jan” was a name al-Libbi made up in his interrogations in order to protect Ahmed. US intelligence had figured this out by late 2005. US analysts were able to use information on Ahmed from the interrogation of al-Libbi and other Guantanamo prisoners to find the exact location of bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout in 2010 (see August-September 2010). Bin Laden will be killed by a US Special Forces raid on his hideout on May 2, 2011, eight days after the dossiers are made public (see May 2, 2011).
Influence on Raid Timing or Not? - The Daily Mail will later suggest: “WikiLeaks may have triggered the killing of Osama bin Laden.… [S]pecial Forces stormed his fortress only days after the website published new secret documents.” [Daily Mail, 5/3/2011] Time magazine will say that according to an aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), “Though there may have been a reference to the compound in one of WikiLeaks’ classified document dumps, there wasn’t a serious concern that the information had become widely known through that source.” [Time, 5/3/2011] Plans for the raid were already well developed before the Wikileaks release (see for instance March 14, 2011). President Obama gives the final okay for the raid on April 29, four days after the release (see April 29, 2011).
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