Ex-CIA officer faces extradition from Portugal to Italy for alleged role in cleric’s rendition

The Washington Post reports: More than 13 years after an Egyptian cleric was kidnapped off the streets of Milan by CIA operatives, one former agency officer now living in Portugal faces extradition to Italy, where she was sentenced to four years in prison for the abduction.

Sabrina De Sousa, 60, was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia by Italian courts for her alleged role in the February 2003 rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

Like the other convicted Americans, De Sousa never really faced the threat of Italian imprisonment, because she had moved back to the United States long before the Italian trials began.

But last spring, De Sousa moved to Portugal to be near relatives. In the fall, she was detained by local authorities at the Lisbon airport on a European arrest warrant.

This week, Portugal’s highest court upheld the country’s lower courts’ rulings, declared that they did not violate the constitution, and said De Sousa should be sent to Italy as soon as May 4. Portugal’s Constitutional Court also reiterated a condition set by the lower courts — and guaranteed by Italy in De Sousa’s European arrest warrant — that once she arrives in Italy, she must be given another trial or a chance to appeal with new evidence, and the ability to call Italian and U.S. witnesses, because she had been tried in absentia. [Continue reading…]

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‘America treats us worse than animals’ — victims of Obama’s secret drone war speak out

The Guardian reports: Because US drone strikes are cloaked in secrecy, occur in remote or dangerous locales and target people presumed to be terrorists, Americans rarely hear from survivors or their relatives. But a theme emerges in interviews the Guardian has conducted with more than half a dozen drone survivors: the pain from the strike never ends, as the apparatus of secrecy renders closure unobtainable.

According to six people in Pakistan and Yemen who have lost their brothers, sons and grandparents to drone strikes, the strike lasts a moment and the consequences last a lifetime. Most of them have never told their stories to an American reporter. Some of them have theories about whom the US was targeting, while others are left guessing. The interviews were facilitated by the human rights group Reprieve and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights and conducted in translation.

The people are left impoverished, anguished and infuriated. Justice, let alone apologies, never arrive, even as a modest amount of blood money flows from the local governments. The United States, which styles itself a force for justice in the world, is to them the remote force that introduced death into their lives and treats them like they are subhuman, fit only to be targeted. At any moment, they fear, another drone could come for them.

The White House has said it will soon release of a tally of drone deaths. Relatives of the dead and survivors of the attacks expect little of it to include the truth, and doubt it will lead to the public apologies they desire – particularly since a senior aide to Barack Obama recently told the Atlantic that the president “has not had a second thought about drones”.

The CIA would not comment for this piece. An Obama administration official said: “It is certainly not the case that lives of a certain nationality are more valuable to us than those of any other. What is true, however, is that the president has said … that the American people need information to hold their government accountable. That is in part why we have been especially transparent when it comes to the deaths of US citizens.”

Nabila’s father, and Mamana’s son, Rafiq ur-Rehman, took a different view. “If America kills any westerner, one of their own, white people, they apologize and compensate. But if it’s Pakistanis like us, they don’t care. In my opinion, America treats us worse than animals.” [Continue reading…]

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Pratap Chatterjee: Inside the devastation of America’s drone wars

In our part of the world, it’s not often that potential “collateral damage” speaks, but it happened last week.  A Pakistani tribal leader, Malik Jalal, flew to England to plead in a newspaper piece he wrote and in media interviews to be taken off the Obama White House’s “kill list.”  (“I am in England this week because I decided that if Westerners wanted to kill me without bothering to come to speak with me first, perhaps I should come to speak to them instead.”)  Jalal, who lives in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, is a local leader and part of a peace committee sanctioned by the Pakistani government that is trying to tamp down the violence in the region.  He believes that he’s been targeted for assassination by Washington.  (Four drone missiles, he claims, have just missed him or his car.)  His family, he says, is traumatized by the drones.  “I don’t want to end up a ‘Bugsplat’ — the ugly word that is used for what remains of a human being after being blown up by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone,” he writes. “More importantly, I don’t want my family to become victims, or even to live with the droning engines overhead, knowing that at any moment they could be vaporized.” 

Normally, what “they” do to us, or our European counterparts (think: Brussels, Paris, or San Bernardino), preoccupies us 24/7.  What we do to “them” — and them turns out to be far more than groups of terrorists — seldom touches our world at all.  As TomDispatch readers know, this website has paid careful attention to the almost 300 wedding celebrants killed by U.S. air power between late 2001 and the end of 2013 — eight wedding parties eviscerated in three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen).  These are deaths that, unlike the 14 Americans murdered in San Bernardino, the 32 Belgians and others killed in Brussels, and the 130 French and others slaughtered in Paris, have caused not even a ripple here (though imagine for a second the reaction if even a single wedding, no less eight of them and hundreds of revelers, had been wiped out by a terror attack in the U.S. in these years).

Any sense of sadness or regret for Washington’s actions, when it comes to the many killed, wounded, or traumatized in its never-ending, implacable, and remarkably unsuccessful war on terror, is notable mainly for its absence from our world.  So it’s an extraordinary moment when any Americans — no less a group that has been deeply involved in prosecuting the drone war on terror — publicly expresses empathy for the “collateral damage” inflicted in that ongoing conflict.  That’s why TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee brings genuine news today from the heart of America’s drone wars, from those who should best be able to assess the grim reality of just what Washington has been doing in our name. Tom Engelhardt

Drone whistleblowers step out of the shadows
In Washington’s drone wars, collateral damage comes home
By Pratap Chatterjee

In a trio of recent action-packed movies, good guys watch terrorists mingling with innocent women and children via real-time video feeds from halfway across the world. A clock ticks and we, the audience, are let in on the secret that mayhem is going to break loose. After much agonized soul-searching about possible collateral damage, the good guys call in a missile strike from a U.S. drone to try to save the day by taking out a set of terrorists.

Such is the premise of Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky, Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill, and Rick Rosenthal’s Drones. In reality, in Washington’s drone wars neither the “good guys” nor the helpless, endangered villagers under those robotic aircraft actually survive the not-so secret drone war that the Obama administration has been waging relentlessly across the Greater Middle East — not, at least, without some kind of collateral damage.  In addition to those they kill, Washington’s drones turn out to wound (in ways both physical and psychological) their own operators and the populations who live under their constant surveillance. They leave behind very real victims with all-too-real damage, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder on opposite sides of the globe.

Sometimes I am so sad that my heart wants to explode,” an Afghan man says, speaking directly into the camera. “When your body is intact, your mind is different. You are content. But the moment you are wounded, your soul gets damaged. When your leg is torn off and your gait slows, it also burdens your spirit.” The speaker is an unnamed victim of a February 2010 drone strike in Uruzgan, Afghanistan, but he could just as easily be an Iraqi, a Pakistani, a Somali, or a Yemeni. He appears in National Bird, a haunting new documentary film by Sonia Kennebeck about the unexpected and largely unrecorded devastation Washington’s drone wars leave in their wake.  In it, the audience hears directly from both drone personnel and their victims.

[Read more…]

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U.S. ratchets up cyber attacks on ISIS

The Daily Beast reports: President Obama confirmed for the first time last week that the U.S. is conducting “cyber operations” against ISIS, in order to disrupt the group’s “command-and-control and communications.”

But the American military’s campaign of cyber attacks against ISIS is far more serious than what the president laid out in his bland description. Three U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that those operations have moved beyond mere disruption and are entering a new, more aggressive phase that is targeted at individuals and is gleaning intelligence that could help capture and kill more ISIS fighters.

As the U.S. ratchets up its online offensive against the terror group, U.S. military hackers are now breaking into the computers of individual ISIS fighters. Once inside the machines, these hackers are implanting viruses and malicious software that allow them to mine their devices for intelligence, such as names of members and their contacts, as well as insights into the group’s plans, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive operations.

One U.S. official told The Daily Beast that intelligence gleaned from hacking ISIS members was an important source for identifying key figures in the organization. In remarks at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia this week, Obama confirmed that cyber operations were underway and noted that recently the U.S. has either captured or killed several key ISIS figures, including Sulayman Dawud al-Bakkar, a leader of its chemical weapons program, and “Haji Iman,” the man purported to be ISIS’s second in command. [Continue reading…]

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Britain’s covert war in Yemen

Vice News reports: In a rural valley in southern Yemen lies Wadi Rafad, a collection of farms 50 miles from the provincial capital of Ataq. Amid an arid landscape dotted with lemon orchards and cornfields, villagers were used to the peace being disturbed by the buzzing of US drones flying overhead. But on the afternoon of May 6, 2012, something changed.

Around 4.30pm an aircraft came into view, its white fuselage clearly visible against the stark blue sky. Rather than overfly the valley, the CIA drone fired Hellfire missiles straight at Fahd al-Quso, who was working his land. He was killed instantly — but shrapnel from the blast also engulfed Nasser Salim Lakdim, a 19-year-old student who had just returned home to tend his family’s plantation. Nasser’s father came rushing back to the farm to find his son in pieces. “It was horrifying, I can barely describe it,” he told VICE News.

The strike was among the foremost successes of the US counterterrorism effort in Yemen. Al-Quso, its target, was a senior field commander in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He had participated in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and had threatened to attack American embassies.

It was also an example of successful cooperation between British and American intelligence agencies. The US had hunted al-Quso for half a decade, and the intelligence that led to this strike came from a British agent working for the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) — commonly known as MI6 — who had infiltrated AQAP.

Far from being a one-off tip, a VICE News investigation can exclusively reveal that this was a high point in systemic collaboration between SIS and the CIA to degrade AQAP through a combination of special forces operations and drone strikes.

A former senior CIA official responsible for operations in Yemen told VICE News that “the most important contribution” to the intelligence for the strike came from “a very important British capability.” The UK agent provided the CIA with al-Quso’s position, allowing a drone to track his car. “That was quite unique,” the former official explained, “it was something we didn’t have.”

The use of drones in Yemen has long been characterized as a unilateral US policy. In response to a 2014 parliamentary question on Britain’s role in the US drone program, UK Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hugh Robertson said: “Drone strikes against terrorist targets in Yemen are a matter for the Yemeni and US governments.”

However, following interviews with more than two dozen current and former British, American, and Yemeni officials, VICE News can reveal that the UK played a crucial and sustained role with the CIA in finding and fixing targets, assessing the effect of strikes, and training Yemeni intelligence agencies to locate and identify targets for the US drone program. The US-led covert war in Yemen, now in its 15th year, has killed up to 1,651 people, including up to 261 civilians, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. [Continue reading…]

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Cash, candy, and ‘collateral damage’: An anatomy of a CIA-MI6 drone assassination

Vice News reports: “I was on my way to play football with my friends when the airstrike hit,” Amin Ali al-Wisabi told VICE News, recounting the day when a CIA drone struck his hometown of Azzan in Yemen. “We had stopped to sit down and plan the match when all of a sudden an explosion hit a passing al-Qaeda car.”

Recovering from his shock, 13-year-old Amin realized he had been hit by shrapnel. “Blood was pouring from my leg.”

Next to Amin, his friend Hamza Khaled Baziyad lay unconscious. In total, five children aged between 10 and 14 were injured as they gathered close to the local mosque.

Though the number of people injured in covert US strikes is not officially recorded, they play a crucial role in the struggle for hearts and minds across Yemen’s southern hinterland. Bystanders and family rushed the children to a local clinic, where Hamza awoke while shrapnel was extracted from his chest. All of the children survived. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. readies ‘Plan B’ to arm Syria rebels

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Central Intelligence Agency and its regional partners have drawn up plans to supply more-powerful weapons to moderate rebels in Syria fighting the Russia-backed regime in the event the country’s six-week-old truce collapses, according to U.S. and other officials.

The preparations for a so-called Plan B center on providing vetted rebel units with weapons systems that would help them in directing attacks against Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions, the officials said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that President Barack Obama’s top military and intelligence advisers were pressing the White House to come up with a Plan B to counter Russia in Syria. Since then, fresh details have emerged on the nature of the new weaponry that could be deployed under the covert program.

The preparations were discussed at a secret meeting of spy chiefs in the Middle East just before the cease-fire took effect on Feb. 27 and in follow-on exchanges between intelligence services.

In those meetings, officials briefed on the deliberations said, coalition members received provisional assurances from the CIA that they would be given approval to expand support to Syria’s moderate opposition. Coalition members have agreed on the outlines of Plan B, but the White House must still approve the list of specific Plan B weapons systems before they can be introduced to the battlefield. [Continue reading…]

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The covert roots of the Panama Papers

Steven Cohen writes: It should come as no surprise that the CIA’s finances are a secret. One of the rare glimpses into the agency’s funding came when Edward Snowden leaked a copy of the intelligence “black budget” to The Washington Post in 2013. But if history is any indication, the CIA may well have resources that don’t appear on any congressional document, highly classified or otherwise. Covert operations, by their very nature, often require access to off-the-books funding. The CIA’s first operation was paid for with funds seized from the Nazis, and in the years since, the agency has been notoriously creative about how it obtains its money.

Adnan Khashoggi would know. A “principal foreign agent” of the United States, as one Senate report referred to him, the billionaire playboy made a fortune (more than $100 million between 1970 and 1975 alone) from commissions negotiating arms deals with his native Saudi Arabia. He used these windfalls, in turn, to cultivate political clout—including, allegedly, with President Richard Nixon. In the aftermath of Watergate, when Congress began reining in the CIA, Khashoggi helped establish the supranational intelligence partnership known as the Safari Club. Soon after, he aided the CIA in circumventing another congressional impediment. With money borrowed from the Saudi and U.S. intelligence-linked Bank of Credit and Commerce International, he financed the illegal arms sales that set off the Iran-Contra scandal.

One way Khashoggi structured his shadowy holdings during his heyday was through the specialized services of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm that is in the news for having helped global luminaries like Vladimir Putin hide their money. Thanks to a recent report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, we now know Khashoggi to be among a number of former spies and CIA associates implicated by the 2.6 terabytes of offshore financial documents provided to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung last summer.

That his name should appear in an international dark money scandal suggests something about the nature of tax havens that much of the media’s coverage has thus far avoided grappling with. The Panama Papers have largely been presented as an unprecedented insight into how global elites hide their fortunes from tax collectors and other regulators. But they also underscore how tax havens are used by covert agencies and other shadowy players to launder dirty money, a practice that has a long history in which Panama, in particular, has played a notable part. [Continue reading…]

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Afghan spy agency arms villagers to hold off ISIS

The Wall Street Journal reports: n Afghan spy agency is recruiting villagers for militias to hold back Islamic State fighters seeking to expand their foothold in this opium heartland in eastern Afghanistan.

The program, which one top official says the government hopes to roll out across the country and may later use against the Taliban, is President Ashraf Ghani ’s riskiest attempt to defend rural villages—and also a part of his much larger counterinsurgency strategy.

The government has closely guarded the program, and news of it essentially hasn’t been reported since its establishment in August 2015. Details of the program came from Afghan government officials, local village leaders and Western officials who have been monitoring its progress.

The militia groups that are part of the pilot project, known as the People’s Uprising Program, are being called on to hold territory the army has recaptured from Islamic State in three districts.

More than a thousand men, mostly village farmers who turned against the extremist group’s harsh rule in areas it seized in the past year, are on the payroll of the spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, which receives funding from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. So far, the militias in Kot, with the backing of the army and police, have repelled six Islamic State attacks. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-CIA director Michael Hayden on torture and drones

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A CIA grunt’s tale of the fog of secret war

The New York Times reports: In Douglas Laux’s final days as a C.I.A. officer, the futility of his mission prompted him to quote George Orwell to his boss.

Mr. Laux had spent months in 2012 working with various Middle Eastern nations that were trying to ship arms to Syria to help disparate rebel groups there. But it had become clear to him that the C.I.A had little ability to control the squabbling and backstabbing among the Saudis, Qataris and other Arabs.

He told a senior C.I.A. officer he felt like Winston Smith, the character in “1984” known for his fatalism, because he was carrying out his work without comprehending the politics and competing agendas thwarting progress in aiding the rebellion. “I understand the how,” Mr. Laux said, paraphrasing one of Smith’s famous lines. “I do not understand the why.”

It is a sentiment that might sum up much of Mr. Laux’s career at the C.I.A., an organization he served for eight years as an undercover case officer and soldier in the agency’s shadowy conflicts overseas. His career at the agency began with a tour at a remote firebase in southern Afghanistan and ended with a spot on the agency’s Syria Task Force — a life in war zones that is emblematic of the lives of a large cadre of American spies who joined the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He left the agency three years ago, but is speaking publicly about his experiences there for the first time in conjunction with the release of a memoir. [Continue reading…]

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CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria

The Los Angeles Times reports: Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter 5-year-old civil war.

The fighting has intensified over the past two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other as they have maneuvered through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.

In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.

“Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it,” said Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan al Haq.

Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud. [Continue reading…]

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The Dark Prison: Legacy of the CIA torture programme

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The CIA just declassified the document that supposedly justified the Iraq invasion

Jason Leopold reports: Thirteen years ago, the intelligence community concluded in a 93-page classified document used to justify the invasion of Iraq that it lacked “specific information” on “many key aspects” of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs.

But that’s not what top Bush administration officials said during their campaign to sell the war to the American public. Those officials, citing the same classified document, asserted with no uncertainty that Iraq was actively pursuing nuclear weapons, concealing a vast chemical and biological weapons arsenal, and posing an immediate and grave threat to US national security.

Congress eventually concluded that the Bush administration had “overstated” its dire warnings about the Iraqi threat, and that the administration’s claims about Iraq’s WMD program were “not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting.” But that underlying intelligence reporting — contained in the so-called National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to justify the invasion — has remained shrouded in mystery until now. [Continue reading…]

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Limit the next president’s power to wage drone warfare

Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman write: When Barack Obama took office as the reluctant heir to George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” he renounced some of his predecessor’s most extreme policies. There is one Bush-era policy, though, that President Obama made emphatically his own: the summary killing of suspected militants and terrorists, usually by drone.

In less than a year, the president will bequeath this policy, and the sweeping legal claims that underlie it, to someone who may see the world very differently from him. Before that happens, he should bring the drone campaign out of the shadows and do what he can to constrain the power he unleashed.

President Bush started the drone wars, but Mr. Obama vastly expanded them. Almost entirely on his watch, United States strikes have killed as many as 5,000 people, possibly 1,000 of them civilians. The president approved strikes in places far from combat zones. He authorized the C.I.A. to carry out “signature strikes” aimed at people whose identities the agency did not know but whose activities supposedly suggested militancy. He approved the deliberate killing of an American, Anwar al-Awlaki.

The president also oversaw an aggressive effort to control the public narrative about drone strikes. Even as senior officials selectively disclosed information to the news media, his administration resisted Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, arguing that national security would be harmed if the government confirmed drone strikes were taking place. [Continue reading…]

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