Ryan Lizza writes: On March 12, 2013, James R. Clapper appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss the threats facing America. Clapper, who is seventy-two, is a retired Air Force general and Barack Obama’s director of National Intelligence, in charge of overseeing the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and fourteen other U.S. spy agencies. Clapper is bald, with a gray goatee and rimless spectacles, and his affect is intimidatingly bureaucratic. The fifteen-member Intelligence Committee was created in the nineteen-seventies, after a series of investigations revealed that the N.S.A. and the C.I.A. had, for years, been illegally spying on Americans. The panel’s mission is to conduct “vigilant legislative oversight” of the intelligence community, but more often it treats senior intelligence officials like matinée idols. As the senators took turns at the microphone, greeting Clapper with anodyne statements and inquiries, he obligingly led them on a tour of the dangers posed by homegrown extremists, far-flung terrorist groups, and emerging nuclear powers.
“This hearing is really a unique opportunity to inform the American public to the extent we can about the threats we face as a nation, and worldwide,” Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the committee’s chairman, said at one point. She asked committee members to “refrain from asking questions here that have classified answers.” Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, asked about the lessons of the terrorist attack in Benghazi. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, asked about the dangers of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Toward the end of the hearing, Feinstein turned to Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, also a Democrat, who had a final question. The two senators have been friends. Feinstein held a baby shower for Wyden and his wife, Nancy Bass, before the birth of twins, in 2007. But, since then, their increasingly divergent views on intelligence policy have strained the relationship. “This is an issue where we just have a difference of opinion,” Wyden told me. Feinstein often uses the committee to bolster the tools that spy agencies say they need to protect the country, and Wyden has been increasingly concerned about privacy rights. For almost a decade, he has been trying to force intelligence officials like Clapper to be more forthcoming about spy programs that gather information about Americans who have no connection to terrorism.
Wyden had an uneasy kind of vindication in June, three months after Clapper’s appearance, when Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the N.S.A., leaked pages and pages of classified N.S.A. documents. They showed that, for the past twelve years, the agency has been running programs that secretly collect detailed information about the phone and Internet usage of Americans. The programs have been plagued by compliance issues, and the legal arguments justifying the surveillance regime have been kept from view. Wyden has long been aware of the programs and of the agency’s appalling compliance record, and has tried everything short of disclosing classified information to warn the public. At the March panel, he looked down at Clapper as if he were about to eat a long-delayed meal. [Continue reading...]
[Note from Tom Engelhardt: A death can feel like an archive closing forever on some aspect of your life. Such is the case for me with the death of Andre Schiffrin. If you’ll all excuse me, I want to note his passing briefly here:
This won’t mean much to most of you, but Andre, publisher of Pantheon Books and my boss for 15 years, the person who, in 1976, hired me when there was really no obvious reason to do so and, more than anyone else, let me become what I am today, died last weekend. It’s a moment of genuine sadness for me, an indication that an era -- my own in many ways, though he was nine years older than me -- has ended. The world of books is unimaginable (to me) without him. Without him, Studs Terkel might never have done his oral histories and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the “first graphic novel,” might never have been published. (He let me do Spiegelman’s masterpiece when, in embryonic form, it had been turned down by every major publishing house in New York.)
I first spent time with Andre in 1971 after I had published an essay, “Ambush at Kamikaze Pass,” in the single most obscure journal on the planet, The Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. He nonetheless read it and invited me to lunch to urge me to turn it into a book, something I couldn’t faintly imagine doing at the time. I did, however, finally come to agree with him and wrote that book, which was published in 1995 as The End of Victory Culture. In other words, with my project as with so much else in the world of books, he was a man almost 25 years ahead of his time.
Ariel Dorfman, a writer whose work I published early on in my tenure at Pantheon, wrote me this after Andre’s death: “His existence changed our lives, just by giving you free rein at Pantheon to believe in a young exiled writer.” He couldn’t have been more on the mark. â€¨Andre’s New York Times obituary offered the gist of his life and the sense that he was a great one. It missed, however, his risk-taking nature and his radical view of what might matter to our world. It also provided a less than satisfactory account of how the right-wing owner of the conglomerate that housed Pantheon made use of a politically inauspicious time for a small left-wing publishing outfit to push him out of his job (after which we, his loyal editors and employees, quit in protest). Still, no complaints here. The world and the man that made me are both history. What more is there to say at the moment?]
Someone should launch a feature somewhere on American foreign and war policy under the rubric: How could anything possibly go wrong? Here are just two recent examples.
The Obama administration intervenes militarily in Libya, plays a significant role in overthrowing the autocrat who runs the country as a police state, and helps unleash chaos in its wake. The streets of Libyan cities fill with militias as the new government’s control of the situation fades to next to nil. Which brings us to our present moment, when a panicky Washington decides that what’s needed is yet another, different kind of intervention. The plan seems to be to compete with various local and Islamic militias by creating a government militia as the core of a new “national army.” Its members are to be drawn from already existing militias and they’ll be trained somewhere outside of Libya. What an idea! Honestly, what could possibly go wrong?
Or consider this: Washington begins to panic about heightening tensions between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The problem, reports David Sanger of the New York Times, based on what Obama administration officials have told him, is that the conflict could escalate and so “derail their complex plan to manage China’s rise without overtly trying to contain it.” Now, let’s get this straight: before things began to run off the rails in the East China Sea, the Obama administration was confidently planning to “manage” the rise of the next superpower on a planet already in such tumult that what being a new great power might even mean is open to question. And keep in mind that we’re talking about an administration that couldn’t manage the rollout of a website. What could possibly go wrong?
Both examples highlight the strange combination of hubris and panic that, as TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee points out today, seems to be the essence of so many of Washington’s plans and actions at the moment. The urge to “manage” is invariably followed by shock at the unmanageability of this roiling globe of ours, followed by panic over plans gone desperately awry when things begin, utterly predictably, to happen unpredictably, followed of course by the next set of managerial plans. Is there no learning curve in Washington? Tom Engelhardt
Hollywood without the happy ending
How the CIA bungled the war on terror
By Pratap Chatterjee
Call it the Jason Bourne strategy.
Think of it as the CIA’s plunge into Hollywood — or into the absurd. As recent revelations have made clear, that Agency’s moves couldn’t be have been more far-fetched or more real. In its post-9/11 global shadow war, it has employed both private contractors and some of the world’s most notorious prisoners in ways that leave the latest episode of the Bourne films in the dust: hired gunmen trained to kill as well as former inmates who cashed in on the notoriety of having worn an orange jumpsuit in the world’s most infamous jail.
The Guardian reports: Lawyers for two men subject to extraordinary rendition by the CIA told the European court of human rights (ECHR) on Tuesday that Poland, which permitted a secret “black” site to operate on its territory, should be held responsible for their torture.
The two-day hearing at Strasbourg was the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing US agencies to carry out “enhanced” interrogation and “waterboarding” programmes. In a highly unusual legal move, the media and public were barred from the opening day’s session.
The military base at Stare Kiejkuty, north of Warsaw, it was revealed, had previously been used by German intelligence and later the Soviet army during the second world war. One of the men, it was alleged, was subjected to mock executions while hooded and otherwise naked. [Continue reading...]
Firedoglake: A political party in Pakistan has named the CIA station chief in the country and accused the chief and CIA director John Brennan of murder for their role in a recent drone strike in Hangu, where an Islamic school was targeted.
The drone strike on November 21 killed six and, injured a “large number of those present including children,” according to a letter submitted to police by Dr. Shireen M. Mazari, the central information secretary for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
Following the strike in the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, a settled urban area, a First Information Report (FIR) was submitted to a nearby police station asking them to investigate crimes committed by those who were behind the strike.
Firedoglake is not revealing the alleged station chief’s name. The identity of the alleged CIA station chief in Pakistan has already been exposed by PTI, and his alleged name is circulating in the country.
The letter nominates Brennan and alleged CIA station chief Craig Osth for “committing the gross offenses of committing murder and waging war against Pakistan.” [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: A few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the Guantánamo Bay prison, hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus, sits a closely held secret.
A dirt road winds its way to a clearing where eight small cottages sit in two rows of four. They have long been abandoned. The special detachment of Marines that once provided security is gone.
But in the early years after 9/11, these cottages were part of a covert CIA program. Its secrecy has outlasted black prisons, waterboarding and rendition.
In these buildings, CIA officers turned terrorists into double agents and sent them home.
It was a risky gamble. If it worked, their agents might help the CIA find terrorist leaders to kill with drones. But officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans.
For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, it was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf. At the same time the government used the threat of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA.
Nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials described aspects of the program to The Associated Press. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the secret program, even though it ended in about 2006. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The Central Intelligence Agency is secretly collecting bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union — including transactions into and out of the United States — under the same law that the National Security Agency uses for its huge database of Americans’ phone records, according to current and former government officials.
The C.I.A. financial records program, which the officials said was authorized by provisions in the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, offers evidence that the extent of government data collection programs is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete.
Some details of the C.I.A. program were not clear. But it was confirmed by several current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is classified.
The data does not include purely domestic transfers or bank-to-bank transactions, several officials said. Another, while not acknowledging the program, suggested that the surveillance court had imposed rules withholding the identities of any Americans from the data the C.I.A. sees, requiring a tie to a terrorist organization before a search may be run, and mandating that the data be discarded after a certain number of years. The court has imposed several similar rules on the N.S.A. call logs program.
Several officials also said more than one other bulk collection program has yet to come to light.
“The intelligence community collects bulk data in a number of different ways under multiple authorities,” one intelligence official said. [Continue reading...]
David Ignatius writes: The U.S.-Egyptian relationship has been through some rocky months since the June 30 military coup that toppled President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. But the strain doesn’t seem to have diminished cooperation between the two countries’ intelligence services.
Gen. Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy, the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, said had been “no change” in his organization’s relationship with U.S. spy agencies, despite delay of some U.S. weapons deliveries to the Egyptian military and talk of new Egyptian military contacts with Russia.
“Cooperation between friendly services is in a completely different channel than the political channel,” Tohamy said. “I’m in constant contact with [Director] John Brennan at the CIA and the local station chief, more than with any other service worldwide.” [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Polio that has crippled at least 13 children in Syria has been confirmed as being caused by a strain of the virus that originated in Pakistan and is spreading across the Middle East, the World Health Organization said.
Genetic sequencing shows the strain found in Syrian children in Deir al-Zor, where an outbreak was detected last month, is linked to the strain of Pakistani origin found in sewage in Egypt, Israel and Palestinian territories in the past year.
“Genetic sequencing indicates that the isolated viruses are most closely linked to virus detected in environmental samples in Egypt in December 2012 (which in turn had been linked to wild poliovirus circulating in Pakistan),” the United Nations agency said in a statement on Monday.
Closely related strains of the wild poliovirus of Pakistani origin have also been detected in sewage samples in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip since February 2013, it said.
Polio virus has been confirmed in 13 of 22 children who became paralyzed in the northern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor. Investigations continue into the other nine cases. It is Syria’s first polio outbreak since 1999.
No children in Egypt, Israel or the Palestinian territories have been hit by polio thanks to high immunization rates and a strong response to the alert, WHO spokeswoman Sona Bari said.
Polio virus is endemic in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria despite a 25-year-old campaign to eradicate the disease, which can paralyze a child in hours.
Islamist fighters from countries including Pakistan are among groups battling to oust President Bashar al-Assad, leading to speculation that they brought the virus into the country. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: The killing of one of Pakistan’s most wanted Islamic militants in a U.S. drone strike has exposed centuries-old rivalries within the group he led, the Pakistani Taliban, making the insurgency ever more unpredictable and probably more violent.
Hakimullah Mehsud’s death this month has set off a power struggle within the outfit’s ranks, which could further unnerve a region already on tenterhooks with most U.S.-led troops pulling out of neighboring Afghanistan in 2014.
When a tribal council declared Mullah Fazlullah as the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban last week, several furious commanders from a rival clan stood up and left.
“When Fazlullah’s name was announced, they … walked out saying, ‘The Taliban’s command is doomed’,” said one commander who attended the November 7 ‘shura’ meeting in South Waziristan, a lawless Pakistani tribal region on the Afghan border.
Others at the shura declared loyalty to the hardline new leader and stayed on to map out a plan to avenge Hakimullah’s death through a new campaign of bombings and shootings.
“This is the start of our fight with the Pakistan government, an American puppet,” the Taliban official said.
“Those who forced the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan are capable of breaking up Pakistan,” he added, alluding to senior commanders whose rite of passage into war started with the rebellion against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: The C.I.A. is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to assist with overseas counterterrorism investigations by exploiting the company’s vast database of phone records, which includes Americans’ international calls, according to government officials.
The cooperation is conducted under a voluntary contract, not under subpoenas or court orders compelling the company to participate, according to the officials. The C.I.A. supplies phone numbers of overseas terrorism suspects, and AT&T searches its database and provides records of calls that may help identify foreign associates, the officials said. The company has a huge archive of data on phone calls, both foreign and domestic, that were handled by its network equipment, not just those of its own customers.
The program adds a new dimension to the debate over government spying and the privacy of communications records, which has been focused on National Security Agency programs in recent months. The disclosure sheds further light on the ties between intelligence officials and communications service providers. And it shows how agencies beyond the N.S.A. use metadata — logs of the date, duration and phone numbers involved in a call, but not the content — to analyze links between people through programs regulated by an inconsistent patchwork of legal standards, procedures and oversight. [Continue reading...]
Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris write: In May, the White House leaked word that it would start shifting drone operations from the shadows of the CIA to the relative sunlight of the Defense Department in an effort to be more transparent about the controversial targeted killing program. But six months later, the so-called migration of those operations has stalled, and it is now unlikely to happen anytime soon, Foreign Policy has learned.
The anonymous series of announcements coincided with remarks President Obama made on counterterrorism policy at National Defense University in which he called for “transparency and debate on this issue.” A classified Presidential Policy Guidance on the matter, issued at the same time, caught some in government by surprise, triggering a scramble at the Pentagon and at CIA to achieve a White House objective. The transfer was never expected to happen overnight. But it is now clear the complexity of the issue, the distinct operational and cultural differences between the Pentagon and CIA and the bureaucratic politics of it all has forced officials on all sides to recognize transferring drone operations from the Agency to the Defense Department represents, for now, an unattainable goal.
“The physics of making this happen quickly are remarkably difficult,” one U.S. official told FP. “The goal remains the same, but the reality has set in.” [Continue reading...]
Al Jazeera reports: Maulana Fazlullah, the new Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader, is a ruthless fighter who is vehemently anti-state and unamenable to peace talks.
Fazlullah was elected as TTP commander by a consultative council of the group on November 7, almost a week after Hakimullah Mehsud, the group’s former leader, was killed by a US drone in the tribal area of North Waziristan.
He is the first commander of the group not to come from the Mehsud tribe in Pakistan’s tribal areas, hailing instead from the northwestern valley of Swat, where he waged a bloody war against the Pakistani state from 2007 to 2009.
As chief of the local chapter of the TTP in Swat, Fazlullah drove civil and military authorities out of the area in 2007, before finally signing a peace agreement with the government in 2009.
The agreement, dubbed the “Nizam-e-Adl” (system of justice), granted the TTP virtual control over Swat and implemented their interpretation of Sharia law, in exchange for the cessation of hostilities.
It soon disintegrated, however, when Fazlullah’s men attempted to expand their sphere of control to neighbouring Buner district.
As a result, Pakistani forces moved into Swat for the second time in two years, resulting in hundreds of deaths and millions of civilians displaced. Fazlullah was finally driven out of the valley by September 2009, with several of his top commanders captured.
But while the government and civilians rebuilt lives in the valley, Fazlullah continued to conduct operations in Swat remotely, from neighbouring Dir district and, as many locals tell Al Jazeera, the Afghan border provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
From his base, Fazlullah ordered the targeted killings of elders who led peace committees against the Taliban, as well as rights activists. Among the dozens of people the Taliban killed or attempted to kill during this time was Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl activist who rose to global prominence following the attempt on her life. [Continue reading...]
Institute on Medicine as a Profession: An independent panel of military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts today charged that U.S. military and intelligence agencies directed doctors and psychologists working in U.S. military detention centers to violate standard ethical principles and medical standards to avoid infliction of harm. The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers (see attached) concludes that since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA improperly demanded that U.S. military and intelligence agency health professionals collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in U.S. custody.
These practices included “designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of detainees, according to the report. Although the DoD has taken steps to address some of these practices in recent years, including instituting a committee to review medical ethics concerns at Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Task Force says the changed roles for health professionals and anemic ethical standards adopted within the military remain in place.
“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Task Force member Dr. Gerald Thomson, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University. “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”
The Task Force report, supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations, calls on the DoD and CIA to follow medical professional standards of conduct to enable doctors and psychologists to adhere to their ethical principles so that in the future they be used to heal, not injure, detainees they encounter. The Task Force also urges professional medical associations and the American Psychological Association to strengthen ethical standards related to interrogation and detention of detainees.
The report, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, is based on two years of review of records in the public domain by a 19-member task force. The report details how DoD and CIA policies institutionalized a variety of interventions by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breach ethical standards to promote well-being and avoid harm. [Continue reading...]
John Sifton writes: I have just arrived here in the Gambia, in westernmost Africa, to testify before the African Commission of Human Rights about a CIA rendition case involving Djibouti, 4,000 miles east at the mouth of the Red Sea.
The case against Djibouti was brought by Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a Yemeni citizen who was arrested in 2003 in Tanzania and taken on a private flight to Djibouti. There the CIA — with help from Djibouti authorities — detained him short term and then flew him to another CIA facility in Afghanistan. His petition provides evidence that he was subjected to beatings and torture in both locations. The CIA appears to have realized later that al-Asad was not involved in terrorism or al-Qaeda, and returned him to Yemen in 2005.
The al-Asad case is one of several brought to hold the US government and its co-perpetrators accountable for unlawful arrests, detentions, and interrogations carried out by the CIA during the Bush administration — serious abuses that my colleagues and I documented for Human Rights Watch in numerous reports in 2004 to present. Known CIA interrogation techniques included severe sleep deprivation, forced standing, exposure to cold, slapping and hitting, confining detainees in small boxes, and throwing detainees against the wall. Some were waterboarded. [Continue reading...]