FBI had human source in contact with bin Laden as far back as 1993

n13-iconThe Washington Times reports: In a revelation missing from the official investigations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI placed a human source in direct contact with Osama bin Laden in 1993 and ascertained that the al Qaeda leader was looking to finance terrorist attacks in the United States, according to court testimony in a little-noticed employment dispute case.

The information the FBI gleaned back then was so specific that it helped thwart a terrorist plot against a Masonic lodge in Los Angeles, the court records reviewed by The Washington Times show.

“It was the only source I know in the bureau where we had a source right in al Qaeda, directly involved,” Edward J. Curran, a former top official in the FBI’s Los Angeles office, told the court in support of a discrimination lawsuit filed against the bureau by his former agent Bassem Youssef.

Mr. Curran gave the testimony in 2010 to an essentially empty courtroom, and thus it escaped notice from the media or terrorism specialists. The Times was recently alerted to the existence of the testimony while working on a broader report about al Qaeda’s origins.

Members of the Sept. 11 commission, congressional intelligence committees and terrorism analysts told The Times they are floored that the information is just now emerging publicly and that it raises questions about what else Americans might not have been told about the origins of al Qaeda and its early interest in attacking the United States.

“I think it raises a lot of questions about why that information didn’t become public and why the 9/11 Commission or the congressional intelligence committees weren’t told about it,” said former Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, who chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2004 through 2007 when lawmakers dealt with the fallout from the 9/11 Commission’s official report.

“This is just one more of these examples that will go into the conspiracy theorists’ notebooks, who say the authorities are not telling us everything,” Mr. Hoekstra told The Times in an interview last week. “That’s bad for the intelligence community. It’s bad for law enforcement and it’s bad for government.”

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission with former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said that as far as he can remember, the FBI never told the commission that it had been working a source so close to bin Laden that many years before 9/11.

“I do not recall the FBI advising us of a direct contact with Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Hamilton told The Times in a recent interview. [Continue reading...]

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Mark Danner: Still living in Cheney’s world

Rest assured of one thing: he was the only American vice president ever to travel regularly with “a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit” in the back seat of his car.  You could say that he took his weapons of mass destruction seriously, and perhaps even infer from Jane Mayer’s account of his anxieties back in September 2001 that he had something of a paranoid view of a world he believed wanted to do him harm in a weapons-of-mass-destructive way.

It was in this mood that he and the president he served decided to show that world just who was who and leaped, post-9/11 — not to put the matter too modestly — to create a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.  (At home, they were planning for a Pax Republicana coast to coast until hell froze over.)  In their imaginations, and some of their official documents as well, they dreamed of reorganizing the whole planet in ways that would more than rival any imperial power since Rome went down amid mad emperors and barbarian invasions. In the fabulous future they didn’t hesitate to document, no power or bloc of powers would be allowed to challenge the United States for years, decades, eons to come.  And their means of doing this?  The U.S. military, which the president took to calling “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.” That high-tech force, romanticized and idolized by administration fundamentalists, turned out to be the only tool in their toolkit, all they believed was necessary to transform Earth into a first-class American protectorate.

Give credit to George W. Bush and his more-than-right-hand man, Dick Cheney, the vice president who essentially nominated himself: there’s never been a duo like them in the White House.  Cheney, in particular, was a geopolitical visionary, his planet-encompassing vision fueled by his experiences in the energy trade and by a Cold Warrior’s urge to roll back ever further the remnants of the Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation.  He was also, as Mark Danner illustrates, mad in his vision and desperately wrong.  But again, give him and his president credit: before they were done mistaking military for economic power, they had punched a gaping hole through the heart of the Middle East and, as Arab League head Amr Moussa warned at the time, had driven directly through “the gates of hell” dreaming of a path strewn with “sweets and flowers” and lined with grateful Iraqis who would greet them as liberators on their way to Tehran.

Before they could complete their global damage, however, the adults were brought in, among them Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  At his congressional nomination hearings in December 2006, Gates put the vice president, his ever-endangered heart still pounding, in his political grave by describing the particular nightmare that would ensue from any U.S. attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.  The signal was clear enough.  If Dick Cheney couldn’t pull the trigger on Iran, no one else would (despite much talk in the years to come about all “options” remaining on “the table”).  In fact, 2007 should probably be considered the beginning of the Obama years, a time when top officials with no vision at all of how the planet should function raced like so many overworked firemen from the scene of one global blaze to another (many originally set by Cheney and Bush).

Today, Mark Danner reminds us, as he did in his remarkable three-part series at the New York Review of Books on Bush-era Secretary of Defense Donald (“stuff happens”) Rumsfeld, that if the cast of characters from those first post-9/11 years is gone, we still live in the ruins they created and the special darkness they embraced.  In an essay that focuses on Cheney’s memoir, a movie about the former vice president, and a book by his surgeon, Danner takes us deep into that darkness.  Thanks to the kindness of the editors of the New York Review of Books, it’s an honor to be able to post Danner’s latest piece for the first time online.  The start of a three-part series on Cheney, it will appear in that magazine’s March 6th issue.  Tom Engelhardt

In the darkness of Dick Cheney
The smile of secret power
By Mark Danner

[This essay appears in the March 6th issue of the New York Review of Books and is posted at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of that magazine. The film and two books under review in this piece are listed at the end of the essay.]

If you’re a man of principle, compromise is a bit of a dirty word.
— Dick Cheney, 2013

1.  “We Ought to Take It Out”

In early 2007, as Iraq seemed to be slipping inexorably into chaos and President George W. Bush into inescapable political purgatory, Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli Mossad, flew to Washington, sat down in a sunlit office of the West Wing of the White House, and spread out on the coffee table before him a series of photographs showing a strange-looking building rising out of the sands in the desert of eastern Syria. Vice President Dick Cheney did not have to be told what it was. “They tried to hide it down a wadi, a gulley,” he recalls to filmmaker R.J. Cutler.

“There’s no population around it anyplace… You can’t say it’s to generate electricity, there’s no power line coming out of it. It’s just out there obviously for production of plutonium.”

The Syrians were secretly building a nuclear plant — with the help, it appeared, of the North Koreans. Though the United States was already embroiled in two difficult, unpopular, and seemingly endless wars, though its military was overstretched and its people impatient and angry, the vice president had no doubt what needed to be done: “Condi recommended taking it to the United Nations. I strongly recommended that we ought to take it out.”

[Read more...]

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How the U.S. turned the world into a war zone

Gregory D Johnsen writes: Sunrise was still nearly an hour off when Nazih al-Ruqai climbed into his black Hyundai SUV outside a mosque in northern Tripoli and turned the key. The lanky 49-year-old had left the house barely 30 minutes earlier for a quick trip to the mosque on a Saturday. It was Oct. 5, 2013, and after more than two decades in exile, he had settled into a predictable existence of prayer and worship.

The homecoming hadn’t always been so smooth. Ruqai, who is better known in the jihadi world as Abu Anas al-Libi, was still feeling the effects of the hepatitis C he had contracted years earlier during a stint in an underground prison in Iran. Following overtures from Muammar al-Qaddafi’s government, his wife and children had returned to Libya in 2010. But Libi stayed away, wary of the man he had once plotted to kill. Only when the Libyan uprisings started in early 2011 did he follow his family back to Libya. But by then it was already too late. His oldest son, Abd al-Rahman, the only one of his five children who had been born in Libya, was dead, shot while fighting for the capital.

After that, things moved in fits and starts. Qaddafi was killed weeks later in October 2011, and Libi eventually settled in Nufalayn, a leafy middle-class neighborhood in northeast Tripoli, alongside several members of his extended family. Life after Qaddafi was chaotic and messy — nothing really worked as the new government struggled to reboot after 42 years of dictatorship, often finding itself at the mercy of the heavily armed militias and tribes that had contributed to Qaddafi’s downfall.

Libi knew he was a wanted man. He had been on the FBI’s most wanted list for more than a decade, following an indictment in 2000 for his alleged role in al-Qaeda’s attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania two years earlier. Along with Libi the indictment named 20 other individuals, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as defendants.

“He suspected that at any moment he would be killed,” his son later told The New York Times. Still, on that Saturday morning in early October, much of the danger seemed to have passed. Libi had been living in the open for nearly a year, attending prayers and settling local disputes, where his history as a fighter and knowledge of the Qur’an made him a respected arbiter. Neighbors called him simply “the shaykh,” a sign of respect in the conservative circles in which Libi still moved.

He had also taken steps to address his past. Three weeks earlier, on Sept. 15, Libi had sat down with Libya’s attorney general to discuss his indictment, according to one report. (The Libyan Embassy in Washington did not respond to repeated requests to confirm Libi’s meeting.) But mostly he just wanted to move on with his life. He had applied for his old job at the Ministry of Oil and Gas and he couldn’t stop talking about how much he was looking forward to becoming a grandfather for the first time.

A trio of cars around 6 a.m. ended all of that.

Inside the family’s apartment, Libi’s wife heard the commotion. From a window she looked out over the beige wall that surrounded their building and into the street where several men had surrounded her husband, who was still in the driver’s seat of his black Hyundai.

“Get out,” the men shouted in Arabic. “Get out.” Then they smashed the window. Most of the men were masked, but she could see a few faces, she said later in Arabic interviews. They looked Libyan; they sounded Libyan. Some of them had guns; some didn’t, but they all moved quickly.

By the time the rest of the family made it to the street, all that was left was a single sandal and a few drops of blood.

Early that same morning, nearly 3,000 miles away in the seaside city of Baraawe on Somalia’s eastern coast, U.S. Navy SEALs crept through the darkness toward their target, which a local resident later described to me as a walled compound more than 100 yards inland. The Americans had been here before. Four years earlier, in September 2009, a contingent of Navy SEALs had ambushed a two-car convoy just outside of town. Flying low in helicopter gunships, the SEALs quickly disabled the cars and then touched down to collect the bodies.

This time the target — Abd al-Qadir Muhammad Abd al-Qadir, a young Kenyan of Somali descent better known as Ikrima — was stationary. The SEALs would have to go in and get him. Pre-raid intelligence suggested that the compound housed mostly fighters with few or no civilians present. Only 130 miles south of Mogadishu and what passed for the Somali government, Baraawe had been under the control of al-Shabaab, a fragmentary militant group, since 2009. Fighters came and went freely, as al-Shabaab implemented its own narrow version of Islamic law in the city.

Moving up the beach and into enemy territory, the SEALs needed the element of surprise. Through the trees and scrub brush ahead of them, most of the city was dark. Baraawe had only a few hours of electricity each day, usually from evening prayers until midnight. But al-Shabaab’s members lived separately and, along with some of the city’s wealthier residents, got around the shortages by running private generators. The plan that night took this into account, calling for the SEALs to jam internet signals, apparently in an attempt to cut off communication once the raid began. That would prove to be a mistake.

Inside the compound, some of the al-Shabaab fighters were up late and online. And, according to a report in the Toronto Star, when the internet suddenly went out in the middle of the night, they went to look for the source of the problem. At least one fighter stepped outside, and as he moved around in the darkness he spotted some of the SEALs.

The plan to knock the internet offline and isolate the fighters in the villa had backfired, effectively giving al-Shabaab an early warning that the SEALs were on their way. (In the days after the raid, al-Shabaab would arrest a handful of local men who were known to visit Western websites, accusing them of spying and aiding U.S. efforts.)

The firefight lasted several minutes, although residents reported hearing gunfire throughout the night as members of al-Shabaab discharged their weapons into the dark for hours after the Americans had withdrawn, empty-handed.

In the span of a few hours, the U.S. had launched a pair of raids — one successful and one not — 3,000 miles apart, in countries with which the nation was not at war. Hardly anyone noticed.

More than a dozen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, this is what America’s war looks like, silent strikes and shadowy raids. The Congressional Research Service, an analytical branch of the Library of Congress, recently said that it had located at least 30 similar occurrences, although the number of covert actions is likely many times higher with drones strikes and other secret operations. The remarkable has become regular.

The White House said that the operations in both Libya and Somalia drew their authority from the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a 12-year-old piece of legislation that was drafted in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks. At the heart of the AUMF is a single 60-word sentence, which has formed the legal foundation for nearly every counterterrorism operation the U.S. has conducted since Sept. 11, from Guantanamo Bay and drone strikes to secret renditions and SEAL raids. Everything rests on those 60 words. [Continue reading...]

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The Sunni-Shiite divide in the Greater Levant

Giandomenico Picco writes: The entire region from Pakistan to Lebanon — what I refer to as the Greater Levant — has been affected by profound, seismic changes during the course of the last three decades. These began in the late 1970s, in the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran triangle.

Pakistan received the political support of Saudi Arabia, both in its tense standoff with nuclear India and in its increasingly intense relationship with the Soviet Union, which had invaded neighboring Afghanistan in December 1979. The Khomeini revolution (February 1979) in Shiite Iran convinced the Sunni “world” of an epochal change in the making. This little-noticed affair was at the very root of a more open confrontation along sectarian lines. In the mess of the first Afghan War of the 1980s, which I witnessed up close and personal, the underlying Sunni and Shiite conflict was barely noticed by the rest of the world, though it was better perceived in the war between Iran and Iraq in the same decade.

In the 1990s, however, events in Afghanistan revealed the true face of the underlying confrontation between Sunni and Shiite throughout the region. By the mid 1990s, the Taliban, with Pakistani support, began to make their run for total victory in Kabul. Soon the Sunni Afghan tribes (i.e., the Pasthun) and the Shiite Afghan tribes (i.e. the Tajiks and Hazaras), were engaged in open sectarian civil war. The Shiite tribes were supported by Russia and Iran, while the Taliban received support from Pakistan, somewhat from Saudi Arabia and, for a while, from the West, though in a very undecided way.

The tragic events of September 11, which had been masterminded by Sunni men who had trained in Afghanistan, resulted in a new understanding between Iran and the United States. The interests of both countries had coalesced. The 2001 Bonn Agreements between Washington and Tehran revealed that both nations had a common enemy in the Sunni extremists. At the same time, Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun Sunni, became president of Afghanistan and the opposing Tajiiks came back to Kabul and entered into a coalition of sorts with Karzai. While this did not end the sectarian conflict, which continued during and after the U.S. military intervention, post-2001 Afghanistan is an example of a country rife with sectarian conflict, yet one in which compromise of a sort can be sought and even found.

But then came Iraq. Iran welcomed the U.S. war against Saddam Hussein in 2003, seeing it as payback for 1534, an important, sad date in the Shiite narrative. In that year, Suleiman the First (the Ottoman Sultan) conquered Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and “the land of the two rivers” came under the control of the Sunni minority. Iran felt that the West had inadvertently given them a chance to reclaim Baghdad for the Shiites. Again, the ancient Sunni-Shiite conflict structured events but was little noticed by the West.

Despite vigorous efforts, there has been little progress on the Israeli-Palestinian question. Indeed, there has been no progress at all since Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated by one of his own fellow citizens in mid 1995. The longest running conflict in the modern Middle East now seems to have little effect on the day-to-day events of the region. Indeed I would submit that the conflict is no longer pivotal in the region.

There are several reasons for this shift in the prominence and perception of the issue: for one thing, the Cold War came to an end and power struggles in the region were no longer proxy conflicts between the superpowers. Globalization, moreover, has weakened national and nationalistic boundaries and created unprecedented economic interdependence. Technology has made the individual more powerful than he or she has ever been before and the very concept of the nation-state is changing. The simple, two-dimensional worldview of decades past has yielded to recognition of a multiplicity of variables in the Greater Levant. Still, the principal, underlying and organizational dynamic of the entire region is no longer the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but the Sunni-Shiite conflict and its cold and hot wars in every country from the Hindu Kush to the Litani River.

The lead actors in this ongoing drama remain Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. If a new architecture for the entire region is going to be found, then these two countries must take on the responsibility. Yet the chess game between Riyadh and Tehran continues: in Iraq, the Shiites have won a victory of sorts in the West’s defeat of Saddam. Yet Saddam’s Sunni backers in the region do not accept this as the last word. This remains the core line of demarcation for both sides. [Continue reading...]

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Would NSA surveillance have stopped 9/11 plot?

Peter Bergen writes: The Obama administration has framed its defense of the controversial bulk collection of all American phone records as necessary to prevent a future 9/11.

During a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said, “Let me start by saying that I would much rather be here today debating this point than trying to explain how we failed to prevent another 9/11.”

This closely mirrors talking points by the National Security Agency about how to defend the program.

In the talking points, NSA officials are encouraged to use “sound bites that resonate,” specifically, “I much prefer to be here today explain these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

On Friday in New York, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that NSA’s bulk collection of American telephone records is lawful. He cited Alexander’s testimony and quoted him saying, “We couldn’t connect the dots because we didn’t have the dots.”

But is it really the case that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t have the dots in the lead up to 9/11? Hardly.

In fact, the intelligence community provided repeated strategic warning in the summer of 9/11 that al Qaeda was planning a large-scale attacks on American interests.

Here is a representative sampling of the CIA threat reporting that was distributed to Bush administration officials during the spring and summer of 2001:

– CIA, “Bin Ladin Planning Multiple Operations,” April 20
– CIA, “Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent,” June 23
– CIA, “Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays,” July 2
– CIA, “Threat of Impending al Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely,” August 3

The failure to respond adequately to these warnings was a policy failure by the Bush administration, not an intelligence failure by the U.S. intelligence community. [Continue reading...]

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Richard Rodriguez on what the Left has lost by rejecting religion

Salon talks to Richard Rodriguez about his new book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography:

Let me read a line to you from late in the book, and if you could explain it a little bit. You say, “After September 11, critical division in America feels and sounds like religious division.” Where are you going with that?

Well, it seems to me that there are two aspects of that. One of them is that I think that increasingly the left has conceded organized religion to the political right. This has been a catastrophe on the left.

I’m old enough to remember the black Civil Rights movement, which was as I understood it a movement of the left and insofar as it was challenging the orthodoxy of conservatives in the American South. White conservatism. And here was a group of protestant ministers leading processions, which were really religious processions through the small towns and the suburbs of the South. We shall overcome. Well, we have forgotten just how disruptive religion can be to the status quo. How challenging it is to the status quo. I also talk about Cesar Chavez, who is, who was embraced by the political left in his time but he was obviously a challenge to organized labor, the teamsters and to large farmers in the central valley.

So somehow we had decided on the left that religion belongs to Fox Television, or it belongs to some kind of right-wing fanaticism in the Middle East and we have given it up, and it has made us a really empty — that is, it has made the left really empty. I’ll point to one easy instance. Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And what America heard was really a sermon. It was as though slavery and Jim Crow could not be described as a simple political narrative; racism was a moral offense, not simply an illegality. And with his vision of a time “when all of God’s children” in America would be free, he described the nation within a religious parable of redemption.

Fifty years later, our technocratic, secular president gave a speech at the Lincoln memorial, honoring the memory of the speech Dr. King had given. And nothing President Obama said can we remember these few weeks later; his words were dwarfed by our memory of the soaring religious oratory of fifty years ago. And what’s happened to us — and I would include myself in the cultural left — what has happened to us is we have almost no language to talk about the dream life of America, to talk about the soul of America, to talk about the mystery of being alive at this point in our lives, this point in our national history. That’s what we’ve lost in giving it to Fox Television.

So here’s the flip side of that. You write about the “New Atheism” emerging from England, catching on here. How is it new and why does it seem like a dead end to you?

It seems to me that the New Atheism — particularly its recent gaudy English manifestations — has a distinctly neo-colonial aspect. (As Cary Grant remarked: Americans are suckers for the accent!) On the one hand, the New Atheist, with his plummy Oxbridge tones, tries to convince Americans that God is dead at a time when London is alive with Hinduism and Islam. (The empiric nightmare: The colonials have turned on their masters and transformed the imperial city with their prayers and their growing families, even while Europe disappears into materialistic sterility.) Christopher Hitchens, most notably, before his death titled his atheist handbook as a deliberate affront to Islam: “God Is Not Great.” At the same time, he traveled the airwaves of America urging us to war in Iraq — and to maintain borders that the Foreign Office had drawn in the sand. With his atheism, he became a darling of the left. With his advocacy of the Iraq misadventure, he became a darling of the right. [Continue reading...]

As an Englishman in America who is frequently reminded that Americans are indeed suckers for the accent I retain, let me add a cultural footnote whose validity I can’t document but about which I am nevertheless convinced.

It’s on the origin of American crassness: it comes from England. Bad taste — we invented it.

From the English perspective, civilization has always been something that came from somewhere else.

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Video: Chomsky slaps down 9/11 truther

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Abu Zubaydah wanted to ‘bring America to its knees’ after 9/11

Jason Leopold writes: Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah, one of the highest-value detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was building a network to wage a war that would “bring America to its knees” before he was captured in 2002, his personal diaries show. In the document, Abu Zubaydah recounts the chaotic aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the toppling of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which provided shelter for men like him and Osama bin Laden.

After describing how he helped fellow fighters flee from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Abu Zubaydah writes of forming a network of trainers capable of teaching skills like bomb making in a new organization with ambitious plans to attack Israel. He notes that he returned to Afghanistan with $50,000 “to participate in any jihadist operation against the Jews” that he intended to carry out in Iran or Pakistan.

“I took them with me, from the flood, one or two individuals from each military science, just like Noah … two pairs from each … An instructor or two from each military subject, they are the nucleus of my future work, and I am starting from zero … I am preparing a safe location for us, so that we can start,” he writes.

That failed plot is just one of the revelations to emerge from the diaries, a government translation of which has been obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera America from a former U.S. government intelligence official who worked with the CIA and FBI on Al-Qaeda’s rise to power. Despite being coveted by security analysts and journalists because of their participant-observer’s account of the decade before the 2001 attacks that claimed almost 3,000 lives, the diaries have never been officially released. They have been repeatedly cited by U.S. officials as key evidence for holding Abu Zubaydah and dozens of other Guantanamo prisoners. [Continue reading...]

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Yassin Kadi’s ordeal at the hands of the U.S. security services is Kafka incarnate

Giles Fraser writes: As I am walking out of Temple tube station, past a row of young men in uniform selling poppies – men who look as if they have seen too much bloodshed in places like Afghanistan – I can’t help but speculate to myself about the identity of the person I am about to meet.

Will he really be what he claims to be – an innocent victim of post 9/11 panic? Or is he a “specially designated global terrorist”, previously connected to Osama Bin Laden and a financier of international terrorism, as US law continues to maintain? It feels odd to be meeting him in central London.

And yet, except in the very vaguest of terms, no one has ever told Sheikh Yassin Abdullah Kadi what he is supposed to have done. The US evidence against the Saudi Arabian former architect is classified. His lawyers cannot see it. He cannot see it. And so, for 11 years, Sheikh Kadi has been fighting an invisible charge.

When Franz Kafka wrote The Trial back in 1914/5, he thought his story far-fetched, more an existentialist dystopia than a prophecy of future events. Joseph K is arrested on an unknown charge and brought before a secret court where the charge is never explained. But a century later, this doesn’t feel at all far-fetched. [Continue reading...]

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FBI monitored Antiwar.com for six years

You receive an ominous and anonymous email warning that your website will soon be the target of a cyberattack and since cyberattacks are illegal you decide to alert your local FBI office. Instead of providing assistance, the FBI thinks that you are threatening to take down their site and starts monitoring you.

This is like a story from the movie Brazil — one of the most durable representations of the bumbling tyranny of a national security state — except it’s not fiction. It happened to Antiwar.com.

The Guardian reports: The FBI monitored a prominent anti-war website for years, in part because agents mistakenly believed it had threatened to hack the bureau’s own site.

Internal documents show that the FBI’s monitoring of antiwar.com, a news and commentary website critical of US foreign policy, was sparked in significant measure by a judgment that it had threatened to “hack the FBI website” and involved a formal assessment of the “threat” the site posed to US national security.

But antiwar.com never threatened to hack the FBI website. Heavily redacted FBI documents, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and shared with the Guardian, show that Eric Garris, the site’s managing editor, passed along to the bureau a threat he received against his own website.

Months later, the bureau characterized antiwar.com as a potential perpetrator of a cyberattack against the bureau’s website – a rudimentary error that persisted for years in an FBI file on the website. The mistake appears to have been a pillar of the FBI’s reasoning for monitoring a site that is protected by the first amendment’s free-speech guarantees.

“The improper investigation led to Garris and Raimondo being flagged in other documents, and is based on inappropriate targeting and sloppy intelligence work the FBI relied on in its initial memo,” said Julia Mass, an attorney with the ACLU of northern California, which filed the Freedom of Information Act request, and shared the documents with the Guardian.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said the bureau could not comment, as the ACLU’s litigation of the antiwar.com case is ongoing.

On 12 September 2001, Garris received an email with the subject line “YOUR SITE IS GOING DOWN.”

“Be warned assholes, ill be posting your site address to all the hack boards tonight, telling them about the little article at the moscowtimes and all. YOUR SITE IS HISTORY,” the unredacted parts of the email read.

Concerned, Garris forwarded the threatening email to the FBI field office in San Francisco, where he lives. (It is contained in the disclosed FBI documents.) “It was a threat and I wanted to report it,” Garris said.

But by 7 January 2002, someone in the field office characterized the message as “A THREAT BY GARRIS TO HACK FBI WEBSITE.” [Continue reading...]

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Why the NSA’s ‘we keep you safe from terrorists’ rationale is bogus

Micah Zenko writes: When National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden first revealed himself in a video interview five months ago as the source of leaked documents exposing the NSA’s collection of phone and data records of U.S. citizens, he noted: “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.”

Despite the rapid pace of the NSA revelations, the subsequent claims and counterclaims of U.S. officials (and the fact that nobody possesses the policy, technical, operational, and legal background required to accurately characterize these stories and place them within a proper historical and global context), there’s still one thing that can no longer be denied: The Snowden-supplied documents have instigated a global conversation about U.S. surveillance that will undoubtedly result in changes to the scope and conduct of certain NSA programs. And in fact, it’s happening already.

Within the last week alone we have learned that the Obama administration authorized an internal review that brought to light the existence of a program used to spy on numerous world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (This investigation complements an independent review of U.S. surveillance efforts conducted by former officials and experts, which will present its findings by year’s end.) Even the staunch defender of the NSA, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, announced: “the committee will initiate a major review into all intelligence collection programs.” Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that U.S. electronic surveillance was “on an automatic pilot because the technology is there,” and “in some cases, it has reached too far inappropriately.” And for the first time since the Snowden leaks, White House spokesperson Jay Carney acknowledged the agency’s overreach saying, “We recognize that there need to be additional constraints on how we gather and use intelligence.”

Yet, Snowden’s most meaningful and enduring impact will not be prompting U.S. electronic surveillance policy reform. Rather, what these five post-Snowden months have demonstrated is that inflating terrorist threats to justify expansive and invasive executive branch powers no longer resonates with the general public or most policymakers. That default appeal to 9/11 and vague warnings of terrorism that Bush and Obama administration officials relied upon to shape opinions and silence critics is no longer sufficient or acceptable.

Still, intelligence officials continue to defend the NSA as just another federal agency dedicated solely to protecting American citizens from terrorism. In his opening testimony before the House Permanent Intelligence Committee last week, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander re-used this same old trope:

“First, how did we get here? How did we end up here? 9/11 — 2,996 people were killed in 9/11. We all distinctly remember that. What I remember the most was those firemen running up the stairs to save people, to there themselves lose their lives. We had this great picture that was created afterward of a fireman handing a flag off to the military, and I’d say the intelligence community, and the military and the intelligence community said: ‘We’ve got it from here.’”

Sorry, Keith: the NSA was not created on Sept. 12, 2001, but came into existence on Nov. 4, 1952. [Continue reading...]

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NSA pushed 9/11 as key ‘sound bite’ to justify surveillance

Jason Leopold reports: The National Security Agency advised its officials to cite the 9/11 attacks as justification for its mass surveillance activities, according to a master list of NSA talking points.

The document, obtained by Al Jazeera through a Freedom of Information Act request, contains talking points and suggested statements for NSA officials (PDF) responding to the fallout from media revelations that originated with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Invoking the events of 9/11 to justify the controversial NSA programs, which have caused major diplomatic fallout around the world, was the top item on the talking points that agency officials were encouraged to use.

Under the subheading “Sound Bites That Resonate,” the document suggests the statement “I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs, than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent.”

NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander used a slightly different version of that statement when he testified before Congress on June 18 in defense of the agency’s surveillance programs.

Asked to comment on the document, NSA media representative Vanee M. Vines pointed Al Jazeera to Alexander’s congressional testimony on Tuesday, and said the agency had no further comment. In keeping with the themes listed in the talking points, the NSA head told legislators that “it is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked.”

Critics have long noted the tendency of senior U.S. politicians and security officials to use the fear of attacks like the one that killed almost 3,000 Americans to justify policies ranging from increased defense spending to the invasion of Iraq. [Continue reading...]

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Responding to 9/11: Thoughts in the presence of fear

In 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Wendell Berry wrote:

I. The time will soon come when we will not be able to remember the horrors of September 11 without remembering also the unquestioning technological and economic optimism that ended on that day.

II. This optimism rested on the proposition that we were living in a “new world order” and a “new economy” that would “grow” on and on, bringing a prosperity of which every new increment would be “unprecedented”.

III. The dominant politicians, corporate officers, and investors who believed this proposition did not acknowledge that the prosperity was limited to a tiny percent of the world’s people, and to an ever smaller number of people even in the United States; that it was founded upon the oppressive labor of poor people all over the world; and that its ecological costs increasingly threatened all life, including the lives of the supposedly prosperous.

IV. The “developed” nations had given to the “free market” the status of a god, and were sacrificing to it their farmers, farmlands, and communities, their forests, wetlands, and prairies, their ecosystems and watersheds. They had accepted universal pollution and global warming as normal costs of doing business.

V. There was, as a consequence, a growing worldwide effort on behalf of economic decentralization, economic justice, and ecological responsibility. We must recognize that the events of September 11 make this effort more necessary than ever. We citizens of the industrial countries must continue the labor of self-criticism and self-correction. We must recognize our mistakes. [Continue reading...]

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Chas Freeman: The Middle East, America, and the emerging world order

From a speech delivered by Chas Freeman in Moscow yesterday: The objective of the 9/11 attacks was to provoke the United States into military overreactions that would enrage and arouse the world’s Muslims, estrange Americans from Arabs, stimulate a war of religion between Islam and the West, undermine the close ties between Washington and Riyadh, curtail the commanding influence of the United States in the Middle East, and overthrow the Saudi monarchy. The aftershocks of Al Qaeda’s 9/11 kamikaze operation against the United States have so far failed to shake the Saudi monarchy but — to one degree or another — the operation has achieved its other goals.

Among other things, the violent interaction between America and the Muslim world since 9/11 has burdened future generations of Americans with over $5 trillion in war debt, with more debt yet to come. This has thrust the United States into fiscal crisis. The 9/11 attacks evoked reactions that have eroded the rule of law at home and abroad, tarnished the global appeal of Western democracy, and militarized American foreign policy. They precipitated military interventions in the Middle East that have energized reactionary religious dogmatism among Muslims. In other words, the continuing struggle is reshaping the ideologies and political economies of non-Muslim and Muslim societies alike. And most of the changes are not for the better.

As Islamist terrorism has gained global reach, it has provided political justification for a general retreat from civil liberties and ethical standards of governance in secular societies everywhere, not just in the United States. Russia is not an exception to this trend. Ironically, the Middle East was where the moral values upon which modern societies are founded had their origin. The European Enlightenment transformed these norms into secular ideals of reason, tolerance, and human and civil rights that spread widely throughout the world. Trends and events in the Middle East are now setting back prospects for the advance of tolerance in that region even as they drive a widening deviation from the values of the Enlightenment elsewhere.

Although there is a long tradition of heroic sacrifice in Islam, the use of self-immolation as a weapon by Muslims began only in the early 1980s, when Israel’s invasion of Lebanon led to the widening and ultimately successful Shiite use of suicide bombings against Israeli, American, and French forces. By the early 1990s, Sunni Palestinians had embraced the suicide belt as a means of resistance and reprisal to the Israeli occupation and settlement of the West Bank and Gaza. As this century began, various forms of explosive self-destruction began to be widely employed in acts of terrorism against non-Muslims outside the Middle East, including with tragic regularity here in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia, in the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and subsequently in the capitals of Western Europe.

When the U.S. invasion of Iraq catalyzed bitterly lethal strife between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, suicide bombing quickly became the weapon of choice for Sunni extremists there. By the middle of the last decade, this technique had begun to be widely used in Afghanistan. What began as a means of last-ditch resistance to invasion and occupation is now a preferred means of retaliation against foreigners seen to have offended the peace of the Muslim umma. Although it is completely contrary to Islamic scripture, suicide bombing has become a predictable aspect of civil strife everywhere in the Islamic world and beyond it. And civil strife is widespread. Much-resented foreign intrusions into Muslim lands have exacerbated intra-Muslim sectarian differences.

Al Qaeda’s kamikaze attack on the United States drew America into a punitive raid in Afghanistan. This soon became a campaign of pacification there. It eventually grew into a widening circle of armed interventions in other Muslim societies. These include the now-ended, tragically counterproductive American attempt to transform the political culture of Iraq and the frustrating, continuing effort by the United States and NATO to do the same in Afghanistan.

It has long been said that Afghanistan is where empires go to die. Many would argue that the Soviet Union’s experience in Afghanistan was what finally broke both its spirit and its treasury. Most Muslims believe this. They also believe that America’s misadventures in the Middle East are having a similar, if so far less decisive effect on the United States. As they see it, a great deal of the melancholy among Americans today derives from mounting recognition that U.S. military campaigns in Muslim countries are failing to accomplish their objectives, even as they become both apparently endless and ever more unaffordable.

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Video: Fear, anger and politics — part 2

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9/11 at 11: the lost United States of September 10, 2001

Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, writes: September 11, 2001 is a milestone date in history that nearly everyone living at the time will recall in detail for the rest of their lives. I will always remember sitting at my desk in my office at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, eyes fixed on the television in the credenza sitting on the other side of the room. I recall watching the towers fall and wondering how it would change America.

Like this 10 September, 10 September 2001 was a Monday. The only reason I know that is because it was the day before an enormous tragedy that is permanently etched into my mind, and that happened on a Tuesday. I went to the same office and sat at the same desk on Monday as I did on Tuesday, but I have no recollection of one day and a vivid recollection of the other. Even though I do not recall any of the details of Monday 10 September, sometimes I think about how America might be different if we could turn back the clock.

On 10 September, the US economy was strong, although it had begun to slow down after a sustained period of growth. The unemployment rate stood at 4.9%. We were paying down the national debt and there was a $127bn surplus for the fiscal year ending on 30 September. For some, concern about the nation’s debt focused on what might happen in a few years when the debt was completely eliminated and there was no longer a need for US treasuries, a key component in the world’s economy.

Worries about the consequences of a debt-free America evaporated soon thereafter. After tax cuts, two unfunded wars, and a near-collapse of the economy, US treasury department figures show the nation’s debt grew from less than $6tn in 2001 to nearly $16tn today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate has remained over 8% throughout 2012 after peaking at 10% in October 2009.

Rightly or wrongly, on 10 September 2001, most Americans believed their phone calls and emails were private and did not suspect that the government might be listening in and keeping tabs. If someone fondled your junk at the airport, you would expect to see the person again, this time as you sat on the witness standing testifying in his or her sexual assault trial. If the government was going to execute a citizen, it was assumed that followed after a trial and appeals in the courts of our judicial system, not a unilateral decision by a president that is immune from any review. [Continue reading...]

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