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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
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...]
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.
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...]
Rory O’Connor and Ray Nowosielski write: A growing number of former government insiders — all responsible officials who served in a number of federal posts — are now on record as doubting ex-CIA director George Tenet’s account of events leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Among them are several special agents of the FBI, the former counterterrorism head in the Clinton and Bush administrations, and the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, who told us the CIA chief had been “obviously not forthcoming” in his testimony and had misled the commissioners.
These doubts about the CIA first emerged among a group of 9/11 victims’ families whose struggle to force the government to investigate the causes of the attacks, we chronicled in our 2006 documentary film “Press for Truth.” At that time, we thought we were done with the subject. But tantalizing information unearthed by the 9/11 Commission’s final report and spotted by the families (Chapter 6, footnote 44) raised a question too important to be put aside:
Did Tenet fail to share intelligence with the White House and the FBI in 2000 and 2001 that could have prevented the attacks? Specifically, did a group in the CIA’s al-Qaida office engage in a domestic covert action operation involving two of the 9/11 hijackers, that — however legitimate the agency’s goals may have been — hindered the type of intelligence-sharing that could have prevented the attacks? And if not, then what would explain seemingly inexplicable actions by CIA employees?
As we sought to clarify how the CIA had handled information about the hijackers before 9/11, we found a half dozen former government insiders who came away from the Sept. 11 tragedy feeling burned by the CIA, particularly by a small group of employees within the agency’s bin Laden unit in 2000 and 2001, then known as Alec Station.
Among them was Gov. Thomas Kean, co-chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which was responsible for investigating 9/11. He agreed to an on-camera interview for our documentary in 2008. He surprised us by voicing many doubts and questions about the CIA’s actions preceding Sept. 11 — and especially about former CIA director George Tenet.
Four years after Tenet testified to the commission, Kean said the CIA director had been “obviously not forthcoming” in some of his testimony. Tenet said under oath that he had not met with President Bush in the month of August 2001, Kean recalled. It was later learned he had done so twice.
Did Tenet misspeak? we asked the New Jersey Republican.
“No, I don’t think he misspoke,” Kean responded. “I think he misled.”
David Rose writes: One morning in June 2001, three months before the 9/11 attacks on the United States, I happened to be interviewing a senior official from the British Secret Intelligence Service, M.I.6. His current focus was the war on drugs, not international terrorism, but he shared a piece of information that united the two subjects.
A short time earlier, the official told me, the U.S. National Security Agency had intercepted a call between two satellite-telephone users in Afghanistan—the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. They had been discussing the Taliban’s ban on growing opium poppies, imposed the previous summer—a remarkably effective edict that had shrunk production in areas they controlled almost to zero.
According to the M.I.6 official, bin Laden sounded unhappy. “Why stop growing opium?” he asked. “Heroin only weakens our enemies.” There was no need to worry, Mullah Omar replied. The ban was merely a tactic. “There has been a glut, and the price is too low. Once the world price has risen, the farmers can start growing it again.”
The real lesson of this overheard conversation was not its specific content but the fact that it could be heard at all. Electronic eavesdropping clearly had potential in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. But in the years before 9/11, when bin Laden’s terror plot was first being discussed, that potential remained limited. The reason was simple: Afghanistan had no cell phones, no Internet, and only a rudimentary landline network, which did not work at all outside the country’s largest cities. This could be remedied, however. Indeed, by the end of 1999, the Taliban government had embraced a full-fledged American scheme to install a modern cell-phone-and-Internet system in Afghanistan. It could have been up and running within months. The Taliban had already granted an exclusive license to a U.S.-owned firm, the Afghan Wireless Communications Company.
More to the point, electronic modifications concealed within the circuitry would have allowed every call and every e-mail emanating from Afghanistan to be relayed without interference to N.S.A. headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. “This project was a dream,” says one former senior F.B.I. counterterrorism specialist who knew about the scheme at the time. “To be able to wire up a country from ground level up—you don’t get too many opportunities like that.” No, you don’t. But at the critical moment, the Clinton administration put the project on hold, while rival U.S. agencies—the F.B.I., the N.S.A., and the C.I.A.—bickered over who should control it.
In the decade since 9/11, investigations by journalists and government commissions have explored the many missed opportunities to prevent bin Laden’s attacks. Overall, it is the story of a catastrophic failure to connect the dots. One can argue—and many have—that the connections emerge more visibly in retrospect than they ever did as events themselves unfolded. But the affair of the Afghan cell-phone network—put on hold until time ran out—falls into a category by itself. It was a course of action whose value and urgency were acknowledged by everyone, but it was impeded nonetheless. The cell-phone plan “was one tool we could have put in Afghanistan that could have made a difference,” a former C.I.A. official says. “Why didn’t we put it in? Because we couldn’t fucking agree.”
Mark Danner writes:
We are living in the State of Exception. We don’t know when it will end, as we don’t know when the War on Terror will end. But we all know when it began. We can no longer quite “remember” that moment, for the images have long since been refitted into a present-day fable of innocence and apocalypse: the perfect blue of that late summer sky stained by acrid black smoke. The jetliner appearing, tilting, then disappearing into the skin of the second tower, to emerge on the other side as a great eruption of red and yellow flame. The showers of debris, the falling bodies, and then that great blossoming flower of white dust, roiling and churning upward, enveloping and consuming the mighty skyscraper as it collapses into the whirlwind.
To Americans, those terrible moments stand as a brightly lit portal through which we were all compelled to step, together, into a different world. Since that day ten years ago we have lived in a subtly different country, and though we have grown accustomed to these changes and think little of them now, certain words still appear often enough in the news—Guantánamo, indefinite detention, torture—to remind us that ours remains a strange America. The contours of this strangeness are not unknown in our history—the country has lived through broadly similar periods, at least half a dozen or so, depending on how you count; but we have no proper name for them. State of siege? Martial law? State of emergency? None of these expressions, familiar as they may be to other peoples, falls naturally from American lips.
What are we to call this subtly altered America? Clinton Rossiter, the great American scholar of “crisis government,” writing in the shadow of World War II, called such times “constitutional dictatorship.” Others, more recently, have spoken of a “9/11 Constitution” or an “Emergency Constitution.” Vivid terms all; and yet perhaps too narrowly drawn, placing as they do the definitional weight entirely on law when this state of ours seems to have as much, or more, to do with politics—with how we live now and who we are as a polity. This is in part why I prefer “the state of exception,” an umbrella term that gathers beneath it those emergency categories while emphasizing that this state has as its defining characteristic that it transcends the borders of the strictly legal—that it occupies, in the words of the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, “a position at the limit between politics and law…an ambiguous, uncertain, borderline fringe, at the intersection of the legal and the political.”
Call it, then, the state of exception: these years during which, in the name of security, some of our accustomed rights and freedoms are circumscribed or set aside, the years during which we live in a different time. This different time of ours has now extended ten years—the longest by far in American history—with little sense of an ending. Indeed, the very endlessness of this state of exception—a quality emphasized even as it was imposed—and the broad acceptance of that endlessness, the state of exception’s increasing normalization, are among its distinguishing marks.