• CIA, Senate and a Constitutional Crisis (if you’ll keep it)

    March 12, 2014 // 20 Comments »




    Even for someone cynical and jaded, it is still possible to be gobsmacked by the news. We are witnessing extraordinary events in the history of our nation.

    Speaking in reference to revelations that the CIA searched computers being used by Senate staffers, and removed documents those staffers had received from the CIA detailing its post-9/11 torture program, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said:


    I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate Clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities.

    [CIA actions] may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

    We will bypass for now the hypocrisy of Feinstein complaining that her own Fourth Amendment rights were trod upon, given that she has until now enthusiastically supported the government’s rape of our own rights through unwarranted surveillance. There are bigger fish to fry this round.

    Torture

    As almost a side note, it is very clear now that there are things in those deleted CIA files that the CIA and the White House are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to hide. Recall that the CIA destroyed without punishment or sanction video tapes of the torture sessions.

    Feinstein said “The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detentions sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us” and emphasized that her committee’s report would detail “the horrible details of the CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”

    It is likely the files the CIA pulled out of the Senate’s hands would reveal two presidents have lied to the world about the torture program, and that horrors beyond what we know were committed in our names. What did they do to other humans?


    Beyond Torture

    But we are past the question of torture. What is happening here is a Constitutional crisis. If Feinstein does not have CIA Director Brennan up before her Senate committee immediately, and if she does not call for his resignation and if the president remains silent (“We need to allow Justice to complete its investigation”) then we have witnessed the essential elements of a coup; at the very least, the collapse of the third of the government charged with oversight of the executive.

    That oversight– those Constitutional checks and balances– are the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. They are what contains executive power and makes it responsible to the People. But like Jenga, pull out the important one and the whole thing falls.

    A Last Question

    The only question remaining then is whether the president is part of the coup, or another victim of it. Is he in charge, or are the intelligence agencies? We may have an answer soon. CIA Director Brennan said:


    If I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

    So far, the White House response has been to ignore the challenge:


    President Obama has “great confidence” in Brennan, Carney said during his daily briefing. He added that if there has been any “inappropriate activity,” the president “would want to get to the bottom of it.”

    Carney added later Obama administration lawyers were told about the CIA’s intentions to have the Department of Justice investigate Senate staffers for potentially stealing classified documents they sought to hold on to after the CIA tried to delete them but did not approve or weigh in on the agency’s decision. One must ask: why the f*ck not?

    Brennan has challenged the president to act. What the president does will tell us much about the future of our democracy. As radio host Guillermo Jimenez has said, “On this Grand Chessboard, it is We the People who are now in check. It’s our move.”




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Review: Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam

    April 25, 2013 // 12 Comments »

    There are ghosts in Washington that few will talk about, roaming the halls of the Pentagon, inside the State Department and the CIA, and at the White House, moaning “Vietnam, Vietnam.” Nick Turse, in his new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, awakens those ghosts and gives them a voice, and in the process has written one of the most important books about the American War in Vietnam. As America again makes war on an industrial scale on nations far less advanced, and commits again torture, assassinations, mass killings and keeps secret prisons while all the while trying to hide its dirty hands from the American public, that Turse’s book was published in 2013 is no accident.

    Kill Anything That Moves is a painstaking, detailed, minutely-cataloged 370 pages of the atrocities America committed in Vietnam . Like much of the scholarship of the Holocaust, Turse seeks to document in straight forward, simple language what happened so that no one will be able to someday pretend—as the men who run from the ghosts in Washington now do—that it never happened. To make clear his intent, Turse gives us a trail to follow, 85 dense pages of sources and footnotes.

    What Happened

    The slaughter at My Lai is the signature event for most Vietnam war historians (the massacre took place almost 45 years ago to date, on March 16, 1968), the single instance, the aberration, the time when a small group of poorly-led soldiers went rogue and gunned down civilians. There were photos this time. Everything else, TV and movies tell us, is an exaggeration, propaganda, the drunken and drugged memories of freaked out veterans who came to hold Jane Fonda in too high a regard.

    What really happened is Turse’s story. His book began with a different focus when as a graduate student in Public Health, Turse began looking into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Vietnam vets. By chance an archivist asked Turse whether he thought witnessing war crimes might be a cause of PTSD and directed Turse to the forgotten papers of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group. That group had been set up by the military in the wake of My Lai to compile information on atrocities, not so much to punish the guilty as to “to ensure that the army would never again be caught off-guard by a major war crimes scandal.” Turse tells us the group’s findings were mostly kept under cover and the witnesses who reported the crimes were ignored, discredited or pushed into silence.

    Until Now

    Kill Anything That Moves is a hard book to read. You want to look away but finally turn the pages and read of mass killings and targeted assassinations of Vietnamese civilians, rape committed casually and coldly in sight of officers, sport killings and road rage incidents. Turse painstakingly documents each incident, in many cases starting with the War Crimes Working Group reports and then adding his own first-person interviews conducted in Vietnam with eye witnesses. Mostly aged, the witnesses speak calmly now, and Turse reports what they say without embellishment. Still, the ghosts are there and you half expect to see drops of sweat on the pages.

    But however horrific the many, many individual acts of brutality are to read about, Turse’s larger conclusion is even worse. Turse comes to understand that most of the atrocities were committed with official sanction, in fact, were committed because of U.S. policy that demanded body counts, number of “enemy” killed, as the borderless war’s only metric of accomplishment. He writes, “U.S. commanders wasted ammunition like millionaires and hoarded American lives like misers, and often treated Vietnamese lives as if they were worth nothing at all.”

    Officers, seeking validation and promotion, made it clear in case after case that their troops must come back from the field with a high body count. Given that demand, standards of accountability were purposefully loose. Any Vietnamese man killed was labeled Viet Cong (VC). When that number was not enough, orders were given to sweep through areas and kill anything that moved or ran, man, woman or child, on the assumption that only a Viet Cong would run. When even that tally was insufficient, civilians were executed in place, the soldiers planting captured Chinese weapons on them to justify the ‘Count. Once reality became so flexible, soldiers lost touch with any standard, creating “rules” that allowed them to kill everyone—if she stands still she is a trained VC, if she runs she is a VC taking evasive action. If men are present the village is VC, if men are missing the village has sent its males off to fight with the VC and so either way, burn it all down.

    America’s actions were, in Turse’s words, “Not a few random massacres… But a system of suffering.” The deaths were “widespread, routine and directly attributable to U.S. command policies.”

    In short, the atrocities were not war crimes, they were policy.

    Iraq is the Arabic Word for Vietnam

    Nick Turse’s book wasn’t published by accident in 2013. While it details terrible, terrible things Americans did in Vietnam some 45 or more years ago, one need only open a web browser to see that the atrocities have not stopped—call them out now, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the secret CIA prisons across the world, the black sites in Afghanistan.

    As the Iraq War sputtered to a close, at least for America, Liz Sly of the Washington Post wrote a sad, important story about the legacy of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

    The story highlights, if that word is even permissible here, some of the long series of atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq, instances where our killing of civilians, whether by accident or purposeful or something smeared in-between, ruined any chance that the U.S. could in fact capture those hearts and minds and build a stable society in our image. We could hold ground with tanks but only achieve our broader national security goals via memory. It was true in Vietnam, and it will be true in Syria or the Horn of Africa or wherever we drag the fight on to next. Vietnam’s CIA assassination program, Phoenix, was just a low-tech version of today’s drone killings.

    While focusing on the massacre at Haditha, Sly also referenced the killings at Nisoor Square by Blackwater under the “control” of the State Department and several other examples. In a sad coda to the war, even online she did not have space to touch upon all of the incidents, so ones like the aerial gunning down of civilians captured so brilliantly in the film Incident in New Baghdad, or the rape-murder of a child and her family from the book Black Hearts, are missing. There are just too many.

    Accountability?

    Sly’s article quotes retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor, who commanded a combat brigade in Baghdad in 2003-04 and then returned as executive officer to David Petraeus during the Surge, explaining the fog of war, the ambiguity of decision making in a chaotic urban counter-insurgency struggle, and exonerating those who made wrong, fatal decisions by saying “when you look at it from the soldiers’ point of view, it was justified. It’s very hard.”

    Though I doubt he would find many Iraqis who would agree with him, and though I do doubt Mansoor would accept a similar statement by an Iraqi (“Sorry we killed your soldiers, it was hard to tell the good ones from the bad ones”), his point carries some truth. I cannot let this review of Nick Turse’s book end without asking the bigger questions outside of his scope as a documentarian.

    The issue is not so much how/when/should we assign blame and punishment to an individual soldier, but to raise the stakes and ask: why have we not assigned blame and demanded punishment for the leaders who put those 19-year-old soldiers into the impossible situations they faced? Before we throw away the life of a kid who shot when he should not have done so, why don’t we demand justice for those in the highest seats of power for creating wars that create such fertile ground for atrocity? The chain of responsibility for the legacy left behind in our wars runs high.

    In this rare moment of American reflection Turse’s book offers, ask the bigger question, demand the bigger answer. Those Vietnamese, those Iraqis, those Afghans — and those Americans — killed and died because they were put there to do so by the decisions of our leaders. Hold them accountable for their actions, hold them accountable for America.

    Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam is available from Amazon.com




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    You are Not a Person, Anwar al-Awlaki

    March 13, 2013 // 11 Comments »

    This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

    Though I spent 24 years working for the State Department as a Consular Officer, charged in part with the issuance and (very rarely) revocation of U.S. passports, there is still room to learn something new: The Government of the United States can, and apparently does, take away passports from American Citizens because “The Secretary of State determines that the applicant’s activities abroad are causing or are likely to cause serious damage to the national security or the foreign policy of the United States.”

    If the government feels it is against its interest for you to have a passport and thus the freedom to travel, to depart the United States if you wish to, it will just take it away. The law allows them to do this prospectively, the “or are likely to cause…” part of the law, meaning you don’t need to have done anything. The government just needs to decide that you might.

    We learned via a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act request that prior to having him and his 16 year old son away blown away via drone in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secretly revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda propagandist and U.S. Citizen. The State Department even tried to invite al-Awlaki into the U.S. Embassy in Yemen so they could hand him a letter announcing the revocation and so that they could encourage him to return to the U.S. to face charges. Six months later (al-Awlaki never dropped by the Embassy, by the way), the U.S. Government simply killed him. Two weeks after that it killed his 16 year old son.

    I have been unable to track down many recent examples where the U.S. Government revoked the passport of an American simply because his/her presence abroad bothered– or might bother– the Secretary of State. In fact, the only example I was able to locate was that of infamous ex-CIA officer Phillip Agee, who in the 1970′s exposed CIA officers identities. It was Agee’s case that prompted a Supreme Court review of the Department of State’s ability to revoke passports simply because the government didn’t want you to travel abroad (the Supreme’s upheld the government’s ability to do so based on a 1926 law after lower courts said no. The Court stated that “The right to hold a passport is subordinate to national security and foreign policy considerations.”)

    Agee was a naughty boy. According to the Supreme Court:

    In 1974, Agee called a press conference in London to announce his “campaign to fight the United States CIA wherever it is operating. He declared his intent “to expose CIA officers and agents and to take the measures necessary to drive them out of the countries where they are operating.” Since 1974, Agee has, by his own assertion, devoted consistent effort to that program, and he has traveled extensively in other countries in order to carry it out. To identify CIA personnel in a particular country, Agee goes to the target country and consults sources in local diplomatic circles whom he knows from his prior service in the United States Government. He recruits collaborators and trains them in clandestine techniques designed to expose the “cover” of CIA employees and sources. Agee and his collaborators have repeatedly and publicly identified individuals and organizations located in foreign countries as undercover CIA agents, employees, or sources. The record reveals that the identifications divulge classified information, violate Agee’s express contract not to make any public statements about Agency matters without prior clearance by the Agency, have prejudiced the ability of the United States to obtain intelligence, and have been followed by episodes of violence against the persons and organizations identified.


    In Anwar Al-Awlaki’s case, the Government has not made much of a case (never mind for the passport, remember he was murdered by a drone). In fact, officially, we do not know why al-Awlaki was killed at all, or under what laws or by what decision process. Some reports tie him to the failed idiot underwear bomber, but being part of a failed plot seems not to rise to the usual standard for capital punishment. It is all secret.

    The Government of the United States executed one of its own citizens abroad without any form of due process. This is generally seen as a no-no as far as the Bill of Rights goes. The silly old Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” and includes no exceptions for war, terrorism, or being a really bad human being.

    Could the passport revocation have been simply a ruse, a bureaucratic CYA attempt at providing some sort of illusion of “due process?” Could al-Awlaki’s not dropping by the U.S. Embassy to chat about his passport have been a veiled attempt to justify his killing in that he was thus not able to be arrested? Or was the passport revocation just a simple act of dehumanizing someone to make killing him that much more palatable?

    We’ll never know.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Meanwhile, “Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department”

    January 30, 2013 // 13 Comments »

    Your Department of State, right on the cusp of budget time, has released a self-pleasuring “fact sheet” of what it thinks it does with your tax money, helpfully titled “Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department.”

    Some of it is over-the-top performance art hilarious, like the unsupported statement that “We directly support 20 million U.S. jobs (No. 1)” and “In South Sudan, Libya and many other countries we worked through various means to foster democracy and peace (No. 3)” But in light og recent personnel moves at State, let’s look at Number 8 in full:

    8. We promote the rule of law and protect human dignity. We help people in other countries find freedom and shape their own destinies. Reflecting U.S. values, we advocate for the release of prisoners of conscience, prevent political activists from suffering abuse, train police officers to combat sex trafficking and equip journalists to hold their governments accountable.


    Meanwhile, over in reality, the same State Department reassigned its special envoy for closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, in another step away from one of Obama’s first campaign promises. Ambassador Daniel Fried (hah hah, his name is really “Fried”) is starting this week as the Department’s sanctions coordinator, according to an internal notice, focusing on governments like Iran and Syria. No one is replacing Fried to persuade countries to resettle Guantanamo inmates approved for release. Instead, those responsibilities will now transfer to the Department’s legal office where the tired Washington-bound lawyers will no doubt welcome the additional workload.

    The reduced diplomatic effort comes as a military tribunal holds more hearings into the case of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five other defendants who face almost 3,000 counts of murder. They could get the death penalty if convicted.

    And as for the last line in Number 8, “equip journalists to hold their governments accountable,” it is fun to note that the military judge presiding over the trial of the five men accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks declined to explain a mysterious episode in which the audio and video feeds to the proceedings were severed, cutting journalists off from covering the trial. All details of CIA secret prisons and torture are considered classified and are censored from what journalists may hear.

    A Justice Department lawyer on the prosecution team, said the “original classification authority” reviews the feeds. The authority referred to almost certainly is the CIA in the case of material related to secret overseas prisons. Agency personnel apparently monitor and have a previously undisclosed ability to cut the feed, for freedom.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    John Kiriakou, Scooter Libby and the Myth of Justice

    January 28, 2013 // 23 Comments »

    John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, pleaded guilty to leaking the identity of one of the agency’s covert operatives to a reporter and was sentenced on January 24, 2013 to two and a half years in prison. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that had been filed under the World War I-era Espionage Act.

    District Judge Leonie Brinkema noted the two and a half-year term was identical to that imposed on Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted of leaking the covert identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in a politically-motivated attack on her husband in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Libby’s sentence was commuted by President George W. Bush to zero, while Kiriakou will be required to serve his full time.

    In an America where the same crime is treated ever so differently– leak a name to help George W. Bush and get a reprieve, leak a name to expose torture and go to jail– Kiriakou’s story is worth repeating today.


    In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

    Here is what military briefers like to call BLUF, the Bottom Line Up Front: no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.

    A long time ago, with mediocre grades and no athletic ability, I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. I guess the Rhodes committee at my school needed practice, and I found myself undergoing a rigorous oral examination. Here was the final question they fired at me, probing my ability to think morally and justly: You are a soldier. Your prisoner has information that might save your life. The only way to obtain it is through torture. What do you do?

    At that time, a million years ago in an America that no longer exists, my obvious answer was never to torture, never to lower oneself, never to sacrifice one’s humanity and soul, even if it meant death. My visceral reaction: to become a torturer was its own form of living death. (An undergrad today, after the “enhanced interrogation” Bush years and in the wake of 24, would probably detail specific techniques that should be employed.) My advisor later told me my answer was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful interview.

    It is now common knowledge that between 2001 and about 2007 the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sanctioned acts of torture committed by members of the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.

    Some tortured prisoners were even killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.


    John Kiriakou Alone

    The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors facing prosecution is former CIA agent John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one may go to jail.

    And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.

    The charges against Kiriakou allege that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.

    The Obama Justice Department claims the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”

    The charges result from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to one description, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou is accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.

    Many observers believe however that the real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Zubaydah was at the time believed to be an al-Qaeda leader, though more likely was at best a mid-level operative. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work. He maintains that his is instead a First Amendment case in which a whistleblower is being punished, that it is a selective prosecution to scare government insiders into silence when they see something wrong.

    If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. John Kiriakou is staring down a long tunnel of 30 months in jail because in the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.


    Welcome to the Jungle

    John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project, and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him, however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile disappears.

    He understands the role his government has chosen for him: the head on a stick, the example, the message to everyone else involved in the horrors of post-9/11 America. Do the country’s dirty work, kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence of all that and we’ll reward you. But speak out, and expect to be punished.

    Like so many of us who have served the U.S. government honorably only to have its full force turned against us for an act or acts of conscience, the pain comes in trying to reconcile the two images of the U.S. government in your head. It’s like trying to process the actions of an abusive father you still want to love.

    One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack, told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”

    One former CIA covert officer, who uses the pen name “Ishmael Jones,” laid out a potential defense for Kiriakou: “Witness after witness could explain to the jury that Mr. Kiriakou is being selectively prosecuted, that his leaks are nothing compared to leaks by Obama administration officials and senior CIA bureaucrats. Witness after witness could show the jury that for any secret material published by Mr. Kiriakou, the books of senior CIA bureaucrats contain many times as much. Former CIA chief George Tenet wrote a book in 2007, approved by CIA censors, that contains dozens of pieces of classified information — names and enough information to find names.”

    If only it was really that easy.


    Never Again

    For at least six years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.

    Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to be updated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.

    Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters. Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.

    America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.

    What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watching what is happening to John Kiriakou and thinking: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off. They’re almost forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country. But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?

    The same Department of Justice that is hunting down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.


    John Kiriakou maintains a personal web page, which includes information on how to donate to his legal expenses fund if you so wish.

    Kiriakou, alongside whistleblowers such as Tom Drake and myself, appears in the upcoming documentary SILENCED, now in production. The film explores the steep personal price paid by those who challenge national security policy in post 9-11 America.



    Originally published September 11, 2012 on TomDispatch.com, with updates on John’s sentencing.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    An All-American Nightmare

    January 14, 2013 // 33 Comments »

    This article was originally published on Salon.com, December 18, 2012

    Why Zero Dark Thirty Won’t Settle the Torture Question or Purge Torture From the American System

    If you look backward you see a nightmare. If you look forward you become the nightmare.

    There’s one particular nightmare that Americans need to face: in the first decade of the twenty-first century we tortured people as national policy. One day, we’re going to have to confront the reality of what that meant, of what effect it had on its victims and on us, too, we who condoned, supported, or at least allowed it to happen, either passively or with guilty (or guiltless) gusto. If not, torture won’t go away. It can’t be disappeared like the body of a political prisoner, or conveniently deep-sixed simply by wishing it elsewhere or pretending it never happened or closing our bureaucratic eyes. After the fact, torture can only be dealt with by staring directly into the nightmare that changed us — that, like it or not, helped make us who we now are.

    The president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has made it clear that no further investigations or inquiries will be made into America’s decade of torture. His Justice Department failed to prosecute a single torturer or any of those who helped cover up evidence of the torture practices.  But it did deliver a jail sentence to one ex-CIA officer who refused to be trained to torture and was among the first at the CIA to publicly admit that the torture program was real.

    At what passes for trials at our prison camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, disclosure of the details of torture is forbidden, effectively preventing anyone from learning anything about what the CIA did with its victims. We are encouraged to do what’s best for America and, as Barack Obama put it, “look forward, not backward,” with the same zeal as, after 9/11, we were encouraged to save America by going shopping.


    Looking into the Eyes of the Tortured

    Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. As an act, it is all about pain, but even more about degradation and humiliation. It destroys its victims, but also demeans those who perpetrate it. I know, because in the course of my 24 years as a State Department officer, I spoke with two men who had been tortured, both by allies of the United States and with at least the tacit approval of Washington. While these men were tortured, Americans in a position to know chose to look the other way for reasons of politics. These men were not movie characters, but complex flesh-and-blood human beings. Meet just one of them once and, I assure you, you’ll never follow the president’s guidance and move forward trying to forget.


    The Korean Poet

    The first victim was a Korean poet. I was in Korea at the time as a visa officer working for the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Persons with serious criminal records are normally ineligible to travel to the United States. There is, however, an exception in the law for political crimes. It was initially carved out for Soviet dissidents during the Cold War years. I spoke to the poet as he applied for a visa to determine if his arrest had indeed been “political” and so not a disqualification for his trip to the U.S.

    Under the brutal military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, the poet was tortured for writing anti-government verse. To younger Americans, South Korea is the land of “Gangnam Style,” of fashionable clothing and cool, cool electronics. However, within Psy’s lifetime, his nation was ruled by a series of military autocrats, supported by the United States in the interest of “national security.”

    The poet quietly explained to me that, after his work came to the notice of the powers that be, he was taken from his apartment to a small underground cell. Soon, two men arrived and beat him repeatedly on his testicles and sodomized him with one of the tools they had used for the beating. They asked him no questions. In fact, he said, they barely spoke to him at all. Though the pain was beyond his ability to describe, even as a poet, he said that the humiliation of being left so utterly helpless was what remained with him for life, destroyed his marriage, sent him to the repeated empty comfort of alcohol, and kept him from ever putting pen to paper again.

    The men who destroyed him, he told me, entered the room, did their work, and then departed, as if they had many others to visit that day and needed to get on with things. The Poet was released a few days later and politely driven back to his apartment by the police in a forward-looking gesture, as if the episode of torture was over and to be forgotten.


    The Iraqi Tribal Leader

    The second torture victim I met while I was stationed at a forward operating base in Iraq. He was a well-known SOI leader. The SOI, or Sons of Iraq, were Sunni tribesmen who, as part of Iraq War commander General David Petraeus’s much-discussed “Anbar Awakening” agreed to stop killing Americans and, in return for money we paid them, take up arms against al-Qaeda. That was 2007. By 2010, when I met the man, the Sons of Iraq, as Sunnis, had no friends in the Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad and the U.S. was expediently allowing its Sunni friendships to fade away.

    Over dessert one sticky afternoon, the SOI leader told me that he had recently been released from prison. He explained that the government had wanted him off the street in the run-up to a recent election, so that he would not use his political pull to get in the way of a Shia victory. The prison that held him was a secret one, he told me, under the control of some shadowy part of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces.

    He had been tortured by agents of the Maliki government, supported by the United States in the interest of national security. Masked men bound him at the wrists and ankles and hung him upside-down. He said that they neither asked him any questions nor demanded any information. They whipped his testicles with a leather strap, then beat the bottoms of his feet and the area around his kidneys. They slapped him. They broke the bones in his right foot with a steel rod, a piece of rebar that would ordinarily have been used to reinforce concrete.

    It was painful, he told me, but he had felt pain before. What truly wounded him was the feeling of utter helplessness. A man like himself, he stated with an echo of pride, had never felt helpless. His strength was his ability to control things, to stand up to enemies, to fight, and if necessary, to order men to their deaths. Now, he no longer slept well at night, was less interested in life and its activities, and felt little pleasure. He showed me his blackened toenails, as well as the caved in portion of his foot, which still bore a rod-like indentation with faint signs of metal grooves. When he paused and looked across the room, I thought I could almost see the movie running in his head.


    Alone in the Dark

    I encountered those two tortured men, who described their experiences so similarly, several years and thousands of miles apart. All they really had in common was being tortured and meeting me. They could, of course, have been lying about, or exaggerating, what had happened to them. I have no way to verify their stories because in neither country were their torturers ever brought to justice. One man was tortured because he was considered a threat to South Korea, the other to Iraq. Those “threatened” governments were among the company the U.S. keeps, and they were known torturers, regularly justifying such horrific acts, as we would also do in the first years of the twenty-first century, in the name of security. In our case, actual torture techniques would reportedly be demonstrated to some of the highest officials in the land in the White House itself, then “legalized,” and carried out in global “black sites” and foreign prisons.


    A widely praised new movie about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, opens with a series of torture scenes. The victims are various Muslims and al-Qaeda suspects, and the torturers are members of the U.S. government working for the CIA. We see a prisoner strapped to the wall, bloody, with his pants pulled down in front of a female CIA officer. We see another having water poured into his mouth and lungs until he wretches in agony (in what during the Middle Ages was bluntly called “the Water Torture,” later “the water cure,” or more recently “waterboarding”). We see men shoved forcibly into tiny confinement boxes that do not allow them to sit, stand, or lie down.

    These are were among the techniques of torture “lawfully” laid out in a CIA Inspector General’s report, some of which would have been alarmingly familiar to the tortured men I spoke with, as they might be to Bradley Manning, held isolated, naked, and without sleep in U.S. military prisons in a bid to break his spirit.

    The movie scenes are brutal, yet sanitized.  As difficult to watch as the images are, they show nothing beyond the infliction of pain. Horrific as it may be, pain fades, bones mend, bruises heal. No, don’t for a second think that the essence of torture is physical pain, no matter what Zero Dark Thirty implies. If, in many cases, the body heals, mental wounds are a far more difficult matter. Memory persists.

    The obsessive debate in this country over the effectiveness of torture rings eternally false: torture does indeed work. After all, it’s not just about eliciting information — sometimes, as in the case of the two men I met, it’s not about information at all. Torture is, however, invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control. We’re just slapping you now, but we control you and who knows what will happen next, what we’re capable of? “You lie to me, I hurt you,” says a CIA torturer in Zero Dark Thirty to his victim. The torture victim is left to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, almost always in the process assuming responsibility for creating his own terror. Yes, torture “works” — to destroy people.

    Khalid Sheik Mohammed, accused 9/11 “mastermind,” was waterboarded 183 times. Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay prison, stating, “They used dogs on us, they beat me, sometimes they hung me from the ceiling and didn’t allow me to sleep for six days.” Brandon Neely, a U.S. military policeman and former Guantanamo guard, watched a medic there beat an inmate he was supposed to treat. CIA agents tortured a German citizen, a car salesman named Khaled el-Masri, who was picked up in a case of mistaken identity, sodomizing, shackling, and beating him, holding him in total sensory deprivation, as Macedonian state police looked on, so the European Court of Human Rights found last week.

    Others, such as the Court of Human Rights or the Senate Intelligence Committee, may give us glimpses into the nightmare of official American policy in the first years of this century. Still, our president refuses to look backward and fully expose the deeds of that near-decade to sunlight; he refuses to truly look forward and unambiguously renounce forever the use of anything that could be seen as an “enhanced interrogation technique.”  Since he also continues to support robustly the precursors to torture — the “extraordinary rendition” of captured terror suspects to allied countries that are perfectly happy to torture them and indefinite detention by decree — we cannot fully understand what men like the Korean poet and the Iraqi tribal leader already know on our behalf: we are torturers and unless we awaken to confront the nightmare of what we are continuing to become, it will eventually transform and so consume us.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Dear Playboy Adviser: (Petraeus Edition)

    November 14, 2012 // 20 Comments »

    (The following emails were found in an electronic trash can outside CIA headquarters. No attempt has been made to contact The Daily Show or to verify their authenticity)

    Dear Playboy Adviser:

    I am an older professional man; call me “Dave” (maybe not my real name). Bored with my marriage of many decades to a woman who looks like she could be my mother, it seemed OK to me to have an affair with this dame writing a book about me, and, OK, maybe a few other broads. Turns out they are all bat shit crazy and now I’m in trouble where I used to work. I just want to get back in the saddle, put myself back out there while I’m still young enough, but I’m worried. Is Viagra still the best or should I try Cialis? This all seems like just a personal matter but the media is all over it like some big f’ing deal.

    All in,
    Stick Man



    Dear Stick Man:

    Writing from a Gmail account SkinnyLoveHunk@gmail.com created by someone named NotGeneralPetraeus at CIA HQ is a poor way to conceal your identity, just saying.

    David Petraeus, you are a disgraceful slut. You lied to your wife, messed around with a “reporter,” wrote her naughty emails we all know are going to leak eventually and make us sick. If you did not resign, exactly what credibility would you have with your staff? How about your female staff? What kind of leader and role model are you trying to be? You wrote yourself in your “12 Rules for Living” that Rule No. 1 is “Lead by example from the front of the formation.” You were the head of the freaking CIA– did you think no one would notice?

    You presence in any senior position would send a clear, sad message to all employees that double standards of behavior apply, and that if you’re senior enough you can get away with things underlings get fired for. The Army publicly fires commanders all the time for adultery, and the CIA quietly pulls security clearances from employees who cannot show personal discretion and judgement. If you’re lying to your wife, who else are you willing to lie to for your own crappy satisfaction? Your agency needs to know it can trust you. And don’t invoke your own Rule No. 4, “There is an exception to every rule, standard operating procedure, and poli­cy; it is up to leaders to determine when exceptions should be made and to explain why they made them.” That does not apply to your marriage vows, mister.

    (To be fair, none of your 12 Rules specifically bans nailing your biographer, but it is implied)

    Is America sending the right message to the world when this is the best we can come up with? What, you think, this is the State Department?

    Now, you disgust me. Zip it up and go away please.

    The Adviser

    Special to NotGeneralAllen@gmail.com: Take a look at that emblem you carry; it says Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. That’s your guide on what to do when you’re not sure what to do. And if you’ve got time to write 20,000-30,000 pages of sexytime emails to a married broad in Florida, you’ve got time to win the freaking war. Do your job, loser.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Petraeus, Hillary, Benghazi and WTF

    November 13, 2012 // 13 Comments »


    While the hearings on what happened in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and elsewhere on the Hill this week are being held behind closed doors, and while SecState-in-Wanting John Kerry as chair is on board to make sure nothing too bad happens, what we do know continues to suggest the cesspool in Washington has no bottom.



    Exit Petraeus

    David Petraeus’ political assassination last week has taken him off the stage as effectively as any sniper’s round. Conveniently timed to drop just a few days after Obama’s re-election (and on a Friday before a three day weekend to boot, sorry Mitt), in one fell swoop a fall guy is crowned for whatever went wrong in Benghazi, Hillary’s virgin status is preserved for 2016 and at no extra charge a potential Republican candidate is shredded. Not a bad day’s work for our FBI. And of course, most immediately, Petraeus won’t be allowed to testify before the Senate to cover his own philandering butt on Libya. People have learned a lot about how to do these kinds of things since the messy demise of Vince Foster.

    New CIA Renditions?

    As part of the gift that seems to keep giving, we now can go back and examine Petraeus’ snooki, Paula Broadwell, and see what she has been saying in new light. Overnight she has gone from pretend journalist to oracle into the deepest secrets at the CIA. And what might those be?

    How about this: On October 26 Broadwell told an audience at the University of Denver that the CIA annex at the Benghazi consulate came under assault on September 11 because it had earlier “taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back.”

    Another source says that prisoners from additional countries in Africa and the Middle East were also brought to the CIA’s Benghazi location. CIA, as expected, denies everything.

    Woooo, holy mother of Christ on toast! Knowing now that Broadwell had access to Petraeus’ top secret pillow talk, her “speculative” statement becomes serious stuff. It tells us without a doubt that the September attack was aimed at the CIA (which this blog called way back then without having to had slept with anyone) not Ambassador Stevens, that the White House and Susan Rice damn well knew the attack was unrelated to the anti-Muslim video and worst of all, that the CIA is back in/still in the kidnapping and rendition business.

    The latter is major stuff people. The CIA was kidnapping dudes in Libya? To do what with them? Torture/interrogate them locally and then release them? Render them to some outside secret site? What other sites? What the hell are those bad boys (still) doing in our name?

    Where in the World is Hillary?

    Just prior to the re-election of Barack Obama, lickspittle Hillary proudly proclaimed that she would assume full responsibility for what happened in Benghazi.

    So with that statement of full responsibility, one would assume that Hillary will be up on the Hill this week, adding her insight and responsibility into the Senate’s Libya hearings, right?

    Wrong Skippy.

    Hillary is off to Australia to pimp for money to prop up America’s overweight defense structure in Asia. And don’t ask her for next week either, because she’ll be “on travel.” And also don’t expect to hear any testimony from any Libyans, either.

    From Friday’s State Department press briefing:

    MS. NULAND: Matt, they’ve asked for closed hearings, closed briefings; that’s what we’re complying with.

    QUESTION: The Secretary won’t appear before any of these committees?

    MS. NULAND: The Secretary has not been asked to appear. They’ve asked for the individuals that are coming.

    QUESTION: Would she be willing to fly back from Australia to appear?

    MS. NULAND: Again, she has not been asked to appear. She was asked to appear at House Foreign Affairs next week, and we have written back to the Chairman to say that she’ll be on travel next week.

    QUESTION: Are you aware that any Libyans will be called to the hearings to be talked to?

    MS. NULAND: That sounds like a question for the Hill. I’m not aware of any panels other than the government panels.

    QUESTION: But you have not been asked to facilitate any visas or anything like this for –

    MS. NULAND: To my knowledge, no.

    QUESTION: — maybe some Libyan officials?

    MS. NULAND: No.


    As a public service, looking ahead to the Hillary Clinton presidential run in 2016, opposition researchers are invited to bookmark this page.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Cryptome, the Web Site You Don’t Know About But Need to Know About

    October 28, 2012 // 3 Comments »

    Actually, if you already know about Cryptome, sorry, this blog post isn’t for you. Move along, pal, nothing new.

    But if you’re interested in national security issues, and particularly if you prefer to study primary source documentation and make up your own mind about things, take a look at Cryptome. The site is w-a-y old school, just a page of links in good old HTML 101. They’ve been online since 1996 and serve as a repository of documents and information, some leaked, some obtained via FOIA. Cryptome was Wikileaks decades before Wikileaks.


    For example, Cryptome currently offers aerial views of the CIA’s basic training facility (swanky), Camp Peary in Virginia, with its shooting ranges, driving track and own airstrip.

    Following the incident in Benghazi? Cryptome has overhead images of the compound and surrounding neighborhood.

    Readers are intended to be critical consumers, as Cryptome offers no commentary or validation. A list of allegded CIA agents and front companies, for example, seems overly broad, but you be the judge.


    The web site also focuses on the NSA, cryptography and publishes interesting albeit open source U.S. government documents aplenty. For anyone with such documents to share, Cryptome is happy to receive them, and includes irs PGP key on the site.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Torture and the Myth of Never Again: The Persecution of John Kiriakou

    October 24, 2012 // 19 Comments »

    Originally published September 11, 2012 on TomDispatch.com

    John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, pleaded guilty October 23, 2012 to leaking the identity of one of the agency’s covert operatives to a reporter and will be sentenced to more than two years in prison. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that had been filed under the World War I-era Espionage Act. They also dropped a count of making false statements.

    Under the plea, all sides agreed to a prison term of 2 1/2 years. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema noted the term was identical to that imposed on Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted in a case where he was accused of leaking information that compromised the covert identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, though Libby’s sentence was commuted by then-President George W. Bush.


    Here is what military briefers like to call BLUF, the Bottom Line Up Front: no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.


    In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

    A long time ago, with mediocre grades and no athletic ability, I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. I guess the Rhodes committee at my school needed practice, and I found myself undergoing a rigorous oral examination. Here was the final question they fired at me, probing my ability to think morally and justly: You are a soldier. Your prisoner has information that might save your life. The only way to obtain it is through torture. What do you do?

    At that time, a million years ago in an America that no longer exists, my obvious answer was never to torture, never to lower oneself, never to sacrifice one’s humanity and soul, even if it meant death. My visceral reaction: to become a torturer was its own form of living death. (An undergrad today, after the “enhanced interrogation” Bush years and in the wake of 24, would probably detail specific techniques that should be employed.) My advisor later told me my answer was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful interview.

    It is now common knowledge that between 2001 and about 2007 the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sanctioned acts of torture committed by members of the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.

    Some tortured prisoners were even killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.


    John Kiriakou Alone

    The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors facing prosecution is former CIA agent John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one may go to jail.

    And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.

    The charges against Kiriakou allege that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.

    The Obama Justice Department claims the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”

    The charges result from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to one description, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou is accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.

    Many observers believe however that the real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Zubaydah was at the time believed to be an al-Qaeda leader, though more likely was at best a mid-level operative. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work. He maintains that his is instead a First Amendment case in which a whistleblower is being punished, that it is a selective prosecution to scare government insiders into silence when they see something wrong.

    If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. John Kiriakou is 48. He is staring down a long tunnel at a potential sentence of up to 45 years in prison because in the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.


    Welcome to the Jungle

    John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project, and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him, however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile disappears.

    He understands the role his government has chosen for him: the head on a stick, the example, the message to everyone else involved in the horrors of post-9/11 America. Do the country’s dirty work, kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence of all that and we’ll reward you. But speak out, and expect to be punished.

    Like so many of us who have served the U.S. government honorably only to have its full force turned against us for an act or acts of conscience, the pain comes in trying to reconcile the two images of the U.S. government in your head. It’s like trying to process the actions of an abusive father you still want to love.

    One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack, told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”

    One former CIA covert officer, who uses the pen name “Ishmael Jones,” lays out a potential defense for Kiriakou: “Witness after witness could explain to the jury that Mr. Kiriakou is being selectively prosecuted, that his leaks are nothing compared to leaks by Obama administration officials and senior CIA bureaucrats. Witness after witness could show the jury that for any secret material published by Mr. Kiriakou, the books of senior CIA bureaucrats contain many times as much. Former CIA chief George Tenet wrote a book in 2007, approved by CIA censors, that contains dozens of pieces of classified information — names and enough information to find names.”

    If only it was really that easy.


    Never Again

    For at least six years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.

    Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to be updated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.

    Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters. Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.

    America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.

    What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watching what is happening to John Kiriakou and thinking: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off. They’re almost forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country. But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?

    The same Department of Justice that is hunting down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.




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    Ambassador Stevens in Libya: Just Wrong (CIA) Place, Wrong Time?

    September 26, 2012 // 7 Comments »

    A blind man in the dark with ear muffs on knows that something happened in Benghazi, Libya more than a spontaneous angry mob pissed off over a Grade Z video attacked an American Consulate and killed the US Ambassador to Libya.

    I hate internet conspiracy theories, and loathe slinging a new one into the mix, but the evidence available adds up one way: the attack, well-planned, was surgical payback for CIA activity in the area. Stevens wasn’t the target at all, he was just a celebrity in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guff about the dumb Prophet movie was the first cover story for the US Government and when that fell apart like cardboard in the rain, the State Department shifted the meme to flag waving over Stevens’ death.

    Let’s see what we know:

    – The attack was not spontaneous. It involved a large number of men, perhaps as many as 125, fighting in a coordinated fashion, using weapons such as RPGs and mortars on multiple targets. Yes, yes, lots of people carry guns around Libya, but not RPGs and certainly not crew served weapons like mortars. It appears also that the so-called Libyan security forces assigned to protect the Consulate either conveniently disappeared on cue or saw the smack coming down and ran to save themselves. This information is widely available from media outside the US, but scare in US media sources for some reason.

    – The attack did not target Stevens. Indeed, famously, his body was only pulled from the ruins of the Consulate by a secondary crowd. Whether the crowd abused the body or dragged it to a hospital, it clearly had no idea or concern for who it held. The Consulate attackers went for documents, and ignored the Ambassador. Stevens just happened to be there, wrong place, wrong time.

    Half the US personnel evacuated out of Benghazi were CIA. While it is common knowledge that the CIA stations personnel abroad, it seems very unusual to have half a mission’s complement to be Agency. The New York Times reports that though the Agency has been cooperating with the new post-Qaddafi Libyan intelligence service, the size of the CIA’s presence in Benghazi apparently surprised some Libyan leaders. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal last week saying that he learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.

    – In its reporting on the large number of CIA personnel in Benghazi, the New York Times agreed to withhold locations and details of Agency operations at the request of Obama administration officials, who said that disclosing such information could jeopardize future sensitive government activities and put at risk American personnel working in dangerous settings.

    – The UK’s Independent noted that the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who were working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts. This strongly suggests the attack itself may have been a diversion to steal these documents and the Ambassador’s death, in U.S. terms, merely collateral damage. The organized attacking mob did not seem to be primarily interested in looting or stealing computer stuff.

    – Many wondered why the media was reporting from early on the deaths of four Americans at the Benghazi Consulate, while Clinton continuously only mentioned two (Ambassador Stevens and computer person Sean Smith). Well, that’s because she did not want to tell us that the other two who lost their lives were “former” Navy SEALS now acting as State Department “contractors.” Even when Clinton finally acknowledged the SEALS’ deaths following widespread press reports, she only mentioned that one’s role was as security for the Ambassador.

    Clinton pointedly did not mention what the other SEAL was doing in Libya. That is because the other deceased man was in Libya on an intel mission. The SEAL told ABC News that he was in Libya in the field tracking down and blowing up MANPADS, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. The US saw its way to allowing those weapons to be used against Qaddafi and now wants to take them back so they are not used against us. Such ops are not State Department work and fall cleanly into CIA territory.

    – The State Department’s curious mix up over who was providing security at the Benghazi Consulate also may point toward other US government Agencies. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland initially said “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya,” while federal procurement records easily Googleable showed a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000. The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient. Was typically fastidious Nuland’s wrong answer simply because she was misbriefed, or was it in fact an honest answer, that the guards were not State Department contractors at all?

    According to Danger Room, the State Department frequently hires security companies to protect diplomats in conflict zones. It usually is done through what’s known as the Worldwide Protective Services contract, in which a handful of approved firms compete to safeguard specific diplomatic installations.

    In 2010, State selected eight firms for the most recent contract. Blue Mountain wasn’t among them, and the State Department did not explain why the Benghazi consulate contract did not go to one of those eight firms. How the State Department could have even hired a foreign firm outside that blanket contract is unclear. State’s Inspector General had criticized State’s management of personnel security firms, so unilaterally expanding the pool just for one Libyan Consulate seems off base.

    – The US government has had a heck of a time getting its story straight over what happened in Benghazi, most famously in sending UN ambassador and attack dog Susan Rice around to claim the attack was purely spontaneous even as the White House backed away from the idea. We’ve already mentioned Clinton’s duplicity over the identities and roles of the two deceased American “ex-” SEALS. Even long-time State drone Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary at the State Department, said at one point he was convinced the assault was planned due to its extensive nature and the proliferation of weapons.

    BuzzFeed sums up by saying:

    The election-year focus on President Barack Obama meant that the White House had at first been catching most of the heat for the tragedy in Benghazi. It’s certainly true the explanations from White House spokesman Jay Carney and UN Ambassador Susan Rice have strained common sense — mainly, the idea that the attack could be blamed solely on an anti-Islamic video, and that there was a protest outside the consulate at 10 p.m. (there reportedly wasn’t,) among other misleading details. That initial story has crumbled, and it took Robert Gibbs to get the Obama administration back on message on the Sunday shows.


    State’s later calling reporter Michael Hastings an “asshole” and telling him to “fuck off” in relation to CNN’s use of Ambassador Steven’s found diary just adds fuel to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along nature of all this.


    – Of course, there is a sort of precedent for this, most famously in 1991 when the KGB used a fire in the US Embassy in Moscow as a cover to roam around the building collecting documents,


    Look, if all you have to do is tell the truth, it is pretty easy. Making up a cover story on the fly requires revisions. It may not be in our lifetimes that we learn what really happened in Libya, but something more than just a protest gone wild did happen.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Torture and the Myth of Never Again

    September 23, 2012 // 5 Comments »

    This article originally appeared on TomDispatch, HuffPo, Salon, the Nation and other sites on 9/11/12.

    Here is what military briefers like to call BLUF, the Bottom Line Up Front: no one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.


    In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

    A long time ago, with mediocre grades and no athletic ability, I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. I guess the Rhodes committee at my school needed practice, and I found myself undergoing a rigorous oral examination. Here was the final question they fired at me, probing my ability to think morally and justly: You are a soldier. Your prisoner has information that might save your life. The only way to obtain it is through torture. What do you do?

    At that time, a million years ago in an America that no longer exists, my obvious answer was never to torture, never to lower oneself, never to sacrifice one’s humanity and soul, even if it meant death. My visceral reaction: to become a torturer was its own form of living death. (An undergrad today, after the “enhanced interrogation” Bush years and in the wake of 24, would probably detail specific techniques that should be employed.) My advisor later told me my answer was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise spectacularly unsuccessful interview.

    It is now common knowledge that between 2001 and about 2007 the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) sanctioned acts of torture committed by members of the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memos drafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.

    Some tortured prisoners were even killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.


    John Kiriakou Alone

    The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors facing prosecution is former CIA agent John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one may go to jail.

    And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.

    The charges against Kiriakou allege that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.

    The Obama Justice Department claims the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”

    The charges result from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to one description, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou is accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.

    Many observers believe however that the real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Zubaydah was at the time believed to be an al-Qaeda leader, though more likely was at best a mid-level operative. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work. He maintains that his is instead a First Amendment case in which a whistleblower is being punished, that it is a selective prosecution to scare government insiders into silence when they see something wrong.

    If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. John Kiriakou is 48. He is staring down a long tunnel at a potential sentence of up to 45 years in prison because in the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.


    Welcome to the Jungle

    John Kiriakou and I share common attorneys through the Government Accountability Project, and I’ve had the chance to talk with him on any number of occasions. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and quick to laugh at a bad joke. When the subject turns to his case, and the way the government has treated him, however, things darken. His sentences get shorter and the quick smile disappears.

    He understands the role his government has chosen for him: the head on a stick, the example, the message to everyone else involved in the horrors of post-9/11 America. Do the country’s dirty work, kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence of all that and we’ll reward you. But speak out, and expect to be punished.

    Like so many of us who have served the U.S. government honorably only to have its full force turned against us for an act or acts of conscience, the pain comes in trying to reconcile the two images of the U.S. government in your head. It’s like trying to process the actions of an abusive father you still want to love.

    One of Kiriakou’s representatives, attorney Jesselyn Radack, told me, “It is a miscarriage of justice that John Kiriakou is the only person indicted in relation to the Bush-era torture program. The historic import cannot be understated. If a crime as egregious as state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.”

    One former CIA covert officer, who uses the pen name “Ishmael Jones,” lays out a potential defense for Kiriakou: “Witness after witness could explain to the jury that Mr. Kiriakou is being selectively prosecuted, that his leaks are nothing compared to leaks by Obama administration officials and senior CIA bureaucrats. Witness after witness could show the jury that for any secret material published by Mr. Kiriakou, the books of senior CIA bureaucrats contain many times as much. Former CIA chief George Tenet wrote a book in 2007, approved by CIA censors, that contains dozens of pieces of classified information — names and enough information to find names.”

    If only it was really that easy.


    Never Again

    For at least six years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.

    Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to be updated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.

    Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters. Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.

    America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.

    What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watching what is happening to John Kiriakou and thinking: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off. They’re almost forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country. But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?

    The same Department of Justice that is hunting down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.


    [Note to Readers: What’s next for Kiriakou? The District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia will begin Classified Information Procedures Act hearings in his case on September 12. These hearings, which are closed to the public, will last until October 30 and will determine what classified information will be permitted during trial. Kiriakou has pled "not guilty" to all charges and is preparing to go to trial on November 26.]



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Why Doesn’t TSA Trust the State Department?

    August 2, 2012 // 2 Comments »

    The mighty men and women of TSA have a trust issue. Perhaps many were unloved as children, but they as a group simply are not people persons. Until very recently, a soldier in uniform, the pilot who is going to fly the actual plane, and a guy on a camel with a T-shirt reading “I am a Terrorist” holding an AK-74 were all treated the same at airport security checkpoints. Under some bizarre, irrational interpretation of fairness, limited security resources were not focused on the most likely threats but instead spread thin. A little old grandma’s wrapped birthday gift would set off the same level of scrutiny as a leaking box with wires hanging out the sides.

    No more. A tiny ray of reality seems to have entered the TSA world with the announcement that certain groups of low-risk travelers will be moved into a category called “TSA Pre-check.” No application needed or allowed as with previous attempts to sort out folks. Now, based on where you work and especially on whether or not you hold a US Government security clearance, you will face lighter screening.

    First in the pool are uniformed military at certain airports. Kind of a no brainer.

    Then we learned in a round-about-way that TSA is also including to exclude from full screening many CIA officers. Wired.com reports that TSA signed an agreement with the Director of National Intelligence in February to include members of the intelligence community in “pre check.” Again, kind of a no brainer.

    A Bit of Black Ops in Passports?

    Quite intriguingly, TSA chief John Pistole explained that membership in the special pre-check program is acknowledged when one uses his/her passport as ID. “The beauty of it from my perspective is that the information that the person is a known and trusted traveler is embedded in a bar code in the passport. And it doesn’t distinguish between a member of the intel community or a frequent flier. So the security officer at the checkpoint doesn’t know whoever you are.”

    Passport barcodes are in the back of the booklet and are tied to the physical booklet itself, not the traveler who is issued that booklet. US passports issued after 2007 contain an RFID chip which holds information about the traveler, including all the bio info from the passport and the photo. TSA does not scan or read the passport barcodes when you pass through the airport. They do scan the passport info encoded in plain letters and numbers, and can/do read the RFID chip. It would be interesting to know exactly what database TSA refers this info to to determine who is and who is not a pre-check qualified traveler. That database would have to be largely unclassified, as it would not do to have a handy list of all CIA officers (we hope), just a list of passport numbers and a go/no go code.

    Whither State?

    The justification for including CIA officers as a group in the pre-check program makes sense. As a group they all hold at least Top Secret clearances and are well-known to the government. If you are not ready to trust them to leave their shoes on going through the airport you probably should not trust them to hunt terrorists, operate killer drones and all that. Kind of a no brainer.

    But what about State Department Foreign Service Officers as a group? They are not in the pre-check program. As a group they all hold at least Top Secret clearances and are well-known to the government. If you are not ready to trust them to meet with foreign governments, reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti, why trust them to leave their shoes on going through the airport?

    Ironically, it is the State Department who issues the passports others can use as tickets to faster security processing. Maybe there’s a way State can spoof the passports to get their people included?

    Permission to ease through TSA security has been under discussion inside State for a long time. State’s internal “ideas marketplace,” the Sounding Board, has had a thread on this topic since 2010, with over 140 entries. Yet not a word there or anywhere else on why State’s diplomats are not trusted by TSA. State Department employees coming from overseas were initially excluded from airline discount programs for pets, originally offered only to the military. State had to fight its way into that program, largely through its employee association, AFSA’s, efforts. It is always “People First” at State.

    Bonus for State Department people: It appears State has been part of some inter-agency working group “looking into this” since at least March 2012, with the boffo results above. I contacted AFSA, who tells me they have raised and continue to pursue this very issue with management.


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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    On Social Media, State Department Stands Alone

    July 15, 2012 // 5 Comments »




    (This article was originally published on the Huffington Post, June 1, 2012)

    As other parts of the Federal government begin to examine their own practices toward social media and publication review, the State Department stands alone in clinging to a 19th century model emphasizing lack of transparency and message control. That State seeks this modus in a largely unclassified world and while other agencies move toward change makes even more ripe State’s policies for a judicial challenge.

    Introspection at the CIA

    The CIA, for example, has begun a voluntary internal investigation into whether a process designed to screen books by former employees for classified information is wrongly and unconstitutionally being used to censor agency critics. The investigation is aimed at determining whether some redactions have been politically motivated. The target of the probe is the agency’s Publications Review Board, which is supposed to focus on whether publication of material would threaten national security interests. CIA critics said the disparities in the review process are particularly apparent in books that deal with controversial subjects, including waterboarding and other forms of “authorized” torture. (The Washington Post story on the CIA’s internal reform was of course not included in the State Department’s own internal press summary of the same day’s “Federal News.”)

    Embracing Social Media in the Army

    The State Department’s regulations also trail behind other government agencies, particularly the military. Military regulations concerning blogging and social media are not onerous and do not involve pre-clearance requirements. The Army encourages blogging in both official and private capacities, and has published glossy brochure-ware highlighting best practices for each. Though the Army heavily regulated military blogging briefly in 2008, it quickly reversed course. Military Law statutes, regulations, and cases available do not contain any references to pre-clearance requirements.

    In fact, the Army social media guidelines are all online, in a colorful, user-friendly slideshow. They begin with the stated premise that “It is important to be as transparent as possible. As communicators, we need to be the first with the truth, whether it’s good or bad.” The emphasis in the Army guidelines is on good judgement– don’t post things online that could endanger soldiers’ lives– with not a word mentioned about the need to pre-clear (indeed, the Army emphasizes the value of social media is in its immediacy) or the requirement to say only “nice things.” Indeed, the introduction to the social media guidelines emphasizes displaying the good with the bad, with “truth” as the goal. The Army guidelines provide lots of examples and include easy-to-understand (“soldier-proof”) checklists of Do’s and Don’t's.

    State Stands Alone

    And then, standing alone, is the State Department.

    State has its own regulations (not “guidelines”) on social media. No slick slide shows at State. The social media regs start with 15 pages of text, and begin by citing 27 Executive Orders, OMB decisions and Federal laws the user is responsible for following, including 18 U.S.C. 713 and 1017, Use of Department and Government Seals (rather than prohibiting the use of Seals and logos, as State does, the Army includes links to web-ready artwork so social media users get the images right) and whatever the Anti-Lobbying Act of 1913, is.

    The secret sauce hidden in State’s hefty social media regulations is 3 FAM 4170, Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching. That reg is State’s requirement that all social media, even when posted as a private citizen, be pre-cleared, and that the State Department is allowed up to 30 working days to act.

    That means the State Department demands of all of its thousands of employees that they seek pre-clearance for every blog post, update and Tweet, every day, 24/7. An exaggeration on my part? Sorry, no– have a look at the compliance letter I was forced to sign as a condition of employment, which specifically mentions these things even when done by an employee in his or her private capacity.

    Obviously State cannot pre-clear what must add up to millions of social media utterances each week, and so it does not. In many instances when I have sought pre-clearance for a blog post on some timely matter, State simply sat on a response until, weeks later, the blog post was so irrelevant that it was not usable anymore. The law anticipated this type of government-foot-dragging-as-shadow-censorship, and in a seminal case on the free speech rights of Federal workers, stated:

    But even then insistence on advance approval would raise a further question, as before-the-fact condemnation of speech raises special concerns such as undue delay-the review itself plus time needed for a speaker to secure judicial relief-and stifling of expression that in hindsight would have been viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.


    Droppin’ Some Law On ‘Ya

    It was actions such as this that lead the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to assert that the State Department violated my First Amendment free speech rights and acted unconstitutionally. My attempts to clear items for publication were met with lengthy delays and periods of no contact. It was indeed such actions by the Department that often lead me to publish without preclearance so that the material was relevant to breaking news.

    Want some law? Specifically on the issue of foot dragging on pre-clearance as a clever technique to kill a story, in Weaver the Court noted “if the prior review were extensive, of course, it might delay constitutionally protected speech to a time when its only relevance was to historians.” In Crue v. Aiken, the 7th Circuit found a pre-clearance directive without a schedule for the review of proposed communications problematic because nothing prevented the reviewing official from delaying approval of communications until they were no longer relevant. (Crue v. Aiken, 370 F.3d 668, 679 (7th Cir. 2004)).

    In Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, the NJ Superior Court recognized that “before-the-fact review and approval requirements restrict employee speech—and raise special concerns such as undue delay and stifling of expression that in hindsight may be viewed as harmless or not worth the enforcement effort.” (Davis v. New Jersey Dept. of Law & Pub. Safety, Div. of State Police, 742 A.2d 619, 628-29 (Ch. Div. 1999)). Davis citing the Supreme Court in Freedman v. State of Maryland, notes that the danger present when a regulation “is made unduly onerous, by reason of delay or otherwise, to seek judicial review, the censor’s determination may in practice be final.” (Freedman v. State of Md., 380 U.S. 51, 58, 85 S. Ct. 734, 738, 13 L. Ed. 2d 649 (1965)).

    I know, I know, too heavy Doc. It took the ACLU five dense pages to spell out in legal detail all the ways the State Department social media regulations were unconstitutional and violated my First Amendment free speech rights.

    Bottom Line

    So it is not as simple as some claim, broadly announcing that Federal employees give up their First Amendment rights, or that social media and the responsibilities of a classified job are incompatible. Federal employees do not give up their First Amendment rights, and there is plenty of law to substantiate that.

    The bottom line is this: If the hyper-classified CIA recognizes the need for an internal review of its pre-clearance process, why doesn’t the State Department? If the military, with its obvious day-to-day operational need for secrecy and its immediate impact on soldiers’ lives, can co-exist without pre-clearance restraints on blogs, why can’t State?

    Given the chance to make sane, voluntary changes to an obviously out-dated social media policy that stands outside the boundaries of other Federal agencies with a whole lot more secrets to protect, State appears ready to instead insist on having those changes dictated to it by a court. That is an expensive, and in this case, unnecessary way to change out-dated regulations.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Sorry Aid and Reconstruction Workers, You’re a Target Now

    February 14, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    One of the used-to-be strengths of the United States’ foreign policy was a big tool box. We had the military of course, but in the right place at the right time the CIA, the State Department, charities and NGOs, each one doing something different. A smart leader could choose the right tool for the job.

    The militarization of foreign policy since 9/11 has been a huge mistake, one that has rendered the State Department largely a vestigial limb of government. You see, there is something to be said for having America’s engagements overseas done by civilians. That system—we call it diplomacy—has worked pretty well for what it is for most of the last couple of thousand years. The military does some stuff well, and diplomats do some stuff well. Remember your Clausewitz: war is what happens only after diplomacy fails.

    The other problem with militarization is that it makes military targets out of people like NGO workers who should not be in the cross hairs of the bad guys. The latest sad revelation out of Pakistan only serves to put more American lives abroad in danger.

    According to the National Journal’s Marc Ambinder in his new book on Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), The Command: Deep Inside the President’s Secret Army:


    The U.S. intelligence community took advantage of the chaos to spread resources of its own into [Pakistan]. Using valid U.S. passports and posing as construction and aid workers, dozens of Central Intelligence Agency operatives and contractors flooded in without the requisite background checks from the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. (emphasis added)

    So thanks JSOC, we’re all more valuable targets now that the bad guys can’t tell a legitimate reconstruction worker or NGO staffer from one of your goons.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    AntiWar.com: Meet John Kiriakou

    January 31, 2012 // Comments Off

    Antiwar.com tells the story of CIA officer John Kiriakou, indicted for leaking details of the Agency’s torture programs to the press.

    The bitter irony, the article points out, is that while Obama appears totally committed to stamping out government leaks about torture policy, he’s declined to pursue a similar course against those responsible for torturing prisoners in the first place. According to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake:

    The Obama Administration is further criminalizing the exposure of the US’s own state sponsored and supported criminal behavior and activity — namely torture and in my case warrantless surveillance — while protecting and hiding from accountability those who authorized, approved, conducted and implemented the criminal behavior and activity under the cover and guile and guise of secrecy.

    The article quotes me:

    What is happening during the Obama administration— which has sought more prosecutions of it sown employees for “leaks” under the espionage act than any other— is a simultaneous classification of everything, coupled with a wicked hand to slap down anyone who “divulges” that info. If everything is classified than everyone in the government who speaks out is a spy.

    The hypocrisy of the government’s actions is made clear by attorney Jesselyn Radack:

    The fetid odor, the thing that really stinks about this case is that CIA officers had been immunized for committing waterboarding, for committing torture. Now, the only person being prosecuted in connection with torture is John Kiriakou, who blew the whistle on waterboarding being torture. And the only person to be prosecuted in connection with warrantless electronic surveillance is Tom Drake, a whistle-blower who blew the whistle on warrantless surveillance.

    An important article from Antiwar.com that gives a dark glimpse of America’s future. It deserves a wider audience. Better read it now, while you still can.



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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    CIA Lying to Who about Sexy Drones?

    December 6, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Who? Whom? I don’t know, but that is not today’s money question. Today is about those oh! so sexy drones that somehow make war even better.

    The Washington Post reports on a series of deceptive statements issued by NATO and the CIA over who controlled the drone that “fell down” in Iran earlier this week. The Post writer, largely because he had 500 words to kill, speculated that the misleading statements issued suggesting that it was a NATO drone off course, later clarified sort of to suggest it was a CIA drone on course spying on Iran, were a “head fake,” “an apparently deliberate media misdirect” by those wacky spooks.

    Post writer, you are a tool. It is much more likely that the various people seeking to lie about the drone just got their stories mixed up in their haste to make up shit for you to digest and spit back out in the newspaper. Or, the CIA was lying to YOU, young Paduwan Post writer, trying to hide the fact that not only was it blatantly violating another country’s airspace, it seems like they screw up at the same time.

    So, quick recap: CIA is flying war drones over Iran. Iran either shot one down, cyber-spaced it down or just had a lucky day. Media still clueless and willing to play along with whatever pablum they are fed.

    Also, in case you were sanguine about America’s war-to-be in Iran, some bone heads in Congress are seeking to make diplomacy with Iran actually illegal.

    OK, back to shopping– only 19 days left ’til Christmas!



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Is I a Real Juornalist?

    September 1, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    I thought journalists were supposed to think, but a piece by Tara McKelvey (photo), A Bigger Kill Than Bin Laden, is so sadly just stenography for the government that I hope she was paid off to jot it down instead of really being that stupid. She wrote about the US drone murder of the latest al Qaeda number 2 or 3 or 4.

    Tara (may I call you Tara?) wrote:


    Forget Osama bin Laden, the so-called terrorist mastermind. In real life, he was the guy watching videos of himself in a room in his Abbottabad compound; meanwhile, al-Rahman was making plans.



    Ok, check, Bin Laden was no big deal, which is why we took ten years to find him and everyone hated on him more than the Hamburgler. Tara, Tara, the US has killed al Qaeda’s number 2 or number 3 man so many times there are jokes about it.

    But wait, there is more from Tara. Here’s an objective paragraph that no doubt has her community college J-school prof in hiding:


    Obama supporters say the killing of al-Rahman is the latest in a string of White House successes against the terrorist group and further proof that the laserlike approach, with its reliance on drone strikes, is the right one. In this way, CIA officers are thinning the ranks of al Qaeda and gradually making them obsolete: Or, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last month, Americans are “within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda.”



    This is good news. With al Qaeda basically toast, we have repealed the Patriot Act, ended the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and can go back to wearing our shoes in the airport. Sweet. Thanks Tara!

    Ok, OK, here’s one more:


    Now that al-Rahman is gone, CIA officers in Langley, Va. and in stations around the world will double down on their efforts to pursue their other targets. These include al-Rahman’s boss, Ayman al-Zawahiri, (NOTE: He used to be al Qaeda NO. 2) who became bin Laden’s successor.

    In the meantime, CIA officials have reason to celebrate, since by almost any account the death of al-Rahman is significant. “Al Qaeda has not signed a surrender, and nor will it,” says Sageman, “but their ability to launch operations is diminished.”



    Now there’s the whole war of terror in a sentence. The goons celebrate some event as a major milestone (bin Laden dead, No. 2 killed) and then quickly add “but al Qaeda is still a threat” forever.

    It is almost as if the people making a living off of the war of terror just don’t want it to ever end.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    You Haven’t Read This: CIA Secret Prison in Somalia

    July 18, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Never having learned any lessons, it appears that the US continues to operate secret prisons around the world to hold “terrorists” without the unpleasant need for trial, courts or rules. The semi-secret facilities in Afghanistan have been around for awhile, and we learned that US Navy ships are used as floating gulags.

    However, The Nation reports on a full-on mini-Guantanamo run by the CIA in Somalia. Read the story and realize that shutting down Guantanamo (which hasn’t happened anyway) was just an Obama ruse to continue yet another horrendous Bush policy.

    This is what has happened to our country, what America has been reduced to doing.

    Bonus!

    Want a career in government service? Practice torturing a human being to death with this actual online game.

    The photo show above comes from the French, who tortured terrorists in Algeria as part of their counterinsurgency plan. Didn’t work there either. See more.




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Can’t We Just Kill Them All Faster in Yemen?

    June 15, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Google is just wonderful. I looked back a few years and there was just not alot of news about terrorism and Yemen (USS Cole in 2000, certainly, but pre-9/11 doesn’t count, right?).

    For example, in 2007, al Qaeda sent letters (letters!) to 45 Jews living near Sanaa, saying that if the Jews did not abandon their homes in ten days, they would be abducted and murdered and their homes would be looted. The Jewish community sent a complaint letter (a letter!) to President Salah, who promised that their homes would be protected. Good times.

    Sure, 2001-2008, a lot about al Qaeda in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and more recently in Pakistan. Now Yemen. I could be wrong, but it is almost– almost– as if al Qaeda kept spreading to new places despite our killing as many Muslims as we can.

    Some news from Yemen.

    – Al Qaeda’s robust terror organization in Yemen is recruiting from a pool of hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees who have fled war in their homeland, according to U.S. and Yemeni intelligence officials. Approximately 700,000 Somali refugees have made Yemen their home, and that population is expected to continue to grow in the face of the collapse of the East African nation.

    – Two American tourists were kidnapped by gunmen in Yemen Monday, and local officials said it was likely the group holding them had ties to al Qaeda.

    – A US military official warned that the global links between the groups in Yemen pose a “significant danger to our own national security because the next attack in the US may not come from someone we suspect but from a recruit born right here or someone else, like a Somali refugee.”

    – In April, 23 Somalis who entered Mexico illegally earlier in the year were believed headed for the US after being released by Mexican authorities.Several were directly connected to Islamo-terror group Al-Shabaab, according to the law enforcement documents.

    – US makes a drone attack a day in Yemen. The increase of such attacks is part of a US strategy to employ more drones to curb what the US believes is a growing terror threat in Yemen. The US plans to begin supplementing US military drones with CIA drones.


    Only intelligent comment made: A Yemen defence official, who requested anonymity, said he ws worried that US strategy may backfire. “The United States is turning Yemen into another Pakistan,” he said. He said relatives of innocent drone-attack victims will seek to avenge the deaths and resort to terror.

    Can we please listen to that guy?




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

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