I am still not getting the “everything is different” argument. Everything seems sort of the same way it always has worked. Sure, the policies are different, but the process is working the same as always. The system is not breaking down.
Trump was elected by the same electoral system in place for over 200 years. There have been four other elections where the winner of the popular vote lost the Electoral Vote. Sometimes elections are close. Close doesn’t count, popular vote doesn’t win. That’s just the way it is.
Trump was elected by people who want him to make changes and he has and will continue to do so, like every other president (ex. Carter to Reagan, Bush to Obama.) About half the country, maybe more, will disagree, as usual. The president’s popularity will go up and down and everyone will argue about the statistical methods used. The same party currently controls the Congress and Executive. Nothing unique, happens often in history. The president will try and fill the courts with judges who agree with him. Political appointees will be seeded throughout government. Business as usual.
Congress has steadfastly chosen not to pass a law that requires the president to release his taxes, and so Trump has not. So maybe somewhat unique, but seriously, you think you’ll find a 1099 form in there for “Misc Espionage Work, Russia?” A yellow sticky saying “Owe money to China, be nice to them?” The taxes have become a strawman argument, something opponents can throw up (likely forever) and then say “See, he won’t release them!” as proof that Trump has something to hide.
The press can choose for itself what role to play (so far, it is largely that of Chicken Little.) People will protest, sometimes a lot of them at once. Some policies and decisions will work out better than others. Cabinet members will disagree with the president and either be pulled into line, kept as alternate opinions, or fired.
Any panic that Trump will start a nuke war is based on nothing but fear based on fear; hell, if it makes you feel better, he won’t start a nuclear war because it’ll be bad for his business. On the other hand, the last two presidents started and/or continued plenty of wars. And hey, maybe some reassuring news, Trump has made his first drone strikes, on Yemen, continuing Obama’s policy. He plans to keep Gitmo open, just as Obama did for eight years. He wants to restart torture, like Bush did and Obama silently allowed to pass without prosecutions.
The only significant thing that seems new is that yes, absolutely, Trump is crude in his manner and speech. We’ll agree is is a pretty lousy human. But he’s in the White House now and that reality has to be dealt with as a reality. If you feel better calling his wife a classless whore and his son autistic, sad for you, but whatever. People are welcome to hate Trump for the person he is, but that is not the same as being terrified of everything that might happen and concluding the Republic is finished. Most of the rest seems stuff people just don’t agree with and which would not have changed under Clinton and they can’t accept that.
What does seem new is the scary willingness of people, in and out of the press, to make giant leaps of terrified pseudo logic. For example, the people who clapped for Trump at his CIA speech were White House staffers. not CIA –> the CIA hates Trump –> Trump will not accept information from the CIA and/or they won’t provide it –> another 9/11! Seriously?
The one thing that does seem unique this election is the continuing efforts to believe somehow Trump can be made to “un-win.” So we had Jill Stein’s failed campaign to recount critical states, followed by Michael Moore’s, et al, failed campaign to sway so-called faithless electors to not vote Trump, followed by the IC’s failed campaign to scar Trump as a Russian super agent, followed by the lame hope Congress would not certify the election results, plus Meryl Streep and Madonna’s calls to Les Barricades. Now it is on to the Emoluments Clause with the idea that that will lead to Trump’s impeachment.
Quick note: since the Republicans control the House for at least two more years, there’s not going to be any impeachment for at least that long.
Disclaimer: It seems these days any article that does not simply insult and criticize Trump is deemed to be pro-Trump, and, often by extension, racist, sexist, etc. I do not like Trump, I disagree with most of his positions (I am no TPP fan, and I like the idea of disengaging with Syria and negotiating with Putin as needed) and certainly did not vote for him. Please touch in with reality and read critically if you can. Thanks!
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Want to know how to evaluate the memo alleging Trump is run by the Russians, and that they have video of him and his golden showers? I can tell you. Read.
The use of anonymous sources was once a major line for a journalist to cross.
By not naming a source, the journalist insists you trust them. Did they talk to an intern or a policymaker? Every source has an agenda; if we don’t know the source we have no idea of the agenda. Was the journalist trying to act carefully, but was fooled themselves? Remember the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, and the way the press facilitated that via articles based on unnamed sources we now know were Bush administration officials with fake tales of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Anonymous sources have their place. With Deep Throat during the Watergate scandal, the Washington Post tried to use his information as a tool to work backwards to verifiable truths, or to allow them to reach people who would go on the record. Part of Edward Snowden’s credibility came from his named status.
2016: New Rules
The 2016 election appears to have changed the rules. Writers seem to be able to publish potentially game-changing stories based only on unnamed sources, with little or no collaborating evidence other than “it might be true.” And how can one refute an anonymous source presenting unique information, say something pulled from a highly classified document the public may never see? Adding to the question of credibility, the stories often track the writer’s political stance.
Many readers feel they have only two options: take the writer’s word for it, or not. The result is a steady flow of amazing insider stories that get blasted through sympathetic repeat media, then left like online roadkill for us to Tweet about, labeling them as fake news or screaming at the people who label them as fake news.
Thinking Like a Spy
So how do readers try to reasonably exercise some healthy skepticism and critical thought? One way is to apply tests intelligence officers follow to help them evaluate their own sources.
— Is the source in a position to know what they say they know? Someone in Human Resources who says a guy in the Analysis section is underpaid and vulnerable to recruitment, yep. Someone in Human Resources who says they have the embassy’s economic predictions for Country X for next year, hmmm. One of the ways Snowden’s critics sought to discredit him was to claim he could not have had access to the information he released (and so it must be fake.) When this idea is worked backwards — you are out looking for a source on some subject — it is known as spotting.
— The “position to know” idea scales up sharply when a source says they are privy to conversations well-above their pay grade; how would they know the contents of a call the president made? Anyone who claims to know the why behind some action, what was in the heads of the decision makers, is subject to special skepticism. Overall, the further away from probability — plausibility — a story stretches, the more obligation on the intelligence officer to address those questions.
— All sources have agendas. Human nature being what it is, sources who just want to do the right thing need to be looked at more closely. The source is risking something by talking, maybe even jail; why? Is what they will get out of the leak worth the risk they are assuming? And if you don’t know your source’s agenda — what they want — then you’re like the guy at the poker table who can’t tell who the rube is.
— An intelligence officer needs to constantly ask themselves if they are being used, offered fake information for some purpose. How can they tell? What can the source offer that is verifiable? If they say they work directly for the ambassador, can they pass on a few internal phone numbers you can call anonymously?
— Presumably if you are looking into a topic, and your source claims to have information, do they otherwise seem to know at least as much as you know? And if you’re being leaked to on a topic you know little about, why are they coming to you anyway? Is what you are being told consistent with other information on the subject? Is the information something that follows from known things, something known as expectability? Has the source reported reliably in the past, or have they been referred to you by someone who has?
— Does what is being handed to you fit the “is the juice worth the squeeze,” risk versus gain, test? For example, a source claims Candidate X had a police officer beaten after she ticketed his car. Would a candidate risk news that he ordered a beating of a cop just to retaliate for a minor traffic ticket?
“It Might Be True”
While anything can have an explanation, “it might be true” or “you can’t prove it’s not true” are enablers of fake news. Instead, readers should apply some of the tests an intelligence officer might: who would know the information? How could someone know? How big a risk would that source be taking and why would take it? What agenda might the source and/or writer have? How plausible is what you’re reading, is the juice worth the squeeze?
In the end, an intelligence officer rarely knows what is 100% true, so they assign a rating to information, such as high confidence, or medium confidence, and act on the information (or not) in line with that.
A reader can never know with certainty the truth about an anonymously-sourced story. Anything is possible, but only some things are probable, and that’s usually the way you bet when you’re making up your mind whether to believe something in the media or not.
BONUS: Here’s one to practice on. The image below is already circulating online. Apply the tests above and judge its credibility yourself. (FYI: the info below is truly, absolutely fake, created for this kind of purpose.)
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
People talk of the Deep State, a kind of shorthand to refer to the entrenched parts of the government, particularly inside the military, intelligence, and security communities, who don’t come and go with election cycles. The information they hold, and their longevity, allows them to significantly influence, perhaps control, the big picture decisions that change the way America works on a global scale. Who the enemies are, where the power needs to be applied, which wars will start and what governments should fall.
One of the features of the Deep State is that it prefers to work behind the scenes, in the shadows if you like. The big name politicians are out front, smiling for the cameras, and the lesser pols have to tend to the day-to-day stuff of government. The Deep State doesn’t trouble itself with regulating agriculture or deciding which infrastructure bill to fund. That is in large part why there will never be a full-on coup; why would the Deep State want to take on responsibility for the Department of Transportation?
When the Deep State does accidentally expose itself, it is often by accident, such as in the panic right after 9/11 when the president was sitting around reading a children’s book while Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld were calling the shots. Same for in the 1980s when a set of cock-ups exposed U.S. arms sales to Iran to pay for U.S. proxy forces in Central America while with U.S. support the Saudis paid for jihadists to fight in Afghanistan, laying the early groundwork for what would become the War on Terror.
Forget for a moment what you think of their actions, but pay attention: both our domestic intelligence service (the FBI) and our overseas intelligence service (the CIA) played significant roles in our election. Still not sure what the Deep State is? It’s that.
Forget what you “agree” with, and focus on what happened. In July the FBI exonerated Hillary Clinton of any wrongdoing in connection with her private email server. Yep, there was highly classified material, but that didn’t matter. Nope, the Russians and/or everybody else never hacked into her server, and nobody on her staff ever clicked Podesta-like on a phishing link. Nothing to see here. And then in October the FBI swung again and said well maybe there was something to see, buried conveniently on known-idiot Anthony Weiner’s laptop already in their possession. Funny about that. Anybody seen once marked-to-go places Huma Abedin lately?
As for the CIA, they managed to leak like Grandpa’s adult diapers throughout the campaign that Trump and Putin… something. Trump owes money to Russia. Trump’s computers communicate with Russia. Trump’s advisors work for Russia. Trump wants to build hotels in Russia. When none of that really stuck, it turned out the hacks into the DNC servers were done by Russians — in cahoots with arch-villian Julian Assange — ordered personally by Putin to elect Trump. All because Trump was Putin’s stooge, as the argument completed its circle.
UPDATE: When last week’s intelligence community report that “proved” the Russians did the DNC hack failed to really do much past a news cycle or two, it should be no surprise at all that this week a leak dropped on CNN that the Russians may have “compromising material” on Trump. Now, that leak supposedly came from anonymous sources from a classified synopsis included in a version of last week’s report that was based on allegation made public in the summer but only very recently “confirmed” by a former British intelligence officer who worked privately doing opposition research for an unnamed Trump Republican opponent.
If Trump could not be defeated, he would be delegitimized. Overnight the left/liberals/progressives/whatever turned into red-blooded supporters of the CIA and 21st century Cold Warriors, with anyone from that one asshole on Facebook you argue with to Pulitzer-prize winning journalists who disagree, labeled as Russian stooges, spies, fellow travelers and the like.
The result? A new Cold War, sold to the American people over the course of about a month.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and the old Cold War wrapped up, there was left a gaping hole for the Deep State. They nearly literally had nothing to do. Budgets were being cut, power in Washington defused. 9/11 was a helpful and timely accident; the War on Terror would provide the much-needed Cause to blow up spending and reconstruct status and power.
And the War on Terror started off with great promise for the Deep State, dovetailing nicely with long-sought Conservative projects such as remaking the Middle East and controlling the Persian Gulf. The future was wide open, Afghanistan a stupid but necessary prelude to the real first act in Iraq.
But despite the power of the Deep State, mistakes are made and nature finds a way. The War on Terror became a global clusterf*ck. Failures accumulated: Iraq and Afghanistan, of course. Libya, Syria, the messy Arab Spring, relations with Pakistan. You can’t really trust any of those folks to get it, we want a war that doesn’t end but looks good. Beheadings on TV simply stir people up at home and there is not much we can do about them.
Now, to be fair to the War on Terror, it had a good run. It normalized domestic spying and the omni-presence of security everywhere in America, and set up a nice bureaucracy to manage all that in Homeland Security. It got Americans used to see armed military, and militarized cops, on the streets.
But what was needed was a global struggle that made us look like we were winning without it ever ending.
If only there was some sort of model for that…
The Russians. Every American fear rolled into one guy, Putin, who might as well come from a Hollywood super-villian workshop. Unlike messy terrorists, who wanted, whatever, Sharia or a Caliphate, damn foreign words, Russia wanted old-fashioned territory, stuff on maps like Crimea and the Ukraine that mattered not a whit to America, but could be played domestically as Struggles for Freedom (C). The Russkies had troops with actual uniforms, and all the old propaganda materials were laying around. The Russians also knew how to play ball, blasting back through their RT and Sputnik channels nobody really watches but are right there to label as threats to our democracy. The Russian version of the Deep State knows a good deal when they see one, too.
Clinton was the perfect figurehead, already warm friends with one of the last dessicated Cold Warriors, Henry Kissinger, and already more than predisposed to cast the Russians into their role. Trump, well, he didn’t seem to get it, and, when it was becoming clearer he might win, he needed to be made to get it. The Deep State appeared to have some internal dissension; that publicly popped up when it appeared the FBI and CIA were not sure which horse to back in the latter days of the campaign and how to do it. Hey, mistakes were made, sorry, even the Deep State is kinda human.
Well, it was messy and dragged on past the actual election, but everything is settled now. The intelligence report that just came out made things clear: Russia is the bad guy, Trump now the cuck of the Deep State, things are back to “normal.” Funding will pour into the military, intelligence, and security communities. Since the war will be a cold one, the U.S. can declare periodic victories just like in the old days over things like the Olympics, chess matches, dissidents saved, spy stuff We Can’t Tell You About but will leak out anyway. We can have proxy wars and skirmishes that seem like huge deals but can usually be managed in scope. Any troublemakers at home, in or out of the White House, can be labeled Russian sympathizers on CNN and Maddow and dealt away quickly.
Overall, the 1950s weren’t that bad now were they?
BONUS: One currently outstanding question is whether the manipulations of the Deep State in our election became public by accident, such as after 9/11, or whether someone (us? Trump? Putin?) was meant to see them for some purpose. Hang on to that question.
MORE BONUS: Yes, yes, this is all conspiracy nonsense. The moon landings were faked and 9/11 was an inside job by the Mossad. There is no Deep State, or Trump really is a Russian Manchurian candidate, or the spiders from Mars are actually pulling the strings or I am reading those weird Geocities-like websites for preppers and soon will be posting cheesy animated GIFs of flags waving, whatever. I’m also a Russian, or Edward Snowden, or being paid by someone to write this. Whatever you need to tell yourself, and you should never believe what I say and say how sad it is that this is what I’ve come too. I’ll kill a puppy in your honor. Thanks!
Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Once you let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t stuff him back in.
Attempts to overturn the results of our election, or to delegitimize a president before he even takes office, are attempts to overturn the system of transfer of power that has served America since its earliest days. There is no measure of exaggeration here; Americans are questioning the results of the election because roughly half don’t like the guy who won.
Somehow things are… special this year. In most elections, a good-sized group of us see our candidate lose, grumble, and move on to some degree. I don’t think Trump will be a good president, but I also do not think he will burn civil rights to the ground, destroy life on the planet, sell Alaska back to Russia, or invade China with Omarosa some drunk weekend.
In what in another era would be left for conspiracy theorists to contemplate, for the first time in our nation’s history powerful mainstream forces are trying to change the results of an election. Shocked by Trump’s victory, and fearing his presidency, they want to stop him from entering the White House. The belief seems to be that he is such a threat that it is necessary to destroy a part of democracy in America to save it.
Some efforts are silly, online petitions demanding, somehow, Clinton become president (here’s one asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the election,) or bleating that her popular vote victory matters somehow within the existing electoral process. Others call for a magic do-over, a new election.
But after that it gets very serious. America’s foreign intelligence service, the CIA, via anonymous leaks to the New York Times, NBC, and the Washington Post, declared Russia actively and purposefully interceded in our election in favor of Donald Trump. Trump was elected, in part, by the work of Russian cyber blackops.
It is important to unpack what the accusations driving this are: someone working for the Russian government broke into the Democratic National Committee servers and Clinton campaign head John Podesta’s Gmail account, delivered those emails (which the Clinton campaign by and large said were bogus or altered) to places like Wikileaks, and that the emails few voters read influenced the election such that Trump, not Clinton, won the electoral vote. Trump’s strengths as a candidate and Clinton weaknesses were not significant enough on their own to have swayed the electoral count 74 votes in Trump’s favor. At the same time, for these accusations to matter, President Trump will act in favor of Russian interests (choosing hard liner John Bolton as number two at the State Department already seems counter to that) and against those of the United States.
The accusations against Trump can rise to the level of treason (some are speculating Trump was a willing participant in any Russian ops), a capital crime, the most serious crime an American can commit against his country.
All is supposed to be revealed in the form of some sort of investigation.
Leaving how clever use of redactions can present “evidence” in misleading ways, intelligence assessments are rarely black and white, especially when seeking to explain why an action took place, its ultimate political goal. An intelligence service can conclude with reasonable confidence (for example) that Country X executed 12 dissidents last week. It is much harder to say why, or why now, or why those 12, or why not a different group, or what those executions mean in the longer game of local politics. So while technical means may be able to point to a hacker with connections to Russia (though hackers include in their tradecraft leaving false clues), moving from whether any hacks were standard information gathering as engaged in by all sides, or an active part of a campaign to change the course of our election, is a tough job. So those who expect a black and white report on what they Russians did, why they did it, and how it affected the election, are very unlikely to get it.
So what will be done?
The current focus is on the Electoral College voting on Monday, December 19 to put Hillary Clinton into the White House. That would require breaking with some 224 years of practice, moving against the will of about half of American voters who acted in good faith under the current system believing their vote would be assessed by the rules and practices in place, and destroying the orderly transfer of power that marks a democracy.
But if Trump prevails in the Electoral College, what next? There is no Constitutional allowance for a “second election.” Bomb Moscow? Keep Barack Obama in power? Dispatch a lynch mob to Trump Tower?
Well, of course not. Probably.
Instead we will enter a new administration with a delegitimized president, under the shadow of multiple conspiracy theories, accusations, hearings, investigations and likely threats to of impeachment proceedings. Every decision President Trump makes, as with his every Cabinet choice now, will be weighed against the accusations. America’s Russia policy (in Europe, the Middle East, Asia) will be held hostage to rumors and leaks. A divided America will become more divided.
The Bush-Gore election of 2000 was contested right into the Supreme Court. The differences, however, are significant. The post-election fight took place between two men still candidates, to decide a winner. Trump is the President Elect, and the process, whatever it is, seeks to overturn, not decide, that result. In Bush-Gore, once the Court declared a winner, the results were accepted, albeit reluctantly by some, and America moved on. Lastly, the struggle between Bush and Gore took place in open court, not via leaks and classified documents.
There is also the argument, basically a variation of “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” that Americans should be willing to submit to post-election recounts and investigations, themselves often inconclusive or subject to another round of questions, to “prove” nothing went amiss. There is danger in confusing a potential body blow to the electoral process, seeking to overturn a completed election, with casting it all as benign verification.
An additional danger is in the McCarthy-esque conflating of opposition to these efforts with a lack of patriotism, and by invalid extension, support for America’s enemies. To remain skeptical is to stand against the United States. To question the CIA is to disrespect our intelligence professionals. Journalists who do not support the accusations are said to be either active Russian agents of influence or “useful idiots” too dumb to know they are being manipulated.
The real impact of all this will be felt long past Trump’s tenure.
Democrats, Republicans, and players such as the CIA will have four years to consider how this process of delegitimizing a President Elect could work more effectively next time. The people who support extra-Constitutional steps now because of Donald Trump will find those same step will be available in later elections, to use against a candidate they favor. Voting can potentially become only a preliminary gesture, with real struggle only starting after the election itself.
Many are deeply upset Hillary Clinton lost. Many are unsure, even fearful, of a Trump presidency. But once you let the genie of trying to overturn an election loose, you won’t be able to stop it next time.
Here’s what’s left of democracy in America.
We had an election, and the candidate favored by Washington, media, and many business elites did not win. Here’s what happened next.
— CIA unambiguously but without documentation or evidence presented says, via anonymous leaks, that Russia interceded in the election to help elect Donald Trump.
— Democratic Congresspeople, alongside several media outlets, have called for investigations into whether or not Trump colluded with the Russians to influence the election. That would be an impeachable offense, a criminal offense, treason.
— The underlying message is that the Russians believe Trump as president will so favor them (for some reason) that they risk war, or a cyber version of war, to see him in power. Trump’s legitimacy is now undermined, and his every action toward the
Soviet UnionRussia will be tainted.
— Though this “information” was known in Washington since at least the election, it was only released 10 days ahead of the Electoral College vote.
— Meanwhile, Jill Stein, as proxy for Hillary Clinton, raised $7 million over a long weekend after claiming the vote count in three key states was wrong and/or the counting machines (not connected to the web) were hacked and cannot be trusted. A recount could have sent Clinton to the White House.
— Clinton supporters continue to try and get the Electoral College to do something it has never done in some 220 years, select a candidate who did not win the most electoral votes.
— Hillary Clinton has re-emerged, making speeches and public appearances, concurrent with all of the above.
— Democrats as a group continue to insist winning the popular vote entitles Clinton to… something.
— Clinton supporters earlier claimed the FBI interceded in the election to defeat Clinton.
— Candidate Clinton claimed during a debate the now president-elect is a stooge working on behalf of Putin, literal treason.
This is banana republic crap, people, that looks to negate the votes of some 62 million Americans. We no longer believe in our own system. When the candidate many people did not support wins, the response is to seek to negate the democratic process, via accusations that make McCarthy in the 1950s look like a sad amateur.
What we have are anonymous voices at an intelligence agency supposedly dedicated to foreign intel saying the Russians helped elect our next president. That says the process is flawed and cannot be trusted, and that Trump will owe a debt to the Russians and can’t be trusted. It will keep alive the idea that Clinton should have won if not for this meddling and undermine for his term the legitimacy of Trump. Via the classification process, the CIA will only need to make public the snippets of info that support its contention.
This is an attempted coup as sure as it would be if there were tanks on the White House lawn. The CIA might as well have tried to shoot Trump during his next trip to Dallas.
To date, all of these accusations have been based on anonymous sources and leaks. The president of the United States remains silent.
And we are so easily manipulated — liberals/progressives who have rightly attacked the CIA for decades for domestic spying, WMD lies, overthrowing foreign governments, torture, drones, renditions, etc., overnight now believe and support every word the Agency says.
America, our goose is cooked. You worry about an autocracy? It doesn’t have to be in one man. It can be via an Agency.
A new report in the Wall Street Journal reveals emails in which then-Secretary of State Clinton approved CIA drone assassinations in Pakistan from her unsecured Blackberry.
Top Secret/SAP Messages
The timing and location of these strikes are considered Top Secret/SAP [special access program], in that revealing such data could allow the targeted humans to escape, and embarrass U.S. ally Pakistan, whom many believe is tacitly allowing the United States to conduct such military operations inside its sovereign territory.
At specific issue are 22 emails that were on Clinton’s private server. These messages were not publicly released, withheld entirely. However, the broad contents were leaked to the Journal by anonymous congressional and law-enforcement officials briefed on the FBI’s investigation.
Clinton’s role in approving the drone kills stems from concerns by lower State officials that the attacks’ timing and location might interfere with broader diplomatic engagement. So, from 2011 on, the State Department had a secret arrangement with the CIA, giving it a degree of say over whether or not a drone killing would take place.
Then-Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter reportedly opposed certain covert operations that occurred during especially sensitive points in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. As he later described the process “I have a yellow card. I can say ‘no.’ That ‘no’ goes back to the CIA director. Then he has to go to Hillary. If Hillary says ‘no,’ he can still do it, but he has to explain the next day in writing why.”
Clinton allegedly objected only to “one or two” attacks out of thousands.
Clinton Says None of That is True
As regards these emails, Clinton has said “the best we can determine” is that the emails in question consisted solely of a news article about drone strikes in Pakistan. “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about.”
However, the Wall Street Journal states the e-mails were not merely forwarded news articles, but consisted of informal discussions between Clinton’s senior aides about whether to oppose upcoming CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. When a potential strike was imminent, or if it occurred during a weekend or holiday when State Department staffers were away from government computers, the covert operation was then debated openly over unsecured wireless networks that anyone with a modicum of knowledge could intercept.
As a matter of speculation, the Russian and Chinese embassies in Washington DC likely employ people with a modicum of knowledge about wireless communications.
A Matter of Personal Convenience
One official said “If a strike was imminent, it was futile to use the high side [classified communications], which no one would see for seven hours.”
There is no built-in delay in classified communications. The official is likely referring to an unwillingness by Clinton’s staff to return to the office to conduct classified business on the proper system. Since there has been no suggestion or evidence that CIA officials also used unclassified systems to discuss drone strikes, one can assume they were willing to be at the office when U.S. national security issues mattered.
You can look at the source documents yourself. This is not opinion, conjecture, or rumor. Hillary Clinton transmitted the names of American intelligence officials via her unclassified email.
From a series of Clinton emails, numerous names were redacted in the State Department releases with the classification code “B3 CIA PERS/ORG,” a highly specialized classification that means the information, if released, would violate the Central Intelligence Act of 1949 by exposing the names of CIA officials.
How FOIA Works
The Freedom of information Act (FOIA) requires the government to release all, or all parts of a document, that do not fall under a specific set of allowed exemptions. If information cannot be excluded, it must be released. If some part of a document can be redacted to allow the rest of the document to be released, then that is what must be done. Each redaction must be justified by citing a specific reason for exclusion.
But don’t believe me. Instead, look at page two of this State Department document which lists the exemptions.
Note specifically the different types of “(b)(3)” redactions, including “CIA PERS/ORG.” As common sense would dictate, the government will not release the names of CIA employees via the FOIA process. It would — literally — be against the law. What law? Depending on the nature of the individual’s job at CIA, National Security Act of 1947, the CIA Act of 1949, various laws that govern undercover/clandestine CIA officers and, potentially, the Espionage Act of 1917.
Names of CIA, NSA Officials Mentioned, Now Redacted
Yet Hillary’s emails contain at least three separate, specific instances where she mentioned in an unclassified email transmitted across the open Internet and wirelessly to her Blackberry the names of CIA personnel. Here they are. Look for the term “(b)(3) CIA PERS/ORG” Click on the links and see for yourself:
There are also numerous instances of exposure of the names and/or email addresses of NSA employees (“B3 NSA”); see page 23 inside this longer PDF document.
Why It Matters
— These redactions point directly to violations of specific laws. It is not a “mistake” or minor rule breaking.
— These redactions strongly suggest that the Espionage Act’s standard of mishandling national defense information through “gross negligence” may have been met by Clinton.
— There is no ambiguity in this information, no possible claims to faux-retroactive classification, not knowing, information not being labeled, etc. Clinton and her staff know that one cannot mention CIA names in open communications. It is one of the most basic tenets taught and exercised inside the government. One protects one’s colleagues.
— Exposing these names can directly endanger the lives of the officials. It can endanger the lives of the foreigners they interacted with after a foreign government learns one of their citizens was talking with the CIA. It can blow covers and ruin sensitive clandestine operations. It can reveal to anyone listening in on this unclassified communication sources and methods. Here is a specific example of how Clinton likely compromised security.
— These redactions show complete contempt on Clinton’s part for the security process.
BONUS: There is clear precedent for others going to jail for exposing CIA names. Read the story of John Kiriakou.
A Personal Aside: I just remain incredulous about these revelations seeming to mean nothing to the world. They’re treated in the media as almost gossip.
Or have they?
Twitter claims it does not want intelligence agencies using a Tweet-mining service for surveillance purposes. The company recently restated its “longstanding” policy of preventing a company called Dataminr from selling information to intelligence agencies that want to monitor Tweets.
“Dataminr uses public Tweets to sell breaking news alerts to media organizations, corporations and government agencies,” a spokesman for Twitter said in a statement. “We have never authorized Dataminr or any third party to sell data to a government or intelligence agency for surveillance purposes. This is a longstanding policy, not a new development.”
There are multiple issues worth unpacking here.
— The reality-to-b*llshit level on this is very high. Twitter sounds nicely righteous, but the whole affair is one FBI front company signing up with Dataminr away from being meaningless.
— In fact, Dataminr retains its contract with the Department of Homeland Security, which it classifies as something other than an intel agency.
— Can Twitter actually stop Dataminr from gathering information about Tweets? Not really, as Dataminr uses public Tweets to do its work. It seems Twitter just asked Dataminr nicely to stop. And how many other companies out there are doing the same thing?
But questions about the actual impact of Twitter’s statements aside, the worst thing about all this is that Americans are now fully dependent on corporate good deeds for the protection of their privacy. Yes, yes, we all “choose” to use social media, as we choose to use smartphones and have bank accounts and fly to Chicago. But c’mon, absent moving off the grid next to the Unabomber’s old cabin, how realistic is it for surveillance zealots to keep hiding behind the choice argument?
And for those familiar with the actual definition of fascism, collusion between the state and corporate interests, welcome to your latest piece of evidence. We have only has much privacy as Twitter and the government agree we may have.
Sample Dataminr screen:
Hey everyone, Happy bin Laden Day! It was five years ago May 2 that “we” got bin Laden. How did you celebrate?
For the CIA, marking the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden was as simple as fake live tweeting the raid by SEAL Team Six on the Al-Qaeda founder’s compound in Pakistan. Using the hashtag #UBLRaid, the CIA blasted out updates of the May 2011 strike as if it was unfolding in real time, all so we could savor the sweet, sweet taste of revenge which brought back to life everyone killed on 9/11.
Tweets included the now famous picture of President Barack Obama and other high-ranking U.S. officials watching matters unfold from the White House’s Situation Room.
1:51 pm EDT – Helicopters depart from Afghanistan for compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, read one tweet.
3:30 pm EDT – 2 helicopters descend on compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. 1 crashes, but assault continues without delay or injury, read another.
That was followed just minutes later by: 3:39 pm EDT – Usama Bin Ladin found on third floor and killed.
Think about how much has changed since that momentous day. In 2011 the U.S. was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, facing the threat of a vicious global terror organization that had already killed Americans. Oh, wait, that looks just like 2016, only now we are also at war in Syria, too, still at war in Afghanistan (16 years in!) and back at war in Iraq. And al Qaeda is known as ISIS, and the Homeland remains a jittery mess on the verge of electing either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, both of whom have enthusiastically endorsed lots more war in the Middle East.
It’s as if Nothing. Has. Changed.
Anyway, the CIA’s anniversary tweets open up the idea of live tweeting other American victories. How about a minute-by-minute live tweet of a waterboarding session? Or maybe, for a really special date, a live tweet on August 6 of the Hiroshima bombing?
BONUS: Proving we have learned absolutely nothing, amid the bin Laden tweetstorm, CIA chief John Brennan said Sunday that taking out the head of Islamic State would have a “great impact.”
“If we got Baghdadi, I think it would have a great impact on the organization. And it will be felt by them,” he said.
Four American prisoners, including detained Washington Post journalist Jason Resaian, Saeed Adedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, were released as part of a deal with the United States alongside the ending of many trade sanction against Iran. Iran also released a fifth American prisoner unrelated to the swap, student Matthew Trevithick.
However good that news is, the fate of two other Americans believed to still be in Iran remains unknown.
Authorities in Tehran said they would not be freeing a Iranian-American businessman arrested in October, and were silent on the fate of an CIA/DEA/FBI semi-undercover contractor who disappeared in the country.
It was unclear why businessman Siamak Namazi, 44, an Iranian-American based in Dubai, was arrested in October in the first place. He was visiting a friend in Tehran, where he had done consultant work for over ten years without incident. Namazi is the son of a prominent family in Tehran. He immigrated to the United States in 1983, and he later returned to Iran after graduating from college to serve in the Iranian military.
The fate of Robert Levinson, 67, pictured, is also unclear. Levinson, who worked at one time for the FBI, and also for the CIA, went missing on an Iranian island in March 2007. The island was reportedly a well-known stopover for smugglers bringing goods into Iran. Levinson is believed to have been looking into Iranian government corruption related to cigarette smuggling out of Dubai. The Iranians have never acknowledged holding Levinson.
Levinson joined the FBI’s New York field office in 1978 after spending six years with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Eventually he moved to the Miami office, where he tracked Russian organized-crime figures.
After retiring from the FBI in 1998, Levinson worked as a CIA contractor. Levinson was supposed to produce academic papers for the agency, but operated much like a case officer. Levinson traveled the globe to meet with potential sources, sometimes using a fake name. CIA station chiefs in those countries were allegedly never notified of Levinson’s activities overseas, even though the agency reimbursed him for his travel.
In the world of covert intelligence, the use of such contractors can be a convenient means of gathering information without creating any true responsibility of the agency to protect or repatriate an American who is technically not a “spy” and officially not an employee of the U.S. government. For the sake of long-term relations, this also allows all nations involved to not be pressed into raising a disappearance into a significant bilateral issue if desired, as appears in the case of Levinson.
I welcome guest blogger William Astore today, whose own blog, The Contrary Perspective, is always worth your time. Bill?
Francis Bacon is famous for the aphorism, “Knowledge is power.” Yet the reverse aphorism is not true. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, yet its knowledge base is notably weak in spite of all that power. Of course, many factors contribute to this weakness. Our public educational systems are underfunded and driven by meaningless standardized test results. Our politicians pander to the lowest common denominator. Our mainstream media is corporate-owned and in the business of providing info-tainment when they’re not stoking fear. Our elites are in the business of keeping the American people divided, distracted, and downtrodden, conditions that do not favor critical thinking, which is precisely the point of their efforts.
All that is true. But even when the U.S. actively seeks knowledge, we get little in return for our investment. U.S. intelligence agencies (the CIA, NSA, DIA, and so on) aggregate an enormous amount of data, then try to convert this to knowledge, which is then used to inform action. But these agencies end up drowning in minutiae. Worse, competing agencies within a tangled bureaucracy (that truly deserves the label of “Byzantine”) end up spinning the data for their own benefit. The result is not “knowledge” but disinformation and self-serving propaganda.
When our various intelligence agencies are not drowning in minutiae or choking on their own “spin,” they’re getting lost in the process of converting data to knowledge. Indeed, so much attention is put on process, with so many agencies being involved in that process, that the end product – accurate and actionable knowledge – gets lost. Yet, as long as the system keeps running, few involved seem to mind, even when the result is marginal — or disastrous.
Consider the Vietnam War. Massive amounts of “intelligence” data took the place of knowledge. Data like enemy body counts, truck counts, aircraft sorties, bomb tonnages, acres defoliated, number of villages pacified, and on and on. Amassing this data took an enormous amount of time; attempting to interpret this data took more time; and reaching conclusions from the (often inaccurate and mostly irrelevant) data became an exercise in false optimism and self-delusion. Somehow, all that data suggested to US officialdom that they were winning the war, a war in which US troops were allegedly making measurable and sustained progress. But events proved such “knowledge” to be false.
Of course, there’s an acronym for this: GIGO, or garbage (data) in, garbage (knowledge) out.
I don’t think the whole of Southeast Asia, as related to the present and future safety and freedom of the people of this country, is worth the life or limb of a single American [and] I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty bloody dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own design and want, that they fight and work for. And if, unfortunately, their revolution must be of the violent type…at least what they get will be their own and not the American style, which they don’t want…crammed down their throat.
But few wanted to hear Shoup and his brand of hard-won knowledge, even if he’d been handpicked by President Kennedy to serve as the Commandant of the Marine Corps exactly because Shoup had a reputation for sound and independent thinking.
Consider as well our rebuilding efforts in Iraq after 2003. As documented by Peter Van Buren in his book “We Meant Well,” those efforts were often inept and counterproductive. Yet the bureaucracy engaged in those efforts was determined to spin them as successes. They may even have come to believe their own spin. When Van Buren had the clarity and audacity to say, We’re fooling no one with our Kabuki dance in Iraq except the American people we’re sworn to serve, he was dismissed and punished by the State Department.
Why? Because you’re not supposed to share knowledge, real knowledge, with the American people. Instead, you’re supposed to baffle them with BS. But Van Buren was having none of that. His tell-all book (you can read an excerpt here) captured the Potemkin village-like atmosphere of US rebuilding efforts in Iraq. His accurate knowledge had real power, and for sharing it with the American people he was slapped down.
Tell the truth – share real knowledge with the American people – and you get punished. Massage the data to create false “knowledge,” in these cases narratives of success, and you get a pat on the back and a promotion. Small wonder that so many recent wars have gone so poorly for America.
What the United States desperately needs is insight. Honesty. A level of knowledge that reflects mastery. But what we’re getting is manufactured information, or disinformation, or BS. Lies, in plainspeak, like the lie that Iraq had in 2002 a large and active program in developing WMD that could be used against the United States. (Remember how we were told we had to invade Iraq quickly before the “smoking gun” became a “mushroom cloud”?)
If knowledge is power, what is false knowledge? False knowledge is a form of power as well, but a twisted one. For when you mistake the facade you’re constructing as the real deal, when you manufacture your own myths and then forget they’re myths as you consume them, you may find yourself hopelessly confused, even as the very myths you created consume you.
So, a corollary to Francis Bacon: Knowledge is power, but as the United States has discovered in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere, power is no substitute for knowledge.
Why would anyone want to steal the fingerprints of Federal government employees? Not for identity theft; it is all about biometric espionage.
Earlier this summer the United States suffered one of the worst data breaches in history, when someone (maybe the Chinese, maybe the Russians) broke into the Office of Personnel Management’s computers.
The Office of Personnel Management is the primary Human Resources office for the Federal government. Because it is the Federal government, a lot of the files have to do with security clearances, many for employees in sensitive or even clandestine positions. The government has been a bit coy about which agencies’ data was breached, but has made clear it included the Department of Defense.
For many employees, the data breach is primarily of intelligence concern in that it exposes their personal vulnerabilities, things like debt, past problems with booze or drugs, the kind of stuff that makes it easier to manipulate and recruit someone.
And there is a lot of fodder for a foreign intelligence service to work with – the hack affected a staggering 21.5 million federal employees and their families, a full seven percent of the entire United States population (which also tells you something about the size of the government workforce.)
But what about those fingerprints? The Office of Personnel Management now admits it lost an estimated 5.6 million fingerprint records. Why would a foreign adversary want fingerprints?
To establish someone’s identity, of course. And through that, negate the enormous and very expensive efforts America’s undercover folks go to to create alternate identities.
It works a lot like in the movies. Peter Parker joins the Central Intelligence Agency fresh out of college. A cover life is constructed for him under a new name, or several covers under several names. This takes time, and money, and a fine sense of detail, especially when it is expected that a person have all sorts of information about himself already on Facebook and the like. A 25-year-old without Facebook or LinkedIn? Hmm.
Peter is drilled on each back story so he can switch between being Peter or Paul or Pat seamlessly. His appearance can be changed, and so, with false passports, “Peter” can travel as a businessperson to China in June, “Paul” can be the tourist who visits in late July and “Pat” the guy finally assigned to a new job at the embassy come August. That stuff has been going on with spies since the beginning of time.
It worked. Or at least it used to work.
The science of biometrics changed the game. New technologies like facial recognition, vocal prints and iris scans allow unique indicators to be collected and stored digitally. Once one matches an iris scan from Peter with one collected from Paul, they know they are the same person. Peter can only ever enter China under one name, albeit with the option of it being a false one. But he must be consistent and stick to the one. His clandestine usefulness is thus very limited.
The concept has worried American intelligence for some time, particularly because the United States overtly collects biometric information on every person entering the United States and understands the value as well as anyone. The Central Intelligence Agency even produced a defensive how-to manual for its undercover people.
Nonetheless, the Office of Personnel Management downplayed the danger posed by stolen fingerprint records, saying the ability to misuse the data is currently limited. “An inter-agency working group with expertise in this area… will review the potential ways adversaries could misuse fingerprint data now and in the future,” it said.
Such reassurances aside, the problem of biometrics reaches much further than just within one country. What about for an intelligence officer who travels among various nations?
Biometrics collected when Peter/Paul/Pat crosses an international border can be shared among allied nations, or sold to less friendly ones. Oh – the Peter from China is the same person known as Paul in Vietnam.
If not shared between friends, broad-based biometric data can also be collected via a link up with immigration authorities, either by agreement or via computer hack, say at major hubs like Frankfurt, Dubai or Narita. One news source reported a former intelligence service employee as saying “Just before I left, they were gearing up to make a request for CIA officers to recruit foreigners with access to immigration databases.”
But all that is a lot of work just to collect the information, can involve delicate deals with other nations and must be followed by even more work to sift through a very large haystack looking for a few suspicious government employees. Wouldn’t it be easier if someone were to hand you a 5.56 million record library of fingerprints, all known Federal employees, all organized by real names, and all accompanied by biographical and work data?
It is entirely plausible the offices inside the American intelligence community which focus on altering or disguising fingerprints just saw their budgets increase, with a little note saying “With thanks to the Office of Personnel Management hack.”
That is why the new information on the fingerprint hack is so significant.
One of the things I was told as a new parent that really stuck was that my kids would be watching me 24/7 for clues as to how to behave, what was acceptable, what they might get away with. People look to authorities above them to see what is current practice in the same way. Unfortunately, this is how the taint of CIA actions in the so-called war on terror have come to the Homeland, specifically sweet home Chicago.
This is what happens in Post-Constitutional America.
Homeland Black Site
In an exclusive story, The Guardian, a UK newspaper, reports that the Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or lawyers while locked inside what attorneys say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site. The key element of a black site is the ability for an organization — CIA or Chicago PD — to hold someone outside of the law’s protections and indeed outside of any third-party knowledge. In Chicago, this includes a lack of access to legal advice during interrogation.
The facility in Chicago is a warehouse known as Homan Square. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:
— Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
— Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
— Shackling for prolonged periods.
— Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
— Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
— At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square interrogation room and later pronounced dead.
No one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Witnesses, suspects or others who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside.
“They Just Disappear”
“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said one local lawyer. A Chicago civil-rights attorney said Homan Square represented a routinization of a notorious practice in local police work that violates the Fifth and Sixth amendments of the Constitution.
Much remains hidden about Homan Square. The Chicago police department has not responded to any of the Guardian’s recent questions – neither about any aspect of operations at Homan Square, nor about the Guardian’s investigation of Richard Zuley, the retired Chicago detective turned Guantánamo Bay torturer.
“They just disappear,” said a criminal defense attorney.
The Bush and Obama administrations have gone to extraordinary lengths to hide America’s archipelago of secret prisons and systems of torture.
For all the empty talk of “transparency” being high-fived around following the Senate Report, they at first denied any of that nasty stuff even existed, then used an ever-so-compliant media to call it all necessary for our security and very survival, then shaping dumb-cow public opinion with ersatz terms like enhanced interrogation to keep the word torture out of the discourse, then having the CIA destroy videos of the brutality, then imprisoning officials, such as John Kiriakou, who sought to expose it all, then refusing to hold hearings or conduct investigations, then employing black ops to try and derail even a cursory Senate report and finally allowing the torturers at the CIA themselves the final word on the watered-down public version of a Senate report on torture.
The Torture of Shaker Aamer by the United States
Yet, like a water leak that must find it’s way out from inside the dark place within your walls, some things become known. Now, we can read a psychiatrist’s report which includes, in detail, the torture enacted on just one prisoner of the United States, Shaker Aamer.
The once-U.S. ally Northern Alliance captured Aamer in Afghanistan and sold him to the United States as an al Qaeda member. Who knows at this point who Aamer was at that time, or what he did or did not do. If you think any of that matters, and perhaps justifies what was done to him, stop reading now. This article cannot reach you.
What was Done to One Human
In his own words, Aamer describes the casual way his Western jailers accepted his physical presence, and skinny confessions made under Afghan torture, as all the proof necessary to imprison him in U.S. custody from 2002 until forever. The U.S. created a world of hell that only had an entrance, not caring to conceive of an exit. In no particular order (though the full report dispassionately chronicles every act by time and location), the United States of America did the following to Aamer:
— On more than one occasion an official of the United States threatened to rape Aamer’s five year old daughter, with one interrogator describing in explicit sexual detail his plans to destroy the child;
— “Welcoming Parties” and “Goodbye Parties” as Aamer was transferred among U.S. facilities. Soldiers at these “parties” were encouraged and allowed to beat and kick detainees as their proclivities and desires dictated. Here’s a video of what a beating under the eyes of American soldiers looks like.
— Aamer was made to stand for days, not allowed to sleep for days, not allowed to use the toilet and made to shit and piss on himself for days, not fed or fed minimally for days, doused with freezing water for days, over and over again. For twelve years. So far.
— Aamer was denied medical care as his interrogators controlled his access to doctors and made care for the wounds they inflicted dependent on Aamer’s ongoing compliance and repeated “confessions.”
— Aamer was often kept naked, and his faith exploited to humiliate him in culturally-specific ways. He witnessed a 17-year-old captive of America sodomized with a rifle, and was threatened with the same.
— At times the brutality took place for its own sake, disconnected from interrogations. At times it was the centerpiece of interrogation.
— The torture of Aamer continues at Gitmo, for as an occasional hunger striker he is brutally force-fed.
The obsessive debate in this country over the effectiveness of torture rings eternally false: torture does indeed work. Torture is invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control, not gathering information. Even when left alone (especially when left alone) the torture victim is punished 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.
And there you have the take-away point, as briefers in Washington like to say. The real point of the torture was to torture. Over twelve years, even the thinnest rationale that Aamer was a dangerous terrorist, or had valuable information to disclose, could not exist and his abusers knew it. The only goal was to destroy Shaker Aamer.
The combination of raw brutality, the careful, educated use of medical doctors to fine-tune the pain, the skills of psychiatrists and cultural advisors to enhance the impact of what was done worked exactly as it was intended. According to the psychiatrist who examined Aamer in detail at Guantanamo, there is little left of the man. He suffers from a broad range of psychiatric and physical horrors. In that sense, by the calculus his torturers employ, the torture was indeed successful.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed at great cost, al Qaeda has been reborn in Africa and greater parts of the Middle East and the U.S. has willingly transformed itself into at best a bully abroad, and a police state at home. But no mind; the full force and credit of the United States of America destroyed Shaker Aamer as revenge for all the rest, bloody proof of all the good we failed to do.
Never Again, Always Again
Despite the horrors of World War II, the mantra– never again– becomes today a sad joke. The scale is different this time, what, 600? 6000? men destroyed by torture not six million, but not the intent. The desire to inflict purposeful suffering by government order, the belief that such inhuman actions are legal, even necessary, differs little from one set of fascists to more modern ones. Given the secrecy the Nazis enjoyed for years, how full would the American camps be today? Kill them all, and let God sort them out is never far from the lips.
Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. The ghosts don’t disappear the way the flesh and bone can be made to go away.
The people who did this, whether the ones in the torture cell using their fists, or the ones in the White House ordering it with their pens, walk free among us. They’ll never see justice done. There will be no Nuremburg Trials for America’s evils, just a collapsing bunker in Berlin. But unlike Shaker Aamer, you are sentenced to live to see it.
Anyone can sue the government; Van Buren v. Barack Obama. I just need to file the papers in Federal court. Oh, a couple of issues.
Torture is a crime but it is arguably also a tort. Torts are civil wrongs recognized as grounds for a lawsuit. These wrongs result in an injury or harm constituting the basis for a claim by the injured party. While some torts are also crimes, the primary aim of tort law is to provide relief for the damages incurred and deter others from committing the same harms. The injured person may sue for an injunction to prevent the continuation of the tortious conduct or for monetary damages.
Sounds like the kind of stuff we all would like in regards to torture. Compensation for victims and no more torture.
But before I call up a lawyer, I first need standing or the government will can my suit in a quick motion filing to dismiss. Standing means in this case I have to show I was personally affected by the torture. I wasn’t tortured, so this will be hard. Attorneys for Anwar al Awlaki’s father previously tried to persuade a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction a few year’s ago preventing the government from the targeted killing of his son. A judge dismissed the case, ruling the father did not have standing to sue. Awlaki was killed by the government.
What About a Victim Filing Suit?
OK, so maybe someone who was tortured himself could sue the U.S. government. That’d get around the question of standing.
First problem with one of the victim’s suing the USG is persuading the relevant U.S. courts that they have jurisdiction over the acts committed by Americans overseas and are prepared to apply U.S. laws extra-territorially. This gets even dicier because the torture took place sorta-kinda during a sort-kinda kind of war-thing.
This issue has been batted around the court system over Guantanamo for years, inconclusively.
But what if somehow victim actually did file a lawsuit in the U.S. against those Americans who tortured them?
Government officials acting under the “legitimate scope of their employment” are immune from suit. This is the “Westfall Act Certification” defense, via the Westfall Act of 1988. The Act permits the Attorney General, at his or her discretion, to substitute the United States as the defendant and essentially grant absolute immunity to individual government employees for actions taken within the scope of their employment.
The government would only have to say the torturers were just doing their jobs, which in a sad way they were, and that ends the suit.
There is an exception in Westfall for unconstitutional acts. The person filing the lawsuit would have to prove torture of a foreigner abroad was in fact prohibited by the Constitution. That would be one helluva hard sell.
But the Game’s Already Been Decided
And just to make this very clear, all the way back in 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder closed without charges the only two cases ever under investigation in connection with U.S. torture program. One case resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. Holder’s decision, said the New York Times, “eliminates the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA”.
Obama also made clear the idea of suing the government, or anyone connected with torture, was a non-starter.
Long before throwing out the two cases noted above, way back in 2009 Obama said his desire was to look forward rather than conduct investigations that could alienate the intelligence community. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” Obama said in a statement, even as he noted torture was a “dark and painful chapter in our history.”
“It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” Attorney General Holder said in a 2009 statement.
Obama officials also stated some five years ago that they would provide legal representation at no cost to CIA employees subjected to international tribunals or inquiries from Congress. They also said they would indemnify CIA staff against any financial judgments.
Short version for non-lawyers: if two presidents order it done, whatever is done is legal, and there is not a damn thing you can do about it. Thanks for playing and have a super day!
(I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice)
The person Greenwald now knows as Edward Snowden began contacting him via open email, urging Greenwald to learn how to use encryption and other web tools to receive sensitive information. When Greenwald was slow to act, Snowden even made a video tutorial to baby-step him through the necessary procedures. Absent these extraordinary efforts by Snowden, who knows when or even if his game-changing NSA information would have come to light.
You don’t have to wait for some future Snowden to teach you how to communicate securely, thanks to Trevor Timm, co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
Freedom of the Press Foundation has helped news organizations install SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system that helps sources get documents to journalists in a much more anonymous and secure way than email. Currently, journalists at five major news organizations in the United States use SecureDrop. Here’s how to use it:
— Find a public wifi internet connection that is not connected to your work or home, such as a coffee shop. Take the bus to a new place you’ll not visit again.
— Download and install the Tor Browser Bundle. For more security, also install and use the Tails operating system. For maximum security, run all this off a flash drive you bought with cash, and throw away the drive after one use.
–Using the Tor Browser, enter in your news organization’s Onion URL (below). Only load this URL inside the Tor Browser.
— Follow the instructions on the SecureDrop screen.
Here are Onion URLs for the five groups of journalists currently operating SecureDrop:
The Intercept: y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion
New Yorker: strngbxhwyuu37a3.onion
Wired’s Kevin Poulsen: poulsensqiv6ocq4.onion
A Plea to Computer People
I have heard from many journalists their concern that sources are unaware or incapable of communicating securely. Many times the journalist, who may or may not really understand this stuff, ends up trying to explain it to an already-nervous source whose computer skills may be basic at best. Every one of the writers say the same thing: someone please create a secure system for dummies.
So, computer people of the web, please consider this. Create a one-button click piece of software that installs all the software needed on a flash drive. The users need only plug in the flash drive and click one button. Create the necessary front ends so that the software can be used by anyone. Please don’t write in and say “But it is already so easy to use.” Experience is that it is not. Think software that your grandma could make work. For better or worse, many people who are or who might communicate important information to responsible journalists need your help. Without your help, many will either not communicate at all, or put themselves at increased risk by communicating insecurely.
Anyone takes great personal risk, including financial ruin and potential jail time, by transmitting to journalists, so all the warnings and caveats apply. Do not leak or transmit classified information. Courts are attacking journalists’ abilities to protect their sources. Though Snowden and others have endorsed the use of systems such as described here, there is no information now available on if/how the NSA can monitor such communications, now or in the future. The FBI has successfully, on a known, limited scale, monitored some parts of the Tor Network. Everything else. This is America, 2014. We’re on our own to fix our country.
In the world of spying in general, and especially when you’re spying on allied nations, Rule No. 1 is “Don’t Get Caught.” Rule No. 2 is “Make Sure the Juice is Worth the Squeeze.” The U.S. broke both rules, several times, in Germany. For what?
Rule No. 1: Don’t Get Caught
Getting caught spying is never a good idea. Want to end a relationship? Have your girlfriend discover you looking through her cell phone. The same applies to nations. Though the adage “everyone spies on everyone” and its antecedent “spying is the world’s second oldest profession” are true, getting caught trumps both, especially when spying on a friendly nation.
In Germany, the U.S. was caught. Several times.
The Snowden revelations showed that not only did the United States (via the NSA) spy on Germany as a whole, vacuuming up all sorts of communications, but that it drilled down to the level of spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone. Recently, however, two more examples emerged.
The first involved a mid-level employee of the German intelligence service, arrested on July 2. The employee, identified only as Markus R., became of interest in May after he sent an email to the Russian consulate in Munich offering classified information. He even attached a sample intelligence document to his email, information suggesting another German official was a Russian spy.
German counterintelligence officials set up a trap, replying to Markus R. using a fake Russian email address, suggesting a meeting. Markus R. didn’t bite. Seeking help, the Germans forwarded Markus’ Gmail address to the Americans, asking if they recognized it. No reply from the Americans. Instead, Markus R.’s email address suddenly shut down. The Germans arrested Markus, who rolled over and provided proof he was spying for the U.S.
That other German official, maybe a Russian spy Markus dangled in front of the Russians? That took a curious twist. It turns out that German intelligence had had the guy on its radar since 2010, and had learned the man had taken trips paid for by an “American friend.” Soon after the Germans raided the guy’s home and, perhaps by coincidence, then immediately expelled the head of the CIA resident in Germany.
How Not to Get Caught
Sometimes things just go belly-up and there is not much you could have done. But often times there are things you could have done.
To begin, one must vet one’s agents, the foreign citizen who is paid to spy for you on his own country. Is he a flake? A fake? A glory seeker, an adventurer, a Walter Mitty-type? Has he shopped his information around to other spies? What is his motivation? If you pay him a lot of money, will he do stupid things like suddenly start buying luxury goods on a clerk’s salary? What are his weaknesses– if he talks too much to you when drunk, maybe he’ll do the same with others. If he can be played with women, men, drugs, gambling or whatever, well, the other side(s) knows how to do that too. The answers to these questions can help predict whether or not he can be trusted. After all, by your choosing to work with him, he now knows some of your secrets too.
Next up is assessing his ability to spy for you without doing things that will compromise the action. Does he understand how to communicate securely, how to be discreet, how to acquire documents without alerting his employer? Is he teachable, can he follow instructions on how to do all those things? If you give him secure ways to communicate, does he use them all the time, or does he panic and call over open channels? (Markus R., after his initial email(s), was apparently given a secure communications device by his American handler.)
What about the host nation? How good are they at counter-intelligence? How good are you at counter-counter-intelligence, knowing what they know about your activities? This dictates how much caution and discretion needs to be involved.
Markus R. apparently offered himself directly to the U.S. via an open email, and then went on to try the same with the Russians. In the latter instance, he communicated openly over Gmail, even attaching a sensitive document. Given the furor over the Snowden revelations in Germany, and his own position inside the German intelligence operation, it is impossible that he was unaware of the boneheadedness of such actions. This should have been a full-blown emergency sign inside the CIA.
Finally, don’t make it easy for the other side to catch you. Slamming shut the Gmail account right after the Germans asked the U.S. about it pretty much sealed the deal.
All of this brings us to Rule No. 2.
Rule No. 2: Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze?
In other words, for any given information (the juice), what effort is required to obtain it (the squeeze)? Similarly, what is the potential fallout if the squeeze is exposed? In the German caper, the violation of Rule No. 2 seems near-complete.
Following the Snowden revelations, it was dead solid perfect obvious that anything to do with additional spying inside Germany, never mind spying on Germany, would be sensitive enough to immediately reach the highest levels of both governments. That should have set off a careful evaluation of activity, with a risk analysis of each and every operation ongoing or planned. The question that should have been being asked was “If this gets out, given the likely bilateral fallout, can we justify that by what we learned?” In other words, was the info acquired so valuable to the U.S. that it was worth the firestorm that followed?
It does not appear that risk analysis was done, or if it was done, that anyone paid attention to it. Though full details are of course (for now…) unknown, it appears that Markus R. did not turn over documents critical to U.S. national security. Some reports claim what he revealed mostly dealt with what the German’s were doing about the earlier NSA revelations. According to one news source, Markus “admitted passing to an American contact details concerning a German parliamentary committee’s investigation of alleged U.S. eavesdropping disclosed by Edward Snowden.”
Though some agents are bought off very cheaply by the CIA, that seems less applicable in a first world nation such as Germany. You often do get what you pay for; the U.S. allegedly only paid Markus R. about $34,000.
Further risk was assumed by possibly involving a third country, also an ally. Reports suggest Markus R. traveled to Austria to meet his CIA handler, and that the whole operation was run primarily out of Austria. That can push the disruption of relations across a second border with little if any potential benefit to the United States.
There have been short-term negatives. The German Interior Ministry said it would cancel a contract with Verizon Communications. “The links revealed between foreign intelligence agencies and firms,” the ministry said in a statement, “show that the German government needs a high level of security for its essential networks.” A lot of rhetoric will pass. There is no doubt that American intelligence officers in Germany will come under greater scrutiny, likely reducing their effectiveness. Some points of intel cooperation between the U.S. and Germany may suffer.
But U.S.-German relations are long, deep and complex. The Markus R. incident, like the NSA revelations, will be hard to track in the broader picture. It will be hard to pinpoint specific changes in the relationship, as they will be subtle if not classified, or because they may not even occur.
Perhaps though the bigger lesson here is more domestic than foreign. Obama claims he was not informed of the Markus R. case, as he claimed he was not informed of NSA spying on Merkel’s cell phone. Was CIA action in the Markus case (and the NSA’s earlier actions) sensitive to their implications? Did the CIA act in concert with broader U.S. government goals and aims, or did they act with a lack of concern? The answers to those questions may tell us more about how things are working inside our own government than anything to do with foreign relations.
BONUS: There is a Rule No. 3, but if I told you that I’d have to kill you…
Chroniclers of the decline of the republic will recall March 2014. Speaking then in reference to revelations that the CIA searched computers being used by Senate staffers, and removed documents those staffers 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.
Feinstein went on to say then “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 appears more than likely the files the CIA pulled out of the Senate’s hands would reveal two presidents lied to the world about the torture program, and that horrors beyond what we know were committed in our names.
A classified 6,300-page Senate report on torture was prepared 19 months ago, before the details of the CIA spying became public. Calls were made, in March 2014, to declassify parts and release them to the public. Now, in July, we are still waiting.
The Constitutional Crisis
The bulk of the Constitution is a road map to the checks and balances the Founders created to ensure no one part of government would become so strong and powerful so as to negate the others. Chief among those checks and balances is the oversight role Congress plays over the Executive branch. Simply put, Congress investigates what the Executive does. That is what Dianne Feinstein and her Senate Intelligence Committee were doing looking into the truth behind the lies of CIA torture.
When the Executive, using the CIA in this instance (and there are credible claims Obama personally knew of the CIA’s activities ahead of time), inserts itself wrongly in that process by spying on and manipulating evidence of the Committee, you have a Constitutional crisis. The essential checks and balances designed to sustain our democracy and rein in an out-of-control Executive are no longer functioning.
The Obama administration declined to get involved. Then-White House spokesperson Jay Carney announced 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 by spying on and penetrating the records database, but did not approve or weigh in on the agency’s decision.
With the White House choosing the sidelines, a DOJ investigation, no matter the motive, was the only check and balance to be applied to this crisis of power, and the only hope for public clarity about what really happened.
The DOJ Declines Intervening on the Side of the Constitution
On July 10, 2014, DOJ released a short statement: “The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.” There will be no reckoning of what the CIA did to conceal or influence the Senate report.
Previously, in 2012, the Justice Department closed an inquiry into prosecuting low-level CIA practitioners of torture without bringing any charges.
Post-Constitutional America, Again
Dianne Feinstein appears to have made no comment on the DOJ decision despite her central role in all this and previous claims of unconstitutional actions by the Executive. As this is written, her most recent public remarks deal with immigration. The last reference found on her official website to the torture report is from April 2014.
The CIA attacks on the Senate, designed to impede, alter or influence the outcome of a report on torture, coupled with a lack of concern from the White House and the Department of Justice, as well as apparently by the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee itself, are another example of our new world, a Post-Constitutional America where the old rules of an aging republic no longer apply.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she won’t “be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans” over the 2012 Benghazi attacks,” though she devotes a full chapter to the incident in her forthcoming book Hard Choices. Politico was given a pre-release excerpt from the book, from which the quotes below are drawn.
Clinton’s book raises some important points. Here are the questions some reporter should ask her if given the chance, along with a note about “why it matters” for each one to make clear these are things we need to know from the likely-next president of the United States, far apart from any political slugfest.
1) Where was Clinton?
The Benghazi attack unfolded from about 4pm in the afternoon until very late at night, Washington time. Clinton said she was first told of the incident as it began. She has refused to be specific about her whereabouts and actions that night. Where was Clinton between 4pm and say midnight? The State Department Operations Center was on the phone live with officials in Benghazi, Tripoli or both locations. Was Clinton in the State Department Operations Center? If not, why not? When did she leave the State Department? Why did she leave? Did she go to the White House Ops Center, who no doubt was monitoring the situation? If not, why not?
Senator Charles Schumer was called to the White House, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, as the Benghazi attack unfolded. Clinton would be an unlikely source to explain Schumer’s presence, but certainly should be asked to explain her own non-presence.
For example, the CBS timeline for the attack states that 4 a.m. Washington time Obama was told of Ambassador Stevens’ death. Where was Clinton at that time? If she was asleep, at home or elsewhere, why did she chose that over staying at the State Department?
Clinton has refused to explain where she was the night of the Benghazi attack. CNN asked her, and here is her response:
QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on… So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting… So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.
Why It Matters: A Commander-in-Chief is responsible for lives and decisions. She has to be present and ready to make the “hard choices” in real time. If Clinton was elsewhere and not directly monitoring Benghazi in real-time (as opposed to getting periodic “briefings” aside some other event), how will she act as president in a similar crisis?
2) About That Anti-Muslim Video
In her book Hard Choices Clinton states about Benghazi:
There were scores of attackers that night, almost certainly with differing motives. It is inaccurate to state that every single one of them was influenced by this hateful video. It is equally inaccurate to state that none of them were. Both assertions defy not only the evidence but logic as well.
What evidence can Clinton present that any of the Benghazi attackers were motivated by the video so offensive to Muslims? The attacks appear to have been well-coordinated and goal-oriented, not the faceless mobs content to tear down the American flag as seen in Cairo.
For example, at 6:07 p.m. Washington time an alert from the State Department Operations Center stated the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli reported the Islamic military group “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack”… on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli. It did not appear that the offensive video was cited.
The UK’s Independent noted the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who are working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts.
Why It Matters: If you cite evidence, put up or shut up. The president must speak precisely, both to avoid misunderstandings and to preserve her credibility.
3) What is Responsibility?
As Secretary I was the one ultimately responsible for my people’s safety, and I never felt that responsibility more deeply than I did that day.
Define “responsibility.” Many definitions imply some sort of relationship between being responsible, making decisions and accepting consequences. What decisions did Clinton make as Secretary of State vis-vis security in Benghazi? If delegated, to whom? What controls, management tools or other means did she employ to assure those delegates acted out her intentions?
Why It Matters: As president, Clinton will need to delegate almost everything. If she is unable to manage that, simply saying she takes “responsibility” while shucking off consequences will undermine her leadership.
4) More About Responsibility
In Hard Choices, Clinton writes about the messages from Benghazi before the attack requesting more security:
The cables were addressed to her as a ‘procedural quirk’ given her position, but didn’t actually land on her desk. “That’s not how it works. It shouldn’t. And it didn’t.”
Fair enough. Obviously the Secretary cannot read even a fraction of what pours into the State Department. So, who were the highest level people to see those cables? What were their instructions on which issues to elevate to the Secretary and which to deal with themselves? Clearly the need for more security at Benghazi was not addressed. Following Benghazi, did Clinton initiate any internal review, leading to changes? Details are important here.
Following Benghazi, no one in the State Department lost his/her job. No one was fired. Several people were placed on administrative leave, a kind of purgatory, until media attention focused elsewhere. All were eventually reinstated. The one person who claimed to have resigned actually just changed job titles, “resigning” from one to take on another.
At the time, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “the discipline is a lie and all that has happened is the shuffling of the deck chairs. That will in no way change [the] systemic failures of management and leadership in the State Department.”
Why It Matters: God alone knows how much paper, how many memos and reports, arrive at the White House daily. The president must have staff and a system that filter the right things up and down. The country needs to have confidence that President Clinton will be able to handle that to prevent bad decisions that may lead to more tragedy. And when things go wrong, the president must be willing to shed ineffectual people and replace them with better ones.
Clinton writes of her non-appearance on television, with Susan Rice taking the lead:
[People] fixate on the question of why I didn’t go on TV that morning, as if appearing on a talk show is the equivalent of jury duty, where one has to have a compelling reason to get out of it. I don’t see appearing on Sunday-morning television as any more of a responsibility than appearing on late-night TV. Only in Washington is the definition of talking to Americans confined to 9 A.M. on Sunday mornings.
At the time, Susan Rice was America’s ambassador to the UN, what many saw as an unusual choice for a spokesperson for such a State Department-specific tragedy with little UN touchpoint.
Clinton was Secretary of State, the leader of the State Department, which had just had one of its consulates overrun, and two of its employees killed, one an ambassador. Clinton admits she held “responsibility” for this. Why wouldn’t she be the person to speak of this to the American people? Indeed, it was Clinton, not Susan Rice, in the foreground of the serious, patriotic photos taken later at the Dover Air Force base when the remains of the dead were returned to the U.S. in their flag-draped coffins.
Clinton went on to miss numerous opportunities to speak of her role regarding Benghazi.
Why It Matters: The buck stops here, said president Harry Truman. The president needs to be the one who speaks to America, explains things that happened to Americans, the one who shows by example her role, her compassion, for those whom she sent into harm’s way. The president, to lead, can’t duck that.
6) Information and Disinformation
Clinton writes in her book:
[There is a] regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media, but new information from a number of reputable sources continues to expand our understanding of these events.
Can Clinton be specific about what new information she is referring to, and from what sources? Can she explain how she determined these sources are reputable as opposed to those she characterizes as “flat-out deceit”?
One Democratic talking point opposing additional investigation into Benghazi is that the event has been dissected fully and we know all there is to know, that a new hearing in Congress is simply partisan politics. But if there is new information, as Clinton says, it seems more investigation would be helpful.
Why It Matters: A president’s word choice is very important. Precision is important and establishes credibility.
Clinton writes that the Accountability Review Board (ARB), State’s after-action process following any tragedy abroad as significant as two employees being killed by terrorists, did not interview her for their report, by their own choice. She does not know why they did not call on her. The report was bland and singled out no one for discipline or sanction despite the deaths and the decisions (by someone) not to increase security as personnel on the ground demanded.
Given the central role the Secretary of State and her office, delegates and staffers played in Benghazi before, during and after the crisis, how could this possibly be true? Assuming that the ARB truly found no reason whatsoever to speak to the head of an organization about arguably the most significant event of her term as head of that organization, why didn’t Clinton seek them out? Why didn’t she prepare a written statement, ask to add in her recollections? Get her role on record? Make sure history was recorded.
The Accountability Review Board personnel were hand-selected by Clinton.
And as John Kerry said (about Edward Snowden) “patriots don’t run away.”
Why It Matters: Not participating in such a review process, and then dismissing such non-participation simply as “they didn’t ask,” even if true, raises significant credibility questions about the validity of the ARB and the leader who did not participate. Credibility to her own staff, as well as to the American people, is a critical thing for a president.
If either lose faith in her, she cannot be effective. Leaders lead without excuses.
OK, let’s get this out of the way. It is impossible to divorce an attempt at serious, dispassionate discourse about Benghazi from the political side promoted by Republicans and Democrats. And yes, of course, it is aimed at Hillary 2016.
But Hillary 2016 is a big deal. If the election were held today, she’d be the next president. So maybe, albeit with some of the inevitable political mud slung alongside, we should pay attention to how she acted, if she failed to act, and whether she enjoyed some sort of cover-up/soft-sell over what really happened in Benghazi.
To paraphrase Mrs. Clinton’s own political rhetoric as directed at then-candidate Obama, we need to know how she’ll act when that tragic 3 a.m. phone call comes through. While past performance is no guarantee of future success or failure, it is how the smart money should bet.
What kind of president would Hillary Clinton be? Let’s ask some real questions, and hold out for real answers.
Your FBI is concerned that bonehead Americans will travel overseas to enemy-controlled territory such as China and be recruited as spies. Since this apparently happened once to one total dumbass kid, the FBI turned right around and spent a boatload of your taxpayer dollars to make a cheesy video, albeit one with professional actors and Hollywood-level technical production qualities. This video explains how to become a Chinese spy.
The whole silly thing is a long half hour to wade through, so for those already at the airport waiting to board a flight to Asia, we’ll summarize the steps to becoming a Red spy:
— Go to China. Make out a bit with Chinese girls. These are not spies, it’s just that Chinese girls are easy. Be seduced by the ancient culture and sleazy Asian tail. You know they like big, tall Americans, just like in those old Vietnam movies, Charlie.
— Answer an ad on Craigslist in China. This is really what happened LOL. It seems the Chinese government will pay you, a dumbass abroad who speaks just tragically awful Mandarin, a lot of money to write “papers” on whatever, politics and stuff, with no strings attached. They will not, however, send one of those beautiful hot Chinese women as your “handler.” They will send someone who looks like your mom if she was Chinese and used to be sort of hot but really, not any more, even if you’d been drinking a little first. Very clever.
— Your Chinese mom will soon introduce you to Mr. X. He will look and act like a Chinese Bond villain, but kinda sleazier. He will ply you with booze and hand you lots of money, because, that’s what happens in China. He will make a chess analogy. You won’t get it, but you… are… the… pawn!!!!!
— Mr. X will encourage you to take the State Department Foreign Service Exam. In the video, the kid fails it, because of course he is a bonehead. Next, Mr. X will introduce you to Mr. Y, who somehow is even sleazier. He’ll say hello, then demand you apply for a job with the CIA, perhaps via Craigslist.
— The stern CIA will catch you with their super-polygraph trade-craftery and you’ll go to jail. No more Chinese love affairs buddy.
An Idiot Abroad
The real life dumbass this instructional hygiene film is based on did indeed do all these things. He ended up charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, even though he never had a chance to enter the federal government (he couldn’t even pass the State Department test!) and was in no position to give away any secrets because he knew none.
One assumes it was either a slow week at the FBI, or the kid was popped as a warning to other stupid Americans to just stay on campus smoking dope in L.A. and not mess around with foreign languages and their vile women. Indeed, the collegiate perp had this insider’s advice from another dumb video for his peeps studying abroad: “If someone is offering you money and it feels like you don’t have to do anything for that money, then there’s probably a hook in there that you’re not seeing.”
Americans: That advice, about not accepting free money because there is always a hook, also applies when “Coach” invites you over to his bachelor pad to do some yardwork. On Saturday night. At midnight. In your tight jeans, specifically.
Important Video Points
Before you consume the video, a couple of things to watch for.
— Note how all the Chinese in the video are nice, polite, well-spoken. Note how every American in the video is shrill and unpleasant. The FBI video crew may want to send the script back with notes for a rewrite.
— Note how much technology and how many people the CIA and the FBI devote to luring in and arresting this kid. They even surveilled him in China! They were on to the scheme all along, just like Jack Bauer and Tom Clancy!
— Hey Chinese spies, a tip! You want to recruit Americans who actually have access to secrets, not the nerds we send abroad during college, ‘kay?
— But if the Chinese really want to waste their time, money and assets on recruiting idiot American college students, we should let them. Just like when the Republicans won the Cold War by tricking the Russkies into spending too much on outer space rocket defenses against the Spiders from Mars, we’ll sit back and watch China fritter away their moola, then hope they still have some left to loan us.
One also hopes that this helpful video from the FBI is never translated into Mandarin. It is highly likely our own secret agent men are using these same tactics to lure in Chinese students in America. Wouldn’t want to tip them off…
Anyway, here’s the FBI’s anti-spy video, along with one of its peers:
Or maybe this???????????????????????????
In another time and place, the intentional mistreatment and torture of human beings, often with the assistance of medical doctors and learned men and women, was made public to destroy it. But open justice at Nuremberg and hidden justice at Guantanamo are so very, very different.
Or maybe not. New details in the trial of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri may give the world the clearest view yet of America’s torture program.
Following World War II the United States and its Allies could have easily executed Nazis responsible for the Holocaust at a black site, or simply have thrown them into some forever jail on an isolated, island military base. It would have been hard to find anyone who would not have supported brutally torturing them. Instead, those evil men and women were put on public trial at Nuremberg, supplied with lawyers and made to defend their actions as the evidence against them was laid bare. The point was in part to demonstrate justice, that We were better than Them. The hope was also to ensure it all would never happen again.
Though the scale remains very different, the intentions and actions echo across the decades. The United States, as a policy of our nation, used its full range of global resources to kidnap, imprison and torture human beings for its political aims. Now, in an obscene reimaging of justice, that same United States government works to the extent of its ability to hide what it did.
What it did was torture. Here’s how the United States is trying to hide it.
The Sham of Justice
Nashiri was held in CIA “black sites” and was one of three prisoners that the United States admits waterboarding. The CIA’s inspector general called Nashiri the “most significant” case of a detainee who was brutalized in ways that went beyond even the tortures approved by the Bush administration, including being threatened with a power drill. A specialist in treating torture victims (prosecuters aggressively tried to disqualify the witness as an expert) testified that Nashiri had been subjected to “physical, psychological and sexual torture.” As part of his torture, Nashiri was analy raped.
Nashiri no doubt remembers every detail: his own screams, the looks on his torturers faces as they broke him, what they said to him about freedom and America as he was beaten, raped and waterboarded. But at Guantanamo, Nashiri’s lawyers cannot introduce those tortures as part of his defense, because the U.S. government classified them. Nashiri cannot discuss the details of his own torture at his own trial, nor can his lawyers access CIA files of his torture. They are classified.
Even the court at Guantanamo found this too far from any concept of justice, and ordered the government to release the documentation, albeit still with the classifications, to Nashiri’s lawyer.
(BACKGROUND: At one point government prosecutors argued against the release order as too broad, stating at one point that the defense must specify exact documents by name, impossible as even such details are classified– a Catch 22. Also in Nashiri’s case, the government admitted it had “inadvertently” accessed confidential e-mails among Nashiri’s defense lawyers made via Guantanamo’s computer systems. No mistrial was declared.)
Torture Records Sought, Fought
Despite the court’s order that the torture records be released to the defense team (the team also seeks testimony from the CIA torturers themselves, who, if they are indeed compelled to speak of their actions in front of their victim, will be allowed to testify under false names), the government is now arguing in a new motion that they should not be required to release any records.
The government’s argument would be funny in less dire circumstances. In an motion, prosecuters state the chief reason not to release the torture documents is that information from Gitmo should not get ahead of information that may be made public out of the White House at some vague future date.
(BACKGROUND: The Senate Intelligence Committee voted April 3 to ask the Obama administration to declassify a lengthy executive summary of its investigative report on the torture and rendition program. The administration punted the issue to CIA claiming they had to review the document and make redactions first. There is no target date for release even now, more than a month since that process should have started.)
The real reason for trying to block release of the documentation of Nashiri’s torture however seems darker than just wanting to avoid upstaging the White House: Prosecutors at Gitmo likely remain fearful that the unredacted documents pertaining to Nashiri’s torture may reveal far more heinous actions by the government than whatever sanitized version emerges from the CIA-edited version. Here’s why.
Why the Government is Trying to Block Release of the Documents
The goal of the defense in seeking the torture records is to show that Nashiri’s treatment was so outside any standards of accepted human behavior that any statements or confessions he made should not be admissible in the trial designed to determine if he should now be executed. The defense also seeks to show that the traumas purposely inflicted on Nashiri, and the lack of medical care afforded him afterwards, rendered him so psychologically damaged that he is not competent to stand trial in defense of his own life.
At the same time, these same documents could provide the clearest picture to date of the U.S. government’s torture program. That’s what the prosecutors in Guantanamo are very likely really trying to suppress. Specifically, why is the government so scared? Have a look at what the current judge’s order requires them to produce:
— A chronology identifying where Nashiri was held in detention between the date of his capture to the date he arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in September 2006; [NOTE: Nashiri was captured in Dubai and believed to have been held in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco, and Romania.]
— A description of how Nashiri was transported between the various locations including how he was restrained and how he was clothed;
— All records, photographs, videos and summaries the Government of the United States has in its possession which document the condition of Nashiri’s confinement at each location, and Nashiri’s conditions during each movement between the various locations; [NOTE: The CIA destroyed video of Nashiri’s waterboarding in 2005.]
— The identities of medical personnel (examining and treating physicians, psychologist, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, dentists, etc.), guard force personnel, and interrogators, whether employees of the United States Government or employees of a contractor hired by the United States Government, who had direct and substantial contact with Nashiri; [Note that former CIA case officer John Kiriakou is currently serving a sentence in federal prison for revealing the identity of a CIA staffer involved in the torture program.]
— Copies of the standard operating procedures, policies, or guidelines on handling, moving, transporting, treating, interrogating, etc., high value detainees at and between the various facilities;
— The employment records of individuals identified memorializing adverse action and/or positive recognition in connection with performance of duties at a facility or in transporting Nashiri between the various facilities;
— The records of training in preparation for the performance of duties of the individuals at the various facilities or during transport of Nashiri;
— All statements obtained from interrogators, summaries of interrogations, reports produced from interrogations, interrogations logs, and interrogator notes of interrogations of Nashiri and all co-conspirators identified on the Charge Sheet dated 15 September 2011; [Note the date. Despite the USS Cole bombing having occurred 11 years earlier, Nashiri was not charged with any crime until four days after 9/11.]
— Un-redacted copies of requests with any accompanying justifications and legal reviews of same to employ Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Nashiri and all co-conspirators;
— Un-redacted copies of documents memorializing decisions (approving or disapproving), with any additional guidance, on requests to employ Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Nashiri and all co-conspirators.
What if Nashiri Wins?
Ahead, many things are unclear. Prosecutors may win their motion now in front of the Gitmo judge, meaning some or all of the documents will not be released. They may succeed in editing or redacting what is released. They may block Nashiri’s lawyers from discussing in any public forum what is contained in the documents, meaning even their release will never see the information leave Guantanamo.
But what if Nashiri wins?
If, against very long odds, Nashiri wins, and if some or all of the documents are made public, the world will learn in much of the same banal evil of detail as from Nuremburg what the United States has done in the name of its own twisted definition of freedom.
The world will learn– maybe by name– who did these things and thus have the ability to someday hold them responsible for their acts, should we acquire the courage to do so. It will learn in part who authorized and approved torture, and what efforts were made to train and equip the men and women who carried out that torture.
Of most value to us all is that these detailed records from the case of Nashiri will pressure Obama to release the more comprehensive record of torture he and his CIA now hold in their hands. The sanitized version of events the White House would likely prefer to release would not stand up to the details that might be heard in Guantanamo.
Obama and the CIA have to feel now that the troops are closing in on their bunker in Berlin. What will they do, now, with their enemy at the gates?
We learned significant details of the torture program already out of Guantanamo, through the testimony of a psychiatrist in the trial of Shaker Aamer.
(This guest blog post, by Tom Engelhardt, originally appeared on TomDispatch and is reprinted both by permission, and also because it is worth reading.)
How the mighty have fallen. Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars. Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history — the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program. A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public. It was considered a serious breach of national security. On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a U.S. district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was “a very serious one” and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass.” It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president’s ear.
In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains — as yet — a grim Washington fairy tale. There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that’s all. He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.
A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the 13-month jail term. Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to “an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.” He stood before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009.
Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence — the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state. Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that’s leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.
If this weren’t Washington 2014, but rather George Orwell’s novel 1984, then the sign emblazoned on the front of the Ministry of Truth — “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” — would have to be amended to add a fourth slogan: Knowledge is Crime.
Seven Free Passes for the National Security State
With Cartwright as a possible exception, the members of the national security state, unlike the rest of us, exist in what might be called “post-legal” America. They know that, no matter how heinous the crime, they will not be brought to justice for it. The list of potentially serious criminal acts for which no one has had to take responsibility in a court of law is long, and never tabulated in one place. Consider this, then, an initial run-down on seven of the most obvious crimes and misdemeanors of this era for which no one has been held accountable.
*Kidnapping: After 9/11, the CIA got into kidnapping in a big way. At least 136 “terror suspects” and possibly many more (including completely innocent people) were kidnapped off the streets of global cities, as well as from the backlands of the planet, often with the help of local police or intelligence agencies. Fifty-four other countries were enlisted in the enterprise. The prisoners were delivered either into the Bush administration’s secret global system of prisons, also known as “black sites,” to be detained and mistreated, or they were “rendered” directly into the hands of torturing regimes from Egypt to Uzbekistan. No American involved has been brought to court for such illegal acts (nor did the American government ever offer an apology, no less restitution to anyone it kidnapped, even those who turned out not to be “terror suspects”). One set of CIA agents was, however, indicted in Italy for a kidnapping and rendition to Egypt. Among them was the Agency’s Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady. He had achieved brief notoriety for overseeing a la dolce vita version of rendition and later fled the country for the United States. Last year, he was briefly taken into custody in Panama, only to be spirited out of that country and back to safety by the U.S. government.
*Torture (and other abuses): Similarly, it will be no news to anyone that, in their infamous “torture memos,” officials of the Bush Justice Department freed CIA interrogators to “take the gloves off” and use what were euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” against offshore prisoners in the Global War on Terror. These “techniques” included “waterboarding,” once known as “the water torture,” and long accepted even in this country as a form of torture. On coming to office, President Obama rejected these practices, but refused to prosecute those who practiced them. Not a single CIA agent or private contractor involved was ever charged, no less brought to trial, nor was anyone in the Bush Justice Department or the rest of an administration which green-lighted these practices and whose top officials reportedly saw them demonstrated in the White House.
To be accurate, a single member of the national security state has gone to prison thanks to the CIA’s torture program. That was John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who tortured no one, but offended the Obama administrations by turning whistleblower and going public about Agency torture. He is now serving a 30-month prison sentence “for disclosing a covert operative’s name to a reporter.” In other words, the only crime that could be prosecuted in connection with the Agency’s torture campaign was one that threatened to let the American public know more about it.
Now, however, thanks to leaks from the embattled Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and torture program, we know that the Agency “used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.” In other words, its agents went beyond even those techniques approved in the torture memos, which in turn means that they acted illegally even by the standards of the Bush administration. This should be an obvious signal for the beginning of prosecutions, but — not surprisingly — it looks like the only prosecution on the horizon might be of whoever leaked parts of the unreleased Senate report to McClatchy News.
*The destruction of evidence of a crime: To purposely destroy evidence in order to impede a future investigation of possible criminal acts is itself, of course, a crime. We know that such a thing did indeed happen. Jose Rodriguez, Jr., the head of CIA clandestine operations, destroyed 92 videotapes of the repeated waterboardings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks, and alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, “tapes that he had been explicitly told to preserve as part of an official investigation.” The Justice Department investigated his act, but never charged him. He has since defended himself in a book, Hard Measures, saying that he was, in essence, “tired of waiting for Washington’s bureaucracy to make a decision that protected American lives.” He is still free and writing op-eds for the Washington Post defending the interrogation program whose tapes he destroyed.
*The planning of an extralegal prison system: As is now well known, a global network of extralegal prisons, or “black sites,” at which acts of torture and abuse of every sort could be committed was set up at the wishes of the highest officials of the Bush administration. This system was created specifically to avoid putting terror suspects into the U.S. legal system. In that sense, it was by definition extralegal, if not illegal. It represented, that is, a concerted effort to avoid any of the constraints or oversight that U.S. law or the U.S. courts might have imposed on the treatment of detainees. This was a well-planned crime committed not under the rubric of war against any specific power, but of a global war without end against al-Qaeda and like-minded groups.
*The killing of detainees in that extralegal system: The deaths of detainees in CIA custody in offshore (or borrowed) prisons as a result of harsh treatment ordered by their Agency handlers was not considered a crime. In two cases — in the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq — such deaths were investigated by the Justice Department, but no one was ever charged. In the case of Gul Rahman, the prisoner in the Salt Pit, according to the Washington Post, “a CIA officer allegedly ordered Afghan guards in November 2002 to strip Rahman and chain him to the concrete floor of his cell. Temperatures plunged overnight, and Rahman froze to death. Hypothermia was listed as the cause of death and Rahman was buried in an unmarked grave.” (In a rare case brought before a military court, a low-level Army interrogator was convicted of “killing an Iraqi general by stuffing him face-first into a sleeping bag,” and sentenced to “forfeit $6,000 of his salary over the next four months, receive a formal reprimand, and spend 60 days restricted to his home, office, and church.”)
*Assassination: Once upon a time, off-the-books assassination was generally a rare act of state and always one that presidents could deny responsibility for. Now, it is part of everyday life in the White House and at the CIA. The president’s role as assassin-in-chief, as the man who quite literally makes the final decision on whom to kill, has been all-but-publicly promoted as a political plus. The drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, though “covert” and run by a civilian agency (with much secret help from the U.S. Air Force) are openly reported on in the media and discussed as a seeming point of pride by those involved. In 2009, for instance, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta didn’t hesitate to enthusiastically praise the drone attacks in Pakistan as “the only game in town.” And best of all, they are “legal.” We know this because the White House had the Justice Department prepare a 50-page document on their legality that it has refused to release to the public. In these campaigns in the backlands of distant places where there are seldom reporters, we nonetheless know that thousands of people have died, including significant numbers of children. Being run by a civilian agency, they cannot in any normal sense be “acts of war.” In another world, they would certainly be considered illegal and possibly war crimes, as Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has suggested. Top officials have taken responsibility for these acts, including the drone killings in Yemen of four American citizens condemned to death by a White House that has enthusiastically taken on the role of judge, jury, and executioner. No one involved, however, will ever see a day in court.
*Perjury before Congress: Lying to Congress in public testimony is, of course, perjury. Among others, we know that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper committed it in a strikingly bald-faced way on March 12, 2013. When asked by Senator Ron Wyden whether the NSA had gathered “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans” — a question submitted to him a day in advance — Clapper answered, “No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.” This was a lie, pure and simple, as the Snowden revelations on the NSA’s gathering of phone metadata on all Americans (including, assumedly, our congressional representatives) would later make clear. Clapper subsequently apologized, saying that he spoke in what he called “the least untruthful” way possible, which, were crime on anyone’s mind, would essentially have been a confession. Congress did nothing. Just in case you wondered, Clapper remains the director of national intelligence with the “support” of the president.
Mind you, the above seven categories don’t even take into account the sort of warrantless surveillance of Americans that should have put someone in a court of law, or the ways in which various warrior corporations overbilled or cheated the government in its war zones, or the ways private contractors “ran wild” in those same zones. Even relatively low-level crimes by minor figures in the national security state have normally not been criminalized. Take, for example, the private surveillance of and cyberstalking of “love interests,” or “LOVEINT,” by NSA employees using government surveillance systems. The NSA claims that at least one employee was “disciplined” for this, but no one was taken to court. A rare exception: a number of low level military figures in the Abu Ghraib scandal were tried for their abusive actions, convicted, and sent to jail, though no one higher than a colonel was held accountable in court for those infamously systematic and organized acts of torture and abuse.
Too Big to Fail, National Security-Style
All in all, as with the banks after the meltdown of 2007-2008, even the most obvious of national security state crimes seem to fall into a “too big to fail”-like category. Call it “too big to jail.” The only crime that repeatedly makes it out of the investigative phase and into court — as with Stephen Kim, Chelsea Manning, and John Kiriakou — is revealing information the national security state holds dear. On that, the Obama administration has been fierce and prosecutorial.
Despite the claims of national security breaches in such cases, most of the leakers and whistleblowers of our moment have had little to offer in the way of information that might benefit Washington’s official enemies. What Kim told Fox News about the North Korean nuclear program was hardly likely to have been news to the North Koreans, just as the Iranians are believed to have already known what General Cartwright may have leaked to the Times about the origins of the Stuxnet virus.
Of course, leaking is a habit that’s often considered quite useful by those in power. It’s little short of a sport in Washington, done whenever officials feel it to be to their advantage or the advantage of an administration, even if what’s at stake are “secret” programs like the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan. What’s still up in the air — and to be tested — is whether leaking information in the government’s supposed interest could, in fact, be a crime. And that’s where General Cartwright comes in. If there is, in fact, but a single crime that can be committed within the national security state for which our leaders now believe jail time is appropriate, how wide is the category and is knowledge always a crime when it ends up in the wrong brains?
If there were one man of power and prominence who might join Kim, Kiriakou, Manning, and Edward Snowden (should the U.S. government ever get its hands on him), it might be Cartwright. It’s a long shot, but here’s what he doesn’t have going for him. He was an insider who was evidently an outsider. He was considered “a lone wolf” who went to the president privately, behind the backs of, and to the evident dismay of, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense. He seems to have had few supporters in the Pentagon and to have alienated key Republican senators. He could, in short, prove the single sacrificial lamb in the national security state.
In Washington today, knowledge is the only crime. That’s a political reality of the twenty-first century. Get used to it.
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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.