Free Markets, Free People

CIA


Benghazi – the most “transparent” administration ever

No attempt to actually be transparent and, apparently, feeling no need to pretend otherwise:

Sen. Richard Burr, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that the CIA has “flatly refused” to give some Benghazi-related documents to the committee, which is conducting an investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on the State Department and CIA personnel and facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

Sen. Burr made the assertion last week at the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, whom President Barack Obama has nominated to be director of the CIA. Brennan currently serves as the president’s counterterrorism adviser.

“Mr. Brennan, as you know, the committee’s conducting a thorough inquiry into the attacks in Benghazi, Libya,” Sen. Burr said. “In the course of this investigation, the CIA has repeatedly delayed and in some cases flatly refused to provide documents to this committee.”

None of the other members of the committee contradicted Burr’s assertion.

Of course not.  That’s because it is a fact.

Not that the administration much cares.  It has found that “flatly refusing” works.  “What does it matter now?” is the new attitude.

And that’s despite the usual promises:

At the time of the Benghazi terrorist attacks, Gen. David Petraeus was director of the CIA. When Petraeus appeared at his confirmation hearing in the Senate intelligence committee on June 23, 2011, Chairman Dianne Feinstein asked him a set of questions that the committee routinely asks those nominated to run the CIA. At John Brennan’s confirmation hearing on Feb. 7, Feinstein asked Brennan exactly the same questions.

Feinstein asked Petreaus, “Do you agree to provide documents or any other materials requested by the committee in order for it to carry out its oversight and legislative responsibilities?”

“Yes, I do,” said Petreaus.

“Will you ensure that the CIA and its officials provide such materials to the committee when requested?” asked Feinstein.

“I will,” said Petreaus.

“Do you agree to inform and fully brief to the fullest extent possible all members of this committee of intelligence activities and covert actions rather than only the chairman and vice chairman?” asked Feinstein.

“Yes, I do,” said Petraeus.

And later:

Last week, John Brennan was equally direct in answering these questions.

Feinstein asked Brennan, “Do you agree to provide documents or any other materials requested by the committee in order for it to carry out its oversight and legislative responsibilities?”

“Yes, all documents that come under my authority as director of CIA, I absolutely will,” said Brennan.

“Will you ensure that the CIA and its officials provide such materials to the committee when requested?” asked Feinstein.

“Yes,” said Brennan.

“Do you agree to inform and fully brief to the fullest extent possible all members of this committee of intelligence activities and covert actions rather than only the chairman and vice chairman?” asked Feinstein.

“Yes, I will endeavor to do that,” said Brennan.

Later in the same hearing, however, when Burr asked Brennan about the documents Burr said the CIA was refusing to give to the committee, Brennan qualified his answer—leaving open the possibility that as CIA director there may be occasions when he would decline to provide documents to the committee.

And the circus continues.  Love the line, he ‘qualified his answer’.  He shored up his lie is more like it.

Given the last election, though, we’ve got the very government we deserve.  Inept, unqualified, mordant, bickering party members whose first allegiance isn’t to their country, but instead to their party.  Why anyone would trust them with running a dog kennel much less a national government is beyond me.  But we have.

Behold the result.

~McQ


Obama Administration: Remember when “Top Secret” actually meant something?

On the eve of the anniversary of D-Day, it isn’t difficult, given their record, to believe that if it was the Obama Administration in charge on that historic day, the Germans would have known all about it.

In recent months, operations which we should frankly know nothing about, have been leaked by this administration.

Most observers have come to the conclusion that the leaks are an attempt to paint a positive picture of Obama the Commander-in-Chief in what promises to be a bruising fight for re-election.  The reason for such an attempt is the rest of the Obama record leaves much to be desired.

Here, from Peter Brooks at the NY Post, is a litany of the leaks:

It started with the Osama bin Laden takedown last May, in which operational and intelligence details found their way out of the White House Situation Room to the press in just a number of hours.

In a slap at the leakers, then- Defense Secretary Bob Gates said, “We all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden . . . That all fell apart on Monday — the next day.”

The situation was made worse by exposing the role a Pakistani doctor played in finding bin Laden. The doc is now going to jail for 30-some years — and the crafty inoculation program meant to get Osama’s DNA is blown.

Earlier this year, info escaped about the busting of the plot to put an “underwear bomber” on a US-bound aircraft by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

While kudos go to the intel community for this fabulous counterterrorism op, it was revealed that the expected bomber was a double agent who’d penetrated AQAP. Now al Qaeda knows, too.

Then, late last week, came a news story on “Stuxnet,” the tippy-top-secret US-Israel cyberassault on Iran’s uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz that’s been going on since the George W. Bush presidency.

It’s terrific the cyberattack reportedly led to the destruction of some centrifuges used in Iran’s bomb program, but now the mullahs know for sure who was behind the operation.

Moreover, dope on our highly successful drone program continues to ooze out.

All of this has led to compromising networks, having an agent (the Pakistani doctor) arrested and jailed, and blowing other operations.  It has also made it clear to our allies that sharing intel with the US is a risky business, especially if the outcome could help the political career of the incumbent president.

Let’s be clear here – none of this should have leakedNone of it.  A fairly terse announcement of fact that Osama bin Laden was confirmed dead should have been the extent of any sort of information released.  That’s it.

Instead operational details that should never have seen the light of day have been routinely released.  Anyone with an ounce of sense knows you never, ever talk about methods and means.  Yet both have been a part of these releases.

This sort of behavior, for pure political gain, compromises our intel gathering capabilities and is likely to hurt future operations.   We spend years trying to develop human intelligence networks and agents and in one fell swoop we compromise them (the double agent in Yemen and the doctor in Pakistan).

Who is going to trust us now?

"It’s a pattern that goes back two years, starting with the Times Square bomber, where somebody in the federal government, probably the FBI, leaked his name before he was captured," said Rep. Pete King, the GOP chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

"That’s why he tried to leave the country — he knew they were on to him." Calling the episode "amateur hour" at the White House, King said: "It puts our people at risk and gives information to the enemy."

Amateurs are dangerous.  Amateurs who leak classified information for political gain are even more dangerous.

It’s time to stop “amateur hour at the White House.”

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Interview with former SecDef Rumsfeld

This past weekend was the 6th Annual Milblog Conference.  I attended and it was the best one yet.  Our headliner was former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and since I’d met him previously, I was asked to introduce him and facilitate the Q&A, which I was honored to do.

It was a fun 45 minutes as you’ll probably see if you’ve the time or desire to watch the whole thing.  I start the questioning with the shakeup in the national security arena where Petraeus is going to CIA and Panetta going to SecDef.  Secretary Rumsfeld reminded me that Ryan Crocker is also included in that as the new ambassador to Afghanistan.

He’s definitely right to point that out and it plays even more into the theory that we’re going to fight the war differently than we have.  Petraeus and Crocker had a very tight relationship in Iraq and there’s no doubt in my mind that the relationship will be reestablished with Petraeus at CIA.  It again emphasizes the probability of a more covert, SOF, “secret ninja” type of war in the future, vs. the way we’re waging it now. 

And, with the demise of bin Laden, many are now going to call on us to pack up and leave claiming our mission is complete and encouraging us to turn Afghanistan over to the Afghanis to sort out.  I see the pressure to do that building over the coming months (remember July is the month of the scheduled withdrawal from A’stan).   About all that might dampen those cries is if al Qaeda strikes somewhere in retaliation for the bin Laden death (and I fully expect they will, however they may not mount any sort of reprisal in the next few months).

~McQ


Osama Bin Laden killed in Pakistan by US forces

I actually enjoyed writing that headline.   It’s about time.  I’ll also admit I was wrong when I continued to contend that he’d been killed early on in Tora Bora.  Events, or lack of them perhaps, had led me to that conclusion.

This is going to make a fascinating book by someone because it sounds like one of those intel coups a long time in the making (Reuters says the trail was picked up about 4 years ago) and finally culminating in a successful raid in which bin Laden was killed.

He apparently was living in what one described as a “mansion” (a large 3 story structure) at the end of a narrow dirt road in a town in NE Pakistan (Abottobad) which is almost due east from Kabul.  Not the tribal lands to the SE, but in an area well under control of the Pakistani government and very near the Pakistani military academy.

"For some time there will be a lot of tension between Washington and Islamabad because bin Laden seems to have been living here close to Islamabad," said Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani security analyst.

Indeed.  Apparently the compound had an 18 foot high security wall, with other interior fencing, two entrances and no phone or internet connection.

The operation included CIA and Special Ops folks in 4 helicopters (one of which crashed due to mechanical problems). 

What got us on the trail? 

"Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with or protected by bin Laden," a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters in Washington.

That’s right, interrogation of detainees.  They identified a particular man as a very highly placed and trusted courier of bin Laden’s and security services attempted and successfully did follow him to the compound in Pakistan.  Initially the assessment only stated that the compound probably housed high-value targets but eventually the operatives concluded that there was a very good possibility it also housed Osama bin Laden.

Apparently when the raid began, OBL resisted and paid the price.  Reports say he was shot in the head.  Note the odd phrasing on this Obama quote announcing the death:

"A small team of Americans carried out the operation," Obama said. "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

“After” the firefight they killed OBL?  I’m assuming he meant “during” a firefight, but hey, you never know.  One thing that is obvious is a dead bin Laden is preferable to a live one.  In fact, they’re doing DNA testing and running his image through face recognition software for a positive ID and then dumping, er ,burying his body at sea (the thinking  being his grave cannot become a martyr’s shrine).  It is also reported that a son and two other, plus a women one of those brave guys used as a shield were also killed.

The operation took 40 minutes.

Congrats to the intel and SOF folks who carried this off.  Heck of a job.

~McQ


National security shakeup – what does it mean?

The recently announced moves that will see Gen. David Petraeus taking the helm of the CIA, while CIA director Leon Panetta moves to the Secretary of Defense post (replacing retiring SecDef Robert Gates), may have some interesting reasons behind them.

Petraeus is our most successful general in a generation and credited by many for turning the Iraq war around at a time when it seemed to be spiraling out of control.  His ability to command troops in the field coupled with his ability to deftly handle the diplomatic side of his duties made him the most popular general our military has seen for some time.  So popular, in fact, that he was eventually put in command in Afghanistan to replace President Obama’s hand-picked general there.

Petraeus will resign from the Army to take the CIA post.  But many are asking, why CIA?  Why not Petraeus as the SecDef?

Perhaps the reason is that, with the big drawdown scheduled in July for Afghanistan, this signals how we plan on fighting that war from then on: more emphasis on CIA and Special Operations Force activities and less on conventional forces.  Or, the “Biden plan,” if you will.  Many more covert operations and drone strikes than now.   Less emphasis on coalition operations; more emphasis on training Afghan forces to take the security job over.   Petraeus would have be the best man to make that transition a reality.

So what does the move of Panetta mean for the Department of Defense?  Apparently, Panetta wasn’t particularly enthused about taking the job, but finally said “yes” this past Monday.  Something obviously changed to have him accept the post.  Most think the administration agreed to make it a relatively short-term appointment for the 73 year old Director of the CIA.  Secretary of Defense is a post with a grueling operations tempo, with three wars going and budget battles in the offing.  It’s a tough slog for anyone holding the post.

That means that Panetta will most likely be a “caretaker” SecDef, and as the president’s man, much more open to the budget cuts Obama wants from DoD than Gates.  Gates did his best to protect DoD as much as he could from thoughtless or deep cuts to the defense budget.  He also tried to get out ahead of the curve and nominate cuts of his own in order to avoid those that might be forced on the department by lawmakers.

With Panetta, it is more likely that he will be less of an advocate for DoD and more of a hatchet man for the administration.  He’ll most likely be gone, one way or the other, when January 2013 arrives.  So he has no reason not to do what he and the president agree on concerning cuts to defense.  The only bulwark against administration cuts now will be the Republican House.

Keep an eye on these two appointments and the events that surround them.  Both could signal profound changes in the two agencies effected.

~McQ


Panetta to SecDef, Petraeus to CIA? (update)

That’s what a POLITICO is quoting from AP in a “Breaking News” tweet:

 

secdefCIA

 

QandO isn’t normally a “breaking news” site, but this is about as fresh as it gets.  I had just read this conjecture on Morning Defense, POLITICO’s morning email list all about defense (it’s a good read if you’re interested).

So what do you think?  Panetta for SecDef?  Why not Petraeus (retire him and move him into the job – although there may be some regulation that would prevent that – and will he retain his military status and rank at CIA)?  And Petraeus to CIA?  Why not leave Panetta there and give the agency some continuity?

I’ll update as more becomes available.

Opinions?

UPDATE: Here’s the story via USA Today.  Apparently the change will take place in July just prior to the date set to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

~McQ


Drones, “war criminals” and the ICC

You probably recall the left’s call for the US to join the International Criminal Court. One of the primary reasons behind that call was a desire to see George Bush tried as a “war criminal” by much of the more extreme left. And that is one of the declared purposes of that court.

The Clinton Administration signed the Rome Statute in 2000 establishing the court but never submitted it for Senate ratification. Then Senator Barack Obama, when asked if the US should join the ICC, said “yes”, echoing the far left’s desire.

So I read this particular article with interest the other day, and wondered if their desire to join the court is still as strong now as it was then:

The pilots waging America’s undeclared drone war in Pakistan could be liable to criminal prosecution for “war crimes,” a prominent law professor told a Congressional panel Wednesday.

Harold Koh, the State Department’s top legal adviser, outlined the administration’s legal case for the robotic attacks last month. Now, some legal experts are taking turns to punch holes in Koh’s argument.

It’s part of an ongoing legal debate about the CIA and U.S. military’s lethal drone operations, which have escalated in recent months — and which have received some technological upgrades. Critics of the program, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that the campaign amounts to a program of targeted killing that may violate the laws of war.

In a hearing Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s national security and foreign affairs panel, several professors of national security law seemed open to that argument. But there are still plenty of caveats, and the risks to U.S. drone operators are at this point theoretical: Unless a judge in, say, Pakistan, wanted to issue a warrant, it doesn’t seem likely. But that’s just one of the possible legal hazards of robotic warfare.

Now note carefully what is being said. Not all drone pilots are considered to be violating the laws of war. For instance, an airforce officer flying a drone is a combatant and are normally found operating in a combat zone (Afghanistan) in support of combat operations.

However, it is argued, CIA operatives flying them in Pakistan and using lethal force for targeted killings in an undeclared war may be liable to charges of “war crimes”. It would, of course, require some legal entity in Pakistan to issue a warrant to take this argument from theoretical to real.

Now you may or may not agree with the legal arguments. But let’s stipulate, for the sake of argument, that they’re correct. Where does that lead us? Well, here:

Loyola Law School professor David Glazier, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the pilots operating the drones from afar could — in theory — be hauled into court in the countries where the attacks occur. That’s because the CIA’s drone pilots aren’t combatants in a legal sense. “It is my opinion, as well as that of most other law-of-war scholars I know, that those who participate in hostilities without the combatant’s privilege do not violate the law of war by doing so, they simply gain no immunity from domestic laws,” he said.

“Under this view CIA drone pilots are liable to prosecution under the law of any jurisdiction where attacks occur for any injuries, deaths or property damage they cause,” Glazier continued. “But under the legal theories adopted by our government in prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, these CIA officers as well as any higher-level government officials who have authorized or directed their attacks are committing war crimes.”

There’s no question where the buck stops when talking about who has “authorized or directed” such attacks. It stops at the Oval Office.

So … about those cries for membership in the ICC and those shouts of “war criminal” by the left. Where in the world have they gone?
~McQ


Bad Tradecraft Kills

I’m troubled by the unfortunate killing of 7 members of the CIA in Khost province, Afghanistan.  How in the world did a suicide bomber manage to get to that many CIA employees in a remote FOB?

Well it appears it was mostly a matter of bad tradecraft – a breakdown in procedures designed to ensure situations like that don’t develop.

First, this was an asset that the CIA had been using to get next to al Qaeda number two Zawahiri. He’d been to the FOB before and, apparently, was promising some information that enticed a number of CIA members to the FOB. That was a major mistake:

Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, “It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn’t have 13 people there.”

“Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision,” said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. “This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown.”

Why they felt it was necessary to flaunt security and tradecraft conventions remains a mystery, but frankly, that bit of stupidity didn’t have to be fatal. This bit of stupidity, however, almost ensured it:

Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News.

So this combination of flaunting the rules of their tradecraft and security procedures cost them 7 CIA employees and 3 or 4 others associated with them.

In the line of business these people are engaged, complacency kills. Short cuts kill. There’s a reason for the existence of certain procedures, however time consuming and onerous they  may seem. The fact that their tradecraft was so blatantly and obviously disregarded is disturbing. And, as you might imagine, the consequences, while devastating, aren’t unexpected.

When you’re dealing in life and death situations where anything is possible, you cannot assume anything. Your “asset” could be just what this guy was – a double agent. The poor assumptions made to put this guy in front of 13 CIA employees are mind boggling. And they make you wonder, given the situation, how well trained these people were in the tradecraft which should have prevented this from occurring, or at least minimized its effect.

Regardless, what you now have to hope is a new emphasis will be made on the tradecraft that should have prevented this situation from developing. But these deaths and why they occurred do not at all reflect well on the CIA – an organization which is supposed to be our finest and most proficient asset for gathering foreign intelligence.

~McQ


Podcast for 30 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael  and Dale discuss the top stories of the past week.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.  The link goes to BTR since my old computer is inexplicably dropping out of recording mode.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.