Wiretapping, corruption charges pile up for former Panama president Martinelli (2015)
13 april 2016
In January, Panama prosecutors arrested two former security ministers on charges of illegal wiretapping and intercepting internet communications, in just one of several ongoing cases accusing the previous administration of widespread power abuse and mismanagement of public funds.
The most scandalous allegation broke when prosecutors announced they had found telephone and internet communication intercepting equipment on January 12. Police arrested two members of ex-president Ricardo Martinelli’s government – former chief of police and ex-security minister Gustavo Pérez and former vice security minister Alejandro Garúz – on charges of surveillance without judicial approval.
The list of alleged surveillance victims was impressive. It included two judges on Panama’s Supreme Court, U.S. CIA agents, the archbishop of Panama, leaders from political parties that opposed Martinelli’s Democratic Change Party (CD), construction union leaders and even members of Martinelli’s own cabinet and political party. Local media continue to release more complete lists of victims as they become available.
In the wiretapping case, no direct accusations against Martinelli have yet emerged. However, one of the alleged wiretap victims – former director of the National Aid Program Rafael Guardia – is under investigation for awarding an inflated $45 million contract for dehydrated food. On January 26, Guardia alleged that Martinelli gave the order to sign the inflated contracts.
Guardia fell under investigation after authorities discovered $9 million in bank accounts connected to Guardia, despite having only earned $161,000 in salary during a 23-month stint in social welfare agency.
Additional investigations are ongoing against former education ministers, former social development ministers and a Supreme Court judge appointed by Martinelli.
Martinelli left Panama on January 28 to attend a meeting of the Central American Parliament – a regional coordinating body – where he serves as a Panama representative. He has yet to return to Panama. He did, however, grant an interview to Miami-based journalist María Salazar, accusing current president Juan Carlos Varela of a political witch hunt.
“We are only the opposition political party,” Martinelli told Salazar. “I’m the only leader that threatens [Varela] right now.”
Martinelli went on to accuse Varela of interfering with every aspect of the government, suggesting that the prosecutor’s office is not acting independently. He said that he used to consider Varela, who served as a vice president and Foreign Minister in Martinelli’s government, one of his best friends.
Martinelli dismissed Varela as Foreign Minister in 2011 and the two feuded publicly over accusations of Martinelli’s corruption during his remaining tenure as vice president. Martinelli’s wife, Marta Linares, also ran as a vice-presidential candidate for Martinelli’s CD party in 2014, against Varela.
As a member of the Central American Parliament, Martinelli enjoys a legal protection under Panamanian law provided to all elected officials. However, on Tuesday, Panama’s election authority, the Electoral Tribunal, lifted that exemption for the dehydrated food contract case.
President Varela is standing by the actions of the prosecutors, saying that he has not interfered in their investigations in an interview with CNN en Español.
“The investigations have nothing to do with the political life, the economic life, nor the social life of the country,” Varela told CNN. “They are very strong allegations on invasions of privacy of the citizens of the country, the disappearance of surveillance equipment and isolated themes being handled by the prosecutors.”
by Corey Kane | 13th February 2015 | @corkane
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© Copyright 2016 Latin Correspondent
Panama Papers: Spy agencies widely used Mossack Fonseca to hide activities
13 april 2016
Intelligence agencies from several countries, including CIA intermediaries, have abundantly used the services of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to “conceal” their activities, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) says, citing leaked documents.
Both “secret agents and their informants have used the company’s services,” wrote the newspaper, which earlier this month published online materials based on 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm. It has been called the largest leak on corruption in journalistic history.
“Agents have set up shell companies to conceal their activities,” the Munich-based newspaper reported, adding that there are CIA mediators among them.
According to SZ, Mossack Fonseca’s clients also included some of those involved in the so-called Iran-Contra affair, in which several Reagan administration officials secretly facilitated arms sales to Iran in the 1980s in order to secure the release of US hostages and fund Nicaragua’s Contra rebels.
© RT‘Who’s funding this?’ CIA & MI5 whistleblowers question credibility of Panama Papers coverage
The Panama Papers also claim to reveal that some “former high-ranking officials of the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Rwanda” are listed amongst the company’s clients. Among them was Sheikh Kamal Adham, the former Saudi intelligence chief, who according to SZ, was “one of the CIA’s key intermediaries in the 1970s” in the Middle East region.
The Panama leak claims to expose the offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders and provides data on the financial activities of 128 other politicians and public officials from different countries. Newspapers around the globe had plenty of world leaders to choose from, – from President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
With high-profile figures on the menu, the majority of the international media rushed to accuse Vladimir Putin of corruption, even though neither he nor any members of his family were mentioned in the Panama Papers leak.
Last week WikiLeaks tweeted that the US government and American hedge-fund billionaire George Soros allegedly funded the Papers to attack Putin. According to the international whistleblowing organization, the US government’s funding of such an attack appeared to be a serious blow to its integrity.
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest outside Downing Street in Whitehall, central London, Britain April 9, 2016 © Neil HallCrowds march in London to demand Cameron resignation following Panama Papers leak (IMAGES)
One former CIA officer told RT that the fact that the Western media has been unanimously using the Russian leader as the “face” of the Panama Papers leak can be explained by one simple look at the organizations behind these news outlets.
“Everyone in corporate press is controlled by corporations that profit on wars and have an interest in creating tensions – all these people in the Western press, like the Guardian, are blackening Putin [for being] a designated villain here. Curiously, his name is not in these documents,” Ray McGovern said, adding that it was “a major mistake made by the leaker” to hand the documents over to the corporate media, instead of leaking them to trusted independent journalists.
There were many raised eyebrows particularly over little mention of the exposed offshore dealings of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s late father. Last week the British PM admitted that he benefited from shares in an offshore trust set up by his father. Cameron, who is facing outrage over revelations concerning his private finances, told ITV that he had received £300,000 (about $420,000) in inheritance from his father, who died in 2010. Yet he claimed that he didn’t know whether any of that money came from an offshore source. A massive protest gathered in front of PM David Cameron’s residence at 10 Downing Street on Sunday, calling for his resignation.
Published time: 12 Apr, 2016 13:22
© Rodrigo Arangua / AFP
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© Autonomous Nonprofit Organization “TV-Novosti”, 2005–2016.
US-Agenten nutzten offenbar Briefkastenfirmen
13 april 2016
Die CIA bemühte über Mittelsmänner anscheinend die Dienste der Kanzlei Mossack Fonseca: Laut einem Bericht der “SZ” ließen Agenten in den Achtzigern Briefkastenfirmen gründen, um ihre Aktionen zu verschleiern.
US-Geheimdienstler sollen “in erheblichem Umfang” die Dienste der Kanzlei Mossack Fonseca in Panama genutzt haben. Das geht laut der “Süddeutschen Zeitung” (“SZ”) aus den Panama Papers hervor. Demnach ließen Agenten Briefkastenfirmen gründen, um ihre Aktionen zu verschleiern. Unter ihnen seien auch Mittelsmänner aus dem Umfeld des amerikanischen Auslandsgeheimdienstes CIA.
Zur Kundschaft von Mossack Fonseca gehörten demnach in den Achtzigerjahren etwa Figuren der Iran-Contra-Affäre. Dabei ging es um geheime Waffenlieferungen der CIA an Teheran. In diesem Zusammenhang wird unter anderem ein US-Geschäftsmann genannt, der Flugzeuge verlieh. Mit einer seiner Maschinen sollen laut dem Bericht in den Achtzigerjahren im Auftrag der CIA Waffen nach Teheran geliefert worden sein. Der Geschäftsmann bestreitet, von der Operation gewusst zu haben.
Auch weitere Unternehmen, die immer wieder in Verdacht geraten sind, dem US-Geheimdienst geholfen zu haben, tauchen der “SZ” zufolge in dem Material auf.
Außerdem seien unter den gegenwärtigen oder früheren Kunden hochrangige Geheimdienstverantwortliche aus mindestens drei Ländern zu finden, konkret aus Saudi-Arabien, Kolumbien und Ruanda – auch der saudische Scheich Kamal Adham, der in den Siebzigerjahren als wichtigster Ansprechpartner der CIA in der Region galt.
Ein weiterer Kunde Mossack Fonsecas ist nach Angaben der “SZ” der Isländer Loftur Johannesson. Er werde im Zusammenhang mit mindestens vier Briefkastenfirmen genannt. Der SPIEGEL bezeichnete ihn Anfang der Neunziger in einem Artikel über die “guten Kunden der CIA” als Kontaktperson des Geheimdienstes. In mehreren Büchern und Artikeln heißt es, Johannesson habe im Auftrag der CIA Waffen in Krisenregionen geliefert, unter anderem nach Afghanistan, so die “SZ”.
Johannesson habe über einen Sprecher erklären lassen, er sei Geschäftsmann im Luftfahrtgeschäft und nicht für Geheimdienste tätig. Die Kanzlei in Kanada erklärte laut dem Bericht zudem, sie überprüfe ihre Kunden gründlich. Sollte ein Mandant seine Identität oder die Herkunft seiner Gelder nicht angemessenen nachweisen, so werde sie mit ihm nicht zusammenarbeiten.
12. April 2016, 00:03 Uhr
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© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2016
CIA middlemen and other spies used Panama Papers law firm to hide activities, report says
13 april 2016
Secret agents from several countries, including intermediaries of the CIA, have used the services of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca in order to “conceal” their activities, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Tuesday.
“Secret agents and their informants have made wide use of the company’s services,” wrote the newspaper, which obtained a massive stash of 11.5 million documents from the company that is sending shockwaves around the globe.
“Agents have opened shell companies to conceal their activities… Among them are close intermediaries of the CIA,” the newspaper reported.
China’s elite hiding billions overseas
The Munich-based newspaper said Mossack Fonseca’s clients included “several players” in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal, which saw senior US officials facilitate secret arms sales to Iran in a bid to secure the release of American hostages and fund Nicaragua’s Contra rebels.
The Panama Papers also reveal that “current or former high-ranking officials of the secret services of at least three countries… Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Rwanda” are listed amongst the company’s clients, the Sueddeutsche said.
Hong Kong’s rich face exposure in tax-haven leak
Among them was Sheikh Kamal Adham, the former Saudi intelligence chief who died in 1999. Adham “spent the 1970s as one of the CIA’s key intermediaries” in the Middle East, the daily said.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung received the huge stash of Mossack Fonseca documents from an anonymous source and shared them with more than 100 media groups through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
A week after the first revelations, the documents have shed light on how the world’s rich and powerful have used offshore companies to stash their assets, forcing Iceland’s prime minister to resign and putting pressure on a slew of other leaders around the world.
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 1:49pm
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Copyright © 2016 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd.
The Covert Roots of the Panama Papers
13 april 2016
Panama has long been a haven for money launderers—including the CIA.
It should come as no surprise that the CIA’s finances are a secret. One of the rare glimpses into the agency’s funding came when Edward Snowden leaked a copy of the intelligence “black budget” to The Washington Post in 2013. But if history is any indication, the CIA may well have resources that don’t appear on any congressional document, highly classified or otherwise. Covert operations, by their very nature, often require access to off-the-books funding. The CIA’s first operation was paid for with funds seized from the Nazis, and in the years since, the agency has been notoriously creative about how it obtains its money.
The Panama Papers underscore how tax havens are used by covert agencies and other shadowy players to launder dirty money, a practice that has a long history in which Panama, in particular, has played a notable part.
Adnan Khashoggi would know. A “principal foreign agent” of the United States, as one Senate report referred to him, the billionaire playboy made a fortune (more than $100 million between 1970 and 1975 alone) from commissions negotiating arms deals with his native Saudi Arabia. He used these windfalls, in turn, to cultivate political clout—including, allegedly, with President Richard Nixon. In the aftermath of Watergate, when Congress began reining in the CIA, Khashoggi helped establish the supranational intelligence partnership known as the Safari Club. Soon after, he aided the CIA in circumventing another congressional impediment. With money borrowed from the Saudi and U.S. intelligence-linked Bank of Credit and Commerce International, he financed the illegal arms sales that set off the Iran-Contra scandal.
One way Khashoggi structured his shadowy holdings during his heyday was through the specialized services of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm that is in the news for having helped global luminaries like Vladimir Putin hide their money. Thanks to a recent report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, we now know Khashoggi to be among a number of former spies and CIA associates implicated by the 2.6 terabytes of offshore financial documents provided to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung last summer.
That his name should appear in an international dark money scandal suggests something about the nature of tax havens that much of the media’s coverage has thus far avoided grappling with. The Panama Papers have largely been presented as an unprecedented insight into how global elites hide their fortunes from tax collectors and other regulators. But they also underscore how tax havens are used by covert agencies and other shadowy players to launder dirty money, a practice that has a long history in which Panama, in particular, has played a notable part.
The Panama Papers date back to 1977. By then, the Carter administration, worried that it could jeopardize negotiations over the Panama Canal, had already willed itself into forgetting what the U.S. government had long known about Panama’s intimate role in the burgeoning South American cocaine trade. Serious allegations against Manuel Noriega, the intelligence chief who would go on to become the country’s ruler, had been brought to the attention of the now-defunct Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs as early as 1971. But the United States’s interests in Panama were at least as strong as those of the emerging coke lords who were using Panama as a stopover for drug shipments headed north. In some cases, their interests were one and the same.
At the time, the Panama Canal Zone played host to the School of the Americas, the U.S. military training academy infamous for the remarkable array of atrocities committed by its highest-achieving graduates. Not far from the SOA facility was the classified U.S. communications network used to coordinate Operation Condor, the cross-border rendition, torture, execution, and assassination program implemented by the South American dictatorships of the era. With its abundance of U.S. surveillance hardware and constant influx of easily disguised foreigners, Panama became a sort of regional outpost for U.S. Cold War intelligence.
A proud SOA alumnus himself, Noriega was recruited by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in 1959 and received his first check from the CIA in 1967. The military coup that broke out that year catapulted him to the top of Panama’s spy agency, a position for which the ruthless, ideologically flexible Noriega proved to be uniquely well-suited.
Noriega had a talent for the double life. He would fly to Washington to meet with CIA Director William Casey one day and to Havana to meet with Fidel Castro the next, positioning himself as a key interlocutor between the sworn enemies and playing one side off the other. He was just as comfortable railing against Yankee imperialism as he was serving up rivals and narco-associates in exchange for DEA commendations. Noriega allegedly charged $200,000 a planeload to protect the Medellin Cartel’s shipment routes. The $200,000 a year he collected from the Reagan administration must have seemed a pittance by comparison.
CIA payments to Noriega were channeled through accounts he maintained at the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the agency’s preferred conduit for its secret dealings with Saudi and Pakistani intelligence and with the heroin-trafficking mujahedeen insurgency in Afghanistan. During the same period, Adnan Khashoggi, who was listed on a 1991 Defense Intelligence Report as having sold machine guns to the Medellin Cartel, was borrowing from the bank to finance weapons sales to Iran—the proceeds for which, like some of Noriega’s earnings, were then funneled to the Nicaraguan Contras. Subsequent federal prosecutions determined BCCI’s Panamanian branch, in particular, to be actively engaged in money laundering for the Colombian drug trade. A Senate subcommittee report called the bank a “fundamentally corrupt criminal enterprise.”
But BCCI was hardly the only Panamanian financial house awash in drug profits and covert intrigue. As a 1985 House Foreign Affairs report explained, it was hard to find a Panamanian bank that wasn’t engaged, to one degree or another, in some form of untoward activity. “With more than one hundred banks, the U.S. dollar as the national currency, and strict bank secrecy laws, Panama is an ideal haven for laundering narcotics money. Unlimited amounts of money may be brought into and out of the country with no reporting requirements, and money laundering is not a crime.” Corruption in government and the military, the committee found, was “endemic and institutionalized.”
Panama, to borrow the words of the Senate’s Iran-Contra report, had become the “hemisphere’s first ‘narco-kleptocracy,’” a major financial clearing house not just for the Colombian cartels, but for illegal groups of all stripes in the region, as well as “legitimate” businesspeople drawn to the exciting new services being offered thanks to the logistical demands and largesse of the drug trade. Americans were sinking millions into this innovative tax haven, and the surplus of available dirty currency actually insulated Panama from the debt crises that were sweeping the region at the time—converting it into a secure, relatively stable place for the Third World rich to hide their money.
“Particularly popular with Latin Americans,” writes Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld in Evil Money, “was a double-shell arrangement, in which the Bahamian cover was overlaid with Panamanian corporate shells. Panamanian lawyers were equally adept at creating fictitious companies. The money would be wired from one corporate account to another without revealing the identity of the real owner.”
Dummy companies of this sort, set up by the White House and registered in Panama, were used to float the Nicaraguan Contras. Noriega’s personal Swiss-based lawyer even helped Marine Colonel Oliver North construct a front for an airfield in Costa Rica. A veritable fleet of aircraft, including planes provided by Noriega and some paid for through a BCCI account, made the circuitous journey from secret runway to secret runway, dropping off weapons in Honduras and Costa Rica, cocaine in the southern United States, and large stacks of small-denomination bills in Panamanian bank vaults.
As we continue to dig through the many layers of corruption, lawbreaking, and bad faith that have accumulated in the intervening years, it’s important to recognize that the quintessentially private practices that now form the basis for the Panama Papers revelations emerged within a context of large-scale state criminality.
The 1989 U.S. invasion that led to Noriega’s arrest only exacerbated the underlying problems of Panamanian governance. As Jonathan Marshall, co-author of the indispensable Cocaine Politics, explained, between “economic sanctions, capital flight, war damage, and a more than a billion dollars’ worth of damage from post-conflict looting,” any new president would have faced significant challenges. It happened that the one the United States installed, Guillermo Endara, had dubious ties to a bank the DEA and FBI both suspected of money laundering. Endara’s appointees for attorney general, treasury minister, and chief Supreme Court justice had each served as director of a bank shut down for its alliance with Colombia’s Cali Cartel. By the U.S. government’s own estimation, trafficking and laundering got worse in the invasion’s aftermath, a legacy that has continued on to the present day. Facing corruption charges, the country’s most recent president has sought refuge in Miami.
After the invasion, a joke started circulating around Panama that seems fairly prescient, in light of the Panama Papers. “They took Ali Baba,” it went, “and left us with the 40 thieves.”
BY STEVEN COHEN
April 8, 2016
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Copyright 2016 © New Republic.
Swiss banker whistleblower: CIA behind Panama Papers
13 april 2016
Bradley Birkenfeld is the most significant financial whistleblower of all time, so you might think he’d be cheering on the disclosures in the new Panama Papers leaks. But today, Birkenfeld is raising questions about the source of the information that is shaking political regimes around the world.
Birkenfeld, an American citizen, was a banker working at UBS in Switzerland when he approached the U.S. government with information on massive amounts of tax evasion by Americans with secret accounts in Switzerland. By the end of his whistleblowing career, Birkenfeld had served more than two years in a U.S. federal prison, been awarded $104 million by the IRS for his information and shattered the foundations of more than a century of Swiss banking secrecy.
In an exclusive interview Tuesday from Munich, Birkenfeld said he doesn’t think the source of the 11 million documents stolen from a Panamanian law firm should automatically be considered a whistleblower like himself. Instead, he said, the hacking of the Panama City-based firm, called Mossack Fonseca, could have been done by a U.S. intelligence agency.
“The CIA I’m sure is behind this, in my opinion,” Birkenfeld said.
Birkenfeld pointed to the fact that the political uproar created by the disclosures have mainly impacted countries with tense relationships with the United States. “The very fact that we see all these names surface that are the direct quote-unquote enemies of the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Argentina and we don’t see one U.S. name. Why is that?” Birkenfeld said. “Quite frankly, my feeling is that this is certainly an intelligence agency operation.”
A poolside view overlooking the newer side of the Panama City skyline.
Panama Papers show tax avoidance like a ‘cancer’
Asked why the U.S. would leak information that has also been damaging to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, a major American ally, Birkenfeld said the British leader was likely collateral damage in a larger intelligence operation.
“If you’ve got NSA and CIA spying on foreign governments they can certainly get into a law firm like this,” Birkenfeld said. “But they selectively bring the information to the public domain that doesn’t hurt the U.S. in any shape or form. That’s wrong. And there’s something seriously sinister here behind this.”
The public relations office for the CIA did not immediately return a message for comment.
Birkenfeld also said that during his time as a Swiss banker, Mossack Fonseca was known as one piece of the vast offshore maze used by bankers and lawyers to hide money from tax authorities. But he also said that the firm that is at the center of the global scandal was also seen as a relatively small player in the overall offshore tax evasion business.
The sign in front of the building that houses law firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama City, Panama.
Did ‘smart’ people avoid the Panama Papers?
Bradley Birkenfeld, a former banker with UBS AG, walks outside Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution after speaking to the media in Minersville, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 8, 2010.
Why did the US pay this former Swiss banker $104M?
“We knew that firm very well in Switzerland. I certainly knew of it,” Birkenfeld said.
But Mossack Fonseca was just one of a number of firms in Panama offering such services, he said. “The cost of doing business there was quite low, relatively speaking,” he said. “So what you would have is Panama operating as a conduit to the Swiss banks and the trust companies to set up these facilities for clients around the world.”
Eamon Javers CNBC.com
12 April 2016
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© 2016 CNBC LLC.
Inside Allan Dulles’ Reign as CIA Director, from ’54 Guatemala Coup to Plotting Castro’s Overthrow
23 oktober 2015
author of the new book The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. He is the founder and former CEO and editor-in-chief of Salon. He is also author of the best-seller, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.
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Voters go to the polls in Guatemala on Sunday to elect a new president after a popular uprising led to President Otto Pérez Molina’s resignation and jailing. We speak with journalist and historian David Talbot, author of “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government,” about the role Allen Dulles and his brother, then-Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, played in the CIA’s 1954 coup in the country, the ramifications of which are still being felt. “The CIA and Allen Dulles told Eisenhower after the Guatemala coup, ‘Oh, it was a clean coup. You know, hardly anyone died,'” Talbot said. “But the fact is, tens of thousands of people died in the killing fields of Guatemala as a result of that coup, and that violence continues today.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Part 2 of my conversation with the author of The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. The new book is written by journalist and historian David Talbot, the founder of former CEO and editor-in-chief of Salon. The book examines the life and legacy of Alan Dulles, the longest-serving CIA director. He held the position from 1953 to ’61, but his influence is still felt at the agency. Under his watch, the CIA overthrew the governments of Iran and Guatemala in 1953 and 1954, invaded Cuba, and was tied to the killing of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected leader.
During Part 1 of our conversation, I asked David Talbot about the 1953 coup in Iran and the ’61 murder of Patrice Lumumba. Part 2 of our interview begins with Guatemala. The ramifications of the CIA’s 1954 coup are still being felt in Guatemala, where voters will go to the polls next Sunday to elect a new president. Last month, President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was jailed following a popular uprising. I asked David Talbot to talk about the ’54 coup and the role played by Allen Dulles and his brother, John Foster Dulles, who was secretary of state at the time.
DAVID TALBOT: Well, of course, their original power goes back to Sullivan & Cromwell, this very powerful Wall Street law firm that John Foster Dulles ran and where Allen Dulles worked. And among their clients was United Fruit. United Fruit, of course, was this colossus, this corporate colossus, that ruled much of Latin America, owned, you know, vast acreage in Guatemala and many other countries. They weren’t just a banana company. They were a multinational real estate company. They owned often the utilities. And they owned the local political elites in those countries.
In the early ’50s, Jacobo Árbenz, this young military officer, a reform officer, starts to emerge as a potential leader. He runs for president and is elected by his people on a reform campaign. And one of the first things he does, of course, in this country that’s basically a medieval country ruled by land barons, is to begin to nationalize some of the land, that’s not being even used by United [Fruit], and give it to the people themselves, the farmers, to work. And this provokes a major backlash from United Fruit, from the local political elites, the oligarchs, and from the CIA. Allen Dulles, working for Eisenhower as CIA director, portrays Jacobo Árbenz as a dangerous communist—he wasn’t—and prepares to overthrow him in a military coup, which does occur.
What I tell the story of, mostly I focus on, is the tragic aftermath of that coup, because not only for the Árbenz family, which, in some ways, were the Kennedys of Guatemala—glamorous, young couple, Jacobo and María Árbenz, their children, very good-looking, wealthy, but very committed to uplifting the poor in that country. And after the coup, they’re sent into a terrible exile. No country will touch them, because CIA pressure. The CIA and the State Department pressure every country, from Mexico throughout Latin America, not to take the Árbenz family in. They’re finally forced to go behind the Iron Curtain to Czechoslovakia to seek exile. They’re not happy there. They finally end up back in Mexico, but they’re under tight supervision. The family is haunted. It’s stalked wherever it goes. One of his daughters commits suicide. And Jacobo Árbenz himself ends up dead under mysterious circumstances—scalded to death in a bathtub in a Mexico City hotel. His family today believes that he was assassinated. And given the fact that the CIA had a death list of left-wing figures, journalists, political leaders, after the coup that were to be eliminated, that, you know, is a distinct possibility.
So, these ripples of tragedy, after these coups, go on and on. You know, the CIA and Allen Dulles told Eisenhower after the Guatemala coup, “Oh, it was a clean coup. You know, hardly anyone died.” But the fact is, tens of thousands of people died in the killing fields of Guatemala as a result of that coup, and that violence continues today.
AMY GOODMAN: And wasn’t it also a precursor to what happened with the Bay of Pigs? Move forward like, what, six years, and explain what happened.
DAVID TALBOT: Right. Well, emboldened by how easy it was to do a regime change in Guatemala, yes, when Fidel Castro comes to power in Cuba, he again antagonizes the same corporate interests that the Dulles brothers represent—oil companies, like the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil, and others, agribusiness firms. So they believe that Fidel has to be eliminated, and they begin plotting, under the Eisenhower administration, with Eisenhower’s approval, to kill, to assassinate Fidel Castro. And, in fact, at one point, Fidel Castro, who was beloved in this country after the revolution—he had overthrown a thug, a Mafia-backed thug, Batista, a very corrupt and violent dictatorship. He was seen as the future, and very glamorous, he and Che Guevara and so on. They would come to New York and would be mobbed by people in the streets. When they came to New York for a U.N. meeting in 1960, though, the Eisenhower administration was already pushing back, and no hotel would take them. Finally, a hotel in Midtown did take them, but there was—they asked for so much money as security, they were basically blackmailing Fidel. He was outraged, and he ended up staying in a hotel in Harlem that took him in.
AMY GOODMAN: Hotel Theresa.
DAVID TALBOT: Hotel Theresa. And they stood up to this Washington pressure, the manager of that hotel, who was African-American. He had grown up in Jim Crow South. And he said, “You know, I know what it’s like to be denied a roof over your head. This Cuban delegation can stay here.” So it was a very—
AMY GOODMAN: Did he meet Malcolm X there?
DAVID TALBOT: He did. It was a very dramatic moment. Malcolm X makes a visit to the Hotel Theresa. He squeezes into his suite, where there’s dozens of people crammed. They have a very interesting encounter, Fidel and Malcolm. And it really changed their lives and had a big impact on both of those men for years afterwards. In fact, Malcolm said he was one of the few white men that he learned to respect and appreciate. And, by the way, there was an FBI guy taking notes the whole time in that hotel room, so we know some of what happened there and the dialogue, because of the FBI report on this.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was it?
DAVID TALBOT: Well, his name was not revealed, but there was an agent surveilling him. But meanwhile, while Fidel is there, meeting with Khrushchev from the Soviet Union and Nasser from Egypt and the world leaders and embarrassing the Eisenhower administration, because here he’s gone to Harlem, and, you know, no one else would take him in, in Midtown Manhattan—meanwhile, the Mafia is meeting with CIA agents at the Plaza Hotel, just blocks away, plotting his assassination. So, a lot of intrigue in 1960 going on in New York. And then, to make it even more interesting, a young JFK, who’s campaigning for president, after Fidel has left, shows up at the Hotel Theresa and basically says, “This is revolutionary ground I’m standing on. And we should welcome the winds of change and the revolution, the future. We shouldn’t be afraid of it.” So, very end—and begins to talk about the mortality rate of black infants in Harlem and many of the issues that are still current.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, look at what President Kennedy, then President Kennedy, did, when it came to Cuba—
DAVID TALBOT: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: —what happened under his reign, from the Bay of Pigs to the endless assassination attempts of Fidel Castro.
DAVID TALBOT: Kennedy did do a flip-flop, to an extent, after that. He came in as president. He was young. He was untested, under a lot of pressure from the national security people in his administration. He inherited the Bay of Pigs operation, the plans for that. He was basically told, “Look, if you pull the plug on this thing, it’s so far along now, there will be a major political backlash against you.” So he was kind of sandbagged by the CIA. He did go through with it, but he had no intention of widening it into an all-out U.S. military assault on the island, on Cuba. But that’s what the CIA had in mind. They knew that this motley crew of Cuban exiles they put together to invade the island wasn’t sufficient to unseat Castro. But what they hoped and what they planned was that a young President Kennedy, as this invasion was bogged down on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs, would be forced then to send in the Marines and the U.S. Air Force to topple Castro.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, the Cuban missile crisis, the closest we ever came to a nuclear war.
DAVID TALBOT: Well, but Kennedy stood his ground, and he didn’t do that. And that was the beginning of his break, at the Bay of Pigs, between the CIA and Cuba—and President Kennedy. And then, yes, that became even more severe with the Cuban missile crisis the following year. Again, the military in this country and the CIA thought that we could take, you know, Castro out. During the Cuban missile crisis, they were prepared to go to a nuclear war to do that. President Kennedy thought people like Curtis LeMay, who was head of the Air Force, General Curtis LeMay, was half-mad. He said, “I don’t even see this man in my—you know, in my sight,” because he was pushing for a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. And even years later, Curtis LeMay, after years after Kennedy is dead, in an interview that I quote from in the book, bitterly complains that Kennedy didn’t take this opportunity to go nuclear over Cuba. So, President Kennedy basically, I think, saved my life—I was 12 years old at the time—saved a lot of our lives, because he did stand his ground. He took a hard line against the national security people and said, “No, we’re going to peacefully resolve the Cuban missile crisis.”
AMY GOODMAN: And then President Kennedy, on November 22nd, 1963, was assassinated.
DAVID TALBOT: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: David Talbot on his new book, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. Back with him in a minute.
OCTOBER 19, 2015STORY
Find this story at 19 October 2015
Sources Detail Skewed Reports On How The U.S. Is Doing Against ISIS
23 oktober 2015
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., (left) and Jack Reed, D-R.I., hear testimony on operations against ISIS from Gen. Lloyd Austin.i
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., (left) and Jack Reed, D-R.I., hear testimony on operations against ISIS from Gen. Lloyd Austin.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
NPR has new details on what investigators are discovering about Pentagon analysis of the battle against ISIS in Iraq.
The Pentagon is looking at whether senior military officials at U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, pressured intelligence analysts into painting a rosy picture of the fight against ISIS. The Defense Department’s inspector general is talking to a group of intelligence analysts who are providing evidence and details on how bias crept into their assessments.
One military source who witnessed the skewing of reports and told NPR he was “a victim of them” said that analysts at CENTCOM got the message as they began writing their assessments of events on the ground. If analysts wanted to include a piece of good news regarding the campaign against ISIS or the progress of Iraqi forces, they needed almost no sourcing. But if they wanted to include bad news — such as Iraqi forces retreating — analysts were required to cite three or four sources.
Two military sources familiar with the investigation say that, while they haven’t discovered a direct order to cherry-pick intelligence, it was something that evolved because of the way data were handled and produced.
“The bad news didn’t just need to be footnoted,” one military source, who did not want to be further identified because he is involved with the inquiry, told NPR. “The intelligence data itself had to be attached to the report. It became pretty clear if they wrote something bad, it was likely to be changed. Knowing that bad news on ISIS wasn’t welcome meant that, over time, the picture of the fight began being rosier.”
A military source described the evolution of one report that came out of CENTCOM’s intelligence shop. It was a dispatch on an ISIS attack in Iraq near the Syrian border. The initial CENTCOM report read, “Iraqi forces retreated.” It was sent back for reworking, the source said. Eventually that report came to read that the Iraqi forces had not retreated, but instead had reinforced another Iraqi position. The final draft suggested a strategic decision had been made. But that was not what happened, the source said — the Iraqi forces ran. A second source confirmed the account of the change in wording to put the Iraqi forces in a more positive light.
The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Lloyd Austin, was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He had been called to provide a progress report on the fight against ISIS. But he was obliged to address, although obliquely, the Pentagon investigation into CENTCOM first. “There is an ongoing DOD IG investigation looking into allegations concerning the processing of intelligence information by CENTCOM’s intelligence directorate,” Austin said in his opening remarks. “Because the allegations are currently under investigation … it would be premature and inappropriate for me to discuss this matter.”
All he would say was that the CENTCOM reports, contrary to what had been said in the media, did not go directly to the president, and CENTCOM drew its intelligence analysis from a variety of sources — 1,200 analysts, combat commanders on the ground, and other agencies. Even so, in his testimony, the general seemed to be painting an upbeat picture. “In recent months, Iraq’s security forces have experienced some setbacks, and this is to be expected in a fight as complex as this one,” said Austin. “But overall the Iraqis continue to make progress.”
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, made clear he wasn’t swallowing Austin’s assessment. “I must say I have been on this committee for 30 years and I have never heard testimony like this,” McCain said. “Never.”
Just the week before his appearance, McCain told the general, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, had testified that the fight against ISIS was tactically stalemated. “So obviously you and the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have a very different view of what the situation is,” McCain said.
SEPTEMBER 16, 2015 8:09 PM ET
Dina Temple- Raston
Find this story at 16 September 2015
© 2015 npr
A Former CIA Official Apologizes to ‘Every American’ For Iraq Intelligence Failures
23 oktober 2015
An intelligence assessment drafted by the CIA months prior to the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq asserting that Saddam Hussein harbored an active weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) cache has been thoroughly debunked time and again.
But even after the deaths of more than 4,000 US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, CIA officials have never publicly taken responsibility for getting the pre-war intelligence so wrong.
Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, however, now owns up to the disastrous “mistakes” the agency made on the Iraqi WMD failures.
The veteran intelligence official has written The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight against Terrorism from al Qa’ida to ISIS, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at numerous national security crises since 9/11. Morell writes in the book about the CIA’s Iraq intelligence failures, and he apologizes to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003 that Iraq had “biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” When WMDs weren’t located in Iraq after the US invasion, Powell’s credibility was destroyed.
Related: CIA Report Says No Evidence Saudi Arabia ‘Willingly Supported’ al Qaeda Leading up to 9/11
“Let me tell you why I [apologized to] Colin Powell,” Morell told VICE News before a recent appearance at the Richard Nixon Library to promote his book. “Here’s a guy who had a stellar reputation… and quite frankly that reputation was tarnished when he went before the UN and laid out the case. That case turns out to be wrong. Almost every part of it turns out to be wrong. I knew he had said to folks over the years, ‘You know, nobody from the agency has ever apologized to me.’ And so that’s why I wanted to apologize to him…. The apology applies to every single American.”
Morell was somewhat defensive when asked to discuss why CIA analysts were unable to determine that Iraq had abandoned its weapons program in the 1990s. He compared the analysts to “weather forecasters.”
“This is a very difficult business,” he said. “I don’t know a harder job in the world than trying to get an understanding of what’s the status of the Iran nuclear program. Or, what’s the status of North Korea’s long-range missile system. Or, where does Chinese military modernization stand. Or, what are the plans, intentions, and capabilities of al Qaeda in Yemen.”
Watch the VICE News interview with Michael Morell
Ultimately, Morell said the main reason “we were not able to come up with the right answer is that we didn’t do our fundamental job of penetrating [Saddam Hussein’s] inner circle with a human asset. So there was no information to give to the analyst to say, ‘Here’s what this guy is up to.’ This was our failure, and quite frankly a national security failure, to get inside of Saddam’s inner circle to tell us exactly what he was up to with regards to weapons of mass destruction.”
While Morell leaves no doubt that the CIA failed on Iraq, he mounts a full-throated defense when discussing the agency’s so-called enhanced interrogation program, which he “doesn’t like calling torture, because to call it torture says my guys were torturers, and they were told that they weren’t.”
“I have no doubt after spending months looking at this that [the program] was effective,” Morell said. “I’ve seen the intelligence that these guys provided before enhanced interrogation techniques. It was not full answers to questions, it was not specific information, it was not actionable. After enhanced interrogation techniques, full answers to questions, specific information, actionable information. There’s no doubt in my mind it was effective.”
His analysis is at odds with the damning findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which last December released a declassified executive summary of its mammoth report on the CIA’s torture program, an investigation that took five years to complete, cost $40 million, and led to chilled relations between the CIA and the committee.
In fact, the harshest critique in Morell’s book is aimed directly at Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including the panel’s former chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, who led the oversight effort into the detention and interrogation program and said what committee staffers discovered in millions of pages of CIA documents clearly rose to the level of torture. He declined to respond to some of the more brutal findings in the Senate report, such as subjecting a handful of detainees to “rectal feeding” and whether that amounted to torture.
So how did the Senate get it wrong if it perused the CIA’s own highly classified documents to reach its conclusions?
“One of the things I learned as an intelligence analyst very early on is it’s very dangerous to speculate,” Morell said. “When you speculate, you get things wrong a lot more then you get right. But I’ll speculate for you with that caveat. Senator Feinstein made it very clear to everyone who would talk to her about this, that she wanted the report to be the nail in the coffin of the country ever doing anything like this again. Well, when you’re on her staff and you hear that day after day after day, and your job is to put this report together, it takes you in a certain direction.”
“Republican leaders in the House and the Senate [approved] this program back in 2002, 2003, 2004. And not only approved the program but encouraged us to go further — they thought we were risk-averse when we stopped the program for a period of time…. So what’s the only way that the [Senate] can get themselves out of this discussion? To say that the CIA lied to them at the time about what we were doing and about the effectiveness of the program. That’s the only way to get themselves off the hook. I can’t prove any of that. I’m speculating.”
VICE News tried numerous times to obtain a comment from Feinstein, but her office failed to respond to our queries.
However, a day before Morell’s book went on sale, Feinstein took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release attacking Morell’s contradictory claims about the torture program and said he did not even bother to read the full 6,700-page report. Feinstein’s office then issued a 54-page point-by-point rebuttal to all of the assertions Morell made in his book about the efficacy of the program.
Morell, who now works for a private security firm founded by former aides to Hillary Clinton, told VICE News that the US is engaged in an “intelligence war.”
“In this new era of terrorism, the enemy is very hard to find, but very easy to kill,” he said. “The finding, which is the hard part, is all about intelligence. So this is an intelligence war…. You cannot capture and kill your way out of this. The other problem that you have to deal with is how do you stop the creation of new terrorists? How do you deal with the radicalization problem of young men and young women around the globe? That’s something that we have not done well as a country or as a coalition of countries… and it’s not going to go away until we get our arms around that.”
An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the CIA’s pre-war Iraq intelligence concluded that Saddam Hussein colluded with Al Qaeda. The story has been updated.
By Jason Leopold
June 25, 2015 | 7:35 pm
Find this story at 25 June 2015
Military Analyst Again Raises Red Flags on Progress in Iraq
23 oktober 2015
WASHINGTON — As the war in Iraq deteriorated, a senior American intelligence analyst went public in 2005 and criticized President George W. Bush’s administration for pushing “amateurish and unrealistic” plans for the invasion two years before.
Now that same man, Gregory Hooker, is at the center of an insurrection of United States Central Command intelligence analysts over America’s latest war in Iraq, and whether Congress, policy makers and the public are being given too rosy a picture of the situation.
As the senior Iraq analyst at Central Command, the military headquarters in Tampa that oversees American military operations across the Middle East and Central Asia, Mr. Hooker is the leader of a group of analysts that is accusing senior commanders of changing intelligence reports to paint an overly optimistic portrait of the American bombing campaign against the Islamic State. The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating.
Although the investigation became public weeks ago, the source of the allegations and Mr. Hooker’s role have not been previously known. Interviews with more than a dozen current and former intelligence officials place the dispute directly at the heart of Central Command, with Mr. Hooker and his team in a fight over what Americans should believe about the war.
Gregory Hooker is critical of reports on the ISIS fight.
Mr. Hooker, who declined to comment, has been an Iraq analyst for more than two decades. Some on his team were at Central Command, or Centcom, when American troops poured into Iraq in 2003. The analysts remained focused on the country long after President Obama officially ended the war in 2011.
“This core group of Iraq analysts have been doing this for a long time,” said Stephen Robb, a retired Marine colonel and a former head of the Centcom Joint Intelligence Center. “If they say there’s smoke, start looking for a firehouse.”
The investigation has repercussions beyond the question of whether the American-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria is succeeding. The allegations call into question how much the president — this one or the next — can rely on Centcom for honest assessments of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other crisis spots.
In some ways, the Iraq team’s criticism mirrors the disputes of a decade ago, when Mr. Hooker wrote a research paper saying the Bush administration, over many analysts’ objections, advocated a small force in Iraq and spent little time thinking about what would follow the invasion.
That dispute was separate from the battle over flawed intelligence assessments by the C.I.A. and other spy agencies that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Central Command did not contribute significantly to those assessments.
Several current and former officials said that it was the two most senior intelligence officers at Centcom — Maj. Gen. Steven Grove and his civilian deputy, Gregory Ryckman — who drew analysts’ ire with changes in draft intelligence assessments. But why the assessments were changed remains an open question. Some analysts suggested that leaders in Tampa feared that reporting bad news might anger the White House. Others described an institutional bias that makes it hard for the military to criticize its own operations.
Continue reading the main story
Graphic: Where ISIS Has Directed and Inspired Attacks Around the World
Centcom’s leader, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, was chosen for the job in part because the White House regarded him as a steady, cautious loyalist who would execute military operations in the Middle East with little drama — an especially important consideration after the contentious relationship between the White House and Gen. James Mattis, the previous Centcom commander. General Austin gave testimony last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee that was roundly criticized by some lawmakers as being an overly positive assessment of the war’s progress.
Centcom’s mammoth intelligence operation, with some 1,500 civilian, military and contract analysts, is housed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, in a bay front building that has the look of a sterile government facility posing as a Spanish hacienda. In banks of plain cubicles, the analysts try each day to measure the progress of war.
That effort has long been difficult, particularly in campaigns without traditional armies and clear battle lines. During the war in Vietnam, generals were criticized for measuring success in body counts. In the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, the military issues daily reports that suggest tactical victories but offer little hint about how the war is going.
“One airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL cache, three ISIL fighting positions and one ISIL motorcycle,” a report this month said. “Near Ramadi, one airstrike destroyed an ISIL vehicle.”
Brian Hale, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, played down the significance of Centcom’s conclusions in shaping the thinking of senior policy makers, including Mr. Obama, about the war. In a statement on Wednesday he said that Centcom and other military commanders do not provide “broad or strategic assessments.”
The success of daily airstrikes, experts say, can give the illusion of progress, particularly for Centcom commanders who are judged in Washington on their ability to carry out a successful mission. Iraq analysts, officials said, are less optimistic.
Continue reading the main story
Obama’s Evolution on ISIS
Some of President Obama’s statements about the American strategy to confront ISIS and its effectiveness.
“You can get pulled into watching the laser dot on a target and watching it blow up,” said Kevin Benson, a retired Army colonel who teaches intelligence analysis to officers at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. “After that, it can be hard to hear that you’re not making progress, because you saw it.”
Analysts like Mr. Hooker and his team are supposed to be immune from such pressure because they are employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency. In practice, though, the analysts are reviewed by officials at Centcom.
Although critics have suggested that the bombing campaign’s stalemate proves the need for more troops in Iraq, colleagues say Mr. Hooker’s team is not advocating that approach. “I don’t know anyone outside of a political commercial who thinks we need to send large numbers of troops into Iraq,” said one intelligence official who has worked closely with the Centcom analysts.
Instead, analysts say the dispute centers on whether the military is being honest about the political and religious situation in Iraq and whether a bombing campaign can change it.
“What are the strategic objectives here? There are none. This is just perpetual war,” said David Faulkner, the former targeting director at Centcom who worked alongside the Iraq analysts. “People say: ‘Oh, you’re military. You like that.’ No, we don’t.”
Current and ex-officials said tension about how to portray the war’s progress began almost at the start of the campaign last summer, when Mr. Obama authorized strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and later expanded the bombings to Syria.
Continue reading the main story
Graphic: How ISIS Expands
Early this year, one former official said, Mr. Hooker’s team concluded that, despite public statements to the contrary, airstrikes against Islamic State-held refineries had not significantly weakened its finances because it had built makeshift refineries to sell oil on the black market. But the finding was not distributed outside Centcom, the ex-official said.
Over this past year, analysts felt pressure to keep their assessments positive. In order to report bad news, current and former officials said, the analysts were required to cite multiple sources. Reporting positive news required fewer hurdles. Senior officials sent emails cautioning against using pessimistic phrases that they said were more likely to get attention, according to one former official. In some instances, officials said, conclusions were completely changed.
Anger among analysts grew so intense that in the spring, Mr. Hooker’s civilian boss, William Rizzio, confronted his superiors about the problems. Mr. Rizzio, a retired Marine colonel who had gradually come to take the side of the analysts in the dispute, had meetings with General Grove and Mr. Ryckman. It is unclear what transpired in the meetings, but three people with knowledge of the situation, who, like some others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is part of the inspector general’s investigation, said the result was that Mr. Rizzio was punished for siding with the analysts. He was temporarily reassigned, and analysts were left wondering what happened to him after his name was scraped off the front of his office at Centcom’s Joint Intelligence Center.
Mr. Rizzio, who has since returned to his position, declined to be interviewed.
His concerns gained a more sympathetic hearing several months later, when officials began speaking to the Pentagon’s inspector general, who opened his investigation in July. Officials would not say if Mr. Hooker was the first analyst to do so.
The inspector general’s investigation turned a quiet matter into one of the most high-profile intelligence disputes since officials issued new rules that encourage dissenting views. Those rules were intended to prevent a repeat of the debacle over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The investigation has put this team of analysts, who for years worked in relative obscurity, at the center of a dispute that has the attention of intelligence officials across the government.
“Signing onto a whistle-blowing complaint can easily be a career-ender,” David Shedd, a former acting head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote in a column this week on Defense One, a national security news website. “The nation’s analytic professionals are watching closely to see how it is handled.”
Correction: September 24, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the year that President Obama officially ended the Iraq war. It was 2011, not 2009.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
By MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZOSEPT. 23, 2015
A version of this article appears in print on September 24, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Military Analyst Again Raises Red Flags on Progress in Iraq. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
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© 2015 The New York Times Company
Inquiry Weighs Whether ISIS Analysis Was Distorted
23 oktober 2015
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.
The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.
Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.
Iraqi Army recruits in Taji in April with U.S. Army trainers. About 3,400 American troops are advising Iraqi forces. Credit John Moore/Getty Images
The prospect of skewed intelligence raises new questions about the direction of the government’s war with the Islamic State, and could help explain why pronouncements about the progress of the campaign have varied widely.
Legitimate differences of opinion are common and encouraged among national security officials, so the inspector general’s investigation is an unusual move and suggests that the allegations go beyond typical intelligence disputes. Government rules state that intelligence assessments “must not be distorted” by agency agendas or policy views. Analysts are required to cite the sources that back up their conclusions and to acknowledge differing viewpoints.
Under federal law, intelligence officials can bring claims of wrongdoing to the intelligence community’s inspector general, a position created in 2011. If officials find the claims credible, they are required to advise the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. That occurred in the past several weeks, the officials said, and the Pentagon’s inspector general decided to open an investigation into the matter.
Spokeswomen for both inspectors general declined to comment for this article. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the White House also declined to comment.
Col. Patrick Ryder, a Centcom spokesman, said he could not comment on a continuing inspector general investigation but said “the I.G. has a responsibility to investigate all allegations made, and we welcome and support their independent oversight.”
Numerous agencies produce intelligence assessments related to the Iraq war, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and others. Colonel Ryder said it was customary for them to make suggestions on one another’s drafts. But he said each agency had the final say on whether to incorporate those suggestions. “Further, the multisource nature of our assessment process purposely guards against any single report or opinion unduly influencing leaders and decision makers,” he said.
It is not clear how that review process changes when Defense Intelligence Agency analysts are assigned to work at Centcom — which has headquarters both in Tampa, Fla., and Qatar — as was the case of at least one of the analysts who have spoken to the inspector general. In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Pentagon has relocated more Defense Intelligence Agency analysts from the agency’s Washington headquarters to military commands around the globe, so they can work more closely with the generals and admirals in charge of the military campaigns.
Mr. Obama last summer authorized a bombing campaign against the Islamic State, and approximately 3,400 American troops are currently in Iraq advising and training Iraqi forces. The White House has been reluctant, though, to recommit large numbers of ground troops to Iraq after announcing an “end” to the Iraq war in 2009.
The bombing campaign over the past year has had some success in allowing Iraqi forces to reclaim parts of the country formerly under the group’s control, but important cities like Mosul and Ramadi remain under Islamic State’s control. There has been very little progress in wresting the group’s hold over large parts of Syria, where the United States has done limited bombing.
Some senior American officials in recent weeks have provided largely positive public assessments about the progress of the military campaign against the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist organization that began as an offshoot of Al Qaeda but has since severed ties and claimed governance of a huge stretch of land across Iraq and Syria. The group is also called ISIS or ISIL.
Continue reading the main story
Obama’s Evolution on ISIS
Some of President Obama’s statements about the American strategy to confront ISIS and its effectiveness.
In late July, retired Gen. John Allen — who is Mr. Obama’s top envoy working with other nations to fight the Islamic State — told the Aspen Security Forum that the terror group’s momentum had been “checked strategically, operationally, and by and large, tactically.”
“ISIS is losing,” he said, even as he acknowledged that the campaign faced numerous challenges — from blunting the Islamic State’s message to improving the quality of Iraqi forces.
During a news briefing last week, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was more measured. He called the war “difficult” and said “it’s going to take some time.” But, he added, “I’m confident that we will succeed in defeating ISIL and that we have the right strategy.”
But recent intelligence assessments, including some by Defense Intelligence Agency, paint a sober picture about how little the Islamic State has been weakened over the past year, according to officials with access to the classified assessments. They said the documents conclude that the yearlong campaign has done little to diminish the ranks of the Islamic State’s committed fighters, and that the group over the last year has expanded its reach into North Africa and Central Asia.
Critics of the Obama administration’s strategy have argued that a bombing campaign alone — without a significant infusion of American ground troops — is unlikely to ever significantly weaken the terror group. But it is not clear whether Defense Intelligence Agency analysts concluded that more American troops would make an appreciable difference.
In testimony on Capitol Hill this year, Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, the agency’s director, said sending ground troops back into Iraq risked transforming the conflict into one between the West and ISIS, which would be “the best propaganda victory that we could give.”
“It’s both expected and helpful if there are dissenting viewpoints about conflicts in foreign countries,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a forthcoming book, “Red Team,” that includes an examination of alternative analysis within American intelligence agencies. What is problematic, he said, “is when a dissenting opinion is not given to policy makers.”
The Defense Intelligence Agency was created in 1961, in part to avoid what Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense at the time, called “service bias.” During the 1950s, the United States grossly overestimated the size of the Soviet missile arsenal, a miscalculation that was fueled in part by the Air Force, which wanted more money for its own missile systems.
During the Vietnam War, the Defense Intelligence Agency repeatedly warned that even a sustained military campaign was unlikely to defeat the North Vietnamese forces. But according to an internal history of the agency, its conclusions were repeatedly overruled by commanders who were certain that the United States was winning, and that victory was just a matter of applying more force.
“There’s a built-in tension for the people who work at D.I.A., between dispassionate analysis and what command wants,” said Paul R. Pillar, a retired senior Central Intelligence Agency analyst who years ago accused the Bush administration of distorting intelligence assessments about Iraq’s weapons programs before the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.
“You’re part of a large structure that does have a vested interest in portraying the overall mission as going well,” he said.
By MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZOAUG. 25, 2015
A version of this article appears in print on August 26, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Inquiry Weighs If ISIS Analysis Was Distorted . Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
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© 2015 The New York Times Company
Syria crisis: US-trained rebels give equipment to al-Qaeda affiliate
23 oktober 2015
A group of US-trained Syrian rebels has handed over their vehicles and ammunition to fighters linked to al-Qaeda, the US military has admitted.
It said one rebel unit had surrendered six pick-up trucks and ammunition to the al-Nusra Front this week – apparently to gain safe passage.
Congress has approved $500m (£323m) to train and equip about 5,000 rebels to fight against Islamic State militants.
But the first 54 graduates were routed by al-Nusra Front, the military said.
Gen Lloyd Austin told US lawmakers last week that only “four or five” US-trained rebels were still fighting.
“Unfortunately, we learned late today that the NSF (New Syrian Forces) unit now says it did in fact provide six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front (group),” Pentagon spokesman Cpt Jeff Davis said on Friday.
Meanwhile, Col Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for US Central Command (Centcom), said this happened on 21-22 September.
He added that the surrendered vehicles and ammunition amounted to roughly 25% of the equipment issued to the unit.
“If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to al-Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train-and-equip programme guidelines,” Col Ryder said.
The unit was part of some 70 rebel fighters who participated in the second US training course.
The train-and-equip programme is at an early stage, but this is just the latest in a series of setbacks, the BBC’s Laura Bicker in Washington says.
26 September 2015
Find this story at 26 September 2015
Copyright © 2015 BBC
Pentagon: U.S.-trained fighters have not joined forces with al-Qaeda
23 oktober 2015
The Pentagon on Wednesday denied reports that the latest batch of U.S.trained rebels in Syria had defected
and joined alQaeda, as officials sought to dispel suggestions of further setbacks for the troubled effort to build
an effective local force against the Islamic State.
Earlier this week, shortly after a group of 71 U.S.trained rebels returned to Syria after completing an American
training course in Turkey, one of the commanders said to be with the group issued a statement dissociating the
fighters from the Pentagon program and saying that it would operate as an “independent faction.”
The statement triggered rumors that the group had defected to the alQaedalinked Jabhat alNusra, fueled by
photographs posted on social media by Jabhat alNusra purportedly showing U.S. weapons that had been
handed over by the Pentagon graduates.
The new reports came as U.S. officials search for ways to retool the Pentagon’s $500 million training program,
which was supposed to prepare a reliable, moderate force to combat the Islamic State, but which has come to
symbolize the shortcomings of the Obama administration’s handling of Syria’s protected civil conflict.
At the Pentagon, Capt. Jeff Davis, a military spokesman, said that U.S. officials were in touch with members of
the U.S.trained group, referred to as the New Syrian Force (NSF), and said reports that the fighters had joined
Jabhat alNusra were false.
“We have no information at all to suggest that that’s true,” Davis told reporters. He said photos posted by Jabhat
alNusraaffiliated Twitter accounts, which purported to show American weaponry provided by those fighters,
had been “repurposed.”
U.S. Central Command, which oversees the training program, took the unusual step of issuing a statement to
rebut the reports. “All coalitionissued weapons and equipment are under the positive control of NSF fighters,”
the statement said.
The whereabouts and affiliation of the fighters was thrown into doubt following the statement by Anas Obaid,
who was one of the leaders of the new group of Pentagon graduates. He said the group would continue to fight
the Islamic State, but not in coordination with the United States. He also said the group had disowned its parent
organization, Division 30, the larger rebel unit from which the Pentagon trainees have been drawn, and would
call themselves Atareb Rebels, after the town where they are based.
Division 30 issued a statement saying that the unit had been unable to contact Obaid and warned he would be
put on trial for “high treason” if the reports of his defection were true.
Charles Lister of the Dohabased Brookings Institution said it was possible the U.S.trained fighters had been
intimidated by Jabhat alNusra or other groups into denying their U.S. affiliation. “In that area of northern
Aleppo, it’s Islamists who have dominance, so to come in as a U.S.backed force, you are at a disadvantage to
start with,” he said.
Later, Division 30, on its Twitter feed, denied that any of its weapons had been handed over: “The handover of
weapons has not occurred — not a single piece of weaponry.”
Still, U.S. officials acknowledge that they have limited ability to track the movements of the U.S.trained
fighters, who are not under American command and control, and their arms.
The program, which has produced fewer than 200 fighters so far, has been plagued by setbacks. After the first
round of training, some fighters were kidnapped by Jabhat alNusra; others were attacked, and the unit
Last week, Gen. Lloyd Austin III, the Centcom commander, said fewer than five U.S.backed fighters were then
“If this second group has failed as dismally as the first, this could well be the nail in the coffin of the program,”
By Missy Ryan and Liz Sly September 23
Sly reported from Beirut. Thomas GibbonsNeff contributed to this report.
Missy Ryan writes about the Pentagon, military issues, and national security for The Washington Post.
Find this story at 23 September 2015
Senior ex-general hints at CIA involvement in Balyoz coup plot case
23 oktober 2015
Retired Gen. Bilgin Balanlı, who was among the 236 suspects acquitted in the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup-plot case, has said the United States or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) could have had a finger in the coup case.
The CIA or the U.S.’ “deep state” could have been involved in the case, recalling the testimony of a suspect, who said in 2010 he and a former deputy had picked up a sack full of documents in 2007 to be used in the Balyoz coup plot case from an American senator and a retired Turkish major in Istanbul and taken it to Ankara, according to Balanlı.
Balanlı said the alleged military documents, which became evidence and began the investigation, contained terms the Turkish army did not use and which were known to be used in the U.S. Army.
“For example, we do not use the word ‘ocean’ when we talk about our seas. The term ‘ocean’ was used in some places of the Balyoz coup plot plan. I think that they could have translated this from an American plan,” said Balanlı.
Balanlı, who was the only four-star general on active duty who was a suspect in the coup-plot case, was in line to be appointed to Chief of the Air Staff in August 2011 if he had not been arrested and sent to jail just two months before. He spent two years in jail and was forced to retire.
Balanlı said even though government officials now say they have been deceived about the case they believed they could gain political benefit from the plot case at the time.
“We can say the government perceived they could politically benefit from the case. Maybe both an opinion was formed and they believed the information given to them within the plot. They believed the plotters very much. Now they say they were deceived,” said Balanlı, adding this was a weakness for the Turkish Republic with all its institutions.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said March 19, during his first speech as commander-in-chief at the War Colleges Command, that the “parallel structure” of state officials sympathetic to U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen “misled and deceived” Turkey through the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup-plot cases, claiming he had personally objected to the arrest of top commanders and officers.
Stating he had identified a formation dubbed the “parallel structure” by the government as a “gang” when he lodged a petition to the court during his first trial, Balanlı said it would be “naïve” not to think the “parallel structure” had also stationed its own people inside the army, as some of the documents about the suspects in the case contained information people outside of the military could not have known.
Balanlı said they had struggled on their own to tell the truth to the nation, disclaiming the General Staff and Chief of General Staff Necdet Özel’s contributions to winning the case.
“We made the struggle to enlighten the public and made the nation see the truth. If there is any honor in this matter then it is the honor of the people who have showed the courage to stand by us and the truth. I do not believe the General Staff has [made] any contributions to this,” said Balanlı.
Cansu Çamlıbel ISTANBUL
Find this story at 6 April 2015
Exclusive: Congress probing U.S. spy agencies’ possible lapses on Russia
23 oktober 2015
Senior U.S. lawmakers have begun probing possible intelligence lapses over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, concerned that American spy agencies were slow to grasp the scope and intention of Russia’s dramatic military offensive there, U.S. congressional sources and other officials told Reuters.
A week after Russia plunged directly into Syria’s civil war by launching a campaign of air strikes, the intelligence committees of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives want to examine the extent to which the spy community overlooked or misjudged critical warning signs, the sources said.
Findings of major blind spots would mark the latest of several U.S. intelligence misses in recent years, including Moscow’s surprise takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region last year and China’s rapid expansion of island-building activities in the South China Sea.
Though spy agencies have sought to ramp up intelligence gathering on Russia since the crisis over Ukraine, they continue to struggle with inadequate resources because of the emphasis on counter-terrorism in the Middle East and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, according to current and former U.S. officials.
A senior administration official, who also asked not to be identified, insisted that there were “no surprises” and that policymakers were “comfortable” with the intelligence they received in the lead-up to the Russian offensive.
Spy agencies had carefully tracked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s build-up of military assets and personnel in Syria in recent weeks, prompting White House criticism and demands for Moscow to explain itself.
But intelligence officers – and the U.S. administration they serve – were caught mostly off-guard by the speed and aggressiveness of Putin’s use of air power as well as a Russian target list that included U.S.-backed rebels, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“They saw some of this going on but didn’t appreciate the magnitude,” one of the sources told Reuters.
Russia’s sudden move to ramp up its military involvement in the Syria crisis has thrown Obama’s Middle East strategy into doubt and laid bare an erosion of U.S. influence in the region.
A shortage of reliable information and analysis could further hamper President Barack Obama’s efforts to craft a response on Syria to regain the initiative from Washington’s former Cold War foe.
BEHIND THE CURVE?
It is unclear how his administration could have reacted differently with better intelligence, though advance word of Putin’s attack plans might have allowed U.S. officials to warn the moderate Syrian opposition that they could end up in Russia’s line of fire.
Obama, who is reluctant to see America drawn deeper into another Middle East conflict, has shown no desire to directly confront Russia over its Syria offensive – something Moscow may have taken as a green light to escalate its operations.
Syrian troops and militia backed by Russian warplanes mounted what appeared to be their first major coordinated assault on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday and Moscow said its warships fired a barrage of missiles at them from the Caspian Sea, a sign of its new military reach.
Russia’s military build-up now includes a growing naval presence, long-range rockets and a battalion of troops backed by Moscow’s most modern tanks, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said.
The U.S. administration believes it now has a better understanding at least of Putin’s main motive – to do whatever it takes to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But Washington remains uncertain exactly how much further Putin is willing to go in terms of deployment of advanced military assets, the U.S. officials said.
The lack of clarity stems in part from the limited ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to discern what Putin and a tightly knit circle of advisers are thinking and planning.
In a tense meeting with Putin at the United Nations early last week, Obama was not given any advance notice of Russia’s attack plans, aides said. Russian air strikes began two days later, including the targeting of CIA-trained “moderate” anti-Assad rebels, though Moscow insisted it only hit Islamic State insurgents.
“They did not expect the speed with which Putin ramped things up,” said Michael McFaul, Obama’s former ambassador to Moscow. “He likes the element of surprise.”
U.S. intelligence agencies did closely follow and report to policymakers Russian moves to sharply expand infrastructure at its key air base in Latakia as well as the deployment of heavy equipment, including combat aircraft, to Syria, officials said.
“We’re not mind readers,” the senior administration official said. “We didn’t know when Russia would fly the first sortie, but our analysis of the capabilities that were there was that they were there for a reason.”
However, several other officials said U.S. agencies were behind the curve in assessing how far the Russians intended to go and how quickly they intended to launch operations.
In fact, right up until a White House briefing given shortly after the bombing began, Obama press secretary Josh Earnest declined to draw “firm conclusions” on Russia’s strategy.
CONFUSION OVER RUSSIAN INTENT
One source suggested that U.S. experts initially thought the Russian build-up might have been more for a military “snap exercise” or a temporary show of force than preparations for sustained, large-scale attacks on Assad’s enemies.
Another official said that after initial review, congressional oversight investigators believe that “information on this was not moving quickly enough through channels” to policymakers.
And another source said there had been a “lag of a week” before agencies began voicing full-throated alarm about imminent Russian military operations.
The senior administration official said, however, that “I don’t think anybody here perceived a gap” in intelligence.
In their reviews of how U.S. intelligence handled the Syria build-up, officials said congressional intelligence committees would examine reports issued by the agencies and question officers involved in the process, according to congressional and national security sources. At the moment, no public hearings are planned, the officials said.
Though the senior administration official denied the intelligence community was paying any less attention to Syria, John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said that not enough intelligence assets had been devoted to analyzing Putin’s “aggressive policies”.
McFaul, who took the view that the Obama administration had been largely on top of the situation as Putin prepared his offensive, said that a faster or more precise intelligence assessment would probably have done little to change the outcome.
“What difference would it make if we had known 48 hours ahead of time?” asked McFaul, who now teaches at Stanford University in California. “There still wouldn’t have been any better options for deterring Putin in Syria.”
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton, Writing by Matt Spetalnick; editing by Stuart Grudgings)
Politics | Thu Oct 8, 2015 8:03am EDT Related:
BY MARK HOSENBALL, PHIL STEWART AND MATT SPETALNICK
Find this story at 8 October 2015
Copyright Thomson Reuters
US-trained Division 30 rebels ‘betray US and hand weapons over to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria’
23 oktober 2015
Pentagon-trained rebels are reported to have betrayed US and handed weapons over to Jabhat al-Nusra immediately after entering Syria
Pentagon-trained rebels in Syria are reported to have betrayed their American backers and handed their weapons over to al-Qaeda in Syria immediately after re-entering the country.
Fighters with Division 30, the “moderate” rebel division favoured by the United States, surrendered to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, a raft of sources claimed on Monday night.
Division 30 was the first faction whose fighters graduated from a US-led training programme in Turkey which aims to forge a force on the ground in Syria to fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
A statement on Twitter by a man calling himself Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, a member of al-Qaeda’s local affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, read: “A strong slap for America… the new group from Division 30 that entered yesterday hands over all of its weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra after being granted safe passage.
“They handed over a very large amount of ammunition and medium weaponry and a number of pick-ups.”
Abu Khattab al-Maqdisi, who also purports to be a Jabhat al-Nusra member, added that Division 30’s commander, Anas Ibrahim Obaid,had explained to Jabhat al-Nusra’s leaders that he had tricked the coalition because he needed weapons.
“He promised to issue a statement… repudiating Division 30, the coalition, and those who trained him,” he tweeted. “And he also gave a large amount of weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a monitoring group, reported that seventy-five Division 30 fighters had crossed into Syria from Turkey early the day before with “12 four-wheel vehicles equipped with machine guns and ammunition”.
US Central Command confirmed about 70 graduates of the Syria “train and equip” programme had re-entered Syria with their weapons and equipment and were operating as New Syrian Forces alongside Syrian Kurds, Sunni Arab and other anti-Isil forces.
The latest disaster, if true, will be the second to befall the programme. Last month, after the first group of fighters re-entered, the militia was attacked and routed by Jabhat al-Nusra, which stormed its headquarters and kidnapped a number of its members.
At the weekend, the group’s chief of staff also resigned, saying the training programme was “not serious”.
In the statement, Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad al-Dhaher complained of insufficient numbers of trainees and fighters, inadequate supplies, and even “a lack of accuracy and method in the selection of Division 30’s cadres”.
The latest developments have only added to the scorn heaped on the much-criticized $500 million (£320m) program, which aimed to forge a 5,400-strong force of “moderate” rebels to combat Isil.
It has been hampered by problems almost from the outset, with rebels complaining of a laborious vetting process. The biggest point of contention is that they are only allowed to fight Isil, not the Assad regime, which is the principal enemy for most opposition groups.
Sept. 16, 2015, photo, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.
General Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that only “four or five” US-trained rebels were still fighting the Islamic State
Last Wednesday, General Lloyd Austin, head of US Central Command, shocked leaders in the US Senate’s armed services committee when he said there were only handful of programme graduates still fighting inside Syria. “We’re talking four or five,” he said.
By Nabih Bulos, Amman5:22PM BST 22 Sep 2015
Find this story at 22 September 2015
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2015
THE DRONE PAPERS: THE ASSASSINATION COMPLEXSECRET MILITARY DOCUMENTS EXPOSE THE INNER WORKINGS OF OBAMA’S DRONE WARS
16 oktober 2015
From his first days as commander in chief, the drone has been President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice, used by the military and the CIA to hunt down and kill the people his administration has deemed — through secretive processes, without indictment or trial — worthy of execution. There has been intense focus on the technology of remote killing, but that often serves as a surrogate for what should be a broader examination of the state’s power over life and death.
DRONES ARE A TOOL, not a policy. The policy is assassination. While every president since Gerald Ford has upheld an executive order banning assassinations by U.S. personnel, Congress has avoided legislating the issue or even defining the word “assassination.” This has allowed proponents of the drone wars to rebrand assassinations with more palatable characterizations, such as the term du jour, “targeted killings.”
When the Obama administration has discussed drone strikes publicly, it has offered assurances that such operations are a more precise alternative to boots on the ground and are authorized only when an “imminent” threat is present and there is “near certainty” that the intended target will be eliminated. Those terms, however, appear to have been bluntly redefined to bear almost no resemblance to their commonly understood meanings.
The first drone strike outside of a declared war zone was conducted more than 12 years ago, yet it was not until May 2013 that the White House released a set of standards and procedures for conducting such strikes. Those guidelines offered little specificity, asserting that the U.S. would only conduct a lethal strike outside of an “area of active hostilities” if a target represents a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons,” without providing any sense of the internal process used to determine whether a suspect should be killed without being indicted or tried. The implicit message on drone strikes from the Obama administration has been one of trust, but don’t verify.
Photo: The Intercept
SMALL FOOTPRINT OPERATIONS 2/13Document
SMALL FOOTPRINT OPERATIONS 5/13Document
GEOLOCATION-WATCHLISTThe Intercept has obtained a cache of secret slides that provides a window into the inner workings of the U.S. military’s kill/capture operations at a key time in the evolution of the drone wars — between 2011 and 2013. The documents, which also outline the internal views of special operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone program, were provided by a source within the intelligence community who worked on the types of operations and programs described in the slides. The Intercept granted the source’s request for anonymity because the materials are classified and because the U.S. government has engaged in aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers. The stories in this series will refer to the source as “the source.”
The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said.
“We’re allowing this to happen. And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”
The Pentagon, White House, and Special Operations Command all declined to comment. A Defense Department spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on the details of classified reports.”
The CIA and the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operate parallel drone-based assassination programs, and the secret documents should be viewed in the context of an intense internal turf war over which entity should have supremacy in those operations. Two sets of slides focus on the military’s high-value targeting campaign in Somalia and Yemen as it existed between 2011 and 2013, specifically the operations of a secretive unit, Task Force 48-4.
Additional documents on high-value kill/capture operations in Afghanistan buttress previous accounts of how the Obama administration masks the true number of civilians killed in drone strikes by categorizing unidentified people killed in a strike as enemies, even if they were not the intended targets. The slides also paint a picture of a campaign in Afghanistan aimed not only at eliminating al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, but also at taking out members of other local armed groups.
One top-secret document shows how the terror “watchlist” appears in the terminals of personnel conducting drone operations, linking unique codes associated with cellphone SIM cards and handsets to specific individuals in order to geolocate them.
A top-secret document shows how the watchlist looks on internal systems used by drone operators.
The costs to intelligence gathering when suspected terrorists are killed rather than captured are outlined in the slides pertaining to Yemen and Somalia, which are part of a 2013 study conducted by a Pentagon entity, the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force. The ISR study lamented the limitations of the drone program, arguing for more advanced drones and other surveillance aircraft and the expanded use of naval vessels to extend the reach of surveillance operations necessary for targeted strikes. It also contemplated the establishment of new “politically challenging” airfields and recommended capturing and interrogating more suspected terrorists rather than killing them in drone strikes.
The ISR Task Force at the time was under the control of Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Vickers, a fierce proponent of drone strikes and a legendary paramilitary figure, had long pushed for a significant increase in the military’s use of special operations forces. The ISR Task Force is viewed by key lawmakers as an advocate for more surveillance platforms like drones.
The ISR study also reveals new details about the case of a British citizen, Bilal el-Berjawi, who was stripped of his citizenship before being killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012. British and American intelligence had Berjawi under surveillance for several years as he traveled back and forth between the U.K. and East Africa, yet did not capture him. Instead, the U.S. hunted him down and killed him in Somalia.
Taken together, the secret documents lead to the conclusion that Washington’s 14-year high-value targeting campaign suffers from an overreliance on signals intelligence, an apparently incalculable civilian toll, and — due to a preference for assassination rather than capture — an inability to extract potentially valuable intelligence from terror suspects. They also highlight the futility of the war in Afghanistan by showing how the U.S. has poured vast resources into killing local insurgents, in the process exacerbating the very threat the U.S. is seeking to confront.
FIND, FIX, FINISH These secret slides help provide historical context to Washington’s ongoing wars, and are especially relevant today as the U.S. military intensifies its drone strikes and covert actions against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Those campaigns, like the ones detailed in these documents, are unconventional wars that employ special operations forces at the tip of the spear.
The “find, fix, finish” doctrine that has fueled America’s post-9/11 borderless war is being refined and institutionalized. Whether through the use of drones, night raids, or new platforms yet to be unleashed, these documents lay bare the normalization of assassination as a central component of U.S. counterterrorism policy.
“The military is easily capable of adapting to change, but they don’t like to stop anything they feel is making their lives easier, or is to their benefit. And this certainly is, in their eyes, a very quick, clean way of doing things. It’s a very slick, efficient way to conduct the war, without having to have the massive ground invasion mistakes of Iraq and Afghanistan,” the source said. “But at this point, they have become so addicted to this machine, to this way of doing business, that it seems like it’s going to become harder and harder to pull them away from it the longer they’re allowed to continue operating in this way.”
The articles in The Drone Papers were produced by a team of reporters and researchers from The Intercept that has spent months analyzing the documents. The series is intended to serve as a long-overdue public examination of the methods and outcomes of America’s assassination program. This campaign, carried out by two presidents through four presidential terms, has been shrouded in excessive secrecy. The public has a right to see these documents not only to engage in an informed debate about the future of U.S. wars, both overt and covert, but also to understand the circumstances under which the U.S. government arrogates to itself the right to sentence individuals to death without the established checks and balances of arrest, trial, and appeal.
Among the key revelations in this series:
HOW THE PRESIDENT AUTHORIZES TARGETS FOR ASSASSINATION
KILL CHAINIt has been widely reported that President Obama directly approves high-value targets for inclusion on the kill list, but the secret ISR study provides new insight into the kill chain, including a detailed chart stretching from electronic and human intelligence gathering all the way to the president’s desk. The same month the ISR study was circulated — May 2013 — Obama signed the policy guidance on the use of force in counterterrorism operations overseas. A senior administration official, who declined to comment on the classified documents, told The Intercept that “those guidelines remain in effect today.”
U.S. intelligence personnel collect information on potential targets, as The Intercept has previously reported, drawn from government watchlists and the work of intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies. At the time of the study, when someone was destined for the kill list, intelligence analysts created a portrait of a suspect and the threat that person posed, pulling it together “in a condensed format known as a ‘baseball card.’” That information was then bundled with operational information and packaged in a “target information folder” to be “staffed up to higher echelons” for action. On average, it took 58 days for the president to sign off on a target, one slide indicates. At that point, U.S. forces had 60 days to carry out the strike. The documents include two case studies that are partially based on information detailed on baseball cards.
The system for creating baseball cards and targeting packages, according to the source, depends largely on intelligence intercepts and a multi-layered system of fallible, human interpretation. “It isn’t a surefire method,” he said. “You’re relying on the fact that you do have all these very powerful machines, capable of collecting extraordinary amounts of data and information,” which can lead personnel involved in targeted killings to believe they have “godlike powers.”
ASSASSINATIONS DEPEND ON UNRELIABLE INTELLIGENCE AND HURT INTELLIGENCE GATHERING
FIRING BLINDIn undeclared war zones, the U.S. military has become overly reliant on signals intelligence, or SIGINT, to identify and ultimately hunt down and kill people. The documents acknowledge that using metadata from phones and computers, as well as communications intercepts, is an inferior method of finding and finishing targeted people. They described SIGINT capabilities in these unconventional battlefields as “poor” and “limited.” Yet such collection, much of it provided by foreign partners, accounted for more than half the intelligence used to track potential kills in Yemen and Somalia. The ISR study characterized these failings as a technical hindrance to efficient operations, omitting the fact that faulty intelligence has led to the killing of innocent people, including U.S. citizens, in drone strikes.
The source underscored the unreliability of metadata, most often from phone and computer communications intercepts. These sources of information, identified by so-called selectors such as a phone number or email address, are the primary tools used by the military to find, fix, and finish its targets. “It requires an enormous amount of faith in the technology that you’re using,” the source said. “There’s countless instances where I’ve come across intelligence that was faulty.” This, he said, is a primary factor in the killing of civilians. “It’s stunning the number of instances when selectors are misattributed to certain people. And it isn’t until several months or years later that you all of a sudden realize that the entire time you thought you were going after this really hot target, you wind up realizing it was his mother’s phone the whole time.”
Within the special operations community, the source said, the internal view of the people being hunted by the U.S. for possible death by drone strike is: “They have no rights. They have no dignity. They have no humanity to themselves. They’re just a ‘selector’ to an analyst. You eventually get to a point in the target’s life cycle that you are following them, you don’t even refer to them by their actual name.” This practice, he said, contributes to “dehumanizing the people before you’ve even encountered the moral question of ‘is this a legitimate kill or not?’”
By the ISR study’s own admission, killing suspected terrorists, even if they are “legitimate” targets, further hampers intelligence gathering. The secret study states bluntly: “Kill operations significantly reduce the intelligence available.” A chart shows that special operations actions in the Horn of Africa resulted in captures just 25 percent of the time, indicating a heavy tilt toward lethal strikes.
STRIKES OFTEN KILL MANY MORE THAN THE INTENDED TARGET
MANHUNTING IN THE HINDU KUSH The White House and Pentagon boast that the targeted killing program is precise and that civilian deaths are minimal. However, documents detailing a special operations campaign in northeastern Afghanistan, Operation Haymaker, show that between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period of the operation, according to the documents, nearly 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. In Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. has far more limited intelligence capabilities to confirm the people killed are the intended targets, the equivalent ratios may well be much worse.
“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” the source said. When “a drone strike kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate. … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”
THE MILITARY LABELS UNKNOWN PEOPLE IT KILLS AS “ENEMIES KILLED IN ACTION”
MANHUNTING IN THE HINDU KUSH The documents show that the military designated people it killed in targeted strikes as EKIA — “enemy killed in action” — even if they were not the intended targets of the strike. Unless evidence posthumously emerged to prove the males killed were not terrorists or “unlawful enemy combatants,” EKIA remained their designation, according to the source. That process, he said, “is insane. But we’ve made ourselves comfortable with that. The intelligence community, JSOC, the CIA, and everybody that helps support and prop up these programs, they’re comfortable with that idea.”
The source described official U.S. government statements minimizing the number of civilian casualties inflicted by drone strikes as “exaggerating at best, if not outright lies.”
THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE TARGETED FOR DRONE STRIKES AND OTHER FINISHING OPERATIONS
KILL CHAINAccording to one secret slide, as of June 2012, there were 16 people in Yemen whom President Obama had authorized U.S. special operations forces to assassinate. In Somalia, there were four. The statistics contained in the documents appear to refer only to targets approved under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, not CIA operations. In 2012 alone, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were more than 200 people killed in operations in Yemen and between four and eight in Somalia.
HOW GEOGRAPHY SHAPES THE ASSASSINATION CAMPAIGN
FIRING BLINDIn Afghanistan and Iraq, the pace of U.S. strikes was much quicker than in Yemen and Somalia. This appears due, in large part, to the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq were declared war zones, and in Iraq the U.S. was able to launch attacks from bases closer to the targeted people. By contrast, in Somalia and Yemen, undeclared war zones where strikes were justified under tighter restrictions, U.S. attack planners described a serpentine bureaucracy for obtaining approval for assassination. The secret study states that the number of high-value targeting operations in these countries was “significantly lower than previously seen in Iraq and Afghanistan” because of these “constraining factors.”
Even after the president approved a target in Yemen or Somalia, the great distance between drone bases and targets created significant challenges for U.S. forces — a problem referred to in the documents as the “tyranny of distance.” In Iraq, more than 80 percent of “finishing operations” were conducted within 150 kilometers of an air base. In Yemen, the average distance was about 450 kilometers and in Somalia it was more than 1,000 kilometers. On average, one document states, it took the U.S. six years to develop a target in Somalia, but just 8.3 months to kill the target once the president had approved his addition to the kill list.
INCONSISTENCIES WITH WHITE HOUSE STATEMENTS ABOUT TARGETED KILLING
KILL CHAINThe White House’s publicly available policy standards state that lethal force will be launched only against targets who pose a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons.” In the documents, however, there is only one explicit mention of a specific criterion: that a person “presents a threat to U.S. interest or personnel.” While such a rationale may make sense in the context of a declared war in which U.S. personnel are on the ground in large numbers, such as in Afghanistan, that standard is so vague as to be virtually meaningless in countries like Yemen and Somalia, where very few U.S. personnel operate.
While many of the documents provided to The Intercept contain explicit internal recommendations for improving unconventional U.S. warfare, the source said that what’s implicit is even more significant. The mentality reflected in the documents on the assassination programs is: “This process can work. We can work out the kinks. We can excuse the mistakes. And eventually we will get it down to the point where we don’t have to continuously come back … and explain why a bunch of innocent people got killed.”
The architects of what amounts to a global assassination campaign do not appear concerned with either its enduring impact or its moral implications. “All you have to do is take a look at the world and what it’s become, and the ineptitude of our Congress, the power grab of the executive branch over the past decade,” the source said. “It’s never considered: Is what we’re doing going to ensure the safety of our moral integrity? Of not just our moral integrity, but the lives and humanity of the people that are going to have to live with this the most?”
Oct. 15 2015, 1:57 p.m.
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German spy charged with treason for aiding CIA and Russia
16 oktober 2015
Prosecutors have charged a German spy with treason, breach of official secrecy and taking bribes for allegedly providing secret documents to both the CIA and Russia’s intelligence agency. Prosecutors say Thursday Aug. 20, 2015, the 32-year-old man,handled mail and classified documents for Germany’s foreign intelligence agency BND. ( Stephan Jansen/dpa via AP)
BERLIN (AP) — A German spy who allegedly acted as a double agent for the United States and Russia has been charged with treason, breach of official secrecy and taking bribes, Germany’s federal prosecutors’ office said Thursday.
The 32-year-old, identified only as Markus R. due to privacy rules, is accused of offering his services to the CIA in early 2008 while working for Germany’s foreign intelligence agency BND. Documents he gave the U.S. spy agency would have revealed details of the BND’s work and personnel abroad, officials said.
“In doing so the accused caused serious danger to Germany’s external security,” prosecutors said in a statement. “In return the accused received sums amounting to at least 95,000 euros ($104,900) from the CIA.”
Shortly before his arrest in July 2014, Markus R. also offered to work for Russian intelligence and provided them with three documents, again harming Germany’s national security, prosecutors said.
The discovery that the CIA had allegedly been spying on its German counterpart caused anger in Berlin, adding to diplomatic tension between Germany and the United States over reports about U.S. surveillance of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
Following the arrest, the German government demanded the removal of the CIA station chief in Berlin.
Prosecutors said Markus R. would have had access to sensitive documents because his job involved handling mail and classified documents for the BND’s foreign operations department.
German weekly Der Spiegel reported that the 218 documents Markus R. allegedly passed to the CIA included a list of all BND agents abroad, a summary of an eavesdropped phone call between former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as a draft counter-espionage strategy. A spokeswoman for the federal prosecutors’ office declined to comment on the report.
If convicted, Markus R. could face between one and 15 years in prison.
Associated Press By FRANK JORDANS
August 20, 2015 11:07 AM
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For American Psychological Association, National Security Trumped Torture Concerns
14 augustus 2015
A new report disclosed by James Risen of the New York Times on Friday tells in greater detail than ever before the story of how members of the American Psychological Association colluded with the CIA when it came to the application of brutal interrogation techniques.
The report describes how repeated expressions of concern from within the CIA itself that psychologists had no place in the abusive treatment of detainees were brushed asided by leaders of what was supposed to be a highly ethical professional association. Psychologists with close ties to the CIA, in some cases even involving financial relationships, cited national security as the reason to ignore their fundamental oaths to do no harm.
As one example, when the CIA asked Melvin Gravitz, a long-time APA governance member and former CIA contractor, to weigh in on whether or not it was ethical for psychologists to participate in torturous interrogations in early 2003, he concluded that it was fine because ethics need to be “flexible” in the face of national security.
The report details Gravitz’s response, in a February 13, 2003 e-mail titled “Ethical Considerations in the Utilization of Psychologists in the Interrogation Process.”
Recently, some questions have been raised regarding the ethical implications of psychologists applying their skills by assisting in the interrogation process of certain persons who have been detained in the currently ongoing world-wide war against terrorism. . . .
The following comments are based upon a review of the principles of the Ethical Code as they may be relevant to certain psychological services rendered by Agency staff psychologists and contractors, all of whom are required by regulation to be licensed.622 In the interrogation of detainees, such services may include (1) acting as a consultant to officers who design and conduct interrogations, (2) acting as observers but not actually participating in the interrogations, and (3) participating in the interrogation process themselves.
The authors of the report write that “Gravitz identified a number of ethical standards that might be relevant to psychologists’ involvement in interrogations, including conflicts between ethics and law (Standard 1.02), conflicts between ethics and organizational demands (Standard 1.03), management of alleged or possible ethical violations, boundaries of competence, providing services in emergencies (Standard 2.02), bases for professional judgments (Standard 2.04),624 and cooperation with other professionals.”
Nevertheless, Gravitz concluded:
While the APA Ethics Code focuses primarily on concern for the individual (i.e., client or patient), it also recognizes that the psychologist has an obligation to the group of individuals, such as the Nation. The Ethics Code is in its essence a set of aspirations and guidelines, and these must be flexibly applied to the circumstances at hand.
The complaint Gravitz was asked to address was raised by the head of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, Terrence DeMay, in late 2002, very early in the “enhanced interrogation program.”
DeMay was not the only naysayer. Multiple CIA officers questioned the morality of involving psychologists in the interrogations over the course of several years.
CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard sent an inquiry in March 2004 to the APA Ethics Office, writing in an e-mail to the office’s director that his staff had “been discussing a problem that is experienced by both psychiatrists and psychologists alike…both specialties are being asked to provided consultation to law enforcement, the military, and other organizations that have a role in national security,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, some of what they are asked to do runs counter to [their] code of ethics.”
Andy Morgan, the CIA psychiatrist who first raised the issue with Hubbard, told the authors of the report that he was worried mental health professionals were being misled about their roles in interrogations. He said psychologists he knew working in Guantanamo Bay were “placed in roles that were different from what they had been told before deployment,” according to the report. He told the report’s authors he was worried psychologists might start becoming interrogators themselves.
Morgan’s concerns were dismissed by APA members who insisted that “the code” of ethics does not extend to matters of national security.
When CIA psychologist Kirk Kennedy also raised concerns that psychologists were involved in abusive tactics without scientific evidence of their effectiveness, his complaint was “received poorly,” according to a footnote in the report, and he decided to transfer out of the operational assessment division.
The new report was commissioned by the APA’s board, and was the result of an investigation led by David Hoffman, a lawyer with the firm Sidley Austin.
CIA torture techniques, which it called “enhanced interrogation,” included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other egregious practices, most extensively detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s December 2014 “torture report.” The APA shielded the program, and enjoyed a “harmonious working relationship” that brought them money and media attention, according to the new report.
“The military and CIA’s insensitivity to professional medical and psychological ethics continues to this day,” says Katherine Hawkins, national security fellow at OpenTheGovernment.org told The Intercept. “If the medical and psychological community wants to make real amends for clinicians’ role in the torture program, they should put serious pressure on the U.S. government to change this.”
July 14 2015, 3:13 p.m.
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Three senior officials lose their jobs at APA after US torture scandal
14 augustus 2015
American Psychological Association framed the departures of its chief executive officer, deputy CEO and communications chief as ‘retirements’ and resignations
The torture scandal consuming the US’s premiere professional association of psychologists has cost three senior officials their jobs, part of a reckoning that reformers hope will lead to criminal prosecutions.
US torture doctors could face charges after report alleges post-9/11 ‘collusion’
As the American Psychological Association copes with the damage reaped by an independent investigation that found it complicit in US torture, the group announced on Tuesday that its chief executive officer, its deputy CEO and its communications chief are no longer with the APA.
All three were implicated in the 542-page report issued this month by former federal prosecutor David Hoffman, who concluded that APA leaders “colluded” with the US department of defense and aided the CIA in loosening professional ethics and other guidelines to permit psychologist participation in torture.
Despite rumors of the three oustings circulating for over a week, the APA framed the departures of longtime executive officials Norman Anderson and Michael Honaker as “retirements”. Rhea Farberman, who served as APA’s communications director for 22 years, “resigned”, the APA said in a statement.
While CEO Anderson’s retirement was scheduled before the Hoffman report was released, the APA stated: “Dr Anderson felt that moving up his retirement date to the end of 2015 would allow the association to take another step in the important process of organizational healing, and to facilitate APA’s continuing focus on its broader mission.”
Psychologist accused of enabling US torture backed by former FBI chief
Anderson, Honaker and Farberman join Stephen Behnke, the APA’s former ethics chief also implicated in torture, in the first wave of APA departures as the organization seeks to rebuild its credibility. Behnke has issued a combative statement threatening unspecified legal action.
“This is a major step toward reforming the APA and the profession,” said Stephen Soldz, a longtime APA critic on torture affiliated with Physicians for Human Rights.
“I hope it is only the beginning of change. The selection of the right CEO will be crucial.”
Soldz is part of a group pushing for the APA to refer the Hoffman report to the FBI and justice department for potential criminal inquiries. Thus far, the APA has committed to providing the report to the Senate committees overseeing the military and CIA, and a call to end all psychologist participation in US interrogation and detention operations is slated for APA consideration at a major conference next month.
Thus far, there is no indication from the justice department that it intends to revisit the politically fraught question of legal accountability for torture, which ended in 2012 without prosecutions. The defense department, which still assigns psychologists to Guantanamo Bay, has yet to comment; and the White House has stayed out of the fray.
Hoffman’s report identifies Behnke, a defense department contractor, as a chief culprit in maneuvering the APA toward loosening its opposition to torture while denying doing any such thing; and the departed APA officials as complicit.
Behnke undertook “extensive efforts to manipulate” the APA’s council of representatives “in an effort to undermine attempts to keep psychologists from being involved in national security interrogations”, Hoffman found. Other “APA officials involved with Behnke in these efforts included “Anderson, Honaker [and] Farberman”.
Nevertheless, Farberman insisted to the press that the APA had taken a consistent position against torture.
After the Guardian reported that the APA had declined to take action against a psychologist who participated in a brutal Guantanamo interpretation, Farberman told the Guardian: “A thorough review of these public materials and our standing policies will clearly demonstrate that APA will not tolerate psychologist participation in torture.”
It is unclear if the three officials are the APA’s last to leave. Barry Anton, the APA’s current president, is also listed in the “Key Players” section, as Anton is said to have “participated in the selection” of members of a critical task force on psychologist involvement in torture that was stacked with US defense department officials.
The APA will meet in Toronto beginning on 6 August for its annual convention, which former president Nadine Koslow told the Guardian she expected to be consumed with the issue of what reforms the organization must adopt in the wake of the Hoffman report.
Tuesday 14 July 2015 17.43 BST Last modified on Tuesday 14 July 2015 18.51 BST
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Robert Jay Lifton, Author of “The Nazi Doctors”: Psychologists Who Aided Torture Should Be Charged
14 augustus 2015
Robert Jay Lifton, the prominent psychiatrist famous for his study of the doctors who aided Nazi war crimes, speaks out on the role of the American Psychological Association in aiding government-sanctioned torture under President George W. Bush. A new report alleges the APA, the world’s largest group of psychologists, secretly coordinated with government officials to align its ethics policy with the operational needs of the CIA’s torture program. “What the APA did was a scandal within a scandal,” Lifton says. “[This] is something we have to confront as a nation.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: New details have emerged on how the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest group of psychologists, aided government-sanctioned torture under President George W. Bush. A group of dissident psychologists have just published a 60-page report alleging the APA secretly coordinated with officials from the CIA, White House and the Pentagon to change the APA ethics policy to align it with the operational needs of the CIA’s torture program. The report also reveals a behavioral science researcher working for President Bush secretly drafted language that the APA inserted into its ethics policy on interrogations.
AMY GOODMAN: Much of the report is based on hundreds of newly released internal APA emails from 2003 to 2006 that show top officials were in direct communication with the CIA. In 2004, for example, the APA secretly took part in a meeting with officials from the CIA and other intelligence agencies to discuss ethics and national security.
Still with us, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, leading American psychiatrist who has spoken out against the APA’s practices. So, the American Psychological Association has about 150,000 members, the largest association in the world. That’s the APA. The little APA is the American Psychiatric Association, which I assume you’re a part of. Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, your thoughts on what the APA did?
ROBERT JAY LIFTON: What the APA did—and I read that report—is what I call a scandal within a scandal. That is, I have been much concerned with the behavior of professionals and their ethics, not just in terms of how they conduct their everyday profession—that’s important enough—but their relationship to the world ethically. I became interested in this in working with veterans of the Vietnam War. And in that war, military psychiatrists would be in a position, when examining a soldier who was brought to them with anxiety and a sense of outrage at what was going on—would be in the position of helping that soldier to be strong enough to return to duty, which meant daily atrocities. And I asked myself, how did a psychiatrist find himself in that situation? And it had to do with a military structure of medicine and with the psychiatrist entering into what I called an atrocity-producing situation. In my work with Nazi doctors, it was even, of course, much more extreme, probably the most extreme example of any profession of any country engaging in extremely immoral behavior, engaging directly in killing, because Nazi physicians were in charge of the killing in Auschwitz. And that’s what I studied in that research. But, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: What’s interesting, both Nermeen and I saw you speak last night on a very different issue, on the Armenian genocide, and you talked about the significance of Dr. Josef Mengele dying without acknowledging what he did.
ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Yes, when Mengele, who was a notorious fanatical Nazi, quite unusual in that way among doctors, was found to be dead in a lake in Argentina, survivors of Auschwitz were upset that there wasn’t the opportunity to bring him to the dock so that he could confront his crimes. It wasn’t so much a desire for revenge as it was for justice. So I mentioned that survivors of holocaust or genocide, or survivors in general, are what can be called collectors of justice. They need a sense of justice for their own healing.
But now, here we have American psychologists. There were psychiatrists involved early also in the enhanced interrogation, which spilled over into torture in American use. Fortunately, American Psychiatric Association had slightly more enlightened leadership, and we had the advantage of doctors’ Hippocratic Oath, which is “do no harm,” and there could be developed a resolution prohibiting any physician, any psychiatrist, from being in the interrogation room. The American Psychological Association took an opposite tendency. It’s one thing—and there were a couple of psychologists, who are well known, who helped create the torture and the whole psychological regimen for the torture, crudely and very unscientifically, but with the claim of psychological science. It’s still another level when the professional organization supports torture by meeting with the administration and those people who were looking for some legitimation coming from a professional group for torture. And that’s what the American Psychological Association did.
And that’s all too reminiscent of what the Nazis called Gleichschaltung. I’m not saying they’re Nazis. We’re not Nazis. We’re still a sufficiently open society to confront this, criticize it and do something about it. But with the Nazis, there was this process of Gleichschaltung, meaning reordering or re-gearing all professional organizations, not destroying them, but breaking them down and reconstructing them to serve the Nazi project. That’s the kind of thing we must and can confront and avoid here.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, last December, psychologist James Mitchell, who was contracted by the CIA while still a member of the American Psychological Association to design its interrogation program, appeared on Fox News to talk about his role in the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah. He was interviewed by Megyn Kelly.
MEGYN KELLY: So you—were you the one actually conducting the techniques on Abu Zubaydah, or were you in more of a sort of background role?
JAMES MITCHELL: It depends on when you’re talking about. Initially, I was in a background role. Then, after we shut down and the enhanced interrogations were approved, I was in an administration role.
MEGYN KELLY: OK, so did you personally waterboard him?
JAMES MITCHELL: Yes.
MEGYN KELLY: We’re going to get to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a minute, but sticking with Abu Zubaydah for now, were all of the methods that were cited in the Senate report employed, like nudity, standing sleep deprivation, the attention grab, the insult slap? Were those all used?
JAMES MITCHELL: The ones you mentioned were used.
MEGYN KELLY: The facial grab, the abdominal slap, the kneeling stress position, walling?
JAMES MITCHELL: Walling was used. The others—if they showed up on the list, they were used. We didn’t typically use a lot of those stress positions. We didn’t use any stress positions with Abu Zubaydah, because he had an injury.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was psychologist James Mitchell speaking on Fox News last December. He was the psychologist who was asked by the CIA to design its interrogation program. Could you talk about that, Dr. Lifton? And in particular, in the context of what you called earlier an atrocity-producing situation, what enabled this to occur?
ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Professionals are as prone to being socialized to the norm of a group, including being socialized to evil, as are any other groups in American society. What that means is that psychologists, in this case—and there are others from other professions—internalize what is considered to be acceptable and appropriate for them in carrying out their profession. So, torture exists. There is the nod from the administration: Go ahead with torture. And psychologists then adapt to that and, in this case, become not just participants in torture, but the creators of the methods of torture.
That’s a shocking clip because it shows him kind of slightly reluctantly admitting that they do all those things. Of course, it’s denied that they’re torture, and that’s absurd. They’re out-and-out torture. But the fact that they’ll come on a network program and describe it as something legitimate is another level of scandal. After all, torture has been conducted, you know, from the time of the beginning of history. It’s always been seen, and especially in recent centuries, as something evil. You can judge a society as to whether it engages in torture. You condemn a society that engages in torture.
In our case, looking at the sequence, one can praise the Obama administration for ending that torture, but one must criticize the Obama administration for blocking any examination or confrontation of our role in torture. You showed an interesting clip about the city of Chicago confronting and at least recognizing that the police had engaged in torture of certain suspects. Well, that doesn’t undo what they did, but it’s a step toward some kind of ethical advance. And for the United States to have engaged in torture on such a widespread dimension, to have legitimated it among professionals like psychologists, for psychologists and others to have created and participated in it, is something that we have to confront, as a nation, to move ahead in something like an ethical way.
AMY GOODMAN: And when you talk about confronting, what exactly do you mean? You’ve just given a psychological, sociological explanation, understanding. For example, James Mitchell, or Mitchell and Jessen, the company of two psychologists that Pentagon funneled money into, not to mention other psychologists who didn’t even work for them, working at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, but should they be brought up on charges?
ROBERT JAY LIFTON: Of course they should. There are many situations that I can probe psychologically, or psychohistorically, as we say, but have to be approached politically for some kind of resolution, and this is an example of that. A proper confrontation of what we did would mean a real investigation that didn’t stop as we got to the top. Yes, of course, the order for torture being acceptable and advised comes from above, comes from the highest sources in the administration. That has to be uncovered by an investigation, and there has to be a legal context. Whether or not everybody who participated in torture is in some way condemned and put to jail, I don’t know. But at minimum, there must be a confrontation and revelation of what was done, who did it, what the consequences were and how to prevent it in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of this comment by CIA psychologist—former CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard, who served as the CIA’s chief of operations of the Operational Assessment Division before he joined Mitchell Jessen and Associates? In 2012, Hubbard told the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, quote, “Detainees are not patients nor are they being ’treated’ by the psychologists. Therefore the ethical guidelines for clinicians do not apply, in my opinion. Psychologists can play many different roles and should not be forced into a narrow doctor-patient role.” Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, your response?
ROBERT JAY LIFTON: What you’ve heard, what you just recited, is a rationalization for torture and for destructive behavior on the part of professionals. All professions require some sort of ethical code, as I said before, not just in everyday practice, but in what they do in society. And to weasel out of any such ethical requirement because one is dealing not with patients, but with prisoners—and, of course, that administration didn’t even give them prisoner rights, according to Geneva Conventions—to do that is simply a rationalization for destructive or even evil behavior.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a leading American psychiatrist, author of many books, including Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir. We’ll be back with him, talking about a number of issues, including another of his books, Who Owns Death?: Capital Punishment, the American Conscience, and the End of Executions—Prosecutors, Judges, Jurors, Wardens, and the American Public in Conflict. Stay with us.
THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2015
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Outside Psychologists Shielded U.S. Torture Program, Report Finds
14 augustus 2015
WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency’s health professionals repeatedly criticized the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program, but their protests were rebuffed by prominent outside psychologists who lent credibility to the program, according to a new report.
The 542-page report, which examines the involvement of the nation’s psychologists and their largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, with the harsh interrogation programs of the Bush era, raises repeated questions about the collaboration between psychologists and officials at both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.
The report, completed this month, concludes that some of the association’s top officials, including its ethics director, sought to curry favor with Pentagon officials by seeking to keep the association’s ethics policies in line with the Defense Department’s interrogation policies, while several prominent outside psychologists took actions that aided the C.I.A.’s interrogation program and helped protect it from growing dissent inside the agency.
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Psychologists and ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation
A 542-page report concludes that prominent psychologists worked closely with the C.I.A. to blunt dissent inside the agency over an interrogation program that is now known to have included torture. It also finds that officials at the American Psychological Association colluded with the Pentagon to make sure the association’s ethics policies did not hinder the ability of psychologists to be involved in the interrogation program.
The association’s ethics office “prioritized the protection of psychologists — even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior — above the protection of the public,” the report said.
Two former presidents of the psychological association were on a C.I.A. advisory committee, the report found. One of them gave the agency an opinion that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture, and later held a small ownership stake in a consulting company founded by two men who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program, it said.
The association’s ethics director, Stephen Behnke, coordinated the group’s public policy statements on interrogations with a top military psychologist, the report said, and then received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators while he was working at the association, without the knowledge of the association’s board. Mr. Behnke did not respond to a request for comment.
The report, which was obtained by The New York Times and has not previously been made public, is the result of a seven-month investigation by a team led by David Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer with the firm Sidley Austin at the request of the psychology association’s board.
After the Hoffman report was made public on Friday, the American Psychological Association issued an apology.
“The actions, policies and lack of independence from government influence described in the Hoffman report represented a failure to live up to our core values,” Nadine Kaslow, a former president of the organization, said in a statement. “We profoundly regret and apologize for the behavior and the consequences that ensued.”
The association said it was considering proposals to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogations and to modify its ethics policies, among other changes.
The involvement of psychologists in the interrogation programs has been a source of contention within the profession for years. Another report, issued in April by several critics of the association, came to similar conclusions. But Mr. Hoffman’s report is by far the most detailed look yet into the crucial roles played by behavioral scientists, especially top officials at the American Psychological Association and some of the most prominent figures in the profession, in the interrogation programs. It also shows that the collaboration was much more extensive than was previously known.
A report last December by the Senate Intelligence Committee detailed the brutality of some of the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods, but by focusing on the role of psychologists, Mr. Hoffman’s report provides new details, and can be seen as a companion to the Senate report.
The C.I.A. and the Pentagon both conducted harsh interrogations during the administration of President George W. Bush, although the C.I.A.’s program included more brutal tactics. Some of them, like the simulated drowning technique called waterboarding, are now widely regarded as torture. The agency’s interrogations were done at so-called black site prisons around the world where prisoners were held secretly for years.
The report found that while some prominent psychologists collaborated with C.I.A. officials in ways that aided the agency’s interrogation program, the American Psychological Association and its staff members focused more on working with the Pentagon, with which the association has long had strong ties.
Indeed, the report said that senior officials of the association had “colluded” with senior Defense Department officials to make certain that the association’s ethics rules did not hinder the ability of psychologists to remain involved with the interrogation program.
The report’s most immediate impact will be felt at the association, where it has been presented to the board and its members’ council. The board met last week to discuss the report and is expected to act on its findings soon. The association has since renounced 2005 ethics guidelines that allowed psychologists to stay involved in the harsh interrogations, but several staff members who were named in the report have remained at the organization.
A C.I.A. spokesman said that agency officials had not seen it and so could not comment.
Dissent began building within the C.I.A. against the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques not long after its interrogation program began.
In about late 2002, the head of the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services, Terrence DeMay, started to complain about the involvement in the program of James Mitchell, a psychologist and instructor at the Air Force’s SERE (survival, evasion, rescue and escape) program, in which United States military personnel are subjected to simulated torture to gird them for possible capture. Mr. Mitchell had also served as a consultant to the C.I.A. advisory committee that included two former presidents of the psychological association.
One unidentified witness was quoted in the Hoffman report as saying that doctors and psychologists in the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services “were not on board with what was going on regarding interrogations, and felt that they were being cut out of the discussion.” One leading C.I.A. psychologist told investigators that Mr. DeMay “was berating Jim Mitchell about being involved in the interrogation program,” and that Mr. DeMay’s objections “related to the involvement of psychologists as professionals adept at human behavior and manipulation.”
Mr. DeMay’s complaints “led to a substantial dispute within the C.I.A.,” according to the report, and prompted the head of the agency’s counterterrorism center to seek an opinion from a prominent outside psychologist on whether it was ethical for psychologists to continue to participate in the C.I.A.’s interrogations.
The C.I.A. chose Mel Gravitz, a prominent psychologist who was also a member of the agency’s advisory committee. In early 2003, Mr. Gravitz wrote an opinion that persuaded the chief of the agency’s counterterrorism center that Mr. Mitchell could continue to participate in and support interrogations, according to the Hoffman report.
Mr. Gravitz’s opinion, which the Hoffman report quotes, noted that “the psychologist has an obligation to (a) group of individuals, such as the nation,” and that the ethics code “must be flexible [sic] applied to the circumstances at hand.”
But ethical concerns persisted at the C.I.A. In March 2004, other agency insiders emailed the psychological association to say they were worried that psychologists were assisting with interrogations in ways that contradicted the association’s ethics code.
One of those who contacted the association was Charles Morgan, a C.I.A. contractor and psychiatrist who had studied military personnel who went through the SERE program’s simulated torture training, research that showed that the techniques used on them could not be used to collect accurate information.
Another, oddly, was Kirk Hubbard, a C.I.A. psychologist who was chairman of the agency advisory committee that included two former association presidents and on which Mr. Mitchell was a consultant. Mr. Hubbard told the Hoffman investigators that he did not have concerns about the participation of psychologists in the interrogation program, but emailed the association because he had been asked to pass on the concerns of other behavioral scientists inside the agency.
The ethical concerns raised by Mr. Morgan and others inside the C.I.A. led to a confidential meeting in July 2004 at the psychological association of about 15 behavioral scientists who worked for national security agencies. This was followed by the creation of an association task force to study the ethics of psychologists’ involvement in interrogations.
But association and government officials filled the task force with national security insiders, and it concluded in 2005 that it was fine for psychologists to remain involved, the report found.
The report provides new details about how Mr. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, another SERE trainer who would later go into business with Mr. Mitchell, gained entree to the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, which hired them to create and run the interrogation program. After Mr. Mitchell worked as a consultant to the C.I.A. advisory committee, Mr. Hubbard introduced Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen to Jim Cotsana, the chief of special missions in the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center.
Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen were later hired as contractors for the counterterrorism center, where they helped create the interrogation program by adapting the simulated torture techniques from the SERE program, using them against detainees.
Separately, Joseph Matarazzo, a former president of the psychological association who was a member of the C.I.A. advisory committee, was asked by Mr. Hubbard to provide an opinion about whether sleep deprivation constituted torture. Mr. Matarazzo concluded that it was not torture, according to the report.
Later, Mr. Matarazzo became a 1 percent owner of a unit of Mitchell Jessen and Associates, the contracting company Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen created to handle their work with the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Mr. Matarazzo was also listed as a partner of the company in a 2008 annual report, according to the Hoffman report.
Mr. Matarazzo said he had not read the report and could not comment.
Mr. Hubbard, after he retired from the C.I.A., also did some work for Mitchell Jessen and Associates.
The report reaches unsparing conclusions about the close relationship between some association officials and officials at the Pentagon.
“The evidence supports the conclusion that A.P.A. officials colluded with D.O.D. officials to, at the least, adopt and maintain A.P.A. ethics policies that were not more restrictive than the guidelines that key D.O.D. officials wanted,” the report says, adding, “A.P.A. chose its ethics policy based on its goals of helping D.O.D., managing its P.R., and maximizing the growth of the profession.”
By JAMES RISENJULY 10, 2015
Find this story at 10 July 2015
© 2015 The New York Times Company
Emails Show American Psychological Association Secretly Worked with Bush Admin to Enable Torture
14 augustus 2015
New details have emerged on how the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest group of psychologists, aided government-sanctioned torture under President George W. Bush. A group of dissident psychologists have just published a 60-page report alleging the APA secretly coordinated with officials from the CIA, White House and the Pentagon to change the APA ethics policy to align it with the operational needs of the CIA’s torture program. Much of the report, “All the President’s Psychologists: The American Psychological Association’s Secret Complicity with the White House and US Intelligence Community in Support of the CIA’s ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program,” is based on hundreds of newly released internal APA emails from 2003 to 2006 that show top officials were in direct communication with the CIA. The report also reveals Susan Brandon, a behavioral science researcher working for President Bush, secretly drafted language that the APA inserted into its ethics policy on interrogations. We are joined by two of the report’s co-authors: Dr. Steven Reisner, a founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and member of the APA Council of Representatives, and Nathaniel Raymond, director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: New details have emerged on how the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest group of psychologists, aided government-sanctioned torture under President George W. Bush. A group of dissident psychologists have just published a 60-page report alleging the APA secretly coordinated with officials from the CIA, White House and the Pentagon to change the APA ethics policy to align it with the operational needs of the CIA’s torture program. The report also reveals a behavioral science researcher working for President Bush secretly drafted language that the APA inserted into its ethics policy on interrogations.
Much of the report is based on hundreds of newly released internal APA emails from 2003 to 2006 that show top officials were in direct communication with the CIA. In 2004, for example, the APA secretly took part in a meeting with officials from the CIA and other intelligence agencies to discuss ethics and national security. In one email, the APA stated that the aim of the meeting was, quote, “to take a forward looking, positive approach, in which we convey a sensitivity to and appreciation of the important work mental health professionals are doing in the national security arena, and in a supportive way offer our assistance in helping them navigate through thorny ethical dilemmas,” unquote.
One attendee was Kirk Hubbard, then the chief of operations for the CIA Operational Assessment Division. He would later leave the CIA to work for the private firm set up by James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the psychologists who were hired as private contractors to set up the CIA interrogation program including the waterboarding of prisoners. In one 2003 email, Hubbard wrote to a top APA official, quote, “You won’t get any feedback from [Dr. James] Mitchell or Jessen. They are doing special things to special people in special places, and generally are not available,” unquote. While the APA has attempted to distance itself from Mitchell and Jessen, the newly disclosed emails show the men attended a 2003 invite-only conference called “The Science of Deception,” sponsored by the APA, the CIA and RAND Corporation, to discuss so-called enhanced interrogations.
We’re joined now by two of the co-authors of the new report, “All the President’s Psychologists: The American Psychological Association’s Secret Complicity with the White House and US Intelligence Community in Support of the CIA’s ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program.” Steven Reisner is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. He’s a founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and adviser on psychology and ethics for Physicians for Human Rights. He’s currently a member of the APA Council of Representatives. Nathaniel Raymond is director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
We did invite a representative from the APA to join us, as well, but they declined. Last year, the APA commissioned an outside attorney named David Hoffman to conduct a third-party, independent review of the allegations about the APA and the Bush administration torture program. Rhea Farberman, the APA’s executive director for Public and Member Communications, told Democracy Now! the APA won’t respond to the allegations in the “All the President’s Psychologists” report until Hoffman’s review is completed.
Steven Reisner and Nathaniel Raymond, welcome back to Democracy Now! OK, Nathaniel Raymond, why don’t you lay out the core findings in your 60-page report?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: There are four core findings. The first is that the American Psychological Association allowed, as you mentioned, Dr. Susan Brandon, it appears, who, three weeks before the APA engaged in its ethics process in 2005 on psychological ethics and national security, had been president Bush’s behavioral science adviser—she wrote what appears to be research language in the PENS report, the Psychological Ethics and National Security policy of the APA. That language, we now know because of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, directly aligns with the legal memos authorizing the enhanced interrogation program, and provided an ethical get-out-of-jail-free card that aligned with the then-classified legal get-of-jail-free card.
Secondly, we see clear deception by the APA, including some outright lies, including the assertion for many years that James Mitchell, the CIA torture psychologist you mentioned, had not been an APA member. We now know he was an APA member from 2001 to 2006. And the APA has also contended, according to Dr. Stephen Behnke, the ethics director, that they had had no contact on interrogations and interrogation techniques with Mitchell and Jessen. We now know that they discussed sensory overload and the use of psychopharmacological agents with Mitchell and Jessen in 2003.
The last two critical findings, Amy, are that the APA, as we see throughout the emails, expressed no concern about clear evidence of abuse that at that point, between 2004 in 2005, was public knowledge. And lastly, what we see in this report is a clear coordination that directly mirrors the timeline inside the Bush administration when Office of Medical Services personnel inside the CIA were raising concerns about human subjects research as part of the program. The APA, whether they knew it or not, allowed the administration to write a policy that basically helped put down that rebellion inside CIA.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: By allowing psychologists to play a critical monitoring and research role, that was at the heart of the newly—then newly authorized Bradbury Office of Legal Counsel memo. If psychologists couldn’t ethically play this role, if the APA had not engaged in this policy, it is highly likely that the interrogation program itself would have disintegrated.
AMY GOODMAN: You ran, Steven Reisner, for president of the American Psychological Association. Your main platform was speaking out against torture and APA’s involvement with the Bush administration. You didn’t win. Talk about what this means for the American Psychological Association.
STEVEN REISNER: Well, I think the issue is what this means for the entire profession of psychologists and the fact that we are represented by the American Psychological Association, because I think that what we’re finding is that psychologists are feeling betrayed by our association. What has happened is that the ethics code that we are all trained in, that we align ourselves with and that gives us our identity as health professionals dedicated to the public good, that ethics code and ethics policy was twisted to align—not only to align with what the government needed it to do, but in the service of torture. It is a betrayal of what I think we all are expecting from and try to identify with from our association. So, what has to happen right now is that we’ve got to—the membership, the council, any concerned American has to insist that we reclaim our association, put it back on an ethical track, and find a way to expose this, be accountable for it, be transparent about it and make significant change so that we can restore trust.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go into detail on what the APA knew and when they knew it with Dr. Steven Reisner and Nathaniel Raymond, co-authors of the new report, “All the President’s Psychologists,” in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about a new report that has just come out on the American Psychological Association’s involvement with the Bush administration’s so-called enhanced interrogation program. In 2005, Stephen Behnke, the director of ethics at the American Psychological Association, then and now, appeared on Democracy Now!
STEPHEN BEHNKE: I don’t have firsthand knowledge of what went on at Guantánamo. I know that the APA very much wants the facts, and that when APA has the facts, we will act on those facts.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Behnke appeared on the show in a debate with Michael Wilks, chair of the medical ethics committee at the British Medical Association. Dr. Behnke went on to defend the APA’s actions.
STEPHEN BEHNKE: In all fairness, the American Psychological Association is very clear that under no circumstances is it in any manner permissible for a psychologist to engage in, to support, to facilitate, to direct or to advise torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association issued a joint statement against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in 1985. In 1986, the American Psychological Association issued another resolution against torture. So, to even suggest that that would in any manner be permissible is completely out of bounds.
MICHAEL WILKS: Might I ask a direct question, because I’m really interested to know? Could I ask why the APA’s presidential report then specifically recommends that psychologists should be involved in research into interrogation techniques?
STEPHEN BEHNKE: Well, as I have—as I have said, psychologists have been working together with law enforcement for many years domestically in information gathering and interrogation processes. We believe that as experts in human behavior, psychologists have valuable contributions to make to those activities.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Stephen Behnke on Democracy Now! in 2005. Our guests now are Dr. Steven Reisner, a member of the American Psychological Association, and Nathaniel Raymond. They both co-authored the new report, “All the President’s Psychologists.” Nathaniel Raymond, can you respond to what Dr. Behnke said?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Well, what we now know, by reading the American Psychological Association’s emails, is that Dr. Behnke’s assertion in 2005 of “bring us the facts, and we will respond” directly contradicts his own words to the Operational Assessment Division of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2004, where he basically says, “We are not going to investigate,” in the context of the secret meeting they had, almost to the—basically, to the day that the White House was reauthorizing the enhanced interrogation program—”We’re not going to investigate any claims of abuse or any charges made at that meeting.” That directly contradicts what he said on Democracy Now!
Second is his continued assertion that somehow the American Psychiatric Association, which endorsed in 2006 a clear ban on participation in all interrogations, direct participation by psychiatrists, is analogous to the APA position, is entirely specious. The fact of the matter is, is the American Psychological Association position in that PENS report, that we now know was the direct result of coordination with the intelligence community and, in some cases, elements of that community writing language in the report, critical research language, is—it is entirely different to look at the APA position and the American Psychological Association position for one reason. The American Psychological Association based its policy on U.S. definitions of torture at that time, which we now know from the declassified Office of Legal Counsel memos had an entirely different view of what constituted, quote, “torture” and what constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. So, saying that those positions are the same is just not the facts.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what changed.
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: What changed is—there was two periods of change. The first is immediately after 9/11. We have evidence in the public record that the American Psychological Association changed a large portion of its ethics code related to research, and basically it wrote out international and domestic protections on consent for human subjects research. We know, by different names, some of those protections, such as the Nuremberg Code and the Common Rule. They allowed for the revocation of consent when consistent with a lawful order or regulation.
That then combined with the second set of changes, which is the 2005 PENS report. The Psychological Ethics and National Security Task Force report then not only allows, but exhorts psychologists to have a research role in not only interrogations, but—this is the key sentence, Amy—in determining what constitutes cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment. Now, last time I checked, psychologists were not lawyers. This is outside the professional competency of psychologists to make a legal determination based on research. The question is, why were they being asked to do that, in language that we now know from the emails appears to have been written by a White House—former White House official? The fact of the matter is, that’s exactly what the Bradbury memos, that were then protecting the Bush administration from potential torture charges, required. And that’s exactly the concern that was being raised by the Office of the Inspector General internally at CIA, we now know from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. So that one sentence about research into what constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment positioned psychologists to be the legal heat shield for the president of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Reisner?
STEVEN REISNER: Well, we listened to Dr. Behnke say that the APA is opposed to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at the very moment when they are writing into our ethics code a policy that permits psychologists’ very presence at those sites, researching, overseeing and monitoring, that the psychologists being there is what makes it fall outside the definition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment concocted by the Justice Department in order to legally allow the torture. So what we have is a working together between the psychologists, the American Psychological Association, the CIA and the White House to create a cover story that says that torture is not torture, that it’s not legally torture under these rules. And while Dr. Behnke is claiming that psychologists don’t torture, psychologists are in fact torturing, and the APA seems to know it, according to these emails and according to what was in the press. But so what he’s doing is he’s parsing the facts and funneling it through a bent and distorted APA ethics code that has been changed simply to allow that program to continue.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read another one of the newly disclosed emails. This is from Dr. Geoff Mumford, director of science policy at the APA, to CIA psychologist Dr. Kirk Hubbard, who was then chief of operations for the CIA Operational Assessment Division. Dr. Mumford writes, quote, “I thought you and many of those copied here would be interested to know that APA grabbed the bull by the horns and released this [Psychological Ethics and National Security] Task Force Report today.” The PENS Task Force. “I also wanted to semi-publicly acknowledge your personal contribution … in getting this effort off the ground over a year ago. Your views were well represented by very carefully selected Task Force members,” unquote.
In another email from 2005, the APA’s Dr. Geoff Mumford admitted former White House adviser Susan Brandon, who was then at the National Institute of Mental Health, helped craft language for the PENS report. Mumford wrote, quote, “Susan serving as an Observer (note she has returned to NIMH, at least temporarily) helped craft some language related to research and I hope we can take advantage of the reorganization of the National Intelligence Program, with its new emphasis on human intelligence, to find a welcoming home for more psychological science.”
OK, Nathaniel Raymond, talk about who Mumford is. Talk about also the significance of the Susan they are referring to, Susan Brandon, and her position today.
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Well, Geoff Mumford, then and now, was executive director and is executive director of science policy at the American Psychological Association. And while he is one of the most prominent officials in these emails, I want to make clear he’s not the only one. We also see Rhea Farberman, the spokeswoman who denied any coordination between the APA and the Bush administration in James Risen’s New York Times story. We see Steve Behnke. And we also see—and this is new to our report—that the deputy CEO, Michael Honaker, deputy CEO of APA, was also CCed on one of the emails about the secret 2004 meeting.
Dr. Brandon, then, was, as you described, at NIMH. She served in a variety of roles.
AMY GOODMAN: National Institute of Mental Health.
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Yeah, National Institutes of Mental Health. And she served in a variety of roles in the Department of Defense and elsewhere. But she also had been, during the time of the planning of the 2003 conference that Mitchell and Jessen attended, an APA employee, previously. Now she is the chief scientist of the High-Value Interrogation Group of the FBI. And in that role, she is basically the senior interrogation research scientist in the U.S. government. And thus, the High-Value Interrogation Group, which advises the National Security Council at the White House, is the leading interrogation group in the intelligence community. What we’ve seen in the—
AMY GOODMAN: She’s head of it now. She’s heading it now.
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: She’s head of it right now. And I think that’s something that’s been missed in the coverage so far, is that this is not just about what happened five years ago. It is about a currently serving Obama administration official. And I want to say that Mark Fallon, the former assistant deputy director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, came out—
AMY GOODMAN: NCIS.
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: NCIS—came out a few days ago calling for an independent prosecutor in these matters, including the issues raised in our report. He is serving as chair of an advisory group to the High-Value Interrogation Group. So I want to make a point here that we have master interrogators, people who are affiliated with the current interrogation group, who are raising real concerns about the allegations in our report and are saying this isn’t old news. This has direct implications for accountability on these matters, involving, in this case, a current administration official.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2007, psychologist Jean Maria Arrigo stood on the dais before a standing-room-only crowd at the annual American Psychological Association meeting in California. This came two years after she participated in an APA panel known as the PENS Task Force, that we’ve referred to today, that concluded psychologists working in interrogations play a, quote, “valuable and ethical role.” Dr. Arrigo criticized the findings and makeup of the panel she was on.
JEAN MARIA ARRIGO: Six of the 10 members were highly placed in the Department of Defense, as contractors and military officers. For example, one was the commander of all military psychologists. Their positions on two key items of controversy in the PENS report were predetermined by their DOD employment, in spite of the apparent ambivalence of some. These key items were: (a) the permissive definition of torture in U.S. law versus the strict definition in international law, and, second, participation of military psychologists in interrogation settings versus nonparticipation. Those are the two principal issues. And because of their employment, they have to decide the way they do.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. Jean Arrigo. Talk about the significance of what she was saying. Democracy Now! was there covering these meetings as the APA even tried to cut down public access to the public parts of the meeting. But, Dr. Steve Reisner, she served on the PENS committee.
STEVEN REISNER: That’s right. She served, believing that it was a committee that—of interested and knowledgeable psychologists to actually review ethics policy and national security. What she found was that the task force seemed to have a predetermined agenda, that the members of the task force were involved in the very commands that were implicated in the abuse, and that the majority of the conclusions seemed to have already been drawn before they began. It was a guided operation.
AMY GOODMAN: She attempted to take notes during the meeting, is that right?
STEVEN REISNER: That’s right, and she was asked not to, which is totally bizarre for a meeting that is trying to generate a new policy. She was taking notes. She was participating as if it was a regular meeting. It turned out that the meeting was a meeting of, as the emails reveal, carefully selected members. And that email was to Kirk Hubbard. The members were carefully selected in order, it seems, to guarantee what the CIA and the White House needed from that meeting. And that’s what Jean Maria realized and what she’s talking about in that—on that panel.
AMY GOODMAN: She talked about having a meeting for a few hours and then being handed the resolution of the committee—
STEVEN REISNER: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: —before she had even weighed in.
STEVEN REISNER: That’s right. The drafts came fast and furious. This meeting lasted two-and-a-half days. And then the very final draft, where they added the piece on research, that came between the end of the meeting and, I would—and just, you know, 12, 24 hours later. The final rewritten version was sent to the members for them to just give their OK. It was whirlwind. They were told that this had to go to the Pentagon, it had to go to the White House. It was hurried, and there was very little room for critique.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Nathaniel Raymond, who do we now know wrote these drafts?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Well, we know from the PENS listserv and from Jean Maria Arrigo herself and others that Dr. Stephen Behnke was responsible for being the keeper of the draft and, during lunch breaks and in the evenings, wrote the language in the report.
But that’s not the whole story. From what we see in the emails, as you mentioned, Dr. Brandon’s avowed role by Dr. Mumford in the research piece raises the broader question of: Who were the observers in the room, and how did they get there? What we see from the PENS listserv, the listserv of this task force that Jean Maria Arrigo has helped the world to see, that listserv shows that Dr. Gerald Koocher and Dr. Barry Anton, who is the current president right now of the APA, was responsible for approving the observers in the room. We now know that one of those observers was a senior administration official who had never— and still now never—been publicly acknowledged by the APA as having been in the room. So it’s not just who was writing the report, who was Dr. Behnke; it was who put those other people secretly in the room. And we now know it was Drs. Anton and Koocher, according to the listserv.
AMY GOODMAN: Why were psychologists so important to this whole process? I mean, what was happening with the psychiatrists of the United States? What was happening with other physicians?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: This is where it can get complicated sometimes, and I want to try to express this as clearly as possible. In the enhanced interrogation program, you had two roles for health professionals, and these roles were conjoined. Role one was actually designing and implementing the tactics. And that’s what James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen did. The second role is this monitoring and indemnification role, to say that we have not crossed this threshold of severe and long-lasting harm. Now, that role changes throughout the program. It begins with Yoo-Bybee making sure that a line hasn’t been crossed. But by the time we get to—
AMY GOODMAN: Bybee now being a federal judge. Explain his role.
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Yeah, he was assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. And John Yoo worked for him in that office, and he was responsible for primarily crafting the first torture memo.
AMY GOODMAN: Now at the University of California, Berkeley, law school.
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Yes, at Boalt Hall. And now we move forward in time. And so, what we can see in these emails is that at the time the APA was really working hard—its engine was going overdrive on these issues between 2004 and 2005—in direct contact with the CIA, you have another process going on, which is the creation of that new legal authorization that we now know George Tenet asked for upon his resignation. And that’s what we call the Bradbury memo. In that memo, there is a significantly changed role for this second group of health professionals, putting Mitchell and Jessen aside: the monitors, the researchers. And it moves from them determining whether you crossed the line to determining the line. And to determine the line, that required research. And so, we see in the Bradbury memos very clearly, as we documented in the Physicians for Human Rights report, “Experiments in Torture,” in 2010, is that they were having to look at the effect of the tactics to the whole detainee population over years and determine what the line was, because there was no clinical literature on torture.
AMY GOODMAN: Last December, psychologist James Mitchell, who was contracted by the CIA to design its interrogation program, appeared on Fox News to talk about his role in the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah. He was interviewed by Megyn Kelly.
JAMES MITCHELL: Zubaydah shut down. And they asked me to come back to the campus. And it was clear to me, when I was at the campus listening to what people were saying, that there was so much pressure about trying to head off this second wave that was coming, that they were going to use some kind of physical coercion. And so, I have been—spent a lot of time in the Air Force SERE school, and I see what happens when people sort of make stuff up on the fly. And in the course of the conversations, I said, “If you’re going to use physical coercion—not that you should use physical coercion, but if you’re going to use physical coercion—then you should use physical coercion that has been demonstrated over 50 years not to produce the kinds of injuries we would like to avoid.
MEGYN KELLY: OK. So you—were you the one actually conducting the techniques on Abu Zubaydah, or were you in more of a sort of background role?
JAMES MITCHELL: It depends on when you’re talking about. Initially, I was in a background role. Then, after we shut down and the enhanced interrogations were approved, I was in an administration role.
MEGYN KELLY: OK, so did you personally waterboard him?
JAMES MITCHELL: Yes.
MEGYN KELLY: We’re going to get to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a minute, but sticking with Abu Zubaydah for now, were all of the methods that were cited in the Senate report employed, like nudity, standing sleep deprivation, the attention grab, the insult slap? Were those all used?
JAMES MITCHELL: The ones you mentioned were used.
MEGYN KELLY: The facial grab, the abdominal slap, the kneeling stress position, walling?
JAMES MITCHELL: Walling was used. The others—if they showed up on the list, they were used. We didn’t typically use a lot of those stress positions. We didn’t use any stress positions with Abu Zubaydah, because he had an injury.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s psychologist James Mitchell, who was in the APA from 2001 to 2006, admitting on Fox News that he waterboarded Abu Zubaydah, the prisoner. Dr. Steve Reisner, we are wrapping up right now. Your response to Mitchell?
STEVEN REISNER: Well, this was—this is chilling to listen to the description of a psychologist dedicated to the public good and individual well-being talking about destroying a prisoner’s mind and body. And it was chilling to the medical professionals in the CIA, who were pushing back. It was chilling to the inspector general, who was pushing back. The program was shut down. And just at that moment when the program was shut down, the Office of Legal Counsel, the White House, some members of the CIA and the American Psychological Association appear to have all worked together to revive that program and to find the rationale for psychologists to be able to help that program continue.
AMY GOODMAN: So what are you looking for now? What is the next step that’s taking place right now with the American Psychological Association, Nathaniel?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Well, as we heard from Senator Feinstein when James Risen’s article came out last week, there’s clear congressional interest in what happens next. And she said in her statement that she is looking forward to the results of the Hoffman investigation, the independent review of alleged collusion between—
AMY GOODMAN: Now, is this independent? He has been hired by the American Psychological Association?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Yes, it is called by the APA the independent review. Dr. Reisner and I and our co-authors have met extensively with David Hoffman, and obviously the proof will be in the pudding when the report is released. But right now, the next step—
AMY GOODMAN: Did the APA say they will release the report?
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: Well, this is a big issue, Amy, is the APA has said that the board will review it and, after it reviews it, will release it. And as we’ve been calling for, they need to release it to the public right now. When you have Senator Feinstein saying she wants to see this report, there cannot be a half-step before it goes to the public. The key issue now is to put pressure on the American Psychological Association to release the report to the public as soon as it is completed.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to what Kirk Hubbard said, the former CIA psychologist, who in a 2012 interview with the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment said that “Detainees are not patients, nor are they being ’treated’ by the psychologists. Therefore the ethical guidelines for clinicians do not apply, in my opinion. Psychologists can play many different roles and should not be forced into a narrow doctor-patient role.”
NATHANIEL RAYMOND: The Declaration of Helsinki and the Declaration of Tokyo, the Nuremberg Code, U.S. law, the Geneva Conventions are not based on whether someone’s a patient. It’s based on whether someone’s a human being. And the fact of the matter is that those codes were mangled and, in some cases, written out of what the APA did. So the issue is not about doctor-patient relationship here. It is about war crimes and about crimes against humanity, which are not contingent on someone being your patient.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Nathaniel Raymond and Dr. Steven Reisner are co-authors of the new report, “All the President’s Psychologists.” We will link to it at democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
TUESDAY, MAY 5, 2015
Find this story at 5 May 2015
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Psychologists met in secret with Bush officials to help justify torture – report
14 augustus 2015
Newly disclosed emails reveal American Psychological Association coordinated with officials in CIA and White House to help ethically justify detainee program
The leading American professional group for psychologists secretly worked with the Bush administration to help justify the post-9/11 US detainee torture program, according to a watchdog analysis released on Thursday.
The report, written by six leading health professionals and human rights activists, is the first to examine the alleged complicity of the American Psychological Association (APA) in the “enhanced interrogation” program.
Based on an analysis of more than 600 newly disclosed emails, the report found that the APA coordinated with Bush-era government officials – namely in the CIA, White House and Department of Defense – to help ethically justify the interrogation policy in 2004 and 2005, when the program came under increased scrutiny for prisoner abuse by US military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
A series of clandestine meetings with US officials led to the creation of “an APA ethics policy in national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the CIA torture program,” the report’s authors found.
The APA is the largest organization representing psychologists in the US, with more than 122,500 members. That mental health professionals – let alone members of the APA itself – played any role in the justification or enhancement of the interrogation program undoubtedly lent the program an air of legitimacy, if even behind closed doors.
In secret opinions, the US Department of Justice argued that the torture program did not constitute torture and was therefore legal, since they were being monitored by medical professionals.
A spokeswoman for the APA denied that the group had coordinated its actions with the government, in a statement to the New York Times. There “has never been any coordination between the APA and the Bush administration on how APA responded to the controversies about the role of psychologists in the interrogations program”, Rhea Farberman said.
The US paid torture doctors millions. Why is it last in the world in punishing them?
Dr Steven Miles
However, the report details a meeting in July 2004 – as images from Abu Ghraib stirred international outrage – at which the APA invited psychologists “directly involved in the CIA’s ‘enhanced’ interrogation program” to meet with the APA’s ethics office regarding the organization’s ethics policies. The meeting came on the heels of a secret order – signed one month prior by then-CIA director George Tenet – suspending the agency’s use of torture techniques, which also requested a detailed policy review.
A second meeting took place in 2005, when the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (Pens), according to the emails, ensured that the “legal safeguards built into the ‘torture memos’ issued by the DOJ’s office of legal counsel were codified in APA ethics policy”.
Following the Pens meeting, the report says the APA passed “extraordinary policy recommendations”, in which the association reaffirmed that its members could be involved in the interrogation program, without violating APA ethical codes.
Additionally, the APA permitted research on “individuals involved in interrogation processes” without their consent; according to the report’s authors, such a policy turned against decades of medical ethics prohibitions.
“The analysis presented in this report raises serious concerns about the APA Board’s knowledge of, involvement in and responsibility for allowing the US government to unduly influence and change APA policy on interrogations,” the report concludes. “The resulting policy facilitated the continuation of the Bush administration torture program.”
Although the Bush-era torture program has since been shuttered, a partially declassified report released by the Senate intelligence committee in December concluded that torture does not work. Detainees subjected to so-called enhanced techniques, it found, produced no intelligence or “fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence”.
Donna McKay, the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), an organization with which all of the report’s authors have been affiliated at some point, said in a statement issued on Thursday: “This calculated undermining of professional ethics is unprecedented in the history of US medical practice and shows how the CIA torture program corrupted other institutions in our society.”
James Mitchell: ‘I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country’
PHR has previously called on the APA to clarify its ties to the CIA torture program and its architects, namely the two CIA contract psychologists Dr James Mitchell and Dr Bruce Jessen. “In the meantime,” the statement said, “there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to warrant a Department of Justice investigation.”
In their own report, issued last December, PHR called for a federal commission to investigate the full extent of health professionals’ alleged participation in CIA torture, accusing them of “[betraying] the most fundamental duty of the healing professions” and suggesting that some psychologists may have committed war crimes.
The new report found that the APA concealed its numerous contacts with Mitchell and Jessen, and had failed to disclose Mitchell’s past APA membership when it released its 2007 statement in response to public revelation of Mitchell’s role in enhanced interrogations.
Perhaps most damning, the watchdogs reported that in examining the trove of 638 new emails, they found no evidence that any APA staff member “expressed concern over mounting reports of psychologist involvement in detainee abuse during four years of direct email communications with senior members of the US intelligence community.”
Last November, the APA announced an independent investigation into its alleged collusion with the CIA. The findings are expected this summer.
Raya Jalabi in New York
Thursday 30 April 2015 18.23 BST Last modified on Thursday 30 April 2015 18.38 BST
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“24’s” phony history exposed: The dark history of a CIA “black site”
14 augustus 2015
Diego Garcia has been mythologized by American pop culture. Its true story is stranger (and bleaker) than fiction
“24’s” phony history exposed: The dark history of a CIA “black site”
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.
First, they tried to shoot the dogs. Next, they tried to poison them with strychnine. When both failed as efficient killing methods, British government agents and U.S. Navy personnel used raw meat to lure the pets into a sealed shed. Locking them inside, they gassed the howling animals with exhaust piped in from U.S. military vehicles. Then, setting coconut husks ablaze, they burned the dogs’ carcasses as their owners were left to watch and ponder their own fate.
The truth about the U.S. military base on the British-controlled Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia is often hard to believe. It would be easy enough to confuse the real story with fictional accounts of the island found in the Transformers movies, on the television series 24, and in Internet conspiracy theories about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
While the grim saga of Diego Garcia frequently reads like fiction, it has proven all too real for the people involved. It’s the story of a U.S. military base built on a series of real-life fictions told by U.S. and British officials over more than half a century. The central fiction is that the U.S. built its base on an “uninhabited” island. That was “true” only because the indigenous people were secretly exiled from the Chagos Archipelago when the base was built. Although their ancestors had lived there since the time of the American Revolution, Anglo-American officials decided, as one wrote, to “maintain the fiction that the inhabitants of Chagos [were] not a permanent or semi-permanent population,” but just “transient contract workers.” The same official summed up the situation bluntly: “We are able to make up the rules as we go along.”
And so they did: between 1968 and 1973, American officials conspired with their British colleagues to remove the Chagossians, carefully hiding their expulsion from Congress, Parliament, the U.N., and the media. During the deportations, British agents and members of a U.S. Navy construction battalion rounded up and killed all those pet dogs. Their owners were then deported to the western Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles, 1,200 miles from their homeland, where they received no resettlement assistance. More than 40 years after their expulsion, Chagossians generally remain the poorest of the poor in their adopted lands, struggling to survive in places that outsiders know as exotic tourist destinations.
During the same period, Diego Garcia became a multi-billion-dollar Navy and Air Force base and a central node in U.S. military efforts to control the Greater Middle East and its oil and natural gas supplies. The base, which few Americans are aware of, is more important strategically and more secretive than the U.S. naval base-cum-prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Unlike Guantánamo, no journalist has gotten more than a glimpse of Diego Garcia in more than 30 years. And yet, it has played a key role in waging the Gulf War, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, and the current bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Following years of reports that the base was a secret CIA “black site” for holding terrorist suspects and years of denials by U.S. and British officials, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic finally fessed up in 2008. “Contrary to earlier explicit assurances,” said Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband, Diego Garcia had indeed played at least some role in the CIA’s secret “rendition” program.
Last year, British officials claimed that flight log records, which might have shed light on those rendition operations, were “incomplete due to water damage” thanks to “extremely heavy weather in June 2014.” A week later, they suddenly reversed themselves, saying that the “previously wet paper records have been dried out.” Two months later, they insisted the logs had not dried out at all and were “damaged to the point of no longer being useful.” Except that the British government’s own weather data indicates that June 2014 was an unusually dry month on Diego Garcia. A legal rights advocate said British officials “could hardly be less credible if they simply said ‘the dog ate my homework.’”
And these are just a few of the fictions underlying the base that occupies the Chagossians’ former home and that the U.S. military has nicknamed the “Footprint of Freedom.” After more than four decades of exile, however, with a Chagossian movement to return to their homeland growing, the fictions of Diego Garcia may finally be crumbling.
The story of Diego Garcia begins in the late eighteenth century. At that time, enslaved peoples from Africa, brought to work on Franco-Mauritian coconut plantations, became the first settlers in the Chagos Archipelago. Following emancipation and the arrival of indentured laborers from India, a diverse mixture of peoples created a new society with its own language, Chagos Kreol. They called themselves the Ilois — the Islanders.
While still a plantation society, the archipelago, by then under British colonial control, provided a secure life featuring universal employment and numerous social benefits on islands described by many as idyllic. “That beautiful atoll of Diego Garcia, right in the middle of the ocean,” is how Stuart Barber described it in the late 1950s. A civilian working for the U.S. Navy, Barber would become the architect of one of the most powerful U.S. military bases overseas.
Amid Cold War competition with the Soviet Union, Barber and other officials were concerned that there was almost no U.S. military presence in and around the Indian Ocean. Barber noted that Diego Garcia’s isolation — halfway between Africa and Indonesia and 1,000 miles south of India — ensured that it would be safe from attack, yet was still within striking distance of territory from southern Africa and the Middle East to South and Southeast Asia.
Guided by Barber’s idea, the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson convinced the British government to detach the Chagos Archipelago from colonial Mauritius and create a new colony, which they called the British Indian Ocean Territory. Its sole purpose would be to house U.S. military facilities.
During secret negotiations with their British counterparts, Pentagon and State Department officials insisted that Chagos come under their “exclusive control (without local inhabitants),” embedding an expulsion order in a polite-looking parenthetical phrase. U.S. officials wanted the islands “swept” and “sanitized.” British officials appeared happy to oblige, removing a people one official called “Tarzans” and, in a racist reference toRobinson Crusoe, “Man Fridays.”
“Absolutely Must Go”
This plan was confirmed with an “exchange of notes” signed on December 30, 1966, by U.S. and British officials, as one of the State Department negotiators told me, “under the cover of darkness.” The notes effectively constituted a treaty but required no Congressional or Parliamentary approval, meaning that both governments could keep their plans hidden.
According to the agreement, the United States would gain use of the new colony “without charge.” This was another fiction. In confidential minutes, the United States agreed to secretly wipe out a $14 million British military debt, circumventing the need to ask Congress for funding. In exchange, the British agreed to take the “administrative measures” necessary for “resettling the inhabitants.”
Those measures meant that, after 1967, any Chagossians who left home for medical treatment or a routine vacation in Mauritius were barred from returning. Soon, British officials began restricting the flow of food and medical supplies to Chagos. As conditions deteriorated, more islanders began leaving. By 1970, the U.S. Navy had secured funding for what officials told Congress would be an “austere communications station.” They were, however, already planning to ask for additional funds to expand the facility into a much larger base. As the Navy’s Office of Communications and Cryptology explained, “The communications requirements cited as justification are fiction.” By the 1980s, Diego Garcia would become a billion-dollar garrison.
In briefing papers delivered to Congress, the Navy described Chagos’s population as “negligible,” with the islands “for all practical purposes… uninhabited.” In fact, there were around 1,000 people on Diego Garcia in the 1960s and 500 to 1,000 more on other islands in the archipelago. With Congressional funds secured, the Navy’s highest-ranking admiral, Elmo Zumwalt, summed up the Chagossians’ fate in a 1971 memo of exactly three words: “Absolutely must go.”
The authorities soon ordered the remaining Chagossians — generally allowed no more than a single box of belongings and a sleeping mat — onto overcrowded cargo ships destined for Mauritius and the Seychelles. By 1973, the last Chagossians were gone.
At their destinations, most of the Chagossians were literally left on the docks, homeless, jobless, and with little money. In 1975, two years after the last removals, a Washington Post reporter found them living in “abject poverty.”
Aurélie Lisette Talate was one of the last to go. “I came to Mauritius with six children and my mother,” she told me. “We got our house… but the house didn’t have a door, didn’t have running water, didn’t have electricity. And then my children and I began to suffer. All my children started getting sick.”
Within two months, two of her children were dead. The second was buried in an unmarked grave because she lacked money for a proper burial. Aurélie experienced fainting spells herself and couldn’t eat. “We were living like animals. Land? We had none… Work? We had none. Our children weren’t going to school.”
Today, most Chagossians, who now number more than 5,000, remain impoverished. In their language, their lives are ones of lamizer (impoverished misery) and sagren (profound sorrow and heartbreak over being exiled from their native lands). Many of the islanders attribute sickness and even death tosagren. “I had something that had been affecting me for a long time, since we were uprooted,” was the way Aurélie explained it to me. “This sagren, this shock, it was this same problem that killed my child. We weren’t living free like we did in our natal land.”
Struggling for Justice
From the moment they were deported, the Chagossians demanded to be returned or at least properly resettled. After years of protest, including five hunger strikes led by women like Aurélie Talate, some in Mauritius received the most modest of compensation from the British government: small concrete houses, tiny plots of land, and about $6,000 per adult. Many used the money to pay off large debts they had accrued. For most, conditions improved only marginally. Those living in the Seychelles received nothing.
The Chagossian struggle was reinvigorated in 1997 with the launching of alawsuit against the British government. In November 2000, the British High Court ruled the removal illegal. In 2001 and 2002, most Chagossians joined new lawsuits in both American and British courts demanding the right to return and proper compensation for their removal and for resettling their islands. The U.S. suit was ultimately dismissed on the grounds that the judiciary can’t, in most circumstances, overrule the executive branch on matters of military and foreign policy. In Britain, the Chagossians were more successful. In 2002, they secured the right to full U.K. citizenship. Over 1,000 Chagossians have since moved to Britain in search of better lives. Twice more, British courts ruled in the people’s favor, with judges calling the government’s behavior “repugnant” and an “abuse of power.”
On the government’s final appeal, however, Britain’s then highest court, the Law Lords in the House of Lords, upheld the exile in a 3-2 decision. The Chagossians appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the ruling.
A Green Fiction
Before the European Court could rule, the British government announced the creation of the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago. The date of the announcement, April Fool’s Day 2010, should have been a clue that there was more than environmentalism behind the move. The MPA banned commercial fishing and limited other human activity in the archipelago, endangering the viability of any resettlement efforts.
And then came WikiLeaks. In December 2010, it released a State Departmentcable from the U.S. Embassy in London quoting a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office official saying that the “former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.” U.S. officials agreed. According to the Embassy, Political Counselor Richard Mills wrote, “Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed… be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling.”
Not surprisingly, the main State Department concern was whether the MPA would affect base operations. “We are concerned,” the London Embassy noted, that some “would come to see the existence of a marine reserve as inherently inconsistent with the military use of Diego Garcia.” British officials assured the Americans there would be “no constraints on military operations.”
Although the European Court of Human Rights ultimately ruled against the Chagossians in 2013, this March, a U.N. tribunal found that the British government had violated international law in creating the Marine Protected Area. Next week, Chagossians will challenge the MPA and their expulsion before the British Supreme Court (now Britain’s highest) armed with the U.N. ruling and revelations that the government won its House of Lords decision with the help of a fiction-filled resettlement study.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for the Chagossians’ return, the African Union has condemned their deportation as unlawful, three Nobel laureates have spoken out on their behalf, and dozens of members of the British Parliament have joined a group supporting their struggle. In January, a British government “feasibility study” found no significant legal barriers to resettling the islands and outlined several possible resettlement plans, beginning with Diego Garcia. (Notably, Chagossians are not calling for the removal of the U.S. military base. Their opinions about it are diverse and complicated. At least some would prefer jobs on the base to lives of poverty and unemployment in exile.)
Of course, no study was needed to know that resettlement on Diego Garcia and in the rest of the archipelago is feasible. The base, which has hosted thousands of military and civilian personnel for more than 40 years, has demonstrated that well enough. In fact, Stuart Barber, its architect, came to the same conclusion in the years before his death. After he learned of the Chagossians’ fate, he wrote a series of impassioned letters to Human Rights Watch and the British Embassy in Washington, among others, imploring them to help the Chagossians return home. In a letter to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, he said bluntly that the expulsion “wasn’t necessary militarily.”
In a 1991 letter to the Washington Post, Barber suggested that it was time “to redress the inexcusably inhuman wrongs inflicted by the British at our insistence.” He added, “Substantial additional compensation for 18-25 past years of misery for all evictees is certainly in order. Even if that were to cost $100,000 per family, we would be talking of a maximum of $40-50 million, modest compared with our base investment there.”
Almost a quarter-century later, nothing has yet been done. In 2016, the initial 50-year agreement for Diego Garcia will expire. While it is subject to an automatic 20-year renewal, it provides for a two-year renegotiation period, which commenced in late 2014. With momentum building in support of the Chagossians, they are optimistic that the two governments will finally correct this historic injustice. That U.S. officials allowed the British feasibility study to consider resettlement plans for Diego Garcia is a hopeful sign that Anglo-American policy may finally be shifting to right a great wrong in the Indian Ocean.
Unfortunately, Aurélie Talate will never see the day when her people go home. Like others among the rapidly dwindling number of Chagossians born in the archipelago, Aurélie died in 2012 at age 70, succumbing to the heartbreak that is sagren.
DAVID VINE, TOMDISPATCH.COM
TUESDAY, JUN 16, 2015 10:45 AM +0200
Find this story at 16 June 2015
Copyright © 2015 Salon Media Group, Inc.
Diego Garcia: UK Delays Publication of Flight Records Which May Hold Truth About CIA Activities
14 augustus 2015
The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has further delayed publication of flight records for Diego Garcia, following disclosures by a senior Bush administration official that interrogations took place at a CIA black site on the British island.
FCO officials are “still assessing the suitability of the full flight records for publication”, nine months after they were first requested from the government by human rights NGO Reprieve.
Campaigners believe that the logs — written records of all flights landing on and leaving the atoll — could provide crucial, previously undisclosed details of flights involved in the intelligence agency’s post-9/11 rendition and torture program.
‘It is now over seven years since the UK government was forced to admit that CIA torture flights were allowed to use the British territory of Diego Garcia, yet we still seem no closer to the publication of flight records which could provide crucial evidence of what went on.’
However, the UK government has so far declined to publish the logs, and has dismissed the new claims made by a former senior Bush administration official — published by VICE News — that the CIA did in fact detain prisoners on Diego Garcia, despite years of assurances from British ministers to the contrary.
“We have responded publicly in recent years to previous claims,” wrote Hugo Swire, the FCO minister of state, in a letter to Reprieve. “However, Colonel Wilkerson has not presented any new evidence to support his allegation that detainees were held on Diego Garcia.”
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, told VICE News in January that the island was home to “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time.” His information came from four well-placed CIA and intelligence sources, he said.
Related: Exclusive: CIA interrogations took place on British territory of Diego Garcia, Senior Bush administration official says. Read more here
Swire said that the British government “seeks regular reassurance from the US government” on renditions, in the letter dated March 3.
“All previous assurances on transfer of detainees provided by the US government since 2008 remain valid and correct,” Swire wrote.
“Whilst I am not able to make public the details of diplomatic correspondence, I can confirm that the most recent assurances were received this month.”
Swire did not explain whether the FCO contacted the US in direct response to Wilkerson’s disclosures, but did say that the most recent assurances were made “after Colonel Wilkerson’s claims were made.”
Donald Campbell of Reprieve said the publication of the flight logs was necessary to reassure the public that Britain is not involved in a cover-up of torture evidence.
“It is now over seven years since the UK government was forced to admit that CIA torture flights were allowed to use the British territory of Diego Garcia,” he said, “yet we still seem no closer to the publication of flight records which could provide crucial evidence of what went on.
“Last summer, after the records reportedly suffered ‘accidental’ water damage, ministers promised that they were ‘assessing their suitability for publication.’ Eight months later, they say they are still ‘assessing.’ It is hard to see how such a long delay could be justified.”
It is far from the first time that Diego Garcia’s role in the CIA’s post-9/11 rendition and torture program has been disputed.
The tiny atoll in the Indian Ocean, which has been leased to the US for use as a military base since 1966, has been the subject of CIA torture program claims and counter-claims stretching back more than a decade. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report in December confirmed that the CIA did operate a post-9/11 global rendition and torture program, with secret prisons all over the world — but the heavily redacted document did not reveal whether Diego Garcia was a part of the CIA’s international network of black sites.
The UK’s changing position on Diego Garcia’s unpublished flight records
The British government says it has received repeated assurances from the US that no CIA rendition flights landed on Diego Garcia — bar two rendition planes which stopped briefly to refuel in 2002.
The government has been slow to release flight logs for the atoll, however, and the position of the Foreign Office in relation to the records has shifted as pressure for them to be released has grown.
February 21 2008: The UK admits that two rendition flights stopped over on Diego Garcia to refuel.
David Miliband, then the foreign secretary, tells parliament he is “very sorry indeed” to report that contrary to earlier assurances, two rendition flights carrying a single detainee each did, in fact, land on Diego Garcia.
July 2008: … but the UK claims that records on these two flights — and for the whole of 2002 — are no longer held.
Miliband tells the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) that records “are unfortunately no longer held for the period when the two cases of rendition occurred ,” because they are generally only held for up to five years.
June 26 2014: NGO Reprieve asks the foreign secretary whether flight records from 2002 onwards are held…
Reprieve writes to William Hague, who has by then taken over as foreign secretary, asking: “Can you confirm whether the government holds monthly statistics of flights through D[iego] G[arcia] from January 2002 onwards; daily logs from October 2002 onwards; and general aviation reports from January 2004 onwards? And can you confirm that all planes and flights recorded in all these logs and statistics have been investigated, and discounted as being possible rendition flights?”
July 8 2014: …and the Foreign Office says they are held, but 2002 flight records are incomplete due to ‘water damage.’
Mark Simmonds, a Foreign Office minister, tells members of parliament (MPs) that “though there are some limited records from 2002, I understand they are incomplete due to water damage.”
July 14 2014: … but then the foreign secretary says he believes that there’s actually a complete set of flight logs for 2002.
Hague replies to Reprieve’s letter saying that actually only a small number of flight records have been irretrievably damaged: “I am satisfied that for the period you are asking about, we have a complete set of information about types of aircraft, passenger and crew numbers landing and departing Diego Garcia.”
July 15 2014: The Foreign Office confirms that the water damaged 2002 flight records have not been lost after all — because they’ve “dried out.”
Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds tells MPs that water-damaged records have “dried out”: “Since my answer of 8 July, BIOT [British Indian Ocean Territory] immigration officials have conducted a fuller inspection, and previously wet paper records have been dried out. They report that no flight records have been lost as a result of the water damage.”
He says that “a small number of immigration arrival cards from 2004” have been damaged, however.
August 19 2014: The Foreign Office says that not all flight records from 2002 onwards are complete, but they should be able to get a full set anyway.
Responding to a letter from Reprieve asking for clarification on which flight records are damaged, Philip Hammond, now foreign secretary, writes: “The Administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory holds several different types of record about flights entering the territory, though not all of these are complete for the period you are referring to. By combining different types of records, we are confident we can establish what types of aircraft landed on a particular day, and passenger and crew numbers on these aircraft, for the period since 2002.”
September 4 2014: It turns out the heavy weather that damaged the records wasn’t so heavy after all…
VICE News obtains the government’s own records which show that the so-called “extremely heavy weather” in June 2002 amounted to 3.25 inches of rainfall — considerably less than the average for that month.
“I don’t think it’s very helpful for us to have a discussion about how much rain is a lot of rain,” a FCO spokesperson told VICE.
By Ben Bryant
April 8, 2015 | 1:15 pm
Find this story at 8 April 2015
CIA interrogated suspects on Diego Garcia, says Colin Powell aide
14 augustus 2015
Lawrence Wilkerson is the latest of a number of US officials to say British territory was used in CIA rendition programme
The UK government is facing renewed pressure to make a full disclosure of its involvement in the CIA’s post-9/11 kidnap and torture programme after another leading Bush-era US official said suspects were held and interrogated on the British territory of Diego Garcia.
Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the US state department, said the Indian Ocean atoll was used by the CIA as “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time”.
In an interview with Vice News, Wilkerson said three US intelligence sources had informed him that the CIA used Diego Garcia for what he described as “nefarious activities”, with prisoners being held for weeks at a time.
“What I heard was more along the lines of using it as a transit location when perhaps other places were full or other places were deemed too dangerous or insecure, or unavailable at the moment,” said Wilkerson, who served under Powell from 2002 to 2005.
“So you might have a case where you simply go in and use a facility at Diego Garcia for a month or two weeks or whatever and you do your nefarious activities there.”
Donald Campbell, spokesman for the legal rights group Reprieve, said: “We already know Diego Garcia was used for CIA renditions, yet over a decade on the British government has yet to own up to the full part the island played in the CIA’s torture programme.
“Ministers have consistently claimed that no CIA detainees were held on the island, but Col Wilkerson’s account suggests that either they are lying or they have been lied to. It is high time the British government came clean over the part UK territory played in the CIA’s shameful torture programme.”
Diego Garcia’s population was removed during the late 1960s and early 70s and forced to settle on the Seychelles and Mauritius. Since then the atoll has been leased by the UK to the US for use as a military base.
Wilkerson is the latest of a number of well-placed officials who have said that after 9/11 the atoll was also used in the CIA rendition programme.
Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star American general, has twice spoken publicly about the use of Diego Garcia to detain suspects.
Manfred Nowak, a former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has said he has heard from reliable sources that the US held prisoners on ships in the Indian Ocean.
Dick Marty, a Swiss senator who led a Council of Europe investigation into the CIA’s use of European territory and air space, said he received confirmation of the use of the atoll. He later said he received the assistance of some CIA officers during his investigation.
There also is a wealth of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Diego Garcia was used in the so-called rendition programme.
There have been reports that an al-Qaida terrorist known as Hambali, who was suspected of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing in which 202 people died, was taken to Diego Garcia to be interrogated following his capture in August 2003. A report in Time magazine quoted a regional intelligence official as saying he was being interrogated there two months after his detention.
An American detention facility of some sort is known to exist on Diego Garcia. In 1984 a review by the US government’s general accounting office of construction work on the atoll reported that a detention facility had been completed the previous December.
According to answers given to parliamentary questions, British military officials – who are nominally in command of the atoll – re-designated another building as a prison three months after the September 11 attacks.
In the past, Tony Blair, as prime minister, and Jack Straw, as foreign secretary, both denied the use of the atoll during the rendition programme, but these denials were contradicted by David Miliband, one of Straw’s successors, who told parliament in February 2008 that information had “just come to light” to show that two rendition flights stopped there to refuel.
That statement was made after human rights organisations obtained flight data showing that two aircraft closely involved in the CIA’s rendition programme had flown into and out of Diego Garcia.
A number of sources in the US have said there were a number of references to the CIA’s use of Diego Garcia in the report on the agency’s use of torture that was published last month by the US Senate intelligence committee.
Since then the UK Foreign Office has evaded a series of media inquiries about Diego Garcia and about the report, and has instead responded with a stock response.
Asked about Wilkerson’s comments, a spokesperson issued the same statement: “The US government has assured us that apart from the two cases in 2002 there have been no other instances in which US intelligence flights landed in the UK, our overseas territories, or the crown dependencies with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001.”
The Foreign Office has also performed a number of twists and turns when asked questions about the fate of flight and immigration records relating to Diego Garcia.
Last July the Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds told Andrew Tyrie, the Tory MP who has been investigating the UK’s involvement in the rendition programme for almost a decade, that daily records were “incomplete” due to water damage.
The following day, however, a Foreign Office official was photographed in Whitehall carrying a batch of emails that showed that Scotland Yard detectives had taken possession of “monthly log showing flight details” and “daily records [obscured] month of alleged rendition”.
A few days later, Simmonds told MPs that “previously wet paper records have been dried out”, and that “no flight records have been lost as a result of the water damage”.
Two months after that, the Foreign Office told the Commons foreign affairs committee that a number of immigration records relating to civilians landing on Diego Garcia “have been damaged to the point of no longer being useful”.
Friday 30 January 2015 17.11 GMT Last modified on Saturday 31 January 2015 00.08 GMT
Find this story at 30 January 2015
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
The Red Line and the Rat Line; Seymour M. Hersh on Obama, Erdoğan and the Syrian rebels (2014)
27 juli 2015
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.＊ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’
The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.
The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.
A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
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In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.
The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.
At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’
The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’
The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.
The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’
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Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.
The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.
Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)
The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)
In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)
The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.
The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’
Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.
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By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’
There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.
An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.
The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoğlu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)
But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.
The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.
Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.
The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’
A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’
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As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’
The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’
Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of a government national security meeting, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.
Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’
Vol. 36 No. 8 · 17 April 2014
Find this story at 4 April 2014
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THE CIA CAMPAIGN TO STEAL APPLE’S SECRETS
6 juli 2015
RESEARCHERS WORKING with the Central Intelligence Agency have conducted a multi-year, sustained effort to break the security of Apple’s iPhones and iPads, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Intercept.
The security researchers presented their latest tactics and achievements at a secret annual gathering, called the “Jamboree,” where attendees discussed strategies for exploiting security flaws in household and commercial electronics. The conferences have spanned nearly a decade, with the first CIA-sponsored meeting taking place a year before the first iPhone was released.
By targeting essential security keys used to encrypt data stored on Apple’s devices, the researchers have sought to thwart the company’s attempts to provide mobile security to hundreds of millions of Apple customers across the globe. Studying both “physical” and “non-invasive” techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware. This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption.
The CIA declined to comment for this story.
The security researchers also claimed they had created a modified version of Apple’s proprietary software development tool, Xcode, which could sneak surveillance backdoors into any apps or programs created using the tool. Xcode, which is distributed by Apple to hundreds of thousands of developers, is used to create apps that are sold through Apple’s App Store.
The modified version of Xcode, the researchers claimed, could enable spies to steal passwords and grab messages on infected devices. Researchers also claimed the modified Xcode could “force all iOS applications to send embedded data to a listening post.” It remains unclear how intelligence agencies would get developers to use the poisoned version of Xcode.
Researchers also claimed they had successfully modified the OS X updater, a program used to deliver updates to laptop and desktop computers, to install a “keylogger.”
Other presentations at the CIA conference have focused on the products of Apple’s competitors, including Microsoft’s BitLocker encryption system, which is used widely on laptop and desktop computers running premium editions of Windows.
The revelations that the CIA has waged a secret campaign to defeat the security mechanisms built into Apple’s devices come as Apple and other tech giants are loudly resisting pressure from senior U.S. and U.K. government officials to weaken the security of their products. Law enforcement agencies want the companies to maintain the government’s ability to bypass security tools built into wireless devices. Perhaps more than any other corporate leader, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has taken a stand for privacy as a core value, while sharply criticizing the actions of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“If U.S. products are OK to target, that’s news to me,” says Matthew Green, a cryptography expert at Johns Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute. “Tearing apart the products of U.S. manufacturers and potentially putting backdoors in software distributed by unknowing developers all seems to be going a bit beyond ‘targeting bad guys.’ It may be a means to an end, but it’s a hell of a means.”
Apple declined to comment for this story, instead pointing to previous comments Cook and the company have made defending Apple’s privacy record.
Lockheed Martin Dulles Executive Plaza, Herndon, Virginia.
SECURITY RESEARCHERS from Sandia National Laboratories presented their Apple-focused research at a secret annual CIA conference called the Trusted Computing Base Jamboree. The Apple research and the existence of the conference are detailed in documents provided to The Intercept by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The conference was sponsored by the CIA’s Information Operations Center, which conducts covert cyberattacks. The aim of the gathering, according to a 2012 internal NSA wiki, was to host “presentations that provide important information to developers trying to circumvent or exploit new security capabilities,” as well as to “exploit new avenues of attack.” NSA personnel also participated in the conference through the NSA’s counterpart to the CIA’s Trusted Computing Base, according to the document. The NSA did not provide comment for this story.
The Jamboree was held at a Lockheed Martin facility inside an executive office park in northern Virginia. Lockheed is one of the largest defense contractors in the world; its tentacles stretch into every aspect of U.S. national security and intelligence. The company is akin to a privatized wing of the U.S. national security state — more than 80 percent of its total revenue comes from the U.S. government. Via a subsidiary, Lockheed also operates Sandia Labs, which is funded by the U.S. government. The lab’s researchers have presented Apple findings at the CIA conference.
“Lockheed Martin’s role in these activities should not be surprising given its leading role in the national surveillance state,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and author of Prophets of War, a book that chronicles Lockheed’s history. “It is the largest private intelligence contractor in the world, and it has worked on past surveillance programs for the Pentagon, the CIA and the NSA. If you’re looking for a candidate for Big Brother, Lockheed Martin fits the bill.”
The Apple research is consistent with a much broader secret U.S. government program to analyze “secure communications products, both foreign and domestic” in order to “develop exploitation capabilities against the authentication and encryption schemes,” according to the 2013 Congressional Budget Justification. Known widely as the “Black Budget,” the top-secret CBJ was provided to The Intercept by Snowden and gives a sprawling overview of the U.S. intelligence community’s spending and architecture. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
As of 2013, according to the classified budget, U.S. intelligence agencies were creating new capabilities against dozens of commercially produced security products, including those made by American companies, to seek out vulnerabilities.
Last week, CIA Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization at the agency aimed, in large part, at expanding U.S. cyber-operations. The Information Operations Center, which organized the Jamboree conferences, will be folded into a new Directorate of Digital Innovation. Notwithstanding its innocuous name, a major priority of the directorate will be offensive cyberattacks, sabotage and digital espionage. Brennan said the CIA reorganization will be modeled after the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, which runs the U.S. targeted killing and drone program.
THE DOCUMENTS do not address how successful the targeting of Apple’s encryption mechanisms have been, nor do they provide any detail about the specific use of such exploits by U.S. intelligence. But they do shed light on an ongoing campaign aimed at defeating the tech giant’s efforts to secure its products, and in turn, its customers’ private data.
“Spies gonna spy,” says Steven Bellovin, a former chief technologist for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and current professor at Columbia University. “I’m never surprised by what intelligence agencies do to get information. They’re going to go where the info is, and as it moves, they’ll adjust their tactics. Their attitude is basically amoral: whatever works is OK.”
Bellovin says he generally supports efforts by U.S. intelligence to “hack” devices — including Apple’s — used by terrorists and criminals, but expressed concern that such capabilities could be abused. “There are bad people out there, and it’s reasonable to seek information on them,” he says, cautioning that “inappropriate use — mass surveillance, targeting Americans without a warrant, probably spying on allies — is another matter entirely.”
In the top-secret documents, ranging from 2010 through 2012, the researchers appear particularly intent on extracting encryption keys that prevent unauthorized access to data stored — and firmware run — on Apple products.
“The Intelligence Community (IC) is highly dependent on a very small number of security flaws, many of which are public, which Apple eventually patches,” the researchers noted in an abstract of their 2011 presentation at the Jamboree. But, they promised, their presentation could provide the intelligence community with a “method to noninvasively extract” encryption keys used on Apple devices. Another presentation focused on physically extracting the key from Apple’s hardware.
A year later, at the 2012 Jamboree, researchers described their attacks on the software used by developers to create applications for Apple’s popular App Store. In a talk called “Strawhorse: Attacking the MacOS and iOS Software Development Kit,” a presenter from Sandia Labs described a successful “whacking” of Apple’s Xcode — the software used to create apps for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. Developers who create Apple-approved and distributed apps overwhelmingly use Xcode, a free piece of software easily downloaded from the App Store.
The researchers boasted that they had discovered a way to manipulate Xcode so that it could serve as a conduit for infecting and extracting private data from devices on which users had installed apps that were built with the poisoned Xcode. In other words, by manipulating Xcode, the spies could compromise the devices and private data of anyone with apps made by a poisoned developer — potentially millions of people. “Trying to plant stuff in Xcode has fascinating implications,” says Bellovin.
The researchers listed a variety of actions their “whacked” Xcode could perform, including:
— “Entice” all Mac applications to create a “remote backdoor” allowing undetected access to an Apple computer.
— Secretly embed an app developer’s private key into all iOS applications. (This could potentially allow spies to impersonate the targeted developer.)
— “Force all iOS applications” to send data from an iPhone or iPad back to a U.S. intelligence “listening post.”
— Disable core security features on Apple devices.
THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY IS HIGHLY DEPENDENT ON A VERY SMALL NUMBER OF SECURITY FLAWS, MANY OF WHICH ARE PUBLIC, WHICH APPLE EVENTUALLY PATCHES.
For years, U.S. and British intelligence agencies have consistently sought to defeat the layers of encryption and other security features used by Apple to protect the iPhone. A joint task force comprised of operatives from the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, formed in 2010, developed surveillance software targeting iPhones, Android devices and Nokia’s Symbian phones. The Mobile Handset Exploitation Team successfully implanted malware on iPhones as part of WARRIOR PRIDE, a GCHQ framework for secretly accessing private communications on mobile devices.
That program was disclosed in Snowden documents reported on last year by The Guardian. A WARRIOR PRIDE plugin called NOSEY SMURF allowed spies to remotely and secretly activate a phone’s microphone. Another plugin, DREAMY SMURF, allowed intelligence agents to manage the power system on a phone and thus avoid detection. PARANOID SMURF was designed to conceal the malware in other ways. TRACKER SMURF allowed ultra-precise geolocating of an individual phone. “[If] its [sic] on the phone, we can get it,” the spies boasted in a secret GCHQ document describing the targeting of the iPhone.
All of the SMURF malware — including the plugin that secretly turns on the iPhone’s microphone — would first require that agencies bypass the security controls built into the iOS operating system. Spies would either need to hack the phone in order to plant their malware on it, or sneak a backdoor into an app the user installed voluntarily. That was one of the clear aims of the Apple-focused research presented at the CIA’s conference.
“The U.S. government is prioritizing its own offensive surveillance needs over the cybersecurity of the millions of Americans who use Apple products,” says Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. “If U.S. government-funded researchers can discover these flaws, it is quite likely that Chinese, Russian and Israeli researchers can discover them, too. By quietly exploiting these flaws rather than notifying Apple, the U.S. government leaves Apple’s customers vulnerable to other sophisticated governments.”
Security experts interviewed by The Intercept point out that the SMURF capabilities were already available to U.S. and British intelligence agencies five years ago. That raises the question of how advanced the current capacity to surveil smartphone users is, especially in light of the extensive resources poured into targeting the products of major tech companies. One GCHQ slide from 2010 stated that the agency’s ultimate goal was to be able to “Exploit any phone, anywhere, any time.”
Steve Jobs unveiling the first iPhone on January 9, 2007.
THE FIRST JAMBOREE took place in 2006, just as Apple was preparing to unveil its highly-anticipated iPhone. In March 2010, according to a top-secret document, during a talk called “Rocoto: Implanting the iPhone,” a presenter discussed efforts to target the iPhone 3G. In addition to analyzing the device’s software for potential vulnerabilities, the presentation examined “jailbreak methods,” used within the iPhone community to free phones from their built-in constraints, that could be leveraged by intelligence agencies. “We will conclude with a look ahead at future challenges presented by the iPhone 3GS and the upcoming iPad,” the abstract noted. Over the years, as Apple updates its hardware, software and encryption methods, the CIA and its researchers study ways to break and exploit them.
The attempts to target vulnerabilities in Apple’s products have not occurred in a vacuum. Rather, they are part of a vast multi-agency U.S./U.K. effort to attack commercial encryption and security systems used on billions of devices around the world. U.S. intelligence agencies are not just focusing on individual terrorists or criminals — they are targeting the large corporations, such as Apple, that produce popular mobile devices.
“Every other manufacturer looks to Apple. If the CIA can undermine Apple’s systems, it’s likely they’ll be able to deploy the same capabilities against everyone else,” says Green, the Johns Hopkins cryptographer. “Apple led the way with secure coprocessors in phones, with fingerprint sensors, with encrypted messages. If you can attack Apple, then you can probably attack anyone.”
According to the Black Budget, U.S. intelligence agencies have tech companies dead in their sights with the aim of breaking or circumventing any existing or emerging encryption or antiviral products, noting the threat posed by “increasingly strong commercial” encryption and “adversarial cryptography.”
The Analysis of Target Systems Project produced “prototype capabilities” for the intelligence community, enabled “the defeat of strong commercial data security systems” and developed ways “to exploit emerging information systems and technologies,” according to the classified budget. The project received $35 million in funding in 2012 and had more than 200 personnel assigned to it. By the end of 2013, according to the budget, the project would “develop new capabilities against 50 commercial information security device products to exploit emerging technologies,” as well as new methods that would allow spies to recover user and device passwords on new products.
Among the project’s missions:
— Analyze “secure communications products, both foreign and domestic produced” to “develop exploitation capabilities against the authentication and encryption schemes.”
— “[D]evelop exploitation capabilities against network communications protocols and commercial network security products.”
— “Anticipate future encryption technologies” and “prepare strategies to exploit those technologies.”
— “Develop, enhance, and implement software attacks against encrypted signals.”
— “Develop exploitation capabilities against specific key management and authentication schemes.”
— “[D]evelop exploitation capabilities against emerging multimedia applications.”
— Provide tools for “exploiting” devices used to “store, manage, protect, or communicate data.”
— “Develop methods to discover and exploit communication systems employing public key cryptography” and “communications protected by passwords or pass phrases.”
— Exploit public key cryptography.
— Exploit Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, which allow people to browse the Internet with increased security and anonymity.
The black budget also noted that the U.S. intelligence community partners with “National Laboratories” to conduct the type of research presented at the CIA’s annual Jamboree conference. It confirms the U.S. government’s aggressive efforts to steal encryption and authentication keys, as occurred in the NSA and GCHQ operations against Gemalto, the world’s largest manufacturer of SIM cards, through the use of Computer Network Exploitation attacks. In that case, spy agencies penetrated Gemalto’s internal networks and cyberstalked its employees to steal mass quantities of keys used to encrypt mobile phone communications.
The CIA’s Information Operations Center is currently the second largest of the spy agency’s specialized centers. It not only conducts cyber-ops, but has operated covertly in other nations, working to develop assets from targeted countries to assist in its cyber-surveillance programs, according to the Black Budget. At times, its personnel brief the president.
U.S. President Barack Obama holds up an iPad.
AT THE CIA’s Jamboree in 2011, the computer researchers conducted workshops where they revealed the specifics of their efforts to attack one of the key privacy elements of Apple’s mobile devices. These machines have two separate keys integrated into the silicon of their Apple-designed processors at the point of manufacture. The two, paired together, are used to encrypt data and software stored on iPhones and iPads. One, the User ID, is unique to an individual’s phone, and is not retained by Apple. That key is vital to protecting an individual’s data and — particularly on Apple’s latest devices — difficult to steal. A second key, the Group ID, is known to Apple and is the same across multiple Apple devices that use the same processor. The GID is used to encrypt essential system software that runs on Apple’s mobile devices.
The focus of the security researchers, as described at the CIA conferences, was to target the GID key, which Apple implants on all devices that use the same processors. For instance, Apple’s A4 processor was used in the iPhone 4, the iPod Touch and the original iPad. All of those devices used the same GID. As Apple designs new processors and faster devices that use those processors, the company creates new GIDs. If someone has the same iPhone as her neighbor, they have the exact same GID key on their devices. So, if intelligence agencies extract the GID key, it means they have information useful to compromising any device containing that key.
At the 2011 Jamboree conference, there were two separate presentations on hacking the GID key on Apple’s processors. One was focused on non-invasively obtaining it by studying the electromagnetic emissions of — and the amount of power used by — the iPhone’s processor while encryption is being performed. Careful analysis of that information could be used to extract the encryption key. Such a tactic is known as a “side channel” attack. The second focused on a “method to physically extract the GID key.”
Whatever method the CIA and its partners use, by extracting the GID — which is implanted on the processors of all Apple mobile devices — the CIA and its allies could be able to decrypt the firmware that runs on the iPhone and other mobile devices. This would allow them to seek out other security vulnerabilities to exploit. Taken together, the documents make clear that researching each new Apple processor and mobile device, and studying them for potential security flaws, is a priority for the CIA.
According to the 2011 document describing the Jamboree presentations on Apple’s processor, the researchers asserted that extracting the GID key could also allow them to look for other potential gateways into Apple devices. “If successful, it would enable decryption and analysis of the boot firmware for vulnerabilities, and development of associated exploits across the entire A4-based product-line, which includes the iPhone 4, the iPod touch and the iPad.”
At the CIA conference in 2012, Sandia researchers delivered a presentation on Apple’s A5 processor. The A5 is used in the iPhone 4s and iPad 2. But this time, it contained no abstract or other details, instructing those interested to contact a CIA official on his secure phone or email.
“If I were Tim Cook, I’d be furious,” says the ACLU’s Soghoian. “If Apple is mad at the intelligence community, and they should be, they should put their lawyers to work. Lawsuits speak louder than words.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 21, 2013.
FOR YEARS, Apple has included encryption features in the products it sells to consumers. In 2014, the company dramatically broadened the types of data stored on iPhones that are encrypted, and it incorporated encryption by default into its desktop and laptop operating system. This resulted in criticism from leading law enforcement officials, including the FBI director. The encryption technology that Apple has built into its products — along with many other security features — is a virtual wall that separates cybercriminals and foreign governments from customer data. But now, because Apple claims it can no longer extract customer data stored on iPhones, because it is encrypted with a key the company does not know, the U.S. government can be locked out too — even with a search warrant. The FBI director and other U.S. officials have referred to the advent of the encryption era — where previously accessible data and communications may now be off limits because of the security technology protecting them — as “going dark.”
In the face of this rising challenge to its surveillance capabilities, U.S. intelligence has spent considerable time and resources trying to find security vulnerabilities in Apple’s encryption technology, and, more broadly, in its products, which can be leveraged to install surveillance software on iPhones and Macbooks. “The exploitation of security flaws is a high-priority area for the U.S. intelligence community, and such methods have only become more important as U.S. technology companies have built strong encryption into their products,” says the ACLU’s Soghoian.
Microsoft has, for nearly a decade, included BitLocker, an encryption technology that protects data stored on a computer, in its Windows operating system. Unlike Apple, which made encryption available to all customers, Microsoft had included this feature only in its more expensive premium and professional versions of Windows, up until a few years ago. BitLocker is designed to work with a Trusted Platform Module, a special security chip included in some computers, which stores the encryption keys and also protects against unauthorized software modification.
Also presented at the Jamboree were successes in the targeting of Microsoft’s disk encryption technology, and the TPM chips that are used to store its encryption keys. Researchers at the CIA conference in 2010 boasted about the ability to extract the encryption keys used by BitLocker and thus decrypt private data stored on the computer. Because the TPM chip is used to protect the system from untrusted software, attacking it could allow the covert installation of malware onto the computer, which could be used to access otherwise encrypted communications and files of consumers. Microsoft declined to comment for this story.
In the wake of the initial Snowden disclosures, Apple CEO Tim Cook has specifically denounced the U.S. government’s efforts to compel companies to provide backdoor access to their users’ data.
As corporations increasingly integrate default encryption methods and companies like Apple incorporate their own indigenous encryption technologies into easy-to-use text, voice and video communication platforms, the U.S. and British governments are panicking. “Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place,” declared FBI Director James Comey in an October 2014 lecture at the Brookings Institution. Citing the recent moves by Apple to strengthen default encryption on its operating systems, and commitments by Google to incorporate such tools, Comey said, “This means the companies themselves won’t be able to unlock phones, laptops, and tablets to reveal photos, documents, e-mail, and recordings stored within.”
Under current U.S. regulations, law enforcement agencies can get a court order to access communications channeled through major tech companies and wireless providers. But if those communications are encrypted through a process not accessible by any involved company, the data is essentially meaningless, garbled gibberish. “In a world in which data is encrypted, and the providers don’t have the keys, suddenly, there is no one to go to when they have a warrant,” says Soghoian. “That is, even if they get a court order, it doesn’t help them. That is what is freaking them out.”
Comey alleged that “even a supercomputer would have difficulty with today’s high-level encryption,” meaning a “brute force” attempt to decrypt intercepted communications would be ineffective, and, even if successful, time-consuming.
“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch,” Comey added. “But it will have very serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at all levels. Sophisticated criminals will come to count on these means of evading detection. It’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked.”
A few months after Comey’s remarks, Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, also appeared at Brookings. “One of the many ways in which Snowden’s leaks have damaged our national security is by driving a wedge between the government and providers and technology companies, so that some companies that formerly recognized that protecting our nation was a valuable and important public service now feel compelled to stand in opposition,” Litt said. He appealed to corporations to embrace “a solution that does not compromise the integrity of encryption technology but that enables both encryption to protect privacy and decryption under lawful authority to protect national security.”
Green, the Johns Hopkins professor, argues that U.S. government attacks against the products of American companies will not just threaten privacy, but will ultimately harm the U.S. economy. “U.S. tech companies have already suffered overseas due to foreign concerns about our products’ security,” he says. “The last thing any of us need is for the U.S. government to actively undermine our own technology industry.”
The U.S. government is certainly not alone in the war against secure communications. British Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested that if he is re-elected, he may seek to ban encrypted chat programs that do not provide backdoor access to law enforcement. “Are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read?” Cameron said in a speech in England earlier this year. “My answer to that question is: ‘No, we must not.’”
When the Chinese government recently tried to force tech companies to install a backdoor in their products for use by Chinese intelligence agencies, the U.S. government denounced China. “This is something that I’ve raised directly with President Xi,” President Obama said in early March. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States.” But China was actually following the U.S. government’s lead. The FBI has called for an expansion of U.S. law, which would require Apple and its competitors to design their products so that all communications could be made available to government agencies. NSA officials have expressed similar sentiments.
“Obama’s comments were dripping with hypocrisy,” says Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “Don’t get me wrong, his actual criticism of China for attempting to force tech companies to install backdoors was spot on — now if only he would apply what he said to his own government. Since he now knows backdooring encryption is a terrible policy that will damage cybersecurity, privacy, and the economy, why won’t he order the FBI and NSA to stop pushing for it as well?”
Documents published with this article:
TCB Jamboree 2012 Invitation
Strawhorse: Attacking the MacOS and iOS Software Development Kit
TPM Vulnerabilities to Power Analysis and An Exposed Exploit to Bitlocker
TCB Jamboree 2012
Apple A4/A5 Application Processors Analysis
Differential Power Analysis on the Apple A4 Processor
Secure Key Extraction by Physical De-Processing of Apple’s A4 Processor
Rocoto: Implanting the iPhone
Smurf Capability – iPhone
Black Budget: Cryptanalysis & Exploitation Services – Analysis of Target Systems
Andrew Fishman, Alleen Brown, Andrea Jones, Ryan Gallagher, Morgan Marquis-Boire, and Micah Lee contributed to this story.
Note: An earlier draft of this story incorrectly suggested that the iOS Group ID is used to sign software. An earlier draft also incorrectly stated that Lockheed Martin owns Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, operates Sandia National Laboratories as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.
Disclosure: Freedom of the Press Foundation, which Trevor Timm represents, has received grant funding from First Look Media, The Intercept’s parent company. Intercept co-founders Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras are on the board of the organization.
Photo: Google Maps; Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images; Tony Avelar/Getty Images; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Landov; J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Email the authors: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
BY JEREMY SCAHILL AND JOSH BEGLEY @jeremyscahill@joshbegley 10 MAR 2015
Find this story at 10 March 2015
The Intercept, Mass Surveillance and the State
6 juli 2015
Like a proud father CIA director John Brennan has announced that he’s creating a new directorate to conduct cyberespionage. Never mind all those classified documents published recently by the Intercept which prove that the CIA has been active in the cyber domain for years. While it goes without saying that the CIA’s subversion campaign is unsettling what’s equally thought-provoking is the manner in which the Intercept frames the involvement of the private sector.
Every year the CIA showcases its latest batch of subversion tools, taking them for a victory lap at a secret conference which internal documents refer to glibly as a “Jamboree.” In 2012 the Jamboree was hosted by Lockheed Martin at a campus in northern Virginia. Journalists at the Intercept describe Lockheed as follows:
“Lockheed is one of the largest defense contractors in the world; its tentacles stretch into every aspect of U.S. national security and intelligence. The company is akin to a privatized wing of the U.S. national security state — more than 80 percent of its total revenue comes from the U.S. government.”
Note how this description subtly creates the impression that the ultimate culprit with regard to mass surveillance is the government. Lockheed is merely a “wing” of an overarching “national security state”. All roads lead to U.S. intelligence, it’s all about the state.
Yet close examination of the history of the CIA yields a different picture. Contractors like Lockheed Martin aren’t a subordinate extension of the national security state. Quite the opposite. It’s probably more accurate to conclude that intelligence agencies, like the NSA, represent a public sector appendage of a much larger corporate power structure whose nexus resides in profound sources of wealth and influence outside of the government. A Deep State, if you will, that’s fundamentally driving what goes on in Washington.
In the absence of mass public outcry private capital sets the rules. It’s been this way since Ferdinand Lundberg wrote America’s Sixty Families back in 1937. Or perhaps Mr. Scahill hasn’t glimpsed politicians on both sides of the aisle trotting out in front of billionaires to audition for public office?
Hence there is a recurring theme in L’affaire Snowden that arises from the Intercept’s coverage of mass surveillance. Focus is maintained almost exclusively on the government without acknowledging the central role that corporations play. According to the Intercept’s worldview hi-tech companies are but helpless pawns being coerced and assailed by runaway security services rather than willing symbiotic accomplices that directly benefit from the global panopticon.
Honestly, doesn’t Ed Snowden have more information on Booz Allen?
When a doctor is faced with a serious medical condition the diagnosis typically informs the subsequent course of treatment. So it is with mass surveillance. Only in the case of mass surveillance the diagnosis is being shaped by certain actors to fit a preconceived solution. The agenda of the far right is clear. Nothing short of corporate feudalism. Libertarian political operator Grover Norquist boldly spelled it out: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
A messaging scheme which depicts the government as the chief villain is a godsend for people who are itching for reasons to demolish the state. Techno libertarians rejoice and present the public with their version of salvation. “Crypto everywhere” roar CEOs across Silicon Valley. How predictably shallow and self-serving. Their counter-surveillance talking points provide them with something new to sell us. It also absolves them of responsibility while redirecting the public’s attention away from more far-reaching systemic measures.
In light of this it’s hard not to notice the various twists of fate in L’affaire Snowden. Classified documents gradually trickled into the public record thanks to a whistle-blower who donated money to Ron Paul and exhibited some decidedly right-wing inclinations online. A copy of the classified documents were provided to a journalist who wrote a policy whitepaper for the CATO Institute (formerly known as the Charles Koch Foundation). Then out of the woodwork appears a kindly libertarian billionaire who dazzles the said journalist with fame and fortune, “a dream opportunity that was impossible to decline.”
The product of coincidence? To an extent. But what’s undeniable is that a member of the financial elite, a man who has clocked over a dozen visits to the Obama White House, deliberately leveraged his assets to inject himself into the unfolding course of events. Once more the narrative about mass surveillance that his news organization conveys tends to cast corporations as champions against mass surveillance while omitting to acknowledge how they stand to benefit from the global panopticon. It appears that elements within the ruling class would have us believe that the Deep State will solve the very problem that it intentionally created.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
by BILL BLUNDEN
WEEKEND EDITION MARCH 13-15, 2015
Find this story at March 2015
Copyright © CounterPunch
CIA Aided Program to Spy on U.S. Cellphones
6 juli 2015
WASHINGTON—The Central Intelligence Agency played a crucial role in helping the Justice Department develop technology that scans data from thousands of U.S. cellphones at a time, part of a secret high-tech alliance between the spy agency and domestic law enforcement, according to people familiar with the work.
The CIA and the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency of the Justice Department, developed technology to locate specific cellphones in the U.S. through an airborne device that mimics a cellphone tower, these people said.
Today, the Justice Department program, whose existence wasreported by The Wall Street Journal last year, is used to hunt criminal suspects. The same technology is used to track terror suspects and intelligence targets overseas, the people said.
The program operates specially equipped planes that fly from five U.S. cities, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population. Planes are equipped with devices—some past versions were dubbed “dirtboxes” by law-enforcement officials—that trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.
The surveillance system briefly identifies large numbers of cellphones belonging to citizens unrelated to the search. The practice can also briefly interfere with the ability to make calls, these people said.
Some law-enforcement officials are concerned the aerial surveillance of cellphone signals inappropriately mixes traditional police work with the tactics and technology of overseas spy work that is constrained by fewer rules. Civil-liberties groups say the technique amounts to a digital dragnet of innocent Americans’ phones.
The cooperation between technical experts at the CIA and the Marshals Service, which law-enforcement officials have described as a “marriage,” represents one way criminal investigators are increasingly relying on U.S. intelligence agencies for operational support and technical assistance in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Many Justice Department officials view the joint effort with the CIA as having made valuable contributions to both domestic and overseas operations.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on whether the CIA or any other agency uses the devices. Some technologies developed by the agency “have been lawfully and responsibly shared with other U.S. government agencies,” the spokesman said. “How those agencies use that technology is determined by the legal authorities that govern the operations of those individual organizations—not CIA.” He also said the relationship between the Marshals Service and CIA tech experts couldn’t be characterized as a marriage.
A Justice Department spokesman said Marshals Service techniques are “carried out consistent with federal law, and are subject to court approval.” The agency doesn’t conduct “domestic surveillance, intelligence gathering, or any type of bulk data collection,” the spokesman said, adding that it doesn’t gather any intelligence on behalf of U.S. spy agencies.
By DEVLIN BARRETT
Updated March 10, 2015 7:39 p.m. ET
Find this story at 10 March 2015
CIA looks to expand its cyber espionage capabilities
6 juli 2015
CIA Director John Brennan is planning a major expansion of the agency’s cyber-espionage capabilities as part of a broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work, current and former U.S. officials said.
The proposed shift reflects a determination that the CIA’s approach to conventional espionage is increasingly outmoded amid the exploding use of smartphones, social media and other technologies.
U.S. officials said Brennan’s plans call for increased use of cyber capabilities in almost every category of operations — whether identifying foreign officials to recruit as CIA informants, confirming the identities of targets of drone strikes or penetrating Internet-savvy adversaries such as the Islamic State.
Several officials said Brennan’s team has even considered creating a new cyber-directorate — a step that would put the agency’s technology experts on equal footing with the operations and analysis branches, which have been pillars of the CIA’s organizational structure for decades.
U.S. officials emphasized that the plans would not involve new legal authorities and that Brennan may stop short of creating a new directorate. But the suggestion underscores the scope of his ambitions, as well as their potential to raise privacy concerns or lead to turf skirmishes with the National Security Agency, the dominant player in electronic espionage.
“Brennan is trying to update the agency to make sure it is prepared to tackle the challenges in front of it,” said a U.S. official familiar with the reorganization plan. “I just don’t think you can separate the digital world people operate in from the human intelligence” mission that is the CIA’s traditional domain.
Like others, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision-making.
The expanded emphasis on cyber is part of a broader restructuring envisioned by Brennan that is expected to break down long-standing boundaries between the CIA’s operations and analysis directorates, creating hybrid “centers” that combine those and other disciplines.
Brennan is expected to begin implementing aspects of his plan this month, officials said. He recently met with senior members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to outline the proposed changes.
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment, saying that “final decisions have not yet been made with respect to agency reorganization efforts.” In a notice to the CIA workforce last year, Brennan said that he had become “increasingly convinced that the time has come to take a fresh look at how we are organized.”
The changes are designed to replicate the model of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which has surged in size and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The restructuring could lead to new reporting lines for thousands of CIA employees, as long-standing units such the Latin America and Near East divisions give way to new centers that combine analysis, collection and covert operations.
The National Clandestine Service and the Directorate of Intelligence — the formal names for the operations and analysis branches — would continue to exist, but would focus more on developing talent and resources that could be distributed to the new centers.
“It would be a huge deal,” said Michael Allen, a former White House and congressional aide who wrote a 2013 book about intelligence reform. Unlike at the FBI and other security agencies, Allen said, “there hasn’t been wholesale structural reform in the CIA post-9/11.”
Former officials who are familiar with the plan said it has caused generational friction within the CIA’s ranks, with longtime officers resisting changes that younger employees are more eager to embrace.
The head of the clandestine service recently resigned, in part over objections to the scope of Brennan’s plan, officials said. Brennan quickly replaced him with a longtime officer who had led an internal review panel that broadly endorsed the director’s reform agenda.
Although limited compared with the larger NSA, the CIA has substantial cyber capabilities. Its Information Operations Center, which handles assignments such as extracting information from stolen laptops and planting surveillance devices, is now second only to the Counterterrorism Center in size, former officials said.
The CIA also oversees the Open Source Center, an intelligence unit created in 2005 to scour publicly available data, including Twitter feeds, Facebook postings and Web forums where al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups post material.
Brennan hopes to make the use of such capabilities more pervasive, U.S. officials said, ensuring that expertise and tools that now reside in the Information Operations Center are distributed across the agency.
The move comes at a time when the CIA has struggled to gain traction against adversaries — including the Islamic State and the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group — that recruit and communicate extensively online but operate in combat zones that CIA officers are generally not able to enter.
But officials said digital changes have transformed even the most conventional cloak-and-dagger scenarios. Secrets that were once obtained by recruiting a source or meeting in a safe house increasingly reside in clouds of digital transmissions that surround espionage targets.
To recruit a Russian spy, “you may need to manipulate someone’s e-mail, read someone’s e-mail and track the whereabouts of the FSB,” a former official said, referring to the Russian security service. “Cyber is now part of every mission. It’s not a specialized, boutique thing.”
Beyond elevating the role of the Information Operations Center, U.S. officials said, Brennan is seeking to ensure that the agency is not lagging in other areas, such as counterintelligence work and the CIA’s internal e-mail system.
Brennan provided only broad outlines of his plan in recent congressional meetings, which excluded all but the four highest-ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence panels. A senior U.S. intelligence official said some senior NSA executives remain in the dark on Brennan’s cyber ambitions.
In recent years, the CIA has collaborated extensively with the NSA on a range of covert programs, including its drone campaign against al-Qaeda. Documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that e-mails and cellphone signals intercepted by the NSA were used to confirm the identities of targets in strikes.
But the CIA also has fought budget and bureaucratic battles to maintain its standalone capability, prompting some to view the latest push as an attempt to capitalize on Washington’s growing alarm over cyberthreats — and the corresponding shifts in federal budgets.
Former CIA officials said that the agency is mainly concerned about having direct control over the cyber components of its operations and that Brennan’s plans would not encroach on the global surveillance programs run by the NSA. Nor would they interfere with the work of a new agency the Obama administration is creating to fuse intelligence on cyberattacks.
Brennan’s push to expand the CIA’s cyber capabilities is “entirely appropriate, even overdue,” said Stephen Slick, a former CIA official who directs the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Advances in digital technology are having a revolutionary impact on the intelligence business, and it’s important for CIA to adapt its collection and covert action missions to account for the new opportunities and dangers.”
Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
By Greg Miller February 23
Find this story at 23 February 2015
Inside Toronto’s secret Cold War History
6 juli 2015
In the 50s and 60s, Soviet and American spies waged a secret war of espionage across the city of Toronto.
At the height of the Cold War, Toronto was the site of an elaborate game of espionage played between the U.S and the Soviet Union, declassified CIA documents show.
The records provide new details about how the CIA and the KGB spied on the city’s growing community of eastern European immigrants.
And those details came as a surprise to at least one Toronto target who learned she was the subject of the CIA investigations.
“I’m amazed. I’m absolutely in shock,” says Ukrainian-born Natalie Bundza, 78, who worked as a travel agent at an agency on Bloor St. when the CIA first began to monitor her travels.
Because of her line of work, Bundza was used to being singled out by Soviet authorities. But when the Star showed her the declassified CIA file bearing her name, Bundza was stunned. The depth and breadth of the information that had been collected on her was startling.
In one of Bundza’s trips to Ukraine in the late ’60s, the CIA had amassed enough intelligence to describe everything from the people she met with overseas to the content of her suitcase, even going as far as to mention the art books she had packed.
“Took many books to Ukraine: several copies of Archipenko’s monograph Hnizdovsky monograph, poetry collections of the New York group, a Bible for Ivan Mykolaychuk,” the file reads.
As a young travel agent in her early 30s, Bundza, who now lives in a bungalow in Etobicoke, would often accompany performance groups and tourists across the Iron Curtain and to the Soviet Union. She believes her job and her friends in the art world made her an attractive target for CIA spies.
Mykolaychuk, an actor, and her other friends, she says, were part of what she calls the “Ukrainian intelligentsia.”
They included famous sculptor Ivan Honchar, poet Ivan Drach, and prominent political activist Dmytro Pavlychko — names which were all dutifully noted by the CIA spy.
“I was constantly followed (by the Soviets). They just knew my background. They knew I was a patriot, that I wasn’t a communist,” she says.
She kept abreast of news from her home country, and she wasn’t afraid to take risks. In her early 30s, Bundza was “all guts, no brains,” she remembers. “I would have knocked on the president’s door if I had to.”
“We were great tourist guides. We took no BS from (the Soviets),” she says.
During one of her organized trips, she noticed that a Soviet customs official had been eyeing the stack of Bibles she carried with her. And so, without prompting, Bundza handed him a copy.
Still, as far as Bundza remembers, she never divulged the minutiae of her travels to anyone — let alone an American spy. How, then, was the CIA able to monitor her travels?
In Toronto, many served as the agency’s eyes and ears.
“This was a period of time when the United States did not know nearly as much about the Soviet Union, whether it be its intentions or its capabilities,” said Richard Immerman, a Cold War historian at Temple University in Philadelphia. For the CIA, the goal was to “put different pieces (together) in the hope that one pattern would emerge.”
Eyewitness accounts were deemed especially important by American intelligence officials.
At the time, it was not uncommon for those venturing beyond the Iron Curtain to spy on behalf of the CIA, says Immerman. “Our aerial surveillance was limited (so) in many cases, those who did travel to the Soviet Union willingly co-operated with the CIA to provide information — whatever information,” he says. “These could be tourists. These could be businessmen. This was not a time when thousands of people from the West would travel to the Soviet Union.”
But for the CIA, Toronto was also rife with potential enemies. In a 1959 declassified file, an American spy describes how 18 Canadians, 11 of whom lived in Toronto, were suspected of working for the KGB. According to the CIA agent, the Canadians had secretly travelled to the Soviet Union and received special training, only to return years later as undercover KGB operatives.
Other suspected KGB spies, such as Ivan Kolaska, had apparently immigrated to Toronto as part of a bold Soviet plan to infiltrate Ukrainian communities overseas. Kolaska, along with other alleged KGB operatives, one of whom lived a double life as a Toronto City Hall employee, regularly met with Soviet diplomats in Toronto, the files say.
In one of those meetings with Soviet embassy staff, the files say, Kolaska revealed the identities of dozens of Ukrainian students who had held a secret meeting in Kyiv. They were later arrested by Soviet authorities, according to the files.
In many of the declassified documents, the CIA’s informants are named. Bundza’s file contains no such information, leaving only one clue as to the identity of the mysterious spy: Bundza’s full name.
There is no mention of a “Natalie Bundza” in the file. Her name is listed as “Natalka” instead.
Only another Ukrainian, she says, would have known her as “Natalka.”
“It must have been someone from the community here.”
By: Laurent Bastien Corbeil Staff Reporter, Published on Thu Jul 02 2015
Find this story at 2 July 2015
© Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. 1996-2015
How the CIA made Google
26 juni 2015
Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet—
INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority.’
The origins of this ingenious strategy trace back to a secret Pentagon-sponsored group, that for the last two decades has functioned as a bridge between the US government and elites across the business, industry, finance, corporate, and media sectors. The group has allowed some of the most powerful special interests in corporate America to systematically circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law to influence government policies, as well as public opinion in the US and around the world. The results have been catastrophic: NSA mass surveillance, a permanent state of global war, and a new initiative to transform the US military into Skynet.
This exclusive is being released for free in the public interest, and was enabled by crowdfunding. I’d like to thank my amazing community of patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on this in-depth investigation. Please support independent, investigative journalism for the global commons.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, western governments are moving fast to legitimize expanded powers of mass surveillance and controls on the internet, all in the name of fighting terrorism.
US and European politicians have called to protect NSA-style snooping, and to advance the capacity to intrude on internet privacy by outlawing encryption. One idea is to establish a telecoms partnership that would unilaterally delete content deemed to “fuel hatred and violence” in situations considered “appropriate.” Heated discussions are going on at government and parliamentary level to explore cracking down on lawyer-client confidentiality.
What any of this would have done to prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks remains a mystery, especially given that we already know the terrorists were on the radar of French intelligence for up to a decade.
There is little new in this story. The 9/11 atrocity was the first of many terrorist attacks, each succeeded by the dramatic extension of draconian state powers at the expense of civil liberties, backed up with the projection of military force in regions identified as hotspots harbouring terrorists. Yet there is little indication that this tried and tested formula has done anything to reduce the danger. If anything, we appear to be locked into a deepening cycle of violence with no clear end in sight.
As our governments push to increase their powers, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE can now reveal the vast extent to which the US intelligence community is implicated in nurturing the web platforms we know today, for the precise purpose of utilizing the technology as a mechanism to fight global ‘information war’ — a war to legitimize the power of the few over the rest of us. The lynchpin of this story is the corporation that in many ways defines the 21st century with its unobtrusive omnipresence: Google.
Google styles itself as a friendly, funky, user-friendly tech firm that rose to prominence through a combination of skill, luck, and genuine innovation. This is true. But it is a mere fragment of the story. In reality, Google is a smokescreen behind which lurks the US military-industrial complex.
The inside story of Google’s rise, revealed here for the first time, opens a can of worms that goes far beyond Google, unexpectedly shining a light on the existence of a parasitical network driving the evolution of the US national security apparatus, and profiting obscenely from its operation.
The shadow network
For the last two decades, US foreign and intelligence strategies have resulted in a global ‘war on terror’ consisting of prolonged military invasions in the Muslim world and comprehensive surveillance of civilian populations. These strategies have been incubated, if not dictated, by a secret network inside and beyond the Pentagon.
Established under the Clinton administration, consolidated under Bush, and firmly entrenched under Obama, this bipartisan network of mostly neoconservative ideologues sealed its dominion inside the US Department of Defense (DoD) by the dawn of 2015, through the operation of an obscure corporate entity outside the Pentagon, but run by the Pentagon.
In 1999, the CIA created its own venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, to fund promising start-ups that might create technologies useful for intelligence agencies. But the inspiration for In-Q-Tel came earlier, when the Pentagon set up its own private sector outfit.
Known as the ‘Highlands Forum,’ this private network has operated as a bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites outside the military since the mid-1990s. Despite changes in civilian administrations, the network around the Highlands Forum has become increasingly successful in dominating US defense policy.
Giant defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and Science Applications International Corporation are sometimes referred to as the ‘shadow intelligence community’ due to the revolving doors between them and government, and their capacity to simultaneously influence and profit from defense policy. But while these contractors compete for power and money, they also collaborate where it counts. The Highlands Forum has for 20 years provided an off the record space for some of the most prominent members of the shadow intelligence community to convene with senior US government officials, alongside other leaders in relevant industries.
I first stumbled upon the existence of this network in November 2014, when I reported for VICE’s Motherboard that US defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s newly announced ‘Defense Innovation Initiative’ was really about building Skynet — or something like it, essentially to dominate an emerging era of automated robotic warfare.
That story was based on a little-known Pentagon-funded ‘white paper’ published two months earlier by the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington DC, a leading US military-run institution that, among other things, generates research to develop US defense policy at the highest levels. The white paper clarified the thinking behind the new initiative, and the revolutionary scientific and technological developments it hoped to capitalize on.
The Highlands Forum
The co-author of that NDU white paper is Linton Wells, a 51-year veteran US defense official who served in the Bush administration as the Pentagon’s chief information officer, overseeing the National Security Agency (NSA) and other spy agencies. He still holds active top-secret security clearances, and according to a report by Government Executive magazine in 2006 he chaired the ‘Highlands Forum’, founded by the Pentagon in 1994.
Linton Wells II (right) former Pentagon chief information officer and assistant secretary of defense for networks, at a recent Pentagon Highlands Forum session. Rosemary Wenchel, a senior official in the US Department of Homeland Security, is sitting next to him
New Scientist magazine (paywall) has compared the Highlands Forum to elite meetings like “Davos, Ditchley and Aspen,” describing it as “far less well known, yet… arguably just as influential a talking shop.” Regular Forum meetings bring together “innovative people to consider interactions between policy and technology. Its biggest successes have been in the development of high-tech network-based warfare.”
Given Wells’ role in such a Forum, perhaps it was not surprising that his defense transformation white paper was able to have such a profound impact on actual Pentagon policy. But if that was the case, why had no one noticed?
Despite being sponsored by the Pentagon, I could find no official page on the DoD website about the Forum. Active and former US military and intelligence sources had never heard of it, and neither did national security journalists. I was baffled.
The Pentagon’s intellectual capital venture firm
In the prologue to his 2007 book, A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity, John Clippinger, an MIT scientist of the Media Lab Human Dynamics Group, described how he participated in a “Highlands Forum” gathering, an “invitation-only meeting funded by the Department of Defense and chaired by the assistant for networks and information integration.” This was a senior DoD post overseeing operations and policies for the Pentagon’s most powerful spy agencies including the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), among others. Starting from 2003, the position was transitioned into what is now the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The Highlands Forum, Clippinger wrote, was founded by a retired US Navy captain named Dick O’Neill. Delegates include senior US military officials across numerous agencies and divisions — “captains, rear admirals, generals, colonels, majors and commanders” as well as “members of the DoD leadership.”
What at first appeared to be the Forum’s main website describes Highlands as “an informal cross-disciplinary network sponsored by Federal Government,” focusing on “information, science and technology.” Explanation is sparse, beyond a single ‘Department of Defense’ logo.
But Highlands also has another website describing itself as an “intellectual capital venture firm” with “extensive experience assisting corporations, organizations, and government leaders.” The firm provides a “wide range of services, including: strategic planning, scenario creation and gaming for expanding global markets,” as well as “working with clients to build strategies for execution.” ‘The Highlands Group Inc.,’ the website says, organizes a whole range of Forums on these issue.
For instance, in addition to the Highlands Forum, since 9/11 the Group runs the ‘Island Forum,’ an international event held in association with Singapore’s Ministry of Defense, which O’Neill oversees as “lead consultant.” The Singapore Ministry of Defense website describes the Island Forum as “patterned after the Highlands Forum organized for the US Department of Defense.” Documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that Singapore played a key role in permitting the US and Australia to tap undersea cables to spy on Asian powers like Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Highlands Group website also reveals that Highlands is partnered with one of the most powerful defense contractors in the United States. Highlands is “supported by a network of companies and independent researchers,” including “our Highlands Forum partners for the past ten years at SAIC; and the vast Highlands network of participants in the Highlands Forum.”
SAIC stands for the US defense firm, Science Applications International Corporation, which changed its name to Leidos in 2013, operating SAIC as a subsidiary. SAIC/Leidos is among the top 10 largest defense contractors in the US, and works closely with the US intelligence community, especially the NSA. According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”
Richard ‘Dick’ Patrick O’Neill, founding president of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum
The full name of Captain “Dick” O’Neill, the founding president of the Highlands Forum, is Richard Patrick O’Neill, who after his work in the Navy joined the DoD. He served his last post as deputy for strategy and policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, before setting up Highlands.
The Club of Yoda
But Clippinger also referred to another mysterious individual revered by Forum attendees:
“He sat at the back of the room, expressionless behind thick, black-rimmed glasses. I never heard him utter a word… Andrew (Andy) Marshall is an icon within DoD. Some call him Yoda, indicative of his mythical inscrutable status… He had served many administrations and was widely regarded as above partisan politics. He was a supporter of the Highlands Forum and a regular fixture from its beginning.”
Since 1973, Marshall has headed up one of the Pentagon’s most powerful agencies, the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), the US defense secretary’s internal ‘think tank’ which conducts highly classified research on future planning for defense policy across the US military and intelligence community. The ONA has played a key role in major Pentagon strategy initiatives, including Maritime Strategy, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Competitive Strategies Initiative, and the Revolution in Military Affairs.
Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall, head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) and co-chair of the Highlands Forum, at an early Highlands event in 1996 at the Santa Fe Institute. Marshall is retiring as of January 2015
In a rare 2002 profile in Wired, reporter Douglas McGray described Andrew Marshall, now 93 years old, as “the DoD’s most elusive” but “one of its most influential” officials. McGray added that “Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz” — widely considered the hawks of the neoconservative movement in American politics — were among Marshall’s “star protégés.”
Speaking at a low-key Harvard University seminar a few months after 9/11, Highlands Forum founding president Richard O’Neill said that Marshall was much more than a “regular fixture” at the Forum. “Andy Marshall is our co-chair, so indirectly everything that we do goes back into Andy’s system,” he told the audience. “Directly, people who are in the Forum meetings may be going back to give briefings to Andy on a variety of topics and to synthesize things.” He also said that the Forum had a third co-chair: the director of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), which at that time was a Rumsfeld appointee, Anthony J. Tether. Before joining DARPA, Tether was vice president of SAIC’s Advanced Technology Sector.
Anthony J. Tether, director of DARPA and co-chair of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum from June 2001 to February 2009
The Highlands Forum’s influence on US defense policy has thus operated through three main channels: its sponsorship by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (around the middle of last decade this was transitioned specifically to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, which is in charge of the main surveillance agencies); its direct link to Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall’s ONA; and its direct link to DARPA.
A slide from Richard O’Neill’s presentation at Harvard University in 2001
According to Clippinger in A Crowd of One, “what happens at informal gatherings such as the Highlands Forum could, over time and through unforeseen curious paths of influence, have enormous impact, not just within the DoD but throughout the world.” He wrote that the Forum’s ideas have “moved from being heretical to mainstream. Ideas that were anathema in 1999 had been adopted as policy just three years later.”
Although the Forum does not produce “consensus recommendations,” its impact is deeper than a traditional government advisory committee. “The ideas that emerge from meetings are available for use by decision-makers as well as by people from the think tanks,” according to O’Neill:
“We’ll include people from Booz, SAIC, RAND, or others at our meetings… We welcome that kind of cooperation, because, truthfully, they have the gravitas. They are there for the long haul and are able to influence government policies with real scholarly work… We produce ideas and interaction and networks for these people to take and use as they need them.”
My repeated requests to O’Neill for information on his work at the Highlands Forum were ignored. The Department of Defense also did not respond to multiple requests for information and comment on the Forum.
The Highlands Forum has served as a two-way ‘influence bridge’: on the one hand, for the shadow network of private contractors to influence the formulation of information operations policy across US military intelligence; and on the other, for the Pentagon to influence what is going on in the private sector. There is no clearer evidence of this than the truly instrumental role of the Forum in incubating the idea of mass surveillance as a mechanism to dominate information on a global scale.
In 1989, Richard O’Neill, then a US Navy cryptologist, wrote a paper for the US Naval War College, ‘Toward a methodology for perception management.’ In his book, Future Wars, Col. John Alexander, then a senior officer in the US Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), records that O’Neill’s paper for the first time outlined a strategy for “perception management” as part of information warfare (IW). O’Neill’s proposed strategy identified three categories of targets for IW: adversaries, so they believe they are vulnerable; potential partners, “so they perceive the cause [of war] as just”; and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they “perceive the cost as worth the effort.” A secret briefing based on O’Neill’s work “made its way to the top leadership” at DoD. “They acknowledged that O’Neill was right and told him to bury it.
Except the DoD didn’t bury it. Around 1994, the Highlands Group was founded by O’Neill as an official Pentagon project at the appointment of Bill Clinton’s then defense secretary William Perry — who went on to join SAIC’s board of directors after retiring from government in 2003.
In O’Neill’s own words, the group would function as the Pentagon’s ‘ideas lab’. According to Government Executive, military and information technology experts gathered at the first Forum meeting “to consider the impacts of IT and globalization on the United States and on warfare. How would the Internet and other emerging technologies change the world?” The meeting helped plant the idea of “network-centric warfare” in the minds of “the nation’s top military thinkers.”
Excluding the public
Official Pentagon records confirm that the Highlands Forum’s primary goal was to support DoD policies on O’Neill’s specialism: information warfare. According to the Pentagon’s 1997 Annual Report to the President and the Congress under a section titled ‘Information Operations,’ (IO) the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) had authorized the “establishment of the Highlands Group of key DoD, industry, and academic IO experts” to coordinate IO across federal military intelligence agencies.
The following year’s DoD annual report reiterated the Forum’s centrality to information operations: “To examine IO issues, DoD sponsors the Highlands Forum, which brings together government, industry, and academic professionals from various fields.”
Notice that in 1998, the Highlands ‘Group’ became a ‘Forum.’ According to O’Neill, this was to avoid subjecting Highlands Forums meetings to “bureaucratic restrictions.” What he was alluding to was the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which regulates the way the US government can formally solicit the advice of special interests.
Known as the ‘open government’ law, FACA requires that US government officials cannot hold closed-door or secret consultations with people outside government to develop policy. All such consultations should take place via federal advisory committees that permit public scrutiny. FACA requires that meetings be held in public, announced via the Federal Register, that advisory groups are registered with an office at the General Services Administration, among other requirements intended to maintain accountability to the public interest.
But Government Executive reported that “O’Neill and others believed” such regulatory issues “would quell the free flow of ideas and no-holds-barred discussions they sought.” Pentagon lawyers had warned that the word ‘group’ might necessitate certain obligations and advised running the whole thing privately: “So O’Neill renamed it the Highlands Forum and moved into the private sector to manage it as a consultant to the Pentagon.” The Pentagon Highlands Forum thus runs under the mantle of O’Neill’s ‘intellectual capital venture firm,’ ‘Highlands Group Inc.’
In 1995, a year after William Perry appointed O’Neill to head up the Highlands Forum, SAIC — the Forum’s “partner” organization — launched a new Center for Information Strategy and Policy under the direction of “Jeffrey Cooper, a member of the Highlands Group who advises senior Defense Department officials on information warfare issues.” The Center had precisely the same objective as the Forum, to function as “a clearinghouse to bring together the best and brightest minds in information warfare by sponsoring a continuing series of seminars, papers and symposia which explore the implications of information warfare in depth.” The aim was to “enable leaders and policymakers from government, industry, and academia to address key issues surrounding information warfare to ensure that the United States retains its edge over any and all potential enemies.”
Despite FACA regulations, federal advisory committees are already heavily influenced, if not captured, by corporate power. So in bypassing FACA, the Pentagon overrode even the loose restrictions of FACA, by permanently excluding any possibility of public engagement.
O’Neill’s claim that there are no reports or recommendations is disingenuous. By his own admission, the secret Pentagon consultations with industry that have taken place through the Highlands Forum since 1994 have been accompanied by regular presentations of academic and policy papers, recordings and notes of meetings, and other forms of documentation that are locked behind a login only accessible by Forum delegates. This violates the spirit, if not the letter, of FACA — in a way that is patently intended to circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law.
The Highlands Forum doesn’t need to produce consensus recommendations. Its purpose is to provide the Pentagon a shadow social networking mechanism to cement lasting relationships with corporate power, and to identify new talent, that can be used to fine-tune information warfare strategies in absolute secrecy.
Total participants in the DoD’s Highlands Forum number over a thousand, although sessions largely consist of small closed workshop style gatherings of maximum 25–30 people, bringing together experts and officials depending on the subject. Delegates have included senior personnel from SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton, RAND Corp., Cisco, Human Genome Sciences, eBay, PayPal, IBM, Google, Microsoft, AT&T, the BBC, Disney, General Electric, Enron, among innumerable others; Democrat and Republican members of Congress and the Senate; senior executives from the US energy industry such as Daniel Yergin of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; and key people involved in both sides of presidential campaigns.
Other participants have included senior media professionals: David Ignatius, associate editor of the Washington Post and at the time the executive editor of the International Herald Tribune; Thomas Friedman, long-time New York Times columnist; Arnaud de Borchgrave, an editor at Washington Times and United Press International; Steven Levy, a former Newsweek editor, senior writer for Wired and now chief tech editor at Medium; Lawrence Wright, staff writer at the New Yorker; Noah Shachtmann, executive editor at the Daily Beast; Rebecca McKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices Online; Nik Gowing of the BBC; and John Markoff of the New York Times.
Due to its current sponsorship by the OSD’s undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the Forum has inside access to the chiefs of the main US surveillance and reconnaissance agencies, as well as the directors and their assistants at DoD research agencies, from DARPA, to the ONA. This also means that the Forum is deeply plugged into the Pentagon’s policy research task forces.
Google: seeded by the Pentagon
In 1994 — the same year the Highlands Forum was founded under the stewardship of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the ONA, and DARPA — two young PhD students at Stanford University, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, made their breakthrough on the first automated web crawling and page ranking application. That application remains the core component of what eventually became Google’s search service. Brin and Page had performed their work with funding from the Digital Library Initiative (DLI), a multi-agency programme of the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and DARPA.
But that’s just one side of the story.
Throughout the development of the search engine, Sergey Brin reported regularly and directly to two people who were not Stanford faculty at all: Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham and Dr. Rick Steinheiser. Both were representatives of a sensitive US intelligence community research programme on information security and data-mining.
Thuraisingham is currently the Louis A. Beecherl distinguished professor and executive director of the Cyber Security Research Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas, and a sought-after expert on data-mining, data management and information security issues. But in the 1990s, she worked for the MITRE Corp., a leading US defense contractor, where she managed the Massive Digital Data Systems initiative, a project sponsored by the NSA, CIA, and the Director of Central Intelligence, to foster innovative research in information technology.
“We funded Stanford University through the computer scientist Jeffrey Ullman, who had several promising graduate students working on many exciting areas,” Prof. Thuraisingham told me. “One of them was Sergey Brin, the founder of Google. The intelligence community’s MDDS program essentially provided Brin seed-funding, which was supplemented by many other sources, including the private sector.”
This sort of funding is certainly not unusual, and Sergey Brin’s being able to receive it by being a graduate student at Stanford appears to have been incidental. The Pentagon was all over computer science research at this time. But it illustrates how deeply entrenched the culture of Silicon Valley is in the values of the US intelligence community.
In an extraordinary document hosted by the website of the University of Texas, Thuraisingham recounts that from 1993 to 1999, “the Intelligence Community [IC] started a program called Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) that I was managing for the Intelligence Community when I was at the MITRE Corporation.” The program funded 15 research efforts at various universities, including Stanford. Its goal was developing “data management technologies to manage several terabytes to petabytes of data,” including for “query processing, transaction management, metadata management, storage management, and data integration.”
At the time, Thuraisingham was chief scientist for data and information management at MITRE, where she led team research and development efforts for the NSA, CIA, US Air Force Research Laboratory, as well as the US Army’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) and Communications and Electronic Command (CECOM). She went on to teach courses for US government officials and defense contractors on data-mining in counter-terrorism.
In her University of Texas article, she attaches the copy of an abstract of the US intelligence community’s MDDS program that had been presented to the “Annual Intelligence Community Symposium” in 1995. The abstract reveals that the primary sponsors of the MDDS programme were three agencies: the NSA, the CIA’s Office of Research & Development, and the intelligence community’s Community Management Staff (CMS) which operates under the Director of Central Intelligence. Administrators of the program, which provided funding of around 3–4 million dollars per year for 3–4 years, were identified as Hal Curran (NSA), Robert Kluttz (CMS), Dr. Claudia Pierce (NSA), Dr. Rick Steinheiser (ORD — standing for the CIA’s Office of Research and Devepment), and Dr. Thuraisingham herself.
Thuraisingham goes on in her article to reiterate that this joint CIA-NSA program partly funded Sergey Brin to develop the core of Google, through a grant to Stanford managed by Brin’s supervisor Prof. Jeffrey D. Ullman:
“In fact, the Google founder Mr. Sergey Brin was partly funded by this program while he was a PhD student at Stanford. He together with his advisor Prof. Jeffrey Ullman and my colleague at MITRE, Dr. Chris Clifton [Mitre’s chief scientist in IT], developed the Query Flocks System which produced solutions for mining large amounts of data stored in databases. I remember visiting Stanford with Dr. Rick Steinheiser from the Intelligence Community and Mr. Brin would rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out. In fact the last time we met in September 1998, Mr. Brin demonstrated to us his search engine which became Google soon after.”
Brin and Page officially incorporated Google as a company in September 1998, the very month they last reported to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser. ‘Query Flocks’ was also part of Google’s patented ‘PageRank’ search system, which Brin developed at Stanford under the CIA-NSA-MDDS programme, as well as with funding from the NSF, IBM and Hitachi. That year, MITRE’s Dr. Chris Clifton, who worked under Thuraisingham to develop the ‘Query Flocks’ system, co-authored a paper with Brin’s superviser, Prof. Ullman, and the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser. Titled ‘Knowledge Discovery in Text,’ the paper was presented at an academic conference.
“The MDDS funding that supported Brin was significant as far as seed-funding goes, but it was probably outweighed by the other funding streams,” said Thuraisingham. “The duration of Brin’s funding was around two years or so. In that period, I and my colleagues from the MDDS would visit Stanford to see Brin and monitor his progress every three months or so. We didn’t supervise exactly, but we did want to check progress, point out potential problems and suggest ideas. In those briefings, Brin did present to us on the query flocks research, and also demonstrated to us versions of the Google search engine.”
Brin thus reported to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser regularly about his work developing Google.
UPDATE 2.05PM GMT [2nd Feb 2015]:
Since publication of this article, Prof. Thuraisingham has amended her article referenced above. The amended version includes a new modified statement, followed by a copy of the original version of her account of the MDDS. In this amended version, Thuraisingham rejects the idea that CIA funded Google, and says instead:
“In fact Prof. Jeffrey Ullman (at Stanford) and my colleague at MITRE Dr. Chris Clifton together with some others developed the Query Flocks System, as part of MDDS, which produced solutions for mining large amounts of data stored in databases. Also, Mr. Sergey Brin, the cofounder of Google, was part of Prof. Ullman’s research group at that time. I remember visiting Stanford with Dr. Rick Steinheiser from the Intelligence Community periodically and Mr. Brin would rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out. During our last visit to Stanford in September 1998, Mr. Brin demonstrated to us his search engine which I believe became Google soon after…
There are also several inaccuracies in Dr. Ahmed’s article (dated January 22, 2015). For example, the MDDS program was not a ‘sensitive’ program as stated by Dr. Ahmed; it was an Unclassified program that funded universities in the US. Furthermore, Sergey Brin never reported to me or to Dr. Rick Steinheiser; he only gave presentations to us during our visits to the Department of Computer Science at Stanford during the 1990s. Also, MDDS never funded Google; it funded Stanford University.”
Here, there is no substantive factual difference in Thuraisingham’s accounts, other than to assert that her statement associating Sergey Brin with the development of ‘query flocks’ is mistaken. Notably, this acknowledgement is derived not from her own knowledge, but from this very article quoting a comment from a Google spokesperson.
However, the bizarre attempt to disassociate Google from the MDDS program misses the mark. Firstly, the MDDS never funded Google, because during the development of the core components of the Google search engine, there was no company incorporated with that name. The grant was instead provided to Stanford University through Prof. Ullman, through whom some MDDS funding was used to support Brin who was co-developing Google at the time. Secondly, Thuraisingham then adds that Brin never “reported” to her or the CIA’s Steinheiser, but admits he “gave presentations to us during our visits to the Department of Computer Science at Stanford during the 1990s.” It is unclear, though, what the distinction is here between reporting, and delivering a detailed presentation — either way, Thuraisingham confirms that she and the CIA had taken a keen interest in Brin’s development of Google. Thirdly, Thuraisingham describes the MDDS program as “unclassified,” but this does not contradict its “sensitive” nature. As someone who has worked for decades as an intelligence contractor and advisor, Thuraisingham is surely aware that there are many ways of categorizing intelligence, including ‘sensitive but unclassified.’ A number of former US intelligence officials I spoke to said that the almost total lack of public information on the CIA and NSA’s MDDS initiative suggests that although the progam was not classified, it is likely instead that its contents was considered sensitive, which would explain efforts to minimise transparency about the program and the way it fed back into developing tools for the US intelligence community. Fourthly, and finally, it is important to point out that the MDDS abstract which Thuraisingham includes in her University of Texas document states clearly not only that the Director of Central Intelligence’s CMS, CIA and NSA were the overseers of the MDDS initiative, but that the intended customers of the project were “DoD, IC, and other government organizations”: the Pentagon, the US intelligence community, and other relevant US government agencies.
In other words, the provision of MDDS funding to Brin through Ullman, under the oversight of Thuraisingham and Steinheiser, was fundamentally because they recognized the potential utility of Brin’s work developing Google to the Pentagon, intelligence community, and the federal government at large.
The MDDS programme is actually referenced in several papers co-authored by Brin and Page while at Stanford, specifically highlighting its role in financially sponsoring Brin in the development of Google. In their 1998 paper published in the Bulletin of the IEEE Computer Society Technical Committeee on Data Engineering, they describe the automation of methods to extract information from the web via “Dual Iterative Pattern Relation Extraction,” the development of “a global ranking of Web pages called PageRank,” and the use of PageRank “to develop a novel search engine called Google.” Through an opening footnote, Sergey Brin confirms he was “Partially supported by the Community Management Staff’s Massive Digital Data Systems Program, NSF grant IRI-96–31952” — confirming that Brin’s work developing Google was indeed partly-funded by the CIA-NSA-MDDS program.
This NSF grant identified alongside the MDDS, whose project report lists Brin among the students supported (without mentioning the MDDS), was different to the NSF grant to Larry Page that included funding from DARPA and NASA. The project report, authored by Brin’s supervisor Prof. Ullman, goes on to say under the section ‘Indications of Success’ that “there are some new stories of startups based on NSF-supported research.” Under ‘Project Impact,’ the report remarks: “Finally, the google project has also gone commercial as Google.com.”
Thuraisingham’s account, including her new amended version, therefore demonstrates that the CIA-NSA-MDDS program was not only partly funding Brin throughout his work with Larry Page developing Google, but that senior US intelligence representatives including a CIA official oversaw the evolution of Google in this pre-launch phase, all the way until the company was ready to be officially founded. Google, then, had been enabled with a “significant” amount of seed-funding and oversight from the Pentagon: namely, the CIA, NSA, and DARPA.
The DoD could not be reached for comment.
When I asked Prof. Ullman to confirm whether or not Brin was partly funded under the intelligence community’s MDDS program, and whether Ullman was aware that Brin was regularly briefing the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser on his progress in developing the Google search engine, Ullman’s responses were evasive: “May I know whom you represent and why you are interested in these issues? Who are your ‘sources’?” He also denied that Brin played a significant role in developing the ‘query flocks’ system, although it is clear from Brin’s papers that he did draw on that work in co-developing the PageRank system with Page.
When I asked Ullman whether he was denying the US intelligence community’s role in supporting Brin during the development of Google, he said: “I am not going to dignify this nonsense with a denial. If you won’t explain what your theory is, and what point you are trying to make, I am not going to help you in the slightest.”
The MDDS abstract published online at the University of Texas confirms that the rationale for the CIA-NSA project was to “provide seed money to develop data management technologies which are of high-risk and high-pay-off,” including techniques for “querying, browsing, and filtering; transaction processing; accesses methods and indexing; metadata management and data modelling; and integrating heterogeneous databases; as well as developing appropriate architectures.” The ultimate vision of the program was to “provide for the seamless access and fusion of massive amounts of data, information and knowledge in a heterogeneous, real-time environment” for use by the Pentagon, intelligence community and potentially across government.
These revelations corroborate the claims of Robert Steele, former senior CIA officer and a founding civilian deputy director of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, whom I interviewed for The Guardian last year on open source intelligence. Citing sources at the CIA, Steele had said in 2006 that Steinheiser, an old colleague of his, was the CIA’s main liaison at Google and had arranged early funding for the pioneering IT firm. At the time, Wired founder John Batelle managed to get this official denial from a Google spokesperson in response to Steele’s assertions:
“The statements related to Google are completely untrue.”
This time round, despite multiple requests and conversations, a Google spokesperson declined to comment.
UPDATE: As of 5.41PM GMT [22nd Jan 2015], Google’s director of corporate communication got in touch and asked me to include the following statement:
“Sergey Brin was not part of the Query Flocks Program at Stanford, nor were any of his projects funded by US Intelligence bodies.”
This is what I wrote back:
My response to that statement would be as follows: Brin himself in his own paper acknowledges funding from the Community Management Staff of the Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) initiative, which was supplied through the NSF. The MDDS was an intelligence community program set up by the CIA and NSA. I also have it on record, as noted in the piece, from Prof. Thuraisingham of University of Texas that she managed the MDDS program on behalf of the US intelligence community, and that her and the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser met Brin every three months or so for two years to be briefed on his progress developing Google and PageRank. Whether Brin worked on query flocks or not is neither here nor there.
In that context, you might want to consider the following questions:
1) Does Google deny that Brin’s work was part-funded by the MDDS via an NSF grant?
2) Does Google deny that Brin reported regularly to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser from around 1996 to 1998 until September that year when he presented the Google search engine to them?
Total Information Awareness
A call for papers for the MDDS was sent out via email list on November 3rd 1993 from senior US intelligence official David Charvonia, director of the research and development coordination office of the intelligence community’s CMS. The reaction from Tatu Ylonen (celebrated inventor of the widely used secure shell [SSH] data protection protocol) to his colleagues on the email list is telling: “Crypto relevance? Makes you think whether you should protect your data.” The email also confirms that defense contractor and Highlands Forum partner, SAIC, was managing the MDDS submission process, with abstracts to be sent to Jackie Booth of the CIA’s Office of Research and Development via a SAIC email address.
By 1997, Thuraisingham reveals, shortly before Google became incorporated and while she was still overseeing the development of its search engine software at Stanford, her thoughts turned to the national security applications of the MDDS program. In the acknowledgements to her book, Web Data Mining and Applications in Business Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism (2003), Thuraisingham writes that she and “Dr. Rick Steinheiser of the CIA, began discussions with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on applying data-mining for counter-terrorism,” an idea that resulted directly from the MDDS program which partly funded Google. “These discussions eventually developed into the current EELD (Evidence Extraction and Link Detection) program at DARPA.”
So the very same senior CIA official and CIA-NSA contractor involved in providing the seed-funding for Google were simultaneously contemplating the role of data-mining for counter-terrorism purposes, and were developing ideas for tools actually advanced by DARPA.
Today, as illustrated by her recent oped in the New York Times, Thuraisingham remains a staunch advocate of data-mining for counter-terrorism purposes, but also insists that these methods must be developed by government in cooperation with civil liberties lawyers and privacy advocates to ensure that robust procedures are in place to prevent potential abuse. She points out, damningly, that with the quantity of information being collected, there is a high risk of false positives.
In 1993, when the MDDS program was launched and managed by MITRE Corp. on behalf of the US intelligence community, University of Virginia computer scientist Dr. Anita K. Jones — a MITRE trustee — landed the job of DARPA director and head of research and engineering across the Pentagon. She had been on the board of MITRE since 1988. From 1987 to 1993, Jones simultaneously served on SAIC’s board of directors. As the new head of DARPA from 1993 to 1997, she also co-chaired the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum during the period of Google’s pre-launch development at Stanford under the MDSS.
Thus, when Thuraisingham and Steinheiser were talking to DARPA about the counter-terrorism applications of MDDS research, Jones was DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair. That year, Jones left DARPA to return to her post at the University of Virgina. The following year, she joined the board of the National Science Foundation, which of course had also just funded Brin and Page, and also returned to the board of SAIC. When she left DoD, Senator Chuck Robb paid Jones the following tribute : “She brought the technology and operational military communities together to design detailed plans to sustain US dominance on the battlefield into the next century.”
Dr. Anita Jones, head of DARPA from 1993–1997, and co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum from 1995–1997, during which officials in charge of the CIA-NSA-MDSS program were funding Google, and in communication with DARPA about data-mining for counterterrorism
On the board of the National Science Foundation from 1992 to 1998 (including a stint as chairman from 1996) was Richard N. Zare. This was the period in which the NSF sponsored Sergey Brin and Larry Page in association with DARPA. In June 1994, Prof. Zare, a chemist at Stanford, participated with Prof. Jeffrey Ullman (who supervised Sergey Brin’s research), on a panel sponsored by Stanford and the National Research Council discussing the need for scientists to show how their work “ties to national needs.” The panel brought together scientists and policymakers, including “Washington insiders.”
DARPA’s EELD program, inspired by the work of Thuraisingham and Steinheiser under Jones’ watch, was rapidly adapted and integrated with a suite of tools to conduct comprehensive surveillance under the Bush administration.
According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.
The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was another contractor among 26 companies (also including SAIC) that received million dollar contracts from DARPA (the specific quantities remained classified) under Poindexter, to push forward the TIA surveillance program in 2002 onwards. The research included “behaviour-based profiling,” “automated detection, identification and tracking” of terrorist activity, among other data-analyzing projects. At this time, PARC’s director and chief scientist was John Seely Brown. Both Brown and Poindexter were Pentagon Highlands Forum participants — Brown on a regular basis until recently.
TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.
Google, DARPA and the money trail
Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. A letter dated November 5th 1984 from the office of renowned artificial intelligence (AI) expert, Prof Edward Feigenbaum, addressed to Rick Steinheiser, gives the latter directions to Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project, addressing Steinheiser as a member of the “AI Steering Committee.” A list of attendees at a contractor conference around that time, sponsored by the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), includes Steinheiser as a delegate under the designation “OPNAV Op-115” — which refers to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ program on operational readiness, which played a major role in advancing digital systems for the military.
From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.
Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.
In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA.
As a Stanford PhD student in electrical engineering in the 1980s, Bechtolsheim’s pioneering SUN workstation project had been funded by DARPA and the Stanford computer science department — this research was the foundation of Bechtolsheim’s establishment of Sun Microsystems, which he co-founded with William Joy.
As for Bechtolsheim’s co-investor in Google, David Cheriton, the latter is a long-time Stanford computer science professor who has an even more entrenched relationship with DARPA. His bio at the University of Alberta, which in November 2014 awarded him an honorary science doctorate, says that Cheriton’s “research has received the support of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for over 20 years.”
In the meantime, Bechtolsheim left Sun Microsystems in 1995, co-founding Granite Systems with his fellow Google investor Cheriton as a partner. They sold Granite to Cisco Systems in 1996, retaining significant ownership of Granite, and becoming senior Cisco executives.
An email obtained from the Enron Corpus (a database of 600,000 emails acquired by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and later released to the public) from Richard O’Neill, inviting Enron executives to participate in the Highlands Forum, shows that Cisco and Granite executives are intimately connected to the Pentagon. The email reveals that in May 2000, Bechtolsheim’s partner and Sun Microsystems co-founder, William Joy — who was then chief scientist and corporate executive officer there — had attended the Forum to discuss nanotechnology and molecular computing.
In 1999, Joy had also co-chaired the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, overseeing a report acknowledging that DARPA had:
“… revised its priorities in the 90’s so that all information technology funding was judged in terms of its benefit to the warfighter.”
Throughout the 1990s, then, DARPA’s funding to Stanford, including Google, was explicitly about developing technologies that could augment the Pentagon’s military intelligence operations in war theatres.
The Joy report recommended more federal government funding from the Pentagon, NASA, and other agencies to the IT sector. Greg Papadopoulos, another of Bechtolsheim’s colleagues as then Sun Microsystems chief technology officer, also attended a Pentagon Highlands’ Forum meeting in September 2000.
In November, the Pentagon Highlands Forum hosted Sue Bostrom, who was vice president for the internet at Cisco, sitting on the company’s board alongside Google co-investors Bechtolsheim and Cheriton. The Forum also hosted Lawrence Zuriff, then a managing partner of Granite, which Bechtolsheim and Cheriton had sold to Cisco. Zuriff had previously been an SAIC contractor from 1993 to 1994, working with the Pentagon on national security issues, specifically for Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment. In 1994, both the SAIC and the ONA were, of course, involved in co-establishing the Pentagon Highlands Forum. Among Zuriff’s output during his SAIC tenure was a paper titled ‘Understanding Information War’, delivered at a SAIC-sponsored US Army Roundtable on the Revolution in Military Affairs.
After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community.
John Doerr, who led the Kleiner Perkins investment in Google obtaining a board position, was a major early investor in Becholshtein’s Sun Microsystems at its launch. He and his wife Anne are the main funders behind Rice University’s Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL), which in 2009 received $16 million from DARPA for its platform-aware-compilation-environment (PACE) ubiquitous computing R&D program. Doerr also has a close relationship with the Obama administration, which he advised shortly after it took power to ramp up Pentagon funding to the tech industry. In 2013, at the Fortune Brainstorm TECH conference, Doerr applauded “how the DoD’s DARPA funded GPS, CAD, most of the major computer science departments, and of course, the Internet.”
From inception, in other words, Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community: many of whom were embedded in the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
Google captures the Pentagon
In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. That year, CIA funding was also being “quietly” funneled through the National Science Foundation to projects that might help create “new capabilities to combat terrorism through advanced technology.”
The following year, Google bought the firm Keyhole, which had originally been funded by In-Q-Tel. Using Keyhole, Google began developing the advanced satellite mapping software behind Google Earth. Former DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair Anita Jones had been on the board of In-Q-Tel at this time, and remains so today.
Then in November 2005, In-Q-Tel issued notices to sell $2.2 million of Google stocks. Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.”
A photo on Flickr dated March 2007 reveals that Google research director and AI expert Peter Norvig attended a Pentagon Highlands Forum meeting that year in Carmel, California. Norvig’s intimate connection to the Forum as of that year is also corroborated by his role in guest editing the 2007 Forum reading list.
The photo below shows Norvig in conversation with Lewis Shepherd, who at that time was senior technology officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, responsible for investigating, approving, and architecting “all new hardware/software systems and acquisitions for the Global Defense Intelligence IT Enterprise,” including “big data technologies.” Shepherd now works at Microsoft. Norvig was a computer research scientist at Stanford University in 1991 before joining Bechtolsheim’s Sun Microsystems as senior scientist until 1994, and going on to head up NASA’s computer science division.
Lewis Shepherd (left), then a senior technology officer at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, talking to Peter Norvig (right), renowned expert in artificial intelligence expert and director of research at Google. This photo is from a Highlands Forum meeting in 2007.
Norvig shows up on O’Neill’s Google Plus profile as one of his close connections. Scoping the rest of O’Neill’s Google Plus connections illustrates that he is directly connected not just to a wide range of Google executives, but also to some of the biggest names in the US tech community.
Those connections include Michele Weslander Quaid, an ex-CIA contractor and former senior Pentagon intelligence official who is now Google’s chief technology officer where she is developing programs to “best fit government agencies’ needs”; Elizabeth Churchill, Google director of user experience; James Kuffner, a humanoid robotics expert who now heads up Google’s robotics division and who introduced the term ‘cloud robotics’; Mark Drapeau, director of innovation engagement for Microsoft’s public sector business; Lili Cheng, general manager of Microsoft’s Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs; Jon Udell, Microsoft ‘evangelist’; Cory Ondrejka, vice president of engineering at Facebook; to name just a few.
In 2010, Google signed a multi-billion dollar no-bid contract with the NSA’s sister agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The contract was to use Google Earth for visualization services for the NGA. Google had developed the software behind Google Earth by purchasing Keyhole from the CIA venture firm In-Q-Tel.
Then a year after, in 2011, another of O’Neill’s Google Plus connections, Michele Quaid — who had served in executive positions at the NGA, National Reconnaissance Office and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — left her government role to become Google ‘innovation evangelist’ and the point-person for seeking government contracts. Quaid’s last role before her move to Google was as a senior representative of the Director of National Intelligence to the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force, and a senior advisor to the undersecretary of defense for intelligence’s director of Joint and Coalition Warfighter Support (J&CWS). Both roles involved information operations at their core. Before her Google move, in other words, Quaid worked closely with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, to which the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum is subordinate. Quaid has herself attended the Forum, though precisely when and how often I could not confirm.
In March 2012, then DARPA director Regina Dugan — who in that capacity was also co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum — followed her colleague Quaid into Google to lead the company’s new Advanced Technology and Projects Group. During her Pentagon tenure, Dugan led on strategic cyber security and social media, among other initiatives. She was responsible for focusing “an increasing portion” of DARPA’s work “on the investigation of offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs,” securing $500 million of government funding for DARPA cyber research from 2012 to 2017.
Regina Dugan, former head of DARPA and Highlands Forum co-chair, now a senior Google executive — trying her best to look the part
By November 2014, Google’s chief AI and robotics expert James Kuffner was a delegate alongside O’Neill at the Highlands Island Forum 2014 in Singapore, to explore ‘Advancement in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Society, Security and Conflict.’ The event included 26 delegates from Austria, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Britain and the US, from both industry and government. Kuffner’s association with the Pentagon, however, began much earlier. In 1997, Kuffner was a researcher during his Stanford PhD for a Pentagon-funded project on networked autonomous mobile robots, sponsored by DARPA and the US Navy.
Rumsfeld and persistent surveillance
In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.
The Highlands Forum itself has used the informal relationship building of such private networks to bring together defense and industry sectors, enabling the fusion of corporate and military interests in expanding the covert surveillance apparatus in the name of national security. The power wielded by the shadow network represented in the Forum can, however, be gauged most clearly from its impact during the Bush administration, when it played a direct role in literally writing the strategies and doctrines behind US efforts to achieve ‘information superiority.’
In December 2001, O’Neill confirmed that strategic discussions at the Highlands Forum were feeding directly into Andrew Marshall’s DoD-wide strategic review ordered by President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to upgrade the military, including the Quadrennial Defense Review — and that some of the earliest Forum meetings “resulted in the writing of a group of DoD policies, strategies, and doctrine for the services on information warfare.” That process of “writing” the Pentagon’s information warfare policies “was done in conjunction with people who understood the environment differently — not only US citizens, but also foreign citizens, and people who were developing corporate IT.”
The Pentagon’s post-9/11 information warfare doctrines were, then, written not just by national security officials from the US and abroad: but also by powerful corporate entities in the defense and technology sectors.
In April that year, Gen. James McCarthy had completed his defense transformation review ordered by Rumsfeld. His report repeatedly highlighted mass surveillance as integral to DoD transformation. As for Marshall, his follow-up report for Rumsfeld was going to develop a blueprint determining the Pentagon’s future in the ‘information age.’
O’Neill also affirmed that to develop information warfare doctrine, the Forum had held extensive discussions on electronic surveillance and “what constitutes an act of war in an information environment.” Papers feeding into US defense policy written through the late 1990s by RAND consultants John Arquilla and David Rondfeldt, both longstanding Highlands Forum members, were produced “as a result of those meetings,” exploring policy dilemmas on how far to take the goal of ‘Information Superiority.’ “One of the things that was shocking to the American public was that we weren’t pilfering Milosevic’s accounts electronically when we in fact could,” commented O’Neill.
Although the R&D process around the Pentagon transformation strategy remains classified, a hint at the DoD discussions going on in this period can be gleaned from a 2005 US Army School of Advanced Military Studies research monograph in the DoD journal, Military Review, authored by an active Army intelligence officer.
“The idea of Persistent Surveillance as a transformational capability has circulated within the national Intelligence Community (IC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) for at least three years,” the paper said, referencing the Rumsfeld-commissioned transformation study.
The Army paper went on to review a range of high-level official military documents, including one from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showing that “Persistent Surveillance” was a fundamental theme of the information-centric vision for defense policy across the Pentagon.
We now know that just two months before O’Neill’s address at Harvard in 2001, under the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.
The surveillance-startup nexus
From here on, Highlands Forum partner SAIC played a key role in the NSA roll out from inception. Shortly after 9/11, Brian Sharkey, chief technology officer of SAIC’s ELS3 Sector (focusing on IT systems for emergency responders), teamed up with John Poindexter to propose the TIA surveillance program. SAIC’s Sharkey had previously been deputy director of the Information Systems Office at DARPA through the 1990s.
Meanwhile, around the same time, SAIC vice president for corporate development, Samuel Visner, became head of the NSA’s signals-intelligence programs. SAIC was then among a consortium receiving a $280 million contract to develop one of the NSA’s secret eavesdropping systems. By 2003, Visner returned to SAIC to become director of strategic planning and business development of the firm’s intelligence group.
That year, the NSA consolidated its TIA programme of warrantless electronic surveillance, to keep “track of individuals” and understand “how they fit into models” through risk profiles of American citizens and foreigners. TIA was doing this by integrating databases on finance, travel, medical, educational and other records into a “virtual, centralized grand database.”
This was also the year that the Bush administration drew up its notorious Information Operations Roadmap. Describing the internet as a “vulnerable weapons system,” Rumsfeld’s IO roadmap had advocated that Pentagon strategy “should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system.” The US should seek “maximum control” of the “full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems,” advocated the document.
The following year, John Poindexter, who had proposed and run the TIA surveillance program via his post at DARPA, was in Singapore participating in the Highlands 2004 Island Forum. Other delegates included then Highlands Forum co-chair and Pentagon CIO Linton Wells; president of notorious Pentagon information warfare contractor, John Rendon; Karl Lowe, director of the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) Joint Advanced Warfighting Division; Air Vice Marshall Stephen Dalton, capability manager for information superiority at the UK Ministry of Defense; Lt. Gen. Johan Kihl, Swedish army Supreme Commander HQ’s chief of staff; among others.
As of 2006, SAIC had been awarded a multi-million dollar NSA contract to develop a big data-mining project called ExecuteLocus, despite the colossal $1 billion failure of its preceding contract, known as ‘Trailblazer.’ Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.
This was also the year of yet another Singapore Island Forum led by Richard O’Neill on behalf of the Pentagon, which included senior defense and industry officials from the US, UK, Australia, France, India and Israel. Participants also included senior technologists from Microsoft, IBM, as well as Gilman Louie, partner at technology investment firm Alsop Louie Partners.
Gilman Louie is a former CEO of In-Q-Tel — the CIA firm investing especially in start-ups developing data mining technology. In-Q-Tel was founded in 1999 by the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, under which the Office of Research and Development (ORD) — which was part of the Google-funding MDSS program — had operated. The idea was to essentially replace the functions once performed by the ORD, by mobilizing the private sector to develop information technology solutions for the entire intelligence community.
Louie had led In-Q-Tel from 1999 until January 2006 — including when Google bought Keyhole, the In-Q-Tel-funded satellite mapping software. Among his colleagues on In-Q-Tel’s board in this period were former DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair Anita Jones (who is still there), as well as founding board member William Perry: the man who had appointed O’Neill to set-up the Highlands Forum in the first place. Joining Perry as a founding In-Q-Tel board member was John Seely Brown, then chief scientist at Xerox Corp and director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from 1990 to 2002, who is also a long-time senior Highlands Forum member since inception.
In addition to the CIA, In-Q-Tel has also been backed by the FBI, NGA, and Defense Intelligence Agency, among other agencies. More than 60 percent of In-Q-Tel’s investments under Louie’s watch were “in companies that specialize in automatically collecting, sifting through and understanding oceans of information,” according to Medill School of Journalism’s News21, which also noted that Louie himself had acknowledged it was not clear “whether privacy and civil liberties will be protected” by government’s use of these technologies “for national security.”
The transcript of Richard O’Neill’s late 2001 seminar at Harvard shows that the Pentagon Highlands Forum had first engaged Gilman Louie long before the Island Forum, in fact, shortly after 9/11 to explore “what’s going on with In-Q-Tel.” That Forum session focused on how to “take advantage of the speed of the commercial market that wasn’t present inside the science and technology community of Washington” and to understand “the implications for the DoD in terms of the strategic review, the QDR, Hill action, and the stakeholders.” Participants of the meeting included “senior military people,” combatant commanders, “several of the senior flag officers,” some “defense industry people” and various US representatives including Republican Congressman William Mac Thornberry and Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Both Thornberry and Lieberman are staunch supporters of NSA surveillance, and have consistently acted to rally support for pro-war, pro-surveillance legislation. O’Neill’s comments indicate that the Forum’s role is not just to enable corporate contractors to write Pentagon policy, but to rally political support for government policies adopted through the Forum’s informal brand of shadow networking.
Repeatedly, O’Neill told his Harvard audience that his job as Forum president was to scope case studies from real companies across the private sector, like eBay and Human Genome Sciences, to figure out the basis of US ‘Information Superiority’ — “how to dominate” the information market — and leverage this for “what the president and the secretary of defense wanted to do with regard to transformation of the DoD and the strategic review.”
By 2007, a year after the Island Forum meeting that included Gilman Louie, Facebook received its second round of $12.7 million worth of funding from Accel Partners. Accel was headed up by James Breyer, former chair of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) where Louie also served on the board while still CEO of In-Q-Tel. Both Louie and Breyer had previously served together on the board of BBN Technologies — which had recruited ex-DARPA chief and In-Q-Tel trustee Anita Jones.
Facebook’s 2008 round of funding was led by Greylock Venture Capital, which invested $27.5 million. The firm’s senior partners include Howard Cox, another former NVCA chair who also sits on the board of In-Q-Tel. Apart from Breyer and Zuckerberg, Facebook’s only other board member is Peter Thiel, co-founder of defense contractor Palantir which provides all sorts of data-mining and visualization technologies to US government, military and intelligence agencies, including the NSA and FBI, and which itself was nurtured to financial viability by Highlands Forum members.
Palantir co-founders Thiel and Alex Karp met with John Poindexter in 2004, according to Wired, the same year Poindexter had attended the Highlands Island Forum in Singapore. They met at the home of Richard Perle, another Andrew Marshall acolyte. Poindexter helped Palantir open doors, and to assemble “a legion of advocates from the most influential strata of government.” Thiel had also met with Gilman Louie of In-Q-Tel, securing the backing of the CIA in this early phase.
And so we come full circle. Data-mining programs like ExecuteLocus and projects linked to it, which were developed throughout this period, apparently laid the groundwork for the new NSA programmes eventually disclosed by Edward Snowden. By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.
We also now know thanks to Snowden that the NSA’s XKeyscore ‘Digital Network Intelligence’ exploitation system was designed to allow analysts to search not just Internet databases like emails, online chats and browsing history, but also telephone services, mobile phone audio, financial transactions and global air transport communications — essentially the entire global telecommunications grid. Highlands Forum partner SAIC played a key role, among other contractors, in producing and administering the NSA’s XKeyscore, and was recently implicated in NSA hacking of the privacy network Tor.
The Pentagon Highlands Forum was therefore intimately involved in all this as a convening network—but also quite directly. Confirming his pivotal role in the expansion of the US-led global surveillance apparatus, then Forum co-chair, Pentagon CIO Linton Wells, told FedTech magazine in 2009 that he had overseen the NSA’s roll out of “an impressive long-term architecture last summer that will provide increasingly sophisticated security until 2015 or so.”
The Goldman Sachs connection
When I asked Wells about the Forum’s role in influencing US mass surveillance, he responded only to say he would prefer not to comment and that he no longer leads the group.
As Wells is no longer in government, this is to be expected — but he is still connected to Highlands. As of September 2014, after delivering his influential white paper on Pentagon transformation, he joined the Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS) Cyber Security Initiative (CySec) as a distinguished senior fellow.
Sadly, this was not a form of trying to keep busy in retirement. Wells’ move underscored that the Pentagon’s conception of information warfare is not just about surveillance, but about the exploitation of surveillance to influence both government and public opinion.
The MIIS CySec initiative is now formally partnered with the Pentagon Highlands Forum through a Memorandum of Understanding signed with MIIS provost Dr Amy Sands, who sits on the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board. The MIIS CySec website states that the MoU signed with Richard O’Neill:
“… paves the way for future joint MIIS CySec-Highlands Group sessions that will explore the impact of technology on security, peace and information engagement. For nearly 20 years the Highlands Group has engaged private sector and government leaders, including the Director of National Intelligence, DARPA, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Singaporean Minister of Defence, in creative conversations to frame policy and technology research areas.”
Who is the financial benefactor of the new Pentagon Highlands-partnered MIIS CySec initiative? According to the MIIS CySec site, the initiative was launched “through a generous donation of seed funding from George Lee.” George C. Lee is a senior partner at Goldman Sachs, where he is chief information officer of the investment banking division, and chairman of the Global Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) Group.
But here’s the kicker. In 2011, it was Lee who engineered Facebook’s $50 billion valuation, and previously handled deals for other Highlands-connected tech giants like Google, Microsoft and eBay. Lee’s then boss, Stephen Friedman, a former CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, and later senior partner on the firm’s executive board, was a also founding board member of In-Q-Tel alongside Highlands Forum overlord William Perry and Forum member John Seely Brown.
In 2001, Bush appointed Stephen Friedman to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and then to chair that board from 2005 to 2009. Friedman previously served alongside Paul Wolfowitz and others on the 1995–6 presidential commission of inquiry into US intelligence capabilities, and in 1996 on the Jeremiah Panel that produced a report to the Director of the National Reconnaisance Office (NRO) — one of the surveillance agencies plugged into the Highlands Forum. Friedman was on the Jeremiah Panel with Martin Faga, then senior vice president and general manager of MITRE Corp’s Center for Integrated Intelligence Systems — where Thuraisingham, who managed the CIA-NSA-MDDS program that inspired DARPA counter-terrorist data-mining, was also a lead engineer.
In the footnotes to a chapter for the book, Cyberspace and National Security (Georgetown University Press), SAIC/Leidos executive Jeff Cooper reveals that another Goldman Sachs senior partner Philip J. Venables — who as chief information risk officer leads the firm’s programs on information security — delivered a Highlands Forum presentation in 2008 at what was called an ‘Enrichment Session on Deterrence.’ Cooper’s chapter draws on Venables’ presentation at Highlands “with permission.” In 2010, Venables participated with his then boss Friedman at an Aspen Institute meeting on the world economy. For the last few years, Venables has also sat on various NSA cybersecurity award review boards.
In sum, the investment firm responsible for creating the billion dollar fortunes of the tech sensations of the 21st century, from Google to Facebook, is intimately linked to the US military intelligence community; with Venables, Lee and Friedman either directly connected to the Pentagon Highlands Forum, or to senior members of the Forum.
Fighting terror with terror
The convergence of these powerful financial and military interests around the Highlands Forum, through George Lee’s sponsorship of the Forum’s new partner, the MIIS Cysec initiative, is revealing in itself.
MIIS Cysec’s director, Dr, Itamara Lochard, has long been embedded in Highlands. She regularly “presents current research on non-state groups, governance, technology and conflict to the US Office of the Secretary of Defense Highlands Forum,” according to her Tufts University bio. She also, “regularly advises US combatant commanders” and specializes in studying the use of information technology by “violent and non-violent sub-state groups.”
Dr Itamara Lochard is a senior Highlands Forum member and Pentagon information operations expert. She directs the MIIS CyberSec initiative that now supports the Pentagon Highlands Forum with funding from Goldman Sachs partner George Lee, who led the valuations of Facebook and Google.
Dr Lochard maintains a comprehensive database of 1,700 non-state groups including “insurgents, militias, terrorists, complex criminal organizations, organized gangs, malicious cyber actors and strategic non-violent actors,” to analyze their “organizational patterns, areas of cooperation, strategies and tactics.” Notice, here, the mention of “strategic non-violent actors” — which perhaps covers NGOs and other groups or organizations engaged in social political activity or campaigning, judging by the focus of other DoD research programs.
As of 2008, Lochard has been an adjunct professor at the US Joint Special Operations University where she teaches a top secret advanced course in ‘Irregular Warfare’ that she designed for senior US special forces officers. She has previously taught courses on ‘Internal War’ for senior “political-military officers” of various Gulf regimes.
Her views thus disclose much about what the Highlands Forum has been advocating all these years. In 2004, Lochard was co-author of a study for the US Air Force’s Institute for National Security Studies on US strategy toward ‘non-state armed groups.’ The study on the one hand argued that non-state armed groups should be urgently recognized as a ‘tier one security priority,’ and on the other that the proliferation of armed groups “provide strategic opportunities that can be exploited to help achieve policy goals. There have and will be instances where the United States may find collaborating with armed group is in its strategic interests.” But “sophisticated tools” must be developed to differentiate between different groups and understand their dynamics, to determine which groups should be countered, and which could be exploited for US interests. “Armed group profiles can likewise be employed to identify ways in which the United States may assist certain armed groups whose success will be advantageous to US foreign policy objectives.”
In 2008, Wikileaks published a leaked restricted US Army Special Operations field manual, which demonstrated that the sort of thinking advocated by the likes of Highlands expert Lochard had been explicitly adopted by US special forces.
Lochard’s work thus demonstrates that the Highlands Forum sat at the intersection of advanced Pentagon strategy on surveillance, covert operations and irregular warfare: mobilizing mass surveillance to develop detailed information on violent and non-violent groups perceived as potentially threatening to US interests, or offering opportunities for exploitation, thus feeding directly into US covert operations.
That, ultimately, is why the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon, spawned Google. So they could run their secret dirty wars with even greater efficiency than ever before.
Mass surveillance is about control. It’s promulgators may well claim, and even believe, that it is about control for the greater good, a control that is needed to keep a cap on disorder, to be fully vigilant to the next threat. But in a context of rampant political corruption, widening economic inequalities, and escalating resource stress due to climate change and energy volatility, mass surveillance can become a tool of power to merely perpetuate itself, at the public’s expense.
A major function of mass surveillance that is often overlooked is that of knowing the adversary to such an extent that they can be manipulated into defeat. The problem is that the adversary is not just terrorists. It’s you and me. To this day, the role of information warfare as propaganda has been in full swing, though systematically ignored by much of the media.
Here, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE exposes how the Pentagon Highlands Forum’s co-optation of tech giants like Google to pursue mass surveillance, has played a key role in secret efforts to manipulate the media as part of an information war against the American government, the American people, and the rest of the world: to justify endless war, and ceaseless military expansionism.
The war machine
In September 2013, the website of the Montery Institute for International Studies’ Cyber Security Initiative (MIIS CySec) posted a final version of a paper on ‘cyber-deterrence’ by CIA consultant Jeffrey Cooper, vice president of the US defense contractor SAIC and a founding member of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum. The paper was presented to then NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander at a Highlands Forum session titled ‘Cyber Commons, Engagement and Deterrence’ in 2010.
Gen. Keith Alexander (middle), who served as director of the NSA and chief of the Central Security Service from 2005 to 2014, as well as commander of the US Cyber Command from 2010 to 2014, at the 2010 Highlands Forum session on cyber-deterrence
MIIS CySec is formally partnered with the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum through an MoU signed between the provost and Forum president Richard O’Neill, while the initiative itself is funded by George C. Lee: the Goldman Sachs executive who led the billion dollar valuations of Facebook, Google, eBay, and other tech companies.
Cooper’s eye-opening paper is no longer available at the MIIS site, but a final version of it is available via the logs of a public national security conference hosted by the American Bar Association. Currently, Cooper is chief innovation officer at SAIC/Leidos, which is among a consortium of defense technology firms including Booz Allen Hamilton and others contracted to develop NSA surveillance capabilities.
The Highlands Forum briefing for the NSA chief was commissioned under contract by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and based on concepts developed at previous Forum meetings. It was presented to Gen. Alexander at a “closed session” of the Highlands Forum moderated by MIIS Cysec director, Dr. Itamara Lochard, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC.
SAIC/Leidos’ Jeffrey Cooper (middle), a founding member of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum, listening to Phil Venables (right), senior partner at Goldman Sachs, at the 2010 Forum session on cyber-deterrence at the CSIS
Like Rumsfeld’s IO roadmap, Cooper’s NSA briefing described “digital information systems” as both a “great source of vulnerability” and “powerful tools and weapons” for “national security.” He advocated the need for US cyber intelligence to maximize “in-depth knowledge” of potential and actual adversaries, so they can identify “every potential leverage point” that can be exploited for deterrence or retaliation. “Networked deterrence” requires the US intelligence community to develop “deep understanding and specific knowledge about the particular networks involved and their patterns of linkages, including types and strengths of bonds,” as well as using cognitive and behavioural science to help predict patterns. His paper went on to essentially set out a theoretical architecture for modelling data obtained from surveillance and social media mining on potential “adversaries” and “counterparties.”
A year after this briefing with the NSA chief, Michele Weslander Quaid — another Highlands Forum delegate — joined Google to become chief technology officer, leaving her senior role in the Pentagon advising the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Two months earlier, the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Defense Intelligence published its report on Counterinsurgency (COIN), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (IRS) Operations. Quaid was among the government intelligence experts who advised and briefed the Defense Science Board Task Force in preparing the report. Another expert who briefed the Task Force was Highlands Forum veteran Linton Wells. The DSB report itself had been commissioned by Bush appointee James Clapper, then undersecretary of defense for intelligence — who had also commissioned Cooper’s Highlands Forum briefing to Gen. Alexander. Clapper is now Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, in which capacity he lied under oath to Congress by claiming in March 2013 that the NSA does not collect any data at all on American citizens.
Michele Quaid’s track record across the US military intelligence community was to transition agencies into using web tools and cloud technology. The imprint of her ideas are evident in key parts of the DSB Task Force report, which described its purpose as being to “influence investment decisions” at the Pentagon “by recommending appropriate intelligence capabilities to assess insurgencies, understand a population in their environment, and support COIN operations.”
The report named 24 countries in South and Southeast Asia, North and West Africa, the Middle East and South America, which would pose “possible COIN challenges” for the US military in coming years. These included Pakistan, Mexico, Yemen, Nigeria, Guatemala, Gaza/West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, among other “autocratic regimes.” The report argued that “economic crises, climate change, demographic pressures, resource scarcity, or poor governance could cause these states (or others) to fail or become so weak that they become targets for aggressors/insurgents.” From there, the “global information infrastructure” and “social media” can rapidly “amplify the speed, intensity, and momentum of events” with regional implications. “Such areas could become sanctuaries from which to launch attacks on the US homeland, recruit personnel, and finance, train, and supply operations.”
The imperative in this context is to increase the military’s capacity for “left of bang” operations — before the need for a major armed forces commitment — to avoid insurgencies, or pre-empt them while still in incipient phase. The report goes on to conclude that “the Internet and social media are critical sources of social network analysis data in societies that are not only literate, but also connected to the Internet.” This requires “monitoring the blogosphere and other social media across many different cultures and languages” to prepare for “population-centric operations.”
The Pentagon must also increase its capacity for “behavioral modeling and simulation” to “better understand and anticipate the actions of a population” based on “foundation data on populations, human networks, geography, and other economic and social characteristics.” Such “population-centric operations” will also “increasingly” be needed in “nascent resource conflicts, whether based on water-crises, agricultural stress, environmental stress, or rents” from mineral resources. This must include monitoring “population demographics as an organic part of the natural resource framework.”
Other areas for augmentation are “overhead video surveillance,” “high resolution terrain data,” “cloud computing capability,” “data fusion” for all forms of intelligence in a “consistent spatio-temporal framework for organizing and indexing the data,” developing “social science frameworks” that can “support spatio-temporal encoding and analysis,” “distributing multi-form biometric authentication technologies [“such as fingerprints, retina scans and DNA samples”] to the point of service of the most basic administrative processes” in order to “tie identity to all an individual’s transactions.” In addition, the academy must be brought in to help the Pentagon develop “anthropological, socio-cultural, historical, human geographical, educational, public health, and many other types of social and behavioral science data and information” to develop “a deep understanding of populations.”
A few months after joining Google, Quaid represented the company in August 2011 at the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Customer and Industry Forum. The forum would provide “the Services, Combatant Commands, Agencies, coalition forces” the “opportunity to directly engage with industry on innovative technologies to enable and ensure capabilities in support of our Warfighters.” Participants in the event have been integral to efforts to create a “defense enterprise information environment,” defined as “an integrated platform which includes the network, computing, environment, services, information assurance, and NetOps capabilities,” enabling warfighters to “connect, identify themselves, discover and share information, and collaborate across the full spectrum of military operations.” Most of the forum panelists were DoD officials, except for just four industry panelists including Google’s Quaid.
DISA officials have attended the Highlands Forum, too — such as Paul Friedrichs, a technical director and chief engineer of DISA’s Office of the Chief Information Assurance Executive.
Knowledge is Power
Given all this it is hardly surprising that in 2012, a few months after Highlands Forum co-chair Regina Dugan left DARPA to join Google as a senior executive, then NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander was emailing Google’s founding executive Sergey Brin to discuss information sharing for national security. In those emails, obtained under Freedom of Information by investigative journalist Jason Leopold, Gen. Alexander described Google as a “key member of [the US military’s] Defense Industrial Base,” a position Michele Quaid was apparently consolidating. Brin’s jovial relationship with the former NSA chief now makes perfect sense given that Brin had been in contact with representatives of the CIA and NSA, who partly funded and oversaw his creation of the Google search engine, since the mid-1990s.
In July 2014, Quaid spoke at a US Army panel on the creation of a “rapid acquisition cell” to advance the US Army’s “cyber capabilities” as part of the Force 2025 transformation initiative. She told Pentagon officials that “many of the Army’s 2025 technology goals can be realized with commercial technology available or in development today,” re-affirming that “industry is ready to partner with the Army in supporting the new paradigm.” Around the same time, most of the media was trumpeting the idea that Google was trying to distance itself from Pentagon funding, but in reality, Google has switched tactics to independently develop commercial technologies which would have military applications the Pentagon’s transformation goals.
Yet Quaid is hardly the only point-person in Google’s relationship with the US military intelligence community.
One year after Google bought the satellite mapping software Keyhole from CIA venture capital firm In-Q-Tel in 2004, In-Q-Tel’s director of technical assessment Rob Painter — who played a key role in In-Q-Tel’s Keyhole investment in the first place — moved to Google. At In-Q-Tel, Painter’s work focused on identifying, researching and evaluating “new start-up technology firms that were believed to offer tremendous value to the CIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.” Indeed, the NGA had confirmed that its intelligence obtained via Keyhole was used by the NSA to support US operations in Iraq from 2003 onwards.
A former US Army special operations intelligence officer, Painter’s new job at Google as of July 2005 was federal manager of what Keyhole was to become: Google Earth Enterprise. By 2007, Painter had become Google’s federal chief technologist.
That year, Painter told the Washington Post that Google was “in the beginning stages” of selling advanced secret versions of its products to the US government. “Google has ramped up its sales force in the Washington area in the past year to adapt its technology products to the needs of the military, civilian agencies and the intelligence community,” the Post reported. The Pentagon was already using a version of Google Earth developed in partnership with Lockheed Martin to “display information for the military on the ground in Iraq,” including “mapping out displays of key regions of the country” and outlining “Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, as well as US and Iraqi military bases in the city. Neither Lockheed nor Google would say how the geospatial agency uses the data.” Google aimed to sell the government new “enhanced versions of Google Earth” and “search engines that can be used internally by agencies.”
White House records leaked in 2010 showed that Google executives had held several meetings with senior US National Security Council officials. Alan Davidson, Google’s government affairs director, had at least three meetings with officials of the National Security Council in 2009, including White House senior director for Russian affairs Mike McFaul and Middle East advisor Daniel Shapiro. It also emerged from a Google patent application that the company had deliberately been collecting ‘payload’ data from private wifi networks that would enable the identification of “geolocations.” In the same year, we now know, Google had signed an agreement with the NSA giving the agency open-ended access to the personal information of its users, and its hardware and software, in the name of cyber security — agreements that Gen. Alexander was busy replicating with hundreds of telecoms CEOs around the country.
Thus, it is not just Google that is a key contributor and foundation of the US military-industrial complex: it is the entire Internet, and the wide range of private sector companies — many nurtured and funded under the mantle of the US intelligence community (or powerful financiers embedded in that community) — which sustain the Internet and the telecoms infrastructure; it is also the myriad of start-ups selling cutting edge technologies to the CIA’s venture firm In-Q-Tel, where they can then be adapted and advanced for applications across the military intelligence community. Ultimately, the global surveillance apparatus and the classified tools used by agencies like the NSA to administer it, have been almost entirely made by external researchers and private contractors like Google, which operate outside the Pentagon.
This structure, mirrored in the workings of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum, allows the Pentagon to rapidly capitalize on technological innovations it would otherwise miss, while also keeping the private sector at arms length, at least ostensibly, to avoid uncomfortable questions about what such technology is actually being used for.
But isn’t it obvious, really? The Pentagon is about war, whether overt or covert. By helping build the technological surveillance infrastructure of the NSA, firms like Google are complicit in what the military-industrial complex does best: kill for cash.
As the nature of mass surveillance suggests, its target is not merely terrorists, but by extension, ‘terrorism suspects’ and ‘potential terrorists,’ the upshot being that entire populations — especially political activists — must be targeted by US intelligence surveillance to identify active and future threats, and to be vigilant against hypothetical populist insurgencies both at home and abroad. Predictive analytics and behavioural profiles play a pivotal role here.
Mass surveillance and data-mining also now has a distinctive operational purpose in assisting with the lethal execution of special operations, selecting targets for the CIA’s drone strike kill lists via dubious algorithms, for instance, along with providing geospatial and other information for combatant commanders on land, air and sea, among many other functions. A single social media post on Twitter or Facebook is enough to trigger being placed on secret terrorism watch-lists solely due to a vaguely defined hunch or suspicion; and can potentially even land a suspect on a kill list.
The push for indiscriminate, comprehensive mass surveillance by the military-industrial complex — encompassing the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, defense contractors, and supposedly friendly tech giants like Google and Facebook — is therefore not an end in itself, but an instrument of power, whose goal is self-perpetuation. But there is also a self-rationalizing justification for this goal: while being great for the military-industrial complex, it is also, supposedly, great for everyone else.
The ‘long war’
No better illustration of the truly chauvinistic, narcissistic, and self-congratulatory ideology of power at the heart of the military-industrial complex is a book by long-time Highlands Forum delegate, Dr. Thomas Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map. Barnett was assistant for strategic futures in the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation from 2001 to 2003, and had been recommended to Richard O’Neill by his boss Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski. Apart from becoming a New York Times bestseller, Barnett’s book had been read far and wide in the US military, by senior defense officials in Washington and combatant commanders operating on the ground in the Middle East.
Barnett first attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum in 1998, then was invited to deliver a briefing about his work at the Forum on December 7th 2004, which was attended by senior Pentagon officials, energy experts, internet entrepreneurs, and journalists. Barnett received a glowing review in the Washington Post from his Highlands Forum buddy David Ignatius a week later, and an endorsement from another Forum friend, Thomas Friedman, both of which helped massively boost his credibility and readership.
Barnett’s vision is neoconservative to the root. He sees the world as divided into essentially two realms: The Core, which consists of advanced countries playing by the rules of economic globalization (the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Japan) along with developing countries committed to getting there (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and some others); and the rest of the world, which is The Gap, a disparate wilderness of dangerous and lawless countries defined fundamentally by being “disconnected” from the wonders of globalization. This includes most of the Middle East and Africa, large swathes of South America, as well as much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It is the task of the United States to “shrink The Gap,” by spreading the cultural and economic “rule-set” of globalization that characterizes The Core, and by enforcing security worldwide to enable that “rule-set” to spread.
These two functions of US power are captured by Barnett’s concepts of “Leviathan” and “System Administrator.” The former is about rule-setting to facilitate the spread of capitalist markets, regulated via military and civilian law. The latter is about projecting military force into The Gap in an open-ended global mission to enforce security and engage in nation-building. Not “rebuilding,” he is keen to emphasize, but building “new nations.”
For Barnett, the Bush administration’s 2002 introduction of the Patriot Act at home, with its crushing of habeas corpus, and the National Security Strategy abroad, with its opening up of unilateral, pre-emptive war, represented the beginning of the necessary re-writing of rule-sets in The Core to embark on this noble mission. This is the only way for the US to achieve security, writes Barnett, because as long as The Gap exists, it will always be a source of lawless violence and disorder. One paragraph in particular sums up his vision:
“America as global cop creates security. Security creates common rules. Rules attract foreign investment. Investment creates infrastructure. Infrastructure creates access to natural resources. Resources create economic growth. Growth creates stability. Stability creates markets. And once you’re a growing, stable part of the global market, you’re part of the Core. Mission accomplished.”
Much of what Barnett predicted would need to happen to fulfill this vision, despite its neoconservative bent, is still being pursued under Obama. In the near future, Barnett had predicted, US military forces will be dispatched beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to places like Uzbekistan, Djibouti, Azerbaijan, Northwest Africa, Southern Africa and South America.
Barnett’s Pentagon briefing was greeted with near universal enthusiasm. The Forum had even purchased copies of his book and had them distributed to all Forum delegates, and in May 2005, Barnett was invited back to participate in an entire Forum themed around his “SysAdmin” concept.
The Highlands Forum has thus played a leading role in defining the Pentagon’s entire conceptualization of the ‘war on terror.’ Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a retired IMB vice president who co-chaired the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee from 1997 to 2001, described his experience of one 2007 Forum meeting in telling terms:
“Then there is the War on Terror, which DoD has started to refer to as the Long War, a term that I first heard at the Forum. It seems very appropriate to describe the overall conflict in which we now find ourselves. This is a truly global conflict… the conflicts we are now in have much more of the feel of a battle of civilizations or cultures trying to destroy our very way of life and impose their own.”
The problem is that outside this powerful Pentagon-hosted clique, not everyone else agrees. “I’m not convinced that Barnett’s cure would be any better than the disease,” wrote Dr. Karen Kwiatowski, a former senior Pentagon analyst in the Near East and South Asia section, who blew the whistle on how her department deliberately manufactured false information in the run-up to the Iraq War. “It would surely cost far more in American liberty, constitutional democracy and blood than it would be worth.”
Yet the equation of “shrinking The Gap” with sustaining the national security of The Core leads to a slippery slope. It means that if the US is prevented from playing this leadership role as “global cop,” The Gap will widen, The Core will shrink, and the entire global order could unravel. By this logic, the US simply cannot afford government or public opinion to reject the legitimacy of its mission. If it did so, it would allow The Gap to grow out of control, undermining The Core, and potentially destroying it, along with The Core’s protector, America. Therefore, “shrinking The Gap” is not just a security imperative: it is such an existential priority, that it must be backed up with information war to demonstrate to the world the legitimacy of the entire project.
Based on O’Neill’s principles of information warfare as articulated in his 1989 US Navy brief, the targets of information war are not just populations in The Gap, but domestic populations in The Core, and their governments: including the US government. That secret brief, which according to former senior US intelligence official John Alexander was read by the Pentagon’s top leadership, argued that information war must be targeted at: adversaries to convince them of their vulnerability; potential partners around the world so they accept “the cause as just”; and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they believe that “the cost” in blood and treasure is worth it.
Barnett’s work was plugged by the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum because it fit the bill, in providing a compelling ‘feel good’ ideology for the US military-industrial complex.
But neoconservative ideology, of course, hardly originated with Barnett, himself a relatively small player, even though his work was extremely influential throughout the Pentagon. The regressive thinking of senior officials involved in the Highlands Forum is visible from long before 9/11, which was ceased upon by actors linked to the Forum as a powerful enabling force that legitimized the increasingly aggressive direction of US foreign and intelligence policies.
Yoda and the Soviets
The ideology represented by the Highlands Forum can be gleaned from long before its establishment in 1994, at a time when Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall’s ONA was the primary locus of Pentagon activity on future planning.
A widely-held myth promulgated by national security journalists over the years is that the ONA’s reputation as the Pentagon’s resident oracle machine was down to the uncanny analytical foresight of its director Marshall. Supposedly, he was among the few who made the prescient recognition that the Soviet threat had been overblown by the US intelligence community. He had, the story goes, been a lone, but relentless voice inside the Pentagon, calling on policymakers to re-evaluate their projections of the USSR’s military might.
Except the story is not true. The ONA was not about sober threat analysis, but about paranoid threat projection justifying military expansionism. Foreign Policy’s Jeffrey Lewis points out that far from offering a voice of reason calling for a more balanced assessment of Soviet military capabilities, Marshall tried to downplay ONA findings that rejected the hype around an imminent Soviet threat. Having commissioned a study concluding that the US had overestimated Soviet aggressiveness, Marshall circulated it with a cover note declaring himself “unpersuaded” by its findings. Lewis charts how Marshall’s threat projection mind-set extended to commissioning absurd research supporting staple neocon narratives about the (non-existent) Saddam-al-Qaeda link, and even the notorious report by a RAND consultant calling for re-drawing the map of the Middle East, presented to the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board on the invitation of Richard Perle in 2002.
Investigative journalist Jason Vest similarly found from Pentagon sources that during the Cold War, Marshall had long hyped the Soviet threat, and played a key role in giving the neoconservative pressure group, the Committee on the Present Danger, access to classified CIA intelligence data to re-write the National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet Military Intentions. This was a precursor to the manipulation of intelligence after 9/11 to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Former ONA staffers confirmed that Marshall had been belligerent about an imminent Soviet threat “until the very end.” Ex-CIA sovietologist Melvin Goodman, for instance, recalled that Marshall was also instrumental in pushing for the Afghan mujahideen to be provided with Stinger missiles — a move which made the war even more brutal, encouraging the Russians to use scorched earth tactics.
Enron, the Taliban and Iraq
The post-Cold War period saw the Pentagon’s creation of the Highlands Forum in 1994 under the wing of former defense secretary William Perry — a former CIA director and early advocate of neocon ideas like preventive war. Surprisingly, the Forum’s dubious role as a government-industry bridge can be clearly discerned in relation to Enron’s flirtations with the US government. Just as the Forum had crafted the Pentagon’s intensifying policies on mass surveillance, it simultaneously fed directly into the strategic thinking that culminating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On November 7th 2000, George W. Bush ‘won’ the US presidential elections. Enron and its employees had given over $1 million to the Bush campaign in total. That included contributing $10,500 to Bush’s Florida recount committee, and a further $300,000 for the inaugural celebrations afterwards. Enron also provided corporate jets to shuttle Republican lawyers around Florida and Washington lobbying on behalf of Bush for the December recount. Federal election documents later showed that since 1989, Enron had made a total of $5.8 million in campaign donations, 73 percent to Republicans and 27 percent to Democrats — with as many as 15 senior Bush administration officials owning stock in Enron, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, senior advisor Karl Rove, and army secretary Thomas White.
Yet just one day before that controversial election, Pentagon Highlands Forum founding president Richard O’Neill wrote to Enron CEO, Kenneth Lay, inviting him to give a presentation at the Forum on modernizing the Pentagon and the Army. The email from O’Neill to Lay was released as part of the Enron Corpus, the emails obtained by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but has remained unknown until now.
The email began “On behalf of Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I) and DoD CIO Arthur Money,” and invited Lay “to participate in the Secretary of Defense’s Highlands Forum,” which O’Neill described as “a cross-disciplinary group of eminent scholars, researchers, CEO’s/CIO’s/CTO’s from industry, and leaders from the media, the arts and the professions, who have met over the past six years to examine areas of emerging interest to all of us.” He added that Forum sessions include “seniors from the White House, Defense, and other agencies of government (we limit government participation to about 25%).”
Here, O’Neill reveals that the Pentagon Highlands Forum was, fundamentally, about exploring not just the goals of government, but the interests of participating industry leaders like Enron. The Pentagon, O’Neill went on, wanted Lay to feed into “the search for information/ transformation strategies for the Department of Defense (and government in general),” particularly “from a business perspective (transformation, productivity, competitive advantage).” He offered high praise of Enron as “a remarkable example of transformation in a highly rigid, regulated industry, that has created a new model and new markets.”
O’Neill made clear that the Pentagon wanted Enron to play a pivotal role in the DoD’s future, not just in the creation of “an operational strategy which has information superiority,” but also in relation to the DoD’s “enormous global business enterprise which can benefit from many of the best practices and ideas from industry.”
“ENRON is of great interest to us,” he reaffirmed. “What we learn from you may help the Department of Defense a great deal as it works to build a new strategy. I hope that you have time on your busy schedule to join us for as much of the Highlands Forum as you can attend and speak with the group.”
That Highlands Forum meeting was attended by senior White House and US intelligence officials, including CIA deputy director Joan A. Dempsey, who had previously served as assistant defense secretary for intelligence, and in 2003 was appointed by Bush as executive director of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, in which capacity she praised extensive information sharing by the NSA and NGA after 9/11. She went on to become executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a major Pentagon contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan that, among other things, created the Coalition Provisional Authority’s database to track what we now know were highly corrupt reconstruction projects in Iraq.
Enron’s relationship with the Pentagon had already been in full swing the previous year. Thomas White, then vice chair of Enron energy services, had used his extensive US military connections to secure a prototype deal at Fort Hamilton to privatize the power supply of army bases. Enron was the only bidder for the deal. The following year, after Enron’s CEO was invited to the Highlands Forum, White gave his first speech in June just “two weeks after he became secretary of the Army,” where he “vowed to speed up the awarding of such contracts,” along with further “rapid privatization” of the Army’s energy services. “Potentially, Enron could benefit from the speedup in awarding contracts, as could others seeking the business,” observed USA Today.
That month, on the authority of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld — who himself held significant shares in Enron — Bush’s Pentagon invited another Enron executive and one of Enron’s senior external financial advisors to attend a further secret Highlands Forum session.
An email from Richard O’Neill dated June 22nd, obtained via the Enron Corpus, showed that Steven Kean, then executive vice president and chief of staff of Enron, was due to give another Highlands presentation on Monday 25th. “We are approaching the Secretary of Defense-sponsored Highlands Forum and very much looking forward to your participation,” wrote O’Neill, promising Kean that he would be “the centerpiece of discussion. Enron’s experience is quite important to us as we seriously consider transformative change in the Department of Defense.”
Steven Kean is now president and COO (and incoming CEO) of Kinder Morgan, one of the largest energy companies in North America, and a major supporter of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.
Due to attend the same Highlands Forum session with Kean was Richard Foster, then a senior partner at the financial consultancy McKinsey. “I have given copies of Dick Foster’s new book, Creative Destruction, to the Deputy Secretary of Defense as well as the Assistant Secretary,” said O’Neill in his email, “and the Enron case that he outlines makes for important discussion. We intend to hand out copies to the participants at the Forum.”
Foster’s firm, McKinsey, had provided strategic financial advice to Enron since the mid-1980s. Joe Skilling, who in February 2001 became Enron CEO while Kenneth Lay moved to chair, had been head of McKinsey’s energy consulting business before joining Enron in 1990.
McKinsey and then partner Richard Foster were intimately involved in crafting the core Enron financial management strategies responsible for the company’s rapid, but fraudulent, growth. While McKinsey has always denied being aware of the dodgy accounting that led to Enron’s demise, internal company documents showed that Foster had attended an Enron finance committee meeting a month before the Highlands Forum session to discuss the “need for outside private partnerships to help drive the company’s explosive growth” — the very investment partnerships responsible for the collapse of Enron.
McKinsey documents showed that the firm was “fully aware of Enron’s extensive use of off-balance-sheet funds.” As The Independent’s economics editor Ben Chu remarks, “McKinsey fully endorsed the dubious accounting methods,” which led to the inflation of Enron’s market valuation and “that caused the company to implode in 2001.”
Indeed, Foster himself had personally attended six Enron board meetings from October 2000 to October 2001. That period roughly coincided with Enron’s growing influence on the Bush administration’s energy policies, and the Pentagon’s planning for Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Foster was also a regular attendee at the Pentagon Highlands Forum — his LinkedIn profile describes him as member of the Forum since 2000, the year he ramped up engagement with Enron. He also delivered a presentation at the inaugural Island Forum in Singapore in 2002.
Enron’s involvement in the Cheney Energy Task Force appears to have been linked to the Bush administration’s 2001 planning for both the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, motivated by control of oil. As noted by Prof. Richard Falk, a former board member of Human Rights Watch and ex-UN investigator, Enron’s Kenneth Lay “was the main confidential consultant relied upon by Vice President Dick Cheney during the highly secretive process of drafting a report outlining a national energy policy, widely regarded as a key element in the US approach to foreign policy generally and the Arab world in particular.”
The intimate secret meetings between senior Enron executives and high-level US government officials via the Pentagon Highlands Forum, from November 2000 to June 2001, played a central role in establishing and cementing the increasingly symbiotic link between Enron and Pentagon planning. The Forum’s role was, as O’Neill has always said, to function as an ideas lab to explore the mutual interests of industry and government.
Enron and Pentagon war planning
In February 2001, when Enron executives including Kenneth Lay began participating concertedly in the Cheney Energy Task Force, a classified National Security Council document instructed NSC staffers to work with the task force in “melding” previously separate issues: “operational policies towards rogue states” and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”
According to Bush’s treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, as quoted by Ron Suskind in The Price of Loyalty (2004), cabinet officials discussed an invasion of Iraq in their first NSC meeting, and had even prepared a map for a post-war occupation marking the carve-up of Iraq’s oil fields. The message at that time from President Bush was that officials must “find a way to do this.”
Cheney Energy Task Force documents obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information revealed that by March, with extensive industry input, the task force had prepared maps of Gulf state and especially Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, and refineries, along with a list titled ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.’ By April, a think-tank report commissioned by Cheney, overseen by former secretary of state James Baker, and put together by a committee of energy industry and national security experts, urged the US government “to conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments,” to deal with Iraq’s “destabilizing influence” on oil flows to global markets. The report included recommendations from Highlands Forum delegate and Enron chair, Kenneth Lay.
But Cheney’s Energy Task Force was also busily pushing forward plans for Afghanistan involving Enron, that had been in motion under Clinton. Through the late 1990s, Enron was working with California-based US energy company Unocal to develop an oil and gas pipeline that would tap Caspian basin reserves, and carry oil and gas across Afghanistan, supplying Pakistan, India and potentially other markets. The endeavor had the official blessing of the Clinton administration, and later the Bush administration, which held several meetings with Taliban representatives to negotiate terms for the pipeline deal throughout 2001. The Taliban, whose conquest of Afghanistan had received covert assistance under Clinton, was to receive formal recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in return for permitting the installation of the pipeline. Enron paid $400 million for a feasibility study for the pipeline, a large portion of which was siphoned off as bribes to Taliban leaders, and even hired CIA agents to help facilitate.
Then in summer 2001, while Enron officials were liaising with senior Pentagon officials at the Highlands Forum, the White House’s National Security Council was running a cross-departmental ‘working group’ led by Rumsfeld and Cheney to help complete an ongoing Enron project in India, a $3 billion power plant in Dabhol. The plant was slated to receive its energy from the Trans-Afghan pipeline. The NSC’s ‘Dabhol Working Group,’ chaired by Bush’s national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, generated a range of tactics to enhance US government pressure on India to complete the Dabhol plant — pressure that continued all the way to early November. The Dabhol project, and the Trans-Afghan pipeline, was by far Enron’s most lucrative overseas deal.
Throughout 2001, Enron officials, including Ken Lay, participated in Cheney’s Energy Task Force, along with representatives across the US energy industry. Starting from February, shortly after the Bush administration took office, Enron was involved in about half a dozen of these Energy Task Force meetings. After one of these secret meetings, a draft energy proposal was amended to include a new provision proposing to dramatically boost oil and natural gas production in India in a way that would apply only to Enron’s Dabhol power plant. In other words, ensuring the flow of cheap gas to India via the Trans-Afghan pipeline was now a matter of US ‘national security.’
A month or two after this, the Bush administration gave the Taliban $43 million, justified by its crackdown on opium production, despite US-imposed UN sanctions preventing aid to the group for not handing over Osama bin Laden.
Then in June 2001, the same month that Enron’s executive vice president Steve Kean attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum, the company’s hopes for the Dabhol project were dashed when the Trans-Afghan pipeline failed to materialize, and as a consequence, construction on the Dabhol power plant was shut down. The failure of the $3 billion project contributed to Enron’s bankruptcy in December. That month, Enron officials met with Bush’s commerce secretary, Donald Evans, about the plant, and Cheney lobbied India’s main opposition party about the Dhabol project. Ken Lay had also reportedly contacted the Bush administration around this time to inform officials about the firm’s financial troubles.
By August, desperate to pull off the deal, US officials threatened Taliban representatives with war if they refused to accept American terms: namely, to cease fighting and join in a federal alliance with the opposition Northern Alliance; and to give up demands for local consumption of the gas. On the 15th of that month, Enron lobbyist Pat Shortridge told then White House economic advisor Robert McNally that Enron was heading for a financial meltdown that could cripple the country’s energy markets.
The Bush administration must have anticipated the Taliban’s rejection of the deal, because they had planned a war on Afghanistan from as early as July. According to then Pakistani foreign minister Niaz Naik, who had participated in the US-Taliban negotiations, US officials told him they planned to invade Afghanistan in mid-October 2001. No sooner had the war commenced, Bush’s ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, called Pakistani’s oil minister Usman Aminuddin to discuss “the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project,” according to the Frontier Post, a Pakistani English-language broadsheet. They reportedly agreed that the “project opens up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation particularly in view of the recent geo-political developments in the region.”
Two days before 9/11, Condoleeza Rice received the draft of a formal National Security Presidential Directive that Bush was expected to sign immediately. The directive contained a comprehensive plan to launch a global war on al-Qaeda, including an “imminent” invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. The directive was approved by the highest levels of the White House and officials of the National Security Council, including of course Rice and Rumsfeld. The same NSC officials were simultaneously running the Dhabol Working Group to secure the Indian power plant deal for Enron’s Trans-Afghan pipeline project. The next day, one day before 9/11, the Bush administration formally agreed on the plan to attack the Taliban.
The Pentagon Highlands Forum’s background link with the interests involved in all this, show they were not unique to the Bush administration — which is why, as Obama was preparing to pull troops out of Afghanistan, he re-affirmed his government’s support for the Trans-Afghan pipeline project, and his desire for a US firm to construct it.
The Pentagon’s propaganda fixer
Throughout this period, information war played a central role in drumming up public support for war — and the Highlands Forum led the way.
In December 2000, just under a year before 9/11 and shortly after George W. Bush’s election victory, key Forum members participated in an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to explore “the impact of the information revolution, globalization, and the end of the Cold War on the US foreign policy making process.” Rather than proposing “incremental reforms,” the meeting was for participants to “build from scratch a new model that is optimized to the specific properties of the new global environment.”
Among the issues flagged up in the meeting was the ‘Global Control Revolution’: the “distributed” nature of the information revolution was altering “key dynamics of world politics by challenging the primacy of states and inter-state relations.” This was “creating new challenges to national security, reducing the ability of leading states to control global policy debates, challenging the efficacy of national economic policies, etc.”
In other words, how can the Pentagon find a way to exploit the information revolution to “control global policy debates,” particularly on “national economic policies”?
The meeting was co-hosted by Jamie Metzl, who at the time served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, where he had just led the drafting of Clinton’s Presidential Decision Directive 68 on International Public Information (IPI), a new multiagency plan to coordinate US public information dissemination abroad. Metzl went on to coordinate IPI at the State Department.
The preceding year, a senior Clinton official revealed to the Washington Times that Metz’s IPI was really aimed at “spinning the American public,” and had “emerged out of concern that the US public has refused to back President Clinton’s foreign policy.” The IPI would plant news stories favorable to US interests via TV, press, radio and other media based abroad, in hopes it would get picked up in American media. The pretext was that “news coverage is distorted at home and they need to fight it at all costs by using resources that are aimed at spinning the news.” Metzl ran the IPI’s overseas propaganda operations for Iraq and Kosovo.
Other participants of the Carnegie meeting in December 2000, included two founding members of the Highlands Forum, Richard O’Neill and SAIC’s Jeff Cooper — along with Paul Wolfowitz, another Andrew Marshall acolyte who was about to join the incoming Bush administration as Rumsfelds’ deputy defense secretary. Also present was a figure who soon became particularly notorious in the propaganda around Afghanistan and Iraq War 2003: John W. Rendon, Jr., founding president of The Rendon Group (TRG) and another longtime Pentagon Highlands Forum member.
John Rendon (right) at the Highlands Forum, accompanied by BBC anchor Nik Gowing (left) and Jeff Jonas, IBM Entity Analytics chief engineer (middle)
TRG is a notorious communications firm that has been a US government contractor for decades. Rendon played a pivotal role in running the State Department’s propaganda campaigns in Iraq and Kosovo under Clinton and Metzl. That included receiving a Pentagon grant to run a news website, the Balkans Information Exchange, and a US Agency for International Development (USAID) contract to promote “privatization.”
Rendon’s central role in helping the Bush administration hype up the non-existent threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to justify a US military invasion is now well-known. As James Bamford famously exposed in his seminal Rolling Stone investigation, Rendon played an instrumental role on behalf of the Bush administration in deploying “perception management” to “create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power” under multi-million dollar CIA and Pentagon contracts.
Among Rendon’s activities was the creation of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) on behalf of the CIA, a group of Iraqi exiles tasked with disseminating propaganda, including much of the false intelligence about WMD. That process had begun concertedly under the administration of George H W. Bush, then rumbled along under Clinton with little fanfare, before escalating after 9/11 under George W. Bush. Rendon thus played a large role in the manufacture of inaccurate and false news stories relating to Iraq under lucrative CIA and Pentagon contracts — and he did so in the period running up to the 2003 invasion as an advisor to Bush’s National Security Council: the same NSC, of course, that planned the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, achieved with input from Enron executives who were simultaneously engaging the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
But that is the tip of iceberg. Declassified documents show that the Highlands Forum was intimately involved in the covert processes by which key officials engineered the road to war on Iraq, based on information warfare.
A redacted 2007 report by the DoD’s Inspector General reveals that one of the contractors used extensively by the Pentagon Highlands Forum during and after the Iraq War was none other than The Rendon Group. TRG was contracted by the Pentagon to organize Forum sessions, determine subjects for discussion, as well as to convene and coordinate Forum meetings. The Inspector General investigation had been prompted by accusations raised in Congress about Rendon’s role in manipulating information to justify the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. According to the Inspector General report:
“… the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration/Chief Information Officer employed TRG to conduct forums that would appeal to a cross-disciplinary group of nationally regarded leaders. The forums were in small groups discussing information and technologies and their effects on science, organizational and business processes, international relations, economics, and national security. TRG also conducted a research program and interviews to formulate and develop topics for the Highlands Forum focus group. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration would approve the subjects, and TRG would facilitate the meetings.”
TRG, the Pentagon’s private propaganda arm, thus played a central role in literally running the Pentagon Highlands Forum process that brought together senior government officials with industry executives to generate DoD information warfare strategy.
The Pentagon’s internal investigation absolved Rendon of any wrongdoing. But this is not surprising, given the conflict of interest at stake: the Inspector General at the time was Claude M. Kicklighter, a Bush nominee who had directly overseen the administration’s key military operations. In 2003, he was director of the Pentagon’s Iraq Transition Team, and the following year he was appointed to the State Department as special advisor on stabilization and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The surveillance-propaganda nexus
Even more telling, Pentagon documents obtained by Bamford for his Rolling Stone story revealed that Rendon had been given access to the NSA’s top-secret surveillance data to carry out its work on behalf of the Pentagon. TRG, the DoD documents said, is authorized “to research and analyze information classified up to Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS.”
‘SCI’ means Sensitive Compartmented Information, data classified higher than Top Secret, while ‘SI’ designates Special Intelligence, that is, highly secret communications intercepted by the NSA. ‘TK’ refers to Talent/Keyhole, code names for imagery from reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites, while ‘G’ stands for Gamma, encompassing communications intercepts from extremely sensitive sources, and ‘HCS’ means Humint Control System — information from a very sensitive human source. In Bamford’s words:
“Taken together, the acronyms indicate that Rendon enjoys access to the most secret information from all three forms of intelligence collection: eavesdropping, imaging satellites and human spies.”
So the Pentagon had:
1. contracted Rendon, a propaganda firm;
2. given Rendon access to the intelligence community’s most classified information including data from NSA surveillance;
3. tasked Rendon to facilitating the DoD’s development of information operations strategy by running the Highlands Forum process;
4. and further, tasked Rendon with overseeing the concrete execution of this strategy developed through the Highlands Forum process, in actual information operations around the world in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
TRG chief executive John Rendon remains closely involved in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, and ongoing DoD information operations in the Muslim world. His November 2014 biography for the Harvard Kennedy School ‘Emerging Leaders’ course describes him as “a participant in forward-thinking organizations such as the Highlands Forum,” “one of the first thought-leaders to harness the power of emerging technologies in support of real time information management,” and an expert on “the impact of emerging information technologies on the way populations think and behave.” Rendon’s Harvard bio also credits him with designing and executing “strategic communications initiatives and information programs related to operations, Odyssey Dawn (Libya), Unified Protector (Libya), Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Allied Force and Joint Guardian (Kosovo), Desert Shield, Desert Storm (Kuwait), Desert Fox (Iraq) and Just Cause (Panama), among others.”
Rendon’s work on perception management and information operations has also “assisted a number of US military interventions” elsewhere, as well as running US information operations in Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, and Zimbabwe — in fact, a total of 99 countries. As a former executive director and national political director of the Democratic Party, John Rendon remains a powerful figure in Washington under the Obama administration.
Pentagon records show that TRG has received over $100 million from the DoD since 2000. In 2009, the US government cancelled a ‘strategic communications’ contract with TRG after revelations it was being used to weed out reporters who might write negative stories about the US military in Afghanistan, and to solely promote journalists supportive of US policy. Yet in 2010, the Obama administration re-contracted Rendon to supply services for “military deception” in Iraq.
Since then, TRG has provided advice to the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the Special Operations Command, and is still contracted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the US Army’s Communications Electronic Command, as well as providing “communications support” to the Pentagon and US embassies on counter-narcotics operations.
TRG also boasts on its website that it provides “Irregular Warfare Support,” including “operational and planning support” that “assists our government and military clients in developing new approaches to countering and eroding an adversary’s power, influence and will.” Much of this support has itself been fine-tuned over the last decade or more inside the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
Irregular war and pseudo-terrorism
The Pentagon Highlands Forum’s intimate link, via Rendon, to the propaganda operations pursued under Bush and Obama in support of the ‘Long War,’ demonstrate the integral role of mass surveillance in both irregular warfare and ‘strategic communications.’
One of the major proponents of both is Prof John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, the renowned US defense analyst credited with developing the concept of ‘netwar,’ who today openly advocates the need for mass surveillance and big data mining to support pre-emptive operations to thwart terrorist plots. It so happens that Arquilla is another “founding member” of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum.
Much of his work on the idea of ‘networked warfare,’ ‘networked deterrence,’ ‘information warfare,’ and ‘swarming,’ largely produced for RAND under Pentagon contract, was incubated by the Forum during its early years and thus became integral to Pentagon strategy. For instance, in Arquilla’s 1999 RAND study, The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy, he and his co-author David Ronfeldt express their gratitude to Richard O’Neill “for his interest, support and guidance,” and to “members of the Highlands Forum” for their advance comments on the study. Most of his RAND work credits the Highlands Forum and O’Neill for their support.
Prof. John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, and a founding member of the Pentagon Highlands Forum
Arquilla’s work was cited in a 2006 National Academy of Sciences study on the future of network science commissioned by the US Army, which found based on his research that: “Advances in computer-based technologies and telecommunications are enabling social networks that facilitate group affiliations, including terrorist networks.” The study conflated risks from terror and activist groups: “The implications of this fact for criminal, terror, protest and insurgency networks has been explored by Arquilla and Ronfeldt (2001) and are a common topic of discussion by groups like the Highlands Forum, which perceive that the United States is highly vulnerable to the interruption of critical networks.” Arquilla went on to help develop information warfare strategies “for the military campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to military historian Benjamin Shearer in his biographical dictionary, Home Front Heroes (2007) — once again illustrating the direct role played by certain key Forum members in executing Pentagon information operations in war theatres.
In his 2005 New Yorker investigation, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Seymour Hersh referred to a series of articles by Arquilla elaborating on a new strategy of “countering terror” with pseudo-terror. “It takes a network to fight a network,” said Arquilla, drawing on the thesis he had been promoting in the Pentagon through the Highlands Forum since its founding:
“When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s, the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about pretending to be terrorists. These ‘pseudo gangs’, as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists’ camps.”
Arquilla went on to advocate that western intelligence services should use the British case as a model for creating new “pseudo gang” terrorist groups, as a way of undermining “real” terror networks:
“What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.”
Essentially, Arquilla’s argument was that as only networks can fight networks, the only way to defeat enemies conducting irregular warfare is to use techniques of irregular warfare against them. Ultimately, the determining factor in victory is not conventional military defeat per se, but the extent to which the direction of the conflict can be calibrated to influence the population and rally their opposition to the adversary. Arquilla’s ‘pseudo-gang’ strategy was, Hersh reported, already being implemented by the Pentagon:
“Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, US military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists…
The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls ‘action teams’ in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. ‘Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?’ the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. ‘We founded them and we financed them,’ he said. ‘The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.’ A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, ‘We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.’”
Official corroboration that this strategy is now operational came with the leak of a 2008 US Army special operations field manual. The US military, the manual said, can conduct irregular and unconventional warfare by using surrogate non-state groups such as “paramilitary forces, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistant or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political ‘undesirables.’” Shockingly, the manual specifically acknowledged that US special operations can involve both counterterrorism and “Terrorism,” as well as: “Transnational criminal activities, including narco-trafficking, illicit arms-dealing, and illegal financial transactions.” The purpose of such covert operations is, essentially, population control — they are “specifically focused on leveraging some portion of the indigenous population to accept the status quo,” or to accept “whatever political outcome” is being imposed or negotiated.
By this twisted logic, terrorism can in some cases be defined as a legitimate tool of US statecraft by which to influence populations into accepting a particular “political outcome” — all in the name fighting terrorism.
Is this what the Pentagon was doing by coordinating the nearly $1 billion of funding from Gulf regimes to anti-Assad rebels, most of which according to the CIA’s own classified assessments ended up in the coffers of violent Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda, who went on to spawn the ‘Islamic State’?
The rationale for the new strategy was first officially set out in an August 2002 briefing for the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, which advocated the creation of a ‘Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group’ (P2OG) within the National Security Council. P2OG, the Board proposed, must conduct clandestine operations to infiltrate and “stimulate reactions” among terrorist networks to provoke them into action, and thus facilitate targeting them.
The Defense Science Board is, like other Pentagon agencies, intimately related with the Highlands Forum, whose work feeds into the Board’s research, which in turn is regularly presented at the Forum.
According to the US intelligence sources who spoke to Hersh, Rumsfeld had ensured that the new brand of black operations would be conducted entirely under Pentagon jurisdiction, firewalled off from the CIA and regional US military commanders, and executed by its own secret special operations command. That chain of command would include, apart from the defense secretary himself, two of his deputies including the undersecretary of defense for intelligence: the position overseeing the Highlands Forum.
Strategic communications: war propaganda at home and abroad
Within the Highlands Forum, the special operations techniques explored by Arquilla have been taken up by several others in directions focused increasingly on propaganda — among them, Dr. Lochard, as seen previously, and also Dr. Amy Zalman, who focuses particularly on the idea of the US military using ‘strategic narratives’ to influence public opinion and win wars.
Like her colleague, Highlands Forum founding member Jeff Cooper, Zalman was schooled in the bowels of SAIC/Leidos. From 2007 to 2012, she was a senior SAIC strategist, before becoming Department of Defense Information Integration Chair at the US Army’s National War College, where she focused on how to fine-tune propaganda to elicit the precise responses desired from target groups, based on complete understanding of those groups. As of summer last year, she became CEO of the World Futures Society.
Dr. Amy Zalman, an ex-SAIC strategist, is CEO of the World Futures Society, and a long-time Pentagon Highlands Forum delegate consulting for the US government on strategic communications in irregular warfare
In 2005, the same year Hersh reported that the Pentagon strategy of “stimulating reactions” among terrorists by provoking them was underway, Zalman delivered a briefing to the Pentagon Highlands Forum titled, ‘In Support of a Narrative Theory Approach to US Strategic Communication.’ Since then, Zalman has been a long-time Highlands Forum delegate, and has presented her work on strategic communications to a range of US government agencies, NATO forums, as well as teaching courses in irregular warfare to soldiers at the US Joint Special Operations University.
Her 2005 Highlands Forum briefing is not publicly available, but the thrust of Zalman’s input into the information component of Pentagon special operations strategies can be gleaned from some of her published work. In 2010, when she was still attached to SAIC, her NATO paper noted that a key component of irregular war is “winning some degree of emotional support from the population by influencing their subjective perceptions.” She advocated that the best way of achieving such influence goes far further than traditional propaganda and messaging techniques. Rather, analysts must “place themselves in the skins of the people under observation.”
Zalman released another paper the same year via the IO Journal, published by the Information Operations Institute, which describes itself as a “special interest group” of the Associaton of Old Crows. The latter is a professional association for theorists and practitioners of electronic warfare and information operations, chaired by Kenneth Israel, vice president of Lockheed Martin, and vice chaired by David Himes, who retired last year from his position as senior advisor in electronic warfare at the US Air Force Research Laboratory.
In this paper, titled ‘Narrative as an Influence Factor in Information Operations,’ Zalman laments that the US military has “found it difficult to create compelling narratives — or stories — either to express its strategic aims, or to communicate in discrete situations, such as civilian deaths.” By the end, she concludes that “the complex issue of civilian deaths” should be approached not just by “apologies and compensation” — which barely occurs anyway — but by propagating narratives that portray characters with whom the audience connects (in this case, ‘the audience’ being ‘populations in war zones’). This is to facilitate the audience resolving struggles in a “positive way,” defined, of course, by US military interests. Engaging emotionally in this way with “survivors of those dead” from US military action might “prove to be an empathetic form of influence.” Throughout, Zalman is incapable of questioning the legitimacy of US strategic aims, or acknowledging that the impact of those aims in the accumulation of civilian deaths, is precisely the problem that needs to change — as opposed to the way they are ideologically framed for populations subjected to military action.
‘Empathy,’ here, is merely an instrument by which to manipulate.
In 2012, Zalman wrote an article for The Globalist seeking to demonstrate how the rigid delineation of ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’ needed to be overcome, to recognize that the use of force requires the right symbolic and cultural effect to guarantee success:
“As long as defense and economic diplomacy remain in a box labeled ‘hard power,’ we fail to see how much their success relies on their symbolic effects as well as their material ones. As long as diplomatic and cultural efforts are stored in a box marked ‘soft power,’ we fail to see the ways in which they can be used coercively or produce effects that are like those produced by violence.”
Given SAIC’s deep involvement in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, and through it the development of information strategies on surveillance, irregular warfare, and propaganda, it is hardly surprising that SAIC was the other key private defense firm contracted to generate propaganda in the run up to Iraq War 2003, alongside TRG.
“SAIC executives have been involved at every stage… of the war in Iraq,” reported Vanity Fair, ironically, in terms of deliberately disseminating false claims about WMD, and then investigating the ‘intelligence failure’ around false WMD claims. David Kay, for instance, who had been hired by the CIA in 2003 to hunt for Saddam’s WMD as head of the Iraq Survey Group, was until October 2002 a senior SAIC vice president hammering away “at the threat posed by Iraq” under Pentagon contract. When WMD failed to emerge, President Bush’s commission to investigate this US ‘intelligence failure’ included three SAIC executives, among them Highlands Forum founding member Jeffrey Cooper. The very year of Kay’s appointment to the Iraq Survey Group, Clinton’s defense secretary William Perry — the man under whose orders the Highlands Forum was set-up — joined the board of SAIC. The investigation by Cooper and all let the Bush administration off the hook for manufacturing propaganda to legitimize war — unsurprisingly, given Cooper’s integral role in the very Pentagon network that manufactured that propaganda.
SAIC was also among the many contractors that profited handsomely from Iraqi reconstruction deals, and was re-contracted after the war to promote pro-US narratives abroad. In the same vein as Rendon’s work, the idea was that stories planted abroad would be picked up by US media for domestic consumption.
Delegates at the Pentagon’s 46th Highlands Forum in December 2011, from right to left: John Seely Brown, chief scientist/director at Xerox PARC from 1990–2002 and an early board member of In-Q-Tel; Ann Pendleton-Jullian, co-author with Brown of a manuscript, Design Unbound; Antonio and Hanna Damasio, a neurologist and neurobiologist respectively who are part of a DARPA-funded project on propaganda
But the Pentagon Highlands Forum’s promotion of advanced propaganda techniques is not exclusive to core, longstanding delegates like Rendon and Zalman. In 2011, the Forum hosted two DARPA-funded scientists, Antonio and Hanna Damasio, who are principal investigators in the ‘Neurobiology of Narrative Framing’ project at the University of Southern California. Evoking Zalman’s emphasis on the need for Pentagon psychological operations to deploy “empathetic influence,” the new DARPA-backed project aims to investigate how narratives often appeal “to strong, sacred values in order to evoke an emotional response,” but in different ways across different cultures. The most disturbing element of the research is its focus on trying to understand how to increase the Pentagon’s capacity to deploy narratives that influence listeners in a way that overrides conventional reasoning in the context of morally-questionable actions.
The project description explains that the psychological reaction to narrated events is “influenced by how the narrator frames the events, appealing to different values, knowledge, and experiences of the listener.” Narrative framing that “targets the sacred values of the listener, including core personal, nationalistic, and/or religious values, is particularly effective at influencing the listener’s interpretation of narrated events,” because such “sacred values” are closely tied with “the psychology of identity, emotion, moral decision making, and social cognition.” By applying sacred framing to even mundane issues, such issues “can gain properties of sacred values and result in a strong aversion to using conventional reasoning to interpret them.” The two Damasios and their team are exploring what role “linguistic and neuropsychological mechanisms” play in determining “the effectiveness of narrative framing using sacred values in influencing a listener’s interpretation of events.”
The research is based on extracting narratives from millions of American, Iranian and Chinese weblogs, and subjecting them to automated discourse analysis to compare them quantitatively across the three languages. The investigators then follow up using behavioral experiments with readers/listeners from different cultures to gauge their reaction different narratives “where each story makes an appeal to a sacred value to explain or justify a morally-questionable behavior of the author.” Finally, the scientists apply neurobiological fMRI scanning to correlate the reactions and personal characteristics of subjects with their brain responses.
Why is the Pentagon funding research investigating how to exploit people’s “sacred values” to extinguish their capacity for logical reasoning, and enhance their emotional openness to “morally-questionable behavior”?
The focus on English, Farsi and Chinese may also reveal that the Pentagon’s current concerns are overwhelmingly about developing information operations against two key adversaries, Iran and China, which fits into longstanding ambitions to project strategic influence in the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Equally, the emphasis on English language, specifically from American weblogs, further suggests the Pentagon is concerned about projecting propaganda to influence public opinion at home.
Rosemary Wenchel (left) of the US Department of Homeland Security with Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, a former musician and now US defense consultant who has worked for contractors like SAIC and Northrup Grumman. SAIC/Leidos executive Jeff Cooper is behind them
Lest one presume that DARPA’s desire to mine millions of American weblogs as part of its ‘neurobiology of narrative framing’ research is a mere case of random selection, an additional co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum in recent years is Rosemary Wenchel, former director of cyber capabilities and operations support at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Since 2012, Wenchel has been deputy assistant secretary for strategy and policy in the Department of Homeland Security.
As the Pentagon’s extensive funding of propaganda on Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates, population influence and propaganda is critical not just in far-flung theatres abroad in strategic regions, but also at home, to quell the risk of domestic public opinion undermining the legitimacy of Pentagon policy. In the photo above, Wenchel is talking to Jeff Baxter, a long-time US defense and intelligence consultant. In September 2005, Baxter was part of a supposedly “independent” study group (chaired by NSA-contractor Booz Allen Hamilton) commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security, which recommended a greater role for US spy satellites in monitoring the domestic population.
Meanwhile, Zalman and Rendon, while both remaining closely involved in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, continue to be courted by the US military for their expertise on information operations. In October 2014, both participated in a major Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment conference sponsored by the US Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, titled ‘A New Information Paradigm? From Genes to “Big Data” and Instagram to Persistent Surveillance… Implications for National Security.’ Other delegates represented senior US military officials, defense industry executives, intelligence community officials, Washington think-tanks, and academics.
John Rendon, CEO of The Rendon Group, at a Highlands Forum session in 2010
Rendon and SAIC/Leidos, two firms that have been central to the very evolution of Pentagon information operations strategy through their pivotal involvement in the Highlands Forum, continue to be contracted for key operations under the Obama administration. A US General Services Administration document, for instance, shows that Rendon was granted a major 2010–2015 contract providing general media and communications support services across federal agencies. Similarly, SAIC/Leidos has a $400 million 2010–2015 contract with the US Army Research Laboratory for “Expeditionary Warfare; Irregular Warfare; Special Operations; Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations” — a contract which is “being prepared now for recomplete.”
The empire strikes back
Under Obama, the nexus of corporate, industry, and financial power represented by the interests that participate in the Pentagon Highlands Forum has consolidated itself to an unprecedented degree.
Coincidentally, the very day Obama announced Hagel’s resignation, the DoD issued a media release highlighting how Robert O. Work, Hagel’s deputy defense secretary appointed by Obama in 2013, planned to take forward the Defense Innovation Initiative that Hagel had just announced a week earlier. The new initiative was focused on ensuring that the Pentagon would undergo a long-term transformation to keep up with leading edge disruptive technologies across information operations.
Whatever the real reasons for Hagel’s ejection, this was a symbolic and tangible victory for Marshall and the Highlands Forum vision. Highlands Forum co-chair Andrew Marshall, head of the ONA, may indeed be retiring. But the post-Hagel Pentagon is now staffed with his followers.
Robert Work, who now presides over the new DoD transformation scheme, is a loyal Marshall acolyte who had previously directed and analyzed war games for the Office of Net Assessment. Like Marshall, Wells, O’Neill and other Highlands Forum members, Work is also a robot fantasist who lead authored the study, Preparing for War in the Robotic Age, published early last year by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
Work is also pitched to determine the future of the ONA, assisted by his strategist Tom Ehrhard and DoD undersecretary for intelligence Michael G. Vickers, under whose authority the Highlands Forum currently runs. Ehrard, an advocate of “integrating disruptive technologies in DoD,” previously served as Marshall’s military assistant in the ONA, while Mike Vickers — who oversees surveillance agencies like the NSA — was also previously hired by Marshall to consult for the Pentagon.
Vickers is also a leading proponent of irregular warfare. As assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict under former defense secretary Robert Gates in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Vickers’s irregular warfare vision pushed for “distributed operations across the world,” including “in scores of countries with which the US is not at war,” as part of a program of “counter network warfare” using a “network to fight a network” — a strategy which of course has the Highlands Forum all over it. In his previous role under Gates, Vickers increased the budget for special operations including psychological operations, stealth transport, Predator drone deployment and “using high-tech surveillance and reconnaissance to track and target terrorists and insurgents.”
To replace Hagel, Obama nominated Ashton Carter, former deputy defense secretary from 2009 to 2013, whose expertise in budgets and procurement according to the Wall Street Journal is “expected to boost some of the initiatives championed by the current Pentagon deputy, Robert Work, including an effort to develop new strategies and technologies to preserve the US advantage on the battlefield.”
Back in 1999, after three years as Clinton’s assistant defense secretary, Carter co-authored a study with former defense secretary William J. Perry advocating a new form of ‘war by remote control’ facilitated by “digital technology and the constant flow of information.” One of Carter’s colleagues in the Pentagon during his tenure at that time was Highlands Forum co-chair Linton Wells; and it was Perry of course that as then-defense secretary appointed Richard O’Neill to set-up the Highlands Forum as the Pentagon’s IO think-tank back in 1994.
Highlands Forum overlord Perry went on to join the board of SAIC, before eventually becoming chairman of another giant defense contractor, Global Technology Partners (GTP). And Ashton Carter was on GTP’s board under Perry, before being nominated to defense secretary by Obama. During Carter’s previous Pentagon stint under Obama, he worked closely with Work and current undersecretary of defense Frank Kendall. Defense industry sources rejoice that the new Pentagon team will “dramatically improve” chances to “push major reform projects” at the Pentagon “across the finish line.”
Indeed, Carter’s priority as defense chief nominee is identifying and acquiring new commercial “disruptive technology” to enhance US military strategy — in other words, executing the DoD Skynet plan.
The origins of the Pentagon’s new innovation initiative can thus be traced back to ideas that were widely circulated inside the Pentagon decades ago, but which failed to take root fully until now. Between 2006 and 2010, the same period in which such ideas were being developed by Highlands Forum experts like Lochard, Zalman and Rendon, among many others, the Office of Net Assessment provided a direct mechanism to channel these ideas into concrete strategy and policy development through the Quadrennial Defense Reviews, where Marshall’s input was primarily responsible for the expansion of the “black” world: “special operations,” “electronic warfare” and “information operations.”
Andrew Marshall, now retired head of the DoD’s Office of Net Assessment and Highlands Forum co-chair, at a Forum session in 2008
Marshall’s pre-9/11 vision of a fully networked and automated military system found its fruition in the Pentagon’s Skynet study released by the National Defense University in September 2014, which was co-authored by Marshall’s colleague at the Highlands Forum, Linton Wells. Many of Wells’ recommendations are now to be executed via the new Defense Innovation Initiative by veterans and affiliates of the ONA and Highlands Forum.
Given that Wells’ white paper highlighted the Pentagon’s keen interest in monopolizing AI research to monopolize autonomous networked robot warfare, it is not entirely surprising that the Forum’s sponsoring partners at SAIC/Leidos display a bizarre sensitivity about public use of the word ‘Skynet.’
On a Wikipedia entry titled ‘Skynet (fictional)’, people using SAIC computers deleted several paragraphs under the ‘Trivia’ section pointing out real-world ‘Skynets’, such as the British military satellite system, and various information technology projects.
Hagel’s departure paved the way for Pentagon officials linked to the Highlands Forum to consolidate government influence. These officials are embedded in a longstanding shadow network of political, industry, media and corporate officials that sit invisibly behind the seat of government, yet literally write its foreign and domestic national security policies whether the administration is Democrat of Republican, by contributing ‘ideas’ and forging government-industry relationships.
It is this sort of closed-door networking that has rendered the American vote pointless. Far from protecting the public interest or helping to combat terrorism, the comprehensive monitoring of electronic communications has been systematically abused to empower vested interests in the energy, defense, and IT industries.
The state of permanent global warfare that has resulted from the Pentagon’s alliances with private contractors and unaccountable harnessing of information expertise, is not making anyone safer, but has spawned a new generation of terrorists in the form of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ — itself a Frankenstein by-product of the putrid combination of Assad’s brutality and longstanding US covert operations in the region. This Frankenstein’s existence is now being cynically exploited by private contractors seeking to profit exponentially from expanding the national security apparatus, at a time when economic volatility has pressured governments to slash defense spending.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, from 2008 to 2013, the five largest US defense contractors lost 14 percent of their employees, as the winding down of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to lack of business and squeezed revenues. The continuation of the ‘Long War’ triggered by ISIS has, for now, reversed their fortunes. Companies profiting from the new war include many connected to the Highlands Forum, such as Leidos, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Boeing. War is, indeed, a racket.
No more shadows
Yet in the long-run, the information imperialists have already failed. This investigation is based entirely on open source techniques, made viable largely in the context of the same information revolution that enabled Google. The investigation has been funded entirely by members of the public, through crowd-funding. And the investigation has been published and distributed outside the circuits of traditional media, precisely to make the point that in this new digital age, centralized top-down concentrations of power cannot overcome the power of people, their love of truth and justice, and their desire to share.
What are the lessons of this irony? Simple, really: The information revolution is inherently decentralized, and decentralizing. It cannot be controlled and co-opted by Big Brother. Efforts to do so will in the end invariably fail, in a way that is ultimately self-defeating.
The latest mad-cap Pentagon initiative to dominate the world through control of information and information technologies, is not a sign of the all-powerful nature of the shadow network, but rather a symptom of its deluded desperation as it attempts to ward off the acceleration of its hegemonic decline.
But the decline is well on its way. And this story, like so many before it, is one small sign that the opportunities to mobilize the information revolution for the benefit of all, despite the efforts of power to hide in the shadows, are stronger than ever.
By Nafeez Ahmed
Published on Jan 22.
Find this story at 22 January 2015
Copyright Nafeez Ahmed
New report claims al-Qaeda-Benghazi link known day after attack
1 juni 2015
One day after the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded the assault had been planned 10 days earlier by an al-Qaeda affiliate, according to documents released Monday by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
“The attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was planned and executed by The Brigades of the Captive Omar Abdul Rahman,” said a preliminary intelligence report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, obtained through a lawsuit following a Freedom of Information Act request.
The group, which also conducted attacks against the Red Cross in Benghazi, was established by Abdul Baset Azuz, a “violent radical” sent by al-Qaeda to set up bases in Libya, the defense agency report said.
The attack was planned on Sept. 1, 2012, with the intent “to kill as many Americans as possible to seek revenge” for the killing of a militant in Pakistan and to memorialize the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the report said.
Four Americans were killed in the Benghazi attack, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The incident became politically controversial because the White House initially described the attack as the result of a spontaneous protest. Republican critics said the White House intentionally played down that it was a terrorist attack, because it occurred so close to President Obama’s re-election.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who’s now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, was to appear this week before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, but the hearing was canceled after Clinton and the committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., failed to agree on whether all the documents Gowdy requested had been given to the panel.
Benghazi panel won’t call Clinton to testify next week
Benghazi probe dogs Clinton presidential bid
Other documents released by Judicial Watch show that U.S. personnel in Libya had been monitoring weapons transfers from Benghazi to opposition forces in Syria, where al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood had taken the lead against Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war. In late August 2012, the weapons included 500 sniper rifles, 300 rocket-propelled grenades and 400 howitzer missiles sent to small Syrian ports that handle little cargo, according to one of the reports.
The documents also predicted “dire consequences” of the Syrian civil war: that al-Qaeda’s well-established network in Syria, together with the ongoing conflict there and the influx of weapons and fighters, would lead to a resurgence for al-Qaeda in Iraq. That group, which had been defeated in Iraq by U.S. forces allied with Sunni tribes, did make a resurgence last year, when it broke with al-Qaeda, changed its name to the Islamic State and conquered huge swaths of Iraq and Syria.
“These documents are jaw-dropping,” said Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton. “If the American people had known the truth – that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other top administration officials knew that the Benghazi attack was an al-Qaeda terrorist attack from the get-go – and yet lied and covered this fact up – Mitt Romney might very well be president.”
Messages to the White House, the State Department and Clinton’s campaign spokesman were not immediately answered.
Salwa Bugaighis carries a wreath with a photo of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens as she and others pay their respects to the victims of an attack on the U.S. consulate, on Sept. 17, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11 during the attack.Salwa Bugaighis carries a wreath with a photo of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens as she and others pay their respects to the victims of an attack on the U.S. consulate, on Sept. 17, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11 during the attack. (Photo: Mohammad Hannon, AP)
Salwa Bugaighis carries a wreath with a photo of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens as she and others pay their respects to the victims of an attack on the U.S. consulate, on Sept. 17, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya. Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11 during the attack. Libyan military guards check a burned-out building at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 14, 2012. Glass, debris and overturned furniture are strewn inside a room at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 12, 2012, a day after the attack. A man walks through a damaged room. A man investigates the inside of the U.S. consulate. A person looks at a destroyed vehicle at the entrance of the American consulate building. An empty bullet casing lies on the ground near a destroyed vehicle. A man looks at documents at the U.S. consulate. People inspect the destroyed consulate. A man walks past the U.S. consulate. A building was burned during the attack. A destroyed car rests outside a burned building at the U.S. consulate. Vehicles belonging to Libyan investigators’ cars are parked in front of the U.S. consulate on Sept. 15, 2012.
The Benghazi attack occurred less than two months before Obama’s bid for reelection in a tight race against Romney. The White House and State Department at first blamed the attack on protests to an anti-Islam film that sparked protests across the Muslim world, but later admitted there was no protest in Benghazi before the attack.
Administration officials later said conflicting information, including false media accounts, caused a delay of more than a week to identify the attack as pre-planned act of terrorism. Conservative critics have charged that information was withheld to preserve Obama’s claims at campaign events that al-Qaeda was “on the run.”
“These documents show that the Benghazi cover-up has continued for years and is only unraveling through our independent lawsuits,” Fitton said. “The Benghazi scandal just got a whole lot worse for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”
A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee said in January 2014 that talking points used by then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice in Sunday talk shows after the attack contained erroneous information, although they reflected what the intelligence community believed at the time.
Oren Dorell, USA TODAY 8:26 a.m. EDT May 19, 2015
Find this story at 19 May 2015
Military intel predicted rise of ISIS in 2012, detailed arms shipments from Benghazi to Syria
1 juni 2015
Seventeen months before President Obama dismissed the Islamic State as a “JV team,” a Defense Intelligence Agency report predicted the rise of the terror group and likely establishment of a caliphate if its momentum was not reversed.
While the report was circulated to the CIA, State Department and senior military leaders, among others, it’s not known whether Obama was ever briefed on the document.
The DIA report, which was reviewed by Fox News, was obtained through a federal lawsuit by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch. Documents from the lawsuit also reveal a host of new details about events leading up to the 2012 Benghazi terror attack — and how the movement of weapons from Libya to Syria fueled the violence there.
The report on the growing threat posed by what is now known as the Islamic State was sent on Aug. 5, 2012.
The report warned the continued deterioration of security conditions would have “dire consequences on the Iraqi situation,” and huge benefits for ISIS — which grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi,” the document states, adding “ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) could also declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”
ISIS would, in June 2014, go on to declare a caliphate in territory spanning Iraq and Syria, in turn drawing more foreign fighters to their cause from around the world.
CLICK TO READ THE DOCUMENTS GIVEN TO JUDICIAL WATCH FROM THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT AND STATE DEPARTMENT.
Also among the documents is a heavily redacted DIA report that details weapons operations inside Libya before the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi. The Oct. 5, 2012 report leaves no doubt that U.S. intelligence agencies were fully aware that lethal weapons were being shipped from Benghazi to Syrian ports.
The report said: “Weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles were shipped from the Port of Benghazi, Libya to the Port of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The weapons shipped during late-August 2012 were Sniper rifles, RPG’s, and 125 mm and 155 mm howitzers missiles.”
Current and former intelligence and administration officials have consistently skirted questions about weapons shipments, and what role the movement played in arming extremist groups the U.S. government is now trying to defeat in Syria and Iraq.
In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier broadcast May 11, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, deflected questions:
Baier: Were CIA officers tracking the movement of weapons from Libya to Syria?
Morell: I can’t talk about that.
Baier: You can’t talk about it?
Morell: I can’t talk about it.
Baier: Even if they weren’t moving the weapons themselves, are you saying categorically that the U.S. government and the CIA played no role whatsoever in the movement of weapons from Libya …
Baier: — to Syria?
Morell: We played no role. Now whether we were watching other people do it, I can’t talk about it.
While the DIA report was not a finished intelligence assessment, such Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs) are vetted before distribution, a former Pentagon official said.
The October 2012 report may also be problematic for Hillary Clinton, who likewise skirted the weapons issue during her only congressional testimony on Benghazi in January 2013. In an exchange with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is now a Republican candidate for president, the former secretary of state said, “I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody’s ever raised that with me.”
Referring to Fox News’ ongoing reporting that a weapons ship, Al Entisar, had moved weapons from Libya to Turkey with a final destination of Syria in September 2012, Paul responded, “It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons.” He asked whether the CIA annex which came under attack on Sept. 11, 2012 was involved in those shipments.
Clinton answered: “Well, senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. I will see what information is available.”
In a follow-up letter, the State Department Office of Legislative Affairs provided a narrow response to the senator’s question, and did not speak to the larger issue of weapons moving from Libya to Syria.
“The United States is not involved in any transfer of weapons to Turkey,” the February 2013 letter from Thomas B. Gibbons, acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, said.
Heavily redacted congressional testimony, declassified after the House intelligence committee Benghazi investigation concluded, shows conflicting accounts were apparently given to lawmakers.
On Nov. 15 2012, Morell and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified “Yes” on whether the U.S. intelligence community was aware arms were moving from Libya to Syria. This line of questioning by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who is now the intelligence committee chairman, was shut down by his predecessor Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who said not everyone in the classified hearing was “cleared” to hear the testimony, which means they did not have a high enough security clearance.
An outside analyst told Fox News that Rogers’ comments suggest intelligence related to the movement of weapons was a “read on,” and limited to a very small number of recipients.
Six months later, on May 22, 2013, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, now chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, asked if the CIA was “monitoring arms that others were sending into Syria.” Morell said, “No, sir.”
The Judicial Watch documents also contain a DIA report from Sept. 12, 2012. It indicates that within 24 hours of the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty at the CIA annex, there were strong indicators that the attack was planned at least a week in advance, and was retaliation for a June 2012 drone strike that killed an Al Qaeda strategist — there is no discussion of a demonstration or an anti-Islam video, which were initially cited by the Obama administration as contributing factors.
“The attack was planned ten or more days prior to approximately 01 September 2012. The intention was to attack the consulate and to kill as many Americans as possible to seek revenge for the US killing of Aboyahiye (Alaliby) in Pakistan and in memorial of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings.”
The DIA report also states a little-known group, “Brigades of the Captive Omar Abdul Rahman,” claimed responsibility, though the group has not figured prominently in previous congressional investigations. The document goes on to say the group’s leader is Abdul Baset, known by the name Azuz, “sent by (Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) to set up Al Qaeda bases in Libya.”
“The Obama administration says it was a coincidence that it occurred on 9/11. In fact, their intelligence said it wasn’t a coincidence and in fact specifically the attack occurred because it was 9/11,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told Fox News.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.
By Catherine HerridgePublished May 18, 2015FoxNews.com
Find this story at 18 May 2015
©2015 FOX News Network, LLC.
The circus: How British intelligence primed both sides of the ‘terror war’ (2015)
1 juni 2015
‘Jihadi John’ was able to join IS for one simple reason: from Quilliam to al-Muhajiroun, Britain’s loudest extremists have been groomed by the security services
Every time there’s a terrorist attack that makes national headlines, the same talking heads seem to pop up like an obscene game of “whack-a-mole”. Often they appear one after the other across the media circuit, bobbing from celebrity television pundit to erudite newspaper outlet.
A few years ago, BBC Newsnight proudly hosted a “debate” between Maajid Nawaz, director of counter-extremism think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, and Anjem Choudary, head of the banned Islamist group formerly known as al-Muhajiroun, which has, since its proscription, repeatedly reincarnated itself. One of its more well-known recent incarnations was “Islam4UK”.
Both Nawaz and Choudary have received huge mainstream media attention, generating press headlines, and contributing to major TV news and current affairs shows. But unbeknown to most, they have one thing in common: Britain’s security services. And believe it or not, that bizarre fact explains why the Islamic State’s (IS) celebrity beheader, former west Londoner Mohammed Emwazi – aka “Jihadi John” – got to where he is now.
A tale of two extremists
After renouncing his affiliation with the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), Maajid Nawaz co-founded the Quilliam Foundation with his fellow ex-Hizb member, Ed Husain.
The Quilliam Foundation was set-up by Husain and Nawaz in 2008 with significant British government financial support. Its establishment received a massive PR boost from the release of Ed Husain’s memoirs, The Islamist, which rapidly became an international bestseller, generating hundreds of reviews, interviews and articles.
In Ed Husain’s book – much like Maajid Nawaz’s tome Radical released more recently to similar fanfare – Husain recounts his journey from aggrieved young Muslim into Islamist activist, and eventually his total rejection of Islamist ideology.
Both accounts of their journeys of transformation offer provocative and genuine insights. But the British government has played a much more direct role in crafting those accounts than either they, or the government, officially admit.
In late 2013, I interviewed a former senior researcher at the Home Office who revealed that Husain’s The Islamist was “effectively ghostwritten in Whitehall”.
The official told me that in 2006, he was informed by a government colleague “with close ties” to Jack Straw and Gordon Brown that “the draft was written by Ed but then ‘peppered’ by government input”. The civil servant told him “he had seen ‘at least five drafts of the book, and the last one was dramatically different from the first.’”
The draft had, the source said, been manipulated in an explicitly political, pro-government manner. The committee that had input into Ed Husain’s manuscript prior to its official publication included senior government officials from No. 10 Downing Street, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, the intelligence services, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Home Office.
When I put the question, repeatedly, to Ed Husain as to the veracity of these allegations, he did not respond. I also asked Nawaz whether he was aware of the government’s role in “ghostwriting” Husain’s prose, and whether he underwent a similar experience in the production of Radical. He did not respond either.
While Husain was liaising with British government and intelligence officials over The Islamist from 2006 until the book’s publication in May 2007, his friend Nawaz was at first in prison in Egypt. Nawaz was eventually released in March 2006, declaring his departure from HT just a month before the publication of Husain’s book. Husain took credit for being the prime influence on Nawaz’s decision, and by November 2007, had joined with him becoming Quilliam’s director with Husain as his deputy.
Yet according to Husain, Nawaz played a role in determining parts of the text of The Islamist in the same year it was being edited by government officials. “Before publication, I discussed with my friend and brother-in-faith Maajid the passages in the book,” wrote Husain about the need to verify details of their time in HT.
This is where the chronology of Husain’s and Nawaz’s accounts begin to break down. In Radical, and repeatedly in interviews about his own deradicalisation process, Nawaz says that he firmly and decisively rejected HT’s Islamist ideology while in prison in Egypt. Yet upon his release and return to Britain, Nawaz showed no sign of having reached that decision. Instead, he did the opposite. In April 2006, Nawaz told Sarah Montague on BBC Hardtalk that his detention in Egypt had “convinced [him] even more… that there is a need to establish this Caliphate as soon as possible.” From then on, Nawaz, who was now on HT’s executive committee, participated in dozens of talks and interviews in which he vehemently promoted the Hizb.
I first met Nawaz at a conference on 2 December 2006 organised by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) on the theme of “reclaiming our rights”. I had spoken on a panel about the findings of my book, The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry, on how British state collusion with Islamist extremists had facilitated the 7/7 attacks. Nawaz had attended the event as an audience member with two other senior HT activists, and in our brief conversation, he spoke of his ongoing work with HT in glowing terms.
By January 2007, Nawaz was at the front of a HT protest at the US embassy in London, condemning US military operations in Iraq and Somalia. He delivered a rousing speech at the protest, demanding an end to “colonial intervention in the Muslim world,” and calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate to stand up to such imperialism and end Western support for dictators.
Yet by his own account, throughout this very public agitation on behalf of HT from mid-2006 onwards, Nawaz had in fact rejected the very ideology he was preaching so adamantly. Indeed, in the same period, he was liaising with his friend, Ed Husain – who at that time was still in Jeddah – and helping him with the text of his anti-HT manifesto, The Islamist, which was also being vetted at the highest levels of government.
The British government’s intimate, and secret, relationship with Husain in the year before the publication of his book in 2007 shows that, contrary to his official biography, the Quilliam Foundation founder was embedded in Whitehall long before he was on the public radar. How did he establish connections at this level?
According to Dr Noman Hanif, a lecturer in international terrorism and political Islam at Birkbeck College, University of London, and an expert on Hizb ut-Tahrir, the group’s presence in Britain likely provided many opportunities for Western intelligence to “penetrate or influence” the movement.
Dr Hanif, whose doctoral thesis was about the group, points out that Husain’s tenure inside HT by his own account occurred “under the leadership of Omar Bakri Mohammed,” the controversial cleric who left the group in 1996 to found al-Muhajiroun, a militant network which to this day has been linked to every major terrorist plot in Britain.
Bakri’s leadership of HT, said Dr Hanif, formed “the most conceptually deviant period of HT’s existence in the UK, diverting quite sharply away from its core ideas,” due to Bakri’s advocacy of violence and his focus on establishing an Islamic state in the UK, goals contrary to HT doctrines.
When Bakri left HT and set-up al-Muhajiroun in 1996, according to John Loftus, a former US Army intelligence officer and Justice Department prosecutor, Bakri was immediately recruited by MI6 to facilitate Islamist activities in the Balkans. And not just Bakri, but also Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was recently convicted in the US on terrorism charges.
When Bakri founded al-Muhajiroun in 1996 with the blessings of Britain’s security services, his co-founder was Anjem Choudary. Choudary was intimately involved in the programme to train and send Britons to fight abroad, and three years later, would boast to the Sunday Telegraph that “some of the training does involve guns and live ammunition”.
Historian Mark Curtis, in his seminal work, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, documents how under this arrangement, Bakri trained hundreds of Britons at camps in the UK and the US, and dispatched them to join al-Qaeda affiliated fighters in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya.
Shortly before the 2005 London bombings, Ron Suskind, a Wall Street Journal Pulitizer Prize winning investigative reporter, was told by a senior MI5 official that Bakri was a longtime informant for the secret service who “had helped MI5 on several of its investigations”. Bakri, Suskind adds in his book, The Way of the World, reluctantly conceded the relationship in an interview in Beirut – but Suskind gives no indication that the relationship ever ended.
A senior terrorism lawyer in London who has represented clients in several high-profile terrorism cases told me that both Bakri and Choudary had regular meetings with MI5 officers in the 1990s. The lawyer, who works for a leading firm of solicitors and has regularly liaised with MI5 in the administration of closed court hearings involving secret evidence, said: “Omar Bakri had well over 20 meetings with MI5 from around 1993 to the late 1990s. Anjem Choudary apparently participated in such meetings toward the latter part of the decade. This was actually well-known amongst several senior Islamist leaders in Britain at the time.”
According to Dr Hanif of Birkbeck College, Bakri’s relationship with the intelligence services likely began during his “six-year reign as HT leader in Britain,” which would have “provided British intelligence ample opportunity” to “widely infiltrate the group”. HT had already been a subject of MI6 surveillance abroad “because of its core level of support in Jordan and the consistent level of activity in other areas of the Middle East for over five decades.”
At least some HT members appear to have been aware of Bakri’s intelligence connections, including, it seems, Ed Husain himself. In one passage in The Islamist (p. 116), Husain recounts: “We were also concerned about Omar’s application for political asylum… I raised this with Bernie [another HT member] too. ‘Oh no’, he said, ‘On the contrary. The British are like snakes; they manoeuvre carefully. They need Omar in Britain. More likely, Omar will be the ambassador for the khilafah here or leave to reside in the Islamic state. The kuffar know that – allowing Omar to stay in Britain will give them a good start, a diplomatic advantage, when they have to deal with the Islamic state. Having Omar serves them well for the future. MI5 knows exactly what we’re doing, what we’re about, and yet they have in effect, given us the green light to operate in Britain.”
Husain left HT after Bakri in August 1997. According to Faisal Haque, a British government civil servant and former HT member who knew Ed Husain during his time in the group, Husain had a strong “personal relationship” with Bakri. He did not leave HT for “ideological reasons,” said Haque. “It was more to do with his close personal relationship with Omar Bakri (he left when Bakri was kicked out), pressure from his father and other personal reasons which I don’t want to mention.”
Husain later went on to work for the British Council in the Middle East. From 2003 to 2005, he was in Damascus. During that period, by his own admission, he informed on other British members of HT for agitating against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, resulting in them being deported by Syrian authorities back to Britain. At this time, the CIA and MI6 routinely cooperated with Assad on extraordinary rendition programmes.
Husain then worked for the British Council in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from late 2005 to the end of 2006.
Throughout that year, according to the former Home Office official I spoke to, Husain was in direct contact with senior Whitehall officials who were vetting his manuscript for The Islamist. By November, Husain posted on DeenPort, an online discussion forum, a now deleted comment referring off-hand to the work of “the secret services” inside HT: “Even within HT in Britain today, there is a huge division between modernisers and more radical elements. The secret services are hopeful that the modernisers can tame the radicals… I foresee another split. And God knows best. I have said more than I should on this subject! Henceforth, my lips are sealed!”
Shortly after, Maajid Nawaz would declare his departure from HT, and would eventually be joined at Quilliam by several others from the group, many of whom according to Nawaz had worked with him and Husain as “a team” behind the scenes at this time.
The ‘ex-jihadists’ who weren’t
Perhaps the biggest problem with Husain’s and Nawaz’s claim to expertise on terrorism was that they were never jihadists. Hizb ut-Tahrir is a non-violent movement for the establishment of a global “caliphate” through social struggle, focusing on the need for political activism in the Muslim world. Whatever the demerits of this rigid political ideology, it had no relationship to the phenomenon of al-Qaeda terrorism.
Nevertheless, Husain and Nawaz, along with their government benefactors, were convinced that those personal experiences of “radicalisation” and “deradicalisation” could by transplanted into the ongoing “war on terror” – even though, in reality neither of them had any idea about the dynamics of an actual terrorist network, and the radicalisation process leading to violent extremism. The result was an utterly misguided and evidence-devoid obsession with rejecting non-violent extremist ideologies as the primary means to prevent terrorism.
Through the Quilliam Foundation, Husain’s and Nawaz’s fundamentalist ideas about non-violent extremism went on to heavily influence official counter-terrorism discourses across the Western world. This was thanks to its million pounds worth of government seed-funding, intensive media coverage, as well as the government pushing Quilliam’s directors and staff to provide “deradicalisation training” to government and security officials in the US and Europe.
In the UK, Quilliam’s approach was taken up by various centre-right and right-wing think-tanks, such as the Centre for Social Cohesion (CCS) and Policy Exchange, all of which played a big role in influencing the government’s Preventing Violent Extremism programme (Prevent).
Exactly how bankrupt this approach is, however, can be determined from Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts to express his understanding of the risk from non-violent extremism, a major feature of the coalition government’s Orwellian new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. The latter establishes unprecedented powers of electronic surveillance and the basis for the “Prevent duty,” which calls for all public sector institutions to develop “risk-assessment” profiles of individuals deemed to be “at-risk” of being drawn into non-violent extremism.
In his speech at the UN last year, Cameron explained that counter-terrorism measures must target people who may not “encourage violence, but whose worldview can be used as a justification for it.” As examples of dangerous ideas at the “root cause” of terrorism, Cameron pinpointed “conspiracy theories,” and most outrageously, “The idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy.”
In other words, if you believe, for instance, that US and British forces have deliberately conducted brutal military operations across the Muslim world resulting in the foreseeable deaths of countless innocent civilians, you are a non-violent extremist.
In an eye-opening academic paper published last year, French terrorism expert and Interior Ministry policy officer Dr Claire Arenes, noted that: “By definition, one may know if radicalisation has been violent only once the point of violence has been reached, at the end of the process. Therefore, since the end-term of radicalisation cannot be determined in advance, a policy intended to fight violent radicalisation entails a structural tendency to fight any form of radicalisation.”
It is precisely this moronic obsession with trying to detect and stop “any form of radicalisation,” however non-violent, that is hampering police and security investigations and overloading them with nonsense “risks”.
At this point, the memorable vision of Nawaz and Choudary facing off on BBC Newsnight appears not just farcical, but emblematic of how today’s national security crisis has been fuelled and exploited by the bowels of the British secret state.
Over the last decade or so – the very same period that the British state was grooming the “former jihadists who weren’t” so they could be paraded around the media-security-industrial complex bigging up the non-threat of “non-violent extremism” – the CIA and MI6 were coordinating Saudi-led funding to al-Qaeda affiliated extremists across the Middle East and Central Asia to counter Iranian Shiite influence.
From 2005 onwards, US and British intelligence services encouraged a range of covert operations to support Islamist opposition groups, including militants linked to al-Qaeda, to undermine regional Iranian and Syrian influence. By 2009, the focus of these operations shifted to Syria.
As I documented in written evidence to a UK Parliamentary inquiry into Prevent in 2010, one of the recipients of such funding was none other than Omar Bakri, who at the time told one journalist: “Today, angry Lebanese Sunnis ask me to organise their jihad against the Shiites… Al-Qaeda in Lebanon… are the only ones who can defeat Hezbollah.” Simultaneously, Bakri was regularly in touch with his deputy, Anjem Choudary, over the internet and even delivered online speeches to his followers in Britain instructing them to join IS and murder civilians. He has now been detained and charged by Lebanese authorities for establishing terror cells in the country.
Bakri was also deeply involved “with training the mujahideen [fighters] in camps on the Syrian borders and also on the Palestine side.” The trainees included four British Islamists “with professional backgrounds” who would go on to join the war in Syria. Bakri also claimed to have trained “many fighters,” including people from Germany and France, since arriving in Lebanon. Was Mohammed Emwazi among them? Last year, Bakri disciple Mizanur Rahman confirmed that at least five European Muslims who had died fighting under IS in Syria had been Bakri acolytes.
Nevertheless in 2013, it was David Cameron who lifted the arms embargo to support Syria’s rebels. We now know that most of our military aid went to al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists, many with links to extremists at home. The British government itself acknowledged that a “substantial number” of Britons were fighting in Syria, who “will seek to carry out attacks against Western interests… or in Western states”.
Yet according to former British counterterrorism intelligence officer Charles Shoebridge, despite this risk, authorities “turned a blind eye to the travelling of its own jihadists to Syria, notwithstanding ample video etc. evidence of their crimes there,” because it “suited the US and UK’s anti-Assad foreign policy”.
This terror-funnel is what enabled people like Emwazi to travel to Syria and join up with IS – despite being on an MI5 terror watch-list. He had been blocked by the security services from traveling to Kuwait in 2010: why not Syria? Shoebridge, who was a British Army officer before joining the Metropolitan Police, told me that although such overseas terrorism has been illegal in the UK since 2006, “it’s notable that only towards the end of 2013 when IS turned against the West’s preferred rebels, and perhaps also when the tipping point between foreign policy usefulness and MI5 fears of domestic terrorist blowback was reached, did the UK authorities begin to take serious steps to tackle the flow of UK jihadists.”
The US-UK direct and tacit support for jihadists, Shoebridge said, had made Syria the safest place for regional terrorists fearing drone strikes “for more than two years”. Syria was “the only place British jihadists could fight without fear of US drones or arrest back home… likely because, unlike if similar numbers of UK jihadists had been travelling to for example Yemen or Afghanistan, this suited the anti-Assad policy.”
Having watched its own self-fulfilling prophecy unfold with horrifying precision in a string of IS-linked terrorist atrocities against Western hostages and targets, the government now exploits the resulting mayhem to vindicate its bankrupt “counter-extremism” narrative, promoted by hand-picked state-groomed “experts” like Husain and Nawaz.
Their prescription, predictably, is to expand the powers of the police state to identify and “deradicalise” anyone who thinks British foreign policy in the Muslim world is callous, self-serving and indifferent to civilian deaths. Government sources confirm that Nawaz’s input played a key role in David Cameron’s thinking on non-violent extremism, and the latest incarnation of the Prevent strategy; while last year, Husain was, ironically, appointed to the Foreign Office advisory group on freedom of religion or belief.
Meanwhile, Bakri’s deputy Choudary continues to inexplicably run around as Britain’s resident “terror cleric” media darling. His passport belatedly confiscated after a recent pointless police arrest that avoided charging him, he remains free to radicalise thick-headed British Muslims into joining IS, in the comfort that his hate speech will be broadcast widely, no doubt fueling widespread generic suspicion of British Muslims.
If only we could round up the Quilliam and al-Muhajiroun fanatics together, shove them onto a boat, and send them all off cruising to the middle of nowhere, they could have all the fun they want “radicalising” and “deradicalising” each other to their hearts content. And we might get a little peace. And perhaps we could send their handlers with them, too.
– Nafeez Ahmed PhD, is an investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author who tracks what he calls the ‘crisis of civilization.’ He is a winner of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian reporting on the intersection of global ecological, energy and economic crises with regional geopolitics and conflicts. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Friday 27 February 2015 14:35 GMT
Find this story at 27 February 2015
© Middle East Eye 2014
MI5 says rendition of Libyan opposition leaders strengthened al-Qaida
1 juni 2015
Intelligence assessment concludes abduction of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi allowed dissident group to be taken over by exponents of al-Qaida
Abdel Hakim Belhaj
A secret UK-Libyan rendition programme in which two Libyan opposition leaders were kidnapped and flown to Tripoli along with their families had the effect of strengthening al-Qaida, according to an assessment by the UK security service, MI5.
Prior to their kidnap, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi had ensured that their organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), focused on the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, the classified assessment says. Once handed over to the Gaddafi regime, their places at the head of the LIFG were taken by others who wanted to bring the group closer to al-Qaida.
The two men were seized in Thailand and Hong Kong in March 2004 with the assistance of the UK’s intelligence service MI6, and were “rendered” to Tripoli along with Belhaj’s pregnant wife and Saadi’s wife and four children, the youngest a girl aged six.
In an assessment made 11 months later, MI5 concluded that the capture of the pair had cast the group “into a state of disarray”, adding: “While these senior-ranking members have always jealously guarded the independence of the LIFG, providing it with a clear command structure and set goals, the group is now coming under pressure from outside influences.
“In particular, reporting indicates that members including Abu Laith al-Libi and Abdallah al-Ghaffar may be pushing the group towards a more pan-Islamic agenda inspired by AQ [al-Qaida].”
Two years after MI5 made this assessment, Libi announced the LIFG had formally joined forces with al-Qaida. He became a leading member of the merged organisation and is believed to have orchestrated a series of suicide bomb attacks across Afghanistan, including one in 2007 that killed 23 people at Bagram airfield north of Kabul during a visit by then US vice-president Dick Cheney. Libi was killed in a drone strike the following year.
The classified MI5 intelligence assessment was among hundreds of highly sensitive Libyan and British files that were discovered in official buildings that had been abandoned during the 2011 revolution that led to the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi.
The end of his 42-year dictatorship was hastened by Nato air strikes, and was followed by a period of brief and heady optimism. At a rally in Benghazi in the east of the country in September 2011, the British prime minister, David Cameron, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, addressed enormous crowds waving their countries’ flags. “It’s great to be here in free Benghazi and in free Libya,” Cameron told them.
But Libya’s new leadership was already struggling to impose its authority on the country. And since then, the country has descended into violence and economic instability, with rival militias shelling residential areas and destroying infrastructure in their fight for supremacy.
Fears that Islamist militants would fill the yawning power vacuum appeared to be realised on Tuesday when gunmen claiming allegiance to Islamic State said that they were responsible for an attack on a Tripoli hotel in which at least five guards and five foreigners were killed.
The papers that were recovered during the revolution show that Britain’s intelligence agencies engaged in a series of joint operations with Gaddafi’s government and that some of the information extracted from victims of rendition was used as evidence during control-order and deportation proceedings in UK courts.
They also show that in 2006, Libyan intelligence agents were invited to operate on British soil, where they worked alongside MI5 and allegedly intimidated a number of Gaddafi opponents who had been granted asylum in the UK.
Another of the recovered documents is a letter that Tony Blair wrote to Gaddafi in April 2007, and whose existence publicly emerged last week. Addressed “Dear Mu’ammar”, Blair expressed his regret that the British government had failed in its attempts to have a number of Gaddafi’s opponents deported from the UK, and thanked the dictator for his intelligence agencies’ “excellent co-operation” with their British counterparts.
The classified MI5 document was prepared in advance of a five-day visit to Tripoli by senior agency staff in February 2005. Marked “UK/Libya Eyes Only – Secret”, it explains that members of the LIFG had been permitted to settle in the UK in the 1990s. This was at a time when Gaddafi, whom the group was plotting to overthrow, was considered to be an enemy of Britain.
The document adds that MI5 reassessed the LIFG’s UK-based members following the change in the group’s leadership that resulted from the detention of Belhaj and Saadi.
“We are actively investigating key individuals in the UK and are seeking to disrupt their activities,” the document says. This action was part of a new strategy “for countering the threat from the LIFG to the UK and its allies” – allies which, by 2005, included the Libyan dictatorship.
Accompanying the document was a list of questions that MI5 wanted Libyan interrogators to put to Belhaj and Saadi. A total of more than 1,600 questions were sent from the UK to Tripoli, in four batches, with MI6 at one point thanking the Libyan intelligence agents for “kindly agreeing” to pass the questions to their “interview team”.
Belhaj and Saadi both say they were beaten, whipped, subjected to electric shocks, deprived of sleep and threatened while being held at Tajoura prison outside Tripoli.
They say they were also interrogated by British intelligence officers, and Belhaj says he made it clear, by sign language, that he was being tortured.
After one of these encounters, he says, he agreed to sign a statement about his associates in the UK to avoid being subjected to a form of torture called the Honda, which involved being locked in a box-like structure whose ceiling and walls could be shrunk.
The discovery of the documents that exposed the existence of the UK-Libyan rendition operations had caused widespread dismay in Westminster, even before the emergence of the latest report, which makes clear that one consequence of these operations was that the terrorist organisation that posed the greatest threat to the UK at that time was strengthened.
A criminal investigation into the affair was opened in January 2012 after Dominic Grieve, the then attorney general, wrote to the Metropolitan police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe. After a three-year investigation codenamed Operation Lydd, detectives handed their report to the Crown Prosecution Service last month.
Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary at the time, is among the people who have been questioned by police. His office says he was interviewed as a witness.
The rendition operations also led to damages claims being brought by Saadi – who received £2.2m in compensation from the British government – and by Belhaj. Belhaj is claiming damages on behalf of himself and his wife. She was four-and-a-half months pregnant when the couple were kidnapped, and Belhaj says she was taped, head to foot, to a stretcher for the 17-hour flight to Tripoli, before being jailed for several months.
Belhaj says he would settle his claim for just £3, as long as he and his wife also receive an apology. With the CPS currently considering the police file, this is unlikely to happen.
Thursday 29 January 2015 11.27 GMT Last modified on Friday 30 January 2015 00.05 GMT
Find this story at 29 January 2015
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Libya rebel commander wants MI6 and CIA apologies (2011)
1 juni 2015
The commander of anti-government forces in Tripoli has told the BBC he wants an apology from Britain and America for the way he was transferred to a prison in Libya in 2004.
Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was then a terror suspect, says he was tortured after being arrested in Bangkok and taken to the Libyan capital in an operation organised by the CIA and MI6.
Details of his case are included in messages sent to the Gaddafi regime by the two intelligence services.
Jeremy Bowen reports from Tripoli.
4 September 2011 Last updated at 22:39 BST
Find this story at 4 September 2011
Copyright © 2015 BBC
Libya: Gaddafi regime’s US-UK spy links revealed (2011)<< oudere artikelen nieuwere artikelen >>
1 juni 2015
US and UK spy agencies built close ties with their Libyan counterparts during the so-called War on Terror, according to documents discovered at the office of Col Gaddafi’s former spy chief.
The papers suggest the CIA abducted several suspected militants from 2002 to 2004 and handed them to Tripoli.
The UK’s MI6 also apparently gave the Gaddafi regime details of dissidents.
The documents, found by Human Rights Watch workers, have not been seen by the BBC or independently verified.
Meanwhile, the head of Libya’s interim governing body, the National Transitional Council, said its soldiers were laying siege to towns still held by Col Gaddafi’s forces.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil said Sirte, Bani Walid, Jufra and Sabha were being given humanitarian aid, but had one week to surrender.
The BBC’s Jon Leyne in Benghazi says there have been unconfirmed reports that Bani Walid has now been taken by anti-Gaddafi forces.
But witnesses on the edge of Bani Walid say the opposition fighters are still on the outskirts although our correspondent adds that it appears as if Gaddafi loyalists have abandoned many of their outlying positions.
Thousands of pieces of correspondence from US and UK officials were uncovered by reporters and activists in an office apparently used by Moussa Koussa, who served for years as Col Gaddafi’s spy chief before becoming foreign minister.
Prime Minister Tony Blair embraces Colonel Muammar Gaddafi after a meeting on May 29, 2007 in Sirte, Libya
He defected in the early part of the rebellion, flying to the UK and then on to Qatar.
Rights groups have long accused him of involvement in atrocities, and had called on the UK to arrest him at the time.
The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Tripoli says the documents illuminate a short period when the Libyan intelligence agency was a trusted and valued ally of both MI6 and the CIA, with the tone of exchanges between agents breezy and bordering on the chummy.
Human Rights Watch accused the CIA of condoning torture.
“It wasn’t just abducting suspected Islamic militants and handing them over to the Libyan intelligence. The CIA also sent the questions they wanted Libyan intelligence to ask and, from the files, it’s very clear they were present in some of the interrogations themselves,” said Peter Bouckaert of HRW.
The papers outline the rendition of several suspects, including one that Human Rights Watch has identified as Abdel Hakim Belhaj, known in the documents as Abdullah al-Sadiq, who is now the military commander of the anti-Gaddafi forces in Tripoli.
Alleged CIA letter
Text of letter
I am glad to propose that our services take an additional step in cooperation with the establishment of a permanent CIA presence in Libya. We have talked about this move for quite some time and Libya’s cooperation on WMD and other issues, as well as our recent intelligence cooperation, mean that now is the right moment to move ahead. I am prepared to send [XXX] to Libya to introduce two of my officers to you and your service, arriving in Tripoli on 20 March. These two officers, both of whom are experienced and can speak Arabic, will initially staff our station in Libya. [XXX] will communicate the details via fax. I will call to confirm this with you.
We are also eager to work with you in the questioning of the terrorist we recently rendered to your country. I would like to send to Libya an additional two officers and I would appreciate if they could have direct access to question this individual. Should you agree I would like to send these two officers to Libya on 25 March. Again [XXX] will communicate the details to you.
The Americans snatched him in South East Asia before flying him to Tripoli in 2004, the documents claim.
Mr Belhaj, who was involved in an Islamist group attempting to overthrow Col Gaddafi in the early 2000s, had told the Associated Press news agency earlier this week that he had been rendered by the Americans, but held no grudge.
The CIA would not comment on the specifics of the allegations.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said: “It can’t come as a surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency works with foreign governments to help protect our country from terrorism and other deadly threats.”
The documents also reveal details about the UK’s relationship with the Gaddafi regime.
One memo, dated 18 March 2004 and with the address “London SE1”, congratulates Libya on the arrival of Mr Belhaj.
It states “for the urgent personal attention of Musa Kusa” and is headed “following message to Musa in Tripoli from Mark in London”, according to the Financial Times. Its authenticity could not be independently verified.
The UK intelligence agency apparently helped to write a speech for Col Gaddafi in 2004, when the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair was encouraging the colonel to give up his weapons programme.
And British officials also insisted that Mr Blair’s famous 2004 meeting with Col Gaddafi should be in his Bedouin tent, according to the UK’s Independent newspaper, whose journalists also discovered the documents.
“[The prime minister’s office is] keen that the prime minister meet the leader in his tent,” the paper quotes a memo from an MI6 agent as saying.
“I don’t know why the English are fascinated by tents. The plain fact is the journalists would love it.”
In another memo, also seen by the Independent, UK intelligence appeared to give Tripoli details of a Libyan dissident who had been freed from jail in Britain.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague played down the revelations, telling Sky News that they “relate to a period under the previous government so I have no knowledge of those, of what was happening behind the scenes at that time”.
Mr Blair and US President George W Bush lobbied hard to bring Col Gaddafi out of international isolation in the years after the 9/11 attacks, as Libya moved to normalise relations with former enemies in the West.
In a press conference in Benghazi, Mr Jalil said four Gaddafi-held towns had one week to surrender “to avoid further bloodshed”.
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UN envoy Ian Martin on measuring the “expectations” of Libya
But our correspondent, Jon Leyne, says there are reports Bani Walid has now fallen without a fight, with Gaddafi loyalists either melting away or regrouping further south. However, these reports have not been confirmed.
One anti-Gaddafi commander, Abdulrazzak Naduri, had earlier told AFP that Bani Walid had until just 08:00 on Sunday or face military action.
Col Gaddafi’s whereabouts remain unconfirmed. It was believed that two sons, Saadi and Saif al-Islam, had been in Bani Walid recently.
The NTC is stepping up its efforts at reconstruction, setting up a supreme security council to protect Tripoli.
Ian Martin, a special adviser to the UN secretary general, arrived in Libya’s capital on Saturday to try to boost international efforts in the country’s redevelopment.
The NTC has also said its leadership will not now move from Benghazi to Tripoli until next week, with Mr Jalil the last to go.
Our correspondent says this could mean a delay in the opposition formally assuming the role of the new government and raise fears of a power vacuum in the capital.
4 September 2011
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