Sterling’s Graymail Attempt

As Josh Gerstein reported, back in June, Jeffrey Sterling asked the government for details about which parts of James Risen’s account of Merlin are true and which are false. His lawyers argue that Sterling cannot be guilty of disseminating national defense information if what he disseminated–as the government claims–was actually not true.

Now, at first glimpse, this seems to be a graymail attempt: an attempt to demand information from the government it will ultimately refuse to turn over.

In addition to details of the alleged operation, the defense is entitled to know if, as a result of the publication of State of War, the identity of Human Asset No. 1 was learned by any foreign power at all. It is entitled to know if because of the publication of State of War, the Iranians shelved plans to use the blue prints that they allegedly learned, due to the publication of State of War, were allegedly flawed. The defense is entitled to know if this “Rogue Operation,” as described by Mr. Risen, did help the Iranian nuclear program in any way.

Some of this information, after all, would be the information Risen’s sources would have been trying to get out in the first place; this is precisely the kind of information the government is trying to suppress by prosecuting this case. And the emphasis on whether Iran (or another country) learned this information from Risen’s book–or from the operation itself–would make for an interesting question (though I suspect the government would retreat to a claim they’ve made before: that part of the damage comes in letting other countries know about this op).

But I’m also interested in Sterling’s focus on expert witnesses: as of June 22, when this was filed, the government had not yet revealed to the defense what expert they would call to verify that this information was actually national defense information. I suspect part of what the defense is trying to do is force that issue–and in particular, learn whether that expert will be someone who was actually involved in the operation (and therefore could refute Sterling’s version of what happened) or someone else, who would rely on second-hand information.

At a minimum, it must allow the defense to challenge the accuracy of that testimony by confronting the witness called by the government with the truth of what actually occurred.

I hope to come back to this issue in the coming days.

just as interesting as this attempt to get more information on what the government claims happened with the Merlin program is the timing. At one level, it seems very late in the process, almost a second swipe at a Bill of Particulars (the government responded to the first one by giving Sterling the chapter of Risen’s book).

But remember that this filing also came before most of the filings on whether or not Risen will have to testify. I noted that in addition to everything else the government has said to support its subpoena of Risen, they also said he cannot protect a source who passed false information. Of course, they haven’t proven that, they’ve simply gotten a grand jury to buy off on that.

It seems the stakes on whether information Sterling allegedly provided Risen was true or not have gone up. But that seems to be precisely the kind of information the government will want to keep out of court.

Darrell Issa Steps in It, Inadvertantly Reveals Improper Use of Congressional Funds to Serve AEI

United States House of Representatives Seal
United States House of Representatives Seal by DonkeyHotey

Republicans are big fans of projection. When they’re neck-deep in conflicts of interest, they like to hide it by accusing Democrats of such conflicts. When they leak stuff, they accuse Democrats. When they mismanage stuff, they accuse Democrats.

And yesterday, Darrell Issa got caught doing just that.

A year ago, on July 27, 2010, Issa accused the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission of partisanship, largely because Democrats passed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill before the FCIC reported its conclusions. Of particular note, Issa claimed Democrats on the FCIC were letting partisan ties direct their work.

Yet, as a report released by Elijah Cummings yesterday makes clear, the Republicans were the ones being directed by outside influences–both by their own partisan considerations, as well as two possible lobbyists. The report found that:

  • Immediately after Republicans took the House last November, some Republicans on the Committee started tailoring their contributions to make sure they would serve the goal of setting up a repeal of Dodd-Frank. Of particular note, Commissioner Peter Wallison started sending emails warning, “It’s very important, I think, that what we say in our separate statements not undermine the ability of the new House GOP to modify or repeal Dodd-Frank.”
  • Wallison (who is a fellow of AEI) also tailored his contributions–including his separate statement–largely to parrot the discredited theories of AEI fellow (and former Fannie Mae official) Edward Pinto. Pinto argued that the entire crash was caused by HUD’s affordable housing policy. Wallison’s mindless insistence on advancing Pinto’s theory got so bad that the special assistant to Republican FCIC Vice Chairman, Bill Thomas, suggested, “I can’t tell re: who is the leader and who is the follower. If Peter is really a parrot for Pinto, he’s putting a lot of faith in the guy.” Not only did Wallison serve Parrot’s propaganda, though: he also shared confidential documents made available to the FCIC, violating its ethics standards.
  • Thomas himself consulted with–and shared confidential information with–someone outside the Commission: the CEO of a political consulting firm, Alex Brill (he’s also a fellow at AEI). At one level, Brill seems to have been offering Thomas political advice. But it also appears Brill may have been trying to cushion the damage done by the FCIC to Citibank’s reputation.

Now, Cummings released this report partly because Issa refused to call Thomas and Wallison as witnesses in his inquiry into problems with the FCIC. And the release of the report seems to have convinced Issa to indefinitely postpone the investigation into the FCIC.

Good–this is precisely the kind of thing I was thinking of when I suggested we needed someone like Cummings to babysit Issa.

But it also seems like a good time to turn this into a much bigger attack.

As Cummings’ FCIC report makes clear, what Wallison and Thomas appear to have done is unethically misuse funds appropriated by Congress. While it’s not entirely clear who the ultimate beneficiaries of their ethical lapses are–aside from, vaguely, the banksters, both men were collaborating improperly with AEI fellows. More clearly, both men appear to have violated their ethical obligations–a set of rules–to try to make sure banksters didn’t have to follow any rules passed under Dodd-Frank.

Issa is teeing off today, again, against Elizabeth Warren. I do hope Cummings finds ample opportunity to remind Issa that it’s clear he’s doing the bidding not of transparency or oversight or the American people, but rather a number of corrupt banksters trying to avoid playing by the rules.

ACLU Petitions CIA for Documents on Juan Cole

Univ. of Michigan Prof. Juan Cole (photo: inkyhack)

The ACLU has just FOIAed the CIA and Director of National Intelligence for any information on Juan Cole. It asks for,

e-mails, letters, faxes, or other correspondence, memoranda, contemporaneous notes of meetings or phone calls, reports or any other material relating to the gathering, collecting, copying, collating, generating or other use of information and material regarding Professor Cole,

The FOIA is addressed to CIA, Director of National Intelligence, and DOJ.

Now, far be it for me to tell ACLU how to FOIA–after all, they’re the best in the business at wringing embarrassing documents out of the government.

But they might want to FOIA DOD, too.

You see, there’s something that has been haunting me about this description from James Risen’s story on this.

According to Mr. Carle, Mr. Low returned from a White House meeting one day and inquired who Juan Cole was, making clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to gather information on him. Mr. Carle recalled his boss saying, “The White House wants to get him.”“ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ” Mr. Low continued, according to Mr. Carle.

Mr. Carle said that he warned that it would be illegal to spy on Americans and refused to get involved, but that Mr. Low seemed to ignore him.

That first request elicited, Carle told Amy Goodman, four paragraphs of information, one of which included derogatory information.  [cont’d.] (more…)

ACLU FOIAs CIA for Documents on Juan Cole

The ACLU has just FOIAed the CIA and Director of National Intelligence for any information on Juan Cole. It asks for,

e-mails, letters, faxes, or other correspondence, memoranda, contemporaneous notes of meetings or phone calls, reports or any other material relating to the gathering, collecting, copying, collating, generating or other use of information and material regarding Professor Cole,

The FOIA is addressed to CIA, Director of National Intelligence, and DOJ.

Now, far be it for me to tell ACLU how to FOIA–after all, they’re the best in the business at wringing embarrassing documents out of the government.

But they might want to FOIA DOD, too.

You see, there’s something that has been haunting me about this description from James Risen’s story on this.

According to Mr. Carle, Mr. Low returned from a White House meeting one day and inquired who Juan Cole was, making clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to gather information on him. Mr. Carle recalled his boss saying, “The White House wants to get him.”“ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ” Mr. Low continued, according to Mr. Carle.

Mr. Carle said that he warned that it would be illegal to spy on Americans and refused to get involved, but that Mr. Low seemed to ignore him.

That first request elicited, Carle told Amy Goodman, four paragraphs of information, one of which included derogatory information.

GLENN CARLE: Yes, that’s correct. I was—the following day, I came to work and was asked to represent my office at the senior staff meeting, which is routine. And I did. And it was also routine that I take a memorandum of some sort up to the front office, I believe, for the White House. And I thought that I should know what I was doing for the morning, and I read the memo, and it was a memo on Professor Cole with four paragraphs, as I recall, only one of which was about inappropriate personal information. The other three struck me as innocuous. I don’t remember specifically what they said, but one of the four.

Now maybe it’s Carle’s reference, also in the Democracy Now interview, to the Plame outing. But I can’t help but think of how the White House got people across the national security community to reveal that Plame worked for the CIA: They kept asking for information on Wilson’s trip, long after they had already gotten the information they purportedly needed. So, for example, the day after John Hannah briefed Cheney on the trip, Cheney asked someone at CIA for more information on the trip, using incorrect information that would need corrected (I suspect this request was made at a Deputies Committee meeting at the White House, and I think Libby is the one who formally made the request). Then, two days later and almost certainly after Cheney had been briefed personally by (he says) George Tenet as well as (records show) John McLaughlin, and almost certainly after Libby had gotten information from Marc Grossman on Plame’s work at the CIA, Cheney and Libby called the CIA from a meeting with Cathie Martin, to ask for information they already knew. That call was ultimately how Martin learned, from Bill Harlow, that Plame worked for the CIA.

You see, the White House kept asking for the same information they already knew so they could try to get the CIA to share that information in a way they could use it. Of course, along the way, they increased the circle of people who knew that information, which is one of the things that led to the leak of Plame’s identity.

Now, this may not be what is happening here: an attempt to get CIA to take note of information about Cole the White House believed was derogatory.

But it would be worth checking to see whether likely co-participants in a meeting with National Intelligence Council’s David Low or CIA’s Deputy Director for intelligence, John A. Kringen also got similar requests–not least because DOD, with its CIPA program, would likely have been less squeamish about digging up dirt on Cole.

In any case, given the way the government responds to FOIAs, we’ll probably learn more about this in 5 years or so.

Obama Administration: Don’t Cut Construction Funding to Bahrain

In its statement of Administration policy on HR 2055–which funds military construction–the Administration expressed concern that the Senate had cut $100 million funding for two projects in Bahrain.

The Administration is worried, you see, that such cuts would signal that we do not “stand by its allies.”

The Administration is concerned about the reduction in funding for military construction projects in Bahrain as well as those associated with the relocation of United States Marines to Guam. Deferring or eliminating these projects could signal that the U.S. does not stand by its allies or its agreements such as the realignment of forces from Okinawa to Guam.

Because it’s very important to “stand by” our allies, I guess, when the abuse their own people.

Update On Two Torture Investigations

photo: design wallah via Flickr

Across the pond–in the investigation of British complicity with the torture of Binyam Mohamed and others–the Supreme Court has told the government it can’t present secret evidence.

The supreme court has outlawed the use of secret evidence in court by the intelligence services to conceal allegations that detainees were tortured.

The decision will be seen as a significant victory for open justice, but the panel of nine judges pointed out that parliament could change the law to permit such “closed material procedures” in future.

The appeal was brought by lawyers for MI5 seeking to overturn an earlier appeal court ruling that prevented the service from suppressing accusations British suspects had been ill-treated at Guantánamo Bay and other foreign holding centres.

And here in the land where such secrets have become the norm, Apuzzo and Goldman reveal one of the reasons why DOJ is taking a closer look at Manadel al-Jamadi’s death: because the CIA guy in charge of an unofficial interrogation program in Iraq went beyond clear directions from HQ.
(more…)

On Two Torture Investigations

photo: design wallah via Flickr

Across the pond–in the investigation of British complicity with the torture of Binyam Mohamed and others–the Supreme Court has told the government it can’t present secret evidence.

The supreme court has outlawed the use of secret evidence in court by the intelligence services to conceal allegations that detainees were tortured.

The decision will be seen as a significant victory for open justice, but the panel of nine judges pointed out that parliament could change the law to permit such “closed material procedures” in future.

The appeal was brought by lawyers for MI5 seeking to overturn an earlier appeal court ruling that prevented the service from suppressing accusations British suspects had been ill-treated at Guantánamo Bay and other foreign holding centres.

And here in the land where such secrets have become the norm, Apuzzo and Goldman reveal one of the reasons why DOJ is taking a closer look at Manadel al-Jamadi’s death: because the CIA guy in charge of an unofficial interrogation program in Iraq went beyond clear directions from HQ.

Steve Stormoen, who is now retired from the CIA, supervised an unofficial program in which the CIA imprisoned and interrogated men without entering their names in the Army’s books.

The so-called “ghosting” program was unsanctioned by CIA headquarters. In fact, in early 2003, CIA lawyers expressly prohibited the agency from running its own interrogations, current and former intelligence officials said. The lawyers said agency officers could be present during military interrogations and add their expertise but, under the laws of war, the military must always have the lead.

This detail is interesting for another reason. The AP notes that Stormoen asked to use torture tactics.

Tactics such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, which the CIA used in other overseas prisons, were prohibited at Abu Ghraib without prior approval. In videoconferences with headquarters, Stormoen and other officers in Iraq repeatedly asked for permission to use harsher techniques, but that permission was never granted, one former senior intelligence official recalled.

This would have put Stormoen in Iraq asking to use things like waterboarding not long after someone in OVP suggested waterboarding a different detainee, Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi.

At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam’s secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.

[snip]

Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr’s interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”

Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.

Now, I have always imagined that Cheney tried to order up military interrogators to waterboard Khudayr; OVP wasn’t exactly getting along with the CIA in 2003. But you do have to wonder why Stormoen ignored HQ’s directions on torture.

Our Unilateral Counterterrorism Operations in Somalia

Somalia (source: CIA Factbook)

A detainee in what Jeremy Scahill describes as “a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held”–one with key US involvement–describes his internment this way.

I have been here for one year, seven months. I have been interrogated so many times. Interrogated by Somali men and white men. Every day. New faces show up. They have nothing on me. I have never seen a lawyer, never seen an outsider. Only other prisoners, interrogators, guards. Here there is no court or tribunal.

Scahill’s entire article, describing our counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, is of course a must read, particularly given questions raised by the Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame indictment.

But given my non-debate with Benjamin Wittes about drones and sovereignty (though these programs go far beyond drone strikes), I wanted to point to Scahill’s description of the arrangement the US has with Somalia in this.

According to well-connected Somali sources, the CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, the United States has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Somali sources with knowledge of the program described the agents as lining up to receive $200 monthly cash payments from Americans. “They support us in a big way financially,” says the senior Somali intelligence official. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

[cont’d.] (more…)

Our Unilateral Counterterrorism Operations in Somalia

A detainee in what Jeremy Scahill describes as “a secret prison buried in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters, where prisoners suspected of being Shabab members or of having links to the group are held”–one with key US involvement–describes his internment this way.

I have been here for one year, seven months. I have been interrogated so many times. Interrogated by Somali men and white men. Every day. New faces show up. They have nothing on me. I have never seen a lawyer, never seen an outsider. Only other prisoners, interrogators, guards. Here there is no court or tribunal.

Scahill’s entire article, describing our counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, is of course a must read, particularly given questions raised by the Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame indictment.

But given my non-debate with Benjamin Wittes about drones and sovereignty (though these programs go far beyond drone strikes), I wanted to point to Scahill’s description of the arrangement the US has with Somalia in this.

According to well-connected Somali sources, the CIA is reluctant to deal directly with Somali political leaders, who are regarded by US officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Instead, the United States has Somali intelligence agents on its payroll. Somali sources with knowledge of the program described the agents as lining up to receive $200 monthly cash payments from Americans. “They support us in a big way financially,” says the senior Somali intelligence official. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

[snip]

It is unclear how much control, if any, Somalia’s internationally recognized president, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, has over this counterterrorism force or if he is even fully briefed on its operations. The CIA personnel and other US intelligence agents “do not bother to be in touch with the political leadership of the country. And that says a lot about the intentions,” says Aynte. “Essentially, the CIA seems to be operating, doing the foreign policy of the United States. You should have had State Department people doing foreign policy, but the CIA seems to be doing it across the country.”

While the Somali officials interviewed for this story said the CIA is the lead US agency coordinating the Mogadishu counterterrorism program, they also indicated that US military intelligence agents are at times involved. When asked if they are from JSOC or the Defense Intelligence Agency, the senior Somali intelligence official responded, “We don’t know. They don’t tell us.”

Not only is the bulk of our relationship with Somalia going through these intelligence channels to intelligence channels. But it also relies on African Union forces.

The [defense bill authorizing increased counterterrorism support in Somalia], however, did not authorize additional funding for Somalia’s military, as the country’s leaders have repeatedly asked. Instead, the aid package would dramatically increase US arming and financing of AMISOM’s forces, particularly from Uganda and Burundi, as well as the militaries of Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia.

I understand that Somalia is one of the most challenging places to work, given the absence of any viable state (save, perhaps, al-Shabaab). But our direct–and secret–control of other territories is worth thinking seriously about.

Emptywheel Leaving Firedoglake

It is with very mixed feelings that I announce emptywheel will be leaving Firedoglake at the end of this week.

About six years ago, I started blogging on the abuse of power. At first it was the CIA Leak case. Then it was torture. And warrantless wiretapping. And now drones and Gitmo and corruption and the withering rule of law. With things like auto bailouts and healthcare interspersed along the way.

I’ve been doing this a long time, and never took the time to take a step back to figure out how best to do this work. And while I’ve been privileged to have had the opportunity to do so, six years of manic blogging wears on you. Particularly when that blogging has mostly chronicled a long string of bad news about the rule of law and our Constitution.

It’s time for me to take that step back, and to change the way I work to make sure I can continue to keep it up over what looks to be a long term slog. A key part of that step back will be stepping away from the manic, reactive rhythm I’ve established here at Firedoglake.

So sometime on Friday, emptywheel will move to its own server at a different URL (obviously, I’ll let everyone know the new details).

At emptywheel’s new home, I will continue doing what I’m doing. I’ll be covering civil liberties and abuse of power and the way that ties into our crashing economy. I will no doubt continue to write, a lot. I will continue to do the really weedy work I’ve always done. But I plan to change the way I work–with a focus on also producing longer, more finished articles and possibly another book project. And bmaz will be coming along to contribute as he has for so long. (Yes, there will be Trash Talk!)

Meanwhile, FDL will still have superb civil liberties coverage. Later today, Jane will announce more details, but I can say Kevin Gosztola, who has already been doing great work at MyFDL, and who I consider to be one of the most exciting new voices on this beat, will pick up much of the load.

Look for more details–and a lot of thanks–in a few days.