Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
An interesting bit of US surveillance history, from Ars Technica by Cyrus Farivar:
One thing sits at the heart of what many consider a surveillance state within the US today.
The problem does not begin with political systems that discourage transparency or technologies that can intercept everyday communications without notice. Like everything else in Washington, there’s a legal basis for what many believe is extreme government overreach—in this case, it’s Executive Order 12333, issued in 1981.
“12333 is used to target foreigners abroad, and collection happens outside the US,” whistleblower John Tye, a former State Department official, told Ars recently. “My complaint is not that they’re using it to target Americans, my complaint is that the volume of incidental collection on US persons is unconstitutional.”
The document, known in government circles as “twelve triple three,” gives incredible leeway to intelligence agencies sweeping up vast quantities of Americans’ data. That data ranges from e-mail content to Facebook messages, from Skype chats to practically anything that passes over the Internet on an incidental basis. In other words, EO 12333 protects the tangential collection of Americans’ data even when Americans aren’t specifically targeted—otherwise it would be forbidden under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.
In a May 2014 interview with NBC, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said that he specifically asked his colleagues at the NSA whether an executive order could override existing statutes. (They said it could not.) Snowden’s lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, told Ars that her client was specifically “referring to EO 12333.”
Thirty-year NSA veteran William Binney told Ars that drastic measures such as the NSA’s Fairview program—described by other intelligence whistleblowers as the NSA’s project to “own the Internet”—are also authorized under EO 12333.
“This program was started at least back in 2001 and has expanded to between 80 and 100 tap points on the fiber optic lines in the lower 48 states,” he said by e-mail. “Most of these fiber optic tap points are not on the East or West coast. This means that the primary target of this collection is domestic… Most collection of US domestic communications and data is done under EO 12333, section 2.3 paragraph C in the Upstream program. They claim, near as I can tell, that all domestic collection is incidental. That’s, of course, the vast majority of data.”
Specifically, that subsection allows the intelligence community to “collect, retain, or disseminate information concerning United States persons” if that information is “obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international narcotics or international terrorism investigation.”‘
The path to EO 12333
Executive orders vary widely. One of the most famous executive orders, the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves in the United States under President Abraham Lincoln. A more infamous example came under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who issued an executive order to intern Japanese-Americans in prison camps in 1942.
President Ronald Reagan signed EO 12333 within his first year in office, 1981, largely as a response to the perceived weakening of the American intelligence apparatus by his two immediate predecessors, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Later, EO 12333 was amended three times by President George W. Bush between 2003 and 2008. . .
Continue reading. The article includes this quote from EO 12333:
EO 12333, SECTION 2.3 PARAGRAPH
2.3 Collection of Information. Agencies within the Intelligence Community are authorized to collect, retain, or disseminate information concerning United States persons only in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General, consistent with the authorities provided by Part 1 of this Order. Those procedures shall permit collection, retention, and dissemination of the following types of information:(a) Information that is publicly available or collected with the consent of the person concerned;
(b) Information constituting foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, including such information concerning corporations or other commercial organizations. Collection within the United States of foreign intelligence not otherwise obtainable shall be undertaken by the FBI or, when significant foreign intelligence is sought, by other authorized agencies of the Intelligence Community, provided that no foreign intelligence collection by such agencies may be undertaken for the purpose of acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons;
(c) Information obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international narcotics or international terrorism investigation;
Of course, we did know quite a bit about Bush—particularly after the first term—but we put him in charge of the US anyway. People in glass houses should not throw stones.
Zack Beauchamp writes (or at least “updates”) at Vox:
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has just lost the support of his party, and looks like he will soon be pushed out of office, barring a coup or wildly implausible political turnaround. Maliki’s eight years in office have been a disaster for Iraq — his increasingly authoritarian rule and oppression of Iraq’s Sunni minority bears no small amount of responsibility for the current Islamic State (ISIS) crisis, which is part of why the US and many others are pushing for him to go.
So maybe now’s a good time to remember that the US put him in power in the first place.
An April 2014 piece in The New Yorker, by Dexter Filkins, lays the story out in all of its sordid details. In 2006, the Iraqi civil war seemed uncontrollable, and the Bush administration wanted incumbent Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari gone. “Can you get rid of Jaafari?”, Bush asked US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. “Yes,” Khalilzad said, “but it will be difficult.” Tough as it may have been, Khalilzad eventually got Iraq’s parliament to end Jaafari’s premiership. But there was not clear candidate to replace him — so the US wanted to find someone to put forward themselves.
According to Filkins, Khalilzad rejected at least one other candidate before turning to the CIA for help in picking Iraq’s next PM. The CIA suggested Maliki — a remarkable choice, as it knew almost nothing about him:
Frustrated, Khalilzad turned to the C.I.A. analyst assigned to his office, a fluent Arabic speaker whose job was to know Iraq’s leaders. “Can it be that, in this country of thirty million people, the choice of Prime Minister is either Jaafari, who is incompetent, or Ali Adeeb, who is Iranian? Isn’t there anyone else?”
“I have a name for you,” the C.I.A. officer said. “Maliki.”
Among the Americans, Maliki was largely unknown, though he served on the committee charged with purging the Iraqi government of former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. “He’s clean,” the C.I.A. officer said; he wasn’t corrupt, and he had no apparent connection to terrorist activities. “We haven’t got any evidence on him.” And, unlike Jaafari, Maliki was “a tough guy,” seemingly able to defy the Iranian regime.
Further down in Filkins’ piece, we learn just how ignorant US officials were of Maliki. . .
You recall those grip-and-grin photos of Donald Rumsfeld with Saddam Hussein when the US really liked Saddam Hussein a lot (and got a lot of our support) before he turned into Hitler. So we threw him out, and George W. Bush installed Maliki, a really good leader, only now we don’t like him (though he’s not yet at the Hitler level of rhetoric) and we’re back to bombing Iraq.
Does it strike anyone else that the US doesn’t seem to have a clue about what it’s doing? We pretty much ruined Iraq, and now it’s totally coming apart. But of course the US always has a ready answer: “Bomb them!” That apparently seems like a good solution in DC.
Amy Goodman has a program worth watching—and there’s a transcript at the link. The blurb:
As a U.S. bombing campaign in northern Iraq enters its fifth day, Baghdad is in a state of political crisis. Eight years ago, Nouri al-Maliki rose to prime minister with the help of the United States. Now the United States has helped pick his replacement. But al-Maliki is refusing to go — deploying his forces around Baghdad and accusing critics of staging a coup. The political crisis is worsening as U.S. airstrikes continue on Islamic State militants in the north. President Obama authorized the strikes last week in what he called an effort to halt the militants’ advance on Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate and military personnel, as well as to prevent a massacre of the Yazidi minority. U.S. officials have confirmed the CIA is also secretly sending arms and ammunition directly to Kurdish forces known as the Peshmerga. We are joined by Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian.
Tom Englehardt takes a somber look at where the US is headed:
As every schoolchild knows, there are three check-and-balance branches of the U.S. government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary. That’s bedrock Americanism and the most basic high school civics material. Only one problem: it’s just not so.
During the Cold War years and far more strikingly in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government has evolved. It sprouted a fourth branch: the national security state, whose main characteristic may be an unquenchable urge to expand its power and reach. Admittedly, it still lacks certain formal prerogatives of governmental power. Nonetheless, at a time when Congress and the presidency are in a check-and-balance ballet of inactivity that would have been unimaginable to Americans of earlier eras, the Fourth Branch is an ever more unchecked and unbalanced power center in Washington. Curtained off from accountability by a penumbra of secrecy, its leaders increasingly are making nitty-gritty policy decisions and largely doing what they want, a situation illuminated by a recent controversy over the possible release of a Senate report on CIA rendition and torture practices.
All of this is or should be obvious, but remains surprisingly unacknowledged in our American world. The rise of the Fourth Branch began at a moment of mobilization for a global conflict, World War II. It gained heft and staying power in the Cold War of the second half of the twentieth century, when that other superpower, the Soviet Union, provided the excuse for expansion of every sort.
Its officials bided their time in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when “terrorism” had yet to claim the landscape and enemies were in short supply. In the post-9/11 era, in a phony “wartime” atmosphere, fed by trillions of taxpayer dollars, and under the banner of American “safety,” it has grown to unparalleled size and power. So much so that it sparked a building boom in and around the national capital (as well as elsewhere in the country). In their 2010 Washington Post series “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William Arkin offered this thumbnail summary of the extent of that boom for the U.S. Intelligence Community: “In Washington and the surrounding area,” they wrote, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.” And in 2014, the expansion is ongoing.
In this century, a full-scale second “Defense Department,” the Department of Homeland Security, was created. Around it has grown up a mini-version of the military-industrial complex, with the usual set of consultants, K Street lobbyists, political contributions, and power relations: just the sort of edifice that President Eisenhower warned Americans about in his famed farewell address in 1961. In the meantime, the original military-industrial complex has only gained strength and influence.
Increasingly, post-9/11, under the rubric of “privatization,” though it should more accurately have been called “corporatization,” the Pentagon took a series of crony companies off to war with it. In the process, it gave “capitalist war” a more literal meaning, thanks to its wholesale financial support of, and the shrugging off of previously military tasks onto, a series of warrior corporations.
Meanwhile, the 17 members of the U.S. Intelligence Community — yes, there are 17 major intelligence outfits in the national security state — have been growing, some at prodigious rates. A number of them have undergone their own versions of corporatization, outsourcing many of their operations to private contractors in staggering numbers, so that we now have “capitalist intelligence” as well. With the fears from 9/11 injected into society and the wind of terrorism at their backs, the Intelligence Community has had a remarkably free hand to develop surveillance systems that are now essentially “watching” everyone — including, it seems, other branches of the government.
Think of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who went over to the corporate side of the developing national security economy, as the first blowback figure from and on the world of “capitalist intelligence.” Thanks to him, we have an insider’s view of the magnitude of the ambitions and operations of the National Security Agency. The scope of that agency’s surveillance operations and the range of global and domestic communications it now collects have proven breathtaking — with more information on its reach still coming out. And keep in mind that it’s only one agency.
We know as well that the secret world has developed its own secret body of law and its own secret judiciary, largely on the principle of legalizing whatever it wanted to do. As the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau has reported, it even has its own Supreme Court equivalent in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And about all this, the other branches of government know only limited amounts and American citizens know next to nothing.
From the Pentagon to the Department of Homeland Security to the labyrinthine world of intelligence, the rise to power of the national security state has been a spectacle of our time. Whenever news of its secret operations begins to ooze out, threatening to unnerve the public, the White House and Congress discuss “reforms” which will, at best, modestly impede the expansive powers of that state within a state. Generally speaking, its powers and prerogatives remain beyond constraint by that third branch of government, the non-secret judiciary. It is deferred to with remarkable frequency by the executive branch and, with the rarest of exceptions, it has been supported handsomely with much obeisance and few doubts by Congress.
And also keep in mind that, of the four branches of government, only two of them — an activist Supreme Court and the national security state — seem capable of functioning in a genuine policymaking capacity at the moment.
In that light, let’s turn to a set of intertwined events in Washington that have largely been dealt with in the media as your typical tempest in a teapot, a catfight among the vested and powerful. I’m talking about the various charges and countercharges, anger, outrage, and irritation, as well as news of acts of seeming illegality now swirling around a 6,300-page CIA “torture report” produced but not yet made public by the Senate Intelligence Committee. This ongoing controversy reveals a great deal about the nature of the checks and balances on the Fourth Branch of government in 2014.
One of the duties of Congress is to keep an eye on the functioning of the government using its powers of investigation and oversight. In the case of the CIA’s program of Bush-era rendition, black sites (offshore prisons), and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a.k.a. torture), the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an investigation in March 2009 into what exactly occurred when suspects in the war on terror were taken to those offshore prisons and brutally interrogated. “Millions” of CIA documents, handed over by the Agency, were analyzed by Intelligence Committee staffers at a “secure” CIA location in Northern Virginia.
Among them was a partial copy of a document known as the “Internal Panetta Review,” evidently a report for the previous CIA director on what the Senate committee might find among those documents being handed over to its investigators. It reportedly reached some fairly strong conclusions of its own about the nature of the CIA’s interrogation overreach in those years. According to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee head, this document was among the mass of documentation the CIA turned over — whether purposely, inadvertently, or thanks to a whistleblower no one knows. (The CIA, on the other hand, claimed, until recently, that committee staffers had essentially stolen it from its computer system.)
The Agency or its private contractors (intelligence capitalism strikes again!) reportedly worked in various ways to obstruct the committee’s investigation, including by secretly removing previously released documents from the committee’s “secure” computer system. Nonetheless, its report was completed in December 2012 and passed on to the White House “for comment” — and then the fun began.
Though relatively few details about its specific contents have leaked out, word has it that it will prove devastating. It will supposedly show, among other things, that those “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used were significantly more brutal than what was described to Congressional overseers; that they went well beyond what the “torture memo” lawyers of the Bush administration had laid out (which, mind you, was brutal enough); that no plots were broken up thanks to torture; and that top figures in the Agency, assumedly under oath, “misled” Congress (a polite word for “lied to,” a potential criminal offense that goes by the name of perjury). Senators knowledgeable on the contents of the report have repeatedly insisted that when it goes public, Americans will be shocked by its contents.
Let’s keep in mind as well that committee head Feinstein was previously known as one of the most loyal and powerful supporters of the national security state and the CIA. Until recently, she has, in fact, essentially been the senator from the national security state. She and her colleagues, themselves shocked by what they had learned, understandably wanted their report declassified and released to the American people with all due speed. It naturally had to be vetted to ensure that it contained no names of active agents and the like. But two and a half years later, after endless reviews and a process of vetting by the CIA and the White House that gives the word “glacial” a bad name, it has yet to be released (though there are regular reports that this will — or will not — happen soon).
During this time, the CIA seemed to go to Def Con 2 and decided to turn its spying skills on the committee and its staffers. Claiming that those staffers had gotten the Panetta Internal Review by “hacking” the CIA’s computers, it essentially hacked the committee’s computers and searched them. In the meantime, its acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, who had been the chief lawyer for the counterterrorism unit out of which the CIA interrogation programs were run, and who was mentioned 1,600 times in the Senate report, filed (to quote Feinstein) a “crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff — the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers — including the acting general counsel himself — provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.” (Back in 2005, Eatinger had also been one of two lawyers responsible for not stopping the destruction of CIA videotapes of the brutal interrogations of terror suspects in its secret prisons.)
In addition, according to Feinstein, CIA Director John Brennan met with her, lied to her, and essentially tried to intimidate her by telling her “that the CIA had searched a ‘walled-off committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications’ and that he was going to ‘order further forensic evidence of the committee network to learn more about activities of the committee’s oversight staff.’” In other words, the overseen were spying upon and now out to get the overseers. And more than that, based on a single incident in which one of its greatest supporters in Congress stepped over the line, the Agency was specifically out to get the senator from the national security state.
There was a clear message here: oversight or not, don’t tread on us.
By the way, since the CIA is the injuring, not the injured, party, there is no reason to take seriously the self-interested words of its officials, past or present, on any of this, or any account they offer of events or charges they make. We’re talking, after all, about an outfit responsible for the initial brutal acts of interrogation, for false descriptions of them, for lying to Congress about them, for destroying evidence of the worst of what it had done, for spying on a Senate committee and its computer system, and for somehow obtaining “legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring relating to the Agency and the committee’s report.” In addition, according to a recent front-page story in the New York Times, its former director from the Bush years, George Tenet, has been actively plotting “a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report” with the present director and various past Agency officials. (And keep in mind that “roughly 200 people under [Tenet’s] leadership [who] had at some point participated in the interrogation program” are still working at the Agency.)
The Age of Impunity in Washington
In December 2012, the report began to wend its way through a “review and declassification” process, which has yet to end. Once again, the CIA stepped in. The Senate was eager to declassify the report’s findings, conclusions, and its 600-page executive summary. The CIA, which had already done its damnedest to block the Senate investigation process, now ensured that the vetting would be interminable.
As a start, the White House vested the CIA as the lead agency in the review and vetting process, which meant that it was to be allowed to slow things to a crawl, stop them entirely, or alternatively remove crucial and damning material from the report via redaction. If you want a gauge of just how powerful the various outfits that make up the Fourth Branch have become in Washington (and what limits on them still remain), look no further.
Fourteen years into the twenty-first century, we’re so used to this sort of thing that we seldom think about what it means to let the CIA — accused of a variety of crimes — be the agency to decide what exactly can be known by the public, in conjunction with a deferential White House. . .
I’ve blogged about this before, and Obama’s unconditional support of the CIA in this struggle shows the direction the country is headed. There seems to be no effective pushback from the president against overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch intelligence/security power centers: they are currently more powerful than the president. And Congress is now rather feeble. And the media now have a corporate (profit-centered) focus and don’t really investigate things much any more. You see where this is going, right?
Read this NY Times report by Mark Mazzatti and Carl Hulse:
An internal investigation by the C.I.A. has found that its officers penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its damning report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.
The report by the agency’s inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers read the emails of the Senate investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information, according to a summary of findings made public on Thursday. According to one official with knowledge of the report’s conclusions, the investigation also discovered that the officers created a false online identity to gain access on more than one occasion to computers used by the committee staff.
Continue reading. And later in the story:
Anger among lawmakers grew throughout the day. Leaving a nearly three-hour briefing about the report in a Senate conference room, members of both parties called for the C.I.A. officers to be held accountable, and some said they had lost confidence in Mr. Brennan’s leadership. “This is a serious situation and there are serious violations,” said Mr. Chambliss, generally a staunch ally of the intelligence community. He called for the C.I.A. employees to be “dealt with very harshly.”
Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado and another member of the Intelligence Committee, demanded Mr. Brennan’s resignation. “The C.I.A. unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee computers,” he said in a written statement. “This grave misconduct not only is illegal but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers.
“These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the C.I.A., demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences,” he added.
Committee Democrats have spent more than five years working on a report about the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program during the Bush administration, which employed brutal interrogation methods like waterboarding. Parts of that report, which concluded that the techniques yielded little valuable information and that C.I.A. officials consistently misled the White House and Congress about the efficacy of the techniques, are expected to be made public some time this month.
The question remains: What, if anything, will Obama do about it? Will he support Congress and the Constitution and set the CIA straight? Or (more likely) will he classify as Top Secret everything that touches on this, refuse to release the report without lots of redactions, and protect the CIA? Here’s a hint, from later in the report:
The White House publicly defended Mr. Brennan on Thursday, saying he had taken “responsible steps” to address the behavior of C.I.A. employees, which he said included suggesting an investigation, accepting its results and appointing an accountability board.
Asked whether the results of the investigation presented a credibility issue for Mr. Brennan, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said, “Not at all.”
Crediting Mr. Brennan with playing an “instrumental role” in helping the United States government destroy Al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Earnest said, “He is somebody who has a very difficult job, who does that job extraordinarily well.”
Other than lying repeatedly, of course.
And, as Patrick L. Smith points out, by revealing how the controlling wealth and power think. Well worth reading. From the link:
This speech deserves careful consideration. Forget about what Abramson wanted to put across. So often, I find, the most interesting things people have to say are the things they say without meaning to. This was inevitable in Abramson’s case. How could a former editor of the Times address the paper’s role in maintaining official secrecy without telling us something about the corruption of the reasoning behind the stance?
Abramson’s focus is how and why the American press performed as it did after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. These are good questions. To an important extent what reporters and editors did from 2001 onward — what they continue to do — is merely an exaggerated case of what they did at least as far back as 1947, when Truman declared the Cold War. But there was also a turn on a dime in the media as the Bush administration stumbled back on its feet.
Abramson was the Times’ Washington bureau chief at the time. The debris in lower Manhattan was still settling when Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary, arranged a conference call that included “every leading editor in Washington.”
Abramson dilates on this key moment:
“The purpose of his call was to make an agreement with the press—this was just days after 9/11—that we not publish any stories that would go into details about the sources and methods of our intelligence programs. I have to say, that in the wake of 9/11, all of us readily agreed to that.”
And then the reflection:
“It wasn’t complicated to withhold such information. And for some years, really quite a few years, I don’t think the press, in general, did publish any stories that upset the Bush White House or seemed to breach that agreement.”
So did the media participate in Bush’s declaration of his “war on terror,” an idea of what the U.S. is doing that has brought one disaster, breach of law and murderous episode after another upon us — Guantánamo, the war in Iraq, drone killings, the lot. To hold back on this definition of our time would have been decisive, but were the press to do so, of course, it would have “upset the Bush White House.” . . .
George Tenet, one-time director of the CIA who famously declared it was a “slam dunk” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (meaning actual weapons of mass destruction, not merely hand grenades), is now furiously at work to keep details of the US torture program from coming out. This NY Times article by Mark Mazzetti describes some of his machinations. From the article:
The April meeting at C.I.A. headquarters highlighted how much of the agency is still seeded with officers who participated in the detention and interrogation program, which Mr. Obama officially ended during his first week in office in 2009.
At one point during the meeting, the current head of the counterterrorism center, an officer with the first name Mike, told Mr. Brennan that roughly 200 people under his leadership had at some point participated in the interrogation program. They wanted to know, he said, how Mr. Brennan planned to defend them in public against accusations that the C.I.A. engaged in systematic torture and lied about its efficacy.
Mr. Tenet flashed his anger at these accusations in 2007, when he was asked about the interrogation program during an interview with the CBS program “60 Minutes.”
Wagging a finger at the correspondent, Scott Pelley, Mr. Tenet said over and over, “We don’t torture people.”
“No, listen to me. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me,” he went on. “Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of that fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”
First, of course, it is well known that the CIA did indeed torture people, sometimes to death. That is documented. (The CIA destroyed all videotaped evidence, of course, but word was already out.)
Second, Mr. Tenet simply denies that the CIA tortured people, but then in his rebuttal explains why the CIA tortured people: denial, and then justification.
It’s a lawyer’s defense. “We didn’t do it—and the reasons we did do it are very good.”
Contemptible—and Obama apparently is fine with Tenet riding herd on the investigation and its report. But that helps clarify the degree to which intelligence services control the White House and the government.