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Archive for November 13th, 2015

‘The Attacks Will Be Spectacular’

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Chris Whipple in Politico:

“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”  The CIA’s famous Presidential Daily Brief, presented to George W. Bush on August 6, 2001, has always been Exhibit A in the case that his administration shrugged off warnings of an Al Qaeda attack. But months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.

By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me in his first interview in eight years. “The world felt like it was on the edge of eruption. In this time period of June and July, the threat continues to rise. Terrorists were disappearing [as if in hiding, in preparation for an attack]. Camps were closing. Threat reportings on the rise.” The crisis came to a head on July 10. The critical meeting that took place that day was first reported by Bob Woodward in 2006. Tenet also wrote about it in general terms in his 2007 memoir At the Center of the Storm.

But neither he nor Black has spoken about it publicly in such detail until now—or been so emphatic about how specific and pressing their warnings really were. Over the past eight months, in more than a hundred hours of interviews, my partners Jules and Gedeon Naudet and I talked with Tenet and the 11 other living former CIA directors for The Spymasters, a documentary set to air this month on Showtime.

The drama of failed warnings began when Tenet and Black pitched a plan, in the spring of 2001, called “the Blue Sky paper” to Bush’s new national security team. It called for a covert CIA and military campaign to end the Al Qaeda threat—“getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” “And the word back,” says Tenet, “‘was ‘we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.’” (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.) Black, a charismatic ex-operative who had helped the French arrest the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, says the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat: “I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.”

That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We’re comin’ right now. We have to get there.’”

Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”

“What happened?” I ask Cofer Black. “Yeah. What did happen?” he replies. “To me it remains incomprehensible still. I mean, how is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It’s kind of like The Twilight Zone.” Remarkably, in her memoir, Condi Rice writes of the July 10 warnings: “My recollection of the meeting is not very crisp because we were discussing the threat every day.” Having raised threat levels for U.S. personnel overseas, she adds: “I thought we were doing what needed to be done.” (When I asked whether she had any further response to the comments that Tenet, Black and others made to me, her chief of staff said she stands by the account in her memoir.) Inexplicably, although Tenet brought up this meeting in his closed-door testimony before the 9/11 Commission, it was never mentioned in the committee’s final report.

And there was one more chilling warning to come. At the end of July, Tenet and his deputies gathered in the director’s conference room at CIA headquarters. “We were just thinking about all of this and trying to figure out how this attack might occur,” he recalls. “And I’ll never forget this until the day I die. Rich Blee looked at everybody and said, ‘They’re coming here.’ And the silence that followed was deafening. You could feel the oxygen come out of the room. ‘They’re coming here.’”

Tenet, who is perhaps the agency’s most embattled director ever, can barely contain himself when talking about the unheeded warnings he says he gave the White House. Twirling an unlit cigar and fidgeting in his chair at our studio in downtown Washington, D.C., he says with resignation: “I can only tell you what we did and what we said.” And when asked about his own responsibility for the attacks on 9/11, he is visibly distraught. “There was never a moment in all this time when you blamed yourself?” I ask him. He shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “Well, look, there … I still look at the ceiling at night about a lot of things. And I’ll keep them to myself forever. But we’re all human beings.”

***

Only 12 men are alive today who have made the life-and-death decisions that come with running the CIA.

Once a year, the present and former CIA directors—ranging from George H.W. Bush, 91, to the current boss, John Brennan, 60—meet in a conference room at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The ostensible reason: to receive a confidential briefing on the state of the world. (Robert Gates, who hates setting foot inside the Beltway, is a perennial no-show.) “They mostly tell us stuff we already know, and we pretend we’re learning something,” says Tenet, the longest-serving director (lasting seven years, under Presidents Clinton and Bush II). But the real point of their annual pilgrimage is to renew bonds forged in the trenches of the war on terror—and to debate the agency’s purpose in the world.

On the burning questions of the day, the directors are profoundly torn: over the CIA’s mission, its brutal interrogation methods after 9/11, and the shifting “rules of engagement” in the battle against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. What is fair game in the fight against terrorism: Torture? Indefinite detention? Setting up “black sites” in foreign countries for interrogation? Should the CIA be in the business of killing people with remotely piloted drones? Was the agency really to blame for 9/11? Or did the White House ignore its repeated warnings?

On these and other questions, the directors were surprisingly candid in the interviews they did with me—even straying into classified territory. (They often disagree about what is actually classified; it’s complicated, as Hillary Clinton is learning.) A controversial case in point: drone strikes. “He can’t talk publicly about that,” protests Gen. David Petraeus when I tell him that one of his counterparts has opened up to me about “signature strikes.” (These are lethal attacks on unidentified targets—a kind of profiling by drone—that several directors find deeply troubling.) Gen. Petraeus might have had good reason to be reticent; only a week before he had accepted a plea bargain to avoid prison time—for sharing classified information with his mistress, Paula Broadwell.

Here are some of the other secrets we learned from the surprisingly outspoken men who have run the world’s most powerful intelligence agency. . .

Continue reading.

And exactly why have there been no rigorous investigations and holding people accountable? Because in the US powerful people tend not to be held accountable.

As you read this story—and I highly recommend you read the whole thing—one thing to ponder is how the GOP frequently repeats, “George W. Bush kept us safe.” Apparently the 9/11 attacks were part of that safety he bestowed on us.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2015 at 7:29 pm

Ronnie O’Sullvan runs the table (perfect 147 points) in a short game of snooker

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2015 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Games

Bush and Cheney were warned. Bush and Cheney yawned. And then 9/11 happened

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Paul Rosenberg writes in Salon:

Documentarian Chris Whipple has some new bombshell revelations about how the Bush administration ignored the advance warnings of 9/11 in story for Politico, “‘The Attacks Will Be Spectacular,’” a spin-off of his documentary, “The Spymasters,” set to air this month on Showtime, in which he interviews all 12 living former CIA directors.

Whipple’s most stunning revelations revolve around a July 10 meeting that’s been mentioned by others in books before—Bob Woodward, George Tenet, Condi Rice—but always in a manner that drastically underplays the urgency of CIA’s warnings, and how much they had to go on, according to Whipple’s new information:

By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me in his first interview in eight years. “The world felt like it was on the edge of eruption. In this time period of June and July, the threat continues to rise. Terrorists were disappearing [as if in hiding, in preparation for an attack]. Camps were closing. Threat reportings on the rise.”

Finally, things boiled over:

That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.”

Tenet called Rice for an immediate meeting with her and her team—Bush was out of town:

“Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”

But nothing happened. “To me it remains incomprehensible still,” Black told Whipple. “I mean, how is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It’s kind of like The Twilight Zone.”

Tellingly, Condi Rice has no clear recollection of the meeting. For her, it was all a blur. As Whipple quotes from her memoir, “My recollection of the meeting is not very crisp because we were discussing the threat every day.” But no one could have foreseen it?

It was not just a failure to respond to warnings, however. There was a broader refusal to even consider thinking proactively. Along these lines, Whipple writes more broadly about Tenet and Black’s plan to “end the al Qaeda threat” with a combined military/CIA campaign “getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” They pitched the plan in spring of 2001, according to Whipple, “‘And the word back,’ says Tenet, ‘was “we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.”’ (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.)”

Black chalks this up to the Bush team being stuck in the past, thinking of terrorists as “Euro-lefties,” but there was a deeper story, with more to the state of denial than Whipple discusses, since the Bush team was also actively fending off dealing with the recommendations of bipartisan Hart-Rudman Commission (officially the “U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century”). It had warned that “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

Hart-Rudman released a series of three reports, first an overview of the challenges, “New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century,” released in September 1999, then a strategy report, “Seeking a National Strategy: A Concert for Preserving Security and Promoting Freedom,” released in April 2000, and finally, a recommendation report, “Roadmap for National Security: Imperative for Change,” released at the end of January 2001, just after Bush took office. Not only did Hart-Rudman see terrorist attacks as a possibility, it highlighted five key areas for reform, the first of which was “ensuring the security of the American homeland.” It regarded a 9/11-style attack as so likely that defending against it should be a top priority in rethinking our entire approach to national security.

Congress members were interested in holding hearings on the commission findings, but the Bush administration discouraged them. As Molly Ivins later recalled:

Of the various institutions, Congress deserves some credit for trying to pick up on the report, which clearly would have moved us ahead by six months on terrorism planning.

Donald Rumsfeld, not one of my favorites, also deserves credit for vigorously backing the report. Congress scheduled hearing for May 7, 2001, but according to reports at the time, the White House stifled the move because it did not want Congress out in front on the issue.

“Remember, EIGHT Benghazi investigations yet Bush WH sat on its hands while bin Laden got ready to kill 3K Americans,” Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert tweeted. “If this story were abt Benghazi, GOP would introduce Obama impeachment proceedings today,” he followed up. Boehlert’s point is obviously valid, but even more troubling is how the lack of accountability has made things so much worse, actually crippling our ability to win the war on terror.

The failure to hold anyone accountable for 9/11 is inextricably intertwined with the broader failure to go back and rethink fundamental questions on all aspects of national security—something that was obviously needed at the time, and that remains imperative still. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2015 at 6:53 pm

Why the protests at the University of Missouri may have the NCAA terrified

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Very interesting interview in Salon with Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation, by Elias Isquith:

Earlier this week, after a series of escalating protests from students at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) culminated in the football team’s vow to strike, Tim Wolfe, the school system’s president, resigned. And almost immediately thereafter, R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor for Mizzou’s Columbia campus, promised to soon resign as well. To see athletes at a prestigious program like Mizzou threaten to withhold their labor for political reasons was remarkable; but to see their threat so rapidly produce such enormous results was nothing short of extraordinary.

Yet because events within the school system transpired so quickly, it could be difficult to keep up. So Salon decided to reach out to one of our favorite sources for understanding the relationship between politics and sports, Dave Zirin, sports editor for the Nation and the author of “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Struggle for Democracy,” who has been following the story closely. We spoke over the phone a few days ago about the protests, their context and what comes next for the school, its athletes and the NCAA. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

In terms of explaining what’s happening on the Mizzou campus right now, when do you think we should begin the story? Because that’s often a point of contention, here, with protesters arguing the blow-up was a long time coming; and with their critics opting instead for a narrative that makes the students’ outcry seem disproportionate.

It predates Tim Wolfe by years, if not decades.

The more I read about this, the more I read accounts from students — who aren’t just recent graduates but are in their 30s and 40s — [I see] clearly there is an issue on this campus of unaddressed racism, unaddressed sexism and unaddressed homophobia. And by “unaddressed,” I mean that incidents always happen at an alarming and almost metronomic regularity, and the response of the administration has been to shrug their shoulders, and say, “Well, you deal with it!”

Given that there was already frustration to begin with, couple that with the fact that Ferguson took place just two hours away from the Columbia campus, and the administration didn’t do anything; couple that with the fact that this president, Tim Wolfe, has no experience in higher ed; he comes from a tech background; his plan was to run university like a business; he slashed programs; he slashed healthcare for grad students — and you got what you got.

And what’s that?

A situation where very real grievances weren’t addressed, and where it took protests — a student almost killing himself with a hunger strike — and a football team taking what is, in many respects, an unprecedented act of civil disobedience, to get this guy to exit stage right.

Some critics of the protesters have argued that Wolfe lost his job simply because he answered one question the wrong way. 

That one incident was catalytic. But it has more to do with the vandalism that has been breeding on campus; the fact that the student body president, who was black, was assailed with racial epithets and the school didn’t do anything. And these things happen with great regularity. Students come forward, and say that they don’t feel safe walking home after dark because other students and people in the community pull up in trucks and yell shit at them.

I would argue that people on social media, or radio, or television, saying, “Oh, they only wanted him out of there because they’re the p.c. thought police and he just happened to misspeak on that question” — I think those people have an absolute hard-line agenda. They don’t want students organizing or speaking out. [Focusing on that one question] is a way to further marginalize their grievances, which run really deep — far deeper than one statement on one phone-cam one evening.

You’ve written that the protests at Mizzou complicate or run against a common narrative depicting students as, basically, powerless. Can you tell me more about that trope; and why you think what’s happening at Mizzou is such an important counterpoint? 

First of all, the fact is that most people view college athletes very negatively. They say, “What are they complaining about? They get a free education.” What they ignore is the incredible amount of exploitation that [college athletes] go through; the absence of their ability to earn any income, even though they are generating billions of dollars in the industry; even their inability to take their classes, or the fact that most college athletes in revenue-producing sports have year-to-year scholarships and are there are at the pleasure of the coach.

But the people, who actually do care about the plight of the revenue-producing, disproportionately black college athletes, too often speak about them in terms of their powerlessness and in terms of how they’re screwed over. They don’t see them as actors who actually have a tremendous amount of social power; and you see in Missouri how much power they actually have.

Where does that power come from? . . .

Continue reading.

The closing question and answer are good:

Lastly, I wanted to ask you about how this incident should influence the way we understand the relationship between students and student-athletes. You’ve noted that while the team’s threat to strike was sort of the tipping point, it came after a lot of hard work and organizing from other students on the campus. We tend to imagine that the big-time college athletes sort of live in a different world than the rest of the student body; is that true? And how might this example change that?

Honestly, from what I am hearing and from my own reporting at Missouri, and in general, that separation is very real. It is not just a perception. It is something that is organized by the administration on these big football schools. Big-time athletes have separate study halls, dorms and cafeterias. The separation is organized to keep everyone apart, so they don’t feel the general friction and rhythm on campus — and also so they concentrate on game day.

So I think what this shows is that if student activists make the effort to reach out to student athletes, to reach out to [those in] the revenue-producing sports — if they don’t just speak to them about what is happening on campus, but also listen to their grievances, which are very real, then they have a different kind of power on the campus and a different kind of leverage. The more non-isolated the athletes become, the more powerful movements for change can be.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2015 at 10:21 am

Dapper Dragon and Chiseled Face meet the Wilkinson Sticky

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SOTD 13 Mov 2015

A very fine shave today. I really like my Chiseled Twilight wood shaving brush, apparently no longer available, though he has a nifty  brush that puts the same knot in an aluminum handle. The brush instantly made a fine lather from Dapper Dragon’s Jasmine & Vanilla shaving soap, and I set to work with the Wilkinson Sticky, a razor that won a number of design awards in the 1960s.

Three passes to a very smooth face. This is another razor often described as “mild,” accurately referring to its comfort on the face but misleading insofar as efficiency is concerned: with a sharp blade (and, of course, good prep and good technique), the razor is highly efficient at transforming a rough face to a smooth one.

A splash of Havana Cognac from Ginger’s Garden and I’m good to go.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2015 at 10:12 am

Posted in Shaving

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