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Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category

A clear example of how money controls Congress

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Ryan Lizza has an excellent profile of Elizabeth Warren and her career in the New Yorker. From that article:

In 1994, Congress created a commission to make policy recommendations on how to reform the bankruptcy laws. Mike Synar, Bill Clinton’s first appointee to run the commission, recruited Warren to serve as the top policy adviser. Conservative and pro-lender members of the panel argued that the laws were too easy on debtors and encouraged reckless behavior, a position shared by the banks. The pro-consumer side, arguing for more lenient terms for Americans who go broke, often had a one-vote majority on the panel. Many of the big issues were decided by a vote of five to four. “This was the first time that I’m aware of that Elizabeth was exposed to and part of the crucible of politics,” a member of the panel said. By the end of her work on the commission, in 1997, Warren was a Democrat.

Congress mostly ignored the group’s work and adopted the industry-friendly bill, which many Democratic legislators, along with some of Bill Clinton’s senior advisers, favored. Warren went to see Gene Sperling, Clinton’s top economic aide in the White House, who opposed the legislation. She showed him a stream of hard data and offered talking points about how the legislation would hurt families in economic distress, but the situation looked hopeless. By 1999, while Clinton was recovering from the Lewinsky scandal of his second term, the bill had gained support in a Republican Congress. In addition, the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, was from South Dakota, the heart of the credit-card industry, and he strongly supported the bill.

“It was tough to know what to do, as we were facing veto-proof majorities in both Houses,” Sperling told me. “Warren really did have an impact. She had amassed data to show that a lot of the rise in bankruptcies was due not to deadbeats but to medical debt and women hurt by divorce. Her facts helped buck up both Clintons to keep fighting for a better bill and gave those of us in the trenches good ammo and amendment strategies.” The White House slowed the legislation’s progress through Congress, and when it finally did pass, in 2000, Clinton, in one of his last acts as President, refused to sign it, effectively vetoing it. A White House aide later told Warren that, two days after her meeting with the First Lady, the White House economic team flipped its position “so fast that you could see skid marks in the hallways of the White House.”

The following year, Bill Clinton was replaced by George W. Bush. A new version of the bill was introduced. In Warren’s 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap, she describes what happened next:

This time freshman Senator Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the bill. Had the bill been transformed to get rid of all those awful provisions that had so concerned First Lady Hillary Clinton? No. The bill was essentially the same, but Hillary Rodham Clinton was not. As First Lady, Mrs. Clinton had been persuaded that the bill was bad for families, and she was willing to fight for her beliefs. Her husband was a lame duck at the time he vetoed the bill; he could afford to forgo future campaign contributions. As New York’s newest senator, however, it seems that Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position. Campaigns cost money, and that money wasn’t coming from families in financial trouble. Senator Clinton received $140,000 in campaign contributions from banking industry executives in a single year, making her one of the top two recipients in the Senate. Big banks were now part of Senator Clinton’s constituency. She wanted their support, and they wanted hers—including a vote in favor of “that awful bill.”

In 2005, a decade after Warren began her crusade against the bill, the legislation was signed into law by Bush. “We held them off for ten years, and that’s about thirteen or fourteen million families that made it through the system,” Warren told me. The delay, she added, proved that Wall Street was not as powerful in Washington as it had imagined. “The big banks thought they’d just roll in and pick up a few percentage points’ increase in their bottom line, because they could squeeze families a little harder when they were right on the edge and they could get just a few more dollars. They thought they had it made.”

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2015 at 10:41 am

Paul Bremer’s role in the creation of ISIS

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Very interesting post by Kevin Drum. We have known that ISIS is part of the fallout from the Iraq War that George W. Bush got us into, primarily by lying. But it’s even more direct than that: the guy who more or less invented ISIS, and who laid out the plan for its organization and development, did it in part because of Paul Bremer’s bone-headed decision to disband the entire Iraq army.

Bremer seems to be one of those smug and self-satisfied individuals that never has a moment for introspection or doubt. Much like Dick Cheney in that respect.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2015 at 1:49 pm

Florida Ex-Senator Pursues Claims of Saudi Ties to Sept. 11 Attacks

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You may recall that immediately after the 9/11 attacks the FBI helped Saudi nationals flee the country, expediting their departure despite the heavy Saudi representation among the 9/11 terrorists. From CNN:

Hijackers by Nationality

Egypt (1)
Mohamed Atta

Lebanon (1)
Ziad Jarrah

Saudi Arabia (15)
Ahmed al Ghamdi
Hamza al Ghamdi
Saeed al Ghamdi
Hani Hanjour
Nawaf al Hazmi
Salem al Hazmi
Ahmad al Haznawi
Ahmed al Nami
Khalid al Mihdhar
Majed Moqed
Abdul Aziz al Omari
Mohand al Shehri
Wail al Shehri
Waleed al Shehri
Satam al Suqami

United Arab Emirates (2)
Fayez Banihammad
Marwan al Shehhi

So 15 of the 19 were Saudis: 79%. But the FBI fell over itself helping Saudis leave the US before the investigation could get underway.

Carl Hulse reports in the NY Times:

The episode could have been a chapter from the thriller written by former Senator Bob Graham of Florida about a shadowy Saudi role in the Sept. 11 attacks.

A top F.B.I. official unexpectedly arranges a meeting at Dulles International Airport outside Washington with Mr. Graham, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, after he has pressed for information on a bureau terrorism inquiry. Mr. Graham, a Democrat, is then hustled off to a clandestine location, where he hopes for a breakthrough in his long pursuit of ties between leading Saudis and the Sept. 11 hijackers.

This real-life encounter happened in 2011, Mr. Graham said, and it took a startling twist.

“He basically said, ‘Get a life,’ ” Mr. Graham said of the F.B.I. official, who suggested that the former senator was chasing a dead-end investigation.

Mr. Graham, 78, a two-term governor of Florida and three-term senator who left Capitol Hill in 2005, says he will not relent in his efforts to force the government to make public a secret section of a congressional review he helped write — one that, by many accounts, implicates Saudi citizens in helping the hijackers.

“No. 1, I think the American people deserve to know the truth of what has happened in their name,” said Mr. Graham, who was a co-chairman of the 2002 joint congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks. “No. 2 is justice for these family members who have suffered such loss and thus far have been frustrated largely by the U.S. government in their efforts to get some compensation.”

Mr. Graham’s focus on a possible Saudi connection has received renewed attention because of claims made by victims’ families in a federal court in New York that Saudi Arabia was responsible for aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers and because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the F.B.I. in Florida.

In sworn statements in the two cases, Mr. Graham has said there was evidence of support from the Saudi government for the terrorists. He also says the F.B.I. withheld from his inquiry, as well as a subsequent one, the fact that the bureau had investigated a Saudi family in Sarasota, Fla., and had found multiple contacts between it and the hijackers training nearby until the family fled just before the attacks.

Despite the F.B.I.’s insistence to the contrary, Mr. Graham said there was no evidence that the bureau had ever disclosed that line of investigation to his panel or the national commission that reviewed the attacks and delivered a report in 2004.

“One thing that irritates me is that the F.B.I. has gone beyond just covering up, trying to avoid disclosure, into what I call aggressive deception,” Mr. Graham said during an interview in a family office in this Miami suburb, which rose on what was a sprawling dairy farm operated by Mr. Graham’s father, also political leader in Florida.

The F.B.I. dismisses such criticism. In a new review of the bureau in the aftermath of Sept. 11, a three-person commission issued a blanket declaration that the family in Sarasota had nothing to do with the hijackers or their attacks. The review placed blame for an initial F.B.I. report of “many connections” between the family and terrorists on a special agent who, under bureau questioning, “was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did.”

Still, a federal judge in South Florida is reviewing an estimated 80,000 documents related to the F.B.I.’s inquiry in Florida to determine what to release. Mr. Graham suggested that those documents could include photographs and records of cars linked to the hijackers entering the gated community where the Sarasota family lived.

“That will be a real smoking gun,” Mr. Graham said.

The case received unexpected attention this year when a former operative for Al Qaeda described prominent members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s. The letter from the Qaeda member, Zacarias Moussaoui, prompted a statement from the Saudi Embassy saying that the national Sept. 11 commission had rejected allegations that Saudi officials had funded Al Qaeda.

Mr. Graham’s stature has added weight both to the push for disclosure of the classified 28 pages of the congressional inquiry as well as the legal fight to make public F.B.I. documents about the investigation of the Saudi family in Sarasota.

“He has been behind us all the way in terms of bringing attention to this,” said Dan Christensen, editor and founder of the Florida Bulldog, the online investigative journal that filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the F.B.I and the Justice Department. “He brings a lot of credibility. Here is a guy who is one of the ultimate experts on this.” . . .

Continue reading.

It would be nice if we could accept FBI statements at face value, but the FBI too often lies—and commits illegal acts—for anyone to trust it fully.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2015 at 11:52 am

Justice Department tried to protect the Blackwater murderers from more serious charges

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The US Department of Justice has become very political, to its detriment and the detriment of justice. Matt Apuzzo reports in the NY Times:

As prosecutors put the finishing touches on the 2008indictment of Blackwater security contractors for a deadly shooting in Iraq, the F.B.I. agents leading the investigation became convinced that political appointees in the Justice Department were intentionally undermining the case, internal emails show.

The F.B.I. had wanted to charge the American contractors with the type of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons charges that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives for the shooting, which left more than a dozen Iraqis dead and many others wounded in September 2007.

But at the last minute, the Justice Department balked. In particular, senior officials were uncomfortable with bringing two machine-gun charges, each of which carried mandatory 30-year prison sentences.

“We are getting some serious resistance from our office to charging the defendants with mandatory minimum time,” Kenneth Kohl, a federal prosecutor, told the lead F.B.I. agent on the case, John Patarini, as the Justice Department prepared to ask a grand jury to vote on an indictment in December 2008.

Mr. Patarini was incensed. “I would rather not present for a vote now and wait until the new administration takes office than to get an indictment that is an insult to the individual victims, the Iraqi people as a whole, and the American people who expect their Justice Department to act better than this,” he replied.

The disagreement foreshadowed an argument that will play out in a federal court on Monday, when four former Blackwater contractors are scheduled to be sentenced.

Federal prosecutors ultimately agreed to bring one machine-gun charge, but not two. Now it is the Justice Department, despite initial reservations, that is arguing strenuously for sentences that amount to life in prison. Four men — Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty, Nicholas A. Slatten and Paul A. Slough — were convicted at trial in October.

“The crimes here were so horrendous — the massacre and maiming of innocents so heinous — that they outweigh any factors that the defendants may argue form a basis for leniency,” federal prosecutors wrote in court documents last week.

The emails obtained by The New York Times offer a look behind the scenes of the Blackwater case, providing a glimpse of the pitched arguments and distrust that troubled one of the highest-profile international investigations in recent memory.

Seventeen people were killed and many others were wounded when Blackwater security contractors opened fire with machine guns and grenade launchers into Baghdad’s crowded Nisour Square. The shooting was a nadir in the Iraq war, strained relations between Washington and the new government in Baghdad, and brought to global attention the trend toward privatizing some American security operations in combat zones.

The machine-gun charge was contentious because it was written during the crack cocaine epidemic as a way to curb the use of automatic weapons. Defense lawyers argued at the time — and continue to argue today — that the law was intended to deter gang members from carrying machine guns, not to be used against American contractors who were required by the State Department to carry them in a war zone. They have asked a judge not to impose the 30-year sentence, arguing that it is unconstitutionally severe since the contractors had no choice but to carry the weapons.

After receiving the prosecutor’s email in 2008, Mr. Patarini forwarded it to colleagues and superiors, igniting a flurry of angry responses, many of which were sent to the Justice Department. Without the machine-gun charges, the agents argued, the contractors would most likely face five to seven years in prison.

“I think of Mohammad and his son every time they pull the rug a bit further out from under us,” one agent, Thomas O’Connor, wrote. He was referring to an Iraqi man, Mohammed Hafedh Abdulrazzaq Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was killed.

Andrew McCabe, an F.B.I. supervisor, took the grievances to his boss, John Perren, saying the Justice Department was “delaying and reducing” the indictment. “This is the latest in what has become a troubling habit by D.O.J.,” he wrote. He encouraged top F.B.I. officials to press their case.

It is not clear what ultimately persuaded the Justice Department to proceed with the machine-gun charge. J. Patrick Rowan, the Bush administration’s top national security prosecutor at the time, was “uncomfortable” with the charge, the emails say. Mr. Rowan, now in private practice, would not discuss the deliberations. But he said he had never felt political pressure to limit the charges.

Until the Nisour Square shooting, Blackwater was America’s most prominent and politically powerful security contractor, with more than $1 billion in government contracts. The company was a major donor to the Republican Party, and its founder, Erik Prince, was a favorite target for Democratic criticism. Though the emails do not indicate any political influence in the case, investigators clearly believed that the incoming Obama administration would be more willing to bring the machine-gun charges against the Blackwater contractors.

“I would rather wait for a new administration than go forward without those charges,” Carolyn Murphy, an F.B.I. agent, wrote. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2015 at 5:15 pm

Iran (and the US) in the Middle East

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Interesting post at TomDispatch.com:

Think of it as the American half-century in the Middle East: from August 17, 1953, when a CIA oil coup brought down democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed the Shah as Washington’s man in Tehran, to May 1, 2003, when George W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of southern California.  (The planes from that aircraft carrier had only recently dropped 1.6 million pounds of ordnance on Iraq.)  There, standing under a White House-produced banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” the president dramatically announced that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” and hailed “the arrival of a new era.”

Today, we know that those combat operations had barely begun.  Almost 12 years later, with the Obama administration pursuing a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, they have yet to end. On only one thing was President Bush right: with the invasion of Iraq, a new era had indeed been launched.  His top officials and their neoconservative alliesimagined the moment as the coronation of a new order in the Middle East, the guarantee of another American half-century or more of domination.  Iraq, that crucial state in the oil heartlands of the planet, was to be garrisoned for decades (on the “Korea model”); the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was to be brought to heel; and above all, fundamentalist Iran was to be crushed. That country’s rulers were to find themselves in an ever-tightening geopolitical vise, with American Iraq on one side and American Afghanistan on the other.  (A quip of the moment caught the mood of Washington and its high-flown hopes perfectly: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)  The Bush administration would ensure that the great blemish on the American half-century in the region, the reversal of the CIA’s coup by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 and the humiliation of having American diplomats taken hostage for 444 days in Tehran — would be wiped away. The regime of the Ayatollahs was soon to be history.

Of course, it all turned out so unimaginably otherwise, leaving us today knee-deep in the chaos of that “new era.”  Shock and awe, indeed!  The American half-century has been swept away as definitively as was the Soviet Cold-War version of the same before it.  Someday, the disastrous invasion of Iraq will have its historian and we’ll understand more fully just what that moment really launched, what forces already building in the region it let devastatingly loose.  It certainly blew a hole in the heart of the Middle East in ways we have yet to come to grips with and prepared the ground, as dynamite does a construction site, for the disintegration of both the European and the American versions of “order” in the region, as well as for the building of we know not what… yet.

Today, amid remarkable fragmentation, roiling conflict, sectarian struggles, the growth and spread of extremist groups, and the creation of one failed state after another, including Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, two key energy states still remain in place: Saudi Arabia and Iran.  And the Saudis, a repressive Sunni kingdom with a restive Shia minority population whose rulers have used the country’s immense oil wealth to buy social peace, are visibly nervous.  Hence, their decision to begin a terror-bombing campaign in disintegrating Yemen, with the threat of a ground invasion (possibly involving Egyptian and other troops) to follow.  As the Americans have already shown, far more “precise” bombing than the Saudi air force is capable of has a history of not resolving, or even further stoking, conflicts. Just what kind of blowback the Saudis will experience from their rash decision to strike in Yemen is impossible to know, but it’s not hard to guess that, as with Washington’s drive through “the gates of hell” in Iraq in 2003, it’s unlikely to be whatever that country’s rulers are now imagining.

Keep in mind that the destabilization of Saudi Arabia in any fashion would be a daunting prospect in the Middle East and, given its key role in oil production, globally as well.  As for Iran, like the cheese of nursery rhyme fame, today it stands alone.  TomDispatch regularPeter Van Buren (who, as a State Department official, lived through the beginnings of Bush’s “new era” in occupied Iraq) suggests that in the coming years it may prove to be the single cohesive nation in the neighborhood.  So, whatever we don’t know about the future of the Middle East, it’s certainly not too early to say, “Mission Accomplished,” and congratulate George W. on his new era. Tom

The Iranian Ascendancy
Twelve Years Later, We Know the Winner in Iraq: Iran
By Peter Van Buren

The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

Today’s News — and Some History

The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refuelingon demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

Iraq Redux (Yet Again)

On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now a de facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidipeople from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?)  The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandonedfour key northern cities to Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of theLibyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

Iran Ascendant

The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent.

The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of theLibyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

Iran Ascendant

The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2015 at 3:30 pm

FBI Knew About Saudi 9/11 hijacker Ties, But Lied to Protect “National Security”

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I recall reading years ago how, following 9/11,  the FBI warned various Saudi Arabians who were in the US to leave the country at once, and helped them flee—sort of the opposite of what you would expect. Russ Baker takes a look at that at WhoWhatWhy.com:

The FBI apparently has known for a decade about links between powerful Saudi interests and the alleged 9/11 hijackers, and has been forced to tacitly admit that it lied about it for all of these years.

In case the import is not clear, let us state emphatically: this is a huge development.

***

In court filings seeking to stave off a media Freedom of Information request, the FBI has stated that releasing documents relating to this issue will harm “national security.” As proof of the sensitivity of the matter, the FBI gave the judge a document dated April 4, 2002, in which the FBI states that its own inquiries “revealed many connections” between a well-connected Saudi family with a house in South Florida and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

The Sarasota Affair

The Freedom of Information request that prompted these reluctant admissions was filed by the Broward Bulldog, a South Florida nonprofit investigative site which first covered the Saudi connection in 2011.

The Bulldog’s reporting explained how a family living in an exclusive gated community outside Sarasota, on Florida’s West Coast, had apparently vanished suddenly some 10 days before the 9/11 attacks. Investigators, including a swarm of FBI agents, found that the family’s departure was clearly so sudden that they left almost their entire household intact, down to cars, clothing, and food in the refrigerator. Most significant, though, investigators had established that several of the men publicly identified as among the 9/11 hijackers, including purported ringleader Mohammed Atta, had visited the house and/or been linked to it through a web of telephone communications.

The FBI told none of this to Congress, and it was not mentioned in the original 9/11 Commission report released in 2004.

WhoWhatWhy, in an original investigation, went deeper, and established that the owner of the house was a prominent Saudi businessman who works directly for the Saudi prince most involved with aviation—including being the first Saudi who trained to fly planes in South Florida. You can read our complete story here.

The significance of this cannot be stated strongly enough. Although many people think they “already know” about ties between the hijackers and Saudi royals, they confuse these important revelations with reports that prominent Saudis were permitted to leave the country shortly after 9/11, as popularized in Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11.

This new revelation is far more significant. The older story shows possible favoritism toward, or at least concern for, well-connected Saudis on the part of the US government in permitting them to leave. The Sarasota story, however, shows that the US government came upon what may have been a command or control center for the men we are told hijacked the planes.

And with the connections documented by WhoWhatWhy, it is almost impossible not to conclude some kind of awareness, either before or after the act, on the part of Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and the powerful clique he represents within the royal clan. Again, for more on this, please read the entire story, which continues over three pages on our site.

The FBI Reversal

Kudos to the Bulldog for filing the FOIA request, which unearthed that gem of an FBI submission. It was included in filings by Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carole M. Fernandez, and was part of a sworn 33-page declaration from FBI Records Section Chief David M. Hardy. He stated that producing classified information related to the matter “would reveal current specific targets of the FBI’s national security investigations.” The purpose of the filings was to convince U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch not to allow the FOIA suit to succeed.

The April 4 document is significant for three reasons: (1) it demonstrates that the authorities are aware of the Saudi link, (2) it demonstrates that the FBI previously lied when it declared that its inquiries in the matter found no links to the terrorists or the plot, (3) it has the FBI asserting that no more disclosures should be made in order to protect “national security.”

The FBI’s practice of finding evidence tied to Saudi Arabia, then denying it had such evidence, then reluctantly admitting that it did (but only as a way of blocking still more disclosure) is telling. The apparent willingness of the FBI to brazenly lie and then reverse itself—seemingly with no consequences—is now beginning to look like standard operating procedure. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2015 at 3:56 pm

How the Government Turned a Former CIA Officer Into a ‘Dissident’

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The CIA seems to have been corrupted by the toxic combination of great power and no accountability. Alex Pasternack reports at Motherboard:

With his broad smile and easygoing nature, John Kiriakou looks and sounds more like a high school baseball coach than a veteran CIA officer who was on the front lines in the early days of the war on terror. He also doesn’t seem like a person who’s just emerged from a federal penitentiary as punishment for disclosing classified information—an experience he says has turned him into “a dissident.”

Inside the prison at Loretto, Pennsylvania, where he spent nearly two years, Kiriakou says his training as a spy came in handy, helping him navigate a minefield of gang affiliations.

“The Italians took me in first,” he tells Kaj Larsen in a new video interview for ​Vice News. “I don’t mean people with Italian names. I mean the Italians. All five families were represented there.” As for Muslim gangs, a supportive statement from Louis Farrakhan “guaranteed no problems for me on that front.” And “because I was not a rat or a child molester, I was embraced by the Aryans.”

Kiriakou counts the current Secretary of State as one of his former employers, but now that he’s out of prison, he says half-jokingly, he might end up finding work at a Dunkin Donuts.

Like many details in the heavily-redacted story of the war on terror, this was not how things were supposed to go. After retiring from the CIA in 2004, Kiriakou became the first CIA official to acknowledge, in ​a 2007 ABC News interview, that the government had used waterboarding on a high-value detainee. That disclosure was one of thousands of leaks ​estimated to be made by government officials each year, but it earned Kiriakou special scrutiny by his former CIA superiors, and eventually the Justice Dept.

In 2012, Kiriakou would be charged with disclosing to a journalist the names of two CIA officers who had been involved in the torture program. After a plea deal to lessen his sentence, Kiriakou would be sent to prison for nearly two years, making him the first CIA agent to be imprisoned for disclosing classified information to a reporter.

The government contends that Kiriakou violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; Kiriakou has called the government’s actions against him vindictive and unjust, a selective effort not only to punish those who expose its wrongdoings but to shield its agents from criminal probes.

“I’ve never believed my case was about a leak,” Kiriakou ​told Motherboard’s Tyler Bass after his sentencing. “I’ve always believed my case was about torture.”

How do you prove what you don’t know?

Kiriakou’s saga is intertwined with that of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi Arabian citizen who was the US’s first “high value” detainee in the terror wars. Kiriakou was present in Pakistan for Zubaydah’s capture, in March 2002, and was later informed of his subsequent interrogations.

Zubaydah would become a central character in the Senate’s report on torture, with his name appearing over 1,000 times in 6,000 pages. (Many prominent figures in the early days of the war on terror have dismissed the report; Dick Cheney says it’s “full of crap.”)

Upon capture, Zubaydah’s FBI interrogators believed that traditional interrogation methods would be more productive than “enhanced interrogation techniques” like stress positions and waterboarding.

Their more traditional approach has been borne out by research, and it proved to be productive: Zubaydah revealed some useful information, including the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks and that a man later revealed to be Jose Padilla was plotting a “dirty bomb” attack.

But Zubaydah was soon wrestled away by the CIA and, against the protestations of some in the CIA and FBI, moved to a “black site” in Thailand, where he spent 47 days in isolation, despite needing medical care for his wounds. There he would be waterboarded a total of 83 times. Despite vehement concerns by his captors, top officials in Washington insisted on continuing the waterboarding because they were certain he had more secrets to spill.

He didn’t: Zubaydah wasn’t as important as he was made out to be, CIA officials would acknowledge later—he allegedly helped manage a training camp for the group—and the information he provided to them was mostly provisional, and foiled no plots.

That he had no more secrets and that the CIA was convinced that he did points to an epistemological paradox that surrounds torture: You don’t know what your detainee does or doesn’t know, but to get closer to that theoretical unknown known, you could make them think they’re drowning as a way to get them to say something—provided of course you don’t completely incapacitate them. As the journalist Mark Danner saidafter the publication of the Senate report on torture,

How do you prove what you don’t know? And from this open question comes this anxiety-ridden conviction that he must know, he must know, he must know. So even though the interrogators are saying he’s compliant, he’s telling us everything he knows—even though the waterboarding is nearly killing him, rendering him “completely non-responsive,” as the report says—officials at headquarters [were] saying he has to be waterboarded again, and again, because he still hadn’t given up information about the attacks they were convinced had to be coming… It had nothing to do with him giving more information as he was waterboarded. The use of these techniques let them alleviate their own anxiety. And their anxiety was based on complete misinformation. Complete ignorance about who this man actually was.

Zubaydah’s harsh treatment would last through the summer of 2002, and like a number of detainees, would severely deteriorate in US captivity. So harsh was his “enhanced interrogation” that even his captors were appalled by his suffering, according to one official who spoke to the Times in 2009. He remains at Guantanamo, still not charged with a crime, unable to submit habeas corpus claims to US courts, and missing his left eye, which he lost, according to the Senate torture report, “in CIA custody.” . . .

Continue reading.

What the CIA did is criminal, and yet they have been protected from any accountability for their criminal acts. President Obama is chiefly responsible for that decision, just as he has been responsible for the vicious persecution of whistleblowers. Later in the article:

But more generally, there are lessons to be drawn about the perils of speaking out. Like the Jeffrey Sterling and Thomas Drake cases before it and ​the Steven Kim case afterwards, Kiriakou’s prosecution demonstrates that the pressure on government employees and reporters seeking to expose wrongdoing through leaks has never been stronger.

This in spite of an administration that pledged transparency and reform of secret institutions, and that has declined to prosecute higher ranking officials suspected to have leaked even more sensitive information, like Generals James Cartwright and David Petreaus. (After Kiriakou’s sentencing, and weeks before his own leaking came to light, Petreaus, then CIA director, said ​in a statement, “Oaths do matter. And there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.”)

“I think the Justice Dept. has been incredibly hypocritical in leak cases,” Kiriakou said in the Vice News interview. “Washington operates on leaks. The truth of the matter is that, if it’s a supporter of the president leaking, or your leak makes the government look good, you’re good to go. If the leak is critical of the government or if the government wants to prosecute you in some way, then they prosecute you.

“The last three directors of the CIA have leaked prolifically,” he continued. “Leon Panetta outed the Navy Seal that led the Bin Laden raid. But he said, ‘Oh, my bad. It was an accident.’ and he’s free to cash his 6 million dollar book advance while I’m prosecuted and go to prison and lose my pension and everything.”

The Obama Administration is responsible for some grievous wrongs, but they will skate.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2015 at 10:38 am

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