It’s part of the public record that the NSA has engaged in an industry-wide campaign to weaken cryptographic protocols and insert back doors into hi-tech products sold by U.S. companies. We also know that NSA officials have privately congratulated each other in successfully undermining privacy and security across the Internet. Hence it’s only logical to assume that the NSA’s numerous subversion programs extend into foreign “commercial entities”. Thanks to documents recently disclosed by the Intercept we have unambiguous confirmation.
Hi-tech subversion underscores the fact that the whole tired debate regarding cryptographic keys held in escrow for so-called lawful interception (what the Washington Post called “secret golden keys”) only serves to distract the public from programs aimed at wielding covert back doors. In other words, by reviving the zombie idea of an explicit back door the editorial board at the Washington Post is conveniently ignoring all of the clandestine techniques that already exist to sidestep encryption. In a nutshell: zero-day bugs and malware often trump strong crypto.
On an aside it’s interesting to observe the citadel of free thinkers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation continue to promote cryptographic tools as a privacy tonic with a faith that’s almost religious while conspicuously neglecting other important aspects of operational security. The EFF cheerfully provides a litany of alleged success stories. Never mind all of the instances in which the users of said cryptographic tools were compromised, even users who specialized in computer security.
Infiltrating the Media
The NSA’s campaign to undermine software and hardware is mirrored by parallel efforts in other domains. Specifically, the Church Committee and Pike Committee investigations of the 1970s unearthed secret programs like Operation Mockingbird which were conducted to infiltrate the media and develop an apparatus, a Mighty Wurlitzer of sorts, that allowed government spies to quietly influence public perception. The findings of congressional investigators have been substantiated by writers like Deborah Davis and Carl Bernstein.
Though much of the documented evidence is decades old the CIA continues to maintain its long-standing relationship with the press. For example in March of 2010 WikiLeaks published a classified CIA analysis which described a propaganda recipe for the “targeted manipulation of public opinion” in Germany and France to bolster support for NATO military action in Afghanistan. Also, here in the United States New York Times editor Bill Keller admitted to delaying the story on Bush-era warrantless wiretapping in direct service to the powers that be.
So don’t think for a minute that the CIA didn’t have a hand in the media’s assault on journalist Gary Webb after Webb exposed the CIA’s connections to the international drug trade. Gary caught U.S. intelligence with its pants down and spymasters had their operatives in the press destroy him.
More recently, the former editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung revealed that he worked for the CIA. In a televised interview Udo Ulfkotte described Germany as an American client state, noting the role of the CIA in the origins of German intelligence. He warned that powerful interests in the United States were pushing for war with Russia and that American spies have widespread links to foreign news outlets:
“Is this only the case with German journalists? No, I think it is especially the case with British journalists, because they have a much closer relationship. It is especially the case with Israeli journalists. Of course with French journalists. … It is the case for Australians, [with] journalists from New Zealand, from Taiwan, well, there is many countries, … like Jordan for example. …”
A Question for Ed Snowden
While media subversion enables political manipulation through indirect means, U.S. intelligence has been known to employ more direct means to impose its agenda in places like Angola, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, and Ukraine. In fact, stepping back to view the big picture, one might be tempted to posit that U.S. intelligence has established clandestine footholds globally in any institution seen as vital to the interests of the corporate factions that drive the American Deep State.
All of this subversion raises a question: are covert programs compatible with democracy? Can the public allow secrecy, propaganda, and infiltration to blossom while simultaneously expecting to be immune from their effects? Former CIA officers who went public, intrepid whistleblowers like Philip Agee and John Stockwell, answered this question with a resounding “no.” As would millions of people in third-world countries who suffered through the bloody proxy battles of the Cold War. For instance, Philip Agee stated in his book CIA Diary:
“When the Watergate trials end and the whole episode begins to fade, there will be a movement for national renewal, for reform of electoral practices, and perhaps even for reform of the FBI and the CIA. But the return to our cozy self-righteous traditions should lure no one into believing that the problem has been removed. Reforms attack symptoms rather than the disease”
Hence it’s unsettling to hear Edward Snowden, despite his commendable admonishments for an open debate on mass surveillance, maintain the underlying legitimacy of government subterfuge:
“We can have secret programs. You know, the American people don’t have to know the name of every individual that’s under investigation. We don’t need to know the technical details of absolutely every program in the intelligence community. But we do have to know the bare and broad outlines of the powers our government is claiming … and how they affect us and how they affect our relationships overseas.”
You’re witnessing the power of framing the narrative. Society has been encouraged to discuss the legitimacy of what spies do and how they do it. But the problem with this well-intentioned dialogue is that “we the people” are led away from the more fundamental question of whether society needs spies and their covert ops to begin with.
Author’s Note: In the past I’ve posed a question to Glenn Greenwald and was met with silence. Exceptional behavior for someone who is famous for responding vocally. Now we’ll see how Mr. Snowden replies.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
MOSCOW – Ekaterina Blinova – 38 years ago, on October 6, 1976, Cubana Airlines Flight 455 was downed by terrorists, only now known to be CIA operatives; experts further claim it was not the only case when CIA was sponsoring terrorists.
“The US Government, being consistent with its stated commitment to fight terrorism, should act without double standards against those who, from US soil, have carried out terrorist acts against Cuba,” said Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Barbados Lisette Perez, as cited by the Barbados Advocate, during the ceremony of commemorating the victims at the Cubana Monument at Paynes Bay, Barbados.
The sudden explosion of two bombs onboard Cubana Flight 455, traveling between Havana and Panama, led to the plane’s crash, killing all 73 passengers and five crew members.
“For the past three months, Dr. Castro’s opponents in the US have waged a terrorist campaign in the Caribbean against those who break bread with the Cuban leader,” the Guardian wrote on October 8, 1976, reporting on the tragic accident. The media source noted that a previous attempt to place explosives on the plane was carried out in July, 1976, when a suitcase bomb exploded just before it was loaded onto the plane. In the same month the “office of a Trinidad airline was bombed in Barbados and a mysterious fire in Guyana destroyed a large quantity of Cuban-supplied fishing equipment,” the Guardian wrote.
According to the media outlet, the terror acts were presumably conducted by right-wing Cuban exiles and were aimed at states with political and economic ties with Cuba. Four suspects, Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo Lozano were arrested. In August 1985, Bosch was acquitted because of the lack of evidence, while Posada fled from prison under mysterious circumstances on the eve of the announcement of his verdict. Both Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch later ended up in the US.
Remarkably, in May 2005 the National Security Archive, an independent non-profit organization at George Washington University, released declassified CIA and FBI documents, indicating Cuban exile Luis Posada was a former CIA agent and a mastermind of the terror attack on Cubana Airlines flight 455. It was also revealed Posada was linked to a series of bombing in Barbados in 1976. Additional CIA records confirmed Posada indeed served as an agent in the 1960s and early 1970s and worked as an informant until June 1976. Posada was on a payroll, “receiving approximately $300.00 per month from CIA,” according to the FBI’s Memorandum, written on July 14, 1966. In that period, Posada was involved in military activities directed against Fidel Castro. Particularly, under the guidance of the US intelligence services he organized a military base in the Dominican Republic, drawing in fighters from different anti-Castro organizations.
According to the declassified CIA report, dated June 21, 1976, the US intelligence service was informed by Posada, allegedly, that Orlando Bosch, the leader of extremist Cuban exile group was planning to place two bombs on a board of a Cubana Airlines Flight, traveling between Havana and Panama. The US security agency did not inform the authorities of Barbados, which in 1970s granted Cuba stopover rights for its passenger planes flying to Africa, nor did they warned Havana about the preplanned terrorist act.
Furthermore, in July of 1990, US President George H.W. Bush pardoned Orlando Bosch of all American charges and rejected an extradition request to those seeking to arrest Bosch for his terrorist activities. Interestingly enough, the Cuban terrorist was exempted from charges at the request of Jeb Bush, a Potential 2016 Republican Presidential Candidate. Washington had also refused to extradite Luis Posada to Venezuela, under the pretext that he could face torture and mistreatment there.
The National Security Archive cited Peter Kornbluh, the Director of the Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, who warned in 2005 that Posada’s presence in the US “poses a direct challenge to the Bush administration’s terrorism policy.” Although Bush claimed that no nation should shelter terrorists, surprisingly, the White House provided asylum to the murderers responsible for terrorist crimes against peaceful civilians.
Experts assert that the policy is mutable when Washington and its intelligence services use their own terrorists in order to threaten and undermine “disagreeable regimes.” For instance, political analysts point to the fact that ISIL fighters were trained in NATO camps located in Jordan and Turkey. The assistance, provided by the US to the so-called “Syrian opposition,” was aimed to oust Syria’s President al-Assad. In fact the Islamic State “was actually an integrated part of the ‘opposition movement’ supported, trained and financed by the West and its regional allies,” notes Andre Vltchek, an investigative journalist. Former CIA analyst Kenneth M. Pollack confirms that the US was carrying out military training of anti-Assad rebels in Jordan and Turkey in his article “An Army to Defeat Assad,” published in August 2014 in Foreign Affairs magazine. Some experts insist that the IS plot is a pretext for a large-scale military operation against Syria and Bashar al-Assad.
Nearly three decades since the stories of Nicaraguan Contra-cocaine trafficking first appeared in 1985, the New York Times has finally, forthrightly admitted the allegations were true, although this belated acknowledgement comes in a movie review buried deep inside Sunday’s paper.
The review addresses a new film, “Kill the Messenger,” that revives the Contra-cocaine charges in the context of telling the tragic tale of journalist Gary Webb who himself revived the allegations in 1996 only to have the New York Times and other major newspapers wage a vendetta against him that destroyed his career and ultimately drove him to suicide.
The Times’ movie review by David Carr begins with a straightforward recognition of the long-denied truth to which now even the CIA has confessed: “If someone told you today that there was strong evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency once turned a blind eye to accusations of drug dealing by operatives it worked with, it might ring some distant, skeptical bell. Did that really happen? That really happened.”
Although the Times’ review still quibbles with aspects of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series in the San Jose Mercury-News, the Times appears to have finally thrown in the towel when it comes to the broader question of whether Webb was telling important truths.
The Times’ resistance to accepting the reality of this major national security scandal under President Ronald Reagan even predated its tag-team destruction of Webb in the mid-1990s, when he was alternately pummeled by the Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The same Big Three newspapers also either missed or dismissed the Contra-cocaine scandal when Brian Barger and I first disclosed it in 1985 for the Associated Press — and even when an investigation led by Sen. John Kerry provided more proof in 1989.
Indeed, the New York Times took a leading role in putting down the story in the mid-1980s just as it did in the mid-1990s. That only began to change in 1998 when CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz conducted the spy agency’s first comprehensive internal inquiry into the allegations and found substantial evidence to support suspicions of Contra-cocaine smuggling and the CIA’s complicity in the scandal.
Though the Times gave short-shrift to the CIA’s institutional confession in 1998, it did at least make a cursory acknowledgement of the historic admissions. The Times’ co-collaborators in the mugging of Gary Webb did even less. After waiting several weeks, the Washington Post produced an inside-the-paper story that missed the point. The Los Angeles Times, which had assigned 17 journalists to the task of destroying Webb’s reputation, ignored the CIA’s final report altogether.
So, it is perhaps nice that the Times stated quite frankly that the long-denied scandal “really happened” – even though this admission is tucked into a movie review placed on page AR-14 of the New York edition. And the Times’ reviewer still can’t quite face up to the fact that his newspaper was part of a gang assault on an honest journalist who actually got the story right.
Still Bashing Webb
Thus, the review is peppered with old claims that Webb hyped his material when, in fact, he understated the seriousness of the scandal, as did Barger and I in the 1980s. The extent of Contra cocaine trafficking and the CIA’s awareness – and protection – of the criminal behavior were much greater than any of us knew.
The Times’ review sums up the Webb story (and the movie plot) this way: “‘Kill the Messenger,’ a movie starring Jeremy Renner due Oct. 10, examines how much of the story [Webb] told was true and what happened after he wrote it. ‘Kill the Messenger’ decidedly remains in Mr. Webb’s corner, perhaps because most of the rest of the world was against him while he was alive.
“Rival newspapers blew holes in his story, government officials derided him as a nut case and his own newspaper, after initially basking in the scoop, threw him under a bus. Mr. Webb was open to attack in part because of the lurid presentation of the story and his willingness to draw causality based on very thin sourcing and evidence. He wrote past what he knew, but the movie suggests that he told a truth others were unwilling to. Sometimes, when David takes on Goliath, David is the one who ends up getting defeated. …
“Big news organization like The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post tore the arms and legs off his work. Despite suggestions that their zeal was driven by professional jealousy, some of the journalists who re-reported the story said they had little choice, given the deep flaws.
“Tim Golden in The New York Times and others wrote that Mr. Webb overestimated his subjects’ ties to the contras as well as the amount of drugs sold and money that actually went to finance the war in Nicaragua.”
The reviewer gives Golden another chance to take a shot at Webb and defend what the Big Papers did. “Webb made some big allegations that he didn’t back up, and then the story just exploded, especially in California,” Golden said in an email. “You can find some fault with the follow-up stories, but mostly what they did was to show what Webb got wrong.”
But Golden continues to be wrong himself. While it may be true that no journalistic story is perfect and that no reporter knows everything about his subject, Webb was if anything too constrained in his chief conclusions, particularly the CIA’s role in shielding the Contra drug traffickers. The reality was much worse, with CIA officials intervening in criminal cases, such as the so-called Frogman Case in San Francisco, that threatened to expose the Contra-related trafficking.
The CIA Inspector General’s report also admitted that the CIA withheld evidence of Contra drug trafficking from federal investigators, Congress and even the CIA’s own analytical division. The I.G. report was clear, too, on the CIA’s motivation.
The inspector general interviewed senior CIA officers who acknowledged that they were aware of the Contra-drug problem but didn’t want its exposure to undermine the struggle to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. According to Inspector General Hitz, the CIA had “one overriding priority: to oust the Sandinista government. . . . [CIA officers] were determined that the various difficulties they encountered not be allowed to prevent effective implementation of the Contra program.” One CIA field officer explained, “The focus was to get the job done, get the support and win the war.”
In 2000, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee grudgingly acknowledged that the stories about Reagan’s CIA protecting Contra drug traffickers were true. The committee released a report citing classified testimony from CIA Inspector General Britt Snider (Hitz’s successor) admitting that the spy agency had turned a blind eye to evidence of Contra-drug smuggling and generally treated drug smuggling through Central America as a low priority.
“In the end the objective of unseating the Sandinistas appears to have taken precedence over dealing properly with potentially serious allegations against those with whom the agency was working,” Snider said, adding that the CIA did not treat the drug allegations in “a consistent, reasoned or justifiable manner.”
The House committee still downplayed the significance of the Contra-cocaine scandal, but the panel acknowledged, deep inside its report, that in some cases, “CIA employees did nothing to verify or disprove drug trafficking information, even when they had the opportunity to do so. In some of these, receipt of a drug allegation appeared to provoke no specific response, and business went on as usual.”
Yet, like the Hitz report in 1998, the admissions by Snider and the House committee drew virtually no media attention in 2000 — except for a few articles on the Internet, including one at Consortiumnews.com.
Space for Ceppos
The Times’ review also gives space to Webb’s San Jose Mercury-News editor Jerry Ceppos, who caved after the Big Media attacks, shut down Webb’s ongoing investigation and rushed to apologize for supposed flaws in the series.
In the Times’ review, Ceppos is self-congratulatory about his actions, saying good news organizations should hold themselves accountable. “We couldn’t support some of the statements that had been made,” Ceppos said. “I would do exactly the same thing 18 years later that I did then, and that is to say that I think we overreached.”
Despite acknowledging the truth of the Contra-cocaine scandal, the review was short on interviews with knowledgeable people willing to speak up strongly for Webb. I was one of Webb’s few journalistic colleagues who defended his work when he was under assault in 1996-97 and – every year on the anniversary of Webb’s death – have published articles about the shameful behavior of the mainstream media and Ceppos in destroying Webb’s life.
I was e-mailed by an assistant to the Times’ reviewer who asked me to call to be interviewed about Webb. However, when I called back, the assistant said she was busy and would have to talk to me later. I gave her my cell phone number but never heard back from her.
But the review does note that “Webb had many supporters who suggested that he was right in the main. In retrospect, his broader suggestion that the C.I.A. knew or should have known that some of its allies were accused of being in the drug business remains unchallenged. The government’s casting of a blind eye while also fighting a war on drugs remains a shadowy part of American history.”
The review also notes that when the Kerry report was issued, “major news outlets gave scant attention to the report” and that: “Mr. Webb was not the first journalist to come across what seemed more like an airport thriller novel. Way back in December 1985, The Associated Press reported that three contra groups had ‘engaged in cocaine trafficking, in part to help finance their war against Nicaragua.’ In 1986, The San Francisco Examiner ran a large exposé covering similar terrain.
“Again, major news outlets mostly gave the issue a pass. It was only when Mr. Webb, writing 10 years later, tried to tie cocaine imports from people connected to the contras to the domestic crisis of crack cocaine in large cities, particularly Los Angeles, that the story took off.”
Despite recognizing the seriousness of the Contra-cocaine crimes that Webb helped expose, the review returns to various old saws about Webb’s alleged exaggerations.
“The headline, graphic and summary language of ‘Dark Alliance’ was lurid and overheated, showing a photo of a crack-pipe smoker embedded in the seal of the C.I.A,” the review said. However, in retrospect, the graphic seems apt. The CIA was knowingly protecting a proxy force that was smuggling cocaine to criminal networks that were producing crack.
Yet, despite this hemming and hawing – perhaps a reflexive attempt to not make the New York Times look too bad – the review ends on a strong note, concluding: “However dark or extensive, the alliance Mr. Webb wrote about was a real one.”
To learn more about the Contra-cocaine scandal and how you can hear a December 1996 joint appearance at which Robert Parry and Gary Webb discuss their reporting, click here.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
One evening over drinks in Ethiopia, during his tour as a CIA officer back in the 1960s, John Stockwell expressed reservations about covert operations to a senior fellow officer named Larry Devlin. Stockwell worried that the CIA was infiltrating governments and corrupting leaders to no useful end. Devlin, well-known in spy circles for his work in the Congo, berated Stockwell[i]:
“You’re trying to think like the people in the NSC back in Washington who have the big picture, who know what’s going on in the world, who have all the secret information, and the experience to digest it. If they decide we should have someone in Bujumbura, Burundi, and that person should be you, then you should do your job, and wait until you have more experience, and you work your way up to that point, then you will understand national security, and you can make the big decisions. Now, get to work, and stop, you know, this philosophizing.”
It’s a compelling argument: trust me, I know secrets. In fact it’s the same sort of argument that a federal informant named Hector Xavier Monsegur used to convince an activist named Jeremy Hammond to break into a whole slew of servers belonging to foreign governments[ii]. Monsegur assured Hammond: “Trust me, everything I do serves a purpose.” Hammond didn’t realize that he was actually part of an elaborate intelligence campaign being run by the FBI. Pimped out to other American three-letter agencies as it were.
Trust Me: I’m an Insider
John Stockwell was patient. He stayed on with the CIA and rose through the ranks, ultimately garnering enough clout to sit in on subcommittee meetings of the National Security Council. What he witnessed shocked him. Stockwell saw fat old men like senior ambassador Ed Mulcahy who fell asleep[iii] and petty officials like Henry Kissinger who got into embarrassing spats when someone else sat in their chair.[iv] All the while decisions were made that would kill people.
Quelle surprise! There were no wise men making difficult decisions based on dire threats to national security. Merely bureaucrats in search of enemies whose covert programs created more problems than they solved.
There’s a lesson in this story that resonates very strongly. A security clearance is by no means a guarantee of honesty or integrity. The secrets that spies guard don’t necessarily justify covert programs. Rather the veil of the government’s classification system is often leveraged to marginalize the public, to exclude people from policy making, and conceal questionable activity that would lead to widespread condemnation and social unrest if it came to light.
Past decades offer an endless trail of evidence: Operation Gladio, Operation Mockingbird, Project MKUltra, Operation Wheeler/Wallowa, Watergate, Operation CHAOS, COINTELPRO, Operation Northwoods, P2OG (the Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group), Iran-Contra, etc.
Cryptome’s John Young describes how this dynamic literally unwinds democracy[v]:
“Those with access to secret information cannot honestly partake in public discourse due to the requirement to lie and dissimulate about what is secret information. They can only speak to one another never in public. Similarly those without access to secret information cannot fully debate the issues which affect the nation, including alleged threats promulgated by secret keepers who are forbidden by law to disclose what they know.”
The Parade of Lies
In light of Ed Snowden’s revelations, and the remarkably flat-footed response of our political leaders, society is witnessing a crisis of trust. Time after time we’ve been lied to by ostensibly credible government officials. Not little white lies, but big scandalous ones. Lies that bring into question the pluralistic assumptions about American democracy and suggest the existence of what political analysts from Turkey would call a “Deep State[vi].”
For instance, both former NSA director Keith Alexander and House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers claimed that NSA mass interception was instrumental in disrupting over 50 terror plots, a claim that dissolved quickly upon closer scrutiny[vii].
Or contemplate an unnamed NSA spokesman who vehemently told the Washington Post that the NSA was not engaged in economic espionage[viii], only to be contradicted by leaked top-secret documents which described how the NSA broke into networks run by the Chinese telecom giant Huawei and made off with the company’s crown jewels (i.e. product source code).
When President Obama scored some air time with Charlie Rose, in soothing tones he calmly explained to viewers that the NSA doesn’t monitor American citizens without a warrant. It’s surprising that POTUS, a man with a background in constitutional law no less, would be unaware of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This legal provision contains a loophole that allows just this sort of warrantless monitoring to transpire[ix]. Never mind Executive Order 12333, which is arguable an even greater threat[x].
More recently, consider Dianne Feinstein’s claim back in March that the CIA had been monitoring a network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee. John Brennan, the CIA director, told her that she was full of it and sanctimoniously replied “when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong[xi].”
Well guess what? It turns out Brennan was on the losing side of that bet. An internal investigation showed that CIA officers had indeed been watching the Senate Committee[xii]. Stop and pause for a moment. This disclosure is a serious warning sign. What, pray tell, do you think happens to the whole notion of checks and balances when the executive branch spies on the other two branches? Do you suppose there are implications for the balance of power?
Faced with this ever expanding dearth of credibility, spies have worked diligently to maintain the appearance of integrity. Specifically, industry conferences like Black Hat and DEF CON have regularly catered to the needs of U.S. Intelligence by serving as platform for the Deep State and its talking points: that Cyberwar is imminent[xiii], that cybercrime represents an existential threat[xiv], and that mass interception is perfectly normal and perfectly healthy[xv].
“If the tariff of security is paid, it will be paid in the coin of privacy. [xvi]”
In these hacker venues high-profile members of the intelligence community like Cofer Black[xvii], Shawn Henry[xviii], Keith Alexander[xix], and Dan Greer[xx] are positioned front and center in keynote slots, as if they were glamorous Hollywood celebrities. While those who value their civil liberties might opine that they should more aptly be treated like pariahs[xxi].
“Time Out” Posturing
One would hope that the gravity of Ed Snowden’s documents would have some impact. Indeed, Jeff Moss, the organizer who currently runs DEF CON and who originally founded Black Hat (and, by the way, currently sits on the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council[xxii]), did attempt to make a symbolic gesture of protest in the summer of 2013. He gently requested that feds call a “time-out” and not attend DEF CON[xxiii].
To grasp the nature of this public relations maneuver is to realize that roughly 70 percent of the intelligence budget is channeled to private sector companies[xxiv]. As Glenn Greenwald observed during the 2014 Polk Award ceremony, as far as the national security state is concerned there is little distinction between the private and public sector[xxv]. Anyone who has peered into the rack space of the data broker industry knows that the NSA is an appendage on a much larger corporate apparatus[xxvi].
So asking federal employees to stay away really doesn’t change much because the driving force behind the surveillance state, the defense industry and its hi-tech offshoots, will swarm Vegas in great numbers as they normally do. Twelve months after Moss calls his halfhearted “time-out,” Black Hat rolls out the red carpet for the Deep State[xxvii], (while the government threatens to clamp down on attendance to conferences by foreign nationals[xxviii]). This is all very telling.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
[i] John Stockwell, THE SECRET WARS OF THE CIA: part I, lecture given in October, 1987,
[ii] Mark Mazzetti, “F.B.I. Informant Is Tied to Cyberattacks Abroad,” New York Times, April 23, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/world/fbi-informant-is-tied-to-cyberattacks-abroad.html
[iii] John Stockwell, THE SECRET WARS OF THE CIA: part I, lecture given in October, 1987,
[iv] John Stockwell, The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. Role in the New World Order, South End Press, July 1, 1999.
[v] John Young, “Wall Street Journal Secrecy,” Cryptome, August 22, 2014, http://cryptome.org/0002/wsj-secrecy.htm
[vi] Peter Dale Scott, “The Deep State and the Wall Street Overworld”, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, March 10, 2014, http://japanfocus.org/-Peter_Dale-Scott/4090
[vii] Cindy Cohn and Nadia Kayyali, “The Top 5 Claims That Defenders of the NSA Have to Stop Making to Remain Credible,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, June 2, 2013, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/06/top-5-claims-defenders-nsa-have-stop-making-remain-credible
[viii] Barton Gellman and Ellen Nakashima, “, U.S. spy agencies mounted 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, documents show” Washington Post, August 30, 2013
[ix] Nadia Kayyali, “The Way the NSA Uses Section 702 is Deeply Troubling. Here’s Why,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 7, 2014, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/05/way-nsa-uses-section-702-deeply-troubling-heres-why
[x] John Napier Tye, “Meet Executive Order 12333: The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans,” Washington Post, July 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/meet-executive-order-12333-the-reagan-rule-that-lets-the-nsa-spy-on-americans/2014/07/18/93d2ac22-0b93-11e4-b8e5-d0de80767fc2_story.html
[xi] Mark Mazzetti And Jonathan Weisman, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry,” New York Times, March 11, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/us/cia-accused-of-illegally-searching-computers-used-by-senate-committee.html
[xii]Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Admits Penetrating Senate Intelligence Computers,” New York Times, July 31, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/01/world/senate-intelligence-commitee-cia-interrogation-report.html
[xiii] Molly Mulrain, “Former CIA Official: ‘Cyber Will Be Key Component of Any Future Conflict’”, ExecutiveBiz, August 4, 2011, http://blog.executivebiz.com/2011/08/former-cia-official-cyber-will-be-a-key-component-of-any-future-conflict/
[xiv] Gerry Smith, “Cyber-Crimes Pose ‘Existential’ Threat, FBI Warns,” Huffington Post, January 12, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/12/cyber-threats_n_1202026.html
[xv] “U.S. Cyber Command Head General Alexander To Keynote Black Hat USA 2013,” Dark Reading, May 14, 2013, http://www.darkreading.com/risk/us-cyber-command-head-general-alexander-to-keynote-black-hat-usa-2013/d/d-id/1139741
[xvi] Daniel E. Geer, “Cybersecurity and National Policy,” Harvard Law School National Security Journal, Volume 1 – April 7, 2010, http://harvardnsj.org/2011/01/cybersecurity-and-national-policy/
[xix] Jim Finkle, “Defcon 2012 Conference: Hackers To Meet With U.S. Spy Agency Chief,” Reuters, July 20, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/defcon-2012_n_1691246.html
[xx] Spencer Ackerman, “NSA keeps low profile at hacker conventions despite past appearances,” Guardian, July 31, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/nsa-hacker-conventions-recruit-def-con-black-hat/print
[xxi] George Smith, “Computer Security for the 1 Percent Day,” Escape From WhiteManistan, May 19, 2014, http://dickdestiny.com/blog1/?p=18011
[xxiii] Dan Goodin, “For first time ever, feds asked to sit out DefCon hacker conference,” Ars Technica, July 11, 2013, http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/07/for-first-time-ever-feds-asked-to-sit-out-defcon-hacker-conference/
[xxiv] Tim Shorrock, “Put the Spies Back Under One Roof,” New York Times, June 17, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/opinion/put-the-spies-back-under-one-roof.html
[xxv] “”We Won’t Succumb to Threats”: Journalists Return to U.S. for First Time Since Revealing NSA Spying,” Democracy Now! April 14, 2014, http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/14/we_wont_succumb_to_threats_journalists#
[xxvi] “Inside the Web’s $156 Billion Invisible Industry,” Motherboard, December 18, 2013, http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/inside-the-webs-156-billion-invisible-industry
[xxvii] Spencer Ackerman, “NSA keeps low profile at hacker conventions despite past appearances,” Guardian, July 31, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/nsa-hacker-conventions-recruit-def-con-black-hat/print
[xxviii] Andrea Shalal and Jim Finkle, “U.S. may act to keep Chinese hackers out of Def Con hacker event,” Reuters, May 24, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/24/us-cybercrime-usa-china-idUSBREA4N07D20140524
In the face of continued revelations of United States’ torture policies during the Bush administration, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), today sent letters to President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel demanding an end to all ongoing practices of torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees. The letter specifically calls for revoking techniques permitted in Appendix ‘M’ of the current Army Field Manual, such as solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forms of sensory deprivation, and environmental manipulations, which individually and combined have been condemned internationally as forms of torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, and therefore violate the United States’ obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. In addition, PsySR expressed particularly concern that health professionals, including psychologists, have been engaged to support such efforts in violation of their ethical responsibilities.
Here is the letter:
April 29, 2014
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As an organization of health professionals dedicated to human rights advocacy, Psychologists for Social Responsibility strongly objects to practices that violate the ethics of health professions and lie outside the norms of international law and practice. The recent Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence confirms that, beginning during the Bush Administration, interrogation and detention practices were put in place by the CIA that constituted torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Practices once condemned under law and international treaty were soon redefined by the Justice Department to permit a “culture of torture” to proliferate under U.S. policy. These practices quickly spread to the detention centers of the Department of Defense and throughout the theaters of war. While legal progress has been made to limit these policies and practices, significant remnants remain under your authority. We write to you today to urge you to eliminate all existing procedures allowing for torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees.
In 2009, via Executive Order 13491, your administration officially announced its intention to end the torture practices developed and instituted under the Bush Administration. Interrogation practices that did not conform to the Army Field Manual were abolished. However, as documented by numerous legal and human rights groups, as well as by former interrogators, the Army Field Manual still includes abusive techniques in violation of these standards.
We concur with the recent recommendation of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP)/Open Society Foundations report  calling for you to issue a new executive order banning interrogation techniques using isolation, sleep deprivation, exploitation of fear, and other methods that violate international standards regarding torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. We, too, urge you to remediate the ethical standards of the Army Field Manual via executive order.
The current edition of the Army Field Manual (2006) officially supports interrogations using “approach techniques,” including the creation, manipulation, and intensification of phobias and fears in prisoners (“Fear Up”) and the calculated psychological attack against ego or self-esteem (“Emotional Pride and Ego Down”). The “Emotional Futility” approach intends to create a perception in a prisoner that “resistance to questioning is futile.” The manual describes the purpose of this technique as engendering “a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness” in a detainee and notes the “potential for application of the pride and ego approach to cross the line into humiliating and degrading treatment of the detainee.”
Also problematic on both basic health and human rights grounds is Appendix M, added to this most recent version of the Army Field Manual (2-22.3). This special annex proposes a technique known as “Separation,” which includes the use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forms of sensory deprivation, and environmental manipulations — all of which could theoretically be extended indefinitely — as ostensibly legitimate forms of treatment on “unlawful combatants.” The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture  and independent human rights organizations describe such practices as torture and/or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. As health professionals and human rights advocates, we are disturbed that such techniques are conducted under an official capacity and by executive order.
We are particularly concerned that health professionals, including psychologists, have been engaged to support such efforts, directly or indirectly, in violation of their ethical obligations and in violation of the policies of their professional associations.
As you must be aware, these practices are not only cruel, but also yield questionable intelligence and contribute to a perception of our country as a systematic violator of human rights. It would serve as a strong and principled legacy of your Administration if these remaining practices of torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment were finally and definitively ended.
We look forward to your timely response.
Steven Reisner, PhD
Psychologists for Social Responsibility
cc: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
 Scott Horton, “Interrogators C click here//harpers.org/blog/2010/11/interrogators-call-for-the-elimination-of-appendix-m/
 Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detai nee” target=”_blank”>Abuse in the “War on T/a>error”, IMAP/OSF Task Force Report, Nov. 2013. URL: http://www.imapny.org/File Library/Documents/IMAP-EthicsTextFinal2.pdf
 ”Solitary confinement should be banned in most ca ses,” target=”_blank”> UN expert says,” UN News C” target=”_bnk”>k”> UN expert says” target=”_blank”>nk”>k”> UN ex” target=lank”>lank”>nk”>” target=”_blank”> k”> UN expert says,” UN News Centre, Oct. 18th, 2011. URL: https://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=40097
Monday 21st: front page story on NYT “Photos Link Masked Men in East Ukraine to Russia”, ah hah! proof at last!; a bit of doubt surfaces on Wednesday; entire story trashed Thursday: “Aftermath of Ukraine Photo Story Shows Need for More Caution”. When I was a kid, CIA confections lasted a lot longer than a couple of days. So, into the bin along with the Jewish registration letter, captured “OSCE observers” and soon to be followed by the new intercepts. All I see from Washington is desperation piled on incompetence: none of this has turned out the way it was supposed to and no one has any idea of what to do next. So turn the volume up, desperately clutch at any story, hysterically accuse RT of propaganda when all it’s doing is accurately quoting you, announce more sanctions based on the dopey assumption that Putin has billions stashed in the West and move military forces to irrelevant places like Poland or Romania. The Micawber school of diplomacy.
- “Containment” is the new mantra for dealing with Russia in Washington these days. But has anyone there read the original? (Original telegram, subsequent article). Apart from the fact that George Kennan was strongly against NATO expansion, which is one of the two Original Sins of today’s Ukrainian catastrophe, the conditions Kennan saw in 1946 simply do not apply today. In essence Kennan was arguing that the inner constructions and logical implications of the Marxist-Leninist ideology did not correspond well with reality and therefore, over the long haul, it would not survive. Assuming that the USA would survive because it was better connected to reality, he expected the USA to outlast the USSR, given patience and prudence. This proved correct over the next half-century. Who believes this to be the case today other than the few crazies who still think Marxism-Leninism rules in Russia? And, speaking of perception of reality, one might compare any statement by Lavrov with Slaughter’s article below or any bloviation from Kerry. Or, thinking long-term as Kennan did, who can be confident that the USA will be Number One in 50 years? Or 25? Or even 10? They say China is about to become the premier economy this year. Deng’s reforms began only 35 years ago… What will the world look like in another 35?
- To give you an idea of the level of impassioned lunacy in Washington these days, read “Stopping Russia Starts in Syria”. Essentially the argument is that Obama should bomb Syria in order to show Putin he is serious about using force. Or something. “Striking Syria might not end the civil war there, but it could prevent the eruption of a new one in Ukraine”. Gibbering nonsense, eh? And incoherently erected on idiotic assumptions. But the author is not some bizarro from the outer fringes of the Net; it is Anne-Marie Slaughter, academic and quondam director of policy planning in the US State Department and now President of the New America Foundation. Mainstream madness.
Another US official visits, another “anti-terrorist operation”, another fizzle. This piece (rather poorly translated) gives a clue why. We have already seen in previous events that what remains of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are unwilling to get involved – even the supposedly elite airborne forces handed over their weapons rather than shoot. The so-called special forces are no better. The local police sympathise with the rebels. Now we see the ineffectiveness of the new “National Guard” made up of western Ukrainian nationalists: not even they, under-equipped, unfed and unpaid, are willing or competent. Kiev simply hasn’t got anyone to do its will no matter how much Biden and Brennan might prod it. And a couple of nights ago a riot between two different flavours of super-nationalists in Kiev itself. “Ukraine” no longer exists; Washington and Brussels have broken it in half.
Russia has handed over to Ukraine 13 of the 70 Ukrainian Navy warships it acquired when their crews switched sides.
Debka (which I regard as not always wrong) claims Putin has approved the sale of the S-400 SAM system to China. Said to be pretty advanced; here’s some marketing porn for it. And other signs of closeness: big investment, naval exercise. The first fruits of the many unintended consequences of Victoria Nuland’s grand scheme.
While the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally started the process of declassifying at least some of the $40 million, 6,300 page report about the CIA’s torture efforts, we’re getting more and more leaks about what’s in the report. Previous leaks showed that the torture program was completely useless and that the CIA simply lied about its effectiveness (in fact, taking information gleaned by others through normal interrogations, and claiming they got it via torture). The latest leak highlights how, despite claims by the CIA’s supporters, that the torture was done in “good faith” and was approved by the DOJ and the CIA, it turns out (of course), that the CIA’s torturers actually went much further than they were approved to go.
CIA officers subjected terror suspects it held after the Sept. 11 attacks to methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned.
The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal and harsh techniques _ much more abusive than previously known _ and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees, harmed the U.S.’s credibility internationally, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300 page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program.
So, again, we have evidence that the CIA tortured people, did so beyond any actual authority (as sketchy as such an authority might be), got nothing of value from the torture, and then repeatedly lied about the torture and the value of it to Congress and the American public. And… no one is going to jail over this. Well, except for the guy who blew the whistle. In fact, many of those responsible for the torture program are still in positions of power. This is a total disgrace.
Feinstein and the CIA
Senator Dianne Feinstein’s blistering attack on the CIA’s conduct in searching the computers used by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was deemed a remarkable salvo. The search was engendered by the Committee’s official request for a final version of the named “Internal Panetta Review”. The Review had been created for internal use by the CIA as a record of assessing what documents should be turned over to the Committee in connection with its investigation of the torture program. Once the CIA got wind that their precious internal documentation was finding its way into the hands of the committee, the hackers got itchy.
Senator Feinstein herself charged the CIA with violating the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and Executive Order 12333. This raises the first problem. The CFAA is a legislative creation that exempts authorised law enforcement and intelligence activities. Legal commentary from former Chief Counsel for the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence, Chris Donesa at Lawfare (March 12) puts the question as whether “the CIA’s investigation and search was in fact ‘lawfully authorised’ or merely a pretext for deliberate efforts to obstruct or interfere with the SSCI investigation.”
The point is valid – after all, the CIA may well have been doing what it is empowered to do – snoop, hack and conduct “counter” intelligence activities, even against a Congressional committee. A gray area exists in the CFAA as to the rights of access set by the owner and operator of the necessary computers. The Washington political establishment have only themselves to blame if that was the case. The demon is merely consuming its creators.
One thing Donesa is willing concede is that the agreement and understanding between the CIA and the SSCI was significant in its violation. In so doing, it has raised questions touching on the separation of powers “and, more importantly, the budget and authorities of any Agency that dares to breach it.” He is concerned, in fact, that the SSCI was also rather cheeky, scurrying off with documents at points befitting the CIA’s own conduct. A subpoena might have been sought, but was conspicuously lacking. Feinstein herself alluded to such behaviour, largely because the CIA had shown form in destroying evidence, notably videotapes.
There have been occasional remarks that the CIA would have been justified in chasing down the source of leaks in the event that a confidential document had found its way into “unauthorised” channels. Sometime in 2010, Feinstein claims that SSCI staff accessed documents connected with the Panetta Review. Feverish speculation is making its way around the intelligence traps as to whether that access was warranted, the result of intentional disclosure by the CIA, or an illicit revelation of a whistleblower.
Given the CIA’s well established reputation for gold medal incompetence, it might very well be that the agency enabled, quite unwittingly, the Committee access to the Review documents. The jury may well be out on that one for some time to come. In either case, be it the whistleblower thesis, or that of unwitting disclosure, the episode has brushed up, if not scraped, a good deal of constitutional gunk. James Madison would not so much be turning as standing up in his grave.
Not all have warmed to Feinstein’s agitated response. A split has developed in Senate ranks. Republicans are concerned, but many would prefer to await the findings of a full investigation into the matter. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was particularly concerned. “If what they’re saying is true about the CIA this is Richard Nixon stuff. This is dangerous to democracy. Heads should roll. People should go to jail, if it’s true.” Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) was less certain. “Right now we don’t know what the facts are” (NPR, March 11).
Neither Feinstein, nor the CIA, can claim much of a high ground in this debate. The SSCI was the subject of a hacking enterprise, a snooping venture that would have been appropriate for the Senator in other cases. In fact, the rationale employed by the CIA was the very one that she has been defending with almost manic determination. If classified documents find their way into certain hands (that is, the likes of Edward Snowden), revealing the extent of state abuse, the messenger is the one at fault.
Given Feinstein’s legislative efforts to shore up the surveillance state, and her inflexible stance in limiting reform to the intelligence community, this would have come as a rude, yet richly deserved rebuke. In Snowden’s own words on the episode, this involved “an elected official [who] does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies” only to be scandalized “when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A federal judge has told the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other federal offices to continue looking for records pertaining to the disappearance of four transport planes in 1980.
The case was brought before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly by plaintiff Stephen Whitaker, who has attempted to obtain information about four DC-3 aircraft, one of which was flown by his father, Harold William Whitaker.
Stephen Whitaker filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA, as well as the Department of Defense and the State Department, to learn if they possessed records that might explain what happened to the DC-3s.
The CIA refused to tell Whitaker if its archives held any relevant documents pertaining to his search. The agency cited various exemptions under federal law, including the CIA Act of 1949 (pdf), which allow it to avoid responding to certain FOIA inquiries.
Whitaker argued in his lawsuit that the CIA improperly invoked FOIA Exemption (b) (3) (pdf), which authorizes the agency to keep from revealing information on agency “functions” and “intelligence sources and methods.”
Kollar-Kotelly sided with Whitaker, ruling (pdf) that “the CIA has too broadly applied the CIA Act to withhold information pursuant to Exemption (b) (3).” However, she agreed with two other exemptions cited by the CIA that pertain to attorney-client privilege and the withholding of personnel and medical records.
The plaintiff’s search for information seems to be both personal and more.
He said the plane piloted by his father disappeared somewhere over Spain in October 1980. It had been purchased at auction from the Spanish Air Force and was being flown to Germany to become part of a museum.
A report from Spain’s Civil Aviation Commission on Accidents says the aircraft’s instruments may not have been fully functional, and that the radio may only have been capable of sending messages but not receiving them.
The report added that there was no record of a distress call from the pilot, or co-pilot Lawrence Eckmann, a major in the U.S. Army.
Stephen Whitaker also sought records from the government about Eckmann. The State Department claimed its search turned up nothing on Eckmann. The plaintiff challenged this assertion, and Kollar-Kotelly agreed that Eckmann had been excluded from the search, which was found to be “inadequate and should have been revised….”
The plaintiff seems to suspect that some of the DC-3s he has sought information on were used by the CIA in its covert operations.
His FOIA request to the spy agency asked for any information that would reveal whether “any of these persons or aircraft were later found to be employed or contracted by the CIA for service in Central America or elsewhere.”
The CIA has a long history of using DC-3s that ranges from the Vietnam War to the recent conflict in Libya that ousted the Gaddafi regime.
To Learn More:
Missing-Plane Records From 1980 Dissected (by Kevin Lessmiller, Courthouse News Service)
Stephen Whitaker v. Central Intelligence Agency (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) (pdf)
Technical Report on the Disappearance of a DOUGLAS DC-3 Aircraft, Registration # ECT-025, on the 3rd of October, 1980, to the North of Palm of Majorca (Civil Aviation Commission on Accidents, Spain) (pdf)
CIA: We Only Spied On Senate Intelligence Committee Because They Took Classified Documents That Prove We’re Liars
Earlier this week, we wrote about the accusations that the CIA was spying on Senate staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee as they were working on a massive $40 million, 6,300-page report condemning the CIA’s torture program. The DOJ is apparently already investigating if the CIA violated computer hacking laws in spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee computers. The issue revolved around a draft of an internal review by the CIA, which apparently corroborates many of the Senate report’s findings — but which the CIA did not hand over to the Senate. This internal report not only supports the Senate report’s findings, but also shows that the CIA has been lying in response to questions about the terror program.
In response to all of this, it appears that the CIA is attempting, weakly, to spin this as being the Senate staffers’ fault, arguing that the real breach was the fact that the Senate staffers somehow broke the rules in obtaining that internal review. CIA boss John Brennan’s statement hints at the fact that he thinks the real problem was with the way the staffers acted, suggesting that an investigation would fault “the legislative” branch (the Senate) rather than the executive (the CIA).
In his statement on Wednesday Brennan hit back in unusually strong terms. “I am deeply dismayed that some members of the Senate have decided to make spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts,” Brennan said.
“I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch,” Brennan continued, raising a suggestion that the Senate committee itself might have acted improperly.
A further report detailed what he’s talking about. Reporters at McClatchy have revealed that the Senate staffers working on this came across the document, printed it out, and simply walked out of the CIA and over to the Senate with it, and the CIA is furious about that. Then, in a moment of pure stupidity, the CIA appears to have confronted the Senate Intelligence Committee about all of this… directly revealing that they were spying on the Committee staffers.
Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings that they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
“All this goes back to what is the technical structure here,” said the U.S. official who confirmed the unauthorized removal. “If I was a Senate staffer and I was given access to documents on the system, I would have a laptop that’s cleared. I would be allowed to look at these documents. But with these sorts of things, there’s generally an agreement that you can’t download or take them.”
The CIA discovered the security breach and brought it to the committee’s attention in January, leading to a determination that the agency recorded the staffers’ use of the computers in the high-security research room, and then confirmed the breach by reviewing the usage data, said the knowledgeable person.
There are many more details in the McClatchy report, which I highly recommend reading. And, yes, perhaps there’s an argument that Senate staffers weren’t supposed to take such documents, but the CIA trying to spin this by saying it was those staffers who were engaged in “wrongdoing” is almost certainly going to fall flat with Congress. After all, the intelligence committee is charged with oversight of the CIA, not the other way around. “You stole the documents we were hiding from you which proved we were lying, so we spied on you to find out how you did that” is not, exactly, the kind of argument that too many people are going to find compelling.
Still, the latest is that the CIA has successfully convinced the DOJ to have the FBI kick off an investigation of the Senate staffers, rather than of the CIA breaking the law and spying on their overseers.
Of course, the CIA may still have one advantage on its side: there are still some in Congress who are so supportive of the intelligence community itself that even they will make excuses for the CIA spying on their own staff. At least that seems to be the response from Senate Intelligence vice chair Senator Saxby Chambliss, one of the most ardent defenders of the intelligence community he’s supposed to be watching over. When asked about all of this, he seemed to be a lot more concerned about the staffers supposedly taking “classified” documents than about the CIA spying on those staffers:
“I have no comment. You should talk to those folks that are giving away classified information and get their opinion,” Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said when asked about the alleged intrusions.
WASHINGTON – The CIA’s inspector general is investigating whether the agency may have been monitoring the computer usage of Senate Intelligence Committee staff members, according to articles today by The New York Times and McClatchy. The inspector general’s office has reportedly referred the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation.
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, had this reaction:
“If it turns out that the CIA was spying on the Senate committee that oversees the agency, it would be an outrageous violation of separation of powers. The CIA is prohibited from spying in the United States itself, and there can be few greater violations of that rule than spying on congressional staff carrying out the constitutional duty of being a check on the CIA’s powers. CIA surveillance of Congress would be another sign that the intelligence community has come to believe that they are above the law, and should get only deference from the other branches of government, not the meaningful oversight that’s required by the Constitution. Checks and balances, especially for agencies like the CIA and NSA that have many secret operations, are essential for democratic government. At the very least, these reports should spur the committee to vote quickly for the declassification and release of its full report into the CIA’s torture program so the American people can see what it is that the CIA is so eager to hide.”
In December 2012, the committee adopted a 6,000-page report on the CIA’s Bush-era rendition, secret detention, and torture program. The report concluded that abusive methods were ineffective, and the CIA wrote an extensive response, countering many of the Senate report’s conclusions. There is also a secret CIA report commissioned by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, which is reportedly consistent with the Senate report findings and contradicts the CIA’s response to the Senate report. All three reports are classified.
The US Central Intelligence Agency is seeking new drone bases in unnamed countries in Central Asia, fearing the full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan would affect the targeted killings in neighboring Pakistan.
The spy agency asserts that if the US fails to sign a bilateral security deal with Afghanistan and secure an enduring military presence there, it would not be able to fly drones from its Afghan bases because drone operations are covert and need US military protection.
The security deal, which Washington says “ought to be signed” and is not renegotiable, could allow thousands of US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
However, despite pressures from the White House and Congress, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign the deal and the US intelligence community is hoping that the next Afghan president will agree to sign it.
Worried that its drone killings can become a casualty of strained relations between Kabul and Washington, the CIA is reportedly making contingency plans to use bases in other countries.
“There are contingency plans for alternatives in the north,” an unnamed US official briefed on the matter told the Los Angeles Times without specifying the countries.
According to Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts professor, the CIA and the Pentagon used to fly drones from an airbase in Uzbekistan until the US was evicted in 2005.
Michael Nagata, commander of US special operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, also traveled last month to Tajikistan, which is Afghanistan’s northern neighbor, to discuss “issues of bilateral security cooperation” and “continued military cooperation.”
Meanwhile, US officials say a new jet-powered drone, called Avenger, which will be able to “get to ‘hot’ targets in Pakistan much faster,” could soon be flying from bases outside Afghanistan.
The CIA is in charge of drone strikes in Pakistan since the country is not officially a war zone and the CIA’s program is covert.
US President Barack Obama has already stated that the responsibility for Washington’s deadly drone attacks could gradually shift from the CIA to the Pentagon. However, the idea of putting the US military in charge of drone attacks is not favored by US lawmakers.