The number of informants executed in the debacle is higher than initially thought.
Zach Dorfman reports: It was considered one of the CIA’s worst failures in decades: Over a two-year period starting in late 2010, Chinese authorities systematically dismantled the agency’s network of agents across the country, executing dozens of suspected U.S. spies. But since then, a question has loomed over the entire debacle.
How were the Chinese able to roll up the network?
Now, nearly eight years later, it appears that the agency botched the communication system it used to interact with its sources, according to five current and former intelligence officials. The CIA had imported the system from its Middle East operations, where the online environment was considerably less hazardous, and apparently underestimated China’s ability to penetrate it.
“The attitude was that we’ve got this, we’re untouchable,” said one of the officials who, like the others, declined to be named discussing sensitive information. The former official described the attitude of those in the agency who worked on China at the time as “invincible.”
Other factors played a role as well, including China’s alleged recruitment of former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee around the same time. Federal prosecutors indicted Lee earlier this year in connection with the affair.
But the penetration of the communication system seems to account for the speed and accuracy with which Chinese authorities moved against the CIA’s China-based assets.
“You could tell the Chinese weren’t guessing. The Ministry of State Security [which handles both foreign intelligence and domestic security] were always pulling in the right people,” one of the officials said.
The Department of Justice headquarters building in Washington. Photo: J. David Ake/Associated Press
James Freeman reports: Is animus toward President Donald Trump a prerequisite for landing a job with special counsel Robert Mueller ? Recent revelations in Washington also raise again the question of what former President Barack Obama knew about the decisions of his FBI Director James Comey to exonerate Hillary Clinton and investigate Mr. Trump in 2016.
A top FBI agent and an FBI lawyer, who were involved in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email arrangement and the probe into Russian electoral meddling, exchanged texts disparaging then-candidate Donald Trump, including calling him an “idiot” and a “menace,” according to copies of the messages the Justice Department provided Congress.
Peter Strzok, 47 years old, was one of the highest-ranking agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was removed from his post with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling this past summer after a Justice Department watchdog launched an inquiry into the texts.
The messages between Mr. Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page include one in which Ms. Page tells him in August 2016: “Maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace.”
On July 27, Ms. Page wrote, “She just has to win now. I’m not going to lie, I got a flash of nervousness yesterday about Trump.” That text message was sent after the Clinton investigation had been closed. Days later, the F.B.I. began investigating possible coordination between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
Recently the Journal’s Kim Strassel noted the stone wall against congressional oversight that has been constructed by Mr. Mueller, his Department of Justice colleagues, and Mr. Mueller’s deputies, many of whom have demonstrated their political opposition to the President.
Is there really no way to run a special counsel’s office or a federal law enforcement agency without appointing liberal political activists—or at least people with close ties to the President’s adversaries—to senior roles? Fox News reports:
A co-founder of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS acknowledged in a new court document that his company hired the wife of a senior Justice Department official to help investigate then-candidate Donald Trump last year.
* There’s a file with bin Laden’s hand-written, 228-page private journal.
* There’s a good deal of evidence that at the time of his death, bin Laden was still actively leading al Qaeda.
* Also, there’s a great deal of information on bin Laden’s ties to Iran and Iraq.
Here’s Joscelyn and Roggio on al Qaeda and Iran:
One never-before-seen 19-page document contains a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran. The author explains that Iran offered some “Saudi brothers” in al Qaeda “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.” Iranian intelligence facilitated the travel of some operatives with visas, while sheltering others. Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential ideologue prior to 9/11, helped negotiate a safe haven for his jihadi comrades inside Iran. But the author of the file, who is clearly well-connected, indicates that al Qaeda’s men violated the terms of the agreement and Iran eventually cracked down on the Sunni jihadists’ network, detaining some personnel. Still, the author explains that al Qaeda is not at war with Iran and some of their “interests intersect,” especially when it comes to being an “enemy of America.” Read the rest of this entry »
It counters a report that predicted he was going to block the release of the documents due to national security reasons.
President Trump said Saturday morning he will allow the release of the classified files related to former President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
“Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened,” Trump tweeted.
Trump’s announcement counters a report that predicted the president was likely going to block the release of some of the documents by the National Archives, which cited pressure from the CIA over possibly harmful national security information being revealed.
Still, White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters told Politico Magazine that the Trump administration was trying “to ensure that the maximum amount of data can be released to the public.”
The White House later put out a statement couching Trump’s pledge to release the files on one caveat.
“The President believes that these documents should be made available in the interests of full transparency unless agencies provide a compelling and clear national security or law enforcement justification otherwise,” a White House official said, according to an afternoon press pool report. Read the rest of this entry »
‘This essentially gives our enemies a playbook on how we go about our clandestine cyber-operations.’
Bruce Golding, Jamie Schram and Mark Moore report: CIA software can secretly turn everyday electronics like smartphones and high-tech TVs into listening devices to spy on unsuspecting users, WikiLeaks claimed in a massive document dump Tuesday.
Some of the computer programs target the iOS software that runs Apple iPhones as well as Google’s Android operating system, which does the same for phones built by Samsung, HTC and Sony, WikiLeaks said.
The “weaponized” software also reportedly provides techniques to defeat the encryption abilities of popular apps including WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and Wiebo, which claim to supply users with secure and private communications.
One program, known as “Weeping Angel,” can even be used to infect Samsung “smart” TVs and covertly activate their built-in microphones to record conversations and then transmit them over the internet, WikiLeaks said.
“WikiLeaks has carefully reviewed the ‘Year Zero’ disclosure and published substantive CIA documentation while avoiding the distribution of ‘armed’ cyberweapons until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should be analyzed, disarmed and published,” the hack clearinghouse said in a press release.
There is nothing in the WikiLeaks documents to suggest that the CIA — which is charged with obtaining foreign intelligence for national security purposes — uses any of these devices to spy on American citizens.
The CIA refused to confirm or deny the authenticity of the WikiLeaks information, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer wouldn’t comment, saying it “has not been fully evaluated.”
A retired CIA operative told The Post that the WikiLeaks disclosure could cripple the agency’s high-tech surveillance capabilities.
“This essentially gives our enemies a playbook on how we go about our clandestine cyber-operations,” the former agent said.
“This will be bad for the agency. They will have to re-examine its procedures for doing this type of work.”
Cybersecurity experts said the material appeared genuine.
Jake Williams of Rendition InfoSec, who has experience dealing with government hackers, noted the files’ repeated references to operation security.
emptywheel writes: Before I start with the substance of the story, consider this background. First, if Trump comes into office on the current trajectory, the US will let Russia help Bashar al-Assad stay in power, thwarting a 4-year effort on the part of the Saudis to remove him from power. It will also restructure the hierarchy of horrible human rights abusing allies the US has, with the Saudis losing out to other human rights abusers, potentially up to and including that other petrostate, Russia. It will also install a ton of people with ties to the US oil industry in the cabinet, meaning the US will effectively subsidize oil production in this country, which will have the perhaps inadvertent result of ensuring the US remains oil-independent even though the market can’t justify fracking right now.
The CIA is institutionally quite close with the Saudis right now, and has been in charge of their covert war against Assad.
This story came 24 days after the White House released an anonymous statement asserting, among other things, “the Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day,” suggesting that the Russians may have been deterred.
This story was leaked within hours of the time the White House announced it was calling for an all-intelligence community review of the Russia intelligence, offered without much detail. Indeed, this story was leaked and published as an update to that story.
Which is to say, the CIA and/or people in Congress (this story seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators) leaked this, apparently in response to President Obama’s not terribly urgent call to have all intelligence agencies weigh in on the subject of Russian influence, after weeks of Democrats pressuring him to release more information. It was designed to both make the White House-ordered review more urgent and influence the outcome.
So here’s what that story says.
In September, the spooks briefed “congressional leaders” (which for a variety of reasons I wildarseguess is either a Gang of Four briefing including Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid or a briefing to SSCI plus McConnell, Reid, Jack Reed, and John McCain). Apparently, the substance of the briefing was that Russia’s intent in hacking Democratic entities was not to increase distrust of institutions, but instead to elect Trump.
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
The difference between this story and other public assessments is that it seems to identify the people — who sound like people with ties to the Russian government but not necessarily part of it — who funneled documents from Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
[I]ntelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees.
This is the part that has always been missing in the past: how the documents got from GRU, which hacked the DNC and John Podesta, to Wikileaks, which released them. It appears that CIA now thinks they know the answer: some people one step removed from the Russian government, funneling the documents from GRU hackers (presumably) to Wikileaks to be leaked, with the intent of electing Trump.
Langley, VA – A decades-long plot to get Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to pass away peacefully in his sleep has come to fruition, according to a statement from the CIA. “We are proud to announce that our 53 years of patience have finally paid off,” said CIA spokesperson Ryan Trimarchi. “It seems silly in retrospect…(read more)
CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia
William M. Arkin, Ken Dilanian, and Robert Windrem report: The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News.
Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging “clandestine” cyber operation designed to harass and “embarrass” the Kremlin leadership.
The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation. Former intelligence officers told NBC News that the agency had gathered reams of documents that could expose unsavory tactics by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Vice President Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd on Friday that “we’re sending a message” to Putin and that “it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”
When asked if the American public will know a message was sent, the vice president replied, “Hope not.”
Retired Admiral James Stavridis told NBC News’ Cynthia McFadden that the U.S. should attack Russia’s ability to censor its internal internet traffic and expose the financial dealings of Putin and his associates.
“It’s well known that there’s great deal of offshore money moved outside of Russia from oligarchs,” he said. “It would be very embarrassing if that was revealed, and that would be a proportional response to what we’ve seen” in Russia’s alleged hacks and leaks targeting U.S. public opinion.
Sean Kanuck, who was until this spring the senior U.S. intelligence official responsible for analyzing Russian cyber capabilities, said not mounting a response would carry a cost.
“If you publicly accuse someone,” he said, “and don’t follow it up with a responsive action, that may weaken the credible threat of your response capability.”
President Obama will ultimately have to decide whether he will authorize a CIA operation. Officials told NBC News that for now there are divisions at the top of the administration about whether to proceed.
Two former CIA officers who worked on Russia told NBC News that there is a long history of the White House asking the CIA to come up with options for covert action against Russia, including cyber options — only to abandon the idea.
“We’ve always hesitated to use a lot of stuff we’ve had, but that’s a political decision,” one former officer said. “If someone has decided, `We’ve had enough of the Russians,’ there is a lot we can do. Step one is to remind them that two can play at this game and we have a lot of stuff. Step two, if you are looking to mess with their networks, we can do that, but then the issue becomes, they can do worse things to us in other places.”
Neil Cavuto told viewers that if the charges are true, ‘that’s big and that’s on me.’
Bradford Richardson reports: Fox News’s Neil Cavuto is apologizing for inviting a man who is accused of falsely presenting himself as an ex-CIA agent on his show.
“You have the right to expect that guests who appear here to be who they say they are. Now it’s a very rare slip-up, but it’s a very big slip-up and I will make doubly sure something like this never, ever happens again. I value your trust, and I promise to work very hard to regain it.”
“You have the right to expect that guests who appear here to be who they say they are,” Cavuto said on his show on Friday. “Now it’s a very rare slip-up, but it’s a very big slip-up and I will make doubly sure something like this never, ever happens again. I value your trust, and I promise to work very hard to regain it.” Read the rest of this entry »
When the Administration disclosed the OPM hack in early June, they said Chinese hackers had stolen the personal information of up to four million current and former federal employees. The suspicion was that this was another case of hackers (presumably sanctioned by China’s government) stealing data to use in identity theft and financial fraud. Which is bad enough.
Yet in recent days Obama officials have quietly acknowledged to Congress that the hack was far bigger, and far more devastating. It appears OPM was subject to two breaches of its system in mid-to-late 2014, and the hackers appear to have made off with millions of security-clearance background check files.
These include reports on Americans who work for, did work for, or attempted to work for the Administration, the military and intelligence agencies. They even include Congressional staffers who left government—since their files are also sent to OPM.
This means the Chinese now possess sensitive information on everyone from current cabinet officials to U.S. spies. Background checks are specifically done to report personal histories that might put federal employees at risk for blackmail. The Chinese now hold a blackmail instruction manual for millions of targets.
These background checks are also a treasure trove of names, containing sensitive information on an applicant’s spouse, children, extended family, friends, neighbors, employers, landlords. Each of those people is also now a target, and in ways they may not contemplate. In many instances the files contain reports on applicants compiled by federal investigators, and thus may contain information that the applicant isn’t aware of.
Of particular concern are federal contractors and subcontractors, who rarely get the same security training as federal employees, and in some scenarios don’t even know for what agency they are working. These employees are particularly ripe targets for highly sophisticated phishing emails that attempt to elicit sensitive corporate or government information. Read the rest of this entry »
Stephen F. Hayes writes: In the early morning hours of May 2, 2011, an elite team of 25 American military and intelligence professionals landed inside the walls of a compound just outside the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. CIA analysts had painstakingly tracked a courier to the compound and spent months monitoring the activity inside the walls. They’d concluded, with varying levels of confidence, that the expansive white building at the center of the lot was the hideout of Osama bin Laden.
“Many of the analysts and military experts with access to the documents were struck by a glaring contradiction: As President Obama and his team campaigned on the coming demise of al Qaeda in the runup to the 2012 election, the documents told a very different story.”
They were correct. And minutes after the team landed, the search for bin Laden ended with a shot to his head.
The primary objective of Operation Neptune Spear was to capture or kill the leader of al Qaeda. But a handful of those on the ground that night were part of a “Sensitive Site Exploitation” team that had a secondary mission: to gather as much intelligence from the compound as they could.
“As the public heard this carefully managed story about al Qaeda, analysts at CENTCOM were poring over documents that showed something close to the opposite.”
With bin Laden dead and the building secure, they got to work. Moving quickly—as locals began to gather outside the compound and before the Pakistani military, which had not been notified of the raid in advance, could scramble its response—they shoved armload after armload of bin Laden’s belongings into large canvas bags. The entire operation took less than 40 minutes.
The intelligence trove was immense. At a Pentagon briefing one day after the raid, a senior official described the haul as a “robust collection of materials.” It included 10 hard drives, nearly 100 thumb drives, and a dozen cell phones—along with data cards, DVDs, audiotapes, magazines, newspapers, paper files. Read the rest of this entry »
A U.S. security team in Benghazi was held back from immediately responding to the attack on the American diplomatic mission on orders of the top CIA officer there, three of those involved told Fox News’ Bret Baier.
Their account gives a dramatic new turn to what the Obama administration and its allies would like to dismiss as an “old story” – the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“I strongly believe if we’d left immediately, they’d still be alive today.”
Speaking out publicly for the first time, the three were security operators at the secret CIA annex in Benghazi – in effect, the first-responders to any attack on the diplomatic compound. Their first-hand account will be told in a Fox News special, airing Friday night at 10 p.m. (EDT).
“We were told to wait, stand– and stand down. We were delayed three times.”
The security contractors — Kris (“Tanto”) Paronto, Mark (“Oz”) Geist, and John (“Tig”) Tiegen — spoke exclusively, and at length, to Fox News about what they saw and did that night. Baier, Fox News’ Chief Political Anchor, asked them about one of the most controversial questions arising from the events in Benghazi: Was help delayed?
Word of the attack on the diplomatic compound reached the CIA annex just after 9:30 p.m. Within five minutes, the security team at the annex was geared up for battle, and ready to move to the compound, a mile away.
CIA director nominee John Brennan and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Photo: Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images)
CIA responded to Obama’s acquiescence when it spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Public Servants Acting as Public Masters
For USAToday, Glenn Reynolds writes: “Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that.” That was CIA Director John Brennan’s answer in March when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., charged the CIA with breaking into computers used by Senate investigators looking into CIA misconduct.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that people respond to incentives.”
It turns out that the CIA would do that — and, in fact, had done so. Brennan’s reassurances were false, and CIA spooks had been hacking into the committee investigators’ computers looking for documents they thought the investigators shouldn’t have, violating a promise not to. So, first Brennan broke a promise. Then, he either lied, or showed that he doesn’t control his own agency, which in many ways would be worse.
“All the evidence suggests that he was working for the Americans,” an unnamed senior security official has told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
The country’s top security official has demanded a full American response to German investigations. “I expect everyone now to assist quickly in clearing up the accusations – and quick and clear statements, from the USA too,” Thomas de Maiziere, the Interior minister said.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry summoned the America ambassador on Friday but German authorities have confirmed only that a 31-year-old man is under arrest.
The first indications that investigators believe a confession by the arrested man is true. If the suspicions against him are confirmed, the case could cause grave damage to US-German relations.
For AP News, Ken Dilanian reports: CIA officers in Iraq have been largely hunkered down in their heavily fortified Baghdad compound since U.S. troops left the country in 2011, current and former officials say, allowing a once-rich network of intelligence sources to wither.
“This is a glaring example of the erosion of our street craft and our tradecraft and our capability to operate in a hard place…The U.S. taxpayer is not getting their money’s worth.”
— John Maguire, CIA
In this May 19, 2007, file photo, a portion of the new U.S. embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad. In 2014, by contrast, CIA officers have been largely hunkered down in their heavily fortified Baghdad compound since U.S. troops left the country in 2011, current and former officials say, allowing a once-rich network of intelligence sources to wither. (AP Photo)
That’s a big reason, they say, the U.S. was caught flat-footed by the recent offensive by a Sunni-backed al-Qaida-inspired group that has seized a large swath of Iraq.
“Anyone who has had access to and actually read the full extent of CIA intelligence products on ISIL and Iraq should not have been surprised by the current situation.”
“This is a glaring example of the erosion of our street craft and our tradecraft and our capability to operate in a hard place,” said John Maguire, who helped run CIA operations in Iraq in 2004. “The U.S. taxpayer is not getting their money’s worth.”
Maguire was a CIA officer in Beirut in the late 1980s during that country’s bloody civil war. He spent weeks living in safe houses far from the U.S. Embassy, dodging militants who wanted to kidnap and kill Americans. In Iraq, where Maguire also served, the CIA’s Baghdad station remains one of the world’s largest. But the agency has been unwilling to risk sending Americans out regularly to recruit and meet informants.
Iraq is emblematic of how a security-conscious CIA is finding it difficult to spy aggressively in dangerous environments without military protection, Maguire and other current and former U.S. officials say. Intelligence blind spots have left the U.S. behind the curve on fast-moving world events, they say, whether it’s disintegration in Iraq, Russia’s move into Crimea or the collapse of several governments during the Arab Spring. Read the rest of this entry »
Eggleston has been asked “to look into what happened and report back to [McDonough] with recommendations on how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. Read the rest of this entry »
For National Review Online, Patrick Brennan writes: Charles Krauthammerarguedon Special Report tonight that the new Benghazi e-mails from the White House are a “smoking gun,” but that the media will plead that the scandal is too complicated, so the issue is dead. Alas, the scandal is complicated enough that Krauthammer is either mistaken about the facts of what he calls “a classic cover-up of a cover-up,” or he’s eliding the details for his audience”the CIA and the State Department assembled talking points pinning the attacks partly on the video, without any input from the White House.
“…the CIA and the State Department assembled talking points pinning the attacks partly on the video, without any input from the White House…”
An e-mail revealed today shows a White House official recommending that U.N. ambassador Susan Rice play up the importance in the Benghazi attacks of an anti-Islam YouTube video that was mentioned in an unclassified summary from the intelligence community (the “talking points”), in order to help burnish the administration’s image. Krauthammer claims this demolishes the White House’s longstanding claim that “this stuff” — the involvement of the video — “all came from the CIA, or from intelligence, that it was completely clean.” What the batch of e-mails (most of which aren’t new, they can be read here) show is the opposite: that the CIA and the State Department assembled talking points pinning the attacks partly on the video, without any input from the White House.
Then the White House told Susan Rice to argue that the intelligence community had concluded, on balance, that an exogenous factor (the video) had caused the protests, and that administration policy (in terms of the stability of Libya and the fight against al-Qaeda) wasn’t to blame here. Read the rest of this entry »
For The Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz reports: A senior CIA official has died in an apparent suicide this week from injuries sustained after jumping off a building in northern Virginia, according to sources close to the CIA.
CIA spokesman Christopher White confirmed the death and said the incident did not take place at CIA headquarters in McLean, Va.
“We can confirm that there was an individual fatally injured at a facility where agency work is done,” White told the Washington Free Beacon. “He was rushed to a local area hospital where he subsequently died. Due to privacy reasons and out of respect for the family, we are not releasing additional information at this time.”
“The most nefarious explanation is that they are not privileged and the White House simply doesn’t want to hand them over…”
— Elizabeth Goitein
In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee’s work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records, a McClatchy investigation has found.
“…Executive privilege is generally asserted after negotiations and brinksmanship behind the scenes. People put on paper what they want to be formalized, and these negotiations by their very nature are very informal.”
— Elizabeth Goitein
The significance of the materials couldn’t be learned. But the administration’s refusal to turn them over or to agree to any compromise raises questions about what they would reveal about the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons.
The dispute indicates that the White House is more involved than it has acknowledged in the unprecedented power struggle between the committee and the CIA, which has triggered charges that the agency searched the panel’s computers without authorization and has led to requests to the Justice Department for criminal investigations of CIA personnel and Senate aides.
The house where Osama bin Laden was finally hunted down. SAEED SHAH — MCT
WASHINGTON — Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay report: More than two years after sensitive information about the Osama bin Laden raid was disclosed to Hollywood filmmakers, Pentagon and CIA investigations haven’t publicly held anyone accountable despite internal findings that the leakers were former CIA Director Leon Panetta and the Defense Department’s top intelligence official.
Instead, the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office is working to root out who might have disclosed the findings on Panetta and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers to a nonprofit watchdog group and to McClatchy.
While the information wasn’t classified, the inspector general’s office has pursued the new inquiry aggressively, grilling its own investigators, as well as the former director of its whistle-blowing unit, according to several people, including a congressional aide. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues surrounding the 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”
“I’m concerned that the inspector general’s office is barking up the wrong tree,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who long has championed government whistle-blowing. “There’s no doubt they should look into the ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ fiasco, but they should focus on holding people accountable for leaking highly classified operational material instead of wasting time and money investigating who leaked the report.”
The handling of the disclosures of protected information to the makers of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the award-winning account of the U.S. hunt for bin Laden, points up an apparent double standard in President Barack Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on unauthorized leaks.
Disclosures by lower-level officials have been vigorously pursued. For example, seven Navy SEALs were reprimanded for disclosing classified material to the makers of a military video game. Moreover, the administration has prosecuted a record number of intelligence community personnel for leaking.
Former high-ranking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official John Beale testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Oct. 1, 2013.
Michael Isikoff reports: The EPA’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change deserves to go to prison for at least 30 months for lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan so he could avoid doing his real job, say federal prosecutors.
John C. Beale, who pled guilty in September to bilking the government out of nearly $1 million in salary and other benefits over a decade, will be sentenced in a Washington, D.C., federal court on Wednesday. In a newly filed sentencing memo, prosecutors said that his lies were a “crime of massive proportion” that were “offensive” to those who actually do dangerous work for the CIA.
Beale’s lawyer, while acknowledging his guilt, has asked for leniency and offered a psychological explanation for the climate expert’s bizarre tales.
“With the help of his therapist,” wrote attorney John Kern, “Mr. Beale has come to recognize that, beyond the motive of greed, his theft and deception were animated by a highly self-destructive and dysfunctional need to engage in excessively reckless, risky behavior.” Kern also said Beale was driven “to manipulate those around him through the fabrication of grandiose narratives … that are fueled by his insecurities.”
The two sentencing memos, along with documents obtained by NBC News, offer new details about what some officials describe as one of the most audacious, and creative, federal frauds they have ever encountered.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Kimberly Dozier reports: CIA officers revealed a clash over how quickly they should go help the besieged U.S. ambassador during the 2012 attack on an outpost in Libya, and a standing order for them to avoid violent encounters, according to a congressman and others who heard their private congressional testimony or were briefed on it.
The Obama administration has been dogged by complaints that the White House, Pentagon and State Department may not have done enough before and during the attack to save U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, and by accusations that it later engaged in a cover-up.
One allegation was that U.S. officials told the CIA to “stand down” and not go to the aid of the Americans. Top CIA and Defense and State Department officials have denied that.
The testimony from the CIA officers and contractors who were in Libya on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, bolster those denials, but also shed light on what may have led to the delay of up to 30 minutes to respond, according to the varying accounts.
None of those who testified said a quicker response would have saved the lives of Stevens and communications specialist Sean Smith at the temporary diplomatic facility.
Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing in Iran in 2007, and in 2010 the AP revealed his ties to the AP. Now a new investigation shows that the CIA employee who sent Levinson to Iran was an analyst who didn’t have that authority. How did it all go so wrong?
Joe Pappalardo reports: In American culture, the words “rogue CIA mission” call to mind squads of agents ready to take out targets, run guns, and rig elections—often for agendas too unsavory to be public. But even if rogue agents were amoral, at least they were thought to be capable. Recent allegations have upset the established idea of a rogue CIA operation, and this new version is somehow more insidious: This time, it’s amateurs playing a global spy game and getting people hurt.
The Associated Press unearthed the troubling story behind the disappearance of a contractor, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was seized by Iranian agents seven years ago and never seen again. According to the AP, a CIA analyst named Anne Jablonski overextended her reach when she sent Levinson to Iran to investigate leads on an assassination. Jablonski and two other analysts were fired, and the CIA paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million to preempt a revealing lawsuit, according to the AP (which has sat on the story since 2010).
The CIA says it has rewritten its rules to restrict how analysts can work with outsiders. But the flagrant violation of rules in this case shows there is something more to what happened to Levinson. It’s the sign of a bureaucracy so vast that it can’t police itself. Here are four ways the intel world is becoming its own worst enemy.
Analysts Acting Like Spymasters
Levinson was, among other things, looking into Iran’s nuclear program, the AP found. In 2007, he was meeting with a known killer, Dawud Salahuddin, who admitted to murdering a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. Levinson disappeared after that meeting.
Even many years after the botched invasion, the Bay of Pigs disaster continued to distort American foreign policy. AFP/GettyImages
George F. Will writes: At 4 a.m. on Jan. 1, 1959, an hour when there never were commercial flights from Havana, David Atlee Phillips was lounging in a lawn chair in that city, sipping champagne after a New Year’s Eve party, when a commercial aircraft flew low over his house. He surmised that dictator Fulgencio Batista was fleeing because Fidel Castro was arriving. He was right. Soon he, and many others, would be spectacularly wrong about Cuba.
According to Jim Rasenberger’s history of the Bay of Pigs invasion, “The Brilliant Disaster,” Phillips was “a handsome 37-year-old former stage actor” who “had been something of a dilettante before joining the CIA.” There, however, he was an expert. And in April 1960, he assured Richard Bissell, the CIA’s invasion mastermind, that within six months radio propaganda would produce “the proper psychological climate” for the invasion to trigger a mass Cuban uprising against Castro. Read the rest of this entry »
The CIA has been subjecting operatives to monthly polygraph tests in an attempt to suppress details of a US arms smuggling operation in Benghazi that was ongoing when its ambassador was killed by a mob in the city last year, according to reports.
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group, September 11, 2012. Photo: REUTERS
Up to 35 CIA operatives were working in the city during the attack last September on the US consulate that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, according toCNN.
The circumstances of the attack are a subject of deep division in the US with some Congressional leaders pressing for a wide-ranging investigation into suspicions that the government has withheld details of its activities in the Libyan city…
The challenge of investigating and understanding Benghazi. Key events remain underreported and under-explained: to what degree the Benghazi Base’s dual role as both Consulate —and lesser-known status as a Spook Shack —are a factor in:
A. The attack itself
B. Intelligence and security mismanagement leading to the predictable failures and preventable deaths of four Americans
C. The poorly-managed, badly-executed coverup attempt following the attack
Lacking the security clearance to access more revealing information about this question, we’re left with official explanations, leaks, and reporting. I suspect that the real story is mostly hidden, and will remain so, until some time in the distant future when it’s eventually declassified.
Until then, what we’re left with are official explanations cloaked in falsehoods, multiple streams of misinformation, and occasional bursts of accidental truths. Leaving even the most persistent investigative reporters to parse though scraps of information that remain, at best, incomplete.
Anything I read about Benghazi can’t be taken at face value, but instead, viewed with these reservations in mind.
That said, here’s more on the Benghazi Consulate as “diplomatic cover” for CIA operatives.–The Butcher
WSJ reports that the State Department presence in Benghazi “provided diplomatic cover” for the previously hidden CIA mission, which involved finding and repurchasing heavy weaponry looted from Libyan government arsenals…
— Business Insider, Nov. 3, 2012
This theme is explored again, in an article today by Eli Lake
CIA Honored Benghazi Chief in Secret Ceremony
Part of why the State Department has taken the brunt of the political blame for the Benghazi attack, writes Eli Lake, is that clandestine services by definition have very little public oversight.
At a secret February ceremony at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., the chief of the CIA’s base in Benghazi the night of the 9/11 anniversary attacks there was awarded one of the agency’s highest intelligence medals, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.
The interior of the burnt US consulate building in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)
The honor given behind closed doors to “Bob,” the officer who was in charge of the Benghazi intelligence annex and CIA base that was attacked in the early morning of September 12, 2012 and then abandoned for nearly three weeks, illustrates the murky lines of command that preceded the attack, and helped make it a politically volatile issue. While the State Department was responsible for elements of the security for the diplomatic mission at Benghazi, the mission itself was used primarily for intelligence activities and most the U.S. officials there and at the nearby annex were CIA officers who used State Department cover.
That purposeful ambiguity between diplomatic and intelligence efforts abroad has meant that at home, the State Department has taken almost all of the public blame for an error that was in part the fault of the CIA. And while CIA contractors performed heroically on the evening of the Benghazi attacks, Bob was also responsible in part for one major failure the night of the Benghazi attack: his officers were responsible for vetting the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade, the militia that was supposed to be the first responder on the night of the attack, but melted away when the diplomatic mission was attacked.
To be sure, the CIA has reviewed what went wrong in the Benghazi attacks in its own internal report. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has conducted three classified hearings with CIA officials regarding Benghazi. CIA deputy director Michael Morell is scheduled to testify in closed session before the committee on Wednesday regarding Benghazi.
But those hearings have been closed to the public as opposed to the grueling public hearings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Earlier this month that committee held a hearing that featured YouTube–friendly moments from witnesses hostile to the administration like former deputy chief of mission Gregory Hicks, who described what was likely the last phone call of Ambassador Chris Stevens, one of four Americans who were killed that evening.
What’s more, the CIA’s own internal review was not led by outside figures like the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) headed by a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and a former U.S. ambassador, Thomas Pickering. Nor was the CIA review made public.
CIA Director David Petraeus submitted his letter of resignation Friday, after admitting to an extramarital affair.
Petraeus, in a message to staff, said President Obama accepted his resignation after the two met on Thursday afternoon. Petraeus said that he asked “to be allowed” to step down.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” Petraeus said. “This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.”
The move comes amid the unfolding controversy surrounding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya. Scrutiny has fallen on a range of agencies including the CIA. But Petraeus, in his resignation message, cited strictly “personal reasons” surrounding his affair which until now had not been disclosed.
Breaking news on Benghazi: the CIA spokesman, presumably at the direction of CIA director David Petraeus, has put out this statement: “No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. ”
So who in the government did tell “anybody” not to help those in need? Someone decided not to send in military assets to help those Agency operators. Would the secretary of defense make such a decision on his own? No.It would have been a presidential decision. There was presumably a rationale for such a decision. What was it? When and why—and based on whose counsel obtained in what meetings or conversations—did President Obama decide against sending in military assets to help the Americans in need?