Story 1: The Select Committee on Benghazi Will Never Answer The Most Important Questions — Why Was The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) In Benghazi, Libya and What Were They Doing? — Shipping Arms Through Turkey To The Syrian Rebels — Free Syrian Army, Al Nustra, Islamic State — Al Qaeda Arms Deal Gone Bad — Congress and Obama Arms Our Enemies To Kill Christians — The War on Christians! — Videos
The Tyrant’s Liars Club
Benghazi Select Committee Holds First Public Hearing Trey Gowdy On The Record
Watch Live: Select Committee on Benghazi Holds First Hearing
President Obama announces bipartisan House and Senate support of his plan to arm rebels in Syria
Islamic State: Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels approved
Rand Paul Lambasts White House, Congress for Arming Syrian Rebels
General: Benghazi ‘Botched Arms Deal’ To Muslim Brotherhood And Al Qaeda
Chairman Gowdy’s Questioning in First Benghazi Select Committee Hearing
Trey Gowdy Demands Answers On Benghazi
Rand Paul Destroys Hillary Clinton Over Benghazi-Gate During Capitol Hill Press Conference
Chaffetz: Clinton’s Top Aides Involved In Benghazi Documents Scrub
Hillary allies secretly removed Benghazi documents damaging to her ahead of ARB probe
Obama Admin Lied To Us! They Knew Who Attack Us In Benghazi, Libya On 9-11!!
RUSH: Benghazi Cover-Up Blown Wide Open And Nobody’s Talking About It
CIA Arming Syrian Rebels With Missiles, Taxpayer Dollars
Congress Passes War Funding To Support Obama’s ISIS Fight
The Benghazi Select Committee: Many Questions Remain Unanswered
Patrick Cockburn on the rise of the Islamic State
The Rise of ISIS: US Invasion of Iraq, Foreign Backing of Syrian Rebels Helped Fuel Jihadis’ Advance
Patrick Cockburn: U.S. Turns Blind Eye As Saudis Fund Jihadists in Syrian Conflict (2 of 2)
Syria – Who are Jabhat al-Nusra? – Truthloader
Who are ISIS? – Truthloader
Thousands of Surface To Air Missiles Are Missing In Libya
Libya rebels discover Gaddafi’s huge tank store in Tripoli ready for battle
The largest arms depot in Africa ( Alqaha)been taking over by Libyan freedom fighters
Benghazi, Arms for Rebels & Obama Lies About Syrian Chemical Weapons
FSA rebels shoot down SAA aircraft with 9K38 “Igla” MANPADS
Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front): Reports on Terror Group from CNN & Al-Jazeera… Purpose Explained!
13 Hours – Full Interview of the Three Benghazi Survivors – Fox News
Benghazi – The Truth Behind The Smokescreen – Bret Baier Reporting
Glenn Beck Why Obama Hid the Truth of Benghazi
Rep. Trey Gowdy blasts Jay Carney and Ambassador Susan Rice: I want to know why we were lied to!
Susan Rice Caught Lying About Benghazi – Rep. Trey Gowdy Whistleblower Questioning
Treason Exposed! Obama Used Benghazi Attack to Cover Up Arms Shipments to Muslim Brotherhood
CIA Pressuring Agents With Knowledge Of Benghazi To Keep Silent
SYRIA CNBC: Benghazi Is Not About Libya But An Operation To Put Arms & Men In Syria
Retired Lt Gen Jerry Boykin suspects US Was Running Guns To Syrian Rebels Via Benghazi
SYRIA Rand Paul “Maybe We Were Facilitating Arms Leaving Libya Going Through Turkey Into Syria”
Rand Paul Blasts Stupid Senate for Wanting to Arm Syrian al-Qaeda Fighters
Sen. Rand Paul: ‘Worldwide War on Christianity’ Ignored by Obama, Media
House Votes to Arm Syrian Rebels; CR Passes (Updated) (Video)
After voting to give President Barack Obama the authority to arm and train Syrian rebels, the House passed legislation Wednesday to fund the government until Dec. 11, moving the bill to avoid a government shutdown and address Islamic State organizations to the Senate.
House lawmakers voted 319-108 to pass the continuing resolution, with 143 Democrats joining 176 Republicans in support of the measure. 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans voted against the bill.
A vote on the spending bill, which will continue government spending through Dec. 11 at a $1.012 trillion level, was delayed last week so lawmakers could attach a request from the president to give him Title 10 authority to fight the Islamic State group.
That authority would allow the Obama administration to equip Syrian rebels for the intended purpose of fighting ISIL, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also referred to as ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Obama praised the House and urged the Senate to follow suit on the legislation, which he reiterated is not an authorization for the use of U.S. troops in Syria.
“Today’s vote is another step closer to having the authorization to train and equip vetted elements of the moderate Syrian opposition so they can defend themselves against, and ultimately push back on, ISIL forces,” he said in a statement
Just before the CR vote, lawmakers voted 273-156 to adopt the Syrian rebel amendment. 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats voted for the proposal, while 85 Republicans and 71 Democrats voted against it.
As voting on the amendment took place, members stared at the board in the House chamber showing who was voting for the amendment and who was voting against it. Despite a tally that was never really close, it was a dramatic vote.
Much of the debate on the CR turned into a debate on the proposal to arm Syrian rebels, and, more broadly, the specter of another war in the Middle East. In fact, the CR has become such a proxy for the Syria amendment that the Club for Growth, a conservative group opposed to the spending bill, withdrew its key vote on the legislation, explaining that the vote was now largely driven by foreign policy.
But if it were true that foreign policy was driving decisions on the CR, then it was the memories of past foreign policy decisions largely driving this current debate.
Liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans worried on the House floor that this initial authorization was the first step of a larger military entanglement.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a staunch opponent of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said the six-hour debate on the amendment reminded her of “the failure to have a thorough and robust debate in the wake of 9/11,” which, she said resulted in an overly broad authorization that was a “blank check for perpetual war.”
Other members voted against the amendment because they worried of an opposite effect. Louisiana Republican John Fleming expressed concern that the authorization was “little more than an incremental strategy, not unlike the one used in Vietnam.”
“History warns of the dangers of such approaches,” Fleming said. “By moving hesitantly in piecemeal fashion, the enemy has more time to learn, adapt and get stronger. This is a recipe for a stalemate and failure.”
Many other lawmakers expressed concern over the stated strategy of arming the Free Syrian Army. They said there was no guarantee those rebels would always be allies of the United States, or that they wouldn’t simply use their U.S.-supplied weapons to take down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead of ISIL.
The Obama administration says there will be a thorough vetting process before any Syrian rebel is handed a weapon, but, by Wednesday, many lawmakers remained less than convinced. California Republican Dana Rohrabacher called the administration’s plan “wishful thinking, not realistic planning.”
But congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle insisted the authority was needed.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said earlier Wednesday that Obama deserved the support of Democrats in what she acknowledged was a “war vote,” but a proposal that was “discrete” and “short-term.”
“It is not pleasant, it’s not easy,” Pelosi later said on the House floor. “It’s hard. But it really is necessary for the House to approve this.”
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said ISIL was already threatening U.S. allies in the Middle East and in Europe. ”And if left unchecked,” he said, “it will surely threaten us here at home.”
The ranking Democrat on the Armed Services panel, Adam Smith of Washington, argued that arming Syrian rebels would deny ISIL a “safe-haven,” and Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, who sponsored the amendment, said there was “no doubt” that any strategy to defeat ISIL would need to include a Syria component.
The plan to arm Syrian rebels is a middle-of-the-road response to the rise of ISIL. It isn’t an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, as the amendment explicitly indicates, and it won’t, by itself, dismantle terrorists in the region. But it’s not nothing.
Speaker John A. Boehner appealed to his conference by arguing this was a first step toward defeating ISIL, saying Congress had a responsibility to give the president this authority. While hetold reporters Tuesday there’s “a lot more” the U.S. needed to be doing to address ISIL, the Ohio Republican said there was “no reason not to do what the president asked us to do.”
Already, GOP leaders seem to be indicating that the House may soon consider a new authorization for use of military force for the Middle East, with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthytelling reporters on Monday that, “after November,” there may be an “opportunity” to debate a larger military authorization.
As for the CR itself, the 10-week extension, if it is — as expected — agreed to by the Senate and signed by the president, will force lawmakers to return after the midterm elections and begin work on a more permanent spending solution. Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said he was hopeful the House and Senate could work out an omnibus package similar to the one lawmakers worked out in January 2014.
“It is my sincere hope that if this CR is enacted, we can use the coming months wisely to craft agreement on all 12 bills by Dec. 11,” said the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Nita M. Lowey of New York. “There is absolutely no reason to punt our responsibilities into the new year and new Congress.”
Conservatives had pushed for a longer CR — one that would fund the government until, say, March 1, 2015 — so that a new Congress, perhaps one with a Senate under Republican control, could set the spending levels. Conservatives also voiced concern over extending the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015. They wanted to simply let the credit agency expire.
But the reauthorization until June 30 seemed to scare Democrats more than Republicans. Democrats are showing unease that they won’t have a must-pass bill in June to which they can attach another extension of the Ex-Im Bank, and they worry that decoupling the agency from a spending bill will ultimately kill it.
Democrats seemed to understand, however, that holding up the CR over the length of extension on such an inside-the-Beltway issue would not be politically advantageous just before an election.
Passing the CR allows both Republicans and Democrats to get back to their districts early and campaign for about six weeks before the midterms. While the House is scheduled to be in session next week, most aides expect McCarthy to cancel the remaining legislative days before November and send everyone to the campaign trail early.
Clinton insiders screened Benghazi documents before ARB probe, official says
BY ED MORRISSEY
Just how unfettered was that “unfettered access” promised by the State Department to the Accountability Review Board in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack two years ago? According to one of the four officials punished and then cleared by State for the failures that led to the death of four men, a weekend housecleaning operation kept the ARB from seeing some of the most explosive documentation related to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens. Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell told Sharyl Attkisson that the operation was supervised by advisers within Hillary Clinton’s inner circle, in this Daily Signal exclusive:
As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is the first time Maxwell has publicly come forward with the story. …
When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.
“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.
“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”
Not long afterward, two people high up the State Department chain arrived to check on the operation. Attkisson describes them as “close confidants” of Hillary Clinton, probably from Maxwell’s own description, although neither are named in Attkisson’s report. Maxwell says that both of them accompanied him into another office with a fourth person, where they personally vetted more documents:
Maxwell says after those two officials arrived, he, the office director and an intern moved into a small office where they looked through some papers. Maxwell says his stack included pre-attack telegrams and cables between the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and State Department headquarters. After a short time, Maxwell says he decided to leave.
“I didn’t feel good about it,” he said.
Don’t expect that this will disappear as quietly. Maxwell says that members of the select House committee on Benghazi have already deposed him on this weekend filing session, including both chair Trey Gowdy and Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Chaffetz told Attkisson that he is “100% confident the Benghazi Select Committee is going to dive deep on that issue.”
The ARB has insisted all along that they conducted a thorough and independent probe, a claim at which Maxwell scoffs on both counts in Attkisson’s report. This could let them off the hook, though. If State conspired to hide evidence from them, it will give the ARB an opening to withdraw their report — which would be a PR move entirely, since the ARB had no authoritative status otherwise — and give Congress even more validation for pursuing this in select-committee form. If Maxwell testifies to this in open session and the BSC finds one or more corroborating witnesses, it will put this right back front and center. And we may still yet hear from the unnamed advisers, too, as to what their orders were, and who gave them.
Benghazi Post-Attack Satellite Revelations
Benghazi, Libya showing the locations of the U. S. Consulate and CIA Annex on the outskirts of town
Perplexing questions yet remain surrounding the attacks in Benghazi that killed U.S. Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Satellite images taken before and AFTER the attacks, which anyone can view on Google Earth, show evidence of the attacks at both the Consulate and CIA Annex. They help clarify conditions on the ground at the time.
Google Earth (GE) is an incredibly useful online tool. With it, armchair sleuths at home can uncover important details about news events that get overlooked by the big shot mainstream media.
Such is the case with the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
Geography and News Events
Google Earth provides two unique capabilities to the armchair sleuth:
A scalable geographic look at any place on Earth and its surroundings
A history of images of that place to investigate its background and history
Most important for investigating the Benghazi attacks is that the most current GE satellite image of both the Consulate and CIA Annex were taken on 9/17/2012, just 6 days after the attack.
GE’s image history is used to go back and forth between before and after images to identify evidence of the attacks visible from space.
For the attack on the CIA Annex this is particularly important because Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed when hit by mortar fire while defending the Annex from a rooftop position.
Plainly visible on the satellite image of the Consulate complex are the burned out remains of two vehicles, the charred remains of burnt furniture next to one of the vehicles and the couch and other things tossed into the swimming pool by either the terrorists or looters.
GE shows us that the U.S. Consulate is located on the outskirts of Benghazi in a very open area surrounded by an orchard and soccer field. Contrary to news reports, GE tells us it is in a narrow rectangular shaped property about 300 feet wide and 800 feet long.
The property is surrounded by trees with no visible wall. It was built as a residence. It has two gates.
The back gate has no defenses whatsoever.
The consulate has three main buildings and a guardhouse at the front gate. The front gate has been fortified with barriers since October of 2011. Those barriers are the only visible signs of increased security at the Consulate. The unprotected back gate opens onto Fourth Ring Road, one of the main streets circling Benghazi.
Its three main structures are the consulate building, a detached Ambassador’s residence with saferoom where Ambassador Stephens was found; and a nearby guard barracks near the front gate.
GE history reveals the main consulate building, detached residence and swimming pool were a lonely patch of dirt in August of 2007 and that they were under construction in June of 2009. Little has changed since then.
During the consulate attack Navy SEAL Woods and others came from the CIA Annex, fought their way to consulate, rescued staff and recovered the body of Sean Smith. They took them back to the CIA Annex from the consulate.
The CIA Annex
CIA Annex showing where mortar rounds struck building tops and grounds
Line of sight, the CIA Annex complex is located about a mile from the consulate next to what appears to be a large warehouse with many buildings.
The annex is within a thick wall surrounding a 300 X 400 foot rectangle. It is better fortified and much more defensible than the consulate. It is also closer to civilian targets.
The annex took mortar fire. Mortar strikes show up as distinct smudges on the satellite image near the red dots. Navy SEALs Doherty and Woods were killed by one of the rooftop mortar strikes.
GE history reveals the annex was built some time after June 28th, 2009.
From satellite images it is easy to see why Ambassador Stephens would be seriously concerned about consulate security, especially given all the al Qaeda activity in area and previous attacks.
The consulate, originally built as someone’s house, was barely modified after it was acquired by the U.S. government. It is not even clear from satellite imagery that it had a surrounding wall. Its unguarded back gate opens onto a main Benghazi street and is easily penetrable.
The Annex is better protected and was successfully defended against a physical breach, albeit at the cost of Doherty and Woods who gave their lives defending the annex from a rooftop position.
Woods and Doherty probably deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroic efforts.
Armchair sleuthing reveals this immutable fact… the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, one of the most dangerous places in the world, was woefully under-protected at the time of the attacks. The warning signs of another inevitable attack were all present. Those up the chain of command had been told.
Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith and the others didn’t stand a chance.
Someone MUST be held accountable!
Intrigue Surrounding The Secret CIA Operation In Benghazi Is Not Going Away
In May CNN’s Jake Tapper argued that the CIA’s presence in Benghazi, where four Americans were killed in an attack on September 11, 2012, should be scrutinized.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) agreed, saying: “There are questions that must be asked of the CIA and this must be done in a public way.”
The Agency, for its part, doesn’t want anyone knowing what it was doing in the Libyan port city.
Sources told CNN that 35 Americans were in Benghazi that night — 21 of whom were working out of the annex — and that several were wounded, some seriously.
One source said: “You have no idea the amount of pressure being brought to bear on anyone with knowledge of this operation.”
Among the questions are whether CIA missteps contributed to the security failure in Benghazi and, more importantly, whether the Agency’s Benghazi operation had anything to do with reported heavy weapons shipments from the local port to Syrian rebels.
In short, the CIA operation is the most intriguing thing about Benghazi.
Here’s what we know:
At about 9:40 p.m. local time on Sept. 11, a mob of Libyans attacked a building housing U.S. State Department personnel. At 10:20 p.m. Americans arrived from a CIA annex located 1.2 miles away, to help the besieged Americans. At 11:15 p.m. they fled with survivors back to the secret outpost.
Armed Libyans followed them and attacked the annex with rockets and small arms from around midnight to 1:00 a.m., when there was a lull in the fighting.
At about 5:15 a.m., right after Doherty’s group arrived, the attackers began shooting mortars at the annex, leading to the death of Doherty and fellow former Navy SEAL and CIA contractor Tyrone Woods.
At 6 a.m. Libyan forces from the military intelligence service arrived and subsequently took more than 30 Americans — only seven of whom were from the State Department — to the Benghazi airport.
So the CIA’s response to go to the mission where Ambassador Christopher Stevens was located, after being held back for 20 minutes, saved American lives but also ended up exposing the annex.
And according to Paula Broadwell, the mistress of David Petraeus when he was CIA director, the CIA may have provided an impetus for the attack by holding prisoners: “Now I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back.”‘
At its heart a CIA operation’
The top-secret presence and location of the CIA outpost was first acknowledged by Charlene Lamb, a top official in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, during Congressional testimony in October.
In January, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the CIA was leading a “concerted effort to try to track down and find and recover … MANPADS [man-portable air defense systems]” looted from the stockpiles of toppled Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi.
The State Department “consulate” served as diplomatic cover for the previously-hidden annex.
Weapons from Benghazi to Syria
Also in October we reported the connection between Ambassador Stevens, who died in the attack, and a reported September shipment of SA-7 surface-to-air anti-craft missiles (i.e. MANPADS) and rocket-propelled grenades from Benghazi to Syria through southern Turkey.
That 400-ton shipment — “the largest consignment of weapons” yet for Syrian rebels — was organized by Abdelhakim Belhadj, who was the newly-appointed head of the Tripoli Military Council.
Stevens’ last meeting on Sept. 11 was with Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin, and a source told Fox News that Stevens was in Benghazi “to negotiate a weapons transfer in an effort to get SA-7 missiles out of the hands of Libya-based extremists.”
Syrian rebels subsequently began shooting down Syrian helicopters and fighter jets with SA-7s akin to those in Qaddafi’s looted stock. (The interim Libyan government also sent money and fighters to Syria.)
What did the CIA know?
Collectively these details raise the question of what the CIA knew, given that Agency operatives in Libya were rounding up SA-7s, ostensibly to destroy them, while operatives in southern Turkey were funneling weapons to the rebels.
The State Department told CNN that it was not involved in any transfer of weapons to other countries, but it “can’t speak for any other agencies.”
Ambassador Stevens certainly would have known if the new Libyan government was sending 400 tons of heavy weapons to Turkey from Benghazi’s port.
Just like the CIA would know if those the weapons arrived in Turkey and began showing up in Syria.
Journalist Damien Spleeters created this sourced map, drawing info shared on social media such as YouTube, that gives an idea of the MANPADS presence in Syria.
We’ve added red tag noting the Turkish port, Iskenderun, where the massive SA-7 shipment docked.
And this map of nearby Turkish highways shows that the heavy weapons could have been transported from the port to the Syrian city of Aleppo in three hours.
Other intriguing details
This week Nancy Youssef of McClatchy reported that Ambassador Stevens twice turned down offers for additional security, despite specifically asking for more men in cables to the State Department.
Right after the attack American Matthew VanDyke, who fought with Libyan rebels during their revolution, told us he suspected that extremist groups in the nearby mountains — who felt marginalized by the new Libyan government — “saw their opportunity to pounce.”
In May Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) told CNN: “I’ve actually always suspected that, although I have no evidence, that maybe we were facilitating arms leaving Libya going through Turkey into Syria. … Were they trying to obscure that there was an arms operation going on at the CIA annex? I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but I think questions ought to be asked and answered.”
So now that the White House has released more than 100 pages of Benghazi emails, and the State Department’s role during and after the attack have been probed ad nauseam, the only thing to explore is “whatever [the CIA] was doing.”
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.＊ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’
The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.
The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.
A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.
The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.
At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’
The process hadn’t worked as smoothly in the spring, the former intelligence official said, because the studies done by Western intelligence ‘were inconclusive as to the type of gas it was. The word “sarin” didn’t come up. There was a great deal of discussion about this, but since no one could conclude what gas it was, you could not say that Assad had crossed the president’s red line.’ By 21 August, the former intelligence official went on, ‘the Syrian opposition clearly had learned from this and announced that “sarin” from the Syrian army had been used, before any analysis could be made, and the press and White House jumped at it. Since it now was sarin, “It had to be Assad.”’
The UK defence staff who relayed the Porton Down findings to the joint chiefs were sending the Americans a message, the former intelligence official said: ‘We’re being set up here.’ (This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’) By then the attack was a few days away and American, British and French planes, ships and submarines were at the ready.
The officer ultimately responsible for the planning and execution of the attack was General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs. From the beginning of the crisis, the former intelligence official said, the joint chiefs had been sceptical of the administration’s argument that it had the facts to back up its belief in Assad’s guilt. They pressed the DIA and other agencies for more substantial evidence. ‘There was no way they thought Syria would use nerve gas at that stage, because Assad was winning the war,’ the former intelligence official said. Dempsey had irritated many in the Obama administration by repeatedly warning Congress over the summer of the danger of American military involvement in Syria. Last April, after an optimistic assessment of rebel progress by the secretary of state, John Kerry, in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ‘there’s a risk that this conflict has become stalemated.’
Dempsey’s initial view after 21 August was that a US strike on Syria – under the assumption that the Assad government was responsible for the sarin attack – would be a military blunder, the former intelligence official said. The Porton Down report caused the joint chiefs to go to the president with a more serious worry: that the attack sought by the White House would be an unjustified act of aggression. It was the joint chiefs who led Obama to change course. The official White House explanation for the turnabout – the story the press corps told – was that the president, during a walk in the Rose Garden with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, suddenly decided to seek approval for the strike from a bitterly divided Congress with which he’d been in conflict for years. The former Defense Department official told me that the White House provided a different explanation to members of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon: the bombing had been called off because there was intelligence ‘that the Middle East would go up in smoke’ if it was carried out.
The president’s decision to go to Congress was initially seen by senior aides in the White House, the former intelligence official said, as a replay of George W. Bush’s gambit in the autumn of 2002 before the invasion of Iraq: ‘When it became clear that there were no WMD in Iraq, Congress, which had endorsed the Iraqi war, and the White House both shared the blame and repeatedly cited faulty intelligence. If the current Congress were to vote to endorse the strike, the White House could again have it both ways – wallop Syria with a massive attack and validate the president’s red line commitment, while also being able to share the blame with Congress if it came out that the Syrian military wasn’t behind the attack.’ The turnabout came as a surprise even to the Democratic leadership in Congress. In September the Wall Street Journal reported that three days before his Rose Garden speech Obama had telephoned Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House Democrats, ‘to talk through the options’. She later told colleagues, according to the Journal, that she hadn’t asked the president to put the bombing to a congressional vote.
Obama’s move for congressional approval quickly became a dead end. ‘Congress was not going to let this go by,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Congress made it known that, unlike the authorisation for the Iraq war, there would be substantive hearings.’ At this point, there was a sense of desperation in the White House, the former intelligence official said. ‘And so out comes Plan B. Call off the bombing strike and Assad would agree to unilaterally sign the chemical warfare treaty and agree to the destruction of all of chemical weapons under UN supervision.’ At a press conference in London on 9 September, Kerry was still talking about intervention: ‘The risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting.’ But when a reporter asked if there was anything Assad could do to stop the bombing, Kerry said: ‘Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week … But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.’ As the New York Times reported the next day, the Russian-brokered deal that emerged shortly afterwards had first been discussed by Obama and Putin in the summer of 2012. Although the strike plans were shelved, the administration didn’t change its public assessment of the justification for going to war. ‘There is zero tolerance at that level for the existence of error,’ the former intelligence official said of the senior officials in the White House. ‘They could not afford to say: “We were wrong.”’ (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The Assad regime, and only the Assad regime, could have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack that took place on 21 August.’)
The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’)
In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)
The operation had not been disclosed at the time it was set up to the congressional intelligence committees and the congressional leadership, as required by law since the 1970s. The involvement of MI6 enabled the CIA to evade the law by classifying the mission as a liaison operation. The former intelligence official explained that for years there has been a recognised exception in the law that permits the CIA not to report liaison activity to Congress, which would otherwise be owed a finding. (All proposed CIA covert operations must be described in a written document, known as a ‘finding’, submitted to the senior leadership of Congress for approval.) Distribution of the annex was limited to the staff aides who wrote the report and to the eight ranking members of Congress – the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republicans leaders on the House and Senate intelligence committees. This hardly constituted a genuine attempt at oversight: the eight leaders are not known to gather together to raise questions or discuss the secret information they receive.
The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’
Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter. ‘The Obama administration,’ Warrick wrote, ‘has steadfastly opposed arming Syrian opposition forces with such missiles, warning that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used to shoot down commercial aircraft.’ Two Middle Eastern intelligence officials fingered Qatar as the source, and a former US intelligence analyst speculated that the manpads could have been obtained from Syrian military outposts overrun by the rebels. There was no indication that the rebels’ possession of manpads was likely the unintended consequence of a covert US programme that was no longer under US control.
By the end of 2012, it was believed throughout the American intelligence community that the rebels were losing the war. ‘Erdoğan was pissed,’ the former intelligence official said, ‘and felt he was left hanging on the vine. It was his money and the cut-off was seen as a betrayal.’ In spring 2013 US intelligence learned that the Turkish government – through elements of the MIT, its national intelligence agency, and the Gendarmerie, a militarised law-enforcement organisation – was working directly with al-Nusra and its allies to develop a chemical warfare capability. ‘The MIT was running the political liaison with the rebels, and the Gendarmerie handled military logistics, on-the-scene advice and training – including training in chemical warfare,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Stepping up Turkey’s role in spring 2013 was seen as the key to its problems there. Erdoğan knew that if he stopped his support of the jihadists it would be all over. The Saudis could not support the war because of logistics – the distances involved and the difficulty of moving weapons and supplies. Erdoğan’s hope was to instigate an event that would force the US to cross the red line. But Obama didn’t respond in March and April.’
There was no public sign of discord when Erdoğan and Obama met on 16 May 2013 at the White House. At a later press conference Obama said that they had agreed that Assad ‘needs to go’. Asked whether he thought Syria had crossed the red line, Obama acknowledged that there was evidence such weapons had been used, but added, ‘it is important for us to make sure that we’re able to get more specific information about what exactly is happening there.’ The red line was still intact.
An American foreign policy expert who speaks regularly with officials in Washington and Ankara told me about a working dinner Obama held for Erdoğan during his May visit. The meal was dominated by the Turks’ insistence that Syria had crossed the red line and their complaints that Obama was reluctant to do anything about it. Obama was accompanied by John Kerry and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser who would soon leave the job. Erdoğan was joined by Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, and Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT. Fidan is known to be fiercely loyal to Erdoğan, and has been seen as a consistent backer of the radical rebel opposition in Syria.
The foreign policy expert told me that the account he heard originated with Donilon. (It was later corroborated by a former US official, who learned of it from a senior Turkish diplomat.) According to the expert, Erdoğan had sought the meeting to demonstrate to Obama that the red line had been crossed, and had brought Fidan along to state the case. When Erdoğan tried to draw Fidan into the conversation, and Fidan began speaking, Obama cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ Erdoğan tried to bring Fidan in a second time, and Obama again cut him off and said: ‘We know.’ At that point, an exasperated Erdoğan said, ‘But your red line has been crossed!’ and, the expert told me, ‘Donilon said Erdoğan “fucking waved his finger at the president inside the White House”.’ Obama then pointed at Fidan and said: ‘We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria.’ (Donilon, who joined the Council on Foreign Relations last July, didn’t respond to questions about this story. The Turkish Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about the dinner. A spokesperson for the National Security Council confirmed that the dinner took place and provided a photograph showing Obama, Kerry, Donilon, Erdoğan, Fidan and Davutoğlu sitting at a table. ‘Beyond that,’ she said, ‘I’m not going to read out the details of their discussions.’)
But Erdoğan did not leave empty handed. Obama was still permitting Turkey to continue to exploit a loophole in a presidential executive order prohibiting the export of gold to Iran, part of the US sanctions regime against the country. In March 2012, responding to sanctions of Iranian banks by the EU, the SWIFT electronic payment system, which facilitates cross-border payments, expelled dozens of Iranian financial institutions, severely restricting the country’s ability to conduct international trade. The US followed with the executive order in July, but left what came to be known as a ‘golden loophole’: gold shipments to private Iranian entities could continue. Turkey is a major purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and it took advantage of the loophole by depositing its energy payments in Turkish lira in an Iranian account in Turkey; these funds were then used to purchase Turkish gold for export to confederates in Iran. Gold to the value of $13 billion reportedly entered Iran in this way between March 2012 and July 2013.
The programme quickly became a cash cow for corrupt politicians and traders in Turkey, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. ‘The middlemen did what they always do,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘Take 15 per cent. The CIA had estimated that there was as much as two billion dollars in skim. Gold and Turkish lira were sticking to fingers.’ The illicit skimming flared into a public ‘gas for gold’ scandal in Turkey in December, and resulted in charges against two dozen people, including prominent businessmen and relatives of government officials, as well as the resignations of three ministers, one of whom called for Erdoğan to resign. The chief executive of a Turkish state-controlled bank that was in the middle of the scandal insisted that more than $4.5 million in cash found by police in shoeboxes during a search of his home was for charitable donations.
Late last year Jonathan Schanzer and Mark Dubowitz reported in Foreign Policy that the Obama administration closed the golden loophole in January 2013, but ‘lobbied to make sure the legislation … did not take effect for six months’. They speculated that the administration wanted to use the delay as an incentive to bring Iran to the bargaining table over its nuclear programme, or to placate its Turkish ally in the Syrian civil war. The delay permitted Iran to ‘accrue billions of dollars more in gold, further undermining the sanctions regime’.
The American decision to end CIA support of the weapons shipments into Syria left Erdoğan exposed politically and militarily. ‘One of the issues at that May summit was the fact that Turkey is the only avenue to supply the rebels in Syria,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘It can’t come through Jordan because the terrain in the south is wide open and the Syrians are all over it. And it can’t come through the valleys and hills of Lebanon – you can’t be sure who you’d meet on the other side.’ Without US military support for the rebels, the former intelligence official said, ‘Erdoğan’s dream of having a client state in Syria is evaporating and he thinks we’re the reason why. When Syria wins the war, he knows the rebels are just as likely to turn on him – where else can they go? So now he will have thousands of radicals in his backyard.’
A US intelligence consultant told me that a few weeks before 21 August he saw a highly classified briefing prepared for Dempsey and the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, which described ‘the acute anxiety’ of the Erdoğan administration about the rebels’ dwindling prospects. The analysis warned that the Turkish leadership had expressed ‘the need to do something that would precipitate a US military response’. By late summer, the Syrian army still had the advantage over the rebels, the former intelligence official said, and only American air power could turn the tide. In the autumn, the former intelligence official went on, the US intelligence analysts who kept working on the events of 21 August ‘sensed that Syria had not done the gas attack. But the 500 pound gorilla was, how did it happen? The immediate suspect was the Turks, because they had all the pieces to make it happen.’
As intercepts and other data related to the 21 August attacks were gathered, the intelligence community saw evidence to support its suspicions. ‘We now know it was a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line,’ the former intelligence official said. ‘They had to escalate to a gas attack in or near Damascus when the UN inspectors’ – who arrived in Damascus on 18 August to investigate the earlier use of gas – ‘were there. The deal was to do something spectacular. Our senior military officers have been told by the DIA and other intelligence assets that the sarin was supplied through Turkey – that it could only have gotten there with Turkish support. The Turks also provided the training in producing the sarin and handling it.’ Much of the support for that assessment came from the Turks themselves, via intercepted conversations in the immediate aftermath of the attack. ‘Principal evidence came from the Turkish post-attack joy and back-slapping in numerous intercepts. Operations are always so super-secret in the planning but that all flies out the window when it comes to crowing afterwards. There is no greater vulnerability than in the perpetrators claiming credit for success.’ Erdoğan’s problems in Syria would soon be over: ‘Off goes the gas and Obama will say red line and America is going to attack Syria, or at least that was the idea. But it did not work out that way.’
The post-attack intelligence on Turkey did not make its way to the White House. ‘Nobody wants to talk about all this,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘There is great reluctance to contradict the president, although no all-source intelligence community analysis supported his leap to convict. There has not been one single piece of additional evidence of Syrian involvement in the sarin attack produced by the White House since the bombing raid was called off. My government can’t say anything because we have acted so irresponsibly. And since we blamed Assad, we can’t go back and blame Erdoğan.’
Turkey’s willingness to manipulate events in Syria to its own purposes seemed to be demonstrated late last month, a few days before a round of local elections, when a recording, allegedly of a government national security meeting, was posted to YouTube. It included discussion of a false-flag operation that would justify an incursion by the Turkish military in Syria. The operation centred on the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the revered Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is near Aleppo and was ceded to Turkey in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. One of the Islamist rebel factions was threatening to destroy the tomb as a site of idolatry, and the Erdoğan administration was publicly threatening retaliation if harm came to it. According to a Reuters report of the leaked conversation, a voice alleged to be Fidan’s spoke of creating a provocation: ‘Now look, my commander, if there is to be justification, the justification is I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land [in the vicinity of the tomb]. That’s not a problem. Justification can be created.’ The Turkish government acknowledged that there had been a national security meeting about threats emanating from Syria, but said the recording had been manipulated. The government subsequently blocked public access to YouTube.
Barring a major change in policy by Obama, Turkey’s meddling in the Syrian civil war is likely to go on. ‘I asked my colleagues if there was any way to stop Erdoğan’s continued support for the rebels, especially now that it’s going so wrong,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The answer was: “We’re screwed.” We could go public if it was somebody other than Erdoğan, but Turkey is a special case. They’re a Nato ally. The Turks don’t trust the West. They can’t live with us if we take any active role against Turkish interests. If we went public with what we know about Erdoğan’s role with the gas, it’d be disastrous. The Turks would say: “We hate you for telling us what we can and can’t do.”’
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.
He cited a list of what appeared to be hard-won evidence of Assad’s culpability: ‘In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.’ Obama’s certainty was echoed at the time by Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, who told the New York Times: ‘No one with whom I’ve spoken doubts the intelligence’ directly linking Assad and his regime to the sarin attacks.
But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’
The complaints focus on what Washington did not have: any advance warning from the assumed source of the attack. The military intelligence community has for years produced a highly classified early morning intelligence summary, known as the Morning Report, for the secretary of defence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a copy also goes to the national security adviser and the director of national intelligence. The Morning Report includes no political or economic information, but provides a summary of important military events around the world, with all available intelligence about them. A senior intelligence consultant told me that some time after the attack he reviewed the reports for 20 August through 23 August. For two days – 20 and 21 August – there was no mention of Syria. On 22 August the lead item in the Morning Report dealt with Egypt; a subsequent item discussed an internal change in the command structure of one of the rebel groups in Syria. Nothing was noted about the use of nerve gas in Damascus that day. It was not until 23 August that the use of sarin became a dominant issue, although hundreds of photographs and videos of the massacre had gone viral within hours on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. At this point, the administration knew no more than the public.
Obama left Washington early on 21 August for a hectic two-day speaking tour in New York and Pennsylvania; according to the White House press office, he was briefed later that day on the attack, and the growing public and media furore. The lack of any immediate inside intelligence was made clear on 22 August, when Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters: ‘We are unable to conclusively determine [chemical weapons] use. But we are focused every minute of every day since these events happened … on doing everything possible within our power to nail down the facts.’ The administration’s tone had hardened by 27 August, when Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, told reporters – without providing any specific information – that any suggestions that the Syrian government was not responsible ‘are as preposterous as suggestions that the attack itself didn’t occur’.
The absence of immediate alarm inside the American intelligence community demonstrates that there was no intelligence about Syrian intentions in the days before the attack. And there are at least two ways the US could have known about it in advance: both were touched on in one of the top secret American intelligence documents that have been made public in recent months by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor.
On 29 August, the Washington Post published excerpts from the annual budget for all national intelligence programmes, agency by agency, provided by Snowden. In consultation with the Obama administration, the newspaper chose to publish only a slim portion of the 178-page document, which has a classification higher than top secret, but it summarised and published a section dealing with problem areas. One problem area was the gap in coverage targeting Assad’s office. The document said that the NSA’s worldwide electronic eavesdropping facilities had been ‘able to monitor unencrypted communications among senior military officials at the outset of the civil war there’. But it was ‘a vulnerability that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces apparently later recognised’. In other words, the NSA no longer had access to the conversations of the top military leadership in Syria, which would have included crucial communications from Assad, such as orders for a nerve gas attack. (In its public statements since 21 August, the Obama administration has never claimed to have specific information connecting Assad himself to the attack.)
The Post report also provided the first indication of a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal. The sensors are monitored by the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that controls all US intelligence satellites in orbit. According to the Postsummary, the NRO is also assigned ‘to extract data from sensors placed on the ground’ inside Syria. The former senior intelligence official, who had direct knowledge of the programme, told me that NRO sensors have been implanted near all known chemical warfare sites in Syria. They are designed to provide constant monitoring of the movement of chemical warheads stored by the military. But far more important, in terms of early warning, is the sensors’ ability to alert US and Israeli intelligence when warheads are being loaded with sarin. (As a neighbouring country, Israel has always been on the alert for changes in the Syrian chemical arsenal, and works closely with American intelligence on early warnings.) A chemical warhead, once loaded with sarin, has a shelf life of a few days or less – the nerve agent begins eroding the rocket almost immediately: it’s a use-it-or-lose-it mass killer. ‘The Syrian army doesn’t have three days to prepare for a chemical attack,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘We created the sensor system for immediate reaction, like an air raid warning or a fire alarm. You can’t have a warning over three days because everyone involved would be dead. It is either right now or you’re history. You do not spend three days getting ready to fire nerve gas.’ The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August, the former official said. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded.
The sensors had worked in the past, as the Syrian leadership knew all too well. Last December the sensor system picked up signs of what seemed to be sarin production at a chemical weapons depot. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian army was simulating sarin production as part of an exercise (all militaries constantly carry out such exercises) or actually preparing an attack. At the time, Obama publicly warned Syria that using sarin was ‘totally unacceptable’; a similar message was also passed by diplomatic means. The event was later determined to be part of a series of exercises, according to the former senior intelligence official: ‘If what the sensors saw last December was so important that the president had to call and say, “Knock it off,” why didn’t the president issue the same warning three days before the gas attack in August?’
The NSA would of course monitor Assad’s office around the clock if it could, the former official said. Other communications – from various army units in combat throughout Syria – would be far less important, and not analysed in real time. ‘There are literally thousands of tactical radio frequencies used by field units in Syria for mundane routine communications,’ he said, ‘and it would take a huge number of NSA cryptological technicians to listen in – and the useful return would be zilch.’ But the ‘chatter’ is routinely stored on computers. Once the scale of events on 21 August was understood, the NSA mounted a comprehensive effort to search for any links to the attack, sorting through the full archive of stored communications. A keyword or two would be selected and a filter would be employed to find relevant conversations. ‘What happened here is that the NSA intelligence weenies started with an event – the use of sarin – and reached to find chatter that might relate,’ the former official said. ‘This does not lead to a high confidence assessment, unless you start with high confidence that Bashar Assad ordered it, and began looking for anything that supports that belief.’ The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.
*The White House needed nine days to assemble its case against the Syrian government. On 30 August it invited a select group of Washington journalists (at least one often critical reporter, Jonathan Landay, the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, was not invited), and handed them a document carefully labelled as a ‘government assessment’, rather than as an assessment by the intelligence community. The document laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration’s case against the Assad government. It was, however, more specific than Obama would be later, in his speech on 10 September: American intelligence, it stated, knew that Syria had begun ‘preparing chemical munitions’ three days before the attack. In an aggressive speech later that day, John Kerry provided more details. He said that Syria’s ‘chemical weapons personnel were on the ground, in the area, making preparations’ by 18 August. ‘We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.’ The government assessment and Kerry’s comments made it seem as if the administration had been tracking the sarin attack as it happened. It is this version of events, untrue but unchallenged, that was widely reported at the time.
An unforeseen reaction came in the form of complaints from the Free Syrian Army’s leadership and others about the lack of warning. ‘It’s unbelievable they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime,’ Razan Zaitouneh, an opposition member who lived in one of the towns struck by sarin, told Foreign Policy. The Daily Mail was more blunt: ‘Intelligence report says US officials knew about nerve-gas attack in Syria three days before it killed over 1400 people – including more than 400 children.’ (The number of deaths attributable to the attack varied widely, from at least 1429, as initially claimed by the Obama administration, to many fewer. A Syrian human rights group reported 502 deaths; Médicins sans Frontières put it at 355; and a French report listed 281 known fatalities. The strikingly precise US total was later reported by the Wall Street Journal to have been based not on an actual body count, but on an extrapolation by CIA analysts, who scanned more than a hundred YouTube videos from Eastern Ghouta into a computer system and looked for images of the dead. In other words, it was little more than a guess.)
Five days later, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence responded to the complaints. A statement to the Associated Press said that the intelligence behind the earlier administration assertions was not known at the time of the attack, but recovered only subsequently: ‘Let’s be clear, the United States did not watch, in real time, as this horrible attack took place. The intelligence community was able to gather and analyse information after the fact and determine that elements of the Assad regime had in fact taken steps to prepare prior to using chemical weapons.’ But since the American press corps had their story, the retraction received scant attention. On 31 August the Washington Post, relying on the government assessment, had vividly reported on its front page that American intelligence was able to record ‘each step’ of the Syrian army attack in real time, ‘from the extensive preparations to the launching of rockets to the after-action assessments by Syrian officials’. It did not publish the AP corrective, and the White House maintained control of the narrative.
So when Obama said on 10 September that his administration knew Assad’s chemical weapons personnel had prepared the attack in advance, he was basing the statement not on an intercept caught as it happened, but on communications analysed days after 21 August. The former senior intelligence official explained that the hunt for relevant chatter went back to the exercise detected the previous December, in which, as Obama later said to the public, the Syrian army mobilised chemical weapons personnel and distributed gas masks to its troops. The White House’s government assessment and Obama’s speech were not descriptions of the specific events leading up to the 21 August attack, but an account of the sequence the Syrian military would have followed for any chemical attack. ‘They put together a back story,’ the former official said, ‘and there are lots of different pieces and parts. The template they used was the template that goes back to December.’ It is possible, of course, that Obama was unaware that this account was obtained from an analysis of Syrian army protocol for conducting a gas attack, rather than from direct evidence. Either way he had come to a hasty judgment.
The press would follow suit. The UN report on 16 September confirming the use of sarin was careful to note that its investigators’ access to the attack sites, which came five days after the gassing, had been controlled by rebel forces. ‘As with other sites,’ the report warned, ‘the locations have been well travelled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the mission … During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.’ Still, the New York Times seized on the report, as did American and British officials, and claimed that it provided crucial evidence backing up the administration’s assertions. An annex to the UN report reproduced YouTube photographs of some recovered munitions, including a rocket that ‘indicatively matches’ the specifics of a 330mm calibre artillery rocket. The New York Times wrote that the existence of the rockets essentially proved that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack ‘because the weapons in question had not been previously documented or reported to be in possession of the insurgency’.
Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. He told me that it was ‘something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop’. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal. The New York Times, again relying on data in the UN report, also analysed the flight path of two of the spent rockets that were believed to have carried sarin, and concluded that the angle of descent ‘pointed directly’ to their being fired from a Syrian army base more than nine kilometres from the landing zone. Postol, who has served as the scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations in the Pentagon, said that the assertions in the Times and elsewhere ‘were not based on actual observations’. He concluded that the flight path analyses in particular were, as he put it in an email, ‘totally nuts’ because a thorough study demonstrated that the range of the improvised rockets was ‘unlikely’ to be more than two kilometres. Postol and a colleague, Richard M. Lloyd, published an analysis two weeks after 21 August in which they correctly assessed that the rockets involved carried a far greater payload of sarin than previously estimated. The Times reported on that analysis at length, describing Postol and Lloyd as ‘leading weapons experts’. The pair’s later study about the rockets’ flight paths and range, which contradicted previous Times reporting, was emailed to the newspaper last week; it has so far gone unreported.
The White House’s misrepresentation of what it knew about the attack, and when, was matched by its readiness to ignore intelligence that could undermine the narrative. That information concerned al-Nusra, the Islamist rebel group designated by the US and the UN as a terrorist organisation. Al-Nusra is known to have carried out scores of suicide bombings against Christians and other non-Sunni Muslim sects inside Syria, and to have attacked its nominal ally in the civil war, the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA). Its stated goal is to overthrow the Assad regime and establish sharia law. (On 25 September al-Nusra joined several other Islamist rebel groups in repudiating the FSA and another secular faction, the Syrian National Coalition.)
The flurry of American interest in al-Nusra and sarin stemmed from a series of small-scale chemical weapons attacks in March and April; at the time, the Syrian government and the rebels each insisted the other was responsible. The UN eventually concluded that four chemical attacks had been carried out, but did not assign responsibility. A White House official told the press in late April that the intelligence community had assessed ‘with varying degrees of confidence’ that the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks. Assad had crossed Obama’s ‘red line’. The April assessment made headlines, but some significant caveats were lost in translation. The unnamed official conducting the briefing acknowledged that intelligence community assessments ‘are not alone sufficient’. ‘We want,’ he said, ‘to investigate above and beyond those intelligence assessments to gather facts so that we can establish a credible and corroborated set of information that can then inform our decision-making.’ In other words, the White House had no direct evidence of Syrian army or government involvement, a fact that was only occasionally noted in the press coverage. Obama’s tough talk played well with the public and Congress, who view Assad as a ruthless murderer.
Two months later, a White House statement announced a change in the assessment of Syrian culpability and declared that the intelligence community now had ‘high confidence’ that the Assad government was responsible for as many as 150 deaths from attacks with sarin. More headlines were generated and the press was told that Obama, in response to the new intelligence, had ordered an increase in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. But once again there were significant caveats. The new intelligence included a report that Syrian officials had planned and executed the attacks. No specifics were provided, nor were those who provided the reports identified. The White House statement said that laboratory analysis had confirmed the use of sarin, but also that a positive finding of the nerve agent ‘does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination’. The White House further declared: ‘We have no reliable corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.’ The statement contradicted evidence that at the time was streaming into US intelligence agencies.
Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.
On 20 June a four-page top secret cable summarising what had been learned about al-Nusra’s nerve gas capabilities was forwarded to David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. ‘What Shedd was briefed on was extensive and comprehensive,’ the consultant said. ‘It was not a bunch of “we believes”.’ He told me that the cable made no assessment as to whether the rebels or the Syrian army had initiated the attacks in March and April, but it did confirm previous reports that al-Nusra had the ability to acquire and use sarin. A sample of the sarin that had been used was also recovered – with the help of an Israeli agent – but, according to the consultant, no further reporting about the sample showed up in cable traffic.
Independently of these assessments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assuming that US troops might be ordered into Syria to seize the government’s stockpile of chemical agents, called for an all-source analysis of the potential threat. ‘The Op Order provides the basis of execution of a military mission, if so ordered,’ the former senior intelligence official explained. ‘This includes the possible need to send American soldiers to a Syrian chemical site to defend it against rebel seizure. If the jihadist rebels were going to overrun the site, the assumption is that Assad would not fight us because we were protecting the chemical from the rebels. All Op Orders contain an intelligence threat component. We had technical analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, weapons people, and I & W [indications and warnings] people working on the problem … They concluded that the rebel forces were capable of attacking an American force with sarin because they were able to produce the lethal gas. The examination relied on signals and human intelligence, as well as the expressed intention and technical capability of the rebels.’
There is evidence that during the summer some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were troubled by the prospect of a ground invasion of Syria as well as by Obama’s professed desire to give rebel factions non-lethal support. In July, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, provided a gloomy assessment, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in public testimony that ‘thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces’ would be needed to seize Syria’s widely dispersed chemical warfare arsenal, along with ‘hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers’. Pentagon estimates put the number of troops at seventy thousand, in part because US forces would also have to guard the Syrian rocket fleet: accessing large volumes of the chemicals that create sarin without the means to deliver it would be of little value to a rebel force. In a letter to Senator Carl Levin, Dempsey cautioned that a decision to grab the Syrian arsenal could have unintended consequences: ‘We have learned from the past ten years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state … Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.’
The CIA declined to comment for this article. Spokesmen for the DIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were not aware of the report to Shedd and, when provided with specific cable markings for the document, said they were unable to find it. Shawn Turner, head of public affairs for the ODNI, said that no American intelligence agency, including the DIA, ‘assesses that the al-Nusra Front has succeeded in developing a capacity to manufacture sarin’.
The administration’s public affairs officials are not as concerned about al-Nusra’s military potential as Shedd has been in his public statements. In late July, he gave an alarming account of al-Nusra’s strength at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. ‘I count no less than 1200 disparate groups in the opposition,’ Shedd said, according to a recording of his presentation. ‘And within the opposition, the al-Nusra Front is … most effective and is gaining in strength.’ This, he said, ‘is of serious concern to us. If left unchecked, I am very concerned that the most radical elements’ – he also cited al-Qaida in Iraq – ‘will take over.’ The civil war, he went on, ‘will only grow worse over time … Unfathomable violence is yet to come.’ Shedd made no mention of chemical weapons in his talk, but he was not allowed to: the reports his office received were highly classified.
A series of secret dispatches from Syria over the summer reported that members of the FSA were complaining to American intelligence operatives about repeated attacks on their forces by al-Nusra and al-Qaida fighters. The reports, according to the senior intelligence consultant who read them, provided evidence that the FSA is ‘more worried about the crazies than it is about Assad’. The FSA is largely composed of defectors from the Syrian army. The Obama administration, committed to the end of the Assad regime and continued support for the rebels, has sought in its public statements since the attack to downplay the influence of Salafist and Wahhabist factions. In early September, John Kerry dumbfounded a Congressional hearing with a sudden claim that al-Nusra and other Islamist groups were minority players in the Syrian opposition. He later withdrew the claim.
In both its public and private briefings after 21 August, the administration disregarded the available intelligence about al-Nusra’s potential access to sarin and continued to claim that the Assad government was in sole possession of chemical weapons. This was the message conveyed in the various secret briefings that members of Congress received in the days after the attack, when Obama was seeking support for his planned missile offensive against Syrian military installations. One legislator with more than two decades of experience in military affairs told me that he came away from one such briefing persuaded that ‘only the Assad government had sarin and the rebels did not.’ Similarly, following the release of the UN report on 16 September confirming that sarin was used on 21 August, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told a press conference: ‘It’s very important to note that only the [Assad] regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin.’
It is not known whether the highly classified reporting on al-Nusra was made available to Power’s office, but her comment was a reflection of the attitude that swept through the administration. ‘The immediate assumption was that Assad had done it,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘The new director of the CIA, [John] Brennan, jumped to that conclusion … drives to the White House and says: “Look at what I’ve got!” It was all verbal; they just waved the bloody shirt. There was a lot of political pressure to bring Obama to the table to help the rebels, and there was wishful thinking that this [tying Assad to the sarin attack] would force Obama’s hand: “This is the Zimmermann telegram of the Syrian rebellion and now Obama can react.” Wishful thinking by the Samantha Power wing within the administration. Unfortunately, some members of the Joint Chiefs who were alerted that he was going to attack weren’t so sure it was a good thing.’
The proposed American missile attack on Syria never won public support and Obama turned quickly to the UN and the Russian proposal for dismantling the Syrian chemical warfare complex. Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal. Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)
The administration’s distortion of the facts surrounding the sarin attack raises an unavoidable question: do we have the whole story of Obama’s willingness to walk away from his ‘red line’ threat to bomb Syria? He had claimed to have an iron-clad case but suddenly agreed to take the issue to Congress, and later to accept Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical weapons. It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans.
The UN resolution, which was adopted on 27 September by the Security Council, dealt indirectly with the notion that rebel forces such as al-Nusra would also be obliged to disarm: ‘no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer [chemical] weapons.’ The resolution also calls for the immediate notification of the Security Council in the event that any ‘non-state actors’ acquire chemical weapons. No group was cited by name. While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone. There may be more to negotiate.
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Two GOP lawmakers charge that the Obama administration violated a law requiring the White House to give Congress a month’s notice before transferring or releasing Gitmo captivies. From the AP via Business Insider:
The White House said it moved as quickly as possible given the opportunity that arose to secure Bergdahl’s release. Citing “these unique and exigent circumstances,” the White House said a decision was made to go ahead with the transfer despite the legal requirement of 30 days advance notice to Congress.
For President Barack Obama (and thus America), foreign policy in every way remains a disaster. The latest incident? In swapping five Taliban leaders for a U.S. soldier who was held prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, Obama may have just exchanged somecertifiably bad guys for…a deserter from the U.S. Army. CNN’s Jake Tapper explains:
The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him—veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose “selfish act” ended up costing the lives of better men.
“I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on,” said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. “Bowe Bergdahldeserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”
According to first-hand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera, and a diary.
At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl, and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika Province in the days and weeks following his disappearance.
This is all completely apart from the question of whether exchanging prisoners for prisoners is a good idea while the U.S. still has over 30,000 troops in Afghanistan (and more than 100 detainees in Gitmo). And once again, yesterday, Susan Rice—she of Benghazi talking points fame—was making spurious claims on Sunday talk shows. She emphasized that Bergdahl had been“captured” on the battlefield, which may not be exactly right. Or even at all right.
I caught a few minutes of MSNBC’s Morning Joe earlier today and co-host Mika Brzezinski cautioned that whatever else we know about the five-for-one prisoner deal (which involves the Taliban going to Qatar, where they will be monitored by the government there for at least a year), we don’t know everything. Which is likely accurate and besides the point: Leaving aside the Obama administration’s constant invocations about its super-fantastic dedication to transparency, this White House has managed to make itself toxic to increasing swaths of the public and drive faith in its best intentions and ability to cross the street through the floor.
Here’s hoping that after more than a dozen years of poorly conceived and executed wars—and declining public support for the idea of America as globocop—that official foreign policy will start to appreciate the idea that we cannot undertake large and small-scale military interventions lightly.
The Gitmo detainees swapped for Bergdahl: Who are they?
Together with the announcement that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released after nearly five years of captivity came the news that five detainees at Guantanamo Bay were being transferred to Qatar.
A plane carrying the detainees left the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba, after the announcement that Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2009, had been exchanged for the five men.
Saturday’s transfer was brokered through the Qatari government, a senior Defense official said. According to senior administration officials, Qatar agreed to take custody of the detainees and provide assurances they would not pose a threat to the United States, including a one-year ban from travel out of Qatar.
Two senior administration officials confirmed the names of the five released detainees as Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Nori, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi Omari.
They were mostly mid- to high-level officials in the Taliban regime and had been detained early in the war in Afghanistan, because of their positions within the Taliban, not because of ties to al Qaeda.
CNN profiled them two years ago, when their names first surfaced as candidates for a transfer as part of talks with the Taliban: Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa
Khairkhwa was an early member of the Taliban in 1994 and was interior minister during the Taliban’s rule. He hails from the same tribe as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and was captured in January 2002. Khairkhwa’s most prominent position was as governor of Herat province from 1999 to 2001, and he was alleged to have been “directly associated” with Osama bin Laden. According to a detainee assessment, Khairkhwa also was probably associated with al Qaeda’s now-deceased leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. He is described as one of the “major opium drug lords in western Afghanistan” and a “friend” of Karzai. He was arrested in Pakistan and was transferred to Guantanamo in May 2002. During questioning, Khairkhwa denied all knowledge of extremist activities. Mullah Mohammad Fazl
Fazl commanded the main force fighting the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001, and served as chief of army staff under the Taliban regime. He has been accused of war crimes during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s. Fazl was detained after surrendering to Abdul Rashid Dostam, the leader of Afghanistan’s Uzbek community, in November 2001. He was wanted by the United Nations in connection with the massacre of thousands of Afghan Shiites during the Taliban’s rule. “When asked about the murders, he did not express any regret,” according to the detainee assessment. He was alleged to have been associated with several militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda. He was transferred into U.S. custody in December 2001 and was one of the first arrivals at Guantanamo, where he was assessed as having high intelligence value. Mullah Norullah Noori
Noori served as governor of Balkh province in the Taliban regime and played some role in coordinating the fight against the Northern Alliance. Like Fazl, Noori was detained after surrendering to Dostam, the Uzbek leader, in 2001. Noori claimed during interrogation that “he never received any weapons or military training.” According to 2008 detainee assessment, Noori “continues to deny his role, importance and level of access to Taliban officials.” That same assessment characterized him as high risk and of high intelligence value. Abdul Haq Wasiq
Wasiq was the deputy chief of the Taliban regime’s intelligence service. His cousin was head of the service. An administrative review in 2007 cited a source as saying that Wasiq was also “an al Qaeda intelligence member” and had links with members of another militant Islamist group, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. Wasiq claimed, according to the review, that he was arrested while trying to help the United States locate senior Taliban figures. He denied any links to militant groups. Mohammad Nabi Omari
Omari was a minor Taliban official in Khost Province. According to the first administrative review in 2004, he was a member of the Taliban and associated with both al Qaeda and another militant group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. He was the Taliban’s chief of communications and helped al Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Omari acknowledged during hearings that he had worked for the Taliban but denied connections with militant groups. He also said that he had worked with a U.S. operative named Mark to try to track down Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
The Taliban turned over Bergdahl Saturday morning to US special forces in exchange for five notorious Islamic militants who had been held at Guantanamo Bay and will be sent to Qatar, where they will stay for a year under the terms of the trade.
At least one of the prisoners, ranking Taliban leader Khairullah Khairkhwa, had direct ties to Osama bin Laden.
Bergdahl was picked up by helicopter in western Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
After climbing aboard, the 28-year-old Idahoan, trying to communicate with his rescuers over the roar of the rotors, scrawled “SF?” on a paper plate — asking his rescuers whether they were special forces.
“Yes,” one of the men shouted. “We’ve been looking for you for a long time.”
The Army infantryman — himself nicknamed “SF” by his comrades for his gung-ho interest in special-forces tactics — began to weep.
Bergdahl’s parents, who had lobbied continuously for his release, had not seen him by Saturday night, but intimated that he faces an arduous recovery from his ordeal.
Bergdahl is speaking in what appears to be Pashto, said his dad, Bob Bergdahl. It was not clear whether his son can still even speak English, Bob said.
When the father spoke to his son — for the first time in five worried years — it was to say both in Pashto and English, “I am your father, Bowe.”
“We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers,” said his mom, Jani.
The search for Bergdahl began soon after he went missing on June 30, 2009, in the same rugged wilds of southeastern Afghanistan where NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed.
Bergdahl’s mysterious disappearance from the small military outpost there and the subsequent revelation that he was in enemy hands prompted questions that still linger.
But in the weeks before his capture, Bergdahl had made murky statements that suggested he was gravitating away from the soldiers in his unit and toward desertion, a member of his platoon told Rolling Stone.
As a teen, the home-schooled son of Calvinists took up ballet — recruited to be a “lifter” by “a beautiful local girl,” Rolling Stone reported, “the guy who holds the girl aloft in a ballet sequence.” The strategy worked: Bergdahl — who also began dabbling in Buddhism and tarot card reading — soon moved in with the woman.
Even as a teen, he could fire a .22-caliber rifle with precision.
At age 20, he traveled to Paris and started learning French in hopes of joining the French Foreign Legion.
His application was rejected, and he was devastated, the magazine reported.
Bergdahl would drift for years, working mainly at a coffee shop near home. He briefly considered moving to Uganda to help villagers being terrorized by militias before deciding on a different adventure.
“I’m thinking of joining the Army,” he told his folks after already having signed up.
Bergdahl’s dream was to help Afghan villagers rebuild their lives and learn to defend themselves, his dad told the magazine.
“The whole ‘COIN’ thing,” Bob explained, referring to America’s strategy of counter-insurgency. “We were given a fictitious picture, an artificially created picture of what we were doing in Afghanistan,” the dad said.
Bowe Bergdahl would detail his disillusionment with the Afghanistan campaign in an email to his parents three days before he went missing.
“I am sorry for everything here,” he wrote. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid.”
Bergdahl also complained about fellow soldiers. The battalion commander was a “conceited old fool,” he said, and the only “decent” sergeants, planning to leave the platoon “as soon as they can,” told the privates — Bergdahl then among them — “to do the same.”
“I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools,” he concluded. “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.”
Bob Bergdahl responded in an email: “OBEY YOUR CONSCIENCE!”
One night, after finishing a guard-duty shift, Bowe Bergdahl asked his team leader whether there would be a problem if he left camp with his rifle and night-vision goggles — to which the team leader replied “yes.”
Bergdahl then returned to his bunker, picked up a knife, water, his diary and a camera, and left camp, according to Rolling Stone.
The next morning, he was reported missing, and later that day, a drone and four fighter jets began to search for him.
Weeks of searching turned into months. The military pushed his parents and fellow soldiers to sign nondisclosure agreements. But before everyone signed, a comrade from his unit publicly called on Facebook for Bergdahl’s execution as a deserter.
Propaganda videos of his captivity — which featured Bergdahl denouncing American foreign policy — were released.
At least once, in 2011, the prisoner, looking more haggard, fought back and tried to escape.
“He fought like a boxer,” a Taliban fighter told Newsweek.
Why Bergdahl was captured in the first place remained a mystery by the time high-level US government talks began in 2012 regarding a trade for his release.
“Frankly, we don’t give a s–t why he left,” one White House official said at the time. “He’s an American soldier. We want to bring him home.”
There was fierce debate over exchanging him for the five Taliban combatants. Sen. John McCain, himself a former POW, once described the five as “the five biggest murderers in world history,” according to Rolling Stone.
For five years, soldiers have been forced to stay silent about the disappearance and search for Bergdahl. Now we can talk about what really happened.
It was June 30, 2009, and I was in the city of Sharana, the capitol of Paktika province in Afghanistan. As I stepped out of a decrepit office building into a perfect sunny day, a member of my team started talking into his radio. “Say that again,” he said. “There’s an American soldier missing?”
There was. His name was Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, the only prisoner of war in the Afghan theater of operations. His release from Taliban custody on May 31 marks the end of a nearly five-year-old story for the soldiers of his unit, the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. I served in the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009. After we redeployed, every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth.
And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.
On the night prior to his capture, Bergdahl pulled guard duty at OP Mest, a small outpost about two hours south of the provincial capitol. The base resembled a wagon circle of armored vehicles with some razor wire strung around them. A guard tower sat high up on a nearby hill, but the outpost itself was no fortress. Besides the tower, the only hard structure that I saw in July 2009 was a plywood shed filled with bottled water. Soldiers either slept in poncho tents or inside their vehicles.
The next morning, Bergdahl failed to show for the morning roll call. The soldiers in 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company discovered his rifle, helmet, body armor and web gear in a neat stack. He had, however, taken his compass. His fellow soldiers later mentioned his stated desire to walk from Afghanistan to India.
The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey later wrote that “[w]hether Bergdahl…just walked away from his base or was lagging behind on a patrol at the time of his capture remains an open and fiercely debated question.” Not to me and the members of my unit. Make no mistake: Bergdahl did not “lag behind on a patrol,” as was cited in news reports at the time. There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon—including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.
Our deployment was hectic and intense in the initial months, but no one could have predicted that a soldier would simply wander off. Looking back on those first 12 weeks, our slice of the war in the vicinity of Sharana resembles a perfectly still snow-globe—a diorama in miniature of all the dust-coated outposts, treeless brown mountains and adobe castles in Paktika province—and between June 25 and June 30, all the forces of nature conspired to turn it over and shake it. On June 25, we suffered our battalion’s first fatality, a platoon leader named First Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw. Five days later, Bergdahl walked away.
His disappearance translated into daily search missions across the entire Afghanistan theater of operations, particularly ours. The combat platoons in our battalion spent the next month on daily helicopter-insertion search missions (called “air assaults”) trying to scour villages for signs of him. Each operations would send multiple platoons and every enabler available in pursuit: radio intercept teams, military working dogs, professional anthropologists used as intelligence gathering teams, Afghan sources in disguise. They would be out for at least 24 hours. I know of some who were on mission for 10 days at a stretch. In July, the temperature was well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit each day.
These cobbled-together units’ task was to search villages one after another. They often took rifle and mortar fire from insurgents, or perhaps just angry locals. They intermittently received resupply from soot-coated Mi-17s piloted by Russian contractors, many of whom were Soviet veterans of Afghanistan. It was hard, dirty and dangerous work. The searches enraged the local civilian population and derailed the counterinsurgency operations taking place at the time. At every juncture I remember the soldiers involved asking why we were burning so much gasoline trying to find a guy who had abandoned his unit in the first place. The war was already absurd and quixotic, but the hunt for Bergdahl was even more infuriating because it was all the result of some kid doing something unnecessary by his own volition.
On July 4, 2009, a human wave of insurgents attacked the joint U.S./Afghan outpost at Zerok. It was in east Paktika province, the domain of our sister infantry battalion (3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry). Two Americans died and many more received wounds. Hundreds of insurgents attacked and were only repelled by teams of Apache helicopters. Zerok was very close to the Pakistan border, which put it into the same category as outposts now infamous—places like COP Keating or Wanat, places where insurgents could mass on the Pakistani side and then try to overwhelm the outnumbered defenders.
One of my close friends was the company executive officer for the unit at Zerok. He is a mild-mannered and generous guy, not the kind of person prone to fits of pique or rage. But, in his opinion, the attack would not have happened had his company received its normal complement of intelligence aircraft: drones, planes, and the like. Instead, every intelligence aircraft available in theater had received new instructions: find Bergdahl. My friend blames Bergdahl for his soldiers’ deaths. I know that he is not alone, and that this was not the only instance of it. His soldiers’ names were Private First Class Aaron Fairbairn and Private First Class Justin Casillas.
It is important to name all these names. For the veterans of the units that lost these men, Bergdahl’s capture and the subsequent hunt for him will forever tie to their memories, and to a time in their lives that will define them as people. He has finally returned. Those men will never have the opportunity.
Bergdahl was not the first American soldier in modern history to walk away blindly. As I write this in Seoul, I’m about 40 miles from where an American sergeant defected to North Korea in 1965. Charles Robert Jenkins later admitted that he was terrified of being sent to Vietnam, so he got drunk and wandered off on a patrol. He was finally released in 2004, after almost 40 hellish years of brutal internment. The Army court-martialed him, sentencing him to 30 days’ confinement and a dishonorable discharge. He now lives peacefully with his wife in Japan—they met in captivity in North Korea, where they were both forced to teach foreign languages to DPRK agents. His desertion barely warranted a comment, but he was not hailed as a hero. He was met with sympathy and humanity, and he was allowed to live his life, but he had to answer for what he did.
The war was already absurd and quixotic, but the hunt for Bergdahl was even more infuriating because it was the result of some kid doing something unnecessary by his own volition.
I believe that Bergdahl also deserves sympathy, but he has much to answer for, some of which is far more damning than simply having walked off. Many have suffered because of his actions: his fellow soldiers, their families, his family, the Afghan military, the unaffiliated Afghan civilians in Paktika, and none of this suffering was inevitable. None of it had to happen. Therefore, while I’m pleased that he’s safe, I believe there is an explanation due. Reprimanding him might yield horrible press for the Army, making our longest war even less popular than it is today. Retrieving him at least reminds soldiers that we will never abandon them to their fates, right or wrong. In light of the propaganda value, I do not expect the Department of Defense to punish Bergdahl.
He’s lucky to have survived. I once saw an insurgent cellphone video of an Afghan National Police enlistee. They had young boys hold him down, boys between the ages of 10 and 15, all of whom giggled like they were jumping on a trampoline. The prisoner screamed and pleaded for his life. The captors cut this poor man’s head off. That’s what the Taliban and their allies do to their captives who don’t have the bargaining value of an American soldier. That’s what they do to their fellow Afghans on a regular basis. No human being deserves that treatment, or to face the threat of that treatment every day for nearly five years.
But that certainly doesn’t make Bergdahl a hero, and that doesn’t mean that the soldiers he left behind have an obligation to forgive him. I just hope that, with this news, it marks a turning point for the veterans of that mad rescue attempt. It’s done. Many of the soldiers from our unit have left the Army, as I have. Many have struggled greatly with life on the outside, and the implicit threat of prosecution if they spoke about Bergdahl made it much harder to explain the absurdity of it all. Our families and friends wanted to understand what we had experienced, but the Army denied us that.
I forgave Bergdahl because it was the only way to move on. I wouldn’t wish his fate on anyone. I hope that, in time, my comrades can make peace with him, too. That peace will look different for every person. We may have all come home, but learning to leave the war behind is not a quick or easy thing. Some will struggle with it for the rest of their lives. Some will never have the opportunity.
And Bergdahl, all I can say is this: Welcome back. I’m glad it’s over. There was a spot reserved for you on the return flight, but we had to leave without you, man. You’re probably going to have to find your own way home.
The Obama administration announced today that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held by the Taliban for several years, has been freed from his captors. Reading the stories of his newfound freedom it is impossible not to feel joy for Bergdahl and his family. NBC Newsreports that Bergdahl held up a sign once he was on board an American helicopter that read, “SF?” The operators quickly confirmed that they were in fact U.S. Special Forces: “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time.”
“On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal,” President Obama said in a statement. The president rightly noted: “Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”
Unfortunately, America is not the only party in this war that is committed to leaving no man behind. So are the Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked groups. But the president did not say who America exchanged for Bergdahl: five of the most dangerous Taliban commanders in U.S. custody.
The Taliban has long demanded that the “Gitmo 5” be released in order for peace talks to begin in earnest. The Obama administration has desperately sought to engage the Taliban as American forces are drawn down in Afghanistan, but those talks have gone nowhere to this point. At first, the administration set preconditions for the talks, including that the Taliban break its relationship with al Qaeda. When it became clear that this was a non-starter, the administration decided to make the Taliban’s desired break with al Qaeda a goal, and no longer a precondition, for its diplomacy.
There is little hope that the peace talks will be more successful now. But the president seems to believe that Bergdahl’s exchange for the Gitmo 5 (who are reportedly being transferred to Qatar) may break the ice. “While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground,” Obama said in his statement.
The Obama administration says that security measures have been put into place to make sure that the Gitmo 5 do not pose a threat to American national security. Let’s hope that is true; it certainly has not been the case with many ex-Gitmo detainees in the past.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has profiled these jihadists previously on multiple occasions, and what follows below is culled from these accounts.
There are good reasons why the Taliban has long wanted the five freed from Gitmo. All five are among the Taliban’s top commanders in U.S. custody and are still revered in jihadist circles.
Two of the five have been wanted by the UN for war crimes. And because of their prowess, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed all five of them “high” risks to the U.S. and its allies.
The Obama administration wants to convince the Taliban to abandon its longstanding alliance with al Qaeda. But these men contributed to the formation of that relationship in the first place. All five had close ties to al Qaeda well before the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, it is difficult to see how their freedom would help the Obama administration achieve one of its principal goals for the hoped-for talks.
Here are short bios for each of the five Taliban commanders. All quotes are drawn from declassified and leaked documents prepared at Guantanamo.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl (Taliban army chief of staff): Fazl is “wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites.” Fazl “was associated with terrorist groups currently opposing U.S. and Coalition forces including al Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), and an Anti-Coalition Militia group known as Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami.” In addition to being one of the Taliban’s most experienced military commanders, Fazl worked closely with a top al Qaeda commander named Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, who headed al Qaeda’s main fighting unit in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 and is currently detained at Guantanamo.
Mullah Norullah Noori (senior Taliban military commander):Like Fazl,Noori is “wanted by the United Nations (UN) for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims.” Beginning in the mid-1990s, Noori “fought alongside al Qaeda as a Taliban military general, against the Northern alliance.” He continued to work closely with al Qaeda in the years that followed.
Abdul Haq Wasiq (Taliban deputy minister of intelligence): Wasiq arranged for al Qaeda members to provide crucial intelligence training prior to 9/11. The training was headed by Hamza Zubayr, an al Qaeda instructor who was killed during the same September 2002 raid that netted Ramzi Binalshibh, the point man for the 9/11 operation. Wasiq “was central to the Taliban’s efforts to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S. and Coalition forces after the 11 September 2001 attacks,” according to a leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment.
Khairullah Khairkhwa (Taliban governor of the Herat province and former interior minister): Khairkhwa was the governor of Afghanistan’s westernmost province prior to 9/11. In that capacity, he executed sensitive missions for Mullah Omar, including helping to broker a secret deal with the Iranians. For much of the pre-9/11 period, Iran and the Taliban were bitter foes. But a Taliban delegation that included Kharikhwa helped secure Iran’s support for the Taliban’s efforts against the American-led coalition in late 2001. JTF-GTMO found that Khairkhwa was likely a major drug trafficker and deeply in bed with al Qaeda. He allegedly oversaw one of Osama bin Laden’s training facilities in Herat.
Mohammed Nabi (senior Taliban figure and security official): Nabi “was a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles.” Nabi “had strong operational ties to Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) groups including al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), some of whom remain active in ACM activities.” Intelligence cited in the JTF-GTMO files indicates that Nabi held weekly meetings with al Qaeda operatives to coordinate attacks against U.S.-led forces.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Ron Chernow’s extraordinary new book paints the first president as a man in a struggle to contain his emotions
Two unforgettable images run through Ron Chernow’s great book, “Washington: A Life,” and they have nothing to do with cherry trees or wooden teeth or silver dollars thrown across the Potomac.
The first is the image of a gallows. It appears early in the narrative, when Colonel George Washington of the Virginia Militia, seeking to terrify his untutored, undisciplined, ragamuffin soldiers into obedience, builds a 40-foot-high gibbet. Soon after, he sentences 14 of his men to death for desertion and insubordination. Though he will eventually spare 12 from the noose, he will still punish them with absolutely fierce and shocking floggings, an average of 600 lashes per prisoner. “Washington made a point of hanging people in public,” Ron Chernow writes, “to deter others.” It is an expression of “his blazing temper.” It is also a result of his experience as explorer and soldier in the Virginia wilderness, “which darkened his view of human nature.” His lifelong practice will be to see “people as motivated more by force than kindness.” When he hangs his first man, the year is 1756, Virginia is still a British colony, and Washington is 24 years old.
These gallows will recur. They are what novelists call a “through-line” or motif, a pattern of figures within a story. To a historian they are that and more. They are a kind of portal into Washington’s famously elusive, enigmatic character.
Gallows and nooses were, of course, an ordinary part of Washington’s time and world. To hang a disobedient solider — or rebel — was commonplace in 18th century warfare. The British government routinely punished treason this way, with the additional flourish of disemboweling the offender while he was still alive, and then decapitating him. When Benjamin Franklin cautions the Continental Congress that “we must all hang together, or we will all hang separately,” only the first part of his famous sentence is metaphorical.
FORMER OFFICER: SOLDIERS WERE ‘THREATENED’ IF THEY QUESTIONED BERGDAHL STORY
A former U.S. officer who served in Afghanistan with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl claims that soldiers were threatened by U.S. authorities if they questioned his story.
After he was captured, Bergdahl said on a video from his captors that he lagged behind on patrol, although other sources in the military suggested anonymously that he walked away from his post.
“Not only has this nebulous non-story been put out for years but you know these soldiers of 4th Brigade 25th Infantry Division were threatened with legal repercussions if they spoke about Bergdahl. Everybody officially mandated silencing of what we saw has been so frustrating,” Bethea explained on BBC World Service Radio today.
Bethea served in Sgt. Bergdahl’s unit, and was an infantry officer in the U.S. Army from 2007 to 2014
CNN’s Jake Tapper also reported that many of Bergdahl’s fellow troops signed nondisclosure agreements agreeing to never share any information about Bergdahl’s disappearance and the efforts to recapture him.
Bethea explained that now he was safe, more soldiers would be trying to tell the truth of his disappearance.
BBC interviewed Bethea after he wrote an article for the Daily Beast, asserting that Bergdahl was a deserter.
“He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth,” he wrote. “And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.”
Bethea admitted that it would probably be unlikely that Bergdahl would face a court martial, because it would cast doubt on the deal the United States made with the Taliban to secure his release.
“I would at least like to see an official statement on what happened,” he said, referring to the Department of Defense.
Bergdahl is currently at an American military hospital in Germany, where he is being evaluated.
Bethea said that he would reserve judgement whether or not Bergdahl betrayed his country.
“I’m not going to call the guy a traitor just because it sounds like a stronger or harsher word than deserter,” Bethea said, admitting that he didn’t know what happened to him after he was captured.
Many people confuse the terms, AWOL and Desertion. Some people believe that AWOL is when someone is absent for less than 30 days, and someone absent from the military for 30 days or more is a deserter. That’s not quite true.
A military member has violated Article 87 if he/she is ordered to be on a ship or an aircraft, or deploy with a unit on a certain date and time, and then fails to show up. It doesn’t matter if the member failed to show up through intention or because of neglect, but it is required that the member knew about the movement. A viable defense would be that the member missed the movement through physical inability (as long as that physical inability wasn’t a result of misconduct or neglect). The possible punishment is more severe if the member missed the movement on purpose. It’s not uncommon for Missing Movement to be charged in conjunction with AWOL or Desertion, depending on the circumstances.
AWOL, or “Absent without Leave,” is usually called “Unauthorized Absence” (or UA) by the Navy and Marine Corps, and AWOL by the Army and Air Force. The use of “UA” by the Navy/Marine Corps and “AWOL” by the Army/Air Force is historical. Prior to enactment of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 1951 the services were governed by separate laws. However, its official title under the current UCMJ is “AWOL” (a rose by any other name is still a rose). It simply means not being where you are supposed to be at the time you are supposed to be there. Being late for work is a violation of Article 86. Missing a medical appointment is a violation. So is disappearing for several days (or months, or years). The maximum possible punishments, which I’ll discuss later in this article, depends on the exact circumstances of the absence.
Did you know that desertion can result in the death penalty? It’s true. The maximum punishment for desertion during “time of war” is death. However, since the Civil War, only one American servicemember has ever been executed for desertion — Private Eddie Slovik in 1945.
The offense of desertion, under Article 85 carries a much greater punishment than the offense of AWOL, under Article 86. Many people believe that if one is absent without authority for 30 days or more, the offense changes from AWOL to desertion, but that’s not quite true.
The primary difference between the two offenses is “intent to remain away permanently,” or if the purpose of the absence is to shirk “important duty,” (such as a combat deployment).
If one intends to return to “military control” someday, one is guilty of AWOL, not desertion, even if they were away for 50 years. Conversely, if a person was absent for just one minute, and then captured, he could be convicted of desertion, if the prosecution could prove that the member intended to remain away from the military permanently.
If the intent of the absence was to “shirk important duty,” such as a combat deployment, then the “intent to remain away permanently” to support a charge of desertion is not necessary. However, Such services as drill, target practice, maneuvers, and practice marches are not ordinarily “important duty.” “Important duty” may include such duty as hazardous duty, duty in a combat zone, certain ship deployments, etc. Whether a duty is hazardous or a service is important depends upon the circumstances of the particular case, and is a question of fact for the court-martial to decide.
(1) without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently;
(2) quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service; or
(3) without being regularly separated from one of the armed forces enlists or accepts an appointment in the same or another on of the armed forces without fully disclosing the fact that he has not been regularly separated, or enters any foreign armed service except when authorized by the United States;
is guilty of desertion.
(b) Any commissioned officer of the armed forces who, after tender of his resignation and before notice of its acceptance, quits his post or proper duties without leave and with intent to remain away therefrom permanently is guilty of desertion.
(c) Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.
Note: For specific details concerning this offense, including elements of proof, maximum punishments, and detailed explanation, see Punitive Articles of the UCMJ.
Rep. Justin Amash cosponsored an amendment that would have defunded the National Security Agency’s unwarranted bulk collection of Americans’ phone data. The measure failed narrowly, but has re-energized the legislative struggle for civil liberties. Amash believes that James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, should be prosecuted for lying to Congress. He also says he doesn’t appreciate the “condescending” tone of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with respect to the debate over national security.
Glenn Beck Justin Amash Interview On Nsa Surveillance
Congress’s Abdication on NSA Oversight (U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI))
Justin Amash: President Obama Was ‘Highly Misleading’ In Claiming There’s No Domestic Spying Program
House committee passes NSA reform bill
The House Judiciary Committee passed the National Security Agency reforming “USA Freedom Act” 31-0 Wednesday. The first major piece of legislation seeking to curb the NSA’s collection of electronic information, the bill which has undergone major changes will now proceed to the full House of Representatives. It will be competing with another reform bill that is expected to be approved by the House Intelligence Committee Thursday. RT’s Sam Sacks breaks down the bill and the chances for instituting real reform.
“USA Freedom Act” Bill To Put NSA “Out Of Business”
Fox News Reporting The NSA’s Secret War Who’ The Enemy? 1 of 6
Fox News Reporting The NSA’s Secret War Who’ The Enemy Controversy Not The First Time 2 of
Fox News Reporting The NSA’s Secret War Who’ The Enemy? Controversy? 9 11 3 of 6
Fox News Reporting – The NSA’s Secret War Who’ The Enemy? – Phone Records – 4 of 6
Fox News Reporting – The NSA’s Secret War Who’ The Enemy? – Edward Snowden & Security – 5 of 6
Fox News Reporting – The NSA’s Secret War Who’ The Enemy? – Day Of Reckoning At Hand? – 6 of 6
C-SPAN Callers On The Future Of The National Security Agency (NSA)
James Bamford Says NSA “Exploiting” U.S. Citizens With Info About Their Online Porno Viewing Habits
Yesterday, C4L sent a letter to members of the House Judiciary Committee strongly opposing the Manager’s Amendment to H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act.
The original version of the act was sold to Americans as a way to rein in the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, and it would have been a first step towards real reform of the surveillance state since 9/11.
But, that’s seldom the way Congress works. In an effort to “pass something this year,” the Judiciary Committee watered down the legislation and it passed out of the committee unanimously.
What’s more likely, that Rogers and Ruppersberger had a change of heart on the NSA? Or that Judiciary watered down the USA FREEDOM Act enough to the point that its “reform” is devoid of any substantive changes?
The bill is now earning plaudits from the same guys who said the original version would “make America less safe,” and from the administration that never wanted you to know they were spying on you in the first place.
Read Campaign for Liberty’s letter to the Judiciary Committee below:
Six months after it was written to restrain the National Security Agency’s sweeping domestic surveillance, a privacy bill cleared a major legislative obstacle on Wednesday, even as its advocates worried that the compromises made to advance the bill have weakened its constraints on mass data collection.
The USA Freedom Act, designed to prevent the US government from collecting US phone data in bulk, passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 32 to zero bi-partisan vote, making it the first surveillance reform bill to proceed out of committee and to the House floor.
But an internal committee breakthrough on Monday that won the support of chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, significantly recast the bill, softening its prohibitions on aspects of bulk collection and requiring transparency around it.
The bill’s architect, Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who also wrote the 2001 Patriot Act, said the bill “makes it crystal clear that Congress does not support bulk collection.”
While changes to the bill now permit the government to gather call records up to two degrees of separation away from a specific target – potentially millions of records – Sensenbrenner urged his colleagues “not to make the perfect the enemy of the good,” expressing confidence that the revamped USA Freedom Act was on “the fast track to passage.”
Supporters in and outside of Congress concede the latest compromises have left the USA Freedom Act less protective of civil liberties than it was when introduced in October. Its distinctions from a rival bill written by the leaders of the House intelligence committee, the NSA’s strongest Capitol Hill advocates, are somewhat blurred, prompting civil libertarians to become less enthusiastic of a measure they have championed as a fix to the broad NSA powers exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and longtime USA Freedom Act supporter, said that the new version of the bill was a “less than perfect compromise” that still makes “important, vital, substantive changes” to US surveillance.
The revised USA Freedom Act, “while still better than any other proposal on the board, is a setback from the original,” said Amie Stepanovich of Access, a human rights and digital rights advocacy group.
While the USA Freedom Act has nearly 150 House co-sponsors, and a stalled Senate companion commands 20 votes in the upper chamber, it was clear on Wednesday that the House intelligence committee will continue attempts to outmaneuvre its rival.
The chairman of the intelligence committee, until now a fervent critic of the USA Freedom Act, is now praising a bill he has long criticized, and which several congressional sources said he attempted to influence ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is retiring this year, called the changes to the USA Freedom Act a “huge improvement,” adding in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine that the bill’s architects have “come a lot closer [and] now we’re just trying to work out the wording.”
Rogers is scheduled to mark up his alternative bill, the Fisa Transparency and Modernization Act, on Thursday, a decision USA Freedom Act supporters view as a desperation move. But on Wednesday, Rogers’ committee announced it will also mark up the USA Freedom Act on Thursday, prompting Capitol Hill speculation that Rogers will attempt to merge his bill with the Freedom Act rather than attempt to rally more votes.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had earlier thrown his support behind Rogers’ bill. But now Boehner is said to be monitoring the committe process and keeping his options open. Congressional sources expected Boehner to schedule a vote on a surveillance proposal – of whatever form – as early as the week of 19 May, so the issue does not derail the annual defense budget authorization, though nothing is scheduled yet.
Both bills as originally crafted prevent the NSA from collecting US phone data in bulk, as it has done in secret since 2001, a position that President Barack Obama now embraces. The major difference between the two bills remains the role of judges in authorizing data collection. The Rogers bill permits the government to collect phone and email data absent a judges’ prior order, which the revised USA Freedom Act requires in all but emergency cases.
Additionally, the revised USA Freedom Act permits the government to get phone data two “hops,” or degrees of separation, from the target of the order, which can mean millions of call records reaped from a single court order. The legal standard for that order, for counterterrorism purposes, will be “reasonable articulable suspicion” of connection to an agent of a foreign power, the NSA’s desired framework.
Significantly, the new version of the USA Freedom Act all but stripped out a provision preventing the NSA from combing through its foreign communications dragnets for Americans’ information, something Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon dubbed the “backdoor search provision,” an absence that has deeply upset supporters. Those dragnets exist pursuant to a major 2008 piece of legislation, known as Section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act.
Congressional sources pointed to new language tightening up prohibitions on the NSA intentionally targeting Americans’ communications at the outset as a palliative. But they conceded the absence of the backdoor search ban was a major change – one they said the NSA’s advocates fought hard for, an indication of how central the NSA considers a power it has rarely forthrightly acknowledged using. They indicated that USA Freedom Act supporters lacked the votes within the committee to pass the bill that retained the backdoor search prohibition.
An attempt by Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, to restore the backdoor search provision failed Wednesday. Goodlatte said restoring it would “disrupt this bipartisan agreement.”
Kevin Bankston of the Open Technology Institute said he was “incredibly disappointed” at the new USA Freedom Act’s effective blessing of backdoor searches.
“Especially when we’re expecting the government’s own surveillance watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, to issue a report on just that issue within a month or so, closing the door to reform on Section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act would be premature,” Bankston said in a statement.
But the Judiciary Committee restored a provision initially struck from the original USA Freedom Act permitting increased transparency for companies receiving surveillance orders for their customers’ data, the absence of which had alarmed supporters.
The language, added back to the bill Wednesday by Representative Suzan Delbene of Washington, had been cut in order to codify a January deal the Justice Department reached with phone and Internet companies allowing them to list received orders only in bands of 1,000 and with a time lag. Congressional sources said companies lobbied hard to restore transparency language.
The Obama administration has withheld endorsement of either bill in public, confusing supporters. But in recent weeks, its guidance to Capitol Hill on surveillance reform included a requirement for up-front judicial authorization for data requests, which only the USA Freedom Act possesses.
“At this stage, I think I’d just say we will be watching closely as these bills go through the process,” said Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman said shortly before the vote.
Hours after the vote, Hayden issued a statement welcoming the USA Freedom Act as “a very good first step”:
“In March the president laid out his proposal to reform Section 215, and called upon Congress to act quickly to pass implementing legislation. We applaud the House Judiciary Committee for approaching this issue on a bipartisan basis. The Judiciary Committee passed bill is a very good first step in that important effort, and we look forward to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence action on it tomorrow,” Hayden said.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act is the provision cited by the NSA and blessed by the secret Fisa Court for bulk data collection.
Some legislators, distressed by the changes to the USA Freedom Act, are considering a different option for surveillance reform.
As amended, the USA Freedom Act would push back the expiration of Section 215 to the end of 2017, when Section 702 is set to expire. The current expiration is 1 June of next year. Some legislators are already whispering that allowing Section 215 to expire wholesale in 2015 is a preferable reform.
But Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, a Democrat, said the USA Freedom Act was “the first, best and perhaps only chance in a decade” to constrain widespread surveillance.
“This is our chance. We have to seize it,” Nadler said on Wednesday.
Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who sponsored the USA Freedom Act in the Senate, hailed the committee vote, but said he was concerned that the text does not reform the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national-security letters and makes insufficient changes on transparency and to the Fisa Court.
“I will continue to push for those reforms when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA Freedom Act this summer,” Leahy said in a statement.
The USA Freedom Act, formally titled the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection and Online Monitoring Act, is a bill that was introduced in both houses of the U.S. Congress on October 29, 2013.
The USA Freedom Act would end the bulk collection of Americans’ metadata, end the secret laws created by the FISA court, and introduce a “Special Advocate” to represent public and privacy matters. Other proposed changes include limits to programs like PRISM, which “incidentally” retains Americans’ Internet data, and greater transparency by allowing companies such as Google and Facebook to disclose information about government demands for information.
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the bill, stated that its purpose was:
To rein in the dragnet collection of data by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies, increase transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), provide businesses the ability to release information regarding FISA requests, and create an independent constitutional advocate to argue cases before the FISC.
According to the bill’s sponsors, their legislation would amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act to ensure that any phone records obtained by the government were essential in an investigation that involved terrorism or espionage, thereby ending bulk collection, while preserving “the intelligence community’s ability to gather information in a more focused way.” A May 2014 amended version of the bill would also extend thecontroversial USA PATRIOT Act through the end of 2017. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has criticized the Patriot Act as unconstitutional, especially when “the private communications of law-abiding American citizens might be intercepted incidentally”.
Many members of Congress believed that in the wake of the Snowden disclosures, restoration of public trust would require legislative changes. More than 20 bills have been written since the disclosures began with the goal of reining in government surveillance powers.
Sensenbrenner, who introduced the USA PATRIOT Act (H.R. 3162) in 2001 following the September 11 terrorist attacks to give more power to US intelligence agencies, and who has described himself as “author of the Patriot Act”, declared that it was time to put the NSA’s “metadata program out of business”. With its bulk collection of Americans’ phone data, Sensenbrenner asserted that the intelligence community “misused those powers”, had gone “far beyond” the original intent of the legislation, and had “overstepped its authority”.
An opinion piece by Leahy and Sensenbrenner, published in Politico, described the impetus for proposed changes, saying:
The intelligence community has failed to justify its expansive use of [the FISA and Patriot Act] laws. It is simply not accurate to say that the bulk collection of phone records has prevented dozens of terrorist plots. The most senior NSA officials have acknowledged as much in congressional testimony. We also know that the FISA court has admonished the government for making a series of substantial misrepresentations to the court regarding these programs. As a result, the intelligence community now faces a trust deficit with the American public that compromises its ability to do its job. It is not enough to just make minor tweaks around the edges. It is time for real, substantive reform.
Markup in House Judiciary Committee
In May 2014, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee posted a “Manager’s Amendment” on its website. Title VII of the Amendment read “Section 102(b)(1) of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (50 U.S.C. 1805 note) is amended by striking “June 1, 2015″ and inserting “December 31, 2017″, extending the controversial USA PATRIOT Act through the end of 2017. The Electronic Privacy Information Center(EPIC) has criticized the Patriot Act as unconstitutional, especially when “the private communications of law-abiding American citizens might be intercepted incidentally”. James Dempsey, of the CDT, believes that the Patriot Act unnecessarily overlooks the importance of notice under the Fourth Amendment and under a Title III wiretap, while the American Library Association became so concerned that they formed a resolution condemning the USA PATRIOT Act, and which urged members to defend free speech and protect patrons’ privacy against the Act.
The Guardian wrote “civil libertarians on the Judiciary Committee had to compromise in order to gain support for the act. Significantly, the government will still be able to collect phone data on Americans, pending a judge’s individualized order based on ‘reasonable articulable suspicion‘ – a standard preferred by the NSA – of wrongdoing, and can collect call records two degrees or ‘hops’ of separation from the individual suspected”. Kara Brandeisky of ProPublica said “some worry that the bill does not unequivocally ban bulk collection of American records. Again, a lot depends on how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court interprets the statute”.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stated it remained “concerned that this bill omits important transparency provisions found in the USA FREEDOM Act, which are necessary to shed light on surveillance abuses”. In addition, the EFF said it believed “this bill should do more to address mass surveillance under Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, a section of law used to collect the communications of users worldwide”. The Open Technology Institute commented “several other key reforms—such as provisions allowing Internet and phone companies to publish more information about the demands they receive, which OTI and a coalition of companies and organizations have been pressing for since last summer—have been removed, while the bill also provides for a new type of court order that the President has requested, allowing for continuous collection by the government of specified telephone records.”
Despite the criticism from civil liberties groups, Mike Rogers, a defender of the NSA‘s surveillance practices and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, praised the amendments. Rogers, who had his own bill which would codify the NSA’s surveillance practices in to law, called the proposed amendments a “huge improvement”. Foreign Policy wrote “any compromise to the Judiciary bill risks an insurrection from civil libertarians in Congress. Michigan Republican Justin Amash led such a revolt last year when he offered an NSA amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would have stripped funding for the NSA’s collection program.” “Just a weakened bill or worse than status quo? I’ll find out,” Representative Amash said.
The Act has bipartisan support, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. As of May 8, 2014, it had 150 co-sponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate. Viewed as one of the most comprehensive of the similar bills introduced since the NSA leaks, the USA Freedom Act has support or qualified support from a diverse range of groups such as the ACLU, Mozilla, and the NRA.
Representative Justin Amash, author of the narrowly-defeated Amash Amendment, a proposal that would have de-funded the NSA, backed the legislation. “It’s getting out of control” he commented, “[Courts are issuing] general warrants without specific cause…and you have one agency that’s essentially having superpowers to pass information onto others”.
According to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, even if the Freedom Act becomes law, the NSA could continue its bulk collection of American’s phone records. He explained that “it’s going to depend on how the [FISA] court interprets any number of the provisions” contained within the legislation.Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties at Stanford Law School, stated:
Opponents of global surveillance have called for the bill to be strengthened. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a statement saying “we consider this bill to be a floor, not a ceiling”. The ACLU wrote that “although the USA Freedom Act does not fix every problem with the government’s surveillance authorities and programs, it is an important first step and it deserves broad support.”
International human rights groups remain somewhat skeptical of specific provisions of the bill. For example, Human Rights Watch expressed its concern that the “bill would do little to increase protections for the right to privacy for people outside the United States, a key problem that plagues U.S. surveillance activities. Nor would the bill address mass surveillance or bulk collection practices that may be occurring under other laws or regulations, such as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act or Executive Order 12333. These practices affect many more people and include the collection of the actual content of internet communications and phone calls, not just metadata”. Zeke Johnson, Director of Amnesty International‘s Security and Human Rights Program, agreed that “any proposal that fails to ban mass surveillance, end blanket secrecy, or stop discrimination against people outside the U.S. will be a false fix”.
As amended, the USA Freedom Act would push back the expiration of Section 215 to the end of 2017, when Section 702 is set to expire. The current expiration is 1 June of next year. Some legislators are already whispering that allowing Section 215 to expire wholesale in 2015 is a preferable reform.
The program’s existence was publicly revealed in July 2013 by Edward Snowden in The Sydney Morning Herald and O Globo newspapers, though the codename is mentioned in earlier articles, and like many other codenames can also be seen in job postings, and in the online resumes of employees.
XKeyscore is a complicated system and various authors have different interpretations about its actual capabilities. Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald explained XKeyscore as being a system which enables almost unlimited surveillance of anyone anywhere in the world, while NSA said that usage of the system is limited and restricted.
According to The Washington Post and national security reporter Marc Ambinder, XKeyscore is an NSA data-retrieval system which consists of a series of user interfaces, backend databases, servers and software that selects certain types of data and metadata that the NSA has already collected using other methods.
According to Snowden and Greenwald
On January 26, 2014, the German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk asked Edward Snowden in its TV interview: “What could you do if you would use XKeyscore?” and he answered:
“You could read anyone’s email in the world, anybody you’ve got an email address for. Any website: You can watch traffic to and from it. Any computer that an individual sits at: You can watch it. Any laptop that you’re tracking: you can follow it as it moves from place to place throughout the world. It’s a one-stop-shop for access to the NSA’s information.”
“…You can tag individuals… Let’s say you work at a major German corporation and I want access to that network, I can track your username on a website on a form somewhere, I can track your real name, I can track associations with your friends and I can build what’s called a fingerprint, which is network activity unique to you, which means anywhere you go in the world, anywhere you try to sort of hide your online presence, your identity.”
According to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, low-level NSA analysts can via systems like XKeyscore “listen to whatever emails they want, whatever telephone calls, browsing histories, Microsoft Word documents. And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst.”
He added that the NSA’s databank of collected communications allows its analysts to listen “to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future”.
In an official statement from July 30, 2013, the NSA said there is no “unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks.” The NSA also states that there are “stringent oversight and compliance mechanisms built in at several levels. One feature is the system’s ability to limit what an analyst can do with a tool, based on the source of the collection and each analyst’s defined responsibilities.”
The agency defended the program, stressing that it was only used to legally obtain information about “legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests. [...] XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA’s lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system. [...] These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully — to defend the nation and to protect U.S. and allied troops abroad.”
Slide from a 2008 NSA presentation about XKeyscore, showing a worldmap with the locations of XKeyscore servers
Slide from a 2008 NSA presentation about XKeyscore, showing the query hierarchy
An NSA presentation about XKeyscore from 2008 says that it’s a “DNI Exploitation System/Analytic Framework”. DNI stands for Digital Network Intelligence, which means intelligence derived from internet traffic. In an interview with the German Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Edward Snowden said about XKeyscore: “It’s a front end search engine”.
XKeyscore consists of over 700 servers at approximately 150 sites where the NSA collects data, like “US and allied military and other facilities as well as US embassies and consulates” in many countries around the world. Among the facilities involved in the program are four bases in Australia and one in New Zealand.
According to an NSA presentation from 2008, these XKeyscore servers are fed with data from the following collection systems:
F6 (Special Collection Service) – joint operation of the CIA and NSA that carries out clandestine operations including espionage on foreign diplomats and leaders
FORNSAT – which stands for “foreign satellite collection”, and refers to intercepts from satellites
Third party – foreign partners of the NSA such as the (signals) intelligence agencies of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, etc.
From these sources, XKeyscore stores “full-take data”, which are indexed by plug-ins that extract certain types of metadata (like phone numbers, e-mail addresses, log-ins, and user activity) and index them in metadata tables, which can be queried by analysts. XKeyscore has been integrated with MARINA, which is NSA’s database for internet metadata.
However, the system continuously gets so much Internet data that it can be stored only for short periods of time. Content data remain on the system for only three to five days, while metadata is stored for up to 30 days. A detailed commentary on an NSA presentation published in The Guardian in July 2013 cites a document published in 2008 declaring that “At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours.”
Slide from a 2008 NSA presentation about XKeyscore, showing the differences between the various NSA database systems
For analysts, XKeyscore provides a “series of viewers for common data types”, which allows them to query terabytes of raw data gathered at the aforementioned collection sites. This enables them to find targets that cannot be found by searching only the metadata, and also to do this against data sets that otherwise would have been dropped by the front-end data processing systems. According to a slide from an XKeyscore presentation, NSA collection sites select and forward less than 5% of the internet traffic to the PINWALE database for internet content.
Because XKeyscore holds raw and unselected communications traffic, analysts can not only perform queries using “strong selectors” like e-mail addresses, but also using “soft selectors”, like keywords, against the body texts of e-mail and chat messages and digital documents and spreadsheets in English, Arabic and Chinese.
This is useful because “a large amount of time spent on the web is performing actions that are anonymous” and therefore those activities can’t be found by just looking for e-mail addresses of a target. When content has been found, the analyst might be able to find new intelligence or a strong selector, which can then be used for starting a traditional search.
Besides using soft selectors, analysts can also use the following other XKeyscore capabilities:
Look for the usage of Google Maps and terms entered into a search engine by known targets looking for suspicious things or places.
Look for “anomalies” without any specific person attached, like detecting the nationality of foreigners by analyzing the language used within intercepted emails. An example would be a German speaker in Pakistan. The Brazilian paper O Globo claims that this has been applied to Latin America and specifically to Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela.
Detect people who use encryption by do searches like “all PGP usage in Iran”. The caveat given is that very broad queries can result in too much data to transmit back to the analyst.
Track the source and authorship of a document that has passed through many hands.
Most of these things cannot be detected by other NSA tools because they operate with strong selectors (like e-mail and IP addresses and phone numbers) and the raw data volumes are too high to forward them to other NSA databases.
In 2008, it was planned to add a number of new capabilities in the future, like:
The NSA slides published in The Guardian during 2013 claimed that XKeyscore had played a role in capturing 300 terrorists by 2008. This claim could not be substantiated as the redacted documents do not cite instances of terrorist interventions.
A 2011 report from the NSA unit in Griesheim (Germany) says that XKeyscore made it easier and more efficient to target surveillance. Previously, analysis often accessed data they were not interested in. XKeyscore allowed them to focus on the intended topics, while ignoring unrelated data. XKeyscore also proved to be an outstanding tool for tracking active groups associated with the Anonymous movement in Germany, because it allows for searching on patterns, rather than particular individuals. An analyst is able to determine when targets research new topics, or develop new behaviors.
To create additional motivation, the NSA incorporated various features from computer games into the program. For instance, analysts who were especially good at using XKeyscore could acquire “skilz” points and “unlock achievements.” The training units in Griesheim were apparently successful and analysts there had achieved the “highest average of skilz points” compared with all other NSA departments participating in the training program.
Usage by foreign partners of the NSA
Excerpt of an NSA document leaked by Edward Snowden that reveals the BND‘s usage of the NSA’s XKeyscore to wiretap a German domestic target
According to documents Der Spiegel acquired from Snowden, the German intelligence agencies BND (foreign intelligence) and BfV (domestic intelligence) were also allowed to use the XKeyscore system. In those documents the BND agency was described as the NSA’s most prolific partner in information gathering. This led to political confrontations, after which the directors of the German intelligence agencies briefed members of the German parliamentary intelligence oversight committee on July 25, 2013. They declared that XKeyscore has been used by the BND since 2007 and that the BfV uses a test version since 2012. The directors also explained that this program is not for collecting data, but only for analyzing them.
As part of the UKUSA Agreement, a secret treaty was signed in 1954 by Sweden with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for the purpose of intelligence collaboration and data sharing. According to documents leaked by Snowden, the National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) has been granted access to XKeyscore.
Wild Horses on Public Lands and the impact on Ranching and Communities
We took the show to Beaver County this week to get an on the ground look at how wild horses impact the range. In Utah the population of wild horses is over the Appropriate Management Level (AML) by 1,300 animals. Nationally the problem of dealing with the number of wild horses increases to 14,000 beyond the AML. The management of wild horses costs the BLM tens of millions of dollars every year but despite the efforts to gather wild horses off the range; the numbers keep increasing.
Chad Booth talks to Beaver County Commissioner, Mark Whitney; Iron County Commissioner, David Miller; and local rancher Mark Winch about the impacts on ranchers and the ultimate impact it has on the economies of rural Utah.
Transfer of Public Lands
Public Lands in Utah County Seat Season3, Episode 8
In recent years there has been a public outcry from Utahans asking the State to take a more active role in how management decisions are made on public lands. The take back Utah movement has looked at the history of public lands in the United States and began to ask why hasn’t Utah received the same treatment as other states in the Union. Utah has about 67% of its lands controlled and managed by the federal government. Some counties in the state are about 90% federally owned which creates a burden on the local governments because there is no property tax base to pay for the services that citizens need.
Last year Utah passed the Utah Public Lands Transfer Act, HB148; which basically asks the federal government to dispose of the remaining unallocated federal lands within the state by 2014. HB148 has opened up a conversation about what the proper role of the federal government should be in the management of public lands. Today’s show takes a look at the issues from a federal, state, and county perspective.
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Wild horses targeted for roundup in Utah rangeland clash
By Jennifer Dobner April 11, 2014 8:41 PM
Two of a band of wild horses graze in the Nephi Wash area outside Enterprise, Utah, April 10, 2014. REUTERS/Jim …
ENTERPRISE, Utah (Reuters) – A Utah county, angry over the destruction of federal rangeland that ranchers use to graze cattle, has started a bid to round up federally protected wild horses it blames for the problem in the latest dustup over land management in the U.S. West.
Close to 2,000 wild horses are roaming southern Utah’s Iron County, well over the 300 the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has dubbed as appropriate for the rural area’s nine designated herd management zones, County Commissioner David Miller said.
County officials complain the burgeoning herd is destroying vegetation crucial to ranchers who pay to graze their cattle on the land, and who have already been asked to reduce their herds to cope with an anticipated drought.
Wild horse preservation groups say any attempt to remove the horses would be a federal crime.
On Thursday county workers, accompanied by a Bureau of Land Management staffer, set up the first in a series of metal corrals designed to trap and hold the horses on private land abutting the federal range until they can be moved to BLM facilities for adoption.
“There’s been no management of the animals and they keep reproducing,” Miller said in an interview. “The rangeland just can’t sustain it.”
The conflict reflects broader tension between ranchers, who have traditionally grazed cattle on public lands and held sway over land-use decisions, and environmentalists and land managers facing competing demands on the same land.
The Iron County roundup comes on the heels of an incident in neighboring Nevada in which authorities sent in helicopters and wranglers on horseback to confiscate the cattle herd of a rancher they say is illegally grazing livestock on public land.
In Utah, county commissioners warned federal land managers in a letter last month that the county would act independently to remove the horses if no mitigation efforts were launched.
Cattle rancher Jeremy Hunt looks out over land, at a barbed wire fence in the Nephi Wash area outsid …
“We charge you to fulfill your responsibility,” commissioners wrote. “Inaction and no-management practices pose an imminent threat to ranchers.”
The operation was expected to last weeks or months.
“The BLM is actively working with Iron County to address the horse issue,” Utah-based BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said, declining to comment further.
Attorneys for wild horse preservation groups sent a letter this week to Iron County commissioners and the BLM saying the BLM, under federal law, cannot round up horses on public lands without proper analysis and disclosure.
“The BLM must stop caving to the private financial interests of livestock owners whenever they complain about the protected wild horses using limited resources that are available on such lands,” wrote Katherine Meyer of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal a Washington, DC-based public interest law firm representing the advocates.
The BLM puts the free-roaming wild horse and burro population across western states at more than 40,600, which it says on its website exceeds by nearly 14,000 the number of animals it believes “can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses.”
Wild horse advocates point out that the tens of thousands of wild horses on BLM property pales into comparison with the millions of private livestock grazing on public lands managed by the agency.
Wild horses have not been culled due to budget constraints, according to Utah BLM officials, who say their herds grow by roughly 20 percent per year.
Pressure on rangeland from the horses may worsen this summer due to a drought that could dry up the already sparse available food supply, according to Miller.
“We’re going to see those horses starving to death out on the range,” he said. “The humane thing is to get this going now.”
Adding to frustration is BLM pressure on ranchers to cut their cattle herds by as much as 50 percent to cope with the drought, Miller said.
A tour of Iron County rangeland, not far from the Nevada border, illustrates the unchecked herds’ impact on the land, said Jeremy Hunt, a fourth generation Utah rancher whose cattle graze in the summer in a management area split through its middle by a barbed wire fence.
On the cattle side of the fence, the sagebrush and grass landscape is thick and green. The other, where a group of horses was seen on Thursday, is scattered with barren patches of dirt and sparse vegetation.
“This land is being literally destroyed because they are not following the laws that they set up to govern themselves,” said Hunt, who also works as a farmhand to make ends meet for his family of six.
“I want the land to be healthy and I want be a good steward of the land,” he added. “But you have to manage both sides of the fence.”
Wholesale Prices in U.S. Rise on Services as Goods Stagnate
By Lorraine WoellertApr 11, 2014 9:07 AM CT
Wholesale prices in the U.S. rose in March as the cost of services climbed by the most in four years while commodities stagnated.
The 0.5 percent advance in the producer-price index was the biggest since June and followed a 0.1 percent decrease the prior month, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The recent inclusion of services may contribute to the gauge’s volatility from month-to-month, which will make it more difficult to determine underlying trends.
Rising prices at clothing and jewelry retailers and food wholesalers accounted for much of the jump in services, even as energy costs retreated, signaling slowing growth in emerging markets such as China will keep price pressures muted. With inflation running well below the Federal Reserve’s goal, the central bank is likely to keep borrowing costs low in an effort to spur growth.
“Every six months or so service prices seem to pop, but over the year, service prices tend to dampen inflation more often than not,” Jay Morelock, an economist at FTN Financial in New York, wrote in a note. “One month of price gains is not indicative of a trend.”
Also today, consumer confidence climbed this month to the highest level since July, a sign an improving job market is lifting Americans’ spirits. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary April sentiment index rose to 82.6 from 80 a month earlier.
Stocks dropped, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index heading for its biggest weekly decline since January, as disappointing results from JPMorgan Chase & Co. fueled concern that corporate earnings will be weak. The S&P 500 fell 0.4 percent to 1,826.29 at 10:02 a.m. in New York.
Today’s PPI report is the third to use an expanded index that measures 75 percent of the economy, compared to about a third for the old metric, which tallied the costs of goods alone. After its first major overhaul since 1978, PPI now measures prices received for services, government purchases, exports and construction.
Estimates for the PPI in the Bloomberg survey of 72 economists ranged from a drop of 0.2 percent to a 0.3 percent gain.
Core wholesale prices, which exclude volatile food and energy categories, climbed 0.6 percent, the biggest gain since March 2011, exceeding the projected 0.2 percent advance of economists surveyed by Bloomberg. They dropped 0.2 percent in February.
The year-to-year gain in producer prices was the biggest since August and followed a 0.9 percent increase in the 12 months to February. Excluding food and energy, the index also increased 1.4 percent year to year following a 1.1 percent year-to-year gain in February.
The cost of services climbed 0.7 percent in March, the biggest gain since January 2010. Goods prices were unchanged and were up 1.1 percent over the past 12 months.
Wholesale food costs climbed 1.1 percent in March, led by higher costs for meats, including pork and sausage. Energy costs fell 1.2 percent last month.
Food producers and restaurants say they’re paying more for beef, poultry, dairy and shrimp. At General Mills Inc. (GIS), maker of Yoplait yogurt, Cheerios cereal and other brands, rising dairy prices helped push retail profit down 11 percent in the third quarter, said Ken Powell, chairman and chief executive officer of the Minneapolis-based company. Powell called the inflation “manageable.”
“While the economy is improving slowly and incomes are strengthening slowly, they are improving,” Powell said on a March 19 earnings call. “As incomes continue to grow and consumers gain confidence that will be a positive sign for our category.”
Today’s PPI report provides a glimpse into the consumer-price index, the broadest of three inflation measures released by the Labor Department. The CPI, due to be released April 15, probably climbed 0.1 percent in March, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey.
The wholesale price report also offers an advance look into the personal consumption expenditures deflator, a gauge monitored closely by the Fed. Health care prices make up the largest share of the core PCE index, which excludes food and energy costs. The next PCE report is due from the Commerce Department May 1.
This week, Fed policy makers played down their own predictions that interest rates might rise faster than they had forecast, according to minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s March meeting. The minutes bolstered remarks made by last month by Chair Janet Yellen.
“If inflation is persistently running below our 2 percent objective, that is a very good reason to hold the funds rate at its present range for longer,” Yellen said at a March 19 press conference following the committee meeting.
Story 1:16 Year Old Teenager Stabs 20 in High School — Progressives Call For Registration of All Knives, Concealed Knife Carry Permits and Ban On All Assault Knives — Will Baseball Bats Be Next? — Videos
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Suspect in School Stabbing Spree Is ‘Confused, Scared and Depressed’
By BEN CANDEA, COURTNEY CONDRON and DAN GOOD
Alex Hribal, the 16-year-old student who police say stabbed 22 people at his Pennsylvania high school Wednesday, is “confused, scared and depressed,” his attorney told ABC News in an exclusive interview.
“I think he understands what he did,” attorney Patrick Thomassey said in an interview with “Good Morning America.”
“I don’t think he at this point understands the gravity of what he did. I don’t think he realizes how severely injured some of these people are. And, hopefully, there’s no death involved in any of these. We’re praying that everybody is all right.”
Thomassey said he’s unaware of any signs of Hribal’s being bullied, adding that the teen’s parents are shocked and horrified.
“They could not have predicted that this was going to happen,” he said. “They don’t understand how this occurred.”
The stabbing spree happened at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, a suburb located about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. Morgan Ritchey, who said she had two classes with Hribal, described him as being “a little misunderstood.”
I just always felt like he had a different side to him that nobody knew and it was, like, hard to uncover,” said Ritchey. Hribal, a sophomore, used two 8-to-10 inch “kitchen-type” “straight” knives in the attack, which started shortly after 7 a.m., police said. Murrysville Police Officer William “Buzz” Yakshe, a school resource officer, heard a disturbance in the hallway and joined a school security guard to go find out what was happening, according to a police affidavit. The guard and officer split up. The next time Yakshe saw the guard, he was leaning against a wall, bleeding from his stomach. Sam King, the school’s assistant principal, told police he saw Hribal stab the security guard. King tackled the teen and subdued him while Yakshe handcuffed him. King heard one of the victims say, “I’ve been stabbed,” he told police. Authorities charged Hribal as an adult with four counts of attempted criminal homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault and one count of possession of weapons on school property. He was being held without bail in a juvenile detention center in Westmoreland County. Murrysville Police Chief Thomas Seefeld said someone pulled a fire alarm during the attack, raising attention and getting students and teachers to evacuate. “When we got there we saw a hallway in chaos, as you can imagine,” Seefeld said at a news conference. “There was a lot of evidence of blood on the floors and in the hallway, we had students running about, trying to get out of the area.” Nate Moore, 15, was stabbed during the rampage and said he had to be treated with 15 stitches. “It was really fast. It felt like he hit me with a wet rag because I felt the blood splash on my face. It spurted up on my forehead,” Moore told The Associated Press. Student Gracey Evans said heroes emerged during the attack. “My best friend, he stepped in front of me and in the meantime, he got stabbed in the back protecting me,” she said. “You couldn’t step a single place without pretty much stepping in blood.” At least 22 people were injured after the stabbings at the start of the school day, Westmoreland County emergency management spokesman Dan Stevens said. The motive for the rampage is under investigation. Seefeld said officials were unaware of any warning signs from the suspect, a sophomore at the school. At least four people with injuries emergency management officials described as “serious” were flown to hospitals for treatment. Others were not actually stabbed, he said, and some of their injuries included cuts and scrapes. http://gma.yahoo.com/suspect-school-stabbing-spree-confused-scared-depressed-115319444–abc-news-topstories.html
A BLANK LOOK, FOLLOWED BY BLOODSHED AT HIGH SCHOOL
It was just before the start of class and the hallways were packed with students at their lockers or chatting with friends.
Nate Moore was walking to homeroom, book in hand, when a classmate he knew to be quiet and unassuming tackled a freshman boy a few feet in front of him. Moore thought it was the start of a fistfight and went to break it up.
But 16-year-old Alex Hribal wasn’t throwing punches — he was stabbing his victim in the belly, Moore said. The suspect got up and slashed Moore’s face, then took off down the hall, where authorities said he stabbed and slashed other students in an attack that injured 21 students and a security guard — and might have been even worse but for the “heroes” who Pennsylvania’s governor said helped prevent further injury or loss of life.
An assistant principal tackled and subdued Hribal, who was charged Wednesday night with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault and jailed without bail. Authorities said he would be prosecuted as an adult.
The suspect’s motive remained a mystery.
“He wasn’t saying anything,” Moore recalled hours later. “He didn’t have any anger on his face. It was just a blank expression.”
At a brief hearing Wednesday night, District Attorney John Peck said that after he was taken into custody, Hribal made comments suggesting he wanted to die. Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey described him as a good student who got along with others, and asked for a psychiatric examination.
Thomassey told ABC’s Good Morning America on Thursday that any defense he offers would likely be based on Hribal’s mental health. He said he hoped to move the charges against the teenager to juvenile court, where he could be rehabilitated. If convicted as an adult, Hribal faces likely decades in prison.
Thomassey told several media outlets that Hribal is remorseful, though he acknowledged his client didn’t appear to appreciate the gravity of his actions.
“At this point, he’s confused, scared and depressed. Over the next few days we’ll try to figure out what the heck happened here,” Thomassey told ABC. “I think he understands what he did. … I don’t think he realizes how severely injured some of these people are.”
At least five students were critically wounded in the attack, including a boy who was on a ventilator after a knife pierced his liver, missing his heart and aorta by only millimeters, doctors said. He had additional surgery overnight, they said.
The rampage comes after decades in which U.S. schools have focused their emergency preparedness on mass shootings, not stabbings.
While knife attacks at schools are not unusual, they’re most often limited to a single victim, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Nevertheless, there have been at least two major stabbing attacks at U.S. schools over the past year, the first at a community college in Texas last April that wounded at least 14 people, and another, also in Texas, that killed a 17-year-old student and injured three others at a high school last September.
The attack in Pittsburgh unfolded shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday, a few minutes before the start of classes at 1,200-student Franklin Regional High School, in an upper-middle-class area 15 miles east of Pittsburgh. By Thursday morning, the school was no longer being treated as a crime scene, according to police and school officials, who said they expected it to reopen Monday.
Mia Meixner, 16, said the freshman boy who was tackled tried to fight back, then, when his assailant got off him, stood up and lifted his shirt to reveal a midsection covered in blood.
“He had his shirt pulled up and he was screaming, ‘Help! Help!'” said another witness, Michael Float, 18. “He had a stab wound right at the top right of his stomach, blood pouring down.”
As students rushed to the boy’s aid, the attacker slashed Moore before taking off around a bend.
“It was really fast. It felt like he hit me with a wet rag because I felt the blood splash on my face. It spurted up on my forehead,” said Moore, whose gashed right cheek required 11 stitches.
The boy ran down about 200 feet of hallway, slashing and stabbing other students with kitchen knives about 8 to 10 inches long, police said. The assault touched off a “stampede of kids” yelling, “Run! Get out of here! Someone has a knife!” according to Meixner.
Assistant Principal Sam King heard the commotion and found a chaotic scene in the blood-soaked hall.
“I’ve been stabbed,” he heard a student say, according to a police affidavit.
King then saw Hribal stab a security guard, who leaned against the wall, bleeding from his stomach, the affidavit said. King tackled Hribal and kept him on the floor until a school police officer handcuffed him.
The rampage lasted about five minutes.
“There are a number of heroes in this day. Many of them are students,” Gov. Tom Corbett said in a visit to the town. “Students who stayed with their friends and didn’t leave their friends.”
He also commended cafeteria workers, teachers and teacher’s aides who put themselves at risk to help others.
Looking for a motive, Murrysville Police Chief Thomas Seefeld said investigators were checking reports of a threatening phone call between Hribal and another student the night before. He didn’t say whether the suspect received or made the call.
The FBI went to the boy’s house, and local media reports said agents removed at least one computer along with other items.
Meixner and Moore called the attacker a shy and quiet boy who largely kept to himself, but they said he was not an outcast and they saw no indication before the attack that he might be violent.
“He was never mean to anyone, and I never saw people be mean to him,” Meixner said. “I never saw him with a particular group of friends.”
During the attack, the boy had a “blank look,” she said. “He was just kind of looking like he always does, not smiling, not scowling or frowning.”
Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania, Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh and JoAnn Loviglio in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
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Al Sharpton’s Secret Work As FBI Informant
Untold story of how activist once aided probes of NYC wiseguys
When friends and family members gathered recently at the White House for a private celebration of Michelle Obama’s 50th birthday, one of the invited partygoers was a former paid FBI Mafia informant.
That same man attended February’s state dinner in honor of French President Francois Hollande. He was seated with his girlfriend at a table adjacent to President Barack Obama, who is likely unaware that, according to federal agents, his guest once interacted with members of four of New York City’s five organized crime families. He even secretly taped some of those wiseguys using a briefcase that FBI technicians outfitted with a recording device.
The high-profile Obama supporter was also on the dais atop the U.S. Capitol steps last year when the president was sworn in for a second term. He was seated in front of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, two rows behind Beyonce and Jay Z, and about 20 feet from Eric Holder, the country’s top law enforcement officer. As head of the Department of Justice, Attorney General Holder leads an agency that once reported that Obama’s inauguration guest also had La Cosa Nostra contacts beyond Gotham, and engaged in “conversations with LCN members from other parts of the United States.”
The former mob snitch has become a regular in the White House, where he has met with the 44th president in the East Room, the Roosevelt Room, and the Oval Office. He has also attended Obama Christmas parties, speeches, policy announcements, and even watched a Super Bowl with the First Family (an evening the man has called “one of the highlights of my life”). During these gatherings, he has mingled with cabinet members, top Obama aides, military leaders, business executives, and members of Congress. His former confederates were a decidedly dicier lot: ex-convicts, extortionists, heroin traffickers, and mob henchmen. The man’s surreptitious recordings, FBI records show, aided his government handlers in the successful targeting of powerful Mafia figures with nicknames like Benny Eggs, Chin, Fritzy, Corky, and Baldy Dom.
Later this week, Obama will travel to New York and appear in a Manhattan hotel ballroom at the side of the man whom FBI agents primarily referred to as “CI-7”–short for confidential informant #7–in secret court filings. In those documents, investigators vouched for him as a reliable, productive, and accurate source of information about underworld figures.
The ex-informant has been one of Obama’s most unwavering backers, a cheerleader who has nightly bludgeoned the president’s Republican opponents in televised broadsides. For his part, Obama has sought the man’s counsel, embraced him publicly, and saluted his “commitment to fight injustice and inequality.” The president has even commented favorably on his friend’s svelte figure, the physical manifestation of a rehabilitation effort that coincided with Obama’s ascension to the White House. This radical makeover has brought the man wealth, a daily TV show, bespoke suits, a luxury Upper West Side apartment, and a spot on best seller lists.
Most importantly, he has the ear of the President of the United States, an equally remarkable and perplexing achievement for the former FBI asset known as “CI-7,” the Rev. Al Sharpton.
A lengthy investigation by The Smoking Gun has uncovered remarkable details about Sharpton’s past work as an informant for a joint organized crime task force comprised of FBI agents and NYPD detectives, as well as his dealings with an assortment of wiseguys.
Beginning in the mid-1980s and spanning several years, Sharpton’s cooperation was fraught with danger since the FBI’s principal targets were leaders of the Genovese crime family, the country’s largest and most feared Mafia outfit. In addition to aiding the FBI/NYPD task force, which was known as the “Genovese squad,” Sharpton’s cooperation extended to several other investigative agencies.
TSG’s account of Sharpton’s secret life as “CI-7” is based on hundreds of pages of confidential FBI affidavits, documents released by the bureau in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, court records, and extensive interviews with six members of the Genovese squad, as well as other law enforcement officials to whom the activist provided assistance.
Like almost every other FBI informant, Sharpton was solely an information source. The parameters of his cooperation did not include Sharpton ever surfacing publicly or testifying on a witness stand.
Genovese squad investigators–representing both the FBI and NYPD–recalled how Sharpton, now 59, deftly extracted information from wiseguys. In fact, one Gambino crime family figure became so comfortable with the protest leader that he spoke openly–during ten wired face-to-face meetings–about a wide range of mob business, from shylocking and extortions to death threats and the sanity of Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the Genovese boss who long feigned mental illness in a bid to deflect law enforcement scrutiny. As the mafioso expounded on these topics, Sharpton’s briefcase–a specially customized Hartman model–recorded his every word.
Task force members, who were interviewed separately, spoke on the condition of anonymity when describing Sharpton’s work as an informant and the Genovese squad’s activities. Some of these investigators provided internal FBI documents to a reporter.
Records obtained by TSG show that information gathered by Sharpton was used by federal investigators to help secure court authorization to bug two Genovese family social clubs, including Gigante’s Greenwich Village headquarters, three autos used by crime family leaders, and more than a dozen phone lines. These listening devices and wiretaps were approved during the course of a major racketeering investigation targeting the Genovese family’s hierarchy.
A total of eight separate U.S. District Court judges–presiding in four federal jurisdictions–signed interception orders that were based on sworn FBI affidavits including information gathered by Sharpton. The phones bugged as a result of these court orders included two lines in Gigante’s Manhattan townhouse, the home phone of Genovese captain Dominick “Baldy Dom” Canterino, and the office lines of music industry power Morris Levy, a longtime Genovese family associate. The resulting surreptitious recordings were eventually used to help convict an assortment of Mafia members and associates.
Investigators also used Sharpton’s information in an application for a wiretap on the telephone in the Queens residence of Federico “Fritzy” Giovanelli, a Genovese soldier. Giovanelli was sentenced to 20 years in prison for racketeering following a trial during which those recordings were played for jurors. In a recent interview, the 82-year-old Giovanelli–now three years removed from his latest stint in federal custody–said that he was unaware that Sharpton contributed in any fashion to his phone’s bugging. He then jokingly chided a reporter for inquiring about the civil rights leader’s past. “Poor Sharpton, he cleaned up his life and you want to ruin him,” Giovanelli laughed.
While Sharpton’s acrimonious history with law enforcement–especially the NYPD–rankled some Genovese squad investigators, they nonetheless grudgingly acknowledged in interviews that the activist produced for those he would go on to frequently pillory.
Genovese squad members, however, did not share with Sharpton specific details about how they were using the information he was gathering for them. This is standard practice since FBI affidavits in support of wiretap applications are filed under seal by Department of Justice prosecutors. Still, Sharpton was briefed in advance of his undercover sorties, so he was well aware of the squad’s investigative interest in Gigante and his Mafia cronies.
Sharpton vehemently denies having worked as an FBI informant. He has alleged that claims of government cooperation were attempts by dark forces to stunt his aggressive brand of civil rights advocacy or, perhaps, get him killed. In his most recent book, “The Rejected Stone,” which hit best seller lists following its October 2013 publication, Sharpton claimed to have once been “set up by the government,” whose agents later leaked “false information” that “could have gotten me killed.” He added, “So I have been seriously tested in what I believe over the years.”
In an interview Saturday, Sharpton again denied working as a confidential informant, claiming that his prior cooperation with FBI agents was limited to efforts to prompt investigations of drug dealing in minority communities, as well as the swindling of black artists in the recording industry. He also repeatedly denied being “flipped” by federal agents in the course of an undercover operation. When asked specifically about his recording of the Gambino crime family member, Sharpton was noncommittal: “I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no.”
If Sharpton’s account is to be believed, he was simply a concerned citizen who voluntarily (and briefly) joined arm-in-arm with federal agents, perhaps risking peril in the process. The other explanation for Sharpton’s cooperation–one that has uniformly been offered by knowledgeable law enforcement agents–presents the reverend in a less noble light. Worried that he could face criminal charges, Sharpton opted for the path of self-preservation and did what the FBI asked. Which is usually how someone is compelled to repeatedly record a gangster discussing murder, extortion, and loan sharking.
Sharpton spoke for an hour in an office at the House of Justice, his Harlem headquarters, where he had just finished addressing a crowd of about 200 people that included his two adult daughters and his second wife (from whom he hasbeen separated for ten years). A few minutes into the interview, Sharpton asked, “Are you taping this?” A TSG reporter answered that he was not recording their interview, but had a digital recorder and wished to do so. Sharpton declined that request.
In the absence of any real examination/exhumation of Sharpton’s past involvement with the FBI and the Mafia, his denials have served the civil rights leader well. Scores of articles and broadcast reports about the Obama-era “rehabilitation” of Sharpton have mentioned his inflammatory past–Tawana Brawley, Crown Heights, Freddy’s Fashion Mart, and various anti-Semitic and homophobic statements. But his organized crime connections and related informant work have received no such scrutiny.
In a “60 Minutes” profile aired three months before the August 2011 launch of Sharpton’s MSNBC show, correspondent Lesley Stahl reported on the “tame” Sharpton’s metamorphosis from “loud mouth activist” to “trusted White House advisor who’s become the president’s go-to black leader.” As for prior underworld entanglements, those were quickly dispatched: “There were allegations of mob ties, never proved,” Stahl flatly declared.
As host of MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” Sharpton now reluctantly identifies himself as a member of the media, if not actually a journalist. He spends his time at 30 Rockefeller Plaza surrounded by reporters, editors, and researchers committed to accuracy and the exposure of those who violate the public trust. In fact, Sharpton himself delights in a daily feature that seeks to expose liars, hypocrites, and others engaged in deceit (his targets tend to be Republican opponents of the Obama administration). As he wraps this segment, Sharpton points his finger at the camera and addresses his quarry: “Nice try, but we gotcha!”
In addition to his MSNBC post, Sharpton heads the National Action Network, which describes itself as a “Christian activist organization.” Obama, who refers to Sharpton as “Rev” or “Reverend Al,” is scheduled to deliver a keynote address Friday at the group’s annual convention in New York City. Mayor Bill DeBlasio will preside Wednesday over the convention’s ribbon cutting ceremony, while Holder and three Obama cabinet secretaries will deliver speeches.
Sharpton has been a leading supporter of Holder, who spoke at the National Action Network’s 2012 convention and saluted the reverend for “your partnership, your friendship, and also for your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless, and to shine a light on the problems we must solve, and the promises we must fulfill.” Last Friday, Sharpton appeared on a panel at a Department of Justice forum led by Tony West, the agency’s third-ranking official. West thanked Sharpton for his “leadership, day in and day out, on issues of reconciliation and community restoration.”
According to its most recent IRS return, which Sharpton signed in mid-November 2013, the National Action Network pays him $241,402 annually for serving as president and CEO. In return for that hefty salary, Sharpton–who hosts a three-hour daily radio show in addition to his nightly cable TV program–reportedly works a 40-hour week for the not-for-profit (which lists unpaid tax liabilities totaling $813,576).
For longtime observers, the “new” Sharpton’s public prominence and West Wing access is bewildering considering that his history, mob ties included, could charitably be described as checkered. In fact, Obama has banished others guilty of lesser transgressions (see: Wright, Jeremiah).
Sharpton now calls himself a “refined agitator,” an activist no longer prone to incendiary language or careless provocations. Indeed, a Google check confirms that it has been years since he labeled a detractor a “faggot,” used the term “homos,” or derisively referred to Jewish diamond merchants.
* * *
As an “informant in development,” as one federal investigator referred to Sharpton, the protest leader was seen as an intriguing prospective source, since he had significant contacts in politics, boxing, and the music industry.
Before he was “flipped” in the course of an FBI sting operation in 1983, Sharpton had established relationships with promoter Don King, various elected officials, and several powerful New York hoodlums involved in concert promotion, record distribution, and talent management. At the time, the music business was “overrun by hustlers, con artists, black and white,” Sharpton recalled in his 1996autobiography. A federal agent who was not part of the Genovese squad–but who also used Sharpton as an informant–recalled that “everyone was trying to mine” his music industry ties.
In fact, by any measure, Sharpton himself was a Mafia “associate,” the law enforcement designation given to mob affiliates who, while not initiated, work with and for crime family members. While occupying the lowest rung on the LCN org chart–which is topped by a boss-underboss-consigliere triumvirate–associates far outnumber “made” men, and play central roles in a crime family’s operation, from money-making pursuits to more violent endeavors.
For more than four years, the fact that Sharpton was working as an informant was known only to members of the Genovese squad and a small number of other law enforcement agents. As with any Mafia informant, protecting Sharpton’s identity was crucial to maintaining the viability of ongoing investigations. Not to mention keeping him alive.
For example, an episode recounted by TSG sources highlighted the sensitive nature of Sharpton’s cooperation with the FBI/NYPD task force.
In advance of seeking court authorization to bug a pair of Genovese family social clubs and a Cadillac used by Gigante and Canterino, a draft version of a wiretap affidavit was circulated for review within the Genovese squad, which operated from the FBI’s lower Manhattan headquarters. The 53-page document, which detailed the “probable cause” to believe that listening devices would yield incriminatingconversations, concerned some investigators due to the degree to which the activities of Sharpton were described in the document.
While the affidavit prepared by FBI Agent Gerald King and a federal prosecutor only referred to Sharpton as “CI-7,” the document included the name of a Gambino mobster whom Sharpton taped, as well as the dates and details of five of their recorded meetings. Such specificity was problematic since the possibility existed that the affidavit’s finalized version could someday be turned over to defense lawyers in the discovery phase of a criminal trial.
Investigators fretted that Sharpton could easily be unmasked by the Gambino member, who, if ever questioned about his meetings with “CI-7,” would surely realize that Sharpton was the wired informant referred to in the FBI affidavit. That discovery, of course, could have placed Sharpton’s life in grave danger. The Gambino wiseguy, too, likely would have faced trouble, since he was recorded speaking about a wide range of Mafia matters, including Gigante’s illegal operations. The Genovese power–rightly paranoid about bugged phones and listening devices–famously forbid fellow gangsters from even speaking his name. In fact, if a wiseguy had to refer to Gigante during an in-person meeting, a quick stroke of the chin was the acceptable means of identification.
In response to concerns about the King affidavit, the draft, which a source provided to TSG, was rewritten to carefully shroud Sharpton’s work with government agents. The affidavit’s final version–which was submitted to two federal judges–no longer included the disclosure that “CI-7” had “consensually recorded his conversations” with a gangster. The wiseguy’s name was also deleted from the document, as was any reference to the Gambino family or the informant’s sex.
Instead, the revamped affidavit simply noted that “CI-7 reported” to the FBI various details of Genovese family rackets. The actual source of that valuable intelligence about Gigante & Co. had been carefully obscured. As were the details of how that information was obtained via Sharpton’s battery-powered valise.
But despite efforts like this to protect Sharpton, some details of his informant work leaked out in January 1988, when New York Newsday reported that the civil rights activist had cooperated with federal investigations targeting organized crime figures and Don King. Though he reportedly made incriminating admissions to the newspaper, Sharpton quickly issued vehement denials that he had snitched on anyone.
While acknowledging contact with law enforcement officials, Sharpton–then involved in the early stages of the Tawana Brawley hoax–said he sought the help of investigators to combat the crack cocaine epidemic ravaging New York’s poorest communities. Sharpton also claimed to have contacted agents (and pledged his assistance) after a Mafia associate allegedly threatened him over a music industry dispute.
Sharpton asserted that a phone installed in his Brooklyn apartment by federal investigators in mid-1987 was there to serve as a “hotline” for the public to report drug dealing. He flatly denied recording phone conversations at the direction of law enforcement agents. In one radio interview, Sharpton even declared, “We have an ethical thing against wiretapping.”
In fact, Sharpton had been cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn as part of an investigation targeting Don King. According to a source involved with that probe, federal agents “ran him for a couple of months,” during which time Sharpton “did some recordings” via his new home telephone. But the nascent Department of Justice operation was abruptly shuttered in the wake of the New York Newsday story.
The Brooklyn investigators were introduced to Sharpton in late-1987 by Joseph Spinelli, one of the reverend’s former FBI handlers (and one of the agents who initially secured his cooperation with the bureau). While Spinelli had left the FBI for another government post, he still helped facilitate Sharpton’s interaction with other investigators. “Joe was shopping him around,” one source recalled.
For example, in July 1987, Spinelli called a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and offered Sharpton’s assistance with a matter the lawyer was handling. The case involved Salvatore Pisello, a mobbed-up music industry figure who had just been indicted for tax evasion (and whom Sharpton had previously accused of threatening his life).
Referring to Sharpton, ex-prosecutor Marvin Rudnick said in an interview, “I didn’t know who he was” when Spinelli called. In subsequent conversations with Rudnick, Sharpton provided information about Pisello and a related music industry matter that was being scrutinized by Justice Department investigators.
While Sharpton would not prove particularly helpful to Rudnick, the attorney clearly recalled his brief, unorthodox dealings with the New York activist. “I remember having to go to a pay phone to take the call because he didn’t want it to be traced,” Rudnick laughed.
* * *
So why did Sharpton agree to become an FBI informant? And why was he willing to risk the dangers inherent in such cooperation?
“He thought he didn’t have a choice,” one Genovese squad agent recalled.
In the course of an investigation being run by Spinelli and his partner John Pritchard, Sharpton was secretly recorded in meetings with an FBI undercover agent posing as a wealthy drug dealer seeking to promote boxing matches.
As previously reported, Colombo crime family captain Michael Franzese, who knew Sharpton, enlisted the activist’s help in connecting with Don King. Franzese and Sharpton were later surreptitiously filmed during one meeting with the undercover, while Sharpton and Daniel Pagano, a Genovese soldier, were recorded at another sit-down. Pagano’s father Joseph was a Genovese power deeply involved in the entertainment industry (and who also managed the crime family’s rackets in counties north of New York City).
During one meeting with Sharpton, the undercover agent offered to get him “pure coke” at $35,000 a kilo. As the phony drug kingpin spoke, Sharpton nodded his head and said, “I hear you.” When the undercover promised Sharpton a 10 percent finder’s fee if he could arrange the purchase of several kilos, the reverend referred to an unnamed buyer and said, “If he’s gonna do it, he’ll do it much more than that.” The FBI agent steered the conversation toward the possible procurement of cocaine, sources said, since investigators believed that Sharpton acquaintance Daniel Pagano–who was not present–was looking to consummate drug deals. Joseph Pagano, an East Harlem native who rose through a Genovese crew notorious for narcotics trafficking, spent nearly seven years in federal prison for heroin distribution.
While Sharpton did not explicitly offer to arrange a drug deal, some investigators thought his interaction with the undercover agent could be construed as a violation of federal conspiracy laws. Though an actual prosecution, an ex-FBI agent acknowledged, would have been “a reach,” agents decided to approach Sharpton and attempt to “flip” the activist, who was then shy of his 30th birthday. In light of Sharpton’s relationship with Don King, FBI agents wanted his help in connection with the bureau’s three-year-old boxing investigation, code named “Crown Royal” and headed by Spinelli and Pritchard.
The FBI agents confronted Sharpton with the undercover videos and warned that he could face criminal charges as a result of the secret recordings. Sharpton, of course, could have walked out and ran to King, Franzese, or Pagano and reported the FBI approach (and the fact that drug dealer “Victor Quintana” was actually a federal agent).
In subsequent denials that he had been “flipped,” Sharpton has contended that he stiffened in the face of the FBI agents, meeting their bluff with bluster and bravado. He claimed to have turned away Spinelli & Co., daring them to “Indict me” and “Prosecute.” Sharpton has complained that the seasoned investigators were “trying to sting me, entrap me…a young minister.”
In fact, Sharpton fell for the FBI ruse and agreed to cooperate, a far-reaching decision he made without input from a lawyer, according to sources. “I think there was some fear [of prosecution] on his part,” recalled a former federal agent. In a TSG interview, Sharpton claimed that he rebuffed the FBI agents, who, he added, threatened to serve him with a subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury investigating King. After being confronted by the bureau, Sharpton said he consulted with an attorney (whom he declined to identify).
Following bureau guidelines, agents formally opened a “137” informant file on Sharpton, a move that was approved by FBI supervisors, according to several sources. Agents anticipated using Sharpton in the “Crown Royal” case focusing on King, but during initial debriefings of their new recruit, it became clear that his contacts in the music business were equally appealing.
Sharpton had met James Brown in the mid-70s, and became extremely close to the R&B superstar. He worked for and traveled with the mercurial performer, married one of Brown’s backup singers, and wore the same processed hairdo as the entertainer. Like Brown, Sharpton would sometimes even wear a cowboy hat atop his tribute conk.
It was first through executives at Spring Records, a small Manhattan-based label affiliated with Brown, that Sharpton–who worked from the firm’s office–was introduced to various wiseguys, including Franzese. His circle of mob contacts would grow to include, among others, the Paganos, Carmine DeNoia, an imposing Pagano associate known as “Wassel,” and Joseph “Joe Bana” Buonanno, a Gambino crime family figure involved in record distribution and production.
At one point before he was “flipped,” Sharpton participated in a mob scheme to create a business front that would seek a share of lucrative Con Edison set-asides intended for minority-owned businesses. That deal, which involved garbage collection contracts, cratered when the power company determined that Sharpton’s silent partner was Genovese captain Matthew “Matty the Horse” Ianniello. Details of the Con Ed plot emerged at a federal criminal trial of Ianniello and his business partner Benjamin Cohen. It was Cohen, who worked across the hall from Spring Records, who recruited Sharpton for the mob garbage gambit.
The longtime agitator, civil-rights activist and TV host was exposed Monday as an alleged former key FBI informant whose tips helped take down some of the biggest names in New York Mafia history.
The Rev. Al launched his sensational secret life as a paid mob snitch in the mid-1980s, pressured to cooperate after being ensnared in a developing drug sting, according to a bombshell report bythesmokinggun.com.
As “CI-7,” the then-portly Harlem leader would tote a customized Hartmann briefcase equipped with an FBI bug to hobnob with members of some of the city’s most notorious crime families, the site said.
Sharpton’s main job was to dig dirt on the Genovese crime family, according to sources and court documents.
He was so good at “playing dumb’’ that he wound up helping to bring down such names as Venero “Benny Eggs’’ Mangano, Dominick “Baldy Dom’’ Canterino and even the muttering “oddfather” of Greenwich Village, family boss Vincent “Chin’’ Gigante, the site said.
He was a “very reliable informant, and his information ‘has never been found to be false or inaccurate,’ ” the report said, quoting a 1986 court document.
While it was known that Sharpton had spied for the FBI on music- and sports-promotion figures, the new data said he also extracted juicy information from wiseguys.
The feds later used the dirt to obtain warrants to bug key Genovese spots.
Because of Sharpton’s undercover work, listening devices were surreptitiously installed in two crime-family social clubs, including Gigante’s Village headquarters, three cars used by Mafiosos and more than a dozen phone lines, the site said.
Information gleaned from those bugs then helped nail the mobsters.
One of Sharpton’s main unsuspecting founts of useful information was Joseph “Joe Bana’’ Buonanno.
During 10 face-to-face chats between the pair, “Joe Bana just gave him a whole insight into how ‘Chin’ and [music-industry honcho] Morris [Levy] operated,’’ said an NYPD source with the joint FBI-Police Department “Genovese Squad.”
Before his rapt audience of one, Buonanno expounded on the mob’s past extortions and death threats.
He even allegedly revealed to Sharpton a few not-so-flattering details about his boss, Gigante, who for years pretended he was crazy by shuffling around the West Village in a bathrobe to escape prosecution from the feds.
Buonanno told Sharpton of the godfather’s purported illiteracy and the fact that he “hates everyone not Italian,” the site said.
The mob soldier even detailed how Gigante “was present” at the hit of Genovese captain Thomas “Tommy Ryan’’ Eboli, to “make sure it was done right,” the site said.
Still, while Sharpton had the gift of gab and got Buonanno to unwittingly spill his guts, the mob soldier snottily referred to the preacher as “a nose picker’’ behind his back, an associate told the site.
Both Buonanno and Gigante are now dead.
The revelation of Sharpton’s involvement with the feds couldn’t have come at a more embarrassing time.
Sharpton is set to convene the annual convention of his National Action Network in New York this week — with Mayor de Blasio cutting the opening-ceremony ribbon Wednesday and President Obama flying in to give the keynote address Friday.
Sharpton, in an interview with The Post on Monday, didn’t deny that he cooperated with the FBI — but said the thesmokinggun.com report was the equivalent of a mob hit.
“It’s crazy. If I provided all the information they claimed I provided, I should be given a ticker-tape parade,” said Sharpton, 59, who now regularly rubs elbows with Obama and his wife Michelle, Attorney General Eric Holder and congressmen and other national leaders.
“What did Al Sharpton do wrong? Eliot Spitzer did do something wrong, and he got a TV show,” said the Rev. Al, referring to the hooker-loving former governor.
Sharpton is currently the host of MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation.’’ He regularly wraps up one segment by pointing a finger at the camera and yelling, “Nice try, but we gotcha!”
He denied being paid to snitch and said he never carried a brief case with a listening device.
He insisted that if he did cooperate with the feds, it was because he’d been threatened by a mobster while working with black concert promoters.
“The article is embellished. The real story is I told the FBI about being threatened because I was a civil-rights leader helping black concert promoters,” Sharpton said.
He griped that the report was simply an attempt to “muddy’’ him before this week’s NAN convention.
A Sharpton confidante who’s known him for decades was caught off guard by the extent of the activist’s alleged dealings with the FBI.
“Holy s- -t,’’ the source said. “This comes out of left for me. I’m actually driving off the road.’’
But veteran Democratic political consultant George Arzt said the report is more likely to boost Sharpton’s standing with the public rather than hurt it.
“This is just going to add to his luster of being a character,” Arzt said. “It does raise questions about an anti-establishment guy cooperating with the FBI. But now he is establishment.”
Sharpton was considered prime fodder as a mole for the FBI’s Mafia unit because of his already-existing connections to the underworld, the site said.
For example, he knew Genovese soldier Joseph Pagano, who was involved in entertainment-industry schemes for decades, allegedly controlled “Rat Pack’’ singer Sammy Davis Jr. and once even “lost a big roll [of money] to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra,’’ FBI sources said.
Sharpton allegedly told the feds he had an in with Pagano because he’d introduced him to boxer Muhammad Ali and his reps.
In trying to nail the Genovese Mafiosos with Sharpton’s help, the feds embarked on their bugging scheme — sometimes producing hilarious results, the report said.
At one point, the Genovese Squad tried to wire mobster Dominick Canterino’s Cadillac in front of his Gravesend, Brooklyn, home.
An agent broke into and hot-wired the car to briefly drive it off to plant the bug before returning it.
“Piece of cake,’’ he radioed to fellow agents down the block.
“You’re burned!” an NYPD detective shouted back a minute later, as he spotted Canterino watching the agent drive away with his car.
“In retrospect, it was like a Keystone comedy,’’ chuckled a former FBI agent who was there that day. “But it wasn’t so funny when it occurred.”
Story 2: The Benghazi Cover-up and Scandal — Explosive Testimony of CIA — Americans Died — Obama Lied — False Narrative = The Big Lie — Democrat Deceivers — Tyrants Liars Club (TLC) — A Lie is A Lie is A Lie — Videos
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
“Anything is better than lies and deceit!”
~ Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
April 2 Benghazi hearing with Mike Morell
Former CIA deputy director Michael Morrell denies Benghazi cover-up – Lone Wolf
Bachmann Challenges Former Acting CIA Director on Benghazi
Treason Exposed! Obama Used Benghazi Attack to Cover Up Arms Shipments to Muslim Brotherhood
House Intel CMTE Holds Hearing On Benghazi Scandal – Michele Bachmann Heated Exchange
Fox praises Thornberry’s questions at Benghazi hearing
Rep. Thornberry Questions former CIA Deputy Director about Benghazi
Rep. Thornberry questions former CIA Deputy Director about Benghazi Part 2
Political Fallout From Michael Morell’s Benghazi Testimony
Ex-CIA Acting Dir. Mike Morell: No Complaints About Susan Rice’s Talking Benghazi Points
Fox praises Thornberry’s questions at Benghazi hearing
Rogers: ‘Some Disagreement’ Between Morrell’s Prior Testimony and CIA Libyan Station Chief
Westmoreland Questions Former CIA Deputy
Director in Benghazi Hearing
A Benghazi Cover-Up? – Fmr CIA Deputy Director To Testify Today – DC Scandal – Fox & Friends
Rep. Thornberry Questions former CIA Deputy Director about Benghazi
BREAKING: CIA Deputy Resigns after 33 years Service, Replaced by WH Lawyer
Lying To Congress – Mike Morell’s Benghazi Attack
Testimony Coming Under Fire – Dc Scandal
Fox News Benghazi cover up Mike Morell’s testimony comes under fire
Benghazi Scandal Frm CIA Deputy DIR Morrell Accused Of Misleading Lawmakers On Benghazi
Rep. Peter King Reacts To Mike Morell’s Benghazi Testimony
Lying To Congress – Mike Morell’s Benghazi Attack Testimony Coming Under Fire – Dc Scandal
Rand Paul ATTACKS Gov Cover Up
RAND PAUL BRINGS IT!… Tells Hillary Clinton: YOU Are to Blame for Benghazi!
U.S. Covert War in Syria Collapsing
BENGHAZI: The Real Reason Behind Obama’s Cover-up
GOP Lawmaker Says Benghazi Investigation Will Lead to Hillary: ‘It Was Her Show’
BREAKING: Obama Dispersing Benghazi Survivors Around US and Changing their Names
TRIFECTA — The Benghazi Scandal and Cover-Up: Is the Mainstream Media Finally Taking Notice?
Benghazi Scandal “Phony Scandal?” – David Ubben Fought Alongside FMR Navy Seal To Protect Consulate
Pat Caddell: John Boehner “purposely” helping Obama cover-up Benghazi
Murder Of Chris Stevens In Benghazi Attack Ordered By American Military Leadership, Possibly Obama
Obama LIED About Benghazi Attack!!! (Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer Interview)
Rush Limbaugh on Benghazi Scandal: “They’re about to Blow this Sky High”; Reviews Scandal Timeline
Glenn Beck – Benghazi: Truth coming out
Glenn Beck Why Obama Hid the Truth of Benghazi
Benghazi: The Truth Behind the Smokescreen.
Things Get Tense When Bachmann Grills Former CIA Deputy Director Over Benghazi Talking Points
The former deputy director of the CIA insisted during a congressional hearing Wednesday that he did not alter the infamous 2012 Benghazi talking points due to political pressure, despite pointed questioning by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
“The narrative that the attack evolved spontaneously from a protest was a narrative that intelligence community analysts believed,” Mike Morell said. “That turned out to be incorrect. But that is what they believed at the time. So there is no politics there whatsoever.”
“Let me actually give you the facts,” Morell added to Bachmann, before contending the five edits that were made had nothing to do with politics, but instead involved minor stylistic changes and edits to increase accuracy.
Just four days after the attack, the former deputy director of the CIA removed references about threats from extremists tied to Al Qaeda, substituting it by saying that “there are indications extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
Bachmann argued such changes were of importance.
“You made significant, substantive changes for the White House,” she said. “Whether it was on behalf, we don’t know. But we know you are the one that made those changes.”
“Ma’am, if you look at the record, what you will see that the changes were fully consistent with what our analysts believed at the time. Period,” the former deputy director replied.
Bachmann said that those on the ground at the time of the attack were ignored and argued that there was an “intentional misleading of the public.”
Morell maintained that the changes he made to the widely debunked 2012 talking points were not for political reasons.
Morell was deputy director of the agency at the time of the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Both Morell and the agency, as well as the administration, have faced criticism from the right regarding the handling of the attack, including claims that there were political motives behind the framing of the information surrounding the incident.
Many took issue with the talking points following the attack, namely the delay in calling it a terrorist attack carried out by Al Qaeda versus a spontaneous demonstration in protest of an anti-Muslim video.
Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said the talking points “did not reflect the best information available” and were used by the administration “to perpetrate a false narrative about the attacks.”
Rogers also asked Morell why he did not say during a November 2012 hearing following the attack why references to Al Qaeda had been taken out of the talking points. Morell said that at the time, he did not know who took them out.
“But to be fair, and, in retrospect, what I wish I would have done, was to say to you, ‘Chairman, I do not know who took Al Qaeda out of the talking points, but you should know that I myself made a number of changes to the points.’ That’s what I should have said. I didn’t,” Morell said.
Morell also said there are things that both he and the agency “should have done differently,” but he dismissed political motivations.
“There are areas where the CIA’s performance and my own performance could have been better, but none of our actions were the result of political influence in the intelligence process. None.”
Morell said he did not know that the talking points would be used by Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in her appearances on the Sunday talk shows shortly following the attacks, which were widely criticized and, many say, cost her the secretary of state position, as she later withdrew her consideration for the spot.
“In fact, I didn’t even know she was going to be on the Sunday shows,” Morell said, adding that no one asked him or the agency to prepare Rice.
Morell said he believed that Rice, who is now national security adviser, would have had the talking points, as well as intelligence information from the days prior. However, he acknowledged that she did not have information sent by the CIA’s station chief on the ground, which concluded that the attack was possibly preplanned.
“Don’t you think that was an important document to get in the hands of someone who is going to brief the country on what was actually happening on the ground?” Rogers asked.
Morell said that the information had not been disseminated outside of the CIA and that at the time, he did not find the arguments that it was a preplanned attack “compelling.” Morell said earlier in the hearing that when the information from the station chief was first sent to analysts, they were “sticking to their judgment” that it was a protest.
“So I believed what my analysts said, that there was a protest. I also believed it to be a terrorist attack. You see, we never, we never saw those two things as mutually exclusive, and so I believed both of those at the same time,” Morell said.
Taking issue with Morell’s testimony was Rep. Devin Nunes.
”The problem is that you have all of these conflicting stories, right?” Nunes (R-Calif.) said to Morell, after questioning him on the sequence of dialogue regarding the attack.
“I read your testimony, and you have an excuse for everything,” Nunes later added. “For everything … which is fine, but when the chairman asks you about when you sat next to Director of National Intelligence [James] Clapper in November of 2012, you don’t have an excuse, you only have an apology.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who has been a vocal critic in the handling of Benghazi, also criticized Morell’s testimony.
“He gave a lot of excuses today and a lot of reasons,” King said Wednesday on Fox News’s “Happening Now.”
“The fact is, to believe him you have to believe, basically, everything is contradictory to the facts,” King said, adding that the administration has not told the truth on Benghazi and that Morell has been part of that process.
“Bottom line is, Susan Rice and the administration told the American people it arose out of a video and demonstration,” King said. “They never mentioned terrorism at all, and that’s the reality. They can’t rewrite history.”
Morell, during his testimony Wednesday, said, “no doubt it was a terrorist attack,” but he said the motivations of those who carried out the attack is unknown, because they have not been caught.
CIA officer confirmed no protests before misleading Benghazi account given
Information on ground rejects protest account
Before the Obama administration gave an inaccurate narrative on national television that the Benghazi attacks grew from an anti-American protest, the CIA’s station chief in Libya pointedly told his superiors in Washington that no such demonstration occurred, documents and interviews with current and former intelligence officials show.
The attack was “not an escalation of protests,” the station chief wrote to then-Deputy CIA Director Michael J. Morell in an email dated Sept. 15, 2012 — a full day before the White House sent Susan E. Rice to several Sunday talk shows to disseminate talking points claiming that the Benghazi attack began as a protest over an anti-Islam video.
That the talking points used by Mrs. Rice, who was then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, were written by a CIA that ignored the assessment by its own station chief inside Libya, has emerged as one of the major bones of contention in the more than two years of political fireworks and congressional investigations into the Benghazi attack.
Two former intelligence officials have told The Washington Times that this question likely will be answered at a Wednesday hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during which Mr. Morell is scheduled to give his public testimony.
Why they ignored it remains a topic of heated debate within the wider intelligence community.
A third source told The Times on Monday that Mr. Morell and other CIA officials in Washington were weighing several pieces of “conflicting information” streaming in about the Benghazi attack as the talking points were being crafted.
“That’s why they ultimately came up with the analysis that they did,” the source said. “The piece that was coming out of Tripoli was important, but it was one piece amid several streams of information.”
One of the former intelligence officials said the Libya station chief’s assessment was being weighed against media reports from the ground in Benghazi that quoted witnesses as saying there had been a protest. Analysts at the CIA, the source said, also were weighing it against reporting by other intelligence divisions, including the National Security Agency.
“The chief of station in Tripoli who was 600 or 700 miles away from the attacks wouldn’t necessarily have the only view of what actually went on in Benghazi,” that former official said.
While the testimony is expected to focus on Benghazi, the hearing arrives at a time of growing tensions between Congress and the CIA over such matters as the Bush administration’s interrogation rules and mutual charges of spying and illegality between the Senate intelligence committee and the agency.
Lawmakers are likely to press Mr. Morell for a reaction to reports this week that a classified Senate intelligence report has concluded that harsh interrogation methods used in the years after Sept. 11 provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and that the CIA misled Congress on the matter.
The CIA disputes that conclusion. The Senate panel is expected to vote Thursday on sending the Obama administration a 400-page executive summary of the “enhanced interrogation” report to start a monthslong declassification process.
One of the key issues likely to come up during the House hearing involves what was said during a series of secure teleconferences between CIA officials in Washington and Libya from the time of the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, to the completion of Mrs. Rice’s talking points for dissemination on the Sunday talk shows Sept. 16.
Multiple sources confirmed to The Times on Monday that the station chief’s email to Mr. Morell was written after one of the teleconferences during which senior CIA officials in Washington — Mr. Morell among them — made clear to the Tripoli station chief that they were examining alternative information that suggested there was a protest before the attack.
After the exchange, Mr. Morell signed off on the CIA talking points given to Mrs. Rice promoting what turned out to be the false narrative of a protest. The development ultimately triggered an angry reaction from Republicans, who have long claimed that the Obama administration, with an eye on the November elections, was downplaying the role of terrorists in order to protect the president’s record on counterterrorism.
Documents since released by the White House show that administration officials boasted in internal emails at the time about Mr. Morell’s personal role in editing and rewriting the talking points.
What is not clear is whether the email was in any way referring to the conflicting intelligence streams about a protest in Benghazi.
Alternatively, the email notes that Mr. Morell was uncomfortable with an initial draft of the talking points batted back and forth between White House and CIA officials “because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack” in Benghazi.
During interviews with The Times, several former senior intelligence officials have lamented the whole “talking points” issue, saying the CIA was caught in the middle of the White House, Congress and the reality on the ground in Benghazi while crafting the points.
The reason the CIA ended up taking the lead on the talking points was because, as news of the attack was breaking around the world, lawmakers on the House intelligence committee were seeking guidance from the agency on how to respond to media questions without revealing classified information.
Specifically, Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and the committee chairman, and ranking Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland asked for the guidance.
One former senior intelligence official told The Times that as word circulated through the inner circles of the intelligence community that the CIA was working on the talking points, officials within the Obama administration steered the mission toward crafting something Mrs. Rice could say on national talk shows.
“In essence, the talking points got repurposed,” the former official said. “What it turned into — and I don’t think Michael ever knew this, it’s something to watch for in his testimony this week — was, ‘Let’s hand this thing to the U.N. ambassador and make it what she should say.’”
“That’s a big deal,” the former official said. “It’s one thing to prepare something for lawmakers so they don’t make a mistake or say something inaccurate. It’s quite another matter to have that feed the administration’s then-current, definitive account of what had actually happened in Benghazi.”
“There are a lot of twists and turns in this,” added another former intelligence official. “A lot of it hangs on the fact that the agency thought they were crafting these talking points for Dutch Ruppersberger and Mike Rogers, not the White House.”
Former CIA official accused of misleading lawmakers on Benghazi
By Catherine Herridge
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell is facing accusations from Republicans that he misled lawmakers about the Obama administration’s role in crafting the bogus storyline that a protest gone awry was to blame for the deadly Benghazi attack.
Among other discrepancies, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee allege Morell insisted the talking points were sent to the White House for informational purposes, and not for their input — but emails, later released by the administration, showed otherwise.
“We found that there was actual coordination which could influence then — and did influence — what CIA conveyed to the committees about what happened [in Benghazi],” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., told Fox News.
Burr was one of six Republicans who leveled the allegations against Morell, who also served as acting director, in an addendum to a recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report. According to the claims, in late 2012, Morell testified the so-called Benghazi talking points were sent to the White House “for their awareness, not for their coordination.”
The 16-page addendum continues, “No effort was made to correct the record … the Acting Director’s (Morell) testimony perpetuated the myth that the White House played no part in the drafting or editing of the talking points.”
After Morell’s 2012 testimony, committee Republicans say they insisted on reading the raw email traffic in the days leading up to then-Ambassador Susan Rice’s controversial Sunday show appearances, where she linked the attack to a protest. Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told Fox News in a recent interview that they only got the emails between the CIA, State Department and White House because lawmakers threatened to hold up former White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA director.
Once the emails were released, Republican lawmakers say the conflict with Morell’s testimony was clear. Morell, who at the time was CIA Director David Petraeus’ deputy, was at the heart of the process, cutting some 50 percent of the text — and Republicans say White House coordination began at the earliest stages.
Also in late 2012, Morell and Rice met with Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. In a statement released at the time, the senators said Morell blamed the FBI for cutting references to Al Qaeda and did so to prevent compromising an ongoing criminal investigation.
“What I found curious is that he did not accept responsibility for changing the talking points. He told me the FBI had done this. I called the FBI. They went ballistic,” Graham said in a recent interview. “Within 24 hours, his statement was changed where he admitted the CIA had done it.”
Graham’s characterization of the meeting was backed up by Ayotte in a recent interview. “I was in that meeting when Susan Rice was with Director Morell when he blamed the FBI for changing those talking points, and you know then we call the FBI, the FBI goes crazy and said ‘we didn’t change the talking points.’ And so you have to wonder particularly now that we know that he may have received that email the day before what was going on.”
The email Ayotte is referring to was sent by the CIA’s top operative on the ground in Libya to Morell, and others at the CIA, one day before Rice’s Sunday show appearances. In the Sept. 15, 2012 email, first publicly documented in the bipartisan section of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the CIA chief of station in Tripoli reported the attacks were “not/not an escalation of protests.”
One Republican lawmaker, Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, is now urging that Morell be recalled to clear up his testimony.
“I think it’s important for the integrity of the oversight,” Wolf said, adding that congressional oversight would be rendered meaningless if Morell were not recalled given the allegations against him.
Wolf, whose resolution to establish a select committee has the backing of a Republican majority in the House, recently wrote a letter to all House Republicans calling for Morell to testify again, potentially in both chambers, to address possible conflicts with previous testimony.
New details, confirmed by Fox News, suggest a similar scenario played out before the House Intelligence committee, chaired by Republican Mike Rogers.
In mid-November 2012, Morell testified along with James Clapper, the nation’s intelligence chief, and Matt Olsen, a senior counterrorism official.
When asked who was responsible for the talking points, first requested by Rogers’ committee, Clapper said he had no idea, while Morell remained silent, according to sources familiar with the testimony.
“If your silence does create a misleading impression even if you don’t have a strict legal obligation to speak up I think as a public official — somebody entrusted, infused with the public trust — you do have an obligation to speak up to make the truth known,” Tom Dupree, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Bush administration, said.
Once the talking points emails were released, and Morell’s involvement came into sharper focus, in May 2013 he was asked to testify a second time before the House Intelligence Committee. Sources familiar with Morell’s second testimony say he admitted to changing the talking points, and he offered shifting explanations — from classification issues, to not compromising the FBI investigation — and that exposing the failure of Hillary Clinton’s State Department to act on repeated security warnings seemed unprofessional.
While two sources say Morell insisted the talking points were an afterthought at a White House meeting on Sept. 15 where the text was finalized, an email from White House adviser Ben Rhodes suggests otherwise. Late in the evening of Sept. 14, Rhodes wrote to email addresses at the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, CIA, State Department, White House and National Security Staff: “There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed … we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression. We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
Dupree said lawmakers face a choice. “If you’re not getting the full truth in those questions, well then you can either abandon your oversight function or you can call those people back and press them and confront them with the facts.”
Since retiring from the CIA, Morell has taken on high-profile assignments for the administration, including the NSA review panel and the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. He is now a paid TV commentator for CBS News, has a book deal, and works for Beacon Global Strategies, whose founder Philippe Reines has been described by the New York Times magazine as Clinton’s “principal gatekeeper.”
In an email to Fox News on Feb. 13, Morell said: “I stand behind what I have said to you and testified to Congress about the talking point issue. Neither the Agency, the analysts, nor I cooked the books in any way.”
When asked specific questions about Republican allegations he provided misleading testimony, Morell did not answer the questions, instead referring Fox News to the CIA public affairs office.
Spokesman Dean Boyd provided this statement to Fox News: “As we have said multiple times, the talking points on Benghazi were written, upon a request from Congress, so that members of Congress could say something preliminary and in an unclassified forum about the attacks. As former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell has stated publicly time and again, the talking points were never meant to be definitive and, in fact, the points themselves noted that the initial assessment may change. He has addressed his role in the talking points numerous times. We don’t have anything further to add to the large body of detail on the talking points that is already in the public domain.”
Mike Morell: Man in the Middle of Benghazi Talking Points Scandal
Recent reporting has centered on CIA deputy director Mike Morell as a key player in critical and misleading changes made to the Obama Administration’s Benghazi talking points. The CIA talking points were cited by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five different national Sunday talk shows on September 16, five days after the attack. Administration officials from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on down cited them. The initial draft of the talking points was produced by the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis on September 14 at 11:15 a.m. A demonstration was mentioned, but so was al-Qaeda and Ansar-al-Sharia involvement. It referred to the CIA’s “numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya.” National Security Council (NSC) staff edited the talking points on the 14th. But it was the State Department that had the most reservations. Hillary Clinton’s spokeswoman (and now Assistant Secretary of State for Europe) Victoria Nuland did not like the CIA’s draft—nor did her “building leadership,” as she said in an e-mail on September 14 at 9:24 p.m. She wrote to the NSC staff:
Why do we want Hill to start fingering Ansar Al Sharia, when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have the investigation results…and the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that?… Concerned.
The next morning, September 15, at 9.45 a.m., Morell produced what became essentially thefinal version of the talking points (Senate report, p. 51), removing references to known terrorist groups and identifying a non-existing demonstration as the cause. Outrageously, the official talking points contradicted the known facts. According to the recent report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (p. 33), on September 15, the CIA’s Chief of Station in Tripoli reported in an e-mail that the Benghazi attacks were “not an escalation of protests.” Morrell completely ignored it. Below are the finalized talking points:
“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
“The assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.”
“The investigation is on-going, and the US Government is working with the Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of US citizens.”
The text was not only misleading but so pathetic that then-CIA director David Petraeus commented, “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this.” However, it was the State Department and the White House that were calling to shots, and Mike Morell played along.
Michael Joseph Morell (born September 4, 1958) was the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and served as acting director twice in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. Morell retired from his post on August 9, 2013, to devote more time to his family and to pursue other professional opportunities. As of 2014, Morell is CBS News‘ Senior Security Correspondent.
Most of Morell’s work in the agency was devoted to Asian projects. He also managed the staff that produced the Presidential Daily Briefings for PresidentGeorge W. Bush. Morell was Bush’s briefer during the September 11, 2001 attacks, and has been quoted as saying, “I would bet every dollar I have that it’s al Qaeda.” Furthermore, Morell was a trusted asset to PresidentBarack H. Obama II in the Osama bin Laden raid on May 2, 2011. Before his 2010 nomination as deputy director, Morell served as director for intelligence, a position he had held since 2008. Before that, he served as the CIA’s first associate deputy director from 2006 to 2008.
US President Barack Obama meets Saudi King Abdullah Friday as mistrust fuelled by differences over Iran and Syria overshadows a decades-long alliance between their countries.
Obama, who is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia late in the afternoon on a flight from Italy, is expected to hold evening talks with the monarch on a royal estate outside Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia has strong reservations about efforts by Washington and other major world powers to negotiate a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme.
It is also disappointed over Obama’s 11th-hour decision last year not to take military action against the Syrian regime over chemical weapons attacks.
Saudi analyst Abdel Aziz al-Sagr, who heads the Gulf Research Centre, said Saudi-US relations are “tense due to Washington’s stances” on the Middle East, especially Iran.
The recent rapprochement between Tehran and Washington “must not take place at the expense of relations with Riyadh,” Sagr told AFP.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, long wary of Shiite Iran’s regional ambitions, views a November deal between world powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme as a risky venture that could embolden Tehran.
The interim agreement curbs Iran’s controversial nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief, and is aimed at buying time to negotiate a comprehensive accord.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Rawdat al-Khuraim, on January 5, 2014
But Sagr said “arming the Syrian opposition will top the agenda” during Obama’s visit, his second since his election in 2009.
Analyst Khaled al-Dakhil spoke of “major differences” with Washington, adding that Obama will focus on easing “Saudi fears on Iran and on regional security.”
Saudi Arabia, the largest power in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, fears that a possible US withdrawal from the Middle East and a diplomatic overture towards Iran would further feed Tehran’s regional ambitions.
Iranian-Saudi rivalry crystallised with the Syrian conflict: Tehran backs President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while several GCC states support the rebellion against him.
- ‘Clearing the air’ -
Obama’s stances towards events reshaping the region “have strained (Saudi-US) relations but without causing a complete break,” said Anwar Eshki, head of the Jeddah-based Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies.
US security and energy specialist professor Paul Sullivan said Obama meeting King Abdullah could “help clear the air on some misunderstandings.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah talk before a meeting
“However, I would be quite surprised if there were any major policy changes during this visit. This is also partly a reassurance visit,” he added.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has said that “whatever differences we may have do not alter the fact that this is a very important and close partnership”.
However, Riyadh seems to be reaching out more towards Asia, including China, in an apparent bid to rebalance its international relations.
Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz visited China, Pakistan, Japan and India this month, reportedly to strengthen ties.
The US-Saudi relationship dates to the end of World War II and was founded on an agreement for Washington to defend the Gulf state in exchange for oil contracts.
OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia is the world’s top producer and exporter of oil.
Obama and the king are also expected to discuss deadlocked US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
They will also discuss Egypt, another bone of contention since the 2011 uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak, who was a staunch US and Saudi ally.
The kingdom was dismayed by the partial freezing of US aid to Egypt after the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July — a move hailed by Riyadh.
On Thursday, Egypt’s Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi resigned as defence minister after announcing he would stand for president.
Meanwhile, dozens of US lawmakers have urged Obama in a letter to publicly address Saudi Arabia’s “systematic human rights violations,” including efforts by women activists to challenge its ban on female drivers.
And rights group Amnesty International said Obama “must break the US administration’s silence on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record by taking a strong public stand against the systematic violations in the kingdom.”
“It is crucial that President Obama sends a strong message to the government of Saudi Arabia that its gross human rights violations and systematic discrimination are unacceptable,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“A failure to do so would undermine the human rights principles the USA purports to stand for,” she added in a statement.
Amnesty also urged Obama to express “dismay” at the kingdom’s ban on women driving as his visit coincides with a local campaign to end the globally unique ban.
Story 1: NSA Metadata To Be Held By Telephone Companies — Great Distraction — Still Collecting and Intercepting All Americans Telephone Calls and All Information Transmitted Over The Internet and Telephone Exchanges — Stop Deceiving The American People Mr. President — Videos
Obama: NSA Proposal Satisfies Public Concerns
Obama announces overhaul of NSA metadata collection
NSA – Changes To Metadata Program – Special Report All Star
President Obama Names Michael Rogers As New Head Of The NSA
Background Articles and Videos
Through a PRISM, Darkly – Everything we know about NSA spying [30c3]
Published on Dec 30, 2013
Through a PRISM, Darkly
Everything we know about NSA spying
From Stellar Wind to PRISM, Boundless Informant to EvilOlive, the NSA spying programs are shrouded in secrecy and rubber-stamped by secret opinions from a court that meets in a faraday cage. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kurt Opsahl explains the known facts about how the programs operate and the laws and regulations the U.S. government asserts allows the NSA to spy on you.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit civil society organization, has been litigating against the NSA spying program for the better part of a decade. EFF has collected and reviewed dozens of documents, from the original NY Times stories in 2005 and the first AT&T whistleblower in 2006, through the latest documents released in the Guardian or obtained through EFF’s Freedom of Information (government transparency) litigation. EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl’s lecture will describe how the NSA spying program works, the underlying technologies, the targeting procedures (how they decide who to focus on), the minimization procedures (how they decide which information to discard), and help you makes sense of the many code names and acronyms in the news. He will also discuss the legal and policy ramifications that have become part of the public debate following the recent disclosures, and what you can do about it. After summarizing the programs, technologies, and legal/policy framework in the lecture, the audience can ask questions.
Speaker: Kurt Opsahl
Event: 30th Chaos Communication Congress [30c3] by the Chaos Computer Club [CCC]
Location: Congress Centrum Hamburg (CCH); Am Dammtor; Marseiller Straße; 20355 Hamburg; Germany
Glenn Becks “SURVEILLANCE STATE”
Inside the NSA
Ed Snowden, NSA, and Fairy Tales
AT&T Spying On Internet Traffic
For years the National Securities Agency, has been spying on each & every keystroke. The national headquarters of AT&T is in Missouri, where ex-employees describe a secret room. The program is called “Splitter Cut-In & Test Procedure.”
NSA Whistle-Blower Tells All – Op-Docs: The Program
The filmmaker Laura Poitras profiles William Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency who helped design a top-secret program he says is broadly collecting Americans’ personal data.
NSA Whistleblower: Everyone in US under virtual surveillance, all info stored, no matter the post
He told you so: Bill Binney talks NSA leaks
William Benny – The Government is Profiling You (The NSA is Spying on You)
‘After 9/11 NSA had secret deal with White House’
The story of Whistleblower Thomas Drake
Whistleblowers, Part Two: Thomas Drake
NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake speaks at National Press Club – March 15, 2013
Meet Edward Snowden: NSA PRISM Whistleblower
The Truth About Edward Snowden
N.S.A. Spying: Why Does It Matter?
Inside The NSA~Americas Cyber Secrets
NSA Whistleblower Exposes Obama’s Dragnet
AT&T whistleblower against immunity for Bush spy program-1/2
AT&T Whistleblower Urges Against Immunity for Telecoms in Bush Spy Program
The Senate is expected to vote on a controversial measure to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act tomorrow. The legislation would rewrite the nation’s surveillance laws and authorize the National Security Agency’s secret program of warrantless wiretapping. We speak with Mark Klein, a technician with AT&T for over twenty-two years. In 2006 Klein leaked internal AT&T documents that revealed the company had set up a secret room in its San Francisco office to give the National Security Agency access to its fiber optic internet cables.
AT&T whistleblower against immunity for Bush spy program-2/2
Enemy Of The State 1998 (1080p) (Full movie)
Background Articles and Videos
Stellar Wind was the open secret code name for four surveillance programs by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) during the presidency of George W. Bush and revealed by Thomas Tamm to The New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. The operation was approved by President George W. Bush shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Stellar Wind was succeeded during the presidency of Barack Obama by four major lines of intelligence collection in the territorial United States, together capable of spanning the full range of modern telecommunications.
The program’s activities involved data mining of a large database of the communications of American citizens, including e-mail communications, phone conversations, financial transactions, and Internet activity. William Binney, a retired Technical Leader with the NSA, discussed some of the architectural and operational elements of the program at the 2012 Chaos Communication Congress.
There were internal disputes within the Justice Department about the legality of the program, because data are collected for large numbers of people, not just the subjects of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants.
During the Bush Administration, the Stellar Wind cases were referred to by FBI agents as “pizza cases” because many seemingly suspicious cases turned out to be food takeout orders. According to Mueller, approximately 99 percent of the cases led nowhere, but “it’s that other 1% that we’ve got to be concerned about”. One of the known uses of these data were the creation of suspicious activity reports, or “SARS”, about people suspected of terrorist activities. It was one of these reports that revealed former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s use of prostitutes, even though he was not suspected of terrorist activities.
In March 2012 Wired magazine published “The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” talking about a vast new NSA facility in Utah and says “For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail,” naming the official William Binney, a former NSA code breaker. Binney went on to say that the NSA had highly secured rooms that tap into major switches, and satellite communications at both AT&T and Verizon. The article suggested that the otherwise dispatched Stellar Wind is actually an active program.
PRISM is a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007.[Notes 1]PRISM is a government codename for a data collection effort known officially as US-984XN. It is operated under the supervision of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The existence of the program was leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden and published by The Guardian and The Washington Post on June 6, 2013.
A document included in the leak indicated that the PRISM SIGAD was “the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.” The President’s Daily Brief, an all-source intelligence product, cited PRISM data as a source in 1,477 items in 2012. The leaked information came to light one day after the revelation that the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had been requiring the telecommunications company Verizon to turn over to the NSA logs tracking all of its customers’ telephone calls on an ongoing daily basis.
According to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, PRISM cannot be used to intentionally target any Americans or anyone in the United States. Clapper said a special court, Congress, and the executive branch oversee the program and extensive procedures ensure the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of data accidentally collected about Americans is kept to a minimum. Clapper issued a statement and “fact sheet” to correct what he characterized as “significant misimpressions” in articles by The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers.
Slide showing that much of the world’s communications flow through the US
Details of information collected via PRISM
PRISM is a “Special Source Operation” in the tradition of NSA’s intelligence alliances with as many as 100 trusted U.S. companies since the 1970s. A prior program, the Terrorist Surveillance Program, was implemented in the wake of the September 11 attacks under the George W. Bush Administration but was widely criticized and had its legality questioned, because it was conducted without approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). PRISM was authorized by an order of the FISC. Its creation was enabled by the Protect America Act of 2007 under President Bush and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which legally immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with US intelligence collection and was renewed by Congress under President Obama in 2012 for five years until December 2017. According to The Register, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 “specifically authorizes intelligence agencies to monitor the phone, email, and other communications of U.S. citizens for up to a week without obtaining a warrant” when one of the parties is outside the U.S.
PRISM was first publicly revealed on June 6, 2013, after classified documents about the program were leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian by American Edward Snowden. The leaked documents included 41 PowerPoint slides, four of which were published in news articles. The documents identified several technology companies as participants in the PRISM program, including (date of joining PRISM in parentheses) Microsoft (2007), Yahoo! (2008), Google (2009), Facebook (2009), Paltalk (2009), YouTube (2010), AOL (2011), Skype (2011), and Apple (2012). The speaker’s notes in the briefing document reviewed by The Washington Post indicated that “98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft.”
The slide presentation stated that much of the world’s electronic communications pass through the United States, because electronic communications data tend to follow the least expensive route rather than the most physically direct route, and the bulk of the world’s internet infrastructure is based in the United States. The presentation noted that these facts provide United States intelligence analysts with opportunities for intercepting the communications of foreign targets as their electronic data pass into or through the United States.
According to The Washington Post, the intelligence analysts search PRISM data using terms intended to identify suspicious communications of targets whom the analysts suspect with at least 51 percent confidence to not be United States citizens, but in the process, communication data of some United States citizens are also collected unintentionally. Training materials for analysts tell them that while they should periodically report such accidental collection of non-foreign United States data, “it’s nothing to worry about.”
Response from companies
The original Washington Post and Guardian articles reporting on PRISM noted that one of the leaked briefing documents said PRISM involves collection of data “directly from the servers” of several major internet services providers.
Initial Public Statements
Corporate executives of several companies identified in the leaked documents told The Guardian that they had no knowledge of the PRISM program in particular and also denied making information available to the government on the scale alleged by news reports. Statements of several of the companies named in the leaked documents were reported by TechCrunch and The Washington Post as follows:
Slide listing companies and the date that PRISM collection began
Microsoft: “We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”
Yahoo!: “Yahoo! takes users’ privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.” “Of the hundreds of millions of users we serve, an infinitesimal percentage will ever be the subject of a government data collection directive.”
Facebook: “We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”
Google: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a backdoor for the government to access private user data.” “[A]ny suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.”
Apple: “We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”
Dropbox: “We’ve seen reports that Dropbox might be asked to participate in a government program called PRISM. We are not part of any such program and remain committed to protecting our users’ privacy.”
In response to the technology companies’ denials of the NSA being able to directly access the companies’ servers, The New York Times reported that sources had stated the NSA was gathering the surveillance data from the companies using other technical means in response to court orders for specific sets of data.The Washington Post suggested, “It is possible that the conflict between the PRISM slides and the company spokesmen is the result of imprecision on the part of the NSA author. In another classified report obtained by The Post, the arrangement is described as allowing ‘collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations,’ rather than directly to company servers.” “[I]n context, ‘direct’ is more likely to mean that the NSA is receiving data sent to them deliberately by the tech companies, as opposed to intercepting communications as they’re transmitted to some other destination.
“If these companies received an order under the FISA amendments act, they are forbidden by law from disclosing having received the order and disclosing any information about the order at all,” Mark Rumold, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told ABC News.
Slide showing two different sources of NSA data collection. The first source the fiber optic cables of the internet handled by the Upstream program and the second source the servers of major internet companies handled by PRISM.
On May 28, 2013, Google was ordered by United States District Court Judge Susan Illston to comply with a National Security Letter issued by the FBI to provide user data without a warrant. Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an interview with VentureBeat said, “I certainly appreciate that Google put out a transparency report, but it appears that the transparency didn’t include this. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were subject to a gag order.”
The New York Times reported on June 7, 2013, that “Twitter declined to make it easier for the government. But other companies were more compliant, according to people briefed on the negotiations.” The other companies held discussions with national security personnel on how to make data available more efficiently and securely. In some cases, these companies made modifications to their systems in support of the intelligence collection effort. The dialogues have continued in recent months, as General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has met with executives including those at Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Intel. These details on the discussions provide insight into the disparity between initial descriptions of the government program including a training slide which states “Collection directly from the servers” and the companies’ denials.
While providing data in response to a legitimate FISA request approved by FISC is a legal requirement, modifying systems to make it easier for the government to collect the data is not. This is why Twitter could legally decline to provide an enhanced mechanism for data transmission. Other than Twitter, the companies were effectively asked to construct a locked mailbox and provide the key to the government, people briefed on the negotiations said. Facebook, for instance, built such a system for requesting and sharing the information. Google does not provide a lockbox system, but instead transmits required data by hand delivery or secure FTP.
Post-PRISM Transparency Reports
In response to the publicity surrounding media reports of data-sharing, several companies requested permission to reveal more public information about the nature and scope of information provided in response to National Security requests.
On June 14, 2013, Facebook reported that the U.S. Government had authorized the communication of “about these numbers in aggregate, and as a range.” In a press release posted to their web site, Facebook reported, “For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) – was between 9,000 and 10,000.” Facebook further reported that the requests impacted “between 18,000 and 19,000″ user accounts, a “tiny fraction of one percent” of more than 1.1 billion active user accounts.
Microsoft reported that for the same period, it received “between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts from U.S. governmental entities (including local, state and federal)” which impacted “a tiny fraction of Microsoft’s global customer base”.
Google issued a statement criticizing the requirement that data be reported in aggregated form, stating that lumping national security requests with criminal request data would be “a step backwards” from its previous, more detailed practices on its site transparency report. The company said that it would continue to seek government permission to publish the number and extent of FISA requests.
Response from United States government
Shortly after publication of the reports by The Guardian and The Washington Post, the United States Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, on June 7 released a statement confirming that for nearly six years the government of the United States had been using large internet services companies such as Google and Facebook to collect information on foreigners outside the United States as a defense against national security threats. The statement read in part, “The Guardian and The Washington Post articles refer to collection of communications pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They contain numerous inaccuracies.” He went on to say, “Section 702 is a provision of FISA that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.” Clapper concluded his statement by stating “The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.” On March 12, 2013, Clapper had told the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect any type of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans. In an NBC News interview, Clapper said he answered Senator Wyden’s question in the “least untruthful manner by saying no”.
Clapper also stated that “the NSA collects the phone data in broad swaths, because collecting it (in) a narrow fashion would make it harder to identify terrorism-related communications. The information collected lets the government, over time, make connections about terrorist activities. The program doesn’t let the U.S. listen to people’s calls, but only includes information like call length and telephone numbers dialed.”
On June 8, 2013, Clapper said “the surveillance activities published in The Guardian and The Washington Post are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorized by Congress.” The fact sheet described PRISM as “an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (50 U.S.C. § 1881a).”
The National Intelligence fact sheet further stated that “the United States Government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers. All such information is obtained with FISA Court approval and with the knowledge of the provider based upon a written directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.” It said that the Attorney General provides FISA Court rulings and semi-annual reports about PRISM activities to Congress, “provid[ing] an unprecedented degree of accountability and transparency.”
The President of the United States, Barack Obama, said on June 7 “What you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, have been repeatedly authorized by Congress. Bipartisan majorities have approved them. Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted. There are a whole range of safeguards involved. And federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout.” He also said, “You can’t have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
In separate statements, senior (not mentioned by name in source) Obama administration officials said that Congress had been briefed 13 times on the programs since 2009.
In contrast to their swift and forceful reactions the previous day to allegations that the government had been conducting surveillance of United States citizens’ telephone records, Congressional leaders initially had little to say about the PRISM program the day after leaked information about the program was published. Several lawmakers declined to discuss PRISM, citing its top-secret classification, and others said that they had not been aware of the program. After statements had been released by the President and the Director of National Intelligence, some lawmakers began to comment:
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
June 9 “We passed the Patriot Act. We passed specific provisions of the act that allowed for this program to take place, to be enacted in operation,”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee
June 9 “These programs are within the law”, “part of our obligation is keeping Americans safe”, “Human intelligence isn’t going to do it”.
June 9 “Here’s the rub: the instances where this has produced good — has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks, is all classified, that’s what’s so hard about this.”
June 11 “It went fine…we asked him[ Keith Alexander ] to declassify things because it would be helpful (for people and lawmakers to better understand the intelligence programs).” “I’ve just got to see if the information gets declassified. I’m sure people will find it very interesting.”
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), member of Senate Intelligence Committee and past member of Homeland Security Committee
June 11 “I had, along with Joe Lieberman, a monthly threat briefing, but I did not have access to this highly compartmentalized information” and “How can you ask when you don’t know the program exists?”
Representative John Boehner (R-OH), Speaker of the House of Representatives
June 11 “He’s a traitor” (referring to Edward Snowden)
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), principal sponsor of the Patriot Act
June 9, “This is well beyond what the Patriot Act allows.” “President Obama’s claim that ‘this is the most transparent administration in history’ has once again proven false. In fact, it appears that no administration has ever peered more closely or intimately into the lives of innocent Americans.”
Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), a Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
June 9 “One of the things that we’re charged with is keeping America safe and keeping our civil liberties and privacy intact. I think we have done both in this particular case,”
June 9 “Within the last few years this program was used to stop a program, excuse me, to stop a terrorist attack in the United States we know that. It’s, it’s, it’s important, it fills in a little seam that we have and it’s used to make sure that there is not an international nexus to any terrorism event that they may believe is ongoing in the United States. So in that regard it is a very valuable thing,”
Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)
June 9 “I don’t think the American public knows the extent or knew the extent to which they were being surveilled and their data was being collected.” “I think we ought to reopen the Patriot Act and put some limits on the amount of data that the National Security (Agency) is collecting,” “It ought to remain sacred, and there’s got to be a balance here. That is what I’m aiming for. Let’s have the debate, let’s be transparent, let’s open this up”.
Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN)
June 10 “We have no idea when they [ FISA ] meet, we have no idea what their judgments are”,
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
June 6 “When the Senate rushed through a last-minute extension of the FISA Amendments Act late last year, I insisted on a vote on my amendment (SA 3436) to require stronger protections on business records and prohibiting the kind of data-mining this case has revealed. Just last month, I introduced S.1037, the Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act,”
June 9 “I’m going to be seeing if I can challenge this at the Supreme Court level. I’m going to be asking the Internet providers and all of the phone companies: ask your customers to join me in a class-action lawsuit.”
Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL)
June 9 “We will be receiving secret briefings and we will be asking, I know I’m going to be asking to get more information. I want to make sure that what they’re doing is harvesting information that is necessary to keep us safe and not simply going into everybody’s private telephone conversations and Facebook and communications. I mean one of the, you know the terrorists win when you debilitate freedom of expression and privacy.”
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has not acknowledged, denied or confirmed any involvement in the PRISM program at this time. It has not issued any press statement or release relating to the current situation and uncertainty.
Applicable law and practice
On June 8, 2013, the Director of National Intelligence issued a fact sheet stating that PRISM “is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program”, but rather computer software used to facilitate the collection of foreign intelligence information “under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (50 U.S.C. § 1881a).” Section 702 provides that “the Attorney General [A.G.] and the Director of National Intelligence [DNI] may authorize jointly, for a period of up to 1 year from the effective date of the authorization, the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.” In order to authorize the targeting, the A.G. and DNI need to get an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) pursuant to Section 702 or certify that “intelligence important to the national security of the United States may be lost or not timely acquired and time does not permit the issuance of an order.” When asking for an order, the A.G. and DNI must certify to FISC that “a significant purpose of the acquisition is to obtain foreign intelligence information.” They do not need to specify which facilities or property that the targeting will be directed at.
After getting a FISC order or determining that there are emergency circumstances, the A.G. and DNI can direct an electronic communication service provider to give them access to information or facilities to carry out the targeting and keep the targeting secret. The provider then has the option to: (1) comply with the directive; (2) reject it; or (3) challenge it to FISC.
If the provider complies with the directive, it is released from liability to its users for providing the information and reimbursed for the cost of providing it.
If the provider rejects the directive, the A.G. may request an order from FISC to enforce it. A provider that fails to comply with FISC’s order can be punished with contempt of court.
Finally, a provider can petition FISC to reject the directive. In case FISC denies the petition and orders the provider to comply with the directive, the provider risks contempt of court if it refuses to comply with FISC’s order. The provider can appeal FISC’s denial to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review and then appeal the Court of Review’s decision to the Supreme Court by a writ of certiorari for review under seal.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the FISA Courts had been put in place to oversee intelligence operations in the period after the death of J. Edgar Hoover. Beverly Gage of Slate said, “When they were created, these new mechanisms were supposed to stop the kinds of abuses that men like Hoover had engineered. Instead, it now looks as if they have come to function as rubber stamps for the expansive ambitions of the intelligence community. J. Edgar Hoover no longer rules Washington, but it turns out we didn’t need him anyway.”
Involvement of other countries
The Australian government has said it will investigate the impact of the PRISM program and the use of the Pine Gap surveillance facility on the privacy of Australian citizens.
Canada’s national cryptologic agency, the Communications Security Establishment, said that commenting on PRISM “would undermine CSE’s ability to carry out its mandate”. Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart lamented Canada’s standards when it comes to protecting personal online privacy stating “We have fallen too far behind,” Stoddart wrote in her report. “While other nations’ data protection authorities have the legal power to make binding orders, levy hefty fines and take meaningful action in the event of serious data breaches, we are restricted to a ‘soft’ approach: persuasion, encouragement and, at the most, the potential to publish the names of transgressors in the public interest.” And, “when push comes to shove,” Stoddart wrote, “short of a costly and time-consuming court battle, we have no power to enforce our recommendations.”
Germany did not receive any raw PRISM data, according to a Reuters report.
Israeli newspaper Calcalist discussed the Business Insider article about the possible involvement of technologies from two secretive Israeli companies in the PRISM program – Verint Systems and Narus.
In New Zealand, University of Otago information science Associate Professor Hank Wolfe said that “under what was unofficially known as the Five Eyes Alliance, New Zealand and other governments, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and Britain, dealt with internal spying by saying they didn’t do it. But they have all the partners doing it for them and then they share all the information.”
In the United Kingdom, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has had access to the PRISM program on or before June 2010 and wrote 197 reports with it in 2012 alone. PRISM may have allowed GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required to seek personal material.
The neutrality of this section is disputed. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (June 2013)
The New York Times editorial board charged that the Obama administration “has now lost all credibility on this issue,” and lamented that “for years, members of Congress ignored evidence that domestic intelligence-gathering had grown beyond their control, and, even now, few seem disturbed to learn that every detail about the public’s calling and texting habits now reside in a N.S.A. database.”
Republican and former member of Congress Ron Paul said, “We should be thankful for individuals like Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald who see injustice being carried out by their own government and speak out, despite the risk…. They have done a great service to the American people by exposing the truth about what our government is doing in secret.” Paul denounced the government’s secret surveillance program: “The government does not need to know more about what we are doing…. We need to know more about what the government is doing.” He called Congress “derelict in giving that much power to the government,” and said that had he been elected president, he would have ordered searches only when there was probable cause of a crime having been committed, which he said was not how the PRISM program was being operated.
In response to Obama administration arguments that it could stop terrorism in the cases of Najibullah Zazi and David Headley, Ed Pilkington and Nicholas Watt of The Guardian said in regards to the role of PRISM and Boundless Informant interviews with parties involved in the Zazi scheme and court documents lodged in the United States and the United Kingdom indicated that “conventional” surveillance methods such as “old-fashioned tip-offs” of the British intelligence services initiated the investigation into the Zazi case. An anonymous former CIA agent said that in regards to the Headley case, “That’s nonsense. It played no role at all in the Headley case. That’s not the way it happened at all.” Pilkington and Watt concluded that the data-mining programs “played a relatively minor role in the interception of the two plots.” Michael Daly of The Daily Beast stated that even though Tamerlan Tsarnaev had visited Inspire and even though Russian intelligence officials alerted U.S. intelligence officials about Tsarnaev, PRISM did not prevent him from carrying out the Boston bombings, and that the initial evidence implicating him came from his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and not from federal intelligence. In addition Daly pointed to the fact that Faisal Shahzad visited Inspire but that federal authorities did not stop his attempted terrorist plot. Daly concluded “The problem is not just what the National Security Agency is gathering at the risk of our privacy but what it is apparently unable to monitor at the risk of our safety.” In addition, political commentator Bill O’Reilly criticized the government, saying that PRISM did not stop the Boston bombings.
In a blog post, David Simon, the creator of The Wire, compared the NSA’s programs, including PRISM, to a 1980s effort by the City of Baltimore to add dialed number recorders to all pay phones to know which individuals were being called by the callers; the city believed that drug traffickers were using pay phones and pagers, and a municipal judge allowed the city to place the recorders. The placement of the dialers formed the basis of the show’s first season. Simon argued that the media attention regarding the NSA programs is a “faux scandal.” George Takei, an actor who had experienced Japanese American internment, said that due to his memories of the internment, he felt concern towards the NSA surveillance programs that had been revealed.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital-rights group based in the U.S., is hosting a tool, by which an American resident can write to their government representatives regarding their opposition to mass spying.
On June 11, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the NSA citing that PRISM “violates Americans’ constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy”.
Reactions of Internet users in China were mixed between viewing a loss of freedom worldwide and seeing state surveillance coming out of secrecy. The story broke just before US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in California. When asked about NSA hacking China, the spokeswoman of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China said “China strongly advocates cybersecurity”. The party-owned newspaper Liberation Daily described this surveillance like Nineteen Eighty-Four-style. Hong Kong legislators Gary Fan and Claudia Mo wrote a letter to Obama, stating “the revelations of blanket surveillance of global communications by the world’s leading democracy have damaged the image of the U.S. among freedom-loving peoples around the world.”
Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament, called PRISM “a violation of EU laws”.
Protests at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin
The German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Peter Schaar, condemned the program as “monstrous”. He further added that White House claims do “not reassure me at all” and that “given the large number of German users of Google, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft services, I expect the German government […] is committed to clarification and limitation of surveillance.” Steffen Seibert, press secretary of the Chancellor’s office, announced that Angela Merkel will put these issues on the agenda of the talks with Barack Obama during his pending visit in Berlin.
The Italian president of the Guarantor for the protection of personal data, Antonello Soro, said that the surveillance dragnet “would not be legal in Italy” and would be “contrary to the principles of our legislation and would represent a very serious violation”.
William Hague, the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, dismissed accusations that British security agencies had been circumventing British law by using information gathered on British citizens by Prism saying, “Any data obtained by us from the United States involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards.” David Cameron said Britain’s spy agencies that received data collected from PRISM acted within the law: “I’m satisfied that we have intelligence agencies that do a fantastically important job for this country to keep us safe, and they operate within the law.” Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, said that if the British intelligence agencies were seeking to know the content of emails about people living in the UK, then they actually have to get lawful authority. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office was more cautious, saying it would investigate PRISM alongside other European data agencies: “There are real issues about the extent to which U.S. law agencies can access personal data of UK and other European citizens. Aspects of U.S. law under which companies can be compelled to provide information to U.S. agencies potentially conflict with European data protection law, including the UK’s own Data Protection Act. The ICO has raised this with its European counterparts, and the issue is being considered by the European Commission, who are in discussions with the U.S. Government.”
Ai Weiwei, a Chinese dissident, said “Even though we know governments do all kinds of things I was shocked by the information about the US surveillance operation, Prism. To me, it’s abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals’ privacy. This is an important moment for international society to reconsider and protect individual rights.”
Kim Dotcom, a German-Finnish Internet entrepreneur who owned Megaupload, which was closed by the U.S. federal government, said “We should heed warnings from Snowden because the prospect of an Orwellian society outweighs whatever security benefits we derive from Prism or Five Eyes.” The Hong Kong law firm representing Dotcom expressed a fear that the communication between Dotcom and the firm had been compromised by U.S. intelligence programs.
Russia has offered to consider an asylum request from Edward Snowden.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said “We knew about their past efforts to trace our system. We have used our technical resources to foil their efforts and have been able to stop them from succeeding so far.”
A parallel program, code-named BLARNEY, gathers up metadata as it streams past choke points along the backbone of the Internet. BLARNEY’s summary, set down in the slides alongside a cartoon insignia of a shamrock and a leprechaun hat, describes it as “an ongoing collection program that leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.”
A related program, a big data visualization system based on cloud computing and free and open-source software (FOSS) technology known as “Boundless Informant”, was disclosed in documents leaked to The Guardian and reported on June 8, 2013. A leaked, top secret map allegedly produced by Boundless Informant revealed the extent of NSA surveillance in the U.S.
ThinThread is the name of a project that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) pursued during the 1990s, according to a May 17, 2006 article in The Baltimore Sun. The program involved wiretapping and sophisticated analysis of the resulting data, but according to the article, the program was discontinued three weeks before the September 11, 2001 attacks due to the changes in priorities and the consolidation of U.S. intelligence authority. The “change in priority” consisted of the decision made by the director of NSA General Michael V. Hayden to go with a concept called Trailblazer, despite the fact that ThinThread was a working prototype that protected the privacy of U.S. citizens.
ThinThread was dismissed and replaced by the Trailblazer Project, which lacked the privacy protections. A consortium led by Science Applications International Corporation was awarded a $280 million contract to develop Trailblazer in 2002.
Trailblazer was a United States National Security Agency (NSA) program intended to develop a capability to analyze data carried on communications networks like the Internet. It was intended to track entities using communication methods such as cell phones and e-mail. It ran over budget, failed to accomplish critical goals, and was cancelled.
NSA whistleblowers J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, Ed Loomis, and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staffer Diane Roark complained to the Department of Defense’s Inspector General (IG) about waste, fraud, and abuse in the program, and the fact that a successful operating prototype existed, but was ignored when the Trailblazer program was launched. The complaint was accepted by the IG and an investigation began that lasted until mid-2005 when the final results were issued. The results were largely hidden, as the report given to the public was heavily (90%) redacted, while the original report was heavily classified, thus restricting the ability of most people to see it.
The people who filed the IG complaint were later raided by armed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. While the Government threatened to prosecute all who signed the IG report, it ultimately chose to pursue an NSA Senior Executive — Thomas Andrews Drake — who helped with the report internally to NSA and who had spoken with a reporter about the project. Drake was later charged under the Espionage Act of 1917. His defenders claimed this was retaliation. The charges against him were later dropped, and he agreed to plead guilty to having committed a misdemeanor under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, something that Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project (which helped represent him) called an “act of civil disobedience”.
Trailblazer was chosen over a similar program named ThinThread, a less costly project which had been designed with built-in privacy protections for United States citizens. Trailblazer was later linked to the NSA electronic surveillance program and the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy.
In 2002 a consortium led by Science Applications International Corporation was chosen by the NSA to produce a technology demonstration platform in a contract worth $280 million. Project participants included Boeing, Computer Sciences Corporation, and Booz Allen Hamilton. The project was overseen by NSA Deputy Director William B. Black, Jr., an NSA worker who had gone to SAIC, and then been re-hired back to NSA by NSA director Michael Hayden in 2000. SAIC had also hired a former NSA director to its management; Bobby Inman. SAIC also participated in the concept definition phase of Trailblazer.
Redacted version of the DoD Inspector General audit, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Project on Government Oversight and others. 
The NSA Inspector General issued a report on Trailblazer that “discussed improperly based contract cost increases, non-conformance in the management of the Statement of Work, and excessive labor rates for contractor personnel.” 
In 2004 the DoD IG report criticized the program (see the Whistleblowing section below). It said that the “NSA ‘disregarded solutions to urgent national security needs'” and “that TRAILBLAZER was poorly executed and overly expensive …” Several contractors for the project were worried about cooperating with DoD’s audit for fear of “management reprisal.” The Director of NSA “nonconcurred” with several statements in the IG audit, and the report contains a discussion of those disagreements.
In 2005, NSA director Michael Hayden told a Senate hearing that the Trailblazer program was several hundred million dollars over budget and years behind schedule. In 2006 the program was shut down, after having cost billions of US Dollars. Several anonymous NSA sources told Hosenball of Newsweek later on that the project was a “wasteful failure”.
The new project replacing Trailblazer is called Turbulence.
According to a 2011 New Yorker article, in the early days of the project several NSA employees met with Diane S Roark, an NSA budget expert on the House Intelligence Committee. They aired their grievances about Trailblazer. In response, NSA director Michael Hayden sent out a memo saying that “individuals, in a session with our congressional overseers, took a position in direct opposition to one that we had corporately decided to follow … Actions contrary to our decisions will have a serious adverse effect on our efforts to transform N.S.A., and I cannot tolerate them.”
In September 2002, several people filed a complaint with the Department of Defense IG’s office regarding problems with Trailblazer: they included Roark (aforementioned), ex-NSA senior analysts Bill Binney, Kirk Wiebe, and Senior Computer Systems Analyst Ed Loomis, who had quit the agency over concerns about its mismanagement of acquisition and allegedly illegal domestic spying. A major source for the report was NSA senior officer Thomas Andrews Drake. Drake had been complaining to his superiors for some time about problems at the agency, and about the superiority of ThinThread over Trailblazer, for example, at protecting privacy. Drake gave info to DoD during its investigation of the matter. Roark also went to her boss at the House committee, Porter Goss, about problems, but was rebuffed. She also attempted to contact William Renquist, the Supreme Court Chief Justice at the time.
Drake’s own boss, Maureen Baginski, the third-highest officer at NSA, quit partly over concerns about the legality of its behavior.
In 2003, the NSA IG (not the DoD IG) had declared Trailblazer an expensive failure. It had cost more than $1 billion.
In 2005, the DoD IG produced a report on the result of its investigation of the complaint of Roark and the others in 2002. This report was not released to the public, but it has been described as very negative. Mayer writes that it hastened the closure of Trailblazer, which was at the time in trouble from congress for being over budget.
In November 2005, Drake contacted Siobhan Gorman, a reporter of The Baltimore Sun. Gorman wrote several articles about problems at the NSA, including articles on Trailblazer. This series got her an award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
In 2005, President George W. Bush ordered the FBI to find whoever had disclosed information about the NSA electronic surveillance program and its disclosure in the New York Times. Eventually, this investigation led to the people who had filed the 2002 DoD IG request, even though they had nothing to do with the New York Times disclosure. In 2007, the houses of Roark, Binney, and Wiebe were raided by armed FBI agents. According to Mayer, Binney claims the FBI pointed guns at his head and that of his wife. Wiebe said it reminded him of the Soviet Union. None of these people were ever charged with any crime. Four months later, Drake was raided in November 2007 and his computers and documents were confiscated.
In 2010 Drake was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on charges of obstructing justice, providing false information, and violating the Espionage Act of 1917, part of President Barack Obama’s crackdown on whistleblowers and “leakers”. The government tried to get Roark to testify to a conspiracy, and made similar requests to Drake, offering him a plea bargain. They both refused.
In June 2011, the ten original charges against Drake were dropped, instead he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Boundless Informant is a big data analysis and data visualization system used by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) to give NSA managers summaries of NSA’s world wide data collection activities. It is described in an unclassified, For Official Use Only Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) memo published by The Guardian. According to a Top Secret heat map display also published by The Guardian and allegedly produced by the Boundless Informant program, almost 3 billion data elements from inside the United States were captured by NSA over a 30-day period ending in March 2013.
Data analyzed by Boundless Informant includes electronic surveillance program records (DNI) and telephone call metadata records (DNR) stored in an NSA data archive called GM-PLACE. It does not include FISA data, according to the FAQ memo. PRISM, a government codename for a collection effort known officially as US-984XN, which was revealed at the same time as Boundless Informant, is one source of DNR data. According to the map, Boundless Informant summarizes data records from 504 separate DNR and DNI collection sources (SIGADs). In the map, countries that are under surveillance are assigned a color from green, representing least coverage to red, most intensive.
Slide showing that much of the world’s communications flow through the US.
Intelligence gathered by the United States government inside the United States or specifically targeting US citizens is legally required to be gathered in compliance with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) and under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court).
NSA global data mining projects have existed for decades, but recent programs of intelligence gathering and analysis that include data gathered from inside the United States such as PRISM were enabled by changes to US surveillance law introduced under President Bush and renewed under President Obama in December 2012.
Boundless Informant was first publicly revealed on June 8, 2013, after classified documents about the program were leaked to The Guardian. The newspaper identified its informant, at his request, as Edward Snowden, who worked at the NSA for the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
According to published slides, Boundless Informant leverages Free and Open Source Software—and is therefore “available to all NSA developers”—and corporate services hosted in the cloud. The tool uses HDFS, MapReduce, and Cloudbase for data processing.
Legality and FISA Amendments Act of 2008
The FISA Amendments Act (FAA) Section 702 is referenced in PRISM documents detailing the electronic interception, capture and analysis of metadata. Many reports and letters of concern written by members of Congress suggest that this section of FAA in particular is legally and constitutionally problematic, such as by targeting U.S. persons, insofar as “Collections occur in U.S.” as published documents indicate.
The ACLU has asserted the following regarding the FAA: “Regardless of abuses, the problem with the FAA is more fundamental: the statute itself is unconstitutional.”
Senator Rand Paul is introducing new legislation called the Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013 to stop the NSA or other agencies of the United States government from violating the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution using technology and big data information systems like PRISM and Boundless Informant.
ECHELON is a name used in global media and in popular culture to describe a signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated on behalf of the five signatory states to the UKUSA Security Agreement (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, referred to by a number of abbreviations, including AUSCANNZUKUS and Five Eyes). It has also been described as the only software system which controls the download and dissemination of the intercept of commercial satellite trunk communications.
ECHELON, according to information in the European Parliament document, “On the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system)” was created to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies during the Cold War in the early 1960s.
The system has been reported in a number of public sources. Its capabilities and political implications were investigated by a committee of the European Parliament during 2000 and 2001 with a report published in 2001, and by author James Bamford in his books on the National Security Agency of the United States. The European Parliament stated in its report that the term ECHELON is used in a number of contexts, but that the evidence presented indicates that it was the name for a signals intelligence collection system. The report concludes that, on the basis of information presented, ECHELON was capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally through the interception of communication bearers including satellite transmission, public switched telephone networks (which once carried most Internet traffic) and microwave links.
Bamford describes the system as the software controlling the collection and distribution of civilian telecommunications traffic conveyed using communication satellites, with the collection being undertaken by ground stations located in the footprint of the downlink leg.
The UKUSA intelligence community was assessed by the European Parliament (EP) in 2000 to include the signals intelligence agencies of each of the member states:
the Government Communications Headquarters of the United Kingdom,
the National Security Agency of the United States,
the Communications Security Establishment of Canada,
the Defence Signals Directorate of Australia, and
the Government Communications Security Bureau of New Zealand.
the National SIGINT Organisation (NSO) of The Netherlands
The EP report concluded that it seemed likely that ECHELON is a method of sorting captured signal traffic, rather than a comprehensive analysis tool.
The ability to intercept communications depends on the medium used, be it radio, satellite, microwave, cellular or fiber-optic. During World War II and through the 1950s, high frequency (“short wave”) radio was widely used for military and diplomatic communication, and could be intercepted at great distances. The rise of geostationary communications satellites in the 1960s presented new possibilities for intercepting international communications. The report to the European Parliament of 2001 states: “If UKUSA states operate listening stations in the relevant regions of the earth, in principle they can intercept all telephone, fax and data traffic transmitted via such satellites.”
The role of satellites in point-to-point voice and data communications has largely been supplanted by fiber optics; in 2006, 99% of the world’s long-distance voice and data traffic was carried over optical-fiber. The proportion of international communications accounted for by satellite links is said to have decreased substantially over the past few years[when?] in Central Europe to an amount between 0.4% and 5%. Even in less-developed parts of the world, communications satellites are used largely for point-to-multipoint applications, such as video. Thus, the majority of communications can no longer be intercepted by earth stations; they can only be collected by tapping cables and intercepting line-of-sight microwave signals, which is possible only to a limited extent.
One method of interception is to place equipment at locations where fiber optic communications are switched. For the Internet, much of the switching occurs at relatively few sites. There have been reports of one such intercept site, Room 641A, in the United States. In the past[when?] much Internet traffic was routed through the U.S. and the UK, but this has changed; for example, in 2000, 95% of intra-German Internet communications was routed via the DE-CIX Internet exchange point in Frankfurt. A comprehensive worldwide surveillance network is possible only if clandestine intercept sites are installed in the territory of friendly nations, and/or if local authorities cooperate. The report to the European Parliament points out that interception of private communications by foreign intelligence services is not necessarily limited to the U.S. or British foreign intelligence services.
Most reports on ECHELON focus on satellite interception; testimony before the European Parliament indicated that separate but similar UK-US systems are in place to monitor communication through undersea cables, microwave transmissions and other lines.
See also: Industrial espionage
Intelligence monitoring of citizens, and their communications, in the area covered by the AUSCANNZUKUS security agreement has caused concern. British journalist Duncan Campbell and New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager asserted in the 1990s that the United States was exploiting ECHELON traffic for industrial espionage, rather than military and diplomatic purposes. Examples alleged by the journalists include the gear-less wind turbine technology designed by the German firm Enercon and the speech technology developed by the Belgian firm Lernout & Hauspie. An article in the US newspaper Baltimore Sun reported in 1995 that European aerospace company Airbus lost a $6 billion contract with Saudi Arabia in 1994 after the US National Security Agency reported that Airbus officials had been bribing Saudi officials to secure the contract.
In 2001, the Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System recommended to the European Parliament that citizens of member states routinely use cryptography in their communications to protect their privacy, because economic espionage with ECHELON has been conducted by the US intelligence agencies.
Bamford provides an alternative view, highlighting that legislation prohibits the use of intercepted communications for commercial purposes, although he does not elaborate on how intercepted communications are used as part of an all-source intelligence process.
According to its website, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is “a high technology organization … on the frontiers of communications and data processing”. In 1999 the Australian Senate Joint Standing Committee on Treaties was told by Professor Desmond Ball that the Pine Gap facility was used as a ground station for a satellite-based interception network. The satellites were said to be large radio dishes between 20 and 100 meters in diameter in geostationary orbits. The original purpose of the network was to monitor the telemetry from 1970s Soviet weapons, air defence radar, communications satellites and ground based microwave communications.
The European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on the ECHELON Interception System stated: “It seems likely, in view of the evidence and the consistent pattern of statements from a very wide range of individuals and organisations, including American sources, that its name is in fact ECHELON, although this is a relatively minor detail.” The U.S. intelligence community uses many code names (see, for example, CIA cryptonym).
Former NSA employee Margaret Newsham claims that she worked on the configuration and installation of software that makes up the ECHELON system while employed at Lockheed Martin, for whom she worked from 1974 to 1984 in Sunnyvale, California, US, and in Menwith Hill, England, UK. At that time, according to Newsham, the code name ECHELON was NSA’s term for the computer network itself. Lockheed called it P415. The software programs were called SILKWORTH and SIRE. A satellite named VORTEX intercepted communications. An image available on the internet of a fragment apparently torn from a job description shows Echelon listed along with several other code names.
The 2001 European Parliamentary (EP) report lists several ground stations as possibly belonging to, or participating in, the ECHELON network. These include:
Likely satellite intercept stations
The following stations are listed in the EP report (p. 54 ff) as likely to have, or to have had, a role in intercepting transmissions from telecommunications satellites:
Hong Kong (since closed)
Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station (Geraldton, Western Australia)
Menwith Hill (Yorkshire, U.K.) Map (reportedly the largest Echelon facility)
Misawa Air Base (Japan) Map
GCHQ Bude, formerly known as GCHQ CSO Morwenstow, (Cornwall, U.K.) Map
Pine Gap (Northern Territory, Australia – close to Alice Springs) Map
Sugar Grove (West Virginia, U.S.) Map
Yakima Training Center (Washington, U.S.) Map
GCSB Waihopai (New Zealand)
GCSB Tangimoana (New Zealand)
CFS Leitrim (Ontario, Canada)
Teufelsberg (Berlin, Germany) (closed 1992)
Other potentially related stations
The following stations are listed in the EP report (p. 57 ff) as ones whose roles “cannot be clearly established”:
Ayios Nikolaos (Cyprus – U.K.)
BadAibling Station (BadAibling, Germany – U.S.)
relocated to Griesheim in 2004
deactivated in 2008
Buckley Air Force Base (Aurora, Colorado)
Fort Gordon (Georgia, U.S.)
Gander (Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada)
Guam (Pacific Ocean, U.S.)
Kunia Regional SIGINT Operations Center (Hawaii, U.S.)
Lackland Air Force Base, Medina Annex (San Antonio, Texas)
Room 641A is a telecommunication interception facility operated by AT&T for the U.S. National Security Agency that commenced operations in 2003 and was exposed in 2006.
Room 641A is located in the SBC Communications building at 611 Folsom Street, San Francisco, three floors of which were occupied by AT&T before SBC purchased AT&T. The room was referred to in internal AT&T documents as the SG3 [Study Group 3] Secure Room. It is fed by fiber optic lines from beam splitters installed in fiber optic trunks carrying Internet backbone traffic and, as analyzed by J. Scott Marcus, a former CTO for GTE and a former adviser to the FCC, who has access to all Internet traffic that passes through the building, and therefore “the capability to enable surveillance and analysis of internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic.” Former director of the NSA’s World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, William Binney, has estimated that 10 to 20 such facilities have been installed throughout the United States.
The room measures about 24 by 48 feet (7.3 by 15 m) and contains several racks of equipment, including a Narus STA 6400, a device designed to intercept and analyze Internet communications at very high speeds.
The very existence of the room was revealed by a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, and was the subject of a 2006 class action lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T. Klein claims he was told that similar black rooms are operated at other facilities around the country.
Room 641A and the controversies surrounding it were subjects of an episode of Frontline, the current affairs documentary program on PBS. It was originally broadcast on May 15, 2007. It was also featured on PBS’s NOW on March 14, 2008. The room was also covered in the PBS Nova episode “The Spy Factory”.
Basic diagram of how the alleged wiretapping was accomplished. From EFF court filings