Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Not Again! New DOD Spy agency quietly given incredible powers

I know it's  getting overwhelming.  It's so hard to summon the adrenaline for another go at outrage and disbelief.   This last month has been like a  two minute drill of scandals,indictments, and  constitutional crises.   I understand wanting to throw up you hands and say "It's all too much"

But even so This Washington Post Story Deserves special attention and cannot be allowed to be overlooked:

The Pentagon's newest counterterrorism agency, charged with protecting military facilities and personnel wherever they are, is carrying out intelligence collection, analysis and operations within the United States and abroad

CIFA is a three-year-old agency>whose size and budget remain secret. It has grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority.

In the immortal words of Astro the Dog:  "ruh-roh!"
If you care about civil rights there few words that will make you go into insta-pucker mode with fear faster than :"rapidly Expanding" or "ever widening authority"   when used to describe an Intelligence agency. The third scariest is "recently Granted MAJOR new authority"

Guess what Phrases best Describe the mysterious CIFA?

A former senior Pentagon intelligence official, familiar with CIFA, said yesterday, "They started with force protection from terrorists, but when you go down that road, you soon are into everything . . . "

and he DOES mean Everything.  This little agency started to physically protect bases from terrorist attack, has taken a nearly existentially broad view of its mission:

Its Directorate of Field Activities (DX) "assists in preserving the most critical defense assets, disrupting adversaries and helping control the intelligence domain," [According to an offical fact sheet"].

Those roles can range from running roving patrols around military bases and facilities { So Far so good... }  to surveillance of potentially threatening people or organizations inside the United States. { Holy crap batman!}

And they've got sorts of interesting capabilities one doesn't usually find in say your average asset security operation:

Another CIFA directorate, the Counterintelligence and Law Enforcement Center, "identifies and assesses threats" to Defense personnel, operations and infrastructure from "insider threats, foreign intelligence services, terrorists, and other clandestine or covert entities," according to the Pentagon.

And what the Hell precisely does THAT mean?  Well here's the bit (and you knew it was coming)  where the spying on the nuns and the Quakers and the gays comes in:

CIFA manages the Pentagon database that includes Talon reports,
consisting of raw, unverified information picked up by the military services on suspicious activities that could involve terrorist threats. The Pentagon acknowledged last week that the Talon database contained reports on peaceful civilian protests and demonstrations that should have been purged long ago under Defense Department regulations.

ooopsie.  Wonder how those got there.  S' a good thing we have so much trust in the integrity of our government built up, or we might get really pissed at a thing like that.  

And Folks, I hate to tell you this, but we only just started with the Scary:

A third CIFA directorate, Behavioral Sciences, "has 20 psychologists and a multimillion-dollar budget," and supports both "offensive and defensive counterintelligence efforts," ...

Well That's Certainly no reason to be breaking out the extra-strength-Depends or anything.  I can't image what would be upsetting to anyone about a hyper-secret agency with a  team of behavioral psychologists and a multimillion dollar black budget!!  .Just like I'm sure  the term "offensive Counter-intelligence Operations" is merely an Oxymoron and doesn't mean anything like "pre-emptive war".  

  So really, there's nothing to worry about at all.  And even if there was; that's what our whole system of Check and Balances is about.   We can certainly cont on our representatives in Congress to  keep a close eye on them, and make sure they don't get out of hand  Right?

[The former senior Pentagon offical Noted that] "there ha[s] been no congressional oversight of CIFA," [and] that the Defense Department "is too big, too rich an organization and should not be left unfettered. They rush in where there is a vacuum."

A former senior counterterrorism official, also familiar with CIFA, said, "What you are seeing is the militarization of counterterrorism."

You'll excuse me while I go change into my brown trousers.

 I wish that was the worst of it.; but astute readers not hiding under their desks may recall I said something about them becoming even MORE powerful recently.  What came before was a mere palate cleanser of fear and paranoia.  Here's the main course:


CIFA's authority is still growing. In a new move to centralize all counterterrorism intelligence collection inside the United States, the Defense Department this month gave CIFA authority to task domestic investigations and operations by the counterintelligence units of the military services.

Roughly translated into English that means: "we're all screwed"

Okay to be a touch more precise:

The tasking authority allows CIFA to assign Defense counterintelligence organizations "to execute a specific mission or conduct a function falling within that organization's charter," ...CIFA's new authority will give the agency the ability to propose missions to Army, Navy and Air Force units, which combined have about 4,000 trained active, reserve and civilian investigators in the United States and abroad.For example, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) has 1,935 "federally credentialed special agents," according to its Web site.

In other, other words  A secret government agency with no congressional oversight is now in total control of the actions of ALL the investigative Units and personnel in all 5 branches of the armed forces and DOD.  This amounts to nearly 5,000  agents in all.  Worse yet, most of these investigators are designated as "federal special agents"  which means that they have the  exact same powers or arrest and investigation as FBI agents.  

To put this in perspective, this  is nearly half as many as the very large and publicly accountable FBI has to assign to ALL of its cases:

the FBI recently disclosed it has about 11,000 special agents overall, about 4,929 of whom are assigned to terrorism investigation.

Are you feeling queasy yet? It is possible to contemplate the fact that a massive new federal agency 5,000 investigators, and unknown budget and unbelievably expansive powers  can be created with one short internal DOD memo(likely classified at that) under the current interregnum:?.

I know we are hip deep in a near-Constitutional crisis already, but this too is in desperate need of the Strong disinfectant of sunshine.  Remember, presidents and administrations may come and go, but government agencies once established, are eternal.   If this is allowed to stand, it will be decades before anything meaningful can be changed about this agency.  The time to scream is Right NOW before they are allowed to gather any bureaucratic momentum

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Spies Gone Wild II: CIA has 3000+ Detainees and no Oversight

Yesterday , Condi, eyes flashing, jaw set in semi-steely pose emphatically claimed US personnel are (and have always been) forbidden from inflicting  "inhumane, cruel or degrading" treatment on detainees;

Well. that Settles that then.  

 Except, well, while I hate to be impolite, I feel compellled to bring up this account of the CIA's "Snatch and Grab squads: that appeared in Sunday's WaPo:

 Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip.

Now If Condi doesn't call getting your clothes cut off, a tube jammed up your ass, and stuffed into a Depends for 12 hours "degrading", I'd hate to ask what she DOES call it.  (mostly because I'm afraid the Answer is:  "foreplay")

That Condi is lying isn't exactly news.   But What IS important is what the Masri Scandal tells us about what's become of the CIA since the BushCo cowboys co-opted it:
For those who may have come in late to this story;  a brief recap of how the US  got caught with its proverbial testicles in the national zipper courtesy of the CIA:

In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador  in Germany, [Daniel R. Coats] to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister.  ...Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public.

You think they drew straws at the embassy to decide who got to deliver   that message?   Maybe they just went ahead and hired This guy:

Um yeah, listen, we've gone ahead and kidnapped and tortured one of your citizens, by mistake,  so we're going to  need you to betray him and pretend the whole thing never happened, yeah, that'd be great, thanks so much"

But of Course we had solid if, mistaken evidence identifying Masri as a dangerous terrorist that justified this extraordinary kidnapping torture episode,  Right? Right? Well, in point of technical fact: No:

Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center's al Qaeda unit "believed he was someone else," one former CIA official said. "She didn't really know. She just had a hunch."

SO how the hell did we get in a Situation where the "hunches" of an over-eager CIA agent can blossom into an international scandal that severely strained the US relationship with its oldest allies?  

Welcome to the Brave New world of the BushCo CIA.

and there are MANY more potential Masri's being held by US waiting to blow up in our faces:

The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls "erroneous renditions,"...One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; ...The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade,

"Erroneous Renditions", Such a lovely term for kidnapping and torturing someone by mistake.  Whoopsie.  Our Bad. Sorry about those beatings, and that waterboarding and all.  

And That 3 Dozen Figure is only the tiny top of VERY large Iceberg:

The CIA, working with other intelligence agencies, has captured an estimated 3,000 people, including several { Alleged -ed} key leaders of al Qaeda, in its campaign to dismantle terrorist networks. It is impossible to know, however, how many mistakes the CIA and its foreign partners have made....there is no tribunal or judge to check the evidence against those picked up by the CIA. The same bureaucracy that decides to capture and transfer a suspect for interrogation-- a process called "rendition" -- is also responsible for policing itself for errors.

The WH also announced a massive new hiring of Foxes to guard our nation's vulnerable henhouses....

But to  Say the CIA has little oversight is a massive understatement.   It comes closer to the truth to say that Since the 9/11 they've gone Rogue. They've been given unlimited funding, a carte blanche on methods, zero oversight, and are accountable to no one,:

In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CTC was the place to be for CIA officers wanting in on the fight. The staff ballooned from 300 to 1,200 nearly overnight.

"It was the Camelot of counterterrorism," a former counterterrorism official said. We didn't have to mess with others -- "and it was fun."

Yeah, beating the hell out innocent people is such hoot. I must have missed the bit in the Arthurian legends where Lancelot and the boys kidnapped random peasants and worked them over in the backroom with rubber hoses; silly me.

Of course, in this Golden Age of counterrorism, who can be blamed if the quality of the work product itself was allowed to slip a tad?

Thousands of tips and allegations about potential threats poured in after the attacks. ...CIA officers passed along every tidbit. The process of vetting and evaluating information suffered greatly, ..

{ you know that boring stuff that's the CIA's actual job and all}

 "Whatever quality control mechanisms were in play on September 10th were eliminated on September 11th," a former senior intelligence official said.

As with nearly everything else wrong with this country, this change in culture at the CIA started at the direction of the WHIG Cowboys, and their simple-minded boss at the WH:

Bush ...signed a top secret presidential finding six days after the 9/11 attacks. It authorized an unprecedented range of covert action, including lethal measures and renditions, disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks against the al Qaeda enemy.

W wanted him some "bad guys" gotten by whatever means necessary; and unfortunately he found himself a kindred Spirit in a particularly wacky CIA operations chief who had apparently OD'ed on too many Spy movies:

J. Cofer Black, a professorial former spy who spent years chasing Osama bin Laden, was the CTC's director. With a flair for melodrama, Black had earned special access to the White House after he briefed President Bush on the CIA's war plan for Afghanistan....

Colleagues recall that he would return from the White House inspired and talking in missionary terms

 And that as we all now know is never a good thing, particularly when the Missionary has Guns, Planes, and Secret prisons at his disposal. (Recall that this is also the guy who famously ordered CIA Agent Gary Shroen to bring him Osama's head in a box of Dry ice (scroll down, this being CNN it runs after the Missing White Girl story).  

 Now not suprisingly some veteran CIA types questioned whether he was the right guy to provide sober, thoughful stewardship of the CIA's extraordinary new powers:(heretics and unbelievers all!)

Others criticized Black's CTC for embracing a "Hollywood model" of operations, as one former longtime CIA veteran called it, eschewing the hard work of recruiting agents and penetrating terrorist networks. Instead, the new approach was similar to the flashier paramilitary operations that had worked so well in Afghanistan,{ or at least so it appeared at the time-ed}

But Black had the approval of the only people whose opinion really mattered:

[his tactics].. played well at the White House, where the president was keeping a scorecard of captured or killed terrorists.

You read that Right, apparently Little Georgie was keeping score of how many bodies the CIA was bringing back.  It appears in his simple-minded worldview; it actually meant something when current AQ members  were captured and killed.  He was apparently completely misunderstood the cellular nature of modern terrorist organizations, and their potential to recruit new members (greatly enhanced by these self-same ham-handed tactics by the US no less)

and Black himself, a professional who should have known better, how does he defend his actions?:

 Black, now in the private security business,{Vice President of Blackwater} declined to comment.

But while Cofer may be thankfully gone from the agency (forced out when he crossed Darth Rummy)  his legacy lives on in the equally fanatic underlings he left behind.

The woman behind the "hunch" that Snatched up an innocent man?:

The person most often in the middle of arguments over whether to dispatch a rendition team was a former Soviet analyst with spiked hair that matched her in-your-face personality who heads the CTC's al Qaeda unit,.. Her name is being withheld because she is under cover....She earned a reputation for being aggressive and confident, just the right quality, some colleagues thought, for a commander in the CIA's global war on terrorism. Others criticized her for being overzealous and too quick to order paramilitary action.

Ya think?

That's right.  The person now in charge of destroying AL-Qaeda isn't someone from a Middle Eastern desk, not a terrorism expert, or even an analyst who has spent years immersed in the nuances of the Muslim mind.  Nope.   Instead we got a genuine dinosaur Cold Warrior for that job (and we know what a fantastic job those folks did in predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union).

And the Masri case proves that the " Snatch `em all and let God sort `em out, mentality at the top took very little time to filter down the ranks:. When Macedonian police detained a man whose name was similar to a 9/11 Hijacker's that's all a local Junior agent needed:

the deputy chief, a junior officer, was excited about the catch and about being able to contribute to the counterterrorism fight, current and former intelligence officials familiar with the case said.

"The Skopje station really wanted a scalp because everyone wanted a part of the game," a CIA officer said

Who knew  Verucah Salt grew up to be a CIA agent? ("daddy, I want a terrorist. NOW".)

Thanks to the leadership from the WH our national security  Went from a deadly serious busines to a contact sport. "Playing the Game" and running up the score took priority of such real world concerns as gathering useable intelligence, respecting our diplomatic relations with other countries, or actually stopping the bad guys.

Guys like Masri?  Eh. just unfortunate collateral damage:

there was no evidence Masri was not who he claimed to be -- a German citizen of Arab descent traveling after a disagreement with his wife.

{However the CTC Director)ordered Masri captured and flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan.

 This Cowboy Culture also led the CIA to believe it could simply "erase" any mistakes it made, and avoid unpleasant international repercussions.  When the CIA got around to figuring out they had the wrong guy-- all these brave,  macho sooper-cool spies suddenly started behaving  like drunk 16 year olds trying to sneak their parent's car back into the garage after they'd wrecked it.  

At the CIA, the question was: Now what? ... Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. "There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him," one former official said.

It took the combined efforts of the last remaining grown up in the CIA (George Tenet- now gone) and Colin Powell's State Department (now in the hands of Yes-bot Condi)  to force the CTC  to reluctantly admit  the operation even to Masri's own government; thus avoiding a potential  diplomatic disaster ten times large than the one they'd already created.:

Once the mistake reached Tenet, he laid out the options to his counterparts, Rice and Dept. Sec. State Armitage..[Armitage and tenant]...argued [the Germans] had to be told,...

"You couldn't have the president lying to the German chancellor" "


now There's an odd notion:  the President obligated to tell the truth? Why that's just crazy talk!.  

And apparently admitting it even happened was hard enough. no Way was the CIA gonna say sorry  :

The CIA argued for minimal disclosure of information. The State Department insisted on a truthful, complete statement. The two agencies quibbled over whether it should include an apology, according to officials.

probably for the best,  I'm not sure  Hallmark even makes a "So Sorry I Kidnapped and Tortured your Citizen" Line of Cards

And if the Masri case is everything that's wrong with the CIA in a microcosm, then Mr. Masri's closing statement on the ordeal could also stand in for the current state of world opinion about the US:

"I have very bad feelings" about the United States, he said. "I think it's just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws."

Should We Cue up Lee Greenwood Now?

Spies Gone Wild! Pt 1. CIA screw up damages major terror investigation

Sometimes the Term ClusterF*ck just doesn't seem strong enough.

Case in point: the CIA most recent Adventures in "extraordinary rendition" and secret prisons.  Not only have they trashed a century of U.S. credibility on human rights; Not only have they stretched relations with long time allies to or even beyond the breaking point; but in some cases they've actually HURT efforts to prevent new terrorist attacks.  This is my first two-parter but I think the subject deserves to be looked at in more depth than a single diary can reasonably accommodate.  Today the incredible story of how one CIA operation actually hurt efforts to identify and disrupt terrorist activities.  Tomorrow we'll look into more depth about how post 9/11 the CIA's been given an impossible mission and blank check to fulfill the mandate, and what a dangerous combination that's become.

First let's look at  This story of CIA incompetence in yesterday's WaPo.   It  details how one CIA snatch and grab, and their  amateurish efforts to cover it up, actually derailed a MAJOR anti-terror investigation:

In March 2003, the Italian national anti-terrorism police received an urgent message from the CIA about a radical Islamic cleric who had mysteriously vanished from Milan a few weeks before. The CIA reported that it had reliable information that the cleric, the target of an Italian criminal investigation, had fled to an unknown location in the Balkans.

Only that wasn't exactly, well,  "within the realm of objective accuracy":

In fact, according to Italian court documents and interviews with investigators, the CIA's tip was a deliberate lie, part of a ruse designed to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric. The strategy worked for more than a year until Italian investigators learned that Nasr had not gone to the Balkans after all.

Now WHY in the Multi-planar HELLS of the religion of your choice would they DO such a thing?:

  Well basically, because  the CIA had him and didn't want to share:

 he was abducted off a street in Milan by a team of CIA operatives who took him to two U.S. military bases in succession and then flew him to Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured by Egyptian security agents before being released to house arrest.

Be clear here.  This wasn't a case of two agencies accidentally stepping on each other's toes.  The CIA had to  know the Italians were investigating this guy or they wouldn't have passed them that phony tip to throw them off.   In other words they played a major ally for a sucker just so they could be the ones to bring this guy (who incidentally has never been charged with anything)

So never mind all that National sovereignty crap, so much for any notion International cooperation, Apparently What the CIA wants the CIA thinks it can have no matter what the long term consequences.  To their credit, this time the "host" country isn't taking this lying down.  Thanks to an actually independant judiciary, Italian prosecutors have, ove rthe objections of thier own Federal government (who are Bushco Stooges)  done what no criminal justice system in this country has had the cojones to do; File criminal charges:

Since July, prosecutors and judges in Milan have issued arrest warrants charging 22 alleged CIA operatives, including the head of the CIA Milan substation, with kidnapping and other crimes.   "The kidnapping of Abu Omar was not only a serious crime against Italian sovereignty and human rights, but it also seriously damaged counterterrorism efforts in Italy and Europe."said Armando Spataro, the lead prosecutor in Milan.

And it's clear the prosecutor isn't engaging in hyperbole, theItalian Cops are pissed:

Italian anti-terrorism police said they were close to arresting Nasr at the time he disappeared. They had him under regular surveillance, with wiretaps on his home telephone, as part of an investigation into a network of Islamic extremists in northern Italy. His disappearance meant that Italian authorities lost a valuable window into the Islamic underground, prosecutors say....

And what has the US had to say for itself?  Well apparently we handed our "ally" Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi an autographed copy of the Tom Delay Criminal Indictment Playbook, from which he ran the old "Biased prosecutor Blitz":

 After meeting with U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in Washington in early November,[Justice Minister Roberto] Castelli questioned whether the prosecution was politically motivated, calling the lead prosecutor a leftist "militant" whose work needed to be reviewed carefully.

Yeah because that worked So well against Ronnie Earle didn't it?  

Worse yet, our motives in this case may not have had anything to Do with preventing terrorism:

some European counterterrorism officials and outside experts to speculate that Nasr was abducted as a favor to the Egyptian government.

See, Egypt was less than pleased with some of his poltical activities, but couldn't get at him because Italy had granted him poltical Asylum. So while they vigorusly deny this, the CIA may actually have made Nasr a human Thank you gift to the Egyptian government for all those other messy torture and rendition cases of our they'd handled.

There's more to  this incredible saga of monumental incompetence;  If you want to be disgusted and amused read this Story from July about the actual kidnapping.  It features unbelievably sloppy spy-craft, and $100,000 luxury hotel bills.

However, bad as all this is, its just tip of the iceberg.  Incredible damage to our national reputation and foreign policy is being done by a completely unaccountable CIA that's been handed Carte Blanche to do whatever it wants , spend whatever it wants, and piss off whoever it wants just so long as they pretend to be making progress in the "war on Terra".

The scope of their actions is staggering.   So far they've snatched over 3,000 people, and subjected many of them to torture and interrogation without having to justify their actions to *any * executive, judicial or legislative body.  As a result serious mistakes have been made, lives have been ruined, people have even died;  but nobody's been held accountable.  Tune in  Tomorrow we'll examine how the hell this could have happened.