Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra isn't exactly wanted in twelve star systems, but he has been doing a lot of traveling in order to avoid capture by the authorities. He's generally been successful so far, having outwitted the fuzz on multiple occasions. But, according to German reports, the man convicted on corruption charges (and sentenced to two years) in absentia may have been sighted in Bonn last week:
Thaksin's whereabouts had been a mystery since he ended a sojourn in London late last year. Friedel Frechen, a municipal spokesman in Bonn, said Thaksin showed up at the city immigration office last December 29 and applied for a residency permit."
The permit was granted, and Thaksin stayed in Germany for the better part of a year before government officials discovered his true identity. Their method? One of Thaksin's escorts at the immigration office claimed to be a member of the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence unit.
Seeing as how the BND would probably, you know, recognize a former head of state, he might have picked a better cover.
In 2007, Kiriakou famously went on television to describe waterboarding, and discussed the single incidence in which Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded. After just 30 or 35 seconds, Kiriakou said, Zubaydah started singing and never needed to be tortured again.
But Kiriakou wasn't there for the waterboarding -- he was half a world away, in Langley -- and Zubaydah was waterboarded more than 80 times. The New York Times first noted the difference in the two stories.
I remember wondering at the time why Kirkiakou was allowed to come forward and talk about interrogations so sensitive the Bush administration created a special "top secret" designation for them. Why didn't the CIA revoke his pension and prosecute him for leaking?
The New York Times writes:
The C.I.A., which considered legal action against Mr. Kiriakou for divulging classified information, said last week that he "was not - and is not - authorized to speak on behalf of the CIA."
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said: "This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren't misled from here."
The CIA didn't do much to repudiate or discredit Kiriakou at the time, despite the fact that he broke a central covenant of his profession. Here's the CIA response, as reported by ABC News:
The former CIA intelligence official who went public on ABC News about the agency's use of waterboarding in interrogations, John Kiriakou, apparently will not be the subject of a Justice Department investigation, even though some CIA officials believe he revealed classified information about the use of waterboarding.
"They were furious at the CIA this morning, but cooler heads have apparently prevailed for the time being," a senior Justice Department official told the Blotter on ABCNews.com.
Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, did sent out a classified memo this morning warning all employees "of the importance of protecting classified information," a CIA spokesperson told ABCNews.com.
Had they wanted to silence or punish him, surely they could have. It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou -- telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television -- was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It's an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.
For, Kirkiakou went on to act as a "paid consultant" for ABC news after the interview, Laura reports.
One likely impact of the Bush adminstration interrogation policy that hasn't been widely discussed is that many U.S. partners are probably less likely to cooperate if they think their intelligence will be used for ill. And indeed, that seems to be the case. The Washington Post, in a must-read story today:
One of those present said that when asked, the CIA officers acknowledged that some foreign intelligence agencies had refused, for example, to share information about the location of terrorism suspects for fear of becoming implicated in any eventual torture of those suspects.
There's been a wealth of information released on the treatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in the past days. Here's a capsule of the new news:
CQ's Jeff Stein writes, in an explosive story today, that California Representative Jane Harman was recorded on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene on behalf of American Israeli Public Affairs Committee officials, who were being charged with espionage:
Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.
In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.
Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”
The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and officials were extremely skittish about going beyond Harman’s involvement to discuss other aspects of the NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets, which remain highly classified.
But according to the former officials familiar with the transcripts, the alleged Israeli agent asked Harman if she could use any influence she had with Gonzales, who became attorney general in 2005, to get the charges against the AIPAC officials reduced to lesser felonies.
AIPAC official Steve Rosen had been charged with two counts of conspiring to communicate, and communicating national defense information to people not entitled to receive it. Weissman was charged with conspiracy.
AIPAC dismissed the two in May 2005, about five months before the events here unfolded.
Harman responded that Gonzales would be a difficult task, because he “just follows White House orders,” but that she might be able to influence lesser officials, according to an official who read the transcript.
According to Stein's story, Justice Department attorneys were prepared to charge Harman, but Gonzales intervened on her behalf in exchange for her support during the forthcoming scandal over the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. And she did whole-heartedly defend the program when it was revealed in the New York Times. Ironically, Harman may turn out to be the highest profile victim of an NSA wiretap to date.
Thankfully, nobody actually benefited from this exchange: Harman never got her chairmanship, the justice department still charged the AIPAC officials, and Gonzales was forced to resign, partly because of the NSA scandal.
If this is true, it's corruption on an awe-inspiringly audacious scale on Harman and Gonzeles's part. But former CIA directors Porter Goss and Michael Hayden as well as former director of national intelligence John Negroponte were all informed of the wiretap and allowed Gonzales to protect her.
It also makes one wonder how extensive the NSA wiretapping of members of congress was during this period and what other past phone conversations are keeping congressional leaders up at night right now. The Harman tap was part of a larger investigation of Israeli covert action in Washington and it's hard to imagine that she was the only member they were looking at.
One of the most interesting things about the four newly released Bush administration memos on the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees in overseas secret CIA prisons has been what isn’t in there, rather than what is. The truly grotesque caterpillar revelation aside, the memos weren’t very revelatory. We already knew about the SERE techniques. We knew that medical professionals attended them -- and that Jay Bybee, then an administration lawyer, now a federal judge, felt the presence of medical professionals meant it wasn’t torture.
But Tom Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch, pointed me to one truly new detail, in a footnote in the May 2005 memo from Steven Bradbury to John Rizzo, a CIA lawyer. Here’s footnote 28:
“This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information….On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA headquarters still believed he was withholding information. [REDACTED PORTION.] At the direction of CIA Headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah.”
Which marks the first time a memo has admitted that waterboarding was “unnecessary.”
It's been a tense day for constitutional lawyers, national security reporters, and foreign policy wonks. Why? This afternoon, the Obama administration intends to release memos relating to the controversial "enhanced interrogation" policies of CIA officers in overseas prisons.
There have been careful negotiations between the CIA, Justice Department, and White House over the contents of the release, and it seems the officers involved have been granted immunity from prosecution as a result.
The full set of documents should be released here sometime within the hour.
Update: The only redactions are the officers' names.
Update: Read the memos here.
Ukraine says its security service says it caught three persons attempting to sell radioactive material, which they said was plutonium-239, for $10 million. A government spokesperson said the material could possibly have been used in a "dirty-bomb" attack, and that it was of Soviet origin.
Relatedly -- Jeffrey Lewis and Meri Lugo discuss the draw-down of nuclear weaponry in an excellent FP Argument post today.
If you've been following the Chas Freeman saga, you'll certainly want to check out the former nominee's interview with The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss. In the interview, Freeman addresses the blistering e-mail message that The Cable's Laura Rozen featured on Tuesday:
The only thing I regret is that in my statement I embraced the term ‘Israel lobby.' This isn't really a lobby by, for or about Israel. It's really, well, I've decided I'm going to call it from now on the [Avigdor] Lieberman lobby. It's the very right-wing Likud in Israel and its fanatic supporters here. And Avigdor Lieberman is really the guy that they really agree with. And I think they're doing Israel in.
Freeman also says he wasn't too surprised by the unproductive conversations he had on Capitol Hill:
Well, they didn't go badly. But I'm one guy talking to one or two people, and they're quite a number of people and they're feeding all sorts of disinformation in, and they have established channels and they also have clout. So there wasn't much hope on my part that I could get many people to stand up and support me, because the down side of doing that is so obvious. Because if you go against this group, they either curtail your contributions or they arrange to contribute to an opponent. So it's not realistic to expect courage on the Hill. And I didn't.
The Special Rapporteur remains deeply troubled that the United States has created a comprehensive system of extraordinary renditions, prolonged and secret detention, and practices that violate the prohibition against torture and other forms of ill-treatment. This system required an international web of exchange of information and has created a corrupted body of information which was shared systematically with partners in the war on terror through intelligence cooperation, thereby corrupting the institutional culture of the legal and institutional systems of recipient States.
While this system was devised and put in place by the United States, it was only possible through collaboration from many other States. There exist consistent, credible reports suggesting that at least until May 2007 a number of States facilitated extraordinary renditions in various ways. States such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have provided intelligence or have conducted the initial seizure of an individual before he was transferred to (mostly unacknowledged) detention centres in Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan, or to one of the CIA covert detention centres, often referred to as “black sites”. In many cases, the receiving States reportedly engaged in torture and other forms of ill-treatment of these detainees.
The special rapporteur, Martin Scheinen, states that British intelligence officers interviewed detainees in "so-called safe houses where they were being tortured" and that they "conducted or witnessed just over 2,000 interviews in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq." He calls for whistle-blower protections and the revision of numerous policies to safe-guard human rights. The revelations aren't that revelatory, given past reports on the participation of European countries in rendition and "enhanced interrogation." But the tone's especially fire-and-brimstone in this iteration.
And, the report comes as concern over the Britain'ss collusion in the mistreatment of detainees comes to a fever pitch. Last month, Binyam Mohammed, a British national arrested in Pakistan, returned to the U.K. after seven years of detention. He told papers, "Mentally right now, the result of my experience is that I feel emotionally dead....When I realised that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. They sold me out."
Additionally, members of parliament are calling for the government to release classified documents which detail its cooperation and participation with U.S. interrogators. And the country is considering accepting more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, to hasten its closure.
All in all, it's an issue that's received an extraordinary amount of attention and garnered extraordinary public debate in Great Britain -- even more so than in the United States. And it isn't good news for poor Prime Minister Gordon Brown, just coming off the worst week ever.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
In his first on-the-record meeting with the media, held Wednesday, CIA Director Leon Panetta discussed the destabilizing effects of the global economic crisis. After he expressed particular concern over potential trouble in Argentina, Ecuador, and Venezuela, the Argentines are not happy. Yesterday President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner summoned the U.S. Ambassador to discuss the CIA director's comments, and speaking at a news conference, Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana had this to say:
We consider the statements an unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of our country, even more so coming from an agency that has a sad history of interference in the internal affairs in the countries in the region."
While economists are predicting that Argentina's GDP will contract next year, none of them seem to be forecasting this sort of doomsday scenario. Ambassador Earl Wayne claims that Panetta's statements do not reflect the U.S. government's official position, but rather the CIA chief was merely recounting the opinion of a "foreign source." Even if that is true, it's hard not to get the feeling that the CIA is once again causing trouble in Latin America.
Paul J. Richards/GETTYIMAGES
Since yesterday's item on Chas Freeman, more commentators have sallied forth to attack and defend President Obama's controversial pick to run the National Intelligence Council.
In today's Wall Street Journal, Gabriel Schoenfeld of the Witherspoon Institute says that Obama wants to place "a China-coddling Israel basher in charge of drafting the most important analyses prepared by the U.S. government." He argues that Schoenfeld's views on China should worry us as much as his thoughts about Israel and ties to Saudi Arabia:
On the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Mr. Freeman unabashedly sides with the Chinese government, a remarkable position for an appointee of an administration that has pledged to advance the cause of human rights. Mr. Freeman has been a participant in ChinaSec, a confidential Internet discussion group of China specialists. A copy of one of his postings was provided to me by a former member. "The truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities," he wrote there in 2006, "was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud." Moreover, "the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tiananmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action." Indeed, continued Mr. Freeman, "I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be."
The Daily Beast's Ashley Rindsberg explains another political strike against Freeman, his past business dealings with the bin Laden family:
As chairman of Projects International Inc., a company that develops international business deals, Mr. Freeman asserted in an interview with the Associated Press less than a month after September 11 that he was still “discussing proposals with the Binladen Group—and that won't change.”
In the same interview, Freeman also contested the notion that international companies who had business with the bin Laden family should be “running for public-relations cover,” noting that bin Laden was still “a very honored name in the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia]”, despite its family tie to the Al-Qaeda leader.
The New Republic's Martin Peretz adds his take, calling Freeman "bigoted and out of touch."
The Nation's Robert Dreyfuss defends Freeman here calling the campaign against him "scurrilous":
If the campaign by the neocons, friends of the Israeli far right, and their allies against Freeman succeeds, it will have enormous repercussions. If the White House caves in to their pressure, it will signal that President Obama's even-handedness in the Arab-Israeli dispute can't be trusted. Because if Obama can't defend his own appointee against criticism from a discredited, fringe movement like the neoconservatives, how can the Arabs expect Obama to be able to stand up to Israel's next prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu?
My co-blogger David Rothkopf also takes up the issue, noting that while he vehemently disagrees with Freeman's views on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and China, his continued willingness to utter uncomfortable truths to power make him the perfect pick for Obama's intelligence briefer:
Part of the reason he is so controversial is that he has zero fear of speaking what he perceives to be truth to power. You can't cow him and you can't find someone with a more relentlessly questioning worldview. His job will be to help present the president and top policymakers with informed analysis by which they can make their choices. His intellectual honesty and his appreciation for what is necessary in a functioning policy process is such that he will not stack the deck for any one position. He wouldn't last five minutes in the job if he did. (And Denny Blair, the wise and canny Director of National Intelligence wouldn't tolerate it.) Further, the chairman of the NIC does not directly whisper into the president's ear in a void. He helps prepare materials that will become the fodder for active debate among a national security team that is devoid of shrinking violets.
FP's Laura Rozen is also following the Freeman debate closely. Stay tuned to "The Cable" for more details as they emerge.
Last week, FP's Laura Rozen broke the story that former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman is the Obama administration's pick to head the National Intelligence Council, the internal think tank for the intelligence community responsible for producing National Intelligence Estimates.
Since Laura's story hit the Web, critics have been attacking the appointment over Freeman's views on Israel and ties to Saudi Arabia. Former AIPAC staffer (himself a pretty controversial guy) Steve Rosen, now of the Middle East Forum, is leading the charge against the appointment. Here's one controversial comment of Freeman's from a 2005 speech:
As long as the United States continues unconditionally to provide the subsidies and political protection that make the Israeli occupation and the high-handed and self-defeating policies it engenders possible, there is little, if any, reason to hope that anything resembling the former peace process can be resurrected. Israeli occupation and settlement of Arab lands is inherently violent.
He's also committed the unforgiveable sin of saying nice things about our colleague Steve Walt and publishing the original "Israel Lobby" article in his organization's journal.
There's also the fact that his organization, the Middle East Policy Council operates "thanks to the generosity of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia" (his own words) and that he's an advocate of improved U.S-Saudi relations.
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg argues:
It would be inappropriate to appoint an official of AIPAC to run the National Intelligence Council (though it must be said that AIPAC doesn't receive any funding from the Israeli government) and it seems inappropriate to give the job to a Saudi sympathizer as well.
On the other hand, as Ben Smith notes:
Other appointees have worked for policy groups that accepted money from foreign governments -- though perhaps few as domestically unpopular as the Saudis. Ross, for one, is still listed as the chairman of the board of directors of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, an Israeli government arm.
As General Zinni learned the hard way, no appointments are final until they are confirmed and the politics of this certainly don't bode well for Freeman. It would be a shame if he were spiked. Freeman's an experienced and highly qualified foreign-policy practitioner and one would hope that his critics can do a little better if they really hope to prove he's the agent of a foreign government. At the same time, one would also hope the Obama team anticipated the possible controversy and have good answers to some reasonable questions about Freeman's views and affiliations.
Want more Freeman? Check out this interview about the Taiwan Strait (he's also an old Asia hand who served as Richard Nixon's translator in China) that he gave to FP in 2007.
Photo: The Middle East Policy Council
Richard Perle and Doug Feith think Leon Panetta, a Democratic insider if there ever was one, is just the man to clean up the CIA:
Panetta is "a very smart, very capable guy with a lot of experience - I think he's the right sort of person to take a shot at improving the place," said Perle, an agency critic who, as chairman of President Bush's Defense Policy Board, was an architect of the Iraq war, and called the quality of the CIA's analysis "appalling."
"It's going to take somebody from outside to right that ship, if it can be done," Perle said. [...]
"One possible implication of appointing somebody from the outside is that the president recognizes that there are serious problems at the CIA and he wants somebody who is not a part of those problems," said Feith, who was Bush's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.
Senate Democrats aren't so thrilled, particularly Intelligence Committee chair Diane Feinstein, who will oversee Panetta's confirmation process and believes that "the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge."
Panetta may have been an "any port in a storm" pick as time ran out for the transition, but may in the end turn out to be a great one for an agency in dire need of a fresh set of eyes. That said, this clumsy leak is certainly not the way Obama wanted his outside-the-box pick rolled out. As Ezra Klein notes:
It doesn't look good that the worst leak of the Obama administration came in its spymaster.
Interesting choice. The New York Times' caucus blog reports:
President-elect Barack Obama has selected Leon E. Panetta, the former congressman and White House chief of staff, to take over the Central Intelligence Agency, an organization that Mr. Obama criticized during the campaign for using interrogation methods he decried as torture, Democratic officials said Monday.
Panetta has managerial chops and a close relationship with Obama but virtually no hands-on intelligence experience. Perhaps more importantly, he's not tainted by associations with Bush-era detention, interrogation of surveillance policies like some of the other candidates who were considered. He's also a much bigger name.
Langley may be in for a shakeup.
Update: Our new colleague David Rothkopf calls the pick a reminder to the "knowledgeable intel community (IC) insiders just how wrong they can be about key issues."
Update 2: Another of our new colleagues, Laura Rozen, has reactions from former intelligence officials over at The Cable. RAND's Greg Treverton tells her that Panetta's White House experience might actually be more valuable than time spent in the intel trenches:
"One of my experiences with people like Panetta who have been chief of staff is that they have a clear sense of what is helpful to the president that most senior officials don't," Treverton told me. "They get it. What he could do and couldn't do. And that's an interesting advantage Panetta brings. Knowledge of what the presidential stakes are like, how issues arise, and what they need to be protected from, for better or worse."
This makes sense. In his CIA history "Legacy of Ashes," Tim Weiner writes that Harry Truman originally envisioned the agency's mission as producing a "secret newspaper" for the president's eyes only. As the CIA's secretive culture developed during the Cold War and emphasis shifted away from simple intelligence gathering toward special operations, the mission got a lot more complicated.
Picking an executive branch guy like Panetta may signal that Obama wants to push the CIA back toward something closer to Truman's original vision of an agency who's primary mission is to keep the president better informed than his international rivals.
If so, it won't be easy. The diverging views in Rozen's post gives a good preview of how this fight may play out.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin named on Thursday a mountain peak in the Caucasus in honor of Russian spies.
The former president's office has said that the one-time KGB agent signed a resolution to name the Sugan Ridge mountain peak the Peak of Russian Counterintelligence Agents.
It's not a catchy name, but the mountain is in North Ossetia near the Georgian border, so it may be an appropriate one.
It's always interesting to see what news organizations covering the same event choose to emphasize. Take, for example, the coverage of CIA Director Michael Hayden's speech yesterday on al Qaeda.
The New York Times ran with the headline "C.I.A. Chief Says Qaeda Is Extending Its Reach," above a Mark Mazzetti story focused on how al Qaeda is spreading its tentacles in North Africa, Somalia, and Yemen.
The Washington Post's Walter Pincus, writing under the headline "CIA Chief: Iraq Not Main Front," highlighted Hayden's view that al Qaeda no longer sees Iraq as the central front in the war on terrorism. Think Progress, the blog of the liberal Center for American Progress, jumped on it.
James Joyner, blogging the speech for the Atlantic Council, which hosted the event, was intrigued at Director Hayden's comment that, "today, virtually every major terrorist threat that my agency is aware of has threads back to the tribal areas [in Pakistan]."
Jason Ryan and Brian Ross of ABC News ran with the angle that Bin Laden is alive, but "appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations" of al Qaeda, according to Hayden. The headline: "CIA Chief: Bin Laden Alive, Worried About 'Own Security'."
It sure would be nice if the CIA published a transcript on its Web site so that readers could evaluate all of these different points of emphasis in their proper context.
Do we need another secret intelligence assessment to tell us that Pakistan is falling apart?
If anything, that country's slow-motion collapse been reported to death over the past several months. Nonetheless, it's reassuring that the situation there is getting high-level attention in Washington.
Much has been made of Pakistan's troubles with terrorists and tribal militants, and there are lots of good ideas out there for how to address them. Less discussed? The country's economic meltdown.
As Fasih Ahmed reports for Newsweek, Pakistan's economy is in "free fall." The country's credit ratings are being slashed; creditors are making runs on banks; inflation is soaring; and capital is fleeing. If things continue to get worse, we may come to find that -- while the two issues are certainly related -- the global financial crisis did to Pakistan what the terrorists never could.
I have to wonder if John McCain and Barack Obama ever ask themselves if they really want the job they're campaigning so hard for. Because on the victor's first day in office, there won't be much popping of champagne corks.
From today's Washington Post:
An intelligence forecast being prepared for the next president on future global risks envisions a steady decline in U.S. dominance in the coming decades, as the world is reshaped by globalization, battered by climate change, and destabilized by regional upheavals over shortages of food, water and energy.
The report, previewed in a speech by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community's top analyst, also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority -- military power -- will "be the least significant" asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because "nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force."
The remarks are based on the forthcoming report Global Trends 2025, prepared by the U.S. intelligence community to anticipate threats to America in the next few decades. Most of the predominant challenges identified aren't surprising: shrinking U.S. economic influence, weaker international institutions, energy insecurity and competition, and political and economic upheaval around the world due to climate change.
What is more interesting, perhaps, as the Post notes, is the absence of terrorism on that list. Fingar's remarks seem to ignore any threat from Pakistan, focusing instead on the perils of nuclear-armed Iran. That does seem to smack of the intel community taking its eye off the ball.
Great quote from Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency:
Ahmadinejad is our greatest gift," Halevy told the Arab language television network Al-Hurra on Tuesday. "We couldn't carry out a better operation at the Mossad than to put a guy like Ahmadinejad in power in Iran."
Underscoring the point, the Iranian president wrote on his Web site Wednesday that Israel is a "germ of corruption" to be removed soon.
It's tough to catch al Qaeda personnel when intelligence on their top leaders is scarce, but it's even more difficult to run an effective counterterrorism program when your country's spies leave sensitive documents in public places. That's what happened today in England.
This mind-boggling security breach occurred when a passenger spotted an orange folder that had been left on a train, and upon discovering its contents, handed it to the BBC:
The two reports were assessments made by the government's Joint Intelligence Committee.
One, on Iraq's security forces, was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence. According to the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, it included a top-secret and in some places 'damning' assessment of Iraq's security forces,
The other document, reportedly entitled 'Al-Qaeda Vulnerabilities', was commissioned jointly by the Foreign Office and the Home Office.
Just seven pages long but classified as 'UK Top Secret,' this latest intelligence assessment on al-Qaeda is so sensitive that every document is numbered and marked 'for UK/US/Canadian and Australian eyes only,' according to our correspondent."
Sound familiar? Several weeks ago, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier resigned after it was discovered that he left classified NATO documents at an ex-girlfriend's house.
I have to give the edge to Bernier here. At least he might have been trying to impress his female company with his top-secret documents.
Tonight, thousands of British fans will pack Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium for the finals of the Champions League soccer tournament. This year, the finals are an all-British affair played between Manchester United and Chelsea. But the most interesting drama may be in the stands.
Andrei Lugovoi, Scotland Yard's prime suspect in the London murder of ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, has also scored tickets to the game and will be watching from the VIP section. Not only has Russia refused to extradite Lugovoi for trial in the UK, he was elected to parliament last December. Lugovoi's status has been a major sore spot for British-Russian relations and his presence at the game should be a humiliating reminder of Britain's powerlessness in the case.
The Guardian's Luke Harding also has a great interview with Lugovoi today in which the ex-KGB man denies involvement in Litvinenko's poisoning but doesn't seem all that broken up about it.
CIA Director Michael Hayden gave a smart talk earlier this week about where the world is headed and what role the United States will play in it (video). With the world population set to grow about 34 percent by mid-century, the agency will be especially attentive to demographic transitions in countries that can't sustain higher populations, he said. But Hayden also had a message for China:
On a very hopeful note, Hayden also said Americans have to start putting themselves in others' shoes:
[A] greater number of actors will have influence on the world stage in this century. And that presents one overriding challenge to those of us responsible for our nation's security: We must do a better job of understanding cultures, histories, religions, and traditions that are not our own. We must broaden our understanding, and guard against viewing the world exclusively through an American prism. We must not rely exclusively on an American—or even more broadly, Western—lens in assessing foreign challenges and helping policymakers decide how to respond.
A piece in the USA Today this week highlights the use of open-source information in the U.S. intelligence community. As more information is available on the Web, it is becoming an increasingly important piece of the intel pie -- even making the President's morning briefing. There's a clash since some in the intelligence community feel that the classified sources are the most reliable, but others argue you can learn about your enemy by what he or she says in sources available for all to read. Robert David Steele, ex-CIA and Marine officer, advocates a flip-flop of spending in favor of open-source over more hush-hush sources:
I'm not a librarian saying open sources are cool and we can do this...I'm a very good former spy saying open sources are cool and we can do this."
Though it's always a battle to tell fact from fiction online, it's sure easier than getting access to classified material. Given that 19,000 FBI personnel are still waiting for desktop Internet access, it seems reasonable to devote some more resources to this type of intelligence.
In his piece "The Next Generation of Terror" for the current issue of FP, Marc Sageman describes the new reality of "leaderless jihad," in which extremist ideology and terrorist tactics spread through online social networks rather than hierarchical organizations. In light of this, it's encouraging to see some intelligence professionals shifting their focus to the dangers in plain view.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the first formal working session on the second day of the NATO summit at the Parliament Palace in Bucharest on April 3, 2008. NATO leaders begin negotiations in earnest over Afghanistan after the opening day of their three-day summit saw a successful French offer of more troops, but a public disagreement over the alliance's enlargement.
The U.S. intelligence community has taken a beating in some quarters for its National Intelligence Estimate (pdf) on Iran's nuclear program, which was released to the public last December. CFR.org recently got a hold of Thomas Fingar, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, the body that produced the NIE in question.
Fingar says they would have framed the NIE differently had they known it was going to be made public:
There's been talk that the Iran NIE was narrowly written, excluding the civilian capabilities, excluding ballistic missile testing or capabilities, and I wonder if you can respond to those claims. And to follow, do you think it was poorly written? Would you have done it differently if you could?
No, we dealt at length with the centrifuge enrichment, and dealt with the missile program. It was not a narrowly crafted [document] — people are reacting to a two-and-a-half-page summary of a 140-page document with almost 1,500 source notes. And believe it or not, you can't fit the whole book on the book jacket. Was it badly written? The [still classified] estimate itself is very well written. The key judgments, knowing what we do now about the way in which they were spun, perceived, used by folks when released — if we thought for a minute they would be released, which we didn't, we would have framed them somewhat differently. The judgments would be the same. But we would have framed them somewhat differently that says: “Dear readers [not] following this: You can't have a bomb unless you have fissile material, [and] the Iranians continue to develop fissile material. A weapon is not much good if you can't deliver it—they have a missile-development program. But you don't have a bomb unless you can produce a device and weaponize it. That's what's stopped."
The Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, launched a blog yesterday in continued efforts to shed some of its secrecy and boost recruitment among high-tech professionals. Reviews are mixed at best so far, as people feel the content is a little mundane. Since 2006, the Shin Bet has stepped up public ad campaigns to attract talent from the private sector. According to the Associated Press, "the bloggers work on the technological side of the Shin Bet's operations rather than in the field." I think the public is saying they want to hear from some real field officers, not the techies. After all, would you rather read a blog by James Bond or Q?
From Shostakovich to Solzhenitsyn, Russian artists have always had good reason to be wary of the secret police. But the KGB's successor organization, the Federal Security Service (FSB), is looking to change that. The FSB has launched an annual competition to find the best artistic portrayals of its work. Categories include film, television, acting, music, and literature. According to the BBC, "the FSB wants to change the perception that artists and secret policemen are not always comfortable companions."
The 2007 awards were held on December 17 and from the photos on the FSB website, it seems a great time was had by all. Sculptor Vadim Kirilov took top honors in the visual arts for a piece depicting an FSB agent rescuing a child from the Beslan school siege. The prize for music went to singer-songwriter Alexander Rosenbaum who, incidentally, is also a State Duma member from Putin's United Russia party. The complete list of winners is here. (In Russian)
The Russian state security apparatus's previous significant contribution to the arts was the gigantic and intimidating statue of Soviet secret police founder Feliks Dzerzhinsky that once dominated Lubyanka square in front of KGB headquarters. The statue was pulled down with great drama by a crane in 1991, but can still be seen along with dozens of discarded Lenins at Moscow's Park of the Arts.
One of last night's Academy Award winners was Taxi to the Dark Side, which took home the Oscar for best documentary. It's a gripping film that centers on the fate of Dilawar, an Afghan man who was wrongly swept into the U.S. detention system and beaten to death accidentally by stressed-out, undertrained prison guards.
FP recently spoke with former FBI Special Agent Jack Cloonan, one of the experts interviewed for the film, about his own experience interrogating real al Qaeda detainees. You don't have to use force to make a terrorist break down and cry, Cloonan says -- just brains. Check out how to do it here.
For the first time ever, the United States will use a ship-based missile to take out a satellite. In the next day or two, the world will witness a modified weapons capability that will have significant policy implications. But it's the "how" story behind the scenes that has Russia sweating.
The spy satellite malfunctioned hours after reaching orbit in December 2006. When re-entry became imminent beginning in January of this year, the U.S. Navy got busy computer coding. The Navy can now outfit a standard missile (SM-3) that was designed for intercepting other missiles with a new brain that gives it the ability to target spacecraft. In this instance, the missiles will come from an Aegis cruiser, but ground-based missiles like the ones the United States wants to put in Poland can be larger and have farther range.
Theresa Hitchens, director of the space security program at the Center for Defense Information, noted the comments of General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said in a press conference that it took the Navy three weeks to reconfigure the new targeting software. The implication? Hitchens told me:
If [the United States] wanted to develop that type of software (that could be downloaded into the missiles that would be placed in Poland), we could in a very short period of time. So I understand why the Russians might be pretty nervous about this."
A little software change, in other words, could end up posing a big threat to strategic spacecraft in the future. General Cartwright insisted this new capability will be executed on a "one-time reversible basis." But there's no way the U.S. military would throw away the keys to a new generation of missiles. The Russians would probably prefer that this Pandora's box not be opened, but once it is, all space-faring countries are going to have a new threat to worry about.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.