Brennan apologizes after internal report finds CIA spied on Congress

John Brennan and Dianne FeinsteinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency has apologized to Congress members after an internal inquiry found that the Agency spied on Congressional staff investigating its use of torture in interrogations. The investigation, conducted by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector-General, was prompted by the very public spat back in March between the Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee. The latter is tasked, along with its sister body in the House of Representatives, with exercising legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. Many members of the Committee, which has just concluded a probe over the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation against terrorism detainees, believe that, not only was the CIA’s use of torture methods illegal, but that it also failed to generate useful intelligence. The CIA, however, has denied this all along, and has been quite possessive of documents relating to the subject, which the Committee believed had a right to access. When the Committee accused the CIA of illegally searching the computers used by staffers to carry out their research into CIA files, the Agency responded by asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into whether Congressional staffers illegally removed classified documents from the CIA’s archives that were beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation. But the CIA’s own report appears to have completely vindicated Congress, having found that CIA officers created a fake online identity in order to surreptitiously access a number of computers used by Congressional staffers. The report’s findings prompted a private meeting earlier this week between CIA Director John Brennan and two senior members of the Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), during which Brennan reportedly apologized. Feinstein, however, who was very vocal in denouncing the CIA’s shenanigans back in March, allegedly took Brennan to task about his staunch defense of his employees last spring. Read more of this post

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Senate report: CIA misled US government about torture

CIA headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A United States Senate report on the use of torture to extract intelligence from terrorism detainees accuses the Central Intelligence Agency of severely overstating the usefulness of the information gained. Details of the long-awaited report, produced after a four-year investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have been leaked to The Washington Post. The paper reports that the probe is a damning indictment on the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program, implemented during the administration of President George W. Bush. The report contains over 20 different conclusions. But the most critical are that the CIA misled the government and the American public by: (a) understating the severity of the interrogation methods used; and (b) overstating the actionable intelligence extracted through torture. The Post cites unnamed “US officials” who have reviewed the Senate report as stating that the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program “yielded little, if any, significant intelligence”. According to one source, in some cases the Agency proceeded to waterboard terrorism detainees after recognizing that all actionable intelligence had already been extracted from them. In one instance, says the paper, nearly all valuable intelligence gained from al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was extracted by CIA interrogators before he was subjected to waterboarding nearly 100 times. Notably, the Senate report also highlights deep divisions within the CIA, as many units protested the practices employed under the Agency’s interrogation program. But The Post also quotes “current and former officials” who are critical of the Senate report for containing “factual errors” and “misguided conclusions”. One CIA veteran told the paper that the 6,300-page document reflected “Federal Bureau of Investigation biases”, and that CIA officials are critical of the fact that one of the report’s main authors is a former FBI analyst.
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Panama arrests ex-CIA chief of station wanted by INTERPOL

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A retired 21-year veteran of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who is wanted by INTERPOL for participating in the abduction of a Muslim cleric in Italy, has been detained by police in Panama. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA officers, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, known also as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. On February 17, 2003, Nasr was seized in dramatic fashion by a group of CIA operatives in broad daylight in Milan. He was stuffed into an unmarked white van and eventually ended up in Egypt, where he was tortured before being released. Nasr’s case helped raise awareness of the US government’s extraordinary rendition program. Under the controversial program, suspected terrorist operatives were secretly taken to third-party countries where they were subjected to aggressive interrogation techniques. Italian authorities were irritated by Nasr’s kidnapping, which they claimed took place without the consent of the Italian government. There are also reports that the Italian intelligence services were monitoring Nasr at the time and were trying to recruit him as a source, which might explain why they were incensed when the Egyptian was snatched by the CIA without their authorization. Read more of this post

CIA officer who purged torture evidence is rewarded with promotion

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A United States Central Intelligence Agency officer who was personally involved in the illegal controversial destruction of videotapes showing CIA personnel torturing detainees, is now leading the Agency’s operations division. At the center of the affair are nearly 100 recordings of interrogation sessions of al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The videotapes were made in 2002 at a CIA black site in Thailand and kept inside a safe at the Agency’s station in the Asian country. The CIA decided to destroy the videotapes soon after May of 2005, when the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate demanded access to them. In 2007, after The New York Times revealed the destruction of the videotapes, the US Department of Justice ordered two separate investigations into the incident. However, under pressure from the administration of President Barack Obama, no criminal charges were ever pressed. The videotape affair is bound to resurface in the headlines, however, after The Washington Post revealed on Wednesday that a female CIA officer, who personally ordered the destruction of the videotapes, even though she knew that Congress had asked for them, was recently promoted to one of the CIA’s most senior posts. The officer, whose name cannot legally be revealed, because she remains undercover within the Agency, is currently in charge of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS), which is responsible for conducting covert action and espionage around the world. Many consider the NCS as the ‘heart and soul’ of the CIA, and it is the first time in the history of the CIA that a woman has led that secretive division. Citing “current and former intelligence officials”, The Post alleged that the officer entered the position in an acting capacity a few weeks ago, following the retirement of her boss. Read more of this post

Did the CIA exclude Israel from its extraordinary rendition program?

Open Society Foundations report coverBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The most comprehensive non-classified account of the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s extraordinary rendition program has been published by a human-rights advocacy group. It details for the first time the fate of nearly 140 known targets of the controversial program, who were abducted by the CIA mostly during the administration of US President George W. Bush. Under the controversial program, individuals were systematically detained and transferred without due process to countries where the use of torture on prisoners was –in the words of the report– standard practice. The report, entitled Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition, was authored by Amrit Singh, formerly of the American Civil Liberties Union and currently senior legal officer at the National Security and Counterterrorism program at the Open Society Justice Initiative. It concludes that the CIA was able to build and maintain the program with significant assistance from 54 countries, including 13 in Africa, 14 in Asia and 25 in Europe. The long list of countries that willingly cooperated with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition practices includes Canada, Denmark, Australia, Finland, Mauritania, Romania and South Africa. It even includes countries that are known to have had tense relations with Washington in the past decade, such as Zimbabwe, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, and even Iran. Certainly, the Open Society Justice Initiative report points to the fact that it is both shortsighted and inaccurate to refer to the Bush administration’s post-9/11 extraordinary rendition program as “an American operation”. It was informed and supported at all levels by America’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, as well as by many countries which, for one reason or another, wished to be on the good side of the US. But the list of complicit states is also interesting for what it doesn’t include. Most importantly, it doesn’t include Israel. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #820

H. Keith MeltonBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►World’s best known spy collector displays his home. And now for something completely different. Most intelNews readers will be aware of H. Keith Melton, the author of more than 25 nonfiction works on espionage (including The Ultimate Spy Book) and the world’s largest private collector of spy memorabilia. The question is, where does he keep all this stuff? The 68-year-old author invited Forbes magazine to his Boca Raton house, which includes his two-story private spy museum. The article is here, a photo gallery here, and a video of the house (but not the museum) is here.
►►Acting CIA director criticizes ‘Zero Dark Thirty’. IntelNews has ignored the commentary that has flooded the Web about Zero Dark Thirty, the feature film fictional account of the assassination of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. But when the Director of CIA, the agency behind the real-life operation to kill bin Laden, publicly comments, it is time to pay attention. Michael J. Morell, who took over as CIA Director from General David Petraeus last month, has criticized the film, saying it exaggerates the role of coercive interrogations in producing clues to bin Laden’s whereabouts.
►►British police says MI6 expert ‘killed himself’. British police say MI6 cryptology expert Gareth Williams, who was found dead inside a sports bag in August 2010, probably locked himself into the sports bag, where his naked body was found, and was not the victim of a hit by the security services. Williams, 31, worked for Britain’s secret eavesdropping service GCHQ but was attached to MI6 when his remains were found inside the bag in a bathtub at his London apartment.

Proposed Afghan spy chief divides Western, Afghan officials

Assadullah KhaledBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Last month we reported Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan to appoint one of his most trusted advisors, Assadullah Khaled, to lead the country’s intelligence agency. There appears to be a slight problem with this proposal: Khaled is known as a fierce character in Afghan politics, who has been accused by Western diplomats of corruption, extreme brutality and narcotics trafficking. During the past few years, Khaled, currently Afghanistan’s Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs, has reportedly become “almost a surrogate family member” of the Karzai family, and is viewed “as a son” by the Afghan President. He also has a close relationship with officials in the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who seem to appreciate Khaled’s hardline stance against Pakistan. Moreover, Khaled is an ethnic Pashtun, that is, he belongs to the largest Afghan ethnicity, whose members occupy central Afghanistan. However, he has strong connections with leading figures in the former Northern Alliance, whose support is crucial for the survival of the Karzai regime. Some Western officials, therefore, see him as a potential unifying figure in the country. But in a confidential cable sent to the US Department of State by the American Embassy in Kabul in 2009, and leaked by WikiLeaks, Khaled was described by one senior American diplomat as “exceptionally corrupt and incompetent”. Later that same year, a high-level Canadian diplomat publicly accused Khaled of participating in international narcotics trafficking and systematically employing torture against his political enemies in Kandahar. The diplomat, who served in Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion, was referring to Khaled’s tenure as Governor of Kandahar Province, where he personally run what Kandaharis described as “the torture prison”. Colvin is apparently not alone voicing such concerns. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #790

Abdullah al-SenussiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New report reopens CIA torture allegations. A report from Human Rights Watch, which was released last week, said that Libyan fighters opposed to Muammar Gaddafi’s regime were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques while in US custody overseas, during the administration of George W. Bush. The accusations, if substantiated, would suggest wider use of waterboarding than US officials have previously acknowledged. The report, which is based on documents and interviews in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, includes a detailed description of what appears to be a previously unknown instance of waterboarding by the CIA in Afghanistan nine years ago.
►►Analysis: What does Gaddafi’s ex-spy chief know about Lockerbie? Abdullah al-Senussi became a hate-figure in his home country as head of an intelligence machinery responsible for the mistreatment of thousands of opponents of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, his brother-in-law. He is nicknamed the “butcher” and known as Gaddafi’s “black box” because of the secrets he supposedly holds. The new Libyan regime had been negotiating for months with Mauritania where al-Senussi had fled following the fall of the Gaddafi regime last September. But now that al-Senussi has been flown back to Libya by private jet, he may at last be able to face questions by British police about Lockerbie.
►►Chinese hardware manufacturer denies spying allegations. The Chinese hardware-manufacturing firm Huawei has released a 24-page report, written by John Suffolk, a former British government chief information officer who has now turned Huawei’s global security officer, which states that protecting the network security of its worldwide customers is one of company’s “fundamental interests”. The report follows allegations in the United States, Australia, India, and elsewhere, that the company maintains close operational ties to China’s intelligence establishment.

News you may have missed #788

U-2 surveillance aircraftBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US spy planes violated Israeli airspace in 1950s. American U-2 espionage planes repeatedly entered Israeli airspace in the 1950s for a series of secret spy missions, according to new information to be published by the Israel Air Force magazine next week, bringing to an end a decades-long mystery. At the time, Israel’s defense establishment was baffled by the entrance of high-flying crafts. For years, officials in IAF command disagreed on the identity of the mystery crafts, with some claiming that they were British Vickers-Valiants, and others saying they were American Vought F-8 Crusader planes, that had been stationed on a US aircraft carrier. According to documents to be published next week, it was the USSR that aided Israeli officials to expose the identity of the mystery planes, after a US U-2 espionage plane was shot down over Soviet soil.
►►US guard pleads guilty to espionage. A civilian guard at a new US consulate in China pleaded guilty on Thursday to attempting to sell Chinese security officials photographs and access to the compound so they could plant listening devices. According to a court proffer, Bryan Underwood had lost a significant amount of money in the stock market and hoped to make between $3 million and $5 million by supplying classified photos and information to China’s Ministry of State Security. Underwood, 32, appeared in federal court in Washington and pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to communicate national defense information to a foreign government.
►►CIA torture probe ends without any charges. The US Department of Justice has ended its investigation into the CIA’s interrogation program for terror detainees, without bringing charges. Attorney General Eric Holder said there was not enough evidence to “sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt”. Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the investigation’s conclusions were a “nothing short of a scandal”. But CIA officials welcomed the decision. CIA Director David Petraeus thanked his staff for co-operating with the investigation. “As intelligence officers, our inclination is to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past”, he said. No surprises here, surely.

Afghan President replaces spy chief with controversial figure

Assadullah KhaledBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The office of the Afghan President announced yesterday the dismissal of the country’s intelligence chief and his replacement with a controversial official accused by Canadian and British sources of using torture to implement his policies. Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai thanked Rahmatullah Nabil, the outgoing Director of the National Directorate for Security (NDS), for his service, and said he would soon be appointed ambassador to a foreign country. According to Karzai’s representatives, the dismissal falls under the President’s decision that “no intelligence Director could serve longer than two years”. But observers point out that Nabil’s dismissal is part of a broader bureaucratic turf-war between the Office of the President and the Afghan Parliament, over the control of Afghan intelligence and military agencies. Earlier this month, the Parliament managed to oust two senior government officials, Minister of the Interior Besmillah Mohammadi and Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak. Both men are considered to be among President Karzai’s closest political allies. Nabil’s dismissal is therefore seen by many as an act of retribution by the President against defiant Afghan parliamentarians. What is arguably more interesting, however, is Karzai’s choice of the person to replace the fired Nabil, who is no other than Assadullah Khaled, currently Afghanistan’s Minister for Border and Tribal Affairs. According to sources in Kabul, Khaled’s appointment to lead the NDS is a matter of days, and that is appointment can already be considered as having been “confirmed”. This is despite the fact that Khaled is known for resorting to brutal torture and outright intimidation to get his way, especially during his time as Governor of the province of Kandahar. While there, he built a notorious reputation for abducting, torturing, and often killing, his personal and political opponents. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #765

Hillary ClintonBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►MI6 chief says Iran will get nukes in 2 years. Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, has been quoted as publicly forecasting that Iranian nuclear weapons efforts will likely come to fruition by 2014. Sawers is quoted in The Daily Telegraph as saying: “The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need”, adding “it’s equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state”. He went on to assert that Iran would have achieved nuclear statehood in 2008 had it not been for clandestine efforts to thwart such ends. He did not elaborate on what he meant by his comments, for which he was criticized in Parliament earlier this week.
►►MI6 chief claims US interrogators were ‘obsessed’. In the same Telegraph interview, Sir John claimed that British interrogators, following the attacks of September 11, 2001, came “close to the line” of illegality. He went on to say that US interrogators straddled the line between legal and illegal, insinuating that US personnel may have crossed the line during interrogations. Sir John is quoted as explaining: “They [US interrogators] got so obsessed with getting a right answer that they drifted into an area that kind of amounted to torture”. He went on to claim that British personnel involved in interrogations never crossed the line, observing: “We’ve never been there, we’ve never been involved in that, and I think our accountability, our disciplines, have helped us keep on the right side of these lines”.
►►Clinton says Israeli spy Pollard unlikely to be freed. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reaffirmed Washington’s position that Jonathan Pollard was unlikely to receive clemency or see freedom anytime soon. During a press conference in Jerusalem on July 16, Secretary Clinton stated unequivocally: “He [Jonathan Pollard] was sentenced to life in prison, he is serving that sentence, and I do not have any expectations that that is going to change”. Pollard, a former US naval intelligence analyst, was suspected of trying to provide classified information to South Africa, Pakistan, and Australia. He was arrested and convicted of espionage for providing classified information to the State of Israel. He is serving a life sentence for his crimes.

News you may have missed #748 (US edition)

Michael HaydenBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►US lawmakers probe China companies over spy concerns. In letters sent last week to Chinese communications hardware firms Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation, a group of senior members of the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee have outlined concerns about the companies’ ties with the Chinese government, including the role of a “party committee” at Huawei. The lawmakers have also asked about Huawei’s relationships with five US consulting firms and requested an expansive collection of documents, including the contracts between the firms and Huawei.
►►Lone Senator resists Bush/Obama NSA wiretapping plan. The Obama administration wanted a quick, no-questions-asked-or-answered renewal of broad electronic eavesdropping powers that largely legalized the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. That’s despite President Barack Obama’s campaign promise to revisit and revise the rules to protect Americans’ rights. Everything seemed to be going to plan after a Senate committee approved the re-authorization in secret last month. But Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has stepped in to stop the bill because the government refuses to say how often the spy powers are being used.
►►What did Hayden tell Obama in January 2009? In December of 2008, a meeting took place between the incoming US Presiden Barack Obama and the departing CIA Director Michael Hayden. Several days later, on January 15, Hayden told journalists that Obama had privately assured him that “no plans to launch a legal inquiry” into the CIA’s use of controversial interrogation methods during the Bush administration. Now, several years later, Salon has published an insider’s account of what was said in that meeting between Obama and Hayden, as well as during the days that followed.

News you may have missed #722

Jose RodriguezBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Vienna police say Libyan defector’s death probably an accident. Former Libyan oil minister Shukri Ghanem, whose body was found floating Sunday in the Danube river, died from drowning, Austrian police said. Autopsy results on Ghanem’s corpse showed no signs of violence, a police spokesman said, adding that Ghanem, 69, had complained to his daughter late Saturday that he was not feeling well. No suicide note has been found and there is no evidence Ghanem was under threat, according to police. The results of toxicological tests are expected later this week.
►►Canadian spymaster’s card found in Gaddafi’s intel complex. It appears that William “Jack” Hooper, former Deputy Director for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), was among the Western intelligence officials who had cultivated ties with Libyan security services under the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Hooper’s business card was recovered last year in a trove of intelligence documents in Libya, providing a physical link between Canadian security agencies and Libyan spy services. Following his retirement in 2007, Hooper told The Toronto Star that Canada’s spy service has no choice but to team up with some unsavory foreign counterparts to protect Canada from terrorism.
►►Ex-CIA official defends torture of terrorism detainees. In an interview Sunday, Jose Rodriguez, who headed the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center until his retirement in 2008, said waterboarding and other interrogation methods now banned by the Obama Administration were essential to fighting terrorism after September 11, 2001. He also said that he ordered the 92 videotapes showing his CIA colleagues torturing al Qaeda detainees in order “to protect them from possible retaliation by al-Qaeda”. He said he was afraid the material would be leaked: “you really doubt that those tapes would not be out in the open now, that they would not be on YouTube?”. After the tapes were destroyed in an “industrial-sized disintegrator”, he said, “I felt good”.

News you may have missed #712

Abdel Hakim BelhajBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►New US spy satellite could include ‘domestic surveillance. Last week, a new US spy satellite was launched into orbit as part of a secretive military program enabling the surveillance of Earth from space. An official at the Vandenberg base told The Los Angeles Times that the NROL-25 was part of a “national security payload”, which could mean it is to be used for any number of purposes, possibly including domestic surveillance.
►►US steps up intelligence and sabotage missions in Iran. American intelligence agencies are ramping up intelligence and sabotage missions focused on Iran’s nuclear program, according to The Washington Post. Officials from the National Security Agency have increased efforts to intercept email and electronic communications coming from Tehran, according to reports in The Post‘s Sunday edition. The CIA and other agencies have also ramped up sabotage missions in the country, geared toward disrupting Iran’s ongoing nuclear work, the paper reports.
►►MI6 ‘considers paying off’ Libyan official. Britain’s MI6 chiefs allegedly plan to offer more than £1 million ($1.6 million) hush money to a Libyan who claims British spies sent him to be tortured by the Gaddafi regime. The Secret Intelligence Service is scrambling to prevent Abdel Hakim Belhaj releasing details of his case following the revelation that a Labour Party minister sanctioned his extraordinary rendition —contravening UK policy on torture.

News you may have missed #708

Bertil StrobergBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Swedish Cold War spy dies at 79. Bertil Stroberg, a former Swedish air force officer, who was convicted of spying for Poland during the Cold War, but always maintained his innocence, has died, following a yearlong battle against cancer. He was sentenced to six years in prison for spying in 1983, but released on parole after serving three years. The key evidence in his case was a letter the prosecution said he had written to the Polish embassy offering to sell military secrets. The letter was signed Sven-Roland Larsson and asked that money be sent in that name to the Central Post Office. Stroberg was arrested when he went to the post office to collect Larsson’s mail.
►►US keeping Britain in the dark on intel issues. American intelligence agencies are increasingly keeping their British counterparts in the dark on key information, for fear those secrets could end up on full display in UK courts. “The Americans have got nervous that we are going to start revealing some of the information and they have started cutting back, I’m sure, on what they disclose”, Ken Clarke, the United Kingdom’s justice secretary, said in a Wednesday interview with the BBC. The American intelligence community has become wary about sharing sensitive intelligence with the UK ever since a 2008 court case forced the British government to disclose specific details on terror detainee operations.
►►Bush official says CIA ‘committed war crimes’. Philip Zelikow, who was a top adviser to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, warned the Bush administration that its use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading” interrogation techniques like waterboarding were “a felony war crime”. What is more, newly obtained documents reveal that State Department counselor Zelikow told the Bush team in 2006 that using the controversial interrogation techniques were “prohibited” under US law —“even if there is a compelling state interest asserted to justify them”. Zelikow’s memo was an internal bureaucratic push against an attempt by the Justice Department to flout long-standing legal restrictions against torture.

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