Al-Qaeda still a more serious threat than ISIS, says ex-CIA official

Al-Qaeda in YemenAl-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to pose the most serious unconventional threat to American security, despite the meteoric rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, according to a former senior official in the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Michael Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA, and served twice as the Agency’s acting director, did not deny that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, poses a significant threat to the security of the US. However, the militant group “is not the most significant threat to the homeland today”, he said. Morell made the comment while speaking on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, while promoting his new book, The Great War of Our Time: An Insider’s Account of the CIA’s Fight Against Al Qa’ida.

The former CIA official told his audience that the most serious unconventional threat to the US continues to come from three al-Qaeda groups, all of which remain far cogent and willing to engage the US on its home soil. According to Morell, the three groups consist of the so-called ‘al-Qaeda Central’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as its Syrian branch, known as the Khorasan Group, and its Yemen affiliate, which goes by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He added that the last three serious efforts to strike the US with the intent of causing mass casualties all came from AQAP. Morell was referring to the 2009 so-called ‘underwear bomber’ and the 2010 ‘ink-cartridge bomb plot’, as well as the ‘plastic suicide vest bomb pot’ in 2012, all of which were unsuccessful. The former CIA official said that, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has “the ability to bring down an airliner in the US tomorrow”. Most importantly, he added, unlike ISIS, al-Qaeda has shown willingness to confront America on its home soil.

Morell’s argument echoed similar comments expressed in September 2014 by the then-Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen. Olsen, who held the US’ most senior counterterrorism post until his retirement last year, opined at a forum in Washington that ISIS did not currently pose a direct threat to America or Western Europe. He added that the risk of a “spectacular, al-Qaeda-style attack” on American or European targets by ISIS was negligible, saying that ISIS was “significantly more limited than al-Qaeda”, especially in the run-up to 9/11.

CIA funds given to Afghan officials ended up in al-Qaeda coffers

Atiyah Abd al-RahmanBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
Millions of dollars given by the United States Central Intelligence Agency to Afghanistan following the 2001 American invasion ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda, according to documents found in the personal archive of the organization’s founder, Osama bin Laden. The documents were confiscated by US Special Forces from bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where he was killed in 2011. They were declassified this week for use as evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer, a Pakistani citizen accused of planning a series of suicide bombings in Britain and the US. The New York Times, which cited “interviews with Afghan and Western officials”, said the documents show that Washington “has sometimes inadvertently financed the very militants it is fighting”. The paper attributed this to poor oversight of the billions of dollars in cash payments that the CIA supplied to the corrupt Afghan government of Hamid Karzai for over a decade.

The letters used in Naseer’s trial concern $5 million paid as ransom to al-Qaeda by the Afghan government in 2010, in exchange for the release of Abdul Khaliq Farahi, Afghanistan’s consul general in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Farahi had had been abducted by militants two years earlier and delivered to the hands of al-Qaeda, who promptly contacted Kabul demanding payment. In the spring of 2010, the Afghan government agreed to pay a $5 million ransom for the kidnapped diplomat’s release. According to The Times, at least $1 million in ransom money came from the several millions of dollars in cash that the CIA would deliver each month to the presidential palace in Kabul. The other $4 million came from Iran as well as from a number of Arab oil kingdoms, says the paper.

In June 2010, almost as soon as the funds were delivered to al-Qaeda’s hands, the organization’s accounts manager, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, wrote to bin Laden: “Allah blessed us with a good amount of money this month”. The al-Qaeda founder responded by expressing surprise that the US would have allowed a ransom to be paid to the militant group, and cautioned al-Rahman to check the cash for signs of poison or radiation that may have been planted there by the Americans. It appears, however, that no trap had been set up by the CIA, and al-Qaeda was able to use the funds for weaponry and routine operational expenses. The Times said it asked the CIA whether officials at Langley were aware of the ransom paid to al-Qaeda by the Afghan government, but the Agency declined comment.

Reactions to US Senate’s CIA report fall along party lines

Cover of the Senate reportBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Almost immediately following the release of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary-report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program, American public figures began to hurriedly fall in line along predictable partisan positions on the subject. The 500-page document, released on Tuesday, represents the publicly available version of a 6,000-page report that dismisses the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program as an intelligence failure. It also details instances of systematic use of torture by the Agency and accuses it of lying to Congress and the Executive about the effectiveness of its detention methods. But the published report was boycotted by the Senate Committee’s Republican Party members; consequently, it was authored solely by the group’s Democratic Party members, who currently constitute a majority in the Committee. Its Republican members, led by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), released an alternative 160-page minority report that dismisses the majority document as an inaccurate and hastily produced account, which endangers American national security. The Republican-supported minority statement praises the CIA for weakening al-Qaeda in the years after 9/11 and lambasts its critics for “misrepresentations of fact” rooted in “political motivations”. Meanwhile, as senior officials in the administration of US President Barack Obama voiced support for the Senate report, an anonymous group of former senior CIA officials launched a website lambasting it as “the single worst example of Congressional oversight in our many years of government service”. IntelNews understands that the website, entitled “CIA Saved Lives”, is organized by Bill Harlow, the CIA’s public-affairs director from 1997 to 2004, who is close to the Agency’s former Director, George Tenet. Tenet was a trusted advisor of then-US President George W. Bush, and led the CIA during the implementation of the early stages of the post-9/11 interrogation program. The CIA’s own response to the Senate report came in a public press release that acknowledged “serious mistakes” in the interrogation program while defending its alleged effectiveness in weakening of al-Qaeda. Rare examples of public figures that broke party lines were Susan Collins (R-Me), the only Senate Intelligence Committee Republican not to endorse the minority report, and Senator John McCain (R-Az). McCain, who underwent years of torture as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, said the CIA’s use of torture “stained [America’s] national honor” and had done “much harm and little practical good”.

War alone will not defeat Islamists, says US ex-military intel chief

Lieutenant General Michael FlynnBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The former chief of military intelligence in the United States has warned that military force cannot defeat Islamic-inspired militancy without a broader strategic plan. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn led the US Defense Intelligence Agency from July 2012 until August of this year, serving essentially as the most senior intelligence official in the US Armed Forces. He stepped down amidst rumors that he had been asked to resign because his plans to modernize military intelligence operations were “disruptive”. On Wednesday, while addressing the annual Maneuver Conference at the US Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence in Fort Benning, Georgia, General Flynn addressed the issue of Sunni militancy and how to counter groups like the Islamic State. Responding to a question from the audience, the former DIA director said “what this audience wants [to hear] is ‘kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out, get the T-shirt [and] go down to Ranger Joe’s” (a military clothing retailer). And he added: “we can kill all day long, but until we understand why there are [such large] numbers of [fundamentalist] believers globally, [groups like the Islamic State] will not be defeated”. Flynn went on to say that America is losing initiative in the war of ideas with Islamic radicalism, as the latter is spreading rapidly across the world, especially in regions such as Africa and South Asia. Responding to another question from the audience, the former DIA director dismissed the view that there is an ideological split between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, saying: “there is no tension; they hate us equally; it is an expansion”. Last month, Flynn gave an interview in which he said the international environment was “is the most uncertain, chaotic and confused” he had witnessed in his three-decade career. Read more of this post

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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Ex-CIA officer seeks Italian pardon for role in abduction operation

Giorgio Napolitano By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who has been convicted in absentia in Italy for his role in an abduction operation, has contacted the Italian president seeking a formal pardon. Robert Seldon Lady was the CIA station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Earlier this week, Lady wrote a letter to the President of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, saying he had never intended to “disrespect Italy’s sovereignty” and asking for the President’s “personal forgiveness and pardon”. In his letter, Lady argues that he operated “under orders from senior American officials” with the aim of protecting lives, adding that US intelligence activities had been able to “stop numerous plans and targets of terrorists operating in Milan and elsewhere in Italy”. The former CIA officer also claims that the 2003 kidnapping of Nasr had taken place “in liaison with senior members of the Italian government”. He concludes by expressing his “regret” for his “participation in any activities which could be viewed as contrary to the laws of Italy”. Read more of this post

Former CIA station chief arrested in Panama ‘has been released’

Panama-Costa Rica borderBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A former station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency, who was detained in Panama last week for his alleged role in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Italy, returned to the United States on Friday. The US Department of State said Robert Seldon Lady had been released by Panamanian authorities 24 hours after he was detained near Panama’s border with Costa Rica. Lady was the CIA’s station chief in Milan in February 2003, when a team of 23 Americans, most of them CIA operatives, abducted Mustafa Osama Nasr. The CIA suspected the Egyptian-born Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, of working as a recruiter for a host of radical Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda. In 2005, Italian authorities, which had not authorized Nasr’s kidnapping, convicted Lady, along with 22 other Americans, of abduction. The convictions were delivered in absentia, as the Americans had earlier left the country. Washington has refused to extradite them to Rome. Lady was crossing from Panama into Costa Rica at a remote jungle border crossing early on Thursday, when, according to Costa Rican authorities, “a check on his passport triggered an INTERPOL alert”. Following negotiations between Costa Rican and Panamanian authorities, Lady was detained by Panamanian border guards, who alerted INTERPOL and Italy. Late on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to offer details on the case, but confirmed that Lady was “either en route or back in the United States”. A Panamanian foreign ministry source told Reuters that Lady was released because “Panama does not have an extradition treaty with Italy and because documentation sent by Italian officials was insufficient”. Read more of this post

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