We had no asset in Saddam’s inner circle, says ex-CIA deputy director

Morell - IA senior Central Intelligence Agency official, who led the agency as its acting director before retiring in 2013, has said that not having sources in the Iraqi government’s upper echelons led to the intelligence failure of 2003. Michael Morell retired as deputy director of the CIA, after having served twice as its acting director, in 2011 and from 2012 to 2013. A Georgetown University graduate, Morell joined the agency in 1980 and rose through the ranks to lead the Asia, Pacific and Latin America divisions. In May 2015, Morell published his book, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight against Terrorism from al Qa’ida to ISIS, which he has been promoting while working as a consultant in the private sector.

Morell spoke at the Aspen Institute earlier this month, and once again offered a public apology to former United States Secretary of State Colin Powell for the CIA’s erroneous estimates on Iraq. He was referring to the Agency’s claims prior to the 2003 US invasion that Iraq maintained an active weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) program. The claims formed the basis of Powell’s February 2003 speech during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, in which he claimed that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had “biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce […] many more.” There was no question, said Morell, that Powell’s reputation “was tarnished” as a result of the speech, and that a public apology was in order. The same apology, said Morell, applied “to every single American.”

The retired intelligence official went on to say that the main cause of the CIA’s erroneous assessment of Iraq’s WMD program was that the Agency had failed to penetrate the highest echelons of the Hussein regime. “We were not able to come up with the right answer [because] we didn’t do our fundamental job of penetrating [Hussein’s] inner circles with a human asset,” said Morell. As a result, there was “no information to give to the [CIA] analyst to say ‘here’s what this guy is up to’,” he added. The author of The Great War of Our Time, went on to suggest that the CIA’s failure to penetrate the inner circle of the Iraqi government prior to 2003 was “quite frankly a national security failure.”

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 29 December 2015 | Permalink

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.

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.

News you may have missed #813 (CIA edition)

CIA headquartersBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Who is leading the CIA for now? Acting CIA Director Michael J. Morell, who has worked for the CIA for 32 years, served a stint as acting director last year and his will be one of several names considered by US President Barack Obama for the permanent job. Starting as an analyst tracking international energy issues, Morell worked for 14 years as an analyst and manager on East Asia, rising to director of the Directorate of Intelligence’s Office of Asian Pacific and Latin American Analysis in 1999. In May 2010, Morell succeeded Stephen Kappes, who had resigned suddenly and without explanation, as deputy director of the CIA, serving under Directors Leon Panetta (February 2009-June 2011) and David Petraeus (September 2011-November 2012).
►►No perfect choice to fill Petraeus vacancy at CIA. President Barack Obama needs a quick, no-drama solution to a sensational personnel problem. But the vacancy left at the top of the Central Intelligence Agency by David Petraeus’s abrupt departure amid a headline-grabbing sex scandal calls for a particularly complex skill set. It requires a charismatic chief to oversee the large, notoriously tough-to-manage intelligence apparatus. It needs a leader who has a strong relationship with the president. And most of all, it calls for a politically savvy operator who understands how to interact with Congress —and can assuage some of the current anger on Capitol Hill that lawmakers were kept in the dark about the probe.
►►CIA climate-change unit is shut down. Republican lawmakers in the US began criticizing the Central Intelligence Agency’s Center on Climate Change and National Security before it was even established, calling it a “misguided defense funding priority”. Concerted resistance by conservative lawmakers did not allow the program to stand on solid ground, and it now looks like the Center has actually closed down, having lost its most important supporter, former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

News you may have missed #810 (Petraeus resignation edition)

David PetraeusBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
►►How did Petraeus’ affair come to light? CIA Director David Petraeus resigned after a probe into whether someone else was using his email. The probe eventually led to the discovery that he was having an extramarital affair, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “several people briefed on the matter”. An FBI inquiry into the use of Petraeus’s Gmail account led agents to believe the woman or someone close to her had sought access to his email. An extramarital affair has significant implications for an official in a highly sensitive post, such as that held by Petraeus, because it can open an official to blackmail.
►►Who did Petraeus have an affair with? The woman with whom General David Petraeus was having an affair is Paula Broadwell, a West Point graduate and the author of a recent hagiographic book about him, entitled All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, co-written with Vernon Loeb. Slate‘s Fred Kaplan reports that “it had long been rumored that something was going on between Petraeus and Broadwell. When she was embedded with him in Afghanistan, they went on frequent 5-mile runs together. But Petraeus went on 5-mile runs with many reporters, and few people who knew him took the rumors seriously”.
►►Who is leading the CIA now? With General David Petraeus stepping down as director of the CIA, following reports of an extra-marital affair, the agency’s current deputy director will take over as director on an interim basis. His name is Michael Morell, and he was a senior CIA aide in the White House to President George W. Bush. Morell had served as deputy director since May 2010, after holding a number of senior roles, including director for the agency’s analytical arm, which helps feed intelligence into the President’s Daily Brief. He also worked as an aide to former CIA Director George Tenet.

News you may have missed #579 (CIA edition)

Robert Grenier

Robert Grenier

►►Interview with ex-CIA Islamabad station chief. Robert Grenier, who was the CIA’s Islamabad station chief from 1999 to 2001, tells Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper that the US unmanned drone program, which began as “a very surgically employed tool against international terrorists”, has now “become much more of a conventional weapon against militants”. He also rejects allegations that Pakistani government officials were aware of osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, saying that “no one has apparently found any compelling evidence”.
►►Who will guide Petraeus in his new CIA job? Siobhan Gorman, of The Wall Street Journal, opines that, when US General David Petraeus takes the helm at the Central Intelligence Agency next month, it will fall to the Agency’s deputy director Michael J. Morell, a little-known 31-year CIA veteran, to guide the new director.
►►CIA drone kills al-Qaeda deputy. An anonymous US official has told The New York Times that a CIA drone killed al-Qaeda’s second-ranking operative in Pakistan’s northwest province of Waziristan. Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who in the past year had taken over as al-Qaeda’s top operational planner, was killed on August 22, according to the official. Al-Qaeda is still officially led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is also believed to be in Pakistan.

News you may have missed #513 (Pakistan edition)

  • Pakistan spy chief tells US to end drone strikes. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the outgoing director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has reportedly told CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell that Pakistan “will be forced to respond” if the US does not stop its drone strikes in the country.
  • CIA-ISI back in business. Overall, however, the meeting between Pasha and Morell was focused on mending CIA-ISI relations, according to Pakistan’s leading newspaper The Nation.
  • Leaked cables reveal joint US-Pakistan missions. US Special Forces were embedded with Pakistani troops on intelligence-gathering missions by 2009, confidential American diplomatic cables showed, a revelation that could hurt the Pakistani military’s public image. The Pakistani government has denied the reports.