White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in guiding the debate on which terror leaders will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure to vet both military and CIA targets.
The move concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones at the White House.
The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the list, making a previous military-run review process in place since 2009 less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government targets terrorists.
Within 10 days of the time Dozier published that story, John Brennan had rolled out an enormous propaganda campaign — based on descriptions of the drone targeting process that Brennan’s power grab had replaced, not the new drone targeting process — that suckered almost everyone commenting on drones that drone targeting retained its previous, more deliberative, targeting process, the one Brennan had just changed.
And that propaganda campaign, in turn, hid another apparent detail: that UndieBomb 2.0, a Saudi sting had actually occurred earlier in April, and that UndieBomb 2.0 preceded and perhaps justified the signature strikes done at the behest of the Yemenis (or more likely the Saudis).
April 18: Greg Miller first reports on debate over signature strikes
May 8: ABC reports UndieBomb 2.0 was Saudi-run infiltrator
May 15: Drone strike in Jaar kills a number of civilians
Now, frankly, I think the witch hunt response to the UndieBomb 2.0 plot was mostly just an excuse to start investigating the AP, though it did lead John Brennan to make it clear that it was a Saudi-manufactured plot in the first place.
But the response to that Dozier article, which provided the final piece of evidence for the timeline above showing Brennan grabbed control of drone targeting at roughly the moment we started signature strikes in Yemen, was more dramatic, at least in terms of the breathtaking propaganda the White House rolled out to pretend the drone strikes were more orderly than they actually were.
I’m guessing, but when [AP’s President Gary] Pruitt says this,
These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.
I’m guessing he might have other AP stories in mind.
I know I’m as least as worried about DOJ targeting Dozier’s sources, who revealed a critical detail of how illegal the drone program was, as I am about the original UndieBomb 2.0 story.
A CIA officer who was the first woman to lead the agency’s clandestine service, but was also closely tied to the agency’s interrogation torture program, will not get to keep that job as part of a management shake-up announced Tuesday by CIA Director John “the priest” Brennan, U.S. officials said.
The woman had served as director of the National Clandestine Service on an interim basis over the past two months and was seen by many in the agency as a front-runner to keep the post, which involves overseeing the CIA’s spying operations around the world.
But the woman, who remains undercover, faced opposition from senior lawmakers over her ties to an interrogation torture program that critics have said employed torture to get information from “al-Qaeda” captives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Instead, Brennan has given the job to a 57-year-old veteran male officer who served multiple overseas tours in Pakistan, Latin America and Africa, according to public records. He is also undercover, U.S. officials said.
[…] The female officer, who is in her 50s, had broad support within the agency and had previously served as deputy director of the clandestine service. But her background posed significant political [not moral, ethical, or legal, obvy] problems for Brennan.
She had run one of the so-called “black site” secret prisons that the CIA set up after the Sept. 11 attacks, and was one of just two officials who signed off on the controversial decision to destroy a collection of videotapes, some of which depicted detainees being subjected to brutal interrogation measures torture.
and, regarding the SSCI report on the torture program, expect more pushback:
[…] It was unclear whether the female officer would be moved into a new position. The transition comes at a time when the agency is assembling what is said to be a defiant response to a recently completed report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that is sharply critical of the interrogation torture program and its results.
I write with regard to the report recently completed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA’s former detention and interrogation program.
I know you believe in the importance of correcting the public record if it is determined that inaccurate information has been conveyed to the American people by the U.S. government. In the case of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, inaccurate and misleading information was conveyed by the CIA to the public, the Congress, the Department of Justice, the Department of State — and to the White House itself.
I know this is true as a result of the 6,000-page report produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, based on a documentary review of over six million pages of CIA and other records. As you are aware, the Committee voted in December to report out the Study and to send it to the CIA, other Executive Branch agencies, and the White House for review and comments. The comments were due to the Committee on February 15, 2013. As of today, no comments have been received.
Meanwhile, there have been media reports that the CIA is planning an “aggressive response” and is objecting to a “majority” of the Committee’s Study. While I find these reports hard to believe, I am concerned that despite my request — and requests from Chairman Feinstein and other colleagues on the Committee — Director Brennan and his staff have shown little to no interest in engaging collaboratively and constructively with the Committee on a path forward on the Committee’s Study. In fact, despite repeated requests by Members, the CIA has declined to meet or discuss the Study with Committee staff.
It is my understanding that the comments from your administration will reflect not only the views of the CIA, but also other Executive Branch agencies impacted by the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. I believe the views of other government agencies and the White House are absolutely essential in order to engage in a constructive, lessons-learned dialogue.
In 2009, you made it clear that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program and its “enhanced interrogation techniques” had no place in an Obama administration. I deeply appreciate your stand on these important issues. I also applaud the recent comments of Vice President Biden about the need to “excise the demons” and acknowledge what was done under the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Only by acknowledging and correcting the false public record can the CIA — with your support — credibly institute the necessary reforms that are essential for the CIA to be its best. I strongly believe — and trust that you agree — that publicly acknowledging the truth of this program, regardless of how uncomfortable, is necessary, consistent with our country’s history and ideals, and in the long-term interests of the CIA and the American people.
Recall, when JSOC killed almost an entire Bedouin clan in al-Majala, David Petraeus claimed that only the alleged targets immediate family had been killed, well after people had been to the site to document the carnage. Immediately after Abdulrahman [al-Awlaki’s] death, the Administration immediately, almost boisterously, claimed the boy was 21, either based on crappy intelligence or in an attempt to justify a ‘military aged male’ claim. This is why it is so important to declassify the documents on targeted killing. Even according to the Moral Rectitude Drone Assassination Czar, this kid was set up. He just won’t tell us by whom.
Marcy Wheeler, John Brennan’s Review of How He Killed an American Teenager
Back when Brennan’s boosters were promising he’d be a controlling figure at CIA, they suggested he’d make these decisions based on a priest-like moral compass. Yet, just weeks into the job, he has instead asked those who benefitted from this woman’s cover-up to bless her promotion, thereby dodging the responsibility himself. I warned that this ‘moral rectitude’ thing was just a myth when Brennan was nominated. It sure didn’t take long to be proven right.The Moral Rectitude Torture Cover-Up Promotion Czar | emptywheel
John Brennan, newly minted as CIA chief, gets right to it:
The confirmation hearings for CIA Director John Brennan put something of a damper on the drone strike program, at least with respect to Pakistan, and also put the practices of the global assassination program under a brief magnifying glass. Only two Pakistan strikes were reported during the month of February, and the US went to the unusual length of disavowing those attacks.
Local officials confirmed the strike, as did a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, though neither suggested that they had any idea of the identities of the slain. The US has not commented, which is business as usual for such attacks.
The Pakistani government has been increasingly critical of the attacks as national elections draw closers. The killings have been widely unpopular across Pakistan, sparking anti-US protests and anger at the government, which they suspect is secretly supporting the US in the endeavor.
The Senate confirmed John [the priest] Brennan as director of the CIA on Thursday, following a 13-hour filibuster led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Brennan, the current White House counterterrorism chief, was approved to head the CIA, 63 to 34. The confirmation came after weeks of contentious hearings concerning Brennan’s ties to the administration’s armed drone program, and was capped by Paul’s old-fashioned filibuster.
Brennan could begin his tenure as CIA director as early as this week.
Of the 34 votes cast against Brennan, two were Democrats — Sens. Pat Leahy (Vt.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats, also voted nay.
The Obama administration got its wish (Arthur Silber in early February):
Barring entirely unexpected developments, Brennan will certainly be confirmed. And that is precisely how Brennan’s confirmation will be viewed in the future: as Congressional approval of the Murder Program. That, I submit, is the prize the Obama administration was after. Appreciate how easily the administration will have achieved its goal: move Petraeus out, move Brennan in — Brennan, who withdrew his name from consideration as C.I.A. Director four years ago because of “concerns” about his involvement in torture, and who today represents a program of unrestricted, worldwide murder. And the Senate will now confirm his appointment. Once Brennan is confirmed, the Obama administration is home free: it can expand the program as it wishes.
… [M]ake no mistake: when Brennan’s nomination is confirmed, the Obama administration will have won a victory of immense significance. As to how and on what schedule the Murder Program will be expanded, that, too, will depend on events to a significant extent. Since the administration is already expanding the number of strikes, there can be no question that they plan to rely on assassination more and more frequently.
The authorization law has already been expanded … beyond its original scope to apply to “associated forces” of al-Qaeda. But officials said legal advisers at the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and intelligence agencies are now weighing whether the law can be stretched to cover what one former official called “associates of associates.”
The debate has been driven by the emergence of groups in North Africa and the Middle East that may embrace aspects of al-Qaeda’s agenda but have no meaningful ties to its crumbling leadership base in Pakistan. Among them are the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Ansar al-Sharia, which was linked to the September attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. They could be exposed to drone strikes and kill or capture missions involving U.S. troops.
But remember, the Obama administration doesn’t think they necessarily need the AUMF for a targeted killing. The CIA is likely operating under the Article II authority of the executive branch (see The AUMF Fallacy | emptywheel).
And Brennan, Obama’s right hand man and the architect of the murder program, just got a rubber stamp from congress (as an aside, the courts have, with sickeningly few exceptions, deferred to executive authority on anything related to national security from the beginning of GWOT). The kill lists, the broad application of “militants” as basically any male in the blast radius of a hellfire missile, the disposition matrix, the new definition of “imminence”, the murders of Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (16), and Samir Khan (U.S. citizens all), and the murders of thousands of people in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere, and now “associates of associates” - all approved. No problem. And no end in sight.
The White House has agreed to more widely share secret Justice Department memos justifying the targeted killing of American citizens suspected of terrorism, Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced Tuesday.
The documents had become an issue in the Obama administration’s push to have counter terrorism official John Brennan confirmed as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. “I am pleased the administration has made this information available,” Feinstein said in a statement sent to reporters. “It is important for the committee to do its work and will pave the way for the confirmation of John Brennan to be CIA director.” The committee is expected to vote on Brennan’s confirmation Tuesday afternoon.
According to a Senate aide, committee staff (one aide per member) will now also be able to view the memos. That step is welcomed by Raha Wala, an attorney with Human Rights First. “Many congressional staff—including some that are lawyers—have the necessary expertise to evaluate the legal and policy claims being advanced in these memos,” he says. “Oversight without their participation would be oversight in name only.” Wala also says other committees, such as the Senate and House judiciary committees, should also be allowed access to the memos.
Following Feinstein’s announcement, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) released a joint statement saying they would now support Brennan’s confirmation. “We are pleased that we now have the access that we have long sought and need to conduct the vigilant oversight with which the committee has been charged.” Their statement asked the Obama administration to be even more open: “the appropriate next step should be to bring the American people into this debate.”
No, Senators. While I appreciate your efforts to force the Obama administration to release the memos, the (only) ”appropriate next step” is to shut the whole thing down.
No matter, the Senate Intelligence committee, voting 12-3 today (Mar. 5th), has confirmed John Brennan (almost immediately after it was announced that the memos would be released). Now the only hurdle to congressional complicity in the murder program is the the full Senate floor vote:
As President Barack Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, Brennan was behind the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists, including American-born cleric Ansar al-Awlaki. He was killed by a missile strike in Yemen in 2011.
Obama trumpets how he has stopped the practice of renditions and water boarding (although given Brennan’s opaque testimony on ‘transparency’ we don’t really know if this is the case), but the president has doubled down on Dick Cheney’s transgressions by just assassinating alleged terrorists, along with accepting the collateral damage of civilians, including women and children without any due process, habeas corpus, or court oversight. These are the powers of a modern day Nero, not the leader of a nation based on the foundation of a Constitution guaranteeing specific rights and legal recourse. And what would prevent the executive branch (Democrat or Republican) from moving from drone assassinations to just murders of perceived ‘enemies of the state’ in the US, were Brennan’s non-denial of potential drone strikes in the US representative of Obama’s to-kill list position (and given that Obama is appointing Brennan to head the CIA, one can assume it is)? Nothing.John Brennan Doesn’t Rule Out Targeting Americans for Assassination in United States
Benghazi: The Definitive Report is the title of an e-book published on February 12 by William Morrow. It’s written by two editors at SOFREP.com, the unofficial special operations site: Brandon Webb — a former Navy SEAL — and Jack Murphy — a former Army Ranger and Green Beret. What’s unique about the report is its bipartisan appeal. Its fodder for those who would attack the State Department, the administration, and the CIA from both the right and the left. Sure enough, it’s caused ripples in Washington and garnered significant attention from the mainstream media.
To sum up, Webb and Murphy allege that the Benghazi terrorist attack, during which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, was mounted by Islamist militants in retaliation for attacks on them by JSOC forces. Worse, the authors claim, neither Stevens nor CIA director David Petraeus knew about the raids, which were ordered by President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, who was acting outside the command structure.
Webb and Murphy also declare that Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell was leaked by the members of his personal protection detail in conjunction with members of the CIA who were unhappy with his emphasis on paramilitary activities over traditional espionage.
The Senate should not confirm him as the new director of the CIA and Brennan should not continue in public life. … “I think we need to let this guy go.”
Meanwhile, Eli Lake, the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, writes:
… while the book is filled with juicy revelations that promise to shock even the most casual followers of counterintelligence gossip, government officials, including spokesmen for the National Security Council and Special Operations Command, dispute some of the key claims. … Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command, declined to discuss specific missions, but said “all U.S. Special Operations Forces work inside the established military chain of command,” and wouldn’t “work in a foreign country without the knowledge and permission of the U.S. ambassador or chief of mission.”
The book also claims elements of the U.S. government either allowed or ran an operation to funnel weapons collected in Libya to Syria. The authors write, “[Ambassador] Stevens likely helped consolidate as many weapons as possible after the war to safeguard them, at which point Brennan exported them overseas to start another conflict.” … but Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, says there was no program to send weapons from Libya to Syria. “This has no basis in reality and is completely made up,” he says. Hillary Clinton also denied any knowledge of this when she was asked about it by Sen. Rand Paul during last month’s hearings on the Benghazi attack.
Hmm, two spokespersons, plus Hilary Clinton during a hearing: that’s all you’ve got, Eli? From the Human Events piece:
Because of the sensitivities involved, the authors double-source the claims in the book, he said. Many more stories were left out because there was no independent confirmation.
It all comes down to who you want to believe: the U.S. government or JSOC operatives past and present? In my case, it’s more personal — who do I want to believe: the U.S. government or my nephew? (By way of “full disclosure,” as they say, Jack Murphy is my wife’s sister’s son.)
‘One of the problems is, once the drone program is so public, and one American is caught up, people don’t know much about this one “American citizen”—so called. … When people hear “American,” they think someone who’s upstanding. And this man was not upstanding by a long shot,’ said Senator Dianne Feinstein, in her questioning of John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee for C.I.A. director, on Thursday. … ‘Proud,’ ‘upstanding,’ ‘so-called American’—is this the basis on which the Senate is judging fundamental questions of American rights and due process? Before the hearing, I wondered what picture of Americans we were supposed to have when we heard about the executive giving itself the power to kill them. Feinstein could hardly have given a less reassuring answer. When and on what basis will any of us get a ‘so-called’ in front of our nationality? That there may have been a good deal of evidence against al-Awlaki is why his case should have gone before a court, not why it shouldn’t have.
Amy Davidson, John Brennan’s C.I.A. Director Hearings and the So-Called Americans
The second, and in my view, more likely road to wimpdom is a showtrial with an innocent verdict. That is, Brennan will be hard-questioned and then confirmed. Note that the implication will then be that the Senate will have thus confirmed the policy while pretending to dislike it. Look for this outcome unless the Republicans rear their heads. (But don’t bet on Republican relief. We’re talking about blood here, kills, and Republicans love their manhoods just as much.)
[Dianne Feinstein’s] questions weren’t just slow-pitch softball; it was as if someone tweaked the settings on the pitching machine to “Half-Blind One-Armed Opponent Taking Their First Cuts Minutes After Learning of the Existence of Softball as a Game.”