Posts Tagged ‘Central Intelligence Agency’

Fascinating reads in Global Post and the Washington Post about the history and location of one of the CIA’s infamous black sites in Poland during the early years of GWOT.

Check out other reporting about black sites from the New Yorker, the Daily Beast, and the New York Review of Books.

The National Journal’s Marc Ambinder has uncovered some more details about that ill-fated drone mission the Iranians have been claiming they shot down.

The super-secret drone that Iran claims to have recovered was on a CIA “Focal Point” mission, gathering intelligence and likely crashed though it remains uncertain whether it was able to self-destruct, U.S. officials told National Journal on Tuesday.

Controllers lost contact with the prized stealth unmanned aerial drone, the RQ-170 “Sentinel”, last week over western Afghanistan, said one government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Based on its projected glide path, officials assume it fell just inside the Iranian border.

Though the CIA has used the Sentinel to monitor Iranian nuclear convoys before, the precise nature of the mission this time is not known.

The Sentinel is the top-of-the-line UAV, with highly sensitive cryptographic and stealth technology. If it indeed reaches Iranian hands undamaged it will represent a compromise in the latest of U.S. stealth technology, said officials with knowledge of the program.

The key question here is whether or not the drone’s self-destruct mechanism was activated before it went down. If it worked and some of the equipment and technology onboard was destroyed, that would at least mitigate some of the damage to U.S. national security. Regardless, as was the case with the stealth helicopter that went down during the Osama bin Laden raid in May, the Pentagon should assume that if the Iranians do indeed have custody of the downed drone, they will be studying its capabilities and will at a minimum attempt to reverse engineer it themselves, or bring in outside help from China or Russia.

I’ve been busy working on a story the past few days, hence my lack of blogging. This story will see the light of day soon. I will post it here when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I’ll point out a few recent articles – most of them from Foreign Policy – which I highly recommend reading.

The Antisocial Network: Flashpoint’s Evan Kohlman looks at how cyber-jihadists reacted to the death of Osama bin Laden.

The Cost of Pakistan’s Double Game: RFE/RL journalist Daud Khattak assesses Pakistan’s complicated and contradictory tolerance and ties to jihadist groups and figures living in the country.

Replacing Bin Laden: Al-Hayat journalist Camille Tawil provides more biographical information and analysis about interim al Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel.

Misnomers and Misdirection: In light of Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress earlier this week in which he said “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda,” my former professor Daniel Byman looks at the differences between Hamas and al Qaeda.

Disgraced John Ensign Back In Legal Jeopardy: Murray Waas reports that Senator John Ensign’s last-minute decision to release more than 1,000 sensitive emails between himself, his lawyers, and his advisers to Senate Ethics Committee investigators could put him in legal jeopardy with the Department of Justice.

John Edwards Could Be Indicted Within Days: The Department of Justice plans to file criminal charges against former presidential candidate John Edwards, according to the Associated Press. The source says an indictment could come within days unless Edwards cuts a deal with prosecutors and pleads guilty to a negotiated charge.

Federal Prosecutors Try To Force New York Times Reporter To Reveal Sources: ABC News reports prosecutors have subpoenaed Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen to testify at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Stirling, who is accused of leaking classified information about Iran’s nuclear program to Risen, among other things. Risen plans to ask the court to quash the subpoena, but “sources close to Risen” cited in the article say he is willing to go to jail to protect his sources.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all!

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has looked at the photos of Osama bin Laden’s body and has described them on the record.  Based on his account, it seems like pretty gruesome stuff:

In an interview with The Atlantic Wire after he returned from the CIA headquarters, Inhofe described the photos he saw. He said he was shown 15 photos. A dozen of those were taken at the Abbottabad compound and appear to be “taken right after the instant he was shot.” They sound gruesome. They show a massive head wound in the ear and eye. “The brains were coming out of his socket,” Inhofe said. But he said three other photos were taken on board the ship before bin Laden’s sea burial. In these, the body has been cleaned up and Inhofe, who has advocated releasing the photos, said, “It’s much more reasonable to show the public these photos.”


The Washington Post reports intelligence officials have found Bin Laden’s handwritten and electronic journals as part of the intelligence treasure trove recovered during the Abbottabad raid. The article is well worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:

Osama bin Laden was preoccupied with attacking the United States over all other targets, a fixation that led to friction with followers, according to U.S. intelligence officials involved in analyzing the trove of materials recovered from the al-Qaeda leader’s compound.

In handwritten journals and long-winded compositions saved on computer hard drives, the officials said, bin Laden always seemed to be searching for a way to replicate the impact of al-Qaeda’s most devastating strike.

He exhorted followers to explore ways to recruit non-Muslims “who are oppressed in the United States,” in the words of one official — particularly African Americans and Latinos — and to assemble a plot in time for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

First of all, from a historical perspective, those journals will probably be a fascinating read. If they are ever released by the U.S. government, I’m sure someone like Peter Bergen would have a field day with that material and crank out another book or two. I’m currently reading “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” which is a fascinating first-hand oral biography of OBL collected from people who have met and dealt with him over the years that was published in 2006. Obviously, a lot has happened since then… It would be interesting to compare this (and Bergen’s previous book, Holy War, Inc.) with what’s in the journals. Hopefully with the passage of time and a few FOIA requests, some of this material can see the light of day for journalists and historians to study.

Second, if the account about OBL’s idea to recruit African Americans and Latinos to attack the United States is correct, it would show his complete misunderstanding of American society and culture, where immigrants, foreigners, and minority groups tend to assimilate and gain acceptance fairly quickly, in comparison to Europe, where they remain segregated due to social, political, and economic circumstances. That’s not to say that Al Qaeda wouldn’t have been able to find an occasional misguided soul here and there, but if he really believed this would work, he had definitely been drinking too much of his own Kool Aid.

H/T to Chuck Todd for the idea for the title of this post

Update: ProPublica has more details about the contents of the Bin Laden documents. Although it’s unclear as to what stuff is from journals and what isn’t, the whole thing is worth a read. Big surprise: bin Laden himself personally vetoed an offer from Al Qaeda’s leader in Yemen to let Anwar al-Awlaki take over, because he knew and trusted the Yemeni and didn’t want to change the status quo. If this is accurate, it will probably lead to a reassessment by experts of Awlaki as a viable option to succeed bin Laden and lead al Qaeda.

In the immediate aftermath of the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, one of the key questions asked by journalists and policymakers was about Pakistan’s complicity – or the lack thereof.  At the center of this political firestorm is Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, a key domestic political constituency. The Pakistani people and the press are now asking themselves the same uncomfortable questions that were asked about the CIA’s assessments of Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent WMDs: did we get it wrong because of incompetence or because we knew about it and looked the other way?  A secondary question, and perhaps bigger in terms of domestic politics, that has emerged in Pakistan: how did American helicopters loaded with Navy SEALs fly into Pakistani airspace and carry out a 40-minute raid without anyone in the national security apparatus noticing?

The fact that the most wanted man in the world was found living in a suburb of Islamabad approximately three hours outside of Islamabad, where he had been living for years within walking distance of a police station and the Pakistani equivalent of West Point is absolutely astounding. It disproved the conventional wisdom that he had been hiding out this entire time in caves in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A Pakistani official familiar with information provided by one of Bin Laden’s wives said that before Abbottabad, the Al Qaeda leader and his family had been living in a village 40 kilometers away near the city of Haripur from as far back as 2003.

Given what we now know about how and where Bin Laden was living makes a decade’s worth of denials from Pakistani leaders ring hollow. However, somebody in the American intelligence community suspected something long before the chilling of U.S.-Pakistani relations of the recent past and last Sunday’s raid. Bill Maher recently dug up a clip from his show from October of 2008 in which then-CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour said “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable. She doesn’t think, this woman who is in American intelligence, thinks that he’s [Osama bin Laden] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa in Pakistan, not a cave.”

The criticism and second-guessing of Pakistan has been blistering and relentless since last Sunday. Steve Coll wrote, “The initial circumstantial evidence suggests… that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.” President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told reporters, “I think it is inconceivable that bin Laden didn’t have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that Bin Laden is not the only senior Al Qaeda member to have been caught in an urban area of Pakistan. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi were apprehended in Rawalpindi and Mardan, respectively, with Pakistani involvement in both operations.

Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, their long track record of denials about Bin Laden’s presence in their country, and the “double game” played by the government – supporting the U.S. effort against Al Qaeda, while at the same time supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network – means that the burden will be on them to prove that they didn’t know.  This essentially forces them to prove a negative, something which is very difficult to do effectively and beyond dispute.

Pakistan’s intelligence service is already in full-blown damage control mode.  ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha is heading to Washington to offer explanations.  The Daily Beast recently reported that Pasha may step down as the government’s fall guy over the Bin Laden intelligence failure.  Pakistan’s embarrassment over the Bin Laden episode may give the United States some political and diplomatic leverage in the short term – perhaps in the form of renewed pressure for actionable intelligence on Mullah Omar or Ayman al-Zawahiri. Expect the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to remain frosty at least until the Pakistanis are able to convince the Obama administration and Congress that they didn’t know Bin Laden’s whereabouts.  However, if evidence emerges that people in the Pakistani government knew about his location and withheld that information from the United States, it will be a whole new ball game.

Update: More Bin Laden raid fallout on the Pakistani domestic political front…  Lawmakers are calling on President Asif Ali Zardari and other senior government officials to resign.

Update II: Apparently part of the ISI’s CYA effort is outing the identity of the local CIA station chief in the Pakistani media.

Update III: Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, sent out a tweet shooting down the story: “NO, The Nation just ran made up name 4 CIA Stn Chief in I’abad in made up story abt DG ISI’s travels.”

The Times of India puts the whole mess into context.

Update IV: Correction. A previous version of this inaccurately referred to Abbottabad as a suburb of the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad. According to Google Maps, Abbottabad is approximately 70 miles to the north. Thanks to Huffington Post reader Kazim Nawab for pointing that out.