A kind of war of leaks appears to be going on between Obama administration and the CIA. I realize that it is nothing new for Presidents of the U.S. to have conflicts with the CIA–Presidents since Truman have struggled to control the intelligence apparatus he set in motion after World War II.
I’m certainly no expert on this kind of thing, and I’m hoping someone like Joseph Cannon will be able to explain it eventually. But for now, I thought I’d just post some of the things I’ve been reading in the hopes that together we can make some sense out of the situation. So here’s the deal.
First we had crotch bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, who managed to get through multiple airline security systems and come close to detonating a bomb in his underwear on Delta Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. For a full examination of what is know about the crotch bombing incident, you can’t beat the two excellent posts that Joseph Cannon has written so far. Scroll down for the earlier post on the many strange questions about case.
President Obama’s first response to the aborted bombing attempt came on December 31. Here is a portion of the statement from the White House web site:
I wanted to speak to the American people again today because some of this preliminary information that has surfaced in the last 24 hours raises some serious concerns. It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.
There appears [sic] to be other deficiencies as well. Even without this one report there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together. We’ve achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks. But it’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.
Had this critical information been shared it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.
Obama then went on to praise the intelligence community and to say that he understood that even the best people weren’t infallible. This was apparently interpreted by members of the CIA as an attack by Obama on their competence.
Last week, on the heels of the crotch bombing attempt, there was a shocking suicide bombing at a remote outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, in which first eight, then seven “CIA officers” were reported killed by a trusted informant who had been brought to the base from Pakistan by the CIA. Based on many news stories that I have read about this attack, a number of “former CIA officials” are talking to the press about what happened. For example, in the BBC story linked above:
Quoting a former senior CIA official, AP said the base chief would have led intelligence-gathering operations in Khost, a hotbed of Taliban activity because of its proximity to Pakistan’s lawless border region.
The unnamed official added that the bomber was being courted as an informant and was not frisked as he entered the base.
The base chief is described in this story and several others I have read as “a mother of three who was the head of the CIA’s base in Khost Province, near Pakistan.” Is it normal for that kind of information about a CIA operative to be released to the press?
Here is a second BBC story on the Khost attack, which also includes information provided by anonymous “US official, an former CIA employee.” So it sounds like the information may be coming from the Obama administration.
According to a story in the conservative London Daily Mail, unnamed “spy chiefs” have “turned on” Obama. This information seems to be coming from CIA sources hostile to the administration.
Barack Obama was accused of double standards yesterday in his treatment of the CIA.
The President paid tribute to secret agents after seven of them were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
In a statement, he said the CIA had been ‘tested as never before’ and that agents had ‘served on the front lines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century’.
He lauded the victims as ‘part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens and for our way of life’.
Yet the previous day he had blasted ‘systemic failures’ in the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies for failing to prevent the Christmas Day syringe bomb attack.
‘One day the President is pointing the finger and blaming the intelligence services, saying there is a systemic failure,’ said one agency official. ‘Now we are heroes. The fact is that we are doing everything humanly possible to stay on top of the security situation. The deaths of our operatives shows just how involved we are on the ground.’
According to these CIA sources,
the data was sent to the US National Counterterrorism Centre in Washington, which was set up after the 9/11 attacks as a clearing house where raw data should be analysed.
Here is former CIA analyst Larry Johnson’s take on Obama’s response to the Khost suicide attack, “Did Obama F**k the CIA? Johnson says yes he did. But his objection is to the President making any kind of public statement about the lost of CIA lives, as the President did in a letter he sent to the CIA.
President Barack Obama’s public statement statement of condolence last Thursday regarding the suicide bombing of a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan may have been heartfelt but it was a bonehead move. In fact, it probably puts more CIA personnel at risk and compromises a CIA operation.
Acknowledging the location of a CIA base in a theater of war compromises [the] mission and puts people at further risk. Here is the implication going forward–the CIA will close this base and have to find another. Anyone else who comes to this base will be assumed to be a CIA operative. While I can appreciate the political imperative to appear sympathetic to the loss of lives at the CIA, Obama had a larger responsibility–protect the CIA and their mission and ultimately the nation.
The fault does not entirely lie with Obama. The CIA was sloppy in providing operational cover for these people. Let’s face it. If the deceased had operated under military cover we would only be moaning the loss of six more military personnel. No one outside of the Agency or the families of those who died would have realized the CIA took a hit.
In a second post on the state of the CIA, Larry Johnson discusses what he says are problems with the cover being provided for operatives in the field.
At some point in the last 20 years the CIA has gotten very sloppy on matters of cover. Take Valerie Plame’s case, for example. She was a NOC. When Val and I started at the CIA in 1985 it was highly unusual for a NOC to be brought into Headquarters. Why? It increased the risk of exposing the “clandestine” operation. At some point during George Tenet’s tenure the rules were changed and NOCs were brought into the main building. That’s why Val was working at Headquarters in July of 2003 when Robert Novak blew her cover. If you had asked her she would have preferred to be working outside the building where she could have more easily preserved her cover, but she did not have a choice. That was not her call.
This was not the only instance of sloppiness on the “Cover” issue. Remember the botched operation in Italy to snatch a Muslim cleric? That operation exposed several CIA contractors and left several CIA officers indicted and being tried in absentia. When you have clandestine operators using easily traced Government owned credit cards and cell phones it is an indictment of unprofessional conduct.
And now we have the latest debacle in Afghanistan. The people on that base should have been under “military” cover. They were not. The Department of Defense should have helped maintain their cover. DOD did not. When they CIA officers died they could have been protected and reported as just another group of soldiers who died. American’s are no longer surprised when our soldiers are killed in Afghanistan. Tragic, heartbreaking, but their deaths would not have focused world attention on a covert CIA operation along the Pakistan border. But that was not the case. First the Department of Defense weighed in to deny these were U.S. military personnel. Then the White House jumps out front to publicly mourn the loss of brave men and women at the CIA.
Two of the deceased individuals who have been named , Scott Roberson and Jeremy Wise, are identified as "former Navy Seals" and "security officers" for the CIA, which I'm guessing means Blackwater/Xe employees. That guess seems to be supported by this story which says that two of the people killed were form Blackwater/XE.
The third person named in the Brietbart story is Harold E. Brown, Jr.–no further information is provided. According to this story, Brown’s parents say he was in the army and was working for the State Department.
This ABC News “exclusive” reveals that one of the people killed in the bombing was the security director of the base, who drove the regular informant turned double-agent suicide bomber in to the base from Pakistan.
The base security director, an Afghan named Arghawan, would pick up the informant at the Ghulam Khan border crossing and drive him about two hours into Forward Operating Base Chapman, from where the CIA operates.
Because he was with Arghawan, the informant was not searched, the source says. Arghawan also died in the attack.
Finally, according to the Washington Post, one of the people who died in the Khost bombing was from the Jordanian intelligence service, Captain Al Shareef Ali bin Zeid.
The eighth victim resurfaced over the weekend when his flag-draped coffin arrived in his native country, Jordan. The man, a captain in the Jordanian intelligence service, was given full military honors at a ceremony that referred only to his “humanitarian work” in war-torn Afghanistan.
In fact, the man’s death offered a rare window into a partnership that U.S. officials describe as crucial to their counterterrorism strategy. Although its participation is rarely acknowledged publicly, Jordan is playing an increasingly vital role in the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, sometimes in countries far beyond the Middle East, according to current and former government officials from both countries.
So there are three more people who died in the attack but have not been named. One is the chief of the Khost base, who was described as the mother of four children in her 30s who had been investigating al Quaeda even before 9/11. That seems to me a description that would allow at least some people to identify her. Does that me she was not a field operative?
This ABC News story says that a second woman was also killed in the attack:
A former U.S. official says a second woman was also killed in the attack, and that both women had “considerable counterintelligence experience.”
The story goes on to say that
The infiltration into the heart of the CIA’s operation in eastern Afghanistan deals a strong blow to the agency’s ability to fight Taliban and al Qaeda, former intelligence officials say, and will make the agency reconsider how it recruits Pakistani and Afghan informants.
The officers who were killed in the attack were at the heart of the United States’ effort against senior members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, former intelligence officials say. They collected intelligence on the militant commanders living on both sides of the border and helped run paramilitary campaigns that tired to kill those commanders, including the drone program that has killed a dozen senior al Qaeda with missiles fired from unpiloted aircraft.
I have seen no information published about the other two deceased “CIA officers” so far. Perhaps they were NOCs? Maybe not. The London Times quotes a CIA source who says that any operatives who were that close to the battle lines were “almost certainly from the CIA’s paramilitary rather than analysts.” OK. So that that mean these were all Blackwater employees? The London Times says that the bombing:
wiped away decades of experience. Eight years into the war, the agency is still desperately short of personnel who speak the language or are knowledgeable about the region.
“It’s a devastating blow,” said Michael Scheuer, a former agent and head of Alec Station. “We lost an agent with 14 years’ experience in Afghanistan.”
To me that makes it sound like the people who died were more important than just Xe contractors. But I admit, I don’t know. I’d like to get reactions from anyone who does know more about this than I do. Perhaps we’ll hear from Joseph Cannon, or Larry Johnson may have more to say about this in the days to come.
Now that I’ve completely overloaded you with information, what is my point? Well, I’m not sure, but it seems to me that something peculiar is going on. I’ve never seen this much information revealed in the media about a CIA operation before. This is the worst instance of loss of life for the CIA since the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983. I don’t know if this much information about CIA deaths was made public at that time.
But it does seem that there is conflict between the Obama administration and the CIA at the moment. A number of right wing news outlets and websites have called attention to the administration’s revelations that CIA officers died in the bombing in Khost, e.g. this one. I’m guessing they may be getting leaks from sources at the CIA who are angry with the administration either for revealing too much information or perhaps for DOJ releases of information about torture activities under the Bush administration.
What will this mean to the President’s Afghanistan policies? Will the activities of the CIA in Pakistan be irreparably damaged? And–maybe or maybe not a side issue–exactly what is going on in Yemen?
Reactions? I expect to follow up on this post when I learn more.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Barack Obama, Pakistan Tagged: | Afghanistan, Cannonfire, CIA, crotch bomber, Joseph Cannon, Larry Johnson, No Quarter, obama administration, Pakistan, suicide bombings, terrorism