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Express Tribune: Some US Operatives Leaving Pakistan

6:47 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

The fallout from US-Pakistan tensions over the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for killing two Pakistanis on January 27 has continued to expand.  Dawn.com reported on Friday on the number of US personnel in Pakistan believed to have diplomatic immunity, and on the same day, an American was arrested for overstaying his visa in Pakistan. Taken together, these bits of information suggest that Pakistan is carefully analyzing the data it has on potential US operatives within Pakistan and is carefully documenting their status. On Monday, the Express Tribune reported that it has received word that some suspected US spies in Pakistan have stopped their activities and some have even left the country.

The evidence that Pakistan is scouring its records to search for other operatives similar to Raymond Davis appeared in Dawn on Friday:

As many as 2,570 foreigners currently working in foreign missions of 78 countries in Pakistan enjoy diplomatic immunity, Minister of State (MoS) for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar Friday told the National Assembly.

/snip/

Giving details of the countries and diplomats she said that 851 US nationals working in Pakistan enjoy immunity. Out of these 554 are diplomats while 297 are non-diplomats.

/snip/

It was also informed that 31 US nationals are working in the US Consulate in Lahore and enjoying immunity.

Similarly, 52 and 58 US nationals work in US consulates located in Karachi and Peshawar respectively and enjoy diplomatic immunity.

The Guardian reported on Friday that American Aaron Mark DeHaven was arrested for overstaying his visa in Pakistan:

Peshawar police arrested Aaron DeHaven, a contractor who recently worked for the US embassy in Islamabad, saying that his visa had expired.

Little was known about DeHaven except that his firm, which also has offices in Afghanistan and Dubai, is staffed by retired US military and defence personnel who boast of direct experience in the “global war on terror”.

/snip/

His business partner is listed on company documents as Hunter Obrikat with an address in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Guardian was unable to contact either men at listed numbers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US and Dubai.

The website for Catalyst Services, LLC can be found here. It is far more polished than the websites associated with Raymond Davis’ businesses. The US phone number listed for the company has a West Virginia area code, but gives no names for individuals within the company. Searching the West Virginia database of business entities does not find a Catalyst Services, LLC registered in the state, nor does DeHaven’s name turn up associated with any other business entities.

I have not found any documents unrelated to the Guardian article that link Dehaven and Obrikat, but North Carolina state records do show a Catalyst Services USA, LLC with Obrikat as the sole individual identified with it.

It would seem that the news that Pakistan is scouring the records of potential intelligence operatives and even arresting individuals who don’t have all of their affairs in order has some operatives shutting down their activities or leaving the country altogether. The Express Tribune reports on Monday:

At least 30 suspected covert American operatives have suspended their activities in Pakistan and 12 have already left the country, according to sources familiar with the matter.

In the aftermath of the shootings in Lahore on January 27 by suspected CIA operative Raymond Davis, intelligence agencies in Pakistan began scrutinising records of the Americans living in Pakistan and discovered several discrepancies, causing many suspected American operatives to maintain a low profile and others to leave the country altogether.

/snip/

Most of the ‘special Americans’ are suspected of being operatives of US intelligence agencies who are on covert missions in Pakistan, reporting to the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), according to sources familiar with the situation.

Hmmm. It’s nice to see that the rest of the world is beginning to catch up to Jeremy Scahill’s work from December, 2009.

Since security contractors are reported to be leaving Pakistan, it comes as no surprise that DeHaven’s request for bail was denied:

A court in northwest Pakistan Monday rejected the bail application of an American said to have been working for a private security company who is accused of overstaying his visa.

“The bail application of Aaron Mark De Haven has been rejected because he had no legal documents,” public prosecutor Javed Ali told AFP in Peshawar.

The US Embassy seems quite subdued in its latest statement about DeHaven:

A U.S. citizen was remanded into judicial custody this morning at a court hearing in Peshawar. U.S. consular representatives have met with him, as they would with any private American citizen. We appreciate the cooperation of the Pakistani authorities and respect the Pakistani legal process.

So far, at least, it does not look like the US will make the same effort on behalf of DeHaven as it is making for Davis.

Raymond Davis Crisis Escalates: US-Pak Diplomatic Freeze, Three Americans Can’t Leave

6:22 am in Foreign Policy, Pakistan by Jim White

The crisis sparked by US “consular employee” Raymond Davis shooting and killing two Pakistani citizens in Lahore on January 27 heightened on Monday, when it was revealed that his victims were part of Pakistan’s “security establishment”, that a second Congressional delegation had intervened with the Prime Minister on Davis’ behalf and that the widow of one of the victims had committed suicide. Developments in the case continue at breakneck pace, with the story once again breaking into the Washington Post for Tuesday, where we learn that the US “has suspended all high-level dialogue with Pakistan” over the incident. Dawn fills in more detail on that suspension, noting that Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari had been scheduled to visit Washington next month, but that trip now appears endangered. Further, we learn that Pakistan has added three more consular employees to the exit control list, preventing their departure from Pakistan. The unidentified employees are believed to have been in the car that rushed to Davis’ defense after the shooting, hitting and killing a third Pakistani who was on a motorcycle.

Here is how the Post describes the heightened tensions:

The Obama administration has suspended all high-level dialogue with Pakistan, a key U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war, over the case of an American diplomat the Pakistanis have detained on possible murder charges, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.

The case of Raymond Allen Davis, who has admitted he fatally shot two Pakistanis he said threatened him from a motorcycle while he was driving in Lahore on Jan. 27, has severely strained relations between the two governments and threatens to scuttle a planned summit among U.S., Afghan and Pakistani leaders scheduled for the end of this month in Washington.

The article goes on to describe some of the sources of tension:

In Pakistan, the issue has become embroiled in widespread anti-Americanism and suspicions, fanned by the Pakistani media and used for political advantage, that U.S. spies and intelligence contractors are secretly operating in the country. It has also posed a challenge to Pakistan’s weak civilian government as it struggles to wrest control of national security policy from the powerful military and fends off opposition political parties.

Further description of the various tensions within in Pakistan comes from the Times of India (it hardly needs noting that India is seen as benefiting from internal discord in Pakistan, but the newspaper had a hilarious editing failure, with the headline for this article staring off with “Tinkered, Tailored, Soldered, Spied”):

For instance, it turns out that even as Islamabad is publicly resisting American pressure, a section of the Pakistani establishment has revealed that the two men who were shot were in fact agents of the ISI, its spy agency. Adding to the confusion, the wife of one of the alleged robbers/spies died under mysterious circumstances in a Pakistani hospital after consuming poison, but not before she met journalists and issued a revenge call, demanding “blood for blood.”

Meanwhile, unnamed Pakistani officials also told the Express Tribune newspaper in Lahore that the Pakistani government’s “tough stance” on the whole issue was also a “reaction to the attempts by certain elements in Washington to implicate…the ISI in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks,” including the decision by an American court to summon top ISI officials in connections with the attacks.

This description goes beyond what was in the Express Tribune, which merely said the victims were part of the “security establishment” by stating outright that the victims were ISI. The article continues:

All this now makes it even more difficult for Pakistan’s civilian government to release Davis even if it now transpires, as was reported by the Express Tribune, that the two motorcycle borne men who were killed were ISI agents. An unnamed security official told the newspaper, which is brought out in collaboration with the International Herald Tribune, that the duo belonged to the security establishment and “found the activities of the American official detrimental to our national security.”

The Washington Post article also follows up on Pakistani accusations against Davis:

Further complicating the situation, a Pakistani intelligence official said that the two men Davis killed were not, as he has said, armed robbers intent on stealing money, his telephone and perhaps his car, but intelligence agents assigned to tail him. This official said the two intended to frighten Davis because he crossed a “red line” that the official did not further define.

It would be very interesting to know just how one crosses the “red line” to prompt an armed confrontation with security agents who most likely are ISI. The attempts to tie ISI to the Mumbai attack appears to me to be a more general accusation against US interests, so it doesn’t seem on first glance to fit as a triggering event caused by Davis himself, although it should be noted that Lahore is on the border where Pakistan and India meet, directly across the country from Afghanistan, so it is possible that Davis was investigating the attack.

More perspective on the widening diplomatic rift comes from Dawn:

The United States has put all bilateral contacts with Pakistan on hold until Islamabad releases an employee of the its consulate in Lahore, arrested for shooting down two men, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

The sources said that the dispute could affect three major events planned this year: President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Washington, the next round of US-Pakistan strategic dialogue and trilateral talks involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States.

/snip/

They also want [sic] that the US Congress is currently considering budget proposals for the next fiscal year and the diplomatic row could affect $1.5 billion of annual assistance for Pakistan as well.

Escalation of the crisis is also seen on another front, with three more Americans being placed on the exit control list, banning them from leaving Pakistan:

Three more Americans, besides US official Raymond Davis who fatally shot two Pakistanis in Lahore, have been prohibited from going abroad, said an official.

The government barred the three more US nationals from going out of the country on allegations that they were in the vehicle that crushed a man to death in Lahore after Davis was involved in the shooting, the Express Tribune reported Monday.

Davis was arrested after he shot dead two people riding on a motorbike at a busy intersection in Lahore Jan 27. He called up the US consulate after the shooting and a team rushed to help him. The team’s vehicle collided with a motorcyclist, killing him.

The article does not identify the consular employees.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Raymond Davis Update: Victims Were Spies, Second House Junket and Widow Suicide

6:51 am in Foreign Policy, Government, Military by Jim White

When we last looked in on the ongoing saga of Raymond Davis in Pakistan, we saw that Congressman Darrell Issa was there, meeting with the President and the Prime Minister, arguing for release of Davis after he shot dead two Pakistanis on the streets of Lahore, with a third Pakistani killed by a US consular vehicle rushing to the scene in the aftermath of the shootings. Now, despite earlier US claims that Davis’ victims were thieves trying to hold him up at gunpoint, a report has surfaced in the Pakistani press that Davis’ victims were actually intelligence operatives for Pakistan’s government and that they had found Davis’ actions to be “detrimental to our national security.” In further developments, a second Congressional delegation met with Prime Minister Gilani, threatening US military funding to Pakistan if Davis is not released quickly and the widow of one of the victims has committed suicide because she believed that Davis would be released without being tried in Pakistan.

The revelation that Davis’ victims were intelligence operatives (h/t Emptywheel via email) comes from Pakistan’s Express Tribune, which is published in cooperation with the International Herald Tribune:

“Yes, they belonged to the security establishment….they found the activities of the American official detrimental to our national security,” disclosed a security official.

/snip/

The official confirmed that the president, the prime minister and the chief of army staff (COAS) had discussed the issue in a meeting last week. The three thought it was advisable to resist the US pressure on the Raymond Davis issue and believed the detained American national should not be released at this stage, he said.

The article goes on to provide further context for Pakistan’s frustration with the US:

He said the government’s tough stance on the controversy was also its reaction to the attempts by certain elements in Washington to implicate the country’s top spy agency, the ISI, in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

The article does go on to suggest, however, that Davis could be released later, especially if the US provides assurance similar incidents would be avoided in the future and that Davis would face prosecution in the US.

Following on the heels of last Tuesday’s Congressional delegation led by Darrell Issa lobbying for Davis’ release, we learn that only three days later, a new delegation met with Prime Minister Gilani on Friday. From the US Embassy in Pakistan:

In a meeting today [February 4] with Prime Minister Gilani, a bipartisan U.S. Congressional delegation protested the continued illegal detention of the American diplomat in Lahore. U.S. Representatives Buck McKeon (Republican, California), John Kline (Republican, Minnesota), and Silvestre Reyes (Democrat, Texas) called on the Government of Pakistan to abide by its obligation under international and Pakistani law to recognize his diplomatic immunity, and immediately release him.

Dawn provides details from a source claiming to have been at the meeting:

The House Armed Services Committee delegation took the toughest line in its meeting with Prime Minister Gilani on Friday, where it was reportedly communicated to Pakistani leadership that it might be difficult for the committee to approve military aid and arms supply as long as its official remained in detention.

This same article has very interesting details coming from further investigation into Davis. After stating that at the time of his arrest, Davis was carrying an ID card stating that he worked for the US Consulate in Pershawar, the article suggests that Davis had documentation for working simultaneously at three different locations. It continues:

Some of the other information shared with by the investigators confirmed the previously known information that he had a military background and was posted with US Regional Affairs Office, which is linked by many analysts to CIA.

A US Department of Veteran Affairs card and Department of Defence contractor card were also in possession of Davis, which only adds to the confusion over his identity. The contract documents in Davis` possession revealed that he was on an annual contract with a fee of $200,000.

Having multiple sets of identification documents would seem to provide further evidence for Davis being an intelligence operative, although having them together in one place comes off as very amateurish tradecraft, in my opinion. With hints of both CIA and Blackwater-like postings, it seems unlikely we will ever know for sure what Davis’ official function was at the time of the shooting. Especially with the Defense Department contractor status, I wonder if that would place him in the category of people whom Buck McKeon is arguing should remain in Pakistan in the video above, where he argues against a Dennis Kuchinich resolution for withdrawing DoD personnel from Pakistan.

Further, the article goes on to note that Davis was missing from an official list of embassy employees given to Pakistan’s Foregin Office just two days before the shooting and that his name was included on a revised list submitted just one day after the incident. It is this revised list, submitted after the shooting, on which the US government appears to be basing its claim for diplomatic immunity for Davis. Presumably, the US will argue that Davis was left off the earlier list due to the sensitive nature of his posting, but I haven’t seen that argument made overtly yet.

In additional news on the Davis case, the widow of one of Davis’ victims has committed suicide:

The widow of a Pakistani man who was killed by a US official has killed herself by taking poison.

In her dying statement, Shumaila said she feared the American would be released without trial, police and doctors said.

She issued a deathbed statement on how she felt Davis’ case should be handled:

AP reported that Shumaila also spoke to reporters after arriving at the hospital, saying: “I want blood for blood.”

“The way my husband was shot, his killer should be shot in the same fashion,” she said.

This case is receiving much more attention in Pakistan than it is getting in the US, with Shumaila Faheem’s suicide highlighting just how important it is. Many Pakistanis are suggesting that if Davis is to be released, it should be in a trade for Aafia Siddiqui. Also, with the entry of US charges of ISI complicity in the Mumbai bombings into these discussions, the stakes of the overall situation seem to be rising on a daily basis. The intensity of US actions in trying to obtain Davis’ release would argue for him being very highly placed in the US intelligence community, but his amateurish collection of conflicting identification documents in his possession at the time of the shooting would argue for him being at a much lower and less professional level. As in most real world spy stories, the multiple, conflicting sets of information here and the practice of governments lying when it comes to intelligence activities means that we are unlikely to ever have a complete and truthful description of what has happened coming from either government involved in this case.

Why Is Darrell Issa in Pakistan Asking President, PM for Release of Raymond Davis?

6:12 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Update (Wednesday): The Guardian now has a story on this situation.

We learn from Dawn.com Tuesday that Raymond Davis, a US “consular employee” who killed two men on Thursday in Lahore, has been placed on the exit control list, barring his exit from Pakistan. Remarkably, Representative Darrell Issa led a small Congressional delegation that met on Tuesday with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, seeking release of Davis, according to Pakistan’s Online International News Network. Those meetings came a day after State Department spokesman Philip Crowley declared that as a consular employee, Davis has full diplomatic immunity.

The story in Dawn.com opens with Davis’ exit from Pakistan being blocked:

A judge on Tuesday blocked any move to hand over to US authorities an American government employee under investigation for double murder, and put his name on the exit control list.

/snip/

“I am restraining him (from being handed over to US authorities). Whether he has or does not have (diplomatic) immunity will be decided by the court,” ruled Lahore High Court Chief Justice Ejaz Ahmed Chaudhry.

“An order is issued to put his name on the ECL (exit control list). The case is adjourned for 15 days.”

The story ends with this intriguing revelation:

When asked by visiting US congressmen on Monday to free Davis, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari said: “It would be prudent to wait for the legal course to be completed”.

After a bit of digging, I found this story on the visiting delegation:

A US congressional delegation Monday separately called on President Asif Ali Zardari at Aiwan-e-Sadr and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at PM House. The delegation included Representatives Darell El Issa, Todd R. Platts, Jason Chaffetz, Stephen F. Lynch, Brian M. Higgins and Raul L. Labrador. Mr. Stephen Engelken, Charge d’ Affairs, Mr. Thomas A. Alexander, senior Counsel (Majority) Committee on Oversight, Mr. Adam Pl. Fromm, Counsel (Majority) Director of Member Services and Mr. Scott Lindsay, Counsel (Majority) Committee on Oversight, were also present.

Pak side included Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Finance Minister, Mr. M. Salman Faruqui, Secretary General to the President, Ch. Abdul Ghafoor, Chairman National Commission for Government Reforms , Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, MOS for EAD/Finance, Senator Syeda Sughra Imam, Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani and Spokesperson to the President Mr. Farhatullah Babar besides Foreign Secretary Mr. Salman Bashir and other senior officials. Briefing media Spokesperson to the President Mr. Farhatullah Babar said that matters relating to Pak-US bilateral relations, mutual cooperation, fight against militancy, ROZs and security situation in the region among other related issues were discussed during the meeting.

But why would a Congressional delegation working on trade and terrorism control involve itself in the Davis case? More from the same link:

Babar said the Congressmen also raised the matter of Mr. Raymond Davis, involved in the killing of Pakistani nationals in Lahore, with the President. The President said that he appreciated their concern but the matter was already before the courts. It would be prudent to wait for the legal course to be completed, he said.

Requests for Davis’ release had already been publicly issued by the State Department. From AFP:

“He is a member of the embassy’s technical administrative staff and therefore entitled to full criminal immunity. He cannot be lawfully arrested or detained in accordance with the Vienna Convention,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Monday.

Crowley said Washington agreed with the US employee’s version of events: “In our view, he acted in self-defense, when confronted by two armed men on motorcycles.”

The video above brings the US version of events into question. Note that both of Davis’ victims were shot multiple times, which seems at odds with mere self-defense. Note also on the crawler near the end of the video where it is stated that some are charging Davis with being a spy. That is most likely the true heart of the matter. ABC News has done some digging on Davis and has come up with this bit of background:

Davis runs Hyperion Protective Consultants, LLC, a company that provides “loss and risk management professionals.”

A key question as this story continues to unfold will be whether Davis (or Hyperion) was directly employed by the consulate or if he was working as a contractor for another entity such as Erik Prince’s Xe. At any rate, if requests for his release were deemed worthy of direct requests from a Congressional delegation to Pakistan’s President and Prime Minister in separate meetings, it is probably safe to assume that Davis’ “technical” responsibilities in the consulate were not insignificant.

Also note that Crowley claimed that Davis’s victims were small-time thieves who had robbed another victim shortly before they encountered Davis:

The diplomat, Raymond Davis, “had every reason to believe that the armed men meant him bodily harm. And minutes earlier, the two men, who had criminal records, had robbed money and valuables at gunpoint from a Pakistani citizen in the same area,” said Crowley.

There is no mention of the earlier robbery in the Pakistani news video above.

How Much More US Abuse Will Pakistan Tolerate?

7:52 am in Pakistan by Jim White

It’s hard to imagine how the United States could heap more abuse on Pakistan. We are approaching the one year anniversary since Jeremy Scahill disclosed the extensive JSOC-Blackwater secret war effort within Pakistan and yet there is no indication that either Barack Obama or David Petraeus sees a need to shut down the rogue operators there. Despite the occasional attempt to portray the US military as providing crucial relief efforts in the massive floods in Pakistan (such as in the accompanying photo), the reality is that US military relief to Pakistan has been derided as but a tiny fraction of the military relief provided in other recent world catastrophes. Last week’s sentencing of Aafia Siddiqui to eighty-six years in jail provoked massive protests across Pakistan. And now we are learning that NATO (which really means US) helicopters have killed over 50 people in air raids on the Pakistan side of the border with Afghanistan over the weekend.

For a refresher, here is Jeremy Scahill last November on the secret war in Pakistan:

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

Despite this tying of Blackwater, with its horrible reputation for abuses, especially in Iraq, to drone operations in Pakistan, no response from Barack Obama or David Petraeus has been seen.  News stories routinely cite the animosity created by the drone attacks, as seen, for example, in the BBC story on the helicopter raids:

The raids, however, will do nothing to improve anti-American sentiment which is being fuelled by escalating numbers of drone attacks on targets in Pakistan, our correspondent adds.

Despite a chance to show that the US cares about the Pakistani people by rushing to their aid during the massive floods, the meager effort that ISAF is trying to portray in a good light by sending out photos like the one above is far short of how the US military responded other recent disasters:

But the $76 million is dwarfed by the massive humanitarian assistance — hundreds of millions — the U.S. military brought directly to victims of the 2005 earthquake and the 2004 tsunami — delivered via aircraft carriers, hospital ships and thousands of American troops. U.S. military helicopters flew some 6,000 relief operations to Pakistani earthquake victims alone. For both the 2005 earthquake and the tsunami, the U.S. military worked closely with local governments, but did not leave it primarily up to them to deliver the aid.

Just as US action was too little when it came to flood relief, action in sentencing Aafia Siddiqui was excessive, as pointed out by ondelette:

Judge Richard Berman rewrote verdicts, applied enhancements and came up with 86 years, and after insisting that the defendant was sane, remanded her to Carswell Federal Prison for the Criminally Insane. For her part, Aafia Siddiqui told her supporters not to be angry but to forgive.

The New York Law Journal has a good article on how you can get 86 years out of an attempted murder verdict. They said Judge Berman applied all the enhancements possible. For instance, he made it a hate crime. And he apparently added years because he said she lied on the stand. Presumably that’s because she said she didn’t shoot the gun? The prosecution never proved she did, but never mind. The one that really got me was when he "ruled", on the insistence of Christopher LaVigne, that the shooting was "premeditated". That one overruled the jury, as Carolyn Weaver of Voice of America rightly pointed out, they had thrown out the verdict of premeditation last Spring.

This excessive sentence was not met well in Pakistan:

Pakistani activists poured into the streets on Friday shouting “Death to America” and burning effigies of President Barack Obama after a US court jailed a woman scientist for 86 years.

/snip/

The protestors shouted “Death to America,” “Allahu akbar” (God is greater), “Free Aafia Siddiqui” and “Down with the US system of justice”.

Hundreds of anti-riot police deployed on the main Shahra-e-Faisal road to stop protesters from marching towards the US mission.

But it is not just activists who are upset at the sentencing. Dawn reports that the Pakistani government also is responding:

The government decided on Friday to use legal, political and diplomatic means for repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddiqui who was sentenced to 86 years imprisonment by a US court on Thursday.

/snip/

The prime minister said in a statement that the government would use all options to get Dr Siddiqui repatriated and would ask US authorities to consider her a prisoner of war.

The decision was taken in the wake of countrywide demonstrations organised by a number of political and religious parties calling for release of Dr Siddiqui and condemning the US government and its judicial system.

The article also notes that the government of Pakistan has approved $2 million for use in the case.

So, in the same week that has seen Obama burned in effigy and protesters stopped by riot police as they headed for the US mission, NATO forces cross the border into Pakistan by helicopter to kill over 50 people. I shudder to think what the response will be if the targeting of these attacks proves to be as faulty as some previous attacks.  If it turns out that a large number of women and children are among the dead in these air strikes, this could be the final straw for Pakistan.  In that regard, it is worth noting what appears to be a warning to the US in the Dawn article about the protests, where it is stated in just the second paragraph that Pakistan is a "nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 167 million".  That is a warning that Obama and Petraeus should consider very carefully as they monitor investigations into the helicopter raids and other developments within Pakistan.

Update: According to the Washington Post, Pakistan is already protesting the air strikes:

The Pakistani government on Monday strongly condemned a pair of NATO airstrikes on Pakistani soil that NATO officials said killed about 55 suspected insurgents over the weekend.

"These incidents are a clear violation and breach of the U.N. mandate" that governs the conduct of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

ISAFMedia photo on Flickr of Pakistanis unloading relief supplies from US helicopter on September 20.

Scahill’s Reporting Thoroughly Debunks Hiatt’s Latest Drone Defense

7:24 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

drone
Drone via WikiMedia Commons

In an editorial in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Fred Hiatt joins in on Harold Koh’s attempted whitewashing of drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s too bad he’s helping to spread lies.

The editorial is titled "Defending drones: The laws of war and the right to self-defense" and opens in this way:

WITHIN DAYS of taking office, President Obama authorized the deployment of unmanned drones to strike terrorism suspects in remote areas of Pakistan. Although first employed during the Bush years, drone attacks have been used increasingly during the Obama administration. They have, in short, become a centerpiece of national security policy.

Hiatt then goes on to cite the March 25 speech by Harold Koh in which the legal underpinnings of the program were defended. I want to concentrate on the closing of the editorial:

Such actions must be undertaken with caution. Mr. Koh asserted that the administration has taken "great care" to ensure that drone strikes are carefully and lawfully executed. "The imminence of the threat, the sovereignty of the other states involved, and the willingness and ability of those states to suppress the threat" are taken into account before striking, he said.

The president personally signs off on targets, and relevant lawmakers are periodically briefed on the program. That accountability is one more reason the drone strikes cannot be described as lawless.

Leaving aside the detailed legal arguments that Koh puts forth (although there are those at the UN who disagree on the legality of the program), we can only assume that Hiatt does not read Jeremy Scahill, because Scahill’s recent work thoroughly debunks Hiatt’s claims that the president signs off on the targets and that lawmakers are periodically briefed on the program.

Last November, Scahill provided dramatic revelations of the extent of US actions in Pakistan and the involvement of Blackwater with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan:

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

Scahill goes on to inform us that this structure of JSOC carrying out the strikes, with assistance from Blackwater, is set up specifically to avoid Congressional oversight:

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. "Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes." The Pentagon has stated bluntly, "There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan."

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. "It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC," said the source. When civilians are killed, "people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works."

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. "Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that," he says. "Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality." He added, "They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?"

More recently, Scahill has expanded on the lack of oversight and how JSOC forces are exploiting it:

While the former CENTCOM employee said the US military’s training mission in Pakistan (he is against using contractors for such missions) is in the "US interest," he cautioned that there is growing concern within the military about what is perceived as the disproportionate and growing influence of JSOC’s lethal "direct action" mentality on the broader Special Forces operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As The Nation reported in November, JSOC operates a parallel drone bombing campaign in Pakistan, carrying out targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action. JSOC, a military intelligence source told The Nation, also operates several secret bases inside Pakistan. These actions are deeply classified and not subjected to any form of comprehensive oversight by Congress.

With General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded JSOC from 2003-2008, running the war, forces–and commanders–accustomed to operating in an unaccountable atmosphere now have unprecedented influence on overall US military operations, opening the door for an expansion of secretive, black operations done with little to no oversight. "The main thing to take away here is a recognition and acceptance of the paradigm shift that has occurred," says the former CENTCOM employee. "Everything is one echelon removed from before: where CIA was the darkest of the dark, now it is JSOC. Therefore, military forces have more leeway to do anything in support of future military objectives. The CIA used to have the ultimate freedom–now that freedom is in JSOC’s hands, and the other elements of the military have been ordered to adapt."

The bottom line is that Jeremy Scahill’s reporting on what is really happening in Pakistan makes Hiatt’s claim in the editorial that drone strikes are carried out with presidential authorization of targets and Congressional oversight of the program a complete lie. Hiatt has to be aware of Scahill’s reporting. Why does he continue to spread what he knows to be lies?

If the Blackwater Nisour Square Killers Can’t Be Convicted, Hold Them Indefinitely at Gitmo

10:45 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Last May, our Constitutional Law Professor President had this to say:

"We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country," Obama said. "But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States."

If he truly believes that, then I would like to nominate a group of terrorists for indefinite detention at Guantanamo: the Blackwater guards who carried out the Nisour Square killings in Iraq. Last week, it was announced that all charges against them were dropped because of improper handling of the case.

Today, the UN working group on the use of mercenaries is speaking out:

"We respect the independence of the United States judiciary and the requirements for due process, but are very concerned that the recent decision to dismiss the case against Blackwater guards may lead to a situation where no one would be accountable for grave human rights violations," said Shaista Shameem, who chairs the U.N. group of independent experts.

It’s too bad that the UN working group is laboring under the quaint notion of due process. Our forward-looking President is more pragmatic than that, and has shown that he is willing to lock up the "worst of the worst" when he knows that they pose a threat to the security of the United States.

What could pose more of a threat to the security of the United States than allowing to go free "five guards [who] were charged a year ago with 14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one weapons violation count"? Come on Mr. President. Show us that you are willing to use your bad policies for good results. Put these five away. And lose the key.

And before you ask, I really don’t know if this is snark.

Update: Jeremy Scahill is now reporting that Blackwater has settled with the families of the dead Iraqis for $100,000 per person killed. Blackwater sure has a cheap view of life, doesn’t it?

Jeremy Scahill Discusses Erik Prince’s Attempted Damage Control With Rachel Maddow

11:14 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Appearing on The Rachel Maddow Show last night, Jeremy Scahill brought together his reporting on Erik Prince and Blackwater with the Vanity Fair piece on Prince and a Scott Shane article in the New York Times on expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan.

Note that this cascade of revelations and accusations began with Scahill’s long and very well-documented article on Blackwater’s role in covert activities in Pakistan. Scahill’s main point is that this activity is taking place through the Joint Special Operations Command and is operating outside the military chain of command and outside Congressional supervision. This was followed quickly by Prince’s response (written by a former CIA attorney), in which Prince claims to have been operating since 2004 as an "asset" of the CIA. Prince’s spin does not mention any significant interaction with the JSOC in the Vanity Fair article. Then, we have yesterday’s article from Scott Shane in the New York Times, where Shane explains that the CIA is expanding its use of predator drones in Pakistan. Shane also takes great pains to explain how careful the CIA is in preventing civilian deaths.

Shane completely ignores what Scahill has discovered. Scahill reports that the JSOC/Blackwater drone attacks are carried out in a completely careless manner with regard to civilian deaths. I have no reason to doubt Shane’s description of the care the CIA takes in its prevention of civilian deaths, but because Shane does not mention the JSOC activity, I’m wondering if the following passage in his article relates only to an analysis of CIA drone attacks and not JSOC attacks:

About 80 missile attacks from drones in less than two years have killed “more than 400” enemy fighters, the official said, offering a number lower than most estimates but in the same range. His account of collateral damage, however, was strikingly lower than many unofficial counts: “We believe the number of civilian casualties is just over 20, and those were people who were either at the side of major terrorists or were at facilities used by terrorists.”

Here is the Scahill appearance:

As Scahill states, it appears that Erik Prince is trying to protect himself against Congressional inquiries into the multiple crimes for which Blackwater has been accused, employing a former CIA attorney as an "author" in a piece clearly meant to put him in a more favorable light (see this piece by Marcy Wheeler for further perspective on the JSOC vs. CIA aspect of the Vanity Fair article). It also seems quite fishy to me that Scott Shane pops up at the very same time to help in the attempt to put attention on the CIA when attention should also be directed at Special Operations that appear have put Dick Cheney, Stanley McChrystal and Erik Prince together to carry out a private war they want nobody to know about.

This will be a very interesting situation to watch for the next few weeks. I’m especially interested in what the next few public statements from Dick (or Liz) Cheney will be. I’m betting they will be directing attention toward the CIA and away from the JSOC just as Shane’s article does.

Breaking: Jeremy Scahill Blows Lid off Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan

6:15 pm in Uncategorized by Jim White

McChrystal
Stanley McChrystal: Pimp Connection Between Cheney and Blackwater

Jeremy Scahill blows the lid off "Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan" in an article just published in The Nation. This story brings together an amazing array of bad actors: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Stanley McChrystal and Blackwater. It should come as no surprise, then, that the outcome of this team working together is a jaw-dropping tale of war crimes that continue to be carried out.

The entire story should be read, but since I have written a number of diaries on Stanley McChrystal and why he should be facing a war crimes tribunal rather than commanding US forces in Afghanistan, I will excerpt two paragraphs where he plays a central role:

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. "What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing," said Colonel Wilkerson. "That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing."

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. "I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good," says Wilkerson. "I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions." He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld "built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier."

Tomorrow, I will be calling the office of the Senate Armed Services Committee to request that Senator Carl Levin, as chair, convene hearings immediately to look into the evidence Scahill has presented.