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DHS says FBI “possibly funded” Terrorist Group

11:40 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

J. Edgar Hoover

It was most surprising to come across the following entry at the website for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses for Terrorism (known by the acronym START), which is run by the Department of Homeland Security out of the University of Maryland. According to DHS, START is one of their “centers of excellence,” an academic center sponsored by the DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate.

The webpage concerns the “Terrorist Organization Profile” for the Secret Army Organization, a right-wing terrorist group in the early 1970s, a group START writes was “possibly funded by the FBI.”

According to START, “The Secret Army Organization (SAO), a right-wing militant group based in San Diego, was active from 1969 to 1972. They targeted individuals and groups who spoke out against the Vietnam War, especially those who organized public demonstrations and distributed anti-war literature.”

Indeed, if we could turn the clock back to June 1975, we would read an article in the New York Times, “A.C.L.U. Says F.B.I. Funded ‘Army’ to Terrorize Antiwar Protesters.”

According to the Times, the ACLU compiled a 5,000 page report on the SAO, a group of former Minutemen and other right-wingers and violent home-grown fascists, for the benefit of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “alleging the Federal Bureau of Intelligence recruited a band of right-wing terrorists and supplied them with money and weapons to attack young antiwar demonstrators.”

But that’s not all, the SAO engaged in bombing and attempted assassination, and guess whose house the weapons turned up in? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let the DHS’s “Center of Excellence” inform us of this important episode in our history, which came, by the way, after the FBI claimed they had stopped their Cointelpro program of disruption of the Left.

Assassination Attempt, FBI Agent Hides the Weapon

From START’s SAO webpage:

The report also stated that the SAO planned to kidnap and murder protestors of the 1972 Republican National Convention, which was to be held in San Diego before being relocated to Miami Beach. An assassination attempt of Dr. Peter Bohmer, professor at San Diego State University, and Paula Tharp, reporter for the San Diego Street Journal, brought about the arrests of several SAO members who later acknowledge an FBI connection. During the investigation, the gun used in the assassination attempt was found in the home of FBI agent Steven Christiansen, who was subsequently identified as a SAO contact. In 1973, Godfrey, testifying as an FBI informant, claimed he received up to $20,000 in weapons and a $250 per month income from the FBI to recruit new SAO members and provide information to agents. He also testified to the criminal acts of several SAO operatives, including fellow leader Jerry Lynn Davis. Official statements from the FBI claimed no involvement with the SAO, and no agents were prosecuted.

The story of the SAO is a forgotten piece of contemporary history that is directly relevant to a number of current issues, including the prosecution of the bogus “war on terror,” and the FBI’s role in it; the debates about government participation in and legalization of assassination of its own citizens; and government surveillance of and attacks upon dissent in this country.

It also could be considered a prime example of the historical amnesia that plagues our times, an amnesia hastened by disinterest by the major media, cheered on by government agencies none too interested in accountability for government overreach or even criminality.

Links to the President

According to the Ann Arbor Sun at the time, the ACLU tagged the SAO as “an interagency apparatus organized ‘at the direction of Richard M. Nixon.’”

Reportedly the link to Nixon came via Watergate burglar White House “plumbers” operative Donald Segretti, who affidavits claimed had given funds and military hardware to SAO to disrupt the 1972 GOP convention in San Diego. (The convention was subsequently moved to Miami Beach.)

But it was the FBI who seems to have been operationally in charge.

From the Sun: “SAO operative Jerry Lynn Davis, who once participated in the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion, revealed that [admitted FBI informant Howard Barry] Godfrey had regularly supplied the SAO with money and weapons on behalf of the FBI.”

A newspaper office was attacked. A car firebombed. Informants infiltrated, while meetings were monitored. There were plans to poison the punch at antiwar meetings. A theater was bombed. Bulletins were published on “how to make booby traps, how to use ammonium nitrate in high explosives,” And then, there was the assassination plot, or rather plots, as the SAO bungled one assassination attempt after another to kill a left-wing professor at San Diego State.

How It Went Down, and the Cover-up

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Government’s Psychological Evaluation of Manssor Arbabsiar Fails to Impress

2:31 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

Manssor Arbabsiar

Gregory B. Saathoff M.D. is the latest mental health professional to weigh in on the Manssor Arbabsiar case. Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel has been dissecting aspects of Saathoff’s narrative of events surrounding Arbabsiar’s interrogation and confession (see here, here, and here).

I want to look more closely at the claims Saathoff makes in an October 3 “Forensic Psychiatric Evaluation” on Arbabsiar’s mental status, symptoms and diagnosis. The evaluation was dated the same day as a government memorandum arguing against a defense motion to dismiss or suppress evidence drawn from Arbabsiar’s interrogation. The reason for such dismissal or suppression? The defense presented expert opinion that Arbabsiar had been in a manic episode during the period of his interrogation, having a previously undiagnosed case of Bipolar Disorder. As a result, he was not in his right mind when he waived presentment (presentation before a judicial official) and his Miranda rights.

For those who have forgotten, Arbabsiar is Iranian-born, but a U.S. naturalized citizen, a Texas used car salesman with a cousin in the Iranian Quds force. According to U.S. prosecutors, in 2011, Arbabsiar contacted a confidential DEA informant in Mexico, and, believing he was talking to someone in a Mexican drug cartel, arranged the assassination of Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. But the assassination and other alleged terrorist plots, of course, never took place, and Arbabsiar was detained in Mexico, flown to the U.S. and interrogated by the FBI at (it turns out) an undisclosed military base from September 29 to October 10, 2011.

Here’s Saathoff quoting FBI Special Agent Shalabi about what the latter called Arbabsiar’s “erratic” behavior during his “confession” in the early morning hours of October 3:

FBI SA Shalabi recalled in a September 7, 2012 interview that after having observed Mr. Arbabsiar sleeping soundly, Mr. Arbabsiar awakened at 3 am and expressed concerns about jail. “The first thing out of his mouth was “What is jail like in the United States? How harsh are the conditions? What should I expect?” After going into the bathroom [where elsewhere we learn he "washed his shirt in the bathroom sink" - JK], Mr. Arbabsiar came back out into the living area, and FBI SA Shalabi recalled Mr. Arbabsiar’s statements and behavior:

“You know what I did?” And I said “no”. Then on his own accord, without me asking, (I decided to keep my mouth shut) he told me he was in big trouble. Had gotten involved in big politics. Wife had a lot of financial demands. Son’s pregnant girlfriend added more to the stress. So he told me that he decided to go to Iran to solicit more help for [his] family… He said that his cousin was a “big general”, [who] was “senior” with decision-making powers. [He was] Approached by cousin to then give money to kill the Saudi Ambassador. As he was telling me this, he reflected back on the whole situation. As he told me the story, [as] he said that, he looked upset and [said that he] had been used by his cousin. Then he went back to smoking [elsewhere Arbabsiar is described as smoking four packs a day - JK], tossed and turned, and then fell asleep.

For the U.S. it was a propaganda coup, for it claimed that someone in the Iranian government was planning or instigating a terrorist attack in the U.S. against a foreign diplomat. The hawks in the U.S. government squawked loudly and long.

No one ever seems to notice that the only foreign diplomat ever actually assassinated in the U.S. was former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., Orlando Letelier, murdered in Washington D.C. in 1973 by order of the government of Augusto Pinochet. The hit man was Michael Townley, an agent for Chile’s intelligence directorate (DINA) who also worked for the CIA. In 2000, it was revealed that the mastermind of the terrorist attack, which also killed Letelier’s assistant, Ronnie Moffett, was Chilean intelligence chief Manuel Contreras, and he, too, was a paid asset of the CIA.

In the case against Arbabsiar, the evidence seems sketchy. Wheeler points out that Saathoff’s report explains the DEA informant Arbabsiar is supposed to have contacted “had a younger sister with whom he had a sexual relationship in 1992, while he was married to his third wife”! What a coincidence, one might say.

But particularly damaging to the government are the questions surrounding the veracity of his confession, which was attacked by top mental health experts brought in by the defense, who stated Arbabsiar, who had waived his rights within hours of capture (while possibly jonesing terribly for a cigarette), suffered from bipolar disorder and was not able to make a reasoned decision about his rights or actions.

Bipolar Disorder with “Impaired Cognitive Functioning”

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Omar Khadr Leaves Guantanamo, While Press Refuses to Report His Water Torture

10:00 am in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Omar Khadr as he looked when he was first sent to Guantanamo. (photo: Sherurcij / wikimedia)

On a pre-dawn Saturday morning, September 29, the youngest prisoner in Guantanamo, Omar Khadr left the harsh US-run prison where he had been held since October 2002. At the time of his incarceration he was fifteen years old. According to a CBC report, Khadr was flown to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where he was to be transferred to the Millhaven Institution, a maximum security prison in Bath, Ontario.

Khadr is supposed to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence, part of a deal his attorneys made with the U.S. government, with Khadr agreeing to plead guilty to the killing of SPC Christopher Speer during a firefight at the Ayub Kheil compound in Afghanistan, in addition to other charges such as “material support of terrorism” and spying. Khadr essentially agreed to participate in what amounted to a show trial for the penalty phase of his Military Commissions hearing. For this, he got a brokered eight year sentence, with a promise of a transfer out of Guantanamo to Canada after a year.

The Khadr deal was made in October 2010, but the transfer promise was dragged out as seemingly the Canadian government balked at accepting the former child prisoner, who was also a Canadian citizen. The entire affair became a magnet for right-wing propaganda in Canada, while human rights groups also fought for Khadr’s release. But not long after Macleans leaked U.S. documents related to the Khadr transfer, including psychiatric reports by both government and defense evaluators, the Canadians appeared to move more quickly to accept Khadr into Canada.

CBC reported that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was “satisfied the Correctional Service of Canada” (CSC) could administer Khadr’s sentence, presumably six more years of imprisonment. Speaking no doubt to those fear-mongerers who suggested Khadr’s safety somehow threatened the average Canadian, he also noted the CSC could “ ensure the safety of Canadians is protected during incarceration.”

For those looking for an early release by Canadian authorities, Toews said, “Any decisions related to his future will be determined by the independent Parole Board of Canada in accordance with Canadian law.” According to Carol Rosenberg’s report, Khadr could be eligible for early release because he was a juvenile at the time of his supposed crimes.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Legal Director Baher Azmy released a statement calling for Khadr’s immediate release, and for President Obama to close Guantanamo and release the 86 known detainees already cleared for transfer.

Khadr never should have been brought to Guantanamo. He was a child of fifteen at the time he was captured, and his subsequent detention and prosecution for purported war crimes was unlawful, as was his torture by U.S. officials.

Like several other boys held at Guantanamo, some as young as twelve years old, Khadr lost much of his childhood. Canada should not perpetuate the abuse he endured in one of the world’s most notorious prisons. Instead, Canada should release him immediately and provide him with appropriate counseling, education, and assistance in transitioning to a normal life.

Azmy also suggested that Canada could “accept other men from Guantanamo who cannot safely return to their home countries,” such as Algerian citizen Djamel Ameziane, who lived legally as a refugee in Canada from 1995 to 2000. Ameziane fears persecution if he were transfered back to Algeria. Read the rest of this entry →

Did NYPD “Undercover Agent” Try to Suborn Tarek Mehanna into a “Terrorist Plot”?

3:18 pm in Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

Many bloggers and the press have reposted Tarek Mehanna’s impassioned speech to the court as he was sentenced to 17-1/2 years for supposedly providing “material support” to terrorists. (See here, here, here, and especially the ACLU’s Nancy Murray’s widely quoted article at the Boston Globe here.) But few have commented on Mehanna’s charges that he was set up by an undercover agent to participate in a terrorist plot, and that he refused the agent’s overtures.

These are the relevant portions of Mehanna’s statement at his sentencing hearing (bold emphases added):

Exactly four years ago this month I was finishing my work shift at a local hospital. As I was walking to my car I was approached by two federal agents. They said that I had a choice to make: I could do things the easy way, or I could do them the hard way. The “easy“ way, as they explained, was that I would become an informant for the government, and if I did so I would never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison cell. As for the hard way, this is it. Here I am, having spent the majority of the four years since then in a solitary cell the size of a small closet, in which I am locked down for 23 hours each day. The FBI and these prosecutors worked very hard — and the government spent millions of tax dollars — to put me in that cell, keep me there, put me on trial, and finally to have me stand here before you today to be sentenced to even more time in a cell….

It was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to “kill Americans” at shopping malls or whatever the story was. The government’s own witnesses contradicted this claim, and we put expert after expert up on that stand, who spent hours dissecting my every written word, who explained my beliefs. Further, when I was free, the government sent an undercover agent to prod me into one of their little “terror plots,” but I refused to participate. Mysteriously, however, the jury never heard this.

The Telegram and Gazette described the uproar in the courtroom when Mehanna brought up the accusations regarding the undercover agent’s attempt to recruit him into a terrorist plot.

After Mr. Mehanna said the government had sent an undercover agent to prod him into participating in a terror plot — that he refused — Mr. Chakravarty rose to call that “categorically false.” Mr. Mehanna yelled to him that “you’re a liar.”

Two U.S. marshals strode to Mr. Mehanna seated at the defense table in an orange prison jump suit, put a hand on him and spoke to him, but Judge O’Toole did not allow Mr. Chakravarty to continue.

What actually lie behind these accusations, the prosecutor’s interruption, and the Judge’s subsequent actions? (O’Toole later chided Mehanna for “lack of remorse” and “a quality of defiance.”)

The answer can be found in a February 25 posting by Mehanna at the Facebook page, “Free Tarek Mehanna.” While one can easily find online the young man’s stirring defense of himself in his April 12 sentencing statement, his statement about the attempt to frame him as part of a government-inspired terrorist “plot,” has virtually escaped coverage outside of some small blogs concerned with defending Islamic or Palestinian causes and defense (with the one notable exception of Richard Hugus at Boston IndyMedia). Read the rest of this entry →

The Significance of HRW’s New Call to Prosecute Bush Administration Officials for Torture

5:01 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new report Tuesday. As they stated in the press release announcing the 107-page report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees” (HTML, PDF), there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” As a result, President Barack Obama is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”

In particular, HRW singled out “four key leaders” in the torture program. Besides former President George W. Bush, the report indicts former Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. But others remain possible targets of investigation and prosecution. According to the report:

Such an investigation should also include examination of the roles played by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, as well as the lawyers who crafted the legal “justifications” for torture, including Alberto Gonzales (counsel to the president and later attorney general), Jay Bybee (head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)), John Rizzo (acting CIA general counsel), David Addington (counsel to the vice president), William J. Haynes II (Department of Defense general counsel), and John Yoo (deputy assistant attorney general in the OLC).

But the key passage in the HRW report concerns the backing for international prosecutions, under the principle in international law of “universal jurisdiction,” which was used back in 1998 by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón to indict former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for genocide and murder.

Unless and until the US government pursues credible criminal investigations of the role of senior officials in the mistreatment of detainees since September 11, 2001, exercise universal jurisdiction or other forms of jurisdiction as provided under international and domestic law to prosecute US officials alleged to be involved in criminal offenses against detainees in violation of international law. [emphasis added]

Indeed, in an important section of the report, HRW details the failures and successes of pursuing such international prosecutions in the face of U.S. prosecutors’ failure to act and investigate or indict high administration officials for war crimes. This is even more important when one considers that the Obama administration has clearly stated its intention to not investigate or prosecute such crimes, going after a handful of lower-level interrogators for crimes not covered by the Bush administration’s so-called “legal” approvals for torture provided by the infamous Yoo/Bybee/Levin/Bradbury memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel.

Nor has Congress shown even a smidgen of appetite for pursuing further accountability: not one Congressman or Senator has stepped forward as yet to endorse HRW’s new call. Instead, they demonstrated their obsequiousness by approving Obama’s nomination of General David Petraeus as new CIA director 94-0, despite the fact that Petraeus has been implicated in the organization of counter-terror death squads in Iraq, and was in charge of training Iraqi security forces who repeatedly were documented as engaging in widespread torture. It was during Petraeus’s tenure as chief of such training for the coalition forces, that the U.S. implemented the notorious Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) 242, which commanded U.S. forces not to intervene in cases of Iraqi governmental torture should they come across such it (which they often did). No one during Petraeus’s testimony in his nomination hearings even questioned him about this.

Why this report now?

I asked Andrea Prasow, a senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, why this report was issued now, noting that some on the left had already questioned the timing of HRW’s action.

“Because it really needed to be done,” Prasow explained. She noted the recent admissions by former President Bush and Vice President Cheney that they had approved waterboarding. Furthermore, “following the killing of [Osama] Bin Laden, we saw the immediate response by some that torture and the enhanced interrogation techniques led to the capture of Bin Laden. And it became a part of normal debate about torture. It shows how fragile is the current commitment not to torture.”

Prasow also noted the recent closure of the Durham investigation, which resulted in the decision to criminally investigate the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody, while 99 other cases referred to his office were closed. I asked her whether she felt, as I do, that the announcement of the two investigations were meant to forestall attempts by European (especially Spanish) prosecutors to pursue “universal jurisdiction” prosecutions of U.S. officials for torture.

“I don’t see how there’s a defensible justification that the investigations Durham announced can do that,” Prasow said. “It’s pretty clear that there should be an investigation into the deaths of these detainees,” she added, “but it’s so clear the investigation is very limited. The scope of the investigation is the most important part. Even if Durham had investigated the 100 or so cases that exceeded the legal authorities, it wouldn’t be sufficient. What about the people who wrote the legal memos? Who told them to write the memos?” she said, emphasizing the fact that Durham’s investigation was limited by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to only CIA crimes, and only those that supposedly exceeded the criteria for “enhanced interrogation” laid out in a number of administration legal memos. The torture, Prasow noted, was “throughout the military” as well, including “hundreds or thousands” tortured at sites in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

Prasow noted that the Obama administration has made it policy to block attempts by torture victims to get compensation for torture, asserting a policy of protecting “state secrets” to shut down court cases. “But there are other ways of providing redress,” she said, adding that “providing redress is part of international laws.” The HRW report itself states, “Consistent with its obligations under the Convention against Torture, the US government should ensure that victims of torture obtain redress, which may include providing victims with compensation where warranted outside of the judicial context.”

The new HRW report comes on the heels of a controversy roiling around a proposed United Kingdom governmental inquiry into torture. A number of British human rights and legal agencies have said they would boycott the UK proceedings as a “whitewash.” As Andy Worthington put it the other day:

As a result of pandering to the Americans’ wishes, the terms of reference are “so restrictive,” as the Guardian described it, that JUSTICE, the UK section of the International Commission of Jurists, warned that the inquiry “was likely to fail to comply with UK and international laws governing investigations into torture.” Eric Metcalfe, JUSTICE’s director of human rights policy, said that the rules “mean that the inquiry is unlikely to get to the truth behind the allegations and, even if it does, we may never know for sure. However diligent and committed Sir Peter [Gibson] and his team may be, the government has given itself the final word on what can be made public.”

Andrea Prasow echoed Metcalfe’s fears, saying HRW had “some concerns about how much information [in the UK inquiry] was going to be kept secret. I think transparency, making it as public as possible, is most important.”

The fight for transparency also makes HRW’s call for prosecutions of high government officials, along with “an independent, nonpartisan commission, along the lines of the 9-11 Commission, [that] should be established to examine the actions of the executive branch, the CIA, the military, and Congress, with regard to Bush administration policies and practices that led to detainee abuse,” very timely. In a column the other day at Secrecy News — Pentagon Tightens Grip on Unclassified Information — Steven Aftergood reported on a Department of Defense proposed new rule regarding classification. While the Obama administration is supposedly on record for greater governmental transparency, the new rule imposes “new safeguard requirements on ‘prior designations indicating controlled access and dissemination (e.g., For Official Use Only, Sensitive But Unclassified, Limited Distribution, Proprietary, Originator Controlled, Law Enforcement Sensitive).’”

According to Aftergood, “By ‘grandfathering’ those old, obsolete markings in a new regulation for defense contractors, the DoD rule would effectively reactivate them and qualify them for continued protection under the new Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) regime, thereby defeating the new policy.” Even worse (if possible), “the proposed rule says that any unclassified information that has not been specifically approved for public release must be safeguarded. It establishes secrecy, not openness, as the presumptive status and default mode for most unclassified information.”

Much of what we know about the Bush-era torture program is due to the work of the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, who have used the Freedom of Information Act to gather hundreds of documents, if not thousands, that document the paper trail surrounding the crimes of the Bush administration. Reporters and investigators like Jane Mayer, Philippe Sands, Alfred McCoy, and Jason Leopold have also contributed much to our understanding of what occurred during the Bush years. The work of investigators going back years demonstrates that U.S. research into and propagation of torture around the world goes back decades.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has also produced an impressive, if still partially redacted, investigation (large PDF) into detainee abuse by the Department of Defense. Their report, for instance, concluded regarding torture at Guantanamo that “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.”

When one puts together the accelerated emphasis on “state secrets”; the Obama political program of “not looking back” in regards to U.S. war crimes (while supposedly pursuing accountability for torture and war crimes committed by other countries); the political passivity, if not cowardice of Congress; the fact that Obama “has not been transparent on the rendition issue, not even saying what its policy is,” according to Andrea Prasow; and finally the lies and propaganda spewed forth by the former Administration’s key figures and their proxies, one can only agree with HRW that enough is enough. The time for investigations and prosecutions into torture and rendition is now.

And if they won’t listen in Washington, D.C., perhaps they will in Madrid. Or some other intrepid prosecutor in — who knows? — Brazil or Argentina or Chile will pay back America, as a matter of poetic but also real justice for the crimes endured by their societies when the U.S. helped organize torture and terror in their countries only a generation ago. There were no U.S. investigations into actions of government figures then, and now we are faced with another set of atrocities produced by our own government. If we do not act now, what will our children face?

DoD Whistleblower: Documents Show Intel Withheld from 9/11 Congressional Investigators

2:46 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

As I reported back on May 24, both here and at Truthout, a Department of Defense Inspector General for Intelligence report, declassified only months ago, corroborated the accusations of a former Acting Chief of the Asymmetrical Threats Division of Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC) that his unit was told to stop tracking Osama bin Laden in the months prior to 9/11. But the IG report (PDF) cleared JFIC of any wrongdoing and declared, regarding charges JFIC withheld information when asked, that the intelligence agency had “provided a timely and accurate reply in response to the 9/11 Commission.”

Except, thanks to the former Acting Chief of the Asymmetric Threats Division, who released his original declassified letter of complaint to the DoD IG to Truthout, we can see that he never made a claim about information withheld from the 9/11 Commission. The complainant, who the IG dubbed “Iron Man” to protect his identity, said in his letter (PDF) that the “purpose” of his coming forward was “to formally complain” to the inspector general that “JFIC, when instructed in or before May 2002 to provide all original material it might have relevant to al-Qa’ida and the 9/11 attacks for a Congressional inquiry, intentionally misinformed the Department of Defense that it had no purview on such matters and no such material” (emphasis added).

The Congressional inquiry, published in December 2002 as “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before And After The Terrorist Attacks Of September 11, 2001″ (large PDF), never mentions the Asymmetrical Threat Division, called DO5 in government documents, or that JFIC was tracking Osama bin Laden, or perhaps most explosively, that multiple briefings were given on possible targeting by Al Qaeda, as early as summer 2000, of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Indeed, these buildings were considered the top targets by DO5, and the military intelligence analysts considered contacting WTC security and architectural/engineering staff, but held off, as Iron Man put it, “because of a command climate discouraging contact with the civilian community.”

Briefings were given on DO5′s work to other elements at U.S. Joint Forces Command (parent command to JFIC and DO5), to CIA, DIA, NSA, NCIS, and other agencies. Iron Man listed some of the names of who received the briefings in his letter of complaint, but they are redacted in the declassified version provided to Truthout.

The entire story and Iron Man’s documents are the subject of a new article at Truthout, authored by Jason Leopold and myself. Iron Man, a former deputy and then Acting Head of the Asymmetrical Threats Division, came forward for reasons of integrity, both professional and personal. Iron Man wrote to the IG in 2006:

I do believe that knowledge of the work done by DO5 would add to DoD’s understanding of its role in the events leading up to 9/11, and how to avoid future attacks. I have been falsely accused of revealing classified information on DO5′s work, when I am certain that information is not and has not been classified since 9/11, and I do want to see myself cleared of that false accusation. In addition, I and the deputy of that team, [redacted], especially carried the burden of knowledge of how close DoD came to bin Ladin and perhaps being able to reduce the number of lives lost on 9/11. I do not want that burden any longer.”

According to Truthout, both a Defense Department spokesperson and spokespeople for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not respond to calls for comment.

Why Does It Matter?

The entire 9/11 field of inquiry has been vilified, poisoned over the years by ridicule, sometimes fantastic conspiracy mongering, and fearfulness by journalists of approaching the material, lest they be branded as irresponsible or some kind of conspiracy freak. As a result, little work has been done to investigate, except by a small group of people, some of whom have raised some real questions, others who were intoxicated by the possibility of some giant conspiracy.

If anything, this story is about an intelligence and oversight scandal. It happens to concern 9/11, a very important and meaningful event in modern times. The official story says that no one knew that Al Qaeda was going to attack the World Trade Center or Pentagon, that there was an intelligence failure. But a whistleblower who was a primary participant in the intelligence work around Al Qaeda, whose department worked closely with the military command responsible for terrorism aimed against the United States (USJFCOM’s JTF-Civil Support), has come forward to say that narrative is not true, and to document how and why.

In the future, I’ll next take a look at the IG report itself, which concentrated on Iron Man’s allegations surrounding JFIC’s cover-up of its activities. The report, titled “Review of Joint Forces Intelligence Command Response to 9/11 Commission,” was either a totally inept job from start from finish — even getting the allegation wrong, as noted above — or it was a suborning of IG function to squelch misdeeds from being reported.

Congress should be looking at this pronto, or it will be assumed that its oversight function is a total joke, and the august Senators presiding over their oversight committees mere stooges.

DoD Inspector General: Intel Agency Ordered to Stop Pre-9/11 Tracking of Bin Laden

2:23 pm in Military, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

The whole story is over at Truthout, but I wanted to highlight the main points, and explain why this has any importance right now.

I wrote the story because the information came across my desk, so to speak, and while the 2008 Defense Department Inspector General report has been in the public domain for over a year now (see this page at Secrecy News), it was never really closely analyzed, and hardly ever noted in the press. Not one major paper has ever mentioned it. But since it involves charges regarding intelligence agencies and Osama bin Laden, much in the news as regards what was known and not known about his location and movements, I thought it worth reporting.

In brief, the IG report details the allegations of a former member of the Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC), an intelligence group attached to U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM). The whistleblower, known only as “IRON MAN” (always all caps in the report), filed a complaint with the DoD IG in 2006, alleging that his agency (JFIC) had not truthfully answered questions submitted to it by the 9/11 Commission. Technically, the questions were sent to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which forwarded them to USJFCOM, which subsequently sent them down to JFIC. There was an even deeper layer: JFIC’s secret Asymmetric Threats Division, known by an obscure acronym, “DO5.” No one has ever written about DO5 until blogger-investigator Susie Dow mentioned it in a blog post earlier this month. (Note: DO5 was moved out of JFIC in the summer of 2001, not long, apparently, after it was ordered to stop tracking Bin Laden.)

Analysts at DO5, which was formed in 1999, had been tracking Osama bin Laden’s movements, as well as looking at Afghan “terrorist training camps.” Interestingly, when they weren’t doing this, they were helping out the Joint Task Force – Civil Support (JTF-CS) by “‘establishing fictional terrorist organizations that would mimic real world terrorist groups’ that were utilized as part of JTF-CS ‘exercises.’” JTF-CS, based in Fort Monroe, Virginia, was concerned with responding to terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. When asked, JFIC told the IG that DO5 was never involved in the development of “unilateral” intelligence collection in the U.S.

The core of IRON MAN’s allegations was that DO5 had produced original intelligence on terrorists that would link to 9/11, including identification of targets at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was only as an incidental comment about what Congress should have been asking in regards to JFIC’s work (see quote below), that the IG’s response brought up the issue of stopping the tracking of Bin Laden, something the IG report not only confirms, but narrates (bold emphasis added, spellings kept as in original):

The IG report, which does not explain the 18-month delay in opening an investigation, cleared JFIC of any wrongdoing and declared that the intelligence agency had “provided a timely and accurate reply in response to the 9/11 Commission.” In evident response, IRON MAN indicated to the IG investigating staff that “he had never seen the 9/11 Commission questions or JFIC’s response, but that Congress should have asked for files concerning the tracking of Usama Bin Ladin.”

According to the IG report, the 9/11 Commission “had not requested the direct submission of any files or requested information regarding the tracking of Usama Bin Ladin”….

According to the narrative in the IG report, a previous JFIC deputy director of intelligence said that the JFIC commander, identified elsewhere in the report as Capt. Janice Dundas, US Navy, “directed him to stop tracking Usama Bin Ladin. The Commanding Officer stated that the tracking of Usama Bin Ladin did not fall within JFIC’s mission.” At the same time, JFIC analysis of purported Afghanistan “terrorist training camps” was also curtailed, with an explanation that such activities were outside the agency’s Area of Operations and “that the issues where [sic] not in JFIC’s swim lane.”

As to DO5′s area of operations, according to the IG report, a former JFIC deputy director of intelligence told investigators that DO5 had “no theater specific mission.”

Okay… so why am I hashing over this 9/11 and Bin Laden business? It’s really quite simple. Here we are almost ten years out from 9/11, and you are just reading for the first time about a military intelligence unit that was pulled off from tracking a major terrorist wanted by the United States, and a whistleblower — who ended up writing to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence when the DoD IG wouldn’t move on his complaint for over a year — from within the IC (IRON MAN is apparently now at DIA, his career apparently not suffering for his whistleblowing) who is saying DoD components of the IC withheld information on Al Qaeda from Congress and the 9/11 Commission.

I don’t think the implications of this story are only about 9/11. I write primarily about the torture scandal, trying to uncover what I can about the actual parameters of the torture program. What strikes me is this: how very, very little we actually know — how much we are limited by access, secrecy, lies, and normative obeisance to a mainstream narrative (of which I’m as guilty as anybody) such that it’s not even clear that our investigations are headed in the right direction or not.

Another matter concerns the honesty of the Inspector General process itself. As documented in the original story, the IG report makes claims about the honesty of the questions JFIC answered for the 9/11 Commission that simply are not true. Even more amazingly, or brazenly (or perhaps just stupidly), the IG report reprints the questions and answers to the 9/11 Commission as an appendix, so anyone can easily see they are not telling the truth. (The IG report claimed JFIC told the Commission about DO5 in one of the answers to the questionnaire, but they evidently did not.)

One thing is clear: the Intelligence Community and its various components are, like the entire military-industrial complex, quite out of control. I don’t believe there is even one person today who has a decent overview of its entire breadth and stretch. While the scandals and defections from the CIA in the 1970s left us with some kind of idea about how that agency worked, military intelligence agencies, like the DIA or JFIC fly mostly under the radar of public perception. While some, like Jeremy Scahill, have given us a deep look into IC/DoD contracting agencies, like Blackwater, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds more of significance that are either unknown, or barely investigated. (The Truthout story mentions one of them, Ultra Services, which Susie Dow reported on.)

I’m well aware that writing anything on 9/11 exposes me to labeling as some kind of conspiracy nut, or outside of legitimate news discourse. But I don’t have to believe that airline passengers were spirited away to a secret site (like on the fantasy sci-fi TV show “The Event”), to know that U.S. citizens never got a clean story about 9/11. I realized this when it was pointed out a few years ago that many of the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission report relied upon tortured evidence.

It’s not just 9/11, or torture, or investigating BP, the Koch brothers, the mysterious deaths at Guantanamo, or any particular one thing: the public’s need-to-know groans under a burden of ignorance and over-reliance on leaks from governmental officials who themselves are sworn to secrecy, or are invested with spinning history in a particular fashion. I can’t know the ultimate significance of the JFIC/DO5/Bin Laden story. It might be important, or merely a small side note. But we literally don’t know enough. The Obama administration promised to be open and transparent, but it has erected a wall of “state secrets” to cover up the crimes of previous administrations, and intimidate those who would try to ferret out the truth.

Rep. Rogers: Kidnapped Argentinian Babies Distract From Fight Against Al Qaeda

4:45 pm in Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

How nice that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican Congressman from Alabama Michigan, and 206 of his House GOP colleagues live in a country where political opponents are not disappeared, tortured, or murdered in the dead of night, their children stolen to be brought up by the very intelligence officers that disappeared them.

So maybe Rogers didn’t appreciate the criminal absurdity of his comments to the Washington Post on Friday May 13, after a House vote defeated a proposed amendment by Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey (NY) on the declassification of U.S. intelligence files regarding the 1976 Argentine generals coup and the bloody seven year dictatorship that followed. According to the Post, Rogers “said declassifying them would distract U.S. spies from the fight against al-Qaida.”

A similar Congressional vote for declassification of documents related to Chile, in a 1999 amendment by Rep. Hinchey, which passed, led to the release of over 24,000 documents, and to accelerated investigations and prosecutions of state crimes in Chile. But the GOP, which voted largely on party lines to defeat the amendment on declassification of documents related to Argentina, made this vote into a bogus stand in support of the “war on terror.”

The vote comes only weeks after a trial has opened in Argentina, placing into the dock two former Argentine dictators, Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, for literally stealing babies during what has become known as Argentina’s “Dirty War.” A recently released document available via National Security Archive shows that the Chilean intelligence attaché to Buenos Aires estimated the number of dead and disappeared in Argentina as over 22,000 between 1975 and 1978 (original document PDF).

The Jurist summarized the baby stealing case against the dictators:

The two are accused in 34 separate cases of infants who were taken from mothers held in clandestine torture and detention centers, the Navy Mechanics School and Campo de Mayo army base. The case was opened 14 years ago at the request of Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and includes as defendants five military judges and a doctor who attended to the detainees. The trial is expected to hear 370 witnesses and last up to a year. With the help of the Grandmothers’ DNA database, 102 people born to vanished detainees have recovered their true identities.

This is not the first trial of the criminal leaders of the former Argentine junta. Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was sentenced last year to life in prison for crimes against humanity. And just recently a former agent of the Argentine Secretariat of State Intelligence (SIDE), Miguel Angel Furci, was arrested and charged with human rights abuses, including kidnapping and torture. His trial starts this June. And there have been others brought up on charges and/or convicted as well.

The baby stealing charges are a particularly sickening part of the Dirty War history. As an AP story explained it, “the existence of babies belonging to people who officially no longer existed created a problem for the junta leaders.” So the solution was to falsify documents and arrange “illegal adoptions by people sympathetic to the military regime.” According to the indictment, there were hundreds of such “adoptions.”

American Complicity: You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

The U.S. support for the Argentinian junta and Dirty War was part of a larger program known as Operation Condor, which operated throughout the Southern Cone, and was responsible for death squads and torture and a reign of terror throughout Latin America, as the right-wing operations spread northward into Central America in the 1980s.

Even though the U.S. government still seeks to hide documents implicating U.S. intelligence and other state agencies from complicity in the terrible crimes in Argentina, some documents have been released over the years. There’s a goodly collection of them at the National Security Archive website.

The documents include a formerly secret transcript of Henry Kissinger’s staff meeting during which he ordered immediate U.S. support for the new military regime, and Defense and State Department reports on the ensuing repression. The Archive has also obtained internal memoranda and cables from the infamous Argentina intelligence unit, Battalion 601, as well as the Chilean secret police agency, known as DINA, which was secretly collaborating with the military in Buenos Aires.

The documents record Washington’s initial reaction to the military takeover. I do want to encourage them. I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States,” Secretary of State Kissinger ordered his staff after his assistants warned him that the junta would initiate a bloodbath following the coup. According to the transcript, Kissinger’s top deputy on Latin America, William Rogers, told him two days after the coup that “we’ve got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long.”

Regarding that last quote, what Rogers actually said in full, according to the transcript (PDF) of Kissinger’s March 26, 1976 staff meeting, and following upon a discussion of how the regime would need U.S. financial support: “I think also we’ve got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they’re going to have to come down not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties.”

Kissinger then tells Rogers, who suggests the U.S. might want to hold off on recognition of the junta, that he wants to “encourage” the generals: “I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.” Rogers then rushes to assure him his reasoning wasn’t humanitarian, but simply that he was concerned about “public posture.”

The U.S. government is complicit in war crimes that have killed and tortured and disappeared many, many thousands of people, millions going back to Vietnam. But the U.S. population appears to be largely untouched by these crimes, insensate, living in fear, or complacent… it’s hard to say. In any case, those in this country, like Rep. Hinchey, and the many fine workers in human and civil rights organizations, will have to keep pounding on these issues.

Note: Eighteen Republicans did vote for Hinchey’s amendment, and seven Democrats voted against it. Twenty-three were listed as “Not Voting,” including, surprisingly, two liberal Democratic congresswomen from the Bay Area, Zoe Lofgren and Jackie Speier.

Making Guantanamo Permanent, and Other Portents

7:43 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A motley crew of Senate Republicans, joined by Sen. Lieberman, have introduced a bill to make Guantanamo a permanent “terrorist” prison. Once upon a time, this could have been dismissed as GOP posturing. But recent events suggest this is more likely a harbinger of the future fate of the US Naval prison, as President Obama has already pronounced that he will support indefinite detention of prisoners based on unchallenged U.S. executive fiat.

It’s hard to believe these GOP national security groupies, and their jester Lieberman, could really get this passed, much less signed by the President. But the ways things have been going, who would be ridiculed for thinking such things possible?

Human Rights First reports (H/T Barry Eisler):

Washington, D.C. — Legislation introduced today [11 May] in the Senate to force the Obama administration to declare Guantánamo a permanent prison for terror suspects will inspire America’s enemies and undermine the American justice system, a leading human rights group said.

U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Scott Brown (R-MA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the “Detaining Terrorists To Secure America Act” (S. 944) – legislation that would keep open the Guantánamo Bay terrorist detention facility for the detention and interrogation of current and future terrorism suspects. The legislation also permanently limits the transfer of detainees to foreign countries and prohibits funding for the construction of terrorist detention facilities within the United States.

A perpetual Guantanamo to match the indefinite detention policy enshrined by President Barack Obama is truly a sign of the debauched times in which we live, ruled by those whose lust for naked rule and capitalist gain are rarely hidden anymore. I presume, by the way, that the torture via isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, exploitation of fears, stress positions and drugs — all fine and “legal” thanks to the near-universal acceptance of the 2006 Army Field Manual on interrogation — will continue “forever” at Guantanamo as well.

The Terrorist Who Lived Happily Ever After — in Miami

I can tell you one person who will not be sent to Guantanamo, even though he was involved in bombing hotels and tourist spots in the 1990s. Luis Posada Carriles walked a free man out of a Texas courtroom last month, only weeks before another terrorist was shot in the head, “taken out” by the “heroes” of Seal Team Six. An article in the Mexican paper La Jornada, translated and reposted at The Nation. It was translated by Machetera/Tlaxcala describes more of Posada Carriles’ fascinating career:

In addition to working for the CIA, it’s worth recalling that Posada Carriles participated in the US-supported invasion of the Bay of Pigs; that he was an officer in the US Army and that in 1976 he moved to Venezuela to head the intelligence service in that country. That same year he was arrested after being accused of being the mastermind of the attack on the Cuban airliner, and escaped before facing a civil trial for what was at the time the worst terrorist act in the hemisphere. In 2001, he was arrested in Panama, for planning to kill Fidel Castro with 200 pounds of dynamite and C-4 explosives, in a university auditorium filled with students in 2000, but was pardoned by then–Panamanian president Mireya Moscoso in 2004, showing up a short time later in the United States. In 2005 he was arrested here, which led to the beginning of the process that ended last Friday in El Paso with his acquittal.

Posada Carriles walked on charges of immigration fraud and obstruction of justice, and not for any of his terrorist actions, for which he was never charged by American authorities. The U.S. ignores extradition requests to Venezuela. With the latest court decision, the ex-CIA terrorist can return to Miami and sip cocktails and be lionized by the anti-Castro crowd, and the host of SOF that live in southern Florida. It’s enough to make me fantasize about leading a Cuban team in the extrajudicial rendition of Posada Carriles back to Cuba, where he could face his victims in trial. (I can’t even allow my fantasies the vicarious bloodlust that many Americans seem to luxuriate in, by imagining my neat placement of a kill shot straight through the eyeball of a non-human, reviled villain, monster of all fantasies.)

Will the Obama administration and the pathetic Democratic Party supporters, who have set forth their belief in indefinite detention for those prisoners it deems “unlawful” enemy combatants, who have shown inordinate lust for murder as it tries to assassinate even U.S. citizens (Al-Awlaki), or blow up more and more “enemies” with Hellfire missiles from drone aircraft buzzing with death in the skies, will they hesitate to move against the U.S. population itself with terrorist prisons, indefinite detention for those deemed “terrorists”? Damn if we are not already more than half-way there now.

Torture is the new state religion. The arguments between those who find torture effective and those who find it ineffective are like the arguments between Catholics and Protestants in the seventeenth century, articulated with great passion and earnestness, but totally besides the point. Underlying the actual conflicts and debates is nothing more than a raw grab for power, as the U.S. seeks greater instruments of repression at home and abroad in the name of securing the world for U.S. plunder for the greater good of a small clique of corporations and a coterie of military men, academics, and spies that keep the wheels of the machine well-oiled and ready to strike.

Bravo, Senators Ayotte, Graham, Lieberman, Chambliss, Brown, and Rubio. You have brought the logic of the “war on terror” to its true purpose. You have struck at the heart of the matter, and like the loyal knights-errant of a previous era, your adventures bring back to the King matter for great celebration at the castle. I know you will be well-rewarded.

Sentenced To “Hell”: Use Of SAMs And Informants In The Case Of Syed Fahad Hashmi

11:12 am in Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

Alcatraz

Alcatraz by ben pollard, on Flickr

Jeanne Theoharis is professor of political science at CUNY’s Brooklyn College, one who takes the responsibility of her profession towards her students, and to the society she lives in, very seriously. When she discovered that one of her former students, Syed Farad Hashmi, was being treated unjustly by the U.S. judicial system, she spoke out, and she continues to do so.

A new article at the Chronicle of Higher Education reviews Hashmi’s ordeal, and links the attacks on civil liberties made after 9/11, especially on Muslims and including those that swept up Hashmi, to earlier periods of modern U.S. history, including the internment of Japanese during World War II, the McCarthy period, and the Cointelpro attacks on Native American, African-American, and other organizations, particularly on the left.

A year ago now, Hashmi was sentenced for fifteen years a year ago when, after suffering three years in extreme solitary confinement under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) approved by the Attorney Generals Mukasey and Holder, he accepted a plea bargain on the single charge of conspriacy to provide “material support” to “a foreign terrorist organization. (Three other charges were dropped.) But lacking any actual links to terrorism, or any history of violence whatsoever, evidence points to governmental animus against Hashmi for his outspoken public criticism of denial of Muslim civil rights and constitutional protections in the post-9/11 period.

Like the Preventive of Injury (POI) orders imposed on alleged Wikileaks leaker PFC Bradley Manning, who is currently in isolation at the Marine Corps Quantico brig, and like Hashmi is essentially a political prisoner, the onerous conditions of detention imposed by the SAMs — which restrict exercise, access to the media, to reading materials or the outside world in general, allow for no privacy, and are intrusive upon the actual body of the prisoner (strip searches, forced nakedness) — are restrictions supposedly made in the name of safety. But just as Manning has showed no proclivity for self-harm, nor has he been violent in jail, Hashmi, who is currently at the Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado, has no history of violence. In fact his entire association with “terrorism” comes from the fact he let a friend stay in his apartment for a few weeks, someone who it turned out had a suitcase full of ponchos, raincoats and waterproof socks supposedly intended for delivery to an Al Qaeda-linked figure. (More on that below.)

In his first months in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, following extradition from England, where Hashmi was completing a masters degree in international relations, Farad was treated as an ordinary detainee awaiting trial, with no untoward behaviors or problems.
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