A year after entering the Ecuadorean embassy seeking asylum, Julian Assange is still on the run. Every day he gets on the treadmill given to him by the left-wing filmmaker Ken Loach and runs and runs, logging 744 miles (over 28 marathons), but never getting anywhere. Every day he wakes and goes to work with the police outside his windows. Negotiations between the Ecuadorean government and the British foreign ministry have broken down, so for now he is stuck living out the same day over and over again, the real-life equivalent of Groundhog Day.
On Wednesday, the WikiLeaks founder surfaced for a conference call with reporters, lobbing his usual fireballs. Leak investigations threaten to criminalize the act of doing journalism, he argued in his soft-spoken Aussie accent. Once more he rushed to the defense of Bradley Manning, the Army private alleged to have provided WikiLeaks with thousands of diplomatic cables. His prosecution is immoral, threatens all media outlets, and "may spell the end of national security journalism in the United States," Assange said. As for Edward Snowden, the man behind recent revelations about the National Security Agency's intelligence-gathering activities, Assange said that he feels "a great deal of personal sympathy" for him. Assange also suggested that his legal team has sought to broker Snowden's asylum to Iceland, though Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald cast doubt on that claim in an email to BuzzFeed.
Where once Assange could be fiery and combative, now he just sounds tired. Several times he asked reporters on the call to repeat their questions, and often his words were difficult to make out. When asked directly about why he sounded so tired when it was only seven in the evening in London, he mumbled incoherently about the "exciting, demanding work" he is currently engaged in, suggesting that he had spent the last two weeks defending Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, two of the journalists at the center of the leaks provided by Snowden, and that it had drained him. Assange briefly came to life when a reporter implied in a question that Swedish authorities had charged him with sexual assault -- technically, they haven't. "It is an example of extremely poor journalism that we see that sort of reportage," he snapped.
When asked if his work had been negatively impacted by his stay in the embassy, he said that not being able to meet with potential sources had made running WikiLeaks more difficult -- but also deadpanned that he didn't have much else to do but work. All in all, things are about the same, he maintained. Still, since Assange entered the embassy WikiLeaks hasn't uncovered the kind of blockbuster revelations that made the organization famous. Asked if WikiLeaks had any big scoops in the pipeline, he demurred, saying it was policy not to discuss specific projects ahead of publication and that "WikiLeaks is always in the process of preparing its next publication."
After a year inside the Ecuadorean embassy, Assange appears somewhat crippled. The media organizations he once worked hand-in-glove with have shunned him, and financial support has largely dried up. Separated from his sources and stripped of his money, he isn't quite the force to be reckoned with that he once was. The fact that Snowden took his documents to the Guardian and the Washington Post -- and not WikiLeaks -- speaks for itself.
But Assange still knows how to create a media spectacle. The whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Daniel Ellsberg joined the WikiLeaks chief on the call, and railed against the NSA programs revealed by Snowden, with ample references to the Nixon administration sprinkled in. "Thomas Jefferson once said that he would prefer newspapers without government if he had to choose [between that and] a government without newspapers. President Obama clearly disagrees with that," Ellsberg said. "What we are seeing is the largest systemic industrial-scale suspicionless surveillance system of all time," Drake added. The New York Times, the Associated Press, and Vanity Fair all had reporters on the line for the conference call.
Even if Assange isn't setting the agenda with scoops, he clearly wants the world to know that WikiLeaks has changed the rules of the game. Addressing governments uncomfortable with an Internet culture premised on radical openness, Assange posed some questions he'd like answered. "The revelations of Edward Snowden this week lead us to ask the question: Will Glenn Greenwald be granted asylum by Brazil this time next year? Will Laura Poitras find herself in an embassy seeking asylum? Will Edward Snowden be in the same position as Bradley Manning a year's time from now?" Assange wondered. "Is the United States the type of country from which journalists must seek asylum in relation to their work?"
Here's another question: Will Assange ever stage a real comeback?
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For anyone in the habit of wearing a tinfoil hat, the last couple of weeks have been ones of redemption. With a steady stream of revelations about the National Security Agency's astonishingly broad intelligence-gathering activities, conspiracy theories about its reach have seemingly been validated.
Those same raise a related question: Are there ways to avoid the NSA's prying eyes?
It turns out there are (for the most part, anyway). And for the companies selling communication tools to circumvent surveillance programs, business is going like gangbusters.
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"Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now."
That's how Edward Snowden, the source behind the bombshell revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, responded to accusations that he's a Chinese agent during a Q&A Monday on the Guardian's website. Here are the highlights from the fascinating conversation, which was moderated by journalist Glenn Greenwald:
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True to his promise to continue disclosing NSA secrets, Edward Snowden has now revealed to the Guardian that the agency intercepted the communications of former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other world leaders in 2009. Not only are the leaks embarrassing for the agency, but they also present the NSA with a Catch-22: How do you defend yourself publicly while keeping a lid on classified operations? In the latest installment of Washington's PRISM spin war, the NSA has opted for vaguely worded, highly legalistic denials and assurances -- ones that are often difficult to square with what's been reported so far about the U.S. intelligence community's surveillance programs.
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Samuel Johnson once said that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Patriotism, and bad analogies.
For the uninitiated, Godwin's Law is one of the cardinal rules of the Internet. Coined in 1990 by Internet law expert Mike Godwin, the principle -- confirmed by countless contentious comment threads across the web -- is that the longer an online discussion persists, the greater the odds become that someone will make a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler, to the point of near-inevitability. Nothing ends a debate faster than the hyperbolic unsupported counterfactual: "You know who else did [INSERT SUBJECT OF ARGUMENT HERE]? Hitler!"
But Hitler and the Nazis aren't the only recurring straw men used to end debates. Over the past 12 years, it's become clear that the longer a national security debate persists, the more likely it becomes that someone will try to end it by suggesting something -- some policy, some person, some technology -- "could have prevented 9/11."
The implication is that if something "could have prevented 9/11," then it must be justified. It's a trump card, a conversation-ender -- and it's impossible to prove. But that hasn't stopped people from using it -- from FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying on the Hill on Thursday to actor Mark Wahlberg's 2012 tough-guy claims. Here's a brief sampling of the people and policies that "could have prevented 9/11."
Assessments of the 9/11 attacks -- by everyone from members of the independent 9/11 Commission to Bush administration officials -- have time and again pointed out that there was no single point of failure that allowed the attacks to occur, and no "silver bullet" that could have prevented them. But acknowledging that is no way to cut short a debate about national security.
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Edward Snowden's decision to publicly reveal his identity has placed him at the center of growing controversy about the U.S. government's intelligence-gathering activities.
But by stepping forward, Snowden, the source behind reports in the Washington Post and the Guardian about highly classified U.S. intelligence programs, has also come under fire in the media. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me," Snowden told the Guardian. "I want it to be about what the U.S. government is doing." Snowden hasn't exactly gotten his wish.
While hailed as a hero in some quarters, Snowden has also been described as a coward and a traitor. Here is a thematic guide to the Snowden smear campaign.
None other than John Boehner, the speaker of the House, took to ABC's Good Morning America to brand Snowden a traitor -- a sentiment echoed by former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
Disdain for Snowden isn't limited to one side of the aisle. Here's Democratic Congresswoman and Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz calling Snowden a coward for his actions:
While liberals are largely lining up behind Snowden, there are notable exceptions. Here's Jeffrey Toobin, a typically stalwart liberal, describing Snowden as a "grandiose narcissist":
Edward Snowden, a twenty-nine-year-old former C.I.A. employee and current government contractor, has leaked news of National Security Agency programs that collect vast amounts of information about the telephone calls made by millions of Americans, as well as e-mails and other files of foreign targets and their American connections. For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.
Snowden's decision to flee to Hong Kong has elicited skepticism -- but also paranoia that he's in fact a Chinese agent. Unnamed government sources have intimated that the FBI is now investigating "to determine whether he was communicating with a foreign power," and those same sources are dropping less-than-subtle hints about Hong Kong's close ties to China. It's a theory that seems pretty ridiculous on its face -- why would a defector go public with his documents like this? -- but these are questions that don't bother political observers like Matt Mackowiack:
Not hard to imagine that Snowden has been a Chinese double agent and will soon defect.— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) June 9, 2013
In what may go down as the greatest parody of a David Brooks column in history, David Brooks himself opined in the pages of the New York Times on Tuesday that Snowden's decision to leak NSA documents is proof positive of the breakdown of the American social fabric, declaring that "from what we know so far, Edward Snowden appears to be the ultimate unmediated man." Brooks's evidence for this? Snowden was curt to his neighbor and hasn't been a regular presence at his mother's house for many years.
Thus, Brooks concludes, "though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments."
Snowden, Brooks argues, "betrayed his friends," "betrayed honesty and integrity," "betrayed his employers," "betrayed the cause of open government," and "betrayed the Constitution." The point? This guy isn't one of us.
Cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood
In one of the more perplexing comments about Snowden, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen decided to contend that Snowden will go down in history as a "cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood." Read the full passage and see if you can make any sense of it:
In a remarkably overwrought interview conducted by the vainglorious Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, Snowden cited not one example of the programs being abused. Greenwald wrote that Snowden "lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping" and that "he puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them." Greenwald said that "Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers." I think he'll go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.
Snowden may have expected to be called names when he stepped forward as the NSA leaker, but odds are he didn't anticipate that one.
GUARDIAN/GLENN GREENWALD/LAURA POITRAS
Reports about the National Security Agency's PRISM program -- through which U.S. intelligence officials have access to the private communications of technology users -- have sparked fierce outrage in Europe, where leaders have long butted heads with U.S. security officials over where to strike the balance between safety and civil liberties.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to raise questions about the program with President Barack Obama when she meets with him next week, while other European leaders have said the news is disturbing enough to threaten pending EU-U.S. trade talks next month. Meanwhile, back in the country where the spying is actually taking place, a recent Washington Post-Pew Center poll shows that a majority of Americans "prioritize probes over privacy" -- or, put another way, that 56 percent felt the NSA's tracking of phone records was "acceptable."
Is there a yawning transatlantic divide when it comes to attitudes toward privacy? Consider some examples:
It's often argued that Europeans value privacy more than Americans do. And when it comes to giving companies access to personal data, Europeans -- or at least their lawmakers -- do seem more concerned than Americans.
But in a 2004 article for the Yale Law Journal, Yale Professor James Whitman points out that there are areas of privacy that Americans tend to be more concerned about than Europeans.
"For example, continental governments assert the authority to decide what names parents will be permitted to give their children," he writes. "This is an application of state power that Americans will view with complete astonishment, as a manifest violation of proper norms of the protection of privacy and personhood.... Nor does it end there: In Germany, everybody must be formally registered with the police at all times. In both Germany and France, inspectors have the power to arrive at your door to investigate whether you have an unlicensed television."
What explains the contradiction? The two cultures view privacy in fundamentally different terms, Whitman says. He characterizes the European view of privacy as a right to dignity -- the right to control the public face you present to the world (thus, an unflattering Google autocomplete is ruled to be invasive). Americans, on the other hand, view privacy in terms of liberty -- the right to keep the state out of our lives -- hence the visceral distrust of national identity cards.
Europeans have a greater tolerance for intrusions by the state, Whitman argues -- a point that runs counter to arguments often made by Europeans themselves: that the Old World's premium on privacy stems from painful parts of its history, such as when Nazis and members of the Stasi used personal data to control the public.
But based on Whitman's characterization, one would expect the PRISM program -- in representing the state's overreach into our personal lives -- to trigger more outrage among Americans than it has so far.
On the other hand, under the NSA program it is -- in theory, at least -- non-Americans who are being watched most closely. It seems the notion of being spied on -- using data from companies Europe has long regarded with suspicion -- is enough to raise the hackles of even those willing to let government have a say in naming their babies.
When the Washington Post and the Guardian revealed the existence of the NSA intelligence-gathering program PRISM last week, they both relied on a set of horrifically bad slides reportedly prepared by the agency and presented to a group of senior analysts. As I wrote at the time, the slides continued the U.S. government's tradition of generally awful PowerPoint slides.
Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency's system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.
According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country's largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts' desktop computers.
The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America's tech giants.
Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages -- what PRISM helps gather -- is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata "on an ongoing, daily basis." Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it's also "remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise," according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. "It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed."
By comparison, PRISM appears more tightly constrained and operates on a more solid legal foundation. Current and former officials who have experience using huge sets of data available to intelligence analysts said that PRISM is used for precisely the kinds of intelligence gathering that Congress and the administration intended when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008. Officials wanted to allow intelligence agencies to target and intercept foreigners' communications when they travel across networks inside the United States.
The surveillance law prohibits targeting a U.S. citizen or legal resident without a warrant, which must establish a reasonable basis to suspect the individual of ties to terrorism or being an agent of a foreign power. In defending PRISM, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent days that the FISA Court oversees the collection program to ensure that it's reasonably designed to target foreign entities, and that any incidental collection of Americans' data is expunged. They've also said that press reports describing the system as allowing "direct access" to corporate servers is wrong. Separately, a U.S. intelligence official also said that the system cannot directly query an Internet company's data.
But the administration has not explained why broadly and indiscriminately collecting the metadata records of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents comports with a law designed to protect innocent people from having their personal information revealed to intelligence analysts. Nor have officials explained why the NSA needs ongoing, daily access to all this information and for so many years, particularly since specific information can be obtained on an as-needed basis from the companies with a subpoena.
Here's why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:
1. Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what's being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four "spatio-temporal points," such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.
2. The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it's unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone's identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.
3. Administration officials have said that intelligence analysts aren't indiscriminately searching this phone metadata. According to two intelligence employees who've used the data in counterterrorism investigations, it contains no names, and when a number that appears to be based in the United States shows up, it is blocked out with an "X" mark.
But these controls, said a former intelligence employee, are internal agency rules, and it's not clear that the FISA Court has anything to say about them. In this employee's experience, if he wanted to see the phone number associated with that X mark, he had to ask permission from his agency's general counsel. That permission was often obtained, but he wasn't aware of the legal process involved in securing it, or if the request was taken back to the FISA court.
4. The metadatabase is widely available across the intelligence community on analysts' desktops, increasing the potential for misuse.
5. The metadata has the potential for mission creep. It's not only used for dissecting potential homegrown terror plots, as some lawmakers have said. The metadata is also used to help military forces overseas target terrorist and insurgent networks. And it is used in foreign criminal investigations, including ones involving suspected weapons traffickers.
For all these reasons, and probably more yet to emerge, it's the metadata that's of bigger concern. By comparison, PRISM is a cool name, a lame PowerPoint presentation -- and business as usual.
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Do investors think it's a smart move for companies to cooperate when the U.S. government asks for help collecting information on customers?
With the exception of Apple shares, which continued on the downward trajectory they've been on for the past few days, shares of most of the other companies -- the public ones, at least (sorry, no PalTalk) -- reportedly involved in National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program were up in early trading on Friday.
At press time, shares of Google, which also owns YouTube, were up more than 9 points, or over 1 percent. Google experienced the biggest jump, but shares of Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft (which owns Skype), and AOL were all up slightly on Friday morning. Shares of Verizon -- which reportedly shared information with the NSA through another program -- were down slightly.
Of course, we don't know exactly what prompted investors to buy up PRISM-linked stocks this morning (the May jobs report may have pushed stocks higher, and the Dow and Nasdaq were each up roughly a percentage point at press time). The increases in share prices were by no means huge, so it's probably less that the PRISM news prompted a wave of investor enthusiasm and more that traders simply shrugged off the reports.
I'm no savvy tech investor, but my first thoughts on the business repercussions of PRISM were more along the lines of the question Slate's Matt Yglesias raised today: Are foreign countries going to be more wary of granting these companies access to their markets amid fears that they've effectively been turned into proxy spies for the U.S. government? (It's worth noting, by the way, that the companies are still vigorously denying that they're participating in the program.)
But maybe investors know something I don't. Massive subsidies in the pipeline to help fund Google Glass?
Ahead of President Obama's big counterterrorism speech tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter, obtained by the New York Times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee disclosing the four American citizens killed by targeted strikes during the Obama administration, three of whom "were not specifically targeted by the United States":
Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
The letter does not include the names of all Americans who have been killed in drone strikes. A fifth U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi (a.k.a. Kamal Derwish) was killed in 2002 during the Bush administration in the first ever U.S. drone strike. That strike, in Yemen, was directed at Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was associated with the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. An unnamed FBI source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several years ago that another U.S. citizen was believed to have been killed by a U.S. cruise missile in Somalia sometime between 2006 and early 2009.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the U.S. government believes that Awlaki played a role in planning the attempted underwear bombing in 2009. His son, 'Abd al-Rahman, had reportedly linked up with AQAP members while looking for Awklaki when a drone targeted his vehicle. The three men were killed in a series of airstrikes in September and October 2011.
The only new name is Jude Kenan Mohammed, whose death in Pakistan was rumored in a February 2012 local news story in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C but had not been previously acknowledged.
With the letter, the Obama administration has now admitted killing more U.S. citizens than detainees the Bush administration admitted waterboarding. Hooray for transparency?
The full text of Holder's letter is included below:
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Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
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Yemen's transitional government is signaling that it may release Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist who was arrested in August 2010 and who U.S. intelligence officials believe supported al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2011 in a trial that drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and human rights and journalist advocacy organizations have since campaigned for his release.
In a meeting with U.N. officials on Monday, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi told reporters that he has made plans to release Shaye, Yemen's al-Masdar reports. Al Jazeera bureau chief Saeed Thabit Saeed, who attended the meeting, wrote on Facebook, "We received a serious promise from [Hadi] that our colleague Abdulelah Shaye will be released," and Times of London correspondent Iona Craig confirmed with Hadi's office that there "is an order from the president to release Shaye soon."
This is not the first time that Shaye's release has been considered. In fact, soon after his 2011 trial, Shaye's release seemed imminent. "We were waiting for the release of the pardon -- it was printed out and prepared in a file for the president to sign and announce the next day," Shaye's lawyer, Abdulrahman Barman, told Jeremy Scahill in his new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. But that plan fell through after a Feb. 2 phone call between then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Barack Obama, in which Obama "expressed concern over the release of [Shaye], who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP," according to a readout of the call released by the White House.
The White House's position hasn't changed in the ensuing two years. "We remain concerned about al-Shai's potential early release due to his association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told FP by email on Wednesday.
Nor, for that matter, is Shaye's release certain. Mohammed al-Basha, a spokesperson for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, walked back reports of the journalist's imminent release, telling FP that President Hadi had only agreed to consider ending Shaye's detention.
Shaye's investigative work drew international attention in 2009 when he reported that the United States had conducted an airstrike that killed 41 civilians in the Yemeni village of al-Majalla, and managed to interview New Mexico-born AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on multiple occasions.
In July 2010, the Yemeni government arrested and beat Shaye, and interrogators told him, "We will destroy your life if you keep on talking," according to Scahill's account. Shaye was arrested a month later, beaten again, held in solitary confinement for 34 days without access to a lawyer, and then rushed through a trial on charges that included recruiting and propagandizing for AQAP and encouraging the assassination of President Saleh and his son. By the time Obama intervened in Shaye's pardon in 2011, protesters had begun filling city streets calling for the end of Saleh's three-decade presidency; Saleh resigned in November 2011, and since then his vice president, Hadi, has governed as part of what is slated to be a two-year period of reform and transition.
The U.S. government's case against Shaye is unclear. U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Craig in February 2012 that "Shaye is in jail because he was facilitating al Qaeda and its planning for attacks on Americans," but did not elaborate. Before Shaye's arrest, an U.S. intelligence official, who told Scahill that he "was persuaded that [Shaye] was an agent," discouraged journalists from working with Shaye on account of "'classified evidence' indicat[ing] that Shaye was 'cooperating' with al Qaeda."
Since his imprisonment, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom Foundation have campaigned for Shaye's release, and last November Yemeni Justice Minister Murshid al-Arashani publicly demanded that Hadi issue a pardon. Though it appears the Yemeni president may be preparing to meet that request, Shaye's family remains doubtful. "It's like the same as previous promises," Shaye's brother Khaled told Craig. "So far this is the fourth time Hadi has made this promise."
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On Monday, the New York Times revealed that the CIA has been funneling tens of millions of dollars to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The cash payments -- delivered to his office every month -- arrived in suitcases, backpacks, and plastic bags, and were meant to buy the mercurial leader's loyalty. But according to the Times, the Langley-approved gravy train did more to fuel corruption in Afghanistan than anything else -- the very corruption the U.S. government has been crusading against.
None of this should be all that surprising. The CIA has a long history of showering cash on friendly heads of state, often with results that bear an uncanny resemblance to the CIA's efforts in Kabul. The agency got its first taste of what a few good suitcase-toting men could accomplish in 1948, as communists threatened to win elections in Italy, by launching a cash-transfer program that delivered large sums to its favored political party, the Christian Democrats. And it worked. The Christian Democrats beat the communists and cruised to victory. But this early success would later prove elusive. When, in 1970, the agency tried to reprise its campaign in Italy, it played an unwitting role in funding a failed neofascist coup and right-wing terrorism.
It's a pattern -- blinding success followed by crushing defeat -- that has become all too familiar in the agency's history.
When, in 1953, the CIA succeeded in overthrowing Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, it was regarded as the agency's finest moment. In one fell swoop, the CIA had stymied Soviet influence in the Middle East and secured a vital portion of global oil supplies. It gave the agency the impression that its freewheeling agents could topple governments on a whim -- not unlike how the CIA brought down the Taliban in Afghanistan -- and that American dollars would keep American interests safe. With the coup safely completed, Kim Roosevelt, the CIA officer who masterminded the coup, delivered $1 million in cash to Fazlollah Zahedi, who took over from Mossadegh as prime minister. Cash in hand, Zahedi promptly proceeded to do away with the opposition. And we all know what happened next, in 1979.
As in Tehran, the CIA found in Saigon that toppling a government was far easier than picking up the pieces afterwards. After a CIA-backed coup in 1963 overthrew Ngo Dinh Diem, chaos ensued, with one coup unleashing another amid the turmoil. Eventually, Nguyen Van Thieu consolidated power, and the CIA was quick to get behind him, dispensing $725,000 to the South Vietnamese leader between 1968 and 1969. It was yet another losing investment to add to the agency's portfolio.
When the CIA has had difficulty fomenting coups, it has relied on a far more precise tool -- assassination.
Patrice Lumumba, for instance, posed a problem for the Eisenhower administration, which feared that the Congolese leader would create a Cuba in Africa. Though the Soviets were skeptical of Lumumba's communist credentials, Eisenhower ordered Lumumba killed, a mission the CIA successfully supported in 1961 via a promising new protege, Mobutu Sese Seko. With Lumumba out of the way and $250,000 in cash, guns, and ammunition from the CIA, Mobutu took control of the country and initiated a rapacious, murderous three-decade rule. Mobutu -- who was put on the CIA payroll -- proved a reliable Cold War ally for the United States, but he also laid the groundwork for the chaos and violence that has come to define modern-day Congo.
Perhaps one day the CIA will learn from its mistakes.
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There aren't many surprises in the new WikiLeaks document dump -- the organization is calling the collection of 1.7 million documents dated from 1973 to 1976 "The Kissinger Cables" -- but there are a few interesting finds. For example, there's the request from Morocco's King Hassan II for any information the United States had on an unidentified flying object spotted along the Moroccan coast in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 1976.
Four days after the incident, the commander of Morocco's gendarmerie requested a meeting with the U.S. defense attaché in Rabat. In their meeting, the Moroccan officer noted that there had been reports across the country of an object sighted arcing across the night sky, and that the king had taken a personal interest in following up on the incident.
"Reports from these widely separate locations were remarkably similar, i.e., that the object was on a generally southwest to northeast course, it was a silvery luminous circular shape and gave off intermittent trails of bright sparks and fragments, and made no noise," the U.S. defense attaché wrote in his cable to Washington. The next day, the attaché met with another gendarmerie officer who had actually seen the UFO. The officer "described the UFO as flying parallel to the coast at a relatively low speed, as if it were an aircraft preparing to land. It first appeared to him as a disc-shaped object, but as it came closer he saw it as a luminous tubular-shaped object."
"I frankly do not know what to make of these sighting, although I find intriguing the similarity of the descriptions reported from widely dispersed locations," the attaché wrote to Washington on Sept. 25. "In any event, I wish to be able to respond promptly to King Hassan's request for information, and would appreciate anything you can do to assist me in this."
One week later, on Oct. 2, Washington cabled back with the terse message: "Hope to have answer for you next week. Regards." Three days later, the secretary's office followed up. "It is difficult to offer any definitive explanation as to the cause or origin of the UFOs sighted in the Moroccan area between 0100 and 0130 local time 19 September 1976," the cable began, before suggesting that, based on descriptions of its trajectory and appearance, it "could conceivably be compatible with a meteor, or a decaying satellite," though U.S. officials noted that "the [U.S. government] is unaware of any US aircraft or satellite activity, either military or civilian, in the Moroccan area which might have been mistaken for such sightings."
Despite their appearance in WikiLeaks' new cache of documents, the cables aren't exactly breaking news. They were quoted at length in a 1990 book titled The UFO Cover-Up: What the Government Won't Say, in which the authors speculated that the 10-day delay between the initial cable from Rabat and Washington's reply was to allow time for secret briefings, and refuted the official narrative:
Is it impossible for a bright meteor to have been responsible for the sightings? Not really, if one examines the information very generally. A silvery, luminous object giving off a bright trail and sparks is not unlike a description of a meteor. However, the sightings were reported over a span of about an hour. The UFO, according to some witnesses, traveled at a slow speed, like an aircraft about to land. And the southwest to northeast course of the UFO would have brought it in the general direction of Iran, where other activity was ongoing. Coincidence?
Well, yes. It was a coincidence. In October 2012, Canadian amateur satellite watcher Ted Molczan (who was profiled by the New York Times in 2008) posted on a satellite interest site that the trajectory and timing of the incident matches the re-entry of a piece of space junk -- specifically a Soviet booster engine from a rocket launched two months earlier -- in July 1976. While it's true that the UFO was not of U.S. origin, it appears the cable from the State Department was either misleading or not fully informed about the incident. The Soviet rocket debris was tracked by U.S. Strategic Command and cataloged in its Space Track database, where Molczan eventually found the record. So there you go, mystery solved -- 35 years later.
(Hat tip to @arabist.)
Said al-Shihri just won't stay dead. Each time the deputy emir of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has reportedly been killed, he has popped up again several months later with a new piece of propaganda. He did so after supposedly being killed in September, and he did it again today after his reported death in January.
Shihri fought in Chechnya and Afghanistan before being captured by U.S. forces in 2001 and detained at Guantánamo Bay. He underwent a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and was released in September 2008, only to show up in a video announcing the formation of AQAP in Yemen just four months later.
Shihri's latest brush with death reportedly began when he was seriously wounded in an airstrike in Yemen's northern Saada province on Nov. 28 and went into a coma. But a source connected to AQAP tells Yemeni journalist Shuaib al-Mosawa that rather than succumb to his wounds, as was reported in January, Shihri was treated by Syrian doctors fighting with AQAP and has since recovered. He appears to have recovered at least enough to make an audio recording, released today, calling for an uprising in Saudi Arabia.
According to AFP, the message references events that have taken place in the months since his death was announced by Yemen's state media -- demonstrating that it was recorded recently -- but does not explicitly reference reports of his demise. Al-Mosawa's source speculated that AQAP will comment more on recent events as the initial round of Yemen's National Dialogue winds down.
The full audio message, in Arabic, can be accessed at Jihadology here.
Image via Jihadology
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on that killed four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya. Her remarks came after four months of controversy and finger-pointing about security lapses, intelligence failures, about and the administration's response to the attack, with critics accusing the White House and State Department of misleading the public (a charge that may have scuttled U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's chances for a nomination to succeed Clinton in Foggy Bottom).
After months of reporting on the attack, there was little new information to be gleaned from Clinton's testimony, but it did provide an opportunity for both the secretary and her congressional critics to air their perspectives and grievances. Clinton's testimony turned emotional early on, as she choked up in her opening statements describing standing with President Obama as the bodies of the Americans killed in Benghazi arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. She also reiterated that, "as I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility."
The hearing also turned heated at times. Sen. Ronald Johnson (R-Wis.) expressed his vehement disbelief that the State Department could not determine whether the attack was a planned terrorist action or grew out of a protest in response to the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, which had provoked rioting at other U.S. facilities throughout the Muslim world that week.
"Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees [from the Benghazi consulate] would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?" Sen. Johnson asked. "I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained," he continued, before dismissing Clinton's comment that she did not want to interfere with the processes at work on the ground as an "excuse."
The secretary told Johnson "to read the ARB [Accountability Review Board report] and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised" about the attackers' interests and allegiance. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) wrote about the ARB for Foreign Policy last month.) When pressed again, a visibly exasperated Clinton responded, "With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) were visibly frustrated by Clinton's answers. After the secretary told the committee that she had not personally read all the cables from the diplomatic mission in Libya, including those requesting increased security measures, Sen. Paul remarked that this represented "a failure in leadership," a charge that has been leveled by FP's own Shadow Government as well. "Had I been president at the time," he told Clinton, "and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Amb. Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.". McCain again voiced his doubts about the veracity of administration messaging about the attack in the early weeks afterwards. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared the administration's response to the faulty intelligence behind claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Clinton said of the talking points, "The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
McCain also "strongly disagreed" with Clinton's characterization of U.S. policy towards Libya after Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall, concluding by saying that the State Department's choice of a "soft footprint" for security contributed to the deaths at Benghazi. Clinton pointed out that Congress had placed holds on funding requests aid and security projects like those McCain cited. "We've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority, trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together," Clinton replied.
One of the few substantive clarifications was the role of the Marine personnel stationed with the diplomatic mission -- a point of confusion among many policymakers. "Historically, Marine guards do not protect personnel," said Clinton. "Their job is to protect classified material and destroy it if necessary." Several senators suggested that this should change.
Regarding that classified material, Clinton told the committee that no classified documents were left at Benghazi, "although some unclassified material was unfortunately left behind." Foreign Policy reported about this oversight in September when documents found at the razed compound suggested that there had been warning signs an attack was imminent.
Interestingly, one of the most interesting moments in the hearing wasn't about the Benghazi attack at all. Clinton spoke briefly about the hostages taken at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, observing that the same proliferation of weapons that helped arm the terrorists in Benghazi also helped arm the terrorists in southern Algeria. "The vast majority of weapons came out of Qaddafi warehouses," she said, characterizing the spread of small arms and shoulder-fired missiles as a "Pandora's box." As to whether the attacks in Benghazi and at In Amenas were directly related, she said there was insufficient intelligence.
The testimony made for a strange coda to Clinton's otherwise well-regarded term as secretary of state. Her imminent departure was mentioned as a matter of accountability by both her critics and herself. Paul remarked that he saw her decision to step down now as accepting "culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11." Clinton saw things differently. "Nobody is more committed to getting this right," she told the committee in her opening remarks. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Stealthy? Yes. Fashionable?
Well, what do I know.
Citing a desire to explore "the aesthetics of privacy and the potential for fashion to challenge authoritarian surveillance," New York artist Adam Harvey will be unveiling a line of "drone-proof" clothing next week designed to help those seeking an escape from the all-seeing eyes.
The four-piece line, dubbed "Stealth Wear," as reported by RT, includes an anti-drone scarf and an anti-drone hoodie, designed to throw off the thermal imaging systems often used by unmanned planes, a shirt with a shield that protects the wearer's heart against x-ray radiation, and an accessory Harvey has called the "Off Pocket," which lets the user "instantly zero out" a phone signal to protect against GPS tracking.
It's not Harvey's first time using art to investigate ways to shake off big brother: his master's thesis at NYU looked at ways to interfere with facial recognition software. The clothing line is a response to the growing use of domestic surveillance drones (there are expected to be as many as 30,000 in U.S. skies by 2020) but still, it's not hard to think of some people outside the U.S. who might be interested in acquiring some anti-drone wear. No word yet on how much an anti-drone scarf will cost.
Stealth Wear will be unveiled at a London studio next week along with videos explain the technology behind the garments.
In a bit of unfortunate timing, the C.I.A.'s website was shut down for a couple of hours yesterday evening in an apparent cyber attack. It was only a week ago that Leon Panetta, the C.I.A.'s outgoing director, warned senators that cyber warfare could be the next big battleground for the United States.
"The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing to replace Bob Gates as secretary of defense.
Yesterday's attack on the C.I.A. was in the form of a denial of service, meaning the hackers flooded the site with requests for access, effectively shutting down the server. While it certainly doesn't rise to the level of causing crippling damage, it is an embarrassment for the agency and highlights just how vulnerable our cyber infrastructure is.
The hacker group claiming responsibility for the attack calls itself LulzSec and describes itself as "the world's leaders in high-quality entertainment at your expense." They claimed credit via twitter yesterday with the message: "Tango down - cia.gov-for the lulz."
The group has also claimed responsibility for a string of other high profile attacks in recent weeks on the U.S. Senate, Sony, and PBS.
A U.S. official said it was important to keep in mind the site wasn't technically "hacked" since the attackers weren't able to get into the system, but acknowledged the two-hour episode was "annoying."
"These kind of issues can affect any website," the official said. "In this case it was resolved quickly."
In his new book, George W. Bush writes that he was under pressure not just from hawks in the United States to invade Iraq, but from Arab statesmen as well.
In a revealing passage, Bush writes that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt "told Tommy Franks that Iraq had biological weapons and was certain to use them on [American] troops," a VOA article highlights. Bush goes on to say that Mubarak "refused to make the allegation in public for fear of inciting the Arab street."
Additionally, Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who served as the influential Saudi ambassador to the United States for over 20 years and who Bush calls "a friend of mine since dad's presidency" also wanted a "decision" to be made -- although this seems less direct an indictment than "Iraq has biological weapons and will use them against you."
So while the Arab street was firmly opposed to American intervention in Iraq, Arab heads of states were quietly and secretly either encouraging or tacitly endorsing allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a fact that was directly being used as the principal justification for invading the country.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
The Egyptian Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, travelled to Israel on Thursday to officially discuss the Middle East peace process. Haaretz reports that Israeli President Shimon Peres met with Suleiman and "discussed different methods to jump start the flailing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians."
The visit reflects the importance of Suleiman and the Egyptian state security apparatus -- not only for domestic issues, but broader international objectives as well.
As the director of the powerful Egyptian GIS, Suleiman enjoys the support and confidence of President Hosni Mubarak, and the multifaceted role of Suleiman reflects the nature of the present government in Egypt, where regime support is highly valued and loyalty is rewarded with top trusted positions.
This is not the first time Suleiman has served such roles for Mubarak. Suleiman hosted "talks aimed at encouraging... cease-fire between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel" in early 2009, according to UPI.
The stated purpose for Suleiman's trip is to talk about the peace process, but there's likely more on the agenda. The two countries also share concerns over the rising influence of Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Egypt last year in a bid to create Arab opposition to counter the Iranian nuclear program.
Relations between Egypt and Iran detiorated following the Islamic Revloution in Iran; last year, Egypt has accussed Iran of backing subversive Hezbollah operatives in the country and convicted 26 men of espionage against the state.
Israel is likely looking to capitalize on Cairo's growing discomfort.
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Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, has concluded that India is no longer the primary threat to the country's security. Displacing New Delhi for the title are Islamist militias operating in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province:
A recent internal assessment of security by the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful military spy agency, determined that for the first time in 63 years it expects a majority of threats to come from Islamist militants, according to a senior ISI officer.
The assessment, a regular review of national security, allocates a two-thirds likelihood of a major threat to the state coming from militants rather than from India or elsewhere. It is the first time since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 that India hasn't been viewed as the top threat.
In the words of Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, the report is nothing short of "earth-shattering." To be clear, the ISI's findings aren't yet supported among members of the Pakistani military, or in the higher reaches of government. But keep your eye on this.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
Following the UAE's recent admonition of BlackBerry smartphones, the country will prohibit three of BlackBerry's web operations starting on Oct. 11 -- e-mail, instant messaging between BlackBerry phones, and the web-browsing program -- citing security concerns. Later this month, Saudi Arabia will also ban instant messaging between BlackBerrys.
A Saudi official revealed that the move is intended to strong-arm Research-in-Motion, BlackBerry's Ontario-based company, into conceding information, which it has already done for Russia and China. In 2007, RIM provided its encryption keys to a Russian telecommunications agency, which then passed it to the Federal Security Service. A year later, RIM's handset came out in China, but was delayed because the company "needed to satisfy Beijing that its handsets posed no security threat to China's communication networks."
The ban won't be lifted "until these BlackBerry applications are in full compliance with UAE regulations;" and it comes at a time when countries all around the world, are attempting to restrict the many freedoms provided by the Internet.
BlackBerry phones may be unwelcome guests at dinner parties, in class, or at the movies, but in the UAE, the smartphones have recently been labeled a "security threat."
"As a result of how Blackberry data is managed and stored, in their current form, certain Blackberry applications allow people to misuse the service, causing serious social, judicial and national security repercussions," an authority from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority declared.
Despite what may appear to be honest "social [and] judicial" concerns, Emrati officials are annoyed because they can't access BlackBerry users' personal data. Research in Motion, the company behind BlackBerrys, stores their customers' data overseas - outside of the UAE's jurisdiction.
But, this is just the latest attempt at censorship. A year ago, the country's biggest state-run mobile provider Etisalat, promoted an update to the phone that would have allowed the company to access users' personal data like emails and text messages; but it was met with fierce opposition. More recently, Bahrain banned BlackBerry's "Urgent News" app which aggregated stories from the country's six main newspapers.
Reporters Without Borders listed the UAE as an "Enemy of the Internet" and recently stated that the UAE "regards the services offered by BlackBerry, especially its instant messaging, as an obstacle to its goal of reinforcing censorship, filtering and surveillance."
The era of the BlackBerry (or CrackBerry, its affectionate nickname) may be over, according to recent figures: In America, R.I.M's share of the smartphone market fell to 41 percent in the first quarter, down from 55 percent last year. But its sales are still increasing overseas. If Dubai still wants to become the financial capital of the world, they're going to have to embrace the CrackBerry.
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. State Department summoned Syria's top diplomat in Washington, Zouheir Jabbour, to rebuke his government for transferring arms to Hezbollah. This was apparently the fourth time in recent weeks that the United States had raised these concerns with the Syrians -- but one of the first times that it had been done publicly. The State Department statement "condemns in the strongest terms the transfer of any arms, and especially ballistic missile systems such as the SCUD, from Syria to Hezbollah."
A few quick points on this news. When this story broke last week, skeptics -- including the United States's erstwhile ally, the prime minister of Lebanon -- were quick to dismiss it as Israeli propaganda. The public criticism of a Syrian diplomat should put an end to the talk that this is solely an Israeli disinformation campaign. The U.S. intelligence community obviously believes there is something behind this story, though the details remain blurry. The question now is whether this transfer actually took place, whether Syria transferred parts of the SCUDs to Hezbollah, or whether they merely had the intention to transfer the weapons.
Secondly, when the State Department wanted to call a Syrian official to task, they had to settle for Zouheir Jabbour, the deputy chief of mission. Where is Syrian Ambassadar Imad Moustapha? On vacation, apparently -- where he has been since this crisis broke last week. As we're in a particularly fraught point in the U.S-Syrian engagement process, this is a strange point for Syria's top envoy in Washington to be taking a breather.
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Google's January investigation into Chinese hacking of over twenty companies and the emails of dozens of human rights activists has highlighted an increasingly potent form of espionage:
"Cyber espionage is the great equalizer. Countries no longer have to spend billions to build globe-spanning satellites to pursue high-level intelligence gathering, when they can do so via the web..."
That is from a joint report released today by the Information Warfare Monitor and Shadowserver Foundation called "Shadows in the Cloud". It details how China-based hackers stole secret documents from the Indian Defense Ministry, the Dalai Lama's offices and the U.N over the past year. Although the report acknowledges no Chinese government link to what they dub the "Shadow Network," the information harvested is unlikely to be of much benefit to individuals. It includes secret assessments of India's security in regions bordering Tibet, Bangladesh and Myanmar; missile systems; information on the domestic Maoist insurgency; and embassy assessments of Indian relations with West Africa, Russia, former Soviet republics and the Middle East.
Reuters neatly summarizes the report's conclusions into how the attackers operated:
"The cyber-spies used popular online services, including Twitter, Google's Google Groups and Yahoo mail, to access infected computers, ultimately directing them to communicate with command and control servers in China"
Although the Chinese government has denied any involvement and made clear that it views hacking as an international crime, it will be interesting to see if it investigates such hacker networks operating from its territory. There is surely enough evidence to do so. On the other hand, it is no secret that the U.S. also hosts a large number of the world' cybercriminals; a recent report from Symantec's Message Labs showed that while the bulk of the world's targetted email attacks (28 percent) originate in China, 14 percent originate in the U.S.
In fact, since the Google-China debacle exploded, grievances in the American media have seemed to focus on freedom of speech and freedom from censorship rather than on issues of espionage. The Indian press also seems somewhat unconcerned -- the report has gotten little attention there and the Chinese government has brushed it off as media hype. It just seems that all parties are resigned to the fact, at least tacitly, that this is the way things work nowadays.
ABC News today published an "exclusive" scoop saying that an Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, has defected to the United States with the assistance of the CIA.
Except, er, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported the defection back in December, though the paper didn't say that Amiri had come to America and placed him in Europe at the time. The Telegraph's story was, however, more clearly sourced to "French intelligence sources" and contained a much richer account of how Amiri supposedly left Iran. The Telegraph also credited the subscription-only website Intelligence Online with breaking the news.
Also back in December, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki directly accused Saudi Arabia and the United States of colluding to "abduct" Amiri (amplifying some more indirect comments he had made back in October). The Telegraph story broke three days later.
The two accounts differ in important respects. According to ABC, "The CIA reportedly approached the scientist in Iran through an intermediary who made an offer of resettlement on behalf of the United States." But ABC doesn't say who reported that, and its story is sourced only to "people briefed on the operation by intelligence officials." (FYI: It so happens that a French delegation is in town for President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit.)
But Intelligence Online, the Telegraph says, reported that "The agency made contact with the scientist last year when Amiri visited Frankfurt in connection with his research work" and that "A German businessman acted as go-between. A final contact was made in Vienna when Amiri travelled to Austria to assist the Iranian representative at the IAEA. Shortly afterwards, the scientist went on pilgrimage to Mecca and hasn't been seen since."
Another apparent discrepancy between the two accounts concerns when the CIA began trying to recruit Iranian scientists. Citing "former U.S. intelligence officials," ABC says efforts to do so "through contacts made with relatives living in the United States" date back to the 1990s, whereas the Telegraph says a program called "the Brian Drain" began in 2005. It's not clear, however, whether the former officials were familiar with Amiri's case, or whether "Brain Drain," said to be aimed at inducing Iranian scientists to defect, was a separate initiative.
More to come, no doubt.
The FBI is in hot water after using a Spanish parliamentarian's picture to create a ‘What would Osama Bin Laden look like now?' image. The photo, released last week, took parts of United Left party lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares' face and combined them with an older photo of bin Laden, to create the digital image -- and Mr. Llamazares is not amused.
"Apologies are not enough," he told a news conference at Spain's parliament after the U.S. ambassador issued an apology Monday. "I want a thorough investigation into this disgraceful case, which not only causes concern but also worry and indignation over the behavior of the FBI."
The FBI claimed the new bin Laden image was created with "cutting edge" technology. However, after the comparison was made, the Bureau admitted that it had taken a photo of Llamazares' 2004 campaign poster off Google Images. FBI Spokesman Ken Hoffman told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, "The forensic artist was unable to find suitable features among the reference photographs and obtained those features, in part, from a photograph he found on the internet." Sometimes, the warnings about taking things off the internet come embarrassingly true.
As an isolated incident, it's odd enough, but this is now the third bizarre diplomatic row between Spain and the United States in the last few years.
This isn't the first photo related row between the two countries. Last year, a photo of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero, wife, and two daughters caused uproar in Spain after being released by the State Department. The picture, taken with Barack and Michelle Obama in New York, was the first public image of the two daughters (Zapatero has been adamant of protecting their privacy) ever shown.
HELIOS DE LA RUBIA/AFP/Getty Images
Isn't it interesting that the underpants bomber -- whose failed attempt to detonate plastic explosives on a Detroit-bound plane killed zero people -- has gotten a lot more attention than the CIA bomber -- who successfully perpetrated a devastating attack against a CIA forward operating base in Khost, Afghanistan, killing seven?
Granted, most Americans are probably more interested in the former story, because it directly concerns them. But now, the focus of media attention is shifting, with a couple new data points coming out.
First, the CIA bomber, a Jordanian doctor of Palestinian origin named Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, showed his face today in a video of himself next to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, posthumously published by Al Jazeera. (Interestingly, Balawi was also a prolific jihadi blogger who told the CIA that his online writings were part of his cover.)
And second, the CIA disclosed that Balawi detonated himself moments before he was about to undergo a pat-down search. As CIA director Leon Panetta puts it in an op-ed in today's Washington Post, " This was not a question of trusting a potential intelligence asset, even one who had provided information that we could verify independently."
It is never that simple, and no one ignored the hazards. The individual was about to be searched by our security officers -- a distance away from other intelligence personnel -- when he set off his explosives.
(Panetta's claim that poor tradecraft was not to blame for the bombing's success is undermined by the Post's own reporting. )
NPR also notes today, as has been reported elsewhere, that Balawi was considered "a valued CIA informant" whose reports were restricted to the highest levels of the agency. "He was feeding us low-level operatives and we were whacking them," a former intelligence official told the network.
The new details about the attack are interesting, but the most significant news here is that the Pakistani Taliban is taking credit. That means there's going to be intensified pressure on the Pakistani government and military to finish the job against the Mehsud network, whose base in South Waziristan was just successfully assaulted last fall. Hakimullah has obviously survived to fight another day, and now he can boast about having outfoxed the mighty CIA.
Some analysts' initial assumption had been that the Haqqani network, whose area of operations straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan and is near the Khost base, was behind the attack. (The Afghan Taliban originally claimed responsibility, crediting a disaffected Afghan army member.) Haqqani's people as well as al Qaeda proper may yet have been involved, suggests Pakistani analyst Talat Masood here:
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, said that in addition to involvement by Mr. Mehsud’s network, the attack on the C.I.A. station in Khost most likely also had some involvement of Al Qaeda and other Taliban factions. Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban groups have also claimed responsibility for the attack.
So what happens now? Well, I think it's fair to say the CIA is going to be out for blood. It may take some time to replenish its expertise in targeting drone strikes -- and reassess the effectiveness of those strikes aided by Balawi's tips -- but Hakimullah is going to be Public Enemy No. 1 now, if he wasn't already. With Pakistan already on his tail, I'd say his days are numbered.
Since the Pants Bomber thankfully failed to blow up Nortwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, the United States has taken a long, hard look at the security failures that allowed him onto the plane -- particularly given that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's own father, a prominent Nigerian banker, had alerted U.S. authorities to his 23-year-old son's radicalization. Increasingly within Washington, there are calls for heads to roll. So, a straw poll: Who's it going to be?
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