Decades ago, the CIA declassified a 26-page secret document cryptically titled, “clarifying statement to Fidel Castro concerning assassination.”
It was a step toward greater transparency for one of the most secretive of all federal agencies. But to find out what the document actually said, you had to trek to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland between the hours of 9 am and 4:30 pm and hope that one of only four computers designated by the CIA to access its archives would be available.
But today the CIA posted the Castro record on its website along with more than 12 million pages of the agency’s other declassified documents that have eluded the public, journalists, and historians for nearly two decades. You can view them here.
The title of the Castro document, as it turns out, was far more interesting than the contents. It includes a partial transcript of a 1977 transcript between Barbara Walters and Fidel Castro in which she asked the late Cuban dictator whether he had “proof” of the CIA’s last attempt to assassinate him. The transcript was sent to Admiral Stansfield Turner, the CIA Director at the time, by a public affairs official at the agency with a note highlighting all references to CIA.
But that’s just one of the millions documents, which date from the 1940s to 1990s, are wide-ranging, covering everything from Nazi war crimes to mind-control experiments to the role the CIA played in overthrowing governments in Chile and Iran. There are also secret documents about a telepathy and precognition program known as Star Gate, files the CIA kept on certain media publications, such as Mother Jones, photographs, more than 100,000 pages of internal intelligence bulletins, policy papers and memos written by former CIA directors.
[…] The night-and-day report and reaction hint at either a difficult relationship to come between the president and America’s spies, or a cagey response by a future commander in chief who is only beginning to realize how the chess masters in the Kremlin play the game of geopolitics.
The unclassified report is unlikely to convince a single skeptic, as it offers none of the evidence intelligence officials say they have to back it up—none of those emails or transcripts of phone calls showing a clear connection between the Russian government and the political intrusions. The reason—revealing how U.S. spies know what they know could endanger U.S. spy operations.
And it contains some out-dated information that seems slapdash considering the attention focused on it. Errors in the report were almost inevitable, because of the haste in which it was prepared, said one U.S. official briefed on the report. The report comes in three levels—unclassified, classified and then one so top secret that only a handful of intelligence professionals was able to view the whole thing. That most classified report is the one that went to President Barack Obama, and to Trump. The merely classified version will be briefed to lawmakers in the coming days. The classification issues alone meant it was “hard to transmit around” to be fact-checked, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
After months of anticipation, speculation, and hand-wringing by politicians and journalists, American intelligence agencies have finally released a declassified version of a report on the part they believe Russia played in the US presidential election. On Friday, when the report appeared, the major newspapers came out with virtually identical headlines highlighting the agencies’ finding that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to help Donald Trump win the presidency—a finding the agencies say they hold “with high confidence.”
A close reading of the report shows that it barely supports such a conclusion. Indeed, it barely supports any conclusion. There is not much to read: the declassified version is twenty-five pages, of which two are blank, four are decorative, one contains an explanation of terms, one a table of contents, and seven are a previously published unclassified report by the CIA’s Open Source division. There is even less to process: the report adds hardly anything to what we already knew. The strongest allegations—including about the nature of the DNC hacking—had already been spelled out in much greater detail in earlier media reports.
But the real problems come with the findings themselves.
Reports late Tuesday of Russia having “compromising” information on President-elect Donald Trump quickly escalated into a media frenzy on Wednesday, with the release of the full dossier making the allegations by Buzzfeed, which both fueled serious doubts about the veracity of the claims and a flurry of speculation surrounding some of sexual allegations therein.
The dossier makes several different claims, none of them substantiated beyond the claims of alleged and anonymous officials, accusing the Trump campaign of direct cooperation with Russia on the election, trading dirt on Hillary Clinton for intelligence somehow collected by the Trump team on Russian oligarchs living in the US, and providing leaked Clinton emails in return for Trump expressing doubt about US support for NATO.
The more salacious aspects of the report got the most attention, however, centering on claims that Russia had substantial dirt on Trump himself, not the least of which a 2013 video in which Trump putatively rented the presidential suite at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton, knowing that the Obamas had stayed there, explicitly to “defile” their bed.
[…] There is a real danger here that this maneuver can harshly backfire, to the great benefit of Trump and to the great detriment of those who want to oppose him. If any of the significant claims in this “dossier” turn out to be provably false — such as Cohen’s trip to Prague — many people will conclude, with Trump’s encouragement, that large media outlets (CNN and BuzzFeed) and anti-Trump factions inside the government (CIA) are deploying “Fake News” to destroy him. In the eyes of many people, that will forever discredit — render impotent — future journalistic exposés that are based on actual, corroborated wrongdoing.
Beyond that, the threat posed by submitting ourselves to the CIA and empowering it to reign supreme outside of the democratic process is — as Eisenhower warned — an even more severe danger. The threat of being ruled by unaccountable and unelected entities is self-evident and grave. That’s especially true when the entity behind which so many are rallying is one with a long and deliberate history of lying, propaganda, war crimes, torture, and the worst atrocities imaginable.
All of the claims about Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and ties to Trump should be fully investigated by a credible body, and the evidence publicly disclosed to the fullest extent possible. As my colleague Sam Biddle argued last week after disclosure of the farcical intelligence community report on Russia hacking — one which even Putin’s foes mocked as a bad joke — the utter lack of evidence for these allegations means “we need an independent, resolute inquiry.” But until then, assertions that are unaccompanied by evidence and disseminated anonymously should be treated with the utmost skepticism — not lavished with convenience-driven gullibility.
Most important of all, the legitimate and effective tactics for opposing Trump are being utterly drowned by these irrational, desperate, ad hoc crusades that have no cogent strategy and make his opponents appear increasingly devoid of reason and gravity. Right now, Trump’s opponents are behaving as media critic Adam Johnson described: as ideological jelly fish, floating around aimlessly and lost, desperately latching on to whatever barge randomly passes by.
There are solutions to Trump. They involve reasoned strategizing and patient focus on issues people actually care about. Whatever those solutions are, venerating the intelligence community, begging for its intervention, and equating their dark and dirty assertions as Truth are most certainly not among them. Doing that cannot possibly achieve any good, and is already doing much harm.
Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet who defected to the West in 1951, was struck by the ostentatiousness of American cultural programs: “You could smell big money from a mile away.” The era’s finest little magazines, titles like Partisan Review and The Paris Review, published enduring fiction, poetry, and essays. The writings of Clement Greenberg and Lionel Trilling set the high-water mark for art and literary criticism. Richard Wright wrote the mournful poem that would provide the title for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 best-seller, Between the World and Me. The artists who waged the radical political battles of the 1930s emerged in the 1950s as cultural institutions, achieving a prominence—even a celebrity—that has eluded subsequent generations.
Plenty of observers, however, suspected that the free market of ideas had been corrupted. World tours, fancy conferences, prestigious bylines and book contracts were bestowed on artists who hewed to political positions favored by the establishment, rather than on the most talented. In 1966, The New York Times confirmed suspicions that the CIA was pumping money into “civil society” organizations: unions, international organizations of students and women, groups of artists and intellectuals. The agency had produced the popular cartoon version of George Orwell’s anticommunist classic Animal Farmin 1954. It flew the Boston Symphony Orchestra on a European tour in 1952, to counter prejudices of the United States as uncultured and unsophisticated. It promoted the work of abstract expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock because their artistic style would have been considered degenerate in both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The propriety of such largesse, both for the CIA and its beneficiaries, has been hotly debated ever since. Jason Epstein, the celebrated book editor, was quick to point out that CIA involvement undermined the very conditions for free thought, in which “doubts about established orthodoxies” were supposed to be “taken to be the beginning of all inquiry.” But Gloria Steinem, who worked with the CIA in the 1950s and ’60s, “was happy to find some liberals in government in those days,” arguing that the agency was “nonviolent and honorable.” Milosz, too, agreed that the “liberal conspiracy,” as he called it, “was necessary and justified.” It was, he allowed, “the sole counterweight to the propaganda on which the Soviets expended astronomical sums.”
Today’s intellectuals approach their labors in a very different set of circumstances. The struggle for academic patronage and the strained conditions of nearly all media properties have led to fewer jobs and fewer venues for substantial writing; the possibility of leading a public-facing life of the mind now seems vanishingly small, which only heightens nostalgia for the golden age of the 1950s. Yet the shadow of the CIA lurks behind the achievements of that time. The free play of ideas—the very thing that was supposed to distinguish the United States from the Soviet Union in the first place—turned out to be, at least in part, a carefully constructed illusion. What if the prominence of midcentury intellectuals, the sense that they were engaged in important political and artistic projects, is inseparable from the fact that they were useful to America’s Cold War empire?
Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman speak to former CIA analyst John Nixon who interrogated Saddam Hussein after his capture 13 years ago. Nixon is the author of the new book, Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, in which he reveals that much of what the CIA believed they knew about Saddam Hussein at the time of the invasion was wrong. During his interrogation, Hussein revealed that by 2003 he had largely turned over power to his aides so he could concentrate on writing a novel. There was no program of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was also deeply critical of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups inspired by Wahhabism. During the interrogation, Hussein also had a warning for the United States about Iraq. He said, “You are going to fail. You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq. You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind.” Part Two of the interview with John Nixon can be found here. (Democracy Now!)
Amid the mainstream U.S. media’s current self-righteous frenzy against “fake news,” it’s worth recalling how the big newspapers destroyed Gary Webb, an honest journalist who exposed some hard truths about the Reagan administration’s collaboration with Nicaraguan Contra cocaine traffickers.
Webb’s reward for reviving that important scandal in 1996 – and getting the CIA’s inspector general to issue what amounted to an institutional confession in 1998 – was to have The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lobby for, essentially, his banishment from journalism.
The major media pile-on was so intense and so effective that Webb lost his job at the San Jose Mercury-News and could never find regular work in his profession again. Betrayed by his journalistic colleagues, his money gone, his family broken and his life seemingly hopeless, Webb committed suicide on Dec. 9, 2004.
President Obama indicated on Friday that he won’t pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even as President-elect Donald Trumpannounced his pick to run the CIA: Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo, who has called for “the traitor Edward Snowden” to be executed.
Pompeo has supported nearly unfettered NSA surveillance, has blamed Muslim leaders for condoning terror, and is one of the most hyperbolic members of Congress when it comes to describing the Islamic State, which he has called “an existential threat to America” and “the most lethal and powerful terrorist group ever to have existed.”
In an interview with Obama published on Friday, German newspaper Der Spiegel asked: “Are you going to pardon Edward Snowden?” Obama replied: “I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something that I would comment on at this point.”
When Donald Trump becomes commander in chief in January, he will take on presidential powers that have never been more expansive and unchecked.
He’ll control an unaccountable drone program, and the prison at Guantanamo Bay. His FBI, including a network of 15,000 paid informants, already has a record of spying on mosques and activists, and his NSA’s surveillance empire is ubiquitous and governed by arcane rules, most of which remain secret. He will inherit bombing campaigns in seven Muslim countries, the de facto ability to declare war unilaterally, and a massive nuclear arsenal — much of which is on hair-trigger alert.
Caught off guard by Hillary Clinton’s election defeat, Democrats who defended these powers under President Obama may suddenly be having second thoughts as the White House gets handed over to a man they described — with good reason — as “unhinged,” and “dangerously unfit.”
The U.S. intelligence community and American scholars of international affairs have a remarkable and impressive record. Though scholars in countries that follow the “English School” of international relations (such as the UK, Canada, Australia) can be every bit as impressive, the best Americans stand out as world leaders and have inspired many around the world.
Long exposure to the analysts and product of the CIA, both its intelligence achievements and failures, teaches the astute student three analytical principles: empathy, curiosity and humility. These lessons have been reinforced over many decades by leading American scholars, like Raymond Garthoff, Doak Barnett, Jack Snyder, Barry Posen, John Steinbrunner, Jonathan Pollack, Michael Swaine, Richard Solomon, David Lampton, Ezra Vogel, Sam Huntington and Richard Betts, to name a few, regardless of their seemingly disparate political dispositions.
These qualities seem all too absent among the raucous commentariat that has come to dominate public discourse on China in the United States, including in some parts of the U.S. government, armed forces, the Congress and many non-specialist writings on China. Donald Trump’s charge from 2012 that climate change is a conspiracy dreamt up by China to bring down the United States is symptomatic of the gulf between some new political movements in the United States and the much wiser, better informed intelligence officials and scholars. It is also symptomatic of the lack of self-awareness of the loudest promoters of unscientific and highly propagandistic international relations analysis of China. Many less critical analysts have found undeserved prominence because of new opportunities created by the information age.
With the collapse of the US-Russian ceasefire agreement and the resumption and escalation of the massive Russian bombing campaign in Aleppo, the frustration of hawks in Washington over the failure of the Obama administration to use American military power in Syria has risen to new heights.
But the administration’s inability to do anything about Russian military escalation in Aleppo is the logical result of the role the Obama administration has been playing in Syria over the past five years.
The problem is that the administration has pursued policy objectives that it lacked the means to achieve. When Obama called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down in September 2011, the administration believed, incredibly, that he would do so of his own accord. As formerHillary Clinton aide and Pentagon official Derek Chollet reveals in his new book, The Long Game, “[E]arly in the crisis, most officials believed Assad lacked the necessary cunning and fortitude to stay in power.”
Administration policymakers began using the phrase “managed transition” in regard to US policy toward the government, according to Chollet. The phrase reflected perfectly the vaulting ambitions of policymakers who were eager to participate in a regime change that they saw as a big win for the United States and Israel and a big loss for Iran.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be out front pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a “transition” in Syria.
But US regional Sunni allies – Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – would provide the arms to Syrian fighters. The only US role in the war would be a covert operation devised by then CIA director David Petraeus to provide intelligence and logistical assistance to those allies, to get arms to the groups chosen by the Sunni regimes that would pay for them.
Last year around this time, CIA stood up its first new office since 1963—the Directorate for Digital Innovation—a seismic shift for the agency that legitimized the importance of technology, including big data and analytics.
According to Deputy Director for Digital Innovation Andrew Hallman, the man tapped by CIA Director John Brennan to run the digital wing, that digital pivot is paying off.
The agency, Hallman said, has significantly improved its “anticipatory intelligence,” using a mesh of sophisticated algorithms and analytics against complex systems to better predict the flow of everything from illicit cash to extremists around the globe. Deep learning and other forms of machine learning can help analysts understand how seemingly disparate data sets might be linked or lend themselves to predicting future events with national security ramifications.
Fake News and False Flags: How the Pentagon Paid a British PR Firm $500m for Top Secret Iraq Propaganda
The Pentagon gave a controversial UK PR firm over half a billion dollars to run a top secret propaganda programme in Iraq, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.
Bell Pottinger’s output included short TV segments made in the style of Arabic news networks and fake insurgent videos which could be used to track the people who watched them, according to a former employee.
The agency’s staff worked alongside high-ranking US military officers in their Baghdad Camp Victory headquarters as the insurgency raged outside.
Bell Pottinger’s former chairman Lord Tim Bell confirmed to the Sunday Times, which worked with the Bureau on this story, that his firm had worked on a “covert” military operation “covered by various secrecy agreements.”
Bell Pottinger reported to the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Council on its work in Iraq, he said.
Bell, one of Britain’s most successful public relations executives, is credited with honing Margaret Thatcher’s steely image and helping the Conservative party win three elections. The agency he co-founded has had a roster of clients including repressive regimes and Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president.
The list of key advisers — which includes the general who executed the troop surge in Iraq and a former Bush homeland security chief turned terror profiteer — is a strong indicator that Clinton’s national security policy will not threaten the post-9/11 national-security status quo that includes active use of military power abroad and heightened security measures at home.
It’s a story we’ve seen before in President Obama’s early appointments. In retrospect, analysts have pointed to the continuity in national security and intelligence advisers as an early sign that despite his campaign rhetoric Obama would end up building on — rather than tearing down — the often-extralegal, Bush-Cheney counterterror regime. For instance, while Obama promised in 2008 to reform the NSA, its director was kept on and its reach continued to grow.
Obama’s most fateful decision may have been choosing former National Counterterrorism Center Director John Brennan to be national security adviser, despite Brennan’s support of Bush’s torture program. Brennan would go on to run the president’s drone program, lead the CIA, fight the Senate’s torture investigation, and then lie about searching Senate computers.
That backdrop is what makes Clinton’s new list of advisers so significant.
The two CIA-contracted psychologists accused of crafting the spy agency’s so-called “enhanced interrogation program” want the U.S. government to turn over documents they hope will show the torture program wasn’t their fault.
The motion to compel the documents, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday, alleged that the CIA and Justice Department had been uncooperative in supplying James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen with “documents critical to their defense.”
Their request is related to a separate ongoing lawsuit in Spokane, Washington, where the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of three former CIA detainees, is suing Jessen and Mitchell for their alleged role in creating and implementing an interrogation program that used techniques now considered to be torture.
The White House staff for national security, exempt from review by Congress, plays a substantial role in the process for killing suspected terrorists, according to a newly released document on drone strikes.
The 2013 document, known informally as the “playbook” for Barack Obama’s signature counterterrorism operations, was released on Saturday by the justice department as the result of court requests by the American Civil Liberties Union. The playbook provides the closest look to date at the bureaucratic machinery of global killing that Obama will pass on to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
The document designates the National Security Council (NSC) staff as a body of review over “all operational plans” for either killing or capturing terrorist subjects. Once representatives of various cabinet agencies and departments meet to discuss a specific plan, NSC attorneys provide legal input.
Those operational plans, which are conceived by the CIA or the Pentagon and not the NSC staff, provide granular details about life-or-death decision-making and address issues a level above the specific people or categories of people targeted for death or capture. While the NSC staff plays a role in nominating people for inclusion on the so-called “kill list”, it neither makes the nomination nor involves itself in carrying out a strike or raid.
Douglas Laux claims he was the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) top spy operative in Syria, tasked with drawing up plans for regime change during the crucial early years (2012-2013) of Syria’s grinding civil conflict. He was considered the CIA’s “eyes and ears on the ground” in war-torn Syria. Yet it turns out he knew very little, if anything, about the country.
Laux spent most of his eight year career as a CIA operative in Afghanistan, where he was lauded by superiors for his ability to “go native” with his scraggly beard and fluency in Pashto. His attempts to develop an Afghan spy network capable of infiltrating the Taliban and tracking al-Qaida are the focus of his memoir, written after leaving the CIA and entitled Left of Boom: How a Young CIA Case Officer Penetrated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda (St. Martin’s Press, 2016).
The book went through the CIA’s review process prior to publication, standard procedure for former employees wishing to write about their work, which left entire pages of what the CIA deemed sensitive or classified material blacked out. Laux and co-author Ralph Pezzullo left the thick black lines in place throughout the book, perhaps to underscore the authenticity of Laux’s narrative.
But it’s what Laux chooses to tell readers regarding his role in Syria that is most shocking.
Protests on the floor of the convention continued on Wednesday. They reached a peak when former CIA Director Leon Panetta took the stage. While Panetta was criticizing Donald Trump’s appeal to the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, many delegates started chanting “No more war!” (Democracy Now!)
[…] Abu Zubaydah, 45, a Saudi national who was the CIA’s first captive following the 9/11 attacks, served as the guinea pig for what the CIA euphemistically referred to as its “enhanced interrogation” program. The details about Abu Zubaydah’s treatment were revealed in a sworn, eight-page declaration [PDF at the end of this story] he provided to his attorney in 2009 that was filed under seal in US District Court in Washington, DC seven years ago in his habeas corpus case in which his attorneys have argued for his release.
That declaration was unsealed one week ago, prepared for public release in response to a motion filed earlier this year by investigative journalist Raymond Bonner, who convinced the federal judge presiding over Abu Zubaydah’s case to unseal dozens of court filings that have been shrouded in secrecy since 2008.
The judge who previously oversaw the case, Richard Roberts, failed to rule on nearly every motion Abu Zubaydah’s attorneys have filed over the past seven years. He abruptly retired from the bench as chief judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia on March 16, the same day a woman filed a lawsuit accusing him of sexually assaulting her more than three decades ago when she was 16 years old.
The partially redacted declaration was attached as an exhibit to a 21-page motion his attorneys filed on September 21, 2009 asking the court to impose sanctions against the government for destroying “material evidence” — nearly 100 interrogation videotapes, at least one of which showed Abu Zubaydah being waterboarded.
The CIA has a long history of “spooking the news,” dating back to its earliest days when the legendary spymaster Allen Dulles and his top staff drank and dined regularly with the press elite of New York and Washington, and the agency boasted hundreds of U.S. and foreign journalists as paid and unpaid assets. In 1977, after this systematic media manipulation was publicly exposed by congressional investigations, the CIA created an Office of Public Affairs that was tasked with guiding press coverage of intelligence matters in a more transparent fashion. The agency insists that it no longer maintains a stable of friendly American journalists, and that its efforts to influence the press are much more above board. But, in truth, the intelligence empire’s efforts to manufacture the truth and mold public opinion are more vast and varied than ever before. One of its foremost assets? Hollywood.
The agency has established a very active spin machine in the heart of the entertainment capital, which works strenuously to make sure the cloak-and-dagger world is presented in heroic terms. Since the mid-1990s, but especially after 9/11, American screenwriters, directors, and producers have traded positive portrayal of the spy profession in film or television projects for special access and favors at CIA headquarters.
Ever since its inception in 1947, the CIA has been covertly working with Hollywood. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the agency formally hired an entertainment industry liaison and began openly courting favorable treatment in films and television. During the Clinton presidency, the CIA took its Hollywood strategy to a new level—trying to take more control of its own mythmaking. In 1996, the CIA hired one of its veteran clandestine officers, Chase Brandon, to work directly with Hollywood studios and production companies to upgrade its image. “We’ve always been portrayed erroneously as evil and Machiavellian,” Brandon later told The Guardian. “It took us a long time to support projects that portray us in the light we want to be seen in.”
[…] Celebrity generals like Petraeus and fellow former four-star generals Stanley McChrystal (whose military career was also consumed in the flames of scandal) and Ray Odierno (who retired amid controversy), as well as retired admiral and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, don’t even need to enter the world of arms dealers and defense firms. These days, those jobs may increasingly be left to second-tier military luminaries like Marine Corps general James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now on the board of directors at Raytheon, as well as former Vice Admiral and Director of Naval Intelligence Jack Dorsett, who joined Northrop Grumman.
If, however, you are one of the military’s top stars, the sky is increasingly the limit. You can, for instance, lead a consulting firm (McChrystal and Mullen) or advise or even join the boards of banks and civilian corporations like JPMorgan Chase (Odierno), Jet Blue (McChrystal), and General Motors (Mullen).
For his part, after putting his extramarital affair behind him, Petraeus became a partner at the private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co. L.P. (KKR), where he also serves as the chairman of the KKR Global Institute and, according to his bio, “oversees the institute’s thought leadership platform focused on geopolitical and macro-economic trends, as well as environmental, social, and governance issues.” His lieutenants include a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and campaign manager for President George W. Bush, as well as a former leading light at Morgan Stanley.
KKR’s portfolio boasts a bit of everything, from Alliant Insurance Services and Panasonic Healthcare to a host of Chinese firms (Rundong Automobile Group and Asia Dairy, among them). There are also defense firms under its umbrella, including TASC, the self-proclaimed “premier provider of advanced systems engineering and integration services across the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, and civilian agencies of the federal government,” and Airbus Group’s defense electronics business which KKR recently bought for $1.2 billion.
KKR is, however, just where Petraeus’s post-military, post-CIA résumé begins.
By January of 2004, when German citizen Khaleed al Masri arrived at the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prison in Afghanistan, agency officials were pretty sure he wasn’t a terrorist. They also knew he didn’t know any terrorists, or much about anything in the world of international terror.
In short, they suspected they’d nabbed the wrong man.
Still, the agency continued to imprison and interrogate him, according to a recently released internal CIA report on Masri’s arrest. The report claims that Masri suffered no physical abuse during his wrongful imprisonment, though it acknowledges that for months he was kept in a “small cell with some clothing, bedding and a bucket for his waste.” Masri says he was tortured, specifically that a medical examination against his will constituted sodomy.
The embarrassing, and horrifying, case of Masri is hardly new. It has been known for a decade as a colossal example of CIA error in the agency’s pursuit of terrorists during the administration of President George W. Bush.
But the recently released internal report makes it clear that the CIA’s failures in the Masri case were even more outrageous than previous accounts have suggested.
Federal investigators are taking a close look at the Chinese ownership of an American insurance company that has been selling legal liability insurance to senior CIA, FBI and other intelligence officials and operatives for decades.
The company, Wright USA, was quietly acquired late last year by Fosun Group, a Shanghai-based conglomerate led by Guo Guangchang, a billionaire known as “China’s Warren Buffett” who has high-level Communist Party connections.
The links between Guo and Wright USA came under scrutiny by the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, as well as the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the coordinating body of all U.S. spy agencies, soon after Fosun announced the purchase of Wright’s parent company last November. The FBI has also launched a criminal probe into whether the company made “unauthorized disclosures of government data to outsiders,” according to a well-placed source, who like others, spoke to Newsweek on condition of anonymity because the information was sensitive.
U.S. officials are concerned that the deal gave Chinese spy agencies a pipeline into the names, job titles, addresses and phone numbers of tens of thousands of American intelligence and counterterrorism officials—many working undercover—going back decades.
British people are not demanding more transparency from the intelligence services as loudly as Americans, the former director of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA has said.
Michael Hayden played a pivotal, leading role in American intelligence until he was replaced as director of the CIA shortly into the presidency of Barack Obama.
In a wide-ranging talk on the fourth day of the Hay festival, Hayden addressed CIA torture, targeted killings, what he thinks about Edward Snowden and how Facebook is perhaps a greater threat to privacy than government.
Hayden said the security services were changing faster in the US than the UK. “You as a population are far more tolerant of aggressive action on the part of your intelligence services than we are in the United States,” he said.
Today, if you go on Twitter, you can find the NSA tweeting about its commitment to recycling, or the CIA joking about still not knowing the whereabouts of Tupac. Why are these once-sinister and little-known spy agencies so eager to put on a friendly face for us? The answer can be traced back to the Church Committee of 1975-76, which forever changed the way Americans looked at the intelligence agencies meant to serve them.
Last week marked 40 years since the final report of the Church Committee was released to the public. You can read its report here. Set up in January 1975 in the wake of Watergate, and shortly after investigative reporter Seymour Hersh revealed the CIA’s role in not only undermining foreign governments but in spying on U.S. citizens, the Committee spent 16 months trawling through classified and unclassified documents and grilling hundreds of counterintelligence officers, CIA directors, FBI higher-ups and other officials in order to shine a light on the scope of the intelligence community’s abuses over the previous decades.
The result was an unprecedented public spotlight on the shadowy world of American intelligence that forever altered the public’s perception of the United States’ various intelligence agencies. This was particularly so with the NSA, whose role and even existence was little-known among the public prior to the Committee’s revelations.
More important was what the Committee actually revealed. Its final report, released on April 26, 1976, detailed a stunningly broad scope of lawlessness and abuses by the intelligence world, which had, under successive presidents, turned its considerable powers increasingly on the American people themselves. Agencies like the CIA and FBI appeared to be acting as governments in themselves, flouting legal restraints as they ran programs that elected officials, even right up to the president, were kept in the dark about.
[…] In Clarridge’s mind, the whole thing was nothing more than the media meddling where it didn’t belong. “Nobody was ever indicted for going against the Constitution or all this hyperventilating that was going on,” he argued. “They were indicted for lying to the Congress or shredding paper.” The press, he claimed, was run by Democrats in bed with leftist nuns and hated Reagan’s policies and therefore did everything to undermine them.
Clarridge reserved special scorn for San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, whose explosive series of articles in 1996 claimed the CIA inadvertently helped spread crack cocaine in American inner cities. When the CIA’s inspector general sought to investigate that claim, Clarridge refused to answer his former employer’s questions, calling them “bullshit.” Without realizing my book about Webb was the basis for the recent film, Clarridge marveled at what he saw as Hollywood’s depraved bias against the agency. “Oh yeah, the drug thing is a complete canard,” he huffed. “It’s not true—they even resurrected it in a movie recently!”
Then, after a glass of wine, Clarridge dropped a bombshell, or at least that’s what he wanted me to believe. The so-called October Surprise conspiracy—in which the incoming Reagan administration’s advance team allegedly plotted to keep American hostages in Iran until after President Jimmy Carter left office—was real, he hinted. He mentioned the 2013 novel October 1980 by George Cave, himself a veteran spook and, according to Clarridge, the agency’s top Iran expert, in which a fictional Iranian expatriate businessman enriches himself by aiding a covert American plan to free hostages in Tehran.
“It’s a novel, but it’s really not a novel,” Clarridge explained. The exact date of the hostage release, Clarridge claimed, was set by infamous Iran-Contra middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, who Clarridge claims had “big bets in Las Vegas—big, big—millions” tied to the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. “What George tells you is the real story,” he said, whispering. “The whole novel is really true.” (I wasn’t able to reach Ghorbanifar for comment. But in a recent interview, Cave told me that he didn’t believe Reagan officials plotted to delay the hostage release, but the part about the Iranian businessman was likely true. “Ghorbanifar liked to spend time in Las Vegas,” Cave says. “Knowing what he knew, I can’t believe he didn’t have some bets.”)
[…] James Jesus Angleton, who died in 1987, was a master of Cold War power politics, and a seer of the coming U.S. surveillance state. His charisma gained him the confidence of several famous poets, a future pope, four Mossad chiefs, a presidential mistress, a couple of Mafiosos, the odd New York intellectual, and a global network of like-minded spooks.
Whatever his faults, Angleton acted zealously on a theory of history whose validity is hard to accept and hard to dispute. He believed that secret intelligence agencies controlled the destiny of mankind. During his 27-year career at the CIA, from 1947 to 1974, he acted as if the CIA and the KGB were struggling over the future of civilization itself — which, of course, they were.
The Cold War is over and Angleton is gone, but the espionage techniques he mastered — mass surveillance, disinformation, targeted assassination, and extrajudicial detention — remain with us, albeit on a much larger scale. Since September 11, 2001, the power of secret intelligence agencies to shape our future is obvious.
Yet it wasn’t until I went to Georgetown in search of one of Angleton’s darkest secrets that I came away with a personal lesson in how the CIA makes history — by erasing it.
In no place in America are the abrupt changes in the nation’s security posture so keenly reflected in real estate and lifestyle than the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. In the decade after 9/11, it has grown into a sprawling, pretentious representation of the federal government’s growth, vices and prosperity, encompassing the wealthiest counties, the best schools, and some of the highest rates of income inequality in the country.
“People hate Washington but they don’t really know why,” says Mike Lofgren, a longtime Beltway inhabitant and arch critic of its culture. But show them what is underneath the dignified facades—particularly the greed and excess financed by the overgrown military-industrial complex—and the populist resentment recently harnessed by insurgent candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders just might have a concrete grievance that can drive real change.
For Lofgren, “Beltwayland” is perhaps best described as analogous to the Victorian novel the Picture of Dorian Gray—a rich, shimmering ecosystem in which all of the ugly, twisted aberrations are hidden away in an attic somewhere, or rather sadly, in the poverty-blighted wards and low income zip codes of “the DMV” (The District, Maryland, and Virginia).
Oscar Wilde might have seen a bit of his Victorian England in Washington’s self-indulgent elite, but unlike the gentry of Dorian Gray, men and women here see not leisure, but amassing personal wealth through workaholism, as a virtue of the ruling class. For them, a two-front war and Washington’s newly enlarged national-security state, much of which is hidden in plain sight, have ushered in a 21st-century gilded age only replicated in America’s few, most privileged enclaves.