By Luiza Ch. Savage - Friday, February 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
The U.S. president has chosen the architect of his controversial, covert war against terrorists
He doesn’t have the profile of John Kerry, President Obama’s new secretary of state, nor the affability of the outgoing defence secretary, Leon Panetta, who was played by James Gandolfini in the film Zero Dark Thirty. But James O. Brennan, nominated by Obama to head the Central Intelligence Agency, has already been playing one of the most controversial, behind-the-scenes roles in the administration.
As Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, Brennan, 57, oversees the targeted killing of terrorism suspects and the escalating use of armed, unmanned drones, which by some estimates have killed thousands of people, primarily in Pakistan.
Brennan leads the process by which national security officials decide who gets marked for assassination, how the evidence against them is weighed, and how legal principles are applied. He’s the one who takes the recommendations to the President. And he has been reportedly writing an internal counterterrorism playbook—guidelines for lethal strikes, whose use he has described as “ethical and just.” Continue…
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 12:20 PM - 0 Comments
And not so much about the personal indiscretions of public figures
You know when scandals erupt in the media about teens “sexting,” cyberbullying, and sharing lewd photos on the Internet, and everybody asks, “Where are the parents?” Well, now we know the answer: they’re doing the exact same thing. Enter the David Petraeus affair, or Call of Booty, as video-game enthusiasts have labelled it: the most complicated military drama of all time, a soap opera on steroids, harder to parse than seasons four and five of Desperate Housewives combined. The FBI is currently compiling a timeline of their probe that revealed the beleaguered American spy boss’s extramarital affair; one they’ve probably had to update on the hour. (As you’re reading this, I’m sure new news will have already broken, this time involving Petraeus’s dog, or maybe a love child.) However, allow me to give you a brief rundown of the story, as it stands while I write this:
Beloved military leader and, until very recently, director of America’s Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, resigned last Friday after he admitted to having an affair, reportedly with his biographer: 40-year-old married mother of two, Paula Broadwell. The FBI began its investigation of Broadwell in June, when Tampa Bay socialite Jill Kelley reported that she was receiving anonymous emails from an apparently jealous woman. The FBI allegedly traced the emails to Broadwell. Her online activity revealed that she was having an affair with Petraeus (it appears the two shared a Gmail account and conversed through unsent email drafts—a common practice among terrorists and teenagers alike.)
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Monday, October 22, 2012 at 11:06 AM - 0 Comments
His new film, Argo, may not give Canadians all the credit, but the Hollywood star smooths things over.
Ben Affleck’s new film, Argo, recounts the joint Canadian-U.S. effort to rescue six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. Yet Affleck, who co-wrote and directed the movie, has been accused of understating the role of the Canadian government and then-Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor. In an exclusive interview after the movie’s premiere, Taylor told Maclean’s, “We’re portrayed as innkeepers who are waiting to be saved by the CIA.”
By last week any hard feelings appeared to be smoothed over. On Oct. 10, the Canadian Embassy in Washington hosted an elegant reception for Affleck and the cast of Argo—including Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and John Goodman. Ken Taylor and his wife, Pat, also attended, as did several of the U.S diplomats portrayed in the film. It helped that before the movie hit theatres, Affleck had asked Taylor to rewrite the postscript.
After the event, there was a screening of the movie at a downtown theatre. There, Affleck took a moment to address the audience. While noting that the movie tells the story of the rescue through the perspective of CIA agent Tony Mendez, Affleck praised the Canadians for their role. “There were folks who didn’t want to take in our people,” he said. “Governments, some friends of ours said, ‘You know what, this isn’t appropriate for us. We don’t want to absorb this risk.’ But the Canadians did absorb the risk. And when they did, there was a man who was the ambassador whose name was Ken Taylor. And Ken allowed folks to come stay, putting himself at great risk. And his wife also agreed, putting herself at great risk.
“It demonstrates the danger our diplomats put themselves in for our lives every day. We were reminded of that tragically in Benghazi, and this is yet another reminder.”
By Michael Petrou - Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
While Washington and Pakistan are increasingly at odds, neither side wants to sever the relationship.
One year after American Navy SEALs slipped undetected into Pakistan and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden where he had been hiding for years—in a compound a short walk from an elite military academy—Pakistan has finally taken steps to punish someone involved in the debacle.
They haven’t actually arrested anyone who was protecting the terrorist leader, mind you. Instead, last month, following a closed trial, a Pakistani tribal court sentenced Shakil Afridi, a doctor who ran a fake vaccination campaign for the CIA designed to confirm bin Laden’s presence in the compound, to 33 years in jail.
Afridi was arrested shortly after the May 2, 2011, raid. In October, a Pakistani government commission recommended he be tried for high treason because of his work for the CIA, and in the days following his sentencing it was widely reported that this was the reason for his trial. But when the court released its written verdict last week, it was revealed that Afridi had in fact been found guilty of assisting Lashkar-e-Islam, a militant group based in the Khyber tribal region, where Afridi worked. The court’s verdict notes there is evidence that Afridi worked with foreign intelligence agencies, but says it lacked jurisdiction to address those charges and recommends that a different court follow up.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 7:50 AM - 0 Comments
The former CIA agent is working on a new spy novel
“I have long been disappointed in the portrayals in the popular culture of female CIA operatives. They are always such cartoon characters, aren’t they? They are hyper-sexualized, hyper-physical, always good with guns . . . ” So says former spy Valerie Plame Wilson. She is sitting in a quiet corner of a hotel resort in Santa Fe, an artistic enclave in the New Mexico desert, far removed from the political circus of Washington that ended her career as a covert CIA operative.
Her life’s work in nuclear non-proliferation—chasing and protecting nuclear weaponry, the details and duration of which remain classified—was cut short in 2003 when Bush administration officials leaked her identity to the press after her husband, former diplomat Joe Wilson, accused the White House of lying about a key piece of intelligence it used to make the case for invading Iraq.
The Wilsons moved to New Mexico and penned memoirs that were turned into a movie, Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. If her career wasn’t already the stuff of fiction, it now will be. Plame is at work on a novel about a female spy due out next year from Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin. She is working with co-author Sarah Lovett, a mystery writer. “I thought there was room for a character who is a little more realistic,” says Plame.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 23, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Margin notes on CSIS documents related to the conversation, marked “Secret” and now in the possession of The Globe and Mail, highlight the fact that Mr. Abdelrazik was only on a U.S. no-fly list – insufficient to keep him from returning to Canada. It’s unclear what transpired during the conversation, but soon afterward both Air Canada and Lufthansa abruptly cancelled Mr. Abdelrazik’s ticket home. He would spend another five years in forced exile.
The “Canadian Eyes Only” documents also reveal for the first time officially that U.S. security agents wanted Mr. Abdelrazik shipped to Guantanamo Bay. If CSIS managed to delay Mr. Abdelrazik’s return in 2004, it had the effect of buying time while U.S. agents worked to render him to the notorious camp for suspected terrorists.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 8 Comments
Arar’s body has recovered, but the memories of his torture persist
It doesn’t take much to carry Maher Arar back to the place he least wants to be. The sight of a mustachioed policeman, any sort of filthy smell, or even the sound of a crying baby has the power to transport him to that tomb-like prison cell. Nine years on, his body has recovered from the beatings the Syrian Mukhabarat inflicted with their fists and thick strips of cable, but the psychological scars of his rendition, imprisonment and torture persist. It is worse when he travels. “When I take the plane, I’m always tense and nervous,” he says. “It just triggers a fear in me that I might be kidnapped again.”
Sept. 26, 2002, was the day U.S. authorities detained him at New York’s J.F.K. airport, as he was heading home to Ottawa from an extended family stay in Tunisia. Oct. 8 was the night he was hustled on to a CIA-leased private jet and flown to Jordan, then driven—shackled and blindfolded—to the border of his native Syria. It was early April 2003, when he next felt daylight, allowed to roam a prison courtyard for a few minutes. Freedom—and a flight back to Canada, his wife and two young children—finally came that Oct. 5.
There’s no doubt, however, of when everything really did change for the 41-year-old telecommunications engineer. On the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, Arar was in San Diego, Calif., on business for a Boston-based client. The sun wasn’t even up when the phone in his hotel room rang. It was his friend and colleague David Hilf telling him about terrorists hitting the World Trade Center. At first, Arar thought it was a prank—he and Hilf, who is Jewish, spent a lot of their time on the road joking about their odd-couple alliance. When he was finally convinced to turn on the TV, Arar was devastated by what he saw. One of his first thoughts was of the inevitable anti-Muslim backlash. He called his wife, Monia, then pregnant with their second child, in Ottawa and warned her not to leave the house. “She’s visible. She wears a head scarf,” he says. “There might have been some crazy people trying to get revenge.”
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
More and more companies are mining data about their employees to predict how they’ll behave in the future
A few weeks ago it was revealed that Google and the CIA—two organizations whose job it is to know what’s going on in the present—are working together to learn what will happen in the future. Through their respective investment arms—Google Ventures and In-Q-Tel—the geeks and the spooks each took a stake in a little-known Cambridge, Mass., company called Recorded Future, which bills itself as “the world’s first temporal analytics engine.” By scanning websites, news stories, blogs and Twitter pages for links between individuals, groups and incidents in the past, the company says it can apply “temporal reasoning” to predict events that haven’t happened yet.
The company is at the forefront of a fast-growing field known as predictive analytics, which uses algorithms that detect patterns and connections in life that wouldn’t otherwise be found.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, August 19, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Canada is a major target of Iranian espionage
A former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who secretly spied for the CIA during the 1980s and ’90s says that Canada is a major target of Iranian espionage.
Reza Kahlili is the pseudonym of an Iranian national now living in the U.S. who joined the Guards shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and quickly became disgusted by the violence and radicalism that followed. Kahlili, who attended university in California, agreed to spy for the CIA during a visit to America in 1981. He described his time in the intelligence agency in A Time to Betray, a memoir published earlier this year.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Monday, July 19, 2010 at 9:22 AM - 0 Comments
Two-years in the making, and the subject of much speculation and anticipation, the Washington Post has released its investigative project into the growth of US intelligence establishment since 9/11 co-authored by Dana Priest — the reporter who won two Pulitzers — one for her story revealing CIA secret prisons, and one for co-authoring a piece on problems with veterans’ care at Walter Reed hospital.
It’s a big, sprawling project with all kind of on-line features. I haven’t browsed them all yet myself.
The bottom line – a big, expensive, unaccountable, secretive “fourth branch” of government has grown up since 9/11. Priest and William Arkin write:
“After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation’s other findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.”
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 11:10 AM - 259 Comments
Blame a combination of corrupted science, ersatz religion and Third World opportunism
According to the CIA’s analysis, “detrimental global climatic change” threatens “the stability of most nations.” And, alas, for a global phenomenon, Canada will be hardest hit. The entire Dominion from the Arctic to the 49th parallel will be under 150 feet of ice.
Oh, wait. That was the last “scientific consensus” on “climate change,” early seventies version, as reflected in a CIA report from August 1974, which the enterprising author Maurizio Morabito stumbled upon in the British Library the other day. If only the impending ice age had struck as scheduled and Scandinavia was now under a solid block of ice. Instead, the streets of Copenhagen are filled with “activists” protesting global warming, some of whom torch automobiles in the traditional manner of concerned idealists. As long as it’s not my car, I can just about live with these chaps, preferring on balance thuggish street politics to the spaced-out cultish stupor in which many of their confreres wander glassy-eyed from event to event. On the Internet, there is a telling clip of Christopher Monckton interacting with a young Norwegian from Greenpeace who has come along to protest the former’s “denialism.” Monckton is a viscount—i.e., a lord, like his fellow denialist, the former British chancellor Lord Lawson. Now that’s what I call peer review! (House of Lords joke.) Lord Monckton has the faintly parodic mien of many aristocrats, whereas the Greenpeace gal was a Nordic blond. If there were empty stools adjoining both parties at the Climate Conference bar, you’d head for hers before some carbon-credit travelling salesman swiped it. Big mistake. Monckton was the soul of affability, gently suggesting places where she could check out the data. She, by contrast, seemed barely sentient, clinging to rote emotionalism and impervious to reason, data, facts, inquiry.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 31, 2009 at 12:16 PM - 16 Comments
Foreign Affairs objects to the CIA’s use of Transport Canada research in designing interrogation methods.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs department says it’s aware of reports that Transport Canada material has been used by the CIA. ”This is a regrettable use of a publicly available document intended to save lives,” the department said in a statement to CBC News.
Mind you, the Canadian government’s official position is—or at least was, at last check—that the United States did not participate in torture.
By John Parisella - Friday, April 17, 2009 at 8:47 PM - 7 Comments
We have heard this before. I was struck when I heard it said by…
We have heard this before. I was struck when I heard it said by a former Israeli Prime Minister many years ago prior to the actual process that led to the Camp David Accord. It sounded right.Yesterday, President Obama released memos from the Bush Administration justifying the use of interrogation methods which can only be described as torture. And even though I believe Obama was right to say there would be no prosecutions, his decision not to press ahead with criminal charges against CIA officers who used these memos to justify their behaviour has left many in his liberal base upset and bewildered. In other words, interrogators appear to have been told they can do wrong and everything will be forgotten.
The ACLU was first off the mark to sound the clarion of protest. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy was clearly disappointed with Obama’s approach because any future prosecution will likely be more difficult as a result. Obama media backers were also highly critical of the move and speculated loudly that such a chilling and despicable episode in US history could be repeated unless offenders were prosecuted. Judicial initiatives in other countries against torture during the Bush years could very well be compromised as a result of Obama’s reluctance to prosecute.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 1:55 PM - 8 Comments
This recent story from the Washington Post is probably relevant to the discussion here.
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.
The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads…
Abu Zubaida’s revelations triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms. The interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the man Abu Zubaida identified as heading an effort to explode a radiological “dirty bomb” in an American city. Padilla was held in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years on the allegation but was never charged in any such plot. Every other lead ultimately dissolved into smoke and shadow, according to high-ranking former U.S. officials with access to classified reports.
“We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,” one former intelligence official said.
Despite the poor results, Bush White House officials and CIA leaders continued to insist that the harsh measures applied against Abu Zubaida and others produced useful intelligence that disrupted terrorist plots and saved American lives.