White House Responds to ‘Pardon Edward Snowden’ Petition with Character Assassination

Screen shot of Lisa Monaco speaking at Aspen Institute event
Screen shot of Lisa Monaco speaking at Aspen Institute event

The White House finally responded to a popular petition at WhiteHouse.gov urging President Barack Obama’s administration to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. However, the response is a bald-faced attempt to use the petition as a platform to assassinate Snowden’s character.

First off, the petition to pardon Snowden had nearly 168,000 signatures. Only a few petitions responded to by the White House have more signatures (for example, address gun violence through gun control legislation and legally recognize the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group.

The petition was posted on June 9, 2013, and was largely inspired by the revelation that the NSA was collecting the metadata of phone calls of millions of Americans, who have Verizon as their phone carrier. Nevertheless, it took the White House more than two years to respond to this petition.

The response focuses on the “serious consequences” Snowden’s whistleblowing has had on “national security.” It includes a statement from Lisa Monaco, the President’s Advisor on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

“Mr. Snowden’s dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it,” Monaco declares.

“If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and — importantly — accept the consequences of his actions,” Monaco adds. “He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers — not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime. Right now, he’s running away from the consequences of his actions.”

Monaco concludes, “We live in a dangerous world. We continue to face grave security threats like terrorism, cyber-attacks, and nuclear proliferation that our intelligence community must have all the lawful tools it needs to address. The balance between our security and the civil liberties that our ideals and our Constitution require deserves robust debate and those who are willing to engage in it here at home.”

Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer for Snowden, a Justice Department whistleblower, and the director of the Government Accountability Project’s National Security and Human Rights Division, reacted to the White House’s response.

“The government loves to fear-monger, but has failed to articulate any clear harm from Snowden¹s revelations,” Radack stated. “The closest it has come, ironically, is a fully-redacted Defense Intelligence Agency internal assessment.” (more…)

On the Fourth of July, FBI Disrupted ISIS-Inspired Terrorism Plot It Helped Manufacture

Screen shot 2015-07-13 at 3.57.46 PMAs the Fourth of July approached, media in the United States widely reported terrorism attacks inspired by the Islamic State were possible. The FBI and Homeland Security Department had distributed a routine bulletin to law enforcement agencies warning officers to stay alert. However, there were no terrorism attacks targeting Americans on Independence Day.

The only risk of terrorism came from an FBI sting operation, which agents conveniently “disrupted” on July 4. It involved a mentally ill son of a Boston police captain.

Alexander Ciccolo, a twenty-three year-old who also apparently went by the name of Ali Al-Amriki, was arrested while carrying four firearms. He was previously convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of liquor so Ciccolo was prohibited from possessing these weapons and charged with a felony.

An FBI informant delivered Ciccolo two handguns and two rifles to Ciccolo in Adams, Massachusetts on July 4. A Joint Terrorism Task Force unit arrested Ciccolo immediately after Ciccolo walked away with the firearms in a duffel bag.

In a memo [PDF] filed by the government requesting he remain in pretrial detention, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz states JTTF agents found partially constructed “Molotov cocktails” with “styrofoam soaking in motor oil.” Ciccolo allegedly intended to use the firearms and “Molotov cocktails” to “commit acts of terrorism.”

Yet, Ciccolo did not plan to conduct any sort of attack on the Fourth of July, according to documents filed against him. He allegedly wanted to do whatever he wanted to “before Ramadan was over, and no later than July 31.”

Last week, FBI Director James Comey claimed to have arrested multiple individuals involved in July 4 terrorism plots. Comey noted “some might not be charged with terrorism-related crimes.”

Is it a July 4 terrorism plot if the terrorism suspect did not have plans timed for the Fourth of July? And, if this is part of what fueled widespread fear spread by the media, what does that say about the FBI?

Once again, the public has an example of the FBI targeting and manipulating a mentally ill man. Ciccolo was not planning any acts of terrorism until the government became involved in targeting him.

From the detention memo filed against Ciccolo:

In the Fall of 2014, the FBI became aware that the defendant had expressed a desire to go overseas to fight for ISIL, a foreign terrorist organization. According to a close acquaintance, the defendant had a long history of mental illness and in the last 18 months had become obsessed with Islam. The acquaintance also said that the defendant had recently stated that he believed that the “faith is under attack” and that he is “not afraid to die for the cause.” The acquaintance advised that the acquaintance had received text messages from the defendant indicating that America is “Satan” and characterizing Americans as disgusting.

The person who tipped off the FBI was Ciccolo’s father, Captain Robert Ciccolo of the Boston Police Department. His father had been estranged from Ciccolo for some time. He told agents his son “was going off the deep end” and “spouting extremist jihadist sympathies.”

The FBI examined messages on Facebook posted under the name Ali Al Amriki. They apparently indicated to the FBI that Ciccolo wanted to go join and fight with the Islamic State. They showed he was “interested in martyrdom for the sake of Islam.” But, remarkably, it was not until months after Ciccolo was arrested and convicted of a felony for driving under the influence of alcohol that he became the target of a terrorism sting. (more…)

Did the FBI Really Disrupt ISIS-Inspired Terrorism Plots Planned for Fourth of July?

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey claimed to reporters more than 10 individuals arrested over the past four weeks allegedly had ties to the Islamic State, and some of the individuals planned terrorist attacks for Independence Day.

During a briefing at FBI headquarters, Comey said, “We’ve arrested more than 10 people in the last four weeks.” All of the arrests were “’products’ of online recruiting and radicalization efforts by the Islamic State and that ‘some of them were focused on the Fourth of July.'”

“I do believe we disrupted efforts to kill people in connection to the Fourth,” Comey also stated.

If true, it would validate much of the fear-mongering in news media by news hosts, pundits, and current and former officials, who appeared as guests to talk about the “threat” of July 4th attacks before the holiday. However, Comey was referring to people arrested before a bulletin from the FBI and Homeland Security was distributed to law enforcement agencies.

The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima quoted unnamed US officials, who claimed the list of people arrested include individuals arrested in New York, New Jersey, and Boston.

Two of the suspects, which allegedly planned attacks are Munther Omar Saleh, a twenty year-old college student in New York arrested on June 13, and Alaa Saadeh, a twenty-three year-old from New Jersey arrested on June 29.

Neither of the complaints against Saadeh or Saleh mention the possibility that the two were involved in the planning of attacks around the Fourth of July.

According to an affidavit by an FBI special agent [PDF], on April 27, 2015, the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force received a tip from an individual that a co-conspirator (“CC-1″), Saadeh, and Samuel Rahamin Topaz were planning to travel to join a “foreign terrorist organization.” The individual responsible for the tip informed the FBI of CC-1’s alleged radicalization and support for the Islamic State.

CC-1 is Saadeh’s brother. In April, Saadeh’s brother bought a plane ticket for Jordan. He allegedly planned to study theology abroad, which the individual found to be suspicious because “CC-1 had never been very studious.” (more…)

Senate Measure Would Expand FBI’s Power to Target Internet Thought Crimes Under Guise of Fighting Terrorism

FBI Director James Comey

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence approved a measure in the 2016 intelligence authorization bill, which would require social media websites and email services to flag “terrorist activity” for the FBI and other law enforcement and security agencies.

According to the Washington Post, the measure would not “require companies to monitor their sites if they do not already do so.” It would apply to “electronic communication service providers,” and ensure they report videos or other content posted by “suspected terrorists.”

The expansion of power, which would increase the government’s power to undermine freedom of expression, is supposedly not supported by “industry officials” from companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

From the Post:

…“Asking Internet companies to proactively monitor people’s posts and messages would be the same thing as asking your telephone company to monitor and log all your phone calls, text messages, all your Internet browsing, all the sites you visit,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the provision is not yet public. “Considering the vast majority of people on these sites are not doing anything wrong, this type of monitoring would be considered by many to be an invasion of privacy. It would also be technically difficult.”…

Government officials may claim it is necessary for the fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. However, what the measure would do is increase the capability of the United States security state to engage in preemptive prosecution—to target and prosecute individuals or organizations who have beliefs, ideology, or a religious affiliations which make them a person of interest for the government.

For example, consider the case of Tarek Mehanna, who is currently serving a seventeen and a half-year prison sentence after he was convicted of material support for terrorism in December 2012.

Mehanna was “born in the United States to Egyptian immigrant parents and grew up outside of Boston. He became a devout Muslim who was fiercely critical of US foreign policy, especially in Muslim countries,” Amna Akbar wrote for The Nation. “He believed deeply in the right of Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries to defend against foreign occupation. And he talked about it. He subtitled “jihadi” videos; he translated an archaic oft-translated Arabic text 39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad [by Anwar Al-Awlaki]; and he engaged in religious and political debate online through instant messages, emails and web postings.”

Mehanna took a trip to Yemen in 2004 for “religious and language instruction.” The government has conceded there were no terrorism training camps in Yemen. Still, the government maintained he traveled to Yemen to train with a terrorist group.

The FBI began to spy on him in 2005 and attempted to turn him into an informant. When Mehanna refused, the FBI pledged to make his life difficult. Mehanna continued to translate texts, including various works about jihad by Afghan and Iraqi scholars. He posted them to his website, along with poetry and other writings. Mehanna was arrested in 2008 and charged with “conspiracy to give material support to terrorism by translating radical Arabic writings into English and posting them on his website,” according to the Project for the Support and Legal Advocacy of Muslims (Project SALAM).

Mehanna never acted under the direction of Al Qaeda yet the government insisted in court that his work had been intended to “inspire others to engage in violent jihad.” In fact, as Akbar noted, at no point did the government present evidence that Mehanna had provided support to any designated terrorist organization. There was no evidence that his translations caused harm. There was no evidence that his translation had incited “imminent criminal conduct.” What he was convicted of committing was inspiring others to “support opinions the United States government finds objectionable,” particularly opinions related to radical Islamic thought.

In 2013, Mehanna’s appeal was denied, which further solidified the power government prosecutors have to target people for speech and expression deemed dangerous. He is serving his sentence in a “communications management unit” in a prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, which means he is living in conditions of solitary confinement and confined to a cell 23 hours a day.

Mehanna’s postings would undoubtedly fall in the category of activity the FBI and other security agencies would want internet companies to flag, even though there was no explicit intent to incite any violence whatsoever. (more…)

Drug Money Laundered by Two Florida Police Agencies, And Stark Corruption at All Levels of Government

Screen shot of Miami Herald's page for "License to Launder" series
Screen shot of Miami Herald’s page for “License to Launder” series

Nearly two weeks ago, the Miami Herald published a major investigative journalism series on two small Florida police agencies, which engaged in undercover money laundering operations with criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking so officers and the police departments themselves could claim millions of dollars as their own.

The series, “License to Launder: Cash, Cops & the Cartels,” has not received much media attention at all. Whether that is because the essence of the corruption was already known is unclear, however, the corruption detailed at all levels of government is staggering—from the money laundering itself to the coverup by federal investigators seemingly unwilling to investigate anyone in the task force who committed crimes.

It is a stark example of how the War on Drugs is more about how police departments and officers can profit than stopping the flow of drug money. Indeed, officers in this case needed money to keep flowing in order to continue living as high rollers.

Bal Harbour is a small community of around 2,500 people with “oceanfront condominiums” and “elegant boutiques.” It had one reported violent crime in 2012 – an aggravated assault. But, beginning in 2010, the department partnered with the police department in Glades County, one of the poorest counties in Florida.

The police agencies formed the Tri-County Task Force, a state task force, to conduct undercover operations. They took place all over the United States but it would be difficult to believe they were carried out by officers interested in bringing drug traffickers to justice.

The task force made no arrests and engaged in no effort to have the Florida State’s Attorney prosecute any cases. What the officers wanted was money, plain and simple, and they took advantage of the federal government’s Equitable Sharing program to claim drug cash as their own.

When it comes to the War on Drugs, agencies operate under the presumption that undercover units have to typically “seize far more money from criminal groups than what a task force launders and returns to the streets.” That is why one of the most shocking details is that the task force “passed tips that led to federal agents seizing nearly $30 million.” Yet, during the same period, the task force laundered $50 million.

Based on “confidential records of the undercover investigation” and “thousands of records including cash pickup reports, emails, DEA reports, bank statements, and wire transfers for millions of dollars,” the Miami Herald uncovered the following:

—The Justice Department Officer of Inspector General found the task force had laundered over $56 million dollars “without adequate written policies or procedures, prosecutorial oversight, or audits of the undercover bank accounts.” The amount, however, was actually closer to $83 million.

—Officers made cash deposits at a SunTrust Bank about a block from the Bal Harbour police station, which totaled $28 million. None of the deposits appear in records created by the police.

—At least 30 times, police deposited funds into banks and storefront businesses to “conceal drug cash for criminal groups,” but they never documented their actions. The total amount of money distributed was around $20 million. (more…)

In FBI Sting, Informants Impersonated Islamic State Fighters to Convince Man to Make Propaganda Videos

Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi
Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi (Photo from Cuyahoga County, Ohio) 

A thirty-eight year-old Ohio man was targeted in an FBI sting operation and arrested on June 19 on charges of attempting to “provide material support” to the Islamic State, possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, and trafficking marijuana.

The complaint filed against Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi alleges he took “substantial steps toward creating ISIL [Islamic State] propaganda videos.” He allegedly communicated with two individuals he believed to be members of the Islamic state and attempted to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle. He also allegedly expressed a desire to commit terrorism attacks in the United States.

US Attorney Steven Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio declared, “Today’s charges are a stark reminder that the radical and dangerous philosophies espoused by groups such as [the Islamic State] can be spread in our community through computers and social media.”

Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division stated, “It is clear that no area is immune from the influence of [the Islamic State] and its recruitment machine. We hope this arrest will serve as a strong message to others who may consider providing support to terrorists.”

However, Al-Ghazi “first came to the attention of the Cleveland FBI in December 2012, according to Vicki Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland FBI.” He was under surveillance apparently for about a year and a half until he allegedly pledged “his support to the Islamic State on Facebook.”

Al-Ghazi, who changed his name from Robert McCollum earlier this year, engaged in no direct action with any terrorist group prior to the FBI’s decision to target him. It does not appear he had the resources and capabilities to launch any kind of an attack. The only weapon he possibly possessed prior to government involvement was a pistol. He had not formulated a plan for an attack before the government became involved in his life.

Three paid informants were responsible for initiating plans and pushing him to commit any alleged criminal actions. They collectively acted to remove barriers and obstacles, which, if the FBI had not been involved, may have discouraged and prevented Al-Ghazi from attempting to provide alleged support to terrorism.

FBI’s Paid Informant Has “Extensive Criminal History”

One of the “confidential human sources” (CHS #1), according to an affidavit [PDF] by Special Agent Ryan Presley, is a “paid confidential informant,” who has worked with the FBI for three years. Al-Ghazi engaged with CHS #1 as early as August 2014.

A second “confidential human source” (CHS #2) is a “paid confidential informant,” who has also worked with the FBI for three years. CHS #2 has an “extensive criminal history” that includes “receiving stolen property, domestic violence, assault/kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, weapons under a disability, and fraud-related offenses that spans several years.” CHS #2 received “sentencing benefits/avoided other agency inquiries as the result of actions” of Presley and other Cleveland FBI agents. Al-Ghazi engaged with CHS #2 as early as February 2015.

Al-Ghazi communicated with another “paid confidential informant,” CHS #3, on April 13. Presley was not initially aware that this communication had been ongoing for nearly a year on Twitter. CHS #3 “identified himself/herself as being male, having resided in the United States and United Kingdom, and being an ISIL soldier located in Mosul, Iraq.” (Given this informant communicated with Al-Ghazi for about a year, it is unclear in the affidavit when CHS #3 presented his or herself as an “ISIL soldier.”)

On May 1, CHS #3, who Al-Ghazi believed was an Islamic State fighter in Mosul, “initiated the idea of Al-Ghazi producing ISIL videos in the English language to appeal to those located in the West.” Al-Ghazi allegedly responded that he was interested in documenting the “rise of jihad” in America and then he would “implement chaos to facilitate a way for jihad.” CHS #3 promised him that after his videos were complete they would be uploaded to the Islamic State’s “media arm.”

One of the FBI’s Paid Informants Takes on an Entirely “New Persona”

By June 14, the FBI apparently decided it would be more efficient to have another fake Islamic fighter talking to Al-Ghazi. CHS #1 created an entirely “new persona” and told Al-Ghazi he or she was a member of the Islamic State, who was located in the Middle East. CHS #1 informed Al-Ghazi that as a “member of ISIL” he would have to “assist with the group’s social media efforts” and claimed to be an administrator for an Islamic State-affiliated website. This was enticing to Al-Ghazi. (more…)

FBI Arrests New York College Student for Allegedly Conspiring to Provide Support to Islamic State

A twenty year-old college student in New York was arrested and charged with knowingly “conspiring to provide material support and resources” to the self-declared Islamic State. He was arrested, along with an alleged co-conspirator early in the morning on June 13, after law enforcement vehicles realized an undercover operation was botched because their targets recognized government agents were tailing them.

Munther Omar Saleh is a US citizen, who was living in Queens, New York. Saleh was enrolled in a college that “specializes” in aeronautics.

Conspicuously, neither the FBI, Justice Department nor the New York Police Department (if they were involved) has put out a press release announcing how pleased they are that agents were able to stop someone who was allegedly plotting a terrorism attack. Nor was a release with basic details of the case against Saleh published.

NBC News reported the FBI has accused Saleh of “plotting to carry out some kind of unspecified terror-related attack in New York.” He allegedly had two co-conspirators, including a 17 year-old who was arrested along with Saleh.

Like previous arrested individuals accused of providing material support to the Islamic State, there was no known plan for an attack formulated by Saleh. There certainly was no plan before a “confidential human source” or informant initiated the first communications with Saleh on May 7.

It also does not appear “judicially authorized” surveillance ever uncovered any evidence that Saleh was being directed by any members of the Islamic State. He did not obtain or create any explosives to carry out an attack.

What threat, if any, did Saleh ever pose?

According to an affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Christopher J. Buscaglia [PDF], in 2014 and 2015, Saleh sent messages on Twitter that indicated support for the Islamic State fighters. He tweeted, “i fear AQ could be getting too moderate.” He sent tweets in January and February expressing “support for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris, France; the immolation of Jordanian Air Force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh by ISIL; the beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto by ISIL; and the establishment of an ISIL military presence and Sharia law in New York City.”

As repugnant as all of those messages happen to be, those messages still fall into the realm of speech that should be protected by the First Amendment. None of them indicate that Saleh is clearly threatening a terrorist attack.

The affidavit states, on March 9, Saleh emailed himself propaganda produced by an organization, Ghuraba Media Foundation, which produces content intended to support the Islamic State and the terrorist group’s mission. In May, he tweeted his support for those who committed the attack in Garland, Texas, against the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest. And, in February, his messages on Twitter suggested he has been translating videos published by the Islamic State from Arabic into English.

Again, though entirely lawful, all of this is despicable and repulsive conduct. But is this the conduct of a homegrown terrorist, someone on the path to carrying out an attack?

On March 22, a Port Authority police officer saw Saleh walking with a lantern as he approached the George Washington Bridge on the Fort Lee, New Jersey side. Saleh apparently wanted a ride across the bridge. The officer directed him to a bus terminal. Saleh did not take a bus.

Saleh was on the George Washington Bridge a day later. He looked around “repeatedly while walking along the bridge.” The Port Authority police officer had him come to the Port Authority office in Fort Lee to answer some questions.

Law enforcement personnel from the Joint Terrorism Task Force questioned Saleh about why he was going to New Jersey, what he thought of the Islamic State, and whether he knew anyone who talked about traveling to Syria. Saleh allegedly said he “was not sure” about the Islamic State and heard “they were murdering children.” He claimed to disapprove of the Islamic State and said he “did not condone violence.” (more…)

Déjà vu on Interrogation “Reform”: McCain/Feinstein Amendment Won’t Stop Torture

From Appendix M

“There’s truth that lives and truth that dies…” – Leonard Cohen

In a bizarre mixture of the sincere and the insincere, an amendment proposed by a bipartisan group of senators to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is being touted as all but ending torture by the U.S. — if it passes.

According to an article in The Intercept, “Human rights and transparency organizations are applauding the effort.” But is there really anything here to celebrate?

If you read The Intercept article all the way to the end, there’s mention that a group of medical experts found the Army Field Manual “permits techniques that are ‘recognized under international law as forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.’” So why is there applause?

Mark Fallon, the former deputy commander of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo, and currently Chair of the Research Committee of President Obama’s inter-departmental High-value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), told Jason Leopold at Vice News the amendment “mandates and advocates the use of science and evidence-based research so we can be more effective during interrogations.” Furthermore, there would be “a review of the Army Field Manual [AFM] to ensure we are only using best and lawful techniques” during interrogation.

Constitutional scholar David Cole writes at the Just Security website that he supports the amendment, which is jointly sponsored by Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Reed and Susan Collins. Cole adds that others support it, too, including “David Keene, former President of the National Rifle Association and editorial page editor of the Washington Times…”

Newsweek posted an article by Rupert Stone this week, titled “Beyond Torture: The New Science of Interrogating Terrorists,” which includes a long discussion of the importance of putting interrogation on a science-centered base.

Stone’s article goes into more detail than others about problems concerning “the current version of the Army Field Manual [which] still offers a back door to some of the brutal tactics authorized after 9/11.” Stone is of course talking about Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, which allows theoretically indefinitely extended amounts of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation upon so-called “unlawful enemy combatants.” The interrogation methods of Appendix M are so severe, they require at times physician and/or psychologist in attendance to implement (shades of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program!).

But problems with the Army Field Manual do not start or end with Appendix M. The main section of the manual includes coercive methods of interrogation, including psychological techniques to induce fear, to tear down the ego and self-esteem of prisoners, to tear down their resistance to interrogation by inducing “hopelessness and helplessness,” and allowing use of drugs on prisoners, so long as the drugs don’t cause “lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.”

But Fallon and others, like veteran interrogator and Col. (ret.) Steven Kleinman, believe that the review mandated by the amendment will take care of the problems sometime in the future. Meanwhile, they urge passage of the amendment now. Kleinman told Newsweek, “Passing strongly worded legislation that would stand as a bulwark against torture… is the single most important step we must take.” (Both Fallon and Kleinman have impeccable anti-torture credentials.)

According to The Hill, this view is echoed by Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First, who said of the senators’ amendment, “This is how a strong democracy deals with its mistakes — we examine what we did, and take the necessary steps to make it right.”

Meanwhile, in my email box, I have a plea from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The mailing promises the “introduced legislation… could permanently end CIA torture.” It asks I call my senators now, even as a group of seven human rights and civil liberties organizations, have released a statement, including ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights, supporting the amendment.

The entire campaign around the whole Feinstein-McCain amendment has an unreal quality. It arose all of a sudden. There’s no real period of public discussion about it. The interpretation of the amendment itself is via sanitized sources we are supposed to trust. It’s presented as a slam dunk issue for those who oppose torture. You’d have to be an ingrate to oppose such a good thing.

“Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday”

Where have I heard this all before? When the current Army Field Manual was released in September 2006, there was the same near-universal acclaim, the same pious intonations by human rights groups, the same spate of articles in the mainstream press. But nine years later — though many news outlets still downplay or simply eliminate reference to it — we know the 2006 version of the Army Field Manual contained forms of ill-treatment that the UN, reviewing torture policies by the United States, recently condemned.

I analyzed the PR campaign to sell the current version of the Army Field Manual in an article at Alternet in 2009. I pointed out how when the Army Field Manual was released in 2006, we had the same gushing praise and platitudes from the press.

The Washington Post bragged that the then-new Army Field Manual “repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

Human rights groups chimed in. As reported by the Post, Tom Malinowski, then Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (but previously a Senior Director of the Clinton White House National Security Council), stated, “This is the Pentagon coming full circle… This is very strong guidance.”

Recently, Malinowski was tapped by the Obama administration to answer the United Nations in their questions about ill-treatment in Appendix M. In 2007, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he praised the AFM for using using “professional, humane interrogation methods.”

Over and over I read how the Army Field Manual had “safeguards,” “oversight,” was a big “step-forward.” Amnesty International’s advocacy director called the AFM “an important return to the rule of law…. It is an important public statement.”

But it was no such thing.

Similar misrepresentations take place today. In Cole’s piece at Just Security, for instance, he claims that the Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing torture memos, “written between 2002 and 2007, have all been rescinded and rejected.”

But that’s not true. One of them was not, and tellingly, it was the one dealing with the Army Field Manual and Appendix M.

“You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is”

Let’s examine the text of the Feinstein-McCain amendment (download PDF) and see if the promises of its supporters holds any water.

“An individual… shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3″

Okay. We see that the existing Army Field Manual, including use of techniques and “approaches” such as “Fear Up,” “Futility,” “Ego Down”, “False Flag” and “Separation” will continue to be the law of the land. The “Separation” or Appendix M approach is really an omnibus set of abusive techniques that includes use of solitary confinement, sleep and sensory deprivation, and environmental or dietary manipulation.

Screenshot 2015-06-13 10.05.52
I asked via FOIA for DoD to produce examples of requests to use Appendix M, as is described by the Army Field Manual. DoD said it could not find any documents pertaining to that. So much for transparency and safeguards.

For 14 months I have had an outstanding FOIA requesting materials related to review of Appendix M by the Office of Secretary of Defense. I asked because the Army Field Manual itself states, “The Office of the Secretary of Defense will review these activities periodically in accordance with DOD Directive 3115.09.” That FOIA is still pending. But if the partisans of the Feinstein-McCain amendment believe that DoD or the government will do any better in producing oversight material upon request to the public or press, I have a fine bridge in Brooklyn to sell them.

The Feinstein-McCain amendment states that “a thorough review” of the AFM is to be conducted at least one year after the enactment of the Authorization Act, and then every subsequent three years “to ensure that Army Field Manual 2-22.3 complies with the legal obligations of the United States and reflects current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of threat of force.”

The “thorough review” is to be conducted by “the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of National Intelligence.” In other words, the Executive Branch is to have total control over assessments of compliance of Army Field Manual practice with so-called “evidence-based, best practices for interrogation.” What that really means is that there will be no “checks and balances” oversight here.

The model for such review would be DoD’s 2009 Review of Department Compliance with President’s Executive Order on Detainee Conditions of Confinement (PDF), which produced a wildly unrealistic picture of Guantanamo as consistent with Geneva norms of humane treatment. At the time there were continuing hunger strikes, as prisoners were savagely beaten by teams of guards. By June 2009, yet another detainee was found dead in a cell in the GTMO Behavioral Health Unit, where prisoners were observed every three minutes, supposedly dead by his own hand, having been driven insane by what the autopsy report called “conditions of confinement.”

The highly-regarded researcher of the Guantanamo camp, Andy Worthington, called the 2009 review “a bitter joke.” There’s no reason not to expect the same from the Feinstein-McCain Amendment’s proposed AFM reviews.

Interestingly, however, it’s worth noting that the the Central Intelligence Agency appears to be frozen out of the proposed review process.

“People writing songs that voices never share”

“Not less than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the interagency body established… shall submit to the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, and other appropriate officials [could this be the CIA?] a report on current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force…. The report required… may include recommendations for revisions to Army Field Manual 2-22.3 based on the body of research commissioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.”

While HIG experts like Fallon and Kleinman may take umbrage in such verbiage — indeed, it’s flattering to see your own research touted as something of governmental importance — there is nothing mandated in this language, at least as regards any updating or change in techniques or approaches in the Army Field Manual.

“The report… may include recommendations,” and nothing is said about any recommendations being enforced. Indeed, we already have public members of the HIG on record as being against some of the abuse in the Army Field Manual, and still nothing changes.

One of those associated, Col. Kleinman, was on record as recently as 2011 as stating in an article, “The Obama Administration has made a good-faith attempt to bring standards to American interrogation practices by issuing an Executive Order that extended the relevant U.S. Army Field Manual’s directives to all government-wide interrogation efforts.” That “good-faith attempt” included making via Executive Order Appendix M the law of the land.

Kleinman is on-record as criticizing the current AFM as being unscientific. He wrote a paper that supposedly elaborates on that with another current HIG official, psychologist Susan Brandon, and two other researchers. But according to Stone’s Newsweek article, the 2010 review of AFM techniques was not publicly released for fear it “could have jeopardized the HIG’s relationship with the military.” If releasing a critical article is too dicey for critics of DoD’s Army Field Manual, what can one expect from any future reviews led by the Secretary of Defense?

Meanwhile, Brandon is under a cloud of controversy recently for her participation in activities with the American Psychological Association in regards to allegedly facilitating torture.

Brandon helped organize a workshop with the APA, CIA and Rand Corporation back in 2003 that looked at, among other things, “what pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior,” and “sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors.” One of her workshop discussion questions asked, “How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?”

In 2005, Brandon was an “observer” at an APA meeting that met to consider ongoing use of psychologists in national security investigations. She reportedly helped write the part of the report from the meeting that spoke to issues bearing on national security research, just the sort of research, it seems, that the HIG is either doing or proposing when it comes to interrogations. One of those research projects on “false confessions,” as recently reported at Bloomberg, left some participants “angry,” and one woman who “dissolves into tears.”

Hence, there are ethical questions about the kinds of research being done, what can be accomplished in such research, and the fact that even if some kind of “evidence-based” interrogation protocols that don’t involve “force” are suggested by research and then DoD-led review, there’s no mandate or promise in the new legislation that it will ever be implemented.

Indeed, there is nothing in the new legislation that calls for the removal of Appendix M.

“Into the night, shadows fall”

A most interesting section of the amendment, unique in its hypocrisy and unstated cover for torture, concerns the FBI and other Federal law enforcement agencies:

“Nothing in this subsection shall preclude an officer, employee, or other agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other Federal law enforcement agency from continuing to use authorized, non-coercive techniques of interrogation that are designed to elicit voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force, threats, or promises.”

Anyone familiar with the work of the FBI, or other Federal agencies will find this presentation of “non-coercive” agents never threatening suspects something of a fairy tale.

A few years ago, I reported the case of Petty Officer Daniel King, who the Naval Criminal Investigative Service coerced into a false confession of treason, and with the assistance of a Navy psychologist, drove to such a degree of desperation he tried to kill himself. (See here and here.)

But the FBI probably has a lot more charges of abuse than most other Federal law enforcement agencies. None of these charges have been bigger than those surrounding the massive FBI investigation into the July 2010 World Cup bombings in Kampala, Uganda.

The FBI interrogated a number of prisoners from Kenya and other East African countries who were renditioned to Uganda. It was the largest foreign FBI investigation since the USS Cole attack in 2000. A 2011 report by Ian Cobain at The Guardian detailed accusations of abuse by FBI agents involved in the investigation.

A more recent case of FBI malfeasance and complicity in torture is the case of Yonas Fikre, a 36-year-old Eritrean-born American who charges the FBI had pressured him to collaborate with them, and when placing him on a no-fly list failed, had him “arrested, interrogated and tortured for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates,” according to a report in The Guardian.

The issue of FBI torture deserves a lot more public examination, and in a subsequent article I plan to go into much more detail on the World Cup bombing case.

“Always something happening and nothing going on”

The issue of torture by proxy or liaison-country cover is also important, and was a major factor in the scandal surrounding extraordinary rendition, where CIA and DoD prisoners were turned over to U.S.-friendly intelligence agencies in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and other nations, where they were terribly tortured.

More recently, there are similar charges surrounding the World Cup bombing case, but better reported in the U.S. was Jeremy Scahill’s 2011 report at The Nation concerning CIA-run black sites in Somalia. Ostensibly under the control of Somalia’s National Security Agency, the sites were used to train Somali intelligence agents, while CIA interrogators are given direct access to prisoners held in the Somali secret detention sites.

In fact, as a recent FOIA release of a 1963 CIA interrogation manual shows, use of “liaison” or “host’ countries as cover for torture is very old practice, honed during the Cold War.

It is a fact that the CIA chief of interrogations in the early years of its post-9/11 rendition and torture program was previously known (and supposedly chastised) for using a 1983 torture instruction manual — “Human Resource Exploitation” — the U.S. had distributed to Latin American police and intelligence forces for the purposes of instruction in torture. Nothing could better illustrate how the use of proxy or “host” countries for torture is on a continuum with the worst of the CIA’s torture program.

But it is not the CIA or FBI alone who act this way. During the U.S.-instigated Iraq War, the Department of Defense notoriously issued a “Fragmentary Order” (FRAGO 242) that had U.S. armed forces turn prisoners over to Iraq security forces, even though they knew they would be tortured. In many cases, the Iraq security forces themselves had been trained by the U.S.

Nothing in the Feinstein-McCain amendment speaks to this long-practiced method of torture by proxy used by U.S. intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies.

“Everybody knows the deal is rotten”

It is highly unlikely that most Americans will hear anything negative about the Feinstein-McCain Amendment, except perhaps from right-wing types who lust for the good old days of CIA’s “enhanced” torture brutality. But for the record, this amendment does nothing to stop torture.

Despite all the caveats and evidence I’ve gathered here, the truth is almost none of it will reach the ears or eyes of American citizens. But then, only the simulacrum of a reasonable debate on this policy is expected. The Establishment of respectable citizens, who make up human rights organizations and government-academic merry-go-round that employs them, has already spoken. The consensus has already been drawn.

But that doesn’t mean the amendment is worth a damn. While no one is held accountable for disgusting and barbaric forms of torture, from driving people insane with music and bright lights, to holding them in solitary for years, to waterboarding or water immersion, to injecting blood thinner drugs into them so they can be forced to maintain body positions for hours on end, and much more worse (“rectal feedings”? no, anal rape)… while no one is held accountable for this, an anemic and mostly window-dressing reform is dressed up as something significant and sold by hucksters. Backing them are those sincerely anti-torture individuals and groups who still trust the usual authorities to do the right thing.

But none of that can hide what this amendment is: fraud, trickery, deception, the most meretricious sort of sham. The fact that some of those supporting the amendment are sincere and good individuals doesn’t change a thing.

Whistleblowers Testify on High Risk of Retaliation They Face for Going to Congress

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine
Lt. Col. Jason Amerine

United States government whistleblowers, who have gone to Congress in the past, have had a hugely positive impact. However, often government employees, who blow the whistle on fraud, waste, abuse and other examples of wrongdoing to members of Congress, face great risk to their livelihoods.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing where whistleblowers testified about retaliation they have experienced.

An Army special forces officer, Jason Amerine, testified, “After I made protected disclosures to Congress, the Army suspended my [security] clearance, removed me from my job, launched a criminal investigation and deleted my retirement orders with a view to court martial me after I exercised that Constitutional right.”

In 2013, Amerine worked in an office tasked with freeing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has being held hostage by the Taliban. His office saw the dysfunction in the process of trying to rescue hostages and pursued an option that would have involved swapping a warlord and ally of President Hamid Karzai, Haji Bashir Noorzai, for seven American hostages, including Bergdahl.

According to Amerine, when the Taliban was at the table negotiating, the State Department said it would have to go with a swap between Bergdahl and the five Taliban.

Amerine claims that there was also “a great deal of evidence” that the Defense Department and FBI were implicated in an “illegal or questionable ransom” for Bergdahl. When he turned to Representative Duncan Hunter’s office, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, he eventually was put under criminal investigation.

Hunter setup a meeting between his office and the FBI. During the meeting, the FBI “formally complained to the Army that information” Amerine was “sharing with Rep. Hunter was classified. It was not.” Hunter was also told that the FBI had respect for Amerine’s work but they had to put him in his place.

Senior Special Agent Taylor Johnson of the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Investigations testified about blowing the whistle on corruption surrounding an EB-5 project. (EB-5 is a program that allows foreign nationals to obtain green cards if they make investments of money in the US.)

Johnson said she uncovered evidence of major fraud, money laundering, bank and wire fraud, as well as “ties to organized crime and high ranking officials and politicians, who received large campaign contributions that appeared” to have helped facilitate the EB-5 project.

She reported what she was uncovering through proper channels. Outside agencies and high-ranking officials complained, and the investigation was shut down after a “congressional complaint” was received.

Soon after, Johnson recalled, “I was escorted by three supervisors from my desk and out of my permanent duty station. I was not permitted to access my case file or personal items. I was alienated from my friends and colleagues, who were told by management to steer clear of me since I was facing criminal charges. I was removed from my permanent duty station and initially assigned to an office over 50 miles from my home and family,” a US code violation.

“I almost lost my youngest child, when an adoption social worker tried to verify employment and was told I had been terminated by the agency for a criminal offense,” Johnson further testified.

Jose Rafael Ducos, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) chief officer, testified about being retaliated against for reporting overtime pay abuses and formally challenging his immediate supervisors’ conduct. He claimed he was discriminated against because he is Hispanic.

For the past three years, he described workplace harassment and intimidation by individuals in CBP. He involved Sen. Ron Johnson, who sent a letter to Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson on March 17, 2015, but he continues to be isolated and no longer is assigned to any permanent office.

“In my experience, congressional disclosures spark the ugliest retaliation,” Tom Devine, the legal director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) testified.

Devine suggested this is because Congress can be a “magnet for public attention” that “can act both to change the balance of resources and the rules of the game.” A “direct linear relationship” exists between “the threat posed by a whistleblower and the severity of retaliation.” In fact, FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley once suggested that the FBI “viewed Congress with as much and sometimes more hostility” than “enemy nations.”

Devine warned the committee that agencies are now relying on “creative harassment tactics” since the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in 2012.

“Instead of just firing someone,” agencies put whistleblowers “under criminal investigation but give them the choice of either resigning or facing a prosecutive referral,” Devine explained. It is “very attractive” and “much easier” for them than litigation. They do not have to “prepare formal charges.” All an agency needs is a “good investigative lawyer.” The worst that can happen is the agency has to close a case. But the next month the agency can open another case against that whistleblower under a “new pretext.”

Most alarming is the “sensitive jobs loophole” President Barack Obama’s administration is creating. Devine argued the government is on the “verge of replacing the rule of law with a national security spoils system.” (more…)