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Profile: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 15 of 16 (1581 events)previous
The Seattle Times reports that Washington State Democrats believe the White House is behind the efforts to force a recount in the November 2004 governor’s race. Christine Gregoire (D-WI) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WI) after a recount gave Gregoire a narrow victory (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Since then Rossi and Washington State Republicans have demanded new recounts or even a new election (see December 29-30, 2004). In January 2005, they filed a lawsuit to overturn the election results, alleging voter fraud tainted the vote (see January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, and February 4, 2005). The FBI and US Attorney John McKay have investigated the allegations of voter fraud and found them groundless (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005), though state Republicans have been displeased with those findings (see Late 2004 or Early 2005, Late 2004, and January 4, 2005). As the lawsuit wends its way through the courts, Democrats tell reporters that the evidence being brought to bear by state Republicans in the lawsuit is worthless. One party attorney says their list of alleged illegal voters would end up as toilet paper “in an outhouse on Blewett Pass” on the mountain highway route that leads to the Chelan County courthouse, where the case will be heard. However, solicitations sent by Washington State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt say the White House, led by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, is pushing the GOP lawsuit. Berendt’s letter warns of “guerrilla tactics” by “right-wing attorneys” and “extremist operatives” who are “meticulously crafting a case to unseat Christine Gregoire.” Berendt stands behind the letter, saying: “[W]e believe this, too. We believe that Rove is in regular contact with people here.” Rossi spokesperson Mary Lane confirms that the Rossi campaign is regularly updating the White House on the case, saying: “They’re interested in what’s going on.… We talk to them about it.” However, “[t]here’s certainly no Karl Rove pulling strings.” White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius says no one in the Bush administration is involved in the lawsuit, telling a reporter: “As reluctant as I am to comment on an inflammatory fund-raising piece, those are just not the facts. The White House is not directing any sort of strategy for the Rossi campaign and to suggest otherwise is to suggest someone is not very well informed.” Berendt points to the Rossi campaign’s use of Washington, DC, attorney Mark Braden as chief counsel; Braden spent 10 years as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Berendt says his party uses local attorneys. He also cites Rove’s 1994 involvement in the case of an Alabama state Supreme Court election, in which Rove fought for a recount claiming that the election had been “stolen.” The Times writes: “There are parallels to the current dispute here over the governor’s election. In both cases, Republicans held a news conference with the parents of a military voter to question whether overseas ballots were handled properly. Republicans in both states filed a lawsuit that named a long list of public officials as respondents. Both held rallies; business groups financed media campaigns.” Rove’s candidate eventually won (see Early 1994 - October 1995). Berendt says that Rove was also behind failed attempts to force recalls of Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed and Democratic King County Councilman Dow Constantine. Berendt writes, “We know what they’re doing, and we’re going to tell the world that it’s the Bush team, with the Bush tactics, and Karl Rove pulling the strings that’s trying to defeat us.” [Seattle Times, 3/5/2005]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Dino Rossi, Christine O. Gregoire, Bush administration (43), Dow Constantine, John L. McKay, Mark Braden, Mary Lane, Seattle Times, Paul Berendt, Sam Reed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Lisaius
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections
US News and World Report publishes a cover story about FBI Director Robert Mueller’s attempts to reform his agency. Insiders say that the senior leadership tends to withhold bad news from Mueller. Says one anonymous FBI official, “[Mueller] is so isolated and shielded.” The article notes that there has been a “head-spinning exodus of top-tier executives - five officials have held the top counterterrorism job since 9/11; five others held the top computer job in 2002-2003 alone.” Mueller has reduced the autonomy of the field offices and centralized all major terrorism investigations at FBI headquarters. The 9/11 Commission in the 2004 final report had few recommendations on how to reform the FBI, largely leaving the issue to Mueller’s discretion. 9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer says that in retrospect, “[Mueller] knows how to play the system, how to play Congress, and he certainly worked the 9/11 Commission.” [US News and World Report, 3/28/2005]
The FBI questions scientist Bruce Ivins about a marked increase in his after hours laboratory work from mid-August through October 2001 (see Mid-August-October 2001). Ivins tells investigators that he was working late at the time to escape troubles at home. The FBI is unable to find evidence of legitimate work Ivins performed during those visits. He is also asked to explain the differences in anthrax samples he submitted to the FBI in 2002 (see April 2002) and those seized in 2004 (see July 16, 2004). [Washington Post, 8/7/2008; Associated Press, 8/7/2008]
Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, answers the following question during testimony before the Senate: Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) asks Mueller and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, “Can the National Security Agency, the great electronic snooper, spy on the American people?” Mueller replies, “I would say generally, they are not allowed to spy or to gather information on American citizens.” [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
The FBI searches the home that once belonged to convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and May 26, 2004) and finds explosive materials related to the 1995 bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The bureau acts on a tip that it missed evidence in its search a decade earlier (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). Blasting caps and other explosive materials were concealed in a crawl space of the Herington, Kansas, home, buried under about a foot of rock, dirt, and gravel, an area not searched in the 1995 investigation. FBI agent Gary Johnson says, “[T]he information so far indicates the items have been there since prior to the Oklahoma City bombing.” Nichols’s lawyer, Brian Hermanson, says the discovery is either a hoax or evidence of a major failure by the FBI: “They were there often. It’s surprising. I would think they would have done their job and found everything that was there. But I’m still suspicious that it could be something planted there. The house was empty for several years.” [Associated Press, 4/2/2005] Reportedly, Nichols has admitted conspiring to build the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see November 30, 2004).
FBI documents show that an unnamed political group supplies what it considers to be evidence of voter fraud—the forging of signatures on provisional ballots—to the office of US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington. The group may be the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), headed by Republican activist Tom McCabe, who has pressured McKay to pursue previous allegations of voter fraud in the recent gubernatorial election (see December 2004), evidence that was found to be groundless (see January 4, 2005). McCabe has already demanded that the White House fire McKay and replace him with someone friendlier to Republican interests (see Late 2004). McKay has received pressure on the voter fraud issue from several state Republicans aside from McCabe (see Late 2004 or Early 2005 and January 4, 2005). An Assistant US Attorney in McKay’s office will later confirm that even if the affidavits had been forged, the US Attorney’s office had no jurisdiction over the matter, as the allegations are about a state election and the US Attorney is a federal entity. The group later supplies the evidence to the Republican petitioners in a state case about the election, and its lawyers choose not to pursue the evidence, as the handwriting analysis “proving” the forgeries will be found to be unreliable. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Richard Hertling, the acting assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, writes an email to Richard Trono, an aide in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General (ODAG), concerning a conversation Trono had with US Attorney Paul Charlton of Arizona (see November 14, 2001). Charlton wants to begin tape-recording interrogations by FBI agents of suspected criminals, a policy the FBI resists. Hertling says he has discussed the matter with Charlton, and has advised Charlton to have the Attorney General’s Advisory Council (AGAC) form a task force on the issue. Hertling is aware that Trono has expressed an interest in having an ODAG working group address the issue. “I already have a lawyer assigned to the issue,” Hertling writes, “and he ca[n] do a fair amount of the leg-work to make this happen.” Trono responds with enthusiasm, and indicates that Deputy Attorney General James Comey is also interested in setting up a working group to study the matter. Trono says that after Comey announced it at a recent US Attorneys conference, “I immediately had half a dozen USAs [US Attorneys] approach me with passionate views (interestingly, on either end of the debate).” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ]
A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema. [Source: Art Lein / Agence France-Presse]Leonie Brinkema, the federal judge overseeing the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, denies a request to make public an unclassified version of a report on the FBI’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. The report, written by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, was completed in July 2004 (see July 2004) has been held up from publication because of the Moussaoui trial. One portion of the report deals with the FBI’s handling of Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001). However, he pleaded guilty earlier in April (see April 22, 2005). Judge Brinkema doesn’t give an explanation for continuing to keep the report classified or hint when it might finally be unclassified. Most of the report has no bearing on Moussaoui. [Washington Post, 4/30/2005] The report will be released two months later with the section on Moussaoui completely removed (see June 9, 2005).
On April 30, 2005, FBI agent Robert Wright is notified that the FBI plans to fire him within 30 days. He is immediately ordered to cease work. [Chicago Tribune, 4/22/2005] However, on October 19, 2005, it is announced that the Justice Department overruled the FBI and orders Wright reinstated as an FBI agent. However, he is placed on probation for one year and downgraded in pay. The Chicago Tribune comments, “Wright has been the subject of at least six disciplinary investigations in his career. His supporters have long suspected that the FBI retaliated against him for his public criticism of the bureau and its ability to safeguard the nation from future terrorist attacks.” [Chicago Tribune, 10/19/2005] He has two lawsuits still pending against the FBI. One alleges that the FBI improperly released confidential information from his personnel file (see After June 2, 2003-December 2003), and the other accuses the FBI of violating his rights of free expression by blocking the publication of a book he wrote before 9/11. [Washington Post, 4/23/2005]
Author Gerald Posner has claimed that shortly after al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida was captured in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), he was tricked into thinking he had been handed over to the Saudis and then confessed high-level cooperation between al-Qaeda and the Saudi and Pakistani governments. Posner’s account has since been corroborated by New York Times journalist James Risen (see Early April 2002). In a 2005 book, Posner further alleges: “From conversations with investigators familiar with the [9/11 Commission’s] probe, the portions of Zubaida’s interrogation in which he named [Saudi and Pakistani connections] were not provided to the Commission. The CIA has even withheld [them] from the FBI, which is supposed to have access to all terror suspects’ questioning.” [Posner, 2005, pp. 14] There is some circumstantial evidence to support this. Aside from the alleged Saudi trickery, Zubaida reportedly confessed vital intelligence in late March and into April 2002, including the previously unknown fact that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks (see Late March through Early June, 2002). But footnotes from various 9/11 Commission reports indicate that the earliest Zubaida interrogation used by the Commission is from May 23, 2002, after a new CIA team had taken over his interrogation (see Mid-May 2002 and After). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 65 ] Hundreds of hours of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions have been videotaped by the CIA, but these videotapes will be destroyed by the CIA in 2005 under controversial circumstances (see November 2005).
Steven Ekberg, an unemployed waiter living in Ocala, Florida, pleads guilty to violating the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act. Ekberg became known to the FBI when an anonymous caller made a 911 call claiming that Ekberg possessed an arsenal of firearms, including machine guns, and a box of poisons, including the biological toxin ricin. The caller said he once roomed with Ekberg, and heard him say that he would use the firearms and the toxins “if, like, the government ever, like, tried to screw him over.” The caller also noted that Ekberg was depressed, and was mixing prescription drugs with cocaine and alcohol. The FBI searched Ekberg’s residence and found a box containing a white powder that was later identified as ricin. They also found a number of incriminating documents, including a “recipe” for making ricin and a military manual on explosives and demolition, incendiaries, and guerrilla warfare, along with several assault weapons, including an Uzi and an AK-47. Ekberg also told agents he usually carried three firearms on his person and showed them a handgun strapped to his ankle. Agents found another handgun in his back pocket, along with cocaine inside a pill box. His mother, Theresa Ekberg, has told reporters: “Do I feel he’s a terrorist? No. There’s no sinister motive behind this.” Her son enjoys collecting “different and strange things,” she says. “That’s all.” FBI agent Chris Bonner says, “We do not feel Mr. Ekberg is associated with any terrorist organization or entity.” Ekberg later confesses to attempting to make ricin. His guilty plea results in a prison sentence of 26 months. [Orlando Sentinel, 1/14/2005; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009]
New Mexico’s US Attorney, David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001), meets with state Republican Party chairman Allen Weh after he learns that Weh and the party are unhappy with the results of his 2004 election fraud task force (see [September 7 - October 6, 2004). Iglesias is aware that he cannot ethically respond directly to such complaints, and he cannot provide information about ongoing investigations. However, he wants to reassure his fellow Republicans that he will prosecute “provable” voter fraud cases, but will not bring a case if it does not stand a good chance of winning a conviction. He first passed that message along to New Mexico Republicans through a friend in the party, but when the message produced little positive results, he arranged to meet Weh for coffee near Weh’s home. At the meeting, Iglesias attempts to explain to Weh that he can only prosecute voter fraud cases if he has sufficient evidence to do so. Weh is unmoved by Iglesias’s explanations. He asks if Iglesias is “in trouble” with the New Mexico Republican Party. He will later claim that Iglesias tries to blame the FBI for the lack of voter fraud prosecutions. And he tells Iglesias that he needs to do something concrete about voter fraud, and should have already done so. Shortly after the meeting, Weh complains about Iglesias to Scott Jennings, a White House official working for White House political chief Karl Rove. A 2008 investigation of the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008) will find that Weh has been pressuring Iglesias since at least August 2004 to pursue voter fraud allegations (see September 23 - October 2004). Weh will tell the investigators that he was not convinced by Iglesias’s explanation, that he felt Iglesias was unqualified to be US Attorney, and had deliberately ignored credible evidence of voter fraud in New Mexico. He will say that many New Mexico Republicans feel the same way. These feelings are why he chose to complain to Jennings about Iglesias. He conveys his perceptions to Jennings and recommends that the Bush administration fire Iglesias. He will also send an email to Jennings about Iglesias and voter fraud in August 2005 (see August 9, 2005). Other Republicans in New Mexico will complain to the White House about Iglesias as well, including the chief of staff to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Steve Bell. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
Ali Soufan. [Source: CBS News]Ali Soufan resigns from the FBI. As an Arabic-speaking Muslim who joined the FBI long before 9/11 (see November 1997), Soufan has become one of the FBI’s best interrogators and experts on al-Qaeda. However, in a 2011 book, he will claim that he grew increasingly frustrated due to the CIA’s opposition to his work. “It was… clear that some high-level people at the time were specifically targeting me—I was told that by more than a few FBI executives and CIA colleagues,” he will write. “Ever since I had been interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, I was a marked man.” In 2004, Soufan gave information to the 9/11 Commission that made the CIA look bad. He will claim there were instances when the FBI wanted him to go overseas as part of an investigation but the CIA tried to prevent him from doing so. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 515-517, 522-523]
W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 232]
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” [Washington Post, 6/1/2005] Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 146-147] At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. [Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 153-156; Washington Post, 6/1/2005] In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. [Woodward, 2005, pp. 158-159]
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” [Woodward, 2005, pp. 167-215; Washington Post, 6/1/2005]
Entity Tags: Diane Sawyer, W. Mark Felt, Vanity Fair, Ronald Reagan, Carl Bernstein, Weather Underground, Winston Lord, Chase Coleman-Beckman, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward, Patrick Buchanan, Nixon administration, Washington Post, Laurence Lynn, Fred F. Fielding, Hartford Courant, Henry A. Kissinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Mann, J. Edgar Hoover, John D. O’Connor, Joan Felt, Josh Bernstein, L. Patrick Gray, Leonard Garment, John Dean
Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate
The FBI and Justice Department quietly open an investigation into whether Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, improperly colluded with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to win reappointment as the committee’s ranking member. The investigation is not revealed to the public until October 2006 (see October 20, 2006). The investigation centers on allegations that Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Harman’s behalf. The case is an outgrowth of a probe that has already led to the felony conviction of former DIA official Larry Franklin, who pled guilty to giving classified information to two AIPAC lobbyists (see October 5, 2005), and the lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who still face charges of passing that information on to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). The investigation has now expanded to determine if Harman’s campaign to persuade Pelosi to reappoint her to the committee may have involved AIPAC, and whether Harman promised to return the favor by using her influence to persuade the Justice Department to ease up on the AIPAC lobbyists. Reporter Timothy Burger will write: “If that happened, it might be construed as an illegal quid pro quo, depending on the context of the situation. But the sources caution that there has been no decision to charge anyone and that it is unclear whether Harman and AIPAC acted on the idea.” Both Harman and Pelosi are outspoken supporters of Israel, and have praised AIPAC for its efforts to further cement ties between Israel and the US. However, Congressional sources will say that Pelosi is furious at attempts by major donors to lobby on behalf of Harman. The LA Weekly reported in May that Harman “had some major contributors call Pelosi to impress upon her the importance of keeping Jane in place. According to these members, this tactic, too, hasn’t endeared Harman to Pelosi.” Another powerful figure has lobbied for Harman: entertainment industry billionaire Haim Saban, who made his fortune through the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children’s entertainment franchise. It is unclear whether Saban had any contact with AIPAC, and if his efforts to lobby on Harman’s behalf were part of a larger, more orchestrated plan. [Time, 10/20/2006] When the story becomes public in October 2006, Harman will deny any improper or illegal conduct (see October 20, 2006). The investigation will eventually be dropped, supposedly for “lack of evidence.” In April 2009, evidence will surface that the NSA wiretapped Harman discussing a quid pro quo with a suspected Israeli agent, and that the investigation was not dropped because of lack of evidence, but because of the intervention of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see October 2005, Late 2005, and April 19, 2009). [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Haim Saban, Federal Bureau of Investigation, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, Steve Rosen, Timothy Burger, US Department of Justice, Keith Weissman, National Security Agency, Larry Franklin
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Hamid (left) and Umer Hayat [Source: ABC]Hamid Hayat, 23, a United States citizen of Pakistani descent is arrested in Lodi, California and alleged to be part of a terrorist sleeper cell. His father, Umer Hayat, a naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan, is also arrested. The indictment contains Hamid’s admission to attending an Islamist training camp in Balakot, Pakistan, in 2000 for a few days, and again in 2003-2004 for approximately three to six months. He further admits to training for jihad, that he came to the United States for jihad, and that he was prepared to wage jihad upon the receipt of orders. The indictment says that literature extolling violent Islamist activities was discovered at Hamid’s home, including a magazine from Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani extremist group. Umer is arrested for making false statements to the FBI on unrelated charges. [Department of Justice, 4/25/2006] On April 19, 2003, the two, on their way to Pakistan, were stopped outside of Dulles International Airport with $28,093 in cash. They were allowed to continue with their journey. To make bail after their 2005 arrests, the Hayats put their two-house compound up on bond and declare it to be appraised at $390,000 with no outstanding debt. US District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. writes that Umer, an ice cream truck driver, “appears to have access to a significant amount of cash from an unexplained source.” Umer is charged with making false statements to the FBI when questioned about the cash he had at Dulles. Umer is later released and credited with time served. [News10, 8/25/2005] On April 25, 2006, Hamid is convicted with one count of providing material support or resources to terrorists and three counts of making false statements to the FBI in matters related to international/domestic terrorism. The announcement of the conviction states that Hamid confessed in interviews to attending an Islamist training camp and receiving training in order to carry out attacks against the United States. The announcement further states that Hamid initially made false statements to the FBI in regards to this training, and was discovered to have been in possession of the Pakistani magazine, a “jihadi supplication,” and a “jihadi scrapbook.” The announcement indicates that the main was gathered between March 2003 and August 2003 and consists of several recorded conversations with a cooperating witness, in which Hamid “pledged his belief in violent jihad, pledged to go to a jihadi training camp and indicated that he, in fact, was going to jihadi training.” [Department of Justice, 4/25/2006] Hamid will be sentenced to 24 years in prison on September 10, 2007. His defense lawyer, Wazhma Mojaddidi, says Hamid’s statements were the idle chatter of an uneducated, directionless man. She says the government has no proof her client had ever attended a terrorist training camp. Hamid says that he made the claims to end the interrogation. Umer says “We were expecting justice. We did not get justice. My son is innocent.” [KCBS, 9/10/2007] The request for a new trial will be rejected by Judge Burrell on May 17, 2007. He says that there is evidence that jurors “thoroughly and thoughtfully deliberated regarding Hayat’s guilt or innocence.” He also rejects defense objections that the jury was misled by an FBI undercover witness who apparently incorrectly testified that he saw a top leader of al-Qaeda in public in Lodi. No further information is made available to the public on the source of the Hayat’s wealth. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007]
The report by Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, completed in July 2004, is finally released (see July 2004). It states that the inability to detect the 9/11 hijacking plot amounts to a “significant failure” by the FBI and was caused in large part by “widespread and longstanding deficiencies” in the way the agency handled terrorism and intelligence cases. In one particularly notable finding, the report concluded that the FBI missed at least five chances to detect the presence of two of the suicide hijackers—Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar—after they first entered the United States in early 2000. The report states, “While we do not know what would have happened had the FBI learned sooner or pursued its investigation more aggressively, the FBI lost several important opportunities to find Alhazmi and Almihdhar before the September 11 attacks.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004 ; Washington Post, 6/10/2005]
A Justice Department review of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center discovers that the terrorist watch list used to screen people entering the US is based on incomplete and inaccurate information. The report also criticizes the poor technical performance of the facility. In the report, Inspector General Glenn Fine writes, “While the [Terrorist Screening Database] is constantly evolving, we found that the management of its information technology, a critical part of the terrorist screening process, has been deficient.” The Justice Department also warns that missing or duplicate information hinders the usefulness of the lists. Fine states that: “We found instances where the consolidated database did not contain names that should have been included on the watch list. In addition, we found inaccurate information related to persons included in the database.” [The Register, 6/14/2005] The problems will not be corrected by 2006 (see March 2006).
Former FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, who resigned under fire during the Watergate investigation (see April 27-30, 1973), appears on ABC’s This Week to respond to the recent revelation that his then-deputy, W. Mark Felt, was the notorious informant “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005). Thirty years before, Felt had lied to Gray when asked if he had leaked information to the press (see October 19, 1972). Gray, whose health is in serious decline, airs decades’ worth of pent-up grievances against both Felt and the Nixon administration, which he says left him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” (Nixon aide John Ehrlichman’s words—see Late March, 1973) after he admitted giving information about the Watergate investigation to White House staffers (see June 28, 1972 and July 21, 1972). He felt “anger, anger of the fiercest sort” after hearing Ehrlichman’s words, and adds, “I could not believe that those guys were as rotten as they were turning out to be.” He was justified in burning key White House documents instead of turning them over to the FBI (see Late December 1972), he says, because the documents were unrelated to the Watergate investigation. Learning that Felt, his trusted deputy, was “Deep Throat” was, Gray says, “like [being] hit with a tremendous sledgehammer.” Gray says that if he could, he would ask Felt: “Mark, why? Why didn’t you come to me? Why didn’t we work it out together?” Gray says he now realizes that he could not stop the FBI from leaking information to the press because Felt was in charge of stopping the leaks. “I think he fooled me… by being the perfect example of the FBI agent that he was.… He did his job well, he did it thoroughly, and I trusted him all along, and I was, I can’t begin to tell you how deep was my shock and my grief when I found that it was Mark Felt.” Two weeks after the interview, Gray will die of cancer. [New York Times, 6/26/2005; Roberts, 2008, pp. 151] After Gray’s death, his son Ed Gray will call his father “the only wholly honest” man involved in Watergate. [Associated Press, 7/6/2005]
George Christian. [Source: PBS]Librarian and data manager George Christian is served with a so-called “National Security Letter” (NSL) from the FBI demanding that his firm turn over private information on its patrons because of an apparent terrorist threat e-mailed from one of his libraries (see February 2005). Christian is the executive director of Library Connection, Inc., which manages catalog information, patron records, and circulation information for 27 libraries in and around Hartford, Connecticut, as well as providing telecommunications services to many of its member libraries. Christian is given the NSL, as well as a gag order preventing them from ever mentioning their receipt of the letter, or any details surrounding it. Christian is notified of the letter five days before actually receiving it; he spends those days frantically learning more about NSLs and the laws surrounding them (see October 25, 2005). He learns that a district court in New York had found the entire NSL statute unconstitutional because of what Christian calls “prima facie violations of the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments.” By the time they receive the letter, he has decided to oppose it. The letter, delivered by two FBI agents, orders Christian and Library Connection to turn over information about a specific IP address registered to the firm. One of the agents warns Christian that the gag order prohibits anyone in the firm from telling anyone that the FBI is attempting to secure information from its library business records. Christian, who will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the NSL in April 2007 (see April 11, 2007), says neither he nor his colleagues could “fathom any ‘exigent’ nature for the FBI request.” The letter was dated May 19, nearly two months before its delivery, was not addressed to Christian, and requested information from the use of the IP address five months earlier, February 15. Christian later says that while he and his colleagues want to assist the FBI in any way they can, and have no desire to “impede the investigation of a perilous situation that endanger[s] my country or my fellow citizens,” because of the date of the letter and the IP usage, they conclude that the FBI has not been in any rush to get the information. Christian tells the FBI agents that he believes the use of NSLs is unconstitutional and that he will consult his attorney. Library Connection’s attorney says that the only way to contest compliance with an NSL is to take the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, to court. Christian is understandably reluctant to involve his firm in such a court challenge without authorization, and takes the case to the Executive Committee of the firm’s board of directors. The three members, Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, and Janet Nocek (who will soon be dubbed the “Connecticut Four” by the media), after conferring with the attorney and reviewing the New York court’s decision against NSLs, decide to go forward with the complaint. They secure representation from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Together, they decide to ask for relief from the NSL, to seek a broader ruling that the use of NSLs is unconstitutional, and to have the gag order lifted so they can publicly discuss the incident as “part of the national debate over renewal of the Patriot Act” (see March 9, 2006). Christian will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee, “We… felt we were defending our democracy by insisting that the checks and balances established in the Constitution be observed. We had no court order, and there was no evidence that an independent judge had examined the FBI’s evidence and found there to be probable cause justifying their request for information.… [W]e did not want to aid terrorists or criminals.… But we did not feel we would be helping the country or making anyone safer by throwing out the Constitution either.” Because of the way the computer system is set up, to give the FBI the information about the specific IP address and usage it required, Christian would have to give the FBI information about everyone using every computer in the particular library on the day in question. He later says, “[S]ince there was no way of determining who was using the computers in the library five months after the fact, we felt that [the FBI wanted] information we had on all the patrons of that library. That seemed like a rather sweeping request. Some would call it a fishing expedition.” The case goes to trial in August 2005 (see August 2005-May 2006). [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007] It is later learned that the original e-mailed threat is a hoax. [USA Today, 7/6/2006]
Entity Tags: Peter Chase, National Security Letters, Senate Judiciary Committee, Library Connection, Inc., Barbara Bailey, George Christian, American Civil Liberties Union, Janet Nocek, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Connecticut Four
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Connecticut Four, from left to right: Janet Nocek, Peter Chase, George Christian, and Barbara Bailey. [Source: Robert Deutsch/ USA Today]A case filed against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales by four plaintiffs from Connecticut’s Library Connection, Inc.—George Christian, Barbara Bailey, Peter Chase, and Janet Nocek—goes to trial in federal district court (see July 13, 2005). The trial is filed as Doe v. Gonzales because the government has filed a gag order against the plaintiffs forbidding them from identifying themselves or discussing the case publicly. The case involves a demand for information from the FBI for information concerning library usage by patrons of a Connecticut library; the four plaintiffs, on behalf of their data management firm Library Connection, have refused. The case revolves around the use of a National Security Letter (NSL) by the FBI; the plaintiffs, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union, want the NSL voided, the gag order lifted, and such use of NSLs found unconstitutional. Christian and his three colleagues are not allowed to attend the hearings in person because of the possibility that they might be identified as the plaintiffs; they are forced to watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit broadcast from a locked room in the Hartford courthouse. When the judge in the proceeding asks to review the government’s evidence for keeping the gag rule in place, Justice Department lawyers insist on submitting secret evidence directly to the judge, without providing that evidence to the plaintiff’s lawyers. The judge is not pleased, and rules, as did her predecessor in New York, that a perpetual gag order amounts to prior restraint, and thereby is unconstitutional. She adds that her review of the secret evidence gives no national security rationale for keeping the plaintiffs gagged. The Justice Department immediately appeals the ruling, and the plaintiffs stay silent and gagged. While the four plaintiffs remain silent about the NSL and the court case, the Justice Department’s primary lawyer, Kevin O’Conner, does not: O’Conner has frequently debated one of the plaintiffs, Chase, about the Patriot Act, and though Chase is now required to remain silent, O’Conner continues to make frequent public appearances touting the Patriot Act. Christian later says, in 2007 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see April 11, 2007), that the continuing gag order causes the four “John Does” considerable professional and personal distress, especially after the national media begins reporting the story. The media eventually learns, through the careless redaction of information by government lawyers, of Chase’s identity as one of the four plaintiffs, and reveals that Library Connection is the firm involved in the lawsuit. Christian’s name comes to light shortly thereafter. The attorneys warn Christian and the others that even though their identities and their firm have been revealed, they still cannot comment at all on the case. Christian, for one, wants to testify before Congress in regards to the upcoming reauthorization of the Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006), but cannot. The four plaintiffs quickly become known in the media as the “Connecticut John Does” or the “Connecticut Four.”
Appeals Court - In November 2005, a New York court of appeals hears the case. Christian and his colleagues are allowed to be present at the case this time, but are required to conceal their identities by entering and leaving the court building separately, are not allowed to sit together, and are not allowed to confer with, or even make eye contact with, each other or their attorneys. The Justice Department lawyers argue that even revealing themselves as recipients of a NSL would violate national security, an argument refuted by submission of the raft of news articles identifying Christian, Chase, and Library Connection. The government argues that those news reports don’t matter because no one in Connecticut reads the primary newspaper carrying the story, the New York Times, and that surveys prove that most people don’t believe what they read in the news anyway. The Justice Department also tries to get the news articles to be kept under seal in court papers. Christian characterizes the entire proceeding as “absurd.” The court refuses to admit the plaintiff’s claim that 48 states, including Connecticut, have laws protecting the privacy of library patrons, but does admit into evidence the claims by Gonzales that there is no statutory justification for claims of privacy. In an attempt to get the gag order lifted before the Patriot Act reauthorization, the plaintiff’s attorneys make an emergency appeal directly to the Supreme Court, but are rebuffed. [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007] In June 2006, Nocek tells a reporter, “Imagine the government came to you with an order demanding that you compromise your professional and personal principles. Imagine then being permanently gagged from speaking to your friends, your family or your colleagues about this wrenching experience.… Under the Patriot Act, the FBI demanded Internet and library records without showing any evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing to a court of law. We were barred from speaking to anyone about the matter and we were even taking a risk by consulting with lawyers.” [Interview: George Christian, 6/2/2006]
Gag Order Lifted, Case Dropped - Weeks after President Bush signs into law the Patriot Act reauthorization (see March 9, 2006), the FBI voluntarily lifts the gag order without waiting for a court order. The agency then tries to get the original ruling against the gag order vacated, an attempt that the appeals court refuses. The appellate judges are clearly disturbed by the breadth of the NSL gag provisions; one appellate judge writes, “A ban on speech and a shroud of secrecy in perpetuity are antithetical to democratic concepts and do not fit comfortably with the fundamental rights guaranteed American citizens… Unending secrecy of actions taken by government officials may also serve as a cover for possible official misconduct and/or incompetence.” The appeals court refers the case back to district court, allowing the original opinion to stand. Weeks later, the FBI withdraws its NSL, saying that it no longer needs the information it originally requested. Christian later testifies, “In doing so, they removed the Patriot Act from the danger of court review.” Christian later says that he believes the entire procedure was managed as an attempt to prevent the case from becoming public knowledge before Congress could vote on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
Entity Tags: Peter Chase, Senate Judiciary Committee, National Security Letters, US Department of Justice, Library Connection, Inc., George Christian, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Barbara Bailey, Connecticut Four, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin O’Conner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
FBI Director Robert Mueller tells an audience at an InfraGard convention, “Those of you in the private sector are the first line of defense.” InfraGard is an organization made up of private business executives and employees who work with the FBI in counterterrorism, surveillance, and other areas (see 1996-2008). Mueller urges InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they “note suspicious activity or an unusual event.” And he urges members to inform the FBI about “disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers.” After the convention, Muller says of InfraGard, “It’s a great program.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]
A front page article in the New York Times reveals the existence of a highly classified military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as likely members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States more than a year before the attacks. [New York Times, 8/9/2005] Members of the unit had recommended that the FBI be called in to take out the cell, but Pentagon lawyers had blocked their request (see September 2000). The incident was first described in a June 2005 speech on the House floor by Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), and in an interview with Weldon around the same time in the Norristown Times Herald, neither of which had garnered much attention. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; US Congress. House, 6/27/2005] Weldon, who is vice chairman of both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, claims he only recognized the significance of the incident after contacting members of the Able Danger unit during research for a book about terrorism. [New York Times, 8/10/2005]
The FBI begins to build cases against high value detainees held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, due to Defense Department fears that evidence obtained from the detainees by the CIA will be inadmissible or too controversial to present at their upcoming war crimes tribunals. The investigation, which involves up to 300 agents in a “Guantanamo task force,” runs for at least two years and FBI agents travel widely to collect evidence. According to former officials and legal experts, “The [FBI] process is an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which for years held the men incommunicado overseas and allowed the CIA to use coercive means to extract information from them that would not be admissible in a US court of law—and might not be allowed in their military commissions….” In fact, the techniques used to extract the confessions even cause some CIA officials to question whether they are believable, much less sustainable in court, particularly as CIA officers are not trained to obtain evidence that can be used in such a setting. In addition, if the information is used, this may focus the trials on the actions of the CIA and not the accused. The detainees will be designated enemy combatants in 2007 in preparation for military commissions (see March 9-April 28, 2007 and August 9, 2007), but this process will be questioned by a judge (see June 4, 2007). The Los Angeles Times will also comment, “The FBI’s efforts appear in part to be a hedge in case the commissions are ruled unconstitutional or never occur, or the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay is closed. Under those scenarios, authorities would have to free the detainees, transfer them to military custody elsewhere, send them to another country, or have enough evidence gathered by law enforcement officials to charge them with terrorism in US federal courts.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2007]
The Washington Post reports that four years after the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the FBI investigation is growing cold. [Washington Post, 9/16/2005] A New York Times article from the same day also concludes the investigation has stalled. The FBI has found itself on the defensive amid claims that they publicly smeared Steven Hatfill when lacking other viable suspects. [New York Times, 9/16/2005]
In their book The Next Attack, Daniel Benjamin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and co-author Steven Simon write that neoconservative Laurie Mylroie’s theories about Iraq being behind every terrorist attack on the US since 1993 (see October 2000 and September 12, 2001) are simply unbelievable. They write: “Mylroie’s work has been carefully investigated by the CIA and the FBI.… The more knowledgeable analysts and investigators at the CIA and FBI believe that their work conclusively disproves Mylroie’s claims.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 216]
The Justice Department’s inspector general says that the number of criminal cases opened by the FBI has dropped by nearly half since 2000. Inspector General Glenn Fine says this is a reflection of the FBI’s new focus on preventing terrorist attacks. Drug cases have declined by 70 percent, and organized crime, bank robberies, civil rights, health case fraud, corporate fraud, and public corruption have also dropped. State and local law enforcement have tried to fill the void, but they aren’t always able to do so, especially in complex financial fraud cases. [Associated Press, 10/3/2005]
Robert Shaler. [Source: Publicity photo]Robert Shaler, the scientist who led the forensic examination by the New York City medical examiner’s office to identify 9/11 victims, releases a book about this investigation, called Who They Were: Inside the World Trade Center DNA Story: The Unprecedented Effort to Identify the Missing. According to Shaler the investigation eventually identified three of the 9/11 hijackers. However, he writes that they were not identified by name because the ten DNA profiles supplied by the FBI had no names attached. Shaler writes, “No names, just a K code, which is how the FBI designates ‘knowns,’ or specimens it knows the origins of. Of course, we had no direct knowledge of how the FBI obtained the terrorists’ DNA.” He also believes the three hijackers they identified were in the backs of the planes, stating, “I still doubt the pilots have anything remaining to collect or analyze.” [Publishers Weekly, 8/22/2005; New York Daily News, 10/12/2005] The medical examiner’s office concluded its efforts at identifying the remains of those killed at Ground Zero in February 2005, having been able to identify 1,588 of the 2,749 victims. [Shaler, 2005; New York Daily News, 2/23/2005]
On October 6, 2005, the FBI warns of al-Qaeda subway bombings in New York City. It is alleged that a terror plot will be put into motion “on or about October 9, 2005.” A counterterrorism official states that the warning is unnecessary: “There was no there there.” [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] It is later confirmed that New York City authorities had been aware of the threat for at least three days and had responded accordingly. Local TV station WNBC had been asked by federal authorities to hold the story back. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Meanwhile, Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is failing (see October 3-27, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
Karl Rove (right) and his lawyer, Robert Luskin. [Source: Doug Mills / The New York Times]White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove testifies for a fourth time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). [Washington Post, 10/15/2005; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Rove amends and clarifies his earlier testimony, most notably his failure to remember outing Plame Wilson to Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spends a large portion of Rove’s session focusing on the omission. In earlier testimony, Rove attempted to claim that he had only a “hazy recollection” of hearing Plame Wilson’s name (see October 15, 2004) before reading Robert Novak’s column which publicly outed her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). He now testifies that he informed Cooper of her status as a CIA agent days before the article appeared, and his memory apparently failed him during his earlier statements to the grand jury. Rove testifies that his recollection was prompted by the discovery of an e-mail message to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, that he wrote after talking to Cooper (see March 1, 2004). [National Journal, 10/7/2005; New York Times, 10/15/2005] He insists that he never identified Plame Wilson by her name, but “merely” as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and did not intentionally reveal her as a covert CIA official because he did not know of her clandestine status. [Washington Post, 10/15/2005] He says he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from fellow White House official Lewis Libby, and says that both he and Libby learned of her CIA employment status from reporters. He says someone else outside the White House also told him of Plame Wilson’s identity, but he cannot remember who that was. [Washington Post, 10/20/2005] Previously, Rove insisted that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from reporters, and not the other way around, as many reporters and others have already testified. Rove has said that one of the reporters who told him that Plame Wilson was a CIA official was Novak, a statement Novak has contradicted (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004). Rove also testified that he never told Cooper Plame Wilson’s name, but merely identified her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson. [Associated Press, 7/15/2005]
Rove's Testimony No Distraction, White House Officials Claim - White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Rove’s testimony has not distracted the administration from its usual affairs: “[W]hile there are other things going on, the White House doesn’t have time to let those things distract from the important work at hand.” [New York Times, 10/15/2005] White House chief of staff Andrew Card concurs. “Well, obviously we’re all human beings and we know that there are external activities that impact the environment you’re working in,” he says. “It is something that is there, but it is something that we don’t talk about because it would be inappropriate.… I haven’t found anyone that is distracted because of the ongoing investigation, but we all know that it’s taking place and we’re all working to cooperate with the investigators.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2005]
Lawyer: Rove 'Always Honest' with FBI, Jury, President - Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, says that his client “has always attempted to be honest and fully forthcoming” to anyone “he has spoken to about this matter, whether that be the special prosecutor or the president of the United States. My client would not hide anything, because he has nothing to hide. It would not be to his benefit to do so.” Previously, Rove had failed to disclose his discussion with Cooper to either the FBI or to President Bush (see After September 26, 2003). [National Journal, 10/7/2005] “The special counsel has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2005]
Fitzgerald Mulling Criminal Charges against Rove - Sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation say Rove’s statements to Bush and to the FBI are at the heart of the decision whether or not to charge him with making false statements to investigators, or with obstruction of justice. Lying to the president could in itself be worthy of charges. Law professor Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor and assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, says: “The president is the top law enforcement official of the executive branch. It is a crime to make a false statement to a federal agent. If the president was asking in that capacity, and the statement was purposely false, then you might have a violation of law.” However, if Bush had discussed the matter with Rove in a more informal capacity, then, Little says, a case for making false statements to a federal agent would be more difficult to prove. Law professor Randall Eliason says that if Rove deliberately lied to the president, a prosecutor could construe the lie as an “overt act… in furtherance of a criminal plan.” Law professor Stephen Gillers notes: “Misleading the president, other officials of the executive branch, or even the FBI might not, in and of themselves, constitute criminal acts. But a prosecutor investigating other crimes—such as obstruction of justice or perjury—might use evidence of any such deception to establish criminal intent. And a lack of candor might also negate a claim of good faith or inadvertent error in providing misleading information to prosecutors.” [National Journal, 10/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Stephen J. Hadley, Andrew Card, Scott McClellan, Randall Eliason, Stephen Gillers, Matthew Cooper, Robert Luskin, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Rory Little, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
President Bush signs Executive Order 13388, which dramatically expands the powers of the US government to monitor and collect data on US citizens. [Executive Order 13388 of October 25, 2005, 10/25/2005] The order augments the power of “National Security Letters,” authorized in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan (see December 4, 1981), but rarely used against US citizens until the advent of the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act. Thanks to the order, the data files are even more accessible to what the order calls “state, local, and tribal” governments as well as the undefined “appropriate private sector entities,” presumably private data-mining corporations that collect personal and financial data on US citizens for the government.
Over 30,000 NSLs a Year - The FBI now issues over 30,000 NSLs a year, a hundredfold increase from earlier administration usages. NSLs are issued by FBI field supervisors at their discretion without court warrant or oversight by the judiciary or Congress. NSLs force their recipients—librarians, booksellers, employers, Internet providers, and others—to turn over any and all personal data on their customers and employees and are legally required not to tell the targets of the investigations about the letters or the data collection. An FBI supervisor can, without oversight or reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, collect data on what a citizen makes, spends, invests, gambles, reads in books and on the Internet, buys online, and with whom that citizen lives, works, associates, telephones, and exchanges e-mails. Senior FBI officials admit that the huge spike in NSLs stems from the FBI’s new authority to collect tremendous amounts of data on US citizens not accused of criminal activities. And NSLs are now used to generate leads against terrorist suspects and not merely pursue them.
NSLs Handled With Discretion, Officials Insist - FBI and White House officials insist that NSLs are handled with discretion and with a recognizance of Americans’ right to privacy. Joseph Billy Jr, the FBI’s deputy director for counterterrorism, says he understand that “merely being in a government or FBI database… gives everybody, you know, neck hair standing up.” But innocent Americans “should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment. [Source: CNN / Flickr]Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Libby is accused of “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), and then lying about it to the FBI and to a grand jury empaneled by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see December 30, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Libby immediately resigns his position as Cheney’s chief of staff. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; CNN, 5/14/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Five Counts of Obstruction, Two Counts of Perjury - Libby is indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Though the original investigation was of the Plame Wilson leak, Fitzgerald says it is important to understand that Libby’s crimes, though not the prime focus of the initial investigation, should be prosecuted as well. “Investigators do not set out to investigate the statute, they set out to gather the facts,” he says. The indictment does not charge Libby with knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert agent. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Confirms that CIA Agent's Status Classified; Important to National Security - Fitzgerald confirms that the fact of Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA was in and of itself classified information, and not to be shared to the media or the public. He says: “The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security.… [T]he damage wasn’t to one person. It wasn’t just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). [New York Times, 10/28/2005; Nation, 3/16/2007]
Libby Lied about Knowledge of Plame Wilson's Status, Indictment Charges - The indictment charges that Libby lied when he claimed that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see November 24, 2003, March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and August 7, 2004). Instead, the indictment charges, Libby learned about Plame Wilson and her possible role in sending her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) from a number of people, including an undersecretary of state (see June 10, 2003), a CIA officer who regularly briefed him on national security issues (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), an unidentified “senior CIA officer,” and from his superior, Cheney (see (June 12, 2003)). In his turn, Libby shared that information with several officials in the Office of the Vice President, including Cheney’s senior counsel David Addington (see July 8, 2003), Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah (see May 29, 2003), and Cheney’s press secretary at the time, Cathie Martin (who may have actually informed Libby—see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). “In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson” (see June 23, 2003), Fitzgerald says. “[T]o be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story,” he adds. “It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 10/30/2005] (The unidentified “senior CIA officer” is later revealed to be Frederick Fleitz, who served both as a senior officer at the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) desk and as Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s chief of staff—see (June 11, 2003).) [Raw Story, 11/2/2005] Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney who writes for the progressive blog TalkLeft, notes that according to the indictment, the phrases used by Libby in his denials to the grand jury were nearly verbatim echoes of Cheney’s own denials as told to NBC’s Tim Russert in September 2003 (see September 14, 2003). [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Sought Information on Plame Wilson's CIA Status - The indictment also charges that Libby sought information from the CIA and the State Department about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and tried to determine whether she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. According to the indictment, Libby asked David Addington, the chief counsel to Cheney, “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas trip.” The court papers do not say what action, if any, Addington may have taken in response to Libby’s request. [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 ; National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Discussed with Multiple Officials before Leaking to Reporters - In a press conference, Fitzgerald walks reporters and listeners through the indictment: from Libby’s learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from State Department and CIA sources and from Cheney, through his discussing it with at least three White House officials, all before the supposed “disclosure” from Russert. Libby subsequently lied to the FBI and to Fitzgerald’s grand jury about those discussions with government officials and again with Miller and Time reporter Matthew Cooper. “[H]e lied about it afterwards,” Fitzgerald says, “under oath and repeatedly.… [A]nyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct, and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Leak Seriously Jeopardized National Security - Fitzgerald tells reporters that the leaking of a CIA officer’s identity is a serious breach of national security. “This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter,” he says. “But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important.” Fitzgerald continues: “At a time when we need our spy agencies to have people work there, I think just the notion that someone’s identity could be compromised lightly… [discourages] our ability to recruit people and say, ‘Come work for us… come be trained… come work anonymously here or wherever else, go do jobs for the benefit of the country for which people will not thank you.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says: “Revealing the identity of a covert agent is the type of leak that gets people killed. Not only does it end the person’s career… it puts that person in grave personal danger as well as their colleagues and all the people they have had contact with.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 10/30/2005]
Charges Are Serious, Not 'Technicalities' - Responding to a question about Republican charges that Libby is being charged as a “technicality,” and Fitzgerald “overreached” his authority in filing the indictment, Fitzgerald says: “That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven… that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.… [T]he truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.… Any notion that anyone might have that there’s a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.… If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Explanation for Delay in Filing Indicitment - Fitzgerald gives one reason for the delay in filing the indictment against Libby. When asked why he went to such lengths to compel the testimony of reporters such as Miller (see September 30, 2005) and Cooper (see July 13, 2005), Fitzgerald replies that the rights of the accused are paramount in his mind. The testimony of Miller, Cooper, and other journalists could bolster the case against Libby, or could help exonerate him. The possibility that he might charge someone, only to learn later that one of the journalists who had declined to testify had information to clear the person, was something that “frightens me,” Fitzgerald says. “I think the only way you can do an investigation like this is to hear all eyewitnesses.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 11/12/2005]
No Charges against Cheney - Asked whether the investigation found evidence of criminal acts by Cheney, Fitzgerald answers: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act. But as to any person you asked me a question about other than Mr. Libby, I’m not going to comment on anything.” Fitzgerald refuses to comment on whether White House political strategist Karl Rove or anyone else will be named as co-conspirators, charged, or even named in court. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Entity Tags: John Hannah, Judith Miller, John D. Rockefeller, John R. Bolton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jeralyn Merritt, Frederick Fleitz, Central Intelligence Agency, David S. Addington, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The FBI terminates its two-year investigation into who disseminated the forged documents that alleged Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari has confirmed that former Italian intelligence agent Rocco Martino disseminated the documents (see November 3, 2005). FBI chief Robert Mueller has praised Pollari and SISMI’s cooperation with the bureau’s investigation. In part because of information provided by SISMI to the FBI, the bureau concludes that the forgeries were produced by a person or persons for personal profit, and rules out any possibility that SISMI attempted to influence US policies. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica has published a three-part investigative series claiming Pollari had knowingly provided the US and Great Britain with the forgeries (see October 16, 2001, October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and September 9, 2002), perhaps at the behest of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who it says was said to be eager to help President Bush in the search for weapons in Iraq (see (After October 18, 2001)). Berlusconi has denied any involvement. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]
After years of work, by 2005, a scientific team working with the FBI has identified four genetic markers, known as indels, that make the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks unique (see Early 2003-2005). The anthrax is from the Ames strain, and the FBI has been slowly building a repository of 1,070 Ames anthrax samples from around the world. By late 2005 to 2006, it is discovered that only eight samples match the anthrax used in the attacks. Seven of these eight samples come from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and the eighth sample comes from another unnamed laboratory in the US. One of these samples is the ancestor of all eight, and this is a flask known as RMR-1029 kept by USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004). The FBI soon determines that about 100 scientists had access to this flask and its seven descendants. Investigators begin a new phase, using traditional criminology techniques to narrow down the possible suspects. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]
A report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General is leaked to the New York Times. The report largely backs the allegations made by whistleblower ex-FBI agent Mike German (see September 2002 and August 2, 2004). It finds that FBI officials mishandled a terrorism investigation German was involved in, falsified documents in an effort to cover up agency mistakes, and retaliated against German. In one instance, someone altered dates on three FBI forms using correction fluid to conceal a violation of federal wiretap law. After German tried to complain directly to FBI Director Robert Mueller, other FBI agents distanced themselves from him. For instance, the head of the FBI undercover unit, Jorge Martinez, froze German out of teaching assignments and told another agent that German would “never work another undercover case.” [New York Times, 12/3/2005] Notwithstanding, German is critical of the inspector general’s report. He says the authors of the report distorted some facts and failed to fully investigate whether the investigation he was working on was a genuine terrorist conspiracy. [Government Executive, 12/12/2005]
The ten ex-9/11 Commissioners issue a report card to monitor the progress on implementation of the commission’s recommendations given in their July 2004 final report, and they generally give harsh grades. The report card assigns letter grades to the commission’s 41 key recommendations. In nearly half the categories, the government receives a D, F, or incomplete grade. There is only one high grade, an A-minus for its “vigorous effort against terrorist financing.” [Washington Post, 12/6/2005] Ironically, that one good grade runs counter to the opinion of many counterterrorism experts. For instance, author Zachary Abuza has said, “The glaring exception to the success in fighting terrorism has been on the financial front…” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] The report card criticizes the government for:
still not checking the identities of airplane passengers against a complete terrorism watch list.
continuing to allocate domestic security funding without considering that certain parts of the country are at greater risk than others.
excessive secrecy regarding intelligence spending.
the handling of detainees.
persistent problems in first responder communication systems. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]
the slow transformation of and continuing problems with the FBI. [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
The report does not give grades to President Bush or any other specific officials. The 9/11 Commission formally ceased operations after issuing its final report, but some members formed a privately funded foundation to monitor progress. The foundation disbands after releasing the report card. White House spokesman Scott McClellan defends the Bush administration’s efforts, saying, “The best way to protect the American people is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]
According to an unnamed law enforcement official who works with the FBI and the National Counter Terrorism Center, the investigation into the SAAR network is still ongoing. However, only a small portion of the documents and computer files confiscated in a raid on the network in 2002 (see March 20, 2002) have been fully translated from Arabic into English. This official complains, “They don’t have the damn resources. They don’t have the language skills or computer forensic personnel to go through it all. And yet it’s a gold mine of information.” [FrontPage Magazine, 12/9/2005]
An FBI investigation into Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, is halted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to three former top national security officials. The investigation was to determine whether she agreed to use her influence on behalf of accused Israeli spies in return for Israeli support in being named chairman of the committee (see Summer 2005, October 2005 and December 2, 2006). In contrast to the former officials’ claims, the media will report that the investigation is ended due to “lack of evidence” of impropriety or illegal behavior on Harman’s part. However, according to the former officials, Gonzales wants Harman to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which is about to be revealed by a long-simmering New York Times story (see December 15, 2005). The evidence against Harman includes NSA wiretaps of a conversation between her and an Israeli agent. Reporter Jeff Stein will write, “As for there being ‘no evidence’ to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that ‘bull****.’” Another former national security officer will confirm Harman’s presence on the wiretaps. “It’s true,” the official will say. “She was on there.” Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units have concluded that Harman had committed what they called a “completed crime,” meaning there was evidence to show that she had attempted to complete it; they were prepared to open a case on her that would include wiretaps approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). CIA Director Porter Goss certified the FISA wiretapping request, and decided to inform House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the impending FBI investigation. At this point, say Stein’s sources, Gonzales intervenes to stop the investigation. Two officials with knowledge of the events will say that, in Gonzales’s words, he “needed Jane” to help support the warrantless wiretapping program once it became public knowledge. Gonzales tells Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to refrain from publishing the story in late 2004 (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and Mid-2005), and although the Times would no longer wait on the story, Harman could be counted on to help defend the program. She will do just that (see December 21, 2005 and February 8-12, 2006). Hastert and Pelosi are never told of the FBI investigation. Stein will also learn that Goss’s successor, Michael Hayden, will later be informed of the potential investigation, but choose to take no action. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will oppose any such investigation. Former officials who will pursue the Israeli espionage case for years will say, in Stein’s words, that “Harman dodged a bullet… [s]he was protected by an administration desperate for help.” A recently retired national security official closely involved in the investigation will add: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government—not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Jeff Stein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Jane Harman, Michael Hayden, Porter J. Goss, John Negroponte, House Intelligence Committee, New York Times, Nancy Pelosi
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The law firm of Jones Day submits the first classified document request to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald on behalf of its client, Lewis Libby. The letter reads in part, “The documents requested include not only documents in the possession, custody, or control of your office, but also (a) documents in the possession, custody, or control of any agency allied with the prosecution, including without limitation the FBI, CIA, and the Office of the Vice President (‘OVP’), and (b) all other documents of which your office has knowledge and to which it has access.” The request is for, among other documents, Libby’s White House notes from May 2003 through March 2004; all documents pertaining to Libby’s morning intelligence briefings from May 2003 through March 2004, and including all Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs); any CIA damage assessment performed in light of the Plame Wilson identity leak; and any documents pertaining to Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as a clandestine CIA official. [Letter to Patrick Fitzgerald from Jones Day re United States v. I. Lewis Libby, 12/14/2005, pp. 2-5 ] None of the lawyers for either the prosecution or the defense are aware of an in-house CIA assessment of the “severe” damage caused by the leak (see Before September 16, 2003).
Newly released documents indicate that several FBI investigations have targeted—albeit peripherally—activist groups working on issues such as animal cruelty, environment, and poverty relief. One document reveals an FBI plan to monitor a “Vegan Community Project.” Another document speaks of the Catholic Workers group’s “semi-communistic ideology.” Other groups monitored include PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and Greenpeace. An American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) official says, “You look at these documents and you think, wow, we have really returned to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, when you see in FBI files that they’re talking about a group like the Catholic Workers league as having a communist ideology.” A Greenpeace official says, “The fact that we’re even mentioned in the FBI files in connection with terrorism is really troubling.” [New York Times, 12/20/2005]
DARPA logo. [Source: Duke University]The computer and technology experts at Ars Technica, a well-regarded Web publication which describes itself as focusing on “the art of technology,” speculate on the technology behind the NSA warrantless wiretapping program recently revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). The Ars Technica experts believe that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)‘s 2003 comparison between the program and the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see March 2002) is the most apt. They believe that the NSA wiretapping program may be built upon the foundation of a shadowy, highly classified surveillance program called Echelon. They write, “This system’s purpose would be to monitor communications and detect would-be terrorists and plots before they happen… This project is not interested in funding ‘evolutionary’ changes in technology, e.g., bit-step improvements to current data mining and storage techniques. Rather, the amount of data that the directors are anticipating (petabytes!) would require massive leaps in technology (and perhaps also some massive leaps in surveillance laws).” [Ars Technica, 12/20/2005; Ars Technica, 2007] Data storage measured in petabytes is a colossal capacity; a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes, and a single terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes, the usual measurement for hard drive capacity. [TechTerms, 2007] The Ars Technica experts continue, “According to DARPA, such data collection ‘increases information coverage by an order of magnitude,’ and ultimately ‘requires keeping track of individuals and understanding how they fit into models.’” They go on to note that the NSA wiretapping program was instituted shortly after the TIA project was quashed by Congress, and say they believe the NSA program is an extension and an outgrowth of TIA. They note that “the FBI requested the legal authorization to do very high-volume monitoring of digital calls” in 1995, that there is “no way for the judicial system to approve warrants for the number of calls that the FBI wanted to monitor,” and that the FBI “could never hire enough humans to be able to monitor that many calls simultaneously, which means that they’d have to use voice recognition technology to look for ‘hits’ that they could then follow up on with human wiretaps.” The Ars Technica experts believe the NSA is using “some kind of high-volume, automated voice recognition and pattern matching system,” employing a form of “smart filtering” that would weed through perhaps hundreds of thousands of computer-monitored calls and turning a fraction of those calls over to human analysts for evaluation: “[Y]es, this kind of real-time voice recognition, crude semantic parsing and pattern matching is doable with today’s technology, especially when you have a budget like the NSA.” In a follow-up, Ars Technica technology specialist and self-described conservative and “privacy nazi” Jon Stokes writes of his own concerns over the program, noting that the program is too wide-reaching and too blunt to actually catch many real terrorists, and that the program is a tremendous intrusion into Americans’ fundamental privacy: “The problem is not that such large-scale industrial fishing invariably catches a few dolphins along with the tuna, but that between 99.999 and 100 percent of what you’re going to get is dolphin.” Stokes also warns that such an intrusive surveillance program will not only violate privacy rights, but be quite ineffective: “As the TSA, with its strip-searching of people’s elderly grandparents, abundantly proves every holiday season, blunt instruments and scorched earth tactics are of dubious value in catching genuine bad actors. In fact, blunt instruments and wide nets are the easiest for professional bad guys to evade. All you need to beat such surveillance tools is patience and know-how.…Blunt instruments like airport facial recognition software and random subway bag searches produce much more noise than they do signal, and any engineer or computer scientist worth his or her salt will tell you that an intelligent, targeted, low-tech approach beats a brute-force high-tech approach every time. There is no high-tech substitute for human intelligence gathering. In fact…an overload of crudely processed information is actually more likely to lead an analyst astray than it is to produce any useful insight.…In the end, brute force security techniques are not only corrosive to democratic values but they’re also bad for national security. They waste massive resources that could be spent more effectively elsewhere, and they give governments and countries a false sense of security that a savvy enemy can exploit to devastating effect.…[I]t’s not just enough to have sound intelligence; you also need political leaders who have the wisdom to use that intelligence appropriately.” [Ars Technica, 12/20/2005]
In the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005, December 18, 2005, and December 21, 2005), Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, issues a statement defending the operation and slamming the New York Times for revealing the program’s existence. Harman says, “I believe the program is essential to US national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” [Time, 1/3/2006] Evidence will later show that Harman may be defending the program in return for a quid pro quo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will quash an FBI investigation into Harman’s alleged improprieties involving Israeli lobbyists charged with felonies (see Late 2005 and April 19, 2009).
After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001, and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Theory - Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the [FBI’s] I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them.… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States.… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Explanation of Acquired Visas - This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see 1997 and April 3-7, 1999), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 313; Media Channel, 9/5/2006]
Participant Does Not Know - Doug Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA who was part of a plot to withhold the information from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), will indicate he does not know why he was ordered to withhold the information, but that his superiors may have had a good reason for keeping it from the FBI. Another intelligence source will claim that the CIA withheld the information to keep the FBI away from a sensitive operation to penetrate al-Qaeda. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
CIA Wanted to Keep FBI Off Case - Another unnamed FBI agent loaned to Alec Station before 9/11 will say: “They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station… purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want… the FBI running over their case.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 20]
Similar Explanation - Wright is not the first to have made the suggestion that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were protected for recruitment purposes. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence official had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald responds to a classified document request submitted by the Lewis Libby defense team (see December 14, 2005). Fitzgerald disputes lawyer John Cline’s characterization of the Office of Special Counsel as “allied with… the FBI, CIA, and the Office of the Vice President,” and notes that “we are not aligned with the various delineated government agencies other than the” FBI. Fitzgerald writes that his office will provide whatever requested documents it can, but many of the classified documents requested are not in its possession, and he doubts his office will ever be provided with many of them, particularly the extremely sensitive Presidential Daily Briefs. Others of the documents, such as some of Libby’s notes from his time in the Office of the Vice President, have not yet been provided; Fitzgerald says that once his office receives the documents, he will provide them to Libby’s lawyers. [Office of Special Counsel, 1/9/2006 ]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents showing that senior Pentagon officials approved harsh interrogation techniques that FBI agents termed abusive, ineffective, and unlawful. “We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.” One document shows that FBI personnel at Guantanamo questioned harsh methods being used by military interrogators (see May 30, 2003). Another shows that senior Pentagon officials approved interrogation methods considered abusive by FBI agents (see May 5, 2004). The ACLU says that, combined with a memo from Navy general counsel Alberto Mora (see January 15-22, 2003), evidence “show[s] conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.” The documents released by the ACLU also show that interrogators from the Department of Homeland Security identified themselves as FBI agents while using harsh methods against detainees. One FBI memo observed, “The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.” The documents also show that while FBI agents expressed concern about the harsh interrogation methods being employed by military and other interrogators, the FBI itself did little to counter such tactics (see January 24, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
President Bush signs the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 into law. The bill, which extends and modifies the original USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), was driven through Congress primarily by the Republican majorities in both Houses. However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) cosponsored the Senate bill, numerous Democrats in both Houses voted with the Republicans in favor of the bill, and the final bill sailed through the Senate by an 89-10 vote on March 2. [GovTrack, 3/9/2006; Library of Congress, 3/9/2006] In the signing ceremony, Bush calls the Reauthorization Act “a really important piece of legislation… that’s vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people.” He repeatedly evokes the 9/11 attacks as a reason why the new law is needed. [Government Printing Office, 3/9/2006]
Provisions for Oversight Added - One of the reasons why the reauthorization bill received such support from Congressional moderates on both sides of the aisle is because Congress added numerous provisions for judicial and Congressional oversight of how government and law enforcement agencies conduct investigations, especially against US citizens. Representative Butch Otter (R-ID) said in 2004 that Congress came “a long way in two years, and we’ve really brought an awareness to the Patriot Act and its overreaches that we gave to law enforcement.” He adds, “We’ve also quieted any idea of Patriot II, even though they snuck some of Patriot II in on the intelligence bill” (see February 7, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/23/2004]
Opposition From Both Sides - Liberal and conservative organizations joined together in unprecedented cooperation to oppose several key provisions of the original reauthorization and expansion of the Patriot Act, including easing of restrictions on government and law enforcement agencies in obtaining financial records of individuals and businesses, “sneak-and-peek” searches without court warrants or the target’s knowledge, and its “overbroad” definition of the term “terrorist.” Additionally, lawmakers in Congress insisted on expiration dates for the various surveillance and wiretapping methodologies employed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies (see Early 2002). [Associated Press, 5/23/2005] The final bill mandates that anyone subpoenaed for information regarding terrorist investigations has the right to challenge the requirement that they not reveal anything about the subpoena, those recipients will not be required to tell the FBI the name of their lawyer, and libraries that are not Internet service providers will not be subject to demands from “national security letters” for information about their patrons. Many of the bill’s provisions will expire in four years. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/3/2006]
Reauthorizing Original Provisions - The bill does reauthorize many expiring provisions of the original Patriot Act, including one that allows federal officials to obtain “tangible items,” such as business records from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations. Port security provisions are strengthened, and restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine that can be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine are imposed, forcing individuals to register their purchases of such medicines and limiting the amounts they can buy. [CBS News, 3/9/2006]
Bush Signing Statement Says He Will Ignore Oversight Mandates - But when he signs the bill into law, Bush also issues a signing statement that says he has no intention of obeying mandates that enjoin the White House and the Justice Department to inform Congress about how the FBI is using its new powers under the bill. Bush writes that he is not bound to tell Congress how the new Patriot Act powers are being used, and in spite of what the law requires, he can and will withhold information if he decides that such disclosure may “impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive’s constitutional duties.” [Statement on Signing the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, 3/9/2006; Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says that Bush’s assertion that he can ignore provisions of the law as he pleases, under the so-called “unitary executive” theory, are “nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law.” Law professor David Golove says the statement is illustrative of the Bush administration’s “mind-bogglingly expansive conception” of executive power, and its low regard for legislative power. [Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Author and legal expert Jennifer Van Bergen warns of Bush using this signing statement to avoid accountability about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, writing: “[I]t is becoming clearer every day that Bush has no qualms about violating either international laws and obligations or domestic laws. The recent revelations about the secret NSA domestic surveillance program revealed Bush flagrantly violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which was specifically enacted to prevent unchecked executive branch surveillance. … His signing statements, thus, are nothing short of an attempt to change the very face of our government and our country.” [Institute for Public Accuracy, 3/27/2006]
Request to Rescind Signing Statement - In late March, Democratic House members Jane Harman and John Conyers will write to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting that the administration rescind the signing statement, writing: “As you know, ‘signing statements’ do not have the force of law. Legislation passed by both Houses and signed by the president does. As Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution states: ‘Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it.’” Bush and Gonzales will ignore the request. [US House of Representatives, 3/29/2006]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, David Golove, Alberto R. Gonzales, Butch Otter, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, USA Patriot Act, John Conyers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Jennifer Van Bergen, Jane Harman, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The FBI has been slow in making use of computers and it is reported on this day that some New York FBI agents still lack e-mail accounts. The FBI’s New York office has often been the lead office in dealing with al-Qaeda. An FBI official says, “As ridiculous as this might sound, we have real money issues right now, and the government is reluctant to give all agents and analysts dot-gov accounts.” An FBI spokesperson says the accounts will be given before the end of 2006. [CBS News, 3/21/2006]
President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” according to the office’s policies and procedures. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006; National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” [Boston Globe, 7/19/2006]
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. OPR’s request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn’t extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies. [National Journal, 5/29/2006]
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. [National Journal, 7/18/2006]
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. [USA Today, 7/18/2006]
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Maurice Hinchey, John Ashcroft, James Baker, Michael Shaheen, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, National Security Agency, Ronald Reagan, Jack Goldsmith, H. Marshall Jarrett, Elliot Richardson, George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, Archibald Cox, Glenn Fine, Arlen Specter, Charles Wolfram, Bruce Fein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee, Tony Snow
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Ira Winkler. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]Former NSA analyst Ira Winkler, author of the 2005 book Spies Among Us, writes of his disgust with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, saying that because it is warrantless, it is illegal. He argues the program violates both the NSA’s rules of engagement and its long-term missions.
Warrantless Surveillance is Illegal - Securing warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is easily done, Winkler says: “FISA blocks no legitimate acquisition of knowledge. It doesn’t even slow the process down.” The problem, Winkler says, is that the program is so large that securing FISA warrants for every communication the NSA monitors “would [take] an army of lawyers to get all the warrants they’d need to be in compliance with FISA.” However: “[T]he law is the law. No president has the right to pick and choose which laws they find convenient to follow.” President Bush could have asked Congress to amend the FISA laws: “After all, after 9/11 Congress passed a wide variety of laws (without, for the most part, reading them) that were supposed to prevent another attack. They could have easily slipped something modifying FISA into all of that legislation. They did not, though recent revelations about this administration’s use of signing statements may indicate that they simply didn’t want to raise the possibility of questions.” Merely ignoring FISA “is illegal,” Winkler writes.
Weakens National Security - Another issue is national security. Not obtaining warrants actually weakens natural security, he argues, “since the process of obtaining the warrants has an effect on quality control.” For example: “To date, FBI agents have been sent out to do thousands of investigations based on this warrantless wiretapping. None of those investigations turned up a legitimate lead. I have spoken to about a dozen agents, and they all roll their eyes and indicate disgust with the man-years of wasted effort being put into physically examining NSA ‘leads.’ This scattershot attempt at data mining drags FBI agents away from real investigations, while destroying the NSA’s credibility in the eyes of law enforcement and the public in general. That loss of credibility makes the NSA the agency that cried wolf—and after so many false leads, should they provide something useful, the data will be looked at skeptically and perhaps given lower priority by law enforcement than it would otherwise have been given.” Winkler says the NSA’s claim that it does not retain any personal information is ludicrous. “Frankly, you have to be a complete moron to believe that,” he writes. “It is trivial to narrow down access to a phone number to just a few members of a household, if not in fact to exactly one person.”
Extortion - And the warrantless surveillance is not the only illegal action taken by the government. If the government did threaten one telecom firm, Qwest, for not cooperating (see February 2001), “[t]hat’s extortion—another crime.” Winkler writes that both Congress and the American people must demand answers, or the White House and the NSA will continue to usurp our freedom under the cloak of protecting freedoms.
Arguments For Program are Specious - Winkler says the arguments for the program that he hears are groundless. He hears three main threads:
“I have nothing to worry about so I don’t care if they investigate me.” Winkler points out that plenty of people have been investigated and incarcerated in the US and abroad without doing anything wrong: “I believe that Saddam Hussein would cheerfully agree with the tired allegation that if you did nothing wrong, you shouldn’t mind the government looking at your calls. I think Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and the Chinese government would also agree with that line of thought. Is this the company we consent to keep in the name of safety?”
“[W]e need to do everything we can to protect ourselves.” Protecting ourselves, Winkler argues, means letting law enforcement work to protect US citizens against real, ongoing crimes. The government is “watching for dragons while very real snakes multiply freely in our midst.”
“[T]he NSA isn’t listening to the content of the calls, so there’s no harm.” Aside from the fact that Winkler believes the NSA is lying about not listening to the calls themselves, he says: “[The NSA] doesn’t need to hear your chatter to invade your privacy. By simply tying numbers together—an intelligence discipline of traffic analysis—I assure you I can put together a portrait of your life. I’ll know your friends, your hobbies, where your children go to school, if you’re having an affair, whether you plan to take a trip and even when you’re awake or asleep. Give me a list of whom you’re calling and I can tell most of the critical things I need to know about you.” The NSA is made up of mostly “good and honest people,” but it has “more than its share of bitter, vindictive mid- and senior-level bureaucrats. I would not trust my personal information with these people, since I have personally seen them use internal information against their enemies.” Winkler reminds his readers that the Bush administration deliberately outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson because her husband dared debunk an administration claim about Iraq (see November 20, 2007), and tried to undermine the credibility of former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke when he spoke out against the administration (see March 24, 2004). The NSA could easily provide the administration with damaging information about other administration enemies.
'Against Everything I Was Taught' - “NSA domestic spying is against everything I was ever taught working at the NSA,” Winkler writes. “I might be more for it if there was any credible evidence that this somehow provides useful information that couldn’t otherwise be had. However, the domestic spying program has gotten so massive that the well-established process of getting a warrant cannot be followed—and quantity most certainly doesn’t translate to quality. Quite the opposite.” The terrorists number in the hundreds, Winkler writes, but “the NSA is collecting data on hundreds of millions of people who are clearly not the enemy. These numbers speak for themselves.” [Computerworld, 5/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Qwest, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ira Winkler, National Security Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Saddam Hussein, Richard A. Clarke, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
When asked why Osama bin Laden’s wanted poster only mentions his alleged involvement in the East African embassy bombings, but not 9/11, Rex Tomb of the FBI’s public affairs unit says, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Osama bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.” [Milli Gazette, 6/11/2006] The Washington Post will later pick up this story and say that bin Laden’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 operation is not mentioned on the poster because he has not been indicted for it (see August 28, 2006).
Ghaith Pharon’s yacht, photographed in 2005. [Source: Yachtmati]The FBI and Italian paramilitary police raid a luxury yacht owned by Saudi multimillionaire Ghaith Pharaon, but do not find him. Since 1991, there has been an international arrest warrant for Pharaon due to his prominent role in the criminal BCCI bank. Shortly after 9/11, a French intelligence report linked him to Osama bin Laden (see October 10, 2001). Pharaon’s yacht was raided off the coast of Sicily. The yacht was not seized. Despite being wanted for 15 years, Pharaon has managed to continue to run a large business empire. The FBI describes Pharaon as extremely wealthy with “numerous contacts within governments around the world.” [ndependent, 8/16/2006] On August 10, 2006, the FBI puts out an all points bulletin for Pharaon. [ABC News, 8/10/2006] A Middle Eastern newspaper notes that, “In the past few years, Pharoan’s super yacht—which he named Le Pharaon after himself—has repeatedly been seen moored alongside luxury yachts of the rich and famous.” In June 2005, it was seen moored next to the personal yacht of Saudi King Abdullah in a Greek port. Two years earlier, it was seen parked next to another Saudi royal family super yacht near Beirut. [Khaleej Times, 6/13/2006] But there has been no reported word on him since, and the FBI has taken the webpage about him off their website.
Vinton Cerf. [Source: Ipswitch.com]The Information Technology Association of America, an information technology (IT) trade association, presents a paper authored by Internet founder Vinton Cerf and others which notes that the new capabilities of electronic surveillance of Internet, cellular communications, and voice-over internet protocols (VoIP) by US government and law enforcement officials under CALEA (see January 1, 1995) is inherently dangerous for fundamental civil liberties as well as technological innovation. (CALEA mandates that US telecommunications providers such as AT&T give US law enforcement agencies and intelligence organizations the ability to wiretap any domestic or international telephone conversations carried over their networks.) Cerf and his colleagues write, “In order to extend authorized interception much beyond the easy scenario, it is necessary either to eliminate the flexibility that Internet communications allow, or else introduce serious security risks to domestic VoIP implementations. The former would have significant negative effects on US ability to innovate, while the latter is simply dangerous. The current FBI and FCC direction on CALEA applied to VoIP carries great risks.” In order to implement the mandates of CALEA, the authors write, the nation’s electronic communications systems will become inherently less secure from hackers and others seeking to eavesdrop or disrupt communications, innocent citizens will not be secure from possibly illegal surveillance by law enforcement or intelligence agencies, and the nation’s communications systems will face near-insurmountable technological hurdles that will make it difficult for US telecommunications and Internet providers to continue to innovate and improve services. They conclude, “The real cost of a poorly conceived ‘packet CALEA’ requirement would be the destruction of American leadership in the world of telecommunications and the services built on them. This would cause enormous and very serious national-security implications. Blindly applying CALEA to VoIP and realtime Internet communications is simply not worth this risk.” [Information Technology Association of America, 7/13/2006 ]
The Miami Seven. Group leader Narseal Batiste is on the bottom right. [Source: BBC]Police arrest seven people during a raid on a warehouse in the Miami area. The men are alleged to be a “home-grown” terrorist cell plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the FBI building in Miami, as well as possible other unspecified targets. They had allegedly conducted video surveillance of their targets. [CNN, 6/23/2006] The men are identified in the federal indictment as Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augustine. [FindLaw, 6/22/2006] Two are Haitians, five are US citizens, and two are US immigrants. [Democracy Now!, 6/26/2006] Vice President Dick Cheney describes them as a “a very real threat.” [London Times, 6/25/2006] Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert who heads the Washington office of the Rand Corp., says that “amateur terrorists can kill as effectively as the professional kind.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] However, officials concede that the group never had any contact with any other terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. [BBC, 6/23/2006] Officials also admit that the men had not acquired any explosives or weapons. Chicago Police Superintendent Philip Cline says “there was never any danger to the Sears Tower or Chicago.” Deputy FBI Director John Pistole says that the plot had not progressed beyond early planning stages and “was aspirational rather than operational.” Hoffman says that it is “not clear is whether they had any real capabilities to pull [the plot] off.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] An FBI informant posing as an al-Qaeda operative had infiltrated the group for nearly six months and many conversations were recorded. [Washington Post, 9/2/2006] Batiste, the leader of the group, allegedly stated that he and his “soldiers” wanted to receive terrorist training in order to wage a “full ground war” against the US and to “kill all the devils we can.” [BBC, 6/23/2006] He requested boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles, and $50,000 in cash from the informant. However, the men were only able to acquire military boots and a video camera. The indictment indicates that the men lacked any real resources; these organizational problems caused the plot to peter out by May. [Washington Post, 6/24/2006] Critics accuse the FBI of running a border-line entrapment operation in which a plot that was virtually a pipe-dream was kept alive by the involvement of the informant. Max Rameau of Miami CopWatch points out that the military gear and cameras had been supplied to the men by the government, via the informant. [Democracy Now!, 6/26/2006] Court records would later show that not only did the government provide materiel to the group, but the informant also suggested the Miami FBI office as the first target. The records show that the informant, known as CW2, played a key role in the advancement of the plot, such as administering the “al-Qaeda oaths” taken by the men. At a detention hearing, judge Ted E. Bandstra says that the allegations are “disturbing,” but adds that “the plans appear to be beyond the present ability of these defendants.” [Washington Post, 9/2/2006]
Entity Tags: Narseal Batiste, Naudimar Herrera, Patrick Abraham, Rotschild Augustine, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Max Rameau, Philip J. Cline, Lyglenson Lemorin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joan Leonard, Al-Qaeda, John S. Pistole, Bruce Hoffman, CW2, Burson Augustin, Ted E. Bandstra, Stanley Grant Phanor
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Magnified anthrax cells. [Source: T. W. Geisbert / USAMRIID]In August 2006, an article by Douglas Beecher is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a well-respected peer-reviewed scientific journal. Beecher is a microbiologist in the FBI’s hazardous materials response unit who has been working on the FBI’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks since the investigation began. His article represents the first official FBI explanation about the anthrax used in the attacks. Releasing the evidence in a peer-reviewed journal will give it more credence if cited in a later court trial. [Chemical and Engineering News, 12/4/2006] At first, the article is little-noticed by the media, but the Washington Post will highlight it in a front-page story a month later. The Post will also say that others in the FBI have come to the same conclusions Beecher has. [Washington Post, 9/25/2006]
Controversial Paragraph - Beecher focuses on the anthrax letter mailed to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), since it had never been opened and thus remained the least contaminated. The anthrax in the Leahy letter and the letter to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) has been considered deadlier than the other anthrax letters because victims were infected by inhalation and not just by touch. Most controversially, Beecher states that a “widely circulated misconception is that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production.” Up until this time, it had been widely reported that these two letters had been “weaponized,” meaning the anthrax in them had been coated with a substance (usually reported as silicia) to make it float in the air and thus deadlier to handle.
No Supporting Evidence - But while Beecher makes this surprising claim, he gives no evidence to back it up. The comment is made in passing in the discussion section of the article and there are no footnotes or explanation related to it. Several months later, L. Nicholas Ornston, editor-in-chief of the microbiology journal, says, “The statement should have had a reference. An unsupported sentence being cited as fact is uncomfortable to me. Any statement in a scientific article should be supported by a reference or by documentation.” Beecher and the rest of the FBI make no further public comments to support his assertion, but the FBI begins describing the anthrax as non-weaponized from this point onwards.
Highly Pure Anthrax, but No Coating or Milling - Several months later, two scientists will claim they saw the anthrax from one of these letters not long after the attacks and did not see any signs of coating or milling. However, what they did see was an exceptionally high purity to the anthrax, in which the high level of debris in the earlier anthrax letters was removed, making it deadlier and possibly more able to float through air. [Chemical and Engineering News, 12/4/2006]
The Washington Post notes that Osama bin Laden has still not been indicted for his alleged role in 9/11 and that his entry in the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list only mentions his involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings. The FBI says the reason bin Laden is not officially wanted for 9/11 or the bombing of the USS Cole is that he has not yet been charged with involvement in the operations by the US. Bin Laden’s entry on a separate list, of the 25 most wanted terrorists, also fails to mention his alleged involvement in 9/11. According to the Post, “The curious omission underscores the Justice Department’s decision, so far, to not seek formal criminal charges against bin Laden” for 9/11. [Washington Post, 8/28/2006]
According to a later report by the Los Angeles Times, the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) remains “fixated” on suspect Steven Hatfill into late 2006. Senior FBI agent Richard Lambert took over as head of the investigation in late 2002 (see Late 2002), and kept the focus on Hatfill. The change in focus comes just after August 25, 2006, when Lambert is removed as head of the investigation and reassigned to be the head of an FBI field office instead. The Times will later reveal that some FBI agents were frustrated with Lambert’s single-minded focus on Hatfill and sought a review of Lambert by the FBI’s Inspection Division. One agent will later say: “There were complaints about him. Did he take energy away from looking at other people? The answer is yes.” But Lambert was not alone; the Times will also report, “The fixation on Hatfill ran broadly through FBI leadership.” An FBI agent later says: “They exhausted a tremendous amount of time and energy on [Hatfill].… I’m still convinced that whatever seemed interesting or worth pursuing was just basically nullified in the months or year following when ‘person of interest’ came out about Hatfill.” Another investigator will say: “Particular management people felt, ‘He is the right guy. If we only put this amount of energy into him, we’ll get to the end of the rainbow.’ Did it take energy away? It had to have. Because you can’t pull up another hundred agents and say, ‘You go work these leads [that] these guys can’t because they’re just focused on Hatfill.’” [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] In October 2006, NBC News reports: “the FBI recently installed a new team of top investigators to head up the anthrax case. Sources familiar with the case tell NBC News that the new managers are looking anew at all possible suspects, with a much broader focus than before. The sources say that the previous head of the case, inspector Richard Lambert, was moved to a new position within the FBI, in part because he had focused too much on Hatfill.” [MSNBC, 10/24/2006]
Actor Kiefer Sutherland as ‘Jack Bauer.’ [Source: Stuff.co.nz]Law professor Phillippe Sands begins a series of interviews with the former staff judge advocate for the US Army in Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver. She is the author of a legal analysis that was used by the Bush administration to justify its extreme interrogation techniques (see October 11, 2002). Sands describes her as “coiled up—mistreated, hung out to dry.” She is unhappy with the way the administration used her analysis, and notes that she was guided in her work at Guantanamo by personnel from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. She believes that some of the interrogation techniques were “reverse-engineered” from a training program called SERE—Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—though administration officials have denied this. Several Guantanamo personnel were sent to Fort Bragg, SERE’s home, for a briefing on the program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, Mid-April 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, July 2002, July 2002, July 2002, and August 1, 2002). Military training was not the only source of inspiration. Fox’s television drama 24 came to a conclusion in the spring of 2002, Beaver recalls. One of the overriding messages of that show is that torture works. “We saw it on cable,” Beaver remembers. “People had already seen the first series. It was hugely popular.” The story’s hero, Jack Bauer, had many friends at Guantanamo, Beaver adds. “He gave people lots of ideas.” She recalls in graphic terms how excited many of the male personnel became when extreme interrogation methods were discussed. “You could almost see their d_cks getting hard as they got new ideas,” she will say. “And I said to myself, You know what? I don’t have a d_ck to get hard—I can stay detached.” The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service refused to become involved in aggressive interrogations, she says (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and December 17, 2002). [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
In early September 2006, Anwar al-Awlaki is arrested in Yemen at the request of the US government. Al-Awlaki served as imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers when they lived in the US (see March 2001 and After). [Australian, 11/4/2006] However, al-Awlaki is released in December 2007. The US was limited in how much it could pressure the government of Yemen to keep holding him, because he has never been formally charged with any crime. In a taped interview shortly after his release, he claims that while he was imprisoned in Yemen, he was interrogated by the FBI multiple times and asked about his dealings with the 9/11 hijackers. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] According to the New York Times, “by the end of 2007, American officials, some of whom were disturbed at the imprisonment without charges of a United States citizen, signaled that they no longer insisted on al-Awlaki’s incarceration, and he was released.” [New York Times, 5/8/2010] By February 2008, just two months after US officials approved his release, US intelligence will conclude that al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
Security camera footage of the Pentagon attack, from the nearby Doubletree Hotel. [Source: Public domain]In mid-September 2006, the FBI releases never-before-seen footage from security cameras at a Citgo gas station near the Pentagon, recorded on the morning of 9/11. Agents seized the video just minutes after the attack on the Pentagon (see (After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FBI releases it in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and related lawsuit by the public interest group Judicial Watch. Many people believed the footage would show the strike on the Pentagon. However, the video, depicting views from the gas station’s six security cameras, shows that these cameras apparently did not capture it. The footage has been partially obscured by the FBI, though, to protect the privacy of individuals who were in the Citgo convenience store at the time it was recorded. [Citgo, 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/13/2006 ; CNS News, 9/15/2006; Judicial Watch, 9/15/2006] Early in December, the FBI releases more security camera footage from the morning of 9/11, taken from atop the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, which it also seized after the attacks. This is also in response to the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch and others. The grainy video does not show American Airlines 77 in flight, but does show the explosion after the Pentagon was hit. According to Judicial Watch, this “seemingly contradicts a sworn FBI affidavit in a related case claiming that the Doubletree security recordings ‘did not show the impact of Flight 77 into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.’” [Doubletree Hotel, 9/11/2001; CNN, 12/2/2006; KWTX, 12/4/2006; Judicial Watch, 12/7/2006] In the weeks after 9/11, it was reported that FBI investigators confiscated footage of the impact on the Pentagon from a hotel nearby (see September 21, 2001). Whether the hotel referred to was the Doubletree is unknown. Judicial Watch is trying to obtain 9/11 footage from cameras at the Sheraton National Hotel, which is also near the Pentagon. [Leader-Telegram, 9/12/2001; Judicial Watch, 5/16/2006; CNN, 5/17/2006]
Federal prosecutors attempt to determine just how much corruption, fraud, and theft has occurred among government contracts handed out to corporations for their work in Iraq. The preliminary answer: a great deal. The US Justice Department chooses to center its probe into war profiteering in the small town of Rock Island, Illinois, because high-ranking Army officials at the arsenal there administer KBR’s LOGCAP III contract to feed, shelter, and support US soldiers, and to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure. KBR, formerly Kellogg, Brown, & Root, is a subsidiary of oil-construction giant Halliburton. The reported violations are rampant (see February 20, 2008, October 2005, October 2002, April 2003, June 2003, and September 21, 2007). [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008] The investigation is under the aegis of the National Procurement Fraud Task Force, formed by the Justice Department to detect, identify, prevent, and prosecute procurement fraud by firms such as KBR. The Task Force includes the FBI, the US Inspectors General community, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and others. [PR Newswire, 7/13/2007]
Multiple Prosecutions Underway - The Justice Department prosecutes four former supervisors for KBR, the large defense firm responsible for most of the military logistics and troop supply operations in Iraq. The government also prosecutes five executives from KBR subcontractors; an Army officer, Pete Peleti, has been found guilty of taking bribes (see February 20, 2008). Two KBR employees have already pleaded guilty in another trial, and about twenty more people face charges in the ever-widening corruption scandal. According to recently unsealed court documents, kickbacks, corruption, and fraud were rampant in contractual dealings months before the first US combat soldier arrived in Iraq. Not only did KBR contractors receive handsome, and illicit, payoffs, but the corruption and fraud endangered the health and safety of US troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait. One freight-shipping subcontractor has already confessed to bribing five KBR employees to receive preferential treatment; five more were named by Peleti as accepting bribes. Prosecutors have identified three senior KBR executives as having approved deliberately inflated bids. None of these people have yet been charged. Other related charges have been made, from KBR’s refusal to protect employees sexually assaulted by co-workers to findings that the corporation charged $45 for a can of soda.
Pentagon Slashed Oversight - The overarching reason why such rampant fraud was, and is, taking place, prosecutors and observers believe, is that the Department of Defense outsourced critical troop support jobs while simultaneously slashing the amount of government oversight (see 2003 and Beyond).
Lack of Cooperation - Kuwait refuses to extradite two Middle Eastern businessmen accused of LOGCAP fraud. And KBR refuses to provide some internal documents detailing some of its managers’ business dealings. KBR says it “has not undertaken an exhaustive search of its millions of pages of procurement documents” to determine whether other problems exist. [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune, 2/21/2008]
Scientist Bruce Ivins begins to believe that the FBI anthrax attacks investigation is turning its focus towards him. He is correct, but it is unclear how he knows this (the FBI begins openly monitoring him at some point in 2007 (see Autumn 2007-July 29, 2008)). At USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, he tells colleagues that the FBI might be trying to set him up to take the fall for the attacks. His former boss Jeffrey Adamovicz will later recall that Ivins begins to poke holes in the FBI’s efforts. For instance, Ivins says a positive DNA match between the anthrax in the letters and anthrax at USAMRIID would mean little, “because those labs are shared.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] It is unclear why the FBI is suspecting Ivins already, because a match between the anthrax used in the attacks and anthrax held by him will not be made until early 2007 (see Early 2007).
The FBI requests $12 million for its proposed National Security Analysis Center (NSAC), which would mine nearly 1.5 billion records created or collected by the FBI and other government agencies in an effort to expose terrorist cells. The FBI’s budget request says that the new agency would “pro-actively” mine the data to find terrorists using “predictive” analysis. Predictive analysis entails combing though personal data—such as bank transactions and travel purchases—to identify patterns of behavior that are believed to be terrorist-like. But this methodology for identifying terrorists is unproven. In 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence completed a report concluding that terrorism researchers “cannot readily distinguish the absolute scale of normal behaviors” for terrorists or ordinary Americans. [ABC News, 6/12/2007] The FBI’s proposed National Security Analysis Center is very similar to another initiative called the Total Information Awareness program (see Mid-January 2002) that was started by the Pentagon in 2002, but which was curtailed by Congress after it was revealed by the New York Times (see November 9, 2002).
Paul Keim. [Source: Public domain]The FBI matches an anthrax sample submitted by suspect Bruce Ivins with the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. The sample, of anthrax used by Ivins in his work, was submitted to the FBI in February 2002, but the FBI then destroyed it since it had not been prepared using a strict protocol needed for it to be used as evidence in a trial (see February 22-27, 2002). By late 2006, the FBI suspects Ivins sent the 2001 anthrax letters (see Late 2006). Also in 2006, scientists have discovered unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and they are comparing them to other anthrax samples they have collected. A sample Ivins gave to the FBI in April 2002 does not match the anthrax in the letters. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, has kept duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, Keim discovers that he still has a copy of Ivin’s February 2002 sample, known as RMR-1029, and it matches the anthrax used in the attacks. However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006), if not 200 to 300 scientists (see 1997). [Frederick News-Post, 8/19/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]
CIA officer Richard Blee, who headed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see August 22-September 10, 2001), is considered for the position of chief of station in Baghdad, one of the CIA’s largest stations. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] However, he does not get the position. [Harper's, 2/9/2007] The reasons for him not getting the job are apparently that he is seen as a “bad fit,” and is closely associated with detainee abuse and renditions, in particular that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In addition, he is said to have a poor relationship with the military, in particular the Special Operations community. An unnamed former official calls Blee a “smart guy,” but says, “He’s the last guy you want running a tense place like the station in Baghdad, because he creates a lot of tension himself.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007] Shortly before mid-May 2003, Blee had been loaned to the FBI, where he had a senior position, but his career history after that is unknown. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases FBI documents detailing 26 eyewitness accounts of prisoners abused by US personnel at Guantanamo. The FBI chose not to follow up 17 of the accounts. “These documents contain eyewitness FBI accounts of prisoner abuse which cannot be dismissed by the administration, and only underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US controlled detention facilities,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “The documents also call into question the FBI’s apparent decision to not follow up on prisoner abuses by Defense Department personnel. The fact that Defense Department policy allowed this treatment does not mean that it was legal, humane, or ethical.” The documents, compiled by FBI investigators after the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, contain eyewitness accounts by guards and interrogators of “aggressive mistreatment, interrogations, or interview techniques of GTMO detainees by representatives of any law enforcement, military, or bureau personnel which were not consistent with bureau guidelines.” Many of the eyewitness accounts focus on insulting the detainees’ religion:
Interrogators wrapped one detainee’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran.”
An interrogator bragged about forcing a detainee to listen to “satanic black metal music for hours and hours.” That same interrogator later “dressed as a Catholic priest and baptized the detainee in order to save him.”
A Marine captain was observed enraging a detainee by squatting over a Koran in a fashion that the prisoner found extremely offensive.
After compiling these accounts, the FBI apparently chose not to pursue them further, citing the fact that what it observed was authorized by Defense Department policies. Only nine of the 26 accounts were slated for follow-up investigations. One incident marked “no further interview necessary” involved draping an Israeli flag around a detainee, shackling detainees to the floor, and subjecting them to excruciatingly loud music and strobe lights. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer says: “The FBI appears to have turned a blind eye to the very abuses that most need investigating—those abuses that were expressly authorized by Defense Department policy. The FBI documents only remind us that a thorough and independent investigation is long overdue.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/3/2007]
FBI agent Deborah Bond testifies for the prosecution in the trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). Bond took over the Libby investigation when the previous head, John Eckenrode (see November 24, 2003), retired. She discusses two interviews she held with Libby, in October and November 2003 respectively (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). She says that in one interview Libby acknowledged that his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, “may have talked” on July 12, 2003, about telling the press that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, worked at the CIA, though Libby told her that he was “not sure” the conversation actually took place. According to Bond, Libby acknowledged that he and Cheney “may have” discussed the Plame Wilson matter the same day, while the two flew back to Washington from Norfolk aboard Air Force Two (see July 12, 2003); Libby said that Cheney might have learned about Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA Director George Tenet or another CIA official, though he was not sure. Cheney was wondering how to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. Days before, Cheney had written in the margin of an op-ed by Wilson a question about the possibility of Plame Wilson sending her husband on a fact-finding “junket” to Niger (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). Libby told the FBI during a November 2003 interview that, in the agent’s words, “there was a discussion whether to report to the press that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA” during that July 12 flight. “Mr. Libby told us he believed they may have talked about it but he wasn’t sure.” In the hours after the discussion, Libby called reporter Judith Miller; in their conversation, he outed Plame Wilson as a CIA official and accused her of sending her husband to Niger (see Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), though Bond testifies that Libby denied ever mentioning Plame Wilson to Miller. Libby also called Time reporter Matthew Cooper and confirmed that Plame Wilson was a CIA officer, and had been involved in her husband’s trip (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says of Bond’s testimony, “This is significant, because it bring [sic] Cheney himself far more directly into the case, and for the first time suggests that it was the vice president who wanted the news about Wilson’s wife to be circulated to the news media.” Bond’s testimony also establishes the first time Libby claimed he “forgot” about learning Plame Wilson’s CIA status until “remembering” in October 2003. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Washington Post, 2/2/2007; Associated Press, 2/2/2007; National Journal, 2/15/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The defense presses Bond to acknowledge that Libby told her he was unsure of his memory and needed to consult his notes to be sure of his facts. Defense lawyer Theodore Wells also notes that Bond’s notes from the Libby interview are incomplete, and fail to mention Libby’s denials of disclosing Plame Wilson’s identity to Miller. Bond says that while she is sure Libby denied discussing Plame Wilson’s CIA identity with then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), FBI notes of Libby’s testimony contain no record of such a denial. The notes say that he may have discussed it, but he couldn’t recall. “Adamantly might not be the perfect word,” Bond testifies. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/1/2007; Associated Press, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; FireDogLake, 2/5/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, George J. Tenet, Judith Miller, John Eckenrode, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Michael Isikoff, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Theodore Wells
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Former Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, newly hired by private US defense consulting firm Defense Solutions, begins helping that firm broker deals between Russian and Ukranian arms dealers and the governments of Iraq and Libya. The US has banned its citizens from participating in any such deals with Libya. Weldon visits Libya to discuss a possible military arms deal, and, in the company of Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold and another Defense Solutions representative, travels to Moscow to discuss working with Russia’s weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East. Defense Solutions is one of a number of American and other firms trying to profit from the growing pipeline between weapons suppliers of the former Soviet bloc and Afghanistan and various countries in the Middle East. According to a letter from Ringgold to his colleagues, Russia finds that an “intermediary” like Weldon, with his political and defense industry connections, helps it move products in Iraq. “They [the Russians] have not spoken with any American company that can offer the quid pro quo that we can or that has the connections in Russia that we have,” Ringgold wrote. Wired News will note that, a few years ago, any American firm trying to broker arms deals involving a sponsor of terrorism such as Libya would have run afoul of Congressional oversight committees. Now, though, the Bush administration is so eager to outfit countries like Afghanistan and Iraq with modern weapons that it allows, at least informally, such contacts. Defense Solutions has hired a number of influential Washington advisers such as Weldon, a former member of the House Armed Services Committee, and retired General Barry McCaffrey. Weldon speaks enthusiastically about setting up a “front company” to work with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms agency, in selling arms to Middle Eastern nations. He also claims that the director of Rosoboronexport has approached him to work with “an American company that would act as a front for weapons these nations want to buy,” and calls the proposal an “unbelievable offer.” Rosoboronexport is barred from doing business with the US government after violating the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act, and Libya is on the State Department’s arms embargo list. Rachel Stohl, an expert on the international arms trade and a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, will say that many expert observers believe that Defense Solutions and other defense contractors may be engaging in illegal and corrupt activities, such as selling shoddy, substandard arms and equipment, or in some cases making deals for arms that are never delivered. Ringgold will deny having signed any deals with Libya, but admits he is interested in doing business there. He will also confirm Weldon’s trip to Libya on behalf of the firm, and will openly admit trying to cut deals with Rosoboronexport. [Wired News, 7/3/2008]
Peter Zeidenberg (left) and Patrick Fitzgerald outside the courthouse during the Libby trial. [Source: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst]After some final sparring between opposing counsel, the prosecution makes its closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg opens with a lengthy presentation summing up the prosecution’s case against Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Evidence Proves Libby Lied to FBI, Grand Jury - According to Zeidenberg, the evidence as presented shows that Libby lied to both the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the grand jury empaneled to investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). He lied about how he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, who he spoke to about it, and what he said when he talked to others about Plame Wilson. A number of witnesses, including NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007), testified about Libby’s discussions to them about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby forgot nine separate conversations over a four-week period, Zeidenberg says, and invented two conversations that never happened, one with Russert and one with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. “That’s not a matter of forgetting or misremembering,” he says, “it’s lying.”
No Evidence of White House 'Scapegoating' - The defense argued in its opening statement that Libby was being “scapegoated” by the White House to protect the president’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove (see January 23, 2007). No witness, either for the prosecution or the defense, referenced any such effort to scapegoat Libby. The defense may have promised evidence showing such a conspiracy to frame Libby, but, Zeidenberg says, “unfulfilled promises from counsel do not constitute evidence.”
Libby Learned of Plame Wilson's Identity from Five Administration Officials in Three Days - Zeidenberg then walks the jury through the testimony as given by prosecution witnesses. Both former State Department official Marc Grossman (see January 23-24, 2007) and former CIA official Robert Grenier testified (see January 24, 2007) that Libby had badgered Grossman for information about former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson (see May 29, 2003), and Grossman not only told Libby about Wilson and his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, but that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see June 10, 2003 and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Zeidenberg notes, “When Grossman told this to Libby, it was the fourth time, in two days, that Libby had been told about Wilson’s wife.” Libby had learned from Vice President Cheney that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see (June 12, 2003)). Two hours after Libby’s meeting with Grossman, Grenier told the jury that Libby had pulled him out of a meeting to discuss Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). During that impromptu discussion, Grenier told Libby that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official. Libby then learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cathie Martin, Cheney’s communications aide (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003 and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). Martin, who testified for the prosecution (see January 25-29, 2007), learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA press official Bill Harlow. Zeidenberg ticks off the officials who informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status: Cheney, Grenier, Martin, and Grossman. (Zeidenberg is as yet unaware that Libby had also heard from another State Department official, Frederick Fleitz, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—see (June 11, 2003)). On June 14, Libby heard about Plame Wilson from another CIA official, briefer Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), who has also testified for the prosecution (see January 24-25, 2007). Schmall’s testimony corroborates the testimony from Martin, Grossman, and Grenier, Zeidenberg asserts.
Leaking Information to Judith Miller - On June 23, just over a week after learning Plame Wilson was a CIA official, Libby informed then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003). Why? Zeidenberg asks. Because Libby wanted to discredit the CIA over what Libby saw as the agency’s failure to back the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. Miller is the sixth person, Zeidenberg says, that Libby talked to about Plame Wilson. Miller also testified for the prosecution (see January 30-31, 2007).
Told Press Secretary - On July 7, Libby told White House press secretary Ari Fleischer about Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Fleischer, under a grant of immunity from the prosecution, also testified (see January 29, 2007). By that point, Wilson had published his op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), a column the administration considered to be highly damaging towards its credibility. Libby told Fleischer that the information about Plame Wilson was to be kept “hush hush.” However, Zeidenberg says, it is likely that Libby intended Fleischer to spread the information about Plame Wilson to other reporters, which in fact he did (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer is the seventh person that evidence shows Libby spoke to concerning Plame Wilson.
Conferring with Cheney's Chief Counsel - The eighth person in this list is David Addington. At the time, Addington was Cheney’s chief counsel; after Libby stepped down over being indicted for perjury and obstruction (see October 28, 2005), Addington replaced him as Cheney’s chief of staff. Addington also testified for the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Libby asked Addington if the president could legally declassify information at will, referring to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Libby planned on leaking NIE material to Miller on July 8 (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Leaking Classified Material to Miller - As stated, Libby indeed leaked classified material to Miller, during their meeting at the St. Regis Hotel. The “declassification” was highly unusual; only Cheney, Libby, and President Bush knew of the declassification. Libby again told Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and this time told her, incorrectly, that Plame Wilson worked in the WINPAC (Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) section of the agency. Cheney and Libby chose Miller, of all the reporters in the field, to leak the information to, Zeidenberg says; in her turn, Miller went to jail for almost three months rather than testify against Libby (see October 7, 2004). That fact damages her credibility as a prosecution witness.
The Russert Claim - Zeidenberg then turns to NBC’s Russert, who also testified for the prosecution (see February 7-8, 2007). Zeidenberg notes that after lead defense attorney Theodore Wells initially asserted that neither Russert nor any other reporter testifying for the prosecution was lying under oath, Wells and other defense attorneys cross-examined Russert for over five hours trying to prove that he indeed did lie. Libby claimed repeatedly to the grand jury that Russert told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 10 or 11, 2003), an assertion Russert has repeatedly denied. Zeidenberg plays an audiotape of Libby’s grand jury testimony featuring Libby’s assertion. Libby, Zeidenberg states, lied to the grand jury. Russert never made any such statement to Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007] The defense tried to assert that Russert lied about his conversation with Libby because of some “bad blood” between the two. However, “evidence of [such a] feud is completely absent from the trial.” And if such a feud existed, why would Libby have chosen Russert to lie about before the jury? Such an assertion is merely a desperate attempt to discredit Russert, Zeidenberg says.
Matthew Cooper - Zeidenberg then turns to former Time reporter Matthew Cooper, another recipient of a Libby leak about Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Cooper also testified for the prosecution (see January 31, 2007). When Libby told the grand jury that Cooper asked him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official, and Libby said he responded, “I don’t know if it’s true,” Libby lied to the jury. Zeidenberg plays the audiotape of Libby making the Cooper claim. Had Libby made such a statement, Cooper could not have used it as confirmation of his own reporting. Cooper did indeed use Libby as a source for a Time article (see July 17, 2003). Cooper’s testimony is corroborated by Martin’s recollection of the Libby-Cooper conversation. Zeidenberg says: “Martin was present. She never heard any of what you heard Libby just hear it. She never heard, ‘I don’t know if it’s true.’ If she had heard it, she would have said something, because she knew it was true.”
FBI Agent Bond's Testimony - Zeidenberg briefly references testimony from FBI agent Deborah Bond (see February 1-5, 2007), who told the court that Libby may have discussed leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Bond’s testimony corroborates the prosecution’s assertion that Libby attempted to obscure where he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity.
Grounds for Conviction - Zeidenberg reminds the jury of the three separate instances the prosecution says are Libby lies, then tells them if they find any one of the three statements to be actual lies, they can convict Libby of perjury. “You don’t have to find that all three were false beyond reasonable doubt,” he says. “You have to unanimously agree on any one.” Of the two false statements Libby is charged with making to investigators, the jury need only find one of them is truly false.
Defense Assertions - Zeidenberg turns to Libby’s main defense, that he was so overwhelmed with important work as Cheney’s chief of staff that it is unreasonable to expect him to remember the details that he is accused of lying about (see January 31, 2006). Zeidenberg says the trial has elicited numerous instances of conversations Libby had, for example his conversation with Rove about Robert Novak (see July 8 or 9, 2003), that he remembered perfectly well. Zeidenberg then plays the relevant audiotape from the grand jury proceedings. Why is it, he asks, that Libby can remember that conversation so well, but consistently misremembered nine separate conversations he had about Plame Wilson? “When you consider Libby’s testimony, there’s a pattern of always forgetting about Wilson’s wife,” Zeidenberg says. Libby remembered details about Fleischer being a Miami Dolphins fan, but didn’t remember talking about Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about the NIE with Miller, but not Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about declassification with Addington, but not Wilson’s wife. Zeidenberg calls it a “convenient pattern,” augmented by Libby’s specific recollections about not discussing other issues, such as Cheney’s handwritten notes about Wilson’s op-ed (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The defense also claims that Libby confused Russert with Novak; Zeidenberg puts up pictures of Russert and Novak side by side, and asks if it is credible to think that Libby made such a mistake. The entire “memory defense,” Zeidenberg says, is “not credible to believe. It’s ludicrous.” Libby was far too involved in the administration’s efforts to discredit Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). [Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Motive to Lie - Zeidenberg addresses the idea of motive: why would Libby lie to the FBI and the grand jury, and why nine government witnesses would lie to the Libby jury. “Is it conceivable that all nine witnesses would make the same mistake in their memory?” he asks. Not likely. It is far more likely that Libby was motivated to lie because when he testified to FBI investigators, he knew there was an ongoing investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. He knew he had talked to Miller, Cooper, and Fleischer. He knew the FBI was looking for him. He knew from newspaper articles entered into evidence that the leak could have severely damaged Plame Wilson’s informant network and the Brewster Jennings front company (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). Even Addington’s testimony, about Libby asking him about the legality of leaking classified information, is evidence of Libby’s anxiety over having disclosed such information. And Libby knew that such disclosure is a breach of his security clearance, not only risking his job, but prosecution as well. So when he is questioned by the FBI, he had a choice: tell the truth and take his chances with firing and prosecution for disclosing the identity of a covert agent, or lie about it. “And, ladies and gentlemen,” Zeidenberg says, “he took the second choice. He made up a story that he thought would cover it.” And when caught out, he claimed to have forgotten that he originally knew about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby, Zeidenberg says, “made a gamble. He lied. Don’t you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
No Conspiracy, Just a Lie - Zeidenberg concludes by telling the jury that there was no grand White House conspiracy to scapegoat Libby, nor was there an NBC conspiracy to smear him. The case is just about Libby lying to federal authorities. “When you consider all the evidence, the government has established that the defendant lied to the FBI, lied to the grand jury, and obstructed justice.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Matthew Cooper, Peter Zeidenberg, Theodore Wells, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Marc Grossman, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Frederick Fleitz, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Bill Harlow, Ari Fleischer, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Craig Schmall, David S. Addington, Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Judge Reggie Walton, presiding over the Libby perjury trial, responds to the jury’s request for additional explanation of the term “reasonable doubt” as it pertains to defendant Lewis Libby’s claims of faulty memory leading him to lie to a grand jury (see March 2, 2007). Walton responds that he has given the jury as clear an explanation of the term as he can, and advises the jurors to reread the jury instructions. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2007 ] The lawyers engage in a brief debate with Walton, with the jury out of the courtroom, indicating that the jury’s questions relate to the charge that Libby lied to the FBI about a telephone conversation he had with reporter Matthew Cooper concerning CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). The jury asks Walton if it can use Libby’s 2004 grand jury testimony in determining Libby’s “state of mind” (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says Walton should answer “yes” insomuch as all the evidence in the case helped establish Libby’s state of mind. Libby’s lawyers disagree, saying the grand jury testimony could not be proof of the earlier statement, referring to Libby’s revelation to Cooper that Plame Wilson was a CIA official. Walton agrees with both arguments, and says his instructions to the jury will have to be carefully crafted. [Associated Press, 3/5/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/5/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/5/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/5/2007] Towards the end of the day, Walton and the lawyers engage in a rather abstruse discussion of the legalities surrounding the charges and the jury’s probable verdict. [Marcy Wheeler, 3/5/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 3/5/2007]
The New York Times editorial board publishes an op-ed about the conviction of former White House official Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Times writes that Libby, at one time one of the most senior officials in the White House, “was caught lying to the FBI. He appears to have been trying to cover up a smear campaign that was orchestrated by his boss against the first person to unmask one of the many untruths that President Bush used to justify invading Iraq. He was charged with those crimes, defended by the best lawyers he could get, tried in an open courtroom, and convicted of serious felonies.” The Times says the verdict is a “reminder of how precious the American judicial system is, at a time when it is under serious attack from the same administration Mr. Libby served. That administration is systematically denying the right of counsel, the right to evidence, and even the right to be tried to scores of prisoners who may have committed no crimes at all.” The Times also notes that the trial gave an important glimpse into “the methodical way that [Vice President Dick] Cheney, Mr. Libby, [White House political strategist] Karl Rove, and others in the Bush inner circle set out to discredit Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson IV. Mr. Wilson, a career diplomat, [who] was sent by the State Department in 2002 [later corrected by the Times to acknowledge that the CIA sent Wilson] to check out a British intelligence report that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the government of Niger for a secret nuclear weapons program.” Wilson’s exposure of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had tried to buy Nigerien uranium (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) led to a Cheney-led “smear campaign” against Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006) which led to the exposure of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a covert CIA official (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). The Times writes: “That is what we know from the Libby trial, and it is some of the clearest evidence yet that this administration did not get duped by faulty intelligence; at the very least, it cherry-picked and hyped intelligence to justify the war.… What we still do not know is whether a government official used Ms. Wilson’s name despite knowing that she worked undercover. That is a serious offense, which could have put her and all those who had worked with her in danger.” While the Times decries special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald jailing a former Times reporter, Judith Miller, for refusing to reveal Libby as her confidential source (see July 6, 2005), “it was still a breath of fresh air to see someone in this administration, which specializes in secrecy, prevarication, and evading blame, finally called to account.” [New York Times, 3/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, New York Times, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
A report by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, finds that the FBI used self-issued subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain phone, e-mail, and financial information on at least 143,074 targets between 2003 and 2005. The report’s main conclusions include:
More than half of those targeted are US citizens;
In many cases FBI officials evaded limits on NSLs and sometimes illegally issued them;
60% of the audited NSLs do not follow the FBI’s rules of issuance, and a further 22% contain unreported possible violations of the law, including improper requests and unauthorized collections of information;
The number of surveillance targets is probably far higher than the audit finds, because the FBI practices poor record-keeping that allow at least 22% of surveillance to go unreported;
Fine finds that agents had routinely issued the letters even when they had no open investigation, as required by law;
One office made arrangements with telecommunications firms to get information instantly, even before issuing NSLs, by sending “exigent letters” claiming it needed the requested information because of an emergency, and that the letters and necessary court warrants were in preparation (see Before Mid-March, 2007). But, the audit finds, “we could not confirm one instance in which a subpoena had been submitted to any US attorney’s office before the exigent letter was sent to the phone companies” and that “many were not issued in exigent circumstances.”
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, wants hearings. “The Inspector General’s report is a scathing critique of FBI misuse of the secretive process,” Markey says. Although the FBI has used NSLs for years, their usage soared after the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) eased the restrictions on them. Now, FBI agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations can issue NSLs themselves, without court warrants or even the approval of a supervisor, as long as the agent affirms that the information they seek is “relevant” to an open investigation. The information obtained by NSLs remains in a massive “data warehouse,” where it can be accessed again for data-mining or subsequent investigations. [Wired News, 3/9/2007]
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) tells 60 Minutes that he has looked into the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), and has concluded that there was leaking by top government officials—not to shut down the sole publicly named suspect, Steven Hatfill, but to disguise a lack of progress in the investigation. Asked if he has any evidence that government officials knowingly planted false information in the press, Grassley replies, “I believe the extent to which they wanted the public to believe that they were making great progress in this case, and the enormous pressure they had after a few years to show that, yes, that they was very much misleading the public.” He adds that the leaking hurt the investigation: “Because it gave people an indication of where the FBI was headed for. And if you knew what that road map was, that if you were a guilty person you would be able to take action to avoid FBI.” [CBS News, 3/11/2007]
FBI director Robert Mueller orders a criminal probe into FBI officials who used misleading “exigent letters”—letters used in lieu of National Security Letters (NSLs) that demand information on an emergency basis—to acquire thousands of US citizens’ phone records. Mueller tells civil liberties groups of the probe, which focuses on the activities of the Communications Analysis Unit (CAU). The probe could result in criminal prosecutions for misuse of Patriot Act investigative tools. NSLs are powerful subpoenas that can be issued by FBI supervisors without court supervisions, and have played central roles in previous allegations of misuse (see February 2005). The probe is investigating incidents where CAU officials wrote “exigent letters” to telecommunications firms requesting immediate wiretaps and promising that court warrants would be forthcoming—but the warrants had never been applied for and were never issued. Some FBI employees have already been granted immunity in return for their testimony. NSLs are routinely used to provide investigators in terrorism and espionage cases with data from phone companies, banks, credit reporting agencies, and Internet service providers on any US citizens considered “relevant” to an ongoing investigation. This information is then stored in three separate computer systems, including a shared data-mining system called the Investigative Data Warehouse. Though warned in 2001 to use this power with restraint, FBI agents have so far issued over 47,000 NSLs, more than half of those targeting Americans. In the case of the CAU, a support bureau which analyzes suspected terrorist communications and provides intelligence to the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, its officials cannot issue subpoenas, but must have counterterrorism investigators do so. But the CAU has issued at least 739 “exigent letters” to AT&T, Verizon, and MCI seeking information on over 3,000 phone numbers; some of the individual letters contained requests for over 100 numbers. The letters read in part, “Due to exigent circumstances, it is requested that records for the attached list of telephone numbers be provided. Subpoenas requesting this information have been submitted to the US Attorney’s Office who will process and serve them formally to [telecom firm] as expeditiously as possible.” [Wired News, 7/12/2007] (Reporter Ryan Singel notes, The most striking thing about these exigent letters… is that they all use the same pathetic, passive bureaucratese.”) [Wired News, 7/10/2007] No such subpoena requests had been filed with the particular US attorneys, and only some of the requests were later followed up with proper legal processes. CAU chief Bassem Youssef says he ended the problem after he took over the unit in 2005, and says his attempts to provide post-facto legal processes were often hampered by uncooperative field offices. Youssef is suing the FBI over his complaints that the bureau was wasting his Arabic-language skills and antiterrorism experience and the bureau’s alleged retaliation. [Wired News, 7/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Verizon Communications, USA Patriot Act, Ryan Singel, Robert S. Mueller III, Bassem Youssef, Communications Analysis Unit (FBI), AT&T, MCI, Investigative Data Warehouse, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The FBI’s letter to Bruce Ivins. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Bruce Ivins is sent a formal letter by prosecutors saying that he is “not a target” of the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation. In fact, samples of the anthrax used in the attacks have been shown to match anthrax once controlled by Ivins (see Early 2007) and Ivins has already been questioned about late-night work he had conducted in the USAMRIID laboratory shortly before the anthrax letters were mailed (see March 31, 2005). [New York Times, 9/6/2008] Since late 2006, Ivins has correctly been under the impression that he is a target of the investigation (see Late 2006).
George Christian, a Connecticut librarian and data manager who fought a National Security Letter from the FBI demanding information about his library’s patrons (see July 13, 2005 and August 2005-May 2006), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Christian, who along with his three fellow plaintiffs, has repeatedly spoken about what he considers the Justice Department’s egregrous abuse of power and its invasion of privacy, and his opposition to the USA Patriot Act, which has given the FBI the ability to not only demand private information from libraries about their patrons, but require those librarians to keep quiet about the request. Though the court battle restored Christian’s ability to speak publicly about his encounter with the FBI, he testifies, “We feel an obligation to the tens of thousands of others who received National Security Letters and now will live under a gag order for the rest of their lives.” He tells the committee, “Our saga should raise a big patriotic American flag of caution about how our civil liberties are being sorely tested by law enforcement abuses of national security letters. The questions raised vindicate the concerns that the library community and others have had for over five years about the broad powers expanded under the USA Patriot Act.… We believe changes can be made that conform to the rule of law, do not sacrifice law enforcement’s abilities to pursue terrorists ,yet maintain civil liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution.” Libraries “should remain pillars of democracy, institutions where citizens could come to explore their concerns, confident that they could find information on all sides of controversial issues and confident that their explorations would remain personal and private.” He quotes one of his fellow plaintiffs: “[S]pying on people in the library is like spying on them in the voting booth.” Christian also says that while many believe that library records are now protected by the revised Patriot Act, in fact, they are not. He says that “a loophole inserted into the wording allows the FBI to use a national security letter to obtain library records anyway.” He notes that FBI director Robert Mueller has admitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the new language “did not actually change the law.” Similarly, the revised Patriot Act still gives the government the power to impose near-unlimited gag orders on NSL recipients—though the new law seems to give recipients the ability to challenge such gag orders, the law says that if the government declares that lifting such a gag order would “harm national security,” the court must accept that assertion and refuse to lift the order. “Hence, there is no prior judicial review to approve an NSL and, with rare exception, no legal way to challenge an NSL after the fact,” Christian testifies. “It is the secrecy surrounding the issuance of NSLs that permits their misuse. Because of the fact that all recipients of NSLs are perpetually gagged, no one knew the FBI was issuing so many. No one knew there was no public examination of the practice. No one could ask if over 143,000 National Security Letters in two years are necessary.… Secrecy that prevents oversight and public debate is a danger to a free and open society.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
Suzanne Spaulding. [Source: Bipartisan Security Group]Suzanne Spaulding, a national security expert with twenty years of experience in the CIA, on various Congressional oversight committees, and executive director of two separate commissions on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of that body’s hearings on the improper use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by the FBI (see October 25, 2005). Spaulding has spoken out before against the NSA’s wiretapping program (see December 25, 2005). She says that the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agents need “the tools they need to do their job” and “clear guidance on just what it is that we want them to do on our behalf—and how we want them to do it. Clear rules and careful oversight provide essential protections for those on the front lines of our domestic counterterrorism efforts.” However, Spaulding testifies, “it appears both were lacking in the implementation of national security letter authorities.” Spaulding says that Congress should begin a much larger examination of domestic surveillance issues, saying, “The appropriateness of using FISA electronic surveillance to eavesdrop on Americans should be considered in light of other, less intrusive techniques that might be available to establish whether a phone number belongs to a suspected terrorist or the pizza delivery shop. It’s not the ‘all or nothing’ proposition often portrayed in some of the debates.” However, according to recent findings by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn A. Fine, “there is not sufficient guidance on how to apply that in the NSL context or in conjunction with other available collection techniques.” Therefore, there is a strong “need for a broader examination of domestic intelligence tools.”
Urges Congressional Review - Spaulding urges Congress “to undertake a comprehensive review of all domestic intelligence collection, not just by FBI but also by the other national security agencies engaged in domestic intelligence collection, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Agency. A Joint Inquiry or Task Force could be established by the Senate leadership, with representation from the most relevant committees (Judiciary, Intelligence, Armed Services, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs), to carefully examine the nature of the threat inside the US and the most effective strategies for countering it. Then Congress, and the American public, can consider whether we have the appropriate institutional and legal framework for implementing those strategies with adequate safeguards and oversight.”
FBI's Expanded Powers Need Review - In addition, she testifies, the FBI’s expanded ability to use NSLs under the Patriot Act must be examined. Currently, the law seems to allow the FBI to use NSLs to obtain evidence pursuant to a FISA warrant, thus allowing “the government to get information about individuals who are not themselves the subject of an investigation”—“parties two or three steps removed from their subjects without determining if these contacts reveal suspicious connections,” Fine reported. Spaulding expands on Fine’s findings: “In fact, the most tenuous of connections would seem to suffice for this NSL standard. For example, it’s not clear why an ‘investigation to protect against international terrorism’ couldn’t justify demanding information about all residents of, say, Dearborn, Michigan [home to a large Arab-American community], so that you could run them through some logarithmic profile to identify ‘suspicious’ individuals. In fact, Congress should examine the facts surrounding the nine NSLs in one investigation that were, according to the IG Report, used to obtain information regarding over 11,000 different phone numbers.”
Data Mining Efforts Should Be Examined - Also, she says, data mining efforts by other law enforcement and intelligence agencies should be carefully examined and addressed: “NSLs should not become a mechanism for gathering vast amounts of information about individuals with no known connection to international terrorism for purposes of data mining.” Spaulding also notes that the Patriot Act allows FBI special agents in charge (SACs) to issue NSLs; instead, she says, only attorneys in the Justice Department’s National Security Division should be able to issue NSLs. Yet another problem Spaulding notes is the FBI’s policy of retention of data gathered on US citizens through NSLs, even when those citizens have no connection to terrorist activities. Spaulding expressed similar concerns in a previous op-ed for the Washington Post (see December 25, 2005). [Senate Judiciary Committee, 4/11/2007]
Eric Lichtblau. [Source: PBS]Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003 and June 17, 2004), is subpoenaed to testify in the Justice Department’s investigation of the leaks that resulted in the New York Times’s dramatic disclosure of the NSA domestic wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Goldsmith had spoken to one of the two Times reporters, Eric Lichtblau, in October 2004, three months after his resignation from the OLC, but lied to Lichtblau, saying he knew nothing of the program. He immediately alerted his former boss, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, of the interview.
'Stunned' By Subpoena - In his September 2007 book The Terror Presidency, Goldsmith will recall being “stunned” at the subpoena, though the two FBI agents who give him the subpoena—in public—say that they don’t suspect him as the source of the leak. Goldsmith later recalls, “What angered me most about the subpoena I received on that wet day in Cambridge was not the expense of lawyers or a possible perjury trap, but rather the fact that it was Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department that had issued it. As [the two FBI agents] knew, I had spent hundreds of very difficult hours at OLC, in the face of extraordinary White House resistance, trying to clean up the legal mess that then-White House Counsel Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo, and others had created in designing the foundations of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. It seemed rich beyond my comprehension for a Gonzales-led Department of Justice to be pursuing me for possibly illegal actions in connection with the Terrorist Surveillance Program….”
Supported Surveillance of Terrorism - Goldsmith will continue, “I was not opposed to the leak investigation itself or to vigorous surveillance of terrorists. I agreed with President Bush that the revelations by [James] Risen and Lichtblau had alerted our enemies, put our citizens at risk, and done ‘great harm’ to the nation. I hoped the FBI would find and punish the leakers, and I had spent many hours trying to help them do so. I also shared many of the White House’s concerns with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the 1978 domestic wiretapping law that required executive officers, on pain of jail, to get a court warrant before wiretapping suspected enemies in the United States. We were at war with terrorists who were armed with disposable cell phones and encrypted e-mails buried in a global multibillion-communications-per-day system. It seemed crazy to require the commander in chief and his subordinates to get a judge’s permission to listen to each communication under a legal regime that was designed before technological revolutions brought us high-speed fiber-optic networks, the public Internet, e-mail, and ten-dollar cell phones. But I deplored the way the White House went about fixing the problem. ‘We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,’ Addington had told me in his typically sarcastic style during a tense White House meeting in February of 2004 (see February 2004). The vice president’s counsel, who was the chief legal architect of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, was singing the White House tune on FISA. He and the vice president had abhorred FISA’s intrusion on presidential power ever since its enactment in 1978. After 9/11 they and other top officials in the administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn’t like: They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations. My first experience of this strict control, in fact, had come in a 2003 meeting when Addington angrily denied the NSA inspector general’s request to see a copy of OLC’s legal analysis in support of the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Before I arrived in OLC, not even NSA lawyers were allowed to see the Justice Department’s legal analysis of what NSA was doing.”
Difficult to Justify Legally - Goldsmith will write of the difficulties he found in finding legal justifications for the program. “I first encountered the program in 2003-2004, long after it had been integrated into the post-9/11 counterterrorism architecture. Putting it legally aright at that point, without destroying some of the government’s most important counterterrorism tools, was by far the hardest challenge I faced in government. And the whole ordeal could have been avoided.…In 2004, I and others in the Department of Justice had begun the process of working with the FISA court to give the commander in chief much more flexibility in tracking terrorists. From the beginning the administration could have taken these and other steps to ramp up terrorist surveillance in indisputably lawful ways that would have minimized the likelihood of a devastating national security leak. But only if it had been willing to work with the FISA court or Congress. The White House had found it much easier to go it alone, in secret.” [Slate, 9/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, New York Times, Terrorist Surveillance Program, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., Eric Lichtblau, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, James Risen, Jack Goldsmith, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Fort Dix plot suspects. [Source: NBC]Six Muslim men are arrested in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and accused of plotting to attack the Army’s Fort Dix in New Jersey and massacre scores of US soldiers. FBI agent J. P. Weiss says “Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets.” The FBI says the men had formed a “platoon” and had performed documented reconnaissance of their target. Although no evidence is uncovered linking the men to international terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, several of the men were willing to kill and die “in the name of Allah” according to court records. [Washington Post, 5/8/2007] Officials characterize the plot as “homegrown” and still in the planning stages. They state that no attack was imminent. [CBS News, 5/8/2007] The plotters are characterized as self-directed terrorist sympathizers. US Attorney Christopher J. Christie says, “Unlike other cases we’ve done, there was no clear ringleader. They all seemed to feed off each other. They were clearly guys turning to this element for inspiration. They wanted to be jihadists.” [Washington Post, 5/9/2007] The men are identified as ethnic Albanian Yugoslavian illegal immigrants Dritan Duka, his brothers Eljvir Duka and Shain Duka, legal Turkish immigrant Serdar Tartar, and US citizens Mohamad Ibrahim Shnewer and Agron Abdullah. [Hurriyet, 5/8/2007] The FBI was first made aware of the alleged plot in January 2006. An unidentified Circuit City store clerk alerted police to a video that showed the men firing assault weapons, calling for jihad and yelling “God is great” in Arabic, according to officials. The video had been taken into the store in order to be transferred to DVD. The video came from firearms training in the Poconos, according to the indictment. [Washington Post, 5/9/2007] The FBI managed to implant an informant in the group of friends. This informant discovered 50 loaded 9mm magazines in Tartar’s car. [Hurriyet, 5/8/2007] Another informant infiltrated the group and was told of the plans to attack military installations. Shnewer was recorded as saying, “My intent is to hit a heavy concentration of soldiers… This is exactly what we are looking for. You hit four, five or six Humvees and light the whole place [up] and retreat completely without any losses.” [US Department of Justice, 5/8/2007 ] The men allegedly possessed jihadist videos and documents, including copies of the last will and testament of two of the 9/11 hijackers. [US Department of Justice, 5/8/2007 ] The target was allegedly decided by information gathered by one of the men, Tartar, who had access to Fort Dix from a job delivering pizzas there. [Hurriyet, 5/8/2007] The men are arrested when they attempt to buy AK-47s, M-16s, and other weapons from yet another FBI informant. [Washington Post, 5/8/2007] Most face possible life sentences. [Washington Post, 5/9/2007]
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Fort Huachuca [Source: Army]An FBI advisory is distributed in May 2007 to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the nation warning that up to 60 Afghan and Iraqi terrorists are to be smuggled into the US through underground tunnels with high-powered weapons to attack an Arizona Army base. The alleged target, Fort Huachuca, is the nation’s largest intelligence-training center. It lies about 20 miles from the Mexican border and has members of all four service branches training in intelligence and secret operations. Security measures are swiftly changed at the base in response to the threat, according to multiple confidential law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Times. The advisory warns that “a portion of the operatives were in the United States, with the remainder not yet in the United States [and]…the Afghanis and Iraqis shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners.” The FBI report on which the advisory is based points to the involvement of Mexican drug cartels, stating that each operative paid drug lords $20,000 “or the equivalent in weapons” for assistance in smuggling them and their weapons , including anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles, through tunnels along the border into the US. The advisory further warns that a number of the operatives are already in a safe house in Texas and some weapons have already been successfully smuggled into the US. The FBI report is based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources, including Mexican nationals with access to a “sub-source” in the drug cartels. This “sub-source” is allegedly “a member of the Zetas,” the military arm of one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, the Gulf Cartel, who identified the Sinaloa cartel as the organization involved in the plot. However, the advisory states that “this information is of unknown reliability,” while the DEA warns that the Gulf Cartel may be attempting to manipulate the US into acting against their rivals. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson says that the report is based on “raw, uncorroborated information that has not been completely vetted.” A Department of Homeland Security document on the possible attack states “based upon the information provided by the DEA handling agent, the DEA has classified the source as credible [and]…the identity of the sub-source has been established; however, none of the information provided by the sub-source in the past has been corroborated.” [Washington Times, 11/26/2007] The threat later proves to be unfounded. The attack never occurs and FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, based in Phoenix, admits in November that the warning was the result of bad information. He says “a thorough investigation was conducted and there is no evidence showing that the threat was credible.” [Arizona Daily Star, 11/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Manuel Johnson, US Department of Homeland Security, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Customs and Border Protection, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Gulf Cartel, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paul Bresson, Zetas, Sinaloa Cartel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
James Reston Jr. [Source: James Reston, Jr]James Reston Jr., a member of David Frost’s research team for the famous Nixon-Frost interviews (see Early 1976), publishes his book, The Conviction of Richard Nixon, about those debates and their echoes in the actions of the Bush administration. Reston writes that “it might be argued that the post-September 11 domestic abuses find their origin in Watergate. In 1977 the commentators were shocked when Nixon said about his burglaries and wiretaps, ‘If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal’ (see April 6, 1977).… These brazen words… come eerily down to us through the tunnel of the last thirty years.”
Presidential Immunity - Reston writes: “In the area of criminal activity, Nixon argues, the president is immune. He can eavesdrop; he can cover up; he can approve burglaries; he can bend government agencies like the CIA and the FBI to his own political purposes. He can do so in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘executive privilege.’ And when these acts are exposed, he can call them ‘mistakes’ or ‘stupid things’ or ‘pipsqueak’ matters. In the 21st century, Nixon’s principle has been extended to authorizing torture, setting up secret prisons around the world, and ignoring the requirement for search warrants. A president can scrap the Geneva Convention and misuse the Defense Department and lie about the intelligence analyses. He is above the law. This is especially so when the nation is mired in an unpopular war, when the country is divided, when mass protests are in the streets of America, and an American president is pilloried around the world. If Nixon’s words resonate today, so also does the word Watergate.”
Echoes of Nixon and Watergate - Reston continues: “Again the nation is in a failing, elective war. A Nixon successor is again charged with abuse of power in covering up and distorting crucial facts as he dragged the country, under false pretenses, into war. Again secrecy reigns in the White House, and the argument is made that national security trumps all.… In 2007 the issue has returned with a vengeance. And one can become almost wistful in realizing that the period after Watergate brought an era of reform. A campaign finance law was passed; Congress reasserted its control over intelligence activities; and moral codes were enunciated for public officials. National security, the New York Times editorialized after the interviews, was no longer ‘the magic incantation’ that automatically paralyzed inquiry. After September 11, the incantation became magic again. And so, people have asked, after the Bush presidency, who will be his David Frost? It is hard to imagine that there will be one.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 9-10, 180]
The FBI terrorist watch list now includes over half a million names, which civil liberties advocates say limits its usefulness. Although the actual content of the list is classified, the FBI’s 2008 budget request refers to “the entire watch list of 509,000 names,” which is utilized by its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. It is common for many names on the list to be associated with one individual. The FBI foreign and domestic terror watch list, combined with the interagency National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) list of suspected international terrorists, comprise the watch list used by federal security screening personnel on the lookout for terrorists. The NCTC refuses to reveal how many US citizens are on the list (see February 15, 2006). ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani says the FBI watch list “grows seemingly without control or limitation. If we have 509,000 names on that list, the watch list is virtually useless.” Internal reviews of the list by the US Terrorist Screening Center have previously found the list to be incomplete and inaccurate (see June 14, 2005). Reviews of versions of the list reveal the names of US lawmakers; former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, imprisoned at the time of review; al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui, also imprisoned; and 14 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, all deceased (see March 2006). [ABC News (The Blotter), 6/13/2007]
It is reported that an unclassified FBI budget document states that since the 9/11 attacks the Bureau has dramatically increased so-called ‘black bag’ jobs. In a black bag job a team of specialists secretly enter a premise, search the contents, and leave no indication they were ever there. Whereas most of the FBI’s secret search operations previously related to criminal investigations, by 2006 close to 90 percent of such operations are for national security matters. The FBI is asking for more money and personnel to conduct more such operations. [ABC News.com, 6/15/2007]
Alberto Gonzales testifies before Congress. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lied to Congress during Congressional hearings over the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006). In testimony before Congress, Gonzales asserted that he knew nothing of any abuses of National Security Letters (NSLs), documents that require employers, librarians, and others to turn over information on their employees and patrons to the government, and further require that those served with NSLs remain silent about them and the information being given over. But internal FBI documents made available on this day reveal that Gonzales indeed had been briefed about such abuses. (The Justice Department is fighting two court cases from plaintiffs seeking to halt the indiscriminate and allegedly unconstitutional use of NSLs to demand information about US citizens that, by law, should remain private.) George Christian, a Connecticut librarian who fought the FBI over its demand for information about his library patrons (see July 13, 2005 and April 11, 2007), says, “Having experienced first-hand the impact of the government’s abuse of surveillance powers, it is particularly disheartening to learn more and more about the deceit surrounding that abuse. I and my colleagues were fortunate enough to have the gag order against us lifted, but thousands more believed to have received national security letters are not so lucky, and must suffer the injustice in silence. It’s bad enough that these abuses occur, but salt is added to the wound when the top law enforcement agent in the country knows about the abuses, does nothing to correct them, and then plays ignorant when confronted with them.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2007]
Wired News reporter Ryan Singel examines the documents released as part of the FBI’s probe into the possibly illegal use of National Security Letters (NSLs) by its agents (see Before Mid-March, 2007). Singel finds that all of the letters originate from the same room in the FBI’s Washington headquarters, Room 4944. Almost all of them refer to a “Special Project,” and the only name on any of the letters is Larry Mefford. At the time the letters were written, Mefford was the Executive Assistant Director in charge of the Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence Division. His job primarily focused on preventing domestic terror attacks. Having Mefford’s name on the letters adds another layer of interest, Singel writes: “… Mefford’s name is on documents that requested personal information on Americans. Some of those requests included information known to be false to the agents signing them. That’s a federal crime, according to one former FBI agent.” It is unclear what the “Special Project” is, outside of its existence within the FBI’s Communications Analysis Unit (CAU), which issued the NSLs in question. Why some of the NSLs requested over two pages of phone numbers as part of a single request is also unclear. Singel observes, “The documents also show that these ‘exigent letters’—essentially end runs around the rules set up to keep the FBI from trampling on citizens rights—weren’t devised by some rogue Jack Bauer-style agent [a reference to the popular TV action drama 24.]. The form letters originated from inside FBI Headquarters and in some cases, bear the name of a senior level FBI official who should have been aware of the letters’ legal grey status and possibility for abuse.” [Wired News, 7/10/2007]
The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) issues a national security bulletin based on four recent incidents in San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston, and Baltimore. The bulletin creates the impression of imminent terrorist plots targeting the aviation sector. The TSA warns that terrorists are testing the possibility of smuggling bomb components on to an airplane. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe says the agency has noticed an increase in unusual items in checked and carry-on luggage, including “wires, switches, cell phone components, and dense clay-like substances” - including a block of cheese. [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] The incidents all turn out to have innocent explanations. On July 27, Brian Todd of CNN reports “That bulletin for law enforcement eyes only told of suspicious items recently found in passenger’s bags at airport checkpoints, warned that they may signify dry runs for terrorist attacks… it turns out none of that is true.” One such case was that of Sara Weiss, who was detained in San Diego after two ice packs covered in tape and containing clay were allegedly found in her baggage. Weiss, who works for a faith-based organization, was also carrying a survey about Muslim Americans. Weiss says she was held for three hours and questioned by San Diego Harbor Police and two other men who did not identify themselves. She says she was asked if she knew Osama bin Laden, which she described as “a ridiculous question.” Todd reports “The FBI now says there were valid explanations for all four incidents in that bulletin, and a US government official says no charges will be brought in any of these cases.” The FBI maintains “they were right” in putting the bogus reports on the TSA bulletin, which is distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The TSA says that security officers must be trained in identifying suspicious packages, even when those packages turn out to be innocuous. [CNN, 7/27/2007] Defense for the TSA bulletin comes from a number of sources. “This is what TSA should be doing whether it turns out to be a whole bunch of harmless coincidences or part of a plot,” says James Carafano, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who in the past called for TSA’s abolition. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, also a critic of the TSA, agrees the agency is handling this appropriately: “To stay ahead of potential threats to our aviation system it must use all of the intelligence available as part of its daily operations.” However, the bulletin is questioned by San Diego Harbor Police Chief Kirk Sanfilippo who says officers found two ice packs wrapped in clear tape, not duct tape, and there was no clay inside. “It was not a threat. It was not a test run,” Sanfilippo says. “The whole thing was very explainable and understandable.” [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] He characterizes the bulletin as “a little bit off.” Local TSA Security Director and chief of the airport police Michael J. Aguilar says it was quickly determined the ice packs contained the usual blue gel. Aguilar says he doesn’t know why the TSA memo, issued in Washington, reported the substance as clay. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, CNN, Brian Todd, Bennie Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Transportation Security Agency, Sara Weiss, James Carafano, House Homeland Security Committee, Kirk Sanfilippo, Ellen Howe, Michael J. Aguilar, San Diego Harbor Police
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft into signing a recertification of the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004). Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has already testified before the same committee (see May 15, 2007) that Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft, then just hours out of emergency surgery, to overrule Comey, who was acting attorney general during Ashcroft’s incapacitation. Gonzales and Card were unsuccessful, and Comey, along with Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and others, threatened to resign if the program wasn’t brought into line with the Constitution. But today Gonzales tells a quite different story. Gonzales tells the committee that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress itself wanted the program to continue (see March 10, 2004), and he and Card merely intended to “inform” Ashcroft about Comey’s decision, and not to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey. Many of the senators on the committee are amazed at Gonzales’s contention that Congress wanted Comey overruled. And they are equally appalled at Gonzales’s seemingly cavalier explanation that he and Card were not, as Comey has testified, trying to pressure a sick man who “wasn’t fully competent to make that decision” to overrule his deputy in such a critical matter: Gonzales’s contention that “there are no rules” governing such a matter does not carry much weight with the committee. Many senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), simply do not believe Gonzales’s explanations; she says that to secure Ashcroft’s reversal was “clearly the only reason why you would go see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales replies that he and Card were operating under what he calls “extraordinary circumstances,” in which “we had just been advised by the Congressional leadership, go forward anyway, and we felt it important that the attorney general, general Ashcroft, be advised of those facts.” Only later in the hearing does Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) force Gonzales to admit that he was indeed carrying a reauthorization order from the White House, something that he likely would not have had if he were not there to secure Ashcroft’s signature. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says in his opening statement that Gonzales has “a severe credibility problem,” and continues, “It is time for the attorney general to fully answer these questions and to acknowledge and begin taking responsibility for the acute crisis of leadership that has gripped the department under his watch.” He goes on to note that the Bush administration has squandered the committee’s trust “with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups.” Gonzales garners little trust with his own opening, which states in part, “I will not tolerate any improper politicization of this department. I will continue to make efforts to ensure that my staff and others within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated. I have never been one to quit.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007]
'I Don't Trust You' - Arlen Specter (R-PA) is another senator who questions Gonzales’s veracity. “Assuming you’re leveling with us on this occasion,” he says, “…I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he’s under sedation and incapacitated—for anything.” Gonzales replies, “Senator, obviously there was concern about General Ashcroft’s condition. And we would not have sought nor did we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he wasn’t fully competent to make that decision. But General—there are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, ‘I’m feeling well enough to make this decision.’” Gonzales adds that the fact that Comey was acting attorney general was essentially irrelevant, as Ashcroft “could always reclaim that. There are no rules.” “While he’s in the hospital under sedation?” Specter asks incredulously. [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] “It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility. And the list goes on and on.” [USA Today, 7/24/2007] After Gonzales’s restatement of his version of events, Specter observes tartly, “Not making any progress here. Let me go to another topic.” Gonzales goes on to say that he and Card visited Ashcroft hours after they had informed the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight Congressional leaders who are sometimes briefed on the surveillance program, that Comey did not intend to recertify the program as legal, “despite the fact the department had repeatedly approved those activities over a period of over two years. We informed the leadership that Mr. Comey felt the president did not have the authority to authorize these activities, and we were there asking for help, to ask for emergency legislation.” Gonzales claims that the Congressional leaders felt that the program should be reauthorized with or without Comey’s approval, and that since it would be “very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program…we should look for a way ahead.” Gonzales confirms what Comey has already said, that Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. “…I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, ‘Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.’” Feinstein is also obviously impatient with Gonzales’s testimony, saying, “And I listen to you. And nothing gets answered directly. Everything is obfuscated. You can’t tell me that you went up to see Mr. Comey for any other reason other than to reverse his decision about the terrorist surveillance program. That’s clearly the only reason you would go to see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales says that he and Card were only interested in carrying out the will of the Congressional leadership: “Clearly, if we had been confident and understood the facts and was inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him to reverse [Comey’s] position.” When Feinstein confronts Gonzales on the contradictions between his own testimony’s and Comey’s, Gonzales retreats, claiming that the events “happened some time ago and people’s recollections are going to differ,” but continues to claim that the prime purpose of the visit was merely to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s resistance to reauthorizing the program. Like some of his fellows, Leahy is reluctant to just come out and call Gonzales a liar, but he interrupts Gonzales’s tortured explanations to ask, “Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007] Leahy, out of patience with Gonzales’s evasions and misstatements, finally says flatly, “I don’t trust you.” [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Whitehouse Grills Gonzales - Whitehouse wants to know if the program “was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.” Gonzales says he believes the program ran with Ashcroft’s approval for two years before the hospital incident: “From the very—from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.” It is now that Gonzales admits, under Whitehouse’s questioning, that he indeed “had in my possession a document to reauthorize the program” when he entered Ashcroft’s hospital room. He denies knowing anything about Mueller directing Ashcroft’s security detail not to let him and Card throw Comey out of the hospital room, as Comey previously testified. Whitehouse says, “I mean, when the FBI director considers you so nefarious that FBI agents had to be ordered not to leave you alone with the stricken attorney general, that’s a fairly serious challenge.” Gonzales replies that Mueller may not have known that he was merely following the wishes of the Congressional leadership in going to Ashcroft for reauthorization: “The director, I’m quite confident, did not have that information when he made those statements, if he made those statements.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/24/2007; CNN, 7/24/2007]
'Deceiving This Committee' - Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of Gonzales’s harshest critics, perhaps comes closest to accusing Gonzales of out-and-out lying. Schumer doesn’t believe Gonzales’s repeated assertions that there was little or no dissent among White House and Justice Department officials about the anti-terrorism programs, and what little dissent there is has nothing to do with the domestic surveillance program. “How can you say you haven’t deceived the committee?” Schumer asks. Gonzales not only stands by his claims, but says that the visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not directly related to the NSA program, but merely “about other intelligence activities.” He does not say what those other programs might be. An exasperated Schumer demands, “How can you say you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercises like this? You want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself.” [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Specter does not believe Gonzales any more than Schumer does; he asks Gonzales tartly, “Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?” [CNN, 7/24/2007] In his own questioning, Whitehouse says that he believes Gonzales is intentionally misleading the committee about which program caused dissent among administration officials. Gonzales retorts that he can’t go into detail in a public hearing, but offers to provide senators with more information in private meetings. [Associated Press, 7/24/2007] Gonzales’s supporters will later claim that Gonzales’s characterization of little or no dissent between the White House and the Justice Department is technically accurate, because of differences between the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and that agency’s data mining program, but Senate Democrats do not accept that explanation (see Early 2004, May 16, 2007).
Executive Privilege Undermines Congressional Oversight? - Specter asks Gonzales how there can be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight. Gonzales refuses to answer directly. “Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached.” “Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?” Specter retorts. Gonzales then replies, “Senator, I’m not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused,” eliciting a round of boos from the gallery. [CNN, 7/24/2007]
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Mueller will roundly contradict Gonzales’s testimony, and affirm the accuracy of Comey’s testimony, both in his own testimony before Congress (see July 26, 2007) and in notes the FBI releases to the media (see August 16, 2007).
Impeach Gonzales for Perjury? - The New York Times writes in an op-ed published five days after Gonzales’s testimony, “As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other—unspecified—intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it ‘different’ from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up. Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] A Washington Post editorial from May 2007 was hardly more favorable to Gonzales: “The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration’s alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president’s inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice’s conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department’s supervision. Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007]
Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington Post, Robert S. Mueller III, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, “Gang of Eight”, Paul Clement, Sheldon Whitehouse, New York Times, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Schumer, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David S. Addington, John Ashcroft, National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr.
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), which many believe to be illegal. Mueller directly contradicts testimony given the day before by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see July 24, 2007), where Gonzales claimed that “there has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed.” Mel Watt (D-NC) asks Mueller, “Can you confirm that you had some serious reservations about the warrantless wiretapping program that kind of led up to this?” Mueller replies, “Yes.” Later, Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) asks about the now-notorious visit by Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room, where they tried to pressure the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Gonzales testified that he and Card visited Ashcroft to discuss “other intelligence matters,” and not the NSA surveillance program. Jackson-Lee asks, “Did you have an understanding that the conversation was on TSP?” referring to the current moniker of the NSA operation, the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Mueller replies, “I had an understanding that the discussion was on an NSA program, yes.” Jackson-Lee says, “I guess we use ‘TSP,’ we use ‘warrantless wiretapping,’ so would I be comfortable in saying that those were the items that were part of the discussion?” Mueller agrees: “The discussion was on a national NSA program that has been much discussed, yes.” [Speaker of the House, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 7/26/2007]
FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Notes made by FBI Director Robert Mueller about the 2004 attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program contradict Gonzales’s July testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the events of that evening (see March 10-12, 2004 and July 24, 2007). Gonzales’s testimony was already at odds with previous testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007). Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid and articulate, even though Ashcroft had had emergency surgery just hours before (see March 10-12, 2004), and he and Card had merely gone to Ashcroft’s hospital room to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s refusal to authorize the program (see May 15, 2007). But Mueller’s notes of the impromptu hospital room meeting, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee today, portray Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate,” and “stressed” during and after the confrontation with Gonzales and Card. [US Department of Justice, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007; Associated Press, 8/17/2007] Mueller wrote that Ashcroft was “in no condition to see them, much less make decision [sic] to authorize continuation of the program.” Mueller’s notes confirm Comey’s testimony that Comey requested Mueller’s presence at the hospital to “witness” Ashcroft’s condition. [National Journal, 8/16/2007]
Mueller Directed FBI Agents to Protect Comey - The notes, five pages from Mueller’s daily log, also confirm Comey’s contention that Mueller had directed FBI agents providing security for Ashcroft at the hospital to ensure that Card and Gonzales not be allowed to throw Comey out of the meeting. Gonzales testified that he had no knowledge of such a directive. Mueller’s notes also confirm Comey’s testimony, which held that Ashcroft had refused to overrule Comey’s decision because he was too sick to resume his authority as Attorney General; Ashcroft had delegated that authority to Comey for the duration of his hospital stay. Gonzales replaced Ashcroft as attorney general for President Bush’s second term. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that Mueller’s notes “confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.” (Ashcroft had previously complained that the White House’s insistence on absolute secrecy for the program had precluded him from receiving legal advice from his senior staffers, who were not allowed to know about the program.)
Notes Contradict Other Testimony - Mueller’s notes also contradict later Senate testimony by Gonzales, which he later “clarified,” that held that there was no specific dispute among White House officials about the domestic surveillance program, but that there was merely a difference of opinion about “other intelligence activities.” [New York Times, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007] In his earlier Congressional testimony (see July 26, 2007), which came the day after Gonzales’s testimony, Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and Ashcroft told him the meeting dealt with “an NSA program that has been much discussed….” [CNN, 7/25/2007] Mueller did not go into nearly as much detail during that session, declining to give particulars of the meeting in Ashcroft’s hospital room and merely describing the visit as “out of the ordinary.” [House Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 8/16/2007] Mueller’s notes show that White House and Justice Department officials were often at odds over the NSA program, which Bush has lately taken to call the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Other information in the notes, including details of several high-level meetings concerning the NSA program before and after the hospital meeting, are redacted.
Call for Inquiry - In light of Mueller’s notes, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers—in essence, committed perjury—in his testimony about the NSA program as well as in other testimony, particularly statements related to last year’s controversial firings of nine US attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation (see July 26, 2007). [Washington Post, 8/17/2007] Leahy writes to Fine, “Consistent with your jurisdiction, please do not limit your inquiry to whether or not the attorney general has committed any criminal violations. Rather, I ask that you look into whether the attorney general, in the course of his testimony, engaged in any misconduct, engaged in conduct inappropriate for a Cabinet officer and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, or violated any duty.” [Associated Press, 8/17/2007]
Entity Tags: John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, James B. Comey Jr., US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Leahy, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, George W. Bush, Glenn Fine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
For about a year until his death in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008), anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins is openly followed by FBI agents in surveillance vehicles. When this begins exactly is not known, but his house is searched by the FBI on November 1, 2007 (see November 1, 2007), so presumably he is followed at least after that date. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] This tactic used on Ivins had already been controversially used on the previous primary anthrax attacks suspect, Steven Hatfill, in 2002 and 2003. One of the heads of the FBI’s anthrax investigation, Robert Roth, later admitted in court that this tactic of openly following Hatfill was against FBI guidelines. “Generally, it’s supposed to be covert,” Roth said. [Associated Press, 8/5/2008]
Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian national who falsely confessed to owning a suspicious airline transceiver after the 9/11 attacks because the FBI threatened to have his family tortured (see December 17, 2001), December 27, 2001, and January 11-16, 2002), has his lawsuit against the FBI reinstated by a US appeals court. The majority opinion finds, “An officer in [FBI agent Michael] Templeton’s shoes would have understood that the confession he allegedly coerced from Higazy would have been used in a criminal case against Higazy and that his actions therefore violated Higazy’s Constitutional right to be free from compelled self-incrimination.” [New York Sun, 10/18/2007]
Decision Issued and Withdrawn - Interestingly, the appeals court posts its full opinion on the case, then within minutes withdraws that opinion and issues another one, with an identical conclusion but with much of the details of Higazy’s allegations redacted. The new ruling reads: “This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy’s statements were coerced.” But the initial opinion has already been downloaded by dozens of legal observers and bloggers, and the evidence redacted by the court is in the public view.
"People Don't Do that Voluntarily" - Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen writes, “The fresh details about his interrogation in December 2001 illustrate how an innocent man can be persuaded to confess to a crime that he did not commit, and the lengths to which the FBI was willing to go in its terrorism-related investigations after the Sept. 11 attacks.” A Justice Department spokesman says that although it does not concede that Higazy’s allegations are true, it has agreed to proceed under the assumption that they are true in order to argue the case. The appellate court does not rule on the veracity of Higazy’s story, but instead concludes that Templeton lacks the “qualified immunity” that would shield him from a civil suit.
Redacted Information - Appellate court clerk Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe says that the original Higazy ruling contained information that should have been sealed from the outset. The decision to seal the information was the court’s, she says, and not the Justice Department’s or the FBI. She says that the decision to seal the information about Templeton’s coercion, and Higazy’s fears of the Egyptian intelligence service, was made out of concern for the safety of Higazy and his family. “Prior to the world of the Internet, a decision would be issued and then withdrawn without any consequences of any moment,” Wolfe says. “Now if that happens it raises the specter of interference or some nefarious intent at work, which is not the case.” Appellate lawyer Stephen Bergstein says that the redacted information “was more embarrassing than worthy of secrecy.” He continues: “Had they left it in, a lot of people probably wouldn’t have noticed. With the Internet, nothing ever goes away.” [Howard Bashman, 10/18/2007; New York Times, 10/20/2007; Washington Post, 10/25/2007]
Administration of Torture book cover. [Source: Public domain]American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh publish the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. In their book, Jaffer and Singh use over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to detail the sometimes-horrific conditions under which suspected terrorists are detained by the US government. The book spans detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The book’s central thesis is, according to the ACLU’s press release for the book, “that the torture and abuse of prisoners was systemic and resulted from decisions made by senior US officials, both military and civilian,” including President Bush himself. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007] “[T]he documents show unambiguously that the administration has adopted some of the methods of the most tyrannical regimes,” write Jaffer and Singh. Some of the prisoners “abused, tortured, and killed” were not even terror suspects, the authors show. [Raw Story, 10/22/2007] The book grew out of a long, difficult battle by the ACLU and several other such organizations to secure records pertaining to detainees held by the US in other countries (see October 7, 2003). The book shows a starkly different reality than the picture painted by the Bush administration’s repeated disavowals of torture, a reality established by the government’s own documentation. The administration has repeatedly claimed, for instance, that the torture and abuse so well documented at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was an isolated, unusual set of incidents that was not repeated at other US detention facilities. The documentation compiled by Jaffer and Singh prove that claim to be a lie: “This claim was completely false, and senior officials almost certainly knew it to be so.” Beatings, kickings, and all manner of abuses have routinely occurred at other detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book states. Autopsy reports show that numerous prisoners in US custody have died due to strangulation, suffocation, or blunt-force trauma. Documents from Guantanamo, a facility where Bush officials have repeatedly claimed that the “excesses” of Abu Ghraib were never implemented, show that Guantanamo detainees were regularly “shackled in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months.” And, perhaps most damningly for the administration, government documents show that top White House and Pentagon officials were not only well aware of the scope of the abuse months before the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were broadcast to the public, but that torture and abuse are part of the administration’s policy towards detainees. “[T]he maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian,” Jaffer and Singh write. “These decisions… were reaffirmed repeatedly, even in the face of complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that the policies were illegal and ineffective, and even after countless prisoners… were abused, tortured, or killed in custody.… The documents show that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy—sometimes by tolerating it, sometimes by encouraging it, and sometimes by expressly authorizing it.”
The book presents a number of damning claims, all backed by extensive documentation, including the following: [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
General Michael Dunlavey, who oversaw prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and considered former camp commander Brigadier General Rick Baccus too soft on the detainees [BBC, 10/16/2002] , and who asked the Pentagon to approve more aggressive interrogation methods for the camp, claimed that he received his “marching orders” from Bush.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner named Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). Al-Khatani was “stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators, made to wear women’s underwear on his head, led around on a leash, and forced to perform dog tricks.” It is not clear just what being “personally involved” entails. Rumsfeld did not himself authorize such methods, but according to the investigator who documented the al-Khatani abuse session, Rumsfeld “failed to place a ‘throttle’ over abusive ‘applications’ of the ‘broad techniques’ that he did authorize….”
Interrogators who used abusive ‘SERE’ (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantanamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods (see December 2001).
FBI personnel complained of abuses at Guantanamo; these instances of abuse were authorized by the chain of command within the Defense Department.
Some of the most disturbing interrogation methodologies displayed in photos from Abu Ghraib were used at Guantanamo, with the endorsement of Rumsfeld, and that Major General Geoffrey Miller’s aggressive plan to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib was endorsed by senior Defense officials.
Bush and his senior officials have always insisted that abuse and torture was limited to a few unauthorized soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Yet a Defense Department “Information Paper” shows that, three weeks before the Abu Ghraib photos appeared in the press, the US Army knew of at least 62 allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which had no relation to Abu Ghraib.
The Defense Department held prisoners as young as 12 years old.
The Defense Department approved holding prisoners in cells as small as 3 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. Special Forces units held prisoners in cells only slightly larger than that. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Rick Baccus, Mohamed al-Khatani, Michael E. Dunlavey, Geoffrey D. Miller, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Around late autumn 2007, FBI agents pressure the family of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. According to an unnamed scientist colleague and friend of Ivins, agents show Ivins’s 24-year-old daughter pictures of the victims of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and tell her, “Your father did this.” The agents also offer her brother the $2.5 million reward for solving the anthrax case and the sports car of his choice. Dr. W. Russell Byrne, a friend and former supervisor of Ivins, will later say he heard from other people who knew Ivins that investigators were going after Ivins’s daughter, but these conversations were short because people were afraid to talk. “The FBI had asked everybody to sign these nondisclosure things. They didn’t want to run afoul of the FBI.” [Associated Press, 8/5/2008] Bryne also says the FBI’s repeated discussions with Ivins’s daughter “was not an interview. It was a frank attempt at intimidation.” [Baltimore Sun, 8/5/2008]
Ivins Drinks and Struggles with Pressure - Perhaps as a result of this pressure, Ivins begins drinking heavily (a liter of vodka on some nights) and taking large doses of sleeping and anti-anxiety pills. His unnamed scientist friend later says that Ivins “was e-mailing me late at night with gobbledygook, ranting and raving” about what he called the “persecution” of his family. This friend also later says he is contacted by another colleague of Ivins who says that Ivins “has really gone down the tubes.” Another friend, Gerry Andrews, who worked with Ivins at USAMRIID for nine years, said that prior to this time Ivins drank so little that others teased him about being a teetotaler. Andrews had retired but kept in touch with Ivins until autumn 2007, when Ivins “kind of fell off the radar screen. I found out that there was some issues with his house being surveilled.”
Ivins Seeks Treatment - In March 2008, Ivins is found collapsed in his home. In April, he begins to seek treatment. He spends four weeks at a Maryland hospital for detoxification and rehabilitation, and begins attending therapy sessions with a counselor. In November 2007, Ivins is banned from working with dangerous toxins at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, where he works (see November 1, 2007). But he will not be permanently barred from working there until July 2008, when he is hospitalized a second time (see July 10, 2008). [Washington Post, 8/6/2008]
Richard Convertino. [Source: Associated Press]Richard Convertino is acquitted by a Detroit federal court jury of subverting justice in a 2003 trial (see June 2003-August 2004). Convertino had been accused of withholding photographs from defense attorneys that might have undermined their 2003 prosecution and convictions of four alleged al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Detroit. In 2003, defense attorneys wanted photos of a Jordanian hospital, hoping the photos would not match a crude drawing Convertino argued was a terrorist planning sketch. Convertino said there were none, and claims he never saw them, but photos of the hospital were later found. [Detroit Free Press, 11/1/2007] However, a later FBI analysis determined the sketch did closely match the photos after all, so the photos would have actually strengthened Convertino’s case, not weakened it. The guilty verdicts against three of the four men - Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Karim Koubriti, and Ahmed Hannan - were later overturned, in large part due to the dispute over the photos (see June 2003-August 2004). The Associated Press will later comment that evidence that the sketch and photos did match “renews questions about whether the government correctly arrested the four men as a terrorist cell…” [Associated Press, 4/21/2006] Convertino alleges the charges against him were politically motivated to punish him for complaining before Congress about a lack of resources in the trial. He has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Justice Department. [Detroit Free Press, 11/1/2007] A judge dismisses one remaining charge against Convertino a month later. [Associated Press, 12/12/2007] It appears the Justice Department also battled with Convertino and his prosecution team and prevented him from using evidence that could have strengthened his case (see Early 2003).
The house of Bruce Ivins. [Source: Rob Carr / Associated Press]The FBI suspects that Bruce Ivins, a scientist working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). His home is searched by the FBI, but no report of this makes the newspapers. On the same day, USAMRIID cuts off his access to the laboratories where biological agents and toxins are used and stored. However, he continues to work at USAMRIID without such access until July 2008, when he will be completely banned from the lab (see July 10, 2008). [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008] According to McClatchy Newspapers, his lab access is apparently reinstated some time after this date. [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
The FBI warns that al-Qaeda operatives are planning several holiday attacks on US shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago over the holiday period. [ABC News, 11/8/2007] In an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities, the FBI says that the attacks have been planned for two years with the goal of disrupting the US economy. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 11/7/2007 ] The FBI received the information in late September and declassified it for the intelligence information reports. These reports routinely contain raw, unvetted or uncorroborated chatter about possible threats. It is estimated that the FBI released 8,000 such reports over the last year. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security Department have released about 200 threat bulletins possible plot trends that are based on actual events worldwide. [SF Gate, 11/8/2007] Questions are immediately raised about the alert. [ABC News, 11/8/2007] As with previous threats, some in the media question the timing and necessity of such a warning. The FBI anticipates this and clarifies its intentions in releasing the memo. The report states that “this information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.” [ABC News, 11/8/2007] Other intelligence officers raise the possibility that it could be “disinformation.” It is believed that the source only has “indirect access” to al-Qaeda. It is common for jihadist web sites and chat rooms to have comments discussing attacks on “soft targets,” such as shopping malls. Special Agent Richard Kolko says “out of abundance of caution, and for any number of other reasons, raw intelligence is regularly shared within the intelligence and law enforcement communities - even when the value of the information is unknown… Al-Qaeda messaging has clearly stated they intend to attack the US or its interests; however, there is no information to state this is a credible threat. As always, we remind people to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to authorities.” A Homeland Security official says “we have no credible, specific information suggesting an imminent attack.” [ABC News, 11/8/2007] LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urges residents to go about their daily routines, but says that they should be “mindful of anything out of the ordinary.” [SF Gate, 11/8/2007]
“Suitcase nukes”—nuclear weapons that can fit inside a suitcase or duffel bag and be planted in buildings or football stadiums with relative ease—may be a staple of Hollywood movies, television shows such as Fox’s 24, and thriller novels, but in reality do not exist, says Vahid Majidi, the assistant director of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. Nevertheless, the idea is so prevalent in the American conscious that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued warnings about “threats” from such devices, warnings repeated on the White House’s Web site (see May 2006). Officials such as Majidi say that any such device would be highly complex to produce, require significant upkeep and cost a small fortune. Majidi and other counterproliferation officials do not believe such a threat remains today. “The suitcase nuke is an exciting topic that really lends itself to movies,” Majidi says, but “No one has been able to truly identify the existence of these devices.” The real threat, say Majidi and other officials, is from less deadly and sophisticated devices assembled from stolen or black-market nuclear material. But governmental sources have played up the threat. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) once said in a hearing, “Perhaps the most likely threat is from a suitcase nuclear weapon in a rusty car on a dock in New York City.” And former representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) was known for carrying around a mock-up of a suitcase nuke made out of a briefcase, foil, and a pipe.
Origin of story - The story took hold in the public mind in the 1960s, based on information from Soviet defectors. The information leaked to the media, but no US officials ever actually saw such a Soviet-made suitcase device. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the US constructed a “backpack nuke,” called a Special Atomic Demolition Munition, to be used by two-man teams to destroy dams, tunnels, or bridges. These devices now only exist in museums. In 1997, retired general Alexander Lebed, the former national security chief of Russia, told reporters that Chechen rebels had portable nuclear devices. However, his story changed radically over time and Russian government officials said it was inaccurate, and he may have been misled by training mock-ups. Russian defector and former intelligence officer Stanislav Lunev wrote in 1998 that Russian agents had suitcase nukes inside the US in preparation for some future conflict. He testified before Congress, but never gave any specific information about such devices.
Technical problems - Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, former head of the Russian strategic rocket troops, said in 2004 that such suitcase nukes would be too expensive for most countries to produce and would not last more than several months because the nuclear core would decompose quickly. Laura Holgate of the Nuclear Threat Initiative says the biggest threat is from a terrorist cell that uses stolen nuclear material to improvise a device. Such a device would be, at its smallest, “[l]ike SUV-sized. Way bigger than a suitcase.” [Associated Press, 11/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Byron L. Dorgan, Alexander Lebed, Viktor Yesin, Vahid Majidi, Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Stanislav Lunev, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Laura Holgate
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In December 2007, scientist Bruce Ivins is privately told by the FBI that he could be a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). This is according to Ivins’s attorney Paul Kemp, who also says that he and Ivins have a meeting with the FBI that same month in response. Ivins’s house had been searched by the FBI the month before, which presumably made the FBI’s interest in Ivins obvious (see November 1, 2007). Kemp will later claim that he and Ivins will meet with the FBI about four or five times between this time and Ivins’s death in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008). Additionally, Kemp will claim that Ivins had been interviewed by the FBI about 20 to 25 times before he was told he could be a suspect, yet Ivins regularly had his security clearances renewed. [Time, 8/5/2008]
The CIA videotapes destruction scandal reopens a debate about the usefulness of torturing al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. The FBI briefly used rapport-building techniques on Zubaida before the CIA took over and tortured him. On December 10, 2007, several days after the public disclosure that the videotapes of the CIA’s interrogation of Zubaida were destroyed, former CIA officer John Kiriakou admitted that Zubaida was tortured by the use of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007). Kiriakou claimed that waterboarding was so effective that Zubaida completely broke after just one session of waterboarding lasting 35 seconds. [ABC News, 12/10/2007] This claim became a frequently used media talking point. However, on December 18, the Washington Post presents a contrary account, stating, “There is little dispute, according to officials from both agencies, that Abu Zubaida provided some valuable intelligence before CIA interrogators began to rough him up, including information that helped identify Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla” (see Late March through Early June, 2002). The Post notes that Kiriakou helped capture Zubaida but was not present at any of his interrogations. Furthermore, “other former and current officials” disagree with Kiriakou’s claim “that Abu Zubaida’s cooperation came quickly under harsh interrogation or that it was the result of a single waterboarding session. Instead, these officials said, harsh tactics used on him at a secret detention facility in Thailand went on for weeks or, depending on the account, even months.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] The most in-depth previous media accounts suggesed that the FBI interrogation of Zubaida was getting good intelligence while the CIA torture of him resulted in very dubious intelligence (see Mid-April-May 2002 and June 2002).
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