A Republican congressman said on Wednesday that if the United States ends up using military force against Iran’s nuclear program, it should do so with nuclear weapons.GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson made headlines back in October when he said that the U.S. should detonate a nuclear weapon in the Iranian desert to send Tehran a message. But Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) took this line of thinking a step further on C-Span’s Washington Journal Wednesday morning when he suggested that Iran’s nuclear facilities should be the target…
Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ Category
Posted in foreign policy, government, history, media, military, tagged Bay of Pigs, Bay of Pigs Invasion, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, Federal government of the United States, Fidel Castro, National Security Archive, Obama on December 16, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
14 Dec 2013 Over 50 years after the Bay of Pigs invasion went awry, the US federal government is still attempting to keep secrets about the failed overthrow of the Cuban government, with an Obama administration lawyer arguing this week to keep a document classified. The National Security Archive, a private research institution, has sought to force the government to hand over the fifth of a five-volume internal account of the Bay of Pigs. Penned by a CIA staff historian in the years between 1973 and 1984, the final document chronicles – and presumably critiques – the CIA’s own investigation of how the invasion went wrong.
Posted in death, foreign policy, government, military, tagged Airstrike, Al Qaeda, Drone attacks in Pakistan, Reuters, United States, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Wedding, Yemen on December 13, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
13 Dec 2013 Fifteen people who had been heading to a wedding in Yemen have been killed in an air strike. Local media reported that a drone attack had been responsible, and the party-goers had been hit instead of an Al-Qaeda [al-CIAduh] convoy. “An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” a Yemeni security official told Reuters.
Posted in economics, foreign policy, government, history, media, military, protest, tagged cold war, Edward Snowden, Marcus Raskin, Occupy movement, Rosa Park, United Nations, United States, World War II on December 12, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Recently I noticed a post on a social media site honoring Rosa Parks for her refusal to move out of her seat on a segregated bus. Someone commented underneath, that in fact another individual deserved credit for having done the same thing first. What happened next was entirely predictable. Post after post by various people brought out the names of all kinds of forerunners of Parks, pushing the date of the first brave resister to segregated buses back further and further — many decades — into the past.
What we understand as the civil rights movement was successfully started after a great many failed attempts — by organizations as well as individuals. The same goes for the suffragette movement or the labor movement or the abolition of slavery. Even the Occupy movement was the umpteenth time a lot of activists had attempted such a thing, and chances are that eventually the Occupy movement will be seen as one in a long line of failed predecessors to something more successful.
I’ve been discussing with people whom I consider key organizers of such a project the possibility of a newly energized movement to abolish war. One thing we’re looking at, of course, is failed past attempts to do the same. Some of those attempts have been quite recent. Some are ongoing. How, we must ask ourselves, can we strengthen what’s already underway, learn from what’s been tried before, and create the spark that this time, at long last, after over a century’s preliminaries, catches fire?
Momentum for the abolition of war began to grow in the late 19th century, and then again, much more strongly, after World War I, in a different manner after World War II, again after the Cold War, and — just maybe — again right now. Arguably the 1920s and 1930s have seen the strongest popular sentiment for war abolition in the United States. We’re not at that level now. But we do have the advantage of being able to study the past 80 years of struggle. Of course, anti-war efforts have had great successes as well as failures, but war remains. And it doesn’t remain on the margins, like slavery. It remains, front and center, as the United States’ principal public program. Standing armies are so well accepted that most people aren’t sure what the phrase means. Wars are so common that most Americans cannot name all the nations their own is at war with.
A proposal on “Abolishing the War System” that I’ve just been reading (from Marcus Raskin at the Institute for Policy Studies) takes us back to 1992 and provides much useful material to draw on. Raskin’s preface and Brian D’Agostino’s introduction suggest that the moment in which they were writing was a particularly opportune moment for a campaign to abolish war. I’m sure they honestly believed it was. And I’m sure that it, in fact, was — even if there’s a tendency to find such a remark comical in retrospect. Strategic-minded people want to know why 2013 is such a moment, and they can be pointed toward many indicators: opinion polls, the rejection of the proposed missile attack on Syria, increased awareness of war propaganda, the diminishment of drone attacks, the ever-so-slight reduction in military spending, the possibility of peace in Colombia, the growing success of nonviolent conflict resolution, the growing and improving use of nonviolent movements for change, the existentially urgent need for a shifting of resources from destroying the planet to protecting it, the economic need to stop wasting trillions of dollars, the arrival of technologies that allow for instant international collaboration among war resisters, etc.
But just as many indicators were available in 1992, albeit different ones, and nobody has developed the means for quantifying such things. However, here’s the key question, I think: If all of those predecessors to Rosa Parks hadn’t acted, would Rosa Parks have ever been Rosa Parks? If not, then isn’t the strategic time for a moral and necessary campaign always right now?
Raskin’s “Abolishing the War System” is not an argument to persuade anyone against war, not a plan for organizing a mass movement, not a system for reaching out to new constituencies or creating economic or political pressure against war. Raskin’s book is primarily a draft treaty that should be, but never has been, enacted. The treaty aims to take the United States and the world to an important part-way step, most of the way perhaps, toward war abolition. In compliance with this treaty, nations would maintain only “nonoffensive defense,” which is to say: air defense and border and coast guard forces, but not offensive weapons aimed at attacking other nations far from one’s own. Foreign bases would be gone. Aircraft carriers would be gone. Nuclear and chemical and biological weapons would be gone. Drones over distant lands would have been gone before they appeared. Cluster bombs would be done away with.
The argument for nonoffensive defense is, I think, fairly straightforward. Many wealthy nations spend under $100 billion each year on military defense — some of which nations fit major offensive weapons systems into that budget. The United States spends $1 trillion each year on military defense and (mostly) offense. The result is a broken budget, missed opportunities, and lots of catastrophic foreign wars. So, the case for cutting $900 billion from war spending each year in the U.S. is the case for fully funding schools, parks, green energy, and actual humanitarian aid. It is not the case for completely abolishing the military. If the United States were to be attacked it could defend itself in any manner it chose, including militarily.
But, someone might protest, why is it sufficient to shoot down planes when they reach our border? Isn’t it better to blow them up in their own country just before they head our way?
The direct answer to that question is that we’ve been trying that approach for three-quarters of a century and it hasn’t been working. It’s been generating enemies, not removing them. It’s been killing innocents, not imminent threats. We’ve become so open about this that the White House has redefined “imminent” to mean eventual and theoretical.
The indirect answer is that, I believe, Raskin’s treaty could benefit from a better vision of success, assuming such a vision can be added without losing the practical part-way step created by the treaty. The treaty is excellent on the establishment of a structure for disarmament, inspections, verification. It bans exports and imports of weapons. The treaty and accompanying text are also excellent on the need to abolish the CIA, NSA, and all secret agencies of war. “Intelligence” agencies should be internationalized and opened to the public, Raskin wrote, as if the internet already existed but with Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden hired by the government to do as ordinary labor what they in reality ended up doing as heroic acts of defiance. The National Security Act of 1947 must go, Raskin writes. The U.N. Charter must be upheld.
Here’s where it starts to get dicey. Raskin wants to reform the membership, structure, and veto powers of members in the U.N. Security Council. But his treaty is written as if that reform has been accomplished. Power all flows to the United Nations, reformed or otherwise. A “nonlethal” (but not nonviolent) U.N. Peace Force is strengthened by the treaty. Raskin also supports the creation of an international criminal court; of course it has since been created, but under the shadow of an unreformed United Nations.
Raskin explicitly traces the lineage of war abolition movements back to Salmon Oliver Levinson who led the organizing that created the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Raskin faults the Pact for lacking a “collective security arrangement.” Levinson, and his allies, in Congress and without, would have objected that this lack was an advantage, not a flaw. A “collective security arrangement” along the lines of the United Nations is a sanction to use war-making as a tool with which to eliminate war-making. This approach, as Raskin acknowledges, has been a failure. But Raskin begins his draft treaty by recommitting nations to the U.N. Charter, not the Kellogg-Briand Pact, that is to say: to an agreement that sanctions certain wars, and not to an agreement that bans all war.
Now the Kellogg-Briand Pact is widely ignored and violated. But then, as Raskin notes, so is the U.N. Charter. Why ask nations to recommit to it, except because they are violating it? Through the course of this book, Raskin happens to note various other laws that are routinely ignored: the Humphrey Hawkins Act, the Nuremberg Principles, the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty in which the U.S. committed to general and complete disarmament, etc. Yet, Raskin wants to create a new law, hoping it will be complied with as well as being formally established.
There’s no reason the Kellogg-Briand Pact and/or the vision of its creators shouldn’t be a part of our work, and there are many reasons why it should be. When those dreaded mythical bombers approach our shores, defended purely by every possible defensive weapon known to humankind, what if bombing the land from which those planes departed was not what came to mind? What if other actions were the focus of our thoughts in contemplating such scenarios? The imaginary government that sent the planes (or drones or boats or whatever) could be prosecuted in a court. Arbitration could be taken to a court. Sanctions could be imposed on the government responsible. International legal, trade, political, and moral pressure could be organized. Nonviolent protesters could be sent to the nation responsible. Nonviolent flotillas of boats and hot air balloons could interfere. Video of any suffering created could be immediately made visible in public spaces in the nation responsible and around the world. And, of course, if the attack planes came from no nation at all, then all the nations of the world could be pressured to cooperate in criminal apprehension and prosecution of those responsible — an idea we might have done well to think of some 12 years ago, some 9 years after Raskin’s drafting of his treaty. But, but, but, what if all of that failed? Well then, we could add to it in our handicapped imaginations the use of every defensive weapon available to any department of what we actually call, but don’t think of as, Defense.
I find it hard to imagine that if the United States took a chunk of that $900 billion and gave the world schools and medicine there would be a lot of attacks planned against it. Others find it hard to imagine anything could stop such attacks from inexplicably materializing. How do we shift such a perspective? I think it has to be by pointing to a first step in combination with outlining an image of the final goal. That means thinking beyond the idea of using war to prevent war. That idea leads straight to the question “Which nation(s) will dominate the United Nations?” Waiting to transform the United Nations into a fair, democratic, and yet universally respected, institution before dramatically reducing the military and beginning a virtuous cycle of further disarmament, may be a roadblock. The United Nations is in the process of legalizing drone wars. The U.N. just might be a bigger hurdle than the U.S. Senate in the cause of peace — although, admittedly, these are all chicken-and-egg dilemmas.
If we can get people understanding what a world without militaries will look like and show them a partial step in that direction — one that makes sense to them because they see where we’re headed — it just might be that this time beginning the ending of war will have been an idea whose time had come.
David Swanson is author of War is a Lie. He lives in Virginia.
Posted in economics, foreign policy, government, military, tagged Afghan Air Force, Afghanistan, Alenia Aermacchi, Finmeccanica, Kabul, Kabul International Airport, United States, United States Air Force on December 12, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
09 Dec 2013 Sixteen broken-down transport planes that cost U.S. taxpayers at least $486 million are languishing among the weeds, wooden cargo boxes and old tires at Kabul International Airport, waiting to be destroyed without ever being delivered to the Afghan Air Force. The special inspector general for Afghanistan is investigating why the refurbished G222 turboprop aircraft from Finmeccanica SpA’s Alenia Aermacchi North America unit no longer can be flown after logging only 200 of 4,500 hours of U.S.-led training flights and missions required from January to September 2012 under a U.S Air Force contract because of persistent maintenance issues. The unused transport planes are in addition to the billions of dollars in wasted U.S. funds documented by the inspector general’s office since American troops entered Afghanistan after the Bush-Cheney’s Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
[Right, so let’s slash food stamps for the poor to pay for more planes for the Afghan Air Farce.
Posted in foreign policy, government, military, tagged Air Force, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, Fairchild Air Force Base, Michael Kearns, Special Mission Unit, United States on December 9, 2013 | 1 Comment »
This diagram was included in a paper written by Dr. Bruce Jessen’s and shows his view of the conflicting psychological pressures bearing down on a prisoner who is held captive by an enemy. (Click here to view full image.)
December 7, 2013
Dr. Bruce Jessen’s handwritten notes describe some of the torture techniques that were used to “exploit” ”war on terror” detainees in custody of the CIA and Department of Defense.
Bush administration officials have long asserted that the torture techniques used on “war on terror” detainees were utilized as a last resort in an effort to gain actionable intelligence to thwart pending terrorist attacks against the United States and its interests abroad.
But the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John Bruce Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government’s top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence.
Jason Leopold interviews Jessen’s former SERE colleague, retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns.
Rather, as Jessen’s notes explain, torture was used to “exploit” detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to “collaborate” with government authorities. Jessen’s notes emphasize how a “detainer” uses the stresses of detention to produce the appearance of compliance in a prisoner.
Indeed, a report released in 2009 by the Senate Armed Services Committee about the treatment of detainees in US custody said Jessen was the author of a “Draft Exploitation Plan” presented to the Pentagon in April 2002 that was implemetned at Guantanamo and at prison facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. But to what degree is unknown because the document remains classified. Jessen also co-authored a memo in February 2002 on “Prisoner Handling Recommendations” at Guantanamo, which is also classified.
Moreover, the Armed Services Committee’s report noted that torture techniques approved by the Bush administration were based on survival training exercises US military personnel were taught by individuals like Jessen if they were captured by an enemy regime and subjected to “illegal exploitation” in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Jessen’s notes, prepared for an Air Force survival training course that he later “reverse engineered” when he helped design the Bush administration’s torture program, however, go into far greater detail than the Armed Services Committee’s report in explaining how prisoners would be broken down physically and psychologically by their captors. The notes say survival training students could “combat interrogation and torture” if they are captured by an enemy regime by undergoing intense training exercises, using “cognitive” and “exposure techniques” to develop “stress inoculation.” [Click here to download a PDF file of Jessen's handwritten notes. Click here to download a zip file of Jessen's notes in typewritten form.]
The documents stand as the first piece of hard evidence to surface in nine years that further explains the psychological aspects of the Bush administration’s torture program and the rationale for subjecting detainees to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Jessen’s notes were provided to Truthout by retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns, a “master” SERE instructor and decorated veteran who has previously held high-ranking positions within the Air Force Headquarters Staff and Department of Defense (DoD).
Kearns and his boss, Roger Aldrich, the head of the Air Force Intelligence’s Special Survial Training Program (SSTP), based out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, hired Jessen in May 1989. Kearns, who was head of operations at SSTP and trained thousands of service members, said Jessen was brought into the program due to an increase in the number of new survival training courses being taught and “the fact that it required psychological expertise on hand in a full-time basis.”
“Special Mission Units”
Jessen, then the chief of Psychology Service at the US Air Force Survival School, immediately started to work directly with Kearns on “a new course for special mission units (SMUs), which had as its goal individual resistance to terrorist exploitation.”
The course, known as SV-91, was developed for the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) branch of the US Air Force Intelligence Agency, which acted as the Executive Agent Action Office for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Jessen’s notes formed the basis for one part of SV-91, “Psychological Aspects of Detention.”
Special mission units fall under the guise of the DoD’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and engage in a wide-range of highly classified counterterrorist and covert operations, or “special missions,” around the world, hundreds of who were personally trained by Kearns. The SV-91 course Jessen and Kearns were developing back in 1989 would later become known as “Special Survival for Special Mission Units.”
Before the inception of SV-91, the primary SERE course was SV-80, or Basic Combat Survival School for Resistance to Interrogation, which is where Jessen formerly worked. When Jessen was hired to work on SV-91, the vacancy at SV-80 was filled by psychologist Dr. James Mitchell, who was also contracted by the CIA to work at the agency’s top-secret black site prisons in Europe employing SERE torture techniques, such as the controlled drowning technique know as waterboarding, against detainees.
While they were still under contract to the CIA, the two men formed the “consulting” firm Mitchell, Jessen & Associates in March 2005. The “governing persons” of the company included Kearns’ former boss, Aldrich, SERE contractor David Tate, Joseph Matarazzo, a former president of the American Psychological Association and Randall Spivey, the ex-chief of Operations, Policy and Oversight Division of JPRA.
Mitchell, Jessen & Associates’ articles of incorporation have been “inactive” since October 22, 2009 and the business is now listed as “dissolved,” according to Washington state’s Secretary of State website.
Capt. Michael Kearns (left) and Dr. Bruce Jessen at Fort Bragg’s Nick Rowe SERE Training Center, 1989. Photo courtesy of retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns.
Lifting the “Veil of Secrecy”
Kearns was one of only two officers within DoD qualified to teach all three SERE-related courses within SSTP on a worldwide basis, according to a copy of a 1989 letter written by Aldrich, who nominated Kearns officer of the year.
He said he decided to come forward because he is outraged that Jessen used their work to help design the Bush administration’s torture program.
“I think it’s about time for SERE to come out from behind the veil of secrecy if we are to progress as a moral nation of laws,” Kearns said during a wide-ranging interview with Truthout. “To take this survival training program and turn it into some form of nationally sanctioned, purposeful program for the extraction of information, or to apply exploitation, is in total contradiction to human morality, and defies basic logic. When I first learned about interrogation, at basic intelligence training school, I read about Hans Scharff, a Nazi interrogator who later wrote an article for Argosy Magazine titled ‘Without Torture.’ That’s what I was taught – torture doesn’t work.”
What stands out in Jessen’s notes is that he believed torture was often used to produce false confessions. That was the end result after one high-value detainee who was tortured in early 2002 confessed to having information proving a link between the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, according to one former Bush administration official.
It was later revealed, however, that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, had simply provided his captors a false confession so they would stop torturing him. Jessen appeared to be concerned with protecting the US military against falling victim to this exact kind of physical and psychological pressure in a hostile detention environment, recognizing that it would lead to, among other things, false confessions.
In a paper Jessen wrote accompanying his notes, “Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture,” which was prepared for the symposium: “Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course,” he suggested that additional “research” should be undertaken to determine “the measurability of optimum stress levels in training students to resist captivity.”
“The avenues appear inexhaustible” for further research in human exploitation, Jessen wrote.
Such “research” appears to have been the main underpinning of the Bush administration’s torture program. The experimental nature of these interrogation methods used on detainees held at Guantanamo and at CIA black site prisons have been noted by military and intelligence officials. The Armed Services Committee report cited a statement from Col. Britt Mallow, the commander of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), who noted that Guantanamo officials Maj. Gen. Mike Dunleavy and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller used the term “battle lab” to describe the facility, meaning “that interrogations and other procedures there were to some degree experimental, and their lessons would benefit [the Department of Defense] in other places.”
What remains a mystery is why Jessen took a defensive survival training course and assisted in turning it into an offensive torture program.
Truthout attempted to reach Jessen over the past two months for comment, but we were unable to track him down. Messages left for him at a security firm in Alexandria, Virginia he has been affiliated with were not returned and phone numbers listed for him in Spokane were disconnected.
A New Emphasis on Terrorism
SV-91 was developed to place a new emphasis on terrorism as SERE-related courses pertaining to the cold war, such as SV-83, Special Survival for Sensitive Reconnaissance Operations (SRO), whose students flew secret missions over the Soviet Union, Eastern Bloc, and other communist countries, were being scaled back.
The official patch and coin of the Special Survival Training Program. (Photo courtesy of retired Air Force Capt. Michael Kearns)
SSTP evolved into the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD’s executive agency for SERE training, and was tapped by DoD General Counsel William “Jim” Haynes in 2002 to provide the agency with a list of interrogation techniques and the psychological impact those methods had on SERE trainees, with the aim of utilizing the same methods for use on detainees. Aldrich was working in a senior capacity at JPRA when Haynes contacted the agency to inquire about SERE.
The Army also runs a SERE school as does the Navy, which had utilized waterboarding as a training exercise on Navy SERE students that JPRA recommended to DoD as one of the torture techniques to use on high-value detainees.
Kearns said the value of Jessen’s notes, particularly as they relate to the psychological aspects of the Bush administration’s torture program, cannot be overstated.
“The Jessen notes clearly state the totality of what was being reverse-engineered – not just ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but an entire program of exploitation of prisoners using torture as a central pillar,” he said. “What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen’s instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation. And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to ‘reverse-engineer’ a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.”
Ironically, in late 2001, while the DoD started to make inquiries about adapting SERE methods for the government’s interrogation program, Kearns received special permission from the US government to work as an intelligence officer for the Australian Department of Defence to teach the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) how to use SERE techniques to resist interrogation and torture if they were captured by terrorists. Australia had been a staunch supporter of the invasion of Afghanistan and sent troops there in late 2001.
Kearns, who recently waged an unsuccessful Congressional campaign in Colorado, was working on a spy novel two years ago and dug through boxes of “unclassified historical materials on intelligence” as part of his research when he happened to stumble upon Jessen’s notes for SV-91. He said he was “deeply shocked and surprised to see I’d kept a copy of these handwritten notes as certainly the originals would have been destroyed (shredded)” once they were typed up and made into proper course materials.
“I hadn’t seen these notes for over twenty years,” he said. “However, I’ll never forget that day in September 2009 when I discovered them. I instantly felt sick, and eventually vomited because I felt so badly physically and emotionally that day knowing that I worked with this person and this was the material that I believe was ‘reverse-engineered’ and used in part to design the torture program. When I found the Jessen papers, I made several copies and sent them to my friends as I thought this could be the smoking gun, which proves who knew what and when and possibly who sold a bag of rotten apples to the Bush administration.”
Kearns was, however, aware of the role SERE played in the torture program before he found Jessen’s notes, and in July 2008, he sent an email to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, who was investigating the issue and offered to share information with Levin about Jessen and the SERE program in general. The Michigan Democrat responded to Kearns saying he was “concerned about this issue” and that he “needed more information on the subject,” but Levin never followed up when Kearns offered to help.
“I don’t know how it went off the tracks, but the names of the people who testified at the Senate Armed Services, Senate Judiciary, and Select Intelligence committees were people I worked with, and several I supervised,” Kearns said. “It makes me sick to know people who knew better allowed this to happen.”
Levin’s office did not return phone calls or emails for comment. However, the report he released in April 2009, “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody,” refers to SV-91. The report includes a list of acronyms used throughout the report, one of which is “S-V91,” identified as “the Department of Defense High Risk Survival Training” course. But there is no other mention throughout the report of SV-91 or the term “High Risk Survival Training,” possibly due to the fact that sections of the report where it is discussed remain classified. Still, the failure by Levin and his staff to follow up with Kearns–the key military official who had retained Jessen’s notes and helped develop the very course those notes were based upon that was cited in the report–suggests Levin’s investigation is somewhat incomplete.
Control and Dependence
A copy of the syllabus for SV-91, obtained by Truthout from another source who requested anonymity, states that the class was created “to provide special training for selected individuals that will enable them to withstand exploitation methods in the event of capture during peacetime operations…. to cope with such exploitation and deny their detainers useable information or propaganda.”
Although the syllabus focuses on propaganda and interrogation for information as the primary means of exploiting prisoners, Jessen’s notes amplify what was taught to SERE students and later used against detainees captured after 9/11 . He wrote that a prisoner’s captors seek to “exploit” the prisoner through control and dependence.
“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”
Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”
Jessen described the kinds of pressures that would be exerted on the prisoner to achieve this goal, including “fear of the unknown, loss of control, dehumanization, isolation,” and use of sensory deprivation and sensory “flooding.” He also included “physical” deprivations in his list of detainer “pressures.”
“Unlike everyday experiences, however, as a detainee we could be subjected to stressors/coercive pressures which we cannot completely control,” he wrote. “If these stressors are manipulated and increased against us, the cumulative effect can push us out of the optimum range of functioning. This is what the detainer wants, to get us ‘off balance.’”
“The Detainer wants us to experience a loss of composure in hopes we can be manipulated into some kind of collaboration…” Jessen wrote. “This is where you are most vulnerable to exploitation. This is where you are most likely to make mistakes, show emotions, act impulsively, become discouraged, etc. You are still close enough to being intact that you would appear convincing and your behavior would appear ‘uncoerced.’”
Kearns said, based on what he has read in declassified government documents and news reports about the role SERE played in the Bush administration’s torture program, Jessen clearly “reverse-engieered” his lesson plan and used resistance methods to abuse “war on terror” detainees.
The SSTP course was “specifically and intentionally designed to assist American personnel held in hostile detention,” Kearns said. It was “not designed for interrogation, and certainly not torture. We were not interrogators we were ‘role-players’ who introduced enemy exploitation techniques into survival scenarios as student learning objectives in what could be called Socratic-style dilemma settings. More specifically, resistance techniques were learned via significant emotional experiences, which were intended to inculcate long-term valid and reliable survival routines in the student’s memory. The one rule we had was ‘hands off.’ No (human intelligence) operator could lay hands on a student in a ‘role play scenario’ because we knew they could never ‘go there’ in the real world.”
But after Jessen was hired, Kearns contends, Aldrich immediately trained him to become a mock interrogator using “SERE harsh resistance to interrogation methods even though medical services officers were explicitly excluded from the ‘laying on’ of hands in [resistance] ‘role-play’ scenarios.”
Aldrich, who now works with the Center for Personal Protection & Safety in Spokane, did not return calls for comment.
The companion paper Jessen wrote included with his notes, which was also provided to Truthout by Kearns, eerily describes the same torturous interrogation methods US military personnel would face during detention that Jessen and Mitchell “reverse engineered” a little more than a decade later and that the CIA and DoD used against detainees.
Indeed, in a subsection of the paper, “Understanding the Prisoner of War Environment,” Jessen notes how a prisoner will be broken down in an attempt to get him to “collaborate” with his “detainer.”
“This issue of collaboration is ‘the most prominent deliberately controlled force against the (prisoner of war),” Jessen wrote. “The ability of the (prisoner of war) to successfully resist collaboration and cope with the obviously severe approach-avoidance conflict is complicated in a systematic and calculated way by his captors.
“These complications include: Threats of death, physical pressures including torture which result in psychological disturbances or deterioration, inadequate diet and sanitary facilities with constant debilitation and illness, attacks on the mental health via isolation, reinforcement of anxieties, sleeplessness, stimulus deprivation or flooding, disorientation, loss of control both internal and external locus, direct and indirect attack on the (prisoner of war’s) standards of honor, faith in himself, his organization, family, country, religion, or political beliefs … Few seem to be able to hold themselves completely immune to such rigorous behavior throughout all the vicissitudes of long captivity. Confronted with these conditions, the unprepared prisoner of war experiences unmanageable levels of fear and despair.”
“Specific (torture resistance) techniques,” Jessen wrote, “taught to and implemented by the military member in the prisoner of war setting are classified” and were not discussed in the paper he wrote. He added, “Resistance Training students must leave training with useful resistance skills and a clear understanding that they can successfully resist captivity, interrogation or torture.”
Kearns also declined to cite the specific interrogation techniques used during SERE training exercises because that information is still classified. Nor would he comment as to whether the interrogations used methods that matched or were similar to those identified in the August 2002 torture memo prepared by former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee.
However, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report “SERE resistance training … was used to inform” Yoo and Bybee’s torture memo, specifically, nearly a dozen of the brutal techniques detainees were subjected to, which included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, wall slamming and placing detainees in a confined space, such as a container, where his movement is restricted. The CIA’s Office of Technical Services told Yoo and Bybee the SERE techniques used to inform the torture memo were not harmful, according to declassified government documents.
Many of the “complications,” or torture techniques, Jessen wrote about, declassified government documents show, became a standard method of interrogation and torture used against all of the high-value detainees in custody of the CIA in early 2002, including Abu Zubaydah and self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as well as detainees held at Guantanamo and prison facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The issue of “collaborating” with one’s detainer, which Jessen noted was the most important in terms of controlling a prisoner, is a common theme among the stories of detainees who were tortured and later released from Guantanamo.
For example, Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who was rendered to Egypt and other countries where he was tortured before being sent to Guantanamo, wrote in his memoir, “My Story: the Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t,” after he was released without charge, that interrogators at Guantanamo “tried to make detainees mistrust one another so that they would inform on each other during interrogation.”
Binyam Mohamed, am Ethiopian-born British citizen, who the US rendered to a black site prison in Morocco, said that a British intelligence informant, a person he knew and who was recurited, came to him in his Moroccan cell and told him that if he became an intelligence asset for the British, his torture, which included scalpel cuts to his penis, would end. In December 2009, British government officials released documents that show Mohamed was subjected to SERE torture techniques during his captivity in the spring of 2002.
Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian prisoner at Guantanamo until he was forcibly repatriated against his wishes to Algeria in July 2010, told an Algerian newspaper that “some detainees had been promised to be granted political asylum opportunity in exchange of [sic] a spying role within the detention camp.”
Mohamedou Ould Salahi, whose surname is sometimes spelled “Slahi,” is a Mauritanian who was tortured in Jordan and Guantanamo. Investigative journalist Andy Worthington reported that Salahi was subjected to “prolonged isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, beatings, death threats, and threats that his mother would be brought to Guantanamo and gang-raped” unless he collaborated with his interrogators. Salahi finally decided to become an informant for the US in 2003. As a result, Salahi was allowed to live in a special fenced-in compound, with television and refrigerator, allowed to garden, write and paint, “separated from other detainees in a cocoon designed to reward and protect.”
Still, despite collaborating with his detainers, the US government mounted a vigorous defense against Salahi’s petition for habeas corpus. His case continues to hang in legal limbo. Salahi’s fate speaks to the lesson Habib said he learned at Guantanamo: “you could never satisfy your interrogator.” Habib felt informants were never released “because the Americans used them against the other detainees.”
Jessen’s and Mitchell’s mutimillion dollar government contract was terminated by CIA Director Leon Panetta in 2009. According to an Associated Press report, the CIA agreed to pay – to the tune of $5 million – the legal bills incurred by their consulting firm.
Recently a complaint filed against Mitchell with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists by a San Antonio-based psychologist, an attorney who defended three suspected terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo and by Zubaydah’s attorney Joseph Margulies. Their complaint sought to strip Mitchell of his license to practice psychology for violating the board’s rules as a result of the hands-on role he played in torturing detainees, was dismissed due to what the board said was a lack of evidence. Mitchell, who lives in Florida, is licensed in Texas. A similar complaint against Jessen may soon be filed in Idaho, where he is licensed to practice psychology.
Kearns, who took a graduate course in cognitive psychotherapy in 1988 taught by Jessen, still can’t comprehend what motivated his former colleague to turn to the “dark side.”
“Bruce Jessen knew better,” Kearns said, who retired in 1991 and is now working on his Ph.D in educational psychology. “His duplicitous act is appalling to me and shall haunt me for the rest of my life.
Those wondering what lies in store for Afghanistan need only look at the way the British Empire ruled Iraq in the 1920’s. As Shakespeare wrote, “what is past is prologue.”
Imperial Britain created the state of Iraq after World War I to secure Mesopotamia’s vast oil deposits that had become vital for the Royal Navy. To control this artificial nation seething with unrest, Britain imposed a puppet king, Faisal, and created a native army commanded by British officers.
Britain’s colonial rule was formalized by the 1930 Anglo-Iraq Treaty, a deal between puppet and master.
But real power in Iraq was held by the Royal Air Force, which was “granted” two permanent bases at Habbaniyah and Basra. The RAF ruled supreme over the open wastes of Iraq.
Winston Churchill, patron saint of today’s war-lusting neoconservatives, authorized the RAF to use poison gas against “unruly” tribesmen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain created public institutions and sham political parties in Baghdad that had no links at all to Iraq’s population, which mostly hated their British rulers.
British Iraq was the prologue to today’s Afghanistan. The British Empire’s heir, the American Imperium, plans to duplicate the Iraqi Brittanica in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s US-installed current ruler, Hamid Karzai, a former CIA “asset,” may stay on after 2014 or be replaced by another US-designated president. Change the title of president to king, and, voila!, Iraq’s puppet king, Faisal.
Washington says it will withdraw all US combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014. But read the fine print. As of now, 14,000-16,000 US troops will remain on so-called “anti-terrorism” missions and for “training” – though Washington admits there are not more than 50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan.
In other words, the old British system of white officers commanding native troops. A good $4-5 billion annually from the US and allies will go to hiring up to 400,000 pro-government troops (under US command).
These mercenaries will fight half-heartedly for the Yankee dollar, not ideology. CIA will maintain another mercenary force of about 2,000, and a fleet of killer drones. Add commandos from the shadowy US Special Ops Joint Command (JSOC), a copy of Her Majesty’s assassins, Britain’s famed SAS.
The ongoing US stealth occupation of Afghanistan will be enshrined by a new US-Afghanistan security treaty (read 1930 Anglo-Iraq Treaty), another deal between puppet and string-puller, made respectable by rigged elections and bribed chieftains and a big dose of drug money.
The Soviets did the same thing after they invaded Afghanistan. It’s good old imperialism 101.
US public relations firms will keep up a steady drumbeat of happy news about the US-run government building girl’s schools and improving public health.
Not a peep will come about the US-backed and paid tribal and government chiefs who run Afghanistan’s ever growing export business in morphine and heroin. Under US control, Afghanistan has become the world’s leading exporter of heroin and opium. Drug output rose 50% last year according to the UN. Drug money and laundering it has corrupted the entire Afghan government and provides most of Kabul’s
revenue, aside from US handouts.
Most important, just like the British in Iraq, the US will retain 2-4 key airbases. Bagram, built by the Soviets, will be the nerve center of the US control of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan’s arid, treeless terrain, air power is decisive. Without its total, 24-7 control of the air, the US would not be able to sustain bases in Afghanistan. The US Air Force, the primary tool of US global power, will police the skies of South Asia and defend the puppet regime in Kabul. India is expected to lend discreet support for the ongoing US occupation of Afghanistan.
That’s Plan A. But Afghanistan, rightly known as the “Graveyard of Empires,” has a way of frustrating grand imperial designs. That nation’s fierce Pashtun tribesmen, with whom this writer took the field in the 1980’s anti-Soviet struggle, have withstood the full might of US military power and its panoply of high-tech weapons, armed with nothing more than AK-47’s rifles and dauntless courage.
The British Empire, which invaded Afghanistan four times, also sought to maintain garrisons there – and utterly failed. The ongoing US occupation, re-labeled “reconstruction,” will also likely fail. So far, America’s longest war – some 12 years -
has cost nearly $1 trillion, 2,000 US dead, 17,000 wounded and innumerable Afghan dead and wounded.
Taliban – a coalition of Pashtun tribes – will fight on as they always have. America faces another decade of war unless it finally decides to admit failure and depart.
So why then will the US continue to occupy and run Afghanistan? Geopolitics. US bases deep in Afghanistan will overwatch the vital energy-rich Caspian Basin. Oil has the same effect on America policy-makers as catnip does on felines.
Washington can’t bring itself to admit it was defeated in Afghanistan – and by lightly-armed tribesmen. Better to stay on and pretend victory, though supporting a US occupation garrison in Afghanistan costs billions annually.
What’s more, western politicians can’t face their voters and admit the Afghan war was an idiotic folly, a waste of a trillion dollars and the lives of their soldiers. Or admit that Taliban was never involved in the 9/11 attacks, that were mounted from Europe, and knew nothing about them. The truth is too painful and dangerous.
Posted in death, foreign policy, government, military, tagged Assad, Barack Obama, Bashar al-Assad, Denis McDonough, National Security Agency, Obama, Syria, United States on December 9, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.
In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.
He cited a list of what appeared to be hard-won evidence of Assad’s culpability: ‘In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.’ Obama’s certainty was echoed at the time by Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, who told the New York Times: ‘No one with whom I’ve spoken doubts the intelligence’ directly linking Assad and his regime to the sarin attacks.
But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’
The complaints focus on what Washington did not have: any advance warning from the assumed source of the attack. The military intelligence community has for years produced a highly classified early morning intelligence summary, known as the Morning Report, for the secretary of defence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a copy also goes to the national security adviser and the director of national intelligence. The Morning Report includes no political or economic information, but provides a summary of important military events around the world, with all available intelligence about them. A senior intelligence consultant told me that some time after the attack he reviewed the reports for 20 August through 23 August. For two days – 20 and 21 August – there was no mention of Syria. On 22 August the lead item in the Morning Report dealt with Egypt; a subsequent item discussed an internal change in the command structure of one of the rebel groups in Syria. Nothing was noted about the use of nerve gas in Damascus that day. It was not until 23 August that the use of sarin became a dominant issue, although hundreds of photographs and videos of the massacre had gone viral within hours on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. At this point, the administration knew no more than the public.
Obama left Washington early on 21 August for a hectic two-day speaking tour in New York and Pennsylvania; according to the White House press office, he was briefed later that day on the attack, and the growing public and media furore. The lack of any immediate inside intelligence was made clear on 22 August, when Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters: ‘We are unable to conclusively determine [chemical weapons] use. But we are focused every minute of every day since these events happened … on doing everything possible within our power to nail down the facts.’ The administration’s tone had hardened by 27 August, when Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, told reporters – without providing any specific information – that any suggestions that the Syrian government was not responsible ‘are as preposterous as suggestions that the attack itself didn’t occur’.
The absence of immediate alarm inside the American intelligence community demonstrates that there was no intelligence about Syrian intentions in the days before the attack. And there are at least two ways the US could have known about it in advance: both were touched on in one of the top secret American intelligence documents that have been made public in recent months by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor.
On 29 August, the Washington Post published excerpts from the annual budget for all national intelligence programmes, agency by agency, provided by Snowden. In consultation with the Obama administration, the newspaper chose to publish only a slim portion of the 178-page document, which has a classification higher than top secret, but it summarised and published a section dealing with problem areas. One problem area was the gap in coverage targeting Assad’s office. The document said that the NSA’s worldwide electronic eavesdropping facilities had been ‘able to monitor unencrypted communications among senior military officials at the outset of the civil war there’. But it was ‘a vulnerability that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces apparently later recognised’. In other words, the NSA no longer had access to the conversations of the top military leadership in Syria, which would have included crucial communications from Assad, such as orders for a nerve gas attack. (In its public statements since 21 August, the Obama administration has never claimed to have specific information connecting Assad himself to the attack.)
The Post report also provided the first indication of a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal. The sensors are monitored by the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that controls all US intelligence satellites in orbit. According to the Post summary, the NRO is also assigned ‘to extract data from sensors placed on the ground’ inside Syria. The former senior intelligence official, who had direct knowledge of the programme, told me that NRO sensors have been implanted near all known chemical warfare sites in Syria. They are designed to provide constant monitoring of the movement of chemical warheads stored by the military. But far more important, in terms of early warning, is the sensors’ ability to alert US and Israeli intelligence when warheads are being loaded with sarin. (As a neighbouring country, Israel has always been on the alert for changes in the Syrian chemical arsenal, and works closely with American intelligence on early warnings.) A chemical warhead, once loaded with sarin, has a shelf life of a few days or less – the nerve agent begins eroding the rocket almost immediately: it’s a use-it-or-lose-it mass killer. ‘The Syrian army doesn’t have three days to prepare for a chemical attack,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘We created the sensor system for immediate reaction, like an air raid warning or a fire alarm. You can’t have a warning over three days because everyone involved would be dead. It is either right now or you’re history. You do not spend three days getting ready to fire nerve gas.’ The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August, the former official said. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded.
The sensors had worked in the past, as the Syrian leadership knew all too well. Last December the sensor system picked up signs of what seemed to be sarin production at a chemical weapons depot. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian army was simulating sarin production as part of an exercise (all militaries constantly carry out such exercises) or actually preparing an attack. At the time, Obama publicly warned Syria that using sarin was ‘totally unacceptable’; a similar message was also passed by diplomatic means. The event was later determined to be part of a series of exercises, according to the former senior intelligence official: ‘If what the sensors saw last December was so important that the president had to call and say, “Knock it off,” why didn’t the president issue the same warning three days before the gas attack in August?’
The NSA would of course monitor Assad’s office around the clock if it could, the former official said. Other communications – from various army units in combat throughout Syria – would be far less important, and not analysed in real time. ‘There are literally thousands of tactical radio frequencies used by field units in Syria for mundane routine communications,’ he said, ‘and it would take a huge number of NSA cryptological technicians to listen in – and the useful return would be zilch.’ But the ‘chatter’ is routinely stored on computers. Once the scale of events on 21 August was understood, the NSA mounted a comprehensive effort to search for any links to the attack, sorting through the full archive of stored communications. A keyword or two would be selected and a filter would be employed to find relevant conversations. ‘What happened here is that the NSA intelligence weenies started with an event – the use of sarin – and reached to find chatter that might relate,’ the former official said. ‘This does not lead to a high confidence assessment, unless you start with high confidence that Bashar Assad ordered it, and began looking for anything that supports that belief.’ The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.
The White House needed nine days to assemble its case against the Syrian government. On 30 August it invited a select group of Washington journalists (at least one often critical reporter, Jonathan Landay, the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, was not invited), and handed them a document carefully labelled as a ‘government assessment’, rather than as an assessment by the intelligence community. The document laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration’s case against the Assad government. It was, however, more specific than Obama would be later, in his speech on 10 September: American intelligence, it stated, knew that Syria had begun ‘preparing chemical munitions’ three days before the attack. In an aggressive speech later that day, John Kerry provided more details. He said that Syria’s ‘chemical weapons personnel were on the ground, in the area, making preparations’ by 18 August. ‘We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.’ The government assessment and Kerry’s comments made it seem as if the administration had been tracking the sarin attack as it happened. It is this version of events, untrue but unchallenged, that was widely reported at the time.
An unforseen reaction came in the form of complaints from the Free Syrian Army’s leadership and others about the lack of warning. ‘It’s unbelievable they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime,’ Razan Zaitouneh, an opposition member who lived in one of the towns struck by sarin, told Foreign Policy. The Daily Mail was more blunt: ‘Intelligence report says US officials knew about nerve-gas attack in Syria three days before it killed over 1400 people – including more than 400 children.’ (The number of deaths attributable to the attack varied widely, from at least 1429, as initially claimed by the Obama administration, to many fewer. A Syrian human rights group reported 502 deaths; Médicins sans Frontières put it at 355; and a French report listed 281 known fatalities. The strikingly precise US total was later reported by the Wall Street Journal to have been based not on an actual body count, but on an extrapolation by CIA analysts, who scanned more than a hundred YouTube videos from Eastern Ghouta into a computer system and looked for images of the dead. In other words, it was little more than a guess.)
Five days later, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence responded to the complaints. A statement to the Associated Press said that the intelligence behind the earlier administration assertions was not known at the time of the attack, but recovered only subsequently: ‘Let’s be clear, the United States did not watch, in real time, as this horrible attack took place. The intelligence community was able to gather and analyse information after the fact and determine that elements of the Assad regime had in fact taken steps to prepare prior to using chemical weapons.’ But since the American press corps had their story, the retraction received scant attention. On 31 August the Washington Post, relying on the government assessment, had vividly reported on its front page that American intelligence was able to record ‘each step’ of the Syrian army attack in real time, ‘from the extensive preparations to the launching of rockets to the after-action assessments by Syrian officials’. It did not publish the AP corrective, and the White House maintained control of the narrative.
So when Obama said on 10 September that his administration knew Assad’s chemical weapons personnel had prepared the attack in advance, he was basing the statement not on an intercept caught as it happened, but on communications analysed days after 21 August. The former senior intelligence official explained that the hunt for relevant chatter went back to the exercise detected the previous December, in which, as Obama later said to the public, the Syrian army mobilised chemical weapons personnel and distributed gas masks to its troops. The White House’s government assessment and Obama’s speech were not descriptions of the specific events leading up to the 21 August attack, but an account of the sequence the Syrian military would have followed for any chemical attack. ‘They put together a back story,’ the former official said, ‘and there are lots of different pieces and parts. The template they used was the template that goes back to December.’ It is possible, of course, that Obama was unaware that this account was obtained from an analysis of Syrian army protocol for conducting a gas attack, rather than from direct evidence. Either way he had come to a hasty judgment.
The press would follow suit. The UN report on 16 September confirming the use of sarin was careful to note that its investigators’ access to the attack sites, which came five days after the gassing, had been controlled by rebel forces. ‘As with other sites,’ the report warned, ‘the locations have been well travelled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the mission … During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.’ Still, the New York Times seized on the report, as did American and British officials, and claimed that it provided crucial evidence backing up the administration’s assertions. An annex to the UN report reproduced YouTube photographs of some recovered munitions, including a rocket that ‘indicatively matches’ the specifics of a 330mm calibre artillery rocket. The New York Times wrote that the existence of the rockets essentially proved that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack ‘because the weapons in question had not been previously documented or reported to be in possession of the insurgency’.
Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. He told me that it was ‘something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop’. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal. The New York Times, again relying on data in the UN report, also analysed the flight path of two of the spent rockets that were believed to have carried sarin, and concluded that the angle of descent ‘pointed directly’ to their being fired from a Syrian army base more than nine kilometres from the landing zone. Postol, who has served as the scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations in the Pentagon, said that the assertions in the Times and elsewhere ‘were not based on actual observations’. He concluded that the flight path analyses in particular were, as he put it in an email, ‘totally nuts’ because a thorough study demonstrated that the range of the improvised rockets was ‘unlikely’ to be more than two kilometres. Postol and a colleague, Richard M. Lloyd, published an analysis two weeks after 21 August in which they correctly assessed that the rockets involved carried a far greater payload of sarin than previously estimated. The Times reported on that analysis at length, describing Postol and Lloyd as ‘leading weapons experts’. The pair’s later study about the rockets’ flight paths and range, which contradicted previous Times reporting, was emailed to the newspaper last week; it has so far gone unreported.
The White House’s misrepresentation of what it knew about the attack, and when, was matched by its readiness to ignore intelligence that could undermine the narrative. That information concerned al-Nusra, the Islamist rebel group designated by the US and the UN as a terrorist organisation. Al-Nusra is known to have carried out scores of suicide bombings against Christians and other non-Sunni Muslim sects inside Syria, and to have attacked its nominal ally in the civil war, the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA). Its stated goal is to overthrow the Assad regime and establish sharia law. (On 25 September al-Nusra joined several other Islamist rebel groups in repudiating the FSA and another secular faction, the Syrian National Coalition.)
The flurry of American interest in al-Nusra and sarin stemmed from a series of small-scale chemical weapons attacks in March and April; at the time, the Syrian government and the rebels each insisted the other was responsible. The UN eventually concluded that four chemical attacks had been carried out, but did not assign responsibility. A White House official told the press in late April that the intelligence community had assessed ‘with varying degrees of confidence’ that the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks. Assad had crossed Obama’s ‘red line’. The April assessment made headlines, but some significant caveats were lost in translation. The unnamed official conducting the briefing acknowledged that intelligence community assessments ‘are not alone sufficient’. ‘We want,’ he said, ‘to investigate above and beyond those intelligence assessments to gather facts so that we can establish a credible and corroborated set of information that can then inform our decision-making.’ In other words, the White House had no direct evidence of Syrian army or government involvement, a fact that was only occasionally noted in the press coverage. Obama’s tough talk played well with the public and Congress, who view Assad as a ruthless murderer.
Two months later, a White House statement announced a change in the assessment of Syrian culpability and declared that the intelligence community now had ‘high confidence’ that the Assad government was responsible for as many as 150 deaths from attacks with sarin. More headlines were generated and the press was told that Obama, in response to the new intelligence, had ordered an increase in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. But once again there were significant caveats. The new intelligence included a report that Syrian officials had planned and executed the attacks. No specifics were provided, nor were those who provided the reports identified. The White House statement said that laboratory analysis had confirmed the use of sarin, but also that a positive finding of the nerve agent ‘does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination’. The White House further declared: ‘We have no reliable corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.’ The statement contradicted evidence that at the time was streaming into US intelligence agencies.
Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.
On 20 June a four-page top secret cable summarising what had been learned about al-Nusra’s nerve gas capabilities was forwarded to David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. ‘What Shedd was briefed on was extensive and comprehensive,’ the consultant said. ‘It was not a bunch of “we believes”.’ He told me that the cable made no assessment as to whether the rebels or the Syrian army had initiated the attacks in March and April, but it did confirm previous reports that al-Nusra had the ability to acquire and use sarin. A sample of the sarin that had been used was also recovered – with the help of an Israeli agent – but, according to the consultant, no further reporting about the sample showed up in cable traffic.
Independently of these assessments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assuming that US troops might be ordered into Syria to seize the government’s stockpile of chemical agents, called for an all-source analysis of the potential threat. ‘The Op Order provides the basis of execution of a military mission, if so ordered,’ the former senior intelligence official explained. ‘This includes the possible need to send American soldiers to a Syrian chemical site to defend it against rebel seizure. If the jihadist rebels were going to overrun the site, the assumption is that Assad would not fight us because we were protecting the chemical from the rebels. All Op Orders contain an intelligence threat component. We had technical analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, weapons people, and I & W [indications and warnings] people working on the problem … They concluded that the rebel forces were capable of attacking an American force with sarin because they were able to produce the lethal gas. The examination relied on signals and human intelligence, as well as the expressed intention and technical capability of the rebels.’
There is evidence that during the summer some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were troubled by the prospect of a ground invasion of Syria as well as by Obama’s professed desire to give rebel factions non-lethal support. In July, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, provided a gloomy assessment, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in public testimony that ‘thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces’ would be needed to seize Syria’s widely dispersed chemical warfare arsenal, along with ‘hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers’. Pentagon estimates put the number of troops at seventy thousand, in part because US forces would also have to guard the Syrian rocket fleet: accessing large volumes of the chemicals that create sarin without the means to deliver it would be of little value to a rebel force. In a letter to Senator Carl Levin, Dempsey cautioned that a decision to grab the Syrian arsenal could have unintended consequences: ‘We have learned from the past ten years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state … Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.’
The CIA declined to comment for this article. Spokesmen for the DIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were not aware of the report to Shedd and, when provided with specific cable markings for the document, said they were unable to find it. Shawn Turner, head of public affairs for the ODNI, said that no American intelligence agency, including the DIA, ‘assesses that the al-Nusra Front has succeeded in developing a capacity to manufacture sarin’.
The administration’s public affairs officials are not as concerned about al-Nusra’s military potential as Shedd has been in his public statements. In late July, he gave an alarming account of al-Nusra’s strength at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. ‘I count no less than 1200 disparate groups in the opposition,’ Shedd said, according to a recording of his presentation. ‘And within the opposition, the al-Nusra Front is … most effective and is gaining in strength.’ This, he said, ‘is of serious concern to us. If left unchecked, I am very concerned that the most radical elements’ – he also cited al-Qaida in Iraq – ‘will take over.’ The civil war, he went on, ‘will only grow worse over time … Unfathomable violence is yet to come.’ Shedd made no mention of chemical weapons in his talk, but he was not allowed to: the reports his office received were highly classified.
A series of secret dispatches from Syria over the summer reported that members of the FSA were complaining to American intelligence operatives about repeated attacks on their forces by al-Nusra and al-Qaida fighters. The reports, according to the senior intelligence consultant who read them, provided evidence that the FSA is ‘more worried about the crazies than it is about Assad’. The FSA is largely composed of defectors from the Syrian army. The Obama administration, committed to the end of the Assad regime and continued support for the rebels, has sought in its public statements since the attack to downplay the influence of Salafist and Wahhabist factions. In early September, John Kerry dumbfounded a Congressional hearing with a sudden claim that al-Nusra and other Islamist groups were minority players in the Syrian opposition. He later withdrew the claim.
In both its public and private briefings after 21 August, the administration disregarded the available intelligence about al-Nusra’s potential access to sarin and continued to claim that the Assad government was in sole possession of chemical weapons. This was the message conveyed in the various secret briefings that members of Congress received in the days after the attack, when Obama was seeking support for his planned missile offensive against Syrian military installations. One legislator with more than two decades of experience in military affairs told me that he came away from one such briefing persuaded that ‘only the Assad government had sarin and the rebels did not.’ Similarly, following the release of the UN report on 16 September confirming that sarin was used on 21 August, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told a press conference: ‘It’s very important to note that only the [Assad] regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin.’
It is not known whether the highly classified reporting on al-Nusra was made available to Power’s office, but her comment was a reflection of the attitude that swept through the administration. ‘The immediate assumption was that Assad had done it,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘The new director of the CIA, [John] Brennan, jumped to that conclusion … drives to the White House and says: “Look at what I’ve got!” It was all verbal; they just waved the bloody shirt. There was a lot of political pressure to bring Obama to the table to help the rebels, and there was wishful thinking that this [tying Assad to the sarin attack] would force Obama’s hand: “This is the Zimmermann telegram of the Syrian rebellion and now Obama can react.” Wishful thinking by the Samantha Power wing within the administration. Unfortunately, some members of the Joint Chiefs who were alerted that he was going to attack weren’t so sure it was a good thing.’
The proposed American missile attack on Syria never won public support and Obama turned quickly to the UN and the Russian proposal for dismantling the Syrian chemical warfare complex. Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal. Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)
The administration’s distortion of the facts surrounding the sarin attack raises an unavoidable question: do we have the whole story of Obama’s willingness to walk away from his ‘red line’ threat to bomb Syria? He had claimed to have an iron-clad case but suddenly agreed to take the issue to Congress, and later to accept Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical weapons. It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans.
The UN resolution, which was adopted on 27 September by the Security Council, dealt indirectly with the notion that rebel forces such as al-Nusra would also be obliged to disarm: ‘no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer [chemical] weapons.’ The resolution also calls for the immediate notification of the Security Council in the event that any ‘non-state actors’ acquire chemical weapons. No group was cited by name. While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone. There may be more to negotiate.
While alleged representatives of american democracy foam at the mouth over the fictional threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, the real world existence of thousands of such weapons passes almost without notice, most especially those held by religious fanatics whose narrative leans heavily on potential doom coming at any moment and whose reality seems to work for just that end. But that’s only in the eyes, ears and forcibly emptied minds of many western consumer-citizens, occupied with going into debt for the holy days of shopping and left with little time to contemplate material reality, especially since it is rarely presented to them in an individually understandable and socially coherent form.
After wreaking havoc on the democratic process in Iran many years ago when the USA and Britain conspired to destroy an elected government and replace it with a royal puppet of the west, the Iranian revolution of 1979 placed that nation on a hate list on a par with the old Soviet Union. In fact, these Muslims were painted as possibly bigger threats to mindless consumption and earth raping than the evil commies since they were driven by faith in god, something the west only uses for political manipulation of its voting consumers.
Sincere belief in a religious moral code among a people with real grievances against the west was quite frightening. The attacks on Iran since 1979 have been ongoing and deadly, both in financing wars against that nation and organizing political economic crimes that can take as many lives as a war.
Any efforts by Iran to take its place among others in what passes for an international community, that is, to actually participate in the creation of a real global community of nations, has been met by furious opposition in the west. It should be understood that “the west” amounts to the USA, Israel and its few lapdogs in Europe. Israel is not physically located in the west but it plays a western role in the fading but still deadly neo-colonial control of international majorities by a minority deeming themselves chosen people-master race-exceptional nations, and this with no evidence to back their alleged superiority except their massive military power able to waste millions of lives.
This is like a 400 lb brute pillaging, raping and murdering while considering himself a god for pleasuring and having power over so many women and not noticing that they are now armed, their numbers have grown and that he is close to being surrounded by them. Unfortunately, once he does notice, his desperate irrational fear and wrath will cause him to rape and murder even more – while insisting he is spreading more joy – until he is finally subdued. That is a simple description of the global situation as imperial capital, threatened as never before, strives to survive not only in its usual bloody fashion but even more dangerously by increasingly couching its crimes in the language of democracy and diplomacy.
Humanity – not just Iranians – needs to maintain hope for a better future, but also to be far more careful and wary of the growing danger even as possibilities for success grow. The empire is under stress everywhere and it is straining to maintain itself at any cost, however cosmetic the language employed by its leadership and their puppets. There may never have been a time of greater hope for the human race but conversely, humanity has never been living under the threat represented by a dying system which could take all of us down with it. National identity, such as presently strived for in Iran and countless other places formerly entirely under the boot heel of capital may be an important short term step in the direction of salvation, but internationalism is the giant step we need to take towards a better future for all.
The problem we confront is international and its solution will ultimately call for a democratic internationalism such as the world has never known before. Without it, we may face a future far more bleak than the worst forecasts of the present.
Frank Scott writes political commentary and satire which is available online at Legalienate
Posted in foreign policy, government, history, media, military, tagged Aldrich Ames, Iran, Israel, Jonathan Pollard, National Security Agency, NSA, Rafael Eitan, United States on December 6, 2013 | 2 Comments »
Who it really guarding the hen house?
An American company bids on a military project in Africa. It finds its prime competitor is an Israeli company that submitted not just a superficially identical proposal but the same typographical and syntax errors as well.
The Anti-Defamation League publishes the names of Americans invited to Iran for a film festival. Ten days later, Iran contacts the same journalists asking if they would be “interested in attending.”
The source of this information was the NSA, in this case, not just spying on Iran or American journalists but American defense contracting firms, and doing so on behalf of foreign competitors.
NSA involvement in copyright piracy or commercial espionage, though now known, has yet to be addressed.
What we have learned is that the NSA’s supercomputers with their insatiable appetite for highly encrypted data have been not just intercepting operational intelligence and highly classified policy communications but have, without consideration for the aftermath, simply released it all to Israel, without one word redacted, including White House correspondence.
The NSA Worldwide Network
Recent revelations have tied the NSA to intelligence agencies, not just in Britain, France and Germany, but around the world. Earlier revelations covering their agreement with Israel admitted that all raw data, including that withheld from US intelligence agencies and even the White House, is regularly sent to Israel.
Information withheld from the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, information critical to American defense and foreign policy initiatives, is sent out of the country with “no questions asked.”
There are no agreements in place as to what is done with this information, whom it is sold to or how it is used. No one has asked, no one seems to care.
Laws Mean Nothing
Security protocols long in place restrict the distribution of such data and prohibit its distribution to any foreign entity under any circumstance. Statute demands criminal prosecution for any violating these protocols.
However, something has been discovered even more alarming. The NSA has been distributing, through Israel or other possible avenues, we have no way of discerning any of their activities, “work product” of other US intelligence agencies, defense and intelligence contracting firms and even the US State Department.
Documents have been found in Africa, distributed by Israeli and Chinese defense groups, not just containing “NOFORN” restricted material but actual operational intelligence documents that were still in “edit” predistribution form.
The NSA not only intercepts voice and data but has hacked tens of thousands of networks giving them full access to every document, every draft, every project folder on every American technology be it source code for commercial computer programs or video games but also things far more lethal.
The NSA and its “downline” of foreign clients are now part and parcel of every project team from Los Alamos to the Kennedy Space Center.
Is the NSA Really “American” ?
Why would a massive internal industrial espionage operation be run by the NSA? For whose benefit?
There is substantial proof that the NSA spies on US intelligence agencies, American defense contractors and research facilities and personnel working on the most sensitive projects tied to national security.
Then the NSA sends, by their own admission, every iota of that intelligence to Israel where, minimally, it is used to undermine American commercial interests.
Is it also sold to Russia and China? The lessons learned from the real Jonathan Pollard investigation, the real reason he has spent nearly 30 years in prison yields one answer, a resounding “yes!”
For those unfamiliar with Jonathan Pollard, you can read a highly fictionalized outline of his activities from the Jewish Virtual Library:
“In 2006, Rafael Eitan (IDF Chief of Staff) said, ‘It is likely that we could have gotten the same information without him.’ He also said, however, that Pollard provided ‘information of such high quality and accuracy, so good and so important to the country’s security” that “my desire, my appetite to get more and more material overcame me.’
He added that the information might have made a difference had Israel been involved in another war. Eitan also maintained that Pollard never exposed any American agents and that another spy, Aldrich Ames, tried to blame Pollard to divert suspicion from his activities.”
Based on the version of events as outlined above, Israel has demanded the release of Pollard for over 20 years, offering him a home in Israel and a hero’s welcome.
However, the debriefing of spy Aldrich Ames, supported by other sources showed Pollard to have passed on to Israel and by them to the Soviet Union, all NATO defense plans for Europe, America’s nuclear codes and to have brought about the death of over 1000 CIA operatives and assets behind the Iron Curtain.
Based on this information, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison and has spent nearly 30 years behind bars.
Nuclear Prolifertation Fiction
In 1975, Israel signed a concord with South Africa to build nuclear weapons. Between then and 1989, 10 nuclear devices were built with two, according to highest US intelligence sources, exploded:
- September 22, 1979, 18.2 kilotons detonated on Prince Edward Island, south of Capetown.
- May 25, 2009, 182 kilotons, detonated in North Korea.
Whenever Israel is involved – the public is never told. Why?
Signatures as to origin of uranium and design of weapon (80 millisecond double-flash) showed identical origin.
During the 1990s, Pakistani nuclear scientists A. Q. Khan was tasked though a joint project of the ISI and CIA to offer nuclear trigger devices.
Several thermo-nuclear weapons had “gone missing” in a B 52 crash off the coast of Somalia and were believed to require both new trigger devices and, perhaps, tritium gas recharging before they could be used.
This created an “opening” where others involved in illegal proliferation operations, including part of the Israeli team from South Africa, could blame Khan while, in this case, helping Gaddafi in Libya develop nuclear weapons.
Another fictionalized account, this one from the Monterrey Institute of International Studies (2005):
South African bomb casings – the real deal
Police transferred the 11 containers to South Africa’s nuclear research center at Pelindaba for inspection by South African police and the IAEA. It is estimated that the 200 tons of equipment for the plant was worth around $33 million. During the raid, authorities also discovered various equipment designs that had been sent from KRL. Meyer was arrested on September 2, 2004 and charged with violating the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act and the Nuclear Energy Act.
Specifically, he was charged with importing and exporting a flow forming lathe that can be used to produce centrifuge components, as well as equipment for a gas centrifuge plant.
He admitted in an official statement that he knew the parts were to be used for a manufacturing plant, but he was unaware that the final destination was Libya. Charges were later dropped against Meyer in exchange for cooperation in the ongoing investigations into the Khan network.”
Some of what is given above is true but not much. Meyer was arrested. However, he was broken out of jail by an Israeli special operations team and flown to Israel where he lives today.
There is no record of Meyer assisting any investigation and no record of him existing in South Africa or leaving legally. There are no court records supporting the statements made in the paragraphs above.
Questions were submitted via Raja Mujtaba of Opinion Maker to A.Q. Khan as to any role with Meyer. Khan indicated he never heard of Meyer.
Not Just the NSA
“Sir, your escorts are waiting.”
Traditionally, there have been many within America’s military, officers to regularly travel to Israel where they are met and hosted by young IDF soldiers, carefully selected attractive young men and women, who act as personal escorts.
There is nothing new to this, nothing “Israeli.” This is how intelligencer agencies penetrate enemy organizations by targeting key individuals using prostitutes in what is called a “honey trap.”
The US does it as do most other nations. That the US actually encourages its military to be subjected to recruiting by foreign intelligence agencies is one of the reasons the officer corps is being cleaned out, purged by General Dempsey and those deeply concerned about who America’s real friends are.
If only Snowden had warned us. It’s one thing with the NSA is spying for the US. In truth, we now have proof the NSA is actually spying not just on the American people but on the Department of Defense and American defense contractors.
“Sir, we thought we would let you select your male escort…oh yes, you can pick two.”
When the Memorandum of Understanding between the NSA and Israeli intelligence services was published in the media months ago, showing how “raw data” was passed to Israel without any controls whatsoever, it became clear.
The NSA is actually, legally and very literally a foreign spy organization. Let’s talk about the term “NOFORN.” This is a term on sensitive documents that is supposed to mean that no foreign sources can access them, not MI 6, not the Mossad, not our NATO partners, nobody but Americans.
Israel seems to have been placed above normal protocols and functions as a defacto branch of US intelligence or is it the other way around?
What we have established, without touching on one of a dozen or more “conspiracy theories,” is that there is reason to assume that all information given to Israel is harmful to the United States.
The current adversarial position between the two nations over Syria and Iran are more than sufficient evidence.
Tenets of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) prohibiting sharing of intelligence on US nationals with foreign governments are another reason for suspicion and distrust.
With previous proven instances, not just Pollard or Muller, bringing the world so close to destruction and today’s threats, Israeli nuclear attacks on Tehran a near reality, when might reason and even issues of national survival be a consideration of American leaders?
What are the true costs of War? Stefan Molyneux speaks at the Students For Liberty Canadian Regional Conference at University of Toronto, St. Michael’s College on November 16th, 2013.
Posted in death, foreign policy, government, military, tagged American Civil Liberties Union, Barack Obama, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, International humanitarian law, Joint Chiefs of Staff, pentagon, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Yemen on December 6, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
The Pentagon has loosened its guidelines on avoiding civilian casualties during drone strikes, modifying instructions from requiring military personnel to “ensure” civilians are not targeted to encouraging service members to “avoid targeting” civilians.
In addition, instructions now tell commanders that collateral damage “must not be excessive” in relation to mission goals, according to Public Intelligence, a nonprofit research group that analyzed the military’s directives on drone strikes.
“These subtle but important changes in wording provide insight into the military’s attempts to limit expectations in regards to minimizing collateral damage and predicting the lethal effects of military operations,” Public Intelligence said in a recent report.
The number of civilian casualties caused by U.S. drone strikes is a point of contention among Washington, human rights groups and countries where strikes are conducted, chiefly Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. Because the strikes are classified operations, the U.S. typically does not acknowledge when they occur, or reveal how many combatants and civilians are killed or injured.
An official for the Air Force — the service primarily tasked with carrying out drone strikes — said “tactical directives have changed a number of times over the years to tackle collateral damage concerns not only from aircraft and helicopters but from mortars and other weapons that deliver effects beyond line of sight.”
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss security matters, declined to say how the directives have changed or what the collateral damage concerns are, citing “operational security.”
Military officials, however, said the Joint Chiefs document is one of several that instruct commanders on conducting drone strikes, as well as theater-specific rules of engagement and the overarching Law of Armed Conflict.
The October 2012 document was published on a Pentagon website several months ago but has since been removed, said Public Intelligence founder and editor Michael Haynes, who obtained and analyzed the documents.
A military official confirmed that the document is being used, among others, to provide guidance for drones.
Human rights groups say such secrecy prevents scrutiny and accountability for civilian casualties. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have released reports focused on Pakistan and Yemen that say the strikes could be illegal and that the U.S. has killed more than 4,700 people, including more than 1,000 civilians.
Administration officials say the strikes are legal because the U.S. is at war with al Qaeda and its associates. They also insist there is a wide gap between the government’s civilian casualty count and those of human rights groups.
“Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set,” President Obama said in a rare acknowledgment of the strikes in May 2013.
Public Intelligence conducted a word-for-word analysis of an instructional document from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff titled “No-Strike and the Collateral Damage Estimate Methodology,” which was provided to the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009, and a version of the document that was updated in October 2012. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the 2009 version, which is posted on its website.
The 2009 version directs military personnel to take reasonable precautions to ensure that civilians are not targeted in attacks; the 2012 version says service members should “avoid targeting” civilians.
“A requirement to ‘ensure’ that civilians are not the subject of attacks is changed to an admonishment to ‘avoid targeting’ civilians,” Mr. Haynes said.
Moreover, commanders had been instructed to “consider the military necessity for attacking the target, proportionality of the means planned, and reasonableness within the framework of operational objectives.” The modified language tells leaders that collateral damage “must not be excessive” in relation to mission objectives.
What’s more, the updated version adds a paragraph that says the process for estimating collateral damage outlined in the document “does not account for secondary explosions” caused by the strike, such as of a weapons cache or fuel tank, because those explosions “cannot be consistently measured or predicted.”
“The section does say that commanders should be ‘cognizant of the risks’ from secondary explosions, but this is fairly weak wording and does not imply necessary compliance,” Mr. Haynes said.
The earlier version also defines “collateral concern” as objects that are “not considered lawful military targets” under the Law of Armed Conflict. The updated version defines the term as objects “located inside the collateral hazard area.”
The guidance applies only to military drone strikes and not necessarily to those carried out by the CIA, although the military and the CIA work together on some drone operations.
Citing an increase in drone operations last year in Libya, Air Force officials said the number of military drone strikes in 2013 is expected to be lower than in 2012. Officials said military drones last year led to or helped ground troops kill and/or capture more than 1,850 enemy combatants.
Officials declined to specify how many enemy combatants were killed or captured. Pentagon statistics show that 361 Hellfire missiles and six 500-pound laser-guided bombs were fired in 2012. In 2011, 432 Hellfire missiles and 19 500-pound laser-guided bombs were fired.
Military officials say they take great care in differentiating civilians from combatants and sometimes wait several weeks until a target is away from relatives and civilians. But they also acknowledge that it can be difficult to assess civilian casualties or other collateral damage, especially when a target is hiding in a structure or under foliage.
Given this difficulty, the collateral damage estimate “is our best means of minimizing civilian casualties and damages to nearby structures,” said a spokesman for Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I have talked to Pentagon officials that say they are very, very careful,” said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of Civilians in Conflict. “But it’s not enough to have a conversation and have to trust. There should be a lot more transparency.”
Despite Mr. Obama’s pledge for more transparency on drone strikes, the administration “continues to answer legitimate questions and criticisms by saying, ‘We can’t really talk about this,’” said Naureen Shah, advocacy adviser at Amnesty International.
Senior administration officials recently met with representatives of human rights organizations to discuss reports that the groups published in October, but told participants not to reveal who attended the meetings, where they met or what was discussed.
“To me, this is just yet another example of the unreasonable level of secrecy surrounding this program,” said Letta Tayler, author of Human Rights Watch’s report on U.S. drone strikes in Yemen. “We hope that the U.S. will move swiftly to acknowledge basic details of these strikes.”
Atzmon and O’keefe scrutinize the role of language in political discussion and Palestine solidarity discourse in particular. In this segment they examine Zionism, Israel, Jewish tribalism and the usage of the ‘J word’.