In 2002, members of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force sent reports about the interrogations of prisoners Guantanamo Bay back to Washington. There, a small group of researchers in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency applied cutting-edge data mining tools to the reports in order to find connections between the detainees and terrorists. But instead of finding links to al Qaeda or militants, the analysts discovered that some of the detainees were innocent and had been captured in Afghanistan without cause or evidence.
Far from speeding up the release of the detainees, this information was used as a kind of baseline for what a "non-terrorist" looked like. The data tools then were re-calibrated to disregard certain attributes in the interrogation reports and to search for others that were deemed germane to the interrogators' work. The innocent prisoners--termed "dirt farmers" in military parlance--remained at Guantanamo for the time being.
I reported this information in my book, The Watchers, which came out in 2010. I mention it again today in light of a post by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic, which points back to an earlier article by Jason Leopold about an important chapter in the Guantanamo saga that you may have forgotten, or overlooked at the time.
Top Bush administration officials were aware, as early as August 2002, that the "vast majority" of the initial group of 742 detainees at Guantanamo were innocent of any connection to terrorism. That was the sworn statement of Lawrence Wilkerson, formerly the right-hand-man to Colin Powell at the State Department, in a 2010 lawsuit by a former Guantanamo detainee. The innocent men at Guantanamo, Wilkerson said, were swept up in a harried and "incompetent" process that produced no evidence for the basis of their detention.
This made news at the time. And though it wasn't exactly a revelation that there were innocent people in Guantanamo, Wilkerson advanced the story by swearing that senior officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were aware of the problem and did nothing about it. Their view, according to Wilkerson, was that "innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror and the capture of the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks, or other acts terrorism."
Friedersdorf asks why this story hasn't gotten more traction, and says the next time Powell appears in public, journalists should ask him to respond to what Wilkerson said. (He was asked at the time but said he hadn't read the full statement.) I'd be more interested in what Cheney and Rumsfeld have to say.
I don't have a great answer for why this story hasn't been repeated more often. But I think it's important to note that Wilkerson and other senior Bush administration officials were not the only ones who knew about the innocent detainees at Guantanamo. This extended down to the level of the interrogators themselves and to counterterrorism analysts. This was hardly a secret held at the highest reaches of power. It was a widely known fact, and at the time, little was done to address it.
(Also worth noting, a similar statement from Wilkerson, made in 2012, was attached to this declaration by an attorney for prisoners in Afghanistan.)
The Washington Post is short-listing the possible candidates to replace Robert Mueller as FBI Director, after he ends his tenure this summer. At the top of the list, says the paper, is Lisa Monaco, who recently ran the National Security Division at the Justice Department, was Mueller's longest-serving chief of staff, and is now at the White House in CIA Director John Brennan's old job.
The list could probably stop at Monaco, given how improbable the other people on it are. Putting aside Monaco's legitimate credentials, and the fact that her name has indeed been making the rounds over the past few months--I've heard it from the lips of FBI watchers and former Justice Department officials--the other people on this list are not likely to want the job or be able to easily sail through confirmation.
Let's take them one at a time.
Merrick Garland is an esteemed jurist, chief of the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit, and widely seen as a potential nominee for the Supreme Court. Why on earth would he give that up to be the FBI Director? Garland has also been out of the game, on the executive branch side, for a long time. He took his seat on the bench in 1997. The Justice Department he worked in during the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber investigation was a very different place than it is now. He is also, perhaps, too closely associated in the eyes of many experts with the he culture of the department pre-9/11, when intelligence and law enforcement operations were separated by statute, mistrust, and misunderstanding.
James Comey, who was deputy attorney general to John Ashcroft, is, by my read, greatly enjoying his life in the private sector and the benefits that go with it. He has recently worked for defense contractor Lockheed Martin, the high-profile hedge fund Bridgewater, and recently took a seat on the board of directors of HSBC Holdings. Comey cares deeply about national security and counterterrorism issues, but he can exert a lot of influence in those areas from his private perch, which brings him into proximity with decision makers in business and in government. Also, I think that Republicans would see him as too liberal, and Democrats would see him as too conservative. (A testament to his intellectual honesty, perhaps, but not likely to make him a shoe in for Senate confirmation.) And PS--Did you catch the part about him working for a defense contractor and a hedge fund? Optics problems abound here, fairly or not.
Patrick Fitzgerald's name gets trotted out whenever there's a vacancy in a senior Justice post. I think people toss it onto every short list just to make it look longer. His political baggage as the prosecutor of Scooter Libby is enough to kill his chances.
Neil MacBride, maybe in five years or so. He needs more seasoning. If he's truly on a short list, and not just thrown in artificially, he's a longshot.
For good measure, or maybe for levity, the Post also quotes the national executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, Jim Pasco, who suggests the White House consider Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who used to be the D.C. Police Chief and who has never held a federal position, or Ray Kelly, the New York Police Commissioner. Who is 71 years old.
It's worth noting that Garland, Comey, and Fitzgerald also surfaced on a short list reported in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, along with Ken Wainstein, Michael Mason, John Pistole, and Jamie Gorelick, whose names aren't surfacing now. (Although, I know some non-partisan experts who think highly of Wainstein and have mentioned he'd be a good candidate.)
And missing from the Post's article are some names that seem more plausible than the ones reported. For instance, how about David Kris? I doubt he's interested in returning to Washington from his corporate counsel job in Seattle, but he's got more obvious credentials in the operational aspects of law enforcement and intelligence than many of the candidates on the current list. For that matter, why not Fran Townsend? Granted, she's a Republican, and probably quite content in private practice and working as an on-air analyst for CNN. But if we're talking about plausible candidates here, you have to look to people who have done substantial work of the kind that will consume much of the FBI Director's attention.
Monaco really fits that bill more than anyone on the list, in terms of her recent experience and its depth. Also, nominating her would allow President Obama to make history; a woman has never led the FBI. As I noted last week, after Obama picked Julia Pearson to run the Secret Service, the tide has obviously turned in favor of more women in top security positions. Even if Monaco doesn't get the nod for the FBI, a woman eventually will, and not, I think, in the distant future.
Ken Anderson and Ben Wittes, two good friends of Dead Drop, are embarking on an intriguing and from my perspective quite welcome new project. They're writing a book that will pull together all the significant speeches Obama administration officials have given on national security law, and then "weave it all back together, creating a synthetic account of the administration’s views that is worth more collectively than the sum of its parts."
Called Speaking the Law, it will be "a kind of handbook on the framework for counterterrorism," using administration officials' own words as the foundation. "Consider it the White Paper the administration has never issued," say Ken and Ben.
I suspect Obama administration officials themselves will be among this book's most avid readers, given the authors' premise, and that journalists and scholars will find it useful as well:
"There is a myth that the administration has had little to say on the subject of its counterterrorism authorities, especially targeted killing and drones--largely because it has declined to release publicly its Office of Legal Counsel targeted killing memoranda. Part of the point of Speaking the Law is to show how wrong this myth really is. The administration has actually said a huge amount. It’s just that it has said a great deal of it orally, and has broken up its utterances among a number of different statements."
The authors are publishing the chapters serially online, and then the Hoover Institution will put out a hardcover version when all the work is finished. The introduction and first chapter are available now.
President Obama has tapped a new director of the Secret Service. And she will be the first woman director in the 148-year history of the elite law enforcement agency.
Julia Pierson has been with the Secret Service more than 30 years. She was a police officer in Orlando before she joined the agency, in 1983. She ran the Miami field office, which is one of the most prestigious. And she was most recently the chief of staff at headquarters in Washington.
Pierson’s name had come up in conversations I had recently with Secret Service agents about who might replace Sullivan, but she didn’t seem to be the odds-on favorite.
The appointment of a woman is historic. But it is also politically significant, coming one year after a major sex scandal, which I write about in the current issue of the magazine, that battered the agency’s public image and exposed a culture of male agents behaving badly.
Revelations that Secret Service agents had hired prostitutes during a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia, shook the agency in two fundamental ways, and Pierson is going to have to address both of them.
First, and most obviously, it was a political and public relations disaster. In an instant, the image of the stoic, suit-clad, shades-wearing agent—the vast majority of whom are men—was replaced with a carousing, drunken, unhinged party animal. We learned that the unofficial motto among married agents on foreign trips was “wheels up, rings off.” We heard about self-styled “rock stars without guitars” who were not above using their elite status to pick up women in bars. The 13 men implicated in Cartagena humiliated the agency and their ultimate boss, President Obama. Nine of them lost their jobs.
But there was a second, harder-to-discern set of consequences to the Cartagena affair. For many agents, the bigger disgrace lay in how the Secret Service's leaders handled the misbehavior and the intense media and congressional scrutiny that followed. The agents in question were subjected to intense, some of them say improper, interrogations, which included polygraph exams, threats of losing their security clearances, and instructions not to cooperate with an independent investigation by the Homeland Security Department. When the agents' misdeeds became public, as the result of a press leak, senior officials insisted that the bad behavior was aberrant, and not part of a pattern of sexual indiscretion on trips.
Mark Sullivan, then the agency’s director, did his best Capt. Renault; he was “shocked, shocked!” to find that his agents were hiring hookers when they should have been protecting the President. In testimony before Congress, Sullivan said, “I never one time had any supervisor or any other agent tell me that this type of behavior is condoned.” But that statement, and others from Sullivan’s lieutenants in the press, strained credulity. To believe that the Cartagena affair was unique, you’d also have to believe that this group of men—not all of whom knew one another—broke into separate groups and independently got the idea, for the first time ever, to go out looking for prostitutes in a foreign city.
The fact is, such late-night outings aren’t all that unusual. Some of the men in Cartagena had hired hookers on the road before. At least one had had long-distance affairs with women he’d met in bars while traveling with two Presidents. And all of them could believe, based on prior experience, that while the Secret Service didn’t expressly condone womanizing and solicitation, it didn’t go out of its way to stamp out such behavior, either.
The agency’s leadership has fallen in the eyes of many agents. They feel betrayed by the brass, whom they see as tossing lower-level employees under the bus in order to deflect attention from problems at the top. Sullivan was already on thin ice after the notorious Gate Crashers incident during a White House dinner. And some of his inner circle had had their own tawdry affairs.
The last straw, for some I talked to, came when the Secret Service required all its employees to go through mandatory “ethics” training. These were courses held in the Washington area, at which attendees were lectured on the right and wrong way to behave on a trip. And it was made clear that one-night stands, as as well as longer-term extramarital affairs, were off limits.
That message was especially tough to swallow coming from A.T. Smith, the deputy director of the Secret Service, who spoke at some of these training sessions. It is widely known among the agency’s ranks, and it was publicly reported more than a decade ago, that when Smith was in charge of First Lady Hillary Clinton’s security detail, he was having an affair with President Clinton’s cousin, who worked in the White House scheduling office, and whom he took to numerous White House social events. The Secret Service’s own training manuals specifically warned against adultery because it was a compromising relationship, one that put an agent at risk of extortion. For some agents, to hear Smith give a lecture on the danger’s of sexual indiscretion epitomized how out-of-touch, and arrogant, the Secret Service leadership had become.
Any new director—regardless of gender—would have to address this residual animosity and attempt to heal the rift that was exposed, and aggravated, by the Cartagena scandal. It remains to be seen what kind of leader Pierson will be and how she’ll be received; she is, after all, part of senior management. And by no means should we assume that Pierson’s gender alone will give her any more credibility with agents.
But putting a woman in charge sends an immediate signal that the Secret Service wants to change the image of a globe-trotting gaggle of man-boys. The White House surely wants this, too. And it would have been harder to pull it off had the President tapped a man to succeed Sullivan. Not impossible, but harder.
Stepping back from scandal, let’s also put this appointment in its historic perspective. The Secret Service is one of the country’s most powerful law enforcement agencies. Now that a woman is in charge, can we really expect to wait that long before a woman becomes director of the FBI? A woman is already in charge of another elite organization, the US Marshals Service.
The tide is turning in the intelligence community and the military, as well. Two of the nation’s biggest intelligence agencies are now run by women, as is the Defense Department’s R&D organization. And with the integration of women into military combat positions, the day will come when we see a female chair of the joint chiefs of staff.
Pierson has her work cut out for her. But her achievement must also be viewed through the lens of momentous change in the leadership and the culture of some of the country’s most important institutions.
A year ago, revelations that Secret Service agents had hired prostitutes during a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia, triggered the most embarrassing incident in the 148-year-old agency’s history. Was it a one-time incident or part of a pattern of agents behaving badly?
That's the question I tackle in a feature story in the current issue of the magazine. The truth is, such late-night outings aren’t all that unusual. Some of the men in Cartagena had hired hookers on the road before. At least one had had long-distance affairs with women he’d met in bars while traveling with two Presidents. And all of them could believe, based on prior experience, that while the Secret Service's top leaders didn’t expressly condone womanizing and solicitation, they didn’t go out of their way to stamp out such behavior, either.
National Security Adviser Tom Donilon today called Chinese cyber espionage of US business information "a growing challenge to our economic relationship with China" and "key point of concern and discussion with China at all levels of our governments."
In the first public remarks by a White House official directed specifically at cyber espionage emanating from China, which is believed to be state-sponsored, Donlion said the problem had "moved to the forefront of [the administration's] agenda," and called for "additional, intensive attention," including recognition by the Chinese government of "the urgency and scope of this problem and the risk it poses--to international trade, to the reputation of Chinese industry and to our overall relations."
Donlion's remarks are another pivotal moment in the increasingly tense, and public, dispute between China and the US over cyber spying. The last time the US government went on record blaming China for stealing American companies' secrets and other proprietary information was when the National Counterintelligence Executive released a frank and alarming report on Chinese and Russian cyber spying. At the time, I compared that to Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain speech, because it characterized the spying as part of the two countries' national strategy of military, technological, and economic domination of the West, and the United States in particular.
Interestingly, Donilon's remarks today were not as emphatic or wide-ranging as that report. His relatively brief comments came up in a lengthy speech on U.S.-Asia policy at the Asia Society in New York. Donilon focused on cyber espionage and stayed away from any discussion of state-on-state spying, or of cyber warfare, even though these are both part of the calculus when it comes to U.S-China relations in cyber space.
But this was the first time any US official has made specific demands of China. In addition to calling for official "recognition" of cyber espionage--Chinese officials steadfastly maintain that their country is not a perpetrator, but a victim--Donilon said, "Beijing should take serious steps to investigate and put a stop to these activities" and "engage with us in a constructive direct dialogue to establish acceptable norms of behavior in cyberspace."
The Obama administration is raising the stakes. While not specifically accusing the Chinese government of being behind the intrusions, Donilon called for state action and invoked it on the part of the United States. Referring to President Obama's most recent State of the Union Address, Donilon said, "We will take action to protect our economy against cyber-threats." Already we're seeing some evidence of that. In the coming weeks, elements of US intelligence and law enforcement will begin sharing information about Chinese cyber hacking with US telecommunications companies, bringing them deeper into a public-private effort to secure cyberspace.
Donilon also drew a distinction between "ordinary cybercrime or hacking" and what China is accused of doing. He said it's not "solely a national security concern," but one for businesses who are "speaking out about their serious concerns about sophisticated, targeted theft of confidential business information and proprietary technologies through cyber intrusions emanating from China on an unprecedented scale."
This is carefully tuned language. It focuses the administration's attention on what Donilon characterized as a strategic threat to the economic growth of both countries, which are each other's most important trading partners. And it brings the private sector into the problem as a key player, not a bystander.
The full video of Donilon's remarks are here. He starts talking about cyber security about 32 minutes in.
If John Brennan is confirmed as the next Director of the CIA--an outcome that appears all but certain--he will be only the third career CIA officer to run the agency in the past four decades. Robert Gates, in 1991, and William Colby, in 1973, were the other two. And the last director who could claim strong ties to Langley was George Tenet, who was nominated by Bill Clinton in 1997, and who'd been the deputy director for only a few years.
Brennan worked for Tenet first in 1999, as his chief of staff, and then as deputy executive director in 2001. In his confirmation hearing this week, Brennan cast himself as a cog in a much greater machine when he explained why, if he personally objected to parts of the Bush-era regime of brutal interrogations, he didn't take action to stop it. He wasn't "in the chain of command" for the program, Brennan told Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
The chain of command, and Brennan's position in it, has defined his working life. Brennan spent nearly three decades as a career intelligence officers. He held a series of significant posts, but he never rose to the most senior, political ranks of leadership. That's one reason why, when the incoming Obama administration floated his name for CIA Director in 2008, some old CIA hands were skeptical. Nothing against Brennan, some of them explained at the time, but he'd never been the deputy director, nor even executive director. His last significant job before leaving government for a brief stint in the private sector was as director of the newly formed Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the predecessor to the National Counterterrorism Center. Again, not an insignificant job, but not an obvious launching pad to one of the most important jobs in the United States government.
What a difference four years and a kill list make. Whereas Brennan's nomination for CIA Director once seemed implausible, now it seems so obvious. Books will be written (some are now) about how Brennan's four years as Obama's counterterrorism adviser seasoned him, changed him, and made the chief architect of the global drone campaign the logical candidate to take over the helm of the CIA.
But for now, it's instructive to remember Brennan's history as a career government employee, as a man who spent years in service regardless of who was the commander-in-chief. Indeed, that may be the best way to understand how he'll run the CIA.
Brennan's resume is well-documented. Stints as an analyst, a briefer, as a case officer in the field, the station chief in Riyadh. But it's perhaps his time in Washington, in those years when he served in fairly senior ranks and then briefly left government, that give the best clues to his future. These positions were rungs in a career ladder, yes. But some of them were thankless jobs, particularly director of the TTIC/NCTC. I covered the organization when it was first stood up, and like so many post-9/11 "centers," there was an air of uncertainty and desperation about the place. It's always hard being the new kid on the bureaucratic block. Would the center get enough funding? Enough people? Would it have sufficient clout in the intelligence community?
The initial answers were no, no, and no, but that's always how it is for a new organization. Running a place like that, when you know everyone's either against you or ambivalent about your success, must do something to a person. It must be forging. I don't know what it did to Brennan, but I suspect it was a stark reminder of the hierarchies of power. And he was smart enough to know that if anything went south on his watch (i.e., another terrorist attack), all the fingers would be pointed at the new guy. "We built this center to prevent the next 9/11. Why did you fail us?" Going from such a vulnerable position to the heights of power, at the White House, and becoming in the process arguably the most powerful man in the intelligence community...well, that must also change a person.
I had a long sit-down interview with Brennan in 2008, when he was an adviser to the Obama campaign and the chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a sort of social and professional club for intelligence veterans. I asked him if there was one particular path that he thought was most productive in addressing the spread of terrorism. Consider his response in light of the man Brennan has become, the Drone Master:
"A lot of these issues, including counterterrorism, cannot be solved with kinetic force. I am a strong proponent of trying to focus more of our efforts on the upstream phenomenon of terrorism. I make the analogy to pollution. We learned that pollutants kill us when they get into the water we drink or the fish we eat or the air we breathe. But I think we also learned that we have to go upstream to identify and eliminate those sources of pollution. Terrorism is a tactic, and we have to be more focused upstream. Since 9/11, understandably we've focused downstream, on those terrorists who might be in our midst or trying to kill us, the operators. I think there needs to be much more attention paid to those upstream factors and conditions that spawn terrorists."
I doubt Brennan has abandoned that philosophy. But it's clearly not driving current policy. Still, in our interview, Brennan demonstrated a nuanced understanding of how many different components of government would have to work together to address the terrorism in the way he imagined. He said he was an advocate of reviewing "governance structures," and finding ones that "transcend administrations." He had, in other words, a bureaucratic answer to a strategic problem, and arguably a political one.
In his new perch at the CIA, Brennan will have to marshall that spirit of cooperation in a way that wasn't required at the White House. He's running an agency now. A powerful one, for sure, but one of many in a larger system. No doubt he will find the task more manageable and agreeable than his predecessor, Gen. David Petraeus, who never seemed to adapt to life without four stars on his shoulder.
At his confirmation, Brennan signaled that he's willing to play nicely with others, and that he actually looks forward to it. In his opening statement, he spoke about the man who is technically going to be his boss, another intelligence pro with a storied career:
"It would also be a tremendous privilege to serve with Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, who has mentored literally legions of intelligence professionals ever since his service in Vietnam. ... He and I share identical views on the role of intelligence and the importance of giving current and future generations of intelligence professional the support they need and so richly deserve."
No disrespect to Gen. Clapper or any of his predecessors. But I don't think that any CIA Director has ever spoke so fondly of the DNI. And if he did, I'm sure he didn't mean it.
"It would be the greatest honor of my professional life" to head the CIA, Brennan said. I don't doubt him. He has demonstrated considerable political skill in making it this far. And that will be essential at Langley. But for Brennan, this is more than a prestige job. It's a homecoming. And it's important to view his actions in the coming months and years through that lens.
As part of a major, two-year overhaul of the West Wing, President Obama will move into a replica of the Oval Office, which will be located in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House.
"This week, fresh lumber and rebar are visible as walls rise out of the ground at 17th and State streets NW, at the southwest corner of the executive office building that began as home to the U.S. War Department in 1888. The small construction site, which is shrouded from view by tall chain-link fences and forest-green tarps, signals one of the preparatory phases for the eventual West Wing overhaul, according to sources familiar with the plans."
President Obama has selected Lisa Monaco as his next homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, replacing John Brennan, who has been nominated as CIA Director.
Monaco currently serves as the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the National Security Division at the Justice Department. She is a seasoned attorney who began her career as a federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, and rose to the senior ranks of Justice and the FBI. In 2009, Monaco became Eric Holder's principal associate deputy attorney general. Prior to that, she was the longest-serving chief of staff to FBI Director Robert Mueller, a testament to her skill, stamina, and Mueller's confidence in her abilities, according to those who know her.
Monaco, who was confirmed by the Senate for her current position at Justice, has been on the rumored short list to replace Mueller, whose term ends this summer. It's not immediately clear what today's new appointment does to her chances. On the one hand, she will presumably be working closely with Obama on matters of the highest national security priority and sensitivity. The two do not have a long history of working together day to day, as Obama did with Brennan, who was also a campaign adviser in 2008. Proximity to the Oval Office would give Monaco the ultimate stage on which to audition for the directorship of the FBI.
On the other hand, it could prove difficult to find a replacement for Monaco less than a year from now, as Mueller is stepping down. Brennan has been indispensable to Obama's program of targeted killings and other national security priorities. It's hard to see the position of counterterrorism adviser being a temporary stop over on the way to something bigger.
Those who know Monaco describe her as non-partisan, tireless, and a skilled attorney. She worked for Janet Reno in the 1990s and later served on the Justice Department's Enron Task Force, overseeing the prosecution of executives from the failed energy company. For that work, she received the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service, the Justice Department's highest award.
"Lisa is a terrific choice. She has demonstrated herself to be the consummate public servant," said Fran Townsend, who was counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush. "She has served in both national security legal and policy roles. She has proven she has both the experience and judgment to provide the President with wise counsel."
David Kris, who preceded Monaco has head of the NSD, says, "She has got the experience and the skills to take on this very challenging job and do it very well."
The targeted killing program, and the attendant use of drones in countries where the United States is not at war, has become a central component of the counterterrorism adviser's portfolio. It is tempting to view the appointment of a career federal attorney as an attempt by the White House to signal some new deference for stronger legal guidelines on the use of drones.
However, those who know Brennan have described him as a staunch proponent of "intelligence under law," and he has reportedly been instrumental in crafting clearer guidelines about the use of lethal force. So appointing Monaco perhaps should not be seen as a rebuke of Brennan, or as a stronger embrace of the law than administration officials believe they have already shown.
Monaco's appointment is unlikely to satisfy critics of targeted killings. Yesterday, the United Nations announced an investigation into the use of drones by the U.S.
Monaco has been in charge of the NSD since July 2011. She is a graduate of Harvard University and earned her law degree from the University of Chicago, where Obama was once a professor.