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DOD officials disclosed names of military personnel who helped kill terrorist leader, despite commanders' concerns about their safety. By Shane Harris

From the looks of it, about the only people who were reluctant to help two top filmmakers on their movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden were the people who actually planned the raid and pulled it off. 

All the other key players, from the Pentagon to the White House to the CIA were on board and eager to tell the Obama administration’s side of the story to Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, who, the day after the raid in May 2011, set to work on Zero Dark Thirty, trying to get access to top officials at the Defense Department and the CIA, as well as in the secretive confines of special operators who planned and executed the mission.  

The administration's exuberant, occasionally giddy assistance to the filmmakers, who had previously collaborated on an Oscar-winning film about the war in Iraq, is documented in a Defense Department Inspector General report obtained and posted online by the Project on Government Oversight. It finds that Leon Panetta, who at the time of the raid was the CIA Director, revealed names of special operations personnel involved in the raid, as well as other information that was designated Top Secret. 

Pentagon officials were also eager to assist the filmmakers and arrange meetings with people who helped plan the raid. In the course of these discussions, administration officials revealed the names of military special operators who were not supposed to be publicly identified, partly over concerns that they or their families could be targeted for retribution. 

But in contrast to the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit and prosecution of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and other leaks, apparently no action was taken against Panetta or the other officials who freely shared sensitive information with the filmmakers. Military officers thought operational security and protection of their forces should trump all. Political and policy level officials were not exactly indifferent to that concern, but they were keen to tell the administration’s side of this extraordinary story, and to ensure their bosses came off in the best possible light. 

Among those pushing hardest to cooperate with Bigelow and Boal was Douglas Wilson, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public affairs and the Pentagon’s top communications strategist. 

Wilson leaned on Adm. Eric Olson, the Special Operations commander, to cooperate with the filmmakers' research about the raid. Wilson noted that Panetta “wants the [Defense] Department to cooperate fully with the makers of the [bin Laden] movie.” Michael Vickers, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, was about to meet with the filmmakers and “want[s] to know what [to] say,” Wilson told Olson in an e-mail. 

Olson said Boal and Bigelow could use a set of talking points that had been drawn up “to ensure accuracy and provide context to the movie project.” Then he reminded Wilson that one of his special operations planners, who had been involved in preparations for the raid, should “not be identified by name as having participated in any way.” 

This planner, according to the inspector general report, apparently knew many of the details about the preparations for taking down bin Laden and how the raid unfolded. He was so involved that as negotiations with the filmmakers unfolded, the planner was seen as qualified to speak on behalf of Olson, as well as the commander of the elite Joint Special Operations Command, Adm. Bill McRaven. 

Olson was especially sensitive to protecting the planner’s identity from public disclosure. And McRaven said keeping the names of all those involved in the planning and execution of the raid a “top aspect” of the mission. The Defense Department had provided “inordinate security” to the operators and their families, according to McRaven, and had gone so far as to brief them on whom to call if they noticed anything suspicious at their homes. 

But at an interview in the Pentagon with Bigelow and Boal on July 15, 2011, Vickers gave the filmmakers with the name of that special operations planner. The next day, Boal e-mailed a public affairs desk officer at the Pentagon to “obtain access” to the planner. 

Vickers and Wilson exchanged e-mails. “Very many thanks for this,” Wilson wrote, referring to his meeting with Bigelow and Boal. “Think they came away very happy” from the meeting. Wilson said he’d put the filmmakers in touch with Olson’s “key planner,” and that this “should complete for now their requests of DOD.” 

Wilson exchanged a few excited emails with George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, who had also made himself available to Bigelow and Boal. “We’re going to the premiere of the Boal/Bigelow movie next year,” Little wrote. 

“We’ll be hosting it :-),” Wilson replied. 

Little, who was director of CIA public affairs at the time of the raid, said that Panetta hoped Al Pacino would play him in the movie. “That’s what he wants, no joke!” 

“They will,” Wilson replied. 

Panetta was portrayed in the film by James Gandolfini. 

At the same time, that special operations planner was sending e-mails to Pentagon officials, and speaking with Vickers, about the meeting he was expected to have with Bigelow and Boal. The planner wanted to talk first with a DOD public affairs officer, who noted in an e-mail exchange that press accounts were circulating about administration officials possibly providing the filmmakers with special access as well as classified information about the raid, something the public affairs officer denied. 

“We may want to let the dust settle a little,” the public affairs officer advised the special operations planner. 

According to the planner, this was his last communication with the public affairs officer, and he never met with Bigelow and Boal. 

But Boal did attend an awards ceremony at CIA headquarters on June 24, 2011, that recognized the efforts to track down bin Laden. DOD special operators were present, but not in a “cover status” that would have used a guise to protect where they worked and what they did, the report found. “No precautionary measures” were taken to keep Boal from identifying any of the operators. 

It was at this ceremony that Boal was given another name of a DOD special operator who was involved in the bin Laden mission, the report states. This operator was not in a cover status, but the individual's name was not supposed to be publicly revealed.  

There were conflicting accounts of whether the awards ceremony was a small gathering or a large affair, and whether it was really all that sensitive. According to one attendee, special operators were present in uniform with their names visible on their uniforms. 

But the DOD tried to stop Boal from attending, according to the report. A public affairs officer at the department claimed that Panetta’s chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, intervened and insisted that Boal come. Bash denied this, and said the decision to let Boal attend the ceremony came from discussions between the CIA’s public affairs shop and the filmmakers. (Little was the head of CIA public affairs at the time.) 

At the event, Panetta gave a speech and “specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name,” the report says. He also provided information designated Top Secret and Secret--the report doesn’t say what the information was. 

Later, McRaven was personally introduced to Boal. He was “surprised and shocked” that a filmmaker was allowed to the ceremony at CIA headquarters, the report says. The event was closed to the press. 

Ultimately, no classified tactics, techniques, or procedures were revealed in the back and forth between Obama administration officials and the filmmakers, the report found. And McRaven and his subordinates said they weren't concerned that they had been. 

Still, the apparent lack of response by the administration to keep sensitive information from being publicly revealed stands in contrast to the aggressive attempts to staunch leaks of other secrets and details about intelligence and military operations. The episode also underscores the distinction between authorized disclosures--which these all appeared to be--and unauthorized ones. 

Posted at 08:56 AM/ET, 06/05/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
In a muddled and confusing speech, signs that some wartime powers won't be withdrawn. By Shane Harris

A number of observers were perplexed by President Obama's grand-strategy speech yesterday at the National Defense University. Was it an apologia or an apology? Did the speech mark a hardening of counterterrorism policies or the beginning of their end? The President seemed to want to do both. He may end up satisfying no one. 

Obama was at once on the side of some of his fiercest critics, particularly with regards to targeted killing. And yet he mounted what is surely the most full-throated defense to date by any president of the commander-in-chief's authority to order lethal drone strikes in the nation's self defense. He insisted that the war on terror, like all wars, must end--"That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands." But there was little to hang onto in the way of commitments, timetables, or markers that will tell us how much closer we are to that end. 

To the list of confusing and often contradictory propositions about the state of US national security, add these lines. 

"Meanwhile, we strengthened our defenses--hardening targets, tightening transportation security, giving law enforcement new tools to prevent terror. Most of these changes were sound. Some caused inconvenience. But some, like expanded surveillance, raised difficult questions about the balance that we strike between our interests in security and our values of privacy." 

This was one of the rare moments of understatement in the President's address. Decisions, often secret ones, to allow agencies of the federal government broader authorities to monitor the communications of Americans are among the most fateful actions undertaken in the war on terror. They have fundamentally transformed that balance of which the President spoke. And yet they have received precious little debate or reconsideration since the attacks of 9/11.

Perhaps it's because the questions raised by expanded surveillance are so difficult that the President spent practically no time answering them. His lengthy speech was devoted to profound matters, namely interrogation, detention, and targeted killing, but those are policies that have directly affected a vastly smaller number of Americans than has broadened monitoring of phone calls, e-mails, and other personal data of millions of people. 

There was no talk of NSA warrantless wiretapping. No mention of the Patriot Act. No discussion of amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act--amendments that Obama once opposed as a presidential candidate, and that have been the subject of a Supreme Court challenge. Nor did the President speak a word about threats to the nation's cyber infrastructure, which has been a top action item for his national security team. Like expanded surveillance, strengthening the nation's cyber defenses through greater monitoring of the Internet, which is what the administration is calling for, is freighted with implications for privacy and civil liberties. 

The only hint the President gave that he might be inclined to reexamine US surveillance policy came in a discussion of homegrown terror plots.

"[I]n the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are.  That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication, but also build in privacy protections to prevent abuse.

"That means that--even after Boston--we do not deport someone or throw somebody in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the state secrets doctrine. And that means finally having a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counterterrorism efforts and our values may come into tension.

Building privacy protections into the fabric of surveillance systems is much easier said than done. Paradoxically, it is the government's deep-rooted obsession with secrecy and applying so many different levels of classification and control to intelligence that makes it hard to build a system that can uniformly protect personal information. Different agencies treat personal information according to different standards and regulations. There's really not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and the government doesn't have a viable plan to find one.  

As for reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, there is no effort underway to repeal or curtail them. However, the administration is looking to expand the powers of law enforcement to monitor communications on the Internet.  

And as for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, it's no secret this has been one of the slowest-going, and to many, one the least effective counterweights to a widening net of digital monitors.   

The President's nod to "the balance that we strike" between security and privacy felt perfunctory. It seemed thrown in for appearances sake, like the also-confused passages about the need to prevent leaks of national security information without chilling journalists and their sources, which is precisely what the administration's clamp down on leaks is designed to do.

On surveillance, there was nothing in the speech that suggested a change of course, a ratcheting down, or a return to pre-wartime footing. Having written at length on the history of this subject, I'd already concluded that the surveillance state was here to stay. I suppose the President's speech makes it official. More or less. 

Posted at 11:30 AM/ET, 05/24/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The government has been aggressively pursuing those who disclose secrets, and the reporters they talk to, for a decade. By Shane Harris

You’d be forgiven for not believing it, but there was a time when seizing a reporter’s private e-mails and accusing him in court documents of possibly aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy for doing his job would have been unthinkable. 

By now, were well acquainted with the Obama administration's unprecedented prosecutions of suspected leakers, and how that pursuit has ensnared journalists and jeopardized their ability to protect their sources identities. But this anti-leaking zeal didnt begin in 2009 with the inauguration of Barack Obama. 

The course was set in 2003, when an influential appeals court judge opined that journalists supposedly legal right not to reveal their sources, known as “reporters privilege,” was complete bunk. The privilege—or at least lawyers perception of it—was the constitutional cornerstone that backed up journalists pledges never to reveal the names of people who talked to them in confidence. But now that the legitimacy of the privilege was questioned, prosecutors were emboldened to acquire reporters confidential information using tactics they wouldnt have dared try in a prior era. 

In a piece for the magazine three years ago, I wrote about how federal prosecutors have flexed their legal muscles over the past decade, and how the undermining of the reporters privilege helps explain why the Obama administration is so keen to go after leakers and is willing to turn journalists into unwitting, and unwilling, tools of investigations. Here are the key moments in the timeline. 

July 2003: Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit writes an opinion explaining why the court had ruled against a group of authors who refused to hand over tape recordings of interviews theyd done with a source. Unexpectedly, Posner argues that the landmark Supreme Court decision in Branzburg v. Hayes that supposedly established reporters privilege actually did no such thing.

Journalists dont have an “absolute” privilege to protect their sources, Posner writes. Instead, courts need to “make sure” that a media subpoena “is reasonable in the circumstances. . . . We do not see why there need to be special criteria merely because the possessor of the documents or other evidence sought is a journalist.” 

Posner lowers a gate separating the government and the press. And within a few years, federal prosecutors are climbing over it. 

December 2003: US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, acting as a special prosecutor in the investigation of who may have leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame to news reporters, subpoenas five journalists to testify before a grand jury. Judith Miller of the New York Times refuses to comply and eventually spends 85 days in jail.  

“Plamegate” becomes a watershed for the press, in large part because Miller fought the subpoena and lost. This becomes a precedent that weakens reporters assertion of privilege where the underlying leak, in this case identifying a clandestine CIA officer, might involve a crime. In retrospect, then-Times executive editor Bill Keller wonders whether the paper should have tried to strike a deal with prosecutors that would have prevented Miller from having to fight the subpoena and go to jail. 

February 2006: The Justice Department investigates the source of a New York Times article that revealed a secret program of warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency. In testimony before a Senate panel, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is asked whether the administration had considered “any potential violation [by the newspaper] for publishing that information.” Gonzales replies, “Obviously our prosecutors are going to look to see all the laws that have been violated. And if the evidence is there, they’re going to prosecute those violations.” 

This is the first time any administration official has hinted that the government might prosecute journalists under criminal law for reporting on national security information. 

March 2006: A pair of FBI agents shows up at the Bethesda home of Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor and former investigative reporter for CNN. They demand that Feldstein hand over decades-old documents that he’d been researching for a book on investigative columnist Jack Anderson, who’d died a few months earlier. When Feldstein asks what crime the FBI was investigating, an agent replies, “Violations of the Espionage Act.”

The agents say theyre investigating a case involving two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who’d been indicted for receiving classified information. The FBI wants Feldstein to tell them the names of reporters who’d worked for Anderson and who held pro-Israel views and had pro-Israel sources.

Feldstein doesnt hand over the documents or assist the FBI. He later writes that the agents actions “suggested that the bureau viewed reporters’ notes as the first stop in a criminal investigation rather than as a last step reluctantly taken only after all other avenues have failed.”

May 2006: A federal prosecutor subpoenas two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle who’d seen transcripts of confidential grand-jury testimony in an investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which produced performance-enhancing drugs for athletes. The reporters linked well-known players to steroid use, including players who publicly proclaimed that theyd never taken drugs. The government wanted to know who had violated the rules of grand-jury secrecy and shown court documents to the reporters.

The BALCO case tests the limits of internal guidelines that Justice Department lawyers are supposed to follow when subpoenaing members of the media. No national-security issue was at stake, nor was knowing who leaked the grand-jury information, which was a crime, necessary to establish the guilt or innocence of anyone involved in steroid use. The subpoenas were approved by Attorney General Gonzales.

Mark Corallo, the Justice Department spokesman under Gonzales’s predecessor, John Ashcroft, later says the prosecutors had broken the department’s rules. “This was an abuse of power,” Corallo tells the PBS news program Frontline. “. . . The government just did not meet the standards set by their own guidelines. . . . This one doesn’t even come close.”

The reporters, who had once been personally thanked by President George W. Bush, a former baseball team owner, for their public service journalism, ultimately avoid going to jail when their source identifies himself. 

August 2006: A freelance videographer, Joshua Wolf, is sent to jail after he refuses to turn over video footage of a protest in San Francisco in which a police car was burned and an officer was injured. Wolf spends 226 days in prison. He is released when he finally agrees to turn over his uncut footage. 

January 2008: The Justice Department subpoenas New York Times reporter James Risen, demanding to know the source of information for a chapter in his book, State of War, about a botched CIA operation against Iran. The government had been investigating the case for two years, and had considered trying to halt the books publication, in 2006. Risen resists the subpoena, which eventually expires at the end of the Bush administration. 

February 2008: Newspaper reporter Toni Locy is held in contempt of court for refusing to identify her sources for a series of articles in USA Today. Locy had written in 2001 about Steven Hatfill, a virologist who was identified as a “person of interest” in the anthrax attacks, allegations that later proved false. Hatfill sued the government for violating his privacy and subpoenaed several journalists to find out who in the government fingered him as a suspect. 

The Justice Department, which is defending the US government in the civil suit, argues that Judge Reggie Walton “should reject this attempt at expanded discovery” and quash Hatfills subpoena. Walton disagrees, underscoring judges new willingness not to recognize the reporters privilege, even in non-criminal cases. He rules that for every day Locy refuses to testify, she must pay $5,000 in penalties out of her own pocket. The decision is stayed pending appeal, and a court eventually vacates the judges ruling, but only because Hatfill had settled his case with the government, rendering Locys testimony needless. The appeals court did not reach any decision about the reporters privilege. 

April 2010: The Justice Department subpoenas New York Times reporter James Risen a second time. Judge Leonie Brinkema questions why the government needs a subpoena when there appears to be enough evidence of who the leaker is to secure an indictment. She requires prosecutors to get the sign-off of Attorney General Eric Holder. Risen continues to fight the subpoena, and eventually Brinkema limits the questions the government may ask him in court. Risen appeals to keep that decision in place. The case could end up in the Supreme Court. 

May 2010: A federal judge authorizes a search warrant for the personal e-mails of Fox News reporter James Rosen in connection with the suspected leak of classified information about North Korea a year earlier. An FBI agent swears in an affidavit in support of the warrant that “there is probable cause to believe” that Rosen is violating a criminal law on disclosing “national defense information” by acting as “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” with a State Department official suspected of being his source. Rosen is reportedly not informed that the government wants to search his e-mails and has no opportunity to resist the warrant. 

May 2013: The Justice Department informs the Associated Press that it had subpoenaed the phone records of several AP journalists. The records, obtained months earlier, include numbers dialed to and from phone lines in four AP offices, possibly implicating the communications of 100 journalists, over a period around two months. The Justice Department appears to be investigating an AP story on a successful CIA operation to thwart a bombing plot hatched in Yemen. 

Posted at 12:34 PM/ET, 05/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Top Bush officials, analysts, and lower-level interrogators understood that many detainees were not terrorists. By Shane Harris

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.) 

Posted at 02:14 PM/ET, 04/26/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

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. 

Lisa Monaco, who is currently President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, may be the leading candidate for FBI Director. Photo: Justice Department 

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.  

Posted at 11:16 AM/ET, 04/01/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

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. 

Posted at 11:07 AM/ET, 03/28/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The next director of the elite law enforcement agency has to overcome the legacy of a sex scandal and earn back the trust of her agents. By Shane Harris

Julia Pierson will be the first woman to head the Secret Service in its 148-year history. Photograph via Secret Service.

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.  

Posted at 05:00 PM/ET, 03/26/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Illustration by Gluekit.

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.

Posted at 11:05 AM/ET, 03/25/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

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. 

Posted at 04:25 PM/ET, 03/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

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.

Posted at 03:02 PM/ET, 02/08/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()