This episode of Frontline entitled “Secrets, Politics, & Torture” is a must watch. It covers the entire CIA torture history since September 11th, 2001, and all that surrounded it in the political world.
It explains how torture techniques did not lead the CIA to any actionable intelligence and how the film “Zero Dark Thirty” is a piece of propaganda portraying torture methods as effective.
U.S. intelligence took a couple of pretty hard slaps in its face this past weekend and, when reading the articles about their wasteful and ridiculous actions, the slaps were clearly justified.
First off, it was announced on Friday that Germany had arrested a man accused of spying for the United States and passing on the details of a German parliamentary committee’s investigation. It’s pretty disgraceful that the U.S. is spending taxpayer dollars to buy spies so we can know about an ally’s parliamentary actions, but it gets worse. The intelligence the U.S. wanted from this man is what the committee was investigating: NSA spying on Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel. A Reuters exclusive posted today confirms the role of the CIA in paying the spy.
There’s a lot to hate about these stupid actions, but the harm to foreign relations should be noted and is properly pointed out in the first article:
…the new allegation of American spying on an ally may make it harder for the US to get German help in its efforts to oppose Russian activity in Ukraine, and also to control Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Then, on Sunday, the Washington Post published another blistering article detailing the abuses of the NSA and its mass collection of the data of innocent Americans. The main point of the article is the NSA is wastefully collecting data on nine people for every one alleged target it is tracking. Which begs the often repeated questions, why is the extra tracking needed and why is there not a warrant needed for this additional tracking of innocent Americans? An example given toward the end of the article speaks volumes on this issue.
On the bright side of all of these revelations, we now know more about what is being done with our tax dollars and in our names as Americans. There is no doubt these agencies have overstepped their bounds by a ton and are doing so in ways that are simply disgraceful and wasteful. The more the American people know about NSA and CIA actions, the more they can be reigned in.
The type of secrecy these agencies are able to operate under would make any authoritarian regime envious and gets to the point of why they are such an offense to the idea of true democracy. The fact that we spied on our allies, their leaders, and their cell phones is shameful enough but now we have doubled-down on this stupidity by spending more tax dollars trying to find out about their investigations into our spying on them.
Quick show of hands. Who wanted their tax dollars spent on spying on Angela Merkel in the first place? No one? How about spending more resources on looking into their investigation of that and damaging our standing in the world even more? Still no one?
One last question: who is in favor of continually increasing the unknown budget for this stupidity at the cost of cutting helpful social programs like education, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.?
One thing that continues to hold true for the intelligence community in regards to the Edward Snowden revelations: they will never stop trying to demonize him for hurting their image so badly.
In a recent op-ed, former high-ranking CIA official, Jack Devine, embarrassed himself by attacking Snowden and trying to bundle his whistle-blowing in with past traitors to the U.S. in an attempt to link his actions to more nefarious events. He failed miserably.
The first glaring mistake Devine makes is giving the piece an overriding theme of comparing Snowden’s actions to that of traitors who fed covert information directly to Russia, mostly during the Cold War. Just one colossal problem with that comparison: Snowden did not covertly give the information he had to another foreign government or entity. He gave it to the media and to the people of the United States so what was going on could be debated openly. That is not an act of treason and should not be compared to other traitorous actions.
Devine also alleges the revelations have helped terrorists devise ways to encrypt their communications and gives a nifty little chart supposedly showing what has happened since the publication of the Snowden documents. This is the only item he can present as proof the situation has done “enormous international damage done to our country’s self-defense”. But this assumes terrorist networks were not already encrypting their communications, which they obviously were. The only thing his chart proves is a potential correlation and not actual causation. If he wanted to prove Snowden’s revelations had caused harm, he would need to extend that chart out for years prior to show there had been no attempts by terrorists to find different ways to encrypt their data.
And he knows he can’t do it.
This just screams of previous claims that widespread torture of terrorists produced a ton of intelligence and many other terrorists were captured and terrorists attacks were stopped because of it. Then when asked to provide actual proof of these frequent occurrences, the intelligence community comes up empty-handed.
Then he makes a rather bizarre point:
It is eminently clear that the intelligence community, Congress and the White House are struggling with the double-edged sword of privacy and national security, particularly as technology progresses at unprecedented speed. And I am reasonably optimistic that, despite the public hand-wringing, they will quickly come up with the right balance that protects our civil liberties and doesn’t cripple our intelligence collection against our enemies, who do, at times, operate in and cooperate with U.S. citizens. When the news cameras stop rolling, these officials all know just how vital these collection platforms are to our defense while at the same time truly appreciating the value of the law and the importance of protection of our citizens’ rights.
What he clearly doesn’t realize is (assuming this were a real democracy) this is what should have been done in the first place. And while it seems there will be some improvements, there will likely be continued violations of privacy of U.S. citizens without their knowledge it is occurring. This is obviously a claim made by someone trying to simply protect his agency’s turf and continue to get things done away from the critical eye of the American public. And it completely ignores all of the wasteful spying on our allies and their leaders and the taxpayer dollars that were thrown down the drain on those endeavors.
Then Devine makes another odd claim, especially considering he spent over three decades at the CIA:
It is inconceivable that any country can last long without guarding its sensitive information and capabilities and washing people like Snowden out of the system.
So, a country can’t exist long if its info is out in the open? Isn’t that the entire point of spying by U.S. intelligence? By that logic, shouldn’t Germany and Brazil be crumbling right now because of U.S. spying on their leaders, Merkel and Rousseff? Shouldn’t the U.S. be a footnote in the pages of history because of the Pentagon papers or the Chelsea Manning/Wikileaks situations? This is just another ridiculous claim that has no bearing on reality whatsoever.
For years there were rigid policies set in place that rightly prohibited NSA, CIA, and FBI from collecting on American “persons” (including green-card holders), unless there was a court order demonstrating reasonable cause.
Yeah, that’s been one of the things clearly proven false by the Snowden revelations, something Devine grudgingly concedes with kid gloves in the following paragraph.
Finally, after all this absurdity, Devine makes the most ignorant and ridiculous claim of the entire piece. He says Snowden should:
put himself in the hands of the U.S. judicial system, the most impartial in the world.
Wow. I’ll assume that was done tongue-in-cheek. Wait, no I won’t.
Most impartial? Seriously? I have to wonder which cave Mr. Devine has been living in for such a long time?
Let me introduce you to Robert H. Richards IV, a man convicted (not alleged or suspected but actually found guilty) of raping his daughter…who was three years old at the time. Length of prison sentence handed down: zero days. Why? Because the “defendant will not fare well” in prison. Did I mention he is an heir to the du Pont family fortune?
We could go on forever with the obvious disparities between how the justice system treats the rich vs. the poor. But when someone makes such a stupid claim, it should always be addressed with the appropriate scolding.
The demonizing of Edward Snowden will continue in the days to come but one important aspect will be absent from these attacks: an iota of proof he did anything morally (or democratically) wrong or did damage to anything other than the intelligence community’s over-sized ego.
A good op-ed in The Guardian by Trevor Timm pleading that some official in the government release a full copy of the report on the torture of prisoners captured under the guise of the war on terror.
Though voted to be released by the Senate Intelligence Committee, a leak of the full report will be the only way to see all of the important info we as citizens need to know before the CIA takes a black marker to it.
The problem is that, as Timm lays out, is that the CIA itself will be redacting sections of the report themselves (along with other agencies) when the investigation was centered on the CIA itself.
“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”…
“The CIA conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program,” said a second U.S. official who has reviewed the report. The official described the persistence of such misstatements as among “the most damaging” of the committee’s conclusions.
The lies by the CIA to protect the program of torturing suspects was clearly consistent. Much like the use of imaginary heroics to boost support for the war effort by the Bush administration (see their manipulation of the Jessica Lynch story), the CIA also propagandized their efforts to keep things moving in the wrong direction on torture tactics:
Detainees’ credentials also were exaggerated, officials said. Agency officials described Abu Zubaida as a senior al-Qaeda operative — and, therefore, someone who warranted coercive techniques — although experts later determined that he was essentially a facilitator who helped guide recruits to al-Qaeda training camps.
It’s clear that part of the reason is that some of these folks want to believe that their work and efforts were useful and made an impact on the intelligence effort. No one wants to hear that their years of hard work, no matter how despicable, was useless or, even worse, counterproductive to the overall goal of minimizing terrorism.
There could, however, be another rather dubious reason: staying away from any possible penalty for their actions. As the article points out very briefly:
The report also does not recommend new administrative punishment or further criminal inquiry into a program that the Justice Department has investigated repeatedly. (Emphasis added)
If we consider the lies and distortions the CIA dealt to their overseers, we have to question why they continued to use the program because, at this point, it almost seems as if they were just downright sadistic and wanted to hurt people. And if that was the only logical reason to continue a program they knew was ineffective, they would certainly put themselves in a position to face criminal prosecution at some point.
Which now begs the question, will the Senate report ever be released to the public? A portion of it may come out but it’s rather doubtful the whole report will be released since the embarrassment of the torture program’s ineffectiveness would be damaging to the entire government, not just the CIA. The Senate has a reason to keep the whole of that report under wraps and it is likely they will do just that.
The NYT reports that CA Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, accused the CIA on the Senate floor today of spying on Congressional computers.
This new occurrence is the latest, and lowest, moment in the ongoing battle between the CIA and the intelligence committee regarding the investigation into the Agency’s detention program terminated in 2009 by Pres. Obama.
A great thought-piece in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf exploring the question of rather or not the mass-data being collected by the NSA and the CIA could be used to manipulate elections. He explores many differing scenarios through which this could happen. An important read.
A must-read in The Post on how, “…a collection of records in the Snowden trove that make clear that the drone campaign — often depicted as the CIA’s exclusive domain — relies heavily on the NSA’s ability to vacuum up enormous quantities of e-mail, phone calls and other fragments of signals intelligence, or SIGINT.”