On 7 December 2014 (Pearl Harbor Day) Senator Diane Feinstein released to the public a quite voluminous US Senate classified study of the harsh interrogation methods employed by the CIA in its pursuit of those members of al Qaeda who had been involved in the 9/11/2001 attacks on the United States. That mission had been handed to the CIA by US President Bush, but without guidance on how the agency was to execute the mission. This, in turn, required the agency to repeatedly seek legal guidance on various methods in a process similar to that which followed the 1970s Church Commission restrictions on intelligence activities. The release of the Senate report has set off another round of intense debate in the United States and around the world over the methods chosen and used by elements of CIA’s Clandestine Service in executing the President’s tasking. Most of that mission was executed under the overall direction of Jose Rodriguez, who was then Director of the Counterterrorism Center and later Director of Clandestine Services (DCS). (DCS is the former Directorate of Operations, or DO.) Rodriguez had spent most of his career as a case officer and station chief in often quite brutal Latin and South America and retired after 31 years of CIA service in September 2007. (As has become typical of retired senior bureaucrats, he then took a high-paying position with a government contractor company related to his previous government employment.)
Senator Feinstein knew that in another few days the possibility of that report ever seeing the light of day was zero, since the Republican party, strongly opposed to the report, was set to take over as majority party in both the House and Senate the following month. Generally speaking, Senator Feinstein’s political views do not correspond to my own, and I am not a member of her political party. However, I know that as a very smart member of the Silent Generation, she is old enough to understand history and to put things in proper perspective over a much longer period than most younger pontificators today who rarely have a grasp of one-tenth of their subject matter that they should have. Along with former Senator Jane Harman, another California Democrat, Feinstein has long been a quite astute member of the US Senate and a friend of the US intelligence community from her position on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She is also convinced that members of the CIA repeatedly deceived her about their previous operational activities, and deliberately violated the “separation of powers” provision of the US Constitution (legislative branch oversight of executive branch activities) by hacking into and altering data on computers used by senate employees working on the report. She also feels a strong responsibility to history, to those who must follow us, and understood full well what she was doing with her decision to release the Top Secret report to the public. (In addition to the President, elected members of the US Congress are the only people who may release US classified information without fear of criminal prosecution. Her staff apparently had secretly passed a copy of the report at least a week earlier to the New York Times, which enabled that global newspaper to publish numerous articles based on the report simultaneous with its release in the Senate.)
(Strangely, but not surprisingly, Senator Feinstein became convinced that the CIA was lying to her about their secret enhanced interrogation activities, but seems quite willing to accept as gospel everything the CIA tells her about their secret drone killing activities.)
The Senate report is deeply flawed, to be sure, especially since, for a variety of reasons, none of the “accused” were interviewed. (Some agency people should have volunteered, demanded, to be heard, to even testify under oath, but this did not happen.) So it’s heavily weighted on one side, very strongly against the CIA. But it’s also important to note that most of the report is based on the CIA’s own investigations, operational reports and intelligence reporting – 6,000,000 internal CIA documents – plus on testimony previously provided to Congress by various high ranking intelligence officials. So it’s not so easy to come up with counter-arguments without raising the prospect of lies and deliberate deceptions somewhere in the equation throughout the entire process. Some of those lies clearly originated with a senior female CIA analyst who lied to the CIA inspector general. That lie, by a woman who was then deputy chief of the CIA’s “Osama bin Laden Unit”, got repeated over and over again and set in motion a pattern of an agency consistently understating the brutality of the techniques used on prisoners and overstating the value of the information those techniques produced. A number of key female analysts no longer with the agency are also publicly known to be opposed to the harsh interrogation methods employed under Rodriquez’ supervision and undoubtedly provided key information to the senate committee.
(It’s worth noting that a similar process took place with the NSA blanket surveillance program: A lie was repeated over and over, including in Congress, that the NSA program had resulted in averting planned overseas terrorist attacks involving the Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley. Headley had actually been directly involved in laying the groundwork for the 2008 siege on Mumbai and a subsequently planned attack on a Copenhagen newspaper, and he had left a long electronic and e-mail trail behind over a two year period. But none of this was picked up by the NSA before the fact. (Its British partner CGHQ was able to intercept the Mumbai attackers control communications while the attack was underway.) And still no one knew of Headley’s involvement in the Mumbai attack until Headley had been arrested by the FBI in connection with the Copenhagen target and himself voluntarily started talking about Mumbai. At that point NSA was asked to search its archived data – after the fact – and did confirm much of Headley’s story. But 166 people were long dead in Mumbai.)
It’s also worth mentioning something often overlooked in press reporting on this subject. Quite obviously bureaucrats expert in methods of propaganda (marketing, public relations, etc.) had devised a whole lexicon of terms designed to soften the impact on public perceptions of what was actually involved. “Renditions” are actually international cross-border kidnappings. “Detainees” are prisoners without rights. “Enhanced interrogation techniques” are actually methods of torture. “Liaisons” are proxy states executing actions at the behest of CIA that would be unlawful in the United States. “Financial reimbursements” are actually briefcases (or suitcases) full of US taxpayer cash used to bribe foreign officials. Such methods of propaganda (“relabeling”) became endemic throughout the US government in every aspect of the “war on terrorism” and all its related repercussions. A lot of it was intended to convey to a naïve public an impression of “something new” (to advance policy wonk careers by re-inventing wheels, with new labels), but most of it was intended solely to deceive the public and to short-circuit any comparisons in the public’s mind between this war and that of a generation earlier in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. (There is actually very little that is new.) You need a whole new dictionary to interpret almost everything the government has been doing over the first 15 years of the 21st century. (See “Propaganda And Marketing” and “Propaganda And Marketing – Techniques”.)
Today in America, truth, including “legality”, is irrelevant; perception is everything.
Part of the problem was due to Hollywood creations like the TV series “24”, a “drama” series that was more fast-paced video game, which instilled in large portions of the American population the absurd notion that this sort of behavior was both acceptable and effective. This particular TV series premiered just two months after the events of 9/11/ 2001 and ran for over eight years; it was so popular that it seemed to be a lesson to the US government on how to go about getting even with the bad guys. (The Commandant of West Point finally had to ask the star of this series to address two incoming classes of young cadets at the academy and tell them that it was all fantasy, that the series had little actual relationship to reality, that it was based on nothing but the imaginations of the show’s creators.) Hollywood, it seems, is a far more effective “teacher” than even parents or schools.
The press is currently full of stories, and the newstainment industry full of opinions, all based on various parts of the senate report, so I won’t repeat those here. Instead, I’ll try to provide an understanding of the subject of “enhanced interrogation techniques” within a broader context – a context that straddles matters of intelligence, the military, and warfare, as well as elements of psychology, sociology and physiology. (Some elements of this understanding also appear elsewhere throughout a number of the articles published and posted on this blog.)
It’s helpful to first define some key principles and terms. The United States is at war. Although it actually began much earlier, the formal start of this war coincides with the terrorist attacks on the United States of 9/11/2001. This war has been called a “war on terrorism”, but it’s actually a war against those who use terrorism as a principle method of unconventional warfare. It’s an undeclared war against Islamic militant extremism that seeks the destruction of Western democratic liberalism, by any means possible, and its replacement with an extreme version of Islamic ideology. This war is still on-going, not over, not decided. This war is also extremely influenced by internal domestic US politics, a two-sided (left-right) struggle constantly at war against each other, usually for advantages that have nothing at all to do with war. The number of loosely united people and groups on the other side of the war have greatly expanded and proliferated since the attacks of 9/11/2001, so it can’t be said that the United States is making progress in the war.
American wars used to be conducted by a military force under the direction of a single military commander operating with a clear military chain of command, with anyone else supporting the war effort also under that single military chain of command, but this is no longer the case. War is a military endeavor, but many of the key American players in this war are not part of the military and have almost zero understanding of either the military or of war. Today we have all sorts of people and groups and agencies and companies running around all over the place operating at cross-purposes so that no one really knows what’s going on, or why. The matter is greatly complicated by the fact that the enemy is not state-sponsored and thus does not possess conventional weapons of war, while the US military is almost entirely a conventional force. And, even worse, there doesn’t seem to be anyone in any position of senior authority who possesses the broad knowledge, expertise and wisdom needed to orchestrate and coordinate the activities of all the different US players in this war, not to mention also their foreign partner counterparts, so it all takes on a character of thoroughly confused madness – at war with itself. And all of this takes place within the context that the people who pay the highest price for all the madness are those with the least influence – ground soldiers of the US Army and US Marine Corps.
Interrogation is structured questioning, often in conjunction with various methods and approaches, to acquire desired information. The questioning can range from extremely basic and straight-forward to extremely complex and nuanced. In war, “interrogation” is conducted on prisoners from the other side who may possess intelligence which may be useful to the side conducting the interrogation. The purpose of US interrogation is to contribute measurably, if possible, to the war effort, to enable the war to be prosecuted as effectively and efficiently as possible with the least waste of time, effort and cost, including the cost in destruction, life, limb and ethics – of all affected parties. Over the past century there has arisen a large body of US and international knowledge, procedures and law surrounding the whole matter of prisoners and their interrogation. Since the subject involves intelligence gained by human experts from human sources, it is a professional sub-field of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collection. In almost all cases, HUMINT Interrogation is an overt endeavor, rather than either covert or clandestine. The US military is responsible for prisoners of war and their interrogation, and its separate uniformed services have various levels of capability. The US Army is the principle US expert party, and has a small contingent of well trained and foreign language-qualified interrogators, plus a core of very highly qualified senior career professionals, fully conversant in all the many aspects and methods of prisoner interrogation, on both the tactical and strategic levels. Such military strategic professionals, usually university-educated US Regular Army warrant officers, often work in coordination with both the FBI and the CIA.
As with all fields and sub-fields in the US military, there are official guidance documents which constitute military “doctrine” concerning the questioning of prisoners, guidance which is considered legal US Government authority within set boundaries. (The detention and treatment of POWs is under the purview of Military Police; their interrogation and reporting is the responsibility of Military Intelligence.) In all cases the principle guidance for any American associated with prisoner interrogation has been the US Army field manual (FM) 34-52 – Intelligence Interrogation. This 177-page field manual has existed since before World War II and, as with all such military regulations, has been routinely updated with new pages and periodically re-published as a complete document. The most recent re-publication was in 1992, and it is available to anyone who wishes a copy. It can even be downloaded for free on the internet. There was also a technical manual (ST 2-22.7, Tactical Human Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operations) for use by trained US military junior interrogation personnel published by the US Army intelligence training center (at Fort Huachuca) which is also available to the public. After Congress, responding to press reports of US mistreatment of prisoners, passed a law in 2005 that made illegal certain methods that had not been included in the original field manual, FM 34-52 (and ST 2-22.7) was completely replaced in 2006 by the US Army FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations. The new 384-page manual is very heavily based on the previous field manual, including the major community-wide effort that went into its 1970s publication, but also incorporates new US and international legal considerations; includes junior operator tactical procedures previously contained in ST 2-22.7; specifically outlines various methods of legal and illegal techniques; and includes various safeguards that had not been envisioned as necessary earlier. It, too, is freely available to anyone and can be downloaded on the internet. Note that the US military considers prisoner interrogation an overt (unclassified, public, etc.) method of human intelligence (HUMINT) collection. FM 2-22.3 is the sole official United States government published guidance on the conduct of prisoner interrogation.
Law And Guidance
Now, let’s step back to the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11/2001. There can be no doubt that the US government was in considerable disarray. There was also very considerable concern that the US had been so vulnerable to unconventional attack and might still be so vulnerable to further such attacks. The immediate primary objective was to do everything possible to track down those responsible for the attacks and to preclude further such attacks as much as humanly possible, by any means possible. The Bush administration, which had barely gotten into position after a lengthy extension of the US election process, understandably pulled out all stops to that end. It soon became clear to the Bush administration, however, that it was simply not possible to pull out some stops, and especially with a US military that operates under a large body of separate law and accountability, the complex reasons for which go far beyond the immediately apparent. (A sworn member of the US military, for example, is not obligated to follow any order to do something that is clearly in violation of the separate constitutional law, the UCMJ, that governs his activities and behavior. On the contrary.) Furthermore, the US military was needed for other purposes, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, purposes which would severely stretch its ground forces manpower capabilities. So the administration turned to civilian agencies, primarily the FBI and CIA. It was at this point that the distinctions between an armed military enemy and a criminal conspiracy began to get clouded, primarily due to an inadequate public understanding of the differences between conventional and unconventional warfare.
It’s sometimes helpful to recognize that both the FBI and the CIA are involved with human intelligence (HUMINT) – the former in primarily an overt capacity for the purpose of law enforcement, the latter in primarily a covert or clandestine capacity for the purpose of strategic intelligence acquisition. (The US military also has a similar HUMINT dichotomy, one that differentiates between defensive counter-intelligence (like the FBI) and offensive intelligence collection (like the CIA). Normally, prisoner interrogation would be strictly concerned with intelligence collection in support of a US foreign war effort. But in the current case there is also a major concern about protecting the homeland from covert attack, so interrogation is also likely to be highly concerned with counter-intelligence. So existing realities require considerable flexibility.) The FBI and the CIA each operates within a different broad view, with the FBI focusing on its overt law enforcement mandate and CIA focusing on its clandestine intelligence mandate. Conflict between these two views would soon evolve into a major division throughout the country on the fundamental nature of the entire conflict, of the very nature of the “enemy”. The US military has ever since been caught in the middle of that debate. Is the enemy a criminal conspiracy enterprise subject to the judicial process or is it an unconventional military force subject to the rules of war? After twelve years of war this matter still has not been resolved.
I have little fault with the FBI view, which tries to operate entirely within US and international law and has the ability to function inside the United States, provided the FBI does not interfere with military operations, or military lives, abroad. But this could be mainly, I suppose, because I am not expert in law enforcement. (It should also be mentioned that neither is the FBI expert on either the military or warfare.) I am, however, a fully qualified and respected expert on the military, warfare and intelligence collection, and I also have received third-party and foreign training in highly sophisticated methods of interrogation (most of which probably could be more accurately termed as “elicitation”). So my focus has been primarily on CIA’s role in this war. And, while continually adding up the huge military costs, I must admit that I am not an especially satisfied customer.
Is The CIA A Team Player?
The primary executor in prosecuting any American war effort is the US military. The CIA, as a HUMINT agency, exists to collect intelligence and to conduct analysis. When the nation is at war, the CIA’s primary function is to devote those capabilities in support of the successful prosecution of that war. Its collection arm primarily conducts foreign strategic clandestine operations which theoretically are not within the capabilities of any other government agency, including the US military. Conducting controlled clandestine collection operations is really hard stuff, requiring a very special mix of rather unique skill sets and dogged dedication. The CIA has valuable capability to contribute to the military’s mission, but it often seems like the CIA is operating on its own wave length with little real consideration to the broader objective of prosecuting the war, and by extension, the US military’s role in that broader objective. (Quite often the CIA seems more intent on supporting the self-serving political lunacy that has become so characteristic of the State Department.) The CIA also seems to be devoting most of its operational capability to covert paramilitary-type special operations that are clearly within the capabilities of the US military. This puts a government civilian intelligence agency in the position of collecting intelligence, analyzing its intelligence, and militarily reacting on its intelligence – all entirely within itself without any external broker to determine its priorities, authorize and direct its activities, properly integrate its efforts into the larger effort, or provide the legal framework for its reaction operations and operators. Also, when engaged in such activity, there is no body of separate law, such as the UCMJ for military personnel, applicable to CIA personnel. This concept thoroughly undermines centuries of built-in Anglo-American institutional safeguards ensuring that intelligence does not become the “tail wagging the military dog” for its own myopic objectives.
Is the CIA in business for its own separate interests or as a valuable team player in the nation’s overall defense posture? Who decides what is critical CIA activity or just a duplication of Defense effort? Are CIA efforts assisting or undermining the overall US war effort? (If they’re both doing dangerous stuff in war, why is a professional working for the military an inanimate widget “troop”, while a professional working for the CIA is a valued human “hero”?) The fact that the CIA is a very heavy recruiter of the US military’s top special operations personnel for use as junior operators in very dangerous places is a very clear indication of what the agency regards as valuable to its current activities. So why does the US need a civilian agency to do military things that can be done by the military? Are those people recruited from the military considered “expendable”? Any twit can stand in the very safe rear and scream orders to expendable widgets. It’s not like the US has an inexhaustible supply of the top-notch people who can actually do this stuff and are even willing to risk their lives doing it. How do civilians exercise the same degree of responsible leadership with subordinates that is inherent in an extremely dangerous military setting involving only military personnel? If you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, then you shouldn’t be doing it.
And just what is it about the interrogation of prisoners that requires clandestine case officers? The bottom line in the Senate report is that a clandestine HUMINT civilian agency was engaged in POW interrogation, a proper overt and legal role of the US Army, and the only reason why it was done by clandestine personnel was to keep it all in the shadows, hidden, mainly from the American people. It was all about seeking quick fixes, short-cuts and easy answers – and to keep those involved outside the bounds of US law, including US military law. The CIA was dealing with enemy fighter prisoners captured on the battlefield as if in a vacuum. The one “moral equivalency” not considered, however, is how WE would react if OUR soldiers were captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else, and subjected to the same tactics as the CIA inflicted on their fighter prisoners, even with the brutal SERE training we provide our combat soldiers. What is the probability of CIA employees being subjected to such tactics?
So, right off the bat, there are inherent disconnects in this whole construct. No one ever seems to consider how they would feel and react being on the receiving end of what they are so eager to dish out. If not you, one day that person could very well be your own son, your own daughter.
The “Enhanced” Program
And what about those secret methods? Among a number of other wars, including those current, I’m also a veteran of the war in Vietnam/Southeast Asia. During my years in that war I had considerable exposure to such extreme methods (also frequently under the direction of the CIA). I never saw a single case that produced anything worthwhile (on the contrary), that couldn’t be obtained with just a little more gray matter between the ears, with another day or two. The only thing “clandestine” about it was the true identities of the CIA case officers. It made me ashamed then, and, with a subsequent forty years of side interest as a professional soldier/case officer (clandestine operations officer) who also happens to be educated in both psychology and sociology, it still shames me today. It is NOT “necessary”. (In Vietnam, the “moral equivalency” argument was constant and intense. Very few sane people can even imagine what was done to many of our own soldier POWs in Vietnam who never lived long enough to reach a formal enemy POW camp; summary beheadings would have been enormously more merciful.)
Overlooking their own decades of “Cold” War research and experimentation into the subject, the CIA instead hired a couple of career bureaucrat psychologists who had been involved with the Air Force SERE training program at Fairchild AFB. (“SERE” stands for “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” and is intended for US military personnel who have a higher than “normal” probability, because of their jobs, of falling into enemy hands. Given the fact that American soldiers as prisoners have almost never been treated humanely by enemy forces, the SERE program helps soldiers anticipate and deal with the immediate psychological shock and lasting psychological effects of their expected brutal treatment as prisoners, but does not expect them to remain “unbreakable”.) The CIA was in a hurry and needed something fast. These guys had developed the Air Force SERE program for air crews by first copying the Army SERE program at Fort Bragg for soldiers and then adjusting it to what AF women demanded. (The CIA is a frequent visitor to Fort Bragg, also home to the US Army’s Special Forces Command, the 3rd SF Group, and the JFK Special Warfare Center/School.) The vast majority of Army’s SERE-trained people are male infantry (plus guys like me), so it is more aggressive than the Air Force program. The AF psychologists put into the CIA program – as methods of US active interrogation – what had been in the Army SERE training program – on how to resist the expected brutal interrogation tactics of others. (There was and remains evidence that our enemy fighters are also provided with their own SERE-type training.) The company put together by these Air Force psychologists was paid over $80 million in US taxpayer money to do this. And they were even presumptive enough to do it all in the name of the American people.
The Air Force psychologists also borrowed on earlier work in behavior modification theory that I had studied in college a half century earlier. The experiments then had dealt with techniques employed to alter undesired behavior – through mild sleep deprivation, stress, confinement, fear, etc. – for the improved condition of the patient. These AF psychologists repackaged it all under a theory of “Debility, Dependency And Dread” (DDD), by pushing the earlier mild techniques to coercive extremes. Such techniques were not intended to induce immediate answers to specific questions during the administration of the techniques, but rather to induce a compliant psychological state over time which would theoretically make subsequent interrogation more fruitful. They would have done themselves, and the CIA, a big favor, simply by consulting studies conducted, most at Fort Bragg, on those who had taken the Army’s SERE course, which included being subjected to “DDD”. Those studies showed that while a small percentage of such subjects did, in fact, become more compliant, the vast majority also became more suggestive. That is, they had a tendency to go wherever the interrogator wanted to take them, to tell the interrogator whatever the interrogator wanted to hear, regardless of truth. So the extreme methods actually made the subjects dumber and more unreliable. (No, “waterboarding” was not the most painful, dehumanizing or dangerous “enhanced technique” employed by the CIA, nor did CIA field personnel, including hired contractors, conducting interrogations at remote “black sites” always stay within even the limits of the CIA’s “enhanced” program.) The techniques can produce psychosis and paranoia in the short term, but there is little documented study of longer term effects – other than to point to the inescapable conclusion of permanent psychosis and paranoia, neither of which, of course, are conducive to reliable responses to questions.
In the usual twist on “equality” in America, these methods are not applied to women, either in studies or in practice. Women, including women terrorists, are “special”.
There was also another finding of those studies on US Army soldiers who underwent the SERE training: Those sociopaths most “adept” at dishing out “enhanced interrogation”, once the tables are turned, are usually the quickest to become wailing babies on the receiving end. (Some have postulated that this is because these sociopaths have no moral compass, so it’s all a matter of them doing whatever serves the self best at any moment in time.) Perhaps it’s just another by-product of our sick narcissistic society. And, yes, most of them DO get off on it; that sense of power over helpless others such people experience is to them intoxicating, orgasmic, pathetic. (And women dishing it out are no different.) It’s actually similar to the crime of rape, where the critical psychological component is power over another. In sum: Never ever turn your back on such twisted self-serving humans. There are, of course, a wide range of milder methods that achieve better and more reliable results, and most of them are outlined in the Army field manual. And, by the way, sometimes you can simply ask the subject what you would like to know, and they will just tell you the answer.
“The gentleman understands what is moral. The small man understands what is profitable.” – Confucius.
Criminal interrogations, even in societies with very high legal standards, offer abundant clues. Can you really get people to confess to crimes they did not commit? Statistics maintained by the Innocence Project, which laid some of the blame on coercive or harsh interrogation methods for contributing to dozens of false confessions in criminal investigations, leave no doubt. According to the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence (where it exists) to challenge flawed convictions in the United States, an astounding one in four (84) of the 333 people wrongly convicted and later exonerated by DNA evidence made false confessions or incriminating statements to investigators, i.e., they told the interrogators what the interrogators wanted to hear, regardless of the truth – even to their own detriment. (For the record, the researchers concluded that a team of psychologists is clearly able to show that “interview strategies based on building rapport and seeking to understand a suspect’s motivation to cooperate are more effective than accusatory practices that attempt to raise anxiety levels, fabricate evidence and minimize a suspect’s perception of their own culpability.”)
Essentially, intelligent, well-trained, disciplined and experienced interrogators willing to take a little time can use a wide variety of systematic methods under humane conditions to achieve far more productive and reliable results than can thugs seeking short cuts, quick fixes and easy answers. It can be done with intermediaries functioning as interpreters, but those conversant in the prisoner’s language and also knowledgeable of the prisoner’s culture, will always achieve superior results – and may even discover a willing partner against a common enemy. A critical new tool in interrogation is the ability to quickly add all field interrogation reports to computer databases with sophisticated software that can be quickly queried on any topic – from broad areas of interest to needles in haystacks – and used by the interrogator to hone and focus further interrogation of individuals.
So what did those CIA methods accomplish? The CIA spent hundreds of millions of US taxpayer dollars for eight years after 9/11 using thuggish “short-cuts” – kidnapping, buying, caging, transporting, humiliating, mutilating, rendering, transferring, torturing and killing prisoners of war – in a single-minded effort to locate bin Laden. EIGHT YEARS. Desperation perhaps can excuse a year or so of trying literally anything, but it’s difficult to excuse keeping at something as a very major effort that was achieving marginal results over such a lengthy period. All of that “sophisticated secret stuff” was done in the name of the American people, and it accomplished almost nothing. Of twenty top targets, the CIA managed in all that time to kill four. EIGHT YEARS. And no one was bright enough to recognize that was not an especially convincing testament to the “great urgency” rationalized excuse being used. And the critical key leading to bin Laden turned out to have been in CIA files all along. If Intellectually-challenged agency people weren’t so focused on exploiting prisoners, maybe they would have been forced sooner to re-examine what they already had, and maybe they would have exercised their case officer training and mandate to recruit solid controlled clandestine sources based on what they already had. Once they finally recognized that key, spotted by an analyst, the CIA used its other “sophisticated secret method” – a briefcase full of US taxpayer cash to buy a telephone number, one that led to the target. (A covert “denied area” kill mission, by the way, is enormously easier and less dangerous than a covert hostage rescue or prisoner snatch mission in the enemy’s territory. See “A Raid From History” .)
And, of course, after bin Laden finally was located and killed, his death changed absolutely nothing (other than a certain sense of American retribution). (His death could have had far greater consequences if the CIA had engineered a “proxy” assassination that appeared to be the work of a competing element within al Qaeda – to induce the group to war against itself.)
> But, in that long eight year process, in a quest to achieve quick results, America lost the moral high ground in an unconventional war that was always destined to last decades.
> Also in that process we shamefully involved new and naïve friends and allies in eastern Europe and elsewhere in our nefarious business; most today feel tricked and shamed by the very people they had held up as an ideal – an ideal unlikely to be so trusted ever again. One of those CIA torture “black sites” (“Violet”) was in the former Soviet state of Lithuania, whose first Minister of Defense after the fall of Soviet communism was a Lithuanian-American retired professional US Army officer. Another “black site” was in Poland, the country that led the way in the unraveling of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact. As Pawel Wronski in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza observed, “Just two years after joining NATO and proud to be finally an ally of the US, our government bought the CIA’s story about its interrogation of prisoners on our soil, and the CIA abused our faith. We weren’t disloyal to the US; it was disloyal to us.” These two allied countries definitely were not the only betrayed participants in the program. Even Milan Italy saw one of the most embarrassingly inept CIA “covert kidnappings” in the entire history of all world-wide intelligence agency covert activities, regardless of nationality, with well over twenty people trying to operate far beyond their competence levels just to snatch one unarmed and unguarded man and spirit him out of the country. (All that was actually necessary was to have one man ask SISMI to pick him up for questioning; instead, all of these incompetent players were subsequently convicted in absentia of various crimes by the Italian judicial system – years after the man they snatched and tortured elsewhere was finally released and returned to Italy, deemed not to have had any useful information to begin with.) A very crude and clumsy CIA simply embarrassed itself, and America, in public for years.
> Most of those in the Muslim world today are far more incensed about CIA drone killings with their “collateral damage” than they are about the “old news” of CIA torture — which was also taught to, and migrated with, a naïve young woman US Army captain from the Salt Pit “black site” in Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq – and led directly to the deaths of more US combat soldiers caught in the crosshairs of an infuriated “insurgent” Iraqi public. (Retaliation for remote-control CIA drone killings take the form of remote-control “improvised explosive devices” (IEDs) against US soldiers.)
> Global public knowledge of both “enhanced interrogation techniques” and targeted drone killings by CIA personnel – who risk almost nothing – have proven to be excellent recruitment tools for ever more bad guys wanting to kill American soldiers and innocent civilians, on the battlefield and at home.
> There is one thing you are certain to get with harsh interrogation methods – zero enemy fighters willing to become volunteer prisoners, or defectors, who will freely tell you whatever you want to know in exchange, for example, for nothing more than extracting their families from very dangerous places.
> Another “unintended consequence” of such methods is that now Americans at home, with a truly twisted rationale, prefer KILLING people, including innocents, by remote control from a very safe distance, rather than deal with the “messiness” of taking prisoners. (It’s not surprising that the Obama White House, so strongly opposed to “messy” prisoner interrogation, is a strong proponent of “antiseptic” drone killings – which were naturally opposed by General Petraeus.*)
What has happened to us?
“To make men love their country, their country ought to be lovable.” – Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish statesman born in Dublin during the Penal Laws, as well as an author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who also served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for many years in the British House of Commons.
Where Did Things Go Wrong?
I do not fault Senator Feinstein for releasing the report. Neither does the only man in Congress qualified to make such a judgment – Senator McCain, who himself had survived six long years of inhumane confinement along with prolonged physical and mental torture as a POW in North Vietnam. Past and present civilian CIA and political officials have launched a very major public relations campaign to “set the full record straight” – something that is rarely afforded members of the military unless during sworn testimony before Congress. Even as a deeply flawed one-sided view, however, the Senate report is now an open piece of American history. Our past is full of such embarrassments. Those of us who have a few brains try to learn from that past, so as to offer those who must follow us something just a little better than what we inherited. Sometimes, sadly, we fail.
If someone in senior authority didn’t want the US Army to engage in this stuff, then the CIA should have pulled out the Army field manual and used it as its primary guidance. That field manual, like all those field manuals constructed during the 1970s on all the many aspects of unconventional warfare – with CIA, FBI, State and Justice as principle contributors – represented the very best thinking that our entire society could pull together on the subject. That includes the military, other government agencies, and a wide range of applicable academic fields. Those manuals were constructed with the dedicated intent that they would preclude future generations from making the mistakes they had made. There are very good reasons why they say what they say. The manual on interrogation was written for ANYONE who comes in contact with prisoners (not just “lowly troops”) during wartime. Even thugs hired by the CIA can understand its quite basic wording. Those putting together the manual on prisoner interrogations had actually thought through all the problems since encountered by the CIA, and many more such contingencies, including political. They had long ago decided, for example, that a facility such as that established at Gitmo was the best option for the most dangerous and “high-value” prisoners, that we should never lower ourselves to the same level as our enemies, that we should never involve friends and allies in any activity that was not of the highest American standards, etc.. They had also concluded that the Geneva Conventions provided the best advantage to both prisoners and those holding them. And, yes, a very large number of the prisoners taken in Vietnam were seasoned unconventional combat soldiers who did not wear uniforms. (There is very little that is new here.) It was just criminal NOT to take full advantage of that extensive and readily available knowledge and guidance. All the heavy thinking and advance planning had already been done for them.
It is very telling that everyone involved at the highest levels went out of their way to make sure that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and now Secretary of State General Colin Powell was not informed of the extent of the “enhanced measures” because they knew he would “blow his stack”. After all, other than SecDef Rumsfeld, he was the only member of the administration’s foreign policy team with any credible military experience. (The absence of such experience was even starker in the subsequent administration, as it has remained in the US Congress.) If the Bush Administration feared the reaction of their most respected member, they knew full well they were going too far even with their “official enhanced” measures, not to mention those unofficial measures that were certain to be undertaken by field and “proxy” personnel at foreign “black sites”.
Guys like me have been warning for over a decade about inevitable shifts in DC politics and revisionist academics that will inevitably see a recurring “Church Commission” fervor. The smartest thing for anyone to do in that constant reality is to seek, claim and hold the moral high ground. Period. Then, if you fail, you fail honorably, and learn. Experience, including that associated with the attacks of 9/11, has already clearly shown that no one (except military personnel) ever pays a price in America for failing in their government positions. (On the contrary; just consider those in positions of responsibility leading up to and during the 9/11 attacks, including the case of the National Security Advisor in 2001.) And, if you succeed, you can look at yourself in the mirror without shame, knowing that your behavior did not have far-reaching “unintended consequences” of the negative variety to others, including bystander partners like those in the US military and foreign friends and allies, your own children, your nation’s future.
Our actions set precedents – for us AND for our enemies.
“What is lawful is not always identical to what is right.” – Ian McEwan (born 1948), British novelist, author of “Amsterdam”, “Atonement”, “Saturday”, “Sweet Tooth”.
Members of the Greatest Generation lived their entire lives under the constant very real threat of total nuclear Armageddon, the sudden annihilation of humanity, which included the secreting of the enemy’s tactical nuclear weapons inside the United States, and never changed who we are and what we stand for as “America”, never sacrificed their rights and freedoms in response to those fanning fear for profit; today their descendants cower in corners in fear of a possible few crazies with home-made bombs and constantly rationalize with “moral equivalency” while demanding their government ever further imprison them. Kirk Hubbard, a psychologist formerly with the CIA, wrote, “We no longer live in a world where people agree on what is ethical or even acceptable, and where concern for other humans transcends familial ties. When adolescents carry bombs on their bodies and plan suicides that will kill others, we know that shared values no longer exist.” He is using present fact in stating a case for “moral equivalency”, i.e., that we can do whatever we want because others now do whatever they want. His argument is based on an absurdly false presumption – that “nothing like this has ever existed before”, which, of course, as almost any career CIA overseas case officer knows full well, is just bullshit. I’ve faced this stuff all my life all over the planet, and not just in America’s wars. Israelis experience it constantly at home. And what’s missing is what WE ascribe to, what WE want to be, what values WE want to champion. What’s missing is why we want others to follow our example, our leadership. When we lose sight of THAT, we become just another animal needing to be caged, or exterminated. Those who lower themselves to the level of lesser enemies never win; they simply defeat themselves by sacrificing the moral high ground they once held only to wallow in the mud with enemies with whom they become indistinguishable. An America that does that is no longer America, no longer worthy of defending, and thus has lost the war. Just what do we stand for?
We did something similar to this myopic approach when we attacked, bombed and waged an unprovoked war against Libya, a country that represented zero threat to the US, to US citizens or to US interests. And, when we did, we used allies in what was intended as a defensive alliance in a purely offensive role as our cover. When we did that, based on nothing more than a president’s order, we relinquished the moral high ground held for generations of Americans with their righteous indignation over the unprovoked bombing of our own Pearl Harbor. We also betrayed a leader who had been cooperating with us in the “war on terrorism”, and only after he had also given up his weapons of mass destruction and was then powerless against our high-tech military vengeance – which sent a self-defeating powerful lesson to all those we seek to join nuclear non-proliferation efforts. This incredibly stupid war-on-the-side also handed our enemies a really huge bonanza in weapons and a whole new lawless playground. (This embarrassingly gross stupidity, engineered by four American women appointed to very high places, was supported by some members of both political parties, which is why no one wants to even mention it today.) What has happened to us? Are we in a race to the bottom with our enemies? Are we at war with ourselves?
I can accept “renditions”, Git-mo, open-ended detention in humane conditions (i.e., POW camps), but I have no sympathy for those who engage in the torture or gross mistreatment of prisoners or for those who defend it. This includes turning prisoners over to contractors or foreign proxies for torture in the shadows. If you can’t do your job and conduct controlled clandestine collection operations with very smart, dangerous and high-risk recruitments, that are also very risky to YOU, then you have no business pretending that you’re something you are not. Just what is a “case officer” anymore anyway? Some twit with bags of cash guarded and served by a bunch of heavily armed thugs with cattle prods? Just about ANY sociopath can do that.
On the other side, I also have zero tolerance for those who regard our enemies as members of a criminal enterprise who have a plethora of US rights and need to be prosecuted with lawyers in open courts, rather than as armed unconventional military fighters who simply lack uniforms and all the nifty toys of conventional warfare. That notion is just brain-dead stupid. Their rights are the same as those outlined in the Geneva Conventions, and NOTHING more – just as should be applied to our soldiers taken prisoner. Lock ‘em up in conditions that meet the minimum requirements, and throw away the key. At least they won’t be killing more soldiers and innocents. Interrogate them lawfully at will until the war is over, but leave torture (or “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”) out of “America”.
Here’s the simple rule of thumb: If you can’t do it to women, you can’t do it. (It’s an “equality” thing, “all equal under the law”, etc..)
The Justice Department, based on their own investigation, has stated that they will not pursue any criminal charges against those involved with such activity. I can live with that; they were, after all, civilians. Only members of the US military can be prosecuted for such activities, and go to prison for very lengthy periods. Members of the US military can actually be held accountable for their behavior. It’s nearly impossible to fire bureaucrats, the best compensated union employees in the US, much less charge them criminally for negligence, dereliction, incompetence, etc., as is possible with members of the military. The CIA, when it plays “mighty warrior”, conveniently isn’t subject to the UCMJ – and doesn’t even have to consider the “unintended consequences” of its drone and torture activities on real soldiers, or anyone else, including innocent civilians regarded as “acceptable levels of collateral damage”. What has happened to us? What does it say about us to simply absolve those who, with considerable deliberation, torture and kill others outside the rules of war? What would we say if the victims were us?
Why Is It OK?
On 7 February 2002, President Bush, based on the advice of his staff who had zero understanding of unconventional warfare, declared that the laws of war did not apply to al Qaeda suspects. This was The Major Mistake. It removed our enemy from the rules of war, the Geneva Conventions, POWs, UCMJ, Red Cross, etc., and made them sub-human criminal animals not protected by ANY law anywhere. (It also initially removed US personnel dealing with al Qaeda and possibly related supporters from being subject to applicable US and international law – until someone quickly remembered the UCMJ.) Targets didn’t even have to be guilty of anything, just might possibly have some useful information. These people even relentlessly tortured a prisoner at a Romanian “black site” only to finally conclude that he had been falsely accused – and then trumpeted the case as an example of “successful” torture (without mentioning that it proved only that someone who was not tortured was a common liar). (Kafka would have understood such circular logic.) (See “The Family File”.) At least 26 innocent people were rounded up and forcibly inserted into this nightmare hell by mistake, simply as a result of an incorrect identity, and those who did it simply walked away with a “Never mind”. That decision opened the door for the CIA, and its hired thugs, to interrogate prisoners in previously unlawful ways with full impunity. It also ensured that OUR soldiers would be similarly regarded by that enemy if captured – with zero recourse, zero case to make, on their behalf. Ever since, there has been a truly stupid debate throughout the West about whether we are at war with a militant enemy or a criminal enterprise. Conservatives prefer the former, while liberals prefer the latter. And so it ALL ends up being just another matter of stupid domestic politics that NO ONE understands – because no one understands unconventional warfare, either.
In 2008 President Bush vetoed a law passed by Congress that would have required the CIA to adhere solely to the Army field manual in its treatment of prisoners. In January 2009 one of President Obama’s very first acts as President was to issue Executive Order 13491 which required the CIA, and all other elements of the US government, to adhere solely to the Army field manual in its conduct with prisoners. Presumably this also applies to government contractors, but I’m not at all certain about foreign proxies. President Obama at the same time ramped up the remote control drone killing of targeted suspected enemies in distant countries with which we are not at war. To avoid taking, holding and interrogating prisoners, even lawfully, we now prefer to just summarily kill them and anyone else who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. While I concur with the President’s decision on the Army field manual, I still have grave reservations about the CIA’s use of drones.
Deeper Background From A Decade Earlier
The Number One Reason why the CIA got itself into this whole business was because around 1990 the CIA said that they could do it better than the military. Why did they say that? It was all part of the “Great Peace Dividend” that came with the hugely dramatic wind-down of the long “Cold” War. Americans and their representatives in Congress wanted to gut the Defense Department – by eviscerating the uniformed military services – and shifting all that “saved” money to domestic wants. And their target was people, not machines. They fired almost HALF the personnel then in military uniforms, and, mostly unnoticed, dumped them on the street before, during and after the Persian Gulf War. America now possessed the world’s single conventional military super-power, and feared no one.
Of course, the ONLY way to challenge a single conventional military super-power is unconventionally. But no one considered that basic logic.
Unconventional warfare is enormously personnel-intensive, but State and CIA told Congress that there would be no more need for unconventional warfare because there was no more need to “win hearts and minds” because there was no longer an opposing global ideology (Soviet communism) out there to counter. Europe was safe and history had ended; we could all go home and play in the sandbox. Etc.. And throughout the 1990s, we did exactly that.
Congress took almost everything out of the military services by cutting almost everything but machines (and, of course, the civilians who build them). The hit was most dramatic in the Army – which was left with nothing but front-line conventional combat units (10 Regular infantry divisions), plus, here and there, a few old hands in certain specialized areas of expertise. Into the trash cans went all those great 1970s manuals on unconventional warfare. Professional Army HUMINT took a really huge cut, with the full agreement of the CIA. CIA, like State and USAID, then got really big boosts in personnel slots and funding, including contract hire money, for them to do whatever minor such “nation-building” or “unconventional warfare” tasks might need to be done in the future.
Less than a decade later Americans woke up to the fact that there was “suddenly” a whole NEW opposing global ideology out there (Islamic militant extremism), one that had been simmering all along in the background, and one that was not only stateless, but 100% unconventional – without one single machine in its possession. CIA, State and USAID had that ten years to get ready for their new missions, but they had done nothing. They had simply taken, and swallowed, the slots and the money and continued to run on auto-pilot. The last 12 years have clearly shown that all three government agencies are simply not up to the task. Now no one is in change, because no one understands what’s going on in the bigger picture. And, worse, civilians, including contractors and bureaucrats, need a “safe and secure environment” to work their “nation-building” magic; but, of course, you do “nation-building” in order to get a “safe and secure environment”.
When handed the mission to go after al Qaeda, one of the first things the CIA wanted was to have the Pentagon set up detention centers to hold agency prisoners on American military bases overseas. That would have subjected the prisons to traditional military rules, kept “enhanced interrogation techniques” out of the picture, and avoided all the subsequent problems experienced by the CIA. But Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld turned down that idea. He had just been instructed to go to war, and he knew he didn’t have nearly enough soldiers to do that. He was desperately clawing back as many soldiers as possible from forgotten outposts all over the globe and replacing them with inadequately prepared National Guard (NG) people. He certainly couldn’t afford to divert a whole bunch of front-line combat soldiers to go play jailer for an agency that had claimed they could do the job better. Civilians have a tendency to view soldiers as soldiers, all the same widgets, etc., but there is a universe of difference between offensive fluid military operations and defensive static military operations. They each require a completely different mind-set, tactics, training, leadership, equipment, etc.. Rumsfeld simply could no longer do what the CIA wanted him to do. Like all the other “Great Peace Dividend” decisions, this one, too, was never really thought through – which was a main reason why egghead Rumsfeld always seemed to be pissed off. Having actually lived through all the Church Commission investigations during the 1970s, he also knew about the UCMJ, about limits on interrogations, etc., but he was also tasked with putting together enough people to fight a shooting war, and a lot of those people were inadequately led and trained week-end warrior types who needed to get up to snuff. Then one of the first things to smack him in the face was the colossal mess at a prison in Iraq – a very public mess caused by inadequately vetted, trained and led National Guard MPs that was doing little more than costing the lives of more combat soldiers.
It’s no wonder Rumsfeld observed, “You go to war with the army you have.” Army and Marine ground soldiers now incur over 98% of our combat casualties, while 85% of the machines are useless. We keep using the same combat units over and over again, expecting them to be simultaneously expert in both fluid offensive operations and static defensive operations, i.e., to do six different jobs at once – all while under fire. So incredibly the world’s single super-power has been steadily losing ground to an enemy that does not possess one single ship, plane, tank, missile or drone. This will continue to be the case as far into the future as can reasonably been estimated.
I am NOT persuaded by any whining about “poor morale” at the CIA as a result of the released report, or anything else arising from its release. What is described in the report was wrong. And all the agonizing hand-wringing attention is far too focused on a very small piece of the whole. There’s no consideration of the broader impacts, the “unintended consequences”. These things don’t go through a life cycle in a totally isolated vacuum, regardless of all its inherent self-serving secrecy. Has anyone noticed the morale of the US Regular Army over the last few years? Now we are once again firing those soldiers by the tens of thousands. Brilliant. But maybe not. These days our ground soldiers are killing themselves faster than the enemy can kill them. Now that’s “morale”. And, just in case no one has noticed, our enemy seems to have no problem recruiting new replacements to its cause, thanks in no small part to the propaganda utility to them of our own behavior.
If the military had a problem like this, the immediate answer would be to summarily fire one or two or three senior generals who had devoted their entire lives to serving their nation in the toughest arena there is and banish them to a further life of shame and total anonymity. “Problem solved.” Then the military justice system would go about prosecuting any of those directly involved. It would make zero difference what civilian instructions had been given to those generals earlier, or what the circumstances were. Except for our military, accountability has become one of the most twisted self-serving concepts in our screwed-up society. No, I am not persuaded by whining bureaucrats or sanctimonious politicians. In our society, all self-inflated idiots have “responsibility”; they just don’t have accountability (which, of course, is an oxymoron).
It’s long past time to re-think the Baby Boomer “thinking” that went in to this whole stupid mess at the end of the “Cold” War. It’s been a total failure, and it has cost the lives of 7,000 good soldiers and permanently maimed another 45,000, for almost nothing. “Never mind.” is a truly sickening statement to make to the children, spouses and parents of all those dead and maimed soldiers. It has also wasted countless billions of taxpayer dollars. The war in Afghanistan, which never should have lasted longer than six months, has already cost US taxpayers well over $1 Trillion, and we are far worse off than we were when we started. And just look what walking away from Iraq got us, and everyone else.
It’s all Baby Boomer Brilliance. It’s all about short cuts, quick fixes and easy answers. We simply do NOT know what we are doing.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, DON’T DO IT!”
“Those who never do anything, never do anything wrong.”
This truism takes on significant weight when judging the behavior of others during periods of deadly conflict. Anyone can come upon a scene later and make judgments about what took place there. But how valid are such judgments? Such “war crimes” or “crimes against humanity” or “criminal atrocities” or “genocides” almost always take place during periods of deadly conflict between at least two sides. Ideally the testimony of those on both sides would be taken later and judgments made based on full consideration of all factors at play on each side, including the level and immediacy of mortal danger to each. But that is very rarely what happens. What usually happens is that those who never do anything sit in judgment of those directly involved with very grave matters. Of course I am a man of principle who knows what’s right and what’s wrong and why, but I have been on both sides, on the side of those dishing it out and on the side of those receiving it, up close and personal, and so I am actually qualified to judge. And I do not judge the front-line ground combat solder in the same way that I judge the rear area jailer, bureaucrat or politician. And I reserve a special contempt for those who become complicit by failing to act, by failing to take action to avert or to end the behavior later judged. In my book, individuals, governments or states failing to act simply relinquish their right to sit in judgment and should themselves be sitting in the dock. Talk is the cheapest thing there is, and it seems that the most sanctimonious pontificators on these matters are always American women and their clones – those with the very least direct experience with them, those who have never risked anything on behalf of anyone or anything. Regardless of their veracity, I have a visceral tendency to dismiss the pronouncements of such rear area “experts” and “judges”. Those unwilling to judge themselves should never judge others; some rights must be earned.
Addendum. Even though President Obama banned the use of such torture methods by executive order, his appointed CIA director John Brennan has correctly stated that there are no laws explicitly banning what his agency’s personnel had done to those in their custody. An executive order is not legislated law. This statement apparently was intended to preclude any attempt to prosecute those involved in the activity, but it also means that a future president could again order the brutalization of detainees if he or she chose to. (Presumably the same applies to “renditions” (cross-border kidnappings).) Hearing that, Senator Feinstein drafted a bill that would, in her words, “close all torture loopholes” by barring agency personnel from using interrogation methods that aren’t included in the Army Field Manual. That would make the use of savage interrogation techniques like waterboarding a violation of US federal law for civilians bureaucrats just like it has been for military personnel — and not something a president could simply allow by executive order.
Unfortunately Republican gains during the 2014 mid-term elections gave them a majority in both the House and Senate, so Democrat Feinstein’s bill has virtually no chance of making it through the Republican-controlled Senate, even if the Obama White House would support it, which is unclear. Despite its vitriolic rhetoric that had won elections, the Obama Administration has essentially reversed itself in opposition to a wide range of “intelligence” and covert activities and increasingly turned to the CIA for a major covert action role in the war against Islamic militant extremism – mainly political assassination by very safe remote control. (It also now supports NSA collection of all communications information on everyone everywhere for whatever use presents itself, and still inexplicably espouses the objective of closing down Git-mo. The mission lines of the CIA, Justice, FBI, DNI, NSA, State, USAID, and Defense have all become thoroughly murky – with the exception that the CIA marches to its own tune doing whatever it wants to do, answerable only to the President.) With the 2014 elections, Feinstein lost her position as the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the panel’s new chairman, Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, said that the CIA in recent years has gotten not too much public oversight. “I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,” he told reporters in 2014.
To a careful student of the subject, the CIA’s string of monumental failures over the past twenty years has far exceeded the sum of its failures over the previous fifty years, so public oversight seems to be the one thing that CIA needs most. These are the jerks who failed to see and warn of the rise of the Islamic militant extremist ideology during the 1990s; lost track of the terrorists prior to the 9/11 attacks; came up with the “WMD slam dunk” in Iraq; engaged in the Keystone Kops “rendition” circus in Milan Italy; ruined the respect of Eastern Europeans for the US by tricking them into engaging in international kidnappings and torture on their own soil every bit as bad as their former oppressors; pushed the killing of Libya’s Gadhafi to present the Bad Guys a whole new playground; failed to develop a HUMINT counter-propaganda campaign for the internet that has been so aptly exploited by Islamic militant extremism; allowed a bomb-laden double agent to enter its packed field station in Afghanistan; took an incredible 9 years and 4 months to find bin Laden after the attacks of 9/11; don’t understand the “squeezed balloon” effect of their relentless drone attacks in Pakistan that simply force the bad guys to go elsewhere (including to Italy); remain oblivious of the recruitment value to the Bad Guys of their activities; completely misjudged the net effect of the “Arab Spring”; spend far more time using mercenaries to engage in unaccountable covert killing activities better suited for the military’s accountable SOCOM than engaging in clandestine recruitment of inside sources; devised political “talking points” to shield inept politicians about Benghazi; used hired mercenaries to smear filth all over real soldiers; have zero understanding of strategy, etc., etc.. These are the “brilliant” guys who play stupid whack-a-mole against an enemy that has an inexhaustible supply of replacements, just like the little boy on the beach trying to empty the sea into his hole in the sand.
The CIA can even manage to turn a success into a debacle. Just witness all the childish crowing over the highly sophisticated Stuxnet computer worm that the CIA developed and used to engage in covert cyber-warfare against Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. The Defense Department has stated publicly that a cyber attack against the US would be considered an act of war, and the US did, in fact, after expressing copious amounts of righteous indignation, respond to a North Korean attack on the Sony entertainment company with a attack against North Korea’s tiny internet system. With Stuxnet it was stupid enough to admit that the US was actually the first country to successfully engage in cyber-warfare against another sovereign state, but they did it without first installing safeguards against migration of their computer virus. So today, that devious piece of advanced technology has found its way, so far, to 250,000 other computers all over the world, just sitting there as a blueprint of a proven system waiting for someone to apply to other targets – such as our own commercial aviation or nuclear energy or telecommunication systems. (See Footnote #1.)
This is an agency that needs to be put back inside the responsible and accountable US Army.
However, Senator Burr has already begun putting his words into action: One of his first acts as chairman was to send President Obama a letter asking that all copies of the full torture report that Feinstein had sent to various executive branch agencies be “returned immediately.” Privacy experts think he is acting at the request of the CIA to make sure that the full report will never be made public through Freedom of Information Act requests. Of course, Burr has also never been, and never will be, a member of his nation’s armed forces faced with such methods should he one day become a prisoner of war, and apparently never will his children. It’s more than just a little ironic that the Republicans, of course, are always insisting that the United States needs to be exporting its democratic principles, its lofty values, its open society, its accountable government, etc., all under the heading of “American exceptionalism”. And the rest of the world looks and wonders just what reality is being discussed.
“Do as I say, not as I do!” That’s certainly a really great way to “lead by example”. It sure does make us “exceptional”.
How do you ask actually brave men to risk death in war defending a nation that condones such reprehensible and inept behavior – behavior which makes that nation no better than its enemies? When does a nation reach a point where its best men start wondering whether that nation is still worth defending? Just who is the Bad Guy?
A principle problem that most Americans today have is their predilection to think only on quite superficial levels and then with an excessive emotional factor. Our “solutions” are all about attacking the symptoms that pop up in front of us in a sort of “whack a mole” approach. So it’s, “Kill the terrorists!” And that’s it; no further thinking. Almost no one recognizes that the proper approach is to treat the symptoms while concentrating our major effort toward curing the disease. View it all like Ebola. Those terrorists or fighters come from a really humongous support base, and they’ll keep coming from that support base no matter how many of them we manage to kill or capture. They definitely will eventually outlast our capability to attack the symptoms. The disease is the support base. We have to do a much better job of speaking to that support base, listening to their complaints, viewing the board from their side, appreciating how they see us, trying to improve their condition, etc., so that the support base is ever less willing to render the support and keep sending the fighters, the terrorists. The most important way in which that can be done is through our own example, our own responsible leadership – from the moral high ground. Public knowledge of prisoner torture and drone killings doesn’t go very far toward that end. We started off with the correct approach by going after the terrorists responsible for the attacks of 9/11 (symptoms) in Afghanistan, and then also going into Iraq to begin addressing the support base (disease) by removing a universally hated dictator smack in the middle of the Muslim world and setting up something better. But then stupid domestic politics, the same moronic two-sided opposites intolerant of intruders that has hobbled America for the past thirty years, soon screwed up everything by turning Afghanistan into a much larger political effort than it ever should have been, and then forcing us to walk away from Iraq before the job was done. We simply told the children, spouses and parents of our many thousands of dead solders in both wars, “Never mind.” In twelve years of war we have accomplished nothing but a lot of dead people. Predictably, we are steadily losing ground. We have to do a better job of THINKING. (What America needs is Angela Merkel – a leader with an actual brain not crippled by ideology.)
(See also the Footnotes to “A Raid From History“.)
* General Petraeus, who was forced to retire after only one year from his position as Director CIA immediately after the Benghazi debacle (September 2012), has remained under “FBI investigation” for a very minor infraction ever since – a status which has ensured for the subsequent two and a half years, and counting, that he does not speak out in testimony before Congress on what he knows and believes about White House decisions on such matters. It is known that, during his one year tenure at CIA, the general had, in fact, disapproved a number of proposed CIA drone attacks and had not been fully informed of CIA activities in Libya. There have also been rumors that, previously unknown to Petraeus, the compound chosen by State to become the new US Consulate in Benghazi had previously been used by the CIA as a “black site” interrogation facility in a Libya rendered essentially lawless by an eight month US bombing campaign.
P.S. Does anyone remember just why we engaged in that 45-year “Cold” war AGAINST such police state practices? Boy, have we ever shown those “dumb” Romanians and Latvians and Lithuanians and Ukrainians and Poles a thing or two about pure self-serving bullshit, about the power of the biggest bully state on the block. It’s all the more tragic that we chose many of the former eastern European countries that had lived all that time under Soviet communist oppression to place our “black sites” – which were fairly good copies of their own “black hole” sites under Soviet communism. We enticed these naïve people to follow our “sterling” example, right down into the almost-forgotten mud they thought was forever behind them – and made them participants in it. The US now even engages in targeted assassination directed from a White House using a “hit list” and remotely controlled kill weapons – the same activity for which we from the moral high ground condemned the Kremlin all during the “Cold” War. Our capacity for self-serving rationalization seems to know no bounds. But just how do we explain all this double-standard stuff to our kids? As things we do simply because we can, with no fear of retaliation or retribution? Isn’t that convenient.
Footnote #1. Cyber Warfare: “Stuxnet”, Olympic Gate, and the Imperial Presidency
I recently watched the two-hour 2016 US documentary “Zero Days” at the request of friends interested in my views. The film draws on a wide range of respected sources to tell the story of “Stuxnet”, the malware worm (or virus) that significantly damaged Iran’s nuclear program and is widely accepted to have been the work of CIA and Mossad. While the story is compelling, the film is a documentary work rather than a drama, so it’s questionable how many Americans will see it. Still, creative video seems to have become the nation’s primary teacher, so it’s always a good idea to keep up with what’s being taught, especially with very important topics like war.
“Zero Days” is actually a pretty good and interesting movie, with a lot of special effects that go far in explaining how this cyber stuff works. It draws heavily on the investigative work and reporting of David Sanger at the New York Times, but also uses insights from commercial computer security experts, respected national security journalists, and government intelligence officials in the US, Israel, Russia and Germany. Such officials include Michael Hayden, Richard Clarke, Chris Inglis (NSA Deputy Director 2006-14), and Amos Yadlin (former Israeli general, head of IDF Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman).)
(The film also uses one “avatar” mechanism for dramatic effect that made me feel cheated when its truth was finally revealed. The avatar was presented as an anonymous female inside source employee of NSA whose identity was being obscured as she periodically revealed details about the project, peppered with frequent use of the macho “f—k” word. “She” turned out to actually be a compilation of statements from a range of NSA and other intel agency employees forbidden by law to talk about such highly classified programs. While the information provided by this mechanism was quite revealing, there was no way to evaluate its veracity, etc.. For me, it would have been better to have a respected reporter like Sanger verbally relay such statements – which he had personally double- or triple-sourced himself.)
Unless otherwise indicated, the following is based solely on the film, not on relevant material I’ve read and heard from very good sources elsewhere.
A copy of this particular malware was first sent to a computer security company in Belarus that was doing contract work for some companies in Iran. The Belarus company very quickly realized that it was looking at something extremely sophisticated never seen before and in June 2010 duly alerted the global computer security industry on a community-wide blog. Thus began a collaborative effort among computer security firms around the world to explore a new monster. Two of the world’s most respected computer security firms – Kaspersky in Moscow and Symantec in Mountain View California – immediately obtained copies and started examining it. These companies are confronted with thousands of malware and viruses every year and can usually pick them apart, assess them, and develop counters within a matter of hours. But, in this case, they were starting down a new path that would take them many months of very intense work to navigate, learn and understand. This was one enormously sophisticated huge volume of highly complex software employing a whole series of brilliant approaches. It was Symantec that combined parts of two words found early in the code to form the name subsequently used by the global computer security industry – “Stuxnet”. Symantec also soon noticed two familiar names in the code – Microsoft Windows (the world’s most ubiquitous computer operating system) and Realtek Semiconducter (which is a major Taiwanese firm that makes interface controllers for communications networks, computer peripherals and multimedia devices for the global market) – that appear to have played a major role in facilitating the malware’s mission.
Female NSA employee avatar: “We did Stuxnet. It’s a fact. We came close to disaster, and we’re still on the edge. It was a huge, international, multi-agency operation.” She went on to say that “we” was NSA, CIA, Defense Cyber Command (also at NSA), Britain’s GCHQ (NSA partner) and Mossad’s Unit 8200. CIA was the lead agency.
The whole thing had actually begun years earlier at the Pentagon as an experimental project, one that initially went through several versions, i.e., there were versions 0.3, 0.5, etc.., which began during the first Bush II administration. Once Bob Gates arrived as Secretary of Defense in 2006 and had been briefed, he had the project transferred to the intelligence community, which immediately shielded it behind all sorts of black box security classifications. The US government name for the program was “Olympic Gate” (OG), and it, too, proceeded through several more versions. (Symantec subsequently found evidence of deployed versions of the malware weapon having been developed as early as 2005.)
After extensive successful testing in the US (Ft Meade and Oak Ridge) and Israel, Bush II had authorized the first attack. No one has yet come up with evidence of reservations, if any, within the Bush Administration about launching such an attack – the first such state cyber attack in history. Undoubtedly government lawyers looked at it, but whether it was subjected to broader scrutiny to decide whether such an attack SHOULD be launched is still unknown. (One of those commenting in the film ex post facto is Colonel Gary D. Brown, staff judge advocate of Cyber Command; his remarks are general in nature, explaining that his review would have focused on matters of US and international law, not as an evaluation from any moral or political perspective.) The software itself did contain an internal “cut-off date” after which it would no longer execute its purpose; in Olympic Gate, the cut-off date was nine days before the January 2009 inauguration of President Obama. Obama re-authorized the program during his first year in office.
I got the impression, not specifically stated in the film, that versions of the software were periodically launched in succession over a period of years during the second Bush II Administration. (Researchers at Symantec have uncovered a version of the virus that was used to attack Iran’s nuclear program in November 2007, three years before the version 1.1 attack.) These attacks were successful in systematically destroying parts of Iran’s fuel enrichment efforts, but those enrichment efforts continued because the whole Iranian program had not been destroyed – which apparently was not a purpose of the attacks. There was also the matter of getting the malware past the “air-lock” between the global internet and the closed-off nuclear program. The implication is that bridging that gap required deliberate human facilitation – a difficult task which tended to slow the progress of the attacks. (Other accounts have said that human agent(s) carried in the malware via flash drive(s); while this may be true, and would definitely be possible, it now seems to not be necessary. If you are willing to throw caution to the wind, someone sooner or later will unwittingly do it for you.)
The “Stuxnet” software needed an authentication certificate in order to be allowed access to machine-controlling software. Such a certificate (now revoked) was somehow stolen from Realtek in Taiwan.
In Iran, the centrifuges were destroyed by penetrating the centrifuges’ programmable logic controllers (PLCs) (a type of “computer peripheral”) and directing those PLCs to do things with the centrifuges that were beyond the operational parameters of the centrifuges (i.e., make their motors spin too fast or too slow). Those PLCs were manufactured by Siemens (Germany), using Realtek (Taiwan) chips and directed by Siemens Step7 industrial software. Step7 runs on Microsoft Windows (USA). So the level of Stuxnet penetration went (1) Microsoft Windows, (2) Siemens Step7, (3) Siemens PLC, (4) Realtek chip, (5) Iran’s centrifuge motors. Furthermore, Stuxnet had to identify and verify that the PLCs met very specific and precise characteristics and configurations.
Iran’s known nuclear facilities are monitored and periodically visited by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which also maintains live video inspection cameras in those facilities at key points, but does not make proprietary (and legal) information captured by those cameras available outside IAEA. However, when Iran made public its nuclear program with very considerable national pride, it did so with a presidential visit covered by news photographers and cameramen. Their videos and photos were then released for public consumption in the interest of public relations. They also showed some very specific equipment used by the Iranians in their nuclear program, i.e., Iran had itself unwittingly provided Western intelligence the specific information needed to target its unique equipment configuration – an equipment configuration that was duplicated nowhere else.
The version of the malware that was first examined by the commercial computer security community was version 1.1. A fully developed operational cyber tool, the software was a very potent autonomous “fire and forget” weapon; that is, there was no “call-back” option for the software to notify the originator of its successful breaches and/or requesting further instructions. It was launched to accomplish a mission, and would continue to navigate and work to accomplish that mission for as long as it took without further interface with humans. This version of the weapon seems to have reached its destination and began executing its purpose in the March-April 2010 period.
Once it found itself in its destination position, it could also go into a “sleep and monitor” mode, i.e., sit there and watch and record, and then periodically execute parts of its mission in succession. All of this took reams of code to verify, check, execute, sleep, monitor, etc., with the precise target equipment, all while covering its activities with false readings sent to other controlling equipment. The Iranians would be sitting in their quiet control room reading equipment saying that everything was fine, while in the next room the noise of whole batteries of centrifuges self-destructing was deafening, and even operators’ shut-off buttons wouldn’t work. This thing could execute big parts of its mission for weeks and weeks and never be detected simply by pointing the finger elsewhere. It must have been absolutely maddening for those employed at the facility – many of whom were fired for incompetence in the manufacture and operation of the equipment which hidden software was systematically destroying.
According to the NSA avatar (which could be self-serving blame-shifting) in 2010, after Obama became President and had re-authorized the attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became impatient with the progress (or speed) of the program. He directed Unit 8200 to launch a more aggressive version of the malware. (I am familiar with Unit 8200. It’s a covert element of the Israeli Defense Forces which employs free-thinking computer geeks in uniform to come up with all sorts of ways to stay ahead of the game by thinking way outside the box. After their drafted military service, many Unit 8200 guys start their own high tech companies selling their genius globally for Big Bucks.) This was Stuxnet version 1.1, and it did not require human facilitation. Instead, it replicated itself as it roamed around the globe continually seeking any path possible to its ultimate destination. Its First Mission was to Reach The Target, by any means possible. The Unit 8200 guys knew that eventually someone somewhere would do something without thinking, and, presto!, the air gap would be bridged. And that is precisely what happened. No one is certain exactly where or how that occurred, but once version 1.1 was in place where it was supposed to be in 2010, it went to work with a vengeance. (My own thinking, from the safety of hindsight, is that the incremental approach used by the Americans during the Bush II administration was probably the wiser.)
Unfortunately, by the time that part of its mission (arrival at intended destination) had been completed, version 1.1 was also in place in thousands of OTHER places all around the globe. (Because those places were not the correct place, the software would not execute any further parts of its code, and thus essentially do nothing.) The genie was out of the bottle, and was sitting around everywhere. The attack was successful, but the weapon had migrated around the world, providing anyone who wanted it the really huge blueprint for similar enormously sophisticated weapons. This, naturally, REALLY pissed off Obama and his national security team. Now, no one has shown that Netanyahu was, in fact, the culprit. This all could have been a story concocted by US officials who had failed to keep the promises they had given to Obama (and Bush II) that no such unwanted things would happen. Nevertheless, since 2011 the intense dislike between Obama and Netanyahu has been blatant on the global stage. (Amazingly, the malware studied had actually logged each and every of its hundreds of moves and replications around the globe before finally reaching its destination.)
The IAEA (as stated by IAEA’s Olli Heinonen, the internationally renowned Finnish nuclear expert) estimates that several thousand Iranian centrifuges were in fact destroyed, and this set Iran’s program back about one year. It also significantly disrupted Iran’s nuclear community before they finally realized that the culprit was an external evil-doer. (Israel, as a separate operation, had also assassinated at least two of Iran’s top nuclear scientists.) In 2013, however, Iran had recovered, and its development of nuclear centrifuges, facilities and capabilities took off exponentially like an explosion, reaching by 2015 heights never before seen. This is a far more robust program than ever envisioned before the Stuxnet attacks. (Negotiations with Iran concerning its nuclear program began in earnest after the June 2013 election of President Rouhani, and the “Iran nuclear deal framework” was announced as concluded in July 2015.) Today Iran also has one of the largest “cyber armies” in the world, learning how to make the same kind of attacks on others. And they went to work without delay. Their first attack was directed against the largest oil company in the world – Saudi Arabia’s. The second attack was a “surge attack” against American banks. And they have the American blueprint for far more sophisticated cyber weapons.
So the net effect of the weapon would appear to be the exact opposite of the intention in launching it.
The key targets of Stuxnet were Siemens PLCs, and Siemens is NOT happy about it, having expended considerable of its own resources in investigating and dealing with both the problem and its fall-out. The company has now provided all of its customers a Stuxnet detection and removal tool, even though Stuxnet will not do anything with Siemens PLCs that are not precise configuration copies of those PLCs used in Iran’s nuclear program. Those PLCs have only two vendors: one company in Iran, and one company in Finland (Vacon). Siemens has since 1945 been a reliable friend of German and US intelligence; it’s safe to say that, at the moment, the CIA is at the top of Siemens’ s—t list.
The approach used by Stuxnet can also be used to so target other specific equipment – or, with broader instructions, ALL such PLC-directed equipment. It just depends on how tightly or broadly the target is defined within the software. In modern society, everything electric is told what to do by PLCs, and literally EVERYTHING depends on electric energy in one way or another.
Buried in subsequent annual budgets submitted to Congress by the Obama Administration are hundreds of billions of dollars for the further development of secret cyber weapons.
The virus eventually migrated back to the US, of course – to infect US networks, including US government networks. The Department of Homeland Security, unaware that the weapon was a US weapon, then invested enormous resources into investigating and combating it. Even though the weapon was discussed with considerable dismay in open session of Congress, no one in the intelligence community ever came forward to admit that it was our own. So everyone else in the US government flailed around in the dark for years, pointing the finger everywhere but in the mirror.
Finally, we had met the enemy, and the enemy was us.
The Stuxnet virus was also used to disrupt a major energy grid in Ukraine that was initially blamed on the Russians, but no one really knows who deployed the weapon against that target. And Stuxnet was an American, not a Russian, weapon.
It’s debatable whether the intel community’s silence was/is a matter of cover-your-ass or national security, or both. No one in the intelligence community involved with Olympic Gate has ever made any statement on the record about the program. And Michael Hayden (former Air Force general, Director CIA, and Director NSA) says he was not involved and has no direct knowledge beyond what he has read in the US press. Ditto for national security expert Richard Clarke and the others in both the US and Israel.
According to a single document obtained by Edward Snowden and provided to Wikileaks, US policy is that cyber weapons, like nuclear weapons, can only be launched with the President’s approval. Beyond that, there seems to be very little overall doctrine involved with the conduct of cyber warfare, other than that it remains a covert activity in the hands of the intelligence community – which effectively insures that an open and fully informed public discussion of the subject does not take place. Without a concise US doctrine, there can be no international negotiations or agreements on the control and use of cyber weapons, like there are on the control and use of nuclear weapons (which, originally thought impossible, did take decades to work out – once the decision was made to try). “It’s all too secret.”
I guess it won’t be secret only after American citizens find the nation the destroyed victim of such an attack. (My personal view is that the people playing with this stuff are not intellectually capable of placing their activities into a broader philosophical or moral perspective, i.e., devising a reasonable strategic doctrine to guide future developments that will accomplish desired objectives but won’t destroy modern civilization. We no longer have the kinds of thinkers this stuff requires – like we had in Einstein, Kissinger, George Kennan, etc.. We are far too interested in short cuts, quick fixes and easy answers – in the here and now, in “very special me”, damned tomorrow OR the kids.)
Note that such cyber weapons are offensive weapons, not intended for self-defense. As an offensive weapon, employing it is an elective option. If the United States views such weapons employed against the US as “an act of war”, the US use of such weapons must also be “an act of war”. How then can the American use of such weapons be an elective “act of war” option of a President, and NOT of the people’s representatives in the US Congress as stipulated in the US Constitution? This is just one more major step to an imperial presidency, which, of course, is just a return to an 18th century monarchy – which was the reason why the United States came into being through violent revolution.
The proper role of intelligence in a democracy is to obtain and analyze information required by elected decision-makers and those tasked with executing their decisions. When you hand weapons of war to intelligence, you are allowing the tail to wag the dog, ensuring that the information provided will serve first and foremost the objectives of intelligence and gambling that intelligence will not start wars in secret and catch war-fighters unprepared. This is why the US military adopted at its creation the historical practice of keeping senior intelligence officers one rank below equivalent contemporaries in the combat arms. To ignore such sound and centuries-long proven principles is just stupid. (Typical Baby Boomer Brilliance.) The probability of disaster increases with the distance between the intelligence and the military arms of government, and that distance today is similar to that between the people and their military – a distance which has never been greater in all of American history.
Postscript. The avatar stated that Olympic Gate was just a small part of a Much Larger US intelligence community program involving Iran. According to this narrative, US intelligence had concluded that Israel may very well go ahead with a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own, damned US wishes – not so much as an attack intended to totally destroy Iran’s capability, but to draw the US military super-power into finishing something Israel had started.* Faced with such a scenario, the US concluded that finishing such an effort was militarily impossible with kinetic weapons without killing huge numbers of Iranian citizens. It therefore developed an alternative option – to completely destroy Iran’s infrastructure using cyber weapons. Such an attack would wipe out everything the state required to function as an organized society – and this option was indeed feasible, and actually developed. Really Scary Stuff.
The next obvious question, of course, is, “What do you do about or with a huge relatively modern state that has suddenly been rendered totally incapable of even defending itself, much less providing its citizens with electricity, clean water, food, transportation, communications, and even modern medical treatment?” (The film didn’t ask or answer this question. In such a case, huge numbers of Iranians would very soon begin dying in a wide variety of ways, so it may actually have been more humane to use the military kinetic strike option, even the nuclear strike option.)
(*Of course, American politicians play the same game with American citizens all the time. A good example is how the Obama Administration and Democrats bought a ton of votes by scamming them all about the true costs of a new national health care system. They were betting that once the program was underway, sold with entirely unrealistic cost estimates, subsequent politicians would have no choice but to keep it going, no matter how much the costs to American taxpayers and future generations of Americans. Someone else would have to finish what they started. Politicians play the same game with weapons systems, major infrastructure projects, and even when creating new immortal bureaucracies.)
(See also Footnote #5 Trust to “Military Fruit Salad“.)