MENA Mashup: The Truth About Libya Emerges

Very early in the Libyan fiasco I’d smelled a rat on our real intentions in Libya… ‘Intervention – Disaster For Libyans’

‘Al-Qaeda bogeyman of choice for West’

Press TV: There’s always talk of al-Qaeda bogeyman whenever there is any report on Yemen in the Western media. Yet this al-Qaeda affiliate was very quiet since the start of the revolution in Yemen. What does that show?

Steinberg: Al-Qaeda is the buzzword to justify any kind of criminal activity imaginable from military intervention to brutal suppression of a genuinely popular and peaceful revolt against a corrupt and completely bankrupt regime and of course the Saudis in particular have carried out a whole series of brutal campaigns violating the borders of Yemen over a long period of time using this al-Qaeda pretext.

It is noteworthy that according to Colonel Gaddafi in Libya the two main sources of the uprising there are the CIA and Osama Bin Laden so it is almost getting to be comical that this bogeyman is used to justify all kinds of illegal behavior. We are going to find out at some point in the very near future the Saudis are engaged in massive “rendition operations” going into certain neighborhood in Bahrain and picking people off the streets and this is a desperate effort on the part of [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council countries to basically hold onto these Sunni regimes. It is not going to hold. Either there are going to be some very genuine and legitimate and verifiable concessions or one after the other these regimes are going to go under. The Libya situation has become more complicated by the fact that it is about the American and European interest in Libyan oil.

So that situation is somewhat different when you have a much larger criminal violation going on right now. The whole terms under which the UN Security Council resolution, which was halved with abstention rather than vetoes from Russian and china, has been proven to be a complete sham. The discussion among American and European leaders from day one was not about the humanitarian aid to the people in Benghazi but it was regime change, plain and simple. President Obama went on national television on Monday night and knowingly and systematically lied through his teeth about the nature of the operation was there. So al-Qaeda is the bogeyman of choice for justifying violation international law, and human rights and everything else.

As I noted over a year ago in my Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi post… (more…)

Amidst Media Backlash, Key Part of Seymour Hersh’s Report on bin Laden Killing Corroborated

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A media backlash against investigative journalist Seymour Hersh for his report on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has fueled a perception that it has been wholly discredited. Yet, a key part of Hersh’s report has been corroborated by the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, a Pakistan newspaper, and partly by NBC News.

Hersh reported a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, who was the CIA station chief in the US embassy, and offered to provide information on where bin Laden was located in return for reward money offered in 2001. The CIA did not find bin Laden by spying on his couriers but uncovered his whereabouts because Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, had him essentially on house arrest since 2006.

Gall writes, “Hersh appears to have succeeded in getting both American and Pakistani sources to corroborate it. His sources remain anonymous, but other outlets such as NBC News have since come forward with similar accounts. Finally, the Pakistani daily newspaper The News reported Tuesday that Pakistani intelligence officials have conceded that it was indeed a walk-in who provided the information on Bin Laden. The newspaper names the officer as Brigadier Usman Khalid; the reporter is sufficiently well connected that he should be taken seriously.” Khalid was promised reward money as well as “US citizenship with a new identity.”

“It is the strongest indication to date that the Pakistani military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts and that it was complicit in hiding a man charged with international terrorism and on the United Nations sanctions list,” Gall concludes.

Gall, whose previous reporting on bin Laden is referenced in the beginning of Hersh’s story, shares, “When I was researching my book, I learned from a high-level member of the Pakistani intelligence service that the ISI had been hiding bin Laden and ran a desk specifically to handle him as an intelligence asset. After the book came out, I learned more: that it was indeed a Pakistani Army brigadier — all the senior officers of the ISI are in the military — who told the CIA where bin Laden was hiding, and that bin Laden was living there with the knowledge and protection of the ISI.”

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto followed up after NBC News published their report. He asked sources if the US ever paid out a $25 million reward for bin Laden’s capture. Sciutto’s sources told him that some “small payments” were made to Pakistanis, “who helped track the SUV to bin Laden’s courier.” No source told Sciutto that anyone received a $25 million reward.

This does not disprove the main aspects of the story. It is possible he never was paid $25 million and received a smaller reward. Hersh says he was paid in “various chunks.” And, significantly, NBC News’ sources said an asset was paid reward money by the CIA. (more…)

In First Interview, CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Says Congressional Staffer Urged Him to Flee

In his first interview since he was charged with leaking details of a botched CIA operation to New York Times reporter James Risen, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling says that he had a meeting with a staffer for Congressman William Lacy Clay and was urged to flee the United States.

Sterling, who worked as an African American case officer, was found guilty by a jury of committing multiple Espionage Act offenses when he exposed information about “Operation Merlin,” which involved passing flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in order to get the country to work on building a nuclear weapon that would never function.

He left the CIA in 2002 and brought a claim against the CIA alleging racial discrimination. He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 2005. However, the government successfully had the case thrown out by invoking the “state secrets” privilege. The government has maintained that he leaked details about Operation Merlin in revenge for his discrimination lawsuit being dismissed.

Sterling was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on May 11. It is the longest sentence issued by a federal court during President Barack Obama’s administration.

Expose Facts, an advocacy organization that has mobilized support for Sterling, conducted an interview with Sterling, which aired on “Democracy Now!”.

Sterling recalls receiving information that there was a “possible leak of information” and “everyone” was “pointing a finger” at him. He needed to find some help.

He went to a local congressman, Clay, and one of his staff members looked at him and told him he should “just leave the country.” That hurt Sterling because the staff member was a black man working for a black representative and they were telling him not to stand up for his civil rights.

“You don’t run away. You stand up for yourself,” Sterling declares.

Sterling and his wife, Holly, describe what happened after Risen published details about “Operation Merlin” in a chapter of his book, State of War, in 2006. FBI agents came to their door.

“They flew me out to Virginia, and I went to FBI headquarters and was interrogated for seven hours,” Holly recalls. “And then, the next day they surrounded the home actually. They just went methodically through the home. They went to my family. They went to my employer. It’s incredibly intrusive and incredibly disturbing. You’re whole sense of security in your home and privacy was violated.”

Jeffrey mentions that he thought he would be arrested. He was not, and it was not until more than four years later that he was charged on January 6, 2011. At that point, he was arrested.

The trial started very soon after and was delayed as the government sought testimony from Risen. Sterling expresses how it bothered him that he was the defendant being prosecuted and the press transformed the case into the “Risen case,” which meant there was little discussion about how the government was going after him.

Sterling says that he is still “in shock” about the fact that he was found guilty by a jury. He adds that the government shut him up with his discrimination case, and “they’ve closed the door with the criminal case.” (more…)

CIA Investigation Minimizes Use of Drugs on Rendition & Black Site Detainees

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The CIA has released documents regarding a 2008 Inspector General (IG) investigation into the use of “mind-altering” drugs to enhance or facilitate interrogations undertaken as part of their rendition, “black site” detention, and interrogation-torture (RDI) program. Not surprisingly, a brief investigation found, according to a January 29, 2009 newly declassified letter sent from the CIA IG to Senator Dianne Feinstein, then-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), that CIA had not used any drugs on detainees for the purpose of interrogations.

The documents were released to Jason Leopold at VICE News, who posted a comprehensive article examining them earlier today. Leopold and I have previously written on the subject of drugging prisoners, and examined an earlier Department of Defense IG report on the subject a few years ago, as well as the use of mefloquine at Guantanamo, about which more below.

The CIA Inspector General, John L. Helgerson, referred Feinstein to a statement by the Director of CIA’s Office of Medical Services (OMS), to the effect that “no ‘mind-altering’ drugs were administered to facilitate interrogations and debriefings because no medications of any kind were used for that purpose.”

But as we shall see, there were many claims by prisoners of drugging during CIA renditions, and later by affiliated “liaison” government officials. Other prisoners claimed they were drugged during the time they were held by CIA itself at their black site prisons. None of those charges were addressed by Helgerson in his investigation, unless they were part of a 5-page section of the new CIA document release that was totally whited out by the CIA FOIA officials.

No CIA detainees were evidently ever interviewed as part of the IG investigation.

Helgerson said that he queried IG investigators working on another investigation of abuse claims by 16 high-value detainees then held at Guantanamo. The alleged abuse concerned treatment by CIA before the detainees were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006. Helgerson said the investigators had no knowledge of “the use of ‘mind-altering’ drugs as a part of the interrogation regimen.” Nothing is known about this IG investigation on detainee complaints.

Helgerson, who is now retired, did refer in his letter to Feinstein to the May 2004 CIA IG report that examined “isolated allegations of mistreatment or abuse of detainees, though he never specifically states that there were no claims of drugging in that “comprehensive review.”

Helgerson said that the CIA IG had investigated “a variety of specific unrelated detainee abuse allegations” since the 2004 report.

MKULTRA, KUBARK, and Phoenix

The issue of CIA drugging of prisoners has historical resonance since CIA engaged in a decades-long program of experimentation on the use of “truth serums” and other drugs, including LSD, for use in interrogations. Known under various acronyms, including Bluebird, MKDELTA and MKSEARCH, the program was best known in popular accounts as MKULTRA. The CIA’s KUBARK interrogation manual from the early 1960s drew specifically upon MKULTRA research when it advocated use of “narcosis” or the use of drugs for interrogations.

The latest version of the KUBARK manual (PDF), released to me last year after a Mandatory Declassification Request, showed a much heavier emphasis on the use of foreign “liaison” agencies for detention of CIA prisoners than had been previously revealed.

The CIA’s 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual also describes such liaison relationships in some depth, in addition to a discussion of using drugs during interrogation. According to National Security Archive, “The manual was used in numerous Latin American countries as an instructional tool by CIA and Green Beret trainers between 1983 and 1987 and became the subject of executive session Senate Intelligence Committee hearings in 1988 because of human rights abuses committed by CIA-trained Honduran military units.”

This aspect of the CIA’s program both before and after 9/11 has probably had the least amount of emphasis in the press, for partly understandable reasons, as the actions of police or intelligence agencies in foreign countries is least penetrable or open to examination by government or human rights agency, not to mention journalists. (more…)

Former CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Jail for Leaking to Journalist

Jeffrey Sterling (Photo by Institute for Public Accuracy)

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for leaking information to a journalist. It was the longest sentence issued by a federal court during President Barack Obama’s administration.

During a trial in January, the government convinced a jury, with largely circumstantial evidence, that Sterling leaked information about a top secret CIA operation in Iran called “Operation Merlin” to New York Times reporter James Risen, who published details on the operation in a chapter of his book, State of War. “Operation Merlin” involved the passage of flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in order to get them to work on building a nuclear weapon that would never function.

He was convicted of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses. The government had argued a sentence ranging from 19.5 to 24 years in prison would be reasonable.

Judge Leonie Brinkema, according to Times reporter Matt Apuzzo, said Sterling had “jeopardized the safety of a CIA informant.” And, “Of all the types of secrets kept by American intelligence officers, she said, ‘This is the most critical secret.’”

“If you knowingly reveal these secrets, there’s going to be a price to be paid,” Brinkema added. Sterling had to be punished in order to send a message to other officials, who might consider revealing these kinds of secrets.

Still, Brinkema did not issue a sentence that advocates for Sterling had feared might be issued against him.

“This is the least worst outcome,” Jesselyn Radack, director of the Government Accountability Project’s National Security and Human Rights division, declared. “I expected it to be worse given the huge amount of time that the government was requesting. That said, in my opinion, any jail time is excessive in light of the sweetheart plea deal that [David] Petraeus received for leaking classified information to his mistress.”

Sterling’s defense had argued [PDF] that the court could not “turn a blind eye to the positions the government has taken in similar cases.”

The government agreed to sentence Petraeus to two years of probation and a fine of $40,000 (which the judge hearing the case increased to $100,000). It was lenient considering the fact that Petraeus leaked “Black Books” containing the names of covert officers, war strategy notes, discussions from high level National Security Council meetings and notes from his meetings with President Barack Obama. He also lied to the FBI but was not charged with perjury or obstruction of justice. And the government allowed him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation instead of a violation of the Espionage Act.

“Sterling should not receive a different form of justice than General Petraeus,” Edward MacMahon Jr. suggested. (more…)

Hersh Tells CNN’s Chris Cuomo ‘Not Out on Limb’ with bin Laden Story

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh appeared on CNN’s “New Day” this morning and host Chris Cuomo had Hersh defend his major story in the London Review of Books on lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Hersh told Cuomo he was not “out on a limb” with this one. That is just what Cuomo thinks.

“Look, I’m sorry this goes against the grain. I’ve been doing this all my life. All I can tell you is I understand the consequences. I’ve been a reporter for fifty years in this town. I have a lot of good stories,” Hersh explained.

Cuomo asked, “What is the main reason why this would be a lie? Why would it be covered up if it was really just a cooperative agreement with Pakistan? Where’s the motive?”

“Motive is very simple,” Hersh replied. A “walk-in,” an officer from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, wanted the $25 million reward money the CIA offered for information leading to the whereabouts of bin Laden. He was willing to betray his country for the reward.

The alternative to this story, Hersh suggested, is that you believe “what I call a Lewis Carroll fairy tale, that bin Laden, the most hunted man since 2002 in the wolrd, decided a safe place to live is in a compound forty miles from the main capital of Pakistan.”

On this point, Cuomo agreed that this had always been a “point of intrigue.”

Cuomo claimed on air that Hersh had leaned heavily on one anonymous source. Hersh took issue with that characterization.

On sources for his story, he argued, “It’s very tough for guys still inside to get quoted extensively. And there are other people—America uses an awful lot of retired CIA people, military people in the War on Terror. And there are other people, who have retired with a great deal of information. So, it’s much easier to quote some of them than somebody on active duty.”

Hersh’s interview happened before the White House described the claims in his investigative story as “baseless assertions.”

For more on media reaction to Hersh’s bin Laden story, go here.

US Establishment Press Dismiss, Shrug Off Seymour Hersh’s Story on Killing of bin Laden

(update below)

Most distressing about investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s story on the lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden is the general reaction of the United States establishment press.

Hersh is an award-winning journalist best known for exposing the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War. It earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He also did stellar reporting on the abuse and torture of detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, most establishment press seem to be shrugging at Hersh’s latest 10,000-word feature story published by the London Review of Books or they are snidely dismissing it altogether.

Is it because most in the US press wholly accept the narrative put forward by the Obama administration around the raid that killed bin Laden? Is it because they have moved on and no longer find it worthy to investigate what really happened? Is it because they do not want to believe what Hersh is alleging because it amounts to a major international espionage conspiracy if it all happens to be true?

Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger already went to the trouble to list off each allegation against the Obama administration that is made in Hersh’s story. So, courtesy of Frizzelle:

• Pakistani officials knew about the raid and even helped the US pull it off.

• There never was a firefight, neither in the yard outside the house nor once the Seals got inside.

• The story of the courier whom the reportedly CIA traced, leading them to bin Laden, was a fabrication.

• The story of the courier dying in the firefight was a cover-up “because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him,” a retired senior intelligence official told Hersh.

• The way the CIA actually found out where bin Laden was is that a “Pakistani walk-in” who wanted the $25 million reward came in and told the CIA about it.

• Osama bin Laden was not armed, contrary to reports that he had a machine gun and was killed in a firefight, and he was not killed with just one or two bullets but “obliterated.”

• “Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen,” that same retired senior intelligence official said.

• “Despite all the talk” about what the Seals collected on site, the retired official said there were “no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks.”

• The story about bin Laden’s sea burial may be a fabrication.

• The retired official told Hersh that bin Laden’s “remains, including his head… were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains—or so the Seals claimed.”

• Obama was going to wait a week until after bin Laden’s death to announce it, and he was going to tell the American people that bin Laden had been killed by a drone, but after the Seals had to blow up their malfunctioning helicopter onsite, attracting attention locally, everything changed.

• The story about the vaccination program carried out locally in an attempt to get bin Laden’s DNA—a story that “led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying”—wasn’t true.

• Retired official again: “It’s a great hoax.”

What are Hersh’s sources for these claims against the Obama administration?

Hersh relies on a “major US source” who is not named in the story. The person is described as a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” He also sources his claims to two additional unnamed US sources, “who had access to corroborating information” and have been “longtime consults to the Special Operations Command.”

He writes that he received information from “inside Pakistan” that indicates “senior ISI and military leadership” were upset with Obama’s decision to immediately go public with the news that bin Laden was killed. He also quotes Asad Durrani, who was the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, in the 1990s.

One of the key criticisms of Hersh’s story is that it relies on anonymous sources. However, should this criticism be allowed to invalidate the claims put forward by Hersh? (more…)