Sunday, January 31, 2010

Court Tosses NSA Spy Suits, Sides with White House Over Illegal Surveillance

In late January, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released a report that provided startling new details on illegal operations by the FBI's Communications Analysis Unit (CAU) and America's grifting telecoms.

For years, AT&T, Verizon, MCI and others fed the Bureau phone records of journalists and citizens under the guise of America's endless, and highly profitable, "War on Terror."

Between 2002 and 2007, the FBI illegally collected more than 4,000 U.S. telephone records, citing bogus terrorism threats or simply by persuading telephone companies to hand over the records. Why? Because the FBI could and the telecoms were more than willing to help out a "friend"--and reap profits accrued by shredding the Constitution in the process.

So egregious had these practices become that "based on nothing more than e-mail messages or scribbled requests on Post-it notes, the phone employees turned over customer calling records" to the FBI, The New York Times reported.

And when questions about these dodgy practices were raised internally, top FBI managers "up to the assistant director level" approved CAU's blatantly illegal methodology and responded by "crafting a 'blanket' national security letter to authorize all past searches that had not been covered by open cases," The Washington Post disclosed.

"On some occasions" according to the Times, "the phone employees allowed the F.B.I. to upload call records to government databases. On others, they allowed agents to view records on their computer screens, a practice that became known as 'sneak peeks'."

"But in a surprise buried at the end of the 289-page report" Wired disclosed, "the inspector general also reveals that the Obama administration issued a secret rule almost two weeks ago saying it was legal for the FBI to have skirted federal privacy protections."

Investigative journalist Ryan Singel revealed that the "Obama administration retroactively legalized the entire fiasco through a secret ruling from the Office of Legal Counsel nearly two weeks ago."

"That's the same office" Singel writes, "from which John Yoo blessed President George W. Bush's torture techniques and warrantless wiretapping of Americans' communications that crossed the border."

While corporate media frame these stories as if they were practices of the far-distant Bushist past, former telephone technician and AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, who leaked documents on the existence of secret NSA-controlled spy rooms embedded in AT&T switching offices across the country, believes otherwise.

Klein told Wired journalist David Kravets January 29, that the President's Surveillance Program (PSP) and internal AT&T documents suggest that the program "was just the tip of an eavesdropping iceberg."

According to Klein, these programs are not "targeted" against suspected terrorists but rather "show an untargeted, massive vacuum cleaner sweeping up millions of peoples' communications every second automatically."

Yet despite overwhelming evidence of lawbreaking by the secret state and their corporate partners, on January 21 U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker tossed out the EFF's lawsuit, Jewell v. NSA, filed on behalf of AT&T customers fighting the National Security Agency's illegal operations that target millions of citizens' phone calls, emails and web searches.

In a cowardly ruling that skirts the issue of Americans' privacy rights, Walker reaffirmed the unlimited power of the so-called "Unitary Executive," Bushist double-speak for a presidential dictatorship; a position embraced by current Oval Office resident, the discredited "change" President, Barack Obama.

In a further sign that the Executive Branch and secret state agencies are above the law, Walker ruled that harm done to U.S. citizens and legal residents under the PSP, was not a "particularized injury" but instead was a "generalized grievance" because almost everyone in the United States has a phone and Internet service.

Chillingly, Walker asserted that "a citizen may not gain standing by claiming a right to have the government follow the law." This pitiful summary judgement merely affirms the obvious: America is a lawless state where neither citizens nor "co-equal" branches of government, Congress and the Courts, can challenge the quintessentially political decisions made in secret by the Executive Branch.

Despite the fact that an audit by the Justice Department's own Office of the Inspector General found that the FBI and telecom grifters colluded together to violate federal wiretapping laws, to wit, the Electronic Communications Protection Act (ECPA) and continue to do so today, Walker's ruling means that Americans are left without an legal mechanism to redress the systematic destruction of their rights.

According to enforcement provisions of ECPA: "A court issuing an order under this section against a telecommunications carrier, a manufacturer of telecommunications transmission or switching equipment, or a provider of telecommunications support services may impose a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per day for each day in violation after the issuance of the order or after such future date as the court may specify."

It is all-too-clear that were these lawsuits to go forward and the telecoms lose, the giant phone companies and internet service providers, which the Justice Department was forced to admit in court papers are an "arm of the government ... when it comes to secret spying," as Wired reported in October, would potentially face astronomical fines.

Strip away Walker's mendacious reasoning and what we're left with is another in an endless series of moves by the capitalist state to defend the interests of their political masters: the corporate oligarchy and financial swindlers who resort to police state methods of rule to shore-up a crumbling empire.

EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston denounced the ruling and said, "The alarming upshot of the court's decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional."

Last June, Walker dismissed EFF's Hepting v. AT&T lawsuit that targeted illegal collaboration between AT&T and the NSA. In that case, the court ruled that the telecoms enjoyed retroactive immunity from liability when the Democratic-controlled Congress, and then-Senator and corporatist presidential candidate Barack Obama, voted in favor of the despicable FISA Amendments Act (FAA).

Antifascist Calling reported that the Obama administration argued that Jewell too, must be dismissed on similar grounds. Taking a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook, the government claimed that should Jewell go forward, it would require disclosure of "privileged state secrets."

As I wrote at the time, the claim of "sovereign immunity" and a "state secrets" privilege means that the government can never be held accountable for blatant illegalities under any federal statute. In other words, under such conditions the "rule of law" is a fraudulent exercise and gross criminality, when sanctioned at the highest levels of the state, becomes the norm as formerly democratic and republican forms of self-governance slip ineluctably towards the abyss of presidential dictatorship.

Following in the footsteps of his White House predecessor, the cynical nature of Obama's rhetoric is all the more remarkable, considering that the president announced last September amid great fanfare that his administration will "impose new limits on the government assertion of the state secrets privilege used to block lawsuits for national security reasons," according to The New York Times.

Despite administration posturing that it would be the most "open" in history, "more than 300 individuals and groups have sued the government to get records" in the year since Obama assumed office, The Washington Post reported January 27.

"In case after case" the Post disclosed, "plaintiffs say little has changed since the Bush administration years, when most began their quests for records. Agencies still often fight requests for disclosure, contending that national security and internal decision-making need to be protected."

Nowhere is this penchant for secrecy more pronounced then by the Obama administration's steadfast refusal to turn over the names of telecom lobbyists who bought-off their congressional allies in the run-up to the passage of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been litigating a Freedom of Information Act request against the government, demanding that the administration turn over the names of corporate lobbyists who had contacted Congress, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on behalf of their telecom clients bid for retroactive immunity under the FAA.

According to EFF, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon lobbyists forked over bundles of cash, as the watchdog group MAPLight revealed in 2008, when they published a list of campaign contributions to congressional Democrats who changed their votes on FAA once the wheels had been sufficiently greased.

Despite claims of "openness" and "transparency," the administration is still fighting hard to conceal the names of these lobbyists from the American people. In December, EFF reported that the Justice Department "argued to the appeals court that 'there is no public interest in the compelled disclosure of the representatives' identities'."

Having pledged to the American people that his would be an administration based on the rule of law and public accountability, the Obama presidency has proven itself to be just as secretive and mendacious as the Bush/Cheney cabal that ruled the roost for eight long and bloody years.

Our "forward looking" president, and the ruling class elites who have presided over the destruction of our democracy demonstrate on a daily basis the accountability-averse culture that has been a staple of American political life for decades.

While the federal courts toss out suits by citizens demanding that their right to privacy not be sacrificed to corporate looters and their police state accomplices, the architects of torture and driftnet surveillance get a free pass.

Newsweek reported January 29, that a long-awaited report from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) "clears the Bush administration lawyers who authored the 'torture' memos of professional-misconduct allegations."

Leaving aside Newsweek's placement of quotation marks around the word "torture," a practice fully in keeping with the corporate media's consensus that such heinous practices have "kept us safe," Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman write that while the probe "is sharply critical" of the "legal reasoning" used to justify CIA and Pentagon crimes however, "a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding."

That earlier version had concluded that two of the key authors of Bushist torture and surveillance policies, Federal Appeals Court Judge Jay Bybee and University of California law professor John Yoo, "violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics."

"But the reviewer" Newsweek notes, "career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed 'poor judgment'."

By downgrading OPR's original finding, the Justice Department is no longer obligated to send a referral to state bar associations "for potential disciplinary action--which, in Bybee's case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry."

Despite the tortured reasoning of blind Obama loyalists, Dick Cheney's "Unitary Executive" is alive and well.

After all, Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flight 253 Cover-Up: "No Smoking Gun" Claims Undercut by New Disclosures

Nearly one month after passengers foiled an attempted suicide bomb attack aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day, new information reveals that the White House and U.S. security agencies had specific intelligence on accused terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, far earlier than previously acknowledged.

Along with new reports, evidence suggests that the administration's cover-up of the affair has very little to do with a failure by the intelligence apparatus to "connect the dots" and may have far more serious political implications for the Obama administration, and what little remains of a functioning democracy in the United States, than a botched bombing.

What the White House and security officials have previously described only as "vague" intercepts regarding "a Nigerian" has now morphed into a clear picture of the suspect--and the plot.

The New York Times revealed January 18 that the National Security Agency "learned from a communications intercept of Qaeda followers in Yemen that a man named "Umar Farouk"--the first two names of the jetliner suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab--had volunteered for a coming operation."

According to Times' journalists Eric Lipton, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, "the American intelligence network was clearly listening in Yemen and sharing that information." Indeed, additional NSA intercepts in December "mentioned the date of Dec. 25, and suggested that they were 'looking for ways to get somebody out' or 'for ways to move people to the West,' one senior administration official said."

Clearly, the administration was "worried about possible terrorist attacks over the Christmas holiday." These concerns led President Obama to meet December 22 "with top officials of the C.I.A., F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security, who ticked off a list of possible plots against the United States and how their agencies were working to disrupt them," the Times reports.

"In a separate White House meeting that day" the Times disclosed, "Mr. Obama's homeland security adviser, John O. Brennan, led talks on Yemen, where a stream of disturbing intelligence had suggested that Qaeda operatives were preparing for some action, perhaps a strike on an American target, on Christmas Day."

In mid-January, Newsweek reported that the "White House report on the foiled Christmas Day attempted airliner bombing provided only the sketchiest of details about what may have been the most politically sensitive of its findings: how the White House itself was repeatedly warned about the prospect of an attack on the U.S.," Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff disclosed.

According to the newsmagazine, "intelligence analysts had 'highlighted' an evolving 'strategic threat,'" and that "'some of the improvised explosive device tactics AQAP might use against U.S. interests were highlighted' in other 'finished intelligence products'."

However, the real bombshell came last Wednesday during hearings before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee when Bushist embed, and current Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Michael E. Leiter, made a startling admission.

CongressDaily reported on January 22 that intelligence officials "have acknowledged the government knowingly allows foreigners whose names are on terrorist watch lists to enter the country in order to track their movement and activities."

Leiter told the Committee: "I will tell you, that when people come to the country and they are on the watch list, it is because we have generally made the choice that we want them here in the country for some reason or another."

CongressDaily reporter Chris Strohm, citing an unnamed "intelligence official" confirmed that Leiter's statement reflected government policy and told the publication, "in certain situations it's to our advantage to be able to track individuals who might be on a terrorist watch list because you can learn something from their activities and their contacts."

An alternative explanation fully in line with well-documented inaction, or worse, by U.S. security agencies prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and now, Christmas Day's aborted airline bombing, offer clear evidence that a ruthless "choice" which facilitates the murder of American citizens are cynical pretexts in a wider game: advancing imperialism's geostrategic goals abroad and attacks on democratic rights at home.

Leiter's revelation in an of itself should demolish continued government claims that the accused terror suspect succeeded in boarding NW Flight 253 due to a failure to "connect the dots."

However, as far as Antifascist Calling can determine, no other media outlet has either reported or followed-up CongressDaily's disclosure; a clear sign that its explosive nature, and where a further investigation might lead, are strictly off-limits.

Taking into account testimony by a high-level national security official that terrorists are allowed to enter the country for intelligence purposes, one can only conclude that the alleged "failure" to stop Abdulmutallab was neither a casual omission nor the result of bureaucratic incompetence but rather, a highly-charged political calculation.

Bushist Embeds: Destabilizing the Obama Administration?

One subject barely explored by corporate media throughout the Flight 253 affair, is the unsettling notion that the aborted Christmas day bombing may have been a move by rightist elements within the security apparatus to destabilize the Obama administration, a course of action facilitated by the Obama government itself as we will explore below.

This is not as implausible as it might appear at first blush. When one takes into account the meteoric rise to power by the 40-year-old former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, Michael Leiter's ascent tracks closely with his previous service as a cover-up specialist for the Bush-Cheney regime.

"In 2004, while working as a federal prosecutor," a New York Times puff piece informs us, "Mr. Leiter joined the staff of a commission, appointed by President George W. Bush, to examine intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq. That led to a series of jobs in the intelligence world, and in 2008, Mr. Bush appointed him director of the counterterrorism center."

A rather curious appointment, if Leiter were simply an ingénue with no prior experience in the murky world of intelligence and covert operations. However the former Navy pilot, who participated in the U.S. wars of aggression against the former Yugoslavia and Iraq seemed to have the requisite qualifications for work as an intelligence "specialist."

While attending Harvard Law School, Leiter served as a "human rights fellow" with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, the U.S.-sponsored kangaroo court that has prosecuted America's official enemies in the Balkans whilst covering-up the crimes of their partners.

Amongst America's more dubious "allies" in the decade-long campaign to destabilize socialist Yugoslavia were al-Qaeda's Islamist brigade, responsible for carrying-out hideous massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo, with NATO approval and logistical support, as Global Research analyst Michel Chossudovsky, and others, have thoroughly documented.

As Deputy General Counsel and Assistant Director of the President's Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States, the so-called "Robb-Silberman" cover-up commission, Leiter focused on what are euphemistically described in the media as "reforms" with the U.S. "Intelligence Community," including the stand-up of the FBI's repressive National Security Branch.

Prior to joining NCTC, Leiter was the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under former NSA Director and ten-year senior vice president of the spooky Booz Allen Hamilton security firm, John "Mike" McConnell.

From his perch in ODNI, Leiter coordinated all internal and external operations for the Office, including relations with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA.

Leiter's résumé, and his role in concealing Bush administration war crimes, predicated on ginned-up "intelligence" invented by Dick Cheney's minions in the Defense Department and the CIA, should have sent alarm bells ringing inside the incoming Obama administration.

As we have seen since Obama's inauguration however, rather than cleaning house--and settling accounts--with the crimes, and criminals, of the previous regime, the "change" administration chose to retain senior- and mid-level bureaucrats in the security apparatus; employing officials who share the antidemocratic ideology, penchant for secrecy and ruthlessness of the Bush administration.

While the Times claims his "unblemished résumé" has taken a hit over the Flight 253 plot, an interview with National Public Radio shortly before the Abdulmutallab affair, provides chilling insight into Leiter's agenda, particularly in light of his January 20 statement to the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Presciently perhaps, the NCTC chief told NPR: "We're not going to stop every attack. Americans have to very much understand that it is impossible to stop every terrorist event. But we have to do our best, and we have to adjust, based on, again, how the enemy changes their tactics."

It becomes a painfully simple matter for "the enemy" to gain advantage and "change their tactics" when those charged with protecting the public actually facilitate their entrée into the country "for some reason or another"!

According to the Times, the White House has kept Leiter at the helm and that it came as "no surprise to Bush officials" because, get this, "Michael wasn't political," if we're to believe the carefully-constructed legend of former Bushist Deputy National Security Adviser Juan Zarate.

If the Bush-Cheney years tell us anything it's that appointments by the previous regime were ruthlessly political. As The Washington Post reported shortly after Obama's election, these appointments were made permanent across a multitude of federal agencies and departments, including the security apparat, in a cynical maneuver designed to reward Bush loyalists.

"The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions" the Post disclosed, "called 'burrowing' by career officials, creates security for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs."

The Times reports that the White House has publicly defended Leiter "and aides to the president said Mr. Obama called to convey his support." Perhaps not so curiously, the allegedly "nonpolitical" NCTC Director "has been mentioned as a possible future head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and how he performs might help determine whether he remains on the fast track."

One can only wonder, how many other counterterrorist officials have "burrowed" their way into, and hold key positions in the current administration, ticking political time-bombs inside America's permanent shadow government.

Senate Whitewash Fuel Attacks on Democratic Rights

During Wednesday's Senate hearings, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis C. Blair, in keeping with the former Bush administration's assault on democratic rights, assailed the decision by the Justice Department to try the suspect in a court of law.

This is fully in line with the rhetoric of ultra-right Republicans and so-called "centrist Democrats" such as arch neocon Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Newsweek reports that new details "surrounding the Christmas Day interrogation of the bombing suspect aboard Northwest Flight 253 raise questions about the accuracy of testimony provided Wednesday by senior U.S. intelligence and Homeland Security officials."

Last week, the newsmagazine reported that "Obama administration officials were flabbergasted Wednesday when Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair testified that an alleged Qaeda operative who tried to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day should have been questioned by a special interrogation unit that doesn't exist, rather than the FBI."

This theme was quickly picked-up by Senate Republicans.

The overarching sentiments expressed by this gaggle of war criminals and corporate toadies was not to demand accountability from the responsible parties, but to call for further attacks on Americans' democratic rights.

Republicans on the committee lambasted Obama's Justice Department for its decision to try Abdulmutallab in a civilian court. John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican party's failed candidate in the 2008 presidential election, said the decision was "a terrible, terrible mistake," while the execrable Jeff Sessions (R-AL) claimed that the hapless suspect should have been delivered to the U.S. military as an "enemy combatant."

Ranking Republicans on the committee, Susan Collins (R-ME) and John Ensign (R-NV) went so far as to imply that Abdulmutallab should have been tortured. Collins inquired: "how can we uncover plots" if accused criminal suspects are allowed to "lawyer up and stop answering questions?" Ensign, a staunch supporter of policies articulated by the Bush administration, particularly former Vice President and war criminal, Dick Cheney, argued that "limiting" CIA interrogators to the methods laid out in the Army Field Manual would allow terrorists to "train" in advance of interrogations.

But the harshest criticism of the administration came in the form of a stealth attack by Obama's own Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Blair.

The Wall Street Journal reported January 21 that "nation's intelligence chief said the man accused of trying to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day should have been questioned by a special interrogation team instead of being handled as an ordinary criminal suspect."

Rather than coming to terms and halting the Bush regime's practice of torturing so-called terrorist suspects, the Obama administration has compounded the crime by creating a secretive group of interrogators called the High-Value Interrogation Group or HIG.

Blair told the Senate that the administration had "botched" the handling of suspect Abdulmutallab, by, wait, not handing him over to a group that as of this writing, exists only on paper, a salient fact of which Blair was certainly knowledgeable!

In his testimony however, the DNI told the Homeland Security Committee that the HIG "was created exactly for this purpose--to make a decision on whether a certain person who's detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means."

Blair implicitly criticized the Justice Department's decision to uphold constitutional protections that guarantee a suspect a right to a trial in a court of law and not a one-way ticket to an American gulag. Blair said, "we did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have. Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and, duh, you know, we didn't put it [in action] then."

Mendaciously, the DNI claimed "I was not consulted. The decision was made on the scene, [and] seemed logical to the people there, but it should have been taken using this HIG format, at a higher level."

Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff disclosed January 20 that "senior administration officials" told him that Blair was "misinformed on multiple levels" and that the DNI's assertions were "all the more damaging because they immediately fueled Republican criticism that the administration mishandled the Christmas Day incident in its treatment of the accused Qaeda operative as a criminal suspect rather than an enemy combatant."

Isikoff reported January 22 that Blair, Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were asked about the decision to try Abdulmutallab and all gave the same answer when queried by right-wing Senator Susan Collins, the Committee's ranking Republican: "Were you consulted regarding the decision to file criminal charges against [suspect Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab in civilian court?"

Leiter and Napolitano both replied: "I was not." According to Newsweek, Blair also said he was "not consulted" and claims that the government "should have" brought in the yet-to-be activated HIG "to conduct the questioning of the suspect."

As with every aspect of this strange affair, Newsweek reports, these statements are riddled with lies and mischaracterizations.

Isikoff writes that "all the relevant national-security agencies, including top aides to Blair and Napolitano, were fully informed about the plans to charge the suspect in federal court hours before he was read his Miranda rights and stopped cooperating."

Newsweek further reveals that a "key event" was a secure videoconference on Christmas Day "that included Leiter" and Jane Lute, DHS' No. 2 official and that "neither Leiter nor any of the other participants, including representatives from the FBI and the CIA, raised any questions about the Justice Department's plans to charge the suspect in federal court, the officials said."

"If you participate in a conference call and you don't raise any objections, that suggests you were consulted," said one senior law-enforcement official. Another added that "nobody at any point" raised any objections, either during the meeting or during a four-hour period afterward when Abdulmutallab was informed of his Miranda rights to be represented by a lawyer," according to Newsweek.

Ultra-right Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a witting accomplice to the previous regime's high crimes and misdemeanors against the American people said, "That this administration chose to shut out our top intelligence officials and forgo collecting potentially life-saving intelligence is a dangerous sign."

It's a "dangerous sign" to be sure, for America's battered democracy.

An On-Going Cover-Up

As events continue to unfold and new information shreds the official story, is Leiter's chilling testimony that suspected terrorists are allowed to enter the United States "because we have generally made the choice that we want them here in the country for some reason or another," merely a banal slip or something far more sinister that betrays the real order of things in post-democratic America?

Relevant questions begging for answers include: Who made the decision not to "connect the dots"? Are right-wing elements and holdovers from the previous administration actively conspiring to destabilize the Obama government? Was the attempted bombing a planned provocation meant to incite new conflicts in the Middle East and restrict democratic rights at home?

As with the 9/11 attacks, these questions go unasked by corporate media. Indeed, such lines of inquiry are entirely off the table and are further signs that a cover-up is in full-swing, not a hard-hitting investigation.

In truth, what we are dealing with here as we stagger into the second decade of the 21st century, is not a "conspiracy" per se but a modus operandi as the World Socialist Web Site has argued, rooted in a bankrupt system quickly reaching the end of the line.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Obama Executive Order Seeks to "Synchronize and Integrate" State and Federal Military Forces

In the wake of the Flight 253 provocation, over-hyped terrorism panics, and last year's Big Pharma and media-engineered hysteria over the H1N1 flu pandemic, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13528 on January 11.

Among other things, the Executive Order (EO) established a Council of Governors, an "advisory panel" chosen by the President that will rubber-stamp long-sought-after Pentagon contingency plans to seize control of state National Guard forces in the event of a "national emergency."

According to the White House press release, the ten member, bipartisan Council was created "to strengthen further the partnership between the Federal Government and State Governments to protect our Nation against all types of hazards."

"When appointed" the announcement continues, "the Council will be reviewing such matters as involving the National Guard of the various States; homeland defense; civil support; synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States; and other matters of mutual interest pertaining to National Guard, homeland defense, and civil support activities."

Clearly designed to weaken the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which bars the use of the military for civilian law enforcement, EO 13528 is the latest in a series of maneuvers by previous administrations to wrest control of armed forces historically under the democratic control of elected state officials, and a modicum of public accountability.

One consequence of moves to "synchronize and integrate" state National Guard units with those of the Armed Forces would be to place them under the effective control of United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), created in 2002 by Bushist legislators in both capitalist parties under the pretext of imperialism's endless "War on Terror." At the time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called USNORTHCOM's launch "the most sweeping set of changes since the unified command system was set up in 1946."

The real-world consequences of those changes weren't long in coming.

Following their criminal inaction during 2005's Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, the Bush regime sought, but failed, to seize control of depleted Gulf Coast National Guard units, the bulk of which had been sent to Iraq along with equipment that might have aided the recovery. Bush demanded that then Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco sign over control of the Guard as well as state and local police units as the blood price for federal assistance.

At the height of the crisis, Bush cited presidential prerogatives for doing so under the Insurrection Act, a repressive statute which authorizes the President to federalize National Guard units when state governments fail to "suppress rebellion." How the plight of citizens engulfed by Katrina's flood waters could be twisted into an act of "rebellion" was achieved when Orwellian spin doctors, aided and abetted by a compliant media, invented a new criminal category to cover traumatized New Orleans residents: "Drowning while Black."

Fast forward five years. Given the serious implications such proposals would have for a functioning democracy, the media's deafening silence on Obama's Executive Order is hardly surprising. Like their role as cheerleaders in the escalating wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, media self-censorship tell us much about the state of affairs in "new normal" America.

Like his predecessors in the Oval Office, stretching back to the 1960s with Pentagon "civil disturbance" plans such as Cable Splicer and Garden Plot, both of which are continuously updated, our "change" President will forge ahead and invest the permanent National Security bureaucracy with unprecedented power.

Under color of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, an unsavory piece of Bushist legislative detritus, "The President shall establish a bipartisan Council of Governors to advise the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the White House Homeland Security Council on matters related to the National Guard and civil support missions."

The toothless Council, whose Executive Director will be designated by the Secretary of Defense no less, "shall meet at the call of the Secretary of Defense or the Co-Chairs of the Council."

Will such a Council have veto power over administration deliberations? Hardly. They are relegated "to exchange views, information, or advice with the Secretary of Defense; the Secretary of Homeland Security" and "the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism."

Additional entities covered by the EO with whom the Governors Council will "exchange views" include, "the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement; the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs; the Commander, United States Northern Command; the Chief, National Guard Bureau; the Commandant of the Coast Guard; and other appropriate officials of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, and appropriate officials of other executive departments or agencies as may be designated by the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of Homeland Security."

In other words, right from the get-go, the Council will serve as civilian cover for political decisions made by the Executive Branch and the security apparat. EO 13528 continues, "Such views, information, or advice shall concern: (a) matters involving the National Guard of the various States; (b) homeland defense; (c) civil support; (d) synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States; and (e) other matters of mutual interest pertaining to National Guard, homeland defense, and civil support activities."

When news first broke last summer of Obama's proposal to expand the military's authority to respond to domestic disasters, it was opposed by the National Governors Association (NGA).

Congressional Quarterly reported that a letter sent on behalf of the NGA opposed creation of the Council on grounds that it "would invite confusion on critical command and control issues, complicate interagency planning, establish stove-piped response efforts, and interfere with governors' constitutional responsibilities to ensure the safety and security of their citizens," Govs. Jim Douglas, R-Vt., and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., wrote.

According to their August letter to Paul N. Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs, Douglas and Manchin III argued that "without assigning a governor tactical control" of military forces during a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, or an unnatural disaster such as a terrorist attack or other mass casualty event, the "strong potential exists for confusion in mission, execution and the dilution of governors' control over situations with which they are more familiar and better capable of handling than a federal military commander."

With slim prospects of congressional authorization for the scheme, in fact the 2008 language was removed from subsequent Defense spending legislation, other means were required. Playing bureaucratic hardball with the governors, this has now been accomplished by presidential fiat, further eroding clear constitutional limits on Executive Branch power.

These maneuvers as I have previously written, have very little to do with responding to a catastrophic emergency. Indeed, EO 13528 is only the latest iteration of plans to expand the National Security State's writ and as such, have everything to do with decades-old Continuity of Government (COG) programs kept secret from Congress and the American people.

Derided by neocons, neoliberals and other corporatists as a quaint backwater for "conspiracy theorists" railing against "FEMA concentration camps," Continuity of Government, and the nexus of "civil support" programs that have proliferated like noxious weeds are no laughing matter.

Indeed, even members of Congress are considered "unauthorized parties" denied access "to information on COG plans, procedures, capabilities and facilities," according to a Pentagon document published by the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks, as are the classified annexes of National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (NSPD 51/HSPD 20). In a new twist on administration promises of transparency and open government, even the redacted version of these documents have been removed from the White House web site.

As Antifascist Calling previously reported (see: "Vigilant Shield 09: A Cover for Illegal Domestic Operations?"), the Congressional Research Service issued a 46-page report in 2008 that provided details on the COG-related National Exercise Program, a "civil support" operation that war games various disaster scenarios.

Among other things, the document outlines the serious domestic implications of military participation in national emergency preparedness drills. CRS researchers pointed to the Reagan-era Executive Order 12656 (EO 12656) that "directs FEMA to coordinate the planning, conduct, and evaluation of national security emergency exercises." EO 12656 defines a national security emergency as "as any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States."

Such programs, greatly expanded by the Bush-era Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 (HSPD-8), also removed from the White House web site, established "a national program and a multi-year planning system to conduct homeland security preparedness-related exercises." CRS avers, "The program is to be carried out in collaboration with state and local governments and private sector entities."

The Defense Department's role during such emergencies were intended to focus "principally on domestic incident management, either for terrorism or non terrorist catastrophic events." DoD would play a "significant role" in the overall response. Such murky definitions cover a lot of ground and are ripe with a potential for abuse by unscrupulous securocrats and their corporate partners.

The primary DoD entity responsible for "civil support," a focus of Obama's EO is USNORTHCOM and its active combat component, U.S. Army North. However, as with almost everything relating to COG and current plans under EO 13528 that propose to "synchronize and integrate State and Federal military activities," USNORTHCOM's role is shrouded in secrecy.

As researcher Peter Dale Scott revealed in 2008, when Congressman Peter DeFazio, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Carney sought access to classified COG annexes, their request was denied by the White House. Scott wrote: "DeFazio's inability to get access to the NSPD Annexes is less than reassuring. If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing."

One hammer blow followed another. In 2008, Army Times reported, that the "3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team [BCT] has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys. Now they're training for the same mission--with a twist--at home."

Analyst Michel Chossudovsky commented, "What is significant in this redeployment of a US infantry unit is the presumption that North America could, in the case of a national emergency, constitute a 'war theater' thereby justifying the deployment of combat units." According to Chossudovsky, "The new skills to be imparted consist in training 1st BCT in repressing civil unrest, a task normally assumed by civilian law enforcement."

"It is noteworthy, the World Socialist Web Site commented, "that the deployment of US combat troops 'as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters' ... coincides with the eruption of the greatest economic emergency and financial disaster since the Great Depression of the 1930s."

"Justified as a response to terrorist threats," socialist critic Bill Van Auken averred, "the real source of the growing preparations for the use of US military force within America's borders lies not in the events of September 11, 2001 or the danger that they will be repeated. Rather, the domestic mobilization of the armed forces is a response by the US ruling establishment to the growing threat to political stability."

Since USNORTHCOM's deployment of a combat brigade on U.S. soil, the capitalist crisis has deepened and intensified. With unemployment at a post-war high and the perilous economic and social conditions of the working class growing grimmer by the day, EO 13258 is a practical demonstration of ruling class consensus when it comes to undermining the democratic rights of the American people.

After all, where the defense of wealth and privileges are concerned corporate thugs and war criminals have no friends, only interests...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Flight 253: Anatomy of a Cover-Up

New revelations about the failed Christmas Day attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 continue to emerge as does evidence of a systematic cover-up.

With the White House in crisis mode since the attempted bombing, President Obama met for two hours January 5 with top security and intelligence officials. Obama said that secret state agencies "had sufficient information to uncover the terror plot ... but that intelligence officials had 'failed to connect those dots'," The New York Times reports.

The latest iteration of the "dot theory" floated by the President, aided and abetted by a compliant media, claims "this was not a failure to collect intelligence" but rather, "a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had."

"Mr. Obama's stark assessment that the government failed to properly analyze and integrate intelligence served as a sharp rebuke of the country's intelligence agencies," declared the Times uncritically.

While the President's remarks may have offered a "sharp [rhetorical] rebuke," Obama's statement suggests that no one will be held accountable. Indeed, the President "was standing by his top national security advisers, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another."

While the President may be "standing by" his national security advisers, the question is, are the denizens of America's secret state standing by him? One well-connected Washington insider, MSNBC pundit Richard Wolffe, isn't so sure.

Wolffe, the author of a flattering portrait of Obama, Renegade: The Making of a President, when asked on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann January 4 what is the White House "focus here right now?" Wolffe's startling reply: "Is this conspiracy or cock up? It seems that the president is leaning very much towards thinking this was a systemic failure by individuals who maybe had an alternative agenda." (emphasis added)

"I will accept that intelligence by its nature is imperfect" the President said, "but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged."

The question is why? And more pertinently from a parapolitical perspective, what "alternative agenda" is playing out here that would put the lives of nearly 300 air passengers at risk?

British Evidence: Down the Memory Hole

As Antifascist Calling reported last week, The Sunday Times and The Observer newspapers disclosed that MI5 had built a dossier on Abdulmutallab which showed "his repeated contacts with MI5 targets who were subject to phone taps, email intercepts and other forms of surveillance."

It has since emerged, the Associated Press reported January 4, that British authorities began assembling a security file on Abdulmutallab shortly after his arrival the UK in 2005 when officials claimed he was in contact with "known radicals."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokesperson Simon Lewis said on Monday, "Clearly there was security information about this individual's activities, and that was information that was shared with the U.S. authorities. That is the key point."

In an climb-down from Lewis's admission, The Wall Street Journal reported that Home Secretary Alan Johnson, whose brief includes MI5, said in an appearance before Parliament Tuesday, "Whilst we did provide information to the U.S., according to standard operational practices, linked to the wider aspect of this case, none of the information we held or shared indicated that Abdulmutallab was about to attempt a terrorist attack against the U.S."

The Brown government has steadfastly refused to say just when the file on Abdulmutallab was passed to the U.S., letting stand the implication it was sent before the aborted Christmas Day attack.

The cover story being floated by MI5 now mendaciously claims the agency did not send Abdulmutallab's security dossier on to American officials "because of concerns about breaching his human rights and privacy," The Sunday Times reported January 10.

"MI5 has privately conceded that as early as 2006 its surveillance operations had picked up 'multiple communications' between the 23-year-old Nigerian student and suspected terrorists in Britain," The Sunday Times disclosed.

Despite these concessions, we're now to accept at face value the absurd claim that information on a terrorist suspect wasn't passed along by British spooks to their closest ally "because of guidance from [MI5's] legal department."

Trying selling that fairy tale to Republican victims of the secret state's "human rights and privacy" campaign in Northern Ireland as The Sunday Herald revealed during their multiyear investigation into Britain's dirty war!

Under intense pressure by the United States about these disclosures, the Brown government has gone to great lengths to stress "the importance to Britain of close intelligence cooperation with the United States."

Still reeling however, from U.S. threats to cut-off intelligence sharing last summer if torture evidence was disclosed to the public by the British High Court, the government is moving to avoid a similar controversy over the Abdulmutallab affair.

In late July, The Guardian revealed that "Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, personally intervened to suppress evidence of CIA collusion in the torture of a British resident, the high court heard today." The Guardian also reported that MI5 chief Jonathan Evans said in a speech in October that the "Security Service had been 'slow to detect the emerging pattern of US practice in the period after 9/11'."

While the torture files were eventually released in late October by a High Court order, it is certainly reasonable to ask: what other "U.S. practice(s)" are being suppressed today by the Brown government?

The Independent confirms this and states, "The Downing Street comments were reported to have angered the US government, but after talks with the White House, Mr Brown's spokesman tried to lower the diplomatic temperature. He said relations remained 'excellent' between the two countries."

As part of a new and improved sanitized narrative, the Home Office now claims that Abdulmutallab's transformation into an erstwhile suicide bomber began only after he left Britain. This, despite revelations by The Sunday Times last week, that he stoked MI5's interest precisely because of his repeated contacts with individuals "who were subject to phone taps, email intercepts and other forms of surveillance."

In a further development that can't please the British state, The Guardian reported January 7, that Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security, Rashad al-Alimi, told a news conference that "information provided to us is that Umar Farouk joined al-Qaida in London."

The Wall Street Journal reports that al-Alimi said Thursday, that Abdulmutallab had "no links" to al-Qaeda "when he first came to Yemen in 2004 and 2005 to study Arabic" and that he "was radicalized during his time in the U.K., where he had studied between his two stints in Yemen," charges that "senior British counterterrorism officials" dismiss, claiming "there was no evidence to back them up."

Why then, would Abdulmutallab's web browsing habits, cell phone conversations as well as "other forms of surveillance" on "targets of interest" to British spooks indicate a "lack of evidence"? It would seem to suggest just the opposite.

Indeed, Abdulmutallab had been in "close contact" with "a key suspect in an Al-Qaeda plot to murder British citizens," according to MP Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the parliamentary counter-terrorism committee. Mercer told The Sunday Times January 10, that the alleged airline bomber "had been in touch" with the suspect, currently a resident in a high-security British prison awaiting trial, "while both men were students in London."

Feeling the heat, Lewis has backtracked from his initial statement and now claims that information revealed Monday was simply a "routine exchange of information," and not specific warnings that "Abdulmutallab posed a terrorist threat."

This beggars belief. Indeed, the Brown government's climb-down is clearly intended to "disappear" inconvenient evidence from the official record, thus suppressing the actual content of MI5's security dossier on Abdulmutallab, and will only heighten suspicions that a transatlantic cover-up of the affair is in full-swing.

A Failure to "Integrate and Understand," or a Thin Tissue of Lies

Making the rounds of the Sunday talk shows last week, John O. Brennan, President Obama's top counterterrorism advisor, claimed that U.S. intelligence officials "had snippets of information" about the suspected bomber but "we didn't have any type of information that really allowed us to identify Mr. Abdulmutallab."

The Washington Post reported January 4 that Brennan mendaciously claimed, "We may have had a partial name. We might have had an indication of a Nigerian. But there was nothing that brought it all together."

Indeed, the 25-year CIA veteran and former CEO of The Analysis Corporation, the firm which built and maintained bloated watchlists for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's National Counterterrorist Center, went so far as to cheekily proclaim "there is no smoking gun piece of intelligence out there that said he was a terrorist, he was going to carry out this attack against this aircraft," or that America's multibillion counterterrorist apparatus only had "bits and pieces of information."

Let's take a look at those informational "snippets" and summarize what is quickly emerging as growing evidence of U.S. foreknowledge of an imminent attack on an American passenger plane:

* May: the British government withdrew its student visa for Abdulmutallab, a graduate of the prestigious University College London and placed him on a watchlist, barring his entry into the UK. MI5, and presumably their MI6 military intelligence colleagues in Yemen, compiled a dossier on the would-be bomber, citing his "political involvement" with "extremist networks" that have enjoyed on-again, off-again ties with NATO military intelligence organizations across the decades. This information, as Brown government spokesperson Simon Lewis, who let the cat out of the proverbial bag, was shared with their American counterparts.

* August: U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA and NSA, intercepted cell- and satellite phone traffic which revealed that a Yemeni affiliate of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets, also known as al-Qaeda, were finalizing preparations for an operation that would utilize a "Nigerian."

* October: Newsweek revealed in their January 11 issue, that the dodgy cleric, the American-born Anwar al-Awlaki, who communicated extensively with the disturbed Ft. Hood shooter, Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan, posted "a provocative message on his English-language Web site: 'COULD YEMEN BE THE NEXT SURPRISE OF THE SEASON?'" According to Newsweek, "Al-Awlaki seemed to hint at an upcoming attack that would make Yemen 'the single most important front of jihad in the world'." The Washington Post reported in 2008 that al-Awlaki had extensive contacts with 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour and was suspected of having assisted the 9/11 plot. According to the Post, "three of the hijackers had spent time at his mosques in California and Falls Church." Despite, or possibly because, of these dubious connections "he was allowed to leave the country in 2002." According to the History Commons, it is only in 2008 that the U.S. government concludes that the shady imam "is linked to al-Qaeda attacks." However, Al-Awlaki's provenance as a new "terrorist mastermind" should be viewed with suspicion, given well-documented links known to have existed amongst the 9/11 hijackers and American, Saudi and Pakistani secret state agencies.

* October: the same month Al-Awlaki was hinting at a "surprise," Newsweek revealed that John O. Brennan "received an alarming briefing at the White House from Muhammad bin Nayef, Brennan's Saudi counterpart. Nayef had just survived an assassination attempt by a Qaeda operative using a novel method: the operative had flown in from the Saudi-Yemeni border region with a bomb hidden in his underwear. The Saudi was concerned because he 'didn't think [U.S. officials] were paying enough attention' to the growing threat." A familiar trope we've heard in the aftermath of other terrorist strikes.

* Early November: Newsweek published an exclusive report January 4, that two U.S. "intelligence agencies and the Department of Homeland Security circulated a paper within the government last fall that examined in some detail the threats that bombs secreted in clothing--or inside someone's body cavities--might pose to aviation security." According to information leaked to the newsmagazine by anonymous "national-security officials," the report "was prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center in conjunction with Homeland Security and the CIA," and that "one principal point of discussion in the document was whether the detonation of a bomb hidden in clothing on an airliner would have a different explosive effect than the detonation of a bomb secreted in a body cavity under similar circumstances." (emphasis added) This chilling report, prepared in the wake of intelligence information provided U.S. security agencies by Saudi Arabia's counterterrorism czar, should raise provocative questions. No other media outlet however, has followed the trail.

* November 19: Abdulmutallab's father, a prominent Nigerian banker and former high state official, visits the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, telling State Department and CIA officials he believes his son is a threat. A cousin tells The New York Times that the father told U.S. officials, "Look at the texts he's sending. He's a security threat." Although Embassy personnel promise "to look into it," the cousin told the Times that "they didn't take him seriously."

* November 20: the CIA prepares and files a report on Abdulmutallab that is sent to agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia "but not disseminated to other intelligence agencies," unnamed "officials" tell the Times. Embassy staff also wrote and sent a cable known as a "Visa Viper," to the State Department and National Counterterrorism Center and a security file is opened on the suspect.

* December 9-24: Abdulmutallab travels to Ghana from Ethiopia and pays cash, $2,831 to be precise, for a ticket on a Northwest Airlines flight from Lagos through Amsterdam to Detroit, landing on Christmas Day. "It is now known" The Independent on Sunday reported January 10, "that the Ghanaian hotel he listed on his immigration form was not the one where he was actually staying." According to IoS, although the FBI "has officers on the ground in Ghana and believe it is likely the terrorist may well have had his final al-Qa'ida briefing, and supplied with equipment and explosives, there," no steps are taken to apprehend the suspect. "All this" IoS comments, "was more than a month after his father, a wealthy Nigerian banker, had met officials at the US embassy in Abuja to share concerns about his son."

* December 22: during a White House Situation Room briefing Newsweek reports that "a document presented to the president titled 'Key Homeland Threats' did not mention Yemen, according to a senior administration official."

* December 25: Abdulmutallab boards Flight 253 in Amsterdam with only a carry-on bag for his international flight; the would-be lap bomber holds a 2-year entry visa into the United States. As is standard procedure, the Department of Homeland Security is notified an hour prior to departure that he is a passenger on the plane.

* December 25: the Los Angeles Times disclosed January 7 that "U.S. border security officials learned of the alleged extremist links of the suspect in the Christmas Day jetliner bombing attempt as he was airborne from Amsterdam to Detroit and had decided to question him when he landed." Homeland Security officials "declined to discuss what information reached the U.S. border officials in Amsterdam on Christmas Day." Despite suspicions by Customs and Border Protection agents, who had accessed NCTC's TIDE database, the flight crew is not notified of Abdulmutallab's presence aboard the airliner and additional security precautions therefore, are not made.

Preliminary White House Review: Crafting the Cover-Up

In remarks January 7 announcing the White House's preliminary review of alleged "intelligence failures" responsible for the near detonation of a bomb aboard Flight 253, President Obama said that "America's first line of defense is timely, accurate intelligence that is shared, integrated, analyzed, and acted upon quickly and effectively."

Echoing remarks made Tuesday, Obama reiterated the trope that the secret state "failed to connect the dots in a way that would have prevented a known terrorist from boarding a plane for America."

In a maneuver to deflect public attention from the glaring similarities between the 9/11 provocation and the near-tragedy Christmas Day over Detroit, Obama claimed that "intelligence reforms" instituted under the previous regime had "largely achieved" the goal of generating said "timely intelligence."

Leaving aside overwhelming evidence that secret state agencies and a Pentagon data mining program had amassed terabytes of data on the 9/11 hijack team, including detailed profiles and intelligence dossiers, and that the Bush administration had been repeatedly warned by elements within their own counterterrorism agencies as well as their foreign counterparts in Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Morocco and Russia, in other words possessed "timely intelligence" that an attack was imminent, the "connect the dot" meme, as with 9/11, is handmaiden to today's transparent cover-up.

The President then alleged that despite knowledge of the "al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen," and that secret state agencies had amassed considerable information on Abdulmutallab's ostensible Yemeni confederates, and that "we knew they sought to strike the United States and that they were recruiting operatives to do so," as with 9/11, "the intelligence community did not aggressively follow up on and prioritize particular streams of intelligence related to a possible attack against the homeland."

The preliminary review released by the White House presents an even more damning indictment of these purported "intelligence failures."

According to the declassified version of the report, "The U.S. Government had sufficient information prior to the attempted December 25 attack to have potentially disrupted the AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] plot--i.e., by identifying Mr. Abdulmutallab as a likely operative of AQAP and potentially preventing him from boarding flight 253."

The document further charges that "the Intelligence Community leadership did not increase analytic resources working on the full AQAP threat."

Despite evidence to the contrary, the administration claims that "the fundamental problems ... are different from those identified in the wake of the 9/11 attacks" and that "firmly entrenched patterns of bureaucratic behavior as well as the absence of a single component that fuses expertise, information technology (IT) networks, and datasets ... have now, 8 years later, largely been overcome."

However, as I documented last week in "The Strange Case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab," as with 9/11, a similar pattern of concealing information from relevant counterterrorism officials who might have intervened and rescinded the suspect's U.S. visa, and thus preventing him from boarding Flight 253, were replicated.

Indeed, the CIA's Nigerian station had prepared a dossier on Abdulmutallab that included biographical details and texts handed over by the family, an analysis of NSA electronic intercepts, reports from their own on-the-ground operatives in Yemen that were sent to the agency's Langley headquarters "but not disseminated to other intelligence agencies," as The New York Times revealed December 31.

The CIA says it is now taking steps to "improve" its handling of "terrorist-threat" information. Agency spokesperson, George Little told the media that CIA Director Leon Panetta specifically ordered the Company to implement several "new measures," including "formally disseminating information on suspected extremists and terrorists within 48 hours," expanding "name traces" and "reviewing information" on individuals from "countries of concern" to determine whether the Agency should recommend "changes in status on U.S. government watch lists."

One would have thought these were precisely the policies already implemented after the September 11, 2001 attacks! And yet, here we are eight years later and the CIA, perhaps more concerned with protecting their intelligence assets--a motley crew of killers and sociopathic riff-raff that include neofascists, mafia kingpins, drug traffickers and terrorists--from scrutiny by law enforcement officials, have to be ordered by the reputed head of their Agency to protect something as trivial as the lives of airline passengers, is stark commentary on the state of affairs in an allegedly democratic republic!

It cannot be ruled out that the CIA was interested in recruiting Abdulmutallab as an asset. After all, the Nigerian youth came from a prominent family, was a graduate of an up-scale British university and was well-versed in the close relationships amongst British and Yemeni Islamist networks. Indeed Abdulmutallab, like MI6's man during the Yugoslav destabilization campaign of the 1990s, the reputed 9/11 bag man, ISI asset and al-Qaeda leader, Omar Saeed Sheik, a graduate of the London School of Economics, would seem to fit the bill quite nicely.

On the face of it, however you care to slice it, the "connect the dots" conspiracy theory floated by the White House doesn't pass muster.

Two separate agencies, the CIA and NCTC, had all the information required to identify the would-be bomber and yet both, if we are to believe the official narrative, failed to do so. This despite the inconvenient fact that NCTC was stood up precisely as a central repository to collate, fuse and "connect" each seemingly minute piece of intelligence, the "dots," flowing into the U.S. security apparatus.

The White House cover story, accepted uncritically by the media, suggest that a mass of disparate data points--raw intelligence--when taken separately, is not incriminating in and of itself. However, after each fragment is subjected to the massive data mining and analytic capabilities of the U.S. Government which "fuse" these datasets into a coherent whole, only then will a dodgy pattern emerge.

In Abdulmutallab's case however, each seemingly innocuous piece of information on its own should have set alarm bells ringing. That this didn't happen Christmas Day cannot be explained away as either incompetence or "firmly entrenched patterns of bureaucratic behavior" but rather, by conscious action, or if you prefer, sinister inaction by factions within America's secret state.


As of this writing, it is not yet possible to provide a comprehensive answer as to why these events unfolded as they did. I am however, certain of one thing: the Obama administration, the security agencies presumably under its control and the corporate media, johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to covering-up imperialism's multitude of crimes, are lying to the American people.

There are however, several preliminary hypotheses which can be advanced, all of which raise further troubling questions worthy of additional investigation.

Were the Christmas Day events a pretext to expand the "War on Terror" into yet another strategic petroleum chokepoint as analyst F. William Engdahl suggests in an excellent piece published by Global Research?

Nor can we dismiss out of hand the analysis offered by the World Socialist Web Site that the failed Christmas Day airline plot was a maneuver by extreme right-wing elements deeply embedded in the U.S. National Security State "to destabilize and undermine the Obama administration." To this can be added Richard Wolffe's provocative statement that factions within the secret state may have had their own "alternative agenda," and thus failed to act.

Add to the mix, the systematic outsourcing of intelligence and security functions to a host of giant defense firms, outside of democratic control; in other words, rightist grifters who answer to shareholders and not the American people, and suddenly another piece of Wolffe's "alternative agenda" comes into sharp focus.

Chock-a-block with ex-CIA officers, NSA analysts, FBI agents and U.S. Special Forces veterans of America's dirty wars who now staff the privatized U.S. security complex, in other words well-paid mercenaries who know a thing or two on how to run a clandestine operation, and we just might have another plausible theory why a "dot" or two was ignored Christmas Day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Strange Case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Despite some $40 billion dollars spent by the American people on airline security since 2001, allegedly to thwart attacks on the heimat, the botched attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day was foiled, not by a bloated counterterrorist bureaucracy, but by the passengers themselves.

Talk about validating that old Wobbly slogan: Direct action gets the goods!

And yet, the closer one looks at the available evidence surrounding the strange case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the more sinister alleged "intelligence failures" become. As this story unfolds it is becoming abundantly clear that U.S. security officials had far more information on the would-be lap bomber than we've been told.

The Observer revealed January 3 that the British secret state had Abdulmutallab on their radar for several years and that he had become "politically involved" with "extremist networks" while a student at University College London, where he served as president of the Islamic Society.

Examining "e-mail and text traffic," security officers claim to have belatedly discovered that "he has been in contact with jihadists from across the world since 2007."

Indeed, The Sunday Times disclosed that the 23-year-old terrorism suspect was "'reaching out' to extremists whom MI5 had under surveillance." The officials said that Abdulmutallab was "'starting out on a journey' in Britain" that culminated with last week's attempt to destroy Flight 253.

It is claimed by unnamed "British officials" that "none of this information was passed" to their American counterparts; on the face of it, this appears to be a rank mendacity.

The Sunday Times further reported that security officials have "now passed a file" to American counterterrorism officers that show "his repeated contacts with MI5 targets who were subject to phone taps, email intercepts and other forms of surveillance."

None of this should surprise anyone, however. In light of multiple prior warnings which preceded past terrorist atrocities, the selective leaking of information to the British media in its own way, buttresses the official story that the near-tragedy aboard Flight 253 was simply the result of ubiquitous "intelligence failures."

But as we have seen with Mohamed Atta, Richard Reid and Mohammad Sidique Khan, Abdulmutallab's "journey" was one undertaken by many before, often with a wink-and-a-nod by British and American security officials when it served the geostrategic ambitions of their political masters.

As security researcher and analyst Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed wrote in New Internationalist in October: "Islamist terrorism cannot be understood without acknowledging the extent to which its networks are being used by Western military intelligence services, both to control strategic energy resources and to counter their geopolitical rivals. Even now, nearly a decade after 9/11, covert sponsorship of al-Qaeda networks continues."

Ahmed's findings track closely with those of analysts Michel Chossudovsky, Peter Dale Scott and Richard Labévière, who have documented that the complex of jihadi groups known as al-Qaeda have enjoyed the closest ties with Western intelligence agencies stretching back decades.

That intelligence officers, including those at the highest levels of the secret state's security apparat, did nothing to hamper an alleged al-Qaeda operative from getting on that plane--in a chilling echo of the 9/11 attacks--calls into question the thin tissue of lies outlined in the official narrative.

An Intelligence "Failure," or a Wild "Success" for Security Corporations?

Charged December 26 with attempting to blow up a U.S. airliner, according to The Washington Post Abdulmutallab "was listed in a U.S. terrorism database."

The Post reported that the suspect's name "was added in November to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE." It is further described as a "catch-all list" which "contains about 550,000 individuals" and is maintained by "the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center."

However, The New York Times revealed December 31 that the "National Security Agency four months ago intercepted conversations among leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack."

Times' reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lipton, citing unnamed "government officials," disclosed that "the electronic intercepts were translated and disseminated across classified computer networks" months before Abdulmutallab boarded Flight 253 in Amsterdam.

But when the NSA intercepts landed at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), analysts there "did not synthesize the eavesdropping intelligence with information gathered in November" when Abdulmutallab's father provided the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria crucial information on his son's involvement with the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets, also known as al-Qaeda.

Seeking comment from NCTC proved to be a daunting task. As the Times delicately put it, "officials at the counterterrorist center ... maintained a stoic silence on Wednesday, noting that the review ordered by President Obama was still under way."

Despite revelations in the British press, the White House maintains that U.S. intelligence agencies "did not miss a 'smoking gun'" that could have prevented the botched attack, the Associated Press reported January 3.

White House aide John Brennan, citing "lapses" and "errors" in sharing intelligence said, "There was no single piece of intelligence that said, 'this guy is going to get on a plane.'"

As we will soon see, Mr. Brennan has every reason to hide behind such mendacities.

Investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the author of the essential book Spies For Hire, reported in CorpWatch, that NCTC is an outsourced counterterrorist agency chock-a-block with security contractors in the heavily-leveraged homeland security market.

Indeed, The Analysis Corporation (TAC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of defense and intelligence contractor Global Strategies Group/North America, "specializes in providing counterterrorism analysis and watchlists to U.S. government agencies."

"It is best known" according to Shorrock, "for its connection to John O. Brennan, its former CEO, a 35-year veteran of the CIA and currently President Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser. Brennan, the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), retired from government in November 2005 and immediately joined TAC."

Shorrock reports that "much of TAC's business is with the NCTC itself. In fact, the NCTC is one of the company's largest customers, and TAC provides counterterrorism (CT) support to 'most of the agencies within the intelligence community,' according to a company press release. One of its biggest customers is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which manages the NCTC."

"During the 1990s" Shorrock relates, "TAC developed the U.S. government's first terrorist database, 'Tipoff,' on behalf of the State Department."

Shorrock chronicles how "the database was initially conceived as a tool to help U.S. consular officials and customs inspectors determine if foreigners trying to enter the United States were known or suspected terrorists."

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and subsequent reorganization of the U.S. security bureaucracy, the investigative journalist tells us that "in 2003, management of the database--which received information collected by a large number of agencies including the CIA, NSA, and FBI--was transferred to the CIA's Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) and, later, to the National Counterterrorism Center."

"In 2005" Shorrock discloses, "Tipoff was expanded and renamed the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, and fingerprint and facial recognition software was added to help identify suspects as they crossed U.S. borders."

Despite the utter worthlessness of a bloated database containing more than 1.3 million names according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and not the grossly undercounted figure of 550,000 cited by corporate media, TIDE has been a boon for TAC.

"In the five years after 9/11" Shorrock reveals, "its income quintupled, from less than $5 million in 2001 to $24 million in 2006. In 2006, TAC increased its visibility in the intelligence community by creating a 'senior advisory board' that included three heavy hitters from the CIA: former Director George J. Tenet, former Chief Information Officer Alan Wade, and former senior analyst John P. Young."

And what have the American people gained from inflating the corporatist bottom line? In light of the Christmas Day bombing attempt, not much.

As investigative journalists Susan and Joseph Trento revealed in their overlooked but highly-disturbing 2006 book, Unsafe At Any Altitude, most of the 9/11 hijackers, including Mohamed Atta, Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Majed Moqed "were flagged by CAPPS (Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System)."

But because of CIA and FBI monkey-business that rendered watch-list information useless to stop suspected terrorists from boarding an airliner, "the only thing that was done as a result was that the baggage of several members of the Al Qaeda team was held on the ground until the cabin crew confirmed they had boarded as passengers."

And when you consider that Abdulmutallab didn't even have any baggage to check, alleged security "lapses" are even more glaring.

According to the Trentos, "the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Department of Homeland Security refuse to give the airlines an accurate no fly list, thereby allowing the most threatening terrorists to continue to fly." Is there a pattern here? You bet there is!

An unnamed "counterterrorist official" told The Wall Street Journal December 31: "'If you look back to these audit reports, there are significant issues raised with the accuracy and omissions to the watchlisting process that haven't been fixed, clearly,' as of Dec. 25. 'Essentially you're screening blindly, and that's not effective'."

However, we can be sure there will be very little in the way of a hard-hitting investigation into this alleged security breach. The New York Times reported that TAC's former CEO John O. Brennan, has been "granted a special ethics waiver ... to conduct a review of the intelligence and screening breakdown that preceded the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt on an American passenger plane over Detroit."

Enter the CIA, Stage (Far) Right

What "other government agency" may have suppressed intelligence on the would-be bomber?

The CBS Evening News revealed December 29 that "as early as August of 2009," tracking closely with the time-frame of NSA intercepts, "the Central Intelligence Agency was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed 'The Nigerian,' suspected of meeting with 'terrorist elements' in Yemen."

Unnamed "intelligence sources" told CBS, "'The Nigerian' has now turned out to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab." But that connection "was not made when Abdulmutallab's father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009. It was then he expressed deep concerns to a CIA officer about his son's ties to extremists in Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity." CBS claims "this information was not connected until after the attempted Christmas Day bombing."

Earlier reports have alleged that Umar's father, a wealthy Nigerian banker and former high state official, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, had only provided Embassy officials with a vague concern that his son's estrangement "may have" something to do with his growing "religious fervor." This too, turns out to be a lie.

The Times reported that a "family cousin quoted the father as warning officials from the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in Nigeria: 'Look at the texts he's sending. He's a security threat'."

Nothing vague in this disclosure, but rather more concrete evidence in the form of "texts" which we now know were shortstopped by British security and included "phone taps, email intercepts and other forms of surveillance" by MI5 that led an anguished father to express well-placed fears about his son to U.S officials.

But as the Times were told by their source, "They promised to look into it. They didn't take him seriously."

And here's where things take a decidedly malevolent turn. According to the Times, "C.I.A. officials in Nigeria also prepared a separate report compiling biographical information about Mr. Abdulmutallab, including his educational background and the fact that he was considering pursuing academic studies in Islamic law in Yemen."

"That cable was sent to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va.," Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lipton disclosed, "but not disseminated to other intelligence agencies, government officials said on Wednesday."

Then again, perhaps they knew all-too-well of Abdulmutallab's glide path and chose instead to turn a blind eye. Coming on the heels of disclosures in the British media, the evidence suggests that CIA intelligence provided by NSA intercepts, their own on-the-ground operatives in Yemen and MI5 surveillance reports were scrupulously ignored by factions within the secret state who sat on critical information that withheld, would disarm and paralyze normal security procedures in the face of an attack they knew was imminent.

We were told by corporate media, infamously serving as an echo chamber for grifting politicians, Bushist officials and the 9/11 Commission's 2004 whitewash, that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks resulted from "a failure of imagination" by counterterrorism officials to "connect the dots."

Seems there were plenty of "dots" in Abdulmutallab's case and yet, inexplicably, if you buy the official story, and sinisterly, if you don't, not a single one was "connected" prior to the time he took his seat on Flight 253.

Despite the fact that Abdulmutallab was denied re-entry into Britain, paid $2,800 in cash for his "ticket to Paradise," and had no luggage that normally would accompany a person holding a 2-year entry visa into the U.S., the erstwhile lap bomber scored a goal each time and eluded every intrusive "profile" presumably in place to keep us "safe." Talk about a hat trick!

Available evidence suggests that Abdulmutallab should have landed on TSA's hush-hush "Selectee list" for additional screening, or the agency's "No-fly list." And given NSA intercepts and a CIA biographical report on the suspect, this alone should have barred him from entering the country if "normal" security procedures were followed. They weren't.

As The Independent on Sunday reported last week, "the revelation of Abdulmutallab's background has confounded terror experts." One such "expert," Dr Magnus Ranstorp of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, told IoS that "the attempted bombing 'didn't square'."

"On the one hand" Ranstorp said, "it seems he's been on the terror watch list but not on the no-fly list."

"That doesn't square" Ranstorp elaborated, "because the American Department for Homeland Security has pretty stringent data-mining capability. I don't understand how he had a valid visa if he was known on the terror watch list."

Good question, Dr. Ranstorp. Perhaps because someone wanted him on that plane. The question is, who?

One would have thought, given the "special treatment" afforded antiwar activists by TSA at airports, that a warning about Abdulmutallab's possible involvement with terrorists, by his own father no less, a former top official in a government friendly to Washington, numerous NSA intercepts, a CIA dossier and MI5 reports would have raised at least one red flag!

In the suspect's case, there were so many red flags flying you'd have thought the Red Army was parading through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport!

Then again, perhaps Abdulmutallab was on that plane because, as journalist Daniel Hopsicker was told by a former aviation executive during his investigation of the 9/11 attacks: "Sometimes when things don't make business sense ... its because they do make sense...just in some other way."

As the World Socialist Web Site points out:

The general outlines of the Northwest bombing attempt and the 9/11 attacks are startlingly similar. One might even say that what is involved is a modus operandi. In both cases, those alleged to have carried out the actions had been the subject of US intelligence investigations and surveillance and had been allowed to enter the country and board flights under conditions that would normally have set off multiple security alarms.

Both then and now, the government and the media expect the public to accept that all that was involved was mistakes. But why should anyone assume that the failure to act on the extensive intelligence leading to Abdulmutallab involved merely "innocent" mistakes--and not something far more sinister? (Bill Van Auken, "The Northwest Flight 253 intelligence failure: Negligence or conspiracy?," World Socialist Web Site, December 31, 2009)

And so dear readers with are left to ponder the question, cui bono? Who would benefit politically from a major terrorist incident on American soil, ready, willing and able to step into the breach and exploit the catastrophic loss of human life that would follow in its wake?

Who indeed.