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Three Vital Questions For A Covid-19 Commission

Reprinted with permission from Deep State Blog.

Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee wants a bipartisan commission to investigate the government's response to the COVID19 pandemic.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks President George Bush stoutly resisted the creation of a committee to investigate of how the hijackers were able to penetrate America's defenses. Only the congressional intelligence committees should investigate, Bush said, and only behind closed doors. Vice President Cheney said those who charged the attacks on New York and Washington represented an intelligence failure were "irresponsible."

So we can expect President Trump, allies, cronies, and trolls to resist Rep. Adam's Schiff's call for 9/11 style national commission to investigate the response to COVID outbreak that emanated from China last December.

Bolton TwitterNational Security Adviser

John Bolton, Twitter addict and unemployed geopolitical provocateur, prefers the United States take punitive action toward China for Beijing's bungled response. He's not alone. The problem isn't China, says Josh Rogin of the Washington Post, it's the"Chinese Communist Party Virus."

There's no contradiction, however, between holding governments in Beijing and Washington accountable, as National Memo's Joe Conason notes.

A serious investigation of the pandemic, its origins and its almost unimpeded swath of destruction would begin by identifying the actual source of the disease and examining how the virus jumped into the human population. Such an investigation would necessarily examine the Chinese government's responsibility in having concealed the outbreak at the very beginning, when it might have been eradicated at relatively little cost.
And then the investigation would probe Washington's ruinous neglect of the pandemic threat as it loomed over this country.

The goal is not to point fingers at individuals or countries (although that may be in order) but to overhaul U.S. national defenses, to rethink our definition of national security and to reorganize our the national security state accordingly.

COVID19 investigators can start by asking three questions.

  1. Who set priorities at the Office of Director of National Intelligence?
Pandemic warning on p. 21.Pandemic warning on p. 21.

The ODNI was created after 9/11 precisely to create a body of intelligence analysts with a broader view of national security than any one agency. To its credit, ODNI cogently identified the danger of pandemic in its 2019 threat assessment.

We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support. Although the international community has made tenuous improvements to global health security, these gains may be inadequate to address the challenge of what we anticipate will be more frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases because of rapid unplanned urbanization, prolonged humanitarian crises, human incursion into previously unsettled land, expansion of international travel and trade,and regional climate change.

This warning is spot on. The problem is that it came halfway through a 42-page catalogof dangers facing the United States. For ODNI, the threat of a pandemic ranked slightly behind the dangers posed by Salvadoran street gangs and war in outer space.

On a Cipher Brief group call, I asked former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff if ODNI's buried finding represented an intelligence failure. He ducked the question saying, "There's always the issue of what the consumer [ meaning the rest of the government and the White House] wants to hear."

In other words, other agencies worried about counterterrorism and Russian influence operations, so ODNI downgraded the danger of pandemics. That sounds like an admission that the U.S. intelligence community, which prides itself on "speaking truth to power," chose not to do so in this case.

In the mental universe of ODNI, the poor gangsters of MS-13 represent a greater threat to the American people than an untreatable contagious illness. One can debate whether racism affected ODNI's judgment but one cannot dispute that its muffled warning wasn't much help to policymakers or the public.

The U.S. intelligence community is disturbed because Richard Grenell, a lightly qualified former press spokesman, now serves as Acting DNI. Grenell is indeed a hack. But Grenell was not responsible for ODNI's faulty priorities. Former ODNI Dan Coats was. Coats needs to testify.

2) What did John Bolton's dismantle the NSC's pandemic office?

A second failure of intelligence occurred at the National Security Council.

In May 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton "streamlined" the NSC's Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense right out of existence. The directorate had been created by the Obama administration after the Ebola scare of 2014, in which the deadly disease ravaged Africa. This hub for expertise and institutional memory was dispersed, as its last director wrote in the Washington Post.

Bolton saw a greater threat emanating from the besieged government of Venezuela. "Regime change" was a higher priority than "Global Health Security." Bolton's explanation for his re-organization needs to be heard, preferably under oath.

3) Why didn't the Defense Department's medical intelligence office show more leadership?

Another node of apparent failure was the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), which operates as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The story comes from former U.S military intelligence officer Scott Ritter, writing in The American Conservative.

The mission of the NCMI is to serve as the lead activity within the Department of Defense (DoD) "for the production of medical intelligence," and to prepare and coordinate "integrated, all-source intelligence for the DoD and other government and international organizations on foreign health threats and other medical issues."

The office had proved its value before, Ritter writes.

…[I]n April 2009—two months prior to when the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially declared the global outbreak of H1N1 influenza a pandemic, NCMI published an intelligence product, known as an "Infectious Disease Risk Assessment," which predicted that a recent outbreak of the Swine Flu (H1N1) would become a pandemic.

The coronavirus was clearly part of the NCMI's remit, he notes

And yet its first Infectious Disease Risk Assessment for COVID-19 was issued on January 5, 2020, reporting that 59 people had been taken ill in Wuhan, China. This report was derived not from any sensitive intelligence collection effort or independent biosurveillance activity, but rather from a report issued to the WHO by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission, dated January 5, 2020.

Ritter doesn't point a finger at Trump. He asks, how will NCMI improve on its weak performance?

As President Trump noted on March 17, however, it would have been helpful to have had advance warning. That was the job of the NCMI, and they failed. This failure may have been a result of complacency, incompetence, or just a byproduct of circumstance. Regardless of the reason, the NCMI needs to learn from this experience, and reexamine the totality of the intelligence cycle—the direction, collection, analysis and feedback loop—associated with its failure to adequately predict the coronavirus pandemic.

And Ritter asks an epidemiological question: Did the virus originate in animals or in humans? Multiple government statements say it came from animals. But Ritter reports

that the Joint Field Epidemiology Investigation Team, a specialized task force working under the auspices of the Chinese Center for Disease Control (CCDC), found that the COVID-19 epidemic did not [emphasis added] originate by animal-to-human transmission in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, as originally believed, but rather human-to-human transmission totally unrelated to the operation of the market.

That's certainly not the conventional wisdom. So, who's right? Where did the virus come from? That's one more question that needs to be asked and answered by the coming COVID19 investigation.

Source: The Staggering Collapse of U.S. Intelligence on the Coronavirus | The American Conservative

Did Israel Play A Role In Targeting Iranian General For Assassination?

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Last October Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad, spoke openly about assassinating Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“He knows very well that his assassination is not impossible,” Cohen said in an interview. Soleimani had boasted that Israel tried to assassinate him in 2006 and failed.

“With all due respect to his bluster,” Cohen said, “he hasn’t necessarily committed the mistake yet that would place him on the prestigious list of Mossad’s assassination targets.”

Is Israel Targeting Iran’s Top General for Assassination?” I asked last October. On January 3, Soleimani was killed in an air strike ordered by President Trump.

Soleimani’s convoy was struck by U.S. missiles as he left a meeting at Baghdad’s airport amid anti-Iranian and anti-American demonstrations in Iraq. Supporters of an Iranian-backed militia had agreed to withdraw from the U.S. diplomatic compound in return for a promise that the government would allow a parliamentary vote on expelling 5,000 U.S. troops from Iraq.

The Pentagon issued a statement confirming the military operation, which came “at the direction of the president” and was “aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.” The Pentagon claimed that Gen. Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, under indictment for criminal charges, was the first and only national leader to support Trump’s action, while claiming that Trump acted entirely on his own.

“Just as Israel has the right to self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right,” Netanyahu told reporters in Greece. “Qassem Soleimani is responsible for the deaths of American citizens and other innocents, and he was planning more attacks.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed retaliation for the general’s death, tweeting that “Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime.”

Soleimani was the most capable foe of the United States and Israel in the region. As chief of the Quds Force, Soleimani was a master of Iran’s asymmetric warfare strategy, using proxy forces to bleed Iran’s enemies, while preserving the government’s ability to plausibly deny involvement.

After the U.S. invasions of Iraq, he funded and trained anti-American militias that launched low-level attacks on U.S. occupation forces, killing hundreds of U.S. servicemen and generating pressure for U.S. withdrawal.

In recent years, Soleimani led two successful Iranian military operations: the campaign to drive ISIS out of western Iraq in 2015 and the campaign to crush the jihadist forces opposed to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. The United States and Israel denounced Iran’s role in both operations but could not prevent Iran from claiming victory.

Soleimani had assumed a leading role in Iraqi politics in the past year. The anti-ISIS campaign relied on Iraqi militias, which the Iranians supported with money, weapons, and training. After ISIS was defeated, these militias maintained a prominent role in Iraq that many resented, leading to demonstrations and rioting. Soleimani was seeking to stabilize the government and channel the protests against the United States when he was killed.

In the same period, Israel pursued its program of targeted assassination. In an effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear program, Mossad assassinated at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, according to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman. Yossi Melman, another Israeli journalist, says that Mossad has assassinated 60-70 enemies outside of its borders since its founding in 1947, though none as prominent as Soleimani.

Israel also began striking at the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq last year. The United States did the same on December 29, killing 19 fighters and prompting anti-American demonstrations as big as the anti-Iranian demonstrations of a month ago.

Now the killing of Soleimani promises more unrest, if not open war. The idea that it will deter Iranian attacks may come to rank with George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” in the annals of American folly.

“This doesn’t mean war,” wrote former Defense Department official Andrew Exum, “it will not lead to war, and it doesn’t risk war. None of that. It is war.”

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported two years ago that Washington had given Israel the green light to assassinate Soleimani, as Haaretz recounted:

Al-Jarida, which in recent years… [has] broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that ‘there is an American-Israeli agreement’ that Soleimani is a ‘threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.’ It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.”

Trump has now fulfilled the wishes of Mossad. After proclaiming his intention to end America’s “stupid endless wars,” the president has effectively declared war on the largest country in the region in solidarity with Israel, the most unpopular country in the Middle East.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

Trump’s Plot To ‘Investigate The Investigators’ Is A Flop

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

For months, the names of Michael Horowitz and John Durham have figured in the pounding rhythms of right-wing media in which a heroically afflicted president faces down his perfidious enemies. A steady drumbeat of reports from Fox News, echoed by President Trump and Republican loyalists in Congress, proclaimed these two obscure Justice Department officials would get to the bottom of an alleged conspiracy against the Trump presidency.

They would, in Trump’s words, “investigate the investigators.” It was oh so promising.

“I will tell you this,” Trump blustered on October 25. “I think you’re going to see a lot of really bad things,” he said. “I leave it all up to the attorney general and I leave it all up to the people that are working with the attorney general who I don’t know. … I think you’ll see things that nobody would’ve believed.”

Horowitz, as the DOJ inspector general, had the narrower assignment. He was tasked with investigating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants issued to intercept the communications of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Horowitz had to answer the question: Was Page targeted for political reasons, perhaps based on the famous “Steele Dossier”?

Durham, a senior U.S. attorney in Connecticut, has a broader brief: to review the FBI’s decision to open an investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians in 2015. Durham was selected for the job by Barr.

For those inclined to believe Fox News and the president, the “deep state cabal” that allegedly targeted Trump was running scared. In early October, Fox News reported that “Barr and Durham traveled to Italy recently to talk to law enforcement officials there about the probe and have also had conversations with officials in the U.K. and Australia about the investigation.” From this report, the Daily Caller imaginatively extrapolated that Durham’s probe had expanded to include “looking at the activities of foreign intelligence agencies.” (One British official told the Independent that Barr and his minions asked, “in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services.”) On October 22, the Washington Examiner said Durham was “scrutinizing four key figures”; the Spectator, a right-wing British magazine, claimed former CIA director John Brennan was in “Durham’s crosshairs.”

And so on.

‘Things That Nobody Would’ve Believed’

Trump’s words, ironically, are coming true. Horowitz, it is now reliably reported, found that the Trump/Fox News talking points about a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump are, in fact, “things that nobody would’ve believed.”

Horowitz’s report, says USA Today, is “expected to conclude the FBI was justified in launching its two-year inquiry into the Trump campaign and possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.”

The Washington Post reports that Durham has already disappointed Trump. In the course of Horowitz’s investigation, Durham declined to endorse one key Republican talking point: that one witness, Joseph Mifsud, was actually a CIA or FBI agent deployed to undermine and defeat Trump’s presidential bid.

Durham, according to the Post, has “said he could not offer evidence to the Justice Department’s inspector general to support the suspicions of some conservatives that the case was a setup by American intelligence.” (The Post describes its source as “people familiar with the matter.”)

Horowitz’s Letter

Those pundits expected Horowitz to side with the president could be detained by mere facts, no matter how public. Remember a couple of hundred news cycles ago—mid-October—when right-wing media was filibustering about the identity of the CIA whistleblower who first brought Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign to light?

At the time, Horowitz was engaged in a more substantive matter. As inspector general, Horowitz played a leading role in an extraordinary letter, signed by about 70 inspector generals, about the Justice Department’s handling of the whistleblower’s allegation. Although the letter never mentioned the attorney general’s name, its message was a broad rebuke of Barr.

The legal question was far too intricate to generate pleasurable repartee on Twitter. The whistleblower complained in August to the inspector general in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI is legally bound to pass to Congress only whistleblower complaints of “urgent concern.” Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, passed the buck and asked the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) for guidance. In a secret memo, dated September 3, the OLC decided the whistleblower’s complaint was not an “urgent” matter that had to be passed to Congress.

The OLC, beholden to Barr, took the position that there was no need to tell Congress of the possibility that Trump was withholding congressionally appropriated funds from the beleaguered Ukraine armed forces in order to force the Ukraine president to investigate Joe Biden’s son. The legal logic was fallacious and tortured.

Horowitz’s name topped the list of roughly 70 inspectors general who declared:

“the OLC opinion [written at Barr’s behest] could seriously impair whistleblowing and deter individuals in the intelligence community and throughout the government from reporting government waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct.”

Of course, the letter was a dud on social media, cable TV, and Fox News. Who cares what a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington think? Horowitz, the hoped-for savior of Trump, had rebuked his boss, along with almost six dozen other senior civil servants in public. His real-world actions were ignored by conservative news outlets hyping imaginative reports on his investigation.

The Question

Will John Durham follow Barr’s lead? Or Horowitz’s?

“The modus operandi of this administration is that when they cannot dismiss somebody else’s fact-based conclusions, they create a parallel narrative,” Joel Brenner, a former inspector general at the National Security Agency in the George W. Bush administration, told USA Today.

What kind of narrative will Durham write?

One clue can be heard in “The Report,” a new movie starring Adam Driver about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on torture. The name “Durham” is heard exactly once in the movie. And yes, it is a reference to the same John Durham.

Durham is a career Justice Department prosecutor in Connecticut. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder assigned him to investigate the CIA’s torture program. It was a delicate assignment. On the one side, he had to poke into the dirty business of a $15 billion-a-year agency that believed it had legal and presidential sanction for “enhanced interrogation techniques.” On the other side, he was working for a popular new president who said the program was abhorrent and a host of lawyers who said it might well be criminal.

Durham, in short, walked into a legal and political minefield. Two years later, he emerged unscathed with a supple, if not evasive, reading of the law. His investigation exonerated the CIA on 99 out of 101 incidents of torture.

Whatever you make of Durham’s report legally and morally, it was politically adroit. The report pleased Obama and Holder, who dodged the need to take on the barons of the national security agencies. His report pleased the CIA, which dodged the bullet of indictments of senior officials who had approved the torture regime, including John Brennan. As a narrative, Durham’s torture report shows that he implicitly shares the worldview of Brennan and other senior national security managers.

He’s also a career prosecutor sure to consider all the facts brought to his attention.

Trump was enraged and threatened by national security leaks, even before he took office. Did Brennan et al commit any technical violations of the Espionage Act in talking to reporters about the president-elect’s Russian contacts? Quite possibly. Would John Durham go out on a legal limb to prosecute former top U.S. officials on behalf of Barr and Trump, who will be gone from Washington in five years at the maximum? That seems highly unlikely.

As Trump sails into the high seas of a Senate impeachment trial, Durham’s report on the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation is not likely to be a lifeline.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

Impeachment Frenzy Sets Trump Against CIA

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The long-impending constitutional crisis has arrived, courtesy of a CIA whistleblower. If his or her complaint was conceived as a covert political action operation, it could not have been more effective. The nine-page letter did what Robert Mueller’s 448-page opus did not: jump-start the impeachment process. The day after Trump acknowledged he spoke with the Ukrainian president about Joe Biden’s son Hunter, seven freshman Democrats, six of them with national security experience, came out for impeachment. Nancy Pelosi, an impeachment skeptic, relented and allowed impeachment proceedings to begin. “The facts changed the situation,” she said.

No, says the president and his defenders. It’s just “BULLSHIT,” tweeted the rattled Trump. His conversation with the Ukrainian president was “perfect,” he intones. To doubt its perfection is to join the ongoing “deep state” conspiracy to get him.

Trump’s defenders, while awash in bad faith and lies, are correct about one thing: there is a subterranean conflict that pulses beneath partisan clashes between congressional Democrats and the Republican president. It is a clash of bureaucratic factions, fought with leaked (or planted) narratives disseminated by allies in the media.

This is the traditional way of Washington politics, now whipped to a froth by the convulsions of a dysfunctional and deregulated political system. Not only do U.S. intelligence agencies see the American presidency is vulnerable to manipulation (or capture) by pro-Trump intelligence services in Moscow, Riyadh, and Jerusalem, but the president himself is viewed as a threat to the national security process.

The crisis runs even deeper than Watergate, which had the effect of empowering Congress and reining in the intelligence agencies. As in Watergate, the Trump crisis pits a president who says there are no limits on his freedom of action against the institutional forces of the CIA and FBI. These agencies were, and are, adept at defending their interests in the Washington press corps. As in Watergate, the interests of the agencies and the Democrats overlap—they both seek to curb and remove a lawless president.

The CIA-White House power struggle is much more naked than during Watergate. In the early 1970s, the agency abhorred the very idea of a “media presence.” The imperious director Richard Helms occasionally testified in Congress, but he gave no interviews. He cultivated senior editors but betrayed few secrets. The CIA, respectable and feared, had many Republican defenders on Capitol Hill. No more.

Today, the Agency is more public and politicized. The agency’s suspicions of Trump crystallized as he marched to the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Trump’s arriviste style and proud ignorance were provocative to the agency’s buttoned-down style. So was his “isolationism” and hostility to the shibboleths of free trade and national security. Damaging leaks of classified information from national security sources began even before he took the oath of office.

Since then, the political profile of the CIA has grown. Former directors John Brennan and Michael Hayden have become cable TV regulars, along with a diverse cast of former officers. In 2018, two CIA formers were elected to Congress, and the agency launched its Twitter and Instagram feeds (which, Edward Snowden observes, amount to state-sanctioned propaganda repackaged as adorable social media.)

Publicity is not necessarily an advantage for covert operators. Unlike Nixon, Trump is willing to mobilize popular hostility to his bureaucratic antagonists. Privately, Nixon raged and plotted against the CIA and FBI, but publicly he championed those agencies. He couldn’t and wouldn’t make them a political issue.

Trump is not so constrained. Four times in the last two weeks, the president has taken to Twitter to liken the whistleblower to a spy who should face “Big Consequences.” With less than a third of Trump supporters holding a favorable opinion of the CIA and FBI, Trump can shore up his support by demonizing his critics as tools of “a Crooked and Demented Deep State.”

Nonetheless, Trump has taken a punch, apparently from the CIA, that has him raging incoherently in public. The whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky transformed Washington’s political reality by capturing Trump, the recidivist, in action.

Last spring, Mueller’s cautious report detailed how Trump’s entourage solicited help from the Russian state agents without ever quite conspiring with them. Mueller documented how Trump obstructed his investigation but left it to others to bring charges. “No collusion,” Trump crowed.

But, barely a day after Mueller’s July 24 appearance before Congress, Trump couldn’t help but do what he had just denied: He sought to collude. The White House summary of his conversation with Zelensky essentially confirmed the whistleblower’s narrative that Trump had tried to solicit—if not extort—a foreign government into helping his 2020 election campaign. Thanks to the CIA officer’s report, the case for impeachment suddenly had a simple narrative and a new urgency.

The role of the CIA is unnerving. President Harry Truman initially opposed the creation of the CIA in 1945 because he feared creating an “American Gestapo,” a secret police force. The agency’s involvement in American politics today is hardly unprecedented. In the early 1990s, four senior agency officers were indicted for leading roles in the Iran-contra conspiracy to bypass a congressional ban on CIA activities in Central America. But, in that case, the agency and the presidency were aligned. President George H.W. Bush, a former director, pardoned the indicted men on the advice of Attorney General Bill Barr. The agency suffered little for its intervention in domestic politics.

Now the CIA and the White House are at war. In comparison with an unstable president, a rogue attorney general, and a coterie of conspiracy theorists, the agency’s credibility is higher than usual. But the Ukrainian revelations, coming from an employee of a law-breaking, not law-making, organization, has to be treated with care.

First of all, meddling in (and profiting from) Ukrainian politics is the norm in the U.S. political class, as Yasha Levine notes. Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign manager, reaped coin in Kiev. So did Tad Devine, a strategist for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. So did Hunter Biden. That doesn’t excuse Trump’s mafioso-like demand for “a favor” from the Ukraine president, but it does explain why he might have thought it was business as usual.

“I do not trust the CIA when it comes to whistleblowers,” says John Kiriakou, a former operations officer turned whistleblower who went to jail for 30 months for confirming details of the CIA’s torture regime to a reporter. “The CIA is protecting itself. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about me. They don’t care about the presidency. They care about themselves.”

The complaint, Kiriakou speculated in a phone interview, was written by “a committee of spies.” He speculated that the whistleblower was advised by CIA superiors, including lawyers, before submitting the complaint to the inspector general in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The New York Times has reported that the whistleblower only shared the complaint anonymously with CIA lawyers. That said, Kiriakou added, “I want to believe the guy. I think his identity should be protected and more people should come forward.”

I asked Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to ex-CIA director Michael Hayden, if he thought the whistleblower’s complaint had been vetted by the agency.

“I’m not going to speculate about something like that,” he replied. “The whistleblower statute was written to protect the identity of the whistleblower, so I would assume he or she wouldn’t want others to know. My reading of the complaint is that it sounds like the whistleblower coordinated with others working on Ukraine issues across the inter-agency [process.] I think they were all concerned that the stated policy of the U.S. government was not being adhered to.”

Under fire from the president, the agency suddenly needs the intelligence oversight process. The post-Watergate reforms—the creation of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts—brought the agency under more supervision, which it consistently resisted. Five years ago, the CIA was stonewalling the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture investigation.

Now the agency embraces oversight to ward off a hostile president.

“Congressional oversight of executive branch activities is a vitally important constitutional tool in maintaining our democracy,” wrote former acting CIA director Michael Morell and coauthor David Kris, a former assistant attorney general for national security, in a Washington Post column last month. “It is particularly important for intelligence activities because the intelligence community consists of secret organizations operating in a democracy.”

It’s easy to mock Morell’s commitment to democracy given the agency’s record of anti-democratic dirty tricks. The fact that Morell is a Post columnist (and CBS News contributor) illuminates the alignment of the liberal media and the clandestine service. But Morell’s take on the current crisis is hard to fault.

Thanks to a “radical change in our politics … many partisan actors today seek advantage by rejecting bedrock institutions and norms while a significant portion of the electorate responds with nihilistic glee,” wrote Morell and Kris. “As applied to the oversight of intelligence, this convergence is very dangerous, because those institutions and norms are a major part of what keeps the intelligence community properly in check.”

In other words, the beleaguered CIA is looking for allies on Capitol Hill, especially among liberals and Democrats who want stronger oversight.

“From what we know so far, this looks very much like the story of Mark Felt and Watergate,” says historian Bruce Schulman of Boston University. Felt was the senior FBI official who served as confidential source for the Washington Post’s Watergate reporters as they investigated President Nixon’s abuses of power in the early 1970s.

“There’s a career employee, a lifer, who doesn’t like the way the White House wants to use his or her agency,” Schulman went on. “He or she wants to push back. What’s different is that in the post-Watergate environment, they don’t have to leak to the Post. There are new institutions and processes through which that can happen.”

A president who is out of control confronts an agency that wants to show Congress and the public that it is under control. All of which underscores the new reality of Washington’s impeachment season: nobody’s in control.

 

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

Trump’s Pressure On Iran May Spark Mideast Conflict

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Israeli attacks in three Middle East countries are pushing a volatile region that is already the scene of two long-running wars closer to a third. The lethal strikes show how the Trump administration has effectively outsourced the military component of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran to the Israel Defense Forces. As a result, one U.S. ally—Israel—is attacking another American ally—Iraq—supposedly for the sake of advancing American interests.

U.S. policy is literally at war with itself. More than 4,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed defending the Iraqi government and armed forces that Israel is now attacking. Last year, the United States gave Iraq $1.2 billion in total assistance. But then Washington gave Israel $10.8 billion, which it is now using to debilitate the forces the U.S. military has spent years building up.

On Saturday, Israel confirmed that its warplanes struck an Iranian-operated base in Syria that was allegedly preparing to launch a major drone attack against Israel. On Sunday, an armed drone struck a Hezbollah media center in the suburbs of Beirut. Hezbollah said it was the first Israeli attack in Lebanon since Israel and Hezbollah fought to a draw in 2006. Later Sunday, another drone strike in Iraq killed a commander of one of the Iranian-backed militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMFs).

Israel did not confirm or deny the latter two attacks, but most news sites, including Israeli sources, assume Israel was responsible. Last week, “senior American officials” told the New York Times that Israel was behind several other unattributed attacks in Iraq.

Israel says that the PMFs constitute a threat to its security, by enabling Iran to move its short-range ballistic missiles closer to Israel. But Iraqis see the PMF, a coalition of some 60 militias, as necessary protection against ISIS. The PMF sprang up in 2014 when ISIS routed the Iraqi government forces and took over much of western Iraq. Supported by Iran and blessed by Iraq’s Ayatollah Sistani, the PMF fought alongside U.S. troops in driving ISIS out of western Iraq. Without the PMF, ISIS would probably still hold large swaths of the country.

Since 2017, the Iraqi government has been incorporating PMF personnel and weapons into its armed forces, with the goal of lessening the country’s dependence on Iran and gaining military units with battlefield experience. Faleh al-Fayadh, the chairman of the PMF coalition, is Iraq’s national security adviser. The idea was to weave the two forces together. Now Israel hopes to divide them.

Not surprisingly, the Israeli attacks are being denounced in a country where the U.S. is far from popular.

Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi ordered the U.S. military to ask permission before undertaking any flights in the country. (U.S. commanders said they would comply “immediately.”) Iraq’s ceremonial president Barham Salih called the attacks “a blatant, hostile act” that crossed the red line of Iraqi sovereignty. A pro-Iranian bloc holding 10 percent of the seats in the Iraqi parliament called the attacks a “declaration of war.”

But if Iraqis think the Israeli attacks are a declaration of war on them, there’s no doubt whom the Americans favor. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Sunday that the U.S. fully supports Israel’s “right to defend itself.” More than 15 years after attacking Saddam Hussein’s regime, the United States supports a secret war on the government that replaced him.

“The attacks in Iraq underscore the contradictions in U.S. policy,” said Paul Pillar, former CIA analyst for the region. “Here we have the administration not only not criticizing but actually applauding Israel for an armed attack on the territory of a friendly state that we are trying to help in other ways.”

Pressuring Iraq to join the campaign of “maximum pressure,” Pillar said in a phone interview, “is totally contradictory to the prosperity and stability of Iraq. They are dependent on trade with Iran and they are dependent on the popular mobilization forces for security. The attacks only increase Iraqi resentment of [the] United States and increase Iraq’s sense of dependence on Iran to protect itself.”

The reason why Israel and the United States are so hostile to Iran is that the Islamic Republic has taken advantage of U.S. blunders since 9/11 to consolidate its prestige and allies, while the U.S. and its allies have lost strength.

The U.S. policymakers sought to replace Saddam Hussein’s government with an anti-Iranian regime in 2003. They failed. Iran cultivated good relations with the new government and gained power and influence in Baghdad where it once had none.

In 2011, U.S. policymakers thought they could overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria by supporting Syrian “moderates” (of whom there were few) and al-Qaeda linked fundamentalists (of whom there were many). They failed. Iran supported Assad and (with Russian, Iranian and U.S. help) has mostly routed ISIS. Iran is now entrenched in Assad’s Syria as it never was before.

In 2015, U.S. policymakers thought Saudi Arabia could defeat the Houthi rebels in Yemen and deal a blow to Iran, the Houthis’ ally. They thought wrong. The Saudi coalition has inflicted the world’s worst humanitarian crisis on Yemen, yet achieved none of its goals. Now the U.S. is seeking peace talks to end the war, and the Houthis are openly embracing the Iranians.

Now U.S. policymakers expect the Iraqi government to ignore Israeli attacks and support the U.S. campaign against Iran, a larger neighboring country that supports its economy and bolsters its security. With the U.S. track record in the region, there’s little reason to think this will succeed. What Trump’s Iran policy lacks in coherence, it makes up for with recklessness.

Of course, the incoherent Trump could change his mind. He ordered and called off an attack on Iran for shooting down an unmanned surveillance drone, a sign that he has no desire to be a wartime commander-in-chief going into an election year. At the G7 summit, he played along with the gambit of French President Emmanuel Macron to open the door to talks with Iran. If the U.S. lifts sanctions, Iran is willing to talk, President Rouhani replied.

The Israelis are worried Trump might accept. After all, Trump threatened North Korea with fire and fury, only to warm up to Kim Jong Un and embrace negotiations over the objections of his advisers. Israeli escalation in Iraq—and the expected response from Hezbollah—will make it harder for Trump to change directions on Iran, which is why the attacks are likely to continue.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

 

Why White Nationalist Shootings Mean Rethinking ’National Security

After the massacre in El Paso, Texas, the idea that white nationalist terrorism is a threat to US national security is the new normal. Even President Donald Trump felt obliged to mouth a bromide about white supremacy. Outside of Trumpland, a new sort of consensus is taking hold. Senator Bernie Sanders calls for “redirecting federal resources to address this threat to our national security.” So do six former directors of counterterrorism at the National Security Council who served under presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama and Trump.

“[We] need to enhance efforts to address what is often called ‘domestic terrorism,’ meaning terrorism on US soil not linked to international groups such as ISIS or al-Qaeda,” said the statement of NSC veterans. “It has become abundantly clear over many months now that more must be done to address acts of violence driven by extremist views of all types, including acts of domestic terrorism. We call on our government to make addressing this form of terrorism as high a priority as countering international terrorism has become since 9/11.”

When the national-security establishment speaks the same language as the Vermont socialist Sanders, things are changing. But no small part of the reason that resources have not been redirected and more has not been done is blinders imposed by the very idea of “national security” and its post-September 11, 2001, cousin “homeland security.” These terms – and the nationalistic and racial concepts baked into them – have served to define the problem of white terrorism out of existence. With the US Federal Bureau of Investigation now saying that “a majority of domestic terrorism cases” under investigation “are motivated by white supremacy,” the problem is too bloody to ignore.

“America is under attack,” said Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana. “I’m not sure if this is fully understood. America is under attack by lethal, violent, white nationalist terrorism. And if we’re serious about confronting it, that means we have to have a different conversation…. This is a national-security emergency.”

That “different conversation” begins with unpacking the concept of “national security.” The term entered the American vocabulary in July 1947 with the passage of the National Security Act. The law created the Defense Department, the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the secrecy system that still insulates the secret agencies from the voters and Congress. “National security” justified the creation of a fourth branch of government endowed with the mission of protecting America from the alien ideology of a nuclear-armed foe.

This ideology animated American power until the dissolution of the Soviet Union 44 years later. Any communist party anywhere – and any political force with communist allies – was defined as a danger to Americans. So “national security” justified expeditionary wars (from Korea to Vietnam), interference in democratic elections (from Italy in 1948 to Honduras in 2009), and the massacre of democratic movements that included communist partners (from Indonesia in 1965 to El Salvador in the 1980s).

The violence of white supremacists directed against Americans was a different – and lesser – danger. As America fought the Cold War, violence against the civil-rights movement was not considered a national-security threat because it was an indigenous American phenomenon, widely supported by white people, at least in the country’s South.

When Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in 1995, Newt Gingrich had just been elected Speaker of the House of Representatives on the strength of his boast to Republican colleagues that he was “a bomb-thrower” who could thwart the menace of Washington embodied by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Because McVeigh’s nationalist ideology was homegrown, the bomb he detonated was not felt as an existential threat. Under the reign of “national security,” white terrorism did not belong in the same threat category as communism.

The notion persisted long after Jim Crow and communism were gone. After 9/11, the USA Patriot Act updated and expanded the doctrine of national security with the notion of “homeland security.” America mobilized to protect its territory from another alien ideology – radical Islam. The imperative of repelling the jihadist threat was used to justify expeditionary wars (and massacres) in Afghanistan and Iraq and drone wars in Pakistan and Somalia, as well as torture and mass surveillance regimes. The notion that a white American might pose a comparable threat was dismissed as inconceivable.

Now the data don’t lie. You’re much more likely to be killed by a white-nationalist terrorist than by a jihadist (much less an Iranian). The post-El Paso conversation about how to make America safe begins with identifying the racialized thinking built into national-security policy.

“Dear white national security practitioners and colleagues,” tweeted Naveed Jamali, a former naval intelligence officer. “Many of you have spent the last decade looking for terrorists in MY community. Will you do the same for yours?” National-security professionals are falling over themselves to say yes. Former NSC staffer Sam Vinograd says, “Fighting white-nationalist terrorism will require sustained strategy, resources, and leadership.”

It will also require realism about the malign influence of endless wars on American democracy. To four generations of white Americans imbued with the norms of “national security” and “homeland security,” a foreign threat is inherently more dangerous and illegitimate than a domestic threat. The suddenly fashionable notion that white-nationalist terrorism is a threat on par with communism or jihadism is sure to strike some white Americans as an alien ideology. It certainly diverges from the concepts that have guided American thinking about national security for the past 72 years.

Trump’s lip service notwithstanding, there is no reason to think Washington rhetoric about white supremacy reflects anything like a national consensus. Indeed, by explicitly targeting (some) white people and their “patriotic” feelings, any government campaign against armed white nationalism is sure to be depicted as an un-American cause that must be resisted, like communism and jihadism, with armed action. Only a new vision of American security can protect us.

This article was produced by the Deep Statea project of the Independent Media Institute, which provided it to Asia Times.

As DNI, Ratcliffe May Target Washington Post

Imagine the indictment of a former national security official in the Obama administration for violation of the Espionage Act. Imagine James Clapper or Sally Yates facing the same charges as Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning.

That dream of right-wing media (and some left-wing critics) came one step closer to reality Sunday, when President Trump announced the appointment of Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas as the new director of national intelligence. On Sunday, Ratcliffe told Fox News host Maria Bartiromohis number one idea for “investigation of the investigators”: prosecute a source of The Washington Post.

Ratcliffe expressed the hope that the Justice Department will investigate the leak to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in January 2017 that led to the resignation of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Ignatius’ reporting raised the possibility that Flynn had lied about a pre-inauguration conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was forced to resign after only 24 days on the job.

Flynn’s “phone call with the Russian ambassador was a highly classified NSA intercept,” Ratcliffe said. “Someone in the Obama administration leaked that call to the Washington Post. That’s a felony.”

Both legally and factually, Ratcliffe’s statement is open to question, which is no surprise. Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor who has served in Congress since 2015, is short on intelligence experience and long on dubious claims. According to ABC News, he took credit for a terrorism financing case that other attorneys say he had nothing do with. He claimed that leaked FBI texts revealed the existence of an anti-Trump “secret society” in the FBI, a story that was picked up by Sean Hannity and Fox News. In fact, the Daily Beast notes the reference to “secret society” was a passing joke, and Trump’s defenders have dropped the “secret society” meme. Whether Ratcliffe’s nomination will be approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee is an open question.

Ratcliffe’s idea for prosecuting Ignatius’ source is the fourth iteration of Trump’s campaign to “investigate the investigators,” which the president hopes will turn the tables on his legal tormenters. First, John Huber, U.S. Attorney in Utah, was assigned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate the opening of the investigation of Carter Page, the Trump hanger-on who was never charged with a crime. Second, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, took over Huber’s probe and is expected to report this fall. Third, Attorney General Bill Bar assigned another U.S. Attorney, John Durham, to delve into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation; Durham’s probe is ongoing.

In addition, Ratcliffe’s claim that Ignatius’ column was based on an “NSA intercept” is unconfirmed. Ignatius has never said that. Indeed, it is not clear that the U.S. government has acknowledged that NSA intercepted Kislyak’s conversations, meaning it is possible that Ratcliffe himself may have broken the law against unauthorized disclosure.

Asked about Ratcliffe’s remarks, Ignatius said, “No comment.”

Ratcliffe’s hypothetical case is based on two sentences from Ignatius’ column of January 12, 2017, “Why did Obama dawdle on Russia’s hacking?”:

“According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?”

Those were the killer questions. At the time, Ignatius wrote, Flynn and Kislyak had already acknowledged that they had talked. Both said publicly—and falsely—that they did not discuss U.S. sanctions on Russia. If Ignatius knew the substance of their conversation, he did not say it in the column. But because Flynn had indeed talked about sanctions with the ambassador and lied to colleagues about it, his days were numbered. When FBI agents interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017, he lied again under oath.

By the end of the month, Sally Yates, a soon-to-depart Obama Justice Department official, informed the White House (in the words of another Post article) that she believed Flynn “had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.”

The message, according to the Post, “was prompted by concerns that ­Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the ­Russian diplomat, had told Vice President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said.”

So, around the time Ignatius wrote his column, Yates and other senior officials had definitive knowledge of “the nature” of the Flynn-Kislyak “communications,” and their information did not come from the testimony of either participant.

Where did it come from? An NSA intercept is one plausible source. It has long been an open secret that NSA routinely eavesdrops on the conversations of foreign ambassadors in Washington.

From a legal point of view, the key question is whether Ignatius’ source was sharing classified information when he or she said, “Flynn phoned … Kislyak several times on Dec. 29.” If so, Ratcliffe might have a case.

“The Justice Department does have a lot of legal precedent for saying that, if the information was classified, the person in the government who shared it violated the Espionage Act,” says Kate Martin, civil liberties lawyer for the Center for American Progress. “There are also strong First Amendment arguments against bringing charges on that basis.”

Assange and Manning were charged with violating the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law that forbids “unauthorized persons” from taking “national defense information” and either “retaining” it or delivering it to “persons not entitled to receive it.”

Politically, Ratcliffe’s idea is attractive for the Trump White House because Trump loathes publisher Jeff Bezos—because the paper’s coverage of the Trump Foundation was fatally embarrassing to the Trump Foundation, and because the ex-spy chiefs who criticize Trump have always enforced the Espionage Act selectively.

“It’s no secret that the rules are different for David Petraeus than for Chelsea Manning,” says Ben Wizner, a lawyer for the ACLU. “The government tolerates, even encourages leaks of classified information from senior officials, while whistleblowers are punished.”

The double standard is engrained in bipartisan Washington culture. In the runup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush administration officials selectively leaked information about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program without fear of prosecution. In 2015, the Obama White House leaked highly classified details about the raid to kill Osama bin Laden and faced no consequences.

By prosecuting the Post’s source, the Trump Justice Department could claim it was abolishing the double standard. As director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe would be in a position to help. Trump has empowered Barr to declassify documents from the Horowitz and Durham inquiries as he sees fit. Ratcliffe has little intelligence experience, but he does have a track record of distilling facts into misleading, Fox-friendly sound bites. “Ratcliffe would be a natural enabler in a pursuit to cherry-pick material—or, more to the point, to find material worth cherry-picking,” notes Slate’s Fred Kaplan.

If the deeply concerned intelligence officials don’t manage to kill his nomination and if the Senate approves Ratcliffe to run the nation’s 17 intelligence services, then the source of Ignatius’ story has reason to worry. A senior U.S. official might get treated like Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning. Some would see a witch hunt. Others would call it rough justice. That would be a victory for Trump, which is one reason why the Ratcliffe nomination will be resisted by the intelligence community. 

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

‘Our Man’: What Richard Holbrooke’s Story Tells Us About America And The World

It all began so promisingly. Young Richard Holbrooke, a gangly 21-year-old graduate of Brown, joined the Foreign Service in 1962, inspired by the idealism of President John F. Kennedy. The State Department assigned him to the rural southern tip of Vietnam. In a region where the South Vietnamese army and its American advisers claimed to have eliminated the communist guerrillas, Holbrooke discovered the Viet Cong were actually pervasive and getting stronger. Observant, clever, and energetic, Holbrooke was an early witness to the collective delusions driving the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Holbrooke dodged bullets and filed reports. He sniffed the breezes of the U.S. embassy where American ambassadors and generals thought they could shuffle local leaders to achieve the victory they assumed was inevitable. He didn’t know all the American men had Vietnamese mistresses. He didn’t quite get the menace of the Quiet American, the prototypical interloper of Graham Greene’s novel, whose blind desire to do good has bloody consequences. But in his lucid letters and reports, Holbrooke conveyed the awful reality that the United States—his government—was inflicting catastrophic violence on a country it barely understood.

Holbrooke dreamed of doing good by doing better. Upon his return to Washington, he dedicated his brain and body to becoming secretary of state (or national security adviser) in the pretentious Great Man mold of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. He schemed and seduced constantly, all while maintaining a constant presence in Washington policy discussions. In every presidential election year from 1984 to 2008, Holbrooke was touted as a leading contender for secretary of state in the next Democratic administration.

Brilliant and abrasive, Holbrooke aspired to the peak of power but never quite summited. In his last assignment as special envoy to Afghanistan, he hoped to salvage a historic peace agreement. President Obama never gave him the chance. The Afghan war was still droning on when he died in 2011.

Holbrooke is the verbose, lucid, obsessive, tricky, but not quite tragic hero of Our Man, George Packer’s endlessly engaging biography. A former New Yorker staff writer, Packer unspools Holbrooke’s story as a rich and sinuous tale of American Exceptionalism, the problematic—if not demonstrably false—notion that America is uniquely endowed to steer the affairs of the entire planet.

Packer is acute on the realities of Holbrooke’s ambition—the narcissism, mendacity, and vanity that powered it. He does not flinch from its cost to females, friends and family. Our Man is not a case study in the exercise of American power. It is a cautionary tale about the manic pursuit of it.

It is also essential reading for the thundering herd of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates as they begin to define themselves on issues of war and peace. The next Democratic president will have to assemble a national security team and manage a global military empire. Holbrooke’s career illuminates how the last three Democratic presidents—Carter, Clinton, and Obama—handled this challenge, while accommodating and deflecting his ambitions. Holbrooke’s legacy, it turns out, is one Democratic presidents have preferred to avoid.

Packer is the sympathetic pal kind of biographer. At the outset, he warns that his biography will favor character over history, the personal over the political, and so it does. He was friends with Holbrooke and mixed with his social set. He makes no apologies for his access to his subject and seems aware of its inevitable costs. He wastes no time on Holbrooke’s childhood, barely mentions his parents and jumps right into his pursuit of power.

Holbrooke was appalled by what he had seen in Vietnam and the refusal of President Richard Nixon to de-escalate. He left the Foreign Service in 1969. He became editor of Foreign Policy, a new quarterly policy journal and rival to the stuffier Foreign Affairs. Writing and editing articles kept his name and ideas in circulation while President Nixon was self-destructing and Gerald Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter.

In 1977, Carter appointed Holbrooke as assistant secretary of state for Asia. Packer highlights one of Holbrooke’s real accomplishments: securing the admission of some two million refugees from Vietnam into America in the late 1970s. Packer doesn’t even have to mention current events on the Mexican border to say the Carter-Holbrooke policy “shames us today.”

He does not dally on Holbrooke’s diplomacy in Indonesia, where the government was waging a scorched earth campaign against rebels in the breakaway province of East Timor. On a visit in April 1977, notes historian Brad Simpson at the non-profit National Security Archive, Holbrooke “offered no criticism of Indonesia’s human rights record while ‘acknowledging efforts President Suharto appeared to be making to resolve Indonesian problems,’ especially on East Timor, where he ‘applauded’ the President’s judgment in allowing Congressional members to visit the territory but remained mute on reports of ongoing atrocities.”

Packer mentions only in passing another lesser milestone in Holbrooke’s career: the Gwangju massacre in South Korea in May 1980. At the time, South Korea was ruled by an unstable and unseemly fascist dictatorship. The chief of the Korean CIA had recently assassinated his boss, the president, during a very unpleasant office meeting. The dictatorship was trying to consolidate itself while a popular movement rallied in the streets for the restoration of democracy. A grassroots movement took over the southern city of Gwangju, a university town known for its independent ways. After the Korean armed forces slaughtered some of the unarmed demonstrators, U.S. policymakers were apprised that elite military units were mobilizing to finish the job.

Here was a life and death test of the lessons learned in Vietnam: How far should the U.S. government indulge a repressive ally? Where to draw the line? At a White House meeting in May 1980, President Carter decided, with Holbrooke’s concurrence, that they had to let the Koreans “maintain law and order.” The last protesters were massacred. Holbrooke kept quiet while privately seeking to save dissident leader (and future president) Kim Dae-Jung from execution.

Packer gives Holbrooke a pass on East Timor and Gwangju. Human rights considerations are inevitably sacrificed to national interests, he avers. The American ideal of promoting human rights is impossible to achieve. “Be unhappy when senior officials fail to live up to it,” Packer writes. “Just don’t be surprised.”

If the point is that the real world sometimes offers excruciating trade-offs between security and human rights, Packer is surely right. It is less obvious that Holbrooke made the right choice. The threat of a North Korean attack was more a pretext than a reality. The South Koreans were in no position to buck a pre-emptive warning from Washington to stand down. Holbrooke didn’t speak up, and hundreds of people were killed. Gwangju has never forgotten, even if Washington has.

The lesson for 2020 Democrats? U.S. rhetoric about human rights will never be credible—especially in the wake of Trump’s embrace of dictators everywhere—unless the next president is willing to back human rights rhetoric with action to protect democratic forces.

Holbrooke’s idealism had evolved into realism, if not cynicism. He had acquiesced, Packer notes, to an ironic reality of post-Vietnam national security politics in Washington. Policymakers, like Holbrooke, who recognized the folly of the Vietnam war and warned against reflexive military interventions would forever suffer from the reputation of being “soft.” The hawks who favored futile escalation were rewarded with a reputation for toughness.

The 2020 Democrats, candidates and voters alike, need to understand this pernicious dynamic is still at work in Washington, where the intellectual authors of the Iraq fiasco are considered as credible as the critics who predicted it. The next Democratic president need not make that mistake.

Holbrooke’s policy legacy is not easy to discern. In the fiercest Washington policy debates of the 1980s, Holbrooke was more notable for his absence than his presence. He barely figured in the two most contentious issues of the day: the bloody civil wars of Central America (which most Democrats wanted to stay out of) and the nuclear freeze (which Democrats and many independents favored). Over the course of the decade, these controversies mutated into the Iran-contra scandal and the end of the Cold War. In these events, Holbrooke offered no special insights or even much involvement.

Packer covers this period in Holbrooke’s life from 1980 to 1992, the Reagan-Bush era, with a breezy style in barely 30 pages:

The scene shifted to New York, just as the Wall Street carnival was getting started. He made money for the first time and acquired a new roster of friends, more chiefs than Indians because that’s how it goes when you rise with age. Girlfriends—of course! For all the hot lights of Manhattan, you’ll find that during stretches of the eighties he grows indistinct—the very glare of the camera starts to blur the man. But the interior light in that sleepless brain never dimmed. The whole time he was positioning, connecting, learning, expanding, surveying, getting ready for the only thing that really mattered.

Namely, his own return to power.

A more analytical biographer might have compared Holbrooke’s career to his contemporary Elliott Abrams, another national security operator on the rise in the 1980s. While Holbrooke was getting rich from a Wall Street sinecure, falling in love with high-powered women, and plotting his return to power, Abrams was making policy for the hawkish cabal around President Reagan.

Abrams defended the death squads of El Salvador. He brokered secret deals for the CIA-trained contras in Nicaragua. Packer’s character-driven narrative only occasionally glances up at the larger political landscape or its implications. Unlike Abrams, Holbrooke had no mission larger than fulfilling his own genius, following “the interior light in that sleepless brain.” Abrams embraced the impunity of the empire; Holbrooke embraced its privileges. Abrams is still around, modus operandi unchanged.

The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 delivered a Democrat into the White House. Alas, it did not deliver Holbrooke to the seat of power. Clinton didn’t much care about foreign policy, and he didn’t need an aspiring Great Man to run the State Department. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 had left America without a dangerous enemy, a luxury the next president won’t have. Clinton (and First Lady Hillary) preferred to pursue a national health care plan and put foreign policy on autopilot. Clinton chose an unimaginative lawyer, Warren Christopher, as his secretary of state.

In 1994 Holbrooke caught a break. Clinton gave him a thankless assignment beyond Christopher’s limited skillset: negotiate an end to the vicious ethno-nationalist bloodletting in Bosnia. Over the course of a grueling year, Holbrooke coaxed the Balkan leaders into a peace agreement. Along with the admission of the Vietnamese refugees, the Dayton Accords was a genuine accomplishment. Few others in the U.S. government could have pulled it off, and he probably saved thousands of lives.

The rewards were few. Clinton contemplated promoting Holbrooke but backed off. The Nobel Prize Committee didn’t give him a Peace Prize, perhaps because the NSC memorandum documenting his acquiescence in the Gwangju massacre became public in 1994.

In time, Holbrooke became a prisoner of the same sort of Washington orthodoxies that he had once seen right through. After 9/11, he supported President Bush’s campaign to invade Iraq. He urged aspiring Democratic presidential contenders John Kerry and Hillary Clinton to do the same.

“Vietnam had taught him again and again that a soft Democrat was politically doomed,” Packer writes.

The supposedly savvy Holbrooke was dead wrong. Kerry and Clinton voted for the war, and they wound up with the scarlet letter “I” forever stamped on their foreheads. (Packer admits he made the same mistake, “stupidly” and “disastrously” endorsing Bush’s war.) In the same period, an unknown state senator named Barack Obama opposed the war on principle and gained a reputation for prescience and prudence that helped propel him to the White House. There’s a lesson for the 2020 presidential aspirants.

The last chapter of Holbrooke’s career, as special envoy to Afghanistan, verges on the pathetic. The realities of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan echoed Vietnam in every way: the impermeable local culture, the feckless and corrupt allies, the overweening American ambassadors, and the generals’ self-serving reports of “progress.”

Yet the mature Holbrooke repeated all the mistakes he dissected as a young man. He managed to alienate his boss, Obama, and his host, Afghan president Hamid Karzai, while getting patronized by White House staffers and ultimately rolled by Gen. David Petraeus, who squelched his dreams of a peace agreement. In his last hurrah, he achieved nothing but his own marginalization. And he would emerge from meetings clueless, telling aides, “[that] went well.

Packer’s epitaph for Holbrooke’s career is an epitaph for American Exceptionalism and for the wars it generates:

By the end he was living in each chapter of his life simultaneously—Kennedy and Obama, Vietnam and Bosnia and Afghanistan—as if he were floating in a single body of water whose temperature varied from place to place and depth to depth. All that accumulated experience—we Americans don’t want it. We’re almost embarrassed by it, except when we’re burying it. So we forget our mistakes or recoil from them, we swing wildly between superhuman exertion and sullen withdrawal, always looking for the answers in our own goodness and wisdom instead of where they lie, out in the world, and in history. I’m amazed we came through our half century on top as well as we did. Now it’s over.

What comes next is the question that the 2020 Democrats, candidates and voters alike, need to answer in the next 17 months. The United States is waging war in four theaters (Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen) while maintaining a uniformed military presence in 149 countries. President Trump has trashed the State Department, traditional alliances, and multilateral institutions. He has replaced diplomacy with bluster and transactional deals.

The belief that America is uniquely endowed to do good sustains this global empire and energizes Trump’s bullying “regime change” rhetoric in Venezuela and Iran. It is a myth that should be buried. After the trillion-dollar failures of Afghanistan and Iraq and the incoherent transactionalism of Trump, the next president has to find a foreign policy that is less reckless and more focused on the well-being of the American people.

For better and worse, the accumulated experience of Richard Holbrooke is a good guide to what should be embraced and avoided. As his very best, Holbrooke showed the United States could serve as an honest broker pacifying the international system. At his more common worst, he enabled the violent illusions of American Exceptionalism.

The 2020 Democrats, meaning both candidates and voters, can do better. The Americans who resisted the brutal proxy wars of Central America in the 1980s (that yielded the failed states of today) did not assume American wisdom and goodness. They questioned it. Those who warned against the folly of Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s did not bury the experience of the past. They pushed it to the fore and were ignored by the likes of Packer. They knew the sell-by date of the doctrine of American Exceptionalism had expired long before Richard Holbrooke.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: The official State Department photo portrait of Richard Holbrooke, dated November 5, 2009. 

 

 

 

Why John Bolton Is The Most Dangerous Man In The World

When National Security Adviser John Bolton demanded military plans to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Trump demurred, reportedly saying his national security adviser was trying to pull him “into a war.”

When Bolton demanded “regime change” in Iran and the Pentagon produced a plan to put 120,000 troops into the region, Trump demurred again.

“He is not comfortable with all this ‘regime change’ talk,’ which to his ears echoes the discussion of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the 2003 U.S. invasion,” one unnamed official told the Washington Post.

When push comes to proverbial shove, Trump balks at shoving.

When U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido attempted to lead a popular uprising on April 30, Trump did not lend his voice to the call. As Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the alleged danger of Russian involvement, the president rubbished his message saying Vladimir Putin was “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”

The uprising failed, and Bolton moved on to Iran.

Last week, Bolton warned the Tehran government that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” On Wednesday, Trump spoke of negotiations, saying, “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

The national security adviser wants war, but his boss doesn’t want to be a war president. Trump’s combination of bluster (“bomb the shit out of them”) and antiwar rhetoric (“Bush lied”) is a political asset he doesn’t want to squander. Bolton’s job isn’t in any danger, because to Trump, tough talk is good politics. Insults, threats, sanctions, and covert operations are fine—as long as they don’t lead to an actual shooting war.

Some hope it’s a “good cop/bad cop” routine, designed to get Trump to the global stage of negotiations. But that is not how Bolton thinks. He has never suggested that any negotiated settlement between the United States and any adversary is worth pursuing.

When Trump came to office, official Washington hoped generals like Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would act as the “adults in the room.” In Washington-speak, the phrase expressed the bipartisan hope that Trump’s non-interventionist instincts, grounded in domestic politics, would be curbed.

Now, the dynamic has flipped. Now the generals are gone, replaced by Bolton and Boeing lobbyist Patrick Shanahan. As Bolton pursues regime change in Venezuela and Iran, the only restraining force is Trump himself.

It’s a thin orange line. Will it hold?

Trump’s Obama-like determination to stay out of wars shouldn’t be underestimated. Hillary Clinton, who advocated strongly for Timber Sycamore, would never have abruptly withdrawn 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as Trump did in December.

While Obama refused direct U.S. involvement in Syria, he did acquiesce to the CIA’s $1 billion covert arms transfer program, code-named Timber Sycamore. The goal was to aid the “moderate” rebels, who, unfortunately, did not exist. The program flooded the country with weapons, many of which wound up in the hands of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, funded by U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.

Trump ended Timber Sycamore in the summer of 2017. His withdrawal order in December 2018 not only triggered Mattis’ resignation; it also deprived Bolton of real estate from which he planned to confront Iran. Bolton has been trying to walk back Trump’s order ever since, with some success. Approximately 400 U.S. troops remain in the country.

On Venezuela, it was Trump who started talk of “military option” in August 2017 before Bolton had even joined his administration. Bolton escalated confrontation, with the help of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, repeatedly saying “Maduro must go” and that his “time is up.” Trump, pondering the reality that U.S military intervention can only undermine the goal of ousting Maduro, now resists the option he put on the table.

The problem for the war-wary Trump is threefold.

First, Bolton is, objectively speaking, a warmonger. He has favored attacking Iran and North Korea, just as he favored attacking Iraq in 2003. The disastrous consequences of the invasion have had no effect on his impermeable thinking. He doesn’t want any advice on his schemes, and he doesn’t get any. If the policy doesn’t work, he changes the subject, not directions.

Second, because Bolton’s policies are developed in private, without the usual input from other sectors of the government, especially the military, they are underinformed and unsustainable. In Venezuela, Bolton failed to understand Venezuelan political realities leaving talk of military intervention as the only face-saving option.

Third, and most important, Trump’s regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are also seeking to goad the U.S. into taking action against Iran, their regional rival.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought authority to attack Iran in 2011, only to be thwarted by the opposition of President Obama and his own security Cabinet. Obama is gone and Trump has given Netanyahu everything he wanted: an embassy in Jerusalem and recognition of the Golan Heights. Why not a unilateral attack on Iran to degrade its infrastructure?

Saudi Arabia is openly calling for war. After four oil tankers last week suffered damage from some kind of attack, the United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran. Why? The New York Times reported that “Israeli intelligence had warned the United States in recent days of what it said was Iran’s intention to strike Saudi vessels.” The Times said the information came from a “senior Middle Eastern intelligence official.”

An Iranian parliamentary spokesman described the attacks as “Israeli mischief.” To date, there is no conclusive evidence about who was responsible.

Nonetheless, the Arab News, a Saudi outlet owned by the brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is now calling for “surgical strikes” on Iran.

It is one thing for Trump to privately rebuke Bolton. If and when Netanyahu and MBS ask for war, Trump will have more difficulty saying no—which is what Bolton is counting on.

It is no exaggeration to say Bolton is the most dangerous man in the world. It is a title he will only lose if Trump wants it.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at The Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Hey, Democrats: What Will You Do About The Blob?

If a Democrat is elected president in November 2020, he or she will have two challenges: one global and one municipal.

The first challenge will be how to run the worldwide $643 billion a year military empire of the United States, which surveils the planet while fighting four undeclared wars. The second challenge is much smaller but still formidable: what to do about “the Blob” in Washington, D.C.

No, this isn’t a science fiction joke. The Blob is the nickname that Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s speechwriter, gave to America’s foreign policymaking elite in a May 2016 interview. According to Rhodes, the Blob included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and other supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

More generally, Rhodes was referring the coterie of operatives who have made U.S. foreign policy under every president from Truman to Trump. With his unkind epithet, Rhodes suggested these men and women responsible for the U.S. foreign policy record are a shapeless mass lacking a coherent identity yet somehow ominous.

While Rhodes was reviled inside the Beltway, his coinage has stuck. The Blob is useful shorthand for a recognizable and powerful group: the former officials, analysts, diplomats, writers and military officers who espouse orthodox U.S. foreign policy views.

They are not a secret cabal. They work at think tanks and elite universities and consulting firms. They talk to reporters. They opine on cable TV talk shows. And they rotate in and out of government positions. They range from multilateral liberals to hawkish neoconservatives. While they have had deep differences, they have collectively promoted a broadly consistent set of policies that has defined the United States in the world over the last 30 years.

Right now, they favor a hard line on Russia, intervention in Syria and Venezuela, bolstering NATO, and promoting free-trade agreements. They oppose defense spending cuts, rapid denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and a jobs-driven foreign policy.

At its best, the Blob gave us the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, Cuba normalization, the Millennium Challenge to address global poverty, and the now-abandoned treaty on nuclear weapons in Europe.

At its worst, the Blob gave us proxy wars (leading to failed states) in Central America; expansion of NATO (to the fury of Russia); free-trade agreements (which did little for Americans living inside the East and West Coasts); invasion of Iraq (on false pretenses); the (unsuccessful) occupation of Afghanistan; the implementation of a torture regime (and its removal); the furtive implementation of mass surveillance (since abandoned); the illusory “two-state solution” in Israel/Palestine; and unauthorized wars in Libya, Somalia, Niger, and Yemen, the last with catastrophic human consequences.

What should President Sanders (or Warren or Biden or Buttigieg or Gabbard) do upon taking office on January 21, 2021? Should they follow the Obama strategy of implementing incremental course corrections in the trajectory of current policies? Or force a fundamental change of direction on issues of war and peace?

The answer depends, in large part, on how she or he thinks about the Blob.

Trump has marginalized the Blob. He has abandoned the orderly policymaking process they revere. He ignores their briefings. He scorns their expertise. He demonizes their concept of a (neo)liberal world order. Instead, he uses the U.S. foreign policy apparatus for his own ends: to feed the family business, withdraw from land wars, collaborate with like-minded autocrats, stimulate arms sales, demonstrate belligerence, and dominate the news cycle.

The Blob fears Trump, for good reasons and bad ones.

This is the Democrats’ dilemma. Trump’s successor cannot run, much less reorient, America’s global empire without a policymaking elite. Yet the existing elite—the Blob—is wedded to the status quo ante Trump, and adamant in defense of its unimpressive-to-awful record since 9/11.

Exhibit A: Robert Kagan, liberal-minded neoconservative, adviser to both George Bush and Hillary Clinton. He is using the platform of the Washington Post to offer an alternative to Trump’s foreign policy. Since Trump has no use for the Blob, Kagan is appealing to Democrats and post-Trump Republicans to return to the foreign policies of the Clinton-Bush-Obama era. He wants America to face the challenge of the populist authoritarianism.

Kagan doesn’t spend much time defending the Blob’s record on Iraq’s non-existent WMD, torture, mass surveillance, election-meddling, Libya, or Yemen. He doesn’t spend any time addressing what Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have said about the roots of today’s authoritarianism.

Kagan’s eloquent disquisition on the course of world history ends with the argument that to oppose his policy prescriptions is to oppose democracy itself:

“A broad alliance of strange bedfellows stretching from the far right to self-described ‘realists’ to the progressive left wants the United States to abandon resistance to rising authoritarian power. They would grant Russia and China the spheres of influence they demand in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. They would acquiesce in the world’s new ideological ‘diversity.’ And they would consign the democracies living in the shadow of the authoritarian great powers to their hegemonic control.”

One could describe the same reality by saying the repeated failures of the U.S. foreign policy elite—two unsuccessful trillion-dollar wars, the use of torture and mass surveillance, and near-total indifference to the impact of foreign policy on the U.S. economy have generated widespread opposition to the pretensions of the foreign policy elite. It is a “broad alliance” indeed.

The idea that post-Trump U.S. policymakers will act in defense of democracy is belied by the failures of democracy that have occurred on their watch. Kagan’s rhetoric of democracy is about as convincing as when Hillary Clinton tweeted “America is already great.”

The position of the three leading Democratic candidates on the Blob are pretty clear.

Joe Biden, who has not yet announced, was among the most dovish of Obama’s advisers, but he seems comfortable with the national security status quo. He might invite Kagan for an interview but not give him a job.

Bernie Sanders, gruff socialist, is an outsider. Along with his foreign policy adviser Matt Duss, he insists on a fundamental change from Blob policies. Sanders wouldn’t return Kagan’s phone calls.

(See David Klion’s “Who Is Matt Duss, and Can He Take On Washington’s ‘Blob’?” on the Nation.)

Elizabeth Warren, impassioned Harvard professor, is a policymaking insider par excellence (she almost single-handedly created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). She too wants to break with the Blob. Warren would return Kagan’s phone call—and tell him to hold her beer.

In short, Biden would most likely embrace the Blob, Sanders would purge it, and Warren would bend it to her will.

Another Democratic aspirant who has signaled their independence from Blob thinking is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who served two tours in Iraq as a medical specialist. She is an outspoken anti-interventionist, who has flouted liberal sensibilities with her willingness to take meetings with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a brutal dictator. She serves on the board of a foreign policy group funded by the Koch Brothers. She’s a Blob-buster.

Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman, has shown an independent streak. According to Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic, O’Rourke “bucked Obama on several important issues, pressuring him to close Guantanamo, supporting legislation to curtail NSA spying, opposing war in Syria and arming the country’s rebels, and demanding Obama get congressional authorization for his continued war on ISIS.” O’Rourke looks like a Blob skeptic.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, served as naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan, but has not focused on foreign policy or national security issues. He did endorse the suggestion of Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent that all Democratic presidential candidates pledge to abide by the War Powers Act. The oft-ignored 1975 law requires the president to get congressional approval for U.S. military action lasting longer than 90 days. That’s the kind of useful reform the Blob would never propose but could probably live with.

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington state, is running a one-issue campaign: climate change, which implies a U.S. foreign policy agenda very different than the Blob consensus. He’s a Blob skeptic.

The foreign policy views of John Delaney, a Maryland congressman and former businessman, flow from his belief in free trade, long a staple of semi-official Washington thinking. He’s Blob-friendly.

The other declared candidates—Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris, Senator Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang—have said little about issues of war and peace beyond platitudes. What they have (or have not) said about Venezuela indicates they are Blob-friendly.

Of course, the 2020 campaign has just begun, and voters are notoriously uninterested in foreign policy issues, at least until they become issues of war and peace. The candidates have just begun to face questions about how they would administer the American empire after Trump. And those questions begin with: What do you think of the Blob?

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

How Elliott Abrams Helped To Spring A CIA-Connected Coke Trafficker

When U.S. policymakers needed to spring a convicted CIA-connected drug trafficker from doing hard time in federal prison, who did they call?

Trump’s infamous appointed special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, according to a September 1986 National Security Council email, written by NSC staffer Oliver North.

In a U.S. House Committee hearing on Thursday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) scorched Abrams for his covering up of the infamous El Mozote massacre and lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra conspiracy in the 1980s.

Her interrogation drew rebuke from Max Boot, the apostate conservative, and a chorus of right-wing media commentators. Boot described Omar’s comments as a “disgraceful ad hominem attack.”

Actually, the impertinent congresswoman from Minneapolis could have gone much further about Abrams’ untrustworthy behavior. One of the most revealing stories comes from an impeccably right-wing source, Oliver North, former Republican senatorial candidate and Fox News talking head.

The year was 1986. Abrams served as assistant secretary of state for Latin America under President Reagan. He was a 39-year-old lawyer and foreign policy polemicist who qualified as neoconservative royalty. (His wife was the daughter of Norman Podhoretz, the perfervid editor of Commentary magazine.) Even then his perennial scowl managed to make him look furtive and self-righteous at the same time.

The Iran-Contra conspiracy was in full swing. The conspiracy, permissively labeled “a scandal,” was a Reagan White House plot to subvert the U.S. Congress’ powers of the purse. North was the coordinator of what can fairly be described as an unconstitutional covert operation, while Abrams played the role of bagman.

To bypass the so-called Boland Amendment, Abrams took payments from the Sultan of Brunei, a petroleum potentate from South Asia, and passed them to the leaders of Reagan’s counter-revolutionary army in Nicaragua. When questioned under oath, Abrams lied. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of deceiving Congress.

As part of the conspiracy, Abrams also put in a good word for a convicted drug trafficker, General Jose Bueso Rosa. He was a Honduran general who had helped the U.S. government with “sensitive operations” in Central America. As Murray Waas and I wrote in the Washington Post, North did “a favor for a felon.”

So did Abrams.

As an episode of CIA-sanctioned drug trafficking, the Bueso story was typical. Bueso, it turns out, had helped put together a CIA-trained military intelligence unit known as Battalion 316, which served as death squad for U.S. policymakers. A Honduran government investigation found that Battalion 316 had captured, tortured and executed some 200 suspected leftists.

Bueso had also trafficked multi-kiloton shipments of cocaine. As CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz documented in Volume 2 of his report on contra drug trafficking, the agency did business with more than 50 suspected drug traffickers in the 1980s.

(Lazy reporters sometimes say that the CIA was cleared of the allegation. They didn’t bother to read the Sections 800-1148 of Hitz’s report, which detailed how the agency took no action against four dozen suspected traffickers who aided Reagan’s—and Abrams’—anticommunist crusade.)

Investigating the story for the Post, I spoke on background with law enforcement officials familiar with Bueso’s case. A wiretap had picked up Bueso repeatedly talking about shipments of “flour” into central Florida, they said. Given Bueso’s connections, no one in the Reagan Justice Department cared to make a big deal of his cocaine shipments, no matter how hefty. They just wanted a conviction that would put him out of business. Bueso got a generous plea bargain. He would only have to serve five years.

Bueso, however, was led to believe his American friends would save him from serving any time all.

In his September 1986 email, later uncovered by Iran-Contra investigators, North worried Bueso might “break his longstanding silence.” He might disclose unpleasant truths about death squads and CIA drug trafficking.

So North “cabal[led] quietly” with Abrams, as well as top Pentagon, CIA and Justice Department officials. A presidential pardon was out of the question, but transfer to a comfortable “Club Fed” facility was arranged.

At a time when U.S. prosecutors meted out 10-year sentences to young black men for the possession of a few ounces of cocaine, Abrams was part of a gang that thought a multi-kiloton trafficker should be treated leniently. Such was his advocacy of “human rights.”

Bueso got out of prison early—for “good behavior.” Abrams went on to a long career in U.S. foreign policy. Hundreds of thousands of black men remained in jails for years, if not decades.

Rep. Omar could have asked an even tougher question of Abrams, namely, “Does Trump’s policy toward Latin America today involve protection of drug traffickers as Reagan’s policy did in the 1980s?”

She was certainly justified in questioning his veracity.

“I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful,” she said.

You can watch the Omar-Abrams exchange here.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon.  His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton (St. Martins Press, 2017).

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: Elliott Abrams, photography by Gage Skidmore.