A new lawsuit brought by a current CIA officer hints at the existence of a secret overseas paramilitary operation that triggered war crimes allegations, The Cable has learned.
On Friday, "John Doe," an undercover paramilitary officer will file suit against the CIA for "unreasonable delay" of an Inspector General investigation into "alleged war crimes committed in an overseas location." (The operation remains highly classified; details about when and where it occurred remain secret.)
According to his lawyer Mark Zaid, Doe was engaged in "offensive operations against individuals designated or viewed as enemies of the United States." His client believes he did nothing wrong, according to Zaid, but witnessed events that "concerned him." Zaid declined to outline what those concerning events might be.
The CIA's paramilitary activities have come under heavy scrutiny in recent months. With the ascension of John Brennan to the top of agency, there have been renewed calls in Congress to rein in the CIA's drone strikes and return Langley to traditional mission of gathering human intelligence. President Obama even took the unusual step in late May of publicly defending the agency's targeted killing operations -- while pledging to subject them to new constraints. Brennan himself has expressed his desire to scale back some of the agency's traditional military activities. "While the CIA needs to maintain a paramilitary capability," Brennan said in February, "the CIA should not be used, in my view, to carry out traditional military activities."
Unlike in the latest string of disclosures about the State Department and the National Security Agency, Doe does not consider himself a whistleblower, Zaid says. The purpose of the suit is to bring an end to the IG's open investigation into the alleged war crimes, which has put Doe on administrative suspension. "It has ruined his career," said Zaid.
But the process of taking legal action has led to the partial disclosure of the operation in question, and other unusual allegations. (The CIA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
For instance, following the operation, Zaid says his client's computer and cell phone were compromised by cyber hackers. At first, the client believed a foreign power was responsible and notified the FBI, which opened an investigation but could not determine the origin of the attack. After working with the FBI in its investigation, and finding it unusually cooperative, Zaid suspects the CIA was spying on his client.
The suit also reveals that the Department of Justice opened, and eventually closed, a criminal investigation into alleged war crimes carried out by CIA personnel. The IG investigation is believed to have been started between 2010 and 2011.
While it's unclear where the mission occurred, covert paramilitary operations by the CIA have become increasingly common in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan and Iraq over the past several years. On targeted killing missions, the CIA often collaborates with the U.S. Joint Special Operation Command, which oversees the nation's elite military units. But, as The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Julie Tate have reported, the lines of authority can be murky.
"You couldn't tell the difference between CIA officers, Special Forces guys and contractors," a senior U.S. official who toured through Afghanistan told The Post. "They're all three blended together. All under the command of the CIA." As a result of the overlapping roles, congressional committees covering intelligence and armed services often get an incomplete view of CIA paramilitary operations.
In any case, Zaid's suit opens a small crack into the type of covert missions that rarely see the light of day. Whether more will be uncovered about this specific operation is yet to be seen. Below is a copy of the suit Zaid plans to file tomorrow:
A top State Department official accused of suppressing an investigation into four drug-related killings in Honduras tells The Cable that he's innocent.
The official, William Brownfield, the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law-enforcement affairs, is the latest diplomat to fall prey of Aurelia Fedensin, a former State Department inspector general investigator and self-proclaimed whistleblower who is leaking memos detailing eight examples of alleged misconduct by State Department personnel or contractors. On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium had to fight off charges, based off of documents leaked by Fedensin, that he was soliciting prostitutes and having sex with minors.
The latest allegations -- that Brownfield "stymied" an investigation into the killing of four Hondurans in a botched counternarcotics operation overseen by the State Department -- were published by the New York Post, aggregated across the web, but denied fervently by Brownfield.
"Allegations in the press that I stymied an investigation into a shooting incident in Honduras are false," he told The Cable. "The issue was never whether the incident would be investigated, but rather which U.S. Government organization would review the involvement of U.S. law enforcement support of a foreign police operation overseas."
The 2012 incident in question involved the pursuit of narco traffickers on a boat by Honduran police and DEA personnel. At some point during the chase, Honduran police opened fire on the boat from a number of positions, including a State Department-owned helicopter, and four Hondurans were killed.
As The New York Times reported last May, the incident sparked riots and the burning of government buildings as locals insisted the victims on the boat were merely fishing. U.S. and Honduran officials maintained that authorities killed two drug traffickers and seized 1,000 pounds of cocaine in the operation.
Brownfield had no role in the operation, but according to Wednesday's New York Post, which cited an Office of the Inspector General internal memo, Brownfield stymied an investigation into potential misconduct in the operation. He "was not forthcoming and gave the impression [that State] should not pursue the investigation," read the memo, which referenced an interview between an unnamed agent and Brownfield.
But Brownfield says the allegation is impossible because such an interview never happened. "I was never interviewed by anyone from the Office of the Inspector General or Bureau of Diplomatic Security about this incident" he told The Cable.
Going further, he said he was the one trying to get the ball rolling on an investigation, which proved difficult because it fell under the authority of both the DEA and the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
"In fact, the role my office played was to broker a meeting between DS and DEA to encourage coordination and information sharing," he told The Cable.
Ultimately, the two agencies failed to agree on whether the DEA or DS should investigate the matter. The DEA concluded its internal investigation noting that not a single DEA official fired a shot in the exchange. An investigation by Honduran police came to the same conclusion.
The White House has nominated an agency outsider and the first woman to be the CIA's No. 2 after career intelligence officer Mike Morell, passed over for the top job earlier this year, resigned.
Avril Haines, a White House lawyer who has been a deputy counsel at the NSC and focused on national security issues, will replace Morell Aug. 9, CIA Director John Brennan announced Wednesday. Haines was nominated two months ago to be legal counsel at State but will now go to help lead an intelligence agency in which she has never before worked.
In a statement, Brennan said that at the White House, Haines has worked on some of the agency's most sensitive programs, participating in most of high-level meetings over the past two years. "In every instance, Avril's command of substance, sense of mission, good judgment, and keen insights have been outstanding," Brennan said.
The 43-year-old Haines has enjoyed a meteoric rise from Senate staffer to now the second most powerful position at the agency. On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she was known for being an effective operator, clearing many treaties that had been stalled in committee by working closely with members of the GOP.
Haines's appointment could be seen as another example of the White House putting more of its people in key national security jobs. Mark Lippert's appointment as chief of staff at the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, after a long stint at the NSC, suggested to some outsiders that the White House was pushing its people out to key agency jobs. Sending Haines to the second most important job at CIA seems like another such example to some. But the Center for Strategic and International Studies's David Berteau, who tracks national security appointments, doesn't think filling these jobs in this way smacks of a White House asserting its control.
"I don't see that this appointment presents a threat to the operational integrity of the agency," he said, adding that giving principals the discretion to hire who they want leads to their ultimate success. "The real question here is, is this the person who John Brennan wants and needs?"
Berteau pointed to the nomination of Leon Panetta to CIA, which initially raised eyebrows because he was not steeped in intelligence. It didn't take long before those critics began to sing his praises. "By all accounts, Leon Panetta turned out to be a superior director of the CIA," he said.
When David Petraeus left the agency directorship abruptly after his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, it was Morell who stepped in as acting director -- the second time in his career. Many from inside the intelligence community wanted to see Morell be given the job permanently. They cited his long history in the intelligence world and hoped his nomination to be director could be a sign of the agency returning to its roots of intelligence collection and analysis. In the end he was passed over for John Brennan, who has expressed interest in pursuing a similar agenda.
Morell will leave a field in which he's been for 33 years. In a memo to staff, Morell said Brennan made the decision both tougher and easier for him. Morell said he believes the agency is in good hands but at the same time said he wished he could watch the agency "accomplish great things" under Brennan's leadership. But Morell said he was leaving to spend more time with his family -- the "real reason" he's leaving, he said. "Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the 'real reason,'" he said in the memo. "But you all know me, so you know that when I tell you that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that."
DNI Jim Clapper issued a statement saying Haines was an "excellent choice" to replace Morell. Haines, he said, has "distinguished herself" in key national security positions. "She has a deep understanding of the intelligence community and she values the contributions of our nation's intelligence professionals," Clapper wrote.
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In a fast-developing story, U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman has been named as the diplomat accused of soliciting "sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children," according to State Department documents obtained by NBC News. Gutman denied the allegations, in a statement to The Cable and other outlets.
"I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating," he said. "At no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity."
Gutman came under the spotlight on Monday after CBS obtained an internal memo from the department's inspector general detailing eight examples of alleged misconduct by staff or contractors ranging from soliciting prostitutes to obtaining narcotics from an "underground drug ring." The report also alleged that the agency tried to cover up instances of misconduct, something State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called "preposterous."
According to one veteran Brussels reporter speaking to The Cable, Gutman "is something of a legend here." He's known as "the American guy who goes to shitty little Belgian towns even Belgians haven't heard of," in an effort to strengthen ties with the locals. "He's pretty much always on Belgian TV apparently."
Speaking of the two allegations -- solicitation of prostitutes and minors -- the source said: "The first charge is unsurprising in 'like, whatever' Belgium. But the second is shocking and out-of-character if proved." He said the ambassador is known for his "sharp and wicked humor."
"[He] lives in a gigantic pad between Royal Palace and Parliament," the source said. "Florid reception room, which I imagine gets a lot of use -- could easily hold 100."
Gutman is also a big supporter of President Obama. Formerly a Washington lawyer, Gutman bundled at least $500,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign committee and $275,000 for his inauguration committee, according to Open Secrets.
After allegations of Gutman's misconduct arose, the ambassador was called back to Washington to meet Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but kept his job.
According to the New York Post, which also obtained State Department memos, Kennedy ordered the investigation ceased. Kennedy, in a statement to The Cable, denied allegations that he inhibited the State Department investigation.
"The Foreign Service has been my life for over forty years and through several Secretaries of State," he said. "I have always acted to honor the brave men and women I serve, while also holding accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing. In my current position, it is my responsibility to make sure the Department and all of our employees-no matter their rank-are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation."
On Monday, Psaki announced that the department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security requested a "review by outside, experienced law enforcement offices ... to make expert assessments about our current procedures."
The allegations surfaced with claims by Aurelia Fedensin, a former investigator with the State Department's internal watchdog agency, who told CBS that higher ranking State Department officials discouraged allegations of misconduct. "We expect to see influence, but the degree to which that influence existed and how high up it went was very disturbing."
On Monday, a State Department official told The Cable that investigations sometimes result in disciplinary actions that aren't made public. At a briefing, Psaki said the department "would never condone any undue influence on any report or investigation," Psaki said.
Republican Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement Monday saying he was "appalled" at the alleged misconduct. "The notion that any or all of the cases contained in news reports would not be investigated thoroughly by the Department is unthinkable," he said.
It's been a tough few weeks for Patrick Kennedy.
Foggy Bottom's under secretary of state for management is under scrutiny once again. Kennedy's name has surfaced in news reports about an alleged State Department cover up of an ambassador who's accused of soliciting prostitutes. The reports come just two weeks after House investigators hit Kennedy with a subpoena for his role in the drafting of Benghazi talking points. Kennedy's role in this latest snafu is unclear. But a State Department official tells The Cable that Kennedy, who was been pilloried by House lawmakers since October, was not deeply involved.
On Monday, CBS News uncovered documents showing the State Department may have covered up allegations of misconduct by its employees ranging from soliciting prostitutes to obtaining narcotics from an "underground drug ring." According to the CBS, an internal memo from the department's Inspector General says investigations into misconduct were "influenced, manipulated, or simply called off" by more senior State Department officials.
One of those investigations involved an unnamed ambassador accused of repeatedly soliciting prostitutes. Kennedy reportedly interviewed the ambassador, who promptly returned to his regular duties without being disciplined. Per CBS:
In one specific and striking cover-up, State Department agents told the Inspector General they were told to stop investigating the case of a U.S. Ambassador who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.
The State Department Inspector General's memo refers to the 2011 investigation into an ambassador who "routinely ditched ... his protective security detail" and inspectors suspect this was in order to "solicit sexual favors from prostitutes."
Sources told CBS News that after the allegations surfaced, the ambassador was called to Washington, D.C. to meet with Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but was permitted to return to his post.
Downplaying Kennedy's role, a State Department official told The Cable that the under secretary is "not a central player in this at all." Update: In a statement to The Cable, Kennedy denied interfering into the investigation into the ambassador. "The Foreign Service has been my life for over forty years and through several Secretaries of State," he said. "I have always acted to honor the brave men and women I serve, while also holding accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing. In my current position, it is my responsibility to make sure the Department and all of our employees-no matter their rank-are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation." A State Department official also passed along a statement by colleague Jen Psaki saying the department "will not comment about specific allegations of misconduct, internal investigations or personnel matters."
"Depending on the facts, an investigation may result in administrative action or criminal charges, or it may be concluded without further action," Psaki continued. "Not all allegations are substantiated. It goes without saying that the Department does not condone interference with investigations by any of its employees."
One of CBS' sources is Aurelia Fedensin, a former State Department investigator who was part of the team that drafted a report accusing high-ranking State Department officials of interfering with investigations. According to a copy of the report obtained by CBS, such "hindering" of investigations into misconduct "calls into question the integrity of the investigative process, can result in counterintelligence vulnerabilities and can allow criminal behavior to continue." That line was in the original Inspector General's report, but was later scrubbed from the final draft. Fedensin told CBS she showed a high-ranking security official her report and he said "This is going to kill us."
Needless to say, now is an unfortunate time for Kennedy's name to surface amid accusations of State Department wrongdoing. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) made plain that Kennedy is in his crosshairs by subpoenaing all of his e-mails related to the drafting of the Benghazi talking points that turned out to be erroneous in the days following last year's attack at the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
The White House already released around 100 pages of emails documenting the editing of the talking points, which gave no hint of wrongdoing by Kennedy. But Issa claims that paper trail was "incomplete," leaving him with" with no alternative but to compel the State Department to produce relevant documents through subpoena."
Issa and other conservatives maintain that the independent Accountability Review Board investigation, co-chaired by Amb. Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, failed to hold higher-level State Department officials, such as Kennedy, accountable for misdeeds. Pickering maintains that the investigation was thorough and adequate. A public committee hearing involving testimony from Pickering is expected, but not yet scheduled.
Recently retired Marine General John Allen has joined the Brookings Institution as a distinguished fellow, The Cable has learned.
Allen, who until recently led coalition forces in Afghanistan, will join the think tank's newly-launched Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence.
"We are honored that General Allen has joined the Brookings ranks as a distinguished fellow," Brookings President Strobe Talbott said in a Monday statement. "He has served our country and the U.S. military with distinction for more than 35 years. We look forward to his contributions to public policy work at Brookings."
Allen, a four-star general, was nominated to be NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe in early 2013. He turned down the job after getting dragged into the probe surrounding former CIA Director David Petraeus' affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. Allen was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
With his wife Kathy beside him, Allen recently gave a lengthy exit interview with ABC News about the challenges of leading the war effort during the investigation. Now Allen will get a chance to flex his intellectual chops and continue advocating for his preferred military policies.
And when it comes those preferred policies in Afghanistan, the general has made clear that he thinks there's "no question" U.S. forces will be needed for a long time. "The international community will remain engaged. Our forces will continue to train the Afghan forces well after 2014," he said last month.
Allen's already been getting cozy with his new Brookings colleagues. Last month, he published a report with Michael O'Hanlon, director of research at Brookings, and Michele Flournoy, former under secretary for defense for policy, on the road forward in Afghanistan. See his entire interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz here.
Another assistant secretary of state slot is opening up with the departure of Esther Brimmer, Foggy Bottom's maven of International Organization Affairs, who will be joining George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs as a visiting professor next month.
Her departure inevitably draws more attention to the slate of unfilled posts at the State Department, including the assistant secretaries of Near Eastern Affairs, expected to be run by U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson (if appointed and confirmed), European and Eurasian Affairs, expected to be run by Victoria Nuland (if confirmed), and East Asian and Pacific Affairs, expected to be run by Danny Russel (if confirmed), just to name a few.
"I have truly enjoyed my tenure as Assistant Secretary of State and I look forward now to transition back to my other great passion -- education," Brimmer told The Cable in a statement. "When President Obama assumed office, he made reengagement with the United Nations and the international system one of his first priorities, and I was pleased and privileged to accept a position that allowed me to support the President's vision."
In announcing her arrival at George Washington, Elliot School Dean Michael Brown said, "Dr. Brimmer has a truly extraordinary array of international affairs expertise and professional experience across the academic, policy and foundation worlds. She will be a tremendous addition to our faculty as the Shapiro Professor -- the Elliott School's most prestigious visiting professorship."
Brimmer's State Department colleagues held a farewell gathering for her on Friday afternoon. She begins at George Washington on July 1.
If news of America's sprawling surveillance state doesn't hijack President Barack Obama's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping today, the two leaders may actually get something done on North Korea.
This week, the White House has hinted that Pyongyang's nuclear program would be a subject of discussion during today's meeting between the two leaders in southern California. Going further, a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing that the issue is a top priority for the two leaders.
"There is no doubt that North Korea is of concern in the forefront of the minds of both President Obama and President Xi," the official said. "The challenge for the two leaders undoubtedly will be to identify more specifically the areas of shared concerns and the range of actions that the two governments acting in tandem can take to try to mitigate that threat by halting, rolling back, and verifiably eliminating North Korea's nuclear program."
Apparently, an agreed framework between China and the United States to denuclearize North Korea is a top priority for the administration and a possible outcome of today's talk, according to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the East Asian & Pacific Affairs Subcommittee. Cardin just returned from China last week after a series of discussions with senior leaders there, and told The Cable that foreign policy wonks should be anticipating a joint-framework on the subject.
"An area with the best opportunity for an agreed framework out the meeting is the denuclearization of North Korea," Cardin said. "The North Korean emissary who came into China [last month] suggested further discussions on the topic. The question is: Under what framework?"
One of the most widely-touted agreed frameworks with North Korea was signed in 1994, and aimed to scale back Pyongyang's indigenous nuclear power plant program and normalize ties between the U.S. and the DPRK. The framework between China and the U.S. that Cardin discussed would be much less ambitious.
"I'm hopeful it will be how we can get a more productive dialogue on the subject: either six party talks or direct party talks," he continued. "Once that framework is established, you set up communications and get the talks back on track."
Of course, this being North Korea, skepticism abounds about the likelihood of an actual deliverable coming out of this weekend's talks.
"I think that the most ideal outcome, given all of the well-known constraints the Chinese impose on themselves for dealing with North Korea, would be some public words about cooperation between the U.S. and China on denuclearization," Victor Cha, director of Georgetown University's national resource center for Asian studies, told The Cable. "But the real discussion would be behind closed doors on whether the U.S. and China can begin to talk genuinely about the longer-term strategic outlook on the peninsula."
Cardin said his optimism was rooted in the fact that neither country benefits from Kim Jong Un's belligerence. "We have the same objective of keeping North Korea from becoming nuclearized," he said.
But Cha has doubts. "The danger, of course, is that the administration has raised expectations to expect something big on North Korea in advance of Sunnylands, which may prove to disappoint," he said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.