Before Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid Tuesday night to President Barack Obama, he had set up a multi-layered national security transition team with dozens of experts and former officials who were working to prepare for a Romney administration that will never come to be.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was the overall head of "Project Readiness," the secretive transition planning effort run out of Washington, and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in charge of the national security substructure, which included teams to prepare for the transition of the National Security Council, the Defense Department, the State Department, USAID, the Homeland Security Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Brian Hook, former foreign-policy aide to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was Zoellick's deputy in the effort and played a key role in organizing and directing the now-defunct national security transition structure.
Multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors told The Cable that the national security agency transition teams were not direct indications of who might get what job in a future Romney administration and that they were separate from the transition project's personnel team, which would vet potential senior officials. The agency teams were meant to swoop in after the election, if Romney won, and prepare the national security bureaucracy for the changes President Romney wanted to impose.
"The project moved pretty well," Rich Williamson, the NSC transition team chair, told The Cable today. "Governor Leavitt did a good job of structurally organizing it. He set in course a process of identifying key issues and trying to develop 100-day plans so that if Romney became president he could start on day one to move the things he was committed to. It was further advanced than any other transition efforts I've seen."
Confidence in Romney's victory persisted until the last minute and the planning was extensive. In recent weeks, preparations included the drive to prepare drafts of agency transition plans and policy papers coordinated by interwoven task forces that focused on specific issues. The drafts were due Tuesday, the same day of the election, multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors said.
"I feel quite comfortable with the analyses and options we teased out that the president elect would have had to begin to address," Williamson said. "Now we go into the loyal opposition and try to do our job raising concerns, improving the dialogue, and trying to influence how the president proceeds."
Had Romney won, Williamson would have been assisted by two NSC transition team co-chairs: former Navy Secretary William Ball and Harvard Professor Meghan O'Sullivan. The NSC "Team Leader," who led the day-to-day activities of the group under the direction of the chair and co-chairs was Foreign Policy Initiative Executive Director Jamie Fly.
The Pentagon transition team had three co-equal co-chairs: Former Sen. Jim Talent, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman. Roger Zakheim, professional staffer for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), was the Pentagon transition team leader.
Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff chaired the homeland security transition team, with help from team leader David Howe. The intelligence transition team was chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former State Department official Philip Zelikow; Michael Allen, chief of staff for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI), was the team leader.
For the State Department there were four co-chairs: former State Department and NSC staffer Dan Fisk, former Treasury Department official and Goldman Sachs executive John Rogers, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Michael Singh, and former Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel. The team leader was former State Department official Ken Juster.
Several sources involved in the transition said that Zoellick set up the State Department transition team without any cabinet-level leaders because he wanted to set himself up to become secretary of state if Romney was elected. These sources also said that in the last weeks before the election, Zoellick's role in the project had diminished, partially due to the backlash in GOP foreign-policy circles when his role was revealed.
"After the groups were established, Zoellick's involvement appeared minimal. His deputy, Brian Hook, oversaw the work of the agency and policy groups," said one person involved in the transition project. "It was a collaborative process that helped build and strengthen relationships within the conservative foreign-policy community that will hopefully continue to pay dividends for years to come."
Zoellick did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has often endorsed the idea of using "enhanced interrogation techniques" if he is elected and doesn't believe that waterboarding is "torture," but he chose the GOP's most fervent critique of such methods to be the co-chair for intelligence personnel in his transition team.
Philip Zelikow, the long-time diplomat and former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been named one of two officials in charge of planning for the intelligence side of a potential Romney administration as part of the Romney campaign's "Project Readiness," multiple sources with direct knowledge of the project confirmed to The Cable. Zelikow, who was also the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, co-chairs the intelligence team with former New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean.
Zelikow is another GOP senior foreign-policy hand from the realist camp in the top ranks of the Romney transition team. The head of the national security team is former Deputy Secretary of State and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, a pick that roiled neoconservatives and hawks inside the Romney campaign when it was announced in August. But there are also hawks on the transition team, including former U.N. official Rich Williamson and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman.
Zelikow ran afoul of many of his colleagues inside the George W. Bush administration in 2005 when he wrote an internal memo expressing opposition to the Office of Legal Counsel's findings that allowed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He wrote about how his dissenting view was received in a 2009 post on Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog.
"My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department's archives," Zelikow wrote.
In looking to objective standards to inform a judgment about evolving standards of decency or interrogation techniques that shock the conscience, three sources stand out:
- American government practice, by any agency, in holding or questioning enemy combatants -- including enemy combatants who do not have Geneva protection or who were regarded at the time as suspected terrorists, guerrillas, or saboteurs. We are unaware of any precedent in Wold War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here, even where the prisoners were presumed to be unlawful combatants
- Recent practice by police and prison authorities in confining or questioning their most dangerous suspects. This practice is especially helpful since these authorities are governed by substantively similar standards to those that would apply under the [Convention Against Torture], given the Senate's reservation. We have not conducted a review of American domestic practice. From the available cases, it appears likely that some of the techniques being used would likely pass muster; several almost certainly would not.
- Recent practice by other advanced governments that face potentially catastrophic terrorist dangers. [REDACTED]...governments have abandoned several of the techniques in question here.
It therefore appears to us that several of these techniques, singly or in combination, should be considered "cruel inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" within the meaning of Article 16.
The techniques least likely to be sustained are the techniques described as "coercive,'" especially viewed cumulatively, such as the waterboard, walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement.
Zelikow's position on enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding stands in contrast to Romney, who has made it clear on several occasions that he is not opposed to enhanced interrogation techniques and he does not believe waterboarding constitutes torture.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order early in his presidency limiting interrogation techniques to those specifically allowed in the Army Field Manual, which effectively outlawed waterboarding.
The New York Times reported last month that Romney aides had prepared an internal memo for the candidate that advised him "rescind and replace President Obama's executive order" and permit secret "enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives."
Following that report, when asked by a reporter if he classifies waterboarding as torture, Romney said, "I don't."
Last November, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul also said that Romney does not classify waterboarding as torture and would not specify which "enhanced interrogation techniques" he would be open to using if elected.
Last December, Romney said he supported "enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now."
In a 2007 primary debate, Romney refused to classify waterboarding as torture when asked about it directly.
"I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way shape or form. As a presidential candidate I don't think it's wise to describe specifically which techniques we would or would not use," he said.
His primary opponent at the time, former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), shot back at Romney in that debate insisting that waterboarding is in fact torture.
"I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is," McCain said. "Governor, let me tell you if we are going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we've cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we're not going to torture people."
Multiple requests for comment were not returned by the Romney campaign. Zelikow did not respond to a query by deadline.
Obama administration officials and outside experts believe that the Sept. 11 e-mails sent by the State Department's operations center referring to claims of responsibility by an extremist group might have been wrong, especially since that group denied responsibility the next day.
On Wednesday, several outlets reported that emails sent on the night of the attack from the State Department operations center to administration officials described the assault as it was in progress and noted that the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter.
The first email, sent on Sept. 11 at 4:05 p.m. Washington time, reported that 20 armed men had fired on the compound, that explosions were heard, and that Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other personnel were in the compound safe haven. The second email at 4:54 stated that the shooting had stopped. The third email said that Ansar al-Sharia had claimed credit on Facebook and Twitter.
But the official Facebook and Twitter pages of the Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi chapter showed no such Facebook posting on the night of Sept. 11, only a posting the next day denying that the group had been responsible for the attack, according to Aaron Zelin, an expert who monitors jihadist websites. The group's official Facebook page was taken down in the days after the attack but its official Twitter feed is still active, though the most recent tweet was on Sept. 14.
The group also posted on Facebook and Twitter a YouTube video on Sept. 12 praising the attack but emphasizing that it was not organized or officially led by Ansar al Sharia. The video leaves open the possibility that individual members of the group may have been involved in the attack.
"We commend the Libyan Muslim people in Benghazi [that were] against the attack on the [Muslim] Prophet [Muhammad]," a summary of the video states. "Katibat Ansar al-Sharia [in Benghazi] as a military did not participate formally/officially and not by direct orders."
Zelin, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, captured screenshots of the Facebook page, and said they suggest that the State Department operations center got it wrong when it emailed officials saying the group had claimed responsibility.
"Based on the original reaction from Katibat Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi (ASB), the language would suggest that the attack was not planned by the senior leadership, but rather members in an individual capacity were involved," Zelin told The Cable in an email. "Further, because this video statement was not posted until 7AM EST on the 12th on ASB's official Facebook page and Twitter account, it calls into question the leaked emails, which stated there was a statement claiming responsibility the night of the attack. It is possible staffers were mistaken in the heat of the moment. Not only was there no statement from ASB until the following morning, but it did not claim responsibility."
The group also released an official statement on Sept. 12 along the same lines, stating that the attack was not an official operation, as noted by Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal.
"Ansar al-Shariah Brigade didn't participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity, but it was carrying out its duties in al-Jala'a hospital and other places where it was entrusted with some duties. The Brigade didn't participate as a sole entity; rather, it was a spontaneous popular uprising in response to what happened by the West," the statement said.
Also on Sept. 12, a spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia praised the attack and said, according to the New York Times, "We are saluting our people for this zeal in protecting their religion, to grant victory to the prophet. The response has to be firm."
A senior State Department official told The Cable that the State Department operations center heard about the alleged Sept. 11 Facebook posting claiming responsibility secondhand, from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. The State Department hasn't determined whether the ops center email was correct or not, and either way, such emails are just spot reports and are not considered intelligence products.
"Whatever claim of responsibility that was issued that first night was withdrawn soon after by the Sept. 12 statements," the official said. "While some are interpreting it otherwise, this more than anything speaks to the fluidity of information that night and the days that followed."
The White House has refused to comment on which officials received the emails or when.
Pressed Wednesday to explain how the State Department ops center emails could be reconciled with official claims in the days after that there was no evidence the attack was "pre-planned," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney referred to the Sept. 12 statements from Ansar al-Sharia disavowing responsibility.
"This was an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That's why there's an investigation underway," Carney said.
Three Republican senators -- Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) -- nonetheless sent a letter Wednesday to President Barack Obama demanding an explanation as to how the new reports reconcile with administration accounts of the attack at the time and since.
"These emails make clear that your Administration knew within two hours of the attack that it was a terrorist act and that Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group with links to Al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for it. This latest revelation only adds to the confusion surrounding what you and your Administration knew about the attacks in Benghazi, when you knew it, and why you responded to those tragic events in the ways that you did," they wrote.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday criticized the idea that the State Department ops center emails or the alleged Facebook posting they mentioned could be definitive in any way.
"Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be," Clinton said. "What I keep in mind is that four brave Americans were killed, and we will find out what happened, we will take whatever measures are necessary to fix anything that needs to be fixed, and we will bring those to justice who committed these murders. And I think that that is what we have said, that is what we are doing, and I'm very confident that we will achieve those goals."
UPDATE: After House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to the president today based on the State Department e-mails, his Democratic counterpart Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) issued a statement criticizing Issa for not mentioning that the content of the e-mails was in dispute.
Over and over again, Republicans have launched partisan accusations based on limited and inaccurate information, and in this case Chairman Issa disregarded conflicting reports that Ansar al-Sharia disavowed responsibility for the attack less than 24 hours later," said Cummings. "It’s time to stop shamelessly politicizing this tragedy and let the independent investigation complete its work without interference."
Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command and the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, wrote a memo to the special operations community making clear that using the "special operations" moniker for political purposes is not OK.
McRaven sent an unclassified memo, not released to the public but obtained by The Cable, that began with an admonishment of special operators who write books about secret operations, such as the forthcoming book No Easy Day¸ which was written by a Navy SEAL who claims to have been part of the May 1, 2011 raid on bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. Fox News reported Thursday that the author is 36-year-old Matt Bissonnette, whom defense officials say never cleared the book with anyone in the Pentagon.
But the second half of McRaven's memo referred to the multiple groups of former special operators who have formed political groups to criticize President Barack Obama for what they see as taking undue credit for the bin Laden raid and accusing him of leaking its details to the press. Those groups are made up of former military men who had no connection to the actual raid, who often have Republican political leanings and longtime animus against Obama, and some of whom say the president was not born in the United States.
"I am also concerned about the growing trend of using the special operations ‘brand,' our seal, symbols and unit names, as part of any political or special interest campaign," McRaven wrote in an implicit but clear reference to groups like the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund and Special Operations Speaks (SOS).
"Let me be completely clear on this issue: USSOCOM does not endorse any political viewpoint, opinion or special interest," McRaven wrote. "I encourage, strongly encourage active participation in our political process by both active duty SOF personnel, where it is appropriate under the ethics rules and retired members of the SOF community. However, when a group brands itself as Special Operations for the purpose of pushing a specific agenda, then they have misrepresented the entire nature of SOF and life in the military."
"Our promise to the American people is that we, the military, are non-partisan, apolitical and will serve the President of the United States regardless of his political party. By attaching a Special Operation's moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles," McRaven wrote.
His remarks are stronger but along the same lines as those by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said the groups' efforts were counter to the ethos of the military.
"It's not useful. It's not useful to me," Dempsey said Wednesday. "And one of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy, in our form of democracy, that's most important is that we remain apolitical. That's how we maintain our bond and trust with the American people."
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
A top advisor to Mitt Romney's campaign on Wednesday accused U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon of leaking classified intelligence information to New York Times reporter David Sanger.
The advisor, former George W. Bush envoy to Sudan Richard Williamson, was speaking during a debate at Washington's Brookings Institution with former senior Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy, who has emerged as one of President Barack Obama's top foreign-policy surrogates on the campaign trail.
Williamson was hammering the Obama administration for leaking national security secrets for political gain, a theme of Romney's speech Tuesday before the Veteran of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada.
"I believe every reporter in this town knows that at least one of the sources is in the White House," Williamson said. "I think the Obama administration has figured out how to do [intelligence sharing]: Have the national security advisor talk to David Sanger and then all intelligence is shared."
"No one is immune. Nothing is off the table," Flournoy responded. "[Obama] has also said he will pursue the investigations to their logical conclusions and he will prosecute anyone who is found to have leaked."
"There's been no administration that has been more aggressive in pursuing leaks than this one," she added, pointing out that the administration has appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate the leaks.
That apparently is not enough to satisfy Romney, who on Tuesday called for "a full and prompt investigation by a special counsel" into what he called "a national security crisis."
"Whoever provided classified
information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration,
must be exposed, dismissed, and punished," he said.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Monday that the White House should understand the leaks were coming from within its own ranks, but she retracted that comment Tuesday and said she did not know who the leakers were.
Arming the Syrian rebels
Williamson also said Wednesday that Romney firmly supports direct U.S. aid to the Syrian rebels.
"[Romney has] said we should be willing to arm the moderate opposition," Williamson said. "He's said repeatedly he'd be willing and support arming the moderate factions within the opposition."
In fact, Romney has often said that he supports "working with partners" to arm the Syrian opposition, but Williamson was clear that Romney supports the U.S. government directly providing American weapons to Syrian rebels fighting against the Assad regime.
Williamson ripped the Obama administration for being slow to work with the Syrian opposition, leaving the United States largely in the dark and impinging on the U.S. ability to work with rebel leaders now.
Romney does not support the idea of "safe zones" to protect Syrian civilians and rebel fighters, however, and idea championed by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as well as several of the former Massachusetts governor's own foreign-policy advisors.
"He's said that's not his position, but he feels we should be arming the opposition, but more importantly we shouldn't be leading from behind," Williamson said.
Flournoy countered that the administration has been working with the Syrian opposition for many months, even if it wasn't in the news. But she said that the administration's emphasis has been on diplomacy and sanctions, not adding fuel to what many are now describing as an incipient civil war.
"The way change will ultimately happen in Syria is if you can get parts of the inner circle around Assad to defect, and they're beginning to do that," she said. "Working the political dimensions of this are the most important piece and that's what the administration has been focused on from the get-go."
The debate touched on a range of other international issues, and moderator Marvin Kalb tried to tease out the differences between Romney and Obama on each.
On Iran, Williamson said that Romney does not support any deal that would allow Iran to enrich uranium at even low levels, while administration officials have said Iran has the right to limited uranium enrichment for civilian purposes.
"That would be unacceptable to Romney," Williamson said. He also said Romney would create a "credible threat" of military action against Iran that Obama has not.
"There is no credible threat of force. No one in Tehran or in the region feels that the Obama administration will use force," Williamson said.
Flournoy replied that Obama is serious when he says Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear, but that there is a year or more at least before Iran could reach the nuclear threshold that would trigger any military action.
"He doesn't bluff. That is the policy," she said. "Pentagon planning for this is very robust ... the military option is real. The president's judgment is now is not the time."
On Israel, Flournoy tried to counter Romney's critique that Obama has not visited Israel in his first term. Romney will visit Israel this week as part of his three-nation foreign trip that also includes stops in the United Kingdom and Poland.
"When you judge a president's commitment to Israel, you have to look beyond the itinerary," she said. "Does anybody question Ronald Reagan's commitment to Israel? He never went to Israel."
Williamson responded that Obama's treatment of Israeli leaders has been insulting and he referenced the March 2010 incident when Vice President Joe Biden delayed his arrival at a dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest the announcement of new settlement construction in East Jerusalem on the day of Biden's arrival.
"The vice president of the United States kept the Israeli head of state waiting 90 minutes for dinner because he was having a temper tantrum. You don't treat any head of state that way, let alone your friend," Williamson said.
The two advisors also clashed over the merits of Obama's "reset" policy with Russia and whether China is being held to account for manipulating its currency.
But Williamson praised Obama's handling of the relationship with India and said, "The president has made good progress [on Chinese human rights] in the governor's opinion."
The Cable asked Williamson to respond to Republican complaints that the Romney campaign has been light on details about its foreign policy and has even downplayed the importance of national security during the campaign. The Weekly Standard's William Kristol wrote Wednesday that the Romney campaign should stop talking about national security as if it's a low priority for a candidate and a president.
"There's an understandable desire to have more and more details," Williamson said. "But in the end what he needs to do is try to present a world vision that is dramatically different from President Obama's, and a thrust of how he would approach it ... and he's done that."
"Bill Kristol will never be satisfied that there are enough details and he's paid to be provocative, but we feel we are laying out a vision for where America should go."
The Justice Department has already summoned hundreds of government officials for interviews in its investigation of national security leaks, meaning that the investigation is already well underway, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
"We are three weeks into the investigation by the two prosecutors. Literally hundreds of people have been summoned for interviews," Feinstein said in a short interview Tuesday. "So the process has begun and my view is that the process should be allowed to run."
Feinstein was responding to calls from several GOP senators for an independent special counsel to investigate recent leaks into classified national security program. Thirty-one GOP senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an independent counsel Tuesday.
The letter was led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) and signed by Sens. Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Crapo (ID), Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Enzi (WY), Charles Grassley (IA), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Mark Kirk (IL), Mitch McConnell (KY), John McCain (AZ), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), James Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Marco Rubio (FL), Jeff Sessions (AL), John Thune (SD), Pat Toomey (PA), David Vitter (LA), and Roger Wicker (MS).
Feinstein said that if the current process proves ineffective, she would reconsider. She also said that despite reports Tuesday the Defense Department was the subject of the investigation, her information is that the investigation is looking into the actions of officials throughout the executive branch.
"My understanding is that many dozens of FBI personnel have been asked to come in for interviews. I think it is a robust investigation and that's what we want," she said. "A special counsel takes four or five months to get set up and hire staff and become functioning. This is already functioning and has been for three weeks."
In a short interview, Graham rejected that argument and promised to push not only for an independent investigation but one that is expanded to cover more leaks over a greater period of time.
"I cannot believe this is good policy to allow an administration to investigate itself," he said. "[Feinstein] was OK with an independent counsel to investigate [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff and [former CIA case officer] Valerie Plame because the argument was the Bush administration was too tied to the suspected wrongdoing. I can assure you I'm not going to let this go."
Graham called for a special counsel that senators could support, and said that there are Democrats he might endorse for the role but that he won't accept the two Justice Department officials chosen by Holder .
Graham also called for the investigation to be expanded well beyond the two leaks that he said are the subjects of the investigation: U.S. involvement in the Stuxnet virus that disabled Iranian nuclear centrifuges and the details of a foiled airplane bomb plot originating out of Yemen.
He said the investigation should include the leaks of details of the May 2011 raid in Abbotabad that resulted in the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the disclosures of secret U.S. bases in Africa and a secret U.S. drone base in Pakistan, the disclosure of the process the president uses to compile his "kill list," and disclosures of details of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban over a prisoner swap for Army private Bowe Bergdahl.
The Cable pointed out that two of those leaks were disclosed publicly by Feinstein herself. She disclosed the existence of the Pakistan drone base in an open hearing in 2009 and disclosed the details of the Taliban negotiations in a March interview with The Cable.
"My beef is not with Senator Feinstein. My beef is with a system that's failing," Graham said. "I think that this failure is politically motivated. The leaks have tried to create a political advantage for this president. Nothing Senator Feinstein has done or said has been in that mode."
Feinstein's leaks may have been accidental and her disclosures about negotiations with the Taliban didn't actually compromise any counterterrorism operations in the field, so the investigation should be limited to the actions of administration officials, Graham said.
"This is part of a plan to compromise our programs for political purposes, in my view. That's the allegation I'm making," he said.
The Defense Department's new espionage unit is so secret, even the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee weren't told about it.
The Washington Post reported April 23 that the Pentagon has created something called the Defense Clandestine Service, an effort that will reassign hundreds of defense intelligence personnel to focus on gathering information in countries, such as Iran, that are outside the current warzones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The new initiative was reported to be the brainchild of Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers.
A "senior defense official" gave the story to the Post, but nobody in the Pentagon told Senate Armed Services Committee heads Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), who complained loudly about being left out of the loop at Thursday morning's committee hearing.
In a short interview with The Cable after the hearing, McCain said this was only the latest example in an ongoing trend of the Pentagon failing to properly keep Congress informed about its activities.
"I had to read about it in the Washington Post. There's not greater example of the cavalier way that the Pentagon treats the Senate Armed Services Committee," McCain said.
In his own short interview with The Cable, Levin said he would hold a hearing on the issue as soon as the Senate returns from its upcoming recess, which begins tomorrow.
"I think they were lax in their noticing it to the Senate and in general I share McCain's belief that they have not adequately notified the Senate on a number of things nor responded in a number of ways to the requirements in law," he said.
Last month, Barack Obama's administration resisted provisions codifying the right to detain prisoners indefinitely, arguing that putting such language into law was unnecessary and redundant. Now, the administration is using those very provisions to defend its detention of a suspected al Qaeda militant in federal courts.
The provision in question, Section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), "reaffirms the military's existing authority to detain individuals captured in the course of hostilities in accordance with the law of war." That authority was given to the administration in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by Congress after the 9/11 attacks. The Obama administration initially threatened to veto the defense authorization bill because it contained a stronger version of Section 1021, but then revoked its veto threat after House and Senate negotiators tweaked the language.
The provision nonetheless faced opposition from civil rights organizations and some senators, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), out of concern that it could be used to justify indefinite detention of anyone suspected of terrorism, including American citizens.
President Obama specifically criticized section 1021 in his signing statement on the day the defense authorization bill became law.
"Section 1021 affirms the executive branch's authority to detain persons covered by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note). This section breaks no new ground and is unnecessary. The authority it describes was included in the 2001 AUMF, as recognized by the Supreme Court and confirmed through lower court decisions since then," Obama wrote. "My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law."
Now, thanks to Brookings Institution scholar Benjamin Wittes, we learn exactly how the administration is interpreting that section of the law: It is using it to defend the indefinite detention of Musa'ab al-Madhwan, a Yemeni citizen who has been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for years.
"The government has filed its opposition to cert in the case of Al Madhwani v. Obama-a Guantanamo habeas case," Wittes wrote on his Lawfare blog. "Al Madhwani's cert petition seeks review of this DC Circuit opinion affirming his detention. That opinion, in turn, affirmed District Judge Thomas Hogan's earlier opinion. The government's argument is interesting because it explicitly invokes the new language in the NDAA."
In an interview, Wittes noted the irony of the administration using the legal provision it resisted in defending its arguments against Madhwani now, but said the administration had been consistent in how it defines the application of the authority to detain prisoners indefinitely.
"The administration says the provision is unnecessary and redundant and then this shows up in their brief, but merely as support of their interpretation of the prior law. There's no hypocrisy here," Wittes said. "It would be weird of them not to cite an on-point federal statute that supports their argument."
Still, one of the supporters of the provision in Congress, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), told The Cable Tuesday that the administration's embrace of his provision was disingenuous. "I guess it's a high form of flattery," McCain said.
Another sponsor of the provision, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), told The Cable Tuesday that although the administration strenuously opposed earlier versions of the provision, the administration didn't outright oppose the final version, despite the unenthusiastic signing statement. "I'm not at all surprised that they used a provision that they ultimately didn't oppose in their briefs," he said.
The Obama administration reacted cautiously to today's International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran's nuclear weapons program and declined to say how exactly how they would respond. But across Washington, suggestions for tightening the noose on the Iranian regime were abundant.
"I'm definitely going to tell you we need time to study it," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Tuesday following the release of the IAEA report, which alleges that Iran had until 2003 an intricate and extensive program to design and build a nuclear warhead to fit atop a Shabaab-3 missile. The report also stated that Iran worked on components for such a warhead, prepared for nuclear tests, and maintained aspects of the program well past 2003 -- activities that may still be ongoing today.
"I think you know the process here: that after a report like this comes out, we also have a scheduled meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors coming up on November 18th, so Iran will be an agenda item at that meeting. So we will take the time between now and then to study this," Nuland said.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, two senior administration officials predicted that the Obama administration would increase sanctions on Iran in light of the report but declined to offer any specifics on what they might be.
That explanation wasn't well received by lawmakers in both parties on Tuesday, who offered plenty of specific ideas on how to ramp up pressure on Tehran and have no intention of waiting for the administration to "study" the IAEA's findings.
The Cable spoke on Tuesday with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about the report.
"It's of enormous concern to everybody and a lot of conversations are taking place right now about how to respond," Kerry told The Cable. "It clearly means we have to ratchet up on Iran, probably tougher sanctions and other things."
Kerry declined to endorse one big idea floating around town, namely to take actions that would collapse the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and ruin the country's currency, bringing the Iranian economy to its knees.
"There are a lot of options, you want to pick them carefully and you want to be thoughtful about what's going to be effective," Kerry said.
Kirk, who co-authored a letter in August with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calling for collapsing the CBI, and which was signed by 92 senators, tweeted today that the White House's reaction to the report Tuesday constituted "national security malpractice."
Kirk met with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley on Monday night to give him the "hard sell" on the idea of collapsing the CBI, he told The Cable. Kirk said that the concept under consideration is to give friendly countries that are dependent on Iranian oil -- such as Japan, South Korea, and Turkey -- a time window to shift their purchases from Iran to Saudi Arabia.
Kirk and Schumer are planning to introduce a bill soon that would be a Senate companion to an amendment by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) to require the president to determine within 30 days the CBI's role in Iran's illicit activities. If the president determines that the CBI is complicit, the bill would require the administration to cut off any foreign banks doing business with the CBI from participating in the U.S. financial system.
The main risk in collapsing the CBI is that it could bring down the Iranian oil industry along with it, risking a cascading effect on world energy markets that would exacerbate the global economic crisis.
McCain told The Cable today that it's a risk he is willing to take. "Libya is cranking up their oil exports. There's always risk, but there's a greater risk when you know that they're about to become nuclear weaponized," he said.
"The first thing we should do is talk to the Russians and the Chinese and tell them to get with it and pass the increased sanctions through the U.N.," McCain said, adding that the Obama has leverage against Russian and China if it chooses to use it. "Russia wants in the WTO, China wants a lot of things. There should be consequences for their failure to act."
Graham agreed that the negative impact of collapsing the CBI was a necessary cost of ramping up pressure on Iran.
"We've got make a decision: What's the biggest threat to the world, a nuclear-armed Iran or sanctions that would hurt us and the people of Iran?" Graham told The Cable. "You've got two choices, the policy of containment or the policy of preemption. I'm in the preemption camp. I don't think containment works. The only way to stop this is to prevent this and that means changing behavior."
Graham said existing sanctions don't seem to be working, which means that the sanctions regime has to be fundamentally changed. "If that doesn't work, the other option is military force." But Graham cautioned that if there were to be a military strike on Iran, it would have to include a massive assault on Iran's counterattacking capabilities.
"You'd have to destroy their air force, sink their navy, and deal with their long-range missile threat. So you'd have to go in big," he said. "If you attack Iran you open Pandora's box. If you allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, you empty Pandora's box. So these are not good choices."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said in a statement that the threat of military force must be credible and he called for Congress to pass a new Iran sanctions bill, one that the administration previously said was unnecessary.
The House and Senate have each unveiled a version of the bill that would tighten existing sanctions, compel the administration to enforce penalties already on the books, and levy a host of new restrictions against members of Iran's regime and companies that aid Iran's energy, banking, and arms sectors. The bills are a follow-up to the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA) that Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed in July 2010.
Former Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt, now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Cable that there's no consensus yet inside the administration or around the world that collapsing the CBI would be possible without doing severe damage to the world economy.
But Levitt offered several things the administration can do immediately to ramp up pressure on Iran, including pressuring countries to scale back Iranian diplomatic presence in their capitals, restricting the travel of Iranian officials around the world, and setting up a multilateral customs body to enforce sanctions against Iran, modeled after what was done in wake of the Kosovo crisis.
"The administration is not being creative enough with the tools they have," Levitt said. In the coming days, he predicted, "You are going to see scrambling as to what can be done."
On Oct. 10, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz dropped a bombshell: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, he alleged, had offered to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership and cut ties with militant groups in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad.
Ijaz also alleged in his op-ed in the Financial Times that Zardari communicated this offer by sending a top secret memo on May 10 through Ijaz himself, to be hand-delivered to Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a key official managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The details of the memo and the machinations Ijaz describes paint a picture of a Zardari government scrambling to save itself from an impending military coup following the raid on bin Laden's compound, and asking for U.S. support to prevent that coup before it started.
Mullen, now retired, denied this week having ever dealt with Ijaz in comments given to The Cable through his spokesman at the time, Capt. John Kirby.
"Adm. Mullen does not know Mr. Ijaz and has no recollection of receiving any correspondence from him," Kirby told The Cable. "I cannot say definitively that correspondence did not come from him -- the admiral received many missives as chairman from many people every day, some official, some not. But he does not recall one from this individual. And in any case, he did not take any action with respect to our relationship with Pakistan based on any such correspondence ... preferring to work at the relationship directly through [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen. [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and inside the interagency process."
Mullen's denial represents the first official U.S. comment on the Ijaz memo, which since Oct. 10 has mushroomed into a huge controversy in Pakistan. Several parts of Pakistan's civilian government denied that Ijaz's memorandum ever existed. On Oct. 30, Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar called Ijaz's op-ed a "fantasy article" and criticized the FT for running it in the first place.
"Mansoor Ijaz's allegation is nothing more than a desperate bid by an individual, whom recognition and credibility has eluded, to seek media attention through concocted stories," Babar said. "Why would the president of Pakistan choose a private person of questionable credentials to carry a letter to U.S. officials? Since when Mansoor has become a courier of messages of the president of Pakistan?"
On Oct. 31, Ijaz issued a long statement doubling down on his claims and threatened to reveal the "senior Pakistani official" that purportedly sent him on his mission. Ijaz quoted Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, telling Zardari and his staff, "If you stop telling lies about me, I might just stop telling the truth about you."
The Pakistani press has given credence to Ijaz's story because it was published in the Financial Times. "The FT is not likely to publish something which it cannot substantiate if it was so required, so any number of denials and clarifications by our diplomats or the presidency will only be for domestic consumption and would mean nothing," wrote one prominent Pakistani commentator.
This is only the latest time that Ijaz has raised controversy concerning his alleged role as a secret international diplomat. In 1996, he was accused of trying to extort money from the Pakistani government in exchange for delivering votes in the U.S. House of Representatives on a Pakistan-related trade provision.
Ijaz, who runs the firm Crescent Investment Management LLC in New York, has been an interlocutor between U.S. officials and foreign government for years, amid constant accusations of financial conflicts of interest. He reportedly arranged meetings between U.S. officials and former Pakistani Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
He also reportedly gave over $1 million to Democratic politicians in the 1990s and attended Christmas events at former President Bill Clinton's White House. Ijaz has ties to former CIA Director James Woolsey and his investment firm partner is Reagan administration official James Alan Abrahamson.
In the mid-1990s, Ijaz traveled to Sudan several times and claimed to be relaying messages from the Sudanese regime to the Clinton administration regarding intelligence on bin Laden, who was living there at the time. Ijaz has claimed that his work gave the United States a chance to kill the al Qaeda leader but that the Clinton administration dropped the ball. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, who served under Clinton, has called Ijaz's allegations "ludicrous and irresponsible."
Then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has previously acknowledged that Ijaz brought the Clinton administration offers of counterterrorism cooperation from Sudan but said that actual cooperation never materialized.
So why is Ijaz's story so popular in Pakistan, despite his long history of antagonizing the Pakistani government with such claims? According to Mehreen Zahra-Malik, who wrote about the Ijaz scandal on Oct. 29 in Pakistan's The News, it's all part of the culture of secrecy and conspiracy in Pakistani politics that the current civilian and military leadership in Islamabad has only continued to foster.
"When secrecy and conspiracy are part of the very system of government, a vicious cycle develops. Because truth is abhorrent, it must be concealed, and because it is concealed, it becomes ever more abhorrent. Having power then becomes about the very concealment of truth, and covering up the truth becomes the very imperative of power -- and the powerful," she wrote. "The end result: a population raised on a diet of conspiracy."
Attempts to reach Ijaz for comment were unsuccessful.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
The Treasury Department sanctioned the Iranian commercial airline Mahan Air as part of the U.S. government response to the alleged Iranian-backed assassination plot on the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Treasury announced in a press release early on Wednesday that Mahan Air would be sanctioned due to its financial, material, and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF). On Tuesday, Treasury announced sanctions on four IRGC-QF officials who it alleges were involved in the plot to hire a Mexican cartel to bomb a Washington restaurant in order to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir.
"Mahan Air's close coordination with the IRGC-QF -- secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights -- reveals yet another facet of the IRGC's extensive infiltration of Iran's commercial sector to facilitate its support for terrorism," said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen, in a statement. "Following the revelation about the IRGC-QF's use of the international financial system to fund its murder-for-hire plot, today's action highlights further the undeniable risks of doing business with Iran."
The new sanctions make it illegal for any Americans to do business with Mahan Air and freeze the airline's assets in the United States. The airline also provides assistance to the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, the Treasury Department alleged.
Further retaliatory measures from the U.S. government are expected. The State Department has been reaching out to several countries to explore options for tightening multilateral sanctions. And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are demanding tougher measures to punish Iran for its role in the alleged plot. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is calling for Treasury to sanction the Central Bank of Iran, which he says would collapse the bank and cripple the Iranian currency.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that, in addition to the plan to kill the Saudi envoy, the Iranian agents -- who were working with a DEA informant they believed was a representative of Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas -- also discussed plans to bomb the Israeli embassy in Washington and the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Argentina.
Attorney General Eric Holder pledged on Tuesday that, "The United States is committed to holding Iran responsible for its actions."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Friday morning that the waterboarding of terror suspects did not amount to torture because the same techniques had been used on U.S. soldiers during training.
"The notion that somehow the United States was torturing anybody is not true," Cheney told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute at an event to promote his new book. "Three people were waterboarded and the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it produced phenomenal results for us."
"Another key point that needs to be made was that the techniques that we used were all previously used on Americans," Cheney went on. "All of them were used in training for a lot of our own specialists in the military. So there wasn't any technique that we used on any al Qaeda individual that hadn't been used on our own troops first, just to give you some idea whether or not we were ‘torturing' the people we captured."
Of course, there are some differences between the waterboarding of troops as part of their Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training and the waterboarding of suspected al Qaeda prisoners. For example, the troops in training are not subjected to the practice 183 times, as KSM was. Also, the soldiers presumably know their training will end, and they won't be allowed to actually drown or left to rot in some dark, anonymous prison.
Some in Cheney's party, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), believe that waterboarding is torture. Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism consultant for the U.S. government and a former SERE instructor, has argued repeatedly that waterboarding is torture and called for prohibiting its use on prisoners.
"Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -- usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten[ed] with its use again and again," he said.
Cheney said the George W. Bush administration had received approval for the "enhanced interrogation program" from all nine congressional leaders who had been briefed on its details: this included the leaders of both intelligence committees, the leaders of both parties, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
When asked if they thought the program should be continued, they all said, "Absolutely," Cheney said. And when asked if the Bush administration should seek additional congressional approval for the program, the nine Congressional leaders unanimously told him, "Absolutely not," according to Cheney's account.
Cheney also said the Bush administration's interrogation policies were partially responsible for recent successes in the fight against al Qaeda, includig the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"I'd make the case we've been successful in part because of the intelligence we have, because of what we've learned from men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, back when he was subjected [to enhanced interrogation]," he said.
In the one-hour discussion at AEI with the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, Cheney also talked about huddling with his wife and daughter at Camp David on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. Camp David was the "secure, undisclosed location" that the Secret Service rushed Cheney to just after the attacks. Other top administration officials met him there over the follow days.
When asked if he ever broke down and cried in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, as had President George W. Bush and other top officials, Cheney said, "Not really," and then grinned sheepishly as the crowd giggled.
"You understand that people will find that peculiar," Hayes noted.
"It wasn't that it wasn't a deeply moving event," Cheney responded. "The training just sort of kicked in, in terms of what we had to do that morning and into the next day."
The two heads of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Cable today that even they have no idea how much the debt ceiling deal will cut from national defense, because the specifics of the cuts are still unknown.
Depending on which reports you read today, the bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut at least $2.1 trillion from the budget over the next decade, is either a huge win for the Pentagon or a dangerous cut to the military budget that will "sap American military might worldwide." The Cable reported yesterday that the White House's assertion that the bill puts the nation on track to save $350 billion in defense spending over 10 years was just a guess, considering that the bill doesn't say anything about "defense" cuts. The bill only sets caps on "security" spending, which includes Defense, State, USAID, intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Today, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) both told The Cable that the actual effect of the debt deal on the Pentagon will be determined by budget and appropriations lawmakers in both chambers after Congress returns from its one-month summer recess.
"I don't know where the White House gets the $350 billion number from," said Levin, confirming that the deal only sets caps for the "security" budget and then only for the first two years. Levin said he does expect "significant" cuts to the military budget, but that he has to wait for allocations to come from Senate budget leaders to determine how much the Pentagon will get in fiscal 2012.
When Levin gets that figure, he will then have to rewrite the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill to adjust for the new allocations. He is also waiting for the appropriators to weigh in, he said. And while there's little chance the Senate will actually pass an appropriations bill before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, it will nevertheless be lawmakers who decide exactly what gets cut and by how much.
"There will be a negative and deep effect on the military if the cuts happen," Levin said, but added that the amount of defense cuts is currently "unknown."
If the new joint committee established to agree on an additional $1.2 trillion of cuts fails to come to terms, the bill mandates that $600 billion in cuts come directly from the "defense" account. But that's a fight for another day, Levin said.
When asked how much the debt deal cuts the Pentagon budget, McCain said, "I'm not sure."
"There are some reductions but it's my understanding they were spread out over a number of accounts," he said.
Multiple Hill sources told The Cable that it was House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) who led the push for the cuts to be spread over several "security" accounts, rather than focusing them solely on defense. McKeon convened a meeting of disgruntled committee members Monday morning, and then met with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Monday afternoon to urge lawmakers to protect the defense budget.
By spreading the initial cuts over security agencies, defense hawks hope to minimize the impact of any cuts on the Pentagon. Ironically, their strategy hinges on embracing the concept what heretofore has been the Obama administration's definition of "security," which includes diplomacy, intelligence, veterans affairs, homeland security, and foreign aid. Republicans have traditionally defined "security" as only defense, intelligence, and the Department of Homeland Security.
An administration official told The Cable on Monday that the administration calculates that the bill will save $420 billion over 10 years in overall security spending, with $350 billion of that coming from defense and the rest spread out over other agencies. But the administration official admitted those specifics are not in the bill.
That $420 billion is a replacement for the $400 billion in security spending cuts that Obama called for only a couple of months ago, so military spending expectations in the defense industry probably won't change much. But there are no details on that plan either, so it's impossible to know what the effects will be.
Winslow Wheeler, head of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, said that the whole notion of the cuts is misleading anyway, because the numbers are being compared projections that were inaccurate in the first place.
"There will be reductions ... but the actual figure is also masked by the fact that the debt deal is compared to a ten year CBO ‘baseline,' which is [the fiscal] 2011 spending levels adjusted according to arcane rules and inflated by a highly unreliable projection of long term future inflation," he said.
"The debt deal kicks the defense budget can down the road for this and future Congresses. People should not read precision and certainty into a political deal specifically designed to be uncertain and indistinct."
Despite the White House's claim that the new debt deal would cut $350 billion from defense spending over the next ten years, there are no specifics in the bill on defense cuts -- and no way to tell what the final cuts will be.
"The deal puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years," the White House said in a fact sheet today. "These reductions will be implemented based on the outcome of a review of our missions, roles, and capabilities that will reflect the President's commitment to protecting our national security."
But if you look at the text of the bill, there is simply no language on how much the defense budget will actually be cut. What the bill does is set spending caps for "security" spending, which the administration defines as defense, homeland security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy, and foreign aid. There's no breakdown that defines which of these agencies get what, so there's no way to be sure that all the cuts would come from "defense."
Moreover, the spending caps are split between "security" and "non-security" discretionary spending only for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013. After that, the spending caps don't make any distinctions between budget accounts. In the end, the actual fiscal 2012 spending numbers will be set by congressional appropriators in the House and the Senate, hopefully before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
So how does the White House claim that it is cutting $350 billion from defense?
"From the discretionary caps in first tranche of the bill, there is approximately $420 billion in security savings. Of that, $350 billion is from defense (function 050) savings," an administration official told The Cable today.
But former officials and budget experts said that those details are not in the actual bill and are subject to the whim of future Congresses.
"There's actually no way to tell. It's not possible to calculate," Gordon Adams, former OMB national security chief in the Clinton administration, told The Cable today. "The whole deal is designed to be opaque about the things you really want to know, such as how much defense will be cut.... This is classic Washington Kabuki theater."
The defense budget was $529 billion for fiscal 2011 and the entire "security" budget was $688.5 billion. The debt deal caps fiscal 2012 security spending at $684 billion, which means a cut of about $4.5 billion compared to fiscal 2011 levels. That money could come from defense, or it could come from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Safety Administration, or another department. Nobody knows.
The fiscal 2013 security cap is $686 billion.
The caps will prevent security spending from going up, but the details are still in lawmakers' hands and therefore anything could happen, said Gordon.
"It's more disciplined because now there's a cap. Now they have to duke it out at the [committee] chairmen's level," he said.
And those committee chairmen are already working on it. We're told that defense hawks, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), huddled with House GOP leadership this afternoon to demand answers to exactly how much the deal would impact defense.
"I will support this proposal with deep reservations. Our senior military commanders have been unanimous in their concerns that deeper cuts could break the force. I take their position seriously and the funding levels in this bill won't make their job easier. Still, this is the least bad proposal before us," McKeon said in a late afternoon statement.
McKeon may have secured some assurances from the House leadership about the specifics of the security cuts, Gordon speculated. A spokesperson for McKeon did not respond to queries by deadline.
What McKeon and other defense hawks are really worried about is the trigger mechanism, which would automatically cut $600 billion from the base defense budgets over 10 years if the new joint committee can't make a deal on $1.2 trillion of additional cuts. After "mechanical adjustments," which are ways to predict the real value of the cuts considering other factors, that $600 billion cut is estimated by the administration to actually be about $534 billion.
While it's unclear whether McKeon got assurances on today's deal, it is clear that his primary concern is about the joint committee and the trigger mechanism, not the security spending caps that he is voting for today.
"What is clear is we have cut what we can from the Department of Defense, and given what's at stake it is essential that the joint committee include strong national security voices. There is no scenario in the second phase of this proposal that does not turn a debt crisis into a national security crisis," he said. "Defense cannot sustain any additional cuts either from the joint committee or the sequestration trigger."
By the way, the White House didn't mention today that it had already promised to cut $400 billion from security spending, although there are no details on that plan either.
Interestingly, if you add the $350 billion in defense cuts announced by the White House as part of today's deal with the $534 billion in defense cuts in the trigger mechanism, it totals $884 billion. That number is suspiciously close to the $886 billion in defense cuts proposed in the plan put forth by theSenate's bipartisan budget group the Gang of Six, which President Barack Obama has already endorsed.
"It just happens to lead you to [Gang of Six leader Sen. Kent] Conrad's number," said Gordon. "I suspect it's not a coincidence."
The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was years in the making, but began in earnest last fall with the discovery of a suspicious compound near Islamabad, and culminated with a helicopter based raid in the early morning hours in Pakistan Sunday.
"Last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground," President Obama told the nation in a speech Sunday night.
"Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body," he said.
Sitting in a row of chairs beside the podium were National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Press Secretary Jay Carney stood in the back with about a dozen White House staffers.
Since last August, Obama convened at least 9 meetings with national security principals about this operation and the principals met 5 times without the president, a senior administration official said. Their deputies met 7 times formally amid a flurry of other interagency communications and consultations.
ABC News reported that the principals' meetings were held on March 14, March 29, April 12, April 19 and April 28.
Last week Obama finally had enough intelligence last to take action. The final decision to go forward with the operation was made at 8:20 AM on Friday, April 29 in the White House's Diplomatic Room. In the room at the time were Donilon, his deputy Denis McDonough, and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan. Donilon prepared the formal orders.
On Sunday, Obama went to play golf in the morning at Andrews Air Force Base. He played 9 holes in chilly, rainy weather and spent a little time on the driving range, as well. Meanwhile, the principals were assembling in the situation room at the White House. They were there from 1:00 PM and stayed put for the rest of the day.
At 2:00, Obama met with the principals back at the White House. At 3:32 he went to the situation room for another briefing. At 3:50 he was told that bin Laden was "tentatively identified." At 7:01 Obama was told there was a "high probability" the high value target at the compound was bin Laden. At 8:30 Obama got the final briefing.
Before speaking to the nation, Obama called former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Three senior administration officials briefed reporters late Sunday night on the surveillance, intelligence, and military operations that ended with bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. operatives.
"The operation was the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work," a senior administration official said.
The stream of information that led to Sunday's raid began over four years ago, when U.S. intelligence personnel were alerted about two couriers who were working with al Qaeda and had deep connections to top al Qaeda officials. Prisoners in U.S. custody flagged these two couriers as individuals who might have been helping bin Laden, one official said
"One courier in particular had our constant attention," the official said. He declined to give that courier's name but said he was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a "trusted assistant" of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a former senior al Qaeda officer who was captured in 2005.
"Detainees also identified this man as one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden," the official said. The U.S. intelligence community uncovered the identity of this courier four years ago, and two years ago, the U.S. discovered the area of Pakistan this courier and his brother were working in.
In August 2010, the intelligence agencies found the exact compound where this courier was living, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The neighborhood is affluent and many retired Pakistani military officials live there.
"When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw," one official said.
The compound was 8 times larger than the other homes around it. It was built in 2005 in an area that was secluded at that time. There were extraordinary security measures at the compound, including 12 to 18 foot walls topped with barbed wire.
There were other suspicious indicators at the compound. Internal sections were walled off from the rest of the compound. There were two security gates. The residents burned their trash. The main building had few windows.
The compound, despite being worth over $1 million, had no telephone or internet service. There's no way the courier and his brother could have afforded it, the official said.
"Intelligence officials concluded that this compound was custom built to hide someone of significance," the official said, adding that the size and makeup of one of the families living there matched the suspected makeup of bin Laden's entourage.
The intelligence community had high confidence that the compound had a high value target, and the analysts concluded there was high probability that target was bin Laden, one official said.
When the small team of U.S. operatives raided the compound in the early morning hours Sunday Pakistan time, they encountered resistance and killed three men besides bin Laden and one woman. The three men were the two couriers and one of bin Laden's sons. The woman was being used as a human shield, one official said. Two other women were injured.
One U.S. helicopter was downed due to unspecified "maintenance" issues, one official said. The U.S. personnel blew up the helicopter before leaving the area. The team was on the ground for only 40 minutes.
A senior defense official told CNN that US Navy SEALs were involved in the mission.
No other governments were briefed on the operation before it occurred, including the host government Pakistan.
"That was for one reason and one reason alone. That was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel," one official said. Only a "very small group of people" inside the U.S. government knew about the operation. Afterwards, calls were made to the Pakistani government and several other allied countries.
"Since 9/11 the United States has made it clear to Pakistan that we would pursue bin Laden wherever he might be," one official said. "Pakistan has long understood we are at war with al Qaeda. The United States had a moral and legal obligation to act on the information it had."
Americans abroad should stay indoors be aware of the increased threat of attacks following bin Laden's killing, the State Department said in a new travel warning issued Sunday night. State also issued a specific travel warning for Pakistan.
"Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers may try to respond violently to avenge bin Laden's death and other terrorist leaders may try to accelerate their efforts to attack the United States," one official said. "We have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint."
CIA Director Leon Panetta and ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus will get new assignments Thursday, with Panetta being nominated to head the Pentagon and Petraeus replacing him at the CIA. But the CIA and the military have completely different assessments of the NATO-led force's progress in Afghanistan, placing Petraeus in charge of a bureaucracy largely skeptical of his optimistic analysis of the war.
A senior administration official confirmed Wednesday that President Barack Obama will announce the moves Thursday, along with the appointment of CENTCOM Deputy Commander Gen. John Allen to replace Petraeus and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to replace Karl Eikenberry as envoy to Kabul. If all the Senate confirmations go smoothly, Panetta will take over for Defense Secretary Robert Gates on July 1 and Petraeus will move to the CIA in early September. CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell would act as temporary head of the CIA over the summer.
Petraeus will resign his military commission when he moves to the CIA. But he is not likely to jettison his opinions about the war in Afghanistan, which are much rosier than the assessments that have been coming out of the intelligence community.
"It is ISAF's assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas," Petraeus testified on March 16 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The progress achieved has put us on the right azimuth to accomplish the objective agreed upon at last November's Lisbon summit, that of Afghan forces in the lead throughout the country by the end of 2014."
He went on to commend the progress of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan police, praising the success of the troop surge in Afghanistan as providing space for the government led by President Hamid Karzai to increase its responsibilities throughout the country. He also praised the Pakistani military's efforts to root out insurgents in their midst.
That analysis is quite different from the intelligence community's latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan and Pakistan from last December, which stated that large areas of Afghanistan were still vulnerable to quick takeover by the Taliban and that Pakistan was still supporting insurgents in both countries.
The leaked NIE caused a rift between the CIA and the Pentagon, with military officials claiming that the intelligence community was not up to date on progress is Afghanistan. With Petraeus now heading to the CIA, he will be charged with evaluating his own rosy assessments of the course of the war.
"The specific guy who was responsible for producing a positive prognosis is now going to a job where he has to judge his own prognosis and grade his own work," said Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The institutional culture of the military is generally optimistic and can do. The institutional culture of the intelligence community is generally skeptical and pessimistic."
Petraeus is an unusually open-minded and intelligence-friendly military officer, Biddle said, but he will nevertheless face a culture clash at the CIA's Langley headquarters.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also expressed some reservations about Petraeus becoming CIA director.
"In Iraq, at CENTCOM and in Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus has been a consumer of intelligence and has commanded DoD intelligence resources. But that is a different role than leading the top civilian intelligence agency. I look forward to hearing his vision for the CIA and his plans to make sure the CIA is collecting the type of intelligence that policymakers need," she said in a statement e-mailed to The Cable.
It is true, Biddle noted, that Petraeus doesn't have a lot of experience in the intelligence community, but that hasn't previously been a disqualification for the job. "That was also true of lots of past CIA directors," he said.
A more natural promotion for Petraeus might have been to the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright is seen as the leading contender for that post due to his closeness to Obama, and despite accusations that he slept with a drunk subordinate - charges on which he was cleared.
Panetta is set to take over the Pentagon this summer, where he will work directly with Petraeus, who will still be serving as ISAF commander. The summer, typically known as Afghanistan's "fighting season," will represent Panetta's first test as secretary of defense. A senior administration official said that Panetta was initially reluctant to take the job, but finally agreed on April 25.
"Leon loved being the director of the CIA and it showed... It was a difficult decision for him to leave the agency," the official said. "The president asked him, Leon thought about it, consulted with his spouse and family, and on Monday evening, he said yes."
The transition planning at the Pentagon is already underway. Marcel Lettre, formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, shifted earlier this year to a new role in Gates's office, managing the transition process for Gates's departure and his successor's arrival. Jeremy Bash, Panetta's chief of staff at the CIA and a former colleague of Lettre's on the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also could become Panetta's chief of staff at the Pentagon.
Of course, Panetta will immediately be tasked with weighing in on a host of personnel changes at the Pentagon. Will Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn stay on? Nobody knows. Panetta will also have a role in picking the next Joint Chiefs chairman and the next vice chairman if Cartwright, as expected, gets the promotion. A game of musical chairs among senior military officers could also see new jobs for Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James Stavridis, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, Gen. Ray Odierno, and many others.
Meanwhile, will Petraeus, out of uniform and out of the Defense Department, be able to confine himself to the job of producing objective intelligence analysis and stay away from policymaking?
"General Petraeus has deep experience in the areas of intelligence and as director of the CIA I think he would clearly understand what the role is there," the senior administration official said.
Upon taking over as the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) brought on a new staff director with no direct experience working on intelligence matters.
Martha Scott Poindexter has served on Capitol Hill for over 10 years. She has worked as the Republican staff director on the Agriculture Committee since 2005, and before that as legislative director in Chambliss's personal office. Previously, according to her LinkedIn profile, Poindexter was the director of government affairs at Monsanto, the agribusiness giant. She studied nutrition at Salem College and holds a Bachelors degree from the Mississippi State University College of Agriculture.
On Capitol Hill, a senior staffer's effectiveness is measured several factors: by their subject matter expertise, by their ability to get things done, and by their close personal relationship with the boss.
Chambliss, in a brief interview with The Cable, defended his selection of Poindexter based on the latter two considerations. He said there was plenty of intelligence expertise on the professional staff and that Poindexter brought management prowess the committee needed.
"I'm not the least bit concerned about the experience issue," Chambliss said. "You have to have people that know intelligence, you also have to have people who know administration, hiring people, and making sure people do their jobs. You've got a great combination of all of those on the committee staff."
The minority staff has gone through some significant changes since the departure of former ranking member Kit Bond (R-MO). His staff director, Louis Tucker, left with him, as is customary when the leadership of the committee switches hands. Two other staffers also left recently, including Chambliss's former representative on the staff, Jen Wagner, who seemed like a logical choice for the staff director job but didn't get it and no longer works for Chambliss.
Two more staffers moved over to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is now being led by new Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI). Rogers needed to expand his staff quickly after assuming the chairmanship, so he naturally looked toward the Senate side in order to hit the ground running.
A Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity to The Cable, sought to dispel the notion that the turnover in the Senate committee was anything more than the natural turnover that occurs when a committee changes hands. The staffer pointed out that the deputy staff director, general counsel, and deputy general counsel were all kept on.
"Martha Scott kept nearly the entire staff, all of whom have significant intelligence experience both in the intelligence community and on the committee," the staffer said. "What she brings is years of experience in the senate and considerable knowledge of Senator Chambliss and how he runs a committee, which is essential."
The staffer argued that the committee's lead lawyers on many of the sensitive political issues -- such as detainee interrogation and domestic surveillance -- were still among those who remain.
"The institutional knowledge on all the key intelligence issues is still here."
Another intelligence committee staffer told The Cable that Poindexter brings an intimate understanding of how Chambliss does business and a close personal relationship with the senator to the committee.
"She's an expert on the Senate and has excellent relationships with many of its members. She's picked up her new portfolio quickly and anyone trying to slip something by her would be a fool," this staffer said.
However, a former committee staffer told The Cable that while it's true that the staff needed some management improvement and Poindexter's experience is an asset, there was a measure of concern within the committee staff when she was given the job that her lack of experience with intelligence work could become an issue.
For example, the majority and minority staff directors are the only staff members who have access to the most sensitive intelligence information, information -- except, of course, the congressmen who lead each party and the congressmen who lead each intelligence committee, known as the "Gang of 8."
Poindexter is one of only two GOP senate staffers invited to the Gang of 8 briefings. As such, she has the heavy responsibility of asking tough questions to the administration and the intelligence community -- questions that require an extensive understanding of complex secret issues.
"There's no doubt the minority staff could benefit from the political skills and closeness to the senator that Martha brings to the table," this former staffer said, "But in the view of some staffers and some members of the intelligence community, her inexperience could present a problem."
Responding to reports President Barack Obama secretly authorized covert action to support the Libyan rebels, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that actually arming the Libyan rebels would require his approval and he hasn't given it.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a late Wednesday interview that the Obama administration's top national security officials were deeply split on whether arming the rebels was a good idea. In a classified briefing Wednesday with lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Rogers said it was clear that there were deep divisions between the cabinet officials regarding the wisdom of arming the rebels.
"I've never seen an uneasiness amongst their national security cabinet members as I have seen on this. It's kind of odd," said Rogers. He declined to say which cabinet members were supporting arming the rebels and which were opposed, but he said it was obvious that they disagreed.
"Everything from body language to the way they are addressing members of Congress, it's very clear that there's lots of tension inside that Cabinet right now. This to me is why it's so important for the president to lead on this," said Rogers. "I think [Obama's] reluctant on this, at best. And there are differences of opinion and you can tell that something just isn't right there."
Rogers wouldn't confirm or deny the report that Obama issued what's known as a "presidential finding" authorizing the intelligence community to begin broadly supporting the Libyan rebels, because such findings are sensitive and classified. But he said that if Obama wanted to arm the rebels, the president would need Rogers' support, which he doesn't yet have.
"Any covert action that happens would have to get the sign off of the intelligence chairmen, by statute. You won't get a sign off from me," Rogers said referring to National Security Act 47. "I still think arming the rebels is a horrible idea. We don't know who they are, we only know who they are against but we don't really who they are for. We don't have a good picture of who's really in charge."
Rogers said that the issues of providing covert support and actually arming the rebels are separate issues.
"There is a public debate about arming the rebels... that somehow got intertwined and it probably shouldn't have."
But Rogers has no objections to putting CIA operatives on the ground to gather information on who the rebels are. National Journal reported late Wednesday that about a dozen CIA officers are now on the ground in Libya doing just that.
"That should be happening anyway, through public means, through intelligence, all of that should be happening," he said. "The agencies are by statute and by law allowed to go overseas to collect information, that means any country."
The intelligence committees do need to be notified about major intelligence operations, either before or immediately after in exigent circumstances, a committee staffer said.
Rogers said he was concerned about al Qaeda's involvement with the Libya opposition.
"The number 3 guy in al Qaeda right now is Libyan. They have put a fair number of fighters into Iraq from Libya. So it is a place where al Qaeda is, [but] that doesn't mean this is an al Qaeda effort."
He also said that the Libyan regime, led by Col. Muammar al Qaddafi, still possesses stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
"The administration missed a big opportunity when they didn't talk about chemical weapons stockpiles. I've seen it personally with these eyeballs. Their biological weapons program, we think we got it all but we're not sure," said Rogers. I worry a lot about who is safeguarding that material. We believe right now it is in the hands of the regime."
"Mustard gas in the hands of bad guy, you don't have to have a large scale event to have that be an incredibly dangerous terrorist weapon. And there are other things that he has as well."
The White House issued a statement late Thursday from Press Secretary Jay Carney that the Obama administration was not arming the rebels as of now.
"No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya. We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters," the statement read.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate committee on Thursday that he believed Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi and his regime would prevail in their struggle against opposition forces, that China and Russia pose the greatest threat to the United States, and that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program.
"I just think from a standpoint of attrition that over time, I mean, this is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail," Clapper said to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) at Thursday's hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The comments so surprised Lieberman that he asked Clapper to confirm them.
"You said you were concerned or thought that in the long run the regime might actually prevail because of its superiority in logistics, weaponry, and the rest. Did I hear you correctly?" Lieberman said.
"Yes, sir," Clapper responded.
Both Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Ronald Burgess said they believed the opposition could not displace Qaddafi.
"He's in this for the, as he said, long haul," said Burgess. "So right now he seems to have staying power unless some other dynamic changes at this time."
Later in the hearing, when Sen. James Manchin (D-WV) asked Clapper what two countries presented the greatest "mortal threat" to the United States, Clapper said China and Russia.
Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) interrupted to say he was "taken aback," and that he would have picked North Korea and Iran. Clapper said that China and Russia have the greatest capability but he could not judge their intent. "By that measure, the U.S. represents the biggest threat" to China and Russia, Levin shot back.
Clapper also said at the hearing he has high confidence in his assessment that Iran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program and the intelligence community does not know if it ever will.
After the hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for Clapper to be fired, telling Fox News, "Three strikes and you're out." Graham was referring to Clapper's past gaffes, such as when the director of national intelligence appeared to be unaware of a London terror plot in an interview with ABC News and another gaffe when Clapper said the Muslim Brotherhood was "mostly secular."
The White House immediately went into damage control mode, with Jay Carney trying to clarify Clapper's statements and saying that President Obama has "full faith and confidence," in his ability to continue in his post.
National Security Council Tom Donilon told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that Clapper was looking at a snapshot of the situation without properly considering everything the international community was doing now to isolate Qaddafi.
"A static, unidimensional analysis does not take into account steps that can be taken in cooperation with the opposition going forward here," Donilon said. "I would just caution that a dynamic in a multidimensional analysis is more appropriate in the circumstance."
The U.S. intelligence community has been behind events throughout the Arab world for over a month and producing deficient work, the Senate's top leader on intelligence issues complained to the head of the CIA.
"Our intelligence, and I see it all, is way behind the times. It is inadequate. And this is a very serious problem," Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Feinstein criticized the U.S. government's intelligence products in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya, saying that the intelligence community has given her "nothing that we didn't read in the newspapers" since January.
"The only one where there was good intelligence was Tunisia," she said, "but really no intelligence on any of the others, whether it was Yemen, or Bahrain, or Egypt... nothing."
Feinstein said she recently raised her unhappiness over the intelligence community's work directly with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who promised to produce better information for lawmakers.
"It's going to be improved. Mr. Panetta is aware of this and is going to take action," she explained.
She attributed the shoddy work product to a lack of human intelligence assets on the ground in the Middle East as well as the intelligence community's failure to maximize the use of open source information, including social networks, which Feinstein said accounts for an increasing amount of raw intelligence.
"I'm not a big computer person but I just went up on one of these sites and all I had to do was look," Feinstein said.
Feinstein said that she has not spoken about the issue with the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Feinstein also joined the growing chorus of senior Democratic senators who oppose any type of military intervention in Libya, including arming rebel groups or imposing a no-fly zone.
"This is a civil war. It is not Qaddafi invading another country. I think [arming the rebels] is an act of war and particularly the no-fly zone is [an act of war]," she said.
The U.S. government shouldn't set a precedent for intervening in Arab civil wars, Feinstein said. She said that such a step could lead to more interventions by the U.S. military, which is already strained by the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Saudis -- Do you put a no fly zone up there if this happens there? Bahrain -- Do you put a no-fly zone up there? We've got our hands full," she said.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) has repeatedly called on the administration to work with allies to set up a no-fly zone over Libya. But Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) is also against the idea for now.
"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before that option can be exercised," Levin told The Cable. "Not only what is the mission, what are the risks, but also who are the supporters of it. If there is no support in the Arab and Muslim world or neighboring countries, what it could result in would be a very negative outcome."
Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), an Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee member and former secretary of the Navy, also said on Tuesday that armed intervention in Libya on behalf of the rebels was not wise at this time.
"We all know that military commitments, however small, are easily begun and in this region particularly very difficult to end," said Webb. "I am of the opinion that it's not a good idea to give weapons and military support to people who you don't know."
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is only one of the many people in Washington who are scratching their heads today after the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was mostly a "secular" group.
"The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood' is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam," Clapper told the first ever hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence under new chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI).
Clapper's public affairs chief Jamie Smith "clarified" the remarks, telling ABC that Clapper really meant to say that "in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood makes efforts to work through a political system that has been, under Mubarak's rule, one that is largely secular in its orientation - he is well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization."
But the gaffe was enough to invoke the ire of many in Congress, who are warning about the risks of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. Kirk, who was a Naval intelligence officer, issued a statement criticizing Clapper Thursday afternoon.
"I am concerned that the DNI's assessment does not agree with recent public statements by senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood nor does it agree with the organization's publicly stated goals," Kirk's statement read. "As the world watches these historic events unfolding in Egypt, the United States should support an orderly transition to democracy that prevents the radical Muslim Brotherhood from grabbing power."
The debate over the real identity and role of the Brotherhood is just starting in Congress, and was at the top of lawmakers' concerns at Wednesday's hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Now the White House is reportedly making matters worse by apparently re-examining its position on dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, but also stating that a new Egyptian government should include a whole host of important nonsecular actors," Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said at the hearing. "The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to do with driving these protests, and they and other extremists must not be allowed to hijack the movement toward democracy and freedom in Egypt."
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence holds its first public hearing today, ushering in what new Republican chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) calls a new era of bipartisan, apolitical, and aggressive oversight by a committee that had lost its way over the past few years.
The first hearing will cover "World Wide Threats" and will feature testimony from a host of top administration intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, Philip Goldberg.
Rogers sat down for an exclusive interview prior to the hearing with The Cable, during which he promised to reinvigorate the committee's oversight and investigation activities, and use its panel to work with the intelligence community to trim budgets and focus on new threats. He also said that while he seeks harmony with the vast bureaucracy he's charged with overseeing, he has some ideas of his own about how intelligence policy should change
Josh Rogin: What is your overall vision for how the committee should be set up, what it should focus on, and what its attitude should be?
Mike Rogers: One of the main goals is to get the committee back to its original roots. The partisan era of national security should be the rare exception. Over the last few years, the committee has really diminished in the eyes of the intelligence community as the place for national security issues to be discussed, solved, and to conduct proper oversight.... We want to be knowledgeable, we want to be responsive, we need to ask hard questions, and it's ok to conduct thorough oversight. And if we get back to doing that in a bipartisan or non-partisan way, we'll be doing the intelligence community a real service.
JR: Where did the committee go wrong and what were the consequences?
MR: I saw this in the Bush administration. When the political rhetoric exceeded the bounds of the committee it had a negative impact on the committee's ability to do its proper oversight. It became not about true oversight of 17 intelligence agencies...it was the political flavor on national security of the day. When that started, the committee stopped looking as hard as it should have, even at the Bush administration.... It wasn't helpful because it stopped us from asking hard questions.
JR: What are the trends in intelligence threats that you see the committee focusing on?
MR: We have everything from a growing radicalization here at home to a more integrated al Qaeda around the world. Finances have merged, training events have merged, radicalization efforts have merged. Our liaison partners have been damaged through public discourse of things better left unsaid between nations.
WikiLeaks is a great example. We're going to have work hard to regain the trust of our liaison partners overseas.... Cyber is huge. We are going to come up with a policy or law on cybersecurity that will put us in a much better place.... [House Speaker] John Boehner has made that commitment.
JR: How are you going to deal with the intelligence budget and the intelligence authorization process?
MR: The military intelligence budget has not been scrutinized the way it needs to be. I'm going to call it a scrub...in a way that's not been done before. We haven't had an authorization bill in six years. That's not going to happen anymore.... The [fiscal 2011] budget has to get done...that's going to be clean of any policies. When we look at the policies, we're either going to influence the policies by working with the intelligence communities at senior levels, or we will legislate it: it may be a stand-alone bill, it may be part of the defense bill; we'll do it that way.
JR: Are you looking to cut the intelligence budget?
MR: I've told the community that I will be the most ardent protector of mission-essential funds. The last thing we want to do is get to the same place we did in the 1990s where they cut mission-essential funds so they actually couldn't perform at the level they should have been performing at. I'm not going to let that happen. But that doesn't mean we can't find efficiencies and savings in the intelligence budget. We're going to do that in cooperation with the intelligence community.
JR: You've called for the intelligence bureaucracy to be "rattled." What do you want to see happen to that bureaucracy?
MR: I think they have gotten the message. For years this whole town was fighting against [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence] from getting bigger. Director Clapper has gone through it and now says ‘I have a plan and help me work through this plan to make the DNI more effective.' At the end of the day I think that will reduce the bureaucracy that we saw in the past.... It's not just about giving him the first crack at this, he laid out a good plan and we're going to be his partner.... It makes the mission more efficient, and when you make it more efficient I think you'll see the bureaucracy get smaller.
JR: Do you plan to use the committee to investigate the policies that led to the WikiLeaks disclosures?
MR: I think we would be irresponsible if we didn't take a look at the policies that we engage in for information sharing. I've found the happy medium [between the need to know and the need to share], it is ‘the need to know with whom to share.'
JR: Do you still plan to try to get rid of the High Value Interrogation Group as established by the Obama administration?
MR: I'm still a skeptic of the High Value Interrogation Group. In the past, we haven't gotten all the information we need. I'm not sure it's the best use of money and investment in people and we'll make that determination in the next couple of months.
JR: Should laws that govern how the government can collect private information, like the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), be expanded to include email and Facebook?
MR: The way we communicate is changing. As long as it is consistent with due process, and I believe CALEA is, we have to do it. We know bad guys are communicating through Facebook and online video games. It's foolish for America not to keep pace with the changing way the world communicates.
JR: Who do you think is really running intelligence policy in the Obama administration? John Brenner? James Clapper? Leon Panetta? Someone else?
MR: We want to better understand that question. We are going to ask questions and we are going to try to come to the conclusion in how it is structured, how decisions are being made -- and at the end of the day does the structure they have created keep us more safe or less safe? If it's more safe, we're going to be with [the administration], if we come to the conclusion that it's not keeping us as safe as another way, we're going to seek some changes.
The State Department wrote Saturday to the leaders of the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks, telling them the U.S. government won't negotiate ahead of the expected release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents.
The State Department's top legal advisor Harold Koh wrote Saturday to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney Jennifer Robinson in response to a letter WikiLeaks sent the same day to U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis Susman. The State Department rejected WikiLeaks' request for the names of individuals who may be "at significant risk of harm" due to the release of the sensitive documents.
"Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals. You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger. We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials," Koh wrote.
He said that if WikiLeaks was genuinely interested in protecting those individuals, they should stop publishing secret materials, return them to the U.S. government, and erase them from their databases.
The State Department has learned through conversations with The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel that WikiLeaks has given them access to approximately 250,000 documents for publication. The release could come as early as Sunday.
The release would place lives at risk, according to the State Department, including the lives of "journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security."
Full letter text after the jump:
Following a brief hiccup, all remaining holds or threats of holds on the nomination of James Clapper to be the next director of national intelligence are being cleared up, and the expectation on Capitol Hill is that he will be confirmed by week's end.
Yesterday, John McCain's office said that the Arizona senator had placed a "hold" on the Clapper nomination due to his outstanding request for specific information related to intelligence program acquisitions oversight. Today, the senator's concerns appear to be alleviated.
"This afternoon, Senator McCain received the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that he first requested nearly one year ago, and as a result he is releasing his hold on General Clapper's nomination," his office said in a statement. "This report confirms Senator McCain's longstanding concerns about the poor oversight and cost overruns in intelligence technology programs."
The Cable caught up with Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, who said that two other senators were holding up the nomination, committee ranking Republican Kit Bond, R-MO, and Tom Coburn, R-OK. The senators wanted ODNI to deliver an overdue threat assessment on the prisoners being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Feinstein said Bond and Coburn's requests were being fulfilled. "These concerns are being satisfied. They are connected to information. Senator Bond should have his and I think Coburn's hold is connected to Bond's," she said.
Bond's office denied he had a "hold" on the Clapper nomination, a nomination Bond supported in a unanimous 15-0 committee vote last week. But that's just a matter of semantics. Most holds are merely threats by individual senators to oppose consenting to a full Senate vote. That has the effect of "holding" the nomination, whether a formal "hold" is filed with the Senate clerk's office or not.
Bond told The Cable Tuesday that he is getting the information he desires.
"Today I talked to General Clapper and I'm pleased the intelligence community is now working to provide the documents and access that I -- and other members -- have been seeking and that they are required by law to share with lawmakers," he said.
Coburn also denied he has a formal "hold" on Clapper but said he was worried about the Guantánamo threat assessment.
"I think it's important that we look at the vast number of people that have been released under the Bush administration and the Obama administration from Guantánamo who are now trying to kill American soldiers," he said. "And I think that information is due and the intelligence committee ought to be getting it. So I am trying to do whatever I can to make good decisions."
Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, insisted that he and the Obama administration are still trying to close the prison at Guantánamo and that the threat assessment should help make that happen because it might confirm that the Obama administration has done a better job than Bush in selecting prisoners for release.
"I think it is useful to find out if that's correct, and if so, what the success rate is attributed to, so we can build on that and hopefully make a better identification of who's likely to go back to the battlefield," Levin said. "I don't know what it has to do with Clapper, though."
Levin said he would try to remove, both in conference and on the floor, provisions in the defense authorization bill that prohibit sending a number of detainees to specific countries and thwart the administration's plans to relocate them to a federal prison in Illinois.
The defense authorization bill is being set up to move in September, but might require GOP acquiescence to move forward. Unless those provisions are removed, closing the Guantánamo prison will have to be delayed further, Levin said. "We just can't seem to get it done."
With the Senate Foreign Relations Committee having delayed its vote on President Obama's nuclear treaty with Russia until September, the committee's top Republican is warning that time is of the essence.
Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, told committee members at Tuesday's business meeting that even though the committee could have approved the treaty, allowing it to go to the full Senate, he felt it better to take the time to build more consensus before requiring senators to stake out their positions.
But ranking member Richard Lugar, R-IN, warned that if the treaty stalls, it might be hard to build up momentum again. He also said he had argued internally for holding the committee vote this week to allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, to go ahead and reserve precious Senate floor time for treaty consideration in September.
If the committee doesn't vote until September, it's "problematic" to try to get floor time before the next break, Lugar said, meaning that the December "lame duck" post-election session would be where the treaty would get a full Senate debate.
"If not [before the election], then whether it works out in December or not is no longer a matter of parliamentary debate, it's a matter of national security," he said, citing the fact that U.S. inspectors have not been able to verify Russian behavior regarding nuclear weapons deployment since the original START agreement expired late last year. "We ought to vote now and let the chips fall where they may. It's that important."
"The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed December 5, is very serious and impacts our national security," Lugar said. Members may want to take extra time to consider the treaty, but if they are really concerned about Russian activity, ratifying the treaty is the way to address that, he added.
Kerry implored committee members to take the time over recess to think it over and come back to town ready to vote.
"We currently have no verifiability, no regime in place with Russia," he said. "My hope is that we can do this expeditiously when we come back ... Every senator should be prepared to mark up this resolution of advice and consent on September 15 or 16."
A draft of the resolution will be circulated well before then, Kerry added.
Meanwhile, more fence-sitting senators seem to be signaling that they are getting ready to support New START.
The Cable has been asking every single GOP senator repeatedly to state his or her position on the treaty. Before today, only Lugar and Bob Bennett, R-UT, had indicated support and only James Inhofe, R-OK, and Jim DeMint, R-SC, had said they would oppose it.
Today, The Cable caught up with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, who had previously said he had not come to a conclusion. He now says he is taking steps to prepare for a yes vote.
"I'm waiting for further action on the modernization of the nuclear weapons program," he said, referring to Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl's ongoing negotiations with the administration over how much money will be made available for nuclear labs and other items.
Lieberman also said when the treaty does come up, he will put forth side documents called "reservations," which can be attached to the treaty to express congressional concerns while still allowing the treaty to go into effect without any changes.
"I may want to submit some reservations or understandings, which will enable me to vote for the treaty," he said.
The Cable also caught up with Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions, R-AL, who wouldn't commit but seemed to be leaning toward a no vote.
Sessions said the treaty is not really important, gives too much to the Russians without getting enough in return, and compromises U.S. missile defense.
"It was pretty obvious to me that the administration team was all obsessed with getting it done and signing this treaty as some sort of psychological political statement to the world, and the Russians played us like a Stradivarius," he said. "I'm not buying the argument that this is necessary."
Sessions is most upset that President Obama laid out a goal of moving to a world without nuclear weapons in the first place. "This is such an unwise and incomprehensible policy that it makes everyone uneasy," Sessions said.
Still, Sessions won't say for sure which way he will go. When asked if he agreed with Lugar that time was running out, he said he doesn't have to state his position until a vote comes up.
"The vote's not today," he pointed out.
The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the nomination of James Clapper to be the next director of national intelligence by a unanimous 15-0 vote Thursday afternoon.
Committee ranking Republican Kit Bond, R-MO, who was one of the senators who had lingering concerns about Clapper, expressed guarded optimism after yesterday's follow up hearing that Clapper will be the strong type of DNI that Congress is advocating.
"General Clapper has served our nation honorably for 46 years and I admire him, he has assured me that he does not intend to be a hood ornament but judging from recent history my yea vote is really a triumph of hope over experience," Bond said.
No full Senate vote on the nomination has yet been scheduled.
James Clapper, President Obama's choice to become the next director of national intelligence, is set to be approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday, but not before he gets grilled by committee members one more time.
The committee and its leaders, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Kit Bond, R-MO, have made no secret of the fact that Clapper was not their first choice for the position.
Among the sources of contention are Clapper's previous writings and recent testimony, which indicate that he doesn't share the committee's view that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence needs more authority. In a memo first obtained by The Cable, Clapper, writing in his current capacity as the under secretary of defense for intelligence, argued that the DNI should not have expanded powers.
Unsatisfied with his previous responses, several committee members demanded that he come before them one more time to answer questions behind closed doors. That meeting is today.
The Atlantic reported that it was Bond who had lingering questions for Clapper, but as this committee document (pdf) shows, several senators submitted questions for Clapper to answer before they would sign off on sending his nomination to the full Senate.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, asked Clapper to hand over a May 24 memo he wrote to President Obama about his vision for the DNI role after Secretary of Defense Bob Gates told him Obama was considering him for the position. Clapper didn't give Coburn the memo, but gave him the main points of it: The nominee wants to set reasonable expectations for the intelligence community, would rule over it using consensus rather than fiat, and plans to "push the envelope" on asserting the DNI's authority within the framework of existing law.
"My conviction that the DNI has a great deal of authority already, but the challenge has been how that authority is asserted," Clapper wrote.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, asked Clapper to explain why he thought that closing the prison at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would undermine terrorist ideology.
"Extremists regularly use Guantanamo Bay Detention Center (GTMO) to illustrate that the U.S. deliberately persecutes, imprisons, and tortures Muslims and is hypocritical about its own values and legal procedures when it pursues its war against Islam," Clapper responded. "While GTMO's closure may not stop citations of GTMO in extremist rhetoric, it may reduce anger among Muslims who are vulnerable to radicalization."
Bond wanted to know, among other things, how Clapper would get the CIA to share more information with the rest of the intelligence community. Clapper responded that the sharing agreements that govern such interactions need to be looked at and probably updated. Clapper said he does not think new legislation supported by Bond that would give the DNI power to hold other agency personnel accountable was necessary, but he pledged to implement it if it becomes law.
Clapper did admit, however, that the DNI's primacy over the CIA is still mired in confusion. "I believe that the extent of the DNI's statutory authority over the CIA is not clear," he wrote.
Even before the release of tens of thousands of classified Afghanistan war documents Sunday, a clearly worried Obama administration had embarked on an aggressive campaign to reach out to domestic and international stakeholders in the hopes of mitigating the fallout.
Administration officials, alerted to the pending leak of reams of reports from the warzone by news organizations, launched a two-pronged, preemptive response: They started calling around to leaders of foreign governments who might be affected to warn them of the story and allay any concerns about U.S. government involvement in the leak, and started working Capitol Hill to limit any misinterpretation as congressmen reacted to the disclosures, which include reports accusing Pakistani intelligence operatives of links to anti-coalition attacks.
"Once we became aware of the existence of this story, we proceeded with several country notifications, as is the case when we are aware of major news stories," a senior administration official told The Cable. "These notifications included Afghanistan and Pakistan, at multiple levels, as well as Germany and the U.K. (given that the documents were leaked to the foreign news outlets Der Spiegel and the Guardian)."
"We've also been in touch with members and staff on the Hill over the last couple of days," the senior administration official said.
One particularly important call was between Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari has at times tangled with his country's top spy agency, the powerful Inter Services Intelligence directorate, and Holbrooke himself said last week while in India that "The links between the ISI and the Taliban are a problem."
Other than Holbrooke, officials involved in the notifications included U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who happened to be in Pakistan and held a high-level meeting with Pakistani officials Saturday night.
After leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan, Mullen had the difficult task of assuring Afghan tribal leaders that the U.S. government was aware and dealing with the problem of Pakistani links to Afghan insurgents. "I've raised that issue. The Pakistani leadership knows it's a priority," he said Monday at a meeting at a U.S. military base outside Kandahar, according to Agence France Press. "Long-term pressure" on Islamabad, he said, would likely bear fruit.
Although some press reports cited anonymous Pakistani sources speculating that the Obama administration was behind the document dump, Pakistani civilian leaders contacted by the administration over the last couple of days appeared to accept that the U.S. government had no role in the leaks. The message to the Pakistanis was that the information was old, not reliable, and shouldn't derail ongoing and increasing cooperation between the two governments.
"The White House succeeded in calming our people," said one Pakistani source. "I think we've contained the damage on this one, at least on our end."
"Obviously we'll be watching closely to see how various countries and populations respond to the information that's here," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who added that the State Department believes Pakistan is committed "at the leadership level" to rooting out terrorists. According to Crowley, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was contacted directly. "We also gave a heads-up to India," he said.
Jones was also working the phones Sunday night and hosting meetings for foreign representatives at the White House Monday to make sure there was no ill will resulting from the revelations. Jones's statement released Sunday night praised recent Pakistani cooperation in fighting terrorism and included the line, "These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people."
The administration's relationship with the ISI has apparently not been derailed by the Wikileaks disclosures. ISI chief Lt Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha is expected to visit Washington soon, one of a series of meetings he's been having with U.S. officials.
On the Hill, offices contacted included those of Senate Foreign Relations heads John Kerry, D-MA, and Richard Lugar, R-IN, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, House Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-MO, and others.
One source said that Skelton's statement, which heavily criticized the actions by Wikileaks and praised recent Pakistani cooperation using themes similar to Jones's statement, was coordinated with the administration. Skelton could not be reached for comment.
"It is critical that we not use outdated reports to paint a picture of the cooperation of Pakistan in our efforts in Afghanistan," Skelton said. "Since these reports were issued, Pakistan has significantly stepped up its fight against the Taliban, including efforts that led to the capture of the highest-ranking member of the Taliban since the start of the war."
Other leading Democrats were more critical of Pakistan.
"Some of these documents reinforce a longstanding concern of mine about the supporting role of some Pakistani officials in the Afghan insurgency," read Levin's statement. "When Sen. Jack Reed and I visited Pakistan this month, we strongly urged the Pakistanis to take forceful action against militant networks using Pakistan as a base to attack Afghanistan and our troops."
The administration got some rare support Monday from Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, who condemned the leak in a statement. "The disclosure of tens of thousands of classified documents on the Afghanistan war is profoundly irresponsible and harmful to our national security, Lieberman said.
The State Department said it had not decided whether one person, such as Private Bradley Manning, who already stands accused of leaking classified information to Wikileaks, was the source of the documents.
"We're trying to determine if this is related to that ongoing investigation or a new leak," Crowley said.
It's not top-secret information that John Brennan plays a huge role in intelligence policy in the Obama administration. But according to the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he's now the de-facto Director of National Intelligence, and that's a problem.
In his opening statement at Tuesday's confirmation for Lt. Gen. James Clapper to become the next DNI, Sen. Kit Bond, R-MO, said that the consolidation of intelligence community leadership inside the National Security Council was undermining the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
"We have a staffer on the National Security Council, who most people in the intelligence community believe acts as the DNI," Bond said, not naming Brennan directly. "He calls the shots and even goes on national television to pitch the administration's viewpoint ... This is not good for the country and is contrary to Congress's intent for the [intelligence community]."
Bond referenced a June 6 Washington Post article highlighting Brennan's role, such as when he was put in charge of the investigation into intelligence failures leading up to the Christmas Day bombing attempt. The story suggests that Brennan's report contributed to the ouster of the last DNI, Adm. Dennis Blair.
"Brennan is really doing the job of the DNI," one senior intelligence official told the Post's Anne Kornblut. The article also said Brennan's dominance complicated efforts to find a new director of intelligence. "Who would want the job if Brennan is already doing it?," Kornblut asked.
Bond's criticism is part in parcel of his overall drive to give Clapper, as the next DNI, more power than previous holders of the position have had. His belief that Clapper might not have the clout to go up against Brennan was one of his initial objections to Clapper's nomination.
Part of Congress's frustration over Brennan's role is that his activities fall largely outside of congressional scrutiny, whereas the DNI is somewhat more accountable to lawmakers.
"Something the George W. Bush administration got right in this area was placing key people in the jobs who were responsible to the Congress," Bond said at the hearing. "The next DNI must have the political clout, the willpower to ensure that our intelligence agencies are able to get their vital work done without being micromanaged by the Department of Justice or the National Security Council."
Bond was clear that his objections to the consolidation of power inside the White House and NSC are not based on criticisms of Brennan personally, but rather on what he sees as a distortion of the traditional role the NSC plays in intelligence policymaking and implementation.
"If the president would like him to act as his principal intelligence advisor and head of the intelligence community, then I'll be happy to co-host his confirmation hearing with the chair," Bond said. "But if not, then this template needs to change."
Last week, the State Department's Diplomatic Security bureau sent out a notice to all 14,574 DC area employees warning them that a new Washington Post website would reveal the locations of firms working on the department's behalf.
But although one White House official called the Post's online database of contractors "troubling," the information graphic that the illustrates where Top Secret firms are located does not give exact street addresses and does not reveal which companies are performing work for which agency. In fact, the text of the first article in the series doesn't mention the State Department at all.
"This isn't really a State Department story," one State Department official told The Cable, pointing out that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has been the lead agency dealing with the story, with the Post also working with the White House and the Defense Department to some degree.
The Post editors said they had addressed concerns about the contractor graphic by not revealing the specific addresses and not identifying which contractors work for which agencies. The paper also allowed administration officials to review the website before it launched. Only one unspecified agency objected to the graphics, but didn't give any specific reason other than it was a national security risk, the editors wrote.
Here's what the website did tell us about the State Department:
There are 146 contracting companies doing Top Secret work for the State Department, 13 large companies, 25 medium-sized, and 108 small companies spread across nine locations. The Department ranks 11th out of 45 agencies in terms of the number of Top Secret contractors it employs. That's the largest number of intelligence contractors outside the defense establishment, after the Homeland Security Department and the FBI.
The types of Top Secret work that State is contracting out include everything from psychological operations and counterdrug operations to intelligence analysis, security, facilities management, and even disaster preparation.
The piece did point to the attempted Christmas Day bombing by Umar Abdulmutallab, who was able to travel to the United States despite some damning information on his visa application that the State Department did not transfer to the National Counterterrorism Center.
But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday that the deficiencies that allowed the entire system to miss Abdulmutallab were already being addressed.
"We haven't waited for any Washington Post expose to do that. There's been a very significant process of reviewing the lessons learned from, you know, the Christmas Day bomber," he said. "And in fact, we have adjusted our operating procedures, our interaction both with the NCTC, the Terrorist Screening Center, and other elements of the intelligence community. So that review and the changes in our procedures has already largely been adopted."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.