Entries Tagged as 'National Security'
March 10th, 2012 · Accountability, Homeland Security, National Security, News Alert, War on Terrorism
December 23rd, 2010 · Accountability, Homeland Security, National Security, War on Terrorism, WikiLeaks
By Greg Miller Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 12:24 AM
Officially, the panel is called the WikiLeaks Task Force. But at CIA headquarters, it’s mainly known by its all-too-apt acronym: W.T.F.
The irreverence is perhaps understandable for an agency that has been relatively unscathed by WikiLeaks. Only a handful of CIA files have surfaced on the WikiLeaks Web site, and records from other agencies posted online reveal remarkably little about CIA employees or operations.
Even so, CIA officials said the agency is conducting an extensive inventory of the classified information, which is routinely distributed on a dozen or more networks that connect agency employees around the world.
And the task force is focused on the immediate impact of the most recently released files. One issue is whether the agency’s ability to recruit informants could be damaged by declining confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to keep secrets.
“The director asked the task force to examine whether the latest release of WikiLeaks documents might affect the agency’s foreign relationships or operations,” CIA spokesman George Little said. The panel is being led by the CIA’s Counterintelligence Center but has more than two dozen members from departments across the agency.
To some agency veterans, WikiLeaks has vindicated the CIA’s long-standing aversion to sharing secrets with other government agencies, a posture that came under sharp criticism after it was identified as a factor that contributed to the nation’s failure to prevent the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
December 23rd, 2010 · Accountability, Defense, Homeland Security, National Security, War on Terrorism
By Peter Finn and Anne E. Kornblut Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 7:30 PM
The Obama administration is preparing an executive order that would formalize indefinite detention without trial for some detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but allow those detainees and their lawyers to challenge the basis for continued incarceration, U.S. officials said.
The administration has long signaled that the use of prolonged detention, preferably at a facility in the United States, was one element of its plan to close Guantanamo. An interagency task force found that 48 of the 174 detainees remaining at the facility would have to be held in what the administration calls prolonged detention.
“We have a plan to close Guantanamo, and this detainee review process is one element,” said an administration official who discussed the order on the condition of anonymity because it has yet to reach the president.
However, almost every part of the administration’s plan to close Guantanamo is on hold, and it could be crippled this week if Congress bans the transfer of detainees to the United States for trial and sets up steep hurdles to the repatriation or resettlement in third countries of other detainees.
Officials worked intensively on the executive order over the past several weeks, but a senior White House official said it had been in the works for more than a year. If Congress blocks the administration’s ability to put detainees on trial or transfer them out of Guantanamo, the official said, the executive order could still be implemented.
December 13th, 2010 · Accountability, Afghanistan, Defense, Democrats, Dissention, Ethics, Federal Spending, Government, Government Control, National Security, Non-Transparency, Obama's Scheme, Selling Out the US, Tax Dollars, War on Terrorism
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran -Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 12:00 AM
KABUL – Afghan President Hamid Karzai had heard enough.
For more than an hour, Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and other top Western officials in Kabul urged Karzai to delay implementing a ban on private security firms. Reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars would have to be shuttered, they maintained, if foreign guards were evicted.
Sitting at the head of a glass-topped, U-shaped table in his conference room, Karzai refused to budge, according to two people with direct knowledge of the late October meeting. He insisted that Afghan police and soldiers could protect the reconstruction workers, and he dismissed pleas for a delay.
As he spoke, he grew agitated, then enraged. He told them that he now has three “main enemies” – the Taliban, the United States and the international community.
“If I had to choose sides today, I’d choose the Taliban,” he fumed.
After a few more parting shots, he got up and walked out of the wood-paneled room.
The riposte, and the broader fight over private security contractors, prompted deep alarm among senior U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington. The Obama administration had been trying for the better part of a year to cast aside earlier disputes and make nice with Karzai. But it clearly was not working. Eikenberry told colleagues at the embassy that the relationship had hit its lowest point in years.
As President Obama and his national security team assess the war this week, a central element of the discussion will be their difficulties in building a partnership with Karzai. Despite a concerted effort by top diplomats and commanders, the United States has been unable to achieve more than ephemeral bonhomie with the Afghan leader.
“Our relationship with him has become so tortured,” said a senior administration official. “We’ve gone from one crisis every three months to one crisis a month.”
There is near-universal agreement among top U.S. officials involved in Afghanistan that Karzai’s behavior and leadership have a direct bearing on the outcome of the multinational counterinsurgency mission. But they remain divided about how to improve their ties with him, and whether it is even possible.
Skeptics of the strategy contend his actions, particularly in the six months since the Obama administration started to embrace him as a partner, demonstrate that he cannot be rehabilitated. As a consequence, they maintain that the overall U.S. mission should be scaled back because it is impossible to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign without a steadfast ally in Kabul’s presidential palace.
Supporters of the strategy are of two minds. Some argue that the United States should take a harder line with him. Others play down the blow-ups, casting them as normal disagreements among allies in a challenging situation. They express sympathy with his grievances, saying he is simply expressing frustration over years of U.S. mismanagement of the war and a failure to respond adequately to his concerns.
“Karzai is at fault for sparking a crisis, but we’re at fault for letting it get there,” said the senior official, who like others interviewed requested anonymity to speak frankly about the Afghan leader.
Karzai has been raising objections to private security firms for five years, and he repeatedly sought help from the U.S. government to limit the role of contract guards, “but nobody listened to him,” said his chief of staff, Mohammad Umer Daudzai. “If our friends in the international community had helped us from the beginning, we wouldn’t have to take such a drastic step.”
The Afghan president’s disputes with the United States appear to indicate a more fundamental difference over America’s war strategy. Karzai insists the principal problem is the infiltration of insurgents from Pakistan. In his view, U.S. forces should be focused on the border, not on operations in Afghan villages, which he regards as too intrusive and disruptive.
“We will fight with you against terrorism. But terrorism is not invading Afghan homes,” he said in a recent interview. U.S. troops, he said, should focus instead on “necessary activities along the border.”
Americans maintain that the conflict is driven by tribal rivalries, an inequitable distribution of power at the local level and the government’s failure to provide even the most basic services. That is why the U.S. solution is a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy to improve security and governance.
In his flare-ups, Karzai “is sending us a message,” said a senior U.S. military official. “And that message is, ‘I don’t believe in counterinsurgency.’ ”
Angry and misunderstood
The October meeting with Petraeus and Eikenberry was not the first time Karzai had threatened to cast his lot with the Taliban. He did so in a March speech to parliament, an outburst that occurred days after Obama concluded his first presidential trip to Kabul.
Karzai was angry over comments made by then-National Security Adviser James Jones that the Afghan leader was not doing enough to fulfill commitments he had made in his second inaugural address – promises that factored into Obama’s decision last year to send 30,000 more troops into the country.
Over the following weeks, White House officials debated whether their get-tough strategy with Karzai – an approach they had taken since Obama took office – was actually backfiring. In April, Obama opted for a different course, bluntly instructing his national security team to treat Karzai with more respect in public.
For a little while, the relationship improved. It was around that time that Karzai learned that the then-commander of coalition forces, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, had decided not to try to oust his half brother Ahmed Wali Karzai from his influential post in Kandahar, despite persistent rumors of corruption and connections to narcotics trafficking.
Karzai forged a closer relationship with McChrystal than he has with any of his predecessors. Shortly after he arrived in Kabul, McChrystal tightened rules on airstrikes in an effort to reduce civilian casualties. When U.S. Marines wanted to push into Marja, a Taliban sanctuary in Helmand province, the general went to Karzai with the plan and said, “Sir, this is for you to approve,” according to a person familiar with the exchange.
When McChrystal was summoned back to the White House after a magazine article quoted him and his aides making disrespectful comments about Obama administration officials, Karzai came to the general’s defense. It did not help.
When Petraeus arrived in early July as the new commander, he sought to pick up where McChrystal left off. He strongly urged Karzai, at their first meeting, to approve the creation of armed village defense forces, a controversial initiative that McChrystal had nearly persuade Karzai to back. But the Afghan leader responded angrily. He refused to endorse the program and instead lectured Petraeus on Afghan concerns over militias, according the U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the meeting.
In late July, tensions escalated once again over the arrest of one of Karzai’s aides on bribery charges by a member of an Afghan anti-graft task force that works closely with FBI investigators. Karzai quickly ordered the aide released and accused those who arrested him, in a nighttime raid on his house, of using tactics “reminiscent of the days of the Soviet Union.”
As U.S. diplomats and commanders in Kabul were busy addressing the fallout of that case, he was stewing about another matter: the impunity with which private security contractors operate in his country. In July, a sport-utility vehicle driven by private guards was involved in a collision in Kabul that left one Afghan dead. The incident, which led to a protest and shouts of “Death to America,” struck a sensitive nerve for the president.
The next month, he issued a decree ordering the disbanding of all private security forces by the end of the year.
U.S. diplomats assumed he would eventually back down because banning private guards would shut down embassies, stop military supply convoys and force the U.S. Agency for International Development to cease work on reconstruction projects worth billions of dollars.
But the diplomats failed to grasp the depth of his anger – and his belief that the billions in foreign assistance flowing into Afghanistan was causing more harm than good.
“We could have listened to him then,” a senior U.S. diplomat said. “But nobody took him seriously.”
Firm on contractors
For weeks, the U.S. Embassy and the coalition military headquarters expected Karzai to rescind his order, or at least carve out an exemption large enough for the contractors to barrel through in their armored SUVs.
The president did make revisions, exempting embassy guards and military convoys, but he held firm on the private contractors protecting development workers. He accused them of being behind “blasts and terrorism,” and he blamed the U.S. government for funding security firms that “send money to kill people here.”
Karzai’s stance flummoxed U.S. officials in Kabul and Washington. U.S. military officials tried to determine whether a quid pro quo was driving the decision. Several of Karzai’s relatives and political allies have large ownership stakes in private security firms in southern Afghanistan. Even though the order applied to them as well, some appeared to be making plans to adapt to – and profit from – the new rules.
In Uruzgan province, Matiullah Khan, the leader of a powerful militia that has a monopoly on guarding supply convoys and other truck traffic from Kandahar, is making quiet moves to transition his 2,000-man force into a newly created highway police unit. According to Western officials familiar with the issue, he would be made a police general and his men would receive salaries and uniforms.
But, the officials said, it is highly unlikely military contractors and private merchants will stop paying protection fees to Matiullah once his men are members of the police.
“It’s a win-win strategy for Matiullah and Karzai,” one Western official in southern Afghanistan said. “The president gets to say he’s disbanded private security firms, and the warlord, who is his ally, gets richer.”
But other than the Matiullah case, U.S. officials could not identify a systematic effort to consolidate business around the president’ relatives and allies. The principal motivation seemed to be his deep-seated belief that the billions in reconstruction spending was hurting more than helping.
“We know some projects may be delayed. We know some projects may close down,” Daudzai said. “But it’s worth it because the other side [retaining private security contractors] is even more dangerous.”
The standoff was the moment for high-level American diplomacy, but the two men with principal responsibility for civilian engagement with Karzai, Eikenberry and special envoy Richard Holbrooke, have, at best, a fractured relationship with him – and each other. Neither was able to persuade Karzai to relent in their initial discussions with him.
State Department officials sympathetic to Holbrooke accused Eikenberry and his staff of not grasping the issue quickly enough. Embassy officials, in turn, questioned why Holbrooke was not doing more to help.
“The biggest problem in our relationship with Karzai is that we don’t have any diplomats who actually have a relationship with him,” said a U.S. military official in Kabul.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton eventually was forced to weigh in. Several U.S. officials credit her follow-up intervention with softening his stance.
Karzai finally relented by easing the ban to exempt development firms, but not before the crisis dominated the agenda at the U.S. Embassy and the USAID mission for weeks, pushing aside other business. USAID was forced to work up elaborate contingency plans, an effort one staffer said consumed “thousands of person-hours.”
As soon as a compromise was brokered, Karzai lit another fire by saying that the United States should “reduce military operations” and end Special Operations raids, despite indications that U.S. forces have made headway against the Taliban in recent months. Those remarks drew a heated response from Petraeus and once again prompted questions in Kabul and Washington about Karzai’s willingness to fix his country.
Asked whether he considers himself a partner with the United States, Karzai said “it depends on how you define a partner in America.”
“I will speak for Afghanistan, and I will speak for the Afghan interest, but I will seek that Afghan interest in connection with and together with an American interest and in partnership with America,” he said. “In other words, if you’re looking for a stooge and calling a stooge a partner, no. If you’re looking for a partner, yes.”
December 11th, 2010 · Defense, Homeland Security, National Security, War on Terrorism
This week a Democratic Congress ratified Bush-era policy by refusing to fund any effort to shut the detention facility.
When announcing in 2002 that the U.S. would detain al Qaeda fighters at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously described the base as “the best, least worst place.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s quip distilled a truth: The U.S. would capture enemy fighters and leaders, and their detention, while messy, was of great military value.
For two years, President Barack Obama has pretended that terrorism is a crime, that prisoners are unwanted, and that Gitmo is unneeded. As a presidential candidate, he declared: “It’s time to show the world . . . we’re not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they’re there or what they’re charged with.” Upon taking office, he ordered Gitmo closed within the year.
But the president’s embrace of the left’s terrorism-as-crime theories collided with his responsibility to protect a great nation. Now the reality of the ongoing war on terror is helping to shatter the Gitmo myth and end its distortion of our antiterrorism strategies.
This week the intelligence community reported to Congress that one-quarter of the detainees released from Guantanamo in the past eight years have returned to the fight. Though the U.S. and its allies have killed or recaptured some of these 150 terrorists, well over half remain at large. The Defense Department reports that Gitmo alumni have assumed top positions in al Qaeda and the Taliban, attacked allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and led efforts to kill U.S. troops.
December 2nd, 2010 · Defense, Korean, National Security, Terrorist Threat, WikiLeaks
By John Pomfret and Walter Pincus Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 12:19 AM
On Oct. 10, to celebrate its 65th anniversary as a one-party state, North Korea unveiled a new missile in the type of military parade that for decades has been a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. The North Koreans call the missile the Musudan.
The Musudan is now playing a starring role in reports this week prompted by WikiLeaks’ release of U.S. diplomatic cables. One of the documents says that Iran has obtained 19 of the missiles from North Korea, prompting news reports suggesting that the Islamic republic can hit targets in Western Europe and deep into Russia – farther than Iran’s existing missiles can strike.
The problem, however, is that there is no indication that the Musudan, also known as the BM-25, is operational or that it has ever been tested. Iran has never publicly displayed the missiles, according to experts and a senior U.S. intelligence official, some of whom doubt the missiles were ever transferred to Iran. Experts who analyzed Oct. 10 photographs of the Musudan said it appeared to be a mock-up.
The snapshot provided by the cable illustrates how such documents – based on one meeting or a single source – can muddy an issue as much as it can clarify it. In this case, experts said, the inference that Iran can strike Western Europe with a new missile is unjustified.
The 19-page document, labeled “secret,” summarized a Dec. 22, 2009, meeting between 15 U.S. and 14 Russian officials who gathered as part of a bilateral program to monitor missile threats from Iran and North Korea. The two sides clashed repeatedly and agreed occasionally. The Russians claimed the Iranian missile program was not as much of a threat as the Americans feared and argued that the BM-25 might not even exist, dubbing it a “mysterious missile.” Americans at the meeting acknowledged never seeing the new missile in Iran.
According to experts who are familiar with the Iranian program, the Americans and the Russians came to the meeting with competing agendas. The Americans were intent on emphasizing the Iranian threat because of their fears about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons programs and their support for a multibillion-dollar missile defense shield that is a priority of the Obama administration. The Russians focused on playing down the threat because they opposed the missile shield and because of their embarrassment that Russian technology was showing up in North Korean and Iranian missile systems.
November 30th, 2010 · Accountability, National Security, Terrorist Threat, WikiLeaks
By Ellen Nakashima and Jerry Markon Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 12:13 AM
Federal authorities are investigating whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violated criminal laws in the group’s release of government documents, including possible charges under the Espionage Act, sources familiar with the inquiry said Monday.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the Justice Department and Pentagon are conducting “an active, ongoing criminal investigation.” Others familiar with the probe said the FBI is examining everyone who came into possession of the documents, including those who gave the materials to WikiLeaks and also the organization itself. No charges are imminent, the sources said, and it is unclear whether any will be brought.
Former prosecutors cautioned that prosecutions involving leaked classified information are difficult because the Espionage Act is a 1917 statute that preceded Supreme Court cases that expanded First Amendment protections. The government also would have to persuade another country to turn over Assange, who is outside the United States.
But the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is rapidly unfolding, said charges could be filed under the act. The U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria – which in 2005 brought Espionage Act charges, now dropped, against two former pro-Israel lobbyists – is involved in the effort, the sources said.
The Pentagon is leading the investigation and it remains unclear whether any additional charges would be brought in the military or civilian justice systems. Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst suspected of being the source of the WikiLeaks documents, was arrested by the military this year.
Holder was asked Monday how the United States could prosecute Assange, who is an Australian citizen. “Let me be very clear,” he replied. “It is not saber rattling.
November 29th, 2010 · Homeland Security, Immigration, National Security, Obama's Scheme, Selling Out the US, Terrorism from Within, Terrorist Attack, Terrorist Threat
Federal agents arrested an Oregon man intent on exploding a bomb and killing thousands of people at a nighttime Christmas tree lighting in Portland’s central square, authorities said Saturday. The arrest culminated a sting in which the FBI worked extensively with the man and assembled the fake bomb that he twice tried to detonate Friday night.
The capture of Mohamed Osman Mohamud is the latest indication that the government is increasingly turning to undercover operatives to infiltrate extremist cells and fight what authorities call a wave of homegrown terrorism.
Agents arrested Mohamud moments after he tried to detonate a van he thought was packed with explosives in the crowded public square Friday night, the Justice Department said. As he was taken away, Mohamud, 19, kicked agents and screamed “Allahu Akbar!” – Arabic for “God is great,” officials said. The bomb was an elaborate dud, assembled by FBI technicians.
Mohamud, a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen and former Oregon State University student, is expected to appear in federal court Monday. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Neither an attorney for Mohamud or his family could be located Saturday.
Although the FBI’s tactics of using undercover operatives have been controversial among Muslims, officials say they have successfully broken up numerous recent plots, including the attempted bombing of Metro stations in Northern Virginia and a plan to blow up a Dallas skyscraper. And it was a tip from the Muslim community that led the FBI to Mohamud, federal officials said.
Unlike other high-profile cases such as the attempted Times Square bombing in May, federal law enforcement officials said there is no evidence that a foreign terrorist group was behind the averted Portland attack. There were no indications of any U.S. collaborators, and officials emphasized that Mohamud’s device posed no real danger to the public.
November 24th, 2010 · Defense, Foreign Policy, Korean, National Security
By John Pomfret Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 10:24 AM
The United States is dispatching an aircraft carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula for joint military exercises that President Obama said would reinforce the U.S. alliance with South Korea in the wake of a North Korean artillery attack Tuesday.
The U.S. military headquarters in Seoul announced Wednesday that the USS George Washington carrier group would join South Korean naval forces west of the peninsula from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1 to conduct exercises that have been planned since July.
“This exercise is defensive in nature,” the military said in a statement. “While planned well before yesterday’s unprovoked artillery attack, it demonstrates the strength of the [South Korea]-U.S. Alliance and our commitment to regional stability through deterrence. It is also designed to improve our military interoperability.”
The announcement came after Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed in a phone call Tuesday night to hold joint military and training exercises in the coming days “to underscore the strength of our Alliance and commitment to peace and security in the region,” the White House said in a statement.
North Korea’s artillery barrage against a South Korean island, coupled with its choreographed rollout of a new nuclear program, has presented the United States with a massive strategic challenge in one of the most dangerous corners of the world.
In addition to the Japan-based George Washington and its embarked carrier wing, the participating strike group includes the guided missile cruisers USS Cowpens and USS Shiloh and the destroyers USS Stethem and USS Fitzgerald, the military said.
November 24th, 2010 · Government, Homeland Security, National Security
Federal courthouse security could be at risk, report says
By Ed O’Keefe Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010; 7:23 PM
Federal judges and court personnel could be at risk because of poor training, questionable contracts and broken security equipment used by guards protecting the nation’s federal courthouses, according to a new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Federal courthouse security is handled by the U.S. Marshals Service, which employs about 5,000 contract guards to protect more than 2,000 federal judges and 6,000 other court personnel working at 400 facilities nationwide.
But multiple district offices failed to detect mock explosive devices sent to them by agency officials in February 2009 as part of a test of local security procedures, the report said. Three unnamed federal district court chief judges at unspecified locations expressed serious concerns with security procedures, especially with how guards screen visitors and large vehicles entering courthouses. Names and locations were not published for security purposes, according to the inspector general’s office.
Courthouse security is divided into 12 districts, and a review of six districts found that security officials and judges do not meet regularly to review security procedures. Officers in three districts failed to conduct quarterly testing of contract guards to review how they screen visitors, packages and mail.
Despite concerns about physical security at courthouses, the report did not reference any specific or imminent threats against federal judges or court facilities. Federal court personnel were the target of 1,278 threats in fiscal 2008, more than double the threats received in 2003, according to an inspector general report published last year.
The new report raises concerns about the Marshals Service’s management of contracts with private security firms, noting that the agency awarded a $300 million contract to a company with a history of fraud that later filed for bankruptcy, leaving many private guards without pay or benefits.