05/01/13: CNN reports Director of National Intelligence James Clapper believes an independent review of how the government handled its investigation of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the attack is a prudent step “to ensure that nothing was missed.” Clapper spokeswoman Shawn Turner said the DNI believes all of the agencies involved in collecting and sharing information “took all the appropriate steps,” but that the Intelligence Community inspector general, a watchdog that investigates risks, vulnerabilities, and deficiencies within sixteen intelligence-related agencies and departments across the government will lead a review. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with Boston police days after the April 15 bombings. His brother Dzhokhar, also a suspect, remains in custody and has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction.
05/01/13: The Blog of Legal Times reports the Justice Department has renewed its effort to shut down a lawsuit in Washington over the scope of information a former US defense intelligence officer can publish in a memoir about service in the war in Afghanistan. DOJ lawyers said in court papers filed April 26 that the government has determined that some of the details in the book, Operation Dark Heart, written by Anthony Shaffer, are classified and cannot be publicly disclosed. “[T]here is no First Amendment right to publish classified information,” DOJ lawyer Scott Risner wrote. Shaffer’s book, DOJ said, reveals “intelligence activities, sources and methods, as well as information about military plans and the foreign activities of the United States that … could reasonably be expected to cause serious identifiable damage to our national security.”
04/28/13: The Space War blog reports President Obama on Friday promised a “vigorous investigation” into reports Syrian forces fired chemical weapons and renewed his warning that proof of their use would be a “game-changer.” Obama delivered the warning during talks at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan, as he faced rising political pressure for a military intervention in the vicious Syrian civil war. He told reporters that US authorities had “some evidence that chemical weapons have been used on the population in Syria, these are preliminary assessments, they’re based on our intelligence-gathering.” The President said Washington would pursue a “very vigorous investigation and would work with its partners towards a definitive answer on the chemical weapons issues as soon as possible.
03/28/13: The New York Times reports a CIA officer directly involved in the 2005 decision to destroy interrogation videotapes and who once ran one of the agency’s secret prisons has ascended to the top position within the CIA’s clandestine service, according to current and former intelligence officials. The officer, who has been serving in the position in an acting role for several weeks since the retirement of her direct boss, is one of a small group of candidates being considered to take over the job permanently. The decision about whether to keep the officer in the job presents a dilemma for the new CIA director, who said that he was opposed to the brutal interrogation methods used by the spy agency in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The promotion of the officer, who spent years working inside the agency’s Counterterrorist Center and once was in charge of a so-called black site, played a role in developing the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, was first reported by The Washington Post. Because the officer remains undercover, The New York Times is not disclosing her identity. The officer served as the CIA station chief in London and New York, and the branch of the agency she now leads, the National Clandestine Service, is responsible for all CIA espionage operations and covert action programs. The head of the clandestine service is one of the most coveted jobs in the CIA, and has never before been run by a woman. The destruction of dozens of CIA interrogation tapes, documenting the interrogations of Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand, was one of the most controversial episodes of the past decade. The Justice Department undertook an investigation into the matter after the destruction of the tapes was disclosed in late 2007, but no CIA officers were criminally charged.
03/26/13: Foreign Policy published an article by Phillip Carter and Deborah Pearlstein arguing we've already figured out how to win the legal war on terrorism. The Justice Department in fact has a far better record than the Defense Department in prosecuting and convicting terrorist suspects. Surveillance abroad by military and intelligence agencies, strong allied cooperation, coupled with US prosecution and incarceration -- has now been used successfully in a range of cases. This blended, postwar approach works precisely because the military plays a supporting, not a leading, role. A number of foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies are far more likely to cooperate with their American intelligence and law enforcement counterparts than they are with the US military. This was true in the Abu Ghaith case for Turkey and Jordan, two key allies in the counterterrorism effort against al Qaeda, both of which cooperated with US intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The same was true in the Harun case, in which Italian authorities gave the suspect to the United States upon assurances he would be prosecuted in civilian court -- and not transferred to Guantánamo Bay or charged before a military commission. Let's be clear: This is not a call for a law-enforcement-only approach. It is not a rejection of military force (including the power to detain) when a public case can be made that force is necessary to US national security and in keeping with our obligations under domestic and international law. The time has come for the United States to transition from its current war footing to a long-term, sustainable counterterrorism strategy
03/24/13: Lawfare has this post by Jack Goldsmith discussing a report that the CIA is expanding its role in the campaign against the Syrian regime by feeding intelligence to select rebel fighters to use against government forces. The point of the CIA aid is to stem the rise of Islamist extremists in Syria by aiding secular forces and in particular to blunt the influence of the extremist al Nusra Front, the main al-Qaeda-linked group operating in Syria. Goldsmith highlights the fact that, according to US officials, al-Nusra is deepening its ties to al-Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan. The ties to al-Qaeda’s central operations have become so significant that officials are debating whether al Nusra should now be considered its own al-Qaeda affiliate instead of an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, as it has generally been viewed within the US government. Goldsmith points out that, if the former view is taken, the authority the President has to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) would now extend, for the first time, to Syria.
03/18/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s judiciary has indicted eighteen suspects on charges of involvement in the killing of nuclear scientists. Since 2010, at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, including a manager at the Natanz enrichment facility, have been killed. Tehran has accused Israel’s Mossad, the CIA, and Britain’s MI6 of being behind the assassinations; Washington and London have denied the allegations, while Tel Aviv has not commented. Iranian state media said Sunday that authorities have issued indictments against the eighteen suspects, who will be tried in the coming months. In 2012, Iran hanged a man for the 2010 killing of a nuclear physicist.
03/15/13: The New York Times reports President Obama told an Israeli television station on Thursday that his administration believed it would take Iran “over a year or so” to develop a nuclear weapon, and he vowed that the United States would do whatever was necessary to prevent that from happening. Less than a week before his first visit as president to Israel, Mr. Obama pledged to continue diplomatic efforts, but he promised that the United States would keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran did not become a nuclear threat to its neighbors. Mr. Obama’s estimated timeline contrasts with Mr. Netanyahu’s stated belief that Israel and its Western allies are likely to have to intervene by the spring or summer, when, he says, Iran’s scientists will have enriched enough uranium to become a nuclear threat. Iran denies that its nuclear program has any military aim. Mr. Obama has rarely been so specific about how long American intelligence agencies estimate it will take Iran to build a bomb. In defining the problem as he did — when Iran could get a weapon, rather than when it could have the capability to build one — he subtly indicated that he and Mr. Netanyahu still saw the problem in very different terms.
03/15/13: The New York Times reports North Korea, a country paranoid about perceived threats from the outside world, said on Friday that it had found new foreign invaders: hackers from the United States and its allies shutting down the North’s Web sites, the country’s main tool of spreading propaganda abroad. Until now, the complaint came from the other direction, with South Korean officials suspecting that North Korea was behind a recent series of hacking attacks on South Korean and American Web sites. After North Korea’s recent threats to retaliate against United Nations sanctions, South Korea warned of possible North Korean efforts to disrupt the Internet in the South, one of the most wired countries in the world. These accusations, although denied by the opposing sides, showed how inter-Korean tensions are increasingly spreading into cyberspace. North Korea’s often strident rhetoric has escalated to a feverish new pitch in recent weeks, complete with a threat to launch a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” at the United States and South Korea after the allies started joint military drills on March 1, followed by new United Nations sanctions for the North’s Feb. 12 nuclear test.