Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How The National Security State Bites Itself In The Behind

I am not a fan of the Patriot Act or the aggressive actions by President Obama to bust leakers and spy on the US population, and so forth.  This extends to the recent "scandal" over the Department of Justice seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters, the only one of the current three scandals that I think may merit this label.  Nevertheless, a pushback is coming from certain parties that while the DOJ's move appears to have been for political revenge that the AP released its story prior to the administration publicly releasing it, even if the release came after national security issues were resolved, that in fact the underlying situation that the story dealt with was indeed a very serious national security matter that ended up getting botched by the release of the story.

Probably the most serious presentation of how this particular situation turned into a totally screwed up mess is by Walter Pincus in today's Washington Post, Pincus being arguably the dean of military-intelligence reporters in Washington, whose credibility was reinforced by his standing against the MSM's rush to support the Bush rush to war before the US went into Iraq.  In any case, I have little doubt that his presentation is accurate, and way too complicated and subtle for any of the main parties currently shouting about "scandal" right now to be able to process or figure out substantially, although to me, and probably against Pincus, who seems to be sympathetic to the government trying to crack down on leaks in at least this case, these kinds of messes are what one gets in an overly vigorous National Security State such as the US seems to have become.

The underlying situation does appear to be something much more serious than the usual tripe, and one upshot of the mess has been to damage cooperation between US, British, and Saudi intelligence regarding fighting against genuine terrorist plotting.  So, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has long plotted to make bomb attacks against the US, including against airplanes and in the US itself.  Saudi intelligence managed to get a double agent into the AQAP in Yemen who volunteered to be a suicide bomber on a plane and obtained a bomb to take out a commercial plane.  He then managed to get this to US intel, with it ending up in a US lab for inspection.  The AP story that came out was that US intel had foiled a plot to bomb an airplane, including that the bomb was in US hands, although leaving out all the details about the Saudi double agent, with AP holding off on the story until various immediate national security concerns were supposedly taken care of. 

There were two problemswith this, however.  One was that this was during the presidential campaign, and also that the CIA had planted a story that was publicized by White House Press Chief, Jay Carney, a week before the AP story to the effect that al Qaeda was under control and not a threat to Americans.  This was actually to fool the AQAP, although it was generally intepreted as being a campaign claim regarding Obama's foreign policy prowess in dealing with terrorists. 

So, when the AP story came out it appeared that rather than being a triumph of US anti-terrorism policy, it was interpreted as undercutting this political claim by Obama, and showed that Obama was lying about what was going on for political gain, a mini-scandal of the campaign.  In order to minimize this political damage, the administration then proceeded to let out further information regarding the whole situation, particularly some of the details regarding the Saudi double agent and the cooperation with the British and the Saudis.  The upshot of this was to shut down that whole operation and reportedly to damage this cooperation.

So it goes, as the old saying says, what a tangled web we weave, when first we seek to deceive.

Barkley Rosser

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