Drug Money Laundered by Two Florida Police Agencies, And Stark Corruption at All Levels of Government

Screen shot of Miami Herald's page for "License to Launder" series
Screen shot of Miami Herald’s page for “License to Launder” series

Nearly two weeks ago, the Miami Herald published a major investigative journalism series on two small Florida police agencies, which engaged in undercover money laundering operations with criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking so officers and the police departments themselves could claim millions of dollars as their own.

The series, “License to Launder: Cash, Cops & the Cartels,” has not received much media attention at all. Whether that is because the essence of the corruption was already known is unclear, however, the corruption detailed at all levels of government is staggering—from the money laundering itself to the coverup by federal investigators seemingly unwilling to investigate anyone in the task force who committed crimes.

It is a stark example of how the War on Drugs is more about how police departments and officers can profit than stopping the flow of drug money. Indeed, officers in this case needed money to keep flowing in order to continue living as high rollers.

Bal Harbour is a small community of around 2,500 people with “oceanfront condominiums” and “elegant boutiques.” It had one reported violent crime in 2012 – an aggravated assault. But, beginning in 2010, the department partnered with the police department in Glades County, one of the poorest counties in Florida.

The police agencies formed the Tri-County Task Force, a state task force, to conduct undercover operations. They took place all over the United States but it would be difficult to believe they were carried out by officers interested in bringing drug traffickers to justice.

The task force made no arrests and engaged in no effort to have the Florida State’s Attorney prosecute any cases. What the officers wanted was money, plain and simple, and they took advantage of the federal government’s Equitable Sharing program to claim drug cash as their own.

When it comes to the War on Drugs, agencies operate under the presumption that undercover units have to typically “seize far more money from criminal groups than what a task force launders and returns to the streets.” That is why one of the most shocking details is that the task force “passed tips that led to federal agents seizing nearly $30 million.” Yet, during the same period, the task force laundered $50 million.

Based on “confidential records of the undercover investigation” and “thousands of records including cash pickup reports, emails, DEA reports, bank statements, and wire transfers for millions of dollars,” the Miami Herald uncovered the following:

—The Justice Department Officer of Inspector General found the task force had laundered over $56 million dollars “without adequate written policies or procedures, prosecutorial oversight, or audits of the undercover bank accounts.” The amount, however, was actually closer to $83 million.

—Officers made cash deposits at a SunTrust Bank about a block from the Bal Harbour police station, which totaled $28 million. None of the deposits appear in records created by the police.

—At least 30 times, police deposited funds into banks and storefront businesses to “conceal drug cash for criminal groups,” but they never documented their actions. The total amount of money distributed was around $20 million. (more…)

In FBI Sting, Informants Impersonated Islamic State Fighters to Convince Man to Make Propaganda Videos

Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi
Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi (Photo from Cuyahoga County, Ohio) 

A thirty-eight year-old Ohio man was targeted in an FBI sting operation and arrested on June 19 on charges of attempting to “provide material support” to the Islamic State, possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, and trafficking marijuana.

The complaint filed against Amir Said Abdul Rahman Al-Ghazi alleges he took “substantial steps toward creating ISIL [Islamic State] propaganda videos.” He allegedly communicated with two individuals he believed to be members of the Islamic state and attempted to purchase an AK-47 assault rifle. He also allegedly expressed a desire to commit terrorism attacks in the United States.

US Attorney Steven Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio declared, “Today’s charges are a stark reminder that the radical and dangerous philosophies espoused by groups such as [the Islamic State] can be spread in our community through computers and social media.”

Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division stated, “It is clear that no area is immune from the influence of [the Islamic State] and its recruitment machine. We hope this arrest will serve as a strong message to others who may consider providing support to terrorists.”

However, Al-Ghazi “first came to the attention of the Cleveland FBI in December 2012, according to Vicki Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Cleveland FBI.” He was under surveillance apparently for about a year and a half until he allegedly pledged “his support to the Islamic State on Facebook.”

Al-Ghazi, who changed his name from Robert McCollum earlier this year, engaged in no direct action with any terrorist group prior to the FBI’s decision to target him. It does not appear he had the resources and capabilities to launch any kind of an attack. The only weapon he possibly possessed prior to government involvement was a pistol. He had not formulated a plan for an attack before the government became involved in his life.

Three paid informants were responsible for initiating plans and pushing him to commit any alleged criminal actions. They collectively acted to remove barriers and obstacles, which, if the FBI had not been involved, may have discouraged and prevented Al-Ghazi from attempting to provide alleged support to terrorism.

FBI’s Paid Informant Has “Extensive Criminal History”

One of the “confidential human sources” (CHS #1), according to an affidavit [PDF] by Special Agent Ryan Presley, is a “paid confidential informant,” who has worked with the FBI for three years. Al-Ghazi engaged with CHS #1 as early as August 2014.

A second “confidential human source” (CHS #2) is a “paid confidential informant,” who has also worked with the FBI for three years. CHS #2 has an “extensive criminal history” that includes “receiving stolen property, domestic violence, assault/kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, weapons under a disability, and fraud-related offenses that spans several years.” CHS #2 received “sentencing benefits/avoided other agency inquiries as the result of actions” of Presley and other Cleveland FBI agents. Al-Ghazi engaged with CHS #2 as early as February 2015.

Al-Ghazi communicated with another “paid confidential informant,” CHS #3, on April 13. Presley was not initially aware that this communication had been ongoing for nearly a year on Twitter. CHS #3 “identified himself/herself as being male, having resided in the United States and United Kingdom, and being an ISIL soldier located in Mosul, Iraq.” (Given this informant communicated with Al-Ghazi for about a year, it is unclear in the affidavit when CHS #3 presented his or herself as an “ISIL soldier.”)

On May 1, CHS #3, who Al-Ghazi believed was an Islamic State fighter in Mosul, “initiated the idea of Al-Ghazi producing ISIL videos in the English language to appeal to those located in the West.” Al-Ghazi allegedly responded that he was interested in documenting the “rise of jihad” in America and then he would “implement chaos to facilitate a way for jihad.” CHS #3 promised him that after his videos were complete they would be uploaded to the Islamic State’s “media arm.”

One of the FBI’s Paid Informants Takes on an Entirely “New Persona”

By June 14, the FBI apparently decided it would be more efficient to have another fake Islamic fighter talking to Al-Ghazi. CHS #1 created an entirely “new persona” and told Al-Ghazi he or she was a member of the Islamic State, who was located in the Middle East. CHS #1 informed Al-Ghazi that as a “member of ISIL” he would have to “assist with the group’s social media efforts” and claimed to be an administrator for an Islamic State-affiliated website. This was enticing to Al-Ghazi. (more…)

FBI Arrests New York College Student for Allegedly Conspiring to Provide Support to Islamic State

A twenty year-old college student in New York was arrested and charged with knowingly “conspiring to provide material support and resources” to the self-declared Islamic State. He was arrested, along with an alleged co-conspirator early in the morning on June 13, after law enforcement vehicles realized an undercover operation was botched because their targets recognized government agents were tailing them.

Munther Omar Saleh is a US citizen, who was living in Queens, New York. Saleh was enrolled in a college that “specializes” in aeronautics.

Conspicuously, neither the FBI, Justice Department nor the New York Police Department (if they were involved) has put out a press release announcing how pleased they are that agents were able to stop someone who was allegedly plotting a terrorism attack. Nor was a release with basic details of the case against Saleh published.

NBC News reported the FBI has accused Saleh of “plotting to carry out some kind of unspecified terror-related attack in New York.” He allegedly had two co-conspirators, including a 17 year-old who was arrested along with Saleh.

Like previous arrested individuals accused of providing material support to the Islamic State, there was no known plan for an attack formulated by Saleh. There certainly was no plan before a “confidential human source” or informant initiated the first communications with Saleh on May 7.

It also does not appear “judicially authorized” surveillance ever uncovered any evidence that Saleh was being directed by any members of the Islamic State. He did not obtain or create any explosives to carry out an attack.

What threat, if any, did Saleh ever pose?

According to an affidavit signed by FBI Special Agent Christopher J. Buscaglia [PDF], in 2014 and 2015, Saleh sent messages on Twitter that indicated support for the Islamic State fighters. He tweeted, “i fear AQ could be getting too moderate.” He sent tweets in January and February expressing “support for the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris, France; the immolation of Jordanian Air Force pilot Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh by ISIL; the beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto by ISIL; and the establishment of an ISIL military presence and Sharia law in New York City.”

As repugnant as all of those messages happen to be, those messages still fall into the realm of speech that should be protected by the First Amendment. None of them indicate that Saleh is clearly threatening a terrorist attack.

The affidavit states, on March 9, Saleh emailed himself propaganda produced by an organization, Ghuraba Media Foundation, which produces content intended to support the Islamic State and the terrorist group’s mission. In May, he tweeted his support for those who committed the attack in Garland, Texas, against the “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest. And, in February, his messages on Twitter suggested he has been translating videos published by the Islamic State from Arabic into English.

Again, though entirely lawful, all of this is despicable and repulsive conduct. But is this the conduct of a homegrown terrorist, someone on the path to carrying out an attack?

On March 22, a Port Authority police officer saw Saleh walking with a lantern as he approached the George Washington Bridge on the Fort Lee, New Jersey side. Saleh apparently wanted a ride across the bridge. The officer directed him to a bus terminal. Saleh did not take a bus.

Saleh was on the George Washington Bridge a day later. He looked around “repeatedly while walking along the bridge.” The Port Authority police officer had him come to the Port Authority office in Fort Lee to answer some questions.

Law enforcement personnel from the Joint Terrorism Task Force questioned Saleh about why he was going to New Jersey, what he thought of the Islamic State, and whether he knew anyone who talked about traveling to Syria. Saleh allegedly said he “was not sure” about the Islamic State and heard “they were murdering children.” He claimed to disapprove of the Islamic State and said he “did not condone violence.” (more…)

Déjà vu on Interrogation “Reform”: McCain/Feinstein Amendment Won’t Stop Torture

From Appendix M

“There’s truth that lives and truth that dies…” – Leonard Cohen

In a bizarre mixture of the sincere and the insincere, an amendment proposed by a bipartisan group of senators to the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is being touted as all but ending torture by the U.S. — if it passes.

According to an article in The Intercept, “Human rights and transparency organizations are applauding the effort.” But is there really anything here to celebrate?

If you read The Intercept article all the way to the end, there’s mention that a group of medical experts found the Army Field Manual “permits techniques that are ‘recognized under international law as forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.’” So why is there applause?

Mark Fallon, the former deputy commander of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo, and currently Chair of the Research Committee of President Obama’s inter-departmental High-value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), told Jason Leopold at Vice News the amendment “mandates and advocates the use of science and evidence-based research so we can be more effective during interrogations.” Furthermore, there would be “a review of the Army Field Manual [AFM] to ensure we are only using best and lawful techniques” during interrogation.

Constitutional scholar David Cole writes at the Just Security website that he supports the amendment, which is jointly sponsored by Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Reed and Susan Collins. Cole adds that others support it, too, including “David Keene, former President of the National Rifle Association and editorial page editor of the Washington Times…”

Newsweek posted an article by Rupert Stone this week, titled “Beyond Torture: The New Science of Interrogating Terrorists,” which includes a long discussion of the importance of putting interrogation on a science-centered base.

Stone’s article goes into more detail than others about problems concerning “the current version of the Army Field Manual [which] still offers a back door to some of the brutal tactics authorized after 9/11.” Stone is of course talking about Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, which allows theoretically indefinitely extended amounts of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation upon so-called “unlawful enemy combatants.” The interrogation methods of Appendix M are so severe, they require at times physician and/or psychologist in attendance to implement (shades of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program!).

But problems with the Army Field Manual do not start or end with Appendix M. The main section of the manual includes coercive methods of interrogation, including psychological techniques to induce fear, to tear down the ego and self-esteem of prisoners, to tear down their resistance to interrogation by inducing “hopelessness and helplessness,” and allowing use of drugs on prisoners, so long as the drugs don’t cause “lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage.”

But Fallon and others, like veteran interrogator and Col. (ret.) Steven Kleinman, believe that the review mandated by the amendment will take care of the problems sometime in the future. Meanwhile, they urge passage of the amendment now. Kleinman told Newsweek, “Passing strongly worded legislation that would stand as a bulwark against torture… is the single most important step we must take.” (Both Fallon and Kleinman have impeccable anti-torture credentials.)

According to The Hill, this view is echoed by Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First, who said of the senators’ amendment, “This is how a strong democracy deals with its mistakes — we examine what we did, and take the necessary steps to make it right.”

Meanwhile, in my email box, I have a plea from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. The mailing promises the “introduced legislation… could permanently end CIA torture.” It asks I call my senators now, even as a group of seven human rights and civil liberties organizations, have released a statement, including ACLU and Physicians for Human Rights, supporting the amendment.

The entire campaign around the whole Feinstein-McCain amendment has an unreal quality. It arose all of a sudden. There’s no real period of public discussion about it. The interpretation of the amendment itself is via sanitized sources we are supposed to trust. It’s presented as a slam dunk issue for those who oppose torture. You’d have to be an ingrate to oppose such a good thing.

“Pick up my guitar and play, just like yesterday”

Where have I heard this all before? When the current Army Field Manual was released in September 2006, there was the same near-universal acclaim, the same pious intonations by human rights groups, the same spate of articles in the mainstream press. But nine years later — though many news outlets still downplay or simply eliminate reference to it — we know the 2006 version of the Army Field Manual contained forms of ill-treatment that the UN, reviewing torture policies by the United States, recently condemned.

I analyzed the PR campaign to sell the current version of the Army Field Manual in an article at Alternet in 2009. I pointed out how when the Army Field Manual was released in 2006, we had the same gushing praise and platitudes from the press.

The Washington Post bragged that the then-new Army Field Manual “repudiated the harsh interrogation tactics adopted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

Human rights groups chimed in. As reported by the Post, Tom Malinowski, then Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (but previously a Senior Director of the Clinton White House National Security Council), stated, “This is the Pentagon coming full circle… This is very strong guidance.”

Recently, Malinowski was tapped by the Obama administration to answer the United Nations in their questions about ill-treatment in Appendix M. In 2007, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he praised the AFM for using using “professional, humane interrogation methods.”

Over and over I read how the Army Field Manual had “safeguards,” “oversight,” was a big “step-forward.” Amnesty International’s advocacy director called the AFM “an important return to the rule of law…. It is an important public statement.”

But it was no such thing.

Similar misrepresentations take place today. In Cole’s piece at Just Security, for instance, he claims that the Office of Legal Counsel memos authorizing torture memos, “written between 2002 and 2007, have all been rescinded and rejected.”

But that’s not true. One of them was not, and tellingly, it was the one dealing with the Army Field Manual and Appendix M.

“You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is”

Let’s examine the text of the Feinstein-McCain amendment (download PDF) and see if the promises of its supporters holds any water.

“An individual… shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3″

Okay. We see that the existing Army Field Manual, including use of techniques and “approaches” such as “Fear Up,” “Futility,” “Ego Down”, “False Flag” and “Separation” will continue to be the law of the land. The “Separation” or Appendix M approach is really an omnibus set of abusive techniques that includes use of solitary confinement, sleep and sensory deprivation, and environmental or dietary manipulation.

Screenshot 2015-06-13 10.05.52
I asked via FOIA for DoD to produce examples of requests to use Appendix M, as is described by the Army Field Manual. DoD said it could not find any documents pertaining to that. So much for transparency and safeguards.

For 14 months I have had an outstanding FOIA requesting materials related to review of Appendix M by the Office of Secretary of Defense. I asked because the Army Field Manual itself states, “The Office of the Secretary of Defense will review these activities periodically in accordance with DOD Directive 3115.09.” That FOIA is still pending. But if the partisans of the Feinstein-McCain amendment believe that DoD or the government will do any better in producing oversight material upon request to the public or press, I have a fine bridge in Brooklyn to sell them.

The Feinstein-McCain amendment states that “a thorough review” of the AFM is to be conducted at least one year after the enactment of the Authorization Act, and then every subsequent three years “to ensure that Army Field Manual 2-22.3 complies with the legal obligations of the United States and reflects current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of threat of force.”

The “thorough review” is to be conducted by “the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Attorney General, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of National Intelligence.” In other words, the Executive Branch is to have total control over assessments of compliance of Army Field Manual practice with so-called “evidence-based, best practices for interrogation.” What that really means is that there will be no “checks and balances” oversight here.

The model for such review would be DoD’s 2009 Review of Department Compliance with President’s Executive Order on Detainee Conditions of Confinement (PDF), which produced a wildly unrealistic picture of Guantanamo as consistent with Geneva norms of humane treatment. At the time there were continuing hunger strikes, as prisoners were savagely beaten by teams of guards. By June 2009, yet another detainee was found dead in a cell in the GTMO Behavioral Health Unit, where prisoners were observed every three minutes, supposedly dead by his own hand, having been driven insane by what the autopsy report called “conditions of confinement.”

The highly-regarded researcher of the Guantanamo camp, Andy Worthington, called the 2009 review “a bitter joke.” There’s no reason not to expect the same from the Feinstein-McCain Amendment’s proposed AFM reviews.

Interestingly, however, it’s worth noting that the the Central Intelligence Agency appears to be frozen out of the proposed review process.

“People writing songs that voices never share”

“Not less than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the interagency body established… shall submit to the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, and other appropriate officials [could this be the CIA?] a report on current, evidence-based, best practices for interrogation that are designed to elicit reliable and voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force…. The report required… may include recommendations for revisions to Army Field Manual 2-22.3 based on the body of research commissioned by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.”

While HIG experts like Fallon and Kleinman may take umbrage in such verbiage — indeed, it’s flattering to see your own research touted as something of governmental importance — there is nothing mandated in this language, at least as regards any updating or change in techniques or approaches in the Army Field Manual.

“The report… may include recommendations,” and nothing is said about any recommendations being enforced. Indeed, we already have public members of the HIG on record as being against some of the abuse in the Army Field Manual, and still nothing changes.

One of those associated, Col. Kleinman, was on record as recently as 2011 as stating in an article, “The Obama Administration has made a good-faith attempt to bring standards to American interrogation practices by issuing an Executive Order that extended the relevant U.S. Army Field Manual’s directives to all government-wide interrogation efforts.” That “good-faith attempt” included making via Executive Order Appendix M the law of the land.

Kleinman is on-record as criticizing the current AFM as being unscientific. He wrote a paper that supposedly elaborates on that with another current HIG official, psychologist Susan Brandon, and two other researchers. But according to Stone’s Newsweek article, the 2010 review of AFM techniques was not publicly released for fear it “could have jeopardized the HIG’s relationship with the military.” If releasing a critical article is too dicey for critics of DoD’s Army Field Manual, what can one expect from any future reviews led by the Secretary of Defense?

Meanwhile, Brandon is under a cloud of controversy recently for her participation in activities with the American Psychological Association in regards to allegedly facilitating torture.

Brandon helped organize a workshop with the APA, CIA and Rand Corporation back in 2003 that looked at, among other things, “what pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior,” and “sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors.” One of her workshop discussion questions asked, “How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?”

In 2005, Brandon was an “observer” at an APA meeting that met to consider ongoing use of psychologists in national security investigations. She reportedly helped write the part of the report from the meeting that spoke to issues bearing on national security research, just the sort of research, it seems, that the HIG is either doing or proposing when it comes to interrogations. One of those research projects on “false confessions,” as recently reported at Bloomberg, left some participants “angry,” and one woman who “dissolves into tears.”

Hence, there are ethical questions about the kinds of research being done, what can be accomplished in such research, and the fact that even if some kind of “evidence-based” interrogation protocols that don’t involve “force” are suggested by research and then DoD-led review, there’s no mandate or promise in the new legislation that it will ever be implemented.

Indeed, there is nothing in the new legislation that calls for the removal of Appendix M.

“Into the night, shadows fall”

A most interesting section of the amendment, unique in its hypocrisy and unstated cover for torture, concerns the FBI and other Federal law enforcement agencies:

“Nothing in this subsection shall preclude an officer, employee, or other agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or other Federal law enforcement agency from continuing to use authorized, non-coercive techniques of interrogation that are designed to elicit voluntary statements and do not involve the use of force, threats, or promises.”

Anyone familiar with the work of the FBI, or other Federal agencies will find this presentation of “non-coercive” agents never threatening suspects something of a fairy tale.

A few years ago, I reported the case of Petty Officer Daniel King, who the Naval Criminal Investigative Service coerced into a false confession of treason, and with the assistance of a Navy psychologist, drove to such a degree of desperation he tried to kill himself. (See here and here.)

But the FBI probably has a lot more charges of abuse than most other Federal law enforcement agencies. None of these charges have been bigger than those surrounding the massive FBI investigation into the July 2010 World Cup bombings in Kampala, Uganda.

The FBI interrogated a number of prisoners from Kenya and other East African countries who were renditioned to Uganda. It was the largest foreign FBI investigation since the USS Cole attack in 2000. A 2011 report by Ian Cobain at The Guardian detailed accusations of abuse by FBI agents involved in the investigation.

A more recent case of FBI malfeasance and complicity in torture is the case of Yonas Fikre, a 36-year-old Eritrean-born American who charges the FBI had pressured him to collaborate with them, and when placing him on a no-fly list failed, had him “arrested, interrogated and tortured for 106 days in the United Arab Emirates,” according to a report in The Guardian.

The issue of FBI torture deserves a lot more public examination, and in a subsequent article I plan to go into much more detail on the World Cup bombing case.

“Always something happening and nothing going on”

The issue of torture by proxy or liaison-country cover is also important, and was a major factor in the scandal surrounding extraordinary rendition, where CIA and DoD prisoners were turned over to U.S.-friendly intelligence agencies in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and other nations, where they were terribly tortured.

More recently, there are similar charges surrounding the World Cup bombing case, but better reported in the U.S. was Jeremy Scahill’s 2011 report at The Nation concerning CIA-run black sites in Somalia. Ostensibly under the control of Somalia’s National Security Agency, the sites were used to train Somali intelligence agents, while CIA interrogators are given direct access to prisoners held in the Somali secret detention sites.

In fact, as a recent FOIA release of a 1963 CIA interrogation manual shows, use of “liaison” or “host’ countries as cover for torture is very old practice, honed during the Cold War.

It is a fact that the CIA chief of interrogations in the early years of its post-9/11 rendition and torture program was previously known (and supposedly chastised) for using a 1983 torture instruction manual — “Human Resource Exploitation” — the U.S. had distributed to Latin American police and intelligence forces for the purposes of instruction in torture. Nothing could better illustrate how the use of proxy or “host” countries for torture is on a continuum with the worst of the CIA’s torture program.

But it is not the CIA or FBI alone who act this way. During the U.S.-instigated Iraq War, the Department of Defense notoriously issued a “Fragmentary Order” (FRAGO 242) that had U.S. armed forces turn prisoners over to Iraq security forces, even though they knew they would be tortured. In many cases, the Iraq security forces themselves had been trained by the U.S.

Nothing in the Feinstein-McCain amendment speaks to this long-practiced method of torture by proxy used by U.S. intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies.

“Everybody knows the deal is rotten”

It is highly unlikely that most Americans will hear anything negative about the Feinstein-McCain Amendment, except perhaps from right-wing types who lust for the good old days of CIA’s “enhanced” torture brutality. But for the record, this amendment does nothing to stop torture.

Despite all the caveats and evidence I’ve gathered here, the truth is almost none of it will reach the ears or eyes of American citizens. But then, only the simulacrum of a reasonable debate on this policy is expected. The Establishment of respectable citizens, who make up human rights organizations and government-academic merry-go-round that employs them, has already spoken. The consensus has already been drawn.

But that doesn’t mean the amendment is worth a damn. While no one is held accountable for disgusting and barbaric forms of torture, from driving people insane with music and bright lights, to holding them in solitary for years, to waterboarding or water immersion, to injecting blood thinner drugs into them so they can be forced to maintain body positions for hours on end, and much more worse (“rectal feedings”? no, anal rape)… while no one is held accountable for this, an anemic and mostly window-dressing reform is dressed up as something significant and sold by hucksters. Backing them are those sincerely anti-torture individuals and groups who still trust the usual authorities to do the right thing.

But none of that can hide what this amendment is: fraud, trickery, deception, the most meretricious sort of sham. The fact that some of those supporting the amendment are sincere and good individuals doesn’t change a thing.

Whistleblowers Testify on High Risk of Retaliation They Face for Going to Congress

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine
Lt. Col. Jason Amerine

United States government whistleblowers, who have gone to Congress in the past, have had a hugely positive impact. However, often government employees, who blow the whistle on fraud, waste, abuse and other examples of wrongdoing to members of Congress, face great risk to their livelihoods.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing where whistleblowers testified about retaliation they have experienced.

An Army special forces officer, Jason Amerine, testified, “After I made protected disclosures to Congress, the Army suspended my [security] clearance, removed me from my job, launched a criminal investigation and deleted my retirement orders with a view to court martial me after I exercised that Constitutional right.”

In 2013, Amerine worked in an office tasked with freeing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has being held hostage by the Taliban. His office saw the dysfunction in the process of trying to rescue hostages and pursued an option that would have involved swapping a warlord and ally of President Hamid Karzai, Haji Bashir Noorzai, for seven American hostages, including Bergdahl.

According to Amerine, when the Taliban was at the table negotiating, the State Department said it would have to go with a swap between Bergdahl and the five Taliban.

Amerine claims that there was also “a great deal of evidence” that the Defense Department and FBI were implicated in an “illegal or questionable ransom” for Bergdahl. When he turned to Representative Duncan Hunter’s office, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, he eventually was put under criminal investigation.

Hunter setup a meeting between his office and the FBI. During the meeting, the FBI “formally complained to the Army that information” Amerine was “sharing with Rep. Hunter was classified. It was not.” Hunter was also told that the FBI had respect for Amerine’s work but they had to put him in his place.

Senior Special Agent Taylor Johnson of the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Investigations testified about blowing the whistle on corruption surrounding an EB-5 project. (EB-5 is a program that allows foreign nationals to obtain green cards if they make investments of money in the US.)

Johnson said she uncovered evidence of major fraud, money laundering, bank and wire fraud, as well as “ties to organized crime and high ranking officials and politicians, who received large campaign contributions that appeared” to have helped facilitate the EB-5 project.

She reported what she was uncovering through proper channels. Outside agencies and high-ranking officials complained, and the investigation was shut down after a “congressional complaint” was received.

Soon after, Johnson recalled, “I was escorted by three supervisors from my desk and out of my permanent duty station. I was not permitted to access my case file or personal items. I was alienated from my friends and colleagues, who were told by management to steer clear of me since I was facing criminal charges. I was removed from my permanent duty station and initially assigned to an office over 50 miles from my home and family,” a US code violation.

“I almost lost my youngest child, when an adoption social worker tried to verify employment and was told I had been terminated by the agency for a criminal offense,” Johnson further testified.

Jose Rafael Ducos, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) chief officer, testified about being retaliated against for reporting overtime pay abuses and formally challenging his immediate supervisors’ conduct. He claimed he was discriminated against because he is Hispanic.

For the past three years, he described workplace harassment and intimidation by individuals in CBP. He involved Sen. Ron Johnson, who sent a letter to Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson on March 17, 2015, but he continues to be isolated and no longer is assigned to any permanent office.

“In my experience, congressional disclosures spark the ugliest retaliation,” Tom Devine, the legal director of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) testified.

Devine suggested this is because Congress can be a “magnet for public attention” that “can act both to change the balance of resources and the rules of the game.” A “direct linear relationship” exists between “the threat posed by a whistleblower and the severity of retaliation.” In fact, FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley once suggested that the FBI “viewed Congress with as much and sometimes more hostility” than “enemy nations.”

Devine warned the committee that agencies are now relying on “creative harassment tactics” since the passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in 2012.

“Instead of just firing someone,” agencies put whistleblowers “under criminal investigation but give them the choice of either resigning or facing a prosecutive referral,” Devine explained. It is “very attractive” and “much easier” for them than litigation. They do not have to “prepare formal charges.” All an agency needs is a “good investigative lawyer.” The worst that can happen is the agency has to close a case. But the next month the agency can open another case against that whistleblower under a “new pretext.”

Most alarming is the “sensitive jobs loophole” President Barack Obama’s administration is creating. Devine argued the government is on the “verge of replacing the rule of law with a national security spoils system.” (more…)

US Government Notifies American Muslims, Who Refused to Be FBI Informants, of Removal from No Fly List

The United States government sent four American Muslim men letters notifying them that they had been removed from the No Fly List. The men had no criminal records when they were put on the list and claim that they were put on the watch list in retaliation for not becoming FBI informants.

The notification came days before a major hearing in New York City on the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by the four men—Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari, and Awais Sajjad.

“I have no words. This is very big news for me,” Sajjad declared in a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the organizations representing them.

“I hope next month I will travel to visit my grandmother in Pakistan. I miss my grandmother who is very sick and over 90 years old now. She raised me after my mother’s death.”

Sajjad has accused FBI agents of subjecting him to ““extensive interrogation, including a polygraph test, after which he was asked to work as an informant for the FBI.” And, his grandmother has been very sick since February 2012 but his placement on the No Fly List has kept him from traveling to see her.

Another plaintiff, Jameel Algibhah, stated, “They have done a lot of damage to me and to my life. They messed up my life. I haven’t seen my family in a long time. My youngest daughter doesn’t even know me. I want to continue this lawsuit.”

Algibhah declined a “request from FBI agents to attend certain mosques, to act ‘extremist,’ and to participate in online Islamic forums and report back to the FBI agents,” according to the filed lawsuit.

“After Mr. Algibhah learned that he was on the No Fly List, the same FBI agents again visited him, telling him that only they could remove his name from the No Fly List if he agreed to act as an informant.” He refused to become an informant, and, as a result, has not been able to visit his wife and three daughters in Yemen since 2009.

The Center for Constitutional Rights claims the men have lost their jobs, faced stigmas in their communities and “suffered severe financial and emotional distress.”

While the letters were clearly intended to convince the men to drop their lawsuit and help the government win dismissal, lawyers for the men will continue to seek redress for their placement on the No Fly List. (more…)

New Questions About Conflict-of-Interest Throw Doubt on APA’s “Independent Review” of CIA Links

CIA denies records responsive to request on APA-CIA-RAND meeting

A report by psychologists and human rights workers released at the end of April charged officials of the American Psychological Association with collaborating with Bush administration officials, including members of the CIA, in furthering the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” torture program. The report, titled “All the President’s Psychologists,” drew upon emails from a deceased RAND Corporation researcher, Scott Gerwehr, who evidently worked in some capacity with the CIA.

“The APA’s complicity in the CIA torture program, by allowing psychologists to administer and calibrate permitted harm, undermines the fundamental ethical standards of the profession,” the report, which was published by The New York Times, said.

APA countered these charges, which also were raised by New York Times journalist James Risen last year, by engaging “David Hoffman of the law firm Sidley Austin to conduct an independent review of whether there is any factual support for the assertion that APA engaged in activity that would constitute collusion with the Bush administration to promote, support or facilitate the use of ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques by the United States in the war on terror,” according to a statement by the psychologist organization last November.

But this “independent review” into links between APA and the CIA torture program was compromised, according to my own research, by links between its leader, David H. Hoffman, and former members of the CIA, including former director George Tenet, who headed the Agency at the time it constructed and implemented its post-9/11 torture program.

This article will demonstrate that Hoffman and his law firm also have professional links to a former chairman of the think-tank RAND Corporation, Newton Minow. RAND played a key role in the controversies surrounding APA and torture, as discussed below. It is the contention of this article that together with the revelations concerning Hoffman’s ties to former CIA figures, including Tenet, and now links to a key RAND figure, that the potential for conflicts-of-interest can not be ignored.

RAND’s History

According to RAND’s website, its organization is nonprofit and “nonpartisan…. independent of political and commercial pressures.” The Center for Media and Democracy’s Sourcewatch website reports that “one-half of RAND’s research involves national security issues.” RAND reports that roughly five percent of its work is classified. Besides national security issues, RAND has long produced analyses concerning health care, education, and other topics.

RAND was active in the counter-terror/counterinsurgency prosecution of the Vietnam War. They offered expertise to CIA advisers working on the interrogation-torture-assassination program known as Project Phoenix. Such collaboration is mentioned in a 2009 RAND history of Phoenix. This study has nothing to say of Phoenix’s history of torture, and barely even mentions the use of interrogation, while trying to refute charges of assassination by Phoenix teams. According to RAND’s analysis, “decisionmakers would be wise to consider how Phoenix-style approaches might serve to pry open Taliban and Al-Qaeda black boxes.” [pg. 24])

Douglas Valentine in his book, The Phoenix Project, describes how top CIA Phoenix official, Robert “Blowtorch” Komer, left the Agency to work for RAND in 1970.

Perhaps most famously, RAND Corporation was the source of the famous Pentagon Papers, as RAND analysts, including Daniel Ellsberg, had been involved in collecting the papers that made up the famous secret history of U.S. policy in Vietnam. Interestingly, it was Minow, as then-appointed chair of RAND’s Board of Trustees who led the damage control effort there after the Ellsberg leak.

Most recently, RAND has been active in consulting on counterinsurgency tactics in the post-9/11 “war on terror.”

The Role of RAND Corporation in CIA’s Torture Scandal

While charges of APA collaboration with both CIA and the Department of Defense on interrogation policies, including use of torture, go back some years now, the issue took on greater urgency after New York Times journalist James Risen revealed details of such collaboration in his book Pay Any Price.

Risen’s new information was based on a collection of emails he obtained that belonged to a deceased RAND Corporation researcher, Scott Gerwehr. The emails proved Gerwehr worked closely with CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard. Hubbard was the head of CIA’s Operational Assessment Division, and from 2005-09 was a contractor with Mitchell-Jessen and Associates, a company linked by Senate investigators to use of torture.

A key instance of the alleged collaboration between APA and CIA was the joint sponsorship of a group of workshops on “The Science of Deception,” held at RAND’s Arlington, Virginia offices on July 17-18, 2003. As I reported back in May 2007, one of the workshops included “scenarios” for discussion that included “pharmacological agents… known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior, and the use of “sensory overloads” to “overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors.”

Journalist Katherine Eban reported much the same about the workshop later that year in a seminal article for Vanity Fair, which exposed the fact CIA psychologists James Bruce Mitchell and Jessen had been present at the event.

The APA-CIA-RAND joint workshops were organized by RAND’s Gerwehr, CIA’s Hubbard, and APA’s then “senior scientist” Susan Brandon, and APA’s Director of Science Policy, Geoff Mumford. In 2010, I reported that APA’s online linkage to the offensive “scenarios” had been scrubbed from APA’s website.

Someone doesn’t want the full story on this event to be known. As recently as November 2011, in a FOIA response to this author, the CIA claimed it could find no records pertaining to the 2003 APA-CIA-RAND meeting or workshops. (See PDF of response.) Risen and his collaborators on the Gerwehr-APA story also have failed to release all the information they have in their possession regarding the same event.

Similarly, in response to a FOIA I filed, the FBI could find no responsive documents regarding documents supposedly turned over to it by one of the authors of the “President’s Psychologists” report,  Nathaniel Raymond. Raymond told me via email, “I directed the FBI and Durham in fall of 2010 during an in person meeting at DoJ HQ to where and how to obtain the [Gerwehr] emails. Durham and the FBI independently obtained the emails in the spring of 2011 based on the information I provided in 2010…. Any requests for access to the additional 600+ emails used in our analysis should be directed to [James Risen].” At the FBI’s request, on May 6, 2015 I provided more information to assist the FBI in their records search. The FOIA request is still active.

Campaign Contributions

The critics who have opposed APA, or at least those who wrote the “President’s Psychologists” report, which highlighted charges of APA complicity with intelligence agencies in the furtherance of the CIA’s torture program, have publicly ignored charges that the APA-initiated “independent investigation” had serious conflict-of-interest problems due to Hoffman’s relationships with Tenet and also Tenet’s CIA Special Counsel from 1998-2000, Kenneth J. Levit.

(The use of “investigation” rather than “review” is a preference of APA’s critics, and has been taken up by most of the press. It is my contention that the “review” barely, if at all, deserves the nomenclature of an “investigation.” The word “investigate” or “investigation” never appears in the APA’s “Board of Directors Resolution Regarding Independent Review.” Hoffman himself, however, has used the term, as will be seen below.)

The “President’s Psychologists” report never mentions or raises any questions about the obscure association between Hoffman and Tenet and Levit, nor do they seem to have investigated any such associations on their own.

The mainstream press fares no better. Articles that mention the Hoffman “investigation,” including by James Risen at the New York Times and Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!, fail to mention Hoffman’s link to CIA figures. One exception to this coverage was James Bradshaw at the National Psychologist who noted Hoffman’s uncovered links to key CIA personnel.

In an email exchange with this author last December, David Hoffman refused to elaborate on the nature or his relationship with both Tenet and Levit in recent years. His known professional relationship goes back to Hoffmann’s work in Sen. David Boren’s office in the early 1990s, when Boren was chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Tenet was the SSCI’s Staff Director. Levit also worked in Boren’s office at that time.

Recently I discovered that Levit gave over $1,700 to Hoffman’s abortive Senate campaign in 2010, a fact Hoffman had not revealed. I’ve asked Hoffman whether he knew about Levit’s contributions, but as of press time he has not responded on that issue. I will update this post with Hoffman’s response if or when I receive it. Meanwhile, Hoffman’s response to other issues raised here is discussed below.

Meanwhile, discussion of the role of RAND Corporation in the whole scandal is either muted or totally ignored. In The Intercept’s October 2014 story about the APA controversy, Gerwehr’s employment by RAND is never mentioned. He is only referred to as a “behavioral science researcher.” Gerwehr’s work on counterterrorism and urban combat is never mentioned. The author of the story, Cora Currier, also never mentions the 2003 joint APA-CIA-RAND workshop described above, even though it is a key part of the narrative of the entire scandal, as reported by Risen, Eban, and others.

Minow’s Links to RAND, Donald Rumsfeld, and David Hoffman

The most intriguing new information regarding the APA-CIA scandal concerns the fact that one of a handful of senior counsels in the Chicago office of Sidley Austin where David Hoffman works is Newton Minow. According to Sidley Austin’s website, Minow was “a partner with the firm from 1965-1991.” For much of that time, and beyond, he was also a member of the Board of Trustees for RAND Corporation, and was Chair of the Board in the early 1970s.

Minow is not only the former chairman of RAND Corporation, he is an incredibly well-linked member of the political establishment, going back to the Kennedy Administration. In more recent years, he has been a political consultant to President Barack Obama. (Obama had been an intern for Sidley Austin in Chicago, recruited by Minow’s daughter, Martha, who is currently dean of Harvard Law School.)

Minow’s resume is by Establishment standards quite distinguished. He is a former chairman of the FCC and of the Carnegie Foundation. He is a former Vice Chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, and is still listed as a member of its Board of Directors.

Minow’s plea for more U.S. funding for international broadcasting efforts like those of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Radio Marti, and his vilification of Al Jazeera as Osama bin Laden’s “favored news outlet” made it into the pages of Congressional Record.

Perhaps most telling in Minow’s resume is the sponsorship of a scholarship in his name at the Frederick S. Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California, which RAND bills as “the largest public policy analysis Ph.D. program in the United States.” The Newton M. Minow Scholarship was initially funded with a $150,000 grant from Donald Rumsfeld, a noted torture figure himself.

Minow’s linkage to RAND does not end there. As recently as 2003, he was on the Board of Advisors for RAND’s Public Safety and Justice division. He is one of a small number of individuals in RAND’s “Legacy Circle,” having contributed an estate gift to RAND. According to RAND’s 2006 Annual Report, Minow has donated something between $100,000 and $249,999 to RAND over the years.

Hoffman’s known public linkage to Minow is sparse, but worth noting. He serves with Minow on the advisory board for the Chicago chapter of the American Constitutional Society. (To be fair, H. Candace Gorman, a noted attorney for Guantanamo detainees, is also on the ACS advisory board.)

Hoffman also served as a co-author for an amicus brief for which he represented Minow, and others, as Amici Curiae. The brief was published in January 2015.

According to an article in The New York Times, in 2002, Minow was one of a number of “outside experts” the Bush Administration consulted with on its implementation of military commissions. The Times described Minow as a “longtime friend of Mr. Rumsfeld.”

Rumsfeld led the Department of Defense at a time it was implementing torture at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan. He personally approved “use of ‘stress positions,’ the removal of clothing, the use of dogs, and isolation and sensory deprivation” on detainees. Many forms of torture were countenanced under Rumsfeld, including water torture. Numerous lawsuits have been filed to hold the former Bush administration figure accountable.

In a request for comment from APA, Public Communications Executive Director Rhea Farberman did not respond to a direct question about foreknowledge regarding any link between Hoffman and Minow. In an email, she said only, “APA has complete confidence that Mr. Hoffman is conducting his review in a thorough and fully independent manner.”

But as we shall see, soon after accepting APA’s charge as “independent” reviewer, Hoffman was discussing the project with Newton Minow.

Hoffman Responds

I asked David Hoffman to further explain his contacts with Minow. He replied via email.

As you may know, Newt Minow was FCC Chairman under JFK and gave the famous “TV as a vast wasteland” speech in 1961. At 89 years old, he remains a prominent civic and community figure in Chicago. I had heard of Newt Minow but had not met him before I joined Sidley in 2011. I speak with him from time to time, but not frequently, and do not socialize with him.

As regards possible contact with Minow on the amicus brief noted above, Hoffman explained that Minow “was one of the former governments [sic] officials and public interest groups who were the listed amici in the matter,” and Minow did not work on the brief.

Even more specifically, Hoffman explained, “Mr. Minow is not working on the APA matter, and I have never worked on a matter with him.”

Still, soon after Hoffman took the job to head the APA-initiated review into the charges of collusion with the CIA, raised by James Risen and others, Hoffman did discuss the matter with his firm’s senior counsel:

Shortly after the public announcement by APA in November 2014 that I had been engaged to conduct an independent investigation in this matter, I saw Mr. Minow and told him about this new engagement. At the time, I did not know that he had been affiliated with the Rand Corp. I have not had any contact with Mr. Minow about the matter since then.

Hoffman added, “In response to your inquiry, I looked up when Mr. Minow was chairman of Rand, and I see that it was 44 years ago (1970-71). I do not believe that Mr. Minow’s past affiliation with Rand creates a conflict of interest for us in this matter.”

Indeed, Minow was Chair of the Board of Trustees at RAND at the time the Pentagon Papers were released by former RAND researcher Daniel Ellsberg. A RAND history of the period describes the Pentagon Papers leak as sending RAND management into “a tailspin.” The government took away RAND’s security clearance, and it was Minow who led the campaign to get it back, and make the necessary changes to policy and personnel to restore the think-tank back to the government’s good graces.

But Minow’s contribution to RAND did not end there. As noted above, he served on RAND advisory boards until the 2000s. While he was Chair of RAND’s Board of Trustees as far back as the early 1970s, Minow was a member of the Board almost continuously from 1965-1997. As recently as 2007, he was an “advisory trustee” to the organization.

I also asked Hoffman that, given Minow’s close relationship with Donald Rumsfeld, Hoffman had any contact with George W. Bush’s former Secretary of Defense. Hoffman stated flatly, “I have never met or spoken with Donald Rumsfeld.”

In a follow-up email, I asked Hoffman to elaborate more on the substance of his conversation with Minow about the APA review. Hoffman has not replied.

Minow is not the only person with links to RAND working in the Chicago Sidley Austin office. Another partner in the firm, Anne E. Rea, serves on the RAND Institute for Civil Justice Board of Overseers. In 2014, Rea gifted RAND with something between $25,000 and $49,999. (The same year Minow is listed as donating between $1,000 and $4,999.)

Hoffman said this about Rea, “I know Anne Rea, as she is a partner in Sidley’s Chicago office. We have never worked on a matter together; we have not spoken about the APA matter; and I did not know about any work she has done for the Rand Corp.”

Authors of “President’s Psychologists” report respond

I asked the authors of the report “All the President’s Psychologists” — who told me they did not know about Hoffman’s links to Minow until I told them — to respond to this revelation. Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner and Nathaniel Raymond sent me an email on May 27:

“We and others have pressed for ‘internal review,’ an independent investigation of APA since our Open Letter in Response to the American Psychological Association Board in 2009 signed by 13 organizations,” Soldz and his colleagues wrote. “Our call was always for the investigatory organization to be selected by independent human rights organizations precisely to avoid the types of potential conflicts of interest you raise. Thus, we were initially concerned when the APA Board itself selected Mr. Hoffman to investigate potential complicity by key staff and elected officials including possible complicity by past and current Board members.”

The email noted that “questions have only escalated” about the investigation when APA Board of Representatives revealed their plan to delay the report’s public release for months of alleged “internal review.” Soldz et al. have alleged such delay violates “the clear precedent that investigations of unethical or criminal behavior by organizations are immediately made public.”

The authors of the critical report told me, “once Mr. Hoffman was selected, we chose to work with his team and have shared whatever information, documents, and opinions they requested…. Our experience with Mr. Hoffman and his team has given us every reason to believe that they are pursuing leads without limitation or constraint…. The proof of their independence will be in the honesty and comprehensiveness of their report.”

Soldz and his co-authors state, “We intend to assess the true independence of the Hoffman team’s work through observing how he accounts for the evidence already in the public domain, including the data we released in our April 30, 2015 report.”

But accounting for “evidence already in the public domain” seems a weak demonstration of investigatory zeal and honesty, much less comprehensiveness. Such accounting has little to do with an investigation qua investigation, but seems to be more about validating previously held beliefs or findings. Such an investigation isn’t expected to dig deeper or make new findings.

Indeed, it seems tendentious to call it an investigation at all, if that is all that is expected from it. The APA has termed only an “internal review of whether there is any factual support” for charges of collusion on torture during the Bush years. Such a “review,” for instance, would not touch on current APA support for psychologists at U.S. detention sites like Guantanamo where Appendix M interrogations take place. Last November, the United Nations stated that some Appendix M techniques created psychosis in prisoners and others amounted to “ill-treatment.”

The APA has been silent about this, even though there is an APA-member initiated referendum that passed some years ago stating APA should tell psychologists not to work at sites that have human rights violations, as determined by organizations such as the United Nations.

Meanwhile, supporters of the “President’s Psychologists” report have launched a petition campaign after news leaked out that the APA was going to take its time in making any release of Hoffman’s findings public.

Such supporters would do as much or more good by asking the authors of “President’s Psychologists” to release the full list of attendees at the 2003 APA-RAND-CIA workshops, which I am under the impression they hold.

[Correction: Stephen Soldz has written to remind me that a list of those attendees was given by him and the co-authors of the President’s Psychologists report to The Intercept. It was disclosed in a link published within an April 2015 article by Cora Currier. The full list and accompanying documentation has been posted online at DocumentCloud. Sadly, Currier never analyzed the document in depth. But most immediately what springs up as important is the presence at these meetings (which included Mitchell, Jessen, and other CIA personnel) of the chief of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Stephen Band, among other FBI personnel. What that means is that the collaboration on interrogation matters was much wider among governmental agencies than previously disclosed.]

In the spirit of complete transparency, the full text of the responses to my inquiries, sent via email by Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Nathaniel Raymond, and David Hoffman, are available at this link.

For a Fair, Just Inquiry

Those who are repelled by the actions of APA and other professional organizations and institutions in regards to the U.S. torture scandal likely will have to look beyond this “independent review” by APA’s contractor. The entire affair is reminiscent of the controversy over the UK torture inquiry that was headed by Sir Peter Gibson.

That inquiry, following on revelations about UK collaboration with the U.S. rendition program and the torture of prisoners like Binyam Mohamed, was announced by the British government. But British human rights groups refused to support this blatant attempt at a whitewash or limited hangout of UK involvement in torture, not least because the man picked to lead the investigation, Peter Gibson, had deep ties himself to the intelligence world. The lack of transparency over procedures was another problem. In 2012, the British government scrapped the investigation, citing conflicts with other investigations.

British human rights groups at the time made clear just what is needed in an inquiry of this sort. They noted that “to comply with basic human rights standards, it is essential that an inquiry, among other things” should be both “independent” and “subject to public scrutiny.”

Amnesty International and eight other UK NGOs wrote: “The persons responsible for and carrying out the inquiry must be fully independent of any institution, agency or person who may be the subject of, or are otherwise involved in, the inquiry.”

As far as I know, Hoffman’s links to the intelligence world are much less dramatic than Gibson’s, and reasonable people may disagree about the degree of conflict of interest involved in his “review” or “investigation.”

Yet, while in the case of the Gibson inquiry, Amnesty and the others were writing about a governmental investigation, the same need for independence and transparency is true for any inquiry, including into the relationships of APA with intelligence or military-linked agencies. It is not any claim upon Mr. Hoffman’s own integrity to say that his links, and that of the firm where he works, to former CIA and RAND officials, not to mention the fact APA chose its own “investigator,” in this instance present conflicts of interest that place into doubt the integrity of his “review,” no matter what results it may claim, or when it is released.

Spy Planes: FBI Flew Over 100 Secret Missions Over 30 Cities in Recent Months

The Associated Press reported new details on secret surveillance flights being conducted by the FBI, including how the agency registers aircrafts with fake companies to conceal their role.

A recent review conducted by the AP found that over a “recent 30-day period” the FBI flew over 100 flights over 30 cities in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Most of the missions were with Cessna 182T Skylane aircrafts. They were flown over Boston, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and parts of Southern California.

The planes carried video surveillance equipment as well as Stingray surveillance equipment or cell-site simulator gear, which creates a dragnet and enables the FBI to trick cellphones in a given area into providing identification information to agents.

Unlike the agency’s drone fleet, piloted aircraft is not subject to the Justice Department’s policy barring drones from being used to monitor “First Amendment activities,” which may partly explain why the secret flights have been spotted over cities where communities have protested killings by police.

Sam Richards, an independent journalist, first reported that the FBI was flying secret missions over cities with aircraft registered to fake companies.

“The aircraft have been registered to corporations that do not exist, and the purpose of the aerial operations is not known at this time. The flight patterns of the aircraft indicate they are most likely conducting surveillance, much like the controversial aircraft caught flying circles over the city of Baltimore which has seen many protests recently,” Richards reported on May 25.

Richards searched “aircraft registration” in Bristow, Virginia, and found many “three-letter acronym companies.” A few of the aircrafts listed were “registered explicitly to the Department of Justice.” He decided the companies had to be fake when his searches for information on the Internet were “fruitless.” He also noticed that the flight patterns—repeated circles around a city—indicated these planes were likely involved in surveillance missions. (more…)

Former Speaker Dennis Hastert Indicted for Violating Federal Banking Laws

Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Dennis Hastert was indicted Thursday for violating federal banking laws and lying to investigators.

According to the indictment former Speaker Hastert was involved in a scheme to pay an unknown person $3.5 million to rectify a recent impropriety and was trying to game federal banking laws by withdrawing around $950,000 from his various accounts in small enough increments so as to avoid notifying authorities.

When confronted by federal agents about the suspicious withdrawals Hastert allegedly lied to the FBI and said the withdrawn cash was for his own use. The indictment does not identify the individual Hastert paid off or what transgression Hastert committed to warrant the clandestine payments.

After leaving public service in 2007, Hastert became a lobbyist to cash in on his connections and institutional knowledge of Congress. In the wake of the indictment Hastert has resigned from his position at the lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro.

When serving Congress Hastert had a reputation for corruption perhaps most notably in the instance where he secured a congressional earmark to improve the value of land he owned. Given that the nature of the crime he is accused of committing involves well documented financial transactions it would appear that Hastert is going to have a tough time escaping all the charges brought by prosecutors.