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Thursday, January 22, 2009

9-11 Commission Memo on Phillpott Interview

Recently released by the National Archives:

Memorandum for the Record

Event: Interview - Commander Scott Phillpott
Location: Commission office - K Street
Date: July 13, 2004
Access Restrictions: None
Commission Participants: Dieter Snell, Bonnie Jenkins
MFR by: Dieter Snell

Commission staff interviewed Commander Phillpott at the Commission's K Street office. Also in attendance was Major Jeanne Meyer of the Chairman's Legal Office.

The interview was arranged at the request of Commander Phillpott, who wanted to provide the Commission with information concerning his involvement in a particular information operations segment of the Department of Defense's "Able Danger" program over an approximately 18-month span before 9/11.

According to Phillpott, documents he worked with in Able Danger - and that he sought to organize in a link analysis program - included material from February-April 2000 showing Mohamed Atta to be a member of an al Qaeda cell located in Brooklyn. Phillpott's information on this subject was limited to his recollection of Atta's name and photo being part of an analyst notebook chart assembled by Lt. General Matt Gale (now retired and a DOD contractor). Phillpott saw the Atta material only briefly, before 9/11, at a point before it was redacted so as not to run afoul of posse comitatus restrictions, which Phillpott maintains were incorrectly imposed by DOD.

Phillpott contested the redaction of Atta (and other Brooklyn cell members) up his chain of command, to General Lambert, to no avail. According to Phillpott, General Schoonmaker was concerned about adverse publicity in the aftermath of Waco.

Phillpott's original assignment within Able Danger, in 1999, was to target Bin Ladin. His work initially was coordinated by a small group working in Tampa. The group, however, lacked adequate information access (lAC terminals), so Phillpott had to search for assistance elsewhere. He saw this need as particularly acute because, in his view, the nodal analysis being conducted by DIA, NSA, NRO and CIA was dysfunctional, focusing excessively on minor issues and not exploiting available subject matter experts.

Following a briefing at the Land Information Warfare Facility in Fort Belvoir (Information Dominance Center) on a data harvesting program, Phillpott became convinced that his program should use automated link analysis, which experts would then be able to work with. SOCOM, however, dismissed the link analysis as a "new toy", and Phillpott's pitch went nowhere. As a result, he had to create a link on his own terminal between Tampa and IDC, which ultimately enabled him to brief Generals Schoonmanker and Shelton between May and July 2000. Both were impressed.

In-fighting among DIA analysts, however, prevented the system from gaining a wider following. After IDC shut it down-due to "legal concerns" (E012003)-Phillpott was permitted to continue development of the system using Raytheon, receiving $750,000 in funding. The work continued in Garland, Texas, where the system was built almost from scratch. VIPs came down for tours.

To address concerns still being raised by Legal, Phillpott developed a spreadsheet to codify entries and trace searches, a control to make sure that searches were not conducted on U.S. nationals.

In c. October 2000, "circumscribed" briefings were planned for General Shinseki (sp?) and Admiral Jacoby (sp?).

Phillpott had a very good group of analysts, one of whom already was warning that Yemen represented a real danger point. The Cole bombing occurred two days later. After the bombing, Admiral Steffens (sp?) asked Phillpott to do forensic link analysis and generate a timeline hypothesis. Al Zandani was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda, which Phillpott's database showed to be providing funds. In addition, the Aden Container Terminal-where the bombing took place-had a minority (49%) owner who was linked to UBL.

Phillpott sent his analysis to Centcom but nothing happened. He then clashed with his new boss, who was not cleared to see everything in Phillpott's program. The boss forced Phillpott to transfer back to Tampa, ending his involvement in the program, which Raytheon has continued to develop as "Genesis."

Phillpott thinks DIA is not exploiting all the data at its proposal, and especially is missing an opportunity to do language mapping. (Phillpott believes UBL has considerable influence over the French.)

Mitre Corp. (DOD contractor) now is in charge of the program, in which Phillpott no longer is involved.

Phillpott noted that the USG unwisely relied on the Political Security Agency in Yemen to provide reporting on political activity within Yemen. The PSA was prevented under Yemeni law from reporting on the activity of Yemeni national, so much information was missed.

Al Zadani is a religious leader in Yemen and advisor to President Saleh:

President performs Friday's prayer with Saada clerics

SANA'A, April 27 ( - President Ali Abdullah Saleh performed Friday prayer along with religious scholars from Saada governorate and other scholars at the Presidential House mosque in Sana'a City.

The Friday sermon was delivered by Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zandani in which he talked about the importance of the unification, lives of Muslims and their solidarity to face challenges surrounding the nation. He warned about plots aiming at breaking out sectarian disputes to wake the nation.

Sheikh Al-Zandani highlighted initiative presented by President Saleh to set up an islamic union to enable Islamic nations to defend their rights and future of their generations....

He prayed Allah to protect Yemen and Islamic nation from strife and crisis.

Of course, Al Zandani is also a spritual advisor to Osama Bin Laden:

United States Designates bin Laden Loyalist

The Treasury Department today announced that Shaykh Abd-al-Majid AL-ZINDANI, a loyalist to Usama bin Laden and supporter of al-Qaeda, has been designated by the United States as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under the authority of Executive Order 13224 and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. His name will be submitted to the UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee’s consolidated list because of his support to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

“With this action, the international community’s drumbeat against terrorist financiers continues to grow louder and the financial noose around al-Qaeda continues to grow tighter,” said Juan Zarate, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime.

The U.S. has credible evidence that AL-ZINDANI, a Yemeni national, supports designated terrorists and terrorist organizations.

AL-ZINDANI has a long history of working with bin Laden, notably serving as one of his spiritual leaders. In this leadership capacity, he has been able to influence and support many terrorist causes, including actively recruiting for al-Qaeda training camps. Most recently, he played a key role in the purchase of weapons on behalf of al-Qaeda and other terrorists.

Yemen Holdings was the company with partial ownership of the Port of Aden at the time of the Cole bombing, and it is owned and operated by the Bin Mahfouz family:

Yemen Investment & Development International (Yeminvest) is the consortium leading the redevelopment of Aden port under a three-phase programme involving investments of $580 million; 51% of the share in Yeminvest is held by Yemen Holdings. The Bin Mahfouz family of Saudi Arabia, whose ancestors migrated to the kingdom from Hadhramout in Yemen, are the sole owners of Yemen Holdings. The remaining 49% share in Yeminvest is held by the PSA Corporation (formerly Port of Singapore Authority).

According to Wikipedia's detailed entry for Khalid bin Mahfouz:

$225 million BCCI scandal fine

Bin Mahfouz was a non-executive director of Bank of Credit and Commerce International, a financial conglomerate later convicted of money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism, arms trafficking, and many other crimes.[5] Mahfouz personally owned a 20% stake in BCCI. He was indicted by a New York state grand jury for fraud but denied any culpability. The fraud charges were settled for $225 million in lieu of fines.[2]

Donations to Osama bin Laden in 1988

Craig Unger's book House of Bush, House of Saud claims that bin Mahfouz donated over $270,000 to Osama bin Laden's Islamist organization at the request of Osama's brother Salem bin Laden. Bin Mahfouz's lawyer stated: "This donation was to assist the US-sponsored resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and was never intended nor, to the best of Sheikh Khalid's knowledge, ever used to fund any 'extension' of that resistance movement in other countries."[6]

Alleged NCB funding of al-Qaeda

Khalid bin Mahfouz has denied that NCB, his bank, was involved in funding an al-Qaeda group. According to reports, high-placed Saudi businessmen transferred millions of dollars through NCB to charities operating as fronts for al-Qaeda. Mahfouz states that he could not have been aware of every wire transfer moving through the bank, and that he would not have allowed such transactions had he known they were taking place. There is no evidence that Mahfouz was personally involved in any of these transactions....

Muwafaq Foundation

Khalid bin Mahfouz helped set up a charity organization called the Muwafaq Foundation, Muwafaq being Arabic for "blessed relief". He funded this charity with $30 million, and put his eldest son, Abdulrahman bin Mahfouz, on the board of directors. In October of 2001, the U.S. Treasury Department named Muwafaq an al-Qaeda front organization. Neither Khalid nor Abdulrahman were accused of funding terrorism by the United States; however Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi national hired to run the charity, was named a supporter of terrorism by and had his assets frozen by the U.S. Treasury Department.[2]

Khalid bin Mahfouz claims that he was not aware of the charity being used to fund terrorists. He claims further that he has initiated an investigation of his own into Muwafaq's activities.[citation needed]

9-11 Commission Memo from Shaffer interview

Released last week by the National Archives. Thanks to Scott Malone for the link. Obviously, the first officer mentioned is LTC Tony Shaffer.

Interviewee: Defense HUMINT Service Officers: [REDACTED]
Date: October 21, 2003
Location: Bagram Base, Afghanistan
Participants: Zelikow, Scheid, Hurley, Cors
Drafted by: Kevin Scheid
Reviewed by:
Additional Info: This interview of three officers working related intelligence issues took place at Bagram Base.

[REDACTED] started the conversation with a detailed conversation about information he had prior to 9-11 on the activities of al Qai'da in Afghanistan. He referred to a specific program in the Defense Department that is now closed: "ABLE DANGER." He suggested that we get the file on the program and review it. There is a lot of information about al Qai'da and UBL prior to the attacks.

Further, [REDACTED] indicated that he had been working an asset that had a network of collectors in Afghanistan prior to 9-11, but this asset's contract was terminated at the direction of Congress, particularly the House Intelligence Committee. (Not complete)

[REDACTED] had a very different responsibility prior to 9-11: He received intelligence from the field and developed plans for the Pentagon. This was interesting to the Commission because of our efforts to gain access to the plans the Pentagon had on the books prior to 9-11. These plans were shelved. CIA had the lead. (Not Complete)

[REDACTED] worked the Cole investigation for the military. He did the after action report to see if they had missed anything. [REDACTED] was tasked to find out who committed the attack, links to al Qai'da. He worked with others who had developed connections between various al Qai'da members - as many as a thousand different players. They hadn't recognized what they had at the time. This information should still be available. (Not Complete)

Obama issues new FOIA guidelines

According to the Washington Post:


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 21, 2009


SUBJECT: Freedom of Information Act

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIA to the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the Federal Register. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIA reports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392 of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.

This memorandum does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.



Referring to the Freedom of Information Act as one of the most important tools of oversight the nation possesses, Obama called on all government agencies to err on the side of openness and release information whenever possible, which directly contradicts orders by the previous administration to look for reasons to withhold information whenever possible. Just because you have the legal right to withhold information, doesn't mean you should, Obama said at a White House press conference and staff swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.

"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city," he said.

Obama also said that any time the administration feels the need to withhold information about his presidency or a past presidency, it will consult legal counsel to ensure its decision is on solid ground.

"Information will not be withheld just because I say so," he said. "It will be withheld because a separate authority believes it is well-grounded in the Constitution."

The Bush Administration was sharply criticized for undermining public records laws and creating new categories of protected records to classify information that was previously unclassified. The Administration was also charged repeatedly with withholding information from Congress.

Obama went on to say that his administration's commitment to openness "means more than simply informing the American people how decisions are made." It also means recognizing that the government doesn't have all the answers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Connecting the Dots

From President Bush's final press conference:

And in terms of the decisions that I had made to protect the homeland, I wouldn't worry about popularity. What I would worry about is the Constitution of the United States, and putting plans in place that makes it easier to find out what the enemy is thinking, because all these debates will matter not if there's another attack on the homeland. The question won't be, you know, were you critical of this plan or not; the question is going to be, why didn't you do something?

Do you remember what it was like right after September the 11th around here? In press conferences and opinion pieces and in stories -- that sometimes were news stories and sometimes opinion pieces -- people were saying, how come they didn't see it, how come they didn't connect the dots? Do you remember what the environment was like in Washington? I do. When people were hauled up in front of Congress and members of Congress were asking questions about, how come you didn't know this, that, or the other? And then we start putting policy in place -- legal policy in place to connect the dots, and all of a sudden people were saying, how come you're connecting the dots?

And so, Mike, I've heard all that. I've heard all that. My view is, is that most people around the world, they respect America. And some of them doesn't like me, I understand that -- some of the writers and the, you know, opiners and all that. That's fine, that's part of the deal. But I'm more concerned about the country and our -- how people view the United States. They view us as strong, compassionate people who care deeply about the universality of freedom.

From a recent Newsweek article:

It is one of the darkly iconic scenes of the Bush Administration. In March 2004, two of the president's most senior advisers rushed to a Washington hospital room where they confronted a bedridden John Ashcroft. White House chief of staff Andy Card and counsel Alberto Gonzales pressured the attorney general to renew a massive domestic-spying program that would lapse in a matter of days. But others hurried to the hospital room, too. Ashcroft's deputy, James Comey, later joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller, stood over Ashcroft's bed to make sure the White House aides didn't coax their drugged and bleary colleague into signing something unwittingly. The attorney general, sick and pain-racked from a rare pancreatic disease, rose up from his bed, gathering what little strength he had, and firmly told the president's emissaries that he would not sign their papers.

White House hard-liners would make one more effort—getting the president to recertify the program on his own, relying on his powers as commander in chief. But in the end, with an election looming and the entire political leadership of the Justice Department poised to resign rather than carry out orders they thought to be illegal, Bush backed down. The rebels prevailed.

But that is only part of the story—because Bush, even though he made concessions to the rebels, kept other aspects of the program intact. Even after The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret surveillance two years later—and despite outrage in Congress and among civil libertarians—monitoring of calls and e-mails between the United States and overseas without court approval continues. Much has been written about the Justice Department rebellion, including, most recently, the account in Barton Gellman's groundbreaking book "Angler." But a mystery remains: What did the Justice Department rebels object to, and what concessions did Bush make to appease them? What, precisely, was canceled?

Two knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that the clash erupted over a part of Bush's espionage program that had nothing to do with the wiretapping of individual suspects. Rather, Comey and others threatened to resign because of the vast and indiscriminate collection of communications data. These sources, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence matters, describe a system in which the National Security Agency, with cooperation from some of the country's largest telecommunications companies, was able to vacuum up the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of average Americans between September 2001 and March 2004. The program's classified code name was "Stellar Wind," though when officials needed to refer to it on the phone, they called it "SW." (The NSA says it has "no information or comment"; a Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.)

The NSA's powerful computers became vast storehouses of "metadata." They collected the telephone numbers of callers and recipients in the United States, and the time and duration of the calls. They also collected and stored the subject lines of e-mails, the times they were sent, and the addresses of both senders and recipients. By one estimate, the amount of data the NSA could suck up in close to real time was equivalent to one quarter of the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica per second. (The actual content of calls and e-mails was not being monitored as part of this aspect of the program, the sources say.) All this metadata was then sifted by the NSA, using complex algorithms to detect patterns and links that might indicate terrorist activity.

The secret collection and data-mining program had begun with a blessing by John Yoo, an ultraconservative lawyer in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Yoo was a close ally of hard-line lawyers in the White House and worked closely with David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's lawyer. (Addington is now Cheney's chief of staff.) But by 2003, Yoo had moved on, and a new head of the OLC, Jack Goldsmith, began reviewing his work. Goldsmith found Yoo's legal opinions justifying the program flawed. His reasons are based on a mind-numbingly complex area of federal law, but the basic analysis comes down to this: the systematic collection and digital transmission of huge amounts of telephone and e-mail data by the government constitutes "electronic surveillance" under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the exclusive law governing domestic spying in national-security cases. For such activities, FISA requires a court-approved warrant. Therefore, the program was illegal. The White House lawyers countered that the president's constitutional powers as commander in chief trumped FISA. Goldsmith and his colleagues rejected that argument, and won. Days after the hospital clash, Bush shut down the massive data-collection program and stopped searches of the data that had already been stored. (It's unclear whether the administration has since found new legal justification to return to at least some of these activities.)

This updated version of events helps explain exactly what motivated stalwart Republican lawyers like Comey to defy their Republican president. The Justice lawyers were not fuming about an Orwellian invasion of the privacy of American citizens. Though all the rebellious lawyers agreed that the program was illegal, some favored its goals while others questioned its efficacy. "At the end of the day, the dispute was a legal one, not a policy one," says one participant. "It was about upholding the rule of law, not about what was appropriate from a civil-libertarian standpoint or any other standpoint."

One of the most consequential government rebellions in memory may be regarded as an act of heroism by civil libertarians. But the rebels were conservatives who might have been willing to—and in some cases did—approve policies that would not sit well with many Americans. They just weren't willing to break the law. Which is how the president's men ended up in John Ashcroft's hospital room on a cool March evening.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Obama Names Top Pentagon Officials

From the Washington Post blog:

President-elect Barack Obama officially named William J. Lynn III as deputy secretary of defense today and also announced several other top Pentagon officials who will work under Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Lynn served as under secretary of defense and comptroller in the Clinton Administration, where he was the Pentagon's chief financial officer, and currently serves as a senior vice president at Raytheon Company.

Obama also tapped Robert F. Hale, currently executive director of the American Society of Military Comptrollers and a former assistant secretary of the Air Force, for the comptroller position. Michèle Flournoy, co-founder and president of the Center for a New American Strategy and a key official in Obama's transition, will become under secretary of defense for policy. Meanwhile, Jeh Charles Johnson, a partner in the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison law firm, will become general counsel at the Pentagon.

"I am confident that these distinguished individuals have the expertise and commitment needed to help me implement a sustainable national security strategy that combats 21st century threats and keeps the American people safe," Obama said in a statement. "They share with me the utmost respect for our brave men and women in uniform, and will work day and night to support our troops, strengthen our military, and advance our capacity to carry out 21st century missions."

He continued: "Together with Secretary Gates and our military, we will work to responsibly end the war in Iraq, defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban, and renew America's strength and standing in the world. I am honored that they have joined me in this mission, and I trust that they will serve the American people well."

Click here for the full biographies of the nominees, as provided by the Obama transition office.