The D Brief: Did torture get bin Laden or not? Kerry: expand the fight against IS; Mike Flynn to Dartmouth; Hunter to Obama: review raids; Dempsey takes on Bill the Goat; And a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
Did torture help find bin Laden or not? The much anticipated, much delayed Senate Intelligence Committee on torture raises a number of questions, but one that is central is the role torture played or didn’t play in the successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The NYT’s Charlie Savage and James Risen: “Months before the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, the Central Intelligence Agency secretly prepared a public-relations plan that would stress that information gathered from its disputed interrogation program had played a critical role in the hunt. Starting the day after the raid, agency officials in classified briefings made that point to Congress.
“But in page after page of previously classified evidence, the … report on C.I.A. torture, released Tuesday, rejects the notion that torturing detainees contributed to finding Bin Laden — a conclusion that was also strongly implied in ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ the popular 2012 movie about the hunt for the Qaeda leader.
From the new Senate report on torture: “The vast majority of the intelligence” about the Qaeda courier who led the agency to Bin Laden “was originally acquired from sources unrelated to the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program, and the most accurate information acquired from a C.I.A. detainee was provided prior to the C.I.A. subjecting the detainee to the C.I.A.’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” Read more here.
The executive summary of the new SSCR report is more than 500 pages long. A summary of the report, by the Telegraph, here.
The 20 key findings, in the WaPo, here.
Read the whole report here.
Hayden vs. the Senate: A look at then-CIA Director Mike Hayden’s testimony and the report’s findings, here.
In Defense One: Obama is standing by the CIA: James Oliphant for National Journal: “…there are reasons President Obama has kept his profile low with regard to the report’s conclusions, why he didn’t stand up before the American public to decry the extreme interrogation methods it outlined. While as recently as this summer he freely described those methods as “torture,” he’s also shown little inclination to second-guess his predecessor’s counterterrorism strategy.
In a carefully crafted statement released as the report was coming to light, Obama discussed how in the years after 9/11, the Bush White House “faced agonizing choices” about how to pursue a stateless, shifting enemy like al-Qaida and prevent additional attacks. At the same time, administration officials spoke of the “extraordinary burden” that was placed on the intelligence community after the attacks.”
For Feinstein, a “signal moment,” in the NYT, here.
How will Leon Panetta’s legacy fare in all of this? As former director of the CIA, who came on after practices were suspended but who was nonetheless central to the wrangling between Congress, the White House and the CIA, he’s due for some scrutiny. And maybe he should have pushed for more transparency, sooner.
This is what Leon Panetta was saying about torture when his book came out this fall: Newsweek’s Jeff Stein in October: “…Panetta says he remains uncertain about the intelligence value of harsh interrogations. ‘No one shouted out [Osama] bin Laden’s address when strapped to a waterboard,’ Panetta writes. ‘Rather, it was the slow accumulation of leads, one building up on the last, some extracted, unfortunately, after unsavory techniques were used,’ that enabled Navy SEALs to kill the elusive Al-Qaeda leader in May 2011.” More here.
Is it time to move on? From the editors of Overt Action: “…Many believe this report will help ‘set the record straight’ about the enhanced interrogation program. We suspect the straightness of that record will remain a point of contention. Sadly, it seems the report, rather than informing a dialogue about intelligence methods, will be a source of acrimony and will fuel a divisive debate for some time to come.
“…it is important to keep in mind that the country has already reach[ed] consensus about the techniques in question. The enhanced interrogation program essentially ended in 2006 and was formally shut down in 2009. The President has rejected the techniques. The country has largely rejected the techniques. And the intelligence community has rejected using the techniques.” Read the rest here.
@CraigMWhitlock notes: “How to leak and spin, p. 404: ‘CIA Attorneys Caution that Classified Information Provided to the Media Should Not Be Attributed to the CIA’”
Welcome to Wednesday’s still international edition of The D Brief, Defense One's new, first-read national security newsletter, coming to you again from Kuwait City after Hagel’s first stop in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Everybody’s doing it: Now Mike Flynn is going Ivy League, too. Flynn, who retired in August from chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has agreed to do a series of lectures and classes this spring at the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, not far from his hometown of Providence, R.I. Flynn, a retired three-star, is known to many as the intel officer in Afghanistan in 2010 who wrote “Fixing Intel,” the critique of the U.S. government’s intelligence collection and analysis, is one of a string of retired senior officers who’ve gone Ivy League – evidence Stan McChrystal at Yale, Mike Mullen at Princeton and Eric Olson at Columbia. Flynn also follows two more four-stars to the woods of New Hampshire – both Jim Mattis and Carter Ham have had an affiliation with the Dickey Center in the past. Dickey, by the way, is now run by former State Department counter-terrorism chief Dan Benjamin. Read “Fixing Intel,” written by Flynn and two others and published by CNAS, here.
In Defense One: Could the fight against the Islamic State go beyond Iraq and Syria? John Kerry thinks so, maybe. Defense One’s Molly O’Toole: “…Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that the Obama administration doesn’t want to limit the fight to Iraq and Syria — or to any specific country. He said he’s concerned that Islamic State fighters could believe they have safe haven outside of those countries.”
Kerry to the Committee: “We don’t anticipate conducting operations in countries other than Iraq or Syria,” Kerry said. “But to the extent that ISIL poses a threat to American interests and personnel in other countries, we would not want an AUMF to constrain our ability to use appropriate force against ISIL in those locations if necessary.”
Russia’s creeping ISIS problem: Peek behind the curtain of Russia's North Caucasus region, where ISIS recruiting is believed to have diverted more than 2,000 area fighters to the Iraq-Syria battle space. Al-Jazeera’s Olga Khrustaleva with more, here.
Chuck Hagel is wrapping up his overseas tour and by the time you read this, he’ll be wheels up for DC. Hagel visited troops at the Baghdad airport and then met with top Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who wants the U.S. to conduct more airstrikes and to provide the Iraqis more weaponry in their fight against the Islamic State. Reuters’ Phil Stewart, on the trip with us in Iraq: “…The plea underscored tension in the U.S.-Iraqi relationship, with Baghdad pushing for more aggressive assistance than Washington has provided so far, four months after President Barack Obama launched air strikes against IS in Iraq. The militant group was ‘on the descent at the moment,’ Abadi told Hagel as the two met at the prime minister's offices in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.”
Abadi to Hagel yesterday in Baghdad: “Our forces are very much advancing on the ground. But they need more air power and more ... heavy weaponry. We need that." Read more here.
Hagel would not say much afterward about what might have been agreed to, though.
The senior Iraqi Kurdish official is urging regional rule for Iraqi Sunnis. AP’s Lara Jakes: “Iraq's central government in Baghdad must give up much of its authority to local power centers — and potentially permit the creation of an autonomous Sunni Muslim region — if the nation is to survive the fight against Islamic State militants, a senior Iraqi Kurdish official said Tuesday. In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Kurdistan regional Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani said giving Sunnis broad political control within their own population may be the one way to keep them from joining the Islamic State.” Read the rest here.
Palestinian Minister for Settlements Ziad Abu Ein reportedly died this morning following a confrontation with Israeli troops in the West Bank. AP this hour, here.
Some shady war profiteering: For nearly 4 years beginning July 2005, a food service company overcharged the U.S. military to the tune of some $48 million for water, fruit and vegetables sent to Afghanistan bases. Harold Brubaker for The Philadelphia Inquirer: “The scheme, overseen by [Supreme Foodservice GmbH’s] billionaire majority owner, Stephen Orenstein, who is an American, and other executives, worked through a third affiliated company, called Jamal Ahli Foods Co. L.L.C., officials say. Jamal Ahli Foods was established solely to add an extra layer of profit—averaging 32 percent on top of the profit built into the military contract—on the supplies sold by Supreme, according to a court filing.” More here.
Hash tag: Go Army, Beat Navy/Go Navy, Beat Army. Ahead of the big game this weekend, CNO Adm. Jon Greenert and MCPON Mike Stevens do a send-up of SNL’s “Hashtag,” with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, in this year’s sprit video. Watch Greenert and Stevens try to keep the smirks off their faces, with a surprise guest, in that spirit video and others, here.
Now watch Gen. Marty Dempsey in his own spirit video for the Army and watch him take on that inimitable goat known as Bill. It’s worth the click, here.
The Dempsey video was written, directed and produced by OSD Public Affair’s own Casper Manlangit.
Also, check out the new Navy uniforms here.
Watch the original “Hashtag” on SNL with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, here.
Dempsey just got back from a holiday tour of Afghanistan. Here’s him singing to the troops “White Christmas,” again, worth the click, here.
Can Iran turn off your lights? Or, to put it differently: Is the Iranian cyber threat overblown? Defense One’s Patrick Tucker assesses a recent report from the online security company Cylance which declares “Iran is the new China” of cyber warfare, and parses from fear from fact.
Yesterday, a Chinese citizen was formally charged with trying to ferret away “equations and test results used to develop titanium for U.S. military aircraft, prosecutors said.” Reuters with more, here.
Today the Navy will unveil the results of its testing of a high-tech new laser weapon that is expected to be deployed in the Middle East. At noon today, a video showing how effective the new laser weapon can be will be available. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes this morning: “The Navy is testing a new laser it is developing by using it on targets such as drones and small boats in the Persian Gulf. Top Navy leaders say the laser could become a critical defense on a future generation of warships and offers great potential as a precise and economical weapon. A single shot from the laser could bring down a drone or blow up the engine of a small boat, officials said.
The prototype Laser Weapon System developed by the Office of Naval Research has proved cost-effective, and is less expensive to operate than many other systems, said Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations.
“…The Navy recently finished its three-month test in the Persian Gulf on the USS Ponce, outfitted with the prototype laser. Navy officials said the Gulf’s heat, humidity and dust make it a difficult environment for naval vessels. Some researchers worried the conditions would hurt the laser’s performance.”
Greenert: “The only way to know if this is effective is to get it in the Gulf.” Read the rest of Barnes’ story here.
Happening today: The Navy’s Chief of Naval Research, Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, talks about that laser system at a media roundtable at the Pentagon today at 9:30… And an hour later across the Potomac at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Assistant NavSec (for Energy, Installations and Environment) Dennis McGinn is slated for a plenary speaker role at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference. More on that, here.
In the wake of the Yemen raids, Duncan Hunter wants to meet with the President about “kinetic rescue efforts.” He penned this note and his office sent it to POTUS Monday: “…because rescue efforts are not always successful, it is imperative that non-kinetic lines of effort are always pursued and fully exhausted in a parallel track. And while I do not believe the process for conducting raids must be independently examined, the organization and prioritization of recovery options – including rescue missions – must be a factor in the ongoing White House hostage policy review.” Read this letter here and read Hunter’s list of recommendations here.
Also today, U.S. Senators Joe Donnelly, the Democrat from Indiana and Roger Wicker, the Republican from Mississippi, talk about their bipartisan military suicide prevention legislation known as the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014, part of the FY 2015 defense authorization bill. The House already passed an NDAA that included the Sexton Act.
From Donnelly’s office: “The Sexton Act seeks to help prevent military suicide by requiring annual mental health assessments for all servicemembers, including Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve; maintaining strong privacy protections for servicemembers; and requiring a Pentagon report to evaluate existing military mental health practices and provide recommendations for expansion and improvement.” Groups lined up to support it include: The National Guard Association of the United States; the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States; the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; the American Association of Suicidology; the National Military Family Association; the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Presser in Russell 188 at 1:45.
Debbie James talked nukes last night. Secretary of the Air Force Debbie James was the keynoter at the Winter Conference for the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic & International Studies headquarters in D.C., where she discussed the work the Air Force has done to improve the “nuclear enterprise.” Each year, the PONI hosts four conferences that bring together people from across the nuclear community to discuss a range of nuclear issues.
Foreign assistance may be a hard ask of Congress, but in terms of national security: it works, writes former Army officer and fellow with the Truman National Security Project, Mike Crnkovich, in Defense One.
Meanwhile in Thailand, where there’s an ongoing extremist military coup nobody in the Pentagon talks about, the prime minister has taken a particularly disturbing angle on a propaganda video screened nationwide last week. Marlow Stern for The Daily Beast, here.