Tag Archives: Mark Mazzetti

Try And Find Your Way Around Our Afghanistan Maze!

Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti at NYT:

The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Afghan and American officials.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council, appears to have been on the payroll for many years, according to officials in Kabul and Washington. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Salehi does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.

Mr. Salehi’s relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it.

Josh Duboff at New York Magazine:

Salehi was arrested in July after investigators wiretapped him soliciting a bribe in exchange for “impeding an American-backed investigation into a company suspected of shipping billions of dollars out of the country for Afghan officials, drug smugglers and insurgents.” He was promptly released after Karzai stepped in, however, which officials said may have been due to the fear he knew about “corrupt dealings” within Karzai’s administration. Both the CIA and Karazi declined to comment in response to inquires from the Times.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

A CIA spokesman declined comment on Salehi but told the Times that “reckless allegations from anonymous sources” don’t change the fact that the agency “works hard to advance the full range of U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan.” Another U.S. official said, “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.”

But others in the administration think the U.S. must maintain pressure in the battle against corruption in Kabul or risk seeing ordinary Afghans turn to the Taliban when they lose faith in the government.

Max Boot at Commentary:

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times’s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission.

Mark Kleiman:

Once you start intervening in the politics of corrupt countries, you can’t live without the crooks, and you can’t live with them. I never thought I’d say it, but Michael Moore was completely right about Karzai. The problem with this sort of foreign-policy “realism”is how unrealistic it is in imagining that the victims of the crappy little tyrannies we support won’t come to hate our guts.

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The Code Name For This Blog Post Is Guacamole

Mark Mazzetti at NYT:

The top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents.

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.

While the Bush administration had approved some clandestine military activities far from designated war zones, the new order is intended to make such efforts more systematic and long term, officials said. Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. The order, however, does not appear to authorize offensive strikes in any specific countries.

In broadening its secret activities, the United States military has also sought in recent years to break its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies for information in countries without a significant American troop presence.

Marc Ambinder:

The Times did not report its original classified codename, “Avocado.” The name has since been changed.

Other “ex-ords” signed by combatant commanders include provisions for secret American bases and operations in countries like Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and in the Dagestan region of the North Caucuses. In the latter space, U.S. soldiers were tasked with tracking down members of identified separatist groups with loose ties to Al Qaeda. One of those groups was responsible for the March 31 bombings in Kizlyar, according to American intelligence officials.

The Obama administration had been reluctant to allow such an expansion of nontraditional military activities in countries where the U.S. formally has no presence. That practice was unfavorably associated with the Bush-Cheney administration’s disregard for international norms.

But political imperatives, the threat of terrorism, and the knowledge of what the U.S. military can accomplish if its strings are cut away has slowly changed the minds of some of Obama’s senior advisers. It is helpful that Congress has generally given the military a wide berth to conduct activities that intelligence agency paramilitaries would find objectionable.

Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent:

Petraeus’ spokesman declined comment. But if that’s faithfully reported, it sounds a lot like uniformed personnel could assume civilian cover for intelligence purposes. And that carries the non-trivial risk of unaffiliated businesspeople or academics or journalists or tourists in the Middle East or South Asia being presumed to be spies — and, hence, targets — by local security forces or extremists. Foreign allied governments in the region might also not like the U.S. sponsoring “local indigenous groups” that might destabilize their countries or threaten their rule.

Kenneth Anderson:

The document does not authorize any offensive use of force activities; the purposes are apparently intelligence-gathering and relationship building, in friendly and hostile countries.   Contingency plans related to thwarting expansion of terrorist networks as safe havens in AfPak and, presumably, Yemen are disrupted to other lightly governed or hostile places such as Somalia or Iran are important; likewise contingency plans around Iran nuclear weapons acquisition.   Of particular interest, beyond the news report itself, is the article’s discussion of the relationship between “clandestine” military activities and “covert” CIA actions (the statutory definition of “covert” for purposes of the intelligence community is found at USC Title 50, 413(b)(e)).  According to the article:

The order … calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies …  Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council. Special Operations troops have already been sent into a number of countries to carry out reconnaissance missions, including operations to gather intelligence about airstrips and bridges.

One of the assumptions many people seem to have is that the military is more accountable than the CIA in such activities.  I’m not suggesting any problem with the activities described in this article by the military — far from it — but as the article says, these clandestine activities do not require the regular covert action accountability mechanisms required of the CIA as a matter of law, although NSC is involved in anything significant.

However, as these activities get closer to, well, “spying” in the traditional sense, then the line between clandestine and covert risks becoming blurred.  Besides the statutory definition of covert, the term also refers to the fact that US military personnel, even though acting clandestinely, will be acknowledged by the US if taken prisoner and it will demand Geneva III treatment for them.  But the article says that many in the military “are also concerned that as American troops assume roles far from traditional combat, they would be at risk of being treated as spies if captured and denied the Geneva Convention protections afforded military detainees.”

CIA civilian operatives do not have that assurance of being avowed, and of course in many circumstances — though not all, because covert refers to many things beyond the use of force, including information and disinformation activities, things that are not necessarily illegal under a country’s local law — their activities will be illegal espionage, and in other more extreme cases murder under local law.  This is the whole issue of NOC.  (BTW, there is a fun and useful FAQs page at the CIA’s website that covers a number of questions both policy and practical, including internship opportunities at the CIA.)  Here is what the CIA itself tells the public about covert action on its web page (emphasis added):

7. Who decides when CIA should participate in covert actions, and why?

Only the president can direct the CIA to undertake a covert action. Such actions usually are recommended by the National Security Council (NSC). Covert actions are considered when the NSC judges that US foreign policy objectives may not be fully realized by normal diplomatic means and when military action is deemed to be too extreme an option. Therefore, the Agency may be directed to conduct a special activity abroad in support of foreign policy where the role of the US government is neither apparent nor publicly acknowledged. Once tasked, the intelligence oversight committees of the Congress must be notified.

These activities are not illegal under US law, of course, provided that the requirements of the different services — the military or the civilian agencies — are followed, including required accountability and oversight.  Nor are they illegal, in my view, under international law; state practice by a wide variety of states has sanctioned espionage, up to and including uses of force illegal under the local law of the sovereign, so widely and for so long that the rule would have to be something like, “liable under local sovereign law but not contrary to international law,” including uses of force if they are correctly described as “self-defense.”

However, as a matter of US policy, the divisions between the various services matter over the long run, and so there are important questions as to the proper division of roles.  Many people in the international law community — believing that all lawful use of force divide into law enforcement and armed conflict — naturally believe that as domestic law and policy, the CIA should not have a role in using force.  As I remarked in a second round of Congressional hearings a few weeks ago on drone warfare (I’ll post this soon to SSRN), states have not generally found that the best solution to real-world problems.  States want, and in my view of international law, have plainly preserved, the ability to use covert force and preserve deniability and indeed in an extreme situation disavow the civilian agent.  It appears to many states an important security capability, including the United States.

On another hand, there are real questions as to whether — as a matter of policy, not law — the CIA is the right agency to conduct what increasingly looks to amount to a parallel conventional war using drones in Pakistan, not in a pure counterterrorism strategy, but really in support of the conventional war by Pakistan against the Pakistan Taliban.  As a matter of internal US division of labor, there are policy (again, not legal) questions as to whether the CIA should be engaged in overt conventional war, or something starting to approach that.  Yet the real world constraint — trumping, it would appear up to this point and probably for quite some time — is Pakistan’s desire to have a fig leaf of deniability as to a US military role.

Conversely, as the Mazzetti article signaled there are important questions as to whether it is a good idea to have the US military expanding further into clandestine, secret — covert, in the vernacular, not legal term-of-art, sense — operations.  As I said, in some important respects, civilian oversight and accountability is stronger regarding the CIA — although I believe that in any case, the rise of new technologies such as smaller and smaller drones that allow for still more discrete uses of force argue for a review and revamping of oversight and accountability.

Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive:

Once again the NY Times is announcing a covert program to the world. The problem for us and anyone actually interested in vigorously prosecuting the overseas contingency operation to eliminate man-caused disasters is that there are those in DoD and other government agencies who don’t want us to. So when something happens that offends their delicate sensibilities they call the NYT who has proven they value anything that can draw attention to their dying rag more than they do our national security.


Publishing this is disgraceful and now has given ammunition to the most dangerous regime on Earth as they avoid sanctions and take the last few steps to become the least stable nuclear power on Earth. Well done you worthless scum. Just what is the justification for releasing this extremely sensitive information? There is no indication any laws are being broken by the military. There is simply disagreement about a policy. That does not and should not justify exposing classified information and endangering our operators in the field

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

And to a detail Jeremy Scahill pointed out via Twitter this morning.

interesting that the Petraeus directive for Junc-WTF is exactly what Erik Prince discussed in January

Scahill’s talking, of course, of the big Vanity Fair piece in which Prince revealed that Blackwater had been tasked with just the kind of mission that JUnc-WTF envisions.

That’s the background, then, against which the military continues to build permanent prisons–at which we continue the abuse Cheney instituted–in Afghanistan and Obama prepares to ask Congress for more money to support the seemingly endless war there.

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Mr. Furlong And The Weird Shell Games

Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti at NYT:

Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.

he official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.

While it has been widely reported that the C.I.A. and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.

It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.

Jules Crittenden:

Apparently the United States government set up a covert contractor operation to do this, now under investigation. OK, interesting. Sounds like a potentially problematic approach when we have professionals in our government’s own employ who are supposed to be doing this.


Killing the enemy seems like a good idea, and historically there’s an arguable usefulness to doing an end run around the Paks, though the potential for things going badly wrong and making a bad situation worse in that respect seems pretty high. As is the potential for basically paying a lot for not much.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

So let’s review. The NYT has an incendiary story about how PsyOp contracts have become the means by which someone–who, they don’t know–has potentially illegally funneled money to people, like Clarridge, with a history of freelance spookery. And the means by which information collection in Afghanistan has become blurred with paramilitary activities.

But as it turns out, the NYT has itself paid said freelance spooks.

Don’t get me wrong–this is an important story, and I’m sure the CIA, worried about Furlong encroaching its turf, is happy that NYT’s CIA guy Mazzetti and Filkins have told it. But there are more weird shell games going on here that we’re not getting a full picture of.

The Jawa Report:

And the MSM wonders why we all collectively groan when we get those so called Media Requests? Filed under Assmaggots.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

And now, just when you thought it was safe to put out a job tender, along comes Michael Furlong […]. Spencer Ackerman tracks down his online bio. Mr Furlong, a civilian contractor, is the “Strategic Planner and Technology Integration Adviser” for the Joint Information Operations Warfare Command at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. He is also allegedly the head of an illegal off-the-books spy operation that used information gathered by reporters working under the impression they were engaged in legitimate journalistic activity, and passed it to combat forces for use in targeting insurgents. The journalist “contractors” who worked for Furlong are livid.

The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said.

He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them… Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.

Mr Furlong’s activities may or may not have been illegal. They were unquestionably stupid. Journalists are already being killed in war zones at rates above those of previous conflicts; for many of today’s insurgent combatants, who have their own online media operations, journalists are no longer considered useful or objective observers. Stunts like this will make it even more dangerous for anyone to cover the war in Afghanistan. Imagine being a journalist stopped at a Taliban checkpoint, showing your press identification, being told by a Taliban soldier that you will be kidnapped because American journalists are often just agents of the US Army or CIA—and knowing the Taliban guy is right.

Nathan Hodge at Danger Room at Wired:

“Strategic communications” firms have flourished in the strange new post-9/11 media environment. Unlike traditional military public affairs, which are supposed to serve as a simple conduit for releasing information to the public, strategic communications is about shaping the message, both at home and abroad. Why is that problematic? As Danger Room’s Sharon Weinberger pointed out, “When a newspaper calls up a public affairs officer to find out the number of casualties in an IED attack, the answer should be a number (preferably accurate), not a carefully crafted statement about how well the war is going.”

Afghanistan, in fact, has been a longtime laboratory for strategic communications. Back in 2005, Joshua Kucera wrote a fascinating feature in Jane’s Defence Weekly about how one of the top U.S. military spokesmen in Afghanistan was also an “information operations” officer, who reported to an office responsible for psychological operations and military deception. That kind of dual-hatting continues today: Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the top military spokesman in Afghanistan, is also director for strategic communications in Afghanistan.

And then there’s the military’s interest in newsgathering-type intelligence on Afghanistan’s social and cultural scene. As we’ve reported here before, the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan complained in a damning report that newspapers often have a better sense of “ground truth” in Afghanistan (and suggested that military intelligence needs to mimic newspaper reporting, or even hire a few downsized reporters, to get the job done). Furlong’s scheme — and again, the Times account is a bit muddled here — may have shifted funds away from AfPax Insider, a news venture run by former CNN executive Eason Jordan and author/adventurer Robert Young Pelton. (Pelton has contributed commentary to Danger Room.)

Jordan’s previous venture, IraqSlogger, didn’t capture the private client base hoped for in Iraq. AfPax provided a similar kind of open source, news and information product, sold primarily to the military. Adm. Smith apparently put the kibosh on the funding the project, however.

And then it gets weirder. Furlong’s intel-collection scheme also apparently involves a couple of security consultants who at one point were hired by the Times to help out in locating David Rohde, the Times reporter who was kidnapped in Afghanistan and later escaped, on his own, in Pakistan. It’s not unusual for major news organizations to hire security consultants in hostile places, but it’s also rarely mentioned. This story may provoke a bit more scrutiny of that practice.

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“I Don’t Care What You Write” Is The Quote Of The Day

Mark Mazzetti and James Risen in the NYT:

WASHINGTON — Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.

Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Four former Blackwater executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then the company’s president, had approved the bribes, and the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where Blackwater maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.

Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials.

Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.

Stacy DeLuke, a company spokeswoman, dismissed the allegations as “baseless” and said the company would not comment about former employees. Mr. Black did not respond to telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Reached by phone, Mr. Jackson, who resigned as president of Blackwater early this year, criticized The New York Times and said, “I don’t care what you write.”

Jeremy Scahill at The Nation:

While the Times reports that it is unclear if the bribes were paid and if so to whom, this much is clear: Blackwater continued to operate in Iraq for a full two years after the Iraqis announced the company would be banned–a fact that has baffled and angered Iraqis. While the company eventually lost its large State Department security contract to a competitor in May 2009, Blackwater remains in Iraq on a $200 million aviation contract, which authorizes its men to be armed. That contract was recently extended by the Obama administration.

At present, Blackwater works in Afghanistan for the State Department, the CIA and the Defense Department. It continues to protect US officials there and guards visiting Congressional delegations. Rep. Jan Schakowsky told The Nation she was guarded by Blackwater on a recent trip to Afghanistan and that the company is involved with the security details of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke when they visit the country.

Not long after the Iraqi government announced in September 2007 that Blackwater would be banned, top Iraqi officials swiftly changed their tune about the company and began to publicly state that without Blackwater there would be a security crisis for US officials. After the incident, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki quickly found himself under heavy US pressure to back off his initial demands of expulsion and prosecution. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice immediately called the Iraqi prime minister to apologize, she made a point of emphasizing publicly that “we need protection for our diplomats.” A few days later, Tahseen Sheikhly, a representative of Maliki’s government, stated, “If we drive out this company immediately, there will be a security vacuum…That would cause a big imbalance in the security situation.” In a telling 180 degree turn, Maliki swiftly agreed to withhold judgment on Blackwater’s status, pending the conclusion of a “joint” US-Iraqi investigation. Ultimately five Blackwater operatives were indicted in a US court on federal manslaughter charges stemming from the Nisour Square shootings, while a sixth pled guilty.

Matthew DeLong at Washington Indpendent:

Of course, bribing foreign officials is against U.S. law. Blackwater (which changed its name to Xe earlier this year) has repeatedly found itself at the center of controversies, in addition to the massacre at Nisour Square. The most recent came to light in August, when The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill reported that two former employees alleged in sworn statements that Blackwater owner Erik Prince “may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company.”

Five Blackwater employees are awaiting trial, scheduled to begin next year in federal court, for manslaughter related to the Nisour Square shooting. In 2007, the Iraqi government revoked the contractor’s license to operate in the country. According to The Times, a company spokeswoman dismissed the payoff allegations as “baseless.”

Spencer Ackerman at Washington Indpendent:

Blackwater: so persecuted by the media! Don’t it turn your brown eyes blue?

Joe Windish at Moderate Voice:

In other Blackwater news, a settlement in a civil suit against the company, now known as Xe, brought by dozens of Iraqis, including the estates of victims allegedly killed by Blackwater employees, has apparently fallen apart.

Then there are the reports that Blackwater used child prostitutes in Iraq. And State Department efforts to cut ties with the company (in Iraq, ties continue in other parts of the world) have been unsuccessful.

All of this will be interesting to follow going forward.

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