Below is Stephen Colbert’s interview with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The main feature in this interview is the declassified memo (PDF) from General Myers and an accompanying eight-page Joint Chiefs of Staff report which makes clear that the Intelligence Community’s (IC) “don’t know with any precision how much we don’t know” and that “knowledge of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.” Read more here via UNREDACTED from the National Security Archive.
CNN is reporting that three American contractors went missing in Iraq two days ago, citing an unnamed senior security official in Baghdad.
“A company filed a report Sunday about three of its staff going missing two days ago. They are American contractors. We are looking into this report,” the official told CNN. Separately, an Iraqi security official with knowledge of the case said that two of three missing contractors are dual Iraqi-American citizens, and that the third is an American national.
“We are working in full cooperation with Iraqi authorities to locate the missing Americans,” said U.S. Embassy spokesman Scott Bolz according to the AP.
Although some media outlets are reporting that three are missing, the U.S. Embassy has confirmed to the AP on Sunday that “several” Americans have gone missing in Iraq, after local media reported that three Americans had been kidnapped in the Iraqi capital.
#Breaking Sources: Three Americans kidnapped by militias in Baghdad
The latest Travel Warning for Iraq dated December 4, 2015 notes:
The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. government personnel in Iraq to be serious enough to require them to live and work under strict security guidelines. All U.S. government employees under the authority of the U.S. Chief of Mission must follow strict safety and security procedures when traveling outside the Embassy and Consulates.
It is not clear if the missing are American contractors working for NGOs operating in Iraq or if they are USG contractors. We also have yet to see reporting on the circumstances of their disappearance.
Based on exclusive photos, videos, and messages the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has been receiving from sources on the ground in Kabul since the housing compound for US Embassy security guards was hit by a bomb on Monday, it is clear that the scope and severity of the blast was significant. However, the US State Department has not mentioned the attack in any of its daily press briefings this week, nor has it provided updates regarding the safety and security of American embassy personnel in Afghanistan. POGO has asked the agency for updated information, but has not received a response at the time of this writing.
An American on the scene at Camp Sullivan, which houses hundreds of US and Nepalese guards, told POGO the blast radius was 100 meters wide and caused a 15- feet deep crater, indicating an explosive charge of at least 2,000 lbs. He said the incident is “getting lowballed” by US officials. A BBC producer in Kabul Tweeted that it was the second largest bomb ever detonated in the Afghan capital.
According to POGO sources on the ground, multiple Afghan nationals were killed (two, according to the Interior Minister) and 11 Nepalese security personnel and one American citizen were injured and flown from the scene. A Kabul hospital reported that nine children were among the wounded in the attack.
So, how safe are the US embassy and those who defend it?
That’s the question POGO has been asking officials for years at the State Department, Congress, and the Pentagon. Guards defending the facility have long feared that their daily armored convoys to and from the embassy make them sitting ducks for Taliban attacks.
“If the embassy were attacked, we’d have a huge problem and I don’t want to think about the casualties,” J.P. Antonio, a former medic at the embassy, told POGO in September 2013.
When a senior State Department official reassured Congress in September 2013 that the the US embassy in Afghanistan was well-protected, POGO challenged the veracity of the centerpiece of his testimony – that the contractors protecting the compound had proven themselves twice in battle – and forced him to correct his testimony when it became clear there were no such tests of the Kabul embassy guard force.
It was worth it, at first. Even after the first attack I went through, it was worth it. After this, though? Nope. Big fucking nope. My entire room imploded around me in a surreal blur of glass and brick. If I had been standing instead of laying in bed, I wouldn’t be typing this. permalink
Sorry, I forgot to put the story up. I was living at the compound that got attacked by a Taliban VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) that was inside of a very large truck. It rendered our compound pretty much useless. Luckily, we had no fatalities with mostly minor injuries (myself included).
I was working as an Air Traffic Controller out there. The country of Afghanistan doesn’t have the infrastructure to control their own air traffic, so it is contracted out and I was one of those contractors.
Edit I’m editing this just to say that I’m falling behind on answering questions, but I’ll answer them as soon as I can.
2nd Edit I’m officially failing in my attempts to answer questions and reply as fast as they come in. Sorry if I have missed anyone.
3rd Edit I’ve tried replying to all the questions I could find. I’ve gotta stop now though so I can pack my dirty and glass-covered clothes and get on this flight out of here. I’ll try to respond more when I land. permalink
He was asked about how successful the Taliban has been in attempting to influence the region.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a very good source when it comes to that type of information. We live a VERY sheltered life. We go from secure facility to secure facility, with absolutely zero time spent amongst the local nationals. Unless things like this happen, we hear about stuff at about the same pace as the rest of the world, and with the same twists and biases. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. permalink
Yes, luckily we were still able to get mail. I had quite the collection of board games that my friends and I would play. Then there’s internet/youtube, it’s extremely slow, but better than nothing.permalink
Top 10 in no particular order: 1. Smash Up 2. Revolution 3. Catan 4. Ticket to Ride 5. Kingdom Death: Monster 6. Risk Legacy 7. Betrayal at House on the Hill 8. Rebellion 9. Munchkin 10. Dixit. I don’t usually like games that are “work together” games. They can usually just be played single player and they usually end up with one person “in charge” anyways. permalink
Another user said his relative was in Afghanistan as an air traffic controller about 5 years ago and didn’t think he ever ran into anything such as this though. permalink
It’s been getting slowly worse ever since the “official” pullout last year. Usually the winter time is the quietest time since it’s very cold. This year, however, they have been unexpectedly active. permalink
One Reddit user write the question in the American public’s mind: what we are are trying to achieve in a country long known as the graveyard of empires. “How will Afghanistan come to control their own air traffic in the future if US contractors are doing it all? Is there movement towards Afghanis ever taking it over? Is the US working towards that end, or is this about supplying Americans with jobs? I’m trying to understand what it is we’re trying to achieve there.”
Short answer is yes, we are working towards that. We are currently training a handful of Afghanis. However, they have to learn English as well as all the complicated rules governing ATC. They will not be completely taking over anywhere in the foreseeable future. permalink
He was asked how close he was to the VBIED that blow up the compound”
It was before, now it’s not even close. To be clear, the pay didn’t change, my perspective did. permalink
One Reddit user says, “I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, but your still probably in shock from it all, but remember, PTSD is real. I strongly recommend, when you are ready, a therapist. Someone who you can brain dump it all out. Everyone handles near death experiences differently. I was a medic, and addict/alcoholic, and I am one of those whom never got help, and it nearly killed me. I don’t mean to impose any fear or anxiety on you, I just say from personal experience.”
That’s actually why I did this. So I could share and talk about it.permalink
The Reddit post was submitted on January 5. It currently has 2605 comments, and 5,867points (96% upvoted). The photo submitted in the aftermath of the attack is here.
According to SIGAR, since 2004, FAA—primarily through the Office of the Transportation Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul—has received $56.5 million from State and USAID to train Afghan civil aviation personnel, assist the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in developing its regulatory regime, and improve Kabul International Airport’s infrastructure and services. There’s more:
Due to difficulties associated with developing Afghan capacity for managing the civil aviation system, FAA officials and coalition forces concluded that effective future operation of Afghan airspace would require the development of a third-party contract for providing airspace management services. Accordingly, in 2013, FAA and coalition forces assisted MOTCA in preparing a contract that included provisions requiring the contractor to train Afghan personnel, similar to the structure of the Afghan-centric aviation security contract.
The United States planned to transition airspace management responsibilities back to the Afghans at the end of 2014, but, partly due to a lack of certified air traffic controllers, that did not occur.[…] Due to the potential for air service disruption, the Department of State funded an interim, DOD-managed contract for $29.5 million to provide the services through September 2015. If a follow-on contract is not awarded before this contract expires, the United States could be called on to fund another interim contract.
In December 2015, the US Embassy in Kabul warned of an “imminent attack.” On January 4, 2016, the US Embassy in Kabul issued a security message that the embassy has received reports that an explosion has taken place in the vicinity of Airport Circle in Kabul at approximately 11:00 a.m. local time and indicated that mission personnel have been advised to avoid the area. The same day, NBC News reported that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a compound for civilian contractors near the Kabul airport on Monday, a senior security official said, hours after another suicide bomber blew himself up. A convoy of U.S. embassy guards who live at Camp Sullivan was targeted in the second attack, the official said, but none of the guards were injured.
Camp Sullivan is a 20.9-acre property located near Kabul International Airport. It sits about 2.14 miles from the main embassy compound.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in December that immigration officials did a poor job reviewing the financée visa application of Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., rampage that left 14 dead. Goodlatte said he reviewed the application and found there was insufficient evidence to prove Malik and U.S. citizen Syed Rizwan Farook, had met in person — a requirement for a foreign national seeking a K-1 financée visa before being allowed entry into the U.S.
Let’s say that the couple did not meet, 8 U.S. Code § 1184 – admission of nonimmigrants provides for that exception. Below is the relevant section of the immigration law that our U.S. Congress passed:
(d) Issuance of visa to fiancée or fiancé of citizen
A visa shall not be issued under the provisions of section 1101(a)(15)(K)(i) of this title until the consular officer has received a petition filed in the United States by the fiancée and fiancé of the applying alien and approved by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The petition shall be in such form and contain such information as the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, by regulation, prescribe. Such information shall include information on any criminal convictions of the petitioner for any specified crime described in paragraph (3)(B) and information on any permanent protection or restraining order issued against the petitioner related to any specified crime described in paragraph (3)(B)(i). It shall be approved only after satisfactory evidence is submitted by the petitioner to establish that the parties have previously met in person within 2 years before the date of filing the petition, have a bona fide intention to marry, and are legally able and actually willing to conclude a valid marriage in the United States within a period of ninety days after the alien’s arrival, except that the Secretary of Homeland Security in his discretion may waive the requirement that the parties have previously met in person. In the event the marriage with the petitioner does not occur within three months after the admission of the said alien and minor children, they shall be required to depart from the United States and upon failure to do so shall be removed in accordance with sections 1229a and 1231 of this title.
The American citizen petitioner is asked to submit evidence that he/she or his/her fiancé(e) have met in person during the 2 years preceding the filing of the I-129F petition. Such evidence may include a written statement from the petitioner and/or the beneficiary stating the exact date(s) on which the parties have met in person, copy of airline tickets, passport pages, or other evidence showing the U.S. citizen petitioner and the beneficiary have met in person during the requisite time period.
There are two exceptions to the “meet in person within 2 years before filing a fiance(e) petition” that DHS allows. The applicants must establish (PDF) that:
(1) The requirement to meet the fiancé(e) in person would violate strict and long-established customs of the the petitioner or fiancé(e)’s foreign culture or social practice; or
(2) The requirement to meet the fiancé(e) in person would result in extreme hardship to the American citizen petitioner.
In any case, it doesn’t look like the petitioner requested an exemption to the personal meeting requirement. On December 19, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) released a copy of of what he says is “Malik’s K-1 Visa application” (see pdf). What Mr. Goodlatte actually released is not/not a copy of Malik’s K-1 visa application but U.S. citizen Farook’s Fiancee Visa Petition (I-129F) on behalf of Pakistani national, Tashfeen Malik.
It looks from the petition that Farook made an Intention to Marry Statement indicating that they were both in Saudi Arabia in October 2013. If there is a question here, it might possibly be that the Farook submitted copies of passport pages that show the ID pages and admission stamps without the English translation. The I-129F notes that “The petitioner must submit the English translation of the admission/exit stamps.” We don’t know if he ever did, but the petition was presumably approved, or she would not have been issued a visa.
But man, oh, man, the congressional folks looking into this could not even make the distinction between a petition and a visa?
The U.S. citizen petitioner, in this case, Syed Farook submitted the I-129F Fiance(e) Visa petition to DHS. That’s the document that Mr. Goodlatte released online. The alien beneficiary of the petition, in this case, Tashfeen Malik, then applied for a fiancee visa at a consular post overseas. According to the State Department’s deputy spox, she did that at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. She would have been required, among other things, to fill out a DS-160 form, an Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form, for temporary travel to the United States, and for K (fiancé(e)) visas. Form DS-160 is submitted electronically to the Department of State website via the Internet. Consular Officers use the information entered on the DS-160 to process the visa application and, combined with a personal interview, determine an applicant’s eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa.
The DS-160 form is not available to fill out as a PDF but information asked in that form is available in an unofficial sample form here (PDF).
There’s a notion that if only the K visa was not issued to Malik or if only she were “fully” vetted, perhaps San Bernardino would not have happened. But the other half of the shooters was one of our fellow citizens! Yes, maybe Farook wouldn’t have done it without her. Or maybe Farook would have found someone else and still kill all those people. We don’t effing know. All we know right now is it happened. Sure, we can focus on whether there was enough evidence of a personal meeting or not, but is that going to help us understand the whys and hows behind this attack.
Beyond the question of whether these two have personally meet or not prior to coming to the United States, the larger issue seems to be: how do you determine the intent of a person coming to the United States if he/she has a clean record? The fact is anyone can change one’s intent between the time a visa is issued/entry is allowed into our borders and when action occurs at some later date. It need not have to be a K-1 visa; it can be any kind of visa. It need not have to be a one entry, 90-day visa, it can be a multiple entry, 60 months visa. And it can be a U.S. citizen born, raised, radicalized within our borders, coming back to this country, or already living here. Absent a glass ball, or a pre-cognition system, there is no “full vetting” able to predict a hundred percent an individual’s intent or behavior into future.
And then there’s this: researchers at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law (CNS) analyzed 59 individuals in their ISIS Cases in the United States study (PDF) in 2015. Of the 59 individuals, 17 are domestic plotters, and 100% U.S. citizens. The study notes that “overall, the accused are diverse and difficult to profile, racially or ethnically. They belong to a wide swath of ethnic backgrounds including African, African American, Caucasian, Asian, Eastern European, and South Asian. Few are of Middle Eastern Arab descent.”
Among the characteristics of the foreign fighter and domestic plotter groups in that study? The vast majority, 81% are U.S. citizens, their median age is 24 years. At least one third are converts to Islam and 14% have previous felony convictions. Some food for thought for folks who bother to think this through.
WASHINGTON — As American intelligence agencies grapple with the expansion of the Islamic State beyond its headquarters in Syria, the Pentagon has proposed a new plan to the White House to build up a string of military bases in Africa, Southwest Asia and the Middle East.
The bases could be used for collecting intelligence and carrying out strikes against the terrorist group’s far-flung affiliates.
The plan has met with some resistance from State Department officials concerned about a more permanent military presence across Africa and the Middle East, according to American officials familiar with the discussion. Career diplomats have long warned about the creeping militarization of American foreign policy as the Pentagon has forged new relationships with foreign governments eager for military aid.
Officials said the proposal has been under discussion for some time, including this week during a White House meeting with some members of President Obama’s cabinet. Shortly after General Dempsey retired in September, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter referred to the plan in a little-noticed speech in Washington. “Because we cannot predict the future, these regional nodes — from Morón, Spain, to Jalalabad, Afghanistan — will provide forward presence to respond to a range of crises, terrorist and other kinds,” Mr. Carter said. “These will enable unilateral crisis response, counterterror operations, or strikes on high-value targets.”
Pentagon planners do not see the new approach as particularly costly by military standards. One official estimated it could be in the “low millions of dollars,” mainly to pay for military personnel, equipment and some base improvements.
For the approach to have any chance of success, analysts said, regional American commanders, diplomats and spies will have to work closely together and with Washington — something that does not always happen now — to combat threats that honor no borders.
This past August, the State Department told us that the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R), and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation. Following the departure of Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, the State Department appointed Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications in February 2015. Mr. Hussain previously served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Less than a year into his tenure as CSCC coordinator, Mr. Hussain had joined the Department of Justice reportedly as “a senior official in the department’s national security branch, where he is in charge of an expanding effort to combat violent extremism as well as the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts in the United States.” The move, according to WaPo had reportedly been “planned for months.”
The State Department is considering scaling back its direct involvement in online campaigns to discredit the Islamic State after a review by outside experts cast new doubt on the U.S. government’s ability to serve as a credible voice against the terrorist group’s propaganda, current and former U.S. officials said.
The findings by the six-member panel, which included marketing experts from Silicon Valley and New York, have added to the uncertainty surrounding a State Department program that also faces another management shake-up with the departure of its second director in less than a year.
State Department officials declined to release the review group’s findings, which were laid out in a 100-page collection of slides shortly before Thanksgiving. Officials also declined to identify participants in the study but said the panel included marketing experts and data scientists from California, Texas and New York.
The “sprint team” spent three weeks reviewing U.S. messaging operations, including the work of the CSCC. The project was commissioned by the White House, but the panel’s credentials were questioned by some at State. None of the participants spoke Arabic, were knowledgeable about terrorist groups or had security clearances that would enable them to evaluate classified work.
“They were largely on the marketing and branding side — looking at ISIL and the U.S. governments as brands,” said a U.S. official familiar with the review. One of their main conclusions was that “it’s not the U.S. government that’s going to break the [Islamic State] brand,” the official said. “It’s going to be third parties.”
Meanwhile DOD just got a go-ahead to counter Islamic State messaging. Below via Secrecy News: The FY2016 defense authorization bill was signed into law by President Obama on November 25. It includes the following:
“The Secretary of Defense should develop creative and agile concepts, technologies, and strategies across all available media to most effectively reach target audiences, to counter and degrade the ability of adversaries and potential adversaries to persuade, inspire, and recruit inside areas of hostilities or in other areas in direct support of the objectives of commanders.”
That statement was incorporated in Section 1056 of the 2016 Defense Authorization Act, which also directed DOD to perform a series of technology demonstrations to advance its ability “to shape the informational environment.”
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:
According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.
Now this …
Very few profiles in courage today in Congress; we are leaving good people behind on the battlefield with this bill. https://t.co/YNioOmfIII
The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?
We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.
Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.
On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:
According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts. But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.
Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.
John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.
He applied as a refugee in 2010:
John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).
On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.
He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:
Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.
As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.
John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.
Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.
The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.
If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?
And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis. He served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”