Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani was killed in a targeted U.S. drone strike on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad. This Administration’s public face of this attack, Secretary of State Pompeo went on CNN and said “He was actively plotting in the region to take actions — a big action, as he described it — that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk.” “We know it was imminent,” Pompeo said of Soleimani’s plot, without going into details. He also added that “This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process.”
Following the targeted killing and amidst questions from the media and Congressional members, the Administration ended up conducting an Iran briefing in Congress (see Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got Mad; Real ‘Miles With Mike’ Media Clips This Week For the Unexpurgated Scrapbook)
There were ‘throw everything and the sink” claims linking Soleimani to 9/11, and Benghazi. And on January 10, Trump linked Soleimani in purportedly planned attacks on four U.S. embassies.
What’s perplexing about this is if this were an “imminent” threat — which means happening soon — it would suggest that the planning has already been done. So how does killing the ring leader, if you will, change anything that had already been set in motion? Unless the ring leader is also the suicide bomber, of course; and the USG is not claiming that at this point. But who the frak knows what happens next week?
On January 3, the day of the targeted strike in Baghdad, four other embassies in the region issued a security alerts, not one specified any “imminent” threat; in fact, all but one emphasized the lack of information or awareness indicating a “threat,” or “specific, credible threats.”
- US Embassy Bahrain issued a Security Alert on January 3, 2016 and specifically noted “While we have no information indicating a threat to American citizens, we encourage you to continually exercise the appropriate level of security awareness in regards to your personal security and in the face of any anti-U.S. activity that may arise in Bahrain.”
- U.S. Embassy Kuwait also issued an Alert on January 3: specifically noted that “We are not aware of specific, credible threats against private U.S. citizens in Kuwait at this time.”
- U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon also issued an Alert on January 3 did not specify any imminent threat only that “Due to heightened tensions in Iraq and the region, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.”
- U.S. Mission Saudi Arabia issued own Security Alert on January 3 specifically said that “The Mission is not aware of any specific, credible threats to U.S. interests or American citizens in the Kingdom.
Before the strike, Diplomatic Security’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (DS/TIA/OSAC) tasked with a “duty to warn” for threat notifications made to U.S. private sector organizations tweeted about a weather alert for Mauritius, a demonstration alert for Montenegro, and a security alert for Nuevo Laredo.
Given President Trump’s documented 15,413 false or misleading claims (see the Fact Checker’s database), the public should have a good reason to question this new claim. Except for US Embassy Iraq which suspended all public consular operations on January 1 following the militia attacks at the embassy compound, no other embassy announced closure or temporary suspension of operation due to imminent threats.
There’s also something else also worth noting here because we fear that this would not be the last incident in the region. Or anywhere else for that matter.
In the aftermath of the Lockerbie Bombing, Congress passed the Aviation Security Improvement Act in 1990 which, in Section 109, added to the Federal Aviation Act a requirement that the President “develop guidelines for ensuring notification to the public of threats to civil aviation in appropriate cases.” The Act which is included in Public Law No: 101-604, prohibits selective notification: “In no event shall there be notification of a threat to civil aviation to only selective potential travelers unless such threat applies only to them.” After enactment of the provisions of this Act, the Foreign Affairs Manual notes that the State Department decided to follow similar policies in non-civil aviation contexts.
The State Department therefore has a “no double standard” policy for sharing important security threat information, including criminal information. That policy in general says that “if the Department shares information with the official U.S. community, it should also make the same or similar information available to the non-official U.S. community if the underlying threat applies to both official and non-official U.S. citizens/nationals.” Adherence to this policy is not perfect (see below) but for the most part, we think that Consular Affairs takes this role seriously.
- December 2017, @StateDept Spox Talks “No Double Standard Policy” and 7 FAM 052 Loudly Weeps
- August 2011, Whoops! No Double Standard Policy and US Embassy Bogota’s Threat Info Dissemination
- May 2013, A New Travel Warning for Egypt? No Comment or Howabout “There Are No Guarantees In This Business”
In any case, we’re left with the whichiswhich:
#1. They knew but did not share?
Did the Administration know about these imminent threats but did not notify our official communities in four targeted posts, and as a consequence, there were no public notifications of these imminent threats?
In the aftermath of Benghazi, we understand that if there was intel from IC or DOD that Diplomatic Security would have been looped-in. Pompeo was also one of the congressional briefers but his Diplomatic Security was somehow not clued in on these “threats” based on “intelligence-based assessment”?
And basically, USG employees, family members and American citizens were just sitting ducks at these posts?
On January 14, CNN reported:
“State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN.[…[Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn’t issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful official, according to the sources.
#2. They knew but did not say anything publicly?
Did they know about an imminent threat but Diplomatic Security (DS) and the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) failed or were not allowed to issue the needed alerts? “Failed” seems unlikely since the State Department’s Consular Information Program is quite active (oh, feel free to email if you know anything to the contrary). What DS and CA did with the “imminent” threat information, if there was one, would probably be a good subject for an FOIA. The January 14 CNN reporting also says:
The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.
So then a global warning was sent but there was no public notification of that warning?
We’ve been told previously that it’s not difficult to get around the “no double standard” policy. See, you only need to tell the public, if you’re alerting the official community. Get that? If officials carry on as before, and do not change official behavior or advice, they do not have to say anything publicly.
Was that what happened here?
We’re interested to know from the legal heads out there — since this appears to be agency policy but not set in law, does this mean the State Department can opt to be selective in its public threat notification if it so decides? Selective notification, the very thing that the agency sought to avoid when it established its “no double standard” policy decades ago.
#3. They didn’t know; it was just feelings?
Four embassies? Where? What if there was no intel on imminent threat besides a presidential “feeling” that there could be an attack on such and such place? What if political appointees anxious to stay on the president’s good side supported these beliefs of the presidential gut feeling? How does one releases a security alert on an imminent threat based on feelings? Also if all threats are “imminent” due to gut feelings, how does our government then make a distinction between real and imagined threats?
Due to this Administration’s track record, the public cannot, must not accept what it says even out of fear. The last time this happened, our country invaded another country over a lie, and 17 years later, we’re still there; and apparently, not leaving even when asked by the host country to leave.
Unfortunately, a war without end, in a country far, far away numbs the American public to the hard numbers.
DOD ‘s official figure on Operation Iraqi Freedom is 4,432 military and civilian DOD casualties (PDF), with a total of 31,994 wounded in action at (PDF). According to the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, over 182,000 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the US, its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through November 2018.
The Soleimani killing did not blow up into a full blown war but given the unrestrained impulses of our elected leaders and their appointed enablers, we may not be so lucky next time. And there will be a next time.
Pompeo insists the ideas that Soleimani presented an "imminent" threat but the administration doesn't know when or where he planned to strike are "completely consistent thoughts." pic.twitter.com/7LDFR7zcVU
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 10, 2020
Here's Mike Lee on CNN going to painful lengths to avoid calling Mike Pompeo a liar pic.twitter.com/40OU2sk6BE
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 12, 2020
NSA O’Brien asked on @MeetThePress to respond to our reporting that US embassy Baghdad (which Trump says was threatened) wasn’t warned of an imminent attacks, “This was a very fast moving situation.” Says Trump moved in troops to protect embassy. But that was after protests.
— Shane Harris (@shaneharris) January 12, 2020
The administration didn’t present evidence to Congress regarding even one embassy. The four embassies claim seems to be totally made up. And they have never presented evidence of imminence—a necessary condition to act without congressional approval—with respect to any of this. https://t.co/Eg0vaCnqFd
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) January 12, 2020
The Defense Secretary get the PDB. If he didn’t see that intelligence, it doesn’t exist. https://t.co/86PiZyZzgo
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) January 12, 2020
Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s new talking point is that while he may not have seen intelligence indicating Iran was imminently targeting American embassies, President Sharpie believed they were — and that’s good enough for him. That’s the best these guys can do. It’s farcical.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 12, 2020