Truth To Power

Posted March 11th, 2011 at 3:01 pm (UTC+0)
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“Where have you been?” I hear you say.

Well, yeah, I haven’t posted recently.  But it does get busy in the news biz these days.  It’s Egypt… Wait, no, it’s Bahrain… Wait, no, it’s Yemen… Wait, no, it’s Saudi Arabia… Wait, no, it’s Libya…

And speaking of Libya…

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper got himself in a bit of hot water with his boss, the president of the United States, Thursday when he opined at a Senate hearing that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi (N.B. it’s okay if your spelling of his name is not the same as ours) was likely to prevail against the rebels seeking to oust him.  To bolster his case, Clapper pointed to the huge advantage in men and weaponry enjoyed by Gadhafi and the comparative disorganization of the ill-trained and ill-equipped rebel forces.  He said Gadhafi was hunkered down for the long haul and has no intention of quitting.

Clapper’s comments came just as President Obama said Gadhafi no longer has a legitimate hold on power and officials reported that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton would meet with members of the Libyan opposition.


Reaction was sharp and swift.  National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon called Clapper’s analysis a “static and one-dimensional assessment.”  Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called for Clapper’s dismissal, saying his comments “will make the situation more difficult for those opposing Gadhafi,” and that “it also undercuts our national efforts to bring about the desired result of Libya moving from dictator to democracy.”

The mantra of the professional intelligence officer is to “tell truth to power.”  For a policymaker to make an informed decision, the information he gets from the intelligence world must be unbiased and honest, sometimes brutally so.  As director of national intelligence, James Clapper is not only the nation’s top intelligence officer, he is the president’s intelligence briefer.   For him, above all, it is imperative that he tell truth to power.

But policymakers don’t like bad news or information that undercuts their preferred plan of action. This penchant has led to intelligence being skewed to conform to a policymaker’s known biases.  Or political officials choose the bits of intelligence that conform to their expectations and ignore contrary views, a process known as “cherry-picking.”  It has been charged that this is what happened in the lead-up to the Iraq war regarding intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist.   Bush administration officials, including then CIA director George Tenet, have denied this happened.

Politics has tinged the Libya issue, with calls from lawmakers for the Obama administration to ratchet up the pressure on Gadhafi with a no-fly zone and recognition of the rebel interim government, a step France has already taken. Clapper threw cold water on the no-fly zone idea, pointing out – as an intelligence professional would – that Libya’s air defense systems are more capable than some have suggested.  When Sen. John McCain asked if recognition of the rebel Libyan National Council would boost opposition morale, Clapper said, “It probably would raise their morale, sir, and that’s a policy call and certainly not in my department of intelligence.”

Clapper’s comments were backed up by other sources. The Defense Intelligence Agency chief, Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, agreed with Clapper.  And a study by the independent International Institute for Strategic Studies in London largely confirmed Clapper’s analysis of Libyan government vs. rebel capabilities.

Clapper has been in hot water before.  Last month, he came under fire for characterizing Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a “largely secular” group during another congressional hearing.   In a December television interview, Clapper admitted he was unaware of a bombing in London that had been all over the news that day.

In answering senators’ questions about Libya, Clapper was doing his job.  He was telling truth to power.  His real mistake this time was doing it in public view.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Diplomat, Spy, Contractor

Posted February 22nd, 2011 at 8:19 pm (UTC+0)
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In the murky world of intelligence and diplomacy – the two often intertwine – it’s not always easy to know the truth.  The Raymond Davis case is a prime example.

It has now emerged that Raymond Davis, the American held by Pakistan for shooting two alleged robbers, is a CIA contractor.  Many news organizations had this information for some time, but withheld it at U.S. government request for fear of endangering him.  They finally jumped on the bandwagon after the British newspaper, The Guardian, broke the story.

But there are some interesting questions that surround both the case and the news stories about it.

The Guardian story says the information came from interviews in the U.S. and Pakistan.  Yet all The Guardian’s quotes on Davis’ status come from unnamed sources on the Pakistani side, including a “senior Pakistani intelligence official,” a “senior police official involved with the case,” and an on-the-record quote from the Punjab provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, who said he had “confirmation” that Davis was a “CIA employee.”

Were the Pakistanis trying to force the issue by leaking the story of Davis’ status?  It seems at least plausible, even likely.  Maybe they tried to peddle it to American correspondents, but the U.S. news organizations balked out of concern for Davis, frustrating the Pakistani side, so they went to a more accommodating British newspaper. It should be noted that last year the name of the CIA’s undercover station chief in Pakistan was leaked to local media, forcing him to leave the country.  Some U.S. intelligence officials blame Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the ISI, for the leak.

As for Davis himself, he is not a “CIA employee” – a “blue badger,” in CIA parlance, referring to the color of the security badge at headquarters in Langley, Va.  He may not even be an intelligence officer. According to the multiplicity of published reports, he is a security officer assigned to do reconnaissance and protection for the spies working out of a safe house in Lahore.  Reports say the group was tracking militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba.

At first the U.S. government would only say he was assigned to the “administrative and technical section” of the U.S. mission, and that he thus enjoys diplomatic immunity.  But Pakistani officials dispute that, saying that even if he had a diplomatic passport – and it appears that he did have one – he did not have a diplomatic visa.

But the status of the men Davis allegedly shot was also murky.  The Pakistan government has said the men were robbers.  But the Pakistan government is raising an awfully big stink over the deaths of two petty thieves.

Some reports have suggested they were actually agents of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, assigned to surveillance on Davis.

The Guardian story quotes a senior police official saying that he “confirmed U.S. claims that the men were petty thieves – investigators found stolen mobiles, foreign currency and weapons on them – but did not rule out an intelligence link.”

One official source – and I cannot identify him any closer than that – tells me that the men were ISI agents tailing Davis. The incident, says this source, may have arisen out of a kind of game of dare.  By this account, the ISI agents were pushing to see how close they could get. They got too close and Davis opened fire.

However, other published stories quote U.S. and Pakistani officials as denying any ISI connection to the dead men.

The truth may never become public.  But the incident has already damaged U.S.-Pakistan relations.  The public emergence of Davis’ status is sure to fray the already rocky, up-and-down relationship between the CIA and the ISI.

Iraq Inside Baseball

Posted February 16th, 2011 at 3:34 pm (UTC+0)
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At the CIA, they have the best little gift shop at which you cannot shop. It sells all kinds of trinkets with the agency logo like pens, t-shirts, glassware. (I love the sign that says that “if you are in covert status do not use a credit card” – although why anybody who was in secret mode would want to use a traceable credit card to buy a sweatshirt emblazoned a logo and the words “CIA” on it is a bit puzzling.) Sorry, mail or online orders not accepted.
So, sitting on my desk is a baseball, procured during a recent visit there for an interview, with the logo and words “CIA” on it. You could even use it to throw that good screwy, winding baseball pitch known as a curveball. But that particular pitch has a sour connotation in the offices and cubicles of the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.
The reason for that is simple: An agency source codenamed “Curveball” has now publicly recanted the information he gave to the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the German intelligence service, the BND, about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“Curveball” – an Iraqi defector named Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janab – has admitted to the British newspaper, the Guardian, that he fabricated claims that Iraq had mobile biological weapons labs and clandestine factories. His recantation comes just after the eighth anniversary of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations essentially making the case for the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The speech relied heavily on Curveball’s claims. Curveball now says he had to fabricate something to topple the Saddam Hussein regime.
Not everybody bought into Curveball’s claims at the time. Chief among them was Tyler Drumheller, the then-chief of CIA European operations. In that job he was liaison to the BND, and he heard firsthand that German intelligence was dubious about Curveball’s claims, and Drumheller tried to pass on those doubts up the line.
“What we were saying was, before you use this, before you consider this, it needs to be thoroughly vetted and we need to answer a lot of questions,” he told me after Curveball’s recantation became public.
Even so, Curveball’s claims were used and made it into Secretary Powell’s pivotal speech, despite warnings Drumheller says he gave CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin. McLaughlin has said he recalls no such warning.
Drumheller says he does feel somewhat vindicated by Curveball’s admission. He calls the whole Curveball episode “sad” in light of the bloody war that ensused.
“You have to have certain standards for intelligence reporting and you have to maintain those standards,” he says. “But policymakers can’t pick and choose what they use because they happen to hear something that fits what their preconception is on an issue. And that’s always dangerous because that’s what happened in this case.”
The process Drumheller describes is called “cherry picking” and Bush administration officials have repeatedly denied using it in planning for the war in Iraq.
In baseball, the whole purpose of a curveball is to fool the batter into taking a swing and missing. Could that be what happened with Iraq intelligence gathering and analysis?

Did CIA Say What I Think It Said?

Posted February 11th, 2011 at 2:59 pm (UTC+0)

Did CIA director Leon Panetta mislead the media on Egypt? Or did the media mislead the public on Panetta?

During congressional testimony Thursday on the annual threat assessment – scant hours before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s latest speech – Panetta responded to a question on Egypt by appearing to confirm reports that President Mubarak was likely to resign, probably by nightfall. Within minutes, Internet headlines appeared and broadcasts blared that the CIA chief was heralding Mubarak’s imminent downfall. Agency officials hastily tried to damp that down, saying he was only referring to media reports, but the damage was done.

But what did Panetta actually say?

The CIA chief’s statements came during a line of questioning about intelligence reporting on Egypt. Charges have been made – mostly by politicians – that the spy agencies were caught off guard by the uprising in Egypt and failed to warn policymakers. And if there is one thing policymakers do not like, it is surprises.
First, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the spy agencies have long tracked the undercurrent of unrest in Egypt, but that it was impossible to predict what would spark unrest.

Then it was Panetta’s turn. He likened trying to pick that one spark that would ignite the situation to predicting earthquakes. Then, pressed on the current situation in Egypt, he said (from the transcript, italics added):

PANETTA: “…And as you can see, I got the same information you did, that there is a strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down this evening, which would be significant in terms of where — where the hopefully orderly transition in Egypt takes place.”
And later in the hearing, in a colloquy with Rep. Jan Schakowsky:
PANETTA: “… Let me say, just to make very clear here, that I’ve received reports that possibly Mubarak might do that. We are continuing to monitor the situation. We have not gotten specific word that he in fact will do that, but… “

SCHAKOWSKY: “Does that mean Suleiman would — would take over? Do we know that?”

PANETTA: “I — I don’t know the particulars of how this would work, but I would assume that he would turn over more of his powers to Suleiman to be able to direct the country and direct the reforms that hopefully will take place.”
Two things to point out here: first of all, Panetta never in fact said he got the information from intelligence reporting. It was vague, sure, but intelligence officers have to do be cagey. It may well have been from real-time media reports from Cairo, as his aides asserted. (And, it might be added, some intelligence types don’t like to admit they get key information from open sources, like radio, TV, and newspapers. Doesn’t quite have the same cachet as the secret stuff. But in the information age, they often do get it from open sources – and it might be wrong.)

Second, and most important: Panetta confirmed nothing. Look at the italicized phrases. He in fact offered carefully worded qualifiers: “strong likelihood that Mubarak may step down,” reports that “possibly Mubarak might” leave, but “no specific word” that he would.

It seems that many in the media did not carefully sift through what was actually said before blaring to the world that the supposedly prescient chief of the most famous spy agency in the world was confirming the departure of the president of Egypt. It underscores how the insatiable 24-hour news cycle has eroded standards of accuracy. (As an aside, with all due lack of modesty,  I am proud to say we here at VOA News, after much discussion, did NOT report that CIA Director Panetta was confirming Mubarak’s impending resignation. We’ll give ourselves a pat on the back for that, if you don’t mind.)

The Spies Have It

Posted February 1st, 2011 at 4:34 pm (UTC+0)
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The appointment of Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice-president underscores both the power of the country’s intelligence services in keeping the government in power and the deep influence the military has on policymaking in Cairo.

Egypt has three intelligence services: a foreign intelligence service, called the General Intelligence Service, often called the Mukhabarat; a Directorate of Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance, and a domestic agency called the State Security Investigations Service.  The GIS is attached to the presidency – which accounts for Suleiman’s closeness to President Hosni Mubarak – military intelligence is under the Ministry of Defense, and the SSIS is under the Ministry of Interior.

By most accounts the GIS is first among equals among Egyptian intelligence agencies.   Egyptian journalist Issandr Amrani has described the GIS as an organization that “combines the intelligence-gathering elements of the CIA, the counterterrorism role of the FBI, the protection duties of the Secret Service and the high-level diplomacy of the State Department.”

The GIS has the president’s direct ear and deals in both foreign and domestic intelligence (the latter usually under the rubric of counterterrorism), although the SSIS is also an engine of internal security and, critics say, repression.  Jurisdictional lines are often blurred, which, analysts say, often leads to bureaucratic rivalry and duplication – not anything new in any country that has multiple intelligence bodies.

In 2009, Foreign Policy magazine named Suleiman, a serving army general, as the most powerful intelligence chief in the Middle East, wielding more clout than even the head of Israel’s Mossad, or the chief of Iran’s Quds Force, the external arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The CIA has had a long relationship with the GIS, dating back to the rule of General Gamal Abdel Nasser, who came to power in 1956.  More recently, the U.S. has been grateful to Cairo for its quashing of Islamic extremism in Egypt.

But Gen. Suleiman has come under criticism in some quarters for his role in enabling CIA “renditions,” in which terrorism suspects were sent to third countries for sometimes harsh and brutal interrogation, as documented in Jane Mayer’s book “The Dark Side.”  In a 2009 U.S. congressional hearing, former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who headed the agency’s unit hunting Osama bin Laden, defended the practice of rendition as “the single most effective counterterrorism operation ever conducted by the United States Government.”  But in the same hearing, he said that “there were no qualms at all about sending people to Cairo and kind of joking up our sleeves about what would happen to those people in Cairo in Egyptian prisons.”

Suleiman’s closeness to President Mubarak and his role as an intelligence chief make him a possible choice by the military to be at least an interim figure in some kind of transition. But those same factors appear to make him deeply unpalatable to the demonstrators demanding not only Mubarak’s ouster, but that of the president’s associates as well – and Omar Suleiman would be at the top of that list.

Things Your Travel Agent Won’t Tell You

Posted January 21st, 2011 at 5:22 pm (UTC+0)
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I recently wrote a blog about how to try to survive if caught in a shooting spree like the one in Tucson, Arizona.  But a recent posting by the good folks at Stratfor (a private intelligence firm with some very intelligent people) on what to do if caught in political or military unrest in a place such as in Tunisia set me to thinking on a wider scale.

This is an issue with which I have some expertise and a scenario all too familiar to many foreign correspondents.  After all, journalists are usually the ones going into a country to cover the unrest when everybody else is trying to get out.

(This has its advantages.  I’ve flown into some countries where the plane going in is so empty that I’ve gotten bumped up to first class, which is kind of nice.  I mean, if you’re going to get yourself killed, it at least helps to go out with style.  And entering the country is easy.  There are no lines at customs.  In fact, in some cases, there are no customs officials available at all because they’ve all left!)

Finding yourself in the middle of political upheaval such as a coup when you are on vacation can be unnerving, especially for someone not used to it.  If you do find yourself in such a situation – or more to the point, are planning a trip to a place where dangerous things might happen – there are a few things you can do.

The main thing is to think ahead.  Expatriates living abroad may have planned for contingencies, but the casual traveler probably hasn’t. Know the situation in the country before you go.

Fred Burton of Stratfor suggests having an escape kit ready so you can move quickly on short notice.

Have a cell phone. I have found them to be sometimes surprisingly reliable even in the middle of upheaval. After all, even coup plotters need to communicate. A satellite phone, if you have one or access to one, is even better.

Snacks and vitamins, whatever you need for energy, are essential because you may not know when you’ll get your next meal.  I also highly recommend packing a battery-powered water treatment device called the SteriPen, which uses ultraviolent light to make local water safe to drink. It’s lightweight, portable, and will save you from unpleasant water-borne diseases.  Extra currency (both local and foreign) is useful to have to pay for transportation and, if necessary, bribes. Credit cards are often useless when a government and its banking system are falling apart.

Know where you are going or need to go and plan for the unexpected.  I also recommend a small battery-powered GPS equipped with a solar charger from Solio – it can also charge your cell phone.  That plane ticket you have may prove worthless if they close the airport.  How will you get out?  Is your embassy evacuating civilians?  (And Stratfor recommends registering with your embassy upon arrival in the country.)

A little planning will allow you to return home safely with plenty of interesting stories to tell.

What Do We Know About Iran and When Do We Know It?

Posted January 14th, 2011 at 6:37 pm (UTC+0)
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Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense under former President George W. Bush, once had a lot of people in Washington scratching their heads in puzzlement when he described how the U.S. sizes up a potential military adversary:

“As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know,” Rumsfeld said on Feb. 1, 2002

What the former defense secretary was saying – in his convoluted and inimitable way – is that there is vast uncertainty in sizing up a potential adversary.  And although he was talking about Iraq at the time, his words apply equally to the murky state of knowledge about Iran and its nuclear intentions.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Iran has not yet decided to move ahead with making nuclear weapons, and that there is intense, ongoing debate inside the Iranian leadership on the issue.  A senior U.S. official – who asked not to be identified in order to discuss sensitive matters – says that “even if they have the items in the pantry, they haven’t yet decided to put them together.”

But Israeli officials, who have been sounding the alarm about Iranian nuclear efforts, still contend that, contrary to the U.S. judgment, Iran is moving full steam ahead in nuclear weapons work.

The idea that Iran has not yet decided to make nukes is not a new one.  It was in the controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which reflects the collective judgment of the U.S. intelligence community.  Proponents of military action against Iran derided the estimate as flawed, whereas opponents saw it as a reasoned judgment.  The latest estimates stick to that earlier call.

That there has been a slowdown in Iranian nuclear work seems pretty certain in intelligence circles – a “known known,” by Mr. Rumsfeld’s definition.  But Iran is believe to still be some ways away from actually being able to construct nuclear weapons.  Even the outgoing chief of Mossad, Israel’s spy agency,  said recently Iran will not be able to build a bomb until 2015.  Some analysts attribute that to the effectiveness of international sanctions.  “Sanctions are having a real effect on Iran at the moment, and you’ve got to wonder if you’re an Iranian official if it’s really worth it over the long haul to proceed with a weapons program, ” said the U.S. official.  Other analysts say covert efforts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear efforts are also having an effect.

Nailing down whether the Iranian leadership is still hedging its bets on its nuclear ambitions is difficult.  Intentions are tougher to gauge than capabilities.  As anybody in the intelligence business will tell you, it’s much easier to tell if someone has a missile then to know what they plan to do with it.

If you’ve ever played poker, you know what going “all in” means – putting everything you have into one single hand of cards.  Whether Iran has decided to go all in or not, it is playing for very high stakes indeed.

Surviving the Horror

Posted January 11th, 2011 at 3:47 pm (UTC+0)
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Getting caught in the crossfire of a shooting incident, be it in Tucson or Islamabad, is frightening.  You feel defenseless, helpless, perhaps frozen to the spot.

But you are not necessarily helpless, says former Secret Service agent Christopher Falkenberg — and he should know. The Secret Service’s primary task is to guard the president of the United States.  There are ways, says Falkenberg, to improve what he calls “admittedly thin chances of survivability” when the bullets are flying.

Here are his tips:

If someone can’t see you, then generally they can’t shoot you.  So take whatever cover you can, even if it’s cover that won’t stop a bullet.

If the attacker is going through a building looking for victims, turn lights off and stay quiet.  (Some victims of shooting sprees have also survived by playing dead.)

“In many cases, people who commit these crimes have rehearsed these crimes, and they have not contemplated what would happen if there is any resistance” Falkenberg says.  So if you’re faced with a shooter and there is nothing else to do but wait for the inevitable bullet, he counsels putting up active resistance:  throw a stapler, telephones, whatever you can do.  You might just disrupt his plans, or at least prevent others from being harmed.

In that I am reminded of United Airlines Flight 93 on Sep. 11, 2001, in which the passengers decided to fight the hijackers who were planning to crash the plane into a Washington target, perhaps the Capitol.  Instead, the plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

I would add another tip of my own: learn some basic first aid, especially CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation).  Some advanced training is even better.  I once took a week-long course designed for journalists traveling to danger zones. Part of the course was training in on-the-spot treatment of trauma, including gunshot and other wounds.  It was pretty harrowing stuff, to tell you the truth. Do I remember everything that was taught?  No.  But I retained enough, I think, not to feel helpless in such a situation.

Certainly I would want to have the presence of mind that congressional intern Daniel Hernandez had when his boss was shot in Tucson.  He rushed to her side and applied direct pressure to the gunshot wound in her head, and told a bystander how to apply pressure to another victim’s wound.  Doctors say that probably saved the congresswoman’s life.

Plugging the Leaks

Posted January 7th, 2011 at 7:38 pm (UTC+0)
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There is a famous legend about the little Dutch boy who saves his town from flooding by plugging a leak in a dike with his finger.  Fortunately for him (and the town), there was only one leak because, well, a boy has only so many fingers.  But multiple leaks of information keep on coming out of the U.S. government, and the Obama administration is trying to crack down on them.  But even the U.S. government has a limited number of fingers.

In the most recent case, the Justice Department has just indicted former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling for leaking information to a journalist, believed to be New York Times reporter James Risen, on clandestine American efforts to sabotage the nuclear program of an unnamed country, assumed to be Iran.  The material Sterling is accused of leaking was a central part of Risen’s 2006 book, “State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

The indictment comes on top of other government efforts to halt leaks.  Last year, a former official of the super-secret National Security Agency was accused of leaking information to the Baltimore Sun, and a State Department contractor was charged with giving secret information to Fox News.  All of this is in addition to the continuing uproar over the disclosures of classified cables and reports by the online website, WikiLeaks.

So why do people leak?

Motives vary.  And it’s up to the journalists who receive the leaks to figure out those motives because it might influence how the information is interpreted. The leaked data may be incomplete, or selectively disclosed out of context, or even altered.  Does the leaker have a grudge?  Sterling is portrayed in his indictment as a disgruntled employee angry over perceived racial discrimination.

Other leakers believe themselves to be true patriots, whistleblowers trying to publicize some government misdeed. Thomas Drake believed he was disclosing evidence of the waste of funds on several intelligence projects at the NSA.  Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 said he leaked the documents out of opposition to the Vietnam war.

Whatever the reason, the government takes a dim view of those who leak.  Even so, prosecutions are comparatively rare. Officials don’t like to discuss secret information in open court proceedings, so many leakers are subjected to internal disciplinary action, usually dismissal.

That’s what makes the Obama administration’s campaign so unusual.   Steven Aftergood, an expert on security classification issues at the Federation of American Scientists, told the Washington Post that the five leaks cases pursued by the Obama administration exceeds the total for all previous administrations. One wonders if the administration will run out of fingers to plug the leaks.

Pakistan Killing Raises Security Questions

Posted January 6th, 2011 at 7:05 pm (UTC+0)
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Pakistani provincial governor Salman Taseer, an outspoken opponent of his country’s contentious blasphemy laws,  was allegedly gunned down by a member of his own protective squad.  The assassin immediately surrendered and, with a smile on his face, proudly proclaimed that he had killed a blasphemer.

A lone wolf or a conspirator?  It is not yet clear.  Yet the killing raises a lot of questions about security and personal protection.

The assassin, identified as Mumtaz Qadir, joined the Special Forces of the Punjab police in 2002 and had reportedly been identified as a security risk at that time for holding extreme Islamic views.  Yet not only was no action taken against him, he got on the Elite Force and was assigned to the most sensitive work: guarding the governor.  Qadir allegedly fired more than 20 rounds at close range into the man he was assigned to protect.  Not a single other member of the security detail returned fire.

The pages of history are riddled with victims of security failures:  John F. Kennedy, Anwar Sadat, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto – the list goes on.

These assassinations have led to ever-tightening security measures, sometimes to mind-boggling extremes.  Buildings along a motorcade route might be emptied or even a whole town locked down to keep a potential assassin away.  But politicians like to mingle with people – after all, that’s where the votes are – and often ignore the counsel of their protective detail.  Benazir Bhutto – who was assassinated almost exactly three years ago in Rawalpindi – became vulnerable when she popped up through the sunroof of her vehicle to wave at the crowd.

All the rings of protection around someone are futile if security checks, psychological testing, etc., fail to detect an internal threat.  There is something seriously wrong if a potential assassin can get so close to his victim without setting off alarm bells.

But if, in the Salman Taseer case, the alarm bells were deliberately turned off so they could not be heard, then Pakistan’s problems with internal security and extremism are indeed wide and deep.

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About this blog

Gary Thomas

Gary Thomas is VOA senior correspondent and news analyst. He has spent more than 30 years covering a wide range of stories on political developments, war, and civil unrest. From 1990 to 1994 he was VOA’s bureau chief in Islamabad, and has made numerous trips back to the region since then. He was also Southeast Asia bureau chief in Bangkok from 1996-2001. He is now based in Washington, providing background and analysis on issues of intelligence, security, and terrorism for VOA’s worldwide audience.


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