One of the strangest contradictory sensations of the Trump era is the man's relationship towards and with the various U.S. intelligence agencies. In many cases, Trump's broad criticisms about the unaccountable and seemingly limitless scope of intelligence gathering are valid. Or would be, anyway, if the man actually cared about those issues for any reason beyond his larger tantrum over the way those agencies have undermined his ego. Or if he wasn't simultaneously trying to use that same wide jurisdiction to target his own political enemies.
In other words, Trump's not necessarily wrong about the potential abuses of secret and/or warrantless surveillance (or "wiretapping" as he puts it). But he's only mad about those things because they can be used to threaten him and his friends, instead of reinforcing his hunches. Otherwise, illegal spying and invasions of privacy are totally fine with him—as long as they target the right people.
There are moments, then, where it becomes a case of "My enemy's enemy is my friend" — except that "friend" is also an enemy of sorts, which further complicates the whole mess. Case in point: this recent Just Security post by Douglas London, a former CIA operative. In it, London talks about the way that the CIA's priorities have been forced to shift from general intelligence gathering to just kind of soothing Trump's ego, and retroactively justifying all of the man's random baseless instincts:
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The revealing and most disconcerting aspect of this episode was not that Pompeo presumed the worst from his workforce before getting the full story, nor his vicious dressing down of a dedicated senior official and decorated officer.
More word from the ongoing attempt to bring the people responsible for years of CIA torture to justice: one of the three waterboarding specialists at Guantanamo was called "The Preacher" because while he was drowning suspects to the point of near death, he "would at random times put one hand on the forehead of a detainee, raise the other high in the air, and in a deep Southern drawl say things like, 'Can you feel it, son? Can you feel the spirit moving down my arm, into your body?'"
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Trump fired secretary of state Rex Tillerson, replacing him with CIA director Mike Pompeo. He nominated deputy director Gina Haspel to lead the CIA. If the Senate confirms her, she'll be the first woman to direct the CIA. Quartz offers some background on her:
In 2002, she oversaw a secret prison in Thailand that tortured two terrorism suspects. That torture took place within the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which suspected terrorists are sent to US allies, and interrogated in “black sites” on their soil.
One of the men, known as Abu Zubayda, was waterboarded 83 times in one month and was slammed into walls by the head. He was deprived of sleep and kept in a coffin-like box. Interrogators later decided he didn’t have any useful information.
ProPublica found that Haspel personally signed cables to CIA headquarters that detailed Zubayda’s interrogation.
CIA videos of the torture were destroyed in 2005, on the orders of a cable drafted by Haspel. Her then-boss Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s director of operations for counterterrorism, signed off on the order. “The cable left nothing to chance. It even told them how to get rid of the tapes,” he wrote in his memoir, according to ProPublica. “They were to use an industrial-strength shredder to do the deed.”
The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, a Berlin-based NGO, has been pushing Germany’s public prosecutor to arrest Haspel for her role in the torture program.
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Oscar Rickett and Krent Able created The A-Z of Torture for Vice. Read the rest
Macedonia kidnapped a German citizen called Khalid al-Masri (previously, previously) and sent him to the CIA, mistaking him for a similarly named terror suspect; the CIA tortured him in Afghanistan and held him even after they realized they had the wrong name. Read the rest
Part of the debate about the CIA Torture Report is whether torture works as a means of gathering useful intelligence; scholarly work has long held that it doesn't. Read the rest
An anonymous editor at 220.127.116.11 -- registered to the US Senate -- has repeatedly attempted to scrub the word "torture" from the Wikipedia entry from Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. Read the rest
Dr Atul Gawande (whose Reith lecture on systems thinking I featured last week) took to Twitter to express his shock and disgust at the medical professionals who participated in the crimes documented in the CIA torture report. Read the rest