Posts Tagged ‘CIA Director Leon Panetta’

CIA director defends Iraqi killers contract

June 29, 2010
Morning Star Online, Monday 28 June 2010
by Tom Mellen

The CIA has defended its new $100 million (£66m) contract with a notorious mercenary outfit to protect US diplomats in Afghanistan.

In a rare television interview on Sunday, CIA director Leon Panetta confirmed that his agency had hired Xe Services – the company once known as Blackwater – to provide “protective security services” at US consulates in Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Mr Panetta insisted that the US intelligence service did not have “much choice but to accept that contract” after Xe underbid other competitors “by about $26m.”

Continues >>

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CIA hired Blackwater for assassin program

August 20, 2009
Middle East Online, First Published 2009-08-20


Blackwater changes its name to Xe after Iraq murders

Republicans ‘deeply concerned’ as US Attorney General poised to look into abuses by CIA interrogators.

WASHINGTON – The CIA hired the security firm Blackwater in 2004 as part of its secret program to find and kill suspected terrorists, US media said Thursday, citing current and former intelligence officials.

The program, on which the Central Intelligence Agency spent several million dollars, was cut before launching any missions and the hiring of an outside company was a major reason that CIA director Leon Panetta moved to cancel it, the New York Times said.

Shortly after learning about the effort in June, Panetta pulled the plug and briefed lawmakers on details of the program, of which they had not been informed since 2001.

Citing government officials, the Times said the CIA had separate agreements with top Blackwater executives for the outsourcing, as opposed to a formal contract with the whole firm.

The State Department cut ties with Blackwater following ongoing allegations of abuse in Iraq. The North Carolina-based company renamed itself Xe after the Iraq government banned it in January over killing civilians in Baghdad’s Nisur Square on September 16, 2007.

It had been given “operational responsibility” for the targeting program, according to the Washington Post, which noted the covert effort was canceled before any missions were conducted.

Before the program was cut, however, the private security firm had already been awarded “millions of dollars for training and weaponry,” according to the Post.

“Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong,” said an unnamed intelligence official close to program, quoted by daily.

Republicans denounce possible CIA interrogator probe

A group of Republican US senators sharply warned Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday against launching a formal probe into alleged abuses by CIA interrogators of suspected terrorists.

“Such an investigation could have a number of serious consequences, not just for the honorable members of the intelligence community, but also for the security of all Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Holder.

Republican Senators Jon Kyl, the party’s number two in the Senate; Kit Bond, co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee were among the nine signers.

The lawmakers said they were “deeply concerned” by media reports that Holder was poised to name a special prosecutor to look into alleged abuses by CIA interrogators of suspected terrorists.

“There is little doubt that further investigations and potential prosecutions of CIA officials would chill future intelligence activities,” the senators warned.

“The intelligence community will be left to wonder whether actions taken today in the interest of national security will be subject to legal recriminations when the political winds shift,” the senators said.

Holder may be close to announcing a probe focused on whether interrogators went beyond torture – authorized by former president George W. Bush’s administration, according to news accounts.

Bush’s Republican allies and some Democrats have argued that rank-and-file interrogators acted in good faith and followed directives from higher ups in using techniques, like “waterboarding” suspects, and obtained valuable information.

Some former intelligence officials have challenged that claim, saying that harsh tactics elicited no better information than traditional approaches.

And human rights groups have called for formal investigations into charges of torture, which violates US law.

So far, US President Barack Obama has resisted calls from some congressional Democrats to establish a “truth and reconciliation” panel to look into alleged abuses.

Senior Obama Official Backs Cheney and CIA, Says Concealment of Assassin Program Legal

July 19, 2009
by Jeremy Scahill, CommonDreams.org, July 18, 2009

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are preparing to hold hearings to investigate the role of vice president Dick Cheney in allegedly ordering the CIA to conceal a secret assassination program from Congress. As I reported yesterday, there are two crucial issues at play: the nature of the U.S. assassination program and the role of former vice president Dick Cheney in concealing aspects of it from Congressional oversight. On the broader issue of U.S. government assassination, it is very unlikely that will become a central focus given that there has long been a bipartisan assassination program that continues under President Obama. Indeed, most legislators frame their opposition to this program through the lens of the concealment issue, not the assassinations.

Early moves, however, by the Obama administration indicate that it is backing Cheney and the CIA In May, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was under fire over allegations she had been briefed on U.S. torture tactics, she publicly accused the CIA of misleading her. In what many viewed as a response to Pelosi, CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote CIA staff a memo, saying, “Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values… My advice — indeed, my direction — to you is straightforward: ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country. We are an Agency of high integrity, professionalism, and dedication.”

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Death squads and US democracy

July 16, 2009

Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, 14 July 2009

The revelation that the CIA initiated a covert program, apparently involving assassinations, and kept it secret from the US Congress on the orders of Vice President Dick Cheney marks a deepening of the crisis in the American state apparatus and an indication of the degeneration of democratic processes within the US.

Last April, under the pressure of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama was compelled to make public a series of previously classified memos issued by the Bush Justice Department which authorized acts of torture in chilling detail. The administration attempted to portray the public airing of these documents exposing crimes of the Bush administration as a signal of the new “openness” and “transparency” of the Obama White House.

At the same time, the White House made it clear that it had no intention of holding anyone accountable for these crimes, with Obama making a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia to reassure those who supervised and carried out much of the torture that he meant them no harm.

Burying the crimes of the Bush administration in the past, however, has proven impossible, not only because of their grave character, but also because much of what was done has yet to be fully exposed and many of the same methods are continuing under Obama.

The way in which this latest revelation has emerged is highly revealing. It has come to the surface as a result of Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, briefing congressional intelligence committees on the matter. The CIA director went to Congress to give the briefings on June 23—the day after he himself became aware of the secret program and ordered it terminated.

The Obama appointee supposedly in charge of America’s spy agency became aware of this operation only four months after assuming his post.

The implications are clear. The CIA maintained the secrecy ordered by Cheney even after the latter had left office, and continued to conceal the existence and nature of the covert operation not only from Congress, but from the Obama administration itself.

The exact nature of the secret program has yet to be made public either by the CIA or those members of Congress briefed by Panetta.

A report published in the Wall Street Journal Monday, citing three unnamed “former intelligence officials,” suggests that it was aimed at organizing the “targeted assassinations” of individuals deemed enemies of the United States in the so-called “global war on terrorism.” In other words, the CIA appears to have been organizing death squads.

“Amid the high alert following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a small CIA unit examined the potential for targeted assassinations of Al Qaeda operatives, according to the three former officials,” the Journal reports.

The Journal quotes one of the officials as saying, “It was straight out of the movies. It was like: Let’s kill them all.”

The description of this operation corresponds to charges made by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh earlier this year that the Bush administration had created an “executive assassination ring.”

Hersh, who said that he was writing a book based on his findings, linked the operation to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, which frequently works in tandem with the CIA. “They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office,” he said.

At the same time, there are suggestions that another facet of the program was the development of a spying program by the agency directed at American citizens and others within the United States itself. The CIA’s charter makes any such domestic operations illegal.

Hersh also pointed to this feature in a speech delivered at the University of Minnesota last March. He said, “After 9/11…the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it.”

The reaction of the Democratic administration and congressional leadership to these developments is predictably craven. The most vocal response was that of a group of House members who sought to twist Panetta’s words into an alibi for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who disingenuously claimed in May that she had been lied to in a 2002 briefing about the CIA’s use of water-boarding and other torture methods against detainees. (See: “The lies of the CIA and Nancy Pelosi”)

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein of California, issued a tepid response to the revelations of the CIA program kept secret on the orders of Cheney. “We were kept in the dark,” she said. “That’s something that should never, ever happen again… because the law is very clear.”

Should never happen again? Feinstein’s reaction dovetails neatly with Obama’s demand that Washington “look forward and not backward,” thereby continuing the cover-up of the crimes of the Bush administration. If the “law is very clear,” then it was clearly broken by Cheney and top-ranking officials in the CIA in what amounts to a conspiracy against the American people, who are themselves still “in the dark.” Yet there is no suggestion that these crimes should be prosecuted.

One indication that at least some investigation is being considered came from Attorney General Eric Holder, who spoke extensively to Newsweek magazine. In an article posted on the magazine’s web site Sunday, Holder is quoted as saying that he was “shocked and saddened” after reading the still secret 2004 CIA inspector general’s report on the torture of detainees at CIA “black sites.”

Given the continuous revelations over the past several years, from Abu Ghraib to recent reports leaked from the Red Cross, to the testimony of men who passed through the hellish abuse at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, if Holder was genuinely “shocked,” that can only mean that crimes more heinous still have yet to be revealed.

Any “independent probe” organized by the Justice Department—if it is forced to mount such an effort—will be so narrowly circumscribed as to ensure that those most responsible for torture and war crimes are never touched.

The end result is that the power of the state-within-a-state constituted by the intelligence agencies and the military continues its unimpeded growth, aided and abetted by the Democrats and the Obama White House.

This poses grave dangers to the working class. All of the crimes for which the CIA was infamous in an earlier period, earning it the title Murder Inc., are being reprised on an even bigger scale under conditions of an immense crisis of American and world capitalism and unprecedented social polarization within the US itself.

The existence of a secret program involving assassination and domestic surveillance—concealed from Congress on Cheney’s orders even under the new administration—carries with it the threat that death squads and political repression will be employed against domestic opposition and, above all, any independent movement of workers against the rising unemployment and falling living standards created by the profit system.

The settling of accounts with the crimes of the Bush administration and the struggle to prevent even greater crimes being carried out both at home and abroad can be prosecuted only by an independent political movement of the working class based on a socialist and internationalist perspective. A key task of such a movement is the defense of democratic rights. That includes the prosecution of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all those responsible for the crimes of torture and aggressive war.

Panetta and Washington’s endless war

May 20, 2009
Bill Van Auken | wsws.org, 20 May 2009
After a week of bitter recriminations between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi over what she was told about torture, CIA Director Leon Panetta sought to put a stop to this public discussion, employing language that echoed the rhetoric of the Bush administration.

Giving his first public speech since he was tapped by Obama to head the CIA, Panetta described the US as “a nation at war” and insisted that the crimes of the Bush administration not become a distraction from current operations by the US military and intelligence apparatus.

“I don’t deny them the opportunity to learn the lessons from that period,” Panetta told his audience at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles. “But…we have to be very careful that we don’t forget our responsibility to the present and to the future. We are a nation at war. We have to confront that reality every day. And while it’s important to learn the lessons of the past, we must not do it in a way that sacrifices our capability to stay focused on…those who threaten the United States of America.”

“We are a nation at war.” This phrase was invoked hundreds if not thousands of times by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzales and others to justify military atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, extraordinary rendition, illegal domestic spying and an imperial presidency’s arrogation to itself of unprecedented powers.

Earlier this year, White House aides indicated to the media that the Obama administration was dropping references to the “global war on terrorism,” the Bush administration’s all-purpose justification for its wars abroad and assault on democratic rights at home.

What is becoming ever clearer, however, is that the methods introduced under Bush are being maintained largely intact by the new Democratic administration, while its dishonest rhetoric justifying them is sounding more and more like that of its predecessor.

What does it mean to say America is “a nation at war”? The US Congress has not issued a declaration of war against any country.

America is a nation at war only in the sense that its military is perpetually employed in carrying out illegal invasions, colonial-style occupations, bombings, assassinations by predator drones and other acts of violence against peoples unfortunate enough to find themselves in the way of American capitalism’s plundering of the world’s resources and markets.

The enemy’s identity in this never-ending war is deliberately kept vague as the targets for US military aggression are ever changing. Thus, Panetta refers only to “those that would threaten the United States of America.”

To call this Orwellian is not hyperbole. The perpetual state of war imposed upon the oppressed citizens of Oceania in Orwell’s “1984” could have been written as an allegory for modern US state policy under both Bush and Obama.

Panetta left little to the imagination about the political implications of this supposed state of war.

The CIA director said that he wouldn’t “deny them,” meaning the US Congress, “the opportunity to learn the lessons from that period.” However, he cautioned that any investigation must be done in a “very careful” manner. Probing the war crimes of the past must not interfere with the war crimes of the present and the future.

This warning about circumscribing the scope of any investigation of torture—and above all preventing any top official from being held accountable for this crime—follows Panetta’s public rebuttal of Pelosi’s claim last week that the CIA had lied to her in 2002 about its use of waterboarding in the interrogation of detainees.

Pelosi’s complicity in the policy of torture notwithstanding, it is extraordinary that Panetta, an unelected appointee of the president, felt no compunction about publicly rebuking the elected speaker of the house, who constitutionally is the second in line for succession to the presidency.

When Panetta was first nominated as CIA director, Republicans and some Democrats pointed to his lack of any intelligence experience. In the end, however, he was confirmed by the unanimous consent of the Senate.

He is a man clearly trusted by America’s ruling elite to protect its interests. First a Republican aide to the Nixon administration, he became a Democratic congressman and then chief of staff to President Clinton. Afterward he pursued profitable relations with the centers of corporate and financial power, while remaining deeply involved in state policy. In 2006, he joined the Iraq Study Group, which was formed to effect a tactical shift in US war policy. In 2008, he was paid more than $830,000 in consulting fees and honorariums by the likes of the BP Corporation, Merrill Lynch and the Carlyle Group.

Panetta speaks for the state-within-the-state, the permanent apparatus of the military and the intelligence agencies that dominate the US government no matter which party is in power.

These layers are pushing back following the limited exposure of the Bush administration’s crimes with the release of the torture memos last month. This was further indicated in an article that appeared Tuesday in the Washington Post by Walter Pincus, who enjoys close ties to the CIA. It cited concerns by “agency personnel” that they would not be able to “conduct interrogations effectively,” given new proscriptions against torture, and that “other operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan will come under review.”

The Democrats are cowering before these pressures. Obama’s press secretary has refused to utter a word about the clash between Pelosi and Panetta, while Democrats in Congress are shying away from the debate on torture, treating it increasingly as a distraction.

The Obama administration is acting to perpetuate and politically legitimize the criminal policies initiated under Bush, while shielding those responsible. The two wars launched to assert US hegemony over the Persian Gulf and Central Asia are continuing with bipartisan support, and Obama is responsible for his own war crimes, including this month’s bombing that slaughtered 150 civilians in Afghanistan. Domestic spying, extraordinary rendition and military commissions have all been upheld by the administration. The resumption of torture is inevitable and in all likelihood has already begun.

In the end, this entire process exposes the futility of elections under America’s two-party system. Those who take office—Obama no less than Bush—are accountable not to the American people, but to a narrow constituency consisting of the financial oligarchy, the military command and the intelligence agencies, those who really rule America.

Return of the War Party

February 28, 2009
Patrick J. Buchanan
Human Events.com, Feb 27, 2009

“Real men go to Tehran!” brayed the neoconservatives, after the success of their propaganda campaign to have America march on Baghdad and into an unnecessary war that has forfeited all the fruits of our Cold War victory.

Now they are back, in pursuit of what has always been their great goal: an American war on Iran. It would be a mistake to believe they and their collaborators cannot succeed a second time. Consider:

On being chosen by Israel’s President Shimon Peres to form the new regime, Likud’s “Bibi” Netanyahu declared, “Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence.”

Echoing Netanyahu, headlines last week screamed of a startling new nuclear breakthrough by the mullahs. “Iran ready to build nuclear weapon, analysts say,” said CNN. “Iran has enough uranium to make a bomb,” said the Los Angeles Times. Armageddon appeared imminent.

Asked about Iran’s nukes in his confirmation testimony, CIA Director Leon Panetta blurted, “From all the information I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.”

Tuesday, Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a front spawned by the Israeli lobby AIPAC, was given the Iranian portfolio. AIPAC’s top agenda item? A U.S. collision with Iran.

In the neocon Weekly Standard, Elliot Abrams of the Bush White House parrots Netanyahu, urging Obama to put any land-for-peace deals with the Palestinians on a back burner. Why?

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now part of a broader struggle in the region over Iranian extremism and power. Israeli withdrawals now risk opening the door not only to Palestinian terrorists but to Iranian proxies.”

The campaign to conflate Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria as a new axis of evil, a terrorist cartel led by Iranian mullahs hell-bent on building a nuclear bomb and using it on Israel and America, has begun. The full-page ads and syndicated columns calling on Obama to eradicate this mortal peril before it destroys us all cannot be far off.

But before we let ourselves be stampeded into another unnecessary war, let us review a few facts that seem to contradict the war propaganda.

First, last week’s acknowledgement that Iran has enough enriched uranium for one atom bomb does not mean Iran is building an atom bomb.

To construct a nuclear device, the ton of low-enriched uranium at Natanz would have to be run through a second cascade of high-speed centrifuges to produce 55 pounds of highly enriched uranium (HUE).

There is no evidence Iran has either created the cascade of high-speed centrifuges necessary to produce HUE or that Iran has diverted any of the low-enriched uranium from Natanz. And the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors retain full access to Natanz.

And rather than accelerating production of low-enriched uranium, only 4,000 of the Natanz centrifuges are operating. Some 1,000 are idle. Why?

Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the IAEA, believes this is a signal that Tehran wishes to negotiate with the United States, but without yielding any of its rights to enrich uranium and operate nuclear power plants.

For, unlike Israel, Pakistan and India, none of which signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and all of which ran clandestine programs and built atom bombs, Iran signed the NPT and has abided by its Safeguards Agreement. What it refuses to accept are the broader demands of the U.N. Security Council because these go beyond the NPT and sanction Iran for doing what it has a legal right to do.

Moreover, Adm. Dennis Blair, who heads U.S. intelligence, has just restated the consensus of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran does not now possess and is not now pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Bottom line: Neither the United States nor the IAEA has conclusive evidence that Iran either has the fissile material for a bomb or an active program to build a bomb. It has never tested a nuclear device and has never demonstrated a capacity to weaponize a nuclear device, if it had one.

Why, then, the hype, the hysteria, the clamor for “Action This Day!”? It is to divert America from her true national interests and stampede her into embracing as her own the alien agenda of a renascent War Party.

None of this is to suggest the Iranians are saintly souls seeking only peace and progress. Like South Korea, Japan and other nations with nuclear power plants, they may well want the ability to break out of the NPT, should it be necessary to deter, defend against or defeat enemies.

But that is no threat to us to justify war. For decades, we lived under the threat that hundreds of Russian warheads could rain down upon us in hours, ending our national existence. If deterrence worked with Stalin and Mao, it can work with an Iran that has not launched an offensive war against any nation within the memory of any living American.

Can we Americans say the same?

Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World, “The Death of the West,”, “The Great Betrayal,” “A Republic, Not an Empire” and “Where the Right Went Wrong.”


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