Philip Giraldi’s unusually good national security sources make his writings at American Conservative consistently worth following. His take on the Cheney/CIA mystery program is well worth a read, and not just because it agrees with what I wrote yesterday.
The most interesting bit for me was Giraldi’s surprisingly thorough account of how the program ended. According to his sources, a Delta Force team arrived in Kenya on false passports, botched the job and needed to be bailed out by the Ambassador, who, naturally, had no idea they were there. The program didn’t so much end at that point as languish in administrative limbo. Another notable take-home from Giraldi’s piece.
The perpetrators in Kenya also quickly discovered that white boys born in the American south sporting crewcuts and speaking no foreign language had difficulties in blending in as foreign businessmen.
All in all, as Bush era initiatives go, a fairly good day.
Ugh. The wisdom of the mission aside, there are plenty of African immigrant and African American people with the right language skills to recruit from. This “only the WASPs can be patriotic” crap is culturally one of the most obnoxious legacies of the Bush years.
Cue this Doonesbury strip.
Josh Marshall is all over this, and skeptical as all hell about this “assassination” meme. He’s convinced, as am I, that it further required spying domestically on Americans, and thus made this radioactive to politicians.
And yet another occasion in which U.S. ‘covert’ action is really designed to be hidden from the American public, and not from the locals, who spot the CIA goofs immediately.
This isn’t so different from Reagan’s days sending the spooks to fight alongside South African apartheid fascist (I mean that literally, there’s no Godwin nonsense there) forces and backing terrorist wars against the goverments of Angola and Mozambique.
If you wanted to know where the local CIA base was, you could just ask the locals, but if you looked in the U.S. newspapers, you didn’t see any such thing.
The Grand Panjandrum
Boy did they screw that up! Why didn’t they just send in Dennis Haysbert? That would have made more sense.
That sounds like a good metaphor for the Bush years. Even our supposedly elite troops are clueless boobs.
Giraldi is wrong on a couple minor points though. For one, assassination isn’t illegal per se, unless executive orders have the force of law (e.g. enforceable by the courts). Second, The Delta Force is a mediocre Chuck Norris film (is there any other kind? Okay, well, there’s really bad ones too I guess) and the military unit is Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta or SFOD. Or did Bush change that too in light of Chuck Norris’ support for Republican causes? If that’s the case, we’re lucky he didn’t change their name to The Karate Kommandos or Walker’s Texas Rangers or something else Chuck Norris themed.
@Punchy: I’ve been thinking that’s a possibility too, by the way. Not that it was possible that there was politically-based domestic spying, but that it was possible that this was finally on the verge of being revealed.
Thank God the Kenya team screwed it up. If it had gone off without a hitch, followed by a few more overseas successes, I have no doubt whatsoever that by 2008, we would have been reading about mysterious deaths in San Diego and Spokane.
see, even this: is a botched operation in kenya really the kind of thing that the very serious people are going to freak about?
my impression is that most of the beltway foreign-policy establishment would just shrug and say, what happens in kenya stays in kenya. that’s not a country that matters enough. shit, we can lob cruise missiles on their neighbor, somalia, and no one thinks twice.
i don’t know–maybe i’m misjudging the degree of freak-out. i still don’t feel like it all fits, but maybe time will tell.
Bruce Lee scorns you from beyond the grave.
Is there anything that Bush didn’t screw up? Sending a bunch of crackers to Kenya on a covert op might not be the smartest thing in the world.
Domestic spying was done by the NSA. We already more or less know that they listened to whatever the hell they wanted. Infiltrating Quaker pacifist groups and other dangerous terrorist cells was handled by the FBI and overzealous regional law enforcement. My reason for thinking that the CIA didn’t handle much spying at home is not that they had some scrupulous reason not to. All the normal police state niches were already taken.
This sounds to me like a distraction intended to keep us from the real deal.
Eh – I think Josh may not have quite learned the lessons of the Bush Administration. It COULD be that there was some domestic spying going on here, but we need to remember that the Bush administration liked to keep secrets – and Cheney liked his secrets more than anyone else. He also had the whole “Unitary Executive” theory coloring every action he took.
Giraldi’s take is perfectly consistent with what we know about Cheney – he wanted an assassination squad. He didn’t feel like he should have to ask anyone to “let” him do it, so he just did it and didn’t tell Congress. That fits – that’s the same thing with the warantless wiretapping issue – the FISA vote last summer showed that Congress was willing to expand domestic wiretapping even 7 YEARS AFTER 9/11 – imagine what the administration COULD have gotten had they asked Congress to consider it as part of the PATRIOT act right after 9/11 when Congress was panicking about another attack. But that’s not how they rolled – they didn’t want to ask for permission, they hated open debate and the Unitary Executive theory said they didn’t need permission or debate. They could just do it and not tell anyone and that was just as good.
Now, I think there still COULD be an off-book domestic wiretapping scheme that Cheney set up or explored that hasn’t broken into the public yet. I think there are going to turn out to be a metric fuck-ton of nuggets like this that never broke to the world while Bush was in power. But the assassination scheme is the kind of political landmine that Congress would be completely pissed off about – especially if it got so far that they dispatched a team to Kenya who fucked it up and had to be rescued by a diplomat who had not fucking clue what was going on. I can see why Congress would feel that this was stepping on their toes and would be angry about it.
It was ever thus.
I remember another old Doonesbury strip from the 70’s. Mark’s cousin, the FBI agent, ties a headband around his crewcut, dons a pair of bellbottomed jeans and a medallion and goes to a bar on a drug sting. He asks the guy sitting next to him “So, how is it being a grasshead in this town?” The guys says, “Not bad, what’s it like being an FBI agent?”
They never ever learn.
How do they not know this? Reverse it — put a dozen dark-skinned African men in suits and fancy cars (or worse….shitty cars) in a small suburban (read: WHITE) city, and tell me the locals wont smell a rat within 10 seconds. Hell, the 911 operator will suffer carpal tunnel answering so many calls from “concerned” citizens.
@Face: George Bush and Dick Cheney were strong in the Dumb Side of the Force. The prideful ignorance of the entire Bush Administration wove a tapestry of stupid failures that is almost a work of art if you look at it as a whole.
Bob In Pacifica
Those crewcut guys probably work just fine in the US of A.
Besides, over there it’s just as easy to lob a cruise missile into a compound or a village and claim someone important was killed. Accuracy isn’t as important as attitude.
I suspect that BushCo, or CheneyCo, or CIACo, never wanted to kill any al Qaeda leadership. They were the rationale for invading Iraq and Afghanistan. Just imagine if Osama had been taken out the first week we went into Afghanistan. People would be asking, “Why the eff are we still there?”
Therefore, I suspect that the secret spy program probably was aimed at Americans. Maybe Larry Craig was undercover.
BTW, one other minor point about Giraldi that bugged me. I don’t think Giraldi is aware that the official languages of Kenya are English and Swahili. There’s a lot of western business going on in Kenya too – mmmm, tasty mineral rights. So it’s not like English speakers are exactly lost there. It ain’t Western China.
Though whether crackers speak English is a subject open to debate.
The Grand Panjandrum
@Tim F.: I think you are correct. This is something else, and it could be far more sinister than any of us imagine. Digby is suspicious as well:
I have my suspicions and this could very well make the outing of Plame look like Sunday evening dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I’ve been waiting for more of this sort of information to see the light of day. Is this awful secret the thing the Obama administration has been waiting for in order to begin investigating, in earnest, the previous administration.
Damn you, Nancy Pelosi!
Tim, thank you for continuing to follow this story and for supplying links to the various articles out there as this develops further. I know that I can count on you to find out the latest. We are just beginning to scratch the surface with these revelations and this story will produce several bombshells.
Good ol’ cowboy diplomacy!
@The Grand Panjandrum:
Agreed. I think the Obama administration is just letting the drip-drip of information do it’s thing. Slowly, slowly the wheels will turn. I hope their strategy is to get big domestic agenda things, like healthcare, done and dusted before going all in with investigations of the previous administration. Meanwhile, more and more information comes out, horrifying the American people a little bit more each time. Eventually there’s no way investigations can be avoided.
At least that’s how it plays out in my fantasy world. In RL healthcare is a quagmire, only a tiny percentage of Americans care about things like the Bush administration’s illegality, use of torture, etc., and the general public is more interested in shark attacks than anything that really affects their lives.
OK, SOMEBODY has to say it…
America- fuck yeah!
Heavily armed and clueless, that’s America in a nutshell.
As long as all of our enemies run straight at us screaming and firing from the hip, we’ll be fine.
I think that by “foreign businessmen” he means “foreign to the U.S.” rather than “foreign to Kenya” (though it’s hard to be sure – he uses “foreign” a bit ambiguously between these two). The suggestion is that many of these guys were travelling on false non-U.S. (i.e. “foreign”) passports, and would show up saying “Howdy y’all. Ahm from New Zealand”, or claiming to be Belgian while not speaking Flemish or French.
Just because there was a secret/botched assassination program doesn’t exclude the existence of an entirely different secret/botched domestic-spying program. Remember, this is the Bush administration we’re talking about.
Tim, It’s assassination
Too bad Norrista Force was never shown this undercover technique while in training.
This noble teleprompter made the ultimate sacrifice, and has forever muted the usurper!
I saw Satan’s Daughter (the aptly named Lizard) on Morning Joke this AM. In the moments before I switched to AMC playing “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, I noticed that she was arguing with Eugene Robinson, and spotted a franticness to her that I’ve not seen before.
FWIW, she looked scared.
My suspicion is that it was a far wider ranging plan that involved multiple assassinations both here and abroad, the hit list including some national and religious leaders.
Were the list to see the light of day, even now, all hell would break loose as it would include some members of the House of Saud. Also, the plan may have actually gotten further than anybody wants to admit, and may have gotten some traction domestically.
Shortly followed, of course by “have you accepted Jesus Chrahst as yore personal Lord ‘n Savior? If’n y’ain’t Christian, me and mah New Zealander friens would lahk to share the Good News with you.”
Less so than you think. Not when news like this keeps popping up. For those who don’t follow the link, a town in Deep Red Georgia (I know, I live within a mile of it) got a 30% increase in the local health insurance bill. They were expecting 15%, and weren’t happy about THAT.
The comments locally have been along the lines of something’s got to be done. They don’t like the socia1ist plans of those d*** Dems, but the devil’s got a point.
Once upon a time, SF detachments always had people with at least passable skills in languages other than English. Somewhere along the line this changed. It’s a continuing source of amazement to me that Special Forces is still dependent on interpreters in Afghanistan 8 years into operations there.
Shorter Liz Cheney: “Please do not investigate my father’s wartime atrocities and prosecute him for his crimes against humanity. I am fond of my father, in my fashion, and would not like to see him executed. Additionally, I am complicit in his war crimes.”
It’s kind of an understandable sentiment for someone in her position; one I can even empathize with. What surprises me is that anyone can take her “policy” recommendations at face value.
And if it turns out that some of these ‘national and religious leaders’ were ostensibly on ‘our’ side, but were judged to be of more use as martyrs and the source of bloody shirts for the waving thereof – Ms Fan, meet Mr Shit.
Too many of the linguists were gay.
@Bob In Pacifica:
This is also my view of AlQaida. I was going to suggest re-reading the article and this time, replace the words AlQaida with “enemies of the CIA”.
I find it so convenient that an amorphous entity like Al Qaida was made the booga man in all this, and was not surprised that W actually came out and said they were not really interested in weeding out or going after that “organization”, or that he wasn’t really concerned about BinLaden.
No, these operatives were after some other target to advance an agenda we know nothing about. Does anyone think they were advancing the cause of freedom and democracy? Weapons through an embassy? yeah, right. I’m glad their plan failed and I’m glad it’s failure is being brought to light.
A bright red blinking arrow points right at Dick Cheney.
I am the author of the piece on The American Conservative – to clarify two points, first Delta was still called Delta back when the incident in Africa took place. Second, I most certainly do know that English is a legal language in Kenya, thank you very much, but I am assuming that the team was traveling on foreign passports to create “plausible denial” of any possible American role. The foreign passport could have been South African or from some other country where English is also widely spoken, but the ineptitude of US servicemen and intelligence officers when it comes to using foreign languages is well documented and could have been a factor in their arrest.
Thing is, as evil geniuses they suck. Everything they’ve concocted or tried has turned to shit. They must’ve been playing quarter bounce with whiskey shots at the Cheney family dinner table to cook up some of the stupid they’ve created. Incompetent at planning, incompetent at execution.
That was my impression as well. And someone might ask why an “Australian” is picking up a pouch from the American Embassy.
I wonder what the Ambassador had to do to “bail” them out. Literally bail them out?
The Mayberry Machiavellis were hamhanded enough to try it. They could maybe cook up some “friendly” assassinations so either rage would sweep unfriendlies out or Israel would have no choice but to move in.
That sort of thing works well when they play geopolitical strategy board games, so they figure they’d give it a shot.
@Florida Cynic: Because learning arabic takes a long time, and Operators are needed faster than DLA can churn them out. Secondly, not all ODA’s specialized in Arabic, but all SF Groups are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of the language they were told they were learning.
Something sounds really not right here. The Delta guys are a lot of things, but screw-up isn’t one of them. I flat out do not believe for one second that Delta would be given a mission in and not dress the part. There is no way they would have walked into anywhere wearing crew cuts and being “All-American”. My guess, if that story has any truth, is that those individuals were contractors.l
Would you believe it if the CIA sent the Delta guys on a mission with not enough planning or common sense? If you’re told you are leaving Friday, here’s your Belgian passport and you’re going to be a baby food manufacturer, that doesn’t give you a lot of time to grow out your crew cut.
I believe the CIA would, but I still don’t think it would go down like that. These guys don’t have a budget; they have a checkbook. They have (or so it’s rumored) their own intelligence assets. Not intending to sound fanboyish, but these guys really are way to good at what they do, for something like that to happen.
I don’t usually deal with Morning Joe, but your comment sparked my curiosity about Liz Cheney’s appearance. She’s quite masterful at spinning, obfuscating and misdirection, a strong and able defender (politically speaking)
of Dick Cheney.
But in this incidence, I agree with your assessment. She repeatedly gulped and there was tension in her voice. And since when does Mika play hardball. Sitting next to Joe she usually looks like a bimbo but, in this video she was bringing the direct questions with follow up questions. Also, some other guy at the table was asking challenging questions. Joe wasn’t there so I guess they were emboldened to actually attempt to get answers.
Shorter Liz Cheney: The democrats blah blah…Pelosi…I can’t discuss due to concern for National Security…democrats are ridiculous…oh, and Nancy Pelosi blah blah blah.
And, as Violet noted upthread, we got a drip drip drip thing going here. Once something has been dripped, it cannot be un-dripped. The neo cons are desperately looking for a winning strategery. Of course none exists.
I think she was around for a great deal of it and speaks from both sides of her mouth. We have some fine prisons for women, and she could get occasional visits from her kids.
Everything I’ve read about these guys makes them sound uber-competent, to be sure. There’s a part of me, though, that keeps whispering about all the other bullshit I’ve been fed over the years about how good segments of the military and intelligence are that turned out to be somewhat less than true.
I suspect you meant “DLI” and not “DLA”, but you are correct that Arabic is difficult, as is Urdu and Pashtun. My point was more that those language skills are invaluable in the field, and should have been aggressively developed. Post-cold war funding cuts and post-9/11 paranoia in recruiting practices have made it damn difficult to get that training to the right people in a timely fashion. Add in an overstretched Special Operations Command (they are deploying reserve SF units, for crying out loud), and I understand why we are where we are. Amazed, but I do understand.
As for the guys in Kenya, I’ll go with canuckistani’s theory. Actionable intelligence, limited resources, and an available Delta team shoved on a plane. Classic CIA clusterfuck, and one of the reasons that Langley has such a bad reputation.
Calling a little bullshit on that literary license. Delta operators wouldn’t “quickly discover” most them other people in Kenya were black and didn’t speak with a southern drawl. They may not all be rocket scientists, but clueless they aren’t.
If that operation took place, guessing you’d find a Cheney buttboy like Wolfie’s, Feith’s or one of the other’s fingerprints all over it. Likely giving the team cooked intel, Cheney’s favorite dish. Franks calling Feith the stupidest fucker on the planet was just a calm, reasoned assessment. Only thing he didn’t add was that wearing the stupidest-fucker hat was fought over daily within that administration.
There are Delta and other SF with skin pigmentation. Not all sporting high and tight hair. Some even known to wear beards. Foreign language training is required.
Let’s see, a covert program from the mind of Cheney in an administration with the Midas Touch of Incompetence. What could possibly go wrong?
Cooked intelligence, no prep time and political (i.e. Administration) pressure to Get This Done Now. Yeah, that I can believe. Even the most uber competent person in the world will look like a fool if given no prep time and lousy intelligence.
(And it’s clear that the Bush administration types had not a single clue of what it would take to pull off a successful operation like this–all they’d say is “Git ‘er done!”).
They’ve always deployed the 19th and 20th; that isn’t anything new. And you’re right, I meant DLI. I had my next PCS on my mind. The nature of Special Operations has changed wit this war. These guys don’t have the manpower to stick with their “areas” anymore.
It still doesn’t make sense. If it was some kind of hurry up mission, then some sort of rapid infil and exfil would have been on order, not some sort of undercover thing. I still say rivate contractors, or CIA Operations.
@Bob In Pacifica:
If you mean the CIA, read Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes for a bracing corrective. (Amazon link–with Balloon Juice vig–embedded in title.)
I would guess that Delta’s–or SFOD’s, if you prefer–rep is also a little overstated.
@The Grand Panjandrum:
The hell with that — send Richard Marcinco ;-)
So was this Blackbriar or Treadstone, and when do we see the perp walks on East 71st?
@Steeplejack: I’m cynical enough to say the 90% of the time you’d be right. I’d be willing to bet that Delta’s rep is understated as most people don’t even know what kind of missions they do.
These guys are the real deal. I simply don’t believe that a Delta team would walk into something unprepared like that. It doesn’t make any kind of sense with everything else you here.
Indeed. Colour me surprised if it doesn’t – eventually – come out that Cheney wanted his own black-ops squad to “create facts on the ground” that could be exploited to justify doing whatever the fuck he wanted in the Middle-East. And the whole thing being contracted out to ex-military units working for the likes of Blackwater would fit his style, since most of the evidence would then be in the hands of a private company and hard to get at for investigators.
Tinfoil hat time – but I’d put money on it. And that’s the kind of revelation that would make someone like Holder spit his lunch. The Office of the Vice-President using mercenaries to destabilise foreign countries through assassination and fake terrorist attacks? How do you investigate something like that without DC going off like a firecracker?
Yeah, a pipedream to be sure. Guess that’s why they call it entertainment. But it’s a beautiful dream nonetheless.
Um, I just picked up a piece on Sy Hersh over at the Daily Beast who says that Cheney’s assassination program was indeed operational. He bases his claim on his own sources but also points to some pearls that dropped from Bush’s lips.
At the outset of the Iraq invasion and occupation, after months of looking for WMDs and finding none, I would have bet on such a squad going in to plant some WMDs. That would have been all that was needed to justify our entry into Iraq. But, to borrow your phrase, color me surprised, that didn’t happen.
Something that wasn’t reported in the corporately controlled MSM was that Cheney eschewed the protection of the Secret Service, opting instead for a Blackwater team (read mercenaries) to provide his security. Of course this hasn’t been publicly confirmed but we did know he was paranoid–he traveled with a gas suit, had a man size safe installed and pixeled the VP residence on Google Earth.
Is there anyone reading this that doesn’t believe that Dick Cheney is capable of any and all forms of mother fuckery? He is a very powerful man.
As a veteran of the perpetual wars between the Short-Term MBA Suits and the Permanent Staff That Actually Has to Accomplish Stuff that do so much to enliven even the most staid corporate environment, I wonder how much of the “failure” of the Cheney Administration to achieve their wilder dreams of glory can be traced to the mid-rank bureaucracy’s hard-learned unwillingness to follow this year’s Big Swinging Dick campaign to death (for the minions) or glory (for the BSD and his cronies)?
I’m sure politically-appointed numbnutz like Feith were more than ready to “lead”, or at least launch, Sekrit Awsum Force Ninjas in gamer-inspired raids against Amurka’s Enemies(tm), such as Pervez Musharaf, Hugo Chavez, or Nancy Pelosi. I’m less sure that the lifetimers in the bowels of Langley were ready to risk their own staffers and/or careers on Scooter Libby’s novelistic interpretation of the most recent 007 movie hybridized with Tom Friedman’s global insights.
It would make a good comedy flick: NATIONAL LAMPOON GOES ASSASSINATING ABROAD.
My money is still on domestic spying of political enemies. The realistic facts are that a super-secret assassination ninja team isn’t necessary, in that those assets already exist legally and above board. But illegal domestic spying on political “enemies” sounds just like something Cheney would do. Especially if it turns up dirt that makes everyone resistant to fighting the administration and pressing for an investigation into war crimes….