Incoming chairman of US Homeland Security Committee says NYT should be indicted under Espionage Act

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, ripped into The New York Times Tuesday for telling him in a weekend editorial to tone down his rhetoric.

“I’m absolutely delighted that The New York Times would attack me,” he said in an interview with The Hill. “I have nothing but contempt for them. They should be indicted under the Espionage Act. … The New York Times is just basically being a mouthpiece for political correctness.”

King took aim at a Sunday editorial that criticized King’s comments about the radicalization of Muslins. The editorial suggested such comments were beneath someone who will be chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

King’s proposal to hold one of his first hearings on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims and homegrown terrorism has brought a rash of criticism from those who argue it could turn into a McCarthy-esque witch hunt, fueling distrust among Muslim citizens of the government.

In its editorial,  the Times said King’s “sweeping slur on Muslim citizens is unacceptable.” It also accused him of too much “blather” and “bluster” on a host of national security issues, saying King “has popped off far too often in recent years, claiming, among other things, that President George W. Bush ‘deserves a medal’ for authorizing waterboarding.”

Detained American on no-fly list says he was beaten in Kuwait during interrogations

The NY Times reports that an American teenager detained in Kuwait two weeks ago and placed on an American no-fly list claims that he was severely beaten by his Kuwaiti captors during a weeklong interrogation about possible contacts with terrorism suspects in Yemen.

The teenager, Gulet Mohamed, a Somali-American who turned 19 during his captivity, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from a Kuwaiti detention cell that he was beaten with sticks, forced to stand for hours, threatened with electric shocks and warned that his mother would be imprisoned if he did not give truthful answers about his travels in Yemen and Somalia in 2009.

American officials have offered few details about the case, except to confirm that Mr. Mohamed is on a no-fly list and, for now at least, cannot return to the United States. Mr. Mohamed, from Alexandria, Va., remains in a Kuwaiti detention center even after Kuwait’s government, according to his brother, determined that he should be released.

Mr. Mohamed said that Kuwaiti interrogators repeatedly asked whether he had ever met Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric now hiding in Yemen who is suspected in terrorist plots by Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. He said that the Kuwaitis also asked detailed questions about his family in the United States and his family’s clan in Somalia — information he said he assumed that American officials provided to the Kuwaitis.

Mr. Mohamed denies ever meeting with militants. “I am a good Muslim, I despise terrorism,” he said in the interview.

On Tuesday, his lawyer wrote a letter to the Justice Department demanding an investigation into the episode.

“The manner of his detention and the questions asked of Mr. Mohamed indicate to him that he was taken into custody at the behest of the United States,” wrote Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer appointed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Brief in US v El Mazain Argues Material Support Conviction Should Require Knowledge of Terror Connection

On Oct. 26, 2010, a diverse group of U.S. organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit arguing that individuals may not be convicted under a statute barring “material support” to “designated terrorist groups” if they have not knowingly supported any designated terrorist group. Under the lower court’s ruling, a charity that carefully checks all government lists of “designated terrorists” and avoids supporting any of them may still be convicted, if the government later shows that, unbeknownst to the donor, its grantee was connected to another designated group. The case, U.S. v el Mezain et al, involves the 2008 convictions of leaders of the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation (HLF) on a variety of charges. 

The brief limited its arguments to the charges involving support to non-designated groups, because if upheld, the lower court’s decision would render thousands of foundations and charities in the United States vulnerable to criminal prosecution. It was filed by 20 foundations, charities, peace groups and constitutional rights organizations, including the 1750-member Council on Foundations, The Carter Center (founded by former President Jimmy Carter), the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and Grassroots International. The Dallas-based HLF and its leaders were convicted of aiding five local charities in the West Bank and Gaza that are not on any government lists of terrorist organizations, but which the prosecution said were controlled by Hamas, which is listed. The full list of signatories is here. The current appeal involves the leaders, while the Holy Land Foundation, which was unrepresented at trial, is pursuing a separate appeal.       

Evaluation of Justice Department’s National Security Division

In 2006 the Justice Departement created a National Security Division, which demolished the wall between intelligence and law enforcement investigations. The Washington Post reports that after 4 years say “the division is performing as promised, melding counterintelligence and law enforcement, and helping to prevent attacks.”

Intelligence lawyers and criminal prosecutors now work together when a threat is identified – in partnership with U.S. attorneys’ offices and the FBI – in what are considered broad national security investigations. Toscas and Tashina Gauhar, the deputy assistant attorney general for intelligence, have offices next to each other and say they are in constant communication. The division is the liaison between Justice Department headquarters and the intelligence community.

“It’s terribly significant that we created a division, because it affects the way people think of themselves,” Kris said. “A division creates a fundamental sense of identity, which is ‘I’m a national security division lawyer, my job is to protect national security.’ ”

The unit’s leaders, most of whom are career Justice Department employees who have worked under several administrations, say they will use criminal prosecutions or intelligence methods, whichever is best. Intelligence investigations sometimes never lead to charges and can result, for example, in terrorism or espionage suspects being recruited as double agents.

“It’s not necessarily our job just to prosecute people,” Toscas said. “We could work on an investigation for years and be perfectly happy with the fact that we are gaining intelligence. . . . That is a cultural change.”

The new structure, officials said, contributed to the rapid resolution of the recent cases of 10 Russian spy suspects, who pleaded guilty and were swapped for four jailed Russians.

And officials cited last September’s breakup of the subway plot allegedly led by Colorado airport shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi. They said the investigation started as an intelligence probe but led to criminal charges against nine people, including a senior al-Qaeda leader, and to useful intelligence about that organization.

Harvard Law School guide to media law in the internet age

Excellent overview on US media law, including on the right to know (Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)), libel and privacy and Safe Harbors.

CRS report on American Jihadist Terrorism

This report describes homegrown violent jihadists and the plots and attacks that have occurred since 9/11. “Homegrown” and “domestic” are terms that describe terrorist activity or plots perpetrated within the United States or abroad by American citizens, legal permanent residents, or visitors radicalized largely within the United States. The report also discusses the radicalization process and the forces driving violent extremist activity. It analyzes post-9/11 domestic jihadist terrorism, describes law enforcement and intelligence efforts to combat terrorism and the challenges associated with those efforts. It also outlines actions underway to build trust and partnership between community groups and government agencies and the tensions that may occur between law enforcement and engagement activities. One appendix provides details about each of the post-9/11 homegrown jihadist terrorist plots and attacks. A second appendix describes engagement and partnership activities by federal agencies with Muslim-American communities. Finally, the report offers policy considerations for Congress.

Obama’s thoughts on nuclear terrorism, human rights promotion

Excerpts from the speech:

As for our common security, America is waging a more effective fight against al Qaeda, while winding down the war in Iraq.  Since I took office, the United States has removed nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq.  We have done so responsibly, as Iraqis have transitioned to lead responsibility for the security of their country.

We are now focused on building a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while keeping our commitment to remove the rest of our troops by the end of next year.

While drawing down in Iraq, we have refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe haven.  In Afghanistan, the United States and our allies are pursuing a strategy to break the Taliban’s momentum and build the capacity of Afghanistan’s government and security forces, so that a transition to Afghan responsibility can begin next July.  And from South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach — one that strengthens our partners and dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American armies.

As we pursue the world’s most dangerous extremists, we’re also denying them the world’s most dangerous weapons, and pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

In this context it’s interesting to add Obama thoughts on such a nuclear terrorist attack. This is an excerpt from what Obama said to Bob Woodward:

“I
said very early on, as a Senator and continue to believe, as a
presidential candidate and now as president, that we can absorb a
terrorist attack. We will do everything we can to prevent it. but even a
9/11, even the biggest attack ever, that ever took place on our soil,
we absorbed it, and we are stronger. This is a strong, powerful country
that we live in, and our people are incredibly resilient.”

Then
he addressed his big concern. “A potential game changer would be a
nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists, blowing up a major American
city. Or a weapon of mass destruction in a major American city. and so
when I go down on the list of things I have to worry about all the time,
that is at the top, because that’s one area where you can’t afford any
mistakes. And so right away, coming in, we said, how are we going to
start ramping up and putting that at the center of a lot of our national
security discussion? Making sure that that occurence, even if remote,
never happens.”

On the promotion of human rights:

So we stand up for universal values because it’s the right thing to do.  But we also know from experience that those who defend these values for their people have been our closest friends and allies, while those who have denied those rights — whether terrorist groups or tyrannical governments — have chosen to be our adversaries.

Human rights have never gone unchallenged — not in any of our nations, and not in our world. Tyranny is still with us — whether it manifests itself in the Taliban killing girls who try to go to school, a North Korean regime that enslaves its own people, or an armed group in Congo-Kinshasa that use rape as a weapon of war.

In times of economic unease, there can also be an anxiety about human rights.  Today, as in past times of economic downturn, some put human rights aside for the promise of short term stability or the false notion that economic growth can come at the expense of freedom.  We see leaders abolishing term limits.  We see crackdowns on civil society.  We see corruption smothering entrepreneurship and good governance.  We see democratic reforms deferred indefinitely.

As I said last year, each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its own people.  Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty; that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments.  To put it simply, democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens.  And I believe that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred.

On accountability:

The common thread of progress is the principle that government is accountable to its citizens. In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable.  And now, we must build on that progress.  And when we gather back here next year, we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world.

Congress will scrutinize rules of engagement in Afghanistan

The House Armed Services Committee will soon examine the rules of engagement used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The classified, full-committee briefing will cover tactical directives that limit  the use of force by NATO troops, according to a letter sent by Rep. Ike Skelton, D.-Mo.

Skelton said in his Aug. 26 letter to the three congressmen that he shared their “deep interest in ensuring that the members of the Armed Forces serve in conditions which allow them to act in self defense and provide sufficient force protection.”

The rules of engagement have been under a steady barrage of fire since July 2009, when Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, issued guidelines directing “leaders at all levels to scrutinize and limit the use of force such as close-air support against residential compounds and other locations likely to produce civilian casualties.” He also restricted the use of air-to-ground munitions and indirect fire, such as artillery rounds, against residences.

Furthermore, concerns come also from marines in Afghanistan, who have complained that insurgents regularly hide their weapons in fields and ditches, making it easy to blend in with civilians after a firefight.

Critics of McChrystal’s directives had hoped that the rules of engagement would be altered this summer, after he resigned in June. But McChrystal’s replacement, Army Gen. David Petraeus, issued a tactical directive update last month that appeared to reinforce many of the previous rules.

US to test iris scan technology

The Homeland Security Department plans to test futuristic iris scan technology that stores digital images of people’s eyes in a database and is considered a quicker alternative to fingerprints.

The department will run a two-week test in October of commercially sold iris scanners at a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, where they will be used on illegal immigrants, said Arun Vemury, program manager at the department’s Science and Technology branch.

“The test will help us determine how viable this is for potential (department) use in the future,” Vemury said.

Iris scanners are little used, but a new generation of cameras that capture images from 6 feet away instead of a few inches has sparked interest from government agencies and financial firms, said Patrick Grother, a National Institute of Standards and Technology computer scientist. The technology also has sparked objections from the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU lawyer Christopher Calabrese fears that the cameras could be used covertly. “If you can identify any individual at a distance and without their knowledge, you literally allow the physical tracking of a person anywhere there’s a camera and access to the Internet,” he said.

Iris scans can be quicker than fingerprints. “You can walk up to a wall-mounted box, look at the camera, and that’s it,” Grother said.

Homeland Security will test cameras that take photos from 3 or 4 feet away, including one that works on people as they walk by, Vemury said.

In 2007, the U.S. military began taking iris scans of thousands of Iraqis to track suspected militants. The technology was used in about 20 U.S. airports from 2005 to 2008 to identify passengers in the Registered Traveler program, who could skip to the front of security lines.

Financial companies hope the scans can stop identity fraud, said Jeff Carter of Global Rainmakers, a New York City firm developing the technology. “Iris is going to completely reshape the fraud environment,” he said.

The fight against terrorism in Yemen

The White House is allegedly considering adding the CIA’s armed Predator drones to the fight against al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen. The idea is to reassign some of the Predator drones already hunting high-value militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal regions to the U.S. special operations forces assisting local counterterrorist forces in Yemen.

But U.S. officials may have a hard time selling the concept to the Yemeni government in Sanaa, where reports of the potential use of drones has already touched off controversy.

Drones would be a “nonstarter,” Yemen’s ambassador to the United Nations told the AP earlier this year.
“To even posit this theory about U.S. drones only builds support for radicalization,” Abdullah al-Saidi said at the time. “Yemen will not allow it.”

Meantime, Amnesty International criticized (JURIST) methods used by the government of Yemen in counter-terror operations as violations of human rights. In a report, “Yemen: Cracking Down Under Pressure,” the rights group accused the government of perpetrating numerous human right abuses in attempting to quell the rebel movements of the Zaidi Shi’a in the north and the Southern Movement, in addition to its US-sponsored actions against al Qaeda.

These alleged abuses include arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances (already denounced in 2008 by Human Rights Watch), among other actions taken by security forces. These forces, according to AI, are accountable only to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The report also cited the rising number of executions in the country after convictions for links to al Qaeda or the rebel movements. AI also pointed to the actions of the US and Saudi Arabia in promoting these actions by Yemeni authorities following the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in December.
AI went on to criticize the role of the special counter-terrorism courts that have been used by Yemeni authorities to convict journalists and opposition figures critical of the government.