Archive for the ‘Cover-up’ category

The FBI’s Briefing On The GOP Baseball Shooting Couldn’t Have Been More Bizarre

June 22, 2017

The FBI’s Briefing On The GOP Baseball Shooting Couldn’t Have Been More Bizarre, The Federalist, June 22, 2017

(Since the attack had nothing to do with Islam Democrat incitement to the murder of Republicans, perhaps Hodgkinson’s mother’s failure to breastfeed him caused him to feel neglected and he had to do something to become famous. Yeah. That must be it.– DM)

The FBI’s briefing appears so contrary to the facts as to be insulting. When a man with a history of hating Republicans cases a location, takes pictures, verifies the targets are Republicans before opening fire, has a list of Republican politicians in his pocket, and shoots and nearly kills Republicans, it’s hard to swallow the FBI’s contention that the shooting was “spontaneous” with “no target.” The agency should reconsider whether it wants to troll Americans about something this serious.

With trust in institutions at historic lows, and the bureaucracy beset by fears of politicization, the FBI made a poor decision to gaslight Americans by claiming that the assassination attempt wasn’t premeditated terrorism but a spontaneous “anger management” problem.

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The FBI gave an utterly bizarre update on its investigation into an attempt to assassinate Republican members of Congress. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) remains in the hospital from the attempt on his life in which two police officers and a congressional staffer were also shot. The hospital upgraded his condition to “fair” and said he faces a long recovery.

Americans may know, thanks to public social media profiles, that attempted murderer James Hodgkinson was an active Democratic activist and Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer who hated Republican members of Congress. He held membership in multiple social media groups strongly opposed to Republicans, such as “The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans,” “Join the Resistance Worldwide,” “Donald Trump is not my President,” “Terminate the Republican Party,” “Boycott the Republican Party,” and “Expose Republican Fraud,” among dozens of other groups. He was a voracious consumer of liberal media and believed the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to secure the White House.

The FBI admits that Hodgkinson:

  • vociferously raged against Republicans in online forums,
  • had a piece of paper bearing the names of six members of Congress,
  • was reported for doing target practice outside his home in recent months before moving to Alexandria,
  • had mapped out a trip to the DC area,
  • took multiple photos of the baseball field he would later shoot up, three days after the New York Times mentioned that Republicans practiced baseball at an Alexandria baseball field with little security,
  • lived out of his van at the YMCA directly next door to the baseball field he shot up,
  • legally purchased a rifle in March 2003 and 9 mm handgun “in November 2016,”
  • modified the rifle at some point to accept a detachable magazine and replaced the original stock with a folding stock,
  • rented a storage facility to hide hundreds of rounds of ammunition and additional rifle components,
  • asked “Is this the Republican or Democrat baseball team?” before firing on the Republicans,
  • ran a Google search for information on the “2017 Republican Convention” hours before the shooting,
  • and took photos at high-profile Washington locations, including the east front plaza of the U.S. Capitol and the Dirksen Senate Office.

We know from other reporting that the list was of six Republican Freedom Caucus members, including Rep. Mo Brooks, who was present at the practice.

So what does the FBI decide this information means? Well, the takeaway of the briefing was characterized well by the Associated Press headline about it: “FBI: Gunman who shot congressman had no target in mind.” The Associated Press reported the FBI:

  • believes the gunman “had no concrete plan to inflict violence” against Republicans,
  • “had not yet clarified who, if anyone, he planned to target, or why,”
  • believes he may have just “happened upon” the baseball game the morning of June 14, and that the attack appeared “spontaneous,”
  • are unclear on the “context” of Hodgkinson’s note with six names of members of Congress,
  • does not believe that photographs of the baseball field or other sites “represented surveillance of intended targets,” and
  • “painted a picture of a down-on-his-luck man with few future prospects.”

In fact, USA Today went with “FBI offers portrait of troubled Alexandria shooter with ‘anger management problem’” for their headline, since that’s what the FBI emphasized in the briefing.

The FBI also said there was no “nexus to terrorism” in the attempted mass assassination of Republican leadership by a Democratic activist. The claim that tourists take pictures of a a completely unremarkable baseball field in a tiny neighborhood also seems odd, particularly when the pictures were taken a few days after The New York Times reported that Republican members of Congress practice baseball there with little security. Yoenis Cespedes wrote, “As a guy who could arguably be called a reconnaissance manager when he was in the Army, this is reconnaissance.”

Oh, and here’s a little tidbit that didn’t interest many people in the media beyond a brief mention in the last paragraphs:

Hodgkinson also visited the office of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose campaign he had worked on as a volunteer, and was in email contact with the two Democratic senators from his home state.

As one Twitter wag put it, “You’d think “Congressional Shooter Visited Actual Capitol Hill Offices” would be kinda a big deal and you’d be wrong.”

I wrote last week that the media’s big problem right now is that everyone in the country knows how they’d be covering the shooting if the parties were reversed. Can you imagine if a shooter had visited the office of Sen. Ted Cruz and corresponded with two Republican senators? Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) gave emails to investigators last week but it was treated mostly as local news.

With trust in institutions at historic lows, and the bureaucracy beset by fears of politicization, the FBI made a poor decision to gaslight Americans by claiming that the assassination attempt wasn’t premeditated terrorism but a spontaneous “anger management” problem. Or, as Jason Beale put it:

Their conclusion? Just a down-on-his-luck guy. No planned target. Pix not surveillance. Names lacked context. Jobless. Nothing to see here. pic.twitter.com/8KGLvVoVyF

Finally, this is what we get when the FBI allows politics to intervene in basic investigative analysis. A defensive, PC smoke screen. END/ pic.twitter.com/aQBKUGpud2

View image on Twitter
 The FBI’s briefing appears so contrary to the facts as to be insulting. When a man with a history of hating Republicans cases a location, takes pictures, verifies the targets are Republicans before opening fire, has a list of Republican politicians in his pocket, and shoots and nearly kills Republicans, it’s hard to swallow the FBI’s contention that the shooting was “spontaneous” with “no target.” The agency should reconsider whether it wants to troll Americans about something this serious.

Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway

April 24, 2017

Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway, Politico, April 24, 2017

Sean McCabe for POLITICO

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

Over the past year, the system has kicked back into gear, with some new cases filed and movement in existing ones. Some, however, involve activity dating to 2008, including the prosecution of some of Ravan’s suspected associates in the Iraq IED case. Privately, some prosecutors and investigators are hopeful that the Trump administration’s more hard-line approach to Tehran will mean more support for their efforts.

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By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.

When President Barack Obama announced the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian-born prisoners who “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” last year, his administration presented the move as a modest trade-off for the greater good of the Iran nuclear agreement and Tehran’s pledge to free five Americans.

“Iran had a significantly higher number of individuals, of course, at the beginning of this negotiation that they would have liked to have seen released,” one senior Obama administration official told reporters in a background briefing arranged by the White House, adding that “we were able to winnow that down to these seven individuals, six of whom are Iranian-Americans.”

But Obama, the senior official and other administration representatives weren’t telling the whole story on Jan. 17, 2016, in their highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap and simultaneous implementation of the six-party nuclear deal, according to a POLITICO investigation.

In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.

And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”

Three of the fugitives allegedly sought to lease Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that authorities say had supported Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization. A fourth, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of U.S.-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran.

A fifth, Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. U.S. authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shiite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq.

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

When federal prosecutors and agents learned the true extent of the releases, many were shocked and angry. Some had spent years, if not decades, working to penetrate the global proliferation networks that allowed Iranian arms traders both to obtain crucial materials for Tehran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in some cases, to provide dangerous materials to other countries.

“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” said one former federal law enforcement supervisor centrally involved in the hunt for Iranian arms traffickers and nuclear smugglers. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.”

In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort.

And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S. These previously undisclosed findings are based on interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.

“Clearly, there was an embargo on any Iranian cases,” according to the former federal supervisor.

“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added, in reference to Ravan and the IED network.

The supervisor noted that in agreeing to lift crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Obama administration had insisted on retaining the right to go after Iran for its efforts to develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and cruise missiles that could penetrate U.S. defenses, and to illegally procure components for its nuclear, military and weapons systems.

“Then why would you be dismissing the people that you know about who are involved in that?” the former official asked.

A SHREWD CALCULATION

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that even if Iran is meeting the terms of its deal with the Obama administration and other world powers, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”

At left, President Barack Obama delivers a statement Jan. 17, 2016, on the relations between the U.S. and Iran. At right, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet July 7, 2015, in Vienna, Austria, during the nuclear talks between the E3+3 and Iran. | AP and Getty Photos

Such reviews are likely to train a spotlight on an aspect of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap that has infuriated the federal law enforcement community most — the hidden damage it has caused to investigations and prosecutions into a wide array of Iranian smuggling networks with U.S. connections.

Valerie Lincy, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said Obama administration officials made a shrewd political calculation in focusing public attention on just those seven men it was freeing in the United States, and portraying them as mere sanctions violators.

That way, she said, “They just didn’t think it was going to make too many waves. And I think they were right.”

But Lincy, who closely tracks the U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, said that by letting so many men off the hook, and for such a wide range of offenses, Washington has effectively given its blessing to Iran’s continuing defiance of international laws.

Former Obama administration officials deny that, saying the men could still be prosecuted if they continue their illegal activity. But with their cases dropped, international arrest warrants dismissed and investigative assets redirected, the men — especially the 14 fugitives — can now continue activities the U.S. considers to be serious threats to its national security, Lincy said.

“This is a scandal,” she said. “The cases bear all the hallmarks of exactly the kinds of national security threats we’re still going after. It’s stunning and hard to understand why we would do this.”

Even some initial supporters of negotiating with Iran said the disclosures are troubling.

“There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime,” said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate, who later turned against the accord. “The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage.”

Most, if not all, of the Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors involved in the Counterproliferation Initiative were kept in the dark about how their cases were being used as bargaining chips, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.

So were the federal agents from the FBI and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce who for years had been operating internationally, often undercover, on the front lines of the hunt for Iranian arms and weapons smugglers.

It wasn’t just that prosecutors and agents with years of detailed knowledge about the cases were left out of the consultations about the significance of the 21 men let go in the swap. The lack of input also meant that negotiators were making decisions without fully understanding how the releases would impact the broader and interconnected matrix of U.S. investigations.

At the time, those investigations were providing U.S. officials with a roadmap of how, exactly, Tehran was clandestinely building its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and maintaining its military with the unwitting assistance of so many U.S. weapons parts and technology companies. The cases were also providing key operational details of how the Iranian procurement networks operate, and who in Tehran was calling the shots.

“So when they downplayed it, it really infuriated people,” said Kenneth MacDonald, a former senior Homeland Security official who helped establish the multi-agency coordination center at the heart of the National Counterproliferation Initiative.

“They’d spent months or years on these cases and the decisions were made with no review of what the implications were,” said MacDonald, who retired in 2013 but keeps in contact with agents as co-principal investigator at the DHS-affiliated Institute for Security Policy at Northeastern University. “There was absolutely no consultation.”

A SYSTEM IN LIMBO

In a series of interviews, senior officials from the Obama White House and Justice and State Departments said the prisoner swap was a bargain for the U.S., given the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati and three others. Iran also promised cooperation on the case of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who had disappeared in Iran nearly a decade earlier and was believed to be either imprisoned or dead.

Those senior officials acknowledged that all but a handful of people were kept in the dark, but said top representatives of the Justice Department and FBI helped vet the 21 Iranian proliferators and that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself participated in blocking some other individuals demanded by Tehran from inclusion in potential prisoner trades.

“The condition was that they not be engaged in anything remotely attached to violence or proliferation activities,” said one senior Obama administration official familiar with the swap negotiations. “And none of them were in any stage where they were providing assistance to the [Tehran] government.”

That may be true for the seven men granted clemency in the United States, but it certainly wasn’t the case for the 14 fugitives.

“These were people under active investigation, who we wanted very badly because they were operating at such a high level that they could help us begin to find out what was happening inside the black box of how Iran’s procurement networks really operate,” said Aaron Arnold, a former intelligence analyst at CPC2, the FBI’s special Counterproliferation Center unit dedicated to thwarting Iranian nuclear and weapons smuggling. “Without that kind of strategic insight, it leaves our analysts, but more importantly, our policy-makers just guessing at what Iran is up to and how to stop it.”

Fifteen months later, the fallout from the nuclear deal and prisoner swap — and questions about the events leading up to them — continue to reverberate through the Justice Department and the specialized units at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department created to neutralize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear and military ambitions.

The National Counterproliferation Initiative, created with much fanfare a decade ago, has suffered greatly, many participants said, even as they acknowledged that metrics are hard to come by. Much of the work is done in secret, and in long-range efforts that can’t be publicly disclosed, much less measured in annual arrest or conviction statistics.

But key enforcement efforts are in limbo as the result of stalled or stymied investigations and prosecutions, and the trail of some high-value targets has gone cold, numerous participants said.

At least six times in the run-up to the nuclear deal, federal investigators scrambled to get Justice and State Department approval to lure top Iranian targets into traveling internationally in order to arrest them, according to one top Obama administration Justice Department official and other participants. But the requests weren’t approved and the targets vanished, depriving the U.S. of some of its best opportunities to gain insight into the workings of Tehran’s nuclear, missile and military programs, the sources said.

“We would say, ‘We have this opportunity and if we don’t do it now, we’ll never have the opportunity ever again,” the recently departed Justice Department official recalls. But, he added, “There were periods of time where State Department cooperation was necessary but not forthcoming.”

Obama Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment through a former senior State Department official, who said certain requests might have been delayed temporarily because they came at particularly sensitive times in the negotiations, but only with the concurrence of the White House and Justice Department.

But even now, many experienced agents and prosecutors say they are reluctant to pursue counterproliferation cases for fear that they won’t go anywhere. They say they have also received no helpful guidance on what they can — and cannot — investigate going forward given the complicated parameters of the Iran deal and lifting of nuclear sanctions. Some said they are biding their time to see how hard-liners in the new administration, including Trump himself, deal with Iran.

But others have grown so frustrated that they have moved on from the counterproliferation effort, taking with them decades of investigative experience and relationships cultivated with other government agencies and cooperating U.S. companies, a number of current and former officials said.

And critical momentum has been lost, many say, as the 10-year anniversary of the initiative in October approaches.

“This has erased literally years — many years — of hard work, and important cases that can be used to build toward other cases and even bigger players in Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs,” said former Justice Department counterproliferation prosecutor David Locke Hall, adding that the swap demolished the deterrent effect that the arrests and convictions may have had. “Even though these men’s crimes posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, the [Obama] administration has essentially told them their efforts have produced nothing more than political capital that can be traded away when politically expedient.”

One senior Obama administration official who served at the White House and DHS disagreed, saying much of the intelligence about Iranian networks remains usable even though the 21 cases were vacated, and that counterproliferation agents are a resilient bunch who will continue to do their jobs.

When asked whether the counterproliferation effort has struggled, one current Justice Department spokesman said no and quipped, “We are still in the export violation prosecuting business.”

That may be the case, said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a physicist and former weapons inspector whose decades of scientific research into Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program brings him into regular close contact with federal authorities.

But like others involved in ongoing U.S. counterproliferation efforts, Albright said he witnessed many instances since late 2014 in which important investigations and prosecutions were hindered. Albright, who serves as an expert witness in Justice Department Iran trafficking prosecutions, added that federal agents have told him of numerous cases of “lure memos” and other requests never approved by the State Department.

“You can’t keep turning these down and expecting them to want to keep doing this,” said Albright, who added that efforts to lure suspects to countries where they can be arrested are essential in getting beyond the lower rungs of middlemen for Iran. He said he could not disclose specific details, but said, “The amount of rejections has risen to the level where people were worried that it would kill the counterproliferation effort.”

“They had wanted all of these things prosecuted, they were on a roll, they were freaking out the Iranians and then they were told, boom, stop,” Albright said of the Obama administration’s counterproliferation efforts. “And it’s hard to get them back again. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, destroying the infrastructure that we created to enforce the laws against the Iranians.”

The repercussions from the prisoner swap are especially strong in Boston, where authorities had worked for years to build the case against Jamili, the suspected Iranian nuclear procurement agent, and his China-based associate Sihai Cheng.

The two were secretly indicted in 2013 along with two Iranian companies, and Cheng pleaded guilty in mid-December 2015 to four criminal counts. He acknowledged conspiring with Jamili to knowingly provide more than 1,000 high-tech components known as pressure transducers to Iran, which authorities say advanced its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Less than a month later, though, as the prisoner swap unfolded, Boston prosecutors got orders from Washington to file court papers vacating the charges against Jamili and dropping the Interpol arrest warrant for him.

It wasn’t until later that the case agents and prosecutors learned that the Iranian negotiators had specifically demanded that Jamili be included in the swap, said Arnold, the former analyst at the FBI’s Counterproliferation Center Iran unit, where he headed a financial intelligence team tracking the money flows of the Iranian networks.

A GLOBAL CAT AND MOUSE GAME

By the time of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap, the U.S. government had spent 35 years in pursuit of Iran’s ever more sophisticated web of smugglers, traffickers, transport operatives and procurement agents.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared that Iran constituted an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. security after Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took hostage 52 Americans. Tehran began calling the United States “the Great Satan” and vowed its destruction, in part by using proxy forces like Hezbollah.

A raft of economic sanctions against Iran and Iranian entities were put in place, followed by other restrictions on U.S. parts and technology that Tehran needed for military or other restricted applications, including its squadrons of F-class fighter jets that Washington sold it during friendlier times. Its ambitious ballistic missile program became a grave concern over the years, especially when it became apparent that Tehran was using U.S. commodities to engineer inter-continental versions that could reach the United States, and to top them with nuclear, conventional or even chemical and biological weapons.

And as Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program ramped up, so did the U.S. effort to stop it.

Overseas, U.S. intelligence operatives shadowed Iranian procurement agents, cultivated informants and used cyberweapons to sabotage Iran’s clandestine program. The U.S. military tried to interdict illicit shipments headed for Tehran. The Treasury Department issued endless rounds of targeted sanctions, but each time it restricted access to global markets for suspect individuals and companies, Tehran would simply create new ones. And successive administrations tried the diplomatic route to slow or stop Iranian proliferation, including Tehran’s efforts to share weapons and research with other enemies of the United States, without success.

In response, federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors were deployed to shut down the Iranian procurement networks and dam the rivers of U.S. parts and technology illicitly flowing to Iran in violation of export control laws.

That proved virtually impossible, given the hundreds of trading, shipping and transport companies Iran employed, and the complex payment schemes and often unwitting procurement agents it used to get the products via other countries with lax export controls.

Meanwhile, since at least 1982, the Government Accountability Office began issuing stinging reports about how the lack of coordination and information-sharing among U.S. agencies severely hampered efforts to bring criminal cases against traffickers.

After the 9/11 attacks, those turf battles intensified. The cases often took years to investigate, and federal agents from two or even three agencies would sometimes discover they were conducting international undercover operations against the same target, a top former Homeland Security official recalls.

Securing convictions from American juries was also a huge challenge given the complex nature of the cases, especially when the procurement networks were buying so-called dual-use components that also could be used for less nefarious purposes.

Two post-9/11 cases exposed gaping holes in the global counterproliferation safety net. In the United States, Israeli-born trafficker Asher Karni was arrested for illegally shipping suspected U.S. nuclear components to Pakistan for its atomic bomb arsenal. And in Pakistan, metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan was caught selling his country’s nuclear capability to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

At left, an Iranian security employee walks in a part of the uranium conversion facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, in 2005. At right, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities on April 8, 2008. Ahmadinejad announced on Iranian state television during the visit that Iran had begun the installation of some 6,000 new centrifuges, adding to to the 3,000 centrifuges already at the facility. | Getty

Both cases ratcheted up Washington’s fears that the vast underground of WMD trafficking rings could sell their wares to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

In 2007, the Bush administration responded by establishing the National Counterproliferation Initiative, charging the Justice Department with coordinating and expanding U.S. efforts to dismantle the procurement networks.

Task forces were established around the country, with special training for prosecutors and agents in how to collectively build cases that would not only put front-line traffickers in prison, but also map the illicit networks and target their leadership.

From the outset, Iran cases were front and center, especially in cities like San Diego, Houston and New York with large military, industrial or technology sectors. Boston, in particular, seemed a favorite of the Iranian networks.

Soon, the multi-agency teams were homing in on key players in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and another network procuring the IED components that Tehran’s fearsome Revolutionary Guard used to assist Iraqi insurgents killing American troops in Iraq.

An early high-value target was Amin Ravan, who by 2008 was working with a Singapore firm on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Organization, described by a secret State Department cable that year as “the umbrella organization and key procurement center for all Iranian industries responsible for developing and manufacturing missiles.”

Another was Behrouz Dolatzadeh, the suspected assault weapons buyer for Tehran. Authorities say he had been active as far back as 1995 in illegal arms smuggling and other illegal activities in connection with a sprawling business empire linked to Iran’s hard-line leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

By 2011, the Justice-led task forces had developed so many promising leads that the FBI, Commerce and Homeland Security Department had created special units to better coordinate efforts. Together, they also improved liaisons with overseas law enforcement agencies instrumental in interdicting shipments headed for Iran.

And working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department, the task forces successfully lured several key Iranian operatives out of Tehran and China for capture elsewhere, including two who would end up on Obama’s prisoner swap list.

Dolatzadeh was indicted under seal in Arizona in February 2012, lured to the Czech Republic to inspect weapons en route to Iran, and arrested. And Ravan, already linked to the IED network, was secretly indicted in Washington in November 2012 and captured soon after in Malaysia.

And after a three-year undercover investigation, U.S. authorities lured a major Iranian proliferator named Parviz Khaki to the Philippines in May 2012 and arrested him on charges of conspiring to smuggle nuclear-related U.S. equipment to Iran.

“By dismantling this complex conspiracy … we have disrupted a significant threat to national security,” John Morton, then-director of DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at the time.

All three investigations provided U.S. officials with unprecedented insight into Iran’s secret procurement efforts, current and former task force members said. But Dolatzadeh and Ravan were released by courts overseas, and Khaki died in custody, before the U.S. could extradite them.

The counterproliferation teams also enlisted the help of American companies, providing them with Iran’s massive shopping list of needed items and hotlines to call when they got a nibble.

“It took a long time to mature, but by 2013 to 2014, it became very evident that we were getting a lot of great leads,” recalls Randall Coleman, who as assistant FBI director oversaw the bureau’s fledgling Counterproliferation Center and special coordinators in all 56 field offices.

“We were very aggressive, and as a result of that, our caseload went up about 500 percent,” Coleman said. “It really exploded. We were rocking and rolling.”

One of the most promising cases was in Boston, where federal agents were deep into their investigation of the illicit flow of parts to Iran from a Massachusetts firm, MKS Instruments, and its Shanghai subsidiary.

With help from MKS, which was not suspected of wrongdoing, agents initially focused on Cheng and gathered evidence that he had been indirectly supplying Iran with components with nuclear applications for years. The trail led to Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, an Iranian company designated by European authorities as an entity involved in developing and procuring parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“Time is important, not only for you, for me, for your end user, but also for your nation,” Cheng wrote in a 2010 instant message to a suspected Iranian accomplice. “I personally believe the war will break out in 2 years and that will be the start of World War Three.”

But the agents’ curiosity was also piqued by another message from back in 2007, in which the Iranian accomplice, Seyed Jamili, asked Cheng for thousands of pressure transducers, for “a very big project and secret one.”

The project, authorities determined, was Iran’s clandestine uranium nuclear enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, where the transducers helped run thousands of gas centrifuge cascades to reach weapons-grade capability. There was even a photo of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touring Natanz, with the centrifuges — and MKS transducers clearly visible — in the background.

International U.S. arrest warrants were secretly issued for the two men, and authorities nabbed Cheng when he traveled to London to watch a soccer match in February 2014. After he was extradited and brought to Boston that December, authorities began to realize that Jamili was a far more important cog in Iran’s proliferation network than they had suspected.

It was Jamili who had recruited Cheng with the promise of big and easy money, they determined, and who had been using his Iranian import-export firm as cover for personally recruiting other procurement agents on trips to China and possibly other countries.

Around that same time, negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran were heating up, and so were the top-secret prisoner swap talks on the sidelines of them.

AN OPERATIONAL SLOWDOWN

By the winter of 2014, federal agents and prosecutors began to detect waning support at the higher rungs of the Obama administration for their counterproliferation efforts against Iran, according to numerous officials involved. Also, they said, Justice Department management — and an interagency Iran working group — suddenly were scrutinizing Iran cases more closely, asking a lot more questions and holding up requests and approvals that in the past had been routine.

No specific guidance or order was given, some said, but the message was clear.

“They didn’t want to have cases just popping up in the workup to the agreement or shortly after the agreement. The administration would not look good if there were [cases documenting] these acquisition attempts. And the Iranians kept doing it,” MacDonald, the former senior Homeland Security official, said of Tehran’s illegal procurement efforts.

“They were never told no, just to wait,” MacDonald said of the agents. “It was a common theme among the people working these cases. The official response was that nothing had changed, that if you brought the case forward, it would be worked. But unofficially, that was just not the case.”

Some of the cases involved significant investigations into nuclear and missile proliferation that required State Department approval, including visas to lure suspects to the U.S. for arrest, said MacDonald, who had also served on the White House Task Force on Export Control Reform. “I’ve been told that the highest levels of the State Department weren’t processing those, and the cases couldn’t move forward.”

A former senior State Department official said that in most cases, State Department and White House could only provide nonbinding guidance on how ongoing law enforcement operations might affect the sensitive negotiations. Ultimately, he said, the Justice Department was responsible for pushing back and protecting the integrity of its investigations and prosecutions.

And while it’s possible that federal law enforcement officials missed opportunities as a result of State Department delays, “I am not aware of a single case where they lost out on some key arrest or information, or some proliferation activity was allowed to continue,” the former senior State Department official said, adding that some lures and extraditions were approved “until the very end of our tenure.”

Clockwise from upper left: A U.S. plane sits on the tarmac of Geneva’s airport Jan. 17, 2016, awaiting the arrival of some of the Americans freed by Iran in a prisoner swap with the United States. The prisoners were former Marine Amir Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, private investigator and retired FBI and DEA agent Robert Levinson, Massachusetts student Matthew Trevithick and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari (not pictured). | AP and Getty Photos

Richard Nephew, a former top Iran sanctions official at the State Department and National Security Council, said any delays were “much more a case of managing the diplomatic initiative than letting the bad guys get away with stuff. If we found out in the NSC that something involved active law enforcement activity, then we were advised to stay the hell away from it.”

A top Obama Justice Department official rejected the notion that the State Department didn’t undermine important cases. He said prosecutors and investigators sometimes acceded to requests for delays they believed to be reasonable. But they became infuriated at times, he said, especially when opportunities to lure and arrest key Iranian proliferators were lost due to delay or outright rejection by State.

“The impediment was not the leadership of DOJ but the other agencies that DOJ has to work with to bring these cases successfully,” the Obama Justice official said. “They can kibosh it, they can pocket veto it, they can tell us no, they can punt it down a couple of steps.”

Justice Department officials demanded “high-level conversations” with the State Department and White House, but “not a whole lot” changed, the Obama Justice official said. “Did it fix the issue? I don’t think it did. I remember people up and down at DOJ being frustrated with the inability to move things.”

A senior former federal law enforcement official involved in counterproliferation efforts agreed, saying the FBI was especially impacted. “Did some of these other agencies’ actions … undermine what we were trying to accomplish in terms of the Iran network in the U.S.? Yes. But you are treading into waters where people don’t like what you are doing because it affects other things they are trying to do, diplomatically and politically.”

Ultimately, the dysfunction created by the slowdown spread far beyond the enforcement agencies and damaged relationships with partners in private industry and foreign governments, former DHS official MacDonald and others said.

By early 2015, the Obama administration’s oft-publicized desire for securing an Iran deal “was politicizing all of the ongoing investigations,” Arnold said. He visited his former CPC Iran Unit colleagues that August while briefing Treasury and FBI officials on the Iran deal, reached a month earlier, as a counterproliferation expert at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“There was a fear that as negotiations went on, the White House wouldn’t want to get caught in a flap” created by a high-profile arrest or criminal case, Arnold said.

For agents and prosecutors, the headlines such an incident would create would antagonize not only their superiors but also a White House intent on proving to Tehran that it was committed to reaching an accord. On the flip side, it could also provide ammunition to the proposed deal’s many critics in Congress and elsewhere, who were claiming that Iran was aggressively continuing its clandestine procurement efforts even as it pledged good behavior.

But agents and prosecutors had an even more powerful reason to throttle back on Iran proliferation cases, according to Arnold and others.

Despite repeated requests, many were not given guidance or reassurances that the nuclear deal being negotiated in secret wouldn’t render unprosecutable new and ongoing cases, especially high-priority ones against nuclear traffickers, Arnold said. So agents had no confidence that their work would bear fruit.

“It was absolutely insane,” Arnold said. “People didn’t know what to do.”

“From the summer of 2015 on, there was a serious slowdown” as many counterproliferation officials shut down prosecutions and investigations voluntarily, Arnold said. “During that time, CPC wasn’t as aggressive as it should have been.”

The senior Obama administration official acknowledged that the twin sets of negotiations influenced the overall U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, especially the timing of individual investigations, prosecutions and international efforts to bring suspects to justice.

Such competing equities are unavoidable when high-level matters of diplomacy and geopolitics are under consideration, the official said. At those times, the White House must be guided by broader policy objectives, in this case de-escalating conflict with Iran, curbing its nuclear weapons program and freeing at least four American prisoners.

“The White House wouldn’t be getting involved in saying yea or nay to particular arrests or cases or the like” that are the purview of the Justice Department, the administration official said. “It was not uncommon, though, that before we were going to undertake a law enforcement action that we thought would have foreign policy implications, we would alert folks at the White House so that there could be appropriate notice given to a foreign government. That happens.”

The former official also acknowledged the complaints by agents and prosecutors about cases being derailed but said they were unavoidable, and for the greater good.

“It’s entirely possible that during the pendency of the negotiations, that folks who were doing their jobs, doing the investigations and bringing cases, having no understanding of and insight into the other process, were frustrated because they don’t feel like their stuff is moving forward,” said the Obama official. “Or they were not getting answers, because there are these entirely appropriate discussions happening on the policy side.

“That doesn’t strike me as being, a, unusual or, b, wrong,” the official added. “But I completely understand why it’s frustrating.”

The Justice Department refused repeated requests to make available for interviews anyone related to the counterproliferation effort since the Iran deal, or to provide information about its role in the negotiations.

But in a statement to POLITICO, the Justice Department said the negotiations “did not affect the Department’s determination to investigate and charge worthy cases” and that it continued to “investigate, charge, and prosecute viable criminal cases … throughout negotiations of the JCPOA,” the formal term for the Iran deal. The Justice Department said it filed federal charges against 90 individuals and entities for violations of export controls and sanctions implicating Iran between 2014 and 2016, many under seal. It did not provide information about cases under seal for those or other years, making it impossible to place those numbers in the proper context.

Also, some of those cases involve the 21 Iranians let go in the swap. And because numerous individuals and entities often are charged in a single case, the statistics suggest a slowdown in counterproliferation efforts, according to current and former investigators and a POLITICO review of DOJ cases.

The timing of arrests, prosecutions and other investigative activities “may be informed by a variety of factors, including, especially in the national security context, collateral foreign policy consequences and impacts on American lives,” the Justice Department said. “Once an individual is charged, the Department works to ensure that the defendant, whether located in the U.S. or abroad, is held accountable. In seeking to apprehend defendants located abroad, however, we need assistance from other departments, agencies, and countries, and sometimes we cannot accomplish an arrest without it.”

Senior Obama administration officials also said the negotiations over the nuclear deal and, even more so the prisoner swap, required such extraordinary secrecy that only a tiny number of people were involved.

But as the nation’s top law enforcement official — and as a participant in the negotiations —Lynch failed in her responsibility as attorney general to protect the integrity of the Justice Department’s investigations and prosecutions from any political interference, some current and former officials believe.

Lynch, through an aide, declined to comment.

(A timeline graphic is at the link below. — DM

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, raised the issue of Justice Department independence in 2015, when as a senator he asked incoming Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about whether she knew that she had “the responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?”

Earlier this year, this issue arose again when Trump fired then-Acting Attorney General Yates for doing just that and refusing to defend his executive order on immigration. By doing so, Trump had “placed the independence of the Justice Department at stake,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). “The attorney general is the people’s attorney, not the president’s attorney.”

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis also emphasized the importance of such a firewall recently when addressing Trump’s claim that Obama had ordered wiretaps of him or his campaign. “A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Lewis said.

Many front-line current and former authorities disagree, and say the Iran deal and prisoner swap is a glaring example of that.

“A lot of people were furious; they had cases in the pipeline for months, in some cases years, and then, all of a sudden, they were gone — all because they were trying to sell the nuke deal,” a former Department of Commerce counterproliferation agent said. “Things fell apart after that. There are some really good cases out there and they are not going forward. They just let them die on the vine.”

A MASTERMIND EMERGES

Top Obama administration officials insist that the nuclear deal does not impede any of the broader U.S. efforts to go after Iran’s vast nuclear, missile and conventional weapons procurement efforts. Even so, many participants said the way forward is still sufficiently unclear that they can’t, or won’t, proceed.

Over the past year, the system has kicked back into gear, with some new cases filed and movement in existing ones. Some, however, involve activity dating to 2008, including the prosecution of some of Ravan’s suspected associates in the Iraq IED case. Privately, some prosecutors and investigators are hopeful that the Trump administration’s more hard-line approach to Tehran will mean more support for their efforts.

Like many others, though, Albright said he is concerned that the counterproliferation effort has suffered significant and lasting damage, even if much of it involves classified efforts that may never become public.

“How much damage was done to the law enforcement side of this from us pulling back from these prosecutions?” he asked. “We have to pick up the pieces.”

Albright said that is especially the case in Boston, where he testified for the government against Cheng.

A few weeks after the prisoner swap, a judge sentenced Cheng to nine years in federal prison, even more than the prosecutors asked for, for his role in the conspiracy.

Cheng’s lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, accused federal prosecutors of unfair treatment, saying they threw the book at his client, a relatively small fish, while dropping all charges against the “mastermind,” Jamili.

Since the swap, federal authorities have learned more about Jamili, including intelligence tying him directly to Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a top Iranian nuclear official who supervised a key “commercial affairs” initiative at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, according to officials familiar with the case. Authorities believe Jamili was on the phone with Ahmadi-Roshan on Jan. 11, 2012, when unknown assailants on a motorbike killed him by attaching a bomb to his car. Tehran accused Israel’s Mossad in the attack.

But the federal agents’ efforts to pursue such leads, even in the U.S., have been complicated by the general uncertainty hanging over the broader counterproliferation effort, according to Arnold, the former FBI analyst.

At left, young supporters of Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hezbollah movement carry portraits March 18, 2017, of the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as they march in the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Hatta during the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter. At right, an S-200 surface-to-air missile is driven past Iranian military commanders Sept. 22, 2015, during the annual military parade in Tehran marking the anniversary of the start of Iran’s 1980-1988 war with Iraq. | Getty

“Part of the frustration is that there is strong evidence Iran is still conducting illegal procurement operations and the FBI can’t really go forward with these cases,” said Arnold, who has been closely following the Jamili-Cheng case as part of a Harvard research project into nuclear proliferation networks.

That frustration is especially acute when it comes to Jamili and the 13 other fugitives. When dropping the charges, the Justice Department said it was doing so in large part because it was unlikely that the U.S. would ever be successful in capturing or extraditing them anyway.

Some federal officials familiar with the cases scoffed at that, noting that they have lured many Iranians to places where they could be arrested, and that others were tripped up by sealed Interpol warrants while traveling. In Jamili’s case, said one, “he has traveled so we know there’s a chance we could get him.”

Despite decades of intensive investigations, Arnold said, U.S. officials still have a “major air gap” when it comes to understanding the intermediaries like Jamili involved in the Iranian networks — who are between foot soldiers like Cheng and government officials running the nuclear and weapons programs.

“All of a sudden, we’re no longer playing whack-a-mole, and we suddenly have this key player who is directly involved and has insider knowledge as to how this whole process works,” he said. “So to see him being traded away is frustrating.”

Pentagon: Russia May Have Directly Participated in Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack

April 7, 2017

Pentagon: Russia May Have Directly Participated in Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack, BreitbartJohn Hayward, April 7, 2017

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According to CNN, the Pentagon is particularly interested in whether a Russian warplane actually conducted the bombing run on the Khan Sheikhoun hospital where victims were receiving treatment within hours of the attack, “with the aim of destroying evidence.”

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A stunning update on Friday afternoon from the Associated Press said the Pentagon is investigating possible Russian participation in the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack.

These officials also supported the dire suspicion that nearby hospitals were attacked to cover up evidence of the WMD deployment:

The officials say Russia has failed to control the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

They say a drone belonging either to Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack Tuesday after it happened. The drone returned late in the day as citizens were going to a nearby hospital for treatment. Shortly afterward, officials say the hospital was bombed.

The officials say they believe the hospital attack may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the attack.

The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. They say they’re still reviewing evidence.

According to CNN, the Pentagon is particularly interested in whether a Russian warplane actually conducted the bombing run on the Khan Sheikhoun hospital where victims were receiving treatment within hours of the attack, “with the aim of destroying evidence.”

Such an inquiry will not, of course, sit well with Russia, which is currently demanding a U.N. Security Council investigation of American aggression.

There have been conflicting reports about whether any Russian personnel or aircraft, particularly helicopters, were present at the Sharyat airbase. Videos can be found online purporting to show Russian helicopters at the base as recently as February, but Fox News quotes Pentagon briefers stating “no Russian aircraft were at the Sharyat airfield” when the missiles struck.

However, the Fox News report also quotes U.S. officials who said “between 12 and 100 Russian military personnel” were present at the base, complete with their own barracks, which the U.S. “took pains” to avoid blowing up. If the chemical weapons attack on Idlib province was indeed conducted from the base, it would be very difficult for the Russians to argue they were unaware a war crime was in progress under their noses.

EXCLUSIVE: Syrian Refugee School Sex Assault

January 18, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: Syrian Refugee School Sex Assault, The Rebel MediaFaith Goldy, January 17, 2017

A fourteen-year-old Canadian girl has been sexually assaulted by a Syrian migrant.

It was supposed to be a night of innocent fun and giddy excitement — her first high school dance — but for one girl at New Brunswick’s Fredericton High School, the night would go on to haunt her well after the last song was played.

The young girl’s mother (who asked that she and her daughter have their identities protected) reached out to TheRebel.Media.

She told us that her daughter was approached by two Syrian migrants who are enrolled at the Canadian high school. Both attempted to grind with the fourteen-year-old girl before one of the migrant students came up behind her, and aggressively touched her — her body and her breasts — before forcing his hand down her pants, touching her vagina from inside her underwear.

Through emails and a recorded phone interview, the Fredricton mother told me that, at first, Fredricton High School belittled reports of the sex assault against her daughter, and was told to consider things from the Syrian migrant’s perspective — to consider how western girls’ clothing has the potential to create cultural tension.

The girl’s mother informed me that the the police were aware of the sex assault and that she had hoped to press charges; however, following a questionable interaction between the young girl and one detective, there is now no sign that charges will be pressed.

According to the girl’s mother, the Syrian migrant student was suspended for just one week and is now back at school — with her daughter. Meantime, the 14-year-old girl has missed several weeks worth of school and is now seeing a mental health professional to help her cope with the trauma.

And it would seem this young girl isn’t alone. Her mother told me that there have been complaints from other girls, too. More reports of “Syrian boys groping and touching girls’ breasts and trying to touch girls’ vaginas at previous school dances.”

She also told me that the much older Syrian students at FHS are permitted to attend school dances, which she describes as “unfair to the younger students.” But, for reasons unclear to her, the issues — despite being well known — are not being reported.

Now, Rebel Media sought to verify the sex assault allegations before presenting this young girl’s story to you. And so, we followed up with the school. We filed an access to information request. We informed Fredricton High School of our tip and asked that they provide any information regarding the alleged sexual assault in question.

We received shy of one dozen pages of email transactions between teachers and school administrators, all of which authenticated our source’s story.

Over the course of the past eight months, I have presented a dozen reports, based on over three thousand pages of documents, covering five different Canadian provinces on the topic of Syrian students abusing their peers.

In our ongoing investigation into allegations of abuse and sexual harassment perpetrated by Syrian migrant students on Canadian children, these stories out of FHS were some of the most disturbing. Some two-thousand and seven hundred pages of email transactions between teachers, administrators, and school board members painted a picture of ongoing physical abuse and sexual harassment within their walls:

Syrian men in their twenties enrolled in the high school, successfully hitting on the much younger girls; requests for gender segregation and prayer spaces; expressions of excitement over the Brussels bombings and hobbies that included rocket propelled grenades.

It’s happening. There’s evidence, evidence that we here at TheRebel.Media have made publicly available. Every page of every Access to Information request we’ve filed is posted in full on our website.

And yet, there is a country-wide cone of silence on the subject.

If you believe in our journalism and want to see the full list of my reports on the subject of Syrian migrant students bullying, harassing, and abusing their Canadian peers, VISIT SchoolyardScandal.com.

And, if you or someone you know has a story of their own, send us a note at tips@therebel.media. We’ll look into your claim and, if it’s true, we’ll tell your story.

Because, unlike the mainstream media, we here at The Rebel won’t ignore the young girls and boys who are ultimately being affected by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s sloppy Syrian refugee policy.

 

Ten Most Troubling Finds Inside House Probe of Pentagon’s ‘Distorted’ Intel on Islamic State

August 13, 2016

Ten Most Troubling Finds Inside House Probe of Pentagon’s ‘Distorted’ Intel on Islamic State, BreitbartAaron Klein, August 13, 2016

(Please see also, The Trickle-Down Erosion of Honesty in Obama’s White House. — DM)

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TEL AVIV – A damning investigation by House Republicans released on Wednesday has found that the intelligence arm of the U.S. Military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) routinely produced intelligence that “distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered” the results of the campaign against the Islamic State.

Breitbart Jerusalem reviewed the House report and herein presents the ten most troubling finds, in no particular order.

1 – Top CENTCOM leaders modified intelligence assessments to present an “unduly positive” assessment of combating the Islamic State and training the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

The complaint alleges that senior leaders within the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate and JIC, including the Director of Intelligence and other senior intelligence staff, violated regulations, tradecraft standards, and professional ethics by modifying intelligence assessments to present an unduly positive outlook on CENTCOM efforts to train the ISF and combat ISIL.

Media outlets have also raised allegations of possible reprisals against individuals within the CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate. …

According to multiple interviewees, operational reporting was used as a justification to alter or “soften” an analytic product so it would cast U.S. efforts in a more positive light. No interview provided any instances where operational reporting was used as a justification to come to a more pessimistic conclusion. Additionally, numerous interviewees indicated that analytical products which conflicted with operational reporting were routinely subject to more stringent scrutiny than those that did not.

2 – Intelligence analysts declined to be interviewed, possibly out of fear of reprisals from CENTCOM leadership, while the interviews that did take place were under the watchful eyes of DOD officials.

Additionally, the Joint Task Force requested interviews with four more analysts whose positions provided them with visibility into the allegations. These analysts declined to be interviewed. Although they did not express their reasons for declining, the Joint Task Force is concerned that some of the analysts may have done so out of fear of potential reprisals for their testimony.

For example, as the Joint Task Force’s interviews were commencing, the Director of the DIA publicly characterized reports of the whistleblower’s allegations as exaggerations.

It must also be noted that, pursuant to longstanding arrangements between DOD and the Armed Services Committee, DOD insisted on having department officials present during Joint Task Force interviews.

3 – CENTCOM intel agents operated within a ‘toxic’ leadership environment.

The Republican lawmakers fingered CENTCOM leaders, and noted the intelligence process was cleaner under previous officials and Lloyd Austin III, who served as commander from 2013 to 2016. Dozens of analysts viewed the “subsequent leadership environment as toxic”:

Survey results provided to the Joint Task Force demonstrated that dozens of analysts viewed the subsequent leadership environment as toxic, with 40% of analysts responding that they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year.

4 – General Austin’s claim to Congress that IS was in a “defensive crouch” did not reflect the data possessed at the time by CENTCOM senior leaders.

Although no interviewee remembered the process of preparing the specific press releases and congressional testimony highlighted here, interviewees described a process in which congressional testimony and public affairs statements did not necessarily reflect contemporaneous intelligence assessments. In particular, the Joint Task Force was dismayed to learn that Intelligence Directorate senior leaders seemed unfamiliar with General Austin’s statements to Congress that ISIL was in a “defensive crouch” and indicated this characterization did not reflect their best assessments at the time.

5 – CENTCOM established an intelligence “fusion center” for IS-related intel, but kept out analysts whose views conflicted with senior intelligence leaders.

In June 2014, with the ISIL threat apparent, CENTCOM established an intelligence “fusion center,” a specially equipped JIC facility staffed around-the-clock, to serve as a “focal point” for ISIL-related intelligence. Interviewees recalled only informal communications noting the center’s establishment, and some were also uncertain about the center’s organizational structure, responsibilities, and how it was determined which JIC analysts would participate. The establishment of the Intelligence Fusion Center also removed some analysts who had the most experience with respect to ISIL and Iraq, including those whose analytic views often conflicted with those of CENTCOM’s senior intelligence leaders, from the production of daily intelligence products. This impact was especially significant given the critical analytic tasks of the Intelligence Fusion Center at this time of paramount importance in the theater.

6 – Restrictions were implemented for analysts whose views dissented from the mainstream inside CENTCOM.

Public statements by CENTCOM representatives emphasized close collaboration with other elements of the IC, but many interviewees indicated that in late 2014, senior CENTCOM Intelligence Directorate leaders instructed analysts to cease all external coordination with other IC analysts. The authority to coordinate was restricted to senior officials only, including to leaders of the Fusion Center. Other special arrangements were also put into place to notify the Director of Intelligence in the event that analysts sought to formally “dissent” from analysis produced elsewhere. The restrictions on collaboration have since been partially rescinded.

7 – Analysis was minimized in favor of details from coalition forces while intelligence was skewed to be ‘optimistic.’

Furthermore, senior leaders also relied on details reported from coalition forces rather than more objective and better documented intelligence reporting. The Joint Task Force can find no justifiable reason why operational reporting was repeatedly used as a rationale to change the analytic product, particularly when the changes only appeared to be made in a more optimistic direction. By supplanting analytic tradecraft with unpublished and ad hoc operational reporting, Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) leadership circumvented important processes that are intended to protect the integrity of intelligence analysis.

8 – Shocking survey results showed analysts believed data was “distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered” by their supervisors.

The annual Analytic Objectivity and Process Survey, directed by the ODNI, was conducted from August through October 2015, and included responses from 125 analysts and managers within CENTCOM. The survey results were significantly worse than those of other IC agencies or COCOMs, and showed that a substantial number of CENTCOM respondents felt their supervisors distorted, suppressed, or substantially altered analytic products.

Over 50% of analysts responded that CENTCOM procedures, practices, processes, and organizational structures hampered objective analysis, and 40% responded that they had experienced an attempt to distort or suppress intelligence in the past year. Yet despite receiving these results in December 2015, CENTCOM and IC leaders did not take corrective actions to address many of the issues identified in the survey results.

9 – Even after whistleblower complaints and the “alarming” internal survey last year, the Pentagon took no steps to correct its allegedly distorted intelligence process.

The Joint Task Force is troubled that despite receiving the whistleblower complaint in May 2015 and receiving alarming survey results in December 2015, neither CENTCOM, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) took any demonstrable steps to improve the analytic climate within CENTCOM. The survey results alone should have prompted CENTCOM and IC leaders to take corrective action without other inducements.

10 – Mirroring the Benghazi House Committee’s complaints against the State Department, the Joint Task Force here writes it “did not receive access to all the materials it requested” and details a process of denying information and records.

 

Will Europe Refuse to Kneel like the Heroic French Priest?

July 30, 2016

Will Europe Refuse to Kneel like the Heroic French Priest? Gatestone InstituteGiulio Meotti, July 30, 2016

♦ Go around Europe these days: you will find not a single rally to protest the murder of Father Jacques Hamel. The day an 85-year-old priest was killed in a French church, nobody said “We are all Catholics”.

♦ Even Pope Francis, in front of the most important anti-Christian event on Europe’s soil since the Second World War, stood silent and said that Islamists look “for money”. The entire Vatican clergy refused to say the word “Islam”.

♦ Ritually, after each massacre, Europe’s media and politicians repeat the story of “intelligence failures” — a fig leaf to avoid mentioning Islam and its project of the conquest of Europe. It is the conventional code of conduct after any Islamist attack.

♦ Europe looks condemned to a permanent state of siege. But what if, one day, after more bloodshed and attacks in Europe, Europe’s governments begin negotiating, with the mainstream Islamic organizations, the terms of submission of democracies to Islamic sharia law? Cartoons about Mohammed have already disappeared from the European media, and the scapegoating of Israel and the Jews started long time ago. After the attack at the church, the French media decided even to stop publishing photos of the terrorists. This is the brave response to jihad by our mainstream media

Imagine the scene: the morning Catholic mass in the northern French town of Etienne du Rouvray, an almost empty church, three parishioners, two nuns and a very old priest. Knife-wielding ISIS terrorists interrupt the service and slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel. This heartbreaking scene illuminates the state of Christianity in Europe.

1734Father Jacques Hamel was murdered this week, in the church of St. Étienne-du-Rouvray, by Islamic jihadists.

It happened before. In 1996 seven French monks were slaughtered in Algeria. In 2006, a priest was beheaded in Iraq. In 2016, this horrible Islamic ritual took place in the heart of European Christianity: the Normandy town where Father Hamel was murdered is the location of the trial of Joan of Arc, the heroine of French Christianity.

France had been repeatedly warned: Europe’s Christians will meet the same fate of their Eastern brethren. But France refused to protect either Europe’s Christians or Eastern ones. When, a year ago, the rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, Dalil Boubakeur, suggested transforming empty French churches (like that one in Etienne du Rouvray) into mosques, only a few French intellectuals, led by Alain Finkielkraut and Pascal Bruckner, signed the appeal entitled, “Do not touch my church” (“Touche pas à mon église“) in defense of France’s Christian heritage. Laurent Joffrin, director of the daily newspaper Libération, led a left-wing campaign against the appeal, describing the signers as “decrepit and fascist“.

For years, French socialist mayors have approved, in fact, the demolition of churches or their conversion into mosques (the same goal as ISIS but by different, “peaceful” means). Except in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter of Paris, and in some beautiful areas such as the Avignon Festival, France is experiencing a dramatic crisis of identity.

While the appeal to save France’s churches was being demonized or ignored, the same fate was suffered by endangered Eastern Christian being exterminated by ISIS. “It is no longer possible to ignore this ethnic and cultural cleansing”, reads an appeal signed by the usual combative “Islamophobic” intellectuals, such as Elisabeth Badinter, Jacques Julliard and Michel Onfray. In March, the newspaper Le Figaro accused the government of Manuel Valls of abandoning the Christians threatened with death by ISIS by refusing to grant them visas.

Go around Europe these days: you will find not a single rally to protest the killing of Father Hamel. In January 2015, after the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, the French took to the streets to say “Je suis Charlie”. After July 26, 2016, the day an 85-year-old priest was murdered in a church, nobody said “We are all Catholics”. Even Pope Francis, in the face of the most important anti-Christian event on Europe’s soil since the Second World War, stood silent and said that Islamists look “for money“. The entire Vatican clergy refused to write or say the word “Islam”.

Truth is coming from very few writers. “Religions overcome other religions; police can help little if one is not afraid of death.” With these words, six months after the massacre at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the writer Michel Houellebecq spoke with the Revue des Deux Mondes. Our elite should read it after every massacre before filling up pages on “intelligence failures.”

It is not as if one more French gendarmerie vehicle could have stopped the Islamist who slaughtered 84 people in Nice. Perhaps. Maybe. But that is not the point. Ritually, after each massacre, Europe’s media and politicians repeat the story of “intelligence failures”. In the case of the attack in Etienne du Rouvray, the story is about a terrorist who was placed under surveillance.

The “intelligence failure” theory is a fig leaf to avoid mentioning Islam and its project of the conquest of Europe. It is the conventional code of conduct after any Islamist attack. Then they add: “Retaliation” creates a spiral of violence; you have to work for peace and show good intentions. Then, in two or three weeks, comes the fatal “we deserve it”. For what? For having a religion different from them?

We always hear the same voices, as in some great game of dissimulation and collective disorientation in which no one even knows which enemy to beat. But, after all, is it not much more comforting to talk about “intelligence” instead of the Islamists who try, by terror and sharia, to force the submission of us poor Europeans?

Europe looks condemned to a permanent state of siege. But what if, one day, after more bloodshed and attacks in Europe, Europe’s governments begin negotiating, with the mainstream Islamic organizations, the terms of submission of democracies to Islamic sharia law? Cartoons about Mohammed and the “crime” of blasphemy have already disappeared from the European media, and the scapegoating of Israel and the Jews started long time ago.

After the attack at the church, the French media decided even to stop publishing photos of the terrorists. This is the brave response to jihad by our mainstream media, who also showed lethal signs of cowardice during the Charlie Hebdo crisis.

The only hope today comes from an 85-year-old French priest, who was murdered by Islamists after a simple, noble gesture: he refused to kneel in front of them. Will humiliated and indolent Europe do the same?

Not Just the Saudis: Iran’s Huge Role in 9/11 Also Covered Up

July 19, 2016

Not Just the Saudis: Iran’s Huge Role in 9/11 Also Covered Up, PJ MediaRobert Spencer, July 19, 2016

Iran and Saudi

“Satan in Flames” was the Iranian’s elaborate plot to hijack three passenger jets, each packed full of people, and crash them into American landmarks: the World Trade Center, which jihadis took to be the center of American commerce; the Pentagon, the center of America’s military apparatus; and the White House.

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The 28-page section of the 9/11 report detailing Saudi involvement in the terror attack has finally been released (although with substantial portions still redacted). We now know why one president who held hands with the Saudi King and another president who bowed to him worked so hard all these years to keep these pages secret. The 28 pages confirm that the 9/11 jihad murderers received significant help from people at the highest levels of the Saudi government.

However, Saudi involvement in 9/11 was not the only subject of a cover-up: Iran’s little-noted role in 9/11 has been covered up as well.

As I detail in my new book The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Iran, on December 22, 2011, U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels ruled in Havlish, et al. v. bin Laden, et al., that Iran and Hizballah were liable for damages to be paid to relatives of the victims of the September 11, 2001 jihad attacks in New York and Washington.

Judge Daniels found that both the Islamic Republic and its Lebanese proxy had actively aided al-Qaeda in planning and executing those attacks. He found that Iran and Hizballah had cooperated and collaborated with al-Qaeda before 9/11, and continued to do so after the attacks.

Before 9/11, Iran and Hizballah were implicated in efforts to train al-Qaeda members to blow up large buildings. This training resulted in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Shortly after the Cole attack, the 9/11 jihad plot began to come together — and Iran was involved.

Former MOIS operative Abolghasem Mesbahi, a defector from Iran, testified that during the summer of 2001 he received messages from Iranian government officials regarding a plan for unconventional warfare against the United States. The plot was entitled Shaitan dar Atash (“Satan in Flames”).

“Satan in Flames” was the Iranian’s elaborate plot to hijack three passenger jets, each packed full of people, and crash them into American landmarks: the World Trade Center, which jihadis took to be the center of American commerce; the Pentagon, the center of America’s military apparatus; and the White House.

A classified National Security Agency analysis referred to in the 9/11 Commission report reveals that eight to 10 of the 9/11 hijackers traveled to Iran repeatedly in late 2000 and early 2001.

The 9/11 Commission called for a U.S. government investigation into Iran’s role in 9/11 — but none was ever undertaken.

So Kenneth R. Timmerman of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran was, in his words, “engaged by the Havlish attorneys in 2004 to carry out the investigation the 9/11 Commission report called on the U.S. government to handle.”

Timmerman noted that during the 9/11 hijackers’ trips to Iran, they were “accompanied by ‘senior Hezbollah operatives’ who were in fact agents of the Iranian regime.” Iranian border agents did not stamp their passports so that their having been inside the Islamic Republic would not arouse suspicion when they entered the United States. The CIA, embarrassed by its failure to recognize the import of these trips, tried to suppress this revelation.

However, Timmerman contends that even the available evidence is explosive enough. In his words, he reveals that the Islamic Republic of Iran:

  • Helped design the 9/11 plot
  • Provided intelligence support to identify and train the operatives who carried it out
  • Allowed the future hijackers to evade U.S. and Pakistani surveillance on key trips to Afghanistan — where they received the final order of mission from Osama bin Laden — by escorting them through Iranian borders without passport stamps
  • Evacuated hundreds of top al-Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan to Iran after 9/11 just as U.S. forces launched their offensive
  • Provided safe haven and continued financial support to al-Qaeda cadres for years after 9/11
  • Allowed al-Qaeda to use Iran as an operational base for additional terror attacks, in particular the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The Ayatollah Khamenei knew about the plot. During the summer of 2001, he instructed Iranian agents to be careful to conceal their tracks. He told them to communicate only with al-Qaeda’s second-in-command — Ayman al-Zawahiri — and Imad Mughniyah of Hizballah.

Mughniyah was Iran’s key player in the 9/11 “Satan in Flames” plot. During the Havlish trial, former CIA agents Clare M. Lopez and Bruce D. Tefft submitted an affidavit stating:

Imad Mughniyah, the most notable and notorious world terrorist of his time, an agent of Iran and a senior operative of Hizballah, facilitated the international travel of certain 9/11 hijackers to and from Iran, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, and perhaps various other locations for the purpose of executing the events of September 11, 2001.This support enabled two vital aspects of the September 11, 2001 plot to succeed: (1) the continued training of the hijackers in Afghanistan and Iran after securing their United States visas in Saudi Arabia, and (2) entry into the United States.

The Obama-era CIA went to great pains to try to ensure that information about Iran’s role in 9/11 did not come out in the Havlish case.

In August 2010, a CIA official pressured a Havlish witness to withdraw his testimony in exchange for a new identity, new passport, and new job.

In December of that year, another CIA operative approached a different Havlish witness, showed him documents stolen from the case, and took him to a U.S. embassy where he was subjected to five hours of interrogation. He was finally offered cash if he recanted his testimony. Says Timmerman:

After I reported those attempts at witness tampering to a Congressional oversight committee, they ceased.

Judge Daniels determined that Iran, Hizballah, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and other Iranian government departments — as well as the Ayatollah Khamenei himself and former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — were all directly implicated in Iranian efforts to aid al-Qaeda in its 9/11 plot.

Daniels awarded the plaintiffs in the Havlish case $394,277,884 for economic damages, $94,000,000 for pain and suffering, $874,000,000 for mental anguish and grief, $4,686,235,921 in punitive damages, and $968,000,000 in pre-judgment interest for a total of $7,016,513,805.

The Havlish plaintiffs will not receive a check for that amount from the Islamic Republic of Iran neatly signed by the Ayatollah Khamenei. Still, the judgment provided a small bit of solace for the loss of life and years of trauma these families suffered as a result of the Islamic Republic’s war against the United States.

Most importantly, the judgment stands as an acknowledgment of Iran’s role in the 9/11 attacks.

Clearly, Iran is and has been at war with the United States, Over a period of many years, Iran has conducted that war on numerous unconventional fronts while threatening conventional attacks if its agenda is thwarted in any way.

For the Islamic Republic this war is very real, a principal focus of its energy and expenditures. But it appears that only one side is fighting.

This was underscored in March 2016, when it came to light that Iranian hackers who were accused of being tied to the Islamic Republic had attempted to hack into the operating system of the Bowman Avenue Dam north of New York City, as well as into financial conglomerates Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and HSBC – and the New York Stock Exchange.

Said Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

These attacks were relentless, they were systematic, and they were widespread.

Such attacks, if they had been successful, could have caused catastrophic damage to New York City and the American economy. Yet true to form, the Obama administration only indicted the accused (none of whom it had in custody). He took no measures against the Iranian government.

After 9/11, the U.S. declared war on terror and entered Afghanistan and Iraq. But if Bush had really been serious about attacking jihad terror at its root, he would have invaded Saudi Arabia and Iran instead. Under Obama, the denial and willful ignorance have only gotten exponentially worse.