Friday, December 30, 2005

The Mother of All Counterterrorism Programs

It's an umbrella program that covers the entire world and includes within it many of the other intelligence operations we've learned about recently.

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.

Over the past two years, as aspects of this umbrella effort have burst into public view, the revelations have prompted protests and official investigations in countries that work with the United States, as well as condemnation by international human rights activists and criticism by members of Congress.

Still, virtually all the programs continue to operate largely as they were set up, according to current and former officials. These sources say Bush's personal commitment to maintaining the GST program and his belief in its legality have been key to resisting any pressure to change course.
Bush has never publicly confirmed the existence of a covert program, but he was recently forced to defend the approach in general terms, citing his wartime responsibilities to protect the nation. In November, responding to questions about the CIA's clandestine prisons, he said the nation must defend against an enemy that "lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again."

This month he went into more detail, defending the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping within the United States. That program is separate from the GST program, but three lawyers involved said the legal rationale for the NSA program is essentially the same one used to support GST, which is an abbreviation of a classified code name for the umbrella covert action program.

The administration contends it is still acting in self-defense after the Sept. 11 attacks, that the battlefield is worldwide, and that everything it has approved is consistent with the demands made by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001, when it passed a resolution authorizing "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks."

"Everything is done in the name of self-defense, so they can do anything because nothing is forbidden in the war powers act," said one official who was briefed on the CIA's original cover program and who is skeptical of its legal underpinnings. "It's an amazing legal justification that allows them to do anything," said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues.

The interpretation undergirds the administration's determination not to waver under public protests or the threat of legislative action. For example, after The Washington Post disclosed the existence of secret prisons in several Eastern European democracies, the CIA closed them down because of an uproar in Europe. But the detainees were moved elsewhere to similar CIA prisons, referred to as "black sites" in classified documents.

The CIA has stuck with its overall approaches, defending and in some cases refining them. The agency is working to establish procedures in the event a prisoner dies in custody. One proposal circulating among mid-level officers calls for rushing in a CIA pathologist to perform an autopsy and then quickly burning the body, according to two sources.

In June, the CIA temporarily suspended its interrogation program after a controversy over the disclosure of an Aug. 1, 2002, memorandum from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that defined torture in an unconventional way. The White House withdrew and replaced the memo. But the hold on the CIA's interrogation activities was eventually removed, several intelligence officials said.

The authorized techniques include "waterboarding" and "water dousing," both meant to make prisoners think they are drowning; hard slapping; isolation; sleep deprivation; liquid diets; and stress positions -- often used, intelligence officials say, in combination to enhance the effect.

The WaPo article does not say what the initials GST stand for; but Shakespeare's Sister is guessing it was the Bush administration's second choice, because KGB was already taken.

I also spent some time reading comments at Captain's Quarters. Very entertaining:

"Now it is time to track down the real leakers who are threating our national security and putting America at risk. You want to see civile rights go away lefties? Another attack WILL bring about martial law." -- Posted by: msdl5 at December 30, 2005 07:11 AM

"Perhaps like the INS, the CIA has outlived its usefulness. Why not abolish it, parceling its functions to military intelligence and/or the NSA? With a bureaucracy this disloyal and incompetent, a death sentence may be the only cure for the body politic." -- Posted by: Redhand at December 30, 2005 07:34 AM

"When any agent or agency of the government begins to work against the safety and well-being of our nation, it is time to dust off the law books, and start prosecutions for treason. Yes, 'treason' is a strong word, and the punishment for treason is also strong.

Find the leakers, prosecute them, and then execute them, for all I care. They are putting not only my country, but my way of life, and the futures of my children and grandchildren in jeopardy. " -- Posted by: Cowgirl at December 30, 2005 08:06 AM

"Isn't it time that we see the divulgence of confidential information during a time of war as an act of treason? It has been 25 years since my military service so forgive me if I'm not totally accurate, but it seems to me the UCMJ calls treason during a time of war an offence punishable by execution. Do the leakers in the CIA fall under the jurisdiction of the UCMJ? The MSM as deliverers of information internationally could without much imagination also fall under the authority of the UCMJ. I know it's not realistic a hope for such an outcome. Nevertheless, censorship of the MSM in regards to national security should be implemented, and the writers, editors and publishers of the MSM that produce these bits of information should be prosecuted as war criminals. ..." Posted by: gawfer at December 30, 2005 10:06 AM

With friends of liberty like these....

1 comment:

Larry Stevens said...

I don't know what GST stands for, but I call it the GSTapo.