Sunday, October 9, 2016

Intelligence screw-ups

Here is an interesting article about the mess created by our intel guys.
An ongoing review shows the U.S. intelligence community has been debunking long-held myths about some of the "worst of the worst" at Guantanamo, some of them still held today. The retreat emerges in a series of unclassified prisoner profiles released by the Pentagon in recent years, snapshots of much larger dossiers the public cannot see, prepared for the Periodic Review Board examining the Pentagon's "forever prisoner" population.
Afghan Abdul Zahir is a case in point: U.S. Rangers captured him and some "suspicious items" in a July 11, 2002, raid on his home on suspicion of "involvement with chemical/biological weapons activity." During George W. Bush's presidency he was briefly charged with war crimes, accused of being an al-Qaida conspirator named Abdul Bari, a nickname used by Zahir as well. The parole board cleared him for release on July 11, 2016 -- no trial necessary -- after an intelligence assessment concluded he "was probably misidentified as the individual who had ties to al-Qaida weapons facilitation."
"They had the wrong guy the whole time," said Air Force Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas, his defense attorney since 2010. "Abdul Zahir shared a name with a terrorist that they thought they were looking for. He unfortunately was further condemned by the fact that United States forces couldn't distinguish between bomb-making materials and the salt, sugar and petroleum jelly he had nearby when he was wrongly arrested."
The new intelligence reports are not designed to help the panel decide a captive's guilt or innocence. Rather they were prepared for representatives from the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, State and the Director of National Intelligence to evaluate each captive, a process that has whittled the detainee population down to 61 today.
In the instance of Zahir, the parole panel said the 44-year-old Afghan had a "limited role in Taliban structure and activities" and approved his release with "appropriate security assurances." The State Department is pursuing a plan to resettle or repatriate him.
"The National Counterterrorism Center compiles the detainee compendium consisting of a presentation of specific facts that includes information about the detainee and, where appropriate, notes inconsistent reporting," said Army Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, the Pentagon's public affairs officer responsible for Guantanamo policy.
The documents also offer a window into the wobbly world of early war-on-terror intelligence gathering and analysis where a suspicion built on circumstances of capture gelled into allegations of membership in a terror cell that on reflection more than a decade later probably didn't exist. In a series of interviews, intelligence sources -- including people who served at Guantanamo at the time -- blamed bad intelligence on a combination of urgency to produce, ignorance about al-Qaida and Afghanistan at the prison's inception and inexperience in the art of investigation and analysis.
In the early years, according to one analyst who worked there, Guantanamo's Joint Intelligence Group was "looking for anything you can pin on these guys." He still works in the U.S. intelligence community, and spoke to the Miami Herald at length on condition he not be named.
Analysts "weren't making things up," said the soldier-turned-civilian contractor who worked at the JIG for four years. "We were working overtime trying to figure out who we had, learning this culture as we go along." The blended military-contractor unit was isolated, started off knowing more about Russia and Bosnia than Afghanistan and al-Qaida and was under pressure to help stop the next terror attack.
"Everybody's drinking the Kool-Aid. You see conspiracies everywhere," said the analyst. The intelligence unit was "picking up on one or two things and holding on to it tightly like it was gospel."
That's how it happened that, at Guantanamo, being captured with a cheap Casio watch on your wrist made you a terrorist.
The board process has also disclosed new information that may have eluded the prison's intelligence unit. Even so that hasn't always led to a captive's release.
That's what happened in the instance of Saudi Mohammed al-Qahtani, held as a forever prisoner and suspected would-be 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The board declared him too dangerous to release but acknowledged something that his leaked 2008 prison profile declaring the "detainee is in good health" didn't know, or didn't include:
The man who was subjected to such cruel interrogation at Guantanamo that he was disqualified from trial as an alleged 9/11 plotter had a history of profound mental illness. His lawyers provided the panel with an affidavit from an American psychiatrist who treats U.S. war veterans saying that Qahtani had been sick since his childhood in Saudi Arabia. He suffered schizophrenia, major depression, a traumatic brain injury and had been hospitalized for it, according to the doctor, Emily Keram.

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