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The capture of Khatallah: How things went down in Libya

Navy SEAL photo downloads

When Ahmed Abu Khatallah, accused of leading the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was seized by U.S. special forces in Libya after midnight Monday, it raised a number of questions. Not the least being why it took 21 months to capture him.

The answer is more complex than it might first appear. There were essentially three major issues in play: the FBI and the Justice Department were determined to build a clean legal case against Khatallah that would stand up in public court; diplomatic and military factors complicated the timetable, and more than a half-dozen government agencies — some with their own specific concerns — had to coordinate in carrying out the secret mission.

U.S. President Obama listens to a question during a visit to PittsburghThese agencies included the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which runs the special forces, including the Navy’s SEALs and the Army Delta Force; the FBI, which gathered the legal evidence against Khatallah; the State Department, which had to prepare for the international legal issues; the Navy, which is bringing Khatallah back to the United States; the Justice Department, which will prosecute the captured suspect; the CIA, which provided intelligence support; the White House, where the president had to approve the operation, and other units of the government that target terrorists.  All had “equities” in this covert action — bureaucratic-speak for a piece of the action.

The Obama White House was particularly eager to build a detailed legal case against the suspect so that he could be tried in a U.S. federal court and not sent to Guantanamo, where he would face a military tribunal. To build that case required months of investigation by the FBI in Libya. Though Khatallah was living openly in Benghazi for much of the time, and granting interviews to the press, he strongly denied he had led the attack on the U.S. mission — although he admitted he joined in. But other witnesses said he was seen playing an active role.

A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flamesThe U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed in the September 11, 2012 attack, as were Sean Smith, a State Department IT specialist, and Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, CIA contractors who had both served as Navy SEALs. The episode became a political firestorm, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of misleading the public on the cause of the attack.

Terrorism, Putin and the Cold War legacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin, April 11, 2013 REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

Terrorism always complicates diplomatic relations.

Since the Boston Marathon bombing, the suspected handiwork of two brothers of Chechen background, Russian and American security officials have focused on a blame game.

Could better cooperation between the FBI and the FSB (successor to the KGB) have averted this bombing? Which country is responsible for the carnage? The United States, which Russia warned in 2011 about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother who was killed in the police shootout a few days after the bombing? Or Moscow, which gave Washington scant evidence to pursue in that query?

The FBI-Russia connection

Suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing April 15 in handout photo released on the FBI website, April 18, 2013. REUTERS/FBI/Handout

When the Russian security service in 2011 asked the FBI to check up on Tamerlan Tsarnaev – one of two brothers now suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing – the request would have come as no surprise to a quiet, former FBI special agent in northern California.

Michael di Pretoro had been sent to Moscow in 1994 as the FBI’s first legal attaché, or “legat,” in Russia. He had a daunting task: to establish formal cooperation between the FBI and the Russian police and security services.

What Boston bombers manhunt revealed about the FBI

In the end, it was a high-tech gadget that allowed the FBI to identify the first Boston bomber in the video, the man agents called “Black Hat.”

This gadget — and the story of how the name of one bomber ended up in an FBI database — has revealed a great deal about the inner workings of the bureau, as well as its relations with an extensive network of countries in the pursuit of terrorism suspects. A wide variety of information is now exchanged internationally.

The gadget was used about 1 a.m. on Friday (April 19), eight hours after the FBI released photos and video of the bombing suspects – images of two men with backpacks strolling through the crowd at the Boston Marathon. One was wearing a black hat; the other a white hat turned backward.

The FBI’s shameful recruitment of Nazi war criminals

This essay is adapted from Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America’s Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals, which was recently published by Delphinium Books.

A trove of recently declassified documents leads to several inescapable conclusions about the FBI’s role in protecting both proven and alleged Nazi war criminals in America. First, there can be no doubt that J. Edgar Hoover collected Nazis and Nazi collaborators like pennies from heaven. Unlike the military and its highly structured Operation Paperclip — with its specific targets, systematic falsification of visa applications, and creation of bogus biographies — Hoover had no organized program to find, vet, and recruit alleged Nazis and Nazi collaborators as confidential sources, informants, and unofficial spies in émigré communities around the country. America’s No. 1 crime buster was guided only by opportunism and moral indifference.

Each Nazi collaborator that his agents stumbled upon, or learned about from the CIA, was both a potential spy and a potential anticommunist leader. Once they were discovered, Hoover sought them out, used them, and protected them. He had no interest in reporting alleged Nazi war criminals to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Justice Department, or the State Department for possible deportation or extradition. He appeared smug in his simplistic division of Americans into shadeless categories of bad guys and good guys, communists and anticommunists.

Collateral damage of our surveillance state

As the surreal sex scandal that forced CIA Director David Petraeus’ resignation reveals another prominent general’s “flirtatious” emails, the serious scandal here may well be the breadth of the FBI’s power to launch fishing expeditions through Americans’ most intimate communications.

This investigation began in May, as we now know from copious FBI leaks, with a series of rude anonymous emails to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. The messages criticized her cozy relationships with military officers at a local base, where she volunteers as a social planner. Although the e-mails have been described as “cat-fight stuff” rather than threats, a friend of Kelley’s at the FBI, Frederick W. Humphries IIwho had sent Kelley shirtless photos and was ultimately barred from the case by superiors worried he had become “obsessed” ‑ urged the bureau to investigate.

The FBI obliged ‑ apparently obtaining subpoenas for Internet Protocol logs, which allowed them to connect the sender’s anonymous Google Mail account to others accessed from the same computers, accounts that belonged to Petraeus biographer Paula Broadwell. The bureau could then subpoena guest records from hotels, tracking the WiFi networks, and confirm that they matched Broadwell’s travel history. None of this would have required judicial approval ‑ let alone a Fourth Amendment search warrant based on probable cause.

The communist on J. Edgar Hoover’s payroll

This is an excerpt from Enemies: A History of the FBI, published this month by Random House.

J. Edgar Hoover’s most valued secret agent was a Russian Jew named Morris Childs. The operation the FBI built on his work was code-named SOLO. It posed great risks and the promise of greater rewards.

The FBI’s first debriefings of Childs were declassified in August 2011. They illuminate several mysteries of the Cold War, including the origins of Hoover’s hatred for Martin Luther King, the reasons for Dwight Eisenhower’s failure to approve the CIA’s plans to invade Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and the beginnings of Richard Nixon’s thoughts about a détente with the Soviets.

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