Tales from the Trail

Now it’s official: bin Laden crossed off counterterrorism calendar

Now it’s really official.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been crossed off the National Counterterrorism Center’s calendar.

In the online version, the photo of bin Laden, included since at least 2001 even before the Sept. 11 attacks, has a big red “KILLED” stamped across his face. And his status has been changed to “Deceased.”

We’re guessing there was a certain amount of satisfaction in the act of  canceling him on the calendar from an agency that has been chasing him for years.

“It felt really, really good,” one intelligence official tells us.

Another intelligence official had a bit more to say.  “It’s great to know that he’s seen his last day alive and the last day he’ll be on anyone’s calendar.  This is a guy who no longer deserves the time of day, or any part of the year.”

Guess that’s that.

Photo credit: Reuters/Athar Hussain (images of bin Laden displayed for sale at roadside in Karachi)

Could Petraeus be too shiny for the CIA?

An agency all about cloak-and-dagger tends to be wary of the limelight.

So President Barack Obama’s choice of General David Petraeus for CIA director has raised some questions in intelligence and military circles.

How will a four-star general who has repeatedly been the subject of speculation as a possible future presidential candidate, and who doesn’t shy from the media spotlight, run an agency that prefers to stick to the shadows?

Will his boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a retired three-star general, be uncomfortable with a subordinate who has a much higher public profile that threatens to outshine him?

How bad was Intelligence Czar’s Libya “gaffe”?

USA-INTELLIGENCE/The columnist Michael Kinsley once quipped that in Washington a “gaffe” is when a political notable accidentally tells the truth. Intelligence and national security officials are describing the latest controversial statements about Libya by National Intelligence Director James Clapper as that kind of “gaffe.”

At a Congressional hearing on Thursday, Clapper said that rebels trying to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power had lost momentum and that the Libyan leader could well survive for some time to come. “We believe that Gaddafi is in this for the long haul…He appears to be hunkering down for the duration.”

“This is kind of a stalemate back and forth,” Clapper said, but added that, “I think over the long term that the (Gaddafi) regime will prevail.”

Information-sharing guru becomes chief leak plugger

The U.S. government’s man in charge of efforts to plug future WikiLeaks-style mega-dumps of government secrets is a veteran intelligence officer who previously spent years trying to figure out how government agencies could more widely share sensitive information.

Earlier this week, Russell Travers moved to the White House, where he will head an interagency committee assigned to assess the damage caused by recent WikiLeaks exposures and come up with ways to prevent future large-scale leaks. AUSTRALIA-WATER/

Travers’ previous assignment was as a senior official of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a branch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) which was set up after 9/11 to ensure that government agencies did more to share sensitive intelligence on terror suspects amongst themselves – an assignment which makes him one of the government’s foremost experts on sharing classified information.

Senate battle brewing: surveillance vs privacy

FINANCIAL-FRAUD/FBIA battle appeared to be emerging in the U.S. Senate over extending terrorism surveillance methods versus bolstering privacy protections.

The Obama administration wants to extend three key surveillance techniques adopted in the Patriot Act law after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to track terrorism suspects.

They are roving wiretaps to track multiple communications devices an individual may use; access business records; and what’s known as the “lone wolf” provision to watch an individual who may be hatching terror plots but isn’t part of a bigger group. Those three expire Dec. 31.

How much power should the CIA have?

In the alphabet soup of government national security agencies, the letters CIA seem to be sinking.

The latest blow to the spy agency was the attorney general launching an investigation into interrogation abuses and President Barack Obama has decided that the interrogation of terrorism suspects will be taken out of the hands of the CIA and put into the control of a newly-created group that will be housed at the FBI and report to the White House.

Some intelligence experts say the CIA didn’t want to do the high-value detainee interrogations anyway.

U.S. spy chiefs offer to stay on with Obama

WASHINGTON – It’s not a secret: the top two U.S. spies are offering to stay on for at least a while under president-elect Barack Obama.
What remains a mystery, however, is whether the offer by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden, will be accepted, given their identification with controversial Bush administration policies on electronic spying and treatment of terrorism suspects.
The Washington Post reported this week that McConnell and Hayden expected to be replaced early in the Obama administration.
McConnell — who gave Obama his first full intelligence briefing last week — told an awards ceremony in Washington on Wednesday that U.S. spy agencies would be in good hands under “the new guys.”
“Universally, very-well informed people, very smart, very strategic,” is how he described Obama’s team. “All the signs, at the moment, are positive,” he said.
Then came the pitch: “The message that both General Hayden and I have delivered to the incoming administration is, we view ourselves as professionals — as apolitical professionals — and we are available to serve at the pleasure of the president,” McConnell said.
“If they ask us to stay for some reason, for a period of time, we would stay and assist them in the transition,” he said.
“If they choose others, that’s fine, we’re happy with that; we have other things to do,” he said.
McConnell’s position as the U.S. spy chief is new, created under a post-Sept. 11 intelligence reorganization, and like other political jobs has no fixed term. There is, however, some precedent for CIA directors to serve overlapping administrations. George Tenet, a Bill Clinton appointee, remained in office under President George W. Bush until 2004.
Hayden has said little about his plans, but also noted in a letter to employees last week that he serves at the pleasure of the president.
The Post said influential congressional Democrats opposed McConnell and Hayden’s staying on because they publicly backed Bush policies on interrogation and electronic surveillance.
It said, however, other Democrats and many intelligence experts gave high marks to the intelligence leaders for restoring stability and professionalism, and that the Obama camp had given no signs of its plans.
McConnell said the Post article had an “alarming headline” but delivered a “reasonable message.”

For more Reuters political stories, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (McConnell, left, and Hayden at a Senate panel hearing Feb. 5)