Tag Archives: Leon Panetta

Wade Hicks in Limbo: how an innocent person lands up on the FBI no-fly list

On October 14th, Wade Hicks was en route to a US Navy base in Japan to visit his wife when he was escorted off his plane during a routine re-fueling stop on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, and detained by armed military guards. Hicks, who has no criminal record, had previously worked as a contractor for the US Department of Defense, and had also undergone recent and extensive background checks in Mississippi in order to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Regardless of his impeccable credentials and without any further explanation, however, Hicks was told by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent that he had been put on the federal no-fly list, and that, as a consequence, he wouldn’t be allowed back on the flight, or to leave the island on any other flight. Suddenly stranded, Hicks was at least able to speak to talk-show host Doug Hagmann, and he told him:

They have given me no reason. They just basically are telling me, ‘You can’t fly because we said so.’ They didn’t know how I even left Travis Air Force Base.

I said, ‘If I could find a way off the island, I could leave’? They said, ‘Yes, as long as you don’t fly.’

In the same interview, Hicks told Hagmann that he believed the reason he had been singled out is down to his vocal opposition to the on-going erosion of civil rights in America and, in particular, to the signing of the NDAA 2012 indefinite detention bill:

I was very, very vocal about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and I did contact my representative.

I do believe that this is tied in some way to my free speech and my political view.

Click here to read a full report on Russia Today.

Hicks says that while trapped in Hawaii, “he called politicians in Mississippi and Hawaii and brainstormed ways to get home with friends, speculating on taking a private plane, a cruise ship or even a fishing boat from Alaska.” Then, on October 18th , almost a week after he had landed up in Hawaii, he suddenly received a phone call saying he had now been removed from the no-fly list. Once again, no explanation was given:

The list can be updated within minutes, so it’s possible Hicks was added to the list while in midair from Travis Air Force Base in California to Hawaii.

A spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s office said passengers who fly standby on military flights are screened against the FBI’s list only on international flights. Domestic passengers are screened only through an internal military system, not the Advanced Passenger Information System run by Customs and Border Protection.

“It’s scary to know that something like this can happen in a free country. You’re not accused of any crime. You haven’t been contacted by anyone. No investigation has been done. No due process has taken place,” [Hicks] said.1

Click here to read the full report on ABC news.

So could anyone end up on the FBI no-fly list, and if you did, would you even know, and if you did know, is there any way to clear your name again? Here’s what the FBI’s own FAQ has to say about its Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) and the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB):

Who gets included in the TSDB?

Per HSPD-6, only individuals who are known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism are included in the TSDB.

In case you’re wondering, HSPD-6 is the Homeland Security Presidential Direction instituted by George W. Bush in September 2003.

Can I find out if I am in the TSDB?

The TSC cannot reveal whether a particular person is in the TSDB. The TSDB remains an effective tool in the government’s counterterrorism efforts because its contents are not disclosed. If TSC revealed who was in the TSDB, terrorist organizations would be able to circumvent the purpose of the terrorist watchlist by determining in advance which of their members are likely to be questioned or detained.

Are individuals removed from the TSDB?

Yes. The TSC works with partner agencies through a formal process to remove individuals who no longer meet the HSPD-6 terrorism criteria.

How does TSC ensure that the TSDB is accurate?

The TSC has a staff dedicated to redress and quality assurance that conducts comprehensive as well as case-specific reviews of TSDB records to ensure they are current, accurate, and thorough. TSC conducts research and coordinates with other federal agencies to ensure the terrorist record is as complete, accurate, and thorough as possible. TSC’s redress and quality assurance process has resulted in the correction or removal of hundreds of records in TSDB.

A quality assurance process… whatever happened to due process? But then reading through the FBI’s own explanatory notes, there’s something more than a little Kafkaesque about the whole system of self-appointed arbiters at the TSC, running their TSDB, under the framework of HSPD-6. A shadowy, secretive, and tortuously bureaucratic approximation to justice that operates without any public oversight whatsoever.

Here’s what Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the FBI no-fly list in an article published by the Atlantic back in May:

[So] In addition to the hundreds of people put on the list wrongfully and eventually rescued and the unknown number of people who are on it wrongfully to this day, there are thousands more American citizens made so paranoid by their own government that they’re convinced they are on a terrorist list, which the government will neither confirm nor deny. I’m with J.D. Tucille: “Invoking Kafka tends to draw the oh-so-jaded cliché police, but it seems appropriate enough here.”

Click here to read the full article.

1 From an article entitled “No-Fly List Strands Man on Island in Hawaii” from Associated Press, published by ABC news on October 20, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/fly-list-strands-man-island-hawaii-17521926#.UJMYnWdv9hc

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Chris Hedges is suing Obama over indefinite detention bill

A little over a fortnight ago [on Friday 13th], attorneys Carl Mayer and Bruce Afran filed suit in the Southern U.S. District Court in New York City against President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2012), which authorises indefinite detention of suspects without charge or trial:

The act authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled “Counter-Terrorism,” for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill, which will take effect March 3, the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until “the end of hostilities.” It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.1

Click here to read an earlier post on NDAA 2012.

Mayer and Afran filed the litigation on behalf of plaintiff Chris Hedges, a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and former New York Times foreign correspondent who was part of a team of reporters that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. In an article posted on January 16th entitled “Why I’m suing Barack Obama”, Hedges says:

I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge. I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have “disappeared” into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation. And while my battle may be quixotic, it is one that has to be fought if we are to have any hope of pulling this country back from corporate fascism.

Adding that:

[But] I suspect the real purpose of this bill is to thwart internal, domestic movements that threaten the corporate state. The definition of a terrorist is already so amorphous under the Patriot Act that there are probably a few million Americans who qualify to be investigated if not locked up. Consider the arcane criteria that can make you a suspect in our new military-corporate state. The Department of Justice considers you worth investigating if you are missing a few fingers, if you have weatherproof ammunition, if you own guns or if you have hoarded more than seven days of food in your house. Adding a few of the obstructionist tactics of the Occupy movement to this list would be a seamless process. On the whim of the military, a suspected “terrorist” who also happens to be a U.S. citizen can suffer extraordinary rendition—being kidnapped and then left to rot in one of our black sites “until the end of hostilities.” Since this is an endless war that will be a very long stay.

Click here to read Hedges’ full article.

On Jan 17th, Hedges and his attorney Mayer discussed their reasons for taking legal action on Democracy Now! :

CARL MAYER: Well, the purpose of the litigation is to have a federal court declare this act unconstitutional. And that would apply to everyone.

Chris is an important plaintiff in this, because—you just showed the clip from Mitt Romney. I’m not sure that Mitt Romney has read this bill. The act is so broad and vague that it covers, in its writing, any persons who give, quote, “substantial support to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or,” quote, “associated forces,” which are incredibly broad, nebulous terms and could capture, within those—their terms, journalists like Chris Hedges, who courageously has gone around the world to interview members of opposition parties, to interview members of terrorist groups, to report the truth. And so, when Mitt Romney says these are people who are in terrorist organizations, that’s not how the bill is written. It’s written so broadly that it could encompass a journalist like Chris Hedges.

CHRIS HEDGES: President Obama said he was going to veto it, but we now know from leaks out of Levin’s office that that’s because the executive branch wanted to decide. They wanted the power to decide who would be tried, who would be granted exemptions. It wasn’t actually about the assault against due process.

And I think we have to ask, if the security establishment did not want this bill, and the FBI Director Mueller actually goes to Congress and says publicly they don’t want it, why did it pass? What pushed it through? And I think, without question, the corporate elites understand that things, certainly economically, are about to get much worse. I think they’re worried about the Occupy movement expanding. And I think that, in the end—and this is a supposition—they don’t trust the police to protect them, and they want to be able to call in the Army. And if this bill goes into law, and it’s slated to go into law in March, they will be able to do that.

Click here to read a full transcript of the interview.

1 From an article entitled “Why I’m suing Barack Obama”, written by Chris Hedges, posted on Jan 16, 2012. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_im_suing_barack_obama_20120116/

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Bin Laden’s timely demise

Osama Bin Laden is finally dead. It’s official. Although, of course, you may recall some earlier pronouncements to similar effect. Indeed, investigator James Corbett has recently catalogued at least eight earlier instances (with links to the relevant articles) when heads of state, high-ranking government officials, and intelligence agencies have spoken of Bin Laden’s demise:

“Given Bin Laden’s documented kidney problems and consequent need for dialysis, government officials, heads of state and counterterrorism experts have repeatedly opined that Osama Bin Laden has in fact been dead for some time. These assertions are based on Bin Laden’s failing health in late 2001 and visible signs of his deteriorating condition, as well as actual reports of his death from the same time frame.

In July of 2001, Osama Bin Laden was flown to the American Hospital in Dubai for kidney treatment. According to French intelligence sources, he was there met by the local CIA attache. When the agent bragged about his encounter to friends later, he was promptly recalled to Washington.

On the eve of September 11, Osama Bin Laden was staying in a Pakistani military hospital under the watchful eye of Pakistan’s ISI, the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA with deep ties to the American intelligence community.”

On January 18, 2002, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced quite bluntly: “I think now, frankly, he is dead.”

 On July 17, 2002, the then-head of counterterrorism at the FBI, Dale Watson, told a conference of law enforcement officials that “I personally think he [Bin Laden] is probably not with us anymore,” before carefully adding that “I have no evidence to support that.”

In October 2002, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CNN that “I would come to believe that [Bin Laden] probably is dead.”

In November 2005, Senator Harry Reid revealed that he was told Osama may have died in the Pakistani earthquake of October that year.

In September 2006, French intelligence leaked a report suggesting Osama had died in Pakistan.

On November 2, 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told Al-Jazeera’s David Frost that Omar Sheikh had killed Osama Bin Laden.

In March 2009, former US foreign intelligence officer and professor of international relations at Boston University Angelo Codevilla stated: “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama Bin Laden.”

In May 2009, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari confirmed that his “counterparts in the American intelligence agencies” hadn’t heard anything from Bin Laden in seven years and confirmed “I don’t think he’s alive.”

Why then has this week’s pronouncement been accepted as credible? Well, as Corbett points out, the big difference this time round is not that we have proof at last, but that news of Bin Laden’s death comes direct from the White House:

Now in 2011, President Obama has added himself to the mix of people in positions of authority who have pronounced Osama Bin Laden dead. Some might charge that none of the previous reports had any credibility, but as it is now emerging that Osama’s body was buried at sea less than 12 hours after his death with no opportunity for any independent corroboration of his identity, the same question of credibility has to be leveled at this latest charge. To this point, the only evidence we have been provided that Osama Bin Laden was killed yesterday are some images on tv of a burning compound and the word of the man currently occupying the oval office.”

Complete article available at The Corbett Report.

Now if the man occupying the White House still had the name Bush, then there can be little doubting that this story would have come under far greater scrutiny than it is receiving. The sketchiness and strangeness of many details, and importantly, the lack of a body, or as yet, even any photos of a body, would surely have raised more eyebrows under Bush. And still we have only excuses for why none of this evidence has been presented. In other words, we have Obama’s word.

Of course we know Bush lied – both of them. George W. told us there were WMDs in Iraq, just as his father had sworn, a decade earlier, that Saddam’s forces were throwing babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on the hospital floors of Kuwait. Both these stories turned out to be complete fabrications, although they still passed sufficiently under the mainstream radar to help ignite two different wars. But Obama is different. He’s not Bush, and he’s not even Clinton. He actually inhales. So if he says they killed Bin Laden then that’s good enough for me, right? After all, it’s not as if he’s in need of any more wars…

Whether more solid evidence emerges to prove the story of Bin Laden’s death, we must wait and see (though I wouldn’t hold your breath), whilst bearing in mind that it wasn’t long for the first major deception to appear – a badly photo-shopped fake image of his corpse – quickly passed off as authentic by almost every national newspaper. The Guardian (May 2nd) just happened to be a little wiser and more cautious:

“Osama bin Laden corpse photo is fake: Image of bloodied man picked up by British newspapers has been circulating online for two years”

An image apparently showing a dead Osama Bin Laden broadcast on Pakistani television and picked up by British newspaper websites is a fake.

The bloodied image of a man with matted hair and a blank, half-opened eye has been circulating on the internet for the past two years. It was used on the front pages of the Mail, Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mirror websites, though swiftly removed after the fake was exposed on Twitter.

It appears the fake picture was initially published by the Middle East online newspaper themedialine.org on 29 April 2009, with a warning from the editor that it was ‘unable to ascertain whether the photo is genuine or not’.”

Click here to read full article by Amelia Hill.

So Bin Laden is finally dead, apparently. What’s the likely upshot? Does this mark some kind of closure to the war on terrorism? Can we now move away from a policy of secret detainment and legitimised use of torture? Can we end the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Might we also begin to reverse the anti-civil rights measures and systems of surveillance purportedly in place to save us from terrorist attacks? Can we all sleep more comfortably in our beds? Well, sadly, the most frequent answers we’re getting are simply no, no, and no again.

Let’s begin with Pakistan. Of the many mysteries still hanging over Bin Laden’s assassination, one of the strangest is that his hide-out was located just a few hundred yards from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy in Abbottabad. So how was it that Pakistan’s own intelligence service had failed to notice him? Indeed, how had it taken the US so long? Or was there some kind of a conspiracy afoot? A report from The Telegraph on May 2nd turns up some interesting documents:

 “WikiLeaks: Osama bin Laden ‘protected’ by Pakistani security – Pakistani security forces allegedly helped Osama bin Laden evade American troops for almost 10 years, according to secret US government files.

American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) also allegedly smuggled al-Qaeda terrorists through airport security to help them avoid capture and sent a unit into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban.

The claims, made in leaked US government files obtained by Wikileaks, will add to questions over Pakistan’s capacity to fight al-Qaeda.” […]

According to a US diplomatic dispatch, General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov, a senior Tajik counterterrorism official, told the Americans that “many” inside Pakistan knew where bin Laden was.

The document stated: ‘In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the security forces.’”

Click here to read the full article by Tim Ross.

So is this actually true? Well, it’s in a document – so that bit’s true. Obviously, we don’t know if the information is true, however, and in light of what has happened since, the release of these documents has, to put it mildly, been a little inconvenient for Pakistan. On the other hand, of course, for those seeking justification for Obama’s military incursions into Pakistan, the release of these documents is a godsend.

And here is another article from The Telegraph, also May 2nd, and based on “information” contained in other leaked documents, which asks whether: “The killing of the world’s most wanted man as a direct result of information obtained from Guantanamo detainees such as KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] will reignite the debate over whether torture is a legitimate interrogation technique in the ‘war on terror’”:

“WikiLeaks: Osama bin Laden killed after tip-offs from Guantanamo – The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who was interrogated using “torture” techniques, gave the United States the breakthrough that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who was repeatedly subjected to methods including ‘waterboarding’ and stress positions, provided the CIA with the name of bin Laden’s personal courier, according to US officials.

A second source – also an al-Qaeda ‘leader’ held at Guantanamo Bay – then confirmed the courier’s identity, sparking an intense manhunt that resulted in the dramatic final raid.

Secret documents seen by The Daily Telegraph disclose that this second source – the terrorist operations chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi – played a key role in finding ‘safe havens’ for bin Laden and lived in the military town where he was finally found.”

Click here to read the full article by Tim Ross.

So does this mean we now need even more secret detainment and torture? Bin Laden’s death making the world still more brutal and barbaric…

As for the world being a safer place – and quite aside from the already flourishing speculation about “almost certain” and “highly likely” reprisals – if previous newspaper reports are to be understood correctly, then this might have been the very worst thing that ever happened – if, that is, the “information” contained in these documents (also recently released by wikileaks) is to be believed. Here’s one from February 1st, published in The Vancouver Sun:

‘Al-Qaida on brink of using nuclear bomb’

Al-Qaida is on the verge of producing radioactive weapons after sourcing nuclear material and recruiting rogue scientists to build “dirty” bombs, according to leaked diplomatic documents.

A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a “nuclear 9/11”.

Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing “workable and efficient” biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West.

Thousands of classified American cables obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph detail the international struggle to stop the spread of weapons-grade nuclear, chemical and biological material around the globe.

At a Nato meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaida was plotting a program of “dirty radioactive IEDs”, makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.


Click here to read the full article by Heidi Blake and Christopher Hope (of The Daily Telegraph).

 And a day later, another article about the leaks appeared in the Daily Mail:

 “World ‘on brink of nuclear 9/11’ as Al Qaeda plans large ‘dirty’ bomb”

Al Qaeda is attempting to stockpile ‘dirty’ radioactive explosives that could be used to target British troops or for a larger urban attack, it has emerged.

New diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks show that U.S. intelligence personnel have been informed of terrorist attempts to acquire dangerous amounts of uranium and plutonium.

The cables warn of a large trafficking operation of chemical weapons material and threats of a ‘nuclear 9/11’ unless the West intervenes swiftly.

Security chiefs briefed a Nato meeting in January 2009 that Al Qaeda was planning a programme of ‘dirty radioactive improvised explosive devices (IEDs)’.

The IEDs could be used against coalition forces in Afghanistan but would also contaminate the surrounding land with nuclear waste for years to come.”  1

Click here to read full article.

And now we have this – right on time – published April 26th in The Telegraph:

“Wikileaks: Al-Qaeda plotted chemical and nuclear attack on the West: Guantanamo interrogators have uncovered a determined attempt by al-Qaeda to attack Western countries using chemical or nuclear weapons, according to the top-secret files.”

One of the terrorist group’s most senior figures warned that al-Qaeda had obtained and hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if Osama bin Laden was killed or captured.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda mastermind currently facing trial in America over the 9/11 atrocities, was involved in a range of plans including attacks on US nuclear plants and a “nuclear hellstorm” plot in America.”

“According to the US WikiLeaks files, a Libyan detainee, Abu Al-Libi, “has knowledge of al-Qaeda possibly possessing a nuclear bomb”. Al-Libi, the operational chief of al-Qaeda and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before his detention, allegedly knew the location of a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if bin Laden were killed or captured.”

Click here to read full article by Holly Watt:

Now just think about this story for a moment – if a nuclear bomb were already planted in Europe or the US, would al-Qaeda then just “sit on it”, waiting for their enemy to strike whilst simultaneously hoping they don’t get too lucky; discovering the bomb before they get to Bin Laden? Or would they just have pressed the button long ago, in fact shortly after acquiring it, making sure to perpetrate the greatest terrorist attack in history, bar none? All of these leaks just seem too good to be true – at least, for anyone looking to perpetuate the “war on terror” and put an extra squeeze on Pakistan.

But there are also other doubts about the killing of Bin Laden. For instance, and given that the Americans had apparently been on his tail for months, if not years, why hadn’t they planned an operation to capture him alive? Especially as it seems he’d been holed up in this compound without phone or internet connection for years – so a sitting duck, basically – and that Bin Laden wasn’t even armed when they reached him.

By killing instead of capturing him, they’ve missed the chance to interrogate the man who was formerly at the helm of al-Qaeda, and remains accused of planning the 9/11 attacks. So why didn’t they put him on trial? On top of which, bringing Bin Laden to justice might have eased a little of the sting from any anti-American backlash. It would have demonstrated to the world that America really can occupy the moral high-ground. Yet instead of this, it seems that they couldn’t kill and bury Bin Laden fast enough, which inevitably looks suspicious.

Whatever the final truth – and information, let alone truth, seems to be in such short supply at present – Bin Laden’s demise couldn’t have been better timed for the US administration. Coming immediately in the wake of Obama’s reshuffling of his war-room staff last week, it has already helped him to legitimise America’s continuing role in what is now a whole decade of bloody imperialist interventions. At another stroke, it has established Obama’s newly nominated Secretary of Defense and former CIA chief, Panetta, as the latest in a long line of all-American heroes. And aside from being a helpful distraction from Obama’s many current domestic difficulties and failings, not to mention the deepening crisis in Libya, it will no doubt help rally support for the President, delivering a vital shot in the arm at the start of his re-election campaign.

As it happens, Bin Laden’s death also comes on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the event that brought him such infamy in the first place, and so we must hope that his end brings with it, an end to this post-9/11 era. Worryingly, however, there remains no end in sight for the “war on terror” – a war, or rather wars, that supposedly began with the singular object of finding Bin Laden “dead or alive” – the manhunt is now officially over, and yet, and aside from the unedifying spectacle of street celebrations, it actually feels like nothing has changed…

Of course, the many people cheering and waving flags at Ground Zero were already eager to believe that Bin Laden was killed by US special forces, just as Obama said; and obviously it’s always easier selling propaganda to the willing. Hardly surprisingly, in Pakistan, the public reaction has been quite different. The same story linking their own country directly to al-Qaeda, the Pakistani people have every reason to be suspicious of a frame-up and fearful of what comes next, especially given what happened to the last place that had “harboured” Bin Laden. If recent history has taught us anything, then it’s that we should be doubtful too.

The simple fact is that we are all swimming against constant currents of propaganda – currents that certainly strengthened in the wake of 9/11. And if you don’t notice these currents, then, as the joke goes, that just shows how really effective they are. Those cheering did so because they want to believe that U-S-A has won, or is winning. It has not, and it is not. And for just so long as this ridiculous and endless “war on terror” goes on, everyone has lost and will continue losing — everyone except for the corporate profiteers, that is.

But since Bin Laden is officially dead, the mission is accomplished, right? – which means it’s high time to stop the fighting and bring the troops home. And if not now, Obama, then when?

1 What the document fails to say is that the land in Afghanistan has in all likelihood already been contaminated “with nuclear waste for years to come” thanks to our use of so-called “depleted uranium”. This is certainly the case in Iraq:

US rejects Iraq DU clean-up”:

“The US says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from depleted uranium (DU) weapons it is using in Iraq. It says no clean-up is needed, because research shows DU has no long-term effects. It says a 1990 study suggesting health risks to local people and veterans is out of date.”

Click here to read full article by Alex Kerby, BBC News Monday 14th April, 2003.

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, depleted uranium, obituary, Pakistan, September 11th, Uncategorized, USA

what’s on Obama’s mind?

“I’m a war president”, said Bush, adding, “I’ve got war on my mind!” Well, on Thursday afternoon (April 28th) in an East Room ceremony, Obama reiterated the message of the Bush years, declaring, albeit a little less boastfully: “We are a nation still at war”.

Obama also used the occasion to announce a major reshuffling of his national security team, with new leaders appointed at defence and intelligence agencies. “These are the leaders that I’ve chosen to guide us through the difficult days ahead,” Obama said — CIA Director Leon Panetta, will move to the Pentagon to replace the retiring Robert Gates as the next Secretary of Defense, whilst Gen. David Petraeus leaves his post as the top military official in Afghanistan, to replace Panetta as head of the CIA. 1

A report by Democracy Now! questioned the motives behind Obama’s changes, reminding us how under Panetta’s leadership of the CIA there had been “a massive escalation of the use of unarmed drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan” :

“In 2008, the U.S. carried out 35 drone strikes in Pakistan. In 2010, Panetta’s first full year as CIA director, at least 117 strikes occurred. Last year, Panetta defended the legality of the drone attacks.”

We also hear how in May 2010, Gen. Petraeus, who is another keen advocate for the use of drone attacks, had secretly signed a military order that paved the way for:

“clandestine military operations in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and other places in the Middle East and Central Asia in order to, quote, ‘penetrate, disrupt, defeat and destroy’ militant groups.”

Speaking on Democracy Now!, Ray McGovern, a former senior CIA analyst and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) — click here for a list of VIPS publications — gave his assessment of the likely implications and repercussions of Obama’s appointments. Here are some extracts from what McGovern had to say:

“How can President Obama look at General Petraeus and say, “Now, how do you think things are going in Afghanistan there, Dave?” What does he expect to hear? “They’re going great. As a matter of fact, we’re making some progress. But, you know, progress is fragile, and it’s reversible.” Well, hello. What does that mean?”

“[Petraeus] knows that the war cannot be won. He says every now and then, “We can’t win militarily, and so please give me 33,000 more troops.” It doesn’t make sense. And so, you know, when the President asks him what’s likely to happen in Afghanistan or Iraq, or let’s say Libya, he’s not going to get an unadulterated answer…”

“Now, Panetta—Panetta says he’s defending the United States by shooting Hellfire missiles out of drones over Afghanistan—over Pakistan? Tell me how that works. Would some senator please ask Panetta, “How does it work? How are you defending the United”—you know what he’s doing? He’s creating more terrorists. And that’s provable by just the interrogators who interrogate people who are caught in Iraq and in Afghanistan. “Why did you come there?” “We came there because of the drones. We came there because of Guantánamo. We came there because of Abu Ghraib.” We create our own terrorists.”

To read the full transcript of this interview click here.

1 “President Obama announced a revamped national security team Thursday afternoon in an East Room ceremony in which he declared, ‘We are a nation still at war,’ and said the new leaders of the defense and intelligence agencies would help keep the country safe. ‘These are the leaders that I’ve chosen to guide us through the difficult days ahead’ ”. Taken from: “Obama Announces Changes to National Security Team” by Michael D. Shear, published in The Caucus, on April 28th. Click here to read article.

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