Posted on 03/26/2013 by Juan Cole
Jack Serle writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Pitch Interactive have visualised every CIA drone strike and every casualty in Pakistan.
A new interactive graphic, which uses the Bureau’s drone data, has brought a fresh perspective to the CIA’s nine-year drone campaign in Pakistan.
A team of developers has pulled together every known drone strike and casualty from data provided by the Bureau and New America Foundation. This data has been represented in an interactive timeline which allows the viewer to see how the campaign builds over time, as well as the number of people killed.
Pitch Interactive, a California-based commercial web-development studio, has produced the interactive as part of a pro-bono programme.
The project, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, aims to capture the scale and human cost of the drone war in Pakistan through its visual representation of the CIA’s covert Pakistan drone war from the first event in 2004 to the latest strike.
Wesley Grubbs, who leads the team at Pitch Interactive, told the Bureau that the team set out ‘to cause people to pause for a moment and say “Wow I’ve never seen this in that light before”.’
The visualisation uses an average of the casualty data collected by the Bureau’s Covert Drone War project, combined with data collected by New America Foundation which tallies the number of high value targets reported killed in the strikes.
The CIA drone campaign in Pakistan has received much attention in recent months. The debate intensified after last month’s Senate confirmation hearing for new CIA director John Brennan, a leading architect of President Obama’s drone strategy.
Earlier this month Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, added to the debate after stating that Pakistan did not support the drone strikes. His statement was made following a visit to the country as part of a UN investigation into the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes. Emmerson also said CIA drones had killed 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians, according to Pakistan authorities.
But despite the public debate that has played-out over recent months, Grubbs believes the full scope and consequences of the drone war are still obscured. ’We feel that drone strikes are a very hot topic right now but we feel people are being misled,’ he said.
Click here for the interactive graphic.
In March and April, support the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project identifying those killed in drone strikes, through the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Click here to donate.
Mirrored from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism
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Posted on 03/20/2013 by Juan Cole
Alice K. Ross writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
The Pakistani government estimates at least 400 civilians have been killed in drone strikes – a figure close to the Bureau’s own findings.
In evidence to Ben Emmerson QC, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that CIA drones have killed at least 2,200 people in the country including at least 400 civilians. This is close to the Bureau’s low range estimate of 411.
The figures were disclosed to Emerson as he made a three-day visit to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which compiled the figures, said a further 200 of the total dead were likely to be civilians too.
Ben Emmerson QC
The US drone campaign in Pakistan… involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’
The US has consistently denied this level of non-combatant death, most recently claiming civilian casualties were ‘typically in single digits’ for each year of the nine-year campaign in Pakistan.
The Bureau estimates that 411-884 civilians are among 2,536-3,577 people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, based on its two-year analysis of news reports, court documents, field investigations and other sources.
Related story: Covert War on Terror – the datasets
Senior Pakistani government representatives met with Emmerson, who is investigating the legal and ethical framework of drone strikes.
In a statement released after his visit, Emmerson said: ’The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers it to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
‘As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.’
Pakistan used the special rapporteur’s visit to mount a full-blooded attack on the justifications given by US officials for the drone campaign, particularly the claim that it is ‘unwilling or unable’ to tackle terrorist groups in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani government ‘made it quite clear’ to Emmerson that this suggestion was ‘an affront to the many Pakistani victims of terrorism’.
The US has claimed it has a right to carry out strikes on those who are plotting against the US and its interests, including troops fighting in Afghanistan – but officials said Pakistan bore the brunt of terror attacks, and aimed to tackle this through ‘law enforcement with dialogue and development’. Terrorism has cost Pakistan $70bn in the past decade, killing 7,000 soldiers and policemen and 40,000 civilians, the government disclosed.
Related story: Pakistan drone statistics visualised
‘Interference by other states’ harmed Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts, the officials complained.
Emmerson said: ‘Pakistan has also been quite clear that it considers the drone campaign to be counter-productive and to be radicalising a whole new generation, and thereby perpetuating the problem of terrorism in the region.’
Drone strikes are undermining public confidence in Pakistan’s democratic process, they added. This is particularly problematic in the context of upcoming elections scheduled for May.
Emmerson said: ‘It is time for the international community to heed the concerns of Pakistan, and give the next democratically elected government of Pakistan the space, support and assistance it needs to deliver a lasting peace on its own territory without forcible military interference by other States.’
A group of maliks (tribal elders) from North Waziristan, the Pashtun tribal region most often hit by drone strikes, told Emmerson civilian drone deaths were a ‘commonplace occurrence’, particularly among adult men, who were often killed ‘carrying out ordinary daily tasks’. Traditional Pashtun forms of dress and the custom of adult men carrying guns makes it hard to distinguish between civilians and members of the Pakistani Taliban.
‘The Pashtun tribes of the [tribal] area have suffered enormously under the drone campaign,’ said Emmerson. Civilian deaths in drone strikes were contributing to radicalisation of youths in the region, officials and maliks told him.
Keep reading 'At least 400 civilians’ killed by US drone strikes: Pakistani Gov't
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Posted on 02/19/2013 by Juan Cole
Greg Grandin writes at Tomdispatch.com:
The map tells the story. To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.
Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.
All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”
No region escapes the stain. Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center. Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Not even social-democratic Scandinavia. Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses. No region, that is, except Latin America.
What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.” Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area. It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”
Two, Three, Many CIAs
How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)? After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.
Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America. As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”
In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it. Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces — the police, military, and paramilitary squads — to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.
Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere. Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.
The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome. The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support. Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag. Three of the region’s current presidents — Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — were victims of this reign of terror.
Keep reading Why there Were no CIA Torture Black Sites in Latin America (Grandin)
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Posted in al-Qaeda, Bush, CIA | Comments
Posted on 02/08/2013 by Juan Cole
The confirmation hearing for John Brennan allowed the country to grapple with many issues that had been swept under the rug and seldom discussed in public. While few to none of them were thus resolved, it does seem to me positive that they were brought up in public.
1. The LAT reports that “Republicans largely focused on whether the CIA should be capturing more terrorists, rather than just killing them.” Let’s get this straight. The GOP is pressuring a Democratic administration to be less bloodthirsty?
2. It turns out the John Brennan wants to turn the drone program over to the Department of Defense. I have long advocated this step (not that it matters much what I think about these matters). As Brennan and his aides point out, having it under the Central Intelligence Agency makes it automatically covert and removed from public inquiry or discussion. While the special operations forces in the US military do not have has much bureaucratic oversight as the CIA, the Department of Defense in general is in the nature of the case more under civilian oversight than the CIA. And, its programs are open to public discussion.
3. The National Journal reports that Brennan also says he recognizes that the drone program as now carried out has the potential to undermine international law, and that the US risks setting precedents that e.g. China and Russia might themselves use for their own purposes in the near future. While the paternalistic assumption that the US is responsible but lesser races are not is problematic, to say the least, the point– that US policy is often cited in justification for controversial actions by other countries– is correct. The problem is that Brennan and Obama seem to be in the position of the young St. Augustine, who is alleged to have prayed that God make him virtuous, but “not yet.”
4. Brennan alleges that he objected to the use of waterboarding when he was deputy executive director of the CIA, but did not pursue the matter because it was being done in a different section of the agency. Hunh? Is it that he was in the Directorate of Intelligence and it was the Directorate of Operations guys who were waterboarding? Isn’t he implying that there are black ops being run by rogue parts of the agency that aren’t open to influence from even deputy executive directors?
5. The LAT says that Brennan has now concluded, after a 6,000 page review distilled into a 300-page summary, that stress positions, humiliations such as nudity, and waterboarding (which I will call torture even though he would not) produced no useful intelligence. I would go further and argue that actually the torture produced key disinformation for which Washington often fell, sending it off on wild goose chases like invading Iraq.
6. Likewise, LAT notes that “Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said the interrogation program was ‘corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.’” Hunh? Somebody was making money off the torture? Who, how and why? You can’t just leave us hanging with that tidbit, Sen. Rockefeller!
7. The CIA is telling Sen. Diane Feinstein that the number of innocent civilians killed by US drone strikes annually has typically been in single digits, but also forbade her to say that publicly because everything about drones is classified. If this allegation is true, the CIA is not as good at counting as the young British journalists at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (scroll down).
8. It turns out that Americans, when asked, think that droning American citizens is illegal, and that they don’t support the drone program if it means killing innocent civilians along with militants. As usual, Americans turn out to be mostly center-left on policy when anyone bothers actually to ask their opinion. Sen. Ron Wyden, among our foremost exponents of the rule of law in these matters, turns out to have an enormous constituency!
9. When senators pressed Brennan to have judicial oversight of drone strike decisions where they concerned Americans, he said it could be considered but doubted whether a court could evaluate intelligence on whether a militant posed a threat. Why can intelligence bureaucrats make that evaluation but judges cannot? Occasionally the arrogance of the intelligence aristocracy peaked out at the hearing.
10. Administration officials are admitting that the drone program, which is allegedly authorized by the 2001 congressional authorization for the use of military force, would be brought into legal question if al-Qaeda were declared defeated, thus putting an ending parenthesis around the AUMF. But I argue that the AUMF is itself unconstitutional, since it went beyond calling for hunting down and punishing the plotters of 9/11 to creating a class of persons (“al-Qaeda members”) who are objects of a Bill of Attainder. You can’t actually declare war on a small civilian organization that is spread over the world. There is no formal definition of an al-Qaeda member, there is no real way to decide who is ‘operational’ and who isn’t, and there is a tendency in the US government to use ‘al-Qaeda’ to describe all militant and/or inconvenient Muslim movements. In fact, the NYT revealed that the US routinely ex post facto puts all young men killed in a drone strike in the category of ‘militants,’ even if it has no idea who they are. Most living actual al-Qaeda members had nothing to do with 9/11 and many are critics of it. The hypocrisy of all this is obvious in Libya, where the US cooperated with Abdel Hakim Belhadj, who became the security director for post-revolutionary Tripoli, even though he could be droned at will by President Obama any day of the week according to current US policy. The entire thing is a definitional, constitutional and legal mess, and Obama should end it all before going out of office.
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Posted on 02/08/2013 by Juan Cole
The Drones Team at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism writes:
The Bureau is launching an ambitious new investigation, which will seek to identify as many as possible of those killed in US covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.
The Bureau is raising some of the money for this project through a crowd-funding appeal.
As part of our ongoing monitoring and reporting of CIA and Pentagon drone strikes, the Bureau has already recorded the names of hundreds of people killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
At the end of January 2013, the Bureau was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle- or senior-ranking militants.
A further 331 civilians have also now been named, 87 of them children.
But this is a small proportion of the minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 475 of them were likely to have been civilians.
‘At the moment we know the names of fewer than 20% of those killed in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At least 2,000 deaths still remain publicly anonymous,’ said Chris Woods, who leads the Bureau’s covert drone war team.
‘Our aim will be to identify by name many hundreds more of those killed. A significant number of those identities will be known by local communities, by US and Pakistani officials, and by militant groups. We hope to convince them to share that information.’
Related story – Analysis: Why we must name all drone attack victims
The project has already secured substantial funding from a UK foundation – but it still needs more funds.
Today the US-based Freedom of the Press Foundation, a crowd-funding organisation aimed at raising money for public interest journalism, announced it is backing the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. The Bureau’s new investigation will be one of four recipients of Freedom of the Press Foundation’s latest campaign.
Crowd-funding is an established way of supporting journalism in the US and it is increasingly being used in the UK as a way of funding projects, which established organisations ignore or will not fund.
Using the reach of the web, many people (the crowd) are able to give small amounts of money to back a cause or project in which they believe.
‘In the face of official secrecy, having the full facts about who is killed is essential for an informed debate about the effectiveness and ethics of the drone campaign,’ said Christopher Hird, managing editor of the Bureau. ‘And it is exciting to be able to give all of our supporters worldwide the chance to be part of our first venture in this democratic form of funding.’
To make a donation to the project click here.
A challenging task
Government officials, media organisations and even militant groups are often quick to identify senior militants such as Yahya al-Libi and Ilyas Kashmiri when they are killed.
Yet little is said of the hundreds more alleged militants and civilians among at least 2,629 deaths in Pakistan drone strikes.
Both the US and Pakistani governments are likely to keep detailed records. A recent case at the Peshawar High Court heard that officials in the tribal agencies had prepared a confidential report which ‘included details of each and every drone attack and the number, names and ages of the people killed’.
Anonymous US intelligence officials have also revealed details of CIA video surveillance on particular strikes. And the ‘Terror Tuesday’ process – in which hundreds of named alleged militants have been selected by US agencies for targeted killing – has been widely reported.
Photographs and other documents also occasionally surface. When a civilian family was killed in the first drone strike of Barack Obama’s presidency, local officials issued formal paperwork (see right) that was later obtained by the campaign group Center for Civilians in Conflict.
ID cards, family photographs and eyewitness testimony of attacks can all provide useful corroborating evidence. The graves of militants killed in drone strikes can also name them as ‘martyrs’ and give details of the strikes in which they died.
Drawing on information from a wide array of sources, the Bureau’s team will seek to build a detailed understanding of those killed.
Focus on Pakistan
While the Bureau will seek to extend the project to Yemen and Somalia in the near future, the initial focus will be on the nation where most US covert drone strikes have taken place.
Researchers based in Pakistan and the UK will seek to build up biographical information for all of those killed, whether civilian or militant – their name, age, gender, tribe, and village, for example. Where possible, photographs, witness statements and official documentation will also be published.
The team will seek assistance from the Pakistan and US governments in identifying those killed. And researchers will also call on Taliban factions and other militant groups to release information on the many hundreds of fighters killed in more than 360 US drone strikes since 2004.
Mirrored from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (click on this link for more information).
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Posted on 12/17/2012 by Juan Cole
Tom Engelhardt writes at Tomdispatch.com:
Weren’t those the greatest of days if you were in the American spy game? Governments went down in Guatemala and Iran thanks to you. In distant Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam, what a role you played! And even that botch-up of an invasion in Cuba was nothing to sneeze at. In those days, unfortunately, you — particularly those of you in the CIA — didn’t get the credit you deserved.
You had to live privately with your successes. Sometimes, as with the Bay of Pigs, the failures came back to haunt you (so, in the case of Iran, would your “success,” though so many years later), but you couldn’t with pride talk publicly about what you, in your secret world, had done, or see instant movies and TV shows about your triumphs. You couldn’t launch a “covert” air war that was reported on, generally positively, almost every week, or bask in the pleasure of having your director claim publicly that it was “the only game in town.” You couldn’t, that is, come out of what were then called “the shadows,” and soak up the glow of attention, be hailed as a hero, join Americans in watching some (fantasy) version of your efforts weekly on television, or get the credit for anything.
Nothing like that was possible — not at least until well after two journalists, David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, shined a bright light into those shadows, called you part of an “invisible government,” and outed you in ways that you found deeply discomforting.
Their book with that startling title, The Invisible Government, was published in 1964 and it was groundbreaking, shadow-removing, illuminating. It caused a fuss from its very first paragraph, which was then a shockeroo: “There are two governments in the United States today. One is visible. The other is invisible.”
I mean, what did Americans know at the time about an invisible government even the president didn’t control that was lodged deep inside the government they had elected?
Wise and Ross continued: “The first is the government that citizens read about in their newspapers and children study about in their civics books. The second is the interlocking, hidden machinery that carries out the policies of the United States in the Cold War. This second, invisible government gathers intelligence, conducts espionage, and plans and executes secret operations all over the globe.”
The Invisible Government came out just as what became known as “the Sixties” really began, a moment when lights were suddenly being shone into many previously shadowy American corners. I was then 20 years old and sometime in those years I read their book with a suitable sense of dread, just as I had read those civics books in high school in which Martians landed on Main Street in some “typical” American town to be lectured on our way of life and amazed by our Constitution, not to speak of those fabulous governmental checks and balances instituted by the Founding Fathers, and other glories of democracy.
I wasn’t alone reading The Invisible Government either. It was a bestseller and CIA Director John McCone reportedly read the manuscript, which he had secretly obtained from publisher Random House. He demanded deletions. When the publisher refused, he considered buying up the full first printing. In the end, he evidently tried to arrange for some bad reviews instead.
Time Machines and Shadow Worlds
By 1964, the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” or IC, had nine members, including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA). As Wise and Ross portrayed it, the IC was already a labyrinthine set of secret outfits with growing power. It was capable of launching covert actions worldwide, with a “broad spectrum of domestic operations,” the ability to overthrow foreign governments, some involvement in shaping presidential campaigns, and the capacity to plan operations without the knowledge of Congress or full presidential control. “No outsider,” they concluded, “can tell whether this activity is necessary or even legal. No outsider is in a position to determine whether or not, in time, these activities might become an internal danger to a free society.” Modestly enough, they called for Americans to face the problem and bring “secret power” under control. (“If we err as a society, let it be on the side of control.”)
Now, imagine that H.G. Wells’s time machine had been available in that year of publication. Imagine that it whisked those journalists, then in their mid-thirties, and the young Tom Engelhardt instantly some 48 years into the future to survey just how their cautionary tale about a great democratic and republican nation running off the tracks and out of control had played out.
The first thing they might notice is that the Intelligence Community of 2012 with 17 official outfits has, by the simplest of calculations, almost doubled. The real size and power of that secret world, however, has in every imaginable way grown staggeringly larger than that. Take one outfit, now part of the IC, that didn’t exist back in 1964, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. With an annual budget of close to $5 billion, it recently built a gigantic $1.8 billion headquarters — “the third-largest structure in the Washington area, nearly rivaling the Pentagon in size” — for its 16,000 employees. It literally has its “eye” on the globe in a way that would have been left to sci-fi novels almost half a century ago and is tasked as “the nation’s primary source of geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT.” (Don’t ask me what that means exactly, though it has to do with quite literally imaging the planet and all its parts — or perhaps less politely, turning every inch of Earth into a potential shooting range.)
Keep reading What Happens in Langley Doesn't Stay in Langley Anymore: How our Spies Came out of the Shadows (Engelhardt)
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Posted on 11/14/2012 by Juan Cole
The headlines about the Petraeus affair in the Arab world this morning almost universally read something like “Lebanese woman brings down CIA.” The woman who seems to have destroyed three careers and kicked off the FBI investigation of Gen. David Petraeus, ex-director of the CIA, goes by Jill Kelley. But her maiden name is Gilberte Khawam.
The Khawam family is Maronite Catholics from Jounieh in Lebanon, and came to the US in the mid-1970s. The father, Hanna (“John”) Khawam, had been a musician in Beirut. His wife is Marcelle, also a Lebanese Christian.
Once the elder Khawam came to the US, he at one point ran a restaurant, the “Sahara,” in the Philadelphia area, and also an auto store. Gilberte or “Jill” was born in 1975, and it isn’t clear whether she was born in the US or in Lebanon. She later married a surgeon named Kelley and 12 years ago they moved to Tampa. They have 3 daughters.
The 1970s were a turbulent time in Lebanon, with the rise of the PLO in Palestinian refugee camps, student strikes, and then from April of 1975 the beginnings of a civil war that lasted a decade and a half. (I myself lived in Lebanon on and off in the 1970s).
Gilberte “Jill’s” twin sister is Natalie Khawam, who was involved in a custody battle with her ex-husband for her son, and whose petition to the court was endorsed by Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, Petraeus’s deputy in Afghanistan who became ISAF commander there.
Natalie Khawam, an attorney, has specialized in defending whistle-blowers. (More generals should be friendly with the attorneys for whistle-blowers, in my view). She is said to have been divorced in part because she cannot manage her finances, and went $3 mn. into debt and bankrupt. The judge in her custody case accused her of being dishonest, manipulative and detached from reality.
Apparently her sister, Gilberte “Jill” Khawam Kelley was close enough to Petraeus such that the latter’s ex-girlfriend, Paula Broadwell, was jealous of her.
The Petraeuses had been guests in the Kelley home in Tampa, and there is a photo, published by Alarabiya: of the Kelleys with Petraeus’s wife, Holly:
Broadwell sent Kelley threatening emails, some of them allegedly spoofed or counterfeited so that they looked like they came from Petraeus.
Kelley complained to a “friend” of hers who was an FBI agent, and he managed to convince the agency to investigate the source of the menacing emails. The FBI “friend” is now said to have been in the habit of sending Kelley photos of himself shirtless. He seems to have been (improperly) told of the Petraeus connection, and became frustrated at the pace of the agency investigation, believing that the FBI was protecting President Obama, and (most improperly) reached out to Eric Cantor, the House Majority leader. Cantor in turn, is alleged to have put pressure on the FBI director in October, perhaps hoping that a scandal would harm President Obama’s reelection campaign. The shirtless FBI agent who kicked the thing off is now himself under investigation!
The FBI not only discovered Broadwell’s affair with Petraeus when they looked into her email, they appear to have also looked into Kelley’s email and discovered a voluminous amorous correspondence between the commanding general in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, and Jill Khawam Kelley! Allen was in line to become supreme allied commander of NATO, but his confirmation has now been put on hold.
So does it matter that Jill Kelley is an Arab-American? I doubt it. She seems just to be a rich, flirtatious Tampa socialite with good Republican Party connections and a network of high military and FBI “admirers,” and who over-reacted to some petty emails. So far there is no reason to think she is a Mata Hari of any sort. But it does say something about how prominent Arab-Americans now are in US society that no one much remarked on her ethnicity when the story broke. And, who knows, her inherited culture may have had something to do with her reaction to Broadwell’s emails. Lebanon is a place where you kind of have to take threats seriously. And, reaching out to a friend in the government in a way a lot of Americans might consider inappropriate is routine in Beirut (hence seeking “wasta” or a personal connection via the shirtless FBI guy). But lots of Americans of other backgrounds might have reacted similarly.
I’m with Rachel Maddow that the FBI investigators have behaved with appalling lack of regard for the personal privacy of all these individuals, none of whom appears actually to have done anything illegal (though depending on how menacing they were, Broadwell’s threats may have crossed a line). It is not clear to me that the agency should have briefed anyone on the outside on its findings, given the personal and entirely legal character of the information discovered. The only exception here is that Broadwell may have committed a crime by using the internet to threaten Kelley, and Broadwell may have had unauthorized access to classified information via her connection to Petraeus.
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