Posts Tagged ‘Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’

Fiction and non-: Sorting history from invention in the movie ‘Argo’

December 17, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 17, 2014

Recently, I wrote about the excellent 2012 thriller Argo, which won the Academy Award for best picture. I was curious about the fidelity of the movie to the real-life events it depicts: The covert extraction of six United States Foreign Service employees who escaped the American embassy in Tehran when angry Iranians captured it on Nov. 4, 1979. Director Ben Affleck plays the hero of the piece, CIA agent Tony Mendez, a specialist in so-called exfiltration operations.

The very broad outlines of the movie are true: The CIA did create a phony movie company that purported to want to film a science-fiction feature named Argo in Iran; Mendez and the six fugitive Americans, who took shelter with Canadian diplomatic personnel, posed as Canadian moviemakers on a location scout and flew out of the country using that cover. A makeup artist named John Chambers (played here by John Goodman) was a key part of the fake production company. In real life, as in the film, this dummy corporation took out ads in trade publications and generated press coverage.

It turns out, however, that screenwriter Chris Terrio took liberties with many of the details of this caper. (Terrio’s script, which was based on Mendez’s memoir and a Wired magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.)

For instance, the British didn’t turn away the fugitive Americans, as one of the film’s characters says. In the first six days after the embassy was captured, five Americans moved in a group to half a dozen different locations. One of these was the British embassy, which they left with the agreement of the U.S. and U.K. governments because Iranians had attacked British diplomatic properties. (The British embassy was actually captured for a brief period.)

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The moral stain of torture: Some things to keep in mind while we await the Senate report on CIA interrogation

December 4, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 4, 2014

In March 2009, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), respectively the chairwoman and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that their group had agreed on a bipartisan basis to review

• How the [Central Intelligence Agency] created, operated, and maintained its detention and interrogation program;

• How CIA’s assessments that detainees possessed relevant information were made;

• Whether the CIA accurately described the detention and interrogation program to other parts of the U.S. government, including the Office of Legal Counsel and the Senate Intelligence Committee;

• Whether the CIA implemented the program in compliance with official guidance, including covert action findings, Office of Legal Counsel opinions, and CIA policy;

The 2009 announcement also said that the committee would evaluate intelligence “gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques.”

“Enhanced interrogation” is, of course, a euphemism for actions that most people would call “torture.”

Work on this Senate investigation spanned about five years, culminating in a report of about 6,000 pages. In early 2014, the committee submitted a 480-page executive summary to the White House. The Obama administration, including CIA officials, redacted the summary in ways that rendered it unintelligible and unsupported, according to complaints from Senate committee members.

The administration redactions came to light in August. The executive summary has remained in limbo since then.

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In the excellent thriller ‘Argo,’ ordinary people face extraordinary pressures in revolutionary Iran

November 30, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 30, 2014

Argo, the 2012 movie directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is an excellent thriller based on the real-life rescue of six American diplomats from revolutionary Iran in 1980.

The movie quickly sets the stage for its story by having a narrator describe key political events in the history of 20th-century Iran. Essentially: In 1953, soon after Iran’s secular, democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, nationalized Western-owned oil interests, the United States helped stage a coup and installed a friendly dictator. The new shah was Reza Pahlavi, whose modernization initiatives were undermined by his hoarding national wealth and his ordering or allowing the secret police to brutally oppress political enemies. In 1979, militant Islamic revolutionaries took control of Iran; the grievously ill shah traveled to America so he could simultaneously save himself from hanging and get treatment for his cancer.

This narration — delivered by Sheila Vand, who has a small but crucial role as a housekeeper named Sahar — brings us to Nov. 4, 1979. A crowd of angry Iranians have massed outside the gates of the U.S. embassy, and Americans trapped on the grounds slowly realize that local officials have no intention of dispersing the mob. Protesters breach first the compound walls and then the actual buildings, detaining more than 60 diplomats and other employees.

But six employees in what appears to be the visa branch evade captivity by slipping out a side exit. Unbeknownst to the Iranians, the sextet find refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador. Because of the revolutionaries’ hostility toward the secular West, and especially all things American, they’re essentially trapped inside the residence.

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Is the conservative #BENGHAZI!!! scandal narrative ill-served by the facts of the Benghazi attacks? A brief investigation

November 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Nov. 22, 2014

This afternoon, I conducted a quick review of four websites — two of them mainstream news organizations, two of them avowedly conservative news organizations — and their coverage of the latest news relating to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks against American outposts in Benghazi, Libya.

Let’s start with the mainstream coverage.

At The Washington Post, a story titled “House panel finds no intelligence failure in Benghazi attacks” was featured in prominent real estate — the top-left corner of the home page. Greg Miller’s article, posted Friday, Nov. 21, at 8:53 p.m., begins:

An investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the CIA and U.S. military responded appropriately to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, dismissing allegations that the Obama administration blocked rescue attempts during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterward.

After a two-year probe that involved the review of thousands of pages of classified documents, the panel determined that the attack could not be blamed on an intelligence failure, and that CIA security operatives “ably and bravely assisted” State Department officials who were overwhelmed at a nearby but separate diplomatic compound.

The committee also found “no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support,” rejecting claims that have fed persistent conspiracy theories that the U.S. military was prevented from rescuing U.S. personnel from a night-time assault that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

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The Bush administration followed a trail of wishful thinking into Iraq

July 2, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 2, 2013

Last year, journalist Kurt Eichenwald released a detailed history of the roughly 18-month period between the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the start of the Iraq war. Among other things, Eichenwald’s book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, reinforces just how shockingly quickly American officials began turning their attention from finding and punishing those responsible for 9/11 to deposing Saddam Hussein.

On the night of Sept. 11, the Central Intelligence Agency director, George Tenet, told President George W. Bush and his advisors that “Bin Laden’s fingerprints were all over this operation, but other actors may have played a supporting role. He wouldn’t be surprised, Tenet said, to find Iran or Iraq wrapped into this somehow.”

At that meeting, the officials recognized that their immediate response must involve both Afghanistan, which harbored al Qaeda under the aegis of its Taliban-controlled Islamic fundamentalist government, and Pakistan. Engaging the latter state would be tricky, those at the gathering knew, since Pakistan officials actively supported the Taliban.

No matter, Bush said. The United States was at war with a merciless enemy, and governments around the world would have to choose sides. “This is an opportunity beyond Afghanistan,” he said. “We have to shake terror loose in places like Syria, and Iran, and Iraq.”

He surveyed the room with calm eyes. “This is an opportunity to rout out terror wherever it might exist.”

One significant strand in 500 Days involves the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his efforts to channel Bush administration anti-terror responses in productive ways. Almost from the beginning, Blair was troubled by what he heard out of the American president. He felt Bush’s lack of interest in building coalitions would ultimately hamper the global war on terror. He also was alarmed by the hostility Bush expressed toward Iraq.

“The evidence would have to be very compelling indeed to justify taking any action against Iraq,” Blair told Bush in a phone conversation just three days after the Twin Towers had fallen. Presciently, the prime minister added: “I would strongly advise dealing with Afghanistan very distinctively. To go after Iraq would be certain to lose Russia and France.”

Immediately after the conversation ended, Blair conferred with his cabinet. “Rumsfeld has been looking for reasons to hit Iraq,” said Geoff Hoon, the British defense secretary, referring to his American counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld. “They definitely want regime change, and that has been the channel of advice Bush has been getting since the election.”

“They would be mad to do Iraq without justification!” British foreign secretary Jack Straw said, Eichenwald reported. “They’ll lose world opinion.”  Read the rest of this entry »

In their rush to protect America from terrorism, Bush administration officials employed counterproductive tactics that verged on torture

June 26, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 26, 2013

In many ways, the United States was unprepared for the battle against terrorists that was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The nation’s leaders had to implement new objectives and policies geared to fighting al Qaeda and its ilk. This enemy, unlike others faced and vanquished by America, did not control a nation; had no formal government; dispatched warriors who wore no uniform. Yet American soldiers and spies would have to capture, interrogate and possibly send to trial these new foes.

This is one of many threads tracked by Kurt Eichenwald in his 2012 book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. As is now well known, officials in the administration of President George W. Bush took extremely expansive views of the powers that a wartime president and his delegates could wield legally. Unfortunately, Eichenwald’s book shows, that perspective was one of several factors that helped facilitate the torture of detainees by Americans and American allies.

Around the time the U.S. began invading Afghanistan, in October 2001, several lawyers met to lay groundwork for handling captives. Attending were John Yoo, a Justice Department lawyer from the group tasked with providing legal advice to the executive branch; Alberto Gonzales, the chief White House counsel; Gonzales’ deputy, Tim Flanigan; and David Addington, senior counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney. Yoo was shown a draft presidential order modeled on one President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had issued.

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