Saturday, August 06, 2016

Ex-CIA spook who whitewashed Benghazi endorses Hillary

August 5, 2016
Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee April 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of 'The Benghazi Talking Points and Michael J. Morell's Role in Shaping the Administration's Narrative.'
Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee April 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of 'The Benghazi Talking Points and Michael J. Morell's Role in Shaping the Administration's Narrative.'

Hillary has become a spook’s candidate. Former deputy CIA Director Michael Morell, who so conveniently covered her tracks in Benghazi, has now confirmed it.
In a glowing endorsement his friends at The New York Times prominently featured Friday, Morell gave his full-throated support to Clinton, while insisting that he was no partisan and had even voted Republican in the past.
Like an obedient party hack vying for a new job, Morell spouted the party line that Donald Trump was “not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.”
Those are strong words, especially coming from someone who we are led to believe is an unimpeachable source. But is he?
The “non-partisan” Morell was caught “mis-speaking” to Congress about his role in sanitizing the infamous CIA talking points prepared for US Ambassador Susan Rice to deliver on the Sunday talk shows after the Benghazi attacks. And when he was caught out, like a faithful soldier, he fell on his sword.
Here’s how it happened: After Susan Rice’s outlandish claims on the Sunday talk shows that the Benghazi attacks began as a spontaneous protest over a “hateful” YouTube video, Congress began asking where she had gotten that information. This is how lawmakers discovered that the intelligence community had drafted her talking points, with input from the White House and Hillary Clinton’s staff.
Early drafts of the talking points included a mention of al Qaeda. But that reference was removed in the final drafts. Sen. Lindsay Graham explained to me what happened next.
“On Nov. 27, 2012, Morell and Susan Rice came into my office,” he told me. “I asked Morell who changed [the talking points]. He said, the FBI deleted the reference to al Qaeda because of an ongoing criminal investigation. So I called the FBI. They said, no, they didn’t change the talking points. They were furious.”
Apparently, that was an understatement: Someone at a senior level at FBI called the CIA to protest directly. Graham continued the story: “At 4 p.m. that day, CIA called me and said Morell ‘mis-spoke’ in his meeting with me, and that CIA deleted [the reference to al Qaeda], but they couldn’t give a reason why.”
Graham thought the reason was obvious: “If the truth had been known that al Qaeda killed four Americans seven weeks before an election, it would have been a different political story.”
Remember what Obama and his surrogates were saying? “Osama is dead, GM is alive.” That was their campaign mantra.
In fact, it was Morell himself who made those changes.
Morell subsequently testified before the House Select Committee on Intelligence, and eventually before the Benghazi Select Committee, twisting himself into a pretzel to explain why he removed any mention of the al Qaeda involvement in the attacks.
He ultimately claimed he believed news reports calling the Benghazi attacks a protest gone wild were more credible than repeated e-mails and cables from his own station chief in Libya insisting there had never been a protest.
It was an admission of gross incompetence — or partisanship. But that was the party line Clinton was putting out.
Morell was rewarded after the 2012 election. When he retired from CIA, Morell took a position with Beacon Global Strategies, a company cofounded by Andrew Shapiro and Philippe Reines, members of Hillary Clinton’s inner circle at the State Department.
In his Times op-ed, Morell claims Donald Trump is an “unwitting agent” of Russia because he makes friendly remarks toward Putin. But Trump has never taken a dime from Putin. As we now know, Clinton and her husband have both profited handsomely from their relations to Russian state-owned banks and corporations — and actually helped Russia get its hands on a company with rights to a fifth of US uranium. Does that make her a “witting agent” of Russia?
This former spook’s willingness to skewer the truth on behalf of a political patron should suffice to make any thinking person reject his judgment.
As for the truth about Hillary, well, we’ve seen her selling political favors to foreign countries and companies while secretary of state through the Clinton Foundation. And lying to the public incessantly — about Benghazi, her e-mails, you name it. Just imagine what she’ll do if elected president.
Kenneth R. Timmerman’s latest book, Deception: the Making of the YouTube Video Hillary and Obama Blamed for Benghazi, was released two weeks ago and is already in its 4th printing.

Obama’s Cash Payment to Iran Was More Than a Ransom — It Broke Criminal Law

The president hoped to camouflage what he knew to be against the law.

By Andrew C. McCarthy — August 6, 2016
NOT HOSTAGE RANSOM. US President Barack Obama during a press conference in the briefing room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, USA, 04 August 2016. Photo by Shawn Thew/EPA
President Barack Obama during a press conference in the briefing room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, USA, 04 August 2016. Photo by Shawn Thew/EPA

Did it ever occur to President Obama to ask why he couldn’t just cut a check to the Iranian regime?

Outrage broke out this week over the revelation that Obama arranged to ship the mullahs piles of cash, worth $400 million and converted into foreign denominations, reportedly in an unmarked cargo plane. The hotly debated question was whether the payment, which the administration attributes to a 37-year-old arms deal, was actually a ransom paid for the release of American hostages Tehran had abducted.

It is a waste of time to debate that point further. The Iranians have bragged that the astonishing cash payment was a ransom — and Obama has been telling us for months that we can trust the Iranians. The hostages were released the same day the cash arrived. One of the hostages has reported that the captives were detained an extra several hours at the airport and told they would not be allowed to leave until the arrival of another plane — inferentially, the unmarked cargo plane ferrying the cash. The reason American policy has always prohibited paying ransoms to terrorists and other abductors is that it only encourages them to take more hostages. And, as night follows day, Iran has abducted more Americans since Obama paid the cash. No matter how energetically the president tries to lawyer the ransom issue, if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck . . . 

More worth examining is why the transaction took the bizarre form that it did. To cut to the chase, I believe it was to camouflage — unsuccessfully — the commission of felony law violations.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Justice Department strongly objected to the cash payment to Iran. As we shall see, that should come as no surprise. What is surprising is the Journal’s explanation of Justice’s concerns: Department officials, it is said, fretted that the transaction looked like a ransom payment. I don’t buy that. It is not a federal crime to pay a ransom; just to receive one. Our government’s stated disapproval of paying ransoms is a prudent policy, not a legal requirement. The Justice Department’s principal job is to enforce the laws, not to ensure good policy in foreign relations. It seems far more likely that Justice was worried that the transaction was illegal.

If they were, they had good reasons.

At a press conference Thursday, Obama remarkably explained, “The reason that we had to give them cash is precisely because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions and we do not have a banking relationship with Iran.” Really Mr. President? The whole point of sanctions is to prohibit and punish certain behavior. If you — especially you, Mr. President — do the precise thing that the sanctions prohibit, that is a strange way of being “so strict in maintaining” them.

Now, the sanctions at issue exclude Iran from the U.S. financial system by, among other things, prohibiting Americans and financial institutions from engaging in currency transactions that involve Iran’s government. Contrary to the nuclear sanctions that Obama’s Iran deal (the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” or JCPOA) attempts to undo, the sanctions pertinent here were imposed primarily as a result of Iran’s support for terrorism. That is significant. In pleading with Congress not to disapprove the JCPOA, Obama promised lawmakers that the terrorism sanctions would remain in force.

Terrorism-related sanctions against Iran trace back to the early 1980s, shortly after the jihadist regime overthrew the shah, stormed the American embassy, took hostages, and triggered Hezbollah’s killing sprees. But the sanctions most relevant for present purposes stem from President Clinton’s 1995 invocation of federal laws that deal with national emergencies caused by foreign aggression.

Clinton concluded that Iran had caused such an emergency by, among other things, “its support for international terrorism.” Note that this was even before Iran killed 19 members of the U.S. Air Force in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

To this day, Iran remains on our government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Clinton’s state-of-emergency declaration has been annually renewed ever since. Let that sink in: Notwithstanding Obama’s often shocking appeasement of Tehran, he has been renewing the state of emergency since 2009 — most recently, just five months ago. Indeed, it is worth noting what the Obama State Department’s latest report on “State Sponsors of Terrorism” has to say about Iran. This is from the first paragraph:
Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2015, including support for [Hezbollah], Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In 2015, Iran increased its assistance to Iraqi Shia terrorist groups[.] . . . Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to implement foreign policy goals, provide cover for intelligence operations, and create instability in the Middle East. The IRGC-QF is Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad.
It is due to this atrocious record that Congress pressed Obama to maintain and enforce anti-terrorism sanctions, which the administration repeatedly committed to do. This commitment was reaffirmed by Obama’s Treasury Department on January 16, 2016, the “Implementation Day” of the JCPOA. Treasury’s published guidance regarding Iran states that, in general, “the clearing of U.S. dollar- or other currency-denominated transactions through the U.S. financial system or involving a U.S. person remain prohibited[.]” (See here, p.17, sec. C.14.) I’ve added italics to highlight that it is not just U.S. dollar transactions that are prohibited; foreign currency is also barred. Obama’s cash payment, of course, involved both — a fact we’ll be revisiting shortly.

Treasury’s guidance cites to what’s known as the ITSR (Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations), the part of the Code of Federal Regulations that implements anti-terrorism sanctions initiated by President Clinton under federal law. The specific provision cited is Section 560.204, which states:
The exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a United States person, wherever located, of any goods, technology, or services to Iran or the Government of Iran is prohibited. [Emphasis added.]
The regulation goes on to stress that this prohibition may not be circumvented by exporting things of value “to a person in a third country” when one has “knowledge or reason to know that” such things are “intended specifically for supply, transshipment, or reexportation, directly or indirectly, to Iran or the Government of Iran.

To summarize, the anti-terrorism sanctions are still in effect, a fact the administration has touted many times. Obama conceded at his press conference both that these sanctions are still in effect and that they applied directly to his $400 million pay-out to our terrorist enemies. But here’s the president’s problem: While he is correct that the sanctions barred him from sending Iran a check or wire transfer, that is not all they forbid — not by a long shot. They also make it illegal to do what he did.

As noted above, the sanctions prohibit transactions with Iran that touch the U.S. financial system, whether they are carried out in dollars or foreign currencies. The claim by administration officials, widely repeated in the press, that Iran had to be paid in euros and francs because dollar-transactions are forbidden is nonsense; Americans are also forbidden to engage in foreign currency transactions with Iran.

Obama had our financial system issue U.S. assets that were then converted to foreign currencies for delivery to Iran. Both steps flouted the regulations, which prohibit the clearing of currency of any kind if Iran is even minimally involved in the deal; here, Iran is the beneficiary of the deal.

The regs further prohibit supplying things of value to Iran, regardless of whether it is done “directly or indirectly.” Expressly included in the “indirect” category are transfers of assets to another country with knowledge that the other country will then forward the assets, in some form, to Iran. That’s exactly what happened here, with Obama pressing the Swiss and Dutch into service as intermediaries.

Although these regulations leave no room for doubt that their point is to prevent and criminalize things like sending $400 million in cash to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, the ITSR adds another reg for good measure. Section 560.203 states:
Evasions; attempts; causing violations; conspiracies: . . . Any transaction . . . that evades or avoids, has the purpose of evading or avoiding, causes a violation of, or attempts to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this part is prohibited. . . . Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this part is prohibited.
By his own account, President Obama engaged in the complex cash transfer in order to end-run sanctions that prohibit the U.S. from having “a banking relationship with Iran.” The point of the sanctions is not to preventbanking with Iran; it is to prevent Iran from getting value from or through our financial system — the banking prohibition is a corollary. And the point of sanctions, if you happen to be the president of the United States sworn to execute the laws faithfully, is to follow them — not pat yourself on the back for keeping them in place while you willfully evade them. The president’s press conference is better understood as a confession than an explanation.

Oh, and there is also Section 560.701, which makes clear that willful violations of the regulations constitute serious felony offenses under federal criminal law — punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

I hope you’re not lawed out, because there are a couple of other criminal statutes to consider.
The first is the law against providing material support to terrorists, Section 2339A of the federal penal code. It says that anyone who provides resources — including “currency or monetary instruments” — to a person or entity with knowledge that they are to be used in the preparation or carrying out of terrorism offenses is guilty of a serious felony. I’ve italicized “knowledge” to underscore that intent is not required; to be guilty, you just need to know.

As we note above, the Obama administration has just reaffirmed that Iran remains a state sponsor of terrorism. Moreover, as our editors recounted in Friday’s National Review editorial:
[Secretary of State] John Kerry even admitted in January that funds channeled to Iran as part of the nuclear deal would “end up in the hands of the IRGC [Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps] or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists.”
No doubt: The IRGC’s Quds Force is a formally designated terrorist organization, as, of course, is Hezbollah, Iran’s forward jihadist militia with which the IRGC colludes. And as Tom Joscelyn recently pointed out, Iran continues to harbor members of al-Qaeda (three of whom were just formally designated as terrorists).

In sum, the Obama administration has provided Iran with $400 million under circumstances in which it well knows that at least some of this cash will be used for terrorism. Indeed, as the editors point out, by providing the money in cash, Obama makes it more likely that it will be used for terrorism: Iran likes to deny its complicity in jihadist acts; so now, flush with cash, it can fund atrocities without leaving a paper trail.

The second law involves money laundering, criminalized by Congress in Section 1956 of the penal code. There are several prohibited varieties of money laundering. It can be a crime, for example, to conduct a financial transaction involving money used to facilitate unlawful activity. And if money is transferred outside the United States, it can be illegal to use it to promote criminal activity.

As we’ve seen, both currency transmissions to Iran and the provision of material support to terrorism are unlawful activities. The administration has conducted a financial transaction (in fact, several transactions: the issuance of the assets, their conversion into foreign currency, and the transmission to Iran) which facilitated both currency transfers to Iran and Iran’s certain use of the money to support terrorism. Plus, the money was shipped outside the United States before being transferred to Iran and before Iran will use it to promote terrorism. Money-laundering cases often boil down to proof of intent; but there clearly are multiple grounds on which to investigate whether the laws have been transgressed.

The circumstances of Obama’s enormous cash transfer to our terrorist enemies raise serious questions about whether American policy against paying ransoms to terrorists has been flouted. But that should not obscure a more fundamental issue: The president has violated the law.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is as senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Clinton Cash - Documentary (Full)

Friday, August 05, 2016

When Does Gun Control Not Matter?

When Obama wants to release prisoners guilty of gun crimes

By Heather Mac Donald — August 4, 2016
It is the largest single-day granting of clemency in U.S. history. (Photo: IIP Photo Archive/flickr/cc)
President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal prisoners yesterday, part of his ongoing crusade against a criminal-justice system he regularly declares racist and draconian. The White House trumpeted the fact that this was the largest one-day grant of clemency since 1900. Some of the prisoners will be released now; others will have to stay in prison a while longer for more drug rehabilitation.

The vast majority of prisoners exemplify the so-called nonviolent-drug-offender category, a primary focus of “criminal-justice reform” advocates. But a search of the commutation database comes up with 156 hits for “firearms” (some of those hits are multiple counts for the same offender). Wilson Henderson, of Hollywood, Fla., for example, was convicted of “use of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime,” according to the Justice Department press release. 
Kenneth Evans, of Fort Worth, Texas, was convicted of “use and carry firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime and aiding and abetting.” Mark Anthony Clark, of Rockford, Ill., was convicted of “possession of a firearm by a felon/fugitive from justice and aiding and abetting,” as well as of conspiracy to distribute 100 grams of meth.

Many of the commuttees possessed stolen firearms or firearms with their serial numbers obliterated. Some were in violation of National Firearms Registration, which can mean possession of a federally prohibited weapon, such as a machine gun, silencer, or sawed-off shotgun. We don’t know how many guns the offenders actually had; a commuttee during a previous batch of commutations had 40.

Nor does the Justice Department’s press release disclose the actual incidence of firearm possession by these federal convicts. Gun possession can be used to increase a federal sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines without a prosecutor’s actually bringing a formal charge. A gun charge can also be plea-bargained away.

Many advocates of criminal-justice reform believe in maximum gun control, yet the White House press releases on the president’s commutations have been silent on the widespread incidence of illegal gun possession. It would seem that once someone becomes a member of the oppressed prisoner class, the gun issue becomes irrelevant.

The Justice Department press release also does not reveal the offenders’ criminal history, history of violence, ties to drug cartels, or the sentencing judge’s recommendation. Written requests to the president from federal attorneys to make the process more transparent have gone unanswered.

Now let’s say that you are an elderly widow in Harlem and you want to go out to buy some tea. There is a drug dealer on the corner trafficking cocaine. He has a pistol in his waistband. Do you feel safe? Does it reassure you that the dealer is not actually shooting people at the moment? Or is his very presence there part of an implicit reign of violence that the drug trade exerts over your life, eroding your sense of security?

The latter is the case, to judge from the routine pleas to the police from law-abiding inner-city residents. These good people beg their local commanders to get the dealers off the corner once and for all; they would scoff at the distinction between violent and nonviolent drug traffickers. They understand that the drug trade is underwritten by the implicit threat of violence.

We have been told endlessly by President Obama and the rest of the justice-reform movement that prisons are chock-full of harmless sad sacks whose only offense is getting caught with a little weed. It should have been easy, therefore, to come up with thousands of pacific targets for commutation or pardon. That so many of recipients of Obama’s clemency were armed and dangerous shows how distorted the dominant narrative about “mass incarceration” is.

(Similarly, race activists endlessly charged the New York Police Department with stopping and questioning hundreds of thousands of innocent black males. It should have equally been easy, therefore, to line up hundreds of such innocent victims for the trilogy of class-action lawsuits against the NYPD’s stop-question-and-frisk practices. But the civil-rights attorneys in the suits could rustle up only a handful of named plaintiffs, most of whom had lengthy and serious criminal histories. One of the nine named plaintiffs in Ligon v. New York, one of the three class actions, was federally indicted last December for stomping a 16-year-old gang rival to death in the Bronx.)

— Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The War on Cops, released in June.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Retired CIA operative Jason Matthews says writing novels is 'like having a form of therapy' after he becomes breakout spy novelist

11 June 2015

Author: In this June 4, 2015, photo, CIA operative turned best-selling author, Jason Matthews, a 30-year CIA veteran and author of the new novel, 'Palace of Treason,' poses for a portrait in Washington
In this June 4, 2015, photo, CIA operative turned best-selling author, Jason Matthews, a 30-year CIA veteran and author of the new novel, 'Palace of Treason,' poses for a portrait in Washington.

A former CIA agent who retired after 30 years in the service and turned his hand to writing says penning his books is like a form of therapy. 

Jason Matthews who now lives in Los Angeles, California and is cut off from the agency and its secrets, channeled his energy into the 2013 novel 'Red Sparrow.' 

It became a best-seller and critical success, resulting in a reported seven-figure movie deal.

'I started thinking about war stories,' he said in an interview. 'Pretty soon I blinked and I had like 300, 400 pages.'

Five years on from his retirement, Matthews is back this week with a sequel, 'Palace of Treason,' set in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

And the most interesting accolades are coming from CIA insiders, who marvel at how he manages to slip so much past the agency's censors, portraying the heart-pounding rhythms of on-the-street espionage better that any novelist in recent memory.

They are not alone: The New York Times dubbed Matthews' new book 'enthralling' in a recent review.

Matthews, 63, spent most of his career overseas specializing in 'denied areas,' places where Americans were closely watched and their movements restricted. 

He is part of a long line of former spies who turned to fiction but the first to have spent a full career at the CIA, rising to management, and then emerge to write with such commercial and critical success.

Matthews speaks six languages and helped manage seven CIA stations, sometimes working in tandem with his wife, Suzanne, also a retired CIA officer. 

They raised two daughters in countries they aren't allowed to name. At one point he was operations chief in the counter-proliferation division, tasked with slowing Iran's nuclear program, among other things.

He says his books amount to 'a love letter' to the Central Intelligence Agency of his memory, one that he fears is slipping away. 

His specialty was classic espionage — sneaking around foreign capitals persuading sources to betray their country.

It's a different discipline than that employed by the many CIA case officers who spent the last decade doing tours in Baghdad and Kabul, often conducting source meetings in an armored vehicle with a military escort. Nor does it bear much resemblance to the man-hunting involved in tracking terrorists to target in lethal drone strikes.

Human intelligence, or HUMINT, is the 'the patrimony of CIA,' Matthews says. 'The irony is that the global war on terror has actually taken away resources and institutional focus from classic HUMINT.'

Matthews' novels are a celebration of HUMINT — the art and science of gathering it, the consequences when it goes wrong. He found an amenable setting in modern Russia, which is proving an increasingly nettlesome U.S. adversary. 

Unlike parts of Syria and Iraq, the CIA can still send Americans to spy in Russia, where the biggest risk to an operative with diplomatic immunity is being sent home.

The hero in his new book is clever, competent Nathanial Nash, everything one would want in a CIA case officer except perhaps for the forbidden love affair he carries on with his asset, Dominika Egorova, a former ballerina and trained seductress who dispatches attackers with a lipstick gun and her bare hands.

Matthews, who could pass for an insurance salesman but for the thick-framed, fashion-forward glasses, spares few details in his steamy sex scenes.

'I've read a lot of thrillers, and some of the sex is almost offhand and embarrassingly vague,' he says. 'So I wanted to go to the other end of the spectrum and be embarrassingly graphic.'

The Americans are the good guys in these books, while the Russians are mostly corrupt torturers and thugs. Putin, a central character in 'Palace of Treason,' is portrayed as amoral, venal and paranoid.

Agency reviewers have focused more on scenes that depicted the main characters using disguises and carefully reading faces during hours-long surveillance detection routes to get 'black' before a secret meeting. These 'are accurate, richly detailed renderings of anxiety-filled tasks conducted daily by intelligence operatives around the world,' former CIA officer Jim Burridge and an unnamed employee wrote in a review of 'Red Sparrow' on the CIA's Web site.

That book won Matthews the Edgar Award for best first novel by an American and a reputation among his former colleagues. 

The agency reviewers marveled at how Matthews got all the tradecraft, as spies call it, past the CIA's Publications Review Board, which reserves the right to black out secrets in anything written by a former employee.

Matthews said he hit a snag, however, with his follow-up novel and was forced to fly to Washington and change part of his ending to get final sign off.

Still, the narrative bristles with reality.

When a Russian military officer wonders why his CIA handler isn't offering him frequency-hopping mobile phones like the Russians use, the CIA man marvels to himself: 'If they (only) knew how the FBI and the NSA were crawling up their frequency-hopping' posteriors.

Matthews depicts plenty of buffoonery by senior CIA officials, too, including a blustering, dangerously unqualified Moscow station chief whose inability to spot surveillance puts operations at risk. 

At headquarters, the chief of operations is caught in flagrante delicto with his female assistant.

Matthews' institutional criticism doesn't extend to the agency's harsh treatment of al-Qaida detainees, excoriated in a recent Senate report. 

 Although he played no role, he defends his friends who did. The sum total of the CIA's work has been a force for good, he said.

'Some of the things that we've accomplished are absolutely magnificent, and have kept the bad guys at bay,' he said. 

'You never actually win 100 percent, but we've pushed (weapons) programs back, and we've embarrassed bad people and eliminated other people.'

Shadowing Jason Matthews, an Ex-Spy Whose Cover Identity Is Author
May 27, 2015

A brief stroll with Jason Matthews, a retired C.I.A. officer whose second espionage novel comes out Tuesday, reveals some tricks of his former trade. Credit(Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

Jason Matthews is a retired spy but doesn’t look like one. He more nearly resembles a high school principal: calm, patient, a little bland. The only clues to his former occupation — 33 years with the C.I.A. — are his uncanny peripheral vision and his occasional use of terms like “ops” and “intel.”

Mr. Matthews, 63, is also a novelist, one of the long line of real-life spies who have also written spy thrillers. The tradition goes back at least to Erskine Childers, the Irish nationalist and gun smuggler who wrote the 1903 thriller “The Riddle of the Sands,” and includes Ian Fleming, John le CarrĂ©, Stella Rimington, Charles McCarry and even E. Howard Hunt, more famous for Watergate, who all reaped great fictional dividends from the Cold War.

Mr. Matthews’s new book, “Palace of Treason,” which comes out from Scribner on Tuesday, is a sequel to his best-selling “Red Sparrow.” It’s set in contemporary Russia, where a pajama-clad Vladimir Putin even turns up in a character’s bedroom, but like the earlier novel, it’s old school. While there are a couple of James Bondian touches, like a pistol that looks like a tube of lipstick, the main characters — Dominika Egorova, a Russian agent secretly working for the United States, and Nate Nash, her C.I.A. lover and handler — depend mostly on traditional tradecraft. They spend a lot of time walking around and trying to avoid being followed.

Escaping surveillance is what Mr. Matthews used to do for a living. Officially he was a diplomat, in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean, but his real job was recruiting and then managing foreign agents, often in places where such activity was forbidden. “There were a lot of mind games going on,” he recalled one morning not long ago at the Algonquin Hotel in Midtown, where he was staying on a brief publicity trip to New York. “You wake up in the morning, and there’s a cigarette stubbed out in the ashtray. An entry team has come in the house at night and left the butt to let you know they were there.”

The ways that surveillance and avoiding it are depicted in the movies — people darting into the subway and diving into taxicabs — are all wrong, Mr. Matthews went on to say, and he proposed an experiment. “Let’s pretend we’re in the SDRDB — the Social Democratic Republic of de Blasio — and we’re on our way to meet an agent.” In “Palace of Treason,” a young C.I.A. recruit walks for 13 hours to make sure she’s not being tailed, and Mr. Matthews guessed that evasion was probably happening right then in real life. “I promise you,” he said, that “within a mile of here, there’s a Russian talking to someone he shouldn’t be talking to.”

Heading out the door of the Algonquin, he pointed out that the doorman was probably in the employ of the SDRDB. “He’s the eyes and ears of the place — he sees everything.” And the cashier at the parking garage across the street, she could be a lookout. At the corner of 44th Street and Sixth Avenue, Mr. Matthews waited for the light and observed that Sixth was a “thick” area, one so heavily trafficked that surveillance would be hard to spot. And there were cameras all over this neighborhood — in all the banks, high up on building corners, in the doorway of the HBO building. There are cameras everywhere in the SDRDB, it turns out, and since they’re owned by the state, Mr. Matthews said, they can be live-monitored.

On his way to Bryant Park, where he hoped the traffic might be thinner, Mr. Matthews made a point of not looking at the reflections in store windows. That’s a trick so old it’s amateurish, he explained. In up-to-date tradecraft, the whole point is to pretend not to notice that you’re being followed. “You never try to elude or escape from surveillance,” he explained. “You want to lull them into thinking that you’re not operational on this particular day. You want to calm the beast.”

Though Mr. Matthews never moved his head, nothing escaped his notice. In Times Square, he spotted more cameras. And transponders, on lampposts, that keep track of buses. And the Fox Business correspondent Charlie Gasparino, hurrying by in a crowd. Times Square was not just thick, it was thronged. All those Elmos and Minnies — how many were working for the SDRDB? And to make matters worse, there was a police communications tower right in plain sight. Basically Midtown in the SDRDB is “horrendous” for tradecraft, Mr. Matthews concluded. If you wanted to escape discovery and meet up with someone you shouldn’t, you’d be much better off in someplace like Brooklyn.

Colin Harrison, Mr. Matthews’s editor at Scribner, is himself an accomplished thriller writer, but he said he had never paid much attention to spy novels until the manuscript of “Red Sparrow,” Mr. Matthews’s first book, turned up on his desk. “Jason knows several languages, and he’s clearly very smart,” he said. “All those years he spent observing and talking to people — if you think about it, it’s pretty good training for a novelist. The spying and writing skill sets overlap. He’s clearly read a lot, especially classic Cold War writers like le CarrĂ© and McCarry.” Mr. Harrison also remarked that Mr. Matthews could be a little evasive about certain details of his career. “For a guy who says he was never stationed in Moscow, he knows a lot about the place,” Mr. Harrison said.

Mr. Matthews said he got into novel writing as “therapy.” “Being in the Agency is a very experiential career, like being a policeman or a fireman or a jet pilot, and when it stops, it really stops,” he said. “There are retiree groups that get together, mostly in Washington, and sit around and swap war stories, but I was living in California, and it was either write something or go fishing.”

He was not a trained writer, he said, but he went to journalism school before being hired by the C.I.A., and a lot of his work there consisted of writing cables and reports. He added: “A lot of new thrillers are written by people who have not lived the life, and a lot of them seem to be about a bipolar Agency guy, helped by his bipolar girlfriend, trying to chase a bipolar terrorist who has a briefcase nuke, and there’s 12 hours left to go. My book is all fiction, but it’s an amalgam of people I’ve known, of things I’ve done, of stuff I’ve lived.”

Talking about the old-fashioned kind of tradecraft in “Palace of Treason,” he said, “I guess it’s a reflection of my age and my generation in the Agency, and a reaffirmation that in spite of all the gadgets, it’s still about two people. It’s called humint for a reason — it’s human intelligence — and the only thing that can do humint is humans.”


Under-the-table bribes to secure release of illegally detained hostages.

August 4, 2016
U.S. President Barack Obama answers a question as he and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hold a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S. August 2, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Under the headline “U.S. Sent Cash to Iran as Americans Were Freed,” the Wall Street Journal reported on August 3rd the secret transport to Iran of $400 million in Euros and other non-U.S. dollar currencies at around the same time that five American hostages held captive were released by the Iranian regime. The hostages included Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and Pastor Saeed Abedini. The Obama administration insists that it was all just a coincidence. It was only paying off the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement of Iranian claims before the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague, arising from a failed arms deal that had preceded the overthrow of the Shah. There was no quid pro quo or ransom paid to get our hostages back, claims the administration. Everyone else with an ounce of common sense knows the truth – the Obama administration violated the long-held policy of the United States not to pay ransom or make other concessions to hostage takers in order to procure the release of the prisoners detained unlawfully by Iran. 
The Obama administration is insulting our intelligence in claiming, as State Department spokesman John Kirby has done, that “the negotiations over the settlement of an outstanding claim…were completely separate from the discussions about returning our American citizens home.” Even Obama himself had linked the settlement to both the completion of the nuclear deal with Iran and the release of the American captives.  “With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” Obama said in his victory lap statement at the White House on January 17th. He also announced that, as “a reciprocal humanitarian gesture,” he granted clemency to six Iranian–Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial in the United States. What Obama left out of his self-serving statement last January was that his administration was also sending cash to Iran around that same time, over and above any sanctions relief or release of frozen assets as required by the terms of the nuclear deal itself.
Consider the shady circumstances of the Obama administration’s payment to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The exchange of cash to the Iranian regime and release of the hostages were very close in time to one another. The cash, stacked in wooden pallets, was sent secretly on an unmarked cargo plane from banks in the Netherlands and Switzerland. And even U.S. negotiators have admitted, according to the Wall Street Journal article, that “Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible.” That’s called a ransom, which is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity.” 
If the $400 million payment were actually a straight-forward first installment on the settlement of a debt claim that Iran had filed with an international tribunal in The Hague, why not make the settlement agreement, if it exists at all, public? Why didn’t the parties avail themselves of the option to request the tribunal under Article 26 of the Tribunal Rules of Procedure, as an interim protection measure, to facilitate a deposit of the settlement funds with a third party such as Switzerland? Such third party in turn could prepare for a phased hand-over of the settlement funds to Iran under the supervision of the tribunal.
The answer is that the Obama administration was doing all that it could to hide its ransom payment from the public. It feared the political backlash from violation of U.S. government policy not to pay a ransom because such action would only encourage more hostage-taking. And that is precisely what has happened in Iran. Three dual American-Iranian citizens have since been imprisoned by Iranian authorities, without any known charges being filed against them. Iran is taking more U.S. citizens, and holding them hostage, in order to trade for “something tangible.” This alone should result in the immediate cancellation of the so-called “settlement” agreement with Iran and the withholding for good of the $1.3 billion balance that Iran is claiming, assuming that the Obama administration has not already sent this money covertly to the thuggish regime.
President Obama set his own precedent for surrendering to the demands of hostage takers two years ago when he agreed to a totally one-sided prisoner swap with the Taliban terrorists. In return for the release of alleged deserter U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, Obama gave back five high-level terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay to the Taliban. During a Time Magazine interview with an unnamed Taliban commander close to the negotiations for the swap, the commander said, “It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people. It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”
What’s more, as reported by Fred Fleitz in his National Review article, Obama has experience paying off Iran’s mullahs to secure the release of hostages. Fleitz noted that the Obama administration “paid $500,000 each to free American hikers captured by Iran in 2011 through the government of Oman.”
Iran has repeatedly violated international law in seizing Americans and citizens of other countries, and holding them hostage to gain negotiating leverage. Under long-standing U.S. government policy, the outlaw Iranian regime should be punished for illegally seizing and imprisoning American citizens under unduly harsh conditions, rather than being unjustly enriched as President Obama has done.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

TWA 800: Calling Agent Bongardt, Your Nation Needs You

By Jack Cashill
August 3, 2016

The reconstructed wreckage of TWA 800, stored by the NTSB, May 1997

It has been four weeks since my book, TWA 800: The Crash, The Cover-Up, The Conspiracy, debuted. Despite a two-week media hiatus due to the conventions, I continue to receive one or two new leads a day, many from inside the investigation.

I would encourage those with information to share to contact me in confidence through my website, As one new source told me, he never knew before where to turn. Another, a retired international captain, said I was the first person in the media to listen to him after years of trying to break through.

As a quick reminder, TWA Flight 800 blew up off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996. A few weeks ago, I received an email from a fellow that, in a fairer world, would have been newsworthy in itself. Joe Johnson worked with the FBI missile team on the investigation as an industry partner. He concluded his initial email with the compelling line, “It would be better if we had a chat on the phone. I can prove that it was a missile.”

In the course of our subsequent conversations, Johnson laid out the evidence to support a missile strike: the motion correction for small guidance errors, the smooth turn toward the target at intercept, the resistance of Jet A fuel to a spark, and for Johnson, most significantly, the radar data that showed “debris exiting the aircraft at a supersonic velocity.” In the excellent 2103 documentary, TWA Flight 800, physicist Tom Stalcup considered that radar data “the smoking gun.”

Johnson also added a bit of information that may prove more valuable in the long run, that is the likely identity of the FBI agent who boldly resisted the CIA’s attempt to corrupt the investigation. In my book, I called this otherwise anonymous missile team member “Lewis Erskine” after the character Efrem Zimbalist Jr. played on the hit TV show, The F.B.I.

Johnson worked directly with a member of the FBI missile team named Steve Bongardt and vouched for his integrity. At the time of the confrontation with the CIA in April 1997 the missile team had only two members. Based on his future performance, Bongardt, a former U.S. Navy aviator and Naval Academy grad, would seem the more likely of the two to have defied the CIA analysts. As Bongardt says of himself on his LinkedIn page, “His efforts to fight the FBI and CIA bureaucracy in the days leading up to 9/11, in order to pursue one of the 9/11 hijackers, has been documented in the public media.”

Bongardt does not overstate his role. In 2006, the year after Bongardt stepped down from the FBI, noted author Lawrence Wright wrote an extensive piece in the New Yorker highlighting Bongardt’s exploits subtitled “Did the C.I.A. stop an F.B.I. detective from preventing 9/11?” 

In the summer of 2001, Bongardt became aware that known terrorist Khaled al-Mihdhar was in the United States. Citing the “wall” that allegedly prevented intelligence gatherers from cooperating with criminal investigators, FBI headquarters informed Bongardt that none of its many agents on the criminal side could pursue Mihdhar. Instead, that task was left to one lone FBI intelligence operative who was himself new to the job.

According to Wright, Bongardt called the wall a “bureaucratic fiction.” Bongardt was in a good position to know how fictional the wall could be. From July 1996 to November 1997 the intelligence operatives of the CIA worked freely, if uneasily, with the criminal investigators of the FBI on the TWA 800 investigation.

“Someday somebody will die -- and, Wall or not, the public will not understand why we were not more effective,” Bongardt emailed his superiors in 2001. That “someday” came just weeks later when Mihdhar joined eighteen other hijackers in their terrorist September 11 attack on America.

If Lawrence Wright had written about TWA 800, he might have subtitled his piece, “Did the C.I.A. stop an F.B.I. detective from telling the truth about TWA 800?” According to a CIA memo from April 29, 1997, an unnamed member of the FBI missile team -- almost assuredly Bongardt -- sent the CIA a blistering critique of the working CIA theory.

According to that theory, an internal explosion blew the nose off the doomed 747. The noseless fuselage then tilted back and rocketed upright for nearly a mile. According to the CIA, this zoom climb confused hundreds of credible witnesses into thinking they had seen a missile.

Unconvinced, the dissenting FBI agent demanded answers to more than a dozen salient questions. He wanted to know why the CIA analysts failed to account for the eight witnesses who saw an object “hit the aircraft” or the numerous witnesses who saw the object move from east to west, the opposite direction of TWA 800.  In all, he cited some thirty “problem witnesses” whose accounts did not begin to square with the “agency scenario.”

In his conclusion, this agent hit the CIA hard. He recommended that the CIA “withdraw its conclusions” until it could meet several conditions, any one of which would have unraveled the CIA scenario. These included the integration of radar data, the validation of key witnesses, and the reconciliation of the thirty “problem witnesses” with the zoom climb scenario.

At the time, Bongardt likely did not know that the newly minted CIA director George Tenet had already signed off on the CIA theory. A month earlier, the politically wired Tenet had sent FBI director Louis Freeh a letter assuring him that “what these eyewitnesses saw was the crippled aircraft after the first explosion had already taken place.”

“CIA will continue to look at problematic witnesses,” the analyst responded to the dissenting agent. He got to work quickly. On the very day the analyst sent this memo to his superiors, April 29, 1997, a second “302” was prepared for the most “problematic” of the FBI, eyewitnesses, Witness #73. In this second interview, #73 conceded that she had been drinking ‘Long Island Ice Tea’ cocktails” before witnessing the explosion, a concession that undermined her original testimony.

As #73 told me years later, she did not know what a Long Island Iced Tea was, did not drink, and did not give a second interview. In her initial interview three days after the crash, she not only described a missile attack on the 747 in stunning detail, but she also “observed the front of the aircraft separate from the back,” a fact that took the authorities weeks to confirm.

Curiously, the FBI agents whose names appear on this second 302 were Bongardt and his partner, Ted Otto. They were alleged to have interviewed #73 on April 29, 1997, in her North Carolina home. She was one of at least three key eyewitnesses for whom the CIA manufactured second interviews and the only one attributed to Bongardt. I wonder if he knows this.

Bongardt put in twenty years with the FBI and quit. It is not hard to understand why he left. Today, he serves as vice-president for a certain cyber security firm, a fact confirmed on his LinkedIn page, an article he posted in July, and a program for a conference at which he will speak in September. I have tried contacting this firm no fewer than a half-dozen times. The automated system does not include Bongardt’s name, and the receptionist claims to know nothing about him. If anyone knows him, please have him contact me.

As I will explain in a future article, authorities have tried to intimidate at least one of my high-level sources. His public posture protects him. Here is hoping Bongardt understands that it is safer to go public than not.

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