Files on bin Laden Raid to Remain Secret
by RICHARD LARDNER
The nation's top special operations commander ordered military files about the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout to be purged from Defense Department computers and sent to the CIA, where they could be more easily shielded from ever being made public.
The secret move, described briefly in a draft report by the Pentagon's inspector general, set off no alarms within the Obama administration even though it appears to have sidestepped federal rules and perhaps also the Freedom of Information Act.
An acknowledgement by Adm. William McRaven of his actions was quietly removed from the final version of an inspector general's report published weeks ago. A spokesman for the admiral declined to comment. The CIA, noting that the bin Laden mission was overseen by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta before he became defense secretary, said that the SEALs were effectively assigned to work temporarily for the CIA, which has presidential authority to conduct covert operations.
"Documents related to the raid were handled in a manner consistent with the fact that the operation was conducted under the direction of the CIA director," agency spokesman Preston Golson said in an emailed statement. "Records of a CIA operation such as the (bin Laden) raid, which were created during the conduct of the operation by persons acting under the authority of the CIA Director, are CIA records."
Golson said it is "absolutely false" that records were moved to the CIA to avoid the legal requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
The records transfer was part of an effort by McRaven to protect the names of the personnel involved in the raid, according to the inspector general's draft report.
But secretly moving the records allowed the Pentagon to tell The Associated Press that it couldn't find any documents inside the Defense Department that AP had requested more than two years ago, and could represent a new strategy for the U.S. government to shield even its most sensitive activities from public scrutiny.
"Welcome to the shell game in place of open government," said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a private research institute at George Washington University. "Guess which shell the records are under. If you guess the right shell, we might show them to you. It's ridiculous."
McRaven's directive sent the only copies of the military's records about its daring raid to the CIA, which has special authority to prevent the release of "operational files" in ways that can't effectively be challenged in federal court. The Defense Department can prevent the release of its own military files, too, citing risks to national security. But that can be contested in court, and a judge can compel the Pentagon to turn over non-sensitive portions of records.
Under federal rules, transferring government records from one executive agency to another must be approved in writing by the National Archives and Records Administration. There are limited circumstances when prior approval is not required, such as when the records are moved between two components of the same executive department. The CIA and Special Operations Command are not part of the same department.
The Archives was not aware of any request from the U.S. Special Operations Command to transfer its records to the CIA, spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman said. She said it was the Archives' understanding that the military records belonged to the CIA, so transferring them wouldn't have required permission under U.S. rules.
Special Operations Command also is required to comply with rules established by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that dictate how long records must be retained. Its July 2012 manual requires that records about military operations and planning are to be considered permanent and after 25 years, following a declassification review, transferred to the Archives.
Also, the Federal Records Act would not permit agencies "to purge records just on a whim," said Dan Metcalfe, who oversaw the U.S. government's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act as former director of the Justice Department's Office of Information and Privacy. "I don't think there's an exception allowing an agency to say, 'Well, we didn't destroy it. We just deleted it here after transmitting it over there.' High-level officials ought to know better."
It was not immediately clear exactly which Defense Department records were purged and transferred, when it happened or under what authority, if any, they were sent to the CIA. No government agencies the AP contacted would discuss details of the transfer. The timing may be significant: The Freedom of Information Act generally applies to records under an agency's control when a request for them is received. The AP asked for files about the mission in more than 20 separate requests, mostly submitted in May 2011 — several were sent a day after Obama announced that the world's most wanted terrorist had been killed in a firefight. Obama has pledged to make his administration the most transparent in U.S. history.
The AP asked the Defense Department and CIA separately for files that included copies of the death certificate and autopsy report for bin Laden as well as the results of tests to identify the body. While the Pentagon said it could not locate the files, the CIA, with its special power to prevent the release of records, has never responded. The CIA also has not responded to a separate request for other records, including documents identifying and describing the forces and supplies required to execute the assault on bin Laden's compound.
The CIA did tell the AP it could not locate any emails from or to Panetta and two other top agency officials discussing the bin Laden mission.
McRaven's unusual order would have remained secret had it not been mentioned in a single sentence on the final page in the inspector general's draft report that examined whether the Obama administration gave special access to Hollywood executives planning a film, "Zero Dark Thirty," about the raid. The draft report was obtained and posted online last month by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group in Washington.
McRaven, who oversaw the bin Laden raid, expressed concerns in the report about possible disclosure of the identities of the SEALs. The Pentagon "provided the operators and their families an inordinate level of security," the report said. McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released.
"This effort included purging the combatant command's systems of all records related to the operation and providing these records to another government agency," according to the draft report. The sentence was dropped from the report's final version.
Since the raid, one of the SEALs published a book about the raid under a pseudonym but was subsequently identified by his actual name. And earlier this year the SEAL credited with shooting bin Laden granted a tell-all, anonymous interview with Esquire about the raid and the challenges of his retiring from the military after 16 years without a pension.
Current and former Defense Department officials knowledgeable about McRaven's directive and the inspector general's report told AP the description of the order in the draft report was accurate. The reference to "another government agency" was code for the CIA, they said. These individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name.
There is no indication the inspector general's office or anyone else in the U.S. government is investigating the legality of transferring the military records. Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, would not explain why the reference was left out of the final report and what, if any, actions the office might be taking.
"Our general statement is that any draft is pre-decisional and that drafts go through many reviews before the final version, including editing or changing language," Serchak wrote in an email.
The unexplained decision to remove the reference to the purge and transfer of the records "smells of bad faith," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. "How should one understand that? That adds insult to injury. It essentially covers up the action."
McRaven oversaw the raid while serving as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, the secretive outfit in charge of SEAL Team Six and the military's other specialized counterterrorism units. McRaven was nominated by Obama to lead Special Operations Command, JSOC's parent organization, a month before the raid on bin Laden's compound. He replaced Adm. Eric Olson as the command's top officer in August 2011.
Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command, referred questions to the inspector general's office.
The refusal to make available authoritative or contemporaneous records about the bin Laden mission means that the only official accounts of the mission come from U.S. officials who have described details of the raid in speeches, interviews and television appearances. In the days after bin Laden's death, the White House provided conflicting versions of events, falsely saying bin Laden was armed and even firing at the SEALs, misidentifying which of bin Laden's sons was killed and incorrectly saying bin Laden's wife died in the shootout. Obama's press secretary attributed the errors to the "fog of combat."
A U.S. judge and a federal appeals court previously sided with the CIA in a lawsuit over publishing more than 50 "post-mortem" photos and video recordings of bin Laden's corpse. In the case, brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, the CIA did not say the images were operational files to keep them secret. It argued successfully that the photos and videos must be withheld from the public to avoid inciting violence against Americans overseas and compromising secret systems and techniques used by the CIA and the military.
The Defense Department told the AP in March 2012 it could not locate any photographs or video taken during the raid or showing bin Laden's body. It also said it could not find any images of bin Laden's body on the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier from which he was buried at sea. The Pentagon also said it could not find any death certificate, autopsy report or results of DNA identification tests for bin Laden, or any pre-raid materials discussing how the government planned to dispose of bin Laden's body if he were killed. It said it searched files at the Pentagon, Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., and the Navy command in San Diego that controls the Carl Vinson.
The Pentagon also refused to confirm or deny the existence of helicopter maintenance logs and reports about the performance of military gear used in the raid. One of the stealth helicopters that carried the SEALs in Pakistan crashed during the mission and its wreckage was left behind.
The Defense Department also told the AP in February 2012 that it could not find any emails about the bin Laden mission or his "Geronimo" code name that were sent or received in the year before the raid by McRaven. The department did not say they had been moved to the CIA. It also said it could not find any emails from other senior officers who would have been involved in the mission's planning. It found only three such emails written by or sent to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and these consisted of 12 pages sent to Gates summarizing news reports after the raid.
The Defense Department in November 2012 released copies of 10 emails totaling 31 pages found in the Carl Vinson's computer systems. The messages were heavily censored and described how bin Laden's body was prepared for burial.
These records were not among those purged and then moved to the CIA. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory said the messages from the Carl Vinson "were not relating to the mission itself and were the property of the Navy."
ICE's top 10 high profile removals
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) protects the United States by promoting homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration. To accomplish this mission, ICE removes individuals wanted by its foreign law enforcement partners and conducts multi-faceted federal law enforcement operations.
Below are ICE's top 10 high profile removals.
John Demjanjuk, a former Nazi death camp guard and a resident of Seven Hills, Ohio, was removed by ICE to Germany May 12, 2009. Demjanjuk was removed through a court order of removal obtained by the Department of Justice. March 10, 2009, a German judge issued an order directing that Demjanjuk, 89, be arrested on suspicion of assisting in the murder of at least 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor extermination center in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. In addition to serving at Sobibor, Demjanjuk served the SS as an armed guard of civilian prisoners in Germany at the Nazi-operated Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany and at Majdanek concentration camp and the Trawniki training and forced labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
George Saigbe Boley, 62, formerly of Hilton, N.Y., was the leader of the Liberian Peace Council that committed human rights abuses during the Liberian civil war in the 1990s. He was deported to Monrovia, Liberia, March 30, 2012. Boley was found by an immigration judge Feb. 6, 2012, to be removable from the United States. This was the first removal order obtained by ICE under the authorities of the Child Soldiers Accountability Act of 2008, which added the recruitment and use of child soldiers as a ground of inadmissibility to and deportability from the U.S.
Jean-Marie Vianney Mudahinyuka, 50, an alleged human rights violator, wanted by Rwandan authorities on charges of crimes against humanity during the 1994 genocide, was deported to Rwanda. Mudahinyuka arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, Jan. 28, 2011, He was wanted on an international arrest warrant. Upon arrival in Kigali, Mudahinyuka was turned over to the custody of the Rwandan National Police to face charges of genocide and war crimes.
Josias Kumpf, 83, a former Nazi concentration camp guard who settled in Racine, Wis., after World War II and acquired U.S citizenship, was removed to Austria March 19, 2009. He participated in Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution during World War II. Kumpf served as an armed SS Death's Head guard at the Nazi-run Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany and at the Trawniki training and forced labor camp in Poland. During his service at Trawniki, he participated in a mass shooting in which 8,000 men, women and children were murdered in a single day, Nov. 3, 1943.
ICE carried out the removal of suspected human rights violator Marko Boskic to Bosnia and Herzegovina April 27, 2010. He was turned over to authorities in Sarajevo to face war crimes charges. Boskic admitted his direct participation in the killing of unarmed victims during the 1991-1995 Yugoslavian civil war. He was assigned to the 10th Sabotage Detachment, a unit that was involved in the murder of at least 1,200 unarmed prisoners of war at Branjevo Farm near Srebrenica in 1995. This was part of a larger genocidal campaign in which approximately 7,000-8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed. The crimes at Srebrenica are the only court-designated genocide to occur in Europe since World War II.
Giuseppe Baldinucci, 64, was returned to his native Italy and turned over to Italian authorities Sept. 11, 2008. Baldinucci's outstanding Italian arrest warrant stems from the assistance he rendered to the then fugitive Giovanni Brusca, a well-known member of the Corleone mafia family. Some of the crimes the Italians attributed to Brusca include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi gallery in Florence, the strangling of an 11-year old boy and the murder of the Italian anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone.
Pedro Pimentel Rios, 54, a Santa Ana, Calif., maintenance worker, was wanted in his native country of Guatemala on criminal charges for his role in the Dos Erres massacre. A former member of the Guatemalan army, whom witnesses say participated in a massacre there three decades ago, which claimed at least 162 lives, was deported to his native country July 12, 2011. Once he arrived in Guatemala he was immediately turned over to Guatemalan law enforcement officials.
A Salvadoran man was returned to his native country Feb. 11, 2013, by ERO to face charges for sexually assaulting five minor children, who were in his care at a children's home he managed in El Salvador. Jose Mauricio Huezo-Ortega, 37, was arrested Sept. 14, 2012, at his residence in Falls Church, Va., by ERO Washington's fugitive operations team. Following his arrest, he was placed in immigration removal proceedings and subsequently on Dec. 28, 2012, a U.S. immigration judge ordered Huezo removed from the United States.
ICE removed two men with ties to terrorism, one an admitted member of a terrorist group and one a member of outlawed militant organization, to their native Pakistan. The first, Khamal Muhammad, 23, a San Francisco Bay area resident, was an admitted member of Harakat ul-Mujahidin, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization in Pakistan. The second individual removed, Hamid Sheikh, 41, a Philadelphia resident, was convicted of making false statements to federal agents regarding the whereabouts of a member of Sipah-e-Mohammed Pakistan, a militant organization that was involved in massacres and targeted killings.
ICE removed Majid Al-Massari, 35, a native and citizen of Saudi Arabia belonging to an undesignated terrorist organization. Al-Massari was ordered removed June 30, 2005, and was removed Jan. 29, 2007. At the time of his arrest, Al-Massari was a Seattle area computer security specialist using his cyber skills to engage in terrorist activities. He purposely used his computer and communications skills to advance the terrorist goals of the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights and incite hatred against other groups of people. Al-Massari moderated an Internet chatroom for members of the group and posted Al Qaeda's weekly magazine at his site.
From the FBI
Tracking the Money Trails
The U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki once wrote an essay called “44 Ways to Support Jihad.” Five of his top 10 strategies focused on the same topic—money.
It's not surprising. Money fuels the operations of terrorists. It's needed to communicate, buy supplies, fund planning, and carry out acts of destruction.
But there's a flip side to this proverbial coin. In the shadowy, secretive world of terrorists, this spending leaves a trail—a trail that we can follow to help expose extremists and their network of supporters…sometimes before they can strike.
That's why shortly after 9/11, we established the Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS). Within the FBI, TFOS is responsible for following the money, providing financial expertise on our terrorism investigations, and centralizing efforts to identity extremists and shut down terrorism financing in specific cases. More recently, TFOS has adopted a broader strategy to identity, disrupt, and dismantle all terrorist-related financial and fundraising activities. A key element is using financial intelligence to help identify previously unknown terrorist cells, recognize potential terrorist activity/planning, and develop a comprehensive threat picture.
It's challenging work. The dollar amounts can be small—for example, the Oklahoma City bombing cost a little over $4,000 to carry out, the attack on the USS Cole about $10,000, and the London subway bombings around $14,000. At the same time, terror groups can obtain funding from seemingly legitimate sources— like donations, community solicitations, and other fundraising activities. They can also generate money from criminal activities such as kidnappings, extortion, smuggling, and fraud. And their financial networks—their methods and means of moving money—use both formal systems (i.e., banks, licensed money remitters, and the Internet) and informal systems (i.e., unlicensed money remitters and money couriers).
But TFOS and investigators from our 103 Joint Terrorism Task Forces around the country are able to apply certain financial investigative techniques —like credit history checks, reviews of banking activity, and government database inquiries—to counterterrorism cases to help track terror money trails. These techniques generate a treasure trove of intelligence: personal information like citizenship, date of birth, and phone numbers; non-terrorism-related criminal activity; previously known business and personal associations; travel patterns; communication patterns; and suspicious purchases.
These techniques can also help link previously unrelated cases, create historical timelines, and generate additional leads that allow investigators to use more sophisticated techniques like court-authorized electronic surveillance.
In addition to working with FBI field offices, the men and women of TFOS—experienced agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professionals—handle critical outreach duties. They coordinate efforts with the U.S. intelligence community and—through FBI legal attachés—our global intelligence and law enforcement partners. They work jointly with domestic law enforcement and regulatory communities. And, in conjunction with the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN), they conduct liaison with the financial services sector.
TFOS chief Jane Rhodes-Wolfe believes that the combined efforts of the financial industry, international partners, and federal, state, and local agencies have “established an increasingly difficult environment for terrorist financiers to operate in undetected…and ensure an ongoing and coordinated approach to terrorist financing to help prevent future terrorist attacks against the U.S.”