Monday, March 31, 2014

The Benghazi story about escalating protests was made up of whole cloth

CIA officer confirmed no protests before misleading Benghazi account given

Before the Obama administration gave an inaccurate narrative on national television that the Benghazi attacks grew from an anti-American protest, the CIA’s station chief in Libya pointedly told his superiors in Washington that no such demonstration occurred, documents and interviews with current and former intelligence officials show.
The attack was “not an escalation of protests,” the station chief wrote to then-Deputy CIA Director Michael J. Morell in an email dated Sept. 15, 2012 — a full day before the White House sent Susan E. Rice to several Sunday talk shows to disseminate talking points claiming that the Benghazi attack began as a protest over an anti-Islam video.
That the talking points used by Mrs. Rice, who was then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, were written by a CIA that ignored the assessment by its own station chief inside Libya, has emerged as one of the major bones of contention in the more than two years of political fireworks and congressional investigations into the Benghazi attack.
What has never been made public is whether Mr. Morell and others at the CIA explicitly shared the station chief’s assessment with the White House or State Department.
Two former intelligence officials have told The Washington Times that this question likely will be answered at a Wednesday hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during which Mr. Morell is scheduled to give his public testimony.
Mr. Morell, who has since left the CIA, declined to comment on the matter Monday. He now works at Beacon Global Strategies, a Washington insider strategic communications firm.
One former intelligence official close to Mr. Morell told The Times on the condition of anonymity that “the whole question of communication with the station chief will be addressed in his testimony.”
“We’re confident that it will clarify the situation in the minds of many who are asking,” the former official said.
Another former intelligence official told The Times that Mr. Morell did tell the White House and the State Department that the CIA station chief in Libya had concluded that there was no protest but senior Obama administration and CIA officials in Washington ignored the assessment.
Why they ignored it remains a topic of heated debate within the wider intelligence community.
A third source told The Times on Monday that Mr. Morell and other CIA officials in Washington were weighing several pieces of “conflicting information” streaming in about the Benghazi attack as the talking points were being crafted.
“That’s why they ultimately came up with the analysis that they did,” the source said. “The piece that was coming out of Tripoli was important, but it was one piece amid several streams of information.”
One of the former intelligence officials said the Libya station chief’s assessment was being weighed against media reports from the ground in Benghazi that quoted witnesses as saying there had been a protest. Analysts at the CIA, the source said, also were weighing it against reporting by other intelligence divisions, including the National Security Agency.
“The chief of station in Tripoli who was 600 or 700 miles away from the attacks wouldn’t necessarily have the only view of what actually went on in Benghazi,” that former official said.
U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack.
While the testimony is expected to focus on Benghazi, the hearing arrives at a time of growing tensions between Congress and the CIA over such matters as the Bush administration’s interrogation rules and mutual charges of spying and illegality between the Senate intelligence committee and the agency.
Lawmakers are likely to press Mr. Morell for a reaction to reports this week that a classified Senate intelligence report has concluded that harsh interrogation methods used in the years after Sept. 11 provided no key evidence in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and that the CIA misled Congress on the matter.
The CIA disputes that conclusion. The Senate panel is expected to vote Thursday on sending the Obama administration a 400-page executive summary of the “enhanced interrogation” report to start a monthslong declassification process.
One of the key issues likely to come up during the House hearing involves what was said during a series of secure teleconferences between CIA officials in Washington and Libya from the time of the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, to the completion of Mrs. Rice’s talking points for dissemination on the Sunday talk shows Sept. 16.
Multiple sources confirmed to The Times on Monday that the station chief’s email to Mr. Morell was written after one of the teleconferences during which senior CIA officials in Washington — Mr. Morell among them — made clear to the Tripoli station chief that they were examining alternative information that suggested there was a protest before the attack.
After the exchange, Mr. Morell signed off on the CIA talking points given to Mrs. Rice promoting what turned out to be the false narrative of a protest. The development ultimately triggered an angry reaction from Republicans, who have long claimed that the Obama administration, with an eye on the November elections, was downplaying the role of terrorists in order to protect the president’s record on counterterrorism.
Documents since released by the White House show that administration officials boasted in internal emails at the time about Mr. Morell’s personal role in editing and rewriting the talking points.
Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy editing hand to them,” an Obama administration official wrote Mrs. Rice on the morning of Sept. 15.
What is not clear is whether the email was in any way referring to the conflicting intelligence streams about a protest in Benghazi.
Alternatively, the email notes that Mr. Morell was uncomfortable with an initial draft of the talking points batted back and forth between White House and CIA officials “because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack” in Benghazi.
During interviews with The Times, several former senior intelligence officials have lamented the whole “talking points” issue, saying the CIA was caught in the middle of the White HouseCongress and the reality on the ground in Benghazi while crafting the points.
The reason the CIA ended up taking the lead on the talking points was because, as news of the attack was breaking around the world, lawmakers on the House intelligence committee were seeking guidance from the agency on how to respond to media questions without revealing classified information.
Specifically, Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and the committee chairman, and ranking Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland asked for the guidance.
One former senior intelligence official told The Times that as word circulated through the inner circles of the intelligence community that the CIA was working on the talking points, officials within the Obama administration steered the mission toward crafting something Mrs. Rice could say on national talk shows.
“In essence, the talking points got repurposed,” the former official said. “What it turned into — and I don’t think Michael ever knew this, it’s something to watch for in his testimony this week — was, ‘Let’s hand this thing to the U.N. ambassador and make it what she should say.’”
“That’s a big deal,” the former official said. “It’s one thing to prepare something for lawmakers so they don’t make a mistake or say something inacurrate. It’s quite another matter to have that feed the administration’s then-current, definitive account of what had actually happened in Benghazi.”
“There are a lot of twists and turns in this,” added another former intelligence official. “A lot of it hangs on the fact that the agency thought they were crafting these talking points for Dutch Ruppersberger and Mike Rogers, not the White House.”

Petty bureaucrats bring tyranny to the political process

The curse of tribalism on display

South Sudan Ethnic Hatred Spurs Rebel Leader Machar’s White Army

Dozens of South Sudanese men chanted war songs, blew whistles and brandished AK-47 rifles with a longing for ethnic revenge.
All members of the Nuer ethnic group, the troops of the so-called White Army who gathered by the Sobat River in eastern South Sudan are the strike force in rebel leader and former Vice President Riek Machar’s campaign against the government in Juba, the capital. They’re planning to march on Malakal, capital of Upper Nile state, and then attack the Paloch oil field, a key source of revenue for President Salva Kiir’s military.
While Machar sits in his bush hideout coordinating his rebellion’s positions on peace talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and trying to force Kiir into concessions, members of the White Army have more basic desires. They’re fired by reports of widespread killings of Nuer after Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused Machar of attempting a coup d’etat in December. New York-based Human Rights Watch said in January that as many as 300 Nuer were massacred on Dec. 16 in Juba.
“We don’t fight against Salva Kiir because of food, we don’t fight against Salva Kiir because of water, we don’t fight because of oil,” Dak Chany, a 37-year-old father of two who has horizontal scars on his forehead that were part of his initiation into adulthood, said in an interview on March 26 in Nasir, about 190 kilometers (118 miles) east of Malakal. “We fight against him because he killed our brothers, fathers, mothers.”

Militia Violence

The violence threw the world’s newest nation into civil war, killed thousands of people and forced at least 860,000 more to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. China National Petroleum Corp., India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC) and Petroliam Nasional Bhd., the main producers of South Sudan’s oil, evacuated employees because of the fighting.
The country, which gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, is producing about 160,000 barrels per day of oil from fields in Upper Nile, according to the government. The state produces Dar Blend, a low-sulfur crude prized by Japanese buyers as a cleaner-burning fuel for power plants.
Even before the national crisis exploded, Nuer militias and fighters from the Murle group in Jonglei state carried out massacres of each other’s civilians in a battle over cattle and land rights, according to the UN.

Control ‘Difficult’

The White Army is “definitely difficult to control, their discipline is wanting,” Machar, 60, said in a March 27 interview, sitting on an office chair next to a table with his satellite phone, a tablet and a book on failed states in the shade of a tree alive with weaver birds. “We hope we will improve on that with time.”
White Army leaders and Machar have different objectives, said John Young, author of The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process. Machar wants to be a national rather than ethnic leader, and attacking the oil fields in Upper Nile state is part of his strategy to cripple Kiir’s sources of revenue and win concessions, he said.
“He understands that you have to make compromises,” Young said in a March 30 interview by phone from Vancouver. “His military commanders don’t look at the world that way. They want revenge and they want the Nuer to assume a governing role in a post-Salva government. To try and balance those perspectives is going to be very difficult.”
The White Army fighters, who may number as many as 50,000, comprise the bulk of the insurgents in Upper Nile state, the only remaining oil-producing region in South Sudan after wells in neighboring Unity shutdown because of the conflict, said the rebel commander in the area, Major-General Gathoth Gatkuoth.

Target Killings

Underdevelopment, corruption and the targeted killings are the reasons for the Nuer rebellion, rather than Machar’s “democratic war” against Kiir, he said in an interview in Nasir on March 27.
“You can disagree with anybody rivaling you,” Gatkuoth said. “But you cannot kill one tribe.”
The White Army emerged in the early 1990s when Machar and Lam Akol, who’s from the Shilluk ethnic group, split from John Garang, the former leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement who died in a helicopter crash in 2005. The SPLM has ruled South Sudan since independence.
The White Army’s name derives from the practice of Nuer cattle herders smearing themselves with pale ash to ward off insects.


Gun-toting White Army fighters are rarely out of sight in Nasir, where American hip-hop music pumping out of aging speakers as young men in knock-off soccer shirts hang out on the side of its dirt roads. Others sit in the shade of wooden shacks drinking sweet tea served by women in headscarves.
Piles of Nyala cigarettes from Ethiopia reveal a trickle of trade with the Horn of Africa nation, whose border lies 30 kilometers away along the Sobat River.
Some gunmen ride around in a handful of scarred Toyota pick-up trucks. After dusk on the town’s periphery, howling dogs and the roar of a generator from a UN compound are punctuated by air-shots from exuberant militiamen.
Gatkuoth said his brief visit to Nasir from the front line is to mobilize the fighters for the offensive. They’ll have to advance on foot because the insurgents “don’t have any money” for the rebellion, he said.
“The rest who are here should follow us instead of play here,” he said. “We are just depending on the local resources of our people.”
Rachel Nyachop, 47, said she came from Malakal and is in Nasir looking for food. She’s lost three sons in this war, which she is adamant should continue.
“The war will not be stopped until we kill all Dinka, including the children,” she said.

Ukraine: Yanukovych fled to Russia after looting Ukraine's treasury

Dashed Ikea Dreams Show Decades Lost to Bribery in Ukraine

Almost half of Ukrainians say they desire Ikea products more than any other global brand, yet the largest home-furnishings retailer hasn’t been able to crack the market in a decade of trying. The reason: it won’t pay a bribe.
As Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s government rushes to fend off Russia’s expansion and raise the $35 billion it says it needs to avoid default, the country of 45 million faces the more basic problem of rampant graft that no leader has been able to tackle in 23 years of independence.
Stuck between the European Union and its former imperial master Russia, Ukraine has emerged as the most corrupt country on the continent, according to Transparency International. That and “incompetent” leadership are the reason a nation endowed with most of the ingredients needed to create a vibrant economy fell so far behind its peers, according to analysts including Erik Nielsen, chief global economist at UniCredit SpA (UCG) in London.
“Even before this latest crisis, Ukraine was a mess beyond description,” Nielsen said in a research note. Successive governments “must take collective responsibility for what has been one of the worst-managed countries in modern history,” Nielsen said, adding that many officials and their family members “became immensely wealthy along the way.”
Case in point is Oleksandr Yanukovych, 40, son of deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. The younger Yanukovych, who’s in hiding after his father fled to Russia, went from being a dentist to a businessman with a net worth of $510 million after his father came to power in 2010, according to Forbes Ukraine.

‘Empty, Robbed’

Yatsenyuk told lawmakers in Kiev last month that Yanukovych and his allies had moved $70 billion into offshore accounts, leaving state coffers “empty and robbed.” That’s an amount equal to about 40 percent of gross domestic product. Swiss prosecutors opened a probe into Yanukovych and his son last month for possible “aggravated money laundering” and raided a company registered to the younger Yanukovych.
Compared with Ukraine, Russia, the most corrupt major economy, “is whiter than snow,” Lennart Dahlgren, the retired Ikea executive who spearheaded the company’s entry into Russia, said in an interview with Russkiy Reporter magazine in 2010. Dahlgren said he met with every Ukrainian president and prime minister since 2004 and all of them said they wanted to help Ikea enter the market.
“But we weren’t able to make a deal because Ikea’s system didn’t have any money for bribes,” Dahlgren told the magazine.

Left Behind

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, most former Warsaw Pact nations, including Ukraine and its neighbors Poland and Russia, had GDP per capita of about $5,000, adjusted for purchasing power, according to UniCredit. While Poland and Russia have more than quadrupled their wealth since, Ukraine’s has risen to just $7,000.
The poorest EU states, Bulgaria and Romania, and even authoritarian Belarus are all now twice as rich as Ukraine, where total output is about the same as New Zealand, a country of 4.4 million people.
The country’s new leadership, in office since Yanukovych’s ouster in an uprising last month that left more than 100 dead, has the immediate task of securing a financial lifeline.
Whoever wins the presidency in May will face longer-term challenges such as cleaning up the courts and putting in place checks and balances that will help eradicate corruption and attract the likes of Ikea, according to Lilit Gevorgyan, senior analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.

No Time

“A consistent policy of building institutions is the only way out,” Gevorgyan said by e-mail. “The byproduct of the lack of these institutions has been corruption, poor protection of business rights and overall a weak business environment. The trouble is that it takes time, which is something Ukraine does not have. The IMF can wire loans but not institutions.”
The country has yet to recover from 2009, when output in current dollars plunged a record 35 percent from its $180 billion peak the year before, World Bank data show. The government expects GDP to shrink another 3 percent this year in real terms, as it cuts spending, begins overhauling state companies and Russia imposes trade restrictions.
Yatsenyuk began his premiership pledging to implement unpopular measures, shunned by previous administrations, to obtain emergency funding and avert default, describing his task as a “kamikaze” mission. The IMF has urged Ukraine for years to allow a flexible exchange rate, reduce the budget deficit and raise household gas prices to phase out subsidies it estimates equal 7.5 percent of the economy.

Bankruptcy’s Edge

So far, he’s been successful, striking a deal with the IMF last week to unlock $27 billion of international support, including a two-year loan of $14 billion to $18 billion from the Washington-based lender. The IMF’s board must still sign off on the package, Ukraine’s third since 2008, which will probably happen in April, the IMF said in an e-mailed statement.
“The country is on the edge of economic and financial bankruptcy,” Yatsenyuk said in Kiev before lawmakers approved draft legislation prepared as part of the IMF deal. “This package of laws is very unpopular, very difficult, very tough.”
Securing the IMF package and committing to overhauling the economy was key to unlocking further aid pledged by the U.S. and the EU. The talks concluded a week later than planned, showing “the scale of the challenges Kiev is facing,” Gevorgyan said. IMF-endorsed austerity campaigns during the euro debt crisis fueled protests and toppled some governments, including in Greece and Spain.

Putin ‘Depression’

A more immediate threat to the economy, though, is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s annexed Crimea and amassed troops along Ukraine’s border, Alexander Valchyshen, head of research at Investment Capital Ukraine, said by phone from Kiev.
Not knowing what Putin will do next may trigger a “depression” as businesses and consumers curtail output and consumption, Valchyshen said. With about 70 percent of the $176 billion economy coming from household spending and only a fifth from fixed investment, the country desperately needs foreign capital and Putin’s land grab is making that harder, he said.
“Catching up with Bulgaria and Romania would be easy, Ukraine just needs a political anchor,” Valchyshen said. “The promise of EU membership should be clearly stated from the EU and this would be a very strong anchor for the economy. Otherwise, Ukraine will remain the same as in the last couple of decades -- a backyard of the Kremlin.”

Russian Cash

Ukraine’s foreign-currency reserves fell to $15.5 billion in February, the lowest in eight years. That compares with about $104 billion in Poland and $487 billion in Russia. The hryvnia weakened 3.3 percent to 11.3750 per dollar at 8 p.m. local time, pushing this year’s decline to 28 percent, the most among more than 170 currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
The price of the government’s Eurobond due in June rose 0.2 percent today to 97.92 percent of face value, corresponding to a yield of 20 percent, the lowest since Feb. 11. The yield has dropped 36 percentage points since surging to 56 percent on March 12 as Russia prepared to annex Crimea, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The yield was 5.3 percent on Jan. 16.
The road to revolution in Ukraine, which has endured two recessions since 2008, started in Kiev in November, when Yanukovych pulled out of a free-trade deal with the EU, opting instead for $15 billion of Russian aid and cheaper gas. The ousted leader also pursued closer ties with Putin’s customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Orange Revolution

If Ukraine’s recent history is a guide, the change of leadership won’t guarantee a change of course. Hopes that the previous upheaval, the Orange Revolution that prevented Yanukovych from coming to power after a rigged vote in 2004, would usher in an economic overhaul were dashed as the camps of President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko split, paving the way for Yanukovych’s comeback.
Under Leonid Kuchma, a former Communist leader who came to power in 1994 vowing to restore Russia ties, the government was isolated by the EU and the U.S. for selling assets to loyalists and thwarting efforts to develop a free market.
“Yanukovych won the 2010 election more or less fairly because his allegedly more Western-leaning opponents, first of all, spent so much time fighting between themselves, and secondly, presided themselves over so much poor governance and corruption,” Ian Bond, director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform in London, said by phone.

Black Earth

Still, the next government has “tremendous” assets it can leverage to turn things around, said Valchyshen of Investment Capital Ukraine.
With the right changes, growth may reach 5 percent a year, mainly through investment in agriculture, the industry with the biggest potential, and information technology, where the country’s highly educated labor force gives it an advantage, according to Valchyshen.
Ukraine sits on some of the most fertile soil in the world, the so-called black earth region that makes it the largest sunflower oil producer, third-largest corn exporter and sixth-biggest wheat exporter. Cargill Inc., the largest U.S. agriculture company, employs more than 600 people in Ukraine and predicts the country will increase grain output by 4 percent to 5 percent a year as farming methods improve.
Heavy industry is concentrated in the predominantly Russian-speaking east, a legacy of Soviet times. Ukraine is among the world’s top 10 iron and steel producers and is rich in manganese, an element used in stainless steel.

Soviet Model

As a result, it makes everything from gas turbines and buses to civilian aircraft and military helicopters. It was the fourth-biggest arms supplier in 2012, exporting $1.34 billion of weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Recent orders include armored vehicles for Indonesia and the upgrade of MiG fighter jets for Croatia.
The economy remains dependent on Cold War industries because it moved away from communism by freeing prices and trade and selling state assets without building the institutions crucial to running a market economy, according to Bond of the Centre for European Reform.
That allowed graft to flourish and left the economy open to capture by Soviet-style industrial groups, which gave rise to the oligarchs, Bond said. It also spawned a dual gas-pricing system that the IMF is trying to end, through which favored companies buy fuel at subsidized rates meant for households, a practice that every government in Kiev has taken advantage of at the expense of the poor, Bond said.

Ikea ‘Symbol’

The investment climate is also poisoned by the practice of “corporate raiding” or hostile takeovers aided by corrupt courts, said Anton Usov, an adviser in Kiev to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was set up to help former communist countries adapt to capitalism.
EBRD clients often complain about “excessive pressure,” with endless safety, tax and other inspections, Usov said. It’s not uncommon for tax inspectors to demand payment from companies in advance for future financial years, Usov said. ‘Corruption is plaguing the economy and it’s one of the most important things for the new authorities to look at.’’
Yatsenyuk’s government is in the process of creating an anti-corruption task force and has opened several high-profile probes. Police raided offices of state energy company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy as part of an investigation into $4 billion of missing funds. Investigators said they’re also probing former Agriculture Ministry officials for possible theft.
That may all change, though, depending on who emerges as president in May. Until then, foreign investors such as Ikea will probably stay on the sidelines to see how events develop. The Swedish company first planned to open a store in Kiev, then switched to Odessa before shelving the idea altogether.
Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko, a chocolate-manufacturing tycoon who’s leading in opinion polls, has called Ikea’s experience a “symbol” of what’s wrong with the country.
“When Ikea is not allowed to enter the market, it is not Ikea that suffers, it is Ukraine’s image that suffers,”Poroshenko said in an interview in 2012, when he was economy minister.