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- By Jennifer RowlandJennifer Rowland is a research associate in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
AP report describes secret CIA prison in Romania
Adam Goldman on December 8 revealed hitherto unknown details of a purported CIA "black site" prison in the Romanian capital city of Bucharest, including its location and details of the cells that are reportedly set on springs to disorient the suspected terrorist detainees secretly held there (AP). Current Romanian officials at the prison still deny that the CIA ever used their facility, in which detainees were reportedly subjected to sleep deprivation, slapping, and stress positions, though former officials who provided the details insist waterboarding was not performed in Romania.
In what may appear to be a curious decision, the State Department reportedly rejected a request by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act for official copies of 23 cables related to the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, rendition, and other issues, on the grounds that the cables are still confidential, even though they have been available online at the WikiLeaks website since August 2010 (NYT). Ben Wizner, litigation director of the ACLU’s national security project, said, "in part the request was to expose the absurdity of the U.S. secrecy regime," but also touches on the graver issue of government officials invoking the state secrets privilege to block lawsuits that seek to challenge counterterrorism procedures. The U.S. Army has reportedly disciplined 15 people in connection with the case of Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is accused of providing WikiLeaks with thousands of classified military documents (Politico).
The Senate and House on December 8 began conference committee talks to settle differences in their respective version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which the Obama administration has threatened to veto over provisions concerning suspected terrorist detainees (C-SPAN). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on December 6 that members of Congress would try to address some of the detainee-related concerns voiced by FBI Director Robert Mueller (Hill). Lawfare Blog’s Benjamin Wittes has a very informative two-part comparison of the Senate and House versions of the controversial bill (Lawfare, Lawfare).
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a program called the Cyber Fast Track, which funds research on Internet hacking carried out by independent information-technology firms (Politico). The idea is to eliminate the bureaucracy faced by the government when trying to get new programs off the ground by simply outsourcing research that may protect sensitive government computer systems from attacks.
And Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said in opening remarks at his hearing on December 7 on the purported threat to the U.S. military posed by homegrown Islamic extremists, that he has seen "alarming new developments" proving the increase in said threat (Politico). New America’s own Peter Bergen and Andrew Lebovich pointed out on the same day that data reveals the significant risk posed by non-jihadist terrorist plots against the U.S. government and law enforcement, which is "surely also worthy of the scrutiny of Congress" (CNN).
Letter bomb sent to Deutsche Bank CEO
A suspicious envelope addressed to the CEO of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackermann, was intercepted by scanners at the company’s mailroom and found to be a letter bomb, which was later claimed by an Italian anarchist group, the Federazione Anarchica Informale (FAI) (Deutsche Welle, Reuters, NYT, AP, AFP). The bomb was safely defused by German police, who say a letter from the FAI found with the bomb mentions "three explosions against bankers, banks, fleas and bloodsuckers," leaving officials on the lookout for two other letter bombs that may have been sent.
Also in Germany, a German man identified only as Halil S. was arrested on December 8 for his suspected involvement in what is being called the "Duesseldorf Cell," an alleged al-Qaeda-linked group accused of plotting a bomb attack on a crowded public area in Germany (AP, Deutsche Welle). According to prosecutor spokesman Marcus Koehler, Halil S. is "strongly suspected to have followed up on the attack plans despite the arrest of the other members" in April of this year.
Guilty plea in Seattle terror plot
Walli Mujahidh, one of two men accused of plotting to attack a military recruitment center in Seattle with machine guns and grenades, pleaded guilty on December 8 to conspiracy and weapons charges (Reuters, AFP, AP, CNN). The plot was brought to the attention of authorities when a long-time friend of Mujahidh’s accused co-conspirator, Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, was asked to supply weapons for the attack, but instead went to the police and became a paid informant in an FBI sting operation. The two men were arrested in June when they arrived at a warehouse in Seattle to pick up machine guns they planned to use in the attack (AP).
Joshua John Clough, one of nine alleged militia members accused of conspiring to kill a police officer in Michigan and then attack the funeral procession with explosives, pleaded guilty on December 5 to weapons charges and to being a member of the anti-government Hutaree militia (WSJ, Reuters, AP). Clough, who was arrested in April 2010, pleaded guilty to avoid being convicted on far more serious terrorism charges, according to his attorney.
Prosecutors in the case of Tarek Mehanna, who is accused of distributing jihadist material on the Internet and traveling to Yemen in 2004 to undergo terrorist training, rested their case on December 7, as the defense called their first witness (AP). Mehanna’s attorneys called a Yale University associate professor and expert on al-Qaeda and Islamic law, to show that their client’s views are actually far more moderate than those of the terrorists he is accused of trying to support (Boston Globe).
Trials and Tribulations
- Turkish police on December 7 arrested 16 suspected members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party on suspicion of organizing acts of terror and recruiting for a terrorist organization (Zaman).
- The chief judge for the Southern District of New York testified on December 8 that $170 million budget cuts to New York State courts have hindered security measures that are important to courts that hold some of the nation’s largest terrorism trials (CNS).
- The election victory claimed by Morocco’s moderate Islamist party is seen by some as an opportunity to reform the country’s corrupt justice system, which has in the past seen suspected terrorists and critical journalists convicted by a single phone call from a powerful official (AP).