Archive | Counter-Terrorism Policy

Why Engaging in More Counterterrorism “Capture” Ops Makes Them Less Feasible Over Time

(Special note:  Lawfare, where I serve as His Serenity, Book Review Editor, is absolutely delighted VC’s own Orin Kerr has agreed to post there when the Spirit of National Security Law moves him.)

Over at Lawfare, I have a longish post about the declared US government policy of preferring capture operations over kill operations where “feasible.” This has been a constant refrain from senior US government officials for several years, including John Brennan (previously White House counterterrorism adviser and now CIA director) and President Obama in his May 23, 2013 speech at the National Defense University on counterterrorism (which Benjamin Wittes and I analyze closely in Chapter 3 of our e-book on the national security law speeches of the Obama administration, Speaking the Law, just now made available with open access at SSRN).  It is safe to say that these assertions have been widely seen among journalists and commentators as mere pieties, window dressing on a policy of kill over capture if only because the administration doesn’t have any place to hold new detainees.

So there was a flurry of commentary three weeks ago when US special operators, in conjunction with CIA, launched capture operations in Libya and Somalia.  Did this presage the beginning of a new era of special forces capture operations rather than drone strikes? Two days ago, on the other hand, the US launched a drone strike that killed someone it had been seeking for four years as the mastermind of a strike in Afghanistan against a CIA outpost that killed seven Americans, Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban.  What was “feasible” supposed to mean?  In practical terms, a kill operation differs from a capture operation in that the kill operation can be carried out by a drone, whereas a capture […]

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Bill to Be Introduced to Increase Armed Services Committees’ Oversight Over Special Operations

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), member of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would increase Congressional oversight over kill-capture operations conducted outside of Afghanistan by the US military.  University of Texas law professor Robert Chesney discusses the proposed legislation over at Lawfare, and gives a section by section commentary.  Whether this is an important step or not depends on one’s starting point, of course; I agree with Chesney that it is a big deal and a welcome step to regularizing . (Though if one’s view is that all these operations are unlawful, or that  they require judicial oversight, or something else, whether from the Left of the Democratic Party or what we might call the Pauline wing of the Republican Party, then you won’t be much moved.)

Seen within the framework of US law and oversight of overseas use of force operations, this is an important step.  A couple of observations.  First, this (soon-to-be) proposed legislation is with respect to operations conducted by the US military under US Code Title 10; it does not cover CIA activities, which are already subject to oversight and reporting under US Code Title 50.  Second, it covers US military operations with respect to the lines of oversight running back to the Armed Services committees; essentially it increases the role of the Armed Services committees in oversight of US military operations in what it defines as “Sensitive Military Operations” – which in practice means clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) activities.  It does not alter the existing oversight processes of Congressional intelligence committees governing covert action as defined in US Code Title 50, but extends and increases oversight over military operations.  Why this focus on military operations conducted by JSOC?

Counterintuitive as many might find it, […]

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CIA Loses Drone Strike FOIA Appeal

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking information about drone strikes.  The CIA filed a so-called “Glomar response,” refusing to confirm or deny the existence of material responsive to the ACLU’s request.  The ACLU then sued, and the district court granted summary judgment to the CIA.   Today, however, in ACLU v. CIA, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit reversed, rejecting the CIA’s justification of its Glomar response. As the court explained:

The CIA has proffered no reason to believe that disclosing whether it has any documents at all about drone strikes will reveal whether the Agency itself — as opposed to some other U.S. entity such as the Defense Department — operates drones. There is no doubt, however, that such disclosure would reveal whether the Agency “at least has an intelligence interest in drone strikes.” . . . The question before us, then, is whether it is “logical or plausible,” . . . for the CIA to contend that it would reveal something not already officially acknowledged to say that the Agency “at least has an intelligence interest” in such strikes. Given the extent of the official statements on the subject, we conclude that the answer to that question is no. . . .

Given . . . official acknowledgments that the United States has participated in drone strikes, it is neither logical nor plausible for the CIA to maintain that it would reveal anything not already in the public domain to say that the Agency “at least has an intelligence interest” in such strikes. . . . The defendant is, after all, the Central Intelligence Agency. And it strains credulity to suggest that an agency charged with gathering intelligence affecting the

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War & Treaty Powers Applied to al-Shabab Fighters

Continuing the analysis of possible Art. I authority for applying the Material Support of Terrrorism statute to three Somali nationals fighting on behalf of al-Shabab in Somalia, with no identifiable link to the U.S. – other than being brought here for trial.

War Powers
The U.S. is not at war with Shabab. They are at war with our pals, Somalia’s notional Transitional government, in a civil war to which we are not a party. It is important to distinguish enemies in the “really hate” sense to war in the constructive or declarative sense.

True, Shabad has aligned itself with Al-Queda. Do the War Powers allow banning anyone in the world from fighting in a conflict to which the U.S. is not a party, but on behalf of a force sympathetic or allied with forces hostile to the U.S.? I don’t know, but my first reaction is that is a stretch. By such logic one could say that the ACA, by making healthier Americans, would make for better soldiers.

Note how this discussion recapitulates government’s move in Hamdan II: first it the argued “material support” rule was an exercise of Offenses Clause powers, then in last minute downgraded D&P to second-stringer, and brought out the general war powers for Art. I support.

With the Supreme Court having declared a limit on the Commerce Clause, the Treaty Power may remain the broadest, least defined governmental power. I do not think general treaties denouncing terrorism would be enough; they specifically do not do what the U.S. wants to do here – establish universal jurisdiction over the crime. Much easier would be to sign a quick executive agreement with the nominal government of part of Somalia, over which the U.S. presumably has a lot of control as it struggles between being nominal and dead. […]

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Foreign Commerce Authority for Universal Jurisdiction over Terrorists

The government is prosecuting three foreigners for the participating in “combat operations” in a foreign civil war.

The indictment apparently alleges no connection to America, or even foreign commerce (unlike a similar 2011 case that lacked an apparent connection to the U.S.) The defendants are Somalis who fought in Somalia. In a previous post, I discussed why the prosecution exceeds’s Congress’s Define & Punish powers; here we’ll consider other possible Art. I grounds. Today – the Foreign Commerce Clause; later today, War and Treaties. Tomorrow: additional thoughts about American exceptionalism in universal jurisdiction.

Foreign Commerce Clause
My previous post focussed on the Define & Punish Clause as the basis for the MST law; today, we will examine some other suggestions. I addressed the Define & Punish clause first because it is the first Art. I power Congress cited in its “findings” in support of the section. (sec. 301(a)(2) of the public law). Later, the findings do suggest the Commerce powers as a tertiary rationale: terrorism discourages travel from the U.S. to affected country, and vice versa. It also mentions general harm to “market stability.” This sounds a lot like the arguments rejected by the Supreme Court in U.S. v Morrison . Surely Congress’s can’t regulate any crime anywhere in the world just because it upsets things. The commerce argument is even weaker here: if someone moves out of their state because of violence against women, they presumably move to another U.S. state. But if they move from Somalia, they do not presumably move to the U.S.

The connection to U.S. commerce would have to be shown. In the one prior universal jurisdiction “material support” case, Ahmed , the government claimed in the indictment, without providing specifics, that it could show real links to commerce. The district judge accepted […]

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Material Support Statute: A Neutrality Act for Everyone

In the next few days, I’ll discuss possible sources of Art. I authority for the the federal prosecution of three foreigners for fighting on the side of al-Shabab in Somalia, and brought forcibly to the U.S. for trial. Previously, I’ve argued that this prosecution cannot be sustained under the Offenses Clause. But first lets put this in historical and political context.

The use of the material support statute to prosecute foreign fighters in foreign wars is certainly novel, but it has a a historical cousin, which highlights the unusualness of the present prosecution in Brooklyn.

The Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, and subsequent Act, banned Americans from participating, or providing what we might call material support, to the belligerents in the Napoleonic Wars. The idea was such involvement could drag the U.S. into the war. The measures were extremely controversial, leading to the Pacificus-Helvedius debate between Hamilton and Madison. One of the secondary questions was the source of constitutional authority: it was variously placed in what I’d call the “dormant war power” – violations of neutrality by citizens undermined Congress’s prerogative of choosing our wars – or various treaty obligations to the particular warring states. Foreign commerce would do too. (I discuss the Art. I basis for the law in Part II.D.2 of this new article.)

The extraterritorial application of the Material Support statute to foreigners engaged in foreign wars essentially applies the Neutrality Act to the world. Not only must Americans stay of the of designated conflicts, everyone else must to. Of course, the effect is the opposite of the Neutrality Act: instead of distancing the US from foreign wars, it imports them into U.S. court rooms.

It is interesting to note that two of the men have Swedish citizenship, and the third had British citizenship. He became a […]

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National Security Law in the News

National Security Law in the News: A Guide for Journalists, Scholars, and Policymakers is a new book published by the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Despite the title, the book should be of interest to a general audience, as it offers a concise, broad plain-language overview of the many timely issues at the intersection of domestic and international law. I wrote the chapter on piracy. Congratulations to the editors, Paul Rosenzweig, Timothy J. McNulty, and Ellen Shearer.

Here is the overview:

Written by seasoned experts, each chapter contains a summary of legal and policy issues of significance and is accompanied by an annotated bibliography for further reading. The book is divided into four parts:
Part I provides an overview of the basic issues of constitutional and international law including discussion of the scope of the president’s authority, the meaning and effect of the First Amendment, and the role of international law in American courts.
Part II turns the focus to the military and explores questions about military organization and operations.
Part III looks at the world of domestic law enforcement and counterterrorism.
Part IV covers homeland security issues.
An added bonus: a list of experts to contact for additional background information is included in chapter.

Some early journo reactions:

Every reporter on the national security beat should keep this book within reach.”

— Jane Mayer, Staff Writer, The New Yorker Magazine

Finally, we now have a clear-eyed primer on national security law that can serve as an essential reference for journalists as they try to cut through the spin and get to the truth.”

— James Risen, author, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration

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How Syria is Iran’s route to the sea

“Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea.” So said Mitt Romney at the Monday debate. The Associated PressThe GuardianThe Telegraph, New York, U.S. News,  Brad DeLong, Rachel Maddow’s Maddowblog,  Comedy Central, and The Daily Kos promptly seized the opportunity to show off their superior geographical knowledge, pointing out that Iran has a coastline. The explicit or implicit explanation was that Romney does not even know basic geography. “Romney Flubs Geography” announced the A.P. headline on the Washington Post website. Readers in search of more sophisticated coverage  might have turned to Yahoo! Answers:

Q. Why did Romney say that Syria is Iran’s “route to the sea”? …when 1) Iraq stands between Syria and Iran, and 2) Iran already has the Persian Gulf, not to mention the Indian Sea?

A. Romney was speaking in the context of the debate topic on foreign policy and the sanctions restricting the finances and trade of Iran. Although Iran is indeed located on the seacoast of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the international trade sanctions have restricted and impeded its ability to transport armaments and other goods through its own seaports. To defeat these trade sanctions, Iran has resorted to using its air transportation to transport goods through an air corridor in Iraqi airspace into Syria and its seaports, such as Latakia.

Fact-checkers who actually investigate the facts might have started with expert websites such as StrategyPage. A 2006 article titled Syrian Delivery System for Iranian Nukes details the extensive seaborne smuggling operations carried out by Syrian companies operating out of Syrian ports. The article concludes:

Iran was generous with its “foreign aid” because Syria provided support for terrorists Iran backed. Now Iran is keen

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President Obama versus the Constitution

President Obama today fired his opening salvo in an unprecedented attack on the Constitution of the United States. Regarding the impending Supreme Court ruling on the health control law, the President said, “Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

His factual claims are false. His principle is a direct assault on the Constitution’s creation of an independent judicial branch as a check on constitutional violations by the other two branches.

It is certainly not “unprecedented” for the Court to overturn a law passed by “a democratically elected Congress.” The Court has done so 165 times, as of 2010. (See p. 201 of this Congressional Research Service report.)

President Obama can call legislation enacted by a vote of 219 to 212 a “strong” majority if he wishes. But there is nothing in the Constitution suggesting that a bill which garners the votes of 50.3% of the House of Representatives has such a “strong” majority that it therefore becomes exempt from judicial review. To the contrary, almost all of the 165 federal statutes which the Court has ruled unconstitutional had much larger majorities, most of them attracted votes from both Democrats and Republicans, and some of them were enacted nearly unanimously.

That the Supreme Court would declare as unconstitutional congressional “laws” which illegally violated the Constitution was one of the benefits of the Constitution, which the Constitution’s advocates used to help convince the People to ratify the Constitution. In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton explained why unconstitutional actions of Congress are not real laws, and why the judiciary has a duty to say so:

There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every

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Senators Concerned about “Secret” Patriot Act Program

The NYT’s Charlie Savage has an interesting report that begins:

For more than two years, a handful of Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee have warned that the government is secretly interpreting its surveillance powers under thePatriot Act in a way that would be alarming if the public — or even others in Congress — knew about it.

On Thursday, two of those senators —Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado — went further. They said a top-secret intelligence operation that is based on that secret legal theory is not as crucial to national security as executive branch officials have maintained.

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Defense bill will allow President to indefinitely detain American citizens

H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, has already passed the House, and is currently before the Senate. One section of the bill gives the President the authority to detain indefinitely American citizens, picked up on American soil, because they are allegedly supporting the enemy:

SEC. 1034. AFFIRMATION OF ARMED CONFLICT WITH AL QAEDA, THE TALIBAN, AND ASSOCIATED FORCES.
Congress affirms that—
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 23 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who—
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 11 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.

Yesterday the Senate rejected an amendment by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) that would have stricken the detention provisions, and required the Executive branch to submit a report (within 90 days) on the the legal and practical issues involving detention, and required Congress to hold hearings on the detention within the next 45 days after receipt […]

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Federalist Society Debate about Miranda and Questioning Suspected Terrorists

 Professor Guiora (a colleague of mine at Utah) and I recently debate the appropriateness of Miranda warnings in the context of terrorism investigations.  Here’s a link to the Federalist Society’s podcast of the debate, which revolves around whether or not the “public safety” exception to Miranda  should apply in the context of questioning suspected terrorists.  I argue that, under current doctrine, the exception easily applies; Professor Guiora argues that using the exception would put us on a slippery slope, sliding toward the destruction of civil liberties. […]

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Time to Codify a Miranda Exception for Terrorists?

Today at 12:15 at the University of Utah College of Law I will be debating my colleague Amos Guiora about whether Miranda rights should be extended to terrorists.  I have previously blogged here and here about my view that Miranda’s “public safety” exception means that law enforcement officers investigating terrorist incidents need not give Miranda warnings.  I thought I’d briely lay out my argument a bit more fully now in anticipation of the debate.

The case of Umar Farouk Abdulmautallab (the so-called “Christmas Day Bomber”) usefully frames the issue.  According to public reports, Abdulmutallab spoke openly to FBI agents in his initial 50-minute interrogation — questioning that took place before he was Mirandized.  He then received treatment for his burns. And five hours after his initial interrogation a second team of interrogators was brought in to question him. These interrogators were part of a “clean team,” brought in to interrogate him after he was read his Miranda rights. The “clean team” began by reading Abdulmutallab his rights. And Abdulmutallab, advised of his right to remain silent, chose to exercise it.

The policy question here is why would anyone want to give Abdulmautallab Miranda warnings?  As Stewart Taylor forcefully wrote here:  

But no reasonable person could doubt that starting out with “you have the right to remain silent” is not the way to save lives.  Yet this is essentially the policy into which the Obama administration has locked itself by insisting that it did the right thing when it read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be Christmas Day bomber, his Miranda rights after only 50 minutes of questioning and a hospital visit.

The only reason that I can see for giving Miranda warning in such a situation is that the is a constitutional requirement to do so.  But Miranda has been […]

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Will Brain Science Develop Alternative Technologies for Interrogation?

Via FuturePundit, who observes that this is really much more broadly about lie detection than counterterrorism as such, note this press release from Northwestern University:

For the first time, the Northwestern researchers used the P300 testing in a mock terrorism scenario in which the subjects are planning, rather than perpetrating, a crime. The P300 brain waves were measured by electrodes attached to the scalp of the make-believe “persons of interest” in the lab.

The most intriguing part of the study in terms of real-word implications, Rosenfeld said, is that even when the researchers had no advance details about mock terrorism plans, the technology was still accurate in identifying critical concealed information.

“Without any prior knowledge of the planned crime in our mock terrorism scenarios, we were able to identify 10 out of 12 terrorists and, among them, 20 out of 30 crime- related details,” Rosenfeld said. “The test was 83 percent accurate in predicting concealed knowledge, suggesting that our complex protocol could identify future terrorist activity.”

Rosenfeld is a leading scholar in the study of P300 testing to reveal concealed information. Basically, electrodes are attached to the scalp to record P300 brain activity — or brief electrical patterns in the cortex — that occur, according to the research, when meaningful information is presented to a person with “guilty knowledge.”

Research on the P300 testing emerged in the 1980s as a handful of scientists looked for an alternative to polygraph tests for lie detection. Since it was invented in the 1920s, polygraphy has been under fire, especially by academics, with critics insisting that such testing measures emotion rather than knowledge.

University press releases about new research tend to promise more than the research subsequently delivers, of course. Check back in a few years and we’ll see if this turned […]

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The Wall and the Least Dangerous Branch

Many of my posts have criticized privacy groups and their doctrines.  How come, some of you have asked?  Aren’t privacy advocates the Ewoks of the policy world — cute and cuddly and easy to like even when they’re on the other side?  After all, most of us share their overall goal.  We would all like more privacy.  We’re all a little uncomfortable with the new places that information technology is taking us.  What harm is there in measures to preserve a bit of the old, comfortable sense of privacy we had before the days of cheap data?

My problem is that I used to believe that too.  I even supported a wall between intelligence gathering and law enforcement because it seemed like a nice, rather harmless way to protect criminal defendants and perhaps the rest of us from the intrusive capabilities of the intelligence community.

As it turned out, though, the wall was anything but harmless in practice.  In fact, we’ve never counted how much harm it caused the US in August 2001, as we stumbled in the dark, trying to piece together the September 11 plot before disaster struck.  

Much of my work in government has been devoted to undoing the harm the wall caused.  But until I started researching it for my book, I had no idea how much it had contributed to 9/11.  In particular, I had not realized that the wall in its later stages was a creature of a special intelligence court, known as the FISA court, that was itself a civil liberties innovation of the Carter years.  I was astonished to discover how aggressively the FISA court had enforced the wall, and how that aggressive stance had distrorted the priorities of counterterrorism investigators.

The 9/11 Commission didn’t highlight this issue.  Perhaps in part it […]

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