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    Leaked Report: “CIA Does Not Know” if Israel Plans to Bomb Iran / TheIntercept · 5 days ago - 17:52 · 8 minutes

Whether Israel’s escalating threats of war with Iran over its nuclear program are saber-rattling or something more serious is a mystery even to the CIA, according to a portion of a top-secret intelligence report leaked on the platform Discord earlier this year. The uncertainty about the intentions of one of the U.S.’s closest allies calls into question the basis of the “ironclad” support for Israel publicly espoused by the Biden administration.

The report — which was first covered by the Israeli channel i24 News and subsequently posted by DDoSecrets, a group that publishes leaked documents — reveals an undisclosed military exercise conducted by Israel. “On 20 February, Israel conducted a large-scale air exercise,” the intelligence report, produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on February 23, states. The exercise, it says, was “probably to simulate a strike on Iran’s nuclear program and possibly to demonstrate Jerusalem’s resolve to act against Tehran.” There have been several joint U.S.-Israeli military exercises in recent months, including one proudly billed by the Pentagon as the largest “in history.”

“CIA does not know Israel’s near term plans and intentions,” the report adds, speculating that “Netanyahu probably calculates Israel will need to strike Iran to deter its nuclear program and faces a declining military capability to set back Iran’s enrichment program.”

That the U.S.’s premier intelligence service indicated it had no idea how seriously to take Israel’s increasingly bombastic threats to Tehran means that, in all likelihood, neither does the White House. But despite this lack of clarity, Biden has not opposed a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran — and his national security adviser recently hinted at blessing it.

“We have made clear to Iran that it can never be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Jake Sullivan said in a speech earlier this month, reiterating the administration’s oft-repeated line. The rhetoric reflects what military planners call “strategic ambiguity,” a policy of intentional uncertainty in order to deter an adversary — in this case, around how far the U.S. might go to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But Sullivan went a step further, adding, “As President Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed, he will take the actions that are necessary to stand by this statement, including by recognizing Israel’s freedom of action.”

Sullivan’s statement represents the strongest signal yet that the administration would not oppose unilateral action by Israel. The rhetoric has also been echoed by other administration officials. In February, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said that “Israel can and should do whatever they need to deal with [Iran] and we’ve got their back.”

“I believe the administration is playing with fire with this kind of rhetoric and with the joint military planning.”

“In the current context this constitutes glibness,” said Paul Pillar, a retired national intelligence officer for the near east, of Sullivan’s statement. Pillar is now a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies. “I believe the administration is playing with fire with this kind of rhetoric and with the joint military planning.” Last week, Axios reported that the U.S. recently proposed cooperating with Israel on joint military planning around Iran but denied they would plan to strike Iran’s nuclear program.

“Biden has dangerously shifted America’s policy on Israeli military action against Iran,” Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told The Intercept. “Previous administrations made it crystal clear to Israel – including publicly – that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program would be destabilizing, would not prevent a nuclear Iran and would likely drag the US into a war it could do well without.

“Obama’s clear opposition played a crucial role in the internal deliberations of the Israeli cabinet in 2010 and 2011 when Israel was on the verge of starting war,” Parsi pointed out. In 2009, after then-Vice President Biden said “Israel can determine for itself … what they decide to do relative to Iran,” Obama clarified that his administration was “absolutely not” giving Israel a green light to attack Iran.

Israel’s own military officials concede that an attack on Iran would likely metastasize into a broader regional war. Earlier this month, retired Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Amir Avivi reportedly said that “Israel might have to deal with the Iranian nuclear program,” adding that “this will mean an Israeli attack on Iran which will probably result in a regional war.”

In January, just weeks before Israel’s secret exercise referenced in the intelligence report, the U.S. and Israel conducted what the Defense Department touted as their largest joint military exercise in history. Called Juniper Oak, the exercise involved “electronic attack, suppression of enemy air defenses, strike coordination and reconnaissance,” which experts said “are exactly what the U.S. and Israel would need to conduct a successful kinetic attack on Iran’s nuclear program.”


Hawkish Israel Is Pulling U.S. Into War With Iran

The unprecedented exercise was made possible by a little-noticed order by President Donald Trump just days before Biden’s inauguration. Using his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Trump ordered Israel be moved from European Command’s area of responsibility, where it had been located since 1983 to avoid friction with its Middle East neighbors, to that of Central Command, the Pentagon’s Middle East combatant command.

Under Biden, CENTCOM, whose area of responsibility includes Iran, has continued to coordinate closely with Israel. In March, Biden’s CENTCOM chief, Gen. Michael Kurilla, said in Senate testimony that the decision to move Israel from EUCOM to CENTCOM “immediately and profoundly altered the nature and texture of many of CENTCOM’s partnerships,” adding that “CENTCOM today readily partners with Arab militaries and the Israel Defense Force alike.”

“In fact, the inclusion of Israel presents many collaborative and constructive security opportunities,” Kurilla said. “Our partners of four decades largely see the same threats and have common cause with Israel Defense Forces and the Arab militaries in defending against Iran’s most destabilizing activities.”

Put simply, for the first time, the U.S. and both its Arab and Israeli allies are structurally aligned against a common foe: Iran.

At the same hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton, who had advocated for the relocation of Israel to CENTCOM weeks before Trump gave the order, raised the possibility of training Israeli pilots in the use of mid-air refuel aircraft. The lack of such aircraft, which allow fighter jets to travel long distances, is a key impediment to Israel’s ability to reach Iranian nuclear facilities.

“One of the opportunities I see is having Israeli Air Force personnel training alongside American personnel on KC 46 tankers, which we expect to provide them in future,” Cotton said. Kurilla, for his part, demurred, replying that training might be better “when they get closer to getting their aircraft … so they can retain that training and go right into the execution of operating them.”

Though Biden campaigned on reinstating the Iran nuclear deal — also called JCPOA, which Obama established and Trump pulled out of — the deal is all but dead.

“With Iran, any concerns about a nuclear program have sometimes been overwhelmed by a desire — based on partisanship in the U.S. and heavily influenced by the government of Israel — to isolate Iran and not do any business or negotiations with it at all,” Pillar told The Intercept. “Hence you had Trump’s reneging on the JCPOA agreement in 2018, with a direct result of that reneging being that there is now far more reason to be worried about a possible Iranian nuclear weapon than there was when the JCPOA was still in effect.”

Should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, it would likely trigger a dangerous regional arms race. Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has made clear that Riyadh would “follow suit as soon as possible” with its own atomic bomb should Tehran obtain one.

But one key fact is often left out of discussions about Iran and the bomb: There’s no evidence that it’s actually pursuing one.

As the Pentagon’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review plainly states, “Iran does not today possess a nuclear weapon and we currently believe it is not pursuing one.” More recently, CIA Director William Burns reiterated that point in an interview with CBS in February. “To the best of our knowledge,” Burns said, “we don’t believe that the Supreme Leader in Iran has yet made a decision to resume the weaponization program that we judge that they suspended or stopped at the end of 2003.”

Iran’s policy could, of course, change. And tensions are rising in large part because of the U.S.’s recent posturing. For example, following the Juniper Oak exercise, Iran responded with its own military exercises, which Iranian military commander Maj. Gen. Gholam-Ali Rashid said they consider a “half war” and even a “war before war.”

In April, CENTCOM announced the deployment of a submarine armed with guided missiles in the Mediterranean Sea. This was likely a message directed at Iran, which quickly responded by accusing the U.S. of “warmongering.”

Earlier, in October, CENTCOM issued an extraordinary press release featuring Kurilla, the CENTCOM chief, aboard a submarine armed with ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in the Arabian Sea — another message for Iran.

On May 9, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder announced that the military would be increasing its patrols in the Strait of Hormuz, through which many Iranian vessels travel. In his remarks, Ryder made particular mention of the P-8 Poseidon aircraft and the role it would play in bolstering maritime surveillance of the area.

The same aircraft made international news in 2019, when Iran disclosed that it almost downed a P-8 carrying U.S. service members that it claimed had entered its airspace, opting instead to shoot down a nearby drone. The U.S. military scrambled jets to strike Iran in retaliation, only to be called off by Trump 10 minutes before the attack when a general told him that the strikes would probably kill 150 people. The strikes would not, Trump said, have been “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

The post Leaked Report: “CIA Does Not Know” if Israel Plans to Bomb Iran appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Transcripts of Kissinger’s Calls Reveal His Culpability / TheIntercept · 5 days ago - 00:09 · 5 minutes

President Richard Nixon was in rare form, though in reality, it was none too rare. “The whole goddamn Air Force over there farting around doing nothing,” he barked at his national security adviser Henry Kissinger during a phone call on December 9, 1970. He called for a huge increase in attacks in Cambodia. “I want it done!! Get them off their ass and get them to work now.”

As Nixon rambled and ranted — calling for more strikes by bombers and helicopter gunships — Kissinger’s replies were short and clipped: “Right.” “Exactly.” “Absolutely, right.” We know this because, while Nixon was fuming about “assholes” who said there was a “crisis in Cambodia,” the conversation was being recorded. It wasn’t the secret White House taping system that finally laid Nixon low as part of the scandal that came to be known as Watergate , but Kissinger’s own clandestine eavesdropping system. Later, it was up to Kissinger’s secretary Judy Johnson to transcribe that night’s exchange and add in the single, double, triple, and even quadruple exclamation points to capture the spirit of the call and accurately punctuate the president’s words.

Johnson was new on the job when she heard the December 9, 1970 , exchange. She was just one of many Kissinger secretaries and aides who, during his years working for the White House, either listened in on an extension and transcribed conversations in shorthand or typed up the transcripts later from Kissinger’s own Dictabelt recording system that, according to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s 1976 book “The Final Days,” was hooked up to a telephone “housed in the credenza behind his secretary’s desk and … automatically activated when the telephone receiver was picked up.”

The transcripts offer a window into policymaking in the Nixon White House, Kissinger’s key role, and how so many Cambodians came to be killed by American military aircraft. Johnson was somewhat reluctant to talk about them and expressed surprise that they were publicly available.

Decades later, the heated December 1970 exchange didn’t stick out in Johnson’s mind, she told The Intercept. None of their conversations did. It was a long time ago and, she said, “there was a lot of stuff going on” at the White House. Johnson didn’t know whether Nixon was aware of Kissinger’s eavesdropping activities or why her boss recorded all his calls. Ask him yourself, she said. When I tried to interview him, Kissinger stormed off and his staff ignored follow-up requests for more than a decade. Johnson also cautioned that it was very hard to get an accurate sense of a conversation from the transcripts alone. There were nuances, she said, that were missing.

“Those conversations were strenuously edited,” said Roger Morris, a Kissinger aide who resigned in protest of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970 and had listened to many conversations between Nixon and his national security adviser. The men and women who took down the text didn’t completely eliminate the spirit of the conversations, but if you were listening to calls in their raw, original form, it was more disconcerting. “It was worse because the words were slurred and you knew you had a drunk at the other end,” he said of Nixon.

Did Johnson suspect that Nixon had been drinking when he called to direct policy and give orders? “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” she said. Any evidence is apparently gone forever. In a 1999 letter to Foreign Affairs, Kissinger claimed that the tapes of phone calls made in his office were destroyed after being transcribed. No notes or other materials involved in the transcription survived either, according to a 2004 report by the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff of the U.S. National Archives.

President Richard Nixon meets with National Security Affairs Advisor Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

President Richard Nixon meets with national security adviser Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office on Oct. 15, 1971.

Photo: Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images

Johnson joined Kissinger’s staff in late 1970, before moving on to the White House press office in 1971 where she stayed until Nixon’s resignation in 1974. After a brief stint in the administration of President Gerald Ford, she moved to California and worked as a researcher for Nixon , who was then writing his memoirs. She might have been starry-eyed when she first arrived at the White House, she told me, but listening in on high-level phone conversations quickly disabused her of the notion that these were “super people.” She termed Nixon’s coarse talk “typical male language.”

Johnson took down Kissinger’s conversations using shorthand, she told me, repeatedly emphasizing how difficult it was to transcribe conversations like these perfectly. A “shit” or a “damn” might go missing, but there was no deliberate censorship and nothing was sanitized, she said. Morris recalled it differently. While Nixon’s remarks might be prettied up, he told me, it was Kissinger’s own acid-tongued ripostes that subordinates were supposed to excise to protect their boss. Privately, Kissinger called Nixon a madman, said he had a “meatball mind,” and referred to him as “our drunken friend.”

“I just had a call from our friend,” Kissinger told his aide Alexander Haig moments after getting off the phone with Nixon on that December night, according to Johnson’s transcript. The president “wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia,” Kissinger told Haig. “He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies on anything that moves. You got that?” In a notation, Johnson indicated that while it was difficult to hear him, it sounded as if Haig started laughing.

When I mentioned these orders and asked about Nixon’s drinking, Johnson emphasized that there were buffers in place. Policy changes, she told me, weren’t as simple as a presidential order given by phone. Many discussions would occur before instructions were carried out. But Kissinger’s immediate and blunt relay of Nixon’s command suggests otherwise. The raw number of U.S. attacks in Cambodia does too. While they had no explanation for it at the time, The Associated Press found that compared with November 1970, the number of sorties by U.S. gunships and bombers in Cambodia had tripled by the end of December to nearly 1,700.

Was the reason for it — and the Cambodian deaths that resulted — a drunken president’s order, passed along swiftly and unquestioningly by Henry Kissinger? Nixon and Haig have been dead for many years, and Johnson passed away earlier this month . That leaves only Kissinger to answer the question — and to answer for the deaths.

The post Transcripts of Kissinger’s Calls Reveal His Culpability appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Notorious 1973 Attack Killed Many More Than Previously Known / TheIntercept · 5 days ago - 00:05 · 9 minutes

Ny Sarim had lived through it all. Violence. Loss. Privation. Genocide.

Her first husband was killed after Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge plunged Cambodia into a nightmare campaign of overwork, hunger, and murder that killed around 2 million people from 1975 to 1979. Four other family members died too — some of starvation, others by execution.

“No one ever even had time to laugh. Life was so sad and hopeless,” she told The Intercept. It was enough suffering for a lifetime, but it couldn’t erase the memory of the night in August 1973 when her town became a charnel house.

Ny was sleeping at home when the bombs started dropping on Neak Luong, 30 tons all at once. She had felt the ground tremble from nearby bombings in the past, but this strike by a massive B-52 Stratofortress aircraft hit the town squarely. “Not only did my house shake, but the earth shook,” she told The Intercept. “Those bombs were from the B-52s.” Many in the downtown market area where she worked during the day were killed or wounded. “Three of my relatives — an uncle and two nephews — were killed by the B-52 bombing,” she said.

The strike on Neak Luong may have killed more Cambodians than any bombing of the American war, but it was only a small part of a devastating yearslong air campaign in that country. As Elizabeth Becker, who covered the conflict as a correspondent for the Washington Post, notes in her book “When the War Was Over,” the United States dropped more than 257,000 tons of explosives on the Cambodian countryside in 1973, about half the total dropped on Japan during all of World War II.

“They caused the largest number of civilian casualties because they were bombing so massively with very poor maps and spotty intelligence.”

“The biggest mistakes were in 1973,” she told The Intercept. “They caused the largest number of civilian casualties because they were bombing so massively with very poor maps and spotty intelligence. During those months ‘precision bombing’ was an oxymoron.” Neak Luong, she concurred, was the worst American “mistake.”

State Department documents, declassified in 2005 but largely ignored, show that the death toll at Neak Luong may have been far worse than was publicly reported at the time, and that the real toll was purposefully withheld by the U.S. government.

In his 2003 book “Ending the Vietnam War,” Henry Kissinger wrote that “more than a hundred civilians were killed” in the town. But U.S. records of “solatium” payments — money given to survivors as an expression of regret — indicate that more than 270 Cambodians were killed and hundreds more were wounded in Neak Luong. State Department documents also show that the U.S. paid only about half the sum promised to survivors.

(Original Caption) Victims of U.S. Bombing Error. Phnom Penh: Cambodian civilians wounded in bombing error by U.S. warplanes at Neak Luong August 6, await transportation to hospital after having been brought here by Navy boats August 7. It's estimated some 300 civilian and military persons were killed or wounded in the attack.

Cambodian civilians wounded by a U.S. warplane at Neak Luong on August 6, await transportation to hospital on Aug. 7, 1973.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

The Price of a Life

The death warrant for Neak Luong was signed when U.S. officials decided that American lives mattered more than Cambodian ones. Until 1967, U.S. forces in South Vietnam used ground beacons that emitted high frequency radio waves to direct airstrikes. But the U.S. stopped using the beacons after a radar navigator on a B-52 bomber failed to flip an offset switch, causing a bomb load to drop directly on a helicopter carrying a beacon instead of a nearby site designated for attack. The chopper was blown out of the sky, and the U.S. military switched to a more reliable radar system until the January 1973 ceasefire formally ended the U.S. war in Vietnam.

At that point, the more sophisticated radar equipment went home, and the less reliable ground beacons came into use in Cambodia, where the U.S. air war raged with growing intensity.

In April 1973, according to a formerly classified U.S. military history, American officials expressed concern that “radar beacons were located on the American Embassy in Phnom Penh” and raised “the possibility that weapons could be released in the direct mode,” striking the U.S. mission by accident. Within days, that beacon was removed. But while Americans at the embassy were safe, Cambodians in places like Neak Luong, where a beacon had been placed on a pole in the center of town, remained at risk. “It should have been put a mile or so away in the boondocks,” a senior U.S. Air Force officer told the New York Times in 1973 .

On August 7, 1973, a secret cable shot from the beacon-less U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh to the secretaries of State and Defense and other top American officials in Washington. At approximately 4:35 a.m. in Cambodia, according to Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Enders’s message, Neak Luong was “accidentally bombed by a yet undetermined [U.S. Air Force] aircraft.”

Ny said that her cousin, who served with the U.S.-allied Cambodian army and spoke English, got on the radio shortly after the bombing and asked an American what had happened. He was told that the bombs were dropped in error, she said.

It later became clear that a navigator had again failed to flip the offset bombing switch.

Villagers in Neak Luong, hit  August 6 in misdirected U.S. bombing raid, dig through rubble searching for bodies and belongings  August 7, 1973. (AP Photo)

Villagers in Neak Luong dig through rubble searching for bodies and belongings on Aug. 7, 1973.

Photo: AP

“No Great Disaster”

Col. David Opfer, the U.S. Embassy’s air attaché, quickly flew to the town to survey the situation, he told The Intercept. “I remember that some of the injured people were very happy to see somebody arrive, and I sent some of the most seriously wounded people back to the hospital in Phnom Penh in my helicopter,” he said. (Opfer died in 2018 .)

Opfer told the foreign press corps in Phnom Penh that the bombing was “no great disaster.”

“The destruction was minimal,” he announced at a press briefing, even though Enders, in the secret cable, had already informed U.S. officials that damage was “considerable.”

In a November 2010 interview, Opfer reiterated that he didn’t consider the damage to Neak Luong significant, and that it was limited to a small area. “It was a mistake,” he explained. “It happens in war.”

Sydney Schanberg, who reported for the New York Times in Cambodia, recalled Opfer’s briefing. “He said the casualties weren’t severe,” Schanberg, who died in 2016, told The Intercept. “He said there were 50 dead and some injured.” Opfer admitted that he didn’t actually know the number. “Even then I wasn’t sure how many,” he told The Intercept.

Schanberg, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia , was skeptical of the pronouncement and set out to see for himself. He was thrown off a Cambodian military flight to Neak Luong, but Schanberg’s fixer Dith Pran got them to the town by boat, and they interviewed survivors until local officials detained the journalists for taking photographs of “military secrets.” The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, tried to wrest control of the story by arranging for a group of five Western reporters to take a quick look around with little opportunity to speak to townspeople.

Schanberg and Pran, who spent a day and night under house arrest, watched their press colleagues through the window of the building where they were confined. “They didn’t see enough to write a detailed story and they hadn’t talked to anybody,” said Schanberg, noting that the pool reporters were only on the ground for about 20 minutes.

Ny Sarim told The Intercept that soldiers from the U.S.-allied Cambodian military also kept residents from making their way downtown, but that even from a distance, the damage was unmistakable. When she finally got through the cordon, she saw massive craters and twisted metal. “It was a total wreck,” Schanberg told me. “Everything had been hit.”

Schanberg’s August 9, 1973, front-page Times story on Neak Luong emphasized Opfer’s minimization of the damage; a second article and an editorial soon after detailed U.S. efforts to thwart Schanberg from covering the story.

In a confidential cable back to Washington, U.S. Ambassador Emory Swank mentioned “the New York Times correspondent’s accusation that the air attaché office attempted to block journalists’ access to Neak Luong” and defended the officer. “Colonel Opfer has done well in trying circumstances,” he stated, while casting the foreign press corps as “demanding and hostile.” Opfer told The Intercept that the Cambodian military had detained Schanberg and Pran. “They always get things mixed up and don’t tell it as it really is,” he said of the press.

Schanberg took a different view. Opfer, he said, “was absolutely unskilled with the press. I felt bad for the man, in a way, because he was telling us what he had been told to tell us. A lot of the senior officers felt that we didn’t give anybody a fair break — but the Cambodians weren’t getting much of a break, were they?”

(Original Caption) Victim of U.S. Bombing Error. Phnom Penh: Wearing head bandage, this young Cambodian youngster is one of some 300 casualties of bombing error on Neak Luong by U.S. warplanes August 6. He and other victims are awaiting transportation to hospital after having been brought here by Navy boats August 7.

On Aug. 7, 1973, a day after being injured in the U.S. bombing of civilians in Neak Luong, a baby waits for transportation to the hospital.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

A Grand Bargain

Officially, 137 Cambodians were killed in the Neak Luong bombing and 268 were wounded, according to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. Months later, Enders, in a confidential, December 1973 cable that went to Kissinger and then-Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, confided that the U.S. had actually paid out solatium for 273 dead, 385 seriously wounded, 48 who suffered “mutilation,” and 46 victims of slight injuries. All told, that figure — 752 people hurt or killed — was 86 percent higher than the official number.

Enders stated that the U.S. had not sought to verify the numbers, but that the tally had been certified by the Cambodian regime. The final number of wounded and dead, he noted, “is higher than the official count given by [the Cambodian government] to the press and therefore should not be released.”

In the December 1973 cable, Enders admitted that the U.S. had never established a policy for “the payment of medical expenses for persons injured by U.S. errors,” and that the bombing of Neak Luong was “the only such incident which has occurred in Cambodia.” But just a day after the Neak Luong bombing, a State Department cable referenced a “second accidental bombing” at Chum Roeung village that killed four to eight people and injured up to 33. The Pentagon blamed the “error” on a F-111 bomber’s “faulty bomb-release racks.” By then, the U.S. had dropped hundreds of thousands of tons of bombs throughout the countryside and killed, according to experts, as many as 150,000 Cambodians.

Two weeks after the bombing of Neak Luong, Swank, the U.S. ambassador, publicly signed an agreement on compensation with the Cambodian government. “We desire to compensate, insofar as possible, the survivors of the tragedy,” he said in a brief speech, adding that the U.S. would pay $26,000 to rebuild the damaged hospital in Neak Luong and provide $71,000 in equipment.

The next of kin of those killed, according to press reports following his speech, would receive about $400 each. Considering that in many cases, the primary breadwinner had been lost for life, the sum was low: the equivalent of about four years of earnings for a rural Cambodian at the time. The financial penalty meted out to the B-52 navigator whose failure to flip the offset switch killed and wounded hundreds in Neak Luong was low too. He was fined $700 for the error. By comparison, a one-plane sortie, like that which bombed Neak Luong, cost about $48,000 at the time. A B-52 bomber cost about $8 million.

In another confidential cable sent in December 1973, Thomas Enders made a final accounting of solatium payments to those who had lost a relative in Neak Luong. They had actually not received the $400 per dead civilian that they had been promised. In the end, the U.S. valued the dead of Neak Luong at just $218 apiece.

The post Notorious 1973 Attack Killed Many More Than Previously Known appeared first on The Intercept .

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    TikTok sues Montana over ban, claims national security concerns “unfounded” / ArsTechnica · 7 days ago - 21:38

TikTok sues Montana over ban, claims national security concerns “unfounded”

Enlarge (credit: PATRICK T. FALLON / Contributor | AFP )

Days after TikTok users sued to block Montana's TikTok ban , TikTok has followed through on its promise to fight the ban and filed its own lawsuit in a United States district court in Montana.

"We are challenging Montana’s unconstitutional TikTok ban to protect our business and the hundreds of thousands of TikTok users in Montana," Brooke Oberwetter, TikTok's spokesperson, told Ars. "We believe our legal challenge will prevail based on an exceedingly strong set of precedents and facts."

TikTok's complaint hits all the same points that TikTok users' lawsuit does.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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    How the Murder of a CIA Officer Was Used to Silence the Agency’s Greatest Critic / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 9 May - 10:00 · 24 minutes

O n the night of December 23, 1975, Ron Estes, the CIA’s deputy station chief in Athens, was lounging on the couch in his girlfriend’s apartment when the man who worked as a driver for his boss, Richard Welch, burst through the front door.

“A shooting, and Mr. Welch is down,” the driver yelled.

Estes grabbed his coat and ran outside, ignoring his girlfriend’s pleas to stay.

At Welch’s house in the Greek capital, Estes saw the station chief lying on his back on the sidewalk, his wife, Kika, kneeling beside him. Blood covered Welch’s face, and Estes could see immediately that he was dead. “I didn’t need to feel for a pulse,” he said in an interview. A police car arrived, and Estes asked the officer to call an ambulance. When no ambulance arrived, they hauled the body into Welch’s car and Estes and Welch’s driver followed the police officer, siren blaring and lights flashing, through the streets of Athens to the nearest hospital. A medical team was waiting; they quickly placed Welch on a gurney and took him to an examining room. There, a doctor placed a stethoscope on Welch’s chest and confirmed to Estes that he was dead.

Welch was 46 years old. A career CIA officer, he had been the CIA’s Athens station chief for six months.

At the hospital, Welch’s driver finally caught his breath and told Estes what had happened. He had driven Welch and his wife home from a Christmas party at the U.S. ambassador’s residence, then stopped in front of the walled compound that enclosed Welch’s house to open the front gates. As Welch and his wife got out, three armed men in a black car pulled up behind them, burst out of the car, and confronted Welch.

“Put your hands up!” one of the men told Welch in Greek.

“What?” Welch asked in English.

One of the gunmen leveled his .45 caliber handgun and fired three times. An autopsy later showed that the first shot hit Welch in the chest, rupturing his aorta and killing him instantly. The three men got back in their car and sped away. That’s when Welch’s driver rushed to get Estes.

The hospital lobby soon filled with journalists, who had most likely heard about the shooting by monitoring the city’s police radio. Estes realized that many of them already seemed to know that Welch had been the CIA’s station chief. Steven Roberts, a New York Times reporter in Athens who covered Welch’s murder, wrote the next day that he had been talking with Welch at the ambassador’s Christmas party an hour before the shooting.

A spokesperson from the U.S. Embassy arrived, and Estes slipped away from the crowd of reporters. The police found the gunmen’s car, which had been stolen, abandoned several blocks from Welch’s home.

Back at the CIA station, Estes sent cables to CIA headquarters and talked on a secure phone with a top agency official. “When I finished briefing him, he said, ‘I could only hear about half of what you said.’” Estes recalled. “‘Send me a cable repeating what you said immediately. We’ve got to go to the president.’”


An undated photograph of Athens station chief Richard Welch before his death in 1975.

Photo: The Boston Globe, 1975

Welch’s assassination was huge news and struck a painful political nerve in Washington, coming at the end of a year of stunning disclosures about the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community by the Senate’s Church Committee, which, throughout 1975, had been conducting the first major congressional investigation of the CIA. The Church Committee uncovered so many secrets and generated so many headlines that pundits were already calling 1975 “the Year of Intelligence.”

Before the Church Committee was created in January 1975, there had been no real congressional oversight of the CIA. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not yet exist, and the Church Committee’s unprecedented investigation marked the first effort by Congress to unearth decades of abusive and illegal acts secretly committed by the CIA — and to curb its power.

Sen. Frank Church, the liberal Democrat from Idaho who chaired the committee, had come to believe that the future of American democracy was threatened by the rise of a permanent and largely unaccountable national security state, and he sensed that at the heart of that secret government was a lawless intelligence community. Church was convinced it had to be reined in to save the nation.

The Church Committee’s unprecedented investigation marked the first effort by Congress to unearth decades of abusive and illegal acts secretly committed by the CIA — and to curb its power.

To a great degree, he succeeded. By disclosing a series of shocking abuses of power and spearheading wide-ranging reforms, Church and his Committee created rules of the road for the intelligence community that largely remain in place today. More than anyone else in American history, Church is responsible for bringing the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and the rest of the government’s intelligence apparatus under the rule of law.

But first, Church and his committee had to withstand a brutal counterattack launched by a Republican White House and the CIA, both of which wanted to blunt Church’s reform efforts. The White House and CIA quickly realized that the Welch killing, which occurred just as the Church Committee was finishing its investigations and preparing its final report and recommendations for reform, could be used as a political weapon. President Gerald Ford’s White House and the agency falsely sought to blame the Church Committee for Welch’s murder, claiming, without any evidence, that its investigations had somehow exposed Welch’s identity and left him vulnerable to assassination.

There was absolutely no truth to the claims, but the disinformation campaign was effective. The Ford administration’s use of the Welch murder to discredit the Church Committee was a model of propaganda and disinformation; an internal CIA history later praised the “skillful steps” that the agency and the White House “took to exploit the Welch murder to U.S. intelligence benefit.”

The Welch case has long since served as a classic example of how to exploit and weaponize intelligence for political purposes. The George W. Bush administration’s efforts to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq by claiming that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11; the Republican obsession with the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and their use of it to discredit then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and Donald Trump’s efforts to portray himself as the victim of a “deep state” conspiracy can all be traced back to the way U.S. leaders exploited Welch’s 1975 killing.

The White House and CIA were aided in their propaganda campaign by the fact that Estes did not go public at the time with his account of what really happened in Athens. Now, nearly 50 years later, Estes has finally broken his silence. In interviews for my new book, “ The Last Honest Man ,” he talked in detail about the murder and its causes with a journalist for the first time, supplying new evidence that Welch’s assassination stemmed from the toxic politics of Athens — not Washington.

(Original Caption) Greek Cyprist demonstrators storm the gate of the U. S. embassy here, as police fire tear gas in efforts to keep them out. They failed, and gunmen killed U. S. Ambassador Rodger B. Davies and a secretary.

Greek Cyprist demonstrators storm the gate of the U. S. embassy as police fire tear gas on August 19, 1974.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

W elch’s killing was a direct result of the feverish political climate that gripped Greece in the mid-1970s. In July 1974, the right-wing military junta that ruled Greece backed a coup in Cyprus to oust the island’s president and create a union between Greece and Cyprus. Making Cyprus fully Greek was a longtime objective of Greek right-wing ultranationalists, but the move immediately prompted a Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Greek junta leader Dimitris Ioannidis bitterly blamed the United States for not stopping the Turkish invasion.

Greek hostility toward the United States spread. On August 19, 1974, a pro-Greek mob attacked the U.S. embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus, and both U.S. Ambassador Rodger Davies and a local embassy employee were killed. After a ceasefire, Cyprus was divided into Greek and Turkish zones; the disastrous outcome of the coup in Cyprus later led to the collapse of the military junta in Athens. But anger in Greece toward the United States continued unabated.

The relationship between the CIA and Greece’s Central Intelligence Service, known as the KYP, was also poisoned. Soon, someone had leaked the names of Welch and a few other officers in the CIA’s Athens station to the Greek press.

In November 1975, Welch’s name and home address were published in English language and Greek language newspapers in Athens. The information “was obviously leaked by hostile KYP officers,” Estes said in the interview, “because the only names leaked were those in liaison contact with KYP.” (CIA overseas stations often included officers who were in liaison contact with the intelligence service of the local country — their identities as CIA officers thus declared to the service so they could meet with them and trade intelligence — and others who were not identified so they could spy without the knowledge of the local government.)

Welch was not hard to find; he lived in a luxurious villa that had been the official residence of the CIA station chief for decades. After his name and home address were published in the press, Estes talked to him about whether he should move. But Welch and Estes concluded that the threat was minimal. “We both agreed that political assassination was not part of the fabric of Greek history or culture,” Estes recalled.

It was a fatal miscalculation. Welch’s murder was carried out by a new, extremely violent Greek leftist guerrilla organization called 17 November. While right-wing Greek nationalists hated the United States for betraying Greece over Cyprus, left-wing Greeks blamed the United States for helping to install the military junta in Athens in 1967. The 17 November group was named for an anti-junta protest by students that was brutally broken up on November 17, 1973. Welch was 17 November’s first target. (The group continued to conduct terrorist attacks in Greece, including the murders of other American officials, until it was finally crushed in 2002.)

Estes reported the truth back to CIA headquarters: that Welch had been murdered by Greek terrorists after being publicly exposed by the KYP, the Greek intelligence service. His story was buried in the service of a more helpful political narrative.

After Welch’s murder, emotions were running high in the CIA station in Athens. On the night of the assassination, Estes had to restrain another CIA officer after he grabbed a pistol and threatened to seek revenge by killing the KGB’s Athens Rezident, Welch’s Soviet counterpart.

Welch’s murder hit Estes hard as well. He and Welch had come up through the ranks of the agency together, and by 1975, they were close friends who met to play chess every Sunday. Welch and Estes had previously served together in Cyprus, and they understood the island’s status as a battlefield in the long-running conflict between Turkey and Greece. While serving in Cyprus, Estes said, Welch had recruited the personal secretary of Cypriot President Makarios III to spy for the CIA.

Estes was eager to solve his friend’s murder, without waiting for the Greek police. At the time, he didn’t know about the new leftist 17 November organization since Welch’s killing was its first operation. Instead, Estes focused his investigation on a right-wing terrorist group.

He and other CIA officers in Athens grilled their local sources and found that a gunman associated with a Greek-Cypriot right-wing paramilitary group known as EOKA had left Athens on a flight to Nicosia, Cyprus, the day after Welch’s killing. The gunman was known to have killed people in Cyprus with a .45 handgun — the same kind of weapon used to kill Welch.

When he worked in Cyprus years earlier, Estes had recruited an EOKA hitman to work for the CIA. “When I left Cyprus, he told me that whenever the CIA wanted something done that it didn’t want to do itself, call me,” recalled Estes. “So, after Welch was killed, I sent a case officer to Nicosia to meet him and tell him that Ron Estes sent him.”

The CIA officer asked the Cypriot agent if he knew the EOKA killer who had flown from Athens to Cyprus the day after Welch’s murder. The hitman said he did. The CIA officer told the hitman to go meet the man and ask him if he’d killed Welch.

The hitman reported that, when he confronted the EOKA killer, the other man was so scared that he offered to plead his innocence to the CIA himself. An American case officer then met with the man in Laranca, Cyprus, where he passed a CIA-administered polygraph.

Estes’s conviction that Welch had been exposed by the KYP and murdered by Greek terrorists, and the fact that CIA officers were conducting their own murder investigation on the ground in Cyprus, were not made public in Washington at the time. That information would only have gotten in the way of the campaign to exploit Welch’s murder to discredit the Church Committee.

(Original Caption) Senator Frank church (D-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Select committee on Intelligence, tells newsmen July 10 that his committee, which has been investigating CIA activities, has been getting Excellent cooperation from the White house. But he said the F.B.I. had not turned over material requested nearly two months ago.

Frank Church, D-Ida., chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence speaks to the press in Washington, D.C., on July 22, 1975.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

By late 1975, Ford and the CIA were both worried about their public standing. The Church Committee’s disclosures of intelligence abuses had weakened the CIA, and the White House was concerned about the political impact of the committee’s disclosures on Ford, the first commander-in-chief who had never been elected either president or vice president. Ford had been the obscure House minority leader in 1973 when he was chosen as vice president under the 25th Amendment by then-President Richard Nixon and Congress. Ford replaced Spiro Agnew, who had been forced to resign amid a corruption scandal; he became president when the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign in August 1974. Ford was headed into a tough presidential election campaign in 1976, and he wasn’t even assured of winning the Republican nomination. He faced a formidable challenge on the right from former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, and so Ford was eager to prove his conservative bona fides.

Now, with Welch’s assassination, the White House and CIA quickly realized they had been handed a political gift — a martyred hero whose death they could lay at the feet of liberal Democrat Church.

Largely through innuendo, the White House and the CIA blamed the Church Committee for Welch’s death, claiming that its investigations had somehow led to his exposure.

It didn’t matter that Welch’s murder had nothing to do with the Church Committee. It didn’t matter that Estes had told CIA headquarters that the Greek intelligence service had leaked Welch’s name and address to the Greek press as revenge for U.S. policy in Cyprus. Largely through innuendo, the White House and the CIA blamed the Church Committee for Welch’s death, claiming that its investigations had somehow led to his exposure.

The day after Welch’s murder, Welch’s father, who had been living in Athens with his son, asked Estes to see if Welch could be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Welch had never served in the military, so burial at Arlington would require a special exemption.

Estes says he cabled CIA headquarters about the request, and Ford quickly gave his approval. That led to a grand political moment, stage-managed by the White House.

A U.S. Air Force plane flew Welch’s body from Athens to Washington. Welch’s son, a Marine lieutenant wearing his dress blues, accompanied his father’s body on the flight. The plane delayed its landing, circling Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington for 45 minutes so its arrival could be broadcast live during the morning network television news programs.

Daniel Schorr, a CBS News correspondent who covered the event, wrote in his personal journal, which was published in Rolling Stone in 1976, that “the public relations people explain that the big cargo plane, already overhead, will stay in a holding pattern and land at 7 a.m. so that it will be available for live televising on network morning news programs. We do in fact carry it live on the CBS Morning News.”

Welch’s January 6, 1976, funeral service at Arlington was attended by Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and CIA director William Colby. No president had ever before attended the funeral of a slain CIA officer.

After the funeral service, Ford stood beside Welch’s widow while Welch’s coffin was placed on a horse-drawn caisson. “We watch, and film … the same caisson that carried the body of President Kennedy, the folded flag given to the widow by Colby,” wrote Schorr in his journal.

CIA director William Colby, third from left, stands with the family of Richard Welch at his funeral on January 6, 1976.

Photo: AP

“It is the CIA’s first public national hero,” Schorr wrote. “I have a sense that Welch, dead, has one more service to render the CIA. He will be turned into a symbol in the gathering counter-offensive against disclosure.”

While Ford, Kissinger, and Colby attended Welch’s funeral, the FBI was investigating a death threat against Church in retaliation for Welch’s murder, sent by a group calling itself Veterans Against Communist Sympathizers.

Another prominent Washington official also attended Welch’s funeral: George Herbert Walker Bush, who had just been nominated to succeed Colby as CIA director. Ford had chosen Bush after firing Colby, who Ford believed had cooperated too readily with the Church Committee’s inquiries. The opening battle between the White House, the CIA, and Church would be fought over Bush’s confirmation in the Senate.

Church saw Bush’s nomination as an effort by Ford to put a partisan hack at the CIA, someone who would do the bidding of the White House just as Congress was seeking to curb the agency’s abuses. Church viewed Bush’s nomination as a direct attack on the Church Committee.

The chance to be CIA director came at a critical moment in Bush’s career. Until then, he had a poor record in elected politics. He won a House seat from Texas and served two terms but then lost a campaign for the Senate in 1970. After that, Bush started to rise in the Republican ranks through a series of appointed positions. He served as chair of the Republican National Committee during Watergate, a job that forced him to make repeated public excuses for Nixon but earned him credit for party loyalty. He also served as United Nations ambassador under Nixon and as head of the U.S. Liaison Office in China under Ford.

Ford was considering Bush to be his running mate in 1976; the job as CIA director seemed like a stepping stone. But first, Bush had to get past Frank Church.

Even as he was still working on his committee’s investigations and reports, Church went all out to block Bush’s confirmation. On December 16, 1975, Church testified as a witness against Bush during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Bush’s confirmation was “ill-advised,” Church told the committee, because of his partisan political background and because he had refused to rule out running as vice president in 1976. Church complained that the White House was using the CIA as a “grooming room” for Bush “before he is brought on stage next year as a vice presidential running mate.”

But Welch’s murder quickly changed the political calculus of the confirmation fight in favor of Bush — and against Church.

The White House and CIA followed a subtle but effective strategy to use the Welch murder to help get Bush confirmed, while also poisoning the political climate for Church and his Committee. Immediately after Welch’s murder, the CIA sought to blame the Fifth Estate, a left-wing group based in Washington that published Counter Spy, a small left-wing magazine that had previously printed long lists of CIA officials’ names, including Welch’s when he served in Peru. Agency officials also blamed Philip Agee, a former CIA officer who had just published “Inside the Company,” a controversial book that had listed the names of hundreds of CIA officers and agents.

Many observers saw the CIA’s efforts to blame Counter Spy and Agee as a way to shift the blame for Welch’s murder from Greek terrorists to the CIA’s American critics. And if the public inferred that those American critics also included Church and his committee, so be it.

Conservative pundits quickly made the link explicit. In early January 1976, right-wing columnist Smith Hempstone wrote that the blame for Welch’s murder should be shared by “the congressional committees that for nearly a year have been holding the CIA up to ridicule and verbal abuse.” Around the same time, an anonymous, pro-CIA newsletter, the Pink Sheet, called Welch’s murder “a tragic reminder of a very basic truth: There are individuals and organizations in this country whose activities are aiding the enemies of the U.S. Are we to be impotent against such fifth columnists in our midst? Please write to your congressman and senators and ask what they propose to do about this increasingly dangerous problem. Instead of harming our internal security agencies, Senator Frank Church and his colleagues should be investigating outfits like the Fifth Estate.” The Pink Sheet’s diatribe was included in CIA files and publicly released by the CIA among other documents declassified in 2004. It is not clear whether the newsletter was published by someone affiliated with the CIA.

Meanwhile, former CIA officers began to make themselves available to the press to attack Church. One of them, Mike Ackerman, told reporters that the Church Committee shared the blame for Welch’s death, adding that the committee should have conducted its investigations without publicly disclosing agency operations.

New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis saw through the unfolding White House-CIA strategy.

“Understandably, the Welch case has brought to a boil the resentment felt by CIA veterans at critics of the agency,” Lewis wrote . “But it is another matter entirely to use the murder of Richard Welch as a political device, as President Ford and his national security assistants are evidently trying to do now.”

Colby’s “denunciation [of Fifth Estate] plainly had a larger purpose: to make the case that the CIA needs more secrecy in general than it has been getting lately,” Lewis wrote. “President Ford and his colleagues, judging by their recent comments, hope to prevent any thoroughgoing reform of the CIA. They will use the Welch case to that end, in particular to resist limits on covert action and to reduce congressional scrutiny.”

The Washington Star’s Norman Kempster agreed, noting that “only a few hours after the CIA’s Athens station chief was gunned down in front of his home, the agency began a subtle campaign intended to persuade Americans that his death was the indirect result of congressional investigations and the direct result of an article in an obscure magazine. The nation’s press, by and large, swallowed the bait.”

The campaign by the White House and the CIA to exploit Welch’s murder ensured Bush’s confirmation as CIA director. On January 27, 1976, Bush sailed through the Senate on a vote of 64-27. Ford made only one concession to the Senate before the vote: He announced that Bush would not be his running mate in 1976.

Four years later, Bush was elected vice president on the ticket with Reagan.

The false narrative that Welch had been murdered because of reckless disclosures in Washington remained powerful for years afterward, ultimately leading to legislation that made it illegal to publish the names of covert CIA officers, a law that has since often been abused by the government to crack down on whistleblowers and dissent.

(Original Caption) Central Intelligence Agency Director William Colby, left, arrives for questioning by the Senate Intelligence Commitee 5/21, accompanied by George Cary, legislative counsel for the CIA. After the closed session Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, commitee chairman, said a key topic was alleged agency involvement in assassination plots.

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Colby, left, arrives for questioning by the Senate Intelligence Commitee accompanied by George Cary, legislative counsel for the CIA, on May 21, 1975.

Photo: Bettmann Archive

After Welch’s murder, public support for the Church Committee waned. Church was stunned by the sudden reversal of the political climate and angered that Bush continued to push the false story around Welch’s killing even after he became CIA director.

During one closed hearing of the Church Committee soon after Bush had been confirmed, “Bush blurted out, ‘You were responsible for Welch’s assassination,’” recalled Fritz Schwarz, the Church Committee’s chief counsel. “It pissed off everybody. We forced Bush to apologize during the hearing.” Still, the Bush family continued to push false narratives about the Welch murder for years. In the 1990s, Agee, the former CIA officer, sued Barbara Bush for libel after she wrote in her memoir that Welch had been killed after Agee’s book blew his cover. The suit was dropped in 1997 after Bush acknowledged that Agee’s book was not responsible for Welch’s assassination.

Meanwhile, Church also had to convince other senators, whose support for his committee was wavering in the face of the White House and CIA disinformation campaign, that his investigation was not responsible for Welch’s murder.

“One of the things we did was tell other senators that we didn’t reveal Welch’s name,” recalls former Church Committee staffer Loch Johnson. “We had to make it clear to other senators that we had nothing to do with it.”

The controversy over Welch’s murder hit just as Church was about to launch his own bid to run for president in 1976. After the Church Committee had completed its investigations, Church announced his candidacy in March 1976. But by waiting until the committee’s work was done, Church started off far behind the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. Still, Church surprisingly won several primaries before dropping out and became a leading contender to be Carter’s running mate. When Carter instead chose Walter Mondale, a Democratic senator from Minnesota, Church began to suspect that CIA officials had worked behind the scenes to torpedo his selection. Church confided to his son that, just before the Democratic convention in New York, he’d gotten a call from the CIA saying the agency had been told that The Economist magazine was going to publish a story revealing that the Church Committee had been infiltrated by the KGB.

“Can you imagine any rumor more certain to spook a presidential candidate than that his prospective vice president has overseen an operation which was infiltrated by the KGB?” Church told his son, Forrest, who recounted the conversation in his 1985 memoir.

It turned out that the reporter the CIA had told Church was writing the story did not exist, and no story was ever published. “Church’s feeling that he had been sandbagged by the CIA might have been an illusion,” Forrest Church wrote. “One thing is certain, however. There is no member of the Senate whom the leaders of our intelligence services would have less preferred sitting a heartbeat away from the presidency.”

Former Church staffer Peter Fenn corroborated that account: “We talked a good deal about the CIA torpedoing him.”

T he CIA’s hatred of Church didn’t end in 1976.

In 1980, Church was facing a tough reelection campaign in Idaho. As the election loomed, Rep. Steve Symms, a hard-right Republican who represented Idaho’s first congressional district, appeared the most likely candidate to run against him. Symms, whose family owned a large fruit ranch near Caldwell, Idaho, had been plotting to take on Church for years. He had even urged Bob Smith, his friend and chief of staff, to run against Church in 1974 as a stalking horse.

But just in case Symms had any last-minute doubts, James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s former chief of counterintelligence, stepped in to give him a push.

Angleton felt he had been humiliated by being forced to testify in public before the Church Committee, and Church was at the top of his personal enemies list. In the late 1970s, Angleton, who was originally from Idaho, began meeting with Symms to convince him to run against Church.

“He was from Boise, and he really despised Frank Church,” Symms said in an interview. “He used to come over to see me in the House,” he added. Angleton would recount to Symms all the damage he claimed Church had wrought on the CIA, Symms said, and then Angleton would say, “You should run against Church.”

“I got exposed to that [intelligence] stuff through Angleton,” Symms added. “I still remember him coming over to my office and sitting on my couch, and he would smoke one cigarette after another. He would kind of put his leg up and talk to me on intelligence. He wanted Church defeated.”

Symms beat Church in 1980, which was cause for celebration in CIA circles.

“After I won the Senate race, I was invited to a party at someone’s house and I was just about the only person there who was not former intelligence,” Symms recalled. “It was quite impressive to meet all these people and see how deeply they all despised Church.”

This article was adapted from “ The Last Honest Man: The CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, and the Kennedys — and One Senator’s Fight to Save Democracy ” by James Risen with Thomas Risen, which will be published on May 9, 2023, by Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Copyright © 2023 by James Risen. All rights reserved.

The post How the Murder of a CIA Officer Was Used to Silence the Agency’s Greatest Critic appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Can the Pentagon Use ChatGPT? OpenAI Won’t Answer. / TheIntercept · Monday, 8 May - 10:00 · 9 minutes

As automated text generators have rapidly, dazzlingly advanced from fantasy to novelty to genuine tool, they are starting to reach the inevitable next phase: weapon. The Pentagon and intelligence agencies are openly planning to use tools like ChatGPT to advance their mission — but the company behind the mega-popular chatbot is silent.

OpenAI, the nearly $30 billion R&D titan behind ChatGPT, provides a public list of ethical lines it will not cross, business it will not pursue no matter how lucrative, on the grounds that it could harm humanity. Among many forbidden use cases, OpenAI says it has preemptively ruled out military and other “high risk” government applications. Like its rivals, Google and Microsoft, OpenAI is eager to declare its lofty values but unwilling to earnestly discuss what these purported values mean in practice, or how — or even if — they’d be enforced.

“If there’s one thing to take away from what you’re looking at here, it’s the weakness of leaving it to companies to police themselves.”

AI policy experts who spoke to The Intercept say the company’s silence reveals the inherent weakness of self-regulation, allowing firms like OpenAI to appear principled to an AI-nervous public as they develop a powerful technology, the magnitude of which is still unclear. “If there’s one thing to take away from what you’re looking at here, it’s the weakness of leaving it to companies to police themselves,” said Sarah Myers West, managing director of the AI Now Institute and former AI adviser to the Federal Trade Commission.

The question of whether OpenAI will allow the militarization of its tech is not an academic one. On March 8, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance gathered in northern Virginia for its annual conference on emerging technologies. The confab brought together attendees from both the private sector and government — namely the Pentagon and neighboring spy agencies — eager to hear how the U.S. security apparatus might join corporations around the world in quickly adopting machine-learning techniques. During a Q&A session, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s associate director for capabilities, Phillip Chudoba, was asked how his office might leverage AI. He responded at length:

We’re all looking at ChatGPT and, and how that’s kind of maturing as a useful and scary technology. … Our expectation is that … we’re going to evolve into a place where we kind of have a collision of you know, GEOINT, AI, ML and analytic AI/ML and some of that ChatGPT sort of stuff that will really be able to predict things that a human analyst, you know, perhaps hasn’t thought of, perhaps due to experience, or exposure, and so forth.

Stripping away the jargon, Chudoba’s vision is clear: using the predictive text capabilities of ChatGPT (or something like it) to aid human analysts in interpreting the world. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, a relatively obscure outfit compared to its three-letter siblings, is the nation’s premier handler of geospatial intelligence, often referred to as GEOINT. This practice involves crunching a great multitude of geographic information — maps, satellite photos, weather data, and the like — to give the military and spy agencies an accurate picture of what’s happening on Earth. “Anyone who sails a U.S. ship, flies a U.S. aircraft, makes national policy decisions, fights wars, locates targets, responds to natural disasters, or even navigates with a cellphone relies on NGA,” the agency boasts on its site. On April 14, the Washington Post reported the findings of NGA documents that detailed the surveillance capabilities of Chinese high-altitude balloons that had caused an international incident earlier this year.

Forbidden Uses

But Chudoba’s AI-augmented GEOINT ambitions are complicated by the fact that the creator of the technology in question has seemingly already banned exactly this application: Both “Military and warfare” and “high risk government decision-making” applications are explicitly forbidden, according to OpenAI’s “Usage policies” page . “If we discover that your product or usage doesn’t follow these policies, we may ask you to make necessary changes,” the policy reads. “Repeated or serious violations may result in further action, including suspending or terminating your account.”

By industry standards, it’s a remarkably strong, clear document, one that appears to swear off the bottomless pit of defense money available to less scrupulous contractors, and would appear to be a pretty cut-and-dry prohibition against exactly what Chudoba is imagining for the intelligence community. It’s difficult to imagine how an agency that keeps tabs on North Korean missile capabilities and served as a “silent partner” in the invasion of Iraq, according to the Department of Defense , is not the very definition of high-risk military decision-making.

While the NGA and fellow intel agencies seeking to join the AI craze may ultimately pursue contracts with other firms, for the time being few OpenAI competitors have the resources required to build something like GPT-4, the large language model that underpins ChatGPT. Chudoba’s namecheck of ChatGPT raises a vital question: Would the company take the money? As clear-cut as OpenAI’s prohibition against using ChatGPT for crunching foreign intelligence may seem, the company refuses to say so. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman referred The Intercept to company spokesperson Alex Beck, who would not comment on Chudoba’s remarks or answer any questions. When asked about how OpenAI would enforce its use policy in this case, Beck responded with a link to the policy itself and declined to comment further.

“I think their unwillingness to even engage on the question should be deeply concerning,” Myers of the AI Now Institute told The Intercept. “I think it certainly runs counter to everything that they’ve told the public about the ways that they’re concerned about these risks, as though they are really acting in the public interest. If when you get into the details, if they’re not willing to be forthcoming about these kinds of potential harms, then it shows sort of the flimsiness of that stance.”

Public Relations

Even the tech sector’s clearest-stated ethics principles have routinely proven to be an exercise in public relations and little else: Twitter simultaneously forbids using its platform for surveillance while directly enabling it, and Google sells AI services to the Israeli Ministry of Defense while its official “AI principles” prohibit applications “that cause or are likely to cause overall harm” and “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.” Microsoft’s public ethics policies note a “commitment to mitigating climate change” while the company helps Exxon analyze oil field data , and similarly professes a “commitment to vulnerable groups” while selling surveillance tools to American police.

It’s an issue OpenAI won’t be able to dodge forever: The data-laden Pentagon is increasingly enamored with machine learning, so ChatGPT and its ilk are obviously desirable. The day before Chudoba was talking AI in Arlington, Kimberly Sablon, Principal Director for Trusted AI and Autonomy at the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, told a conference in Hawaii that “There’s a lot of good there in terms of how we can utilize large language models like [ChatGPT] to disrupt critical functions across the department,” National Defense Magazine reported last month. In February, CIA Director of Artificial Intelligence Lakshmi Raman told the Potomac Officers Club, “Honestly, we’ve seen the excitement in the public space around ChatGPT. It’s certainly an inflection point in this technology, and we definitely need to [be exploring] ways in which we can leverage new and upcoming technologies.”

Steven Aftergood, a scholar of government secrecy and longtime intelligence community observer with the Federation of American Scientists, explained why Chudoba’s plan makes sense for the agency. “NGA is swamped with worldwide geospatial information on a daily basis that is more than an army of human analysts could deal with,” he told The Intercept. “To the extent that the initial data evaluation process can be automated or assigned to quasi-intelligent machines, humans could be freed up to deal with matters of particular urgency. But what is suggested here is that AI could do more than that and that it could identify issues that human analysts would miss.” Aftergood said he doubted an interest in ChatGPT had anything to do with its highly popular chatbot abilities, but in the underlying machine learning model’s potential to sift through massive datasets and draw inferences. “It will be interesting, and a little scary, to see how that works out,” he added.

U.S. Army Reserve soldiers receive an overview of Washington D.C. as part of the 4th Annual Day with the Army Reserve May 25, 2016.  The event was led by the Private Public Partnership office. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marisol Walker)

The Pentagon seen from above in Washington, D.C, on May 25, 2016.

Photo: U.S. Army

Persuasive Nonsense

One reason it’s scary is because while tools like ChatGPT can near-instantly mimic the writing of a human, the underlying technology has earned a reputation for stumbling over basic facts and generating plausible-seeming but entirely bogus responses. This tendency to confidently and persuasively churn out nonsense — a chatbot phenomenon known as “hallucinating” — could pose a problem for hard-nosed intelligence analysts. It’s one thing for ChatGPT to fib about the best places to get lunch in Cincinnati, and another matter to fabricate meaningful patterns from satellite images over Iran. On top of that, text-generating tools like ChatGPT generally lack the ability to explain exactly how and why they produced their outputs; even the most clueless human analyst can attempt to explain how they reached their conclusion.

Lucy Suchman, a professor emerita of anthropology and militarized technology at Lancaster University, told The Intercept that feeding a ChatGPT-like system brand new information about the world represents a further obstacle. “Current [large language models] like those that power ChatGPT are effectively closed worlds of already digitized data; famously the data scraped for ChatGPT ends in 2021,” Suchman explained. “And we know that rapid retraining of models is an unsolved problem. So the question of how LLMs would incorporate continually updated real time data, particularly in the rapidly changing and always chaotic conditions of war fighting, seems like a big one. That’s not even to get into all of the problems of stereotyping, profiling, and ill-informed targeting that plague current data-drive military intelligence.”

OpenAI’s unwillingness to rule out the NGA as a future customer makes good business sense, at least. Government work, particularly of the national security flavor, is exceedingly lucrative for tech firms: In 2020, Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle landed a CIA contract reportedly worth tens of billions of dollars over its lifetime. Microsoft, which has invested a reported $13 billion into OpenAI and is quickly integrating the smaller company’s machine-learning capabilities into its own products, has earned tens of billions in defense and intelligence work on its own . Microsoft declined to comment.

But OpenAI knows this work is highly controversial, potentially both with its staff and the broader public. OpenAI is currently enjoying a global reputation for its dazzling machine-learning tools and toys, a gleaming public image that could be quickly soiled by partnering with the Pentagon. “OpenAI’s righteous presentations of itself are consistent with recent waves of ethics-washing in relation to AI,” Suchman noted. “Ethics guidelines set up what my UK friends call ‘hostages to fortune,’ or things you say that may come back to bite you.” Suchman added, “Their inability even to deal with press queries like yours suggests that they’re ill-prepared to be accountable for their own policy.”

The post Can the Pentagon Use ChatGPT? OpenAI Won’t Answer. appeared first on The Intercept .

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    To Help End the Yemen War, All China Had to Do Was Be Reasonable / TheIntercept · Friday, 7 April - 19:41 · 5 minutes

The war in Yemen looks like it’s coming to an end. U.S. media reported on Thursday that a cease-fire extending through 2023 had been agreed to, but those reports also included Houthi denials. On Friday, Al Mayadeen, a generally pro-Houthi Lebanese news outlet, reported optimism from the Houthi side that the deal is real and the war is winding down. Reuters later on Friday matched Al Mayadeen’s reporting , confirming that Saudi envoys will be traveling to Sana’a to discuss the terms of a “permanent ceasefire.”

What’s startling here is the apparent role of China — and complete absence of the U.S. and President Joe Biden — in the deal-making.

“Biden promised to end the war in Yemen. Two years into his presidency, China may have delivered on that promise,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “Decades of militarized American foreign policy in the Middle East have enabled China to play the role of peacemaker while Washington is stuck and unable to offer much more than arms deals and increasingly unconvincing security assurances.”

“Biden promised to end the war in Yemen. Two years into his presidency, China may have delivered on that promise.”

The U.S. always backed Saudi Arabia to the hilt and vociferously opposed the Houthis, who are backed by Iran. Now China has extracted concessions from the Saudis that made the cease-fire talks possible. The Saudis seem like they are fully capitulating to the Houthi demands, which include opening the major port to allow critical supplies into the country, allowing flights into Sana’a, and allowing the government to have access to its currency to pay its workers and stabilize the economy. Reasonable stuff.

“The Saudi concessions — including a potential lifting of the blockade and exit from the war — demonstrate that their priority is to protect Saudi territory from attack and focus on economic development at home,” said Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, which has been working for an end to the war in Yemen for years. “This diverges from the approach preferred by many Washington foreign policy elites who continued to hope that the Saudi war and blockade could force the Houthis to make concessions and cede more power to the U.S.-backed Yemeni ‘government.’”

The Yemen deal is undergirded by another China-brokered deal for rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia . On Thursday, the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers met in Beijing to finalize an agreement that reinstates direct flights between Riyadh and Tehran, reopens embassies, and expands commercial cooperation.

“The full scope of this appears to have been unlikely without the Saudi-Iranian normalization brokered by China,” Parsi said. “Whether China played a crucial role in the Yemeni dimension is unclear. Beijing will, however, get some credit for it because of its role in bringing Riyadh and Tehran together.”

U.S. policy toward the Yemen conflict has been so hostile to peace it managed to do the impossible: make Saudi Arabia appear reasonable in comparison. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the U.S. is deeply frustrated at how reasonably various parties are behaving:

In an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia earlier this week, CIA Director William Burns expressed frustration with the Saudis, according to people familiar with the matter. He told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the U.S. has felt blindsided by Riyadh’s rapprochement with Iran and Syria—countries that remain heavily sanctioned by the West—under the auspices of Washington’s global rivals.

This is all part of a larger program of Chinese diplomacy — as opposed to U.S. saber-rattling — in the Middle East. The Iranian minister of foreign affairs said publicly that he also held an expansive, two-hour meeting with his French counterpart while she was also in China. The meetings come ahead of a planned regional summit that will be organized by China and include both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

With the Saudis no longer backing militants in the Yemen war, those rump factions won’t have much capacity left to fight, though there will still probably be some clashes before a final peace is reached. Some observers said the U.S. could still aid efforts to bring the war to its ultimate close.

“Now is the time for the United States to do everything it can to support these negotiations to finally end the war and support robust humanitarian funding to address the suffering of the Yemeni people,” said Hassan El-Tayyab, the legislative director for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee On National Legislation. “If Washington rejects regional power-sharing and obstructs a world in which other nations have a vested interest in peace, it risks jeopardizing America’s own economic and security interests and its international reputation. Now is the time to prioritize and reap the benefits of diplomacy, not reject those who advocate for it.”

The way the war is ending also underscores just how illegitimate the U.S.-backed “government” of Yemen has been the last several years. In reality, it’s a group of exiles living in hotels in Riyadh, fully propped up by and under the thumb of Saudi Arabia. For a while, Saudi Arabia was referring to it in official documents as “the Legitimate Government of Yemen,” though it did no actual governing and had no legitimacy outside its hotel.

The exiled “government” is now led by the “Presidential Leadership Council,” and look at how the news was delivered to the “Legitimate Government of Yemen,” according to Al Mayadeen : “The sources stated that Riyadh informed the Presidential Leadership Council of its decision to end the war and conclude the Yemeni file permanently.” Such was the ignoble end of the U.S.-recognized government of Yemen.

“The Saudis are smart to cut their losses, end their complicity in this human rights nightmare, and refocus their attention to their own economic development.”

“While the Houthis are a deeply flawed movement, it is both immoral and ineffective to try to counter them by pushing tens of millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation ,” said Sperling. “The Saudis are smart to cut their losses, end their complicity in this human rights nightmare, and refocus their attention to their own economic development.”

The Chinese may find, however, that running a constellation of satellites is harder than it looks and that brokering peace may be more difficult than keeping it. This week, Iran-allied groups in Lebanon launched airstrikes on Israel in response to a raid on Jerusalem’s holy Al Aqsa Mosque by Israeli police . Israel, which has moved increasingly closer to Saudi Arabia , responded to the rockets by attacking both Gaza and Lebanon. President Xi Jinping will have no shortage of disputes to work out at his upcoming summit.

The post To Help End the Yemen War, All China Had to Do Was Be Reasonable appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Lie Detector Firm Lobbies CIA, DOD on Automated Eye-Scanning Tech / TheIntercept · Friday, 7 April - 14:20 · 7 minutes

A Utah-based outfit overseen by a former CIA consultant has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying intelligence and defense agencies, including the CIA and DHS, to adopt its automated lie detection technology, public lobbying disclosures reviewed by The Intercept show. Converus, Inc., boasts on its website that its technology has already been used for job screenings at American law enforcement agencies, corporate compliance and loss prevention in Latin America, and document verification in Ukraine. The company’s management team includes chief scientist John Kircher, a former consultant for the CIA and Department of Defense; Todd Mickelson, former director of product management at; and Russ Warner, former CEO of the content moderation firm ContentWatch.

Warner told The Intercept that lobbying efforts have focused on changing federal regulations to allow the use of technologies other than the polygraph for lie detection. “The Department of Defense National Center of Credibility Assessment (NCCA) is in charge of oversight of validation and pilot projects throughout the U.S. government of new deception detection technologies,” Warner wrote in an email. “DoD Directive 5210.91 and ODNI Security Agent Directive 2 currently prohibit the use of any credibility assessment solution other than polygraph. For this reason, we have contacted government agencies to consider the use of EyeDetect and other new technologies.”

After finding success in corporate applications and sheriff’s offices, Converus has set its sights on large federal agencies that could apply its EyeDetect technology to a host of uses, including employee clearance screenings and border security. Unlike a polygraph, a device which relies on an operator asking questions and measuring physiological responses like heart rate and perspiration, Converus’s technology measures “cognitive load” with an algorithm that processes eye movement.

Using cognitive load as a metric for lie detection relies on the assumption that it takes greater cognitive effort to invent a unique lie than to tell the truth. But the correlation between the cognitive effort recorded in involuntary eye movements and lying isn’t clear cut. Converus’s technology follows decades of research that has failed to identify a method that can reliably differentiate between stress and lying. As The Intercept reported in 2020 , the shaky science underlying lie detection hasn’t stopped new technologies and methods from proliferating in law enforcement agencies across the country.

“If I asked you now, exactly one year ago today, what did you do? It’s probably easier to come up with a story than to really think about what I was doing,” Ewout Meijer, a professor of psychology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, told The Intercept. Meijer, who studies lie detection technologies and the psychological theories underlying them, says that while some machines are accurate in reading physiological responses, those results don’t directly translate to accuracy at detecting lies. “There are boundary issues that mean this correlation between cognitive load and lying doesn’t always apply. But at least it is an alternative to the arousal-based approach,” he said.

Converus’s EyeDetect+, an upgraded version of EyeDetect, combines elements of the arousal-based assessment — which relies on traditional polygraph metrics like heart rate — with ocular measurement to increase accuracy, according to the company, which says EyeDetect+ can boast an accuracy rate of 90 percent. But Meijer says there are also problems with this approach. “The problem is not that we do not have the technology to measure emotions, we’ve had that for decades. The problem is in the underlying inference. If I measure emotion, what does that mean? It could mean that you’re lying. But it also could also mean that you are telling the truth, but you are really stressed and nervous about not being believed.”

“Comments by critics that the physiological changes recorded during polygraph and ocular-motor tests for deception do not directly correlate to truth-telling do not understand the meaning of ‘correlation,’” Warner told The Intercept. “If there were no correlation between certain physiological changes and a person’s deceptive status, it would not be possible to distinguish between truthful and deceptive people.”

In 2020, a member of Converus’s own advisory board expressed skepticism about the reliability of EyeDetect in an interview with MIT Technology Review. “I find the EyeDetect system to be really interesting, but on the other hand, I don’t use it,” he said. “I think the database is still relatively small, and it comes mostly from one laboratory. Until it’s expanded and other people have replicated it, I’d be reluctant to use it in the field.”

The scenarios for which Converus is marketing its lie detection tools are wide-ranging, according to the case studies presented as part of its sales pitch.

Life Renewal, a Christian counseling service in Texas, uses EyeDetect for marriage counseling. “The practice works with many sexual betrayal situations and — as is a common trend — lie detection is often used to help get to the truth so that healing can begin for the betrayed and the betrayer,” the Life Renewal case study reads. “With a lie detection solution, couples get to the truth more quickly.”

Another counseling center in Florida uses EyeDetect to address the challenges “with determining if unfaithful spouses or those in sex addiction therapy were truthful when disclosing the details of their sexual misconduct or sobriety in their therapeutic disclosure letter.”

Outside of therapy, the technology is being marketed for security applications including sex offender monitoring and truth-telling in border control scenarios. Converus also says its testing could be applied to intelligence scenarios related to espionage, terrorism, and trafficking. The company has presented at border security conferences and recently added Jayson P. Ahern, the former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to its board.

“We have not tested EyeDetect for every application in which it is used. However, in published research, we have established its generalizability across different ages, genders, educational level, languages, and cultures. Importantly, we compared ocular-motor changes in lab and field settings in a study with over 300 lab and field subjects and found no significant difference,” Warner said. “If results generalize across individual differences … and from the lab’s artificial and sterile conditions to the uncontrolled real-life conditions of the field, we are willing to conclude the technology is robust and can be applied effectively in a wide range of applications.”

Converus’s tests do not rely on a human operator but instead use an algorithm linked to monitoring components to assess truthfulness. Converus says that the lack of human operators reduces biases and creates a more accurate test. Leonard Saxe, a social psychologist at Brandeis University and a longtime skeptic of polygraph tests, says the operator is irrelevant.

“A machine that gives you a wrong reading, even if it’s a machine, is just as unreliable as a person that gives you a wrong reading,” Saxe said.

“It’s not a question of whether they’re telling the truth or not,” he added. “It’s a question for people at the border of whether they’re going to be admitted or imprisoned, and of whether they are scared or cognitively burdened with trying to give the right answer. For almost anybody being subjected to these tests, it’s an anxiety-provoking experience.”

“It’s a question for people at the border of whether they’re going to be admitted or imprisoned, and of whether they are scared or cognitively burdened with trying to give the right answer.”

Citing Saxe’s work, the American Psychology Association published a review largely discrediting polygraph testing in the early 2000s. “Most psychologists and other scientists agree that there is little basis for the validity of polygraph tests,” the review found. “Courts, including the United States Supreme Court … have repeatedly rejected the use of polygraph evidence because of its inherent unreliability.”

When asked why polygraph tests are still used in federal clearance screenings and hiring assessments, both Meijer and Saxe told The Intercept that the mere threat of polygraph testing can elicit pretest confessions and steer untruthful applicants away, regardless of the test’s accuracy. Whether the government should be relying on lie detection technologies as tools for truthfulness is another issue.

“When we think about ideal evidence-based medicine, we have a pyramid of evidence with case reports at the bottom and then meta-analysis of preferably randomized, double blind clinical trials,” Meijer said. “Based on that evidence, we decide what should be funded from public money and what shouldn’t. If you look at security, anybody who claims that they have a method that works gets government contracts, without this rigorous analysis. I find that weird, because this is public money, and also this is public money funding technology used in life-or-death situations.”

The post Lie Detector Firm Lobbies CIA, DOD on Automated Eye-Scanning Tech appeared first on The Intercept .