By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
Two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pakistani forces captured and handed over to the U.S. a Libyan who was fleeing Afghanistan and was suspected of having knowledge that could help expose the locations of al Qaeda operatives around the world.
Ibn al Sheikh al Libi was briefly in CIA custody before being turned over to Egyptians for questioning. It was a method often employed by the CIA in cases where the agency had no authority to hold suspected terrorists as long as they might need in order to collect valuable intelligence.
Back in Langley, Virginia, Jose Rodriguez, then chief of staff at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, was eagerly awaiting reports detailing information that al Libi was providing his interrogators. But the reports, according to Rodriguez, were slow and incomplete.
"It was clear that they were not going to look after our national security interests like we would look after our national security interests," said Rodriguez, who has just written a book, "Hard Measures," that justifies the use of secret CIA prisons and enhanced interrogation methods that include the controversial method of waterboarding.
He said he was frustrated by how slowly the information was coming in.
"It became obvious to me that we could not contract out interrogations," he said. "We needed to bite the bullet and do it ourselves."
by Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson
Editor's note: In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN national security producers profile key members of the intelligence community. As part of the series, Security Clearance is focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence community
It's true: one of the most powerful players in the world of U.S. espionage and intelligence wears ruby red nail polish.
In her role as chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California is the gatekeeper for the country’s most sensitive intelligence agencies. She is regularly briefed on evolving national security threats and keeps her ruby red-topped finger on the pulse of the most secret of missions. She’s blunt, direct, stubborn, and not afraid to admit it.
Since taking the gavel of the intelligence committee, Feinstein has added her own touches, among them changing the way some classified briefings are held.
“Typically, the sessions were pretty formal, much like the style of public hearings,” said a committee staffer who asked not to be named. Before Feinstein, members of the committee would sit in a briefing room, the witnesses at a separate table before them, and each member would wait his or her turn to pose questions to the witness. Now, once a month, “they all sit together at a round table, usually a few dozen doughnuts are brought in, and they have a discussion,” says the staffer. “There are no opening statements or written statement for the record, no rounds of questioning. Members just ask questions as they see fit.”
The sessions may be informal, but Feinstein remains on a mission of her own when it comes to her responsibility as chairwoman, a responsibility that she says is a key reason why she remains in the Senate.
“It is congressional oversight of intelligence. It is very important,” said Feinstein, who agreed to a rare interview to discuss the role she plays in the country’s intelligence structure. “We have the ability to stop something if we want to stop it. And we have the ability to watch things very carefully, as closely as we want to watch or can watch.” FULL POST
By Pam Benson
The Obama administration is talking with the Pakistanis about possible changes in the way the U.S. conducts air strikes against terrorists in Pakistan, including providing Pakistan advance notice of attacks, modifying the targets and changing how targets are determined, according to a senior U.S. official who is involved in intelligence matters.
The official, who would not speak for attribution because of the sensitivity of the issues, said the White House is making a serious mistake by putting the options on the table for the Pakistanis to seize.
By Adam Levine and Tim Lister, with reporting from Ted Barrett and Pam Benson
As part of its efforts to explore peace talks with the Taliban, the Obama administration is considering the controversial release of several senior Taliban figures from the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. The names of those being considered for release have not been disclosed, and the conditions are still being discussed. But diplomatic sources say they would probably be relocated to Qatar in the Persian Gulf, where the Taliban is negotiating the establishment of a liaison office to facilitate dialogue with the U.S.
The administration has said any discussion about releasing the detainees is very preliminary and hinges on the Taliban renouncing terrorism and agreeing to peace talks.
But the proposal, confirmed in congressional testimony this week, has come under attack in Congress. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, said Thursday that the U.S. was "crossing a dangerous line" by discussing the possibility of releasing the prisoners.
And in a letter to President Obama, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, a former Marine officer who served in Afghanistan, warned that the release would "send the wrong message to the Taliban." FULL POST
By Suzanne Kelly
Senior administration officials are headed to Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon to brief the entire Senate on addressing cyber security threats, a day after key senators expressed frustration with what they described as a lack of a cohesive approach to such threats.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and the White House Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan are among those who will appear.
The nation's top intelligence officials were pressed by senators at a Senate intelligence hearing Tuesday about the myriad of agencies responsible for defending the United States from cyberattacks and the lack of legislation to define how government and private industry should work together.
The public may not yet be fully aware of how cyberthreats will affect them personally, but a recent report sponsored by cybersecurity giant McAfee suggests that more cybersecurity experts and companies that rely on the Internet to do business are already thinking about battle mode. FULL POST
By Pam Benson, Jamie Crawford and Joe Sterling
Iran took center stage on Tuesday as top U.S. intelligence officials and senators discussed what could trigger a military response to the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, speaking to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, said Iran continues to develop its nuclear capabilities but has not yet decided to make weapons.
When asked by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, what would be the "red line" for Iran to cross to trigger a more forceful U.S. response, Clapper said, "enrichment of uranium to a 90 percent level would be a pretty good indicator of their seriousness." Clapper added there were "some other things" Iran would need to do, but did not elaborate.
CIA Director David Petraeus agreed further enrichment would be a "telltale indicator." FULL POST
By Jamie Crawford
It’s only a “question of time” before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power, the top U.S. intelligence official told a Senate committee on Tuesday.
“I do not see how [Assad] can sustain his rule of Syria,” James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. But the fall of the strongman could be still a “long” way off given the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition, he said.
CIA Director David Petraeus said the Syrian opposition is “growing” and showing a “considerable amount of resilience and indeed is carrying out an increasing level of violence,” as it engages with the Syrian military on the outskirts of Syria’s two largest cities.
By Jamie Crawford
A possible transfer of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay as part of a “confidence building” measure with the Taliban, will be a topic of discussion with members of the Senate leadership, the top U.S. intelligence official told a Senate committee Tuesday.
Any proposed transfer had not been decided and would be part of ongoing consultations with Congress, James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
“I don’t think anyone in the administration harbors any illusions,” Clapper said of the potential risks of such a deal. He added that the final destination and conditions for how the detainees would be controlled would weigh heavily on a decision.
CIA Director David Petraeus told the committee that CIA analysts had provided assessments of the five detainees and the risks associated with their release.
By Jamie Crawford
The U.S. and Pakistan continue to share intelligence despite the "fraught" relationship, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency told a Senate committee on Tuesday.
CIA Director David Petraeus called the relationship “strained” and “fraught,” and will take more diplomacy and engagement to move forward during testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Petraues noted that the intelligence sharing between the two countries is still strong, and information between the two countries is still “going back and forth.”
The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, noted the relationship with Pakistan is a "challenging relationship but an important one," saying the interests of the two countries are "not always congruent."
Pakistan and the U.S. are at a stand still in relations. After a firefight at a border post killed two dozen Pakistani troops, cooperation has been frozen. The U.S. only recently restarted drone strikes but key border crossings for moving NATO supplies into Afghanistan remain shut by the Pakistanis.
From CNN's Joe Sterling and Pam Benson
The al Qaeda terror network is weakening and the embattled Afghan government is making modest strides, but cyber security threats are on the rise and Iranian nuclear aspirations remain a major peril.
These are among the main themes in the annual U.S. intelligence community's threat assessment, a sweeping 31-page document released Tuesday that touches on a range of issues across the globe.
"The United States no longer faces - as in the Cold War - one dominant threat," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in prepared testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which will meet on Tuesday to discuss the report.
He said "counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cyber security and counter-intelligence are at the immediate forefront of our security concerns" and that the "multiplicity and interconnectedness of potential threats - and the actors behind them ... constitute our biggest challenge."
Al Qaeda - the terror network that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 - "will continue to be a dangerous transnational force," but there have been strides, the report concludes.