31 January 2013

SpyTALK: Who Is Lisa Monaco?


AQ 2.0: The Limits of Intervention

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 11:17 AM PST
Bad choices in 2013.

David Ignatius has an interesting piece today on the perilous options for the West in countering the “cancerous” spread of al-Qaeda in places like Mali.

“Striking at these local nodes — as the French are doing now in Mali — can disrupt the new terrorist cells," he writes. "But analysts stress that there will be consequences: The cells may metastasize further, drawing new jihadists into the fight and potentially threatening targets in Europe and the United States.”

Indeed, they’re everywhere, and nowhere. They’re not much more than local criminals hoping to honored as al-Qaeda central's ‘made men.”

But the U.S. strategy “is similar to the one adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” he goes on to say.
“The CIA seeks to build up the security services of regional allies that can help penetrate and disrupt the terrorists in ways that would be impossible for the United States acting alone.”

But the cast of allies has changed since 9/11. The sons of bitches that were our guys in Egypt, Libya and Yemen have been swept away. Monarchies in Jordan and Bahrain are under assault by the same forces that drove the Arab Spring.  Pakistan is an unreliable partner, to say the least. Algeria is keeping us at arms length.

At this point, the CIA could be forgiven for looking longingly at the imminent loss of Syria’s as-Assad, a sometime partner in U.S. counterterrorism operations.

What to do? The Obama administration says its policies are adapting.

“Our CT approach is to do things where possible through our partners, and not necessarily by ourselves,” a senior administration official told Ignatius.

But who are they? Israel? France? Britain? Anybody else? Our African “allies” are pathetic.

It’s getting lonely out there.

Posted: 31 Jan 2013 08:26 AM PST

Lisa Monaco is a smart cookie, no doubt about that. And a true-blue Democrat.

The Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School grad, who turns 44 in February, has climbed so steadily through the government’s national security ranks that her new job as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President Obama seems almost preordained. Rumors are flying that she may even replace Bob Mueller at the FBI before too long.

Yet it’s almost certain that few people outside of Washington’s insular national security world will ever have heard of her.

That’s because, unlike her predecessor John Brennan, she’s been an oiler in the machinery room of counterterrorism, not a boss man from one of the alphabet agencies -- CIA, FBI, NSA and the like.

But she has had friends in high places, starting with Joe Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Monaco worked there as research coordinator from 1992 to 1994, according to the questionnaire she filled out during her confirmation process 20 years later to be assistant attorney general for national security.

Indeed, Monaco quickly tired of researching and coordinating, because she quickly moved on to Chicago and law school--where guess who was teaching constitutional law?

A fortuitous turn of events. But she was never away from Washington for long, returning here for summer internships during the Clinton administration.

In the summer of 1995 she held duel internships with the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs and D.C. Superior Court Judge Wendell P. Gardner. In the summer of 1996, she worked in the Clinton White House Counsel’s Office, as well as Hogan and Hartson.

Her connection to Obama had to have hardened when she returned to the Windy City law school and became treasurer of the Chicago Law Foundation, a scholarship vehicle affiliated with the university. Then it was back into Biden’s orbit, clerking for Judge Jane. R. Roth at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Wilmington, Del.

But Monaco’s career really got traction when she came back to the Justice Department, in 1998, as counsel in Attorney General Janet Reno’s office, “provid(ing) information, advice and staff assistance on a range of criminal justice, law enforcement, national security and oversight matters,” she said in her questionnaire.

Three years later, upon the Bush administration's assumption of power, she moved to the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia. As a prosecutor her star soared: She was appointed co-counsel of DoJ’s Enron task force, which won cases against former executives of Enron Broadband Services. For that she was given the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service, the department's highest award.

Then began her ascent through the legal stovepipe of U.S. intelligence, courtesy of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

“In April 2007, I became Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Director and then Chief of Staff at the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“During this time I ran the day-to­day operations of the Director's office and provided advice and guidance on national security operations and investigations as well as on criminal and law enforcement matters. I also assisted in the management and oversight of the National Security Branch of the FBI (which is responsible for counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations) and in the development of the intelligence capability of the FBI.

“I assisted the Director of the FBI and other senior executives in advancing the transformation of the FBI into a threat-based, intelligence-driven national security organization,” she continued. “In this capacity, I had regular interaction with representatives of the Intelligence Community, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and congressional staff.”

She was deep in the matrix now.

In 2009 she moved to Main Justice, honing her intelligence chops as associate deputy attorney general in the National Security Division. There, she:

“assisted in the supervision of significant investigations and prosecutions to disrupt national security threats. I worked regularly with prosecutors and agents on issues relating to counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations and prosecutions but I did not have direct responsibility for any cases.”

In April 2011 she took over the national security division entirely. And that’s where her career track swerved into a dark tunnel.

On Sept. 30, 2011,  President Obama ordered a CIA drone to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen. By some accounts, he had been on the kill list since December 2009.

According to the New York Times’ Charlie Savage, the administration’s legal justification for the killing came in a 50-page memo hammered out by every department or agency involved in the operation.

“The memo, written last year, followed months of extensive interagency deliberations and offers a glimpse into the legal debate that led to one of the most significant decisions made by President Obama — to move ahead with the killing of an American citizen without a trial,” Savage reported.

There cannot be any doubt that Monaco had major input into it.  What was her input and advice? I haven’t found anybody yet who can say, including among people who have followed the issue very, very closely.

If tradition holds, though, one can assume she was a team player. Too bad the president’s new counterterrorism advisor can’t be asked about that in a confirmation hearing.  The job doesn’t require her to be grilled on Capitol Hill.

Likewise, she enthusiastically supported the pursuit of leaks -- a feverish crusade that spun out of control in the espionage prosecution of Thomas Drake,  an NSA official who exhausted every legal channel to bring massive cost overruns congressional attention before resorting to the press. 

"If I'm confirmed, it would be my priority to continue the aggressive pursuit of these cases, challenging as they may be," Monaco said in her 2011 confirmation hearing, "but those challenges should not slow us down in aggressively pursuing those matters."

A similar area of concern -- for civil libertarians, anyway-- has been the Obama administration’s support for the radical cloak of secrecy thrown over who’s being surveilled, subpoened and why by U.S. intelligence, as facilitated by the so-called Patriot Act.    

During her confirmation hearing to be assistant attorney general for national security, “Monaco claimed the right balance had indeed been found,”  the blogger Marcy Wheeler noted.

“Agents, analysts and prosecutors who work every day to protect us from national security threats do so pursuant to the authorities Congress has given them under the Constitution,” Monaco told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “I believe these authorities reflect an effort to strike a balance between the imperative of protecting national security interests of the United States on the one hand and the importance of doing so consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

But she also seemed sympathetic to the efforts of Sen. Ron Wyden and others to lift the lid on the lock-tight secrecy surrounding the government's arguments for national security wiretaps, as they are presented to the ultra-secret FISA court. Those arguments are classified.

"Well, Senator," Monaco told Wyden, "I absolutely agree that we need to make as much of the types of documents that you're referring to public as possible."

She added:

"There is a process, as I think the  Committee is aware, to try and make sure the FISA court opinions that can be made public and the portions of them that can be made public are--that that is done to the fullest extent possible. I share your view that we need to make sure that we protect the sources and methods, and I think that we can do that while at the same time making clear and making public how  we're applying the law in the open for evaluation of the Congress and the public."

But whatever the pound pressure Monaco lent to the idea, it got nowhere.

“Mind you, Monaco is not the person most responsible for refusing to declassify documents that describe the shreds of the Fourth Amendment in this country–she’s not the Original Classification Authority” Wheeler wrote.

“Nevertheless, we’ve got another fan of massive data mining moving into an oversight free position in the White House," Wheeler added, "without having fulfilled her commitment to tell the American people what they’re doing with that data mining.”


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