The Morning Jolt

Maybe that Raid in Yemen Was More Fruitful Than the Early Reports Indicated

Maybe that Raid in Yemen Was More Fruitful Than the Early Reports Indicated

This is the problem with anonymous sources. NBC News, February 28:

Last month’s deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News.

Although Pentagon officials have said the raid produced “actionable intelligence,” senior officials who spoke to NBC News said they were unaware of any.

The New York Times, this morning:

Computers and cellphones seized during a deadly Special Operations raid in Yemen in January offer clues about attacks Al Qaeda could carry out in the future, including insights into new types of hidden explosives the group is making and new training tactics for militants, according to American officials.

The information contained in the cellphones, laptop computers and other materials scooped up in the raid is still being analyzed, but it has not yet revealed any specific plots, and it has not led to any strikes against Qaeda militants in Yemen or elsewhere, officials said.

American counterterrorism officials say the Qaeda wing in Yemen is one of the deadliest in the world and poses the most immediate threat to the American homeland, having tried unsuccessfully to carry out three airliner attacks over the United States.

Here’s the most intriguing section:

The preliminary intelligence findings from the raid are contained in a three-page classified document presented to Mr. Mattis. The findings, some of which were first reported by The Associated Press, included new explosives developed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. The group has specialized in developing nonmetallic bombs that can be inserted into body cavities to avoid detection. Other new insights concern Al Qaeda’s regional and global network, and training techniques that give clues to attacks it could carry out in the future.

Did the “U.S. officials” talk to the “American officials”? Are we sure that the first group of officials was really in a position to know if the teams had recovered valuable information? Doesn’t it take some time to figure out whether information is valuable? If you find a list of phone numbers, how long does it take to figure out if the numbers belong to other members of a terror cell, or just some guy’s buddies?

The quickly emerging narrative of Trump critics is that this was some sort of military disaster that is somehow directly Trump’s fault. To buy into this, you have to believe that up and down the chain of command, everyone simply shrugged off unacceptable risks or eagerly embraced a mission that would kill special-operations forces. Our men and women in uniform are human and imperfect, but I simply don’t buy that.

Secondly, let’s assume no valuable information was recovered… what’s the lesson? Clearly something indicated there was something of value at that target. Do we want our counterterrorism officials only launching raids when they’re 100 percent certain that they will recover valuable intelligence? If that was the standard, we never would have launched the raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. This is war. Murphy’s Law applies. Things will go wrong. I don’t want the people responsible for stopping terrorists to be constantly worried about who will get blamed if things go wrong. Learn from every experience, study your failures, and plan for next time.

Maybe It’s Not a Lie, but an Omission Like This Isn’t Reassuring, Either

So did the attorney general just… forget about this?

Prior to his nomination as attorney general last year, then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador to the United States, but did not disclose the contacts during questioning during his contentious confirmation, Justice Department officials confirmed late Wednesday.

Sessions, who took office last month as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year — in July and September — while the FBI investigated Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election. Sessions’ meetings with the ambassador were confirmed by his spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, and another Justice Department official, who is not authorized to comment publicly.

In a released statement late Wednesday, Sessions denied discussing campaign-related matters with Russian officials.

“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Sessions said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Yet when asked in January by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., whether he was aware if campaign associates had any contact with Russian government officials, Sessions said he did not have knowledge of such contacts nor did he communicate with Russian officials.

He provided a similar response to written questions submitted by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer,’’ Flores said in a written statement, adding that Sessions took those meetings as a member of the Senate Armed Service Committee and not as a surrogate for President Trump’s campaign.

In his confirmation hearings, Sessions said, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” Was that a lie? The Sessions argument is that he did not have communications with the Russians as a Trump campaign surrogate; his meeting with the Russian ambassador was as a member of the Armed Services Committee. That’s slicing the baloney awfully thin. It would have done Sessions a lot of good now if he had said back in the confirmation hearing, “Last year I met with the Russian ambassador twice, and we discussed (whatever Sessions can disclose about those meetings).”

New Travel Ban: Green Cards, Visa Holders, Iraqis Okay

Speaking of learning from experience, I like the odds of this travel ban surviving a legal challenge much better than the last one:

The White House’s decision to remove Iraq from a list of countries subject to a travel ban came amid concerns in Washington and Baghdad the ban would undercut relations with a critical ally in the fight against Islamic State.

There was pushback in Iraq and at the Pentagon after President Donald Trump, citing terrorism concerns, signed an executive order suspending travel to the U.S. for people from seven Muslim-majority nations, including Iraq. A court put that order on hold, and the Trump administration has been working on a new version to address the concerns.

The White House decided to remove Iraq from the list of targeted countries after an extended internal debate, a person familiar with the planning said, and, while it will solve some of the White House’s problems, it could create new ones.

It won’t apply to existing visa holders or to legal U.S. permanent residents. It will remove a preference for religious minorities, typically Christians, in refugee applications. It still will temporarily suspend admission of refugees but no longer indefinitely bar those from Syria. It will also include a 10-day delay before taking effect, one person said.

Removing existing visa holders from the ban, in particular, could help address the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concern that the order denies people due process.

Here’s another nice development: Airports are likely to be ready this time.

Since last month’s ban, which courts have put on hold, a section of the international arrivals area at Dulles International Airport outside the nation’s capital has been transformed into a virtual law firm, with legal volunteers ready to greet travelers from affected countries and ask if they saw anyone being detained.

Similar efforts are underway at other airports, including Seattle-Tacoma International, where officials have drawn up plans for crowd control after thousands crammed the baggage claim area to protest the original ban.

ADDENDA: Here’s my chat with Ricochet during CPAC.

Booked my flights and hotel for the NRA Annual Meeting in Atlanta in late April. Hope to see you there!

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