Trump’s CIA pick stokes fears of return to dark days of ‘torture’

Gina Haspel
Updated 16 March 2018
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Trump’s CIA pick stokes fears of return to dark days of ‘torture’

NEW YORK: President Donald Trump’s choice for director of the CIA has led some former spies to warn that the US could go back to deploying the controversial tactics it used to interrogate terrorist suspects in the decade after 9/11.
The US president chose Gina Haspel, a veteran undercover CIA officer, for the role this week despite a checkered past in which she has been accused of overseeing a notorious secret prison in Thailand. Senators and ex-CIA members have said that under her watch detainees at the site were subjected to waterboarding, a technique that involves water being poured into the mouth to simulate the effect of drowning.
Former CIA staffers told Arab News that Haspel’s rise could herald a return to the kind of detention methods that were a feature of the post-9/11 era, when suspected militants were held indefinitely at clandestine “black sites” and forced to endure everything from “rectal rehydration” and sexual humiliation to punching, slapping and prolonged isolation.
“She didn’t just follow orders, she was a cheerleader who ran a secret prison in Thailand where people were water-boarded,” Melvin Goodman, a former CIA agent-turned- whistleblower, told Arab News. “It was a terrible period in American history that we should put behind us.”
Trump courted controversy when campaigning for the presidency in 2016 by announcing plans to “load up” Guantanamo Bay detention center with “bad dudes” and reintroduce waterboarding. His decision to pick Haspel has inevitably led to speculation that he may now follow through on some of these pledges.
Haspel joined the CIA in 1985 and has previously served as chief of the CIA’s station in London and New York. She has many admirers among colleagues at the CIA, where she has been working as deputy director under Mike Pompeo, whom Trump nominated to be the next secretary of state on Tuesday after sacking Rex Tillerson.
But agents who served alongside her, and congressional officials, say that in 2002 during President George W. Bush’s administration she was responsible for a secret CIA prison in Thailand, code-named “Cat’s Eye.”
Two suspected Al-Qaeda militants — Saudi citizen Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian who grew up in Riyadh — endured waterboarding and other harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the facility in Southeast Asia, which was better known as Detention Site Green.
In 2005, also during Bush’s presidency, Haspel drafted a cable ordering the destruction of video footage showing Al-Nashiri’s and Zubaydah’s interrogations at the Thai site. The outcry over this eventually helped lead to a landmark investigation into US detentions and interrogations by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
In 2014 the select committee reported that waterboarding was “physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting.” Zubaydah and Al-Nashiri are now being held at Guantanamo Bay.
Ivan Eland, a defense analyst who spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues and for NATO and the CIA, told Arab News that Haspel was “unsuitable” for the role of CIA chief and warned that her appointment could mark a return to the “lawlessness of the Bush administration.”
He said that Trump and Haspel could work without oversight to relaunch Bush-era black sites and the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques" that were outlawed under President Barack Obama, who also described waterboarding as “torture.”
“They could do that under Trump’s unilateral power as commander-in-chief,” Eland said.
Other former CIA agents are less anxious about Haspel’s appointment. Paul Pillar, who had a 28-year career in US intelligence with postings in the Middle East and South Asia, said America was not heading back to the anti-terror hysteria that followed the 9/11 attacks.
“We didn’t use torture because we had a particular person in the job, we had torture because of an angry, scared national mood after 9/11 and different standards about how to properly handle suspected terrorists,” he told Arab News.
“Years have passed. There hasn’t been another big terrorist attack in the US. Our standards have changed, our laws have changed.”
Others noted that Trump has toned down his torture talk and done little to expand the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist and writer, remains concerned. Hagel and other Bush-era agents were never prosecuted and US forces still use “isolation and sleep and sensory deprivation in interrogation,” which amounts to torture, Kaye told Arab News.
Haspel does not have the job yet. She must be confirmed by the US Senate, where she will doubtless be grilled by Democratic lawmakers about her role at the black sites.
Her nomination faces an uncertain fate in the chamber, which Trump’s fellow Republicans control 51-49. She could be opposed by all the Democrats, including their top man on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, who spoke of “a lot of questions” for Haspel.
Some Republicans object, too, including Rand Paul and John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and has said that Haspel must “explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program.”


Bug may have exposed photos from 7M Facebook users

Updated 37 min 36 sec ago
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Bug may have exposed photos from 7M Facebook users

  • Facebook disclosed a photo glitch, saying it allowed some 1,500 software apps to access private photos for 12 days ending Sept. 25.
  • An Irish regulator said it was investigating Facebook following the company's disclosure that a bug may has exposed millions of private photos, the latest in a series of privacy glitches

NEW YORK: Facebook’s privacy controls have broken down yet again, this time through a software flaw affecting nearly 7 million users who had photos exposed to a much wider audience than intended.
The bug disclosed Friday gave hundreds of apps unauthorized access to photos that could in theory include images that would embarrass some of the affected users. They also included photos people may have uploaded but hadn’t yet posted, perhaps because they had changed their mind.
It’s not yet known whether anyone actually saw the photos, but the revelation of the now-fixed problem served as another reminder of just how much data Facebook has on its 2.27 billion users, as well has how frequently these slip-ups are recurring.
The bug is the latest in a series of privacy lapses that continue to crop up, despite Facebook’s repeated pledges to batten down its hatches and do a better job preventing unauthorized access to the pictures, thoughts and other personal information its users intend so share only with friends and family.
In general, when people grant permission for a third-party app to access their photos, they are sharing all the photos on their Facebook page, regardless of privacy settings meant to limit a photo to small circles such as family. The bug potentially gave developers access to even more photos, such as those shared on separate Marketplace and Facebook Stories features, as well as photos that weren’t actually posted.
Facebook said the users’ photos may have been exposed for 12 days in September. The company said the bug has been fixed.
The company declined to say how many of the affected users are from Europe, where stricter privacy laws took effect in May and could subject companies to fines. Facebook said it has notified the Irish Data Protection Commission of the breach.
The problem comes in a year fraught with privacy scandals and other problems for the world’s biggest social network.
Revelations that the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed data from as many as 87 million users led to congressional hearings and changes in what sorts of data Facebook lets outside developers access. In June, a bug affecting privacy settings led some users to post publicly by default regardless of their previous settings. This bug affected as many as 14 million users over several days in May.
With each breakdown, Facebook risks losing credibility with both its audience and the advertisers whose spending generates most of the company’s revenue.
“It’s like they keep getting these chinks in the armor that is causing this trust deficit,” said Michael Priem, CEO of Modern Impact, which places ads for a variety of major brands.
Although Facebook doesn’t appear to be losing a lot of users, Priem said some advertisers have been seeing data indicating that people are spending less time on the social network. That’s raising concerns about whether the privacy breakdowns and problems with misinformation being spread on the services are taking a toll.
But it’s difficult to know how much Facebook’s recent wave of headaches has been affecting the service because its growth, particularly among younger people, had been slowing even before the problems began to crop up, said Nate Elliott, an analyst with the research firm Nineteen Insights.
Advertisers are unlikely to curtail their spending significantly as long as Facebook is able to maintain the current size of its audience, Elliott said. So far there has been little evidence a significant percentage of the users are worried enough about privacy to get off the service.
“Even if people don’t trust Facebook, as long as the value that the service provides is worth more than the cost of the privacy violations, then that may be a trade-off most people are willing to make,” Elliott said.
On Thursday, to counter the bad rap it’s gotten around privacy, Facebook hosted a one-day “pop-up” to talk to users about their settings and whatever else may be on their mind. Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan gave Facebook’s work on privacy a “B” when asked by a reporter for a grade. By 2019, she said she hopes the improvements will result in an “A.”
Privacy experts might call it grade inflation. In any case, the company has its work cut out before it makes the top grade. The company has had to increase how much it spends on privacy and security, which put a dent in its bottom line and in August contributed to a stock price plunge.