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McClatchy Newspapers reports that the top Pentagon covert operations chief, Michael G. Vickers, is under Justice Dept. investigation for alleged leaks of classified information used in the making of a film documentary about the SEAL Team Six operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

Vickers was under consideration to replace David Petraeus as CIA Director, who resigned following the Benghazi attack after an FBI investigation of his extramarital affair was publicly revealed. The McClatchy dispatch states:

The Justice Department was sent the case involving Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers in September, but it so far has declined to launch a criminal prosecution, said two senior U.S. officials who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The case involved a determination by investigators of the Pentagon’s inspector general’s office that Vickers provided to the makers of the film, Zero Dark Thirty, the restricted name of a U.S. Special Operations Command officer who helped plan the May 2, 2011, raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, one official said. The identities of special forces personnel can be classified in certain circumstances and making them public is against the law, according to experts.

Vickers, a former Army special forces operator and one-time CIA paramilitary officer, is the top intelligence adviser to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and oversees the Pentagon’s vast intelligence operations. He has been frequently mentioned as a candidate to replace retired Army Gen. David Petraeus as CIA director.

In view of a series of events following the spectacular blowback in September from US covert operations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the timing of all this is at the least . . . uh, interesting.

- MORE -

Vickers was officially named USD-I on March 16, 2011 after being appointed that post in 2010.  That's when we first see US covert involvement in civil wars that break out across MENA.

In Libya and Syria, almost simultaneously following calls for "Day of Rage" by exile groups in February, the Arab Spring turned deadly. See, ; By mid-March, semi-covert US aid was flowing to the opposition in Libya. That date also coincides with the arrival in Benghazi of late Ambassador Chris Stevens and a group of "aides" who popped up aboard a Greek freighter in Libya to coordinate the US role leading the opposition.

Meanwhile, in Syria events followed the same course. In July, right after being appointed CIA Director, Petraeus immediately flew to Turkey for a series of high-level meetings. According to the Turkish media, in March Petraeus had met in Ankara with the head of the Turkish national intelligence agency:
(CIA Director pays unexpected visit to Turkey, July 2011)

Petraeus arrived In İstanbul on Monday for talks with Turkish officials on the situation in Syria and the fight against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

This was the second unannounced visit by the US spy chief to Turkey in the last six months. He spent two days in Ankara in March, meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Turkish counterpart, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, to discuss the deepening instability in Syria, their joint fight against terrorism and closer cooperation on pressing regional issues. His program is being kept secret for security reasons.

Petraeus' First Stop: Ankara

David Petraeus, who had been the commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, was appointed as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and then he visited Turkey's capital Ankara. He held meetings with Chief of General Staff Gen. Isik Kosaner and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and congratulated Turkey for the role it undertook in the region.

Petraeus and Vickers Ejected in Turn of Mideast Policy?

Vickers' name has been floating around Washington for months. [See update, below] Now, it looks like he's finally been shot down, or at least grounded. This follows on the resignation of several generals who commanded US special operations in the region. It also comes on the the heals of the withdrawal of Susan Rice as presumptive Secretary of State. Rice was a leading regime change advocate within the Administration, and was widely reported to have antagonized the Russians, which in recent days the US has reached out to reactivate diplomatic talks toward a resolution of the crisis in Syria.

Mike Vickers is, of course, best known as the CIA mastermind of the arming of the Mujahaddin in Afghanistan with heavy weapons, including Stinger anti-air missiles, a role that was popularized in the film version of George Creel's “Charlie Wilson’s War”.

Many of the weapons Vickers introduced into Afghanistan in the 1980s were covertly supplied through Egypt and a global network of black market arms dealers, which are the same sources now feeding the Syrian opposition, again with Saudi and Gulf Arab funding and cooperation.

In an article in the NYT profiling Vickers published a week before the Benghazi attack, Vickers was being mentioned favorably as a candidate to head CIA after Petraeus.  That article warmly profiled him.  He is quoted reflecting on his support for Jihadi warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, who later turned their guns and waged war on US forces in Afghanistan:

“Yes, most of my colleagues from those days are now on the dark side,” Mr. Vickers acknowledged in a recent interview in his antiseptic office. “We were well aware that they weren’t the ideal allies.” Nonetheless, he said, “You make a deal with the devil to defeat another devil.”
* * *  

Earlier this month, the Senate grounded plans to vastly expand the role of USD-I and DIA HUMINT in roles previously taken by CIA and State Department counter-proliferation. The Defense Intelligence Agency had proposed to expand its own mission in these areas after the other agencies massively failed assignment to locate many of the 20,000 or so MANPADs – missiles similar to the Stinger -- looted by militias after the overthrow of Ghadaffi in Libya. Some of these missiles, that have been used to shoot down civilian airliners, have now appeared and are being used by Libyan Jihadis and others in the escalating Syria regime change. Does anyone else see a continuity in method and purpose here?

One also has to ask: does this tie together with the resignation of Petraeus and the forced departure of several top Generals involved with formulating strategy and running special operations in MENA and South Asia? Finally, what does it mean for US approach to civil wars in the region and tensions with Iran?

10:10 AM PT: According to a story printed in the Wall Street Journal in June that mentions Vickers, the Pentagon IG investigation into the alleged leak goes back to January.  Nonetheless, no official action against Vickers was forthcoming until yesterday.

At the request of Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), the Pentagon Inspector General's office is already investigating whether officials gave out classified information. That investigation was disclosed in January.

Mr. King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter Wednesday to Michael Vickers, an undersecretary of defense who spoke with Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal. "In my view, these emails raise serious questions regarding your central role in providing classified and sensitive information to individuals without appropriate security clearances,'' he wrote.

Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.) asked for the Pentagon inspector general to look into additional aspects of the meetings.

A transcript of a meeting last July among the filmmakers, Mr. Vickers, and other Pentagon officials shows that Mr. Vickers offered to help arrange a meeting with the Seal Team Six member "who was involved from the beginning as a planner'' on the raid. That elicited an appreciative response. "That's incredible," Ms. Bigelow said, according to the transcript.

Mr. Vickers gave the filmmakers the name of the Seal Team Six "operator and commander," the transcript shows.

A Defense official said the name of the SEAL was provided to Mr. Boal and Ms. Bigelow "for planning purposes." No security violation occurred, the official said, because the name was not provided for publication.

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