FRANCES Fragos Townsend, who honed her tough, no-nonsense style battling murderers and mobsters in New York, heads the short list of candidates to become the nation's new CIA director, the Daily News has learned. President Bush is expected to name a successor to Porter Goss as early as Monday. If Townsend, 43, Bush's homeland security adviser, is tapped for the post, the Long Island native would be the first woman to head the spy agency. One potential snag could be Townsend's frayed relations with the Senate, which could lead to a ferocious confirmation battle. Having moved from the Clinton to the Bush administrations and crossed swords with FBI Director Robert Mueller, Townsend is seen as suspect by both sides of the aisle. Other names mentioned for the job include Gen. Michael Hayden, top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte; David Shedd, Negroponte's chief of staff; and Mary Margaret Graham, Negroponte's deputy for intelligence collection. Townsend started her career in 1985 as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn. She later became a prosecutor in the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office, where her work drew high praise from FBI agents and then-U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani. Pasquale D'Amuro, former director of the FBI's New York office, once said, "Bringing in Fran Townsend is like bringing a pit bull to a hen fight." After helping to prosecute the Gambino crime family, Townsend moved in 1993 to Washington, where she focused on intelligence-related legal issues for then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Although a Republican, Townsend's ties to the Clinton administration got her moved to the Coast Guard's intelligence division when Bush took office in 2001. After drafting a plan to reshape the Coast Guard's small intelligence unit, she became Bush's adviser in 2004. Townsend and her husband, lawyer John Townsend, have two sons, ages 9 and 3. [email protected] Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

CIA lawyer, officer ordered charged in Pakistan for deadly drone strike

ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani judge on Tuesday ordered that criminal charges be filed against a former CIA lawyer who oversaw its drone program and the one-time chief agency operative in Islamabad over a 2009 strike that killed two people. Former acting general counsel John A. Rizzo and ex-station chief Jonathan Bank must face charges including murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court ruled. A court clerk and a lawyer involved the case, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, confirmed details of the judge's ruling. Rizzo and Bank could not be immediately reached for comment. The CIA will have no comment, spokesman Chris White told The Associated Press. The legal action comes as the number of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan has fallen precipitously from their 2010 high, amid signs that the U.S. and Pakistan have been more closely cooperating on counterterrorism issues after years of tensions. It is unclear how the criminal charges will affect that cooperation, even though the defendants will almost certainly never see the inside of a Pakistani courtroom. The only way the case could go forward is if U.S. officials cooperate with the Pakistani court, which is inconceivable given that the drone strikes were carried out under a program ordered by two successive U.S. presidents. The case recalls legal charges brought by an independent magistrate in Italy against CIA officers involved in the 2003 kidnapping of a terror suspect. Nine Americans were convicted but none returned to Italy to face the charges. Bank was sent home from Pakistan in 2010 after his cover was blown when a Pakistani man named Kareem Khan initially threatened to sue the CIA and others for $500 million over the deaths of his 18-year-old son, Zaenullah Khan, and his brother, Asif Iqbal, in a purported Dec. 31, 2009, strike on the North Waziristan tribal Continue Reading


WASHINGTON - Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, may have narrowly escaped last week's CIA missile attack on a northwestern Pakistan border town, the Daily News has learned. Osama Bin Laden's closest aide and physician, who was the target of last Friday's strike by an unmanned Predator drone, was in one of the houses leveled in Damadola but left moments before death rained down, a senior intelligence official said. "There was a strong indicator that Al-Zawahiri probably was there and he just left," the U.S. official said. "We have no definite on that, but I'd be very surprised if he wasn't there." The CIA's confidence in the intelligence on Al-Zawahiri's presence is high, the official said. Four of Al-Zawahiri's fellow Egyptian Islamic Jihad cohorts are believed to have died in the Damadola bombing, including top bombmaker and chemical weapons expert Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar and other key lieutenants. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading


THE CIA MAY have handed Iran the formula for building a nuclear bomb in a clumsy covert operation involving a double-crossing Russian agent, a new book charges. The blueprint that was funneled to Tehran contained an error that was meant to derail the Islamic state's efforts at building a nuclear arsenal. But the built-in flaw was so transparent the Russian engineer doing the CIA's dirty work spotted it immediately - and even offered to help Iran fix it. The stunning account is one of the revelations in the new book "State of War," which details how the CIA repeatedly bungled its dealings with Iran. The nuclear snafu happened in February 2000 when the CIA enlisted the Russian defector to supply misinformation to Iran as part of a program code-named Merlin. He was given plans for a "firing set" for a Russian-designed bomb - the trigger for a chain reaction that Iran needed to build its own nukes. As ordered, he got the documents to a high-ranking Iranian official visiting Tehran's mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. But in a renegade act, he included a letter red-flagging the flaw in the instructions and offering to help Iran overcome it - for a price, the book says. Author James Risen called the escapade "one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA, one that may have helped put nuclear weapons in the hands of a charter member of what President George W. Bush called 'the axis of evil.' " Risen, who exposed the Bush administration's controversial domestic eavesdropping program, also chronicles how a simple mistake destroyed the agency's network in Iran. In 2004, an officer accidentally sent a computerized message to an Iranian agent that revealed the identities of virtually every spy inside the country. The Iranian who got the message was a double agent and turned over the information to security officials in Tehran, and many of the CIA operatives were arrested and jailed. The previous year, the Continue Reading

Ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling sentenced to 3 1/2 years for leaking secrets to New York reporter

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The list of leakers sent to prison for exposing government secrets is one name longer with Monday’s 3 1/2-year sentence for former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Although his lawyers expressed relief that the sentence was relatively light compared with the decades that could have been imposed, advocates for whistleblowers and journalists saw it as further evidence of the unequal treatment given to those whose disclosures are seen as an embarrassment to the government. The disparity, they say, was reflected clearly by the fact that former CIA Director David Petraeus’s name is not on the list of those going to prison, despite his conviction just last month for disclosing classified information. Sterling, 47, of O’Fallon, Missouri, was convicted of leaking details of a secret mission to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions by slipping flawed nuclear blueprints to the Iranians through a Russian intermediary. He faced a term of 20 years or more under federal sentencing guidelines. Former Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testified at Sterling’s trial that the mission was one of the few options available to the U.S. as it sought to stop Iran’s nuclear program. After the sentencing, defense lawyers Edward MacMahon and Barry Pollack thanked U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema for what they considered a fair sentence. They said they still plan to appeal the conviction. “In some cases, the jury gets it wrong,” Pollack said. “That said, the judge today got it right.” But Robert Scheer, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and now a journalism professor at the University of Southern California, said he had a hard time working up appreciation for the supposedly light sentence. He said the prosecution of Sterling is part of a pattern of cracking down on leaks the government deems embarrassing. “If the leaks support the Continue Reading

Iran faces ‘tremendous costs and consequences’ if it develops nuclear bomb if talks fail, CIA director warns

Iran faces “tremendous costs and consequences” if Tehran moves forward with developing a nuclear weapon if no deal on the regime’s nuclear program is reached, CIA Director John Brennan warned Sunday. "There are a number of things that the United States has available to it to prevent Iran from getting a bomb,” Brennan said on “Fox News Sunday.” “President Obama has made it very clear that we are going to prevent Iran from having that type of nuclear weapon that they maybe were going on the track to obtain. “So, if they decide to go down that route, they know that they will do so at their peril,” he added. The cautionary remarks signal that the Obama administration would, in fact, be prepared to take necessary action to prevent the regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon, even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continues to pursue a deal with Tehran over its program. Brennan, however, also suggested the intelligence community was in a position to “verify” any agreement Iran would commit to under a potential deal and that the U.S. was aware of the country’s existing nuclear capabilities — despite reports that Iran had built a secret nuclear facility. "I think we have confidence that we are aware of the facilities that Iran has right now,” Brennan said. "And there's going to be a lot of speculation and rumors about other facilities. "I am confident that right now, we have a good appreciation of what the Iranian nuclear program consists of,” he said, adding that the nuclear program is just “one issue” the administration is “hoping to be able to halt.” “But also we see that Iran is still a state sponsor of terrorism. So what we have to do, whether there's a deal or not, is to continue to keep pressure on Iran and to make sure that it is not able to continue to Continue Reading

Ex-CIA chief David Petraeus sentenced for leaking military secrets to mistress biographer Paula Broadwell

Former CIA Director David Petraeus was sentenced Thursday to two years’ probation plus a $100,000 fine for sharing classified information with his mistress turned biographer. Petraeus, 62, saved eight binders of classified material he illegally kept from his time as the top military commander in Afghanistan and gave the materials to Paula Broadwell, 42, to use in her fawning portrait of the military man, “All In: The Education of David Petraeus.” In Federal Court in Charlotte, N.C., the philandering former Army general, who commanded forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, apologized “for the pain my actions have caused.” “I now look forward to moving on to the next phase of my life,” he added outside court. Prosecutors had recommended two years of probation and a $40,000 fine, according to court records. But Judge David Kessler increased the fine to “reflect seriousness of the offense.” Among the secret information contained in the “black books” were names of covert operatives, the coalition war strategy and notes about Petraeus’ discussions with President Obama and the National Security Council, prosecutors said. The books were later seized by the FBI in an April 2013 raid of Petraeus’ Arlington, Va., home, where he had stashed them in the unlocked desk drawer. The retired four-star general, once touted as a possible presidential contender, denied giving the information to Broadwell in a written statement and an October 2012 interview with FBI agents, shortly after retiring as CIA director. Petraeus later admitted to having an affair with Broadwell. Both have publicly apologized and said their romantic relationship began only after he had retired from the military. Broadwell’s glowing biography of him came out earlier in 2012, before the affair was Continue Reading

Florida man poses as CIA agent, calls 911 for help with drug bust before holding family of 5 at gunpoint

A Florida man posing as an undercover CIA agent was arrested after calling 911 for help with a drug bust and then holding a family of five at gunpoint, authorities said. Metlz Celestin, 18, told a 911 dispatcher that he was going to apprehend a drug-dealing suspect at a Lehigh Acres home, according to a police report. Celestin, who said he was a CIA agent named Kevin Zeleslin, asked the Lee County Sheriff's office to book the suspect for him, deputies said. Deputies arrived on scene, intending to assist in the arrest, to find Celestin standing in the driveway. They said they found a 9 mm gun in his right jacket pocket and 8 grams of marijuana in his car. The family that lived at the home said they had been packing their car for a trip to a water park when Celestin pulled up in his car, claimed he was an undercover CIA operative and ordered them to their knees, the sheriff's office said. He allegedly threatened to shoot the family, ranging in age from 18 to 41, if they ran away, according to the police report. One man shielded his pregnant wife from the gun pointed at them, the News-Press reported. The family appears to have been chosen randomly, Lt. Jeffrey Dektas said. Some of the details of the arrest report were redacted because it is still under investigation. Celestin was booked into jail on five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. He also faces charges of carrying a concealed weapon, marijuana possession, trespassing, battery and probation violation. He is being held in lieu of $531,500 bond. Celestin was arrested less than a week before for trespassing and violating probation. He has previously been charged with trespassing and battery. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Secret CIA payments to Afghan officials used to free diplomat held hostage by Al Qaeda, funded group’s weapons stockpile: report

Al Qaeda stockpiled weapons using covert CIA cash funneled to the murderous terrorist group by Afghan officials as part of a $5 million ransom for a hostage diplomat. The U.S. intelligence agency remained clueless that some of its money went directly to the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, The New York Times reported Saturday. Afghan officials redirected the money to Al Qaeda from the monthly bags of cash delivered surreptitiously to the Afghan presidential palace, the Times reported. The payoff allowed a reeling Al Qaeda to retrench and rebuild its weapons stockpile after a series of U.S. drone strikes wiped out the group’s top echelon. A top Al Qaeda official also offered at one point to send some of the cash directly to World Trade Center attack mastermind Osama Bin Laden. At the time of the spring 2010 ransom deal, the CIA was delivering as much as $1 million cash each month to officials in Afghanistan. Those payments continued through 2014, according to the newspaper. Letters discussing the 2010 payoffs were found during the raid one year later where Bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs, ending a decade-long manhunt for the terrorist leader. They were introduced as evidence by prosecutors at the Brooklyn Federal Court trial of Abid Naseer, convicted earlier this month of plotting to blow up a British shopping center. “God blessed us with a good amount of money this month,” Al Qaeda official Atiyah Abd al-Rahman wrote in a June 2010 letter to Bin Laden. “We have also designated a fair amount (of money) to strengthen the organization militarily by stockpiling good weapons,” al-Rahman wrote in a letter shortly after the first $2 million ransom installment was paid. Afghan diplomat Abdul Farahi was released in November 2010 after the full $5 million was paid. Details of the CIA contributions to the payoff Continue Reading

Former FBI agent arrested, ordered to have mental evaluation after threat to ‘kill everyone around her’ at CIA gates: affidavit

A former FBI agent will undergo a psychiatric evaluation after an arrest last week at CIA headquarters in northern Virginia during which she allegedly reached for an officer’s gun and threatened to shoot up or bomb the place, federal authorities said. The downfall of Tunisia Davis, an agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2004 to 2010, was preceded by a series of bizarre video rants she posted to Facebook last week railing against the FBI, police brutality and local businesses. In one, she references Trayvon Martin and different police shootings currently in the news. She also describes herself as a former special agent for the FBI who was arrested a few years ago and spent time in a mental institution. “Hi, my name is Tunisia Davis. I’m a former special agent with the FBI,” she says in one video, posted April 28 to a page using the name “” “This is what my mugshot looked like when they arrested me a few years ago. But guess what? I’m declaring my intention to be in the running for president of the United States. I’m going to become a Republican, and those who want a change, vote for me. Si se puede. Yes we can!” Last week, Davis first went to the National Security Agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., where she was stopped at the gate and made a passing mention about “plans to test the security at the CIA,” in Langley, Va., according to an affidavit obtained by WRC-TV. Authorities issued a “be on the lookout” order after the strange encounter. Davis then left and headed towards the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, but made and posted several of the bizarre videos on her way. In one, she has a hoodie on, the hood up and the cord tied tight around her neck as she rants while driving. When she arrived at the CIA, she passed one officer who tried to stop her before a second stood in front of her car to Continue Reading